Chapter 1: FATCHANCE

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 293

I sipped my coffee as she ran past the diner window, arms flapping and long red hair flying behind her in matted streams.  She laughed as she ran, trotting around the parking lot like some great flamingo with a glandular problem.  I’d noticed her as soon as I sat in the booth, but then it would have been hard to miss her.  She looked to be over six feet tall and in the neighborhood of two-hundred and fifty pounds—give or take. And she was shoeless.  Bare arms and legs, sunburned to the color of her hair, stuck out from dingy denim overalls.  Both they and she were in need of a good washing. 

She made another circuit in front of the window and I tipped my cup to her.  It’s bad arma to ignore the bluebirds of happiness, especially the red ones.

The waitress appeared over me with a pot of coffee.  “Fat Chance,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

She jerked her head toward the window.  “That’s her name.”

“I doubt it.”

“Well ok, her real name is Patty, Patty Chance.  We just call her Fat Chance because…”

“Wait, let me guess.  Because she’s fat, right?  How clever.  What’s she doing?”

The waitress scowled.“I don’t know.  Pretending to fly I guess.  She’s just a crazy woman.  You said you were from New York.  Ain’t there any crazy people in New York?”

“Almost all of them.”

“Yeah, well we just have the one.  She’s not mean-crazy or anything, but I could try and run her off if she’s bothering you.”

I seriously considered the offer, not because I was at all bothered, but the idea of the two of them chasing each other around the parking lot held a certain promise of entertainment, and I could have used a few laughs right then. 

“No, that won’t be necessary.”  I scratched at the plate with my fork.  “By the way, what are in these eggs?”

“Nothing.  Just eggs.”

“No, there are little red things in them.”  I held up a fork-full of the offending food as evidence. 

“Oh, those are just chili peppers.”

“That’s what I thought.  Can I ask why you put peppers in my eggs?”

She shrugged.  “This is New Mexico.  We put peppers in everything.  Why, don’t you like chili peppers?”

“It’s not so much a case of like or dislike.  It’s just that since I’m allergic to them, I try not to eat them.”

She picked up my plate with a huff.  “Well if you knew you were allergic to peppers, what’d you go and order eggs for?”

The itching started around my neck just as the red-haired woman made another pass in front of the window.  Right.  Why did I order eggs when I knew I was allergic to peppers?  In fact, what was I even doing here, broke down in some backwater New Mexico town?  It’s all your fault, Juke.  Got a job for you, you said.  Piece of cake, you said.  Asshole.

***

 

I’d arrived at the Juke’s office two days earlier just as dawn was breaking, after spending the night holed up in the back booth of an all night pizza joint.  I had called him and arranged the meeting right after the deal went bad, but he insisted on waiting until the morning to meet with me.  Maybe he was hoping I wouldn’t last out the night and his problems would be over.  Tough luck for him, it didn’t work out that way.  There’s no more miserable way to spend an evening than hunched over a cup of bad coffee while constantly looking over your shoulder, but I couldn’t risk going back to my place. 

I left the restaurant cold and damp and smelling a little like seaweed, but at least I was still alive.Looking back, I suppose I got what I deserved.  Break a promise to yourself and your karma is bound to take a beating, and I’d sworn after the last time, that I’d never work for the Juke again.  In all the years we’d known each other, I’d only done one other job for him and that hadn’t work out so well either.  Fact is, we have an unspoken agreement never to bring it up. 

I'm a private detective, it says so right on my business card.  It pays the bills, but most of the time it's not as exciting as people think, and that’s just fine by me.  Forget what you see in the movies.  If you need help with a murder or a kidnapping, then you're better off calling the police—in fact, I’ll insist on it.  On the other hand, if you need someone to find out if your wife is shtooping the pool boy, or maybe pick up a package you’d rather not be caught with, well then I'm your man. 

I stepped out of the taxi and hauled out the five-foot long cardboard tube that had caused all this trouble in the first place, then paid the cabbie.  He breathed the other way as he took the fare from me.  I guess I must have been a little more rank than I thought.  If you can make a New York cabbie turn up his nose, then brother, you have some serious hygiene problems.

The Juke’s office was in a nondescript warehouse in the garment district, with an elevator that was a piece of work from another century.  The size of a small coffin, it shook and trembled as it lumbered its way up to the fourth floor like a junkie on the third day of a two-month rehab.  By the time the doors opened, I had broke out in a cold sweat, clutching the tube in a death grip and reminding myself for the hundredth time to take the damn steps the next time.

I crossed the hall to his office and found him slouched behind his desk.  He raised his head and grunted on seeing me, which was pretty much the greeting I had expected.  I didn’t take it personally.  The Juke wasn’t the friendliest guy on the best of days, and this wasn’t one of those days.

As he didn't bother getting up, I set the tube aside and helped myself into the only other piece of furniture in the room, an over-stuffed musty chair, covered in faded and cracked green naugahyde.  It was older than I was—probably older than the Juke—and the springs in the seat had long ago turned to rust.  As always, I sank into the depths of the Green Monster like I was wearing lead pants.

The Juke wasn’t much of a fashion plate, which I always thought odd considering he made his living selling fabrics, but he looked even more rumpled than usual.  His jacket hung over the back of the chair and his shirt, about a size smaller than comfort and modesty should have allowed, was poorly pressed and splattered with a few generic food stains.  His collar was undone and his tie open and loose around his neck.  He had a hound-dog look, with heavy jowls and bags like udders under his eyes. 

Seriously, you could’ve milked them.

He pointed to the tube.  “Is that it?”

I lit a cigarette and tried in vain to get comfortable.  “Yeah.”  Reaching into my pocket, I threw the envelope filled with what was left of his money, on his desk.

He ignored the envelope and went around the desk, picking up the tube.  He lifted the cap off one end and shoved his hand inside. “Nice, very nice.  Did you check it out?  Beautiful isn’t it?”

“Stunning,” I agreed, not really knowing or caring.  I had a few more pressing issues on my mind at the moment, like how I was going to make it through the next twenty-four hours alive. 

He went back to the desk and reached in a drawer.  “You want a drink?"

I declined, but he pulled out a bottle anyway.  "I do.  I've wanted a drink since you called last night, but I waited.  You Irish could learn a few things from us Jews.  We drink, but we take care of business first."  He poured three fingers of scotch into a glass and took a long drink, sighing afterwards and staring into the glass.

“Well?  Just how screwed am I?” I asked.

He shrugged.  “You killed Joe Jr.  I’d say that’s pretty screwed.”

I nodded.  “Yeah, yeah.  Hey, I know I mentioned this last night but I think it bears repeating:  I DIDN’T KILL ANYONE.”

He waved me down.  “Ok, ok.  So maybe you didn’t put the bullet in him, but the fact remains that two of you were there and now he’s dead and you’re alive.  That’s pretty much all the old man is going to care about.”

“Really?  How about the fact that the guy who DID put the bullet in his son was working for you?”

He raised a finger.  “Indirectly.”

“You think that will matter to him?”

He coughed.  “Let’s just stay calm, all right?  This is not the time to get excited.”

“Wrong.  There are people out looking to kill me.  This is the perfect time to get excited.”

“Sean, like I told you on the phone.  I can straighten this out.  You just need to give me a little time.”

A little time.  No matter how bad the situation, everybody thinks all they need is a little more time to fix it.  As the water reached the captain of the Titanic’s lower lip, he was probably thinking all he needed was a little more time.  “How much time?”

“A few weeks, at least.”

I squirmed uncomfortably.  Then again, that just could have been the chair.  “A few weeks?  And what am I supposed to do in the meantime?  I’m already getting whiplash looking over my shoulder.”

  “You can’t stay here, that’s for sure.  Not with Joe Sr. and all his people looking for you.  You need to get out of town—way out of town.  I don’t want anyone accidentally running into you before I get a chance to fix this.  ”

I had already figured that much out myself, but it still wasn’t what I wanted to hear.  I understood the reasoning, but skipping town made me feel, I don’t know…guilty.  And I hadn’t done anything.  “And go where?”

“I’ve been thinking about that.  You got to get off the east coast.  Try LA.  The old man’s got no pull out there.  Consider it an unplanned vacation.  Besides, a little of that California sun would be good for you.  You’re pale even for a goyim.  You’re almost transparent.”

"Juke, I don't want a vacation.  I hate vacations.  I hate vacations as much as I hate this chair."

“Don’t start with the chair again.  There’s nothing wrong with that chair.  My father loved that chair.  He wanted to be buried in that chair.”

“Maybe he was.  Have you checked the cushions?”

“Don’t be disrespectful.  Look, Sean, you don’t have much choice here.  And don’t worry about money.  I’ll take care of the plane ticket and set you up in a nice hotel.  It’ll all be on my dime.”

“Just like that, huh?”

“Sure just like that.  Why not?”

“Well for one thing, I can’t fly, remember?”

He muttered an obscenity I could barely hear.  "You going to make me listen to that crap again?I thought you were seeing a shrink for that?  How can you be a detective and be so fuckin’ neurotic?"

"I’m not neurotic," I said evenly.  "I just have a few phobias and some dependency issues." 

At least that’s how my psychiatrist put it.  I’d been seeing her on a semi-regular basis for years, sometimes more often, sometimes less, depending on my cash flow and how nuts I was feeling.  I could definitely see an improvement—my gambling was under control and my drinking was, well, not too bad.  But germs and tight spaces still made me queasy and flying was out of the question. 

"Ok, ok,” he said, “so you’ll drive.  You can take the Mercedes.”

“Juke…”

“Just get the hell out of town.  Stay where you want; send me the bill.  But not the Wilshire," he added hastily.  "In fact, stay out of Beverly Hills altogether.  It's outrageous what they want for a room in that town."

“You’re all heart.”

“What can I say; you’re like a son to me.  Besides, I can’t help but feel that some of this mess is my fault.”

That was more than I could take.  I jumped up.  “Some of this mess?  This mess is all your fault, just like last time.  It’s why I swore I’d never take another job from you.”

“Now you’re hurting my feelings.  Also I’d like to point out that this is nothing like last time, which by the way, we agreed never to bring up again.”  He walked over and put his arm around me.  “Sean, Sean, what is this, the end of the world?  I told you I’ll take care of this and I will.

“You’ll love L.A.  Everyone loves L.A.  My oldest girl, Sharon lives out there.  You remember Sharon?  She’s with a big-shot ad agency now, doing great.  Oh, that reminds me.”  He went to his desk and pulled out a small gift-wrapped box, handing it to me.  “As long as you’re heading out that way, think you could drop a gift off to her from me?  It’s perfume; her favorite kind.  I was going to drop it in the mail, but since you’re heading out there…”

I glared at him.  “You’re sending me out to California to save a buck ten in shipping?  You son-of-a…”

“Now, now, let’s not leave on bad terms.  You’ll have a relaxing drive, you’ll get a tan, maybe you’ll even find a nice shiksa to help while away the evenings.  You just relax and I’ll call you when everything’s been taken care of.  Right?” 

I made him wait, but we both knew my answer.  Considering the alternative, it wasn’t like I had another choice. "Yeah, dammit, all right.  But I want this cleared up quick.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hiding from wise guys.”

He slapped my back.  “You have my word.”

 

I left the Juke’s place for a quick shower at the Y and a short shopping spree to grab some new clothes.  It wasn’t worth the risk to go back to my place.  I had to assume it was being watched.  I’m not much of a clotheshorse.  I’m perfectly fine with second-hand if it’s in good shape, but this time the Juke was footing the bill so I stopped in Barneys.  An hour later, I hopped in the car with three bags of new clothes that I stuffed into my new suitcase and left town before the Juke could get the tab. 

My idea was to take interstate seventy cross-country, then shoot down twenty-five to catch forty into L.A.  It was a little farther that way, but it had the advantage of allowing me to side step Vegas—a wise move for someone like me.  Sure, I could have just driven straight through Vegas without stopping, but I have never driven through Vegas without stopping.  Not to mention the fact that the people who were looking for me tend to spend a lot of time there too.

I haven’t got the greatest sense of direction, especially when I’m tired, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I found myself lost, but that didn’t stop me from pounding the steering wheel in frustration when I realized I’d missed my turn some twenty miles back.  I had just passed a sign that read, Mystic Falls New Mexico, pop. 2,420, when the car started to sputter.  I managed to limp it to the town’s only gas station before it died completely.  

It was still early and the shop hadn’t opened yet, so I left a note on the windshield and walked across the road to this diner, where crazy women fly in the parking lot and the food is poisoned with peppers.  I scratched a new welt on my neck.  Damn you Juke

 

 

 


Submitted: June 27, 2013

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