BROTHER TO JACKALS
I have become a brother to jackals,
a companion of owls.
Like a muddied spring or a polluted well,
is a righteous man who gives way to the
A coward friend makes a valiant foe.
To live outside the law, you must
He tasted blood on his lips. He never saw the punch coming, and when it landed square on his mouth a metallic taste of anger singed his mind. In a cold rage, blind instincts gripped his senses as he gritted his teeth and smashed Richard Fleshman in the windpipe. Fleshman bent over with his hands clenching his throat. Bar stools scattered across the floor. A beer bottle crashed at his feet. For a long time some obscure intuition reminded him an event like this would eventually transpire——scuffling on the bar room floor of the Neon Eel. Floodgates of released frustration opened into perverse action. Flickering lights composed his blurred vision. Broken glass scattered across the floor like worthless deadly diamonds. As they struggled, he could hear Crazy Annie screaming:
“Stomp the motherfucker’s brains out Fleshman!”
After attempting to snatch Fleshman’s ponytail from his head, he began prying Fleshman’s eyeball from the right socket when they were pulled apart.
He felt blood on his chin. He may have broken a tooth.
He understood, feeling a sharp pain in his left hand, this situation occurred because he kept time with ruinous companions. Times like these made him forget what he liked about this place. He finally discovered a severe price for betraying his instincts.
It didn’t matter to anyone Fleshman threw the first punch--a sucker punch to the mouth. Fleshman proved knocked out loaded, in a notorious drunken tirade, employing his proclivity to insult people. From the beginning of their acquaintance Fleshman often sported him as a scapegoat.
The fighters were pulled apart, in a crowd of leering drunks hungry for the spill of bar room blood, and guided to separate ends of the bar. Each man sat consoled by various allies. Shouted insults could not be heard over commotion and animated drunkenness that escalated and finally subsided after a short while.
He felt stares from strangers, streaking an evil gall in his veins. He couldn’t read the Budweiser clock behind the bar. Sam Tanner laid a thick, hairy arm around his lean shoulders. It made him feel better to know Sam stood by his side. He felt certain downtown acquaintances siding against him. This evening lingered like a bad dream, cheap drama. He could hear the gossip now. He felt verifications of old truths resurfacing. He ignored blood dripping from his hand onto the floor realizing he must’ve fallen on a broken bottle.
“Why do you let him get to you?” asked the corpulent Sam Tanner who lived with Fleshman at the Junk House.
“He sucker punched me.” He spat blood on the dusty floor, tonguing his cut lip. He lost no teeth.
“You were wailing on him pretty good. Let me get us a drink. Hey Bessy! Let me and m’boy get four shots of Cuervo. And a towel! You’re bleeding my brother.”
“I’m sick of that motherfucker’s shit.”
“You still have some blood on your chin too.”
They did not speak until the skinny peroxide blonde bartender poured tequila into four shot glasses on the old wooden bar.
“Sam, it looks like he needs stitches,” Bessy said, throwing him a towel. The deep gash in his hand spread open, and bled. Smeared blood stained his faded blue jeans. He felt a strange shame for lowering to such a foolish level, but he refused to allow the sucker punch to go unanswered. He already felt a dread of living with haunting consequences from this poisonous folly.
“Screw you all!” Fleshman yelled, reeling out of the bar in a grand exit. Perverse tensions hung in the air. Cantina eyes looked his way. He heard Crazy Annie speaking in a hushed, conspiring tone——a stage whisper——to some double-talking wench. A few lighthearted jokes passed as bar activity gradually returned to normal. The alienation made his blood wise.
“Bessy darlin, one more double round.”
“Buck is coming to take him to the emergency room.”
“I ain’t goin’ to no emergency room…”
Sam pulled on his moustache. He knew the secret and no one wanted the answer. This local black market network became a drug task force surveillance target. Sam watched his friend staring at his own blood dripping on the floor.
“You got soul. Fleshman loves to challenge with insults. You know that. He wishes he could do what you do, but he can’t. You gotta see about that hand, brother. The lip too.”
“I ain’t goin’ to no emergency room.”
He swallowed his last tumbler of tequila, stumbled out of the bar into the rain, and walked home with a bloody white towel wrapped around his left hand.
A full moon hung in the sky like some mad voyeur on a second Wednesday of the month. A tall, large boned man with black kinky hair walked into The Stray Cat Lounge on this cold, clear December night. A Mexican disco album blared over the club speakers. Cigarette smoke floated above the rafters. The man walked into the bar and glanced towards a booth where his connection sat waiting for their clandestine meeting to begin.
They greeted one another with slight nods, ready to undertake a familiar task. An uneasy chemistry flowed between the men. They both felt uncomfortable about meeting in this bar.
The large man sat down and stared into the eyes of a corrupt public servant. Today, the informant felt calmer waiting for the familiar questioning. He sat like a seduced rodent mesmerized by the quiet, precise stalking of a famished snake.
The public servant, Rosco Williams, pulled a pack of Marlboro reds from his faded blue jean jacket. He wore green fatigue army pants. Williams chose a random cigarette from the pack and lit it with a gold military lighter. The two men avoided eye contact while ordering beers from a long legged brunette waitress.
“You’re running out of time friend,” spoke Williams, exhaling smoke, watching the disgruntled yet impotent individual sitting across from him.
“These things take time,” muttered the informant, who sat in disgust with himself for agreeing to such circumstances. He peeled the blue label of his beer bottle.
“I didn’t put you in this situation. You got busted. Either way, you’re screwed. It’s information or jail. You know the game.”
As the waitress brought their beers, the informant realized with a nauseous clarity his entire life burned towards this heinous ruin. He noticed the scar over the cop’s left eye. For so long this informant ran when not pursued; paranoia and fatigue festering upon his spirit, reaping demons with rampant claims for his soul and no place to hide. He traveled on a long road to nowhere, haunted by a fevered madness saturating his soul with a sick confidence. Life narrowed to a moment when the past, present, and future constellations align. His lack of faith propelled him into the position of judas goat.
He watched car lights stream down the familiar nighttime streets decorated for the holidays. The disco beat and flickering bar lights annoyed him. The festive season brought him no cheer.
“So, who is turning the smack?” asked Williams with beer suds matted on his black moustache, flicking his cigarette ashes on the floor, intending to obtain all the information he needed by the time he finished his beer.
“Marty Saulings and Lester Hilgram are the only two I can think of.”
“Man, far as I can tell the Junk House boys don’t deal…”
“Bullshit. Listen, they’re turning something. You know it and I know it. They get the it from someone with serious connections.”
“I can only do so much. They’re supposed to be friends of mine."
“Listen you idiot. You don’t have any friends except me. Understand?” Williams’ face turned an irascible red. He spoke through gnashed teeth.
“This ain’t right. You can’t do this,” uttered the informant.
“I can do whatever I want. I don’t give a shit. I’ll fuck you where you breathe. You got busted, so you play by my rules.”
“Man, I could expose you.”
Williams grabbed the informant by the collar, turning his fist until the informant’s jugular bulged,
“You don’t seem to understand. I have the authority to put you away for drug dealing because I am an officer of the law. My friends are lawyers and judges who are your worst enemies. Now, if you want to fold up, that’s okay, because you’ve lost your friends since you made a deal with me. Consequently, narrowing your choice to this: if you don’t get the story on the Junk House gang, I’ll make sure you’re flayed like a dog in the street. You’ll never see the light of day again. I’ll always have more evidence than you.”
“Listen. I’ll get something. I hate Fleshman, but you can’t rush this shit. They never have dealer’s money. They’re just addicts.”
Williams released the informant’s collar. He drank almost all of his Natural Lite in one swallow. He smashed his cigarette butt in a black plastic ashtray.
“That’s not good enough.” Williams quaffed the rest of his beer. He pulled a yellow envelope from his jean jacket and slid it across the table to the informant.
“Take this money and make a buy with them, a couple of eight balls. Do what you want with the rest.”
“Call it what you want. If I were you, I’d call it rent.”
The informant tore open the white envelope under the table. He counted ten one hundred dollar bills.
“You need to have something on tape two weeks from today.” Williams said nothing else as he dropped a dollar for gratuity on the table, and walked out of the Stray Cat Lounge without looking back.
The money rested in the informant’s pocket. He considered leaving town. Or taking someone down with him. He felt a despondent strangeness, as if his soul searched with nowhere to hide from the enormity of his transgressions. Even the brunette waitress avoided him.
He felt exposed and recognized as an imposter. A phony. A liar. Contaminated. Tainted. He realized, everything, at one time or another, transforms into its opposite with nowhere to turn...he sold out his friends, and the cops didn’t care if he went to jail. Finishing the beer, he left a tip and walked out into the cold evening to find Sam Tanner.