The engine was switched off. Headlights were sucked up by the shadows.
The avenue was mostly dark, except for the large house at the end. Four stories with Greek columns, like a municipal building, except adorned with Christmas lights and ivy.
“All the guards got paid, right?”
“Paid them double, just in case.”
Bharrat didn’t ask anything else, as he and Ramnaresh sat in the car, watching couples enter the building, wearing thick watches and necklaces.
“Let’s go,” Bharrat said, and they pulled their masks over their faces.
The adrenaline was pumping. All the clichéd emotions returned, such as fear, anxiety, elation. Even the speech from Training Day (the Denzel one at the end) replayed in Bharrat’s mind as they took out their guns and kicked down the front doors.
“Everybody on the ground! Now!” Bharrat yelled. People screamed. Many stood frozen so he shot a few rounds into the ceiling. There was more screaming and crying but everyone obeyed and lay flay on their stomachs.
Immediately, Ramnaresh went around the room, holding out a garbage bag for each person to drop their jewelry and wallets in.
Bharrat kept his gun at his hip, pointed at everyone. There were musicians on stage, also lying on their bellies next to their sitars and drums. A banner reading 46thANNIVERSARY INDIAN-AMERICAN BUSINESS ASSOCIATION OF GARDEN STATE hung right above them.
“We’re good,” Ramnaresh said and held up the bag, which was bulging by then.
Bharrat nodded. Ramnaresh dragged the bag across the floor.
Just as they were heading out the door, a shot rang out. Everyone screamed. Even Bharrat jumped. He stared at Ramnaresh, who had wide eyes.
Ramnaresh slowly looked down at himself, and everything appeared normal. But Bharrat noticed a large hole in the bag and some of the necklaces and watches falling out.
Bharrat back to the people on the floor. There was one man all the way in the back, holding a gun and his hands shaking.
The man was in his early thirties. His black hair was matted down with sweat. His tie was still tight around his neck.
“Motherfucker…” Ramnaresh muttered and after dropping the bag, ran to the man, who let go of the gun and held up his hands.
“I-I-I am sorry…” the man stammered, with tears streaming down his face.
Ramnaresh pressed his own gun against the man’s head.
Bharrat could hear the faint sound of police sirens in the distance.
“Shit…” he muttered, and rushed over, grabbing Ramnaresh’s arm and lowered it.
“Get to the car,” Bharrat told him.
Ramnaresh was still seething.
Bharrat raised his voice.
Ramnaresh grumbled and grabbed the bag and ran outside.
Bharrat turned to the man. A small puddle had formed underneath him.
The man begged.
Bharrat scowled, and hit him with the back of his pistol, and then began to kick him, over and over again.
Bharrat kicked and kicked until the entire room was silent.
. . .
They dumped the car in Harrison. Bharrat and Ramnaresh shared a laugh and walked away in their separate directions.
Bharrat went back to his apartment in Jersey City, where Thara was up waiting for him.
She hugged him when he opened the front door.
“The news said shots were fired,” she exclaimed, her arms around him.
He told her everything went as planned, and after she let go, he showed her the bag with items that he kept. The rest he had already sold off to folks he trusted.
“Wow, these are beautiful,” she said, while holding up the necklaces in the bathroom mirror.
Bharrat smiled and took off his bulletproof vest.
After a quick shower, they went out to Manhattan, to mostly restaurants on the Upper West Side. Before heading back, they spent time buying $50 packets of chocolate from stores along Park Avenue. People stared as they bought pack after pack and ate them in the store, their fingertips smudged.
Thara and Bharrat couldn’t stop laughing.
. . .
It was dark in the apartment. They lay in bed.
“Did you call your sister yet?”
“I will see her soon anyway.”
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“No. I’ll be fine.”
“Maybe now is a good time to get away.”
“Like a vacation?”
“No. Like…for good.”
“We talked about this…”
“I know. But I don’t think you’re ever being serious about it.”
Bharrat stared up, thinking of Denzel again. Thinking of that bitch ass Ethan Hawke getting tossed off a balcony. Boyhood was a terrible movie.
Bharrat closed his eyes and pretended he was asleep.
The next day, Thara went to work and Bharrat headed over to where his sister, Rhona, and her husband lived, also in Jersey City but on the west side.
Their town house was filled with guests, most of them relatives.
Bharrat had grown up in the neighborhood, along with Ramnaresh and Thara. All members of the so-called Indo-Guyanese community.
His sister served cake and Indian sweets to their aunts, uncles and cousins who were sitting down in the living room and speaking in low murmurs.
Bharrat himself took a seat. A cousin recognized him and asked him how he had been and Bharrat answered and asked the same questions. But after a while, Bharrat stopped talking and simply listened to the conversations around him. Of course, everyone was still talking about his father who had passed away a few weeks ago. There was now a picture of his father up on the wall, right above the TV, with a garland hung over it.
“He was such a hard worker,” his relatives said to each other.
“He always took care of his responsibilities. Never did anything wild.”
“Did you know that his supervisor called him their best employee? What an honor!”
Bharrat looked up at the picture again. His father died after working another shift at a local gas station. He came to the country when he was 21, without a college degree and ended up working for warehouses, gas stations, and even liquor stores. His father always told Bharrat and Rhona to be respectful and to work hard.
Bharrat glared at the picture and got up.
He found his sister in the kitchen, making more tea.
“Do you need any help?” he asked.
She told him “No” and asked if he was hungry.
“Not really,” he replied and waited for her to look at him.
But she continued to pour tea from the kettle into the cups on the tray.
Bharrat leaned against the door frame, and smiled.
He finally took out a wad of cash and told Rhona to open up her hand.
She sighed, and looked at the money with half-lowered eyelids.
“No thanks,” she said.
Bharrat rolled his eyes.
“I know about the house, sis,” he said. “This will be enough for another month.”
“We’re doing fine,” she replied.
“That’s not what Rajesh told me,” Bharrat said.
Rhona squinted at him. She called for Rajesh.
Rajesh hurried over.
“What’s wrong honey?” he said and smiled.
“Did you tell my little brother about the house?” she asked.
Rajesh stopped smiling, and looked over at Bharrat, pleading with his eyes.
But Bharrat simply put the money back in his pocket and kissed his sister on the cheek before leaving. He walked past the living room and he took one more glimpse of his father’s picture and tried not to grin.
. . .
The plans were usually the same.
Either Ramnaresh or Bharrat would hear of an upcoming event (most of them in northern New Jersey) and spend a few weeks preparing. Buying new guns. Finding a new car. Thinking up of an escape route in case things go bad. They hit up dozens of gala events, art gallery shows, and even high-end restaurants in places like Hoboken and Short Hills, anywhere where people who loved Boyhood hung out.
“Hey Bharrat,” Ramnaresh said one evening as they sat at a diner to discuss more events to check out.
“What?” Bharrat said while using a knife and fork to cut into his chicken sandwich.
“I was wondering if you ever thought about leaving someday,” Ramnaresh said.
Bharrat lifted his head. His left eyebrow was arched.
“Like, someplace else, someplace different,” Ramnaresh continued.
“Are you thinking of moving?” Bharrat asked.
“I don’t know,” Ramnaresh said and paused. He slowly dipped his fries in ketchup.
“I met this guy recently…” Ramnaresh told Bharrat.
“What kind of guy?” Bharrat asked.
“I met him a few months ago,” Ramnaresh explained. “He’s cute, but also very smart.”
“Did you tell him about what we do?”
“Not yet…but we’ve been talking about starting a real life together. Maybe leave New Jersey even.”
Ramnaresh chewed on a fry.
Bharrat watched. They eventually went back to their earlier discussion, and Bharrat ordered more coffee for the both of them.
. . .
One afternoon, after dropping Thara off at work, Bharrat got a phone call from a person he usually sold their watches and jewelry to.
“Are you home right now?” he asked Bharrat.
“I’m out. Why?”
“Find a TV and turn to channel 62.”
“Just do it.”
The man hung up. And Bharrat, after feeling irritated for a few moments, drove to an electronics store down the block and headed straight for the TVs in the back. He turned to Channel 62, glared at a male sales rep, and watched.
Channel 62 was the main news channel for New Jersey.
A reporter was interviewing a man who had bruises on his face.
So, what did you do when you saw the two gunmen trying to escape?
I tried to stop them by firing my weapon.
And what happened after you did?
They became very upset and assaulted me.
And you didn’t resist?
No. I did not. I didn’t want to shoot again because I didn’t want to start a gunfight and I wanted them to focus all their rage on me.
What do you say to people who are calling you a hero for what you did?
Bharrat balled his hands into fists. His arms were shaking. He called Ramnaresh and told him what happened.
“We need to find him,” Bharrat said.
Ramnaresh was hesitant but Bharrat told him to find out more about the man, and drove back to his apartment, where he also googled the man’s name and background.
“What are you doing?” Thara asked after she took the bus back home and saw Bharrat on the computer, sweat dripping down his face.
He told her he was busy and while Thara got showered, and ate, he was still on the computer, typing away.
. . .
It was at the end of the month, on the coldest day of the year so far, when Bharrant and Ramnaresh attended a fashion event that the so-called “hero” was also going to be at. According to sources on the ground and to the wide view of the internet, the “hero” was a familiar face at major shows since his father was a donor.
Bharrat and Ramnaresh, both dressed in tuxes and bowties, got in after paying off some of the servers who also led them into the building through an alley and the kitchen door.
The fashion show itself ended when they arrived but everything was still lit up bright like they were standing inside a supernova.
The servers walked from person to person, trays balanced on their arms.
Donors mixed with donors, laughing and comparing trips overseas.
“Sure looks different without a mask on,” Ramnaresh said.
“Keep focused,” Bharrat murmured. He scanned the room as Ramnaresh grabbed some shrimp in his bare hands and gazed up at the lights.
Bharrat continued to walk around, flashing a smile when needed. He finally spotted the man he was looking for, speaking to a group of women. The man still had a bruise around his eye and one of the women touched it and smiled.
Bharrat again clenched his hands.
When the party was winding down, and people were leaving, Bharrat followed the man outside and motioned for Ramnaresh to do the same.
The man waved off his limo driver and instead took a sharp turn at the end of the block. He took out a cigarette and lit up.
Quickly, Bharrat and Ramnaresh put on their masks and grabbed him by the arms. Bharrat stuffed a cloth into the man’s mouth and they dragged him into the alley the had used earlier to get into the event.
“Remember us?” Bharrat said after pushing the man against the chain linked fence. Bharrat punched the man in the stomach, causing him to squirm.
Ramnaresh stood back.
“What do you think was going to happen, huh?” Bharrat said as he kept punching him. “That you’d be some big shot? That everyone will know you for something other than being a spoiled brat?”
Bharrat’s hands were hurting but he kept landing punches all across the man’s body. The man crumbled, and his eyes swelled.
Ramnaresh whispered, “We have to go.”
But Bharrat stood over the man.
“What do you have to say now, huh? What now?” Bharrat exclaimed. Images of his father pumping gas filled his mind.
The man cried.
“Dude, we have to leave.”
“What now? Huh? What now?”
“Dude…I hear someone coming…”
But Bharat kept punching until his own hands felt raw, until finally, he heard boots and looked behind him and saw the limo driver himself wearing brass knuckles. Without hesitation, he knocked Bharrat down with one swift punch to the gut.
Somehow, Bharrat didn’t lose consciousness and managed to leap at the man, also knocking him to the ground, causing the man’s turban to roll down the street.
Bharrat kicked the limo driver in the face, and ran. Ramnaresh was gone and so was the “hero.” Bharrat ran past the intersection and caught the first bus he saw. Thara wasn’t home since she was working an extra shift at the hospital. Bharrat lay in bed and stayed up till morning.
When Thara came back from work, Bharrat decided to take her out. They went to Chelsea, and had chocolate milkshakes and sat and watched people walking past the store windows.
. . .
Bharrat kept googling for more information about the man. He continued to attend events that he thought the man would be at as well. Bharrat would attend them on his own.
But of course, the “hero” was nowhere to be seen. And Bharrat himself was running out of money to pay off the guards and servers.
Bharrat stayed in his apartment for weeks at a time, only heading out for groceries and coffee. Thara would go to work and invest what they had. She would also make certain that the apartment, with its ceiling stained with water from above and the wallpaper peeling off, was well taken care of and habitable.
Bharrat didn’t talk much, or thank her but he would keep taking her out to new restaurants and parks.
Until one evening, when Bharrat came back to the apartment with milk and eggs, and the front door was left open, swinging on its hinges.
The entire floor was silent. Bharrat slowly put down the bag and took out his gun. He crept inside. The floorboards creaked. Their table was overturned. Their couch was torn to shreds.
There was a trail of blood on the floorboards. Bharrat followed it to the bathroom, where there was a strong stench that engulfed him.
He covered his face and instantly, put his gun back into its holster. Thara was in the tub, her eye wide open, and her throat slashed.
Bharrat stayed in the bathroom until he had to rush back out and throw up in the kitchen sink. That day, with help from Ramnaresh, buried Thara in a cemetery not too far from where they grew up. The director of the funeral home agreed to a quick burial after Ramnaresh spoke with him in the back room.
After the funeral, Ramnaresh told Bharrat if he needed anything not to hesitate to call. Bharrat was at his back-up apartment, just a few blocks from where he and Thara once lived. Bharrat nodded and waited for Ramnaresh to leave. Once Ramnaresh was gone, Bharrat made himself a sandwich and chewed slowly while gazing out the living room window, at the New York City skyline.
. . .
Bharrat lay in bed. He closed his eyes but his stomach gurgled. He walked to the fridge. The milk had turned to cheese. There was a tray of rotisserie chicken left, but the meat was dark blue like a bruise. Bharrat muttered and shut the door, and went back to his room.
His phone rang. Bharrat glanced at the screen and turned over and ignored it. But the phone kept ringing. He rolled his eyes and finally answered.
“What is it…?” he murmured.
“Where are you? Your sister has been leaving messages for days.”
“Okay. Well, are you home?”
“I’m hanging up now…I don’t have time for this…”
Rajesh paused. “We need your help,” he said.
Bharrat pressed his fingers against his eyelids and listened. He then got dressed and drove over to where his sister lived.
There was a large truck parked outside, with two men carrying a sofa into the back of it.
“You’re the real criminals!” Rhona yelled at them from her porch. “How do you sleep at night?”
Bharrat walked up to her and held her by the shoulders.
“I’ll handle this,” he said.
She looked at him. She scowled, and turned back around, shutting the front door.
Bharrat looked at the two men. One of them was in his early forties. The other was closer to Bharrat’s age.
The older man was large and plodded up the steps.
“Excuse me,” the man said once face-to-face with Bharrat.
Bharrat didn’t move.
The man sighed. “Listen,” he said. “I know this is tough but we still have a job to do.”
“Who is your supervisor?” Bharrat asked the man.
“I am,” the man replied.
“Well, in that case, I advise you to leave.”
“Again, this is my job.”
“I am warning you one last time,” Bharrat said.
“Sir,” the man replied. “I can’t do that.”
The younger one stared at them. He was gangly and thin.
Bharrat smiled and slowly lifted his shirt, revealing the gun in its holster.
The larger man saw the gun. His eyes turned wide.
He took a deep breath too and announced, “We’re done for today.”
“But…” the other man began but the larger one already headed down the steps and got into the truck.
Bharrat watched them speed away.
Rajesh thanked Bharrat.
“It’s no big deal,” Bharrat said while he and Rajesh talked in the living room.
Rhona was seated on the sofa, however, looking down at the ground.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
Rajesh kept talking but Bharrat stopped listening.
On the drive back, Bharrat went past the cemetery where Thara was buried. The light was red at the intersection. When the light shifted to green, he kept staring at the tombstones sticking up from the earth. Cars honked.
Bharrat eventually parked but took the bus to the border of Jersey City and Bayonne. He googled the company the two men worked at and found the address. He ate a quick meal and walked over to the pawn shop where the two men were.
He opened the door. The bell at the top rang.
The larger man was at the front desk. He looked up and saw the mask. Bharrat lifted his gun and shot him in the chest. Blood splattered on the wall behind him.
The younger one ran out from the back room. Bharrat shot him too, through the head.
Both bodies crumbled to the floor.
Bharrat walked back outside and took the bus.
Later that night, he wore his tux and bow tie and drove to the city.