Howell was on top
It was nothing to him because that’s where he had always been. Sharp suit, sharper wit and an arrogance that’s allowed him to forget which mug had bought the last round.
‘Howell, thought I’d find you here. What yer drinking?’
‘I’d tell you but you already know.’
The arse heavy cop took a stool and tapped the counter, sending stray peanut shells to the floor, and ordered two neat whiskey’s
‘I could use a favour from you, bud.’
Howell sighed and looked up from the bar. Craig Miles was slumped in the stool next to him, his balding skull covered in sweat which could have been the effort it took to sit down.
“People like you always do.”
“We got into a spot of bother on third, some real downers getting up in our faces…”
“You and who?” Howell interrupted
‘Huh?’ The pace had already got to Craig. This will be a long drink, Howell thought.
‘Who were you with?’
‘Oh Bennett, we were there just minding our own business when a beer can hit the roof, so I go over to these guys-’
“How many?” Howell interrupted again
‘How many Downers?’ he asked calmly
‘Oh, like three or four.’
‘Well, what was it three or four?’ Howell was just playing with him now. He was enjoying making the man feel uneasy.
‘Four, definitely four,’ Craig said taking the whiskey the bartender had just left and disposing a finger.
‘And he starts mouthing off at me, giving the old high and mighty about how it was accident and I should leave him be. Well, I said “You better fucking apologize to me cock sucker or I’ll rip your lungs out,” Craig spat finding it hard to keep his drink steady
“Jesus Christ Miles, keep a lid on.”
Howell took a slug and forced silence for a while, one of many of his social pleasures
“So what you’re saying is, he gave you the lip, and to impress the virgin patroller Bennett you got out and slapped him around a little, is that what I’m hearing, Miles?’
Miles thought about it for a moment. His face lit up as if he was going to argue but as quickly as the light bulb appeared it went out and he gave in and nodded which made his neck roll
‘How bad, Miles?’
Howell turned his back on the shivering lard and adjusted his hat.
‘What a state you have yourself in this time. It’s a tough one even for me, I already got you off for attempting to rape a broad even though you knocked her unconscious before you could get your pecker out.’
Howell had to take another second before, once again, calm washed him down.
‘Same arrangement, Miles?’
Fatty nodded and quickly hopped off the stool.
‘Five-k, Howell old buddy, and you will put in a good word with the chief?’
‘Thank you. I’m really grateful, son.’
‘People like you always are, you fat shit. Now fuck off.’
Miles looked angry for a moment but then smiled. He put two fingers to his ear and muttered to himself as he left.
The bar was unusually empty for that time of night, the usual cogs on the wheel must have stayed home, seeing to the wife and kids or taking the dog for a stroll. Howell didn’t have those problems. He had a wife and all, probably waiting for his return by the lamp in the hall, just to try and catch a scent of perfume or coitus from him as he stumbled in, but Howell knew how to mask it. Howell always covered his tracks.
“Another Scotch,” he said
Howell had weaknesses which he knew very well. If a man knows his own weaknesses he can hide them without a second thought. Accentuate the positives and sweep the negatives under the rug but the problem with negatives was others would have to know of them too.
Good women and good odds, a bookie and a broad. These were his weaknesses. Howell could find both of these usually at the bottom of a bottle, which to him made the final pull even sweeter. He placed a bet or scored with a chick while feeling the burning afterglow of whisky in his throat.
A typical squeeze joined him at the bar. She was Mindy Jones. A rare breed of woman who would move quicker out of a joint then he could.
‘Howey baby,’ she purred before lighting a cigarette
Mindy was reasonably attractive to Howell but incredibly so for most. Her blond hair and blue eyes were enough to seduce any man in the room.
‘How come you don’t say hi to me first, huh? I have to wait my turn now do I, sweetie?’ She smiled at him, enjoying her game. Howell would normally bite but not tonight.
‘Put it out.’
‘What you say, darling?’
Howell wondered if he would have a conversation that evening where he didn’t have to repeat himself.
‘I said put that out.’
She looked stunned but complied.
“And when I want cunt, I’ll ask for it.’
Sometimes you just got to put a bitch in her place, he thought.
Mindy rose from the stool and slapped him hard across the face, knocking his hat to the floor and then stormed off to the other end of the room.
‘Got yourself a little trouble there, Howell? An upstanding gent as yourself should know how to talk to a lady but then you are in the habit of forgetting your debts now, aren’t you?’
Howell didn’t need to wait for his vision to clear to know who the man was. The Bookie, the Bastard Bookie.
The Bastard picked up his hat, placed it on Howell’s head and took a seat.
‘Six grand, Howell, and I hope you got a briefcase. I’ve always wanted one of those.’
Howell took his hands from his eyes and smiled.
The Bastard was also smiling.
“Now, you know I don’t have the cash and as much as I want to make you happy, I don’t have the briefcase ether. So what’s this really about? You know I’m good for it.”
“I know you were good for it, but times change. There was a time when you could take your pick of broad’s in a joint. Now the only thing you seem to be attracting is a palm across your face.”
The Bastard locked his hands together on the bar.
“Just as there was a time we could do business together and you could pay me for it when things didn’t go your way.”
Howell’s cool exterior was starting to slip.
“You fucking monkey. You really gonna come in here and start giving me shit over money? Let me tell you about a time I remember shall I, Bastard?”
The Bastard hated his name being used and Howell knew this.
If he wants to play, Howell thought, let’s fucking play.
“How old was she, old buddy? Twelve maybe thirteen? Crying rape at the top of her lungs so loud the county judge could hear. And who whispered in the right ear for you, Bastard? Me, you spineless sack of shit.”
The bastard was going red and Howell knew he had him on the ropes.
“If it wasn’t for me, it would be your turn to be raped every fucking time you went to wash your balls.”
The Bastard looked ready to kill but Howell knew he wouldn’t. He was smarter than that. Being in a bar with witnesses, not many but still enough, and hitting a cop? Howell was mentally pleading with him to throw a punch so he could bring him in. Something he had been trying to do since the debt started to get out of hand.
“Wow now, buddy boy, calm yourself down. I’m only trying to get what I’m owed,” The Bastard said as calmly as he could.
Howell straightened his hat and went back to his drink.
“Well, I don’t have it so fuck off.”
The Bastard started to howl, tears instantly streaming down his face. He laughed so hard that as he called over to the bartender he started a raspy cough that sounded dreadful.
Maybe this son of a bitch will die first, Howell thought.
“Two five fingers,” The Bastard choked out and eventually turned back to Howell.
“Ooh you are a funny little shit, I’ll give you that. You have such a chip on your shoulder and for good reason. You seem to be able to talk anything or anyone out or into the shit.”
Then bartender came with the drinks and The Bastard knocked back three of the fingers.
“But you haven’t done so well with me buddy, have you?
Howell remained silent.
“I wonder who it could have been who tipped off your lot about the bookies in the florist up on tenth? Or the one in the dry cleaning joint next door to this place huh? Was that you, Howey?”
Again Howell stayed quiet.
“Of course it fucking was,” The Bastard answered for him
“But it was lucky there was nothing there to tie me to ether of them which proves…” He stopped to knock back the rest of the glass. “That I mustn’t be as dumb as I look”
Howell looked up into his eyes and he was, for the first time in a long while, rattled but he tried not to show it in the same way a man will cover up whether or not he can win a fist fight in the feeling out process. There feeling out stage was over and Howell was starting to panic.
The Bastard went into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a brown envelope.
“Let’s see you talk your way out of that.”
Howell took a mouthful then opened the envelope and let the contents spill onto the bar. What fell out, wrapped in an elastic band, was a small stack of photographs. The image on the top was Howell inside the dry cleaners and he certainly wasn’t doing his washing. Howell slid off the elastic band and skimmed the first few pictures all of which showed him partaking in some highly illegal activity. It was enough to get him into some serious shit.
“You’re trying blackmail? Is that it? I don’t blame you I know I would if I were you.” Howell drained the rest of his glass. “But where would that leave you? I’d be in county and you would be out of pocket so let’s cut the shit and why don’t you tell me how you want me to go about paying you?”
The smile on The Bastards face returned and it wasn’t going anytime soon.
“You know how much I make in a week, Howell, so you cut the shit and stop pretending I would miss a measly six grand. Besides, you haven’t finished looking through the shots.”
Howell slowly went back to the pictures and continued through.
There was a shot of him with cards and cash in front of him, another of him stood talking with a man named Jonny Hoke, a well-known mobster, next to a roulette wheel. Then Howell moved his thumb over the last picture. It was a shot of him outside a bar, probably this bar, with his pants around his ankles and Mindy up against the wall.
“Well,” Howell, said holding it up to towards one of not so many light bulbs over head, “I’m glad you got my best side and it looks like young Mindy is having a good time.” He looked around for her but she wasn’t there. She had already found another lowlife to go home with tonight.
“Is this for your personal collection? I never figured you had such a thing for me. I suppose you have to think of somebody to get you going.” Howell wrapped up the pictures and dropped them into The Bastards lap.
“That’s not for me, Howell. They’re for that darling wife of yours, in fact she must have got them by now. I sent a guy over with some about an hour ago and the ones she received defiantly didn’t show your best side.”
Howell felt sick. If his wife looked over those pictures his perfect suburban marriage would be over and in a time where a family man gets ahead in life, he being a single man, a disgraced single man, would be left behind.
“What the fuck do you want?” Howell spat.
The phone rang in the bar.
“I don’t believe for a second that you would send those pictures over there.”
The bartender came over.
“Call for you, Mr Howell. It’s your wife”
Howell went white as a sheet. “Put her on hold.”
The Bastard started to laugh again and reached over to slap Howell on the back. “What were you saying?”
For the first time that evening Howell noticed the jukebox. The track playing was Muddy Waters – Still a fool.
“As far as what I want goes, Howell, maybe I don’t want anything from you. Maybe all I want is to see your smug ass knocking down a peg or two, which will defiantly happen now.”
Howell saw red and reached for his gun but The Bastard had beaten him to the draw.
“Come on now, Howey. We’re all friends here,” he said with his gun pointed to Howell’s chest. “Just stand up, really fucking slowly and make your way towards the door.”
Howell did as he was told and got up from the stool and started walking. The jukebox in the corner had now, in Howell’s mind, been replaced by old muddy himself and although the guitar was playing, Muddy wasn’t strumming the chords. He had a cigarette in one hand and a frog in the other as he sang,
“I do hate to lose, I do hate to lose, Oh lord, sure ‘nough I do”
Howell reached the door and stopped as The Bastard pressed the gun into his back.
“Now get the fuck out, don’t come back and know that you don’t fuck with the Basta-”
Howell spun round and knocked the gun from his hand with his left then continued to turn while throwing a right hook. He was ready for it though and quick as a flash threw a counter left which sent Howell sprawling through the door onto the pavement. The stars cleared from his eyes just in time to see The Bastard dive on top and start raining down blows. Howell managed to sweep him, ended up on top and began to pummel. By the eighth punch the body went stiff underneath him and Howell drew his gun. He screamed as he fired two shots into The Bastards face and then threw the gun to the ground.
Apart from his quick inhales and exhales there was silence. Muddy had stopped. He stood up in a daze but stayed over the body, looking into the hole that used to be the face of the last guy to ever buy him a drink. Howell would have liked the chance to remember him.
He wiped The Bastards blood from his face and eyes and looked ahead. A group of people stood, mouths wide open staring at him. Howell staggered forward.
“What are you staring at?” he shouted as he retrieved his gun from the pool beside the body. “Don’t you know who the fuck I am?”
“I know who you are, Howell. You’re under arrest for accepting something of value to betray your legal responsibilities.” The officer looked down at the corpse. “And murder in the second degree.” The officer carried on talking but Howell wasn’t listening. Nor was he paying attention to the raised weapons trained on him by the other officers.
Fucking Craig Miles, he thought.
Craig had set him up. Howell thought about all the times he had got Craig out of the shit and that, in hindsight, maybe he probably shouldn’t have been so smug.
“Son of a bitch.” Howell raised his gun but was dead before he hit the ground.