This one ran a little long, so I split it in two. The second half goes up tomorrow at 7.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Six men played poker in a conference room at the Marriott Suites; a seventh watched the rain outside the window with a rifle slung across his back. Other firearms lay within easy reach of the poker players. All wore jackets against the chill that had worked its way inside several days ago.
“Jared. Hand me a beer,” the man at the window said, not looking back.
“You sure?” Jared looked up from his hand. He had a pair of sixes; he planned to go up big if he drew another six.
“If I wasn’t sure, I would’na asked, numbnuts.” He continued to watch the rain. “You gonna ask more stupid questions or what?”
Jared opened the cooler next to him and fished a Miller Lite out of the tepid water. “Geez Frank, you don’t have to get so pissy about it. We’re runnin’ low here. You were the one talkin’ about cuttin’ back until we went and got some more.”
“Whatever.” Frank looked back at the poker table; Jared tossed him the beer, letting it flip end over end in the air. “You asshole. I’m gonna open this over your head.”
Jared ignored him and addressed the table: “Y’all want one while I got my stinky feet in there?”
A chorus of assent; Jared sent cans around the table. “One left. I guess Joseph gets it when he comes back.”
“If he comes back,” Ray-Ban said. He’d perched the mirrored sunglasses that gave him his nickname on top of his head (where they wouldn’t reflect his hand to the others). “Retard. Shouldn’t have gone off ‘to reconnoiter’on his own.”
“Not like we did so well as a group,” one of the Bobs said over the pops and hisses of beer cans opening around the room. “J.D. shot the faggot that came out to talk, then that fat nigger shot J.D. and almost got me, that skinny queer with the ponytail took out Thurman, Jesse, and Sid: pop, pop, pop, one right after the other. Then W.L. and Charlie jump in the trucks. Six of us, gone in thirty seconds. What the fuck are we doing here, anyway? We oughtta either be goin’ home or goin’ up big.” He pushed most of his worthless cash, looted from nearby establishments, into the middle of the table. “Just like that. Go big or go home. I don’t care which, anymore.”
“What, and tell everyone the faggots chased us off?” Frank spat.
“Who says anyone’s gotta know? We took some losses, but we wiped out a big ol’ nest of gang-bangers,” Jared said. “We get our story straight right here in this room, and nobody will know different.” He looked at the ante. “Screw this. I fold. I’m ready to go home.” He stared at the others around the table.
“Me too,” said Ray-Ban, pushing his cards into the middle of the table. The other Bob did likewise.
“Chickenshit,” Frank opined, pointing his beer can at Jared and pulling the tab. It snapped, but made no other noise. “Ah, shit. It’s flat.”
“Nope,” Jared said. “I popped it before I tossed it!”
The others laughed. “You’re smarter than you look,” Frank said, tipping his can back. “Sometimes, anyway.”
“Yeah. So maybe this is the smart thing to do. Pack it up. This is just a frickin’ waste of time. And friends. I bet we don’t see Joseph again either. That makes seven. Half of us, just… gone.”
Ray-Ban pulled his glasses down. “That’s somethin’ to think about. If we couldn’t get the job done with fourteen, what makes you think we can do it with seven? Huh, Frank?”
“Fuck you,” Frank said, staring back out the window. After a long pause, “If the rest of y’all wanna go home, fine. I guess I’ll make sure you don’t get lost on the way. We can pack it up tomorrow.”
Sunday, September 25
The seven of them trudged west through intermittent rain to US41 then north, sticking to sidewalks where they could, ducking under awnings or storefronts when the rain got heavy, watching the pickups pass them by. All of them at one point or another thought how nice it would be to hitch a ride — which always seemed to happen where one of the trucks had stopped — but nobody wanted to take W.L. and Charlie’s way out.
The rain let up as they sighted the I-75 overpass. As they drew closer, Frank snarled, “Cover!” and ducked behind a parked pickup; the others scrambled to follow. Everyone tried to ignore the whispering: No more fear. No more fighting. No more hiding. Climb in. Why walk?
“What is it?” Ray-Ban hissed.
“Someone on the overpass,” Frank said. He detached the scope from his deer rifle and peered through it. “Doesn’t look armed,” he said. “Tough shot from this distance, and if he hasn’t seen us, he would before I could get closer.”
“Hey,” one of the Bobs said. “If there’s only one of him, and he ain’t armed, what are we all worried about? He might could help us, and if not, we can always shoot him.”
“If he ain’t armed, how could he help us?” Jared snapped. “But what the hell. He might have something up his sleeve, or he might just jump off the damn bridge. Either way, we can take him if he gives us any guff. As long as we don’t assume anything.”
“Works for me,” Frank said, surprising Jared. “Worst thing that happens, we all get killed. Still ain’t as bad as some things I can think of.” He glared at the pickup; its whispering grew quiet for a moment.