Saturday, October 11, 2008

Death Has No Friends - Jason White

Death has no Friends
Found in the Toronto Star archives, 2008

August 10, 1974
Angela lies behind me on the couch wearing only a G-string. The white of coke residue rests in powdery streaks upon the surface glass of the coffee table. Beside this are a burnt spoon, a lighter, and an ashtray full of drying cotton and cigarette butts. Empty liquor bottles are littered in the small apartment living room. I lie somewhere in the middle, my brain a fuzz from the last threads of cocaine static. The heroin I use to counteract the speed so that I can sleep, but tonight I lay wide-awake. Angela moves her thigh, of which I rest my head on, and then Lenny is there, kneeling before me like some stone gargoyle, his overly large teeth shining with the streetlights outside.

I lean up against the couch and raise my eyebrows. “What the fuck you want?”

“Ya know, you might sleep better on a bed,” Lenny says, chuckling.

“Fuck you.”

Still smiling, Lenny says, “Listen. We need to talk out of ear shot about the next job.”

Slowly, I stand up on shaky legs, my mind swimming and motions slow. In the bedroom, we sit on the bed, and Lenny loses the comical look upon his face.

“We’ve been friends for a long time now,” Lenny says. “You’re like a brother to me.”

“Get to the fucking point,” I slur. I am tired and want to sleep.

“Well, you see, it’s like this. Jimmy and Bill were your friends, too. But…”

Were my friends? What the fuck are you talking about?”

Lenny begins to sweat. “You see, after our next job, they plan on taking your share, and moving on without you.”

I can’t say that I’m surprised. As clich├ęd as such betrayals are in the movies, they are also very common on the streets. It was only a matter of time, and I did not doubt how they planned to get rid of me. I picture them tossing my body, wrapped in garbage bags, into Lake Ontario.

“The pricks!” I say, unable to feel the anger. But my mind is already planning. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because,” Lenny says, “We’re like brothers. It was always you and me in the beginning.”

He is right, of course. I had known Lenny since the ninth grade, after my mom had hauled our asses south to Toronto. We met in homeroom and became quick friends, getting drunk on cheap liquor and bullying fellow ninth-graders, stealing their lunch money. It didn’t take long for the principal to kick both of us out, before we even reached the tenth grade. Fucking pricks! But they got what they deserved in the end.

With a little research, Lenny and I figured out where Mr. Swanson, the prick principal, lived. One night, about a month after we got the boot, Lenny and I headed to Mississauga, with Jimmy Townsend at the wheel. Jimmy was the son to a friend of Lenny’s family. Five years older than us, he had a car and a license.

We arrived around 1 o’clock in the morning, to a street vacant of activity, save for the barking dogs and wandering cats. With liquor bottles filled with petroleum, we lit the rag wicks and threw them through Mr. Swanson’s windows. We remained there for a few moments, making sure our bombs did the job, only pulling away with screeching tires when most of the first floor had caught.

Nobody saw Jimmy’s massive Dodge. They only heard the car tires speeding away, and when they crawled to their windows to check out the racket, we were already gone.

The drive back home was a celebration, three frantic voices hooting and hollering our triumph, though we did not learn of our true success until the next day. Mr. and Mrs. Swanson’s death hit the hearts and minds of the people of Toronto hard. Flags remained hung at half-mast, while upon the school grounds students lit candles for an early evening farewell session.

“This is fucking great,” Jimmy said a few nights later, while we washed our parched throats with Crown Royal whiskey and Molson Canadian beer. “I should introduce you to my buddy, Bill Sweeny. If we banded together, who knows what we’d pull off.”

Now, I look up into Lenny’s eyes. They stare back, fat with worry at what I might say or do at the betrayal. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” his eyes seem to say.

My smile relaxes him. I reach out and grab him by the neck, perhaps as a brother would do. I pull him close so that our foreheads are touching. “We’ll take care of this,” I say to him. “Together.”

Relieved, he leaves me to my slumber.

It had been five years or more since Jimmy introduced us to his buddy, Bill Sweeny. In that time, many people have met their fate through the barrel of my gun, and I’m surprised our little enterprise had even lasted this long.

Our crimes escalated from there. Gang is a poor word, as we are more like a band of thieves—young men who make their living mugging old women and knocking over convenience stores. For years we lived working shit jobs while pulling the more exciting stuff on the side. No one ever survived one of our miniature heists. I always made certain of that. Popping some asshole at three in the morning with the late-night coke burning inside my skull—there’s nothing like it in the world.

Over the years, our exploits evolved. Suddenly robbing old women and convenience stores was no longer enough. We needed something more dangerous that would lead to more money and less working shit jobs. We turned our greedy heads towards the city’s many banks, hitting at least one every month. We hit them in the early morning business hours. We hit them quick, in and out, without firing a shot. We quit our jobs and lived free, pulling five, ten, sometimes twenty thousand dollars a go.

However, now that attitudes are changing within the gang, my trigger finger is getting itchy. But I already know what I am going to do. In the end, I will probably get caught. But I no longer care.

I lay in bed, writing this in my journal—the drugs failing at knocking me out—and I can think only of revenge.

Which is okay, really. It is time for a change, anyway.


August 13, 1974
I’m not sure why I write this journal. Or, why I’m documenting these events as they happen in it. I usually leave the crime shit out, for various reason. Maybe you’re thinking that this is some sort of confessional. Perhaps so. But let me make one thing clear before I continue with my story. I never once felt regret or remorse over any of my decisions. To me, killing is nothing more than what you might feel like while at the movie theatre, vicariously watching fictional characters fall under a hail of bullets: entertaining for the moment, but easily forgettable once finished.

The first time I killed I was only twelve years of age. I lived north of Toronto back then, in a small town named Angus, which is probably for the better, because Johnny Haledon and I were walking through the woods, looking for what every twelve-year-old looks for: the long lost thug hideout, Nazis running around the Hurtgen Forest with murder in their eyes, a dead dog to poke a stick at. The fact that most of these things did not exist within our location and time period did not matter. Our imaginations were more than capable of filling in the blanks.

We walked with sticks in our hands—large branches from trees that had fallen during the heavy snowfalls from winter. And Johnny was going on and on about Cindy Clarke, a fellow seventh-grader.

“Man, I’d like to pin her down and show her what a real man is,” Johnny was saying. He was brooding over a comment he had heard Cindy say to her friends earlier that day, while in class. Something about Johnny Haledon never being man enough for any woman, never mind her. “I’m more than man enough for her. More of a man than anyone. Even you Slick!”

I shrugged, not really paying attention. I could give a shit about his premature romantic woes.

“Hey Slick, I bet you wouldn’t even be a tenth of what she needs.”

Growing frustrated, I again shrugged. I said, “I don’t really care about this shit. Girls are a waste of time, and Cindy’s too much of a slut, so why bother?”

Johnny stopped walking. Apparently, I had insulted him.

“Don’t you say that about Cindy,” he said, his face all red, chest puffing out like some hen ready to peck at my ankles.

I laughed at him. “Fuck off, Johnny.” And before I could say anything else, the knuckles of his fist slapped me across the jaw.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. It was like someone threw a switch inside my skull. I do remember the world going fuzzy, and Johnny’s body crumpling to the ground as I pummeled him with the tree branch, his face and head caving in as though it were no stronger than a melon. Then I was running home, blood and skull fragments splattered on my clothes.

The second time came long after my mother had found the gore on my clothes while doing laundry, after the cops came along with their questions—though I must add here that they never truly suspected me—and we had moved to Toronto. It was late evening, when some asshole decided to cut me off on Highway 401. I was alone, and that invisible switch flicked somewhere inside my cranium, but I had learned patience somewhere down the line. I followed the prick. Thankfully, he didn’t live in the city. Forty minutes later, heading north, we pulled into an old farmhouse somewhere near Newmarket.

I had learned of his name from the 6 o’clock news a day or two later. Don Pullman had been found sitting in his Ford truck on his driveway, gunshots littering his chest and head.

There were no witnesses or suspects. Again, I was free.


August 18, 1974
A very small percentage of people have my abilities. I noticed the disgust in Bill and Jimmy’s eyes the first time I shot dead a Mack’s Milk midnight shift employee. Maybe they looked at me that way because the woman in question was young with large breasts and long legs. A head full of blonde hair. But I could only see what a bullet might look like as it passed through her skull, spraying the cigarette display behind with skull, brain, and blood. They kept their opinions to themselves, however, as time moved on and more people died. Yet, now that they are planning to betray me, I am not surprised that they suddenly object to my trigger-happy ways.

The morning is clear, the streets busy, but the bank is nearly empty. The four of us don our ski masks and enter the bank. Nobody gets out a word. There is no, “Get on the floor, this is a hold up,” bullshit. I just pull out my gun and start shooting.

There are only five. But I leave one alive. The manager: the man who’s going to get me into the vault.

In the week since Lenny confessed to me of Jimmy and Bill’s plan to get rid of me, the job of scoping out and researching our next heist fell to me. As it usually does. So, I already knew the man’s name.

“Sandy Tidwell, nice to make your acquaintance,” I say once the shooting has stopped. He looks up at me from behind the service counter, his thick wireless glasses splattered with blood.

“Jesus Christ!” This is from Bill Sweeny. He stands over the body of a woman who had the misfortune to do her banking this early. Her daughter lies beside her, both bodies broken and unmoving.

“You fucking psycho! The cops are gonna be looking for us hardcore this time.”

“Shut the fuck up,” I say. “I’m talking to my new friend.”

Sandy Tidwell flinches at my words. He is wearing a grey suit, red tie, and sits hunched on his hindquarters between two dead bank tellers, his arms swaying to the left and right as though trying to fathom what had just happened. He reminds me of a bird with a broken wing trying to take flight.

“Now, I just might spare your life if you take me and my friend to the vault.” I motion to Bill, who still stands over the mother and child. “Quickly now, as you know we don’t have much time.”

Finally, he looks up, acknowledging my existence. He stands and leads Bill and me to the vault. On our way, I order Lenny and Jimmy to clean out the tellers’ cash drawers while we are gone.

“Killing people wasn’t in the plans,” Bill says, as Sandy Tidwell works at opening the vault with his shaking hands. “And neither was entering the vault. You’ve fucking lost it, you crazy fuck! I’ll make sure you pay for this.”

Then we are inside the vault, a large grey and white walk-in safe. We begin loading our pillowcases. I must agree with Bill on one thing. This is the first time we ever went this far into any bank, satisfied as we were with just the cash drawers up front. Today, however, I have other plans.

Once the bags are full enough, I turn to Sandy, who has sat down beside the vault’s large door. Shock and fear glaze his eyes, and I look down at him without an ounce of sympathy. “You did good,” I say to him. “Unfortunately, I was lying when I said that I might let you live.”

I rest my bags down by my feet, and aim my gun. His brains splatter against the stainless steel of the vault’s inner door. I then turn to Bill.

“I may be a psycho, but you’re a betraying asshole.”

Recognition of what I am talking about registers in Bill’s eyes behind the ski mask. He drops his bags, raises his hands and says, “Slick, I don’t know what—”

As we don’t have much time, I don’t let him finish the sentence. He falls in a pool of his own blood. I quickly reload, then put the gun in the waistline of my pants. I then grab Bill’s bags along with my own and head back out into the front lobby. Lenny and Jimmy are behind the counter, finishing their jobs. They both look nervous, anxious at what might happen next.

“We heard gunshots,” Jimmy says, his voice cracking.

Again, I drop my bags. “Indeed you did,” I say. I save the short spiel this time around. I pull my gun. Jimmy doesn’t say a word. His eyes only grow large as I aim the barrel at his head. One loud crack, and he also lies in a pool of his own bloody filth.

Lenny, meanwhile, has gathered his and Jimmy’s loot, and is heading around the counter for the exit. He’s acting as though nothing is wrong, though I can’t help but notice how he trembles as he moves.

“We’d better get going,” he says. “The cops will be here soon enough.”

“You’re not going anywhere, Lenny.”

Hefting the larger loot over the counter, I hop over and train my gun on him.

“If this is a joke,” Lenny says, “it’s not very funny.”

For a long moment, I don’t say anything. I keep the gun aimed at his head, as I had with everyone else, but I do not pull the trigger. And as the silence grows between us, so does the realization in Lenny’s eyes that this is indeed no joke.

His body begins to convulse with sobs.

“We’ve been friends for over ten years now,” he says. “You’re like a brother to me.”

Still, I do not pull the trigger. He has spoken the truth, and I view him as a brother, as well. For some reason, the day he and I took a trip to my old hometown of Angus, so I could show him my first crime scene, pops into my head. This was about a month after we had burned down the principal’s house, and I wanted to prove to him, in the way teenagers need to prove themselves, of my violent history. The day was thick with humidity, and I remember Lenny standing on the spot where Johnny Haledon had perished. He held a Molson Canadian beer in one hand, a joint in the other.

“Dude, you’re one sick bastard,” he had said. “But I love you, man. I’ll stick by you forever.”

Thinking of this, I wonder if I have it within myself to show sympathy once the devil has turned his horned head. I could let Lenny go. I have the power to let him live.

It is no wonder that I hesitate. Lenny has been my only real friend, ever. Unfortunately for him, I never asked him to become my friend.

“I can’t trust you, Lenny,” I say. “You betrayed Jimmy and Bill. I love you for it, but it’ll only be a matter of time before you turn on me.”

And I pull the trigger.

No tears are spent. No feelings of remorse. I simply pocket the gun, grab all that my hands can carry, then headed for the car.


August 19, 1974
I was on the plane long before the police linked Jimmy and Bill and Lenny’s faces to mine. Over the telephone with Angela the next day, she told me that they had issued a Canada-wide warrant for my arrest, my face filling television screens and the front pages of newspapers everywhere. But I am already in Jamaica, looking for a boat ride out.

Before I leave, I will wait for Angela to arrive. I do not need her company, but she insisted on joining me. Money for her to get here is no problem, as I had lots of it at the old apartment. But I can’t help thinking that she must have some sort of death wish.

In the mean time, I will find a place to sit down and rewrite these past journal entries. I plan to make two copies and mail one to the Ontario Provincial Police and the other to The Toronto Star. Why? Perhaps it is my wish to mock the laws of my birthplace, to wipe my ass with their dos and don’ts, laughing drunkenly all the way down the crimson path to true freedom. I really don’t know. All I know is what I am, and that is a killer and a thief.

There will be more victims, as I have no control over that switch within my skull. One wrong move, something said, and…well, I’m sure you get the point by now. And if I were to be completely honest with you, dear reader, I doubt I would even want control.

I like myself just the way I am, thank you very much.

BIO: Jason White was born in Quebec , Canada . His parents moved him at an early to where he now lives in a small, creepy town in Ontario . He has published stories with online magazines The Harrow and Nanobison under his old pen name, Joseph Plaxton. You can also reach him online at http://myspace.com/jasonwhite_writer.

Credits:
“Room 118”—-The Harrow (www.theharrow.com)—Vol. 9, No 11 (2006) Published under my pen name, Joseph Plaxton.

“The Serpent’s Son”—The Harrow (www.theharrow.com)—Vol. 11, No 2 (2008) Published under my pen name, Joseph Plaxton.

“House of Coal”—Nanobison (www.nanobison.com)–Issue 9, summer 2008. Published under my pen name, Joseph Plaxton.