by Louis Gallo
He slid into shotgun effortlessly, smoothly, as I idled at a red light with closed eyes listening to Yo-Yo Ma stroke the cello to Brahms’s Double Concerto. I didn’t even realize he was there until he cleared his throat.
‘What kind of shit you listen,’ he spat, droplets of spit splattering the dash.
I whipped my head around to confront one wreck of a man—grizzled, about fifty, sunbaked, disheveled, haunted.
‘Hey,’ I cried, ‘out my car, you!’
He looked at me with watery eyes and a compassionate smile. I noticed the revolver he clutched in one hand and stroked with the other, oddly to the precise movements of Yo-Yo’s bow.
‘Maybe it ain’t so bad. What kind of music is that?’
Stunned by the pistol and now shaking, I asked, ‘What do you want?’
‘Better drive on,’ he said. ‘Light green now. Just drive and I will let you live.’
‘Let me live?’ I sputtered, choking on the words.
I noted that he had pivoted the pistol toward me, target: upper rib cage.
‘I’ve never asked much of my fellow man,’ he said. ‘But my beloved son Kenny is in trouble bad and needs me. You just drive and I will let you live. What’s your line of work? I see a white shirt, pressed pants and an untied neck tie. A desk man.’
‘I’m a claims adjuster for Allstate. I’m late to work. My office is just up the street. Can I at least run in and tell them I’ll be coming back?’
‘First thing, man, never assume I’m stupid. Just drive. I laid bricks in my time. Honest work. You the guy who tells people you won’t cover their damages. I understand but deplore. Bet you never laid a brick in your papery life. You just write things down in a ledger or something.’
‘Where are we going?’ I felt droplets of sweat drip from my armpits. How could this be happening?
‘You follow Main Street here until it turns into Highway 11 and bring me over to Bakersville. Kenny lives there in the first trailer park. He’s hurt. And by the way I’ll need your wallet too—for insurance. I am not a thief. You’ll get it back. Reach in your pocket real slow and hand it to me. Kenny had such a good heart but things didn’t work out for him. I understand everything. Them with good hearts go down first. Can’t compete with the evil.’
Strange to say, I almost felt some sympathy for my abductor. I can read people. I know when customers are lying. I’d lay money that this ruin of a man wasn’t lying.
‘Then you’ll let me go? You won’t shoot me? And return my wallet?’
‘Yep, though you’ll get the wallet in the mail. As I said, insurance. You understand, right? You’re in that business. Now you see what it feels like when you screw them over.’
‘I don’t screw them over. I assess damages and causes. People lie. They try to defraud insurance companies all the time.’
‘I seen your insurance buildings. Skyscrapers, a lot on them. Glass and brass. Who does the screwing—or defrauding to use your word? We live with it, the theft, but you don’t. You want more and more and more and don’t care who gets crushed in the process. Kenny don’t have insurance, so I might have to borrow your credit card in case we need a doctor. He tried to hang himself. The landlord happened to hear a crash since he was nearby carrying out some trash bags. The trailer door was open. He found Kenny thrashing with the noose around his neck and pulled him down, then called me. You just comply for the time being and you be ok.’
‘Comply,’ I growled boldly, plotting out how I might disarm the man and throw him out of the car. He seemed a soft touch despite the gun. What was I thinking? I don’t know the first thing about self-defence or how to disarm someone. The very word disarm smacks of horror.
So I did indeed comply and as we headed for a trailer park in Bakersville my abductor leaned his head against the rest and closed his eyes. But he warned, ‘Just because I have closed eyes doesn’t mean I can’t see you. Beware. And play that music again. What is it? I never heard anything like that.
I received my wallet in a crumpled envelope a few days later. It contained a note:
Kenny needed x-rays but is ok, mostly skin burns from the rope. We went to Urgent Care to save you some money. You had enough cash to cover it—seven hundred dollars. Who has that much cash in their wallets? Got your address from one of your business cards. Soon I will pay you back in kind, not money. Who has money? If we could afford insurance it would not have cost you much. Build yourself a barbeque. Get your hands dirty. The gun wasn’t loaded. Forgive me.
The next week I heard a loud noise out back and went to check. Some men were unloading thousands of bricks from a truck and tossing them into the yard in chaotic fashion. I tried to protest but the head guy intervened, told me to ‘back off.’ He didn’t seem the kind of person susceptible to reason.
It must have been at least two tons of bricks, a massive mound—which I assumed amounted to seven hundred dollars worth. My abductor was true to his word.
I approached the edge of the pile and grasped a brick. Gritty it was and obviously used before. And heavier than it looked.
I drove over to Lowe’s and bought a few bags of mortar. But I wouldn’t be building a barbeque pit.
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic,, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review, and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Change, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.