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Mike was born into a motorcycle gang called the Pagans. They’re a lot like Hell’s Angels, but less glamorous. No movie deals. His mother and father were members and at the age of two, Mike received his colors: a leather jacket with a design on the back. He is now thirty three and works as a carpenter in central south Jersey, employed by the same general contractor as me. He’s no longer a member of the Pagans. Between his father, mother and brother, his family has accumulated over thirty years in prison and Mike likes to distinguish that he has only spent a few days in the county jail for light offenses, among them: threatening to kill the prosecuting attorney during his own trial. I do not know the nature of the trial.
It’s late February and the day is so cloudy and misty that rain could materialize any second. This would drive us to his truck and if it didn’t let up, I’d ask for a ride home. We’re sheathing the trusses of a barn-roofed garage in Cherry Hill, which shouldn’t take more than a couple hours. But we don’t have the materials yet that we’ll need after the sheathing—the felt paper and the asphalt shingles—so we’re making sure the work lasts until four.
Mike cuts a red dusty line across the plywood, stands the piece up and hits it once with his hammer, vibrating a small amount of sawdust to the ground. Then he pushes it up the ladder to me. I’m standing on wet slippery two by fours and I pull the end of the piece in to my chest and swing it onto the roof. Mike comes up a few rungs but remains on the ladder, holding the piece while I nail the top. When the top course is done, he steps on and we sit.
Mike taps out a cigaret and lights it.
I don’t smoke.
“They caught my brother,” he says, “last night.”
Mike’s brother had only four months of parole left when he decided to use cocane and rob a bank and flee to Virginia. Mike drove him to Virginia.
“That’s awful,” I say.
“He called this morning from Gloucester County and said he came right to my door last night. Started beating on it like a mother fucker. Couldn’t believe I didn’t hear him.”
“Wow,” I say.
I don’t often know what to say to him. He once said he was a Nazi, but I couldn’t tell if he was joking.
He draws from the Kool. Hisses smoke through his tight lips.
“I knew the police were patrolling my street a lot more lately since I called about the kids breaking into my truck, stealing my tools and shit.”
Earlier today, he told me someone stole $1,700 worth of tools from his truck, even though it was locked and parked in his driveway, which is lit by a motion activated flood light.
“I told the cops last night that if I ever catch anyone on my property, I’m beating them with a sledge hammer.”
“Really?” I say.
“The Detective said three things. He said, ‘Make sure you’re done before we get there, don’t tell us you said this, and when we get there, say he attacked you.’”
“He said that?”
We watch the trees for squirrels and a fire truck wails louder and then grows distant until I stop paying attention. I can see the roof tops from up here. Bad shingle jobs, homes in excellent condition. The neighbor’s chimney is missing a good deal of mortar and looks like it might crumble to pieces in the wind.
He says, “He called the other day. Asked if he could spend the night at my house on his way to Gloucester. I said, ‘sure.’ I think he was turning himself in in Gloucester so he wouldn’t end up in Camden County.”
“Worse?” I say.
Mike nods his head and finishes the cigaret. Then lights another.
I can’t tell if he’s telling the truth or not because he won’t look me in the eyes.
“He got a ride to the diner up at the circle. Didn’t want to risk walking in the daytime. So he left a message on my machine. Waited there till the diner closed around eleven and started walking. Said a cop noticed him right off, walkin at night like that, so he turned off and hid in a bush for a while. Made it to my neighborhood. Came up to my door and started pounding and yelling for me. But… when he turned around, there were two cops already on the deck.”
“No way,” I say.
It’s almost lunchtime and we have six sheets on, which is less than an hour’s worth of work. When I started working for this company last summer, it disturbed me to stretch the work like this—it’s kind of taking advantage of the contractor—but now I’m much more concerned with getting my forty hours. We’ve been to the Wawa three times. I’ve had three twenty-ounce coffees and a hot butter rum cappuccino and Mike has had five twenty-ounce coffees. Twelve sugars with each one. That’s thirty teaspoons before lunch. I’ll spend about seven dollars on a sandwich and pretzel and a drink when I know I have three dollars budgeted for lunch.
The funny thing about Mike’s story, I realize, is that the cops weren’t even looking for his brother. I kind of want to point this out, but decide not to. Anyway, the rain is about to come—it feels like tension in a crowded room and I want it to come so I can go home.