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summerjob.jpg
Art by Brian Beardsley

Summer Job

Joe Malone

 

My dad had no use for me.

When did I figure out he was a louse? Probably the first time he hit me. Unless I saw him hit my mom first.

He worked for a loan company on a crummy Detroit street lined with bail bond shops, sex arcades, and bars. I never shared a "Take your son to work" day with him.

After high school, I took off for Michigan State.  My dad flunked grammar school. He didn't miss me.

Drama or mathematics? I couldn't decide. I could act and I could add. Which to choose?

I could sing and dance. I could make a computer sing and dance. Tough choice.

College was fun. No girlfriends, because I've got an anger thing, but a lot of beer and mary jane and bareknuckle fights.

When I came home for visits, I rarely saw the old man. He preferred the sex arcades and bars. When I did run into him, I didn't mention the drama or math. Especially the drama. Especially the singing and dancing. The old man had a narrow view of the world and how a real man should behave in it. Punching a prospective girlfriend, that he could understand.

At the end of my second year at MSU, my financial aid was halved. I needed to earn some serious money that summer. I looked for a job in East Lansing but couldn't find one that paid enough. In desperation and against my better judgment, I returned to Detroit and spoke to my dad.

He gave me a look. He cogitated, or at least stood without speaking. He nodded. In the morning, I found myself in my car, following him over to the east side of town.

The loan company consisted of a storefront office with a few metal desks and folding chairs distributed over a curling linoleum floor. A couple of separate rooms in back were equipped with cheap pine doors and deal tables.

A couple of guys in need of a shave sat around smoking. I didn't see any customers.

Dad dropped onto a chair and pulled out a pad from his pocket. He flipped it open and studied a page while he lit a cigarette and exhaled a plume of smoke. Detroit's smoking laws did not seem to reach into Triple Aces Loans.

He tore the page out of the notebook and handed it to me. It had two names, two addresses, and two dollar amounts written on it.

"You want to make money?" he said.

I nodded.

"Enough to go back to what you were doing? The school thing?"

I nodded.

"Do what I say, you'll have the money."

I nodded.

He fished a leather blackjack out of a desk drawer. It was spring loaded.

"Go find the guys on that paper," my dad said. "Ask them for what they owe. If a guy don't give it to you, hit him in the face with the sap. When he goes down, hit him in the face again, until he ain't moving. You understand?"

I guess I looked like I didn't.

"Don't kill him," my dad said, to explain himself. "You kill him, he can't pay."

"You want me..."

"Shut up," my dad said. "Go do what I said or give back the damn sap."

I walked out with the blackjack in my pocket. Anger made me a little crazy. I wanted to use the thing in my pocket all right. On my old man. Once a louse, always a louse.

I drove over to the first address and left my car on the curb. No problem parking in East Detroit. I took the stairs to the third floor. I'm in shape. I like stairs.

When the guy answered the door, the first thing he saw was the sap in my hand.

"I can get the money," he said.

I hesitated. I didn't have anything against this guy. I was mad, but not at him.

"When?" I said.

"Give me an hour."

"An hour," I said.

I thought about finding the other guy, but instead walked down to the bar on the corner. I ordered a beer and whiskey chaser. It didn't calm me down. I did it again.

My old man wasn't going to pay me beans. He didn't care if I went to school or to prison. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. After a third beer and whiskey and a visit to the bar's cruddy toilet, I walked back to the first guy's building and up the stairs.

I didn't have to knock. The guy opened the door and held out a wad of cash. A big wad, with big numbers on the bills. I took it from him and stuffed it in my pocket.

"Count it," he said.

I hit him in the face with the sap. The spring in the handle made the pouch with its lead weight really snap. The guy went down in a heap and didn't twitch. Just bled on the rug inside the door.

The second guy had his money ready. I could hear kids in the apartment behind him. He handed me a stack of bills, all neat and squared off. I slipped it in my back pocket.

He didn't care if I counted it. I belted him across the nose. He twitched on the floor and I hit him again.

By the time I got back to the loan office, I had calmed down.

My dad looked up when I came in.

I handed him the sap.

"They didn't pay," I said.

He looked at the blood and hair on the sap. Then he surprised me. He smiled and pulled out a roll and peeled off a couple of Cs, which he handed me. I didn't know he had it in him.

"Try again tomorrow," he said. "You done good."

Tomorrow I'd be in East Lansing. Pops could go find the two guys himself. I hated to miss that.

 

 

Joe Malone lives in South Sudan with a Woro woman and her three sisters.

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