The Corner: Chapter Six

Chapter Six

In the week after Barnesville had its brush with TERROR the local media had a field day with it. Partly because nothing else particularly thrilling was going on in the world and partly because no one could figure out the point of it. Was it a political statement? Was it just a random act of vandalism? Was it a warning of things to come? Could the Good Chief look any more harried and irritated? It had taken a couple of days but all of the affected areas had been cleaned, and now that it had been scrubbed out of sight it was mostly out of mind for those who had jobs other than TV ratings or finding out who was responsible.

Or if you were Johnny Wicker.

Johnny thought it was the funniest fucking thing he had ever seen and he laughed and carried on about it so many times that the Good Chief brought him into the police station for questioning.

“Ah, he ain’t got shit an he knows it,” Johnny said that evening at Sandy’s. “Just like always, he wants to bring me in and be the big man, try an make it look like he’s doin’ shit, but he’s got his head so far up his own ass he’s deaf an blind.”

We were sitting at one of the back tables, and since Johnny had guided me back there when we got there I hoped he was looking to talk about my other criminal enterprise.

“Anyway,” he lowered his voice, hunched over his fifth or sixth beer, “I been talkin’ to some people about what you said. You figure anything else out yet ‘bout it?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a couple more details worked out, but we’re going to need supplies and shit like that. I haven’t made up a full list yet.”

“Well shit, man, you better get to gettin’. We’ve got just a little over a month before the whole festival thing happens, and after that we’re gonna have to wait a whole other year. I don’t know about you, but I bills to pay fucker.”

“Yeah, I know. Look, how many guys do you think we can get? I mean, I’m new at this, but the more guys we get involved the more it’s going cost us, right? Splitting the take and all that.”

“Splittin’ the take. Listen to you, tryin’ to sound like a goddamn pro. Yeah, that’s usually how it works. I mean, I’m still tryin’ to figure out how you get all that shit when you’ve got crowds of people everywhere.”

“That, strangely, I have worked out.” Hopefully.

“An you gonna share any of that, son, or am I just supposed to guess?”

“Look, I know I’m new at this, but really, all you need me for is the idea. I tell you the whole idea, then what the hell do you need me for?”

Johnny leaned back and took a drink while he studied me. It was a look he hadn’t given me in the entire time we had been friends, and I suddenly realized how little regard he had for me. Sure, I was all fun and chummy when I said “that book-smart shit” or when I was buying rounds, but when it came down to it, I was more court jester than grand vizier. It shouldn’t bother me, but it hurt to realize how little someone thinks of you. Even if that person was a sociopathic redneck troglodyte.

“Okay, so here’s the thing,” he finally said. “I can get maybe four guys. I’m gonna be blunt with you, son, they are going to give a fart in a windstorm about you. These are people not to be fucked with, and I’m gonna be vouching for you, and that means that I need to know if you’re gonna have crazy dipshit plan that no one in his right mind could pull off. I mean, I don’t want you tryin’ to pull some Mission: Impossible shit and think that we can get lasers and harnesses and shit like that.”

“Really? Well shit, then the whole plan’s off, because I was going to have us all get fake plastic heads and make everyone think that we were celebrities.”

Johnny leaned forward again and put his hand over mine. I was about to wonder what the meaning of this sudden vaguely homoerotic contact was when he began to twist two of my fingers back. The pain cut right through my next cleverly prepared smart remark and a fair amount of my beer buzz. It occurred to me that this was what my Dad always warned me about: my smart mouth writing checks my ass couldn’t cash.

“Listen to me,” he said, leaning in close to me. “I’m already on probation, I got no job, and here you are bein’ smart with me about maybe havin’ some plan to get rich quick. That’s all well and good, but if you fuck it up for me I’m gonna end you. You got me? You’re lucky I can vouch for you, because there’s no way your sorry drunk ass is any kind of cop. And if you think you can play me, or my brother, then you’re barking up the wrong motherfucking tree. You got me?”

“Your . . . brother?” He gave my fingers another twist. I closed my eyes and though about Monica. I thought about when they lifted her up and placed her in the black body bag, sealing her up so as never to be seen again.

Hurt like that made bent fingers feel like nothing.

“Yeah,” he said, shoving my hand away and wiping his hand on his jeans. Like of the two of us, I’d be the one carrying the disease. “He’s the one I talked to and he knows a couple of other guys that are looking for a good payday. Y’see, that’s how you know when you can trust someone. When they’re family.”

“You’ve obviously never been to Thanksgiving at my house,” I muttered. He’d have to hurt me a lot more than that to keep my mouth shut. I put my hand under the table and tried to rub some feeling into my fingers without being too obvious about it, although I was sure I was still flushed with pain and embarrassment.

Johnny laughed and slapped my face again with his playful, bear-like paws. “I’m not tryin’ to be hard on you, son. I’m just telling you, if my brother thinks this is a waste of time . . . well, shit, he doesn’t take kindly to that.”

“Look,” I put my hand back up on the table. There really wasn’t any point in trying to feign toughness when you’re light years away from tough. “I get that this is serious business. Believe me, I get it. This is something that I’ve been thinking about since, well shit, probably since before the corner.”

“Before what?”

“Before my daughter got killed.”

“Oh you were planning on becoming a master thief way back then, huh?”

“No, it’s just . . . y’know how your mind just wanders? You read things or see things in movies and go ‘Oh man, that’d be easy to do,’ and you begin to think about what’s around you how you could do something like that. That’s all it was up until now, but after she died and I realized that I didn’t have anything left I thought fuck it: What do I owe this town? What do I have left? There’s nothing else I want in the world so I may as well try something like this. I mean, I had a business here, I helped plan the Spring-fucking-festival a couple of years ago. I know what they do and how the other store owners think and how I can make this a huge fucking pay-off.”

“How huge?”

“It depends on the day. If the festival is going well, the weather’s good and the tourists are out maybe 10 to 20 thousand total. If we stay at five guys that’s about two to four grand a man. And I think five works fine.”

“That’s it?” His beer stopped halfway to his mouth, a puzzled look on his face.

“What do you mean, that’s it? That’s a decent amount of money.”

“It ain’t exactly retirement money, if you know what I mean.”

“Well it could be more. I don’t know. Like I said, it depends on the day.” My hand was beginning to shake under the table.

“So it could be less?”

“I . . . I don’t think so. I mean, if it’s raining or they don’t do the right kind of promotions–”

“Rain? Promotions?” Johnny dropped his glass to the table louder than I would’ve liked. “This is the kind of shit I’m talkin’ about. What the fuck are we supposed to do if it rains, just call it off?”

“No,” I said, trying to keep my voice level. “There’s stuff we can do if it looks like that’s going to happen. We can work it out.”

“Work it out? How the fuck are we supposed to work it out if we think we’re gettin’ four grand a piece and we only get two? Not to mention the fact that I can’t figure out how you’re going to get all that in the first place.”

“It’ll work, trust me!” I realized I was dangerously close to begging. If it turned to that, if he saw how desperate I was to get this to work out it would all be over. He rolled his eyes at me and I took a long drink of my beer.

“Look,” I said once my potential histrionics were washed away. “I get that this isn’t a huge payday but it’s a hell of a lot more than what we’ve got right now. It’s not just about the money, it’s about sending a big fuck you to this town. I don’t know about you but I want out. I want to put this whole fucking town in my rear view mirror, but my money is dwindling and the only thing I have left is a house that has about twenty more years left on the mortgage and I’m not going to wait around to try to sell it. I just want to be gone, and this is the money to do it with.”

“And you think you’ve got it all figured, don’t you? Some big ‘ol foolproof plan?”

“Yeah, I do.”

He just sat there, giving me that ‘Should I step on a bug’ look for almost longer than I could stand.

“Okay, fine. I’ll call Ray and tell him the deal, but you need to have your shit figured out. If you don’t, well shit, son. It’s a good thing you don’t have anything left to lose.”

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About The Author

Thacher Cleveland

Thacher E. Cleveland is a contributing writer & columnist for PanelsOnPages.com, co-host of the Super-Fly Comics & Games PodCast, novelist & comic creator. Originally from New Jersey and previously from Yellow Springs, Ohio, he currently lives in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@demonweasel), tumblr, his personal website and even on Google+

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12 2011

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