The first time Eddie let it go. Second time he swore; it was after midnight, for Christ's sake. Some jerk honking his horn out back, waking the neighborhood.
His blue funk was hiked by the thought of Karen's kid, Jobless Jimmy, coming to stay with them, dragging it out eight weeks now, a rap sheet the only thing on the kid's resume. A thirty-year-old sponger in debt to his eye-teeth, with no prospects, and no sign of getting off Eddie's couch. It was driving Eddie nuts.
Maybe the neighbor's teen took the Slim Jim he got for Christmas, was out back jacking car radios, banging the horn like a moron, the kid having more priors than brain cells.
Or it could be Jobless Jimmy's pal up on apartment seven, tired of slapping the shit out of the missus, decided to go out and slap his horn instead, waking the neighbors for the hell of it. Eddie had to talk Karen into moving from this place, preferably while Jimmy was out.
The woman just lay there like a stone, not a flinch, her mouth open, air going in and out. God, she could sleep through a highway head-on.
Eddie threw the blanket off. No way he was putting up with any more.
Not a fighting man by nature, he went to the kitchen, switched on the bare bulb and reached for the phone, lifted the receiver and dialed 9, then 1, then hung up. Like they'd send a squad car on account of some asshole honking his horn. He considered the old Bakelite phone with the rotary dial, black with some heft to it. Karen bought the thing on eBay. It weighed as much as a six-pack, cost nearly twenty bucks just to ship it.
Eddie sighed. Six more hours and he'd be pulling on his crusty socks for another eight-hour shift. Eight hours of busting his ass so Jobless Jimmy would have groceries to shove in his face, Black Label to suck back like vital fluids. Eddie unplugged the phone from the wall outlet and carried it through the living room.
Karen's cat thought he was playing. Eddie stuffed his feet in his work boots, the cat pawing at the cord, then his dangling laces. Eddie kicked at the cat and missed, felt a sharp twinge in his back as he went out the door, the phone cord getting caught.
Motherfucker. Eddie ripped the cord free from the door frame and hurried down the hall to the back door, forgetting the pain in his back, getting psyched for some blitzkrieg, his pulse going triple-digits. One good smack of Bakelite and he'd teach whoever was honking a lesson in consideration.
Most of the bulbs along the parking garage out back were burned out, Eddie squinting, unable to see shit. Stepping into the cold, making sure the door didn't latch behind him, he moved along the stalls, muffled hip-hop coming from some car radio down at the end. Tripping on his laces, Eddie went down hard, the phone bouncing off the gravel, his palms trading flesh for shrapnel. Sitting up, Eddie grimaced, picking bits of driveway from his palms, the pain in his back worse.
A faraway streetlight glinted off chrome and exhaust puffing from a car parked at the end of the lane. Shit, it was Eddie's own prehistoric Datsun. The thumping bass felt like a heartbeat coming from the Bose speakers he installed last year, one of the few things working on the 510. A shadow moved behind the wheel and Eddie knew some asshole was jacking his ride; Eddie forgetting it was up on blocks and hadn't run in months.
Drawing a breath for courage, he clutched the phone, keeping to the shadows, getting himself all Bruce Willis. Tucking the handset down his drawstring pants so he wouldn't knock himself out with it, he circled behind the 510, coming from behind in a rush. Then yanking the driver's door open in a screech of rusting hinges, Eddie's arm wound back and came forward swinging. A head under a hoodie was turning, a flash of whites and a gaping mouth, right out of that Munch painting. The smell of pot escaping the interior.
"Phone for you, dickhead." It struck in one savage whump, Eddie feeling the nose cartilage snap.
Dickhead slumped forward, head honking the horn. Eddie was pulling the guy out when the girl popped up out of the dark, Eddie nearly clocking her, too.
"Crazy fucking bastard," the girl screamed, jumping out of the passenger side, running for her life, feet scrambling on the gravel.
"Me, crazy? It's my ca–," Eddie stopped himself from sharing that bit of evidence, watching her go.
The dickhead lay spilled at his feet. Reaching in, Eddie switched off his Bose, looked at the dark apartment windows, then locked up the car and hurried for the back door. Nobody saw him and justice had been served—served up cold.
Back inside the apartment, Eddie's trembling hand reconnected the phone, his heart going like a piston. He told himself the dickhead didn't get a look at him, the girl either. Getting a dial tone, Eddie rubbed spit over the scratches on the phone. Sure didn't make them like that anymore. Try knocking somebody out with your iPhone.
Pleased with himself for taking a stand—the macho gene alive and well—Eddie kicked off his work boots and patted his paunch, considering a pickled egg from the jar in the fridge. Not risking the heartburn that usually followed a midnight egg, he went back to the bedroom. Karen was still hibernating, a rumble rolling from her throat.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling long breaths, he replayed the scene until the electric blood stopped coursing through his veins. Only downside was he couldn't tell anybody about his Bruce Willis moves, at least not until he was sure the dickhead hadn't been maimed.
Checking the bedside clock, he sighed, knowing he'd be a wreck at work tomorrow. Climbing in, he settled, his consciousness and dreams beginning to mingle.
Maybe an hour passed when Eddie woke to a thump. Laying in the dark, eyes wide open, thinking maybe it was his imagin—
A minute passed, the quiet giving way to somebody cursing. Eddie had a flash of fear—the dickhead tracked him down and was coming after him, then …
A fuck me.
It was Jobless Jimmy's voice.
Eddie pushed Karen's cat off his chest. Goddamn it! How hard was it for Jobless Jimmy to get his shoes off and fall into bed, tanked or not?
"Eating and drinking me out of house and home's not enough," Eddie muttered, feeling the cold against his limbs, flipping on the hall light, shuffling into the living room. "What the hell—"
Jobless Jimmy lay on his side inside the door, having tripped over Eddie's boots, Karen's Indian runner rug catching the dripping blood that his hoodie didn't, one of his mostly-crusted nostrils going like a tap.
Eddie's clouded brain put the jigsaw together, his pulse kicking up. He had decked Jobless Jimmy with the phone.
"Some fucker jumped us," Jimmy said, trying to prop himself up, blood dripping on the rug. "Out back." He motioned with his thumb.
"What us? Who's us?"
"Me and my girl, right out back."
"You got a girl?"
"Yeah, fuck. Out back. In your car."
"A girl in my car?"
"Couldn't come in here, could I?" Jimmy put his hand under his nose and wiped a drip.
"You know the car's got no wheels, right?"
"Wasn't that kind of date." He snorted blood.
"Well, in the future how about no dating in my … hey, stop doing that."
"Couldn't come in here with you and Mom in the next room, right?"
Eddie sighed, checking Jimmy's gashed forehead, making like he cared. "So, what the hell you get hit with, a wrench or something?"
"Fucker came out of nowhere, decked me with those Bruce Lee things—man, my bells are still ringing."
"What can I do?"
"Think my nose's broke."
"Let me …" Eddie went to touch it.
Jobless slapped at his hand. "The fucker got my wallet."
"Yeah, twenty bucks in it and some …"
Eddie nodded, figured the girl grabbed it. He inspected the gash the phone made. "Could use a few stitches. I can take you to emerg—"
"Fuck that." Jobless wiped more blood.
"What happened to your date?"
"Fuck do I know? I got … we were … you know, waiting for Vince to drag his sorry ass downstairs."
"What, like a double date?"
Jimmy waved his hand. "We had a little thing to do."
"In a car that won't run?"
Another wave of his hand.
"That you honking out back before?"
"Thought I heard somebody blasting their horn, maybe around eleven."
"Might have bumped it a couple times. That against the law or something?"
"Hey, don't get ugly on me. I'm the one got robbed of sleep." Eddie thumb-tapped his chest. "Maybe some gray-hair got pissed off, or the kid across the hall, what with you honking in the middle of the night."
"That's what Vince figured when he finally came out and found me lying there."
"Vince, huh. Yeah, shame what this place's turning into. You want a Band-Aid or something?" Eddie looked at the deformed nose, watched another red drop hit Karen's rug.
"Yeah, like it's what, two now?"
Jobless looked at the wrist with no watch on it and shrugged.
"How about you fill her in tomorrow?"
Jimmy groaned and raised himself up and looked in the hall mirror. "Fuck. What a train wreck." He touched the gash, then his bent nose. "I ever catch the fuck who did it this …"
Eddie turned, hiding the smirk.
"Gonna look like shit for my interview." Blood was crusting against his hair.
"A job interview?"
"Well, better get cleaned up and stop leaking blood all over the place."
"Yeah, could use some shut-eye." Jimmy shuffled into the can, shutting the door.
Eddie looked at the back of the door, saying, "Good luck tomorrow," thinking he better check the phone for evidence. He replayed the event, how it felt smacking the Bakelite against Jobless Jimmy's face—felt pretty good, truth be told.
Eddie found a Brillo under the sink and went at the phone, scrubbing light enough not to scratch it more than he already had, hearing Jimmy running water in the bathroom. With any luck, the kid wouldn't be jobless tomorrow, maybe earn enough to get his own place. Eddie counted four Black Labels in the fridge and leaned close to the bathroom door on his way down the hall, whispering, "You want me to wake you in the morning?"
"Yeah, that'd be great, thanks, Eddie—by eight if you can."
"Sure, no problem, kid." He went into the dark room, guided by Karen's seesaw breathing.