New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from Badlands Blues

“YOU’VE GOT ME, boys. Just watch the eyes!” First he had to stop struggling, acquiesce to the punishment. It was a metaphor for how he lived his life.

Jean was held against his will by two teenage boys, while a third pelted him with rocks. He wanted to make a stand. He wanted to break loose. But Jean is 4’ 1” tall with a drunkard’s belly & no arm strength to overcome their grip. That doesn’t mean he didn’t try but when he tried and he failed he knew he had to take it. Rocks stung his stomach, stung his legs, stung his arms and yes, a few stung him right in his face. Close your eyes. These goddamn boys want me blind.

His saving grace was that he had a friend taking a leak across the tracks. When he heard the yelling Bobby Two-Shanks came storming in their direction. His British accent was gravellier than a quarry, “Oi! Ye little weasels get the ‘ell out a’ here. Leave the man alone.” Shanks smashed his bottle of Irish Rose cross the convenience store wall and waved a jagged shard at the two boys.

They backed off slowly; screaming, “Fuck you man!” Realizing they faced a man without a fuck to give the boys turned tail and ran.

“That’s right. Get lost! I know who yer parents are ya twats!”

Jean rolled over onto the grass, lifting up his shirt to check for bruising. It was mostly just redness round the torso but his skin broke open here and there. Crimson blood seeped out onto his filthy white t-shirt.
“Thanks Bobby. I owe you.”
“Anytime mate.”
“Did you have to waste a perfectly good bottle of Irish Rose?” Jean forced a facetious smile.

Two-Shanks laughed, “They didn’t bruise yer ‘umor at least.”

~ ~ ~

With the whiskey river run dry and the men out of money, Jean headed back to the center of town in search of scratch. There was a usual routine in the downtown park begging there between the boutiques and the banks, “Spare some change, please.” As the old Greek philosopher Diogenes had once done he begged like a dog for their scraps. Businessmen flush with cash would pass through or shoppers cradling newly purchased necklaces and hats. So he’d hang out, start conversations and hope the God of Fortune gave him a nibble. Every once in a while someone would gift him a “donation” of a few dollars or more. He looked every bit the character folks would pity: unkempt, in hobo wear head to toe, eyebrows thick like an inbred Eastern European villager, and widely spaced eyes below a tall forehead. That sympathy money was practically his.

That afternoon, an itinerant musician was stealing Jean’s spotlight, camped out by an old oak tree singing ballads. He wore a patchwork jacket on his back and a dusty derby hat with feather to one side atop his head. He sang a lude song, strumming his banjo. Jean grew jealous because the bard was hogging all the cash flow. In six weeks since the balladeer had arrived, Jean’s profit quotient had seen a steady decline.

He’s not even any good, Jean thought, It’s all in the novelty. On that ground I can’t compete. My public’s no longer impressed. I should learn to play. If he can do it so can I. But he couldn’t. His hands were too small. Besides he was just too goddamned lazy to do that kind of thing. So he’d mostly just sit there in the grass watching people carry goods from place to place, drive away vehicles, or kiss lovers under shade of tree. He watched the musician collect ten, twenty, thirty dollars over the course of an hour while he couldn’t even mustered a, “Hang in there, champ.”

But then something grand happened. An attractive redhead strolled into the park. He cast up his best puppy dog eyes. She spotted poor Jean at once, sitting under the shade of a tree, like a little homeless Buddha. Her lip quivered a bit. Jean knew he’d FINALLY found his mark. The gorgeous redhead had truly selfless humanitarian eyes. She unsnapped the button of a pocket book in her purse, reached inside, and handed him a five dollar bill. What luck! “You’re as kind as you are beautiful, ma’am,” he thanked her with genuine gratitude. But damn his heart! He also felt a pang of sorrow. Why’d he been born so ugly he’d never be loved by such a desirable woman? She was so pretty it made his head swirl. He wanted most in the world for a great beauty to glance his way, not with pity or disgust but with unquenchable, immutable, unstoppable desire.

Jean fell into desperate melancholy dreaming these impossible dreams. Reality was endless rejection, a loathsome scene. He wanted love more than blankets and hot soup on the coldest winter night. For this reason Jean kept coming on, despite the odds. I must be a fool to keep setting myself up for these failures, he’d lament. What would be the scapegoat when he lashed himself tonight? Would he curse his height or his belly, as he often had, or his madness, or his poverty? Sometimes women put it to him bluntly so that he’d know his own failures. The streetwise women told him, the ones with temerity. The things Jean knew a goodhearted woman would never want to say. Still, he loved to look at all the women; at their shapely legs beneath summer dresses in the springtime and their breasts squeezed tight behind knit sweaters in the wintertime. For Jean, heaven didn’t exist behind clouds, but up a short dress. Both places remained decidedly out of his reach.

But to hell with it, that redhead had been good to him. No sense in looking down on a few free dollars. Money was too hard to come by these days and prospects were slim. The recession had hit Boroughtown hard like the fist of an angry god smashing down from the heavens. Outsiders like Jean struggled in unemployment for years. Folks outside the gas stations, county fairs and diners said things had gone south. It’d been like that so long that no one actually remembered true north. Only the most optimistic of folks had arm strength required for treading water.