COMING HOME - J.E. SEYMOUR
He’d been pouring concrete for two months when he saw someone he recognized as he was leaving the job site.
The man spoke. “Hey.”
“Charles Marconi.” The young man was just outside the gate, with his enormous bodyguard by his side. His old boss was well dressed, as usual, wearing a camel hair coat over a nice suit, with a striped tie. Kevin kept walking. “Slumming?”
Charles fell in beside him. “Let me buy you a drink.”
“We were friends, man. Come on, I’ll buy you a shot.”
“I’m not the same person I was.”
“You still drink, don’t you?” Charles stopped in front of Sunny’s.
Kevin shrugged. “Okay.”
They sat at a small table near the back of the place, Kevin and the big bodyguard both going for the same seat, the one facing the door. He let Manny have it, since the man outweighed him and outranked him. Instead he sat on the side, scooting the chair a little to the left to get his back towards the wall and still have a view of the front entrance.
Charles ordered a Bud, a Jack Daniel’s and a club soda. The waitress eyed Kevin.
“You got ID, kid?”
He opened his mouth to launch into a tirade about being old enough to fight a fucking war but not old enough to drink when Charles put his hand on his arm.
“He’ll have the club soda, okay?” Charles said to the waitress.
She looked doubtful.
When she brought the drinks, Charles took the beer and Kevin grabbed the Jack Daniel’s, leaving Manny the club soda.
“Nice tattoos.” Charles opened the conversation.
Kevin looked at his arms. He’d taken off the coat and the sleeves of his workshirt were rolled up. One forearm had a simple “Semper Fi,” the biceps above that had a snake coiled around a dagger, the opposite biceps wore a pretty decent rendering of the Grim Reaper. They’d arrived on his arms almost by accident, appearing one by one after nights spent drinking. He shrugged.
“So you’re doing this concrete thing now, huh?” Charles asked. “Nice and straight.”
“How much do you make at that?”
“Enough to live on.”
“I’ve seen where you live. I wouldn’t call it living.”
Kevin rubbed the side of his neck. It hurt. He didn’t answer. He kept his gaze focused on the table.
“You’re a war hero, aren’t you?”
Kevin ignored that.
“You went over to some God-forsaken country and got hurt, fighting for who-knows-what, and you come back here and the best you can do is be a laborer. You deserve better, you know that.” Charles flashed a perfect smile, all straight white teeth. “You’re a good guy, you’ve got talent, you don’t need to be mixing concrete.”
“You did some cool stuff over there, didn’t you?”
“Not the kind of stuff that applies to anything over here.”
“You’d be surprised.” Charles smiled again. “I heard you were one of the best snipers they ever had.”
Kevin now knew exactly what Charles was talking about. “I cleaned up my act. I’m not really interested in murdering anyone for you.” He took a large gulp of the whiskey, trying to keep the monsters at bay. He didn’t like talking about this.
Charles blanched, looking around to see if there was anybody close enough to hear, then leaned in. “You think what you did over there wasn’t murder?”
“It was war, Charles. There’s a difference.”
“How many of those people you shot were shooting at you?” He paused and lowered his voice again. “What’d I hear, 75 kills?”
That was an exaggeration. The real total was 55, at least confirmed kills. There were probably more than that, but who was counting? Kevin didn’t even like thinking about it. He didn’t respond to Charles, just took out a Camel and lit it with a heavy silver Zippo.
“You want to spend the rest of your life mixing concrete?”
“I don’t know.”
“Wouldn’t you like to send more money home to your mom?”
Kevin glared at him. How the hell did he know so much?
“Here.” Charles handed him a card with a phone number on it. “You call me if you change your mind. You can make more money working for me than you would if you played for the Knicks.”
Charles knew where all the chinks were, and he knew how to chip away at them. Kevin dropped the card in his pocket and watched Charles leave, paying the bill on the way out. The waitress glared at him as he finished his whiskey and got to his feet.
It was only a few weeks later that he got himself into trouble at work.
It was a Friday afternoon, exceptionally warm for April. Some of the guys had started early on their Friday night drunk. The site was on a fairly busy street, with lots of pedestrian traffic. Three of the bigger guys started harassing a woman as she walked by. She was wearing a short skirt, tall boots, and a tight cotton shirt. Their comments became more suggestive and lewd as she continued to walk by. She was brave, Kevin gave her that. She didn’t cross the street, just kept walking. Then two of the guys stepped in front of her. One of them grabbed at her, and Kevin jumped down off the scaffolding onto the sidewalk. “Leave her alone.”
“What are you going to do about it, asshole?” This came from Ted, the larger of the two. He outweighed Kevin by probably 75 pounds, and was nearly as tall. He had been working construction for maybe ten years. The sleeves of his work shirt were rolled up. A yellow hard hat with an American flag on it perched on top of his crew cut.
The other pedestrians were crossing the street at this point, risking the traffic to avoid confrontation.
Ted’s partner in crime, a younger man named Jim, was holding the woman by the arm. He wasn’t as big or as tough as Ted, but was more drunk than smart at the moment.
The woman looked like she wanted to melt into the sidewalk. Her long brown hair was tucked behind her ears, and was staring at the ground. She looked up at Kevin, briefly, and he saw the fear in those eyes.
Ted moved towards Kevin. “Why don’t you get lost?”
“Leave the lady alone,” Kevin said. His stomach hurt. So did his head. He could hear his pulse pounding in his ears. He unbuttoned the bottom two buttons on his work shirt, just casually, without drawing attention. Ted came towards him, his hands curling into fists. Kevin pulled the Colt semi-auto out of his waistband and aimed it casually at Ted’s stomach. He was carrying it without a round in the chamber, but Ted didn’t need to know that. Kevin had seen bullies like this before, and he figured that one look at the weapon would be all it would take to back this guy off. He had no intention of firing it.
“Holy shit!” Ted backed up in a big hurry.
“Gun,” said Jim, dropping the woman’s arm. “He’s got a fucking gun.”
Somebody screamed. Kevin wasn’t quite sure where the sound was coming from. His head was pounding, and he just wanted everybody to go away and leave him alone. Now. But he stayed focused, concentrating on the lady in front of him, who was staring at him with her mouth open.
“Walk away, guys, walk away and leave the lady alone.” He said it quietly, but with all the authority a Marine Sergeant was supposed to have. He held the gun out with both hands, trigger finger resting along the barrel, a good clean combat stance, aiming it at Ted. Everything else disappeared, all he could see was a tunnel with the target at one end and his gun at the other. Ted was backing up, looking around. Then Kevin caught a glimpse of a cop out of the corner of his eye. Part of him was relieved, and part of him panicked.
“Why don’t you just drop the gun, buddy?” This order came from the direction of the cop, off to Kevin’s right.
He lowered the gun, but didn’t drop it. Still held it with both hands. He turned to look at the cop. He was not a young man, but he looked fit. He wore Sergeant stripes on his broad shoulders. His hair was just starting to gray. He held a large revolver and it was aimed at Kevin.
“You need to drop the gun,” the officer insisted.
“I don’t want it to go off.” Kevin knew the chances of that were pretty remote, with an empty firing chamber, but it sounded good.
“Then why don’t you just hand it to me?”
He handed the pistol to the cop. The police officer took the gun, tucked it into his belt, and motioned to Kevin.
“Get over there and get your hands on the wall, spread your legs.”
Kevin obeyed. The cop searched him, came up empty.
“He didn’t do anything,” protested the young woman. “These other two guys were harassing me and he got them away from me.”
The cop shifted his gaze from Kevin to the woman, to Ted and Jim, then looked at Kevin again.
“That’s the truth, officer. I saw the whole thing,” said a young man at the edge of the gathering crowd.
“Do you have a carry permit?” the cop asked.
“Yes sir.” Kevin turned around to face the older, shorter man. Stood at parade rest, feet slightly apart, hands clasped behind his back. Full attention would have been too much.
The police officer didn’t ask to see the permit, just looked at the gun. “Where’d you get this?”
“Standard Marine issue, sir.” Kevin knew how to play the game. He stared over the top of the man’s head as he spoke.
“You’re out of uniform, soldier.”
“Begging your pardon, sir, I’m out of the Corps.” Kevin let his eyes drift to the left, where Ted and Jim were standing with their mouths hanging open.
The police officer was reaching out to shake his hand. “I fought in Korea. Welcome home, kid.”
Kevin met the man’s eyes now, and allowed himself a half-smile as he shook the man’s hand.
“Thank you, sir.”
The officer turned to the woman. “Do you want to press charges against these two, ma’am?”
“No, officer, that won’t be necessary.” She looked a little sheepish. “I just want to go home.”
“You two need to leave the ladies alone, right?” The cop glared at Ted and Jim. They both nodded. The officer handed Kevin’s gun back to him. “Be careful with this thing.”
“Now go on home.”
Kevin started to walk away.
“Hey, mister?” the woman said.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling at him.
He nodded and turned away.
The monsters in his head were raging by the time he got home. He got good and drunk that night, in his little furnished room. His head hurt so much in the morning that he skipped his run, just stayed in bed with the curtains closed and tried to empty his head.
Monday morning, the job foreman stopped him at the gate.
“Markinson, I need to talk to you.”
Kevin followed him into the trailer.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.”
Kevin looked at the floor.
“You’re a good kid, and I know you need the job, that’s the only reason I hired you in the first place. I was a little worried, you know, about having a Vietnam vet on the job, worried about how the other guys would react. There’s a lot of strong feelings about that stuff, you know? But I have to tell you, everything was smooth until Friday.” The big guy stared at the floor, and Kevin let his eyes drift up enough to notice a bald spot on top of his head. “I just don’t need trouble, and Ted and Jim have about fifteen years between them, I can’t fire them.”
“I really respect what you did, but I have to let you go.” He looked at Kevin now, for the first time. “I have a daughter about that girl’s age, and I just kept thinking about how I’d feel if it was her, you know.” He lowered his voice. “I think you should have shot Ted in the balls. It would have solved a lot of problems, you know?”
Kevin smiled at that, in spite of the sinking feeling in his stomach.
“Look, I’m going to give you two weeks pay, but I can’t let you on the site. Too much trouble, you know?”
Kevin thought that if the man said, “You know?” one more time he was going to have to punch him in the mouth. “I understand, sir. It’s okay.”
The big man shook Kevin’s hand, and handed him a pay envelope. “If you need a reference, you have them call me, okay?”
He nodded and walked off.
The bars weren’t open yet, and it was too early to drink anyway, even for him. He stuffed his hands in his coat pockets, and came up with the card with Charles’s number on it. He stared at it for a minute, then walked to a pay phone.
BIO: J.E. Seymour lives in a small town in seacoast NH and has had short stories published in two anthologies of crime fiction by New England writers - “Windchill,” and “Deadfall,” and in Thriller UK Magazine, Shots Crime and Mystery Magazine, A Cruel World, Shred of Evidence, Mouth Full of Bullets and Mysterical-E. Visit http://home.earthlink.net/~j.e.seymour to find out more.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago