Mr. Black was at the apartment, sitting on the couch. He had two girls over and the apartment to himself. Things were rapidly escalating toward sex when he got my text message. Judging by the speed of his arrival, the conversation could not have been more complicated than You bitches gotta go.
The street was jammed. Cabs and cops crawled back and forth between the bars. Sport bikes trolled down the street, blipping their engines in the slow traffic. More bikes lined the curb, their riders standing in groups. Guidos and club girls thronged the sidewalks. Street lamps and neon signs cast a false twilight over the whole scene.
The Black Man wedged the Abrams into a spot up the block. If he was displeased, he didn’t show it. Mr. Black compartmentalizes stress for a living. Ex-filing Willy Pete was Priority One – he could knock me upside the head later.
Willy Pete was just one drunk in a teeming mass of drunks. Left on his own, trouble was inevitable. My blood alcohol level had dropped over the last hour, and my frustration was mounting. This was all my fault.
I knew the moment Willy Pete cracked that first beer at the video shoot that we were bound for trouble. I saw the look in his eyes, like a truck headed downhill with no brakes.
There was a time when Willy Pete was the life of the party. He fell apart, and a couple of slip-ups forced him to flee the state. He was gone foar several years – lost in South Beach – mixed up with a bad crowd.
He came back for the same reason he left – he was running from the law. With no-one else to turn to, Willy Pete called the Black Man for help.
He was a changed man. Meaner. Predatory. We were not his friends, just people to be exploited. We were fools for trusting him and we knew it. We were breaking The Rules.
. . .
Mr. Black almost tripped over his missing roommate. He must have jumped bars without telling me. I found them on the sidewalk sharing a cigarette with a girl I hadn’t seen before. I told Willy Pete what happened.
His face pinched in confusion.
“What are you talking about?”
“Duke Nukem kicked you out. I couldn’t fucking find you. You don’t pick up your fucking phone.”
“What!? That’s bullshit! I’ve gotta talk to my manager.”
“No, asshole. We’ve gotta go . . .”
Willy Pete protested. He was adamant that he could fix the situation. I was not optimistic about him walking through six hundred pounds of Trenbolone-infused Security.
There were police patrols everywhere. If he went back through that door, drunk and angry, he would be in cuffs in less than ten minutes. I was past the point of arguing – I wanted to drag him down the street by the neck.
The Black Man was calm. He talked Willy Pete down. We crossed the street through traffic and were nearly to the truck when Willy Pete waffled and turned back.
My patience ran out. Later that night Mr. Black chastised me for being too eager to take the Nuclear Option. He could have turned Willy Pete around with reason if I had let him.
I got right in his face, blocking him from heading back. I growled at him, and a quick shouting match ensued. I grabbed him and dragged him toward the truck.
“Get your fuckin’ hands off me!” he screamed.
He struck his hands out in a violent shove.
There were police right across the street. I couldn’t see them, but I knew they were there. The entire street was watching.
I stumbled back a step and felt my heart throb with a massive surge of adrenaline. Fractions of a second turned into minutes. I don’t know what Willy Pete saw in my face, but rather than stand and fight, as I’d seen him do so many other times, he turned to run.
I wanted to kill him.
I lunged forward, closing the distance. He turned his body as I swung, catching a shearing hook that smashed his cheek against his teeth. Everything went black – Mr. Black – as the big man shoved his way between us. His voice sounded a long way off as he shouted for us to stop. I dropped my hands.
I didn’t see the shot coming.
Willy Pete reached around the Black Man’s shoulder and cracked me with a sucker punch. My hat tumbled from my head. The swelling was almost instantaneous. The Black Man pushed Willy Pete back and there was a shout from behind me. Cops.
Mr. Black turned and waved them off.
“It’s alright, they’re friends . . . I got this.”
I heard one of the officers speak, but I couldn’t understand him. I heard their cruiser pull away. I felt blood running down my face as I picked my hat up off the ground. I pressed the top of it to my eye and climbed into the back seat of the Abrams. Willy Pete took shotgun. My hands trembled with rage as I struggled not to bleed all over the upholstery.
We were still parked when Willy Pete opened his mouth, firing insults at me. Mr. Black shushed him several times, but the bastard refused to quit. I was spooling, my temper flaring back to dangerous levels.
Then the motherfucker brought her into it.
I came over the top of his seat. I grabbed him by the hair and beat him on the sides of the head. I needed him to move, to expose his chin, so I could leash him up. I snaked my arm down and howled like a madman as I dragged him halfway into the back seat. I smashed him in the face with the inside of one forearm, trying to force him to lift his chin. I wanted to strangle him.
I wanted to break his fucking neck.
I don’t know what made me release him. It wasn’t fatigue. I have a vague memory of Mr. Black repeatedly shouting STOP! Maybe it was a training reflex. I can’t be sure. I know I didn’t want to.
In the pit of my stomach I regretted not having been able to hit him again out on the street. I wanted to beat him to the asphalt. I wanted to pound his face into weeping, bloody mush. I didn’t want to stop.
Willy Pete screamed and pulled himself back into the front seat. The Black Man could say nothing to console him. He leaped from the truck and walked away. We drove back to the house in silence, my hands still shaking, all thought drowned out by the rumbling of the unrestricted exhaust.
– – –
The Black Man and I stood in the kitchen. Every light in the house was off. He remained calm as ever, a fact that I found very disarming. I knew him well enough to know that if he was upset, he would make no secret of it.
I quit bothering about my face, letting my eyebrow bleed onto my shirt. I could feel it on the black fabric, but I couldn’t see it. I didn’t care.
I wasn’t upset about my eye. Without looking at it I could tell it was nothing. I could still see out of it. What burned me, more than anything, was that Willy Pete had proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he couldn’t be trusted.
How many times had I bailed Willy Pete out of trouble? How many fights had he started that I had to finish? How many innocent bystanders had I steered clear of him?
I put my hands on him twice before; once when he threw a frying pan at someone’s head, and once when he tried to burn me with a lit cigarette. Both times I dropped him with minimal force and no injuries.
Mr. Black could get a short novel of his adventures with Willy Pete.
Standing there in the low light, I told Mr. Black that the Willy Pete we knew was gone. He never came home. The asshole we knew now couldn’t be trusted. He burned everything he touched, and he would fuck over anyone he knew without a second thought.
He was better off dead.
“When he gets back I’ll choke him the fuck out. We can toss him off the bridge, into the gorge. Who’s gonna know? Nobody will give a fuck. He was drunk, he fell off.” I mused, aloud.
The Black Man considered it for a moment.
“That motherfucker is self-destructive. The best thing to do is just leave him the fuck alone. We’ve been bailin’ him out for years. All we gotta do is leave him alone, he’ll do it to himself.”
I took a few pulls from the Wild Turkey. We moved the discussion out to the front porch so he could smoke. We sat outside for quite some time before Willy Pete came walking up. The situation rapidly deteriorated.
I got to my feet, pacing the sidewalk. Willy Pete sat down beside his roommate. He blamed me for us getting kicked out. He proceeded to list my flaws as he understood them.
I told him to get the fuck up.
When he refused I began shouting at him. I was inconsolable. It turned into a white trash circus. I tore off my shirt.
“Look at my face, motherfucker . . . Get on your fucking feet!”
There were no police around to save him. We were the only ones out on the street. A gunshot would not have earned a 911 call. I was ready to square off as mutual combatants and settle things for good. Willy Pete sat hurling insults. He refused to budge.
Mr. Black intervened. He sent Willy Pete to his room.
After all that noise, it was over with a wave of the Black Man’s hand. I felt like a child being chastised. Pathetic. Willy Pete went inside and I collapsed on the porch, humiliated.
I desperately needed a drink.