by John Karnay
A sample of my published story Father's Day. It won the NYC Contemporary Fiction award.
I stand hunched in the thick summer evening mist. Raindrops turn to steam as they plummet to the blacktop. The June air is no longer able to bear the burden of the night’s humidity. Bloated clouds cry musty tears onto the city. With my elbows firmly planted on the damp rotting wood of the windowsill, I slowly adjust the scope of the rifle and peer out into the night.
With my right eye pressed tightly against the cold metal ring of the site, I can see him, the man I’m going to kill. He’s a short, portly man in his early thirties. He sits on the edge of the bed in the motel room across the street with his pants around his ankles. His face looks all too familiar, like a hundred other men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in these circumstances. All of them equally weak, all of them just like my father.
The leggy red head with the impossible breasts kneels in front of him at the foot of the bed. She’s at least ten years his junior and working her way to a nose full of blow. She does her duty, like a janitor mopping a floor. Her head bobs mechanically. His leg spasms and his lips begin to contort. He asks God for help like a sinner finding faith on his deathbed. He doesn’t even realize how close he is to being dead.
I’ve been watching this class act for the past 2 days. I watched him pick her up at the club, four hours ago. I observed the way her interest in him peaked as soon as he brought out the coke. It’s a sad expensive addiction, cocaine. She’s wasting her life as an object, doing anything in her power to be treated like the possession of the first man that will provide for her habit. I can remember almost being like her and I despise her more because of it. He’s no better though. I watched him ‘date’ rape the last girl he picked up when she declined to entertain him. I would have punched his ticket then but I didn’t have a clean shot. I was afraid the blonde waif might have gotten hysterical and called the cops. I gave her too much credit. At least this red head is committed to her cause.
Watching them together makes my stomach turn. I walk away from the scope towards the decrepit, full-length mirror directly across from the table in the center of the room. Examining my reflection, I adjust the shoe polish black hair from my face and rub my hands on my satiny crimson skirt to dry my palms. Normally, I would never be caught dead dressed like this anymore. It was only required to blend back at the club. The long stiletto heels and caked on make up are things I avoid. I must admit, that like this, my resemblance to my mother is uncanny. My father always told me I was just like her. He never meant it as a compliment though, more as a threat.
I can still remember my earliest memory of him. He was driving a cab in the city and working for a small time bookkeeper. He was also taking gambling action on the side. He was an angry, drunken little man that thought far too highly of himself. He never realized what he had in his life. He cared more about the bottle then he did his family.
I was three years old, the Christmas he arrived home drunk. As a present he knocked out two of my mother’s teeth. I can still hear her crying as he dragged her into the bedroom. The horrible rhythmic squeaking was overpowered by her voice, gasping and wailing. She pleaded for him to stop. I can remember when he was finished. The pungent smell of sweat and copulation drifted from the open doorway. He walked out into the unlit kitchen. His sweat covered belly hung over his boxer shorts. I sat in the corner near the tree, playing cats in the cradle and staring at the empty space beneath the tree. A single string of Christmas lights reflected off the unfinished hard wood floor, illuminating my face with blurs of red and green.
My mother always told me not to attract his attention when he was “in a mood” but I stared at him too long as he walked to the icebox. He saw me in the shadows as he opened the door of the fridge. Profiled in the bitter white light of the freezer, he looked at me with glazed, resentful eyes and spoke. I can hear his words as if he were speaking them to me right now.
“What the fuck are you looking at Veronica? You’re just like your fucking mother. And you know what? You’re going to end up just like her!”
The image fades in my mind and the Christmas lights are replaced with neon from the streets below. Returning to the task at hand, I grab my pack of Parliaments and the chrome decanter of Wild Turkey from the small table. I light another cigarette. I adjust my stockings, size up my long legs and gaze at my reflection in the mirror. Swigging from the bottle, I glance back at the mark and remind myself exactly why I took this job.
They’ve moved onto the bed now. She sits naked straddling him. Her hands find balance on his bulging repugnant belly while his hands find other equally ample resting places. Her body is still taut and robotic. She looks like a pro. I’m certain she’s been doing this for years. It takes a long time to forget how to feel. It’s no easy feat, making another person want to own you. It takes time to learn the cost of using your body to manipulate them. Taking control, and stripping them of their power. Then finally handing it all back to them for a few lines of blow. I wonder if I was ever that weak. I put out my cigarette with the heel of my shoe and think about my mother.
I remember the day my father left. It was three weeks after my eleventh birthday. It was late autumn and we were living in an apartment not much better accommodated than the one I’m in right now. He stumbled in at four in the morning, inebriated and fuming from some money he had lost at cards. I found out later that he had also been fired that same day from the cab company for drinking on the job. My mother knew better than to try talk to him when he was drunk but the heat had been turned off that morning due to five months of unpaid bills. It was a cold autumn and the apartment felt like a morgue freezer. She greeted him warmly, almost genuinely. She smiled and hugged him like a loving wife should. He could barely stand. He groped her thighs, hips and legs, barely able to speak, the whiskey working hard. His breaths came out in warm heaving clouds and within moments he led her to the bedroom.
“Veronica!! Get me a beer for Christ’s sake!” he yelled.
It was a consoling command. I stood and walked into the kitchen and prayed that everything would be all right. And it was, until she mentioned the money. In a split second her head snapped sideways and I saw the rage in his eyes. Two kicks later and she slid across the grubby floor and against the decades old oven. Her arm was bent awkwardly under her body. One comment had earned my mother the privilege of being his punching bag for a lifetime of pent up and unmanaged anger, shame and guilt.
Her body curled into a ball around his foot. I remember getting up and trying to stop him. Grabbing hold of his shirt and falling to my knees. I held tightly to his sandwich stained plaid, flannel shirt. I was kneeling at his feet waiting for his hand fly up and knock loose a tooth. Anticipating his foot to pummel my ribs. I looked up at him, tears pouring from my eyes. My mouth moved like a ventriloquist's prop. My voice was far away and my mouth failed to produce any true volume. I continued repeating the same thing over and over.
His fist was raised to strike but his face was filled with guilt and shame. He looked at my face and stopped in mid stroke. I sat trembling, afraid and powerless at his feet. I can only guess that my resemblance to my mother was too much for him to face. He pulled free of my grasp and entered the bedroom alone. Moments later he had his bag packed and was gone. I might have been able to forgive him then, but not anymore.
About a month went by and my mother never left her bedroom. She stopped eating and started drinking. She cried all day and night, nursing three broken ribs, a fractured arm and blaming herself for driving him away. Her bones healed but she never recovered. About a month passed before she did the inevitable. With no man to take her of her dignity or provide her place and fearful she would die old and alone, she took her own life.
My reflection in the mirror taunts me like the ghost of my mother. I grow tired of looking at myself like the victim she was and I plant a stiletto-heeled kick hard into the center of the mirror. I watch the glass spider web into a mosaic of cracks from the tiny hole left from the heel of my shoe. It’s been twenty-two hours since I last slept and I’m getting sloppy. I take another drink and my mind drifts back to the past.
With my parents gone, I became a ward of the state. With in a year, I broke out of the foster home and ran away. I spent most of my time on the streets, trying to stay alive. I slept in alleys, ate at soup kitchens and did anything to stay alive. I became involved with drugs and worse things.
I perpetrated acts I never thought I was capable doing. Living with the guilt was surprisingly easier than I thought. All I care to remember from that time period is that I did many things that I will never do ever again. I despise who I once was. Come tomorrow I’ll have no regrets about any of it. Come tomorrow I can finally put my past behind me.
At seventeen, I got my first job for the Bertrolli family. They ran the entire city. I spent all my time in Jersey in their clubs, working and entertaining. I became close with Vito, the head of the family. He was an old world Italian and was appalled by the stories of my childhood. His ethics would permit extramarital affairs with attractive women but would never allow a man to harm his wife or child unless it was absolutely necessary. He trusted me as much as a man in his position could trust. He gave me the kind of worked I was best suited for. I was like a fresh piece of clay, and he molded me. I might almost say he loved me. He was the type of man my father always aspired to be. Unfortunately that wasn’t saying much. He called me “V” and said it was for vengeance. He used to say I was the most beautiful piece of hate he had ever seen. He knew what I was capable of. He had seen it before in himself and in certain men that worked for him. He knew my past and decided to use it for something more productive. I had no remorse for any action I took. So he took my strongest traits and turned a junkie stripper into a contract killer. It’s a shame about Vito. I miss him sometimes around this time of year.
I return to my task at hand and put my eye to the scope of my rifle. It’s an easy shot. He’s lying on his back pinned to the mattress by her body. His bulbous naked form, covered in sweaty matted hair, heaves with every breath he takes. Puddles of sweat form under his back on the sheets. He tries desperately to keep up the pace of the younger red head. I can almost hear him moaning from here. His pudgy little digits on her hips pulling and tugging just like my father’s.
She rides him like a bored child on a merry go round. Her back and body are as dry as autumn leaves. The white powder on her nose reminds me of why she deserves what she’s getting.
I train the site on his head, as he begins to go into the thralls of his climax. His palm slaps on her thighs and ass like jockey whipping a horse into a gallop. The girl moans ineffectually to placate his ego. She has to be convincing. She speeds up her pace to hurry the process. For a moment I imagine my father and the mark as one man. A drop of perspiration blurs my vision and I look away from the scope. I see my own Picaso-esque reflection in the broken scrimshaw of glass. I see bits of my mother in the shattered pieces, marred and ruined by my father. The hate swells up inside me like a boiling kettle. I press my eye against the scope and adjust the sight. I move the cross hair slowly back and forth, from his head to hers.
Finally it’s over. He starts to kiss her as she rocks slowly back and forth, finishing their business transaction at last.
I see her face and realize I was wrong about her. She’s no pro. This might be her first time. She’s crying. Her dull empty eyes sprout would be tears of mourning for the part of her soul that just died. I remember my mother’s tears. The red head turns as he kisses and sucks on her neck. Her face is repulsed and disgusted by him. For a moment I think that she can see me. In that instant I fantasize that I’m her guardian angel, ready to wave my magic wand for her. As if she summoned me here to end her suffering with a single bullet to his head. A final chance for her to retract all the horrific things she has done tonight. Maybe that is what she really wants. I could help her. I could give her the same chance that I had. I could erase this man from her life. I hesitate on the trigger to consider it and see if either she or I can still feel anything.
Then it happens. His disgusting tongue licks her neck clean of her sins. His hand shakes a white line onto his sweaty shoulder. Her eyes light up. She secretly wipes her tears and inhales her prize from his swarthy back.
There is no helping her. He owns her now. She’s better off dead.
I reach out with my rage; pull twice on the trigger and think of my father.
I break down the rifle and pack my case methodically. It’s been under three minutes since I fired my last shot and I’m already making my way down the alley behind the building I was in. I raise my hand to hail a cab as I continue walking down the street towards the nearest intersection. It’s three in the morning on June 17th and the taxis are few and far between.
I despise cabs. Not just the experience of riding in them, but the drivers themselves. Some of the most desperate, degenerate excuses for life drive taxis in this city. This one that just pulled up for example, is no exception. I open the door and slide into the backseat. My nasal passages are greeted by equal parts incense, vomit, and body odor. I count the seconds until he comments on my dress. He’s not from this country, that I’m certain. He is probably here on a work visa, sending money home to his family, while he takes the “pretty lady” tour of the United States. I’m fairly certain, judging by his appearance that the country he’s from doesn’t allow woman to dress the way I am. The men there are too intimidated by it. Before I can finish my thought he’s already at it.
“Hello beauty. Where are you going baby?”
He turns to face me, smiling salaciously. His chubby muddied digits paw at his unkempt mustache. His unlaundered, once powder blue button up shirt is half open, exposing two imitation gold chains.
His head nods involuntarily, as if he is trying to impose his will on me like a snake charmer.
“Turn around and drive.”
I glance at one of the pieces of paper in the manila envelope Little Jimmy gave me searching for the address. Jimmy and I go way back, from around the time when Vito ran the city. Jimmy was Vito’s youngest but most ambitious nephew. He’s is a prick, but a resourceful prick. I’ve spent the past two years and more than a few favors to get this information I’m holding. Fortunately, I had avoided calling on Jimmy’s help for a number of reasons, until now. Unlike Vito, Jimmy has never had to earn his money. He puts little value on anything. He has so much at his disposal that it’s meaningless to him. The only things that interest Jimmy are the things he can’t have. Coincidentally, he’s never had me.
Jimmy handed the envelope to me approximately twenty six hours earlier and almost laughed in my face when I opened it. After a two-year hunt, my father had been right under my nose. Jimmy has been waiting for a good excuse to get me in his pocket, and this was it. Needless to say, I took his success as both a blessing and a curse. I may have made a mistake in how I handled him but it’s too late to change that now. I ignore the driver’s meager attempts at flirtation and think back to the consequences of deal I made.
“Well that’s it V, it’s all right here. Would you believe the guy is still using his real name? You must be getting sloppy in your old age.” he said grinning as his hand moved slowly over the leather steering wheel of the Cadillac Escalade. His personality was much less attractive than his appearance.
“Do I look sloppy to you Jimmy?” I retorted, pushing his buttons but concentrating on the manila envelope.
“Nah, not at all V, in fact you look tight as ever.” I tried my best to ignore the way his eyes worked me up and down. My skin crawled with each deep seated stare. I began to feel like a dancer at Vito’s place again.
“Let’s talk price Jimmy.” I said lighting my cigarette and gazing out the tinted window.
“What price? Come on V, we’re practically family. I’m insulted.” I held my breath knowing all to well what he meant.
Vito once told me and everyone else in the family, a funny story about Jimmy and his two younger female first cousins. The story is long but involves a big family gathering up in the Poconos. Vito always told it the best. Something about the translation to English from Italian doesn’t do it justice. Jimmy convinced his two cousins to sneak off to play in back in woods. What he didn’t tell them was that he wanted to play sink the salami. Well the two of them overpowered him and ran out of the woods in front of the whole family. The story his cousins told everyone was even funnier, though. Let’s just say, that he didn’t get the nickname Little Jimmy from his uncle.
“I pay for what I take Jimmy. So name the price.”
His hand moved from the steering wheel to his mouth, slowly running the insides of his fingers over the corners of his lips.
“Well fuck me. So I finally have something that Miss Veronica Stern wants. I can remember back when we used to work for Vito. That one night we did that hit on that Russian guy, just you and me. I told Vito I was going to come back with a pair of your panties on my head and bottle of vodka in each hand.”
His eyes narrowed like a snake.
I still remember him taking that .45 round in his thigh and me carrying him out of the bathhouse, crying like a girl with a skinned knee. He never could shoot for shit.
“It’s a shame that didn’t work out.”
His hand moved again, this time to the stick shift, jiggling it back and forth in his hand. I knew what he wanted and he wasn’t going to let me leave with out it this time.
Jimmy was no different than this cabbie, intimidated by any self-empowered woman that his limited wit or even more limited viewpoint couldn’t win over. Even now, as I completely ignore him, my foreign friend still mutters to himself and makes every attempt to adjust his mirrors to get a better look at me.
“It’s too bad that Russian got lucky. I mean, I’m sure even in that shape, we could have had fun.”
“I don’t think so, Jimmy. You were pretty banged up. Practically limp.”
The last comment stung, but things had already escalated past simple pride.
“Well I’m health as a bull now. What do you say? Huh, Ronnie, how about I play Daddy?”
The name rang in my ears like the bell at a prizefight. No one called Ronnie anymore.
“Little Ronnie Stern, the finest piece of ass in the Tri-states and me with a bullet about six inches from my junk.”
His hand slipped to my knee. I could feel his clammy hands and his rings on my skin. I almost pulled away without thinking.
“No one calls me that anymore Jimmy.”
He instantly frowned with a slightly mocking pout at the end. He was the head of the Jersey families. He wasn’t used to being corrected, especially not by a woman. The traffic light ahead turned yellow. He reached across his body and unbuckled his seat belt as he applied the brake.
“How come? It suits you. A pretty girl like you deserves a sexy name. Remember when you used to dance in the casino at Vito’s place. I always said V was a stupid name. What kind of name is V? You’re not playing for the other team are you? Why wouldn’t they call you Ronnie?”
“You know why Jimmy.” My lips were pursed and my eyes were unblinking but my insides were on fire. He stopped the Escalade at the traffic signal and I watched the traffic pass the busy intersection. Visions of the life I left behind flashed before me. The long nights of being groped and degraded by strange men to make ends meet. My father sitting there drunk on the couch, screaming into the bedroom
“Ronnie, Get you ass in here!”
Jimmy’s hand moved up my leg and he leaned in closer, and his mouth moved deliberately as he spoke.
“No Ronnie, tell me why?”
I could see the frustration building in his eyes. His grip was firmer, and he moved my hand high onto his right thigh. I knew what I wanted to say and I knew it was a mistake. We all make mistakes. Maybe I was getting sloppy, but I said it anyway.
“For the same reason no one calls you Little Jimmy, you prick!”
His face went red with anger and he grabbed hold of my thigh tighter.
“You fucking junkie bitch!! Vito should have left you in the fucking gutter where he found you! Do you know who I am?” he yelled reaching for my hair and trying to pull my head into his lap. I jammed down on my hand, pressing his right knee hard. His foot pinned the gas pedal to the floor and the Escalade leapt into the busy intersection.
The first car, a Volvo, plowed into Jimmy’s door head on. My seatbelt tore into my hips and clenched tightly across my waist. The airbags deployed but Jimmy wouldn’t be that lucky. His head jerked left and back into the window. Without his seatbelt, his shoulder went crushing against the door. The Cadillac spun in a corkscrew and careened into the next set of two cars. The first hit the driver’s side wheel well, knocking the car onto two wheels. Jimmy’s head collided first into the airbag then bounced like a demented cartoon character bounced again into the side window as the Escalade began to tumble on to the sidewalk. The last impact broke open the glove box, spilling out an automatic pistol that took off like a bottle rocket, flying into the interior of the car.
The car stopped its roll and I reached for the manila envelope that had flown from my hands in the struggle. Jimmy was delirious but conscious. I unfastened the seatbelt and stretched desperately into the back seat. Jimmy’s hand still grabbed for my thigh, but this time, with different intent. The pistol had landed on the console between us only inches from my leg. My fingers found the grainy yellow paper of the envelope just in time to kneel on Jimmy’s hand as he grabbed the pistol.
“You’re fucking dead, V… fucking dead you junkie bitch.”
His voice was hoarse and belabored. There were tears of anger and exasperation on his cheeks, slowly mixing with the crimson tide pouring from his head. His face was bleeding profusely and his left eye had a crimson sheen as if a piece of glass had grinded against it. The weight of my knee forced the gun to drop from his hand onto the passenger seat. I reached down grabbed the gun and pistol whipped him twice in the mouth. I put the automatic to his temple and responded without emotion, still kneeling on his wrist.
“Thanks Jimmy. I guess we’ll just call it even?”
"Even, you whore? How is this even?" he cried.
"You got me what I wanted and I fucked you... Just like you asked for it."
I can remember the barrage of threats and slurs coming from the inside of the truck as I walked away. Every contact I had ever made was shot to shit in less than five minutes. Maybe I was getting sloppy but I then again I don’t plan on working in this town anymore.
The driver stops the car in front of a large tan building. In front is a sign that reads, United Presbyterian Hospital. I can feel his eyes watching me in the rear view.
“Are you sure this is right, asshole?”
“You give me this address. I drive. You are looking for a place to stay? I know good place few blocks from Times Square. I stay with you all night. My cousin is manager.”
I almost retch. I exit the cab and throw some small bills in through the window.
“Then go fuck your cousin asshole, and keep the change.”
I can still feel his eyes burning a hole into the back of my skirt. His slack jawed expression would certainly remain for at least a few more hours, until he could return to what ever hole he drove out of and tell all of his fellow derelicts how much I wanted him.
None of that matters now, though. I’m here. I’ve found him. And after all these years, my dear old dad will finally get the Father’s Day he always deserved.
(Continued in Part 3)