Featured short fiction for the week of May 1, 2012
By M. C. O'Connor. First Published in Out of the Gutter 2
|Fiction between 1,000 and 3,000 words|
Guidelines and Submission Form
Her butt was so skinny it didn’t make a dent in my truck seat. Her blond hair was as limp as a gelding’s dick, and the gray skin and sunken cheeks made her look like she’d been embalmed. If Tinkerbell had had chemotherapy, she’d be Cassie.
We got along fine. She was “in recovery” and she stayed clean. Stayed home, mostly. After a few months of my beer and cheeseburgers diet she started to look good. Her skin got a gloss to it and the meat showed up on her bones. You wouldn’t know we were brother and sister. Cassie has the Nordic genes, taking after our Mom. I got the dark side. I think Dad ran off when his Azorean blood lost out to blue eyes and ivory skin. But he was also one-quarter Indian, and we took advantage of that for Cassie’s sake. She started working at the new casino the day it opened. Rory, my ex-brother-in-law, owns the company that built it. I’ve run herd on Rory’s illegals since he started his contracting business. It was good money for a long stretch, so I took time off to look out for my little sister.
Meth flows like a river through this county. Most of the ex-crackheads don’t have a chance. They just step right back in the stream and it sweeps them away. Cassie kept out of it. We’d go bowling one night a week. Fishing one day. We’d drive up to the mall in Medford once a month. I fixed the place up when she was working. It was just a mobile at the prestigious Pine Villa Estates, but it was our home. I think I tore out every damn appliance—stove, fridge, water heater, dishwasher—and put in bigger and better ones. I even got a new TV and satellite. Cassie loved movies and we watched a lot of them.
My sister is a looker when she’s healthy. It wasn’t long before she started getting a lot of attention. It made her feel good, but it scared the hell out of me. I figured all I could do was keep an eye on the creeps, and hope she found someone okay. I kept thinking she was an innocent kid, which is crazy, but I couldn’t see past that. One night I found out what she had her sights on.
I picked her up after work and she was on her tiptoes kissing a silver-haired cowboy in a tan suit and bolo tie.
“Who was that?” I asked as she climbed in the truck.
“The old man.” I pointed. He was climbing into a powder blue Lincoln.
“Oh, him. That’s C.J.”
“That’s what they call him.” She smiled. “Well, everyone else calls him ‘Mr. Martenson’ but he lets me call him C.J.” She smiled again. “He likes me.”
“I like you too, Cassie. But I hate playing games.”
“Don’t worry, Tyler. I know what I’m doing. He’s the owner.”
I almost swerved off the highway. “Of the casino?” I looked at my sister with new admiration.
“I don’t know,” she said, “it’s complicated. His corporation owns a bunch of casinos. Or at least it owns the companies that run the casinos. I’m not sure how it works. He’s not an Indian, but they all treat him like he’s the big chief.”
“Mm-hmm?” She kept her eyes on the road.
“Are you gold-digging?”
I saw a little grin form at the edges of her mouth. She didn’t say anything.
“You be careful, little sister. And you come to me for help, you hear?”
My tires crunched in the gravel as I pulled up in front of the single-wide. Cassie looked at me with glowing eyes.
“I’m going to the top, Tyler. All the way.”
I usually drink nothing stronger than beer. Tonight, though, I let Harry pour me a couple of Jacks. The Shamrock was a relaxed place with a couple of pool tables no one was interested in using. This was a bar that had enough regular customers to keep the lights on, but not enough to keep casuals away. It was only half full, not so loud I couldn’t hear the guy two stools down.
“Tweaker. Fucking little tweaker cunt. I can’t believe the
old man is going through with it.”
He was tall and well-dressed in a charcoal suit, white shirt and black tie. He had a nice hairdo, one you have to pay for. He was as blond as Cassie but his eyes were darker and had heavy lids. His mouth was a crooked gash his words spilled from. When he breathed he seemed to snatch bites out of the air.
“She’s with him all the fucking time!” The suit complained to his companion. “I can’t get near her!” He shook his head. “I’m going to give her one chance to get her fucking claws out of my old man’s money or I am going to find a way to fuck with that girl so she’ll never use that fucking tweaker cunt of hers again!”
That did it.
I walked over to blondie, now that I knew he was C.J.’s kid, and grabbed him by the tie. I got his attention.
“Listen, Junior, my sister loses one hair on her head I’ll reach down your throat and pull your fucking guts out.”
He began turning a deep red. I had him a little off-balance, pushing him against the bar, and my fist against his throat made it hard for him to speak. He decided to swing his arms up and box my ears with his palms.
I bent my knees and thrust my arm up. I lifted him off his feet, swung him around and tossed him at the pool table behind us. The lip of the table hit him just below the butt and he fell back on to the felt. I was on him in a heartbeat. I grabbed his throat with my right and pushed his head down. He tried to lift his leg to kick me but only managed to get his knee stuck in my armpit. He tried to pull my hand off his throat with one hand while he flailed at my face with the other, his right.
I’m thick around the chest. And strong. He got a look of real fear in his face when he started to lose air. I carry a ka-bar in a belt scabbard stuck into my right boot. If I’d meant to kill him, I’d have grabbed his throat with my left and knifed him with my right. As it was, I had to slam his head a couple of times to slow down his wriggling. I managed a clumsy reach across with my free hand to my uplifted right leg and pulled out the combat blade. I plunged it at his face a few times, he stuck up his right to parry, and grabbed my wrist. I pushed hard on a downward stroke, and moved the knife closer. He knew now I could overpower him. We grunted and rocked a few seconds more and then I let him go.
He rolled over on his side, still on the table. He gasped and coughed with rage and humiliation. I turned and switched the knife to my right and pointed it at his companion. That one had the good sense to wave his hands in surrender.
“Tell your buddy here to watch his back. I just might be behind him.”
Junior was sitting up, regaining his breath. “You don’t know who you’re fucking with,” he rasped. His buddy came over to help him up but he pulled away, throwing himself off the pool table. He stood and straightened his rumpled suit. His face was twisted into a scowl. He spat a curse and a warning at me and staggered out the door, his friend in tow. They drove off in a black Hummer.
Harry was not a happy man. I figured I’d spent my last dollar at The Shamrock. The place was silent, staring at me. I put my knife away and left quickly.
Cassie was watching TV when I got back.
“So when were you going to tell me?”
She thought about saying something cute but saw the look in my eyes.
“This weekend. It—it’s not official. There’re lawyers to sit down with. Craig, that’s his son, he hates me. He’s trying to stop it.”
“I just met Craig. Stuck my ka-bar in his face.”
She shook her head. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“I didn’t hurt him.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s just, well, Craig is a psycho. Even C. J. is scared of him.”
I started to tell Cassie what Craig had said about her, but stopped. Things were escalating now, I needed to keep cool.
“So how does it work?”
“The lawyers have a pre-nup all worked out. That would be okay, I mean, he still has a lot of money even without the corporation. A lot of money. And it would be mine, I mean, as his wife.”
How many girls figured they would marry a rich man? Most have thought about it, I’ll bet. And now here was my flesh-and-blood kid sister actually pulling it off. Damn, he was old enough to be our grandpa.
Cassie looked at me evenly. There was the vastness of space in her eyes. “I think I’ve talked him out of that, though. The pre-nup. He wants a partner to run the corporation with him. He’s old but his mind is still sharp, and he knows he’s going to have to turn it all over to someone pretty soon. And it won’t be Craig. It’ll be me.”
“He’s in love with you.”
Cassie blushed. She actually turned pink like a schoolgirl. I was going to have to get used to surprises from her.
“I thought it was just, y’know, the young girlfriend thing. But he can buy girls any time he wants. He likes me. Really likes me. Laughs at my jokes. Treats me like a queen.” Cassie held her mouth open, speechless for a few seconds. “He had no idea what it was like to actually work in one of his places. He listened to me. He thinks I’m some kind of natural business genius.”
Cassie Silva was Mrs. C.J. Martenson by the end of the summer. Private ceremony, private getaway. I didn’t see her after that. I went back to work for Rory for a few months doing spec houses before the snows in January shut us down. I was just getting a bad case of lonely winter blues when something turned up in the mail.
It was a stiff cardboard envelope with a PO Box in Hawaii on the return. In it was a letter. And a cashier’s check for ten thousand bucks
This is the most I can send you as a gift without tax consequences. It is clean, 100%. C.J. is in to some amazing things and I’ve learned so much. I can’t believe my luck. Things are working out better than I imagined. Come work for us. Leave the old home behind.
I drove to Sacramento that night and flew to Honolulu the next day. I figured I would relax and get in some beach time before seeing Cassie. I was avoiding the contact. Not that I didn’t want to see her. It was a deep unease that I avoided until the second day and the tenth beer. She’d said “us.” As in her and the old guy. It was just too weird. I was never going to see him as my brother-in-law, or some surrogate father-type, or even Cassie’s lover. I was going to see a pipeline, a delivery tube for whatever it was made her happy, no different than the pipes she’d smoked and syringes she’d emptied. What would happen when this high wore off? I was too drunk to know if I was just jealous. I told myself I didn’t want what she had, didn’t like the trade she’d made, but the bottom line was I had nothing. Nothing to leave behind and nothing to go back to.
I took a taxi to the Martenson place the next day. I paid no attention to the scenery, even though I’d hardly been out of California in my life. I felt like a sack of old shoes. Not worthy of the garbage, but not worth wearing either. The kid driving the cab kept thanking me for the twenty dollar tip. I just handed him some bills as I got out. I could see Cassie coming down the long walk. I wrapped her up and held her very tight.
We got down to business that evening. The whole place was open terraces facing the ocean. We sat under the fronds of mature palms in a patio of slate flagstones on chairs made of tropical hardwood. The old man seemed to nod in and out and the Filipino staff ran around keeping him going. Cassie was completely at ease, inhabiting a body and mind of some other, better being. I was drunk, drunk on the good booze, the lofty cliffside, the exotic locale, drunk in the presence of a true woman of power. I wasn’t so drunk I was stupid, just awestruck. My life was never going to be the same.
“So we’ve agreed.” She smiled. One thousand watts.
“Are you sure, Ty?”
“Oh, yeah. You bet. No problem.”
I found out later that killing him was a problem. I couldn’t do it. Thank god he was in Vegas. Anyplace else, I don’t know. Something about Vegas, you just feel like anything goes. And they say what happens there stays there.
I had to score some crystal. Yeah, before I could take him down I had to be screaming inside, my muscles twitching like I was in an electric chair, my heart beating twice as fast as it should have been. Two or three big hits and I felt like Superman, ready to jump out of the fucking window and make mayhem on the masses. A weekend of that and I was tweaking good, real good. I could have killed Craig with my bare hands. But I didn’t, I used the 9mm Cassie had so thoughtfully provided—which I then dismantled and dumped like a good boy.
I went home to Pine Villa a hundred thousand bucks richer. I was glad I kept the old dump; I could hide out and detox before the next job came along. No, it wasn’t going to end with Craig. I knew that. I’d have to be sure I’d lined up the ice beforehand. It just wouldn’t do to ask Cassie for it.