Authors: John Mantooth
Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories (Single Author)
“The Best Part” © 2012 by John Mantooth
Interior illustrations © 2012 by Danny Evarts
All rights reserved.
Published by ChiZine Publications
This short story was originally published in
Shoebox Train Wreck
by John Mantooth, first published in print form in 2012, and in an ePub edition in 2012, by ChiZine Publications.
Original ePub edition (in
Shoebox Train Wreck
) March 2012 ISBN: 9781927469057.
This ePub edition April 2013 ISBN: 978-1-927469-50-7.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
THE BEST PART
Danny and Truck are tossing horseshoes outside Mom’s trailer when Truck says he’s got a moneymaker. “Surefire,” he says and underhands the horseshoe in a practiced arc toward the rusty pole.
“Surefire, huh?” Danny says.
“Sure fucking fire.”
Danny doesn’t believe in surefire, though his lack of belief is less a matter of principal than it is experience. He
very badly to believe in surefire. Surefire would be so much simpler than the chaos the world usually offers. Still, he’s willing to listen. Moving in with his mother last month has made him willing to listen to a good number of things.
“Last time you told me something was surefire, I ended up in the state pen for twenty months.”
“I was stupid then. That was insane. This is smart. A clean job.”
Smart and Truck are not two words that ever belong in the same sentence, but Danny finds himself curious, despite his better judgment. “What are we talking about?”
“Savannah Ridge, baby.”
Danny nods. “That’s where Darrin lives, right?”
“That’s the one. They’re building a new section just behind Darrin’s house. He’s already got some new neighbours behind him.”
Danny knows about the new construction because a few days earlier, he borrowed his mom’s Intrepid and drove out to the site to ask about a job. The foreman all but laughed at him, said there were grown ass men he’d had to lay off, why would he want to hire a skinny kid?
Danny hasn’t mentioned this or any of his other efforts to find honest work to Truck. As far as he knows, Truck hasn’t tried to find a job—a real job—since they got fired from the landscaping crew last fall. That had been a good gig. Hard work, but the money was cash and the boss paid every Friday. Truck hadn’t liked working with the Mexicans, but Danny suspects that Truck wouldn’t like working with anyone.
“So, here’s the plan, Danny-boy,” Truck says, picking up another horseshoe and swinging it a couple of times, as if to test its weight. “Darrin says these new neighbours are some rich pricks. Says they work all the time, up in Birmingham at some uptown ad agency. The husband drives a Beamer. The wife—Darrin says she’s fucking fine—drives one of those gas guzzling SUVs. Wears big jewellery, like she’s a fucking hip-hop star or something. Bling bling and shit. Darrin says there’s no alarm system, no dog, nothing except a dead bolt lock on the front door.”
Darrin is Truck’s drug friend. He’s a few years older than Truck and Danny, which means he dropped out of high school around ’03 while Truck and Danny both quit in ’06. He married the first girl he got pregnant whose grandfather died a month after they got married and left her sixty-three acres of land on the southside of Wilton. They sold to the highest bidder, and then she died in a drunk driving accident. The kid—a boy Darrin named Shaun—laid in the ICU for four weeks before
died. After a whirlwind five months, Darrin wound up with no wife and no kid, but about eight hundred thousand dollars for the land sale, and that wasn’t all. He also got a ninety thousand dollar insurance check for his dead wife. All this explains how Darrin not only affords Savannah Ridge but also why he sits around the house in his boxers all day downloading porn and getting baked.
“If it’s so surefire, why doesn’t Darrin just do it? Why involve us at all?”
Truck tosses the horseshoe. It’s a good one, clanging against the metal pole before catching and sliding to the ground. He smirks and leans his head back on his neck, exposing a huge Adam’s apple that makes Danny think about a turkey he saw his father kill once. His dad had big hands and when he laid hold of something, those hands were going to do what they meant to do, and that turkey didn’t stand a chance. Danny remembered being surprised that the bird didn’t call out in pain, but now realizes it had died too fast to even scream. This realization fills Danny with a sudden and fierce sadness that he can’t explain.
“Any dumbass knows you don’t steal from your neighbour.”
“Well, what’s the difference? He’s helping us do it.”
Truck laughs, and the Adam’s apple works like a bobber on his neck. “He’s just letting us know that it’s there if we’re interested. He’s helping out his friends. You know how much money a good haul like that could bring in?”
“No idea. A lot probably.”
Truck spread out his hands, a gesture that seemed to say,
Now you’re catching on
“Darrin’s an idiot. He’s too high to know how to spot an easy mark.”
“Jesus, Dan. Just listen for a second. I haven’t even gotten to the surefire part yet.”
Danny bites his lip and waits. He doesn’t want to hear the surefire part, or maybe he does. Truth is, he’s found work so hard to get lately, if something did come along that was surefire—not that he believes in such a thing—but say something came along that was pretty good odds, then he’d be tempted to consider it. He wants to move out of his mom’s trailer and go back to school. He’d have to get his GED first, but that can’t be too hard. Then he can get his own place and enrol in some online classes. Mom’s friend, Shannon, takes them and she says when she finishes, she’ll be certified to be a court reporter or a legal assistant. Danny doesn’t want to do those things, but he wants to do something. Maybe take art classes. That’s what he’s always loved, seeing something and making it come alive on paper. There are angles and shadows he sees all the time that he frames inside his head and wants to get down on paper just right, but he’s usually with Truck who scoffs at art, or if he’s not with Truck he’s laid up in the bed trying to sleep off one of Truck’s marathon benders he’d been foolish enough to participate in. Seems stupid really. The one thing that gives him joy, the one thing he loves to do, he mostly just remembers doing a long time ago.
Truck is talking again, and Danny forces himself to listen. There’s no surefire, he reminds himself, but maybe that works both ways. No surefire failures either. Just listen, he tells himself.
“There’s a vacant house for sale across the street from the rich fucks. Darrin says there’s a window in the back that’s not locked. We sneak in there and case the place from across the street. You know watch the neighbourhood, learn their schedules. When we’ve got it down, we make our move. They’ve got a garage, so once we break in, we just need to get Chet’s van inside, and I figure we can have at least four or five hour—”
“Hold it,” Danny says. “When did Chet get involved?”
“When we needed a van. You got a van?”
“No, but Chet will do something stupid. Chet will get us caught.”
Truck pauses, and Danny knows it’s because of the truth of what he’s said about Chet. Chet is just like them. From the trailer park, a drop-out, a kid whose future has seemed pretty bleak since the time he could walk, but Chet is also different than Truck and Danny. When Chet kept getting fired from jobs after dropping out of school, he started finding other ways to make money. He would often get people to pay him to do things they didn’t want to do. When part of Gray Pierce’s trailer collapsed and pinned his golden retriever, Sally, to the ground, the aluminum siding almost cutting her in two, he paid Chet twenty-five dollars to shoot her and fifty more to clean her body off the siding. More recently, Chet has found his true calling, doing stupid, dangerous stuff that people around here seem to think is hilarious. Danny had seen him eating grass until he threw-up while some woman stood by with her baby on her hip, urging him to eat more and more. Another time somebody paid him to let them hammer a nail through his cheek. He had to ask Truck along for this one to help him get the nail out after he got paid his seventy-five dollars. But the big money came from jumping off the bridge out at Moss Rock. The high school kids would pool their money, and he sometimes made up to three hundred dollars a jump, which was at least half as much money as Danny had ever made in a week working landscaping.
Inside the trailer, he hears his mother’s alarm going off. Five-thirty. She has an hour and a half before her shift at the Waffle House begins. He needs to get rid of Truck soon to avoid a lot of yelling.
“I’m in if Chet is out,” he says.
“Negative. We need his van.”
“Forget it. Either me or Chet. You said it was surefire. Chet is not surefire.”
“How we gonna haul everything off without a van?”
“Pay him to use it. If this haul is as good as you think, we ought to be able to cover that.”
“You think?” Truck says, his face twisting up in that perplexed look Danny had seen so much back in Algebra class.
“Of course. You said they were rich, right? Tell him we’ll give him fifty bucks and a full tank on return.”
“Shit,” Truck says. “You think it’ll work?”
This is Truck. Something starts as surefire, and five minutes later, he’s asking Danny if it’ll work.
“We won’t know until we watch the place for a few days.”
“Okay,” Truck says. “Now you’re talking.” He laughs and claps a heavy hand on Danny’s back.
Danny wants to pull away. The weight of his old friend’s hand there makes him feel trapped somehow, like he’s being bound and gagged and shoved into a closet or the trunk of a small car. The world will go on all around him, but he will be stuck in the darkness, alone.
Like everybody he knows, he wants to get out of this town and start his life all over again. That was the thing he thought about more than anything else when he had been landscaping, mowing or pulling weeds or blowing leaves across somebody’s lawn. He would imagine himself in a new place away from Mom’s ratty old trailer, away from Truck and Chet and the ex-girlfriends that broke his heart, not because he’d loved them, but because he’d loved them young and now he sees them fat and lethargic, toting around toddlers with dirty faces and shit-heavy diapers, left alone by husbands who in one way or another had learned to abandon everything—including the boys they once were—as a matter of principal. But lately, he thinks of moving away less, and instead sees his life as an airplane that never flew too high but always managed to stay a notch or two above the clouds. Until recently. Now it has begun to lose altitude at an alarming rate and seems to be heading directly through the clouds into a full tilt nose dive. Danny can’t shake the idea that once the clouds do finally clear, it will be too late, and the ground will rush up and eat that airplane alive.
A week later, after forcing open a downstairs window, Danny and Truck sit in lawn chairs in the den of the newly finished house, running the air conditioner full blast, drinking cans of ice cold Schlitz. Another case waits, unopened in the refrigerator, which they have turned to the highest setting in order to ensure that the beer is as cold as possible.
“Never had beer this cold,” Truck says as he drains the last of his can and tosses it with the other empties beside the window.
They’ve been inside this house, watching the one across the street for three days now, and while Danny still doesn’t believe in surefire, he is beginning to think they can pull this off. The couple across the street do not vary their schedule. The wife leaves first, always before seven. The husband strolls out an hour later. Truck calls him “the fat fuck,” but he’s not actually fat, just big, muscular even. He is a fuck though; Danny can’t help but notice the way he walks, the way he brushes the slightest speck of lint off his suit, the way he pauses just for a moment after opening the door to his Beamer, as if to say, look at me, world, look at what I’ve accomplished.
This last part is good because Danny still has qualms about stealing from people, even rich people. When they started breaking the law, four or five years ago, both he and Truck used to worry about the ethics of it all. Even Truck, after they took that lady’s purse at Wal-mart, kept going back and forth about returning it, maybe even turning themselves in. Sometimes, he still wonders about that lady, if their thievery had caused her any permanent pain or misery. He doesn’t think so. As Truck has pointed out time and time again, the lady was rich. She was good looking. She would land on her feet. Besides, the credit cards had been cancelled within a few days.
It’s gotten easier, though. Each time, they worry less. Truck has become completely immune to guilt in the last few months, since their last attempt at honest work had failed. Danny still has some issues, which in some ways, he supposes makes his own decision to participate in these kinds of shenanigans even worse.
This guy though, this fuck across the street, Danny is going to rob him without feeling a bit of guilt. No, that’s not even true. The guilt will be there, but at least it’ll be easier to ignore.
“Why not now?” he says, suddenly.
Truck is flipping through a skin magazine. When he hears Danny, he closes the magazine, keeping his place with his thumb. “What?”
“Why not now? It’s nine thirty. Even if they did break routine and come back for lunch we could be out of there by noon.”
“No way. We don’t have Chet’s van yet.”
The plan they’ve discussed involves going to get Chet’s van this afternoon and breaking into the house tomorrow.
“So, we can at least see what’s in there. The chick will probably have enough jewellery that we can stuff our pockets.”