When Alan Patterson awoke, he found himself naked and duct-taped to a wooden chair with duct tape sealing his mouth. His head throbbed. The night was hot and humid and sweat rolled down his forehead and into his eyes, blurring his vision. He blinked a few times to clear them. He noticed a large, sharply dressed man sitting on another wooden chair a few feet away. The man seemed very serious and squinted through small, piggish eyes.
Glancing around, Alan saw that he was in a dilapidated warehouse. A half dozen younger, just-as-sharply dressed, just-as-serious men stood behind the seated man. One held a bucket of water. On a small work-bench to his left, Alan saw a hacksaw, a blowtorch, pliers, a claw hammer, a skinning knife, and a meat cleaver. He also saw a dozen stolen credit cards he had recently bought from Joey “Snake Eyes” Abandonato and had intended to sell.
The large man reached inside his suit and pulled out a driver’s license. He scrutinized it and then looked at Alan’s face for several seconds. “This is a crappy photo of you, Mr. Wilson,” he muttered. He tossed the license onto the floor. “You may not know my face, but you know who I am. I am Don Antonio Vespucci. I live down the street from you.” The Don gritted his teeth and clenched his fists as his entire body seemed to tense. He shifted in his chair and then, apparently trying to relax enough to speak, took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I’m the father of the boy you ran down while speeding through our neighborhood three weeks ago.”
Alan’s eyes widened and he shook his head violently while trying to shout through the duct tape. “No! I didn’t do it! I’m not Steve Wilson!”
The Don raised his voice, drowning out Alan’s muffled protests. “I can’t begin to describe what you did to my family. No one should go through the agony of having a son die in his arms! Do you know what it’s like to get a phone call telling you your child is in critical care? Your entire world collapses in a heartbeat!” Don Vespucci slammed his fists onto the arms of his chair. Then he seemed lost in thought while he adjusted his tie and fought back tears. “Isn’t it strange how lives can change in a heartbeat? The critical moment in my son’s death lasted only a heartbeat. He ran into the street to get his baseball while his mom turned her back for only a heartbeat to say hello to Joey there and his wife Maria.” He nodded to indicate the man to Alan’s extreme left.
Alan turned his head as far as possible and looked into the cold, reptilian stare that had earned Joey his moniker. “Joey?” Alan tried to say under the tape. “No! Forgive me, Joey! Forgive me!”
The Don continued. “When Joey saw my son run into the street, he glanced up just in time to see you speed over my Tony Jr. He recognized your car, your rear license, and the back of your head!”
Alan wept as he tried to shout from under the tape, “Joey, forgive me! Tell him I was in Jersey then!”
Again, the Don paused to calm down and assume a more professional tone. “Normally,” said Don Vespucci, “I try to meet all the new people in our neighborhood as soon as someone moves in. Unfortunately, I’ve been busier than usual lately and haven’t had time to visit anyone. Had I been able to introduce myself to you and had stressed, as I normally do, the value of family in my life and how I like things done in my neighborhood, perhaps we wouldn’t be here.”
Tears streamed from Alan’s eyes and he shook. “Please, take the tape off!” came out only as “MnnmMnNmMnmMm.”
“We might not have come to this regrettable situation if you hadn’t decided to scurry out of town like a cockroach when you found out whose son you had just killed. It disgusts me that you abandoned your family to save your life! You’re fortunate that I have principles so I don’t hurt anyone’s family. At this point, I have more respect for the rats that’ll feed on your eyes than I do for you. Had you come to me after the accident and accepted responsibility, I might actually have had some admiration for you. I still would’ve killed you, but I would’ve killed you quickly.”
Alan began to shake his head again as his eyes bulged from their sockets as he tried to scream “I just stole Wilson’s identity!” through the duct tape.
“Don’t waste the few breaths you have left. If I wanted to hear your lies, I’d have Joey take the tape off.” The Don breathed deeply through his nose and exhaled as if he were trying to relax. Anger rose in his voice. “What kind of idiot runs to Brooklyn where we can just snatch him off the street? You should have at least left the state.” Don Vespucci stretched out a hand toward Joey. “Gimme the hammer. We’re going to start with the foot that was on the gas and work our way up. Pete, keep the water handy. We don’t want Mr. Wilson to pass out from the pain. We want him to experience every heartbeat of this.”
Alan struggled against the duct tape and again tried in vain to scream through the tape, “I’m not Steve Wilson! I bought his credit cards from Joey just two weeks ago!”
As he watched Joey smirk as he handed a hammer to the Don, Alan remembered his last night with Maria at Noel’s Motel and began to weep. As she pulled on her clothes, she warned him: “Joey’s smarter than you think. It wouldn’t surprise me if he knows about us already. He has ears everywhere. Me, he’ll just beat, but you — well, just don’t let him find out.”
Phil Slattery’s fiction has been published in Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, Ascent Aspirations, Medicinal Purposes Literary Review, Dream Fantasy International, Wilmington Blues, Möbius, Spoiled Ink, Midnight Times, and Six Sentences. His poetry has appeared in Café del Soul, Nefarious Ballerina, Apollo’s Lyre, The Hollins Critic, Potpourri, Green’s Magazine, Bitterroot, Orphic Lute, Doors Into and Out of Dorset, Sassafras Tea, and Metro Singles Lifestyles. His non-fiction has been published in Max Magazine and Aviation Safety.