Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction


Never Again is one of a series of humorous stories about Jimmy Bertucci, a part-time college student/full-time con man.

Jimmy is interested in only two thing: money and women!

Although not necessarily in that order!



 

Never Again

The blue light rotated hypnotically and alternate shades of dark and light skittered across Jim’s face.  I squirmed deeper into the leather passenger seat of his yellow Camaro, then briskly rubbed my thin face with both hands.  I glanced into the passenger side-view mirror, but all I saw reflected there was the velvety night and superimposed white lettering that read, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”

Fingers nervously drumming on my door’s instrument panel, I accidentally depressed a square, raised button. Somewhere deep inside the door, a mechanism groaned and my window descended three inches.  The sounds of rubber on wet pavement invaded the interior of the car — along with something else — a sickly sweet smell that caused the lining of my stomach to ripple.  Nearby, hidden in the darkness that surrounded Archer Road, the Argo Starch factory churned out its wares.  My finger again found the raised button, shutting out the sounds of the night, but locking in the syrupy stench.

“What’s going on,” I said, my voice a confessional box whisper.  “We weren’t speeding.”

Jim stretched out a pasty, pudgy hand and adjusted the rear-view mirror.  Tiny black hairs dotted each of his digits and, in the ghostly, alternating light, seemed to wriggle like insects trying to burrow under his skin.

“Well,” he said.  “While we’re waiting for him to run priors on me — and it could take a while — I should probably tell you that my state sticker’s expired and I never bought one from the city.  But, what I‘m really hoping. . .”  he leaned close to me and I could smell his Old Spice aftershave,  “. . . is that once he gets back here, he doesn’t ask me to open the trunk.”

My spine stiffened and ever so slowly I rotated my head in Jim’s direction.  My voice seemed to come from someplace far away.

“What the hell does that mean?”

Jim smiled, and a dimple appeared in his left cheek.  I cringed.  I had seen his dimple many times in college bars around the city.  It appeared whenever he told half truths to squeamish co-eds to convince them he was worth spending a night with.

“Nothing to be worried about, Ricky,” he said, and then he laughed.  “Really, the stuff in the trunk is nowhere near as bad as what’s hidden in the back seat.”

Oh my God — what had I gotten into?  Involuntarily, my head swiveled and my eyes scanned the back of his car.  Newspapers, school books, old clothes, a torn McDonald’s bag, a hub cap – and somewhere buried beneath it all . . .

“Besides,” he continued as if we were having a normal conversation about the weather, “if anything happens tonight, if we get arrested, it’s all your fault.”

“What?” I said, my voice rising until I realized shouting wouldn’t do us any good — not with an officer of the law sitting ten feet behind us in his patrol car.  I lowered my voice until it sounded like shoes scraping on gravel.

“What are you talking about?”

“Sometimes, Ricky, you’re such a whiney little baby.”  His voice raised to a falsetto, he pretended to be me. “Jimmy, it’s your turn to drive.  Jimmy, we’re gonna be late for the party.”

I hissed at him, “Jimmy, we’re gonna be someone’s girlfriends in the lockup.”

He turned his round, pasty white face towards me,   “Listen, smart boy, all that whining and rushing you did earlier didn’t give me any time to do a better job hiding the marijuana in the trunk  — or to get the loaded guns out of the back seat.”

“Marijuana!  Guns! — Jim, what the hell?”

Jim raised an index finger to his lips, and then pointed at the rear-view mirror.

“He’s finally got his fat butt outta his car,” he said.  “And he’s comin’ to the window.  We might still get outta this.  I know how to handle cops.  Watch and learn, Ricky — master at work. ”

I folded my arms and pressed them against my chest.  What in the world was my mom gonna say when I called her from jail and asked her for bail money and KY?

A pair of mirrored sun glasses and a crisply pressed navy shirt appeared in the driver’s side window.

“Mr. Bertucci,” said a deep authoritative voice, “We got a little problem here.  You’ve got a tail light out and your plate sticker’s expired.”

“No kiddin’ officer?” said Jim, his voice like slick oil. “You know I bought that sticker and been waiting for it to come in the mail.  Just asked the mailman about it this morning”

I squirmed deeper into my seat.

“Mr. Bertucci,” said the deep voice.  “It’s been expired for almost a year.”

I closed my eyes and willed myself to become invisible.

“You know, Officer,” said Jim, “I remember now that I’ve got a couple of fifty dollar bills in my pocket.  One to buy a new sticker and the other . . .”

It was like watching a car crash in slow motion, but I couldn‘t avert my eyes.  Jim’s hand moved toward his pants’ pocket.  His stomach hung several inches over his trousers, so he  wriggled his fingers around it to extract his wallet.  It was navy Velcro and it made a loud ripping sound as he opened it. Then his thumb and index finger reached inside and extracted two crisp bills. In the rotating light, I could clearly see the portrait of Grant on each of them — and I swear ol’ Ulysses had a smirk on his face.

The sunglasses bent closer to the window — and the authoritative voice deepened.

“Put your wallet back in your pocket, Mr. Bertucci, and step out of the car. Now!”

Jim’s eyes widened, and his hand quivered as he returned the wallet to its snug abode. The driver’s side door swung noiselessly open.  Jim glanced at me, mouthed “do something,” and then he stepped into the darkness, closing the door behind him.

Do something!  Like what? Press a button and beam us outta here?  Make a break toward the starch factory and hope the officer would pass out from the fumes as he chased me from silo to silo?  OhGodohGodohGod!  Why did I ever let Jim drive? Why did I ever do anything with him?  Never again!

The police officer ordered Jim to spread his legs and press his face and palms against the rear, driver’s side window.  Mouth squished against the glass, Jim contorted his lips and again pleaded, “do something.”

“Officer,” I squeaked, and the mirrored face reappeared in the driver’s side window.  A flashlight raised and a white shaft of light streaked directly through my irises and exploded against my retinas – momentarily blinding me.  I closed my eyes in the hope of clearing my vision — and then there was a loud rapping on my side of the car.

“Outta the vehicle,” said a stern voice.

Blinking, I attempted to clear the after-images dancing in my skull.

“Didn’t ya hear me — step outta the vehicle,” repeated the voice, and this time it was annoyed.

Still half-blinded, I stumbled out of the Camaro.  A soft drizzle pattered against the car, and my gym shoes slipped on the rain moistened blacktop.

“So,” said the officer as he clamped a hand on my shoulder to steady me. “You boys drinking, too?  If you are, you’re in a heap o’ trouble.  Let me smell your breath.”

The officer’s face leaned close to mine, then stopped. “Hey,” he said.  “I know you.”

I blinked my eyes rapidly and regained enough vision to read the officer’s name tag.

Officer Robert Parnesi.

 “Didn’t you go to Kennedy High School?”  he said.

I nodded my head.

“Shoot, it is you.  You’re, Ricky, that nerdy, smart kid.  You were a freshman in my senior social studies class. We used to make fun of you.  Still kinda clumsy, I see.”

Oh, great, I thought.  One of the high school bullies who’d made my life hell.  Grown up to be a cop.  Just great  —  and I’d thought things couldn’t get any worse.

Officer Parnesi reached both arms toward me — then, took my hand in both of his and shook it vigorously.

“I want to thank you,” he said.

What?

“You let me copy some papers, got me a good grade.  If it wasn’t for you, I never woulda graduated high school and gone to the police academy.”

He leaned closer and sniffed.  “No booze,” he said.  “Good.”

His eyes focused on Jim, who was still spreadeagled on the other side of the car.

“Tell him to buy those stickers first thing tomorrow.”

From the side of the road, I watched him return to his squad car.  The rotating light stopped.  Waving once, Officer Parnesi drove away.

I stood silently for a minute in the soft rain.  Funny thing — I didn’t remember ever helping him.

On Jim’s side of the car, I held my hand, palm up, toward him.

“Keys,” I said.

He squinted at me, then his cheek dimpled. “Good idea,” he said.  

Sprinting to the back of the car, he opened the trunk and rummaged around for a couple of minutes.  Then, he slammed the trunk, tossed me the keys, and scurried into the passenger seat.

“That was easy,” I said as I maneuvered behind the wheel of his car.  “I thought you were gonna argue with. . .”

I stopped mid-sentence.  In one hand, Jim held a lighter.  In the other, pinched between thumb and index finger, was a Fidel Castro cigar-sized joint.

“Step on it, Ricky,” he said.  “That stupid cop’s made us late for the party.



If you liked this story, you can find more of them in my short story collection, The Sound of Midnight Fire, available on Amazon.com.