It was Tom-Bob who actually came up with the method, and Tom-Bob who rented the cement mixer that very next day. After all, the last part of the fence we had left to finish was the gate foundation joint, at the very front of the property where we’d started in the first place. Everything came full circle, is what I’s trying to say. We actually needed the mixer for that. But we didn’t need all that other stuff he bought too. It didn’t matter to Tommy, because he’d drawn up a contract where he got a cut of my money himself. Not an actual contract, we just shook on it. A man's word and a little spit between the palms is as good as any contract there ever was. All I needed to do was let Tracy know that I was good for it.
So I called the house, which I knew was risking a lot, but it was the only way I thought I could get in touch with her without going down and ringing the bell on a Sunday. Our last day was the Monday coming up -- and it’d be a little suspicious if we were hanging around past Labor Day. When I dialed the number from the invoice, it was Ray who answered, like I’d imagined. “Yeah?” was how he did it. I cleared my throat, and asked for Tracy.
“Who is this?” He asked. I thought he might’ve recognized my voice, just from the way he said it, but I knew there was a chance he’d pop this very question, so I’d prepared an answer: “This is Chris, from down at the Rite Aid. I’m just calling to confirm a couple of details on her perscripts.”
Ray let out a sigh, like the thought whatever I needed from Tracy annoyed him. “Hold on,” he said, and his voice got muffled and quiet -- then she came on the line.
“Tracy. It’s Mikey. You don’t have to say anything, because I know he’s probably nearby. Tell him the pharma guy needs a copy of your insurance card to submit. Trust me, it’s something I’ve gone through myself.” It was true, because I needed a dose of dope a few years back, and between you and me, I don’t got no insurance card... I put that pharma man on the ropes for a couple of weeks. “Anyway, tell me thanks, hang up the phone, and meet me out at that diner on 22. Thirty minutes. Goodbye to you.”
As I removed the phone from my ear, I briefly heard her fading “thanks,” and what might have been the beginning of Ray asking her “who was that on the line--” before I had to jump into the truck myself and take off. One of the longest drives across town I can remember taking.
I ordered two coffees and had to wait an extra fifteen minutes before she showed up. My leg was jiggling so damn bad, you’da thought I was hopped up on anything but just plain old nerves. When she walked in to the diner with her sunglasses on, I just about jumped for joy. By that time, her coffee was cold and I ordered her a fresh one.
I’d never seen Tracy outside of the confines of her own home. It was a tingly experience, like we was getting away with something we weren’t supposed to, which is actually what we were there to talk about. But at that point, we was just talking and nothing bad had happened.
I told her I had thought long and hard about what she asked me to do, and that I was ready to do it. She smiled just about the brightest smile I’d ever seen her do. She leaned in close and took my hand, and she squeezed it nice and hard, like I was afraid to do to her way back when.
When I explained to her the way we meant to go about doing it, she raised an eyebrow, but she understood. The last detail was what I actually needed to sit down with her for. And that was the money. “Fifty large?” I asked. She nodded, and sipped her coffee. See, Ray Junger was -- well, you already know all of this, but for clarity -- Junger was one of them Wall Street Fat Cats, and he screwed over a bunch of other rich people, only the government let him off the hook. But she knew where he was hiding all that money! Again, she had the statement with her, so I got to see the numbers on the lines. As for what it actually said, I don’t read like the best of them, so I had to just take her word for it. From the looks of the trouble I’m in, I don’t think she was lying about the amount, and let’s just leave it at that. She might have been lying about a lot of other things, but that was a number I could see on the page.
Anyway, I needed to know just how she planned to disappear with me. Karly liked to watch some of those cops and robbers shows on TV, so I know’d by them that you can’t just go out and buy a ticket to Paris -- because the police can trace that kinda stuff, and whatnot. She said that she had the perfect plan, and then she told it to me. Tracy was smart, this I knew from the moment I saw her. The plan was indeed perfect:
“It’s not like in the movies, Mikey.” She’d taken to calling me Mikey for some time. I didn’t like it much, but I didn’t feel I was in the position to say so. “He’s going to be presumed missing. Then, after some time, if you do everything right, of which I have no doubt, they'll stop searching. I’ll have to mourn, and pretend like I’m going through the motions that every widow goes through. But that’s my burden. You? You just keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t want to see you at the memorial service that we’ll surely have. But, after a couple of months, you pay a condolence visit.”
“Months?” The idea just didn’t work in my brain.
She nodded calmly. “One day, you’ll get a call from me. And I’ll say -- for us to meet at this very diner, how about? That’ll be the sign. You’ll know then that I’ve got that money all figured out, and we’re free to go wherever our little hearts desire. Where do you want to go first, Mikey?”
Shit, what a question. I’d never even been further south than Cape May, New Jersey. The thought of moving north, east, or west was just never one I’d entertained. “Paris!” Was the first one that come to mind. She smiled, and said “Paris is nice, but I think you can do better.” I thought and thought, harder than I’d thought about something in a long time. The word sounded so exotic and rare.
“Africa!” Tracy smiled again. “I’ve never been to Africa,” she said.
“Well, that makes two.” I held up my coffee mug and we toasted to that far away country. Africa. It sounded like a place we could both get lost in, and nobody would ever be able to find us.
Tracy didn't want to order anything. She said she needed to get back to Ray, before he gets suspicious. She didn't kiss me or nothing. She reached and squeezed my hand underneath the table and she left. I turned and gave Tom-Bob a little thumbs up. He was sitting across the diner cuz he'd insisted on being there to make sure I sealed the deal. Then I asked for the check.
Karly might’ve slept out on me, but Tommy’s her brother now, so the business venture he and me had (we split that kiln) wasn’t just gonna go away because his sister was unfaithful. I think it was one of the reasons Tom-Bob thought I was an idiot, because I’d fallen for his sister, who he probably knew was a trickster on account of them growing up together. My momma always said that if the whole world had a sister, this’d be a much different place to live. Well, I ain’t got myself a sister, so I can’t speak to how different things might’ve turned out. Three brothers don’t teach you nothing about women, ‘cept for where to put it.
Tom-Bob, he had a bit of a fire in ‘im. He liked to smash things when he was drunk, and he liked to fight, which was why I went to him in the first place at Vinny’s wedding. He had some twisted things going on behind his eyes, and when he told me how we aught to do Ray Junger, I knew he didn’t just come up with it on the spot. He’d been turning and turning it over in his mind for some time, maybe even since he was a kid. Like it was all ready to go, just missing one little piece, and that piece was me askin' him.
I can speak to one instance with Tom-Bob. Before I married his sister, he took me a huntin’ out by Allentown. I always kinda thought he was testing me, like to see if I was real man enough to go with Karly. I wasn’t no greenie with a shotgun, but it was Tommy who shot the doe. I helped him track her out into the hedge, where we found her still breathing, but only barely so. I asked Tommy if I should put her down, but he already had his knife out and was gutting her fresh, while she was alive. The doe made sounds I’ve never heard another animal make before, then she lay still. It was still a cold spring, and her belly split open and those three babies came spilling out, all half-formed and not ready for the world. Tommy laughed, shook his head. He used his knife like a fork and lifted one of them babies up to show me like he was planning on tossing it on the grill whole.
“Fuckin’ deer in these parts. Inbred sons of bitches.”
In the end, Tommy didn’t even haul that venison out of the woods. He just cut it up some more, and insisted we go back cause he was getting cold already.
We worked all day digging out that last hole, and Tommy had it all set to go. We did some more busy work till the late afternoon, then took a longer break that we usually did, just to stall time. Tommy had a flask, and we passed it silently, listening to the crows squakin’ in the trees. We didn’t need to say nothing, cause there wasn’t nothing to say.
Tracy'd gotten the locksmiths to work at the doors on the house all day, but they was gone long before five. Around six thirty, Tracy come out, and got into her Benzee and drove off. Even though there was just the three of us for miles around, she didn’t pay me or Tom-Bob any mind. It was like she thought them crows was gonna tattle on us, so she might as well keep up the act. I threw her a wave as she drove on out of the driveway, but she didn’t return it.
Around seven forty was when Ray Junger come rumbling home. To him, it looks like the property is vacated, like we’d planned for it to look. We pulled the truck around the side of the house, positioned just right. It was getting dark by this point, sun was about ten minutes from setting, and that time of the day always used to give me the creeps. It’s like the world is trying to make up its mind -- between night and day -- but it can’t really decide. It was a perfect time to be doing what we was about to do.
Ray, he humped all his bulk up to the front door and jangled with his keys. We had the windows rolled down, so we could hear his cussing and fussing when he realized that they didn’t work no more. She’d changed the locks. He started screaming for Tracy, hollerin’ at the top of his lungs like a big, bad wolf trying to blow his own house down. That was my cue to flick the truck’s brights on, and shine ‘em right in Ray Junger’s face.
“Rev the engine!” Shouted Tommy. I didn’t hear him at first, so he reached over and turned the key in the ignition, looked me right in the eye. “It’s do or die. Now rev it, and let’s get the hard part over with.”
By this point, Ray had calmly begun to approach the truck, but as soon as I got her into gear -- she lurched forward, roaring like a lion -- he turned and hightailed it back toward his own car. I was quick with the gas pedal, though, and he didn’t have no time to unlock it, not with those headlights shining down on him. So he ran, like we’d hoped he would. Ran right to the edge of his property, where that fence (all nine feet of ornate wrought) kept him inside the property like a pig in a pen. I edged the truck to the right, and he went left, again like we’d planned. As I bore down on him, and Tom-Bob was screaming some blood-howl in my ear, I could see those pit stains ruining Ray’s five hundred dollar dress shirt. The man was a’scared, and he should have been, because he was about to die.
I run him all the way back toward the entrance to the fence we’d spent those seven weeks building. It might’ve just been the finest work me and Tom-Bob’d ever done. And, like we’d planned, Ray Junger hit the final stretch -- which we’d covered over with pine needles -- and fell down out of view of the truck’s headlights.
I remember how silent it was when we stepped out of the cab of the truck. I walked over to the hole we’d dug, about seven feet deep and planted that extra re-bar inside like pegs in a board. Ray was layin’ there, stuck through the leg and the belly, face and shirt soaked with blood already. He didn’t say nothing, only just stayed real still, panting, trying to catch his breath. He only started yelling when Tom-Bob started pouring the cement into the hole, but by then... it was too late. We marked that last part of the fence with his body.
Four days passed by without me hearing so much as a word from Tracy. Tommy and I’d go by the house on our way home from this job we’d snagged up in Somerset. The place was always dark. I chalked it up to her going to a hotel or something, but Tommy knew better. He said she’d conned us, that the money was all a ruse. I asked him what a ruse was and he screamed at me that it was like a lie, a big lie. He was awful paranoid at that time. On the fifth night with the house all dark, Tommy was real angry like I’d never seen him before. He was like a simmering pot of water, just waiting to boil over, if you’da asked me. And it was his turn to drive, so when he pulled the truck onto the property, I couldn’t do nothing about it.
We broke in through the back door and immediately my heart sank when we set foot inside that house. It had been cleared the hell out of most of their worldly posessions. She musta done it when we was up working. Her clothes were gone, and the pots from the kitchen were gone. All those bottles of perfume too. Tommy tried to turn on the stove, but the gas wasn’t giving and he said that was a sure sign that she’d gotten the hell outta dodge. Let me tell you, Tommy was fuming. Me? I was just numb. A little sad, but mostly numb. I got to thinking of all the times we’d mussed the sheets and that time I’d said the word Africa. I must’ve sounded like a goddamn fool to her.
So I just stood in the empty hallway while Tommy stormed out through the front door and rifled through the truck. I didn’t really snap out of it when he come back in either. It wasn’t until he started pouring the gasoline, when the fumes hit me, was when I really started paying attention.
“The fuck you think you’re doing?” I asked him.
“The right goddamn thing, Mikey.”
“You’re just gonna burn it all?”
Tom-Bob stopped pouring and looked me dead-serious in the eye, a look I wasn’t accustomed to getting from him. “Don’t you see what she done to you? She played you, man. She let you stick it in her, and she got what she wanted outta you. She knew you were dumber’n a sack of rocks, so she used you, Mikey. Anybody coulda done it, but you had to go and fall for some broad with more smarts than you!”
That wasn’t a fair thing to say, I thought, so I decided to hit Tommy across the jaw right then and there. He took it like the champ he was, but he drawed his little .44 snubnose from the back of his pants. I’s surprised at that, yes I was, because that meant that Tommy had the gun on him more often than not, it being just a normal Saturday and all. But then I thought he probably was gettin’ pretty paranoid about this whole mess anyway, and it made sense. In the time it took for me to come to this conclusion, Tommy was cussing and coming at me with the butt of the thing -- so he hit me across the mouth with it and screamed: “Let me finish this the right way,” but I stopped listening soon as I spit blood on the tile and saw my reflection in the black marble. Tom-Bob had knocked my front tooth out. Seein’ myself this way, with that gap between my face -- it just sent everything over the top, you know? Like I said before, nobody takes a man seriously when he's missing a tooth. Now I’s the pot that was boiling over.
Tommy had already gotten back to dumping the gasoline, so with his back to me he was easy to tackle. We rolled around in the petrol for a little, but this wasn’t some half-tussle. At a certain point the gun became what we was both after, because Tommy must’ve seen the look in my eyes and know’d I was serious as hell. Soon after that, it went off with a loud bang, and the bullet sparked off the tile and set the gas on fire, and it also set Tommy on fire. He was screaming and screaming, but I was covered in gas myself, even had to kick my boot off cuz it was melting to the floor. I ran from the smoking house and waited until Tom-Bob stopped screaming. I didn’t know we’d tripped the silent alarm when we broke in anyway, so the whole thing didn’t really matter. By the time you showed up, and that big house was turned to cinders, the only thing left standing was the fence we spent all summer building.
What can I do to help, officer? I’m not a bad man. The real bad man is buried under a couple hundred pounds of quick-dry. You’ll find him if you dig him up. I guess me just telling you this story is a help. I got nobody else left to back me up, now that Tom-Bob is gone. Hell, I should stop calling him that. Tommy Buckland was his real name. And he got kilt because I was too stupid to know that woman was playing me. Maybe it was because I ain’t got no direction in life, maybe it was because my Pa died when I was real young and he never got to give me the right direction. I don’t really care no more, to be honest. I just want it to be over and done with. So, what you said is still true? I told you all about what really happened to me, and you believe me, right? I can help you get in touch with Tracy, yes sir, I can. I still got some things to say to her, anyway. So how about that for a plan? I help you draw her out, and you can get at that money Ray had stashed away. Wouldn’t that be something -- all those people he screwed over, they’d be able to have some of the fifty mill back, right? And you’d protect me? Because people are gonna come outta the woodwork, probably people Ray Junger worked with in his scheme. And I just want to help, so you’ll have to keep me safe, am I right? Like, I don’t know, witness protection, I think they call it on those shows? Cuz I’m just looking for a way out of this mess. And that seems pretty darned fair to me.