Rubber Johnny

by Ian on June 16, 2012

by Ian Shearer

It was ten minutes before closing when Donny walked in. He didn’t pretend he wanted to buy something, he just stood off to one side, playing with his phone. He was wearing a navy blue tracksuit and a heavy gold chain. Any other fifty-four year old would look ridiculous, but somehow he pulled it off. Maybe because people instinctively knew not to laugh at Donny.

I was working my way through the last ditch booze run crowd, and Stacey was the last in the queue. She only ever bought a pack of smokes, and she could get them any number of other places, but she always came in here. Sometimes I let myself believe I was the reason she came in, but most of the time I wasn’t that hopeful. For some reason knowing Donny was watching made me more nervous around her than usual. Her hair was dyed pink that night.

‘Hey Stacey, how was work?’

‘Shit,’ she said. “How about you?’

‘Eh, almost over now.’ I took her money and when I gave her her change and she already had a cigarette dangling from her lip.

‘Well, see ya,’ I said. Donny stepped into her path and snapped his zippo open underneath her cigarette.

‘Thanks,’ she said.

‘Pleasure,’ he smiled, with those big perfect crowns.

When she left I locked up and got Donny’s envelope out of the till. He put it in his little black leather zip-lock bag he always carried around. No one ever called it a purse within earshot of Donny.

‘Listen kid, I need you to come with me on a couple of collections tonight.’

‘What?’

‘I already okayed it with your old man. I’ll drop you off when we’re done.’

‘Um, why?’ I said, nervous. Just to be clear, I never did any work for the family. My old man always kicked up, and they never gave me any shit, but I never was part of it all.

‘Johnny’s gone down to Florida to see his piece on the side. Fuckin’ broad’s having an abortion. Anyway, I only found this out half an hour ago, after I called him. So I need you to help me out.’

‘I don’t think…’

‘Look kid you don’t have to do anything ‘cept stand behind me and look like you’re itching to put a bullet in someone’s knee. Like    Johnny. Act like him.’

Donny and Johnny. Jesus, you couldn’t make it up. But that’s the way it was.

‘Look, no disrespect Donny, but I’m not very intimidating.’

‘No shit. So pretend for one night.’

‘Shit, I don’t…’

‘I’m not taking no kid. I’m making a new stop tonight and I’m not going into a Jap joint with no backup. Now let’s fuckin’ go, I don’t want to be late.’

I didn’t ask why he didn’t get take one of the other guys. I knew better than to argue too much with him. He had his mind set on me going, for whatever fucking reason.

In the car Donny said, ‘That girl’s gonna think you’re a fag if you don’t ask her out.’

I laughed. ‘She’s a bit out of my league.’

‘Jesus. I’m starting to think you’re a fag…’

He didn’t say anything the rest of the way. Neither did I.

We pulled into an alley behind a Japanese restaurant that had just opened.

‘Get the piece out of the glove box,’ he said. I had been hoping he wasn’t going to say something like that. I opened it and took out the gun, a little .38.

‘Don’t stick the fucking thing in your pants,’ he said. ‘Just put it in your jacket pocket and keep your hand on it. These people are usually very reasonable, but once you get out of the car you put your game face on and you keep it on ’til we’re back in the car. Got it?’

Well what the fuck was I going to say, no?

A Japanese guy let us in the back and led us through the kitchen to a little office. There was a man and a woman in there, also Japanese. The man said something in Japanese.

‘Yeah,’ said Donny. Donny did not speak Japanese. He smiled his big smile at the woman. She didn’t smile back.
I kept my hand on the gun, resisting the urge to play with it. The man took a lock box out of a drawer and counted out a small stack of bills. He handed the money to Donny. Donny took his time about counting it, then he put it in his leather purse. The woman was glaring at me. I gave her my best don’t-fuck-with-me scowl. I probably looked like I was suppressing a fart. Donny pulled the envelope I had given him out of the zip-lock bag and waved it at the man.

‘In an envelope from now on,’ he said. ‘If you don’t mind.’ He smiled at the woman again. ‘Let’s go kid,’ he said, and we let ourselves out.

There was one more pick-up, but it was just old Mike down at the bar. Donny shot the shit with him for a while and they busted my balls. Then Donny drove me home.

‘Thanks kid, I owe you one,’ he said.

I took the gun out of my pocket and put it back in the glove box.

‘Tell your old man I said you did all right,’ he said.

‘I will. Take it easy Donny.’

I watched him drive off and I was disappointed. I had expected a few notes for my time, and Donny wasn’t the forgetful type.

The next week Donny came in about the same time, except this time he joined the queue. Stacey came in just after him and stood behind him. When he got to the till I passed him the envelope. He put it in his little bag.

‘Give me one of those bottles of Johnny Walker blue,’ he said, nodding at the top shelf. I passed it to him and he paid. Then he passed it back. ‘I hear you mix that with anything I’ll come back and smash it over your fuckin’ head,’ he said. Then he winked at Stacey and he was gone.

We watched him go, then I got Stacey her smokes. He gave me the money and unwrapped the pack. She stuck a cigarette in her mouth. I grabbed one of the disposable lighters from the counter and snapped it into life. Not as cool as a Zippo with my name on it, but shit, we all start somewhere.

‘Oh, thanks,’ she said, surprised. She cupped my hand and leaned her cigarette down to the flame. Her hair was blonde that night. She blew a plume of smoke up over my head and smiled at me.

‘You like scotch?’ I said.

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