After Tommy took the PCP, KT told him to calm down three times; each time, she made a point of standing closer and closer to the shotgun, the first, moving across the room near it, the second, with her hand on the barrel, and finally, holding it, pointed dead at his gut. Each time, he laughed and called her a name her mother would’ve killed him for, but she hardly blinked. Finally, after the fourth time of him pushing her down, rubbing her face in the carpet so her skin was seared red from the burn, she waited till he went outside to piss on his car tires, let him sit back on the couch, and asked as calmly as she could muster, if he was going to calm down.
“Fuck you, bitch,” he mumbled.
So she shot him with birdshot. She tried to step back but didn’t want to go back so far it dispersed beyond that hard gut of his. He looked down at his gut, dotted with red marks like a garden of red flowers, KT couldn’t help thinking (she was a little stoned herself) and just shook his head.
“Damn,” he said, more laughing than surprised.
“Well I’m sorry,” she said. “But I told you.” She set her jaw and gave him angry eyes.
“You can’t go shooting a man in his own house,” he said.
“I know,” she said. “But you brought it on yourself.”
He shook his head again and tried to rise to his feet. She put the gun down (well away from him) and helped him up and then helped him over to the phone. It took him a second to dial.
“My bitch wife just shot me,” he said. She punched him in the arm. “Well hell, you did. Y’all need to send a ambulance pronto.” He handed it to her to give directions and went back to the couch.
KT put her hand over the receiver. “Don’t go to sleep, Tommy,” she said. She nudged him with her foot.
“Well hell, let’s play cards till they get here,” he said. She hung up and dealt out two decks. “You always cheat,” Tommy grumbled.
“No,” KT said with a smile. “You just don’t know how to play worth a shit.”
The kids got back from school to find the house empty. There was a note from KT that said she’d be out on bail in the morning, so they made themselves cereal and watched TV like usual until Joey went to his job at Pizza Hut. Chyna usually slept until he got home, and then went on her paper route, but this night Joey came in late, red-faced, holding up a ticket.
“Tags,” he said. “Almost took the car.”
She read over the ticket, which told her nothing useful, while Joey related the story of how he’d passed a cop on the way home, turned off on a side road when the cruiser appeared behind him, but was ultimately pulled over.
“Cop wanted to impound the K‑car,” he said. “Cause we got no tags or insurance, but I convinced him to let me take it home.”
“Good job,” Chyna said, which made Joey smile.
“What are we going to do? Ticket’s going to cost $400 plus we got to get tags and insurance,” Joey said.
Chyna thought about it. “We’ve got to ask mom, I guess.”
KT came home the next morning and found the kids waiting for her. She didn’t think to ask why they weren’t at school, and they didn’t tell her.
“Where’s Tommy?” Joey asked.
“Hospital.” KT explained the events of the day before while Chyna scrambled eggs for everyone. “They let me out, even though I’m a felon with possession of a firearm. They tried to get me on attempted manslaughter. If I wanted to slaughter somebody, he’d be slaughtered.”
“Why’d they let you out?” Chyna served the eggs on mismatched plates. She gave the Christmas one to Joey since it was his favorite.
“Cause I agreed to do a little something for the City Prosecutor,” KT said as Chyna sat the only actual porcelain plate they had in front of her.
KT celebrated her freedom so hard that by the afternoon, she was in bed sleeping it off, which set Chyna in a fury.
“She gets lonely when Tommy’s gone,” Joey said, by way of apologizing for his mother.
“Hell, he’s got it better than we do. He’s getting that good hospital food, got a comfy bed,” Chyna said. “Probably on morphine, knowing him.”
“We can’t pay the ticket,” Joey said.
“I know,” Chyna said.
They sat on the couch listening to their mother snore in the other room.
“We have to go,” Chyna said. She rocketed to her feet.
“They’ll know we’re not her,” Tommy said.
Chyna shrugged. “Who gives a shit?” She went back into the bedroom and shook KT until she regained something approaching consciousness.
“Where’s the meet?” Chyna asked. “Mom! Where’s the meet?” KT mumbled something incomprehensible. Joey brought in a cup of water and offered it to Chyna. They exchanged shrugs and dumped it on KT. She sputtered and woke mumbling curses.
“Where’s the meet?” Chyna asked.
“I just need a minute,” KT said.
“That’s okay, but where is it?” Chyna asked.
“House on Levesque. Package.” She gave the address only after Chyna shook her fiercely.
“Then what?” Chyna put her ear to KT’s mouth as the woman mumbled something. She went to KT’s purse and pulled out an envelope.
They pulled up to the house twenty minutes later. Chyna ran up to the door and knocked while Joey stayed in the running car.
“You’re an hour late,” a voice said from behind the cracked door.
“Sorry. Traffic,” Chyna said.
“Traffic? Shit,” the man said. “You got it for me?”
Chyna gave him the bulky envelope from KT’s purse. “What’s this?” The man examined it suspiciously.
“Fuck if I know,” Chyna said. “Give it up or I take it back.” She put her hand on the envelope and the man snatched it inside. The door slammed. She heard the sounds of him tearing the envelope open and then nothing. She banged on the door. “Come on!” It jerked open and another envelope slid out.
“You tell him it was a pleasure doing business,” the man said. Chyna put her hand on the envelope and he snatched it back inside. She reared back and kicked the door hard so that it slammed into him. He yelped in pain, and she grabbed the new envelope and glared at him as he held his head.
“Likewise, I’m sure,” she said.
Back in the car, Chyna handed the envelope to Joey, who had it open before she could say word one.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Pictures.” He showed her. “That’s two guys,” he said.
There were several pictures and a roll of negatives. There were doubles of some of the pictures.
“Blackmail,” Joey said.
“Good plan,” Chyna said.
The drop off spot wasn’t far. They passed a police car on the way.
“I think that’s the same one,” Joey said, turning to watch it as they passed. “What’ll we do if he gets us?”
“Give him a picture,” Chyna said.
She pulled over at another house on the way to the drop off.
“How we going to remember this one?” she said as she maneuvered beside the mailbox.
Joey looked around. The house looked like all the others except there was a bush under the window that sort of looked like a heart. “Love bush,” Joey said, pointing. He rolled down his window and opened the mailbox and stuck some of the pictures inside.
The drop off was at another house.
“I want to go this time,” Joey said.
“What if you get shot?” Chyna asked.
“It’s not shooting I’m worried about him doing to me.”
Chyna laughed. “Suit yourself.” She turned the car off. They went up and knocked. A man opened the door. He looked tired, worried, unshaven, which wasn’t unusual for the kids to see, but it seemed unusual on him. He ushered them inside and then stared out the peephole.
“You couldn’t park on the street?” He asked.
“People like us get towed if we park on the street in neighborhoods like this,” Chyna said.
He looked at her. “Young,” he said. “What’s your name?” She told him and he laughed. “Honey, you were doomed. What was your momma thinking?”
“I figure she was thinking of someplace far away from here,” Chyna said.
He nodded thoughtfully. “So where is it?” Chyna handed him the package. “You didn’t look inside it, did you?” He glanced in it and then studied both of them.
“No sir,” they both said.
“Well, as I understand it, your compensation has been taken care of already.” He paused as Joey cleared his throat and held up the ticket. “What’s this?”
“I need my car,” Joey said. “Can’t get to work without it.”
“So pay the ticket.” The prosecutor’s mouth curled into a sneer.
“Can’t,” Joey said.
The prosecutor shook his head.
“Sir,” Chyna said. “We don’t mean to impose on your hospitality, but I believe you are a good man, a man who knows what it’s like to be judged and treated unfairly. We just need help so that we can help ourselves. That’s all we’re asking. Not a handout.”
“I’m not a policeman. This is beyond my jurisdiction.”
“Nice guy like you, I bet you have a lot of friends,” Chyna said, smiling.
Afterwards, they went to three mailboxes before they found the right one.
“Hell, he didn’t even search us,” Joey said.
“Bet it was his first time,” Chyna said.
“With a girl,” Joey said, laughing.
Chyna stuck the pictures down between the seats of the car.
“What are we going to do with them?”
“Keep them,” Chyna said. “Just in case.”
“In case what? Couldn’t we get some money for them or something?”
“I don’t know,” Chyna said. “Thing about money is it comes and goes. Come on, let’s stop at Sonic and get some food while we think about it.”
“Really?” Joey’s eyes lit up like the child he used to be. It made Chyna smile. The future was bright and full of tater tots.
CL Bledsoe is the author of the young adult novel Sunlight; three poetry collections, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing.com/bledsoe. Another, The Man Who Killed Himself in My Bathroom, is available at http://tenpagespress.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/the-man-who-killed-himself-in-my-bathroom-by-cl-bledsoe/. His story, "Leaving the Garden," was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South's Million Writer's Award. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 5 times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings, http://clbledsoe.blogspot.com Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.