“I’m gonna fuckn end it, Mick.”
You dirty cocksucker. Telephones should be equipped with breathalyzers. It’s 1:30 AM.
“Try to calm down, Jesse. Where’s Beth?”
“Gone fuckn left. ‘M not fuckn round, Mick. I can’t fuckn take it no more.”
Great connection. I can almost hear the snot running down your lip.
“Jesse. Whatever it is, I think you should sleep it off. Give it ‘til morning.”
“Like fuck.” Big, fat, crybaby tears. “No more mornins motherfuckn Mick.”
“You’re wasted, Jesse. You need to try and maintain your composure.”
“I been mainfuckntainin this whole fuckn time, Mick. Can’t take no more.”
I hear your gun cock. Like you’re calling your own bluff.
“You’re an asshole, Jess.” This is what tough love sounds like. “Put it down.”
What a waste to be the only person you ever get to shoot with your own gun.
“You think I’m fuckn round, huh? Think I’m fuckn with you?”
Yes, and it’s not right, because I wasn’t fucking with you about you being an asshole.
“This is no good, Jess. You just got married and you have a whole new life in front--”
“The fuck I got, man? Ain’t got fuckn shit.”
“That just isn’t true, Jesse.”
You have a spotless 1600 square-foot condo in a quiet neighborhood in paradise.
You have a 70-inch LCD HDTV big enough for God to see through your front window.
You have all the channels in the known universe.
(the scene on this end of the line is a moldy futon mattress with no frame on the bare floor of an ice cold studio apartment in an ice cold city in a building packed to the twenty-fifth story with unemployed subhuman waste who also have huge hdtv’s and all the channels in the known universe plus state sponsorship to sit home all day and rot in the glow while paying less than half what i pay in rent but back to your predicament)
You have a mouthy mean cunt of a brand new wife.
You have a shiny new stainless steel .45 caliber semiautomatic Smith & Wesson.
It’s under your chin.
“Jesse, I think you should put down the gun and call the police.”
This is me in the clutch, reading and reacting to a high pressure situation.
“Got fuckn nuthin.”
“Jess, I can’t call 911 for you from here. You have to get control of yourself.”
“Don’t hafta call shit. ‘S fuckn it, Mick...”
Jesse wails. From deep in his gurgling gut.
It’s quite loud. I have to hold the phone away from my ear.
Ten seconds pass. Twenty.
“Fuckn gun fuckn jammed.”
My ass. My indignant, lie-detecting ass.
“That’s good, Jess. Just put it down, now.”
And try not to set it in any of your bullshit.
“Jusfuckn bought the piece a shit...”
“Jess, just put the fucking thing down and go to bed.”
“I gotta go, man. I think I gotta call fuckn 911, Mickey. I don’t feel right.”
“I think that’s a good idea, Jess. I think you should do that.”
“The fuck you go away for, Mick? The fuck you go away for?”
“My choices in the matter were not abundant, Jess.”
“Got no fuckn friends out here, man. These people out here are fucked, man.”
Sometimes, when drunk, Jesse blacks out and pisses in the wastebasket in front of guests.
“I know, Jess. They’re all fucking assholes.”
“I’m gonna call the cops, man.”
“Please do that, Jesse. Then call me back.”
The phone goes dead.
A half-hour later, it’s ringing again. It’s the apple of Jesse’s eye.
“They’re taking your fucking buddy to the nuthouse.”
I don’t remember where they met. I don’t think it was at a sensitivity training class.
“Did he call you earlier?”
“Yeah, he was drunk. He told me you left.”
“Well, the motherfucker pushed me down the stairs earlier. Did he tell you that?”
“No, he told me he was gonna blow his head off.”
“Yeah, he told me that, too. He called the cops on himself and they took him away.”
“That’s good. He probably just needs to sleep it off. He sounded like a wreck.”
“I told that asshole I didn’t want that fucking gun in our fucking house.”
I’m a quick thinker. After Beth hangs up, I call Mr. Wake.
“I need you to do me a favor, boss.” I still call him boss.
Jesse and I used to work for Mr. Wake. I don’t know anyone else in that area anymore.
“Jesse called me like he was gonna blow his head off a little bit ago.”
One night, when we were both drinking, Wake told me he wished Jesse was his son…
“Must be my lucky night.” ...but that was a long time ago.
Jesse quit on Mr. Wake and started his own snoop business after he married Beth.
“Don’t cum on the sheets or anything, boss. He didn’t do it. He’s in the nut ward.”
Jesse took a bunch of Mr. Wake’s primo clients with him when he bolted.
“I liked the beginning of the story better, Mick. What do you need?”
Mr. Wake is rich because he doesn’t let people rip him off.
“Stop by there tomorrow and meet Beth. She’s gonna give you his gun.”
“You just said he was full of shit.” Big picture guy, Mr. Wake.
“All things considered I think it’s a good idea. I’ll be on a train in the morning.”
“Do you need cash?”
“Not now, but I’ll need to borrow one of your cars.”
“I’ll bring you the Escort.”
(and i don’t grab a bag i just stand up and walk out the door and down the stairs and up the block and hop on board the filthy red line and i can’t help thinking about the nice clean trolley lines that run sporadically through san diego and el cajon and chula vista and how it’s like those little choo choo rides around the zoo compared to the fucking el which is like going on a bobsled run through a sewer line)
It’s the dead of night, somewhere between Topeka and Newton.
Trains usually knock me out cold. I can’t last five minutes on the El.
But there are sixty adolescent boys in my coach car. It was a long, giddy day.
They just went to sleep. Lucky them. I’m in the lounge car, wired.
I’m trying to look out at the passing scenery. On a night train, you can’t see shit.
All I see is my own haggard reflection.
“I’ll take another one of those, James.”
(james’s version of a highball is two travel bottles of whiskey and a splash of Coke wrapped around two ice cubes in a clear plastic cup and i don’t tell him but james reminds of this black guy i ran into once out back of a poolhall in el cajon california)
For an Amtrak attendant, he sure knows how to make an insomniac feel at ease.
“You travel my speed, James.” I’m not being a dick. His name really is James.
“Hell, I’d join you but they really inventory all this shit.”
“I can’t get over those fuckin’ kids. Out of control.”
“Ain’t they a packa little bastards though? Every damn summer.”
“Well, where the fuck are they all goin’, James? I almost jumped off.”
James laughs easily. “Man, they all get off in Raton in the morning.”
“Christ, I can’t take it. What the fuck is in Raton?”
“They got the big scout camp down there. Down ‘round Cimarron?”
James pours himself a cup of coffee. He leans back on the counter.
“Be quiet as a church after that. You get you some sleep, then.”
“Is there anywhere on this thing a man can sneak off and have a smoke?”
James looks around the lounge car. There’s just one other schmuck, asleep in a chair.
“We be in Newton in an hour and a half. You can’t wait that long?”
I shake my head. I can’t wait as long as I’ve already waited.
“Sit tight, ‘til the conductor come through on his rounds. Be a minute.”
Sounds like enough time for another drink.
“You on vacation?” James asks as he serves it up.
“Hm? No, I got a buddy locked up in the booby hatch in San Diego.”
James cocks his head. “Damn. What for?”
“Tried to off himself. Kinda, but not really.” I talk too much when I drink.
“Guess you can’t be too careful.” James is a purveyor of booze and wisdom.
“So they say. Just thought I’d make sure he and his old lady are taken care of.”
James nods and takes a sip of joe. “What’s your line?”
“I’m kind of a handyman, right now. I used to be a private snoop.”
“No shit. Like Magnum, huh? Hell, you probably got a million crazy stories, then.”
“Yeah, but none of ‘em are true. It’s all public files, working the phones, shit like that.”
“No action?” James’s interest is waning.
“Nah. Just a gig. Never had to chase anybody down an alley or anything like that.”
Or cave in a guy’s skull with the butt of a 9mm.
James shrugs. It’s the desired effect.
“Told you you’d be disappointed.”
The door at the back end of the car slides open. The roar of the train fills the lounge car.
The conductor passes through, nods to James and goes out the other end.
“I believe this is your chance.” James knows the ropes. A ten spot for James.
“Thanks, James. You have yourself a good night.”
“Good luck with your buddy.”
(the racket in the gangway is deafening but the smoke makes up for it as i push myself up against the wall and take deep drags and push them through a hairline crack between the doors as though the principal might come along at any moment and bust me cold and send me to detention and i remember how when i was a kid i used to take a train back and forth to my dad’s place and i couldn’t smoke at my dad’s but i could damn sure smoke on the amtrak so on the way home sunday night i’d smoke the whole way until i felt sick and then i’d call jesse when i got home and we’d get together and split a half pint of whiskey or smoke a joint if we happened to have one and we’d swap stories about what had happened to each of us over the weekend and his were always better because he was out raising hell while i was stuck out in the suburbs languishing in the grips of a teenage nicotine fit)
I wake up six or seven hours later at Raton Station, in northern New Mexico.
Raton reminds me of the village in Three Amigos. An island of stucco in a sea of sand.
The stupid goddamn fucking loud fucking kids are running all over in their fruity khakis.
This is what the battle for the Alamo must’ve looked like, only taller.
There’s an hour and a half wait in Raton. Maybe I’ll go looking for arrowheads.
I get change from the old leather woman at the ticket counter. She frowns at me.
The kids gather around their den leaders in groups. They board buses and ship out.
I call Beth from a payphone out front.
“Hey, it’s Mick.”
“Mickey? What the fuck number are you calling from?”
“I’m on a payphone in New Mexico. I’ll be in town tomorrow.”
“What’re you, on a train?”
“Not right now. I’m at a station in Raton.”
“I can’t believe what a cheap fuck you are.”
“It’s not the money, Beth. You don’t need ID to board a train.”
One night in El Cajon, I pistol-whipped a guy behind a poolhall. Knocked him out cold.
“Oh, right. Mr. Incognito. I love my husband’s friends. Real reputable types.”
The guy never warmed up again. I only hit him once. That’s why I live in Chicago now.
“Did Wake come by, Beth?”
That’s why I take the train. I can pay cash and board and nobody cares who I am.
“Yeah, there’s another one. Jess is gonna shit when he gets home tomorrow.”
It’s nice that my old friend’s wife is so sympathetic to my plight.
“So long as he isn’t around guns for awhile. It seemed like the best thing.”
Jesse told me Beth’s been mean lately because they don’t have many friends anymore.
“Well, aren’t you a regular Dudley-fuckin’-Do-Right?”
Jesse’s sense of cause and effect is suspect.
“Well, you sound like you’re holding up okay.”
They should look into that while he’s on the funny farm.
(i arrived in chicago four days after i cracked the guy’s skull open behind the poolhall and i had two grand that mr wake gave me to get out of town and the address of a tenement building with a super that didn’t ask questions and as soon as i saw the building i spent three hundred dollars on one night in a luxury hotel room and i stayed up all night crying and i almost killed myself that night but i never thought to call jesse to wake him up and tell him about it)
The Coaster pulls into Oceanside station in the early afternoon.
I take a deep breath when I get off the train. I smell the ocean in the air.
I was a cynic about the whole ocean air thing when I lived here. Surprise, I missed it.
There’s Mr. Wake across the lot. He’s leaning against a new Hummer.
Next to it is the old Escort, like a steaming turd laying next to a wedding cake.
It’s funny. Mr. Wake used to always preach to us about being low profile.
Mrs. Wake is in the passenger seat of the Hummer, staring out at the beach.
Big, ugly shades on her face. She makes no move to acknowledge my presence.
I pull a face regarding the Escort. He’s defensive about it. “Kiss my ass. It runs.”
Mr. Wake used to spend days in this ugly little car with a telephoto lens and a notebook.
“You must need a screwdriver to open your wallet.”
That’s why he hired Jesse and then me. The stakeouts played hell on his back.
“I open it plenty. And fuck you, I’ve been waiting here a half hour.”
Wake was well off back then because he was cheap. It was Jesse who made him rich.
“You like living up here? I always thought Oceanside was kind of a shithole.”
Jesse was a schmoozer. He brought in corporate business. Embezzlement. Fraud.
“You know, none of this is my responsibility.” This is Wake’s mantra.
When Jesse left, that all went with him. I stuck with Wake to help keep things going.
“I was doing my best to manage liabilities.”
But, I’m no super-sleuth. I have no panache. Plus, I killed that guy and had to skip town.
“You were doing your best to make sure that I managed them for you.”
Wake retired after that. Now, he sits in the breakfast nook with his wife until noon.
“Always to nice to catch up with you, old man. Just give me the goddamn keys.”
I’d be pissed, too. Wake’s wife looks like a rotting squash with a wig.
“Here. His gun’s in the trunk. If that car gets impounded, you will pay.”
Mr. Wake spends a lot of time worrying about money.
(my first week living in chicago i was exhausted the whole time from shivering and looking over my shoulder and i would get these headaches because my sinuses were all clogged up and i was always grinding my teeth worrying about the cops tracking me down and kicking my door in so one night i called mr wake and told him about it and he told me to go out and get laid and to stop worrying about things so much)
I spend the afternoon and part of the night driving around and around. It’s a pretty drive.
Haven’t seen Jesse in a while. Not since that night in El Cajon.
I guess I should feel nervous but I don’t really worry about things that much anymore.
The night Jesse called me blubbering I almost fell asleep in the middle of the call.
I’m not going to tell him about that when I see him. He probably feels bad enough.
I drive down to Mission Boulevard in San Diego. Jesse and Beth live down here.
I used to drink a lot down here and wander around and laugh at things. Jesse, too.
There’s a roller coaster right by the beach. I never rode it, because it looks dangerous.
But one night Jesse and I climbed to the top and pissed off of it.
It was late. The piss didn’t hit anybody or anything.
(the next night i was on the green line out trying to find a whore and i saw a homeless guy in from the bitter cold asleep in the little booth at the back of the car and we were the only two people in the car so i got up and walked over to him and shook him and when he woke up and looked up at me for no real reason that i can remember now i cut his throat wide open with this little knife i keep and as all the blood flowed out of his body i felt all the tension flowing out of mine like i had been absolved of all my sins and transgressions and my sinuses opened up and the air filled my head and my lungs and tears came running down and it felt so soothing that i pissed myself walking off the train and then the next morning i woke up bright and early and went up to the big art museum and walked around looking at the picassos and the security guards told me to leave because i wouldn’t stop whistling)
My first visit to Jesse and Beth’s new condo is pretty short and sweet.
They live in a development with a bunch of old fucks. That’s what Jesse told me before.
He said he likes the quiet. Theirs are the only lights on in the complex. Beth greets me.
Her standard drone: “Jesse’s asleep. Where’ve you been? What took you?”
It’s a nice place. Vaulted ceilings. Little vases on little pedestals. Recessed lights.
I take three steps inside and punch her in the throat as hard as I can.
I close the door. She drops right away. She looks surprised. Speechless, in fact.
Nobody taught me how to do that. I think you either have it or you don’t.
I kneel down on her chest and grab her hair. I bounce her head on the floor a few times.
Ground floor, carpet on cement, very little noise. Nightline is on their big TV.
If I had all the channels in the known universe, I’d never watch this network bullshit.
The last few bounces are just for me. She was probably dead after the first couple.
(i like picasso because you can see the whole history of the medium over every inch of everything he ever did and because he always knew who he was and because he got wise to the fact that he was a walking mint and that whether his work came from the pit of his soul or off the top of his head it had astronomical value and that he had the balls to settle a five hundred dollar dinner tab with a smiley face on a napkin)
I find the bedroom upstairs at the end of the hall on the right.
They have a big fucking TV up here, too. Jesse fell asleep watching Spaceballs.
I pull his gun out from my belt. I jam it up under his chin and squeeze.
In the dark of the bedroom, I can see the muzzle-flash through his mouth.
I put the gun in his hand, wrap his fingers around it.
(what a scene boys i tell ya the guy just got home from the loony bin and he pounds his wife’s head into hamburger and then gets in bed and blows his head off watching comedy central hey martinez didn’t you pick that guy up just the other night yeah i thought so wow i guess he was nuts)
Outside, the other windows remain dark.
I leave through the front door. I whistle all the way back to the Escort.
(mr wake is always wiring me money and sometimes he calls me with a little bit of work but mostly I just wander around town on the trains and go to the museums and try not to sweat things)
The next morning I’m back in Oceanside, watching Mr. Wake on his phone.
“Thanks, Teddy. Call me if anything changes.”
He snaps his cellphone shut. “They’re calling it a clear-cut case of murder-suicide.”
Mr. Wake hands me the thickest folded manila envelope I’ve ever held.
I drop the keys to the Escort into his sweaty palm.
“Do everybody a favor and donate that goddamn car to charity.”
Mr. Wake frowns as he accepts the keys.
“I don’t run a charity, Mick. In fact I nearly docked you half off what we agreed to.”
Mr. Wake always feels like he’s getting ripped off. “What for? It’s open and shut.”
“I disarmed him for you, though. It’s like I did half the work.”
“Try to think of the outcome, boss.” I’ll probably always call him boss.
He steps in real close to me and stares me down.
For a second I think he’s gonna tell me he wishes I was his son.
“Do you care? At all? I‘ve barely slept in three weeks and he just worked for me.”
What a funny question. I swear I can never tell what goes through people’s heads.
“I got no problem with anything that happened here.” He sees that I mean it.
The old man smiles and taps on the window of the Hummer. “Let’s go, honey.”
Mrs. Wake starts the Hummer as he walks around to the driver’s side of the Escort.
“There’s plenty more work for you to do, Mickey. I’ll be in touch.”
Mr. Wake takes his seat behind the wheel. The Escort wheezes unsteadily to life.
“This goddamn thing only has a quarter tank left!”
(a few weeks ago mr wake called and asked me if there was anything i was willing to do about my best friend jesse and i told him that i didn’t really have any friends anymore and he told me he had a job for me)
On the train home, there are no Boy Scouts.