Grounds for Divorce

A  Chuck Wending – RANDOM SONG TITLE STORY CHALLENGE 

This popped up on my dash: Grounds for Divorce, by Elbow

*

“Dogs bark. Money talks.” The bartender leans over, and winks at me… I nod at the shelves with the rum. He pours me a drink. And a second one too, for himself. Cocky jackass. I blow the smoke of my cigarito straight into that slick stony mug of his. Not flinching, huh? Not one muscle moving. He’s not the only die-hard in here… The moment holds its breath ‘n turns blue.

“Sure. Whatever.” I nod. Stoneface is grinning. I’m palming twenty bucks. We shake hands. “Let’s talk. Seen her ’round?” I show him my phone. The display shows a good-looker. A dark-haired woman, with mud brown eyes. Lips you’d want to brush your fingertips over. Stoneface isn’t giving away a thing. From his expression, I can’t tell if he recognizes her or not.

“Her?!” Suddenly he cracks into amused laughter. “Everybody knows her… You’re gonna fuck up. Badly. A piece of advice: walk away, rubberneck.” Giving me a grave look, he points at my drink. “Drink up and fuck off.” Boring. I don’t feel like fucking off. Should I tell him?

“…If not, will you make me?” He shrugs and starts wiping his counter.

“You’ll nap in the Forever-box… Hehehe, just pulling your leg!” He smiles a friendly, but too toothy smile. No shitting! That guy’s dangerous, all composed and well-balanced moves. Not an inch too far… Hmmm, I’ll keep an eye on that one. Maybe not so boring, after all. From hight and built ex military, or something else… This is just getting better by the minute.

“What’s her name?” I try to sound annoyed.

“…Anna.” Wha? He already gives up? Not so hardboiled, huh? He turns on his heel and walks off to the other side of the bar. Funny… Things always turn out how they should be. A question and an answer. Twenty bucks, a name. An expensive and common name. Maybe not even the real one. Not much to go on. At least for now…

Stoneface is serving some drinks to some hobos in the dimness of the  belly of the barbeast. Cheap seats. That’s where you decide if you want out, or deeper in. It’s mostly deeper in. Or deeper down, if you like that better. Still tension in his back. Not letting his guard down…

There must be something else to this case. Something I’ve overlooked; not only a regular blackmail/ find-and-retrieve-photos job. I take a careful sip from my drink. The rum warms tongue and throat. Hmmm, it burns the hole where one of my upper left molars used to be. I wait for the numb. I’m better when I drink. The thermal dissolves into my legs, shoulders and jaw. I’m better. I keep telling myself. Someday I’ll believe it. Sure about that. I inspect my knuckles. Bruised. Two days old, but that’s another story.

Let’s see. What do I know about this lush lady? My client told me the woman is an upscale hooker.  Jasmine.  She’s blackmailing him with delicate photos. I just need to find the photos.  Nothing I found out for myself… Sloppy. This is bad, when did I get so careless?

Someone else might remember her too… I’ll start asking around when the business starts up-

“What’s up, babe?” A caramel dipped voice hums behind me. Still the dame magnet. A bit rusty though… I drink what’s left of my rum, and turn around with my most winning smile. Behold the-

HER! …Jasmine. Breathtaking! She just stands there. Devilish smile on those wonderful lips… I google at her, slack-jawed.

“We have a com-” Bottle crashes. Burst on the back of my head, smashing me to smithers.  Jasmine, or Anna, splits into thick darkness. A blackness without dreams… Without me.

*

“… Babe?”

Mhhmm…? – Stop, no more. Thanks, but no more drinks… So done with rum for today. Head’s spinning – what a big ass hangover. The rum rums in my rum rum. Rum… Ow, my head. Did I drink that much? Where’s the coffee? My stomach hates me.

Where the hell am I? Did I fall asleep in the junk yard again? Not good… I think I’m gonna throw up. “See? You hit him too hard…” The room’s moving. I sit tight. No. I’m tied – into sitting tight.  Oh, hell. I fucked up.

“Whothehellareyepeopl?” I don’t sound like me. Damn…

“You asked for ME, scarecrow! Who’re you? Spill it. What do you want?” Who? The voice sounds familiar though. Caramel voice…Pitching. Anna. Or Jasmine. Or something -woman…

“Whathappentobabe?” This is not how it’s supposed to be. It should be the other way around. Who hunts whom? Oh! Now I get it. Stoneface hit me, I think. I owe him a free flying lesson. Sonofa… Meathead. Maybe I throw a broken nose and busted kneecaps at him too. Just for good measure. The two human shapes come closer. Huh… Why is it so hard to focus? The dim lights aren’t helping. At all. Am I in the basement, or the backroom? I go with the backroom. Arms and upper torso tied to a metal chair. No rug. Maybe if I rattle… Is that loud enough? I should make a fuss. Fuss is good.

The woman squats beside my chair. “Shh..” Chocolate brown. Not mud brown… Lips shaped like a reflex arc. She’s got a wet bloodstained cloth in her hand. Is that my blood? “Who sent you? Did he tell you, I’m his lover? Did he tell you I wanted money?“ What? Odd… I’m right about the wrong. What’s going on? I nod. Stoneface comes closer.

“You’ve fucked up.” Yeah, I did. “Busted our cover, dumbass!” He spits those words to my feet. He just said… Cover?! What the hell is happening here?! “Go get your emergency bag, sweetheart. Don’t be upset. We leave in fifteen minutes. He might be around by now, so be careful. Surely followed detective numskull here. You don’t have to watch. Let me finish here.”

FINISH?! Oh, fuck! NO! Hell, no! Come on – move! I’m no loose end! The ties won’t budge. No matter how I tug. They dig deeper into my arms. Shit! I won’t go like this! I can’t!

“I’m sorry. I truly am.” Well, fuck you! “You left me no choice. I told you to leave it… Hold still, try to relax. Keep your breathing steady. Don’t worry, I won’t kill you. It’ll hurt though, and you’ll wish I did. Or that you killed me. Feel free, I won’t mind.” Stoneface walks behind me and I try to crane my head as far as possible, to keep him in my field of view. The woman shuts the door behind her. “Let’s get over with this… You’re a lefty, right?”

He grabs an aluminum bat from somewhere. Strikes down on my right lower arm. Noooo! Sick crack explodes in and up the nerves in my arm, mauls all layers of my mind; even the numb boozed up one. Shit! Stings! Fuck! Exhale. I squeeze my eyes shut, try to block out the the bat. The ache – fuuuuuck! BASTARD!„Ghhaaayafuckingfucktardbastardmoronjerkidiotwhatswrongwithyughaayaapayforthiiiissss” Wheeze burns between my ribs, using up the remaining air in my lungs.

„Look, if he finds out… She’s dead. Without seeing her son, ever again. Most likely you’ll be dead too. I’ll cut you loose after this. Promise. Tough through, detective! Try to stay alive.“ The butt of the fucking bat punches holes into my guts ‘n ribcage, again and again. Releasing me from the remnants of my dinner ‘n my sorry consciousness.

*

There’s a hand. „Did you find her? Tell me!“ I can’t open my eyes. Jaws don’t move.

„Sir! Sir! Step aside! This man needs immediate medical attention!“ More hands, moving me, cutting me free. „Sir? What’s your name?“ I whimper. Every soggy breath rips me apart. I smell rubber. Stay alive. Rubber and blood. Someone tries to check my eyes… Tsssk. Stay alive. The fingers on my jawbone push. „Do you hear me? Squeeze my hand once for yes and twice for no.“ I squeeze the gloved hand with my left. The rest fades into a wobbly shaky dark blur.

The stinging and the bright lights drag me back. Tear me wide awake. In the ER, they ask me a lot of stuff. And there is my client too… Shit. Telling that he’s my brother. I can’t stop shivering… They gonna bring me somewhere else. They say I need surgery…

*

“There you go. All comfy now!” The nurse beams at me, still the dame magnet. I’d smile if it didn’t fucking hurt that bad. She goes after checking my blood pressure.

I thought this through.

I got myself into something really big and messy. I took a header into this rubbish, and now I’m tangled up in it. Likely I’m going to pay for my sloppiness. But I’m not going down alone, not without putting up a fight…

I’m doing exactly what Stoneface told me to do. I’m staying alive.

My client-brother, and the doctors think I have amnesia. First it was a lucky pull, but then it came to me. I’m a genius! The best idea since rum.

So now… I’m John Doe. About thirty, caucasian, six feet twenty, A positive, and plastered and bandaged. Parts of me are really banged up badly. Jaw’s broken twice. I eat with a straw in my nose. Which is also broken. The nose, not the straw. Right arm gone too, ribs fractured… And my face is so swollen, the bad kind of bluish black. Even my mother wouldn’t recognize me.

Almost every day, my fake-brother’s around. He’s persistent. Every now and then, he tries to get something out of me. And I’m playing dumb. The only fun I get nowadays. Except for the nurses, of course.

I let him have some bread crumbs, like I remember being in a bar. And the fragrance of jasmine flowers. I have to keep him interested, for my own good. He even offers me to stay at his place, till I recover. Isn’t that nice of him?

Clever little shit!

This is the best way to snuff out what’s behind this whole mess.

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