Are the joyful days
Like when the pain dies
And the mist dries …
An old, old song screwed itself into Hank’s ears, streaming off his data plan. Suddenly he was seventeen, at the wheel of his parked car, as he was now. But a different car, the old rod that he dearly missed, the one he bought off an old college professor and tried to fix up. When he and … Sally? … passed the threshold in the back seat this very song might have been playing. He had the cassette back then. Bump City. No, you don’t hear that old funk anymore. Gone.
He stared out over the cities below. Oakland shown dully at his feet. San Francisco glittered at the other end of the bridge, all those lights winking as air currents swirled over the Bay. Below Us, All the City Lights … Another old song. Probably never made radio outside the Bay Area. But Tower really knew how to capture the times. There was nothing like the East Bay in the 1970s. Well, Hank almost said out loud, we think that now. Then, it was just … what it was. Now? Gone.
The cold night air crawled through the open window and across his bald head. Were nights ever warm here? No. He remembered that too. Height of summer, you still had to take a coat. But the weather here was the best anyway.
A flash of headlights and a crunching of tires on gravel shifted his focus but he didn’t move. Kept staring, thinking about all that excitement, the mistakes, the really big mistakes, all those women … Where were they now? Were they all still even alive? Probably not. Gone.
Silence. He felt eyes on him. Casually he moved his gaze from the City to the Golden Gate, almost hidden by the fog. But his thoughts had shifted. There was a night, a lot like this one. He and Manny felt like kings, acted like kings. Manny had scored a big deal through his brother. It was his step up. Bangers were gonna be impressed. He and Manny were gonna go through chicks like Kleenex.
They were higher than fuck, and Hank never really remembered anything, but what he did remember, he remembered a thousand times. There were cars, there were dudes he didn’t know, serious-looking fuckers. Trunks opened, merchandise tested. Manny played it up, and he was bad, he was hella bad that night. Everything went exactly right.
Until it went exactly wrong. Sudden movements, blue and red lights flashing, guns drawn, bodies going this way and that, shouting, such scared shouting.
Hank never remembered the details. When his brain tried to, he coked them out. All that really stuck in his mind was holding onto Manny, pressing his palm into his chest, blood everywhere, crying. Manny tried so hard to be a man about it. In a hoarse whisper he said his brother was gonna be hella proud of him, hella proud. And he died.
And Hank spent years stewing over it. Manny’s brother had set it up. Manny’s brother had fucked it up. By the time Hank got out he had decided anyone who brings a little brother into the business needs a lesson.
But he had no idea. He had to stay out of the state. Years passed. Hank spent most of them in the South. Dallas, Atlanta, wherever the airlines needed baggage handlers. It was all he could do. It was all he cared to do.
He felt rather than saw a well-dressed young man get out of the driver’s seat and go around to the passenger side. The door opened. An even more well-dressed older man got out. The feeling of eyes on him never wavered.
It was the God damnedest thing. Hank had tried to forget. Then some random name came out of the past on some social network. He clicked a link. He clicked another link. And there was the face, attached to some fly-by-night inner-city ministry. Toothy smile, dead eyes, a face kind of like Manny’s only seventy years old and crumpled like a paper bag.
Hank learned long since there was no point in talking. He opened the door and lurched painfully to his feet, smiled a little bit. The so-called minister narrowed his eyes … and blocked his bodyguard. “Amateur,” Hank said, and let his 9 mil say the rest to both of them.
* * *
I wrote this from this prompt here, in moments stolen from the middle of the day, the theme being a song I didn’t use, a picture I also didn’t use, and the word “gone.”