We were parked at the curb in Leonard’s car, sitting near a busted-out streetlight. We were looking at a house about a block up. It was a dark house on a dark street next to another dark house, and beyond that was an abandoned baseball field grown up with summer-burnt grass that had died two months back but was still standing, the tops curved over like bent sword tips. A fresh fall wind was bullying some dead leaves about and we had the windows rolled down and the air was cool and soothing. Beyond the baseball field it was dark too.
The whole area wasn’t exactly what you’d call a great place to hang out. You did, there was a chance they’d find you next morning in a ditch with your throat cut, your pockets turned inside out, and sperm in your ass, or perhaps a sharp instrument. It was the kind of place where the mice belonged to gangs.
But there we sat. Sacrifices to fate.
I said, “I feel like a hired leg breaker.”
“You are a hired leg breaker,” Leonard said.
“This is pretty mean.”
“He beat up an old woman, Hap. Took her money. That’s so mean the mean has to wear a hat and tie.”
“A hat and tie?”
“It’s an expression.”
“No it’s not.”
“All right. I made it up.”
“Of course you did.”
“Thing is,” Leonard said, “the cops didn’t do dick.”
“They took him in for questioning.”
“Whoop-te-doo,” Leonard said. “And it was Mrs. Johnson’s word against his and now he’s free and he’s sleeping in that house, him and his bud, and they got the old lady’s money.”
“The bud didn’t hit her,” I said.
“Yeah, well, the bud ought not to hang around with the wrong people.”
“I hang around with you.”
“But I’m charmin’,” Leonard said, cracking his knuckles. “You ready?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“What’s to think about? We took the job.”
“The money for one. Twenty-five dollars, to split. Really? That’s our payment?”
“Since when do you worry about money?”
“Since it’s twelve fifty.”
“It’ll pay us back for those cheap-ass baseball bats,” Leonard said.
“It will at that. We might even make a quarter or two when it’s all over.”
“So what are you complainin’ about? You’re comin’ out ahead.”
“We could go to jail. That’s one complaint. It could be me and you and Marvin and Mrs. Johnson, all of us sitting on a cot in a jail cell knitting sweaters with the words dumb ass across the front.”
Leonard sighed, leaned back in his seat, and adopted a tone akin to a father about to explain to a son why making bad grades in high school won’t get you far in life. “This douche bag ain’t gonna say squat. He’s got a badass reputation to maintain. Think he wants to say he got caught off guard and beat up by a worn-out honky and a handsome majestic queer with baseball bats?”
“Reputation? He beat up an old lady, what kind of reputation is that?”
“He probably doesn’t advertise that part, just the stuff about him being a big gangster and all. He’s a legend in his own mind. We’re just here to get Mrs. Johnson’s money back.”
“We’re going to rough somebody up for eighty-eight dollars?”
“And some change.”
“Yeah, don’t want to forget that, Leonard. He got another forty-five cents.”
“Forty-six. If you’re living on a fixed income, it matters. And, hey, we’re getting twenty-five dollars of it, and Marvin, he’s got a cut comin’.”
“You know we won’t take any of it, and he won’t either, and that this isn’t a real job. This is a favor. Marvin to her, us to him.”
“Yeah, but we can pretend,” Leonard said. “It’s fun. Didn’t you ever play pretend?”
I gave Leonard a sour look. “While we’re pretending, guys in the house might be serious. And I’m tired of beating up people and getting beat up.”
“All right, then. I’ll do the hitting. You don’t break anything. Him or the furniture. We’ll just let him know we don’t like him doin’ what he’s been doin’, and I’ll hit him on the meaty parts.”
“You’re just saying that, aren’t you? You’re going to break something.”
Leonard was silent for a time. “He broke her hand, so I got to think maybe his hand has to get broken. But you don’t have to do dick in that department, brother. Just come and watch out for his friend. The big guy, Chunk. I might not want him runnin’ up my ass.”
“Isn’t the friend’s supposed to be pretty damn big,” I said.
“Would it put you in better spirits if you broke the guy’s hand and I watched for the big guy?”
“Hell, man. You get to choose. Which is it?”
I sighed. “You do the breaking.”
“So we’re on?”
“Yeah, but remember, when we’re doing a stretch at Huntsville, I didn’t like the idea.”
“Noted,” Leonard said. “I’ll even give you my bread in the prison cafeteria.”
“What’s this guy’s name again?”
“What’s it matter?”
“I like to know who I’m beating up.”
“Thomas Traney took the money. The big guy, he’s called Chunk, that’s all I know. You heard this already.”
“Yeah, but I wasn’t listening so good. I didn’t think we were really going to do it. Next we’ll be twisting grade-schooler’s wrists to find out who took whose lunch money. Or maybe we can take their lunch money ourselves, being tough guys and all.”
“You through bitchin’?” Leonard said, pulling on a pair of skintight gloves, then handing me a pair.
I nodded, put on the gloves, leaned over the seat and got the baseball bats, and handed one to Leonard.
We got out of the car and started across the dark yard, went over the dry grass, and up on the back porch. I looked back toward the baseball field and the dark there, just in case someone was watching.
Leonard leaned an ear against the door.