Know your enemy.
In The Gutter, it's best to forget.
In The Gutter, it's best to forget.
Waiting for the Man by Patrick Cooper
“Who? George Leslie?”
“Western George Leslie, word. I imagined, while I was reading about him, I imagined him with a hard face. Hard, but handsome, y’know? I don’t think he was busted or nothing. Or like, like a brute.”
Walter leaned forward, his elbows on the green felt tabletop. He held his hand close to his chest and sighed. “These are the things.”
“What’s that?” Raymond said, looking up from his pair of eights.
“These are the things you think about, huh?”
“What do I think about?”
“The face of some guy been dead hundred something years.”
Raymond rearranged his hand and went on. “He used to be an architect. ‘Fore he started taking off banks, guy studied architecture. How about that?”
Sitting across from Raymond, Phil folded and said, “Say, wasn’t this the guy designed the Jewish Community Center?”
Raymond scowled. “I don’t-”
“Nobody cares the guy was an architect!” Phil slapped a hand on the table. The pile of chips trembled. “Or what he fucking looked like! Can we play a game a cards in peace, without hearing this shit?!”
“Easy Phil,” Walter said. He put a hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. “Kid’s just bored. Got him thinking about dumb shit. I told him. I warned him this gig comes with its share of boring nights.”
“I ain’t bored,” Raymond said. “Was just reading about the dude, George Leslie, and wondered what he looked like, is all.”
“Enough talk about it, okay?” Walter said. “Let’s just play cards. Whatever comes outta your mouth, until the man call, let’s keep it about cards.”
They played in silence.
Phil rocked in his seat and mopped sweat off his jowls with an old handkerchief.
“You cool, brother?” Walter said looking at him. “Don’t let the kid get to you. Just a stupid kid.”
Phil shifted in his folding chair. Tossed his cards on the table and said, “I think about it too sometimes. I do, sometimes.”
“Think about what?” Walter said.
“About his face.”
“George Leslie’s face? Why would you-”
“Not his face…Dad. Dad’s face.”
Walter and Phil exchanged knowing looks. They’d come up orphans. State raised, sharing a four-by-six room with artichoke-colored walls. They shared foggy memories of their dad. He’d only been around until 1981, when Walter and Phil were still pups. That was the year cops pulled a dozen balloons of cocaine out of their father’s ass. A dozen. Christ.
Phil pulled the cigarette out from behind his ear and tapped it against the back of his hand. “Ever try to remember what he looked like? Dad?”
Walter sighed. “Find it best not to.”
Phil looked absently at the green felt. “I do. At night sometimes. Or when I’m on the can. Always had these deep bags under his eyes, I remember. Always made him look sad or tired.”
“Or strung out,” Walter chimed in.
“Your guys’ old man a deadbeat too?” Raymond said.
“Prison,” Walter said. “He was in prison.”
Raymond nodded, like that explained everything.
Phil shimmied his chair backwards and stood up. “I’m going out for a smoke. You wanna smoke?”
“I’m good,” Walter said.
“I only smoke blunts,” Raymond said. “Cherry blunts, is all.”
Phil pointed to the rotary phone on the small table in the corner of the room. “If the man calls, holler for me.”
Phil pulled up the fur collar of his jacket and stepped outside. A gust of wind snuck inside and blew the cards off the table before the door closed behind him.
“Ah, shit!” Walter tried to grab cards out of the air as they floated around him.
Raymond got on the floor and helped Walter pick up the cards. “Fifty-two pick up, eh?” he said, smirking. “Y’know, I’m down with what you said.” His face turned serious.
“What? What I say?”
“About it being best not to remember your old man’s face. I remember mine all too fucking well. Wish I didn’t. Piece a shit.”
The door opened and Phil came in with his hands up.
Two men with beige nylons over their faces came in behind him; one had a pistol trained on Phil’s back, while the other held a pillowcase with bloodstains on it.
“You know what this is!” the one with the gun said. “Wallets, bankrolls, rings, whatever else you’re carrying, in the bag!”
Raymond got to his feet. “Whoa, whoa. This place. You know whose place this is, yeah?”
“Put your shit in the bag, guy! Do it! And you! Up! Off the floor!”
“My knees,” Walter said. “I got arthritis. Gimme a sec, goddammit.”
Raymond tossed his wallet in the pillowcase.
The men yelled for them to give up more.
Walter struggled to get up on one knee. He bit his bottom lip and grabbed the emergency sawed-off from under the table.
Phil saw where his brother’s arm went and dove to the floor.
Walter stood and fired the shotgun. Flesh and blood sprayed in ribbons as the midsection of the gunman tore open. Walter racked and fired at the one holding the pillowcase. His chest opened up and he crumpled to the floor.
Phil stood and brushed his pants off. “Thanks, brother.”
Walter put the shotgun on the table. He, Phil, and Raymond stood over the two dead men.
Raymond bent to pull the nylon off one of them.
Phil seized his arm. “Wait. Just wait.”
“What is it?” Walter said. “We gotta see who these slobs are. Let the man know.”
Phil squinted at the smeared faces under the nylon. The noses were smudged, the features cloudy. “I don’t wanna be sitting on the can someday trying to remember what they looked like. Might be for the best, like you said. Best we don’t have a face to remember. So there’s nothing there.”