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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

ym75howiescell.jpg
Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2019

        Howie’s Cell

By Chris McCartney

 

I knew Howie was a science fair reject with bottom shelf instincts, but the little shitweasel was one of my oldest friends. By the way, his real name is Daniel Wolsborn. I started calling him Howie when we were about ten years old because he’d always say, “How we gonna do that?” or “How we gonna get home?” or some other “How we…” rubbish.

Howie and I–in addition to an entourage of cup checkers from my college days in Tacoma–had coagulated near the strip mall town of Belfair, Washington, for our annual July weekend golf tournament at Zeke Brown’s beach house. After a long day of bogies and beer, I pulled my silver Beamer into the parking lot of the town’s only motel, a no breakfast rent-a-dump for pensioners and scratch ticket winners. It was just after midnight. I shook Howie by the shoulder. Alerted him the booze scooter had landed.

          “Hey, dickhead, wake up,” I said. “We’re at the motel.”

          Howie twitched and yawned. Gave me a confused look. “Where’d you hide my cell?”

          “I didn’t. But I’ll call it.” Didn’t hear a thing after five rings. Then a voice answered.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Who’s this?”

“Todd. Been waitin’ all day for someone to call this damn thing.”

          “You’ve got my buddy’s phone.”

“Well, ain’t you the smart one? Found it by the side of the road this morning. Wasn’t sure it even worked, but I’m willin’ to give it back. If I lost my phone, I hope whoever found it would do what I’m doin’. How much your buddy willin’ to pay? Could use some cash,” said Todd.

“How’s twenty bucks sound?” I asked.

“Doesn’t sound like much. Gonna cost more than that.”

“How about forty?”

“You’re gettin’ closer.”

“Let’s meet somewhere. Where are you?”

          “Key Center.”

“That’s twenty miles from here.”

“You want the phone or not?”

“Yes, he wants it. Can we meet you halfway?”

“I ain’t wastin’ no gas. How about in front of Butch’s Smoke Shop?”

“Smoke shop? In Key Center?”

“Can’t miss it. On the corner by the traffic light. They’s closed now, but the place is all lit. I’m five minutes away. Call me when you get there and I’ll head right down with the phone.”

“Okay. We’re on the way.” I hung up and looked for Howie. He was leaning against some duck hunter’s camper, taking a serious pull from the flask of bourbon he’d dug out of my golf bag. “Were you listening?”

“To what?”

“Some guy named Todd found your phone. We’re going to meet him and get it back.”

“Forget that. I’m sure I left it in my room.”

“Your phone is not in your room, Einstein. It’s in Key Center. I’ll GPS Butch’s Smoke Shop. Get in and buckle up.”

My brain gurgled a million scenarios as I navigated the rocky canals and extraterrestrial fingers of Puget Sound in my X5. I’m fifty-four years old and I’m driving a drunk to a rendezvous with a guy who broke into Howie’s motel room and stole his cell phone. Or maybe Todd was in cahoots with the housekeeping crew? Maybe the motel owner was in on it? I relaxed my knucklegrip on the steering wheel, rolled down my window, and inhaled a globe of salty air. “We need to pull over for a few minutes.”

“Why?”

“Weapons. I need my shotgun. You grab a five-iron.”

“Five iron? I can’t hit shit with that club and you know it. How about one of my hybrids? Better yet, give me the rifle. I’ll blow ReTodd halfway to Mars.”

“We’re not heading to a gun fight. Just do what you’re told and everything will be fine.”

“I don’t take orders from you.”

I slowed the car. Had to smile. It would be fair to say he took the wrong fork on his journey from childhood to manhood as indicated by his steadfast loyalty to the fuckbag doctrine. “It’s not an order, just common sense. How drunk are you?”

“Drunk enough to piss in your car if you don’t let me out pretty soon.”

I whipped into a public boat launch. Popped the back hatch, scooped out my Remington 1100 semi-automatic, and loaded it. After a five-minute piss, Howie produced a Nike three wood. “How much cash you carrying?” I asked him.

“Two hundred bucks.”

“I’ve got five hundred. We’ll each keep forty and I’ll stash the rest under the back seat.”

“Are we going thru customs or something?”

“No, but I’m getting a bad feeling about this whole deal. Could be a set-up. I’m going to call the cops.”

“Don’t do that,” groaned Howie. “There must be a half-dozen warrants out on me for stuff I don’t remember doing.”

I gave him a curious look. Wasn’t sure how baked he was. After all, he did drink a rhino’s dosage of booze and puffed his share of pot before passing out in Brownie’s backyard a few hours ago. “You okay?”

 “Just keep me out of jail.”

“You’re not going to jail. But I am going to call the sheriff.”

We settled back into the Beamer with weapons between our seats. I made the call. “Is Sheriff William Anunsen working tonight? That’s great. I’d like to speak with him. Okay, can you get a message to him? I’m an old friend. Please tell him Captain Jacobs called and said to meet him at Butch’s Smoke & Beer Shop on Ninety-second Street in Key Center ASAP. What’s that? Captain Jacobs. Don’t worry; the message will make perfect sense to him. Thanks so much.”

“What are you Captain of? A row boat?”

“Anunsen and I spent some time in the sand box during Desert Storm. Light Armored, 1st Marines. Billy was a crazy son of a bitch, but the best shooter I’ve ever seen. Spent more time at the range than anyone south of Baghdad. I bailed out his ass one time in Kuwait or they’d have sent him stateside and locked him up for good in Leavenworth. He grew up fast, reenlisted, and did a couple more tours. Got out after twenty and joined the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department. I know his story because I ran into him at a Seahawk tailgate party a few years ago.”

“Is that why you missed our tenth high school reunion? You were playing army?”

“Marines, not army. Remember the photo I sent you of me in full battle rattle?”

“Of course. I thought you faked the whole macho warrior thing so you wouldn’t have to show up.”

“Howie...sometimes I think you’re the dumbest son of a bitch I ever met.” We rode in silence for the next twenty minutes. “There’s Butch’s. Up ahead, on the right.”

“Pull in close to the entrance. I could use some Pork Rinds.”

“The place is closed, but the last thing I’m going to do is pull headfirst into a parking spot.” I did a quick assessment of the area. Decided our best option was on the shoulder of Ninety-second Street, facing out.

“What kind of idiot would park here?” asked Howie.

“Me. In case we need to make a quick getaway. I’m calling Todd right now and tell him we’re here. You stay in the car until he shows up. I’m going take a stroll up the hill and wait behind that big cedar tree. It’s so damn dark he won’t see me, but I’ll be close enough to hear your conversation. Oh, by the way, here’s another forty in case he gets greedy. When Todd arrives, get out, and offer him forty bucks. If you have to, give him the extra forty. He gives you back your cell phone and we’re out of here. Got it?”

“We’re not in Iran, sarge. I’ll do it my way.”

“Whatever. If Todd turns out to be a Good Samaritan, we’re gold. If he’s the goatsack I think he is, don’t worry. I’ve got your six.”

“Six what?”

“It means I’ll cover you.”

I disappeared into the midnight blue. When I looked back, I saw Howie had gotten out of the car. “You dumbass,” I groaned. He fumbled for one of his smelly clove cigarettes and I thought he’d fall over trying to fire it up. Out of the corner of my eye, about a hundred yards out, I saw a white Toyota backing away from Uncle Westy’s Steak House. The car spawned directly to where I was hiding. Weird or by design? Every twenty feet or so the driver would stop, flash the brights, and rev the engine. Then creep forward again. Straight at me.

A grimy Ford Bronco came bowling down Ninety-second and squealed to a stop behind my rear bumper. Why not park next to Howie? Weird or by design? I swung my rifle toward the Bronco driver as he exited his vehicle. Tracked him as he strolled over to my little buddy.

“Hey, ReTodd. I’m Howie. Nice to meetcha.”

“It’s Todd.”

“That’s what I said. You should have your hearing checked.”

“Fuck you.”

“So…uh…I guess you found my phone?”

“That’s right.”

“I can’t believe it still works. I haven’t paid Verizon for months. Been gettin’ prices from Sprint and Frontier to see–”

“Shut up,” Todd roared.

“Take it easy, pal. I thought you wanted to sell me back my phone?”

I saw Todd dig into his pocket. I assumed he was reaching for Howie’s cell. Instead, he pulled out what looked like a Beretta pistol. Pointed it at Howie’s whistlers. I was about thirty yards away. “I got a better idea,” said Todd. “Why don’t you give me the keys to that X5?”

          “You gotta talk to Artie about that. It’s his car. I just want my cell.”

“I was gonna let you buy it back for a hundred bucks. But not no more. Once I seen that Beamer, I changed my mind. How about them keys?”

“I don’t have them,” said Howie.

“How’d you get here if you ain’t got no keys?”

“That’s not the issue here, ReTodd.”

“What is the issue, you fat fuck?”

“Artie’s not going to give you his keys. He loves that car. Know what he calls it?”

          “I don’t give a rat’s ass. So where’s this Artie I gotta talk to?”

          “Right here,” I said, revealing my hiding spot. The business end of my long gun ready to blow a hole between his nipples. “Why don’t you give my friend back his phone and we’ll go our separate ways.”

          Todd was rattled. He put his left hand above his eyes to cut out the glare from the streetlight overhead and squinted into the darkness to get a better look at me, but kept the Beretta pointed at Howie. “Where the hell you come from?”

          “His mom’s womb,” said Howie.

          “A coupla fuckin’ clowns,” said Todd. “Why don’t you be a smart old man and set that rifle on the ground? Then back away. Slowly.”

Before I could reply, the driver of the Toyota punched the gas and beelined straight for me. I saw a muzzle blast from the passenger side and a round whistled past my ear. I swiveled and fired four times. The first one shattered the windshield of the Camry. I placed the second two inches above the steering wheel and the third about where the gunman’s head should have been. The fourth blew out the front left tire. The car veered away from me and accordioned into an industrial sized dumpster.

The crack of a gun refocused my attention. Oh my God, that redneck turd just shot Howie! I spun around. Saw Todd reach for his throat. Blood squirted out like a busted fire hydrant. The Beretta clanged onto the asphalt. Todd’s knees buckled, he pitched forward, and face planted into the pavement. I yelled, “Howie, you okay?”

          “No. I got blood all over my golf shirt.”

          “He’s fine, Captain,” said a familiar voice.

“Jeezus, Billy,” I said. “That was a helluva shot. I had no idea you were here.”

Billy let out that goofy cackle I’d heard so many times. “Wouldn’ta gone down like it did if anyone knew I was.”

 “You know them?” I asked.

“Hell, yeah. Been after those shitbirds for about a year. Trust me, the world is a better place without those four.”

I scanned the parking lot. “Where’s the fourth?”

“In the Salal, about fifty yards from your position. That old snake eater, Ricky Bob Kucher, thought he had plenty of time to set up his shot.” 

“All this for a freakin’ cell phone. Well, Billy. Where do we go from here?”

“You two hit the road. I’ll call it in as soon as I see taillights.”

“Here, take my shotgun. I’m sure you can figure out why you had to use it. By the way, the serial numbers accidentally got filed off.”

The sheriff cackled again. “Always a step ahead. We’re even now. Right, Captain?”

“We are.” I shook his hand and walked over to Todd. Rolled him onto his back with my foot, reached into his coat pocket, and removed Howie’s cell phone. “I see you’re still using a flip phone, you cheap bastard.”

“Screw you. It works.”

I moved toward him and stopped. “Howie, tell me you didn’t–”

“Duh.”

“You’re not riding in my car smelling like an outhouse.”

“No worries,” said Howie. He opened one of the Beamer’s rear doors. “You’ve got some butt wipes in here and I’ve got clean clothes in my suitcase. How we gonna make it back to Belfair if we’re not stoned?” He produced a pipe and a vial of what I assumed was killer pot. “Hey Artie. You and your deputy friend wanna smoke a bowl before we head out?”






Chris McCartney has had several short stories published, in ‘zines like The Story Shack, Squawk Back, BareBack Lit, Spork Press and Yellow Mama. His short story, “Slider,” is currently available on Amazon Kindle and his international thriller, Blowers, is waiting for publication. More info can be found at: https://www.chrismccartneyauthor.com




KJ Hannah Greenberg captures the world in words and images. Her latest photography portfolio is 20/20: KJ Hannah Greenberg Eye on Israel. Her most recent poetry collection is Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties (Unbound CONTENT, 2017). Her most recent fiction collection is the omnibus, Concatenation (Bards & Sages Publishing, 2018).

Recently, Hannah’s seventh short story collection was published by Bards and Sages Publishing.

The publisher writes: "Bards and Sages Publishing is pleased to bring readers Walnut Street, our seventh short story collection by KJ Hannah Greenberg. Greenberg’s flair for the peculiar and eclectic shines through in this collection of over fifty flash and short fiction works featuring anthropomorphic starship pilots, angsty authors, strange neighbors, and more."

Walnut Street is available on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Walnut-Street-KJ-Hannah-Greenberg-ebook/dp/B07T4HB9S9/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=kjhannah+greenberg+walnut+street&qid=1561063957&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmr0

Volumes One through Five of the KJ Hannah Greenberg Short Story Collection at 50% off the list in an exclusive bundle only at 

https://www.drivethrufiction.com/product/156488/Greenberg-BUNDLE?affiliate_id=51852

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2019