Wednesday, September 21, 2011


For L.B.

Maury was taking a smoke break when the two thugs showed up. They arrived in a black Lincoln and summoned the crew boss from the dusty light of the car’s headlamps. Lucky was bawling out a digger at the time, a Puerto Rican backhoe operator, and Lucky didn’t quit bawling a guy out for anything. But he quit it for them.

The P.R. stared and Maury figured he was probably the only guy on site who didn’t grasp the situation. He’d never seen Cuco Minchillo’s guys come around a worksite in the dead of night, didn’t even know they worked for the guy whose name was on all the equipment. Minchillo & Sons. Both his sons were dead.

Lucky snatched the hardhat off his skull in a show of submission that made Maury wince. The boss listened while the thugs told him what was happening. They didn’t have to. It was always the same.

“All right, you pricks,” Lucky bellowed to the crew after that. “Pack it up and sit a spell at Sugar’s. But be back on site in two hours, hear?”

Maury flicked his cigarette half smoked into the gaping hole in the pavement. There hadn’t been anything wrong with the road when they started digging it up at the start of the night. Now it looked like the fastest way to China.

A couple of guys groaned but nobody made too much of a production out of it. The P.R. sidled up to Maury and said, “What’s Sugar’s?”

“Tits and ass,” Maury said. “Ten bucks a head, five for a beer. Hell of a way to make a living.”

He wasn’t sure who he meant, them or the strippers.

“Come on,” Lucky said, popping up with an apologetic smile on his macadam-blackened face. “First round’s on me.”

“Forget it. I’m going to catch a quick nap.”

Lucky eyed him cagily. Maury could see the thugs over the crew boss’s shoulder, peering down into the Lincoln’s trunk.

“Two hours,” Lucky reminded him.

“I know.”

“Not earlier.”

Maury broke away, climbed into his Buick and rumbled off into the night. He imagined that he was driving over a long stretch of secret graves, because he was. It was a quarter past one in the morning.

* * *

At 3:15 Maury pulled up to the barrier of orange cones and killed the engine. He finished the dregs of gas station coffee in his cup and switched off his headlamps. The heavy duty tower lights lit the worksite up like a baseball field, but the air was clear of dust and Maury didn’t see a soul. He lit a cigarette and got out of the Buick. In the dead center of the site loomed the hole they’d carved out of the road. He went to it, glanced down at the two bodies crumpled there, their yellow vests reflecting the glare of the work lights.

Lucky’s vest was perforated in the middle of his back, a splash of red smeared up to his shoulder. The Puerto Rican kid got it in the head. His jet black hair was wet with blood. Maury realized he never knew the P.R.’s name. He supposed it didn’t much matter now.

Footsteps scuffed the pavement behind him and a voice said, “He ran. You believe that shit? The dumb bastard actually ran.”

Hence the hole in the back, Maury thought. Poor Lucky. Not so lucky after all, not in the long run. Or the short run, as it happened.

Maury grinned, let out a snort.

In the distance a pair of headlights glowed.

“Crew’s coming back,” the thug said. “Cuco’s got a job lined up to fill potholes on University tomorrow night. Remember to tell ‘em.”

“Fill them with what?” Maury asked.

“Hell, I don’t know—oh. I get it.”

“I got it from here.”

“Sure. You’re crew boss now, Maury.”

The thugs sauntered back to their Lincoln while Maury grabbed a shovel to dump dirt and smashed chunks of low-grade asphalt on the corpses. Two cars, a Plymouth and a Chrysler, pulled up to the cones just as he covered up the last visible bit of yellow.

A car door slammed and a fat slob named Dane wobbled over to him.

“Say, where’s Lucky?”

Maury said, “I’m Lucky, now.”