We're cruising Paterson today, listening to Naughty by Nature. Not really into the hip hop, but I'm feeling early '90s. Nostalgic like. My head's nodding to the beat, as I eyeball the street for today's douchebag. Joey says we're going to Libby's for hot dogs after.
"Who is this guy again?" I'm thinking about hot dogs and not the job.
"I just told you, his name's Philo Skaggs. Hillbilly lookin' fucker. Said he's got Elvis sideburns and a mullet. Rides a green Harley softtail." Joey cracks his knuckles as he squeezes the steering wheel's blue rubber cover. The van shudders over every pothole, rattling the stacks of tools and shit in the back. It used to belong to an electrician, but he liked the Mets too much.
"He ride with anybody?"
"Mustache says he don't. But I brought masks anyway." He throws one in my lap.
"This is a Ninja turtle."
* * *
Kids on the stoops eye us like we're the pigs.
I see the chopper parked sideways between two cars, with plastic buckets as parking cones. Nice ride, but people with nice things shouldn't owe money. There's no lock on it, but when we park the van next to it, a kid runs in the building.
I pull my mask on and open the double doors. Joey and I start lifting the bike like we're stealing it, and sure enough a skinny Elvis, ribs showing under his denim vest, books out between buildings swinging a chain in his fist. Big fat beard guy pulls up the rear with a bat. We drop the bike like we're scared.
"You fugger! You gonna die!" He swings the chain and I duck it. No golden gloves for me, but I did my time in the ring. I snap a hook to his ribs. I don't wanna crack them but shit happens. He wheezes and goes over, and fatboy leaves skidmarks on the sidewalk, and his pants, when Joey draws down on him.
"You'll get your boy back," Joey says. "Unless you follow. Then you get his body."
I toss Philo in the back, get in and slam the doors behind me. Joey peels off toward the Falls, there's a parking lot we use.
* * *
"The fuck you want from me, man?"'
"You're three weeks behind on the vig, shithead. We shoulda backed over your bike," Joe says.
"C'mon, man! How'm I gonna pay if I can't work?"
I pop a jab to his chin. He spits blood.
"Maybe Kenny here knocks all your teeth out, and you suck dick for a living."
His lip is swelling like a red sausage, so I work the body a while, until he's curled up like a shrimp and whimpering. I stay away from the kidneys. We got plastic down but it still stinks if they let go.
"We're taking the bike, asshole."
The whimper gets more sad like, but you can't listen to them. I peel the mask up to cool off. "Put the A/C on," I say. I'm thinking about hot dogs. I'm getting chilli on all four of mine.
* * *
Back at the hillbilly's place, I kick him out of the van. Joey comes around to help with the bike. When the kids clear the stoop, we know something's up. Joey pulls out his nine.
I hear boots hitting pavement, echoing up the alley. Through the tiny eye holes in my Leonardo mask I see enough mullets and chains to know we're in deep shit. Joey does too, because we drop the shitkicker's bike and run like pit bulls with tasers up their ass.
"Go, go, go!" I say, and dive in the back.
Feels like forever before Joey gets behind the wheel and floors it. He knocks a few mirrors off parked cars on the narrow one way street. The bikers chase, but their hearts aren't in it. Philo must not rate too high. I pull the doors shut, and take the mask off.
Joey is laughing. "Fuck, that was close!"
"I thought he didn't wear colors," I say, and crawl up toward my seat.
That's when I see the kid staring at me from behind a spool of cables.
"Where's the candy, mister?"
"Holy shit, Joey, there's a fuckin' kid in here!"
"The fuck?" He stops in traffic. "Throw him the fuck out!"
"There's people everywhere, you nuts?"
"My momma's man friend told me there's candy in here!" the little bastard yells. He's maybe six, with crew cut corn silk hair and reminds me of my dumb six year old self.
"Wait a minute, what?"
"He said vans have men who will give me candy! There's never no vans on our street. Now I found one. And I want my candy!"
Joey starts cracking up. "He's trying to get rid of you, kid!"
"Shut up, man," I say, and hunker down near the kid.
"What's your name, kid?"
"My name's Randall."
"And your mom's man friend's name?"
He looks away from me. "His name's Philo."
"Joey, let's go get those hot dogs."
Randy likes them with relish and mustard.
He's a funny kid. We park on another block when we take him home, pockets full of candy.
"You remember what we said, little guy?"
"Yeah. Tell Philo I found a van with candy, and a duffel bag full of money in it."
Thomas Pluck lives in New Jersey with his wife, where he practices mixed-martial arts and tries to write as often as he can. His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey and The Morning News, and he has stories upcoming in Beat to a Pulp and Crimefactory. He is online at www.pluckyoutoo.com and does not drive a van.