Friday, August 13, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 544 - Kieran Shea

HAPPENSTANCE THERAPY: A Charlie Byrne Grind - KIERAN J. SHEA

Atlantic City, Bally’s Hotel Casino
Parking Garage, Level 6
10:08 P.M.

Therapy. Everybody needs it. They say the tipping point typically comes after the summation of many things.

Grain after bitter grain pouring into clogged mental drains. Wake up one morning and suddenly you’re screwed. All the truths you wished you’d never lived to see are kicking you in the head and dropping the hammer. Get help or go under.

I’m of the opinion you get therapy where you can, while you can, with whatever you can. Friends can help, so can professionals. But other things can help, too.

Like a thirty-eight inch stick of rusted rebar, for instance.

More on that later.

*

Atlantic City, Bally’s Hotel Casino
Banquet Room 8
9:44 P.M.

“Whoa now! Somebody pinch me! Charlie Byrne? Is there a full moon out tonight or what? How’s the whitest motherfucker this brother know?”

I opened my palms.

“Hey, Deech...”

Duncan “Deech” Houseman. Built like shaved Kodiak bear who couldn’t pass on the all-you-can-eat barbecue bar. A heavyweight in Bally’s better than solid security roster, a go-to man who wore custom uniforms because, to be honest, uniform sizes don’t run colossal.

To shore up my meager P.I. income, I’d done a few freelance assignments for Bally’s the past couple of years and met Deech on the job. Not the most challenging kind of work, squeegeeing events for pickpockets and gate crashers that never seem to go away, but I’m the type of dude who can’t afford to pass on twenty bucks an hour and a pass to the breakfast buffet.

“D’fuck you doin’ up here, Charlie? Thought you hated bein’ on the floor. No uniform on you. You workin’?”

“Nope. Got me a date.”

“A date?”

“Yep.”

“You? Mister tissue paper and the Victoria’s Secret back catalog, gettin’ some sugar? Fine threads should’ve tipped me.”

“Don’t be too happy for me.”

“Why’s that?”

“It didn’t work out.”

Deech gasped. “Aw, man, that’s raw. What happened? Wait, wait. Don’t tell me. She got a look at the size of your thunderstick, right?” Deech busted a gut and slapped his thigh. He laughed so loud an elderly couple creeping by in identical track suits hit the gas.

“Very funny,” I said. “Truth is, I never got that far.”

“How come? That jacket not Armani?”

“Do I look like I can afford—”

He stifled another deep laugh.

“Stop making fun of my clothes, Deech.”

“So what happened?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Booty calls ain’t complicated, yo.”

“Well, she kind of lied to me,” I shrugged. “She made it out like she was all together, you know? Professional. Good job. La Salle grad, MBA from Temple and nice. Real nice. This was our third date and I had high hopes. The other day, she called me and said she wanted some prime steak when I suggested dinner, so I’m thinking cool, right? A girl wants pricy protein and a ninety dollar a bottle of wine I’m thinking she’s breaking out her big game underwear and it’s first and goal for my sorry ass. But then, I don’t know, something itched and I ran some basics.”

“Itched? Shit, when it comes to getting some sugar you ought to leave that snoop biz alone.”

“Yeah, but one hundred and fifty plus large on credit cards? I mean, student loans are one thing, man, but that shit is fucking crazy. Then, when I picked her up tonight and she was in the bathroom fixing her makeup, I peeked in her purse. It was like someone blew up a tiny Habitrail. Different names on all the bottles.”

“So the lady plays a little shake n’ bake, show me someone in America that’s not cracking something. Be honest with me now. You and I both like our occasional vegetation. Hell, it was you who showed me how to clear the tests so I fire a bowl every once in a while and relax. Don’t be so quick to judge.”

“How’s that going by the way?”

“What? The tests?” Big puff out. It sounded like a truck tire deflating. “Man, casino brass are testing hard these days, looking to cut corners. Goddamn Philly and their shopping mall casinos, up north and their Big Chief Pain-In-My-Asses. Only so many suckers and grandmas to go around and now I got me a target on my back. Seaside life here is doomed.”

“A.C. has always been doomed.”

“Like I need your Mister Tony Robbins positive right now.”

Deech’s face went flat and he cupped his earpiece. I could hear a tiny whine of crackles from Bally’s security dispatch leaking from behind his finger tips. He jumped off the stool and I took a step back.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Deech held up a hand to quiet me and I obliged. He listened harder to the sounds coming through his receiver. A concerned spark flashed in Deech’s eyes.

“Where’d you park your ride tonight, Charlie?”

*

Atlantic City, Bally’s Hotel Casino
The Reserve Restaurant
9:08 P.M.

“You looked in my purse?”

I gulped down my first pour of wine and glanced around the restaurant thinking, yeah, there goes nineteen dollars straight down the hatch. The wine tasted fantastic but so do a lot of wines that don’t tap out my bone marrow. A few nearby diners looked over.

“Your purse was open,” I said as gingerly and as quietly as I could.

My date leaned forward, French-manicured fingernails pronged on the tablecloth like claws.

“That’s not the point, you jerk! You looked in my purse!”

“I’m sorry.”

“I cannot believe this. You classless shit.”

“Maybe I can help you.”

“What?”

“I mean, if there’s a problem.”

“Fuck you.”

“I know some people who run a discreet rehab program for young professionals that’s affiliated with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That stuff...the dosages on those bottle, believe me, that stuff can get out of hand real fast. Did you take anything tonight?”

“No.”

“What about the different names on the labels? Did you steal those pills?”

She blinked and tightened her jaw. More invisible icy walls of denial zoomed up. She narrowed her blue eyes and shut me down like a switch.

“You’re incredible,” she hissed.

She topped off her wine, drank it all, and poured again. I expected it to be thrown in my face but I was glad she didn’t waste it. She stood.

I got to my feet and tried to signal the waiter. More people were paying attention to us. Then I thought, to hell with it, plopped back down and took her contempt. After she left, I finished her barely touched appetizer. For the record, seared diver scallops should also never be wasted.

The bill came to ninety-seven dollars and forty-nine cents.

*

Atlantic City, Bally’s Hotel Casino
Parking Garage, Level 6
10:05 P.M.

I’d parked on six.

Deech told me a bunch of lowlifes in a coordinated effort had knocked out the security cameras on three different parking garage levels with sledgehammers and spray paint. More than likely cover for car theft or perhaps a couple of smash-and-grabs. Security sent a bunch of guys to check it out and ACPD was alerted per casino protocols.

We commiserated over the petty vandalism and Deech told me to be careful anyway. I told him I was a big boy, besides I was parked way up on six anyway. Six wasn’t one of the knocked-out levels.

I took an empty elevator and crossed a vacant, cold causeway to the parking garage. Miserable feelings about my blown date with a more than willing young woman shifted in my brain. Deech was right. Sometimes you’ve got to look the other way when it comes to getting some sugar.

Parking garages have always made me nervous. Blind corners and dodgy lighting. People walking toward or behind me and immediately I’m thinking, friend or foe?

But level six was lit up just fine. I heard ACPD sirens approaching and a chilly, onshore wind howling around the exposed open corners. Wherever the vandals and thieves were, they were either long gone or panicking big time. I was thinking about maybe pulling up a pay-per-view movie on cable when I turned the corner and stopped cold. Three lanky black kids were taking a Slim-Jim to the door lock of a huge, black Cadillac Escalade twelve slots up on the left.

Immediately it all clicked in my head—a red flag play. First group pops the cameras to divert security and hauls ass, second group picks a well-targeted vehicle that probably had a garage ticket lying out in plain view. While security and the ACPD fretted over vandalized cameras, the second group goes and boost the target. If everybody plays it cool, they’d pay the garage fee to some overworked and confused booth worker blinded by all the police light bars and hubbub and the thieves would drive right out of the garage in style. Grand theft auto. Took balls.

Of course then I had to go and open my big mouth.

“Hey!”

All of the thieves wore identical black sweatshirt hoodies up, baggie jeans, unlaced Timberlands. None of them looked down the ramp in my direction.

“HEY!”

The alarm on the Escalade whooped to life and the one with the Slim-Jim climbed in and started working the dash. Thief two got in on the other side, taking the shotgun seat. Thief three pounded on one of the back doors as I started running to my car. As I ran, I pulled out my iPhone from my jacket pocket and dropped it. Naturally, as I was in full running mode, the toe of my shoe kicked my iPhone and the device skipped into a greasy pool beneath a silver Prius.

Great. Dumped date, car thieves, roached iPhone—the night was just getting better and better.

Thief three kept pounding on the back door as the SUV roared to life and the alarm abruptly ceased. Tires squealed as the massive Escalade swung a ‘J’ in reverse as thief three leapt onto the SUV’s running board. He rode the running board like a Secret Service agent as the vehicle flew down the ramp towards me. Fuck, why does every kid think they’re in a movie? The running board thief had a gun.

I dropped to the concrete, trying to make myself invisible as the Escalade zoomed past. When the SUV screeched around the turn heading down, there was a sharp cry followed by a loud whump. After a few seconds, I peeked over the hood of the Prius and saw the running board kid sprawled on his belly, moaning. Apparently he’d flown off the Escalade on the turn and kissed the grill of a cherry-colored Nissan backed into a slot. His friends didn’t even bother to slow down.

I assessed the scene. On impact, the gun must’ve flown from the kid’s hand. He started to stand but crumpled with a grunt, clutching his leg and cursing sharply. I started walking quickly, my eyes bouncing around the concrete, looking for the missing gun. Later on, the weapon was recovered by ACPD beneath the rear of a minivan parked thirty feet away. I was about to shout out for help when I noticed a crooked stick of rusted rebar lying in an empty parking space and picked it up. The kid crawled and fell, crawled and fell some more. Then he saw me holding the stick of rebar and started searching for his missing gun.

“Stay put,” I told him. “Cops will be here soon enough. Be smart. Don’t make this any worse than it has to be.”

“Fuck you, man!”

“All righty then.”

I gripped the stick of rebar tight. It was rough and frozen in my fingers and I tapped it along my right leg like sword. I was about forty feet away from him, my heart pounding double-time and my ears blazing hot.

Sucking in wind through clenched teeth, the kid managed to get to a good foot and began hopping towards a nearby stairwell exit. His black hoodie had fallen down from the crown of his head and he looked over his shoulder at me. I mimed a motion of putting his hood back up and he stopped to give me a puzzled look. Genius. Kid looked right up into a live security camera.

“Say cheese,” I said.

Anyway, you live year-round at the shore, you get to play a little Frisbee now and again. Last summer, I played Frisbee Ultimate in a series of pickup games with some beach patrol guards I knew. Great exercise, Frisbee Ultimate. Sprint and throw, sprint and throw. I considered the distance between us, took aim, and side-armed the stick of rebar as hard as I could at the kid’s bad leg.

As I expected, the screaming brought the cavalry.

Like I said, you get your therapy where you can.

Hell, I felt better anyway.

BIO: Jersey born writer Kieran Shea scratches at the eight ball of crime fiction and his character Charlie Byrne has graced ATON plenty of times before. He blogs the struggle and other musings at BLACK IRISH BLARNEY.

8 comments:

AJ Hayes said...

Re-bar Frisbee and do good threapy -- too bad about the pill head. She sounded classy. Oh well it beats 300 bucks an hour. Enjoyed this a whole bunch. Thanks AJ

David Cranmer said...

What can I say but I'm a huge fan of this character and Kieran's prose in general. Read that dialogue again! That's how its done, folks.

Kieran Shea said...

Thanks, for the comments, good karma to you and yours.

David Barber said...

Great job, Kieran. Excellent story and dialogue.

Glenn Gray said...

Very nice, Kieran. Very nice.

Chris Rhatigan said...

Phenomenal.

Ian Ayris said...

Loved the structure. Cracking dialogue and the tiny, tiny details made this a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fantastic stuff. Thanks, Ian.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Splendid. top tale with typically fantastic dialogue.