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Chad Rohrbacher
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honorandobey.jpg
Art by Jeff Fallow 2011

To Honor and Obey

Chad Rohrbacher

 

Pop told me I was going to be something one day. He said I would go to college and have a house where I could hire a company to keep my grass green. He said all I had to do was work hard for what I wanted and I could be anything.

 

Pop was some kind of asshole.

 

When Pop died, one of his bar buddies and I were the only ones to see him off. We drank shots and said, “See ya’ in hell.” I have a feeling Pop would have said, “Finally the kid’s got his head on straight.”

 

I was a punk. I thought I knew everything. I knew a lot, just nothing that would help me actually do anything with my life.

 

My pop was on disability and he never let me forget it. He was hurt on the docks when I was just seven. Mom had taken off with an insurance agent or a country-western singer, what’s the difference? Mom’s note said, “See you, Jack.” I guess that was supposed to be funny since his name was Jack, but neither one of us laughed. What she meant to say is “I’m getting out of this hellhole” but was trying to be witty about it.

 

Pop was crushed by two boxcars loaded with coal that were ready to leave the docks. Freak accident, they said. Lucky to be alive, they said. What the hell did they know?

          Anyways, Pop said to me, “Boy, we ain’t got much, and we ain’t gonna get help from that good for nothin’ company, so I’m gonna put you in touch with some boys. They’re down at The Sandalwood Pub. You ask for Floyd.”

           The Sandalwood was a bar that you might see in old movies: rough around the edges, smoke seeped into oak tables, one long bar with a bronze top, dinged and scratched from years of abuse, a handful of beers on tap, Guinness, Twisted Thistle, Bass, Harp, and Pabst Blue Ribbon for the folks who happened to wander in from the street and wanted something domestic. It had soccer posters, and blinking beer signs, and two large banners: one for Auburn Tigers and the other for the New Orleans Saints.

             Now you have to picture this, some scrawny seven-year-old kid walking into a bar filled with 4 guys smoking Camels and drinking Guinness. All their eyes focused on me in a “What the hell?” moment. I stood there like a goof. And then a guy, big guy with a thick, black unibrow and a five o’clock shadow says, real sweet like, “Comic shop is down the street.” Everyone has a good laugh. I just chewed on the inside of my cheek. 

             I looked to the door, back to the bar, and to the door again. After shoving my hands deep in my pockets, I kind of mumbled Floyd’s name. Unibrow growled and pointed to the door. I started to shuffle out until one of the other fellas called me over. 

             I walked up to the table and he put his paw on my back. He said, “A kid could find all kinds of hurt here, some he’s never even heard of before, so whatcha doin’?” 

             I stuttered, “Floyd.” All I could do. And his hard eyes stared at me. He took a swig of beer, wiped his mouth with his shirt, and thrust a thumb to the two guys in back.

             Floyd and Jay sat there eating fish and chips, drinking beer, and neither one looked at me till they were done chewing.

            “What?” Jay asked. Jay was a skinny guy, glasses, and tuft of blond hair poking off his head. I found out later he was Floyd’s right hand man, so to speak.

            “Pop said I should come talk to Floyd,” I whispered, looking at the ground. 

            “Speak up, kid. You talk to the floor and a guy is gonna put you on it with a busted lip or something,” Jay said.

            “Floyd. Pop told me to see him,” I said looking Jay in the eyes.

            Jay laughed then. Real hard. And Floyd joined in.

            Floyd had dark eyes, dark hair, and full cheeks. He had a stare that could make a man wish he weren’t in the same room. He looked me up and down.

            “Yer the kid, eh?”

             “Guess so.”

            “Your pop says you can do what you’re told and even better at keeping your mouth shut.” Floyd pushed his plate away and put his elbows on the table. His blazer fell open and the gun resting in the shoulder holster sat there right in front of my eyes. I didn’t know what kind, but I swear it looked like it could kill a walrus. I had just been to the Toledo Zoo and saw the crazy-looking thing that could get over 4000 pounds. I mean, 4000 freakin’ pounds, and so I stood there looking stupid thinking about Floyd killing a walrus until he smacked the table with his hand.

            “Hahaha, see there, Jay. We got our boy.”

            Shit, I thought.

 

 

          

“Hey, hey,” Mike called, bumping my shoulder.

“Mind my fucking drink,” I said, licking my fingers.

 

             Growing up in this business just means you aren’t ever alone. People always asking questions, looking for angles, trying to see if the shit you did was true or just some rumor.

 

            “You owe me ten,” he said, nodding his eyes toward the television in the corner.

 

           “Where’d you go?” Jerry asked.

 

          “What?”

 

          “You going to finish your story, or what?”

 

           People like Jerry want to be where I’m sitting. I want to be sitting anywhere but here. Fucking Pop.

 

          “Who gives a shit about his story? I want my ten,” Mike interjected.

 

           “C’mon, I’m interested,” Jerry jumped in, smiling like a girl with a jar of peanut butter and a man’s best friend lapping by her side.

 

            “Shut your holes,” I growled, “both of ya.” I had been in the organization long enough to see Floyd die in his bed and Jay grow old and these two doohickeys sitting with me at the bar were enough to make a man go insane.

 

             I was trying to tell them about this woman I met. Her husband had dropped her for not following the Bible, the whole “obey” thing rubbed her the wrong way. I didn’t blame her. He was always preaching about homosexual this and immigrant that that always ended up with some whore going to hell.

 

           When he quoted the Bible while beating her, I could totally understand her passive-aggressive thing: broken glass in his shoes, drain cleaner in his cologne. I guess when his face lit up on fire, he decided she was going to kill him someday and just as soon not be around to experience it firsthand.

 

             I had just got the boys up to speed about how she was a woman who had had everything, but when her husband left, she was like some wounded bird not knowing which way the sky was.

 

             Jerry was a lanky guy with the largest Adam’s apple you have ever seen and he was enthralled with the whole situation. He liked my stories.

 

             Mike didn’t give a shit about them. Not a one. They didn’t make sense to him. If he couldn’t hold it, drink it, or smash it, he didn’t want anything to do with it. I guess I could respect that. Well, that and Mike bordered on 250 pounds and his right hand could put a donkey down.

 

            We sat at the bar drinking Jameson and mine was empty so I ordered another and put it on Jerry’s tab. He didn’t seem to mind.

 

This was a pretty lady for sure, who had no credit, no savings, and no job. Her experience was working in her garden and volunteering for hospice. I shit you not. And she was wondering what she was going to do. How she was going to survive.

 

           She had heard about America Pawn over on 4th St., which just so happened to be “our” side of town. Both Mike and Jerry shook their heads knowing this story wouldn’t end well.

 

           Supposedly she went in and talked to Pete, saying she heard he would buy anything, and Pete grinned like he’s known to do, and tipped his glasses to the end of his nose. “Just about,” he said, all polite.

 

           “I bet,” Mike said.

 

            Jerry giggled and sipped on his drink.

            She pulled out all her jewelry and laid it on the counter. Pete picked up a piece, put that thing in his eye, humphed, and studied like he knew what he was doing, then went on down the line to the next and next till he was through all she had.

 

            “So he took her? What’s the big deal? Happens all the time,” Mike said.

 

           “There’s no fucking honor in it. A little honesty is expected. Sure make a fucking profit, but . . .”

 

            “You gonna give me my ten? I need a drink,” Mike interrupted.

 

            I continued right on telling them how she knew that money wouldn’t be enough to buy bread and pay bills no matter how much she tightened her belt.

 

          “What, she didn’t have family?”

 

          “She refused to go to any of them. She knew with one call all her troubles would go away, but she made her choices and was ready to suffer the consequences.”

 

          “Now that’s something I can respect,” Mike said, watching the bartender pour his double.

 

           Pete told her where she could make some money. Good money. But Pete didn’t know I got a phone call from her grandfather to help her out. He would pay. A lot.

 

         “You going to get to some fucking point here?”

 

          “Fuck off, Mike. I want to know what happened. The grandfather paid you off, eh? How much you make?”

 

           I got off my stool and walked back toward the kitchen. The boys yelled at me, then followed.

 

           The kitchen wasn’t much, an obligatory afterthought to the bar so people could eat burgers and fries while getting drunk. A grill, a deep fryer, a counter to do prep and some tins full of lettuce and tomato and whatever. It’s a good thing we had friends in the health department.

 

            The boys followed me in and I heard laughter before I could turn around and see their faces.

 

            “No, you didn’t.”

 

           “Oh, shit, this is classic. You’re in love,” Jerry cracked, reaching out and grabbing Mike’s shoulder, pretending his feet were giving way to quaking laughs.

 

           Mike joined, tapping his hand against his heart.

 

           Pete was taped to a metal chair with his mouth covered. His glasses were just about to slip off his nose due to his big, fat tears.

 

          “So I find out Pete sent her to the Dentist.”

 

          Mike and Jerry stood right up; their laughter stopped like lightning shutting up annoying birdsong.

 

           “The fucking Dentist! The S.O.B who sells girls between gold fillings. And for what? A small cut?”

 

          “The woman had a choice,” Mike said, like he was telling me Jameson tasted good.

 

          “I bet she wished she stayed with her asshole husband,” Jerry replied. “What the Dentist do to her?” Jerry asked, looking at me.

          “Hell, Jerry, if she refused, the Dentist went to work on her.”

 

             “And when he pulls her teeth, leaving a mouthful of blood and saliva, a good girl, one that learned how to obey, would hold that blood in her cheeks until she’s told to spit or swallow,” I explained while not taking my eyes off Pete.

 

             “That’s just how it is. She didn’t have to go,” Mike said. Pete nodded in childlike agreement, as if I could be persuaded.

 

            “She didn’t have any fucking idea what she was getting into. There’s no honor in that.”

 

           “So the grandfather is going to pay you extra? Lucky you. Now you can give me my ten fucking dollars.”

 

            Pete struggled against his bindings; his glasses fell to the ground. Mike and Jerry looked at Pete, then at me.

 

           “When I found this woman at the Dentist’s place, she was about to have some of her cavities filled. I sent her outside. I said to her that it would all be taken care of. I explained how her grandfather was desperately worried about her. And she watered up on me fellas. Big, fat tears.”

 

            “The Dentist stood for that?” Jerry asked.

 

            “No. He laid down.”

 

            I pulled out my .45.

 

           “He laid down,” I repeated.

 

            I walked over to Pete. He slumped over, a bag of muffled whimpers.

 

           “The Dentist and Pete knew she wasn’t any typical junkie whore. They knew better.”

 

             Before I pulled the trigger, Mike reached out and grabbed my arm. “Wait, how’d he know? The grandfather. How’d he know she was in trouble? How’d he know to call you, of all fucking people?”

 

            “Jay knows everything in this goddamned town, Mike.”

 

            Mike stared at me, finally interested in one of my damn stories.

 

            I pulled the trigger and walked back toward the bar for another scotch. Mike and Jerry followed.

 

           After a moment, Mike piped up, “You can keep that ten spot, Hoss. Fuck, it’s only 10 bucks.”

 

 

 

Chad has had work published at Crime Factory, Needle Magazine, Big Pulp, and Darkest Before Dawn, among other ‘zines.

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