Pulling up carefully on the latch handle, Jack Winslow stepped out of his Chevy Impala onto the lonely tree-lined street. The intense rain and wind would cover most sounds, but he was careful not to allow the low-register thump of his car door to cut through the din.
Repossessing a motorcycle in the middle of a bad storm was a great idea. Hurricane Artemis would make landfall tomorrow, but he was already providing sustained forty mph winds over a two-state area, but the bike owner lived outside any of the evac areas and it was a cinch would not be expecting Jack today.
His plan might seem crazy to anyone else, but Jack wanted his new boss to know he possessed the drive and the skill set required to get the job done. He also believed the deadbeat whose house he’d arrived at would have less inclination to argue under the circumstances.
Leaning against the wet car, he waited and watched. No one appeared at the door of the house. Through the picture window, the images of a porn film glowed from a 60” flat screen TV, enhancing the sag of the window blinds in the twilight.
Squaring his shoulders, Jack sent a one-word text summoning his waiting tow truck driver and walked up the driveway leading from the gravel sidewalk. The formerly white picket fence which bordered it might have been painted two decades prior. Only the roof looked relatively new, but everything beneath it screamed for maintenance.
The only orderly space on the lot was the garage where the black Harley bagger was parked deep inside, freshly washed, waxed and gleaming. He tried the rollup. Locked. Peering through a window, he looked from the bike to the house and slipped a hand into his raincoat. He was about to retrieve the notice of repossession when the front door burst open.
From his mug shots and driver’s license photo, Jack recognized Brett Marley instantly. He also recognized the Remington 870 shotgun Marley was aiming at his chest, “Take your hand out of your coat, asshole.” Jack complied, trying to quell the slight tremor in his fingers. “What are you doing here?”
“Point your gun away from me, please.”
“You’re not in charge, tubbo. I asked you what you’re doing on my property.” Marley advanced a step, raising the gun to eye level.
Jack stared along the ventilated rib on top of the barrel, lining up with Marley’s wide, right pupil, summoning up all the bravado he could, “You . . . you owe three back payments on the Harley in your garage, plus interest. I’m here to get one or the other.”
“You’re not taking my bike, and you can waddle on back to your boss and tell him he’ll get the money when I have money, and not before. Got it?” He swung the barrel toward Jack’s car and back, “Leave, dickhead.”
Jack quick-stepped the fifty feet to his car, his shoulders tight, half-expecting a load of buckshot to burst a hole through his guts. His hands were still shaking when he yanked his keys out of his jeans and dropped them on the wet pavement to watch them slide under the car.
Bending over, he fumbled beneath the car, clawing for the keys. The hood of his jacket stayed put while he turned his head. Driven sideways by the wind, heavy raindrops pelted his face. His hand closed over the wet tangle of metal, and in his rush to leave he stood up too quickly. Light headed, he kept his gaze low, not wanting to see Marley aiming the gun which could end his life.
From their conversation the day before, the words of his new co-worker and tow truck driver bounced around in his head.
“You’re going to collect debts for a loan shark?” Elliott Kaminsky crossed his arms, “Was this your idea, Jack? Because it isn’t always an easy gig.”
Inwardly, Jack was offended, as though a challenge to his manhood had been dropped, “You think I’m looking for easy?”
“You should look for easier than this. You’re a nice guy, Jack. Too nice for this line of work.”
“The money’s a lot better in this line of work.”
“It can be,” Elliott placed a hand on Jack’s shoulder, “It can be. But from what I know of you, the money isn’t worth the hassle. I don’t believe you’re a good fit for the job. I’m telling you this as a friend.”
A loyal customer at Jack’s old place of employment, Jack had always liked the man, and dismissed Elliott’s comments with a smile. He wasn’t smiling now. He was pissed off.
He unlocked the Impala and glanced up at the house. Marley wasn’t there. He had gone back inside self-assured—Jack would run scared. Without bothering to buckle in, Jack drove a hundred yards away, killed the lights, pulled off the road among some trees and shut off the engine.
He got out, taking care to close the car door quietly once again. Crouching, he made his way through the trees toward the house. The wind gusted against him, almost straightening him up a couple of times, but he leaned into it until he came to the rickety fence and scissor-stepped over it.
The house appeared as serene as before. The ratty wood door was shut, but the glow from the TV seemed brighter. He avoided the window, pushed up against the house, and slid toward the door with his back against the siding. He would have to move fast to get the jump on Marley before he could react.
Drawing in a deep breath, he held it for a count of ten and slowly let it out as he reached for the doorknob, but the door cracked open and the muzzle of Marley’s shotgun pushed through and lined up with his nose.
Marley tipped the barrel up and fired above Jack’s head. The boom overshadowed the sound of the storm for an instant and the concussion of the blast jolted his core, causing Jack to squat down on his haunches and raise his hands above his head.
“Man,” Marley racked the next shell into the chamber and pointed the gun at Jack’s head, “you are one stupid, persistent fat boy. You must want to die. Do you want to die?”
Jack’s vocal cords wouldn’t respond, and he shook his head violently as the Remington hit the ground in front of him, and Marley’s body followed, toppling over to land on his back in the tall wet grass.
Elliott Kaminsky stood next to the door, dressed in raingear and holding a twenty-ounce leather sap in one hand, “Dumbasses. They’re the same everywhere.” He bent down and picked up the shotgun, “You okay Jack?”
Elliott pushed the front door open before dragging Brett Marley’s six-foot-three-inch frame into the house. He rolled Marley onto his stomach to reveal a fat wallet stuffed into the back pocket of his overly tight blue jeans. “What does this prick owe the boss?”
“Sixteen-hundred, plus seven-fifty for the vig.”
Elliott opened the wallet, fingering the bills inside, “Wow. Being a dumbass biker dude must pay better than I thought.” He counted out twenty-four one-hundred-dollar bills and handed them to Jack. He left the remaining thousand dollars in the wallet and dropped it to the floor by Marley’s head. Jack watched as Elliott pumped the rest of the shells onto the floor and bashed the shotgun against the doorjamb, leaving a significant bend in the barrel.
Tossing the gun as they stepped outside, Elliott closed the door behind them. Jack pointed, shouting above the roar of the wind, “Is he going to be alright?”
“If his skull isn’t too thick, he will be. His head will hurt when he wakes, but he got what he was asking for. Come on, let’s go. This shit’s only going to get worse.” He circled a finger in the wind.
“Where’s your tow truck, Elliott?”
“Down the road a little, behind some trees. Where’s your car?”
“Up the road a little, behind some trees.” Jack smiled sheepishly, “I guess I should have texted you to come sooner.” He bent over abruptly and threw up in the road.
Elliott jumped back at first, but stepped forward, putting a hand on Jack’s back, patting, “You should have waited for me. Am I going to have to say it again, Jack?”
“No,” Jack coughed out the words, “you were right. I guess I don’t have the instincts for this kind of work.”
“It’s okay, Jack. Don’t take it personally. You tried, and now you know.”
“But maybe I’ll get better at it with time and experience.”
“You might get better at certain things Jack, but it takes a particular . . . sensibility to do this work well, and frankly, you don’t possess it.”
Jack wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “Yeah, you’re probably right. If you hadn’t been here, I’d be dead.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Do you think Marley will come after me?”
Elliott’s eyes moved down and to the left, “If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Jack held his hand out, allowing the rain to rinse off the spittle, “I don’t know what I’ll do now.”
“What was wrong with your old job?”
“Elliott, do you have any idea what it’s like to have to get up at two every morning to be at work by three?”
“No, but I know you made the best cinnamon rolls in Houston.”
“I put on twenty-five pounds working at that bakery.”
“Simple problem. Don’t sample so much of the product.”
“I need to find something else.”
“You can work at the bakery while you’re searching. It’s better than getting your head blown off by an idiot like Biker Boy in there.”
“I owe you, Elliott.”
“You don’t owe me jack, Jack.” Jack rolled his eyes, smiling. Elliott leaned in closer, “But if you feel like passing me the occasional free pastry, I wouldn’t refuse.”
“It’s a deal. Hey, let’s get out of this stuff. Thanks for shading me, Elliott.”
“Go home, Jack.”
They bumped fists, and Elliott stood in place as his friend walked away and disappeared into the night. He waited until he saw the taillights of Jack’s Impala come on, and watched the car pull away.
He shook his head, wondering who was crazier, Jack or himself. The Governor declared a state of emergency two days before, and they both lived in evacuation areas, yet here they were, defying the oncoming storm. Artemis was kicking up his heels, readying for the dance of death, and he would choose his partners freely, if they remained on the floor.
Elliott sighed when Jack’s car was out finally out of sight. His eyes searched the vacant rural road as he pulled the sap from his back pocket and walked back toward the house. When Brett Marley woke up, he and Elliott were going to come to a quiet little understanding about Jack Winslow . . . and life.
D.V. Bennett lives in southern Washington State, enjoys spending time with his family and training in martial arts. He has a day job, but writing is what keeps him up nights.