15. Youth: part one

Al carried the last suit case into the basement. I caught him on the stairs on my way up. When I reached outside, I turned and looked over towards Jane street. The streets had been wet from the rain, but light from the setting sun was already breaking through the clouds. It was a quiet Sunday evening. I laid back in a chair on the small porch, breathing in the damp cool air. Two days had passed since I told my father that I was moving out. Telling him that was the most difficult ordeal in my life. The entire trial was still fresh in my memory. It took all the strength I had to look square in the man’s enigmatic eyes that held me so still. When I finally did muster up the courage to tell him, he asked why. I wanted to tell him everything, everything that I knew and saw. I wanted to confront him with his own evils.

But I didn’t.

I knew that confronting him with this knowledge would be a grievous error, and that delicate things such as this are best left untouched… for now. Thus I kept the knowledge to myself and turned to the next reason. I told him that I felt I was old enough the leave the nest and find my own life. But I also said that Jonathan was my reason, he was the purpose of my departure. I expressed how I could no longer stand that place, that mansion, and how it held all the countless memories that I held with Jonathan. Every corner of that house was a reminder of the bottomless pit that now laid in my life. The empty void that was left after he was taken away. I had to escape that.

Father just stared at me silently, then said how he was in the exact same position that I was in. But his words meant nothing to me. I let him know how I felt. I expressed how he was never home to actually see his children grow up. His office was his home. He stepped closer to me, never releasing me from his gaze, and said, “First your mother is taken from me, then your brother, and now you’re leaving me?”

With my mouth closed I made a small laugh as puddles formed in my eyes. “We were never together to begin with,” I responded.

There was a long pause. Not once did he shed a tear from that stone like face. “Then go,” he said remorselessly.

After hearing that, I wanted to rip his heart out. But despite all the things I was now able to do, there seemed to be this… power in him that made him seem as if he was a force to be reckoned with, as if even the Devil himself would not dare challenge him. So I took in a deep breath, fought down my emotions, and began to walk away. Right before I walked out of the office he called out to me and I turned back. Even from ten feet away he was able to snatch me with his eyes once more, and in a bitter tone he said, “Don’t forget where you came from.”

Two days later, I found myself hauling luggage into my friend’s basement. The place wasn’t too bad. It had already been renovated for living, complete with a living area, a kitchenette, bathroom, and a bedroom. Rosie was generous enough to give me a good price on the rent, and learning how to cook for myself was going to be something to look forward to; I put a fire extinguisher right by the stove just in case.

Al invited me to come up for dinner that night. They were having stake, fried rice, and peas, and sweet potato pie. The whole family was there, and I felt it was a nice way to start this new chapter in my life. I was certain there would be many more dinners like this to come, but I had no idea of what laid ahead.

“So what do you plan on doing after high school, kid?” asked Troy, Al’s step father. “You goin’ to college like this smart ass over here?” He gestured towards Al with an unsteady drink in his hand, the ice clinking against the glass. That question put me on the spot.

“Uh…” I stumbled, almost coughing up the mush in my mouth. “…I don’t think I’ll be going to college.”

“Why not, man?” inquired Al. The truth was that a career in science and engineering no longer appealed to me, after discovering the horrors it could create. But I knew that telling them this would arouse much curiosity and require an explanation that even I couldn’t dish out. “I mean I am goin’ to college,” I reconsidered. “I just might be takin’ somethin’ else.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?” asked Troy.

“I thought maybe… psychology perhaps.”

“Serious? Hmm…” pondered Troy. “Well I hear that in the mean time you’ve moved out and wanna make it on your own steam, right?”

I nodded my head.

“I don’t see why,” he continued, “Al tells me you alone got enough money to feed a third world country.” I shot a look of disapproval at Al. “But that’s cool,” Troy continued. “You’re not afraid to get your palms messy. I like that. A friend of mine runs a repo business up in North Woodbine. He’s lookin’ for an extra hand. Why don’t you stop on over and check it out?”

I took time to think about it. I figured now that I’m in the real world, offers like this don’t come around everyday, so I’d jump on every opportunity I get. “Yeah, I’ll probably go have a look,” I said, “cuz my allowance days are over.”

****

The modified old Honda rolled into the dirt-carpeted parking lot, the sound of rocks and pebbles grinding beneath the tires. The thing sounded like a sowing machine. I stepped out into the dusty ground and followed Troy inside the one story building. The door opened with a tingle of a bell. The faint smell a cigarettes lingered in the atmosphere as the wooden floor thudded beneath our feet.

At the reception was a young man who was quite obese for his age, appearing to be only in his early twenties. After Troy asked for his friend, the Jaba the Hutt-looking man waddled back to retrieve him. The friend came out moments later, a tall, skinny man with a goatee, in his forties at the most.

“So this is the kid, eh?” he said as he gave me a firm hand shake. “Hey, I’m John. Nice to have you here. Come around back, I have a few things for you to fill out.”

That same day, John took me out for my first repossession. He didn’t let me take part of course, but he let me watch and learn. He was assisted by two other men, and in a matter of minutes we were hauling away the Subaru Outback.

Within a weeks time I was already taking vehicles, yachts, picking locks and hot wiring cars. I was a fast learner and all the techniques became second nature to me. As a matter of fact, I was becoming better than John himself. To think that stealing was a talent of mine.

Two weeks into my new career we received an order for a Lamborghini Gallardo that was supposed to be taken from a man named Jeremy Powel. As soon as I heard what kind of car it was I was dead set on nabbing it. At about 2:30 in the morning, I grabbed a partner and hit the road, despite the fact that I had school that same day. We found the place in the posh Forest Hill area, and it was anything but modest: a three-car garage, triplex, and a pool in the back. It was a quiet neighbourhood and was perhaps to only part of the city that was asleep. When we arrived we immediately initiated the procedure. Luckily the car was parked outside so we didn’t have to open the garage and worry about an alarm. We rigged the car up to the truck and sped off into the night.

That weekend John came into his office to inspect the routine. By then it was the first of March. “Oh crap!” he exclaimed. I heard his commotion from the reception. “Who went ahead with the Powel job?” he demanded as he stormed out of his office. Everyone in the building was silent.

I then stepped forward to take responsibility. “Uh, I did,” I confessed. “Why? What happened? Did we do something wrong?” John removed his glasses and massaged the corners of his eyes. “Anthony, you should always notify me before you do a job,” he said. “Sometimes there are mix ups and we end up taking the wrong vehicle from the wrong person.”

“But I triple checked the information,” I said. “I’m pretty sure that was the right guy.”

“Like I said,” continued John, “sometimes there are mix ups. Now I want you and Teddy to take that car back as soon as possible, all right?”

“Well, shouldn’t they come and pick it up themselves?” I questioned. “I mean that’s–”

“Please, Anthony,” interrupted John. “Just do it. I’m already stressed out as it is.” He then walked back into his office and slammed the door. What’s his problem, I thought to myself.

Everyone went back to their business. I on the other hand walked over to Teddy. “What’s eatin’ him,” I asked.

He looked at me the way one would look at thirty-year-old virgin. “You don’t know, do you.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Know what?” I asked.

“Ever heard of the Estate?”

“Yeah, I think so,” I replied. “What about em’?”

“They’ve had John on a leash for a while since they’ve started runnin’ repo firms and private banks. That lets them buy what they want and not have to worry about the… technicalities. All the jobs we get that involve someone with links to the Estate we can’t do. It’s like they’re untouchable.”

“So what are you sayin’,” I said, “that this Powel guy has connections with this syndicate? Sure, buddy. I bet those guys don’t even exist.”

“Trust me, kid,” said Teddy. “They exist, and they run more shit than you know.”

“Whatever, man,” I said. “I’m not gonna bring that car back just because John’s afraid this guy might be part of some ‘all powerful mob’.”

“You need to watch what you say, kid,” Teddy warned. “I’ve seen them.” At that point he turned his head to expose his neck. A thick, long scar ran from the back of his neck and down the side.

I was dumbfounded. “Shit…” I said to myself. “But still, we took that car fair and square, it doesn’t belong to him. I’m gonna have a talk with John.”

“Anthony,” Teddy called out, but I was already gone.

I walked into John’s office. “You’re still here, kid?” he said. “I thought I told you to take that car back.”

“No. And I came to talk to you about that,” I said. “I’ve heard about the Estate and their connection here.” John stopped what he was doing and gave me a slow stare. I stared right back into those grey eyes of his.

“So what are you gonna do about it?” he provoked.

I shock my head and said, “I’m not bringin’ the car back.”

John stood up and walked towards me, said, “You got some nerve, you know that? And obviously you’re too stupid to know what you’re up against. Bring the car back!”

“Man, I got a real job to do,” I said, “and I won’t let these guys bitch me around. And you shouldn’t either.”

“Listen, kid!” his voice was raised, angry and impatient. “Now you’re a good kid, and I like you. I appreciate the work you do around here. But there is a certain line that cannot be crossed, and if you can’t see that line then I suggest you find yourself another job.” I tightened my jaw and loosened it again to prepare to say something back, but at that moment the obese receptionist popped into the room.

“Uh, John?” he said, “You’d better get out here.” There was a look of fear on his face. John complied and excused himself from his office. I took a moment to ponder the situation then followed him out.

Out in the reception was a group of men, five of them. There were two large guys, one of medium build, and another was short and scrawny. His pale, bony face looked familiar, but I couldn’t tell from where. I ran my fingers through my hair trying to remember. The last guy who approached John was about my height, 6’1’’, but was a little overweight. “What do you want, Powel?” asked John scornfully. This Jeremy Powel was wearing a bran new leather jacket and a pair of big dark shades. The stereotypical Italian American, I thought to myself feeling ashamed. But wait a minute; he can’t be Italian; his last name is Powel

“Don’t be an idiot, McNeal,” said Powel. “You know how hard it is for me to wake up in the morning, McNeal, and then have to get my boys to drive me all the way out here? You think I like doing this? You don’t think I have better things to do?”

“Powel–” interjected John but with no luck.

“Wait, shut up, I’m not finished yet,” interrupted Powel. “To top things off, the wife shows me this letter sayin’ my car’s been repossessed. It’s been a shit day so far.”

“Listen, Powel,” said John. “There’s been–”

“My kid, I gotta drop her off at soccer practise,” interrupted Powel. “The wife, she bitches at me constantly. My dogs, I gotta walk em’ or else they’ll shit on the rugs. My girlfriend, I can’t see her now cuz I need to have nice wheels for that bitch. You know how stupid this makes me look, McNeal? Do you? I don’t like lookin’ stupid, McNeal. I don’t. Now all I want is my car.”

“Powel,” said John with beads of sweat condensing on his forehead, “I can explain. There’s been a mix up, a few of my people took your car by mistake, and they were just on their way to return it.”

“Oh, and who took it?” asked Powel.

“I did,” I called out, with a confidence that shocked me.

“Anthony,” objected John, trying to keep me quiet.

I gestured back for him to stay calm and said, “I saw the paper trail, learnt that you haven’t paid up, so I did the job.”

There was a moment of silence before Powel chuckled to himself. “Who is this James Franco lookin’ kid,” he asked as he stepped up to me. “I gotta tell ya, he’s got balls.” Suddenly, he gave me a right hook across the face. It knocked me off my feet and I caught the reception desk to break my fall. “But no brains,” he concluded as he backed off and fixed his jacket.

Of course his swing didn’t hurt much, it just startled me. But for a second I felt consciousness slip away from me a little and Id awaken. I fought him down, however, and put him back to sleep. God knows how that situation would have turned out if Id took over me.

I staggered back to my feet, deliberately looking unsteady to make it look like he actually fazed me. If I had shot back up to my rigid posture, it may have provoked him. “Hey! Let’s not have any of that in my building,” commanded John. Teddy stood aside, but poised.

“You better teach that kid some manners,” said Powel.

“Take what you want and get out of here,” John demanded.

“Listen,” said Powel. “We give the orders around here, all right. Not you. We were just about to leave anyways. I got places to be and money to make. Oh, and one more thing. Don’t let me have to come all the way out here again, you here me.” He gestured to his boys. “Let’s get outta here.” As they walked out, one of the larger brutes shot a threatening look at me then followed the rest of the men out.

Teddy followed them with his squinted eyes. “You okay, Anthony?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I replied.

Everyone breathed out in a sigh of relief and regained their composure. John pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and took a long pull. “This is exactly what I was talking about,” he said to me as he went back into his office. I immediately went after him.

“Listen, John,” I pleaded. “I’m sorry, had I known–”

“Yeah well now you know,” he snapped back. “I don’t wanna talk about it. I have nothing else to say.” I stood there with a dumb look on my face.

“I guess I’d better leave then–” I said.

“Nah, nah,” John objected. “You’re welcome to stay if you want. You do a good job around here, but we all fuck up sometimes. That’s what makes us human. It just goes to show that there’s no room for your ideals in this city.”

“True,” I said. “But hope is what makes us human also.”

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