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by Jason Bennett
When I left the Case house, I didn’t drive home. I tried to, but my body wouldn’t let me. I was tired beyond my own comprehension, my eyes struggling to focus and my head swimming. Instead of driving home, I found myself headed to The Southport Pub, the bar I had seen Olivia and Jake at several nights previous. Exactly why I was headed there, I’m not sure. Maybe I wanted to get drunk, maybe to find Jake Ellison. Either way, it was probably a bad idea.
The bar was crowded when I got there; I looked at the clock on my dashboard and noticed it was nearly 2 a.m. I hadn’t realized that my visit to the Case mansion took so long. I ordered a beer at the bar.
Ellison was there, as I knew he would be. He sat tucked into a booth in the bar’s back room, several of his hoodlum friends surrounding him.
Acting on pure adrenaline, I approached him. “Ellison.” I stopped short of his booth and stared at him. The back room of the bar was dark, but I could still make out his gold chains and the rings on his fingers. He was wearing a dark leather jacket over a tight black t shirt, and although I couldn’t see them because of the table he sat behind, I knew he’d have on dress pants and expensive leather shoes. He and his gangster friends all dressed alike, and without much variation from day to day. Their propensity to flaunt their money angered me even more.
“Ellison,” I repeated, to get his attention away from the girl who was smiling at him.
“You really must be bored, and drunk.”
He looked me up and down slowly. I’m sure I looked ridiculous staring at him, as I must have been.
“Then what do you want?”
“I need to talk to you.”
“Not now, I’m busy.”
“Now,” I said. “I need to talk to you right now.”
“You’re a smart guy, Osborne,” his speech was slow and deliberate: taunting and insulting me. “Do the smart thing and don’t bug me.”
He turned back to his female companion. I stayed put, beer in hand, making a nuisance of myself. I wasn’t going to go away until he spoke to me. “It’s extremely important.”
He turned back to face me. “Okay, so maybe you’re not so smart.” He stood up and walked to me. “So talk.”
“Outside,” I said. “The rest of the bar doesn’t need to hear what I have to say.”
He slowly extended one greasy, manicured hand, palm up, and gestured towards the front door. I began walking out of the bar. I could feel him behind me. I realized then, I didn’t even know what I was going to say.
I reached the entrance of the bar, and walked down the three steps of the rickety wood porch attached to the building’s front. I turned left, in to the alley between the bar and the building that flanked it.
Still unsure of what to say, I let emotion take over. The emotion I had felt building up all evening, ever since the moment I heard Jerry’s voice on the telephone telling me to come over right away. As I rounded the corner into the dark alley, I dropped my beer bottle, balled up my fist, then turned and swung at Ellison with all the strength I had left in me.
My arm whiffed in a wide arc. I missed Ellison by a mile, nearly screwing myself into the ground in the process. I felt like a batter, guessing fastball, but getting fooled by a wicked changeup. Ellison stood calmly and smirked.
Immediately, two of his friends who had followed us out without my knowledge grabbed me. Each of them held an arm, and they pulled me backwards, until my back flattened against the bar’s clapboard exterior.
Ellison’s first punch slammed into my gut before I could steady myself from the impact against the wall. It knocked the wind completely out of me, and for the second time that evening, my stomach voided itself of bile. I fell to my knees and landed in water. Kneeling in a mud puddle, dry heaving, and struggling for breath, I let my weight rest on my arms, still gripped by the wrists, held up and backwards by the two goons.
After several seconds of struggling for breath, I looked upwards at Ellison just in time to see his second punch dropping onto the bridge of my nose. I saw stars and then black. I tasted the blood that erupted from my nose, and after a split second of extreme pain, I felt as if I were watching the entire thing on a movie screen. I saw myself go limp and the two goons let me drop into the mud.
The water contacting my face woke me up quickly. As I struggled to look upwards at Ellison and his goons, I felt myself reaching out, trying to grab his foot, his leg, anything I could get a grip on.
“I’ve had a very bad day,” Ellison said. “My car was stolen yesterday, and I was stranded in Chicago until almost eight tonight. I spent most of that time in the police station, filling out fucking reports and complaints, and you know how I feel about cops. So your little intrusion has just capped a great mood.”
I strained to look at him.
“Now,” Ellison’s voice echoed at me through a long tube. “Are we done talking, or do you have something else to say?”
I couldn’t speak. I looked at him stupidly, and struggled to rise to my knees.
“I thought so.”
Ellison turned and walked away with his two goons in tow.
I don’t remember driving home that night, but I must have. I walked into my kitchen and pulled out two full ice trays. After emptying their contents into a plastic Ziploc bag, I looked at myself in the mirror.
I had looked worse, but not often.
I walked into my living room and sat in my leather recliner, flipped on the television, and stared at CNN for a few minutes. My entire face throbbed mercilessly, and my throat burned from vomiting. I couldn’t remember a more painful evening, in every way. All I could think of was Dianne. The last time I got beat up, Dianne had run me a bath, iced a black eye and fist, and nursed my badly bruised ego. She was perfect. I missed that.
Against my better judgement, I picked up the phone and dialed her number. She answered after six rings.
“Di? Did I wake you up?”
“Yeah, Di, it’s me.”
“I was just thinking about you, Di.”
“I guess I just wanted to say hi,” I fumbled for words. “I wanted to say hello and see how you were.”
“Carson, do you have any idea . . . “
“I know it’s late.”
“It’s not late, Carson. It’s early. It’s very early in the morning, and I’m still sleeping.”
“Well,” I shrugged, as if she could see me, “you’re not ‘still’ sleeping, you’re awake now.”
“What do you want?”
“I guess I just wanted to say hello.”
“Go to bed, Carson Osborne, and leave me alone.”
No one said anything for several seconds.
“Olivia Case is dead,” I finally managed to say. The relief of my saying that was worth the entire call. Although stating it made the fact more real, it was comforting, in a way. I was no longer swimming in a terrible dream. I was dealing with a real situation. Social workers would have been proud of me, contacting my support group, and all. Problem was, my support group no longer wanted to support me.
Dianne took several seconds before responding.
“Carson, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you.” She never had understood my closeness with Jerry and Olivia: She still had parents and siblings of her own.
“I know,” I let the ice drop into my lap. It was very cold on my face, anyway. “I just wanted to say hello.”
“Go to sleep, Carson.”
She hung up the phone without saying another word. I sat and stared at CNN for as long as I could.
I opened my eyes and realized I had fallen asleep. The bag of ice had melted and my leg was freezing cold. My arm was asleep from leaning my head on it.
I shut the television off and crawled into my bed. Friday evening turned slowly into Saturday morning as I watched the sun come up through my bedroom window.
It was going to be a cold day.
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