I’m not even going to try to put a disclaimer on this…

Oh. That Much

She never told anyone where she went those nights. Teenagers are good at hiding things. She just left. She couldn’t handle the fighting anymore. Her mom was usually away on trips, but when she’d come home – not ten minutes would pass before she started screaming. Tonight mom came home drunk. She started yelling. First at the things she tripped over, then at her. Abby couldn’t remember what she was saying, mostly because she wasn’t listening. She just picked up her sweatshirt and left to go to Roxie’s house.

Abby used to go to Roxie’s after school until her mom was done with her airline class. Although Abby and Roxie’s friendship originated from convenience, Abby still went to her house even after her mom was deemed a stewardess for Jet Blue.

She called Roxie on her cell to make sure she was home. It’s a Wednesday night, of course she’s home.

“Hey Rox, is it cool if I come over? Mom’s not doing too good tonight.”

“Yea, dad and I are just watching the Godfather. We’ll pause it till you get here.”

“Cool. Thanks.”

Abby decided that she’d stop by Val’s Burger to pick up some chocolate milk shakes to take to Roxie’s. Her dad had taken the girls there a couple times and they had the best shakes in town. It was on the main road on the way to Roxie’s house anyway, so it was safer to walk that way at night.

            Val’s was a small, airstrip type family restaurant nestled between the post office and towns barber shop with a candy cane light out front. Abby’s mom used to meet friends at the café across the street. She used to like Sylvia, the friend who would buy her 10 cent baguettes to keep her from being loud while they chatted about sex and shopping. Abby still loves baguettes.

She crossed the street to Val’s and walked in just as a man dressed in a postal uniform brushed past, his fingertips holding the door just long enough for her to squeeze inside with a breathy ‘thank you sir.’

Our mail usually comes in the afternoon; I guess it’s different for burger joints.

The milkshakes were handmade and thick, so they usually took a while. Abby knew that, but she waited until after she had placed the order to go before she called Roxie. She knew Roxie couldn’t tell her ‘don’t bother, we have stuff here’ if she was already there and waiting for the order. “Three chocolate mama shakes please. –  Yea, the middle one –there – that’s the mama size. – Thanks.”

She plopped down on a cherry red booth seat, avoiding a ketchup glop on the table as she put up her elbows and called Roxie’s house. I’ll be there in a bit, I just stopped for some shakes. Your dad still likes chocolate best, right? – Yea, go ahead without me, I’ve seen it before – I know how it starts. – K, see you soon.

The walls were plastered with sponsored little league team photos and glancing around she saw a handful of late night diners. She noticed the music playing. Italian? In a burger joint? Well, I guess this is Oakland. Abby thought the place seemed a bit busier than usual for a Wednesday night. Then again, she hadn’t really ever been there on a Wednesday night – so she couldn’t really say.

As she turned to look out the window Abby heard deep whispering – no – more like angry men talking through their teeth. It sounded like growling coming from the booth behind her.

“Shit. Johnny’s out. Been made for years. Say’s he’s taken a trip for good.”

“He’ll be back. The man’s gotta play. He’ll come home when he’s hungry.”

“Did ya –“

“Yea, Paulie said he’d try too.”

 Suddenly she registered the sound of sirens and a little boy across the restaurant tugged on his mothers sleeve and bounced in his seat squealing “PO – EES! PO-EES!” Flashing lights and law enforcement were not out of the ordinary in Oakland, so Abby hadn’t noticed the noise until the red and blue flashes swirled in her eyes as she watched them pull along side Val’s parking lot.

Abby didn’t realize she was staring until her gaze was torn when a strong hand grabbed her by the hair and dragged her from the booth. She yelped and her hands flew to the assailant. She was pulled hard against a man’s solid chest and held there with a thick hairy arm. She felt the smooth steel of a gun press to her temple.

She felt her face go white and her eyes darted around the restaurant looking for something – someone – panic! She pressed her back against the belly of the man holding her, trying to relieve the pressure of his arm on her neck – she wasn’t sure if her breath was cut short by his hold or her fear.

His voice rumble through her back as he spoke; she missed what he was saying.

Abby watched the people scrabble to the corner by the soda machine and condiment racks. She saw the little boy looking at her with one eye – the rest of his face buried in his mother’s sweater – as they sat on the sticky floor. She realized she was making slight sounds every time he jerked to motion for one of the other two men to do something. She tried to hold herself up as the man shuffled her over to stand in front of the reluctant audience.

She could hear the police barking something over the megaphone but couldn’t understand the static-filled orders. She guessed it was something like she’d seen in the movies – We have you surrounded, come out with your hands up. She wondered if they actually said that in real life. Why am I thinking about this now? I have a gun to my head.

There were eight people huddled on the floor; the mother and her boy, four kids she recognized from school but didn’t really know; they still had on their shin-guards and cleats with tall knee socks in the school’s colors. There was also a couple, husband and wife she assumed.

Something caught in her throat when she saw the husband reach for something in his jacket pocket. No! Don’t- don’t – stop – don’t do it- O God- whatever you’re thinking, don’t do it! Gun! Gun! Don’t you see his gun!?

He started to get up on his knee when Abby felt the gun leave her head. Without thinking she lifted her leg and dug her heel into the man’s shin – dragging it down to grind into the top of his foot.  Shit! The gun went off. The husband crumpled to the floor. Then Abby felt the butt of the gun catch the up curve of her cheek bone. The woman screamed and the little boy started to cry. Damnit! Stupid man, why didn’t you stay down?!

“Fuck! Quarters! Whadda ya doin’?! Crap-damnit! Save the stuff. You wanna put us away?” Abby heard scrambling behind them, but the man holding her didn’t turn around. Someone came up next to them – she was too scared to turn her head to see who it was. People seemed to get shot when she moved.

“Don’t go decoratin’ anyone else. We can’t afford the threads.”

Abby saw from the look in the woman’s eyes that the man who came up side them was one worth pleading with. Apparently the woman saw hope in trying with him – she hadn’t even made eye contact with the muscle that held her.

The husband held his knee and rocked back and forth on the floor. His face twisted with pain and she heard him sucking air through his teeth.

Abby couldn’t peel her eyes away from his fingers, grasping his knee as he rocked back and forth. They were slick with blood and slipped against each other like hands lathered with dish soap. The kind that takes forever to rinse away.

She felt the gun to her head again and the man yelled something but all she registered was the vibrations rolling through her back. Wait – what? Wait, what’d he say? Why are those boys taking off their shoes? What’s going on?

He yelled to the back where he’d sent the two men earlier and started dragging her out through the grease-rusted kitchen. The sirens and static yelling still roared outside. Why don’t they do something? Why are they just sitting there?

They’d tied a large sock around her head as a blindfold. It was warm and damp – she knew it belonged to one of the others. The eight others. Why’d they pick her? Out of eight other people – eight people who all had families that would pay money for them – who would cancel a hair appointment to come to their high school graduation. They chose her the way her tabby Rufus picked the one person at her birthday party who doesn’t like cats. The one least qualified to be his buddy for the night.

Teachers never picked on her to answer questions in class, she was always looked over when teams were picked at PE; why were these people suddenly seeing so much value in her? They picked the one person out of this roomful who is least qualified.

Maybe it was because they knew she’d fit in the trunk the best, or maybe they could see she wasn’t a talker. Or maybe nobody else had wrists small enough to bind with a men’s Jockey sock.

The trunk of the smooth riding car was cold and dank. It smelled of dirty laundry and the plastic toys you get in happy meals. She rolled, scrapping her hip and snagging the belt loop of her jeans. She kicked her feet to turn over on her back and stuffed them against a bag of straight edged things. She shifted and passed them between her feet. DVD’s? Video games?

She stilled when she noticed the deep murmur of voices and the stuffy puffs of air that hit her from the back of the trunk by the back seat of the car.

She remembered her grandma’s car: how it had the arm rest that folded out of the back seat. She used to trace the rim of the plastic cup holders on the way to school. The armrest also opened up a hole to the trunk. She’d crawled through one time when her mom left her in the car and went to meet some friends at the mall. She’d waited for her to come back and find her gone. She’d waited to hear the wailing and panic-laced screams of a mother who’d lost her beloved child. She’d waited three hours and fell asleep in the warmness of the trunk – curled up on a pile of clothes from the last shopping trip. There weren’t any clothes in this trunk, but she knew now that this must be a car like grandmas.

She twisted and bent her knees to drag her feet around in front of her. Carefully she put pressure on the space she thought the draft was coming from and it gave.

Scooting back around to where her feet were she laid her head near the draft and the voices were clearer.

They’d been driving for nearly 15 minutes and Abby was starting to drift off in the warmness of the trunk. Eavesdropping on their gasconade session, she’d learned their names, or – rather nicknames. One of them was “Quarters.” This, she’d learned, stemmed from his role in the theft of millions of dollars in coins from the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. Illinois?

The one closest to her, in the back seat was “Apes.” She assumed he was the thick, hairy man that grabbed her at Val’s. Makes sense.

The other one, she wasn’t sure if he or Quarters was driving, was called Leo. Was that his nickname? Or does he just not have one yet? She assumed nicknames were something that came from time and experience. He must be the new guy. She liked his voice the best. It didn’t scare her as much as the others.

She knew they’d be driving for a while. One of them kept wanting to stop for a Coke because he was starting to get a headache. “Christ – if we’re going to be haulin’ for that many hours – least lemme get a fuckin’ Coke!” They – as in them – would be in the car for a while; she still had no clue what they intended to do with her. Have they forgotten me already?

They’d started telling stories. Abby had listened to a dozen of them by the time they stopped for gas. The bank jobs, the arm, working a dime for the boss. She wondered if they made stuff up to sound cool like she used to do to impress her friends. They referred to her a couple times as trunk music. What’s that supposed to mean? I haven’t made a sound. The car stopped. She heard doors open and felt the shifting weight as they slid out. God I hope they’ve forgotten me. O please don’t open the trunk, please.

“Ok, Little Man,” someone spoke diminutively, “You get your protection for free.”

“Shove your protection up your ass,” another shot back. “I don’t need it.”

She heard keys grind into the trunk lock and the hood popped open. Before it rose all the way someone was thrown against the bumper.

She felt the car tremble as the two voices grunted and struggled with each other.

“Listen wise guys, we don’t even know if she’s worth anything.” Another voice walked up from along side the car. “We were brought in as the street crew, we’ve done our part. We shouldn’t even have her.”

The car stopped shaking and just moved in a pulse as she heard the voice get closer. O God, don’t get rid of me. Please don’t kill me and leave me to be found in some gas station bathroom.

“What we’ve got is a couple a dimes worth of fucking games.”

“And whose idea was that? Huh? You were the one who thought we’d be made doin’ this!” the gritty voice started getting louder and Abby drew her chin to her knees, bracing for a blow.

The trunk slammed shut.

“I don’t wanna see any a’ her paint anywhere, you hear me? Nuthin’! She’s worth somethin’ to somebody – so save your lead or I’ll fill you with mine.”

They’ll be disappointed. Then they’ll rape me. Or just shoot me.


Abby can remember only one other time when someone made her feel worth something. That time, she was also in a trunk – well, sort of. Donnie took her out once. He’s the only guy who had ever taken her out. They were sitting on the tailgate of his truck; the look that passed over his face before he kissed her told her this: I like you. She met him when she was working at Sheri’s, bussing tables. He tipped well. The fourth time he came in was when he tipped the most, then asked her to have a seat.

Donnie rubbed his jaw and Abby noticed a white scar under his lower lip. Without thinking, she touches it with her fingernail, then draws back suddenly.

“My old man. He popped me one. ‘Cept he forgot to take his ring off.”

Abby lifts her hair off her neck and points to a mark under her earlobe.

“Mine, too.”

Donnie sets down his beer and leans back in his chair. His eyes travel past her face to her fingers fidgeting with her sleeve. Fold, wrap, pull, fold, wrap, pull.

“So you’re –“

“No. You?”



“A boy. Ricky’s three. You?”

Abby spreads out her palms.

“No. Don’t want to be like Janet. My mom. Had me at 17 – thought she could keep my father around.”

She felt him looking at her neck. She wanted him to see how smooth her skin was under her necklace. Her hand rose to tug on the chain softly. Look here.

“How long it last?”

“I was eight. They had a fight-he left, never came back. She ran upstairs, nearly stayed.” Her sleeve was getting stretched out. She placed both hands on the glass of water in front of her, watching the reflected light swirl on her fingernails. “Grandma sent me to the store with five dollars to get bleach for the stains. Blood never really cleans out you know.”

“Yea, I know.”

“On this one show-they have special lights that show blood, even after the guy tries to scrub it clean. They spray it with this stuff and it always shows up. It’s always there, we just can’t see it.”


The words kept playing in her head, “worth something.”  How much am I worth? Who would pay? Who would get the money? How much worth?

The more she heard him – his fine sandpaper voice – defending her, convincing them she was worth something – the more she wanted to see what he looked like. He reminded her of Donnie. She felt like a child. Not so innocent, but definitely helpless. Like a child dreaming of what waited for them Christmas morning, she dreamed of what his face looked like. And like a child, she suddenly had to go to the bathroom. Gravel cracked beneath the tires as they pulled into a bumpy lot. Thank god! Abby opened her eyes, then remembered the blindfold. God, it’s not like the trunk has windows.


Her sweatshirt was twisted around her waist from rolling around and she couldn’t feel the weight of her phone in her pocket anymore. What’s worse – no phone or no potty?


Johnny sank back into his lazy boy and flipped through the channels. ESPN, “he saw a break in the seam and went for it even though his man was open…”; Friends rerun, “smelly cat…oh…smeelllyy caaat!”; the news, “at Val’s last night. The men were said to have organized the theft and took a young girl as insurance when the deal…”; home shopping network, “this plus an extra fifteen ounce bottle can be yours for $9. 99 if you cal…” Can’t get crap up here, damn reception.  He’d done nothing – absolutely nothing – since he got there. He was getting restless and bored out of his mind. How could he be bored? Retirement wasn’t supposed to be boring. The thought of a beer hit him and he followed the call to the refrigerator. Disappointment slapped him when he found the shelf empty, but suddenly he was lifted at the excuse it presented to take a trip downtown.

As he got out of his car in front of the small convenient mart, his cell phone rang. “How ya doin’?” It was his buddy Paulino from the job in San Francisco. After being out of the ring for a year and eight months, this was the last person he expected to hear from. “You know I’m out Paulie, why ya callin’ me? You gotta gift for me? Some roses? Some cash monies? No? Then why ya’s callin’ me like I’m your long lost bruda?” He slipped easily back into his old rhythm – his business voice. He paused for a second, surprised at hearing himself, before he pushed open the sun-splintered door of the mart.

“What was that? Where you at Johnny? I heard a bell. You at the tracks? Who are you with?”

The clerk at the register looked up from his book when the cow bell clanged as he strode inside; running a hand through his hair as he looked around.

“No Paulie, I’m not at the tracks. I’m campin’ out at a little place called ‘None-of-your-damn-business.’” He opened the floor cooler and reached in for two six packs, holding the phone to his cheek with his shoulder.

Listen Johnny, I gotta great deal goin’ here. I wanna cut you in…ah… ya know, kinda like …uh…a token of my gratitude for what yas did for me before.”

“Where’s it at?”

A dirt pile just outside Sacramento I think.”

That’s not what he was asking, but it was good to know.

 “Just tell me the place- I’ll meet you. In public even, fill ya in. Ya gotta come back Johnny, the boys are missin’ ya. They wonder where you’re at.”

 “The boys don’t know cuz I don’t wants them to know. You hear what I’m sayin’? I’m out, so don’t be callin’ for me to do another one a ya jobs.” He set the beer on the counter and clicked his flip phone shut.

The silver-haired clerk smiled pleasantly and bagged the beer. No charge.

The cow bell on the door clanged again as he stepped onto the deck, slipped his sunglasses on and started for his car. An Oldsmobile nearly clipped him as it pulled in and he cursed at the two men as they got out. One of them apologized and they hurried inside.

Johnny stopped, he recognized that voice. He stood by his car door and pretended to be fumbling with his keys as he strained to see the face of a third man resting his head against the back seat of the car.

            So this is the dirt pile, eh? He got in his car, waited for them to come back out of the mart and followed them to a shanty old town motel.


Johnny tapped on the door with the tip of his gun as he strolled into the stuffy room. “Forgot to lock your door ladies.” He leveled his barrel at the man sitting closest at the table.

“It’s been a while, eh? How ya doin’?” He grinned and lifted both his arms as if to give the room a hug.

He sat down at the table setting his gun in front of him and kept his hand on it casually like he was simply nursing a cup of coffee. “So tell me, why the insurance? Thought you could be made, huh?”

 “It was a swing deal; meet at Val’s with the post. Rosario set it up; said the goods would be there. And they were.”

“Someone beefed and the cops came running”


“We played it good.”

Abby watched the conversation from her chair and wondered who the man was. Why were they so intimidated by him? He was older, clean, almost – professional. She could smell his cologne when he walked by her to sit at the table. He reminded her of the men that came out of the barber shop when she passed, on her way to Roxie’s house.

How he got the men to go along with his plan, Abby still couldn’t exactly recall. It had something to do with skills and knowing people: how the three men didn’t have either. “When I was brought in,” said Johnny, “everyone had to learn. We all learned. Guys who had skills were made. They knew how to pass a deal, whack a guy, raise the juice. Now you wise guys have no skills. No fucking brains.”

            He looked at Abby; looked at her sock bindings. He curled her hair behind her ear and lifted her chin.

            “If you’re looking for an exit,” he hinted – blatantly, “I still know people.”

            “That’s good,” said Quarters.

            “Duck season’s still a month coming. I could use something to fill my time.” The men looked at each other, exchanging glances – but not really communicating much. Abby tried to jar her hair enough to fall back from behind her ear. It felt weird and she wanted to hide her face.

            “Fishing, of course, is always in season,” he continued, “and gambling. I’m always up for a gamble.”

            “How we know you’re good?”

            “How you know I’m good. I’m good.” He placed his hands, palms down on the table and looked Apes square in the eye, then slowly he held his gaze as he pulled the gun from the holster strapped to Apes’ chest. “I’ve never dug myself into a hole I couldn’t climb out of.”

            Leo sat up in his seat. Shit. He licked his lips. “You say you’re pals with Paulie? How come we never seen you before?”

            “I’m good at hiding things,” said Johnny, “Gives me the upper hand.”

Johnny suggested, strongly, going out for a drink. Leo said he wasn’t up for it, although after they left Abby watched him pour himself a couple shots from a bottle he got when they stopped at the gas station.


She still doesn’t know what happened to the other two men, but when Johnny walked in the door without knocking a couple hours later, she screamed when he pulled his gun on Leo. NO!

Her spine hurt. She was shaking so hard and couldn’t stop. She closed her eyes reflexively when he walked toward her. How much am I worth?

“Here, call your parents or who ever and tell them you’re OK,” he handed her a cell phone and she realized he’d cut the socks from her wrists.

She looked up at him, unsure what to think. God, what happened? She looked at Leo, sitting on the couch as though he were just watching TV. His head fallen to one side. He’s fallen asleep. Someone should wake him.

“Hey. Girl!” He slapped her cheek lightly and waved the phone in front of her. “You have family. Call them.”

She took the little black phone from him and held it for a moment as though she’d forgotten what it was for.

She looked at him. He was looking at her with that face, that scrunched ‘what’s-taking-you-so-long’ look. The face people make when someone waits too long before taking a picture.

“Here. Gimmi the damn phone.” He swiped it from her hands. “What’s your number?”

“Five. One. Zero –“

“Is that the number or area code?”

“Area code,” she saw the cushions darken as they soaked up Leo’s blood.

“K, what’s the rest? – Hey! Look at me!” he snapped his fingers. “What’s the rest?”

“Eight-eight-six-four-three-one-nine.” O God, is it really over?


“Grandma? – It’s me. Abigail. – Yes. – I know. – I’m alright. –I know, I called her and told her I was coming over when — No– No– I’m okay. – A man is here, he – Um, I don’t know, hang on, lemme ask.”

She looked up at him. “What’s your –“

Johnny grabbed the phone again and turned his back. He started pacing the room casually as he spoke.

“Alright grandma. Listen carefully, cuz I’m only gonna say it once. I want a hundred thousand in twenty’s and fifty’s – unmarked –don’t call the police –“


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