Fireworks, crowbars, meth, vipers: In The Gutter, a weapon's a weapon. Hell, damn near a contract.
Al didn’t plan for Big Mike’s survival. Mike’s truck, crunching through the snow to a stop, didn’t rouse Al. Eleven in the morning and Al was passed out in the driver’s seat of his Lincoln. Talk about a disgrace to drug dealers and retailers of pyrotechnics everywhere.
As soon as Big Mike finished this cigarette he’d wallop Al’s ass, really turn him purple.
Smoking, Mike surveyed Al’s fireworks setup. Snow piled on the tent’s roof, causing depressions throughout the vinyl fabric. The tent was far too nice. Al had spent entirely too much money (Mike’s) renting it. But what did Al know about business? That’s why Mike hired him on as muscle, those months ago. Al showed up at your place, wearing his biker leather, his defensive tackle build, you paid. Did he know the first thing about allocation and distribution? Shit, no.
Still, the location Al picked wasn’t bad: way out in the sticks. The sheriff didn’t come out this far often, Mike imagined.
Big Mike crushed his cigarette on an empty Monster can in his cup holder. He gazed at the crowbar on his passenger seat and decided he’d have one more smoke before he went to wake sleeping beauty with the eternal kiss of medium-carbon steel to the face. He lit another Marb and smiled at his crowbar. Trusty crowbar. The one he’d used to shatter the window of Al’s trailer, three days prior. In Al’s trailer, amidst the rubble he’d made, he found the yellow copy of Al’s receipt from Turner Tent Rental Co. in Libby, Montana. It figured: Al had split for the boonies to run a fireworks tent as a drug front. Of course. Al had stolen everything else from Mike. Why not take his idea and modus operandi, too?
Mike stepped out of his truck, tossed his cigarette in the snow, and gave his crowbar a few test whacks against the air. His loafers ground against the snow as he walked to Al’s Lincoln.
He looked in at Al, the dozing lug, leaking drool on his red beard. No doubt, Al had violated the Scarface principle. He probably found some truckstop waitress who blackened a four-pack of light bulbs with him and they stayed up half the week.
“Are you clean?” Mike asked Al, upon pre-employment screening, last April.
“Six years,” Al said, but he wore dentures. Men in their late thirties, generally, wore dentures for one reason only.
Big Mike watched Al sleep. This was the guy. Mike grinned at the prospect of putting him in the hospital. Snoozing like a teenager on Sunday, this was the guy who’d slipped roofies in his Jack n’ Coke, broke into his apartment, stole twenty thousand bucks and his small fortune of meth. A dozen whacks from the crowbar, at least, were sanctioned for that. Al putting an eighteen-inch pit viper in his waterbed . . . that warranted a dozen more, easy. Mike would never forget, waking that morning, seeing the viper, coiled on his radiator: cat-like, yellow eyes, mouth frowning, lime green scales. Although sluggish, he’d cried out and flailed at the sight of it. Next thing he knew, his hand was red, black, and blue—swollen to the size of an oven mitt. Had his nosy neighbor Norene had anything better to do that morning than wait on her hair curlers while she smoked Virginia Slims and watched Divorce Court, he’d be dead.
Mike tapped the crowbar on Al’s Lincoln window. Al didn’t stir. He tapped again, harder this time. No response. He tapped once more then decided, So much for subtlety. He smashed the driver’s side window.
Al’s eyes opened and he stared at the little crystalline hunks of broken glass all over his pant legs. Then he stared at his old boss. His expression morphed, from one of residual stupor to one of steely fury. He rolled over his Lincoln’s gear selector and popped out his passenger door. He took off running, passing his lavish fireworks tent, into the snow-dusted pines. Big Mike chased him, screaming, crowbar raised.
Al ran fast for a three hundred pound brute, but Mike caught him, hopped on his back, and choked him with the crowbar. Al fell to his knees. With both hands, Mike dug the tool into Al’s windpipe.
Al flung him over his head, dislodged the crowbar, and hurled it away. Al climbed on top of Mike. He reached in his mouth and he pulled out his dentures.
With the slimy things he bashed Big Mike over the head till Big Mike was unconscious. Blood pooled from Mike’s mouth, nose, and cheeks.
“You’re okay, buddy, aren’t you?” the casino runner asked Mike, passing him his Jack n’ Coke.
Mike sipped it. “Yeah.” He touched one of the giant bruises on his forehead. “It’ll heal. I ain’t worried.”
Mike drank slowly. He kept saying to himself, Any meth slinger worth their salt knows about the basic construction of a car bomb. Any meth slinger worth their salt . . . And he grinned.
He was down to the last sip in his glass. Just as the casino runner asked if he wanted another drink, he heard the sonic boom from down the highway. It jostled the walls of the casino, shook the barstools and all the Keno machines. Al hadn’t bothered checking out of his K.O.A. cabin and splitting town; Al was confident he’d bludgeoned Mike to death with his false teeth. Al, once again, didn’t plan for Big Mike’s survival.Mike slid a five across the bar to the flustered casino runner and said, “No, man. I’m outta here.”