Category Archives: Joe Clifford

The Banyan Tree

Retreating inside his hoodie, Ricky sprinted into the midnight squall across the empty preserve lot to the car parked beneath the big tree. He pounded on the window. The large man behind the wheel looked over lazily, taking another slow drag on his cigarette, making Ricky wait in the pouring rain a moment longer before finally unlocking the door.
+++++ “Fuck, Wade,” Ricky said climbing in front, “I’m drenched now.”
+++++Wade cuffed the back of Ricky’s head, knocking him forward. “It’s Miami. What you want me to do about it?”
+++++Ricky rubbed the back of his skull, mumbling incoherent, soft consonants.
+++++Reaching under his seat, Wade retrieved a brown paper bag and held it out. Ricky tried to grab it but Wade pulled his hand back.
+++++ “Not so fast,” Wade said. “You know why I’m bailing you out with this?”
+++++ “Because I promised to pay you back twice as much?”
+++++ “It’s not a loan,” said Wade. “I’m giving it to you.”
+++++ “I don’t need any favors because I’m Big Rick’s kid.”
+++++ “Wrong. That’s exactly what you do need. Your father did right by me—and a lot of other people around here. He deserves better than a drug addict son who’s about to land his ass in Metro if he doesn’t fly straight.” Wade pinched his smoke and took a hard pull.
+++++“Got an extra cigarette?”
+++++ “No. It’s a bad habit. You got enough of those.” Wade shoved the bag hard into Ricky’s gut like he was handing off a football.
+++++Ricky doubled over.
+++++ “You’ve forgotten how to take a handoff.”
+++++Ricky righted himself and narrowed his eyes. He started to open the bag but Wade jabbed a hand and cinched it shut.
+++++ “Don’t worry. It’s all there.” Wade gestured out the windshield at the big tree they were parked beneath. “You know what kind that is?”
+++++Ricky studied the tree, which looked like it had five trunks, limbs all knotted, gnarled and intertwined, roots anchored in the earth like arthritic alien leg bones. He shrugged.
+++++ “Maybe you shouldn’t have dropped out of school,” Wade said. “It’s called a banyan tree. Banyan trees don’t grow from the ground like other trees. They start high in the nest of a palm when a bird shits a seed into a frond. When the banyan starts to sprout, it chokes the palm to death as it slithers its own roots down into the soil.” Wade stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray. “See, you can focus on one or the other. The violent birth, or the resiliency to rise above origins.” He turned to Ricky. “Me? I see a survivor. You dig what I’m saying?”
+++++Ricky giggled.
+++++ “What’s so goddamn funny?”
+++++ “Nothing, man. Just, you know, Wade Wojcik. The Miami City Muscle. Getting all sentimental about a tree.”
+++++ “You get older, kid, you start seeing things differently.” Wade grabbed Ricky by the shoulder. “I was with your father the night you were born, and I seen how proud he was when you started playing ball, before you started fucking your life up with this wannabe gangster shit.”
+++++ “Well, he ain’t around anymore, is he?”
+++++ “Listen, you little shit. Your father could’ve gone to the cops, could’ve bought himself a little witness protection farm in Kansas, but he didn’t. You know why? Because he’s a stand-up guy who didn’t make excuses. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. No matter how screwed up your beginnings, you stake your claim, you dig in and don’t let nobody take nothing from you.” Wade leaned over, eyes earnest. “All any father wants is for his son to have a better life than him. It’s why I’m giving you this money. You pay back your debt. You make this right, however you have to. Then you get your ass back to school, back on the team—”
+++++A loud knock on the driver’s side glass stopped Wade’s speech. He turned. Out in the rain, a kid Ricky’s age stood blank-faced, hands at his side.
+++++ “What the—”
+++++Ricky pulled the gun from his waistband, firing two shots into Wade’s gut. Wade looked down dumbly, trying to stuff the holes leaking bloody intestine. He stared at Ricky and opened his mouth but only bright red frothed out. Ricky pulled the trigger again, and Wade slumped against the steering wheel, a dead man’s gaze fixed on the gun.
+++++Ricky slid over and unlocked the door, and the kid outside jumped in back.
+++++ “Holy fuck!” the kid said, gleefully. “That was some cold-ass shit!”
+++++ “What took you so long?” Ricky snapped.
+++++ “Lot of big trees in this park.” The kid leaned forward, tentatively peering over the seat. “Is he…?”
+++++ “What the fuck you think? Yeah, he’s fucking dead.”
+++++Ricky tried to look tough. “You got the pipe?”
+++++The kid in back fumbled through his pockets, passing pipe and lighter over the console.
+++++Ricky tossed him the paper bag full of money. “Stick that in your pocket.”
+++++ “I thought you were only capping him if he didn’t loan you the green?”
+++++ “Wasn’t a loan. Said he was giving it to me.”
+++++ “I don’t understand,” the kid said. “Why’d you shoot him then?”
+++++Ricky dropped a rock in the bowl, sparked the glass. He inhaled deeply, blowing out a thick cloud. “Because while you were beating your meat, I was stuck listening to a goddamn history lesson on trees.” The smoke hit, and Ricky felt right.
+++++ “Trees? What about ’em?”
+++++Ricky stared through the rain at the ugly banyan tree. He didn’t see anything special. There were a million overgrown weeds just like it in these swamps.
+++++ “Who the fuck knows.” he said. “But I’m on to better things. I popped a cap in Wade Wojcik. When word gets out, I won’t just be Big Rick’s son anymore.
+++++“They’ll know I’m a player in this game for life.”