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Chapter 33 - Mr. 72





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We’re afterward now. We’re standing in the alley, after the paramedics asked Sheila was there any next-of-kin? Any family to be notified?
This is after Sheila shook her head no. White flakes drifting off her hair, small as ashes from a fire, and she told them, “Nobody. The pig had no one.”
Mr. Bacardi had nobody.

It’s after we left the Dan Banyan guy in the basement, him getting dressed but wearing his shirt inside out. Feeling the buttons, he said, “For our reality show, how about calling it The Blonde Leading the Blind?” He pulled his pants on backward, then rightward. Then, fishing a phone out of his pants pocket, Dan Banyan punched speed-dial, and when somebody answered he says not to send the escort. Everything’s over. The old, flabby guy they were sending, he’s not needed.
The job is done.
After the Dan Banyan guy calls someone else to say yes, yes, yes to some emergency hair transplants. After he calls a restaurant to reserve a table for him and Miss Wright, for tonight.
Just Sheila and me stand, alone in the alley, the sun is setting on the other side of the building. Those sunset colors, red and yellow as a fire burning, on the other side of everywhere. Sheila’s fingers flick the money back and forth between her hands, her mouth counting, “. . . fifty, seventy, a hundred twenty, a hundred seventy ...” The money coming to $560 in her right hand. Then the same in her left.
Don’t worry, I tell her. She can still hate her mom.
And Sheila counts the bills again, saying, “Thanks.” She wipes her eyes with a twenty-dollar bill. She blows her nose on a fifty and says, “You smell meat cooking?”
I ask, is she going to poison me?
“Don’t you know?” Sheila says, “The damaged love the damaged.”
Cyanide and sugar. Poison and antidote. Like maybe we balance each other out.
I don’t know. But this moment, standing with her in the alley, outside the stage door, the number “72” still going down my arm, waiting to do what’s next, this moment feels like enough.
The ambulance guys still inside, chest-massaging the dead body of Mr. Bacardi. Sticking him with big needles full of some cure. His eyes squeezed shut from the huge smile his dead mouth is doing.
And Sheila says, “Wait.” Half the money in each hand, she stops counting. She looks at the closed metal door we just came out. The door shut behind us. After the lock clicked, after everything’s done. Sheila leans, twisting her head sideways until her ear presses to the door. She puts her nose to the lock and sniffs—her nostrils reaching for the keyhole and sniffing, hard. One hand, clenched full of money, reaches to tug the handle. Tugs harder. Her other hand, fisted around the other money, she knocks on the metal door. Knocks louder. Tugs harder. Sheila shoves both hands at me, saying, “Hold this crap a minute.”
A little, little smell of meat smoke. Barbecue.
The red outline of my cross, the one pressed off my chest, fading on her cheek.
It’s after she pushes all the cash into my hands Sheila starts really screaming, slapping and kicking the door, then tugging the handle with both hands.

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