Jimmy knew the answer but asked anyway.
“You going to your mother’s today?”
Gloria, still in her bathrobe, was pouring her first morning coffee at midafternoon.
“You know it, celebrating the anniversary of the step dad’s passing.”
“Observing.” Jimmy says, testing her grasp of semantics.
“Nope, celebrating. He was a real piece of work.” She bundles her robe up, acting like after a couple of years of marriage she’s still not sure.
“If Marion could, she’d parade his head around the living room on a stick. But she can’t, old Roger being as dead as the dog that bit him.”
A brief moment of sorrow crosses her face. “God, I miss that dog.”
“Anyway, very classy, her and her friends pissing over every guy they can think of. Doesn’t end till they vote the ceremonial beatin’ stick, ‘Mister Neuter’, to the one most needin’ to brain some guy with it.”
“Great, sounds great. Where do you fit in?” Wishing she doesn’t.
“I’m there so they can warn somebody. ‘Honey, this and honey that.’”
“Ever gotten any words of advice?” Hoping she didn’t.
“Yeah, sure, marry for money cause you can always find love somewhere else.”
“That’s beautiful. Guess you found out too late.” Jimmy leaves her in the kitchen to stew, as if the joke’s on her.
“We’ll see, Jimmy, we’ll see.” Gina says, not sure she ever will.
Jimmy jostled his sports coat on to his shoulders. He didn’t get out much, thirty years old and wearing the same ‘special occasion suit’ for the last ten of them. On setting middle age had begun to peel off some of Jimmy’s sheen – his hair retreating while his waist charged forward; a body turning into repose.
Gina and Jimmy had been together since they ran track together in high school. Jimmy may have been the fastest guy on the boys team but he wasn’t the fastest at school, she was. She still had a runner’s body but it was fading from win to place to showing age before beauty. But she could still sway and make his heart run when she wanted to. When she wanted to.
“Okay, I’m off again to find our fortune. You tell your mom that.”
“Uh, no. The less I bring you up the better.” She gives a quick hug. “Tell my idiot cousin hello.”
Jimmy goes out to the car his Mom had left him when she passed, a little sentimental thing. Free, though, doesn’t come without cost. The car’s touted savings on gas came at the expense of both style and function.
Named with misdirection as the ‘Spartan’ it seats none comfortably and had less stability than a dime kite in a windstorm. Its undersized engine, based on something called ‘blender’ technology, had trouble picking up speed even going downhill. And with its tiny three-gallon ‘fuel miser’ tank it still couldn’t go too far without having to gas up.
He drove south from Staten Island, aka ‘the other white meat’ to anyone who wasn’t from there, and headed to the Atlantic City Convention Center. He was going to meet up with Gloria’s cousin, he of ‘Romeo’s Snake and Drain’ at the Plumbers Expo, the annual excuse for the trade to get shit faced.
Jimmy had a fledging website building business and had set up a page for Romeo’s company. In return he had bartered a corner space at Romeo’s booth to drum up some clients. Jimmy had to get this thing going before his unemployment ran out and Gina drove him back to some day job.
The two hour trip took five hours of stop and go traffic in between visits to the ‘Stop and Go’ filling stations. When he arrived at the convention hall his cell phone had drained from a lack of a power port in the Spartan so he ventured up to the exhibit floor to see if Romero was there setting up.
For openers it was closed. Sort of closed anyway as he found out when he peeked through the convention floors shuttered doors. Shadowy figures were running a supermarket sweeps through the aisles; grabbing items off racks and throwing them in their bags or pockets.
Jimmy squeezed his face further into the opening.
‘Yo, you keep staring in there like that you can go blind.” Someone behind him said.
Jimmy turned around to face a shadow of a man, his figure obscured by the harsh sunlight streaming behind him from the halls giant windows. Neither mad nor friendly he didn’t sound too inclined to let Jimmy look through the closed doors.
“No for real, you could get blinded if someone see’s you looking in there right now.” The guard labeled ‘Ed’ finished it off with a short nod.
‘Funny you should say that,” Jimmy says, as he stands upright, “because I couldn’t see anything in there. But if I could’ve I would’ve been looking for a friend of mine working at the show.”
‘Shows closed, those guys in there jus’ union reps cleaning up.” and Ed drops down another short nod. ‘Look bro, I don’t look in there either, not my thing. Don’t know don’t tell. Doors opening up again at 10 in the morning but you gotta be badged to get in here.”
Ed raises his arm and wiggles his finger towards a hallway. “Now, we’re closed. Over there’s the elevator.”
Jimmy takes the hint and the elevator to the main floor and heads over to the adjacent hotel, ‘The Roundabout’, to check in. The line, ugly in both its length and occupants, inches its way to the front desk where Jimmy is told his room isn’t ready because Romeo hadn’t booked it.
Jimmy goes over to charge his cell phone at a nearby outlet sharing the plug with a vacuum cleaner dancing nearby.
He calls Romeo and gets his answering machine.
“Blah, Blah, Blah. Just leave a freaking message.”
“Romeo, it’s Jimmy. I’m at the main lobby waiting to get a room and there’s nothing reserved. Call me.”
Jimmy put down the phone and lets it charge up. After about a half hour it’s Romero on the line. He tells Jimmy he’ll meet him by the front desk in another twenty minutes. An hour later he showed up.
“Jim, Jim a de, how was the trip?” Romeo calls out in his usual dopey self. He’s wearing his ‘dress blues’ – blue sweat suit top and bottom, some sort of lucky charms around his ample neck rocking a pair subway sucker sneakers.
“Fine. How about this room thing, Romeo?”
“I got one for you but it ain’t gonna be ready till tomorrow. It was way cheaper but just maybe an upgrade, maybe.”
“I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“Hey, if that’s the way you feel you can spend the night with me.”
“That’s not exactly what we talked about.”
“Yeah, well I’m not too happy with it either.” Romeo replied.
“Look, I’m going to go to the desk and line up a room and put it on your bill.” Jimmy says.
“Good luck with that, I don’t have a room either.”
Jimmy looks at him like he’s the crazy cousin he is.
“C’mon, I can’t believe –“
“Jimmy, I’m just messin’ with you. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a room later. But listen, right now I have a real good client, his name’s Lumpy and it’s his birthday. I wanna take him out to this club he’ll like.”
“Okay, enjoy. I think I’ll wait for the room.”
“It’s real important and it’ll really be great to have you come along. He’s kinda shy and I need a little back up.”
“I think he needs a web site.”
“Okay, but just a drink and then back to the hotel.”
“You got it cuz. By the way how’s Gloria?”
“She sends her warmest regards.”
“I bet.” He would have lost.
“Listen, Jimmy,” Romeo tells Jimmy as they wait outside for the valet, “don’t let on that we know it’s his birthday. I want to surprise him.”
The car rolls up just as Carl ‘Lumpy’ Coleman waddles out of the hotel, his enormous right and left flanks, having long ago surrendered to gravity, collapse over his belt.
“Hey Romeo, what’s what?” Lumpy shouts out.
“Another day, another play big man. And this is Jimmy, remember I told you about him.
“Sure, sure. How’s ya doing?” Lumpy’s face obscures all outdoors as he leans over to grab his hand.
“Good, good.” Jimmy says.
Lumpy oozed into the front seat like a mudslide, flowing over parts of the dashboard and center console. Jimmy gets in what’s left of the backseat.
“Jesus, Romeo, is this car smaller than the last one you had?” Lumpy asks.
“Nope same one. Didn’t you recognize the groan when you sat down?”
They drove the streets by the boardwalk for a mile or so, Romeo calling out street names before they got to them. He pulled through a hole in the wall, literally, and up to some hideous cinder block building in the back lot.
It was the ‘Peekin Lounge. A Place with Beautiful Women and Some For the Ugly In All of Us.’
A strip joint.
The three of them found seats at the bar while they waited for ‘Preferred Seating’, which was obtained by either waiting or gifting. When the drink order came Romeo excused himself and walked off down a hallway leaving Jimmy and Lumpy.
Jimmy turned to Lumpy and raised his glass.
“Happy birthday.’ And took a sip.
“Not my birthday, it’s your birthday.’ Lumpy responded matter of factly and drank down his beer.
‘Who told you that?’ Jimmy asked.
‘Probably the same guy who told you it was mine. I haven’t been to a place like this in awhile but Romeo said you wanted to come to celebrate.’
‘Sorry about that.’ Jimmy told him.
‘Well, I’m okay with it.”
Romeo came back and stands between them draping his arms over their shoulders.
“Listen birthday boys, I have some presents lined up in the back. Twenty gets you five but the bigger the bill the lower they peck. Any takers?”
Jimmy looked over to Lumpy who was slowly rotating out of his seat.
“Well, Romeo I’m in but only because it’s Jimmy’s birthday.” Lumpy says.
“Actually, as I mentioned, it’s not my birthday.”
“Then come along for my birthday.”
“It’s not yours either.” Jimmy tells him.
“Well, it’s somebody’s.” Lumpy assures him.
“Listen,” Romeo says to Jimmy, “ if you change your mind go through the curtains in the back. When you see a fat guy standing there ask for Farmer John. If it’s the right guy he’ll say ‘prime or rump’ and you’ll say ‘rump’. Don’t say prime because you don’t have that kind of budget. He’ll take you somewhere and you’ll find us there someplace.”
“That’s easy enough, I suppose.” Jimmy half heartily responded and watched as Lumpy lumbered behind Romeo and past the runway through the curtains.
No way Jimmy was following him, he was a certified diminished capacity defense waiting its next turn. Romeo had been responsible for an assortment of broken marriages, bad gambling debts, the loss of someone’s finger and an escaped ostrich. To him the designated driver was the one who drank the least.
Jimmy nursed two eight-dollar rumless rum and cokes and began to get nervous. He hadn’t brought a lot of cash and he needed the money if he had to take a cab back. Still, he wasn’t about to charge anything to a credit card since there was little chance Gina would think the ’Peekin Lounge’ was a business expense. What little change he was getting back was in singles, some stickier that the next.
When they finally reappeared Lumpy was soaked through and through and leaning on Romeo who had a grin nearly as wide as his open zipper.
“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jim, you missed a great time.” Romeo said as Lumpy wheezed besides him. “Lumpy had a birthday he’ll never forget, that’s if he can ever remember it.”
Romeo turned to Lumpy as he shuffled a few feet away. He slumped in a chair near the end of the stage’s runway, exhausted from whatever or whomever he had happened upon.
“Lumpy, you alright bro?” Romeo asked him.
“Yeah, parts of me anyway. I need to sit a few.” He stammered as his head fell to half-mast.
“Romeo,” Jimmy said, “ I got to go back to the hotel and get my stuff together for tomorrow.”
“Right, you are right, but let’s give Lumpy a couple of minutes. You got any money left?”
“Yeah, a few ones but…”
“Perfect, so do I. Let’s sit next to Lumpy, get rid of these bills and then BAM, we’re out.”
Romeo and Jimmy grabbed seats next to Lumpy as the next girl began to walk the walk.
Starting a couple of guys down, the newest entrant was Wholly, with a silent ‘W’ when she wanted to. If she didn’t mind knowing you she told you to sound it ‘Holly’ but if she didn’t it was ‘Wooly’.
She began to whack her abundant breasts across the patron’s faces as she strut down the line, each encounter sounding like a huge wet fish flopping on a slippery deck. The better part of Jimmy knew he had better keep his eyes shut when she came for him or he’d be out a pair of contact lens.
Smash, Slam, Splat, Boink, and then she stood before Lumpy. She practically gagged him and he careened back and forth from the blows, balls of sweat showering the crowd. Jimmy peered over as she reached Romeo sitting besides him. Romeo let out a hoot and then two fleshly whacks followed as she plowed her wares.
Jimmy squeezed his eyes closed as she came before him. She took a moment to size him up and then lightly swept her hair across his face.
“What’s the matter, I won’t hurt you.” She sweetly said.
Jimmy, disarmed, curious and against his previous judgment, opened his eyes just as Wholly teed off across his face. Her breasts pried his contact lens out and off it sailed. He could hear the others clapping and toasting him but in his myopic state he couldn’t even tell which way he was facing.
He turned in Romeo’s direction. “I just lost my contact. I can barely see without it. Could you…”
Romeo just shrugs.
Utterly blinded, Jimmy begins to reach out for his lens, first on his head, then along the counter and finally groping Wholly’s still looming breasts. The next thing he felt was the flatter extremity of her hand across his face.
A shrill whistle blew and Romeo, as if by instinct, jumps up to greet the bouncers as they begin to pour down the aisle like the incoming tide. Jimmy sat stunned and blurry eyed as Romeo lands a blow on the first security guard who approached them. Lumpy, simply by falling out of his stool, knocked the next two guys down.
Like a lit match to a stick of dynamite the place blew up with bottles and bodies flying everywhere. Tables and chairs tumbled over taking whatever laid on them over, drinks, ashtrays, and people. It was the kind of thing that makes for a great time until someone gets a stick in the eye.
Jimmy felt himself being pulled up and dragged along the stage. As he twisted along his body began to pick up little somethings that had stuck to the runway over the years – gum, alcohol, cigarettes, loose change, hair, feathers, bodily fluids, ad nauseum. Yanked and jerked by someone he couldn’t see he ended up backstage and then thrown down a short flight of stairs before unraveling on the floor like a beaten rug.
His worldview was blurry on so many levels as he stared up into the lights at a face whose features he couldn’t make out. He reached up to grab a hold and once again felt the cold hand of a slap across the face.
“Didn’t you learn not to touch?” Wholly demands and knocked him flat.
“Hey, stop that, stop that. I don’t mean… sorry. Jesus, fuck.”
She sits on top of him while he squirms underneath.
“What are you doing”? He asked.
“I need you here so I don’t lose my job.”
“What job, what do you mean?”
“When my boss asks what started this whole thing I need to have you here and tell him you grabbed me.”
“I didn’t grab you…I, I, don’t even know who you are. I can’t really see anything.”
“Oh, oh, going braille on me. That’s a good one. How many fingers am I holding up?” she holds up her middle finger.
“Oh, that’s right you can’t see. Here, let me help you touch them.” And she raised up her hand as if to slap him again across the face.
“I dunno, maybe four, five, six.” Jimmy said as he squints and flinches.
“You drunk?” she asked him.
“No, no. I didn’t really drink. When you came over and rubbed across my face my contact flew out. I should’ve maybe thought about it but I was just trying to find ‘em when I touched you. I can’t really see too well.’”
“Yeah, yeah. I didn’t even want to come here. I’m sorry but I got confused.”
“So you don’t like girls?”
“I like them, I married one.”
Wholly bends down to Jimmy’s face. “Do you see it now?”
Jimmy narrowed his eyes and scanned her naked chest.
“No, I can’t see it anywhere. I think it’s gone.” He tells her dejected.
Off to the side, Ronnie, a hurly burly guy sweating like a field mule, bowls in the room liked he owned it. Which he did. He was anxious and past patience.
“Wholly, what the fuck’s going on?” he shouts at her.
“Some guy grabbed me out there. I smacked him good and it went bad.” She tells him while mimicking a swing.
“Yeah, well why’s this guy here? This the guy.” Both a question and a statement.
His spit sprays Jimmy’s face as he screams. “Asshole, you just cost me a shit load of money and maybe, just maybe my license.”
“No, no.” came the response.
Jimmy didn’t remember saying those words because he didn’t, although he might have given more time to think.
It was Wholly who says it.
“No, it wasn’t him. He musta’ been getting beat up out there, I mean look at him; he probably stumbled or rolled here. I was just walking past him when I tripped.”
She turned to Jimmy as if she didn’t know him. “Hey, hey you okay?” She wagged her finger in front of him but he couldn’t focus on anything.
Turning to Ronnie “This guy is pathetic. And probably has a dick the size of your pinky. I’m guessing his hands never left his pants.”
Back to Jimmy. “Isn’t that right, the size of Ronnie’s pinky?”
“No, no,” this time it was Jimmy speaking, “I mean yes, that size.”
“Hands in the pants?”
“In the pants, the pants.” He surrendered.
“Do you guys have any idea who it was cause I’d really like to hit him.” Ronnie tells them.
“Hey, I think I do know.” Wholly bites her lip and stares at the ceiling.
“Wait, let me think.” She puzzles for a moment longer. Ronnie’s raring’ to go but he’s stuck in park while he waits to hear what she has to say.
“I think…it was… one of those horny drunks in the bar.” She smiles and nods at him. “Yep.”
“Thank you Wholly, thank you. You’re the fuckin’ best.” He runs his hand along a well-traveled crevice on his baldhead. “Listen, I’ll be back. Wait for me.”
“Probably not.” Wholly tells him.
“Just wait. I’m going to come back and talk to you.” Ronnie’s squirming like he’s gonna pee his pants.
“Probably not,” she tells him again but then dangles out, “but there’s always a chance.”
“Jesus fuckin christ.” he utters, simultaneously cursing and imploring.
“I hope you find the guy who did it.” Jimmy shouts as Ronnie exits out the door towards the sounds of glass breaking.
“Maybe he should check the tape, if he has any.” Jimmy says to Wholly.
She cranks a look at Jimmy. “Did you just forget or are you an idiot?”
“”Uh, why would you say that?” Jimmy asks, a bit offended.
“Idiot, right, you’re an idiot?” She declares, “Because-you-did-it. Id-i-ot.”
Jimmy has a moment of reflection. “Yeah, yeah, I think you’re right, I may have.”
Jimmy was beginning to come back to every sense but sight.
“I, uh, I gotta say, I just got caught up in it. You – you had me believing it was someone else. Very convincing, you’re very convincing.” He shakes his head and takes a measured breath.
“Practice.” She tells him.
Wholly begins to gather herself and Jimmy does the same.
Ronnie comes back through and yells over his shoulder at them as he strides through.
“Good, you two just keep staying till’ I get back. I’ll be back in a minute. Stay here.” And he passes through the room like a dose of bad gas.
Jimmy and Wholly look at each other although only one of them can see the other.
“Okay, let’s go.” Wholly remarks to Jimmy as she heads toward the back door.
Jimmy falls in line behind her. He doesn’t know what or where but he knows he can’t stay there. They come out to the rear parking lot where a few taxis are idling as the sound of sirens closes in out front.
Wholly walks over to a cab and starts to get in.
“You should leave.” She shouts out to Jimmy a few feet away.
“I’d like to, yes. Do you know how far to the Roundabout Hotel?“
“Don’t you have a ride?”
“I’m not looking for Romeo, the guy who brought me. No.”
“Take a cab. Just go.”
“Um, I will, I will.” He tells her.
“Thanks, really. Sorry for all of this. I’m Jimmy.” He waves as he walks to a cab.
‘Okay, Jimmy. You can call me Holly.” She says back.
He waits for her to drive off and then reaches into his pocket and pulls out four soiled dollars gumming each other. He asks a cabby to drive him as close to the hotel as the money will take him and then he’ll walk.
Jimmy, that much worn for the wear, finally gets to the lobby of the Roundabout and melts in with the collection of schnooks, crooks and hooks all mingling about like a meat sauce gone bad. He bumps his way through the casino floor towards the hotel’s parking structure in the rear.
He counted the five flights up to his car. When it came to parking he choose to ‘take the fifth’. Acres of parking there because people had already wedged their cars into the floors below like it was some sort of contest. More importantly, you always remembered where you parked.
Jimmy got to the Spartan, fished out his keys, flopped out on the seat and passed out.
He woke up too few hours later to the sound of tires skidding, shoes clicking and the car window rapping.
“Hey sir, you can’t be here.” A looming voice said.
Then, after a moment ““Hey, remember me because I do you. What’s the odds of this?”
Jimmy looked up from a very uncomfortable fetal position at a security guard. Focus…focus…Ed.
“I guess about 100 percent. I’m good, I’m good. I know you, yes.” Jimmy recognized the voice and shape of the looming shadow from the convention floor the day before.
“You look a little glazed, you alright?” Ed asks.
Jimmy unfolded himself like an accordion, looking every bit like a guy who had been dragged through a bar fight and then slept it off in a car the size of an end table.
“Yeah, let me get my spares contacts out.” He opened his glove compartment and found them tucked behind some rubber bands and straws. He spit on his fingers and popped his old contacts in, his vision raising from near failure to somewhere around 80% and then leveling off. That’s why they were spares.
“Find your friend?”
“Yes, I did, thanks.” No need for details.
“Look, you’re not supposed to sleep in cars but seein’ how you’re up here on the fifth floor take your time, ain’t no one around. Don’t need to know, don’t need to tell.”
Ed gave him a long look.
“You can get your badge on C level. First, though, you might take advantage of the convention halls men’s room where the facilities’ are industrial strength.” Ed said with a nod. “Take the freight elevator to the bottom and then the stairs down a flight.”
He climbed back on to his company issued golf cart and rolled down the ramp, his arm extended and finger wagging as he passed the elevator.
Jimmy gathered his day’s supplies and took Ed’s advice. When he opened the door from the stairwell it looked like a boiler room, pipes going up, down and around – steam dripping from the ceiling and rising from the ground. A dim yellow light squeezed the word “MEN” through the haze.
It was bared boned, cold and the weak light bulbs barely dent the darkness. In the abyss he could see the outline of a shower stall, some hotel towels and boxes and boxes of travel size toiletries. There was some guy there using one of the stalls like a porcelain pillow but he made no never mind.
Jimmy put his stuff down where he could watch them and took a quick shower. He dried off with a souvenir towel and picked through some still wrapped travel sized comb, toothbrush and paste from a box beneath the sink. Add a dab of sample hair gel and a spritz of deodorant and he headed up to the pick up his pass.
Once again his cell phone was out of charge so he waited outside the still closed badge kiosk sharing a plug with some kid playing video games on his phone.
He listened to his voice mail. It got ugly fast.
First message. Romeo pissed.
“D Bag, where are you. I got only some many calls here and you had better come down and get me out. I’m …”
Jimmy heard a voice bark at Romeo in the background.
“Hey, hey, shithead I said no cell phones. Give me that.”
“Call me.” Romeo got in just before the click.
Second message. Gina pissed.
“What’s the matter with you? What were you thinking?”
A husky voice in the background interrupted Gina’s message. He recognized her mother’s bellowing.
“Come on Gina, let’s have another roast – I mean toast – to the SOB’s. It’s your turn to pick one.”
“Call me.” Gina said flatly just before the click.
Oh, Jimmy thought, fuck me. He called her back but got the machine.
“Gina,” he said. “I’m not sure what you’re thinking but I’m okay. Sorry, my phone was out of charge so you can call me anytime.”
Jimmy walked over and got his badge and went into the convention hall. He noticed a group of exhibitors huddled around security guards who were filling in their notebooks.
“Listen,” one guy was saying, “I know how much merchandise I left on display before I left.” He pulled up his cellphone. “Here’s the picture I took before I left. Hey you notice a lot of that’s not hanging up here now. You tell me where it went.”
“I couldn’t say.” A senior guard was telling him. “I’ll take a report and hand it to the office. And like I’m telling everyone who asks, we don’t have any cameras taping because the union contract prohibits management from supervising their work using surveillance.”
“Come on, the place is supposed to be locked and guarded after hours. Who the hell could get in except someone who works here?”
“That’s a great question, I couldn’t imagine.” The guard looks away as he answered.
Jimmy heads down the aisles of plungers, rotors, pumps and faux bath, shower and kitchen set-ups. Romeo’s booth was located at the prime intersection of the showroom floor, where ‘Main’ met ‘Drain’, a result no doubt of a greasy palm.
Romeo was frantically going through boxes looking for replacements for the stuff that had gone missing from the night while he ranted to anyone who could hear. He didn’t sound happy and he didn’t look so good either.
“Jesus, you know it’s bad when you can’t trust other plumbers with your shit. I’m pretty sure some of you jerks ripped me off.” He turned his beady, bloodshot eyes up towards the crowd and caught Jimmy coming through.
“I called my Mom to get bail.” Romeo tells him coldly.
“Bail?“ Jimmy thinking it wasn’t necessary to ask why he was in jail because he probably deserved it.
“Yeah, bail. I couldn’t find you. Anyway, I called your mother in laws house. My mom was supposed to join some other gabbers to talk about something or someone. She doesn’t want a cell phone so I had to call Aunt Marion’s’ place.”
“Anyway, she wasn’t there yet.”
“Yeah, that’s too bad.” Jimmy didn’t care.
“No, no don’t worry”. Romeo says, adding. “I left a message with Gina for my mom.”
“Gina.” Jimmy paused, rolled his eyes and rocked on his feet. “What did you tell her?
“You know, the truth.” Romeo says “That we all agreed to go to a strip club and the last time I saw you, you were being dragged down the stage by some stripper during a brawl and I didn’t know where you were.”
“That’s what you told Gina?”
“But not to worry ‘cause I don’t think I told her you were the one who started the fight by copping a feel.” Romeo says. “You owe me for that.”
Jimmy was suddenly feeling like a cow staring at the end of a jackhammer on the killing floor. That feeling of not knowing yet knowing.
He figured though, that after hearing that little rat tale Romeo had told Gina she was beginning to boil. If she had gone and told the battle-axe then she and the rest of the war party would be stroking the flames. And then, Jimmy knew, he’d be the one cooked.
“Anyway,” Romeo continues, “if it makes you feel better I don’t think Gina told my mom I needed help because I never heard from her. I know my mom, if she knew of course she would.
“And let me also add that it was Lumpy who bailed me out while he was on his way back from urgent care. That’s right, urgent care. Where were you?”
Jimmy just walked away towards his end of the booth and set up his things. A computer screen looping some of his work, business cards, a collection of spec stuff he had made up, an order pad and a bowl of free mints.
The place was beginning to liven up as those in attendance began to spill out along the aisles. After the previous nights crime spree the first jolting sips of coffee had been replaced with the bitter aftertaste of mistrust. Guys were looking at each other up and down and cross-eyed to see if their stuff was hanging on someone else’s racks.
“Hey, what are you looking at?” Romeo demanded of some guy staring at his booth as if it was some sort of crime.
“What’s it to you?” the guy shoots back. “I’ll look where I want to look.”
“Get the fuck outta here.” Romeo yells back, chasing off his first perspective customer.
The actual show itself didn’t officially start until the traditional march of “The Plunger Queen” who paraded around the show floor trailed by a collection of snappers and leeches.
The guys there may not recall what they ate, drank or stayed by this time next year but they remembered the queen. Some might think in these changing times a spectacle such as this would be frowned upon. But you would be wrong; at least not until ‘hell froze over on my watch’ according to the outgoing committee chairman.
The Queen was adorned in the Expo’s official colors of light greens and brown, a surprisingly good compliment to her sparsely wrapped body. The hubbub began at the far entrance of the hall where the ‘queen circled the drain’ as they termed her grand entrance. As she snaked through the aisle ways canned music assaulted the crowd and gold painted plungers, held high and tight by giddy attendees, cleared a pathway.
Jimmy stopped what he was doing, which was practically nothing; to glance as the procession came closer. The trailing crowd was in fever pitch as it followed the Queen to the intersection.
The procession stopped and the Grand Marshall, the aforementioned committee chairman, shushed the crowd. He began reading his welcoming remarks as they stood across the aisle from Jimmy.
“My fellow men, and yes I suppose women, and by way don’t get your panties in a bunch girls about all of this. It’s my pleasure to introduce…”
He looked up toward the Queen but she was gone, sauntering on down to Jimmy’s little edge of existence. And with her the rapt attention of her legion of followers.
As she came toward Jimmy she looked him over. He squinted back. She recognized him but he not her.
The Queen turned on her microphone as she continued gliding head on to him. When she got there she reached her arms around his neck and shoulders.
“Jimmy, Jimmy” she said with a small squeal and pulled herself closer.
As her hair brushed across his face Jimmy’s little brain began to flash back and then the big one figured it out. Holly.
“Jimmy, I’ll always remember last night.” She purrs, half yearning, half moaning and all seduction. Her voice echoed through the convention halls speakers; their image splashed on the big screens. She leaned in.
And then she kissed him like in the movies.
“Always, Jimmy, always.” She breathlessly whispered for the world to hear as she slowly pulled away. “I have to go now. Bye, bye.”
And then she gives him a quick wink, a wide smile and blows him a delicious kiss.
She waved and regally walked back to the coronation as her many minions stopped taking cell phone pictures and videos and stood gapping at the royal intrigue.
Jimmy wobbled a bit, confusion and elation battling for his attention. He really couldn’t hear what was happening, too much to ponder at the moment. Couldn’t see too clearly either thanks to his throw back contacts.
What he did, though, was feel Romeo poking his side.
“What the hell, Jimmy?” Romeo gushed.
Jimmy said nothing.
“Jimmy, what the hell?”
“I got nothing.” Jimmy tells him.
“Yeah, right. I get it now…you know what, I gotta say I can see why you didn’t come get me out of jail. I’d do the same to you. Really, I’m not kidding, I wouldn’t come either, even if it was my third offense”
“Nothing, I got nothing.”
“All is forgiven, Jimmy.” And Romeo put out his hand. Jimmy took it, if only to get it over with.
“You are the MAN.” Romeo said with an admiration meant to make up for all the times he busted Jimmy’s balls.
Jimmy walked back to his edge of the booth.
It wasn’t long before some of the attendees wandered over, sliding right past Romeo to Jimmy. The first came up so fast Jimmy jumped.
“I don’t know you but let me hand it to you” He reached his hand out to Jimmy. He had
a face as liquor red as the rumpled flannel shirt he was wearing. His official looking badge declared him ‘Billy B.’
“Yes, great…thank you Billy.” Jimmy took his hand.
“Great stuff with the queen.”
“Oh, yeah. Really, a lot less then meets the eye.” Jimmy said without looking at him.
“Very gentlemanly of you, very. But listen, I’m about to leave the board.” Said the outgoing chairman. “ Just got a not so welcome mat you could say. If you might be interested perhaps you could further introduce me to your lady friend. And I’d be happy to introduce your company to some of my friends.”
Billy B. looked up at the sign hanging above the booth.
“Uh, ‘Romeo’s Snake and Drane’. Is that spelled right? Drain is that spelled, d..r..a..n..e?”
Jimmy looked up at the sign. Yep, Romeo’s banner was misspelled.
“No, no.” Jimmy interrupted Billy B.’s stare at the sign.
“That’s not my place, I’m Jimmy and I design websites. Every business should have one. Really, it’s more a must have. You have one, right?” Jimmy had practiced that line in the Spartan.
“Uh, no, why should I.”
“Where would you go to find you?”
“Yellow Pages, I’d say.”
“But where do you think everyone else goes if they don’t go there?”
“The Internet, maybe?” Tenderly, like it was a pass-fail question.
“You’re right. Absolutely right.”
Jimmy was throwing him a pitch, high and tight.
“I can do that for you. Then, Billy, you’ll be that guy that everyone is looking up on the worldwide web.”
Jimmy leaned closer to Billy B.
“And I should tell you,” Jimmy confided in him, “that there’s a way you and me can put something together and save you a lot of money. I have a referral program where if you bring me five clients who pay in full I’ll put yours together at cost.” At least Jimmy had that program now.
Billy B. took a moment to ponder.
“You came to the right man.” Billy B. said, his mind still in his pants but it had slid past the skirt and into the wallet. “I got favors due me tonight. I’ll send some over.”
Billy B. took some business cards and mints and headed into the flood of plumbers washing through the aisles towards Jimmy.
“What do you do here?” some guy said as he approached.
“I design internet web sites. You guys probably know some good ones. And probably some of the bad ones.” Jimmy’s got a different spiel for these guys.
“Yeah, sure do.”
“Say, are you the guy in this?” his buddy shows him a video paused on his cell phone. Jimmy watched as he thumbed the start of the YouTube video of him being kissed by Holly.
“Let me look at that again.” Jimmy said as he pulled the phone away. He started it from the beginning of the clip. Wholly walking towards him, pulling him close and then a long wet one. He checked the views: 602.
“Yeah, sure is.” Jimmy said it, not sure if that was good or bad.
“Wow, you look like him but I gotta say I don’t get it. Anyway, what do you do?” he asked. After a few minutes he signed them up.
As the day went on the YouTube views kept climbing. And so did his clients.
The masses lined up for Jimmy like he was Santa on Christmas Eve. Romeo’s booth was overlooked and he tried to capture some of the overflow but he lacked the curiosity factor that Jimmy did. And he smelled.
Jimmy finally brought him over when he spied Romeo lapping at the crowd once too many times.
“Romeo, would you like to give me a hand? Maybe pick up some leads.”
“Yeah, sure. Sure I would Jimmy.” Saying it like he had just been called up to the big leagues.
“Okay, but here’s the deal. When we get home whatever happened here didn’t happen here. Get it?”
“Don’t talk about anything. Nothing.”
“Yeah, sure. Nothing.” Answering this time like he had just been sent back down to the farm.
Then, after they both muttered ‘idiot’ to themselves, they shook hands.
Jimmy’s ended the day with his own pinky size stack full of perspective sites to build, some he knew would flake but a good amount that he’d keep. It was all he hoped it would be and then some.
That ‘some’ being Holly.
Holly never came back but left a lasting impression. She knew when she sauntered over men would follow her like simpletons captivated by a shiny object. When she spotted Jimmy she figured she owed him a little something – something if only for shoving him down a flight of stairs.
Hours later, when Jimmy left Atlantic City, his sight was fuzzy but his mind sharp. He was thinking business, excited about the show business but not so much about the home business. Gina never picked up his calls, him calling enough that soon her mailbox was full.
It was late when he got home, perhaps Gina would already be in bed, but Jimmy preferred her up and facing him so he could avoid sleeping with one eye open.
“Gina, I’m home.” He announced, hoping she would reveal herself.
Gina came out of the kitchen with a knife in hand. She gave him some horror show eyes that made him shiver.
“Jimmy, what’s going on?” she demanded like she knew he knew she knew.
“Oh, it was a great show, a lot of business…”
Gina cut him off.
“What did that idiot Romeo mean? He sounded pretty upset.” She waved the knife, dripping red with tomato juice.
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Romeo, what?”
“He called my mom’s looking for his. Something about you, strippers, a bar fight, never seen again.”
She paused a moment processing his earlier remark.
“Did you say a lot of business?”
“Yeah.” He pulled out his stack of sign ups and held them out like some sort of offering.
“Is that true what he said? Let me see that.” She put down the knife and took the papers.
“Gina, I don’t know what your cousin …”
She waved her hand and cut him off as she counted the deposit checks.
“Should I believe him?” she asked without looking up but may as well have been staring him straight in his eyes.
“Oh God no, I wouldn’t and I don’t even know what he said.”
“That sure is a lot of work you got coming in. Maybe you did good.” She tells him.
“And Romeo, he’s …” Jimmy starts to say.
“Oh, I guess I don’t believe him. No one should have, really.” Her eyes on the prize.
“No one?” Jimmy asks.
She looks right at Jimmy this time.
“No, no not him. He’s an idiot. Whose ‘we’?”
Gina motions Jimmy toward the bedroom, spreading her robe a bit. But on the way he can’t help but stop when he notices a lamp lying on the ground, its bare bulb illuminating a decapitated and badly punctured shade.
“Say, Gina what’s with the lamp?” He squints to get a better look.
“And where did you get that hideous stick? Are those nails in it?”
“Oh, that thing? Yeah, they voted me that yesterday at Mom’s. U’fuckin’nanimous. They even gave me a gift card towards bail.”
Gina waves the stack in her hand as she lets her robe slip to the floor.
“But it’s okay now, Jimmy, it’s okay.”
And then she gives him a quick wink, a wide smile and blows him a kiss as she pulls him into the bedroom.