At some point, Mickey realizes he’s dying. His legs are full of holes. The Kevlar vests made them feel like gods, but the cops shot low. Now he hears one of them, a woman, ask about an ambulance for Mickey. Another cop says, “Fuck that.” They’re all pissed off. He gets it. Him and Chino made a pretty big mess. Mickey himself is pretty sure he hit two people. Aiming at cops, but who knew where bullets went? From where he’s lying by the little Nissan pickup, he can see bullet holes in the white stucco face of a Talbot’s and the sidewalk full of glass shards throwing little rainbows onto the storefronts. He can hear sirens and see EMTs working on people farther up River City Drive.

Someone kicked his rifle away under the Nissan and that meant one of the cops had to drop down and grab for it, swearing about how hot the asphalt is and sticking his hand in fluid from the shot-up radiator. The cop flaps his hand in the air and some of the fluorescent green fluid spatters Mickey’s face. He’s cuffed and all he can do is try to blink it away.

They didn’t think of everything, Mickey and Chino. Didn’t plan on this many cops, that’s for sure. Chino told him St. John’s was like a mall, pretty much. The jewelry store didn’t have a guard. The streets didn’t have names, most of them. Open spaces and palm trees. There was a palm over his head now, laying down a small stripe of shade that he’d get to if he could move.

They were going west with the money. The desert was good for cars, Chino told him. He had a ’70 Buick GSX he’d restored by hand and with the money they were going to make today they’d move to LA and open a place together. Do custom builds, restomods. The cars staying clean and bright, not eaten away in this swampy air. Mickey didn’t know cars but Chino said, it’s okay, Mickey can design their website, keep the books.

The woman asks if the other one is dead. The other one is Chino. The angry cop says for all intensive purposes and weak as he is, Mickey has to laugh. Mickey’s mom was an English teacher, and they’d collect bits like that and tell each other. Even when she saw him in the Alachua County lockup. She made him laugh with “over ten billion SEVERED,” and a headline, “human BRIAN still evolving.” Sweating there in the visiting room, stealing glances at the lockers where her purse was locked up with the little flask she needed for the long drive. Screwdrivers, because they were easy and cheap, she said. ABC Vodka for seventy-five cents, and orange juice. Or orange drink, in emergencies. “Good news for Brian,” he said.

They’d always laugh, even at the ones they’d told each other a million times. “Charbroiled ANUS burgers” and “go slow, accident PORN area.” Even when his father left her with a split lip and an empty checkbook. He paid a kid at school three dollars for a receipt for “PENIS  butter snickers” and she laughed so hard her face started bleeding again.

Chino didn’t like jokes like that, thinking Mickey was making fun of his English. He had been sensitive that way, ready to take offense. They met at Cross City. In East Unit, on a work detail. Jimmy García said there was this girl from TV he thought about and Chino said, man, what show? You got to be pacific, and Mickey laughed a little and that was the wrong thing. But they’d gotten close. Stayed close outside, sweating in the little shack on Phelps. Getting the rifles from Jimmy, the vests. Drawing plans on the back of the back of a MacDonald’s bag.

Now the woman cop touches his cold hand. If he could still talk, he’d explain to Chino about pacific, what else it could mean. An ocean, right, but something else, too. If he could talk to his mother, she’d say, it’s alright. She’d say, don’t ruin the joke.

~ fin ~

Dennis Tafoya Headshot Lo

Dennis Tafoya lives near Philadelphia and is the author of three crime novels set in and around the city. His short stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Philadelphia Noir and Best American Mystery Stories. His work has been nominated for multiple awards and been optioned for film and television.