The closest I ever came to dying is when I made cheeseburgers. Jesse, a kid I had known since the sixth grade reached out to me and asked me to come over to his house in the country to make food. He said they were for someone special so he told me to “bring it”. Jesse lived with his mom who never liked me but she wouldn’t be at the gig so I agreed. I got there early. The note on the door read:
FLACO! COME ON IN
MOM ISN’T HERE.
BE BACK SOON
I shrugged and went through the unlocked door. It was unlocked because no thief would steal anything from house: Pictures of Jesus, Mary, Christian proverbs, Psalms, Bible verses and lots and lots of various, framed scenes of The Last Supper adorned almost every wall. So if you had a problem with the son of God watching you pinch one off in the bathroom, tough luck, bud. One small space over the plastic-wrapped couch hung several family pictures and in the center was one big school picture of a smirking Jesse wearing a black, Metallica t-shirt from his middle school days. Looking around I’m fairly certain she hadn’t changed anything since she bought the place in the early 70’s. The walls were a pukey yellow and she sealed every piece of furniture in plastic, not just the couch. Walking into the kitchen I noticed the appliances were very dated. I didn’t bring any of my gear with me except the food so I rifled through the cabinets and took out what I needed to set up.
They arrived about an hour after me. I had the patties all pressed and ready to go and the gas burner heated the skillet nicely. They barged in giggling and were a mess of nervous energy. Jesse, his buddy Vern and some guy I never met before were wild-eyed and panting heavily. For a minute I thought they were tweaking big time. But after seeing their rosy faces and runny noses I figured they were just cold because of the winter weather.
The first sign of trouble is when the stranger first set eyes on me and his expression immediately turned hostile. Jesse and Vern greeted me with joy.
“Hey dude!” Jesse said walking over to me. “You made it!” He came and gave me a quick bro hug.
“Got it ready to go. You hungry?” I asked him.
“Fuckin’ starving, man!” Vern said walking over to the fridge. He brought out two beer bottles in each hand and handed them to each of us. “This here isn’t just dinner. We’re celebrating!”
We clinked bottles and took a swig. The stranger’s expression hadn’t changed and he eye-balled me suspiciously. He had stocky build and muscles protruded from his shirt. His face looked dirty like he had been crawling through a ditch. He had tightly buzzed brown hair and a small swastika tattooed under his left eye and the word “CRACKER” tattooed under his right eye; the work was amateurish and sloppy.
“What are we celebrating?” I said.
“This fucker here,” Jesse said lightly punching the stranger in the shoulder. “It’s his first day home.”
I nodded and smiled at the guy, he didn’t return it.
“So who the hell is this guy?” he said coldly still glaring at me. A real charmer this one, I thought.
I looked at Jesse and Vern; they looked at him and cocked their heads.
“He’s cool, Sean, it’s fine.” Jesse said.
“Fine my ass,” Sean growled, “I don’t know who this jerkoff is.”
“This is Flaco,” Jesse said. “He’s my friend. We go way back. Trust me, he’s okay.”
He didn’t say anything just regarded me with the same air of contempt and suspicion.
“Flaco, huh?” He said taking a swig of his Bud Lite. “What the fuck kinda name is that?”
“It’s a slang word, Spanish for skinny.”
“Oh yeah? Is that what you are, some kinda wetback?” he said smirking.
“I’m a fuckin’ wetback, too, Sean, in case you forgot.” Jesse said.
“Dude, what the fuck is your deal?” Vern said.
“Shut the fuck up, Vern!” He said with a raised voice. Vern slunk back a bit as Sean turned towards him. “My deal is I didn’t know this shindig was gonna be invaded by a taco bender on my first day out.”
“I told him to come over here, Sean. You said you wanted a good home-cooked meal so that’s what he’s gonna do, okay? Now seriously, dude, chill the fuck out.” Jesse said.
Sean walked towards Jesse and they stared each other down. Sean chuckled and then started towards me swigging his beer like a drunk stepfather.
“Always figured you beaners for-tay was washin’ dishes, not cookin’” He laughed and watched for my reaction and took another drink from the brown bottle. “Tell you what, Fellatio,” he said with a belch. “You make me dinner and if it aint’ the best goddammed dinner I ever had, I’m takin’ you out back and burying you in the fuckin’ dirt.”
“Sean, you’re being an asshole.” Jesse said sighing.
Sean then proceeded to take out a Beretta 9 millimeter and point it at Jesse’s face.
“Shut the fuck up, or you’re the first one I take out back. You got a big yard, man, ain’t gonna be no trouble for those buzzards to come and pick you clean.”
I froze and didn’t move a muscle. I almost peed myself. He turned back towards me holding the gun at my chin.
“Well, go on Fellatio. Impress me.”
I glanced at Jesse who looked at me with a sympathetic expression. Sean gave me a forceful and painful nudge with the barrel of the gun in my side towards the stove’s direction and I got to work. I didn’t want to look but occasionally I glanced back at Sean. He sat at the small formica table gulping down beer and belching loudly. He wore a dirty white t-shirt and what looked to be pants that were too big for him. I found that odd. Jesse and Vern looked like they were POWs awaiting their execution. They stood and sipped their beers in silence and didn’t move except when Sean barked at them to give him another. A few minutes passed.
“What the fuck are you lookin’ at, Pablo?” he yelled. His speech started to slur, his eyes glassy.
“You wanna piece of this?” he said standing and slapping his backside. He laughed out loud. “You some kinda pecker-checker?”
“No.” I said.
“Then what is it about me that makes you look in my fuckin’ die-rection for no apparent reason?”
He stood up and walked to me. For a few seconds he stood behind me and I felt him tap the gun barrel lightly on the back of my scalp.
“I just noticed your pants.”
“My what?” he said
“Your pants. They look kinda big.”
He looked me up and down and I expected him to pistol whip me across my head.
“You believe this fuckin’ guy?” he said to Jesse and Vern. “What’re you the fuckin’ fashion police?”
“I was just curious.”
“You was just curious.” He said in a high pitched voice and I took for his impression of me. “Well I’ll tell ya what, Fellatio, these ain’t my fuckin’ pants. I got these not an hour ago.”
“Sean” Jesse exclaimed. I glanced over at him and both he and Vern’s eyes practically popped out of their heads and they stared at him with desperate urgency.
“What, I don’t fuckin’ care.” He said to them. “Fellatio here ain’t gonna say nothin’, are ya, Fellatio?” he said tapping the gun on my back.
I shook my head not knowing what it was exactly I wasn’t going to expose. He went back over the table grabbed his beer and walked back over to me. Gun in his right hand, beer in the left he stood to my right and leaned back against the counter.
“Ya see here, Fellatio, these pants belonged to someone else. Someone who ain’t exactly gonna need ‘em anymore, ya know?”
I glanced back at Jesse and Vern again and they looked beaten.
“This here, tonight in this fine home is my homecoming party. This air I’m breathin’ is stone cold free. And ya know why, Fellatio?” he said slurring. “Because just last night I was sitting in a eight by twelve, a fuckin’ stone slab for a bed.”
“You were in jail?” I said.
“Yeah I was fuckin’ in jail, genius. What the fuck do you think I mean?” He drank another gulp of beer. “See, these two gents, they’re my brothers.” He said. Sean walked over, stood between them and draped his arms over their shoulders and pulled them close.
“These fuckers and me, we been through some shit, ain’t we?” he nudged them. Vern nodded, Jesse looked at Sean with bitterness. Sean didn’t see it and kept talking. “We’ve always been there for each other. Well a few months ago, I wrote to Jesse here and said, brother, I need ya for something big. And ya know what that big thing was, Fellatio? It was to break me outta that place.”
He pulled them close and they looked downcast and sullen. He let go and walked over to me again.
“I don’t wanna bore ya with the details and all but I will say we hatched this plan to get the fuck outta that shithole and by the grace of fuckin’ god here I am! Scott fuckin’ free and ready to wreak some fuckin’ havoc! Ain’t that right?” he said to them. He took a long swig of beer and drained it. Belching low and loud he patted his stomach and walked over to the table and grabbed a cigarette out of his coat. He lit it and looked at me.
“Oh and these pants, well, let’s just say the obituaries are gonna mention someone in a couple of days that met his demise, unexpectedly in his drawers.” He said with a loud chuckle. “I mean, I can’t exactly walk around wearing county orange, right? And just in case you were curious, we went to this place by the community center over on Towar Avenue and beat the fuck outta some kid and took his coat.”
“You beat the fuck outta some kid.” Jesse said resentfully
“Okay fine. I beat the fuck outta some kid. Happy?” he said. “Considerin’ the other guy who had the coat that kid got off easy as hell.” He popped open another beer and took a long hit of it. He smacked his lips and slammed it on the table. Jesse and Vern glared at him.
“And I’ll tell ya what, after this dinner here, the first fuckin’ thing we’re doin’ is rollin’ up on that fuckin’ pig that busted me last year and putting two in his fuckin’ head.” He said to Jesse.
“What?” Jesse said incredulously.
“You heard me. We’re doin’ that tonight. I got his address.” he said proudly.
Jesse and Vern stood with their jaws hanging on the floor.
“Sean, are you fuckin’ crazy. You didn’t say anything about that!”
“I’m sayin’ it now, numb nuts.” He said dropping the smoke onto the floor and letting it burn. “Got a problem with that?” he said. Sean stomped over to Jesse and got within an inch of his nose. Jesse stared back at him. It was like waiting for a gun to go off.
“Fine” Jesse said coldly. Sean’s features softened. He smiled widely and playfully pinched Jesse’s face like a grandfather.
“See, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. Jesse know I don’t like loose ends.” He said. I looked at him and he had a predatory expression his face. He stared at me. “And one thing I like even less is witnesses.”
I turned around and glanced at Jesse and Vern. They looked deflated and didn’t seem to want to help me at all. Sean walked slowly towards me, gun gripped in his right hand.
“Look, I won’t say anything. I’ll just leave. It’ll be like you never said anything to me.”
“Listen to this fucker act like he ain’t heard nothin’.” Sean chuckled. “Naw, see,” he said wagging the gun like a finger at me, “you heard what we’re gonna do and what’s more, Fellatio, you know who I am.”
“I’ve never met you before today. How do I even know you?” I said panicking.
“How many fuckin’ prisoners escaped incarceration in the last 24 hours named Sean, Fellatio?” he said putting emphasis on his nickname for me. “Not fuckin’ many, I’ll tell ya that. Ain’t gonna be a tough stretch for you to point me out in the mug books, motherfucker.”
“I swear to god, I won’t say anything to anybody.”
“Wish I could believe ya, Fellatio. Really I do.”
“What about your burger?”
He laughed out loud showing his decaying teeth. “Ain’t gonna be that tough a job to flip a fuckin’ piece of meat, Einstein. Any fuckin’ dickless monkey can do that.”
He started to bring the gun up to my face when in a flash I grabbed the bottle by the stove and swung it at the right side of his head. Beer splashed in my eyes and I shut them tight so glass wouldn’t get in. Sean crashed into me and we both fell on the floor. He fell more like a wet bag of cement than me. I heard the gun clunk to the floor and I kept my eyes shut. After a moment or two I felt someone grab my hand and help me up.
“You okay, man?” Vern asked. I nodded with my eyes still closed.
I heard the faucet turn on and the next second someone handed me a wet cloth.
“Holy fuck, dude, I can’t believe you did that.” Jesse said.
I dabbed my eyes and blinked rapidly. Coming into focus were the two of them. Jesse stood over Sean’s unconscious body. Vern breathed a little heavy, both of their eyes bulging from their sockets. The burgers on the stove started to burn and smoke billowed in the kitchen. I went and took the skillet off the burner. For a long few moments we didn’t utter a word. I looked down and noticed a gash in my left hand. I put the towel over it. We all just stared down at Sean in silence. He had a nasty cut on his right eyebrow and his hair was a wet with redness; a gash on the back of his head. Broken glass, spilled beer and blood spatter decorated the linoleum floor around him.
“Crazy asshole.” Jesse hissed.
“I fuckin’ told you we shouldn’t have helped this psycho!” Vern exclaimed.
Jesse ignored him and muttered, “Fuck” in a low voice and shook his head, eyes closed.
“What the fuck are we gonna do now?” Vern said sounding more and more frantic. “And what about your mom? She might notice this shit.”
“We’ll clean it up.” Jesse said. “We’ll mop up this mess and get rid of anything that he broke on his way down.”
“That’s all well and good, man, but there’s the small fuckin’ problem of Sean!” Vern said. “What the hell are we gonna do about him? We can’t exactly wheel him out to the curb.”
“Will you just fuckin’ calm down, you’re not helping.” Jesse said with a frantic voice. He continued to look at Sean. “I’ll think of something.”
“Think of what, man?” Vern said sounding more panicked than before. “We’re fucked!”
“Want me to call Rosie?” I said finally. Both of their heads turned simultaneously at me. “I can call her.”
“Does your mom do this kind of thing?” Jesse said.
I nodded. “For me she will, but it’s gonna cost you.”
“How much?” Vern said
“Two grand at least.” I said
“Two fuckin’ grand!” Vern said.
“I got that.” Jesse said calmly.
“The fuck you do! That’s for our grow set-up, man! We haven’t even got fans yet!”
“We’ll get those later.” Jesse said.
“I already set it up, it’s good to go, dude! You know how long it fuckin’ took me to put up all that tin-foil in the basement?” Vern said.
“I think this is slightly more fuckin’ important, Vern.” Jesse said matter-of-factly and turned to me. “Make the call, I’ll get the cash.” He turned and left the room.
I made the call.
Two hours later, it was like it never happened. Lupe and Tone came over. Jesse and Vern were a little intimidated by them but Lupe quickly took the lead. She ordered them to clean any broken glass or spilled liquid. Meanwhile, she and Tone tied Sean in duct tape and wrapped him in black garbage bags. They carried him through the front door and put him in the back of a beat up white van with my mom’s cleaning business logo on the side. They also threw in any garbage the boys cleaned. I worried someone would spot that but Jesse’s house sat at the dead end of a road. A thick forest cut if off and his nearest neighbors were a couple of miles away.
The whole job actually cost five grand which Jesse didn’t have. But he forked over the two he did have and promised to pay the rest somehow. Lupe, unfortunately, felt unconvinced and took his grow lights as collateral, much to the dismay and panic of Vern.
We sat in the kitchen sipping the last of the beers after Lupe and Tone departed.
“What’s gonna happen to that idiot?” Vern said.
I looked at him morbidly. “You really wanna know?”
“Never mind.” He said and quickly took a swig of his beer.
“Thanks, man. Really.” Jesse said.
I nodded at him.
We sat in deep thought, each of us contemplating on the past few hours. The sound of the front door opening startled us and we darted our heads towards it. Jesse’s mom walked in, a short, fierce-looking lady with cat eye glasses and puffy, short black-dyed hair. She was dressed nicely and looked like she had just returned from church. She saw me and gave Jesse a “what-the-hell-is-he-doing-here” look.
“Why does it smell like smoke in here?” she said stopping to look at us.
“I was cooking. I burned something. Sorry.” I said.
She suddenly appeared curious and slowly walked into the kitchen. She looked around carefully examining the room. We looked at each other unsure if she had a sixth sense that something bad had taken place.
“Did you clean in here?” she said.
“Yeah.” Jesse said.
She looked at him with pleasant surprise.
“I helped” Vern said.
She lowered her eyes at him and smirked. “Sure you did.” And she walked out not bothering to address me at all. I took that as my cue to leave. I drained my beer, said goodbye to the boys and seriously considered becoming a vegan chef.