Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More from "Third Degree"

My head landed next to Trixie’s front paws. She immediately set up a howl, barking like she was rabid. In between barking, she licked my face. I must have looked pretty bad if she was that concerned. She started circling the parking meter and uttered a few low moans. I heard strains of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” coming from inside Beans, Beans, a lot of cursing, and finally, a loud and booming, “Dudes!”

I’m going to have much bigger problems than wearing a bathing suit to a pool party, I thought, as I touched the welt growing under my eye. I struggled to my feet with a little help from Greg, who was wearing a tee shirt that said “Don’t Need a Permit for These Guns” with arrows pointing to either arm. Greg is big, but he’s not fit, and despite the pain I was in, I was feeling a little punchy. I burst out laughing, which turned to crying in mere seconds.

“Dude,” he said, taking my elbow. “Come inside. I’ve already called the police.” He took in the two men and shook his head sadly. Jesus, Greg’s homeboy, would not be pleased. The two men were still rolling around on the sidewalk, and nobody was trying to intervene now that they were out of Greg’s shop; the crowd obviously ascribed to the “don’t get involved” line of reasoning or else they just enjoyed watching a good donnybrook. I heard sirens as the police raced down Main Street and pulled to a stop in front of the store. The two men separated and I recognized one of the fighters: George Miller, the head of the Department of Public Works, who stood against the plate glass window of Beans, Beans, panting heavily and pointing at the other man. The only reason I knew him was that I handed him a fat envelope of cash every year for his crew because god knows, they had taken many a garbage collection from outside my house that wasn’t really on the Monday “approved” garbage list. Like a sleeper sofa. And a few paint cans that weren’t exactly clean. And more dog waste disguised as regular garbage than I could tally. I loved those guys and felt compelled to show my love once a year. I didn’t recognize the other guy and couldn’t imagine what had brought him to blows with the head of the DPW.

A group of people who had been in the coffee shop had come out onto the street and were clustered a few feet away, mumbling quietly about what had happened. A couple of other patrons were still inside the store, their noses pressed up against the other side of the glass window. Miller said nothing because he couldn’t catch his breath. He bent over at the waist and put his hands on his knees.

The other man, the one without the shoe and the tan that stopped at his ankle, rested against a parking meter. “You’ll be sorry, Miller,” he said, much too calmly for someone who had just engaged in such strenuous fisticuffs. He was in his mid-forties, with a crew cut and horn-rimmed glasses that sat askew on his face. Unlike Miller, who was a rough-hewn kind of guy with a ruddy complexion, he didn’t seem like the type who engaged in these kinds of shenanigans on any kind of regular basis. Having seen Miller around town, dealing with the townsfolk and his crew with a demeanor that could only be described as “impatient,” I was not entirely surprised to see him as one half of the brawling duo. The other guy, however, seemed like he would be more comfortable at the local country club—the one that cost a quarter of million dollars just to apply to—than rolling around Main Street with the head of the DPW.

Two policemen approached the men. Greg knew both of them. “Hi, Larry. Joe,” he said, his meaty hand still gripping my elbow. “I’ll be inside. These two are up to their usual b.s., but this time, they’ve hurt someone else,” he said, pointing to me. I’m hurt, I thought? That wasn’t good news. I kind of suspected it but I didn’t like getting confirmation from an outside source.
Larry, I presumed, motioned to me. “Do we need an ambulance, Greg?”

“Oh, good god, no!” I said, more forcefully than I intended. Larry gave me a curious look. The last thing I needed was to be taken away by ambulance. I’m kind of famous around these parts, and not for anything good, so I just wanted to go home and put a package of frozen peas to my face and forget that I ever ventured into town that morning.

“You might want to get that looked at,” Larry said, hitching up his pants while studying my face. He turned to George Miller, who was fidgeting by the window and looking like he was considering taking flight. “You’re not going anywhere, George, so stay put,” he said. Larry pointed at my face. “You know, you really might want to get that looked at,” he repeated.

I didn’t know what “that” was and I was afraid to find out. I put my fingers gingerly to the place next to my nose and felt a lump. However, when I pulled away, there was no blood and I took that as a good sign.

Greg spoke up. “I’ll be inside when you want to talk to me.” He let go of my elbow and untied Trixie from the parking meter. “Under these circumstances, Trixie can come inside. It’s hot. She probably needs some water.” Joe made a grunt of protest at the dog being inside a food establishment but Greg shot him a look. “You take care of these morons, Joe, and I’ll take care of Alison.”
We made our way into the shop and the crowd of gawkers parted to let us pass. Greg asked that anyone who was just rubber-necking to take it outside as he was going to close up shop to straighten what had been upended in the fight. I took in the usually tidy space: two tables were turned over, as were a few chairs. The fighters had also broken the glass that fronted the muffin case. I took Trixie’s leash from Greg and walked her around the damage and to the back of the coffee shop, where everything was just as it should be, tables and chairs completely upright with a few empty coffee cups left behind.

Greg tossed me a cold, wet rag from behind the counter. “Here. Put this on your eye.”

“How bad is it?” I asked.

“You have a welt. I saw the whole thing. If you hadn’t turned around to talk to Trixie, you would’ve lost an eye.”Jeez. Life with an eye patch. Or a glass eye. I had never considered that. “Thanks, Greg,” I said, holding up the wet rag. It wasn’t the cleanest first aid I had ever seen and it smelled like coffee, but beggars can’t be choosers. I put it on the welt and immediately felt better. “What’s going on with those two idiots?” I asked, hooking a thumb toward the sidewalk.

Greg grabbed a broom from behind the counter and began sweeping up the glass in front of the muffin case. “Miller has a real problem with Wilmott.”

“The guy without the shoe.”

“Oh,” I said, and pulled Trixie closer to me as Greg bent down to pick up a few shards of glass from the floor. I now knew exactly who he was talking about. Carter Wilmott was from an old village family, independently wealthy, and considered himself something of a whistle-blower when it came to the village. I had never met him so didn’t realize it was him. But my assessment of the ankle tan was correct; the Wilmotts kept a huge yacht in the marina next to the train station and were known for being avid sailors. Carter had a lot of time on his hands, what with the independently wealthy part, so he spent his time posting on a blog dedicated to the village and its goings-on. The blog was called “Our Village Matters” and he was merciless in his criticism of local politicians, national figures (particularly Republican ones), and apparently, the DPW. I had been living on campus during the last few weeks of the spring semester and reading the blog—a guilty pleasure—was one of the ways I kept up on what was happening in the village. Apparently, I had missed the DPW screed. But knowing Wilmott’s M.O., I am sure it was yellow journalism at best. I think I even remember a sarcastic post about Greg and his novelty tee shirts; it was a wonder Greg still let him come into Beans, Beans. But then again, Greg was a peace-loving man and I could see him forgiving Wilmott his rants.

Greg finished cleaning up the glass and brought Trixie a bowl of ice cold water, just like he had promised. She dove in as if she had been in the desert and lapped up the water, spilling most of it over the sides with her enthusiastic slurping. He pulled up a chair. “Let me see,” he said, and held out his hand.

I handed him the towel. “I should go check this out in the bathroom,” I said and got up.
Greg gave me a look that indicated that that may not be such a good idea. But what was I going to do? Walk around avoiding mirrors? No time like the present. I went back to the unisex bathroom and turned on the forty-watt bare bulb that hung over the toilet and took a good look at myself in the ancient mirror.

“That’ll leave a mark,” I said to myself. I washed up and dried my face on some scratchy paper towels and returned to the coffee shop, where Greg was continuing to clean up the debris that was littered around the front counter. I offered to give him a hand but he declined.

“The place will be fine once I get it cleaned up,” he said. The bell on the door jingled and we turned to find Carter Wilmott making his way back into the shop. Greg shook his head. “You know what, Wilmott? You’re not welcome here anymore. You are banned from Beans, Beans,” he said, albeit in the kindest way one could communicate another’s persona non gratis status.

Wilmott swayed a bit on his feet, and grabbed his throat. He looked at me and I could see a thick sheen of sweat on his brow. “I just wanted to say…” he started, but began coughing violently. Even Greg, who was as mad as I had ever seen him, stopped what he was doing and leaned across the counter.

“Do you need some water, Carter?” Greg asked.

Before Wilmott could answer, George Miller burst through the door of the shop, his feet falling heavily on the broken glass, making a noise not unlike my cereal makes when I pour in the milk. Miller drew a fist back and with a forceful roundhouse punch, landed a blow to Wilmott’s head. I cried out just as the police followed Miller inside.

Wilmott went to his knees. I got up from my seat, in that weird position of feeling like I should do something yet not knowing what that might be. I made one step toward Wilmott as Greg made his way from around the counter, moving faster than I was.

Wilmott rocked from one side to the other, and caught my eye once more. “…to say that I am sorry,” he said, and fell face first into the pile of dirt and glass that Greg had swept into a tidy mound. I made a tiny sound while Trixie moved to behind the counter, terrified of what had just transpired.

Greg knelt beside Wilmott, Larry the cop doing the same. The other cop grabbed Miller in a strangle hold, using his free hand to handcuff him. Greg moved to the side, worriedly knitting his hands together in front of the counter, while Larry the cop expertly flipped Carter’s body over and began CPR. He pounded on the man’s chest, sweat beginning to roll down his cheeks down his cheeks. He continued for two or three minutes and then checked Wilmott’s neck for a pulse.

He rocked back on his heels, his face a mask of sadness and incomprehension. For some reason, he looked at me and said, “He’s dead.”
Maggie Barbieri


  1. I bypassed breakfast to read this! I'm off to get the book. That's all I can say!


  2. Thanks, Mary! I hope you enjoy it! Maggie

  3. oh man, you can't stop now. How many days till the book hits the shelf?