Stealing Love

📅 Published on December 25, 2021

“Stealing Love”

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.63/10. From 8 votes.
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Young Charley Tillman was a mouse in a trap.  He thought the trap was a practical joke that he was playing on himself.

It felt unreal the way he kept track of time.  He’d been reduced to measuring the levels of darkness in spoonfuls as it sifted through the cracks in the trunk.  On day five, he lay motionless, a fetus in need.  He readied himself to die.

His fingers had been bloodied moist from the scratching and clawing of metal in a desperate attempt at freedom.  He enjoyed sucking the tips of each finger if only to remind him of what it felt like to quench his thirst.  But that was all gone now.  The blood had dried, exposing the ivory dullness of Charley’s distal phalanges.

Charley aced freshman year biology without cracking a single book.  But he was beyond biology now.  He could feel himself slipping away.  Death was imminent.  It would summon him in a few hours, or so he thought.

Charley Tillman was born sour, beyond his expiration date.  The obstetrician told his father, Burney, “Sir, he’s defective.”

“Is it something I can discard?”  his father asked politely.

His son had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome.  He’d killed his mother on his birthday.  She died during a malpractice C-Section.

Charley would grow up knowing little about his mother, other than her name was Rose.

His alcoholic father, Burney, had given Charley up for adoption before he was six months old.

“It’s too stressful to raise the boy on my own,”  he’d said to the church’s social worker.  In truth, Charley’s old man loved to party hardy and did volumes of methamphetamines.  And of course, Burney had all that malpractice insurance money to burn through before he got on with his life.

Since no one owed Charley a thing, he was never adopted.  The most desperate of infertile couples couldn’t get past the difficult diagnosis.

And so, at the age of 2, Charley was placed on the foster care system conveyor belt.  If he were white bread, he would have gotten moldy.  He wasn’t claimed by anyone until he was around three years of age.

Welcome Charley, lad, ye be but a Bitcoin on this merry-go-round of want and need.  I’m sorry if my voice sounds a little grave.  The heat and eternity do that to you?

Charley had made it through his first full year residing in this shit-storm known as North Sacramento, a place where even the cats fight more.  He’d been abused and, worse, neglected.

Children’s Protective Services stepped in to rectify the situation.  After a thorough evaluation, CPS sold Charley to yet another miserable living arrangement.  Before he’d reached the age of 13, Charley lived in a total of seven foster care homes, if doublewides count.

Imagine that, reader?  Being assigned to a family…assigned?  As a young boy, Charley and a few of his buddies often hitched rides on the first freight trains heading east out the city of Ranch Cordova.

Some days they’d skip school together and kick around the countryside.  Their favorite train ride was way out to this knot in the road called Sloughhouse.  The small town of Sloughhouse was just to the right of this gunmetal cantilever bridge with lots of graffiti.  The riveted bridge spanned the Cosumnes River, sometimes mud, other times torrent.

As summer approached, they’d swim in the deepest holes.  How deep they’d dive depended on the spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Freezing, they’d warm their naked asses one of a large number of granite boulders that littered the banks of their favorite river.

Diving off the Sloughhouse Bridge was their favorite.  The boys would prevail at getting warned year after year by the Sheriff’s office.  Diving was illegal, but they’d done it too when they were boys.

Hitchhiking back to town meant exchanging their bitter faces for choir boy looks and how much they could engage in a decent conversation with the type of men who wanted to get to know them better.  Absent a ride, they’d follow the usual mirage, a mirage that was always there them unless there wasn’t any sunshine.  The phantasm insisted on misting over the railroad tracks like a river.  They’d wade through its waters the 5 or 6 miles back to their homes.

For Charley, arriving late never meant extra punishment.  There were always plenty of leftovers.  The sum total of all the punishment was worth a good day outdoors.  Charley couldn’t get enough of the taste of freedom.

Like most human kids that have been rejected, the streets finish raising you.

Maybe he’d completed the 8th or 9th grade, or maybe not?  That’s when Charley ran away from his last placement.

Do it, Charley-boy, or else I’m going to make you kill someone!  This delicious voice had shouted into the mush of gray matter that was our Charley’s mind.

When you feel so messed up inside, it’s too difficult to think about education or bettering yourself.  “Run, run, run away!”  is what you tell yourself.

And so Charley roamed.  No matter where he landed, those that remembered him only spoke of his kindness and compassion for the trials of humans.

Charley was pushing nearly six feet in height when he bolted.  If you could see through the cornflower hair that covered his eyes, his eyes were still water blue and deep.  Charley had an athletic build and was as quick on his feet like a cat.  He was a soulful character, having no regrets about his past.  His sense of wonder and excitement about the world was contagious.

Charley had few possessions as he grew older, but whatever he had, he shared.  Making poor decisions had never distracted him from being a good young man.

* * * * * *

Charley had turned 24 a few months back.  He called two places home: down by the Cosumnes River, or under the Highway 50 overpass in the winter, the one that contoured and stretched over the top of the Shell Quick Mart gas station.  Both places had something to do with drinking wine and or using drugs.  On the street, self-medication is the common denominator that assigns you friends and homes.

Lifting copper wire and thieving aluminum had become Charley’s forte.  In fact, you could mostly find Charley down at Rudy’s Metal on Richards Boulevard in North Sacramento.  Selling metals at Rudy’s was easy; no questions asked, quick cash.

The only thing Charley kept in his jean pockets was a few burning holes and a sharp knife.  He’d spend or give away most of the money he’d earned.

He used the blade to strip electrical conduit he’d stolen: The Home Depot, ACE Hardware, construction sites, demolition grounds, and abandoned homes.

Charley began to steal copper wiring from construction sites.  He’d turned his stealth into an art.  Yet, he only stole enough to self-medicate and survive.  Taking care of his immediate needs and attempting to fill that moon-cratered hole in his gut was a full-time job.

Old softy me, I admired something in the young man!  Most of the wire he collected was number 12 or 14-gauge.  Copper wire that has been approved by California’s Electrical Code: lights, switches, washers, dryers, pumps, and toasters.  If Charley was really lucky, he might discover the occasional number 10-gauge wire.  Stripped down, bare 4 to 6-gauge copper wire was the gold standard but rarely accessible.

Hopping the tracks to get in or out of town allowed Charley an opportunity to assess the back ends of junkyards, recycling centers, and excess inventory yards of electrical contractors.  It was better than cruising Amazon, eBay, or QVC, the home shopping network.

Charley had learned from the best how to scale barbed wire fencing.  It was more art than science.  It was more than an old coat laid over the top of rows of barbed wire.  Vicious dogs never mattered.

At Burney’s Junkyard Dog, the recycling business Burney had gotten off the ground from his dead wife’s life insurance and malpractice lawsuit, Burney had gotten rich over the years.  Over time his small recycling center employed a few junkyard workers.  Burney hadn’t decided on a night shift yet.  Until recently, there’d been no guard dogs.  Charley loved him some guard dogs.  Unconditional love is an aphrodisiac.

A few weeks before the entrapment, Charley scaled Burney’s fence at the back of the lot.  He’d stolen some generic 12-gauge wire.  He’d stripped it throughout the night across the tracks behind the stand of willows.  He’d made an even $75.00 the next day at Rudy’s Metal.

Burney had recently bid on a demolition job.  He’d used a run-down backhoe to knock down an old commercial building on the main street in Folsom, California.  It was one of the mid-sized vintage buildings on Sutter Street.  The former knickknack shop had run out of owners.  For years, the City of Folsom had eyed the place, and it had become an eyesore.

Cities love them some old town retail food consumption shit: Fat’s Chinese Dim Sum, Scott’s Seafood, Lazy Dog Bar and Grill, even those damned Starbucks.

Burney had salvaged a few porcelain sinks and a toilet with a missing handle.  It had run out of flushes.  He hauled away two dump trucks’ worth of half-rusted away galvanized pipes and a variety of copper wire.  A five-year-old air conditioner looked brand new.  A tingle had run up his leg.  Burney stacked most of the salvaged lumber on top of what he’d already collected in his chaotic yard, next to the western wire fence.

Christ, he’d found himself a newish washing machine and a bunch of hand tools that had been left in the building’s basement.  He intended to jack up their prices in his front office store.  Best of all, he discovered him a shit-load of number 10-gauge copper wire.  It had been his best-kept secret when all the bidders inspected the place.  He stripped it himself and rolled it into expensive magical coils of copper money.

Charley was flush too, with cash from his prior week’s copper sales, courtesy of stealing from Burney.  He and a few buds had spent Saturday night along the moonlit river.  Sleeping bags and stars were all they needed.  The four of them roasted wieners and drank a lot of Budweiser, traded bull-crap stories, and danced around the fire.

“Now we are talking, baby!  I’m all in.”

“You’d better watch that shit, Charley.  We hear Burney put up some remote cameras.  That mean SOB is gonna catch you in the act someday.”

“Jimmy, I’m a ghost, a junkyard’s worse nightmare.  Those two Germans, Goebbels and Himmler?  They don’t even bark at me anymore.  Give free Cheetos to the United Nations…we won’t have any more wars!  It’s like crack to dogs!  Besides, bro, the two German Shepherds think I’m part of the night crew.”

“Suit yourself, Charley.”  The young men clanked Budweiser cans, spilling foam over the edges of the warm cans.

They all shared this crazy, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer laughter, more beer, and a special joy that only the homeless and truly free in life understand.

At the time, it was late summer.  Charley and his crew had set up camp down along this creek that joined the Consumnes River.  The creek’s location was on the outer edge of the City of Rancho Cordova.  Rancho Cordova was one of those newfangled cities in California that had reinvented itself.  The planning commission had recently recommended that the city council adopt their recommendations.  They needed to build a new city center.

“Every damned city has a downtown,”  said the chief planner.

The center would be built around an old train depot station and pair of old railroad tracks that had quit going anywhere long ago, like much of America.

Summer camping lasted as long as the good weather intended.  Before winter, many homeless, including Charley, would take shelter under a few of the local freeway overpasses.  It was as cold as, well, hell, but at least you didn’t get rained on.

Everyone in the town knew that Charley had staked out Burney’s Junkyard Dog recycling center years ago.  Anyone who’d attempted to move into his territory risked a good ass whooping.

All this had something to do about Charley and what he’d learned as a small boy.  All this territorial shit had become an odd way of getting to know his father.

* * * * * *

“Lookie here, Charley.”  Jeff Anderson drew Charley in.  He was good at that, a prerequisite for a sociopath.

Charlie had only been seven then.  He bent his eyes over Jeff’s right shoulder, keeping his distance.  Jeff was Charley’s third foster care dad.

Jeff was a complete failure, a real knuckle dragger.  His parents had emphatically proven what can occur when the premises of natural selection weren’t followed.  Jeff was born a genetic malfunction.

He’d become a glitch in Charley’s used parts, mechanical world.  He’d burned a perfect circle into Charley’s shoulder blade skin a few nights before.  Not getting very close, Charley couldn’t peel his eyes off the computer screen.

“That’s what you are going to look like if you live long enough, Charley.”  Charley backed up from the computer’s monitor as if he might get infected.  Somehow he knew the grizzly, unshaven man in front of Burney’s Junkyard Dog was indeed his biological father.  He was a gruff-looking man with haunted eyes, maybe in his early thirties.

“At Burney’s Junkyard Dog, we sell mostly wrecked car parts.  But we also recycle a lot of shit nobody wants,”  Burney practically shouted into the grainy camera.  Jeff had found him on YouTube too.  It was as if Burney’s voice low voice was stuck in first gear, and his transmission of a brain was grinding away.  He appeared cunning and ruthless.

The local advertising clip was intended to reach potential customers in the vicinity of the new city of Rancho Cordova.  Burney had a few catalytic converters on sale, legal and illegal.  They’d both been discounted.

“It’s bedtime, Charley.  Get!  Burney recycles.  He doesn’t want trash.  He never wanted you, either,” Jeff uttered over his shoulder.

Wrapped in a wicked briar patch of emotions, Charley responded, “Goodnight, Mr.  Anderson.”  Amazingly, Charley meant it.  It was extremely difficult to anger Charley, and he rarely held grudges.

“Good night then, Charley.  If that pathetic video doesn’t get a response out of you, nothing will.  You’d think a normal boy your age who’d been tossed out like family garbage would want to squash Burney like one of those bloody-bellied Zika mosquitoes.”

“Well, Mr.  Anderson, not a whole lot of good ever comes from hating.”

“Boy, get the hell out of here, grow some balls.  Everyone hates somebody!”  Love my boy Anderson.  His mind is pure poison.  And the bastard knows about hell?  Charley would never meet his biological father, at least officially.  Burney would make sure of that.

* * * * * *

Fall had been approaching.  There was plenty enough time for camping and picking the sweetest blackberries this side of heaven, all down along the river.

Charley had been up and down the tracks a lot lately.  With the increase in construction, summer had been good to him.

The night’s work would be easy.  He’d climbed the tall cross-hatched galvanized fence at Burney’s Junkyard Dog recycling business many times before.

Things had been going smooth all summer.  Charley felt pressing his luck wouldn’t be a problem.  After all, he’d gotten away with lifting a lot of Burney’s 12 gauge wire this past May and June.

Charley pressed his face tight up against the galvanized fence at Burney’s Junkyard.  He eyed the nearly 20-acre lot.  Burney’s new cameras wouldn’t be effective in capturing the ghost from his past.  It would be difficult to record Charley as he floated through stacks of wrecked cars and recycling bins.

Burney had nearly outgrown his lot.  He’d stacked and pinched together small cities’ worth of bashed cars and discarded household appliances.  There were rows and rows of junk in his seemingly endless sea of iron.  An abundance of used car parts had made Burney feel rich.  He’d performed numerous demolitions and collected scores of T-boned auto accident metallic death carcasses all summer.  He was the undisputed master of his very own metal kingdom.  Legal and illegal chop-shop car parts had fluffed Burney’s bottom line.

Burney’s Junkyard Dog.  Burney crushed on the name he gave his expanding business.  After all, he had the heart and mind of a junkyard dog.

In the moonlight, what stuck out to Charley was the open trunk on the 2009 Honda Accord.  It had been placed ass-end nearly up against the fence.  Just enough wiggle room to maneuver near the Honda’s trunk had been allowed.

The cramped space between car and fence was maybe a three-foot strip.  The strip appeared to extend sideways along the entire fence, allowing just enough room for weeds to grow and a worker to maneuver.

For some reason, the fractured Acura had been placed on the gravel path that separated two rows of stacked cars, rows 11 and 12.  The Acura had an inch or two of daylight between the two rows, less than a coffin next to dirt.  The Acura’s front end, including its hood, having participated in a fatal head-on, had been driven through the windshield clear into the car’s back seat.  The car’s frame had been bent, the doors had frozen shut.

Each row of flattened cars was stacked five high.  Upfront, near Sunrise Boulevard, was the sales area, where Burney conducted his sales promotions.

Charley climbed to the top of the fence.  He paused.  He read the topography of the junkyard.  The front office and cameras were not in sight.  But it didn’t matter.

Charley positioned the small pocket flashlight in his mouth.

Jesus.  In the trunk of the car was a coiled strip of copper wire.  The working trunk door had been left open by accident.  Most of the wire had been covered by what looked like a burlap sack.  Charley knew it to be 6-gauge electrician’s wire.  In fact, he had no doubt.  He calculated the wire to be about 35 feet in length or $200.00 at Rudy’s Metal.  No questions asked.

Charley’s eyes evolved into slot machine wheels.  His two cherries lined up.  Before lowering himself over the fence, he made sure to toss Goebbels and Himmler their usual handful of Cheetos.

Clump.  Charley’s boots hit the ground.

“Easy money, B-B-Burney-boy,”  Charley said in a jaded whisper.  He calmed himself by petting his furry friends.

While next to the two vicious watchdogs, Charley absorbed all the affection he could handle.  He’d save the rest of the Cheetos for when he’d exit the hellish junkyard cluster-bang.  In his head, Charley was already purchasing beer and groceries for one last summer hoedown at the river’s edge.  There’d be plenty of cash left over to buy hotdogs and cigarettes down at Shell Station overpass once the rainy days began.

As he approached the Accord, the ground shook.  The noise was defining.  As the dragon’s tail snapped down the tracks like the crack of a whip, the wind knocked Charley forward into the car’s back bumper.  Those damned box cars had a mind of their own, he thought; all steel and rudder.  Rancho Cordova was the kind of city where the trains move extra fast to get out of town.  Some say that’s part of the community’s charm.

Dry witchweed and thistles rattled Charley’s leather boots.  Charley gazed into the trunk of the black Accord.

He perused the crime scene using the small flashlight again.  This time he used his hand.  It felt like a setup somehow.  It seemed too good to be true.  He raised his chin, he listened.  The darkness was attempting to communicate.  Charley turned warning signs into dollar signs.

Burney wasn’t that bright, after all, Charley thought.

Charley leaned in.  He reached in and set aside the burlap sack that was partially covering the copper wire.

Charley was correct about the gauge of the wire.  It was fat.  But he’d miscalculated the length.  It was double the original estimate.  In the moonlight, Charley rubbed the coiled copper as if a totem.  The warm breeze whipped at the back of his jacket, flipped the collar up.  Charley stood back and looked around again, down the rows and rows of stacked, crushed cars.  Nothing seemed out of place.  He gave the Germans a few more Cheetos.

After, Charley stretched the upper half of himself like taffy.  He’d nearly lowered his torso into the Honda’s trunk.  He attempted to grab the copper wire and lift it out.

All of a sudden, the junkyard’s lights snapped on, concentration camp bright.  As the two German shepherds dashed toward the front office, maybe 200 yards in the distance, Charley eased himself into the back of the trunk and slowly closed it.

Charley paused.  Held his breath and waited.  He thought it exciting.

After a good ten minutes, Charley heard the footfalls.  They drew closer and closer, the next row of cars over.  He knew it was Burney.  Burney needed a hip replacement.

The man stopped maybe twenty feet away from the Accord.

Ever so stealthy, Charley cinched the trunk down, locking it shut.  Charley’s heart thumped two bongo’s drums.  He wasn’t going to allow any heartbeats to escape through the crack of the trunk.

It felt strange, and then.  Charley could smell the unmistakable acidity of black gun powder before Burney’s 12 gauge shotgun blasted buckshot. #6 shot zinged through the galvanized fence in the direction of the willows across the tracks.

Burney was close enough that Charley could smell his disgust.

It grew silent again.  Maybe twenty minutes passed, just the wind.

Charley, my blue-eyed boy, attempted to open the trunk.  No dice.  In a nanosecond, he’d discovered that the emergency latch was missing.  He pressed the heels of his boots up against the Honda’s trunk door, careful to minimize any noise.  Goebbels and Himmler whined.  Their high pitches voices were shrill and panicky.  They sniffed at the trunk as if they wanted Charley to come out.

The yard lights went off.  Silence!

The wind picked up.  The grass began to hiss a song of anxiety and fear.

A door opened at the back of the workshop.  The two dogs greeted the sound with attention and waited.  Silence!

Charley lay in a fetal position, still unafraid.  He’d escaped from worse.

“Bitch, I’ve been in tougher situations.  I’m still here, aren’t I, Daddy-O?”  Charley spoke softly, attempting to convince himself and Daddy-O.

That sound?

It was so damned strange.  Nobody works on Saturday night, especially Burney.  Charley’s mind was a pressure cooker of thought.  How would he ever escape?

Charley could hear something being pulled through a maze of graveled walkways.  As the sound got closer, Charley identified it as two welder tanks clanking together as they shifted to and fro strapped to the welder’s caddy.

Charley held his breath again.  “Get a grip, chicken shit!”  He thought to himself.  Charley wasn’t familiar with the rusty pins and needles feeling of panic.  He felt a hot poker of electricity in every pore.

“Breathe in and out, slowly,”  Charley repeated to himself.  He was a Zen Master under control.  The rolling noise stopped in the space three feet from the Honda’s trunk lock.  It was arranged and positioned.

Charley listened as the oxygen and acetylene valves opened in order.  He listened to the striker as it struck the flame.  The righteous scent of acetylene paired with pure oxygen permeated the cooling air.  Orange smoke pierced through the cracks in the car’s trunk.  Tips of welding rods created red hotlines.  As the welds cooled, they fused the trunks door in place.

After a few minutes, Charley panicked and screamed.  It had been difficult for him to beg for anything.  But Charley was begging for his life.

“Burney, open the trunk, please, if that’s you?  I’m getting sick in here.”  Charley kicked at the door in a panic.  Nothing!

After the longest time, the flames fanned off like an F-16 jet’s afterburners.

“Please, please, let me out?”  Charley yelled at the top of his lungs.  “I’m claustrophobic.”  Charley kicked in all directions.  He’d turned into a mad man.

He spun around and kicked at the Honda’s back seat frame, nothing.  Half of the Honda’s weight had been pushed up against it, including the battered hood.  Charley kicked dents into the rear fender wells and the trunk’s roof to no avail.


After around ten minutes, nearly voiceless, Charley rested.

He could tell when Burney was coiling up the oxygen and acetylene hoses.  After, he listened as Burney wrapped the hoses tight around the valve stems of the tanks.

The caddy had been tipped backward.  It was being pulled and rolling again, this time back through the chunky gravel in the direction of Burney’s workshop.  Once on the pavement, the welding caddy picked up speed.

The rolling stopped.  Charley listened as the shop’s heavy metal door was pounded to the ground, locking all the evilness inside.  The next sound Charley would hear wouldn’t happen until daybreak.

Day Two: Charley removed all of his clothing.  The night had been cold, the day ten times hotter.  Early autumn in the Sacramento Valley can feel like late summer in hell.

Charley screamed and yelled and clawed at the metal.  He made himself sick to his stomach.  Charlie vomited.  He was broiling under the Honda’s black metal straight jacket.  His knees and eyes had nearly swollen shut.  His headache was a hammer striking an anvil.

Day Three: It was late evening.  Charley woke.  He listened.  His friends were speaking to each other.  He’d thanked the God he never believed in.

They’d been to town, his buddies, and they were trekking alongside the railroad tracks back to the river.  Charley’s charm alone would have landed them a ride.

Charley beat and kicked at the car trunk’s lid.  It was still welded tight.  He was a slab of rotting meat inside a private claustrophobic death chamber.

Charley’s crew of four had paused.  Something wasn’t right.

Before the diesel engines slammed past all of them, they’d covered another thirty feet on the other side of the tracks.  As the caboose whipped dust and fumes from the crushed rock and cresol beams they’d walked over, the young men moved out of hearing range along with the dust and wind.

The last thing Charley heard was a question from his friend Jimmy, “Where in the hell is our man, Charley?  He better be having a damned good time.”

They’d miss him later that night, toast him with cheap wine.  They would all be huddled around a new campfire that was growing more important every day.  They’d pause and say how he’d never been so late to meet back up with them.

Day Four: Don’t let them shit you.  Without water, life is short.

Charley had lost a deep well’s worth of water while in the Honda’s incinerator.  He’d passed out often.  He’d also burned up a shit-load of calories.  Nights were cold.  He needed to keep warm.  Death from the lack of water would feel natural.  But was he really dying?

Day Five: It was early morning.  Charley had been reduced to play dough.  He lay in a lumpy naked pile and readied himself to get molded into what would be a perfect sculpture of imminent death.

Burney used a forklift.

Charley hadn’t been able to break the welds on the back seat’s metal frame.  Burney lifted the engineless car.  He backed it out from in-between the two tall rows of crushed vehicles.  Next, in reverse, he navigated the junkyard’s maze of crushed vehicles and piles of recycled auto body parts.  He drove across the length of the lot, up next to the inventory shed, where he stored most of his smaller used car parts.  While idling in front of the car crusher, Burney positioned the Accord.

Burney’s perfect smile whored itself into a grimace.

After the longest time, he trotted down the steps of the forklift.

Burney pressed the mighty crusher’s auto start button.  It was hell-green, the size of a bullet wound.  The prehistoric, iron-jawed behemoth began to chomp and grind.

Burney chuckled as he throttled the forks of the lift up into the beautiful fall sky.  He paused.

What a great day to die, he told himself.

Next, he tilted the forklift blades downward.  He gently shook the forks and lowered the wrecked car, ever slowly into the jaws of the terrible iron beast.  Not a sound could be heard as the black 2009 titanic Accord went underwater.

After the car had been crushed, Burney removed it using his forklift again.  He then carefully stacked it on the outbound pile of cars that had been scheduled for expedited pick-up.

Liquid oozed out of the broken radiator and onto the ground.  He’d tossed the irreparable part into the back seat of the Honda the day he’d set the trap.  The drippings were vicious, teal, and red.  The car had been emptied of wheels, doors, door locks, gearboxes, converters, and drive train.  It had been reduced to the size of a coffin freezer.

* * * * * *

It all started as a mousetrap.  An ass end of a practical joke, or so Charley thought.  Burney got his wish, three straight chalk marks in the middle of the vintage chalkboard he’d hung right above his workbench.  He’d gotten the old slate chalkboard at a garage sale.  Go figure.

Each white offering, a three-inch straight line, had been placed on the old slate chalkboard.  Burney had nailed it to the wall after he’d snapped.

“I’ll be goddamned if anyone is going to steal from me again,”  he’d said.

The old chalkboard had taught a lot of lessons to dead twentieth-century kids.  Make no mistake about it, times had changed, but any lesson Charley Tillman would ever learn in his life had been completed.  The class was damned well over.

* * * * * *

Three years passed.  Ole Burney continued to haul in cash.  He was determined to get rich while cheating the government out of taxes.

He’d been working late on a Saturday night.  Burney had promised his new family he’d be home hours ago.  Home is where they were waiting with a few cold Costco pizzas.  They were told more than once to never begin dinner until the provider got home.  Burney’s young children knew how to follow orders.

By God, he was going to finish installing the recycled Honda’s gas tank, come hell or high water.

It met factory specifications; check.  It was for a Honda Accord 3.5 V6; check.  It hadn’t been safety tested, and Burney could have cared less; check.

He’d recently seen one on eBay for $527.45.  He’d removed his from that old 2009 Honda Accord wreck he’d set up a few years back.  He’d already sold most of the parts of the wreck.  What he had left were the gas tank and those sweet memories.  He smiled as he wrenched in the last retainer bolt.

Burney was in a hurry.  He’d cut corners.

He’d been using two scissor jacks and a 4”x6” wooden post to hold Elaine Remington’s rear end up.  He knew it was risky, but he’d done it before.  He’d meet her obligation not because he was kind but rather because she trusted his work.  Trust was something you never gave Burney.

Burney had thought of his cold Costco pizza and how much he’d scalp Elaine.

There were only a few dents in the gas tank.

But, Burney noticed a tiny speck at the bottom of the tank near the back strap.  The dot appeared to be rusty.  His mind attempted to convince him it was only a fly dropping.

It shouldn’t have been there.  Burney had power washed the tank after all.  He remembered using a rotary brush and buffer pad in an attempt to clean the rumpled thing.

Burney glanced up at his chalkboard.  He smiled at the third chalk mark.  He grinned as he recalled crushing the black Honda.

The mechanic’s light was stuck under the front wheel of the 2012 Accord.  Burney tugged at the yellow cord until he freed the greasy yellow tendon.

He’d thought to hustle.

He’d microwave the cold pizza.  He’d slap the shit out of anyone who complained that he was late.  His wife could play with their newborn.  Control was something Burney cherished.

Burney eyeballed the red speck.  He needed more light.

He tugged at the extension cord that had been snared by the cheap Harbor Freight Scissor Jack.  He’d recently gotten two of them cheap.  He’d broken the safer, expensive Craftsman 2-1/4 ton trolley jack.

He’d determined that the red spot was actually a drip at the end of a drizzle.  It had rolled over the top of the wrecked Honda’s gas tank and stuck there somehow.  While on his back, Burney used the heel of his boot to scoot his mechanic’s creeper closer, clipping the second scissor jack with his boot heel.  He smothered the droplet with light.  It looked redder than rust, dried blood, perhaps?

Burney’s smile grew wide and grim.  He recalled the noises Charley made in the Hammel Car Shredder.  He imagined the pitch and yaw of the black Honda as it twisted inside in the mouth of the massive beast.  Five family members had been killed in the wreck.  Oh, how Burney loved the sound that cars make when their axle bones, drive-train vertebrae, and strut joints buckle and snap.

The cheap jack stand next to Burney’s right shoulder collapsed.

Still, Burney having steel balls the size of a truck hitch, pushed forward.  By God, he’d finish the night by completing his project or die trying.  He fancied the Jack Daniel’s bottle waiting for him at home in the tight cupboard.

Burney’s iPhone alarm went off.  Give Me Shelter by the Rolling Stones was his ringtone.  As he reached for the phone in his overall hip pocket, he clipped the cheap jack stand again.  Both jack stands collapsed away from the car’s body frame, leaving only the wobbly wooden post.

The shop’s lights clicked off.  Burney got disoriented.  He attempted to sit straight up, smashing his forehead.

In doing so, Burney bumped the wooden beam holding up the back end of the Accord.

The wooden beam collapsed.

At first, Burney squirmed like a rat in a trap.  You would, too, if your diaphragm had been crushed.  The exquisite pain was something he could stand.  Burney’s inability to breathe was more of an issue.  He wasn’t able to scream.  He felt claustrophobic all of a sudden.

The lights clicked back on.

As the car pressed closer to his face, his diagram slowly began to collapse.  Burney focused on the bloody spot that had caused all the havoc.  There it was.

It glinted in the brightness of his portable mechanics work light.

Burney had thousands of thoughts after his breathing stopped.

Burney had hundreds of thoughts after his heart quit.

Burney’s last thought on the planet earth was how his reflection got into the tiny droplet of blood on the gas tank?

He was confident he’d cleaned the gas tank raw and spotless.

Lung mist coats everything.

I don’t usually involve myself with pedestrian shit like this.  But you know what?  I really liked Charley.

Rating: 8.63/10. From 8 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dan A. Cardoza

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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