Yet another new contributor, as TKnC opens its 'loving' arms to Karl...
Patron Saint of Paperboys
First of all, I should have been rich and famous by now. At least a published novelist.
I haven’t even written the first sentence of a novel.
College is over. It ended for me halfway through the second semester of my freshman year. Doesn’t matter. It was just a community college anyway.
I’m twenty three years-old. I flip pizzas at an Italian joint within walking distance of my house. I live with my my mother.
She tends bar at a beer and shot dive out on 59th. My kid brother, nine years my junior, delivers the times so he can have pocket money.
This is because I have not made good on my promise of becoming the next Stephen King.
Days blur, differentiated by the amount of pizzas I cook. Fridays kick my ass. Mondays are tolerable. Everyday pays minimum wage. Some nights I stay over, sit at the bar. The manager makes a strong Tom Collins and I only have to pay for third or fourth drink.
Some nights I drink at Bob’s Place where my mother shags drafts for toothless degenerates between jail stretches.
She doesn’t like her job. She’s forty eight years-old. She doesn’t know where she could find another job.
When you’re twenty three shit jobs are everywhere.
Tonight, a greasy-haired son of a bitch with a cleft lip tries telling me my mother was dancing topless on top of the bar before I walked in. He repeats it three times before I realize what the hell he’s talking about. I tell him she’s my mother and he says then it should be nothing new to me. I make him repeat this a few times before I tell him to shut the fuck up if he can’t speak straight. His arms are as thick as the beer bottle he brings up to his deformed mouth. He shuts the fuck up.
Mom doesn’t make a Tom Collins. If it don’t come in a
bottle or go in a shot glass you don’t get it. She doesn’t mix drinks, she doesn’t dance topless on bars and some nights she doesn’t come home until three or four in the morning.
I keep waiting for her to meet the wrong man. Someone who will pour her last drink.
Instead the wrong man finds my brother.
Pete tells me this story:
The back half of his paper route takes him down Hoffman Avenue. The area is decrepit at best. Rats outnumber dogs fifty to one. Customers here do not pay in a timely manner. Tips are negligible.
Pete sees the man standing on the sidewalk from half a block away and knows he’s trouble. Pete coasts up on his bicycle.
The man wears rust colored polyester pants, brown Hush Puppies, and a starched white shirt. He has an unassuming haircut. A badge hangs from his belt alongside a revolver.
He asks Pete if he knows a Robert Flood. Pete tells him the sorry bastard’s a customer.
“Could you identify him?”
Pete figures what the hell. The guy’s over a month behind paying his Times bill. He owes Robert Flood no favors.
I ask if by Robert Flood he means Floyd. Pete nods his head and drinks his grape Nehi. I know the man he refers to. Small time drug dealer. He wears Pink Floyd shirts often enough to garner the nickname. He’s one of those chronic losers too stupid to realize it.
Pete says the agent never identifies himself. Pete assumes the man’s a Federal agent but has no way of knowing.
The agent leads Pete into the Flood’s dimly-lit kitchen. Another agent greets them. The agents are jovial in manner. Floyd and his fat Puerto Rican wife sit at the kitchen table. Floyd stares right through Pete.
“Son, is this Robert Flood?”
“Sure is, and you owe me eighteen dollars.”
Pete is shepherded out of the apartment by the agent who escorted him in. He hears Floyd’s steady stream of denials.
He’s never seen that kid before.
He’s not Robert Flood, AKA Floyd.
That’s some other guy.
I tell Pete he should have kept his mouth shut.
Pete drinks his grape Nehi, unperturbed.
“What’d they want him for anyway?”
“Something serious, I guess.”
“Can’t be too serious if they don’t even know what he looks like.”
“I didn’t get the chance to ask any questions.”
“My brother, the fink.”
Pete says it never would have happened if the sorry bastard had only paid what he owed.
It was not serious, whatever it was. Two weeks later Floyd’s back on the street, waiting for my brother.
He doesn’t get too physical but he lets Pete know there’s gonna come some retribution.
I know where you live.
Your mother tends bar on 59th.
Bad things happen out that way.
Pete doesn’t finish his route. He comes home sobbing, convinced this piece of shit’s gonna kill our mother.
He says he tried to apologize but the guy wouldn’t listen.
“You tried to apologize? Why? You gotta take the hard linewith this gutter trash.”
Pete doesn’t understand how it works, yet.
I don’t have time to explain it to him. I’m on my way to the pizza joint. I can already smell the tomato paste and anchovies.
I tell Pete I’ll take care of it.
“What you gonna do?”
“I’ll take care of him.”
I ask Greg, the manager of the pizzeria, where I can get a gun. Something cheap and unregistered.
Greg looks at me like I’m crazy.
One of the pachucos working the pizza ovens with me has a cousin who might be able to help once he returns from visiting some relatives.
I ask him if he has a gun I can borrow. Just for a day and I’ll probably not even use it.
He looks at me like I’m crazy.
Pete is still awake when I get home.
He just got off the phone with Mom. She’s okay.
“Go to bed, Pete. You got school tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing to worry about.”
“He’s gonna be waiting for me. If not tomorrow, then some other day. He says I won’t see it coming.”
I tell Pete I’m gonna deliver his papers tomorrow. And after that the Times can deliver their own papers.
Pete lays down. I pop Taxi Driver into the VCR. I want DeNiro’s performance to inspire me. Fifteen minutes into the film, I’m asleep.
Pete doesn’t think I’m scared, the next day as he watches me wrap an eighteen inch length of pipe into a Tuesday edition. The pipe weighs the bag down. The strap bites into my shoulder.
“How do you carry this thing?”
“I put it on my bike.”
My bike-riding days ended around the same time I decided to become the next Stephen King. I don’t have a car just yet, but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna ride a bike.
Mom’s sleeping off a hangover on the couch when I leave.
I don’t know Pete’s route. I throw papers indiscriminately as I approach Hoffman Avenue.
Twenty minutes of walking brings me to Floyd’s neighborhood and I’m sweating from the exertion. The sun’s scorching me like a pizza oven.
Rattletrap cars are parked in front of each ramshackle house. Broken glass sparkles everywhere. And in every other yard there’s a mean dog roped to a stake.
Floyd sits on his porch. He’s bare-chested, scrawny, wearing a pair of stained sweatpants cut off at the knees. He bounces a tennis ball, killing time the way prison taught him to.
He grins a mouthful of brown rickets.
I walk toward him, unhurried, gripping the loaded newspaper inside the bag.
“Where’s the other kid at? He quit? You look a little old-”
I bust him across the right side of his forehead. I feel his skull fracture all the way up my arm.
He wants to pitch backward. I grab his arm with my free hand, steadying him. Then I bring the pipe down again.
His eyes roll back. A slight moan escapes his lips. Blood seeps from the slash parting his hair where I busted him.
Three more shots to his shattered skull and I let him crumple to the ground.
I walk away.
No one sees anything.
Two blocks down there’s a guy sitting on his porch. He wears a Darkside of the Moon t-shirt.
Originally from the Chicagoland area, Karl Koweski's been living in Alabama the last 13 years. Karl writes widely and his crime fiction has appeared in Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Thrilling Detective, Thuglit and A Twist of Noir. He also writes a monthly column, Observations of a Dumb Polack, at www.zygoteinmycoffee.com