New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample chapter from badbadbad by Jesús Ángel García

It started with a hamburger. Whopper, large fries, Diet Coke. No, something with more meat. A political exchange, at the bus stop outside Piggly Wiggly.

“You’re a fan,” I said, pointing at her badge, The President Is the Commander-in-Chief. It was pinned at quarter-thigh where the denim fringe of her Daisy Dukes peeked out like tendrils. This girl was live.

“The president know what good for us,” she said and I believed her. I gazed at her belly ring, a simple hoop, fake gold, then down to the button fly, unbuttoned, her candy cane triangle below. “We should trust every decision he make. He know right from wrong.”

“I’ll take your word,” I said. “Me, I’m not much into politics.”

“Me neither,” she whispered. “This for work.”

I zoomed in on the red-white stripes of her two-piece. “You’re a lifeguard.”

She poked me in the chest. “Yeah, right.”

“Life’s a beach,” I said.

She had never been to the beach, if we’re to believe what she told me, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t. I talked big on my full tank of gas, tried to persuade her to get her feet wet. She insisted she was on the clock.

“You could call it training,” I said. She stared at me with anime eyes. “I’ll drown and you save me.”

“Shut up,” she said, taking my hand in hers.

I was fortune’s son.

Now there’s French fries in her teeth, between her lips, glossed with orange, outlined black like her eyes, and her hair, streaked with fire strands, midnight at the oasis. She glanced up at me, switched the radio to Nelly, rocked her blouse off her shoulder, mocha cream, silk with sweat, pink glitter. Her top too big for her size, I expected she’d tumble out at the next speed bump. I punched the pedal, stopped short at a crosswalk, apologized for the rock ’n’ roll.

She grinned, digging her fingers into the bag, peeling wax paper from the meat. Her nails were long, slick with swirls. Sparkly letters spelled R-O-Y-A-L on each hand. She bit into the burger with a girlish eyeroll. Her appetite was man-size, her cheeks chipmunked. I’d never before seen such freckles. She was a saint who didn’t know it, hadn’t yet answered the call. A superhero at nineteen, she tagged herself a whore. “I’m just a ho,” she said.

So naïve, out of practice, I didn’t realize, didn’t let myself know. I pegged her for a bop, that’s all. She was at the bus stop, had never been to the beach. She said she was hungry. At least I could feed her.

We passed a blockbuster billboard. She said she’d never seen a movie.

“Shut up,” I said.

“God’s truth.”

I promised her beach and a movie.

“I sposed to be workin,” she told me again. Then she asked if I wanted to have personal fun. I wasn’t sure what that would look like. “What it look like to you?” she said. I told her something sweet like you and me and the beach and the movies. She waved me on, not taking me serious. I revved the engine, amped the sounds.

• • •

When not watching the road I watched her mouth as she opened wide and chewed and sipped. After another verse she singsonged: “Personal fu-un?”

I tugged at my shirt front as the chorus steamed over us. “Not for coinage,” I said. “You’re not a slot machine.”

She said she could be. “Zing zing?” Then she jiggled with conviction, bunnyhopping in her seat to the rhyme and the beat. She was fast, this live girl, a seasoned professional.

“No, you’d have to really get with me,” I struggled to explain. “Both of us together, same time and place, that sort of fun.”

She shrugged. “No fun for the ho, nope.” She popped her p like a school kid. Her lips were split cumquats. She didn’t like sex. “Don’t have to,” she said.

“So what, I’m supposed to pretend?”

“You pay for the privilege of bein happy.”

“I don’t pay for sex.” Once I heard myself I knew I sounded like a narrow bastard. I tried to take it back.

“That’s what all y’all think,” she said. “But y’all dead wrong.”

I fumbled for the words. She spread her legs, wagged her knees, kissing the bag between her thighs. “I need something real.” That’s me sounding off again. I couldn’t help myself. Fries in her mouth, her lips on the straw. “I have to do . . . it has to be . . . right.”

“All kindsa right,” she said. She was truthtelling. “Like right now.” She pulled a greasy fry to her teeth, tapped it three times, spun it round like a magic wand then fed it my way, nails trailing on my cheek.

We drove for a couple more songs. She recollected how she’d come down south to Gethsemane from Newark where she first pulled a train. Head only. Always with a wrap. She was done with school by tenth grade. Her mama couldn’t care for her and all her little brothers and sisters and her cousins were moving in. So she left with this guy who was supportive of her work. When I said she could do something else, she clapped her knees. The bag between her thighs gasped. “This what I do,” she said. “You don’t want personal fun, fine. Take me back where I got on.”

“No beach?”

She rolled her eyes.

“No action adventure? Romantic comedy?”

She tore off another mouthful, rang her man up on a cell phone. “He a fuckin faggot.” Her voice was hard. “Where we at?” I’d cut across a gap in the median, heading back now the way we’d come. “Where we at?” She wanted to know how long. I told her two songs. Ten minutes max.

I scanned the preset stations while she kept on the phone, laughing too loud, acting, I could tell, though not sure who was the audience. She half-leaned out the window like a dog, hair whipped back in black lightning bolts. Traffic, wind noise, busted CD player, no good songs on the FM. She sideways glared at me. “Fuckin faggot.” The only words I could make out. Then: “Castles Made of Sand.” I needed this music.

I pushed the volume, fixed my mind on the six-string and the haze of the highway. Midafternoon, mid March, already it was hard to breathe with the air conditioner beat. I expected the engine to give out any day. I’d need a miracle, same as this girl, who in truth was a lot like me. She didn’t have it in her to change her path. I figured she’d be dead in no time and she couldn’t care less.

When the DJ called a Two for Tuesday Hendrix Doubleshot, I thought God’s on my side. It could happen. Then I recognized the opening alarm of “Crosstown Traffic.”

I can’t not see the ex when I hear this tune. She ground me into the glassphalt, hit-and-run, left for roadkill.

I let the guitar play. Music is the master of the universe. I’d run tracks across her back, I promised myself.

But I never said nothing, I swear, bro. Not a word, and I had every right. She stole away with my infant son. I would never see him again, she told me. I couldn’t let that be.

I was a good husband, a good father. I was there for her and for my son, always for him. She was nowhere.

Now she’s holed up with her folks out here among the churches, malls and office parks, high school football stadiums, paintball forests, wild boar kills, games with Glocks, rifles, AKs, bows and arrows. Kids in this town still play cowboys and Indians, I know it. I won’t let my son grow up like that.

I took the next exit, told her sorry for the upset. She was off the phone now. “No worries,” she said. “My man at the stop. He waitin.” She looked out her window.

My stomach flipped. I didn’t like her tone. I didn’t want to know her man and I sure as hell didn’t want him knowing me. Coming up on an intersection, I slowed before the light, pulled over to the curb. I would let her off here.

“Devil fool!” she yelled at me, rubbernecking nearly out of her seat. “White man with a young black girl, you trippin, keep on.”

I swerved into traffic, breath tight, beet-faced. “Damn faggot.” She speed-dialed. “Where you at?” I crossed the light as the yellow turned. “Fool bitch tryin to punk me out. Sheeeit.”

I bounded into the parking lot, barely braking, front fender scraping on a drop and rise in the pavement. “Please,” I said. “I don’t want trouble.”

She looked at me like I was nothing. Less than.

I tried another tack. “Get . . . the fuck out.” I meant to sound like there was something behind my words.

She laughed and said, “Whackass bitch,” then kicked open the door as a jacked Thunderbird stormed across the lot.

Backing out, I banged the rear fender and probably the exhaust. The passenger door slammed as I braked, punched into gear. I zagged across the neighborhood, cutting down side streets. The engine hacked. I wouldn’t get a hundred bucks for parts. Not in this janky hellhole.

I didn’t look in the mirror until on my own block. There was no one behind me but I drove past my building to be safe. I parked around the corner, cooled my head on the steering wheel, eyes shut, listened to my breathing in the dark.

Hours later I was still torn up. The girl called me gay. I get that many guys would have jumped her whether she liked it or not. But me doing what’s right doesn’t make me less a man. Some might argue it would have been more right to give her the business. Everyone has to make a living. But I’m a reluctant consumer, period. Paying for fun that ain’t? That’s no value meal. And don’t call me white. I may not know what I am, but I’m not white, not like dandruff or cream cheese. Don’t call me white.

That’s the NOFX tune I was mumbling at work now, plunging a gristly mop into a bucket of gray froth. The gig was doable, but shameful. Mom always said all she wanted for me was more. Here I was back where she started. Underage, illegal, uneducated, she had far fewer opportunities. But no one was opening doors for me either. Not until the Reverend’s wife. She must have pitied my sorry state, or maybe her kindness was an attempt to redeem herself for that minor indiscretion in the church parking lot. It could have been divine intervention, if you happen to believe, or a test of faith. If nothing else, it was my next step. It started with Cannibal Corpse.