by JENEAN McBREARTY
Colt .45 by isuperwang | Flickr
I’d spent two days at Benny Santini’s house in L.A.. “Eighteen more years of squattin’ here, and I’ll own this place,” he said to me. “They call it squatter’s rights. That’s why I stay home a lot.” I didn’t have a place to squat. That’s why I visited Benny, and slept on his sofa a lot. I like to think that gave me sofa rights.
In fact, me and him were sitting on the sofa, passing the bong when we heard this car peel away in the alley. Then Benny’s girlfriend, Stacy, came through the kitchen and pumped two .45 slugs into him. At close range it made a mess of his brains. Surprisingly. I thought after all the meth he’d done, there wouldn’t be anything left of his brains, that his gray matter would deflate and drip out of his nose. But it oozed out of his left side when the left half of his face disappeared.
“Pendejo,” Stacy said, and spat on his body that had slid to the floor. Then she glared at me. “What are you lookin’ at, Puto?”
I sucked in a hit. “I didn’t see a thing. It’s my eyes. I got astigmatism.”
“You know what he did?”
Ah, geez, here it comes. Why are women compelled to complain even to people they might want to kill? I shook my head slowly side to side. “Nope. Don’t care, neither. You guys obviously had differences. Or scores to settle.” I closed my eyes. If I was next, I damn sure didn’t want to go looking at Benny’s head spaghetti hanging off his shoulder.
She sat beside me on the arm of the sofa. “Damn, he’s gotta lot of blood, hunh?”
I offered her the bong. She took a hit and it seemed to calm her down. “Let’s see how that bitch, Conchita, likes him now.” But not much. I knew Stacy still harbored tons of ill will. “Is that yellow Charger outside yours?”
“It can be. You want to take a ride? I’m thinking Winchell’s doughnuts.” I rifled through Benny’s pockets for the keys to his stolen car and threw them to her. “I’m too fucked up to drive. You can tell me about Conchita on the way.” I figured if she was going to drive, she’d have to stash the piece. She put it in the fringed leather purse she had slung over her torso like a bandolero.
“Come on, Amigo.”
I followed her to the curb. She opened the door for me, and I sank into the pillowy custom bucket seat that probably set somebody back a couple of hundred bucks. Stacy got in, adjusted the seat and then the mirrors, put on her seat belt, and used her signal ⸺everything the driver’s ed teachers tell you to do. I figured she came from a good home and was used to nice things.
“How did a Chicana like you get an Anglo name like Stacy? It’s weird.” I bet Benny thought so, too. It was also weird that a greaseball like Benny got a gorgeous chick like Stacy.
“He was down for the cause until Conchita showed up and wanted him to support her and the kid she says is his. Ayii. I’m the one who’s workin’, you know? I find out he’s giving her my money. MY money!”
“You got a job?” I decided it must be hard to be a killer and have a full-time gig after Benny and me watched that TV documentary about John Wayne Gacy and his contracting company. So, Stacy had a right to expect some respect even if Benny was a one-time shot.
“I work at the hospital. CNA. Night shift.”
I knew right then why Benny liked her. She was dream-girl for any junkie. “Maybe we can work something out about Benny. An alibi for … whatever.”
Winchell’s was right up the street. If she was going to shoot me or make me the fall guy, she was out of luck now. I could see reality dawning on her jealous rage. She reached for her purse, but I grabbed it before she could lay her hands on it. “Or maybe you think the cops won’t talk to Conchita.”
“I need my wallet.”
Yeah, Benny told me about some dame who had his kid. He called her once on my phone. Guess Stacy checked his cell phone regularly. I don’t know why he’d take a bitch’s money and give it to another bitch, unless the other bitch was as crazy, or crazier, than Stacy. He’d have to know a beautiful woman like her would get her vanity in a wad over infidelity. Now, if Conchita had been giving Benny money, and he’d been giving it to Stacy, things might have worked out.
“What you want?” she asked as we approached the drive-through speaker.
“Two chocolate-glazed and an apple fritter.” At least one serving a day of fruit keeps you regular. “You?”
“Long Johns. Day old, so they’re hard. I like them that way.” She reached for my crotch, and smiled, running her tongue over her high-glossed lips. I’d need a day or three to get my long John hard.
“We can’t go to my place. If I’m going to alibi you, I’ll have to stay with you until after the cops find Benny.”
It was a well-struck bargain. She got away clean, and I got clean in a way. With Benny dead, I’d lost my best smack connection and my sofa. With Stacy keeping me on a tight leash, it’d be hard to find another bag-man with the quality and quantity I was accustomed to, and the Jones-ez were heading my way to fight the junk-monkey. No matter how many times I went through it, withdrawal never got easier. Yet it was funny, it was never so bad that I remembered it good enough to say no to the monkey.
With my guts tying knots and my muscles sore as boils, I did something stupider than holing up with Stacy. I called Conchita. When Benny called her that day, it didn’t occur to me she might be his connection. There might not even be a Benny Jr. But now my mind went into overdrive. Maybe Stacy’s money fed Conchita’s drug habit, not her kid.
“I heard about Benny’s passing. Too bad. Maybe I’ll stop by sometime. Tell junior I knew his dad. He was a great guy.”
“Bullshit. He was a pig and so’s the bitch that killed him.”
I forget all ghetto neighborhoods are the same communication-wise. “Who told you Stacy killed him? She was with me.”
“Then you helped her, Puto.”
I don’t know what puto means, but when two broads call you that in the same tone of voice, you know it’s no compliment. “I heard it was a drug deal gone bad.”
“How do you know if you weren’t there?”
“I heard it on the street.”
“Sure, you did.”
What’s with these broads and Benny, I wondered? They sounded so angry and bitter. Benny considered himself a stud, but I never took his bragging seriously. I thought it was locker-room talk. Two women fighting over him? It had to be bullshit. “If you don’t have anything to sell, how do you and junior eat?”
“You know Culver City? There’s a Taco Bell on Sepulveda. I’ll meet you there at nine. Twenty dollars. Black tar and a few buds. It’s all I got to sell to get home to Ensenada.”
“I’ll be there,” I said. But where was I gonna to get a Jackson in two hours? My eyes scanned Stacy’s living room. I could wrangle a twenty from ol’ man Silverstein for Stacy’s video games. Warcraft. Game of Thrones. The new Star Wars. He knows junk don’t come cheap. I stopped at a 7-11 for a pack of Pall Mall Lights. Some guy had left his car unlocked with a Craftsman socket set and some wrenches on the back seat. Hell, I’m trying to quit anyway. I used Stacy’s credit card for ten dollars’ worth of gas, put the tools in my backseat, and headed down University Avenue to Silverstein’s Pawn.
Had I lost my mind? Stacy’s .45 Colt was in the glovebox. I’d have to leave town or she’d put me in the dirt. I’d go north, to Frisco. Start a pot shop. Send Stacy a couple of hundred dollars. Maybe the guy wouldn’t miss his tools. Maybe Conchita would go with me. Maybe she could give the kid to Stacy. She had a job.
My mouth was watering. Sweat made my hair sticky. Jones had come and gone. I thought I was clean. But the desire was there. Turning my brain to mush. Like Benny’s it would wiggle out of my head like Jello. Like snot. Like blood. Like tears. And I’d be empty. My head wouldn’t work anymore. Why was everything so complicated?
My car stopped at a red light, but my brain kept going, dragging my body behind like a child’s toy. The Charger took me to Silverstein’s, the man who held relief in his cash register. The man who always tried to cheat me.
“These trinkets aren’t worth twenty cents, let alone twenty dollars,” he said in that smoker’s voice of his. How come my mom got cancer when Silverstein’s the one who smoked?
“The tools are worth a twenty,” I said.
“To you because you’ve never used any. I’ll give you ten dollars for the lot.”
I saw the green in the register and, from out of nowhere, I pulled Stacy’s Colt from my jacket and fired. He was a stubborn Jew. Now he was a dead stubborn Jew, and I was on a security camera. Full frontal I.D., my hand in the till, and without an alibi. Waiting for the sirens.
Then this blonde came out of the back room.
“Looks like you’ve got quite a problem on your hands,” she said. She didn’t scream, and she didn’t sound angry or bitter. She held a flash drive in one hand, and a glass of beer in the other. “Here’s to you.” She lifted the glass, took a sip, and plopped the flash drive into the beer. “Too bad the security system is broken. I have no idea who killed dear old Dad. I was at the deli getting sandwiches. Got the receipt to prove it.” She gave the pawn shop the once-over. “You’d better get the hell out of here. I know I will as soon as I unload all this crap the ol’ man’s been keeping for a hundred years.”
“You Silverstein’s wife?”
“Daughter. Maid. Slave. And now an orphan. Poor me.”
I stashed the cash in my jacket, and took a business card from the holder on the counter. “I’ll call you after the funeral, when all this blows over.” I picked up Stacy’s stuff.
“Please do. I’d like to show you my gratitude. Deeply and completely.”
Afterwards, I hit up Conchita and gave her fifty dollars to make damn sure she got back to Ensenada. Even offered to drive her and Junior to the bus station. I went back to Stacy’s, washed my hands and clothes, and put her games back on the shelf. To do the right thing, you know? I needed a place to crash until it was time to meet up with that blonde. Until it was time to call the cops and tell them they’d find Stacy’s fingerprints on a stolen Charger and a .45 Colt in the glovebox —I’ve never been high enough to leave finger prints, only high enough to burn mine off with a Bic lighter. I’ll tell the cops Stacy likes to kill people. You know, to get justice for Benny. Or, maybe I’d keep Stacy on the hook. After all, she had a job and I had this ongoing love affair with junk.
“You know, Bobby, if you ever get the hang of runnin’ women, you’ll find life’s a lot easier,” Benny told me once. “Stacy’s a bitch, but she’s a hard worker, you know? If somethin’ goes wrong between her and me, I’ll give her to you to practice being in love.” And here I was, sitting naked on Stacy’s sofa with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other, Conchita’s phone number on a Greyhound bus schedule, and Silverstein’s daughter doin’ a pole dance in my head. Benny Santini was a man of his word even though he’d never speak again. It’s the women, always the women who keep a guy hooked on his chosen life-style until the day she finds out about it. Then the world goes to hell in a handbasket … or a casket.
Jenean McBrearty taught Political Science and Sociology, and received her MFA from Eastern Kentucky University in 2021. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over two-hundred-fifty print and on-line journals. Her how-to book, Writing Beyond the Self; How to Write Creative Non-fiction that Gets Published was published by Vine Leaves Press in 2018.