Time To Burn

Jes sat at the wheel in the cab while the lady next to him bit off the filter to her Camel Light. "You know, they make those without filters." Jes said this every time; that was his ritual.

"You smoke the way you want to smoke; I don't comment on how you hold it." Index and thumb, under the hand, very James Dean, very Dice Clay inverted.

"That's because I look like a badass. You just look like you've been released from Ward 2 for a bad case of OCD." The truck handled like shit; Jes felt like he was all over the road, and the lack of a side mirror and the obstruction of the camper only exacerbated this feeling of impending doom. He really hated his father's truck.

The lady tongued the bit-end until the loose tobacco stayed put. She let it rest in her mouth for the next three green lights, until Jes hit a red one and pulled out his Zippo.

"Thanks," said Sal, dragging in, holding hard, then bringing her mouth over to the man next to her, tongue to tongue. They both unlocked and released what had originated in Sal's lungs as the light turned green.

Sal leaned back against the passenger door, left leg crossed over the right, three-quarters facing the man next to her. "What is it about cigarettes that makes me think of sex?"

Jes pondered this as he eyeballed the couple on the sidewalk, across the street, staring and pointing inquisitively at the truck as it drove past. "I don't know. Everything makes me think of sex."

"Seriously, though," Sal stopped to inhale, flicking the ashes behind her, out the window. "Obviously, the cigarette is a phallic symbol, that goes without saying. But, there's a real sensuality to it all. You're inviting a foreign substance into your body, via your mouth, wetting your pursed lips, breathing long and deep and heavy, holding it in before that great, satisfying release." Sal drastically, emphatically slowed her speech pattern as she described this, driving her point home.

Jes took the brief opportunity to take a peek at the lady next to him, light, pleated white skirt climbing down her thigh, her knees posing as the seductive gatekeepers to the paradise that lies behind those impenetrable walls. "You know, we do have the camper for the day."

Sal kicked the man next to her with her supported leg, "Shut up and drive! Class starts at 10:30." Sal still had one more quarter, one more week of college; the man next to her, two years her senior, dropped out when she was a sophomore, right when the two were meeting for the first time. An argument about ethics in their shared Philosophy class (a pre-requisite for her major, a senior fluff-class for his history major) between the man next to her and their professor caused him to storm out, forever, five credits shy of graduation. After class, Sal saw him outside the building, smoking, ready to further the debate by any means necessary. She convinced him otherwise, bumming a cigarette with one hand, and grabbing him by the balls with the other.

Jes turned the vehicle down one of the back streets that headed towards campus. Incidentally, it also led them right past an elementary school, with recess currently on the schedule. While slowed to an insufferable twenty miles per hour, the children behind the tall chain-link fence started to take notice, rife with screaming and pointing and teacher-getting. "Fucking kids. Don't these schools do any fucking teaching anymore?"

"Listen, Jes, as much as I enjoy The Shocker, maybe we better get him inside the camper. I mean, we're lucky we haven't been pulled over and that's great, but now you're starting to frighten the children."

"Ahh, children have it too sheltered as it is. Besides, it's what he deserves. If he didn't want to be put in The Shocker, then he shouldn't have been such an asshole."

Jes held no sympathy for his incapacitated father, tied up in his full body, silk-rope cocoon, secured snugly to the front driver's-side fender, head stuck out facing forward for all bypassing drivers and pedestrians to see. Nevertheless, he pulled over once the elementary school playground was out of sight. He re-entered the truck with a short-tempered, "Happy now?"

Sal said nothing, bringing both hands to the cheeks of the man next to her, kissing him twice, closed-mouthed.

They arrived at the campus parking lot at 10:25. "When will I see you again?" Sal asked.

"If all goes according to planned, day after tomorrow we'll be right back here doing this all over again." They kissed again, this one the longest of the three. Jes then got out to open the door for the lady next to him; with one final embrace, one last squeeze of her ass, Jes got back in and drove away.

Sal pulled her bag around her shoulder and started to run.


Jes would always tell people, when asked about his best friend, Forearm, "He's the kind of guy that, if he was your boss, and you came up and told him as a feeler that you were planning on putting a down-payment on a house, he'd tell you, 'Congratulations' and then go ahead and fire you anyway, after the papers are signed. Not necessarily to be a dick ... well, yes necessarily to be a dick, but mostly because he'd think it was funny. That, and he has no soul."

Whether or not Forearm - named after his most prominent appendages on his rather emaciated overall framework - had a soul remained in question, though there was no doubt in his own mind. Forearm's soul was in there, all right. Buried in a sea of aggression, overconfidence, and a permeating sense of "I'm better than everyone, therefore no one deserves to share my air." Which is why he kept his circle of friends to a dull roar, those in the inner circle being Jes and Forearm's brother, Dane. Dane was the kind of lumbering oaf you thought you only saw in cartoons, with an abnormal fixation on MEAT! and the pret-ty bun-ny rab-bits. "At least for being a big, dumb animal," Forearm would say, "he doesn't make a whole lotta noise." This was true, Dane rarely, if ever, spoke. And not in that Silent Bob sort of way. Dane was the kind of guy who epitomized the Seen But Not Heard philosophy - weighing in at a robust 350 - but you'd still have to be looking for him, because he'd sneak up on top of you in an instant.

Forearm and Dane grew up the byproducts of different fathers, seven years apart, with the latter, Forearm's dad, being the one that stuck around ... eventually. Aside from being partially created out of the same genetic stew, they really had nothing in common, which would be obvious to anyone who saw them together. Forearm was constantly smacking Dane around just for the hell of it, but Dane never cared. Just like a fly inflicting pain on a walrus. As for similar interests? They only shared one. Their work.

"So, where do we have to pick your brother up?" Jes arrived at Forearm's house at 10:45.

"Was there static on your end of the phone? Because I heard you crystal fucking clear." Forearm stuffed a small pile of random clothes he found around the floor into his duffle bag, hoping this time there'd be at least one pair of pants. Without waiting for a response, he silently strolled out of the bedroom and into the kitchen to find whatever perishable morsel he might have for the next couple days. Three packages of Top Ramen, half-eaten package of uncooked spaghetti noodles, full loaf of moldy wheat bread, frozen pepperoni pizza, pint of strawberry ice cream, four energy bars, and left-over Caesar salad from his mom. "What are the odds we run into boiling water on this trip?" he said to himself. Contemplating grabbing an empty jug, a saucepan, filling the jug with water, and packing his noodles, Forearm came to the realization that he was, indeed, a lazy, poor, lazy man. "Energy bars and salad it is."

Jes walked into the kitchen to witness the pathetic sight of a packed-and-ready-to-go Forearm, spoon in one hand, ice cream in the other, bag around his right shoulder, still incredulous to the notion of, "A girlfriend?"

"I know," Forearm said, licking the spoon, first for cleanliness, then as a seductive trip to make Jes uncomfortable. "What could she possibly see in him?"

"I'm just wondering what in the hell they talk about when they're not ..."

"Fucking in a sweaty pile of passion? I have no idea. Come on, it's a good twenty minutes out of our way, we gotta go."

"Why?" Jes asked. "We could totally handle this ourselves."

"Totally?" Forearm said mockingly, as he whacked Jes's forehead with the cream-coated second-bite of the spoon as he walked past him, to the front door. "We need the muscle-bound doofus."

"In all of our assignments, how often have we needed Dane, really?" Jes got behind the wheel and kicked it into reverse, headed towards Dane's apparent girlfriend's apartment. "One time. One jam he got us out of."

"Dickus, think about it. Yeah, of course there was that time with the Stucky Boys -"

"Speaking of which, Roosevelt says we better watch out for the Murphy Boys." Jes patted his body for cigarettes.

"Really? They pissed we got the job?" Nodded reply. "Man, fuck that! We've been working with Roosevelt twice as long as they have! Of course we're gonna get the cushy jobs from time to time."

"So, I guess you're right, then. Dane is a necessity." Jes finally found his pack in his front shirt pocket. He shook the last one out, thankful he had another soft pack in the glove box.

"Well, yeah, I mean, forget about the jealous assholes he's helped us pummel; you gotta remember, we've probably avoided more trouble than we realize with his presence as the sole deterrent and how in the fuck can you still be smoking those?" Forearm pointed to the crumpled empty package Jes dropped to his feet.

"What are you talking about, Mr. Two-Packs-A-Day? You smoke! You smoke a fuckload!"

Forearm nodded, pulling his own box out of his front pocket. "Yes, but I smoke 'Natural American Spirit.' See, it says right here, '100% Addictive-Free Natural Tobacco.' That shit'll fuckin' kill ya." Forearm pointed to the Camel in Jes's left hand, between the index finger and thumb.

"Are you insane? 'Addictive ... Addictive Free?' They're all the fucking same! Who cares?"

"Read the box, man. Fuckin' smooth." Forearm took a long drag and blew it in Jes's face.

"OK, you keep going like you are; we'll see who lives longer."

"Hey," Forearm said. "The Indians have never led me astray."

"Dude, don't call them Indians."


"Don't say 'Indian'."

"Look," Forearm leaned in. "I'm not gonna call them 'Native Americans'. They're known as Indians first, so that's what they are. I don't get offended by 'Whitey' or 'Cracker' or 'Paleface," so they need to stop with this."

"Would you call a black person a 'nigger'?"

"Of course not."

"Why? Isn't that the same argument?"

"No, because niggers will kick my fuckin' honky-bitch ass. Black people, on the other hand, don't do shit unless provoked. Refrain from feeding the bears and the bears will leave you alone."

"So, now you're calling them animals," Jes said, disgusted. "Why don't you just call them hairy baboons and get it over with you racist fuck?"

"Just shut up and drive. When I want the ACLU perspective, I'll give you a ring."

They drove along in silence for about twenty seconds before Forearm went crazy and tried to turn on the tape deck. "Fucking piece of shit." The next round of silence lasted considerably longer.

In spite of how things appeared, this was normally the extent of Jes and Forearm's bickering; mindless conversation gone awry. Of course, they'd been friends for too long to let a little creative wordplay or anal-retentive nitpicking get in the way. Their relationship had gone so far past the point of Comfortable Silence that the two would hang out for hours at a time, not saying a single word in front of the television, or in the midst of yet another rousing game of one-on-one Monopoly. Sal never got it, but then again, Jes and Forearm's friendship didn't really need defending.

Just shy of 11:15, Dane's lone, dark figure found itself in clear sight of the truck's passengers. "In the back," Forearm said to his brother, motioning to the camper. When they reached the freeway once again, this time in the opposite direction, he added, "So, Nick's in there too?"

"Yeah, Nick's in there," Jes said, eyes narrowing. "Piece of shit was up all night drinking, passed out at the wheel this morning outside McGradys. I told him we needed the truck today, too!"

"Give him The Shocker treatment?" Forearm said, laughing at his own creation.

"Yeah, didn't do a damned bit of good. He was still gone when Sal made me pull over and put him in the back."

"Dammit, Jes! Why do you let her make your decisions for you, man?"

"Listen, right now, Sal's the only positive influence I've got. If I listened to your dumb ass all the time ... I don't know where I'd be." The day of their meeting notwithstanding, Sal had been a righteous force in Jes's life. Calmed his rage something fierce. That didn't mean she ever got in the way of Jes's work, nor would she want to. Sal related that part of Jes's life like any woman whose man dealt in the seedy underbelly of the world's efforts would: head firmly implanted in the other direction.

"So, looks like there's a fourth for dinner."

"Yeah, with any luck, we'll be disposing of two bodies when we get there."

Jes hit the gas strong, hoping to get some mileage in before dark.


It wasn't the drinking that made Nick a bad father in Jes's eyes, though it surely played its part. At the essence of Jes's argument lied Nick's unreliability, and not in that, "My pa never made it to any of my baseball games" way. Though that part was true, Jes could give a fuck if his father saw him look at a called third-strike. There wasn't any point where all of this came to a head, either. Jes knew, took it for granted as the phrase is coined, that Nick wasn't much on being a father. Such is why he always had Jes utilize his first name instead of that insufferable moniker. Sometimes Nick'd throw a few bucks the family's way, but more often than not, he'd save those pennies for candy and bubble gum cards for himself. Needless to say, Jerri didn't keep Jes's father around for too long. But, Nick rarely strayed far from Jes's life.

So, as a father-figure, Nick sucked. But, how about a buddy? Well, Jes never really took to that too kindly either. They shared the occasional pitcher at McGradys, but no actual bonding went on much past the, "See ya when I see ya" adieu. Jes took hard to the realization that his father never really existed, and he never would have, had his own vehicle not lost its transmission the week prior.

"Why didn't you just drop his ass off at what's her name's place?" Forearm said, not accusingly, but not sympathetically either.

"Because she didn't want him - surprised? - and I didn't have time to argue, nor the will to plea on his behalf."

"And so The Shocker."

"And so The Shocker," Jes muttered, eyes fixed on the road ahead.

"He's not gonna say anything, right? We don't need that hassle," Forearm drummed with his fingers on the outside of the door.

"Not if he's smart. I'll tell him, when he comes to, that he better just stay in the cab and keep his fucking mouth shut."

And silence on down the road. Forearm let his head dangle over his chest in slumber for the next few hours.


Roosevelt wasn't really The Man's name, just the name he gave himself when he was just starting out in The Game. What many don't know is that Roosevelt first came up with the name because that's who he thought was on the $100 bill. The first low-life who corrected him didn't live longer than the first sputtering chuckle, face cemented in that bloated, red-faced grin, choking on his own wit. Anyone who brought up the point after was always greeted with the same retort, "Well, he should be! You're telling me Grover Cleveland and Woodrow fucking Wilson deserve high-currency, but not Roosevelt?" Inevitably, what followed usually depended on whether or not they held a higher ranking than Roosevelt. Those who did would generally offer, "Which one?" or, "Well, you know he does have his face on Mount Rushmore."

Without getting too far into Roosevelt's affairs, it can be easily inferred that he held quite a high position, with a seemingly endless army of low-level low-lifes at his disposal, contracted out by assignment, rarely, if ever, in contact with each other. As he would only have it. Paranoia wasn't Roosevelt's strong suit.

"Where are you?"

"On the road."

"I can hear that, nitwit. I mean, where are you?"

"Little over half."

"Well, I want you to find a place to stop for the night."

"Oh, don't worry, I've got another few hours in me at least."

"No, stop now. I want you well-rested. And keep those degenerates you associate yourself with in line. No fucking around, you hear me?"

Roosevelt clicked the phone shut. He had more calls to make.


"What'd he say?" Forearm asked, hunched over outside the truck, lighting another American Spirit.

"We're done for the day," Jes said, pocketing his cell phone.

"You gotta be shitting me! It's still light out!"

"That's what he said."

"Bullshit. I say we keep going. I don't want to be on the road all day tomorrow if we don't have to."

"What are you talking about? I drove the whole way!" Jes walked over to the camper, pounded twice, and walked back.

"What, you think I could drive this jalopy? We should've just rented something."

"Fuck that, we're here and there's nothing we can do now."

"We can defy the man! He is just a man, you know."

"Have you ever been on Roosevelt's bad side?"

"You mean, good ol' Benjamin Roosevelt? Of course not, do I look crazy?"

"Well, don't start talkin' shit until you have," Jes walked over to a bush to pee.


Roosevelt's not one for change, and in the revolving door that be his employment policy, it's not something to be taken lightly. The fact of the matter remained that finding decent folk to assist him in his line of work took painstaking patience and a massive judge of character. So, when he found someone reliable and fiercely loyal, such as Jes, he didn't want to let that go with a back-alley skull-plugging at the sign of modest change.

In reality, though, Jes had only been on Roosevelt's bad side once. Even when Jes suggested such shady characters as Forearm and his big brother Dane, Roosevelt never blinked. In order to trust his own judgment in making Jes one of his major players, he had to trust Jes's judgment; it turned out better than he'd hoped. Forearm generally kept his mouth shut about the more delicate side of his work, utilizing his keen sense of the English language to get him through any sort of interrogation, with his only slip-ups coming at the hands of drunken boasting. Even then, anyone who knew him knew Forearm was constantly on Full in the shit-tank, and anyone who wasn't familiar saw Forearm as an easy drunken mark whose pointy face could easily be mashed in. That just left the Good Offense is a Great Defense Dane, always at Forearm's side, quick with a puffed-up chest, non-existent with an affirmative verbal jab to whatever Forearm had been touting.

No, the only time Roosevelt took pause in Jes's actions was when Sal came around, and stuck around. Roosevelt saw women solely as weak fuck-boxes, never to be taken home to mother, never to be taken in to The Life. Which is why he had Sal and Jes followed around constantly for the first few months, looking for any indications of weakness, eventually finding it.

Enter the Murphy Boys. Brothers a year apart who had an eternal hard-on for Jes's position in Roosevelt's favor. Roosevelt utilized this passion to his advantage when he had them confront Jes, bringing him over to The House.

Jes had only been there one time. A castle. An actual castle on a hill, surrounded by evergreen foliage; you wouldn't know it was there until you were practically inside. Roosevelt found no practical use for The House, so he mostly kept to the basement, where he kept his office and his den. The office was just a room with a desk, a collection of weaponry, a door that securely locked, a phone, and a list of numbers he liked to keep handy. The den, on the other hand ...

The den was the size of most people's homes. Good homes, none of this single-level rambler shit. The upstairs of the den resided his bedroom and bathroom; only the whores he brought over ever got a look inside those two rooms. The downstairs is where he brought all his recruits. The ones he was serious about. They got the treatment, complete with armed guards blocking every exit and the thirty-minute stare. Roosevelt liked to look over his new men in complete silence for the first half hour, to see if they'd crack, to see if they'd look away, break down in tears, or, as what mostly happened, returned the cold stare beat for beat. Jes never failed him, and for this Roosevelt found respect. Respect suddenly shattered by the recent turn of events.

"Who's the girl?"

For some reason, Roosevelt expected a rambling, demure, excitable downplay of his new lady-fair. "Oh, no one, really; I mean, just this girl, you know, this girl I'm fucking; no need to be alarmed, boss, I've got everything under control," complete with fidgety knees, shaky speech, and the all-deplorable unreturned gaze.

Instead, he heard, in a calm, rational, non-threatening voice, "You know who she is."

Roosevelt never tipped his hand, but his inner face raised its eyebrows in surprise. "You're right, I do."

"Then, why am I here?" Again, never letting his eyes leave The Man's.

"Because, I believe I have cause for concern." Unspoken: a trait you never wish to see on me.

"Trust me, you don't."

Never a quaver in tone, the same dulcet, robot-like expression, exactly what Roosevelt wanted to hear, but was that because Jes knew that's what he wanted to hear?

"I better not."

That was the extent of their brief encounter, the extent of Jes's second and only other trip to The House. Only when Jes knew he was truly no longer under the watchful eyes of The Man's cronies did he show his utter relief in making it out of there alive. He knew he never wanted a formal tour of the rest of The House.


"You two take the front, Dane and me are sleeping in the back."

Jes looked dumfounded as he saw Dane carrying the slumping, still-restrained Nick over to the passenger's side, propping him against the door as he shut it. "Hell no, this is my truck, remember?"

"Exactly, and as such, the two owners, or the owner and his son, should be in the front, just in case some do-gooder or peace-keeper happens by. You're gonna want the man with the name on the papers to be the first face they see, tied up or not."

"Fuck that! You sleep in the front, I've been driving all day."

"Listen, man, I don't want to argue. How's it gonna look if some pig comes by and sees two miscreants at the wheel?"

"It's gonna look like the owner's slumbering in the back, and that's like a ten foot walk you lazy ass," Jes was about to open the door to catch his father when Dane put one of his meat hooks against it, keeping Jes from his objective.

"Do you really wish to continue this singlehanded? I mean, if you like, we can take a vote, but as you can see, your father hasn't the ability to raise his arm, let alone shout a vote of yay or nay," Forearm spun around in the dirt, clicking his heels twice like Dorothy leaving Oz, and marched like a Buckingham Palace guard to the camper door. Dane followed in silence, looking over his shoulder with a resolved smirk in Jes's direction.

Jes grabbed a hoodie from his bag and stuck it up in the driver's side window. Taking one last look at his father before closing his eyes completely, he decided to show a little compassion and loosen the ropes so his father could free himself and pee should he require the natural function.

The next morning, Jes awoke groggily to the sight of a heap of urine-soaked rope at the floor of the passenger side. After relieving his own tired bladder, Jes saw Nick approach the truck.

"There ain't shit to eat or drink out here," Nick said, picking the scum out of his teeth.

"Were you foraging for food?" Jes said mockingly. "What were you gonna find out here, Big Chief Drinks-A-Lot? Nuts and berries? Perhaps dig yourself a well using your natural survival instincts?"

Ignoring his son's snide comments, Nick said, "Where are we?"

Jes didn't say a word, he simply banged on the side of the camper. A minute later, Forearm came outside, gripping his sides for warmth. "Good morning, sunshine. Sleep well?"

"We're going. Nick, get in the back," Jes said, pulling the keys from his jeans pockets.

"I'm riding in the front," Nick said, approaching the passenger side.

"In the back, Nick." Jes pushed his father away with a stiff arm.

"I get carsick, you know that."

"I don't care. Besides, there's probably a fifth of whiskey in there, drink yourself stupid again." Forearm watched all of this with a giddy smile on his face, hoping for an altercation.

Dejected, outmanned and outgunned, Nick did as he was told, pouting all the way.

On the road, ten minutes from their camping spot, Forearm broke the ice. "Do we know who we're dealing with yet?"

"Not yet. Roosevelt just told me to go to the Burgundy Forest, and he'd call us with instructions."

"This better not be like the last time. They better fucking be dead this time." Forearm reached for his pocket, for his first of the new day.


Actually, Forearm never attended the "last time." The last time for Jes was a simple fire job. No fuss no muss. The bodies were already in there, all Jes had to do was dispose. First, of course, was the all-important making-the-bodies-appear-as-if-they'd-actually-died-in-an-arson. Roosevelt never did his dirty work, and rarely had those who did dispose properly of their subjects.

As for Forearm's last time, that's the only time they were involved in something that, had they a different set of beliefs, would have led them to completely wipe out Heaven from one of their destinations. In a very-possible sinister plot to test their dedication, Roosevelt "accidentally mis-assigned" the group to the wrong job. Jes knew better, and he vocalized this fact after the fact. "Roosevelt never gets us mixed up with his other crews. He knew what he was doing."

"What are you talking about? He knows we roll unarmed," Forearm said naively, though not so stupid as to see the obvious truth.

"Exactly," Jes said. Unspoken: It better have nothing to do with my seeing Sal.

"Well, then what the fuck was he thinking?" Forearm took a gander over at his brother, blood literally on his hands, towering over the corpse on the floor. The bullets had missed their target completely, the target being Jes. The gunman: a hitman hired by Roosevelt, for the exact reason Jes had been pondering.

"I don't know, but we still have a job to do," Jes said, taking a look at his surroundings, searching for anything to wrap the body in.

"To hell with that! Doesn't Roosevelt already have people to do this kind of shit?"

"Yeah, us!" Jes said, walking over to the cabinets, until he stumbled upon the linen closet.

"You know what I mean!" Forearm walked over, trying to get Jes to stop and talk about this. "The killers never have to clean up after themselves! Call Roosevelt and tell him ... tell me you're not thinking about using the whites!"

"You're right. Go around back and bring in the hose." Jes began unfolding the sheets, two, three thick; that should be good enough.

"Man, fuck this," Forearm muttered to himself, whapping Dane on the chest, snapping him out of his daze. "Come on, brute, we've got work to do."

The whole job took less than an hour; at least Roosevelt had enough sense to pick a secluded area to have his test performed. Once finished, and out of earshot of both Forearm and Dane, Jes opened his phone.

"We're done," Jes said, only allowing the slightest bit of his bitterness to slip through.

"Good work, m'boy. Go get some rest now, I'll call you when I need you."

"Don't give me that. You know why I'm calling."

"I'm afraid I don't, son. Enlighten me."

"If you don't trust me, if you're going to send me into a trap -"

"Wait, hold on, what trap?"

"You know. I just don't appreciate you lumping my friends in your hit just because you don't like my choice of female associates."

"You're right. I won't lie to you. But, you proved your meddle, you proved your worth. I only did this to see if you're capable of moving up in the ranks, and clearly you are."

"That may be, but next time, don't do it like this. Either tell me like a man or have the decency to off me on my own." Jes hung up the phone, instantly wishing he hadn't, not realizing that Roosevelt's opinion of his pupil grew tenfold at such an outburst of disrespect.


"It's almost dark," Forearm said, leaning his back against the truck, stamping out one of a dozen of cigarettes around his feet.

"I can see that," Jes said calmly, sitting in the passenger seat of the cab with the door open.

"How long have we been here?"

"Couple hours, I guess."

Forearm thought it wiser to stop the issue right there. Obviously, everyone was impatient, but he didn't want to deal with Jes in a bad mood the rest of the ride back that night. "You remember our first job?" Yes, minds elsewhere. Ease the tension.

"I remember we accidentally burned down an entire strip mall."