The church of broken pie.., p.1
The Church of Broken Pieces, page 1
The Church of Broken Pieces
Copyright © David Haynes 2017. All Rights Reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced without written consent from the author
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For Sarah and George
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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A fight had broken out at the back of the bar. Spilled beer collected in the shallow hollows beneath the tables; grooves made by countless pairs of boots scratched and scraped across the wooden boards. A ribbon of blood, or it might have been gravy, squirmed down the dirty plaster, tracing a meandering journey into the beer puddles.
Someone shouted an obscenity, someone screamed, a dull thud and then someone really screamed.
Frank Wilson finished his Coke and signaled the barman. He didn’t want to stay here any longer than he had to. The details were the same, within the same framework he was used to. It was just a different town. A different bar. Different people.
“You want another?” the barman asked, wiping the greasy bar with an equally filthy towel. A handwritten label on his right chest pocket read, ‘Snakebite Stevie’.
“No,” Wilson replied, “I just want to see Slater. Like I said, I’m in a hurry.”
Stevie looked over Wilson’s shoulder at the fight. He winced and looked back. “I told him you were here. He said he’d be right down. Sure I can’t get you another?”
Wilson shook his head.
“Something stronger? We got some good...”
Wilson interrupted him. “Maybe you can give Slater another call for me?”
The barman looked back at the fight. He looked anxious. “Sure, I can do that.”
Wilson watched Stevie walk behind the bar. He moved quickly – like a man with too much nervous energy. Working in a place like this would probably do that to someone. That and something else.
The bar wasn’t the kind of place you brought a date on a Saturday night, not unless you were paying for more than just the beer. It was way out on Louisiana Highway 82 between Esther and Abbeville, and its name told you everything you needed to know. ‘Psycho Slater’s Pit.’ A name could make a place sound classy, fun or dangerous. Slater’s place just sounded dirty. In a bad way.
There were four people in the bar – the two trying to kill each other, the barman and him. It was ten-thirty in the morning so there was no surprise it was more or less empty. It took a certain type of person to be in a bar at ten-thirty on a Tuesday morning.
He turned on the stool and watched the entertainment. A thin weedy man, who looked like his rock band had gone belly-up back in the Nineties, was going to work on the bigger guy’s eyes with his thumbs. It was a move straight out of the penitentiary. The big guy howled and cranked the point of his elbow under Axl Rose’s chin, knocking him backward across the table.
The big guy was onto him straight away, trying to throttle him with two meaty hands. Axl grunted and hissed a curse of some sort, and with his flailing hands somehow managed to grip the neck of the one bottle that was still standing. He brought it up in a swift arc and it connected with the big guy’s temple. It made a dull thunk and he went down like a lead balloon, straight into a puddle of beer and blood.
Axl stayed where he was for a moment to gather whatever wits he still had. He turned his head toward Wilson and smiled. Even in the half-light of the bar, Wilson could see his teeth were black. Through bad care or blood, it was impossible to say.
Axl raised himself off the table and looked at the bottle in his hand. It hadn’t broken in the impact but Axl raised it now and brought it down on the edge of the table. The bottom half of the bottle smashed, leaving a hideous jagged weapon. He looked at Wilson again, laughing like a lunatic. It was pretty clear what he intended to do with it.
“Put it down!” Wilson shouted, sliding off the stool. He shared no affinity with the man lying on the floor but had no interest in bearing witness to a homicide.
Wilson stepped forward. “Don’t be a dick, put the bottle down.”
A loud click sounded behind him. Wilson had heard it many times before. It was the sound of a shotgun cartridge sliding into place.
“You heard the man, Foster. Put the bottle down.”
Wilson saw the barrel from the corner of his eye.
The man called Foster stopped laughing and looked at both men in turn. “Aww, man, I was only playing. I wouldn’t hurt my man. You know that, Slater.” He dropped the bottle.
The barrel lowered. “Pick him up and take him home. And you’ll pay for the damage. Both of you.”
He crouched beside his fallen friend and slapped him about the face several times before the man woke up. Foster hauled him to his feet and the two of them staggered out of the bar, shoulder to shoulder.
Wilson turned around. “Slater?” he asked. A spidery scar weaved across his forehead, terminating just above his ear. It looked to be the result of the crudest form of brain surgery – the variety where the instrument was a broken beer bottle, not a scalpel.
“And you’d be Mr Wilson.”
Wilson started to lift his arm to shake the other man’s hand but Slater had already walked away. It was rude, not a good start. Slater walked behind the bar, settled the shotgun on the counter and poured himself a shot of Crown Royal. He tipped the glass back and then poured himself another.
“So, you’ve come for that?” He lifted his glass toward the corner of the bar; the darkest corner where shadows were formed in the single bulb above the pool table. Wilson’s eyes settled on the bulky black shape farther back.
“It doesn’t work, you know. Haven’t heard so much as a peep out of it in ten years.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Wilson replied. “Said you wanted two hundred for it on the phone.”
Slater downed the whiskey and poured himself another. He filled the glass too full and the liquid dribbled over the side.
“How’d you know it was here? I mean we’re not exactly on the tourist trail, are we?”
Wilson’s heart sank a little. He could already hear the familiar tone in Slater’s voice. It was the sound of greed, of having something someone else wanted and holding the keys to it in his greasy little hands. Maybe it was the first time in Slater’s life he actually owned something somebody else wanted.
Wilson reached inside his jacket and pulled out his wallet. He counted out three hundred dollars and pushed the notes across the bar. “I
“Whoa there!” Slater called. “I haven’t said I’m selling yet.”
Wilson stopped and sighed. Here we go, he thought.
“I mean, why would someone call me out the blue and offer two hundred bucks for a piece of crap that doesn’t even work? It got me thinking.”
Wilson turned around. “And what did it get you thinking, exactly?”
“That maybe it’s worth a lot more than just two hundred.”
“I’ve given you three hundred. That’s a fair price.”
Slater picked up the shotgun and walked from behind the bar. Wilson saw Snakebite Stevie wringing out his greasy cloth over and over again.
Slater walked toward him. He had the shotgun slung over his shoulder. Relaxed yet threatening at the same time. Wilson had seen the pose before.
Three hundred was a fair price. The 1959 Seeburg 222 was a collectors’ item. It was the first stereo jukebox ever manufactured and because of that, it would demand a premium. If it worked. Donovan had taken the serial numbers and examined it. It was a wreck, covered in years of dirt and grease, and had no doubt seized up decades ago. It was a shame to leave something so evocative in a dump like this.
Slater stood beside him. “A friend of mine knows a thing or two about these things and he reckons it’s worth five grand.” He patted Wilson on the shoulder like they were old friends. “I’m not greedy but I’d say two grand is more like a fair price. Wouldn’t you?” He gave Wilson’s shoulder a final heavy thump.
Wilson turned to face him. Slater was a little taller than he was and in his day might have been a handful. He had broad shoulders and a thick, bullish neck. Now though, his chins wobbled as he spoke and his gut strained against his grubby checked shirt.
“Maybe your friend ought to drop by my workshop and see how much it costs to put that thing back together. Maybe he ought to pay for the gas it’s going to take to get it there too.” Wilson paused. “And maybe he ought to find someone else willing to buy it?”
Wilson wouldn’t make a dime on the jukebox. This wasn’t about the money, it was about something more. This was a gift, a present for someone who needed a reason to smile.
Altruistic or not, he wouldn’t be jerked around by some greedy shit who didn’t know how to take care of things. Someone who was willing to back down on a deal because they had a shotgun on their shoulder. Nor was he leaving without making a deal. It just had to be the right one.
The two men stared at each other in silence for a moment. Wilson had been in too many situations like this, with people who knew how to play poker properly, to be concerned by Psycho Slater’s grubby avarice. His eyes glittered with it.
Slater shifted the shotgun on his shoulder, just an inch but it was enough to send the barman scurrying out of sight.
Wilson seized the moment. “So, are we going to stand here staring at each other, waiting for you to do something stupid with that,” he nodded at the shotgun, “or are we going to settle on what we agreed two days ago?”
Slater’s eyes narrowed, and in Wilson’s mind one of the possible scenarios played out at lightning speed. It wasn’t pretty and it ended with Slater sitting on his ass in a puddle of beer and blood.
It was important to look a man in the eyes at a time like this, to see what ran through his body. He didn’t think Slater had it in him to try and lower the barrel of the Remington 870 but he wanted to look deep into those bloodshot eyes and make sure. A flicker, not much more, and Slater’s grimace turned to a smile and then a laugh.
“Hey, can’t blame a guy for trying. You’re welcome to it, piece of junk.”
Wilson nodded, waited for Slater to turn away first then resumed his walk into the darkened corner. He listened to the sound of Slater’s footsteps receding. They paused beside the bar and then were gone. Slater had vanished down into whatever hole he had crawled out of.
Wilson traced the top of the jukebox with his fingers, etching out greasy rivers through the dust and grime. His heart rate had gone up a notch, even above the brief encounter with Slater. Not because touching jukeboxes was his thing but because of what it meant. If he could, he would throw it in the back of his pickup and take it himself, but there wasn’t space and he doubted whether Slater or the barman would have the muscle or inclination to help him. No, as much as it pained him he had to leave it here, trust Slater and have it picked up in the morning.
Wilson took out his cell and knelt down. He shone the little flashlight behind the box and rubbed his finger over the chrome serial number plate. He could feel the numbers on his skin. He knew them so well by now he didn’t need to check.
He stood up slowly, listening to the grinding creak his knees gave as they straightened, then turned away and walked past the bar toward the door. Stevie, the barman, was watching him. “Can I get you one for the road?” he asked.
Wilson paused. The smell of stale smoke, stale beer and desperate men filled the room. He walked slowly up to the bar.
“No, no you can’t.” He paused, smiling at the other man. “But anything happens to that jukebox in the next twenty-four hours and I’ll be back to pay you another visit.” He winked. It was enough. The guy shrank back.
Wilson slapped his card on the bar and then followed it up with a twenty. “Just keep her safe for me, Stevie, then I won’t have to tell Slater how much you’re skimming out of the register. Can’t be much in there anyway and it won’t take him long to see how strung out you are. Maybe your dealer will give you a break but Mr Slater looks to be in a permanent bad mood. A bad mood and a shotgun don’t make for a happy relationship in my experience.” He smiled again and walked away.
Outside, he slid a pair of vintage Persol sunglasses over his eyes. He’d bought them twenty-five years ago from a bullshit artist who claimed they once belonged to Steve McQueen. Even back then he’d known it was a lie, but he bought them anyway. A few years later he found a genuine pair of Steve McQueen’s glasses for someone and they cost a lot more than fifty bucks.
He walked over to his pickup. The flatbed was covered in a tarp, but even as he walked toward it he could see it had been tampered with. One of the sides was pushed up showing the rusty grille of a ’58 Chevy pickup he’d found back in Rock Hill.
“Got a lot of stuff there,” a voice called out behind him. “Bet it’s worth a few bucks.”
Wilson turned around. The Axl Rose-wannabe was standing against the wall. His buddy was taking a leak just a step away. He was holding a battered Hancock Gasoline sign. It wasn’t worth much, maybe twenty dollars, but it had come out of Wilson’s truck.
“What you got there, Foster?” Wilson asked.
Foster’s eyes widened at the mention of his name. He lifted the circular sign and tapped on his buddy’s head. “Quit that and turn around, Shelly,” he hissed.
Shelly turned quickly, spraying them both with steaming urine.
Foster jumped back cursing and tried to swing the sign at Shelly’s head, but Shelly turned round too quickly. The knocks on the head he’d suffered in the last few minutes, and whatever else they had drank, smoked or injected, sent him spinning to the floor. His hand was still holding his cock and urine sprayed his face as he toppled back.
“Goddammit!” Foster shouted. The Hancock sign flew across the parking lot like a Frisbee, smashed the window of a decrepit brown Mercedes and skidded across the cracked concrete.
“Shit!” Shelly gurgled. “That’s Slater’s car.” He was up on his feet even as the bar’s door flew open. Slater stumbled out into the parking lot and leveled the shotgun; first at Shelly as he stumbled away, cock swinging free in the gray morning light, and then at Foster who quickly followed behind.
Wilson watched the two men disappear, opened the door to his truck and climbed inside. He drove out of the parking lot onto Louisiana Highway 82, pausing only to pick up the Hancock Gasoline sign.
It was a long drive back to Maine. He pushed a CD into the stereo. Bruce Springsteen would take him all the way back up I85. It was a while since he’d been out on the road like this, scratching around in the dust to find that one magical piece; something so precious that it ate people alive not owning it. There was nothing like it. Nothing like it at all.
Wilson watched the truck pull out of his yard. The tires kicked up a haze of dirt and leaves as it lumbered out of sight. The driver, someone he trusted, had helped him maneuver the Seeburg through the house. It wasn’t easy but it was not an object Wilson wanted storing along with the rest of his finds. It was taken to the back of the house, to his private workshop, where it would wait for the two experts who were arriving in the morning.
He called it his workshop but in reality it had once been the formal dining room. The oak dining table which sat in the middle of the room was covered in tools, oil, grease and forgotten pieces of equipment. There were parts of engines hanging from nails hammered crudely into the walls and oil stains on the parquet flooring. It was the only room in the house that had any clutter in it at all. The rest of the house was austere.
Apart from the essential life-supporting basics, there was nothing. Some people thought it a little odd that a man who made it his life’s work to seek out, collect and repair items of, for want of a better word, junk would live like this. To Wilson it made perfect sense. A detective didn’t live with crooks, a surgeon didn’t cohabit with his patients and teachers didn’t sleep with their students, at least not if they wanted to keep their jobs. Wilson’s work, all except for the select few items in his workshop, lived in the warehouse.
It wasn’t that he hated them. He didn’t, but once the finds started coming into the house, it was difficult to stop it. His last place had been floor to ceiling full of projects, of items that had never been re-homed. It was a dingy hell-hole and despite several warnings, some physical in nature, Carrie had eventually left him to live in a house where she wouldn’t have to get weekly tetanus shots after walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night. He hadn’t listened to the other warnings but seeing her cold and empty side of the bed was impossible to ignore. Even with the junk piled up high around him, her vanishing act had been shattering.
by David Haynes have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes