Saturday, December 6, 2008

Quiet Of The Afternoon

"What's in this?" he asked.

"Nothing. Eggs. Salt. Pepper."

"Is it good?"

"It’s fine. It’s eggs."

He took a bite. "Not bad."

"I told you."



"What do you think?"

"I don't know."

"Is it safe?"

"I don't know. Probably not."

"We have to do it."

"Yes. We do."

They’d talked about it for weeks. Risks, rewards. It was like a business to them. It was a business. Not the way most people thought about business, maybe, but a business still. It took planning and investment and sweat and if things went well there was profit to be made.

The radio played while they ate. The window was open and the music carried in the still, heavy morning heat, a song that wasn’t good and wasn’t bad. A year from now nobody would remember it. Mike smiled to himself and pushed his toast around the plate, drank some coffee.

Ray finished his eggs. “Those were good,” he said.

“Glad you liked them,” said Mike. “Ready to make the call?”

Ray shrugged. “You’re sure this is the right number?”

“I checked it. Three times. He’ll be there.”

“What if he’s not?”

“He will be.”

Ray dialed.

Somewhere the phone rang.

Nobody answered. It rang and kept ringing.

Ray hung up. “You said this was the right number.”

“It is. I checked it. Twice.”

“You said three times.”

“It doesn’t matter, I checked it. It’s his.”

“Why didn’t he answer?”

“He’s not there.”

“Or he doesn’t want to talk to us.”

She picked up the phone and listened to the dial tone for a moment.

“Who was that?” asked her son.

“Nobody,” she answered. “A wrong number.”

“Was it Dad?”


“Where is he?”

“He’ll be home soon.” She began putting away groceries. Soup. Oreos. Green peppers. A bottle of wine.

Ray swore and poured more coffee. Bourbon was better but that was for later. When they had the money. When they were gone, nothing left behind but some dirty dishes.

Mike dried the frying pan. “What are we going to do?” he asked. “I’m counting on this. I have plans.”

“We all have plans,” said Ray.

“What are we going to do?” Mike asked again.

“We’re going to find him.”

“It’s a big city.”

“He’s a big man. We’ll find him.”

“What if we can’t?”

“He’ll find us,” said Ray.


“He’s got a wife. A kid.”

Mike grinned. “Right.”

“What are we going to do today?” Tyler asked his mother.

“We’ll see,” she answered.

“Can we go to the zoo?”

“We’ll see,” she repeated.

“Where's Dad?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is he late?”

“A little.”

“Call him.”

“Not yet," she said. "In a few minutes. If he isn't home soon.”

“Where does he live?” asked Mike.

“In the suburbs,” said Ray.

“That figures,” said Mike. He jammed the pistol in his belt.

“You going to use that?” asked Ray.

“Maybe. If I have to.”

Ray shrugged. “Let’s go. I’ll drive.”

“You always drive.”

“Someone has to.”

“Why you?”

“Why not?”

Jeffrey pulled into the driveway. His wife and son were at the door.

“Where were you?” Linda called. “We were getting worried.”

“I stopped for donuts,” Jeffrey replied. “Chocolate.” He held up a bag. “There was a line.”

“You’re sweet,” said Linda. “Coffee?”

He gave her a kiss. “Yes. Thanks.”

“Can we go to the zoo?” Tyler asked his father.

“We’ll see.”

“That’s what Mom said."

"Your mother's a smart lady."



“That means no.”

“That means maybe.”

“The zoo would be fun,” said Linda. She smiled.

He smiled back. “Let me wash the car first. Then we’ll go.”

Ray and Mike drove through the city. At a stoplight a woman pushed a stroller past their car. They watched her walk away.

“Good legs,” said Mike.

“Not bad,” Ray agreed.

“Do you know to get there?”



“I had a job out there once.”

“Nice neighborhood?”

“Nice enough.”

Jeffrey finished his coffee and pushed away from the table. He stood.

“Are you going to wash the car now?” Tyler asked.

“Hold on, Sparky. I need to change.”

“Okay. Hurry up.”

“Pick up your room while we’re waiting for your father,” said Linda.

“Do I have to?”

“Yes. Scoot.”

The sun was high now. A lawnmower was running nearby and the air smelled of cut grass.

Linda followed Jeffrey upstairs. “Thanks, honey,” she said. “Tyler’s really excited.”

“It’ll be fun. We haven’t been there in a long time.”

“Remember how he used to love the monkeys?”

Together, they laughed.

“Why do you think he did it?” asked Mike.

“Did what?” asked Ray.

“Chanced it.”

“I suppose he’s greedy. Like everyone.”

“He must be stupid.”


“He knew this would happen.”


“Whatever happens.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s stupid.”

“What does it mean?”

“It just means that he’s not lucky.”

“You think it’s luck?” Mike asked.

“Luck. Fate. God. Something. It doesn’t matter.”

“God doesn’t matter?”

“Does it matter why something bad happens?”

“I guess not.”

Ray sighed. “Bad is bad.”

“Does he deserve it?”

“Like I said. It doesn’t matter.”

“What if it matters to me?”

“That’s your problem.”

In an office high above the city, Jackie waited. He wasn’t a patient man.

“Where the fuck are those guys?”

“Want me to call them?” asked his assistant.

“I don’t want to talk to them. I just want this thing done.”

“They’re good. They’ll take care of it.”

“They better.”

Tyler cleaned his room.

“Hi there, Mr. Fuzz, how are you?” he said, putting a stuffed bear on a shelf.

“I’m fine, Tyler, how are you?” he said in a different voice.

“I’m happy, Mr. Fuzz. I get to go to the zoo today.”

Unnoticed in the doorway, Linda smiled.

“You think maybe we should call Jackie?” Mike asked.

Ray grimaced. “No.”


“Jackie wants to know it’s done.”


“Are we done?”


“There you go.”

“What if he calls us?”

“Let’s hope he doesn’t.”

“What if he does?”

“We’ll tell him we’re on our way to finish it.”

Jeffrey filled a bucket with water. He had a sponge, soap, wax. He waved to his next door neighbor.

“Too bad you’ve got to spend such a nice day washing your car,” the neighbor said.

“I don’t mind,” said Jeffrey. “I’m going to the zoo later. With Linda and Tyler.”

“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” asked Mike.

“Yes,” said Ray.

“I don’t know why anybody would want to live way the hell out in the middle of nowhere.”

“To get away.”

“From what?”


“I guess it didn’t work out that way for him.”

“I guess not.”

Linda finished putting away the dishes and looked outside. She saw Jeffrey talking to the neighbor. There was no point in rushing him. The zoo was nearby, at least not far, and the day spread out before her with its warm and lazy rhythm. They had time, all they needed.

Officer Steenson piloted her squad through the quiet, suburban patrol grid. She enjoyed her work. It was easy, compared to the city. Barking dogs, speeding tickets, once in a while a drunk driver or a family argument. Slipping into middle age and with two kids at home, easy was fine.

Jackie slammed his hand on the desk.

“I can’t believe that prick tried it.”

His assistant nodded.

“Tommy, do I look stupid?”

It wasn’t a question. Tommy stopped nodding.

“How can I run a business if people think I’m stupid?”

“You can’t,” said Tommy.

“Damn right I can’t,” said Jackie.

“It’ll be over soon, boss,” said Tommy.


“I'm telling you, when we get done with Woodard, nobody’s gonna pull that shit again.”

“Get done with who?”


“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Woodard. The guy.”

“Who’s Woodard?”

“You know. The guy.”

“Oh, Jesus, what did you do?”

Behind her, Linda heard the clank of the cookie jar lid. She turned.

“Tyler Jonathan Woodard, what do you think you’re doing?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he mumbled sheepishly through a mouthful of Oreo.

“Didn’t you just have a donut?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

“Then no more cookies, mister.”

“Sorry, mom.”

“It’s a nice day at least,” said Mike.

Ray drove.

“The sun’s out. It’s plenty warm. Wish I didn’t have to work.”

“What else would you do?” asked Ray.

“Golf, maybe.”

“When did you start that?”

“I haven’t. I want to.”


Mike shrugged. “I like hitting things.”

Ray laughed.

“Woodard?” Jackie said.

Tommy stared at the floor. He didn’t speak. He didn’t move.

“Woodard?” Jackie repeated. His voice was rising. “Do you know who Woodard is?”

“The guy?” Tommy asked hesitantly.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Woodard’s not the guy.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s my fucking dentist.”

Turning off the hose, Jeffrey stood back and admired his work.

“That’s a fine looking piece of engineering,” he said.

“It's a Camry, for God’s sake,” said Linda. She’d come out to check on his progress. “Are you almost done?”

“I’ll put on some dry clothes and we can leave.”

“He’s your dentist?” asked Tommy. He looked queasy and pale.

“That’s right, you dumb fuck,” Jackie snapped.

“You told me the guy’s name was on your desk. That’s where I found it.”

“Jesus. Call them.”


“Mike and Ray.”

“What should I tell them?”

“Tell them to leave Woodard alone.”

Linda gave a friendly wave to Officer Steenson as she drove past the house. The squad car slowed and stopped.

“How’ve you been, Ms. Woodard?”

“It’s hard to complain on a day like this. How’s it going with you?”

“Another quiet one.”

“That’s what we like to hear,” said Linda.

Ray’s phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID.

“Who is it?” asked Mike.


“You going to answer it?”


“Why not?”

“It’ll be over soon. I’d rather give him good news.”

“He’ll be pissed you didn’t answer.”

“He’ll just figure bad reception.”

“You better hope so,” said Mike.

“They’re not answering,” said Tommy.

“Christ,” said Jackie. “What a fucking mess.”

“What are we going to do?” Tommy asked.

“You’re going to call Woodard.”

“What am I supposed to say?”

“We’ll make up a story. We have to get him out of the house until we find our guys.”

“Mom, where are my shoes?” Tyler called from upstairs.

“Where you left them,” she called back.

“Where was that?”

“How would I know?”

“Never mind, I found them.”

“Where were they?”

“Where I left them.”

“Funny guy,” said Linda.

Tyler giggled as he came down the stairs.

The phone rang.

“Who is it?” asked Jeffrey.

“It doesn’t say,” Linda replied, checking the caller ID. “Do you want me to answer?”

“Dad, you promised we could go to the zoo as soon as you were done with the car,” Tyler said.

“Oh, let it go,” Jeffrey said. “It’s probably a telemarketer.”

“Hey,” Mike said. “Stop here.”

“Why?” asked Ray. “We’re almost at his house.”

“I know. I’ve got to take a leak.”

Ray turned into the convenience store.

“I’ll be right back,” said Mike.

Ray watched him walk through the store.

Behind him, Officer Steenson eased her squad into the lot.

Mike came out of the bathroom. He saw the cop getting out of her car. The gun was heavy in his pocket.

They reached the door at the same time.

“Thanks,” said Officer Steenson to Mike, brushing past him as he held it open for her.

“No problem,” said Mike.

“Nobody’s home,” said Tommy. “Want me to leave a message?”

Jackie rolled his eyes. “Saying what? ‘We sent some guys over. They’ll probably kill you.’”

“So now what?”

“We can’t stop it. All we can do is tie up the loose ends when it’s over.”

“Loose ends?”

“Mike and Ray.”

“Alright, I’m ready,” Jeffrey said, coming out of the bedroom.

“Finally,” said Tyler.

“Work before play, little friend,” Jeffrey said.

“You’re weird,” said Tyler.

“Yes he is,” said Linda.

“Forthwith to the Camry and the goodies therein,” said Jeffrey.

Linda punched him in the arm. “Come on, Yogi, let’s go.”

“Are we there yet?” Mike asked with a fake whine.

“Knock it off,” said Ray.

“Seriously,” Mike said. “Are we?”

“Almost. A few more minutes.”

“How can you find your way around here? Everything looks the same.”

“You get used to it.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“You would if you had to.”

“Loose ends. I don’t like that,” said Tommy.

“You think I do?” asked Jackie. “We don’t have a choice.”


“A dentist in the suburbs? The cops will never stop looking.”


“Still nothing. It’s your fuck up. You’ve got to fix it.”

“I know.”

“Good. Take care of it.”

Jeffrey backed out of the driveway.

“Can we see the monkeys first?” Tyler asked.

“Alright,” said Linda.

“Can we see the elephants too?”

“Sure,” said Jeffrey. “We’ve got all day.”

“This is nice,” said Linda.

“Yes,” said Jeffrey. “It is.”

“I love the monkeys,” said Tyler.

“We know,” said Linda.

“This is their street,” Ray said.

“Which house?”

“It should be on the left. Just ahead.”

“There.” Mike pointed. “The blue one.”

“That’s it.” Ray circled the block and parked on the street, a few doors away.

“You think they’re around?”

“Hard to tell.”

“What should we do?”

“Wait. Watch.”

Linda turned on the radio. A song ended, another began.

“Damn it,” she said.

“What’s wrong?” Jeffrey asked.

“I forgot my purse.”

“Do you need it?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“No problem. We can run back home.”

“No!” Tyler wailed.

“It’ll just take a minute,” said Jeffrey.


“I promise,” Linda replied.

Officer Steenson paid for her Diet Coke and returned to the squad. Time to make another loop, she thought.

She noticed the parked car. It was vaguely familiar. So were the men inside. Turning the corner, she tried to place them. Strangers weren’t common. Not here, not on a Sunday.

Jeffrey waved to Officer Steenson as they drove past each other. He swung into his driveway. Linda opened her door.

“Mom, hurry up,” Tyler said.

“I will,” said Linda. “It’s right on the counter.” She went inside.

Jeffrey got out of the Camry and stretched. It was a fine afternoon.

Mike checked the gun. “That must be him.”

“Yes,” said Ray.

“His wife and kid too.”

“Yes. Too bad.”

“It happens. Let’s go. Before they leave again.”

“In a minute. I'm going to make a call first.” He took out his phone and punched in a number.

“Hurry,” said Mike.

“Who is it?” Jackie asked.

“Our guys,” said Tommy. “Ray and Mike.”

“Answer the fucking thing.”

“Hey,” Tommy said into the phone.

“He’s here,” said Ray. “We’ll finish it now.”

Mike saw Linda closing the door behind her. He got out of the car and started walking toward the house.

“Stop,” called Ray.

Mike turned.

“Stop.” More urgently.

Mike hesitated.

“Let it be,” Ray said, quieter now.

Mike watched Jeffrey drive away.

“Where do you think they’re going?” he asked.

“Anywhere,” said Ray. “Anywhere at all.”

“It’s a good day for a drive.”

“Yes. It is. It’s a good day.”


Jennifer said...

Gawd bless you, Snag!

Anonymous said...

They're going to get eaten by tigers at the zoo.

Anonymous said...

Officer Steenson drives back.

A dog day afternoon ensues.

fish said...

4 days apparently means tomorrow.

Nice work Snag. Assuming it is done of course...

Anonymous said...

And then the meteor hits.

As long as it isn't the "unexpected" car crash.

Awesome work, Snagsby.

Anonymous said...

nice ending mr snag! i was sure tehre was going to be some sort of practical joke at the end, but this is way better :)