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Mop Jockey
About the Author: Michael Ayoob's debut, In Search of Mercy, won the PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition and the PWA Shamus for Best First Novel of 2010. Michael released an equally grotesque horror novel, Shadow Menagerie, in 2015.

Nothing brought out the worst like a Tucker Clark concert. I have no opinion on Clark himself or his brand of country rock, but his fans are the scum de la scum. He played the football stadium three times in six years, and his crowd of sixty thousand trashed the city every time. Public Works had to snowplow the garbage from the streets. The firefighters hosed the shit, piss, and vomit off the sidewalks. The cops booked dozens of arrests, mostly drunken fights, while the EMS crews rushed dozens more to the hospitals.

I was working graveyard in the Donnelly Street subway station when Clark last came to town. Given that Donnelly is a ways away from the stadium, I thought I’d gotten off light that night. Sure, his fans had knocked over some garbage cans and spattered the platform with liquid waste, but nothing that wouldn’t mop up. By two a.m., the station was its usual serene and mostly empty self.

That ended with whooping and belching and a booming, “Who wants some? Come get some!” echoing down the stairs, preceding three white boys in their twenties. Tristan Strickford was the tallest, showing off his beefy physique in a tight t-shirt. He was also the loudest, repeating, “Come get some!” every few seconds. A.J. Curry was a wiry thing in khakis, a flannel, and backwards ball cap, ears jutting out Dumbo-style. The other was Grant Bayridge, red-haired, red-faced, squat-built with squinty brown eyes.

I said the station had been mostly empty before they showed up, meaning just one other person was there. Lamar Bailey, a black man in his fifties, was sitting on a bench with his small beer cooler. Slight and already twitchy, Bailey bristled at the new arrivals with good reason.

The boys didn’t take long to approach him. For a minute it was just drunk talk, but even I could sense where it was going from fifty feet away. Strickford stood over Bailey, amped up and edging in closer. Curry leaned in toward the cooler. Bayridge lingered off to Bailey’s periphery, moving enough to be a distraction.

You hate to think these things are inevitable. You want to believe it’s just dumb, drunk boys fucking around, that they’ll have a laugh and move on. But when you’ve seen enough shit happen over time, you know better.

Sure enough, Curry tried for the cooler, and Bailey pulled it back. The tug-of-war left Bailey open for Strickford, who grabbed the man by the neck and hauled him down to the concrete. I jogged over telling them to stop it or knock it off, and for that Bayridge bull rushed me to the nearest pillar.

Bayridge stayed up in my face, reeking of liquor, baiting me to hit him, calling me a punk bitch, pussy, faggot, and the like. Curry stood apart, suddenly mortified, still holding the cooler but no longer wanting it. Strickford straddled Bailey and punched and punched and punched him, called him a fucking nigger, dragged him to the edge of the platform, and threw him off like nothing, like how you’d toss a garbage bag in a dumpster. He yanked the cooler from Curry and chucked it after Bailey. They took off in a clumsy hurry then, leaving the battered man on the tracks.

At least the train wasn’t due soon, and Bailey wasn’t too difficult to move. The medics carted him off to the ICU. Two reconstructive surgeries would restore his face, more or less, but he never regained full sight in his left eye nor the molars he’d lost. Those are still down there around the tracks, brushed by the bellies and whiskers of rats.

Six months later, I opened the door to Skudgie’s. The brief sweep of sunlight didn’t flatter the bar’s namesake. He had a hunched posture, thick and low brow shadowing tiny eyes, and sweaty armpits he tended to scratch. All this gift-wrapped in a greasy apron and holey t-shirt. Instinctively he gimped away from the light, a hominid afraid to leave the cave.

Would-be diversions lurked around the bar. A dusty and yellow-keyed piano moldered in the corner. A pool table wasted floor space, felt stained with brown and ancient blood. A jukebox, which hadn’t been updated since the Bee Gees, propped up the far and crumbling wall.

The only other patron that day was Detective McFee, slumped over one of the freestanding tables. He appeared to be breathing, and there was no leakage dripping down his pant leg. Oh, but it was early yet, not even noon.

This story appears in our JUN 2018 Issue
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