Monday, September 11, 2017

Weatherman, fiction by Greg Barth

Blaine fidgeted with the zipper pull on the cuff of his leather jacket, flicking it back and forth with his finger. "Thing is, man, Jessie's gonna have another baby."

There was a long pause before Vinton spoke. “You mean, you and Jessie are gonna have another baby,” he said. “That’s what you mean.”

They were in the dry-goods storage room in back of Vinton’s convenience store. The gas station had been built in the late ‘60s. Now days, most goods were shipped in weekly from a warehouse, so there wasn’t much to keep on site.

Vinton had put a couple of desks and tables back there and used the room to manage his various businesses. It was dark and smelled like cardboard, dust, and rat poison; but it served well as a private meeting room.

Vinton was on one side of the desk, sitting on a tattered office chair, leaned back, playing with a red rubber band with his fingers.

Blaine sat on a metal folding chair on the other side, facing him.

Yeah, of course. We’re both having the baby. But she’s the one that up and got pregnant. That shit’s on the girl, you know? She’s the one responsible for the—” he raised his hands on either side of his head, making quotation marks with his fingers “—narrow waterway and the lily-pad at the end. Just ‘cause I pitch one upstream don’t mean she’s gotta catch it. Fucking dodge-ball on her part’s all it is. Barrier shit, man.”

Vinton closed his eyes. Shook his head. He didn’t bother countering the error of Blaine’s logic. He took a deep breath. “So how can I help you?”

While not tall, Vinton was a large man. He stood just over five foot, but he was big around the middle. He walked with an exaggerated lurch due to a bad hip joint and a worse knee. His gray hair was receding and slicked back. A double-chin spread out over his neck under his pale, frog-like face. He wore an oversized Hawaiian shirt with the top buttons loose, his grey chest hair pushing through the top.

Shit, man, I just need more work,” Blaine said. “Something that pays more. I got a bunch of 
debts. Jessie keeps wanting to get furniture and shit. And she’s always buying these clothes. I don’t know what she does with them all. Then she’s got the credit card. And they’re cutting our hours back at the plant too. I just can’t get ahead, man. You know how them fuckin’ credit cards work? You gotta pay that shit, man.”

Blaine was a young man, mid-twenties at best. He was tall and skinny. His dark hair waved over his collar and the tops of his ears like he had been putting off a haircut. He had a thin black soul patch affixed to his lower lip.

Jessie still hooking on the corners?” Vinton said.

Fuck, man. What the fuck? Why you gotta ask that shit for? Jesus, man.”

Cause I gotta know,” Vinton said. “I bring you on. She gets picked up. I gotta know what we’re dealing with. Risk management is what it is.”

No, man. No. Fuck no. She ain’t doing that shit no more. Goddamn.”

Vinton closed his eyes. Frowned. “What did you have in mind, Blaine? More collection work? ‘Cause if it’s that, I gotta tell you, I don’t have a lotta cash out on the streets these days. Nobody can pay no matter how hard you hit ‘em, so I’ve been putting money in other stuff. Stuff that pays.”

It’s that fuckin’ Reagan,” Blaine said.

I know it. ‘Course Carter wasn’t shit either. But that Reagan son of a bitch, worst president ever.”

What’s makin’ money these days?”

Drugs. You know drugs are always good. Drugs and pussy. People always want those no matter what the economy looks like. In fact, the economy goes down, those go up. Those are sound investments.”

Yeah, I don’t know nothin’ about making anything with those.”

Vinton frowned again. “I don’t know that I’ve got anything for you then.”

Blaine’s face fell. “Come on, man. I can do anything. Anything. Just give me a chance.”

Vinton’s forehead scrunched. Creases formed above his nose. He leaned forward. “Okay. There is one thing I been thinking about having done. I’m not even sure I want to do it. You know? Just something I’ve had on my mind.” He paused and thought for a second. Nodded. 

“Yeah, I mean, I might want to do it, if I could find the right guy and all. Thing is, I hesitate to even put it out there. It might be up your alley, I think, but I don’t know. You’ve never done a job like this before.”

Blaine sat up. “What is it? I could do it. I’m good at learnin’ shit.”

Hang on, I’m thinkin’ about it.” Vinton put a finger out and bounced it up and down in the air as he thought out loud, flicking the rubber band. “It pays good. But it’s a real shitty job. 
And it’s a one-time thing, I think. I mean, you do good, it could turn into more, but that’s uncertain. It’s not steady work.”

I’d like to have something regular, you know? But this thing sounds kinda good to start with.”

It’d be the biggest job I’ve ever given you. You couldn’t fuck it up. You couldn’t.”

You know I can do it, man.”

I’d be putting a lot of faith in you just telling you this. Once I say it, I can’t take the words back.”

Come on Mister Vinton, sir. You know you can trust me. Whatever it is, I want to do it.”
Vinton took a deep breath. He bit the inside of his jaw as he studied the man in front of him. 
He nodded. Blaine was clearly eager. “All right. You know Jake Carbone?”

Man that owns the pool hall,” Blaine said. “Yeah, I know him.”

Vinton leaned over his desk toward Blaine. “I want him gone,” he said in a low voice.

Gone where? I’ll get him there for you.”

Vinton smiled. “Gone to the place nobody comes back from.”

Where’s…?” Blaine’s eyes widened. “Oh, you mean…?”

Gone, Blaine. Gone for good. And you gotta be careful. It don’t have to happen today or tomorrow. You pick the time. No witnesses, you understand? You do this. I’ll pay you when the job’s done.”

Blaine’s jaw went slack. He sat there stunned by the weight of the job. “How…how much does something like that pay?

Vinton quoted a figure. “You do this one right, who knows. This shit’s not steady, but I’ve got people who ask for help now and again. This kinda help.”

Why do you want Jake...um…gone?”

You don’t need to know the details. In fact, the less you know the better. Just know there’s a damned good reason for it. This is a guilt-free job, you ask me. Much worse hassling some poor shlub to repay his loan.”

Yeah…yeah,” Blaine said. Then once more with confidence, “Yeah. I can do this. I can.”

Good,” Vinton said. He opened a file cabinet drawer next to his desk. He pulled out a box of Brown Mule gloves and handed them over to Blaine. “Here. Get a couple and put them on.”
Blaine pulled two gloves from the box and put them on his hands.

Now come with me,” Vinton said. He got up. One hand on his hip, he half limped, half hobbled to the other end of the storage room.

Blaine got up and followed.

Vinton fished a key ring from his pocket and selected a key. He unlocked a set of file drawers and opened the top drawer. “Now, get that pistol there.”

Blaine reached a hand inside the drawer. He saw an old army Colt automatic and reached for it.

Not that one. The .38. The Smith.”

This?”

Yeah. That one.”

Blaine took out the pistol. It was a revolver with a short barrel. The walnut grip was busted and black, electrical tape was wrapped around it.

Where’d you get this?”

Don’t matter,” Vinton said. “Thing is, it can’t be tied back to you or me. That’s the important part.”

I see prints on it. Like on the sides.”

Yeah, they can corrode onto a pistol. But they ain’t mine and they ain’t yours. So don’t worry about ‘em. Now, once you do it. You throw that away. Like immediately throw it away. If they catch it on you, then fingerprints and tracing serial numbers and that kind of police shit don’t matter. It’s yours if they catch you with it. And you’re guilty.”

Got it. Throw it away. Yeah.”

Once you know he’s gone. Drop it.”

Bullets?”

Yeah, right here.” Vinton fished out a clear sandwich bag containing .38 caliber bullets and handed them to Blaine.

Shit man. Now I’m a fucking hitman. Ain’t that some shit?”

Yeah, you’re gonna be, anyway.” Vinton patted the young man on the back. “Get it done. You make me proud of my decision, got it? Get it done fast, and maybe I’ll throw in a few extra bills. Get Jessie something nice. And something for the baby.”

***

When Jake Carbone locked up the pool hall and got in his Charger, Blaine was watching from his own car on the other side of the street.

It was late December and damned cold, but Blaine didn’t have enough gas to keep the engine running while waiting on Jake. He started the car and turned up the heat.

He let Jake get halfway down the block before he turned on his headlights and followed. It was late and the streets were nearly empty. It was hard not to be conspicuous while following; but with the lack of traffic, Blaine was comfortable staying well behind the Charger. The Charger had distinct taillights also, which made it easy to follow on the dark streets.

Carbone parallel park outside a massage joint. Blaine made a right turn at the corner before he got up to that block. He made a two-point turnaround on the street and drove back up to the corner. He turned his headlights off. He looked down the street and saw Jake opening the door for a small woman with a faux fur coat. She got in the car and Jake shut the door. 

He walked around the front of the car and got in on the driver’s side. The car pulled away from the curb.

Blaine put the car in gear and followed at a distance.

It was not a long drive. The Charger pulled in at a self-service carwash and parked in one of the wash bays.

Blaine parked at a VHS rental store next to the carwash. He read the movie posters on the dusty front glass. Three on a Meathook. Ghost Town. The Model Killer. He turned his lights off and left the engine running. He checked his gas gauge. An eighth of a tank. This was his chance.

He got out of the car and looked around. This was a shitty part of town. The only thing open was a liquor store two blocks up that was bathed in red neon. Further up was a strip club with its own shade of neon—a blend of pink and purple, a color that you’d need the big box of crayons to figure out the name of.

Blaine zipped his leather jacket up as high as it would go. He turned his collar up. He started across the lot to the carwash. He remembered the gloves and fished them out of his jeans pocket. He put them on his hands. The thin brown cloth helped hold in some heat, and his fingers warmed inside them. He wore a knit cap that was rolled up on the sides and front.
Blaine put his right hand in his jacket pocket and put his fingers around the pistol grip. His cheeks stung from the cold wind; his breath made white puffs of steam in the dry air. He crept up to the car wash bay and stopped at the corner. He pulled his knit cap down over his face. It had holes cut for his eyes and mouth like a balaclava mask.

He peered around the corner. He could see Jake in the driver’s seat from behind. He looked relaxed. Blaine could not see the woman. Getting’ a knobjob, looks like, he thought to himself.

He crept up to the back of the car. The car was moving slightly in a rhythmic manner. Blaine walked up along the driver’s side until he was next to the window. There was a thick coat of ice on the pavement inside the carwash. He had to step carefully to keep from slipping. His feet crunched in the ice, but music playing inside the car, something by Billy Joel, masked the sound.

Jake was inside. The back of his chair was reclined. Jake’s eyes were closed, his mouth open.

Blaine could see the back of the woman’s head bobbing up and down. Her dirty blonde hair pooled across Jake’s lap, all teased up on top. His hands were pressed against the back of her head.

Blaine leveled the pistol at Jake’s head. The muzzle bumped the window glass, and Jake opened his eyes.

Blaine squeezed the trigger. The sound of the shot was deafening inside the carwash bay. Blaine’s ears rang from the shock. The window glass shattered and rained down the inside of the car.

There was a leaking red spot on the side of Jake’s cheek. His eyes were open wide. His 
mouth was open as though gasping for air.

Blaine leveled the pistol and fired another shot into the side of Jake’s head.

The woman inside the car jerked away. She pressed herself against the passenger door. She drew in a long breath and screamed at the top of her lungs. One of her hands was clawing for the door handle. Her shirt was open and her breasts were exposed.

Blaine leaned through the busted window. He pushed the pistol forward. He felt something warm and wet on his hand. He looked down. Jake’s cock was still standing straight up, but a stream of warm piss was flowing from the tip.

Blaine moved his hand out of the stream.

The woman continued to scream and pressed herself as far away as she could.

Blaine shot her just above the waistline. A thought flashed through his mind, She’s the one responsible for the ovaries.

The woman screamed louder. She pressed her hands tight against her belly.

Blaine raised the pistol higher and shot her in the sternum. Her screaming stopped, but she still made a high-pitched mewling sound. She looked at Blaine. He saw the look of squinted anguish in her eyes.

He put a bullet through her chest, and she stopped making any sound at all.
Blaine stepped back. He pushed the mask up over his face.

He looked down at the pistol in his trembling hand. He put the pistol back in his jacket pocket.

He took another step back and slipped in the ice. He caught himself with one hand against the block wall.

Oh god,” he said. “Oh god, oh god. Mm. Oh sweet heaven.”

***

You did good, son,” Vinton said. He handed Blaine and envelope full of bills. “There’s a few extra in there for you.”

It wasn’t so bad,” Blaine said. “Think I’ve got a knack for it.”

It’s not pleasant work. But sometimes it’s gotta be done, you know?”

So when do I go again?”

What do you mean?”

I’m ready for the next.”

Vinton shook his head. “You mean the next job like Jake?”

Yeah. Let’s do it.”

Now hold on. This kind of work, I mean, it’s steady for somebody that’s got the stomach for it, but this ain’t an everyday thing. These jobs are few and far between. You’ve got good money now. This on top of what you get from the plant, you should be flush for a while. Just enjoy.”

But you mentioned you might be able to hire me out to some others that need help.”

And I will. You seem to take to it. But I don’t have anything lined up for you today. Just relax. Go buy something nice for Jessie. They got pink cassette players down at Jays. She might like one of those.”

She’s got a stereo already.”

Get her a Monchichi doll, or one of them Pound Puppies. You know. For the baby.”

Blaine nodded. “All right. Got it. But I done good, yeah?”

You did great. First time out or not, you did great.”

***

Where you going, hon?” Jessie said. She was lying on the couch with an ashtray on top of her chest. She tapped her cigarette on the rim.

Blaine was zipping up his jacket. He had his black knit hat on. “I gotta get out for a bit. Something I got to do.”

Can you afford to pick up some Pizza Hut on your way back?”

Yeah. No problem.”

Grab some Chardonnay too. No wait. Sauv Blanc.”

That kind tastes like cat piss,” he said.

So Chardonnay, then.”

Might not be good for the baby, you drinking so much.”

Jessie took a long draw on her Virginia Slim. “First trimester. She don’t even have a stomach yet.”

Yeah. Good point. I’ll pick it up. Still, that don’t mean you gotta knock back the whole bottle.”

Some chocolate too.”

Okay. That’s it. The damned pizza alone will be a hassle. Now I gotta make two stops.”

Get two bottles. Love you, babe,” Jessie said.

***

It was so damned cold out. Blaine lowered his head to the wind, his arms shivering. He was in a sketchy part of town. The kind of place where people would be out alone and in the shadows.

He walked the sidewalk. Few people were out this time of night. There were a handful of streetwalkers on a corner. He saw one off to herself. She was wearing shorts, stockings, and a heavy winter coat. She had short dark hair that stuck out in every direction. She wore thick makeup and dark eyeliner. Blaine could see that her face was weathered and lined under the makeup. Her belly was rolled and round under her tight shirt.

He approached her.

Fucking cold,” Blaine said. “Your legs. Gotta be cold.”

She smiled at him. “Hey there,” she said.

Hi,” he said back. “Wanna go someplace warm with me?”

Hell yeah. I can get us a good deal on a room at the motel across the street.”

You know what? Nah, let’s go back to my car. It’s warm.”

Works for me.” She locked her elbow around his and leaned into him. “Lead the way.”

They walked a block down the street, making small talk. They came to the mouth of an alley, and Blaine said, “Right here.”

They turned down the alley. It was dark, but the lot on the other end was well lit.
Blaine pointed down the length of the alley to a car parked on the other side. “That’s me right there.”

Halfway down the alley he stopped walking and pulled her up short.

What is it?” she said.

Blaine was breathing heavy. The air felt thick in his lungs. His heart pounded inside his chest.

You okay, sweetie,” the woman said.

Yeah. Mm. Just a second,” Blaine said. He pushed her away from him and turned his back to her.

You sure?”

He turned back to face her. He had the pistol in his hand.

She gasped. “No,” she said.

He pointed the pistol at her belly and fired. She fell to the ground, her hands clasping her stomach. “Oh,” she said. “Why did you do that?”

Blaine stood over the woman and shot her in the face.

***

Sonya was getting all worked up. The way Brad was kissing her and his hands on her breasts under her shirt—she hated to put out on first date, but she was losing control fast.

He had the best hands. His kisses were soft. She loved the feel of his hot breath on her neck.
They were in the back seat of his car. He drove old Ford with a bench seat in back. They were parked out behind the abandoned bleach plant. A light snow was falling outside the car.
Sonya couldn’t fight it, so she decided to give in, to relax and enjoy. The next thing she knew, Brad’s hand was inside her pants, tracing the warm slickness between her curls with his fingertip.

Bra-ad,” she said.

He pulled away. “Yeah?”

I’m not that kind of girl.”

I know you’re not,” he said. “But tonight is special.”

But…you won’t want to…you know, see me again…if I…”

He leaned back in and kissed her. He worked his fingers in her pants. “I never want to see anybody else ever again.”

She relaxed. Might as well enjoy.

A crunching sound outside.

She leaned up. “What was that?”

Nothing. A raccoon or something.”

No, Brad. I hear something.” She looked out the window. It was too dark out to see anything.

That sound again. Crunch, crunch, crunch…like footsteps.

Somebody’s walking out there.”

It don’t matter,” he said. “Just some hobo.”

We should go, Brad. Please. I’m scared.”

Oh, baby. Just a few more minutes, okay? I’ll protect you.”

Crunch, crunch, crunch

A tall shadow took form by the window.

Oh my god, Brad. Somebody’s out there!”

He looked over his shoulder. “Where?”

Right there. Right there!” She pointed at the window behind him.

There was a white flash of light. The window exploded. Something splashed on her face. 

There was a deafening roar. Her eyes adjusted to the flash. Brad was slumped in the seat, his head on her chest. There was blood in his hair.

Brad…what…?”

She looked out the window. She saw a pistol pointed at her. She screamed.

The bright flash of light again, and then everything went black.

***

How’s Jessie doing?” Vinton asked. He had his reading glasses on, a newspaper spread open on the desk in front of him.

Being a bitch. She thinks I’m cheating on her,” Blaine said. He shook his head and chuckled.

Hey, now. That’s the mother of your child you’re talking about there.”
We’ll get through it. Just I’ve got some other stuff going on. Keeps me away sometimes. I go out at night. She don’t like it.”

Might explain why you look so much different.”

What do you mean?”

You look tired. Kind of haggard. Like you ain’t been sleeping good.”

Oh, yeah. No, it’s just this other shit.”

Well I hope you’re up for what I want to talk to you about.”

I’m good, man. Never better. And Jessie, Jessie’s gonna be good too.”

You ready for another job then? Nothing local, but I got a friend who could use some help up the road a piece. You know. A job like Carbone.”

Yeah, man. I’m good to go. Plant’s still cutting hours. I could get a few days.”

Good. Hey, you know, funniest thing. That job you did for me? Old Jake? Yeah, well that’ll never come back on us. That gun you tossed? Somebody grabbed it, see. They grabbed it, and they are using it all over the place. Our thing looks like part of some sick psycho killing spree. Like that Zodiac guy. Pretty cool, huh? Fucking bastard’s out there shooting up people at night going all crazy, and it’s covering up our thing.” Vinton laughed.


Huh. Yeah,” Blaine said. “Some bad crazies out there, man.” He grinned.

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