Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Biloxi, 1979

The woman’s screaming, carrying on something fierce. Her boy ain’t saying nothing, just sitting there with his mouth open. His eyes wide. Throws his hands over his face. Ducks under the table. But the woman — the fat man’s wife — she’s having a conniption.

She got the most of it. The fat man’s blood. Other stuff. My ears still ring from the gunshot when she starts up. I may never hear again. All that mess dripping off her face and into her mouth. Her shrill, shrieking mouth.

I stretch out my arm toward her and the ruckus raises another octave. She’s looking at the gun. She can’t believe it. I drop it. It crash lands at the table next to what used to be her husband’s head, knocking over their appetizer plate. I want to wipe her eyes, clear the muck from her face. What’s the point? I turn on my heels. Make for the door.

Tables scraping across the tile floor. The entire room one complete, collective gasp. Dropping forks and spoons and plates as people throw hands over their loved ones, hope this is the end of it. The short order cook who served me coffee doesn’t do nothing. Watches me. Lets his hash browns burn.

Don’t nobody say nothing as I hit the door and am outside where suddenly the general din of the Biloxi streets wrap me in respective silence, worlds away from the ruckus left inside that little diner off the Strip. She’s still screaming, but it’s worlds away now. Yesterday. Long gone, like me.

I drive a Buick. It’s parked in a car lot next door. I’m there in no time, behind the wheel, starting the car. Putting my hand inside my jacket where my fingertips touch the envelope I never opened, never bothered to count. Thickest envelope I’ve yet to see, which literally is only the half of it.

“You get the rest when it’s done,” Butchie told me back in Nashville. “What, you ain’t going to count it?”

“What would I do if it was short?” I asked Butchie. “Cry?”

All of them laughing at me because I’m a funny guy. Quick with a joke. Buying people drinks. I jam the car into Drive and am out on the street. Out on the freeway. Heading back up the Trace toward home.

My days of buying other people drinks is probably over.