Love You To A Pulp, by CS DeWildt, will be released later this month. This is how it begins:
Neil Chambers couldn’t help it. It was one of those dirty little habits that had followed him his entire life, like a stray dog too good-natured to kick the hell out of. And that’s what Neil was thinking about: dogs. One in particular.
In front of the apartment complex, someone laid on the horn as they passed, and the sound pulled Neil free from his toxic dreams as he took the glue soaked rag from his face, the burning fumes arousing defensive tears.
It was two in the morning and Neil had no intention of calling it a night. Real sleep had eluded him as long as he could remember, the glue usually tucked him for a time, but he kept no regular hours, and that irregular rhythm of rest allowed him to spread his work thin over the twenty-two hours a day he was more or less conscious, spread it thin like the shoddy concrete job in the parking lot outside.
Work was all that kept him going, but the work had dried up. That was a symptom of being a snoop in a small town like Brownsville: alienation, enemies. Neil figured he made two enemies for every client he served. People don’t appreciate being checked up on. They don’t forget.
Public relations aside, it didn’t matter much. People in Brownsville weren’t swimming in cash and most of them found Neil’s services could be done themselves for the price of a six-pack, a baseball bat and a shadow.
Neil capped the tube of glue and put it back into the junk drawer among the take-away menus and business cards, mysterious keys, and his shining piece. He shut the drawer and walked on rubber legs to the bathroom, ran the water cold and splashed his face. Neil stared at his wood-carved mug in the scummy mirror. He was pushing on forty, stocky and solid with a mop of wiry brown hair. He had the look of a tensed metal spring waiting to jump.
He stretched his mouth over his teeth and felt the pull and crack of the dry skin that didn’t snap back with quite the elastic tenacity it once did. He felt old. Aging didn’t bother him, but he felt shiftless, a shell, beaten. So he ruminated on his worries with the glue most nights, alone, and let his mind drift over both the works done and those big ones left undone, left to rot like garbage and fire and flesh. And even a little sex.
Neil grabbed his .45 from the drawer, took it over to the gouged and nicked coffee table and began to dismantle the nickel plated nightmare. He cleaned each piece of the weapon, blew away the dust with quick bursts from his lungs, and then polished each piece, the tips of his fingers shining bright with oil. He assembled it absently, finger moving from memory, leaving Neil to simply appreciate how smoothly each piece fell back into place. Neil didn’t like friction. That was his motivation for going snoop in the first place, to make things smooth. Take some photos, bust a head or two; it may create a hot rub someplace else, but that wasn’t Neil’s problem.
The work gave him the opportunity to smooth out other situations as well. The butt of that forty-five saw action in Neil’s hands. And that was the reason for a cleaning schedule just short of ritual: to smooth over the roughed up, crooked metal inside, a delicate thing twisted to an unpredictable beast, efficient only when treated with more care than it deserved.
There was a tap on the door. Neil slid the piece back into the drawer. Through the peep Neil saw the man shifting his weight from one foot to the other on the dark second floor landing. Even in silhouette Neil knew that it was Jenkins the pharmacist. Whatever the reason for his visit, it brought him to Neil at two in the AM. That was fine by Neil. He had nowhere to be.
Neil unlocked the door and continued eyeing Jenkins through the glass lens for a beat, making out the battered face as Jenkins turned, catching some of the light tossed over from the Porky Pig diner across the street, open 24-hours it was still dead as everything else in Brownsville. Neil turned his attention back to Jenkins. The man was bleeding from about every natural hole in his head and from a couple of manmade jobs too. Neil opened the door. “What the hell happened to you?”
Jenkins moved past Neil without invite and began to absently wipe at the blood, and tears, and snot with the sleeve of his jacket, smearing the wet red all over his face.
“Neil. I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do. It’s Helen. Isn’t it always Helen?”
Neil nodded, vaguely understood where the conversation was going. Helen was Neil’s daughter, a hell raiser from the age of five. Her mama had died years back and it had been Helen and Jenkins for longer than it had been the three of them.
“What’d she do? She do that to your face?”
“Yes. Well no, not directly, was that boyfriend. Helen comes in with that second asshole of hers, and they start helping themselves to the Oxycontin. I couldn’t believe it, didn’t even say a word and then that son of a bitch lit into me. I thought he was going to kill me.”
“That Hoon boy?”
“Yeah. Him.” Jenkins grabbed a cleanish white rag from the sink and wiped his face.
“You need to go to the hospital?” Neil asked.
“No. I’ll be fine I think. Just,” and then the man began to tear up, “I just want Helen home. She’s a lot of things, created all kinds of bad for me, but nothing like this. Help me Neil? Help me get her home.”
“Why not talk to the police? Don’t know what I can do for you.”
“I don’t want her in trouble Neil. I want her home, with me, where she belongs.”
“She’s grown now isn’t she? Might be hard to convince her she needs to be at home with her daddy.” Neil said. “Unless you’re just hoping I’ll work over that boy of hers.”
“I thought of that, but it ain’t all of it. Hell, I don’t care if you shoot the son of a bitch, but can you maybe just bring her in so I can talk to her? If she won’t come home on her own, I mean.”
“What about Hoon? He going to give me grief?”
“Like I said, shoot that son of a bitch he tries to stop you! I don’t give a rat turd what happens to that trash.” Jenkins sat hard on the single wooden chair placed at the small mismatched table of the kitchenette. He scraped at a gouge in the wood, picking at it lovingly, like it was all that was wrong with his world. “Hell I don’t know. I always thought him a bit touched, but not mean. Not like tonight. A mean, crazy son of a bitch, tonight.” He looked up, into Neil’s eyes. “Help me Neil. Please. Get my Helen home to me. She belongs with her daddy, not some no account, pill head.”
And then Jenkins began to weep, hard. Mean and crazy. Neil hadn’t interacted with Hoon in several years, but mean and crazy weren’t words one applied to boys like him. Happy-go-lucky, a bit aloof, the Hoon boy was either really in deep or Jenkins had reason to misrepresent him. Neil took a deep breath and wished it was with his face buried in his glue rag.
“I don’t know, Jenkins. This isn’t my usual kind of gig.” Jenkins looked up, wrestled his emotions and smiled. He pulled a bank banded bundle of crisp twenties from his jacket and suddenly it became the usual gig. Neil took the cash.
“I’ll do what I can. I’ll call you if she doesn’t come along peacefully. And the boy, I’ll see about him too.”
Jenkins lost it again and choked out something akin to “thank-you.”
After, when Jenkins had left, Neil leaned over the rickety railing and lit a home-rolled cigarette as he watched the man cross the street and round the corner by the Porky Pig. The few patrons through the glass turned to watch the bleeding man pass and then went back to their coffee and $2.99 catfish plates.
Neil pondered the ins and outs. Helen was part owner of the pharmacy, willed to her by her dead mama, so Helen hadn’t exactly stolen anything. And Neil doubted he’d find the pills when he found her, if he found her.
Neil threw on a light jacket to hide his piece, locked up and went down the stairs. He got into the seat of the ’65 Cutlass and pulled a bottle of rubber cement from the glove box, cracked the plastic seal cap and took a long pull from the bottle before he started the engine. He let the engine rumble in park, foot pressing the pedal to the floor and shaking him loose from everything. He threw the shifter hard into gear without letting up, pealed out, tearing up the strip of city turf between the lot and the sidewalk, dropping off the curb and hitting the road with an explosion of chassis sparks, tires screaming through three gears as he tore ass to wherever this was going.
CS DeWildt’s books include Candy & Cigarettes, Dead Animals, and The Louisville Problem, and are available at www.amazon.com/author/csdewildt. He lives with his wife and kids in the American Southwest. This is a particularly lovely picture of the dude.