Looking up from the gas pump nozzle, Vincent was greeted by a plummeting red boxing glove to the face.
Vincent stumbled from the strike and fell against his ’87 yellow Trans-Am. “My nose!”
The attacker danced back and forth, concealing his identity behind the big, red boxing gloves. Occasionally, he’d punch the air, exhaling with every strike. “Said ‘howdie!'” he puffed.
Blood streamed from Vincent’s mangled nose as he staggered to his feet. “Who are you, man? You want somethin’ from me?” He wiped the blood on the collar of his blue and green Hawaiian shirt.
The boxing freak answered him with an uppercut under Vincent’s chin. “Hey, hey, purdy boy!” he taunted. “I gots somethin’ to tell ya!” He brought his guard down and, with both fists, slammed Vincent up against his car by his shoulders.
Vincent was face-to-face with a burly old man. The old man’s well-aged face was flushed with exhaustion and vengeance. His prominent cheekbones ran parallel to his square jaw which was held in a taut grimace of anger. A few wispy white hairs formed what looked like half a halo on the back of his bald head and connected to a pair of white sideburns that streaked down the side of his face like lightning bolts. He wore a simple, neatly-pressed black suit coat that was buttoned up to the base of his thick neck. Over the collar of his coat a ruffled, grayish-white scarf protruded like a storm cloud that seemed to keep his thunderbolt of a head from falling onto his broad shoulders. He looked like somebody straight out of an 18th-century English Parliament meeting, except for the boxing gloves.
“I ain’t got all day, so you’da best be listenin’ to me or I’ll smash yer gonies so hard that yer nex’ chiddens they be born done dead, purty boy,” spat the man. His bloodshot eyes seemed to penetrate Vincent’s soul.
“Okay, dude, just settle down,” Vincent tried to reason as blood from his broken nose trickled into the corners of his mouth.
The old man shoved him harder into the side of the car. “Shuddup! Listen!”
“I’m listening, Gramps!” snapped Vincent.
There was a long beeeeeeeeep from the gas pump and the final price blinked on the screen. $18.48. The smell of gasoline lingered in the air.
“Oh!” said the attacker, suddenly. His eyes widened and he stepped back from Vincent. “My time is up!” He whirled around and struck the gas pump as hard as he could.
Vincent slid around the side of his car, trying to sneak into the driver side door and floor it out of the Mobil Mart.
The boxer spun around and extended his right arm toward Vincent like he was pointing a gnarly finger at the young man under his glove. “I come backta git you, lil’ scum bucket. Just wait yerself an’ I come back again one way ‘er ‘nother, ya hear me, purty boy?” He grinned and slammed the back of his other fist into the gas pump, causing it to beep again. Then he vanished into thin air like an apparition.
Vincent Manascalco jolted awake, almost falling off of the bar stool. He immediately put both hands to his nose, checking it for any serious injuries.
“Have the dream again?” came a voice from farther down the bar. It was Stuart, another bartender at the Kalahari Tavern. He snickered and brought the bottle of Corona back to his lips.
“It’s the third time this week,” Vincent grumbled. “Crazy old man stalking me in boxing gloves. You’re a psychology major, can’t you figure this out?”
Stuart shrugged. “I told you, it’s all that latent-content stuff. We’ve already figured out that the boxing gloves represent something about your father.”
Vincent stretched his arms above his head. “Dad may’ve been one of the greatest boxers in Italy, but that was ages ago,” he said and cracked his knuckles. “Doesn’t explain the psychotic geriatric that beats the crap outta me in a freaking gas station, for Christ’s sake.”
“Don’t worry so much,” Stuart took another swig. “It’s not like some old grandpa is going to rough you up and break that lovely Italian nose you got.”
Vincent chuckled at the sarcasm. He could always count on Stuart to state the obvious. They’d worked at the Kalahari Tavern for over a year together, and, when the nights weren’t busy, would sit at the bar and have a drink or two. Sometimes one would take a brief nap while the other played look-out for the manager or any thirsty customers.
“Been pretty dead tonight,” said Stuart. “Maybe I can leave early.”
“Pshhh,” remarked Vincent. “Fat chance. It’s gonna be me.” He got up off the barstool and pulled up the zipper to his leather pants.
“Where you goin’?”
“To get me some aspirin and go to bed, man,” groaned Vincent.
“Awww, not gonna stay for the ladies? Happy Hour’s not done yet,” Stuart looked at his watch. It was only 6:20.
“Stu,” said Vincent. “They’re all yours. All the beer, too. I can pick up girls anywhere.” He ran a hand through his thick, black hair as he grabbed his coat and headed towards the exit.
Stuart shook his head and went behind the bar to sneak another bottle of Corona.
The ’77 black Jaguar practically flew down Highway 12, passing every vehicle that wasn’t going at least 70 miles per hour.
“We there yet?” asked the passenger, Benny.
“Not yet, honey,” said the driver, Debra. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be going this fast, would we?”
Benny thought about it for a second, and nodded. “Mama says you have a lead foot, don’t she?” he grinned.
“Better than a big butt,” replied Debra, returning her younger brother’s smile. She kicked off her high heels and floored the accelerator. They were headed to Gary, Indiana for a weekend-long family reunion that began…that very morning. Normally, Debra wasn’t late for anything. But ever since Benny accidentally set the hotel alarm clock for 4 P.M. instead of 4 A.M., the 8 hour trip from upper Minnesota to this area called “the Dells” and the anticipation of another 10 hours or so of driving through construction and changing time zones to Indiana did not make for a relaxing trip–on Debra’s behalf. “Do you remember where we’re going, Benny?”
“Garyindiana!” he gasped.
“And how’s that song go, again?”
“Garyindiana, Garyindiana, Gaaaaaaaaaaryindiana, GAAAAAARYINDIAAAAAANA!” sang Benny, clapping his hands and crescendoing with every syllable.
Debra laughed and patted her brother on the knee. Benny was 27 but had the mentality of a 10 year old. He’d always had an acute learning disability, and when their parents died when she was 20 and Benny was 12, Debra was responsible for taking care of Benny–according to her parents’ will.
Which was perfectly all right with Debra. She loved Benny with all her heart. Benny, as far as she was concerned, was the sweetest guy in the world regardless of his I.Q. Despite the disastrous relationships Debra had been in with other guys throughout her life, she could always fall back on Benny. He’d always cheer her up with his boyish grin and hug her with all his might–all 210 pounds of it. At only 5’6″, Benny was quite the gorilla to get a hug from. At the last family reunion he almost crushed poor cousin Larry with his unintentional bounteousness.
Benny was quietly tapping his fingers together and rolling his head from side to side. He wore a blaze orange hunting jacket underneath of his green-and-brown camouflaged overalls that fit too tightly around his midsection and were too short for his legs, exposing his stumpy, white legs and his big, brown boots that were tied in a massive tangle of threadbare laces. On his small head he wore a blue baseball cap with the words “Where the heck is Wall Drug?” printed in bold letters across the front.
Debra wore a plain, black business dress under a cream-colored jacket. Her job as a stockbroker required many dresses, slacks, and other assorted business-like clothing, which she didn’t mind. Her version of comfort required only to kick off the high heels and walk around barefoot whenever she got the chance.
“MOBIL MART!” shrieked Benny as he plastered his face against the passenger-side window and pounded two pudgy fists on the glass.
Debra veered into the right line, cutting off a large semi, and glanced to where Benny was staring. Sure enough, a large gas station was located to the right of the stoplights ahead. The red “o” in the blue “Mobil Mart” was like a lighthouse beacon in the eyes of Benny because they had stopped at every Mobil Mart since St. Paul. Debra began to think that Benny liked the red “o” because it meant that they were selling strawberry jelly-filled donuts again.
“Benny, please,” Debra pleaded.
Benny’s head spun around and he gaped at her with the most profound look of absolute shock Debra had ever seen on anybody’s face.
She sighed and said, “Only one.”
“Two,” he quickly responded.
“Benny!” Debra turned right at the stoplight and climbed the side-street that led to the Mobil Mart and other assorted restaurants and hotels. “I gave you five dollars today for treats, and I’ll give you five tomorrow, on Sunday. Didn’t you already spend your five for today?” She parked the Jaguar in front of the Mobil Mart and bent under the steering wheel to put her shoes on.
“No! You lied! You said you’d give me ten for the whole weekend!”
She looked up at him as she adjusted her shoe. “We’re there.”
Benny squealed and thrust the car door open, almost decapitating himself on his buckled seatbelt as he tried to scramble out of the car. When she got out of the vehicle, Benny was already twenty or so feet ahead of her, galloping and waving his arms and chanting something like “Mobil MART! Mobil MART!” as he swung the front door open and paraded inside.
Vincent was carrying a container of aspirin, a frozen pizza, a can of pineapple tidbits and a six-pack of Miller Lite down the aisle of the gas station when a deranged hunter as wide as the aisle itself barreled by him, almost knocking him to the ground.
“Geez, man, watch it!” Vincent called to him as he attacked the baked-goods section.
“I’m sorry,” came a female voice. “He forgets he’s in public sometimes.”
Vincent turned around and saw a classy-looking brunette standing behind him. He shook his head and said, “Naw, sweetie, it’s all right.” He looked at her from head to toe. “Hot date tonight?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she said and began to walk away.
“Wouldn’t I!” exclaimed Vincent. “A girl like you could get plenty of dates.” He extended his right hand. “Name’s Antonio Vincent Manascalco. But you can call me Vinnie. Or Casanova, that’s what the ladies at the tavern call me.” He winked.
“Is that so?” Debra sounded intrigued. “Not Supernova?”
“Not yet, sweetie,” he looked dreamily into her eyes. “But you can.”
“All right,” she agreed. “Because they’re full of hot air and will explode and die if the pressure builds too much.” She brushed past him.
“DEBRA ADAMS!” called Benny from the opposite end of the store, drawing attention from all the customers. “I’M READY TO GO NOW!”
Blushing, she walked over to the cash register to meet Benny, who was carrying three long johns and a grin smeared with chocolate frosting.
“One, Benny, ” Debra said sternly.
“I did. I ate one, and I’m buying these,” he said proudly.
The check-out clerk raised an eyebrow behind her horn-rimmed glasses.
Debra shuffled through her purse and gave the clerk five dollars. “Keep the change,” she said, took Benny by the arm, and led him out of the Mobil Mart.
She stopped on the curb and grabbed onto Benny’s thick arms. “You can’t do that, Benny!” she scolded. “We’re not stopping at any more Mobil Marts, do you understand?”
Benny pouted his lip and nodded slowly. “Who’s that man?” he muttered.
“That man,” he pointed over Debra’s shoulder to Vinnie, who was leaning up against the stack of firewood on the side of the building.
“Jesus,” Debra exhaled. “Benny, will you go wait in the car?”
“Uh huh.” Shuffling his feet and solemnly hanging his head, Benny walked back to the car.
“Debra Adams, eh?” Vinnie said as he casually walked up to her. “or should I call you Lil’ Debbie?”
“Have you ever heard of a restraining order?” she snapped.
“Sounds kinky, Swiss Maid,” he smirked. “So who’s your boyfriend?”
“That’s my brother,” she stated.
“I see. You two related to Senator Adams? I like me a political woman,” he continued.
“He’s my ex-husband, as a matter of fact,” she sneered.
“Oh yeah? He’s a descendant of John Quincy Adams, isn’t he?”
“Three generations or so,” Debra shrugged. “Handsome old man. I think he died in 1848. His time was up.”
Well, it was nice meeting you, Mr. Casanova,” Debra said, her choice of words punching him in the face like the old man in his dream. “But I have a reunion to go to.”
“Garyindianaaaaaa!” came a voice from inside a car parked several yards away.
And with that, Debra got into the Jaguar, threw it into reverse, almost backed into Vinnie’s Trans-Am, slammed the gear into drive, and roared out of the parking lot.
Vinnie was still overwhelmed by déjà vu as he watched her car approach the driveway. If she turned right, she would go to the Kalahari Tavern. Turning left would lead her back to the highway. “Right, right, right,” Vinnie was surprised to hear himself whisper. She blinked right, then left, and pulled left out into the side street.
Right in front of a red, speeding Monte Carlo that didn’t see her. Stuart’s car. The screaming of the four girls in his car could be heard over the screaming of Debra’s brakes as the Monte-Carlo collided with the Jaguar, smashing into the passenger-side door. Debra’s car flipped and rolled into the ditch as Stuart’s rear end careened to the right. The momentum threw his vehicle into a 360-degree spin that also resulted in a second flipped car in the ditch, except this one burst into flames. The sparks ignited the spilled gasoline from Debra’s car and caused a second explosion of searing heat. The sound was deafening, the smell was repulsing, the situation was devastating, the reality was sepulchral beyond all comprehension.
“Tisk tisk,” came a voice from the woodpile. “Didn’t listen ta me, didja, purty boy?”
Horrified, Vinnie turned his attention to where the voice came from. There sat the old man from his dreams, shaking his bald head. He reached into his coat pocket, pulled out an antique pocket watch, and thrust it in Vinnie’s face. “Fate has no forgiveness for those who stand against it,” the apparition whispered-a whisper as crisp as the crackling flames of Debra and Stuart’s fiery tomb. “Our time is up.”
The clock read 18:48 P.M.