It's better for you than half the stuff you THINK is good for you.

The Pros of a Matchstick—Installment IX – 16 June 2014

And here’s part nine. And, at last, I have a clear vision of how I see “Matchstick” coming to a close. But that’s a ways away, yet. There are a few clues in this part. Let’s see if you’ll spot them in the coming weeks.

 

1:30 a.m.

The rain fell in sheets again as Linwood pulled up to the closed bay doors fronting the garage. He let himself in through the unlocked business door, and immediately the sounds of Ricky and Dennis’ strange argument fell upon his ears.

“I ain’t scared’a you, fat man.” Ricky’s sniffling leaked through Dennis’ closed office door.

“Jus’ shaddup, jagoff. Why’dya tonight ta knock a fuckin’ screw loose? Huh?” It sounded as if Dennis had already started drinking. Linwood cracked a smile, imagining Dennis’ head cradled in his huge hands, trying in vain to stave away the migraine that was well on its way.

He opened the door and Ricky wheeled on him, sighting Linwood with a small revolver. His nose was bleeding, he’d been crying, and a shiner had begun to swell his right eye shut. Startled, Linwood dropped his smile and put his hands up, but he did notice that the pistol’s hammer wasn’t cocked. He looked over to Dennis, puzzled. The man took a long draw from a bottle of bourbon.

“That bitch… this bitch,” Ricky growled. He pointed the gun at Dennis again, sitting at the desk with a finger to his temple, angry now. “The big bossman’s been fuckin’ my wife, newbie. Been fuckin’ her for a long time, too.” Ricky wiped the tears and blood and mucus from his face with a wrinkled shirtsleeve. Sweat fell in drops from his hair, and his body trembled and shook so much the rattling of the bullets in the gun was audible. “I ain’t scared’a you,” Ricky repeated. He pulled the hammer back, and it clicked once, but Dennis didn’t flinch.

“Wha’? If ya gonna shoot me den do it, ya pussy,” Dennis taunted with a laugh. He stood, and reached into his shirt pocket for a cigarette. “Y’know why I started seein’ Maria? ‘Cause’a you, ya basehead. You went’ta prison fa six years. You got out an’ still kept gettin’ inta shit. You made her cry ev’ry single day you was gone. It’s your fault I started up wit’ her, Rick.” He motioned for a light from Linwood, standing behind Ricky in the doorframe. He tossed a match over Ricky’s shoulder, and after Dennis lit the cigarette he exhaled the smoke into Ricky’s face.

“Fuck you, Dennis,” Ricky said through clenched teeth. “She’s a cunt, a fuckin’ cunt, man.” At this, and with surprising speed, the big man scrambled around the desk and stood in front of the smaller one. As Ricky stood there and quaked Dennis slapped the gun from his hand.

“Say dat again,” Dennis threatened him. He wrapped a hand around his throat, lifted him up against the wall and throttled him. Dennis moved in close, and the cigarette in his teeth touched Ricky’s nose, making him gurgle in pain. The small man writhed and thrashed between the wall and Dennis’ grip, and when he felt sure Ricky got the message the big man let go.

Ricky fell to the floor in a ball, took two enormous, hacking breaths, and fell to sobbing again. Linwood held out a hand to help him up, but he slapped it away and spat out a curse instead. Linwood shrugged his shoulders, and pulled out a cigarette himself. “Is that what you two’re arguin’ about?” he asked as he lit it.

Dennis sank into the creaky chair again. “Dat, an’ I axed his ass dis mornin’.” He ashed the cigarette, but thought better of it and crushed it out. “But dis was som’thiin’ that jus’ happened,” he said sadly. “I wasn’t tryin’ta be a mothafucka. But he was neva dere, wit’ Maria an’ dem kids. Always out scorin’ ‘stead’a raisin’ his family. I wanted her, yeah, but they needed me.” He pulled a bottle of painkillers out of a drawer. “I don’ feel bad about it, neitha. Dat cocksucka can burn in hell fa all I care. Ya hear dat, asshole?” Dennis took a long pull from the liquor bottle. “Come in here’ta talk shit ’bout Mimi an’ pull a fuckin’ piece on me. On me!” Dennis roared. “You lucky shitstain.” He tried to open the pill bottle, but quickly grew tired of struggling with the child-resistant cap and tossed it to Linwood. “Here, open dis for me, will ya, kid?”

Dennis’ toss arced high, and the bottle bounced off of Linwood’s fingertips when he tried to catch it. He stepped out into the garage to retrieve it, and when he came back Ricky was standing, shaking, and again pointing the revolver at Dennis. Dennis stared him down from across the desk but made no move to stand again.

Linwood stood there and watched, watched and listened as five times the hammer clicked—pairs of clicks this time—and five times a shot rang through the dark garage. The first bullet struck Dennis in the chest, and the big man collapsed on the desk. The second, third, and fourth went through the crown of his head. The fifth missed. Ricky wheeled on Linwood again, and lowered the revolver.

“You wanna send the cops after me, newbie?” he asked. “Do what you feel. But you saw it. That motherfucker deserved just what he got.” He grimaced, threw the empty revolver at Dennis’ rapidly-cooling body, and brushed past Linwood out into the garage. A few beats later the back door opened and closed.

The cigarette fell from Linwood’s lips as he stood there, and heard the blood gurgle and ooze its way out of Dennis’ body. He stepped forward, watching as it pooled at the edge of the desk and trickled down onto the floor. Linwood’s breath came in ragged pulses, and tears collected on his eyelashes.

Dennis was gone. And so was Ricky.

 

2:45 a.m.

It took three EMTs to carry Dennis’ body away in a bag. Cops milled around, taking pictures of everything and searching all the cabs. The other four cabbies on shift came back to dispatch to be questioned by the cops, and were sent home for the night. Linwood tried calling Jamieson, and didn’t get an answer. For the past hour he had been questioned and quizzed and queried by police. Now he was too angry and annoyed to feign cooperation any longer, and left through the back door when he found a chance.

He slipped his backpack from his back onto the ground between his feet, and pulled the bottle of rum from the bag. He opened it, and took two long pulls. Linwood reached into the bag again, this time for the rolling papers and pot. He stood there and rolled a joint, the simple, practiced motions Zen-like. and when he was done Linwood brought the finished product to his lips and struck a match on the wall behind him.

“So, it’s you again. The arsonist.”

Linwood froze at the intrusion. He hid the joint in a cupped hand at his side as the cop stepped into view. “Don’t worry, kid,” he said, as he walked up to stand next to him on the stoop. He was more massive than Linwood remembered—at least six inches taller than he, and thirty pounds heavier without the rain poncho, all of it muscle. He wasn’t wearing the hat, though, so the cop’s ears seemed to stick out even further than they had before. “You think after all that I’m gonna interrogate your ass? Hell no. Just give me a hit and I won’t say anything if you don’t.” Linwood passed him the joint.

The cop took a drag and a grin spread across his face. “Hey, kid. I want to show you something.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a Polaroid, still fresh, which he passed along with the joint to Linwood. His careless glance became tight and focused, and his face flushed into scarlet. The photo was of Ricky, hog-tied and bloodied, lying in the trunk of a car.

He handed the photograph and the joint back to the cop. “Why’d you show me this?” Linwood asked him. He exhaled the smoke through his nostrils like an incensed dragon, and took another draw from the bottle.

The cop laughed. “Do you not see what I’m wearing? I damn near own this city, man.” He took a drag from the joint and choked on the hit, just as Jamieson had done. He passed it back, saying he had had enough. “Let me ask you—how much did you respect the big man?” Linwood looked out into the alley, considering the question. “Come on, kid, I’m being serious,” the cop said through a chuckle. “This isn’t entrapment. I’m not trying to implicate you, accuse you, or trick you in any way, shape, or form. I’m just curious, that’s all. So? You respected him. Right?”

Linwood ignored the question. “Where is he?”

The cop smiled. “I’ll take you to him.” He began walking down the alley. After a pause Linwood picked up his bag and followed behind, casting the roach to the ground and capping the bottle.

The cop pulled a cigarette from the breast pocket on his shirt and patted himself down for a lighter.”Let me have a match, kid.” Linwood grimaced, but did as he was asked. The cop paused to strike it on the sole of his shoe.

“I’m all about justice doled out in the most efficient way possible,” the cop said, exhaling the drag and gesticulating as he strolled. “That coked-out basehead killed your boss. Somebody you trusted. Don’t you think he should pay?” Linwood didn’t answer.

He took a drag from the cigarette. “You watched that sick fuck pop him three times and you didn’t do a damn thing. You couldn’t. But I’m giving you the chance to make amends for such a shameful shortcoming. I’m your savior, kid.”

They came to a stop in front of a beat-up turd-colored sedan a block away from the garage. Linwood looked blankly at the car as the cop crushed out the cigarette underneath a heel. “He’s in there, I promise. Come on, let’s go.”

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