how did you find me?
The addresses aren’t consecutive here,
they go by when the building was built.
This one is newish, to look at the number,
but let’s be honest, it’s not in great shape.
I figured people who knew me back when
would never come look in a dump like this.
But of course you didn’t know me before,
so the ruse was wasted.
When did you last hear somebody say “ruse”?
Savor it, sonny—the way things are going,
you may never get to hear it again.
“Look who’s talking,” he says with his eyes.
Do college boys do this work, these days?
You look like college, but what do I know.
Obviously, I don’t get out much.
Didn’t get out, that’s past tense now.
What can I offer you? Scotch and soda?
That’s about all I have in the house.
Not what your generation drinks, of course,
certainly not at 4 P.M.
Guys like you make a fetish of vodka,
perfect for peasants who come into money.
Kulaks, was Stalin’s term. . . . Why tell you, though?
You don’t know fetish from goulash, so what?
I should care about your education?
Whoever you are, college boy, kulak,
I could teach you some things, given time.
But we’re only given the time we’re given.
So seize the day, right? Time for a drink.
I assume you’re waiting for a colleague?
Yes? Answer or not, suit yourself.
It makes sense, working in pairs,
that’s the way it’s always been done.
I am walking behind the counter here.
Now I’m opening the cabinet. See?
Hands in sight the whole way. Okay.
If it makes you happy to show me that,
knock yourself out, but I’m getting a bottle.
Wouldn’t you know I just bought a fresh one?
Single malt, twelve years old.
Why would I leave the good stuff out?
The Polack that cleans up for me,
let him sneak a slug of the cheap and think
that he’s getting away with something.
Don’t worry, he was here yesterday—
can’t you tell, how nice the place looks?
No dust bunnies. You didn’t notice.
We paid attention to that kind of thing.
Exits, of course, light switches, cords,
anything you could pick up and throw . . .
but throwing is a loser’s play.
You need a gift, and great luck, both,
one or the other won’t get it done.
But the little things too. We paid attention.
You never knew what might turn out to matter.
Man, that’s good. Sure you don’t want some?
Twelve years old . . . I can picture you, twelve.
Already tougher than anyone knew,
except for a teacher
or coach who could tell
and it probably scared the hell out of them.
But still not as tough as you thought you were, then.
You’re wondering where your guy is, right? Feel free
to call—I’m sure you can work the cell
with one hand. Reception is hit or miss
around here but maybe you’ll get lucky.
Meantime I’ll have another round and set out
a glass for your friend when he comes.
And maybe one for the Polack, too,
let him drink the real thing for once.
When he comes back, he’ll let himself in,
and find the bottle. A mystery!
Nah. He’s more less wised up,
in his own little way.
And used to be able to move pretty well.
He’d lull you—fat, but quick.
People would underestimate.
Relax, though, he moved out of the building.
And anyway, he’s semi-retired—
these days, not looking for trouble.
If he was outside and heard voices in here,
trust me, he’d head right back downstairs.
You couldn’t pay him enough anymore.
The cell phone’s not cooperating, huh.
I think there’s a joker lives in this building
must have one of those jammers, you know?
For chrissake, this is ridiculous.
I don’t want to get falling-down drunk,
become a management issue for you guys.
I got an old rotary phone someplace
for just this kind of problem—relax!
Here it is, I’m coming around, just need
to plug it in there behind you . . . . Look,
you’ve probably never used one of these.
You wait until the dial swings back before
Thumpety-thump and bob’s your uncle. That’s how it’s
Junior—Bakelite handset, never shatters,
left hook in close, say g’night.
And the cord too, they made to last,
you can hog-tie a fat man with one of these,
let alone strangle a stringy gym-rat.
And the plastic casing protects your fingers.
I’ll take the gat, get my go bag, and go.
Just so you know, the Polack, c’est
"Allen Speed" works in a business where his clients don't want to know from
poetry. In his own mind, he is very hard-boiled. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in, among others, Chimaera, Lucid Rhythms, Literary
Bohemian, Able Muse.