Coming of Age American Crime

Warning: Violence, death, references to child abuse and to transphobia

The tea was still warm by the time he got back. 

Mikey took a sip of it slowly, wary of his trembling hands, and waited for his heartbeat to slow down. 

It was oolong tea. He had started drinking it ever since he heard that it was great for reducing anxiety. Last time he saw a doctor, she had recommended that he cut down on the workplace stress (when he replied that he was an EMT she had winced and suggested yoga). 

He took a deeper sip. His heart throbbed. 

Outside the house, it was quiet. That was pretty typical for a subdivision like this. The birds sang softly, the trees swayed gently. 

He tried to release his adrenaline rush in a single deep breath. It worked a little. 

When the cup was empty, he turned on the electric kettle that he kept on the kitchen counter. He grabbed a new sachet of oolong and plopped it in his mug - he was going to need a lot more. 

In his coat pocket was an old blonde wig with a stitched-in ponytail, a pair of cat-eye sunglasses, and a bunched-up knee-length skirt. He reached under the sink and took out a trash-bag, threw in the items. 

As he walked to the bathroom, he took off his coat, shirt, pantyhose, and that abysmal device known as a bra. They went into the trash bag with haste, Mikey sighing with relief with each shed item.

By the time the second cup of tea was empty, he walked out of the shower with clean, scrubbed-red skin. He was way too sore to put on his binder today, but he did it anyway, feeling an itch under his skin settle as he smoothed his hands down his flat chest. He wore his loosest shirt over a pair of baggy jeans. Mikey flicked on the electric kettle and crouched below the sink, grabbing a tub cleaner and brush before returning to the bathroom. 

Mikey was sipping on the third cup of tea as he dragged the trash bag of clothes and paper towels down the basement steps. It was an unfinished basement, boasting a dirt floor. There wasn’t much furniture in it, just a few folded lawn chairs and a recently-dug hole. He dropped the bag in the hole and grabbed a shovel to fill it in. 

Later, as the electric kettle hummed back to life, he stared out the window at his backyard. He ran his hand through his damp hair, brushing out the water droplets. 

He thought of his father.

His father made this seem so easy. It must be the sort of thing that only came with practice. Mikey had no intention of practice or repeat acts, so he took the flutter of his beating heart as a sign that there were plenty of differences between him and his father that remain. 

Besides, it was a different world. Back then, men like Michael Senior didn’t have to worry about pesky things like DNA or forensic evidence. 

Mikey had a few vivid memories of being in the back seat of the car while his dad disposed of things - maybe using a stick to push a bag of blood-stained clothing into a swamp or tossing a wiped-down gun into the bottom of a pond. Quick and easy, though not eco-friendly at all... 

He chortled to himself. Yeah, Dad, did you think of the environment at all when you were killing people for money?

But - but another difference to consider, was that his dear old dad had a certain panache when it came to killing. He was always dressed to the nines - after all, he was representing The Boss - and when he lowered the muzzle of his gun, it was with a suave and easy confidence. That was the game they played; who could be the coolest, the toughest, who had such a thick façade that couldn’t crack under all that blood and screaming from the living nightmare that they called a day job? 

A swirl of nausea distracted Mikey. 

There was a world of difference between his father’s showmanship and the efficient execution that Mikey delivered this afternoon. 

He had never wanted to know what kind of a killer he was. 

At first, his dad never even really intended him to inherit this. Back then, Mikey was called by a different name and had to live a different way of life, so Michael Senior never saw a potential killer in him. His father had a very traditionalist way of thinking about his family - Mikey and his mom and sisters were pure, innocent, untouched by the horrors of the real world. 

By all accounts, Mikey should have stayed home with his siblings and mom to help with the house. But at some point, Michael Senior looked at Mikey and saw something in his eyes that separated him from his sisters. He gave him an old cap that used to belong to his grandfather’s, bought him boyish pants and even let him cut off his pigtails, much to his ma’s dismay. He took Mikey on ride-alongs when he had jobs that weren’t so dangerous, allowed his son a keyhole view of what his dad did for a living.

At some point his dad started calling him Junior. 

Mikey had liked that a lot. 

It wasn’t until Mikey was seventeen that the horror of his father’s job truly revealed itself. His father had invited him to another ride-along but Michael Senior was in a weird, quiet mood.

When they arrived at an old warehouse that Mikey had never seen before, Michael Senior leaned over and spoke softly. 

“You’re not going to talk about what you’ve seen here tonight, Junior. And you’re not going to talk to anyone here unless I give the OK.” His eyes were steely and his jaw was set with an ugly determination. “You’re going to help us out, and then later we can talk about if you wanna get more involved. It’s good money, but it’s not for everyone.” 

Inside the warehouse was a middle-aged woman gagged and bound in rope to a chair. Under the chair was a large plastic tarp that looked like it belonged to a fishing boat. Mikey heard a soft cough and noticed a tall man standing by a table. On the table was an open briefcase full of shiny tools that sparkled in the low light. 

The man had greeted Michael Senior with the bored familiarity of a coworker and cocked an eyebrow curiously at Mikey. The young man couldn’t help but wonder if his father had mentioned bringing him along. 

“Benny, this is Junior. Junior’s coming along tonight to see how ole Dad pays the bills.” Michael Senior had clapped a hand on Mikey’s back proudly. “Might have an apprentice on my hands.” 

“Oh, yeah?” Benny had smirked in a way that wasn’t kind, “Geez he looks twelve. How old are ya, kid?” 

“Old enough,” Michael Senior had muttered, giving Mikey a fatherly look before joining Benny at the table. 

Mikey had lingered along the shadows on the sidelines while the two men small-talked, getting closer to the bound woman. He could see large blood stains spreading from her chest, thighs, and head. He leaned closer and saw, with a lurch in his stomach, that her right ear had been cut clean off. 

A growing apprehension pooled in his gut but he remembered what his father said - not to speak. And he wasn’t even sure what he would say. 

Michael Senior and his coworker left the table and walked over, still talking shop. His father took in the sight of the woman, the twisted angles of her straining limbs, the trickling blood. 

“So she put up a good fight, huh?” he said casually. 

“Yeah, old broad didn’t give us much,” Benny said sullenly, “But at this point she’s no good.” 

Michael Senior had sighed, nodding. He locked eyes with Mikey for a long moment before shrugging it off and reaching into his pocket. 

“Well,” he said, pulling out a revolver, “Better put her out of her misery.” 

A paralytic horror spiked up Mikey’s spine as his father approached the woman, lifted her head up with a tight grip of her hair and fired a single shot between her eyes.

The woman died instantly. Mikey hadn’t noticed the small signs of her beating heart and expanding lungs until they were gone. 

Michael Senior took out a knife and cut the rope, and the body slumped out of the chair and onto the waiting tarp. 

“Alright, Junior,” his father had muttered, carefully watching his son’s reaction, “Help me roll her up.” 

That night, Mikey learned the weight of a body - both that of the corpse and of his own exhausted form. They left Benny behind to clean up and took the woman to a nearby landfill (“They’re reliable, Junior. This stuff’s their bread and butter.”) Mikey had stared at the black sky beyond the car window, wondering who that woman was, if she had friends, family... 

When they got home later that night, they waited in the car before going inside. 

“I don’t think I can do that kind of work, Dad.” Mikey had said quietly, trying to keep his tears back, trying not to... not to cry like a girl. “I’m sorry but I don’t - I don’t think I have it in me.” 

Michael Senior had looked at him with a sort of sadness that Mikey couldn’t name. It looked like loneliness. As the old man stared out the car window at the house, Mikey abruptly worried that his dad would stop calling him Junior, stop giving him hand-me-down jackets and taking him out for errands. 

Finally, his father spoke, “It’s OK, Junior. It’s OK. In fact, it’s... it’s probably a good thing.” He sighed deeply. His mouth twitched into a smile and then he said something that he wouldn’t be able to say once they were inside the house with the rest of the family: “You’re still my boy.” 

After that, Mikey couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. It felt like his heart was breaking but in a good way. His father gave him the courtesy of waiting for his eyes to dry before they headed inside. 

For years, his father never resented Mikey for wanting a different life, for becoming a new kind of man. Michael Senior died believing that he would be the last killer in their family. 

But sometimes in this world, you’ve got to get your hands dirty. 

The electric kettle’s light flicked off. Mikey poured the hot water into his thrice-used mug. 

There was a knock at the door.

His heartbeat tripped over itself. 

Approaching the front door, he could see through a single figure waiting on the front porch through the stained glass sidelights. In one hysterical moment he considered pretending that he wasn’t home. 

Slowly, he opened the door. 

It was his neighbor Sarah. 

Chloe wasn't with her. It was odd seeing the woman without the kid circling her orbit. 

“Hey you,” he smiled in what he hoped was a natural way, though he could hear a slight tremor in his voice, “Didn’t expect to see you come around today.” 

“Hi Mikey,” she said in that sweet voice, “I don’t mean to spring a sudden visit upon you but...” She bit her lip. There was a nervous energy about her. 

“Please, come in.” Mikey stepped back and welcomed her in with a wide arm. “I just boiled some water if you want some tea.” 

They had re-convened to the den, each holding a steaming mug. Sarah’s eyes were jumping up and down his form, seemingly appraising his damp hair, the jump in his knee. The way he kept tugging subtly at his binder and rolling his shoulders.

“I saw you,” she blurted. 

Time froze. Mikey swallowed dryly as he asked, “Sorry?” 

“I saw you,” she said hurriedly, “You were wearing a woman’s coat and a wig and you were walking back from Thompson Park. And - the police are there now, because Phil Cooper’s dead."

Mikey stared blankly at her. He didn't expect to hear this sort of thing so soon.

"The officer I spoke to, he thinks it’s suicide," said Sarah with a dubious look on her face.

The sound of surprise from Phil had been priceless. He certainly hadn’t expected the hand around his neck and the gun shoved into his mouth. It was one of Mikey's dad's favorite spots to shoot - looked enough like suicide for the police to make assumptions. He always said he thrived off of lazy police work. 

“But you were wearing a disguise and walking from Thompson. I’m surprised I even recognized you but I did and...” Sarah seemed unable to say what she was guessing out loud, the words stuck on the tip of her tongue. 

Mikey asked, “Did you tell the police what you saw?” 

Sarah bit her lip and shook her head. “I only told them that Phil liked to take walks in the park on a regular basis.” Her mouth twisted bitterly at that. Yes, Phil certainly loved to take walks by her family’s backyard on his way to the park. 

A long moment of silence passed between them. Something got a hold of her and her face crumpled as she began to cry. 

“Mikey, I gotta...” she sobbed, “I gotta ask. Did you - did you do this for us?” 

Did Mikey do this for Chloe? Did he do this for all the children that Phil took on long walks without their parent’s knowledge? For so many lost afternoons and lost childhoods, stolen from their young lives at the hands of a man so protected from the law by his father’s connections that he could act without consequence? 

“He was a bad man,” Mikey whispered softly. “I’ve never done this before. But he was a bad man, Sarah. You’ve got to believe me, I’m not - I’m not -” 

I’m not my father.

“...I’m not someone who could do this again,” he finished, Phil's father gave him license to do bad things. Mikey's father gave him the ability to stop him. It's as simple as that. “I only did it because we tried everything else.” 

Sarah said, “I know.” 

Of course she knew. 

“...And if anyone asks,” she murmured slowly, “I saw you through the window. You were home all morning.” 

Mikey felt something relax within himself. A fragile smile spread on his face, trembling under the weight of the day. “Thank you,” he replied. 

They drank their tea and didn’t say much else for the rest of the visit. When Sarah got up to leave, she leaned in and gave him a long hug. 

“Don’t worry,” she had whispered in his ear, “It’ll be OK.” 

It was then that Mikey realized, watching the woman wave shyly with a strange but kind smile on her face as she crossed the lawn to her home - there was another difference between him and his father. 

He wasn’t alone. 

September 14, 2021 04:34

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Aman Fatima
07:43 Sep 24, 2021

Great story loved the twist.


A. Smoak
15:47 Sep 24, 2021

Thank you so much for reading, I appreciate it!


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Bruce Friedman
20:29 Sep 14, 2021

Terrific plot and pacing. I can't think of one thing to improve it. Great crime story with a twist.


A. Smoak
23:22 Sep 14, 2021

Thanks Bruce, that's incredibly kind of you to say!


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