EXIT THE FLESH - CHAD ROHRBACHER
Bopa was a large man with rolls hanging over his Roberto Zanieri slacks. He had a big nose, full lips, bushy eyebrows, and hair growing out of his thick ears. He had jowls that waved when he ate his dried fruit. Let’s just put this out on the table, the bastard was ugly and I know ugly.
“You want a drink?” Bopa asked as I took a seat at his small conference table.
“Am I on the clock?”
He laughed and grabbed two Scotches. He settled into his seat and got right to it. That’s one reason I liked working for him.
“So? Spill it.”
“Got nothing. Some kid walked into the place and shot him. Done and done”
“I know that, you shithead, that was supposed to be me sitting there so I want to know who the hell was trying to put a bullet in my skull. Do you have any details?”
“Never seen him before. I think he was a virgin. You know, wide-eyed, sweating, scared as shit.”
“You think it was Alojzy?”
Alojzy was the competition. He started out with indoor pot growing business, moved it to warehouses and complex distribution systems, and now was trying his hand and other angles. Bopa’s angles.
“That stupid Pole? No. Alojzy would want to make a show of it. You’d know it was him.”
Bopa leaned forward, his arm fat resting on the tabletop, and told me to find the kid. How many times have I heard this statement before? How many times have I tracked down some poor slob only to give him an afterlife of relaxation? Rosa, my ex, warned me it would always be like this so I should make my own move. Go to the top, but I thought maybe one day I’d earn enough to retire, get out of the business, end up on some beach drinking florescent colored liquors with little umbrellas, but Rosa was right. This was it.
Bopa stood and went to the open window and took a deep breath. The air was cool after the rain and his garden smelled like women’s perfume.
The bullet tore through the window while Bopa was shutting it. Glass came down in a sharp sheet, slicing his finger. He clasped it quickly with his other hand while I checked outside, saw nothing, and figured the guy who tried to kill Bopa was long gone. Bopa, blood streaming between chubby fingers, nodded his head towards all the glass on the floor and asked, “Is there anything over there that does not belong?” I must have had a dumbass look on my face because I could not figure out what he wanted me to do, which did make me an idiot of sorts. He stared in the general direction of the glass, and growled, “Do you see anything over there that does not belong with all that glass?”
I didn’t. He nodded in relief. No puking on the carpet (mine, of course), no finger in ice, no drive to the hospital, and no Bopa cursing me the whole way.
Although it might have not been too bad if he lost the stupid thing, I know it would have been the only way he’d lose some weight.
A couple of weeks later I sat on his back patio, a massive expanse of beauty that included a rock garden, a coy pond, a built in fireplace and hot tub (I don’t want to imagine it being used either), and an out-door kitchen. He smoked Ramon Allones cigars, drank Jameson. I had water with lemon. I was on the clock.
“What do you have?” Bopa asked releasing white smoke from his mouth.
“I don’t pay you for nothing.”
I nodded. He didn’t.
There were two attempts on Bopa in a matter of weeks and it was my job to make sure the bullets never reached their target. Bopa hired me for skill, not luck. And unfortunately the only thing keeping me rooted to this earth was my dumb fucking luck.
“You ever hear of Einstein’s theory of time dilation?”
He knew I hadn’t, but he enjoyed making such a big deal out of everything I didn’t know which, I admit, wasn‘t that hard. I considered pulling a Three Stooges ear yank on him right there. Of course, I wouldn’t, because he has some ugly ears. Well, that and the three guys with .45-caliber handguns stationed around the yard.
“Moving clocks are measured to tick more slowly than an observer's ‘stationary’ clock.” I nodded like I had a clue. “So say,” he continued, “I am sitting right here and all around me people are moving at the speed of light, I will age while all of you stay the same. Get it?”
“So who would you rather be?”
Sooner or later, he would make his fucking point which would probably end up with me not feeling real well. “I guess I’d go fast. Die young and all that.”
He laughed. “Of course, you and everyone else in this game. That’s why I am fucking sitting here and the rest of you are running around in circles.” He dragged on his cigar. “Here’s an address. Bring her to me.”
When she answered the door, the first things I saw were her bare feet. I had been considering my shoes. The scuff marks and worn sides, and I was trying to remember when I bought them. Probably after getting a wee bit of Polish blood on my last pair.
So there I was contemplating my shoes, then moved to contemplating her painted toes, which was truly a much more pleasant thing to contemplate, and then her beautiful feet. They were beautiful. I know beautiful.
My eyes tracked the lines of her ankles to her toned calves, past her bare knees, over the thin robe that hugged her shapely thighs, past her chest, to her thin neck, and I lingered there for just a moment so I didn’t ruin the moment (sometimes a woman might be the whole package but the face makes a man say, ‘Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’). When I caught her eyes, she made me want to turn and walk away. She was trouble -- anyone who grew up looking like she did, was trouble. Men probably jumped off buildings for her.
“I expected Bopa to send someone a little harder on the eyes.”
As she turned and started to walk away, I stood there in the door’s threshold trying to figure if she was giving me a compliment or not. Following her in, I couldn’t help but stare at her half moons shake under her robe.
“It’s called my ass, and yeah, I work for mine.”
I was sure she wasn’t lying. I imagined her on the elliptical, the Bo-Flex, the treadmill.
“Want a drink?”
“It’s 10 A.M.”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
I wasn’t quite sure. “I’m on the clock,” I said.
“Bopa has a clock now? You punch in and out now like a regular old employee?” She said ‘employee’ like she were biting her tongue for a slight taste blood.
She grabbed a tumbler off this table, poured three fingers, and swallowed it down. When she tipped her head back to drink and her nipple pressed against her robe, I fell in love. Honest to God. She poured another in her glass then sat down on the couch. It was one of those designer pieces with colors I can’t pronounce. She studied me.
I was, shall I say, a little off my game. I sat across from her in this metal chair that I am sure wasn’t designed to actually sit in. I’m positive I saw her smile, just slightly, and I liked her a whole lot more.
“I suppose you’re here to fetch me?”
“Can I get dressed? Or do you have orders to take me in like this?”
I tilted my head toward the back where I was guessing her room was. I figured the less I said, the safer I’d be. She raised her glass in my direction and declared matter of factly, “You’re more quiet than the others he’s sent, Mr...”
This told me two things. Bopa had a long history with this woman and I had her a little off her game, too.
“Bopa tell you why he wants me, Mr...?” she started again, fishing for my name. I kept my best poker face, which wasn’t all that good, and stared at her. “Well, are you going to at least tell me your name or am I going to have to guess?”
“Might as well guess, cause Bopa didn’t send me here to have a sweet little discussion with you.”
“Well, don’t you want to know who I am, Jack?”
“Fair enough. It’s going to be a long drive to Bopa’s, though. I suppose I’ll go get put on some clothes.” As she strolled by, she dragged her finger across my chest and up over my cheek, looking coyly over her shoulder as she went. My heart galloped. Like I said, she was trouble.
I bet she did this same act with the other poor schmoes who came to get her for Bopa. Suddenly my heart popped up in my throat and I sprinted to her room. I definitely caught her off guard and she didn’t have time to turn, raise the little .380, and fire before I was able to grab her wrist and throw her on the ground.
I grabbed the gun off the floor and looked at her with a newfound appreciation.
“Go ahead and hit me,” she said, expecting it.
“I don’t want to hit you, but it sure would be nice to know why you were going to put this bullet in this perfectly good body,” I said while unloading the chamber.
She stood up laughing and smoothed out her robe. Sitting on her bed, she fixed her hair and asked me to grab her drink off her dresser. I nodded, but before going over to the table I felt under her mattress and her pillow for any other things that could put uncomfortable holes in me. “I’m not that cunning,” she said. I sincerely doubted that. I went to her table and got her drink.
“Then why pull the gun on me?”
She giggled. “You know,” she smirked, “you’re different than all the other thugs he’s sent.” She grabbed a drink and slammed it down. “You know he’s killed every man who has ever escorted me back. Every single one.”
This was about Bopa? I wasn’t so sure. But why wouldn’t he have told me I was walking into this? Warn me about this damn woman with a tongue of fire? And who had he sent before? What happened to them? I’m sure I woulda heard something if were any of the boys.
“I’m his beautiful angel who delivers the stupid thugs to whatever god they believe in,” she said matter of factly.
“Dress,” I said and walked out.
Grabbing a drink, I sat on the sofa, which was surprisingly the most comfortable thing I have ever sat on in my life, and waited for her. I had to think. I needed to kick around all the possibilities. Who was I kidding, I had no possibilities. The fat Einstein I worked for was right, I wasn’t going to get older.
She walked out wearing jeans and a simple spaghetti strap top, her black hair falling over her shoulders like she took hours to get it looking just that way. I saw very quickly she couldn’t hide a weapon in that get-up even if she wanted to.
“That good?” she asked pointing to the near empty glass.
I nodded, because indeed it was.
“That’s Bruichladdich 21 year old Single Malt,” she said as if I would have any clue to what language she just spoke in. “At $245 a bottle, it should be.”
‘If I were a fucking duck, I’d be eaten by now,’ I thought while taking the last sip.
I put the glass down and pushed her in front of me.
Her full lips turned upward in a warm smile, which made my stomach hop one more time, and she swept her arm toward the door. After you, she mimicked from the threshold.
“You go on ahead,” I said and returned to the scotch. Grabbing the bottle and making a B-line for the couch, I felt a weight drop from my shoulders. I was going to sit, drink that fine Bruichladdich, and watch other people run in circles, live fast, die young, and all that shit.
She smiled and sat on the couch next to me. She patted my knee. She stared into my eyes, searching for something. My fingers were electric.
“You really ready?” she asked.
“I’ve been waiting for one of you thugs with some actual brain matter to walk in here for a long time.”
I drank scotch. Kept my mouth closed. Felt the weight of my .44 in my shoulder holster. Sweat beaded up on the back of my neck.
“It’s ok. Bopa knows. I know. And like I said, every stupid thug I deliver to Bopa winds up in a hole somewhere feeding fruit trees.”
I chewed my lip. She cuddled up to me and her finger traced my ear.
My mind screamed, ‘Do you see anything that does not belong here?’
“I want the family business, too. And we can’t rely on one of Alojzy’s boys to do it.”
She knew. Bopa knew. That means the only person who probably didn’t know was Alojzy and since I hired one of his guys to knock off Bopa, I doubted he’d want anything to do with me. Starting a war might do that to a person.
“It’s me and you,” she whispered. “Well, you more than me since I’ll deliver you but you’ll put the bullet in his head. You stay second in command, though. Show me the ropes. That’s the deal. And, of course, you don’t end up with a bullet in that perfectly good body of yours.”
When she said body, she leaned in and I felt her warm breath on my earlobe. I imagined her lips brushing them and I felt all the air escape my lungs. I nodded.
I knew what did not belong: ‘Just me.’
I had thought I had it all figured out. I thought I could finally stop running in circles. I thought I could get Rosa back. But now I see I am just another dumb thug about to jump off a bridge for this woman, and for some reason I just don’t care.
BIO: Chad Rohrbacher can be reached at C. Rohrbacher.