The wipers moved with concerning ferocity, urging away the plummeting rain, determined to keep the windshield clear, even if it meant sacrificing themselves in doing so. The rain had been continuous, relentless, for fifty miles. Victor drove in silence, too preoccupied with keeping the worst from his mind to bother with the radio. He sighed and rolled a cigarette with his right hand, an art he had been practicing since his fifteenth birthday when his own father had continued the tradition of parental negligence. Victor had no patience for any tobacco that wasn’t whole leaf. He put the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and chewed the end without lighting it. Victor was in the third month of quitting tobacco products, though he no longer inhaled smoke, the taste of it was something he would never give up.
His left hand uncapped a bottle of Johnny Walker, his old friend, and his knees steered the truck. He turned on to County Road Eight, a dilapidated avenue maintained by the bankrupt county for nearly a decade. The water pouring down ran rivers through the lanes, creating canyons impossible to avoid, impossible to navigate through. Victor’s head nearly bounced on the ceiling and rebounded to the floorboards. Victor pointed the truck where he wanted to go and prayed the suspension would keep his teeth intact. He hadn’t passed another vehicle, hadn’t come across another soul for ten miles. He muttered silently under his breath, a mixture of profanity and prayer.
Victor slowed at every intersection, rolled past every hidden drive. He could not remember which led to his son’s house, but he was sure it’d be recognizable when he came upon it. Victor hadn’t seen Bruce in eighteen months. Victor was looking forward to putting eyes on his son, though he wished for other circumstances than what brought him here tonight. He took another swallow from his bottle in his left hand and slammed on the brakes.
Victor lurched into the steering wheel and slapped the truck into reverse and eased the vehicle back to the narrow road winding up the mountainside. The entrance to the drive was partially hidden by overhanging beetle kill and remnants of beer cases. In the rain, it had transformed into a waterfall, seemingly carrying the entire mountain down the valley in a muddy, swirling tributary. Victor pulled his truck to the side of the road and stepped out of the cab. His feet sunk into the mud nearly a foot when he moved off the road. Victor looked up the drive and knew there was no way in hell the truck was going to make it up. He made back to the cab and grabbed his tobacco and booze. He started walking.
“Can you get off your fat ass and come help me?” Bruce was in the kitchen, or rather, the extension of his living room he converted into a kitchen. The rain was coming down so hard he had to yell over it, inside his house.
“Is it still raining out?” Earl sniggered to himself. He enjoyed yanking Bruce’s chain. Earl wiped crumbs off his shirt and pants, remnants of his favorite meal, a frozen burrito he bought in bulk at the gas station down the road apiece.
“We got windows, man. Check your goddamn self.” Bruce threw an empty Coors Light can at Earl. “Come fucking help me, man!”
“Jesus Christ, I'm coming, dude.” Earl heaved himself into a sitting position and proceeded to pack a bowl into a bong on the coffee table. “Patience is a goddamn virtue, Bruce, maybe you need to lead a more virtuous life.” Earl ducked as another empty can came flying his way.
“My fucking life is some infinite times more virtuous than your pathetic existence, you goddamn prick,” Bruce said, “I’d like to see you do something that required actual work, maybe then I’ll let you lecture me about patience.”
“You want a hit, dude? I grew this shit myself.” Earl offered the bong to Bruce.
“Motherfucker, man, Big Dave needs this batch by tomorrow.” Bruce came over to the living room and punched Earl, not lightly, in the arm. “Come fucking help me.”
“Shit, dude, that hurt,” Earl stood and made for the kitchen, “no need to get violent.”
“You wish that was me being violent,” Bruce said, “now go check the shit in the oven.”
Victor leaned on a tree, his chest heaving like a piston. He spat blood. He was in no condition for physical activity when he was sober and completely dry, the conditions tonight exacerbated his heart condition. He estimated the half mile he hiked so far took a few years off his life, at least. “Fuck, I need a cigarette,” he muttered to himself. He cursed his son for living this secluded, pathetic existence.
Victor saw dim lights penetrating the deluge in the distance. He shook his flashlight, desperately trying to get as much juice out of the failing batteries as possible. His tobacco was soaked through, but he put a wad of it in his cheek anyway. His bottle of whiskey lay empty and discarded a few hundred yards back. He stood next to the road for what seemed like an eternity, wondering if this mission of his was worth it. If he was doing what was best for his son. If he was doing what was best for himself.
There was a knock on the door. Earl and Bruce jumped out of their skin.
“Who the fuck?” Earl mouthed to Bruce. Bruce just shrugged his shoulders and tossed Earl a shotgun hidden underneath the kitchen counter. Bruce pulled a pistol tucked in his jeans and eased toward the door. There was no peephole, an oversight Bruce cursed himself for now. He moved to the shaded window in the living room and peeked out at the trespasser on his porch.
“What the hell? It’s my fucking dad, man.”
“Your dad, the fucking cop?”
Bruce tucked his gun back into his waistband and motioned to Earl to put the shotgun down. Bruce opened the door and two ghosts peered at each other through a screen.
“Aren’t you gonna let your old man in?” Victor looked at the look of dismay on his son’s face and felt a strange sense of satisfaction in the fact he had taken the two men inside by complete surprise. Victor was not careful with his flashlight on the walk up, he had made no concern for stealth. He chuckled to himself at the sheer stupidity contained in this house. There was no doubt he was in control of the situation. “Your mother sends her love, Bruce. I can see you are not entirely sure what to do, given the unexpectedness of my visit, as well as the chemistry experiment going on inside.” Bruce made to retort, but Victor cut him off. “I know exactly what is going on in there, so why don’t you let me in and we can discuss it like men?”
Bruce stepped aside and let his father enter his home. Victor brushed against Bruce as he came in. Victor looked around but made no comment on the set up in the kitchen, nor the shotgun on the couch.
“Well hello, Earl,” Victor waved to the confused man standing in the doorway of the bedroom, “I haven’t seen you since you two dropped out of school together. It’s good to see you really made something of yourself.”
“It’s really good to see you as well, Mr. Carasa,” Earl waved back and gave Victor a toothy grin, “not too often I get to see a drunk old man out on a night hike.”
“Listen, punk—” Victor put a finger in Earl's smiling face, but Bruce cut him off.
“Pops, what the hell are you doing here?”
Victor swung back around to face his son. Bruce looked him in his bloodshot eyes and saw the glint only liquor could bring about in his father, the confidence not known in sobriety. Victor grinned.
“What? Can’t a man stop in and visit his only son? He can’t drop in and make conversation with the boy who shattered his mother’s heart?” Victor stepped into the kitchen and examined the equipment strewn on the counter. “A father can’t come by and tell his son about a plan to bust a crystal meth operation tomorrow morning?” Bruce and Earl shared a look of panic, but Earl shook his head.
“No way, old man,” he said. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Earl laughed, “besides if there was going to be a bust here tomorrow, I know for a fact you wouldn’t pull your fat ass up here in the rain to warn us.” Earl sat back down on the couch and ripped another hit on his bong. He laughed again, “no fucking way you would warn us.”
Victor smiled at Bruce, who stared back at his father, searching for the lie on the wrinkled, chubby face. Bruce could find none.
“OK, pops. Say you did come up here to warn us,” Bruce walked back over to the window and peered out into the darkness, “Who else knows you're up here? Is this a play made from the love in your cold, black heart? Or is this a power move to humiliate me before they take me in tomorrow?”
“You ungrateful fucking hippie,” Victor said, “how dare you question my goddamn motives? Here I am, providing you a fucking service, a get-out-of-jail free card, an opportunity to pack up your worthless belongings and get the fuck out of Dodge, but no. You decide the only possibility is that I'm only here to lord over you.” Victor looked at Earl, “what about you, boy? What do you think? You two sit up here all day, leaving the property to rot as you cook meth and smoke weed all day. You think I'm only here as a goddamn power move?”
“Old man, I don’t think even you know why you're here.” Earl stood up and moved next to Bruce, so they were both facing Victor. “who else knows you're here, Victor?” Earl rolled the old man’s name off his tongue with as much spite and disrespect he could muster. He had always been afraid of the shriveled man standing before him, but no more.
Victor paled at the question. He had not, in fact, let anyone know where he was heading tonight. The two men menacing in front of him were no longer the frightened boys he bullied as youths. He looked around and saw the bong laying on the coffee table next to him. He picked it up and hurled it at Earl.
The glass shattered upon contact with Earl’s head and Earl dropped to the ground, blood already spurting from a gash on his cheek.
“What the fuck, Pops?” Bruce shoved his father in the chest and watched with glee as the man who routinely took the belt to him went flying into the wall. “You don’t have a right.” Bruce leaped on top of his father and sent a fist flying into the swollen face staring up at him. “You don’t have a fucking right.”
“Earl, No!” Bruce screamed as his friend grabbed the shotgun from the couch. “fucking, stop.”
“C’mon, man. We need to get rid of him and get the fuck out of here.”
“No, we don’t need to get rid of him. I do.” Bruce pulled his pistol from his waistband and checked the chamber. “Ain’t it funny pops? Ain’t it funny it all ended up this way?” Victor gurgled on the floor. He spit out a broken tooth and made to stand up. Earl kicked him in the ribs and he collapsed again. Victor muttered an incoherent babble, “please…. son…. your mother... please.”
“You lost the right to invoke my mother the first time you hit her pops.” Bruce laughed, “why did you come here tonight, huh? Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone?” Bruce pointed his gun at Victor’s head.
The shot echoed down the mountainside, penetrating the pouring rain. It echoed down past an abandoned truck, down a county road until it faded into eternity. Until it faded into all sons made into their fathers.