This is a story set in the roaring twenties I'd appreciate any suggestions you have.
| Ever since I was young there is one verse in the Bible that sticks foreword in my mind. I can’t rightly recall how the Almighty works his way into it but He ends up saying something about how “We are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God”. There’s no logical reason why that particular verse, out of nearly a lifetime of Sunday’s should stick out but it does. It’s just about the only one I do remember on a regular basis. Thinking of it makes me see my Momma reading that verse to me from her old tattered family Bible. In truth, if not for her, I probably would have gone my life without actually opening the book up. I can picture Father Tarry preaching the words to me. They come to me now, in a time and place where they could hardly be of much use.
The making of babies you will find is something that nearly everyone in the world knows about and participates in regularly. We don’t hardly ever consider the act as something quite so….creative though. When I was making mine, I know the last thing I was thinking on was the life being formed. Being “fearfully and wonderfully made” immediately gives one the impression of work, labor and actually creating something out of clay or jello molds. One gets the feeling He takes His end of the job a good deal more seriously. And good on Him too. I picture a large bearded man feverishly toiling over a work table, assembling something akin to a china doll, fragile and breakable.
You see, that what I thought He meant by “fearfully”. I, at first, thought He meant that He didn’t want to drop none of us on our heads on our way down to earth. Make sure all the important bits were accounted for: Yo, Michael, you got two eyes? Two eyes all set to go, Bossman. Mary, luv, could you hand me that power of speech over there? That sort of thing. Who wouldn’t double check to see the job’s done right? I do in my work. But we’re not quite up to that.
Recently, as I have had time, and in my position, I’ve had a good deal of it, I’ve noticed that maybe, sine he’s God and all, his worries were a little more complex. Based on recent experiences, it’s come to my attention that perhaps sewin’ the bits on properly ain’t the problem. We, as human beings, which I am assuming, most of you reading are, are given free will. Humanity the act of being human and free will go together like Louis Armstrong and a trumpet. So, maybe when God sends us off the thing He really fears is what we’re capable of. Yes, have a good laugh if you wish. It sounds extraordinary, I understand. But who else would understand it as fully as He? Not even I know exactly what ii myself am capable of, not even to mention what the rest of the world’s population is up to. Why do you think all the women go to these psychics or psychotherapists, or priests? We could spend all our lives trying to figure it out and still get nowhere.
God gave us the capacity to do wonderful things: run, laugh, cry, love, hit a home run or even fly an airplane. But he also knew this works both ways, this thin blue line between love and hate, ambition and greed, adoration and cruelty, is very blurred. And no nothing can stop us from going over to one extreme to the other.
People fear what they don’t know, I fear what I don’t understand and what I can’t figure out. We all have that unknown in us that blurs lines, which can be crooked: heading towards strength on one stretch and sticking firmly to weakness in another. I learned this too late in life, as these words will spell, though I don’t regret it and now, all that is left of a life I once thought clear cut, simple and cruising on Easy Street, is a mess of mistakes, screw-ups, laughter, joy and triumphs.
This ain’t some downer tome, meant to make your head hurt and your eyes swim. It’s mean as a joke, to make you chuckle to yourself in inappropriate areas, like libraries, church or late night bus stops. The people in it are humorous, like a flimsy wisp of smoke left from the traces of a cigarette, yet with a sharp after scent you’ll never quite shake. I’m not writing this to make a point for I’m not sure there’s one to be made by it, least no one that shows us to our best. This is a screwed up view of things, a Chinese Angle.
Around about the beginning of this book, I was launched well into what most people call the middle age crisis. I was a bit of a late bloomer, so I was well into my fifties when it hit, and perhaps it didn’t really fall into the typical category. You see I was attempting a career change. Attempting one, because I was having some difficulty finding another line of work. Actually, I hadn’t really got off the couch to start to look.
On this morning, somewhere in August, on a hot sweltering day, with humidity that hung on like clothes, fitting around people and hanging on like a heavy mink coat, I was stuck, smoking a cigar and recovering from a particularly stinging batch of moonshine. I wasn’t home; I was crashed in an old abandoned car, back behind the old auto shop. It was deserted now too, thanks to an economy that wasn’t as cheery as the papers were making it out to be. The big place on the nice side of town, which serviced all the fancy cars and Model T’s was much more inviting. In its abandonement it became a place I liked to go and think, or drink.
I sat up in the backseat, my hat falling off my head, that self same head pounding like it was beating a beat for Duke Ellington. The sudden deep urgent need to be sick made itself known, its voice masked slightly by the pounding, and I listened to it. I leaned out of the car and was immediately sick on the grass. My dog, Ulysses, who seemed to always know where I was, immediately started to eat it.
“Nasty mutt” I told him, halfheartedly kicking him. He was missing an ear and a good deal of his tail. Scars decorated all of his fur, which was matted and though it seemed he was a fighter, he had no discernable spine in his body, which was old. Slowly, trying to stop the ground from spinning, I wiped my mouth with the green necktie at my throat.
It was rather a serious crisis, mine. I had to quit my job, it was beginning to affect my lifestyle permanently and the alterations were not all to my taste. There was no option. If I kept at it, I’d end up in a deep load of crap, which would stink. So I decided to quit. Once that was done, I was left with nothing to occupy my time with. I wasn’t a hobby person. It didn’t last long enough. My former occupation also left me little time for friends. I was divorced and she took off with the house, family and friends. Faced with this interesting impasse, I relied on the tried and true method of getting completely and totally drunk. Some people went on walks, some listened to music. I only had two ways: drinking or………..well, that was the very thing I was planning on giving up.
This morning was just the same as all the others during my crisis, bright, sickly, too cheery, and absolutely wasted on me. I would spend the morning sleeping off my hangover, smoking illicit amounts of cigars, getting sick again as a result of the cigars, eating saltine crackers, and listen to my radio in the hopes that there would be a good game on, which there never was. Ulysses polished off his breakfast, and walked off to investigate a bit, while I collected the evidence of my debauchery. Days like this really made you appreciate a day job. Perhaps if I had had one I would have at least been able to apply for unemployment.
The old car creaked while I tried to swing myself to a standing position. That didn’t work so well, so I concentrated on swallowing, almost able to stomach the light when Ulysses let out a giant heart shaped bark of puppy joy. Unbeknownest to me, a figure had appeared behind the deserted building. The figure had moved I suppose, alerting the dog to its presence. The dog, overjoyed, had run up to the figure, who greeted it with surprising warmth for its utter repulsive appearance. Not many people would have associated me with the dog and the run down wreck in the middle of the field. In fact I could probably count the people on one hand. This particular person who I faced now was too smart for her own good and she only came around when she wanted something, or wanted you to do something and she had the uncanny ability to make it appear like it was all your idea. The figure walked as Ulysses stepped on her toes to me and sat primly on the edge of the ripped up upholstery and honked the horn in a way that she hadn’t a right to. Not that early in the morning. But you see, she had this way of putting everyone on their toes.
My daughter was an old twenty two, which means she carried herself like she was thirty two when she hadn’t nearly enough experience to be acting so high and mighty. God had made her without fear. Oh, He was afraid alright but she never was, not that I can ever remember. Her entire existence had been one full of mayhem.
She was conceived on the day I first heard they might outlaw liquor in a moment of pure desperation. I found myself even more desperate when I woke up in the morning, in a manner much similar to the one I’ve just been recounting, and came face to face with her mother. Lorraine had a look of death on her face which was aimed at me and there was no way to avoid it. I married her the next week. She gave birth nine months later. The marriage was never a truly happy one. It was born out of necessity and ended the same way. Either we ended the marriage or she murdered me.
The daughter of this feckless union could be only more so. She wasn’t a child I was especially proud of owning up to. Her whole life had been spent with her mother trying to figure her out and me trying not to.
In testament, that morning was the first time I’d seen her in nearly…………six months? Maybe longer. Maybe shorter. I couldn’t ever remember what she was supposed to be doing. Cordelia got me nervous with her peculiarly flighty ways because they were similar to mine. And look how I’d turned out.
“What on earth brings you here?” I asked the prodigal daughter.
After about ten seconds of the dog slobbering on her, she shoved him off and smiled at me but gave no real indication of answering. Her short hair gave her a slightly girlish appearance in conjunction with the dungarees and flannel shirt she wore. Surely she hadn’t had that bob the last time I’d seen her? The twenties rage should have been over by now, it was nearly the next decade, but still, that haircut was all the rage. The market was beginning to wear after ten years of wealth and fortitude, but people kept spending.
“How ya doin’ Pop?” came the low raspy voice. Cordelia’s mood said that this random reunion should not take me off the earth’s axis for a second. Her way of dealing with other people’s impressions was to pretend they didn’t exist.
I shook my head to clear the muddled half thoughts. “You’re supposed to be in Raleigh” I pointed out, suddenly trying to make an excuse for my surprise.
She snorted delicately. “You’re supposed to be sober”.
I bristled. “I am completely sober”.
She glanced at my somewhat red eyes, which I rubbed, trying to hide them. Her point was made, and she knew it.
“What are you doing up here this early?” I asked, in more coherent tones.
“Just came by, thought I’d say hi to my dear old dad”. A winning smile crossed her face and I sat down again, though I hadn’t remembered standing, settling into my everyday position of leisure. She didn’t say anything, waiting for me to ask. I had found as years went by that if I didn’t get all parental and ask her first, it made it harder for her to resist telling me. We both looked out to the weed ridden field as the mental game of chicken drew on.
“I’ve just been thinking” she said, after we’d gone over the weather and both carefully examined our surroundings, pretending there wasn’t a reason to be in each other’s company at last. Dellie never came to me unless she had a reason to. Oh, she liked me well enough and always would, but my…………eccentricities drove her crazy over long periods of time. Or so she said. And I honestly was afraid to seek her out. She made a habit of shocking behavior.
“Always terrifying” I responded, studying my nails, and the dirt beneath them.
Ulysses barked fiercely at a bird.
Dellie’s whole vibe reeked of unpredictability. She’d be saying one thing and wanting something completely different. You never knew what would come out of her. Like a Cracker Jack box. No precedence. No edging into the topic. It was one of her best and worst qualities. Normally, it just gave me heart palpitations. Talking to your daughter and knowing she is capable of saying and doing anything is a father’s worst nightmare. An unhinged daughter is your worse fear while an unhinged lover is your dream.
“Thinking about what to do with my life. My future”.
“What are you thinking about? Marriage?” The idea sounded vaguely nice but also not at all something one would associate with my daughter.
Cordelia actually choked at the proposal. I thought she might have swallowed a fly for a second. “Kill me first. If that ever, ever crosses my mind, just kill me.” Coolly, she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, composing herself. “No. That’s not my plan. I been thinking and I think I finally know what I wanna do with myself. This is something sweet, Pop. Something that’ll set me up for the rest of my life. I have to start thinking about things like this now because the stock market’s going to shit and inflation’s rising and a girl can’t just live on juju beans.”
Anything but rob a bank, I prayed, deep inside me already knowing that was a futile prayer. I wouldn’t be able to resist sinking back into the hole I’d dug for myself if she decided to jump in along side me. Delia knew I wouldn’t be able to resist joining her and it would give her an easy sell in a world where unknowns spent a lot of time going door to door. Cautiously, I gave her a look over.
Dellie had already had her mind made up. She just wanted me to agree with whatever it was. She wanted my help and I would give it because I couldn’t refuse. I was like an alcoholic faced with a cold beer and lime. Word had got round, I assume, that I was attempting to quit cold turkey. If I recall correctly there were bets on when I’d give in. Not if I’d give in, when. It didn’t exactly fill me with encouragement.
“Aren’t you going to ask what?” she asked, already annoyed that I wasn’t following the script she’d created for me.
“I’m following in the family footsteps, so to speak” she snickered, laughing at her joke as she said it. I suppose she wouldn’t like it if I say this, but her chest puffed out like a peacock’s in mating season. Why she’d be so damn proud of that decision, I didn’t quite know. I had hoped she wasn’t trying to make me proud, though she did, in an odd way.
I was so relieved she hadn’t outright tempted my fortitude by saying “come rob a bank with me” that thoughts immediately went to her mother when she mentioned family, whose profession, like most everything else in her life, was undecided. God knows I didn’t really understand how that whole family nuclear unit thing went. “Your mother’s not a tree you want to be fallin’ too close to. Heck, if your mother were a tree, I’d be looking to sell her for toothpicks”.
Dellie grimaced. “Charming image. But my mother wasn’t the direction I was heading in.”
I scrambled to find any other family business besides the one Buckler’s were famous for. “Your Uncle Jeff owned a whore house. While I’m not one to indulge on a regular basis, there are many men that like to scratch their itches on a timetable. He forged a good business in that line of work. ‘Course, your family would probably disown you but in my mind that’s kind of a bonus.”
She was already halfway mad “Pop! Are you daft? What on earth would give you the inclination I was opening a whorehouse? Do I look like the sort of person who wants to give men what they want? Don’t answer that. God Almighty, no wonder you drink so much. If I spent as much time around you as you do, I’d have one foot off a rooftop.” Dellie placed her hands on my shoulders in a traditional dramatic gesture and looked into my eyes, trying to make it easy for an idiot to understand. “Let me tell you, Pop. I’m gunna rob a bank. That’s my plan. I’m gunna start breaking some rules. And damn me, if I ain’t lookin’ forward to gettin’ started.”
I sighed, thinkin’ of her as the next felled member of our family. It appeared girl I had dated was right: I was toxic. Everything I touched seemed to go out of control. But weak and selfish as I am, I was tempted. You see my midlife career change wasn’t so typical. It was absolutely necessary because, you see, bank robbers have an occupational hazard: they tend to end up in jail.
“You sure?” I asked. I wanted her to say yes because suddenly I was desperate. A month of playing it straight was about to do me in.
“As shit” she responded, not breaking my glance.
“Another one of us falls to the waste side” I said, for poetry’s sake. People might hear about this one day and I didn’t want to just say something like “Oh, well, gee!”. It was a lost cause as far as argument went. Dellie never lost an argument. And I was desperate for an excuse to fall back down the hill to the Valley of Good and Plenty.
Declaration over with, Cordelia sat back down, bummed a smoke and relaxed against the cracked surface of the seat. The dog ran down to the auto shop and barked at the lizards along its side, clinging to the wall for dear life. Breakfast hadn’t even finished and she’d sent my head to thinking. And I hate to think before eleven unless absolutely necessary. Not that there really was much to think on.
After we walked back to my house, I put on a pot of joe and reached for a cigar. The old newspapers cluttered the table. The kitchen cabinets were open and did not match. I tended to simply leave the stuff where it fell. The whole house wasn’t mine. It was supposed to be deserted and I paid no rent. It was too close to the marshes for most people’s tastes and not close enough to the nice part of the beach. There were a few more shacks, nicer than mine, surrounding me with similar squatters. We all minded our own business and it worked out fine.
Cordelia had been here even though I’d never seen her. She liked to do things like that, snoop, and when she ignored everything, heading to the back porch, what existed of it, and the beach, which had nearly engulfed it in sand, the familiarity with which she walked, convinced me. The water hit along the line of driftwood by the shoreline. Whenever I had a fire it would burn green and blue for a while, from the salt water. The wild sea grass grew over the dunes and over the roof of the little cottage. Birds screamed around in the sky. They were everywhere.
It was a lonely place. Sometimes, when the sun didn’t shine and all you could see were the lonely pelicans bobbing in the surf, you felt like you were on a deserted island. My neighbors weren’t very close to me, literally or figuratively, but most were either workers or fishermen. There were a couple of lonely looking docks with boats and nets cluttering the shore.
Dellie’s hand rested languidly on her hip as she studied the view. I studied her. Her feet were in men’s loafers and the edges of her pants were still slightly wet, as if she’d stepped in a puddle or through the dew. She wasn’t thin but that didn’t seem to bother her. Each nail was painted red but I knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long. She only did things if the mood struck her. Lips were a full reddish color, lacking their usual lacquer and her eyes were a warm brown. When you look at your mother, you see what you want in a women, when you see your wife, you see what you got and when you see your daughter, you see what you created. I was simply hoping no one credited me with starting a tornado on a path of destruction. A man’s balls were likely to draw up for protection just as well as attraction at the sight of her.
“You’re sure about this?” I asked her again.
“I want to do something that gets the blood racin’. I want the devil or the Almighty have to chase me to my grave. If I fail, I want to know I did my life the way I wanted it done”.
“Not everyone is cut out for this life” I warned, grasping at the last straws, “Always looking over your shoulder. Anyone can decide to try something new but you make one mistake in this line of work and it’s all over. You’re looking at the view behind bars. This is the real thing. You can’t smile and get out of anything.” That was one of her standard maneuvers, squirming out of things.
“I know that”. Dellie reached for a cup and poured herself some tea. “I’m looking over my shoulder already.”
“Why?” I questioned, throwing Ulysses a cookie.
She grabbed it out of the air and took a bite. “I’m lookin’ out for your ex-wife”.
Couldn’t blame her there.
“Ulysses, come walk with me” She shot over her shoulder as she drifted out the door. He followed of course. I followed him. Dellie seemed to be insulted by the assumption that I was included in this invitation but she didn’t say anything. The dog snarled at the waves while we strolled, watching the fisherman up the beach as they toiled with nets for an honest days living. I would have sooner eaten the fish on my way in.
Charleston was home to history, it was built on it, we lived in it. Fort Sumpter loomed over the bay and the towns buildings were almost all of old stock. With such an old place, comes old habits and old customs, and old ideals. No one dared go to any other mass, hardly except the Nine on Sunday, unless they absolutely had to. Every Saturday there was some social, some party, or some get together. Food was baked with pounds of lard and that new fangled thing called margarine was spat on. Accents we long and lazy, along with the work hours and anyone with an accent more clipped than a clipper ship was looked down upon, though since we were famous for hospitality not quite ostracized.
Hospitality and the morals of the people in Charleston were part of what made it a thief’s gold mine. Doors weren’t always locked, no one thought to worry about a person’s trustworthiness and no matter how bad we thieves got, they always reverted to the general good of mankind.
“You’re in right?” Dellie asked, when we turned around to follow the path around the mangroves home.
“I guess celibacy didn’t work so well for you.”
“Don’t rub it in.”
“How much was the pot up to?”
“I don’t know. Why?” I asked, wondering how she’d found out about that.
“Cuz I got a nice chunk of change about to multiply.”
I grunted and the silence once more took the majority of out concentration back. You ever notice how much concentration it takes to keep a conversation in complete silence. Everyone’s tempted to hum or whistle or grunt or breathe loudly to break the awkward silence. We just walked, two solitary walks just happening to take place in the same stretch of swamp.
“I need two more people, then” she informed me, like it hadn’t already crossed my mind. More than twice.
“I think I could help out.” I didn’t want to make it sound like I was aiming to take over. Dellie could be testier than a turtle just been stepped on sometimes.
So that same afternoon I took Cordelia to see the man who would make up the third part of her team. This guy was gunna be necessary for her to have a ghost of a chance. I wasn’t quite banking on her skill yet but that wasn’t a problem because very rarely do the bosses ever have any talent whatsoever.
Some of you will find this outrageous, the sudden turn of events. Why on earth would any father assist their child in her criminal ventures? What self-effacing parent would completely ignore the principles of the world? Think about what your conscience is saying, Buckler!
Think about the Ten Commandments!
Think about your mother!
I completely understand what you are saying. In an average everyday family that walks down Meeting street to Church street to partake in worship every Sunday and insists on each child becoming a shop owner or minister (or, if they come from the right part of town, continue the family business or take up some pointless occupation like observer of life, or world traveler) this is rather irrational behavior. Normal people worry about the way they were viewed by others. That is something that matters to them: the rules, beliefs and the outwardly accepted rules of the world. These rules aren’t my rules. I consider them more like hints. It didn’t bother me that she chose to lead this life. It bothered me that this life was one fraught with hardship and difficulty.
I never have been that preoccupied with rules, come to think of it. The unbreakable regulations of the house-wives are completely pointless to me. Why should we own a parlor if we never sit in it? How is this an acceptable way to live, wasting a perfectly usable room? In some places it’s totally ordinary to go around naked or marry multiple women. Trust me, if I tried to walk into a Charleston garden without any clothes on, they’d think twice about trying to make me go to church or take my shoes off before going into the parlor.
My mind doesn’t understand why complete strangers’ opinions are important to anyone but them. My wife tried to make me fit in and, in the beginning, I tried to appease her. In the end it made me uncomfortable, irritable, and stupid looking. After while, I gave up and decided that if my wife felt so strongly that she needed to change the man she married than maybe she should change addresses while she was on a roll.
After this realization, I came to get used to who I was and the way I’m slapped together. I drink whiskey, even though it’s illegal, I like to play a good game of blackjack, I wear clothes that don’t strictly fit into the repressive stereotypes of men’s clothing and I rob banks. I haven’t killed anyone, I don’t eat strange Oriental food and I certainly don’t attempt to hide my pot belly in a man’s corset.
What does the bank do that’s so important it makes this subject taboo? It doesn’t do anything special. If anything, it holds your money and charges you for it while you watch your nest egg whither away at a pathetic four percent. Or something like that.
For me, robbery is an itch in some part of my makeup. My brain has a quirky ability to see how exactly to go about it and how to get in and out without attracting the attention of the morning papers and the men in blue. I couldn’t reach inside to stick some aloe on this itch if I wanted to. This work is an art. To watch one of my jobs go off completely smooth is beautiful. I appreciate it. Some people appreciate of Beethoven or Bach, Monet or Picasso. Some people don’t. It’s a matter of taste.
I took Dellie to see the guy who many call my successor. They don’t actually say that, they just call him the guy who may just be the next Horatio but less crazy. Every thirty years or so you see people like us, a guy who maybe isn’t the most innovative, doesn’t plan out as much but has luck and very light fingers. For this generation, that man is Menace Ramsey. I suppose he has a real name but everyone calls him Menace. He’s a menace to the police, so clean, he don’t even have a mug shot, and to the people he relieves of their valuables. Where he originally got the name no one knows exactly. Only a few years older than Dellie, I only knew his face as a vaguely familiar friend of hers or one of her friend’s friends until he walked into Ronnie’s with a swagger that was only surpassed by his reputation. Each job he pulled off only added to the hype. He was around twenty six, had a high school education, if a few years behind everyone else, and didn’t have a family to speak of.
Menace was a man of few words, which means mystery and whispers and gossip hung around him like an umbrella. He was wise to keep it that way. Loose lips sink ships ad all that. Cordelia gave me a funny look when I said she should use him for this job but she followed me down the bumpy streets in a dark blue dress. It was evening, and her eyes were coated with enough kohl to make her look plain ol’ spooky. Her heels maneuvered the cobblestones with well practiced care.
We left the streets around my house and headed for town. My daughter trailed after me in a vague bored, duck-like way. By walking behind me, she avoided any possible chance of conversation with her dad. We hiked down through the hot streets, the bugs pulling through the hot muggy air, and the dirt kicking up from the wheels of cars and work wagons. The first hint of sweat fell down my neck and I pulled out a very bright polka dot handkerchief and brushed over my face with it. Cordelia grunted and whipped out a clean white cigarette, lazily reaching out and striking her match against the wall of a passing building.
Usually even the boldest of flapper girls will snuff out their ultra slims at the sight of the women in nice dresses just when the houses get bigger, the gardens brighter. Dellie, true to her gene pool, blew a cloud of smoke at a young girl in a cream white day dress when we passed her on her way home from tea or whatever those people do, each curl perfectly arranged to set her blue eyes to their best affect. And then she cackled with that irritating boisterous chuckle as the girl coughed.
The smell of the town changed as we passed the center of Charleston, from light sickly sweet honeysuckle to the smell of garbage and people packed close together. If Charleston was a body, Rainbow Row and the impressive battery were the face, beautiful and with skin clear as water. This barrage of working class families, these slums were the muscles, the moving parts that held everything together. These were people just as likely to trust a shoebox as a bank. In these streets, my family started off, after we came from Ireland during the Potato famine. It just goes to show how bad the Potato Famine was that we actually tried getting a working job, us Bucklers, back then. The buildings were old, tilting as a result of a not too long ago earthquake. Lines of laundry connected the different levels and rooftops.
As the area became even grungier and the smell began to mirror week old refuse and rotten meat, Cordelia caught up to me and vaguely raised an eyebrow, as if she were questioning the pedigree of a criminal who could only manage to live here. I mimicked her movements, mocking her perhaps, not happy that her trust in me had such a short shelf life, tilting an eyebrow back at her, and turned down the alley on the left of the street. Menace was many things but he was definitely not flashy. Sometimes, we stay where we’re comfortable, no matter what we earn, but, you know, it depends on your preferences. Dellie was not this sort of person, which is why she found it so unbelievable.
His apartment was over a butcher’s shop and the meat scent was overwhelming, making dogs linger around the foot of his meager door. They barked and I reached down to pet their ears. Cordelia barked back and then knocked on the back door. After a good long minute, she took an angry drag of her cigarette before knocking again. Her face clearly declared that she blamed me for this tardiness. I sighed and stood up, releasing myself from the dogs, pulling off my corduroy cap.
We both heard a racket rivaling that of several horses on race day (another place I am familiar with) and Dellie took a step back, running into a mutt, as Menace wrenched the door open. He wore a blue striped shirt and was still pulling up the suspenders on his pants. His hair was dull brown, a color that reminded me, unaccountably of dog crap. His eyes were a bright celery color, with a splash of mold on top and he had a mouth permanently sulking, as if it had been cheated of a woman’s touch or he’d recently lost at cards. Under one eye, there was a slight bruise. Menace was huge, with big hands that made you respect his success as a man with quick fingers even more, since he had more hand than most would have to worry about.
“Can I help you?” he asked in a lisp, partially from drink and partially from New Orleans.
Now, normally, Cordelia is a social butterfly. I turned to her, expecting one of those slow as molasses smiles and a coy response. Menace seemed the type to get that sort of reaction. Instead, she slowly dropped the butt of her cigarette on the ground, lifted one black heel and ground it into a pulp. She followed this up by pulling on a face that most referred to as the “icy bitch” look and pushed aside him, heading up the stairs to his room without even asking first. She stopped herself from touching the rail on the stairs when stopped and thought about it and wrinkled her nose as she saw the back room of the butcher’s before heading up the stairs.
“Hey, Menace. You for hire?” I asked, greeting him with a casual nod. We’d shared a drink or two before. I felt a camaraderie with him which you either had with a man or you didn’t. He didn’t talk much, kept to himself, and I liked that, needed it because I was the complete opposite given the choice.
“Depends”. He reached out a hand to me, which I took. “What for?”
My hand was dropped as I stepped over the threshold. Scratching his back, he closed the door and studied me briefly, from the grey pants to the orange vest, to the one drop earring. For a second he gave me a glance of incredulity but it soon passed.
“Knockover” I said bluntly.
“How much is the cut?” he asked, considering it. It seemed he had an unusual condition to accepting. He didn’t need the money or he would have said yes right away. This was him stalling as his mind worked. There had to be something else that appealed to him to consider our offer and also to pause before signing up. I didn’t ask what.
I shrugged in response to his question. “Ask the boss” I told him, nodding at my daughters wake, which, though it left no trail, was strong.
Menace gave me a confused look before muttering a curse in what I could only guess was Cajun or some really bad French as he looked up the stairs where the monster awaited, and mounted them.
His room had two windows with a view of the street. There was a small icebox and sink, a solitary table and chair. The floorboards creaked. A record player was on the floor, along with shoes, hat and a pile of clothes. In the corner, opposite the stairs, was his bed. The bed was where my girl now laid, dirty heels planted firmly on his pillow. She lay on her back, head turning as she took in the surroundings. Prizes, un-cashed prizes, were strewn throughout the room. A string of pearls over the banister, gold coins in his hat, several vases were on the table, and wristwatches hung everywhere. I imagined there was a bigger stash hidden somewhere else. A large bulk of money protruded from a loose footboard under his bed.
“I love what you’ve done here. Really………….dirty and repellent”. Cordelia smiled sardonically.
“What are you doing here?” Menace demanded.
She pouted and shook her finger at him like she was reprimanding him for something, but yet, didn’t answer.
I replied for her. “Menace, that’s my daughter, Cordelia Buckler.”
Menace grunted. “Really? Hadn’t noticed.” He spoke in irony and held her glance for a minute before turning to me.
“What’s the job, boss?” he asked.
I chuckled. “Oh, I’m not the high pillow. I said that. I’m just helping. She’s in charge.”
“Well what are we robbing? A man’s pride?” He guffawed back at Dellie and it was no laugh.
“Don’t act cute, Ramsey. It’s not you, I’m robbing. I’d be too late, anyways.” Her voice collectively mocked him. “We’re aimin’ a tad higher”. She told him the name of the bank.
Menace sat down heavily when she finished, giving her a doubtful look. “No you’re not. Not the one down on ……….” He stopped his sentence and started again, hoping he was mistaken. “The big one, with the white?” He gestured in the shape of the large columns that adorned the outside of the building in mind. Eventually his hands dropped and his eyes sought an answer.
“With the nice arches and the fancy proprietors and the big steps? Yeah, same one.” Cordelia stood up and walked around the room, fingering this watch or that. “Not up to it?” came her innocent coo.
“Normally I work alone. Why would you want a loner for a team job?” asked Menace, sensing his way around her.
She gave me a look, as if she weren’t wondering the same thing.
I cleared my throat as my fingers itched worriedly. “We need someone with good hands, who knows their way about, so to speak. Blowing the safe’s the easy part. Three isn’t quite enough for something of this size. We need someone to help plan, as well. Someone with experience.”
Menace doubted this. “Why don’t you do that?”. His nod was directed at me.
I gave a disregarding gesture. “I’m old. I’m too old. My job is mostly to make sure we don’t get caught. And if something comes up that I can handle, I will.”
There was a pause, lasting a few minutes, giving Dellie enough time to fiddle with his record player, looking over the selections he had.
“Say I do it” Menace conjectured, fiddling with the button on his shirt. “What do I get?”
Cordelia tilted her head, looking at a painting lying on the floor. “I don’t know. Maybe we could find you a nice girl named Slutty?” She pretended to be surprised that she had said what she did and then reformed her self in mock seriousness. “Did I say that? I mean Trudy.” Dellie’s mind obviously wasn’t running with our conversation. While we talked about a job she was heading toward something a bit more personal. I wondered what.
Menace flew her a look. “You hold on to things like a maggot”.
“Well, am I in the wrong?” she conjectured.
I watched the conversation animatedly. He wasn’t her type. But she was his. He liked anything that moved. Than again, if he’d gone out with her, he wouldn’t still be functioning properly. Cordelia could have that life-sucking affect on men. It made sense, nevertheless, in a screwy kind of way. I watched her narrow her eyes and grinned. Sometimes she was her mother’s twin.
“It’s been four years at least” Menace said, slight worried by the look in her eyes.
“I’m surprised you made it that long.”
“You’re surprised.” Menace shook his head, and trying to maintain a slightly middle of the road accent. It was widely rumored that his accent was his weak spot, metaphorically speaking. “You took off like a bat outta hell and didn’t look back, so don’t you say that you care”.
I winced as I watched them like two dogs sizing each other up.
Then, amazingly enough, my daughter changed tactics. Some people would have called it retreating but they’d be wrong. Cordelia didn’t do retreat.
“You get quarter cut” she said all business. “We split things evenly.”
I gulped at her statement. A quarter was a whole heck of a lot. All of a sudden, Dellie turned and headed out the door. She grabbed me by the collar as she reached the door to his room, then rushed down the stairs again, conversation over, pulling me along, like nothing had happened. It seemed like she’d just been yelling him but in fact she’d been offering him a lot of money. And now she was leaving before she’d given him a chance to answer. That girl made no sense sometimes.
“Why’d we do that?” I inquired as soon as we’d started down the stairs, “We don’t even know what he said”. I pulled out of her grasp as we worked our way into the alley again. She looked around the area, ignoring me and then smiled, pointing at something a little ways from his door.
For some unfathomable reason, this alley had a little bit of wall that stuck out, like someone had measured wrong. There was a nice flush wall and then suddenly another wall perpendicular to that appeared, jutting out maybe three feet. We strode down the street in a great rush until we reached this little bit of wall. She leaned on the side closest to the street and out of sight from Menace’s. I stood just to the right of her, though I didn’t know what I was waiting for. I didn’t know what the hell she was about.
Five minutes later just when I was about to go back upstairs, Menace appeared again. Angrily, he was walking down the alley, looking for us presumably, in a huff. I imagine he was too shocked at her disownment of general polite conduct to immediately rectify the situation. Her hand reached out and grabbed him by the shirt as he passed us by.
“You’ll do it?” she asked, after he stopped tugging and was somehow slammed against the bricks.
He gave her a furious look and tried to pull his shirt back.
She held on.
“Yeah” Menace finally growled.
Cordelia kissed him on the cheek. “Good boy” she said and then walked away. Whatever she’d done had worked. It wouldn’t have been my first choice and it seemed over the top but she was the boss.
I smiled in a hopefully reassuring way before following after her, for lack of anything else to do or say. But then again it was just as well cuz he weren’t really in a talking mood.