"...those who enjoy the darker side of the genre are in for some serious thrills with this..."
Laura Wilson, The Guardian
Published in the UK by Polygon (March 19th, '09) and in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Nov '09).
by Tony Griff
TONY GRIFF was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and raised in Chicago. He spent several years on the road, coast to coast, on stage crews for rock + roll bands. He continues to get out of town as often as possible.
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou
Rockwell Baker and Roland Jones sat outside at a table in a coffeehouse on Decatur Street across from the market down in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Rock stirred a big cup of tan coffee. Roll shook out a packet of brown sugar, ripped it in half and dumped it into a smaller cup .
"Expensive cup of coffee," Rock said.
"That’s a latte. This is an espresso," Roll sipped.
"Cost damn near as much as an oil change."
"It’s on me. Drink up."
Rock took a mouthful. "Jeez, that’s hot!"
Roll swirled his cup and lit up. It took one hour to drive over from Biloxi. Friday afternoon, hot as hell’s stove, the old market full of tourists. Ma and Pa in crawfish hats, passing thru on their way to Branson, sweating up a storm, wondering what was the big deal about New Orleans anyway? Everything ragged, ratty and old as Moe. Everyplace was all beat up. You couldn’t tell if you were in a ghetto or Elysian Fields. Couples maybe on their first trip together poking in and out of every stall, picking over the beads, hot pepper bottles and pralines. The woman thinking of relatives and friends to remember with souvenirs. The man thinking - when she’s asleep slip out down to Bourbon street and have a drink in one of those nudie bars.
Short, strong subtropical storms left a constant drip. There was a smell of mud mixed with ginger and bread baking, garlic, onion, butter, coffee and wine swirling in the thick tropic breeze. Also a whiff of open sewer, rot and piss.
"Pretty good," Rock slurped.
Roll checked out the girls sitting inside. Two big, fat dracula chicks. Both were over six feet tall and went about 250 plus. Pierced ears, noses, lips, eyebrows - who could tell where else? Dressed up in scanty black lace bras and drawers worn over dull, torn leotards squeezing wide, thick, bared belly buttons, strong, lardy legs, thighs and hips. Giant asses. Very thick- soled combat boots. One had pale skin white as lightning, the other butterscotch brown, both with tattooed arms, back, neck, below the knee with black, yellow, red and blue dragons, devils, bats, spiderwebs, flames and dark sharp slashes with needle thin points that wrapped and intertwined on their hefty flesh. Purple and green tipped hair spiked and shaved. Clotted, brown lipstick and harsh grey raccoon eyeliner. Rings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces and chokers clanking when they moved to sip their coffees. Roll noticed the white one had copious armpit hair.
"Espresso is a colloidal dispersion, not a suspension," he said.
"No shit," Rock said.
Two tables over, a beefed-up kid with a stupid haircut, wearing a droopy, dark green Tulane t-shirt, baggy shorts and bugeye sunglasses sneered and slumped with his untied gymshoes propped up on a chair. A big, black dog lay panting beneath him, drooling on a football.
A old tante pushed her little grocery cart along the banquette. When she squeaked in front of the coffee shop, the dog jumped at her. The leash wrapped around the kid’s chair - caught and held - the gramma froze. The dog, inches from her spindly legs, snapped, barking loudly.
"Cobain, stop," the kid called. The dog snarled. The auntie got behind her cart, holding a hand to her heart.
The kid yanked the leash. The dog barked.
"Dat dog need him some manners," the old lady said. She stared at the kid and scowled. "Ah’m put a spell on you." She went into her purse and drew out a clump of dirt she threw in his direction. She aimed bony fingers at the dog. "You too, hellhoun’." She slowly pushed her grocery cart along.
The kid twitched, then spit. The dog continued to bark.
Rock looked at Roll and hitched his eyebrows. Roll put out his cigarette.
"Hey, sonny," Rock said. "Simple procedure take care of that hound yappin’." He took a thumb and made a slitting motion across his throat.
"Wha'?" the kid said. He spit again, stroked the sparse stubble under his chin. The dog barked.
Roll leaned over a little. When he was sure the kid was looking right at him, he spoke in a voice low enough to make him have to listen. "Shut that fuckin’ mutt up."
The kid laughed. "Old man, this animal will eat up your ass. Mind your business. Awright?" He pulled the dog to him and aimed it their way.
Roll sat up straight.
Rock laughed. "Old man! Ouch!"
The dog snarled. The kid bent over and rubbed his head against the dog’s. He patted its chest and rubbed its’ back.
The draculettes sat very still. The white one looked at Roll.
"You think he makes it with the pooch?" he asked her.
The girls giggled. There’s nothing cuter than happy fat girls.
The kid whispered something into the dog’s ear. He pointed at Roll.
Rock checked for his piece. He knew he had it, of course he had it, he always had it but it never hurts to check. He eyeballed the dog. "Which one you figure’s the bitch?"
The girls burst into laughter.
The kid let the dog go. It went for Roll like he was a sausage.
In the instant the dog lunged, Rock and Roll stood up and tossed their hot, expensive coffees in the dog’s face. As the dog stopped short and squealed, Rock punched it once in the head - hard - with a left. The dog thudded beneath the table. Roll kicked it - hard - and the dog bounced off a table leg and lay very still. They moved quickly, grabbed the kid and dragged him inside.
"You owe us a couple of coffees," Rock said.
The kid nodded. His arms felt as if gripped in a vise.
"A latte grande and an espresso doppio," Roll said to the bean grinder.
"Better make ‘em to go," Rock said.
The girls had stopped laughing.
"Friend of yours?" Roll asked the white one with armpit hair.
Both girls made faces. "No way," the hairy one said. "He’s a creep."
"Y’all from around here?" the heavier one asked.
"Business," Roll said.
"Sort of business you in?" she flirted.
"A none of your..." Rock said.
"Public relations," Roll interrupted.
"That was pretty cool, never saw anybody punch a dog before," the hairy one said.
"Aw, that ain’t nuthin’," Roll said. He looked at the kid. "You oughta see us skin a cat."
Outside, the big, black dog struggled to its feet. When it caught sight of the men sipping coffee, it turned tail and headed for the levee.
Copyright © 2002 Tony Griff