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Garr Parks
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I’m Not Antonio

 

Garr Parks

 

            One breezy October night, Eddie pulled into the long, nearly empty parking lot that sloped down to Parham’s Waterfront Club. The route there had taken Eddie through Springfield’s rough inner-city streets, ones that needed paving and were lined with run-down houses that cried for renovation. The club sat on the edge of the urban lake called Watershops Pond and next door to the vacant and crumbling Springfield Armory built in the 1800s.

Eddie parked beside the owner’s 1984 triple black Jag. Looking at the Jag now, he saw it as a sign of forgiveness, for Antonio Parham was once a good listener and wise in understanding another person’s perspective even if the person seeking his forgiveness sometimes wound up missing or badly beaten. More than forgiveness from his only sibling, Eddie wanted to extinguish the anger he still harbored like an unforgiving ghost and let the past be the past. After numerous failed attempts, Antonio had finally answered Eddie’s calls two days ago and he sounded gracious, “Yeah, little brother, come on up and let’s get this over with. We’re the only family we got left.”

The dimly lit interior escorted Eddie through the back door, which he found just as it was two years ago when he’d last patronized the bar. Nothing had changed: the air conditioners gurgled with a low hum, the long oval-shaped bar took up most of the room’s space, the cracks winced in some of the leather padded stools around the bar, the center station was stacked like a stadium, the overhead fans rotated like old men, the scuffed vinyl flooring held onto durability, and the dark paneled walls along the booths embraced their secrets.

          Two stocky young men in jean jackets stood together across the bar, drinking bottles of beer and tossing back shots between loud talking and laughing about one of them turning thirty. The lone bartender turned her back to the men and circled around the center island as Eddie found a seat, alone, opposite the celebration.

          “What’s your pleasure?” the bartender asked. She looked about thirty-five-years-old, with smooth brown skin, a short pixie cut hairstyle, and a warm smile in her eyes and on her lips.

          Eddie suddenly felt exhausted after his four hour’s drive from Harlem to meet his brother face-to-face again for the first time since the shooting. His heart raced and he considered getting up and leaving as second thoughts began creeping into his brain. Remnants of Antonio’s cigar smoke hung in the air, reminding him that Antonio had a trigger temper and didn’t mind demonstrating it. He adjusted his wire rim glasses and glanced around, feeling Antonio’s eyes watching his every move.

“Where’s Antonio?” Eddie asked.

          “You look just like him,” the bartender said, nonchalantly. “Just a younger slimmer version.”

          “We’re brothers,” Eddie said. “Family resemblance usually works that way. Where’s he at? His whip broke down?”

          The bartender’s smile turned into a frown, as if he’d asked her to surrender her name, date of birth, address and social security number. “He’s not the only one who drives it,” she said, as though she’d said it once too often. “But what business is it of yours?” She raised an eyebrow.

          “Plenty,” Eddie muttered. He chuckled to himself. Was she involved with Antonio? His brother was fifty-five, thirteen years his senior, but Eddie knew he had an eye for younger women. His gaze went past her to the rows of bottles that stood at attention. One drink, he thought, just one would help smother the fire still smoldering in him over losing Kim to his own brother and drown the feeling that life had betrayed him. Yes, one drink would put a little distance to the proximity of his heartbreak and anger and maybe then he and Antonio could finally talk like men, like brothers, and end their bitter estrangement.

          The Hennessey snapped its fingers at Eddie. He tried to look away. The bartender still waited for his order then turned to look in the direction of his gaze. “A whiskey?” she said.

Eddie nibbled his lower lip.

          “I’ll take a tall glass of straight tonic water,” he finally said, lifting his eyes to catch the bartender’s grin. “And a wedge of lime to that and some ice.”

          Her eyebrows arched. “Straight tonic, no chaser?” she asked, as if meaning to say, “You for real?”

          “No chaser,” Eddie said, hearing his own bit of impatience. “Straight tonic.” Why was she still grinning at him?

          Both men across the bar lifted their bottles and said loudly in unison, “Here’s to you, Antonio.” 

          “Tell them fools I’m not Antonio,” Eddie told the bartender.

          “Don’t mind them,” the bartender said, resting both palms on the bar. “I haven’t seen you here before.”

          “I’ve never seen you either,” Eddie said. “My brother’s expecting me. You must’ve known I was coming.”

          “Yeah, Antonio talks about you a lot. You’re the one —” She turned away and went to the bar. Eddie watched her as she grabbed an eight-by-eleven framed picture or something then returned and set it down in front of him. He picked it up; it was a news paper article from the Springfield Union News, framed and matted.

          West Springfield, Massachusetts

          November 21st, 2003

 

Businessman, Antonio Parham, 52, bleeding from a gunshot wound to his shoulder, and his head bloodied, stumbled out the rear door of his two-story home into a pouring rain, calling the name of a neighbor for help.

          The neighbor heard the shouting, but so did the man inside the house, who peeked outside from an upstairs bedroom window. The man was Springfield Police Officer Eddie Parham, Antonio’s younger brother, who had broken into the house to find his girlfriend, Kim Jordan, in bed with his brother.

          A fight between the brothers ensued, inside, ending after Eddie shot Antonio, hitting him once in the shoulder, shattering Antonio’s collar bone.

          Moments after Antonio Parham stumbled from the house, police officers surrounded the house.

          Eddie Parham was arrested without further incident and taken into custody.

          Kim Jordan was found upstairs uninjured and tied to the bed.

 

“And now they’re married,” Eddie said, pushing the frame aside. “He’s lucky I only shot him in the shoulder.”

          “You were both lucky,” the bartender said.

          “Depends how you define luck,” Eddie said. “I lost my job with the Springfield PD and spent six months in jail.”

          “But Antonio dropped the charges which set you free,” the bartender snorted. “He says you still got a vengeful grudge in your heart, though. You sure you don’t want a whiskey to tamper down your mischief?”

          “Nah,” Eddie said. He liked her Mateuse bottle shape; narrow at the top and wide at the hips, and her sea-weed brown eyes. “I stay sober now. Whiskey always got in the way of my relationships. Where is everybody? Why’s the place look closed?”

          “We got a plumbing problem. So, what is it you do now, Eddie?”

          “I’m a bail agent.” He looked at his watch. “Is Antonio here or not?”

          “Then you haven’t heard?” the bartender asked.

          “Heard what?” Eddie said.

          The bartender folded her arms across her bosom and gave him a sideways smirk. She shook her head then walked away to get his drink but not before the loud party of two ordered up two more shots.

          Eddie nibbled his lower lip, wondering what information the bartender was keeping from him. Was Kim in poor health? The mystery consumed him like sinking in deep water. He gazed across the bar at the booths and remembered the many nights he used to get drunk there while the place flowed thick with adrenaline, schmoozers and players competing with the dance music that boomed from the DJ’s station in the back corner of the tight dance floor.

          The bartender returned and set Eddie’s iced-tonic water in front of him.

          “What you got to tell me,” Eddie said, “that my brother’s still running around with city politicians and putting his hand in every pocket? He’s got enemies in every town. Has he finally gone and got in some shit too deep to get out of and needs his little brother’s help?”

          “I don’t think you get what’s going on here,” the bartender said. She sighed. “Antonio said to tell you to fuck off and have a safe trip back, and that Kim is pregnant with his child, and you can’t have her back.” She took a breath. “Now, you got to finish that drink, because I’m closin up.”

Eddie blinked several times, wondering if she was joking. The arch of her eyebrows suggested she wasn’t. The room got quiet. He looked at the two men and they were looking at him with deadpan expressions. It was no joke, he thought, like he’d been set up. He took a healthy swallow then cleared his throat and looked straight in the bartender’s eyes.

“You tell Antonio, I thought he was a bigger man than this. This ain’t about Kim. Tell him to give Kim a wet kiss for me, then tell him he isn’t man enough for me and that I’m still not scared of him.”

 “Antonio ain’t scared of nothin either and he’s always happy to prove it.”

“Yeah,” Eddie said. “That’s my big brother.”

          The bartender glanced over her shoulder at the two men.

          “I got to close up, Eddie. Nice to meet you.”

          His eyes drifted to her ringless wedding finger. “If you’re ever in Harlem, I can roast you a good chicken, make the skin crackle in your mouth. Get my number from your boss.”

          “Life happens, Eddie,” the bartender said. “Sometimes it’s best to move on.”

          Eddie didn’t like her advice; it sounded like an insinuation, or a funeral. It rattled his nerves a little bit.

          “Yeah, I suppose,” Eddie muttered. He pushed his glass forward and got up. The two men started talking loudly again.

          “Bye bye Eddie Parham,” the bartender said.

          Eddie took off his leather jacket as he walked out the back door into the dark night. He took several steps then paused, looked to either side of him, perked his ears, saw no one but heard a choir of crickets chirping in concert down near the pond. The only light in the driveway was a luminous glow from the full moon. In his mind, Antonio sat behind a desk watching him on security cameras. As he continued on to his car, he spit on the Jag and the crickets went deathly silent. He opened his car door, suddenly heard two snapping-like clicks behind him, turned fast to see the switchblade slashing toward his face. He ducked, the blade missed, and he tossed his jacket in the first assailant’s face, which gave him the instant he needed to side-step the second assailant’s lunge with the other blade. Eddie planted his feet and cracked the second assailant’s jaw with a vicious right cross that dropped him to the pavement, lights out. The first assailant slashed again with his blade but Eddie moved briskly out of harm’s way then hook-kicked him on the medial collateral ligament. The first assailant screamed in pain and the knife slipped from his hand and fell to the ground. Eddie moved in, caught two stiff jabs to his forehead, dazed him a little, but he grabbed onto the first assailant and they fell to the pavement. Two bodies fighting in a clotted knot, fingers grabbing, fists punching. The first assailant reached for the knife, but Eddie slammed his fist into the assailant’s family jewels. The first assailant squealed in agony, cuffed his jewels with both hands and curled into a fetal position.

Eddie hopped to his feet, breathing fast. Iron taste of blood in his mouth. He reached into his car and snatched his sub compact from the hip holster. He shot one assailant in the shoulder then shot the other one in the shoulder. He glanced around, saw no one. His heart beat steady. The only sounds were the assailants’ squealing and moaning. Then a small fish or something splashed the water in the pond. He dragged the closest assailant by his collar and dumped him on top of the other one and watched them for a moment squirming on each other like two bloodworms.

          “I’m not Antonio,” Eddie said to the two whimpering and bleeding young men from inside the bar. “Antonio would’ve killed you.” He remembered what his poppa once told him and Antonio: “Guns beat knives 99% of the time.” Now he was looking at proof. Forgiveness, he thought, was never one of Antonio’s stronger points of view. “But I forgive you, brother,” he yelled. His voice carried across the darkness.

Eddie picked his jacket up then got into his car and cruised out of the parking lot.





Garr Parks (k2garr@gmail.com) served twenty years as a Corrections Officer in the Connecticut Department of Corrections, including many years counseling addicts. Retired, he writes out of Savannah, Georgia and enjoys trail hiking and saltwater fishing. His short stories have appeared in various literary magazines, including Black Petals (“Flirting With Desire,” in Summer 2003, and “The Decoy Maker,” in Spring 2005).

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