For Ken Bruen who made me do it.
With thanks to Declan Denny for his invaluable attention to my details.
The great Stephen King once wrote
There isn’t much call for deep thinking in my current job in Cloisters, New Jersey. We don’t do a lot of chatting about philosophical issues or natural phenomena in the casino. I tried to talk about National Geographic one night, and Jason gave me a look like I was insulting him, so I moved on to a safer subject: which of the girls have implants. This is one of our regular topics, so it’s familiar territory. He calmed down after a couple of swallows from his protein shake. Me talking about issues scared Jase more than a drunk with a pistol. Jason is the best doorman I have ever worked with, a rare combination of big and fast and with a lot more smarts than he lets on. Sometimes he’ll forget himself and reference a Fellini movie, then try to cover his tracks by giving the next guy through the door a hard time. Guy’s got secrets; we all do. He doesn’t feel like burdening me and I am absolutely fine with that attitude. We both pretend we’re dumb and we both suspect we aren’t as dumb as we pretend. It’s exhausting.
Most nights we have time for chit-chat out front. Everything’s quiet until ten thirty or so. Generally just a few small-time players, under-the-radar guys. The party crowd doesn’t show up until the regular bars close. The bossman, Victor, who I will describe in detail later because this guy deserves a movie of his own he is such a dick and to talk about him now would ruin the flow; anyways Vic still wants a couple of bodies out front. Sometimes it takes two to shut down a fight if there are accusations flying around on the back table. It can get pretty heated in there, especially with the little guys. I blame Joe Pesci.
So I generally do the night shift, not that there’s a day shift per se. Twice or three times a month I pull doubles. I don’t really mind. How am I going to pass the time at home? Do push-ups and listen to Mrs Delano bitch?
Tonight I get in at eight on the dot. It’s midweek so I’m looking forward to a quiet evening chewing power bars with Jason and talking surgery. Just simple distraction, which is the closest to happiness I’m expecting to get in this lifetime.
Jason and I are watching this Russian throw around kettlebells on YouTube when I get a call from Marco on my headset. I have to ask the little barman to repeat himself a couple of times before I get the message and hustle back to the casino floor. Apparently my favourite girl, Connie, leaned in to slide cocktails on to a table, and this guy goes and licks her ass. Moron. I mean, it’s on the wall on a brass plaque. Not ass-licking specifically.
When I arrive, Marco is trying to hold this guy away from Connie, which is probably more for the guy’s safety than he realises. I once saw Connie deck a college footballer with her serving tray. Guy’s face was in the metal, like a cartoon.
‘Okay, folks,’ I say, doing my booming doorman voice. ‘Let’s get this handled professionally.’
This announcement is met with a couple of boos from the regulars, who were praying for a little drama. I grip Marco’s head like a basketball and steer him behind the bar, then loom over the offender.
The licker has his hands on his hips like he’s Peter Pan, and Connie’s fingers have left red stripes on his cheek.
‘Why don’t we take this into the back room,’ I say, giving him five seconds of eye contact. ‘Before things get out of hand.’
‘This bitch hit me,’ he says, pointing in case there’s some doubt about which bitch he’s talking about.
His finger is coated with the remains of a basket of buffalo wings, and sauce on fingers is something that has always irritated me more than it reasonably should.
‘We got a time-out room just back here,’ I say, not looking at the brown gunk under his nails. What is wrong with people? You eat, you keep your mouth closed, you wipe your fingers. How hard is that? ‘Why don’t we discuss your issues back there?’
Connie is quiet, trying to hold her anger in, chewing on some nicotine gum like it’s one of the guy’s balls. Connie has a temper, but she won’t slap without good reason. She’s got two kids in a creche over on Cypress, so she needs the paycheque.
‘Okay, Dan,’ she says. ‘But can we move it along? I got people dying to tip me. This is an open-and-shut case.’
The pointer laughs, like it’s funny she should use that terminology.
I shepherd them into the time-out room, which is barely more than a broom closet; in fact there are a couple of mops growing like dreadlocked palms out of a cardboard box island in the corner.
‘You okay?’ I ask Connie, glad to see she’s not smoking. Six months and counting.
She nods, sitting on a ratty sofa. ‘Dude licked my ass. Licked it. You got any wipes, Daniel?’
I hand her a slim pack. You always carry a pack of antiseptic wipes working a bottom-rung New Jersey casino like Slotz. There’s all sorts of stuff you can catch just hanging around.
I look away while Connie is wiping the barbecue sauce off her behind. You can’t help noticing cleavage in this place, but I figure you can avoid the lower regions. I try to keep my eyes above the waist; leaves everybody with something. So while she’s cleaning up, I turn to the guy. The licker.
‘What were you thinking, sir? There’s no touching. Can’t you read?’
The guy is going to rub me the wrong way. I can tell just by his hair, a red frizz sitting on his head like a nest fell off a roof.
‘I saw the plaque,
‘And what did you do? You touched.’
‘No,’ says the guy, switching his pointing finger over to me, so close I can smell the sauce, which is putting me off barbecue for a month at least. Except ribs. ‘I didn’t
He stops talking then, like I need a second for this brilliant argument to sink in.
‘You think I never heard that stupid shit before? You seriously think you’re the first guy to try that on?’
‘I think I’m the first
‘You’re an attorney?’
More pointing. I’m tempted to snap this arsehole’s finger right off. ‘You’re goddamn right I’m an attorney. You try anything with me and I’ll shut this shithole down. You’ll be working for me.’
‘I’ll be working for you, sir?’