Oscar spent a majority of his mornings on the patio nursing hangovers with a regimen of espresso shots, Australian sparkling ale, hydrocodone (when he had it) and mineral water. Three years in Austin as a waiter and manager for a wine bar should have deterred him from opening his own business but he had an unfeigned love affair with coffee. Oscar changed clothes tenuously once a week and his hands were by and large the only clean parts of his anatomy. Anyone within his tightest circle of friends complained only half-heartedly about the volume of social media notifications they might receive from Oscar during any given day. The barrage began around 10am when he would stroll the single block between his duplex apartment and the shop, his Vader shaped lenses forever fixed on the screen in his palm, his furious tussle of hair forever a black brush stroke across the back of his head. It was rare to receive one-to-one text messages from Oscar. By noon, Hatchet had already seen two.
Let me buy you a coffee.
We’ll talk about your tab.
Although Oscar would generally allow his tab to run higher than most customers, in the days leading up to heist, it would reach a milestone at well over $500. Access to fresh coffee and hard cider made his preparations much more endurable if not more efficient. Just prior to Hatchet’s arrival, Oscar had fired one of his teenage employees, a girl so goth, if she were dead, she wouldn’t have known and she would still be standing in the center of room, screaming obscenities with spittle popping from her mouth like welding slag. Marcus stepped around her just as her spaghetti noodle frame ran out of wind. She was breathing rapidly and giving Oscar a demonic stare-down. Shades in place, Oscar kept his mouth shut and with a single click on his phone replaced the husky voiced folk singer on the PA with the Imperial March from Star Wars. The room full of customers shared a guilty chuckle as she nearly sprained an ankle in her angry about-face exit.
I take it you’re in a glorious mood, Hatchet said. Walking on sunshine, Oscar told him, grab a coffee; I’ll be in the office. Hatchet gingerly toed the door closed and sat in a chair in the tiny room cluttered with canvas paintings and expired office machines. Your tab sucks, Oscar said and tossed the shades onto the landscape of paper that covered his desktop. You know I’m good for it. That doesn’t really help me right now, does it? You do have a point. This shit kills me, Hatchet, I have to replace a roof this year and apparently they don’t make a door on an ice maker that my employees can’t destroy; they should be winning trophies. I hear you, Oscar. But fuck it, look, the Annual Black & White Show is right around the corner and one of my artists dropped out last night; you haven’t hung a photo in my place in over a year. I haven’t been showing much at all. That’s stupid; that means you’re not selling much. It’s been on my mind. Bottom line, I want you in the show and I want a seventy-five percent commission until your tab is paid; I’ll even do the unthinkable and forgive you $100. What’s the date? The 17th. That just might work out perfectly for me, Oscar.
Where’s the cheapest place in town to get dry ice? Poole stared at him over the top of his book, That spot over off 56th; what in the world do you need with dry ice? Hatchet looked straight into his eyes. I might wanna make a bomb, a non-lethal bomb like the ones we used to throw in dumpsters in high school. Poole sighed and went back to his reading. What are you gonna do without me, Poole? You going somewhere? Well, I’m not staying here. Uh-huh, what the fuck are you talking about? You know what I’m talking about. I guess I do and I’ll miss you when you’re gone. But you won’t talk about me when I’m gone though, will you? What is that supposed to mean? Hatchet tilted his head at him. Fuck off, Hatchet.
Hatchet dreamt he was dressed in a dark suit, sitting in the rear of a blacked out Suburban with another man, another Guardian, with a heavy padlocked deposit bag in the space between them. His companion’s eyes were just deep shadowy sockets in his chiseled face. The eyeless man was complaining about the cost of supporting a family, mortgages and car payments, arguments with his father-in-law. He wished there was more time for fishing trips and more money for a Harley. Then he drew a pistol from his jacket and squeezed the trigger three times and three holes opened in Hatchet’s chest that immediately vanished as time rewound then played forward again, the Guardian with his gun drawn and pointed again. Naw, he said and returned the weapon to his jacket, I wouldn’t do that to you, pal, some of us concede our fates to higher powers, ya know? Hatchet surprised himself with his following bravado, Some of us aren’t playing by those rules, asshole.
An average phone call with the Texas Employment Commission, Hatchet’s only source of income for months now, could take up to forty-five minutes depending on which number he pressed in correspondence with the issue he might need resolved. When finally a voice connected to the flesh and blood of a real live human mouth would moo into his ear, Hatchet would be sitting decimated by his time under the hold music. He felt sure the piece written strictly for the phone.
A vaguely female voice asked how It could be of service to him. With as much kindness as he could muster, he explained how his benefits had stopped which wouldn’t be a big deal really but these installments fulfilled his child support. It seemed lacking in confidence as It explained to him that It needed to take a moment to review his account and could he please hold for a second?
Hatchet’s eyes waxed dim in the bathroom mirror, damned once again to the choking gloom of hold music.
It returned to inform him his eligibility for benefits had run out. How can that be? It explained that according to the notes and records in the data base, his original weekly benefit amount had been calculated incorrectly which in turn meant that the amount of time he would receive benefits was cut short since the total amount of benefits he was allowed to receive had already been reached. Your records are incorrect. You can reapply for benefits in February of next year. Your records are wrong. It could put a supervisor on the line if he’d like. I know how that works; supervisors don’t talk to people like me; you’re just gonna transfer me to the next cubicle and they’ll tell me the same thing. It can’t do anything more than explain why your benefits have run out or place you in contact with a supervisor, sir. You could dig a little deeper, work a little harder, double check the amounts or something. Sir, you should have all this in the form of documents the TWC has mailed to you. Mailed to me? this is the year 3000; who mails anything or keeps anything that’s been mailed to them?
The loop of the doorknocker felt too heavy for its size as he worked it against itself. He could hear the clamor of Allison’s mother’s three dogs fenced in a hallway somewhere deep within the house. Through the half moon window at the top of the door, Allison’s father could be seen lumbering toward him like some sickly yeti through the cluttered interior with some tool in his hand, a hammer or a saw. This man has never had a free moment in his life, thought Hatchet. I bet he can’t remember a single detail about the world in which he lived before he got married and had two children. The man came close enough to the door to recognize Hatchet and he immediately turned and began backtracking as he called out to one of the women. Hatchet imagined swirling ribbons of snow wrapping around the ol’ boy as he disappeared again into cold recesses of the structure.
Allison soon came striding the same path through the same clutter and the same braided whips of arctic wind until he realized the shape of her standing in the ingress. She was the picture of shock painted hatred as she reached for the deadbolts and twisted them open with a sound not unlike a pump action shotgun. This better be good news, Marcus. Where’s Olivia? She’s upstairs on her computer; why has my child support stopped? Can I see her? Hell no and fuck no. She’s my daughter, Allison. Not until I see some child support she’s not. They’ve cut me off, Allison. Then I guess you had better put on your Sunday best and hit the bricks, boy, find yourself some employment, remember employment, Marcus? Allison, I’m not gonna beg you. Well, that just ruins my day, Marcus.
He could feel the cold aura of the place wafting past her into the air between them. It smelled like some wartime morgue built into an arctic cave high in some mystified range of jagged peaks. He gauged her slightly sagging face, hoping for signs of life. I’ll figure it out, he told her and left her with her face jutting through a thin gap between the door and the enclosure. She doesn’t want to see you, Marcus, she’s afraid of you. If he had been listening to her he might have heard her before he left the yard, slamming the white picket gate closed behind him. But he wasn’t listening.
He sat on the edge of his truck and removed his shoes. He placed his toes in the fine silt at the perimeter of the road and squeezed the powdery soil between his digits. He pumped his bent knees to his chest a few times and then set to running in his flawed but disciplined form, gaining speed until he found an effective pace and length of stride. Voluminous chunks of oxygen ignited the furnace of his brain, his deep ravenous breaths billowing and pumping as the charged endorphins raced the length of his systems, all of them artisans in the construction of the plan to rob Calvary Fellowship Church of over a half a million dollars. The oppressive unstoppable bolt of time itself had finally broken him and cornered him into decisive action.
River of Blood, a novel about anarchism, atheism, racism, violence, family, and corruption.
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.