When Mikey’s old man got back from Vietnam, he spent the first week hanging around the meat plant looking for work, drinking in the Oscar Mayer parking lot, and then once he was hired, screwing the lady who had kinda/sorta waited for him while he’d been shooting motherfuckers in southeast Asia.
She’d shown up one night, black-eyed and busted-lipped.
“What the hell happened to you?” he asked.
“Scotty,” she said. “He don’t want to let me go.”
“You want to come in?”
A few minutes later they were fucking.
Eight months later, Mikey came out wailing and screaming in the cab of a Ford truck on Highway 12 a few miles before Baraboo, the smoke from Lucky Strikes hanging like a blanket.
“He’s got your eyes, Dave.”
The long hair looked down at the blood and the noise. “No, he don’t. He ain’t seen what I’ve seen.”
Eddie Rabbit wasn’t good for shit, but every now and then he wound up on the 8-track and everybody smoked grass and felt good, singing along, ignoring the late night and the approach of another early morning at the slaughterhouse. The laughter and the yelling echoed off the wood paneling.
They all kept moving, the long-haired and the tattooed, grinding themselves tired until the couches and the floors looked like some bent stretch of grass in Da Nang, bodies collapsed, arms flopped out to the side. The music stopped. Silent except for the breathing.
Before he turned eighteen, Scotty Trotter had flunked the eleventh grade (twice), got busted for driving drunk, and did time on battery charges. But he also had a way with the ladies (sometimes it involved force) that made him something like a hero in the neighborhood.
By twenty one he was spending nights at the Village Tap, shooting pool and throwing darts, picking up broads for a few hours and dropping them off in out of the way places.
“Heya Scotty,” the dick behind the bar would ask, “who’s it gonna be tonight, fella?”
He’d look around the bar — Scotty would — keeping his eyes fresh for big titted blond girls. “That one over there.” Slapped hands with the bartender. “Now remember, you ain’t seen me.”
“Ha! That’s dynamite.”
“Yeah, it’s ok,” Scotty would say, running a comb through his part. “My old man used to do it better before the wreck.”
“Your old man was a good one.”
“He ain’t dead.”
Mikey’s old man didn’t really know Scotty Trotter. The proximity of the neighborhood – houses crammed on top of houses, shared driveways, group mailboxes — none of it could overcome the difference in age. Mikey’s old man had grown up in the greenest fucking places on earth before they burned orange. Then turned black. All the while carrying an M-16 and thick framed prescription glasses courtesy of Uncle Sam.
So when he finally ran into Scotty and the two of them got to jawing, he didn’t think twice before punching the young cat right in the fucking teeth. Didn’t really blink when the blood mixed with the blond hair.
“You say another goddamn word to her, I’m gonna rip your ear from your head. Understand?”
Wasn’t nobody around that night. Happened in the parking lot between shifts.
“Fuck you, you old ass motherfucker.”
“Run your mouth and I’m gonna swell the fucker shut.” Mikey’s old man dug his keys out of his back pocket and climbed into the Ford truck. Turned it over, backed it out, got home to a baby.
The rock was a heavy sonofabitch and when it hit the window, Mikey’s old man had flashbacks. Counted seconds. Waited for the end. It was only after things went quiet that he looked down and saw the stone, a note rubberbanded to the thing.
You’re a dead man. This shit ain’t over. You’re dead.
The kid started bawling. Ear shattering shit. Shards of glass stuck in his hair. Two arms thrust outward looking for the pickup.
“What the fuck was that? What did you do, Dave?”
He squeezed the rock in his hand. “Your boyfriend. He’s about as stupid as he is brave.”
She scooped the kid from the floor, brushed the glass from his head. “Is he cut?”
“How the hell would I know? You’re the one holding him.” He lit a Lucky Strike. “Sonofabitch.”
“You gonna have a talk with him?”
He reached under the off-brand Lazy Boy, grabbed the barrel of the gun and slid it along the carpet.
“I’m gonna crack his skull like an egg. Maybe make him eat some of what he broke.”
“Every bite of it.”
“It’s too late.”
“You haven’t done anything yet.”
He tipped back the Schlitz. “Now, hell, if you really believe that, then you don’t know who I am.”
“I don’t want any part of this.” She set the kid down.
The gun was what it was. A big sonofabitch with a little bit of rust on the barrel.
The night air came through the hole in the window. Cold. Damp. Made its way into his bones.
Scotty Trotter was fucking some chick in the men’s bathroom when the rest of the bar went into the parking lot to see this long-haired motherfucker smashing the windshield of Scotty’s Torino.
“He’s going to be pissed,” the bartender said. “He loves that car.”
The long haired motherfucker shouldered his bat and bug-eyed the dozen or so people watching him. “You got a goddamn problem?”
Lots of muttering. Lots of whispering. Lots of turning back toward the open door. But nobody said shit and nobody made a move.
The beating continued. The driver’s side mirror shattered and fell. The front right quarter-panel buckled from the force.
“I’m calling the cops,” the bartender said.
“Probably gonna wanna call an ambulance, too.” The bat crashed down on the hood.
“Scotty’s going to fuck you up.”
But when Scotty finally came out of the bathroom to see what the commotion was all about, he wasn’t in any hurry.
“Sonofabitch,” he said. “Son. Of. A. Bitch.”
“Come over here you rotten bastard and I’ll do the same to your face.”
The kid was asleep on the couch when he got home. The tv, loud, buzzing static. He washed his hands in the kitchen sink. The sting of hot water on cold skin. There was a message attached to refrigerator. Brief. To the point.
He’s all yours.
He dried his hands on a dishtowel and walked back to the room they’d shared. Her shit was packed up and gone, hangers on the floor. The closet door off the track. An empty spot where her pillow had been.
“Well, fuck,” he said.
That’s when Mikey started making noise in the living room. And the phone started ringing. And the hole in the window reminded him that winter was settling in the house.
“Hello?” he said.
“I’m not coming back,” she said.
“Where are you?”
“It doesn’t matter. Do whatever you’re going to do, but I’m not going to be a part of it. Not going to jail for you.”
“For me?” He wrestled his pack from his breast pocket and shook a cigarette loose. “None of this shit would have happened if…”
She hung up. He hung up.
The kid kept crying.
Mikey’s old man was a mean drunk. Had the scars to prove it. Knew if he stayed in the house a minute longer he’d end up suffocating the kid with the only pillow he still had. Halfway through the bottle of Kentucky’s Best he closed the kid’s door. Left the house without saying goodbye.
The punk’s car was still in the parking lot. Beat to shit and leaking fluid. The lot was empty except for a pickup truck in back of the building.
“Don’t want any problems, man,” the bartender said when Mikey’s old man walked in. “Whatever you got with Scotty ain’t got shit to do with me.” He yelled a bit to get over the Jethro Tull on the jukebox. Then the phone rang.
“Pour me some whiskey,” Mikey’s old man said. “Tall.”
The bartender nodded, pinching the phone to his shoulder, but he didn’t make any move toward the whiskey. He winced. “Right. Right. Gotcha.” His hand lingered on the phone after he hung up.
“The whiskey? I aim to get drunk and I don’t like to miss.”
“I should be closed.” The bartender wiped a shot glass dry. “Time to get out of here.”
That’s when the bathroom door opened. There was Scotty Trotter, red-eyed and smiling, his belt undone and his jeans low on his waist, some brunette reaching out for him.
“Hey,” he buckled his pants and pointed at Mikey’s old man. “You’re the sonofabitch…” Brushed the brunette’s hand away. “Why’d you do that to my car, man?”
Yeah, but Mikey’s old man wasn’t really about talking, so he got up and half-lunged, half-stumbled at Scotty Trotter. The kid put his hands up, but didn’t block the first shot. Scotty Trotter fell to the ground, hard. The brunette shrieking as she darted back into the bathroom.
“Fuck your car. Fuck you, too.” He stood over him, his wide eyes white. Pushed at him with his boot.
It wasn’t over, but he left anyway.
When he got home, the cops were waiting for him.
“Don’t make this difficult,” the roundfaced one said, hand bouncing against his hip. “We’ve got questions.”
Mikey’s old man played dumb. “Ok.”
“You been drinking tonight?”
“You see the way I’m walking? Straight as a goddamn arrow.”
“Watch your mouth.” The cop kept the same slow beat on his hip, bouncing his fist against the holster. “You, ah, you been out tonight?”
“For a little bit.”
“You weren’t down at the Village Tavern?” Raised eyebrow.
“Might have been for a split second.”
“You know anything about a dented up Torino?”
Stroked his beard. Cocked his head. Took his time answering. “No. I drive a truck.”
“Not your Torino. Somebody else’s.”
The other cop jumped in. “What does that tattoo say on the back of your hand?”
“Ready to forget.”
“You a vet?”
“Me, too,” the second cop said. “Year and half in that shithole.” Shook his hand, firm with the grip. “Sorry to have to do this.”
The cuffs came out, dropped hard on his wrists.
“Hey, my kid’s in there. I can’t go anywhere.” Mikey’s old man held up his arms as best he could and motioned towards the house.
“Nobody else in there with him?”
“How old is he?”
“And you left him alone before?”
“My old lady — the kid’s ma — skipped out on us tonight.”
“When’s she getting back?”
“I don’t think she is.”
“You got any relatives around here that could watch him? Friends? Because if you don’t, we’ll have to call the county.”
“I got time for a cigarette while we’re waiting?”
Mikey’s old man spent the first twenty minutes in the holding cell trying to rub the ink off his fingers. He felt heat in the tips, but the stain stayed, one more simple tattoo. There were two other guys with him, shooting some far out shit about the moon and Mars — none of it made any damn sense.
Over the sound of the talking and the typewriter he heard the motherfucker’s voice. The kid was loud and shitfaced.
“I get a phone call,” he yelled. Once. Twice. Too many times.
The guard slid open the gate and threw Scotty Trotter into the cell. The kid didn’t keep his feet and fell to his knees.
“Assholes,” he said. Defiant. Oblivious. Turned his head and caught Mikey’s old man sizing him up. “Sonofabitch.” He balled his fists.
“If I ever catch the two of you together, I’ll cut your throat.”
“Who?” Scotty Trotter asked.
“I fuck a lot of people’s wives, slim.”
“Sherry.” Could have just leaned into him, headbutted the kid unconscious. Could have knocked him right the fuck out.
“I haven’t seen her in months. She was fucking somebody behind my back.”
“No. Guy named Jorge or Jesus or some shit. Mexican. Worked at the Esquire Club. I caught the two of them over at her place when she was supposed to be with her sister. He used to beat her ass, too. Bad temper.”
“Assholes like you should stick together.”
“I didn’t beat her. Tonight was the…” The kid went silent, peeked out through the bars. “I never laid a bad hand on her.”
“She told me…”
“She was full of shit. Always lying. That woman is a no good liar. You shouldn’t believe a thing she tells you. She almost got me killed one night when she showed up and told me that some man had punched her in the face, so I went over to his house with her and we pounded on the windows and then the front door opened and this motherfucker is standing on the porch with a shotgun pointed at me.”
“What’d you say?”
“I told him he was an asshole for hitting a lady.”
“Told me he’d only seen her once, at a bar, and that he never touched her. Then his wife came out and said he’d been home all night. I should have known then. So the next time she shows up and tells you…”
“She’s gone. Left a note.”
“Good riddance. Probably went off with the Mexican.”
They talked late into the night, scrubbing at the ink on their thumbs. The kid was still a real cocky sonofabitch who could still stand a beating, but it wasn’t up to Mikey’s old man any more. It’d all happen in time. There’d be more reasons, more jealous husbands, more scorned women. A guy like Scotty Trotter was liable to get stabbed in the stomach some night behind the bar.
But behind bars with the chick gone and the kid with the county, there were other things to think about. Things to forget.