by Joe Fizell
It was 2:50 am, Monday morning, July 9, 1973… Jimmy was standing next to the refrigerator holding a glass of whiskey in one hand and a glass of milk in the other when Joe carefully walked back into the kitchen. Clara was not there. Norine was not there. Joe kept facing Jimmy, the Walther at his side, forefinger on the outside of the trigger guard, at the ready. Joe felt weak, fought to steady his legs. His chair, the back still against the table. Joe sat cautiously facing Jimmy, calmer now, wondering “Is this all it comes down to?”
With a steady voice, he said, “Now you bastard, get out of my house.” Laying his hand with the Walther on his right thigh, Joe was waiting for Jimmy to attack again.
Jimmy calmly took a drink of his whiskey. He started laughing, sneering and said, “Go ahead old man. You ain’t got the balls to shoot me, you pussy.” Snarling, he said, “Shoot!”
Joe raised his right hand, forefinger slipping onto the trigger. He wanted to shoot Jimmy in his ugly face. He gently squeezed the trigger…
It was 9:20 on the sunny, hot Sunday morning of July 8, 1973. Sitting at his kitchen table in Somers Point, New Jersey, Joe fishes a fresh Pall Mall from the pack, flicks his Ronson for a flame, drawing air through the ignited tobacco. Exhaling a cloud of smoke toward the window screen he looks out on the road. No traffic. He poured his last coffee for the day. It will be too hot for coffee later. Already too hot, he thought as he wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand when the phone rang. He stretched to grab the handset off the wall, sat back and said, “Hello.”
“Hi Daddy. It’s me. How are you?” the voice came into his ear.
“Clara? Are you okay?” Joe asked, intent on remaining surprised at her call.
“Of course I am, Daddy. It’s been a while since we saw you, so I thought I’d call. How is Norine?”
“Where are you? Are Nancy and Scotty with you?” he asked, then added, “Norine is fine. We have been concerned; not heard much from or about you lately.”
“Nancy and Scotty are okay. Nancy has been my big help since school was out for the summer. She is a great sitter for Scotty when I’m working. We are living in a house on Adams Avenue, in Frankford. Been here a little while. As a matter of fact, I’m friendly with the landlord. He lives in the house next door” she said.
“That’s nice, honey. You said you are working?”
“Yeah, same stuff. I have been waitressing at the Mayfair Diner since Valentine’s Day” she replied, adding, “I mentioned my landlord. His name is Jimmy Whelan. You’d like him, Daddy. He’s a little older than me, but he is trying to help me out, watching out for me, making sure I pay my bills on time and keep food in for the kids.”
Joe looked up, shrugging his shoulders, his free hand palm up, as if to say, “I don’t know,” as Norine came into the kitchen, listening to his side of the conversation.
“That sounds good, Clara. Maybe getting you back on track, or something like that. Do you think?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s what I think. Ya know, today is gonna be blistering hot. Would you and Norine object if we took a ride down today, so’s you could meet Jimmy?”
Looking, questioningly at Norine, he replied, “Oh, you would like to visit us today?” he said, seeing Norine’s eyes darkened as she nodded her head, turning away to pour herself a cup of coffee, lighting a cigarette. “Well, it is a bit short notice but why not. We haven’t seen you or the kids for a very long time. Yes! About what time should we expect you?”
“Gee Daddy, that’s wonderful. We can leave about noon. Maybe get there before three, depending on traffic? Oh, what is the address? You sold the store, right?” Joe gave her the address and directions to their new home at 49 Mays Landing Road in Somers Point.
Hanging up the phone, Joe turned to Norine, “She’s renting a house for her and the kids in Frankford,” he said, trying to sound calm and relaxed, looking for some reaction in her face. “It seems like,” he continued, “Clara is now dating her landlord. Jimmy, she said, and wants us to meet him. They should get here about three o’clock.”
Stony-faced, Norine tamped her cigarette out in a whale shaped ashtray on the kitchen table and took her coffee into the bedroom without a word. Same old crap. His kids. Silent treatment or knockdown drag-out fighting. She hated his children. They are adults; he talks to them a few times a year. He’s 58 years old. Damn it! Resignedly, he pushed the chair back, began cleaning up the kitchen table, washing the dishes and coffee pot, thinking how screwed up Clara’s life has been, which only added fuel to Norine’s fire over his kids.
Joe’s thoughts about Clara usually begin on the afternoon, two weeks after she turned sixteen. She and her boyfriend Bud Farmer, an Airman home for Christmas leave in 1957 went shopping at Sears the day after New Year’s, 1958. Three days later the phone rang, “Hi Daddy, it’s me,” she said. Just like this morning. Clara and Bud tried to get married in every state south of Philadelphia. She was calling from Georgia. “Daddy, can we come home and get married?”
“Enough,” he thought, “Today will be a beautiful day to see some of my grandchildren.” Drying his hands, he folded the towel over a rail and went out the kitchen door, across the driveway to his shop. He wanted to complete a last minute order for several sets of signs to be picked up Monday morning.
Joe and Norine had sold their grocery store on New York Avenue a year after buying it from Milda and Bill Law, Joe’s sister and her husband. Milda had breathing problems and wanted to move to Florida. Norine did not want to buy the grocery store. Joe wanted to keep it in the family. He prevailed. She made living there pure hell. Norine won.
They chose and moved into this old house on Mays Landing Road because of the additional building at the end of the driveway. Originally it was an oversized two-car garage; a previous owner had it converted into a store or shop, facing Mays Landing Road. While selling the grocery store, Joe had been searching for another business. He bought a cheap franchise, opening the “South Jersey Vac-U-Signs Company,” now operating out of his new Mays Landing Road shop. They were in the house five weeks already. Joe was disappointed his new business was off to a slow start. He was dreading the coming winter, the normal slow months at the Jersey Shore. That was why he was working on a Sunday, to finish this customer’s order, building a reputation worth spreading.
It was noon. Satisfied the customer would be happy Monday morning, Joe stood in the front door frame of his shop, enjoying a peaceful smoke. From here, he watched the lazy traffic pass along Mays Landing Road, imagining some were heading home from early morning fishing, others hoping to catch a few hours on Ocean City beaches before heading back to Philly. The sun beat down upon him. He intended to build an awning over the shop’s front door; a task far down on his list of things to do. He thought of last Sunday, July 1st, when his son, Joe, Jr. came with his family from Cinnaminson for a quick visit to see the new home and his shop.
Joe, Jr. understood. Short visits were best. Schmooze Norine. Do nothing to make life miserable for his father. Joe, Jr. and his wife Helen, with their children, Steve, Beth and Wendy, if Joe was lucky, visited maybe twice a year. Christmas for sure. Last Sunday Joe made permanent Social Security cards for both of them. He stamped them out of a sheet of bronze colored metal, providing a leather-looking case for each. One of the services he acquired with his Vac-U-Sign franchise. He would make one for each of his grandchildren, when they eventually get their own Social Security numbers.
While Norine and Helen talked in the house, the children were playing in the rear yard away from Mays Landing Road. Father and son were having a cool beer in the shop. Joe pulled out a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, hidden by sign panels, asking Joe, Jr., “How about a wee dram?” Joe, Jr. nodded. Joe took two plastic water cups from a dispenser, added some Scotch in each and returned the bottle to its hiding place. Joe, Jr. sipped his Scotch enjoying the warm, smooth taste; Joe downed his with a grimace, like he was in pain.
“Dad, if you don’t like the taste, why do you drink it?”
Joe smiled gently, reached over and patted his son’s shoulder, confiding, “No, I don’t drink it for the taste. I drink it for the feeling it gives me. Don’t be silly.”
While they were alone in the shop, Joe, Jr. informed his father that Clara showed up again. Joe and Naomi, Clara’s mother, still shared one heartache in common from their 25-year marriage. One open wound. Their 60s ‘Free Spirit’ poster child, Clara. Not a Hippie! Clara’s ‘Free Spirit’ epitomized being unrestricted from everyone’s expectations. She went with the wind or merely, a whim. Married three times so far, having three children, so far; now her landlord, Jimmy.
Joe, Jr. told his father, “After months of silence, Clara called me. Mom had told Clara that Helen and I bought a house in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.” finishing the Scotch, he continued, “Clara heard I was trying to completely paint and fix up the inside before moving from Philly. She said to me, “Gee, Joey, my boyfriend Jimmy is a professional painter. He would be glad to help you get the house ready fast.” Like I don’t hear from my sister for months on end, now she wants to help me?” Shaking his head, Joe, Jr. looked at his father, expecting no response. He did not receive one.
“Anyway. Jimmy and a guy named Shifty showed up at our empty Cinnaminson house while Helen and I were painting bedrooms. Our Tramp’s fur on the back of his neck went straight up, growling, not barking when I opened the front door. The kids were exploring the attic through a hatch Steve found in the top bedroom sidewall. I called them and made sure Steve took hold of Tramp, then sent them out to play in the rear yard. It’s fenced in. Tramp can’t run off again.” Joe, Jr. continued, “Dad, this Jimmy is a fast talker, very pushy. Appears he is Clara’s latest fling. He kept harping, “Wanting to help Clara’s brother,” like she was someone he had to make happy.” Pausing to sip his beer, he resumed his tale, “Jimmy said he would do it free, for Clara. Of course I would not let him paint in my house for free. I did not know the guy. Before I realized it though, I agreed that he was going to paint our recreation room for Fifty dollars. I said he was fast.”
Still standing in the noon sun without benefit of an awning that suddenly moved up a few notches on a to do list, Joe’s thick and tight wavy hair, now more salt than black, showed flecks of perspiration. Behind him, the shop was baking in the sun. He was looking for a cooling breeze off the Great Egg Harbor Bay, a five-minute walk east, or from the ocean, beyond Ocean City on the far side of the bay. Joe wondered if Joe, Jr. would get him a good price on a window air conditioner where he worked? Maybe even bring it down and help install it in the shop? A good excuse to see him again. Thinking again of Joe, Jr., he considered the rest of Joe, Jr.’s story about Jimmy, enjoying the faint ocean breeze that just began to cool his head.
“Dad, Jimmy and his cohort, Shifty, a skinny, dirty looking one, that. Nevertheless they did a proper paint job in the Rec Room, with two coats of paint in a little more than four hours,” Joe, Jr. said. “But Helen said the whole time, they were drinking whiskey out of Jimmy’s station wagon. They asked for and she gave them glasses of milk, for chasers, I suppose. She felt a bit intimidated and was glad I was working upstairs on the bedrooms and knew Tramp was close by in the yard.”
Joe, standing in the doorway of his shop, looking across Mays Landing Road, he could still see his son pulling out the driveway last Sunday night; grandchildren Steve, Beth and Wendy waving goodbye from the back of their Buick Estate station wagon. Joe wondered what new adventures his ‘free spirit’ daughter Clara will wrought upon him today.
Norine tended to some new bushes Joe planted for her at the rear of the house. There were few words between them since Clara called earlier that morning. When she was this irritating, Joe would occupy himself by building shelves in his shop or clean and oil the firearms he kept in the basement, the oil for protection against the Ocean salt air. Instead, he was waiting for his guests to arrive, looking out the living room screen door. He thought of Naomi again, struggling to not think of her. Thoughts he normally forbade himself. They would only make his life miserable. Naomi is a good woman. She is faithful, hardworking; loyal to a fault. Her only fault, not accepting the life Joe wanted. Joe prided himself on his work ethic; hours and sweat meant nothing, get the job done right. It was Joe’s way of relaxing that Naomi opposed. After work… okay, even starting an hour before closing time, it was fine to relax with some good booze. He’s earned it. Thinking about her, he shook his head. Naomi would have one drink, at a party or wedding, maybe. She would rather have a cup of freshly brewed coffee. Well, Joe thought, “Honey, it was your loss.” The drinking is my earned pleasure. Jesus they fought over his drinking, which only made him drink more, which… But Naomi was a saint compared to Norine. Norine was the price he paid for a sleeping and drinking companion. A station wagon pulling into the driveway broke his reverie as Norine came in the kitchen door behind him.
It was after three when the faded ugly green Plymouth station wagon parked in their driveway. Various color paint blobs along the empty roof ladder rack confirming the driver’s occupation. Standing in the front doorway, Joe swung open the screen door, allowing four year old Scotty to scoot past into the living room, followed by thirteen year old Nancy, then Clara, saying, “Daddy, this is Jimmy,” as they walked in, the men shaking hands warmly. Everyone was talking, hugging.
Norine offered drinks, “We have iced tea, soda, water?” looking at Clara, and the children.
Jimmy responded, “Yeah, it is hot today. The wagon’s air conditioning’s busted, too. Do you have any cold beer?”
“Of course. You all sit. Nancy, bring Scotty into the kitchen. See what he would like to drink!” as Norine got the drinks, Joe was sizing up Jimmy. Joe was 5’ 8” and he saw that Jimmy was shorter and heavier, in his early forties, no grey yet in a full head of black hair. Joe surmised he was a coarse individual but cautioned himself on being too judgmental.
As they sat around the living room, the adults drinking beer, Nancy and Scotty drinking soda, everyone eating the snacks Norine set out on the coffee table in front of the sofa. Joe, not interested in the snacks, lit up a cigarette, sat back in his overstuffed chair. He quickly checked there was an ashtray on each end of the coffee table.
Scotty brought in some toys and was playing with them on the kitchen floor. He was in plain view through the doorway and over the handrail high wall separating the kitchen from those sitting in the living room.
Clara, her natural black hair teased high, fell shoulder length; pulled back, it accentuated white flesh that rarely spent time in the sun. At thirty-one, she dressed in tight sweaters and slacks she did not realize revealed her tendency toward a more mature body. She complained to her father and his wife that things had been tough for her lately. As a single parent, she had to move herself and the kids a couple of times within a few months. Then a customer at the Mayfair Diner told her about Jimmy’s house for rent on Adams Avenue. “It’s right off the corner at Kensington Avenue. Real convenient for public transportation, for the trolley, bus or El.” Clara said.
Norine asked, “What is an EL?”
Joe laughed. “That’s an elevated train that runs along Frankford and Kensington Avenues and Front Street. It actually runs overhead from Bridge Street in Frankford to where it goes underground near Front and Market Streets, becoming the subway to 46th and Market Streets where it emerges to run overhead again to 69th and Market Streets in West Philadelphia. It’s been called the El as long as I can remember,” he told her, adding, “When I was young, the talk was how the El would be extended up Frankford Avenue, ending at Rhawn Street; but the project was abandoned by City Hall forty years ago.” Noticing Norine was tuning him out, Joe decided to ignore mentioning how the trains also emerged to cross over the Schuylkill River on a bridge.
Norine lost interest in Joe’s El story before he finished telling it, turned to Jimmy. Waiting until Joe finished talking she asked. “What about you, Jimmy? What do you work at?” she inquired.
Which was encouragement enough, Jimmy Whelan began. He was a painter since he was a boy, taught by a family friend. He didn’t like working for other people so he became a self-employed painter in Frankford. A homebuilder in Mayfair began to use his services and he became a subcontractor in the housing boom in Northeast Philly. “Over the last ten or twelve years, I guess I have painted the insides of most of the new houses built in North-East Philadelphia” he concluded proudly, searching for respect in Joe’s demeanor.
Clara chimed in, “He’s taken an interest in us too, Daddy. We just started dating.”
Nancy snickered, “Jimmy’s been in Jail, too.”
Clara reached to slap her but Nancy ducked, evading her hand. “That was when he was young,” Clara said. Looking at Jimmy, asking, “Right, Hun?”
Scotty was running back and forth on the sofa, jumping off and climbing back on, no one paying attention to him. Jimmy, seated on an overstuffed chair, reached over and grabbed him, lifted Scotty high overhead, saying “Richie, if you don’t settle down, I’m gonna put you in a cage like a monkey.” After a minutes squirming, Scotty, calmed down and looked for a toy he had brought in with him. Joe noticed both Scotty’s eyes had a habit of roaming, were sometimes even crossed. He wondered what Clara was doing about it. Before he could ask…
Jimmy responded to Nancy’s comment, “I got in with the wrong crowd when I was young and got arrested for burglary. I spent two years at the House on State Road. I learned to box there and tried my luck fighting too. I was good” Jimmy said, looking around for some appreciation.
Norine asked Jimmy, “Why did you call Scotty, Richie?”
“Clara said his name is Richard Scott Farmer. I think Richard is his proper name so I am encouraging his response to Richie. Sounds better.” Jimmy answered, again with a look of his being in charge. Clara sat with a smile. Nancy made a face behind his back.
The conversation steered to the weather, more small talk. No ocean breeze today. The ceiling fans in the kitchen and main bedroom were doing their best. The living room ceiling fan kept the cigarette smoke dispersed, all the adults smoking. The house was very warm, even hot. Joe and Jimmy had a few more beers, which only added to their internal heat. Joe, without staring, tried to size up Jimmy, remembering Joe, Jr.’s comments. Joe’s cousin Bobby Wilson was a guard at the Philadelphia House of Corrections. Joe believed first time offenders rarely received two-year jail sentences. Perhaps a call to Bobby will shed some light on Jimmy Whelan. There had to be more to his criminal history.
It was getting late. Clara realized Norine had nothing cooking in the kitchen and announced, “We really are glad we came to visit, Daddy, but we should think about leaving soon. The Sunday night traffic will be ‘stop and go’ back to Philly, and we have to get back for dinner.”
“Nonsense,” Joe replied, “we planned to order take-out dinner at the Crab Trap.” He looked over to Norine.
“Come on, Clara. You know I don’t cook,” said Norine, adding, “It is after six. Joe, you should order now. Perhaps they won’t be too busy and we can eat at a sensible hour.”
As Joe went into the kitchen, Clara, Norine and Jimmy continued talking, interrupted by Joe, passing around the Crab Trap menu. The food list compiled, Joe called and was told when to pick up their order. “It will be ready in 45 minutes,” he told them.
Jimmy sat, leaning back in the front passenger seat of Joe’s Cadillac convertible, his hands running over the soft leather, his legs stretched out under the deep dashboard. “This is a soft seat,” he thought out loud. Riding with the top down, the wind drying his sweat-saturated hair, Jimmy was impressed. “Must’ve cost you a bundle, eh?” asking Joe.
“It is a few years old. I bought it after my son teased me about an old man driving a Corvette Stingray. He was right. I bought the Caddy and sold the ‘Vet. This was a better choice for me” Joe replied. Joe, busy driving, did not notice the hint of avarice and jealousy narrow Jimmy’s eyes.
On the traffic circle at the Somers Point-Ocean City Causeway and Bay Shore Drive, the Crab Trap was a well-known restaurant and landmark. At the take-out counter, Joe was greeted with smiles and small talk. They all knew him. He pulled a thick wad of green bills from his pants pocket, paid for their food. The size of the wad did not escape Jimmy’s notice.
While everyone was sorting their food order from the Crab Trap packages that Jimmy laid on the kitchen table, Joe produced a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey from another room. Breaking the seal, he began pouring out drinks for the adults. From the onset of dinner, the drinking became more serious for the men and Clara, while Norine nursed her beer.
Jimmy prodded Joe for his story; his businesses that Clara had bragged so much about to Jimmy. The booze loosened Joe’s lips. He did not mind a little boasting to his many cousins, especially those whom Joe felt had looked down on him when he was a struggling bus driver. Joe knew how it felt to be hard working poor. He hated it. He hesitated boasting to Jimmy, a seemingly industrious self-employed painter who owned two houses. Yet, inside, Joe had a bad feeling about Jimmy. Jimmy asked again, “Clara said you had a few businesses, Joe. What were they?” It went through Joe’s mind, Joe, Jr. warned, Jimmy was pushy. Joe thought; more like obnoxious.
As Joe talked, Norine and the children faded into the living room to watch television. Time passed, the level in the bottle dropped, then empty. Joe produced another bottle, Cutty Sark Scotch. Jimmy and Joe were slowly drinking themselves into a stupor, Clara not too far behind. Joe sat at the kitchen table, his back toward the refrigerator, Jimmy on the end to his right, Clara opposite Joe, the phone on the wall behind her. Joe had pulled the kitchen table from the wall to accommodate their guests. Half full ashtrays were at all four corners. Somewhere in all this, Norine told Clara that Jimmy was too drunk to drive back to Philadelphia. They may as well spend the night. Scotty and Nancy were put in one bedroom where Clara and Jimmy, when ready, could also sleep.
Norine went into her own bedroom, telling Clara, “When you three finish your drinking, go to bed too.” Clara, returning to the kitchen, sensed Norine was aggravated by their visit and extended stay, which the whiskey helped her ignore.
Joe, his words slurring every so often, felt himself losing control. He got up and began to clean up the table, all the while talking. He realized he needed to slow down. He told Jimmy how he had owned a Luncheonette in Philly with his first wife, Naomi, making a lot of money but he and Clara’s mother fought too much. He paused while concentrating on washing the dishes, stacking them on the drain board while Jimmy and Clara read the Crab Trap menu and talked quietly.
Joe picked up an empty one pound coffee can from the cabinet under the kitchen sink and emptied all the ashtrays into the can, sitting the can along the wall to the left of the kitchen door leading out to the driveway. “Why are you doing that, Daddy?” asked Clara
“Smoldering cigarettes left in ashtrays can be dumped into the waste basket. Don’t want my house on fire,” he replied. The dishes done, the table clear, Joe decided his break was over. He sat down heavily, looking for his glass. He had washed it. He struggled to his feet, retrieved a glass from the drain board, flopped back into the chair, which slid an inch on the smooth kitchen floor. Pouring himself some more whiskey, Joe asked to anyone listening, “Want a refill?”
Jimmy said, “I’m okay.” Clara added a splash to her glass. All three lit up another cigarette.
Joe, picked up his story, telling Jimmy how he and Naomi sold the Luncheonette and how he moved to New Jersey where he bought a hotel in Ocean City without elaborating on profit or loss. Perhaps it was the alcohol… He wanted Jimmy to have a good impression of Joe’s business acuity.
“Yes, Jimmy, I was a bus driver for years but always wanted to make more money. I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And, that is what I have become, a successful entrepreneur.” Pausing to down a shot, again with a grimace, he continued, “After I sold the Elberon Hotel, I built a Sub and Pizza shop from scratch and started wholesaling beef from Australia, from the back room of the Pizza Shop. Made lots of cash too. Bought a coin-operated car wash too. I sold the Sub shop, then bought a motel on Shore Road and a house on the Somers Point Golf Course.” Joe conveniently left out the grocery store, a thorn in his current testy relationship with Norine.
Joe and Jimmy’s drinking bromance began to veer into a darker relationship. Joe was tiring, ready to call it a night. Clara had chimed in several times, extoling her father’s business prowess. She stood, walked around the table, pushed Joe so he turned his chair around and Clara sat on Joe’s lap, her arms around him. “My father’s a shrewd business operator” she cooed, teasing Jimmy, laying her head against Joe’s forehead, her palm caressing his cheek.
Quietly, in a voice Joe hadn’t heard before, Jimmy snarled, “Joe, you are like the miserable builders and businessmen I know in Philly, making money by screwing them who earn it for you. Like the Jew builders, who push me to paint faster and still want to cut my prices,” spittle gathering on the corner of his mouth dripping off his lower lip, “always wanting a part of my cash. Moneygrubbers! Entrepreneurs? They’re all whores. And I ain’t sure you ain’t just like them” he finished. Standing now over Clara, who jumped off Joe’s lap, frightened, backing toward the living room and safety.
Shocked, Joe looked up into Jimmy’s eyes. Joe couldn’t see clearly, could not recognize hate glaring back at him. “What the hell are you talking about? I never cheated anyone!” he whispered, confused. He looked down at the floor, away from the anger and hate, trying to grasp the change in his guest.
Jimmy, leaning over Joe’s shoulder, whispering in his ear, “You know, just because you can flash a wad of cash, thinking people will gush all over you, kiss your ass, you ain’t no different than the asses I have to kiss just to make decent money.” Standing back, he continued, “Paint more rooms for less frigging money. They show off their wads of cash too. Just like you.” His eyes, reduced to mere slits from anger in a face and neck flushed, his ears bright red. With the palm of his hand, Jimmy slapped Joe in the back of the head.
Joe struggled to turn around, now angry, rising adrenalin surging in whiskey sodden muscles but immediately aware he could not take Jimmy on. Not without some leverage. Holding onto the chair, he turned, standing, faced Jimmy and told him in an even voice, “Get the hell out of my house, you bastard.”
Jimmy, backing away while giving Joe a slight shove. Joe flopped back into the kitchen chair again, the chair back striking the table. Norine surely must have heard the ruckus by now. Where was she? Joe sorely wanted an ally in the kitchen. Jimmy, standing next to the refrigerator, his arms and hands in a boxing stance, danced around the kitchen floor near the refrigerator, taunting Joe, “You’re a pussy. I could deck you before you made a move, you old man.”
“Get out of my house” Joe repeated, but did not make a move to stand.
Before Joe could react, Jimmy darted over, thumb and finger on Joe’s nose, squeezed and twisted, tormenting him further, then danced back. Joe jerked his head back in pain. He struggled upright again, pushing, leaning on the table, moving toward the kitchen door, retreating. “I’ll show you,” he mumbled. He staggered out the kitchen door. Jimmy relaxed, dropped his guard and let him go. He went to the table to pour himself the drink he felt he just earned.
Out on the driveway Joe made his way to the outside cellar steps. That son-of-a-bitch! Joe’s nose felt like it was on fire. He released the latch, lifted the door and nearly pitched head first down, caught himself and half slid down the six steps into the basement, remaining upright. Finding the light switch, Joe rummaged through a box, his hand grasping the S&W 357 Magnum. No, too big, it might jump out of his hand when he shot the Irish Mick. His fingers find the butt of his son’s Walther PPK Pistol. Where’s the clip? He’ll put a bullet into that arrogant bully’s gut. Lifting the clip out, making sure it was full with .32 caliber rounds, he pushed it in, heard the snap and slid the receiver back, letting it slide forward loading a round into the chamber. Careful now! Lower the hammer back safely? No. He wanted to be ready to slip his finger into the guard and squeeze the trigger. Shoot the nasty prick.
If the adrenalin had not steadied his body leaving the kitchen, it surely was the force moving Joe up the six cellar steps into the early morning darkness. Looking up at the stars he wondered what he was doing out here. Tears filled his eyes. He was mortified. He was angry. That scum! Joe did not know him… he did not know Joe. Why, he asked Jesus? Had to get him out of his house. Out of his life. He could think of nothing else.
Jimmy was standing next to the refrigerator holding a glass of whiskey in one hand and a glass of milk in the other when Joe carefully walked back into the kitchen. Clara was not there. Norine was not there. Joe kept facing Jimmy, the Walther at his side, forefinger on the outside of the trigger guard, at the ready. Joe felt weak, fought to steady his legs. His chair, the back still against the table. Joe sat cautiously facing Jimmy, calmer now, wondering, ‘Is this all it comes down to?’
With a steady voice, he said, “Now you bastard, get out of my house.” Laying his hand with the Walther on his right thigh, Joe was waiting for Jimmy to attack again. Self-defense, it was Joe’s right.
Jimmy slowly sipped some whiskey. He started laughing, sneering and said, “Go ahead old man. You ain’t got the balls to shoot me, you pussy.” Snarling, he said, “Shoot!”
Joe did not react. A searing pain in the pit of his stomach with the realization that Jimmy would not leave. He remained seated, calmly raised the Walther, forefinger slipping onto the trigger. He wanted to shoot Jimmy in his ugly face but would settle for a bigger target. He thought a look of fear came into Jimmy’s eyes. Good, now you’ll leave. He began gently squeezing the trigger. Joe’s mind saw Jimmy jerk, bending, his hands grabbing his groin, both glasses smashing at his feet, shards of glass flying as whiskey and milk spread in all directions from where they hit the floor, blood seeping through his fingers… instead, a bullet hole appeared in the kitchen linoleum. The bullet hit the cellar floor below them. Joe could not… Jimmy twitched at the sound, then his eyes, fear gone, narrowed, “I knew you ain’t a man. No balls. I’m here, not the floor,” he said, jerking his hand toward his stomach, whiskey splashing from his glass, soaking into his pants.
Clara, in the bathroom, was afraid to open the door. Nancy wakened, was too frightened to peek out. Scotty was sound asleep. Norine picked up the bedroom phone.
Joe stood, swaying slightly, raised the Walther waist high, pointed at Jimmy’s midsection; again he slowly squeezed the trigger. Jesus, can I do it? Why not? This man is a fiend, evil. He is a devil. In an instant Joe had a vision of that mean white dog that used to chase and bite him when he was a small boy in Tacony. Joe was squirrel hunting in the fields behind his house with his .22 rifle when the dog came out of the woods. The dog stopped in his tracks, saw Joe, saw the rifle. That dog was smart. He turned and began calmly walking away from Joe, tail proudly straight up, cocked over his back, his black anus a perfect target in a coat of white. Joe quickly raised his rifle, took careful aim… he did not miss, Joe did not shoot as the dog disappeared into the woods…At the last nanosecond, and to the right… waist high, a hole in the refrigerator appeared, milk draining out of the carton to the floor of the refrigerator. Joe could not bring himself to shoot Jimmy.
Joe lost. He sank into the kitchen chair, slamming the back against the table. He went limp. He knew he could not shoot anyone, not even a devil like Jimmy. Not even a neighbor’s mean dog. His right hand holding the Walther in his lap, finger no longer on the trigger, his left arm dangling at his side. He was alone, overwhelmed with deep sadness. Joe, Jr., he wondered, where are you, son.
Jimmy walked over to Joe’s side, set whiskey glass and milk glass on the table. He reached down and gently took the Walther from Joe’s lap. Joe, dazed, lost and still trying to fathom what just happened, did not notice Jimmy for Joe was standing in the front door of his shop, smoking, watching the sun beginning to give light to the morning sky over the ocean. Another deep drag on his Pall Mall, exhaling into a warm ocean breeze enjoying this beautiful morning God was providing. Jimmy turned toward the kitchen door to leave, hesitated, retreated, turned and walked past the refrigerator into the living room, stood undecided a moment. Turning, he walked over to the low wall separating the living room and kitchen. Jimmy leaned over the wall, reached across toward Joe slumped in the chair, Walther in his hand, the muzzle close to Joe’s head. He fired one bullet into Joe’s left temple as Joe, waiting for the morning sun to warm his face, dropped the cigarette to the driveway, his world turning black, the bullet lodging in the kitchen wall, Joe’s sprayed blood covering the bullet hole, running down the wall to the floor. Joe remained slumped in his kitchen chair, his life ended.
Jimmy poured whiskey in his glass, waiting for the police.