Rest Stop by Chuck Regan

The white acoustical ceiling tiles jumped, making Davis Pendleton flinch on the toilet seat. Dark shoes and brown polyester pants skulked across the rest room floor.

The employee, in his plain black institutional footwear, hesitated at Davis’s stall door, stepped back, then turned to the twin sinks. He switched one spigot on to full rush, then the other.

Brownpants then leaned back against the sinks and waited.

From the employee’s shadow on the floor, Davis could see he was rocking. Impatiently waiting.

Meth?

Davis checked the money in his wallet. Forty-three dollars. And his cell phone was almost dead. He punched in 911 and waited to hit the CALL button. One bar.

Davis began to curse at himself for drinking all that coffee and for stopping at this sketchy diner in the middle of nowhere.

The bathroom door opened again with a slow squeal. The employee stopped rocking and a bright pair of sneakers sauntered onto Davis’s shoe-puppet stage. The bright orange and yellow sneakers looked new. Neon green laces.

The shadow of the employee pointed to Davis’s stall.

The short muttered words were drowned by the sink noise, but Davis thought he heard “make this quick.”

Brown pant legs ruffled as if he were pulling something out of his pocket. His shadow handed the something to the one with the green laces. Money? Drugs?

Through the hiss of the water Davis only heard the tones of their voices.

Brownpants spoke with a high pitch for a half minute – pleading. When he was done, he stepped back a half step. Greenlaces mumbled something in a cold drone – something that sent the employee shuffling backwards. Brownpants spoke again, and his shrill pleading song was more desperate. A child’s apology. Then, a bellow from Greenlaces.

“NOT AGAIN-” and he lunged. Shoes squeaked. The sinks gushed.

From the tiny view through the bottom of the stall, it looked like they might’ve been embracing. Shoes were intertwined as if they were lovers. The chirp of a large soggy bird burped from one of them. Greenlaces stepped back slowly, then turned to face Davis’s stall. Davis knew the man in the bright footwear could see his leather loafers through the bottom of the door.

The water from the sink gushed and seemed to grow louder as orange and yellow sneakers lurked toward Davis. The stall door rattled once. Davis’s sphincter sucked up to someplace deep behind his navel. He stabbed the CALL button on his phone.

No service.

     Another squeak of shoes and the ceiling tiles jumped. Greenlaces was gone. The spigots whooshed and the sound of water sparkled as the sinks filled.

The employee in the brown polyester pants shambled across the tiled floor. He dragged his black shoes on the tile as if drunk. Another squeak from that same funny bird, and the bathroom door opened and shut.

Davis sat in the stall, waiting for his heart to stop pounding, watching his phone search for a signal.

He sucked in a breath and felt his belly quiver as he exhaled. His face was cold and wet. His hands were frigid, and when he wiped himself, it felt like a ghost was doing it.

The sinks spilled onto the floor when he exited the stall, legs shaking.

A single smudge of blood lay on the tile – a sneaker tread pressed into it.

The Name Game by Chuck Regan

We tried to tell the Boss it was a bad idea to have the picnic on the same weekend every year, but he liked his things where and when he liked his things. Every year, we expected trouble. Every year, we thought some hot shit new guy on the other side of town would try something. Every year, we jumped at every passing car, and checked in with whoever was on duty once every minute. Every year, we got burgers and dogs and the best goddamn coleslaw I ever ate. The Boss’s mom makes it. I dunno what’s in it, but she should sell that shit.

Chuckie was the new guy. He hated that we were calling him that, but since the boss was named Charlie, we had to call him something else. The fact that he hated ‘Chuckie’ kind of cursed him and it stuck. It stuck until the picnic last year.

#

     Charlie, the Boss, didn’t let us carry guns when his kids were around. That was the big issue that made us nervous. Charlie had called in some hits on dealers he didn’t like, and new guy Chuckie had chucked his lead like an old pro. He didn’t puke afterwards or nothing. A clean job.

I was stuffing a heap of coleslaw into my dumb face when the salad bowl started dancing. Then the plate of dogs. And the mustard bottle exploded. Then I heard the bullets chopping through the air. Then we were all under the table.

Charlie was yelling orders, but what could we do? He had us all patted down when we walked through the front fucking door. Where were the guards?

I could tell by the grouping of shots that there were three shooters pinning us down. Charlie already caught one in the neck, but it was just a graze. Amateurs. Ridgie had already tied off his shirt sleeve on his bloody arm, and I swear, that crazy fucker was smiling.

We tucked up our knees and Ridgie joked, “Who pissed off the three blind mice?” We laughed, and that’s when I felt a cold bite on my foot. I plugged the hole in my sneaker with a wad of napkin and tightened my shoelaces. What else could I do?

Where was Chuckie?

He went for a piss. He had said that’s where he was going, anyway. And it’s those shitty moments where you say, ah no, not him. But it becomes pretty goddamn clear when somebody turns on you. He walked out just before the bullets started flying. Fucking Chuckie. Shit.

There were a few more shots, but they sounded like they were on the other side of the wall. I didn’t know it then, but all three of our guys outside were dead. I had hoped that one of them was still out there doing his job.

The garden gate swung open, and two guys came through. We kicked the table over for protection, and they chopped the shit out of it. Splinters flew everywhere but nobody got hit.

“You shoot like girls!” I yelled.

That made even Charlie laugh.

The table took another battering, but it was quick. They were dry. We looked at each other, thinking the same thing. We should rush them, but by the time we could move our soggy asses, they would have reloaded, and it would have been pink mist for everyone.

We were fucked.

That’s when Chuckie bust in. The two noobs had been taking their time reloading, and still hadn’t locked in. Chuckie fired three rounds into the one guy — his face bloomed into a beautiful red mess, and then nothing but clicks.

Chuckie was dry.

The last shooter locked in his mag and leveled it at Chuckie’s chest. Chuckie screamed and cocked his arm back.

Okay, freeze that shit right there.

I swear I want to cast this scene in bronze, because this is how Chuckie earned his name Gun Chuck Chuck.

Unfreeze.

His pistol smacked dead on the shooter’s nose — knocked him right out. We got out of him who had sent them and then finished the day with a piñata.