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Feed 'Em to the Fish
"What's with the music?" I ask Holly as she refills my draft.
By way of acknowledging my existence, she raises an eyebrow.
"It's been close to an hour now since I put my two bucks in the juke, and, so far, if it ain't Dixie Chicks it's this disco crap."
"So what do you want me to do about it, Vic?"
She's looking at me like I'm an idiot, again. Not even eight o'clock yet and I'm already annoying her.
"Well who put this in the jukebox?"
"Who do you think?" She motions toward a couple fools at the other end of the bar singing along with Afternoon Delight.
"I mean who allowed this to be in the juke?"
"Bob, I guess."
"Well, hell, what was he thinking?"
"Why don't you ask him when he comes in tomorrow? You know, once you pull yourself out of the gutter."
"I think I will," I mumble, defeated, as she fetches beer for other alcoholics.
I watch her bubble ass swathed in designer denim and I can't help but feel marginally triumphant. This is the most she's talked to me since the Jolly Rancher incident.
"What about it, tough guy."
That would be my buddy Paul sittig down on the empty stool to my left. He doesn't bother to change out of his navy blue monkeysuit before stopping at Bob's. His sleeves are streaked with grease and grime. His oily hair looks like the ass feathers of a duck that's been dunked in the toxic waters of Powderhorn Lake. He smells like Powderhorn Lake, too. An alarming combination of petroleum, detergent and rot.
Holly pours his draft and they smile coyly at each other. Just to piss me off. Tonight is beginning to seem identical to last night and the night before. I don't know. Maybe all I need to set me straight is a nice girlfriend for the night. Even a not-so-nice girl would do wonders at this point.
"I finally got the bill for that truck," Paul says.
Oh Christ. I've been hearing about this truck for the last two months. You can't talk to the man without him mentioning the accident a hundred and nine times.
"Nine thousand dollars."
"I told you how limited my sympathy is. You shoulda got insurance like the rest of us law-abiding motorists."
"Law-abiding? Cops pull you over in that little piece of shit Chevette, license still suspended from all those DUIs, it's gonna be goodbye for a long time."
"It's not a Chevette, it's a Pontiac T-1000. A mechanic of your caliber should know the difference. And when was the last time you ever saw a cop pull over a Pontiac T-1000? Or a Chevette for that matter? Never. It doesn't happen. So long as I don't go making any left hand turns in front of Mrs. Brown's F10 pick-up, I'll be fine."
That shuts him up a moment. He drinks his draft. I drink mine while the juke continues its country/disco rampage. The place is crowded for a Thursday evening. Mostly regulars. Chronic alcoholics and the boys coming in from the mills. There's a couple younger cats shooting pool, a couple older cats sliding ten spots into the poker machines.
"I can't get ahead," Paul begins round two. "Every time I think I'm getting it together, something else pops up. Five thousand dollars left on my tuition. Another five thousand in tools. Two thousand in credit cards. And now this truck. I'm twenty thousand dollars down and got nothing to show for it."
"You got that kick ass entertainment system."
"For a thousand bucks it can be your kick ass entertainment system."
"Thousand bucks? I don't even have enough money for gas. I might have to walk home tonight."
"Didn't you just get a check Tuesday?"
"Unemployment checks only go so far, Paul."
"Well, just be thankful you ain't got my bills. You'd probably have to get a job."
"Man, you know what I got to say about that? Fuck'em and feed'em to the fish. Declare bankruptcy. Those vultures can't squeeze money from a stone."
"I can't declare bankruptcy," Paul says, exasperated. "They'll repo my tools. How would I work on cars? With my fingers? Besides, I'd like to keep my credit clean. I'd like to get a house, eventually."
"At the rate you're going, you'll end up living out of your two thousand dollar tool box."
"Yeah, anything else goes wrong. Way I figure, I keep drinking draft beer and bagging my lunch, I'll have everything paid off inside four years."
"Does this mean you won't be going to the Body Shoppe with the fellas tomorrow night?"
"Shit. I couldn't afford the cover charge. You?"
"You kidding? I'd hate for the girls to miss their car payments."
"I thought you said you were strapped for cash."
"Man, I always got money for strippers."
"Well, I got Carol. Saves money."
"I think I'd rather spend the cash."
"That was out of line."
"Maybe. How bout I buy you a beer to make up for it. Holly... two more of the same." I always feel generous on seventy-five cent draft night.
Paul asks if she could cash his check on account of the banks being closed. She happily complies. This pisses me off no end considering I've been frequenting this establishment four years and she won't even look at a check with my name anywhere on it.
"Listen, Vic," Paul says as he slides the cash into his wallet. "I got an idea I want you to mull over. Remember I was telling you about that new job Carol started last week? At Am South Trust out on Route 30. You remember me telling you about that?"
"I don't know. Vaguely. Why?"
"What would you say, Vic, if I told you we could walk in and walk out, two minutes tops with at least seven thousand dollars between us, no problem."
"I'd say you've been watching too many Tarantino flicks."
"Seriously? Seriously, I'd say you're a fucking idiot. You won't declare bankruptcy because you don't want to screw up your credit. Credit, which I might add, got you in trouble to begin with. But you're willing to risk going to jail for the next ten to twenty years, hard time. Federal prison time. Then, if you make it out alive, you'll have a criminal record to go along with your bad credit. Try getting a house with that. Or a job."
"We won't get caught."
"Yeah, you will. Remember that time you side-swiped that parked Cordova and you kept going? What'd you say? 'We won't get caught'. And that old man walking his terrier got your license plate number. Remember that?"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Everything. It's got everything to do with it. You couldn't even beat your meat without your mom catching you. Damn, Paul, you've come up with some stupid ideas before, but this one is like the Holy Grail of ignorance. That cheap beer's finally rotted the brain right out of your head."
"Listen for a second, will ya? I'm telling you this is low to no risk. Easy access, easy escape. Two expressways within a mile of the bank. Off ramps on those expressways a two minute drive in either direction. Cops come, they won't know where to look. We got a one hour window of opportunity. I figure we just grab the money in the drawers up front and get the hell out. Between five and six thousand dollars I figure."
"And Carol will just play along."
"Course not. She won't know nothing about it. First thing cops do after a robbery is question the employees. We do it on her day off."
"That's where the one hour window of opportunity comes into play. The guard always eats his lunch at BK. Twelve to one."
"And if he decides to bag his lunch?"
"He drives a gray Wrangler. We just make sure it's not in the lot."
"And if his wife drops him off? And don't tell me he's single."
"I don't know if he's single or not."
"You know everything else. Did you interrogate Carol or what? Don't you think she'd be suspicious? You asking what vehicle the security guard drives. Jesus Christ."
"She ain't that quick on the uptake. You know that. Every piece of information I've come by has been here and there in different conversations. She volunteered most of it."
"She just up and told you what the security guard drives?"
"I'm a mechanic, Vic. Me asking what somebody drives is like you asking what brand of beer somebody drinks."
Holly swings by to refill our drafts and I ask her if she'd consider robbing a bank with Paul.
"I'd do a lot of things with Paul," she flirts carelessly.
Paul shakes his head, not even bothering to check out Holly's ass as she shags beers. "You know what kills me? These rich bastards who come in the garage. And you just know they've never had to work hard for what they have. Not like we work. Or at least how I work."
"Hey, I've held down jobs before. Manual labor like."
"These rich bastards don't even know how to change the oil in their jaguars. They act like it's a major tragedy if the brakes squeak or the windshield wipers start leaving smears. The other day, this bitch comes in, telling me there's something wrong with the transmission in her Lexus. Yeah, there's something wrong with it; there ain't no transmission fluid in it. And the looks these people give me. Like I'm no better than dogshit. Like it pains them to stoop so low as to talk to a common mechanic. And you know where my money goes? To more rich bastards. So what if I want a little something back? I think I'm entitled."
"You're not going to talk me into doing this with you, Paul. Even if everything goes down like you say and we walk out with seven grand. Divide that, you got thirty five hundred. What's that? Two months worth of bills for you? Then what? You wanna feel sorry for yourself, fine. Just don't include me in your criminal delusions."
"Feel sorry for myself? I'm not feeling sorry for myself. It may seem like that to you because you're content having nothing."
Then, from the jukebox, after two solid hours of country ditties and disco horrors, the opening guitar chord... John Fogarty laying down the truth. "Wwwwwweeeelllllll you wake up in the morning..."
The back door clangs open. Casually, I glance over my shoulder hoping to see a group of horny young ladies looking to take home a groovy cat such as myself. Maybe they'll intuitively know I'm the CCR fan like me all the more for my exquisite taste in music.
Instead, I see a husky guy wearing dark clothes and a ski mask. He carries a pump action shotgun like he's looking to use it. A moment later, the front door crashes open and another gunman enters waving a pistol. I don't et a very good look at him. I become very interested in my draft as if they won't shoot me if I'm not looking at them. Paul does likewise.
"Show me the money, baby," the guy with the pistol tells Holly. I hear her rattling open a paper sack like the kind I usually carry my six packs home in. Holly remains calm like she's done this sort of thing before.
"All right," shotgun announces. "We's gonna do this quick and fast. Put yo wallets in the bag as I comes around. You don't say nothing you keeps yo eyes to the flo. Otherwise, I gots ta bust a cap in ya. Aw ight?"
No one says anything. It occurs to me as I study my ratty boots that, though the robber tries his hardest to talk like a straight up gangsta, his voice doesn't sound black. In fact, I'd say his voice falls somewhere within the lily white range.
Not that it matters. An open trash bag is waved in my line of sight. I see a pair of Nikes, old and scuffed like my boots. No self-respecting black man would be caught dead in a pair of kicks that messed up.
I drop my empty wallet in the bag. Twenty dollars remaining secured in my right front pocket. I'm not going to miss my library card and I haven't had a license since last August.
Paul hesitates slightly before dumping his wallet. No one offers resistance. Not even tough guy Jack by the pool table who has repeatedly claimed to fear no man.
And then they're gone. Two minutes tops. Holly phones the police. Paul and I look at each other. Paul's left eye twitches.
"Drinks are on the house," Holly says as the patrons begin warily discussing what just occurred and CCR segues into Seger's Ramblin Gamblin Man.
Then Paul puts his face in his hands and the tears come.
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