Lurch sat at the bar and surveyed the customers. That was the problem with small towns, he thought. You knew everybody and everybody knew you.
In Chicago, he’d wear shorts to show his prosthetic leg and the barflies would naturally assume he was a veteran. He never actually claimed this status, but he didn’t discourage it. He wore dog tags and BDU shorts and boots. In some Chicago bars, he seldom had to buy a drink.
But everybody here knew he’d lost the leg jumping off a train. “Dare me,” he’d said.
He’d been drunk, of course.
Then and now.
He came home late. I think he’s been drinking again.
Listen, that’s not why I called.
He quit his job. Yeah.
I guess he got into a fight with his supervisor. I was so upset by that point I wasn’t listening.
That’s not the worst. Not even close.
The band. That’s his plan.
Yeah, I know.
I guess he thinks the mortgage will pay itself?
No, I haven’t. I don’t even have a current resume.
I don’t know. Come live with you? You like the kids.
Him? He stormed out. Maybe I’ll change the locks. Put his guitars on ebay.
Marco is on his third espresso when Paolo buzzes into the palazzo on his Vespa, smiling all over his face.
“Good morning,” says Marco.
“You would not believe how good,” says Paolo. He reaches into the saddlebag and removes a messenger bag, the strap sliced clean through. He holds it up and shakes it. “Mac Book pro. Nikon Camera. Wallet full of money. Even a Rolex!”
“I told you it was a good technique.”
“Why did you stop?”
“I misjudged the strap and stuck the knife into a woman’s back. I was certain I used up all my luck escaping.”
He said his name was Juan, but one of the men called him Alberto.
I paid three thousand pesos for his guarantee.
Sixteen of us gathered to met him in the parking lot of the Super Coyote.
He had us each buy two gallons of water, even the children.
At two in the morning he put us the back of his truck like cattle and drove us ninety kilometers west where he said there was a blind spot on the fence.
He carried ladders on the truck.
“Bienvenidos a Los Estados Unidos,” he said.
It only got worse from there.
The DRG chief looked up as Yuri came in. “I’ve been reading the report,” he said without introduction. “A brilliant operation. Pity about the collaterals, but sometimes that can’t be helped.”
“The museum was especially crowded,” said Yuri. “Which, of course, we knew was a risk. We did not expect so many children.”
“Yes,” said the chief. “A pity. But as I said, it couldn’t be helped. Do we have a final count of the casualties?”
“In addition to the target, thirty-five were affected by the gas. Nineteen died, three were paralyzed. The rest recovered.”
“Remember, Yuri. It’s a war.”
He was never the same after he come back from France.
When he joined up with Pershing and them, he was thirty, but full of fire to beat that old Kaiser.
Armistice was signed most a year before he got home to Jessup.
I was the only one recognized him, he looked so different.
He wheezed and rattled like an old window, thin as a stick with white hair.
He wouldn’t say nothing. Just picked up his shovel and dug. He dug all the time, dug for years, holes and holes.
Kids teased that he was like to dig to China.
I thought it was a party. Get to know the neighbors.
All of us were newlyweds, all college graduates. New jobs, no children yet. Our subdivision mirrored how we saw ourselves. Fresh paint, aluminum siding, all the conveniences. Like the trees on the new lawns, we had few branches, threw scant shade.
I think it was Frank Reilly’s idea. He’d read about it somewhere. Everyone drops a house key into the bowl and gets a drink. Then they keep drinking. Night’s end, choose a key and that was your house for the night. Your wife for the night.