here’s your tip of the week: how not to include the kitchen sink in your story. Simplify. Focus.
And now, your weekly selection of the problematic virtue:
March 2003 –
Miguel dropped back to pass, and after a quick read of the receivers, threw a sixty-yard bomb to Randy Moss for an easy touchdown. Despite brutalizing the computer opponent 49-14, he could lay down a real beating if he put out the effort, but his heart wasn’t in it today. He had become bored with this game.
Today, he slept late, made some tamales and spent some time in his leather recliner with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. A fairly typical day-off for Miguel. Maria had spent some time cleaning that morning while he awaited a delivery. His shipment today wasn’t something that he would have to cut, split, or weigh, which he usually did with the contents of deliveries made to his house.
Maria came into the living room, dressed in her scrubs for work.
“How are you feeling today?” he said.
She leaned in to Miguel and kissed him lightly on the cheek. Her raven-black hair smelled of strawberries. “I’m doing well. You don’t need to worry so much. Have a good day off, Miguelito,” she said. “Got any big plans for the day?”
He shrugged. “You’re looking at it.”
She smiled and stroked the side of his face with the back of her palm. “You be careful,” she said. She hugged him and then left him alone in the house.
Today, he would say goodbye to an obsolete friend and hello to a shiny new one. The new one, a 12 gauge Mossberg Pump-Action with a synthetic pistol grip, he had anticipated for weeks. Miguel’s prior criminal history precluded him from getting this shotgun from the same places any other law-abiding American could get one, so he discreetly had his guns special-ordered. The frail, old friend to whom he had to bid farewell, the Remington, had been at his side for going-on five years, and had saved his life more times than he could count. That shotgun had ended Ray Aguilar and Thomas Castellano, among others. The same shotgun had allowed him to escape from under the bridge, when without it, he probably would have been shot dead for the crime of coming to the aid of a friend.
That night, he had held that Remington at waist-level while standing next to his car, a few feet from Brian and about twenty feet from a half-dozen of Ray Aguilar’s people. Brian, terrified, babbled apologies while Miguel tried to size up the situation.
Six of them, two of us. Six guns for them, one for us.
Miguel’s 9mm rested in the glove box, but if he tried to make a move for the gun, the North Siders might simply shoot them both. Besides, what could he do with it? Toss it to Brian? Pacifist Brian wouldn’t have a clue what to do with the thing. Miguel would have to improvise.
The first priority had to be removing Brian to a safe distance. Miguel suggested to Ray that they let him go, and Ray agreed. Seemed too good to be true. Miguel didn’t know then that the North Side Mafia’s mission that night, as orchestrated by Wiles, had only been to scare Brian. They probably thought they had done their job, so no harm done to let him go. Besides, once Ray had Miguel at gunpoint, Ray couldn’t care less about some random white boy. Instead, Ray would want his payback for the bottle that had been cracked over his head.
The only thing that mattered to Miguel was that Brian would be safe. Brian babbled apologies as he got to his feet, and begged Miguel to come with him. He told Brian everything would be fine, just go. Ray and his people stayed stone-faced, waiting for that melodrama to play out. With Brian then gone, Miguel had to find a way to extricate himself.
Six of them, one of me. Six guns versus one.
He had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide; just twenty feet of gravel and dirt separating the two parties. Limited options. Miguel had only one advantage he could see: he was near his truck while their cars were behind them. They had nowhere to hide either.
Ray lectured Miguel about respect, but Miguel didn’t listen; instead, he raced to figure out how to use the proximity disparity to his advantage. With the driver’s side door of his truck still open, he might duck behind it when the firefight started, but that cover wouldn’t last long. Six guns versus one. When they rushed his truck, he might get only one or two before they blasted him. Miguel thought about what it would feel like to put a bullet into Thomas, whom he’d considered a friend. Miguel didn’t know if he could do it.
Then he knew what to do. The plan seemed straightforward enough, and they wouldn’t see it coming. He could slow them without killing anyone. He took a small step back, and a couple of them advanced.
Even better. Come closer.
Miguel took another small step, this time diagonally, so he had relocated partially behind his truck’s open door. These last movements made all of them come closer. As Miguel inched backwards, all six of them kept advancing, just as Miguel wanted. Miguel took a half-step to the right, now fully behind the door.
He swung the shotgun, pressed it to the window of the door, and, closing his eyes, pulled the trigger. Glass and buckshot sprayed out in an arc towards them, but Miguel didn’t stop to watch the result. He threw (his old friend) the Remington into the truck and followed it into the cab. Keeping his head down, he shoved the keys into the ignition. A couple of stray bullets sliced the air around his truck but missed by several feet. It must have worked; they would be prying glass from their faces for hours.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something. No more than a peripheral blip, and he wouldn’t realize until several minutes later what he had seen. That glimpse would become the genesis of his sleepless nights for the next two years.
Keeping his head low, he threw the truck into reverse. He stomped on the gas pedal and held it down with all his might. As the truck screamed backwards, the door shut itself, and Miguel yanked the steering wheel to spin the truck. He popped up, rammed the gearshift into drive, and slammed the gas pedal. He peeled away from the bridge, and after about a mile, he finally check the rearview and found it empty.
Today, Miguel opened his closet door and took the Remington out of its case. He didn’t quite know the problem with the shotgun, but the trigger was sticking, and hadn’t worked since after the night he used it to end Ray. Despite owning many guns, he didn’t know much other than how to clean them. The ailing shotgun didn’t concern him; about time that he upgraded to something modern. But he would take it out for one last cleaning.
Miguel picked up a clean fleece cloth from the kitchen table, and sat down to give the shotgun a thorough wiping. He moved that rag over worn wood and scuffed metal, his best effort to take something impure and make it pure again.