Tag Archives: P.K. Augustyn

Lake Effect

When Earl turned onto the dirt road, the snow was coming down at a good clip and slamming into the windshield. As we got closer to the lake, the winds were picking up. The headlights caught the leafless scrubs struggling to hold onto the hard soil that rooted them.

+++++I wanted to tell Earl to snap on the high beams, but he would have told me to shut up. Earl liked to do the talking, and he didn’t want any lip from someone half his age. Many thought of him as just a melon-headed triggerman. But I knew better. Earl is a survivor and has been in the game since he was a punk kid.

+++++With every rut and bump we went over there was a thump in the back. I knew we had a stiff in the trunk. The only reason anyone like us would go down this road was to dump the trash.

+++++That’s what the Boss told me over the phone. He said Earl was going to pick me up to dump some trash.

+++++I’ve made this run before, but it was always with Mike. Mike is my older brother, and together we’ve made this trash run at least a half of dozen times. Now he’s moved up in the organization. And when you move up in the organization, they don’t send you out on errands to dump a stiff in the lake.

+++++The road was ending, and I could see the wind blowing snow across the choppy waters of the dark lake. I buttoned my overcoat and turned up the collar.

+++++Earl stopped that car near the edge of the bluff and got out. I joined him in the back, and he opened the trunk. The stiff was rolled up in black plastic, and there were chains looped around it. The chains were for weight to ensure it went down to the bottom and stayed there.

+++++Earl grabbed the legs, and I bent down to get the other end.

+++++We got the stiff out of the truck and made our way towards the bluff. Earl parked a little too close to a cluster of bushes. I had to maneuver the stiff between the car and the bushes. It was cold, and the high winds pounded snow into our faces, biting into our eyes.

+++++Ice made our footing dicey, and branches started to scrape my coat. One sprung off me and slapped into Earl. It caused him to lose his grip, and he dropped his end of the stiff. It slid from my hands and fell into the bushes.

+++++Branches tore into the plastic, and the faint moonlight was enough to show a pale, lifeless face with a bullet hole in its forehead.

+++++It was Mike.

+++++Mike. They whacked Mike.

+++++“Sorry kid,” Earl said with a smirk on his face. “You weren’t supposed to see that.”

+++++I turned. He had a .45 out, pointed at my chest.

+++++“It’s a one-way trip for you too.”

+++++I felt paralyzed. Shocked. I just looked at him.

+++++“Your brother was pushing it too fast,” he said. “The Boss don’t like overly ambitious ones.”

+++++“What?” I needed to snap out of it.

+++++“The Boss said to dump you here too,” Earl blurted out. “He doesn’t want to be looking over his shoulder waiting for you to revenge what he did to your brother.”

+++++Get thinking. He’s talking too much.

+++++“It’s just the way it is kid.”

+++++I couldn’t wait much longer. The cold wind was coming in hard now, and the snow was blinding. He was just five feet away when I leaped at him and then the gun roared.

+++++The bullet slammed into my left shoulder as I barreled into his gut. The force pushed him back against the car. He was doubled over and gasping. I swung back my right leg and kicked him as hard as I could in the face.

+++++I was lucky, damn lucky. He talked too much. He should have shot me right away.

+++++I grabbed the .45 off the ground and shoved it into Earl’s face. My shoulder was killing me, but the lifeless stare on Mike’s face hurt me more.

+++++“Guess where we’re going?” I spat out through clenched teeth.

+++++He was still groggy. I grabbed him by his coat and shoved him into the driver’s side of the car.

+++++I got in the back and placed the barrel of the .45 hard against his skull.

+++++“Come on Earl get this heap moving,” I ordered. “I need you to get me in to see the Boss.”

+++++“I’ve got a little present to give to him.”

***

+++++I thought the bullet went clean through, but I was wrong. Intense throbs of agony shot down from my shoulder to my fingertips with every bump, and hole Earl hit on that dirt road.

+++++It seemed to take forever to make it to the highway.

+++++Earl leered at me through the rearview mirror.

+++++“You’re not going to make it kid.”

+++++I told him to shut up and raked the barrel of the .45 against the back of his skull.

+++++I knew Earl was the one who put the hole in Mike’s head. The Boss would’ve selected him for the job. I fought back the urge to blow out his brains all over the dashboard. I needed him to get to the Boss. But once I’m inside Earl is going to get it in the liver.

+++++The rush of adrenaline must have been wearing off because I started to feel weak. Blood was dripping down my left arm and pooling on the floor of the backseat. In my right hand, the gun felt weighted. But I kept it resting on top of the driver’s seat and aimed at the back of Earl’s head.

+++++He said something, but I couldn’t make it out. I just wanted him to shut the hell up.

+++++Things became foggy. Then I saw it. I saw it all happening.

+++++Going in the club, taking the back stairs to the Boss’s office, my ticket in was the .45 pressed against Earl’s spine. Once we make it through the office door, I’ll pull the trigger twice and watch Earl crumble to the floor — the rug soaking up his blood pouring out of the holes in his side. Then the Boss will be standing up from behind his desk, and I’ll ram the hot barrel of the .45 into his mouth. And then I’ll stare into his cue-ball-sized eyes as they plead back at me and I’ll pull the trigger for the last time.

+++++I was cold, and my head was down, resting on the back of the front seat. Looking at the floor, it seemed that my left shoe was floating in a sea of blood.

+++++The car stopped, and Earl turned around. He pushed my head back, and I collapsed in the backseat. The .45 felt like an anvil in my hand and I dropped it.

+++++“You had guts kid,” Earl’s voice seemed far away. “Yes, you had.”

+++++Then I could feel the car make a U-turn. I closed my eyes. I knew we were headed back to the lake.

end

Let the Towns Drift Slowly By

He heard it coming before you did. He was already making his way to the tracks while you were dousing the fire. You picked up your sack and caught up to him. He was camped just outside of the town waiting for the late-night freight to leave when you walked in on him. You shared your last can of beans and some salted pork. He was pleased to have the company and pleased to have the food. When he was spooning his beans, he told you it’s safer in pairs than being alone.

+++++The engine is illuminating the tracks and you hide behind the bushes until it passes. Remember, you’ve got to hop on them before they reach full speed or you’ll could end up under them. He keeps eyeing the boxcars as they go by, looking for one that he thinks he could get open. He sees a good one and he slaps you on the shoulder. He runs forward and leaps onto the car ladder. You are running right alongside of him, keeping up with the car. He is working the locking lever of the door and gets it free. He pushes it open a couple of feet and slides in. By then you are on the car ladder right behind him. Holding tightly to the ladder rung, you place your left foot through the door. It lands solidly on the platform floor and then you step in.

+++++You open the door a little wider to get some moon light inside the freight car. It was half full of wooden crates. He uses a crowbar to pry one open.

+++++He’s disappointed because they only contain machine parts.

+++++You mutter something about watchmen being about. He assures you that they will only check the cars when the train stops and we’ll jump before that.

+++++You lean back against the side of a crate and slide down to sit. There’s not much to do once you’re inside. The sway of the ride and the pulse of the tracks puts your mind into a lull. You look over at him. He is already laying on the floor using his sack as a pillow.

+++++Mile one, mile five, mile twenty; and it comes back to you. As it has before. It’s the reason why you are here.

+++++But Son, I got you a deferment.

+++++You tell him you didn’t want the deferment.

+++++Harvard and Yale accepted you. I’ve pulled strings.

+++++You say you want to enlist. You want to go.

+++++You’re not Army material. They will eat you up.

+++++You say you will fight in Europe or the Pacific. It doesn’t matter where.

+++++You’re weak. It’s not your fault. Your doctors will not allow it.

+++++You tell him you don’t care what he thinks or what they say.

+++++I’m looking out for you. It’s what a father does for his son.

+++++You plead to him that you want to go. You’ve got to go.

+++++It’s not for you. Can’t you understand?

+++++You can’t talk to him.

+++++I will not permit it. The doctors will not permit it.

+++++You can’t reason with him.

+++++They will listen to me. You will not be able to go.

+++++You hear a whistle. Suddenly there is daylight in the boxcar. You spot him in the doorway. A massive body with a large brim hat and a nightstick in his hand. A watchman. Working for the railroad. You know his orders. Get the freight hoppers. No vagabonds. Throw the bums out. And a crack on the head to make sure they get the message. How the hell did he get in the car with the train moving? Did it stop? Did you fall asleep?

+++++He doesn’t see you in the corner by the crates. But he sees him. You want to yell to him to wake up, get on your feet. But it doesn’t come out. The brute in the brim hat moves in on him. His large shoulders blocking the light coming through the door. His frame casts a shadow over the sleeping figure. The club rises high over the brim hat. The arc of his swings coming down on him. Again, and again.

+++++Is this a dream? Are you asleep? Or have you always been awake?

+++++You stand over him. His face is stoved in. Just like the others. Just like your father’s. You drop the crowbar and continue to stare at him. He looks like the others now. He looks like him now.

+++++The train is slowing. You must be coming into a town. You grab your sack and jump off. You will need to stop in town this time. You will need to find a store. You still have money in your shoe. Plenty for a can of beans and some salt pork. Then you’ll work your way around to the west side of the town and find another one. Just look for a low fire in the night. You’ll find one near the tracks. They’re always waiting. Waiting for a late-night freight train.