Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rod’s Comeback

Category: Issue 7, Short Story Winners

Charlie’s office was in the industrial park at the shopping plaza off Spring Avenue and behind the BP gas station. His windows were always shut because of the noxious odor from the fueling station and the office was an oven. A circulatory fan moved warm, stuffy air and did little to provide relief from the stale heat.

Charlie sat behind a large wooden desk that was somewhere underneath a chaotic menagerie of paper, photographs, negatives, video tapes, magazines, newspapers, nail clippings, empty potato chip bags, discarded fast food containers and wrappers, and a half-eaten sub sandwich that looked it had once been meatball but was now sporting green-white vegetation threatening to take on a life of it’s own.

Charlie sat with his feet on his desk when Rod walked into the office. He was talking on the phone via headset that connected through a wire in his chair and motioned for Rod to sit in one of the padded chairs across from him.

Rod was still trying to figure out why Charlie had called him earlier that week. Not that he wasn’t grateful. A meeting with Charlie Dodd usually meant one thing and it could mean the break Rod was hoping for.

Things weren’t so good lately. Be straight, thought Rod. Things were down right shitty. Luck, it seemed, had run out; even if it was a very short run.

Things were all right when he first got out of the business and it gave him hope in a dangerous way. He got too confident and it hurt so much more when he finally realized things weren’t so good after all. By then it was too late to go back. His name was no good. He had lost his form, though he told himself he could easily get that back. Everyone said they appreciated what he had done, that he was a legend, but he was too much risk. As if they thought appreciation paid the bills. Besides, Rod wasn’t sure he wanted to get back in the business. Melinda sure as hell didn’t want him to go back. Melinda didn’t know he was meeting with Charlie.

Rod was at his home office when Charlie called. He thought it was another pissed-off client ready to tear him a new asshole because the stock he sold wasn’t worth two cents. The gravely voice so thick one could walk on it was unmistakable. It surprised him Charlie still had his number. The last time they had talked Bush the father was president.

“Laurelis is kicking my ass,” said Charlie. There was no small talk with Charlie. It was as if he were racing against a short-timed bomb ready to go off. “Can you believe that? Laurelis is kicking my ass.”

“I’m sorry,” said Rod. He had no idea who Laurelis was and why he was kicking Charlie’s ass.

“What are you doing?”

“Working,” said Rod. He was wary of the phone call and wasn’t about to divulge too much information, not that Charlie would have cared.

“I should hope you weren’t plucking hairs from your ass. What are you doing?

“Nothing,” said Rod.

“I heard you have some issues.”

Rod sat up straight, his eyes widened. He hadn’t realized word had gotten around and he wondered how much Charlie knew. It was embarrassing enough for him and Melinda to know of their problems. He didn’t want other people to know.


“Don’t bullshit me. You’ve got issues.”

“Okay. I’ve got issues.”

There was a moment’s silence as Charlie seemed to ponder what he was going to say next. Rod could picture him sitting in his office or maybe at home with the phone pressed to his ear and a half-smoked cigar stub sticking out of his mouth. He would sit back with his eyes half closed and blow a smoke ring and watch as the gray plume dissipated in the air as though it carried the answer to his questions.

“Meet me Thursday,” he said and hung up. There was no good bye, no consulting the calendar, not even confirming the address and setting a time. Charlie liked to keep things complicatedly simple.

And now it was Thursday and Rod sat in an uncomfortable leather chair in dire need of a re-upholstery and watched as Charlie argued and forced his way on a telephone. Charlie had lost weight, about 150 pounds from the looks of it, and he had quit smoking. A cedar and cherry wood humidor sat in the corner with its red velvet innards exposed as a sort of testament that Charlie had indeed quit.

Charlie ended his conversation and tossed the headset on his desk. He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled slowly. When he opened them again he stared straight at Rod.

“You look terrible,” he said. Rod flushed and nodded. It was something he already knew. He had gained 50 pounds and his hairline had begun its ascent north.  “What have you done to yourself?”

Rod shrugged. He wished Charlie would stop degrading him and get to what he wanted.

“It’s going to make things complicated. I had no idea you were this bad.”

Rod squirmed in his seat. He heard opportunity knocking and he didn’t want it to get away from him. “Whatever it is, I can fix it.”

“You still got it?”

Rod nodded.

“Let me see it.”

Rod glanced nervously around. It wasn’t the first time he had been asked that but it had been a hell of a long time.

“Don’t be shy and show it to me.”

Rod stood on shaky legs and did what Charlie asked. He did it quickly but it felt like forever there in front of Charlie as he looked on with a scrupulous gaze. Charlie nodded for him to sit back down.

Charlie grinned. “Sure, Roddy.”

He laid it out clean, what he wanted, what he envisioned. It was so well thought out, except for Rod’s actual physical appearance, it was typical of Charlie. Rod was a legend. Charlie made legends. And now he was going to rebuild one.

Charlie sat forward as he spoke. He slapped at his desk to drive points home and his energy was contagious. When he was done he leaned back in his chair and waited the precise amount of time to let everything sink in.

“It’s going to be the greatest fucking comeback in all of history.”

Rod smiled meekly. He wished he shared Charlie’s enthusiasm and for a moment he did. But once silence settled on the suffocating room, doubts crept in. He was out of it, he told himself. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally. He told himself there was no going back, not ever. He didn’t think he could take it. Melinda wouldn’t. She was going to kill him when she found out he was talking to Charlie. Even if he never told her she would know. She would see it in his face, hear it in the way he spoke about the boring and irrelevant events of his day, and smell it in his nervous sweat. Someone would tell her. It was always worse when someone told her. She always found out. Melinda was like God in that all-knowing sense.

“What do you think?” Charlie stretched his grin wider. He was probably thinking he was the cleverest son of a bitch alive.

Rod cleared his throat. He tried to speak and worked up spit when the words came out as hoarse squeaks. It was never for him to say no to anybody, especially Charlie Dodd.

“Who will I work with?”

The words shocked him as they came from his mouth. He had wanted to say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ll have to pass.” Charlie would be sore but would get over it, carry through his plan with someone else and reap the benefits. When Melinda found out it wouldn’t be so bad. He could even tell her the story himself, be up-front honest about the contact (leave the actual meeting out of it) and how he had said no to Charlie Dodd. She would be proud of him and maybe they would have sex for the first time in months. He would be her hero. Her broke, desperate, suffocating hero.

Charlie whacked the desk with the palm of his hand. The flat smack knocked a pile of papers to the floor but he ignored them.

“You’re the man, Roddy. Fucking-A, you’re the man. You’ll work with Lawse; real professional and perfect for this. I don’t want any crazy rookies.”

The name was familiar and Rod nodded. He felt a great weight settle on him. His chest tightened and he could hardly breathe. He thought he was going to have a heart attack. At least coronary failure would save him from Melinda and his life insurance would take care of her for a while.

“How’s Melinda doing?”

Rod flinched – or thought he did – at the mention of her name. “She’s doing fine.”

“She got out the same time you did.”

“Yeah.” And, like him, swore she would never go back. She would rather die hungry and homeless.

“She was a talented woman, Melinda. She just never got to the same level.”

Rod shrugged. Charlie glanced at his gold wristwatch and signaled their meeting was over. Rod stood.

“I’ll call you in a month,” said Charlie. “Get yourself in shape.”

Rod found his way out on his own and sat in his beat-up sedan with the doors and windows shut. The heat was unbearable in the car but he didn’t want anyone to hear him cry. Rod banged his fists on the worn leather steering wheel and sobbed. When he was done he used his shirt sleeve to wipe his eyes and he looked at himself in the rearview mirror. His eyes were puffy and red.

He glared at his reflection. He hated what he saw. He disgusted himself. Melinda was going to kill him. Or leave him. That would be far worse. He hated himself and had seriously thought about ending his life. Death was preferable to being alone.

There was a chance, he told himself, she wouldn’t find out. She was busy with her own work and weeks went by without reading newspapers or watching the news. Even then she only read the style and food sections and hardly ever watched the news because it depressed her. Only Rod used the Internet at home to work. Charlie was right about one thing: even if the plan flopped it was going to be big news. Yet there existed the remote possibility Melinda wouldn’t hear of it. Spies, assassins, drug dealers lead double lives. Porn stars could lead double lives. Rod could, too.

The thought swam circles in his head. For a moment it brightened him. And then he sighed and slumped in his seat. “I’m a dead man.”

Melinda was in the kitchen sitting at the counter on a stool when he got home. She was still dressed in her housecleaning uniform which strained to hold itself together across her generous bosom - famous in her hey-day but now an inconvenience - and was working a crossword puzzle. She never finished her crosswords because of a lack of patience or vocabulary or both but she swore they made her smarter. She was already smart to Rod and he loved her more than anyone.

He crept past the kitchen and headed for his office where he could lock the door and sit in the dark.

“Kiss,” called Melinda’s voice which was slightly lower than a Betty Boop squeak.

Rod swallowed and forced himself erect. He leaned over his wife’s bleached blonde hair and planted his lips on her rouge cheek. The smell of perfume, Lysol and window cleaner was intoxicating. Or maybe it was love that made Rod feel lightheaded when around her.

“I missed you,” she said. She never looked up from her crossword puzzle and sounded half a world away.

“I had to go out for a minute.”

“Meeting with a client?”

Rod hesitated. In that moment he considered telling her everything from the phone call to his meeting with Charlie Dodd and the plan for him and Lawes. Yes, he was going back. Yes, Melinda was going to hate him for a while. But this could set everything right again.

“Yeah,” he said. “There was some concern about a stock but everything is all right now.”

Melinda hummed her approval and continued her crossword. Rod grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, stole away to his office, locked the door and sat in the dark. His body quivered as he considered his options: truth, lies and suicide. After a few minutes he turned on the desk lamp, took off his shirt and did sit-ups on the floor.

Posted by nealjt1978 on 08/08 at 11:32 AM | Permalink
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