Eric Stringer is a miserably failed newspaper reporter whose father was obsessed with one soft spot after another and whose mother didn’t love him enough to care that she didn’t love him enough. She swapped him to a camel jocky she met along the border in southern California for a hit off his crack pipe and a swing on his banana hammock.
Eric was born in poverty and clawed his way up to debauchery and tearing the wings off young maidens. Once he got out of prison for failing to vote multiple times in an election (he lived in Chicago at the time, and the law’s the law) he began to write stories about all the strange and unusual things he saw. Some of them were actually there.
See more of Eric’s work at HarveyStanbrough.com. (Note: Eric Stringer is the borderline psychotic persona of Harvey Stanbrough. When Eric isn’t around, Harvey has decided to let his own little light shine in that regard.)
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Rabbits and Wild Dogs
Marco and me chased down Joey Bones. It was only a half a block, but it was almost dark. There wasn’t gonna be no moon an’ the sun had been down for awhile. We might still be chasin’ him, but he tripped when he was halfway through the alley.
He went down, slid on his hands a little I think. Must’a tore ‘em up pretty bad, but I didn’t get to see that. He tried to get up and get away, but by then Marco was on him.
The whole thing reminded me of a scene from when I was a kid. I was playin’ out back in our fenced yard on the edge of the suburbs. There was a field on the other side of the fence. I must’a been seven or eight years old. There was kind of a flash out by the corner. I looked and there was a rabbit, all stretched out and running hard. His eyes, at least the one I could see, was huge, bulging. I could almost see him sweating, he was so scared.
An instant later this wild dog came racing past the same corner. His paws were flipping up dirt and bits of weeds. It all happened so fast, and just as I turned my head so I could see both the dog and the rabbit, the rabbit did something really stupid: he stopped, and he stuck both ears straight up. He was shaking all over, really scared like he knew what was coming. And then the dog was on him.
Who knew a dog could tear so many pieces off a rabbit so fast? I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. And the rabbit was screaming.
Sounded just like a little kid, screaming and screaming, and that dog just kept at him, putting one paw on him to hold him down as he tore away an ear or ripped off a back leg.
The next to the last thing I saw was the dog biting him across the back and slinging him away. I started to turn away then, but I wanted to think maybe the rabbit would run off. He didn’t. He tried to drag himself away with his front paws.
The dog just watched for a long moment, like he was enjoying it or something, then leapt with his front paws on the rabbit’s paralyzed back and chomped down hard on his head.
Oof. Wish I’d turned away sooner. That one stuck with me for awhile.
This was kind’a the same thing. Bones was trying hard to get to his feet. He was moving in slow motion, already leaning forward like he was trying to run before he was even off the ground. As he planted his left foot in the direction he wanted to go, Marco took one more step and reached down. I thought he was gonna fall on the guy, but he didn’t.
Marco grabbed Joey’s collars—coat and shirt and maybe undershirt for all I know—he grabbed ‘em with both hands and planted his heels, jerking the guy up hard to his feet. Then he kept the momentum going, turning the guy to the right and forcing him forward where he slammed him face-first into the red brick wall of an apartment building.
For good measure Marco drove his chest against Joey’s back, squashing him against the wall and forcing all the air out of his lungs. ‘Course Joey’s face took a beatin’ too. Good thing it was red brick. Stuff wouldn’t show as much.
I gotta give it to Joey Bones, though. He struggled after the wall stopped his momentum and Marco straightened up, letting up the pressure a little. He strained hard to the left, trying to duck and peel away from Marco’s grasp. He even shoved both arms downward and behind him and twisted his shoulders, trying to shrug out of his coat and leave it in Marco’s hands.
That’s when I caught a glimpse of his left eye. It was bulging, filled with the same fear I’d seen in that rabbit.
The thought flashed through my mind that Marco ought’a let the guy go. At this point there was nothin’ more to be gained really anyway.
Besides, if he ran true to form, Bones’d run down the alley another twenty yards, then stop and stick both arms in the air since he ain’t got the long ears. Then in true rabbit fashion he’d stand there shaking all over like a chihuahua dog shittin’ razor blades as he listened for Marco’s approach.
And he’d shake even harder as he waited for the crunch of the baseball bat or tire iron or the impact of the bullet in his pathetic stupid rabbit head.
But hey, Marco isn’t really a sporting kind of a guy. He’s more of an all-business kind of a guy.
He smashed Joey’s face against the wall, and when the guy tried to duck and slip out of his coat, Marco pulled him hard back against him. In Joey’s ear, he growled, “Hey, don’t do that, Joey Bones.”
He slammed him against the wall again, then pulled him back again. “Take your medicine you punk.” Then he slammed him against the wall again.
Now Marco don’t hold nobody to no unreasonable expectations. Fact is, if you don’t talk to Marco, he don’t even know you exist. Trust me, that’s a good thing, not bein’ on Marco’s radar. But if you do decide to tell Marco something, directly or indirectly, you better mean it.
Earlier in the day, Joey Bones had seen Salvatore “Sally Two Toes” Rinconi up at Rubio’s Italian Grill. For some reason he told Sally the next time he saw Marco he was gonna shoot him. “Help rid the city of its rat problem,” he said, and then he laughed.
At least that’s what Sally reported to Marco when he found him in The Bistro Tavern, that upscale place on 79th and Truman.
Marco was standing near the far end of the bar with a drink when Sally walked in.
Sally raised one hand. It looked sort of like a wave but he was asking Marco’s permission to speak with him.
Marco waved him over and lit a cigarette.
Sally gestured to the bartender, then pointed toward Marco and raised two fingers.
The bartender nodded and mixed the drinks. By the time Sally got to the far end of the bar, the bartender had brought the drinks. Sally looked at him. “On my tab, barkeep.”
The bartender nodded and moved away.
Marco thanked him for the drink, then asked how things were going. The translation was, So whaddya got for me?
Sally told Marco what Joey Bones had said.
So then Marco got this weird look on his face and he said, “So he called me a rat?”
Sally frowned, thinkin’ maybe Marco hadn’t heard him right. “He said he was gonna shoot you, Marco. The guy’s gunnin’ for you.”
Marco dismissed that notion with a shrug. “Hey, no way is Joey Bones gonna whack me, okay? Punk knows better.” He took a drag off his cigarette, then flicked the ash off into a small glass ashtray. “But he really said I was a rat? He really said that? I was part of the city’s rat problem?”
Sally nodded and swallowed. “That’s—that’s what he said, Marco.”
“A’right. A’right, thanks. Hey, an’ thanks again for the drink. I’ll see you around.”
But Marco had remained and Sally had turned and left, dismissed. Marco had glanced toward the back wall where I was sitting with my girlfriend and another couple at a corner booth. I’d been watching the interaction between Marco and Sally.
Marco crooked a finger. For the past few months I’d been kind’a his go-to guy when a bucket of shit needed stirring. Or when it had been stirred too much and it was time to dump in the lye and burn it.
I looked at my date and excused myself. Then I looked across the table at Tommy. “Hey, I gotta go for a minute. If I ain’t back, you’ll see Joyce home, eh?”
He nodded. “Sure thing.”
Joyce looked at me. “I can take care of myself, y’know. I don’t need no babysitter.”
“Jeez, it ain’t like that. I just don’t like leavin’ a real lady like you alone, okay? You let Tommy see you home, okay? Do it for me, so I don’t look bad, a’right?”
She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. “Sure, Charlie. You run along an’ play with your little friends.”
I glanced in Marco’s direction, but he didn’t seem to have heard her. I turned back to her, pinched her face between my thumb and forefinger. “Hey, shut up. You show some respect, you understand?”
She tugged away and made her lips look all pouty.
“I said do you understand?”
“Yeah, I understand. A lot more than you know.”
“Yeah? Well, keep a lid on it, a’right?”
She just glared at me. Yeah, she was pissed, but at the moment I couldn’t do anything about that. Tommy’d probably set her straight. Or I would, later. I got up and walked over to Marco.
He snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray, then picked up the second drink and downed it. He looked at me. “Wanna help me out with somethin’?”
“Sure, Marco. Want me to take care of somethin’ for you?”
“Nah, nothin’ like that. Just need another pair of eyes. I gotta find a guy and talk to him about somethin’. Somethin’ I gotta do myself.” He shrugged. “You know.”
“Sure, sure Marco.”
“Your car here? I brought a taxi, an’ taxi’s ain’t, uh…” He snapped his fingers. “What’s that word I’m lookin’ for?”
“Oh, yeah… conducive. I like that word. Taxi’s ain’t conducive to the kind of business I need to do right now.”
I nodded. “Sure, Marco. I got my car here. Right out back.” I hoped at the time nothin’ too messy would come of the evening. I’d just had the car detailed a couple weeks ago, and that had been a pretty big mess. That’s a story for another time maybe.
Marco walked past me and I followed him outta The Bistro. We went around back and got into my car. When he was settled, he said, “Let’s check up by Rubio’s. Think it’s at 73rd and Stevenson.” He laughed. “Guess we could’a just walked.”
I thought again of my nice clean trunk. I’d put a couple clean blankets in the back a few days ago, just in case. Weighted them down with a couple of shovels, also clean. “Nah, this’ll be better. We see the guy and he rabbits, it’ll be easier to catch him.”
I started the car and pulled out, heading toward Rubio’s. I drove as slowly as the other traffic would allow. Never know where you might find what you’re looking for.
Looking out the passenger window, Marco said, “You hear any of that back there with Sally?”
I shrugged. “Some. A little.” I’d heard every word. That was my job.
He nodded. “Sal said Joey Bones is makin’ noise. Said he called me a rat.” He looked at me. “Me, a rat! You believe that?”
“No way.” That was my answer to either meaning.
One, I knew better than to think Marco could be a rat. Just wasn’t in his make-up. And two, it was hard to believe Joey was stupid enough to actually think those things, much less say them out loud. Especially now.
Why would he do that? He must’a been severely under the influence. “Hey, y’know, Joey Bones… maybe he was severely under the influence. I mean, if he really said it at all. Maybe Sally didn’t hear him right, y’know? Or maybe Sal just misunderstood. Maybe that’s it.”
He actually smirked as he glanced at me. “Yeah, sure… that’s prob’ly it. Still, awhile back there was some noise on the street he was lookin’ to take my place, y’know? You hear anything about that?”
I shook my head. “No.” I laughed. “Joey Bones take your place? That just ain’t gonna happen, Marco. No way.”
He nodded. “Yeah… well, I wanna find the guy. Just have a chat with him. Especially about that rat thing.”
“Sure thing, Marco. Better to go straight to the source, you know. Find things out head on.”
So we’d gone to the source. A couple minutes later, I spotted Joey Bones walking along the sidewalk about two block this side of Rubio’s. Why the idiot wasn’t safely in his car in Ohio or somewhere, I didn’t know. “There he is.”
With my right hand, I pointed across my chest and the steering wheel through the driver’s side window. “Over there.”
He spotted him. “A’right.”
I hit the gas then whipped a u-turn in the midst of honking cars and one irate cabbie, then swung to the curb and parked.
All the noise and action made Joey look up. He recognized Marco getting out of the car, and he took off. He ran about thirty feet down the sidewalk, then hooked left into the alley. About halfway along, he stumbled over something and that’s when Marco got him.
I hated to see it goin’ down like this. Me an’ Joey Bones came up together, almost from junior high school. Only difference was he dropped out late in our sophomore year of high school and I hung out for almost another year. By the time I started runnin’ numbers for Marco, Joey was already an associate, bringin’ in his own bucks.
I was sure this wasn’t how Joey had expected the evening to go either.
Marco slammed him against the wall again. “What’d you say, Bones? What’d you say to Sally?”
Joey grunted through a smashed nose and bloodied lips. “Nothin’. I didn’t say nothin’, Marco.”
“Yeah? Then why’d you take off like that? Why’d you go rabbit on me?”
My own eyes got wider. Rabbit? Jeez, is Marco readin’ my mind? I hope not.
“The car all of a sudden, Marco—I thought it was a hit. Jeez, I didn’t know it was you.”
Marco smashed his face against the wall again.
Joey’s right ear came away bloody. “Marco, I was drunk. I was jus’ drunk.”
“What’d you say to Sally?” Marco tensed to slam him against the wall again.
Marco stopped, but maintained his grip.
“I-I said I was gonna shoot you Marco but I didn’t mean it an’ you gotta know that!”
“I don’t care about that. You ain’t got the balls to shoot me. What else?”
“Nothin’, Marco! Nothin’, I swear.”
“No? Nothin’ about me bein’ a rat? Nothin’ about me bein’ part of the city’s rat problem? ‘Cause I been a lot of things, Bones, but I ain’t never been no rat.” He tensed up to slam Joey against the wall again.
I yelled, “Drop!”
Joey went limp.
Surprised, Marco started to turn around. “Wha—?”
My bullet took him just above and behind the left ear. A good sized serving of his brains splattered against the wall and he slumped.
Joey, sitting on his ass, his back against the wall, stared.
“Get your jacket off, Bones, an’ wrap his head in it real good. I’ll be back in a minute with the car.” I turned and walked up the alley.
In the car, I checked the rearview mirror, then backed up past the alley and turned right into it. I drove until I was just past Marco’s body and popped the trunk. As I bent to help Joey load the guy into the trunk, Marco made some kind’a noise.
Joey’s eyes got wide. “Jesus, did’ja hear that? Guy’s still alive!” He bent and moved part of his coat aside. Marco was glaring at him with his left eye. His right eye was lying on his cheek and a lot of his right forehead was gone. It was on the wall, blending into that red brick, but not as well as Joey’s blood had. Difference in Marco and Joey, you know.
Joey looked up at me, then reached into my trunk, picked up a roll of duct tape and tore off a strip. He knelt and slapped it across Marco’s mouth.
I was getting nervous. Guy shouldn’t still be alive after that. “Tie his hands too. Just in case, y’know?”
Joey nodded. He took a length of rope from my trunk and wrapped Marco’s arms and hands tightly. Then he draped his jacket over Marco’s face again and we picked him up and put him in the trunk.
When we opened the trunk at the East River, Marco was mostly dead. No way he’d survive through fish eatin’ on his stupid brain. Anyway, we dumped him, and as we watched him float away Joey looked at me and frowned. “So what took you so long back there anyways?”
I shrugged. “With what?”
“Damn guy was beatin’ on me. That ain’t how it was set up. Shouldn’t’a even caught me before you did the hit, remember? And he beat on me pretty bad before you finally got around to offing him.”
“Yeah, well… I had some thinkin’ to do, that’s all.”
Bones reached out and shoved me, half-playing, half-not. Joey never was an all-or-nothin’ kind’a guy. “Yeah?” he said. “About what?”
“About rabbits, Joey… like you. Little innocent, stupid rabbits… and wild dogs.”
He glanced at the hand I’d pulled from my coat pocket and his eyes grew wide.
He turned and, true to rabbit form, tried to run, but he didn’t get two steps before my bullet took him at the base of his skull. When he went down he even kicked a few times.
As a final gesture of friendship, he tumbled down the slope into the river for me.
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