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That time I shot my brother. (7)

That time I blew up a car

10

There are three things you need to blow up a car; a rag, a match and the ability to run. The last one is the most important, but also the easiest as survival is embedded in our DNA, which is ironic, really, if you think about all your questionable life choices.

Leo’s choice was very fucking questionable.

It happened a week after Peter gave Libby the bruise. During this week, Leo and Candy would take turns stalking (“No, no, we’re just watching him, Candy”) Peter to learn his schedule—more specifically, his car’s schedule.

Candy would work during the day while Leo watched Peter’s car. Then it would be Candy’s turn during the evening and night. Her turn wasn’t as fun (it mostly just involved sitting in her car and watching another car. Big fun) but sometimes she’d see him jacking off in his car or get a blowjob from a hooker.

One evening, when Peter was in his apartment sharing a joint and Thai food with a girl he was going to fuck later on that night, Candy walked over to his car and examined the keyhole. He drove an outdated Toyota.

Leo told her that was just perfect. They were sitting in her apartment on her unmade bed with their noses stuffed with cocaine. Their cheeks were flushed from the candles that Candy lit and she was drinking a glass of wine. Leo took a sip from his and then abandoned it on the make-shift bedside table, which was a large cardboard box that was taped back up.

“Why—” Then Candy understood. “Mark!”

“Yeah.” Leo grinned. “Mark. I’ll need to drive Eddie’s kids and work extra shifts, but I think I can buy some jiggler keys from him.”

For the next two days he worked twenty-hour shifts with a short break during which he picked up Eddie’s little demons. They kicked and screamed in the back of the car. Apparently for Halloween Harry wanted to be Spiderman and Stacy wanted to be Ariel. Leo couldn’t have given less of a shit but he told them “that’s awesome” and they accepted his answer. Stacy lectured him about the dangers of smoking and he thanked her.

“Will you stop?” she asked for the millionth time.

“Maybe.”

Then the lecture continued. After he dropped them off—once again wondering how long these kids were left home-alone—he lit a cigarette and went back to work. Every hour or so (emphasis on “or so”) he went into the bathroom and did a bump of his keys—he did little tasks for Damian in exchange for cocaine, normally bringing a package from location A to location B.

His nose bled in the early hours of the morning and when one towel wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding, Eddie told him “go home kid, don’t want you dyin’ on my eyes”.

When he got to his apartment Libby called him a “fucking moron” and when her insults didn’t make the blood stop, she called Hailey who told him to throw his head back and put a tampon in his nose.

It worked. By then he was light-headed, dehydrated, sleep-deprived and pale, but it worked.

On the third day his pockets were heavy with cash (heavier than usual, anyway) and he drove to meet up with Mark. Mark, unlike Jerry, didn’t have a garage. Instead, he’d drop him a text saying which parking lot to meet him at and at what time. Leo was never late; not for Mark. Mark wore a Dodgers cap and Mark was solid.

This time they met outside a Starbucks in Culver City and Mark gave him the jiggler keys in a brown paper Starbucks bag (after counting the cash, of course). Leo thanked him and went back to his car. His back was healing—not very nicely, it would definitely leave a scar—but it was healing. On his way back, he stopped at a dollar store where he bought a rag, matches and a can of root beer. He drank the root beer in the car with a bump from his keys—his nose was completely and utterly fucked at that point, so it turned into a “what does it matter if I do more?” kind of situation—before driving home.

Two days later was a bad day for Peter. Leo and Candy met outside of the Laundromat across the street. It was late morning and it was a particularly chilly day in Los Angeles; fall was really starting to settle in, and by the looks of it, it was tagging along a long and frosty winter.

“It’s crazy,” she said, passing the cigarette she was holding to Leo. “You’re going to be twenty in December. Can you believe that?”

“No.” He really fucking couldn’t. Although he had the mind and body of a teenager, he felt as if he’d lived enough for two lifetimes. “Are we really doing this, Candy?”

She looked at him. There were small sparks, like little fireworks, in her blue eyes, just waiting to be set off into the sky. Her cheeks and nose were red, her plump lips spread into a smile.

“Fuck yes,” she said. “And you’re not backing out, got it? I simply won’t allow that.”

Leo chuckled. “Alright. I guess we already spent the money.”

“Exactly.”

Her fingers beckoned for the cigarette and he gave it back to her. She was wearing a fuzzy pink sweater and baggy jeans that she kept pulling up every once in a while. Her hair was pulled back into a loose bun, but it was completely fucking useless because strands of hair still flew into her face and she had to keep pushing them back.

“This is crazy,” Leo said, letting out a trail of smoke.

“That’s right.” She grinned. Little fireworks in her eyes. “We’re batshit crazy.”

Batshit crazy was right. After they finished (another) cigarette, they hopped into Leo’s sedan and drove to the Home Depot Peter worked at. Their week of stalking paid off. Today he had a shift from noon until eight, which coincided perfectly with their work schedule. They’ll get this over and done without being skinned alive by Eddie.

“Do you see it?” Candy said as they pulled into the parking lot. It was big and half-empty. From Leo’s observations, people normally came after lunch. He parked next to a white Mercedes and he scanned the parking lot.

“There.” He saw it. His stupid fucking Toyota. “There, by that red car. Do you see it?”

Candy squinted. She glued herself to his shoulder. “Oh yeah.”

It was two rows ahead of them. He could see the licence plate—it was nothing special, just a jumble of letters and numbers, but he remembered it. If there was something that ran in the Rhode’s family, it was memory.

“Alright,” he said. “I’m ready. You’ll meet me there, right?”

“Yes, yes.” She sounded impatient.

“And if it’s not empty? Then—”

“Oh my fucking god, Leo, it’s gonna be empty. Nobody shops at Bernie’s.”

Bernie’s was a maternity clothing store that was abandoned since the day it opened. Except for a teenage store clerk who did jackshit but scrolled through her phone and read magazines, there was nobody there.

Leo sighed. His fingers felt a little cold, a little numb, he felt a little uncert—

“Go!”

“Okay, okay.”

He stepped out of the car. The chilly wind ruffled his hair and nibbled at his nose and ears. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his sweater (he was wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a striped zipper-sweater, the same clothes he wore when he stole that Honda) and briskly over to the shitty Toyota. He stood at the driver’s side, glanced both ways then made eye contact with Candy. She gave him a small nod (“All good”).

He slipped out the key and prayed to God (he wasn’t a believer, but he was baptised, so that must count for something?) it would work.

For a second it felt stuck. He pushed back the instinct to try and yank the key out and run. He forced himself to keep at it; to keep calm. His efforts paid off and he heard the delightful sound of the door unlocking.

He couldn’t help but look at Candy and grin. She grinned back and then waved her hand (“Go! GO!”). Leo slipped inside and plugged the keys into the ignition. The car was just as shitty as his apartment and his personality.

Toyota-fuck, he thought, and then realized how wrong that sounded and almost laughed aloud at his own shitty humour.

Peter clearly had no idea what an ashtray was, because all his cigarette butts were piled just about every there was something tray-like: the cup holder, in the opening below the dashboard, the area where the plastic dipped by the window controls. There were empty wrappers and plastic gatorade bottles on the ground. Just out of curiosity, Leo turned to look in the backseat and saw empty beer bottles toppled over inside a brown bag on the floor. The seats were stained with something Leo could only hope was coffee or alcohol. The windows were dirty and had gum stuck in the corners. He was thankful that he couldn’t smell anything—he could barely breathe through his nose to begin with—because if he could, he thought he might learn the scent of death.

He looked at Candy through the dirty windshield (“I won’t get pulled over for the dirty windows, right?”) and nodded. Candy nodded back. She looked as if she was about to burst out laughing; he must’ve been cringing really hard.

Leo pressed the gas pedal and pulled out of the parking lot. The key to getting away with crimes—especially car theft or any kind of theft for that matter—was pretending as if you’re doing nothing wrong; fake until you make it.

“Tell yourself,” Candy had told him when he was seventeen years old and sitting in her car. He was sharing his first joint with her. “That’s your car. That you belong there.”

He lived with that motto ever since; you belong because it’s yours.

He really didn’t want this shitty car to belong to him, so pretending as if it was his made him feel embarrassed. He drove out of the plaza and into the neighbouring one. He glimpsed at the rear-view mirror and saw Candy driving his car behind him. He never loved his car more in his entire life. It may have been old, scratched and smelled like tobacco, but compared to Peter’s in was fucking luxurious.

He veered into Bernie’s parking lot. Bernie’s stood adjacent to the Home Depot and was the only store on that plaza. It was a relatively new plaza, and it seemed as if nobody was in a hurry to settle in. The stores-to-be had papers taped on the inside announcing themselves: Dasha’s Donuts! Opening November 26th.

He parked dead in the middle. He got out of the car, got a whiff of fresh air that burned his nostrils and saw Candy parked on the street. He saw her give him a thumbs up through a cloud of smoke.

Jesus, Candy, he thought not angrily. Roll down the window, at least. You’re gonna suffocate in there.

He glanced both ways as if he was crossing the road (although you often don’t get the chance once you’ve stolen something and have to run because chances are, your life depends on it) and opened the tank cap. He slipped out the rag he had bought earlier from his pocket and stuffed it inside. Now, for the moment of truth. He took out the box of matches—Fiery Flames!—and struck it. His hands were shaking and it didn’t catch fire.

Fuck.

He glanced both ways (again) before striking it (again). This time it caught fire. Using his left hand to shield it from the wind, he brought it over to the open tank cap, held his breath—

Gonna run like your life depends on it, ‘cause it does!

—and dropped it.

The moment he did, he took off. His heart was pounding on his ribcage like a drum. The lingering pain in his back was forgotten and for a couple of seconds while he ran back to his car (Candy had a hand clasped over her mouth and she was staring at Peter’s car with those fireworks in her eyes) he could breathe just fine.

As his hand gripped the door handle, the car went up in flames. He slipped inside.

“Go go go!” he urged. He felt as if there were razors in his throat and pennies in his mouth.

“No, no wait! Look!”

The fireworks were going off in Candy’s eyes. She stared at Peter’s car, mesmerized. Leo had no fucking desire to watch the car explode—better get out of here before someone calls the cops—but he reluctantly turned around.

The car, as if it specifically waited for him, exploded when he looked at it. It was nothing like in the movies, and if one day you saw a video of it on YouTube and decided, “Why not?” you’d probably be disappointed; you’d expect it to be bigger, more explosive.

But for Leo, watching as the car burst in front of his eyes, made the god-awful feeling come back. The feeling who’s real name was guilt, planted itself deep in his stomach. It made him sick, literally.

“Oh god,” he choked. “I think I’m going to puke.”

Forget about breathing through his nose, he couldn’t breathe at all.

“No, no,” Candy dismissed him absently. She couldn’t stop staring at it, like a moth drawn to the flame. “Watch. Oh my god, watch!” She started laughing. Leo clutched his stomach and looked away. He felt lightheaded.

He felt dirty.

“Candy, please, we gotta—”

He noticed Candy frowning, and very slowly, looked in the direction of his crime scene. The teenage store clerk from Bernie’s walked out from the store. She didn’t look scared, but rather confused. Her arms were crossed in front of his purple vest that she wore over her Bernie’s polo. She slipped out her phone and—

“CANDY GO!”

Finally it hit her and she smashed the gas pedal. The teenager, Leo knew, wasn’t taking out her phone to call the police—what regular sixteen-year-old would do that?—but to record a video, which was worse. If that video ever surfaced, of any of her friends didn’t find it half as hilarious as her, they might be able to track them down (assuming Leo’s car would be noticeable, despite Candy purposefully parking it down the street so it would be slightly covered by one of the buildings)—zoom up on the license plate, shit like that.

They drove onto the highway as quickly as possible, passing a rundown gas station and old movie theatre.

“HOLY SHIT!” Candy began to laugh. “HOLY SHIT YOU REALLY DID IT! YOU REALLY BLEW UP HIS FUCKING CAR!”

He wished she’d keep her voice down. He thought that if she yelled anymore he might actually throw up.

“Please don’t yell,” he said weakly. “I feel sick.”

Her laughter faded away when she realized he was serious.

“Yeah you look—” she let out another chuckle, she couldn’t help it. “A little pale. You good?”

Fucking peachy.

“Yeah, yeah.” He pressed his feet onto the dashboard so that his knees would be up to his nose and put one hand over his eyes. “I’m fine, sorry.”

“Don’t be, darling. He deserved it.”

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Humor, Mystery/Thriller, Romance, Young Adult (YA)

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