Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 432 - Matthew C. Funk

GO CUP - MATTHEW C. FUNK

State Trooper Terry Favors knew the red Dodge Viper even before he pulled it over to the salt-and-pepper edge of the 129. Only one man drove a Dodge Viper the shiny, slick red of the inside of an asshole. Trooper Favors knew he’d be trouble.

Add that to the son of a bitch already filling up the better part of the Cruiser’s backseat, and Favors figured he was handling more trouble than a man had since the time of the Bible.

He popped the catch on his pistol. It was for effect more than anything. He hoped the man in the backseat saw it more than he hoped the Viper driver did. He opened the Maglite’s beam and cut a band of pale light, brewing with midges and motes, out of the thick darkness. Favors followed the beam up to the driver's side window.

“Evening,” said the occupant. A face like a drunken Fozzie Bear—just hints of bloodshot cheeks peeking through a bristly mass of dirty blond beard—squinted into the Maglite beam. Favors noticed the driver was wearing a tan linen shirt and that his usual hat—a foam baseball cap declaring loyalty to the local high school football team, the Mighty Trojans—was replaced by a carpet of pomade.

Ray Ray was dressed for something special tonight, Favors figured. He took the driver’s license Ray Ray was practically shoving at him. Snorting the snot-thick Louisiana air, Favors scanned it.

Conway Pettifour. Companion of many, friend to none, here about Ferriday. ‘Connie’ would have done nicely as a nickname, which is why, of course, the locals named him ‘Ray Ray.’

Favors tossed the license back in the car. Ray Ray’s bushy face went a hotter shade of pink. He kept looking into the Maglite, but not for long, Favors knew.

“You know why I pulled you over?”

“You know why you shouldn’t’ve?” Ray Ray quipped back.

Favors did. He saw the answers to both questions sitting just beyond Ray Ray: a Go-Cup filled with the better part of a bottle of Jack and ice. And, just beyond it, peeking out from a creased copy of Low Rider Magazine, the black butt of a Glock pistol.

Favors breathed out slow. It made no difference to the heavy night. Heat kept on making a fist around him. It kept kicking at the base of his heart. He could feel the eyes of the man in the back of the Cruiser on him as plainly as he could smell the sharp, dangerous smell of the Jack baking off Ray Ray.

“You want to put you hands up on the dash there, nice as laying table.” Favors said it in his best Kindergarten-teacher tone. Ray Ray’s hands weren’t moving before, but they got to moving now, drifting toward the Glock.

“I was just reaching to get—” Ray Ray said.

“I know what you was reaching to get, and we’ll get around to that in a moment. Right now, hands on the dash.”

“I don’t mean to cause you no trouble.” Ray smiled fit for a Sunday school picture.

“Trouble’s what you are all the same.”

“That is an unkind statement.” The smile got wider. “I’m guessing your momma was the kind that made you cut your own switch. You lack for love in your life, Trooper Favors.”

Mention of Mama got Favors blood humming above the whine of the mosquitoes all around. She was a gentle soul, more interested in collecting old vinyl and collecting belt marks from Favors’ father than anything else. Favors would neither nominate her for Sainthood or for censure. Still, her mention didn’t deserve being in the mouth of a mean little drunk like Ray Ray.

Favors resolved then to roll hard—roll hard and enjoy it.

“Don’t you cut cute with me. This drinking and driving shit ain’t funny by half.”

“No, sir.” Ray Ray didn’t lose the smile.

“It’s about as funny as a run-over toddler in a raincoat.”

Ray Ray snickered.

“Oh you do think that's funny, hm?” Favors shoved the flashlight forward. He could see every inch of Ray Ray’s skin crawling with tension—the firing pins of his whiskers, the trip wire muscles in his cheeks, all the bad chemicals bulging the veins on forehead and throat. Ray Ray could only see the star of the Maglite and the darkness around. "Or maybe you think you gonna get the better of me, so’s you’re free to laugh. You’re a free man, hm? Born free.”

“No, sir.” Ray Ray looked as lost as his smile.

“What you are is about a coon hair away from getting a thirty-eight round through that smile, courtesy of the taxpayer, ’cause what with all your laughing and cutting wise, I know you just throwing up a smokescreen to hide that nice, shiny Glock you got from my attention.”

Now Ray Ray’s Fozzie face looked as stupid as it should. He looked stupid and scared. And how Favors liked that. His heart was laughing at the heaviness and the heat now. How he liked—no, loved—power. He would shine his badge with his dick if it didn’t leave streaks.

“Naw. I—” Ray Ray blubbered.

“You. You what?”

Ray Ray had nothing to say.

“Let me tell you what: You ain’t a very sensible man.” Favors set his hand on his pistol. “A sensible man being pulled over by a State Trooper with a gun in his car and liquor on his breath, he’d fetch up that gun fast as you please and tuck it in a seat pocket or beneath the seat or somewhere’s out of both sight and reach.”

“Naw, I—”

“You listen. A less-than-sensible man—a King Hell crazy dumb shit like yourself—he gets pulled over and he keeps the gun in reach.” Favors put the Maglite beam on the Glock. “’Cause this dumb shit, he’s not thinking of hiding the evidence. He’s thinking of putting a bullet in the trooper and flooring it on down the highway, like he was Clyde Barrow. He thinks he’s some kind of outlaw legend. You think you’re Clyde Fucking Barrow?”

“Naw, I—”

“Goddamn, you say that a lot.” Favors made Ray Ray flinch. The man fidgeted in his seat. Favors could see that was all the fight he had in him. Caught in the Maglite, red hands on the dash, Ray Ray was too dumb to know whether to hit or run. He just stared like the overgrown playground bully he was. “Well, you right for once. You ain’t Clyde Barrow. You ain’t even Clyde Drexler. You just some King Hell crazy dumb shit who got lucky. You know why you got lucky?”

“Naw.”

Favors paused. He thought on Ray Ray and his luck. Ray Ray had come into the Viper by winning the lottery. The payout was 200 grand, and Ray Ray had spent every dime on that car, all so he could drive it around Ferriday and over to his few friends in Mississippi.

Favors sighed. Ray Ray was a fool, and sometimes he was a bully, but he was a sentimental one. He was no mad dog. He had a soul, even if it was a stupid one.

And there was no way Favors was putting him in the backseat of the Cruiser with the other man.

“You got lucky two reasons.” Favors worked the waver out of his voice that the thought of Ray Ray and the man in the Cruiser being locked in together put there. “One, ’cause I'm about as nice a man as ever roamed these roads setting them right. I seen fit to put some sense into your head rather than a bullet. Now put your eyes on the dash, keep ’em there, and move that Glock up to me by the barrel.”

Ray Ray set his eyes on the Viper’s burn-marked dash. Favors set his eyes on Ray Ray. The Glock soon bobbed into view.

“Tip of the barrel.” Favors corrected Ray Ray.

He took the Glock and set it in the back of his gun belt.

“Alright. Now the whiskey.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now that Go Cup you got.”

Ray Ray actually gagged. One hand began to raise from the dash.

“Wait a moment now.”

“Come again?”

Ray Ray’s hand set back down. His teeth set, too, though. And some of that sneering meanness began to sparkle back into Ray Ray’s squint and stick in his jaw’s muscles.

“You know who I am?” Ray Ray snorted.

Favors didn’t care. With the Glock no longer at risk from Ray Ray’s idiocy, Favors felt he could play the kid like the muppet he resembled. “You want me to know who you are?”

“Hunh?”

“’Cause we covered that I know what you are. And I pity the dumb. Not a whole lot. Just a little. But I do. And the second reason you lucky tonight, is that as mean as you may think you is, in your infinite ignorance, you ain’t deserving being thrown into the back of my cruiser with the man I got in there now.”

Favors’ blood raced a bit faster.

“Oh.”

“Mhm.”

“Who you got back in there now?”

“You know who Stagger Lee Crannock is?”

And, of course, Ray Ray did. They’d killed hangovers together up at Slow’s Diner, shot the shit on many a purple-bellied morning up at old Beanie Hollins’ cabin by the reservoir, seen the same Strip Clubs to closing together. But of the little Ray Ray knew in this world, he knew to play dumb when it came to knowing Stagger Crannock. Ray Ray played dumb well. He was a regular method actor.

“Naw.” Ray Ray probably wasn’t even aware he nodded while he said it.

“Just naw?”

“Naw?”

“‘Naw, more than naw?’”

“Huh?”

“No, ‘Naw, I—’?”

“Naw.”

“Well, I’ll tell you.” Favors’ thoughts went to the man at the back of the Cruiser—Stagger—and began to dredge stories from his messy, poisonous past. “Stagger Lee back there once pushed a baby buggy out onto the 15 just for a laugh. He the one we think burned up his own buddy, Beanie Hollins, for God knows what reason. Right now, I picked him up for shooting some lady in her own home, right front of her kids, ’cause he thought that lady was getting lustful ideas about Stagger’s girl.”

Ray Ray’s face looked like Favors had read him a racing form he had no money on. He was blank, his eyes circles and his jaw a waiting line.

“Any of this surprise you? You don’t look surprised.”

“Naw, I’m surprised.” Ray Ray blinked to prove it.

“Well you keep on being surprised, ’cause I’m letting you go.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Favors didn’t lean back, though. He kept his lean belly on the Viper’s door, kept that heavy beam burning through Ray Ray’s eyes into what was left his brain, kept the highway gravel in his voice. And he was a bit hard, where his crotch pressed that asshole-red door. He was hard as his badge.

Favors shut the laughter from his voice, barely.

“Goddamn, don’t thank me, thank Jesus.” Favors gave Ray Ray’s door a little fuck. He was up one pistol and two outlaws. This night was about perfect. “If it were up to me, I’d have you drying in the tank by now, with this piece-of-ass-magnet up in impound. You would be a notch on my belt. But Christ saw fit to put a pitbull in sunglasses in the backseat of my cruiser tonight. And while I’m trying to keep a sense of humor about it, I don’t like the idea of that animal in the same company as another human being.”

“No, sir.”

“Especially not locked in together.”

“Oh, no, sir.”

“So now that I’ve seen you sobered up, and you about to hand over that Go Cup—” Favors shot the Maglite at the cup of Jack. It was a shiny polycarbonate model, the kind of plastic that looked like it would survive the Earth falling into the sun. On it, a woman’s vast and succulent ass was detailed with the kind of evocative geometry worthy of a Renaissance master. A parade of stars in spangled pastel formed the word ‘RUMPS.’

Ray Ray put himself between Favors and the Go-Cup.

“Officer Favors, could I just—?”

“No, you cannot ‘just’ nothing; you hand it over right now.”

“Officer, it’s a very rare—” Ray Ray whined, and this was true: Not only was the Go-Cup a thing of beauty, Rumps had closed down years ago. Favors knew his collectors’ Go-Cups well: College Basketball Go-Cups, Gun Show Go-Cups, winning season Go-Cups. They came in plastic and pretty colors and all kinds of patterns—eagles and flags and tits and asses, and a whole menagerie of cartoon animals with collegiate letters on. A State Trooper was a connoisseur of Go-Cups, the best buddy of the boozed driver. Favors knew what he was doing. Best he keep the conversation moving fast.

“Lord have mercy, you test the patience.” Favors put the Maglite close enough that Ray Ray’s forehead began to feel the heat. “You think you my friend? I seen retards look smarter than you, and you’re dumber than you look.”

“Well, now, there’s no cause for unkindness—” Ray Ray started, Favors talking right over him.

“I got you on gun charges, on what I’d lay money is probably your tenth DUI, and I’m about to throw you in the back with the big, bad fuckin’ wolf who shot a PTA mom over poontang.”

“But it’s like an heirloom of sorts.”

“So either it’s coming out the car, or you and that list of crimes are.”

Ray Ray glanced back at the Cruiser. Was he looking for help? Cursing Stagger? Thinking on how jail—even prison—might be easier than the loss of the Go-Cup? Favors savored the moment by wondering on it.

Ray Ray sighed.

“Yes, sir.” He picked up the cup, paused before it crossed the threshold of the Viper’s window.

“Can I kiss it goodbye?” Ray Ray whined.

“No, you may not.”

“Goodbye, Rump Cup.”

Favors snatched it and made a show of pouring out the drink on the road. The ice clattered and smoked on the gravel.

“You get on now.”

“Really?”

“Get.” Favors shook out the cup.

“Alright. Thank you.”

“Naw, see, now, you weren’t listening.” Favors’ smirk was hidden by the Maglite. Ray Ray might have seen it as he paused in starting the Viper. “You get to Church of Christ up on 425, you thank the Lord.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I be driving by there in 15 minutes; I want to see your car parked outside.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It better be empty; you be inside, on your knees, thoughts in heaven.” Favors was ambling back to the Cruiser, the brew of darkness closing around the distance to the Viper, the eyes of the man in the Cruiser hotter than the river evening. The Viper roared back to the jungle crushing either side of the highway. Ray Ray waved.

“Yes, sir. I be there repenting.”

I bet you will, Favors thought. In this evening of heat and things half-seen, he felt hard and bright as a badge.

Favors slid into the Cruiser’s front seat. The whiskey tumbled next to his shotgun. The Go-Cup, he held up to the rearview mirror. It shone gold and platinum, the Holy Grail by a cabin light.

A smile like a messy razor sliced wider in the mirror. Out of it, out of Stagger, came a voice like neat bourbon. “I saw what you did, son.”

Favors frowned at him.

“I ain’t no son of yours. What you think you saw?”

“I saw what you did up there to that man’s property.” Stagger leaned in, sneer huge below the sunglasses and in his voice. His hand went for the panel in the cage that divided the Cruiser's front from the back.

“On the chance this conversation’s being recorded, I ain’t gonna repeat myself and risk bein’ proven a fool.” Favors set the Rumps Go-Cup in the cup-holder he had cleaned out, with products from Wal-Mart and everything, just for the occasion.

“Still and all, I saw.”

“You can keep it to yourself, then. I don’t lose no sleep.”

“You took an unlicensed gun off poor Ray Ray and let him go.” Stagger got a sharp look from Favors.

He also got the whiskey bottle handed to him through the cage.

“You join the FBI since I left the cruiser?” Favors didn't return Stagger’s smile. He was hooting on the inside, though.

“Then you took his Go-Cup.” Stagger kept the whiskey shut for now. He raised his cup instead.

“A mighty pretty polycarbonate specimen from the now-defunct-but-ever-beloved strip joint name of Rumps, of which only thirty remain.”

Favors looked at the gleaming Go-Cup in Stagger’s hand—that space-age plastic, that Renaissance ass. He raised his Go-Cup and clicked it against its twin with Stagger.

“And it’s mine now, so you can quit lording yours over me.”

“But then you threw out the whole contents onto a stretch of highway my tax dollars pay for, y’dumb beanpole!” Stagger raised Go-Cup, whiskey and eyebrows. He kept them up. Favors shrugged.

“So?”

“So what’d you go and do that for? We drive around all night a’ready lookin’ for the thing, an’ now we're gonna have to go by the drive-thru to get more ice?”

Stagger shook his head, frowning, as he refilled his Rumps Cup. Favors smirked as he started the Cruiser and turned on the siren. Friends could be plenty of trouble.

His finger wagged at the rearview mirror as he floored it, shoving the Cruiser into swelter and night.

“For a career criminal, Stagger Lee, you is one fussy son of a bitch sometimes.”

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; Pulp Metal Magazine; Flash Fiction Offensive; ThugLit; Six Sentences Volume 3 and his Web domain.

9 comments:

Michael Solender said...

one wild-assed southern ride. the feel, the talk, the rod steiger-like trooper all down cold. great tale of backwater justice and the law. well done, sir, well done.

Deborah said...

As a former collector of Go Cups, both sacred and dispensable, I agree - you nailed this southern phenomenon. I adore the characters and hope to see more of them.

ajhayes2 said...

One of the hardest things to do is let your reader "hear" an accent without resorting to bizarre spelling or other devices that get in the way of the story. You got it done. I'm originally from deep south Virginia and I could hear those guys making that good ole boy southern music with their voices. Very good stuff. And a very good tale told with menace and humor too. Cool.

Richard Godwin said...

Great stuff. Vivid, well paced, real characters and vibrant dialogue.

Keith Rawson said...

Yeah, I dig Favors. Great new character from an up-and-coming stylist. Another great story Matthew.

Pamila Payne said...

Not sure I'm glad Stagger's got a friend like this... great dialog and snapshot accuracy on the southern setting.

Madam Z said...

I felt like I was watching and listening to a really good movie, instead of reading a story on a computer screen. As Michael said, "Well done, sir, well done."

Harry said...

I've been a Dave Robicheaux fan for years. I'm now a Terry Favors and M.C. Funk fan too!

jjacobs said...

God, one of my old bosses had a Viper. The hood ornament looked like a child designed it.

Gotta say, Favors is a great character. I'd love to see more of him.

Great story.