Domino Teeth

Domino Teeth

It was in ’34, the year the feds shot up Dillinger, that Rutger Sr. got his lone, brief sip of the gangster days hooch.

“Rutger Jr.,” he says to you in his throaty old man Scandinavian. “I have told you this before, but you must listen.”

He knows you’re no Rutger Jr., that Rutger Jr. was the name he used to call his own boy, your daddy, back before that cocksucker scrambled off to Manitoba with fifteen-hundred bucks, mom’s engagement ring and a fat brown envelope stuffed with phony work papers. That’s when you got elevated, stepped up a grade on the generational ladder to repair the holy yoke binding three ages of sorry fuckups. Outside of the family, everybody calls you Rudy.

“Rutger Jr.,” he says. “People was scared, yes, but fascinated. You must understand the times. There was reports on radio news every night. Bank thefts. Jail breaks. It was all we heard.”

You’re slumped hard against the bar at Steiner’s Lodge, the last hole standing among the historic downtown scree here in Mayfly, Minnesota. Ralph Steiner and Rutger Sr. once shared a history together, a history which extended back to summer jobs and scouting camporees, a history which persisted until a couple winters ago, when an ice storm ran Steiner’s pickup off the northbound lane of 169 and into the passing grill of a southbound semi. His wife Bette works the register now, a sagging greyhair absent two fingers on her pouring hand. She offers you another couple of mugs off the tap and, like everything else in this bar, the drinks smell of stale head, Winston Reds and wood lacquer. There’s a rerun of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries playing for no one on a shelf above the pinball table. A couple of drifters walk in through the side door, pull a bottle of bourbon from the packaged goods wall, drop their dollars by the cash machine and leave. This is the place where Rutger Sr. brings you when he wants to catch up, to talk family or Mayfly, the boys in the pit and the bosses up top. This is where he brings you to tell the story of the gangster’s body, gunned down dead in the road.

“He was so beautiful,” he says. “When they kill him, the women, they pluck the hairs from his head so they could keep him forever.”


It’s a Saturday morning and you’re lingering around the curb outside the Family Discount like a fart in a car seat when Patrick Appleby comes walking by, says they’ve let your cousin Chicago out of prison. Patrick Appleby slurps syrup from a gas station slush puppie and smiles like this is the best news in the world. It is November of ’77, near three years since that bus pulled up to take Chicago to the big house in Stillwater – that clean white bus with the clean black bars welded over its windows.

“Early, isn’t it?”

“I think about a year.”

He breathes in a last shivering gulp of sugar water but keeps digging for more, wrenching straw down to styrofoam to dredge out one final molecule of cherry-red dye. He’s got on his hockey uniform, the way he did most days in high school. It’s a green-gold polyester captain’s sweater and it is covered in stains, an identical shade of cherry-red. Patrick Appleby isn’t anybody you’d consider a friend, but he’s no stranger either. He’s been Mayfly all his life, same as you. There was a time when you and him used to trade comic books between class periods. These days he makes his bones at the Holland-Mason iron mining pit, like every right-bodied boy in town. You work the quarry, he does security. You don’t see each other much.

“Surprised your mom didn’t mention anything,” he says. “He came by Gary Dunn’s garage last night. Drove up in a new ride, short hair, fancy shirt. Couldn’t hardly recognize him until he said who he was. He told Gary he’s a changed man, got out on good behavior. I think it must have been Jesus that did it.”

You pick a dime out of the slip of rock between the mud and pavement. Old money. There’s a profile of what looks like the Hitler-punching variation of Captain America etched onto its obverse side. A stalled procession of cars lags by on Locust Ave., full of either neighborhood folks drifting between errands or else city types from Duluth desperate to get back in the fast lane and go. None of them look like your cousin. You’re sure of this. You check the faces.

“You really think Chicago’s had his come to God moment?”

“Honest injun, Rudy. Don’t know what else could have sorted him out like this. He ain’t the way you remember him. He’s walking with the lord now.”

“Yeah?” you ask, getting to your feet. You pluck your keys from the breast pocket of your denim jacket and deposit the dime in their place. “Well shit, let’s just hope those two made a good first impression on each other.”


It’s a sad truth that you and Chicago are blood, but a whole truth nonetheless. You were born three days apart, though your mother had you at the hospital in Mesabi and his mother had him back home on the downstairs mattress. You were raised on the same street, got kicked out of the same classes, drank the same drinks and smoked the same smokes. Back in tenth grade you even fucked the same dumb McCormick girl, just not at the same time. For most of your lives the resemblances between you have cut so deep that there’s been this strain of thinking in town that you and him are cut from the same stock. It’s the hair everybody points to. Chicago’s has all the golden Old World sheen of you and yours, none of Uncle Boomer’s knotty brown Mid-American uncertainty. To hear Rutger Sr.’s buddies at the VFW tell it, Chicago’s as much a Rutger as you are. Maybe more of one.

The reason Aunt Tessie called him Chicago is because that’s the one big city she always wanted to get to. Bigger than St. Paul, bigger than Milwaukee, a town where you could walk the busiest stretch of real estate at two in the afternoon and not encounter one down-and-out, liquored-up soul looking to drown you in the morass of teenaged rememberings. The question of how Chicago went from being a city two states away to a child living at the end of the cul de sac confused the hell out of your mother. But Tessie? She loved that name. She loved it as much as anybody could. Save, you suppose, for Rutger Sr.

For whereas Tessie would call Chicago inside for supper and dream up images of theater lights and ballpark lawns, your grandfather saw armor-plated Cadillacs and warehouse hitjobs, broad shoulders and big cigars. To him, that name was all the things he wanted for his life, though law and circumstance would not allow it. And though he acted the part of the heartbroken innocent when the sheriffs came banging on his door, you don’t think it bothered him much that one of his grandkids got busted for strong-arming the hardware shop with a piece from his own collection. No, you think must have made him pretty proud. That’s the way it’s been for your grandfather for as far back as you can remember, his dial forever tuned to a RCA drama whose signal has long cut out. There are lonely, wistful days when even the smallest whisper of your cousin’s name is enough to fire up in his mind the guns of Alphonse Capone.


A night later your mom hosts a Welcome Home party for a reborn Chicago in the rumpus room. It’s an event she’s been planning since the parole board hearings a month before. She says she chose not to tell you out of fear for how you’d react. She says everyone in the family – Aunt Tessie and Uncle Boomer and Rutger Sr. and her new boyfriend Jason – well, they all knew and they’re real happy for Chicago. She says you ought to be real happy too.

“What about those times he busted my jaw or gave me a black eye?” you ask.

“Kids grow up,” she says.

“What about that time he tied that barn cat to a tree and shot it in the face cause he knew I wanted to keep it?” you ask.

“Kids grow up,” she says.

The party itself is small but excitable, the room partitioned between a cluster of adult well-wishers near the fireplace and Chicago’s greasy pals stretched out across the love seat and couch. The ones you know as co-workers from the pit nod their boozy heads and tip their drinks in apathetic recognition of your presence. The ones you haven’t associated with since graduation say things like, “Hey Rudy, man, where the fuck have you been?” and each time you give the driest, most canned response you can generate to get them off your back – stuff like “Making an honest living” and “Getting through the day.” You tail your mom back and forth from the party to the pantry, badgering her for an out, some reasonable defense for hiding away in your bedroom until the crowd disbands.

Your mom has prepared four trays of pigs in a blanket, Chicago’s favorite platter. She has ordered six boxes of cheese pizza from Pagliai’s Original, Chicago’s favorite take-out joint. Her stereo system, usually reserved for Ronstadt, Streisand and a cabinet of soft jazz records has been given over to Chicago’s favorite Skynyrd album from before he went inside. You wonder if anybody has the heart to tell him they all died in a Mississippi plane wreck. Probably he’d find that funny.

Your cousin Chicago sits at the head of the celebration by the sliding glass doors. He is wearing a collared shirt and necktie, the latter clenched in place by a half-formed Windsor knot, drawn in a bulb as thick as your fist. He is telling a story about the mean black brothers he met in prison, about how he had to pretend to be a Nazi or a Klansman so the actual Nazis and actual Klansmen would stop the blacks from murdering him in the Yard. He keeps using that word, Yard, as if its every application unsticks him further from the blue collar boredom of the northwoods and makes him look rough and dangerous. He shows off tender scars on fresh muscles. He praises his bulldog tattoo.

“Rutger Jr.,” he calls to you, “long time no chat, cousin!”

This is everything you didn’t want to deal with.

Chicago holds one hand to the sky at the crown of his head, fingers pressed in tight like a feather, and flaps the other hand across his lips in a mock war whoop. “Chief Popasquat say come join the powwow, Little Big Man.”

You look around the couches and see seven cushioned seats and seven cushioned asses. Chicago gestures toward the armrest, and that is where you sit, on the stiff, hard armrest.

Chicago lays a palm against your shoulder,  goes, “This SOB right here, boys. Let me tell you. Me and him, we’ve know each other a long, long time. He’s a good man, my cousin. A real good guy. Always knew better than me to get wrapped up in negative influences.” Chicago’s face slackens. His eyes lock their sights onto the wet rings of the coffee table, the blotches signifying where some coasters ought to have gone. He lapses into something nearing rumination, but that’s too human for his kind. Your cousin shakes his mind clear of memories and almost jostles you off the armrest while he’s at it. “Well, anyway, how the heck you doing?”

He’s sitting close and inching closer, his long legs snug within the bent cradle of his arms, the blown-out knees of his blue jeans aligned by the softest touch with your own until your ends converge in a chain of four dusty mountains. You read his eyes for anger but they’re nothing but sweetness and light.

“Not too bad,” you say. “How you holding up? Must have been rough in there, doing time like that.”

“No sense fooling with what’s done. Onward and upward.”

“Upward where to? You got prospects?”

“Ain’t much, but I got an interview next week through rehabilitation services. You might be looking at the new book stocker for the county library.”

“Wow, there’s a gig,” you laugh, and – thank goodness – he laughs with you. You offer up a toast and he accepts that too.

“Good to have you back in the life,” you say. “Let me talk to the bosses when I get a chance. There might be a job waiting for you in the quarry when you get off probation.”

“There’s my boy,” goes Chicago, polishing off a healthy chug.

The party around you proceeds in civilized fashion. It’s growing late and the herd is thinning along with the cold cuts and refreshments. The needle on the turntable hits the smooth edge of Skynyrd’s Second Helping and for a while the house is bereft of guitars that shred and voices that howl. Then some lady you remember from your churchgoing days gets to rifling through the family digest and comes up with one of your old pop radio jams. The speakerbox chimes with tinkling bells and monophonic four-part harmonies, sending Chicago and his pals into a hellish stitch.

“Hold up, I almost forgot. That’s another thing about dear Rudy,” Chicago says. “This motherfucker loved the Monkees. Every Monday night he’d come screaming down the block after school to be the first in front of the tube. Miss Larson used to ask him to do his Monkee dance during lunch and he’d start swinging his hips like a chimp, singing ‘Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees’ and that good shit.”

Chicago’s friends get in their chuckles, like they aren’t your exact age, like they weren’t in those classrooms and knew nothing about your Michael Nesmith wooly hat phase. Like they hadn’t stolen that hat a dozen or a hundred plus times.

“How’d that thing go again?” one of them asks.

“Yeah, I’m a spot fuzzy in Monkees department myself,” Chicago says. “Why don’t you do us a favor and brush us all up?”

Now everybody’s rearing for a live rendition, the weight of their gaze falling on you and no one else. Chicago squeezes your collarbone, a weak threat as Chicago’s threats go, but enough to ensure you won’t bail.

“After ‘Hey, hey?’”

“You got it.”

“The whole thing or just the next line?”

“You want to put on a concert, cousin? Put on a concert. ‘Last Train to Clarkesville,’ ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday,’ uh, uh, ‘Daydream Believer,’ whatever your heart desires.”

Everything turns quiet. What chatter there is drifts over from the old timers’ cocktail hour on the other side of the room. Chicago grins like a bag full of coins, silver and shining. He’s got his gravity fixed on you, and you can feel the acid boil in your gut and the blood gather in your feet like a man strung up for spectacle.

You sing the song. Chicago mimes the tambourine. Hey, hey, you’re a Monkee. People say you monkee around.

“You always could carry a tune,” Chicago goes, stroking your neck with the points of his nails. “Real lovely voice, real lovely pitch. Reminds me of something your daddy told me when we were kids, about how he bad he wanted his first and only to pop out a girl. Heck, they thought you was one until the doctor found his glasses and double checked your pecker.”

Your body jolts with violation. The acid in your gut burrows its way into your mouth.

“You hurt him good from the start, cousin. That daddy of yours. There was only room enough in old pop’s life for one bouncing baby boy. Think you must have been a few days late.”


Bette Steiner slides you a pint between her thumb and two surviving fingers. She points to the shellac menuboard nailed along the high wall, asks if she can fetch you a bite to eat, an egg salad sandwich or lutefisk with peas. Like the bar itself, the menuboard has been here longer than most folks in Mayfly have been alive. It lists an item called “Liberty Dogs with Sour Krauts.” It says the going price for a hot pastrami on rye is fifteen cents.

“That’ll do, love,” says Rutger Sr., waving her away.

Living this far north, the winters stretch for years and the nights go on for days. The sky is black when you punch the clock at the reporting gate, and blacker yet in the evenings when you deliver your beaten body home. There is snow kissing the windowpanes and snow pattering on the roofs of cars and snow littering the floorboards where unseen drinkers remove their coats and scarves. You light your last Marlboro and toss the dead match to the ashtray. Chicago sips Maker’s on the rocks and chases it with Grain Belt.

“It has been so long since we three were together,” Rutger Sr. whispers, breathing in your nicotine fumes. “I have told you this before, but you must listen. The name of the gangster was Domino Teeth. Do you know why they call him this?”

Chicago throws up his hand like the head of the classroom. He spits out his answer and his answer is gum disease.

“See, his mouth was all fucked and his teeth were totally black except for a few tiny white dots, like a bunch of dominos.”

Rutger Sr. pushes his thumbs to the center of his lips and bites.

“They call him this name because of his cruelty. When he met a regular person, saw them suffer through poverty and hunger, he was kind, he gave them dollars out of his wallet and food out of his traveling bag. But when he met a G-Man, someone who turns a gun at him, someone who tries to earn a gold star for bravery from J. Edgar and Purvis, he shatter their teeth with his hammer, one after one, until they all drop like dominos.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that’s fucking incredible,” says Chicago.

“When they catch him, they catch him in Mesabi. They catch him robbing the Bank and Trust. He wanted the mine’s money, to give back to the miners, but the G-Men got the tip from a rat in his crew. My father hears this on the radio, comes to me, says, ‘Young Rutger, they have killed the Domino Teeth. We must go and see.’ But when we get there, only blood is left.”

There is a slight teardrop forming in your grandfather’s eye. He has seen what the world has to offer for heroes and he has found them as insubstantial as himself. There is a bitterness to his mind, a mean taste for life. You fear Chicago’s return has shifted something in him, some lever pulled, some synapse snapped. You fear this thing he’s been planning, planning all your lives.

“So they shot him. That was – what? – fifty years ago?” Chicago says. “A guy like that would be dead by now anyway. Better to go down in bullets.”

Rutger Sr. doesn’t listen. He keeps on his story like dying soldier dictating his last letter home.

“My father give his life to that mine. When the Depression come, he give his livelihood too. Two weeks on a boat from Gothenburg to New York, sixteen months wandering from New York to Michigan, Michigan to Iowa, Iowa to Mayfly, just to wind up poorer than he began, with a wife and child who eat away the scraps. Domino Teeth stole for people like him. He give us hope, and the G-Man takes that away too. But that which is owed to us comes back in the end.”

This is too much. You dismount your stool, signal Bette to close the tab. You think how this your fault, how you fed into these delusions all those times you agreed out of pity to go drinking with your grandfather, to keep him company and validate his stories in Chicago’s absence.

“Sit your ass down,” Rutger Sr. commands of you, and a lifetime of imposed respect has taught you better than to disobey. “You are a Rutger. You are of my father’s flesh and mine. You will do the job I should have done when I was your age, if I had not been a coward like you. You will do this job and you will be rewarded.”

Rutger Sr. withdraws a dime from his pocket. He places it liberty-side up on the vein-rooted crust of his knuckles. There’s that face again, aquiline nose and stately chin, winged helmet promising a flight from this wicked inheritance that you know can never come.

“Their wealth was earned with Rutger sweat and Rutger labor,” he says, and there is no mistaking his intentions now. He tilts his mug and lays it atop the back of his hand, obscuring the face of the dime. Brown beer foam trickles down his arm and settles on his crotch and the legs of his pants. “It belongs to us, we Rutger men, and we will recoup our losses. We will take it back with interest or die like Domino Teeth.”

It’s been agreed that you will act as driver. You are the sole quarryman among your kin, and so only you possess the personnel clearance to breach the entrance gate. You have been gifted a firearm from Rutger Sr.’s private cache, a steel pistol with a diamond pattern inlaid on its oaken handle. It’s the gun you used in grade school to snipe Coke cans off fenceposts and squirrels out of trees. The trigger pulls heavy but familiar in your embrace, possessed of all the pretty sorrow of a childhood lived once in the body and eternally in the brain. You offer to rent a trio of walkie-talkies from the CB hobbyist shop, but Rutger Sr. says there’s no use in them. According to his word, you wander off even for a minute and you’re either cruising for a prison poke or you’re dead meat on a stick. Choose your own adventure.

No signage guides you along the black prairie highway, the backwoods lane that leads far beyond the common boundaries of Mayfly, past Sibley Lake, past Uncle Ed’s ice cream shack and the paddleboats that float staggering against their moors in the half-frozen Minnesota waters. This is not your morning commute, not the well-worn worker’s circuit that ends in equipment lockers and safety checks, but the north-facing entrance, from which the bosses so often launch their daily rounds. Chicago is sitting shotgun, newly discharged from his evening shift stashing book returns on the downtown stacks, his clothing musty with the smell of newsprint and encyclopedia pages. Rutger Sr. hangs alone in the backseat, studying the mining ordinance maps and topographical surveys Chicago has culled for him from the municipal history reading room. It’s noiseless for a while but soon Chicago pops in an 8-track. Street Survivors.

“Funny thing about Skynyrd, right?” he goes, whistling as he traces the invisible plunge of a downed Convair jet. “Ka-POW!”

You arrive at the gate, its metal arch sheared to read HOLLAND-MASON COMPANY: MINING JOBS, MOLDING MAYFLY. You step out into the air and feel the sucking gust of the chasm as it reaches for you from the darkness at the end of the lot. You slide your key into its accompanying keyhole. Chicago parts the gates with a messianic zeal.

You drive without headlights, crawling slow and silent along the dozen terraced ridges of mined red earth that grip the walls of the pit. There are miles of emptiness thrown before you, but only inches of passable terrain. You feel like you’re descending into a gravesite or else the collapsed remains of an ancient Aztec pyramid, as though the bones of dead pit boys have been dug into the dirt beside the ten million tons of waste rock and iron ore.

The business office is located in a trailer at the base of the quarry, grounded on four columns of cinderblock, shaded by the sleeping chassis of a five-story high excavating crane.

“They keep the cash flow safe in there,” you say, putting the car in park but leaving the engine to run.

“How do you know this?” Rutger Sr. asks, and you don’t have much of an answer for him.

“Because where else would they keep it?”

This makes sense enough.

Chicago dances with the trailer door but cannot pry it from its hinges. You watch from the rear-view as he and Rutger Sr. draw a tow cable from the trunk, running it from hitch to knob through a fog of exhaust. You tap the throttle and the cable snags taut. You push the pedal a little harder and speculate on what kind of breaking strength this thing’s got, if it won’t kill your bumper before it kills the door. Nothing you can do except give it more go. The door pops free, deformed by the shock of separation into a concave V. You spin your wheels in a recovery donut, stamping treadmarks like chevrons into the dirt. The thought crosses your mind that this might later be used as evidence against you, the automotive equivalent of ten perfect fingerprints on the handle of a crowbar.

You follow your grandfather inside the office and everything appears as expected. There is an electric typewriter on the secretary’s desk and last year’s calendar thumbtacked to the wall. There are framed engineering degrees and a full-scale watercolor of the pit as it appeared in 1910. There are filing cabinets and wastebins lined with carbon-copy HR documents and payroll stubs. There is a small combination safe tucked beneath the furthest desk from the door. And it is here, crouched along the floor beside a brown potted ficus, between the fact of your grandfather’s revenge and the dream of an easy exit, that you find Patrick Appleby.

“Aw shoot, it’s you guys,” he says, forking his arms like a big game touchdown in capitulation. He’s on the clock and so he’s traded out his hockey sweater for the blue zippered jumpsuit of the security patrolman, though even that’s got the usual slush puppie stains. He squints as he takes stock of the sight before him, fucked as it is beyond his recognition: two warmly remembered schoolmates and a community elder, each waving a loaded weapon in his face. You aren’t sure what he’s got figured out and what he hasn’t, what he’ll report and what he won’t. “What is this?” he asks. “A family affair?”

Chicago grabs a roll of duct tape from the closest workstation and commands him to sit. He fastens Patrick Appleby to a swivel chair and spins him around like a tilt-a-whirl until he gags. You drag the safe onto open carpet and get to popping that piñata while Rutger Sr. maintains lookout duty through a yellow slat in the window blinds.

“Tell me how to open the safe,” Chicago says, running a booted foot into Patrick Appleby’s gonads.

Patrick Appleby moans.

“Come on, man,” he coughs. “I thought we were cool. I thought you found Jesus.”

“Jesus? You thought I found Jesus? You’re gonna be shaking Jesus’s fucking hand in five seconds if you don’t give Rudy the combo.”

Pressure’s on. You wheel the numbered dial clockwise and back, listening for – what? The sound of spindles and tumblers clicking into position, your ear held to surface like the kerchief-masked bandit from the Pink Panther cartoons. It occurs to you that for whatever planning went into this caper, not one of you has accounted for a standard-grade workplace coffer.

“I don’t know! They don’t tell us those kinds of things,” goes Patrick Appleby.    Chicago rams his cheek with the butt of his gun. The bluntness of the impact rouses blood beneath the skin.

Patrick Appleby starts sobbing and you feel like there’s something you should do about this, something to make his misery disappear, to hold your cousin accountable for his indifference to human feeling, but there’s nothing. He’s got his part to play and you’ve got yours. Will your hostage implicate you when this is over? Does he see the regret on your face, the way you’ve been roped into this by an ounce of allegiance against a pound of better judgment? Or does he just see you as another Rutger with a gun?

Come on, man. Stick to the script.


It’s goddamn unbelievable. You used to trade comic books with this kid.

You’re no more than five minutes into your lesson in remedial safecracking when the sirens go off, distant but closing, a caravan of 5-0s grinding down the scarred ridges of the pit. The sound on its own is enough to resurrect every paranoid grudge you’ve ever held against small town cops, busters of dope, crashers of parties, enemies of youth. For years, you hated these pricks because Chicago hated these pricks. Then these pricks caught up to Chicago and you got your chance to go straight. You swore you’d never ride that clean white bus with the clean black bars, and tonight’s no time to renege on that vow.

“Why are they here?” Rutger Sr. wants to know. “How are they here? It is not possible that they could be here!”

Patrick Appleby wriggles in his chair. “Silent alarm. I got scared while you were busting the door so I hit it. I didn’t know it was you guys, believe me, I didn’t! I’m so, so sorry, oh God, I am.”

Chicago takes a knee in front of him, asks, “Can you repeat that?”

“Silent alarm,” says Patrick Appleby.

“Ah,” says Chicago. “That’s a shame.”

He nestles the gun into the center of Patrick Appleby’s chest and shoots. A splash of red flies everywhere. Patrick Appleby hits the ground and doesn’t get up.

For a second nobody says nothing. You run the equations through your dizzy mind. 1 + 1 = 2. Bullet + Chest = Dead.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” you shout, hate cooking in the muscles of your punching arm like an ocean beating on a crippled levee. You mean to take a sporting jab but end up body-tackling him, shoulders thrusting to the wall. You lay three quick strikes on his nose, which pops like milky breakfast cereal, battered, contorted, snuffling blood in opposite directions.

Chicago just looks at you, blood in his hair and blood on his teeth.

“You want next, cousin?”

Your whole body locks in its place. You search your guts for the mettle needed to expunge your own kind from the world and, son of a bitch, you think you’ve got it. But the police horns are moving in and there’s a red-blue fire licking at the window glass, burning up the shadows, painting mad abstractions on your body and face. No prison. Not like this. There are debts between you and him in need of settling, but you’ll see to that when this is done.

“Stop it boys, stop it!” says Rutger Sr. “He is no problem of ours anymore. Grab the safe and take it to the car!”

Chicago hoists one end of the box and you hoist the other, neither of you once breaking eye contact. Rutger Sr. streams ahead, lighting a trail into the winter night. He skips like a child, dispatching an entire magazine into and around the array of cop cars. They’re shooting back now, as they do. The sergeant gets on his microphone and warns you to stifle your weapons. Rutger Sr. re-ups on ammunition and unleashes another volley, shouting “Can it, G-Men!” and “This one is for Pretty Boy Floyd!”

You’re pinned down in the great bowl of the pit, the tires of your getaway ride punctured before you ever reach the car. Time for Plan B. Maybe it’s brilliant or maybe it’s reckless or maybe you truly do belong in a cartoon, but you lug your cousin and the safe to the digging crane and load the earnings of your heist snug within the bucket of its shovel.

“We’re gonna ride it up,” you say, gassing the engine. You undo the belt from your buckle and use it to tie down the control bar, heaving the boom stick up and up and up on its hydraulic lift, high enough, you trust, to connect with an escape route.

Ducking low to dodge the crossfire, you zip from the control cab to the shovel as it rises from the pit, twenty, fifty, a hundred feet into the sky. You, your cousin, your grandfather and his maniac millions, out for a night at the fun fair. Cop bullets bang against the crane’s exterior, but do not penetrate its shell. This pit, this underworld, grand canyon of the north, sinks below your scope of vision as the road home elevates into view.

“Rutger Jr., Chicago, you have done such good for me,” Rutger Sr. laughs. He nurses the safe in his arms like he’s cherishing the birth and baptism of a long-awaited infant. “I am a proud man. And you have made me a rich man to boot. You have made the whole lot of us Rutger men rich!”

Chicago claps frantically, rasping his voice through the pain of his twice-broken nose in imitation of a cheering crowd. The false ovation echoes off the brim of the crane and out into the abyss.

“Gentlemen, it has been an pleasure to steal with you,” he says with a bow. “My apologies for the mess.”

“You’re a real sick asshole,” you go, for lack of anything constructive.

Chicago tsks. “Yeah, no” he says, drawing a big rock from his jacket pocket. “I disagree.”

A crack of anger, a black-brown flash to the eye and he brings the stone down to your skull. More blood, always more blood, seeping out the sudden cleft in your forehead, its iron taste cold on your tongue. Your balance fails you. You bang down to your ass, kick Chicago in the shins with the bulk of your draining strength. He bounds backward, catches himself wobbling, makes a move for his gun. Another kick, another trip. You pull your own piece, the pistol with the wooden handle still glinting beneath the moon. You shoot without talent or discretion. You shoot with a gut pumped full of anger. There is a hole now along Rutger Sr.’s ribs, all kinds of pink fluff poking through, sucking air like a half-exposed drain at the shallowest edge of the shallow end. Rutger Sr. loses control of himself under the heft of the cash flow safe. He falls from his place in the shovel, from his place in your lives and the highest twig of your family tree, tumbling into the pit like a dime in a well.

For the longest while, you and Chicago don’t look. You don’t speak, you don’t feud, you don’t do anything at all. Someplace deep underneath, an old man and his money are sprawled broken in the floodlights, the teeth burst clear from his head, scattered like dominos in the dirt.


About the Author

Max Vande Vaarst is a maybe possibly someday up-and-coming writer of imaginative fiction and the founder of the online arts journal Buffalo Almanack. Max’s work has been featured in such publications as A cappella Zoo, JMWW and Jersey Devil Press. He received his B.A. in History and English from Purdue University. He currently lives in Laramie, Wyoming and is pursuing an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Wyoming. Find him online at