Indie Author Answers #41: Trying and Failing

whaddup! Our tip of the week is all about themes, how not to use them as a heavy hammer.

And now, our reading:


17: Miguel


“Why are we doing this, Miguel?”

Parked a few buildings down from the Larimer Lounge in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver, Miguel kept an eye on the rearview mirror, to make sure the target didn’t slip past them and into the bar. “You know why we’re doing this. There’s still one of them left.” Ray, Thomas, and almost everyone else from Ray’s crew that night were now gone. Now, he had to finish what he started.

Theo fidgeted in the passenger seat of Miguel’s truck. “Ray’s dead. Why we gotta get rid of all them North Siders? Without Ray’s, ain’t nobody stepped up in that crew; I don’t see what we gotta be so worried about.”

“They all have to go,” Miguel said.

Theo stared at the roof of the truck, as if deep in thought. “Is this about the bridge?” he said. Miguel wanted to believe that he excluded Theo to protect him. Miguel had revealed only what he thought Theo needed to know, but Theo wasn’t an idiot.

“That’s part of it,” Miguel said.

“Or that party. Didn’t you tell me that you and him got into it at Thomas’?”

“Yeah,” Miguel said, “couple days before the bridge.”

“What happened? You ain’t told me,” Theo said.

“Me and Ray and a bunch of them were at Thomas’ apartment, and Ray was drunk as hell. You know how he got when he was hammered, well, he started getting ornery while we were playing Hour of Power, and said some shit about Maria.”

“Like what?”

“He was dating her then. Anyway, he started talking like he was going to smack her around, and I just lost it. I cracked my beer bottle over his head. Thomas and Eduardo and them dragged my ass out of there before anything else happened.”

“If anyone hurt Maria, you wouldn’t have to do shit,” Theo said. “I’d pop a cap in ‘em myself.”

Miguel studied his companion while the intent of Theo’s words took shape in Miguel’s mind. Some guys, Miguel might smack across the mouth for this, but not Theo. They’d make a good couple.

Miguel continued: “Next time I saw Ray, he pointed a damn gun at me.”

“At the bridge,” Theo said.


“I don’t get why you ain’t ever tell me about it. I mean, the whole story.”

Miguel considered it. Perhaps keeping Theo in the dark for so long had been unkind. “Are you drunk?” he said.

Theo cleared his throat. “Yeah, a little.”

That explained Theo’s curiosity. Miguel decided to tell Theo some details, but not everything. “Okay, I’ll tell you about it. I showed up there that night, and they were all pointing their pieces at my homeboy Brian, who was just lying there on the ground. He was scared shitless, but I knew they weren’t gonna shoot him. They might shoot me, after that crap with the beer bottle, but I knew Brian was going to be okay. Ray and his North Side crew were always about looking big, getting respect, and all that. But Brian didn’t know that. I just parked my truck and stepped on out.”

“Did they start blasting or something?”

“No. First, they just switched their guns to me. I moved back and got my shotgun, and they were all just standing there. They were waiting for me to do something. I was waiting too, but nobody was doing shit, so I told Brian to get in his car and leave. Couple of them bitched and moaned, but Ray was cool with it. I was kinda surprised. Ray didn’t seem to care so much about some white boy anymore. At least, that’s how he acted. But I knew… I knew that me showing up made it worse for Brian. Now, I had screwed up whatever plan they had for him, and there was gonna be payback.”

“How you get out of there?”

Before Miguel could answer the question, he noted a dark-skinned man with blond hair walking into the bar. “Wait up; I think he just went in the bar.”

“Tell me, how you get out of there?”

“Not now, Theo.”

“Alright, then, let’s do this.” Theo removed a pistol from the glove compartment and popped out the clip, then checked the safety before sliding the clip back into place.

“I can handle this guy. Just wait here.”

“What the hell? Why you always got me waiting in the car?”

“Just stay here. Wait ‘til you see me come out.”

Miguel exited the truck, and followed the man. Once inside, he realized that he had identified the wrong person. Same look, but wrong guy. Instead, he ordered a Dos Equis and took a seat at the bar.

He sent a text to Theo explaining, and then waited. Miguel had learned that the man he sought, named Carl, sometimes known as Carlito or just Lito, frequented this bar and liked the shitty house band, the name of which Miguel had already forgotten. He had only ever seen Carl that night at the bridge, but Miguel knew that he was Hispanic, with bleached-blond hair and wore thick prescription glasses.

A few minutes passed then Carl emerged through the front door and Miguel retreated from the bar to a back table. Carl’s appearance was as described, plus he had a sizeable beer belly and waddled like a duck as he moved.

Fortunately for Miguel, Carl came alone tonight. Unfortunately for Miguel, it turned out that Carl actually had come to see the band, and so Miguel had to spend several more hours watching Carl watch the band while he downed tequila shots. Miguel remained in the back of the bar, texting updates to Theo and nursing his beer, with a line of sight to Carl. His target never detected him.

Around midnight, the band finally finished their last set. Carl had one more shot of tequila, made a feeble attempt to flirt with the waitress, and after a rejection, paid his tab at the bar. Miguel shadowed him as Carl waved goodbye to the waitress and the bartender, then exited the front door. Miguel kept his eyes forward and eased after him.

Carl wobbled along the sidewalk in a zigzag pattern. He had drunk a few too many. Miguel kept a reasonable distance, and Theo entered his peripheral vision on the other side of the street. He motioned to Theo to stay back. “I got this,” he mouthed to his companion.

A long line of cars flanked Larimer Street and Miguel realized that if Carl got into one these parked cars, that would void the evening’s effort. He did walk towards one, but drunkenly bounced off the passenger side and kept on walking. Miguel approached the vehicle and smacked the hood to silence the alarm that Carl had activated. They had walked far enough away from the bar that likely no one saw anything.

A welcome turn came when Carl stumbled into an alley. Miguel leaned around the corner as Carl slumped against the side of a building, his eyes rolled back into his head. Miguel surveyed the alley. They were alone. He considered waiting for him to pass out, but then Carl stirred. “You,” he said.

“Yeah, me.”

Carl steadied himself against the wall. “I know why you’re here,” he said.

“You do?”

“Yeah. I remember you and your gringo friend that night. It’s all that shit about Karma and all that. All I can say about that night was that it was fucked up, man. It wasn’t supposed to go down like that.”

Miguel inched towards him. “Wasn’t supposed to go down like what?

“The white guy. Brian. Wiles told us to draw on him, but then you showed up with that big ol’ shotty. What were we supposed to do? It got, you know, complicated. What you did with that shotgun… pissed me off, but I have to say that was clever. I had bits of glass in my face for two days.”

This presented a confusing wrinkle because it contradicted what Wiles had told Miguel during their post-bridge confrontation. Wiles had said that Brian went to Commerce City to do a deal. “Wiles told you draw your guns on him? Why would he do that?”

Carl shrugged and Miguel looked deep into Carl’s eyes, but only emptiness looked back at him. Miguel decided he wasn’t going to get any answers from this drunkard, and that every moment Miguel spent alone in the alley with him increased the risk of drawing attention. Miguel reached into his back pocket and produced the switchblade. He held it behind his back. The knife clicked as it opened, but Carl didn’t seem to notice.

Miguel closed the distance between them and Carl did nothing. Carl’s eyes were barely even open. Miguel lowered the blade to his thigh and leaned in close. He grabbed a chunk of the bleached hair and pulled Carl to the ground. Carl grabbed at Miguel’s hands, but Miguel easily overpowered him. Miguel twisted Carl by the head to expose his neck.

“Hey, what are you… what are you doing to me?”

“It’s not personal, Lito. I just can’t let you live.”

Miguel felt pressure against his crotch. He looked down and Carl was holding a small pistol pointed directly at Miguel’s manhood. Carl’s finger wrapped around the trigger.

“Why don’t you drop that knife, Miguel? I don’t know what you think you’re doing out here, but you’re not going to cut me tonight.”

Miguel did as Carl commanded. He had to think fast. He looked around the alley, but could see nowhere to run or hide. He considered trying to swipe the pistol out of Carl’s hand, but with the man’s finger on the trigger, he may not be quick enough to disarm the guy.

From above came a whistling sound. Miguel turned his gaze upwards just in time to glimpse a potted plant fall through the sky, which crashed onto Carl’s head. Carl appeared dazed, and so Miguel snatched the knife from the ground. He dragged the blade across Carl’s neck, silencing him forever.

He squinted towards the origin of the plant. Theo waved to him on a fire escape three stories above and Miguel waved back. Miguel swiped each side of the dirtied blade across Carl’s pants and then regarded the lifeless form, waiting for the relief to come. It did not.