August 9, 2012
— basketball scholarship, comedy club, drug dealing, flash fiction, Knicks, Lion of Judah, pill pushing, Rastaman Vibration, short story, stand-up comedian
By Steve Dodd
Nick sat in a plastic lawn chair behind an old folding table, the type where you could lose a finger opening and closing the damn thing. On the other side, in a chair just as flimsy, sat a fat man named Steve Manners, but he preferred to go by the stage name of Heavy. He wore a Rangers cap over his dreads, camo cargo pants, and a Rastaman Vibration T-shirt, triple XL. The transfer of the Lion of Judah straining across his moobs. Look on his face, Nick could see he was fixing to tell one of his old school stories. They’d been waiting for five minutes and that was the longest the fat bastard could go without feeling he had to fascinate the room.
“You remember those cassette players?” asked Heavy Manners.
“Well I bought an old Buick, still got one in it. I went to this yard sale on Long Island and got a box full of tapes. There was some good shit. Like Bob Marley. Sweet. Only it didn’t play all the time. Loose connection. Anyway, we was ridin’ to the Reggae Sunsplash festival. Tryin’ to get there all night. ‘Cept the local police kept blocking the way, right? We drove ‘round for hours, tryin’ to find a way through. It was three a.m. and the cassette just came on. And y’know what it played? ‘Rebel Music’. Spooky, right?”
Heavy Manners screamed out the chorus, “Three o’clock. Ba-oom, ba-boom. Road block.”
Nick exhaled through his nose and looked away.
They were seated in the back room of a comedy club in Hell’s Kitchen. Nick had been told to stay put until the boss got there. “Make sure the fat food bag is waiting,” was what the text actually read. Heavy Manners was a bad stand-up whose act was built around a reggae fan/stoner persona. He was so pathetic he was good. Good at least for slow Tuesday nights when only stray tourists attracted by the two-for-one vouchers Nick handed out in Times Square turned up. Good for the MC on open mic nights. Otherwise he stunk. One thing about him though. Fat fuck had the skin of a rhinoceros. Either he didn’t realise everyone thought he was ridiculous or he didn’t care. Whatever, since Nick was one of the few people on the regular payroll, the boss had made Heavy his problem for the moment.
Jerry Raban had hired Nick straight out of juvie. Nine months for dealin’ in high school. If you asked him what he did, Nick’d be hard put to explain it without sounding faggy. He was an all-hours personal assistant. Jerry needed something, Nick got it. He drove for him too. While he’d been away he’d spent a lot of time in the weight room and that didn’t hurt either. Made him look like muscle when really he was more of a thinker.
Jerry’d known Nick’s old man before the accident. Lived in the same neighbourhood. As a favour to his mom, Jerry’d taken him on. She’d been a mess when Nick got busted, wrecked his b’ball scholarship. She’d seen his future all mapped out, state finals, college star, NBA and retire as an ambassador for the Knicks. “Nick for the Knicks,” she loved sayin’. Fact was he only liked playin’ basketball coz it gave him a rep at school. He hated being skinny. When he knew that dream was over, he’d got serious ‘bout pumpin’ iron. Now he felt proud of his body, the way people made space for him when he entered a room. Thank God Jerry’d been around to smooth things over with his mom.
Nick couldn’t help think there was some history there, but the boss man had no shortage of tail nowadays. Ownin’ the club, he auditioned more than a few desperate wannabe comics. Quite a few, young women. At first Nick had been surprised. But now he’d been workin’ for Jerry for just over two years, few things surprised him. Like being told to call Heavy in and keep him there ‘til Jerry showed. Like it was real important. The fat fuck just probably did something dumb and didn’t realise it. All he thought about was his shit-can act.
“Hey kid, I’ve been thinking ‘bout a new intro. Get them to feel me straight off. Something like, hi, I’m Heavy Manners the original reggaeryan stand up. What you think?”
“Not with ya, but at ya. That what you’re reachin’ for?”
“Huh, no, maybe. S’long as their laughin’ right? Hey, y’know how you can tell someone’s got one of them iPads? They tell you. Hur-hur.”
The door opened and Jerry Rabin strode in. He was a tall, wiry man in his thirties, wearing a black leather jacket, striped dress shirt and Guess jeans, Cuban toed boots polished to a high shine.
“You got here then? You fat addie.”
“Kid called me, said it was important. Say, how ya doin’ Jerry. Got a spot open Friday night?”
“Yeah,” Jerry snorted. “Like I need you stinkin’ up the place when it’s crowded.”
“You know me Jerry, it’s all about super sizin’ the comedy.”
Jerry snorted again, and glanced sideways at Nick. “Know why the fat addie’s here Nicky boy?”
“Told me to get him here’s all I know.”
Jerry laughed, and looked back at Heavy, “That’s all he knows.”
“That’s all he knows,” said Heavy Manners, levering himself out the lawn chair, his belly bumping against the card table. He squeezed past Jerry Rabin and came to stand behind Nick, his thick hands on his shoulders, stopping him from getting up.
“What’s goin’ on boss?” asked Nick.
“Judgement day, kid.”
“Sing songs and praises,” chimed in Heavy Manners.
Nick tried to keep still. He wanted to rub his face but knew better than show any sign of weakness.
“If it’s about the cash register, we discussed that Jerry. The Jacksons had slipped down the back. I found ‘em for ya, remember?”
“Aint about skimmin’ the take, kid,” said Jerry. “S’bout Amber.”
“She’s just a waitress boss, she don’t even…”
“You’ve been using her to push pills in my club,” Jerry began shouting. “Risking my business selling to underage kids. Y’know how I found out? The Russians put the squeeze on me for another grand a week. Said now I’m dealin’ to high-schoolers I could afford it. Looks like I’m forced to make some economies ‘round here kid. Namely you.”
Nick tried to get up, but the massive weight of Heavy Manners kept him pinned to his chair. He was about to twist sideways and slide under the table to get away when the big man grabbed his face. Heavy Manners pushed the palm of his left hand over Nick’s mouth and nose, forcing Nick’s head back into the hard fat of his gut. Nick tried to pull the meaty paw off. He was finding it impossible to breath. When Heavy’s thick right arm wound around the top of his head, like a boa constrictor, he couldn’t see either.
“Careful Steve, don’t rip his fuckin’ head off. We don’t want to upset his momma.”
“Didn’t last time,” panted the fat man. “And this’ll look like an accident, too. Boy’ll have broken his neck falling down the stairs.”
“S’right, I was forgettin’. Maybe I’ll drop by. Give the milf my condolences.”
Nick kicked and squirmed. The card table went flying. But he couldn’t twist free.
“Jah say the fruit don’t fall far from the tree.”
“I wish you’d quit it with that Rasta shit, Steve.”
There was a crack and the fat man dropped his arms to his side. Nick slid slowly off the chair. His body folded neatly on the floor.
“Heavy Manners in-a Babylon, mon. Now, how’s about a weekend gig? You know I’d kill. ”
Steve Dodd can be found on twitter @StevenMDodd — be nice, he’s new. He started writing for pleasure last summer during a break from teaching Art History to teenagers. So far, his work has appeared in The Ranfurly Review, River Lit and Down in the Dirt literary magazine. He has lived in Chicago but now resides in Portsmouth with his American wife and two children.