Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 476 - Marc E. Fitch


Jimmy Goodman stood at the pay phone across from the bus station in the flat light of the late afternoon. He listened to Ambrose on the other end of the line, the receiver pressed cold against his cheek.

“What’s the problem?”

“No problem, Brose.” People called him ‘Brose’ for short, but only if they knew him well enough.

“You sound like you have some kind of problem.”

Jimmy stopped for a moment and stared down at the ground. He could hear Ambrose on the other end of the line, waiting.

“What did he do?”

“Who? This guy I’m having you take care of?”

“Yeah, I don’t see what the deal is here.”

“Last I checked you never see the deals as they’re coming. You made a bad deal for yourself and now you’re going to do this job regardless of whether or not you can see the deals.”

“He just looks like an average, working schmuck. I’ve followed him all week; he works in a cubicle, goes to the gym, stops for a beer and then back to that crappy apartment. What’s the point in all this, how does it help you?”

Ambrose paused for a moment and Jimmy began to wonder if he had pushed it too far with his questions. But Ambrose started in with a calm, almost comforting tone. “A life for a life, Jimmy. That’s your deal. You do this and you’re off the hook, that’s your deal, you can take it or leave it.”

Jimmy paused and watched across the street. People were getting on a Greyhound. He watched them leave, one by one, slowly disappearing inside. It had all caught up with him and Ambrose had to go to bat for him to get him out of some trouble but now Jimmy had a serious debt with Ambrose. He was pretty sure Brose only protected him to show his own people that he had control of his own territory, that he wasn’t going to let someone else muscle in and kill one of his guys. Ambrose saved his ass but he wasn’t going to let the debt go unpaid.

“Consider it done,” Jimmy said and then hung up the phone.

He would do it, but he didn’t like the idea of it. It didn’t seem right; there was something off that he just couldn’t see. There was some angle that was being worked but Jimmy couldn’t make out what it was. Perhaps what was happening was too big for him to see the whole picture. Maybe he was just getting too old and too wrapped up in the lifestyle to see the angles and the deals anymore.

This was his deal, he thought: a life for a life.

He had watched this poor bastard all week. In his upper twenties, slightly overweight, beginning to bald—he wore the Sears catalogue every day and drove a Hyundai back and forth from his office job. He was just an average, everyday schmuck and Jimmy couldn’t see how a guy like this—Kurt, was his name—could get a hit put on him by a guy like Ambrose. No one crosses Ambrose but Jimmy couldn’t see how this Kurt guy would have ever come across Ambrose in his life; he was nowhere near Ambrose.

They lived in the same city but in each city there are several layers of society; it is like an intricate, multi-layered fabric with each layer interacting and criss-crossing with itself but always separate from the other layers. Kurt was on the top layer, the layer that everyone sees and thinks is reality, but there is a second and third and even forth reality to a city. There were things happening that no one could see, things that happened at night and in the back rooms of restaurants and shops, things were moving and alive and every now and then these things would suddenly appear to the rest of the world—someone would be shot or disappear—and it would make the headlines for a day or two and then sink back into the underground again. It would only leave whispers and rumors between friends in the daylight. Jimmy knew the bottom layers, though, and he knew the city.

Jimmy stepped away from the pay phone and glanced up and down the street. It was beginning to get dark and the cool, the empty streets seemed to take on a dull blue haze as the sun set behind the low hills surrounding the outskirts of the city. It was quiet now and small scraps of newspaper blew in a slight breeze across the streets as if they were moved along by a ghostly stream of water, churning and swirling.

He began to walk down the sidewalk toward Main Street. It wasn’t much of city, really, but there was money to be made here, just like anywhere. The buildings were low and old and there was the occasional empty factory and car lot where weeds had begun to sprout up through the broken concrete and over take the buildings, slowly crumbling over time. Jimmy turned onto Main Street and kept walking. He wanted to have a drink before getting this over with. He knew where Kurt would be at 7 P.M. He would be at home, showering up, getting ready to head down to the local bar and have a few drinks. That was another thing that slightly bothered Jimmy; Kurt didn’t have many friends. He seemed to have a few acquaintances but there didn’t really appear to be anyone who knew him. Perhaps he just moved into town or maybe he was just a loser, either way the notion seemed a little unsettling—the guy was going to die alone and no one was really going to know who he was or why he died. When someone was killed on the street there was usually a reason. Everybody pretty much understood the reason and then the death could be taken as some kind of message or moral. There would be no moral with this job, no one would understand why. He almost felt sorry for the guy.

It made Jimmy think for a moment about the Guatemalan he had shot outside of Mambo’s bar a year ago. Some other Guatemalans paid for Jimmy to shoot this guy over some beef going back to their homeland. He shot the guy all right and killed him on the spot in the middle of a crowd of people all exiting the bar at closing time. But the bullet went straight through the Guatemalan and hit someone else. Killed him on the spot, too. Two lives, with one bullet, Jimmy thought, what are the chances? They were just a couple wetbacks and the police didn’t seem to care too much.

Jimmy turned off Main Street and walked down an open sidewalk lined with bars and restaurants and ducked into a small tavern with few people sitting at the bar. The bartender nodded to him and Jimmy ordered a beer. He knew the bartender, Bill. He had been working this bar for several years. He was a tall, dangerously thin kid, white with dreadlocks that hung to the middle of his back. Jimmy always called him a hippie.

“How’s your boy?” Bill asked.

Jimmy didn’t like talking about his son. People would ask, but he didn’t want to tell them that he had no idea how the boy was. Jimmy's ex had taken the boy and left town. Nobody knew this had happened, though.

“He’s fine,” Jimmy said. “I think he’ll start school soon.” Bill was good for some small talk but Jimmy wanted to be alone. He kept his answers short. The three of them had lived together for several years in an apartment. He and Jodi would fight though, especially when he drank. He hit her once and she took their son and left. She didn’t press charges or anything and he was thankful for that. He didn’t want people to know that he hit the mother of his child—it made him feel lower than shooting a man.

He felt like there was something sacred that he had violated. Roughing up or even killing some street-walking piece of garbage didn’t seem as bad, somehow. Ambrose was the only one that knew she was gone and what had happened. Jimmy had confided in him, it had seemed appropriate, almost like a confession, and he figured that Ambrose would understand and keep it quiet. Jimmy felt a relief in telling him.

Jimmy turned in his bar stool and took a look around again. There was a smoky haze in the bar that mixed with the smell of old fryer oil from the back kitchen and there was group of men sitting at table, talking quietly, mumbling under their breath; conspiring, he thought. Then they each had a hearty laugh and went back to their beers—just a dirty joke, Jimmy thought, something you can’t tell out in public.

Jimmy motioned for Bill to come back over. “Hey, you know a guy named Kurt?”

“Stocky guy, kinda quiet?”

“Yeah, that’s probably him.”

“He comes in here every now and then. Just moved here not too long ago. Nice enough guy. Tried to buy pot off me one time. Why?”

“No reason,” Jimmy said and then went back to his beer. Bill waited for more questions for a moment and turned away, back toward the end of the bar. That must have been it, Jimmy thought, drugs of some kind. That was the reason; that was his weakness. It is only the weak that die like this. Weak of mind, weak of willpower. It was always a weakness of some kind that did them in.

“It’s a life for a life,” Ambrose had said and the phrase echoed in his mind. It was just one bad mistake that Jimmy had made and now he was on the hook with Ambrose. Jimmy had a bit of a temper when he drank and out west he got into a little trouble with some fat cat’s nephew. The kid was taking him for everything at the card table and everyone was just losing and more than that, it seemed like they were trying to lose. Jimmy couldn’t figure it out, he couldn’t see the deal; they were letting the kid win because he was somebody that could get everyone hurt. Still, the kid had it coming, he had a damn big mouth and that can get someone into trouble a lot faster than a bad temper. Jimmy hadn’t really meant to kill the kid, just beat him till he shut up and forked over the cash that he won, but the kid just kept holding onto the money and telling him to go fuck himself. Even when Jimmy took that pipe to the back of his head, the kid wouldn’t let go till he was flat-out dead and by that time Jimmy was so tired of beating on him that he had just about forgotten about the money or his buddies who were just inside and had been alerted by the commotion. Most people would call the police if they saw something like that, but these guys didn’t call the police; they started in on him but Jimmy drew his gun and held them back. None of them moved, they stood there staring Jimmy down, eyes and mouths twisted with rage, but they didn’t move—that was another bad sign; it meant that they could get him later on down the road.

Jimmy had the small gun in his pocket. Maybe the Kurt kid owed some bigger debts than even he did. It still didn’t seem right, there was something off about the whole thing—if this kid was making large bets, someone on the street would know who he is and no one seemed to have any idea. They would always say that they had seen him around here and there on the street, but no one knew anything about him. Jimmy had approached Jay at the leather shop across from the bar where Kurt would usually go. Everyone knew Jay—his back room had many, many dealings. Jay said that he’d seen him in the bar a couple times and said that he was just some quiet kid—he seemed alright, just a working class schmuck. None of it seemed right.

Jimmy had talked to Kurt one night at a bar called Togabees, just to feel the boy out a bit. Kurt sat down near the windows, playing a touch-screen game, drinking slowly, asking the bartender to change a single for him every ten minutes. The place was pretty empty, it was a Tuesday night and there was country music on the jukebox that intermingled with the sound of the televisions behind the bar. He watched ‘Friends’ and drank a couple beers watching Kurt lose himself in the computer screen. Jimmy laughed a couple times and Kurt would glance up for a moment to look at the television.

“This is some funny shit, huh?” Jimmy said.

“It’s not my favorite,” Kurt said back. He had a voice like a boy, it didn’t seem to have any age to it, smokeless. Jimmy picked up on slight sarcasm.

“Yeah, what do you like?”

He said ‘Monty Python’ or some shit like that. Jimmy just grunted and turned away. Maybe the kid just didn’t want to be bothered by some bum. Jimmy realized for a moment that he probably looked like some homeless biker to Kurt. Kurt probably thought he was a loser, a junkie, and an asshole.

The more Jimmy thought about it, the more resentful be became toward Kurt.

Finally Jimmy put a couple dollars on the bar and stood up. He began to leave but then felt himself walking toward Kurt, as if not by his own volition. He stood over him for a moment. Kurt looked up at him; he had big brown eyes that almost butted out like a fish’s.

“You have a cigarette I could get off you?” Jimmy asked. Kurt wasn’t a smoker, Jimmy knew that, but he wanted to see his reaction.

“No, sorry, I don’t smoke.” Kurt talked quickly, seemed skittish and nervous.

Jimmy saw a thin gold necklace that Kurt wore. He decided to push a little further. “That’s a nice necklace you got there.”

Kurt gave a nervous laugh and then said, “My girlfriend gave it to me,” he said. “She lives in another state, kind of a long distance thing.” He spoke too quickly and he gave too much information. He was trying to be too nice, suddenly. Then Jimmy caught a glance of himself in the mirror standing over Kurt. He looked like a vagrant, wearing old jeans and a ragged denim coat. Kurt was afraid, he didn’t want to tell a man like Jimmy that he had nothing to give him. He wasn’t sarcastic this time, this time he was nervous—he was a pushover. Jimmy would have to put on better clothes when he did it, otherwise Kurt may not open the door to his apartment or let him get close to him unnoticed. He would have to wear khakis or something.

Jimmy finished his beer and then took a quick shot to ease his nerves before heading out. It dark now and he could see his reflection in the darkened window. He was dressed in Dockers and an oversized sweater, the small gun fitted into his right pocket. It was better to use smaller guns, the smaller the gun, the smaller the sound, the less impact it makes when the neighbors hear. The men at the table laughed again. He ordered another shot.

He still got nervous doing jobs like this, there were always risk factors, but he had found that the best way to avoid anyone seeing anything was to go about it in a matter of fact way—to calm yourself to the point where it appeared as if you were doing something that was completely natural and normal, you were completing your job for a sum of money that would be paid to you. It was an everyday chore; it was like taking out the trash. If he treated it that way and carried himself in a way that would appear as if he had nothing to hide and wasn’t doing anything wrong, then the world would go on not noticing him, even after the gunshot.

He walked out of the bar and back up toward Main Street. The pale orange glow of the streetlights was descending to the pavement and there was a mist that grew and hung like smoke in the air. Kurt’s apartment wasn’t far and he began to walk north toward Franklin Street. The kid lived in a small apartment just off of Main Street, near the train tracks. He figured that after the shot he would keep walking up Franklin Street till he was out of sight of the apartment and then duck down into the tracks. He could then follow the tracks out of town and call for a ride from a pay phone there. Probably no one would even notice. He had fired guns in houses before and no one ever called the cops. Normal people don’t think that a gunshot just went off and someone is probably dead; no, they think that it’s kids playing with firecrackers, a truck backfiring, anything but a gunshot.

He often wondered how many gunshots at night had been passed off as trucks backfiring from the nearby highway. Normal people don’t think like that, normal people wonder how many backfirings are actually gunshots.

The job itself would be easy; the poor schmuck isn’t expecting anything so Jimmy would just have to knock on the door, ask to use the phone because his car broke down and then shoot him in the back of the head. Then he would walk out the door and up the street. Even if people paid attention to the shot they wouldn’t be able to discern where it came from. He would walk up the street and disappear. They won’t find the poor schmuck for days but the job will be done and he’ll be off the hook with Ambrose.

Jimmy crossed the tracks and stopped at Franklin Street. There was a discount bookstore on the corner which had maybe five books for sale but a back room of pornography bigger than any other he had ever seen. Jimmy knew that certain people had their fingers in that store; you couldn’t sell the stuff he sells without having a few friends in lower places. On the other side of the street was the barbershop—a front for the black dealers, always with expensive cars parked in front but rarely with people actually getting their hair cut. The apartment was just beyond a couple of houses that were filled with wetbacks from Brazil and Ecuador. Kurt was sure located pretty deep in the fabric of Ambrose’s world for not being part of it, he thought.

Maybe he did cross paths with Brose at some point; maybe there was reason behind all of it.

He walked past the barbershop and the houses and stood for a moment outside the house where Kurt’s apartment was located. There were no lights on in any of the neighbors’ windows, the street almost seemed deserted. It was dark now and there was only the orange light of the street lamp shining down on him. There was the hollow groan of the highway and the faint, electric hum of the street lamp burning through the mist. He could see into Kurt’s lit window from the sidewalk. He saw Kurt’s figure pass by the yellow pane of glass, his shadow rolled off the painted walls in toward the bathroom of his apartment. Jimmy could see all of it but he did not recognize it, everything seemed far away. He was not thinking now, but rather moving. His mind was ready and his arms and legs and ears were ready and they all began to move in unison toward the lit window, towards the shadow which rolled across the painted walls. It was all perfect now and he was ready.

Jimmy saw his fist knock at the door but he could not hear the sound which bounced back and when he finally saw Kurt close up, his eyes glossed over and Kurt’s became just another face. He talked but there were no words, there were only actions and Jimmy’s arms tensed and his voice was quick and narrow to escape detection. Kurt smiled and led him into the living room toward the phone. Jimmy reached beneath his jacket and suddenly screamed in pain and fright as he felt his knee crack and break and then felt another metallic blow above his brow, shattering the bone beneath the skin.

Suddenly all he could hear were sounds and all he could see was blood.

There was another crack of metal against his back and then a third down onto his arm as he tried to bring his gun out of his jacket. They kicked him to the ground and he lay there for a moment, his eyes adjusting and his voice trembling quietly. He could feel the pain reaching inward from his body, causing all the synapses to spark and fire and break and repeat; it felt as if his kneecaps were reaching into his spine and trying to pull the nerves out.

There was another blow of metal on his shoulder and he turned, his temper flaring momentarily. He tried for his gun again but this time they broke his hand and took the gun. He stopped writhing for a moment and tried to push himself on back up against the wall so he could see. He was breathing heavy and sweating and for a moment he pushed the pain back down so that he could see everything around him.

He saw Kurt squatting down in front of him, smiling. His features were different now, his eyes with a flash of wild desire and joy, his mouth grinned like a tiger that had just surprised its prey. He saw two other men standing behind Kurt with metal baseball bats. There was no furniture in the apartment, it was vacant and dirty.

Kurt smiled at him. “Surprised?”

Jimmy groaned under the pain. He saw it now, now it made sense. He hadn’t seen the bigger picture, but now it made sense.

“Ricky always said that you never knew what the deal was.” Kurt smiled again. “You think you’re pretty fucking smart, though, don’t you? You followed me really well for those couple weeks, really professional. Scary, isn’t it? Things aren’t always as they seem. If you had looked just a little deeper, maybe you would’ve figured it out.” Kurt seemed to think about the situation for a moment. “Of course, if you weren’t such a greedy, hot-headed bastard in the first place, none of this would be happening. I hate to see you do this to yourself.”

Jimmy shook his head slowly. “No, please...”

Kurt looked down to the ground and shook his head again seeming to laugh momentarily at Jimmy’s plea. Jimmy knew; they had made a back door deal, they brought in someone new, they made it all seem easy. He hadn’t seen it. He should have known that the guys out West would have never let this go.

“I’m sorry,” Kurt said. “Ricky said that you almost didn’t want to do the job. He said he thought you might have been feeling sorry for the poor bastard.” He laughed to himself and looked to the men behind him.

“I could have just killed you, but I thought this way would be a little more fun. Me watching you watch me. You sneaking up on me, standing across the street trying to figure me out. You coming to kill me...”

“No,” Jimmy said again.

“I just wanted to let you know before we said goodbye.” Kurt called back to the other two men. “Let’s get this over with; it’ll be weeks before they find this guy.”

Jimmy tried to push himself away toward the door, his feet shuffling and pushing against the carpet, but the two men took two more swings at his shoulders so that they broke and he collapsed. He tried to scream but it came out as a whisper. Then they dragged him over to the middle of the apartment and laid him on the old, faded carpet face-up. He coughed and sputtered, bleeding from his mouth.

Kurt took a gun and stood over him, looking down. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Ricky says you’re off the hook.”

BIO: Marc E. Fitch is a graduate of the Western Connecticut State University Master of Fine Arts Program. He has been the recipient of the W.C.S.U. Barbara Winder Award and the Connecticut Review’s Leslie Leeds Poetry Award. His work has been published in Cezanne’s Carrot, Prick of the Spindle and the Connecticut Review. He currently lives and works in Harwinton, CT. Marc has recently signed a book contract with Praeger House publishing for his upcoming non-fiction work Paranormal Nation: Why America Needs Ghosts, UFO’s and Bigfoot.


Harry said...

A life for a life, just not the exchange Jimmy was thinking. Great double crossing Paul!

Harry said...

errrr, Great double crossing MARK!