Firefly - the lesson

©©Rhythmic thumps accompanied by tyres singing as they rolled down the serrated metal ramp of the ferry echoed across the water.  I drew on my cigarette and inhaled, then closed my mouth and let the smoke flow out of my nostrils. As a kid I watched cowboys do it at the movies and copied them. The habit stuck.

Firefly’s shopping list was pretty extensive so Smitty and I had spent the afternoon buying each item. We had booked into the motel, a real flop house, and Smitty felt right at home. With the shopping stashed away, we waited until the last ferry was on its way from Seattle before we drove down to the terminal.

“Jeeezzuss, this is real fun, right?”

Smitty trotted up and joined me under the canopy outside the foot ferry entrance. He was holding a couple of plastic coffee cups from which steam was pouring out of the small drinking slits. I flipped the cigarette and trod on it. We stood sipping together, letting the coffee seep down into our stomachs.

Half an hour later we walked into the bright ferry terminal as some of the staff were leaving. Two lifeless forms lay on benches at the other end of the hallway. As we passed one of them the figure stirred. It was a thin blonde woman in a dirty mauve jumper and jeans, nursing a Pepsi bottle that looked like it was half full with water. As soon as she opened her mouth I knew it wasn’t water.

“Hey, shithead, keep it down.”

She gave me a sheepish look through half closed eyes and pointed to a small mongrel stretched out beneath her bench.

“You try anything and he’ll rip your friggin head off,” she said, picking her nose before cuffing it.

With that she turned over, pulled an old coat over her head, and yawned loudly. The dog retreated backwards on his stomach under the bench, his eyes never leaving me.

At the end of the hall was an open door marked ‘STAFF.’ The room was empty and there were coats hanging on racks. I walked past and waited. Smitty stood looking down along the entrance and nodded. We both slipped inside and within a minute were dressed in black all weather trousers and coats with reflection hoops.

“How are these gonna’ help?” asked Smitty as we walked out of the hall. He pulled the hood up.

“The cleaners on the ferry also clean the marina and there’s always a couple on hand in case a pump out is required.”

An empty bus stood outside the booking hall. The driver stood on the steps, just inside the door, smoking. He waved as we passed but said nothing.

A minute later I felt for the key in my pocket and had it ready as we reached the metal steps down to the marina entrance. As I inserted the key into the lock, a deep husky voice, quite close by, startled me. Smitty and I turned together.

“Hey, you guys late or starting early?”

I looked straight into the flashlight but knew I was talking to a cop. Before I could open my mouth, Smitty gave us away.

“Hey dude, we got here early,” he replied.

***

Smitty was snoring. He lay curled up on the bed. Outside our door an early riser was chatting loudly on his cell phone and from the other side of the wall behind my bed came the faint voice of a newscaster. At first I could not understand why we had not been charged or why there had been no checks on our ID other than a cursory glance from the desk sergeant. As we walked home I recalled Firefly’s one line she had recited a few times. ‘Follow your instructions to the letter and you’re not going to be caught.’

Well, I had blown it but something about Firefly was a little unreal. Coincidence perhaps but she had turned out to be something of a lucky charm. Whatever, I would have to call her and let her know I had failed.

Smitty stirred and propped himself up on one elbow.

“You hungry, man? Let’s go eat.”

“You go and grab something. I’ve got to make a call.” I looked glumly at him. “I guess the gravy train just dried up.”

I picked my cell up as he left and called Firefly. My call was answered immediately.

“Well, you sure met all of my expectations, Johnny. You were set a trap and you walked straight in. I knew you lacked trust and I hope you learned a lesson.”

Her voice was quiet and I could hear her breathing lightly. There was a pause as she sucked in loudly and I guessed she was a smoker.

“Listen,” I said, “I’m sorry I let you down. I just thought-.”

“You know what thought did, don’t you, Johnny? So now you sit and listen to me and don’t interrupt. I have things to tell you about trust before we talk about what I am going to do for you.”

I saw a glimmer of light. The fact that she was still talking meant I might still be in the money. I tapped a Lucky out of the pack and held the phone between shoulder and ear while flipping the zippo. I drew on the cigarette as she continued.

“When I tell you that you’ll not get into trouble if you do as you’re told, I mean it. For obvious reasons, Johnny, I can’t tell you everything and that’s the way it has to be. Let’s just say that our legal system sometimes sucks and there are a few good citizens who want to help the less fortunate receive justice. These citizens are honest and trustworthy with connections and that’s all you have to know.”

“So we’re a kind of vigilante group then?” I said, cocking two fingers and firing at the wall.

“No. we are dedicated to finding justice in a non-violent way. You go in that direction and I’ll make sure you see the inside of a cell for a long time, Johnny boy.”

There was a pause and she said, “You’re friend, Smitty, knows what you are about. You will need to make him understand too…or else.”

“Okay, so I have one question. Why me? I answered the ad but you didn’t know me yet I got money sent to me. I could have walked off.”

Firefly cackled. Over a hundred callers replied to her ad and all were told to wait for a reply. During five days each caller was vetted for certain criteria, she said, and my name came out on top. That’s how I got the job but she wouldn’t tell me anything else. She did, however, promise that after the next job I would have no problem in trusting her or the people she worked with.

I swung my legs up onto the bed and leaned back on the wall. It was easy to listen, understand what she was doing, and even why. Trust though, was the real problem. Since losing my mother I had no trust in the police, the social services or the legal system. When Firefly’s job came up I was looking to make some easy bucks but now things were different. I wasn’t sure any more.

“You still there, Johnny?”

On the edge of telling her sorry I didn’t want the job, I said, “Yes, what do I do now?”

“You’re going home to Mansfield, Ohio.”

The words hit me like a sledge hammer. I was sixteen when I left Mansfield. The fire that killed my mother and eventually killed my father from damaged lungs happened a year earlier while I was staying with an uncle. The police blamed my father for going to sleep with a lighted cigarette but I knew different. I’d seen the bastard giving Lieutenant Kowski a payoff the day before when the court order for back rent was served with a threat of eviction. No-one believed me and in any case I was pretty confused. I didn’t know any names. I spent a few weeks with the social workers before they arranged for me to go stay with my uncle. I didn’t like the guy so I hit the road.

“This is a different kind of job,” continued Firefly. “It’s so simple yet it will help someone get their life back together and you can feel good about that.”

“Okay.” There was a quick sizzle as I stubbed the cigarette out in a plastic cup.

“The details are in an envelope along with some money at Bremerton FedEx Office. Go pick it up and be on your way to Mansfield by the morning.”

***

 

“I don’t believe it,” I said, reading the letter.

“What’s the job?” Smitty hovered, both hands in pockets, hunching his shoulders and shuffling feet against the cold.

“A break in,” I answered. We’re going to open a safe and take some papers from it to a police station.”

“What!”

 

Ray Stone (MA)

Comments

This is good reading. I really like the characters and I can see Smitty, shoulders hunched, hand sunk into his pockets. I'm looking forward to the next instalment. I really like the voice this is written in....In itself it has mystery and suspense husking it. Great!