It’s Only Wrong If You Get Caught
“Takin’ down the house?” Mayor Frank Kastle offers an octogenarian gamer tethered to a poker machine by a coiled, florescent chord. The chord, in turn, is anchored to a tracking card which is inserted into the machine. After this acid entreaty–rebuffed with a calculated look of senior disdain–the Mayor pays her little further attention, confident that the tone of his voice will thwart conversation. “If that doesn’t work,” he thinks to himself, “I’ll just tell her to fuck off.”
Mayor Kastle is losing money to a video poker machine. He shifts his doublewide girth within a small, faux-leather stool, the awkward action resembling dough as it is stuffed into a mold for baking. The mayor is campaigning for reelection, cocooned at a video poker machine in a timeless synesthesia somewhere on the rim of a glacial lake. In this small, microwaveable mountain hamlet he is known as a ‘peach of a guy.’
The mayor taps the glowing coal of a fat Cuban cigar into an ash tray and motions for the bartender. Mikey angles over to the Mayor, “What’s up big dog? Reload?” The Mayor glances at the old woman next to him, noting that her credits are substantially more than his, and tells Mikey to make it a double.
“What’s the rumpus, Mikey? What’s the score?” The Mayor asks.
“Uh, zero to zero. Hasn’t started yet,” Mikey says.
“Who’s winning?” the mayor asks without looking up.
With an arched eyebrow and a slow, slicing motion with his hand, Mikey indicates the mayor is drifting into the center lane of bar conversation. He backs away from him slowly, while the mayor continues rhythmically tapping buttons, sucking on his cigar, and sipping whisky.
Mayor Kastle takes pride in his intimate knowledge of the local criminal subculture. He is an amateur scribe, faithfully writing down choice nuggets of patter in a small notebook tucked inside his shirt pocket. He scribbles, “rumpus” in the notebook, then continues tapping at buttons, reviewing his leitmotiv: There are only two kinds of people in this world. Those who are aware a sport is being played around them and that certain rules governing that sport must be observed; and, on the other hand, those wankers trying to play basketball on an ice hockey rink. If you insist on playing basketball, you will get no quarter from the mayor.
“Feck those wankers,” he says out loud to no-one in particular. That’s an English one.
The Mayor enjoyed no real opposition to reelection until a young police officer with a theology degree felt God calling him to a higher station. Officer Jared Barthes didn’t carry around a notebook for criminal patter. He carried a bible. About six months ago the guy moved in across the street from the Mayor. With the enthusiasm of Bullwinkle the kid informs Mayor Kastle that he too was running for Mayor. What a coincidence! Two mayoral candidates on the same street!
The Mayor shivers with another long pull of whiskey and recollects the two of them that morning: The Mayor standing openmouthed in the middle of their cul-de-sac as the kid burbles on. He with bourbon-soaked cigar, greasy, skid-stained underwear and wife-beater; the kid clutching his mug of Starbucks coffee clad in some kind of suburban pajamas. The pajamas remind Karl of Geranimals, a line of children’s clothes coordinated by matching animal tags–giraffes with giraffes, hippos with hippos, etc. Karl’s unconscious ego is squirming, trying to bury a potent memory of his alcoholic mother absently wandering aisles, mismatching the animals. Karl had a tough time at school, and this fucking kid seemed to be rubbing it in.
The kid, cheerfully: “Gee, Mayor Kastle, may the best man win.”
The Mayor sucking so hard on his cigar he tastes the sweat of the campesino who rolled it.
Three days later, on a breathtakingly beautiful spring day Jared’s pure bred golden retriever is assassinated in the family’s driveway. Right in front of the house while the kids are in the backyard playing, one bullet to the head puts the dog down in a heap of slobbering subservience. A late model, black Cadillac Escalade with smoked windows, garish gold and chrome wheel rims and several cackling occupants is seen speeding away from the scene of the crime. Jared withdraws his candidacy that very afternoon.
Mayor Kastle takes a long, ragged pull on a Marlboro now, wincing as a wisp of smoke trails up into his eyes like a diaphanous viper. To ward off the poison he rubs his bloodshot, crusty orbs with a meaty paw then turns to the skinny apparition that has slipped into the chair directly to his right.
“What’s the rumpus, Billy?” the Mayor asks halfheartedly, his countenance betraying both his lack of interest in any answer the young man might proffer as well as the well worn resignation that he will probably get one anyhow. At length.
“Aww nothin’ Mayor Kastle,” cloys the ghost, seemingly about to explode out of his skin at any moment. ‘Cept, did they fuckin’ remodel this place again? He pauses, twirls on his stool, gold chains swinging, and asks rhetorically, “Where’s the beaner food?” Grabbing the bar and pivoting on his stool he stands up, pointing toward a small, hole-in-the-wall countertop bar at the far end of the casino that sports an amateurish wooden sign, Janet’s Juicy-Juice. He then explodes in mock indignation, “Who’s bright idea was that?”
The bar rustles and Mikey responds, “Easy Billy. Down boy.”
Snapping his fingers Billy then pantomimes a light bulb flicking on above his head, saying, “Oohhh, I get it. Poker and blackjack, tits and ass, Whiskey and beer, Wheat grass and gluten shakes? What the fuck is goin’ on here? Who’s in charge of this place? Where’s my café con leche? Where’s my…?” but he stops mid rant because at that moment the octogenarian hits a jackpot. As the machine convulses with a repetitive jingle, the Mayor falls into laughing, all 290 pounds of him oozing out the sides of his chair, little sweat rivulets skittering down creases between fat and faux leather, plopping on the grimy floor below.
“Oh yeah, what the fuck?” The mayor shouts. “What the are you gonna do with it?” Then, a bit under his breath,“Buy another cat?”
The old lady spits back, “you’re a piece of work, you know that?” Billy cringes into his beer while the mayor, leaning back and up in his stool, says nothing, folding fleshy arms over his chest.
She raises a gnarled index finger in his direction, the coiled chord stretched to its limit, the machine coveting its lost jackpot, “A putz, that’s what you are.” She gives him a hard look. “You’ll go down. We all go down. But with you, Hah! Messy!”
The mayor sighs and relents. “Ah, feck. Sorry. I’ve a bit a pirate in me…”
With a trace amount of warmth she responds, “An’ Irish pirate, I expect.”
“Gotta go man,” whispers Billy to the Mayor, “wanna bump?”
The Mayor looks the old woman up and down then instructs Billy: “Yeah. Leave it in the coin return below.”
The old woman shakes her head while the mayor prepares to fish.
“Okey dokey,” responds the hood, as he slips a small, rectangular paper pouch folded with the exquisite care of an origami figurine, into the slot.
“Gonna get some pimpin’ rims put on the Escalade this afternoon. See ya Mayor.”