by Allen X. Davis
The Escalade picked up speed as it entered a poorly lit stretch of the undivided highway.
“Slow down!” yelled Jim. “Pedestrians get killed here all the time.”
“Serves the dumb fucks right if they get in my way!” said Jack.
“You’re an asshole, you know that?” Up ahead he noticed a figure in dark clothing walking along the edge of the road. “Watch out! There’s someone now!”
A man. He glanced over his shoulder at the approaching vehicle.
“It’s a nigger!” crowed Jack. “Ten extra points if I hit him!” He swung the wheel to the right, putting the huge SUV on a collision course.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a big ass SUV heading too close to me, an Escalade or Suburban, maybe a Lincoln Navigator. Wouldn’t mind having me one of them Navigators. My boss got one. Rode in it just once, and I tell ya’, that’s the smoothest, coolest ride ever. But I’m old enough to remember when the Suburban was used as a work truck by carpenters and bricklayers. These days they ain’t work trucks no more, just luxury vehicles with all the doo-dads like heated seats and computer screens. Show, just for show, by people who don’t even work with their hands—lawyers and teeny little women who like to ride up high and look down on everyone like their shit don’t stink.
“Slow the fuck down!” Jim knew his brother-in-law was just showing off, trying to scare him and the pedestrian, but the car was getting so close he truly was frightened.
“Turn, dammit!” he said as the man looked over his shoulder again. “Turn!”
Jack cackled from the driver’s seat as the Escalade continued on its course. Jim felt he had no choice: he grabbed the wheel and pushed left. The car straightened momentarily, but Jack yanked the wheel back to the right. At last Jim felt the car go somewhat to the left—Jack finally coming to his senses?—but then the right side dropped as if the tires had dipped off the edge of the pavement. They were almost on him now.
“Shit!” said Jack. He hit the brakes and tried to force the wheel left but the car bumped along.
It sounded meek, benign: a thump near the side mirror not unlike the thump of a snowball thrown by a twelve-year-old boy. But there was no snow, and Jim could no longer see the man who had been there just a moment ago.
“Jesus, James!” hissed Jack as if it were somehow his fault. Jim had the door open even before the big car skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust.
The man lay face down in the dirt on the shoulder. Jim couldn’t see any blood, but it was too dark to be sure. Maybe he was just stunned and would be all right. Jim shook the guy’s shoulder. “Hey buddy, you all right? Are you okay?”
No response. He checked his pulse just as Jack came shuffling over. He looked up at his brother-in-law. “He’s gone.”
“Jeez!” said Jack. “If that poor devil hadn’t run in front of us he’d be alive right now and on his merry way.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“He ran in front of us. I hit the brakes but we slid on sand and dirt and gravel. There was nothing we could do.”
Jim gazed at the Escalade idling nearby—ready to take off as if this were only a temporary interruption. He could almost make out the vanity plate, which he knew was IHMC3—the letters standing for the Invincible & Honorable Militia Company of _______. When Jack’s esteemed grandfather owned the plate the “3” signified that he was a higher-up; now it meant nothing.
Jack fixed his eyes on Jim as a siren shrieked in the distance. “He ran right in front of us, he ran right in front of us,” he repeated like a mantra. “I tried to avoid him but there was nothing I could do.”
Jim shook his head in disbelief at his sister’s husband—the man he had considered a friend despite his pompousness—acting in such a callous, uncaring manner.
“You killed this guy, and now you’re gonna lie about it?” Even in the darkness he could feel the full weight of Jack’s glare.
“I don’t lie, James, and you of all people should know that. He ran right in front of us. He obviously misjudged our speed and whether or not he could make it. There was nothing we could do.”
“Where the hell do you get this we shit?”
“You’re a party to this also, James.”
A tiny shred of doubt crept into Jim’s mind. Was Jack telling the truth after all? In the darkness, was it possible he had missed the black man in dark clothing dashing across the road? No! No! No! he told himself, but it had happened so quickly and he was so horrified—traumatized even—that he couldn’t be completely sure.
I was just on my way to my cousin Manny’s house. He and his wife were gettin’ into it—you understand what I’m saying—and I thought maybe I could help. Everybody call me the Peacemaker. They say I have a way of calming situations down just by being there. Nonviolence—live and let live. Know what I’m saying? Most times they gettin’ into it, I’ll sit at the kitchen table and light up a stogie, and of course Manny’s wife Sylvia start complaining, but it shifts some of the anger from Manny to me and then we open a bottle of wine and before you know it we all laughin’—she still complaining about the smoke, waving her hands and saying “Phew!” and so on, but we sittin’ there laughin’ at me and my stinky cigar and all and everything’s cool. Manny say she really off the wall on this particular night so I was gonna stop at the packy down the road and buy a whole jug of wine, probably have to go back and get more later. Me and Manny prefer full-bodied red wine, but she likes white wine, so you know which one I was fixin’ to get. Keep the women happy—gotta keep ‘em happy and give ‘em what they want. If they happy, we happy. Why can’t we all be happy? That’s what I always say. No need to fight. That’s why I’m glad I never got drafted for no war. If they put a gun in my hands and told me to kill someone, don’t know what I’d do.
“We need to do CPR!” yelled Jim. “Maybe there’s still a chance.” He grabbed hold of the man’s shoulder and rolled him over. A car had pulled up behind them, its headlights illuminating the scene like a movie set. The man’s eyes were open, glassy brown, staring into nothingness. Slightly roundish face. A blue work shirt with stitching over the pockets. Blue work pants. No movement. Jim began chest compressions, the heel of his hand pushing down rhythmically. He had no training but had seen this in movies and on TV and had looked it up, too. He counted out loud: “One . . . two . . . three . . .” How many compressions before mouth-to-mouth? Ten? Twelve? Twenty? He hoped he would remember when the time came.
“Stop!” shouted Jack on the first compression, then again, “Stop!” on the fourth like an eerie waltz. “You’re not qualified to do this!” Sirens closer. Blue lights, red lights. “Ten . . . eleven . . .” A hand on his shoulder. “We’ll take over from here, sir.” As he watched the EMTs with their equipment, a glowing ember on the ground caught his eye.
That’s right—I was puffing away at my stogie as I walked, thinking about how I was gonna handle the situation over at Manny’s. Nothin’ like a good stogie. A stogie so good I can enjoy it even when it ain’t lit, just holdin’ it between my teeth, you understand. That’s what I do at Hi-Line, the meat packing company I work at. I’m the custodian. Manny always call me the chief custodian. Sound pretty good but in reality I’m the only one! Sometimes I bring my sister’s kid Ray along with me for a few hours to keep him outta trouble. He’s fifteen and ain’t got no father, ya know what I’m sayin’? He’s been known to hang out with the wrong people sometimes and skip school and all that, so I try to keep him on the straight and narrow and show him the power of good, honest work and how good it make you feel, especially when you got that hard-earned money right there in your pocket. Ray’s eyes light up when I give him his pay. He tries to hide it and act cool, but I see it. I push him harder than I push myself. These young kids, they can take it. “Ray! Hurry up and finish cleaning out that grease trap! Ray! Get the two-wheeler and bring those boxes of computer paper into the office! Ray! Ray! Ray!”
I pay him outta my own pocket but sometimes Aaron—Mr. Andelman—help out too. He’s the owner and always workin’ late. You have ta admire that. One time they had a big sales meeting and there was plenty of leftover food—roast beef, turkey, potato salad, you name it—and Aaron told Ray to take it all home to his mother and get it quick before one of the salesmen grab it. Sometimes he’ll hand me a twenty dollar bill—even two twenties—and say give it to Ray. At Christmastime he had a big smile on his face and handed Ray an envelope with a snowflake card and a nice, crisp one hundred dollar bill inside. And he’s Jewish! Don’t even celebrate Christmas and Ray not even a real employee. I like that man’s attitude because no matter what religion you are, no matter what color, we all the same. We all the same, period.
What about me, you say? How come I ain’t got no woman? Well, I did at one time. A good woman. My wife. Estelle was her name. Sad to say she’s passed on now, and before she passed I done her wrong. I wish I could turn back the clock and fix everything, but I can’t. All I can do is try to help other people who need help. It don’t make up for the bad things I done but if Estelle gives me even a little bit of a smile from up above I figure that’s all I can ask for. And along the way I found that helping people is easy. All you gotta do is open up. I used to think it was hard, but I guess I was a little selfish—well, more’n a little—but once you get started on that road you see how easy it really is. All you gotta do is open your heart and keep puttin’ one foot in front of the other and keep goin’ down that road, if you know what I’m sayin’. Now don’t get me wrong—I ain’t no saint. I’m just a man—a man wounded by his own self. No one can hurt me more than I hurt me.
The young black cop taking Jack’s information asked about his vanity plate. “What’s this IHMC stand for Mr. O’Malley?”
Jack puffed his chest out. “That would be the Invincible & Honorable Militia Company of _______.”
“Never heard of it, sir.”
“We’ve been around for almost three hundred and fifty years. We’re the governor’s honor guard.”
The policeman looked over at the dead man. “Honor guard?”
“Remember when the Queen of England came to meet with the governor? We were there in full uniform with our old-time muskets and funny hats . . . .”
“How many black members does this honor guard have, sir?”
Jack smiled. “We just inducted our first black member. He’s the VP of finance at a well-known company.” He emitted a small laugh as if they were chatting over coffee. “We’ve even got a woman now. A retired army colonel. Tough, real tough.”
“I’ll bet you’ve got one Asian too, right?”
“As a matter of fact . . . Oh! Did you ever see that Mel Brooks movie ‘Blazing Saddles’?”
“No I haven’t sir. What’s that have to do with—“
“They were hiring workers for the railroad in the Old West and Olson Johnson said, ‘We’ll take the niggers and the chinks, but we don’t want the Irish.’ ”
Can you believe it? His name is Irish so he’s makin’ a joke about his people being victims of racism too. This guy don’t even know the difference between movies and real life!
The cop turned to Jim. “Did you see the victim cross the street, sir?”
“Well,” he began, “it was dark and it happened so fast . . . .”
“Like I said, officer,” interrupted Jack, “he ran right in front of us. There was nothing we could do.”
The cop held up his hand. “I understand, sir, but at the moment I’m interviewing this witness, so let’s let him speak.”
Jack crossed his arms. “Whatever you need, officer, whatever you need.”
“Sir,” said the cop, “did you see any pedestrians crossing this road prior to the accident?”
Now, my little street runs off the same side of the highway as Manny’s. I did NOT cross that highway. Ain’t nothin’ on that other side for me.
Jim looked at Jack, rubbed his hands together and cracked his knuckles. “No, can’t say that I did.”
An exasperated little sigh escaped from Jack. Couldn’t really hear it so much as feel it.
“I forgive you,” said Jack as they drove home.
“For what—telling the truth?”
“Not your fault. The human memory isn’t perfect. It plays tricks on all of us, so it’s not your fault, and I don’t want this to come between us in any way. We’re family.”
“You should be thanking me instead of forgiving me.”
“What the hell are you babbling about, James?”
“Ten points? Ten extra points if you hit him? My perfect memory remembers you saying that.”
“You should be thanking me for not telling the cop the whole story.”
“You’ve got an active imagination, James. I never said anything about any points. It was an accident, an unfortunate accident.”
After the funeral, after it was confirmed that no charges would be brought, a black Mercedes eased into the quietness of the cemetery. Out stepped a man holding a yellow box about the size of a book. He knelt down at the grave and placed the box front and center in the middle of the flowers.
“Why did you run out in front of me?” he said. “Why? Why?”
He bowed his head. “But nothing bad shall be said about the dead. Rest in peace my friend.”
That yellow box looked nice settin’ there in the flowers like a centerpiece or somethin’. On top there was that red triangle and underneath it in red was the name Montecristo—one of the best Cuban cigars money can buy. A whole box of fifty Cuban cigars that will never be smoked (except maybe by the groundskeepers) as a peace offering to me. Now I can’t explain it—I just can’t—but I’m almost startin’ to like this guy. Almost.
Allen X. Davis’ short fiction appears in Madcap Review and Barking Sycamores. He is an avid photographer and works for a bank.