Recent Fiction

Me and Fat

The rickety screen door burst open and the aluminum frame slammed against the side of the house.  The spring had apparently broken off, so the door flapped a couple of times and then rested against the house.  In the doorway stood the ominous figure of a short, but significantly overfed child.  Her greasy pigtails shot out in asymmetrical directions and there were wild pieces of hair all between them.  For a moment she stood motionless smacking her lips and sucking her teeth.  Her left cheek bulged even chubbier than the right and the white stick of a sucker flickered in her mouth as she continued smacking.

“Fat!” she said.  “Diaaane ate my caaandy.”

“I don’t give a damn, Bernice.  Get back in that house!” Fat said.

Fat returned to my timing belt.

“Why do they call you Fat?” I asked.

“You serious, Donnie?” Fat replied while raising from underneath the hood.

There was a black grease smudge running across his stomach at the bottom of his undershirt from where he’d been leaning over the front of the car to reach down into the engine.  Every time I’d been to Fat’s house he’d been wearing one of these faded white sleeveless shirts.  Each had that same black smudge across the front.  Fat had an enormous stomach.  It sagged over his work pants in the front and protruded like money bags hanging from his lower back.  Fat’s big black arms matched his proportion, yet they didn’t flop like his stomach did when he moved from the hood of the car to the cooler in the garage.  His arms were giant stalks of muscle that glistened in the sun while he reached from the toolbox back down into the engine.

Fat tossed the wrench into the toolbox and grabbed the oil rag that’d been draped over the front left panel of my Monte Carlo, the one with all the rust and primer spots.

“You think about what I asked you?” he said while wiping his hands of the dirt and grime.

“Not really,” I lied.

“Well you’re an idiot if you don’t,” he said.  Fat had plopped down into one of two lawn chairs situated between the open garage door and the front door of the house.  I joined him in the other.

“Look,” Fat changed his tone, “I know things ain’t what you envisioned for you and Shelly and the girls.  But this thing ain’t gonna last forever.  It’s a onetime deal and then you’re set at least for a while.”

That night when I got home, Shelly was seated at the table in the kitchen.  I walked directly to the refrigerator.  Then I moved to the pantry.  Then from the trash can to the window.  She could tell I was waiting for her to leave.

“Come to bed, Donnie,” she said. I watched her reflection in the window stand and then rewrap her robe around her.

“In a bit,” I said.  “I need a little time to unwind.”

When I heard the door to our bedroom close behind her I turned from the window and walked to the pantry.  I reached behind the cans of corn and carrots and beans on the top shelf to find the bottle of liquor that I kept hidden from Shelly and the girls.

Fat and I met about four months ago.  A guy at work knew that my Monte Carlo was in desperate need of work and so he told me he’d put me in touch with Fat.  One Friday night the Monte Carlo and I drove out to Byrd Street, the bar where I’d been told Fat spent his Friday nights.  The place was situated outside of town in a dusty lot beside a Laundromat and a Cash Advance office.  I parked the Monte Carlo and inside the bar found a small crowd of hard working men and locals.  The gray haze of cigarette smoke and the pungent smell of spilled beer presented the spot as any ordinary bar.  But just before taking my first step to an open stool at the end of the bar, a small child slightly taller than my knees rushed passed me.  He found his mother seated at a booth with a bearded man and climbed in beside her.

When I first laid eyes upon Fat, there was no doubt in my mind that it was him.  It didn’t have as much to do with the nature of his name as it did his appearance.  He was seated on a stool facing the bar and when I took my seat on the side of the bar, he looked across at me, a face of utter disinterest.  Just looking into his face, I imagined the name his mother had given him was something like Clarence or Prescott, explaining the absolute necessity for a nickname.  Nonetheless, as he leaned forward to take another drink from the bartender, his chest overflowed onto the wooden slab.  When the seat beside him opened up, I could see his huge stomach hanging underneath the ledge of the bar.

I moved my drink to the empty seat beside him and he turned about as far on his stool to look at me as his stomach would permit him.

“Who the hell are you, crew cut?” he said.  He stared into my face and took a sip from his drink.

“Are you Fat?” I asked.

“Psychic or cop?”

“Excuse me?”

“You know me, but I don’t know you.  So are you a psychic or a cop?”

“Neither man; name’s Donnie.  I was told you do good work on cars,” I said.

“Whata ya got?”

“1970 Monte Carlo.”

“Three-fifty or four-fifty-four?” he said, referring to the size of the engine.

“Four-fifty-four. She’s a Super Sport, but I’m afraid she isn’t in the condition that she deserves to be.”

“What’re ya drinking?” he asked.

“Wild Turkey.”

“Alright, buy me one of those and we’ll talk.”

Fat agreed to work on the Monte Carlo, despite the long list of problems I presented and the limited budget I mentioned.  He said he’d accept payment as things got done.  Since the Monte Carlo was my main mode of transportation, he agreed to work on it in the evenings on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Bring it by Monday evening and we’ll get started,” he said while slamming the Monte Carlo’s rusty hood.

Fat and I became pretty good friends.  On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I’d drive the Monte Carlo to his house in the Irvington neighborhood of southwest Baltimore.  I’d always stay with him while he worked.  Sometimes I’d relax in one of the two lawn chairs while he huddled over my hood.  Once a week he’d look up from the engine and tell me that Eddie Murray, “Steady Eddie” as he called him, was going to lead the Orioles to the pennant this year.

On the second Monday I started standing over the hood of the Monte Carlo with him.  I didn’t say much while he worked.  I’d lean against the side and watch him maneuver his fat hands covered in grease around belts and hoses and gaskets.  How they fit everywhere they needed to, I wasn’t sure.  Soon, he started trusting me enough to grab him tools from his toolbox as he needed them.  At some point I realized that he was testing me.

Wednesdays were the day that Fat’s girl came back from the grocery store.  She’d pull into the drive in an old Caprice with a dent in the grill and slam it into park before she stopped rolling.  She’d walk towards the house with two paper bags under her arms and Fat would meet her half way to get the door.

On Wednesday of the fourth week she came home as usual.  Fat and I were both seated in the lawn chairs when she showed up.  He stood and then waited for me to stand up with him.

“Come on,” he said while motioning with his hand.  “Let me introduce you to Terry.”

I followed his lead, though inside I was wondering why it’d taken him four weeks to introduce us.  Fat took one of the bags from Terry and I did the same.

“Terry, this is Donnie,” he said.  “We been working on his Monte Carlo for a few weeks now.”

As if she didn’t know, she smiled and extended her hand to mine.  We followed her with the bags to the kitchen counter and then headed back outside to the Monte Carlo.

The next time I saw Fat he asked me if I’d be interested in helping him with a job.  At first he didn’t say much about the job, but I got the feeling that it was more of an on-the-side thing than anything else.  He didn’t really want me to worry about the details yet, just wanted to know if I’d be willing to do something for cash.  I asked if he wanted to take the Monte Carlo out to Byrd Street and talk details, but he said we should just talk at his house.  Then I understood what he was asking.

At home that night I found an empty house and a note from Shelly and the girls.

Donnie,

Gone to take the girls for ice cream and a movie. Home around 9.

And below that:

We love you Daddy.

From Jenny and Kate.

At 7:36 I sat down at the kitchen table and looked up at the clock.  Slowly, my attention turned from the clock to the pantry.  I knew that I had plenty of time for a few quick drinks before the girls got home, but I wanted to see them when they got in.  As I watched the second hand tick by on the clock, I felt the need for a drink building within me.  It wasn’t often that I fought the urge this way, but I wanted tonight to be different.  I tried thinking about Fat’s job.

He’d said that there was a package in Virginia that needed picking up.  According to Fat, it was drugs, money, or a box full of human appendages.

Then he’d laughed that throaty laugh and said, “If it’s a box full of arms and legs, don’t bring that shit here.”

Fat said that there’d be a guy waiting for me at the Silver Diner tomorrow night with further instructions.  He told me that he couldn’t make the transport because he was technically on probation and would be required to tell his probation officer if he left the state, and that was a bit too risky.

I woke the next day to the sun shining through the bay window in our living room.  I’d fallen asleep with my boots on.  When I tried to kick them off I felt the empty glass bottle at my feet.  I couldn’t remember it happening, but apparently it had.  The girls were gone, so I hopped in the shower and went to work.

That night I drove the Monte Carlo past the row of street lamps in town to the Silver Diner that sat beside the truck stop just off the interstate.  There were a few rigs idling in the parking lot with their yellow parking lights on.  Fat told me someone would meet me here, but as I turned off my headlights and rolled into a space in front of the door, I saw no one that seemed to be anticipating my arrival.  A bell jingled as I pushed open the glass door and an older woman with stringy gray hair smiled as she saw me.  She was running drinks to a table of four scruffy faced men in flannel shirts and ball caps.

“Sit wherever you’d like,” she chimed as she passed.

I headed to the opposite side of the diner, past the booths with the fake red leather and gold sparkled backs.  There was a man in the last booth, but he didn’t look up from his coffee as I approached.  I chose the second to last barstool with the matching red cover.  The countertop was damp underneath my forearms and I could smell the sour fumes of dirty ammonia water.  I grabbed the menu wedged between the sugar and ketchup, though I was certain I wouldn’t be ordering anything.  On any other night, chocolate chip pancakes sounded delicious, but I dropped the menu onto the counter top and looked up to find the gaze of an old black man working behind the line in the kitchen.  With his eyes he motioned to the man seated over my right shoulder.  I glanced and found him looking at me purposely and so I swiveled in my stool to face him.

“The coffee’s good,” he said.  “Wanna share a pot?”

“With who?”

“You Donnie?”

“Yeah.”

“Then come join me.”

I eased myself into the booth across from the man with the huge wrists.  I’d spent plenty of time around muscular guys, but I’d never seen someone with wrists of such girth.  Even Fat’s gigantic arms didn’t have the size of this man’s wrists.  The waitress swung around the end of the bar and I motioned for her to stay.

“I’m not eating, thanks,” I said.

“This is a simple job,” he began.  “I’ve got three things for you,” he said as he reached into the seat next to him.  “The first is the address of the storage unit where you’ll find the package two days from now,” he said as he slid a white scrap of paper across the table.  “Unit 23A.

He dropped a key onto the scrap of paper.

“Use this to get into the storage unit.”

Finally he slid a large manila envelope across the table and looked into my eyes.

“Your car has a trunk?” he asked.

“Yea,” I said.

“Well when you pick up the package, put it in the trunk and then keep it locked.  Then don’t think about it.  Out of sight, out of mind,” he said.

“What do I do with it?”

“Slow down, cowboy.  This is an easy job.  Easy enough that all you gotta do is just follow instructions.”  He took his huge wrist off the manila envelope and motioned for me to take it and put it away.

“After the package is locked in your trunk,” he said, “open the envelope and do what the instructions tell you.”

“That it?”

“Yeah, that’s everything,” he said.  “You’ll get paid when you get back and get the package where it needs to go.”

The drive into Virginia was long and straight down I95, but the Monte Carlo couldn’t have sailed straighter.  Past the North End Roadhouse and I yearned for the warmth of a drink.  I could feel the glass sweating in my hand and feel the ice cubes on my lips while sipping.  But mostly I wanted to feel the liquor slide down my esophagus and into my stomach, warming the muscles as it went.  Though chances were I could get away with just one drink, I decided I’d stick to the plan.

Once off of 95, I let the Monte Carlo have her fun.  She roared through yellow lights and rounded corners on what felt like two wheels.  She sped out of town and found the two lane county road we’d been searching for.  A few miles down we saw the large wooden sign for the storage unit.

It was surrounded by a chain link fence.  Five rows of cinderblock buildings with orange tin garage doors numbered individually lined the lot.  I assumed that the A in 23A would locate the storage unit in the first row of buildings, but as I crept by, I noticed that each unit was numbered evenly.  I finally spotted 23A in the third row and pulled the Monte Carlo directly parallel to the door.

Before I got back on the interstate I pulled into a Chevron station.  As the Monte Carlo idled near the door, I reached behind the passenger seat for the manila envelope.  I left it sealed on the seat next to me while I went inside for coffee.  The foreign man at the register gave me seventy six cents and I knew that’d be enough to make two phone calls from the payphone outside.

Back in the Monte Carlo, I waited for my coffee to cool before opening the envelope.  Blue ink scribbled across the paper read:

Take it to the mechanic.

From the payphone I called Shelly and asked how she and the girls were doing.  She sounded surprised to hear my voice and asked when I’d be home.

“I’m sorry about last night, Shelly,” I said.  “You and the girls deserve better from me.”

“Donnie,” her voice came through the receiver cracked, but confident.  “We’re gonna turn this thing around.  Just come home and we’ll talk about it.”

“Don’t let the girls wait up for me, but I’ll be home in a few hours.” I hung up the phone and reached in my pocket for the rest of the change.  I decided I’d better call the office.

Fat was slouched in his lawn chair when I pulled into his driveway in the Monte Carlo around nine.  His head jerked up from his chest when the headlights hit his face and I wondered if he’d been sleeping.  He stood up and motioned for me to pop the hood.  He raised the hood and I met him bent over the engine.

“Got it?” he said.

“Yeah, in the trunk.  What’s up?” I asked.

“A cruiser’s been circling the block for the last half hour.  I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Okay, so what do you want to do?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking it through,” he said.  “I want you to leave the Monte Carlo for the night.  I’m gonna hang the light from the hood and keep an eye out and do some work.  You can take the Caprice home.”

“Alright,” I said.  “If that’s what you think is best.”

“But go home and answer the phone.  I may call you if the plan changes tonight.”

Fat stood from underneath the hood and walked to the garage.  I couldn’t see his black face moving around at all, but I could hear tools rustling as he looked for something.  He came out with a yellow extension cord and a hanging utility light.

“Keys are in the Caprice.  Get on home,” he said.

As I headed out of Fat’s neighborhood in his car, I saw two police cruisers speed past me going the opposite direction.  The cars were unmarked, but easy for me to recognize.

When I walked into the house that night Shelly was awake in the kitchen.  She wrapped her arms around me and I kissed her ear.  She wanted to talk, but all I wanted was to reach above the cabinet beside the sink and find another bottle.  When I found the bottle I popped the cork and tossed it onto the kitchen table in front of Shelly.

“Donnie, please,” she begged.  “Not tonight, let’s go to bed and talk, baby.”

I turned up the bottle and threw back the first shot.  “Shelly –.“  She burst into tears.  The sight of her sobbing in her bath robe, hair laid across her face with no one to sweep it aside nearly broke my heart.  But the thought of Fat and the pain in my stomach was greater.  So I decided to drown them both out.  Shelly turned and walked out of the kitchen and I heard her hold her sobs while she walked past the girls’ room.  I heard the bedroom door close behind her and then the muffled weeping through the thin walls of our pitiful home.

When I was sitting in the Monte Carlo waiting for my coffee to cool and staring at the manila envelope on the seat next to me, I considered calling Fat instead of the office.  I didn’t know exactly what I’d say.  Maybe I’d tell him to lay low for a little while, that something had come up and he needed to stay clean for a bit.  Or maybe I’d just tell him the truth.  Confess my sins and the truth about the person I really was and the things that I’d done.  But I called the office.  I told them the window of time they had to catch Fat.

I’d like to think that I did it for Shelly and the girls.  But I can’t convince myself that I did.

A couple weeks later, I talked to the chief about getting back the Monte Carlo.  He said it was at police impound and I could get it back when the DA’d closed the case.  The day I got it back I found the bullet hole in the passenger door.  The chief explained that when the boys arrived at Fat’s with their lights rolling, Fat ducked behind the left side of the Monte Carlo.  The boys yelled at Fat to come out for a while.  A single shot was fired into the passenger door after Fat peaked his head through the window to survey the situation.  When Fat stood with his arms raised, a young officer mistook the wrench in his hand for a gun and fired two shots at Fat.  The first shot hit Fat square in the face and killed him instantly.  I think if the shot would have hit him anywhere else in that fat body of his, he’d probably still be alive.

My work in the arrest of Fat led to a promotion.  The promotion granted me an early Christmas bonus and a raise.  The first thing I did with the money was pay to put a new panel on the door.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by BCM on March 3, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    a gripping story, nice surprise ending, but not like m night shaymalan surprise, a legitimate good one

    the drinking problem of the guy…. seemed to be one of two things…. a bit underdeveloped/explained or seemed out of place…. what did his desire to drink do for the story? Just add to his character, did it morally equate him with fat, making him no better, hence the struggle w/ turning him in? I think its a valuable addition, something just felt off to me.

    one of your best

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