With Felicia’s pregnancy came bedrest, maids, and takeout instead of homecooked meals. Martin spoiled her daily with new jewelry, telling her she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I guess I understood it. Not really, though.
Either way, their house was busier and I was glad to be out of it. Joe still begged to stay there. I allowed Felicia to babysit him days while I worked on managing the new warehouse.
As if I was given a choice in the matter.
I kept myself distracted with new work and enjoyed it. I was in charge of ordering shipments that came in directly from the harbor in Bayland. I managed the gang members that Martin picked out for me. My favorite part of my new position was probably that I had lackeys that did things for me like the drug deals that I hated. Some of them had a difficult time taking direction from a thirteen-year-old, but I threatened them with Martin and they usually straightened out. If I was honest with myself, the only real worry I had now was the cops catching me.
I brought my cop concern up to Martin and he was quick to laugh at me like I was some sort of idiot. We sat on a bench at the harbor, watching boats come in and out. The early morning sky was a green-grey with angry seagulls fighting in midair. It was such an ugly city with ugly people and ugly things.
“Bruce, they have a quota so of course little guys have reason to be scared. But me and the BayPD have an understanding. Let me ask you a question that might help you understand what I’m getting at. Who are the ones that benefit from crime?”
“Well, sure. We benefit with profits but who benefits from our products and services? Our customers. And who can be our customers?”
“Correct. Cops included. If we give them a discount as well as stay mostly civil, we can get along. Though, I suspect they use the drugs to plant it on people rather than use it recreationally. Not any of my business. I’m not the drug police. They are.”
“So all cops like crime?”
“I didn’t say that, Bruce. Keep an eye out. All I know is that BayPD is easy to pay off. Their captain is a big fan of my gentleman’s club, too.”
“Wouldn’t it make more sense to knock down big gangs? There’s sort of a monopoly going on between us and the Patricks. But if we were erased, only the little guys would be left and it’d be easier to get them and—”
“You’re thinking too much. Cops can equate to customer just the same as say a bus driver can become a customer.”
It still seemed suspicious to me. How could I trust someone like the cops when they were the ones I ran from? It seemed idiotic. They could turn on us at any moment.
A boat horn sounded off and I wanted to leave. For whatever reason, Martin liked sitting at the harbor and simply watching people go by. I couldn’t stand the idea of sitting and doing nothing. I would’ve left if I wasn’t being forced to stay.
I handed him the report for our sales on the past month. He glanced it over and then stuffed it inside his suit.
“Keep up the good work.”
“That’s it? No tips? No advice?”
“Treat your men with respect and they’ll follow up. I keep getting complaints that you’re treating my men cold-heartedly.”
“They’re trying to sabotage me!”
I jumped from the bench just to make my point more poignant.
“They think I’m a child and only want to do me in! I want to fire all of their dumb asses but then who will keep the promises I made?”
“They’re testing you, Bruce. It’s how it works. They’d do it whether you were a kid or not. And you are a kid. Don’t forget it. I think you’re brilliant and capable of more than most kids your age, but not everyone is going to instantly see that. Quite arrogant to believe someone would just give you respect instantly after meeting you, actually. Especially when they might be jealous of me choosing you over them. You need to earn their respect.”
“But how!” I yelled followed by another ship’s horn.
“Give it time. You’ll figure it out, son.”
I was losing all sense of self-control and Martin was sitting there with a big smirk on his face like this was funny. I was trying to run a now major branch of his business and he was telling me to “give it time”. I wanted to wring his neck and see how much longer he wanted to “give it time”.
I was through speaking with him. I wanted to suggest a more efficient way of traveling between customers that was less random and would save time while I was here, but what was the point? I was just going to implement it whether he wanted it or not. The warehouse was mine and he wasn’t going to listen to me either way.
The next afternoon, when everyone was stopping in to get to work, I wrote my plan down on the chalkboard. A map of the neighborhood with an easy path, lined to each drop off or meeting. Some of them studied it with intent faces while others scoffed and walked away.
The only ally I had was a seven-foot tall man that Martin hired to be my back up if anything went wrong. His name was Jack and I was tempted to call him Jack the Giant but respected rather than teased him.
“Jack! Lock the door!”
Jack didn’t lock so much as blocked, but he was large enough to stop anyone from leaving before I got my full point in. I stood up on a chair, took a deep breath in and slapped the chalkboard.
“This will save time and energy! I don’t know why it wasn’t done before. How can you call yourselves organized criminals when you do whatever you want!”
“That’s gonna mess up the pre-planned schedule! You don’t know anything, dumb runt!”
I kept my cool, standing taller and rolling my shoulders back.
“We’re not starting today, you imbecile. I’m implementing it next week. Let our customers know that their times will be slightly changed. If there’s any problems, we can compensate. Bring it to me. Any more of this petty bullshit and you can work for Pat the Prick.”
The gangster I was arguing with kicked the chair I was using as a stool out from under me and I fell back. Jack the Giant rushed in a blur to me and helped me up, only to hit the man who made me fall. This started an all-out brawl and I took control of the situation.
I reached for the gun in Jack’s pants then shot straight up in the air. Pieces of the newly installed ceiling crumbled down on me and it quieted down. Jack checked his pants for his gun but found nothing and glared at me. I handed his weapon back and stood up on the chair again.
“I get that I’m young and maybe a little inexperienced. If you have a problem with it, work somewhere else. As if they’d hire you! Stay with me and you’ll get paid. Stand against me, and Martin can deal with you. This plan!” I shouted and slapped the chalkboard again. “Is going to save on resources. Possibly double your income. I’m open to better ideas, not ones that will put us behind the competition.”
“He’s right,” Jack said, nodding. I looked down at his bald head facing away from me and then at the rest of my gangsters. Their conflicted faces only made me want to explain further.
“Rather than wasting time doing two trips, one at two p.m. and one at nine p.m. for deals on the same street, we’ll combine the two with one trip. Instead of splitting it up by who got there first, we’ll split by location. Any new sales get added to the board and I’ll direct who’s selling evenly.”
“Impossible. Customers won’t like the change. We’ll lose some.”
“We’ll keep prices low until then. Apologize for the inconvenience and then move on.”
Still, it seemed like most didn’t believe me, but I let them get to work anyway while I continued to work on my map, planning out areas we could work on to make better sales. The upper East side of Bayland was definitely easier to sell to, but the West side was full of potential. I’d concentrate my efforts on both and see where it took me.
Sleep wasn’t easy. Especially since I knew there was still so much I could do. Most nights, I lay awake anxiously imagining myself up and working, happy instead of miserable, lying in my own laziness.
“Bruce?” Joe asked sadly. He was laying in the cot next to mine even though I knew full well that he wanted to be sleeping in the guest bed at Martin’s house.
“What’s the matter? Cold?” I was already taking off my blanket to give to him but he said no; that it was something else. “What is it then?”
“Are we gonna stay here forever? I want a family.”
“A family?” I asked. That was a little pathetic to wish for. Besides, he didn’t want a family. He wanted someone like Felicia to baby him and now that she had her own baby on the way, he was suddenly less important to her.
“We can eat TV dinners in front of the TV and watch TV.”
“You’re tired. Go to sleep.”
I patted his cheek and fell asleep. The next day after school when I dropped him off at Martin’s, Felicia was actually walking around instead of laying in bed.
“You’re feeling better?” I asked and she shrugged, taking Joe’s hand.
“C’mon sweet pea. We have lots to do today. Wanna help me in my garden?”
Joe giddily followed her inside and I drove off. A beat-up Cadillac with a few bullet holes in the back was a promotional gift for my hard work in the warehouse. I could definitely prove to Martin that I was worth more than a beat-up Cadillac.
Martin now also had his poker games at the warehouse. He brought all his men and a girl and a half for each of them. When I asked him why there weren’t any female gang members, he simply explained that women didn’t deserve the hardships that came with our career choice so he never bothered hiring them.
“But they handle sitting on your lap just fine,” I said bitterly. The table of rowdy adults went quiet for a millisecond and then roared with laughter. Martin only shook his head with a crooked smile.
“What’s all this about? You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I just think there’s a bit of lost potential. All they do is sit around as your whores.”
Martin stood up and pointed an irritated finger at me. “That’s enough! Why don’t you go pick up Joe and go to bed.”
He spoke to me like an angry father would to a misbehaving child. That was the last straw. I was not a child. I ran one of the most profitable branches of his business while he sat at night playing poker and his wife sat at home doing absolutely nothing! I didn’t deserve to be treated like that.
Jack followed me to the door but I stopped him. I wanted to be alone. I was doing Martin a favor in helping him better his business. And what did he do in return? He rewarded me by treating me like I was some nobody.
I drove angry. I swear I could rip the steering wheel right out of the car if I wanted to. By the time I got to Martin’s driveway, I had cooled down enough to think rationally. I was probably still being tested. This time by Martin himself. I probably wasn’t helping anything by storming off like a little child.
“Hey, Joe, it’s time to go!” I shouted from the front door. He didn’t come running to greet me like he usually did and I got worried. A million possibilities flooded my mind in an instant and I panicked. What if the Patricks got him? What if he ran away? What if—
“Bruce…” I heard a low cry upstairs and ran past the kitchen to get to him. I stopped at the foot of the steps when I saw her. I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was real or not. Her feet were still on the fifth step up and her face was planted in the ground, her neck and an arm contorted in an odd, uncomfortable fashion.
“Joe, what did you do?” I stepped over her body and tried to breathe as I thought up an escape plan.
“I didn’t mean to push Felicia. She just wasn’t listening to me—” His words caught on a sob and I wanted to kill him. Was he even sorry? Felicia lay dead at the bottom of the stairs and he cried at the top about not getting what he wanted.
I rolled her over, just to check if she was really alive or dead. She wasn’t breathing and I couldn’t feel a pulse. Even though, there was a chance I wasn’t checking it properly. Her neck was obviously broken, so there wasn’t much of a chance anyway.
“Joe!” I yelled. After all the work I put into this place, of course he had to shatter it! Martin had forgiven a lot of shortcomings of mine, but I didn’t think that killing his wife would fall on the list.
Shaking, I had to hold onto the railing to walk up the stairs. Joe’s pitifully terrified face reminded me of when I was forced to kill Betty. Normally, I did my best to avoid the memory, but circumstances were too similar and it was forcing itself to play in my mind. It was difficult to recall what was real and what wasn’t about that night. Every time I thought about it, the memory seemed to glamorize itself as more nightmarish than before.
She had thrown her ashtray at Joe and when he covered his bloody face to cry, she told him to shutup. He was hurt! He was allowed to cry for being hurt! When she attacked him again, presumably for crying, that was when I fought back. She was drunk and wasn’t really capable of defending herself. I had to kill her. She probably would’ve killed Joe otherwise. Who was I gonna choose? My demented stepmother or my baby brother?
His face looked exactly like it did that night and I wanted to cry myself.
“We can’t stay here. You know that, Joe,” I said and Joe shook his head.
“I didn’t mean to. We can tell him that we didn’t mean to.”
“Joe, he’s a gangster!” I held his face and made sure he saw my eyes when I spoke. He needed to understand what I was talking about. “You can’t mess with guys like him. He’ll kill us.”
“What if we made it look like an accident?”
“Still not safe.”
“What if… she disappeared?”
“What!” I yelled. I was getting mad at his outrageous ideas. We were wasting time when we should’ve been putting as much space between us and the dearly departed’s husband.
But what if she did disappear? What if, somehow the body was out of sight and a letter was left behind. Detailing a tragic story of a woman who felt trapped and only wanted to travel the world but was instead pressured under her husband’s thumb. Brilliant!
“Joe! You’re a genius!”
I held him tight and began working on my plan. We couldn’t fake her handwriting. Joe could barely write as it was and I couldn’t match her elegant calligraphy. So I typed it out. I kept it short and sweet.
If there is anything that this pregnancy has shown me, it’s that I am not cut out to be your wife any longer. I am packing my bags to travel to Europe and Asia and such. I guess I don’t like you anymore.
Hot off the typewriter, all that was left was to take care of the body. The best I could think of was burying her in the garden out back. I didn’t know how much time I had before Martin came back, but if it were like any other night, he’d be done around two in the morning.
“When did you kill her?” I asked. I took on most of the weight as we dragged her to the backyard. It was dark and cold but I threw my jacket down on the ground and stretched my arms, preparing to dig a grave. It wouldn’t be the first time. I wanted it to be the last.
“And you were up there for that long?”
“I was scared to come down. I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
I sighed and dropped her beside some freshly planted flowers and pulled them up. We could bury her underneath them and since the dirt was already recently disturbed, no one would suspect a thing.
I dug a hole with a shovel I found in the shed. Joe crouched close by, doing nothing. Not that I expected him to do anything. I watched his eyes as they followed each shovel full of dirt leave the ground and plop into a pile. His eyes were still innocent. Like he didn’t just murder someone. Accident or not, he still killed her and he no longer looked bothered by it, even with her laying dead beside him, waiting for me to lower her down in her garden.
“We aren’t very good at keeping mommy’s. Are we?” he asked and I dropped the shovel into the ground.
“Felicia was not our ‘mommy’. She was the wife of our employer. You’re stupid for thinking that. The only family you have is me. I warned you that you shouldn’t trust people unless I said you could.”
“But Felicia was nice…”
“Yeah. She was. And now look what you did. It was a very bad thing you did, Joe.”
“But you killed Betty. Was that bad? Are we both bad?”
“Betty got what she deserved. Felicia didn’t deserve to die.”
I wanted to lower her down respectively but wasn’t strong enough and was sore from digging the hole. I ended up dropping her in her grave and Joe wasted no time pushing dirt onto the body.
The mound was higher than the rest of the ground, and I thought it was a dead giveaway. I packed the dirt down as hard as I could. I planted the flowers exactly how they were before.
It was a mess.
Dirt was everywhere and the flowers were crumpled and started to wilt. There was no way this would go unnoticed. We were better off confessing her death rather than rushing to bury her.
“We need to water the flowers. She wouldn’t like it if we left them like that. They’ll look really pretty in the morning,” Joe said cheerfully. He found a hose and watered the garden in the dark. I did my best to straighten out the mess, sweeping the dirt off bordering stones and out of the grass. After we were done, I felt less panic but still didn’t know how we were going to get out of this alive. Martin was still going to kill us.
We showered, changed, then burned our old clothes in the furnace. We waited in the livingroom for Martin to come home, letter in hand and ready to run if it came to that. Joe fell asleep around two in the morning. Martin came through the door a quarter past four.
Part 4 coming on Thursday