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She said, “Well?”

I said, “Well what?”

“This conversation sounds like it’s going to be a winner.

I said, “Please, Angie, give me a break here. This sort of is coming out of the clear blue sky to me.” I caught my breath as she watched me with opaque eyes, the kind that told me a challenge had been issued and I’d better figure out what it was, quick. I said, “I know what’s wrong about Mulkern, Phil, me. You got a lot of asshole men in ”

“Boys,” she said.

“OK,” I said. “A lot of asshole boys in your life right now. But, Ange, what’s wrong?”

She shrugged and flicked an ash on the marble floor. “Probably burn in hell for that.”

I waited.

“Everything’s wrong, Patrick. Everything. When I thought about you almost dying yesterday, it made me think of a lot of other things too. And, I mean, Jesus Christ this is my life? Phil? Dorchester?” she swept her hand around the church ”This? I come to work, I fend you off, you have your fun, I go home, get slapped around once or twice a month, make love to the bastard sometimes the same night, and... that’s all? That’s who I am?”

“Nobody says it has to be.”

“Oh, right, Patrick. I’ll become a brain surgeon.”

“I can ”

“No.” She dropped her cigarette on the marble, ground it out. “It’s a game to you. It’s ’I wonder how she is in bed?’ And then, once you know, you move on.” She shook her head. “This is my life. No game.”

I nodded.

She smiled, a rueful one, and in the little bit of light that shone through the green stained glass to my right I could see that her eyes were wet. She said, “Remember what it used to be like?”

I nodded again. She was talking about before. Before, when there weren’t any limits. Before, when this place was a slightly drab, slightly bluesy romantic locale, and not a simple reality.

She said, “Who would’ve thought, right? Kinda funny, huh?”

“No,” I said.

SEVENTEEN

Bubba never made it to my office that night. Typical.

He came to my apartment the next morning while I was deciding what to wear to Jenna’s funeral. He sat on my bed as I worked on my tie and said, “You look like a fag with that tie.”

I said, “Didn’t you know?” and blew him a kiss.

Bubba moved a foot down the bed. “Don’t even fucking kid about that, Kenzie.”

I considered pushing it, seeing how antsy I could make him. But pushing Bubba is a good way to find out real quick how well you fly, so I went back to working on my tie.

Bubba is an absolute anachronism in these times he hates everything and everybody except Angie and myself, but unlike most people of similar inclination, he doesn’t waste any time thinking about it. He doesn’t write letters to the editor or hate mail to the president, he doesn’t form groups or stage marches or consider his hate as anything other than a completely natural aspect of his world, like breathing or the shot glass. Bubba has all the self-awareness of a carburetor and takes even less notice of anyone else unless they get in his way. He’s six feet four inches, 235 pounds of raw adrenaline and disassociated anger. And he’d shoot anyone who blinked at me the wrong way.

I prefer not to consider this loyalty too closely, which is fine with Bubba. As for Angie, well, Bubba once promised to sever each of Phil’s limbs and put them back on again  backward before we talked him out of it. We promised him, swore to God in fact, that we’d take care of it some day and call him before we did. He relented. He called us losers and shitheads and every other expletive you can think of, but at least we didn’t have a Murder One Conspiracy hanging over our heads.

The world according to Bubba is simple if it aggravates you, stop it. By whatever means necessary.

He reached into his denim trench coat and tossed two guns onto my bed. “Sorry I was late.”

“No problem,” I said.

He said, “I got some missiles you could use.”

I considered the knot in my tie, kept my breathing regular. “Missiles?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “Got a couple of stingers would fix those homeboys just right.”

Very slowly I said, “But, Bubba, wouldn’t they take out, like, half a neighborhood while they were at it?”

He thought about that for a second. “What’s your point?” he said. He stuck his hands behind his head and leaned back on the bed. “So, you interested or what?”

“Maybe later,” I said.

He nodded. “Cool.” He reached into his jacket again and I waited for him to pull out an antitank gun or some claymores. He tossed four grenades on my bed. “In case,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said like I understood, “those could probably come in handy.”

“Fucking A right,” he said. He stood up. “You’re good for the cost of the guns, right?”

I eyed him in the mirror and nodded. “I can pay you later this afternoon if you really need it.”

“Nah. I know where you live.” He smiled. Bubba’s smile has been known to induce month-long periods of insomnia. He said, “You call me, day or night, you need anything.” He stopped at the bedroom door. “A beer soon?”

“Oh,” I said, “absolutely.”

“Righteous.” He waved and left.

I felt like I always felt after Bubba left like something hadn’t exploded.

I finished with the tie and crossed to the bed. In between the grenades were two guns a .38 Smith and a nickle-plated Browning Hi-Power nine millimeter. I put on my suit jacket, slipped the Browning into my holster. I put the .38 in the pocket of the jacket and appraised myself in the mirror. The swelling on my face had gone down and my lips were semihealed. The tissue around my eye had yellowed and the scrapes on my face were starting to fade to pink. I was still no dream date, but I wasn’t in the running for the Elephant Man contest, either. I could go out in public without fear of pointed fingers and muffled giggles. And if not, I was packing serious heat; anyone giggled, I’d shoot him.

I looked at the grenades. Didn’t have a clue what to do with them. I had the feeling that if I left the house, they’d roll off the bed, take out the entire building. I picked them up, gingerly, and put them in the fridge. Anyone broke in to steal my beer, they’d know I meant business.

***

Angie was sitting on her steps when I pulled up. She wore a white blouse and a pair of black pants that tapered at her ankles. She was looking like a dream date, but I didn’t mention it.

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