When I looked back over to Dale, he’d resumed the “my head might explode” position. At this point I was satisfied Dale wasn’t going to be any trouble. I looked down to Chuck, who had decided it was a good idea to take care of the rest of his customers. He glanced down at me. I shrugged and stuck my bottom lip out, like you do when you’re not really sure about something, but you’re not really worried about it either. Chuck nodded back at me.
On any other night I would have walked back to my spot, finished another drink and gone home like a good boy. Something made me stay in the chair. I don’t know what it was, even looking back on it. All I knew then was that I was tired of being an asshole. Tonight, I was going to do something different. The question came out before I knew I was saying it, “What can I do to help you out, Dale?”
He leaned back, putting his hand out to hold his empty glass. He spun it on the bar, between his middle finger and thumb. The glass made a low, grinding sound as it spun awkwardly. While I was waiting for Dale to answer, I asked myself the same question. What could I do? If I was turning over a leaf, I wasn’t going to kill him. That would just be out of boredom anyway. The guy wasn’t dangerous.
It was hard to watch the man struggle. You could see he was thinking about what he’d done. Wondering if it was a mistake. Me, I make those choices every day. It’s what I do. It’s what I have to do. My life ended up this way because of my own decisions. No one could tell me to do something I had no interest being a part of. Looking at Dale sitting there like a sad puppy, it really got to me. Being a killer wasn’t in him.
“Tell ya what,” I said, “ you want me to call you a cab or somethin’?”
For the first time since I’d sat down, he turned to look at me. He looked at me, and he grinned. “No, I don’t need a cab. I need to find the asshole she cheated on me with, and I need to gut him like the fish he is.”
His grin sent shivers down my spine. I guess because I wasn’t expecting to see the guy smile. It was a secret rage he’d been holding onto all night. I had two options: talk the guy out of it, or walk him right into it. The problem with option one was that Dale had already spent at least the last six hours thinking about stabbing this guy. He was convinced this was his next move. He wasn’t likely going to listen to me.
The problem with option two, was that my sudden case of conscience couldn’t bare to see Dale go through with it. He was a suburbanite. He didn’t belong in that part of town. But then it hit me, he probably walked into the bar looking for someone just like me. What if this was a ploy just to get someone, me, to do his dirty work? I was conflicted. If not me, then eventually someone else would agree.
My best option, I decided, was a combination of the two. If I acted like I was going along, he’d leave the bar and that would solve one problem. Then I could have a chance to really talk him out of it, after we were outside, one-on-one. It was a risk.
“Where’s the bastard live?” I asked, trying not to lead him one way or the other.
“Not too far from here. We could probably walk.”
“Tell you what,” I started as I picked up the bottle of Turkey and poured us each one more shot. “If we can walk there before all these shots go to our heads, and you can convince me this chick of yours deserved what she got, I might just help you out.”
YEAH! The cheers from Daisy’s table erupted out of nothing. “Take that bitch!” he yelled to one of the guys sitting with him. Much as I didn’t like him, the man took his dominoes seriously.
“You mean that?” Dale asked. I turned back to find his face inches from mine. It almost made me fall out of my chair. He was holding up his glass.
I shrugged, “Sure, why not.”
“Alright then, I got the drinks” He took his shot and then reached into his pocket. The roll of cash in his hand told me I was right. He came looking to hire a gun.
“Hey, hey, hey,” I said, reaching over to push his hand down. Dale’s eyes went wide and he started to pull away from me. I lowered my voice, “You can’t flash that here, we’ll never make it out the door.”
“Oh, I didn’t think about that, sorry,” he whispered back. I glanced around to see if anyone noticed. The attention was still on Daisy. Dale counted out a hundred dollars and gave it to me. “Maybe you should pay Chuck?” I flashed half a grin.
“I’ll be right back.” I got up and walked down to tell Chuck I was leavin’. I gave him the money when I shook his hand, and grabbed my leather jacket. I could feel the weight of my .45 in the left breast pocket as I slid my arms into the sleeves. I had the pocket made special by a tailor that used to be a friend of my pop’s. It was deep enough to hold my gun so it wouldn’t fall out, but it didn’t hinder my hand if I reached for it. I had the buttons moved so if my jacket was closed, I could still slip my hand between them to get into the pocket. I could never figure out why guys wore jackets with zippers. They really limited your options.
I motioned for Dale to get up and follow me to the door. He put on his own jacket and started to walk to the exit. His face was worn and wrinkled. The hair on the top of his head was thinner, which I hadn’t noticed before. The mustache on his face was neatly trimmed, unlike the overgrown, coffee stained caterpillar hanging on Chuck’s face.
I held the door for Dale to go ahead of me and heard, “You fuckin’ fairies have a good night.” I didn’t even bother to look back at Daisy. I held up my left hand and gave him the finger.
Once we were outside I asked, “Which way?”
He pointed north, “That way.”
“Up Pine Street?” I asked. “All that’s up there is a shitty neighborhood and a rundown school.”
“Yeah, he lives by the school,” Dale said.
We began to walk and I asked, “Okay, pal. You gotta tell me this story or no deal.” The reason for my statement was simple. If I could get Dale to open up about what he’d done, maybe some sentimental crack would open and I’d have a chance to change his mind. I used to have those cracks.
Dale stuck his hands in his pockets. “Yeah, okay.” The steam rolled out of his mouth in the chilly air. “I met her when I was volunteering for a youth service bureau. We ended up in a group together and we just hit it off right away. She was gorgeous. Blonde hair, blue-eyed. Y’know, a real good looking girl.”
“Blue eyes ‘ll get ya every time,” I smiled.
“Yeah, well, they got me, that’s for sure. Anyway we would run into each other outside of volunteering, and it was nice.”
“So you started dating?” I asked.
“Not right away, we were old fashioned I guess. She was real shy, timid. The first time we went out and it was just the two of us she always seemed in a rush, like she wanted to get home. But things moved on and I guess she calmed down. The first time we had sex was in the back of my car. Like a couple of bloody teenagers, y’know?”
“Nothin’ wrong with a little adventure!” My mind wandered to the first time I had sex in a car. It was also the last time. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was, or why they always showed it in movies. The seat belt buckle kept driving into her hip and I my ankle ended up tangled in one of the seat belts. Maybe I was just that awkward. “Tell me what made her so special?”
Dale sighed as he thought about how to answer. “I guess it was the fact she was so innocent. She was gorgeous for her age, she was kind, helpful to her friends, y’know?”
“Did you get to meet them? Her friends I mean?”
“Yeah, we got along okay,” he said. “Except for Lee, he never did like me much.”
“The guy she cheated on me with.” Dale looked down at the sidewalk and kicked a rock. His voice much softer now.
“You should probably hold onto that thought,” I told him. “It’s pretty obvious you didn’t mean to kill your girl. Maybe this isn’t the best option.”
“I just don’t know what he had that I didn’t,” he said.
“Women are weird,” I told him. “It coulda been anything. Maybe she just thought she needed somethin’ different.”
“When I found out, y’know, she was cheating on me, I took my time deciding which knife to use.” Dale’s voice was getting a little louder now. I could feel him getting angry again. I needed a way to get him to calm down. Maybe this was a little more calculated than I initially thought.
“Yeah? What were your options?”
“There were a few kitchen knives, y’know, out on the counter. At first I went for the butcher knife, I was gonna hack her to bits.” His eyes got big, and he took his hands out of his pockets. I put my hand to my mouth like I was coughing, but I wanted it close to my chest so I could reach in my jacket.
“But I’m not that crazy, I was just angry,” Dale explained. “I knew I was going to kill her. She embarrassed me, y’know? But I didn’t want it to hurt. I held up the carving knife and a steak knife. I picked the carving knife. It was the sharper blade.”
“Well this guy we’re goin’ to see, what are you gonna do him with? The sharp one?” I needed to know if he still had the knife or a gun tucked away somewhere.
“No, he stole her away from me,” Dale grunted between clenched teeth. “I’m just gonna choke him to death.”
This was not what I wanted to hear at all. I quickly realized that if I hadn’t suggested we go find this guy, Dale would probably still be sitting at the bar. I was supposed to be talking him down, and not doing a great job of it. Now I was responsible for what was to come. The fucker didn’t even have a weapon. I let my right hand fall back to my side again. Maybe I could talk him out of this just because he didn’t have a gun. “Choke the guy? Is he big? It takes a lot to choke someone to death.”
“Nah, he’s not big. I can take him if you help me tackle him.”
“No-can-do, pal. I think you’re gonna need to rethink this. If you don’t have a gun or somethin’, this probably isn’t gonna go the way you want. Not to mention, if he’s got friends, we may not make it out.”
“I’ve followed him enough to know his schedule. There won’t be anyone to protect him. We’re almost there, his house is around the corner from the school.” We walked past the run-down school building and Dale stopped. He was gazing at the poorly lit playground across the street. A few swings gently swayed in the breeze, making that squeaky sound only an old rusted swing set can make. This doesn’t feel right, I thought. At any minute I’m gonna get my ankles slashed by a possessed Cabbage Patch doll.
“That’s where we first met,” he sighed.
“You were volunteering at this school?” I asked. “Man you picked a bad spot to work on buildin’ up your karma.”
“”I really wanted to do some good, y’know.” He stared at the playground. The look on his face was longing. Maybe for his girl. Maybe for his own childhood.
I saw the moment and said, “Alright, maybe this isn’t the best option. It’s cold and I wanna get home.”
“His house is right around the corner,” Dale pointed. “You saw the cash, I’m willing to pay.” His hand fell to his pocket where he patted the roll of twenties bulging in his jeans. It was as if he knew I needed it. I could have taken it from him any time since we left the bar. It was tempting, but for all I knew it was newspaper clippings wrapped in a few dollars. I glanced down to his hand, then back to his face. He was smirking at me. Then he began walking again.
Three houses around the corner we stopped. “Here it is,” he said. It was pretty run down, but not the worst house on the street. The shrubs hadn’t been trimmed in years, so they’d grown up to be as tall as the overhang on the porch. The gutter was loosely hanging off the roof, but in the dark I couldn’t really tell if that was because it had rotted.
“Are you sure he’s home?” I asked Dale. I needed to get him back to the bar and send him on his way.
“Yeah, that’s his bike.” I looked up next to the porch and there was a small, maybe green, bike leaning up next to the steps.
“Are you sure that’s his? It’s awfully small.”
“Yeah, I know it’s his. I was volunteering when he got it for his birthday.” All of a sudden I was sobering up.
“Wait, what’d you say?” I asked, taking a step so that I was standing about a foot offset behind Dale.
“Lee’s birthday is the day after Taylor’s.”
“Taylor’s my girl,” Dale said, turning to look at me. “She turned eight the day before Lee.”
Queue the record scratch.