You’d race to your funeral even if you knew it was coming. And when your boyfriend goes out of town with his painting crew and tells you not to drive his pick-up, you ignore him and drive it like a street racer chasing her personal best, to the store on the corner, the ATM beside the bank, the restaurant where you work, taking corners on two wheels, idling outside of schoolyards and the courthouse before peeling out so passers-by double-take when they see you, so tiny that you can barely see over the wheel. It’s fun and it gets you to work.
You’re stopped at a light, running a little late for your shift when you see Jamie, one of the cooks, walking a half-block down the street. You can tell its him even though he’s got his navy blue hoodie pulled up over his bald head. The way he walks, almost collapsed in on himself so that his six feet two looks maybe five ten, gives him away. He literally jumps back when you throw the truck to a halt beside where he’s walking.
“Get in,” you tell him, and when he gets up on the bench seat beside you, he says, “You scared the shit out of me.” He buckles his seatbelt before you take a corner loud enough to make the tires squeal. It’s the most fun you’ll have today. After all, what can you expect, a slow Saturday night at the restaurant in the off-season. You like working with Jamie, even though he’ll never believe it. He never believes anything anyone says about him that’s nice. He only believes what people say that’s mean, so you tell him what he wants to hear, that he’s a scaredy-cat and that he’s always overcompensating by trying to freak out other people.
If he could just keep his mouth shut, Jamie might actually be as frightening as he wants to be. That’s why he tattooed the roman numeral 13 into the back of his neck in some spooky-type gothic script then shaved his head so that no one missed it. His lower lip has a stainless steel reich spike through it, and the gauge in his earrings is big enough to thread with a camel-sized needle. The lug wrench tattoo on his forearm is to scare the kind of people you aren’t, the people who are scared of shit that they don’t understand—“what kind of fucking weirdo tattoos a lug wrench on their forearm?” Jamie imagined them asking when he dreamed it up, and then them walking away rather than punching him square in his crooked, twice-broken nose. Jamie’s convinced the world’s got a million corners and if he can see around all of them, he’s got nothing to be scared of. He’ll tell strangers about it, told you about it the first day you met him.
Jamie and you are watching the news on the tv behind the bar after the dinner rush. Five hours of Jamie dropping portions of pasta in a bowl, fanning out five shrimp like a hand of poker and dusting them with cayenne. Or you, swabbing the noodles left over after someone ate all the shrimp, like untied shoelaces and into the trash they go, a squirt from the hose and straight through the Hobart. Boss is gone, last customers are gone. The kitchen’s closed. You and Jamie are having a drink and he’s dragging on a smoke and when you’re done with that, you’ll go back and break down the kitchen and get out of here.
The early local news is on the TV, and they come back from a commercial to the chyron, “Local athlete wins bronze,” and Jamie sits up straight on his stool. First the news shows a mug shot of this meatheaded mug and then some action shot, from too far to make out anything more than speed lines, of two figures falling onto a wrestling mat and getting up, falling again. The local athlete has gone to the Olympics and is bringing home a bronze medal. Jamie says, “I kicked that guy’s ass.” You wonder if Jamie would stop if you didn’t react, but why give him reason to fear you, too. “Oh yeah?” you say.
“I was walking through Carter Park, maybe a month ago, and someone starts rustling a bush at me. You know what that means, Carter Park, bush rustling and some guy wants to suck your dick, but I wasn’t interested. And then this guy,” and Jamie nods at the screen, “jumps out of the bushes. I thought he was going to rape me, and then instinct took over and I beat his ass.” Jamie’s step dad used to beat him and when he didn’t fight back, he packed him off to military school, where Jamie learned to fight and to hate the man. He finishes his drink and turns it over on the bar top. “You think if I didn’t beat his ass, he might have won silver or something?”
“I’m sure that’s what it was, and not like, some singlet wedgie that did him in.”
He walks off and leaves you with half a drink to finish. There’s no rush to finish your drink, since it’ll take Jamie a little time to break down enough to fill your Hobart. You’re not ready to go back to work, want to keep playing, so you sneak up behind him where he’s wiping his knives clean before he slides them back into their canvas case. “Hey, bitch,” you yell into his ear.
“What do you want?” he shrieks, and his hand closes over the blade of the knife he’s holding. “Fuck. That hurts!” He slumps onto the floor like an old building coming down.
“You’re gonna need me to take you to the hospital, you big puss,” you say when you’ve got him propped against one of the stainless steel cabinets at his cook station, his bleeding hand not really elevated so much as resting in your lap looking like a gutted fish.
“I’ve seen how you drive. I’d rather bleed out.” Jamie grimaces when you press hard against the meat on his palm, like you’re giving him a firm handshake.
“There’s a first aid kit in the women’s restroom. Come with me back there and we’ll bandage you up.”
You sit him on the toilet in the women’s room, the nice one, and you get the first aid kit, wrapping his hand first in gauze and then with white medical tape to hold the gauze in place. You hear it first, or maybe you both do, some sounds from the restaurant. Fucking idiots. You repack the stuff in the metal first aid can and Jamie goes out there to tell whoever it is that the place is closed.
It’s quiet when you get back out into the dining room, and Jamie’s standing there with his hands up around his ears, the one of them already bleeding through the gauze. Two wastoids in puffy jackets are pointing a gun at Jaime, what looks like an actual mountain dew bottle duct-taped to the action end. The other one’s holding what looks like, you can’t be sure, maybe an ice scraper. Could be a box cutter, but it looks like an ice scraper. Both of them, pointing them at Jamie, till one of them notices you and swings the pistol your way. “Sit up here,” he says, and pulls out a bar stool. You walk over to take a seat and see where this is going; Jamie could take both of them in a second if he weren’t so scared, but as it is, maybe he’ll get you both killed. “Nah, fuck that,” one of them says, “go behind the bar and make me a drink.”
“What do you like?” you ask him, and he says, “It doesn’t matter. Nothing too sweet, though.” Fucking idiots.
“Make one for me, too,” his playmate says. “I’m taking your boyfriend here to open the safe, and then we’ll come back and have a drink. So it better be good.” You flip him off, but he’s already walking away. There isn’t any kind of panic button behind the bar, you know the boss is too cheap for that kind of thing, but you look for what might be there. A sawed-off shotgun would be nice, but you’d take the end of a pool cue, a baseball bat, a samurai sword, a water cannon. Instead you pull up the well vodka and start mixing a pair of Cape Cods for these guys. The limes are a little dry when you rub them around the rims of the rocks glasses, but you do what you can.
You don’t know anything about what’s going on back there, no sounds coming through at all. To pass the time, maybe, you ask, “You know Kolton Bremmer?
“The wrestler. Shit. I went to middle school with his brother, Kody. At Dixon.”
Jamie could totally take out the one guy anywhere once they’re alone; walking through the kitchen, there’s a million things he could hit the guy with. The industrial garlic press. One of the metal salad bowls. He could squirt the guy with hot water from your dish sprayer.
“My friend, the one down there with your buddy, looking at the safe,” you pause to make sure he’s following you because the lights are dim and this is important. “He kicked Kolton Bremmer’s ass.”
“You telling me I should be scared of your friend? Your friend with that neck tattoo and that stupid red wrench on his arm and all that shit? Because he’s going to fuck my friend up? Is that what you telling me?’
You find a rag resting beside some ice in a sink and wipe it across the bar top. “I’m just telling you about my friend, I don’t care how it makes you feel. I thought you might be interested is all.” You wipe some more. “Seeing how you’re friendly with Kolton’s Bremmer’s brother and all.”
“Pffft,” he says out of the side of his neck and takes a sip from the Cape Cod before he gives you a steely eye.
“How long you think they been down there?” you ask. “How long before my friend drops your buddy and leaves him down there locked in the boss’ office and my friend comes back up here with the gun and puts a hole through your stupid ass.”
On the stairs, narrow enough that they can’t even walk side-by-side and the bulb burned out? It’s be nothing for Jamie to sweep a leg and trip the guy or grab an arm and push him down the stairs before they get to the boss’ office at the bottom.
“You see that bandage on his hand, the way it was wrapped? You know how he did that? He broke one of those glasses in his hand. Because I dared him too.” He looks at you, his hand on his glass but you can’t tell if he’s testing what you said or not, trying his own strength on the glass. “I can see you’re trying that. Keep trying. Think about how your buddy’s going to feel like when that same hand is around your buddy’s neck.”
“Shit, I don’t care about his hands,” the guy says. “My buddy has a gun.” He makes that sound of the side of his mouth again.
“That science-fiction looking thing? You both lucky if that thing even fires.” And you hear it the same time as the man at the bar does. It sounds like a lightbulb burning out, a pop and then silence. The both of you scramble, he’s off his bar stool and you’re running to the end of the bar, closer to the kitchen. You are sure he’ll get there before you do, but when he doesn’t you look and he’s running out the door. You laugh out loud, you’re so nervous with fear and you step into the kitchen.
You run into him right away. Not Jamie, the other guy, who sees you and stops and leans backward, pointing the gun at you. His eyes are so wide open and his pupils so tiny, you’re sure that it’s just that he’s tweaking that hard, but it looks like he’s afraid of all five foot nothing of you, like Jamie’s scaredy-cat soul jumped into this guy after he killed him. And then he shoots you.
Matt Dube washed dishes and drank shift-drinks for years after college. Now he teaches creative writing at William Woods University and reads submissions for Coffin Bell Review. His work can be found in Rattle, Moon City Review, Bad Pony, and elsewhere.