Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Pat" by Eric Beetner

I felt the tips and the unclipped nails of a finger gun poking into my back before I heard, “Stick ‘em up,” in the voice I had known since middle school. My cousin, Pat. Again. God dammit.

I understand it, partly. I was the guy ten years older with all the friends, the cool car, the steady girlfriend and the healthy rumors that I’d slept with my friend Bobby’s Mom (no comment). As Pat grew up he idolized me. I’m not being conceited, he did. And I get it.

When I started doing jobs, getting a bit of a reputation as a hardass, I could always sense Pat in my shadow. If I was DeNiro he was my Harvey Keitel. See now, that sounds conceited again. I swear I’m not.

He was a gangly kid, socially awkward. I read some article on Asperger’s syndrome once and it sounded like they were describing Pat to a T. I felt bad for the kid and maybe that’s why I never shooed him away like a mosquito even when he buzzed in my ear.

Alway inserting himself into my business, Pat was. After I got my own apartment he’d show up unannounced just to, “Hang out.” We were cousins for fuck’s sake, not brothers or anything. I always had to chase him away by saying a girl was coming over, not that three guys with a half million in coke are coming by to divide it up on my glass top coffee table and hand me a bag full of hundred dollar bills for the pleasure. By the way, tell Aunt Joan hi for me. Not gonna happen.

I had nothing in common with the kid, nothing to say to him. He’d ask me all about the jobs I was working and I’d make up some bullshit that he and I both knew stunk up the room. Still, he was in friggin’ high school back then. Harmless, right?

So he graduates, goes off to college and I don’t hear from him or about him for a couple of years. Felt like I dropped twenty pounds. His Mom and my Mom never got along and since my Mom died there was no reason to get updates about how he was doing at school or anything. Out of sight, out of mind.

Those were good years for me. I rose in the ranks. Got my own crew. I stayed out of trouble while making a hell of a lot of it. I remember the first time I realized I had the juice to get a guy killed. I said something in passing about a jerk off who hadn’t paid his bills and two days later he turns up dead, then little Jimmy Callaway comes into my office in the back of Fantasy Island (all nude, two drink minimum) and hands over the thirty-two grand the guy owed and says to me all cocky in that way of his, “It’s taken care of.”

I’d ordered a hit and I didn’t even know it. I thought sure as shit I’d catch heat from above but they never even mentioned it except once about three months later at a big ten meeting when Alvy said, “Take Viggo here, he makes his own decisions. Doesn’t bother me with the petty shit. And he produces results and earnings.”

Pretty decent endorsement, I’d say.

So I had autonomy, I inspired the right amount of fear in my crew due to years of proving myself capable of whatever it took which, by my count, added up to 127 broken fingers, four deaths, sixteen shattered kneecaps, two dead family pets, eight burned cars, two burned establishments, sixty-four broken noses (an estimate, actual numbers are hard to confirm) and workouts with a baseball bat, pistol butt, bowling pin, crowbar, tire iron, bricks and one high school soccer tournament trophy.

On my thirty-fifth birthday I treated myself to my first tattoo. It reads BADASS across the back of my neck just under where I grew my hair out.

While my hair was still growing is when Pat showed up in my life again.

He came out of the shadows like a recurring nightmare you think you’ve left behind once you stopped wetting the bed. He’d gotten tall and strong, but to talk to him was still an exercise in awkwardness. He still had that blank hero worship stare you get when you look at old pictures of Mark David Chapman.

And Pat wanted in.

I told him no, of course. But, same as high school, I didn’t tell him strong enough. He kept offering his services even though I said time and time again that we were full up and didn’t need the help and he should go get a decent job. I asked what he studied in college and he told me video game design. Perfect. Why not do that?

The only job offer he’d been able to get wanted him to relocate to San Francisco and he’d never been out of the state so he turned it down. Idiot. Being locked in a cubicle with other nerds would be like a homecoming to him.

It started to get bad when he showed up at places other than my office or my apartment. An apartment, I should mention, that had changed three times since we last saw each other and I know for a fact that Aunt Joan doesn’t have the address. Persistent little fucker, Pat is.

People started asking questions. First they came from my crew wanting to know if this little pissant was going to start taking some of their action, accusing me of nepotism.

“Of course not,” I said. “He’s my cousin.”

“Well, I think he’s fucking retarded,” said Jimmy.

One time I came back to my apartment and he was inside. I walked right in talking with Aldo Cruz about getting some new firepower for my boys. The stock they were currently carrying had passed its expiration date. I don’t know what Pat heard, but it didn’t make a good impression on Aldo when I appeared obviously shocked the kid was there and he started in to talking like he was my assistant or something.

After Aldo left Pat tried again to join up on my crew.

“You need guns, man? I can get you guns. Cheap too, cuz.” Fucking hated it when he called me “cuz” but he did it all the damn time.

When he said shit like that I knew he was poking around into more than just me. He knew his stuff. He knew names and faces of players like he was studying a baseball roster trying to pick a fantasy team. He was always trying to prove that he belonged in my little criminal empire. I told him it wasn’t up to me. I may seem big time to him but I was still tied to strings someone else was pulling.

He just didn’t get it. I’d say shit plain as could be right to his face and he’d keep on talking like I hadn’t said a word. Again, if he wasn’t my cousin I would have seriously fucked him up and thrown him out of a moving car fifty miles out of town.

But I didn’t. Idiot (me this time).

So here’s how he fucked it up so much that no one could ignore it any more: I went with two of my guys to pick up the delivery from Aldo. Twenty new pieces, clean and untraceable. Who shows up a second before the money drop? Pat. What does he have? Twenty new pieces, clean and untraceable. So he says anyway.

And what does he do? Starts offering me a discount. Says he’ll beat whatever price Aldo is, and I quote, “Raping you for.”

To this day I don’t know how it didn’t erupt into a bloodbath right then. I think everyone involved was just so damn confused.

Aldo left, insulted, and took his merchandise with him. Pat stood there grinning like a fucking moron. You’d think I just told him he won our game of D&D, not that he fucked up a big money deal with an important person who could have me killed with one phone call.

I sent Pat away. I finally tore into him. By the time he walked out his face looked like I’d kicked his dog, fucked his prom date and pissed on all his Buffy The Vampire Slayer DVDs.

The next day I was summoned to see Alvy.

“You now we gotta do something here, right Vig?”

“I know.”

“You know you gotta be the guy to do it.”

“I know that too.”

“Aldo’s pissed. Took all I had to talk him down from doing it himself.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“So you’ll take care of this?”

“Yeah. I’ll take care of it.”

“Good boy. And hey, before you do, find out where he gets the guns so cheap. Aldo and me go way back but business is business.”

I nodded and left to go kill my cousin.

His apartment was as big a shithole as I figured it would be. It confirmed my theory that college is for suckers.

I figured the only way to do it would be to do it quick so I knocked on the door with my 9mm drawn.

“Who’s there?” he asked through the door. In this neighborhood, smart move.

“It’s me, Pat. Viggo.”

I heard two deadbolts and the handle lock undo before the door swung open. In a tight t-shirt with faded jeans and without the usual slump in his shoulders Pat didn’t look as geeky as I remembered. Maybe being in his own space without that shitty perma-grin on his face trying to impress me with how much of a smart crook he could be served him well.

He stayed in the door, not inviting me in. “Hey, cuz. What’s up?”

Hearing that word helped me pull the trigger. Two in the chest and I followed him inside as he fell.

I locked the door behind me and turned to him, lying on his back trying desperately to get a breath that would never come. I contemplated putting one in his brain to end the misery, but I swept my eyes over his apartment first. No other people – like I thought – just an orderly space devoid of much personality or character.

I’d started to let the doubt creep in. There was no evidence of the Pat I knew, or thought I did. No comic books, no movie posters on the wall. There was a TV across from the sofa but no gaming system hooked into it. Must all be in the bedroom, I thought. Or maybe he’s just dirt poor because I won’t let him join the crew and he doesn’t have a job as far as I know.

I realized I no longer heard his choking gasps. I looked down. He was still.

A floorboard creaked, made more obvious in the new silence. I spun to face the bedroom door just as a young man came out, a .38 leading the way. I fired twice. One caught his chest and one in the neck. He went down spraying blood in a wide streak on the wall.

The .38 skittered under an ottoman and I knew I wouldn’t have too much time after four shots to get the hell out of there. Even in this neighborhood a gun fight would draw at least one call to the cops.

My eye was drawn down to something shiny. On the belt of the man I’d just killed, some friend of Pat’s – maybe the guy who got him the guns? – was the worst thing I could have seen. A badge.

I moved at hyper speed. I gathered as much as I could from the apartment and the two dead bodies inside. My cousin Pat was a fed. Video game design my ass. He’d been at the academy. Sneaky fucker.

I found a file on me and similar files on my whole crew. He’d been at this for a while. Since the day he showed up in my life again with his little finger gun in my back, he’d been angling to take me down.

Jealousy? Bitterness that I never let him? I didn’t know what it was that motivated him, but I couldn’t help feel like it was personal. He’d gone down the route of law enforcement with one goal – to take me out.

He must have sold the brass on his “in” with me from the very start, otherwise he’d be pushing papers for years before he got a plum assignment like this. All the questions he asked made sense. Hell, all the answers he already had like who everyone was and what Aldo was selling. And why he never busted me outright, that all came down to what I’d told him about someone else pulling the strings.

God damn. The little geek.

A knock at the door. I’d wasted too much time.

No one called out “police.” No one ordered me to open up. That meant it wasn’t beat cops called in by a neighbor down the hall. Fuck if I was going to wait to find out what flavor badge he’d be flashing.

I aimed three shots at the door and heard a body fall as soon as the echoes from the shots faded away.

I hopped the fire escape, left my car where it was and made for a safe house and a new car for just this purpose. That was two weeks ago.

In the back of your head you always know you might have to leave it all behind in an instant like that. You never think you’ll have to actually do it though.

I’m headed west. Maybe San Francisco. At first I hated him even more, but now I’ve come around to some kind of respect. It turned out the dumbest fucker I ever knew was really the smartest. I guess college is worth something after all.


Eric Beetner ran out of paper when he was writing this. So he used the back of the constitution and the front of the Mona Lisa. We're glad he did.


  1. Fantastic story, Eric. The build-up is perfect and the relationship between these two characters feels very real.

  2. Smooth as a virgin's . . . uh . . . thigh, yeah, yeah, thigh, that's it. Relentless and predetermined to go wrong in the worst way. That's exactly what noir is. Well, hell it's Beetner after after all. What did'ja expect, Redbook? Cool.

  3. Thanks all. Great challene this time. So cool to read all the other "Pat"s