How Smitty Smokes a Cigarette
How Smitty smokes a cigarette is: slow and deliberate, like he's sucking marrow from the bone, like it's the last he'll ever taste.
Which, he always says, it is.
"I'm quitting tomorrow," says Smitty.
"Yeah, Smitty," I say. I always say.
"Serious. Made a promise to Allie."
"Yeah, I know."
"Okay, okay. Shut the fuck up. Which one do you want?"
I point to a revolver that's dark and heavy. Reliable.
"You know how to use it?"
"Yeah, you pull this back, and then squeeze this." I say, motioning like I've seen in the movies.
"And the safety?"
"You know where the bullets go, right?" He grins, and the cigarette dangles from his lips, twitching like a mouse caught in a cat's jaw. He gives it an extra death rattle and takes a drag.
I don't answer him. I'm switching the gun from hand to hand, feeling the weight. It feels real.
Smitty punches me in the arm and hands me a cardboard box with rows of bullets inside. "C'mon," he says, "Beer's on me."
How Smitty drives a car is: like he's Mario fucking Andretti on the race track, even though he drives a dented sky blue Ford pick-up truck. Still, he's the only guy I know can seem to cruise at 70mph on the freeways in Los Angeles, any time of day or night.
Smitty stiff arms the steering wheel, pounding his fist against the roof of the cab. The half-finished six-pack of Mickeys slides on the seat between us while the empties roll around on the floor, glass hitting glass under the seat. Smitty howls and turns up the volume on the stereo, which is already rattling the windows with its old school, high speed punk rock. I envy his freedom.
"I envy your freedom," I say.
Smitty turns down the music. "What?"
"Three day weekend, man," says Smitty, slamming on the brakes and lurching over to the Victory Boulevard exit. "I didn't even grade the papers for those little shits. I know which ones get A's and which ones get F's. I just give some C's and B's to the rest."
Smitty teaches the sixth grade.
"The thing about fighting is, like, what are you afraid of? Dying? Pain? I mean, pain... you don't even feel pain," says Smitty, sucking on his third cigarette, exhaling a plume of white smoke that dissipates into blue sky. We're standing by a picnic table in Griffith Park under the spotty shade of an oak tree. Fifty yards away, a family sits on a picnic blanket. A father throws a frisbee to his daughter, the disc wobbling in a wild arc and hitting the patchy grass 10 feet from the girl. The man shrugs and yells, "sorry honey -- bad one." I can feel the gun inside the waistband of my pants and my underwear, the thick metal nose warming on the crack of my ass. It feels comforting.
"Isn't the point of pain that you feel it?" I ask.
"Wise-ass. No. I mean, not in the moment. It's like a shot of adrenaline, right? Hits you, you don't feel anything. I remember this one time I got in a fight. This pint-sized black guy, right? Throwing signs at me and... whatever... in my face, man. Little punk. Anyway, he clocks me a good one in the jaw, my tooth goes through my lip, but... I don't even feel it. Until the next day, right, when I'm eating a Tommy's burger and I bite into a chili pepper. Now that fucking hurt," he says.
"Was this one of your students?" I ask.
"Shut the fuck up," says Smitty. He drops his smoke into the little patch of dirt around the picnic table and stomps it under the heel of his converse high-tops. "Was after hours and not on school property anyway. He wouldn't say shit, beat up by a teacher."
"Tell you what," says Smitty, "Motherfucker got all A's the rest of the semester." He smiles his yellow snaggle-toothed smile. "You ready?"
When he asks, I feel everything inside me tighten. The gun in my waistband feels like a sliver of ice.
How Kate told me she was seeing someone else was: over the phone with shitty reception while she was driving on the 405 freeway. What a bitch.
I was lying on my bed--my childhood bed. I had moved back in with my parents after Kate and I had split. When I told my parents about the break-up and how I had to move back home, my dad just grunted in my direction and said, "Well I'll have to move the treadmill out of your room," and then went back to his newspaper. My mom rubbed my back in the spot between my shoulder blades like she did when I was young and said, "You know, I never really liked her anyway."
"But I liked her."
"I didn't like the way you two talked to each other. It was mean."
I couldn't really say anything in response. Maybe we were mean. Maybe it was offset by the passion we felt when we collided together, naked and sweating, our mouths seeking one another, our tongues lashing like eels, our teeth finding flesh and clamping down. Once I bit her shoulder so hard I thought she'd bleed. She had asked for more.
If we were mean it was just another version of biting one another, of that feeling of trying to devour the other person, to consume them and be consumed. Without Kate, there was no tension, no impact, no release. I felt like empty clothing. I felt like my bedsheets. I thought I could lay on my bed forever, limp and twisted. My dad knocked on my door, opened it without waiting, and looked at me. He cleared his throat and then told me to get a job. "You need direction," he said. I just nodded, and he closed the door.
I don't know how long I was a bedsheet. It could have been a week. It could have been a year. Whatever it was, it was too soon for Kate to call me like she did. Driving to meet her girlfriends at a bar in the Valley. Between "oh, hang on..." and "can you still hear me?" and "this damn bluetooth is for shit!" she told me she was hoping I was doing better and, oh, she was dating someone else now and thought I should know. Someone else was named Joshua. "I think it's a better fit," she said. "And really, what did we ever have?" She was still mean. Maybe my mom knew what she was talking about after all.
"If you were here," I said, "I'd bite your neck until you bled, just like a vampire."
She had already hung up.
Joshua hadn't been difficult to find. I called Smitty, and he called Tanya, and Tanya told him not to say a word to me, a phrase that he repeated to me verbatim.
The thing was, though, I had called Smitty. And that's like calling down the thunder and lightning. Maybe I knew that when I called him, I don't know. I needed something. I called on Smitty.
"Motherfucking whore!" said Smitty over the phone. "Listen, so Tanya said that... you remember Jessica's bachelorette party?"
"And what happens in Vegas..."
"Motherfucking right. And that, my friend--"
"Was before we broke up."
I didn't feel like a bedsheet anymore. I was a python, coiled and ready. My whole body was my weapon, and I wanted to squeeze the life out of anything that passed me by.
"You know what we do?" said Smitty, and his voice was the sound of thunder. "We pay Joshua a visit."
"Okay," I said.
"But it can't be Tuesday," he said. "I have parent-teacher conferences that night."
Joshua was the name of everything bad. The mushy boiled peas my mom used to cook and force me to eat. The guidance counselor in high school who kept pestering me to apply to Berkeley because of my grades, when all I wanted to do was be with Kate. Joshua was puking up beer and Jaegermeister. Joshua was shitty cell phone reception. Joshua was my dad's disapproving gaze over the edge of the Los Angeles Times. Joshua was Billy Perkins, who chased me on my way home from school in the fifth grade and stole my bike and threatened to cut me with a small red pocketknife.
It was Smitty who beat up Billy Perkins and got me my bike back. Smitty was 12 years old, and he was already Smitty. I let him come over to my house, and I showed him how to play Dungeons & Dragons. He didn't like the adventure parts, so I just had to put him in a room with monsters and let him roll dice and cut the heads off of trolls and goblins and bugbears.
How Smitty got Joshua to be in the right place in Griffith Park at the right time: I don't have a clue. That's Smitty for you.
"I don't even know what he looks like," I say.
"I'll tell you when I see him," says Smitty.
"How do you know what he looks like," I say.
"I just know."
Like I said, that's Smitty.
A tree branch cracks somewhere above us, and a squirrel dashes through a cloud of leaves. The sound makes me jump. Smitty rubs his palms together. Watching for Joshua.
"What..." I say, fumbling for words. "What are we doing? I mean, exactly?"
Smitty looks at me like I've just happened upon him in the park, asking stupid questions like And what kind of trees are these, do you suppose?
"Don't puss out on me now."
"Don't ask stupid questions."
"I'm not. I mean. Except, what's the point?"
"The point is you think too much. And you don't do things. Me, I'm a guy who does things."
I don't say anything.
"Do or do not. There is no try," says Smitty, badly quoting Star Wars.
"I don't think that means--"
"There he is!" says Smitty and he runs out onto the path toward Joshua.
How Joshua reacts to a gawky pale red-headed guy lumbering at him in a sleeveless Dropkick Murphys T-shirt is: almost a comical double-take until he sees the gun in Smitty's hand and then his mouth opens like a fish and he stumbles backward like he's not sure whether to raise his hands or freeze or run. Instead he trips.
Joshua isn't the name of everything bad. What he is is young. Younger than me or Smitty or Kate. His hair is spiked up in a dirty brown faux-hawk, he's wearing distressed designer jeans with embroidered pockets, and he has a little patchy beard on his chin that looks like glued-on pubic hair. When Smitty points his gun and tells the kid to stand up, I feel a little sorry for him because I can see he's pissed himself.
Smitty swears at Joshua, calls him every name in the book while shaking his gun. He looks up to make sure we're still hidden from view, and then looks at me.
I wish I knew what I was supposed to say. I'm following the script in Smitty's head, and I never learned my lines.
"This isn't even my problem any more," I say.
"What?" says Smitty.
Joshua doesn't say anything, just kind of whimpers a little.
"This little cocksucker stole your girl," says Smitty.
"I don't know about stole," I say.
"I told you not to puss out on me," says Smitty.
"Are you Carl?" says Joshua his voice rising in gasps as he starts to hyperventilate.
"You shut the fuck up," says Smitty and kicks Joshua a little.
I don't know what this does," I say, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."
"You're getting pissed off is what you're doing," says Smitty. "Fucker knows your name now, man. Teach him a fucking lesson about stealing other people's girlfriends."
"Did you steal my girlfriend?" I ask Joshua.
"I didn't know she was with anyone til later. I swear it, man. It was fucking... it was Las Vegas, we were drunk and I was smoking a blunt, and she asked for some... shit, man, I don't know it just..." Joshua looks down, unsure of just about everything in his quickly shrinking universe.
"I don't know," I say to Smitty.
"You don't know... goddamn you're such a fucking--" He stops because his cellphone starts ringing, Flogging Molly playing somewhere in a pocket of his jeans.
"Hold on," he says. He fishes the phone out, answers it. "Hi honey," he says. "Yeah. Sure, just out with..." he pauses and looks up at me, "with, uh, the guys. We're just kicking it. Yeah. Sure. One percent? No, no I don't like nonfat. No. Look, I like two percent. I'm already compromising with one percent. I think that's totally fair. Okay. Sure. Okay. Will do. Love you--"
"Help!" screams Joshua.
Smitty's gun jumps in his hand and makes the loudest sound in the world, and Joshua jerks back, frozen in time for a moment, until he begins to wail and writhe, arms and legs flailing in the dirt. Smitty dives to pick up his phone, which has bounced across the ground.
Joshua's white T-shirt is turning dark red, and it's only then that my brain starts to put together what is happening. We're not even following Smitty's script anymore because he's looking around wide-eyed, banging his fist against his head and yelling too loudly into his phone.
"What's that honey? No some kind of backfire... what, no... yeah, some guy's hurt! It's crazy! Like this van backfired and then ran into a guy and--"
Joshua is screaming a lot now. And I'm sure that someone's heard us, but I don't see anyone coming. Maybe they're afraid of coming toward the sound of guns. That thought makes me feel good. I kick Joshua a couple of times.
"Shut up, man! Shut up!" I say.
"Fuck it," says Smitty as he slaps his phone closed and drops it into his pocket.
"God oh god jesus it fucking motherfucking hurts!" says Joshua, rolling in the dirt, which is now sticking all over the blood on everything.
"Listen, man," I say, trying to use a calm tone, "Listen, Josh... man, we didn't mean to hurt you."
"Yeah," says Smitty. "I was just on the phone with my wife and you fucking screamed, you dick."
"All right, look, okay, let's just forget it," I say.
"Who fucking does that? I've got a fucking loaded gun, man."
"Everything's white," says Joshua in a small voice.
"He looks pretty bad," says Smitty.
"Let's... Hey, maybe we can take him to the hospital. Drop him off at St. Joseph's. That's close."
"That's where my kid was born, man. What if someone recognizes me?"
"We'll just drop him off at the ER."
"I'm not going to jail, man. I got papers to grade. And I have to pick up milk."
"You seriously want to get milk?"
"Did you even hear that conversation with Allie? Bad enough I got to explain that. But if I don't have the milk. Shit." He shakes his head like it's the most obvious thing in the world.
We put Joshua in the back of Smitty's truck and cover him with a tarp. Smitty drives us to the 7-11. I flip through radio channels while Smitty goes into the store.
He returns a couple of minutes later, muttering as he slides back into the cab, "Fucking towelheads don't even have one percent."
"Did you get nonfat?" I ask.
"No way. Two percent. Allie can live with it this one time." He throws the black plastic bag onto the seat and jerks his head back toward the truck bed. "How's our guy?"
"Quiet," I say.
"Good. It'll be better when we drop him off." Smitty lights a cigarette and blows smoke.
"What if he's dead?" I ask.
"I don't know, man."
"What if he tells on us?"
"What're you, in the third grade? Tells on us?"
"Tells the police."
"He's not going to say shit."
"How do you know that?"
"I know how these guys go," says Smitty.
"He knew who I was. He said my name."
"Man, I don't know. I'm not the Answer Man."
"What are we going to do?"
"Hey, you shouldn't have started this."
"I didn't start this!"
"It wasn't a very well thought out plan."
"I didn't really want to shoot him!"
"I don't know."
"It's because you over-think. Fuck. All right, let's ask him." Smitty swings open the heavy door to his truck and hops out, disappearing from view.
"Shit," he says somewhere behind me.
"What is it?" I ask, but I already know that Joshua is dead, and I'm already contemplating what you do with dead bodies. Throw them in a river? Dissolve them in acid? Where do you even get acid for dissolving bodies?
Smitty leans his head back into the open door frame. "He's gone," he says.
"Shit," I say. "He died?"
"No, fuckwad, he's gone. Weren't you even watching him?"
"I didn't want to be too obvious," I say.
"Well," says Smitty, shrugging and revealing the white and red stripes of his sunburned shoulders. "It's in God's hands now."
How everything got so crazy-wild and fucked up is: yeah, Smitty. Thunder and Lightning, like they're words tattooed on each set of knuckles.
Smitty drops me off at my parents, peeling wildly out of the driveway as he heads for home and Allie and his son, and I don't think about what will happen there. I lay down on my bed, and I wait for the police to show up. I wait for Joshua to show up with a gang of faux-hawked dudes in Affliction T-shirts holding knives and guns, and maybe a pair of nunchuks. I wait for my Dad to come into my room and tell me that I should have gotten a job and now it was too late.
I fall asleep and dream that the walls of my room are gone and shadowy figures creep past my bed, whispering quietly about what they're going to do to me. Someone brushes by the headboard and I hear the scrape of a chain. I try to turn and look, but I can't move my body, which is limp and slightly twisted on the bed. Out of the corner of my left eye I can see Smitty's faded Dropkick Murphy's shirt, but I can't see his face. I try to call to him, but my mouth doesn't seem to work.
I wake up gasping, my sheets damp and skin clammy.
"Bad dream?" says Kate. She's standing at the door to my room.
My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. I swallow three times, get it working again. "What are you doing?"
"Your parents let me in. They were on their way to church. Man, they really don't like me anymore, do they?"
"Sure they do," I say.
"You know why I'm here?"
"I don't know," I say.
She walks into my room slowly, trailing her fingers along the wall. She's wearing tall black boots and a short black jacket and a long pink scarf. She's hotter than ever. "You don't know?" She flips her hair over her ear, and I know what that means.
"I don't care."
"I know what you did."
"I don't care about that."
"Well, you should."
"Why? Why should I care about anything?"
"God, you're such a child." She's closer to the bed now. The corners of her lips twitch up, just a fraction of an inch. "Smells in here," she says, wrinkling her nose.
I don't answer.
"You know why I broke it off?" she asks.
"You met someone better."
"No. Well. I don't know. But not that exactly."
"Because you didn't care about anything."
"I did care."
I don't answer.
She pauses, asks: "What was it like?"
"To shoot him."
"Are the cops coming?"
"What, you think I'm wearing a wire? Like we're in a cop show? You think we're on TV?"
I think about how it felt when I kicked Joshua after Smitty shot him.
"It felt good."
She kisses me. I kiss her back. Inside, I coil like a python. Ready. She pulls off her jacket, I tug at her scarf, tightening it around her neck and pulling her down to me. We kiss again and I bite her lip. She slaps my face.
"That hurt," she says. She's smiling.
We have sex. I push her off the bed, over the desk I used while I was in high school, that my mom uses now for putting together puzzles of kittens and houses in meadows. I roll her against the window, into the thin metal blinds, so they bend and scraped against the glass. I finish, and I throw her down onto my bed. My sweatpants and underwear are still around my right ankle.
She sighs, collapses, and closes her eyes.
"The cops aren't coming," she says quietly, like a purr. "He isn't doing shit about it."
I kick my pants all the way off and walk to the corner of the room half-naked, sweat cooling on me for the second time this morning. I reach into my backpack, where I had stored the gun that Smitty gave me.
I pick up the revolver. It's dark and heavy in my hand. Reliable. Behind me, her breathing is soft and steady. I walk back to the bed, pick up a pillow and cover her head. I push the tip of the gun down on the pillow just as she starts to squirm, and then I pull back the hammer and squeeze the trigger, and I think of how Smitty smokes a cigarette, slow and deliberate, like he's sucking the marrow from the bone.
About the Author
David Accampo is an award-winning filmmaker and the co-creator of the critically acclaimed audio drama series, Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery. His comic book miniseries, Sparrow & Crowe: The Demoniac of Los Angeles, debuts from Hermes Press in 2012. He is the co-host of the Fuzzy Typewriter podcast, as well as the Deceptionists, a podcast dedicated to the craft of fiction.