We eat your words

SHORT STORIES: Switching Gears by Charles Joseph

"...Jimmy wondered if he had the guts to do what he told Sal he could do back in Jersey City."

They pulled up in front of Franklin’s Hardware a little after midnight. But the lights in the apartment above it where the old man lived were still on. So Sal popped his Camaro into reverse and backed into a dark spot between lampposts. Once he killed the engine and headlights, Jimmy wondered if he had the guts to do what he told Sal he could do back in Jersey City. But Jimmy didn’t want to let on that he was having second thoughts. So he cracked the passenger side window for a bit of fresh air to help calm his nerves, and kept to himself, while Sal smashed the last few squares of a Hershey Bar into his mouth.

“Man, I love this stuff,” Sal said. “Fuckin’ chocolate is king right?”

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“Yeah sure, I guess so,” Jimmy said. “It’s alright.”

“It’s alright. That’s it? What’s up with you? Why so quiet all of a sudden?” Sal said. “You know somethin’, you better be right about this, kid.”

“I am man, I am,” Jimmy said. “Trust me, like I told you, the old man’s got like fifty grand socked away in that little safe in his office. All we gotta do is wait a bit after he turns off the lights, and I’ll sneak around back, crawl in the basement window, and let you in, so you can help me lug it out.”

“Oh yeah?” Sal said. “Well, what if it’s bolted to the floor?”

“It ain’t bolted to the floor, Sal,” Jimmy said. “C’mon man, what’s with you, I told you that already.”

“Oh yeah,” Sal said. “Well what happens if the old fuck wakes up? Then what?”

“I don’t know man,” Jimmy said. “Then I guess we just grab the safe and run.”

“Nope, no way, kid. That ain’t gonna work,” Sal said, and he tugged a .38 out of his jacket pocket. “I didn’t drive your junky ass all the way to bumble-fuck Pennsylvania to get locked up. If that old fuck wakes up, he’s dead.”

“What! Hey man, ease up alright,” Jimmy said. “Look man, robbing him is one thing, but I don’t want him endin’ up dead because of me. So you better leave that thing in the car, or I ain’t doin this.”

“Jesus, Jimmy. That shit you’re all hopped up on sure does make you shortsighted. Don’t it?” Sal said, and he cocked the hammer on his .38 and pointed it at Jimmy’s face. “I mean, here I am holding a gun, and there you are thinking you’re running the show.”

“Whatever man, go ahead, shoot,” Jimmy said, and he tapped the tip of his right index finger between his eyes. “C’mon Sal, do it! Put one right here and put me out of my misery, ’cause I’m tired of dealing with bullshit like this.”

“Nah, Jimmy, relax yourself, I ain’t gonna shoot you,” Sal said, and he disengaged the hammer on his gun and rested it on his thigh. “But you know something, kid? When all of this is over and we get back to Jersey City, once I hand you your end you better disappear. ‘Cause I hate junkie scumbags like you, and if I ever see you again I’m gonna pop a few fresh holes in your skull.”

“Sure, Sal, sure, whatever you want man, I got it,” Jimmy said. “You don’t like me, I don’t like you, but right now, we’re stuck with each other. So let’s just make the best of it. Alright?”

“Yeah ok, I can do that,” Sal said, and he looked up at the apartment above the store. “Ok kid, enough small talk, the lights are out.”

“Alright, cool. Well, let’s wait a little while to give him enough time to fall asleep, and then I’ll head in,” Jimmy said. “Just make sure you leave that thing in the car.”

“Yeah sure, no problem, whatever you say, kid,” Sal said, and he looked at Jimmy and wondered if he had the guts to do what he told him he could do back in Jersey City.

***

Now, Jimmy didn’t know Sal that well, so he wasn’t sure if his tough guy routine was fact or fiction. But each time he looked at Sal’s .38 it seemed glued to his hand, so it was obvious that regardless of how many times he told him to leave it in the car there was no way he was going in there without it. And if he’d known that Sal was planning to bring a gun along with him he would have never teamed up with him at all, because the risk of putting the old man in danger would have seemed much greater than the reward. But once Sal pulled out his .38, it was too late for Jimmy to just back out, because the old man and the money were still inside, and Sal didn’t seem like the type of guy who would leave a score like that alone. So at first, Jimmy didn’t think he had much of a choice other than to appear as calm and cool as he could, and hope to god that their snatch and grab worked out exactly how he’d planned it. Because if by chance they woke the old man up while they were inside, and he decided to walk downstairs to check things out, Jimmy couldn’t deny that there was a good chance that Sal would shoot the old man and leave him there to bleed out all over the floor.

But Jimmy didn’t want the old man to end up dead, he just wanted to rip him off and use his half of whatever they hauled out in the safe to clean up his act and start a new life for himself, someplace warm like Florida or California. So before it was too late, Jimmy glanced at Sal’s .38 and he thought about trying to steal it away from him. But Sal’s finger was wrapped around the trigger. So Jimmy was stuck. Time was running out. And after a lifetime of mistakes, it seemed like he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life. But even though Jimmy was torn between sides, he knew a way to keep the old man alive, so instead of just going along for the ride, he decided that as soon as the time was right, he’d switch gears, and leave Sal and his .38 behind.

Then Sal poked Jimmy with his .38, and Jimmy fought the urge to grab it.

“Ok kid, look alive, time to go,” Sal said, and he poked him again. “C’mon, let’s get in there and get this over with, chop, chop.”

“Yeah alright, take it easy man, I’m goin’,” Jimmy said. “Just do me a favor and be quiet in there. Alright? I don’t want any accidents.”

“No problem kid, me either, just relax, it’ll be fine. I’ll meet you out front in five.”

“That’ll work,” Jimmy said. “But you know somethin’ Sal, before I head in, there is one thing I’m curious about, if you don’t mind me askin.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“Well, what’s to stop you from killin’ us both and takin’ it all for yourself?”

“Nothin’,” Sal said. “But as much as I’d hate to see you dump your end into one of those pin cushions you call arms, as far as I’m concerned a deal’s a deal. I just brought this ratchet along to keep you honest and make sure we don’t leave any loose ends behind.”

“Loose ends huh?” Jimmy said. “So the old man’s dead either way?”

“I didn’t say that Jimmy, you did. But if I see that old fuck while we’re in there, I ain’t making any promises.”

“Alright, fair enough. Good to know,” Jimmy said, and he opened the passenger side door and stepped out of Sal’s Camaro at peace with what he was about to do.

At first, Jimmy walked. Then he ran. He ran all the way down the alley beside the old man’s store to the basement window, kicked it in, and slithered into it on his belly like a snake. He slithered into it like he’d done so many times before when he’d fooled the old man into believing that his teenage son was sound asleep in his bed. But this time he made enough noise to wake the old man up and help him find his shotgun, and enough shells to ward off the danger waiting for him below at the front door of his store. Because Jimmy didn’t want the old man to end up dead, he just wanted to rip him off and use his half of whatever they hauled out in the safe to clean up his act and start a new life for himself, someplace warm like Florida or California. Jimmy didn’t want the old man to end up dead, he just wanted to rip him off and use his half of whatever they hauled out in the safe to clean up his act and start a new life for himself, someplace warm like Florida or California.

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