I wrote this short story for my narrative fiction class. I’m a huge fan of noir and crime stories and as such this has been one of my favorite short stories to write. I hope you enjoy it!
The eggs were runny. Otherwise it was a very good breakfast. The diner was a hole in the wall. The kind of place you see on some abandoned section of interstate with their lights on at 3 in the morning. That was more or less what the place looked like when I rolled up to it after my graveyard shift. At 3AM no less. I got a call the previous evening from my old friend Tommy Bonham. My one time best friend if you want to get right down to it. I hadn’t heard from him in years. Not since we went our separate ways after high school.
His phone call hit me at around 5PM shortly after I woke up to start my shift. I love the graveyard shift. I’ve always been a night owl even back when me and Tommy were kids.
I didn’t realize it was him at first. “Marcus? Marcus Jones? Is that you?” he said. His voice was more gravely than I remembered it being. “Who wants to know?” I asked. I’m not exactly what you would call chipper first thing in the morning…or afternoon technically. “Ha ha. Oh yeah it’s you alright, you would say some shit like that. How have you been Marky-Mark?”
Boom that was it. Marky-Mark. That old dumb nickname. That’s all it took to make a whole decade of teenage memories with Tommy come roaring back in a flood. Sneaking out of the house with a bottle of whiskey stolen from my old man so the both of us could meet up with friends at some house party, “borrowing” his parents’ car so we could drive to the beach and smoke pot with some girls from school, beating the living shit out of Ricky Daniels in the cafeteria for stealing Tommy’s car stereo. Discovering how lucrative the drug trade could be selling ditch weed that we grew in the woods behind my house. A lifetime ago suddenly felt like yesterday.
“No fucking way. Tommy? Tommy Bahama?! Holy shit man how have you been? Man, it’s been forever!” I said realizing who he was.
“It certainly has.” He told me with a joyless chuckle. He sounded old, a lot like I remembered his dad sounding when we were kids. Christ, for all I knew he was a father himself. I had barely spoken to the guy in years. He took a breath and let it out in a big sigh before he continued. He told me that he was in town on business and wanted to know if I felt like grabbing dinner and catching up on old times. He also casually mentioned that he had a job opportunity he could use my help on if I was interested.
It was then. Right at the beginning I felt like something was off. Maybe it was something in his voice, the out of the blue phone call or I don’t what. It was an instinct I had honed during the darker times in my life. Those times were over long ago but the instincts were still there underneath the surface and I knew better than to ignore them.
I told him I worked the graveyard shift but I was free for breakfast if he didn’t mind the cold and meeting before sunrise at some dive diner I usually pass on my back home from work. He didn’t. So we met.
He was standing by his car (an old station wagon) smoking a cigarette at the empty end of the diner’s parking lot. I had him pegged almost immediately when I saw him. He had gotten paunchy. The skinny little shit I remember running from the cops with had a nice layer of dad fat on him that usually hits guys after they get a wife and a kid. The pink empty baby seat in the back of his car confirmed it. So did the lines around his mouth and on his forehead. I’m no spring chicken anymore by any means but you never would have guessed this guy used to go to high school with me. I shook his hand and we hugged it out before we went in to the diner. His handshake was still firm. Life hadn’t beaten that out of him yet and that made me happy. I did notice the tan line on his ring finger and put two and two together for myself. That didn’t stop me from learning the whole sad story of Tommy’s life after we went our separate ways. It was bad. A lot worse than I first thought it was but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When we first walked in it was old times all over again. We were two of a few handfuls of sleepy people, other late nighters, graveyard shift folk and truck drivers who made the walk from the truck-stop on the other side of the street to grab a bite. It reminded me of the times we would stumble into places like this during high school after whatever random mischief we had gotten up to in the night, usually in the form of some type of alcohol. We got a booth near the back away from everyone. “Just like old times right?” Tommy said half smiling. He had a 5 o clock shadow that was on the verge of becoming a beard and dark circles under his eyes that looked as if they hadn’t appeared until recently. He still had that half smile of his from when we were kids though. That “Ha ha fuck you, you’re my best friend” smile that he always greeted me with when I used to show up at his house unexpectedly. I really missed that smile. He ordered a coffee and toast. I got biscuits and gravy and ordered eggs over medium. I swear to God I repeated that like three fucking times to our waitress. We shot the shit for a good half hour just talking about the old good fun times and for a bit it was really nice. The biscuits and gravy were among the best I ever had and Tommy was just as hilarious as I remembered him being when we were young. We talked about all the crazy shit we used to get up to. The time when his girlfriend’s dad chased him out of the house with a shotgun, the time we hid in a ditch praying the cop’s spotlight wouldn’t land on us and then hauling ass into the woods when it finally did. The time I got drunk and ran naked down the road for $5. I was really thankful we were sitting away from everyone when that particular story came up.
It was around the time I started eating my eggs when Tommy started talking about what had happened after we went our separate ways. Our little weed growing adventure was fun and games to him. I took it a little more seriously. I wasn’t a scholar. My old man was a drunk who worked construction and was gonna work construction until he was dead and there was no way I was doing that. I ramped up my dealing efforts and folks started to take notice. I started meeting shady people. It was a shady business after all. Selling ounces to my peers suddenly turned into shipping pounds to people in other counties and going into business with some less than reputable people. Tommy wanted me to do the college thing with him but I had no illusions on where my life was heading. He started distancing himself. I started carrying a gun and then that was pretty much the end of it. That’s the last time we had been really close. So much shit had gone down in my life since then. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of. Most of it I don’t care to discuss with people. That’s not Tommy though. He let me know everything.
College had been a good life experience for Tommy at first but shit for him financially. The way it is for a lot of folks I imagine. He went in with dreams and aspirations and he left with over 500K in debt and a pregnant girlfriend. Just shy of getting a degree too. Fucking tragic. He met some girl when he was a freshman. Danielle. They started dating, partying a lot and well shit happens I suppose. He got a part time job at a gas station when he found out she was pregnant. Between the girlfriend, the job and college poor Tommy couldn’t split the difference. His grades dropped, his girlfriend got pregnant-er and a part time gig at a gas station turned into a full time one pretty quickly. They got married around the same time he made manager. It was a regular blue collar fairy tale. They eventually moved out of Danielle’s parents place and got a doublewide in one of those neighborhoods that doesn’t know if it’s a trailer park or a suburb. His daughter Lilly was born about the same time he was supposed to be graduating. Danielle didn’t handle it too well. She loved her daughter but hated her situation in life. Tommy worked all the time and still barely made enough to scrape by, leaving her with taking care of the baby most days. That’s when the fighting first started. Long screaming matches that woke the neighbors and sent the baby into hysterics. Young parents usually find a lot of things to fight about, go figure. They continued on like this for a while. God knows why. Eventually Danielle rekindled an old romance unbeknownst to Tommy. He came home from a shift one day to find Danielle and Lilly gone and only a note in their place. After that Tommy’s daughter bounced back and forth between him, Danielle, and Danielle’s new boyfriend. It damn near killed Tommy. “I was working myself to the bone, only seeing my daughter on weekends and still not coming out ahead. The court granted Danielle full custody after my 4th child support payment was short. I get holiday visits but now Danielle won’t let me see her on the weekends. Lilly…she doesn’t even call me daddy anymore. She calls me Tommy” he told me sadly as he stared deeply into his coffee.
That was the life Tommy was living when we met in that parking lot. The world had soaked my friend in gasoline and thrown him a lit match. It broke my heart. It really did. But learning all of this did nothing to prepare me for what he was about to ask of me.
“I’m about to lose the house, Marcus” He told me quietly, “Unless I can come into some serious cash very soon.” At first I thought he was looking for a handout. I prayed that this was the case. I wanted my instincts to be wrong for once. They weren’t. He told me about how he had heard about my life after high school. How I had risen through the underworld ranks selling drugs, guns stolen goods and whatever else I could get my hands on. How good I did for myself. “ I kept hearing people talk about you and the new life you made for yourself up north, ya know? ‘Marcus just bought a new truck it’s sick!, Marcus has his own place and lives by himself, Marcus just bought this, Marcus just bought that’ the list goes on, man.” He told me matter-of-factly . “Alright,” I told him, “you can go ahead and pause that shit right there because I’m nowhere near as well off as you’re making me out to be.” I told him that yeah, I did okay for myself when I was doing all that nonsense but it had been years since my truck could be considered new, my place wasn’t much better than the trailer he was about to lose, and how it was a fucking miracle I had made it out of the life without winding up rotting in a barrel in the bottom of the bay with a bullet in my head. I told him how if he was looking for a way out of his situation, the criminal underworld was DEFINITELY not the answer and even if he wanted in I wasn’t a part of that world anymore.
He didn’t say anything for a while. He just stared at me. That half smile of his was gone. An eternity passed before he finally spoke.
“Is that a fact, Jonestown?” He asked as his eyes burned holes into mine.
I stiffened. There it was. There it fucking was. My other nickname. The one only people from my other life knew about. A name that people spoke of in hushed whispers. A name I had done my best to leave behind along with all the horrible shit I had done to earn it.
It was my turn to take a deep breath. “Tommy,” I said, “we go way back. You’re like a brother to me…but if you’ve been following me or spying on me you’re treading some very fucking dangerous territory.”
Tommy assured me this wasn’t the case. He had found all this out about me completely by accident. You see when Tommy’s life went to shit he started considering re-visiting old business ventures. Problem was the local syndicates owned everything. He didn’t have an in and even if did, his slice would be so slim that the only thing it would gain him would be a heightened sense of paranoia and possibly a burial in an unmarked grave. Tommy was desperate but he wasn’t desperate enough to not see the futility of trying to get into an already successful and selective operation from the ground up. So he went to work. In every spare second he had (he had a lot more these days) he was planning, researching, doing reconnaissance, putting his ear to the ground but not making waves. It was actually kind of impressive. He discovered that all of the mob’s dirty cash in the city got cleaned at a specific warehouse posing as a construction equipment storage facility. He had one night to pull off the heist when the cash was kept at the warehouse after it had been cleaned and before it was smuggled overseas to stagnate in a few fat offshore bank accounts. The brilliance of this plan, he said, was that the Mob knew better than to attract attention when it came to their finances. The warehouse was low-key. It had a barbwire chain-link fence that would be easy enough to get through with a pair of wire cutters, it had a security camera system that was over a decade old that had enough of a delay where he could get in unnoticed, the money would be in pallets for transportation after being counted and cleaned, he had a 30 minute window to get in and out before the transportation crew arrived to freight the money across state lines. The kid had done his homework.
There was one hitch.
The warehouse had one security guard. It was all they felt they needed. The transportation crew always showed up armed to the teeth to deter anyone dumb enough to try to pull some cowboys and Indians bullshit. As long as Tommy made it through that 30 minute window there was no need to worry but there was still the matter of the security guard. He wasn’t your standard, run of the mill wannabe cop patrolling an empty mall parking lot. The guy had a history. He was an ex enforcer for the mob. He had a history of making folks disappear in some pretty gruesome ways. Stories were told. The guy was apparently some kind of boogey man, a soldier who had killed and massacred his way to the upper echelons of the syndicate until he was their right hand man. Apparently he had grown disillusioned with the life and wanted out. He wanted to work a somewhat honest job that wouldn’t involve as much blood on his hands. He was very skilled at what he did however and not wanting to waste a resource, the mob put the guy on the very important detail of guarding their cash. It was something they could trust him with and it allowed him to pursue the simpler life he wanted. It was a win-win for everyone. Everyone except for Tommy, that is. For him it posed a serious problem indeed. So he waited, did his best to find out more about the guy without setting off alarm bells. And when he finally got a look at the guy to size him up and figure out what he was dealing with who should he see guarding the money but his old high school chum, Marcus Jones.
I was the only thing standing in the way of Tommy’s path to a better life.
It all suddenly made sense. The random phone call, meeting up somewhere quiet, why Tommy didn’t seem to mind meeting at 3 in the morning. All the puzzle pieces fell perfectly in place. Tommy told me he needed my help. “You wouldn’t have to do anything,” he said, “It won’t be traced back to you in any way.” All he needed me to do was something as simple as take a strategically placed bathroom break. Tommy had planned it out meticulously. Take as much cash as he could carry from the middle of the pallet, replace it with some plain paper bundles so it would go unnoticed until it was recounted at another location. Meet up with me shortly after and split the whole take 50/50.
I didn’t let him finish. I was doing my best bite my tongue and hear out his plan before I flat out interrupted him. “Tommy, No…no man, just…. No look, listen to me …no, NO!” I said punctuating the last no with a slammed close fist on the table, rattling our plates and silverware, and cutting him off. We got a few curious looks from the other diner patrons and I forced myself to calm down. I lowered my voice.
“Tommy,” I pleaded, “I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen very closely. I get why you want to do this. I understand you’re at a point in your life where you have nowhere else to turn but this isn’t the way. You’ve put a lot of thought into this but you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. A job like this would be difficult even for a professional and I’m gonna take a stab in the dark and say that you’ve never done this before. There are so many things you’re not considering. So much shit can go wrong with this. Even if you did pull this off…”
I was losing my battle with self-control. My whisper became an angry hiss
“You know what, no. There is no fucking pulling this shit off. You know what’s gonna happen? You might sneak in, you might get away with some cash but I can guaran-fucking-tee they’ll have eyes on you immediately. They’ll let you think you got away with it, they’ll let you think you’re nice and safe and cozy and then they’ll snatch your ass up and make a fucking example out of you and I am not talking about some simple execution bullshit. No, no, no… that’s too easy. You think you know what my life was? You’ve done your research, have you? You don’t know shit! You have no fucking idea. I have seen some fucked up things done to people, Tommy. Christ, I’ve done some fucked up things to people and for far less. Unspeakable things. They will take you and torture your ass for days, sometimes weeks at a time. Do you want that? Is that what you want?! Do you want to be found in a ditch with your severed fucking fingers stuffed down your throat? Will that help your family?! You say you’ve planned this bullshit out. What happens if the goddamned transport crew shows up early? They don’t exactly have a lot of fucking reasons to not show up early. Have you thought of that?!”
Tommy just stared at me. Expressionless. A blank slate. I saw an emptiness in his eyes that I recognized in my own. I wasn’t prepared for that…or for his response.
“I have. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ll show up, try to pull the job off and if anyone spots me, they’ll kill me. Slowly or quickly and then I’ll be dead.” He said, simply.
I didn’t know what to say. The best friend that I’ve ever had in this world sat in front of me, tears in his eyes, in a quiet diner at the end of his rope. I realized he knew exactly what could go wrong, that there was a high probability it would…and he didn’t care.
“Marcus,” he told me, his voice quavering, “I have nothing left. Literally nothing left. This is it. Tomorrow night no matter what happens I’m doing this. With you, without you. It doesn’t matter. I might pull it off, I might not but no matter how this turns out, my life as it is right now will be over. I’m okay with that. My family will be taken care of and this… all of this will be done.”
I didn’t say anything for the longest time. I couldn’t. What was there tosay?
And then I told him I was in. I would do it. I would help him.
He was my best friend.
What would you have done?
We paid our check and walked out of the diner into the cold. Tommy told me he would meet me at the diner tomorrow after the job was done and I agreed.
It wasn’t quite sunrise yet. A pale blue hue clung to everything in sight. A handful of birds chirped their morning song and the rest of the world slowly began to stir from a sound slumber. We walked to the end of the parking lot where we had both parked across from each other. The sickly yellow fluorescent lights above us shut off as we walked to our vehicles, anticipating the approaching sun. Neither of us spoke a word. The topic of our early morning conversation hung in the air like a poison cloud. It was Tommy who finally broke the silence.
“Marcus…I just want to tell you thank you for hearing me out… for being a good friend…for everything” He said, his voice breaking. I hugged him.
“You’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a brother, Tommy. I’d do anything for you.” I told him. He hugged me back, shoulders shaking. It was all I could do to hold it together myself. I loved the guy. He was more of a friend to me than anyone ever was.
“Oh man, if I keep this up my face will get frozen to your fucking jacket.” He said wiping his eyes and we both shared a chuckle. He was rocking that old Tommy half smile again and it warmed my heart.
“Tomorrow?” I asked.
“Tomorrow.” He confirmed and with that we went our separate ways.
He started for his car and I walked toward my truck fishing into my jacket and fighting back tears. I stopped and made my way back to him. “Hey Tommy-“ I called. He turned.
Tommy still had that half smile on his face as the bullet tore through his temple and exploded out the other side in a fine red mist. He was dead before he hit the ground. He crumpled to the pavement in a heap next to his car, keys still in hand. The gunshot, muffled by the silencer, echoed across the parking lot no more loudly than a hand clap sending a flock of birds soaring into the morning sky. I lowered my pistol. It felt heavy. Heavier than usual. My hand was shaking. I looked around to see if I had drawn any attention. Aside from the birds no one seemed to notice. I walked over to Tommy and knelt beside him. My best friend died with his eyes open. I’ll never forget the way they seemed to stare at me accusingly before I closed them.
“I’m so sorry, Tommy.” I whispered to him as I knelt. “I’m not gonna let them hurt you. I love you too fucking much to let ‘em. Your family will be taken care of I promise you that. You don’t have to worry. I swear. I love you, Tommy. Rest easy, brother.” I said this to him as blood pooled around his head and steam rose from his wound before fading upwards and disappearing into the blue sky above.
I tucked my pistol back into my jacket, took Tommy’s wallet and cellphone, got into my truck and left. Quickly but calmly. I made sure to take back roads to get to my place and not draw attention to myself in any way. Old habits die hard. I held it together for most of the way back home. I was about a half mile from my house when John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles began to wail “Don’t Let Me Down” into the quiet stillness of the morning. That was all it took. I jerked the wheel, came to a sliding halt by the side of the road and cried. I cried and cried and couldn’t stop. I cried for Tommy, I cried for his family, I cried for his daughter who would never know her father, I cried for the things I’ve done, I cried for the life Tommy had, and I cried at the horrible events that played out that morning. I cried for everything.
They found Tommy about an hour after I left. Missing his wallet and phone, his death was seen as just another unsolved homicide, the result of an aggravated assault that went wrong. In the coming weeks I would find out that Tommy used the very last of his savings to take a big insurance policy out on himself in his daughter’s name before he met up with me. He really did want the best for her, no matter what happened to him. That didn’t stop me from setting up an anonymous college fund that she would get the day she turned 18. I dumped cash into it every chance I got.
They scattered Tommy’s ashes in the same neighborhood we grew up in together. I think he would’ve liked that.
I know it might not make sense to you and frankly, I don’t care if it does or doesn’t but… as the years went by I would always remember that breakfast as the best breakfast I would ever have.
I got to spend a morning catching up and laughing with my best friend. I got to forget about everything. My life. My job. My past. I got to forget about the bad things I’ve done and the people I’ve hurt and just got to relax with Tommy one last time as we remembered the old times, the good times…the better times
In that regard it truly was the best breakfast I’ve ever had or would ever have.
Even if the eggs were runny.