I Hear You Weeping, fiction by Robb T. White

Jim­my Shan­non from She­boy­gan, as he liked to intro­duce him­self to peo­ple who came into his bar, had nev­er been to Wis­con­sin in his life. He’d done time for check forgery in Michi­gan and three years in Penn­syl­va­nia for hus­tling a wid­ow with Alzheimer’s out of twen­ty-eight thou­sand dol­lars. The judge also ordered him to pay resti­tu­tion, but Jim­my had picked up some new tricks in prison; once he’d report­ed to his pro­ba­tion offi­cer after serv­ing eigh­teen months and gain­ing ear­ly release, he was a gone goose—skipping straight across the state line to Ohio. His cel­lie was a career forg­er, and Jim­my admired him. He told Jim­my for three or four thou­sand he could get new papers and a Social Secu­ri­ty card that would stand up to a check.

A few weeks of booz­ing in bars and mak­ing casu­al con­ver­sa­tion led him to Cleve­land where he found a guy who knew a guy—and so on through a long list of bull­shit­ters, wast­ing a few hun­dred of the widow’s cash on these losers, until he ulti­mate­ly hit pay dirt. It cost him a thou­sand more than his cell mate said it would but Jim­my felt it was worth it because he was going legit from here on out. Although his cel­lie made thou­sands on his scams, and Jim­my believed him, he was obliv­i­ous to some­thing Jim­my real­ized when the bars clanged shut on him once more: he wasn’t going to die young. Doing jail in your for­ties is not like some gang­banger going in where it’s a rite of pas­sage. Jimmy’s hair was turn­ing gray and last week he noticed a bald spot on the back of his head the size of a grape­fruit.

Jim­my was a nat­ur­al talk­er and tend­ing bar was more an avo­ca­tion than a job to him. He’d put up almost all the rest of his cash on this dump of a bar at the end of the Strip in this sec­ond-rate resort town. It had gone through sev­er­al trans­for­ma­tions before Jimmy’s own­er­ship from a psy­che­del­ic lounge in the six­ties with black light­ing through a coun­try-west­ern bar with a mechan­i­cal bull to its cur­rent state as a sleazy tryst­ing spot for cheat­ing spous­es. Its fad­ing red-and-black décor with vel­veteen booths was its final makeover. The bank that owned it as a result of for­fei­ture had giv­en him gen­er­ous points on the loan in the hope of unload­ing it before it gasped its last breath and the doz­ers flat­tened it for a park­ing lot for the restau­rant next door.

But Jim­my had a plan that involved using the rest of the widow’s mon­ey on an expen­sive sound sys­tem. Jim­my had looked over the bars on the Strip and he came to the con­clu­sion that the twen­ty-some­things were not being served by the rash of shit­kick­er and punk-goth-grunge com­bos every­where else.

Jimmy’s gam­ble was pay­ing off at the right time: it was the height of the tourist sea­son and all the col­lege kids were look­ing for places to drink and hook up. Jim­my installed a DJ for week­ends and the auto­tracked, fast-beat tech­no music hit the right nerve with this crowd. He’s already hired two more serv­ing girls for week nights because the word was out and Raul’s—Jimmy’s exot­ic-sound­ing brain­storm the day he signed the papers—was tak­ing off. Jim­my took a kick­back from two drug deal­ers ped­dling Ex in his place. What the hell, he thought, they’d be sell­ing it any­way. Jim­my also paid off one of the beat cops to tell him when vice was hang­ing around. Some­times jim­my wished he could talk to his cell mate again. He’d tell him how he had learned from his errors of the past. “Pay the right peo­ple off and don’t whine about it,” Jim­my said into his mir­ror while shav­ing, as if he were talk­ing to Har­ry as they used to do at nights after lights out in the bunks. He nod­ded his head sage­ly at him­self. “Greed will get you right back in the slam­mer with Har­ry,” he added. He winked to his image before leav­ing the rental cot­tage. Jim­my had plans for this aspect of his new life, too: he’d be finan­cial­ly able to return to the bank and apply for a house loan.

Jim­my had one small prob­lem and he meant to deal with her today. Some old hag of a bar fly had decid­ed to drink in Raul’s and, though this wasn’t affect­ing the bot­tom line (Jim­my was using lots of finan­cial lin­go these days in his swag­ger mode), it was irk­some to see this dis­gust­ing old crone in her frumpy clothes come into his bar to fin­ish up her night­ly booz­ing.

Last night, for exam­ple, a cou­ple young girls were chat­ting her up while wait­ing to be served at the bar—just mock­ing her, Jim­my knew—but instead of being offend­ed, the ugly old bitch basked in their flat­tery. She did some­thing that made Jimmy’s stom­ach churn with acid. She popped out her den­tures and gummed the air like an old snap­ping tur­tle. The girls shrieked with laugh­ter, but Jim­my saw a red mist come over his eyes.

Most of the time, when a new cus­tomer entered Raul’s and looked around, that per­son, male or female, knew right away whether this was the right place. Most of the white-haired tourists who stum­bled into the place by mis­take had the good sense to down their mixed drinks and piss off. Cer­tain­ly, by the time the seri­ous night crowds began to gath­er on the Strip, the old­sters knew bet­ter than to drink in Raul’s. Jim­my had giv­en his bar­tenders and bounc­ers tips on how to dis­cour­age these types from fre­quent­ing his oh-so-trendy place. There were excep­tions: mid­dle-aged-guys on the prowl with cred­it cards and cash to burn in their pock­ets. “You see one of these old­er dudes on a pussy prowl,” Jim­my ordered his staff, “keep the drinks com­ing and get them to buy rounds for the ladies.” He showed them how to mark the receipts so that Jim­my could give them bonus­es in their pay­checks. Las Vegas had its whales; Jim­my had his select group of horny hus­bands who each dropped sev­er­al hun­dred a week in his place.

Jimmy’s dream was to expand. There was an old cement-block, hill­bil­ly bar that Jim­my had his eye on. The Strip was crawl­ing with teenaged runaways—girls who would trick for a lit­tle dope mon­ey. He’d have no short­age of gor­geous, hot-look­ing strip­pers. Once Jim­my had the cham­ber of com­merce pres­i­dent, the precinct com­man­der, and the may­or in his pock­et, he was going to seek a change in the city ordi­nances that would per­mit a “gentleman’s club.” Two of the three were reg­u­lars at Raul’s any­way. It was just a mat­ter of get­ting that dim-bulb may­or to go along with it. If he didn’t bite at a bribe, Jim­my thought, he’d go the next route, which was to help his own can­di­date get elect­ed. Jim­my was silent­ly hand-pick­ing poten­tial can­di­dates for that posi­tion from among his clien­tele.

But the street hag had to go first. She was a nui­sance and an eye­sore. Tonight was the night he would put his plan into motion.

That night while the music was pump­ing bass gui­tar riffs through the speak­ers, jim­my watched his bar­tender go up to the witch and lean over her. It was too loud to hear a word even if he were sit­ting on the next stool, but he watched the harpy palm the fifty-dol­lar bill Jimmy’s man left. She looked about as if she couldn’t believe her luck, then she swiveled her huge behind off the stool and made for the door.

Good rid­dance,” Jim­my said watch­ing her go and hoist­ed his drink in the direc­tion of his bar­tender, who winked back at him.

See, Har­ry,” Jim­my told him­self grandiose­ly, “that’s where you made your mis­take. Pay up and your prob­lems go away like that.” He snapped his fin­gers to put an excla­ma­tion point to his own sagac­i­ty. “Poor Har­ry,” he sighed to him­self. “That’s why he’s in there and I’m out here.”

She was back the next night—and the night after that, and the nights after that.

The fifty was replaced by a c-note and a sim­ple but pre­cise expla­na­tion what the mon­ey was for. Jim­my had his bar­tender prac­tice it in front of him. “Make sure the god­damned old sim­ple­ton gets it this time,” Jim­my said with too much heat.

The woman had an iron gul­let for all the booze she put away. But she knew how to nurse her last drink until almost clos­ing time and the more promi­nent she was, sit­ting alone down there at the end of the bar, the angri­er Jim­my became. He fan­ta­sized smash­ing a bot­tle of Four Ros­es over her skull (Jim­my wouldn’t waste a good brand on her). Some­times it was the bouncer’s fish bil­ly he used in his imag­i­na­tion; he could hear the crack and see the frac­tures like spi­der webs criss­cross­ing the skull bone.

But there she was again, night after night. Jim­my was get­ting ulcers over it.

No more Mis­ter Nice Guy,” he told his bar­tender when he report­ed for work, “I’ll han­dle it myself.”

Jim­my sidled over to her after he’d seen her down her fourth Rum-and-Coke of the night. He set a new drink in front of her and said, “Hi there, I’m Jim­my from She­boy­gan.”

She eyed him and then the drink he was slid­ing toward her. She grunt­ed some­thing and wrapped her thick fist around the glass. Jim­my bare­ly kept his grin in check. The drink was spiked with a tab of acid he’d bought on the street.

Jim­my stayed near the end of the bar pre­tend­ing to pol­ish glass­es while he watched for a reac­tion. About fif­teen min­utes lat­er, half the drink gone, she start­ed to fid­get. Jim­my had to turn his back so that no one could see him laugh­ing.

The scream that erupt­ed from her throat was loud enough to pierce through the music. The old woman fell off the stool, and hoist­ed her­self to her hands and knees. She looked like a spavined horse hav­ing a seizure. Her mouth hung open and she gasped for breath like a dying fish on the shore­line.

Then, like mag­ic, as if she were a sud­den­ly nim­ble twen­ty-some­thing her­self, she scram­bled to her feet and fled out the door near­ly knock­ing over a young man just enter­ing.

Jim­my expe­ri­enced a pang of fear. “What if she dies, stum­bled into traf­fic, gets run over …?” Thoughts like these haunt­ed him all night until clos­ing.

He nev­er saw her again. What­ev­er guilt he felt that night was long gone and he was mov­ing for­ward with his plans to pur­chase Jim­my II, his name for the strip-bar-to-be. Things were going so well that he could afford to lose a few bucks before he had all his chess pieces lined up for the switch to the gentleman’s club.

His reg­u­lar bar­tender didn’t show that night so Jim­my had to fill in to keep the drinks mov­ing back and forth. Jim­my real­ized he loved his work and his life was final­ly in the right place.

You see, Har­ry,” he said, sum­mon­ing his ex-cell mate’s famil­iar ghost, to read yet anoth­er les­son learned—or, in Harry’s case—unlearned. “You have to deal with every prob­lem when it aris­es. Don’t treat small prob­lems as insignif­i­cant. That’s how snowflakes accu­mu­late to become avalanch­es.” Jim­my had for­got­ten that it was Har­ry who had lec­tured him about the old sociologist’s max­im of the bro­ken-win­dow the­o­ry. “One bro­ken win­dow, Har­ry, means nine­ty-nine are going to fol­low it soon­er or lat­er,” Jim­my would say when his staff couldn’t over­hear.

Jim­my had an extra shot-and-beer at clos­ing, a reward for pitch­ing in, not hold­ing back like a boss and look­ing for some­one else to fill in.

He was out as soon as his head hit the pil­low.

Jim­my thought the light pen­e­trat­ing his eye­balls was too much sun­light this ear­ly. He must have for­got­ten to pull the shades near his bed in his exhaust­ed state.

When he opened his eyes ful­ly, he knew it was some­thing else. The old lim­bic brain at the base of his spine was tin­gling a warn­ing sign. This wasn’t ordi­nary sun­light but a flash­light prob­ing his eyes and face.

Jim­my sat straight up in bed as if elec­tro­cut­ed.

Moth­er of God, Jim­my real­ized as his brain col­lect­ed itself and under­stood the image. Some­one was in his bed­room.

That some­one put on the room lights. That some­one was a very big, beard­ed male in his late thir­ties. He wore den­ims and a vest with—Oh God—out­law bik­er patch­es. Jim­my saw the Mon­gols logo, the one-per­center patch and, worst of all, the dozens of scram­bled tat­toos up and down the man’s mas­sive arms. Jim­my heard men in boots walk­ing around down­stairs. “My friends,” the big bik­er said, “you don’t mind, right?”
“No,” Jim­my said, “help your­self. Take my mon­ey. I think I have a few hun­dred in my wal­let.”

The bik­er smirked at him as if that were some­thing fun­ny.

I can get the night receipts,” Jim­my offered. “There’s at least three thou­sand, all cash, small bills. Please … please take it and go.”

It’s not your mon­ey we want, Shan­non. It’s your bar. I have a paper for you to sign—”

He took out a wad of fold­ed papers from his back pock­et and tossed it to Jim­my.

Jim­my real­ized, with a sick­en­ing dread, these were in fact legal papers. He not­ed the pathet­ic fig­ure entered as the sale price.

As if read­ing his mind, the bik­er said, “I know how much cash you have in the house and how much you keep in the bar and I know to the pen­ny how much you have in your bank accounts, per­son­al and busi­ness. You’ll be able to pay tax­es on the sale and then you can skip town with your life.”

What if I don’t sign?” Jim­my was astound­ed at the courage he mus­tered just to get that out, say it to this brute.

With­out rais­ing his voice, the bik­er said, “Don’t mat­ter. You’ll dis­ap­pear. That’s what them dudes down­stairs is for. Your call. I’ll give you five min­utes to think it over. I’m going for a beer and when I’m done, I’ll be back up to see what your answer is.”

Jim­my watched him go. He noticed his cell phone and wal­let weren’t on the bureau top where he placed them every night after work. He leaned over the side of the bed and noticed that the phone jack was still in the out­let but it had been cut in half.

Time stopped in its tracks; it seemed sec­onds had passed but he heard the heavy tread of the big man com­ing back up.

What’s it to be?”

I’ll sign, I’ll sign your paper,” Jim­my said.

Jim­my signed the doc­u­ment and hand­ed it to the bik­er who fold­ed it hap­haz­ard­ly and thrust it inside his grot­ty Levi’s. “Now we got us one more thing to clear up,” he said and reached down where he groped under the bed and came up with the Louisville slug­ger Jim­my had put there when he first moved in and long since for­got­ten about.

He watched the biker’s big fist wrap itself around the meat end of the bat and clean it of the dust that had gath­ered on its sleek var­nished sur­face.

What—what are you doing?” Jim­my whis­pered, half-chok­ing on his words. “I signed the paper.”

Yeah, man, you did.”

The man didn’t even look at Jim­my as he took a prac­tice swing that made the air rip­ple around Jimmy’s head. “That was busi­ness. This is per­son­al. You’re going to be in the hos­pi­tal for a long time. When you get out, you get out of town. Under­stand?”

What—what are you say­ing?”

You gave my old moth­er a mick­ey finn. She spent a week in the hos­pi­tal, cry­ing every day. She wrote me about it. When I got paroled at Chill­i­cothe for good behav­ior, I decid­ed to come see the lowlife prick that would do some­thing that shit­ty to a harm­less old lady.”

Jim­my said noth­ing; he wait­ed for the blow with­out tak­ing his eyes off the bik­er. He hoped he’d go uncon­scious right away and not too many bones would be bro­ken when it was over. When the bik­er approached him from the side of the bed where he had more clear­ance for a good swing, Jim­my shut his eyes. He heard Harry’s ghost snick­er­ing in his head: “I told you, Jim­my. I told you always to treat your mark like you’d treat your own moth­er.”

The bat took Jim­my under the jaw. Before the citadel of his brain could reg­is­ter it and assess the dam­age from nerves shoot­ing from jaw, bro­ken teeth, and blood­ied, impaled lips, he was back in the same pod, the very same cell with Har­ry, who was stand­ing there shak­ing his head in dis­may at Jimmy’s return. Jim­my tried to explain, tried to tell him about that irri­tat­ing old woman, but some­where deep below his feet—below the entire prison tier—a rum­bling, whirling, black vor­tex was suck­ing in all his words and thoughts and, final­ly, the heav­ing sobs pour­ing out of his chest and spilling into the air.

robbtwhiteRobb White pub­lish­es the Tom Haft­mann pri­vate-eye series, most recent­ly Noc­turne for Mad­ness. He has two noir mys­ter­ies: When You Run with Wolves and Wait­ing on a Bridge of Mag­gots. He has a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries: ‘Out of Breath’ and Oth­er Sto­ries. Spe­cial Col­lec­tions won the Elec­tron­ic Book Com­pe­ti­tion of 2014 by New Rivers Press.

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