ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT
A Charlie Byrne Grind
This can go two ways.
First, bad…second, easy.
I’m hoping for easy. If easy comes then I can blow this ratty bungalow and finally go home and get some sleep. Take a couple of Tylenol PMs, stick in my spongy, blue earplugs and crank the window fan for some white noise. Clock a good eight hours in the zero. I’m whipped and could use it. But things going easy look like they’re fading fast.
They are three of them—all jacked up on Saturday night whoo-hoo party-tude at the Jersey shore, well fortified and ready to rock. Bunch of muscled-head carpenter dudes down from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. God. I really, really, really hate Wildwood.
I notice a mountain of crushed Yuengling beer cans crowning an over-flowing plastic trash can stuffed with Chinese carryout cartons. The television is on low broadcasting the Phillies-Mets game and, of course, the Mets are getting shelled. No great shock there, but I could give sweet fuckall about baseball.
One of the three creaks on the arm of a saggy wicker couch blowing on the ragged cherry of a poorly-rolled joint. Cherry-puffing guy wears…wait a second…are those man-capris and pukka beads? Jesus.
The third one and the biggest of the three stands like sentry by the back kitchen door with a super-tight black Under Armour t-shirt and jeans. Big isn’t exactly on the dime, stacked granite is more like it. He finishes the look with a backward-turned Phillies cap. He absently spins the squared foundation of a bottle of Jack Daniel's on the kitchen counter that, if the bottle had a fuel gauge, should be blinking an eye indicating it’s way past refuel time. Everybody except me is heavily sunburned. Even with the ditch weed stench drifting from capri-guy’s joint the air is choked with cheap cologne. It’s just after ten p.m. and the official blue envelope from the court lays unopened on the coffee table.
“Look, guys,” I say, easing my stance, “I’m just doing my job here.”
Granite sentry with the bottle of Jack in the kitchen coughs into a fist bigger than three of my own, “Asshole.”
I’m thinking, hmm…maybe I shouldn’t have shown up with my disarming look, my droopy surf trunks and my extra-loose madras shirt covering my nylon side-draw holster with my sub-compact Beretta. Maybe I should have flashed my license and been more professional. Worn a tie and jacket because—hey—they’re probably too wasted to check and see that I’m not real law anyway. If I have to bail, well, the flip-flops on my feet were also not a good call. Hard to haul ass in flip-flops. Doable, but you kind of look like a dork. But it’s July, humid, and still in the eighties well after dark. The madras shirt clings to my shoulders like wet paper. Man, serving papers on a Saturday night just plain sucks.
“That court order over there is just for Paul here,” I say pointing at Paul eased back in a blue recliner, “This has nothing to do with you two. This is Paul’s problem. Paul’s ex-wife is hurting. His kids, Christine and Hannah, they’re hurting too. It’s not about anyone else, it’s about Paul here. That’s what I was told and that’s why I was hired. Plain and simple. Find Paul, deliver that, be gone.”
Paul waves a hand. “Just shut up, man.”
I look at him. He doesn’t return my stare.
Paul finally looks up at me, mustering a look I’ve faced a hundred times. Dramatic threat, the hard man, big ol’ pissing match until someone’s makes a move, an eye gets raked open and someone’s front teeth get folded in with a jabbed elbow. That look might’ve stared down plenty in his day, but I know Paul has a record. His broadcasted badass loses weight when potential jail time is in the wind.
Like the other two Paul looks like he lifts a lot of iron. Too much of a whole lot and no legwork from the spindly look of things. I will say this though, he does spend a lot time with his hair care products. Got the mussed a-hole look down pat.
Paul drains the rest of a beer and crushes the can. “That bitch Carla has got more than enough money, mister court appointed man, and I’ve been paying her, ai’ght? Got it? I’ve been paying her.”
“She’s been bleeding me dry, doesn’t even let me see my kids no more. Blows everything I give her on Cheetoes and TV dinners and getting her goddamn fatass nails done, so don’t even think abut laying down some self-righteous bullshit on me tonight, ai’ght? I pay her regular. I have receipts.”
I shift. “Receipts.”
“Yeah, receipts. Check my checkbook.”
“I don’t need to look at your checkbook, Paul.”
“You think I’m lying to you?”
“No. You say you’ve been paying your ex-wife, I believe you.” I didn’t believe him, but my job is not to channel douchebag veracity at least not with three to one odds.
“Why’d you have to come messing with me, man? I’m on vacation.”
“It’s what I do.”
“Well, you know what? That’s a shit gig, man.”
“Tell me about it.” I let out a heavy breath. “Look, if you say you’re up to date, hey, you’re up to date. I’m cool with that. Take it up with your lawyer if you have issues.”
Sentry bulldozer slugs down the last of the Jack and bangs the empty bottle down on the kitchen counter. It sounds like a gunshot from across the room.
“I say we fuck this dude up, Paulie.”
Paul raises a hand. Hulking guy huffs and starts cracking his knuckles like walnuts. A bull poised to charge, but in check for now.
I move toward the front screen door. “I’m going to go now, Paul. You guys have a nice evening.”
Even as the screen door pops closed behind me I hear and feel heavy motion in the bungalow.
Move, Charlie, move.
I cross the porch and I’m down the stoop when I hear the back door slam open and muffled shouts inside the bungalow telling hulking granite guy to just hold up, just hold up a sec, just chill out. I’m on the sidewalk as hulking guy freight-trains out the alley coming straight at me. His fist is raised like he’s ready to chuck a javelin and at the last second I skip a side-step and he sprawls into the street, plowing straight into the side of a slow passing Dodge Ram pickup truck. Hulk bounces off the Dodge and goes down hard in the street. Hmm. Hulk no like. Oh, well.
Lucky for me a police cruiser turns the corner like an angel. Hulking granite dude flips over and lurches to his feet, but he notices the cruiser as the lightbar on top sparks up.
I ease down the block to my Camry, whistling. I pop the locks, climb in, and pull away. Hulking guy screams obscenities after me. I can see in my rearview mirror as I head down the street that the pickup driver is out and getting up into hulking dude’s grill. They’re equally matched. People and kids on their way home from the boardwalk gape and stare at the sideshow. Hey, it's almost as cool as fireworks. The cops break things up.
I take a left at the top of the street and head north. It's slow going, but I expected that. Man, beach traffic in the summertime is such a bitch.
I poke on the radio and an oldies station is playing Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens’ popping cover of Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night”.
Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody, I’ve got some money ‘cause I just got paid…
KIERAN SHEA’s fiction has appeared in dozens of venues including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Dogmatika, Word Riot, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir ...as well as in some beefy-looking anthologies most of which will make you question the tether of his shiny, red balloon. To his self-deprecating astonishment he's also been nominated for the Story South’s Million Writers Award twice without sending the judges so much as a thank you note. He co-edited the satiric transgressive fiction collection D*CKED: DARK FICTION INSPIRED BY DICK CHENEY and his debut novel KOKO TAKES A HOLIDAY is out now from Titan Books. Kieran divides his time between 38°58′22.6″N- 76°30′4.17″W and 39.2775° N, 74.5750° W.