I AIN'T GONNA - MATTHEW C. FUNK
I ain’t gonna fuck this up.
“Don’ fuck this up, Stagg,” Fudd grunts as the slot opens up in the basement door, just like in the old Capone movies.
“Son, I’m tight. Zoot suit tight. I’m jail bait, Fudd, my son.”
“Yeah, all wight.” Fudd says. His father gave him the name Dilbert, likely because he hated Fudd on first sight, and his momma called him Dilly. Dilly became Dilly Ray to them snot-rags on the playground he rolled for their lunch money, and to acquaintances, he was No Shit Dilbert For Real. But to them of us who knew him best, he was Fudd, on account of his interesting aversion to the letter R. “Just wemembew, these are moneyed folks. Weal high hats in the powt authowity scene.”
It’s all about the business, and business is all about who you know.
“Pequod,” Fudd says to the slot, and nice as ‘open sesame,’ in we go.
The ape they got squeezed in a suit to put a fancy face on the door, he lets us into the Port Authority Game, and so’s I remind myself: I ain’t gonna fuck this up. I ain’t gonna do no blow. I ain’t gonna smoke no cigarettes.
It’s a nasty habit. And though I’m a nasty man, I’m quitting since I found a lady I’m partial to—one that deserves her kisses tasting better than a French Quarter ashtray. I keep a pack all the same. One thug I knew, he kept smokes around after he quit and he’d lick ‘em whenever he got the craving. Said they tasted good. I said to him that defeated the purpose. Cigarettes are supposed to taste bad, like most of the best things in life, from the bleach taste of flake to pussy itself.
I ain’t gonna try to score on nobody’s woman, though. I ain’t gonna insult no mothers. I ain’t throwing no punches tonight.
“Stagger Lee!” The crowd roars. I’m a known personality. So’re they. They’s a fine looking group—red bodies spilling out of them linen suit sausage casings. They got a fine place here; it looks like the set of a cologne ad. All the real business through the New Orleans ports—the good ones—it goes down here.
“Hey there, you sons of—” And just right there, I hold myself up. I ain’t gonna wind nobody up. “You ready for some real card playin’?”
“Ante up, tough guy,” says Two-Steak Charlie, and he pulls out a seat for me with one of them meat-mitts he try to pass off as hands.
I slide into the chair and it’s on. I’m here for business, to make a real score for once, and I ain’t leavin’ ’til I cut a deal that’ll get Jamaican flake pourin’ into the Big Easy like it was the ’80s all over again.
An hour in, and we got trouble.
Two-Steak, he beat. There ain’t much room in that head of his for brains, with all the beef fat he got stocked up there. He’s down to nickel antes—just five hundred, just to see the hand—and he’s treading water.
Me, I’m swimming with the sharks. I got stacks of chips in front of me that look like the New York City skyline. But Fudd’s giving me a tap on the back every other hand to remind me not to be too flash. I’m here to make friends, not send ’em home with their pockets turned out.
“Easy on, Staggah. Easy on,” Fudd tells me over them scotches he keeps pouring for himself.
I ain’t gonna make this table mine, though. I ain’t gonna let my pride get the best of me. I ain’t gonna be greedy, no suh.
The sharks are eyeing me sharp all the same.
“You think your luck’s about run its warranty, motherfucker?” One shark, Bywater John, he says, petting his cards with a thumb. I ain’t gonna take bait.
“I think all things gotta come to their natural end,” I tell him.
Bywater John squints, and so does the electric blue suit next to him, a balding bastard name of Teddy Quint. The third shark, some young boy with a mullet I don’t know, he just gives me the same .38 caliber eyes he been giving me all night. Bracer, they said his name was, on the rare occasions they talk to him.
“They better,” Teddy Quint says. “You on quite a run. Better share the wealth.”
“I look red to you, Teddy Quint? I ain’t one for redistributing shit.”
I don’t get a laugh. They done laughing and they just drinking to breathe now. I’m smiling, but I share the sentiment. I got a hand that could finish the table right now.
Bywater John, dealing, flips the next table card over. Eight of hearts. It couldn’t have been better for me. I’m looking at a straight flush now.
“You gonna see,” Teddy Quint says, dogging me, “or just show us belly out of the courtesy of your heart?”
Damned if that doesn’t get my heart pounding.
“I’m raising.” I slide out one of those blue skyscrapers I got in my pile.
“Fair enough. You want to run with the big dogs,” Two-Steak says, because he knows it ain’t his balls on the line.
Bracer’s turn to see me. He reaches into his pocket. My heart plays a triphammer and I got to remind myself: I ain’t gonna finish no fights.
I ain’t gonna grab his arm, he comes out with a knife. I ain’t gonna take his gun from him, if he comes up strapped. I ain’t gonna end this in blood, like in Tupelo. Or in Ferriday. Or in Irishtown. Or Athens.
Bracer comes up with a pair of panties. He drops it on the pile.
“I got plenty of those mounted on my wall at home,” I tell him.
Teddy laughs as he drops a pair of his own—frilly pink, not white cotton like Bracer’s—on the pile. “Not like this you don’t.”
“Still, I’m not one for dressin’ up,” I say. “He gotta see my raise.”
“This sees you,” Bracer says. First three words he said to me all night. They sound hard and black as those eyes.
“I ain’t seein’ how.”
“It sees you,” Teddy says, and Bywater John gives a nod.
“Alright,” I say. “Alright.”
And I tell myself, as the next card’s turned and it comes up just perfect as you please for my straight flush, that I ain’t gonna win this hand. And I don’t.
But damned if I don’t end up with three pairs of women’s underthings to my name just two hands later.
I ain’t making no BFFs here tonight.
I’m slumped in my chair, ducked for cover. The smile’s still shining and so are my Ray Bans, but the more I win, the more I feel damned as the Devil himself. It don’t help that Fudd’s given up on counseling me and is just drinking himself into a puddle over in the corner, eyeing the door like he was gonna hit on it and take it home for the night.
“I’m still waiting for that wheel to turn,” Teddy sneers over another dismal hand.
So’m I, Teddy, my son. He and Bracer are eating my guts with their stares. And I’m doing what I can to lose. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I ain’t gonna keep bluffing so well. I ain’t gonna hold and fold when I should. I ain’t gonna forget that winning big here means losing big on moving all that flake.
“It’ll happen,” I tell Teddy. “Keep your shirt on.”
And finally, that gets a laugh, because Teddy’s already put seven panties into the pile. Bracer’s in for five more. I got six pairs I’m using to freshen the pot.
I drop a pair in to see Bywater John’s raise.
“Well, I’m all out of panties. But don’t you worry none,” Teddy says.
Bracer, he drops a pair that looks his last—a size four, I’d reckon. Teddy takes that chance to fish about in his pockets. He drops down a pink plastic pacifier, I shit you not.
“You thought you had this game when you walked in, Stagger Lee,” Bracer says. “Didn’t you?”
“I don’t like to have no expectations on a first date.”
“You stride in here with those snakeskin pants and that ratty T-shirt under your purple blazer like you’re still embarrassing your mother at the Derby Club.” Bracer’s hitting close to home. I ain’t gonna bite back. “You think you’re big shit.”
“I got no such notions.”
“Well, you got a game now, big shit,” Bracer says. Next round the table, he sees two of my panties with a pacifier of his own. Yellow and white, this one, just like a little egg. His eyes have about fucked my throat raw.
I ain’t gonna swallow hard, though. I ain’t gonna sweat. I ain’t gonna squirm, because deal or no deal, Howie, no man makes Stagger Lee squirm.
Cold as Bogart, I see the raise.
“Naw,” Teddy claps me on the back, “it’s three panties for a suckie.”
“Alright,” I say and slide in another pair. I call.
Sure enough, the hand goes south for me. I chuckle through sighing in relief.
“I told you that wheel’s as cruel as she’s kind.” I smirk at Teddy.
“I like a fella who loses graciously as he wins,” Teddy says. “What business you in, Stagger Lee?”
“That’d be the entertainment business.”
“No shit?” Teddy hooks a thumb at Bracer while his other hand takes the winnings. “Bracer here, he’s in the movie business.”
Bracer don’t smile, but Teddy’s got a grin fit for greasepaint.
“Well, I ain’t actually in the cinema end of things,” I say as the next hand gets dealt by Bracer. “I see to entertaining the entertainers, you get me?”
“I don’t.” Teddy’s back to frowning.
“I provide party favors to party-minded individuals. I’m a supplier of social lubricants.”
“Like KY?” Bywater John jokes to remind the table he’s still alive.
“Like the chemical kind.”
“Then how come you’re not drinking?” Teddy presses as he takes his cards. I gotta think quick.
I ain’t gonna tell him that I don’t trust myself with the sauce in me. I ain’t gonna tell him I get violent. I ain’t gonna be nothing but friendly.
“I’m working up to it,” I tell him. “Maybe one to celebrate.”
I ain’t gonna drink, not with so much blood in the water, and so much at stake.
“Sounds reasonable enough to me,” Teddy says. “How about you, Bracer?”
“Reasonable enough,” says Bracer. I scoop up my cards.
“Next winning hand you get,” Teddy tells me, “we’ll celebrate with you.”
I ain’t gonna bite, but Teddy’s look says there’s no way out of it. I figure the night’s almost over anyway. They’re almost on my line, the way they’re talking.
“Hells yes,” I tell the table. That gets a whoop from Teddy.
“Now here’s a man we can set down with. Here’s a fella we can get to know.”
“Pour one for me while you’re at it,” Bracer says. He opens a slit in his raw-boned face that could pass for a smile in prison. I give him one in reply.
I almost lose it as I look at my hand. From the look of all that solid black I’m holding, that drink’s not long off.
Not five minutes later, I’m making my way to the wet bar. I’m telling myself that I ain’t got cause to worry. The sharks behind me are laughing it up. There’s a good vibe going. Two-Steak even goes with me to the bar.
“They’re good old boys,” I tell him as I pick up the 18-year Glenlivett. Fudd, leaning on the bar, looks up at me like I’ve just asked what he’d like his last meal to be.
“Sure are,” Two-Steak says. “Rough around the edges a bit.”
“It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round,” I say, twisting off the cap of the scotch bottle.
“That it does.” Two-Steak sounds like I just read him a line of scripture, looks as rapt as a babe on the preacher’s knee. I decide to close the deal right then and there.
“Think they’ll be interested in more formal business dealings?”
“Could be,” Two-Steak says. “They’ve got a wide customer base—both conventional and exotic.”
“Exotic, hm?” I grin, splashing drinks for Bracer and myself. “That what them panties are for?”
“No, no,” Two-Steak chuckles. “The panties are for the normal sort.”
He leaves it at that. He goes quiet. Everything’s quiet but for the look Fudd’s giving me and the laughter back at the table. And maybe it’s the happy crackling of the ice under the warm scotch. Maybe it’s the DeBeers glimmer of the lighting. Maybe it’s just whatever restless demon I got in me, stoking the fire that passes as my soul. But sure enough, even though I tell myself, I don’t listen: I ain’t gonna get curious. But I don’t listen.
“So what are them panties for?”
“Each of them’s a girl, of course.”
“Shit, Two-Steak. No night with a whore’s worth the twenty-five grand I’ve been seein’ those panties with.”
“Shit yourself,” Two-Steak shakes his head. Before he even says it, I’m gripping the scotch bottle a bit too hard. “They’s not whores. They’s like, well, like slaves. Teddy picks ’em up from the bus stop, from the jail, sometimes foreign from the port.”
“You don’t say.”
“Sure I do. They take their licenses, their cards, get ’em on the needle. These are fresh girls, though. No diseases. They clean as snow on Christmas.”
I try to twist on the bottle cap. It ain’t happening. My thumb knocks it clear across the room instead.
“And the pacifiers?” I ask.
“Well now,” Two-Steak says, “they’re for the more exotic tastes.”
I lift up the bottle and kill what’s left in it. It goes down my throat like pure smoke, getting the fires in me up to a roar.
“And the movies Bracer makes with them,” Two-Steak says, “they pick up twice the return on the investment.”
Fudd’s just about sobbing. Two-Steak’s not going to see it coming. And me, I’m not thinking of the Jamaicans or the ape in the suit by the door or any of the promises I made before coming here.
I know just one thing before that bottle comes down and splits Two-Steak’s skull like it was cooked in butter.
I ain’t gonna stand for this shit.
BIO: Matthew C. Funk is a professional writer in marketing for corporate America, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; A Twist of Noir; Six Sentences and his Web domain.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
11 hours ago