Monday, July 17, 2017

The Scum Bar, by Tony Tremblay

In the evening, the Tavern Bar wasn’t a pretty sight from the street. Inside was even worse. But this was Goffstown, and with my options limited, it was the only place where I felt comfortable having a few drinks alone.

Its redundant name was supposed to be some kind of joke; no doubt the owner had thought himself a superb wit when he named it, but it never took. Instead, the locals called it The Scum Bar. The owner didn’t seem to mind the nickname as he never did anything to live the moniker down.

The Scum Bar was where people went for some serious drinking, and that was exactly what Wade was doing when I walked in.

We were both thieves, second-story men, and occasionally we called on each other for advice or help on some of the more difficult jobs we took on. He was tall but thin so he could shimmy through almost any size window, a real asset in our business. He was also one of the best safecrackers I had ever met. What I liked about Wade was, like me, he always passed on a score if there were a potential for violence. He would take jobs only if the marks weren’t home, and he never carried a weapon. I wasn’t always averse to violence, but after a few rough patches, I put those tough guy days behind me.

The last time I had seen Wade was about three or four weeks ago. He had a new girl on his arm and was as happy as I’d ever seen him. So why was he sitting in The Scum Bar, staring down his drink? I couldn’t let this go. I slipped into the seat opposite him while ordering two scotches from a waitress hovering close by. It took a few seconds, but he finally gazed up at me. He looked like shit. His eyes were glassy, unfocused, and the corners of his lips were dipped toward the table. I asked him what was troubling him.

“They took her,” he replied in a voice that was low and trailing.

“Who took who, Wade?”

“Sullivan. Sullivan and his goons. They took Sheri.”

It took me a moment, but I remembered that Sheri was the name of the girl I saw him with a few weeks ago. “Wade, back up, tell me everything from the start.”

He lifted his glass and emptied it. The timing was perfect; the waitress came by and set two fresh glasses of scotch on the table.

“Run a tab, honey?” she asked. I nodded back to her. Wade wrapped his hands around the drink but he didn’t bring it to his lips. Instead, he told me his story.

“Sheri and I were out in Manchester for dinner last night. When we finished it was late, and when we walked back to the car a big-ass Chrysler pulled up alongside us. Sullivan and three of his goons got out. They stepped in front of us—there was no way of getting around them.”

Thomas Sullivan. He was trouble on two feet. He ran an outfit out of Haverhill, Massachusetts, known for pulling messy jobs, meaning he didn’t care if anyone got hurt. His specialty was knocking off jewelry stores, though many believed he was involved in a few other high-profile robberies. What the hell did he want with a small-time guy like Wade?

“Sullivan said that I had broken into the house of a friend of his in Goffstown,” Wade continued. “He said that I took twenty grand out of that house, and he wanted it back. I had no fucking idea what he was talking about. I hadn’t made a big score since I’d hooked up with Sheri, and that was in Vermont.”

Like me, Wade never shit where he ate. We always did our jobs outside of town, outside of New Hampshire if possible.

“I told Sullivan it wasn’t me, but he didn’t believe it. His goons pushed me up against a wall and they started to beat the shit out of me. He told me he was taking Sheri. I could have her back when he got the money. He gave me until tomorrow.”

I felt like I had just listened to the plot of a bad movie. What the hell was going on here? It didn’t add up. Why would Sullivan himself come up from Massachusetts? Why didn’t he let his goons handle it? And why did they think Wade had anything to do with the robbery? Also, kidnapping wasn’t Sullivan’s style. It left a witness. Then I thought about how Sullivan didn’t mind getting messy.

“I don’t have twenty grand to give him.” Wade went on, his voice cracking. “I don’t even know where to get twenty grand. What the hell am I going to do?”

I didn’t have twenty grand to give Wade, and I wasn’t sure I would give it to him if I had it. I began to run his story through my head, picking out details that I wanted to follow up on. That’s when Eddie walked through the door.

Eddie was a sleazeball, a small-time player who picked at the bones of the simple and the elderly. He was a con artist, pulling off scams about grandkids in trouble that depleted the bank accounts of retirees. I didn’t trust the son of a bitch and he knew it. I usually stayed far away from Eddie but that didn’t stop him from coming over to our booth. He nodded and then slid next to me, and began talking to Wade.

“Wade, buddy! How you doing?”

Even his voice sounded slippery to me.

“I’ve been looking for you pal,” Eddie continued, “I’ve got a job for you.”

At the mention of a job, Wade looked expectantly at Eddie. “You serious? How big?”

Eddie ignored the question. “It’s right up your alley, Wade. It’s a house close by, on Tibbetts Hill Road, easy in and out, but there’s a safe we gotta get into and I ain’t good with safes.”

Wade leaned over until he was no more than a foot away from Eddie’s face, his eyes drilled into Eddie’s. “I asked how big.”

For a moment, Eddie fidgeted in his seat. “I’m getting this second hand from my source, but from what he tells me we’re looking at over fifty grand.”

“I’m in,” Wade said without hesitation.

I had been listening patiently up to now, but I couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Wade, what in the hell’s the matter with you? This smells like a setup!

” Wade turned to me, his brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“This whole thing seems too neat,” I explained to him. “Your girl gets kidnapped, they demand a ransom of twenty grand—which you don’t have—and then this guy comes in offering you a job that will pay it off. You’re being played.”

It didn’t take long for Eddie to get back in character. “Hey, wait,” he retorted, his face a mask of innocence, “I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I don’t know nothing about no kidnapping and I want no part of it. Look, Wade, you want in or not?

It’s got to be done soon, within the hour, because the family that lives there will be coming back tonight.”

Wade continued to stare hard at Eddie. “You better not be screwing with me, Eddie,” he said, “I need this job bad.”

Eddie smiled. “You get half: twenty-five G’s. You gotta tell me now, Wade, or I’m outta here.”

“This whole thing stinks, Wade,” I said trying to reason with him, “it’s too pat, it’s too close to home, and the timing’s too tight. Come on man, don’t do it.”

For a moment, I thought Wade was going to blow the job off. He shook his head and murmured something about not knowing what to do. But I was wrong. He ignored me, looked at Eddie, and said, “Let’s do it.”

Then the two of them left The Scum Bar.

I nursed my drink for a half hour.

I’m not my brother’s keeper.

I kept telling myself that, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I motioned to the waitress and left two twenties on the table. It was too much but I didn’t want to wait for the change.

***


Tibbetts Hill Road was in one of the more well-to-do neighborhoods of Goffstown. It was a long road, well paved, with streetlights every hundred yards or so, and the homes were well spaced out. I drove over it slowly looking for Wade’s or Eddie’s car. The moon was full, and while I couldn’t make out every detail on the road, there was enough light for me to navigate without a problem.

It took me a long five minutes, but I finally spotted Wade’s white Ford Taurus parked in a long line of cars on the right side of the road. Someone was having a party. Could this be dumb luck or was it was part of the setup? If the party was staged, someone went through an awful lot to make sure this job got pulled off without any trouble. The source Eddie mentioned might be the neighbor of the house they were hitting. If that were the case, fifty grand cut three ways didn’t leave enough for Wade to pay off Sullivan.

I reached into my glove box and took out a pair of latex gloves, slipping them on as I got out of my car. Sticking close to the line of parked vehicles, I walked up the street, passing the party. The music was loud and there were several people behind the house with drinks in their hands. I could hear an occasional raucous guffaw over the music. The house next door to the party was a good forty feet away. It was a gambrel with a two-car garage—no lights. Three-foot-high hedges surrounded the property gave it some natural cover. A nearby streetlight provided enough illumination for me to make my way around the grounds without fumbling blindly.

I went to the far side of the house where the garage was located, and slipped in through the hedges until I was against the wall.

The side of the garage had no windows, so I was going to have to look inside through the overhead doors in the front. Poking my head around the corner, the first thing I did was to look up. A motion detector was nestled in the roof’s peak. I searched around and found a child’s pull toy lying on the ground. I grabbed it and carefully tossed it in front of the garage. The lights on the motion detector didn’t come on.

It was a bad sign but I shrugged it off. I turned the corner and stood in front of the garage. I looked inside through one of the small rectangular windows in the door, and a chill went up my spine.

There were two cars parked in the garage. Those had to be the owner’s.

I’m not a praying man, but I found myself asking God to give me a sign that I was at the wrong house. My prayer was answered, but not in the way I had hoped. A flashlight beam swept across the front windows of the house.

I ducked back to the side of the garage and then rushed to the rear. Keeping low and staying tight against the foundation, I walked hunched-over, following the back of the house until I came to the opposite sidewall. I crept toward the closest window and peered inside. Cringing, and on the verge of vomiting, I turned away.

It was a kids’ playroom. Laid out on the floor, side by side, were five bodies; two women, one man, and two small children. Their throats and chests were covered with dark stains.

I stepped away from the window shaking and leaned against the wall. I needed to catch my breath, to somehow banish that bloody scene from my head. However, my mind kept going back to that playroom. Something about the adults didn’t add up. Why were there three of them? Why two women and one man? Then it came to me. The odd woman must have been Sheri. If Wade was still here, he didn’t know that Sheri was dead. And, as soon as he had that safe open, Wade was going to be just as dead. I had to get inside.

Retracing my steps, I came to the rear door; I assumed this was how they had entered the house. I reached for the handle and it turned easily. The door led me into the kitchen where there was just enough light for me to make my way through without bumping into anything. I walked into the living room and paused. I heard movement coming from upstairs. Footsteps? I eased my way onto the stairway and trod softly. At the top, there was sound to my immediate right. There was an open door. Standing off to its side, I peered in.

The room was well lit from the streetlight. It was large and appeared to be a master bedroom. Eddie stood there with his back turned to me, facing a king-sized bed. In front of him, on the wall to his far right, was an open safe. Below the safe, on the floor with his back against the wall and his legs splayed, sat Wade. His head hung low and both of his hands were clutching at his stomach. Blood had pooled between his thighs.

My knees went weak and I swallowed hard. I couldn’t tell if Wade was alive or not. It didn’t take long for the anger to start boiling within me. It had been a long time since I had wanted to hurt someone this bad.

I rushed Eddie, curling my right hand into a fist while bringing my arm back for the swing. I grunted, wanting the bastard to know I was coming for him. Sure enough, when he heard me, he turned. My fist slammed into the side of his face so hard his feet lifted from the floor. His head bounced off the wall behind the bed. He fell hard to the floor and didn’t move. Satisfied that he was out, I hurried around the bed and over to Wade.

I knelt down, put one hand under his chin and lifted it gently. “Wade, buddy, can you hear me?” He was still.

Then, his chin rose off my hand and he opened his eyes into small slits. “Yeah, I can hear you.”

“I’m going to get you out of here.”

Wade sighed. His hands slid to his sides, exposing the handle of a knife jutting from his stomach. “You gotta get the diamonds first,” he whispered. “We need them to save Sheri.”

Diamonds?

Confused, I left Wade’s side and walked over to the bed. Sure as shit, an open wooden box lay there with a handful of diamonds inside. Scattered around the box were bundles of hundred-dollar bills. I guess Eddie had been counting them when I clocked him.

“Step away from the bed please.”

The voice was a woman’s. I turned and saw her standing in the doorway. Though I had met her only that one time, I knew it was Sheri. She was pointing a handgun with a suppressor at me.

I moved toward Wade, who sat motionless against the wall. Either he had passed out or he was dead. I said her name loudly, hoping for a reaction from him.

“Sheri, who’s the extra woman downstairs?"

Wade didn’t so much as flinch at the mention of her name.

“No idea,” answered Sheri. “She was here visiting when Eddie and I came over earlier to take care of the family. Wrong place, wrong time I guess.” She laughed.

Still, no reaction from Wade.

I looked down at the floor, my anger building. “You were part of the setup from the beginning, weren’t you? Dating him. Getting him to fall in love with you.“

Something stirred on the floor, at the other side of the bed. Eddie moaned, sat up and rubbed his jaw. Both our heads turned to him as he struggled to get up. He must have heard me because in a shaky voice he answered my question for Sheri.

“Yeah, she was in on it from the beginning. She’s one of Sullivan’s girls; he picked her specifically for this job. Guy who owns this house, he’s a fence and Sullivan knew he came into a nice stash of diamonds from the West Coast.” Eddie stopped for a few seconds to stretch his jaw. “Sullivan came to me because I was local, but I didn’t know anything about breaking into safes. But I knew Wade did. We just needed a way to get Wade involved. Sheri was our ticket.”

I looked at Sheri and then back to Eddie. “How do I fit in?”

“You don’t,” he replied. “I’m not even sure why the hell you’re here.” He turned to the bed and gathered up the cash. “Sullivan told me I could keep any cash that I found, and it looks like there’s at least forty grand here.” He transferred the bundles from hand to hand as he counted them.

I shook my head. “You planned on Wade being your fall guy for the murders. How were you going to explain his death?”

Eddie smiled as he counted. “Not sure. Sullivan said he’d take care of it. The boys will be here in about an hour so I’m sure he’s got something in mind.”

“Eddie,” Sheri casually called to him.

Eddie answered offhandedly, “Yeah?” He was still counting the money.

“Sully’s already figured that out.”

Sheri turned the gun toward Eddie and pulled the trigger. A puff of white smoke rose from the barrel of the suppressor. Eddie fell onto the bed; the blood seeping from the wound in his head soaked the blankets and the cash.

I knew Sheri was heartless but her ruthlessness was unexpected. I had to admit though, that as I watched Eddie bleed out on the bed, I took some satisfaction in the fact that there was one less sleazeball in the world.

Turning, I faced Sheri. “Let me guess. Eddie and Wade were supposed to kill each other, probably fighting over the money.”

She nodded with a smile. “And it looks like you’re going to be part of the mix.”

I had to think fast. I couldn’t run—I wouldn’t have gone more than a few steps before she shot me. So I did the only thing I could think of: I dove to the floor on my side of the bed.

Small pieces of wall board exploded above me. When I went to push myself under the bed, I was blocked by storage boxes tucked beneath it. Sheri appeared and stood over me. Defeated, I rolled onto my back and waited.

“Nice try,” she said, pointing the gun between my eyes.

Then she screamed.

Sheri lowered the gun, and then struggled to reach around to her back with her free hand. I sprang to my feet and charged, hitting her full on, pushing her backward, onto the floor. When we landed, I heard her gasp loudly. The gun tumbled out of her hand.

I stared hard at her face as I pushed myself up off her. Sheri’s eyes were wide with shock, her mouth frozen in the shape of a perfect O. I hovered over her until I was satisfied she was no longer a threat. I slipped off and then I flipped her over. Wedged deep into the small of her back was a knife. I slid over to Wade to thank him for what he had done.

Wade was dead.

There was not a lot of time to think about what had just happened or how it had happened. I needed to get the hell out of there. I stood and prepared to leave, but I hesitated at the end of the bed.

I scooped up half the diamonds out of the box and grabbed as much dry cash as I could stuff into my pockets.

I high-tailed it downstairs and back to the car, and then I drove to my safe-location where I keep my stash. All of the diamonds and money went into storage, except for two hundred-dollar bills.

***


Now, here I am back at The Scum Bar. The booth where Wade and I sat earlier is empty so I slide into it. The same waitress we had comes over. I order a scotch. I slip both of the hundred dollar bills into her apron. “If anyone asks,” I tell her, “I never left this booth.”

She smiles, pockets the bills and says before leaving, “No problem, honey.”

Sitting here with a drink, I can finally wrap my head around what happened. Though I figure I’m lucky as hell that Wade had enough life in him to stab Sheri in the back, I’m amazed at the willpower it must have taken for him to do it. I can’t imagine the pain Wade felt when he learned Sheri was part of the setup.

I’m confident that Sullivan couldn’t have known I was there; I was never part of the plan to begin with. Sullivan’s boys will find the remaining diamonds and the cash on the bed, and that should keep him satisfied. I’m also pretty sure that Sullivan doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Sheri. After all, he pimped her out to Wade in the first place. Sullivan will tell his boys to leave some cash on the bed and the cops will have no problem tying it all up.

Looking around this dump, I think it’s time for me to go away for awhile. Not for too long though, because I got those old feelings back. I want to hurt someone, and Sullivan is going to pay for what he did to Wade. In the meantime, I’ve decided I’m going to do what I came here to do in the first place.

I’m going to drink my scotch.

9 comments:

  1. That was a pretty good read. Thank you!

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  2. Love it. Good job and congratulations on getting it published.

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  3. Great story! I love the twists and turns.

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  4. A scotch toast to you on this one, El Tony! You always deliver flawless psychology with fluid prose. Schemes and motivations engage me first in a story, and the author in me starts to conjugate the possibilities. Despite my second-guessing, you always deliver uniqueness and a satisfying blend of character outcomes wall-to-wall. The last time someone inserted me in the story was when author Loren D. Estleman buried a body on my lawn. I like diamonds better! (And I’m damn glad you didn’t add me to the body count.)

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  5. Couldn't stop reading. Great job.

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  6. Not disappointed. Never disappointed in your words. Excellent write, Tony.

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  7. Tight and well written! Like the plot twists, too! Good story, Tony! Thanks!

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  8. Enjoyed the story! Thanks for sharing.

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