Black Mask

Family Love

by Brendan DuBois

 

They were fifteen minutes outbound from the failed robbery and ten minutes to the New Hampshire line when Cook spoke up from the rear of the stolen dark-blue Toyota Camry and said, “Flint’s dead.”

Redden glanced back and saw Cook up against the right rear door, Flint sprawled across his lap. Flint’s jean jacket was open, his white T-shirt was splattered dark brown, and one jeans-clad leg was twisted under him something awful.

Cook blinked a couple of times. His black leather jacket was bunched up around his thick neck, his black eyebrows furrowed hard.

Redden turned back to driving. “You sure?”

Cook swore and said, “Shit, I look like an EMT or something? He ain’t breathing.”

“Well, all right then.”

They were on I-93, the interstate going through Massachusetts up to New Hampshire, and traffic was heavy. Redden was tempted to really slam the accelerator, but the rear windshield was shattered by bullet holes that had ripped through the Camry and Flint back at the armored-car facility. If he started speeding, it would increase the chances of their being spotted.

It was dusk.

Traffic was steady but not as heavy as Redden wanted. Heavier traffic meant he could weave the Camry in and out until they crossed the state line, not sticking out by being alone in a lane. Plus, getting to the state line meant he was on familiar turf, where there were options available.

A stench came to him from the rear seat and Redden nearly gagged.

“Crap, what the hell is going on back there?”

Cook swore again and said, “What do you think, chief? My cuz is dead and that happens, learned a long time ago, the muscles cut loose, body waste empties out. That’s what happened.”

Redden lowered the driver’s-side window. “We’re gonna have to pull over, dump his body.”

He heard movement back there and something hard and cold pressed against the back of his neck.

The working end of a 9mm pistol.

“Yo, chief, that’s my cousin you’re talking about. We’re not treating him like a damn stinky bag of garbage, you understand?”

Redden winced as Cook swiveled the muzzle end hard, driving it into his skin.

“Got it?”

He said, “Yeah, got it,” and saw the sign mark Exit 47 in Methuen, knowing they were just a handful of minutes away from the state line, and as much as he wanted to get there damn quick, he had a vision of dark-green New Hampshire state-police cruisers waiting at the state line, engines running, the Ford Interceptors with their low-slung bodies and big round tires looking so damn mean.

“Okay,” Cook said, pulling the pistol away. “Okay, we got another problem here.”

Up ahead, the blue-and-yellow billboard saying WELCOME TO NEW HAMPSHIRE and below that, in smaller letters, Bienvenue Au New Hampshire, and thankfully, luckily, no police cruisers at the state line, no dark-green unmarked cruisers, nothing as they slipped out of the Bay State and into the Granite State.

“Yeah, what’s that,” Redden said, as he increased the speed some. Probably bullshit, but Redden liked to think that once in New Hampshire, especially if he could get off the Interstate and onto some small-town backroads, nobody would notice or care on seeing a Camry with some bullet holes in the rear windshield.

Cook coughed and said, “It hurts, that’s what.”

“What hurts?”

“Where I got shot, chief.”

He spun around quick-like, looked at Cook, who was holding his pistol in one hand and a handkerchief in the other, pressed against his left thigh. His dead cousin Flint was pushed over, both legs flopped onto the car’s floorboards, his upper torso kept in place by Cook’s lap.

“The hell did that happen?”

“Where do you think?” Cook asked. “Back there at the armored-car place, where it went to the shits, bullets flying. Caught one in my leg. Only started hurting a couple of minutes ago . . . hey, you hit?”

It had been awhile since Redden had been on this stretch of Interstate, but he knew he had to take an exit, and quick. Pretty soon they’d come to a tollbooth with attendants and surveillance cameras, and with what they had done awhile ago, there was a good chance a description of their stolen Camry was already out there on the police airwaves.

There.

He took the exit, made a right, and then took a left at the end of the exit, started heading west.

Cook said, “Hey, you hear me? You get hit?”

“No.”

Redden winced again as the barrel of the pistol was jammed against his neck. “Why the hell is that, hunh? You magic or something? The car gets hit, I get hit, my cousin gets hit . . . and nothing happens to you.”

Redden thought, Christ, what a load of crap. Nothing ever happened to him. Everything happened to him, even before he could shave. Rousted for vandalism as a kid. Trying to break into a 7-Eleven and getting nailed as he left. Robbing an Irving gas station and the damn little blondie customer hovering in the back happened to be an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who drew him down as he ran off into the parking lot. Lots of time, in juvie and state prison, bad food, lousy doctors and dentists, never once catching a break, always running up late and behind.

This was supposed to be a good score, something to get him ahead at least for a few months, get some breathing room, but it was like before, always before, something cracking wrong at the last moment, the plans and deals just collapsing like that balancing block game his girl Stacy liked to play, those days he was allowed to visit.

Redden said, “Pull that pistol away or I’ll put us in a ditch, and see how far you get with a bum leg. You think, what, the armored-car guards shot and missed me because I knew them? We were friends? Damn it, your cousin said this was going to be a clean hit. In and out. No worries, no fuss, no muss.”

He took a right, onto a narrow state road. Off the main drag. More woods, a couple of farms. Some mobile homes.

Where was he going?

Away, that’s all.

Always driving away, that was his life, damn it.

Always driving away.

Cook said, “Don’t talk trash about Flint. He worked there for two years, failed the pee test, and had all the lock codes. How the hell was he to know, or me either, that there’d be a company meeting there today? Right? Right? There were supposed to be five guys there, not fifty!”

He watched his speed as they drove on. Now that they were off the main roads, and driving through small towns, if the speed-limit signs said thirty-five miles per hour, by God, the local cops would nail you if you went forty. They could be real assholes like that.

“Aaaahh,” Cook moaned.

“What’s wrong?”

Cook said, “Damn fool, didn’t you hear a damn word I said back there? Are you stupid? I got shot. It’s hurting more. Aaaahhh. Jesus, it’s starting to really burn. You gotta do something.”

“Like what, go to an ER? One of those urgent-care places? They see a gunshot wound, five minutes later, the cops are there.”

“You got an idea, then?” Cook demanded. “Ah, Flint . . . poor old Flint . . .”

Redden gripped the steering wheel tighter.

Where next?

What now?

Now he knew why he was driving the way he was going, taking turns without thinking much about it, going on instinct. Or memory.

Or desperation.

He said, “My brother.”

“Who?”

“My younger brother. Earl.”

Cook laughed. “I thought you hated him.”

“I do,” Redden said. “And vicey versey. But . . . he’s family. He’s gotta take care of me.”

Cook said, “Says who?”

“Everybody,” Redden said, confidence coming back to him, a plan coming to his mind. “It’s family. He’s gotta take care of me.”

*   *   *

I looked at my work in the kitchen with satisfaction. Four New York strip sirloins from Joe’s Meat Market across town—pricey compared to the local chain supermarkets but oh so worth it for taste and freshness—were coming to room temperature on a large plate I had carefully moved to the center of the counter. They had been seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic pepper, fore and aft, and looked delicious.

Our tricolored English springer spaniel, Cooper, was sitting on the tiled kitchen floor, looking up with anticipation, tongue lolling out.

“Good boy,” I said. “And a better boy since I moved the plate.”

He wagged his stubby tail, only knowing that I was talking to him in a kind voice. A year ago I had prepared a similar meal, and when I went off to light the grill, I came back to find the broken platter on the floor and the last piece of raw meat being chewed into satisfaction.

I checked the time. Ninety minutes to go before my wife Melanie got home, plenty of time to get the grill going, heat up some brown rice and make a salad, feed us both, and our children Amy and Greg.

Plus the occasional scrap that landed on the floor for Cooper’s benefit.

I washed my hands and there was a ding that caught my attention.

Off to the left of the granite countertop was a black-and-white TV monitor, showing four separate scenes from different parts of the property. Three of the monitors showed the north, east, and west portions of our fenced-in yard, with night-vision optics that took over when the sun went down.

The south camera was focused on the gated entrance to our driveway, and a Camry was parked there, with a bearded and long-haired man standing outside of the open driver’s door, waving up at the camera.

I’ll be damned, I thought.

It was a face I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

I stood still for a moment, considering, pondering, and thinking things through.

I went to the sink, washed and dried my hands again, and then went out to the living room.

The television was on, showing a Law & Order rerun, and the sound was muted. My seventeen-year-old son Greg was sitting on a couch, playing some handheld game, his strong eyes focused on what he was watching. Melanie and I had one hard and fast rule in the house: no limit to game usage if your grades are kept up, and if you still maintain some outdoor activity. Greg was on the school’s hockey team, with broad shoulders and muscular arms, as well as the honor roll, and we all had high hopes for him.

“Greg,” I said.

He paused the game and looked up. Despite the sharing of genetics, both Amy and Greg looked like my wife, with the same olive complexion, dark hair, and brown eyes.

“Yeah, Dad, what’s up?”

“I’ve got to go down to the gate,” I said. “It looks like someone’s lost, looking for directions. In forty-five minutes, do me a favor, light the grill, okay? Make sure it doesn’t go over five hundred degrees.”

“Sure,” he said, going back to his game.

“Greg.”

He looked up. “Yeah?”

“What did I just say?”

He smiled. “Forty-five minutes from now, light the grill, not over five hundred degrees.”

“Good job. Amy?”

My fifteen-year-old daughter was sitting on the opposite couch, her long runner’s legs propped up on a coffee table and her MacBook Pro on her lap. She glanced up, pushed her brown hair back, and said, “Yeah?”

“In thirty minutes, will you remind your brother what he promised to do?”

“I guess,” she said. “You think it’s going to take you thirty minutes to give that guy directions?”

“Oh, I want to go to the barn, make sure I locked the door from this morning,” I said. “But remember, Amy. Half-hour. Remind your brother.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, going back to her MacBook Pro.

I started out of the living room. “You know, one of these days you two could surprise me by going all Victorian on me, and say, ‘Yes, Father,’ or ‘Absolutely, Father.’ That’d be a nice change of pace.”

I got smiles from both of them, which was good.

On the way to the side door, I stopped at a closet, opened the door, reached up, and took down a loaded .357 Ruger stainless-steel revolver, which I slid into my waistband.

Not so good. . . .

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month's issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2021. Family Love by Brendan DuBois

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