“You’re hit too,” Lucia said heading my direction.
I pushed her back towards Bennie. “It doesn’t hurt yet and before it does I’ve gotta do something. I pulled open the tail gate and pulled out the AR15 Bennie had noticed back in Atlanta. I fumbled getting it loaded but all the practice Dad had forced on me paid off.
“Bennie, can you shoot left handed?”
“Not great but I’ll do what I have to,” he said trying to prove he wasn’t as hurt as much as he obviously was.
“Good man. Cover me so I can get to the side of the barn.”
“You’re not really gonna pull the guy card on me now are you?” I asked irritated at his delaying me.
“Guess not,” he muttered sarcastically.
My arm was already starting to pound but shock had given way to anger. Somewhere on the road I had made the conscious acknowledgement that TS had really HTF and that not only was I physically capable of doing whatever I had to do but mentally prepared for it as well … or at least as much as my life experience allowed me to think. I crept over through the tall grass while Bennie distracted what turned out to be two shooters.
The more complicated a plan is the greater the likelihood of something going wrong if not having it fail all together. My only goal at that moment was to damage them enough to stop them and for the three of us to come away uninjured … or not any more injured that we already were.
I watched as one of the shooters ran for the corner of the house to try and angle in behind the truck and take away that protection from us. The other at the wood pile kept shooting at Bennie to pen him down. They had completely missed me moving away, likely not thinking a female would, or maybe could, shoot right back at them; certainly not realizing the firepower we had at our disposal or my practice hours with something pretty similar to the heavy barreled target rifle I was holding onto for dear life.
I got the guy at the corner of the house fair and square and Bennie got the other one when he stood up too far for too long in surprise. We stayed quiet, me changing positions to a more secure one, while the men finished their whimpering and dying. It was both sickening and satisfying at the same time which made me wonder at myself. No one came to help the men who had been our enemies and no sounds came from the woods surrounding the house except the animals recovering from the racket we had made.
I moved back to be with Bennie and Lucia in time to catch Bennie preparing to go into the woods. “Let me get Lucia into the house and I’ll go with you.”
“Not this time Joey. This is my job.”
Then I saw a side of Bennie I hadn’t known he kept under wraps. In a voice without emotion he said, “You know why Tony don’t think I’m good enough for Lucia.”
I sighed but admitted, “Yeah, you were in a gang and did a few years in juvie and just missed getting sent to Attica as an adult. But you cleaned up your act and …”
“And you know what my step dad did … probably still does.”
After a pause I admitted again, “I’ve heard the rumors.”
He shook his head. “They ain’t just rumors if they’re the truth.” Lucia refused to look at me but was quietly fussing over Bennie as much as he would let her. “I’ve done this before Joey, you haven’t. Besides Tony’ll bury me hard and deep if anything happens to you. You can deny it all you want but he will and without a second thought whether it is my fault or not.”
It kept me angry to watch him go off into the woods by himself and resenting Tony’s heavy handed protection even when he wasn't there in person. Rather than go into the house I sat there scanning the area in case someone was biding their time.
“It’s an open secret you know,” Lucia said matter of factly.
“About Bennie’s past? You know I’ve never judged him for it. He made a mistake, paid for it, and still managed to turn his life around.”
“Are you friggin’ stunad or somethin’?! Not Bennie you dunce … you and Tony.”
Quietly I said, “Knock it off Lucia.”
“Hah! And you finally ain’t denying it!”
“I said stop it,” I told her with more force this time. “My dad won’t …”
“Goombah,” she said poking at me with a fond smile. “Your dad likes Tony just fine. Better’n mine likes Bennie, that’s for sure. I overheard your mom telling mine that your dad wouldn’t mind you getting’ with Tony but only if he cleaned his act up and let you live a little first.” I was so started I nearly dropped the rifle I was holding. “Close your mouth. You look like something Ma brings home from the fish market. It’s true, I swear on my grandmother’s crucifix. And Tony’s changed the last couple of years and you know that too.”
“Drop it,” I said, even in the face of hearing my dad might not be as set against Tony as I had thought.
“Come on. You …”
“Drop it Lucia, I mean it. Please.”
She looked at me hard and then thoughtfully before asking, “Why? Don’t you like him? Is it like the people he knows turning you off?”
Knowing she wouldn’t shut up about it if I didn’t give her something I finally said, “Not the way you think. Just being with Tony that way would change things; it would get complicated and turn into real serious business real fast. My family would expect certain things. Your family would expect certain things. Tony’s friends would expect certain things. What I want and expect would get lost in all of that. I don’t even want to think about the kind of responsibilities I’d have to take on in Tony’s world being his … his whatever. I got things I want to do. I’m … I’m not ready for … for the kind of things Tony would need from me.”
I refocused my attention back out to the woods but after a moment Lucia said quietly, “Tony ain’t like most of them. He’s never been in trouble and he’s honest. He’s no corner man or skive working his way up from the bottom. That’s why he’s where he’s at. He’s the front man and they don’t want him dirty; he their show piece. He coulda gone the other way. Dad thought he would turn out like his ol’ man but for whatever reason he didn’t. If Tony wants you and I think he does, it’s for the real deal and long term … he doesn’t just want you for arm candy. And if Tony wants you so bad he’s given up … connections … to have you then it’s the church for you girl and you not having to worry about no girlfriends on the side either. And … and it’d be cool … having you for a sister.”
I smiled a little and said, “We already are you goof; or as good as. But I think we’ve talked more in the last two days than we’ve talked in the last year.”
This time she was the one that shrugged and looked away. “Yeah … I’ve had stuff going on. I …”
Before she could finish Bennie came jogging out of the woods. By the set of his shoulders I could tell all was clear.
“You know there’s water … a little stream or somethin’ … about a quarter mile that way?”
I nodded. “Yeah but I didn’t expect you to go so far,” I said knowing it would have been through a lot of forest tangle to get there.
“Following a trail,” he explained. “They’d walked it down enough that it was easy. These two had a camp with three others. They had one of those little Mexican flags hanging from the rear view mirror of one of their trucks. Musta had some kinda fight or somethin’. There were three body dumps about fifty yards from their camp. Or … or maybe they highjacked the drivers of the trucks back there and then dumped the bodies to hide them. One way or the other they didn’t seem to care too much for the fellas that were dead.”
“How do you know?” I asked wondering at his assumptions.
“Didn’t hardly bury ‘em. There were just leaves piled over them basically and animals had been at ‘em. Sure didn’t look like were bothering to try and stop it. And there were three trucks … I don’t know … maybe a farm group. One of the trucks got some chickens on it. God they smell as bad as the bodies and that’s how I found the camp so fast. Lifted the back of the other panel truck and it’s full of store stuff …” Suddenly he slumped.
Lucia screamed, “Bennie!” I suddenly remembered my own injury and the world spun.
“Don’t you dare Joey Balducci! Don’t you dare pass out on me!” snarled Lucia who was already holding up a wobbly Bennie. I tried to clear my head and tottered over to the stoop and up to the porch.
Knowing we needed to get Bennie in out of the sun and heat I had to climb onto the porch swing – that was a lot of fun – to remove the piece of soffit where we kept an extra stick hidden that could be used to crank open the roll down doors.
After trying unsuccessfully I told Lucia, “I’ll help Bennie up the stairs but you’ll have to turn the pole to get the door open.” Finally we were up the stairs and into the house. I was going to have to ask Lucia where she’d learned a few of the creative phrases that had fallen out of her mouth while she cranked the reluctant door high enough that we could slip under it to unlock the bolt on the back door.
I put Bennie in a chair at the kitchen table and wanted to sit down myself but I knew if I sat I might not get back up for a while and there were things that needed doing. There was a small phone table that sat outside the door that opened onto the basement steps. It had a drawer and inside it was a couple of flashlights, one of which I grabbed after making sure it worked. I slowly descended with only the pool of light from the LED bulbs to keep me from breaking my neck or the steep, wooden staircase. My mission was to throw the switch that let the batteries recharge in the solar system my dad had installed when the power company said they didn’t service the area the cabin was in … which was just another reason why my parents had been able to get the cabin and plot it sat on for so cheap.
As I heard the distinctive thunk of the main switch make contact I suddenly understood the satisfied smile on my dad’s face every time I had seen him do the same thing it in the past. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein as I threw the switch and breakers that would power the house and wanted to laugh maniacally and yell, “It’s alive!”
The only thing that kept me from doing it is the certainty that my friends upstairs would think me certifiable and a candidate for Bellvue. I was beginning to wonder myself if that wasn’t part of the problem. The light filtering in from the top of the stairs looked ten times further away than it should have.