BABY, CARTOONS ARE ON - JIMMY CALLAWAY
Libby was twenty minutes away from his hotel room, and that was only if he’d caught a cab two minutes ago. His show was on in five. He picked the nearest bar and pushed in.
Only three guys in here, but each of them was two or three guys. Libby, in his powder blue suit with the butterfly collar, could have used any one of their leather jackets for a parachute. As he crossed to the bar, he glanced at them just enough to get the lowdown.
Cross-Eyes was the weasel, probably somebody’s cousin. Or really good with a socket wrench. But no other need to keep him around. He grinned like an inbred when he saw Libby and nudged Beardface with a knobby elbow.
Beardface looked up from his shot, annoyed. Saw Libby and leaned on his pool cue, a smile tugging the corner of his mouth. Big, fat, naked beer gut, no shirt on under his leather vest. Their leader. A big “1%” tattooed on his hairy chest.
Blondie was the one to watch. He didn’t look up or say anything. The one to watch.
Libby took a seat. The bartender, a big, bald son of a bitch with a mustache took his time ambling over. Libby glanced at his watch. Four minutes. He turned on his smile. “Say, friend, you wouldn’t mind putting the TV on channel 52, now would ya?”
The bartender slowly swiveled his head to the TV chained up to the ceiling in the corner, and then back again. “You a customer?”
“TV’s for customers only.”
Libby sighed. But he kept his smile on. The bartender stared at Libby’s suit, his brows furrowed. “Sure,” Libby said, “I’ll have a gin and tonic.” He glanced at his watch. “But could you turn the TV on first, please? Channel 52.” Libby reached into his jacket pocket and laid a twenty on the bar. “Please,” he said.
The bartender breathed through his mustache. Libby could hear the three over by the pool table, chattering and laughing. The bartender came around and dragged a stool over to the TV, stood on it to turn the set on. The glow of the tube faded in on static. The bartender ratcheted the channel knob over to 52, just as the familiar strains of the Looney Tunes theme song began. 3 o’clock sharp. The three bikers guffawed loudly.
The first one was a Tweety and Libby kinda frowned. It was good stuff, but still. He watched as Sylvester chased Tweety around a mad scientist’s lab. Out of the corner of his eye in the barback mirror, Libby saw Cross-Eyes put some money in the Rockola. Cross-Eyes punched a few buttons, and the jukebox clack-clacked as it selected a record. Steppenwolf blared out of the speakers.
Libby sighed. “Say, friend, you mind turning the volume up on the tube a little bit?”
The bartender just looked at him.
The bartender looked back down at the glass he was cleaning. “I think you oughta drink that and get goin’.”
Libby looked down at his drink, sweating out on the bartop. “But my show’s not over.”
Tweety turned into a giant green monster. Sylvester thought he’d caught him, but oh-no.
“Say, Bill,” Beardface hollered over to the bartender, “You runnin’ a kindy-garden now?” And he and Cross-Eyes laughed and laughed.
These bikers had been around before, Libby knew, before Libby got sent overseas. But it seemed like since he’d been back, since all that shit at Altamont a few years back, these shitheads were everywhere, acting like they owned any dive they set foot in. While Libby had been busy killing gooks in the name of democracy, these faggots had been pedaling their mopeds around like a buncha punks. And now a man couldn’t get any peace at all, it seemed.
And now “Rabbit Fire” was starting, one of the holy trinity of the classic Bugs vs. Daffy vs. Elmer Fudd set-up. Elmer Fudd tip-toed onto the screen. “Be vewy, vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.” “Born to be Wild” still thundered through the bar.
The three bikers watched as Libby got up and crossed over to the Rockola. “Hi,” he said to them, and reached back and yanked the plug out of the wall. The record slowed under the needle, Steppenwolf sounding like they were suddenly stuck in mud.
“Survival of the fittest,” Daffy said, laying out rabbit tracks. “And besides, it’s fun!”
Libby returned to his seat, and almost immediately felt their breath on the back of his neck. He didn’t need to look in the mirror to know Blondie was on his left. Beardface on his right. Cross-Eyes taking up the rear, more than likely. Libby carefully set his feet on the rung of the bar stool.
“And I say fire!” Daffy said.
“Boy,” Beardface said in his ear, “I think you—”
Libby reached up and grabbed his beard. Standing on the rung of the stool, he brought Beardface’s head straight down, face first into the wood. In the same motion, he reached out with his left hand, grabbed his glass, and swung it all the way around to smash it in Blondie’s face. As Blondie screamed, the gin burning his eyes, Libby rammed Beardface’s nose into the bar three more times, until he felt something crunch.
Libby slid off the stool before Beardface could hit the ground. Blondie was pawing at his own face, leaving his gut wide open. Libby socked him twice, leaning back with each punch and following through, hitting him right where his ribcage ended.
“What do you know?” Elmer Fudd said. “No more buwwets.”
“No more buwwets?” Bugs said, “Hey, laughing boy! No more buwwets.”
Cross-Eyes stood there, knees locked, his hands up and out. As Blondie fell forward, Libby grabbed a fistful of his hair and brought his face into his knee. Blondie fell face first to the floor, arms and legs spread like he was sky-diving.
Libby looked at Cross-Eyes.
“You do and I’ll give you such a pinch!” the elephant said in that Lil’ Stinker voice.
Libby sat back down. “Turn that fucking television up,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” said the bartender.
BIO: As usual, Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, Calif. As usual, more hilarity is available at Attention Children.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago