Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 395 - Eric Beetner

DIG - ERIC BEETNER

The front door rattled, the deadbolt spun and Finn charged in splattered with his Father’s blood.

“Da’s dead,” he said through panting breaths to his brother Declan who lay on the couch. Declan sat up straight, he never could get comfortable on that shit lumpy couch anyway.

“He is?”

“Da’s dead,” Finn repeated. It was the only bit of Irish the boys had left in them. Their names were given to them in a hopeful attempt by their father to maintain a little of his Irish born-and-bred stock but after growing up for twenty-odd years in Nebraska those boys were pure Made In The USA. How an Irishman got there after being told in no uncertain terms that he should leave Dublin or he would be killed and fed to rats was rather an interesting story but Finn was there in a shirt and jacket painted with his Da’s blood so...some other time perhaps.

“Was it Jimmy?” asked Declan.

“Who do you think?” answered Finn rhetorically.

They knew of their Father’s business: crime. Small but profitable with the occasional big score. The biggest one that they could recall came six months ago when he was enlisted into service by the Jimmy they spoke of. The take was almost two hundred grand. That’s when Da brought home this couch. Finn and Declan made fun of him for having all that money and not even having the sense to buy a decent sofa for their living room.

Da was a conservative thief. He liked to sit on a score until the dogs had stopped sniffing and preferably were dead in the ground.

“Is he coming here?” asked Declan finally rising to his feet, the crumbs of another dinner eaten in front of the TV spilling on to the carpet.

“I don’t know but probably. Da’s got the money hid around here somewhere.”

“Let’s start digging and then get the fuck out of here.”

There was no sad Irish wake. No funeral march. No singing of Danny Boy even though their Da’s name had been Daniel. The boys knew this day would come. Da told them so quite often.

The boys were grown men, Declan 22 and Finn 23, and Daniel talked to them openly about the downside to a life of crime. It had killed their Mother and it was a bitch all around. It fucked up your life in countless ways. In between speeches he lavished them with all that his stolen money could buy. Buy on sale that is.

When they were kids it was enough, made them feel rich even. Now that the brothers were grown they saw how little Da had to show for his life on the run. A broken-down house, frozen dinners and a lumpy couch in a midwestern state Da had never once called just Nebraska, always “Fookin’ Nebraska,” his brogue accentuated when he spat out an insult.

He told them they would always have some cash around to get out with and they each wondered to themselves why he never used it for himself. He told them, on those nights when he would muse about his inevitable death, all about the money that he had stashed. He just never told them where it was. In Daniel’s work trust was hard to come by, even trust of your own sons.

What the boys did know was that after nearly every job Da waited until late at night and then went out into the back yard and dug a hole. They watched him from their shared bedroom when they were ten and they watched him now over a decade later from their separate rooms.

Finn stripped off the thin jacket he was wearing which had caught most of his Father’s blood. Declan didn’t ask any questions about what had happened. He knew not to. Later, when he felt like it, Finn would tell him only what he needed to know.

Finn had been going on little errands with Da for a few years now. Never on jobs but to pick ups and drop offs and payouts. Declan was being shielded from the family business but unbeknownst to either of them he had quite a bit of action going on his own. Petty thievery, a little bit of meth sales, a stolen car here and there.

Their property had been bought specifically for its remoteness. A former farm house, it was surrounded by fifteen acres on either side of long growing weeds on what could have been fertile farm land. Daniel never knew that he was sitting on more money in farm subsidies than he ever could have gotten from his tiny life of crime.

The boys stomped down weeds on their way out back to the shed. There was a small mown patch of grass off the back porch and that’s where Da had done all of his digging.

“If he’s coming he’ll be here soon,” said Finn as a way of motivation. Declan was not the go-getter type. He preferred the quiet company of his bong and his Playstation.

Finn was the opposite as brothers often are.

He opened the shed and got out two shovels, one with a flat blade. That one he handed to Declan.

They turned and surveyed the patch of grass. No X marked the spot where the cash was so they had to pick a spot to start in and then dig all night long if they had to, or until Jimmy showed up to finish the job.

“What do you think?” asked Finn.

“I dunno.”

“Jesus...”

“What now?”

“You never have an opinion about anything,” Finn complained. Declan took offense.

“My Da just got killed you know. Maybe I need a moment of silence or something.”

“Just start digging. Start there,” he pointed to the corner nearest the house, “and I’ll start here.”

To show his disapproval at the tone in Finn’s voice, Declan took his first shovelful of dirt and flung it over his shoulder hard, landing a clump of dirt and grass on Finn’s back.

“What the fuck?” And they were eight years old again. Fists swinging in a territorial battle for the top bunk. Competing for Da’s attention and the last piece of pizza. Daniel used to like the sparks that lit up whenever his boys got into it, which was often. The boys found it exhausting. It was part of the reason each was trying to earn a little scratch to pack up and get out of fookin’ Nebraska.

An hour passed and the yard looked like every gopher in the state had come by for a family reunion. The air smelled earthy and fresh like after a spring rain. But no money, no secret stash.

“Jimmy’s not coming,” Declan said as he wiped sweat from his forehead and left a dark streak of dirt.

“Maybe, maybe not. He will, though. He’ll come to us or wait for us to come to him. Either way, I’m leaving.”

“If you’re leaving, I’m leaving.”

“Where the fuck are you gonna go?” Finn said condescendingly.

“New York.”

“Then I’m going to L.A.”

Declan picked up a dirt clod and chucked it at his brother. Finn dodged it and picked up one of his own. The fight was on. Heaving clumps of dirt back and forth, some landing but most missing the mark, the boys muttered insults under their heavy breaths. It lasted about five minutes and then slowed, both boys out of dirt and air.

There was no apology and no final word. Each quietly went back to their shovels.

Another hour later, dozens of pounds of dirt had been moved. Several worms had lost their lives, bisected by shovel blades. At least one anthill saw Armageddon as Finn’s shovel cut through the hive.

They were still no richer than when they came out.

Declan leaned on his shovel. “How did it happen?”

“Not now.”

“I have a right to know.”

“I’ll put it in a postcard.”

“Dick.”

“At least I’ve got a pair.”

Finn knew the sweet spot to get under Declan’s skin. His testicles hadn’t descended and he managed to keep it from everyone until he was fourteen. The school gym teacher had reported it to Daniel. At first Daniel had accused the coach of being a “Fookin’ faggot” and touching his boy but he explained that the boys take showers and some of the kids would talk and so he saw that way. Declan had an operation and was fine but it still gave Finn ammunition for a lifetime.

Daniel went ahead and had the coach kneecapped just in case. That cost most of a $25,000 score.

“I got something,” Finn said.

Declan rushed over to him as Finn was lifting a small velvet Chivas Regal bag out of the hole. It was too small to hold any real cash. Diamonds maybe? Yeah, right. Nebraska is lousy with diamonds.

Finn pulled open the bag and removed a set of bones from a human finger.

Both boys just stared at them. Finn took a few stabs at arranging them the right way before he got it right. Neither knew what to say.

“Finn?” called a female voice.

Declan spun and took up his flat head shovel like a baseball bat.

“Erin!” Finn called. Declan dropped his shoulders and the shovel. Great. Her. He spit into the hole where the bones had come from.

Erin was Finn’s girl and a hefty corn-fed one at that. She had a nose ring that had been infected twice, some really poorly done tattoos and no idea of what size shirt was appropriate for her soft belly. Declan hated seeing it peeking out, or not so much peeking out as making a break for the floor like an overturned bowl of melted mozzarella.

Erin and Finn embraced but her eyes were scanning the yard and all the little holes there.

“Finn, what’s going on?”

“Why the fuck would you call her?” Declan’s lungs were burning with betrayal. She wasn’t family. She was temporary. The brothers would be rid of all this, split up and have time to get used to being away from each other and then go back to being best mates someday. She would be gone and forgotten by then.

“Shut up, Dec. She’s with me. Don’t get pissed just because you got nobody to call.”

Finn explained the situation to Erin in what Declan thought was way more detail than she needed.

“What a bitch,” Declan declared. Finn spun and Erin glared. She knew how he felt and it was mutual.

“What?”

“The holes. Digging is a bitch. What did you think I meant?” Make fun of his balls, will you...

“Let’s get back to it.”

“Is she going to help?”

“What? No.”

“Okay. Just so you know, she doesn’t get one dime of my share.”

“Would you just stop?”

“Just sayin’ is all.”

Finn apologized on Declan’s behalf but Erin stared holes through Declan’s back as he dug into a fresh spot.

Forty-five minutes later and Erin had smoked six cigarettes and the boys had found three more stashes of small bones and other artifacts like a pinky ring and a money clip. An empty money clip.

Finn had heard Da tell brief stories of the superstitions, traditions he called them, of his Irish days. If a job went to shit you buried a piece of it to make sure the bad luck stayed behind. Judging by how many artifacts he and Declan had unearthed in the last few hours it hadn’t worked all that well. There was a lot of bad luck buried back there. They had just released it back into the world.

The blood on Finn’s shirt was blended with dirt and sweat stains. The night cool did nothing to make the job easier. At least the mosquitos weren’t biting.

“I don’t know...” started Finn. He leaned forward on his shovel and emptied his lungs.

“Yeah, I don’t know...” agreed Declan. Despite running out of any common ground in recent years and generally beginning to hate each other’s guts, they still had that brotherly bond that didn’t always need words.

Erin didn’t have it.

“Don’t know what?”

Finn explained. “I don’t think we’re gonna find anything.”

“I thought you said there was two hundred grand out here?” She flung a cigarette, still burning, and Declan had to duck to dodge it.

“Maybe we were wrong.” Finn felt sure that she would understand. Declan felt equally sure that she had cartoon money bags in her eyes ever since he stupidly told her about the money.

“I got enough to make it to New York,” said Declan knowing it would anger Erin and any needling of her stung Finn twice as hard.

“We got plenty, too,” Finn countered. Erin’s neck spun between the two.

“We don’t have two hundred grand!”

Declan smiled. “I think all Da was burying back here all these years are these little souvenirs from the jobs. He’s got the money someplace that makes more sense like, oh I dunno, a bank safe deposit box or something.”

“Then let’s find that!” Erin started walking towards the house. “Where did your Dad keep papers and stuff like that?”

Declan clenched his shovel and followed her. She moved fast for a big gal. Finn left his shovel behind trying to catch up to them and head off a big argument. He’d seen them go at it for a half hour or more and right then they couldn’t spare the time.

“You stay out of Da’s shit,” Declan barked at her.

“Leave her alone, Dec. She’s right. We should try and find...”

“Stop thinking with your dick for a second. That fat cow is not touching a damn thing of Da’s.”

“Finn...” she urged him to defend her feminine virtue.

“Jesus, Declan.” That didn’t satisfy Erin. She stopped in the door to the house.

“Declan, you pothead dumb fuck piece of shit. You can fuck off to New York or wherever the hell you want. Finn and I are going to find that money that is rightfully his as a son and a partner in the business. You never did shit for your Dad so I’m not surprised he didn’t tell you where the money was.”

“Listen to me, you cow. My Da’s not cold in the ground so you don’t say shit about him, you hear me?”

Finn stood by flaccidly. He had seen his brother’s hair trigger temper nearly every day of his life so it didn’t bother him in the least. He felt a little relieved that it was directed at someone else for a change. He couldn’t tell her but he was also a little bothered by her lack of respect for Da. She was talking only about the money where she should be talking about the man.

“Your Dad didn’t want you in the business, you know that, Declan? He couldn’t trust you. Finn told me so.” Declan looked to Finn who looked at the carpet. Declan stepped forward and Erin backed up with each advance.

“He thought you were a fuck-up, which you are. Why don’t you just leave? If we find the money, we’ll send you your third.”

“My third?”

“One for Finn, one for me and one for you.”

Finn saw the way his brother’s eyelids stretched back and revealed more eyeball than was natural. The tiny red veins crawling along the side signaled imminent violence. Finn knew to go into defense mode. Erin did not.

Declan raised the shovel and cracked her across the face with it, using a swing that would have made Hank Aaron jealous.

Finn regretted leaving his shovel in the yard. He sprinted across the tamped-down grass to retrieve it. He could hear three more swings followed by three more cracks of the flattened blade connecting with her face. The dull slap of metal on flesh and the deep crunch of a cheek bone splitting didn’t have a chance to echo in Nebraska. The sound just rushed past Finn’s ears and kept right on moving out across the flat plain of what should have been a cash crop of corn.

By the time Finn made it back to the doorway, Declan was raising his shovel back for a fourth time and it came down with the blade turned flat so that instead of colliding with her skull again it sliced across her throat and cut a path through the Celtic cross that she had gotten inked on her milky flesh as a sign of devotion to Finn.

Declan was done. Finn could tell. Erin was dead, splayed out on the lumpy brown couch and seeping blood past the moisture shield coating that Daniel paid extra for. This much moisture was beyond anything in the brochure.

Finn just sighed. They had only been together four months. He saw the greed in her eyes when he told her of the money. She was a loudmouth. She was too fat. She smoked. He didn’t agree with what Declan had done but it was too late now and he wasn’t going to let it get to him. He’d seen his Da killed on the same night. This was just the sideshow.

Using their brotherly ESP, they both stood in the living room for five minutes while Declan caught his breath and calmed down then they each grabbed an arm and a leg and brought Erin’s body outside. They lay it next to two open holes and each began digging to connect them together. When they reached the middle, the shovel blades clanging together like the two boys playing swords and sorcerers in the back yard, they had enough of an excavation to make a passable grave.

They lowered her in. Declan kept the snide comments about her weight to himself.

It was nearly four thirty in the morning. Declan seemed as if he had hit a wall. He handed his shovel to Finn and shuffle-stepped back to the house. Finn returned the shovels to the shed taking unfortunate whiffs of his own body odor.

He hung the shovels on the pegs where he had gotten them and his eye caught Da’s hunting rifle propped up at the end of the work bench. It was a Remington Model 700 and one of the few things Da bought with his money that had some real value.

The tiny shed glowed with the camping lantern that hung over the work area. Finn had a flash vision of his Da under the florescent glow of the lamp, or years before when it was a kerosene model, standing at his work bench and cleaning the bones he brought home with him from a job gone wrong. For the first time tonight, he cried over his Da.

Inside, on the shit lumpy couch Declan was on the far right cushion, nearly on the arm, to avoid the blood stain. It wasn’t even that he minded getting blood on his clothes but it was her blood. He sat and he wept for his Da.

Alone, both boys cried in a way they could never do in front of each other.

Declan cried for longer than he had in nearly fifteen years. Not since Finn had broken his Nintendo in a fit of brotherly rage had he been moved to tears. He purged and kept it flowing until it was all gone.

He wiped his eyes and blew his nose on his shirt tails then looked up.

Finn was there, red-eyed himself and holding the Remington.

They didn’t speak. They didn’t have to. Finn pulled the trigger.

Finn let the gun clatter to the floor. He walked to the kitchen and took a beer out of the fridge and snatched the keys to his pickup off the side table by the front door and didn’t look back on his way out of there forever.

He missed the sight of Declan slumped over and mixing his blood with that of the girl he hated most in the world. It wasn’t even the final insult. That came from Declan spending his last living moment, and now making his final resting place, on that damn sofa.

Brown leather with crumbs between the cushions and blood stains on the seat. Out of date from the minute Da brought it home. Lumpy as all get out. Mostly from the short stacks of cash Daniel had stuffed into it. Almost three hundred grand in total.

Finn left the door open and the sound of his pickup speeding down the long gravel driveway receded leaving only the slow drip of the hole in Declan’s heart pumping red that soaked through brown leather onto green bundles of cash.

BIO: Eric’s crime novel One Too Many Blows To The Head, co-written with JB Kohl, is available for purchase. Check out Eric Beetner, Author for more information.

3 comments:

Sheila Deeth said...

Had my suspicions about the lumpy sofa. Good sad tale. Very Irish.

Madam Z said...

Holy shit! That is one hell of a good story! I didn't take my eyes from it for one second, from beginning to end. I dig it! And this is why: Great dialogue, colorful(lots of red!)scene description, believable relationship of the brothers, and a delightful mixture of humor and horror. I love the amusing details, like "fookin' Nebraska" and "...the yard looked like every gopher in the state had come by for a family reunion." On the other hand, I was duly horrified by the shovel whacking of poor, dumb Erin.

Oh geez! It's after midnight. End of review.

Paul D. Brazill said...

What a fantastic St Paddy's Day story!