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Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Faces of Deception
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“I know it was you, Montgomery. So help me if I find out that I’m right.” Carmine slammed his fist on the counter hard enough to cause the dusty cash register to bounce.
The shop had that musty odor that signified a professional cleaning crew had never stepped foot on premises.
“Boss, I’m telling you. It wasn’t me. Why would I steal from you? Huh? Tell me that. I’ve been working here too long for me to take anything from you and Donovan. I swear! You have my word.”
“Who else would've done it? The mice?” He raised his voice, causing his face to turn lobster-red and his eyes to transform into tiny slits. “Oh, I know. Maybe a mouse gently opened the front door without any signs of forced entry—perhaps they had an imaginary key—and stole money right out of the cash register and then quietly walked out.Sure! That makes tons of sense. Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Then, that same rodent came back again and again, and not only stole money, but almost every expensive tool that we own. Is that what happened, Montgomery? You lanky lowlife!”
“No, I—I don’t know what happened. But, I’ll find out for you. I promise, I would never do anything like that. It wasn’t me.”
“Oh, well thank goodness we cleared that up. That’s great!” Carmine was infamous for being facetious. “You have a week to find out who is responsible. I’ll break your legs if I find out it was you. Don’t test me. You know I will.”
Ordinarily, Montgomery was an arrogant one. He looked like he belonged in a ’50s street gang, with his black hair slicked back and his smokes rolled up in his T-shirt. But he had the skills of a good plumber when he wasn’t high on cocaine, and that was the only reason he kept his job.
He was a little intimidated as Carmine’s veins pulsed on his forehead. They resembled bulging egg sacks that might hatch little aliens from them any minute. “If it was you, you better run and run far. I’ve taken enough of your horseshit throughout the years, but this is my breaking point. Do you hear me?” He threw a coffee can filled with nails at Montgomery’s head, purposely missing him by a quarter of an inch. “Next time, I’ll aim directly for your head and I won’t miss. That, I can assure you. Donovan is going through the videotapes and if I see your sorry ass on there, you’re dead.”
“You’re wrong, boss. It wasn’t me. I don’t know what I can do to prove it to ya, but I’m telling you, you’re wrong!”
“Fantastic. Then I’ll hire you back on Monday and maybe even apologize, but something tells me I won’t be doing any of that! If it was you, you won’t need a job where you’re going. Take my advice and watch your back, son. You’d better learn how to grow eyes in the back of your head. Now get the hell out of here.”
Carmine, the co-owner of South Side Plumbing for which Montgomery worked, always came across as though he'd been served vinegar with a side of lemons as his morning’s breakfast, even when not accusing his employees of stealing. It was rare to see a smile on his face, and if you did, it was most likely because he had a piece of food lodged between his yellowing teeth.
And though functional and sometimes even profitable, the plumbing business was just a facade.
Once, Carmine had actually made a modest living as a rookie plumber, who only dabbled in the drug scene every once in a while. But as with many drug users, his priorities in life shifted, turning his life of dabbling into a dependency.
Unable to handle the day-to-day responsibility of reporting to a higher authority, he partnered with Donovan, another drug user, though not yet an addict, to start their own company, though it was really a front. He needed to report his income somehow, even though a fraction of it came from dealing drugs. While the front of the shop looked normal, the backroom would be heaven to any drug addict lucky enough to stumble upon it. Upon first glance, it resembled a disorganized office. A wooden table covered with invoices stood in the middle of the room, the wood chipping off of both sides. Two metal chairs sat on either side of it, the kind that hurt to sit in after only a few minutes. To the left were a few shelves that held supplies—paper towels, pens, invoices, clipboards, and a few stray tools. What couldn’t be seen without closer inspection were fireproof safes that were carefully hidden underneath the floorboards or neatly tucked in the walls behind secret wooden panels. These safes housed scrupulously-measured bags of cocaine separated by grams, along with marijuana, methamphetamine, ecstasy, oxycodone, and a myriad of other drugs.
As Montgomery walked out of the shop, Carmine shouted something behind him, no doubt some type of threat. But the door slammed before he could hear it. Montgomery knew Carmine would stop at nothing to get revenge—he’d done it before.
In the beginning of their joint venture, Donovan kept Carmine on his toes. Carmine and Donovan both worked full-time, but once Carmine’s social use became more of an everyday necessity, his work ethic became only a vague memory. Donovan knew Carmine had a problem when he started using drugs more than he sold them. His violent temper was often piqued when he couldn’t get his hands on a quick fix.
Though Donovan dabbled as well, he was at least able to exercise some self-control. He didn't depend upon drugs to get through his daily routine. Carmine, on the other hand, seemed to be losing his common sense with each passing day, so it was no wonder that he'd flown off the handle when his money disappeared, and then later that week when his tools vanished as well.
A rumor had it that Carmine had injured people for less than theft, though it was a rumor Montgomery believed with all of his heart.
Montgomery knew that if Donovan caught anything suspicious on the security tapes, Carmine would make good on his promise. He only hoped Donovan, known for his levelheadedness, would step in and talk some sense into his uncontrollable partner.
Chapter 2:’Til Death Do Us Part
Tonight was going to be a superb evening for Montgomery. He and his friends had scored a deal on some cocaine and were having a party at Shelby’s house. He and Shelby had started dating—if you could call it that—a few months prior.Their dates consisted of getting high on whatever drugs fell into their possession.
All of the cool people were going to be there. Artie, their main source, hinted that he was bringing along some ecstasy as well, and there was no way that Montgomery was missing it.
Just like Carmine and Donovan, Montgomery also frequented the drug scene.It hadn't gotten to the point where his incessant need for drugs surpassed his ability to hold down a job, but he was definitely traveling steadily on the path toward addiction, similar to his parents. He used his upbringing as an excuse to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
His father, Brian Allen Vendora, was a raging alcoholic who had never encountered a bottle he didn’t like. There was no way in hell he could ever hold down a job, and he frequently took out his frustrations on his wife, as well as Montgomery, and his older brother, Lewis.
His parents fought day in and day out. It wasn’t just tiny squabbles—their fights made televised boxing look like a sophisticated night at the ballet. Even as his mother’s face met the end of his father’s fist again and again, she clung to the old-fashioned theory that she should never leave, no matter how unbearable her life became.
Perhaps she couldn’t leave. Her suitcases were occasionally packed and lined up by the doorway, but somehow, some way, Mr. Vendora always discovered that his wife was planning on going on a permanent vacation—without him. And when he did, Mrs. Vendora wouldn’t be seen for days on end.
He saw his actions as punishment for her indecent behavior, and after a while, she succumbed to the old cliché—if you can’t beat him, join him. She started to indulge in more and more liquid meals herself. The two of them found solace in sharing a bottle of bourbon whiskey. From a distance, one might assume that Cupid had arranged the perfect match.
But Montgomery knew his mother drank to expedite her inevitable death, having decided it was impossible to make a clean getaway during in life. He questioned her poor choices and wondered why she never sought help.
Plus, the more inebriated that she became, the less she cared when her husband beat their kids to a pulp. During her sober days, she’d step in and take the brunt to protect her children, but that came to a halt when the tipped bottle became more important.
By the time Montgomery was fourteen, he had begun to scout out places where he could sleep overnight, especially during his parents’ drinking binges. They were usually too far gone to notice him leave, and by the time morning rolled around, he always returned with his parents none the wiser.
The next year, his father’s abuse landed his brother Lewis in the hospital, with bruises covering a good portion of his face and body. Once Lewis recovered, both boys left home to stay with friends. Lewis found a job first and then helped Montgomery get hired.
As bad as their childhoods were, once they were on their own, they were both surprisingly responsible. They found a small one-bedroom apartment on the south side of town, which they shared and split the rent. Lewis gave the bedroom to Montgomery, while he slept in the center of the tiny living room.
Lewis worked hard to pick up the pieces of his life, consciously refraining from alcohol and drugs. But Montgomery eventually gave in to his own self-pity and spent his free time drinking and partying like there was no tomorrow. He told Lewis that he had “earned that right.” It was only a matter of time before he began to experiment with marijuana, and then graduated to a few lines of cocaine here and there. After two years on his own, Montgomery was experimenting with heroin and any other street drugs he could get his hands on. It was a wonder that he was still able to keep a job, but he knew that in order to get his hands on drugs, he needed to work.
One night, after a full day of partying, Montgomery stumbled into the apartment that he shared with Lewis, breaking a lamp and waking his brother in the process. When Lewis told him that he had had enough and demanded that Montgomery get his life together, Montgomery began screaming in a petulant rage. He took a swing at Lewis, missed, and fell face down on the floor.
That was the end of the proverbial rope for Lewis. While he didn’t want to be responsible for tying the noose, he didn’t want to be an enabler, either. He had lived his entire childhood witnessing alcoholism and abuse. He didn't want to stand by to see his brother spiral out of control.
Left with no other choice, he packed his brother’s bags and gave him until the end of the week to get out, hoping it would be the motivation that his brother needed to get his life in order.
Unfortunately, it had the adverse effect, because Montgomery, then age seventeen, left the next morning without saying a word. From that point on, he rented rooms from people, lived with strangers that he met on the street, and sometimes, his home was nothing more than a cardboard box or a rusty, cold bench in the middle of a vacant park. He hadn’t seen his brother since.
He never regretted his choice to cut ties —or at least he never let on if he did—and never tried to contact Lewis again.When he acquired employment with Carmine three years later, he admitted that he considered his brother dead.