To call me a force would be an understatement. I can force you to do something, sure. I can force you into doing anything I want: giving up all of your cash so I don’t kick your ass, driving me to the train tracks so I can get away in someone’s truck, signing your name to a check you don’t want to hand over. My desires become your desires, and that’s a pretty strong force to have to reckon with. It’s the taking, though, that really sets me aside from everybody else. I can take anything from you, and everything. It isn’t meant to be personal on my end. It’s just the way things are.
I was resting on my side Saturday morning, openly exposed to the room and the people in it. The brothers’ living room was lit with one shadeless lamp plugged into an outlet beside the square, thick television in front of the dingy, magazine-cluttered table I was sitting on. The coughing in our little studio was as sure as the sunrise; every minute or two, Donald or Sam would take the Marlboro Red out of his mouth and cough phlegmy spittle into the air and onto the carpet. There were times I would watch the droplets of saliva, wondering whether their color resembled the clear phlegm of a young, healthy man like John, or something closer to the blackness of the ocean’s depths. I was certain they were black, but they always disappeared into the strands of black and blue carpet among the dust and crumbs before I had a chance to notice.
John’s Rubik’s Cube was lying next to me on the table. The blue side was finished, but the other five walls of the cube were left scrambled and confused, waiting to be pieced by together by John’s sure hands.
Rising from the couch in an apparent effort to make whatever it is he was about to say sound more than robust and justified, Donald placed his cigarette between his index and middle finger and cleared his throat by expelling a fountain of spittle onto the carpet.
“You guys are a couple of boring pussies, you know that?” said Donald.
I noticed Sam looked down at his shoelaces but they were tied tight just as they had been this morning. He coughed into his fist but didn’t look up. John, sitting closest to Donald, shifted his eyes from the silent television back to Donald, and then to Sam. He didn’t cough. He didn’t look at his laces either.
“All we ever do is sit in this shit hole of an apartment and stare at each other’s faces! We have a t.v and we don’t even watch it. We can’t even watch it! How the hell are we supposed to watch t.v if we can’t even afford to pay for cable, huh? We need cash.” said Donald.
John looked away from Sam and back towards his oldest brother. He smirked in a tentative kind of way, as if he knew what he wanted to say would be funny but, for only a short moment, he considered the consequences that could come with saying it. He didn’t think long enough.
“What about all the money you guys spend on butts?” he said.
Knowing Donald wouldn’t appreciate such a smart remark, I got nervous. My services had nothing to offer but one thing here and I hoped that it wouldn’t be thought necessary. To tell you the truth, my services are hardly ever necessary at all. They’re just really effective, I must say, which is, at least, part of the reason why I am so often sought after.
I felt Donald’s hand reach forward and stroke my back with appreciation, but, to my surprise, I was left motionless on the table. Wheezing between breaths, Donald let out a soft chuckle. Little white bits of spit formed in the corners of his mouth like a rabid dog. He was a tall man with a beard almost as long as he was. Teeth in his mouth seemed to have homes elsewhere because they were not where they were supposed to be. His unibrow curved in and out of an s-like pattern on his forehead while he laughed. He paused to take a breath. I could hear the mucus in his lungs expanding and contracting.
Walking over to John, Donald held both his arms at his side with his cigarette hanging from his lips. “Someday you’ll learn, Johnny-boy.”
Without any hesitation, the back of Donald’s hand came crashing down onto the boy’s cheek. The room was eerie then. The tobacco smoke hazed the air and nothing could be heard but Sam’s gasp and the echo of forceful fear. I’m just glad it wasn’t me causing the fear.
Donald looked over his crying brother. John was smaller and thinner than him. Years of experience and beer would have assisted him with this disparity. His mouth, though, was full of teeth and his eye brows were appropriate and apart. His face lacked hair but was full of youth and had a pink hand print stamped onto its cheek. His eyes glared and his lips twisted into a hate-filled knot
“What the hell did you do that for?! You can’t take a joke? All we do all day long is smoke butts! That is the only thing.
“Without me, both of you are nothing. You’d have no food, you’d have no water, you’d have no cigarettes,” he said, looking at Sam. “You’d have no place to sleep! You owe me your lives and you certainly owe me a shit ton of money. Both of you.”
Smiling, he stepped away from John, almost as if he could not be bothered by the results of his violence. He picked me up off the table, bringing me close to his chest before looking down my sights. The world always looks different with one eye closed and one eye open. It looked like it belonged to Donald as he looked down my back and through my metal sights to the end of the barrel. In that moment, it probably did. My rough Smith and Wesson handle complimented his coarse hands.
His fascination with me did not falter but his carefulness did. I felt myself being flipped and passed back and forth between rough hands, like a penny in the palms of a nervous person.
“I need money and you need me, right? Right. I’m gonna make a deal with you guys since you’re my brothers after all. Even you, Sam. You gutless little bitch,” said Donald.
Sam’s leg was bouncing up and down and it didn’t seem to consider stopping or slowing down. It was clear he had no control over it. After a pause, he opened his mouth to speak. His leg lifted off the ground even higher
“We’re in the same boat, Don. We don’t have no job or no skills. All we got is this room and each other.”
Donald cackled through his mucus again, this time louder, spewing phlegm all over Sam’s sweatshirt. We took a step away from John and closer to Sam until I was sure Sam’s nose was bombarded with the pungent breath of my toothless caretaker. Had teeth been present, Donald would have been pumping every word through their cracks with anger and disgust for his brother.
“You’re going to take your brother downtown with this, and you’re not gonna come back until I can sit here and watch football on my paid for cable network” He grabbed me by the barrel and put my butt in Sam’s palm. I felt more comfortable in his possession than Don’s but it wasn’t the most thrilling of exchanges. There wasn’t anything I could do to stop it.
Sam’s mouth said nothing but his eyes screamed. He stared at me in his hands. I’m sure his thoughts were considering the ethical implications of holding me. Our locked gaze made his face age five years with grief and worry but the grief and worry would not subside. It could only be suppressed for a brief moment.
Sam looked back up at his brother.
“You really want me to take your gun?” he said. “I’ve never even shot one of these at a target before.
The drive into downtown was quiet. Neither Sam nor John had anything to say to one another. The steering wheel turned left and right and all the while, Sam maintained perfect driving posture without taking his gaze away from the road. His hands were placed nine inches apart from one another, gripping the leather. Cigarette smoke trailed out the cracked window whenever he exhaled. John was in the passenger seat holding me firmly in his right hand below the view of the dashboard so no one on the sidewalk could see what he was holding. He looked at me with the firmness and desire his brother wore when he hit him, while his left hand softly rubbed his still throbbing, pink cheek. He never once looked out the window.
The three of us parked across the street from an ATM that felt as if it had been designed for the precise reason we were there. None of us were members of Brooklyn Credit Union, but the people that were came for the most obvious of reasons: money.
Sam stared through the windshield at an assortment of passerby, but none of them seemed headed for the direction of the money machine. It was like the people on the street knew I was there and knew better than to bother trying.
An older woman crossed the busy street from our side of the road to the side with the ATM.
“Where do you think she got that necklace? Tiffany’s?” asked John.
“I don’t know but it wasn’t cheap. Give me that,” said Sam.
“You’re not going to use it are you? Just get the money and get out.”
Sam took me out of John’s hand. He had to use more force to pull me away than he thought he would, but his mind was elsewhere. Sam placed me inside his coat pocket and crossed the road after the woman with haste. The heat of excitement caused his wheezing to sound like his brother’s.
The woman was much older than Donald. She stooped down low and close to the ATM so she could read the small font of the prompts. Her hair was gray and split and the back of her neck was wrinkled and scattered with a variety of growths and moles. One of them was so large it even entered my barrel within moments of Sam freeing me from inside his coat. She jolted upright, startled. Her flesh was hot against my chilly exterior.
“Listen, lady, I don’t want any trouble and neither do you. I’m just in a tough spot. I really need you to hit your pin and give me as much as you can so I can get out of here.
In a panic the old woman pleaded with Sam to let her go. She couldn’t go anywhere, though, as long as my barrel was pointed at the top of her spine. She knew she was stuck. She stooped lower to punch in her security code, perhaps to separate herself from me.
Sam’s face twisted into an array of emotions.
“Hurry up, lady! We don’t have all day!”
“I’m trying as fast as I can,” she whimpered.
Her feeble fingers reached for the last digit. She had pressed the final key, but the blare of sirens could be heard coming closer from a distance. Had someone seen Sam’s extended arm and me in his grasp?
Following two small explosions that ended as soon as they began, I felt my body grow lighter. I could hear John yelling at Sam from the car.
“Get over here! We need to move. NOW!”
The woman fell forward into the key pad of the ATM and slumped away from me to the ground with blood pooling onto the concrete below and crisp twenty dollar bills fluttering down to her body. She had withdrawn everything for us. Every last dime she had.
Sam’s eyes fell to the money raining out of the blood-stained machine and back to the body. The blood was dripping off the blue “N’’ of the Brooklyn Credit Union sign onto his white New Balance tennis shoes. We had just killed her. Both of us. I had never considered what it would be like to actually kill someone. I suppose Sam hadn’t either. It wasn’t what I expected. It was instant without any transition. One moment, her body was swaying with life. The next, it was limp and motionless on the floor. His eyes began to swell and his lip quivered with madness and fear.
Shaking, Sam filled his pockets with as many bills as he could and sprinted towards the car with me still in his hand while the sirens drew closer to the bank. The engine roared to life as John turned the key from his seat in the passenger side. With a jolt forward, we sped off towards the apartment.
“What the hell was that, Sam? You killed that woman! She’s dead! We’re going to go to jail. Real jail.” John’s panic creaked through his voice.
“I didn’t mean to kill her! I got scared. The cops were coming. The gun went off,” he stammered.
Indeed, I did kill the woman but I didn’t pull the trigger. Sam did that. He took my agency and I took a life.
“This never would have happened if it wasn’t for Don. We can’t keep living like this, man,” said John. “I’m sick of this place. I’m sick of this life.”
The car pulled up to the curb near our building. Sam emptied his pockets into the glove compartment. His wallet, all of the twenties he managed to grab from the floor of the atm, a pack of Orbit.
Sam’s face was void of all expression, aside from his swollen eyes. Before we exited the car, he handed me to John. He gripped me firmly, opened my magazine, and made sure I had ammunition. The hairs on his arms were sticking straight to the air. I had never seen a man so sure of anything in his life. He wore certainty on his face like a mask. It was there and it was clear.
Sam stayed still in the driver’s side, silently watching us as we shut the car door and headed for the apartment. John tucked me into the back of his waistband, listening for sirens in any direction. This world was his for the taking.