Read Screwed Online

Authors: Eoin Colfer

Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Humorous, #Thrillers, #General, #FIC016000, #FIC050000, #FIC031000

Screwed (3 page)

BOOK: Screwed
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Mike laughs, but his goons don’t because they’ve seen me come in. They jump out of their seats, scrabbling for weapons. Two guys get their guns mixed up and argue like kids until one guy actually produces a photo of his gun that he keeps in his wallet.

It’s embarrassing.

Mike’s impulse is to stand up but he checks himself. He is the boss after all.

“Daniel, laddie,” he says. “Sit yourself down.”

I walk around the tables a few times, mapping the layout, banking the positions of the chairs in case I have to toss a few.

Mike is antsy. “Sit down, for fuck sake. You ain’t a spaniel.”

In olden days, his boys would have guffawed at this, but now I’m a known quantity and it’s like there’s a gorilla loose in the room.

I sit between Mike and the bar, with the door in my eye line and Zeb on my left in case I have to slap his stupid head for getting this ball of shit rolling downhill.

“Mike,” I say, giving him the sad face. “Sorry to hear about your mother.”

Mike has a picture of his old ma in a lace frame pinned to his lapel. If this is an Irish custom I never heard of it, and I lived there for twenty-odd years.

“Yeah, she was a great old dame.”

“How come you’re not on a plane?”

Mike reddens like I’m making some kind of subtle accusation that he’d rather be here taking care of grudge business than in the auld sod burying his mother. Of course this is exactly what I’m doing. The thing about this situation is that Mike is holding nearly all the cards. The only thing he can’t control is my attitude, so I don’t intend handing over that last card until I have to.

“I am not exactly welcome in Ireland. They got a photo of me in the customs booth. I did a bit of Semtex business with the boys.” He drops me a wink on the boys so I know he’s talking the Republican movement, though the mention of Semtex had pointed me in that direction.

“Yeah, that would be a problem. Why don’t we cut directly to the part where you tell me why I’m here?”

Mike enjoys a bit of drama and so this request pains him. This pain shows in his expression, though with Mike’s bar-fight potato head it’s a bit like watching someone squeeze a fat, old sponge.

“It ain’t that simple, laddie,” he says, touching the picture of Ma Madden on his lapel. “I’m grieving. I got the sweats, the shits and mood swings. I been drunk since yesterday.”

His guys mumble sympathetically. They sound like faraway monks.

Zeb pipes up. “I got stuff for all that. Three pills twice a day. Suppositories though, so you gotta get them right up there.”

Tarantino is the man, but I never really bought those indoor triangular shoot-outs he’s done a couple of times. Who’s gonna get annoyed enough to start blasting with a barrel pointed at their own head? But now I’m starting to think that with Zebulon Kronski somewhere in that triangle, everyone’s past caring about their own lives. Zeb could get the Dalai Lama to shoot dolphins. Here I am trying to jockey for some leverage and he just comes out with some shit about suppositories.

“Do me a favor, Mike,” I say hurriedly. “Get this little prick outta here before someone can’t take it anymore.”

Mike clicks his fingers at Manny. “You are so fucking right. I nearly strangled him three times already. The wife loves him though. Her little miracle worker Zeb.”

Something clicks with me.

Zeb ain’t on the hook anymore.

Just me.

Zeb has done more than make himself invaluable to Mike, he has made himself and his Botox needle indispensible to Mrs. Madden. Maybe he’s not as cavalier with his own life as I thought.

Manny hauls Zeb outta there and he’s trying to make eye contact the whole way, but I blank him. Zeb’s been running a game, and all the time playing it like we’re down the same hole.

“Come on, Daniel. Danny boy. What is it?”

Zeb’s got that guilty whine in his voice. He bloody knows. I want him to know I know, which kind of typifies the juvenile relationship we have, so I let him have a blast of my ire.

“You guys don’t like Jesus, right? How about Judas? You got him in your book?”

I gotta hand it to Zeb, he’s not a bad actor. He pulls off shock and hurt pretty well. First his entire head jerks with the force of my words, then the pain creeps into his eyes. Not too shabby.

“What are you saying, Dan? Talk to me.”

This is where Zeb’s gig falls down. Anyone who is familiar with Dr. Kronski knows all too well that his response to any false accusation is a bilingual litany of variations on the phrase fuck you.

I look him square in the eye. “You’re drifting out of character, Zeb. You’ve lost your motivation.”

His jaws are still flapping when Manny pushes him through the swing door and I cannot believe that I have risked my life several times for this ingrate. I don’t want thanks but I would appreciate a little solidarity.

When Zeb leaves a lot of the crazy leaves with him and it’s just believable that Mike and I can do a little mano a mano and then Mike says:

“Daniel. I know we’re in a bit of a bind, but I think we should look for the opera-toonity here.”

Opera-toonity. I grind my teeth. I gotta make the best deal I can here and blowing my top over a mispronunciation seems a little childish.

So I do not slap Mike in his greasy chops. What I do is say, “Mike. You’re grieving, man. You just lost your mom and that’s major trauma for anyone, but for us Irish, it’s earth-shattering.”

Pretty good, eh? I rehearsed that on the way over here.

“That’s it exactly, Dan. Earth-shattering. You hit the nail on the head.” Mike fingers the lace on his lapel. “But we have a duty to the dead, and that duty is to keep on living. We respect those who have passed on by grabbing life by the throat, as it were.”

Looks like I wasn’t the only one rehearsing. I nod for a while, seemingly absorbing the wisdom of Mike’s words, but actually trying to gauge if I could sink my fingers into his fat neck before his boys shoot me. It’s doubtful. We got a table and ten feet of space between us.

“It’s like this, Daniel,” says Mike. “I got a proposition to make. This is a real opera-toonity for you to get out from under.”

He said it again and I feel my face spasm like I got slapped.

“Out from under? How far out?”

“Out from under in that I don’t have to kill you no more.”

“Me and Zeb, you mean?”

Mike grimace/grins like it’s out of his control. “Well, not so much Zeb. He’s like Mrs. Madden’s little pet doctor. She’s got way more friends now. Everyone’s a winner. But you, you’re expendable.”

Fabulous. I’m expendable. When have I ever been anything else? They’re gonna scrawl that on the body bag I get buried in. What’s-his-name was expendable.

“Is that it? You don’t have to kill me no more? What about protection on the club? Is that on the table?”

Mike laughs. “No. That ain’t anywhere near the table. That ain’t even in the same zip code as the fuckin’ table.”

This is good news, because if Mike wasn’t expecting me to come back alive from whatever his proposition is, he would throw the monthly payment into the pot. Why not? Then again, I could be getting played.

Mile clears his throat for the big speech. “You gotta ask yourself, Dan, why Mr. Madden would give me an opera-toonity to get square.”

This is confusing: Mike is talking about himself in the third person but me in the first person.

“Should I take that opera-toonity?” continues Mike. “Or should I throw that opera-toonity back in his face?”

You gotta be kidding me. I feel a vein pulse in my forehead.

“Because opera-toonities like this don’t come along every day.”

Aaaargh. I gotta cut this off. I gotta speak.

“Mike, let me ask you a question.”

In Mike’s head he’s already two paragraphs further into his monologue, so this catches his breath in his throat. I plow ahead before he can find another excuse to say opera-toonity.

“What are you doing here?”

Mike squints his little beady eyes and for a moment they disappear entirely in his broken-vein face. “What are any of us doing here, Daniel?”

“No. I mean what are you doing here? In Cloisters. New Jersey is an Italian state. There are no Irish gangs in Jersey. You’re like a boil on a supermodel’s ass, Mike. You do not belong.”

Mike’s chair squeaks when he leans back and I get to take in his entire corpulent frame, which five years ago might have been fearsome. All I see now is an aging hard drinker squashed into an expensive suit, which he is sweating the class out of. He’s still got strength, but if he uses too much of it he could have a cardiac. In my uneducated opinion, Mike has got five years tops before the bacon grease pops his heart. Maybe I could have accelerated that process just by leaving Zeb in the room.

“The Italians don’t want to fuck with me,” he says finally, actually answering my question, if not truthfully. “We’re a quiet little burg, laddie, and it wouldn’t be worth the bloodshed.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I say, offhand, implying that Mike would indeed inflict a lot of damage on an Italian crew.

Now this simple comment might seem at odds with all the argumentative junk I’ve been spouting, but I have a method. Back when I was in between tours in the Middle East with the Irish army, my appointed shrink, Dr. Simon Moriarty, gave me a few tips to try and deal with the authority issues I’d been having. I can see him now, stretched out on the office couch that I should have been lying on, smoking a thick cigar and tapping the ash into a mug balanced on his Ramones T-shirt.

You see, Dan. Your average boss man bullied his way to the top, so deep down he doesn’t think he deserves to be there. So, first you give him a few well-constructed insults, just to show you got the smarts. Then, when he’s feeling good and intimidated, start drip feeding compliments. A fortnight of flimflam like that and he’ll be eating out of your hands.

I don’t have a couple of weeks, so I’ll have to trust that Zeb laid the insult groundwork.

“Nah, the Italians ain’t coming in here,” continued Mike, straightening his flat cap in a manner presumably meant to convey his hard-line attitude toward Italian gangsters. “It’s like that Spartan thing. They can’t fit too many in here all at once and we can knock down SpaghettiOs all day.”

SpaghettiOs. Nice.

“You certainly got the men,” I say, setting up another insult with a compliment.

Mike’s men flex their muscles, making their jackets squeak. “Then again I did beat the crap out of most of these guys on my lonesome, twice, while injured, a few months back. I could probably take four or five of them now, if I have to.”

Mike is ready for that. “Oh, no, laddie. We ain’t getting suckered again. Calvin has a red dot painted on your skull right now.”

And not in the Buddhist sense, I’m guessing.

Calvin. I remember him. Young guy, all up on his police procedures. Says stuff like trace evidence and DNA typing with a straight face. Mike adores him. Moved the kid right up to number two last year. Suddenly I swear I can feel the laser dot on the back of my head.

“Okay, so let’s cut to the chase. What am I doing here?”

“You mean metaphysically?” says Mike, proving that people can always surprise you.

“No. I mean, why am I sitting here in your new clubhouse when I should be in mine working on the refurb so you can up your rates?”

“You’re here because I owe you a killing. You set my whole operation back months. Hell, laddie, you put my lieutenant in the ground. You saw the opera-toonity to hurt me and you took that op—”

I can’t take it. Damn my impetuous nature. “Hold on there a second, laddie. You think I wanted to put your guy down? You think that doesn’t keep me awake? I gave him every chance to walk away, but no, your fuckwit of a lieutenant attacked me with a spike and I defended myself. I saw an opera-toonity to survive and I took it.”

Calvin sniggers and immediately apologizes.

“Sorry, Mike. He said that word. You know, the one you say, the way you say it.”

Mike is upset that this entire conversation is not rolling out the way he expected.

“What word, Calvin? What fucking word would that be?”

I save Calvin’s ass. “You’re a bully, Mike, you know that? Always trying to make excuses for your bullshit. You’re gonna kill me and burn down my club unless I do something for you, right? So just tell me what the something is.”

I have obviously abandoned my psychological tactics at this point. I didn’t last too long. Premature exasperation.

“Maybe I’m just gonna kill you,” says Mike, peeved at being predictable. “You ever think of that?”

“No, Mike. Because if you wanted me dead, then four or five of your guys would be in the hospital and I’d have a flesh wound. Maybe.”

This comment sends us sailing past Mike’s shit limit and he closes his eyes for a second. When he opens them again, we are in the presence of Dark Mike. Mike the Merciless. This guy has shed the veneer of civilization like a snake sheds its dead skin. Irish Mike is carrying the race memories of bloody revolution, prison protest and back-alley shankings around inside him and a few decades in New Jersey making the occasional pilgrimage to a Broadway show is not gonna wipe those away for long.

“Okay, you know what? Fuck you, Dan. Fuck you. I am getting a fucking migraine listening to your fucking shit.”

That’s a lotta fucks all of a sudden. When I was a doorman full-time, I developed a theory that stated that there was a definite correlation between the amount of fucks in a sentence and the imminence of the fuck-utterer taking a swing.

Four fucks, and you took your hands out of your pockets.

The room seems to heat up. Mike’s boys lean inward like tall flowers attracted to the sun. They sense that the time to earn their salaries could be at hand.

“Here’s the situation, okay?” says Mike, spit flecking his lips. “I own this town and you fucking owe me, McEvoy. Whatever way you want to dress it up. So, there are two ways for you to get yourself out of the hole. Either Calvin plugs you in the head right now and I have to Clorox the floor, or I need a dummy to deliver a package to a guy called Shea in Soho, who can be a little touchy. That’s it. Two choices. A or B, no option C. Oh, actually, wait. There is an option C. Option C is Calvin shoots you in the balls first, then shoots you in the head.”

BOOK: Screwed
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