Friday, November 3, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

You had your eyes closed when the sun burned out. You opened them because you heard the terror around you, the gasps and screams. You felt the chill. Cowered from the cries of the animals. Those who could make fire did so. The looting started right away.

The poison gas began seeping out of the vents, but it was not a poison that killed. At least not quickly. It was an investment in death. It was a creation that the government scientists lauded. The death would happen away from the source, and it would be quite a show.

The billionaires were satisfied in their domed enclave. Their false sun burned brightly, and there was no gas to twist their minds. They got to enjoy the show. That was the point.

The poor are always fodder. Always ignored. 

And they always lose. 


  1. To celebrate, the billionaires took a submersible to tour the Titanic. The poor fodder got their revenge.

  2. 1
    A couple blocks into Bensonhurst, Harold’s father pulled into an alley between a pawn shop and a rundown haberdashery and came to a stop behind two other cars, black sedans like theirs, but didn’t turn off the ignition. A wan light haloed with moths shone through a greasy bulb over a side door. Pop didn’t move. He didn’t take his eyes off the two cars dead ahead, as if he expected both vehicles were packing.

    Harold’s chest tightened. “Are we going in, or what?”

    The driver’s side door opened. Pop’s eyes didn’t move. “Keep the engine on.”

    “What? I thought we…you asked me—” Damn it. All his father wanted was a getaway guy? He could have asked at least five other mugs he worked with to do that, leaving him free to meet Lola. “I had plans!”

    “Willya shut up already about your plans? Just. Wait. Here. Look alive. But don’t do anything stupid.”

    Pop lumbered off down the alley toward the side door, shoulders hunched like an old man. Harold didn’t remember ever seeing his father looking so old. He came to a stop beneath the bulb, had a look around, rapped a signal on the door, waited to be granted entrance, then slipped inside.

    Harold waited. And waited. Staring at the door. There was no breeze in the alley. Sweat beaded up on the back of his neck. He cranked down the window, loosened his tie, unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. What did that mean, look alive? Did Pop expect trouble? He craned his neck ahead, to the side, behind him. He couldn’t see a soul. Couldn’t hear even a muffled voice coming from inside the building.

    He doesn’t want me doing to do anything stupid, Harold thought, but leaving me here like this is already stupid. Finally his father had agreed to let him get his feet wet in the business, but how was he supposed to do that if he was left out of the important meetings? He reached over to the driver’s side, snapped off the ignition, and popped open his door.

    A rat scurried away just where he was about to set his foot. He recoiled, then swore at the beast and continued unfolding himself from the passenger’s side. He shoved down his fear and stalked toward the door, trying to remember the sequence of knocks Pop had used. Two short then a pause, then three more? Maybe. A moth lit on his hair and he whacked at it, missing, but it flew off.

    Three short, a pause, then two. That was it. Harold raised a fist but before he could make contact, the door swung open, and before him stood a man with the deadest eyes he’d ever seen. Caverns with black bags underneath. And a gun in his right hand, aiming straight at Harold’s chest. By reflex, Harold raised his hands.

    1. 2
      “It’s just my kid,” he heard his father say from inside. “He’s harmless.”

      “Let him in,” another male voice said.

      The bags under the man’s eyes crinkled, the gun dropping. He threw the non-gun hand around Harold’s shoulders. Harold was grateful he hadn’t pissed himself. “He’s a good lookin’ boy, Lou.”

      “Takes after his mother,” Pop said, with a slanted grin. He then shot Harold a look he knew well. The sit-down-and-shut-up look. Harold sidled into the room and took up the only vacant chair. Aside from Pop and a guy he’d seen come around a building site a couple times, he didn’t recognize anyone else. Nobody offered introductions. That just seemed plain rude, and a terrible way to do business.

      “Harold Weissman,” Harold said, sticking a hand out toward the guy who seemed like he was in charge. Pop shot him that look again. But before Harold could pull back, the guy was grasping his hand, patting it with the other, like the guy was his long-lost uncle.

      “Nice to make your acquaintance,” the man said. He nodded around the table, saying who was who. All the names were Italian, and by the time he was done, Harold didn’t remember a single one of them except for the guy in charge. Lorenzo. He figured it was good to know the name of the guy in charge, at least. “Have a seat, Harold,” Lorenzo said with a smile, “we were just having a little chat your old man here. Good to see you taking an interest in the family business.”

      “Oh, I’m interested all right,” Harold said. “Some of my earliest memories were hanging around construction sites with Pop, watching guys pour concrete, build stuff. I always wanted in. On all of it.”

      “Someone’s an eager beaver,” the man next to Lorenzo said.

      His father’s quick glance at Harold just said shut up. “Anyway,” Pop said. “Like we were talking…”

      Harold got the message and shrank back down, letting the conversation go on without him. He did do one smart thing, though. He tried to listen more than he talked, and he was proud of himself for allowing the numbers and plans fly right over him with no comment. Then something wrong caught his ear and he couldn’t keep silent. “Wait, that don’t add up,” he said. “You can’t sell concrete for that kind of scratch.”

      “You can if it’s good concrete,” Pop said under his breath.

      “Yeah, but we don’t—”

      “Kid spent the day drinking at the track,” Pop said. “Doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

      The men laughed.

      “Thing is,” Pop said, “we got the goods, you come well recommended, so we’ll do this first job for whatever price point meets your customers’ needs. Then we’ll take it from there. I’ll get my number guy to work it all out.”

      Harold sank back into his chair, feeling about five years old. He didn’t say another word. The men talked, Lorenzo broke out a bottle of something that smelled like grape juice mixed with turpentine, and they all toasted their new partnership. Harold wasn’t offered a glass. Pop told them he’d had enough, didn’t want him to puke all over his car seats.

      When the meeting broke up, all went their separate ways. Pop stayed, talking to Lorenzo. His father nodded to Harold, and Harold perked up, thinking he wanted him to be part of the conversation.

      Instead he told him to move the car because he was blocking a guy in.

      Harold’s shoulders sagged, and he went off to move the sedan. But he heard voices. Two of the guys who’d been in the meeting were sitting in their car, and apparently didn’t realize Harold had come outside. He froze.

      “The kid’s wet behind the ears,” one of the guys said. “That’s not good for this kinda work.”

      The other snorted a laugh. “That’s the best kind of patsy. They’ll never see it coming.”

      Harold’s fists tightened and a hot rage burned in his chest. Call me a patsy, I’ll show you. He was only inches from the car. He knew where Pop hid the gun. The two guys would be sitting ducks. Three more steps and he’d be at the passenger door. He reached for the handle. It opened with a soft click. The glove box was right there. He extended his fingers.

    2. 3
      Pop’s hand landed with a thud on his shoulder. “Come on, kid,” he said. Why was he talking so loud? “It’s late. Let’s let these two get home to their families.”

      “Yeah.” He let his own hand fall to his side. “Yeah, okay, Pop. Let’s go.”

      As they left Bensonhurst for Brooklyn Heights, Harold snuck glances at his father’s profile as he drove. Maybe he was too wet behind the ears for this work. But he’d be damned if he’d ever let anyone play them for patsies.

      “I told you not to do anything stupid,” his father said. “Next time, you listen to me.”

      “Sure, Pop.” Harold turned toward the side window and smiled. There would be a next time.


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