Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just In Case

Durk felt the cold steel tube of the gun chamber. The heaviness weighed him down as he quickened his step to keep up with Charlie and Sid. Why wouldn’t they wait for him? They were always walking ahead and it was dark. If he knew for sure where they were going, Durk would have beat them all there because he was fast. After all, Charlie called him the Rabbit and he paid him well for his services as a runner.

Durk thought they were headed to gravel lot behind Charlie’s house to talk over a deal. At least that’s what Charlie said but it was dark and Durk had only been to Charlie’s house one other time. Charlie lived with his Aunt Mart and Charlie did a lot of business from the gravel lot behind the house. Aunt Mart always slept soundly and didn’t hear anything Charlie did. And, Charlie did plenty.

Durk laughed to himself as he thought about his friend, Charlie, the Deal Maker. If there was a deal going, Charlie would be in on it. That’s why Durk was glad that Charlie hand-picked him to help as a runner for the business. Durk wasn’t in on most of the intricacies of the deals. But he’d turned 17 last week and Charlie said it was time to cut Durk in on some more of the action. Durk wasn’t too worried about what the deal would be. Charlie was lucky. No one ever caught Charlie. He always went for the sure deals, ones that would make everyone involved some good money. He was a businessman after all and he told Durk that as a businessman he valued Durk’s loyalty above anything else.

I’d never squeal out Charlie, Durk thought to himself. That would be like cutting my own throat. Charlie is like my boss, he’s the man that pays the money. Durk’s family needed the money, that was for sure. Since his dad’s accident, money was tighter than ever.

They were in the gravel lot behind an old ramshackle house. The street light three houses down gave a faint glow to the lot even though it was too dark to make out Charlie and Sid’s faces.

They weren't whispering but weren’t yelling either. “Can’t ever be too sure who might be listening,” Charlie said. “So keep your voices down.”

“So what’s the deal?” Durk asked.

“It will be easy, Rabbit,” Charlie had said cuffing Durk on the shoulder. It was meant to be a friendly tap, but, man, was Charlie big. He probably outweighed Durk by at least 100 lbs.

Durk hit the ground hard. Too stunned to move, he felt a bit of wetness in the corner of his eye. He brushed it away grateful for the poor lighting. Buck up. Be a man about this. You’re 17, remember?

Sid guffawed at Durk. “Whatsa’ matter, Little Boy? Need your Mommy to help you up? Maybe you need your Mommy to help protect you, too.”

“Stop it, Sid,” Charlie had said giving Durk a hand and even helping brush off the gravel sticking to his pants. “We can give him some protection.”

Durk looked at the ground and once again felt the tears thereaten. Don't be a cry baby. Be a man. Why couldn’t he be a man? He was 17, wasn’t he? He was practically the man of his family what with his dad’s disability. He should have said something to Sid. Why did he always have to let Charlie fight his battles. He needed to stand up for himself if he was going to get anywhere. Making it was important to Durk. Oh sure, some day he planned to get a real job but until then, working for Charlie made him more money than any part-time job.

Durk was cut short in its daydream when Charlie handed him the gun. Even in the dark, the steel shaft gleamed. He stared at it in awe. His own gun, wow. Maybe Charlie really did think he was a part of the team, after all. He didn’t know what kind of gun it was. But that was OK, Charlie was telling him he didn’t want him to shoot the gun.

“Put it in your pocket, Rabbit. But don’t use it. Just hold it, kind of like insurance. It’s a just-in-case thing.”

The thrill was almost unbearable. Charlie trusted him with a gun. Charlie knew he was a man. Charlie knew it, so it must be true.

Suddenly his mind went to his dad. What would Dad think of Durk carrying? Ever since the shooting, Dad kept a gun in the house, he had it handy just in case, he said. Durk remembered how Dad put his gun in Durk’s hand. He showed him how to hold it with both hands, aim at a row of soda cans and pull the trigger.

“We’re the men in the family,” he told Durk. “We have to protect the women. But only use a gun if necessary, for protection. Don’t ever use it to scare someone or bully someone. A gun is only for, well, it’s for just in case.” Then he took the gun from Durk and put it in the drawer of the table beside his bed.

That was the same thing Charlie said, “It’s for just in case.” Dad wouldn’t mind if Durk carried a gun for just in case.

“So what’s the plan?” Durk said again to Charlie.

“The plan, my man,” Sid said answering instead, “is to make a little exchange. See, they got something we want and they think we ‘re gonna buy it.”

“But don't we need money?”

“What, you don’t got any money?” Sid said laughing. “We told them you were the one with the money!”

“Nuh uh. I don’t got no money.”

“He don’t got no money, Charlie,” Sid mimicked.

Durk saw the meanancing look Charlie gave Sid. “Rabbit, that’s what that thing in your pocket is for. But remember we’re not shooting anybody. We’re just using it to get what we want. We'll sell the stuff, get paid and split the loot. See, easy.”

“Split?” Sid said. “This little pipsqueak don’t get a full cut, no way. What’s he doing for his part anyway?”

“He’s Rabbit, the runner.”

“Where do I got to run to, Charlie?”

“See, he don’t even know what to do. Even if he is 17, he looks all of 12. Geez, man. This is too important a job to leave it to a little kid to handle.”

Charlie’s cell phone rang. He took the call and listened intently. “You’ll not be disappointed,“ he said popping the phone closed. He bent down, put his hands on his knees and looked Durk in the eyes.

“OK, Rabbit, here’s what you got to do for your cut. When the guys with the goods come, they’re gonna’ ask us for the money and we’re gonna’ say we want to see the stuff first. Then, they show us the stuff, we show them our guns and we take the stuff. We hand it to you and you run like you the rabbit you are, like you don’t got better sense. You stay to the back alleys and back yards and go ‘til you get to the regular drop at the old warehouse. Take the bag that’s there and run back to your house. We’ll meet you behind your garage and divide the dough. Now, put your hood up and keep your coat zipped up. Stay behind the dumpster 'til we get the stuff. And, oh, you can thank me for cutting you in on this deal later.”

“Uh, thanks, Charlie. I mean it, thanks.” He drew designs in the dust with the toe of his tennis shoe. “My dad. . . well, just thanks.”

“No problem, Rabbit. But remember if you get caught . . .”

“. . . I don’t know anything or anybody.”

Charlie smiled and nodded, but Durk saw a silent nod back from Sid, as well. What was that? Durk thought if he were Charlie he'd be concerned about what Sid would say if he were caught.
They were headed toward the Park N Go now, down the round and around two corners. Durk thought of his dad’s gun as he fingered the one in his pocket. His dad’s gun was smaller than this one, but he figured all guns were pretty much the same. Just point, pull the trigger and bang.

Durk laughed nervously. He wouldn’t need to shoot. It was for just in case. He repeated it over to himself as he heard his tennis shoes slap against the asphalt pavement, a rhythm that might have been soothing if he were running home or to the store for his mom or even to youth group on Sunday night. Now it just seemed to repeat: just in case, just in case, just in case.

They stopped at the corner, near the liquor store, which at 9 p.m. on Sunday was just closing. Thoughts were swirling through Durk’s head. This job was different from anything he’d done for Charlie before. But Charlie was the man. Durk trusted him. He’d always taken care of Durk. He paid him well for the various errands and deliveries Durk did. Always there was a package for Durk to deliver to an address and then someone would give him another package to take back to Charlie. The work was easy because Durk was fast. This was one area where his size was to his advantage. He was small, quick and he liked to run. Making money to run was easy pay and it helped the family budget. Never mind that his mom and dad thought he was working after
school cleaning the warehouses.

It seemed to be getting late. Workers from the Park N Go were gone.

“How much will my part be?” Durk asked.

“Maybe 2-3Gs,” Charlie said. Durk quickly figured that meant he would be carrying $6,000-$9,000. His knees started to get a little shaky. He could do this, he told himself. His folks could use the extra money. And people would buy the stuff from someone if not from him.

“Don’t give him that much money,” Sid said again. “What’s he doin’ for his money besides looking like a scared rabbit?”

“He runs like a scared rabbit.”

Durk thought about why he ran like a scared rabbit. First of all, because he could. Second, because he liked the feeling of being faster than anyone else. It had gotten him out of lots of jams. More than once older guys had told him they’d be waiting for him after school to teach him a lesson about something or other.

Charlie laughed about the first time he noticed Durk. It was one day after school when Durk shot past a group who were waiting to beat him up. "You ran like a blur past them. You were a speeding bullet. Those guys agreed that rabbit was too much trouble to try to catch. I guess they wanted easier prey. Not too much meat on your bones anyway. But I knew your skills were too valuable to waste.”

That was last year when Charlie was still in school. He’d graduated or maybe he quit. Durk was sure. He did know that Charlie was already 21.

Charlie offered Durk a job, as a runner, he said. It would be an easy job of delivering and picking up packages. Durk never asked what was in the packages but he wasn’t stupid. He knew for the amount of money Charlie had been paying him, it probably wasn’t letters to a friend. The job had been easy so far, but then he hadn't been in on this end of the deal before. But the pay was better this time and he was happy Charlie trusted him enough to let him in on a deal of this size. And Durk trusted Charlie. If it were Sid in charge, he wasn’t sure he’d be as convinced. But at least Charlie was in charge and he was sure Charlie would keep Sid in line.

He looked at his watch, 9:30. Durk’s sisters would be pushing their dad home from church in his wheelchair. Every Sunday night, they always went to youth group and took their dad to the adult service. Sometimes Durk went, too. He liked youth group because they always played basketball afterwards. Durk wasn’t tall but he was quick and he could shoot pretty well.

Plus, Pastor Brad was just wild. He thought about him riding into the gym on a Harley last week. The whole theme that week was born to be wild, centered around some song from the 70s. He had talked about how Jesus was born to do some outrageous things like die on the cross for us. He said most people wanted to be rebels but no one wanted to be the ultimate kind of rebel that Jesus was: the kind of rebel who would die for others. To follow Jesus was going against the flow, being a rebel completely. But Durk didn’t want to be a rebel. He just wanted to help his mom pay the bills since dad couldn't work. He knew some things Charlie did weren’t right, but it wasn’t like Charlie was trying to be a rebel either. He was just helping his family, too, wasn’t he? Durk knew he lived with his aunt and she couldn’t work. Charlie paid for everything. He took care of everything. He needed money, too. They weren’t rebels or bad guys. They were just doing what they needed to do to survive.

He wished he could have gone to youth tonight, but then Charlie said he needed his help. He couldn’t let Charlie down, or his mom. The two were entertwined in his mind. Working for Charlie meant he had money to give his mom.

Soon his sisters would be needing help getting his dad in bed. He wondered how long this job would take. He wondered, too, if this job would get him in trouble. Yeah, if he’d be truthful with himself he knew he’d been carrying drugs before. But now there was no question. He’d be carrying drugs and then drug money. Was his family worth it? Yes, his family was worth it.

“When are they comin’?”

“Should be anytime. Let’s go back behind the dumpster. We have a view of the street from there so we can see them but they won’t be able to see us. You loaded, Sid?”

“Yeah.”

Why would their guns would be loaded if they weren’t going to shoot?

“Am I loaded?” Durk asked.

“Yeah, Kid, you’re loaded, just like me,” Sid said laughing. Durk wasn’t sure if Sid was joking with him or not. He just hoped he didn’t have to fire the gun. It was well past 10 now and Durk was sure his sisters would be mad that he wasn’t there to help lift his dad into bed. He was small, but he was bigger than them. He felt ashamed that he was shirking his responsibilities. Maybe he could do everything in the morning and his sisters could sleep late.

“So Rabbit, what’re you gonna’ do with your cut?”

“Give it to my mom.”

“Hey Charlie, did you hear that? The Rabbit’s gonna’ give his two Gs to his mommy. How’re you gonna’ explain that much money to her?”

“I got a raise?” Durk said shrugging his shoulders.


“Well, I’m gonna’ buy a ride for sure and maybe a big screen tv,” Sid said. “What about you Charlie?”

Durk looked at Sid out of the corner of his eye. Sid was older than Durk or Charlie. At 25, he was the old man of the group. Durk thought it a little strange that Sid was older but Charlie was definitely the one in charge. Sid was more like the muscle and Charlie, the brains. Both looked like they worked out whenever they weren’t doing business. Durk was glad they were on his side.
Charlie motioned for them to be quiet and gestured with the gun in his hand down the road to where a car was turning. He quickly stuck the gun back in his jacket pocket. Durk assumed the guys would be on foot. He could outrun most anyone on foot but, he wondered how he would outrun the car if they came after him.

He looked up at Charlie to ask the question pointing at the car and then his feet. Charlie just pointed to his gun. Durk was confused. Was Charlie indicating he’d use his gun to disable the car? That meant someone would have to fire their gun. Durk’s stomach was in his feet. His heart pounded inside his shirt. The rhythm was the same as before: just in case, just in case, just in case.

He heard his dad’s voice in his head, “Guns kill people. If they don’t kill you, they sure can hurt you. Just look at me. Don’t use a gun unless you absolutely have to, only to protect your family, never to intimidate.”

Everything was happening now. Durk watched the events unfold, but he felt as if he were viewing them like a slow motion movie rather than in real time. A black SUV pulled up to back of the Park N Go. He saw Sid and Charlie with their hands in their pockets most likely fingering the guns. They stepped out from behind the dumpster. Durk stayed partially hidden. The gun in his pocket felt heavy again.

The back door to the vehicle opened. The street light illuminated the red flame pinstripe on the door. Callahan stepped out. Durk recognized him immediately. The red flames seemed to leap off his black shirt. Fire Devils. Charlie was messing with the Fire Devils? Man, we’re in trouble now.

His hand wrapped around the gun, then pulled it out of his pocket. He heard the words in his head: just in case, just in case, just in case.

“Where’s your stuff?” he heard Sid say.

“Where’s your money?” Callahan countered.

Time seemed to stand still but in reality, it only took a split second before two other black-shirted teens jumped from the car. They pointed guns, big hand guns, at Sid and Charlie.

“Hand over the money.”

Durk’s gun was in his right hand, finger on the trigger, left hand steadying it. Sid pulled his gun from his jacket pocket. Charlie did the same and stepped to the right blocking Durk’s view. Durk, gun still drawn and aimed, moved to get a better view. When he did, he accidently kicked a bottle which clattered from behind the dumpster.

The Fire Devils pointed their guns toward the sound and fired. Charlie saw, anticipated the shots and jumped in front of Durk just as the guns were fired. Durk had jumped at the sound of the guns. One bullet caught Charlie in the stomach, dropping him to the ground. Blood splattered everywhere. Durk dropped his gun and took two steps to Charlie’s side, kneeling beside him, he cradled his head in his lap.

As soon as Charlie fell, the driver of the vehicle had it rollin. Fire Devils ran stumbling over each other to jump in the open doors. They sent random bullets back at Sid, Charlie and Durk, though no one seemed any good at hitting a target. Sid ran toward the vehicle and fired three shots at the Fire Devils. Both went wide and hit the SUV. The boy who shot Charlie didn’t look over 16. He was slower than the rest and jumped in just as the car squealed its tires out of the parking lot. Chasing the car, Sid got off two more shots before it sped down the street. Durk saw Sid look back at Charlie sprawled on the ground. He shook his head, threw up his hands and loped off in the opposite direction.

Durk cradled Charlie’s head. “Charlie, Charlie, I’m here, Charlie.”

“Hey little Rabbit. You best…leave...the cops,” he stopped talking but Durk could tell he was still breathing. He remembered the cell phone Charlie had earlier and pulled it out of his friend’s jacket pocket.

“There’s been a shooting,” he said when it connected to 9-1-1, “behind the Park N Go on Rodgers. It’s my buddy. There’s a lot of blood.” Then he threw the phone down and stroked Charlie’s brow.

“Why’d you jump in front of the gun, Man,” Durk said. “Why’d you do that? Guns kill people.”

“They were pointing at my little…rabbit… It was a .45. It would have flattened a rabbit, but I can take it.”

“You’re not Superman, you know.”

“But I am the man. I can take a bigger hit.”

“Charlie, you said the guns were for just in case.”

“You gotta get out of here…run…Rabbit…run.”

Durk heard the sirens now. He thought of Mom at work at the Shady Inn, of his sisters putting Dad to bed, of the money they wouldn’t have and of the youth group and Pastor Brad. The guys would be playing basketball now. He wished he were there with them.

Officer Radison was the first on the scene. An ambulance was only seconds behind him. After checking Charlie’s pulse, finding he was alive, trying to talk to him and getting no response, he turned him over to the ambulance crew. Looking around the scene, he spotted Durk’s gun which he handled by picking it up with a nearby stick through the gun handle.

“This yours?” he asked.

It really wasn’t his. It was Charlie’s. Should he say yes or no? He shrugged his shoulders.

“Let me rephrase that. Did you have possession of this gun tonight?’

Durk slowly shook his head yes.

“When did you fire it?”

“I. . .I didn’t.”

The officer stared at Durk for at least 10 seconds. Then he said quietly. “It’s been fired. Recently.”

Durk’s face went white. Had he fired the gun? He remembered having it in his hand, pointing it, having his finger on the trigger but he didn’t remember firing it. Everything had happened at once. The Fire Devils had their guns drawn pointed at Charlie and Sid. Then Durk stumbled and the Fire Devils pointed towards him and Charlie stepped in front of the bullet. The Fire Devils fired. Charlie and Sid fired. Did he fire his gun? Durk’s mind was filled with thousands of images coming at him nonstop but none of them made sense.

Where had he been and where had Charlie been. If he had fired his gun could it have hit Charlie? He couldn’t have shot his friend, could he? Over and over again the words beat in rhythm with his heart. Just in case. Just in case. Just in case.

Charlie was being loaded in the ambulance. Durk turned, ran to his side and started to climb in, but Officer Radison pulled him back.

“No Son. You’re coming with me.”

“But Charlie. Will Charlie be OK?”

“I’m not sure.”

Durk turned to the paramedic who was closing the door. “Wait, wait. Will he be OK?”

He just shook his head. The siren wailed. The ambulance took off down the street lights blazing.

Durk knew in his heart. Charlie was dead.

What had Pastor Brad said? Jesus was the ultimate rebel because he gave his life for his friends. Pastor Brad had talked about how people today were only concerned about themselves, not anyone else. But Jesus had come to live his life to die for others. Charlie had done that for Durk. Charlie had died for him. Maybe Jesus had too, Durk wasn’t sure of that, but he was sure of one thing. Charlie died for Durk even though he had said the gun was for just in case.

There was nothing left to do. Officer Radison held Durk’s head as he ducked into the back of the squad car. The car pulled out of the drive. From somewhere a repetitive sound maybe an engine tick seemed to drum in Durk's head: just in case, just in case, just in case. Durk wondered what constituted just in case.

He couldn’t stop the flood any longer. Don’t do it. A man wouldn’t do it. But he couldn’t help it. Alone in the back of the squad car, Durk wept.

©2009 by Teresa Parker

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