January 4, 2016 by RJ
Six months before you threw The Punch: You were sitting in a bookstore near UK with Phillipe, the crazy almost beautiful Filipino boy, and the two of you have been spending the day copping and running and filling your veins with things that barely belong to you. He twists the top off a Snapple and reads.
“What did you learn?” You asked him.
“There are more chickens in the world than people,” he looks at you and smiles. You’ve been mixing all day. You’ve got riverbanks and race horses both running through your bloodstream. He Frisbee flips the top of the Snapple across the room. Mildly irritating at least one other customer.
“Chickens are people too,” you said. The meth makes the insight quick. The heroin makes it stupid. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way you sit back in the small chair in the bookstore near the Kentucky Authors section and you barely register the yelp at the front desk when Phillipe puts the blade sideways to the cashier’s ear.
Five months before you throw The Punch: Phillipe drops you off in a semi-expensive neighborhood east of downtown Lexington. He gives you a hit when you get out of the car and points you at a very red brick house. Gives, as in you can’t pay for your own these days.
A van straddles the driveway and so does a knocked over sign for a Senatorial candidate. You ask if you can come in at the door and a voice says “ok,” very quietly.
Inside the house is dark. Smells like it’s trying too hard. A nerve of fear spikes the back of your brain. It always does on a blind trick. You look around and notice the refrigerator has magnet poetry. You decide this is a good sign that you won’t die tonight. You take a few more steps. You see a guy hunched over a coffee table who tells you to come in and then can’t look at you when you enter.
“Hello,” you said. “Are you Walter?”
“I never do this sort of thing,” he replied.
Three months before you throw The Punch: Walter’s a regular now. In the rotation is Phillipe’s phrase for it. You’ve surprised yourself by charging two fifty for a full night. And Walter never even blinks. You like coming to Walter’s place. The books everywhere. The ubiquitous clutter of paper and clothes. The music that spilled out of the walls the complete opposite of the dope hole you and Phillipe shared off Winchester. Barney Kessel, Bill Monroe, Art Blakely, Joan Jett, CD’s, vinyl, cassettes, all of them Live at the Fillmore. Where ever that was.
“You really listen to all this,” you asked once.
“Sure,” he said. And you could recognize the squeal of excitement in his face at the opportunity to educate your poor, broken ass. “I studied music,” he continued. “I went to Belmont University. Thought I was going to do that before I got into journalism.”
But that night you came back to the apartment and you could smell Phillipe before you opened the door. He was shirtless, still built like a running back despite his best efforts to smoke away the muscle. His skin was sizzling from crank sweat and his eyes were rough cut pebbles in the hands of a drunken juggler. This wasn’t the schemy, fake laugh, Phillipe who would get high and lecture you about “the comedy of survival.” This was that thing that you’d seen crawling around the edges of that dude. The guard dog pulling at the leash.
He punches you of course. The door wasn’t even shut behind you when you felt your jaw twisting like you were chewing gravel. He had liked to talk about how he had been a boxer in the Navy and you had never really believed him until now. But in this instant, when his knee is in the back of your neck, and he’s pulling your hair like he’s trying to open your throat and he’s scream hissing the words “you will respect me,” over and over, and he’s slamming your face into the linoleum, you could believe he was God Himself. Which was probably the point.
You’re learning now. You’re learning that real violence isn’t like the movies where it comes with explanations. Real violence simply shows up unannounced, takes what it wants and disappears. And when it’s done with you that night, it offers no acknowledgement that it was ever there. You are simply dumped outside like infected clothing. Something we’ll get around to burning tomorrow. And when you finally are able to limp back to Walter’s house, face doubled from the swelling, and he asked you “what happened” you were almost able to answer before your brain went dark and your body folded into his porch like a shadow.
Two weeks before you throw The Punch. You’ve moved in with Walter now. You have a job delivering pizzas and you work funny hours. He was insistent on this point. You use Walter’s car for the gig, but he doesn’t mind. “Just like to see you working,” he says. He’s always doing that. Giving you encouragements that make you feel like shit.
Walter’s at the paper six days a week, sometimes seven. When he comes home the two of you talk mostly about whatever story he’s covering. Sometimes they are interesting in that boring news filler way. State senators with DUI’s, taxpayer-funded golf vacations. When Walter recounts these things his voice gets all squeamy at the punchlines. “And he put the hotel room in his wife’s name!”
“People actually give a fuck about this stuff?” You asked and secretly smirked when you saw that you had hurt him just a little.
Sometimes you would catch him staring at you like you’re a tropical fish or a sex gimp that also does origami. You wonder if he loves you or your tragedy. It wouldn’t be the first time. It impresses him that you can talk about constitutional law (your two semesters in college) and UFC middleweights (Phillipe loved getting high and explaining ankle locks.). But honestly, Walter would have probably been impressed if you could rattle off the first ten letters of the alphabet. One night you get rip shit drunk and actually close his laptop while he’s mid-email.
“Lonny, excuse me?”
“Fuck that. Let me tell you something. You want a big story? I know a guy who’s doing robberies all over town.” Didn’t even blink.
You push it for a few hours while drowning Walter’s expensive scotch.
“Maybe you should go to the police?”
“I’m going to you. You can go to the police.”
“Explain this to me again. He robs bookstores?”
“Nobody fucking robs bookstores. I mean not exclusively. The guy, he steals shit he can return. And then when he really needs money, he’ll hit up places that don’t got security.”
“And you were with him?” You’re drunk on alcohol. Not lighter fluid.
“Fuck no. I mean, I was with him on the little boosting capers. But the robberies, fuck that.”
“Ok. So he just does–”
“Places that don’t got guns. Bookstores, music stores, Food City.”
“What can you return at Food City?”
“Lipstick. That shit is expensive.”
Twelve Days before you throw The Punch: He might have gone along with it, Walter. Maybe netted himself a snazzy little participation trophy if he had backtracked a few robbery reports and wrote a byline to go along with it. Nobody wins Pulitzers for covering dope fiend shoplifters, but maybe if he had been there when the cops knocked Phillipe over and swung himself a jailhouse interview, something might have popped. Especially if he had thrown in a dose of his own involvement, give the whole thing a little personal memoir vibe. As much as you didn’t like to admit it, Walter was a good writer. But, the thing was, the next day he found your pipe and a syringe you had clumsily left on top of his washing machine.
It didn’t end well. There was a lot of crying and door slamming and “not in my house Lonny’ing.” You told him that you had a disease. And it had only been the one time. When that didn’t work you tried to explain that the meth was what made you so good at sex which may have been your last mistake because that was when he kicked you out of his house. Made you return his car keys and everything. So that meant no more job on top of no more residence but you didn’t care too much. Truth be told, you were still high from the night before. Too lit to register this latest Walter thing as more than a trick’s temper tantrum.
So, you walked around the park for a couple hours. It was around Seven in the evening when the come-down monster started to spread its wings and sniff your neck. That’s when you were beginning to realize that this might be a very, very, long night. And somewhere inside your head you started yelling at yourself. “Why the fuck are you so predictable?” But it turned out that you weren’t really yelling it in your head, you were yelling it out loud. And you were scaring away the kids and the homeless couples who were hiding under the big metal slide.
You reached down into your pocket. Besides your phone you had twenty dollars on you. Not enough for a room, but maybe enough for a bottle or a blast depending on what direction you wanted to take things. You called Walter but he didn’t answer. You were going to leave a message, but there was no room on his voicemail, which somehow felt appropriate. And then, speaking of appropriate, it began to rain. Apparently, God could be just as predictable as you.
You were about to send Walter a text when you saw Phillipe’s car cruising past the park, slow as a pharaoh. The ten-timed Bondo-ed gray Mustang with its rear bumper wrapped in enough duct tape to bind every book you’ve ever read. You flagged him down. For the next year, when you’re in county, in court or at Dixon Street, you’ll think about that. You flagged him down. Seeing yourself waving maniacally to get Phillipe to stop. Doing that one-armed jumping jack in the rain, screaming out his name, ready to do anything to get his attention. You flagged him down. Otherwise, he would have just kept driving.
ISAAC BOONE DAVIS is a writer, furniture mover, personal trainer, life coach and career criminal who lives and works throughout the United States. His stories can be found in Writethis.com, Smokelong Quarterly, Fiction 365, P.I.F., The Blue Lake Review and Efiction. He thinks bruises are the new black and generally finds himself to be much funnier than others do. He can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply rooting loudly and violently for his Kentucky Wildcats.