Me and the boys are in the boat and we’ve decided to play Deadliest Catch––only the waters of the Gulf are calm and green, and the creature at the end of the line is a fat 40-year-old man wearing a bad toupee. He flails and splashes, begging. We share a laugh and lean over the port side to get a good look.
“You gonna talk, Brucy?” Charlie asks.
Big Bruce treads water frantically, saying he hasn’t done anything. His head dips down for a moment and he comes back up with a mouth full of water, gurgling out a scream.
“I’ve been thrown outta way better places than this,” Damon said.
He picked himself up off the pavement. There was blood on his shirt, champagne on his trousers at two fifty a bottle. He never got a sip of it.
The girl’s red pastie was still stuck to his fingers.
“Hey, Mike Tyson’s retarded brother, give that bitch her tit back.”
The bouncer threw a precise jab at his floating rib and he dropped on a three second delay.
By the time he could breathe again the men were gone.
Across the street a cab was idling, it’s light on.
Damon waved it over and climbed in the back, the piss and disinfectant smell swirling up at him.
“North Park. The good side.”
He dabbed his mouth with the hem of his shirt. That wouldn’t be pretty tomorrow.
The driver stopped at the lights and Damon caught her looking at him in the mirror.
“Dangerous job for a girl this.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“They all say that.”
She was a trim little thing, like a doll. Natural blond he reckoned. He made a bet with himself – tenner says she’s collars and cuffs.
“Why’re you doing this?” he asked. “You could be a model. You could get in catalogues easy.”
She didn’t answer, kept her eyes on the road.
Damon watched the city go by, clubs emptying and boys fighting in the street. A couple were fucking in Ladbrokes doorway. His cock stirred. Never finished his lapdance, that was the problem; unresolved tensions.
He looked at the back of the driver’s head. it didn’t help.
His eyes dropped to the taxi license.
“This isn’t your car.”
“Who’s Salim Hussain?”
“My husband,” she said.
“You married a Paki?”
“Ah, it’s all the same.”
Damon shifted in the seat, holding his bruised ribs. He needed pills before the drink wore off.
He took out his cigarettes. “D’you mind?”
Damon moved onto the flyseat behind her.
He lit her cigarette and passed it through the grille. She was cute, had what his old man called cocksucker’s lips.
“How’d you two meet?” he asked.
“At the hospital.”
“You’re a nurse?” He saw her tight little body in a starched uniform. “I’ve got this thing wants looking at…”
“It’s a very serious thing,” Damon said, putting it on.
She turned onto Station Road.
“You’ve gone the wrong way.”
“There’s an accident in the centre,” she said. “We’ll be there all night.”
“I don’t mind if you don’t.” He grinned and she smiled back. “So my thing…”
“I’m an occupational therapist,” she said. “It’s pretty specialised.”
“Like cripples and that?”
“Rehabilitation, yes.” She was warming to him. “After accidents and strokes mostly.”
At the bottom of Station Road she turned left, skirting the industrial estate. The sky was glowing and a machine hum drilled between his eyes.
He felt the pain in his ribs eating through the drink.
“Salim got beat up,” she said.
Damon didn’t remember asking.
“He couldn’t walk when we met.”
“Dead below the waist? Bet you sorted that.”
The streetlights smeared as Damon tried to focus and his cigarette fell out of his mouth.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Got beat up myself.”
“Did you start it?”
“What kind of man d’you think I am?”
The taxi stopped. His face fell against the grille.
She switched on the interior light and he saw her reach for a black plastic something on the passenger seat.
“I think you’re the kind of man who’d kick a cabbie half to death to get out of a forty pound fair,” she said.
“Little fella? Big beard?”
She opened a door in the grille.
“Jesus Christ woman, that was a year ago,” he said. “Hey – you’d have never met him without me.”
There was a pop and a flash and he saw the barbs coming out of the taser, then his whole body clenched and he fell to the floor of the cab.
The adrenaline kicked in and he laughed.
“Is that it?”
“There’re five more settings,” she said, fiddling with the taser. “We’ll get there.”
Jazz bop rebop and she won’t leave my head.
But I got Miles, too, bopping cool but hot as a gun barrel.
Touch it and the hot burns and why’s it always night time dark time when I’m digging Miles? Or Brown or Rollins.
Night and rain and she’s two years gone.
Thunder like jazz bop cannon shot. POP to my heart and I revel in the punch.
Playing in 6/8 time. Six beats to the bar, galloping along. Miles calls it ‘Flamenco Sketches,’ but I call it 6/8. Six of one, eight of another.
The music low ‘cause it’s just for me now. If she hears it, she’ll tumble: ‘He’s here.’
Someone else’s woman now and that jazz cuts deep. Every day deep. She couldn’t take me. Didn’t get me. She lost her own rhythm inside my head…didn’t dig my heart.
Hated my jazz.
Didn’t hate me, not at first note. My first notes snapped her fingers. First note was anything she wanted please just keep that smile on that beautiful face. Second note repeat plus listening to her tunes. Third note same and fourth note fifthsixthseventh note give you everything you want, scratching every itch you got.
Just tell me what’s bopping in your head.
Tell me where you’re going…
…who you’re bopping with…
…when you’ll be home…
…damn well don’t be late…
…you’re not gonna leave me playing solo.
I gotcha…locked up deep and tight inside; you and me and Miles, ain’t nobody leaving rebop.
Miles digging in my head right now, ‘Flamenco Sketches’ as I park in the dark, a shark on a lark, looking to score six in eight.
Tried to play her different songs but there’s only jazz, baby, my jazz and hard bop atop the night.
Ain’t nothing else.
Gotta cool my head. Hot as Miles melting trumpets. The jazz, mine and hers with the new him, doesn’t cool. White hot rebop now, burning me inside out.
Tape’s not even playing anymore but tunes bang bang banging in my cool shot head top.
She might hear my heart but won’t hear the six. Definitely the first. Maybe the second. Nothing after that. Can’t hear when the beats are banging inside you.
Steps from the train and climbs in his car. Eight seconds. Train to car. Used to be my car, sitting train-side, driving home-side. His car now with shitty tunes. Screeching Doris Day when I’m Howlin’ Wolf. Warbling Pat Boone when I’m juicing Lena Horne.
His car, his house, his arms, his sex.
But my barrel…smooth as her skin, hot as my sin.
Jazz bop rebop white hot.
Six in eight? Too many? Barrel says do it, whispers “absolutely keep the rhythm burn the bitch.” Lee Harv shot three in some number of seconds. Killed the world. I only have her.
Six shots…eight seconds…6/8…just like ‘Flamenco Sketches.’ Maybe I’ll go to Spain when she’s dead. Jazzing in Spain and she should have stayed. Not so hard to fix. I could have dug up the right key for us…tune up the heart, tune up my head. Stay and let’s play, whaddya say.
No more music but I’m walking up her walk, laying down the stomp.
Eyes flash when she sees me. Yeah, baby, that smile I needed to see.
Looking so relieved…like Miles when the solo is done and packed away until another love comes along.
Wants me here. Wants me putting it all back together for us.
6/8 and jazz bop rebop cool shot straight POP to the heart.
Flashing now not eyes but blued steel and this ain’t right. Wrong song, I wanna say.
“Finally,” she says. “Knew you’d come. Now we can be done.”
Then I’m hearing six shots…her barrel…mine’s fallen in the mud and rain and I can see it in the lightning. Six shots like thunder buried deep in ‘Flamenco Sketches.’
Six shots watching my red and knowing it’s nothing but dead, baby.
But only hearing one.
6/1 and still those tunes are banging banging.
The kid eased into my Jaguar in half a heartbeat, all smug self-assurance and low-riding jeans. And a snub-nosed .38, which he jammed under my chin. “Drive,” he said, and it seemed like the best option, so I did.
The light turned green and the traffic moved sluggishly along Storrow Drive. I checked the rear view. Maybe the soccer mom behind me had seen the kid and was even now calling 911. Guess again. Her cell was pressed to her ear, but she was laughing and snapping her gum and I knew a bomb could have gone off at the light and she would simply have driven right around it and on to the gym or the spa or wherever.
It seemed apparent there would be no miracle rescue.
I concentrated on the road ahead and kept the kid in my peripheral vision. Maybe I could lift my forearm up under his gun hand and shove it back, cold-cocking him with a left at the same time.
But almost as if he could sense my thoughts, the kid slid away, putting his back to the passenger door, gun now trained on my chest, out of range of my fists. Bad development. Thing about a snub-nose, it’s basically useless outside of about a dozen feet; any farther than that and most people couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Of course, my Jag is a lot less than a dozen feet wide and the kid looked ready to blow my ass to hell if I didn’t do exactly as he said, which, at the moment, consisted of following a series of turns tossed out almost casually, turns that I knew were designed to take us to I-93 and out of the city.
Toward the suburbs. Where even around a city the size of Boston, there are plenty of places to take care of business without any pesky witnesses.
“You don’t have to do this,” I told him.
“Shut up,” he said.
“You haven’t hurt anybody yet; you could get out right here and no one ever has to know.”
So I did what anyone would do. I shut up. Soon we were crossing the Zakim Bridge toward New Hampshire. I knew we would never get that far. The kid was headed someplace secluded, someplace he had already picked out, where he could take the wheel of the Jag and dump me.
I knew all this. The only question was whether he would pull the trigger before he did it. The funny thing was the kid didn’t even look old enough to drive, although a teenager willing to stick a .38 up someone’s ass probably wasn’t too concerned about the DMV’s licensing regulations.
We got to the Stoneham exit in about ten minutes, making excellent time. Traffic was light. Lucky me.
A few more minutes and we turned onto a crumbling stretch of pavement in a densely forested area. And we were alone.
And he said, “Get out.”
And I said, “Forget it.” I’ve owned that Jag for years and I wasn’t losing it to some snot-nosed punk.
And he said, “Get out now!”
I ducked my head to the right and unloaded a roundhouse left, and knew immediately I had fucked up. The kid was lightning-quick. He pulled the trigger. That was that.
“So, what did we learn today, Robbie?” The Crown burned pleasantly as I took a deep swallow. I gazed at my son.
He shrugged. “Nothin’ new.”
I nodded. “Damn straight. You were perfect. Give the sap a chance to surrender his stuff, but if he makes a move, you take him down. You’re training’s officially over.” I smiled. “It’s time you join the old man in the family business. Tomorrow you start for real. Don’t forget to load the gun from now on.”
I passed the bottle to Rob to celebrate. Sure, you could argue this was no life for a teenager, but I didn’t earn that Jag by sitting on my ass. Besides, working’ll keep him away from those damned video games the kids love to play.
Have you ever seen those things? They’re too goddamned violent, that’s what I think.