Ben L. Ziegler
Bobby was doing the crossword and John was flipping channels and Nick, the fat ass, was leaning on the bar. I should make him do something, Bobby thought. Just cuz it ain’t busy don’t mean he can sit around. What do I pay him for?
The front door opened. A man’s silhouette filled the doorway. The door shut and the sound of traffic once again lay muffled beyond the walls. The small light inside the bar revealed the new man’s features. Bobby recognized the face. Ice covered his stomach. Tight throat and wicked thirst. He checked his shit. He could have his gun up fast if he needed.
The man walked over to the bar. He was bigger than Bobby remembered. Leaner though, hungrier. Bobby spread a slow smile. “Well, I’ll be goddamned.”
The new man’s expression did not change.
“Dave Sharp,” Bobby shook his head. “Sonnuvabitch.” Bobby stood and put his hand out. Sharp returned the shake. Bobby introduced John. They shook hands. Bobby and John sat down. Sharp didn’t move.
“Jesus,” said Bobby. “How long’s it been?”
“Fuck, four years. You want to sit down. You want a drink, let me get you something.”
“Blake? Blake’s not here.”
“Still his place?”
“Yep, still his place.”
“You still with him?”
“Yeah, me and Johnny here. Right under him.”
“I don’t know. You been in contact? You up to speed?”
“Yeah, then. A lot’s changed. A lot. Maybe you want Blake to fill you in. He’s running things now.”
“Tell him I want to sit down. I want to get filled in. I know Robert’s dead.”
Bobby lit a cigarette, chose his words. “Shit, Dave. Nobody knew how to reach you. Nobody knew where you was. Dropped off the fucking planet.”
“Tell Blake to call me.”
Sharp set a card on the table with his name and a phone number written on it. Bobby put the card in his shirt pocket.
“First thing I see him Dave.”
Sharp glanced at John and Bobby then moved toward the door.
“Hey, Dave,” Bobby said. “Good to have you back.”
“Not good for somebody.”
Sharp pushed through the door. The traffic noise billowed in. The sunlight flashed a long rectangle then vanished when the door slammed.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Bobby exhaled and laid his piece on the table. “Gimme a fucking heart-attack.”
John turned in his seat. “I thought he was dead.”
“I gotta call Blake.”
“Yeah, it’s bad.”
“I’ve heard the stories.”
“You don’t know shit.” Bobby dialed Blake’s number on his cell phone.
* * *
After Sharp had gone, she pulled herself off the bed and wrapped the sheet around her. In the kitchen she popped an ice tray in a flattened rag and balled it against her face where he’d worked on her. A hot bath next. There’d be bruises on her arms, thighs too. Sunglasses would help with her face. Nobody would notice in the dark. Most people anyway she wouldn’t want noticing would only be looking at her in the dark, in the club, drunk, smoke in the air between their faces. They wouldn’t notice.
She dialed Blake, and sat on a soft piece of furniture and watched the dark night sit still outside the window as she listened to the ring go a few times.
“I’m not in the mood,” she said.
Blake got quiet. “What?”
“I know. They called me from the lounge. Guys are scared shitless.”
“You don’t have to say a lot to scare them.”
“He never was a big talker.”
“Not with words.”
She heard Blake light a cigarette. “He touch you?”
“He tried. I asked him not to.”
“And he didn’t?”
“And he didn’t,” she lied.
“I’ll kill the fuck.”
Kelly lit a cigarette of her own.
“What’d he say?”
“About what you’d think he’d say. Asked about Robert.”
“What did you say?”
“I didn’t say anything. I said I didn’t know. He didn’t believe me.”
“Of course he didn’t. He doesn’t believe anything anybody says unless it’s his brother or his pops. What did he say about where he’s been?”
“Said he’s been traveling.”
“That’s the same thing he said at the lounge. What did he ask you?”
“Asked me about Robert.”
“What, Kelly, what did he say?”
“He hasn’t called you yet?”
“He came looking for me at the lounge. He left a card.”
“Yeah, he left one here, too. Wrote his name on it and a phone number.”
“He didn’t happen to say where he was staying did he?” said Blake.
“No, he didn’t mention it. He promised he’d be back though.”
“I’ll send some guys over.”
“I don’t want any of those perverts over here.”
“I want somebody around when he comes back.”
“These fellows you’re sending, you must not like them very much.”
“I want him to leave you alone. Maybe if he sees…”
“You cannot be that dumb.”
“I want you to be safe,” Blake said.
“That’s sweet, but Dave will go anywhere he wants and do anything he pleases to anyone he wants until he finds out whatever he’s looking for. You can either try to roll with him or you can kill him.”
“I want to see what he’ll do first.”
“You know what he’ll do.”
“What did he ask you?”
“I don’t know. I just repeated the story, the one in the news, the one everybody knows. Robert had a heart attack and died. Abner’s in the nuthouse, you and Robert ran things. Rob died. You took over.”
“Didn’t buy it?”
“No, Blake, he did not.”
“I swear to god I don’t know why I put up with your fucking attitude. I should pound your fucking face.”
“It’s because, Blake, you love me.”
“That shit gets old.”
“Don’t worry, I know when to turn it off.”
“What else did he say?”
“He wants to know where you are. I told him I didn’t know. I said check out the R.C., he said he already had. He tried to fuck me. I turned to stone and he gave it up.”
“I’ll kill the fuck.”
“I’ll fucking kill him.”
She held the phone away from her ear until Blake stopped screaming.
“Are you done?” she asked.
There was only Blake’s breathing.
“He never liked me, anyway. Not even when I married Robert. God I hate them. They were like something out of the Bible. He’d drop everything for Dave. We’d have plans, he’d promise weekends and drop them if Dave called. And it wasn’t like he was a slave either, it was like…I don’t know what it was like. Dave gives me the creeps. Too bad. He’s not terrible looking.”
“He know about you and me?”
“He probably suspects.”
“If he knew, he would’ve killed you,” said Blake.
“I don’t think so. He’s always thought very little of me. If he knows, he’s not surprised. So he’s not angry. He just would like to know about Robert. That’s all.”
“Fuck. I wish I knew where he was. I’d kill him now and get the whole thing over with.”
“Tell him the Grady’s did it. He’ll saw through them in a day and a night.”
“He’ll want to know why I been sitting on my ass.”
“Tell him you just found out.”
“Have him remove some competition.”
* * *
Before he finally sat before John Grady, in his office in a warehouse near the river, in an old echoing structure made of bricks and iron and a lot of dead Irish, Sharp caught Blake outside the R.C. Bridge Lounge at about four in the morning, trying to sneak in the back.
Sharp called his name from the end of the alley. Blake stopped, his coat-covered back rising up like a dog’s, and turned slow, his little pink mouth opened like an anus. His steel colored hair, like an anvil pounded through the top of his head, and gray face were splashed with light from the flood lamp above the door.
Blake turned full around. Sharp was standing not a yard away, his hands hung at his sides. He was bigger than Blake had remembered but leaner now, hungry looking. Sharp used to look a little more content.
“It’s been crazy since Robert died. I’m sorry Dave. We didn’t know how to reach you.”
“Let’s go inside. Let’s get a drink.”
“Right now,” he pointed at the ground.
Blake sighed, rolled his shoulders.
“You’re like a brother. Both you and Robert were, so it ain’t easy saying you got no place coming in town shaking the foundations and scaring people. Like your brother’s widow, people like our friends in here. If nobody has said it yet, Dave, I’ll say it for them: easy.”
“What do you have to be scared of?”
“A man whose passions have known to get the best of him. A man whose name means over-doing it. You been gone awhile Dave, the stories have been told. You have a reputation. Word is you think your brother didn’t die.”
“Tell me I’m wrong. I’ll disappear.”
Blake sighed. “The Grady’s made a play. Abner’s locked up. It looked like you’d never be back. They made a play for Robert and they got it. They want me next. Then they want to take over. That’s why I been so hard to find. That’s why the four o’clock in the morning. Trust me brother it ain’t you I’m hiding from. You I’d want to find. You I can trust. You, I know is with me. The Grady’s are out for my head and the house we built with Abner.”
“Why the fake heart attack?”
Blake shrugged. “Who knows. Less mess. Less investigation. Somebody gets close with a needle. Coulda’ had anything in it.”
“You talk to the pathologists. You read the coroner’s report?”
“Uh, no, I mean. It’s been crazy.”
“What are you waiting for? Why haven’t you been hitting the Grady’s? What happened since I been gone? How’d this crew get so weak?”
“Everything’s been falling since Abner got put away. His head finally beat him. The meds, the doctors, all of it finally gave out. He’s a vegetable. Alzhiemers. Don’t go see him.”
“I have. He didn’t know me.”
Blake closed his eyes. Nodded his head. He tried to look sympathetic. It was possible Sharp would kill him right there. No one knew the man except for Robert.
“I’ll go talk to the Grady’s,” Sharp said finally.
“I’ll get some guys with you.”
“Don’t do that.”
Sharp turned and walked back toward the street from wherever he’d come. Blake stood beneath the light for a little while, listening to the traffic, feeling the sweat bead down his ribs.
* * *
Kelly kept ice on her face. She couldn’t go out like this. It wasn’t the pain of the fist that made her so mad but the audacity. How dare he? Robert would never. But he never had to. Robert knew how to use words. And Blake wouldn’t dare. Blake was a pussy. He did what she told him. Which worried her. Had she jumped to a sinking ship? Not for the time being. Robert dead. Blake in control. He’s obviously the man to be flying with.
But still no one really knew if Blake had killed Robert. Kelly didn’t think he had the balls for it. Not that he couldn’t kill. He’d killed plenty, tortured people, chopped them up into little chunks. But the fact that it was Robert, Abner’s golden boy. Robert the great. She never imagined Blake would risk losing everything by removing the real power after Abner was gone.
Some assumed Blake had Robert killed to get the one seat. And whether it was true or Blake was allowing them to think it was true, so that he appeared powerful, he was now wishing he hadn’t taken responsibility for Robert’s death. No one expected Dave to show up.
Dave, she thought, wonder how he is in the sack. Probably a bore. Probably does a little grunting and falls asleep. Cro-magnon. Though after his visit the other day she sensed something different about him. Perhaps he wasn’t as stupid as she thought. Maybe he was just focused. He got to the point.
And speaking of the point. What was hers?
If Sharp was convinced Blake killed his brother, Blake was dead. That’s simple math. Blake dead, there’s one person to run Abner’s house, Dave. If Dave wanders off again, somebody close to him could take over, somebody like herself for example.
Betting on Blake after Robert checked out was a good idea at the time. Blake was up for it. And it wasn’t tough to keep Blake happy.
Kelly had been fingering Sharp’s card, turning it over, letting the edges run against her finger. She looked over the numbers, the square writing, the blocky black ink. She called him.
“Is this Dave Sharp?”
“You know who killed him?”
“Well, not exactly.”
She listened to the dial tone for a second before realizing he’d hung up on her. Well, she thought, he’s also just plain rude. She redialed.
“Now listen. I may have some information that could help. If you want to go on being an asshole, that’s fine with me. You’re not going to hurt my feelings. But if you think maybe we could help each other out then tell me when. I’ll be here.”
She hung up on him, cradled the phone and stood in the kitchen her arms folded.
Sharp was there in ten minutes. She opened the door. He pushed through and shut it behind him. They stood in the foyer. She crossed her arms, cocked a hip, wondered when he was going to get tired of this stone-faced terminator shit.
“Talk,” he said.
“That’s all you have to say? Talk. No hello Kelly, widow of my brother, family friend, how are you doing?”
“Talk or get your wrist broken.”
A pressure had begun just above her hand. She looked down. Sharp had his thumb and forefinger wrapped around her wrist. He was squeezing. The pain began like a sore muscle, not quite hurting yet. With a flick of his wrist he could send her straight to the floor, wailing, her broken hand swinging like a tea-bag.
She held out her other hand, wrist up.
“Oh,” she smiled. “Would you like to dance?”
The pressure increased. He was breaking her wrist. She laughed.
"Oh, alright already.” She yanked at his grip. It didn’t budge. ”I was only kidding. Alright, stop.”
He stopped squeezing but he didn’t let go.
She put her other hand on her hip.
“You are the rudest person I have ever met.”
“Are you ever going to kiss me?”
“Blake. He kill Robert?”
“I don’t know.”
Her wrist throbbed. “I swear I don’t know.”
“He died of a heart attack.”
He spun her around and bounced her forehead off the wall. Just a little wake-up slap, and let go of her. She slid to the floor, holding her forehead and moaning.
“Oh, my head. What did you do that for?”
She sat down against the wall and began to laugh.
“My pussy’s getting wet. Did you know that?”
“You got something to say.”
“Yes,” she said. “I do.”
“Say it before I do something else.”
“What if I want you to do something else?”
“Then you’ll get your wish.”
“You mean you’ll make me happy.”
“If it’s pain you want.”
“Mmm,” she smiled, her eyes closed. “Maybe a little.”
Kelly lit two cigarettes handed one to Dave. His side of the bed was empty. She searched the bedroom. He was already up, across the room, his pants on, pulling on shoes.
“Hey, you can stay for a smoke at least?”
He didn’t look at her.
“We didn’t get a chance to talk.”
“Most guys at least, you know, make an effort, then later you find out they’re assholes. You’re a prick right from the start.”
Sharp buttoned his shirt and walked over to the bed.
“Who killed Robert?”
“I really don’t know.”
“What have you heard?”
“I haven’t heard anything.”
The phone rang. Kelly glanced at Sharp.
Kelly took another drag of her cigarette then extinguished both. Let them wait. Another ring, she picked it up and fit the phone on the hollow between her ear and falling gold hair.
“Hello…yeah, he came by again. No. I told him I didn’t know anything. It was this afternoon maybe two hours ago.”
There was silence. Sharp heard mumbling on the other end. Kelly listened, nodding.
“No. I don’t know. I told him everything I know. The story that’s out. He won’t come here again.”
She hung up the phone and lit another cigarette. After a few drags she sat up against the head-board, not bothering to cover herself and turned on a lamp. She wanted to see his face.
“That was Blake.”
“Said the Grady’s are gone.”
Sharp buttoned his shirt cuffs.
“Now I know why you were so aggressive.”
Sharp buttoned his other cuff.
“Blake said Jimmy came into the R.C. screaming bloody murder. Somebody walked into the offices of River West distributors and killed everyone. Killed Peyton Grady. Killed about ten other guys, then set the building on fire. We probably would have heard about it if we had been watching the news. Maybe I would’ve heard the sirens if I didn’t live so far north. The streets are probably crawling with cops, fire trucks, ambulances. That fire caught on the surrounding buildings. Blake said some of Grady’s people have already attacked some of his businesses.”
Sharp looked up. “Peyton Grady’s dead. So are the Melville brothers. There’s nobody left to run the Grady’s. Some of the small guys will try to take over but they won’t get anything substantiated before Blake’s people wipe them out.”
“It’s still a war. It still will be expensive. We have interests from here to Atlanta. The Grady’s have friends.”
“Now they’ll be Blake’s friends.”
Kelly ashed her cigarette. “What sent you to the Grady’s?”
“Blake said they killed Robert.”
“Did you believe him?”
“I don’t believe anything Blake says.”
“But you thought it was a good idea to start a war.”
“I didn’t start a war. I ended it. I convinced Peyton Grady that it was in his best interests to tell me anything he knew about Robert dying. Said the word on the street was Blake did it.”
“You believe Grady?”
“I don’t believe anything Grady said.”
“Was it really necessary, I mean, all the destruction.”
“I wanted to talk to Peyton.”
“You could have called him.”
“I didn’t have his number.”
“Blake had it.”
“I wanted to look in his eyes.”
“And did you?”
“What did you see?”
“Did he kill Robert?”
“I think Blake took over Abner’s family after my brother died and started fucking his widow. The Blake I knew would never have the balls to take out Robert. If that changed, if he grew some balls and had it done or did it himself, then he never expected I’d return.”
“He wouldn’t have killed Robert if you were around.”
Sharp looked at her. What she’d said was obvious.
“So what do you want to do? Kill Blake? Beat the shit out of him? Scare him. Make him scream. No one makes any money that way.”
Sharp put his jacket on, ran his hands over his hair, still wet from the shower.
Kelly said, “Do you want to run the city?”
Sharp walked over to the window, moved the drapes. The street was still, parked cars, lawns, trees, more houses all the same; still early. This was not the city he was from.
“If you take Blake out of the picture, will you run the business?”
Sharp didn’t say anything.
“Let me run it. When Robert died I jumped onto Blake’s bandwagon, girls gotta eat, you know. Now you’re back and Blake’s scared. But he won’t act that way, he’ll come after you. I told him you’d left but he might send guys here now. He knows you talked to the Grady’s. He knows you don’t like the answers you’re getting. He knows he’s next on your list. And he knows the only thing left between him being the head of the city is you.”
“You can have it,” said Sharp. “I’m leaving.”
“Leaving? Where are you going?”
“I’m going to talk to Blake.”
“Are you going to kill him?”
“There will be room at the top. I will be gone. You’re welcome to it. I don’t give a shit.”
Sharp left. Kelly listened to his footsteps sweep the carpet, clap the stairs, the door open and close. After a moment a car started, tires on pavement. She sat back and felt her neck, her chest, cupped one breast and touched her stomach, her leg, watching the journey of her hand as the tension eased.
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