Champagne Moment Blown to Shit by Nathan Pettigrew

Punk Noir Magazine

 

 

Despite our solid plan, our costumes and shotguns, Frank and I didn’t stand a chance at walking out of Verdan Savings Bank with a single dollar bill in hand—and that’s on me.

We were the first “customers” to arrive on Tuesday morning of July 16th, 2019, Frank reversing his brother’s black Rubicon Convertible into a handicap space near the front entrance.

“You ready for this?” he asked—the same question he’d ask whenever he went down on me.

Slipping his mask on, he stepped out of the jeep without for me to do the same.

We’d agreed that taking prisoners anywhere in public with pantyhose on our heads was fucking ridiculous and settled on Mardi Gras masks. This was Terrebonne Parish, after all.

Frank had on a silver masquerade ball mask, his body suited up in a black and purple motley while my face was covered in a porcelain resin mask, my sequin blazer and trousers both glittered in bright green, my underarms and forehead drenched from the cruel humidity.

Catching up with Frank, I cocked the bolt action rifle that we’d stolen from his brother and knew in my gut that this was it. Our last time taking a walk together.

I should’ve stopped him at the door, but still I followed hoping to God my gut was dead wrong. Frank had proven to bemy protector and the owner of my heart up to this point. He’d promised a new life together—a life free from the brutality of Terrebonne—and I felt I owed him the benefit of the doubt, wanting to believe that he could deliver.

Entering the bank that smelled of expensive perfume, the first thing my partner did was fire a shot into the shoulder of a poor young woman working for shit wages in a place filled with millions.

His mean streak had been there since first grade. Frankwasn’t alone in enjoying the torture and killing of caterpillars during recess, but he’d taken the “fun” to a new level. Set on rattling the cages of the nuns who hushed us before church, Frank had performed a massacre, the marble steps of the side entrance to St. Francis painted green and yellow with splattered guts and blood.

“Don’t look,” the nuns kept saying, rushing us into the vestibule. “Come along, now. Don’t look.”

It wasn’t until our sophomore year at Dumas that I’d seen enough. We were high after school before Easter weekend and had emptied a 12-pack between us on the mossy bank of Bayou Black when Frank came up with the bright idea of torturing his brother’s hamster.

“Brah,” I said, crushing my empty can. “Fuck all that shit.”

Insects were insects but animals were my line in the sand. I avoided Frank at lunch and recess the next day, hiding in the library where he would never look. We both hated to read, and I ignored his calls knowing damn well that he was showing up on my mother’s doorstep that evening.

“Brah, I’m sorry,” he said. “Shit was fucked up. I mean—I had too much to drink is all, and—”

“I was just as drunk as you were, Frank. Now, get the fuck out of here. We’re about to eat.”

“Smells good,” he said, referring to the fry batter. “Look, it won’t happen again. I promise.”

“Nah, there’s something in you,” I said. “I’ve always known it. You’re a sick fuck.”

“Maybe so,” Frank said, “but I seriously didn’t mean to freak you out. I swear. Okay? Come on.”

I slapped his hand away. “Are you fucking serious, right now? With my mother here?”

She was frying catfish to go with her homemade white beans and rice, the sizzling fillets drowning out our conversation on her end.

“Brah, this shit sucks,” Frank said. “I missed you today, and Idon’t—I don’t always know when I’m being asshole until you ground me. Okay? I fucking love you for that.”

Something he’d never said to me before, and that’s all it took, my hard heart melting, my fingers sliding into Frank’s. No longer caring if my mother caught us. She was bound to find out the truth about her son sooner or later—why not now when I could finally confirm what it was that Frank and I shared?

Bottom line: I loved him, too. Yeah, Frank had a fucked-up side but he never hid it from me or stopped trying to do better for me when I asked him to. Aside from my mother, he’d proven to be the only person in this world who was always there for me, and the high from hearing him reciprocate my love on my mother’s welcome mat compared to nothing else. Nothing came close, not the weed, the booze or even the ecstasy that we’d done before locking tongues and undressing each other for the first time. This was pure sober truth, our hands joined while the catfish fried.

The first time we fucked was the champagne moment of our friendship. It happened back in February during carnival. We were rolling in my room after a parade, my mother out partying, my twin beds unoccupied and with hours to spare before she came home, Frank and I allowed ourselves to be free from shame, and finally from the burden of lying to each other. Physically, there were no disagreements. We took turns engaging in every position, denying ourselves no pleasures. He didn’t wear deodorant, but I didn’t care, the stench of his underarms making every second of this moment real.

We wouldn’t see another opportunity to fully enjoy each other until a Tuesday in early May. Frank’s parents were on vacation in Lake Tahoe and his brother was out deer hunting. With no one home and summer only weeks away, we decided to celebrate and were going at it for maybe ten minutes before Frank’s brother walked in on us.

“Shit.” I jumped off Frank’s ass and scrambled my clothes for cover, my adrenaline making it impossible for me to stand there in his room without shaking.

A senior, Chris was older than Frank by two years and taller by as many inches.

“Take it easy,” he said. “We’ve all experimented when we couldn’t get laid.”

“Is that what you think this is?” Frank asked, still naked and seemingly comfortable.

“Then what the hell is it?” Chris asked.

“It’s called love, big brother.” 

“Jesus,” Chris said, giving me a hard stare. He locked the bedroom door behind him on his way out. 

“Will you relax?” Frank said. 

“Think he’ll tell anyone?” I asked, stepping into my boxers. 

“Brah. Chris is family. Besides, this is Terrebonne. Word gets out he has a gay brother? I don’t see the easiest life for him, either.”

“Christ” I said, holding my chest. 

“Come on. Calm down,” Frank said. “Come over here.”

I allowed him to pull me closer, feeling his pecs. 

“You ready for this?” he asked, but I didn’t answer, my heart still racing even as Frank was going down on me.

Chris found me at my locker before lunch on Wednesday and asked if I wanted to hang with the seniors. These were the coolest kids in school, and I figured he’d extended the invite as a way of trying to make me “cool.”

Frank was nowhere to be found when I approached Chris and five of his friends beneath the oak tree in the courtyard. I tried to slap his hand for a quick shake and was knocked to the dirt where knuckles whaled into my cheeks, my eyes, and head when I blocked my face.

“Fucking little bitch boy,” one of his friends said, and then they all took turns stomping on my legs.

The bell rang, my nose bleeding when all was said and done but not broken. My lips were busted, my eyes both black. Much to my surprise, though, I could still walk to class—limping—but walking.

Rumors about Frank and I spread like bagasse in the sugarcane fields set ablaze, our reputations burned and our wellbeing in constant danger. We were facing a new kind of freedom—a freedom from safety and comfort until school let out for summer—just in time.

Gone were the stares and whispers in halls and classrooms. We no longer had to worry about the threat of more violence in the courtyard or parking lot, but the homophobes who sought to hate on us ensured that our safety was temporary, having found us on the bank of Bayou Black where they challenged us “bitch boys” to fights. A scrapper, Frank could handle himself against the biggest that the so-called alphas had to offer and enjoyed the manhandling—a little too much almost killing one until I pulled him back to his senses.

First spitting blood, he apologized to me profusely but didn’t have to. I saw his fists bludgeoning faces of our opponents as a romantic gesture, Frank defending our honor and proving that when provoked, he would go the distance for us.

Come June, there was a string of gas station robberies downtown on West Park making the front page of the Courier, and Frank saw those headlines as an opportunity.

“Think about it,” he said. He’d treated me to a smoothie on Martin Luther King, and we were sitting on his Ducati facing the boulevard when Frank showed me the day’s paper. “All the cops are focused on the downtown area right now. No longer patrolling this side.”

“Okay, but so what?” I asked. 

Frank sucked on his straw while Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” played in a purple Kia Forte parked near to us.

“Look across,” he finally said. “What do you see?”

Beyond the cars and pickups blowing past each other in opposite lanes? I saw the bright and sunny parking lot of Verdan Savings Bank.

“Are you out of your gourd or what, brah? You want to rob a bank?” 

“The only bank in Terrebonne without security,” Frank said.

“How’s that?” I asked. 

“Well, like the sign says. Val Verdan owns that bank.” 

“What’s your point, Frank?” 

“The man owns most of Terrebonne. Does he not? No one would dare rip him off.”

Mr. Val had made his fortune with Verdan Offshore Ventures and dominated the oil industry in Terrebonne. He owned cops, politicians, and if rumors were true, a piece of every local business in exchange for the good fight against the corporate chains invading our bayou community. A hero to some, but he owned the underground too if rumors were to be believed, having shut down a Denny’s and Applebee’s by flooding the parking lots with drugs and prostitutes.

“So, a suicide mission. That’s great, Frank. Just great.” 

“Don’t think like that,” he said. “Like I told you, think of it as an opportunity.” 

“Stop, Frank. We’re not talking about a stint in Ashland down Bayou Dularge if we get caught. We’re talking hard time inAngola.” 

“Not if we get the fuck out of dodge,” he said. 

“To where?” I asked. 

“Where do you want to go?” 

“I don’t know, brah. I’ve never been to the Bahamas, but everyone seems to flee to Mexico after shit like this.”

“Or Russia,” Frank said. “They’re not too big on extraditing Americans right now.” 

“Russia?”

“Shit, yeah. Why not? We can sip champagne with Snowden.”

He was talking about making a new life together—a life far from Terrebonne and fuck whoever owned it. He was talking about heisting thousands before hauling ass and hiding but with the freedom to be who we really were. 

Bottom line: he was talking about a marriage, the idea beautiful, his strategy brilliant. 

There were three bank tellers handling the traffic on Tuesday mornings—their slowest time of the week. 

“Like, nonexistent slow,” Frank said. 

“What did you do, open an account there?” 

“Months ago,” he said, “but check this out. Mr. Val loves his pussy. All three tellers are females in their early twenties with tit jobs.” 

“No bank manager?” I asked. 

“Of course,” he said. “A short bald fucker who stays out of sight unless asked for.” 

We would go in with two unloaded shotguns, and I would fall back and cover him while Frank secured the tellers and had one empty the registers. No vault. We were looking for traveling money and enough to last until we figured things out. The Mississippi state line was an hour away—plenty of time before Parish PD could piece the puzzle together.  

First, we took care of Chris. Catching him in a nap, Frank swung his aluminum baseball bat into his brother’s legs, again and again—Chris screaming while I cuffed his hands to hisbedpost. 

From his Amish gun cabinet, I took a standard bolt action rifle. Frank lifted a camouflage Remington Model Seven, about to walk away until an RP9 caught his eye.

“Motherfuckers,” Chris yelled. “I swear to God, Frank. You’re fucking dead.” 

“I doubt it, brother. ‘Cause after today? You’ll never see meagain.” 

“‘Fuck are you talking about?” Chris asked. “What are you up to?” 

“Mom and Dad won’t be home until tomorrow night,” Frank said. “So, get comfortable. And be thankful. ‘Cause if you weren’t my flesh and blood, you’d be dead right now.”

Chris believed him, too, not making a sound until crying. We fed his hamster and left the key to the sex cuffs that we’d ordered online for his folks to find.

“Oh, and we’re taking the jeep,” Frank said, grabbing the keys from his brother’s end table.

He slept at my house that night, our plan to strip the license plate from his brother’s jeep before arriving at Verdan Savings, get in and get out. We would dump the jeep on one of the new extension roads off Martin Luther King and take Frank’s Ducati from there. 

From Mississippi, we would cross into Alabama and Florida, not stopping until Pensacola where Frank had met someone on the dark web willing to help with new identities.

From there? The possibilities were endless. The Bahamas. Mexico. Maybe Russia. 

But Frank had said nothing about hurting people, leaving me stunned on the morning of the robbery when he started shooting.  

He jumped the counter after firing into the shoulder of one teller and knocked another to the floor.

“The manager,” he said to the third and last one standing. “Call him out here.” 

He pointed his shotgun in the young woman’s face, counting to three, and she didn’t panic. She picked up the phone and pressed a button, and as soon as the gentleman appeared, Frank pulled the RP9 from the rear of his motley and fired into the manager’s leg.

“There,” he said. “No one else to worry about.” 

No one except for Frank. Like the St. Francis massacre in first grade, he was leaving his mark. He couldn’t help himself. Frank was Frank, and this was on me. I saw the good in him, had seen him trying to do better for me and wanted to believe in his promise to escape Terrebonne after coming this far. 

But not like this. Not with this moment haunting me forever. 

Bottom line: I was in love with a killer, had been for most of my life and had allowed him to blind me from my better judgement. He had no qualms when it came to hurting animals and almost killed another human being in a physical altercation. Shit—I’d witnessed him admit to wanting to kill his own brother. 

Folks in the bank were strangers and had done nothing to us, but Frank was going all the way with at least one of them. I could see that now. He’d always relied on me to bring him back to his senses, and so I did, aiming for the back of his head. 

“Stop, Frank.” 

He turned and panicked, pointing the RP9 in my direction until I pulled the trigger. 

The morning of July 16th was supposed to be another champaign moment for us, but Frank was blown to shit, his body bloodied up on the cold marble floor of Verdan Savings Bank while cops were cuffing my wrists.

I was going away for a long time, but life on the inside didn’t scare me. I was born and raised in Terrebonne, after all, had never really known freedom and lived most of my life as Frank’s bitch. 

With his reign now at an end, nothing was changing for me. Well, my address was changing, but I was still a resident of Terrebonne and property of the parish.

Best thing I had going for me was the fact that I’d betrayed my partner and prevented innocent civilians from being killed. I’d even waited for cops to show up, and along with a guilty plea, any attorney worth a salt could take time in Angola off the table for an easier life in Ashland down Bayou Dularge. 

Frank would’ve wanted it that way—the best for me. His vision for our future together was a dead and gone, and all because of his nature, but Frank was Frank, and I forgave him. 

 

Nathan Pettigrew was born and raised an hour south of New Orleans and lives in the Tampa area with his loving wife. His stories have appeared in Deep South Magazine, “The Year” Anthology from Crack the Spine, Stoneboat, and the Nasty: Fetish Fights Back anthology from Anna Yeatts of Flash Fiction Online, which was spotlighted in a 2017 Rolling Stone article. His story “The Queen of the South Side” was named Honorable Mention in the Genre Short Story category for the 88th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition, while other genre stories have appeared in Thuglit, Pulp Modern, the Savage Minds & Raging Bulls anthology from Bristol Noir, Hoosier Noir: Three, the Mardi Gras Mysteries and Mardi Gras Murder anthologies from Mystery and Horror, LLC, and at Bristol Noir and DarkMedia.com.