His Father's Instruction - Jimmy Callaway
His Father’s Instruction
by Jimmy Callaway
One time, my dad asked me why I was so scared of him.
“Because you’re an asshole,” I told him.
He smacked me so hard that my right ear rang for hours after. He said he guessed I wasn’t as scared of him as he had thought.
I said I guessed he was right.
I’d be lying if I said I’d like to see the inside of a gun barrel up close and personal again. I keep trying to look Stevie F. in the face, but it isn’t a much prettier sight. That hollow Glock barrel is staring me down, and here I sit trying not to think about how thirsty I am.
I wanna lick my lips, but that would just be like rubbing them with sandpaper. Besides, I already look scared enough as it is.
“I know it was you, Dutch,” Stevie F. says, his voice really starting to break up now, “I fuckin’ know it.”
“You’re crazy, Steve,” I say and try to sink further into my easy chair. Man, this used to be the most comfortable piece of furniture I own. But you know what they say: nothing will ruin a good Barcalounger more than being held in it at gunpoint by a crazy weasel-faced guy.
Well, somebody’s probably said that before, anyway.
“I fuckin’ saw him!” Stevie F. says, “Mad Chuck’s in town, and I fuckin’ saw him with my own two eyes!”
“I don’t know who you’re talkin’ about, Steve, honest. You been cooped up here too long, man, you’re going stir-crazy.”
“Yeah, stir-crazy like a fox! I never shoulda fuckin’ trusted you, you fuckin’ rat bastard—”
Thank God for small favors and tired clichés: just then, our boy Dan Malloy comes busting in the front door. “Hey, Hollen,” he says, “Why don’cha answer your phone every—wha’...?” and his eyes get all big as Stevie F. points his gun at him.
Like an idiot, I jump up and try and grab Stevie F.’s gun away from him. He manages to trip me up, but he’s sweating worse than me, and his gun slips out of his hand like a wet, lethal trout.
“Hey, wait,” he says, and then I shoot him in the face.
“Holy Mary!” Dan says.
Holy shit, I think, Holy shit.
“Close the door, will ya?” I tell Dan.
He does and says, “What the hell was all that? I thought you guys were pals in the joint.”
I shrug. “We were, I guess. Not no more. And don’t call it ‘the joint,’ Cagney. It was a work farm.” My voice sounds okay, but my hands are shaking like all ten fingers need a cigarette. I put them in my pockets so Dan won’t see.
“So, what happened?” he says.
“Well,” I clear my throat and try on my wise-ass, see if it still fits, “road maintenance mostly, y’know, picking up trash off the highway...”
“Hardy har har,” he says and pushes his glasses up on his nose. The whole time, he’s trying to keep from looking at the blood pooling on the rug. He can’t quite do it.
“Well, shit, man, I dunno.” I breathe out. “Stevie F. was always a little high-strung, but he came busting in a few minutes ago, talkin’ about how they had found him, and then he somehow convinced himself that it was my fault, y’know, that I had ratted him out.”
Dan frowns. “To who, the cops?”
“No, to those guys he ripped off. Up in, uh, Ontario.”
“Ontario? This guy from California?”
“No, no, Ontario, Canada. Windsor, I think.”
“Yeah.” I go into the kitchen, turn on the tap and drink straight out of it for something like five hours. Dan leans in the kitchen doorway, his hands in his jacket pockets.
Between gulps, I say, “So what brings you by, Danny-boy Malloy?”
Dan raises his eyebrows, shrugs, and says, “A guy came by the joint looking for you.”
“You mean, ‘the bar’?”
“That’s what I said.”
“One of Shark’s boys?”
Dan seems to flinch, but I could be mistaken. “Why? Is he looking for you?”
I shrug. “You know how he is. Wanting to make sure I’m keeping my nose clean.”
“Yeah. No,” Dan says, “I’d never seen this guy before.”
“Wha’d he want?”
Dan shrugs, takes off his glasses and wipes them on his shirt. “I didn’t talk to him, Perry did, but I saw him. He was some big Swedish-lookin’ dude.”
“What was his name?”
Dan shrugs again. “I dunno, he seemed pretty content to me. In fact, he walked around like he owned the joint.”
“The place,” I say.
Dan ignores me. “He said he’d come back later today.” He glances at his pawn shop watch. “He oughtta be back by now. I tried calling you, but...”
“Yeah, I was a little busy.” I cup my hands full of water and wet my hair down, my face down. I take a breath and go back out in the living room.
There’s blood and brains speckling the wall. No big deal, nothing a little soap and water couldn’t fix. But there’s also my lobby card on that wall, an old lobby card for Emperor of the North, with Lee Marvin getting reluctantly baptized. Janie got that for me for my birthday a few years ago. God knows where she dug it up. And now it’s got weasel-face brains on it. I frown down at Stevie F., and my hands have stopped shaking. “Well,” I say to Dan, “Let’s go, I guess.”
“You just gonna leave him here?”
I shrug. “He ain’t gonna bother nobody.”
The Dead Orangeman (“The Only Good Kind,” says the sign above the door) is just down the block from my place, across 6th and around the corner on a little side street called Lea. As we walk, I inhale a lungful of city spring air. Ahhh, carbon monoxide fresh.
“Man, y’know, Dutch?” Dan says, “You’d be good in one’a those anti-perspirant commercials.”
“How’s that,” I say.
“Well, shit, I walk in, a guy’s got a gun in your face, you look like, y’know, maybe you gotta go pee, but that’s it. Man, I’ve seen guys cry when another guy just, y’know...points a pool cue at him or something. How come you weren’t scared?”
“Who said I wasn’t?”
Danny chews on that a bit. He’s panting because I walk a lot faster than he does and he’s practically jogging to keep up. At the crosswalk at 6th, I press the walk button, and Dan’s got his hands on his knees like he’s gonna puke.
Instead, he says, “Y’know, I didn’t hear a thank you.”
I grin, but Dan still has his head down. “Yeah, I know,” I say.
Now he looks up. “Man. See if I ever do you a favor again.”
“Danny,” I say.
“Danny, who was it got caught that time keying Mr. Baldwin’s car and I took the beating for it?”
“Aw, man, that was years ago. Why ya gotta—”
“Danny, who was it all drunk that time and tried to pick a fight with Johnny Glue and I had to pull him outta there before that shrimp tore his arm off?”
“Hey, c’mon, I coulda—”
“Who was it, Danny?”
Danny straightens up and lets out a heavy sigh. His eyes crinkle up at the setting sun. “It was me,” he says, “Okay?”
I smile. “You’re welcome.”
As we round the corner at Lea, I know this has got to be Mad Chuck’s car. Big purple Seville with one of those paint jobs that has those sparkles in it when the sun hits it just right. It’s got Ontario plates, and the meter it’s parked next to is flashing red. I look at Dan and he nods. We’re about to step inside when he steps out.
I know this has got to be Mad Chuck. Big Swedish-looking dude, blonde hair in a crew-cut, like the Russian in Rocky IV. He’s got this really serious face, but at the same time, his cheeks are kinda rosy and chubby. The guy coulda gotten a gig as a mall Santa if the whole hired goon thing hadn’t worked out for him.
But it had.
“Help you with somethin’?” he says, brushing by us as we just stand there, staring like dopes. I can hear raised voices in the bar; someone says, Just let it go, and then a familiar female voice says something all pissed off.
Chuck’s fishing around for his keys. I snap out of it a little and say, “Uh, depends. You Chuck?”
“Uh-huh,” he says, digging in his pockets some more, “Look, boys, I don’t have time to play. You wanna talk, talk.”
“All right,” I say, “Stevie F.”
He finally stops, hands in mid-fish, and looks straight at me. Then he reaches into his jacket pocket, and I get the sudden notion that he’s gonna shoot me right there in the street. I swallow involuntarily. But instead, he pulls out a pack of smokes and shakes one out at me.
“No thanks,” I say.
He lights one for himself, lifting his head a little to blow the smoke away from me. How polite. He says, “You know who he is, so I’ll assume you know why I’m looking for him. I’ll also assume you’re hiding him because you guys were pals in the joint or whatever. But you’ll hand him over because he’s a worthless weasel-faced loudmouth and you don’t like him that much anyway. Okay?”
“What I know—not assuming here, but what I know—is I’ll play ball if you wanna, offer you up five grand out of the kindness of my heart. What I also know is if you wanna do it the hard way, we can do that, too.”
I think for a second. “Well, if you know so much, assume so much, why don’t you just beat it out of me instead of buying me off?”
He smiles a little and takes a drag off his cigarette. “Well, it just makes for good business that way.” He shrugs and adds, “I also don’t much care for violence, if you want to know the truth.”
“So, what happens, all this stuff you’re assuming turns out to be wrong?”
He shrugs again, flicking away his cigarette. “Then I beat the living shit out of you for wasting my time.” He walks around to the driver’s side of his big Seville, keys jangling in his hand, saying, “I’m at the Rococo. Room 2. Eleven, tonight.” He pulls away from the curb and down the street, all the time in the world.
The bar door busts open.
“Let me go, Perry, get’cher goddamn mitts off me!” Jane’s hollering, but I can’t see who she’s yelling at because the bar is all dark inside. “Dutch!” she says when she sees me.
I close my eyes. I somehow had a feeling this might happen.
“Dutch!” Jane says again and comes down the steps, right into my face. I open my eyes. She looks pissed.
“Hi, Janie,” I say.
“Were you talkin’ to that guy?”
“You don’t have to yell, Janie. I’m standing right here.” A few of the barflies had come outside to watch the festivities, and they giggle at that. Jane, on the other hand...
“Don’t you get cute with me, Dutch Hollen! Were you talking to that Canadian asshole?”
“So what if I was?”
“So what!” she says. Her green-gray eyes are flashing good now and she’s standing on tip-toe to stare me down. Man, but she’s adorable.
“I’ll tell you so what!” she says, “That son of a bitch wouldn’t take his goddamn mitts off me from the minute he walked in the door!”
“So whaddaya want from me?” I say, trying to match her tone and falling just short, “You’re a big girl, Janie, you can take care of yourself.”
Jane smirks and my heart breaks. “Yeah, I tried that,” she says, softer now, “And look what I get for my troubles.” Since all I’d seen since she’d come out here were Jane’s big green-gray movie star eyes, I hadn’t noticed the big, fading red mark up the right side of her face. It’s vaguely shaped like a hand, complete with a class ring-sized welt above her cheekbone.
“Jesus,” I say under my breath.
She pulls a few strands of blonde hair out of her face. Her voice is still steady, soft. “I told him to keep his goddamn Great White North, beer-swilling, hockey-playing mitts off me,” she says, “and he—he fucking backhanded me, Dutch! He backhanded me and said—he said he wasn’t Canadian, that he was from California.” Her voice hitches ever so slightly on “California.”
“And these limp dicks just sat there!” she spits at the crowd of rummies gathered outside, squinting in the last day’s light. There’s Hank and Billy and Pat and Patrick and Eddie and Four-Eyes Pat. There’s Joey Big Nose, his schnozz seeming to get bigger every day from all the Jameson poured down his throat. In the doorway there is Dan’s old man, Old Man Dan, scowling as usual, but now with a hint of shame. Just a hint, mind you. There’s Pete and Perry and John and Mickey and a few others. They all look at the ground or at the sky.
“All of ‘em,” Jane says, “A bunch of limp dicks, while that—that scumbag just—just—”
“Janie, look,” I say, putting a hand on her shoulder.
She shrugs it off. “A buncha limp dicks,” she says again and storms away down the street. I watch her back and try not to stare at her swishy walk.
One time, in high school, I was coming home, and a half-naked lady almost bowled me over coming out of my apartment.
“Watch it, you little shit!” she said. Her hair was mussed, her lipstick smeared. All her clothes were either half-on or half-off—with my dad’s ladyfriends, it was always hard to tell. This one was named Agnes or Gladys or something like that.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t see the cattle crossing sign back there.”
She took a moment to be shocked, her mouth a little ‘o’ of indignation. “You little bastard,” she said, “Just like your fucking father.” And then she pushed past me and stormed away. She looked kinda funny, storming away with one shoe on, one shoe off.
My dad was sitting in the Barcalounger, shirtless. The whole place was trashed, broken glass all over the floor. My paltry little movie collection had been cleared off its shelf: my 3-video Lee Marvin box-set—Missouri Traveler, Dog Day, and The Klansman—as well as my laserdisc edition of The Dirty Dozen. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there.
“Lesbians, Dutch,” my dad said, “They’re all just a bunch of lesbians.” And then he drank straight from the bottle of Wild Turkey he’d had surgically implanted into his hand.
When he passed out a little while later, I lifted fifty bucks from his wallet. I’d had a date that night.
That was the night I lost my virginity.
The Dead Orangeman is a dive like any other; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Dark, smoky, a broken jukebox in the corner. I slip the place on like an old coat.
Dan buys us each a Guinness, and we’re about to get comfortable at the bar when Old Man Dan croaks out, “Ye too good to be seen drinkin’ with your pop, Danny-boy?”
This gets a chuckle from the other chuckleheads in the place. I shoot them a look that shuts them up.
“Christ,” Dan says under his breath. Then, with a big bullshit grin, he raises his glass towards his father. He nudges me over towards the corner table where his dad sits.
Like I’ve said, Old Man Dan is a sour-lookin’ son of a bitch—a leaner, balder version of his son. He doesn’t wear glasses like Dan does, so he squints at everything. He’s got a face full of wrinkles and a mean streak as wide as the part in his hair.
“Hey, Pop,” Dan says.
“Don’t ye ‘hey’ me, Danny-boy,” Old Man Dan says, “I ain’t one’a yer no-account friends.”
“And a good day to you, too, Mr. Malloy, sir,” I say.
“And don’t you be gettin’ smart with me, young Hollen,” he says, crooking a finger at me, “I’ve got yer fuckin’ number, too, laddie.” He throws back the rest of his whiskey sour.
“So, Pop,” Dan says, “What happened in here?”
“I know what you mean!” Old Man Dan cut in, “And I told ya nothin’ happened! Some tart got felt up. Y’call that somethin’ happenin’?”
“Yeah, sure,” I say, “Felt up, beat up. Same difference.”
Old Man Dan scowls, and then his face breaks into a semi-toothy grin. I think I prefer the scowl. “Aye, young Hollen,” he says in that stupid, barely-there brogue I’m pretty sure is fake, “Ye know all about the wily ways of the fairer sex, don’t ye? You’re your mother’s son, ain’t ye?”
“Shut yer face, you! Yer fuckin’ mother ain’t no better!”
“Aw, c’mon, Pop—”
“‘Aw, c’mon, Pop,’” the old man mocks him, “Jesus, Joseph and Mary, Danny-boy, have ye any idea the damage that woman’s done to ye?”
Dan pushes his glasses up onto his nose and stares into his inky beer.
Old Man Dan sighs. “I did what I could, Danny-boy, honest to God, I did. But she had to go and move you and your sisters in with that numb cunt of an aunt of yours. That’s no place to raise a boy, to raise a man.” The old man belches and it smells like fish and eggs. “How ye’ve made it this far without being killed is a mystery to me, that it is.”
Dan looks at me.
“That it is,” Old Man Dan says again and gets up to take a piss.
“Let’s get outta here,” I say to Dan.
Dan’s looking particularly hangdog as we walk back towards my place. But I mean, it’s not like Old Man Dan hasn’t ripped into him like that everyday since Danny was a pup. At least my dad had the decency to kick off a couple years back. So I decide to just walk slower and not say anything.
But as we pass the all-night laundromat, Dan says, “Y’know, Auntie Katie’s only been in the ground a couple months.”
“Shit, Danny. I hadn’t even thought of that.” I look at him, staring at the ground, hands in his pockets. His glasses are slipping, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
“Only been a couple years since Mom died, too,” he says.
“Aw, Danny, c’mon, man, just...y’know, forget about it.” I give him a little punch on the shoulder.
“You talked to your mom lately, Dutch?”
I sigh. “No, Dan, I haven’t. I’ll call her tonight, okay?”
Dan smiles a little bit. The streetlights come on and they reflect back to me in Danny’s glasses.
“Hey, Danny,” I say, “Y’know, I’ve got this Mad Chuck thing to take care of tonight, so...”
“Yeah, I know,” Dan says, “I’ll cover for you, but Gary’s gonna be pissed.” Dan grins in that chubby little way of his, the dimples that drive all the young girls crazy. “It is Wednesday, y’know,” he says, “Those lanes aren’t gonna wax themselves.”
“Well, I’ll give ‘em two coats next week, how’s that?”
“All right, I’ll talk to you later.”
“Later.” I walk up the stoop.
In the hall to my place, I can hear the Monahans screaming at each other again, while the faint tang of cat piss wafts from old Mrs. O’Brien’s. Just another day in the neighborhood. Until I open my door and there’s Shark MacNeill using the phone.
Using my phone.
“What the fuck is all this?” I say.
Shark holds up a finger to shush me. “Oh, don’t I know it,” he says into the phone, “I don’t have kids myself, y’know, but my sister’s kids, lemme tell ya, they’re gonna send her to an early grave.” He listens and then chuckles at something the person on the other end of the line says. He throws me a wink.
Sitting in my Barcalounger, absorbed in a copy of Hustler that Dan left over here last week, is Monroe Benton, a bigger, uglier bastard you’ll never see. Unless you look to his right and see his older brother, Irving, sitting on the arm of my once-favorite chair and reading over Monroe’s shoulder. Monroe has his feet up on Stevie F.
“Okay, I’ll be sure to tell him as soon as he gets here,” Shark says, “Bye-bye now.” He hangs up the phone. My phone. “Y’know,” he says, “You really ought to call your mother more often.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve got this problem with my phone line. Assholes in bad suits keep walking in here and tying it up.”
Shark smiles. Shark was known as Shark long before he went into the illicit loan business. See, the guy’s got the absolute most fucked-up teeth you’ve ever seen. He must have fifty, a hundred teeth in that big mouth of his, and they’re crammed in there every which way including loose, so he can’t even close his mouth all the way. Shark MacNeill, man, the orthodontist’s nightmare.
“I’m serious, Dutch, a mother’s love is very special. And you’ve got two of ‘em! What’s her name again, uh...Shelly...”
“Sheila,” I say.
Shark snaps his fingers. “Right! Sheila! Yeah, lovely lady. Your mother is a very lucky woman.”
“What’re you calling my mother for, Shark?”
“Oh, no, she called here. Looking for her only son, to see how he’s doing.”
“I see. And how am I doing?”
Shark smiles again, but it’s even less appealing than usual. “That’s really a question only you can answer, Dutch, m’boy.”
It’s all quiet for a minute, Shark and I staring at each other, neither one of us wanting to be the one to look away. Monroe and Irving still seem not to notice that I’m in the room.
“So, what brings you by, Shark?”
“What brings me by?” Shark says, “Why, my brand new pearl gray Hyundai Tiburon, that’s what.”
“Oh, how nice.”
“Yeah, it is nice.” Shark scratches his chin. “Hey, wanna see it?”
“No, that’s all—”
“No, hey, c’mon! It’s parked right outside. Look.” Shark turns and goes to the window. “See?” he points down, “You can see it from here. It’s right out front.”
I look at him.
“C’mon,” he says, smiling again, “Indulge me. It’s my baby, I like to show her off.”
I shoot another glance at the Benton brothers before joining Shark at the window and leaning out. Down at the curb, gleaming under a streetlight, is Shark’s car. It’s a sporty little thing, but I dunno. Not really my style.
“Yeah, that’s nice, all right,” I say, leaning back in.
“No, no,” Shark says, pushing me back out, not roughly, but firm, “Did you get a really good look?”
“Well, yeah. I mean—”
“No, take a good look. I mean, we are four stories up, y’know, it’s kinda dark out...”
“Shark, man. I can see it.”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s not—”
There’s no fire escape outside my living room window. It’s out the bedroom window. So now that I’m being dangled out of the living room window by Monroe and Irving Benton, there’s nothing between the sidewalk and my big, fat head but a forty-foot drop.
I give Shark the satisfaction of a short, girly scream.
“How ‘bout now, Hollen?” I hear Shark say, and I’m pretty goddamn sure he ain’t smiling, “Can you see it better now?”
“Jesus Christ, Shark, man! Stop!” I yell. Irving and Monroe have me by my belt loops and shirt tail, and my collar is biting into my throat. The change falls out of my pockets, and I watch it tumble through the air.
“Can you see it, Hollen? Answer me! Can you see it?”
“My car? You can see my car?”
“Are you sure?”
“Fuck! Yes, I’m sure, okay? Yes! Yes!”
“All right, haul ‘im in, boys.”
The Bentons haul me back in and throw me across the room. I try to keep my feet, but I slam back into the front door. Before I can slump to the ground, Irving and Monroe grab me by the arms and pin me upright.
Shark brings his face two inches from mine. “Dutch, Dutch,” he says, all peaches and cream again, “The little Dutch boy. Y’know, I’ve known you since you were shittin’ yellow. You know that?”
I can’t answer him because I’m staring at his teeth. God, they’re a mess. Food stuck in ‘em and everything.
“That’s right,” Shark says, holding his hand palm down at about his knee, “Little Dutch boy, runnin’ around this place in his diapers. Knew your old man a long time, too. He was a good man. Always played square. Remember that time I had to break his thumbs?”
I remember. The old man was so sure the Chargers would take the Niners that year in the Super Bowl.
“When we came to see him,” Shark says, “did he cry and beg and carry on? No. He knew he was in deep, that he had been for some time, that I was left with no other options. I mean, my hands were tied, Dutch.” He pauses for what I guess is supposed to be dramatic effect. “He took his beating like a man, Dutch. Do you see what I’m trying to say to you? Like a man.”
“Aw, gimme a fuckin’ break, will ya?” I say before I can stop myself. I feel the Bentons’ meathooks tighten on my arms.
Shark’s eyes narrow. “Y’know somethin’, Hollen?” now I’m Hollen again, “When you got out, off the chain gang, Monroe here thought that we should get rid of you. He says to me, ‘Shark, that punk Hollen, man, he ain’t no good, we can’t trust him.’ But I stood up for you. I said, ‘Dutch, he’s a good kid. I get him to do a little breaking, a little entering, and he gets caught.’ Not blaming anyone here—it was just bad luck, happens to the best of us. So I say to Monroe, I say, ‘That kid Dutch, he kept his mouth shut, took his own fall. He’s a class act, that Dutch, just like his old man was.’ But now,” Shark shakes his head, “Now, I see that Monroe was right all along.”
“Whoa, wait a minute,” I say, “Shark, man, I don’t know what you’re talking about, honest. I haven’t said word one, not even—”
“You keyed my fucking car, Hollen!” he shouts in my face, and my gut flip-flops, “My brand new pearl gray Hyundai Tiburon!”
Danny, I think, you dumb bastard.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Shark says, mistaking my expression for guilt, “I thought we were square, no problems. I even tried to set you up with a good job when you got home. But no, you wanted to go work at the goddamn bowling alley with your boyfriend Malloy. Fine, I can’t hold that against you.” Shark swallows, his mouth probably dry from all this flapping of his gums. “Y’know, whatever problem you had with Mr. Baldwin back whenever, that’s between you and him. But if you got a beef with me, Hollen, I mean, c’mon. Switch up your M.O. at least. You make it too easy for me.” He reaches into his jacket pocket.
My throat goes dry.
But it’s just a piece of paper. Shark unfolds it and holds it up so I can read it.
Otto’s Body and Paint, it says at the top, next to a little cartoon of a big-headed guy—Otto, I guess—in a little roadster with a little dust cloud behind him.
“Four ninety-nine, ninety-nine, plus tax,” Shark says, “But I know math makes your head hurt, so I’ll just round it up.” He takes the invoice back, refolds it. “You read me, Hollen?”
“Yeah, I read you.”
“Six hundred dollars in my hands twenty-four hours from now. Read me?”
“Good.” Shark nods his head once. “Turn ‘im loose, boys.”
The Bentons release me, and I push past them all into the kitchen, where I stick my head under the tap once again.
“Hey, Dutch,” Shark says.
“C’mere a minute.”
Irving and Monroe are standing in the hall. Shark is shrugging into his coat. “Hey,” he says, “You can tell me if it’s none of my business, but who’s your pal?” He jerks his head at Stevie F.
“A friend from the chain gang,” I say. I pick up the phone.
“Calling your mom?” Shark asks, halfway out the door.
“Hey, look,” I say, pointing behind him, “An unfixed boxing match.” When he turns to look, I slam the door on him.
“Twenty-four hours, Hollen!” He pounds on the door, once. “You read me?” Then I hear him stomp off.
The phone rings forever before Danny finally picks up. “I’m trying to get ready for work and ‘The Simpsons’ are on,” he says, all pissy, “Whaddaya want?”
“It’s me, Danny.”
“Oh. Dutch. What’s shakin’?”
“Well, Shark MacNeill stopped by.”
“Yeah, y’know, we chatted, he dangled me out the window...”
Dan doesn’t say anything, but I can hear him breathing.
“Danny? Still with me?”
“It’s about his car, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Danny, yeah. It’s about his car. Jesus, Malloy, why ya gotta pull this shit?”
“I didn’t think anyone saw!” His voice is getting all high. “I mean, it was the middle of the night!”
“Nobody did see you, Dan. Otherwise, Shark woulda paid you a visit.”
“Oh, yeah.” Dan chews on that a bit. “So, then...why didn’t he?”
“Because he remembers when I—ahem—did the same thing to Mr. Baldwin’s car—”
“—and thinks I’m still pissed off about the whole Hearns Gym thing.”
I run down what else Shark said.
“Man,” Danny says, “I don’t have that kind of money. The kind of money I have has never even heard of that kind of money.”
“C’mon, Dan,” I say, “Dan, Dan the car-keying man, you think I don’t know that?”
“Look, I’ll handle the money for now, okay? But—”
“I’ll pay you back, Dutch, you know that—”
“Danny! Look, shut up a minute. I need to borrow your car.”
“Yeah, tonight.” When does he think?
“Shit, man,” he says, “I’ve got work—”
“Danny? Hey, remember me? The guy pulling your fat ass out of the fire once again?”
“All right, all right. Shit. Is that it?”
“Yeah,” I say, “No, wait. Bring, uh...do you have, like, a bunch of blankets you don’t need?” I glance at Stevie F. drawing flies on my rug.
“Yeah, I can probably scrape some up.”
“All right. I’ll be there in two shakes.”
“All right,” I say, “Later.”
I hang up and just stand there, my hand still on the phone, just letting myself catch up to the last few hours. Then I pick up the phone and dial another number.
“Hello, Mom?” I say.
To walk here from Dan’s takes six, seven shakes, tops. So since he drove, Dan is indeed here in two shakes, maybe even fewer. I have to open the door for him because he’s loaded down with five or six big quilts.
“Tricia took up knitting when Jeff left her,” he says. Tricia is Dan’s oldest sister. “Everybody in the family is up to their ass in these things now.”
I expect to see Dan’s hunk of shit Passat waiting for us at the curb. When I see what’s waiting for us there instead, I almost drop my end of Stevie F., wrapped up like a big quilt burrito.
“Danny,” I say, “isn’t this your old man’s car?”
“Yeah, well, I kinda figured this was why you needed my car,” he says, laying his end of Stevie F. down and getting out his keys, “but then I thought of what they say: when you wanna move a corpse, you can’t beat a ’73 Coupe de Ville.”
I look at him.
“Well,” he says, “somebody’s probably said that before, anyway.”
“Dan,” I say, “your dad’s gonna kill you.”
“Ah, fuck him,” he says, “He’s out like a light. He won’t even know it’s gone.”
I shrug. “Okay, Dan, if you say so.” He’s right, too. I hadn’t even thought how we were supposed to cram Stevie F. into Dan’s Passat’s little matchbox trunk. Old Man Dan’s Cadillac, on the other hand, coulda held two more Stevie F.’s without us even having to move the spare tire.
“Y’know, Dan,” I say as I swing the car around towards his place, “You’re taking all of this pretty much in stride, aren’t’cha?”
“Yeah, well, truth to tell, I threw up for about half an hour after I got home from the bar.”
I laugh. That’s our boy Dan Malloy for ya.
The Rococo is up off the 95, almost past the city limits. The only reason I even know where it is is because that’s where I lost my virginity. It’s only nine o’clock though when I get up around there, so I tool around looking for somewhere to grab a bite.
Man, but this part of town gives me the creeps. It’s like every other block is a vacant lot covered with scrub brush and chain link, and then when there’s buildings, every other store front is boarded up and all the apartments above them, too. It’s like a goddamn ghost town up here.
A few blocks down from the motel is a Denny’s, even more run-down than most. I order a cheeseburger and fries, but I pick at them, my appetite not exactly large. Someone left today’s paper in the next booth, so I take it and flip through it. The Demons lost again. Some Middle Easterners blew each other up again. Sarge beat up Beetle again. Just another day in the neighborhood.
Finally, eleven o’clock rolls around. I pull into the Rococo, drive past the front office, and into the court proper. I can’t read any of the door numbers, but I spot the big purple Seville almost immediately and park next to it. Room 2 is right there.
I take a deep breath. “All right, Dutch,” I say, “Let’s get this over with.”
The lights in the room are on and I can hear the TV, but nobody answers my knock. I knock again, and still nothing. I’m about to knock one more time, when the door opens a crack.
“Oh, it’s you,” Mad Chuck says, and then he’s gone, the door still cracked open.
I stand there for a few more seconds. Then I push the door open. Carefully.
“Chuck?” I say. He’s sitting at the foot of the bed, elbows on his knees. His face is a foot away from the television.
“Hey, what’cha watching?” I say, trying to sound friendly.
Mad Chuck doesn’t turn to look at me, but holds his forefinger to his lips, shushing me. He’s watching some black-and-white movie. I guess “watching” isn’t the word, actually. If he concentrates any harder on that TV set, it’ll start levitating, honest to God. I close the door and lean back against it.
The movie ends with a bunch of shots of atom bombs exploding. Chuck reaches over and clicks the TV off, but he still just sits there for, like, another five minutes.
“So...what was that?” I say.
Mad Chuck looks at me and sighs a big, dramatic sigh. “That,” he says, “was Dr. Strangelove.”
“Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”
“So...which is it?” I say.
“Was that Dr. Strangelove or was it How I Learned—”
But I don’t even finish the question before Mad Chuck busts out laughing, big Swedish-lookin’ dude laughter that drowns me out like a megaphone. “You’re all right, man,” he says after he recovers a little, “You’re all right.”
“Thanks,” I say. I don’t know what he’s talking about.
One second, he’s wiping his eyes; the next, he’s snapped to attention like I just slapped him. “You here alone?” he says.
“Not exactly, no,” I say.
“Well, where is he then?” He stands up and, man, does he look pissed. He says, “Where’s Stevie F.?”
“Hey, relax. He’s, uh, he’s in the car, all right?”
“He’s waiting in the car?” He shoves me aside and opens the door.
“Well, uh, no. Well, sort of, I guess. He’s, uh, he’s in the trunk.”
Mad Chuck’s standing in the doorway with his back to me, and his head droops. “Is he dead?” he asks.
He spins around. Fast. I’ve never seen anybody move so fast, much less somebody his size. He throws a right cross that catches me in the eye. I feel his ring split my eyebrow open. My eye swells shut before I can even blink it, and the blood from my eyebrow washes over it, sealing it even tighter, like fuckin’ Fix-A-Flat. I drop like a beaten sack of flour, and a little crazy part of my mind speaks up and points out that he never even let me finish my sentence.
Mad Chuck kicks me in the gut, and all the air whooshes out of my lungs. He kicks me again, but I barely feel it. No wind left to knock out of me. The edges of my vision start to gray.
My mouth opens and closes, opens and closes, man, this fish could not be any more out of water. My nostrils start to work some, the air wheezing through my sinuses like a harmonica full of mud. I can no longer see colors.
This is where I leave the picture.
* * *
There’s a man. He’s tall, a good two feet taller than me. He’s under a streetlight, a streetlight so bright that I can’t see anything around it but darkness for miles and miles.
This man—this tall, tall man—with his short-cropped gray hair and long, lean face, is under this streetlight, and another man is lying at his feet. As I come closer, the tall man pulls one foot back and delivers a vicious kick to the man on the ground. My chest tingles, but I still step closer.
When I come to where the streetlight and the blackness meet, I stop. The tall man turns and looks at me through narrowed eyes. I try to swallow, but my throat is too dry.
“Hey,” I say softly, “You’re, uh...aren’t you Lee Marvin?”
“All I want,” the tall man says, and his voice is like limestone. He delivers another kick to the man at his feet. The man groans and rolls over. His left eye is swollen shut.
The man on the ground is my dad.
“All I want,” the tall man says again, “is what’s comin’ to me.”
* * *
The air rushes back into my lungs.
“Wait a minute!” I shout, and it’s enough to surprise Mad Chuck’s foot to a stop in mid-kick. I gasp in another lungful. “Wait just a fuckin’ minute!”
“I told you what would happen if you wasted my time, Hollen.”
“You never said you needed him alive!”
“Do I gotta spell everything out for you small-timers?” Mad Chuck lights a cigarette and leans over me. “Why would I pay five thousand dollars for a corpse? If I’d wanted him dead, I could have just done it myself.”
I push myself back with my legs until I’m against the wall. “Then why didn’t you?”
Mad Chuck stubs out his barely-smoked cigarette. “Because my employer wanted the honor of doing that. So now I’ve got to bring you to him.” He reaches down and picks me up by my shirtfront.
I swat at his hands, but it’s like mosquitoes versus a tank. “Me? Why?”
“Look,” he says, more annoyed than anything, “my boss, he’s big into revenge. He wanted revenge on Stevie F. But since you killed him, he’s gonna have to kill you.”
“Hey! Fuck, man, wait! I didn’t kill him! What’re you, nuts?”
Mad Chuck rolls his eyes. “Right, Hollen, sure. C’mon, man, I’m not as stupid as you look.”
“Honest, man, I didn’t. You said it yourself, I’m fuckin’ small time, man. I did two years for B & E. What the fuck do I know about killin’ guys? I’ve never killed anybody in my life!”
Mad Chuck drops me to the floor again. He crouches and pulls a suitcase out from under the bed. “You talk a good game, my friend, but really. Would you listen to you if you were me?”
“Well...no, probably not. But—but, look—”
“No, you look. I’m gettin’ tired of—”
“Man, I’m telling you, it wasn’t me!”
“Well, then, fine,” Mad Chuck says, “I’ll bite. Who was it?”
“It was fuckin’ Shark MacNeill!” Whoa, where did that come from?
Mad Chuck says, “Shark MacNeill?”
“Yeah, man, MacNeill.” My throat is shrinking with fear, and my voice is coming out like I’ve just had a helium enema. “He’s this guy I owe money to, right? He broke into my place while I was at the bar, talking to you, and I guess Stevie F. thought it was you coming for him, so he took a shot at Shark, man. But Shark and his boys dropped him like...like...something, man, I don’t know, but they fuckin’ killed him, not me. Man, we were pals in the joint!”
That crazy little part of my mind pipes up again and says that if I live through this, I oughtta go into improvisational theater.
Mad Chuck sits down on the bed. “Shark MacNeill, huh?”
I wonder for a split second why he now seems to believe me. But then I forget that and just thank Mary and All the Saints that I may get outta this with minimal death or dismemberment. “Yeah,” I say, “You know him?”
“Where does this Shark MacNeill hang out?”
“Um...well, usually at the Aquarium, this club downtown. Or, well, it’s close enough to downtown—”
“All right,” he says, “We’ll take your car. But I hope for your sake that you’re not lying to me, Hollen.”
“Shit, man,” I say as I pick myself up, “I’m as much a liar as I am a killer.”
Mad Chuck doesn’t say anything the whole way there. I’m not exactly jonesing for conversation either, and besides, I need all my concentration for the road. You try driving in the city at night with only one functioning eye sometime. It ain’t easy.
The little parking lot next to the Aquarium is full, but I don’t see any brand new pearl gray Hyundai Tiburon.
“Go check inside,” Mad Chuck says.
The place is full of nimrods, mostly college kids. The place is all blue-green, and there’s these, like, weird spotlights, like you’re underwater. The air is clean because they make everybody smoke out back. I bet Shark likes hanging around here because it makes him feel young. That, or he feels at home with nimrods. Either way, he ain’t here right now.
When I get back to the car, I say, “There’s another bar down on Louisiana he goes to sometimes.”
“All right,” he says, “Let’s go.”
They’re doing all sorts of nighttime construction on 24th, so I have to take a detour over to Kefauver. The light at Mississippi is backed up like crazy, so it takes forever just to get to the intersection. There’s a coffee shop there on the right, and I lean forward to look just past Mad Chuck at these two cute girls sitting at a window booth. They’re chatting it up and having a good ol’ time. I’m getting an eyeful when I glance over to the next booth and, lo and behold...
“Chuck, man, that’s him!”
“Where?” He looks up and down the street.
“No, right there, in the coffee shop! See him? Sitting by himself in that booth next to those cute girls.”
Mad Chuck looks where I’m pointing, and I see the muscles in his thick neck tighten up.
I say, “I guess he musta given Irving and Monroe the rest of the night off.”
“Wait here,” Mad Chuck says without looking at me and gets out of the car, leaving his door hanging open.
“Hey,” I call after him, “The entrance is around the corner.” He doesn’t give any sign that he heard me.
The light turns green and cars start blaring their horns at me. I roll down my window to wave them around, not taking my eye off Mad Chuck.
He reaches around and pulls a gun out of his waistband.
The car right behind me stops honking, pulls around and screeches past me.
In the same motion, Mad Chuck brings the gun around and smashes the plate glass window of the coffee shop.
Now I don’t hear a single car horn.
Behind the sound of shattered glass raining to the sidewalk, there’s a high-pitched scream. I think it’s one of the cuties, until I see that it’s actually Shark MacNeill. Mad Chuck leans back a little so the falling glass will miss him, then with his free hand, he grabs Shark MacNeill by the collar and yanks him out to the pavement. All the other coffee shop patrons are running for the door. Shark tries to push himself up, but only succeeds in driving shards of glass into his palms. He keeps shaking his head like he’s trying to wake himself up.
Mad Chuck grabs him by the collar again, and with his other hand, he swings the gun at Shark’s face.
I can hear Shark’s cheekbone shatter.
Mad Chuck swings the gun back.
Shark’s nose now bends severely to the left.
Mad Chuck swings one more time.
I think I hear a couple of Shark’s teeth tinkle off the sidewalk.
“Hollen,” Mad Chuck says, “Open the trunk.”
I get out and fumble the trunk open, push Stevie F. and the spare tire towards the back a little more.
Mad Chuck drags Shark’s unconscious body through the glass and off the curb. Shark hits the asphalt with a sick thump. Mad Chuck brings him over to the trunk, hoists him in.
“You’re sure that’s him?” Mad Chuck asks.
Shark’s face is a bit different from the last time I saw him, but I say, “Yeah, I’d recognize those teeth anywhere.”
Mad Chuck slams the trunk lid closed.
We get back in the car, and Mad Chuck says, “I need cigarettes. Can you stop somewhere?”
There’s a new Walgreens a couple blocks away, but Mad Chuck tells me to park in the underground lot across the street.
“I’ll be right back,” he says, “Want anything?”
“No,” I say, “No thanks.”
I get out and sit on the hood, feet on the bumper, to wait. The air down here is thick with exhaust, even though the place is deserted. I put my hand to my eye, but it stings at the slightest touch. I remember the welt on Jane’s cheekbone and my jaw clenches.
Mad Chuck returns, a lit cigarette and a can of Dr. Pepper in one hand, a wad of cash in the other. “Here,” he says.
“What’s this?” I say, “Jesus, they’re all hundreds.”
“That’s right,” he says, “Twenty-five of them. I figure you didn’t bring me Stevie F.—” oh, didn’t I? “—but you did deliver Shark MacNeill, so...”
“Yeah, uh...do you mind my asking what the hell that was all about?”
“No, not at all.” He takes a swig of Dr. Pepper and drags on his cigarette, but doesn’t say anything.
I get it. “What the hell was that all about?” I ask, putting the wad of bills in my pocket.
“Yeah, funny you should ask,” he says, a real comedian, this guy. “See, about five, six years ago, I was down in El Paso on some business, and my guy down there asks me if I want to go in on this fight, this championship flyweight bout, Doyle vs. Oswego.”
“Doyle?” I say, “Brian ‘Dum-Dum’ Doyle?”
“You remember him?”
“Yeah, sure. Before he started shylocking, Shark used to manage...oh.”
“Right. My partner and I were assured the fix was in, that Doyle would be on his back by the end of the third, even though he was highly favored. Between Manny and I, we laid down five big ones.”
“But he K.O.’ed Oswego in the last ten seconds of the round two.”
“You got a pretty good memory there,” he says, flicking his cigarette away.
“Well, hell, everybody remembers that fight, ‘cause they found Dum-Dum dead in the locker room right after...oh.”
“Doyle told us, after some persuasion, that MacNeill had blown town two nights before. He wouldn’t say where, though, and Manny kinda lost his temper and, well...” He shrugs. “That was the last we saw of our dough.”
Mad Chuck drains his soda and tosses the can over his shoulder. The empty aluminum bounce echoes through the garage. He lets out a wet belch and that echoes, too. “Frankly, Hollen, I still think you killed Stevie F. But I’ve got no qualms about pinning it on our mutual friend Mr. MacNeill.”
“Man,” I say again and kinda chuckle.
Mad Chuck’s brow creases. “What’s so funny?”
“Hey, hey, take it easy, man. It’s just...I dunno, it sounds like Shark really got the drop on you that time.” His cheeks turn from rosy to fiery. I hold up my hands. “Hey, I didn’t mean nothin’ by that, okay? Just, y’know, you don’t seem like the kinda guy, y’know, that that sort of thing happens to, that’s all. Honest. I didn’t mean nothin’.”
Mad Chuck chews on that a bit, and then he says, “Believe me, Shark MacNeill’s days of getting the drop on me are over.”
“Hey, you don’t have to convince me of that, man. But...shit, there’s just one thing still bugging me.”
I figured if I pushed off the Coupe’s bumper, y’know, just fuckin’ leapt at the guy, I could catch him off-guard and get at least one punch in for Jane, before Mad Chuck could get his wits back and kill me. So, here I come flying at him, man, in slo-mo, my fist soaring proudly in front of me, my feet in mid-air.
I was in slo-mo. Mad Chuck’s left hook was in fast-forward. It’s not as powerful as his right, but take it from me, it gets the job done. He splits my cheek open, and I land against the car. The grill drives itself into my spine, but at least it keeps me from slumping to the ground again.
“Fuck, man,” I say, “You wearing a ring on both hands?”
He looks down at his left hand. “Yeah. This is my 300-game ring.”
“Oh, yeah?” I say, holding my hand to my cheek. I can feel blood dribble through my fingers. “I’ve never rolled more than a 185.”
“Oh? You bowl?”
“Yeah, you know. When I get the time.”
“Huh. So, uh...you mind telling me what that was all about?”
“Actually, yes. Yes, I would.”
He looks at me while I try to keep from losing all my blood through my face. “It’s that girl, isn’t it?” he says, “That loudmouth from this afternoon that I had to shut up?”
“I said I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Jesus, Hollen. Just when I think you can’t get any stupider...”
“Look, uh, Chuck? All due respect? Go fuck yourself.”
Me and my big mouth.
He grabs me by the shirtfront again. “You want some advice, snotnose? Stop thinking with your dick. I don’t know how many guys I’ve seen piss it all away because of some broad. Is this girl, uh—”
“Jane,” I say.
“Right, right, whatever her name is, is she your wife or something? Are you even currently banging her?”
I look at him.
“Well, are you?”
“No,” I mutter, “I’m not.”
“That’s right, and you want to know how I know? Because that girl had ‘lesbo’ written all over her. Believe me, I know one when I see one. And here you are, about to kill yourself over her! To what end, Hollen? What do you hope to accomplish by taking a swing at me like that? Huh?”
“All I want,” I say, “is what’s comin’ to me.”
Mad Chuck lets go of my shirt, smoothes it out a little for me. “Well,” he says, “from the look of your face, I’d say you’ve already gotten it.”
I look at him.
“Are we done now?” he says, “Or do you want to play superhero some more?”
“All right, then. Get in the fuckin’ car.”
It’s another silent trip back to the Rococo, giving me a lot of time to collect my thoughts. But whenever I think about this day, the only conclusion I can reach is that I want it to end. A.S.A.F.P.
I pull up next to his Seville, and Mad Chuck says, “All right, help me unload the cargo.”
“Shit, man, I brought them to you. You take them from here.”
“Hey, listen, you—”
“No, you listen! Ever since I got up this morning, I’ve had a gun in my face, I’ve been dangled out a fourth story window, I’ve had my face rearranged and damn near all my ribs broken. I’ve been accused of being everything from a stoolie to a limp dick to a vandal, my ex-girlfriend hates me, and my mother is a dyke. So beat me up some more, kill me if you wanna, but I’ve had e-fucking-nough for one day. All right?”
For a second, I think he really is going to kill me, yet I still don’t care. But then he says, “Really? A dyke?”
Mad Chuck chews on that a bit. “All right, Hollen, be a big pussy. I’m probably as sick of you as you are of me. Would it be too much to ask for you to go and get my suitcase out of my room while I put these guys in my car, so I can be out of your hair that much quicker? Pretty please?”
Man, this fuckin’ guy. I wanna tell him where to stick his goddamn suitcase, when that crazy little part of my mind pipes up and suggests that maybe I’ve pushed my luck enough for one day.
Sometimes, man, sometimes I think that crazy little part of my mind ain’t so crazy at all.
“All right. Here.” I hand him the car keys. He hands me his motel key.
His suitcase is lying on the bed, right where he left it. I don’t even turn the lights on, the light spilling in the open door is enough. I hear the creaky trunk of the Coupe open.
Then I hear the shot.
I dive for the ground even before the echoes bounce off the empty neighborhood. I coulda sworn he wanted Shark alive. I peek my head up to look out the window.
I can’t see much because the trunk is all the way open. Someone’s on the ground though; I can see a hand. Then Shark MacNeill steps around the car.
And looks right at me.
“Oh,” I say, “Shit.”
He musta jumped over that goddamn Coupe, because he’s in the room almost before I can get to my feet.
“Talk fast,” he says and puts a little Derringer two-shot pistol in my face. Little gun or not, my throat goes dry again.
“Hey, Shark, man—”
“Faster than that!” Man, he is really fucked up. His voice is all muffled and wheezy because his nose is over near his ear, forcing him to breathe through his mouth, where a couple of his teeth have pushed through his cheek. A thin steady stream of blood leaks down his chin.
“Okay,” I say and swallow, “Okay, right after you left, right? This guy comes busting in, says he’s been lookin’ for you and somebody pointed him in my direction. I told him to get the fuck out, that I didn’t know who he was talking about, and fuck, Shark, he beat the fuckin’ shit outta me!” I point to my face. “Lookit this!”
“I didn’t tell him nothin’, Shark, honest, but he—he was fucking crazy, he wouldn’t stop, man, so I said, ‘Maybe he’s at the Aquarium,’ and he dragged me down there. He said something about a fight way down in Texas somewhere—”
“El Paso,” Shark says and lowers his gun a little. Only a little, mind you.
“Yeah! Yeah!” I’m acting a little more scared stupid than I actually am, but only a bit more. “That’s it! Some boxing match you were, uh...in charge of and he lost his ass on it and he’s been after you ever since. When you weren’t at the club, he made me take him around looking for you, and he saw you in that coffee shop...”
“How did he know what I look like?”
Shit. Hadn’t thought of that. “Fuck, Shark, I don’t know—”
“You sold me out, Hollen,” he says, raising the gun back to my face, “I oughtta kill you for that.”
“Look, Shark, Jesus, will you fucking look at my face! Look at what he did to you! The guy was fucking crazy, man! Hey! Hey, I’ve got your money, Shark! Look!” I reach into my pocket.
“Hold it!” Shark jabs the Derringer into my nose. My hand freezes. Shark reaches into my pocket and pulls out the wad of bills. He rifles through it with one hand.
“There’s gotta be...shit, two grand here,” he says, “At least.”
“Well, hell,” I say and try to laugh. Not easy with a gun up your nose. “What can I say, Shark? My horse came in.”
“Did he give you this? Huh? Trying to make you a little more cooperative?”
“Shark, why—shit, I was ready to send him to my mother’s house if he would stop beating on me. So why would he feel the need to pay me off?”
Now Shark laughs a little. “Man, he fucked me up good, too.” He puts his gun back in his jacket pocket. “Well,” he says, holding up the money. My money. “I’ll just hang onto this to cover the damages, and you and I are now officially square. Unless you have any objections?”
I let out a sigh. “No.”
“Good. You want a ride home?”
“No thanks,” I say.
But he’s already out the door. I go to the bathroom and stick my head under the tap. I cup my hands full of water and wet my hair down, my face down.
Outside, Old Man Dan’s car is gone. Shark hadn’t even bothered to move Mad Chuck. He’d just backed right over him. The motel, the street, the neighborhood is pin-drop quiet. I go over and look down at Mad Chuck’s broken body, a neat little bullet hole over his right eye.
“His days of getting the drop on you are sure as fuck over now, huh, Chuck?”
Mad Chuck doesn’t answer me.
I find his keys in his pocket and pop open the Seville’s trunk. Not nearly as roomy as Old Man Dan’s, but it’ll do. Before I close the lid on him, I slip his class ring off his still-warm hand. I leave the 300-game ring alone. Asshole or not, Mad Chuck should go to his final reward with that.
I hit the 95 and head back towards my neighborhood. I’m still kinda keyed up, and I’m speeding the whole way back. Probably not smart with a fresh corpse in the trunk, but I need to get home already. I park the car a good ten blocks from my place and walk away without looking back, the keys dangling from the ignition, the door unlocked. It’ll be gone by morning.
I get inside, and exhaustion tackles me. I fall asleep in the Barcalounger with my shoes on.
“Holy Mary,” our boy Dan Malloy says the next night, as I finish telling him my story.
“Yeah. Sorry about your dad’s car, Danny-boy.”
“Who cares about that asshole?” Dan pushes his glasses up onto his nose. “I’m sorry about your face.”
“Well, my face appreciates it.” Dan is driving us to work in his little Passat. When we’re a couple blocks away from the bowling alley, I say, “Hey, lemme out up here.”
“I just gotta take care of something. Tell Gary I’m right behind you.”
“All right, man. Hey,” he says, “You okay?”
I shrug. “I’ll live. Thanks, Dan.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Sure,” he says, “Don’t mention it.”
Dan’s dropped me off in front of this bar, The Violent Femme. This woman who looks like William Forsythe checks my I.D. She gives me the once-over and says, “You sure you’re in the right place, champ?”
“I’ll just be in and out,” I say.
“Uh-huh,” she says. She hands me back my license and opens the door for me. “Knock ‘em dead,” she says.
The room temperature drops about ten degrees when I step inside. The place is wall-to-wall women, but if looks could kill, I’d be a cadaver ten times over by now. I plaster a friendly, non-threatening smile on my face and make my way towards the back.
“Dutch! What’re you doing here!” Jane’s sitting at a booth near the back with Melissa. Melissa’s got this really short hair and doesn’t really seem to like me. So she fits in nicely in this bar.
Jane is all smiles until she sees my face. “Jesus Christ, Dutch, what happened to you?”
“Aw, it’s nothin’,” I say, “Hi, Melissa, how are you?”
“Fine,” she says, barely moving her lips.
“Hey, Janie? Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure.” She takes me by the elbow and leads me to a quiet corner. “Dutch,” she says, “tell me what happened. Jesus, lookit your eye...”
“I’m okay, Janie, really.” I lightly move her hand away from my beaten mug. “I’m just on my way to work, and I wanted to give you something.” I pull it out of my pocket.
“‘Granite Hills High School,’” she reads off the ring face, “‘Class of 1980.’ Dutch, where did you...” and then a little light goes on in her eyes. Her green-gray eyes. “Did you—did he do this to you?”
“I was at the Rococo last night,” I say, “Remember that place?”
She’s still giving me that look, but she goes along with my dodge. “Of course I do. We spent our first night together there. Junior year.”
“Yeah. I thought, y’know, that maybe...”
“That I’d forgotten?”
“Well...yeah. I guess.”
Jane lets out a sigh. “We had some good times, you and me. I couldn’t forget a single one of them.” She bites her lower lip a little. “But that was a long time ago. I need you as a friend, Dutch, as clichéd as that is, but this is me now, and I—”
“Oh, no! Janie, that’s not what I meant at all.” I can feel my cheeks burning. “What you’ve got here, y’know, it—it’s fine, it’s great, Melissa’s a great girl. You’re happy. I mean, y’know, that’s all I’ve ever...uh, y’know...God, why do they keep it so warm in here?”
“Dutch Hollen, do you remember what you told me that night at the motel? Y’know, afterwards...?”
“Uh, yeah. Yeah, I said that I really hadn’t ever done it before.”
“Well, shit, Hollen, I had figured that out on my own,” she says and laughs a little, “Did you think I was stupid?”
“No, it was just kinda embarrassing, is all...”
“Well, do you remember what else you told me?”
I think for a second. “No, I don’t.”
“We were talking about all this stuff, remember? Like, school and family and stuff. And you told me that your greatest fear in life—do you remember now?”
“Oh, yeah. Jesus.”
“Your greatest fear was that you would turn into—”
“—into my father.” God, how lame. Why do girls always remember shit like this?
“Well,” Jane says, “I’m here to tell you that you don’t have a thing to worry about.”
I look at her. Not just at her eyes, but into them. My throat goes dry, but I gotta tell you, I’d be lying if I said it’s the worst feeling I’ve had in a while.
“Well,” I say, “I’d better get to work.”
“Okay, Dutch,” Jane says, “I’ll see you around.”
One time, when I was a kid, like seven or eight years old, my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I had just seen Point Blank for the first time on the Saturday Afternoon Movie. So I said, “I wanna be Lee Marvin when I grow up.”
My dad asked me why.
I thought for a second and said, “‘Cause he don’t take no shit off nobody.”
I caught a good beating for that one.
BIO: Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. For more mirth and merriment, please visit attentionchildren.blogspot.com.