Manuel A. Meléndez is an award-winning Puerto Rican author, born in Puerto Rico and raised in East Harlem, N.Y. He is the author of three mystery/supernatural novels "When Angels Fall", “Battle For a Soul”, and “The Cowboy”. Seven poetry books, “Observations Through Poetry”, “Voices From My Soul”, “The Beauty After The Storm”, “Meditating With Poetry”, “Searching For Myself”, “A Poetic Journal”, and “Pasos Sin Rumbos”. Two collection of Christmas short stories, “New York-Christmas Tales Vol. 1 and 2.” Two collection of supernatural horror stories, “Wicked Remnants” and “Outbursts of Horror” a collaboration with El Davíd. Two novelettes, “In the Shadows of New York”. “Battle for a Soul” was awarded in the 2015 International Latino Awards for Mystery Novels and “When Angels Fall” was voted by the LatinoAuthors.com as the Best Novel of 2013. His story “A Killer Among Us” was published by Akashi Books in “San Juan Noir” anthology. The author lives in Sunnyside, N.Y. harvesting tales from the streets of the city.
Bobby's Black Hot-Rod
Maggie came through the front door, bringing the winter on her clothes. Once inside, the only sounds she heard were the harsh howling wind and if she listened closely, the sound of her own breathing and the beating of her heart. She would much rather hear the roaring throttle of his car approaching the house.
She remembered when Bobby drove the car out of the showroom. She never trusted that auto dealership that appeared overnight with its fleet of loud, fast cars, nor the owner and his ever-present grin. Taking over the vacant lot that once occupied the site of a twice-a-year traveling circus. Now, after the flashy car dealership had taken possession, it made her blood freeze every time she passed it. She had shown Bobby her anger when he came home that day all proud and giddy. How could she have stayed mad at him when he’d earned every penny he spent on the car working at the local hardware store after school and a full day on Saturdays or days off from school? And because of that and the love for her son, Maggie did her best to keep her opinions to herself.
The horrendous black car was a monster of machinery. The entire interior was covered in black. Even the windows were tinted dark as if the damn car had been submerged inside a jar of black India Ink.
She immediately thought that awful car was possessed by the Devil himself, but the joy that shone on Bobby’s face every time he drove it, was a happiness she couldn’t deny him. She tried to like the car, to feel comfortable with its menacing demonic engine every time he tinkered with the motor or added something new under the hood. She wished Ron was still alive. He had a better temperament to deal with stuff like that. But her poor husband left her and Bobby widowed and fatherless after a hunting accident. At times like this, she cursed her loving God who she worshipped every Sunday at the All Saints Church.
The bitter, cold winter was now in full force, and she prayed for warmer weather that seemed to be nowhere in sight. Maybe she should prepare a pot of tea—yes that’s what she would do—as soon as she took off her coat and fed the wood-burning stove with a log.
As the water boiled, she looked out the window, where she could see the garage across the yard.. The car sat there, like a brooding beast waiting for the right time to come alive and fall on defenseless prey.
It took Ralph and his two sons—her neighbors down the road—to put the car in neutral, huffing while they pushed the car inside the garage. It would have been a shame for Bobby to come home and find his precious hot rod covered with snow. She paid them handsomely, and their good deed done, Ralph and his sons jumped in his weathered pickup truck and drove to town. Maggie knew exactly what they were planning to do--spend every penny she paid them on drinks at the old saloon, which she had tried to close a few years ago. Ron had stopped her that day, furiously telling her to hush and mind her own business. She had fumed for weeks, even months. After all, she was the leader at the church choir who pushed other women to abide by her rules.Maggie would grow angry when those ladies didn’t follow suit in her absence. “Bunch of weaklings! Every single one of you,”, Maggie had screamed at them. They hadn’t shared as much as a comment about the weather since. Good riddance to them all, and their no-good alcoholic husbands and sons. And good riddance to their whore daughters too.
The teapot began to whistle and rattle loudly. Turning off the burner, she carefully took the handle with a kitchen mitt and brought it to the table. The aromatic scent of chamomile filled her with a sudden soothing effect, and Maggie smiled with contentment. She selected a mug from the dish-rack, sat down at the breakfast nook by the window, and poured the scorching tea. She knew it would be at least a good ten minutes before she could take a sip, but the warmth that swirled from the tea embraced her with calmness.
The grey clouds above the countryside moved like a gathered mist in a menacing fashion. Maggie was sure that by morning there would be over a foot of snow on the ground. “Enough to make a gigantic snowman,” she remembered Bobby declaring. Bobby was an only child and was a happy kid growing up. After giving birth, she felt dirty, like a filthy pig, and right then and there she forbade Ron from ever touching her again. Of course, he didn’t take it lightly, arguing that a wife’s job was more than cooking and cleaning. Pleasing her husband in the act of fornication was one of those duties.
Ron left the house as angry as a groom stood up by the bride at the altar, and after midnight he returned with the smell of alcohol on his breath and evilness in his eyes. At first, he tried to use his boyhood charm on her, and when she refused to be deceived by his drunken actions, he forced himself on her. But she fought back. Maggie was no pushover and when she lifted his hunting rifle and aimed it at his head, Ron raised his hands in defeat and left her alone. She had won the battle that night, but knew that she also need to win the war.
Taking a slow sip of the tea, Maggie watched as a sparrow landed on the bird feeder that had not seen a single seed since Bobby was around. It pecked on the dried leaves and twigs, and after realizing there was nothing there to satisfy its hungry belly, the sparrow flew away. Maggie took another sip of tea and noticed the shadows that were emerging into the kitchen, only the glow of the wood-burning stove kept the room away from darkness. The hands of the wall clock were ticking onto ten minutes past five, and through the growing darkness outside, the first flick of snow began to swirl and settled on the window glass. Finishing the tea, Maggie pushed the chair away from the table and went to the old recliner that Bobby bought for Ron five Christmases ago with money he’s saved. It didn’t take long before she began to snore.
A truck’s backfire outside brought Maggie out of a troublesome sleep. At first, she thought the roar of the engine was part of her dream, and visions of Bobby starting up his devilish black car played in her mind. However, after she rubbed her eyes and realized the sounds were real, she raised her head towards the front door. The fire in the wood-burning stove was down to a few glowing embers, and now the kitchen was cold and as black as—Bobby’s car—and Maggie stirred.
There was a soft knock on the door, and blinking at the extreme darkness, Maggie walked quietly to the window and peaked out. The truck’s headlight beams shone straight on her doorway, and she could make out a man standing there, and fear crawled all over her. She moved away from the window, dreading that the man might see her, and maneuvering blindly through the kitchen, she went where she kept Ron’s hunting rifle. Lifting the firearm, Maggie felt safer, and shuffling to the door, she waited to see if the man would knock again or hopefully walk away. Of course, she prayed for the latter but was quite ready if the man would still show his persistence and knock once more.
Anguish washed over her when the man rapped on the door again, a bit more forcefully. Maggie wrapped her finger around the trigger and came closer to the door.
“I reckon you’re no salesman knocking on my door at this time of the night,” Maggie called out, glad her voice was strong and hid the fear that coated her heart. “So, let’s be a considerate person and go back to your vehicle and go home.”
“Sorry, Maggie, for disturbing your peace, but we need to talk. Open the door, and let’s talk.”
Maggie had known that this was going to happen sooner or later—ever since the rumors reached her about a young lawyer who’d just arrived in town stirring up stories long ago buried.
“It’s way too late for a woman to be opening her door to a man who’s not her husband or family. Go home, Ralph. I’m sure your wife’s dinner is getting mighty cold waiting for you.”
“Maggie, this is no time for stubbornness to stick its head in your reasoning. We both knew that this was going to come someday. Well, it’s here right this minute on your doorstep. You know as good as me that we can’t ignore it or expect it to go away.”
“Ralph, I ain’t ignoring nothing but your late-night calling. Yes siree, that’s what I’m ignoring. Now, go home, and maybe if you drive by here again tomorrow at a decent time, I might consider such a conversation with you. But now it’s best for you to climb back in that old truck of yours and go home.”
“Pardon me, Maggie, but I can’t do that. A subpoena was slapped on my kitchen table. My two boys have already run out of town to avoid their own summons. They’d rather be away from their Momma’s cornbread than answer the accusations I’m facing now.”
“Ralph, I don’t know what you’re blabbering about, and I can hear the slur in your voice. You’re drunk. A good night’s sleep will sober you up, and then you’ll be able to think clearly. And then I reckon we can speak, but now, for the last time, you better get your feet moving away from my door. Trespassing is a serious offense in these parts, especially when the trespassing is being done to an old widow suffering the disappearance of her boy.”
“Last time just arrived at my doorstep, Ralph,” Maggie interrupted her neighbor’s words as she placed the muzzle of the rifle on the door. “I got Ron’s hunting gun with my finger on the trigger. If I don’t hear that filthy truck driving away from here, I’m going to start shooting. A woman alone in her home needs to protect herself from trespassers at night.”
“You’re a crazy old bitch, Maggie,” Ralph said as he backed away from the door. “But don’t think this is over. Don’t think I won’t take that subpoena tomorrow morning and march it right into the judge’s chamber and tell them my piece. Then let’s see how this poor-widow-woman-suffering-for-her-lost-son bullshit is going to hold in court. We both know what we did, and like hell I’m not going to be the only asshole holding onto the cookie jar. You also got a lot of those cookie crumbs all over you. You hear me, woman? We both helped ourselves to that cookie jar.”
The quickness of the door being swung open startled Ralph as he jumped and to his embarrassment, a squeal came out of his mouth. He stumbled on the slippery snow that was piling up on the porch, and trying to run back to his truck, he tripped on his two drunken feet and fell hard on the frozen ground. Trying to stand back up, he turned around and found himself two inches from the rifle that Maggie aimed at his face.
“You were never a smart man,” Maggie said. “How many times did you get left back in school before your Poppa finally decided to pull you out of your misery and strapped your ass to a manure spreader where you belonged? Now, here you are, drunk like the pig-eyed fool that you’ll always be until the Good Lord removes you from his paradise, looking at the long barrel of Ron’s hunting rifle that you used to kill him.”
“We killed him!” Ralph stammered.
“I reckon I wasn’t there,” Maggie said, still aiming the rifle. “You killed him all by yourself. Out there in the mountains where it was only the two of you. Even your hunting buddies were surprised that neither you nor Ron invited them for the hunt. Well, I can vouch for Ron. He didn’t know he was going hunting until you drove out to the boondocks.”
“It was your plan.”
“Nobody will believe you.”
“Sure, they will, I’m not as dumb as you think I am. I have proof that, yes, I got him there, I trapped him for you. I lied about how he tripped and shot his face off, but you were the one who pulled the trigger.”
Ralph’s words resonated deep in Maggie’s psyche with enough punch that she lowered the rifle, moving a few more inches back from his face. He had to be bluffing, Maggie thought. There was no way he was telling the truth. She ransacked her brain for any loose ends she may have left back then, but honestly, Ron’s death had happened five years ago.
“Maggie if you kill me, they’ll come after you and you damn well know it,” Ralph was talking fast because he knew his life depended on every word that came out of his mouth. “You were quick to get rid of Ron’s body. To this day, the entire congregation at your church still talks about you having Ron cremated, rather than give him a proper Christian burial. You did it to hide the poison you gave me to make Ron sloppy and an easier target. That’s our secret, Maggie. Our secret, do you understand? And if we don’t work together, just like we did back then, we’re both facing the chair.”
“You’re lying, you piece of shit,” Maggie said, again raising the rifle to Ralph’s face. “You ain’t got no proof of nothing. It was only you and Ron up in the mountains. It was all recorded in your statement and you swore on the Good Bible that’s how it happened. You ain’t got nothing on me, you drunken fool.”
“My boys, Billy and Josh, they had known the truth all along; that’s why they ran,” Ralph got on his knees and faced Maggie now with his eyes full of defiance. “They know the whole truth, and with them away from this hick town, I told them to speak to the right person if they don’t hear from their Poppa by tomorrow night. You see, I must heed the subpoena and be at the court tomorrow morning no later than nine o’clock.”
Maggie rolled that information around her head for a minute. Then, taking a few steps away from Ralph, and not liking how close he was to her, she moved back a good distance of two feet. Still, the rifle was at bullseye range to Ralph’s brain.
“And I’ll tell them about Bobby too,” Ralph continued, spit flying with every word that bellowed out of his mouth.
“You shut your mouth about my good boy, Bobby! You hush that drunk mouth of yours about my boy,” Maggie waved the barrel of the rifle. “My boy was the jewel of this town. Everyone loved my Bobby. He was going places beyond this cow-smelling-shit hick town. Until the Devil’s corruption claimed his clean soul. But don’t worry about my boy, he’s now well off the evilness that grows in these hills like fungus. He’s going places now.”
“Bobby is dead, Maggie!” Ralph shouted, “And you killed him. For the same reason, you killed Ron. They both found happiness in better arms than yours and were ready to leave you so you could rot alone. Yeah, so you could rot alone like the old rat that you are.”
The bullet shot out of Ron’s rifle straight into Ralph’s head, ripping half of the man’s scalp and brain—splattering all over the crystallized snow on the porch. The full impact of the gunshot flung Ralph against the front tire of the idling truck. Maggie stood there looking down at the body that twitched for a second or two before realizing it was dead.
“You didn’t have to go there, talking about my sweet boy like that. You hear me, you drunk bastard, you had no business bringing my Bobby into our quarrel. No sir, you should have known what line not to cross. But you were always a stupid man. Now look at what your dumbass did, you got yourself killed,” Maggie yelled as she swung the rifle to her shoulder and went inside the house, slamming the door with force.
Standing in the middle of the kitchen, Maggie trembled with rage, irritated that she allowed Ralph to rattle her cage. She knew better than to believe all the lies whispered behind her back about Bobby. It was all infected by jealousy—yes—the dark green envy everyone had about her sweet boy. She remembered confronting Bobby, asking him pointblank about all the ugly rumors about him. He shrugged and told her to mind her own business. Told her he was moving out. It sure did shock her. It had felt like being slapped by his own hands and the betrayal was hard to accept. So, on that night, filled with tears, fury, and accusations, Maggie looked at her boy as if he was a stranger standing in front of her. Her own Judas and Prodigal Son all rolled into one young boy telling her that ‘Yes Momma, the stories are true, I’m a queer, I’m a homosexual!’
And then she was blinded by the vile atrocity that spewed out of her sweet boy’s mouth. She clapped her hands over her ears, and shouted curses at the Heavenly Father for His own betrayal. With tears burning her eyes, she watched as Bobby began packing his stuff into the very luggage Ron had secretly bought when he decided to leave her. With a murderous rage scorching her insides, Maggie ran into Bobby’s room and heaved his luggage to the floor. Bobby’s clothes rained down, and that’s when she saw the underwear. She had never seen those when she did the wash. She only bought Bobby Fruit of the Loom tighty whities, but all the colorful silk bikini underwear exposed the truth about her son. Maggie exploded with a wrath more potent than when she killed Ron. She snatched the unmanly garments, their delicate smoothness adding fire to her rage, and she slapped Bobby with them until her hands were sore. He tried to stop her, and for the first time in her life, she heard curses coming from out of her sweet, innocent child. They bombarded her ears. He kept shouting over and over: ‘Yes this is who I am and there’s nothing you can do to change it. This is what your precious God gave you. He gave you a son that’s a homosexual, a queer, or in your terms, a faggot! Yes, Momma, I’m gay and this is something you cannot change or control. You cannot silence me like you silenced my beautiful father unless you’re going to kill me too!’
Maggie dropped to the floor, consumed by guilt and confused at how her life had unraveled like it had. Wasn’t she a fine Christian woman who took pity and prayed for those lesser than her? Didn’t she volunteer, not only in baking two apple pies every Thanksgiving, and then delivering them and then serving in the church’s soup kitchen? She even sent five dollars every month to the local poor shelter until she learned it was run by Jews, and she just knew they were pocketing all the money for themselves because that’s how those sinners are. The killers of Jesus!
Sitting on the cold floor, the rifle beside her, Maggie closed her eyes. Soon it will be dawn, and Harry, the mailman, will be doing his rounds and undoubtedly would stumble on Ralph’s body. She opened her eyes wide, stared at the door, and slowly nodded in agreement with her thoughts. There was nothing in this house to give her reason to stay. But if she didn’t run, she’d need to get rid of Ralph’s body. And that was a task she knew she couldn’t do by herself. Ralph was a big, fat slob who tipped the scale at two hundred and eighty pounds, at least, and there was no way she could lift that dead body into his truck. Maggie pondered the best way out of this mess like all those that men create and leave to the women to fix.
Using the rife as a crutch, she lifted herself and went to Bobby’s room, where everything was exactly the same as it had been that ugly night, the night she would rather forget, but always came to haunt her in her sleep. The luggage was still open, his clothes scattered all over the floor, and Bobby’s little undies spattered in blood. She went around spitting on them with hatred like she did every time she came to the room, and grabbing the luggage, she dumped the last of the clothes and went to her room. It didn’t take long for her to gather a few things from the closet including the large bag she kept way back on the shelf where she still had almost every dollar from Ron’s life insurance policy. Too bad she couldn’t cash Bobby’s life insurance, but that would have been a bit risky and just plain greedy. She had enough money to keep her honest, and she figured if she drove far enough away from here, Bobby’s black car would bring her a few decent dollars. Maggie smiled and, satisfied with her decision, dragged her stuffed luggage to the front door, past Ralph’s body, and straight to the garage. The foul smell hit her hard the second she opened the door, but she was sure that driving with the windows open, the smell from Bobby’s body in the trunk shouldn’t be a distraction or a worry if she stopped anywhere along the highway.
The roar that exploded from underneath the hood startled her the second she turned the ignition and the power of the car reverberated, making her tremble with apprehension. She spat on the floor with a defiant spirit and slowly eased out of the garage. Outside, she took a last look at her home, spat out the window again, and pointed the car to the long, winding road in front of her. Maggie stepped on the gas hard, and the beast careened like a black demon into the night.
Jeffrey watched as the snow came down in a meditative swirl—like miniature angels descending quietly from the sky. It had already been three weeks since he’d heard from Bobby, and the feeling in his gut was a ticking bomb of stress. It was unlike Bobby to disappear without a phone call, and Jeffrey feared the worst. They had met three years ago when his car broke down and this black hot rod came rumbling down the road. Bobby, a skilled mechanic, found the problem in no time and even gave him a few pointers in case he found himself in a similar situation somewhere down the road. They spoke for a bit, and soon after, Jeffrey thanked him and tried to pay Bobby. He refused, and they parted ways.
Two weeks later, they ran into each other again as if destiny was guiding their steps to each other. Jeffrey, a newly appointed lawyer at a law firm two towns away, saw what he thought was Bobby’s parked car by a local diner. Curious, he entered and quickly spotted Bobby eating alone in one of the booths at the far end of the diner. At first, he wanted to walk back out, but Bobby saw him and waved at him, and as the old saying goes, the rest was history.
Bobby was attending Community College, majoring in automotive engineering, and working full time at a hardware store where he had proudly admitted to having worked since he was fourteen. He was full of dreams that he hoped would allow him to finally dust off the small town he was born in, and expand his wings into the real world. He didn’t talk much about his life, and at best he described his relationship with his mother as walking a thin line between reality and pure bat-shit depression. When they met, he was confused about who he was, and as their friendship grew, so did Bobby’s acceptance of the man God made him to be. The first time they traveled together when Bobby admitted he was part of the gay community, Jeffrey felt like it was like watching a thoroughbred finally galloping freely, or in Bobby’s own words, ‘to feel like a race car flying in the Indy 500’.
But the more Bobby spoke about his life, and the death of his father, which many of the town folks called questionable, Jeffrey began to worry. For reasons that he didn’t understand, Jeffrey consulted with a lawyer friend about his worries, and his friend suggested a tracking device that could easily be attached to Bobby’s car without his knowledge. At first, Jeffrey was against the idea, it seemed so creepy and disloyal to do something like that. , Nevertheless, after further inquiries into Bobby’s parents and his father’s hunting accident, Jeffrey finally decided to look into a car tracking device. Not a mechanically-inclined person, Jeffrey searched the internet. He found across a device described as easy to install and hard to detect by the driver. It was listed as a Passive Vehicle Tracking Device, which starts relaying information once the car is turned on, or the door left open through a GPS into a computer. During the past three weeks, he’d received some data, but it wasn’t enough to pinpoint the car’s whereabouts. But tonight, Jeffrey’s computer began to beep, alerting him of the car’s movements.
Riding in the passenger’s seat of the local Sheriff’s car with his computer directing them into the night, Jeffrey hoped to see Bobby once more. And it didn’t take long for the Sheriff’s headlight beams to shine on Bobby’s black hot rod.