Part II: Chapter Twenty

January 6, 2014 by Randy Steinberg

Mrs. Bisbee was pulling a double shift at the hospital and Mr. Bisbee was doing the one recreational activity he could afford and liked: bowling. Matt’s house was empty, and he told Chad to come by after work.

The best defense is a good offense

The best defense is a good offense

Chad had only been to Matt’s house once before. The neighborhood was crap to Chad, but the house wasn’t so bad. Small. Not like his at all. But it had the feel of a happy home, something that was alien to Chad. His father was always away and had a series of girlfriends who didn’t give a fig about him. There was love in the Bisbee house, and Chad could see it was the source of much of Matt’s strength.

Matt led Chad down to the basement, and Chad half-thought Matt was taking him down there to murder him. Of course that wasn’t the case, but in Matt’s basement –a cluttered, cob-webbed, and dusty place—something fearful did await the boys. Matt dug his way through some boxes and old toys to find a small safe. He began to turn the safe’s dial, explaining to Chad as he worked, “A long time back, I watched my dad open this over his shoulder. I wrote the numbers down and then memorized them.” The safe popped open.

The safe was empty, save for two things: pistols. A Walther .22 and a compact Sig Sauer 9mm. The Sig had one shot in the chamber and six in the magazine. The Walther was a ten shot plinker. They didn’t look like much, small and each less than five pounds. Matt passed one gun to Chad. “One for you and one for me.”

Chad held it, unsure.  “Do these things even work?”

“We’ll have to go to the woods and fire each one time to see,” Matt replied, blowing on the weapon to free it of dust and other residue.

“What do you mean once?” Chad asked.

“Neither of us are licensed to buy ammo. Unless we got it illegally, we have to use what’s in these guns. I’ll clean them, and we’ll go to a State park, deep in the woods. We fire each once to see if they work.” Matt had it all worked out.

“Then what?” Chad asked.

“Then…we go into the lion’s den. We kill Carmine Cantu and end this.” This was no joke. Chad stood stock still. He wanted more of an explanation from Matt, who was ready to provide it. He paced, as if giving a classroom lecture. “Look at this place.” He waved the gun, and Chad ducked. Matt went on. “I mean the neighborhood. These guys bring drugs in, gambling, they hurt people. Why should they get away with it? There are three of them and two of us. But if we get the drop on them, we can take them out and maybe Revere will be a better place.”

“You sound like you’re on a crusade. I don’t even live here,” Chad said meekly.

“They killed our teacher. They tried to kill Jason. They’ll keep coming and coming, and we can’t go to the cops. We know that. Best defense is a good offense.” Matt made good points, but Chad wanted to change the subject.

“Why do you have these?” Chad meant the guns.

“My dad’s had them for a while. I remember shooting them as a little kid. I think his license expired, but he kept them down here. He doesn’t think anyone else knows he kept them. I don’t know why he ever owned them. Dangerous neighborhood I guess.”

Chad held out the gun Matt had given him. “I can’t.” Matt hesitated to take it back. He wanted an explanation from Chad. Chad obliged. “I want to be there for you, like we always have been on the field. But this…I don’t know. This is different. This is life and death, and I don’t want to take on gangsters.”

“What if they come after you?” Matt asked.

“It’s two more weeks until I go to Dartmouth. I’ll be careful. I’ll grow eyes in the back of my head. But I’m going to take my chances. I don’t want to go into the lion’s den,” Chad said. He held out the gun again. This time Matt accepted it. Chad took a few steps backward, inching up the stairs. “I’m sorry, man,” he said, stopping on the basement stairs.

“It’s okay,” Matt held both guns pointed at the floor. He knew it was asking a lot of Chad.

Chad hung his head, ashamed of himself but not willing to say more. He walked the rest of the way up the steps. Matt heard the door bang as Chad left.

Matt was alone.

##########################

The next day Matt quit his job at Foot Locker. He was scheduled to leave a week later, but he told his boss he had to get to U Conn early. Requirements of the scholarship he told him. His boss threatened to withhold his parting bonus, but Matt said it was okay. He’d borrowed the man’s car the other day and that was enough. Matt got the bonus anyway and some good wishes on his college career.

Matt did not tell his parents he’d left Foot Locker. Each day they thought he was going to work. Instead of that, he began to stalk Carmine Cantu.

Matt put the guns back in the safe and decided to go unarmed while he followed Carmine. What he did use from the basement was an old bicycle. He had no car and public transportation wouldn’t work, but on the bike he could zip down side streets and do his best to track Carmine’s movements. The bike was rusty and the tires flat, but Matt took it to a car wash and the manager let him use a hose to clean it off. He inflated the tires at a gas station and soon had a workable machine. He was a little big for the bike, and if anyone was paying attention they might have laughed at the husky lineman pedaling a bike meant for someone half his size.

Matt was wobbly on the bike at first, but like the old saying you never forget and he soon had it mastered. He couldn’t hope to keep up with Carmine and his Cadillac all the time, but if he got away from him, he could always keep tabs on Jim Shea or Al Diaz at Jackie O’s. After all, it wasn’t just Carmine he had to take out; it was all three of them. The best time to do it was when they were all together.

Three men. It didn’t seem like much. They weren’t an army. Just three men.

How did they control this area of Revere? Why did they inspire so much fear? Why hadn’t anyone thought of doing what Matt was about to do a long time ago? His thoughts returned to his father. They are willing to go further.  Matt himself was about to cross that line, but would he have the nerve when the time came? It was one thing to follow someone around. It was another to shoot him.

He had already killed Billy he told himself. But that was spur of the moment, and Billy was a clear amateur. Carmine Cantu, Jim Shea, and Al Diaz were hardened, experienced criminals and killers.  Matt had only fired a gun a few times with his father some years back, and shooting weapons wasn’t like riding a bike. By contrast, the gangsters knew how to use guns. Strangely, Matt thought about Mr. Martinelli and his gambling problem. If he was betting on Matt, the odds would be long.

Matt went to the library and searched about how to load and fire a gun. He didn’t want any traces of such searches on his home computer. It looked pretty simple, and he biked over to the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation and practiced loading and unloading  beneath the high reeds so no one would see him. He cleaned each pistol with some gun oil he found in his basement and then set his eye on a nice fat, oak tree. He fired each gun into it once from ten feet. His ears rang like shit, but both weapons worked and he hit the target dead center. He knew shooting was difficult and he would have to be the same distance to ensure he’d put Carmine and his boys down. He would practice-fire no more than once, knowing he had to save the shots for the moment of truth.

He may have fooled his parents about his job at Foot Locker, but it wasn’t long before Kitty discovered the ruse. She stopped by Foot Locker and the boss told her Matt had quit. She said he wasn’t due to leave for another week. The boss reddened with anger and knew he’d been played.

Kitty herself was angry. Why would Matt quit his job like this and not tell her? Was there another girl? Would that even matter? They’d agreed to go their separate ways once college started, but they had another week to go. Maybe he was still upset about Mr. Martinelli. She wanted answers.

Matt didn’t respond to her calls and texts at first, but she soon threatened to stop by his house. After his trip to the woods, he agreed to meet her at a Starbucks in his neighborhood. They both ordered iced coffees but neither was actually thirsty.

When Kitty saw Matt, it was almost as if she didn’t recognize him. It was Matt…but not. One thing she loved about him was his playful nature. There was always a joke on his lips and a smile hiding somewhere. Matt had zest and was perpetually upbeat. All of that seemed gone now.

In front of her sat not the boy she loved but a man with a lot on his mind. He rubbed his hands together nervously. The same hands that had once travelled over her body in a way that made her wriggle with pleasure. He hunched his shoulders weakly. The same shoulders that she would rest her head on to feel his strength.

He couldn’t tell her, or could he? He needed to confide in someone. It was eating away at him. The only other person who knew his plan was Chad, but Chad had abandoned him. “I know something’s wrong, Matt,” Kitty said, taking his hand. He felt it for a second, its warmth and strong tenderness, but then he pulled it back.

“I…” he started but stopped, looking away from Kitty.

“Is there someone else?” she asked.

He laughed. It just escaped. It seemed so wildly ridiculous. Kitty didn’t know what he was planning to do, but she thought he was cheating on her? It was…funny.

But Kitty didn’t think so. “Fuck you!” She got up to leave.

“Kitty, wait. I’m sorry.” Matt rose and went after her. “Come on,” his eyes shone lightly. Kitty’s accusation, as off the mark as it was, broke the tension. The Matt she knew showed himself, and she melted for him. They sat down again.

“I can see something’s bothering you. Is it what happened with Mr. M?” A much more reasonable line of questioning.

“Yeah,” Matt admitted. “But there’s more to it. Did you know Jason left for school already?”

“No,” Kitty said, but she didn’t see how that was relevant

“He left early,” Matt went on. Again, Kitty was confused. A guy leaving early who’s playing big time college football made sense. “Do you know why he left early?” Matt asked. He was edging closer to the truth.

“I don’t know why, maybe to get ready for tryouts,” Kitty guessed.

She was way off. If only she knew. If only everyone knew. He hadn’t been to confession in years, but the secret he desperately wanted to tell someone about was on his lips. Kitty would be his priest, if that made any kind of sense. “Well…he got sh-“

Kitty’s cell phone rang, a Lady Gaga ring tone. It was her mother. Was she going to make dinner or not? Not, she said and hung up. “He got what?” Kitty asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Matt said. He became distant again, the spark of life Kitty had seen a moment ago faded.

She wanted to be with him, the real him, just one more time before they went their separate ways. “My parents are going away this weekend. Do you want to come over?”

Desire swelled within him. Thoughts of all the times they’d done it rushed at him. Her gorgeous breasts (she had these small nipples he couldn’t get enough of), her long hair freed from braids and whipping about, her strong legs, and the heaven that was in between them. But what if Carmine came for him? He couldn’t put Kitty in danger like that. He had to shoot her down. “I can’t,” he mumbled.

That answer was not good enough for her. It was the easiest sex he’d probably ever have. He had to be crazy. “What’s wrong with you?!” she shouted. “I tell you I want to do you and you say no? Don’t I mean anything to you?”

She did. She meant so much, but he knew any more involvement would be a risk to her. Matt thought taking on Carmine would be the hardest thing he’d ever have to do, but this was worse. He had to be cold, “We agreed it was over. If we have sex, it’s like we’d be together again. I don’t think that’s a great idea.” He kept a straight face but was dying on the inside.

Tears seeped out the corners of Kitty’s eyes. She slammed her fist on the table. People stared. “Fuck you, Matt!” she screamed, rising and leaving.

Matt took a step to go after her but then stopped. He watched her through the smudge-stained windows of Starbucks as she got into her car and took off. He told himself this wouldn’t be the last time he would see her, that he’d make it up to her when the time was right. But the possibility remained that he would never see her again, and it was a shame their last meeting had gone this way.

When Kitty’s car was gone from view, Matt noticed all the customers in the coffee shop were watching him. What had he said to that nice girl? Perv. He met this intrusion with a hard look, staring down each and every patron who laid eyes on him. They didn’t want any trouble with him, so they returned to their conversations.

Matt felt the thrill of power. It wasn’t just staring these people down but knowing what he was going to do on their behalf. He was standing up for them, the neighborhood. He would be removing not just a threat to himself but to all of Revere. He was like Charles Bronson or The Rock, taking out the trash, cleaning up the streets. Why hadn’t anyone done this before? It seemed so simple.

So damn simple.