Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Henchman, an original story/series


“So what’s it gonna be, kid?” The question was a bit heavier now that there was a room of four or five men all breathing heavy, and all starring at him waiting to see what he did. He could feel his heart pulsing through his clenched fists as his jaw grated against itself, grinding his teeth against each other like he was savoring the flavor of something before finally committing and chomping down, or spitting whatever it was out of his mouth. But what was it going to be? He wondered how he got here, to this moment, standing in a dirty basement, overlooking a man he was intending to do harm against. He wondered how it started.

He had always done everything right, or at least that’s what they told him. Grade school, high school, college… he always kept his head down and did what he was told, even if he didn’t necessarily always agree with what was going on or being asked of him. But when you were young, you realized the world was full of men looking to make you their errand boy, and that’s when you decided to become your own man, instead of being everyone else’s boy. There had never been any inclination to violence or aggression; quite the opposite, actually. Every opportunity, if it could be called that, for violence was avoided at all costs, even it meant personal embarrassment or shame. He had grown up his whole life with people telling him the world was his, all he had to do was reach out and grab what he wanted. It didn’t take him long to realize that whatever was left to grab was snatched away in a hurry as soon as the economy started to collapse in the late 2000’s. Suddenly, career paths and choices that were deemed acceptable and worthy were no longer available, not to him, anyways. He was part of that damned group of men between the ages of eighteen and twenty nine that was not currently employed, and did not possess enough “on the job experience” to land anything of significance. After spending a couple weeks at a dead end, shithole tele-marketing gig, he was fired for not displaying enough “sales experience” which was their way of saying that he sucked at it and they were better off having someone else read those lines and try to pry thousands of dollars away from the elderly for “walk in bathtubs that cure ailments like diabetes” and blah blah blah. It was a joke, and he couldn’t be happier to be away from it, but even still, he needed money. Student loans that seemed manageable and worthwhile years ago were now becoming aggressively large and ever-looming, like you’d pay off forty dollars only to see that thirty nine of it was interest, and one of the actual dollars counts towards the money you took out to put yourself through school. That’s not to say that he regretted going to school, or that he didn’t learn a lot; he learned plenty about the way the world works, and the cost of efficiency. Economics taught him the value of logistics, synergy, and effective communication in order to get the most work done with the least amount of effort to attain the greatest possible profit. Because, at the end of the day, this was a capitalist society he lived in and there were no points awarded for being an idealist. When you’re rich and you can afford to push your ideas on others, well, that’s a different case, and certainly a scenario that wouldn’t concern him for quite some time. He was a young man living in an old man’s world, playing their games by their rules, which meant if they said it was time to roll up his hands and get dirty, that’s just what he had to do. Over time, this meant building habits that others might deem less than classy, such as acquiring tattoos and ending each working shift with a double of whiskey. But these were things he had to do, he justified, in order to survive in this harsh, cruel world he found himself in. He had been taught, raised, to be a man for others, and a servant for good, but no one taught him how to ask for what he wanted, let alone reach out and grab for it. So here he was, sitting at home, living with his parents, sister, brother, brother’s fiancé, their little yippy dog that demanded attention 24/7, and of course, token visits by the ailing, cancer ridden grandmother of ninety two who refuses to let go of her grasp on life, or at least this one. She’s told other family members that “she’s ready to go” but day in, day out she still seems to be fighting to stick around, not that she has any interest in her children, or grandchildren, but because that’s the Catholic/Christian thing to do.

So here he was, fresh off driving his mother to the store to get groceries when he stumbled over this auspicious email from a career-networking site he had recently signed up for in order to appease the fine print of receiving unemployment benefits. He was so sick of the way the bank tellers looked at him, eyeing over his government issued check, and his account balance which was lucky to be in the double digits. Every disapproving glance was felt and recorded, but after so long, the feeling of desperation overruled everything else. He needed money, and there was simply no way to get it. After discovering he made more collecting unemployment then he did working at a bar for twenty hours a week, the decision seemed like a no brainer: save money on gas, save pieces of your ever-fading sanity, and get more money as well as more time to do stuff you want to do. But even then, he felt compelled to work. He wanted to work. He wanted to make his parents proud and show the world he could put his economics degree to work, but a way to do that wasn’t visible to him, so he would crawl the web in search of purpose, in search of something to fulfill his otherwise empty and increasingly meaningless life. And that’s when he stumbled over an email addressed to him.


He had always known there were two sides to him: one good, one bad. The good side wanted to help other people, be there for them the way he would want someone strong to be there for him when he needed them, and treat people with respect and kindness at all times. But then there was the bad side who didn’t give a fuck about other people’s concerns or needs because they didn’t care about his. There was the side that said watch out for yourself and no one else, because at the end of the day, that’s the only person that was going to be there for you. There was the side that was cold, distant, and animalistic in nature. The good side had always been nourished and celebrated whenever possible; the bad side was avoided and treated like a temper tantrum-prone child: sit it in a corner, don’t feed it anything it can throw back it you, and otherwise ignore it, and you SHOULD be fine. Only, the good side didn’t know how to deal with people’s meanness and utter disregard for his own well-being; he began to realize when people asked how his day was, it was merely a greeting, and no one really wanted to hear that he was upset because he was unemployed and having to move away from everyone he knew and loved. Only now was he realizing that people just wanted him to reply that everything was okay, nod his head, and move on with the rest of his day, so they could move on with the rest of their day. He understood that now. But he did not, and could not, understand why it was so tough to be selfish all of a sudden. Did he not want to live? Was there no fire left in him? He asked himself constantly of his own personal motivations, and time and time again he told himself his actions were a product of survival. You’re all alone in enemy territory, crawling around on your belly in the mud trying to avoid the “bad guys”, so, yeah, you’re going to get a little fucking mud on you. It’s going to be unpleasant. When you get to civility, people are going to think you smell like shit and are some aborigine or local, native tribesman that got lost from his tiny village. But, you fight your way back to home, and you do what you have to do to survive. If you want meat, you don’t t make friends with the wildlife; you hunt and trap it, so you can kill it and eat from its body so you can gain the necessary proteins and nutrients in order to sustain your life. Living in a civilized world, he had never had the need to kill his own food: all meals were either already prepared, or cuts of meat from a butcher or store. Never once did he look into an animal’s eyes while the life drained out of them, and he had always hoped he never had to. Violence wasn’t in his nature; even if he let other people think it might be through his demeanor.  The email had been very clear though: he was to be a bouncer at a local dive bar, and would work directly for a local business owner that had recently bought the place after it went belly up due to poor managing and some health-code violations. There was always the possibility that things might get out of hand and he might actually have to lay hands on someone, but that didn’t mean he had to look forward to it or enjoy it. There was plenty of time to think about it on the long drive to Tucson, Arizona from his native home in an area in northern California.

His first day had been an absolute wreck. After showing up to work in the required black collared t-shirt and jeans, he was immediately grilled about his appearance being told he looked too soft and a bit stoned. Anxiety had stricken him since he had been in the sixth grade or about twelve years old but despite fighting certain addictions and ailments, he was drug free and just tired after a long drive and a shitty night’s sleep. Nevertheless, he fought his way through a panic attack, allowing his bad side to take over as his good side faded to the back of his mind. The bar hadn’t done much in the way of promoting its reopening so the opening night wasn’t as busy as anyone had hoped. There were unfamiliar faces, though, everywhere, eyeing him, eyeing his disposition, and then more often than not, eyes darted away back to a companion’s face, or for some of the more timid, to their feet or at the ground. It was nerve-wracking to be in this line of work after never doing any type of security or bouncing work before, but at six foot, one plus inches, and two hundred and fifteen pounds, he certainly could look the part.

As he sat there and listened to a new co-worker talking about the texture on the back of fake California IDs as opposed to the smoothness of a fake Texas ID, he found his mind wandering to other places. The rest of the night went by in a blur. He yelled at people for putting their drinks on pool tables, he escorted a couple drunk floozies that had clearly had too much to drink and required a helping hand before they vomited all over the lavatories or hell, right on the bar. He had even gotten yelled at by a customer for standing around “rudely” and extending his hand while the customer eased his way through the last one third of his beer. But no one required any kind of handling or touching of the rough kind. Nope, all tonight consisted of was moving glassware around, washing it, moving tables and chairs, picking up dirty napkins from the ground or tables, and now he was finishing the night by mopping the ground and hand cleaning the tables and chairs. The bar owner was in his own private office where the booze was held, counting the money from the night’s earnings as the dim glow from a laptop lit up his face and money in front of him. He made no mention or indication that I was there as I mopped the ground directly outside his office, pushing the hand mop side to side on the somewhat rough ground. And I thought to myself, is this what its like? Is this mediocrity what its like to ‘fall’? I had so much, they told me. My own brother told me he was disappointed in what I had become, that even he had thought I would do so much more. Then, to waste that talent, to do, this? Is this what its like to become evil? Doing menial/trivial tasks just to survive? Clearly, I have no love or talent for cleaning. I do a decent job, and certainly earn my pay but, is this what I really have aspired to be in life, a thug pushing a mop around a dirty small town bar? The thought made my sensitive stomach twinge, and all of a sudden I had to go the bathroom. I placed the mop against the corner of the wall and made my way to the bathroom.

And for the next ten minutes, I was alone with the smell of warm alcohol and throw-up all around me. I checked my phone repeatedly, but no one had texted or called. I couldn’t afford a smart phone, so there was no way I could check my facebook status or any of the playoff games currently going on. I just sat there, as my weak stomach cleansed itself and I starred at my empty inbox. Nothing had ever gone the way I wanted to. Nothing. I just went along with it anyways, figuring, at some point, I would be the one that got his way for once. That after all this failure, and defeat, and embarrassment, and shame, that I would somehow get the last laugh. It was silly, it was fantasy, it was fiction. There was no last laugh; there was just me working an underpaying job with shitty hours and constant dissatisfaction from those that worked above me. It seemed like there was no where lower to go.

The door swung up.

“Hey, new guy. Get your ass out here, and quick. The boss wants to see us.”

I slipped my phone in my back pocket, finished up my business on the toilet, and proceed to walk out the bathroom after thoroughly washing my hands. As soon as I pushed the door open, I could already hear some commotion.

“Goddammit! That mother fucking, slimey, limped dick no good piece of SHIT! Five hundred dollars! He walked out on a five hundred dollar tab, and you guys just let him walk RIGHT out the front door!”

He slammed a rubber doorstop against the floor. One of the more veteran bouncers stepped forward.

“Lance Magdus right? Yeah, we’ll get the drop on ‘ol Fagdus, eh, Charles, New Guy?”

Now he was looking at me, and behind his thick goatee and rough face, I could tell he wasn’t messing around. Now I decided to say something,

“Five hundred dollars is serious money. Any kind of finder’s fee?”

The owner stepped up to me, pressing his index finger into my sternum, even though he was smaller than me, as he spoke.

“Yeah, tough guy, there’s a finder’s fee. You get me my money, I’ll get you yours.”

I had barely enough as it was out here, and gas prices were just absolutely killing me, so I had no choice I thought.

“Fine, yeah, whatever. Sign me up. He’s not too far away, right? I can drive.”

The New Guy, Charles, and the guy giving the two of them orders all piled into the new guy’s four door 2003 Honda accord and started off in the direction of Lance Magdus.