Monday, October 12, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 217 - Robert Crisman


Joey and Danny were stone crook disasters. Their total take since they started in ripping and running: two pounds of peanuts and six pigeon feathers.

At least they could divvy it straight down the middle.

The future looked bleak as they sprawled in their room at the Old Goat Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Joey stared up at the ceiling. “We gotta do something, man, bust some moves.”

Danny lay on the bed zombied out, unimpressed. “Bust moves? We couldn’t break wind.”

They silently stewed in the wake of that truth. Then, bang, Joey bolted upright. “Ba-zing! I’ve got an idea!”

Joey, the man with ideas. Scary as scary can be and—

First, though, descriptions, the same ones I’ve given these guys through six trillion short stories: Joey: Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs. Danny: Steven Baldwin, The Usual Suspects. Don’t ring a bell? Go rent the movies, for Christ fucking sake! I gotta do everything for you?

So, anyway, Joey had this scary idea and Danny, wary, said, “Yeah? What is it this time?”

“You remember Odell? Had the White Sands on Jefferson, up on 14th?”

Fourteenth and Jeff, the edge of the ghetto, one bad block in the old days.

“Yeah, man,” Danny said. “I remember Odell. We used to cop matchboxes there.”

“That’s the one.”

“Odell got popped,” Danny said. “Cops went in, and he had his pad there in back, they’re lookin’ around, and he’s got all this money just lyin’ around in his bathtub.”

“They said something like one hundred thousand or something.”

“Somethin’ like that.”

“Yeah, well,” Joey said, “he got out.”

It occurred to Danny that Joey was actually going somewhere with this line of jabber. Seeing as Odell was the subject—uh oh...

“So he got out,” Danny said. “The guy was a prick. They throwin’ a Welcome Home party or somethin’, an’ we’re, like, invited?”

“He’s back in business.” Joey rolled this out like Wolf Blitzer.

“So what?” Danny said. “You wanna go cop a matchbox or somethin’? The guy was burn, man, he shorted the weight—”

Danny broke off. Joey was smiling, a gleam in his eye.

“Joey, uh-uh! Fuckin’ forget it! I know what you’re thinkin’. Rip off Odell? Go swimmin’ around in his bathtub or somethin’? I can just see it. Cops’ll come in, find us there and we won’t be takin’ no bath, we’ll be dead! Are you outta your mind? That’s one hard dude, man! You remember that shotgun he kept by the bar, an’ these two guys come in that one time, had big plans an’ all that, by the time the fuckin’ smoke cleared they were lunchmeat for dogs! No fuckin’ way am I gonna mess with that dude.”

“Danny, goddamn! I’m not talking about messing with Odell! Just—look. You remember that broad, used to sit at the counter and watch over things when Odell wasn’t there?”

“Oh God,” Danny said. “Big Hattie. Hell yeah, I remember. I see her every so often—in these nightmares I get where I’m dead an’ in Hell an’ she’s there with a whip an’ a pitchfork an’ shit, an’ she’s 80 feet tall an’ she’s showin’ the Devil how he’s sposed to do it an’—Jesus! I’d rather go up an’ bitch-slap Odell just for fun!”

“Look, Danny—”

“Joey, forget it! Hattie, man, Jesus! She’d be there, alright? Up in the Sands, holdin’ the fort while Odell’s in the bathtub countin’ the money, an’ all these hard-case brothers’re there, an’ she’s like, they’re in there to steal the stools an’ the popcorn, an’ she’s layin’ the stinkeye like, try, motherfuckers an’, funny thing—These dudes, it’s like all of a sudden, first time in their lives, they’re on best behavior. Like five-year-old kids an’ mama’s right there with a big fuckin’ stick an’ they get outta line an’ they die. Those motherfuckers stayed quiet as mice in that place, an’ these motherfuckers, you see ‘em out in the street, they throw down on cops, an’ she’s got ‘em there in detention or somethin’. The army wouldn’t fuck with that broad! Patton’d go in there, take one fuckin’ look, he rolls on his back with his paws in the air, an’ she rubs his belly an’ kicks him an’ stuff an’ then throws him some dog food, he’s happy she loves him, you know what I’m sayin’?”

“Gee, man, that’s vivid. You done?”

“Until you get cranked up again, yeah, I guess so.”

“Ah, man, just listen, okay? I got a plan.”

“An’ she’s in it.”

“Well, yeah but—goddamnit, just listen, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” Danny said. “It’s probly better’n wrestlin’ with heroin addiction, so go right ahead. The answer’s still no.”

“Just wait,” Joey said. “Now, here’s the deal, Odell’s out and he’s back and he’s bad. He’s slinging his dope and he’s raking in bucks just like old times. Now, Hattie, she’s Odell’s bag lady, man, just like before. Every fourth Tuesday she hops on the bus and goes down to the bank, big old black satchel under her arm, and it’s filled to the brim with fifties and hundreds and twenties and tens and no change whatever. Leo, remember? He told me about it, he still hangs around. So okay, and then I checked it out. Watched her get on the bus and get off downtown and waddle on into the bank. This was last month. And now, this is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, the last one this month, and guess what that means?”

“Uh, lessee now. She’s gonna drop off a deposit.”

“Exactly, my man! And we’re gonna be there, right at that bus stop, down there on Union and Fourth, 12:30 sharp, and follow her down to the bank there and, bam! When she starts across Union, I snake up behind her and snatch up that satchel and break for the weeds like a track star! She ain’t even had one fucking second to blink, am I right? And then I turn the corner and pass off to you, you drop the satchel into the bag that you got, you just got done shopping at Nordstrom’s or something, and I keep on scooting and you blasé down to the Old Goat. I meet you there later, we divvy the ill-gotten gains and we’re rich! How does that sound?”

Danny chewed the thing over. “Sounds like somethin’ a drunk’d come up with, he’s down at the bar, it’s ten minutes to closin’, he leaves, he’ll be sleepin’ up under the freeway or somethin’ an’, dude’s fuckin’ nuts. Tells folks he rode with Billy the Kid an’ any day now he’ll be back in the saddle again. That’s what it sounds like.” He mused some more. “An’ it might fuckin’ work.”

Joey’s face lit up like neon at sunset. “My man!”

They traded high fives. Then Danny prayed to Zudelda, the Lovecraftian Goddess of Dipshit Maneuvers: Please cut us a solid! We ain’t had a break since Jesus stepped out for lunch! Zudelda, famous for sending clucks straight down the shitter, was not the goddess you wanted to pray to if you had the least vestige of sense—which is why the Joeys and Dannys wound up under jails so often.

Anyway, so much for that. They showed up right on time the next day. And watched as this middle-aged woman stepped down off the bus. They gaped as she stood there looking around. She stood six-foot-two and weighed maybe 300 pounds, all muscle, no fat. She’d kick a bear’s ass! She’d eat Sonny Barger! She dressed like Ma Barker.

She looked in fact like a cross between Ma and, say, Samson before he got shaved by Delilah. Her face was cement with an attitude problem. If they ever carved a Mt. Rushmore for bad guys, she’d be the first one put up there.

She walked toward the bank, the big old black satchel under her arm. She took up the sidewalk. People jumped into the street to avoid her. Joey fell in behind.

Now, for this next part, pretend you’re watching a movie:

Bronco Nagursky gets to the light, starts across Union. Steve Buscemi snakes close and then zips to her side and snatches that satchel and torques like a jet—straight into thin fucking air!

There he is, jamming, up up up up! Like Wile E. Coyote, jetting straight up the wall of a canyon, thinking he’s going to catch that roadrunning bastard at last—except this was thin air! Joey was moving so fast that the air caught on fire! How’s that for a kick-ass cartoon?

She wouldn’t let go of that satchel, goddamnit! Talk about death grips!

Joey lost his grip and, again like Wile E. Coyote, flailed back to earth with a bang.

Sprawled on his ass, he looked up into Ma Barker’s eyes.

And saw that he was a bug that she’d just decided to squash.

He thought about chewing his way through the sidewalk, but that only works in cartoons by Mad’s Maddest Artist, Don Martin. Admittedly, I thought I could make you believe that this was one, but it wasn’t really, at least not the kind where he’d let that shit happen.

Joey scrambled on up. Ma smiled the proverbial Smile Of Evil. She reached into her décolletage—an ample décolletage, yes indeed—and slowly pulled out a pistol. Big fucking pistol, like one they’d used in the shelling of Moscow.

Joey wheeled and took off like Usain Bolt did in Beijing in 2008. No white boy had ever reached speeds like he reached!

Not that it mattered. Ma stood there feet planted, a smile on her face as serene as a full harvest moon shining down on a graveyard at midnight. She raised the pistol, took almost casual aim, and squeezed off two rounds, hitting Joey dead in the ass, the left cheek, with each one.

Joey jumped, screaming, and kept down the road.

That night he sat, sort of, propped on two pillows, there on the edge of the couch at his girlfriend Danielle’s. He held the left cheek, the one where Ma’d plinked him, an inch or so off the pillow.

Danielle listened solicitously now as Joey rolled out the latest installment of jobhunting woe and disaster.

Quick portrait: Danielle. Nicole Kidman. To die For. She gave God woodies.

Joey was wailing this night. “God, Babe, it’s like voodoo or something! Either that or God doesn’t want me to work! I mean, I don’t get it! I go out to Renton, they’re hiring, construction, they’re actually building something out there, apartments or something, okay? So I go there and tell ’em, hey look! Here I am! And the foreman says, cool, grab a shovel! Hey, what? Like, I’m hired? It looks like the start of a whole brand-new life!

“Now, the foreman, he’s got this dog there inside the shack, it’s this Doberman, right? And the thing’s been asleep for six years or something—till I get there, right? I come in the door and, ka-bang, he’s awake—and he must’ve got hungry way out thee in dreamland, and boy, he sees me, I’m like filet mignon! And zam, he’s right at me! I turn to run, I get like two feet, and he’s chewing off chunks of my ass! The foreman had to rip him right off me and that’s one more chunk and...”

Joey stopped, caught his breath. “So okay. And then, after they patch my ass up, the foreman, he’s, ‘Gee, I can’t understand it! The Shredder likes all my guys!’ That’s what he calls him, the Shredder. He got him to keep out the thieves. I must be a thief because Shredder don’t like me. That’s not what he says, but that’s how he’s looking, you know, out the corner of his eye and like that and, long and short, I don’t get the job. The Shredder says no.”

Another Oscar-winning performance!

Joey slumped, exhausted it seemed, though he kept that left cheek in the air.

Danielle said, “Oh, honey, it’s just one thing after another. I feel so bad! Here, drink your milk.”

She picked up the glass that she’d placed on the table right next to the chocolate chip cookies. She handed Joey the glass. He drank forlornly.

She took the glass after he’d finished and put it back down on the table. Then she nestled into his arms, a prelude to deep, steamy necking.

Joey said, “Uh, Babe? I—could we—I mean... Tonight, I think it’d kill me, you know?”

Usually, right about now, Joey’s dick would be making these Rice Krispie noises. Did Ma shoot it off?

Danielle looked surprised for a moment, then giggled. “Sure, baby, I understand. Okay, let’s watch some TV.”

She turned on the box, in time to catch a late newscast. A broadcaster riffed through the latest disasters as if they were whole loads of fun. Then, “A shooting today on the streets of downtown Seattle! Up next!”

Joey’s eyes widened in horror.

A camera panned Fourth and Union where Joey’d been shot. Then it fixed on another reporter, standing with Ma mike in hand.

“With me now,” the reporter intoned, “is Hattie Mae Goebells, the target of a daring, if unsuccessful daylight robbery attempt on this corner early this afternoon. Hattie Mae, however, had a surprise for the thief.” He turned to Ma. “Hattie Mae, would you like to tell us about it?”

Ma smiled her Smile of Evil. “Sure, whatever it is you said your name was. Well, like you said, I’m walkin’ up toward that bank, and I got my satchel right here in my hand, just like I do now, an’ this rumpkin comes runnin’ beside me an’ makes a snatch for the bag an’—I’ll tell you somethin’, sweetie, that’s like a mouse tryin’ to snatch meat from a grizzly, scrawny as that (bleep-bleeper) was.

“I ain’ lettin’ that bag go for nothin’, my friend, an’ the next thing you know, that fool’s runnin’ straight up toward space. I thought I was watchin’ a (bleepin’) cartoon! Well, he come back to earth soon enough, let me tell you. An’ I had somethin’ waitin’ on his (bleep) soon as he did. I went in an’ hauled out my gun I keeps in my bosoms for just such occasions, an’ let me tell you, his eyes got all big an’ he jumped up an’ started to boogie on off an’—boy left his shadow behind he took off so quick!”

Ma laughed. “Well, that boy’s a track star, but he cain’t outrun bullets, that’s for (bleep) sure! I took my slow aim an’ cracked off two rounds an’ potted him right in that stringbean he had for an (bleep). That’s all there was to it. An’ you better believe that wherever he is, that boy is hurtin’ right now.”

Ma brought out her gun, pressed the barrel to her lips, put those two lips together and blew. “Frontier justice, my friend. Only thing keeps these hatracks in line, guaranteed.”

She gave the reporter a look, as if she might like to make him a pet.

The reporter smiled, the kind of smile you try when you think you’re going to be eaten, but—if you can just talk to this monster, abase yourself maybe, and soothe her, then put her to sleep and then run like hell...

“Well, er, ha-ha, that’s just great, Hattie Mae!” The reporter turned to the camera. “Despite the blood trail leading away from the scene, the suspect remains at large this evening. Let’s hope they catch him. Anyway, I’ve got to run. I’ll see you, goodbye—and don’t look for me anywhere, please!”

Danielle shut off the TV. She looked upset.

“Gosh, Joey,” she said, “I can’t believe that, can you?”

“Uh,, I can’t...”

“I mean, what are people coming to these days?” Danielle was upset. “That was sick! What kind of so-called man would do that kind of thing? That poor old woman! She could have been hurt!”

“Poor old woman? Danielle! If they’d sent her to Iraq, even all by herself, we’d be wrapping up China right about now! You see the arms on that—?”

“Joey, you know what I mean! It was a cowardly thing for that man to do! I hope they catch him! He doesn’t belong on the street!”

“I gotta go with you there,” Joey said. “Guy’d definitely be safer in lockup.”

Danielle looked ready to cry. “Oh, Joey, this world, it’s so cold and mean sometimes! More and more people just don’t give a darn! People robbing old ladies and—it’s just too much! And you—“

Joey didn’t jump any more than two feet, but he did come down hard on his ass.

Danielle wrapped him up in her arms. “Oh, Joey, I love you! You’re so gentle, so kind, and you can’t find a job, you’ve been out there for months and—life’s just not fair!”

Joey sat stupefied, really. He couldn’t believe it! Danielle had an IQ of 200-plus! Was she really this dumb? If so—thank fucking God!

He entwined his arms with hers, then remembered his ass and the dangers of necking tonight. He sat back, sort of. “It’s okay, Babe. I know it’s rough. And I’m here for you, trust me.”

“Oh, Joey!” Danielle leaped onto his lap. She clasped him and kissed him. His ass caught on fire.

At the Old Goat Hotel later that night, Joey and Danny sprawled in their usual positions.

“So,” Danny said, “how’s your ass?”

“Oh, about like it should be. You know, on fire, about to fall off. Gangrene maybe, who knows?”

“You know what?” Danny said. “I finally figured it out. We’re dead an’ in Hell, it’s official—an’ maybe that ain’t such bad news, you know what I’m sayin’?

“Ah, Danny, Danny, we can’t give up now!”

“Why the fuck not?”

“Because I’ve got a plan...”

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.

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