graphics mode c r o s s X c o n n e c t previous | next

| main page
| issue contents
| contributors
| e-mail us
   t h e    a v e n g e r s

--- D E N N I S   M U S T

      I've fantasized about sex, but not about murder.
      Never owned a gun. Jimmy hadn't, either. The day I told him, he went out and bought a snub-nosed .38 revolver.
      "What time do we meet in the city?"
      "I'm ready to leave now," I said.
      "I phoned work. Told them an emergency came up in the family. Hoped to be back in a week."
      "I did the same. But we have to have a strategy. We just can't go into the woods and shoot."
      "Don't worry, I'm cool."
      I hadn't heard that tone of voice since the night years earlier he'd returned home from boot camp. After supper, at his challenge, we began wrestling in the dining room. Always I could pin him down. Within minutes he'd straddled me and was bending the fingers of my left hand back toward my elbow.
      "Enough, I give up."
      "Huh-uh. You got to say Uncle. Nice and sweet like."
      "You're going to break them, you little prick!"
      "Easy with the harsh words now." The fingers arced farther back. "Uncle. Say it, Buddy. Let me hear it."
      "Much better." His smile revealing a splinter of teeth. "Semper Fi."
      He ate his dessert. Red Jell-O with a slice of pineapple and a dollop of mayonnaise.
      "You would have snapped the bones, huh?"
      "You do what you must. No offense."

      Would we have bought the gun and ammunition if it had been a less heinous rape?
      In an adjoining Costa Del Sol hotel room late one evening, I heard an earnest voice, a matron on night duty perhaps, console a young woman who had been sexually assaulted moments earlier on the beach. The victim was sobbing and retching.
      "You'll get over it, honey. We all do."
      Many predators on the beach at night. Never advertised.

      I wouldn't have called my brother. Except Helen was hurt.
      "Do we work at night?"
      "You know the city. Make the hotel arrangements. By the time we meet I'll have our plan of action. I know how sensitive you are about such matters so I'll pull the fucking trigger, too." His icy flash of humor.
      "There were seven of them."
      "What can she recall?"
      "The leader, his head was shaved, and he had the build of a football player. Wore army fatigue pants, white sneakers that were spotless. As the mayhem was unfolding, Helen focused on his shoes. Would blood drip on them."
      "Who else?"
      "The guy who spotted her stepping out of a taxi. The Good Samaritan. Fancy brown and white shoes, matching royal blue slacks and summer blazer, white shirt open at the collar. Pomade on his hair. Slippery."
      "Go on."
      "She and her mother are partying. It's after midnight. Helen wants more vodka. Takes a twenty out of her mother's purse and hails a cab. (They lived in the fifties, NYC.) At some point she checks the meter, and realizes if she keeps riding she won't have enough money for the booze. 'Let me out.' She's now in the South Bronx. The Good Samaritan approaches and asks her why she is alone, In this place, at this hour?
      "I need to be shown the subway entrance, she says."
      "I don't want to fucking hear."
      "I didn't either."
      "Go on."
      "The young man takes her by the arm and begins escorting her down Third Avenue. That's when the jackal, followed by others, slides out between two buildings. —'Who's the chick? You been holdin' out on us?'
      "Before she could run into the street, the pack closes in and hustles her into an abandoned lot. The bald one shoves Helen to her knees. He wants head. She bites him. Enraged, he rips off her skirt and underpants, throws her face-down to the ground, and begins to sodomize her. He's unable. A switchblade opens and he inserts it into her rectum. Now he can."
      "What's the Good Samaritan look like?"
      "A choir boy."
      "Did he partake?"
      "Number seven. At some point he returns alone and drags her out to the curb where a cabby finds her unconscious and hemorrhaging."
      "You know where she first got off on Third?"
      "The very spot."
      "We don't have to get all seven. I'll aim for the ringleader."
      "How will you know?"
      "Trust me."
      "Helen wasn't the first. The jackal pulled a tube of KY Jelly out of his fatigues." I shivered when I repeated that.
      "Wear your old clothes, Buddy. We got to look like we know the streets."
      "Do you really want to go through with this?"
      "Why'd you phone me?"
      "What options do I have?"
      "What'd Helen do to deserve this, Buddy?"
      I had no answer.
      "First we blow his dick off. While he's squealing, I'll press the cold steel to his temple and unload. Watch me, Buddy. You just fucking watch me."

      Helen phoned me from the hospital the day after the incident.
      "It's when I could no longer see the white shoes, and drowning in my own vomit, that I lost consciousness."
      "What are the police doing?"
      "A woman detective's been here most of the morning, pushing me for details."
      "I don't know what to say."
      "It's over now. I'm alive. I'll heal."
      "I want to kill, Helen."
      "So does she, Dad. She's on a mission."
      So were we.
      Sixteen years he and I shared the same bed. Countless nights dreaming about what we were going to do when we grew up. Talked endlessly about girls and automobiles. And when either one of us was hurt or slighted, the other would seek retribution.
      Once, he attended a party on the North Hill the wealthy section of Hebron. We always borrowed the old man's dress shoes for such occasions. He had to stuff newspaper in the toe boxes. A jock made fun of "Shorty's clown shit-kickers" in front of the girls. That night Jimmy beat the wall.
      A year later I made love to the athlete's squeeze. While she was climbing back into her clothes, I said, "Tell Jake that Buddy Daugherty parked 'Shorty's shit-kickers' under your fucking bed tonight. OK?"
      But it wasn't like wasting somebody.
      Grown men, one a college professor, the other an administrator for a metropolitan hospital. Vigilantes. Plotting a stakeout in a third-floor room of the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. We'd dress in black. Jimmy carried the .38 for protection.
      I visited Helen at Columbia Presbyterian each afternoon. We seldom discussed the incident. Now twenty-four and sharing an apartment with her mother upon graduating from college, she talked about wanting to kick the alcohol habit. The pair had become drinking buddies.

      The first night of our reconnaissance, we parked outside the exact address on Third Avenue: a neon sign on the bar's windowless facade read "LELÉ da CUCA." Across the street, boarded-up storefronts, and at the end of the block--the lot overgrown with brush, ailanthus trees, and pocked with clothing, bottles, syringes.
      Jimmy coiled his hand about the .38 in his pocket. We spotted vagrant types, but nobody matching the clear pictures in our minds. The Ivy Leaguer would have looked as out of place in the neighborhood as we did.
      On day two and three we waited after dark for hours in a rented car two storefronts up from the bar. Nothing. While each noontime I sat with Helen, encouraging her to attend AA meetings and to leave her mother's apartment. "I'll help you. It's all going to get better."
      My brother grew more steely. As boys we built guns that shot inner-tube bands, becoming fairly adept at refining their accuracy. We'd construct makeshift camps among the alders. Friends would divide into "armies," and set out to kill the enemy.
      Day four, Jimmy looked like a killer.
      "We got to make this happen. The fuckers are around here somewhere. We must smoke them out of their holes."
      I was going the other way. That morning, Helen informed me the detective had a solid lead on the Ivy Leaguer. "Helen, tell me all that you remember once again about the Samaritan," she had queried.
      "I told you everything I remember."
      "Do you remember any jewelry he was wearing?"
      "I can't."
      "Did he ever use the word 'Ma'am'?"
      "I don't understand."
      "Like, 'Can I help you out, Ma'am?'"
      "It's what he whispered to me...'I'll go easy, Ma'am.'"
      The police suspected the son of a prominent employee of the city's court system. A year earlier he'd run afoul of the law in a South Bronx hit-and-run incident with a stolen vehicle.
      "Tomorrow she's bringing photographs," she told me.
      "Will you be able to identify any of them?"
      "I'm better at remembering scents. The jackal reeked of Old Spice. The Good Samaritan, camomile. And the shadows--sweat."
      In the car that night I told Jimmy. "A judge's son. Can you believe it?"
      "Look who's stepping out of the bar, Buddy!"
      The neon light illuminated the leader's bald pate...a perfect target. He was looking up and down Third Avenue, wearing the camouflage fatigues. I froze. I wanted to aim for the crotch, severing his cock. We'd shove it down the bastard's gullet until he choked to death. As I sat there fantasizing, Jimmy held the .38 to the passenger's door window.
      "What are you doing?"
      The jackal moseyed back into the bar.
      "Tomorrow, Buddy."

      Whereas in previous nights we paced the hotel room and slept in our clothes, this evening we showered and groomed ourselves before crawling in.
      "Tomorrow you tell Helen goodbye. No one will be the wiser. Remember, no emotion, Buddy. You want the sonofabitch to suffer. So do I. Can't let ourselves get caught up in that shit. To win. Icy. You got to be icy.
      "When I pop him, KY slumps over dead and we rubber out. We don't tell anybody. Except telling ourselves that we did the right thing. OK?"
      I couldn't back out now. But I knew the Samaritan would cave. His jurist mother had too much at stake. The authorities would send him to some easy-time upstate facility. He'd finger the beast, then it was up to the police to round up the pleasure riders.
      My brother wouldn't have to kill.

      The next morning Helen identified the Good Samaritan. At noon a warrant was issued for the arrest of the jackal and his associates for attempted murder.
      Jimmy wasn't listening when I climbed into the car.
      "Do they have him?"
      "No, but they have a warrant out for him."
      "So do we, Buddy. So do fucking we."
      He drove the black Ford up Broadway. Not a word passed between us. It was the big test between brothers. Forget about avenging the rape of my daughter. This was another drama. Was I chicken shit or wasn't I?
      Nobody ever really got hurt when we were boys. Big relief valves, those boastings. "I'll kill the cocksucker! Tell him his big brother's going to cut his dick off!" Cheaper than nickel cakes. We all thumped on our bony chests.
      And the Marines, yeah, Jimmy learned something lethal there, too. Come a time in a young man's life when he must take a stand...laws or no laws. The one place we never retreat is when our women are in play.
      "Buddy, if you don't want to go through with this--get the fuck out of the car now. She's my niece. If you haven't got the balls to do what every self-respecting father should do...then fuck off, I'll uphold the Daugherty honor. What will it be?"
      At Morningside Heights he had to pull over for a passing siren. "Jimmy, would you be prepared to spend a decade or more in prison?"
      "Each fucking day a proud one." He placed the .38 on my lap and pressed the accelerator.
      LELÉ da CUCA's neon light bled a pulsing heliotrope wash over the stucco facade.
      "I'll stand in that doorway next to the bar. You keep the car running. He steps out looking for somebody. Who the fuck knows who? When I pick the time...and I think the coast is clear...the Quantico medals I'll earn. Keep the car door open. We'll never look back. You ready?"
      Jimmy stepped out of the car and leaned inside the entranceway of the adjacent building. Curly hair and a Tony-Curtis resemblance belied his assassin's black garb. He smoked with his left hand while grasping the .38 in his right pants pocket.
      In forty-five minutes he smoked at least five Lucky Strikes. Nobody had either entered or left the bar. At exactly eight forty-five, LELÉ da CUCA's doorway swung open. The jackal stepped out onto the sidewalk, glancing in the direction of the vacant lot. The gaseous neon mirrored his head heliotrope.
      I depressed the accelerator, wanting to confirm the motor's life. Jimmy stubbed out a cigarette, and signaled me while steadying himself against the entryway. He withdrew the .38.
      Across the street someone shouted, "JESUS!"
      Jimmy hesitated.
      "It's me. Lawrence."
      "My man! What you got?"
      "Come see."
      Jimmy's hand welded to the piece. The car revved. Jesus, with a swagger and bleach-white shoes, approached the Samaritan.
      "Who you sharing tonight, Mr. Lawreeeence!"
      With guns drawn, four plainclothes officers encircled the pair. Within moments 'Jesus' sat handcuffed in the back seat of an unmarked cruiser that had been idling across Broadway.
       Jimmy jumped back into ours. "Whew! Turn on the radio." He tossed the .38 onto the floor of the back seat. "Christ, I ain't been so wound up since I left Quantico. That was smooth, wasn't it? That's how you got do it, Buddy!
      "Damn, we missed our calling. Wouldn't you say?"

© crossconnect, inc 1995-2003 |
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |