I feel bad so this must be a confession, except it’s not about me. It’s about Steve and his son. Steve and I went to school together. To the other kids, he was known as the boy whose dad was in prison. We never talked about his dad’s absence. Unrequited curiosity was a small price to pay for the friendship.
We went in different directions as adults without ever losing touch. Steve married, had a child they named Vincent, and became the manager of a grocery store, all before he was thirty years old. Meanwhile, I chased Chicago theater dreams and never really grew up. What I lacked in material success, I made up for with commitment. The bedroom in my apartment in Rogers Park was so stuffed with costumes and props I had to sleep on the sofa.
Steve’s son Vincent was a chip off his grandfather’s old block. The boy was always wild, but I didn’t know what I was seeing on my visits to their house when he was little. Steve told me once, “I’ve known how he was going to end up since he was four years old.” I thought he was kidding at the time, but then the years went by and the evidence began to speak for itself. Vincent went from vandalism to shoplifting to the family tradition of armed robbery by the time he was eighteen.
You could say he graduated last month. That was when shots rang out and a body fell down dead in the South Loop. Vincent made off with a black bag full of uncut gems, but not before a witness saw him at the scene. Vincent had enough bullets left over for her, but he didn’t have enough heart.
He ran straight to the grocery store in Portage Park where Steve worked. Knowing Steve, he behaved as he thought a father should. He listened to the boy without anger or judgment.
“I can’t do prison, Dad,” Vincent told him at the end.
Steve said he knew that. In that way, the boy was built like his grandfather. Hard time would have driven Vincent to suicide. Something had to be done about the witness if Steve was going to save him. It was either the life of his son or the life of some stranger he never met. No choice at all.
Steve tried to take Vincent’s gun away but Vincent wouldn’t give it up. He was too scared to be without it.
Steve left him in the storage room of the grocery store and drove his truck to where the shooting occurred. Sure enough, there was a CPD patrol car parked in the front of the witness’s basement apartment. Steve didn’t have to think long about what he needed to do next. He went looking for me.
I hadn’t heard the news about Vincent. I never paid attention to the news. It was always depressing so why bother?
I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend on a weekday.
“Hey, what are you doing here?” I said. “Playing hooky?”
Steve shook his head and my smile fell away. When we were young, Steve would get this expression on his face whenever the subject of his dad came up. He had the same expression now.
“What do you need?” I said.
He left my apartment wearing a Chicago policeman’s uniform we used for a production of Windy City Blue, a silver star with the rank of Officer on his chest and everything. The gun in the holster was a prop, of course.
He left at two o’clock. I estimate forty-five minutes for the commute so he must have spent another hour working up the nerve.
It was close to four when he talked to the cops in the patrol car as if he was one of them. They didn’t think twice as he went to check on the witness. She let him inside and he strangled her to death in her kitchen.
He went out the back way. His regular clothes were still at my place, but Steve wanted to tell his son the news first…
I think of Vincent, out of his mind with worry, a gun in his hand. He saw a cop coming through the door at him and he fired. The first bullet blew out his father’s spine, just above the belt. The other one caught him in the throat.
Eventually, Vincent must have looked beyond the uniform at the man who was wearing it. He had one bullet left in the gun.
Yesterday, the police had me identify the bloody shirt as my property. I thought I’d get treated like a criminal but the cops seemed glad to talk to somebody. Why not? All the other people involved were dead.
About the author:
Regan MacArthur is the author of a son and a daughter. They live in the Chicagoland area. His criminal background is mostly imaginary. Mostly.
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.