Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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The Tales of Finnegus Boggs -- Confessions of a Marid Djinn

by J. Cafesin


It was Billy's idea to rip off the liquor store. He'd overheard his older brother, Chris, on his cell say the place was ripe. The get-a-way was good, with the Fruitvale/Foothill intersection right there. It was in the heart of East Oakland, where crap like that happened all the time. And Lucky Liquors was owned by this old Chinese guy who ran the place from opening until closing because he was too cheap to hire help from the neighborhood. Served him right he got tagged every couple of years.

It was easy to convince Tyron to do the hit. Best friends since kindergarten, and even though Billy was a cracka they became a bad ass gang of two as they grew and were rarely messed with by anyone but the man. Time to take what they deserved for being dissed by the privileged class, finally get themselves some wheels, elevate their status the rest of high school then get the hell out there, go make it down in L.A. and escape the life they were born to. And Billy would finger his father and brother on the way out of town, and his mom too, if she'd stuck around.

They decided to do it in the late afternoon. Tyron figured it was before the liquor store stashed their cash from the day in a safe or at the bank. They'd keep their heads down, wear hoodies and caps to block faces from cameras.

"Copping a gun is risky, man, and it ain't gonna be cheap," Tyron said as they searched his shared closet for abandoned baseball caps. He rifled through the action figures and broken Transformers, remoteless remote control cars from another lifetime, now part of his half-brothers' and sisters' toy collection. The majority of the toys had been used when he got them, but now most were trashed, except for the hard plastic pieces like shields and swords, and his old toy gun, the black and silver Beretta M92 pistol hand-me-down he'd gotten for his 8th birthday from his Uncle Jerome, a replica of the ones in the The Matrix. He held it with both hands, pointed it out in front of him towards Billy still rummaging through the collection of junk.

Billy looked over at Tyron right then and all the crimson drained from his freckled face. "What the fu -- ." Then he realized the gun was fake and smiled, his blue eyes practically laughing. "Perfect. Now all we need is the hats and we're good to go."

Tyron agreed to hold the gun since it was his, and being black he was far more threatening than a freckle-faced, redhead. He'd hold it in both hands, cover most of it with his big palms to make it look real. And with a toy gun no one got shot, which would keep it in juvie if they got busted. Underage, first time offenders, and with all the budget cuts they probably wouldn't even get time. And they wouldn't get nailed if they did it right.

They'd need a car to pull it off, of course. Shouldn't be running around that part of Oakland -- ever, but especially after cops are called on a robbery. It was Billy's stroke of genius to liberate his brother's beat up Dodge Charger from the parking lot of the Mighty Max where it sat for eight hours while Chris worked his parolee gig as a graveyard stock boy. They'd use his car and put it back before he ever knew it was gone. It would be easy. Chris had an extra set of keys in the stash box under his bed, the ones he'd shredded Billy for losing, then found them an hour later after laying out $150 to get new car keys made. Served the sonofabitch right.

Wednesday afternoon after track, Billy and Tyron walked from school the mile and a half to the parking lot of the Mighty Max crowded with shoppers. The Charger was parked against the trees on the side of the lot and the boys went to the car, casually got in and drove away. Three miles to Lucky Liquors and Billy parked across the street from the small shop. Brown paper covered half the store front windows. The rest were stacked with boxes, bottles of liquor and cases of water and soda right up to the glass door which had iron bars mounted to the heavy wood door frame. A blue awning full of white bird crap lined the old brick building a few feet from the top.

It was almost dark out when Billy swung the Dodge around and parked in front of the liquor store after the crowd of commuters dwindled. They fit their tattered green Oakland A's hats in position then pulled their hoods over their heads to the brim of the caps. Tyron gripped the toy gun inside the long pocket of his hoodie and held it pressed to his stomach as he followed Billy's lead out of the car and into Lucky Liquors.

They waited until the two blasted ditz chicks got their stash of munchies and the store was finally empty of customers. Billy went to the cold cases in the back and pulled a six pack of Bud. Tyron got pretzels and a bag of chips and brought them to the register as Billy came up behind him.

The chinaman didn't look up or acknowledge them as he scanned Tyron's stuff. The piss-ant deserved to be messed with. Tyron was so damn sick of being dissed. It was payback for all the slights, the looks, the suspicions, the jerks like this one who ignored him as if they wished he didn't exist.

"Give me everything you got in the register," Tyron demanded, but higher pitched, more frenzied then he'd wanted as he pulled the toy gun from his hoodie and pointed it at the clerk. "Now, chink!" He knew he should feel scared, but didn't. He felt smart, powerful. His heart pounded hard but beat a strong rhythm in his chest.

The old man finally looked up at him, speckled gray eyes wide. Then he looked at Billy.

"You heard the man." Billy's tone was tougher, deeper, more menacing than Tyron's. "Everything in the register now or my friend here splatters your brains all over your booze." Billy eyed the liquor behind the small, fragile, gray haired man and couldn't resist a golden bottle of Jack Daniels on one of the many shelves along the wall.

"What are you doing, man?" Tyron panicked as he watched Billy move from behind him towards the back of the store, not stay together as planned.

"Elevatin' us. I want better than the crap we've been drinking." Billy rounded the counter to get the whiskey behind the clerk.

Tyron heard a bang! the same instant he felt his guts burning, like he'd been stabbed, the force of the blow sending him backwards into the plastic bottles of soda stacked behind him and tumbled with them until he lay sprawled on the floor. He tried to scramble to his feet but the pain was so blinding, ripping through in his stomach, his chest, and there was blood everywhere, on his hands, his gray hoodie...

Billy was yelling in his face but it was hard to hear, to breathe. The chink, still behind the counter was yelling too, pointing a silver gun at them and screaming about something, but Tyron couldn't hear what, the burning in his guts muting all sound. Then Billy had the toy Beretta, held it by the barrel waving it around while he yelled back at the chinaman, then he threw it at the old man, his voice suddenly blasting.

" -- it's fake! It's fucking plastic!" Billy screamed at the clerk as he pulled at Tyron to get up, helped him to his feet and practically dragged him out of the liquor store to the Charger, piled him in the back seat of the car and then hauled ass out of there.

"You're going be OK, man?" He glanced over his shoulder at Tyron after he'd merged onto Fruitvale, then watched him in the rear view mirror as he drove with the flow of traffic. "Talk to me, bro."

Tyron slumped in the center of the back seat. "He shot me. Why did he do that?" He looked down at his sweatshirt soaking with blood. "I'm bleeding bad, Billy." He curled on his right side to be able to see Billy though the opening between the front seats and held his stomach with both hands like he was trying to hold in his blood. "You gotta help me man or I'm gonna fucking bleed to death. I don't want to die, Billy. I don't want to fucking die."

"You're not gonna die, Tyron." Billy was blowing smoke up Tyron's ass since he had no clue how bad his friend had been hit. Blood was smeared all over the beige vinyl bench seat of the Charger and would never come out. His brother was gonna crack his skull open this time.

"God, it hurts. My stomach's on fire, man." Tyron groaned, lay curled on the back seat shivering. "I'm scared, Billy. What are we gonna do?"

"I'll take you to the 12th Street Clinic --"

"NO! They have to report gun shots. I can't go to jail, Billy. It would kill my mama." Tyron started crying then. He couldn't help it.

Billy cruised down Fruitvale at the speed limit to avoid unwanted attention and continued across the bridge onto Alameda Island where people with money lived. They'd ridden their bikes to Crown beach when they were kids, but hadn't been to the island for years. The cops on Alameda didn't take kindly to Oakland teens invading their little sanctuary.

"Oh Christ, I'm bleeding all over the place. I'm gonna be sick. I swear to God I'm gonna puke." Tyron was talking to himself at that point but it was making Billy crazy. "It fucking hurts, man. You gotta help me, Billy."

"What the fuck do you want me to do Tyron? You gotta tell me what to do, man." Billy yelled into the rear view mirror at his friend writhing in pain in the back seat.

"I don't know. I don't fucking know!" Tyron managed to yell back.

It went from fast to slow motion as Billy crawled at 25 mph along the tree-lined streets dotted with expensive old houses. Even the apartments were nicer than anything in or even near their neighborhood just over the bridge. He drove toward the beach, as if moving toward the past, to a simpler time when they were kids. He wished like hell he could go back there.

He noticed the stop sign when he was less than two feet from it and slammed on his brakes. Tyron moaned as the Charger jerked forward and halted a few feet over the crosswalk. Billy looked around nervously but no other cars were at the intersection. Across the street, the back of a big white building towered above the old homes of the pricey neighborhood.

Billy called to Tyron several times, each time louder and more commanding as he proceeded slowly through the intersection but Tyron did not respond. Afraid his friend was dying, Billy pulled the Dodge to the curb alongside the building's parking lot, away from the prying eyes of home owners across the street. He turned off the engine but left the keys in the ignition as he watched a white Beemer pull out the driveway of the gated lot, then onto the street in front of the Charger and drive away. Only then did he notice the sign on the parking lot entrance that read Doctors Only, and realize the big building was Alameda Hospital. Forbidden maybe, but it made him feel better. He turned around and stared down at Tyron still curled on the back seat.

Tyron's normally dark chocolate skin looked more milk chocolate, but it was dim in the car with only the streetlights and lights from the parking lot. Billy leaned between the two front seats and moved Tyron's bloody hands from his stomach and lifted his blood soaked hoodie gently. He'd never seen a bullet wound before, except in movies, and it looked pretty much like that, a gaping hole in the flesh oozing dark fluid.

"It's fucking freezing." Tyron mumbled then sort of laughed. "It's true, just like on TV, when someone is dying they're cold..." He drifted to silence as he realized what he was saying.

Tyron looked like a little kid, curled up like he was. Then Billy noticed the back of his hoodie was also soaked with blood. He pulled the sweatshirt up carefully to find out why. Tyron half screamed, half moaned.

"Sorry, man." He spotted the gaping hole in Tyron's lower back, four inches from his spine leaking dark, thick fluid. "The bullet went straight through!" Billy couldn't contain his excitement. "You're golden, Tyron. All we gotta do is get you stitched up and you'll be good to go." And he believed it because he's seen the scenario enough on TV. All he needed was something dry and hopefully clean to hold against the wound, a towel or rag, and Billy popped the glove box and looked inside. No towel or rag, but nestled among crumpled papers, maps and manuals was a small gray P99. His brother had crossed the line from hustler to thug, and a stupid one at that. Having a semi-automatic meant Chris was a two-strike adult offender and guaranteed major jail time if he was caught with it.

"I'm fading, man. I think I'm dying, Billy." Tyron moaned, and Billy slammed the glove box closed, then took off his hoodie, rolled it into a ball and held it against Tyron's stomach. Tyron screamed, curled tighter, clamped his bloody hands over Billy's and squeezed.

"Hold this. Press hard against the hole." Billy pried his hand free and wiped it with the bottom of his thin black tee-shirt to rid his fingers of blood. He looked around, searching his brain for a way to get Tyron help without getting them busted when he saw a cracka -- no, darker skin, maybe a sand nigger or Sambo, leave the hospital and walk across the parking lot toward them. His doctor's coat flared with the breeze. Even from a distance Billy could see he was tall, at least as tall as him, and thin, and wore all black under his white coat. He moved smooth, seemed almost to glide. Mid-30s maybe but pumped, clean shaven with dark, wavy hair. He carried a small black case, and as he got closer Billy saw him talking to himself, then noticed the tiny blue light blinking in his ear from his cell phone earpiece.

Billy eyed the black bag swinging the doctor's hand as he strode past the second row of cars approaching the final row in the lot. Five cars remained parked up against the short, ivy-covered fence that separated the parking lot from the sidewalk and the street where the Dodge sat, less than 20 feet away. Even if Billy got the bag, and everything he needed was in it, he couldn't sew up Tyron. But that doctor could. Take him for a ride to the beach. Probably take the dude less than ten minutes to stitch both sides and then Billy would let him go, even drop him back close to his car for his trouble. No reports get filed. No one gets busted. Everyone goes on their merry way like it never happened.

The doctor was 50 feet away, then 40 and Billy could tell that he was headed towards the black Ferrari just the other side of the four foot fence. Billy crouched down and listened.

" -- don't care what the market price is, Marty." The voice was hollow but got richer as he got closer. "The gold has been among my assets for generations, is only a trifle of my holdings, and I don't need the capital." Indian or English accent, but snapped, not sloppy like rockers. "I'm not selling it."

Billy heard the car alarm chirp then a car door open and close. Now or never and he made his move, popped the glove box, grabbed the gun, got out of the Dodge shutting the door quietly and stood crouched beside the driver's door. The Charger blocked a clear view of him from the parking lot while he waited for the Ferrari's engine to ignite. He'd meet the car at the gated entrance, get in, force the doc to park and then join him in the Charger.

But the Ferrari just sat there. Billy casually glanced over the top of the Dodge but couldn't see what was going on inside the sports car. It was too low to the ground and the small back window was tinted. Pansy-ass prick was probably still on his cell discussing his wealth management strategy like those petrified ghosts on the Hallmark channel.

Scared out of his mind now and dizzy with adrenalin his heartbeat thrummed in his chest, ears, throat. He glanced at Tyron and the bloody mess in the back seat, and even through the dirty windows in the dim light Billy could see his friend was running out of time. A car was sure to come by any moment and see him lurking by the Charger. He had to move now.

The Ferrari sat there. Billy couldn't wait anymore. He gripped the gun, held it tight to his side to conceal it as he went around the back of the Dodge. He tried pretending he was a shooter in Halo as he moved onto the curb and crossed the sidewalk in a few quick strides. He paused only a second at the low, ivy covered fence and glanced around, expecting the Ferrari to start any moment and drive away, but it didn't. Billy jumped the fence gracefully -- way easier than the hurdles in track, landed quietly behind the sports car, then moved around to the driver's door, yanked it open with his left hand and pointed the gun at the driver with his right.

No driver. And if Billy hadn't been holding onto the car door handle he'd have fallen into the milky void before him. Not a void exactly...Water floated in mist and from what he could make out smoke was swirling in it, with it, intertwined, then suddenly gathered like a coiled snake and rushed towards him as it surfaced and Billy saw it was a face, the face of the doctor, and then the dude was sitting behind the wheel of his Ferrari, the blue light from his cell earpiece mixing with his door light making him look blue/green, almost translucent like water.

Billy stood frozen, trying to emerge from one fucked up flashback, though it felt so real. The doctor looked at him casually, and laughed, snapping Billy back to the moment at hand. "Get out!" he growled menacingly, gripping the gun with both hands now and pointing it at the doctor's head. "Get your black bag and get out."

But the doctor just sat there. "I think I'm being car-jacked, Marty." He spoke to his cell phone earpiece but stared up at Billy, beyond the gun two feet from his face, he looked directly into Billy's eyes.

"Lose it or I blow it off." Billy pointed the gun at the doctor's earpiece.

"Marty, I'll have to get back to you." He laughed again as he removed the earpiece, closed it in his hand, then flashed his fingers open to Billy like a magician, held his hand up and the earpiece was gone.

"Get out! Get the fuck out of the car." Billy felt panic rise as the doctor sat there, seemingly more amused than afraid. Billy released the safety on the gun for effect. "I said get your black bag and move!"

The doctor pulled his keys from the ignition and pocketed them, then grabbed his black bag sitting on the passenger seat and got out, which was good because there was no way in hell Billy could take the guy if he fought back. "I've had many strange experiences, both good, and not so good to be sure. But in all these years I do not believe I've ever been carjacked. Isn't that remarkable?" The doctor stood with black bag in hand by his open door, towering over the low sports car, eye to eye with Billy, not two feet between them. "If it is my car you desire I'm afraid you won't be able to operate it. It only responds to my commands. There's really nothing I can do about that. I had it customized to my, shall we say unique requirements before I moved in -- "

"I don't want your fucking car. You think I'm stupid? It's a goddamn sign yelling Look At Me!" Billy dismissed the idea with a wave of his brother's gun then shoved the doctor toward an opening in the fence where it met the driveway. "Move!"

"Where are we going?" The doctor offhandedly inquired as Billy pushed him past the fence and then along the sidewalk on the other side of the parking lot.

"The black Dodge over there." Billy held the gun at his side with his finger on the trigger but reengaged the safety. "Get in the passenger seat. Do it now! " He pressed the gun into the doctor's back.

The doctor did as he was told, walked the few paces to the car and got in without pausing. Billy shut the passenger door and kept the gun pointed at the doctor as he walked around the front of the Charger, got behind the wheel and slammed the door closed, shutting them in. The doctor glanced in the back seat at Tyron, bloody and unconscious, then looked over at Billy.

"What would you like from me?" The doctor stared at Billy and his eyes seemed to lighten from black to deep emerald, and twinkle with humor. "I would say: 'your wish is my command,' but that seems so cliché, don't you think?"

Billy felt dizzy again, confused by the doctor's words and his casual, verging on tranquil composure. He was acting like they were buds even though Billy had just nabbed him at gunpoint. "I want you to sew up my buddy. He took a bullet, went straight through. Sew him up, front and back, and you're outta here. You got my word." Billy switched the gun from his right to left hand but kept it on the doctor as he started the car, put it in gear and pulled away from the curb slowly, headed for the beach again, where it was quiet and the doctor could work undisturbed.

"I'm Finnegus Boggs, Dr. Boggs if you like, or you can call me Finny." He flashed Billy a wide, friendly grin.

"I don't care who the fuck you are. When we get to the beach you're gonna get in the back and help my buddy." Billy drove past the three story apartment complexes and the bay opened up before him. The water looked like a black void at night but the San Mateo hills across the bay twinkled with lights. He turned right onto Shoreline Drive and cruised slowly along the beach that ran half the length of the island. The golden lights on the Bay Bridge drew a beaded path over the bay to downtown San Francisco, which sparkled in the distance with a greenish tint.

"Ah. Hunza." The doctor spoke with awe from the back seat. "San Francisco is a sparkling jewel, is she not?"

Billy whipped around to see the doctor sitting in the back seat behind the passenger seat with Tyron's head in his lap. "How did you -- "

A car horn blared and Billy jerked the Dodge back into his own lane and tried to focus on driving while keeping his eyes on the doctor in the rear view mirror. He must have spaced out the doc moving back there. Hell of a time to be blanking from all the crap he'd taken. He held the gun up for the doctor to see. "Don't forget I still have this. And I'll use it, too. I swear I will if you screw with me." He lay the gun down on the center console but held it at the ready, then noticed the doctor's black bag on the floor of the passenger seat. Billy grabbed the bag and tossed it at the doctor. "You gonna need this."

"No. I'm not." The doctor set his bag on the ground by his feet and stared down at Tyron. His left hand rested on Tyron's bloody hands still grasping Billy's hoodie to his stomach, his right hand cradled Tyron's head, almost fondly. "Your friend has lost a lot of blood. Even if he gets sewn up there is only a marginal chance this boy would survive without an infusion of hypertonic saline along with a viscosity enhancer like Hextend or--"

"Talk fucking English."

"Well, I am, of course. You're inability to understand me is perhaps your own ignorance." The doctor watched Billy through the rear view mirror passively.

"Then we go back to the hospital, and you get him the medicine -- "

The doctor shook his head. "Too late for that. His heart rate is accelerated." He was silent for a moment. "Pressures dropping. Vessels are starting to clamp down to try and maintain perfusion." He sighed heavily, like he cared. "He may have five minutes, maybe ten before he has a heart attack, or strokes out, or if he's lucky goes into an irreversible coma."

Tears streaked down Billy's pale face. And dissing himself for being a pussy didn't stop them. "You telling me Tyron's gonna die? Right here? Right now?"

"It's not possible to predict the future with consistent accuracy. The future is dynamic, ever changing. What you choose charts your course, your journey through life, which is why one can only move backwards on any given time line. Going forward is only a predictive model, so the most I can offer is assumptions about your friend here, and that's not exactly granting a wish now is it."

Billy felt his blood boil as the doc blatted on, abruptly pulled the car to the curb in front of the three-story Seaview Apartment complex across the street from the beach, threw it in Park, turned off the headlights and engine, then spun around, and pointed the gun a few inches from the doctor's face. "What the fuck you talking about? Why you talking at all? If my friend's dying, why aren't you trying to save him? You're a goddamn doctor, aren't you? You took an oath to save people didn't you?"

With an indulgent smile, Dr. Finnegus Boggs shook his head. "I'm not a priest. And if all these years have taught me anything it's that there's no such thing as holy men. You are all born solipsists and so many of you never seem to grow out of it. Too bad too -- "

"Shut the fuck up!" It took quite a bit of Billy's will not to just shoot the smug son-of-a-bitch. "What the fuck is with you? You gonna help my friend or not? You a real doctor or cracked or what?"

The doctor laughed, deep and rumbling, like the joke was on Billy, or was Billy. "I have been accused of insanity many times, and for most indictments I am proud -- standing up against madness instead of succumbing to it. As for my credentials, I've been practicing medicine on and off for the last five millennium. I find it very satisfying. Except in times like these, of course, when I have to report tragedy." He sounded sorry, his voice kinda softened.

Tyron groaned and tossed around then opened his eyes. He stared straight up at the doctor, then reached up and grabbed the white collar of his coat with his bloody hand. "You're real." Tyron mumbled and held fast to the collar. "Billy always said you was fake, that there ain't nothing gonna save us, but you're real." He stared into the black eyes of the doctor but saw the angel Gabriel, and with Tyron's blurred vision the angel was even glowing. "Does this mean I'm dead?" He let go of the doctor's coat and blinked out more tears, from the splendor and sadness of it all.

"Not yet," the doctor said gently.

"You're not dead, Tyron. The doc's gonna fix ya up." Billy looked at the doctor and for a second it looked like he was glowing, then Billy realized he too was crying. He wiped his tears on the back of his palm, only then noticing the gun still in his hand. His back against the wheel, he put the gun down on the passenger seat next to him in a gesture of surrender, then folded his arms across his chest to hold himself. "Please save my friend, man. He's only 17." Again he felt tears sliding down his cheeks but didn't care about stopping them.

The doctor stared back at him, his black eyes absorbing more light than they reflected. "I cannot." He looked down at Tyron, who was unconscious again, and cradled the boy's face in his hand feeling for the pulse in his neck. "I can't save your friend, Billy." The doctor studied him. "But you can."

"How the hell am I supposed to save him if you can't?" Billy noticed the slightest, twisted smile emerge on the doctor's face.

And suddenly they were outside, sitting cross-legged on Crown Beach under a blanket of stars. Tyron lay between them with his eyes closed and his arms folded across his chest like he was dead. Billy scrambled to his feet, falling several times in the warm, glowing sand before standing and prancing around trying to get his bearings. Then Finnegus Boggs stood in front of him blocking his path, commanding his attention.

"I am a Marid, a djinn, a genie, as you may refer to me, though I find that expression rather vulgar, don't you?" The doctor's black eyes sparkled, literally. Light twinkled from the center of them, as if coming from inside him.

Billy felt his swollen eyes widen and his head swam, like he was wasted. He stared at the doctor who watched him placidly, unsure he'd really seen the black eyes twinkle, but pretty sure the doctor was crazy, or he was.

"I'm not crazy. And in all probability, you're not either. Just a bit misguided, which is understandable based on your parentage and upbringing." The doctor stroked his chin with his blood covered hand but no blood appeared on his face. "Now, as I was saying -- my name is Finnegus Boggs and I am a Marid, the first in the line of my kind, and the most powerful, and respected I may add. When you opened the door to my Ferrari, you essentially summoned me, like Aladdin's mother rubbing the oil lamp. Ah, but then you probably don't know the tale of One Thousand and One Nights."

"I fucking know who Aladdin is. And I ain't him." Billy stared at the crazy doctor, then out over the black void of the bay to the sparkling San Mateo hills. He ran his hand through his stringy red hair and he looked down at Tyron lying on the golden, glowing sand, wishing this was all a dream, that they were back in the school lunchroom ragging on all the bullshit. "This is nuts. I'm having a nightmare, or I took some bad shit and doing some nasty trippin. Aladdin is a fairytale. My mother is gone and there's no such thing as genies."

"Aladdin is legend, a fable, to be sure. I am not." The doctor gave Billy his tolerant smile. "Scheherazade told of us more eloquently than I, but I'll try and translate into guttural American slang."

And suddenly they were back in the car. Tyron was dying in the back seat. The doctor was in the passenger seat again, right next to Billy behind the wheel, sitting with his right leg over his left and his hands folded in his lap in a casual, business-like pose staring at him like they'd been sitting there all along. "Now, pay attention, boy."

Billy recoiled, backed against the driver's door and looked around frantically for his gun but didn't see it.

"Where's Gabriel?" Tyron mumbled and opened his eyes. He rolled onto his back and groaned. "He's gone. I'm going to hell, Billy. I know I am. I'm going to hell..." His voice drifted off as he did.

"Not to worry." The doctor's black eyes locked on Billy and did not waver. "There is no such thing as hell." He gave the slightest of smiles and his eyes twinkled again.

This time Billy was sure he saw it, a shimmering light coming through the center of the doctor's eyes, like he was glowing inside and light was shooting from his pupils. It took Billy's breath away. Time froze, freezing everything in the moment until the threat of blacking out forced him to breathe. "What are you? What is this? What's happening?" Billy blurted.

"I'll keep it simple then, in layman's terms. I am a genie." The doctor flashed a grimace. "Contrary to legend, djinni can live in any space desired, and have the authorization to grant one wish to whomever calls us out, you might say, which is why most of us don't live in homes, with front doors." The doctor smiled at his own whimsy, noticed Billy didn't and continued. "I keep the car doors locked most of time, and other than valets, for which I prepare my exit before hand, not many people open the driver's door of a vehicle other than the driver. In fact, since I've moved in here there have only been two. You are the third in 30 years."

"Lucky me." Billy sat there shaking with uncertainty trying to get a grip on reality.

"But you are, Billy. Third time is charmed. Maybe you'll get it right." The doctor glanced back at Tyron then looked back at Billy. "So, here it is. Marids are not obligated to grant wishes when called out. We choose. I'm choosing you for giving me this unique experience, which is rare for me living as long as I have. As payment for this adventure I will grant you one wish. It must be stated clearly, concise -- no multiple components, and the outcome will be to your exact specifications. No refunds or exchanges, and no do-overs. And there is no wishing for more wishes. I am bound to grant only one per client I take on."

"I see the light, B." Tyron's tone was filled with wonder but his eyes were closed. "I see it, man. God, it's beautiful, all sparkly and shit..."

"Anoxia is affecting his optic nerves. His right temporal lobe is malfunctioning from oxygen deprivation. His brain is shutting down." And suddenly the doctor was back in the back seat, holding Tyron's head in his lap again.

Billy gasped, recoiled back against the wheel and stared, in shock and terror at the doctor, genie, whatever the hell he was. And then he noticed the gun on the passenger seat where he'd left it earlier. He grabbed it, gripped the gun tightly, steadied it between the front seats at the doctor's chest and released the safety, only this time not for effect. He was ready to kill the fringe freak if he had to.

"What's it going to be, Billy? Riches, beyond your wildest dreams? Maybe a family of wealth and breeding that took you in after your mother left. I can grant you loving parents who shield you from harm, with a suburban home you will most likely inherit, in an excellent neighborhood with good schools where the kids are destined for success." Finnegus Boggs studied Billy without expression. "Or you can choose to save your friend."

This wasn't real. It wasn't really happening, Billy tried to convince himself.

"Shoot me and blow yet another opportunity." The doctor looked down at Tyron who jerked suddenly, then his eyes sprang open and Tyron stared up at the doctor bewildered, but then beyond his bulging eyes and startled expression emerged the slightest hint of a smile. Even pale, his black face was still foreboding against the doctors white coat, his red mouth gaping open as he gasped for air.

"He should be dead in minutes. And I cannot reverse death progressing beyond it along this timeline. Of course, I'm not trying to influence your wish in any way..."

Billy shook violently, fighting himself over pulling the trigger, stop this freak from tormenting him, but thought better of it. The nutcase wasn't worth a murder rap.

"I can create a timeline with a family and environment to your stipulations and drop you in it at any point in your construct, any age you choose. Or you can go back along this timeline, ensure you meet Tyron, and hopefully continue your long friendship by reconsidering your choices, change the events and alter this outcome, which, even with my assistance, only you can really do. It's your choice, Billy, limited only by your vision, as is so much of life." The doctor's eyes twinkled again. "It's your wish after all."

Billy seethed with hate...and wrestled with hope. "I don't know who or what the fuck you are but if you can save him I'll play. I wish my friend was going to live, going to be fine, was never shot, like this never happened. That's what I wish."

"That was four wishes." Finnegus held up his index finger and counted. "'He's going to live.'" The doctor held up two fingers. "He'll 'be fine,' whatever that means." He held up three fingers. "He wasn't shot during the holdup; or go back in time to some unspecified date before you committed robbery? I'm unclear on that last bit." He held up four fingers. His hand was clean, free of blood, as was his arm and his white lab coat. "Which wish do you want? You only get one." Finnegus Boggs shook his head. "Without fail, everyone always angles for more."

"You're full of shit, man. Doctors are so fucking proud but you don't save nobody. Not my sister, not Tyron, not me, not even you." Billy held the gun with both hands to steady it at the doctor's head. "You ain't nobody, like everybody else, just like me. Tyron dies, I pop you, then me and the world loses nothing."

"Your infantile self-pity is becoming tedious. When do you stop blaming the world and take responsibility for where your choices have lead you?" Finnegus shook his head, dismayed, then looked down at Tyron suddenly gasping for breath, gargling in air as if someone was strangling him. "Watch your friend die, or shoot me, or make a wish, boy, and I'll make it so." He looked up at Billy with unwavering certainty.

Tyron gazed up at the doctor mesmerized, like he was seeing God while he choked to death. Billy listened in terror to his best friend struggle with his last breaths and beyond all reason he said the words aloud. "I wish I could go back in time to the lunchroom last Monday, right when we sat down and Tyron and me started talking about doing the hit. I wish we could go back to that moment."

Dr. Boggs eyes flickered a radiant red, like the flashing lights on a winning slot machine. "Your wish is my command, sir." Suddenly the world outside began to disappear, turn off pixel by pixel like a broken computer screen. "There's only one addendum." Finnegus pulled a six by four inch flat, flexible monitor out of thin air. He held the small translucent screen in his large hand and extended it between the front seats to Billy, as the bay, the beach, the street and the buildings deconstructed with the night to white.

"Your signature is required." The doctor pulled a thin silver stylus from the breast pocket of his lab coat. A tiny bolt of lightning shot out of the tip, and Billy examined it as Finnegus rambled legalese. "It acknowledges you understand the outcomes of your choices are solely your responsibility, in your control, and therefore I am not liable for any and all events that transpire after the stated wish is executed, at which time our contract is terminated and I am released from any and all obligations to you." The doctor spoke flatly. His eyes were black again. "Sign it, and I'll make your wish reality." He handed Billy the stylus. It was only then Billy realized he no longer held the gun.

Boggs' black eyes twinkle from inside again. Billy took the stylus the genie held out to him, hoping beyond hope it would at least get him out of there, away from the madness in the car and the white void outside it before it dissolved him too. He touched the stylist to screen. An electric arc jumped from the pen and flooded the translucent tablet and then the car with blinding light. Billy blinked and in the afterimage he saw his signature scrawled across the monitor. He blinked again, several times to focus and saw Tyron popping the last of the small pizza into his mouth that came in the styrofoam container along with a carton of milk, a bag of Cheez-its and a tiny cup of applesauce provided by the state for welfare kids.

"I don't know about this, Billy." Tyron spoke with his mouth full, his white teeth glinting against his dark chocolate skin. "You're brother's a dickhead. You can't trust shit Chris squawks -- " Tyron studied Billy closely. "What you smiling at? You totally wasted or what?"

Billy laughed, heartily, happily. And the smile on his freckled face remained even after he got his laughter under control. "I'm good, def, man. Extra fine and right on time." His blue eyes practically glittered.

Tyron still studied him. "Good. Great." His eyes narrowed on Billy whose exuberance was catching, and Tyron couldn't help smiling back at his friend. "I'm not going along with this 'cuz you grinning at me, man. I thought we gave up the stare down shit when we was eight, blud." Tyron took a few gulps of his milk then wiped the white mustache with his sleeve and glanced around the crowded, noisy lunchroom. "Audrey's been pumping Baker for like a month now." He stared at a slender girl in a skin-tight floral print shirt, and tight brown leather mini-skirt that matched her long legs but barely covered her ass. She was standing behind Tim Baker sitting on a bench across the room, a cracka punk dealer with a Z9 Beemer. She was rubbing his shoulders while he rambled with some runner in his crew. "The bitch is only doing him 'cuz he's got the life, living large off all that tax-free cash."

"Maybe..." Billy was supposed to say, 'We could too. And we ain't gotta pimp to get it.' He remembered this moment, heard the words leave his mouth in his head, knew he'd spoken them the first time they were there, and had then proceeded to convince Tyron to do the deed. It had been easy. From hunting through construction sites for sellables as kids, to jacking music, movies and software off the net, then burning CD's and selling them on Craigslist, Tyron was always angling for money. It bought respect. Billy recalled his words the first time they'd played this scene. 'One job gets us a car and elevates us the rest of school, blud. Then we're outta here, down to Hollywood, man, do some rapping, some acting, be whoever we want to be. And even if we got caught, which we won't, the most we'd get is maybe a short stint in juvie, especially with no criminal record. And if we don't get caught, and we won't, I heard Chris say the gets around five large.'

Tyron stared at Audrey, the hoodrat who brought him out, across the lunchroom, now sitting next to Baker on the bench. "Five grand would get us a respectable set of treads. We be legally styling by the weekend if we did the deed this week."

Billy shuddered, glared at Tyron. He'd responded with the exact words he'd used the first time they'd been here, as if Billy had gone onto convince him, like the first time, though he was sure he hadn't spoken beyond "Maybe..." Billy released a disdainful laugh. Finnegus Boggs had sent him back to after, not before he'd suggested robbing the liquor store -- per his words in his wish to go back to when he first spoke of the hit to Tyron. The twisted freak had made it harder. Now Billy had to derail what he'd just proposed, convince his friend his idea was a bad one without being marked a pussy. If Tyron made him for scared, Billy's idea would be left dangling, Tyron would always be angling, and one day maybe even convince himself doing a hit was an inspired notion, with or without Billy. But the genie had said it was possible to change things, save Tyron's life, alter their future, and no matter what, Billy aimed to do just that.

"Hold up, man. I was just pullin' your chain, Ty." Billy didn't sound near as casual as he wanted to. He glanced around the chaotic lunchroom feeling dizzy, like he might puke. Michelle sat on the bench across from Audrey. She'd been good, but not as good as she thought she was, or his brother, Chris, had claimed. "My brother is a dickhead -- a dropout, base-baked ex-con with his head so far up his ass he can't see he's going nowhere." Billy could do better, would do better this time around. "We looking to score a car, blud? We don't need to be thieving like Chris, or push crap like Baker to get one."

"Where we gonna be our last year of school without wheels, B?" Tyron spoke to Billy but stared at Audrey. "And we don't have time to earn the dime to cruise outta here by graduation. How we gonna get us the goods without the cash?"

"I don't know, man. Find a junker and rebuild it. Ask Coach, or Principal Conner to turn us on to a paying gig after school couple days a week. Pull better grades and we won't need no car to break out. Ms. McClellen says scholarships are a one way fast pass outta here." Billy glared back at Tyron who looked at him like he was talking crazy. "I'm serious, man. I'd rather nix the tread for now than end up with records, in juvie, or one of us dead."

Tyron stared intently at Billy, peered at him through furrowed brow almost cautiously as dark, pervasive fear spread through him though he didn't know why. He'd rarely seen Billy so serious -- the way his jaw was clenched made his freckled face seem chiseled, stony, grown up. "What's with you, blud? You fried or wiggin or what?"

"We ain't doing the hit, blud. It was a bullshit idea and we ain't doing it."

"You put it on the table and now you wussin' on me?"

"I ain't wussin'. I finally got it right. A car ain't gonna prove who we are, Ty. And it ain't no sanctuary to save us from here. We gotta do that -- by getting it on with how things are -- work for something, at being something instead of always going for the easy out, blud. Ripping off Lucky Liquors just proves we're dickhead losers like Chris. No crime, no time -- live long and large down the line if we do it right." And suddenly Billy flashed on the afterimage of his signature on the translucent screen and remembered Finnegus Boggs saying, ' -- you understand the outcomes of your choices are solely your responsibility.' And Billy smiled right then, because he got it. "We can be whatever we want, man. We really do get to decide."

Epilogue

Chris Connelly was killed in an attempted robbery of Lucky Liquors later that week. The Chinese owner had recently armed himself after being ripped off to his insurance limit. Billy got his older brother's Dodge Charger and his job at Mighty Max. He advanced quickly from stock boy to customer service to cashier while finishing his senior year at Castlemont high school. His final English assignment was to write a short story, and Billy was gonna blow it off, be satisfied to pass the class with a C, but he ended up writing the story of his night with Finnegus Boggs. He'd never spoken of it, not even to Tyron, afraid his friend would think him wacked. Half the time Billy was sure he was, the other half he was sure it had happened. Writing about it got it out of his head and on the page and made it more real somehow, even though everyone in class assumed it was made up, though most seemed to really like the story. Ms. Mallory, the English teacher proudly serialized it in the Oakland Tribune where she worked as an editor part time, and it was picked up by the Associated Press and published nationally. Billy got offers from colleges all over the country for full scholarships to their writing programs. He finished his first novella during his four year free ride at NYU. His book was picked up shortly after graduation, along with a three book deal from Random House and a movie deal from Dreamworks for a screenplay and rights to The Tales of Finnegus Boggs -- Confessions of a Marid Djinn.

Bored after Billy took his brother's job at Mighty Max, Tyron got an afternoon job at an inner-city preschool on Coach Russo's recommendation, based on Tyron's years of experience with five younger siblings. He quickly became a surrogate father to the many kids at the Sunshine Day School without dads -- fathers that had left, or were never part of the scene like his. The director of the preschool was so impressed with Tyron's rapport with the kids, and his talent for assisting her and the staff with all things electronic, she recommended him for a state-funded childcare management certificate program, which he passed at the end of the summer after barely graduating high school three months earlier. Tyron did not leave Oakland on his 18th birthday as planned. He attended night classes at Laney JC in early childhood development, and four years later, with Billy's generous financial contribution, he launched a pilot preschool technology head-start program for inner-city kids. The program was adopted nationally, made Tyron wealthy and Billy richer, and today helps underprivileged kids all over the country excel, achieve beyond per-conceived limits -- be whatever they choose to be.

THE END


© 2011 J. Cafesin

Bio: J. Cafesin is shy -- or prefers to let the story speak for itself. (Make something up -- just make it interesting. Editor)

E-mail: J. Cafesin

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