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David James Keaton
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doingeverything.jpg
Art by Brian Beardsley 2012

Doing Everything but Actually Doing It

 

by David James Keaton

 

 

 

Yield

 

 

          “I’m gonna honk at that cop.”

 

          “Don’t do it.”

 

          “Why not? He won’t know it’s me. Look at all these cars.”

 

          “He might.”

 

          “Nah, it’ll be like in the movies when someone in the crowd yells, ‘We will never yield!’ and the villain is like, ‘Who said that?’”

 

          “That was never in a movie.”

 

          “I’m gonna honk.”

 

          “Don’t do it.”

 

          “Why the hell is he blocking both lanes?”

 

          “Huh?”

 

          “Okay, look at the trailer with the construction arrow on the left. Why is he matching speed in the middle lane? This is idiotic.” Pause. “I’m gonna honk at him.”

 

          The honk caused every car near the flashing arrow to hit their brakes, including the cop.   Then the cop was slowing, slowing, slowing until he was next to them.

 

          Then he was behind them with the flashers on.

 

          “Oops.”

 

 

Oldest Trick in the book

 

 

          “What was that all about?” the police officer asked them after they’d pulled over.

 

          “Wasn’t me,” Jack said.

 

          “Where are you going?” the officer wanted to know.

 

          “What does that have to do with anything?” Amy scoffed.

 

          “Step out of the car, please, sir. You, too, ma’am.”

 

          The big bastard bear of a cop peered over his sunglasses at them both.

 

          “License and registration, please. You, too, ma’am,” he repeated.

 

          The cop looked at their pictures a while.

 

          “This doesn’t look like you, sir. How old are you here?”

 

          “Thirty-three,” Jack said.

 

          “And now?”

 

          “What? It says it right there.” Awkward silence. “Thirty-nine.”

 

          “And you, Miss?”

 

          “And me what?” Amy muttered. Then, “Wait, what did you call me?”

 

          “How old are you?”

 

          The cop moved in close and studied them. Amy smelled something on him like piss and strawberries.

 

          “I’m twenty-one,” Amy finally said, nervous.

 

          The cop handed back their licenses, then stood back and waited until they noticed he’d given them each the wrong one. It took a second.

 

          “And stop sticking your tongue out when they take your picture, boy!” the cop suddenly barked, startling them both. “Oldest trick in the book!”

 

          Then just like that, he was gone. Jack and Amy stood silent, giving each other’s identification an extra-long look. Jack thought their tiny plastic cards now seemed like a list of reasons why they would be an unlikely match, and he was angrier than he thought possible. Amy didn’t think about any of this, and simply waited for Jack to give it back. But if anyone checked the video on the officer’s dashboard camera, they both said the words at the exact same time:

 

          “Let’s follow him.”

 

 

Equalizer

 

 

          Jack wasn’t too shocked when he went to get supplies for the next open-mic night (the desk light they used to illuminate the poets got smashed in a bar fight) and she said she’d tag along with him.

 

The first time he noticed her, she was wearing a black T-shirt, (always his weakness) with a telephone number for a no-kill dog shelter stretched tight across her chest. She could have the number for a slaughterhouse and she’d get the same reaction, he thought. He reached over, gripped the leg of her chair and pulled her out of her conversation and into his own. Amused, she allowed it.

 

          He reset his watch to noon when she got in his car, figuring he had about three hours to get her interested. He worked well with self-imposed deadlines. But he only made it an hour before he pulled that stupid power play with the cop and had to crank his watch back to start over.

 

          “I hate when they do that,” Jack said, car idling, brain stewing. He messed with the levels on the stereo, annoyed they seemed to have no effect on her at all. “You’d think they’d be trying a little harder after what just happened on the South Side.”

         

“What happened on the South Side?” she asked, almost interested.

 

          He didn’t answer that question yet. He was pouting too much to tell a good story.

 

          “I wasn’t ready to tell you that stuff about me,” he grumbled. “And cops know that shit. That’s why they ask so many questions.”

 

          “What stuff?” she said, half smiling again at his efforts to impress but never looking at him when he did it.

 

          He glanced at her again before pulling back into traffic.

 

She wasn’t even his type, he realized. That was the crazy part. Icy little blonde. Foot always tapping impatiently. Steel-blue eyes that always seemed dilated. You’d think that would mean you could get a good look into her head, but damn if it didn’t always seem the other way around. If she stood in a lineup with the rest of his surly, black T-shirt-wearing, curly-haired exes, someone would protest, “Get that jackrabbit out of there!”

 

          “It was subtle,” he finally explained to her. “But everything that cop asked was geared to show how incompatible the two of us would be.”

 

          “Really?” Amy was doubtful. “I think he was just being an asshole.”

 

          Jack shook his head in frustration.

 

          “And what was all that about ‘the oldest trick in the book’?” she muttered.

 

          He didn’t feel like answering that yet, either, and she looked around his car, disappointed and suddenly bored.

 

          “So, what’s all this crap?” She flicked the tangle of necklaces, air-fresheners, and feathers that hang off his rearview mirror to erase his new smile.

 

          “Huh? Oh, it’s a dream catcher.” He shrugged.

 

          “A what?”

 

          “You know, dream catcher? A circle? Bunch of shit hanging off of it? Catches dreams.”

 

 

Double Wishbone Suspension

         

          For hours, they drove behind a shimmering lake of heat they never seemed to catch.

 

          “How long do you think before he notices we’re back here?” she asked.

 

          “Not for awhile,” Jack said, then reconsidered. “At least not till he gets off the highway.”

 

          “Why are we following him again?”

 

          “Again?” Jack almost jumped.

 

          “No, I mean tell me again while we’re following him so that . . . never mind.”

 

          Jack felt like he was losing her, so he told a story, the best one he’d been saving. He unloaded it all at once, in an ugly brick of words that actually made the car squeak from the weight.    

 

          “So there was this cop who was driving home from a bar on the South Side, and these other two guys, big dudes, were walking across the street and stepped in front of his car. So this cop, also big but sloppy big, started running his mouth to these two guys to impress his wife, a woman who I know little about but will consider a dumb fuck for marrying a cop. So she's in the seat next to him, dutifully impressed with his display of plumage. The cop is drunk, by the way, a regular occurrence on his days off, but we don't find that out until later. So, one of the two legitimately big dudes gets tired of him talking shit and walks over to the car and punches the cop right square in the mouth. Big dude doesn't know he's a cop, and he finds it so easy, this punch, that he decides to special-deliver about ten more in the mush before the cop can do anything at all. The cop tries to roll up his window at one point, as if it's the weather, as if it’s a literal rain of fists that he's happened upon.”

 

          Jack cranked the handle of his window for effect, winding himself up to talk even faster:

 

          “Then the big dudes are gone, the cop is stunned, and the wife is still stupid. The cop’s fuming now, bleeding a bit, feeling ashamed that his wife saw all that, feeling like a fucking citizen of all things, so he pulls into a nearby parking lot and scurries back to his trunk to get his gun. Then he leaves the wife and runs down the street to make his drunken arrest, and the wife hightails back to the bar they were at earlier to try to get other off-duty cops to help. The cop is stumbling up and down the street with his bloody nose and his gun and comes across a kid all by himself, walking home . . .”

 

          In his peripheries, Jack sees Amy plucking the feathers in his dream catcher clean. And in spite of the widening hole she’s creating, and how it’s now less likely to catch a dream or anything else, Jack imagines her thinking with each rip, “He loves me . . . he love me not. . . .”

 

 “. . . So this is a kid who has nothing to do with anything, of course, and only the drunken cop will claim he resembles the dude that punched him in the face ten times, but for whatever reason, the cop decides he'll have to do. Now, if I was to take a moment of vacation is this idiot's brain, I would guess he thought an arrest would redeem him with his idiot wife, but who knows? So he runs at the confused kid and screams for him to put his hands in the air. The kid complies, protesting a bit. And the cop is grabbing one of the kid's hands on the back of his head when the gun goes off and blows a hole through . . . hold on. Is that car gonna let us get over?”

 

          Jack’s neck cracks like knuckles as he leans back to look for a hole in traffic.

 

           “Guess not. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. Gun goes off. Blows a hole through the kid's hand. But it could have been his head, right? You thought it was his head, right? But he still handcuffs the kid because he's gotta maintain appearances and stick to his story. And the kid is on the ground with the cop's knee in his back, holding his hand, bleeding, when the other cops from the bar finally get there and call an ambulance. . . .”

 

          Amy finishes shredding the dream catcher and gives Jack her full attention. And when she reaches to pluck a piece of lint off his shoulder, he flinches and wraps things up fast.

 

          “. . . long story short, the kid is still arrested, but of course the kid is cleared of all charges because, guess what? Cop was drunk. And even though his court date is pending over this shit, the cop’s already back to work apparently, as if this wasn't enough reason to lose your fucking job. So, here's what I want to do. Ready? I want to send a series of postcards to this cop and claim I'm the dude who punched him in the face ten times. And I kind of want us both to do this postcard thing, if it's okay with you, for the rest of our lives.”

 

          She didn't answer right away, but he could tell it was the most romantic thing she'd ever heard. And when she smiled, he finally took a breath and the car's shocks raised back up.

 

          She was in.

 

          “How funny does the word ‘cop’ sound when you say it too many times, am I right?” She giggled. “Hold on, what does this have to do with . . .”

 

          “Okay, I wasn't gonna say it, but that cop that pulled us over, the one I honked at, that was the same cop.”

 

          “How do you know?” She laughed.

 

          “What do you mean ‘how do I know?’ ”

 

          “How do you know?”

 

          “Same blue shirt.”

 

 

 

Little Beep

 

          So they followed him, followed him home to get his address, followed him back to work, followed him all day and all night.

 

          “What was his name again? On his badge? ‘Bigby?’ ” she asked, writing it on an envelope.

 

          “No, ‘Bigbee,’ ” Jack corrected. “Like Big ‘B,’ or something like that. Fuck it, any combination and the letters will get to him probably.”

 

          “How come the back window of his car says K-9 and no dog ever goes in or out?”

 

 “Wait, what did I say his name was?” Jack frowned.

 

          “Officer ‘Bigbeep’ or some shit.”

 

          “Let’s take his dog!” he said. “He hasn’t walked it yet!”

 

          “I think I’m in love,” she laughed.

 

          “Okay, I don't want to overstate anything, but I think we’ve happened upon the worst cop to ever wear a uniform.”

 

          “You think?” she said, not convinced.

 

          “Let’s kill the fucker.”

 

          “Let’s scare the fucker, you mean?”

 

          “Yeah, that’s what I said. Let’s scare the fucker.”

 

          “Planning a crime isn’t a crime, right?” one of them asked.

 

          “Uh, probably,” the other one answered, blowing on a slice of pizza.

 

          “How many times have you started something but didn’t finish it?”

 

          This was definitely her asking.

 

          “Every one of ’em.” He smiled.

 

          “Why is that such a relief?” She laughed.

 

          “That’s what I’m saying,” he said. “We need him.”

 

          She considered this, then asked, “What was ‘Bigbeat’ talking about with your driver's license picture anyway?”

 

          “It's an old trick,” Jack explained. “You stick your tongue out when they take the picture and it accomplishes two things. First, it mocks the cop who's reading it, and second, it makes your features distorted and less likely to be recognized if your records are ever pulled.”

 

          “Do it right now.”

 

          He stuck his tongue out and damn, if she didn't catch the end of it in her teeth like someone threw her a grape. Her mouth was sweet, delicious.

 

          “Revenge is a dish best served with extra pepperoni,” she whispered, kissing him some more. Then she bit.

 

 

 

Shipwreck

 

          Jack stopped his car in the middle of the highway for the first time in his life.

 

          It was 3:00 A.M. and no cars were in sight, his headlights shining on roads stained red forever with the comet trails of roadkill. They sat in silence, and Jack waited for Amy to ask why he stopped.

 

She didn't. She moved as close to him as she could, and they started playing some games, waiting to see how long they could idle there in the road before another car caught them. He felt beached, unable to movie, wheels replaced by a rudder scraping the stones.

 

          She laughed and asked what happened. Asked if he was wearing one of those invisible-fence collars and was too close to home.

 

          He asked if she was his. “Almost,” she told him, obviously not ready to answer.

 

          He took her left hand and asked if he could have that instead. She said okay. He tapped her knee and asked if it was his. Again she said, “Almost.”

 

He slipped a hand between her legs, felt his finger slip up to the knuckle in warmth before she squeezed. She said, “Almost,” again, of course, and actually pushed him out with a “Look! No hands!”

Then she tortured him even more, unzipping his jeans a bit, smiling at the red face peeking out, swollen and shaking like a toddler trying not to sneeze.

 

          He asked how far she'd go, said they had to hurry before there was another car. She wouldn't answer and asked him a question instead.

 

          “Why are we following him?”

 

          “Who? Me?”

 

          “No, dummy,” she giggled. “Officer ‘Bigfeet.’ Why do you want to kill a cop so bad?”

 

          “You mean scare a cop so bad.”

 

          “Yeah, that.”

 

          “I don’t know. Because I wasn’t ready to tell you those things about me, and he just read it all off my license? Can’t explain it. You ever read a story where they list too much stuff too early and you start skimming? That’s what happened to us yesterday. You tuned out.”

 

          “You’re serious,” she said, backing off a bit.

 

          “I’m completely serious.”

 

          “Listen,” she said. “I'm sorry Officer ‘Bigleak’ spilled the beans and ruined your imagined aura of mystery. But the mystery was kinda solved already.”

 

          She was about a foot away from him, and he wished he had a chair leg to pull her closer.

 

Then a car was coming. He looked to the rearview mirror at the approaching headlights, wincing as he tried to stretch for the gas pedal and bent some blood the wrong way. He tried to shift quickly enough to line everything back up, but much like the architectural limitations of the museum that housed the Santa Maria, a tiny, squashed ship that was one of the worst disappointments of his childhood when he finally saw it for real, he found his favorite stone-washed jeans painfully relegating him to half-mast.

 

          She eventually got a little closer, but not close enough. He wanted her more than he wanted every headlight behind him to never get big again.

 

          There was no doubt about it. His biological cock was ticking.

 

 

 

A Big Beep Is a Girl’s Best Friend

 

          The next day, they were still driving behind the cop when Jack asked her what had changed.

 

          “I don’t know. It just seems like we’re arguing all the time and . . .”

 

          “No, jerk,” he said. “With his car.”

 

          “Whoa. You’re right. Since when did his back window say ‘K-9?’”

 

          “Since always,” he said. “What did you mean about arguing though? We don’t argue. No, you’re right. Just in a funk.”

 

          She just sat, arms crossed.

 

          “Here,” he said. “Watch me change our mood with different theme music for our chase. Here’s the Scanners soundtrack.”

 

          “That makes me want to lean my head out and catch a stop sign with my face.”

 

          “And now here’s . . . the theme music from Magnum P.I.

 

          He cranked his radio.

 

          “Perfect,” she lied.

 

          Soundtrack secured, they followed “Bigbeep” around the neighborhood in an ever-widening spiral. But they couldn’t get too close because suddenly the horn started honking nonstop when the engine ran hot.

 

He found a garage fast.

 

          “Impossible,” a mechanic muttered, the third one to give up looking for a reason.

 

          “Erie, Pennsylvania,” he muttered, playing with toys in the service station waiting room. “This is such a backwards-ass town that the state bird is a pumpkin. Can’t think of a worse place to live.”

 

“I can top this,” she said. “Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Spring day. Sunny and warm. I was reading in a camping chair painted the colors of the American flag down by the river that ran past my apartment building. Behind me, I heard a child, no more than ten, say, ‘Look at that stupid fucking goose.’ Then I heard her mother say, ‘That’s a vulture.’ I put down my comic book and turned. It was a kite. With two eyes painted on it. I broke my lease the next day.”

 

          “Are you from there?” he asked, when they got back in the car.

 

          “So what if I am? People say you have to accept your hometown, know where you’re from, to know where you’re going and all that. Bullshit. That’s for city people or country people, not the in-between, not ’burbs, strip malls.

Unremarkable in every way.”

 

          “So why did you move here?” he asked.

 

          “Because of the name.”

 

          “Okay, you win,” he said. “So, why . . .”

 

          “Step on it. You’re gonna lose him.”

 

          “Who?” he asked, smiling, eager for a car chase to impress her.

 

          “Officer ‘Bugbear.’ ”

 

          “You mean ‘Bugbeard’?”

 

          “Turn left,” she said, all business. “And don’t smile so much.”

 

          “Why?”

 

          “It makes you seem unhinged.”

 

          “I’m as sane as the next guy who’s trying to kill a cop.”

 

          “No,” she explained. “’Unhinged’ like the corners of your mouth will connect in the back and the top of your head will fall off.”

         

“What a relief,” he said sarcastically. “I thought you were saying I was crazy.”

 

          “Don’t be so self-defecating.”

 

          “Sick.”

 

 

Emesis

 

          “Why do people always brag about killing someone with their bare hands?” he asked her. “That’s just poor planning.”

 

          He timed that just right when he said it, had the perfect song on at the time, but she hardly noticed.

 

          The next morning, his horn got stuck and stayed on for good. This meant angry looks from other drivers, and they couldn't follow the cop anymore, at least not close enough to make it worthwhile. Even worse, they had to raise their voices to hear each other speak, always risky in new relationships.

 

          After awhile, the horn may have started to fade because neither of them remarked on it anymore. And they may have forgotten about it completely and drove forever if it wasn’t for the fact that talking just that little bit louder didn’t really suit Jack’s voice at all. At that point, he could have followed everyone on the road for her and it wouldn’t have mattered.

 

          And just like that, she was done.

 

 

David James Keaton's fiction has appeared in Pulp Modern, Needle, Crime Factory, Pure Slush, Shotgun HoneyDirty Noir, and Thuglit, among others. His exercise in coach killing in Plot With Guns #10 was named a Notable Story of 2010 by storySouth, and his new zombie thing Zee Bee & Bee is available on Amazon and B&N. He is also the editor of Flywheel Magazine and routinely says "Valentimes" by mistake despite being born on that day with a full mouth of teeth.

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