Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Excerpt from Johnny Lobo story

This is part of a writing workshop exercise: a prompt to make a character or characters have animal characteristics and act on a compulsion or obsession:

It was early afternoon, on a Wednesday, and I had no real excuse to go to the Straw House for a beer. Its not like I didn't have beer in the fridge and didn't know I was acting outside of my pattern and comfort zone. But, it was one of those really awful Farch days where the sky looks like its made out of dull grey lead that's about to fall on you at any minute and crush you flatter than a chipmunk under an alphas' paw. It was cold and there was the usual winter wetness in the air which normally doesn't bother me since I had a particularly warm and thick coat. But that day, even inside, in my snug den, it seemed to leach right into my bones themselves. I'd spent the better or the worst part of the morning housecleaning, which I'd neglected for way too long, being as I was in the middle of a project. After sneezing a few dozen times and wading through dust bunnies all the way to my unshaven whiskers, I decided I'd had enough of the domestic stuff and that I'd might as well take a little jog into town and see what was doing at the Straw House. So, I put on my coat and my boots and followed the dirt road that lead from my clearing through the forest and into town.

When I got to the bar it was pretty empty being still fairly early. The mines hadn't let out yet for the afternoon shifts so most of the of the regulars weren't there. I noticed a couple of cute under aged chicks sitting in the booth closest to the door, chirping to an odd duck out who looked like he was uncomfortable being there in the middle of the day on a Wednesday instead of somewhere else. Maybe home with his wife or in front of a classroom. It was none of my business. I slid into my favorite booth with the faux leather seat on the other side of the room and nodded at the barmaid, Flossie, who was squeezed in behind the bar, wiping a beer glass with a white cloth. Her people were German too, like Fritz's mama, from Holstein I think. Anyway, she drew me a beer in a tall glass and brought it to me, patting my arm and winking before returning to her duties at the bar. As I sipped the beer I looked around. An old salty dog sat in front of Flossie nursing a lager and talking trash to a doll I'd never seen in there before whose hair was so light as to be almost silver. She was drinking something girly, a daiquiri or something like that. I remember thinking that she was as cute a kitten as I'd ever seen in our little burg. All decked out in a white mohair sweater, she looked as soft and fluffy as a cloud. I debated slinking up to the bar in an effort at engaging her in witty conversation, but lost my nerve when the door slammed open and the three O'Reilly brothers pushed their way into the room.

The Salty dog turned his attention from the kitten and looked into the mirror. He swiveled in his chair. “Look at that,” he said to the room at large. “You boys are back in town already. Thought you wuz gone at least until spring. Who let you out of the pokey early, mates?”

`“Aw shut up, Sparky,” snorted Pinky, the eldest O'Reilly. “We wuzunt guilty, anyway. We wuz framed and you know it.”

“Yeah, said Oscar. “We got time served. When the judge saw all the evidence our lawyer had, he realized we wuz honest businessmen only trying to bring home the bacon. We didnt do nuthin' wrong. We wuz co-erced into sumthin' we din't understand by that sneaky Foxy Renard.”

Sparky nodded. “Yeah, he's a fox all right. You boys mebbe know better than to listen to him next time.”

Oscar eased his considerable bulk in to the nearest booth and winked his eye at the barmaid. How ya doin' babe? He said. How bout bringin' old Oscar here a bottle of yer best.”

Flossie put her beefy hands on her ample hips and frowned across the bar at Oscar. Ya got cash, fatty?” she mooed, rolling her liquid brown eyes. “Boss man says OReileys credit ain't good here no more. Old MacDonald says he sure ain't runnin' a tab for you swine, uh uh..Not after what you done to bust up the place on yer last binge.”

I leaned back into the booth. I could smell trouble coming and I didn't want to deal with the O'Reillys after what had happened on our last encounter. I tried to make myself as small as I could but when you are my size its hard to fade into the wall. I remember thinking that no matter what they did to provoke me this time, I wasn't going to lose my cool. Landing back in jail again and having to deal with Red's disgust afterwards, even if she heard about it somewhere and decided to come see me wasn't worth it. No matter what those pigs did or said, about me or Red or what happened with her grandmother, either. “No,” I remember thinking, '”I will not lose my temper again. I've done anger management. I can handle myself now. I will not blow it.”
No matter what I had to put up with from the damn O'Reilly pigs, it wasn't worth risking all that that I'd had to work so hard to regain.That's what I thought at the time. Not worth losing what was left of the respect of my neighbors and anyway I was still on probation. I didn't want to go before the judge again. Old Peter Lapin's punishments were harsh unless you had a snake of a lawyer like the O'Reilly's man, who it was rumored, worked for the mob.

So, even though I wanted to howl, knowing what was probably coming, I sat there and tried hard to be quiet. Not interfere. Pull back in my shell like Doc Turtle would. Flossie was on her own. That old cow could just take care of herself. I wasn't in the mood to be anybody's champion. I was done with trying to be the hero. After all, that's what made Red finally give up on me and run away with the deer hunter. It was my screwed up heroics that got me sent to jail the first time.. You probably don't believe that. But its true. It wasn't what happened with her grandmother. No matter what you've heard, that one wasn't my fault. I wasn't even there. It was blowing down the Irish pigs' house that was the final straw, although the dirty lies the pigs spread about me and the incident with Red's grandma probably didn't help.

Even if people didn't want to admit it publicly, Red's grandma was one hot number, a real cougar if the truth be known. So, nobody except maybe Red herself would have blamed me much even if it had been true, although it wasn't. It was my brother, Jack, that was responsible. Sure, he looks a whole lot like me, but anybody who knows us both knows he was always creating trouble trying to work his way up in status and take down his older sib. I guess if you'd seen him running away from the place that night in Grandma Lola's nightgown with the bloody ax you might have thought it was me, but it wasn't. For a long time I thought that if I ever caught up to him I'd roll him and put my teeth to his throat, anger management counseling be dammed, and make him admit to what he did. For now though, I'm just gonna say it was a pack of lies, what they say I did to Red's Grandma, and leave it at that. Anyway, there was no real evidence and it ended in a mistrial. They never found a body, you know. So Jack got away with it, whatever he did and for all I know he and Lola are laughing into their rum and colas somewhere next to a pounding surf on the insurance money. Red's family are tough, the lot of them. Birds of a feather. Pioneer stock from Rhode Island. They don't kill easy.

I think a few people believed in my innocence until the crack house incident. It was me being at the house when it blew up that finally made them give up on me, turned them against me and sent me to prison. Being behind bars gives me nightmares and maybe always will. It made me a lone wolf and I don't trust anybody.” He took another drag on his cigarette. “But you don't care about that, do you? You're just here for the story.”

“I don't know what to say,” Mina admitted.

“Doesn't matter. Anyway, the thing was, I never should have gone into the Straw House on a Wednesday afternoon. I was tempting fate and fate is never on my side. For, Oscar spotted me.

“Well, he leered, “look it who's skulking in the corner, boys. If it ain't the guy who tries to hide in sheep's clothing and seduces his girl's grandma before he cuts off her head.”

“Yeah, the guy who pretends he's all that, huffing and puffing illegal sub-stant-ces,” said Pinky. “Walks around stoned half the time an thinks he's tough just cause he can get away with murder and blow down innocent business men's houses.”

“Yeah, we got a brick house now. You ain't gonna blow it up with your stinkin' drug lab like you done to our wooden one,” put in Meyer.

“The sheep outfit was for Halloween, I didn't seduce Lola, and I didn't blow up your damn wooden house,” I said. “You know its all lies and slander. The explosion was an accident.

“Yeah, Oscar replied. “That's what you told the judge and he din't believe you neither.”

“Next you are gonna say you didn't blow up our barn, either,”Pinky sneered.

“Yeah, damn gypsy Lobos always lie, “ avowed Meyer.

“It didn't blow it up, it burned along with the house. And I didn't blow anything or burn anything, not on purpose, although you seem to have convinced your insurance guy that I did.”

Mebbe you think folks will believe we done it ourselves. That we knew when we rented the house it was a drug lab.”

“Why not? Could be it was your drug lab not mine and you were trying to hook Red on meth. Maybe I just wanted to scare you off her.” I shrugged. “Business was off, the law was getting close to sniffing you out and you wanted the insurance money. Maybe it was all rigged to blow up. Maybe I was completely innocent and you tricked me into being there and fingered me for the job.”

“Oh sure,” Oscar snorted, his piggy little eyes growing narrow and mean. “That's what they all say in the joint. They're all innocent. Well, Johnny, I'm no arsonist or drug-crazed bomber and I think I've taken all I am gonna take from a lying cheatin' son of a bitch like you.”

I felt my hackles rise and my entire body went stiff.

“ Johnny Lobo,” Flossie mooed from the bar. “Don't loose your cool, liebchen. Don't listen to them pigs. They're just trying to get you in trouble again, ja they are, and you know the cost ain't worth giving into your anger.”

“I am not going to give into anything,” I growled. I stood and threw five bucks on the table. “I'm going to walk out of here now and go home and I don't want any trouble. What's over is over. Believe what you want. I've served my time and I'm done with it.”

But then, Pinky laughed again and Oscar snorted and Meyer said, “ Looks like Johnny Lobo turned into a prissy little pussy cat while he was away. Are you Johnny or Jeanette now, sweetie? Prison a bitch, huh?”

I opened my mouth to frame some clever reply but heard myself snarl instead. I saw something red before my eyes, but it wasn't my long lost love. Then I sort of blacked out. Maybe you saw heard what happened next on the eleven o' clock news or read it in the paper. If so, then you know more than I can remember. Oh, I saw Pinky and Oscar in court at the trial and I heard all the testimony. From the O'Reilys and Flossie and The Salty Dog. The pictures of what was left of Meyer were pretty graphic. I'd like to forget those, but I can't. I'm sorry for what they say happened. I'd take it all back if I could. Even though those Irish pigs were real bastards. But I don't remember doing what they claim I did to Meyer. I only know for sure and certain is that I shouldn't have gone into the bar on a Wednesday afternoon. Not even with the anger management counseling I'd done. I know that for a fact. And another thing, I'll never eat pork chops again, not as long as I live. I can promise you that.”

Fritz stood up, folded the motorcycle magazine and stuffed it into the pocket of his white uniform. “Some promises are easy to make wolf man,” he said. “As long as you are in here.When you know we're in a recession and the funding for this place is cut back to nuthin'. You ain't gonna get the other white meat in here, not as bacon or pork chops, for a long time, if ever.”

Johnny laughed. “Well, since I'm certified crazy and I'm not getting out, I'll deal with that.”

Fritz looked at the clock on the wall over the table. “Time's up,” he said. “It's time for afternoon meds. You gotta leave now, Miss Maus. I hope you got what you wanted out of him.”

Mina blinked and reached forward, shutting off the recorder. Johnny Lobo ground out his last cigarette on the top of the scarred oak table instead of in the tin ashtray. “Come back again,” he said, winking at her and smiling his sharp toothed smile. “If you want to visit some more. Maybe I haven't told you everything yet. But do me a favor next time. Don't wear anything red.”


Lisa Rast said...

I am SO glad you posted this on your blog so my husband can read it. What an entertaining story! You are so talented and an inspiration to baby writers like me.

Jamie Morris said...

I agree with Lisa! I loved getting to read this after hearing it in workshop. You are a funny, funny girl--and I love that you share all that funny with us on Monday nights!