FIRST CHAPTER FROM UNFORTUNATE SON, THE NEW BIKER NOVEL
CHAPTER ONE “Surprise!”
Josh looked at his father Duane, sitting on his sofa with Josh’s dog Fig in his lap. The same Duane who’d abandoned Josh at a truck stop when Josh was fifteen, from whom he had not heard in two decades.
“What you doing here, Duane?”
Duane looked up with a con man’s grin, deep parenthesis framing his mouth, several day’s stubble clinging to his chin, lank gray hair unkempt. “Is that any way to greet your own father?”
Duane eased Fig off his lap, stood, and walked to Josh with his arms open. “C’mere, boy. How the hell you doin’?”
Josh endured the awkward embrace until Duane stepped back. Duane smelled of graphite, body odor, cigarettes. He’d found an old ashtray in the kitchen, set it on the coffee table in the living room and smoked several butts. He wore dirty blue jeans and a Dolphin’s T with the sleeves cut off to show his ropy, muscular, tatted arms.
“What are you doing here, Duane?”
Duane went into the kitchen, Fig at his heels, opened the refrigerator, took out two cans of Capital Lager and tossed one to Josh, who caught it one-handed.
“Been hearing a lot about you. I’m proud of you, boy. Proud the way you turned out. You’re a man now. Solvin’ crimes, killin’ bad guys.”
“You had nothing to do with it. You’re as sentimental as a catfish. What do you want?”
Duane popped the can and guzzled, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Why would you think that? Maybe I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
Josh snapped his fingers. Fig trotted over and sat next to him, looking up. “Because you’re a con man. You haven’t worked a real job in your life. The whole time I was with you, all you did was scam people. The old dropped wallet trick. Shoplifting. All those women you took advantage of.”
Duane looked pained. “Maybe I’ve changed, you ever think of that? You changed. You were a rake hell. They called you Chainsaw because of that one thing, and now you’re a born-again Christian, ain’t that right? You’re on a mission from God.”
“What do you want, Duane?”
Duane flopped onto the sofa and put his feet on the coffee table. “I just want to stay here for a few days. I love your dog. I won’t be any trouble.”
“How’d you get in?”
“Climbed the fence and used the doggy door.”
The anxiety Josh had experienced when he saw the Camaro in his front yard blossomed into a full-bore suck hole in the middle of his chest, summoning unwanted childhood memories. Walking in on Duane fucking some girl. Watching Duane dip into her purse while she slept. Fleeing in the middle of the night because Duane had committed some felony. The road rage. Duane waving his gun and trying to run another car off the road.
One night in November he did run another car off the road. It was a station wagon full of kids who’d dared to pass while flipping them the bird. Duane floored his 350 cubic inch Camaro and gave chase. The car’s body was shot anyway. He couldn’t afford a shiny new car, or even a shiny car, but he always found a way to get that Camaro with the big engine. Josh remembered the car was pale yellow with rust spots, the hood was brown, and the driver’s door was primer gray.
“YO MOTHERFUCKER!” Duane bellowed into the wind, which whipped his words away. Those kids couldn’t hear shit, the way they were blasting Beastie Boys. They never saw Duane coming. He cut the lights, zoomed up on their left, slammed the wheel to the right and stuck with it, big, fifteen-inch wheels and tires, ramming the wagon into the ditch where it rolled over once before coming to a stop.
Josh watched the whole thing through his window, mouth open, hanging on to the grip with both hands. Heart in mouth. What the fuck. He was ten years old.
“That’ll teach ‘em,” Duane said, heading on down the highway.
They crashed in seedy apartments, trailers and tract houses with Duane’s friends, all the same creepy crowd, grifters, drifters, penny ante thieves, prostitutes, drug dealers, too smart to work. Everyone had an angle and a rap. Everyone had a way to beat the system. Most had food stamps and disability. Some had pit bulls. Josh always wondered, why the pit bulls?
Josh slept on a lumpy sofa in the living room, or in a closet if Duane and his buddies got too loud snorting coke and drinking Fleischmann’s vodka. They’d toss back valium to ease the descent.
Josh remembered waiting in a ‘69 Camaro with the engine running while Duane ran into a pharmacy “to get some cold medicine.” Minutes later, Duane erupted from the front door clutching a paper bag, slid behind the wheel and floored it. They fishtailed out of town. Josh saw the butt of a pistol protruding from Duane’s pants.
Josh popped his beer and sat in a chair facing Duane. “Who’s after you?”
Duane drained his can and belched, putting his whole torso into it. Duane was proud of his belch. “What makes you say that?”
“’Cuz I know you, Duane. You’re only in it for number one. You never cared about anything in your life except getting yourself over. I still don’t know who my mother is.”
“I think her name was Karen Pratt. Haven’t seen her since she dumped your little bundle of joy on my doorstep.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t put me up for adoption. Or dump me in the woods like you did that dog. Remember McKeesport? I wanted to go to school but you couldn’t get your shit together? So I went down and registered myself and they asked me for my birthday. I didn’t know what my birthday was. It was April first, so that’s my birthday now.”
Again, that pained look. “Son, you gotta give me a chance. I’m not the same person I was.”
Josh stared. Duane looked away. He leaned forward to scratch Fig’s ears. “Your dog likes me. They say dogs are excellent judges of character.”
“Not that dog.”
“Hey, I could eat a baby’s butt through a park bench. Whatcha got to eat around here?”
Josh seethed. He didn’t want this. He’d trained himself not to think about his father.
“Come on. We’ll go get a burger.”
Duane clapped. “Now you’re talkin’.”
Outside, Josh eyed the ‘97 Camaro. It was faded dark blue with rust spots and twin tailpipes.
“That there’s an SS with the 330 HP LT4 small block engine from the Corvette. That there’s special.”
“Anyone lookin’ for you?”
“Well let’s get some grub and I’ll tell you about that.”
“Do me a favor. Lose the pistol.”
Duane drew the pistol, looked at it, leaned into the Camaro and stuck it deep in the seat cushions.
got in Josh’s 300 and headed east toward Madison. Duane pulled a
pack of Marlboros from his pants. “Mind if I smoke?”
Josh lowered all the windows. What was the point? Duane was going to do what Duane was going to do. He’d always been that way. They drove to the Laurel Tavern on Monroe Street, a family-friendly pub that had been there for forty years. The interior was dark and boisterous with families catching an early dinner before heading home to Netflix and video games, or couples just starting the night. They took a booth. The twenty-something waitress had long purple hair on one side of her skull, nothing on the other, and a unicorn tat on her arm. Duane stared like a hungry dog. They ordered burgers. Josh got a beer, Duane went for two shots of Canadian Club and a Miller chaser.
“You should try some of the local brews,” Josh said looking around. “You don’t have to drink Miller.”
“By the time I get to that beer, I won’t give a shit. Ja see that cooze? You got a girlfriend?”
“Had one, but she died.”
“No shit. That happened to me. A couple times.” He pulled out a cig and lit it one-handed with a kitchen match. A stout man with wife and two kids at an adjacent table looked over.
“No smoking in here.”
Duane did a double-take, stabbed the cig out on the bottom of his shoe and dropped the butt.
“Who’s after you, Duane?”
Duane looked around. Con-wise, just like his son. Josh, a licensed private investigator, had never looked at Duane’s record. He didn’t want to know.
“Y’know who Ryan Gehrke is?”
“Sure. The Miami wide receiver who took a knee.”
Duane stabbed a nicotine-stained finger at Josh. “You know why he took a knee?”
“Racism or some shit.”
Duane showed yellow teeth. “He was protesting systemic racism in the justice, and in the cops. I gotta tell ya, I think he’s right on the money with the cops. They’re all rotten. Some of ‘em are killers. That cop in Cinci. They were in a Wal-Mart when that seventeen-year-old kid picked up an air rifle in the gun department. Two cops run in screaming and shot ‘em. They didn’t tell him to drop the gun or put up his hands. None of that shit. Bang bang. Very sorry. They both walked. Pigs said they had reasonable concern for their safety.”
“Did Ryan shoot them?”
Duane shook his head like he was talking to a dummy. “Noooo, it’s just one of the issues we discussed.”
“You and Ryan?”
The waitress came, plopping down drinks and burgers. Josh put ketchup on his burger. Duane tossed down the shot. He tossed down the next shot and looked around for the waitress.
Josh gripped his burger. “Whoa there, pardner. You don’t want to go blotto just yet.”
Duane finished his burger in six bites. He had coyote jaws. He chugged the Miller. He belched long and loud, causing heads to turn. Distaste. Disgust. Duane.
“So where were you talking to Ryan?” Josh said.
Duane pushed the dishes aside and leaned on his elbows. “At his crib in Miami. Man, you should see it. He’s got this fuckin’ estate in the same neighborhood as Desmond Pow, right on the beach. Pool, cabana, hot and cold running babes, the best champagne, all the cocaine you can snort, celebrities, you know who I saw?”
“What the fuck were you doing there?”
Duane spread his hands, nonplussed. “Where do you think he got his cocaine?”