Willie handed Carl a wet movie ticket as they walked into the theater lobby. Both men were drenched from head to foot.
“Fuck! I can’t believe this weather,” Carl said.
“I know. We’re gonna freeze our asses off if in the a.c. You want popcorn?”
“Does it go well with vodka?” Carl patted the bottle that was tucked in his coat pocket.
“It ain’t even noon yet, you fucking lush,” said Willie.
“You know you’ll have some.”
“Not until after the show. It ruins my concentration. I’m getting popcorn.”
Carl followed Willie to the concession stand.
“I don’t think you’ll have to concentrate real hard on a Larry the Cable Guy flick. Could you get me an orange soda for the mixer?”
“I look like a bank today?”
“Come on Willie…I’ll pay you back.”
“I’m just bustin’ your balls. You can pay for the next movie.”
Willie bought a giant tub of popcorn and two drinks. He handed one of the cups to his friend and they walked past the unmanned ticket box to find their movie in the multi-plex.
The lights were already down when they found it.
“Shit, I can’t see a thing,” Carl said.
“We’re sitting in the back,” said Willie.
Carl usually made a b-line to the front row like a little kid, which bugged the hell out of Willie. He hated having to practically lay flat in the hard, broke down seats and crane his neck back to take in the picture.
“Come on,” Carl whined. “At least go to the middle.”
“Nah, we’re in the back today. I paid…my choice.”
Carl conceded. Their eyes had adjusted enough to find a seat without tripping in the aisle, so the two men sat down.
On the screen a preview was playing for a horror movie featuring an axe wielding lunatic in an Easter bunny costume.
“Cool,” Carl said. “Hey, I don’t think there’s anyone else in here.” He took the bottle out of his pocket and was getting ready to twist the lid off when Willie stopped him by covering his hand.
“Wait till you’re sure. There’s a time and a place, ya know?”
“Aw come on! Are you still pissed off about that last job? I told you I’d never get that lit again. How many times I gotta say I’m sorry?”
A vision flashed in Willie’s head. He was in the back room of the closed jewelry store, filling a sack with as many trinkets as he could get his hands on. The back door had pried open without a problem and Carl was sitting watch in the car out front.
They had a tip that the alarm system of the ancient building had stopped functioning long ago and was only there for show. But if Carl spotted any trouble outside he was supposed to call Willie’s cell.
When the old man with the shotgun stuck his key in the front door, Carl didn’t see because he was passed out drunk behind the wheel.
As soon as Willie heard the lock being worked he went to the back door. He was surprised when the old man’s son came in swinging a Louisville slugger.
By sheer luck he just missed having his skull split open and ran to the front of the store in time to look down the barrel of the old man’s shotgun.
Willie flung the sack of jewelry as hard as he could and knocked the shotgun out of the old man’s hands. The gun went off when it hit the floor and the old man and his son both hit the deck.
Willie jumped over the fallen store owner and went out the door. He saw Carl slumped over the wheel and cursed. By the time he pushed his partner over and got behind the wheel, Babe Ruth was hitting homers through the windshield.
Carl stirred out of his stupor when glass rained in on them and Willie burned an inch of rubber off the wheels tearing away from the curb…
“Until I forget how much money we lost and how close we came to getting killed because you passed out behind the wheel of the lookout car,” Willie said.
“Jesus! I thought that shit was in the past. What did you ask me to go to the show for…you’re still so pissed?”
Carl sighed and dropped his head.
“All right…I’m sorry I brought it up again. I’m just having a little trouble lining something else up for us right now, and Jimmy is pissed as hell that he didn’t get a piece of that jewelry store.”
The previews were over and a commercial reminded movie patrons to silence their cell phones.
“It’s getting ready to start. Why don’t you go ahead and find us a seat in the middle? I gotta go take a piss,” said Willie.
Carl popped up in his seat with a big grin.
“Oh…okay. You’d better hurry though, it’s gonna start.”
“Sit in the middle. Not the middle of the front. It hurts my head.”
“In the middle…I promise,” Carl said.
“Here, take my cup and the popcorn with you. I’ll be back in a minute.”
The two men got up and Carl quickly moved to the third row from the front like Willie knew he would. As soon as he sat down he took the bottle out and spun the top off. His head tipped back and he emptied half of the vodka down his throat, also like Willie knew he would. His once reliable sidekick was on a steady downward spiral.
Willie shook his head as he quietly pushed open the door and stepped out of the theater. There was still nobody attending the ticket box in the hallway where they tore your ticket and directed you to the film you paid for.
He passed the ticket box unnoticed and went into the men’s room, which was empty, and left him alone with his own thoughts as he entered a stall.
Willie was called to a sit down after the jewelry store blunder. Carl wasn’t invited to attend.
Jimmy was there, of course, since he was the head of the crew. And all of the other low level wiseguys from the neighborhood that worked under Jimmy. Willie was decidedly in the hot seat, but it was better than not being invited to the meeting at all. If that were the case, he would have been in the same position as his partner.
“That kid’s a friggin’ nitwit,” Jimmy said. “He gets worse every day with the booze or drugs or whatever the hell he’s doing.”
“I know that he drinks too much. I’ve tried to talk to him,” Willie said.
“The time for talk is over. He’s cost us too much already. Christ Willie, he almost cost you your life,” Teddy the Shark said.
“Carl’s had a lot of problems. His wife left him right after his pop died. Then his brother got pinched for that coke thing. He just needs some help and…” Willie was working it up…trying to plead his old friend’s case as if he were his lawyer and the room full of wiseguys were a jury. But in that room the judge made all of the final decisions, and Jimmy was the judge.
“I’m sorry,” Jimmy said, “but the kid’s got to go.”
“I ain’t asking you, Will. It’s already decided. I just thought that since you known him so long…I’d give you the opportunity to take care of this yourself. Otherwise…it’ll be taken care of for you.”
Willie looked around the room. He was surrounded by the somber stares of killers. Sure, in one sense they were all friends…even called each other family. But if any one of them became a problem, or came in the way of the other earning a buck, none of them would hesitate sticking a knife in the other’s back.
“Don’t worry Jimmy. I’ll take care of it,” Willie said without having any idea how he could kill someone that he loved like a brother.
He waited for what seemed like an eternity before he heard the sound of the bathroom door open. Footsteps clicked across the tiled floor and a zipper unzipped.
Willie flushed the toilet behind him and opened the stall door. He walked to the sink and looked in the mirror, not at his own reflection, but of that of the old man who stood in front of the urinal trying to coax his prostate into cooperating with him.
Willie turned the water on and kept his eyes on the old man. He thought about something that his dad had taught him when he was just a kid.
Men are easy targets in public bathrooms. They avoid making eye contact with each other because they don’t want the other guy to think that they’re looking at their goods.
The old man at the urinal kept his head down, concentrating on the job at hand.
Willie left the water running and quietly crept up behind him. When he was close enough, he slammed the palm of his hand into the back of the old man’s head.
There was a loud wet thud as the old man’s skull connected with the hard tile wall. He crumpled to the floor with blood streaming down his face. A low moan came out of the victim and his head rolled from side to side.
Willie stooped over his prey and grabbed hold of him by the lapels of his coat. He jerked him upwards and slammed his head back down on the tile floor again and again until the old man was dead and his prostate finally fulfilled his last wish on earth.
Willie purposely stepped into the pool of blood that was forming under the old man’s head and bent over again to search his pockets. The reward was a wallet and a nice pocket knife.
He tucked the goods in his own pockets and shut the water off at the sink before exiting the bathroom and trotting back down the empty hall to the theater that Carl was in.
He opened the door just enough to slip in and stood in the back until his eyes re-adjusted.
Carl was still alone in the theater and was passed out in his seat. The tub of popcorn was tipped over on the floor next to the empty vodka bottle.
Carl didn’t stir when Willie squatted down and removed his shoes. Willie took off his own blood stained shoes and put them on Carl’s feet. He carefully maneuvered around his unconscious friend to avoid stepping in the bloody footprints he had left on the floor. There he sat down and put Carl’s shoes on his own feet.
His friend would go away for a while on a murder charge and Willie would be free of his burden. He didn’t mind killing really; the old guy in the bathroom was a testament to that. But Carl was his friend. They grew up together.
Carl would be safe in the can, and Jimmy couldn’t really blame Willie for not getting the chance to whack the guy before he went into a drunken rage and killed some citizen. It would work out for everyone all around.
When he finished tying the laces, Willie took the old man’s wallet out of his pocket, took most of the cash out of it, and stuffed the wallet into a pocket in Carl’s coat.
But just as he pulled his hand out, Carl snapped to and grabbed his hand.
“Hey! Willie…was the hell you doing?” He slurred.
“Let go, Carl!”
But Carl didn’t let go. He grabbed Willie’s other arm and jerked him forward.
Willie struggled to break away, but his friend held on tight.
“I’m sorry, Willie…so sorry. I betrayed everyone in my life…My wife…my brother…even you…I’m…so sorry.”
“Damnit Carl, let go!” Willie jerked backwards and Carl finally let go. But he stumbled out of his seat and his shirt came undone.
Willie saw something glisten in the flickering light of the projected movie. It was something that didn’t look right.
He stepped over Carl and ripped his shirt open more. The thing that glistened was a wire that had been taped under Carl’s shirt.
“They made me do it, Willie. That’s why I haven’t been able to stay sober. They been listening to everything. Oh God, what’d I do?” Drunken Carl started weeping like a baby.
Willie ran for the nearest fire exit. An alarm went off when he pushed the door open. It didn’t matter though; the cops were already waiting outside for him.