The Exchange

By David Karp

As Will got out of the car, he was hit with the breeze of the Hudson River as it flowed angrily beneath him. He jumped at it’s rigidness. It stung his eyes and his hands. He could hear the wind as it roared through the valley below him. He shivered, wondering if it was the wind or the darkness that scared his mind more.

Across the river, the city lights of the Upper West Side sparkled and shined, making a soft illumination off the water. But where Will was standing, there were only shadows from the dying trees that aligned the edges of the Palisades. Even the streetlights above him had gone to sleep, and all he could hear was the wind, the waves, and the passing of the occasional car behind him. The night felt as dead and as cold as a graveyard on a snowy day.

He leaned against his car for a minute, the metal of his door cold but unfelt because of his jacket. It seemed unusually cold for an October night, he thought to himself. But then his mind turned to deeper things.

The events of the past week have been the catalyst of the darker things he found himself in. Things even he couldn’t comprehend. A Pandora’s box that he never knew he had. Could he blame it on something as small and miniscule to the world as a broken heart? His depression? His fear? It had all turned him, at first quiet; almost unalive. 

Now…

And out from the trees, just as quick and startling as a deer or a fox, headlights from another car appeared out of nowhere; the shadows. His two eyes dilated as he looked into the headlights of this strange beast. It was moving rather slow, as to keep quiet and not startle Will.

A wolf observing his prey. Licking its lips, saliva dripping and eyes wide. A slow approach reaps the greatest rewards.

The road in front of him started showing itself in the light more and more as the car got closer. It was then that Will realized that they were coming from further down the cliff, not the direction of the highway. They were waiting for him to arrive. Will wondered how long they were waiting there, in the darkness of it all.

They drove past Will without even a word, and then slowed down a little bit past him. He could make out now that it was a Black Lincoln Continental. Not too old, not vintage. But menacing, especially in the darkness.

The car pulled on the side and parked. A second later, the lights switched off, encasing them all in utter darkness.

Despite the cold, Will could feel his wet palms as he clenched them tighter and tighter. He rubbed up against his right pants pocket and felt the knife he took with him. Futile, as he assumed they would come heavier, but it was at least some sort of backup.

Every sound around him seemed to stop. The water, the wind, the highway. All gone quieter than the dead.

The latch of the Lincoln startled him as it opened. From the driver’s side, a bigger balding man in a black and grey flannel and dark blue jeans slowly rose from inside the car. As he turned around to look at Will, the passenger’s side door opened slowly and another man, this one tall but a bit lankier with jet black hair that had seen too much gel came out and turned to Will as well. 

In the silence, they studied Will with their eyes, hidden in shadow. Will stared right back, and there they stood in the darkness: as if in position to begin a duel. He hoped the men could not tell that he was sweating.

They loomed there in the darkness and the silence for a few more seconds.

Suddenly:

“Did you come heavy?” said the man on the driver’s side.

“Huh?”

The two men looked at each other and let out a quick cackle, hyena-like.

“Do you have any weapons?”

“Um, no.”

“Not that it would matter anyway, because if you try any kind of clever shit, I swear they’re gonna find you in that river with the boy.”

The mention of Noah made him cringe, his heart jump and his soul scream.

“I’m good.” Will said, a little more confidently, hiding his lie of the knife.

“Alright, alright.” he said with a tinge of a southern accent that he couldn’t tell was real or fake. “Let’s get down to business! I believe you have something that belongs to my associates. And I believe the deal was to give it back.”

“The deal was for Noah to-”

“Oh, we know the deal!” He turned to the other man from the passenger’s seat. “Get him out here.”

The other man turned and slowly walked towards the trunk. He got his keys from his pocket, opened the trunk up, and reached inside.

Slowly, in his arms, out came Noah. Duck tape on his limbs and mouth, flailing around. Like a fish trying to escape the grasp of the fisherman.

“He’s feisty. I forgot how much spunk this kid got in him.”

The man carried him over to the other man and showed him to Will, front and center, and placed him on the ground. Noah tried to get to his feet, but his bounds did not allow him too. All he could do is struggle and let out muffled angry screams.

“What are you complaining about!” the first man said, “When I was your age, I always wanted to find out what it’s like to ride in the trunk!”

Both men cackled like hyenas in heat.

It made Will naturally move a little closer, out of protection.

“Woah, there!” he said, reaching behind him into the back part of his jeans.

Will froze where he was, waiting.

“As you can see here, we have upheld our part of the bargain. And judging by how fucking terrified you look, I assume you have done the same.”

“I have.” Will said, “It’s in my car.”

“All of it?”

“All of it.”

Both men looked at each other, thinking, and then turned back to Will.

“Alright,” the driver said, “Go get it. I trust that you know that if you try any kind of shit, the kid’s done for.”

Will looked angrily, and nodded.

He turned around and went to the back seat of his car. He opened the door and pulled out a decently sized black duffel bag. It was heavy, but soft.

He closed his door and went back in front of the men.

“Here it is.”

“Toss it here” the driver said.

Will tossed it without uttering a breath. It hit the dirt with a thud, and some of it drifted up like dust.

The driver motioned for the other guy to get the back. The man picked it up and opened it. It made him smile. He turned to the driver and nodded.

“Alright, I will tell you two things now. One: If even one dollar of that fifteen thousand THAT IS OURS is not in this here bag: I know where both of you live. And I will get my money back. And there will be a STEEP penalty. That is a promise.”

“It’s all ther-”

“And I keep my promises. Ok?”the driver interrupted.

Will stalled for a moment before nodding his head.

“And number two, which I need both of you to remember for the rest of your living days,” and at that moment, he pulled out a small silver revolver from the back of his pants and swung it in his hands, “We have a past with this kid. He was alright to us, and I guarantee you that was the only thing keeping him alive this time around. But that expires right here. Right now. That pass has been used up. So I will stress you both to stay away from my club and to NEVER do anything like this again. Because if it happens again…”

He stopped swinging the revolver, took it properly in his hands, and pushed the medal of the chamber into Noah’s temple. Noah’s eyes widened a little, still glossy from his tears earlier. He flinched. Screamed without a sound.

“…I will show no mercy. And that too is a promise.”

Will could feel his feet sliding away from him. His hands fists, his rage flaring like the sun in midafternoon. The fire inside him pushed him closer and closer to break. He wanted to run to Noah and save him and put an end to it all right there and then. If it weren’t for the gun, he felt like he could find a way to destroy them.

Still, except for his eyes, he was still.

The driver took the gun off Noah and looked him in the eye.

“How did you get mixed up with this guy, anyway? You know he ain’t one of us, and he don’t deserve to be raising one of our own. You were better off without him, Noah. We had plans for you. A life. A real fucking good life you could of had. You would have made your daddy proud. If I had my way, I’d keep ya with me. But I don’t.”

He ripped the tape off of Noah’s mouth slowly and as he did, Noah’s eyebrows turned hard and angry.

“He’s not my dad.”

“HEY!” Will mustered up. “Come on!”

The driver looked intensely at Noah “Maybe one day, you’ll see all this differently.”

And with that, the driver dropped Noah. He fell with a thud and he winced a bit in pain, before he rolled over to look at Will.

The driver turned and shot the gun in the air once, breaking the silence of the Palisades.

“REMEMBER WHAT I SAID!” and with that, the driver and the other man got back into their car, as Will ran over to Noah. 

Their car turned on and sped away into the night, and as Will was getting the tape off Noah’s arms and legs, he listened as the car’s engine faded into the darkness; into nothing. 

“Will, I’m sorry.” said Noah with glossy eyes.

“We need to get out of here.” Will said, rushing to get the tape off. Most of it finally loosened after a minute. 

“What are we gonna do n-”

“JUST…get in the car, we’ll figure this out.” Will replied, his face lost in shadow.

As they both got into the car, Will took one last look at the city.

Buildings shining, cars driving too and fro. The street lights were almost blinding.

How far away it looked to him.

He got in, started the car, and they both drove back onto the road and into the darkness of the night.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Prefab Story Exercise” by Rick Hillis

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