Van Candy by Thomas Pluck.

Joey drives the van. I do the grab. Not that I can't drive, or Joey can't throw your ass in the van for a beating, but that's just how we've always done it. Just like I get to pick the music, and he gets to say where we eat when we're done.

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."

"Short notice."

* * *

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."

We wait.

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 and does not drive a van.


David Barber said...

This is a great piece of noir writing. Gritty and well written with some excellent dialogue. Top work, Tom. You've got some great writing out there at the moment and this is one of them.

Hope to see you back here!

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Love this, Tom. I agree with David. You have a lot of great work out there right now I'm enjoying all of them. Excellent story!

Fiona Johnson said...

Another great story from the Salami pen! Are you getting bored with me saying 'I love it'.....but I do - blimey you re good!

Mike Miner said...

Another winner. Great characters saying great things. Loved the kid in the end. I was a fan of your Shotgun piece as well. Looking forward to more.

Author said...

Good one - I enjoyed that!

Steven Chapman said...

A great piece, Tom – a real moody story that packs in decent dialogue and punchy prose. I especially liked the feeling of camaraderie between Joey and Kenny, a couple of old pros. Loved the ending as well, very satisfying.

Paul D Brazill said...

Hardboiled as hell. Beaut!

Jaie D. Maclane said...

Oh, dang. Totally dug that ending! And you don't drive a van? Ha! Well after reading this, for shame.

Bill Baber said...

loved the dialouge and the entire mood of this piece... good ass stuff!

IAmRickSee said...

Jersey represent! I knew exactly which Paterson you were talking about...LOL! Excellent piece of writing! The tone is exciting and the kid at the end...priceless.

M. C. Funk said...

Much fun. I liked the neat style, which managed to be brief without being clipped. Clever turn of events too.

The Sandtray Coach said...

So glad I found you on Twitter. Don't know what to say except amazing.

Trey R. Barker said...

Another solid piece. Enjoyed the hell out of it, and loved the ending. It appeared to soften up and that would have been perfectly okay...except then there was a last little jab. Well done.

Anonymous said...

LOVE this highly entertaining piece. Though, now I want a hot dog. And candy.

Joyce said...

This is really slick. Love the characters and the dialogue, and the ending is so perfect. Nice and dark twist to it. Guess who's having hot dogs for dinner, with a little treat after... Love this one!

Thomas Pluck said...

Thank you all... this one was a lot of fun to write. And as a mea culpa, I wrote it especially for David after I messed up and sent him a story I'd submitted elsewhere. Sometimes your inspiration for a story about bad guys is the drive to do the right thing and make things right.
And in case you're wondering, the hot dog joint they go to is Libby's Lunch in Paterson. Classic chili dog place. We call them Texas Weiners in Jersey, for some reason. My personal fave is Rutt's Hutt. But that'll be in another story.

David Cranmer said...

I like Pluck's style.

Gordon said...

What a great story. It was a lot of fun to read.

Unknown said...


I'm with David - Great style to your writing. You're definitely on a roll! Keep it going.

Jodi MacArthur said...

I like the hard grit mixed in with fun details like hot dogs, candy and ninja turtle masks. Definitely gotcha own style and sway with words, Mr. Pluck. I'm looking forward to reading more!

Christopher Pimental said...

Really liked it. Fun read.

Jenny Dreadful said...

Fan-fucking-tastic. Loved it all. And I rarely ever type those words.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Excellent work. Never saw that ending coming.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Good one, had me laughing out loud in a couple spots. That's damn hard to pull off, so nicely done.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

"It used to belong to an electrician, but he liked the Mets too much."

One of many great lines in there. Thanks for the entertainment.

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