Kevin crept along like an old pro. A senile one.
The Buick swayed and slithered along next to the row of parked cars, and I was sitting nervously in the back seat trying to keep my mouth shut. I had a pair of teenagers myself–you have to pick your spots very carefully, the touchy bastards.
Next thing you know there’s a park on the right and I think for a second that our man is going to turn into it. He doesn’t though. He goes straight on the sidewalk next to the park. That’s the good news. The bad news is the next place to pull in and get him in the car where everybody’s safe isn’t for a goddamn little while.
The first driveway was easily half a mile ahead from where we started, us with our heads full of ski masks and stealth. Pure fantasy. You’re a real genius, Cervetti. A godamned genius.
I started to get nervous as hell and I wondered if maybe I wasn’t the touchy one. My breakfast from the world’s biggest truckstop was giving me the world’s worst heartburn and I could barely swallow.
“The sun is rising fast. The sky is all blue now.” said Kevin.
Apparently he was in the mood for conversation.
“Yeah? The sun also rises, you never heard’a that?”
Sunrises. It’s been too many sunrises without a wink of sleep. That’s what my problem is. No, my problem is that we jumped out into the street like a couple of dumb animals, so now we get to take a goddamn leisure cruise on the USS Kevin, straight down Niagara Falls. Shit I was getting paranoid.
The car crept and crept. It was an eternity, us winding down this little side street (which happened to be straight).
Whoever had this car before Carol–I know who he was–he had enough sense to tint the goddamn windows, so I sat in back and watched everything.
It was still quiet as all hell. I guess even the puppies don’t get up for a piss until 9 am in Iowa City. I appreciated that because I needed this trip to go smooth. Smooth like Marvin Gay. Smooth like Ron Miles. Smooth like the whisky at the Green Mill. Now there’s a place I haven’t been in years.
Acid tickled the back of my throat but I was thinking about anything but the pain. I was used to it. I was good at it. I focused on watching everything.
We were about to pass the runner. We moved in front of him and I looked out the back to keep on watching him. He was behind us now. With his leggy jog he looked like a bag of bones tumbling forward. There reaching forward and backward, pumping his arms, there in his light blue sweatsuit, in his beard and his glasses and his headphones. His clear blue eyes had bags packed with as much luggage as my own, which I figured had a lot to do with why, as he ran, they rolled back slightly in his head as if waiting for a little corner of heaven to appear behind his skull.
Half asleep, half dead, either way I looked at him and I saw myself. Myself in 10 years and negative 150 pounds.
Nah that ain’t me; I don’t run. Maybe if I help him settle up, he won’t have to run either.
The park was over and I was ready to wake the hell up from the sentimental daydream of that back seat. Goddamn it was a pleasant neighborhood.
“Ernest Hemingway. That’s who wrote that book. He’s from Florida.”
“Not bad kid. Now just look for that driveway and pull into it nice and easy, or else I’ll show you for whom the bell tolls.” I was whispering now. Goddamn I was getting nervous.
The gap in the cars was only several feet ahead of us and the dentist was 25 feet behind us. Kevin turned the nose into the opening and then pulled it back, very suddenly, into the street. I had my hand half on the door and was almost jumping out as he did it so it startled me even more.
“What’s the matter!?” I whispered. “Damn,” I was squinting and rubbing my chest in agony and confusion.
“It was an alley!”
“So the fuck what!” Our car was inches, millimeters, from the next parked car and Kevin was doing his damnedest not to straighten us out.
“You said take the first driveway!”
“No, Jesus,” I stopped myself short of yelling at him. 1) I’m all the panic this car can handle at that point in time, 2) Had I, the dentist was close enough to hear, and 3) I couldn’t. Bile was rising in my throat and I thought for sure I was going to spray vomit all over Carol’s interior. The cars to the right were getting closer and closer, then farther and farther, then closer and closer until suddenly, so help me god, Kevin’s cellphone went off.
It was Carol. I knew it was Carol because when I say his cell phone went off I mean it started screaming the Lady Gaga song “Bad Romance” at the top of its lungs until every dog in town was up and suddenly thinking the exact same thought: Let’s piss.
Bad Romance. That was always the ring tone when Carol called. She likes it so she programmed all our phones to play the same goddamn song when she calls. My head was dizzy with what I later found out was not actually rage but the feeling of impending doom that comes when having a heart attack. The last thing I remember from the car was watching Kevin writhe around in his seat searching his pockets for his phone.
Kevin told me later that, at that point, I just started hacking and swinging. I took off my mask gasping for breath and distracted the driver sufficiently for him to finally run us into a parked car doing oh, about .25 miles per hour. At that point, or so I’m told, I threw open the car door, took one step and fell down, out cold, right in front of the dentist, my cell phone in my hand with Carol’s voice screaming bloody murder out of the earpiece. Apparently, the call was for me.
“Hello? Who’s there?” The feeble old bony dentist said into the phone.
“Who’s there?! Who’s this?”
“I’m Edward. I think there’s been an accident, please hang on the line…Young man! Young man!”
Kevin–who was getting out of the car much more slowly than the dentist, Edward, would have liked–stood there watching as the jogger picked up my head and started checking around for my pulse. This was when I came to. I saw his baggy eyes looking up, he makes noises like he’s looking around for a neighbor to call but he doesn’t look like any good samaratan to me. His eyes were like mine, scouring the vicinity for potential witnesses. I felt my neck in his hands and panicked, standing up slowly but still way too fast, head-way-up-over-the-clouds dizzy. Vomit finally shot onto the pavement.
“You’re coming with us, dentist.”
I remember asking God for it not to be true, but it was: Kevin had a gun out, and it was pointed at the dentist.
The dentist looked at the phone and lifted it to his ear. “Hi Carol,” he says, “I believe your boys and I are going to go for a drive.”
“How do you know her name?” He was talking to Kevin’s mother, after all.
“Yeah, how do you know her name?” He was talking to my girlfriend, after all.
“It says, right here” He showed us the phone. It was mine. It had Carol’s dumb stickers all over it, and, right where he said it would, it said her name. “See? ‘Carol.’”
Carol like a song. Carol like Carolina. It was all Carolina in my mind, until said mind went blank again.
Classical music was in the air when I began to come-to again, this time in the dentist’s kitchen. I could hardly feel my body and I was totally disoriented, with no recent memory at all until several minutes later when I opened my eyes to a couple of unmistakable reminders of exactly where I was.
The first was the gun. Sitting on the table and coming in and out of focus about 12 inches in front of my eyes. There’s one gun and it is shiny and black. There are two guns and they are dull and gray. Shiny black. dull gray. Four guns? One gun. Shiny black.
Beyond the gun there was a mass. There was a fuzzy mass, and it was shaped like a boy. Now there is a boy. The boy is sleeping. The gun. The boy.
The pieces came together despite my best intentions. Despite my efforts to make them not so, to make them a dream. The boy was Kevin, the gun was his, and the table? The table holding up my head? The table was the dentist’s.
The dentist walked into the room and sat the phone down on the table next to a deck of cards.
“So, you’re the infamous Cervetti?” I didn’t say anything. My head was still on the table. “Lenny Cervetti, the good cop that took the fall. Doing your justice on the margins now, helping bad boys come clean on old debts.” The old dentist must’ve taken a long vacation across the pond. He had this British accent that would come up only on certain words. It was irritating as hell, actually.
I talked to Carol, she said to give her a ring back when you are finished.”
I just laid there listening to him, trying to gather strength and figure out what in the hell was going on.
“The question is, ‘finished’ doing what?” Christ was he dumb for a dentist. A man of medicine. “Don’t bother. I know what.”
Grateful, I looked up at him and took a few deep breaths. I found that I wasn’t tied up or anything, but I saw that Kevin was.
“Buddy,” I says, “this is a strictly professional appointment. There’s no need to bring the kid into it with some crazy shit.” I knew though. In this business you gotta do what you gotta do, but generally speaking this ropes business is unnecessary. You start seeing someone tying everyone up and that’s how you know they’re crazy, and crazy is bad.
“I would have tied you up instead, since you are the ‘professional,’ but what good would it have been? You need medical attention. Without my help you could die of natural causes, in the back seat of a car, for example. Wearing a ski mask?” He showed me my stupid mask.
“What about the kid then? You going to kill him too?”
“What do you mean? In self-defense? For breaking and entering, armed with this piece of shit gun?” Damned if this case wouldn’t close as quickly as it opened.
“Maybe, but I certainly hope not.” He says, all mercifully.
“So what do you suggest.”
“Through no action of my own, Lenny Cervetti is being retrieved tomorrow morning by the coroner, in the backseat of a stolen car.”
“The question is not And, Cervetti, you pessimist. The question is Or?”
“Or what, psycho?”
“Or, we go double or nothing: I win, you and the boy are dead by morning. You win, you go home with nothing.” He slid the cards across the table to me. I’ll even let you pick the game.”