Kings Of Cool Crest

Rocket ship’s broken again on Course Two. I have it all in pieces on the turf, and I’m painting it again, with the NASA site up on my phone so I get the insignia in the right places.

‘Have it done before the tournament?’ Bob asks me. He’s with four wrinkled men wearing polo shirts with Flying Tigers and a big paw print stitched on the left breast. They’re older than me, but not as much older as I’d like.

‘Yeah. Be finished by next week,’ I say.

The rocket needs WD-40 and a new weight in the nose cone so it’ll spit the ball onto the green without hitching. My boss, Jaz, finally let me buy what I needed. Which cost all of thirty bucks. Which I asked for a year ago.

‘Don’t put extra speed on it,’ Bob says. ‘Last time you all over-greased it.’

Every time we change some little thing on a course, the Flying Tigers notice. They think they’re big shit because they’re retired pilots for United.

‘I don’t do that, Bob.’

‘I know you don’t, but . . .’ He looks over to where Jaz is fixing a door on a batting cage down the hill.

‘This is my course, Bob. You got a problem, talk to me.’

He smiles. ‘That’s the way things are these days. Can’t say anything, or they sue you into next week, huh?’

Jaz is a Black lady who’s not a lady anymore. Never was, if you ask him. When I started here again, I didn’t think much of it. Working construction all my life, most of the females on our sites were like Jaz, though they didn’t call themselves men then.

I nod at Bob to get him to shut up, but now I’m in a bad mood. The rocket’s a sixty-year-old piece of shit and I’m a sixty-year-old piece of shit for having to work here while rich guys putt around me. When Bob walks away, I hurl the paintbrush at the face of the gnome guarding Hole Seven. Jaz comes up from the cages to tell me to go on break.

‘That troll looks like somebody came in his eye,’ Jaz says. ‘You better clean that up before Amway night. They rented out the whole place on Tuesday. Those people are strange. But they’ve got the cash.’

I wipe off as much as I can, but the gnome is winking and the paint is deep in the crease of his eyelid.


‘Rick, come in here a minute,’ says Ben Flett, as I’m hauling a bucket of balls up from the return hole.  He’s standing in the doorway of the main building of the Cool Crest Golf and Game Center, a fake Tudor castle. Behind him, arcade games blink and ping. I set the balls on the counter next to the girls who ring people up and follow Ben into his office.

‘You know what I realized?’ He stands behind his desk chair. ‘The two of us know these courses better than anybody on Earth probably. Think of that!’

I think of it. Fifty years I’ve played here, except for stretches in Arizona and Mississippi, after my divorce. Ben and I are the same age, graduated from Truman High the same year. We worked concessions here and ran the go-cart track ‘78 to ‘81. Ben went to Mizzou afterwards and I went down the aisle and to work. It wasn’t that college did so much for Ben though – his father owned this place.

‘Well, some other people have realized it too, Rick. And I’m thinking maybe you should sit the tournament out this year.’

I don’t answer right away. I’m thinking of the tap of my club on the hollow ball, how I can see even the underground parts in my mind, the hidden course nobody else sees.

‘Hey,’ Ben says, putting up his hands. ‘I’ll sit it out too. It’s just that some people don’t feel their victories are real.’

‘They get the money.’

I could’ve guessed it was coming, after last year when Bob came in fourth. The second and third place guys were cool, but Bob was stomping around, glaring at me.

‘Money isn’t all life’s about, Rick.’

‘Is this or else?’ I ask.

Ben sits down in his chair. ‘No. It’s not like that. It’s a favor.’

A favor. Terrible. I miss Ben’s dad sometimes. With him, it was fuckin’ do it or get lost.

‘Have to think about it.’

‘Thanks Rick,’ he says. ‘I knew you’d understand.’

Ben does that thing all bosses do now. They thank you for doing what they asked, before you’ve agreed to it.


‘That’s fucked up,’ Jaz says, when I tell him. He’s bent over a stalled go-cart. He says it like I told him somebody shot up a school in California. Like it’s too bad but doesn’t have much to do with him.

‘You playing?’ I ask.


Jaz is a good player. Sometimes I think we should go to the Hawaiian Rumble in Myrtle Beach and kick ass. Not that he’d want to go with me.

‘You could tell Ben it’s not fair, asking me,’ I say.

‘Whyn’t you tell him no? You said he’s not gonna fire you over it.’

‘Maybe. Maybe not.’

I’ve been fired plenty of times, but this is different. I’ve come back around to where I started and if I don’t keep this loop closed, I feel like I might spin out into the universe and die. Jaz is too young to understand that. Not that I’d tell him. Or Ben. Or God.

‘Guess I will,’ I say to Jaz. ‘Tell him no.’

Jaz sighs. ‘Fuck, man, fine,’ he says. ‘I’ll talk to him, but it’s all messed up now anyway. If you don’t play, you’ll be piss mad for a month. And if he says you can, you know he doesn’t want you there. See?’

‘Yeah. Fuck him,’ I say. ‘Maybe I should quit.’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ Jaz says, quieter. ‘I’m serious. You’re old as hell.’


On my way home, I stop for a sack of cheeseburgers and fries for me and my ex-wife and her dogs. She’s not back from work when I get there, so I let Lucious and Joffrey into the yard to run around. Our kids’ old swing set is still up and I sit in the rusty glider and light a joint. I can barely see the dogs in the tall grass; they’re chihuahuas. I’m supposed to cut the yard as part of our deal, but I’ve been off it lately. The creek behind the house is quiet, nearly dry in August, crawdads living from one shallow pool to another until a rain comes to free them. Winning the goddamn tournament is important to me. I don’t fool myself about that. That’s a mistake of youth, pretending you don’t care because you’re afraid of what will happen if you do.

Tracy comes home while the sun’s up, but fading. She calls the dogs in and lifts her hand to say she sees me. The light comes on in the kitchen. She’s still got long hair – gray now – and wears a lot of silver jewelry. Some of that silver, I gave her. She unwraps a cheeseburger, pours a carton of fries onto her plate, puts it in the microwave. She takes the hot plate out by the edges and switches off the kitchen overhead. A light goes on in her bedroom and I hear the TV laughing. I cross the lawn, climb the deck stairs and slip into the air conditioning. I carry what’s left in the greasy bag down to the basement, to eat on the hide-a-bed. It’s not a part of our deal for us to eat separately, or not talk. It just works out that way some days.

Outside, I can watch night fall and morning rise again and never get antsy. Inside, I can’t sit long. Never could, especially when Trace and I were married. We met because of the way she drove the go-carts, weaving, tailing, crashing. High, tight jeans, fringes on her shirt, honey blonde hair so long I was sure it would catch in the wheels and tear off her scalp. Ben Flett dated her too. He smoothed things over with his dad a bunch of times but, eventually, we had to ban her from Cool Crest. After that, she chose me. We drove up Ward Parkway and picked out the mansions we would live in when we got rich. We skinny dipped in the Loose Park fountain, the smell of rotting roses washing us in the dark. We dragged down Broadway, back in those years when downtown Kansas City was still gutted and empty. Later, I blamed the kids for slowing her down. She blamed me for not growing up. Basic stuff. The stuff that kills you.

When I’m full, I practice my putts on the green I made from old turf we pulled up from Course Three. I made a hole with a concrete drill, a chisel and some sneaking. I put a rug over it when I’m out, but I’m sure Trace knows I cut into what’s hers.

The hide-a-bed still smells like my kids when I open it. Candy, pee, a skin smell that’s only theirs. Neither live in town. One has a life like mine was at his age. The other is a lawyer, so far beyond Trace and me it’s like she’s behind glass when I see her. I lay down, but Ben Flett itches in my head. Tracy’s bedroom is right above me and her bedframe makes a hurrumph sound every time she turns over. Like it’s saying to us both: go the fuck to sleep.


Jaz is fixing the rocket when I get in. ‘Ben said to. Bob bitched at him about it yesterday.’

‘Bob is a bitch.’

‘Then why’d I see you kissing his ass yesterday, acting all friendly?’

‘Couldn’t wait till I got here?’

I don’t like Jaz messing with my course. He’s good at engines and ball machines and plumbing, but he’s got no touch for course-making.

‘I was in there talking to Ben about you,’ he says.


Jaz takes his hand off the rocket’s white body and its tail crashes on the green. A miniature thruster bounces loose.

‘Shit,’ Jaz says. ‘Anyway, he thought about it and he said you can play. But he wants something for it.’

What Ben wants is for Jaz and me to dress up. Crowns, scepters, velvet pants, robes. BEAT THE KINGS OF COOL CREST on the marquee outside, along Highway 40. Ben had mentioned this idea to me the past couple of years. Like it was a joke, like haha, can you imagine.

‘We’re not his goddamned clowns.’

‘He knows. He’ll pay. Hundred bucks each, plus 15 percent of day-of profits.’

A wren lands on the rocket’s nose and pops inside. Ben felt bad about yesterday, so he cooked this up. A win-win, but not really. Even with his classy St. Louis wife and his yuppy-ass Dutch Colonial on Morningside Drive, Ben has to beat me.

‘Why’s he asking you?’

‘Jesus,’ Jaz says. ‘You think he would cut you in on that deal and not me? Yeah, you still think that, I know. It’s 1975 in your fuckin’ brain.’

‘Naw. It’s 1978,’ I say.

Jaz slaps his knees and stays bent over a second, resting. He’s got cornrows pulled tight in a design that looks like lightning.

‘Decide fast. His son’s coming down here tonight to take pictures of us or something.’

Ben’s son Jonathan works for Hallmark, making birthday cards on a computer. Ben can’t shut up about it. Nothing to be so proud of, if you ask me.


The velvet’s polyester. The gold’s plastic. The crown’s too small on me, too big on Jaz. Jonathan’s setting up a tripod for his phone on Course Two. Jaz and I are pre-gaming in Ben’s office for whatever’s about to happen, pulling off a fifth of Jameson. Jonathan brought a mirror and our reflections won’t leave us alone.

Jaz says, ‘Not bad.’ He puffs his chest out and points one foot, like pictures of Henry VIII.

I do it and Jaz cracks up.

‘You’re more like a scarecrow type,’ he says.

He’s right. My neck’s stringy, my gut’s soft, my feet are boats. Jaz looks better, with his wide trunk, small feet, soft face. He’s wearing something invisible too, some feeling I had once but don’t anymore.

Jonathan sets us in front of the windmill on Hole Ten. I painted it back in May, but it’s beat up now from balls deflecting off the blades all summer.

‘Okay, we’re losing light,’ Jonathan says. He pokes at his phone on the tripod. He pushes a button on a little speaker and a beat starts.

‘Fuck is this?’ Jaz and I both say.

Ben holds up some cards Jonathan wrote.

I’m Rick, the old king

I’m Jaz, the new

Our kingdom is ours

But it can be yours too

Come down to our castle

Give it your best shot

Think that you can beat us?




‘Oh no. Nuh-uh. That’s corny,’ Jaz says.

‘That’s our brand,’ Jonathan says. ‘Retro-cornball-nostalgia. But we’ve actually been here for seventy years. We’re real. You guys are very real. Think, like, Beastie Boys. Remember those local ads on Channel 41? Weren’t those more fun than anything you see now?’

I say, ‘Ben,’ but Ben holds up his hands like, don’t ask me.

I start to walk away but Jaz says, ‘Fuck it.’ He stoops for the Jameson he tucked inside the windmill. ‘Let’s get this done. My girlfriend’s making tacos.’

We say the stupid lines in time to the beat. Jonathan makes us do it so many times I lose count. The more we drink, the easier it is. Jaz laughs at me, I laugh at him. To make fun of Jonathan, I put on my hick accent and Jaz puts on his ghetto one. Ben rolls his eyes.

‘Hilarious,’ Jonathan says. ‘You’re crushing this.’

Afterwards, we strip the kings’ robes off in Ben’s office. We pull our work clothes over soaked T-shirts, boxers and tube socks, our backs to each other. When we come out, ten tween boys shove past us on their way to the Fast and Furious game. The register girls lift their hands to wave goodnight to us. Ben and Jonathan tap their iPhones behind the service counter. They don’t look up.

‘See you tomorrow, I guess,’ I say.

But Jaz stares at Ben and Jonathan. ‘When I was kid, I wanted to be a man so bad. You know? A real man.’


‘That’s why I put up with your ass, Rick,’ he says. ‘Because you do know.’

We drive off in opposite directions, drunk. I think about tonight, Jaz making his face hard, puckering his lips and squinting. And me, letting my eyes get wide, my jaw go slack, my knees pump up and down, like I was jumping to the tune of a jug.

When I get home, Tracy’s at the kitchen table with a Hy-Vee rotisserie chicken and a plastic container of mashed potatoes. She didn’t eat yet, she’s waiting for me.

‘Where’ve you been?’

‘At work.’

‘That’s BS. You smell like the floor at Kelly’s.

‘Jaz and I had a couple with Ben.’

She bites her lip. ‘It’s Thursday. I thought you’d be home.’

She’s got no right to expect me. I don’t need to tell her, she knows. But she did expect me, and I disappointed her again. I can’t hardly look at her, so I stay quiet and we eat the chicken and potatoes and watch Law and Order on the couch. I don’t say what happened today, but she can tell something did. When I get up to go downstairs, she says, ‘Sleep good,’ and smiles.

I pull out the two fifties Ben gave me from the register and let them flutter onto the couch beside her.


The video’s a hit. Jaz shows me on his phone a couple days after Jonathan posts it, since I don’t have all that social crap on mine. It gets hearts and likes and laughy-faces and frowns. Like pennies in a fountain, Jonathan says, good as cash if you collect enough. The comments call us all kinds of stuff. When I watch, my whole head burns.

‘Yeah,’ Jaz says. ‘This is bad.’

‘Who cares. I don’t know any of these fuckin’ people,’ I say. ‘Should we say something to Ben?’

‘Like what?’ Jaz says.

For the next week, we go on: turf drainage and PVC pipe, re-stuccoing the castle, repairing the engine that runs the golfing gnome on Hole Seven. The video goes on too.

At Walmart, I’m standing in the shampoo aisle, trying to find Tracy’s brand, when four teenage girls start giggling at the other end. When I look up, they’re chanting.


One girl has her phone in front of her face, aimed at me. When I take a step toward her, they all shriek and run. It happens again at the gas station, a group of boys in the car next to me who do the whole fucking song. At the Wendy’s Drive Thru, a pimply kid shouts, ‘Oh, it’s the king, word!’

Jaz comes in one day with two black eyes and stitches up his right hand.

‘People think they can fuck around with you,’ he says, but won’t tell me or Ben what happened. At lunch, I tell him about Walmart and the gas station.

‘Rick,’ he says, quiet again. ‘What’s it feel like, when they’re laughing at you?’

Like I’m a ghost, and a fire. Like I’m floating above myself while they laugh, and like I’m an island of unwanted shit they’ve put a match to. I’m a pile of rotary phones and Bibles and Hungry Man Dinners and hand saws. I’m hair metal and horndogs and harassment.

‘Right,’ Jaz says, seeing my face. ‘But you’re not afraid they’ll kill you.’

I shake my head.

‘Don’t look all sorry for me,’ Jaz says, ‘They can try, but it’ll hurt. That’s what I show them. I’m here and they’re gonna feel it,’ Jaz says.

He tells me to fuck off back to Course Three and let him fix the loose go-cart wheels.


One night, I come home and I can tell from Tracy’s face she’s seen the goddamned video.

‘Oh honey,’ she says. ‘People’ll forget it in a couple weeks. It is funny.’

She hasn’t honeyed me in twenty-five years.

‘Probably have to do it every year from now on,’ I say.

She sits down next to me and takes my hard hand in her soft one. ‘Plenty of jobs around here for a man who wants to work.’

I know what those jobs are. A computer tells you what to do and watches how long it takes you. The bosses sit in their houses in the mountains or by the ocean, typing emails to make you work harder. At least Ben’s at the castle every day, ordering bags of frozen French fries, pricing golf balls, trying to get a bulk deal on toilet paper.

After Tracy’s in bed, I tap cool crest kings out on her old laptop. If I watch close, I see Jaz and me underneath the clowning. Jonathan’s right: we’re real. Maybe it’s the way we side-eye each other, like nobody could ever beat us, no matter how hard they try. Or maybe the real thing is our voices, how we spit the word BEAT like rattlers striking at a hiker who’s stumbled on our nest.


Ben wants us to play in costume. Jaz and I both say no. It’s going to be ninety on Saturday.

‘That’s one for, two against,’ Ben says.

‘Ain’t a democracy,’ Jaz says.

Ben smiles. ‘Fifty each?’

‘I’ll do it,’ I say.

Jaz rolls his eyes. ‘Fine. But if I die out there, you’re paying Tamara worker’s comp. We’re domestic partners.’

When we get outside, Jaz asks, ‘Why the fuck did you say yes?’

‘Fifty bucks,’ I say.

‘Bullshit,’ he says, and sends me down to flatten out the hillside where the extra Port-a-Johns will go.


I ask Ben if I can take the costume home. I sit in the glider after work, tricked out and roasting. There’s something about the king’s robes, though, that makes me feel good. My head throbs against the plastic crown. Sweat comes in waves and the front half of my brain goes caveman. In my mind, I play through every hole. I see the ball hitch at cracks in the concrete and zoom over bald spots in the turf. At six-thirty, Tracy opens the back door.

‘What in hell are you doing?’ she says.

I say, ‘Practicing,’ and she blows a breath between closed lips like spitting. She calls Joffrey and Lucious inside.

When the sun goes down, mosquitos stick their bloodsuckers through my costume and I wonder if I taste good, my blood thick after sweating all day. I want to roll on the ground like a dog, but I stand it. I’m almost done. And I’m the king.

Tracy comes to the door again wearing one of her night-gown T-shirts with a cartoon teddy bear saying I’m not plump, I’m cuddly! The dogs run out and nip my toes and she bounces into the yard in her bare feet, lightly, though she’s grown heavy. I want to hug her around the waist and put my face in her gray hair.

She says, ‘Richard, quit it. New SVU’s coming on in ten minutes.’

She’s halfway up the stairs, scooped poop in her Walmart bag, when I take the king off and hang him over the deck railing. My underwear is soaked and I take those off too and leave them near the barbeque. When I come inside, Tracy’s putting the show on TV and I’m in my birthday suit. She leaves the room, but she’s back before I can bolt downstairs. She’s carrying one of her Egyptian cotton towels, the ones she got at her second wedding, to a man who died a year in, who should be here instead of me. I wrap my loins in soft cotton.

‘Sit down before we miss the rape,’ she says.


Saturday’s bright and hot. Jaz and I run around making sure everything’s set up, then put on our costumes. The line’s out the door and the register girls ring up entry after entry. The air in Ben’s office is cranked to the max. Jaz takes Ben’s chair. I take the floor.

‘You think Ben knows?’ Jaz says.

‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘Like he cares though. Look at that line.’

All week, we’ve been improving our odds. We increased the moving object speeds. We thickened the turf around the holes to slow the puts. We put a few speed bumps in key places.

‘What’re you gonna do with your end?’ I ask Jaz.

‘Get married. Take a trip, maybe.’


‘Houston. Got family there. Used to see ‘em every summer, but they don’t like me and Tamara together. Miss the ocean though. You?’

‘Family comes from Leavenworth. Garden spot.’

‘No, the money, dumbass.’

‘I don’t think about money until it’s in my hand,’ I say.

Jaz blows through his lips just like Trace. Like I’m a moron, pissing him off.

Ben comes for us. The song’s playing when we walk out.



The crowd cheers. Ben and Jonathan take our pictures in front of the castle. I can’t see down the hill to the batting cages, there’s so many bodies packed in.

I say, ‘Fuck,’ and Jaz says, ‘Mmm-hmm.’

First course is putt-putt, no obstacles, gotta work the angles. Sweat skis down my nose when I bend at the waist. I don’t smoke before work, but I wish I had this morning. On the Lightning Bolt, I miss my first shot and Bob and the Flying Tigers all get hole-in-ones. Bob pats my robed shoulder, like get ‘em next time. On the Maze, Jaz hits an angle I never saw before and beats me by two.

I’m standing at the last hole of Course One, three strokes down when there’s a low voice I’m not expecting.

‘Come on, Richard. You’re better than that.’

Tracy’s in the crowd. Her silver glints against her wrinkled skin and my heart sinks into my feet. She hasn’t been here in forty years. I don’t want to think about us back then, young and racing towards this.

But I get into the final hole with a single stroke and I look up at her and know she helped me in some way I can’t understand. I don’t like it, but it’s fucking true.


Course Two is my favorite, all mechanicals. The gnome slides his club without jerking, the rocket tips forward to balance like it’s flying, then falls to the green where the ball rattles loose from the nose. When I’m in rhythm, it doesn’t matter what speed the obstacles are set to. I’m kicking Bob’s ass on Course Two, but a skinny, teenage nerd is a stroke behind me, and Jaz is only two.

‘You two think you’re real smart, huh?’ Bob whispers to me. ‘Doesn’t bother me. I hit a Viet Cong shack from two miles up.’

I say, ‘What the fuck’re you talking about, Bob?’ and swing my hips in time to the windmill blades’ rotation.

My ball travels through the tunnel to the green on the other side. Bob’s ball hits the blade and goes sideways into the windmill where it clinks against the Jameson bottle Jaz left there three weeks ago. Bob pokes around with his club to knock his ball loose and nudges the bottle out with it.

‘You been drinkin’, Bob?’ Jaz says. ‘I mean, it ain’t the PGA but still.’

‘Shut up, Lakeisha,’ Bob snaps. He tosses the bottle back inside.



It’s rising from the fake-rock speakers on the ground.

Jaz laughs. ‘That the best you got, Bob? Sure you don’t have another name for me?’

Bob ignores it, but when he’s finished with the hole he looks up at Jaz and I run around the windmill to make sure somebody’s between them.


We cool off inside the castle before Course Three. Ben brings a bucket of ice from the concession stand for us to rub on our faces, necks, wrists, chests. We tuck Ziploc bags of it in our king-pockets because it doesn’t matter if we get wet. We’re soaking anyway and laid out on the office floor.

‘Thank you, guys,’ Ben says. ‘Really, thanks a million. You can take the costumes off now, if you want. You can put them back on for photos after.’

‘Fuck that. I’m the king,’ I say.

‘The hell you are,’ Jaz says.

‘Are you guys okay?’ Jonathan says. He’s got on square-rimmed black glasses, a short-sleeved shirt buttoned all the way to the collar. He’s been inside all day, doing computer things.

‘We look okay?’ Jaz says.

‘Honestly, I know this has been hard, but you’re doing amazing. We’re killing it.’

‘Does that mean we made fuckin’ money?’ Jaz says.

‘Yeah,’ Ben Flett says. ‘That’s what it fuckin’ means.’


By the time we’re halfway through Course Three, the sun’s cooking my ape brain. The air smells like marsh, highway, pizza, boiled plastic turf. Jaz is ahead of me, and Cooper, the skinny kid, is on my heels. Trace is still there, bossing me in her low voice. On Hole Ten, I throw my cape and doublet on the ground.

‘Here we go, it’s gettin’ real!’ says one of the onlookers behind me.

Jaz keeps his costume on. He’s sitting on benches between the holes. He’s turning a pale color he shouldn’t be. I tell him to take the crown off, but he won’t.

‘How you’re going to take my crown?’ he says.

‘You’re not thinking right,’ I tell him. But I’m not either, inside my own baked skull.

When Jaz gets to the eighteenth hole, he putts once, twice, three times.

‘What the fuck?’ he says, then beats the club he’s holding into the ground until it’s bent. The crowd goes silent while Ben brings him a new one.

The fuck is, at the last minute this morning, I tucked some turf pieces under the carpet of Hole 18 and didn’t tell Jaz. Speedbumps. Just in case.

I’m Rick the old king.

When it’s my turn, the ball glides up the slope and over the curving lip that pulls it across the little railroad bridge and drops it on the green for me to tap in.


Jaz sheds his crown and robe. He’s in his soaked T-shirt, velvet pants, and red-and-black Jordans, pacing, watching the rest of the players putt after me, squinting at the turf.

When I go over there, Jaz says, ‘Walk away, man. Walk away right now.’

It takes an hour to finish up the tournament. I’m on top, Cooper’s second, Jaz is third. We stand on the podium we built from lumber left over after the birthday room renovation. Ben hangs plastic medals on our necks. Tracy beams and whistles, her fat fingers in her mouth. I’m cold inside, the way I was every time I came home to Tracy during our marriage after I’d made out with another woman in a bar. Cooper gets the loudest cheer.

‘Come on, do the song,’ a voice yells. The crowd takes it up.


In the front row, Bob and the Flying Tigers are grinning. Goddamn video.

Jonathan herds Jaz and me over by the windmill. He brings the speaker and the beat starts. The crowd gets quiet. The blades are spinning out of time with the beat. Jaz is breathing heavy. He bends down for something.

‘I’m Rick, the old king,’ I say, but that’s as far as I get before the Jameson bottle cracks across my eye socket.


When the cops come, I don’t say a thing and neither does Ben or Jonathan or even Bob. But it’s on the local news since, these days, the news is just YouTube videos and the weather. The anchor lady has a shitty little smile on her face when she says ‘a case of kings behaving badly,’ and I’d like to be furious, but I’m not feeling a damn thing. Tracy turns off the TV and gets me another pain pill. I check my phone to see if Jaz answered my texts, but he hasn’t.

‘He’s in the wind, honey,’ says Tracy, like an SVU detective. ‘He doesn’t want to talk to you. For all he knows, you’re helping the cops.’

I never blacked out. I saw Jaz with my good eye, his robes flying behind him, as he ran to the parking lot and jumped in his Charger. I heard him roar down Highway 40 with his exhaust cut outs. He never got his cut of the proceeds, only those five seconds of satisfaction as he hunched over me screaming, that’s what you get, his Big Red gum-scented breath in my nose. I stayed down, watched my blood pour on the turf, thinking we would have to replace it. In my mind, it was already the next day, Jaz and me alone again, setting things right. But when I sat up, there were silent rectangles where faces should be. I floated above myself. My whole body burned.

I don’t tell Ben I cheated. I take my cut of the profits, give half to Tracy and send the other half to my kid in Omaha who’s always behind on his bills. Jaz never shows up again and Ben gives me the supervisor job, but it’s only a little more money and a lot more work; Ben was getting one over on Jaz. I play the courses but it’s not fun the way it used to be. When I drive by the distribution warehouses on my way home, I think about working in those cold, controlled places, alone, boss invisible. I could be a number glowing in the dark, nothing more, a real ghost. It’s tempting.

One fall night, when the air smells like football and burnt leaves, I get drunk and tell Tracy what I did to Jaz. How I stole what was his, how I took his livelihood, how, God, I didn’t mean it to go that far. I blubber it all out. How I hope he’s down swimming in the Gulf. How I miss him.

Tracy turns her head towards where I’m sitting on the couch and looks at me with sleepy, silver eyes. She’s heard my blubbering before, back when it was her I was sorry I’d betrayed. A couple years ago, she would’ve pointed that out. Now, though, she sighs, scoots closer and pats my arm. It’s nice, but some fire has left her and I miss that too.

‘It was a game,’ she says, and turns on CSI: Vegas.

‘And besides,’ she says, during the first commercial break. ‘You two weren’t the only ones playing.’


Image © petralovespurple

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