CLEARING THE AIR IN PIONEER SQUARE - ROBERT CRISMAN
Tramping through Pioneer Square, Eddie’d been sniveling for two blocks.
“Fuck, man, I feel like I’ve just been through boot camp or something. We were in that place for half an hour. I told you this was going to take all day. My feet are killing me.”
Dennis was a little tired, too. “Whine, whine, man. You talk like you’re 400 years old. It’s three fuckin’ blocks.”
Dennis was a big guy with muscles. Eddie was not. And that’s all you need by way of descriptions for this little story. You can fill in the blanks as the dialogue heats up.
It was running close to 5pm, four days before Christmas. The street lamps were on, cars were bumper to bumper, and foot traffic was brisk. All the day shoppers and wage slaves were rushing for buses and cars to get out of Dodge. Horse-drawn buggies, a sop to tourists, began to clog up the roadways.
Pioneer Square was where Seattle popped out of the ground and got grabby. Where profits got rolling and Leschi got rolled in the late 1800s. Eight-ten square blocks, thereabouts. Four and five-story buildings, brownstone and brick, with scrollwork and all sorts of stuff fancied in. A hundred and twenty years old, brushed up for the tourists some 30 years back. The buildings all crowded, like cold bankers’ shadows the night before nutcutting time. A banker today would call the place quaint.
Eddie and Dennis had just come out of a bookstore on Main. Eddie got curious about the book Dennis had picked up. “How much did that thing cost anyway?”
“Fifty-eight bucks, can you believe it?”
“Jesus Christ. Yeah, I can believe it. Fuckin’ paperbacks are running seven-eight bucks so, yeah. That’s a motherfucking book you got there, man. Must have every kind of food in the world in there. Every kind of way to prepare it, too.”
“Yeah. Yolanda’ll think she died an’ went to heaven.”
“Good thing she can cook.”
“No shit. You think I’d be buyin’ her a book like this if she couldn’t? Be like buyin’ a book on how to make anthrax or somethin’.”
They turned off First onto Jackson. The wind picked up. At the corner, a guy in a Volvo tried a quick right and almost got clipped by a bus.
The buggy driver behind him was right out of Dickens, almost. He was red-faced and fat with a rum-blossom nose, a macramé Dr. John hat, and a pipe in his mug like the one Sherlock Holmes used to smoke. The horse looked like one of Budweiser’s Clydesdales on loan. Seattle, getting its postcard ideas from London 120 years late.
In the back of the buggy, a smiling young Jane Austen mama sat wrapped in plush wool. With her were two windswept children, laughing and breathless, towheaded, happy as clams. A drunk shuffled out toward the buggy, one hand stretched out. He was begging for change. Fat fucking chance. He was pitted and scarred with a blood-crusted forehead, and lips all puffed out like he’d gone 15 rounds with a sidewalk. His clothes were a step up from sewage and his footwear was Harborview Hospital issue: bandages, bloodstained, about to unravel.
The drunk stumbled and fell off the curb, in between the parked cars there. He tried to get up and then, fuck it, he snuggled under the front of one car and went off to dreamland, or somewhere. Tucked in for the night, four days before Christmas. Visions of sugarplums danced in his head, or maybe he’d just up and died.
Well, shit happens, you know?
The kids stared and stared. The girl turned to mama to ask her what this was. Mama just tugged her away. She didn’t even look. So sad but, oh well. Her Jane Austen smile stayed airbrushed in place. A red blush of color heightened her cheeks. She tossed her hair. Slowly, the horse clopped away.
Passing, Eddie checked on the wino, especially those rags on his feet. Eddie’s eyes burned for a moment, and then his face closed like a fist.
They crossed over at Occidental and kept south. They’d parked just past King. Eddie was off in some tunnel of thought.
At King, he said, “Well, what? El Jefe’s calling tomorrow? We meet the man and then get this show on the road?”
Dennis gave Eddie a frown. “That’s what he said... You know, man? Listenin’ to you? You got some kinda problem with this thing, seems to me. Maybe you oughta just spit it out.”
Eddie chewed on his lips. “It was like I was saying before.”
“You know, Ramon.”
“Ramon what? All you said so far that I heard was, he’s a cold motherfucker. Jesus Christ, Eddie, okay. He’s a cold motherfucker, how’s that? You sure know how to nail a guy. What is it with you anyway? I told you the deal, for Chrissake—”
“Yeah, yeah, man, I know.”
“Well, then? What the fuck, I told you—”
“Aw, man, spare me the business lecture, okay? I—”
“Hey, man, you know what? You’re startin’ to talk like some softbrained little bitch, I swear to God. You don’t like Ramon. Never mind you don’t even know the motherfucker, you still don’t like him. Okay, cool. You don’t gotta like his ass. You don’t even gotta know him. I know the dude an’ he’s fuckin’ okay with me. An’ the reason is, he takes care of business. You oughta try that sometime, man, instead of bitchin’ an’ complainin’ all the goddamned time like you’re doin’. You might start gettin’ somewhere. You know what I’m sayin’? You really oughta look at it, man. This guy, he gives us this thing, an’ it ain’t like he’s in the street beggin’ for guys to carry his fuckin’ mail, either. He’s doin’ fine, man, rakin’ in money, an’ now here you are, all broke an’ crumbcake an’ shit an’—”
“Hey, Dennis, you know what? All that? He can go ahead and be the next Jesus, I don’t give a fuck. And you—man, you oughta be teaching at a business school or something. You could bring in Ramon, do a seminar.” Eddie snorted. “Ethics of narco-capitalism, some fucking thing. Be the hit of the fucking century. Fucking guy. And you—you’re like a fucking cheerleader or something. Rah-rah Ramon, chiva’s answer to Bill fucking Gates. Jesus, man, you married his sister, not his fucking ass, and—”
“Hey, listen, man!”
Uh-oh. Dennis’s voice just dropped deep and his neck started swelling. This was the time for Eddie to pay some attention.
“What?” Eddie barked it, like, say your piece Dennis and hurry it up. I’ve got more stuff I want to unload.
That wasn’t paying attention.
“You’re really startin’ to piss me off,” Dennis said. “All this shit. I wanna know, man, what the fuck is up with you?”
Eddie backed off just a little. “Okay, man... I don’t like the motherfucker, you know? I think... I think he’s an evil motherfucker. And Jesus, Dennis, you can talk all day long about how he takes care of business and what a genius he is and all that. I—hey, man, really, I—tell me this. If this is going to be such a sweet, easy deal, how come he isn’t going in? Him or one of his monkeys, you know?”
“Ah, Christ, Eddie, lemme explain somethin’ to you. The man has other priorities, alright? That’s one thing. An’ his other guys, I dunno, he didn’t want ’em in on this. They’re busy or somethin’, an’ anyway, that’s why you’re in on this. I mean, what the fuck, man. The guy’s—Jesus, think about it. You think he’s just, what, sittin’ around with his thumb up his ass? Huh? Damn, man! An’ meanwhile, this is a pretty good deal for you, don’t you think? I mean, you can sure use the money, them bonaroos you got on an’ all. Get some money you can burn that shit an’ wear somethin’ decent for the first time in your life. Eat somethin’ besides macaroni an’ popcorn lint you found in your fuckin’ pockets. He don’t go in with us, so fuckin’ what? Besides, man, this ain’t his kinda thing anyway, this kinda shit an’—”
Eddie hopped on that one. “This ain’t his thing? What does that mean, Dennis? This, what, he’s afraid he’s gonna fuck up his manicure or something? Or, what, he’s chickenshit? Short in the nutsack? This guy? Fucking kingpin drug-slinging boho strikes fear in the hearts of millions and millions? C’mon, man, I—”
“You need to hose the shit outta your goddamn ears, man!” Dennis was red as a beet. “Look. It ain’t his thing. He don’t wanna do it. He’s got other shit to do. So he gives it to us. An’ we’re gonna make out like bandits, capiche? So why don’t you get your head outta your ass an’—”
“You make it sound like he’s doing us a favor, Dennis. Hey, man, that changes my whole fucking outlook. Shee-it. I don’t fucking think so.”
“Okay, asshole, you got all the answers. You tell me.” Dennis had come to a stop. He stood there, arms loose at his sides, looking lasers at Eddie, who stopped now and turned to face Dennis.
“Well, c’mon, man,” Dennis said. “Talk to me. You say he’s, what, I dunno, sendin’ us in an’ it’s, what? I don’t—”
Eddie shook his head. “No, Dennis. It’s—I think he thinks this isn’t going to be the cakewalk he seems to want us to think it is. These kinds of things, we go in, there aren’t any guarantees. Something can always go wrong. Maybe the dude pulls out that shotgun Ramon says he’s got an’ it don’t get snagged on the blanket? Or, something else. That fucking dog, for Chrissake! You know? And Ramon, he’s, something goes wrong, and it’s, oh well, too bad about Eddie and Dennis, and it’s especially too bad about all the money they didn’t bring home but, oh well. No final skin off his ass, you know? He hasn’t really lost anything. And, here we are, taking the risks, and there he is and he’s getting half. Half, man, and—”
“And then, it isn’t just that. The guy, man—it’s other shit, too. He’s got all these guys, right? So why is it, you see him, he’s driving around with shit in the trunk of his car? The fuck’s up with that? That’s what he’s doing, right? With this dude? Going over and dropping off at the guy’s house? That’s fucking crazy, Dennis! I’ve never heard of anything like that. He’s got guys, man, to do the donkey work, and he’s hopping around like the pizza delivery or something, and all he has to do is get stopped on some humbug and—”
“Look, man,” Dennis said. “You know... Look. That thing, man, that’s a special deal. He’s takin’ care of that one himself, ‘cause it’s just, he’s the one gotta do it. The dude don’t wanna deal with nobody but him. I dunno why, he’s scared to death of him but, that’s the way it is an’, plus, the guy’s buyin’ large weight so he figures it’s worth it. What the fuck. I dunno. An’, yeah, it’s a risk. But—it ain’t like he likes playin’ hide-n-seek with the cops or nothin’ like that, it’s just, you know, the money. Just the one guy. Once a month deal, in an’ out, an’—”
“Sometimes you do what you gotta do.”
“Yeah, Dennis, but—suppose sometime he does get stopped? That could happen, man, and then what?”
“Hey, man, fuck! He’s—dude knows what he’s doin’, man, okay? He’s got a lawyer, for Chrissake! Will you get the fuck off it?” Dennis didn’t really know what would happen if Ramon did get busted. It wasn’t a question he much liked to think about.
“Man,” Eddie said, “He gets busted, you watch. It can happen, man, any fucking time. And then—and how do you know it isn’t gonna happen and—”
“Eddie, goddamnit! I am sick an’ fucking tired of this shit! All you been doin’ for the last day-and-a-half is piss an’ moan like a bitch! You didn’t say shit them other times we were goin’ over this, an’ now you’re ready to piss down your motherfuckin’ leg. Here’s what I think it is, man. It ain’t Ramon. It’s you. An’ you’re worried, we go in, something breaks funny, an’ there you are, an’ maybe you can’t handle it or somethin’. That’s it, right? Uh-huh. Well, I’ll tell you somethin’, man. That’s makin’ me a little nervous right about now, you hear what I’m sayin’?”
Dennis had just punched a big button. “Hey, man,” Eddie said, “fuck you! I’m not scared here! I’m telling you, man, this guy, I don’t trust him. I don’t like him—and now you—it’s like the motherfucker went and sprinkled magic dust in your dog biscuits or something and now we’re just supposed to skip down the Yellow Brick Road and lah-de-dah-de-dah, and fuck that!”
That was it. Eddie’d carped, caviled, and crapped way past the line. Dennis whirled and slammed him hard in the chest with the flat of his hands. Eddie staggered back.
Dennis came in fast. Eddie backpedaled, looking for something to grab or duck under. You ever get charged by a grizzly? Your whole fucking year can get wrecked.
Dennis feinted left and Eddie jumped right—smack into a building. Dennis was on him—and then—there was this couple, a man and a woman, well-dressed and stone squares, from St. Louis or someplace, and now they were three feet away and giving the action the fisheye.
An audience. That’s sure what they needed. Dennis uncoiled, took a good look around, then dropped his hands to his sides, trying to look blasé or something.
Eddie’s face had been that of a deer in the headlights. Now he saw that the squares had bought him a reprieve. You could see him sag with relief.
By the time the squares hit the corner, with no more than two freak looks back, Dennis had pretty well chilled.
The squares were a dose of cold water. Dennis chewed the thing over and slapped himself upside his head.
Eddie’d never been quite as hinky as this but—same old shit. It just meant he was scared.
Kicking his ass wouldn’t solve any problems. Dennis felt silly for having gotten so hot.
At least he knew what to do now. “C’mon, man,” he said. “This is stupid. We’re actin’ like monkeys. Let’s take a walk. Talk. We ain’t gotta fight.” He turned and started to walk. He looked back and told Eddie, “C’mon, man.” He was laughing a little as if the whole thing was absurd. Eddie unpeeled from the wall.
Dennis waited for Eddie to catch up. “Look, man,” he said, “let’s—peace, okay? I just got pissed. You know, sometimes, you push it, you know? An’... Look. I know Ramon rubs you wrong. An’, some of the things, you know, I agree. He is a cold dude. No doubt. The man deals chiva. But, here’s the deal, really, for me.
“Everything we did, him an’ me, it always went smooth. No fuckin’ problems. It all went down splab an’ he never tried to fuck me or nothin’ like that, at all. Other guys I know, did shit with him, same fuckin’ thing. An’ I gotta look at that, man. That’s the thing, see? I mean, okay, say it’s, you got some guy, nice guy, good guy, an’ he’s got this thing, cut you in, you’ll all divvy millions an’, turns out he’s a dumbfuck, alright? An’ then, what? You do somethin’, it ain’t all thought out, he wasn’t payin’ attention or somethin’, next thing you know you’re up in the yard with the fellas, like last time you did somethin’ stupid. An’ dumbfuck’s right up there with you. He can tell you he meant well or somethin’. See? An’ Ramon, he’s maybe a prick sometimes, but he knows what he’s doin’ an’ he’ll deal with you straight up. Guy’s smart, man, it’s a business with him. Why get guys upset, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s a business.
“An’ I know, this thing, he says it’s a lock. He’s paintin’ a picture an’ workin’ the troops ’cause that’s what you do. An’—I agree with you, man, nothin’ in life is a lock. You know it an’ I know it, an’ he knows it too, for that matter. But this is the next fuckin’ thing to it, Homes, no fuckin’ shit. An’ that’s what he’s sayin’, man, really. Like, as long as we don’t fuck it up, it’s a walk in the park, you see what I’m sayin’?”
Eddie was paying attention at last. It was too soon, however, for Dennis to know if he’d brought him down out of the trees.
He kept right on selling. “An’ yeah, man, I know, somethin’ could happen. You could walk out the front fuckin’ door an’ get hit by a bus. But this thing, you know, it’s like—generally, when things get fucked up, it’s the guys doin’ it fucked it, you know? Like you an’ me an’ that thing in L.A. We shoulda known when the guy didn’t call, am I right? Shoulda stuck with the gameplan an’ boogied. But, fuck no, we wanted that money. An’ that’s what happens, man, guys get greedy or whatever, or they don’t stay awake when the thing’s goin’ down an’—their ass in the shitter.
“This here, we do it right, quick in an’ out, we’re on down the road. Like we fell out of a boat an’ hit water. You see what I’m sayin’?”
Dennis got ready to put the bow on the package. “We been partners a long time, Homes, an’ we been through some shit, you know what I’m sayin’? An’ this is a good deal, man, it really is. Just hang with me, man, an’ we’ll be okay. Really. We will.”
Dennis could have gone door to door selling ice cubes in Fairbanks. And you know what? Eddie decided to buy the whole fucking package. Like Dennis said, they were old road dogs and all that.
But also, and this was really the main thing, what else did Eddie have going? The heartbreak of psoriasis maybe but nothing much else.
Eddie shrugged and said fuck it, he’d ride.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.