Last Call

a novel by Blane Jackson


Chapter 01 »

"He does not go far, who knows where he goes at the start."
– Napoleon Bonaparte

– December 1983 –

The sound of clinking beer bottles under the front seat awakened Tommy from his trance. The stoplight turned green. He spun the wheel of the 1977 Chrylser New Yorker hard to the left and stomped on the gas. The tires squealed as the dark brown behemoth accelerated up the on ramp. A huge green sign overhead read: Interstate 80 West – George Washington Bridge. The bright morning sunlight framing the blue-green bridge, irritated his bloodshot eyes. He was tired and despondent, but he was going home.

“Shit,” he thought as he looked at the pleasure boats speckling the Hudson River. As far as he could see it seemed people were out and about; people were having fun. It was a pleasant Sunday morning. He wondered if any of the people in the boats below felt as scared and sick as he felt. The tires thumped rhythmically over the expansion cracks in the bridge decking, accentuating the sick feeling in the pit in his stomach. He watched indifferently as each support cable flashed by at regular intervals, as if to mock the discomfort he felt.

Was there any recovery from this he wondered as his eyes glazed over. A single tear rolled down his left cheek. He dried it without attracting undue attention from the other passengers in the car.

He tried to recall the excitement he felt only two days ago when he saw the beautiful aqua bridge for the first time. He recalled how he and his buddies' strained with excitement to see the skyline of the wondrous city.

"New York, The Big Apple, If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” he shook his head and thought. “What the fuck were we thinking?"

Two days ago his future seemed bright. His life stretched out in front of him like the endless highway they were driving, flanked by adventure, terminated by success. On the way to the city, they celebrated, they ate in expensive restaurants, and drank good liquor at the swankest bars. They reveled in their cleverness.

“And why not?” he thought. Hadn't the last two years been amazing, almost magical? Hadn't he been right all along? Hadn't he outsmarted everyone? Hadn't his insight and intuition served him flawlessly? He'd made a lot of money, he was popular, he had more friends than he cared to have, and more lovers than he'd ever dreamed he'd have. It was an unbelievable ride and he felt invincible.

The "New York Caper" was the move that should have put him "over the top." Everything seemed perfect. They had rehearsed the plan over and over. Nothing could go wrong. He had his best and most trusted friend with him. He and his cousin Kenny Olsson had been like brothers since they could walk.

Who better to take along as backup and counsel, he thought? How did everything go so wrong?

They brought along Tony Benton for muscle, just in case. A power lifting state champion, Tony could handle anybody or anything that got in their way.

What the fuck?

They had a decent, fast car, guns, a solid plan, and fifty-thousand dollars in cash. But twenty-four hours later, he was ruined and lucky not to be in jail, … or worse.

"Hell," he thought, "just carrying a handgun in New York City is a felony. What the fuck were we thinking? How the fuck am I going to cover this loss?"

Tommy looked over at Kenny. From the “shotgun” seat he stared blankly out over the Hudson in the opposite direction. Tommy knew exactly what he was thinking. How could we have been so fucking stupid?

“Well …,” said Tony from the back seat, “it's a beautiful morning.”

“Yeah,” muttered Tommy forcing a sarcastic laugh, “it’s a beautiful fucking morning.”

He turned his head to see how Kenny would react. His eyes immediately caught Kenny's and they began to laugh madly at Tony's naive but truthful comment. "What else could they do?" he thought.

“Yeah,” said Kenny, “it's a beautiful fucking day all right.”

“Hey, all we can do is make the best of it,” Tony said trying to feign a positive tone. "What's done is done and there ain't nothin' we can do about it today."

The bottles clinked again under the front seat. “Those fucking beer bottles under my seat are driving me nuts,” Tommy muttered. “Are any of them full?”

Tony grunted as he struggled to contort his massive frame to feel for the loose beer bottles under the seat. He fished three full bottles out and passed two to the front seat exclaiming, “And they’re still cold! How about that?"

Tommy, Kenny, and Tony twisted the tops off the cold green Straub bottles in near unison and tossed the caps on the floor. It was ten AM, too early to drink on most days, but today it seemed appropriate. Everyone in the car needed a drink to kill the pain and the memory of their stupidity.

Tommy tipped the bottle up and took a long drink. The cold beer tasted good. For at least a moment, it drove away his fear and despair. He took another long drink. He focused on the image in the rearview mirror. He wanted one last look at the city that symbolized both the pinnacle of his success, and the naiveté that brought him down. The magnificent skyline faded into the distant horizon and with it, his hopes and dreams.

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