Getting out (Part IV)
Money wrapped like that meant it was ready to be weighed. Weighing money saved people time and nobody weighed less than a hundred thousand at a time./
Carlos’s grandma pulled something out of his hair with her hand, looking at it with her fingers. Carlos looked at it too. There was blood between her fingers.
(Part IV) Carlos finds trouble his first night on the town
By Antonio C. de Baca
Editor’s note: We’re pleased to present the work of Antonio C. de Baca, who spent ten years in prison and is pursuing studies at Boise State University. The following is the final episode of a four-part fictional series on getting out of prison by Mr. de Baca.
In last month’s third episode, Carlos runs into his old homies while waiting for a ride home after his first grueling day on a new construction job in Stockton, Calif. He makes plans to spend an evening with them, rationalizing that he is the only person who can get himself into trouble.
By Antonio C. de Baca
Boxer’s Infinity was parked in front of the store where every car that passed could see it. Carlos wished for a second that they hadn’t parked there; someone from his family might see him getting into the car. It would cause more hurt than was needed right now in his abuelita’s life. She didn’t need to know he was with these gangsters. Still, the chances were slim that anyone in his family would see him get into Boxer’s car.
“What’s up, fools?” Carlos asked. Carlos looked into the car. Soldier Boy was there and a young Chicano was sitting in the back seat. Carlos recognized him, Micky, Boxer’s little brother.
“Get in, fool,” Boxer said. He pulled out from the front of the store before Carlos had closed his door. Carlos first speculated where they were going, which club, but then thought that wasn’t important. He’d find out soon enough. It felt good to be riding. Women would look at them like they were the superstars. They were the superheroes.
He remembered how everyone would open their doors for them wherever they went, and how they drew the ladies’ eyes whenever they walked into a club, how the women would flock around them like pigeons on dried bread in a park. The memories came flooding back but his mind was still mostly filled with images of lifeless convict eyes and fluorescent-lit cells. Carlos let the images of the good times resurface, slipping deeper into his past, gathering in every instance of when the gangster life was the only suitable life.
Soldier Boy handed him a pair of Nike shoes, pants, and polo shirt, the style of clothes that Carlos wore during his gangster days, before he put on those prison blues. He dressed in the back as they drove. He didn’t even think twice about getting dressed in the back seat. He just wanted to look normal, thug normal.
Boxer turned up the music; it was playing rap, Tupac.
The music trumpeted in Carlos’s head, a pulsating, mesmerizing beat, reminding him of the evil things he’d done, things that brought admiration and trepidation from others, like the crime that put him in an Idaho prison for 10 years, the shooting of a drug dealer who owed money. As Tupac rapped through the car sound system, Carlos remembered firing a straight line of smoke into his victim with the tiny .22 pistol, and being close enough for blood to spray onto his face. Then, the scream that sounded more like a pig’s squeal than a human’s—the pure terror. He thought about how he had planned to invite his prey out to eat and then try to kill him, a ruse that was a trademark kept by the most dangerous, because anyone could drive by and shoot someone. Only the most heartless could go out and have a laugh with their victims before they killed them. Tupac’s song finished and thoughts of prison came back to Carlos’s mind and stayed there like an ugly tattoo that stared at him every time he looked in the mirror.
Prison put a different perspective on things and Carlos knew that life was more than nice clothes and fast cars; it was about freedom, using the bathroom or taking a shower or eating when you want.
“Hey fool,” Boxer said. “I know you ain’t been out here in a long ass time, but things’ve changed and you’re going to see how in a minute. So keep your eyes open.” Boxer pulled into the parking lot of a club. A line almost went around the building. Carlos couldn’t judge the true size of the building from the outside. It looked like it was two stories tall, but it could’ve been more, and the length reminded him of an aircraft hangar, all gray and long.
Boxer drove through the lot up to the front of the club, where hundreds of women were lined up outside, waiting to get in. Carlos couldn’t believe his eyes. It was the most women he’d seen in one place as far back as he could remember.
It was how he pictured freedom.
Boxer got out of the car without taking his car keys. Everyone else got out with him. Carlos got out slower than the rest, feeling strange around all these people, especially the women, who looked like they came right out of magazines, with painted on pants and shirts like bras, barely covering their breasts. A young Chicano, who looked too young to drive, came running around to the driver’s side of the car, got in and drove it somewhere….
This wasn’t the same Stockton Carlos remembered. It wasn’t the same Boxer that he’d known. Boxer never had that much pull, having someone park his car for him. Carlos sat stunned, taking it all in. A voice called him: “You going to stay out here fool, or you going to come in?” Soldier Boy and Micky were already inside, only Boxer waited. They walked past the line of people who stared at them like beggars. The huge bouncers swung out of Boxer’s way like a remote control garage door.
“What’s up with this?” Carlos asked. “You know who owns this club?”
Boxer smiled as he walked to the back of the club, wading through a sea of people, moving as one to the pounding music. A thick smell of cigarette smoke filled the air.
“It’s my club,” Boxer yelled loud enough to be heard over the noise. “But the paperwork says it’s my uncle’s.”
Carlos followed Boxer deeper into the club, past the dance floor into a dark hallway that smelled of urine. The sight of packed bathrooms brought clarity to why it smelled.
Boxer opened a door that was almost invisible at the end of the hall. It led to a lighted hall with rooms on both sides. Boxer entered a room where Soldier Boy and Micky and two other people Carlos had never seen before were waiting. From inside the room, the club’s music could barely be heard.
“What’s up, putos?” Boxer said to the two strangers. One was older and looked like Boxer, minus the fat face. The other was short and round, like the talking M&M’s® candies from the TV commercials. He was also closer to both Carlos’s and Boxer’s age, in his late 20s.
Carlos looked around the room. It was a plush red apartment with a black leather sofa and love seat, big screen TV and a small bar in the center against the wall. The older man, who looked like Boxer, was behind the bar; the other was sitting at the bar with Micky. Soldier Boy was sitting on the couch watching TV. It was the kind of apartment that Carlos always thought he was going to have when he got out of prison, a place where he would be king. Not like his grandma’s house, walls so thin that you could hear through them. All of her furniture almost 20 years old, stuff that he remembered from his childhood. Or his uncle’s one-bedroom apartment that he shared with his wife and son.
“This is my homeboy, Carlos,” Boxer said. Carlos shook hands with them. Boxer introduced the older man as his uncle.
“So what’s up, fool?” Boxer asked the short overweight man. “You brought the money or no?”
The overweight man at the bar grabbed a duffel bag that was lying next to his stool and threw it for Boxer to grab.
Boxer pulled out stacks of bills wrapped in plastic. Carlos knew from all his years of selling drugs that money wrapped like that meant it was ready to be weighed. Weighing money saved people time and nobody weighed less than a hundred thousand at a time. It also meant that Boxer was high on the ladder. He was big time.
“It’s all there,” the fat man said. He looked around the room carefully, as if trying to decide on something. He looked back at Boxer. “I started to hear some bad things about your brother Joe.”
Boxer stopped handling the money, placing it back in the bag. His eyes became crossed. Carlos knew Joe, Boxer’s brother, but he didn’t know him well. Probably as well as he knew Micky, and being locked up in Idaho didn’t help Carlos know more about Boxer’s family or keep up with the talk on the street.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Boxer asked, a hint of menace in his voice. Carlos wondered if the fat man felt the tension rise in the room. Even Carlos felt his own blood turn warm when Boxer spoke.
The man paused for a second, probably second-guessing himself.
“I heard he was working for Five-O,” he said. “He ain’t no good.” He was working for the police.
Carlos saw Boxer’s ears turn crimson like fire and his eyes burn with hate. Boxer looked like he was about to pounce on the little fat guy, whose confidence was now completely gone, knowing that he should have kept his mouth shut. Carlos knew what came next. The man was headed to the hospital, if he was lucky.
Carlos’s instincts took over, instincts of violence, always ready to commit violence when it was least expected. Without thinking, he walked right up to the bar, real close. Everything in his mind went blank and, like a zombie with one purpose, he thought only about grabbing the fat man. Carlos and Boxer moved as one, even after being away from each other for so long. No one could stop what was coming next.
Carlos positioned himself better so the man couldn’t go anywhere if he tried. They had both been there before, when they were in their teens, Boxer shooting a friend of theirs that they thought was talking to the police. Carlos just grabbed the murder weapon seconds after the shooting not even stopping to ask what he was to do with it. He knew what to do with it—get rid of it, destroy the evidence, which he did with a blowtorch. Carlos and Boxer never once talked about the murder after that night, it was taboo to talk about such things after they were done. And the two felt much closer to each other having shared in the ultimate sin. They had both earned honor that night, stripes among gangsters. Everyone knew that it was Carlos and Boxer who killed their friend; even the police questioned them, but had no proof to arrest them. The only witnesses were themselves.
The man sensed the malice. He tried to get up from his stool, but Carlos, as if in a trance, grabbed him in a bear hug, holding the man’s arms at his side. It wasn’t hard for him to hold him in place. All the weights that Carlos had lifted over the years in prison made this out-of-shape man soft, useless against Carlos’s grip.
“Hold his ass there!” Boxer shouted. Carlos tightened his hold, feeling the man’s heart beat through him. Carlos could smell the man’s body odor, which reminded him of a wino at a homeless shelter.
Carlos sensed movement behind him. Someone was grabbing the man’s feet. Carlos was uncertain who it was until he noticed Soldier Boy, always one to jump to any conflict—he had the instinct, like a good soldier, ready to rise to the duty at hand. Soldier Boy lifted the fat man’s feet. The man started to say something, but his words weren’t clear, they didn’t make sense, like he was talking in tongues, which only the chosen might have understood, but he was in a room full of sinners.
“Take him to the bathroom!” Boxer ordered, his voice echoing. Carlos followed Soldier Boy to a small bathroom in the back of the apartment. The man’s breath was almost out and his fight was gone. He looked as if he was accepting his fate hopelessly, a fate that so many before him had faced at the hands of Boxer and his crew.
It was difficult carrying the big man through the bathroom door. He was almost too wide. But they managed.
“Put his ass in the tub!” Boxer screamed. Soldier Boy’s hands were going through his pockets and over his waistband.
Making sure that if he let him go he couldn’t grab a weapon—or he was checking for money?
“Let him go!” Boxer yelled. Carlos used all the force he could manage and slammed the man’s body into the tub, landing him face first. Boxer was on top of him almost at the same moment, aiming a small gun—pop, pop, pop—blood splattering all over the wall and shower curtain. Carlos felt drops hitting his face. A leaky shower head? He checked to see what it was. It was blood.
Carlos felt strange looking down at the man in the tub, as if having a vision, as if he was viewing himself from above, witnessing an ex-con who had no control over his actions. I’m not responsible for this, he told himself, even though he was the first one to move when he felt Boxer’s hostility. I ain’t the one who pulled the trigger, he rationalized. But no matter what Carlos said to himself, he realized that he had just taken part in a murder.
The blood started to seep from the victim’s body, running down the drain. Carlos didn’t know how long he had stood there, but he could hear Boxer’s voice giving instructions, as if in slow motion, like a cassette player running too slow. Soldier Boy started removing the man’s pants, which got stuck on his shoes. He realized his mistake and pulled the shoes off with them.
“Carlos, help with those plastic bags!” Everything returned to reality at that moment. He had committed another crime and hadn’t even been out of jail more than two days. A capital crime that could send him and everyone else in the room to death row.
Carlos grabbed some plastic bags from Micky. They were bigger and stronger than normal garbage bags, good for carrying and disposing a body.
“Don’t touch them with your hands!” Micky said. Carlos looked down at Micky’s hands, both gloved. Micky handed him a pair of gloves. He knew what came next: Dumping the body. Carlos considered telling Boxer that he changed his mind and didn’t want to take part in this anymore.
But seeing the small pistol in Boxer’s hand as he walked around the room telling everyone what to do, Carlos knew that it wasn’t a good idea to change his mind now. There’d be two bodies in that tub if he told Boxer that he wanted to leave. Boxer wasn’t one to leave someone alive he didn’t trust.
The body didn’t take long to package and was quickly ready to be moved. Boxer didn’t want anyone to know where he was going to dump it. All Carlos had to do was watch the body until it was time to carry it to a car parked outside. Carlos sat in the back of the club with the body, hoping his nervousness didn’t show. He had been through this before, but this was different, he didn’t want to be a part of this life any longer. He didn’t want to go back to prison. He didn’t want to go back to the gun towers. He didn’t want to go back to watching his back all the time, worrying about when his enemies were going to try to kill him. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life on death row.
Carlos waited, he didn’t know how long, in that room with the body wrapped in plastic. He just sat there watching it, hoping that it would get up and make a run for the door.
He prayed that it was all taking place only in his head. But the minute he convinced himself it was make-believe, one of his homies would walk in from somewhere in the club, slapping factuality in his face.
“Carnal,” brother, Boxer said, making Carlos look up from the couch. Boxer was standing in the doorway. “Everyone’s gone, the club’s empty. We need to move that body.” Boxer had a cool smile on his face as he stuck out his chest and pulled his pants up. Like he was proud of himself.
Carlos picked up the body without anyone’s help, but Micky grabbed its feet when they were already in the air. The club was silent and black, like a funeral home, much different from when they had arrived. A car was parked outside the back exit. Carlos prayed that no one would see him placing the body in the trunk of the car from the street. As Micky closed the trunk, Carlos noticed Boxer’s uncle in the drivers seat, driving it away, like a garbage man drives away so many other people’s trash.
Soldier Boy sat at the club’s bar, next to the dance floor. Lonely Boy would be a better name for him at that moment, sitting alone in the empty club, Carlos thought.
He was doing a line of speed or coke. Carlos sat next to him.
“I got to go home,” Carlos said, hoping his voice didn’t shake.
“Relax, Holmes,” Soldier Boy tried to calm him, placing one of his hands on Carlos’s shoulder. He had a grin that reminded him of Boxer’s grin from a few minutes before, the look of smug satisfaction, of a job well done. Killers, all of them.
“I got to go,” Carlos said. Soldier Boy nodded. He walked back into the apartment where they had killed the fat man and came back with a set of car keys in hand. He nodded to the door, telling Carlos without words, “Let’s go!”
Carlos followed him outside to the same car they had arrived in. But the drive back to his grandma’s house seemed much longer. Carlos kept thinking about the dead man lying in his own blood at the bottom of the tub, only now he could hear what the man had said before Boxer shot him, “Please, I didn’t mean anything by it.” It was too late to take it back, any of it. Carlos felt sick thinking about it. He didn’t have the same feeling he had had the first time he helped Boxer kill. He was proud of what he did back then, so long ago. They had become real gangsters together. Real killers. But there was no pride that filled him now. There was no brotherly feeling for Boxer, or for the guys who helped kill that little fat man. Carlos felt numb.
Soldier Boy pulled up in front of his abuelita’s house.
The front light was on, which Carlos didn’t notice. He got out of the car and slammed the door, not saying a word to Soldier Boy, not even turning around to watch him drive off.
Carlos’s abuelita opened the door to let him in before he was close to it, as if she had a sixth sense about when he was going to be arriving, always at the door to open it. He walked in not saying a word, his face paler than his light-brown complexion should’ve been.
“Mijo,” she said. Carlos turned to face her, but he could not look at her. He stared at the floor. She pulled something out of his hair with her hand, looking at it with her fingers.
Carlos looked at it too. There was blood between her fingers.
He looked at her to see if she knew what it was. Tears filled her eyes. She knew what it was. He looked down towards the floor wishing he were dead. He couldn’t face her anymore. Walking to his room, his own tears started to run down his face. Not tears for the dead man he helped kill, because he had no doubt that the man knew he was playing with monsters of the worst kind, but selfish tears. Tears for his own family, and most of all for his grandmother, knowing he had broken her heart one more time. §
Antonio C. de Baca is the recipient of an honorable mention for fiction from the PEN American Center. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read "Getting out (Part I II and III) here: