Welcome to Episode 25! It’s my quarter-century extravaganza!!!
Tip of the week: Exposition, and why you don’t need as much of it as you think you do. I talk about Mad Max: Fury Road and The Girl With All The Gifts as examples of how you can tell a story with very little exposition.
And now, let’s read:
Miguel and Theo waited until dark before getting out of the truck. When Miguel opened his door, Theo followed suit, but then an idea formed. What if Ray says something that Theo shouldn’t hear? Miguel still hadn’t told Theo the whole story about the bridge, and he doubted if he ever would. “What a second, Theo,” he said. “Maybe you should wait here.”
“Why I should that? You gonna need backup in there.”
“I’ll be okay,” Miguel said. “What I will need for sure is a driver when I’m done so we can haul ass outta here. I’m gonna be real quick, in and out, and you need to keep this car running.”
Theo pouted, but agreed, and Miguel stepped out of the truck. His knees ached from several hours of immobilization, but he disregarded the springy ache. He had a revolver in the front of his waistband, the 9mm in the back, a hunting knife strapped to his thigh, and the Pump-Action Remington in his hands. Maybe overkill, but he figured he couldn’t be too careful.
With the lights off in the houses to either side of Ray’s, he hoped that meant no one was home in either one. Two cars sat in front of the house, with one of them already here when they had arrived earlier. The other one arrived just before it got dark, with only a single person in the vehicle. That meant Ray and at least this one other person were within. No idea how many people had come in that other car, or a reasonable total head count. He guessed four, or maybe five. He would know soon enough.
He strolled across the street to Ray’s side. Porch lights illuminated the front of a few houses on the block, the rest dark. With no one visible in the street or elsewhere, he was reasonably sure he’d made the journey undetected. He first went around to the side, trying to get a glimpse of the interior. He came to the kitchen window with blinds that were only slightly open. He wriggled his head up and down to get a better assessment through the angled blinds. Slivers of a coherent view formed, and he saw through to one wall of the living room. The lights were low, and some reflections bounced off the wall, which meant the TV was on. Most likely they were all in the living room playing video games. A few voices (two? three?), but they were too muffled to distinguish one from the other.
He made his way further around the side of the house, seeking additional windows through which he could peek. The house had two stories, and a single light illuminated an upstairs window.
It might mean someone is up there, or it might just mean the light is on. No one in the kitchen, one or two in the living room, one upstairs.
Now at the gate to the backyard, he reached over and unlatched it from the other side. One advantage of being 6’5”. As he entered, a hefty pit bull stared back at him across the yard. Miguel tensed up and raised the shotgun. His friend Rich, who had years of successful experience doing quiet home robberies, always kept a piece of beef jerky in his pocket to appease any stray guard dog he might encounter, but Miguel didn’t have the same forethought this evening.
He didn’t want to have to blast the dog, because not only did he like dogs, but also if he started firing now, the shots would alert Ray and his people. The sleek, black pile of muscles and teeth raced towards him. Miguel squatted to lower his center of gravity and then cocked the shotgun.
When the slobbering beast reached within striking distance, it sat down in front of him. The dog’s eyes, cold and black, focused on Miguel, but it made no move to strike. The dog sniffed his knees, wagging its tail. After breathing a restrained sigh of relief, Miguel knelt down and held out one hand for the dog to sniff. “Good boy,” he whispered.
The dog followed him as he continued around the house to the back door. The sliding glass door led into the laundry room. Finding it unlocked, he entered, ensuring the dog didn’t slip in between his legs. He eased the sliding glass door closed behind him, and then remained quiet for a ten-count, until he’d calmed down. In his head, he went over what he could remember of the house layout: from the back, the laundry room connected to a hallway ahead, which branched off to the kitchen on the left and to the main entryway straight at the end. The kitchen connected to the living room, which connected to the entryway. The only stairs going the second floor were in the entryway which lead up to two bedrooms and a bathroom between them.
Therefore, he needed to get to the living room, where he knew at least two people were, and could do so from the left through the kitchen, or the right at the end of the hallway connecting to the entryway. If he did the latter, someone coming down the stairs– since they’d see him first– might surprise him. If he went in through the kitchen and encountered someone there, anyone in the living room would notice before he’d get the chance to get to the living room. But, if the kitchen happened to be empty, Miguel could get the drop on them.
He had little time to deliberate, and decided to go in through the kitchen. Worth the risk to get the element of surprise. He inched down the hallway, Remington raised. His hands shook, which was one reason he had brought his old friend the shotgun: accuracy not so necessary with a 12-gauge.
He reached the doorway to the kitchen. He took one last deep breath and reminded himself why he had embarked on such a foolish undertaking.
He slid into the kitchen, facing the living room. In front of the refrigerator, holding a beer in one hand, stood some person Miguel had never seen before. This shirtless man was wearing a bandanna and had tattoos everywhere. Obviously one of Ray’s people. The man looked at Miguel, frozen in his gaze. Then he dropped his beer on the floor, and the bottle cracked, saturating the floor with the sudsy liquid. He opened his mouth to shout, but before any sound came out, Miguel squeezed the trigger, spraying the man with buckshot. The force of the close-range impact knocked him backwards into a stack of plates, ceramic shards rattling across the counter.
Shouts came from the living room. He pumped the shotgun and moved to the corner of the kitchen that connected to the living room. He’d lost his surprise; now he would have to improvise. He stuck the shotgun out from behind his position and fired blindly into the living room. Someone yelped, and then came the sound of footfalls on the stairs. He peeked into the living room to where Thomas, sprawled out on the couch, clutched his bleeding abdomen. Miguel inched forward into the living room, pulling the 9mm out of his waistband. Thomas struggled to reach the pistol on the coffee table, but the hole in his stomach prevented him from leaning forward. Miguel knew he should put a round in Thomas’ forehead, but he couldn’t do it.
“Miguel,” Thomas whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Miguel said. “I wish you hadn’t been here.”
Miguel snatched the pistol from the table and left Thomas alone. He would probably bleed out, anyway. Nothing Miguel could do about that now except say a prayer for him.
At least one person remained upstairs and possibly more than one. Ray had to be there, so Miguel continued through the living room towards the staircase. As he approached the stairs, a loud bang accompanied a flash and part of the banister exploded in front of him. A sliver of wood shrapnel cut him below his eyes, which instantly filled with tears. He couldn’t see, so he jumped back. Two more gunshots rang out from upstairs, but they didn’t connect anywhere close to Miguel.
In a few seconds, his eyes cleared, and he dropped down to crawl across the floor back towards the stairs. He slinked forward until he could view through the staircase railings, where he caught a glimpse of a hand holding a revolver, poking out from the top. He raised the 9mm, and breathed to steady his hand. Miguel centered the man’s exposed flesh in the sight. He squeezed the trigger and hit his target in his forearm. Lucky shot. The man dropped the gun, howling in pain.
Miguel hustled up the stairs and shot his attacker in his chest. Miguel recognized the man as one of the crew from the bridge, but it still wasn’t Ray.
What if he’s not here? He has to be here.
Only the two bedrooms and bathroom left to search. Since both bedroom doors were open and the bathroom wasn’t, Ray had to be hiding in the bathroom. A faint trail of blood led to it. Assuming the door to be locked, Miguel raised a leg and kicked it with all his might.
The door blasted open, knocking Ray back into the toilet. Ray dropped his pistol, and when he tried to reach for it, Miguel covered it with his boot then kicked it backwards. The gun went skittering across the bathroom floor, out of reach. Miguel dropped his 9mm behind him and raised the shotgun. Ray, bleeding from his temple, put one hand on his bloody and dimpled right shoulder.
Ray’s breath came in short gasps. “Miguel… what the… what… you doing?”
“This is payback. You knew this was coming.”
Ray propped himself up on the toilet, catching his breath. “Payback for what?”
“You know what.”
“Who you think you are? If you don’t… turn around and walk out of here right now… I’ll kill you and your whole fucking family.”
Miguel aimed the shotgun directly at Ray’s chest. “You ain’t gonna do shit, Ray. You already messed with my family. And now this is what you get.”
“Family? Is this about your sister? Your little white friends? You think this changes anything? You’re a dead man, Garcia.”
“I doubt it. There’s not really any of you North Side dickweeds left. Maybe one or two, but pretty soon, they’ll be just as dead as you.” He hesitated a moment to capture the look on Ray’s face, then pulled the trigger, and Ray’s chest and head ruptured from the buckshot blast, painting Miguel and the bathroom in blood.