Bullet Brown sittin at the bar sparked the fire when he tells Tall Tan, “Don’t start no shit and there won’t be no shit.”
Tall Tan, the Collector Man, poured some gas on the spark. “Too late for that. The shit started when you opened your goddamn lying mouth.”
Bullet smiled his gap-toothed smile. “Well, fuck, man. If we gonna do it let’s get to it.”
I ain’t no good witness, doin too much duckin and dodgin. But I saw that Nigger killin, Army forty-five, spit, buck, smoke; an eager dog with a ready bark and a deadly bite.
I see the Collector Man buckle, bend, bleed, and break, but not until that sawed off twelve-gauge rages, curses God and man and takes Bullet’s head off his neck.
I sit there in the broken glass, spilled liquor, crushed furniture checkin for holes in me and condemnin both them niggers to hell for bringin Death in here so close to me I feel his sleeve brush my shoulder.
Mack moans, holds a bar towel to the shotgun pellet wounds in his shoulder. Occupational hazard for bartenders at the Hole in the Wall.
I help fashion a shoddy bandage. Others and I help Mack into my truck. I drive him to the Vet.
“Mack, how you get shot? You forget to duck or you too old to dodge?”
Mack grimace, give me the evil eye. “Fuck you… Fuck you, Whiteside…”
Blood seeping through the bandage. “Mack, Negro, you better not get any blood on my ride.”
Mack give me the finger, wipes sweat off his face with his sleeve. “I – I – was, was on – on the phone, with your ex – with Memphis, when that OK Corral – shit – shit went down.”
“Ah, man! Don’t tie me to Memphis. She everybody’s ex, including yours.”
Mack drips sweat, leaks blood, gives me a weak ass smile, “Your ex, Memphis, the player, was being played.” Mack catches his breath. “Memphis – she actually believed Benny the Bank Robber,” Mack grins, shakes his head in wonderment. “Believed that twenty-five-year-old boy, was crazy over her forty-five-year-old ass.”
We both chuckle at that.
“Benny, Tall Tan’s son, right?”
Mack nods yes, grunts, “Everybody in on the joke except her.”
“And me. I’m sorry I missed that.”
“Memphis, Memphis buying Benny a new Escalade – and – and Benny, he spending every dime on – and most his time with, Betty Brown – Bullet Brown’s fifteen-year-old niece.”
Mack closes his eyes, bites his lip.
The shootout smells like Memphis mischief all the way.
“If, if you hada called me, Mack, I would have swum from that oil rig to see Memphis play the fool for a change.”
Mack closes his eyes, nods off.
“Negro! Mack, wake your ass up. You ain’t dying in my new truck.” I jab him in his wounded shoulder.
He snaps back, “Fuck! Shit! Whiteside, what the fuck!”
“Five minutes. We be there in five minutes. Stay with me. What was Memphis telling you on the phone? What was that about?”
Mack chuckles, frowns, licks his lips, “That bitch. Your used to be. My once was. Memphis shot Benny and Betty while they were fuckin in that Escalade. Shot them in the legs. Then burned them kids alive in that truck.”
I don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. But, goddamn it to hell. I know it is the truth. That is Memphis through and through. I know she set up the barroom gun fight too. Goddamn her to hell!
Mack frowns, sweats, licks his lips and wonders, “Whiteside, I saw Death in the bar, man – spats – tails – bow tie – winks at me. Whiteside, what you think that means?”
“How the fuck would I know? Why the fuck would I care?”
I loved her.
“Whiteside, did you see him? Did you see Death?”
I really loved her.
“I saw him. I did. We almost there. Hang on.”
I love her. How could I?
Mack blows a little blood bubble. “He, he, Death didn’t – didn’t have… Have… On… His… His top hat… Why?”
“Mack! Mack, we here. Mack, wake your ugly ass up.”
The Vet unhappy as hell. “Whiteside, I do some miraculous things, but I don’t raise the dead. Don’t be bringing me no more corpses.”
I find Memphis downtown outside the Uptown Club. She with some other twenty-five-year-old boy built like the Rock. I tell him to split. He get all puffed up like he’s gonna do somethin. Until he looks over my shoulder and sees Death leaning against a telephone pole, picking his teeth with a bone splinter, and wearing a tux and silk top hat. The brown-skinned Rock takes off like he got a rocket up his ass.
Memphis see Death too. “Whiteside, honey, is he here for me or you?” She says that as she reaches for the Derringer between her breasts.
I say, “Do it really matter?” as I point my nine at her chest.
She give me that great big light-up-the-night smile – for the last time.
I know you can’t kill evil. I know that. I’m just trying to slow it down a bit.
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