Monday, October 5, 2009
Jo's head thrashed back and forth on the pillow, her long hair flailed against Fisher's face like a whip urging him onwards. They had waited seven long days and nights for Landy to go back to Florida and now they were making up for it, fucking like fugitives, like the clock was ticking. And when they finished and they were both covered in sweat, gasping for breath, Fisher somehow found the energy to haul himself out of the bed. Fueled by the memory of Landy's smirk, he paced back and forth spewing out a week's worth of backed-up bile.
“Christ All Mighty, ought to sue his ass for my whiplash concussion," he said. "My 'little' newspaper? Who does he think he is? Like he's some big wheel, turning like a fat roasted pig. He hustles golf for fuck's sake. Big man getting his jollies cheating dollars off of duffers. Christ. Why the hell did you ever marry a prick like that?”
“Because we were running drugs together.”
Fisher stopped in mid-stride like a target in a shooting arcade.
“Wait a second, wait a second. I thought you said he wasn't a dope dealer.”
“Suppose to tell every a-hole I meet?”
“Thanks a lot.”
“Anyway, we were running pot. Not dealing.”
“Great, now you can run for president.”
Jo reached for the bottle on the table and poured herself a Jamison. She took a long drink and then sat back in the bed. "You in the mood for a story?"
"I don't know," Fisher said. "Maybe."
"You're right, the Keys are crawling with dealers. Of course you're right. And when I got behind on some debts all I had to do was ask around. A waitress I was working with told me I could make five thousand in a week if my driver's license was in order. She knew people making runs up the east coast out of a vegetarian take-out shack on the Sugarloaf Keys.”
"They paired you up boy-girl pretending to be, you know, a married couple.”
“Yeah, that was the cover. They wanted clean cut types, All- American, no hippies or skanks. They paired me up with Jack.”
“Mr. Golf,” Fisher laughed.
“Hey, he looked perfect, sports tan, knit shirt, khaki pants... You're right. 'Mr. Golf'," she said protectively. "We put his clubs with the country club logo in the back seat. No one would look twice at us, the last people in the world you'd pull over for running pot. Perfect cover. So off we went, like happy newlyweds driving up the coast."
“Pretending to be married.”
“That's what I said. Separate beds where ever we stopped. He never laid a glove on me.”
“O.K., O.K., he was a prince.”
“We did half-a-dozen runs together, not a hitch. Then one run we nearly got popped.”
“We got a flat. The spare was in the trunk. But the deal was we were never given the trunk key. They didn't want you to get any big ideas of going into business for yourself. So when we pulled off the road there was nothing to do except for Jack to hitch a ride to get a tire. I stayed with the car. Listening to the radio, counting to a hundred a hundred times, praying to God he'd get back soon." Jo stared into the glass of whiskey. "Then this patrol car pulls over.”
“Yeah. Cop gets out. Big dick walk, mirrored glasses, the whole show."
Cop goes, 'what seems to be the problem, ma'am?' I told him we had a flat and no spare and how my husband went to get a new tire. But I could tell he didn't believe me. He keeps sniffing around like a hound, walks back to his car like he going to, I don't know, call it in, call for assistance. Ai-yi-yi! It was all I could do not to roll down the window and puke.”
“So what happened?”
“What happened was thank fucking God Jack shows up in a tow-truck with a new tire. We get it changed and get the hell out of Dodge. But the cop decides to tail us, waiting for us to give him one little excuse. And he rides our butt for, I don't know, ten miles, seemed like a hundred, and I want to scream, I swear to God. But, I didn't. And I feel Jack's watching me, wondering if I'm going to break."
"But I don't. Mile after mile I keep my eye on the road and speed limit on the nose. Finally, thank fucking God, the cop turned off. We didn't say a word. We drove an hour in silence, maybe more, until Jack spoke. He said 'You are a keeper'. I pulled into the first motel we saw and we made love like real newlyweds all night long. Next day we found a justice of the peace and made it legal.”
“Ought to be a children's book.”
“The thing was...” Jo eyes gleamed, and she shook her long hair like a colt shaking its mane. “I loved it. I loved the risk. God, so much better than waiting tables. Loved it. So we kept doing runs."
"I'd still be doing it, I swear to God. But this friend we were working with, she got busted, and Jack said it was time to get out. He said 'people who get caught want to get caught.' ”
“Man is a poet.”
“I don't know. I thought he might be right. I mean we had made all this cash, and it was just sitting there. So Jack had this idea about how we should buy a restaurant, be our own bosses for once in our lives. Jack thought with all my restaurant experience, right? Run my own shop, call the shots, blah, blah, blah. Partners. So we looked around and bought Edgar's."
"Partners." She lowered her head and frowned, the gleam gone from her eyes. "What a bill of goods that turned out to be."
“Why don't you divorce him?”
“I signed this stupid agreement, you know, when we started. If I divorce him, he gets the restaurant.”
“I know. I know.”
“You know what you should do? You should rip him the hell off.”
“What do you think I've been doing?”
“What? From the restaurant? How much you get?”
“But I thought you said...”
“I know, I know. I was doing all right. Taking four, five hundred out a week, betting it at the track, building up a nest egg. Figuring I'd get far enough ahead and leave." She bunched and un-bunched the blanket in her hand. "But then I hit a bad streak, a horrendous streak. In two weeks I lost over twenty-thousand dollars of Edgar's receipts.”
“Twenty-thousand! Shit. What did Mr. Golf say?”
“Nothing. He never knew.”
“How could he not know. You said you lost twenty-thousand.”
She smoothed the blanket with the palm of her hand. A smile crept across her face. “I faked a break-in.”
“I faked, you know, made it look like someone broke into the restaurant. On a Sunday night, when all the cash I'd lost was suppose to be in the safe... I made sure I had an alibi and had someone come in and trash the place.
"I came in Monday morning acted all like 'Oh my God! What happened!' Reported it to the cops.”
“What did Jack say?”
“What could he say? I mean he was pissed. He was really pissed. But it happens. Places get robbed. We had insurance. Covered most of it.”
“What a brilliant idea," Fisher laughed. "Rob yourself. Smart, smart cookie.”
“I don't know. Desperate.”
Hours later Fisher jacked up in bed with such force he woke Jo.
“Fish! What is it?”
“What time is it?”
“Go to sleep, Fish.”
“Yeah.” But he couldn't. He was trying to remember, what was it about the play she made?
“What if...” it was almost there, keep talking and it would come. The other way. Something about...
“We did it the other way around.”
“Say we sit on a horse. Something we really see coming. Could even be low odds, doesn't matter.”
“Fish, what are you talking about?”
“I'm saying we take the twenty-grand out all at one time and make one bet on one horse. Horse wins, we make seventy-eighty grand minimum. Then, you put the stake back in the safe, and we keep the winnings. Nobody knows a thing.”
Jo sat up, wiped the sleep from her eyes. “You're saying bet it all?”
“Yeah. One big bet.”
“Put aside the twenty and...”
“Put it on a sure thing.”
“We do our homework.”
“And if the sure thing loses?”
“Then you fake another break-in.”
“Yeah, but after the last time Jack beefed up security. Alarms all over the place. We got a real safe.”
“Yeah. Yeah. But like you said.... places get robbed.”
With Willis gone, the saga of the Salmanowitz swastikas returned to Fisher. The day the Board of Education re-instated Mickey, Fisher arranged to meet with the the chastened high school senior outside of the Pilgrim's locker room. Without his shoulder pads and helmet, Salmanowitz seemed smaller, his brown eyes docile as a puppy. During the three game suspension his hair had grown back covering the offending tattoos.
"First of all, why did you tattoo the markings in your head?" Fisher asked.
“I don't know,” Salmanowitz mumbled and kicked at the cleat scarred floor.
“Must have been some reason.”
“It was... for a girl.”
“For a girl!”
“Yeah, she was telling me about the markings, the crosses. She said they were power cross-marks. That they were Native American. A thousand years ago. Not German or anything. .”
“The girl...” asked Fisher. “She's your girlfriend?”
Salmanowitz looked embarrassed. “No.. I thought if I did it...”
“If you did it, then what?” Two boys walked passed and entered the locker room.
“I gotta go.” Salmanowitz looked up at Fisher. “I gotta go.”
“You're saying you did it for this girl?”
Salmanowitz looked up at Fisher. “I gotta go.”
Fisher sat as his desk thinking about the interview with Salmanowitz. How was he going to write this? He typed the lead on his monitor and stared at it. “Recently reinstated Pilgrim star player Mickey Salmanowitz confessed that he tattooed swastikas in his shaved scalp to impress a girl.” It looked like something for the tabloids. He erased the copy and started again. He was so busy re-working the story, he never looked out the window to see the lone cyclist weaving his way through traffic towards the former funeral home.
By the time Fisher looked up from his monitor and saw Bucky talking to Claire, it was too late. Bucky? Why would Bucky be talking to Claire? Claire's face went baboon-ass red. She shoved Willis's vacated chair out of her way and descended on Fisher like the God of Wrath.
“How could you?”
“How could I what?”
“High holy fuck, Fish! Getting a high school kid to do your leg work?”
“Is that what he said? Come on. You gonna believe some kid?”
“Do you want me to hit you? I'll kick your ass down the stairs.”
She would, too. She was pissed as hell at Fisher, but she was even angrier at herself. All the signs were there, the call from track security, the mid-day disappearing act, the shoddy writing, how blind could she be?
“How many times, Fish?” She stomped her foot so hard on the floor that the copy boy came up to see what was the matter. “How many times?”
“Maybe a couple of assignments.”
“More than a couple,” said Bucky, and Fisher wondered why you could never find an ax when you needed one.
“God damn you, Fish!”
“Pay him, Fish. Pay him.” Fisher took a roll of cash from his pocket. He couldn't remember how much he owed, but Bucky was Johnny-on-the-spot.
“It's for the three cross country meets and the soccer game and the...” Fisher stuck a bill in Bucky's hand. “Wow!”
“That's O.K.,” said Fisher.
“Oh, on Thursday? I can't cover the meet cause...”
“That's O.K., Bucky.”
Confused, the boy lowered his head, not sure what he should do, but Claire patted him on the shoulder and he left staring at the face of Benjamin Franklin on the bill in his hand. Fisher wanted to follow him out, but Claire was not finished.
“What the hell were you doing instead of your job, Fish? Going to the track? High holy fuck! That's the same shit that got you fired in Florida. Same lame shit you pulled practically made you unemployable. A high school kid? Un-fucking believable. After I go and stick my neck out for you? Do you even know? Do you have any idea what I had to go through to get them to even think about, forget about hiring, to even think about hiring you? It's my ass too, Fish. Did you ever for one second think of that?”
“Don't even start. I...Jesus. Stopped going to your meetings, too, I'll bet. Right? Right?”
“They're a crock of shit.”
“What? The meetings? Or you? Because from where I'm standing the crock of shit is you.”
“I'm not a...”
“Compulsive gambler? High holy fuck you're not. Ought to have your picture in the dictionary.”
“If it makes you happy, stick on a label.”
“Makes me happy? What is wrong with you? Makes me happy? Come on, man. What is wrong with you?”
“All right. Yeah, I put some money down. Hell yeah. I'm a gambler, Claire. You're damn straight. The best deal in my life is at the track. The odds are up there clear as day. Nobody picks up a phone in some back fucking room says this or that about you. You put your money down, and you are in. Gives you the view of the participant for a change, not some, some jerk-off standing on the sideline like a eunuch in the whorehouse."
“Then maybe you should get out,” Claire said.
“You firing me? You firing me, Claire?”
“Even if I wanted to keep you on, they would never...”
“Hey. Whatever.” Fisher found a box on the floor and began clearing out his desk. It didn't take long. He'd had a lot of practice.
“I can see what I can do. Make some calls.”
“Don't do me any favors, Claire. All right?”
“Favors? Jesus, Fish. Man, take a look at your life. Your living like a refugee. Thirty-two-years-old and you don't have shit.”