Everything but Actually Doing It
David James Keaton
“I’m gonna honk at
“Don’t do it.”
“Why not? He won’t
know it’s me. Look at all these cars.”
“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
“I’m gonna honk.”
“Don’t do it.”
“Why the hell is
he blocking both lanes?”
“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.
Oldest Trick in the book
“What was that all
about?” the police officer asked them after they’d pulled over.
“Wasn’t me,” Jack
“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.
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?”
“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
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:
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.
“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?”
“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 . . .”
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. . .
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
“. . . long story short, the kid is still arrested, but
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
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?”
“What do you mean
‘how do I know?’ ”
“How do you know?”
“Same blue shirt.”
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?”
what did I say his
name was?” Jack frowned.
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
“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.
the other one answered, blowing on a slice of pizza.
“How many times
have you started something but didn’t finish it?”
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.”
this, then asked, “What was ‘Bigbeat’ talking about with your driver's license
“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
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
“No, dummy,” she
giggled. “Officer ‘Bigfeet.’ Why do you want to kill a cop so bad?”
“You mean scare a cop so bad.”
“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.”
she said, backing off a bit.
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
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.”
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
“Here,” he said.
“Watch me change our mood with different theme music for our chase. Here’s the Scanners
“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
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.
mechanic muttered, the third one to give up looking for a reason.
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
“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
“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.
“Turn left,” she
said, all business. “And don’t smile so much.”
“It makes you seem
“I’m as sane as
the next guy who’s trying to kill a cop.”
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
“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
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
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
says "Valentimes" by mistake despite being born on that day with
a full mouth of teeth.