Coffee and Donuts

By David Centorbi

I had to go to Miami for a Truth-or-Dare job. ToD was my gig for a long time. The Army taught me well. And they gave me so many opportunities to practice: Somali, Haiti, Iraq 1 and 2, then for some R & R in Cuba—Terrorist Island, where they brought the Headliners to me. 

The current Bureaucrats in charge said we were allowed Pop-Up Clubs throughout the US as long as the Gig was no longer than two days. So, for this one, I was able to stay in Miami.

Getting around the city was easy. Uncle Sam always provided me with a driver: get into an air-conditioned Escalade, black-tinted divider, bar if needed—and it always was. And off to the Club. Once I arrived a Producer, the officer in charge, or whoever was running the Gig, gave me the Program that told me all about the Headliner for that day.

And then it was Truth or Dare time—I dare you to not tell me the truth.

To this day I laugh when I hear the Government-Issued euphemism, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. When I was with my old Band and we were about to start the Gig, I would ask, “So how enhanced are we going today?” And Jazz would say, ‘Well let’s start in E and see where that takes us.’ And, of course, we started to play and kept playing until all the notes sounded just right. Then we would go to lunch. Our band always got booked. Our technique was flawless.

Today the Headliner was sitting in a gray metal chair with a black hood over his head.

“Is this who’s interrogation I’m going to enhance,” I asked. One of the band members nodded yes. And then moved him over to the ToD board and strapped him down.

My routine was always the same,  I always started off with a choice. I believed in free will: “Tell me what I want to know and we are done. You go wherever Uncle Sam says, and I can go home.”

That never worked. All my Headliners made the choice to suffer. And my technique obliged: first, I had one of the Band members shake the water jug. “Hear that? That’s what my Uncle said was ok for me to do to you.”  Then I would get five thin, sharp K-wires, the kind they used in surgery when they are plating or screwing a broken bone. And with a small mallet, I would tap one under the Headliner’s thumbnail. “This is what my Uncle says I cannot do to you, but what Uncle doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” And then the Gig began.

 I never played with these Band members before. Names were never given for these quick Gigs.

As we were about to start, there was a knock at the door and a Producer walked in and motioned to me to come over, and I went into the observation room.

“So we just found out he has a heart condition.”

I nodded. Letting him know I heard him

“So we need the IGT in the room just in case.”

“Sure,”  I replied. It didn’t matter to me. It wasn’t the first time I had to deal with a Headliner’s heart attack

I went back in. The band was waiting.  One of them gave me a confused squint when he read,In God We Trust,on the front of the red crash cart they wheeled in.

I gave him a raised eyebrow, what is this new to you.

I looked at the other Band member and I gave him a thumbs-up, then clicked on my stopwatch. And our music started: I motioned to the Band member next to the Headliner to shake the water jug a bit.

“Hear that,” I started my usual script. Then ended with, “Last chance.”

No reply. So I decided to set the tone. I tapped the K-wire four times under his thumbnail, and when I heard the pain, I gave the signal and the water started pouring over the Headliner’s black hooded face.

***

After the Gig, the two Band members and I were sitting in the observation room. One of them had to ask about the IGT.

“Why was that there?”

“He had a heart condition,” I replied.

“I never saw that.”

“Obviously.”

“And what a weird name.”

I could tell he was going to keep talking.

“So, if he had a heart attack you would revive him.”

“Sure, if I could.”

“Really?”And at this point, I made the mental note to make sure this guy wasn’t at any of my future Gigs, but for now, I figured I might as well enlighten him.

“This Headliner had intel we needed, and I would keep him alive as best I could to get it out of him.”

“Ok. Good to know. Thank you.”

At least he was observant enough to realize he had annoyed me and now his cordial, quick ending to the conversation was his way of trying to make it right. When the Producer came in, they both nodded goodbye.

“So John, what’s with the Freshie?” I hadn’t worked with Colonel Reed in a while but I wasn’t surprised to see him. 

“Yeah, sorry about that. Last minute. But it worked out. I think we got what we needed.

We’re going to have to confirm all that intel, but I’m sure it will help in one way or another.”

“ Great, we done?” I asked.

“Yep,” and he stood up and shook my hand. He turned and started to walk away, but stopped. “Hey, what was the time on this one?”

I realized I didn’t look at my stopwatch to see how long it took the water and K-wires to enhance the interrogation. “Wow, I must be slipping,” I said when I looked at my stopwatch. “Fifty seconds.” That was my worst record, I thought to myself.

“And you used two K-wires this time,” John said  

“Yes, I did.”

“Well, you loosened him up for the PSYOP guys, so job well done.

I shook his hand again. “Good luck with the Headliner,” I said. And headed outside for my last ride in Miami, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

***

After being gone for a week, my first stop was Rhonda’s  Coffee & Donuts. When I walked in she looked at me a bit surprised.

“Well, well, who’s the hot guy with a tan? You must’ve been on vacation”.

“Well, I was, sort of. I was in LA for work.”

“Really, look at you. You must be making the big bucks going all the way out to California.”

“A salesman’s gotta sell,” I said, giving her my best puffed-out chest pose. 

To Rhonda, I sold surgical equipment to hospitals. I wasn’t married, had no children, and lived in Detroit all my life. I wasn’t lying about the last three, and I wasn’t lying when I said again that her coffee and chocolate-covered custard-filled eclairs were the best I ever had.  Usually when I said that, she would bring up her dead husband Rodger and explain why he was the reason everything was so good. But this time when I said it, she didn’t. She just said, “Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy them. And I’m glad you’re back, especially with that tan.”

***

There isn’t an office party with balloons, good luck posters, and shitty cake from Costco when you retire from my line of work.

So I never expected a party. And it’s good having no expectations. But, when what you never expected actually happens, it makes it even more annoying.

That’s how it was when three members of my original Band showed up at my house. No cake or balloons, just a proposition.

Jazz lead the Band now. Two others died, self-inflicted. That’s really the number one killer in this business.

I opened up the Jameson and we toasted to their rest, and their peace. 

Then we toasted to our Uncle. Then to me for surviving the battlefield and to my good health, off it.

 Two bottles down and the proposition came out.

Jazz was the talker. His Mormon Missionary good looks made him easy for people to talk to. He seemed soft and trustworthy. Backstop, on the other hand, looked like what you would expect someone to look like if they were hit in the face by millions of balls. He usually did the lifting,  strapping down, and pouring. And Ginger, she tried to be the Fairy Godmother the Headliners could count on to end their pain when she said, ‘I can make it all stop if you just tell him what he wants to know.’

The next day their proposition still sounded good, even with my hangover.  A Snatch and Grab would open for us, then they would bring in the Headliner and we would perform.

 I sat on the couch thinking about everything until I heard the toilet flush. For a few seconds, I scanned the room, then reached under the middle cushion for my Beretta M9, which was gone.

“You really think your killer would flush the toilet before they retired you? And your Beretta, it’s on the table in the kitchen,” Ginger said. 

“Why is…”

“Because I cleaned it. How fucking long was it in there?”

“Ahhh.” Actually, I couldn’t remember.

“Did everyone stay the night?”

“No. They stayed at the donut shop.”

“The what?”

“The donut shop.”

“What donut shop?  What does that mean?”

Ginger stuck her head out of the spare bedroom. “It means a shop that sells donuts.”

Of course, it had to be Rhonda’s.

In the car, as we drove to the donut shop I told Ginger I knew the owner.

“You’re dating the donut lady?”

“No…but maybe.”

“Maybe you’re dating the donut lady. You retired to settle down and run a donut shop?”

“I don’t want to run it. It’s where I hang out. They have the best chocolate eclairs.”

Ginger looked at me. “Oh my god, what the fuck is going on with you? Is this why you stopped playing? You’re in love with some lady’s chocolate eclairs.”

“I’m not in love with anything. It’s just a place I hang out.”

And really, I had to be honest with myself. “Yeah, I like her. And no, I didn’t quit playing because of her, but maybe now that I did; I thought it might be nice to try some kind of normal relationship.”

“Well, make sure she puts sprinkles on that normal relationship.” 

I shook my head. It may have sounded naive, but retirement wasn’t going to be easy and maybe a relationship is what I needed

“Wait until the rest of the Band hears this,” she said as we pulled up to the shop.

The good thing about the donut shop was there was a back entrance. I couldn’t go through the front door with everyone and have Rhonda see me. That would be too hard to explain. We went through the back and up the stairs to the second floor. It smelled musty, cobwebs and dust were everywhere. At least this was working out.

When we got upstairs, Jazz and Backstop were sitting at a fold-out card table with two bags of donuts.

Backstop held up a chocolate eclair. “Goddamn these are good, best shit I’ve had.”

Jazz held up a powdered jelly donut. “Really, they’re good, he’s not kidding.”

Ginger looked at me just as I turned to smile my, I told you so smile at her.

“Whatever,” Ginger said when she looked at me. “Ok, listen up, we have a problem, Billy is dating the donut lady and plans on living happily ever after with her selling donuts.

Backstop raised what was left of his chocolate eclair. “Fuck yeah. I could eat this shit all day.”

Jazz just gave a confused look. “Not sure what all that means, but what are we going to do,” he asked.

That was the question going through my head ever since they came to town, and now all this with Rhonda.  “Listen, I’m not dating Rhonda.”

“Donut Lady is a far better name,” Ginger said.

I breathed in a bit, frustrated. “I just hang out here a lot. And yes, I like her and yes maybe something is happening or could, I don’t know, but as long as she doesn’t see me up here, or with you, nothing is compromised.”

“Is that all?”Jazz said. “So long as you’re a ghost everything will be fine? Ok, seems good. You don’t need to be here until the gig starts. We have Roadies coming in to set the whole place up.  We can get it together.”

“Yeah, but I’m gonna eat the fuck outta these donuts until we leave,” Backstop added.

“Jesus, doesn’t anyone see this as a problem,” Ginger said.

“No.”

“Nah.”

“Ginger, I think we’re fine. But I’ve been wanting to ask, how did you guys find this place?

“Jazz did,” she said.

“Yeah. I mean, who is going to suspect a donut shop? It’s easy. We saw an ad, and this kid named Bennie rented it to us. We just told him we wanted to store some things. He said his mom needed the money.”

“Robby, you mean. Robby rented this,” I said

“Sure, Robby, Bennie, whatever.”

“Well, I never knew this was up here, but I agree it works.”

“Great. Now that’s done can we get on with all this,” Ginger said, still upset. 

Jazz brought out the Headliner’s Program and held up his picture. “He’s scheduled to arrive tomorrow night. His thing is sex trafficking and drugs. He uses half  the girls, some of them kids,  for porn and prostitution.”

“The same thing,” Ginger kicked in.

“Porn and prostitution,” Jazz raised his voice and continued. “And the other half he rents out as mules.” 

“He’s a big prick that’s about to get cut,” Ginger said. 

“This should go quick and then we’re done. We can leave most of the gear and not rush to pack up since we’re supposed to be storing stuff,” Jazz said. 

“Fuck yeah,” Backstop added. Then started pressing down on the donut bags hoping some were still left. “Hey, I’m getting more.”

“I’m out of here,” Ginger said, still frustrated.

“Yeah, let’s break this up for a bit and meet back here tomorrow at 2300,” Jazz finished. 

Ginger shook her head. “Fine.” And looked at me. “Maybe you should say hi to Donut Lady and find out what she’s doing for the next couple of days so she doesn’t end up coming up here during the gig, or start getting nosy.”

I looked at her and just nodded my head. I never thought about that. This all took me by surprise. This was different for me this time—I was way more involved. Normally, I just showed up. I never had to plan or worry about anyone interrupting a gig. But she was right. So I decided I would see Rhonda.

When I went into the shop later that day,  Rhonda was behind the counter.

“Hey there. Looks like your tan is fading.”

“I’m sure it is.  So, Rhonda…

“Hey Michael, look,” she interrupted. And pointed to the back wall at the almost empty donut racks.  “Some tourists came through and bought me out. Then they rented out the upstairs for storage. So not a bad day.” And then she leaned over the counter a bit because she wanted to whisper to me. “The one guy, and I don’t want to talk bad about anyone, was pretty scary. He had something a little wrong with his face.” 

I  laughed a little, then decided this was the open door I needed. “Well, let’s go celebrate your good day over drinks and you can tell me all about it.”

Her facial expression changed to startled, with a mix of confused.

I thought, oh shit maybe I shouldn’t have, but then she relaxed. And then her little smile started to get wider.

“Michael, I would really like that.”

***

When I got back home Ginger was on the window seat smoking a joint and blowing the smoke out the open window. She had on a long white cotton dress, the sun showing me that was all she had on, except her arms and legs were dark, covered in tattoos. Her long red hair was in a ponytail and the side of her head was shaved. 

“Well, did you ask her out?” she said not looking at me.

“I did.”

“Great, at least she’ll be gone tonight when we’re setting up. Where you going?”

“Not sure. Drinks. Maybe O’Doul’s.”

Ginger looked at me. “No idea what that is, but great. Have fun. And take that with you.” And she pointed to the shiny Beretta sitting on the counter.

“I don’t think…

“Until this is all done, yes you do. And this too.” And she got up and walked over and handed me a fresh-out-of-the-box ankle knife.

“Really, all this?”

“Yep.  It’s not like going to one of our Uncle’s Clubs and performing. We’re the Producers this time. 

O’Doul’s was an Irish bar in “Mic-town” as it was once called before society became enlightened. Now it’s politely called Irish town which was basically another ethnic ghetto that started in the 30s and now is just a nostalgic place for suburbanites to drink, and us regulars to sit in dark corner booths, or at the dark end of the bar and drink. In my case, when I was alone, which was almost always, I would talk to Mickey, a 2nd generation owner and member of an ex-pat IRA family.

Rhonda and I sat at my regular dark corner booth, which, with a phone call to Mickey, was reserved for me. I tried not to stare at her, but her regular ponytail was gone and her long black hair hugged her shoulders. She had makeup on, no powdered sugar on her face, and instead of her baker’s apron, she had on a tight black sweater that made it even harder not to stare.

I was relieved when she said she always wanted to come here but thought you had to be a member. At least in the early days, but then never thought much more about it as she got older.  Mickey served, reluctantly, Irish stew, Shepherd’s pie, and soda bread if you wanted dessert.

That was it. And that was new, “A bar was for drinking not eating,” was the family’s traditional motto.

We ordered one stew and one shepherd’s pie. Rhonda had to order a Guinness because she was in an Irish bar which Mickey approved of, and I, of course, stayed with Jameson which Mickey approved of even more because it was more expensive.

I asked her why she was renting her upstairs like she mentioned earlier.

“Money of course,” she laughed. “The donut business isn’t paying like it used to now with all the competition, and besides, everyone’s health conscious. Donuts I guess are poison.”

When she said that I could feel how hard it must be for her. “I want a life without the donut shop, a new start,” she blurted out. “Retire, like you. Maybe go to California. Sell the place. I’ve had offers, but not much. All these assholes, excuse my French, chains know that I’ll eventually have to sell; they just keep pushing me out. Just like Jerry’s Tailor Shop next store.”

I thought, well, it’s coming in handy now.

We sat in the bar most of the night. She talked more about the donut shop and how Jerry’s Tailor Shop closed, and the loud construction they’re doing in there.  “Robby said they are welding and have the place filled with those Argon tanks, which scares the shit out of me.” She talked about how he hates the donut shop, and how he thinks she should sell while she can still make money. Then about her son’s problems with his wife, and how she wants grandkids one day, but she doesn’t think their marriage will last, and how she doesn’t want grandkids if they are divorced. 

My Jameson kept coming, and she began to laugh a lot more after her third Guinness.

And the good thing about all this was that she never brought up Rodger. And when she finally turned the conversation over to me, I got a text: emojis: an orange, an eggplant, an orange

“Shit,” I barely whispered.

“What’s wrong?”

I looked at her, trying to put my thoughts together which took a little longer due to the drinks.

“Work.”

She looked confused. “I thought..”

“I am. I just sometimes get calls if something goes wrong with the surgical equipment. I’ve been doing it for a long time, so all the new people have problems, they need my expertise, “can I…?”

“Sure. We can call it a night. Besides, it’s ten. If the shop was open tomorrow it would be way past my bedtime.”

“The shop is closed?” I was surprised.

“Yeah. I figured,” and she stopped for a minute to think, then started again. “If it was a late night and I had some drinks,” and she laughed. “Like I am. I could use a morning off.”

I looked at her, but couldn’t say anything other than, “I’m sorry.” And then I got another text.

“I…

“That’s ok. Go ahead. Maybe we can do this again sometime.”

“Yes. We can. We will,” I said, fumbling.

I texted Jazz  I was here, and the door to our improvised stage opened slowly. I was greeted with the barrel of Backstop’s AR-15 pointed at my head. And as he backed up, and I went through, Ginger greeted me with the barrel of her Glock 19.

“I take it something is fucked.” Backstop closed the door behind me, their greetings lowered.

“Sorry, but..” Backstop started to say.

“No, no, just earlier than expected,” Jazz continued. We got the call that it’s going down tonight. Change of plans. Somehow they got the Headliner where they didn’t think he would be.

“Sounds convenient,” Ginger said.

“It’s fine,” Jazz replied. We’re all here. And the instruments are set up. So the band is ready.

“Like I said, sounds convenient.”

I looked at her. She stared at my face. “Really, you’re drunk,” she said.

“It wasn’t until tomorrow night.”

She shook her head. “You’ve had it too easy since the Band broke up.”

“Hey,” Backstop interrupted, “Did you bring any donuts?”

“Jesus,” Ginger said, as Jazz raised his head signaling the same question.

“No. The shop is closed. And from what I was told, the tourists that rented this room bought them all.”  Jazz put his head down.

“Not all of them,” Backstop said.  “Not a fan of those plain brown ones.”

“Am I the only one here that doesn’t give a fuck about donuts and thinks we lost the edge on all this?” Ginger yelled. 

We all looked at her. She was right. And she saw that. “So, can we please change the Program and decide how we’re going to play this.”

I looked back at Jazz and realized he was standing in a big blow-up rubber pool, behind the Truth or Dare Board which was inside.

“Wow, that’s clever.” Normally at the Clubs we used to perform at, the ToD board was over a drain on a concrete slab.

“Yeah, we thought this would work. We know it’s quick. Then we just shop-vac up the water,” Jazz explained.

“Ok. So now that you’ve impressed Billy, let’s get back to securing the stage,” Ginger said. 

I turned trying to find her voice. She had moved over to the door, there was a big metal mixing pot in front of it.

 “It was up here. Ya know, donut shop…dough.. is where I got it, to answer what you were thinking,” she said to me.

I watched her run a tripwire in front of the door and then attach two flash-bang grenades on either side.  “They’re my design, more flash and more bang, almost no smoke.”

“Shit,” I said. And took out my Beretta. Ginger gave me a, now you get it smirk.

The gig was going to start at one a.m. We were sitting around in the dark.  Backstop and Jazz were next to the windows peering out every so often. I was on the floor across the room. Ginger walked over to me from where she was sitting by the door.

“Well, did you get laid?”

“No, but I got a little bored.”

She shook her head. “You really surprised me with this relationship thing. I almost believed you,” and she slapped my shoulder and walked back to the door.

“Maybe getting bored is better than getting laid,” I said

“Don’t stop believing, hold on to that feeling,” She started to sing.

“I hate Journey,” I said. But laughed a bit to myself.

“Oh man, I love them,” Backstop said.

“Jesus,” Ginger said to herself.

I startled awake when I heard Jazz say, “Showtime.” I had to look around for a bit to remember where I was. The room was still dark except for the light from the windows.

“Ok let’s get this done and the fuck out of this donut shop,” Ginger said.

“Well,” Backstop replied

“Enough,” Ginger said.

Ginger and Backstop were a few feet away from the door and Jazz was kneeling down behind the ToD board with his AR pointed at the door. I was still sitting on the floor. I picked up my Beretta.

Jazz’s burner binged. “The Headliner and two escorts.”

 We waited about five minutes.

“Ok they’re outside the door,” Jazz said.

  I saw Ginger’s headlamp light moving across the bottom of the door. I forgot about the flash-bangs. Then Backstop slid the mixer just far enough away from the door so they could squeeze the Headliner through, but not the whole entourage. If they tried to push open the door the pot would stop it and that’s when all hell would break loose. But none of that would make any sense. We hadn’t started playing, and the Headliner hadn’t started signing.

The pass-off went quickly, the hooded, handcuffed; Headliner was squeezed through the door. We heard the muffled yells from his gagged mouth. Backstop muscled him over to the table, picked him up, and dropped him on it. I heard the straps come out and tighten. Now I was up.

“The escorts are away from the door and back in the car,” said a voice from Jazz’s earpiece that was dangling next to his face. Jazz booked an Angel for backup. I had no idea who it was, but it made sense.

During a Gig, there was never any unnecessary talking.  Hand signals were used. The only words were from the script we used every time. And I began:

“I’m going to make this easy for you. Let me know what I want and it ends here.”  I signaled Backstop to remove the gag.  Jazz held the Headliner’s head.

“Now don’t move, we don’t want to cut your throat when we’re getting the gag off,” I said.

Backstop opened the hood enough to cut it off. And then he tightened it again.

“Fuck your mother,” was the first thing we heard.

I usually had a K-wire in the Headliner’s thumb by now and would’ve answered that comment with a couple of taps, but his hands were still cuffed behind him. So I signaled backstop for water. The first shower.

He did the usual gagging and choking. “Ok, now, here we go again.  Supplier, shipment dates, all the houses where the girls are kept. For each answer, the shower shortens.”

Fuck your mother, fuck…”

I signaled for another shower, and then for Ginger to remove his left shoe. She knew what was coming, and got them ready.

This was his second Shower, about a three-one-thousand each. I knew the timing by heart, but then felt my pockets, no stopwatch. I decided it didn’t matter. I was retired. This wasn’t adding to the resume any longer.

“Ok. So that’s two. I’ll repeat what I want to know, supplier…

“Your mothers’ pussy,” and he laughed. Jazz looked at me. His look said what I was thinking, we don’t usually get laughter. Fuck you’s, yes. But not this.

“So let me try this approach,” I said.  Ginger had already removed his shoe and sock.

“You gonna start tickling now cause this water doesn’t mean shit.”

Ginger handed me a K-wire, then held his foot down. He started laughing again. I smiled to myself. Maybe if he’s ticklish, I could improvise with that, I thought.

Ginger cleared her throat a bit, waking me up and telling me to get started.

“Ok, this is another way I like to enhance my interrogations.” I put the tip of the K-wire under the big toenail and started tapping. He jerked his leg and Ginger pushed down hard on it.

“Wooohooo, now we’re getting started,” he yelled. Ginger”s eyes widened, and I could see she almost started to laugh. I turned to Jazz. He had the same surprised look. I tapped it again.

“That’s it, give me your best shot you fucking cun..”

Before he could finish his sentence, I gave Backstop the signal and shower number three started. This one surprised him, and he choked more, swallowing water. He began to aspirate. I stepped back from the table and Jazz lifted it up until he was vertical, and then titled it down so gravity could help clear his airway. He kept coughing. But then it slowed. He started thrashing around on the board trying to break loose.

“Fuck all your mothers. Stinky fucking cunt mothers.”

Now I had him. He lost control. The macho was breaking down. I grabbed the small mallet.

“Three questions,” I said.

“Eat shit.”

I gave one tap. He gave out a type of scream-laugh. I signaled for the water. Every time I could tell his mouth was open I would hit him with the water. Shower four. This time I let it go longer. After it stopped his chest was heaving and he was choking, but the surprise didn’t work as well as last time. No aspiration.

At this point, I started tapping the K-wire all the way down. He started hooting with each tap, as if we were encouraging someone chugging beers. Ginger had to walk away. I knew she was trying to keep from laughing. At this point, she was supposed to have started her Fairy Godmother routine.  But she didn’t, so I motioned for Jazz to hold his foot down and I started another K-wire. He jerked his leg causing me to miss the wire and the mallet hit his shin.

“You missed you fucker. All of you are fuckers. You think I’m gonna say a fucking word. Drown me, stab me, burn me, you all can eat shit. All that young pussy is gonna keep being fucked and the drugs are gonna keep flowing if I’m here or not. Can’t live forever and I made a good living off all that pussy.”

Ginger came back. She was pissed and broke protocol.“Cut this motherfucker’s toes off.”

His ankle was strapped down with the K-wire heads visible. “Ohhh, you sound pretty. You need a job, bitch?”

 Ginger pulled out her Glock. Jazz and I moved toward her thinking she was going to shoot him. She pounded the new K-wire all the way down with the butt.

He started hooting. And then laughing. This time Jazz signaled Backstop to hit him with water. That seemed to get it done better than the K-wires.

I figured I would try another one. Ginger saw me pull out a third K-wire and immediately held his ankle down.

He was choking a bit from the water but then got better. “You guys ever done this before because so far I got a whole lot of showers and now a hard-on.”

“Fuck this,” Ginger said, and pushed Jazz aside. “Lock it and hold his ankle.”

“Wait no,” I leaned over his foot and put my arm up to try and keep her back.”

“Move it or your hand is first.”

“Yeah, move it you prick,” the Headliner said, then started laughing at us.

That pissed me off. It was a mess. This guy was something different.

“Move,” Ginger said again. And grabbed the Headliner’s ankle.

“Now what you gonna do, clip my nails?  Try the third toe. That nail was a little long.”

I looked at Ginger then I pushed down on his ankle. “You said the third toenail was too long.  How about the pinky,” she said in her soft, encouraging, Fairy Godmother Voice.

“Fuck yeah, you cunt, do them all. Give me a fucking pedicure because you assholes are all gonna d…”

The “ie” was replaced with a scream. Ginger started to cut off his third toe. And in seconds, was on to his pinky. He kept screaming and hooting. Blood covered Gingers’ hands and spattered onto mine. Jazz looked at me. I knew what he was thinking; this guy wasn’t going to say anything. He was crazier than what we dealt with before.

Jazz motioned to Backstop to hit him with the water. Backstopped looked at me. His eyes wide surprised at all this.  I nodded, the Headliner got another shower. He started gasping and coughing.

How’s that shower, asshole,” Ginger yelled. Then she told me to take off his other shoe. I shook my head, no. And jazz pointed at her to stand down. She backed away and walked over to the door.

There is a hand single for extraction which jazz gave me. But nothing for what to do about amputated toes and how to stop the bleeding.  Jazz walked over to his foot and we looked.

Then Ginger came back, pushed past Jazz, sparked her lighter, and improvised. The bleeding toe nubs were no longer an issue.

Ginger walked back to the door.

Backstop snapped his fingers a few times to get our attention. Then signaled, is he dead?”

Jazz moved over to his side, grabbed his wrist and held it for a pulse.

“Good, I hope he’s burning in hell,” Ginger said.

Jazz gave a thumbs up. He just passed out. He pulled out his cell, texted something, then held up his hand signaling he called in the extraction.

“Good, about time. I need a smoke and drink,” Ginger said

Backstop laughed a bit. Jazz gave them both the universal, fuck you, hand signal.

I was tired. This Gig crashed. Only our second one since the Band was together, but that ended because the Club got bombed. So that wasn’t us.

Jazz checked the Headliner’s pulse again then rubbed his knuckles against his sternum to see if he was faking. “Fuck it, he’s out,” Jazz said.

“You sure. You need my lighter again?”

“How long before extraction,” I asked Jazz trying to bring the tension down. He texted the question to whoever he had out there.

“They just pulled up. Nine total. They’re all coming up,” Jazz said, still looking at his phone.

 “All of them,” Ginger said and moved away from the door.

Backstop went for his AR and Jazz went for his.

“Shit, what’s up,” I asked.

“Not sure. What else can you see?” Jazz asked into his mic. “They’re coming in with guns out,” he said. 

“Do they know we didn’t get anything,” I asked Jazz

“How could they, but I don’t think it matters. Either way, he’s leaving.” 

“I told you it was too convenient, “ Ginger said. 

Jazz got angry. “Fuck that. This is Uncle Sam. Homeland. They’re too lazy and want to bypass the red tape. So he was going to Terrorist Island either way. They just didn’t want to wait until they got there. So if he talked, they could close their cases here. They could close his operations here.”

“So Homeland is using contractors, ” I asked. Up to this point, none of us knew the background. Only Jazz did.  We knew the mission. 

“Seems like shit to me, a convenient shitty setup,” Ginger said. 

“So what’s the plan,” Backstop asked, agitated. 

Jazz put his finger up to quiet us. “Angel wants to know what we’re going to do. There are two out by the door; they are easy kills.”  Jazz looked at his phone. “They want him. They want to come in and get ‘em.”

“Tell them we’ll put him through the milk chute,” Ginger said

“A Producer is with them and wants a debriefing,” Jazz said.

“Bullshit. Do they think we’re amateurs?” Ginger said. 

Normally, a Producer doesn’t show up. Not when they didn’t book the Gig. Which meant our Uncle might not have sent the escorts to pick him up. They were either with this asshole, or someone else’s assholes, or just some confused and too eager Freshies. 

“Either way, people are going to die,” Ginger said.

I had my Beretta in my hand. I looked at it. What a way to go out. And I remembered my ankle knife and laughed to myself. I thought, sure that will help.

“Hey, donut man, go in my bag. I figured if this happened you’d be a lot more help with something more than just your nine shooter.”

I did what Ginger said and found a Heckler SP5. Now we could start the second set I thought.

We started to hear moaning coming from the table.

“Fuck me, just shoot him,” Ginger said.

“No, we need him…right?”  Backstop yelled

“For now, I hope,” Jazz said

The moaning started to get louder. “If he starts to scream,” I said. Jazz was already on it and stuck a needle into the Headliner’s neck.  “This will shut him up.”

“An embolism I hope,” Ginger said

We just stood there. Our headlamps all pointing at the door—spotlights waiting for the curtain to open.

And it did, with a light show. 

The lock blew off and the door pushed open setting of Ginger’s flash bangs which gave us some time. The door couldn’t open all the way with the mixer there, so there was no way all of them would get through—and the rule is, if you come in hot, invitation or not, questions get asked after the shooting- and Backstop followed the rule and opened fire shooting through the opening before they could.

After a few minutes, Backstop quit shooting. Angel let Jazz know the two outside were dead, along with two more that retreated. So that was five left. Everything was quiet.

Then Jazz’s cell binged. “They want us to stand down.”

“Fuck them, they’re trapped,” Backstop said.

“Not if reinforcements are coming. They know we have an Angel. So it won’t be so

easy,” I said

“Oh fuck. fuck, fuck, Jazz said.

We all knew what that meant: our Uncle sent a bunch of confused and too eager Freshies.

“Are you kidding me? They come in hot and then try to pull that shit,” Ginger said.

“They gave the code,” Jazz said

“Who cares, people steal that shit,”

“Ask them to put their weapons down and walk outside hands up,” I said. That would make it clear to us if they were for real.  

I closed my eyes. This is what I get for not staying retired. I could have been with Rhonda at her place having what I hadn’t had in a long time. Then coffee and donuts in the morning. 

“Listen,” Jazz interrupted my wishful thinking, “You’re all clean.”

“And,” Ginger said.

 “They don’t know Billy is here. Hell, they really don’t know any of you are here. They hired a band, not the band. I just accepted the contract. So they know I’m here.”

At this point, I got the picture, but I still didn’t know how we could just disappear.

“That’s really dickish of you if you think we’re leaving you holding the shit bag,” Ginger said.

Then Backstop laughed out loud.  “No, donut bag, he said with a grin.

And sometimes that is all you need, a few seconds of stupid to clear your head. “Ok,” I said, “But how do we walk out the front door without being seen?”

“Ahhh, backdoor,” Ginger corrected me.  

“Now we’re a comedy troupe,” I said, aware again of the mess.

“You know, Billy, you really do belong in a donut shop,” Ginger said, and then her headlamp came on, first in my face, and then to the wall connected to Jerry’s Tailors.

I didn’t have to look. I knew what was there: the same thing miners did when they dug their mines, have another way out.

***

Jazz had a driver a block away. Angel was still giving him the status until we were gone. A quick text to Mickey and we would be at O’Doul’s in about 10 minutes. No one would suspect a donut shop that moonlighted as host for Enhanced Interrogation, and no one would suspect an old Irish pub as an improvised safe house. We didn’t like that Ginger stayed behind at Jerry’s. She said she had a few ideas on how to clean this up.  If this was truly Uncle Sam, then the GI-issued cleaners were already on the way.

Mickey’s place was dark. The big shamrock sign wasn’t on. He texted me he was inside. He only lived a block away. All three of us went in. My corner booth had a couple of battery-operated camping lights on the table. But everything else was lights out.

“Coffee or whiskey,”  Micky asked us.

“Whiskey,” we all replied.

“I’ll start a tab,” Mickey pretended to joke. But I knew I would get a bill for all of this.

“Where’s Ginger?” Backstopped asked starting to get concerned.

Jazz wanted to try and contact her. It was at least forty minutes since we left. Jazz tried to contact Angel, but just got a code for stand down and then Jazz’s burner binged.

“Is that her?” Backstop asked.

I was hoping it was. No one left behind means voluntary or not.

Mickey came back with a bottle of Jameson and three glasses. “You said four were coming.” He looked at me trying to read my face to see if we had lost one.

“Yeah, get another one,” I said. “And an ashtray if you still have those.”

After I said that we heard a rumble and the table and Jameson bottle rattled a bit along with our glasses.

“What the fuck, you have earthquakes in Detroit?” Backstop asked, now not only concerned about Ginger

We sat there. At this point, we had enough of this night. So whatever was happening out there, we didn’t care as long it didn’t come in here.

Jazz phone binged again. “Is it Ginger?”Backstop asked him

 “It’s an angry turd, a thumbs-up, and 3 exclamations next to it. And then a ½ percent.  Well, they’re pissed. But it’s over and they’re very happy about something, but we’re only getting half our money.”

“Can you get a hold of Ginger?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Backstop added.

Jazz started to text, but as he did we heard a siren outside. Then a couple more.  We didn’t get up, but we didn’t like what was happening.

“I’ll check it out, Mickey said.

 I gave him a thumbs up.  Then we heard him say, “Hey there, you must be…”

“Fine.” And Ginger walked in, a bit out of breath.

“Ginger,” Backstopped said and stood up rocking the table.

Jazz smiled and so did I.

“What, did you stop for donuts?” I figured I would try the humor this time.

“No, but I made S’mores.”

“S’mores?” Backstopped asked with an excited look on his face.

Ginger tilted her head and glared at him with her, are you for real stare.  “So, I think we’re good,” she said, pushing into the booth and pouring a drink. “Cigarette or a joint, anyone?” she asked.

“Holy fucking hell,” Mickey yelled, alarmed enough that he seemed to channel his ancestor’s Irish accents, “The whole block must be on fire down by Rhonda’s.”

We all looked at ginger. “Like I said. I think we’re good. Everyone got what they wanted.”

“What do you mean?” Backstop asked

“They got the Headliner. We got out and the place got cleaned.”

“Those would’ve been the exclamation points, but how did you…” Jazz asked.

“Well. I had an Angel and an Uncle helping me.” And then she took a long drink out of the Jameson bottle.

We all knew that meant question time was over with Ginger. The job was done. And all was good. End of story

***

After a few hours, Jazz ended the party. It was time they left town. Mickey told them to come back anytime. Preferably when he was open.

“Shouldn’t you go and offer some support to your Donut Lady. That’s what boyfriends do,” Ginger said. 

Jazz was at the door and laughed. “She’s always taking care of something.” Then he looked at me with his version of sentimental. “Billy, be safe out here in the world.”

“Yeah,” Backstop added. “But goddam, Ginger, coffee and donuts woulda been nice this morning.”

“Hey, I got Irish Coffee,” Mickey offered.

“Two to go,” Jazz said. Then opened the door. “We’re gonna get some air.” But when he did you could smell the smoke as it came into the bar.  “Maybe not.” And Jazz and Backstop went down to the end of the bar where Mickey was making their drinks

 “Yeah, make it three. And a cigarette or joint if you have it,” Ginger yelled.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Mickey answered.

And as she turned and started to walk over to the rest of them I said, “You know, Rhonda didn’t get what she wanted. She lost her shop.”

“Really.  I think she did, Ginger replied.

“How?”

“She said, ‘She wanted a life without the donut shop. A new start.’

“When did you talk to her?” I asked very confused, but Ginger’s grin gave me my answer. “You bugged me when I went on my date with Rhonda?”

“Of course. What was I going to do, watch TV?”

“Why?”

“I’m nosy. And listen. I wasn’t going to let you live happily ever after working at a donut shop. So, either way, I probably would’ve burned it down.”

I was too tired for more questions. I understood everything she was saying.

“Sorry to interrupt, but here you go and Mickey handed Ginger and me our drinks.

Then they all toasted to my retirement and we tapped our Styrofoam cups.

Jazz and Backstop went outside, but Ginger stood at the door. “You better get going and check on her.” And then blew me a kiss and walked out. 

The whole bar smelled of smoke. I had time to go see Rhonda. That fire was going to burn all night. I took a long drink while I stared at the door. The first time tonight I felt a little panicked. I closed my eyes enjoying the quiet, thinking over everything that happened, the mistakes, confusion, how it played out, what Jazz was going to do now since we kinda fucked this one.

“Hey Michael,” Mickey startled me. Do you want me to put tonight on your tab or do you wanna square up now?”

I looked at him. Then I looked back at my booth and the empty bottles. The smoke was still in the air. And the dim light in the bar made everything seem hazy.

Mickey was holding up the receipt.

I finished the last of my drink. “Yeah, Mickey, put it on my tab.”


Bio: David Calogero Centorbi is a writer that in the 90’s earned an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. Now, he is writing and working in Detroit, MI. He is the author of Landscapes of You and Me, (AlienBuddha press.) AFTER FALLING INTO DISARRAY (Daily Drunk Press)

He can be found at his authors blog, HERE

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