Dogs On the Pine
By Gary L. Robbe
It was when I was taking a forever lasting piss that one of Buzz’s boys tried to take
me out with three well placed shots into the bathroom stall door. Stupid shit assumed I was
standing, although if I wouldn’t have ducked seeing his black white oxfords beneath the door
facing my way a bullet likely would’ve creased my scalp. I grunted when I slipped off the
toilet and the boy must’ve thought he hit me good. Didn’t bother to peek under the door to
check. Those black whites skedaddled out of there fast. I jumped up and my feet went out
from under me from the piddles of piss on the floor. I banged my head on the toilet seat.
By the time I unlatched the stall door and waddled to the restroom exit, holding my
pants like a soggy wet butterfly net, the motherfucker was gone. He used a silencer so no one
heard the shots. Didn’t matter, all the old fuckers in the rec room couldn’t hear shit if it was
pumped in their ears with a seismic cannon.
I was pissed.
“What the fuck happened to you?” Carl asked as I hustled past the Johnson twins
and the two ditzy women they were trying to score, a spicy game of bridge their strategy.
My pants were wet. My eyes popped out of my head like some deranged insect.
There were a dozen people scattered about the brightly lit room, talking, reading, staring at
the ceiling. I looked at everyone’s feet. I didn’t try to be discreet.
Carl hung next to me like a limp shadow trying to keep up when the sun has already
gone down. “C’mon Benny. What are you looking for?”
I was on my hands and knees looking at what was between Lola’s legs, not much
I tell you, been there before, looking at the shoes worn by the Johnson twins. I hit the card table
straightening up, cards, cups of soda, a bowl of some kind of rabbit snack flying about. I must’ve
looked like a red faced monster the way they all stared at me dumbstruck and shaking. No, they
weren’t shaking.I was.
“Are you all right, Ben?” Rudy Johnson drooled out in his best southern accent.
“Did anyone see who was just in the men’s room? I asked. I spoke extra loud so everyone
could hear even with their hearing aids turned down low.
“Well,” said Lola, “you were I think.”
“No. Besides me. Did anyone see the motherfucker who came outta there right before I
did?” I looked around. Half the crowd in the room wasn’t paying attention. The other half
looked scared shitless. The lady next to Lola dipped her head into cards she was holding.
“Don’t like that language,” said Rudy. He was a giant gray motherfucker with a full
head of hair tied back in a ponytail. He wore farmer’s overalls that made his muscular bulk all
the more intimidating. He could toss me about like a Frisbee if he wanted to. I didn’t want him
to, but I stared him back down into his seat. Truthfully, he never rose
from his seat. He knew who I was Benny, the main man.
At least in Eustis Cottage and the South Annex.
Carl spoke up. “Some skinny guy I never saw before.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Carl was supposed to watch my back, at least give the
appearance of doing that while I visited the West Annex. I should have brought Winston.
Winston was a runt, but at least had an attention span when he was in new surroundings. I
figured Carl, a man often mistaken for an upright freezer, would make someone think twice
about trying to hurt me. Problem is, Carl’s a little touched in the head, kinda like Lenny
in Of Mice and Men, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Shit. This plan to meet Buzz on
neutral turf and at least come to some temporary understanding was all gone to shit now.
Buzz didn’t show. I waited an hour and just when I had to piss, bam, bam, bam, and no one,
including my friend Carl, does anything about it.
Rudy chimed in. “Yeah. Skinny guy. I remember him now, running out of here like blazes.
Dressed real sharp too, white suit, black white shoes. You don’t see suits like that anymore.”
Rudy was staring off into 1970’s dreamland.
Carl put his meaty hand on my shoulder. “You don’t look so good Benny.” He glanced at
my crotch the way guys do when they want to tell you your zipper is down. He whispered,
“ Looks like you had an accident.” Only, Carl’s whisper traveled to every state in the Midwest.
Everyone in the room was staring at my crotch and the wet spot that had spread like a raging
“That well dressed man just tried to open up some new drainage holes in places the sun
don’t shine,” I said, twisting in a circle so everyone in the room knew I was talking specifically
to him or her. Mostly to Carl, standing there with a sheepish
grin, “And I guess
you’ve never messed your pants when dodging bullets?”
Later that night Carla visited me in my room, well, the room I shared with Lonesome
Jack, and brought me a lukewarm light beer she smuggled in when she came on her shift. She
massaged my back while I slurped the suds down, easing the tension by degrees. “You want
more baby?” she asked, sending her hand a little farther south and west. “I got something blue
gonna send that missile to outer space.” Carla’s face suddenly expanded like a Macy’s Day
balloon, her smile crashing across the room and everything in my field of vision. Those fingers
of hers were tentacles, red ones with nasty pulsating even redder suckers and there were many
more than eight of those things probing around and latching onto my body. I tried to scream but
damned if my mouth and throat weren’t clogged up with salt water toffee.
“Benny!” I shook awake with the light flooding into the room, Arlene and some sturdy guy
named Reggie were all over me, their white outfits glaring me in to consciousness. “Now,
you having that dream again?” Arlene said, standing ramrod straight, nodding for Reggie to get
me a glass of water from the nightstand that was between my bed and Lonesome Jack.
Lonesome, I saw, was wide awake, his eyes frozen to the ceiling and whatever secret video
he watched up there. In two years sharing this room with him I never saw him sleep, and never
really saw him awake either.
I mumbled some weird assed sixties high shit, and Arlene nodded away like she
understood completely, some care and concern in her eyes before it registered I disrupted their
middle of the night fuck routine. Jesus. Dreaming about Carla again, with sexual overtones and
all kinds of Freudian suggestions.
Carla was one
the physical therapists who was not only homely, but had an attitude
attached that spelled pain whenever she worked with you. I hated her fucking guts and did
everything in my limited power to avoid her. Somehow she managed to find me at night in my
“This is the fourth night in a row Mr. Stevens,” Arlene said, “and this nightmare you refuse
to talk about is following you around like a rabid puppy. Now I know you don’t take the sleep
medicine like everyone else but I’m going to talk to Beverly first thing in the morning and get
that changed.” She sighed. Gave the evil eye. Conspiratorial glance to Rappin’ Reggie, thin
wires leading to his ears, his head bobbing up and down as if he was agreeing to Arlene but
really he was somewhere else. Same la-la land as my roommate. She started out the door, turned
and said, “ You ain’t so special, not to me anyway, that you can mess everyone’s sleep around
here and get away with it night after night. And I know where you been sneaking around to
when you think we ain’t watching, middle of the night shit, trying to get some from all these
pathetic ladies think you are something. You’re not.”
I didn’t give a shit. I was thinking about Buzz.
Buzz moved in to Restless Stones about a year ago. Came with his own set of goons,
two tall silent types that were cousins or something and trailed behind him like yellow shit from
a leaky diaper. They kept to themselves at first. Easy to do at a gigantic senior citizens complex
like Restless Stones, a place named after a drifter mountain man named Restless Stones who
ultimately set up a trading post on the Restless River. Which begat the town of Restless. Which
begat the sprawling ten building assisted living and nursing home Restless River Senior Habitat.
Anyway. Buzz was low key for several months. Then word started spreading to all the other
buildings that some asshole was pushing his weight around, intimidating the little ladies into
performing unnatural sex acts for chump change, coercing most of the
old gents there into
rigged gambling operations, shoplifting sprees when on recreation outings.
He was making moves on my turf.
I have a nephew who grows pot in eastern Kentucky. He supplies me, I supply my friends
and neighbors. For a modest profit people can escape back to their glory days, take the edge off
some of their pain, make each unbearably dull day a little more interesting. Everybody is happy.
Everybody except Buzz, who apparently wants it all. He can’t wait. Who can wait in a place like
this? I thought we could meet and come up with a mutual understanding. Guess not.
Margaret leaned in close She has some hearing issues but is sharp as a titanium razor. Her
hair various shades of gray, pink, teal, auburn, long and frizzed out like she took a nap at
Woodstock forty years ago and just now woke up. She is mobile too, making her a pleasant
sexual partner and traveling companion. We were in one of the day rooms at Eustis Cottage,
trying to figure out a plan for action. Margaret, an ardent pacifist, suggested we toss Molotov
cocktails into Shipley Cottage on Tuesday, when they serve round steak and mashed
potatoes, catch every troublemaker at one time when they were eating. Fry the sons of
bitches good, she said, a little too loudly.
Winston said, no,no,no, let’s do this the proper way, get staff involved, maybe bring in the
police. After all, they were using real bullets, right?
“Are you fucking crazy?” Ditts said. “Everyone knows Buzz has the staff working with
him. Hell, Jackson is some fuckin’ relation to him, so from the top down the guy is well
protected from anything legal.” Jackson was the head administrator.
Doesn’t mean the guy is
crooked, but, then again…
I looked at Margaret. “We can’t torch the place. I don’t want innocent folks
getting hurt. And I don’t want to spend the rest of my days behind concrete walls and barbed
wire.” Arnie drummed his fingers on the table. He looked eager to talk, but the way he
swiveled and squirmed in his wheelchair you’d think the room was bugged with assassins waiting
to burst in any minute. “Arnie?” I asked.
He glanced side to side. “Maybe we can scam the pricks,” he whispered.
“What?’ Margaret bellowed out.
“Arnie, relax. We’re on our turf here. They can’t get to us right now.”
“They got to you, in West Annex. That should’ve been a safe place. Who knows who they
could’ve bought here.” Sweat was rolling in the deep creases on his face like waterfalls off
a rocky peak. He sighed like it was too much, this coming here to talk and figure things out.
Ditts leaned back. “What kinda scam?” he asked. I knew what he was thinking. We had
just seen The Sting with Paul Neuman and Robert Redford on movie night.
“We don’t have the resources, or the talent to pull off an off track betting scam, or take his
money in a card game. It’s not like they haven’t seen any of us before.”
“I think we respond back the way they did you,” Carl proposed.
Margaret laughed. “Guns are for pussies,” she said. “Nuke their asses.”
“I think we can still meet about this,” I said. I looked at the withered band of ex-cons and
societal misfits around me. Ditts had put in time in several federal pens for armed robbery. Arnie
spent some time in an upstate country club prison for embezzlement a hundred years ago. He
always reminisced about how much better it was compared with this place. Carl once played
for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1965, broke his leg in the second
and went on to break legs
for Moss Lambini in Brooklyn. He has ten great grandchildren but calls each of them Joey.
Winston was an ex mercenary who lost an arm in some clandestine
activity in east Africa.
Maybe he was once a sloppy machinist from
Milwaukee. His story changed from time to time.
Margaret was a hooker long before she became a grandmother and real estate mogul. She was an
elementary teacher, a yoga instructor, and legendary groupie in the sixties. I was a shoe salesman
for forty years at a small department store in Akron, Ohio. Seems like everyone slipped a peg or
two when they got here, except me.
“Buzz just wants you dead Ben. He doesn’t want to share.” Margaret was right of course,
but I needed to buy some time. I was younger than Buzz and he didn’t look too good last time I
saw him. I figured I could outlast the motherfucker. Jasmine wheeled in Colonel Sanders then
went out in the hallway to bring in Greta Garbo. The room was filling up and since we were
becoming paranoid we clammed up and pretended to play cards and watch Ellen on the
miniature mounted TV. Arnie wheeled himself out to get in line for the 5:30 dinner.
“It’s 2:00,” I said as he hurried out the room.
“Don’t want to be late,” he said. Waiting in line for dinner was the high point of Arnie’s
social life. Margaret abruptly left, then Winston and Ditts ducked out too. When Jasmine poked
her head in the doorway I waved her over.
I asked Jasmine to deliver a message for me. Jasmine was a colored gal who worked
several jobs besides being an aide here, and she often did favors for me for a price. Tell Buzz
to meet me this afternoon, 4:00 at the South Annex chapel. I figured a chapel was a safe
place even a screwball Italian catholic might respect. Come alone, I suggested. I slipped Jasmine
five bucks and a shoe horn. I had boxes of shoe horns in my room. She handed the shoe horn
back “I already have enough of these,” she said. I stuck it in my
pocket and waited.
An hour later I got my reply. A note that said, simply, “Yes.”
“I’ll go with you,” Carl said.
“I’ll go alone. Besides, I might as well take Lonesome all the help you provide.”
He shrugged. “Nice knowing you Ben,” he said.
Margaret met me when I passed the cafeteria, slid to my side and walked at my fast
shuffling pace. She was in great shape.
“Sorry I scooted out early,” she said, “I had some things I had to do.”
“You know what my plans are?” She nodded. We were already outside, the breath of
sun and cool Autumn clouds at our faces, leaves skittering and flopping about like dried fish at
our feet. I was moving fast trying to leave her behind, leave her out of this.
She didn’t cooperate. “Why are you wearing the same wrinkled shirt from yesterday?”
she asked. “Didn’t you bother to shower?”
“I’m in a hurry.”
“It’s four o’clock. There a line forming at the chapel?”
I stopped and faced her. The sun was splitting trees behind her face putting on a halo.
For all the age spots and delicate wrinkles she was beautiful when the sun crept over her multi
colored hair. A petite dynamo who was refusing to take a hint. “Look. I’m trying to meet with a
fucking madman. I think I can reason with him. After all, when all is said and done, we’re
just businessmen trying to eke out a little security in an unreasonable and hostile world. I’ll leave
him alone. He can leave me alone.”
She stared back. In the distance I thought I saw Arnie in his wheelchair outside our
building. They were genuinely worried about me.
that Buzz charges a helluva lot more for his weed than you do,” she
I gave that a few seconds. “It’s too dangerous for you to come with me.”
“I’ll keep my distance. I want to make sure the son of a bitch isn’t pulling anything
like the other day.”
“I can take care of myself.”
“Spoken like a true car salesman.”
“Whatever.” We resumed our pace to the chapel.
The chapel was essentially a makeshift hut added on to the side of one of the older
buildings in this sprawling complex. It looked like a Las Vegas wedding chapel. You
expected a picture of Elvis over the altar when you entered, Wayne Newton songs piped in
and full sized wax tigers greeting you just inside the door. Instead there was a simple cross and
a handful of pews.
Margaret waited outside the entrance, sat on a bench, and fussed with her frizzy hair.
Buzz wasn’t likely to pay attention to her and I figured he was bringing his goons along anyway.
She could be an early warning system if need be, although when I looked back before entering
the chapel she was engrossed in an animated conversation with a squirrel. Suddenly I felt more
alone than ever.
Pinpricks of light filtered through remnants of stained glass mixed with makeshift plastic
and glass squares, duct taped in place by a maintenance crew who had to have been on acid.The
chapel was dark enough to invite Elvis back from the dead. My footsteps echoed as I walked
down the aisle. It sounded like I was in Carnegie Hall. It took a while for my eyes to focus after
coming in from the sunlight. I wasn’t alone.
A shadow with a glowing ember floating before it moved in the first pew. It wasn’t until
I reached the first pews that the shadow turned in my direction, turned into a human resembling
Buzz, smoking a cigarette. He coughed.
“Should you be smoking in here?” I asked.
He coughed again. Part of a laugh mixed with it. “I’m Catholic,” he said.
“Oh.” He scooted down the pew. Patted the spot next to him. I obliged and sat down.
“You want to talk?” he asked, his voice traveling across sandpaper to reach me. He stared
straight ahead toward the alter and cross hanging behind it. I felt like I was in a movie. I stared
at the cross too.
“I want to call off this war,” I said, my voice shaking. I made a mental note to toughen up
my act if I got the chance to say something else.
He laughed and flicked his cigarette against the alter.
“War?” he said after he composed himself. “This ain’t no war. I just want your ass dead.”
He looked at me now. The man’s face was cratered and wrinkled like the badlands. His look told
me I was wasting his time, already, and he started to get up. “Fuck,” he said, “what am I doing
here talking to you? You’re a dead man.”
“Wait. Surely we can work things out. I mean, what is it that you want?” He was bigger
than me, but the element of surprise could be in my favor. No. He would pound my brains into
the alter, serve bits of me as communion wafers to anyone strolling in looking for comfort. I was
fucked. “I have no quarrel with you.” Said with my best Gary Cooper voice. Maybe it came out
like Walter Brennen.
He roared with laughter again. “Maybe I will keep you around, just for laughs. Like
a court jester.” He was standing but not moving, looking down
me still sitting. “Life is way
too short. Revenge though…” He ran his palsied hand through his thin black hair. He seemed
There was someone else in the chapel, moving rapidly down the aisle toward me.
Where the fuck did he come from? I stood and stepped out from the pew, hesitating too long in
deciding which direction to move. The man pulled something from his coat in a very fluid and
practiced motion and I saw a spark before my feet went out from under me, the chapel ceiling
shaking and tossing about like a movie projector knocked over on its side, still running. A pfft.
Then: Blam. Blam. Stunned and on my back I realized I was alive. My chest stinging and
likely on fire. The shoehorn a twisted metal pretzel. I rolled to my side and looked up to see the
man with the sparking fingers standing over me with the silliest assed grin on his face, tottering,
until I realized the silly assed grin was all there was to his face. The man toppled over.
I jumped up. Well, really hoisted myself over his body and the wooden pew, turned to
see Buzz behind the alter, his hand anyway, holding what looked to be a delicate silver handgun.
“Duck!” I heard a familiar female voice scream. I dropped behind the pew. Gunshots rang
out. It sounded like an army was blasting away in here. Glass shattered. Splinters flew. The
great hanging cross shuddered. I heard voices. Buzz yelling something. Margaret whooping it up.
At least four or five voices I didn’t recognize with all the ringing in my ears.
“Give me covering fire!” I recognized Carl, heard a thumping coming down the aisle in
I heard someone say, “What?” Then a series of fresh shots. Carl slid next to me with
blood spewing from his legs. He had a dazed and confused look on his face. He said, “What the
fuck?” and closed his eyes like he was going to sleep. I heard gunshots and cursing as I slid
in blood over to Carl, held his head in my hands, his head already cold to the touch.
“Don’t,” I said.
Carl winced, then threw up on my pants. I screamed for help. Problem was, there was
enough screaming going on to drown out any new addition to the chorus. I rested Carl’s head
against a well worn hymnal and staunched the blood flow from two of his leg wounds with
sparkle finger’s shirt. Then peeked around the corner into the open aisle. Shadows were moving
and ducking in the front of the chapel, a side door open letting in more light and thugs. There
was a steady series of pops coming from all directions, but they weren’t focusing on me, not yet.
The front door of the chapel was open too, and I saw Ditts blur past the opening. Margaret
was somewhere back there, hopefully alive and well and hiding behind the pews.
“Christ, woman!” Buzz yelled from behind the altar. “This don’t even involve you!”
“Hell it don’t,” Margaret said in a fine Clint Eastwood drawl.
It was my turn now. “Let her go Buzz. This is between you and me. Only.”
Three balloon pops then. “I’m not leaving until that son of a bitch is on his way to hell
with his pecker shot off.” Margaret was melodramatic when she was worked up. It was
quiet for a few minutes, everyone in a standoff. Then, Margaret asked how Carl was.
“He’s shot up,” I said. Carl was ghostly white and shivering. Enough of this shit.
I stood up. Buzz came out from behind the altar. Two of his men stood up also and walked over
to him, one holding a handkerchief. I noticed Buzz bleeding from the forehead. He took the
handkerchief and dabbed at the wound gingerly. Their guns pointed at me. I didn’t realize right
away that Margaret was already at my side holding a pistol leveled toward Buzz. I swallowed
hard seeing how her hand shook, a bullet would be lucky to find any solid surface once she
released it. Ditts was behind me too, holding a shovel. We were dead meat.
Buzz said, “You with the shovel? Go get some help for your friend there before he bleeds
to death.” Ditts nodded, cast the shovel aside and bolted out of there. Buzz dropped his bloody
handkerchief on the floor. “This is kind of a truce,” he said. One of his men looked at his watch
with a worried expression. His pistol went into his pocket and almost dragged his pants down.
He waved to the other man standing next to Buzz, a potbellied old fart bursting out of his tee
shirt, and the two of them patted Buzz on the back and left out the side door. Buzz looked like
he had just witnessed an airplane crash.
Margaret said, “ Yep. Five o’clock. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes and gravy.” She
turned to me. “You think you can handle things from here?”
“I don’t have a weapon,” I said, staring hard at Buzz who was still holding his at his
side. Buzz glanced to Margaret, then back to me, back to Margaret.
“Shit,” she said. She twirled the pistol in her hand, dropped it to her side. “Now
what?” she asked.
“Stay with that poor fellow,” Buzz said motioning to Carl, who was alternately
gurgling and singing a melted LP version of the theme song to Gilligan’s Island. To me he said,
“Let’s go outside.” He was breathing heavy. His forehead still bleeding from the bullet
that grazed it. Sirens in the background. He motioned for me to quit dawdling, come on.
Margaret shrugged. I followed him out the door into the fading sunlight.
We were already by Geier Cottage West when we saw the paramedics rushing in to the
cottage. Buzz exhaled like he was smoking a cigarette smooth and slow.
“You already have the prostitution and the gambling action. The pharmaceuticals are
yours too, no question about that,” I said. He looked me in the eye like he didn’t know what the
fuck I was talking about. I elaborated. “The Viagra shit is all
yours.” I further elaborated. “I
don’t need it.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” he said. The leaves crunching under our
feet sounded like bubblewrap being popped. My ears, I realized, were a mess.
“You want in on my action,” I said. He still looked confused. “The marijuana.”
He squinted. That’s all. Like he couldn’t comprehend what just came out of my
mouth. We were under an old oak that some of the guests here referred to as the hanging tree, the
way the big old limbs splayed out. Finally, clearing his throat, he said, “ This ain’t about
business you turd fuck.” He leaned against the tree. Against a strand of poison ivy. I wasn’t
going to say anything. “This is personal.”
“What?” My empty eyes must have said more, because he continued.
“You are filthy scum. You shagged my wife twenty years ago.”
My memory only goes so far. Shagged his wife? Don’t think so. “No. You’re
“Really?” He pulled a yellow and frayed letter from his pocket. Waved it in my face
as if it were a Japanese fan. “I been carrying this letter on me twenty years you asshole.” He
unfolded it. Started to read. To himself.
“You’ll have to read louder,” I said.
“She threw herself into a school bus,” he said. “Unfortunately the bus was stopped at
“So, she wasn’t hurt.”
“No, she wasn’t hurt. They threw her into the looney bin. That’s when she must’ve
written this letter. She loved your sorry ass.”
“Look, I’ve never been to Cleveland.”
“How many Bennie Stevens’ are there that sell shoes in Cincinnati?’
“I might’ve been in Cleveland,” I said. “There was this convention in ’71…”
“Shut the fuck up.”
I searched my memory banks for a clue who this woman might’ve been. Total
blank. He was still squinting, which was not a good sign. And, I realized with horror, he still
had a pistol in his hand. The biggest silver gleaming thing I had ever seen in my life.
“So this is vengeance?”
“Gloria was never the same when she left the hospital,” he said. “I wanted to kill her
when I found out about you, but she was so ruined I couldn’t do it. She died five years ago.”
“I don’t even…”
“If you say you don’t remember her I’ll plug you right here and now.”
“Gloria.” I nodded.
“Imagine my surprise when I discovered you being here, in Restless Stones of all
fucking places. Retirement can be sweet.”
“You sent someone after me instead of doing it yourself?”
“You want a job done right, you do it yourself. I waited five years to find the son of a
bitch who ruined my…”
“Gloria,” I cut in after what seemed a lapse in his memory.
He stared in disbelief. Then continued. “I shoulda done it myself.”
“I’ll cut you in, fifty-fifty.” A smarmy smile crept across his face. I furtively shot
glances in all directions to see if anyone was coming to my rescue. I even prayed for a
physical therapist or angry aide. Nothing. “They’ll put
away forever if you kill me here.”
I added that he was already in deep shit for shooting Carl. I was sure there was something in the
by- laws about discharging firearms on the premises.
Buzz snapped the gun into my face, knocking me to the ground. I heard a click. Then
another. And another.
“Shit,” he said, squatting beside me on the grass.
“Out of bullets, eh?” I said. I kicked him in the chest. Not much strength to it with
my head banged up and all, but enough to send his legs in the air and get a good groan and
I stood and immediately toppled sideways, scraping my arm against the oak. I crashed
into an exposed root. Somewhere in the watery color blur of grass, sky and tweed Buzz fell
into me. His arms thrashed and splattered into me as if I were a lump of soft clay. I thrashed
back. There wasn’t much momentum to either of us and we rolled away from each other panting
with garbled curses mixed in.
After a while we both sat up. The thought went through my head that whoever could get
up first would win. As it stood, we were both glued to the ground at that moment. Sirens shrill
and annoying pierced the air, I saw black and white cars rolling around in the distance, a fire
truck and EMS vehicle, and more shapes running about than I could count. Some of those shapes
were coming our way.
Buzz gave me a dead clown look, a twisted smile that appeared more painted on than
muscled into his pasty white skin. His bulb nose was bright red just then. He said, “You’re
the luckiest fucker on the planet.” And he nodded. Was this over?
One of the shapes cautiously developed into a very young bruiser policeman whose
drawn divining rod weapon alternated from Buzz to me. He was fucking
going to shoot first and
ask questions later. The gun slid down and pointed to the ground.
“Bobby,” Buzz said as his nephew lifted him from the ground. He pointed to me. “Shoot
Bobby kept his cool, looked at me and saw I was unarmed. He raised his Smith and
Wesson fucking elephant gun and shifted it in my direction. The boy was seventeen, tops.
Probably played high school football and fucked every one of the cheerleaders. Traces of acne
trailed down his face like the remnants of an oily landslide, slowly eroding with steroid bursts of
sunshine and violence. The sun was indeed shining. He smiled. Holstered his Smith.
“C’mon, Uncle Buzz,” he said. He reached down and helped me up. I noticed his shiny
black shoes were buckling a little in the front.
“You should wear a half size smaller, son,” I said, brushing off my pants, glancing at
Buzz’s pistol in the grass behind the officer nephew.
He ignored my observation. “What the hell is going on around here? We get a call shots
are being fired, find a fucking war zone, a man dead with most his head vaporized, another
with his legs peppered with holes like he had been rushing a German machine gun nest, and
here you two are tumbling around…lucky I got here before the swat team or you’d both…you
listening Uncle Buzz?”
Uncle Buzz was purple. His eyes were the size and color of melons. He had his hands
on his throat in a stranglehold and just like that was on his back. Bobby frantically tried CPR
while I backed up and kicked Buzz’s pistol deeper into the weeds.
By now the place was swarming with armored police and plain clothes types. In the
distance lines of people were being evacuated from buildings.
much for dinner.
Helicopters and flies dogged the skies and drummed all of us into the
“Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” I asked Margaret. We were sitting on a
bench beneath the Hanging Tree. The bench was dedicated to the memory of Rolly Spinsora,
alias Sparkle Fingers. Police determined he went berserk for no apparent reason and turned his
anger towards God and whoever happened to wander into the chapel that day. After shooting the
place up with a variety of weapons he turned a gun on himself. Police estimated he shot himself
six times in the head until there was no head. Unbelievable, but everyone was satisfied.
I watched Carl in the distance, limping along with Carla, the sadistic physical
therapist. He was recovering just fine, most of his wounds caused by splinters, not bullets.
Margaret told me earlier that she heard Buzz was recovering in some rehab facility in Columbus.
He had had a major heart attack, which likely caused a fair amount of brain damage. He was
convinced everyone was having an affair with his long deceased wife. Margaret’s hand rested
on my knee. I waited for her to say something.
Margaret took a long time to answer. She was watching three large crows fighting
over the carcass of a squirrel in the parking lot about a hundred yards away. “I was a first grade
teacher in a tough neighborhood,” she said finally. We walked toward the parking lot.
“I thought you were a hooker,” I said.
“In your fucking dreams,” she said.