Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

By: Drew White
“Take it.” My Brother says.
“I can’t, you take it.”
“Take it. Seriously, you deserve it more than I do.” My brother insists.
“No, it is actually you that deserves it. I really can’t take this. It’s too much.” I repeat, pushing it back to him.
“You spent years earning this, training hard, traveling the world. If I took it, I would feel as I’m cheating you.” His eyes peer into mine. “It was supposed to be yours to begin with.”

I lock my arms so he can’t give it back so easily. “You know, I have unfinished business, brother. I have a girlfriend. You should take it.”

“She is a whore, brother.” He says, his face looking grim. “And you know it.”

He stops pushing the vest at me and turns to look outside. “Besides, we have spent fourteen months here, working on this project, and I really think you are the one to have it.” He says smiling, but with a suspiciously weak one.

He holds the vest in his hands at chest level. My thoughts vacillate. It’s a great vest.

“I cannot.” I say, stepping back.

A part of me wants it. Wants it more than anything I have ever wanted in my life. Yet, I still cannot take it.

“Can you at least try it on?” I ask. “To see how it fits?”

There’s a sudden knock at the door. Our bodies freeze. We exchange a quick glance and peer toward our luggage.

“You get it.” He demands. “It’s probably your girlfriend.”

“What if it’s…?” I begin, but he interrupts me.
“It doesn’t matter now.” He places his left hand on my chest. “Answer the door brother. It’s probably innocent.”

I attempt to compose myself, expecting the worst but hoping for the best as I calmly stride toward the door, focusing on the gold handle in front of me. I reach for it and pause instinctively. I peer back and see the hesitancy in my brother’s eyes, yet the war-like demeanor in his body. I wonder if I will have his strength when it comes my time. Wondering, if that time’s today.

As I slowly push down on the hotel door lever, there’s a loud click that might alert someone as to our presence inside. Reluctantly exposed, I peer through the small area between the door, its frame, and the security chain holding them together.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

“Did you order fresh towels?” I hear in broken English.  From my lungs, a sigh escapes.

“No.” I hang my head slightly in relief. “We’re fine. Thank you.” And I shut the door.

There’s some ruffling in the background of the room as I see my partner turn around. “How does it look?” He asks, spinning around.

I take a moment to really give my opinion. “It looks wonderful brother. The vest fits you well.” A tinge of jealousy enters me. I want the vest, but something about these last few months have changed me, or maybe poisoned my thinking. It is supposed to be my vest.

“I have an idea.”
“And what is that?” I ask.
“Well, you have given me this gift; a gift which was yours, so I shall return one to you.” He zips the vest upward and grabs his overcoat.

I remember purchasing that coat. It was slightly cold on the second week we arrived in Washington. We exited the taxi, and I saw it in a window next to a gold watch. I had never seen a gold watch at that point. And the vest next to it was perfect. Pieces of a puzzle fitting together.

We exit the hotel room, nod at the doorman and walk to the corner of 15th and Rhode Island Ave.

“Slight change of plans.” Brother says, smirking now.
“You know we can’t change our plans.” I say, mustering a fake smile, trying to hide my nervousness.
“The word was ‘slight’ brother… Pay attention and come with me.” He says taking my left arm in a grip that makes the physical pain in my arm pale in comparison with the emotional doubt as to his immediate actions.

I glance at him, and in a fraction of a second, I can tell his demeanor, his affect, his eyes are full of something I have never recognized before. He looks angry. This should be a calming moment. A peaceful one. I don’t understand.

“Shouldn’t we hail a cab?” I ask. “Or do you want to walk?”
“Not yet.” He answers. “Our guest hasn’t arrived.”
His grip loosens as he turns his head left. “There she is. Right on time.” He whispers just loud enough to hear.

I also turn my head to the left to see Karen spot us. I see the exact moment she visually identifies us and begins to pick up her pace whilst portraying the most angelic look. A smile from ear-to-ear that I could only describe as intoxicating, however, I have no reference of which to speak.

“Hey Karen!” My brother steps in front of her as she tries to hug him. “Sorry, I think I have a cold and don’t want to get you sick.” He says as he refuses the hug. She pauses yet, still seems ecstatic to see us. “How are you?” He fake asks her as my heart drops.
“I am so glad you called me!” She screams, glancing at me. “And why didn’t you goober?” She points at me, and then pokes my chest. “Just kidding!” Her hands outstretched “Come here babe!” She grasps my face while kissing me on the lips. I am at a loss for words.

After releasing my face, she peers deeply into my eyes. This was not part of the plan.

“I wanted to surprise you Karen!” Brother interrupts. “I wanted you to see him before he left.” His voice drops near the last word.

“Left?” Karen asks. “Where are you going?” She turns her full attention to me. Karen is beautiful. Karen is kind. Karen is…

“Don’t mind that.” Brother takes her by the hand. “Right now, he’s not going anywhere. We have a great day planned, and I wanted you to join us.” He releases her as she takes my arm, holding it tight. She seems concerned, but instead places her head on my arm. I vaguely hear the whisper of her voice, yet I can’t discern what she said.

“Are we ready?” Brother asks his back turned toward us. “Taxi!” He yells, his arm pointed high at an already parked Yellow Cab. Karen’s head is buried in my shoulder, her dual grip wrapped around my arm, her fingers lovingly caressing my bicep.

“Here we are.” Brother says as he opens the back door for us. We walk toward it before he interjects. “Karen, if you wouldn’t mind. Can you sit in the front passenger seat? We have a little issue to discuss.”

Karen looks up at me, still holding my arm. I nod slightly, not knowing what else to do. Still peering up at me, I kiss her gently on the forehead and smile. She releases my arm and enters the front seat. Before I could move, he enters the nearest door, forcing me to walk around the car to the other side.

“Where would you like to go?” The cabbie asks.
“1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”
I lean toward my brother and whisper in his ear. “This isn’t the plan.”
“1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?” The cabbie repeats as he looks through his rear view mirror and gives me a nod. “Right down the street. Won’t be too long my friends.”
“This isn’t the plan.” I whisper again as the cabbie places the car in drive.
“Can I turn on the radio?” Karen asks the cabbie. “Of course sweetie.” He clicks it on. “Turn it to whatever you like.”
“And what was the plan?” Brother whispers back. “Did you follow it?”
“Of course, I did.” I seethe. “But it wasn’t this.”
“No, this is it. I just included your whore girlfriend.”
I look down and glimpse at the vest peeking beneath the black overcoat, both of which I purchased.
“We are here.” The cabbie claims. “No charge.”
Karen looks back at me from the front seat. “No charge?” She asks. “Why, no charge?”

“Yeah, why no charge?” Brother sarcastically asks me while staring out his window. He takes a breathe before continuing. “Why is it that after so much?” He pauses again, slowly turning his head to me. “You have reduced yourself to so little?” And he turns his head to Karen.

“Tell her…” The cabbie says to me. I can see his mouth through the rear view mirror. Karen swings her head back to me. “Tell me what babe?”

I leap out of the back door and sprint around the cab, hoping to get to her on the other side of the car before it was too late. Approaching the rear fender, the trunk clicks open, revealing the four hundred pounds of fertilizer mixed with ammonium nitrate and gasoline in the back. I start frantically pulling at the locked passenger door, while Karen begins to eye the cabbie nervously. He smiles at her.

“Karen!” I scream. I back up slightly, readying myself for a kick to her window in an attempt to free her. She was never supposed to be a part of this. She was never supposed to even exist. It just happened. If the money and supplies had come through three months before, I wouldn’t have even known her name. It would have been me wearing the vest… proudly.

Positioning my feet, I peer over the hood of the cab and see Brother standing on the street, quickly taking off his overcoat to reveal the vest I purchased; the vest we strapped twenty-four sticks of dynamite inside in an attempt to exact justice and enforce the laws of all laws.

I look back as Karen starts hysterically banging at the window of the cab with open palms. “Get back!” I shout. “I’m kicking it in!” I see the cabbie fumble with a familiar device under his seat, a smirk sliding across his face. I take two steps toward the window before gunshots begin ripping through the air. Taking cover against the car, my face toward the front passenger door, I hear screaming, then commands, then shouting, then utter insanity. I wasn’t supposed to hear this. This wasn’t the plan. It would be silence. Then, eternal silence.

“What is happening?” I hear Karen scream as she pounds on the other side of the cab door. I slide up it, palms forward, when I realize that our hands have met, separated by the tempered glass. She stops screaming when her eyes meet mine, but her incessant tears continue as our palms are in perfect placement against one another.

“I’m so sorry.” I mouth to her. “You weren’t supposed to be a part of this.”

Her eyes squint looking confused and wet when the cabbie raises his head and looks toward both of us, her in the front passenger seat, and myself just outside the window. With his right hand hidden under the seat, he uses his left hand to lift a cigarette to his lips, taking a deep drag. I peer over the hood of the car to see what I thought was once a religious brother laying, bleeding on the sidewalk, his hand still raised as high as possible, holding the trigger, a trigger I wired, as Secret Service surrounds him, guns pointing in every direction.

I crawl up and look back through the window of the cab, Karen soaked with tears, her palms sliding down the glass, her face swollen, the cabbie billowing smoke out of his mouth, windows rolled up, me on my knees, helicopters, sirens, police dogs barking, and suddenly, through the windows of the car, I can somehow see the cabbie and my former brother in religion place their thumbs above the red buttons on their respective small triggers when I realize when my eternal Hell will be if I don’t have the chance to tell Karen…

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