Here’s a little snippet from Issue 14 to get your engine running this week …
by Colin Thornton
It was a candy-apple red, metal-flake, chrome-plated Harley Davidson Low Rider, chopped down, pimped out, and fully accessorized, parked under a misty cone of light from a streetlamp almost as if it was waiting for Zoober to wander by.
For months he had fantasized about owning a motorcycle: tearing down the highway, a big, nasty redhead on the seat behind him, her arms wrapped around his waist, cheek resting on his shoulder. Money was his problem, or rather, lack of it. His old man wouldn’t pay for it, that’s for sure. And there was no way he was going flip burgers for minimum wage like those other peons.
“Well now, looky here. Someone left the keys in the ignition.”
He listened to the night, scanned the houses on both sides of the street — dark and quiet. In the silence he could hear that chrome-plated angel calling out to him, whispering in his ear, enticing him, compelling him, daring him to do what most other sixteen-year-old boys would never dream of.
Although Zoober had never been one for going to church, praying, or any of that spirit-in-the-sky crap, he looked up at the stars and with all the sincerity he could muster, said, “Thank you, Jesus.”
JD is standing on a hoist, half a dozen fan belts over his shoulder, up to his elbows in the engine of a 1985 Corvette. He holds out an empty hand, says, “Seven-sixteenths.” His assistant wraps her fingers around the socket, slowly sliding it onto the wrench with a firm click and a gentle twist. Brown skin, brown eyes, long auburn hair, naked under her bib overalls. “Anything else JayDee?” she coos in a soft pillow voice. Shivers of anticipation ripple up his inseam as she passes him the ratchet. A smear of grease on her earlobe looks like a drop of chocolate sauce. He leans forward to taste it … Tic Tic Tic — Huh? Tap Tap Tap — What’s that noise? Knock Knock Knock … As Jennifer Lopez fades from his dream, JD realizes that someone is banging on his bedroom window. Bang Bang Bang — “JD, wake the fuck up!” He squints at his clock, rolls over, and peels back one corner of the curtain.
Zoober is standing in the garden, urgently beckoning him outside. JD shakes his head. “It’s still dark out.”
But Zoober insists. “Get out here.”
A beam of light shines through his bedroom door, casting a silhouette of a figure against the wall. “What’s going on down there?”
“Nothing, Dad. Nothing. Bad dream, that’s all.”
“Well, dream quieter.”
Dad mutters something under his breath, flicks off the light and goes back to bed, closing the door behind him.
After a few minutes of quiet, JD slips into his jeans and T-shirt, eases open the back door, and sneaks out to meet his nocturnal friend.
Zoober bounces from foot to foot, arms crossed, shoulders hunched, hands tucked in his armpits. “Jesus, man, I’ve been bangin’ on your window for ten minutes.”
“It’s four thirty. What d’you want?”
“I need to put something in your back yard.”
“You woke me up for that?”
“What is it?”
Next day, sitting in the school cafeteria after classes, Zoober brags about his previous night’s adventure; the who, what, where, and when, saving the why for last: “The keys were in it.”
In a lifetime of dumb moves, this ranks high on Zoober’s top ten list. “Don’t you think …” JD asks, pausing to add the emphasis his slow companion needs, “… someone might — miss it?” And just in case the subtle point he was making was also missed, adds, “Might want it back?”
Zoober stares blankly. Blinks. “But the keys were in it.”
Before JD can explain the concept of impulse control, the Pappas twins, Chris and Nick, come into the cafeteria and straight over to their table.
Nick says, “Three guys in the parking lot looking for you, Zoober.”
“Big guys,” adds Chris.
“Brick shithouse big.”
“Capital UG ugly.
“Little guy has a cool tat, though.”
Strangers in the parking lot could be anyone, but the coincidence is too much to ignore so JD suggests they take the back door out of school and cut through the alley to get home.
Seconds after stepping outside, a white Cadillac Escalade with blacked-out windows screeches to a stop beside them. Three people jump out: A wisp of a guy in a leather jacket with a tattoo of a snake on his neck and two sumo-sized bodyguards wearing mirrored Ray-Bans.
Minus the scales and fangs, the runt looks a lot like his tattoo — thin and wiry, bristling with aggression and nervous energy.
Snake’s jaw muscles twitch as he steps towards Zoober and JD, sizing them up, nodding and smiling to himself at some private joke.
He locks the kids in a cold-blooded glare, his eyes all pupil, like two lumps of tar. In a breathy hush that somehow seems to amplify his rage he says, “In the car.”
Zoober and JD are shoved into the back and sandwiched between the two Sumos. JD watches Snake’s reflection in the rear-view mirror. His dead fish eyes, pale, cold, and glassy, scanning his prisoners, coming to rest finally on JD. The intensity of Snake’s gaze feels like a corkscrew boring into his skull. After what seems like an eternity, Snake smirks and nods. “Punks,” he says, as if he was spitting a gob of snot. “Two frightened punks.”
For a instant, Zoober looks at the door handle. Just a flicker of a glance, a reflex. “Don’t. Even. Think about it,” Snake warns.
He backs out of the service road, drives through the parking lot and onto Main Street.
For a long while they drive in silence. Snake wants them to sweat, wants them to know who’s in control, give them time to let fear gnaw on their imaginations. Eventually he says, “You have something of mine. I want it back.”
Before JD can say turn left at the next stoplight, Zoober starts blurting out directions, leading them 180 degrees away from JD’s house. Down the avenue, past the church, the strip mall, and Johnny’s Burgers. Zoober points down the street. “There,” he says. “Brick house on the left. Green garage door.”
Snake parks. The Sumos haul themselves out of the car to let the prisoners out. “We’ll be right back,” Zoober says and trots up the driveway to the side door, opens it, and walks in.
“What the fuck are you doing?” JD asks. “This is Mackie’s house.”
“They don’t know that.”
Zoober walks right through the house, JD close behind. Past Mackie’s bedroom and up the stairs into the kitchen where Mrs MacNeil is making dinner. As easily as flipping a switch, Zoober turns on his choirboy charm. “Hey, Mrs Mac.” She’s delighted to see two of her son’s friends. “We have to study for a math test tomorrow,” Zoober lies. “Mackie’s on his way. He told us to wait out back.”
It would never occur to Mrs MacNeil that her son’s friends would get into mischief like the delinquents she sees on TV. “Nice to see you boys taking your schoolwork seriously,” she says. “Are you hungry?” So nice, JD thinks, the world’s best mom. He feels like a cad for deceiving her.
“Thanks, but we really should study,” Zoober says, never thinking that the woman he’s dismissed as an airhead might notice that they don’t have any books.
Outside, JD hisses at Zoober. “Are you suicidal?”
Zoober is so full of hubris it’s leaking out of his sneakers and leaving a slick on the deck behind him. “I’m not going to let a dwarf and two Neanderthals with glandular conditions run my life. Let’s get outta here.”
JD would like to kill Zoober himself and save Snake the trouble, but he feels helpless, out of control, as if he’s fallen into a river and been carried downstream into unknown territory.
They go down the stairs, across the lawn, over the fence, through the neighbour’s backyard and down the driveway to the next street, expecting freedom and finding instead a white Escalade — parked, engine running, one Sumo beside each open door.
This time they are thrown into the back seat and squashed between the two bodyguards. Snake turns to face them — first Zoober, then JD, slowly shaking his head from side to side.
Zoober has an excuse. “We —”
“Shut up!” Snake shouts. Zoober’s bluster shrivels and dies like a worm in the sun.
He pulls out a gun, sticks it in JD’s face. So close, all he can see is the end of the barrel, a silver circle of steel like a giant zero summing up his chances at getting out of this car alive. He watches Snake’s thumb press down on the hammer and cock the gun with a click that echoes in his ears like a cannon.
“Have I got your full attention?” he asks. JD nods. “You’re out of time and I’m out of patience. You know what I want.” JD nods again. “Now, where to?”
Read the rest in Pulp Literature Issue 14. On sale now!
Colin Thornton studied drawing and painting in college, played music for a few decades while he built a career in advertising. Today, his paints dry, drums on a shelf, marimba locked in its case, and his advertising days over, he writes short stories. ‘Candy Apple Baby’ is a chrome-plated tale about theft, fractured friendships, motorcycle envy, and Darwin’s third law. Colin rides a recumbent bicycle, not a Harley Chopper.
If you’re in New Brunswick you can catch Colin reading at the Frye Festival in Shediac this coming Sunday April 23rd around 3pm.