HOUSE CALL - ANDY HENION
Granny Povich, eighty-six, two fake hips, alone since the old man passed the day after Elvis, opens the door on a messy November night. Stares us down, all four-foot-nine of her, knowing our purpose and not giving a damn. Points her bony finger at me, since we go back a ways, and says, “You gonna take them muddy shoes off.” It’s not a question, and I comply and nod to Smelt and Burgess to do the same. Granny Povich turns her back on us and hobbles back to the kitchen counter.
“Batch in the oven,” I say, savoring the aroma. “Best cornbread muffins in the city.”
“Hmmph,” she grunts, whipping batter. “Five minutes. You boys might as well sit down, get you some.”
“First, clear the house.” At my order, Smelt and Burgess pull their weapons and disappear into the living room in their stocking feet.
I take a seat at the same oak table where I had bellied up as a boy. Sweep my jacket aside, revealing my piece. Granny Povich is pouring out batter from a glass bowl, her brown-spotted arms shaking from the modest weight. Finished, she wipes her hands on her apron and makes her way over, remaining standing behind a chair. Granny Povich may run a multimillion-dollar numbers operation but at heart she’s the consummate homemaker, compelled to serve the men around her.
She says, “Alec’s long gone.”
I nod, though I know it’s a lie. Some things have to be said.
“My only family, that kid.”
As close to pleading as Granny Povich will come.
She puts her hands on her hips, cocks an eyebrow. “Didn’t know you made house calls, Terrance. Heard you moved up.”
“If it’s gonna be done, Granny, it’s gonna be done by me. I owe you that much, at least.”
From upstairs, a scuffle, the sounds of furniture overturning, someone hitting the floor. I look to the ceiling and place the ruckus in the secret space next to Alec’s bedroom, a great place to play as a kid, hide as an adult. Granny Povich had it built for the latter purpose a few years after her husband passed and she got hot and heavy into the business.
She says, “You told them where to look.”
“He’s half of the equation,” I say. Then: “How bad is he?”
Granny Povich can only scowl, the wrinkles deepening around her eyes and mouth. Alec is her only grandchild and for all intents and purposes, her son. She raised him from an infant. But as an adult, the dipshit can’t stay clean.
The Alec my boys drag through the door is as cocky as ever, flashing those pearly whites even as dual lines of blood run from his nostrils. They shove him hard in the chair and stand guard like a couple of Rotts, waiting for sudden movement. “Sit,” I say, and when they don’t obey: “The fuck down.”
Alec tips his head back and pinches his nose. To the ceiling, he says, “Back to bite the hand that fed you, hey, Terry Boy?”
I wait until he lowers his gaze before responding. The dark circles around his eyes tell his story.
“I’m here out of respect for Granny. I’m here because you brought me here. I’m here because you’re an eternal fuckup.”
“You’re here,” he says, “because you’re Big Al’s bitch.”
A right jab from Smelt sends him backward in his chair, arms flailing, the back of his skull popping off the kitchen floor. Alec rolls to his side and holds his wounded head in his arms, moaning. Granny Povich sighs. “Just stay there, kid,” she says, and limps away to retrieve the cornbread from the oven. I stare at Alec’s huddled form for a moment, then reach out and uncover the butter dish.
She puts the muffins on a plate and brings them over, steam rising from the pile. She says, “Those are my customers, Terrance, and you know it. Hell, you recruited them before you jumped ship.”
“Were your customers,” I say. “And you were warned multiple times, but your kid here still shows up to collect from our people, using Big Al’s name to boot. And now you both will pay for his stupidity.”
Granny sets the plate on the table. Smelt and Burgess glance at me, and I nod. They each being scarfing down a muffin, grunting their approval as if they haven’t eaten in days. I watch Granny fold her arms and purse her lips.
“Well, go on, then,” she says. “Make an old woman happy one last time.”
As my childhood friend groans on the floor, I butter a muffin and take a bite. It’s good stuff, though not as tasty as I remember. Maybe Granny Povich is losing her touch. Still, the old broad will be dead soon, at my hand, and I show her one last sign of respect by cleaning my plate.
That’s when my fingers and toes go numb.
I’m suddenly aware of Smelt and Burgess fumbling for their guns like a couple of drunkards. I hear their heads hit the table a few beats before my own muscles turns to mush. My cheek smacks the crumb-filled plate.
From there, I have a perfect view of Alec, who stands and draws out a switchblade. Sneering, he clicks it open and pulls Smelt’s head up by the hair. Smelt’s eyes are bulging, pleading—the only part of his body working. It’s a horrible feeling, knowing what’s coming but unable to move. Unable to defend yourself.
“Let’s take ’em downstairs,” says Granny Povich. “You’re not making a mess in my kitchen.”
BIO: Andy's short fiction appears in Plots With Guns, Thieves Jargon, Pindeldyboz, Hobart and other publications. He lives in Michigan.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago