December 24, 2017
If you ever find yourself looking for a sign that you’ve spent way too much time at a strip club, the sight of two scantily clad skanks cussing each other out over whose mark you are is surely it.
“He’s mine!” Chastity said. Sigh. Every strip club had a “Chastity.” So cliché.
“I saw him first,” Cinnamon said. “I’m giving him a lap dance first and you can just make do with the sloppy seconds.”
It doesn’t take much to make a man happy. Beer. Titties. Ass. Those are the big three, and they usually work best in that order. It was one in the morning. I was sitting at the bar of the Sneaky Squirrel, LA’s premiere gentleman’s club at the time, though there was nary a gentleman in sight as far as I could tell. Just a bunch of lonely, sad sack horn dogs looking to give away their hard earned money in exchange for a few pathetic minutes of friction that would be long forgotten by tomorrow morning.
Sadly, I was one of them. Worse, there was an ass directly in front of my face, but somehow, it just didn’t make me happy.
The owner of the aforementioned ass stood all the way up. Despite her high heels, she was still able to maintain her balance on the bar. She addressed the bickering hussies. “Bitches, hush!”
“Stay out of this, Sugar!” Chastity said.
“Girl, this is Crystal’s man,” Sugar said.
Chastity threw her hands up. “Whoa shit. No one told me that.”
She walked away. Cinnamon followed. “Last thing I need it is to be cut.”
I looked up at Sugar’s sweet face. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” Sugar said as she held out her hand. I slapped a bill into it. She returned the ass to the general vicinity of my face. It was cute, small and shapely and yet, it might as well have been a bag of rocks. I was in no mood.
“Someone fart on your pancakes?” Sugar asked.
“I don’t know,” Sugar said. “You know…you had some pancakes. You were happy. Someone farted on them. Now you’re sad.”
“Something like that,” I said. I pulled out another bill and sat there, feeling sorry for myself. There was a slap on my shoulder.
“Bitch,” Bernie said as he took the stool next to me. He set down a big, overflowing plate. It was covered with chicken wings, nachos, dip, mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers. “You have got to visit the buffet.”
“No thanks,” I said.
“You wouldn’t think a place called ‘The Sneaky Squirrel’ would put out a decent spread but damned if they don’t,” Bernie said as he attempted to hand me a chicken wing. “Come on, have a nosh.”
“No thanks,” I said.
Bernie shrugged his shoulders and chomped down on the wing. “Suit yourself.”
“Hey Bernie,” Sugar said.
“Hey Sugar,” Bernie replied. “Your walking up right I see?”
“You know it,” Sugar said.
“I was worried,” Bernie said. “I thought I was a little too rough on you.”
“Oh,” Sugar said. “You were good but I bounce back quick.”
“Ugh,” I said.
“What?” Bernie asked.
“You disgust me,” I said.
“Like you aren’t doing the same thing with Crystal,” Bernie said.
“It’s different,” I said. “She’s my girlfriend.”
Bernie snickered. He bit the end off a mozzarella stick. “Kid, that girl is every man’s girlfriend.”
“Whatever,” I said. I sipped my beer.
“You look like someone pissed on your potatoes au gratin,” Bernie said.
“It’s cereal,” I said.
“The expression is, ‘You look like someone took a shit in your cereal,’” I said.
“Is it now?”
“Yes,” I said. “Because when you sit down at the table and dig your spoon into a nice heaping helping of your favorite cereal covered with ice cold milk, the last thing you want to pull out is a shit.”
“I should say so,” Bernie said.
“That would put you in a bad mood,” I said.
“Colloquialisms aside,” Bernie said. “What’s your problem?”
I turned to Bernie. “You.”
Bernie was aghast. “Me?”
“Yeah, you,” I said. “You told me that tunnel was just going to get filled up with smoke.”
“Shit,” Bernie said as he looked around, then leaned towards me. “Will you keep your voice down? These bitches have ears.”
Bernie pulled a twenty out of his pocket and handed it up to Sugar. “Baby, take five will you? Go check out that biker down the bar. He looks like someone took a shit in his cereal.”
“OK Bernie.” Sugar strutted away, keeping her footing on the bar the entire time.
“I’m sorry for the deception,” Bernie said. “Would you have participated otherwise?”
“No,” I said.
“There you go,” Bernie said.
There was a TV monitor hanging over the bar. The news channel was on. Footage of the collapsed tunnel was playing. An anchorman spoke in a voiceover. “…the Governor is calling this the worst act of terror in California’s history. Authorities believe a series of charges were planted at the end of the tunnel and triggered to aid the bank robbers in their escape.”
“All those people, Bernie,” I said.
Bernie took a swig of beer, then dipped a nacho chip into a pile of dip. “Very sad. Boo hoo. Life goes on.”
“What you did was wrong,” I said.
Bernie dropped his chip and grabbed my arm. His usual carefree demeanor turned grim. “What ‘I’ did?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Listen, prick,” Bernie said. “I’ve got news for you. You’re just as responsible for what happened tonight as I am.”
Bernie released my arm. “I’ve got you figured out.”
“Yeah,” Bernie said. “Look at you and your jacket and your little fancy driver outfit. You think you’re just responsible for the transportation part of the caper but let me tell you, a heist is a big job. Requires a lot of people. One asshole fucks up, the whole crew goes down. A crew needs a man like me to figure out the logistics. They need a man like you behind the wheel to get them where they need to go. If we don’t get involved, a heist doesn’t happen.”
“Blah, blah, blah,” I said.
“Fuck you, Frank,” Bernie said. “You may think you’re slick. You may think your shit don’t stink but trust me, your hands are dirty. Every time you show up to be a wheel man and take a cut, your hands get that much dirtier. You may not be sticking a gun in the face of some poor teller making minimum wage but you might as well be. You’re just as responsible as the rest of us.”
I was quiet for a moment, collecting my thoughts. “I’m aware of that.”
“I don’t think you are,” Bernie said.
“This job was different,” I said. “Roman’s fucking up.”
Bernie raised an eyebrow. “Well…one man’s fuck up is another man’s planning.”
“What’s that supposed to me?”
Bernie sucked the chicken off a bone. “It means Roman knows what he’s doing.”
“Carmine was better at planning a job,” I said. “He always brought in pros who knew about crowd control,” I said.
“True,” Bernie replied.
“They got in, they got out,” I said. “There were never any shots fired…certainly no reason for…”
I watched the footage of the rubble on TV. “…that.”
I drank some more beer. “You knew those guys were clowns. You knew you’d have to do something like that.”
“Look,” Bernie said. “Kid, we work for a family business.”
“So,” Bernie said. “Sometimes there’s a downside to working for a family business, say, when father and son don’t exactly see eye to eye.”
“Roman wants to be a big shot,” Bernie said. “And Carmine is happy to keep him as a little shot.”
“I don’t get it,” I said.
“Roman wants more money,” Bernie said. “The old man is a cheap bastard so the kid’s finding other ways to get it. So, he cut some corners. Rather than recruit some pros, he finds a bunch of shitheads that nobody will miss and…”
“Gets you to fix them,” I said. “And keeps their cut…without the old man being the wiser.”
Bernie tapped the side of his nose. I watched the TV. “Carmine can’t be happy with this. This is so much heat.”
“It’ll blow over in a week,” Bernie said. “This time next week, the news reporters will be talking about some famous broad’s tits or which celebrities got divorced. The collective consciousness of society has the attention span of a gnat.”
“Still,” I said. “Carmine…”
“Carmine is an oblivious fuck who doesn’t care about heat until he needs to care about it,” Bernie said. “We’re in the clear. This will never be traced to us. Lighten the fuck up.”
Bernie reached into his pocket and pulled out a big stack of bills, at least ten thousand dollars. He shoved it into my hand. “Here…what do you know? A stack accidentally fell off the truck. Doesn’t even apply to your cut. What the goombas don’t know what kill them. Grab some of these bimbos and live it up. Take your mind off it.”
Photos of people who died in the explosion rolled on screen. “But Bernie…”
Bernie pounded his fist on the bar, then calmed down. “Kid, what I’m about to say is a long time coming…”
“You are a great driver,” Bernie said. “Really. You’re a maestro behind the wheel. Your brain and your foot are simpatico. You and your little ride get in and out of scrapes like nobody’s business.”
“OK,” I said.
“You’re a great driver,” Bernie repeated. “But you, my boy, are also a shitty criminal.”
I laughed. “Fuck you Bernie.
“No,” Bernie said. “Fuck you.”
The fixer reached for my chest and grabbed my cross. “This shit…right here…its gonna get you killed.”
“No,” Bernie said. “I’m completely sane. The world is nuts. Everybody beebopping along, worshipping an invisible man in the sky, worrying that every little thing they do might offend him. ‘Oh, I better not fuck this bitch I’m not married to!’”
I laughed. Bernie carried on. “’Oh, I better not take that thing I want because it doesn’t belong to me!’”
Bernie chomped down on another nacho. Crumbs spewed out of his mouth. “’Oh, I’m so sad because a bunch of people I never met fucking died so I could live and enjoy some money that isn’t mine while I stay the fuck out of prison.’”
“Over a hundred people,” I said.
“The number is inconsequential,” Bernie said.
“The methods are,” I said. “It’s possible to do what we do without so much of…”
The TV continued to run coverage of the explosion. “…that.”
“Yeah well,” Bernie said. “Now your new boss says its necessary.”
“Roman’s not a boss,” I said.
“You tell him that,” Bernie said.
“No thanks,” I replied.
“Look, kid,” Bernie said. “I’ve got no conscience. I can fuck one of these bitches today and change my number tomorrow if she tells me she’s pregnant and sleep like a baby.”
“I can eat this entire plate of shitty food and not care what it’s going to do to my body,” Bernie said. “I can swipe things that don’t belong to me and double cross the idiots who helped me do it and yeah, I can even…”
Bernie looked at the TV. “…do that…and sleep like a baby. You know why?”
“Because I don’t give a fuck,” Bernie said. “This…Bernie said…this life is all there is. There was nothing before it. There’s nothing after it. You’re never going to answer to anyone. There’s no one that’s going to take your angel wings away and sent you into a pit of fire. There’s no devil to rape you in the ass with a ten foot pitch fork.”
“Good,” I said. “Because that would be uncomfortable.”
“He’s got jokes,” Bernie said. “Good, he’s got jokes. He’s lightening up a little. Kid, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but we’re all just meat puppets.”
“What’s that now?”
“Meat puppets,” I said. “Piles of meat with mouths that move up and down, able to move and talk and breath due to a plethora of highly scientific processes coming together and it all sounds very nice and special but it’s not.”
“No,” Bernie said. “Everybody thinks their unique, their special, they’re important, their thoughts and feelings matter. None of this matters, kid. You were born. You are alive. If you’re smart, you will experience as much pleasure as you can before you don’t exist anymore and you’re a fool if you let anything get in your way.”
“Even other people?” I asked.
“Especially other people,” Bernie said. “Fuck ‘em. They were never going to live forever. They’re dead and I get to spend money that isn’t mine and have fun.”
I watched the TV. “We can’t do this forever.”
“You can’t,” Bernie said. “I can. I’m fully aware this ends with me either dead or in prison but again, nothing is permanent so, fuck it. The price you pay to live another day.”
Bernie lightly slapped my cheek. “You’re a great driver…but a shitty criminal. You feel too much. You worry too much. You care too much. You don’t have a soul. Nobody does. But you think you have one, so you care too much – about yourself, about life, about what happens to other people. That shit will eat you up inside until there’s nothing left. Get out while you still can.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I do know,” Bernie said. “If you die, that slut you’re banging will be sad.”
“She’s not a…
Bernie raised his eyebrow again, challenging me to finish the sentence. I declined.
“For like five minutes, she’ll be sad, then she’ll move onto the next guy, but sadness on her part will definitely happen.”
“Fuck you, Bernie.”
“Then there’s prison,” Bernie said. “Put you in prison, and you’ll be a bitch, passed around like a doobie, being used in all of your orifices by day, curling up in the fetal position and crying by night.”
“I would do better than that,” I said.
“I was being gracious,” Bernie said. “Honestly, I think you’ll be shivved on your first day and left to bleed out on the cafeteria floor by noon. Me? I’ll be running that joint within a week, making deals and turning wheels, pulling strings and trading things, baby. I’ll be making the bitches.”
“We’ll see,” I said.
“No,” Bernie said. “I’ll see. You won’t…because you’re getting out of this game. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.”
I shook my head.
“Great driver,” Bernie said. “Shitty criminal. Remember that.”
The house lights flickered. A 1980s death metal song blared. The DJ got on the mic. “Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’re enjoying the buffet, the best in all of LA, now if you’d be so kind, give it up for the girl making her way to the main stage…it’s Crystal!”
Bernie and I swiveled around on our stools. There, on the stage in the center of the club, a Goddess strutted out and struck a pose. She was tall, slender and supple, curvy in just the right places – a raven haired brunette. She wore a seasonal costume that was best described as, “Sexy Mrs. Claus.” She grabbed a spray bottle, spritzed the pole, and wiped it down with a cloth.
“I’ve never understood that,” Bernie said.
“Understood what?” I asked.
“These girls,” Bernie said. “They gobble three, four knobs a night, but germs on the pole they worry about.”
“Crystal doesn’t do that,” I said.
Bernie glared at me.
“Shut up,” I said.
“Here she is, folks,” the DJ said. “This ho, ho, ho is ready to jingle your bells and fa la la your la…give it up for Crystal…”
Dozens of lonely perverts belled up to the main stage, making it rain dollar bills as my girl gyrated against the pole.
“I’m going to marry that girl someday, Bernie.”
The fixer raised his beer bottle and took a gulp. “My condolences.”