Ted Lisi was not in his element.
His left boot was filled with coarse sand, his right had less so but with a rock buried somewhere in it. The trek to the shady jungle he now walked through was plagued by the beating sun, slicking his clothes with a salty layer of sweat. Everything around him seemed to be moving, alive, and possibly threatening his life. He pushed a hand through his wet mop of hair, stopped to say,
“Let’s take a break.”
His boxer companion raised an eyebrow. “I thought I was the one with the wound,” he said, holding his bandaged side. He leaned against a tree, nodded at the gunman. “Take off that jacket, you’ll sweat less like a pig.”
Ted sat down on a rock underneath a merciful patch of shade, setting his backpack down beside himself. “I’ll sweat either way,” he said, and took off his left boot. Sand cascaded out of it, along with several rocks his foot had thankfully no pleasure in meeting. He did the same with his other boot, tossed it on the ground, and flexed his burning toes around in their holey socks.
Stu shrugged. “Suit yourself.” The boxer carefully set himself down on the ground under his own tree’s shade, placed his calloused hands behind his head to get comfortable. Half-closed eyes surveyed Ted, and opened up more when the gunman pulled out a flask from his coat.
The Lisi took a warm, bitter swig, met Stu’s eyes and tilted the flask his way. “Scotch,” he said, “straight from Chicago’s heart.”
Stu grimaced. “You’re a ornery son of a bitch, Ted,” he said, and went back to dozing.
Ted shrugged, took another gulp before twisting the cap back on. The embers in his stomach made him regret the drink, but only just so. It was hot out, like a balmy-ass summer back home. He looked up at the gently swaying leaves above him, the dark, living earth below him. A large red beetle crawled around his boot, poked at it with its antennae until it found its way under a bush.
Ted took his boots and backpack off the ground. This wasn’t home. Home was broken concrete, smoke in the air, rivers of people moving through the veins of his city, the constant blare of horns and cursing.
This island was silent. Green. Eery.
“You come from the city?” he said. A conversation sounded better than his own thoughts.
“Born and raised,” the boxer said, his eyes still closed. “You don’t learn to break faces anywhere else.”
Ted smirked. “Damn straight,” he said, crossing his legs up on his rock Indian-style. “You learn by yourself, or. . .?”
Stu opened his eyes, stretched his mouth into a weathered grin. “Wasn’t ever too great at much else,” he said. “I just read people good, knew what they’d do before they’d do it. That and boxing just go hand in hand, y’know?”
“I do,” Ted said, placing a hand on his chin. Stu was his kind of thinker. “Didn’t work out for you too well with that boar, though, huh.”
The boxer laughed and held up a finger. “I had that bastard on the ropes.”
“Dunno which fight you’re talking about, kid,” Ted laughed, wiping some sweat from his brow. The warm scotch had hit harder than he thought.
Stu narrowed his eyes and his smile turned wry. “Normally I’d beat a man to a pulp for calling me that,” he said, “but you did say you were a Lisi, right?”
Ted’s first reaction was to go for his gun, but he watered the reflex down to a twitch of his hand. He had the higher ground, the boxer was wounded, and there was no law out here. At least that’s better than home, he mused, and nodded to Stu. “You heard right.”
Stu sat up, began cracking his wizened knuckles loudly. “So what’s out here for you?” he asked. “Think there’s some gold to plunder, or some ancient city you wanna bully around?”
Ted narrowed his eyes. Words like that made him reach faster for his gun than threats did. “I’m on a job,” the Lisi said, sparing any acid he had to spit. “I assume you’re here to find a nice grave to get buried in.” Well, most of the acid.
The boxer met eyes with the criminal, kept cracking his knuckles. The island moved through its silent dance around them.
And then Stu laughed. An old, deep laugh, like a bear roaring out of hibernation. “Ornery son of a bitch,” he said through a breath, clapping his hands.
Ted gave his own wry smirk, shook his head as some laughter escaped through his teeth. “You should’ve gone into poker,” the Lisi said. “Face like that, no one’d bet against you.”
Stu coughed as his laughter died down. “You’re right,” he said, waving a hand over his visage. “Face like this they’d be too busy running away to bet.”
This time Ted laughed, the only way his brothers were able to make him. “Ornery son of a bitch,” he echoed, flipping a finger at Stu. Some sweat had fallen onto his glasses, and through his giggles he pulled them off, wiped them on his shirt. “And here I thought this island would be full of bugs and jackasses.”
Stu nodded. “Guess you were only half right.”
Ted smiled, looked up at the sky through his glasses before placing them back on. “I think that’s what everyone’s gonna be on this hellhole.”
“Then I’d be half more right than I thought I’d be,” Stu said. “I’m here for anything, ‘cause back home’s got nothing for me.”
Ted kept his eyes on the sky. He didn’t know whether to laugh or not at that one. The thought of having nothing to go back to was, well, depressing to the Lisi. He wanted anything but to be here on some wild quest for his old man.
And if it was too wild to have any truth behind it, then that old man would no longer be an issue.
“You really should take that jacket off,” Stu said, bringing the Lisi back into reality. “Looks like you’re gonna stroke out.”
Ted shook his head, looked down at his sleeves. “Y’know,” he said, taking his flask back out, “I did take this thing off once on a job.”
“I hope she was wearing less,” Stu said through a toothy grin.
Ted laughed again. This man was too much like his brothers. “Not that kind of job, asshole. Brother of mine was in the big house, and we had to pull him out.”
“Aha,” the boxer said, “Lisi business.”
Ted nodded. “You were sort of right before,” he continued. “I left my jacket on some broad, and by the time Casey told me Keith was headed for a chain gang it didn’t cross my mind to get it back.
“So we go meet up with my brother Mike, and he tells me Keith’s in some glorified cellar for drunks and the like. Non-threatening fucks, y’know, exactly the kind of guy Keith was. So I come up with a plan to bust him out, and we wait around till night.”
“I take it this sort of thing happened often,” Stu remarked.
Ted shrugged. “Most of the time we didn’t need help to skip a jail. Keith’s just too much of a goodie-two-shoes to do things himself.” The Lisi pulled out his flask, took another swig of it before going on. “Plan’s simple: we move in, Mike holds down the front, Casey and I take care of whatever’s waiting for us in the back. The first part goes all right; Mike has a suit pissing himself with a gun to his eye.
“Casey and I move to the back, and,” Ted moved his hands apart dramatically, “half a dozen boys in blue ready to take us in. Later on we learned they knew we’d come for Keith, but that doesn’t matter. We slam the door and we have no goddamn idea what to do.”
“So what’d you do?”
“Something drastic.” Ted took another gulp, held his chest for a moment before letting out a guttural belch. “So. . . So we go back to Mike, who’s still got the suit glued in his seat, and that’s when it hit me.” Ted laughed. “We use the suit.”
Stu leaned forward, steepled his fingers under his chin.
“Mike was the worst shot with us, so I had him walk through the door with the suit in front of him.” Ted bent his arm up near his neck, held his other hand in front of him like a pistol. “The coppers start freaking out, telling us to freeze and all that. We tell them to give us Keith or the suit goes down, and coppers, you know, they don’t like losing innocents, so they follow our lead.
“They take us to Keith, and then Mike fucks everything up.”
Stu laughed. “I take it he’s not a bright one.”
Ted hiccuped and smiled. “Not especially, no. He lets go of the suit to give Keith a hug, and then we’re all standing there stiller than deer. We look to our guns, coppers look to theirs, and Casey takes the first shot. Pretty sure he hit someone ‘cause one of them started crying as we bolted down the hall. Mike was yelling he got hit in the ass, I told him it was his ass if he didn’t stop running/”
“We make it to a back door,” Ted said, and picked his glasses off when some sweat dripped onto them from his hair. “We make it there,” he restarted, “and bust out and it’s the open yard for the cellmates. Only one way out, and that’s over some barbed wire.”
The boxer shook his head, smiled. “And how’d you do it?”
“Well we ran up to the fence, shooting back at the cops all the way while I’m ripping off Keith’s jailbird outfit.”
“Back to that kind of job again, huh?”
“Fuck off,” Ted laughed. “No, I took it off cause I didn’t have my goddamn jacket to throw over the wire.”
Stu sat back against his tree, arms crossed indignantly.. “Are you kidding me?”
“You go through this whole story about your jacket,” he said, “and it ends up you just needed some clothes to climb a fence? What could that furry thing do that Keith’s clothes couldn’t?”
Ted smirked and pulled off his jacket. It clung to him from his sweat. He set it down on his backpack and held a pale underarm out to Stu. A large, messily healed scar ran for nearly its entire length. The boxer whistled.
“Those jail clothes are thinner than paper,” he said. “My jacket would’ve been thick enough to keep that fence out of our skin when we jumped it.” He pulled his arm back, ran a finger along the scar. “We ran home, Mike with a bullet in his ass, me with my arm split in two. I was surprised they didn’t follow us by the blood we left behind.”
Stu placed a hand on his chin, and they sat in silence for a moment. Ted, for once, took solace in the whispering movements of the island around him.
And then he puked.
“Oh, fuck,” Stu said, leaping up from the ground. “Come on, Ted, I thought you Lisi’s held your liquor.”
Ted spit on the ground. “Not when we’re on water,” he choked out. He pulled a different flask from his backpack, one with water in it, and drank deeply. “Let’s get moving,” he said when he finished, “before both of us are too sick to walk.”
The boxer agreed, and after Ted geared back up, they started walking to where he had seen smoke on the horizon. Both of them used trees to support themselves, Stu in his pain, the Lisi fighting off drunkenness slowly but surely. The jungle’s balminess turned into a coastal breeze as the trees began to thin. They only stopped once for water, and then charged their way out to a sandy clearing.
The source of the smoke was another short walk down the coast. It was a camp, bustling with people who had come ashore on a monolithic boat. Crates were being pulled out, and tents set up. The smell of freshly cooked food, vegetables and red meat, wafted across the Lisi’s nostrils. His stomach growled in need of something to combat the whiskey that sloshed around in it.
“Think you can make it?” Ted asked, and was answered with silence. He turned to see Stu was no longer behind him.
He was running to the camp as best he could, one hand on his side and the other waving for help. The Lisi laughed, adjusted his backpack, his glasses.
“Ornery son of a bitch,” he muttered, and made his own way over.