This is from a series of short stories I am working on. Posted here for your reading pleasure and review. All comments welcome.
My cell rang. I didn’t recognize the number. Thought about ignoring it, then decided to give the telemarketer some shit.
“AJ? What’s this a new phone?”
“I need your help.” AJ’s tone imparted a more serious patina to the four simple words.
“You always need my help,” I answered. “What is it this time, you get thrown out again?”
“Come outside, I’m parked in the lot across the street.
“Why are you parked across the street?” I asked. Silence. After a moment, I realized he’d ended the call.
Grabbing my jacket, I walked to the door. “Where are you off to?” my wife asked.
“I don’t know. That was AJ, said he needs help with something.”
My wife put her hands on her hips, “Tommy, I don’t care what he’s done this time, no money. Promise me.”
I smiled, “No money, I learned my lesson with his last scam,” I opened the door, the cool fall air rushing in. “I’ll be right back.”
Walking down the driveway, I looked across the street. AJ was leaning against the hood of his car, arms folded around himself, staring at the ground. As I got closer, he heard my footsteps and stood.
I’ve read that ninety percent of communication is non-verbal. AJ’s body was telling me this was not one of his ordinary, self-created problems.
“Hey man, what’s up?”
“Tom, Tommy,” AJ stuttered, glancing around. “I need help buddy. Big time. Can you take a ride with me?”
I saw something in his eyes I’d never seen before, genuine fear. This was a man who once took on three bikers in a bar and got his ass kicked. He returned two days later looking for the three bikers. The same thing happened. He went back several more times, but the bikers never showed up again.
They must have recognized crazy.
AJ wasn’t afraid of anything.
“A ride, where?”
“Please man, just come with me.” His body language now in full alarm mode.
“Ah, okay. Let me call Karen. Tell her I’ll be gone for a bit. Where we going anyway?”
“No,” AJ shouted, then glanced around. “No calls.”
“No calls?” I replied. “If you want me to go with you I will after I call my wife. A philosophy you should have adopted years ago. Saved yourself a ton of trouble.”
I could see AJ’s mind racing as he paced back and forth. “Okay, tell her I need help moving something, that’s all.”
I stood there a moment, holding my phone, studying my now frantic friend. Shaking my head, I pushed the call button. “Hey, it’s me. AJ needs me to help him move something. What? I don’t know, hang on,” holding the phone away from my ear I said. “She wants to know what you need moved. How long will it take?”
AJ threw his arm up, slapping them back to his side. “I don’t know, something heavy. You’ll be back in, ah, a couple of hours.”
“There’s a bunch of stuff, I guess. Won’t take long,” listening to her response I smiled at AJ. “Yeah I know; I don’t have any money anyway. I’ll call on the way back.” I walked to the passenger side. “Okay AJ, tell me the story. What’d you do?”
“First, turn off your cell.”
“I’m not turning off my cell, asshole. What is this about?”
“Look, trust me on this. You’ll understand shortly,” pointing with his hand at my phone. “Turn it off and pull the battery. Then I’ll tell you what this is about.”
“You what?” I said, shaking my head and looking out the window. “I don’t believe this. You’re kidding,” trying to gauge the look on his face.
“I’ll show you,” he said as we pulled into a dirt road used by off-road vehicles.
“You can’t drive this thing down here,” I said, my hand on the dash as AJ dodged the ruts and dips in the dirt track.
“Yes I can, I checked this out before.”
“You checked this out… I don’t believe this.”
Checking the rearview mirror, AJ drove several hundred yards. Making sure we were far beyond the houses bordering the property.
“AJ, please tell me this is all bullshit.”
“Look,” he said, opening the door.
I watched as he walked around to the back of the car, motioning for me to join him
I opened the door, put one foot on the ground, glanced over my right shoulder at AJ as he looked all around the area.
I got out and stood next to him.
I laughed. “Okay, you got me. What’s the joke?”
I heard the click of the trunk release, watching as it popped up. AJ reached over, opening the trunk.
As I looked in, my mind went into denial.
I looked from the trunk to AJ and back. Voices in my head screamed, ‘Run, you idiot, run.” But my legs remained paralyzed in place. I tried to speak, but my throat was sand. I tasted the adrenaline rushing through my body. The fight or flight response to my brain’s recognizing a problem.
A big problem.
“I had to do it, Tommy. He beat her, put her in the hospital, he molested my granddaughter.”
Words eluded me. I backed away, trying to absorb the reality.
“Tommy, I need you to help me here. I need help getting rid of it.”
For fifty years, AJ had been my best friend. We had grown from GI Joes and baseball to girls and beer to married with kids, together. We’d spent twenty years together as cops, righting wrongs, trying to make a difference.
He’d been there when my first wife died of cancer. He held me in his arms, covered in my blood from the bullet wound in my arm, when they drove me to the hospital.
Never leaving my side.
But this? This was beyond it all. This was too much. I knew the stories. The hospital visits to his daughter. The on again off again boyfriend sliding through the system.
But this? They say friends will be there when you most need them. But this?
As my heart rate slowed, the rationale me resumed control. The panic passed and the realization of the choice I faced came clear.
I knew what I had to do.
I looked at my friend. The tears welled up, the emotions uncontrollable. I took a deep breath and walked back to the car.
“AJ, I’m sorry.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone, walking to the side of the car, away from my best friend.
His eyes showed regret as the enormity of what he asked, what he’d done, set in.
I tossed the phone on the seat. Reaching into the back seat, I grabbed the two shovels and the bag of lime. I’d spotted them when I got in the car. Hoping I was wrong.
Walking to AJ, I handed him a shovel.
“That’s what friends are for.”