This story is by Linda Morgan and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The dark haired, skinny boy leaned against the white concrete block wall. Cold penetrated from the outside. Just like that night, Jaime thought. My anniversary. This is the anniversary of my anniversary. He almost smiled as a tear slid down his cheek. Deep in thought, he caressed his earlobe, smooth and soft, missing its mark of value. Now the soft sensation was reassuring, comforting. Rubbing his earlobe grew the warmth he desperately needed. He had failed and his value was gone. He was dead now. Forgotten. But, he would never forget his last anniversary.
Snow melted and froze into a sheet of ice as the boys navigated the directions. Eighty-five south to the 121 exit, then back up 85. The exit approached and the driver signaled and eased onto the off ramp. His speed was just a little too fast for the road conditions and the car fish-tailed slightly.
“Slow down!” Jaime barked. At fourteen years of age, it just got to him that he couldn’t drive. He was in a hurry. They ascended the ramp to move onto 121 and the road changed from a smooth, well-maintained highway to an obstacle course, full of potholes and cracks in the asphalt. The road reflected the nearby neighborhood: dark, neglected, hidden. Jaime began to see his destination, and the driver slowed. Three men stood in the sharp curve where 121 began. Concrete sheltered them against the wind and hid them from the highway. At midnight not many traveled this way and anyone who thought they saw something knew to keep going.
The driver pulled to the shoulder stopping close to the men. Jaime strode over to the group. Five years ago, he was “jumped in” to the Family, a brutality he barely survived, his own gauntlet. Now, he strutted confidently, his hair slicked back to emphasize the small diamond stud in his left ear. It was a gift from his padrino on his last anniversary. “Jaime, my son, you are a good boy. You always do what I tell you and you don’t bring any unusual attention to yourself,” the Don had said. “You stay away from the product. I appreciate that. Next year on your anniversary I will have something even more grand for you.”
He adored his godfather. The Don was so handsome and strong. Women giggled when he drew close. Unlike his own father, the Don was always kind to him, making sure he had money to take home and help his family. Jaime knew the Don loved him and would never let anything happen to him. He had also seen the Don angry. That is not the face he wanted to experience. No way. That’s why tonight had to go perfectly.
Jaime and the driver walked a short way along the road to where the three men stood. Another man lay at their feet, a very dead man with a hole in his forehead and a trickle of blood dripping down his face. Jaime looked at the shortest of the three men, Tony, and said nothing. “Pendejo!” Tony said crudely, and spat on the man’s body. “Jaime, get your car over here and let’s wrap this up. It’s friggin’ cold out here!”
The driver trotted back to the car. Midnight stars illuminated the black sky, emphasizing the sharpness of the winter night. Jaime shivered. “What’s the matter, kid?” Tony prodded. He was the right hand to the Don and always at big jobs. ”Cold? Or are you scared of the dark?” He snickered. “Or are you excited to get your anniversary present? You think you deserve anything? I am the one that should be getting it. I am the ONE!” He pounded his chest and the other two men laughed, breath freezing into little crystals hanging onto the night.
Jaime frowned. Asshole. Yeah, right.
The driver stopped the car and got out, popping the trunk lid in the process. The three men moved to an old Buick sedan and got in. Soon all that could be seen of them was a roiling vapor trail.
Jaime, clearly in charge, looked at the driver, “Well, what are you waiting for?”
The boys struggled to place the heavy body in the trunk. At first they tried laying it on its back, but the legs wouldn’t fit and one arm fell out. The head, wobbly and uncooperative, flopped this way and that, even after positioning it with the chin in the cleft of the collar bone. Tony had shown Jaime how to do that to make the body more compact. The man had messed in his shorts and the smell was putrid. Jaime wanted to gag, but that would be unforgivable. Show no weakness. You are a man, he told himself.
So they turned the body half onto its side. Still wouldn’t fit.
“Couldn’t you have found a car with a bigger trunk? Pendejo! What did you think, Clown? We were picking up a midget?” Jaime scowled at the driver who said nothing and they continued to pack the small space the best they could. Finally, with both boys sitting on the trunk lid, they heard the latch catch. Jaime heard a soft crack. Sorry, old man, he thought, but you won’t even notice it where you are going.
The boys got in the car. Slowly the driver pulled the car onto the road. Shovels rattled in the back seat. Now the heat was on; the gauntlet was down. Jaime learned about gauntlets in his literature class, a terrifying and often deadly Native American dare to achieve a valiant goal. In Jaime’s case, it meant finding a good place for disposal. Failing the obstacles would mean trouble and, worse, disappointing the Don. That could never happen!
They traveled carefully down the darkened road. Invisible farmland on either side of the highway gave a feeling of isolation. The only light visible, besides the stars, were the small towns along the way, but they were far apart. In a blink you were past them and back into the dark with only car beams to lead the way. That was why they chose this route. In the middle of a night like this nobody wanted to be out, let alone a cop. They were too busy trying to stay warm. Soon, small hills began to appear on the west side of the road. Tall windmills just past the hills slowly turned in perpetual breeze.
“Just a few more miles and we’ll be in Wyoming,” said the driver. “Do you know where we are going?”
“I’ll tell you when we get there,” Jaime replied and began to relax.
“Oh, shit!” the driver yelled. Jaime’s first thought was a deer on the road, a frequent hazard along this highway, especially at night.
“Oh, shit, shit, shit,” the driver screamed, and the realization set in. Red and white flashing lights flooded the car as a State Patrol car slid behind them.
“What did you do?” He screamed. The driver began to cry.
“Settle down. Cooperate,” Jaime told the driver. “Don’t give him any reason to search us. It’s just a random check.”
The officer walked cautiously to their car, his hand on his pistol. He knocked on the window and signaled for the driver to roll the window down.
“What are you boys doing out so late? Where are you going?”
“We’re traveling up to see our grandparents in Cheyenne, Sir. Did we do something wrong?” the driver stuttered. Jaime stayed still, barely able to breath.
“Let me see your driver’s license, registration and insurance. Who is that sitting next to you?”
“How old is he?”
“Do you have any alcohol in the car?” The officer asked, leaning closer to the window.
“Oh, no! Our father would kill us,” the driver replied.
“Any guns, knives?” the officer persisted.
“No, Sir, we are good boys. We don’t want any trouble.” answered the driver.
The officer pointed his flashlight into the backseat. Jaime could hardly breathe. His heart pounded.
“Why are there two shovels in the backseat? Where’s your luggage?”
“Uh, uh,” the driver stuttered.
“We’re going to help my grandma with her garden. Just for the night.” Jaime quickly inserted.
“Gardening in the middle of winter in Cheyenne, Wyoming? I’ll just bet. Did you boys know you have a taillight out? That’s why I pulled you over.”
A friggin’ taillight? Jaime couldn’t believe it.
The State Patrolman ordered. “Open the trunk!”
“Uh, the lock won’t work, Officer, the key is bent.”
“Get out of the car!” the officer yelled.
The driver opened the door and got out of the car. He moved to the trunk. Jaime did not turn around as tears began to form. He knew. No anniversary now.
“Open the trunk!” yelled the officer.
Slowly, the driver put the key in the lock. The trunk popped as it opened. No more anniversaries.
Jaime laid his head against the sterile stone of his cell. Alone and disavowed. Snow kissed the window.