Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"They called him Bruno."

They called him Bruno. Not because it was his name, he didn't think anyone was really named Bruno. They called him that because anyone who called him by his real name got messed up. His parents, he concluded at a young age, hated him. It was the only reason to have such a terrible name. That's one of the many reasons they were always fighting. Him, money and the other women.

But, mostly, him. It wasn't a good way for a young, poorly named man to grow up. It made him angry and rebellious. Specifically, he wanted to be everything that his name wouldn't let him. So, one day, when a bigger boy had made fun of his name, he had popped him. It was the first act of violent defiance from young Percy Holcourt. That's when he found out that he liked it.

He quickly became not the bully of the class, but something else. He was an outsider, but not the sort that people made fun of behind his back. There were some kids that the others hated, and some they just didn't care for. He never wanted to be either of those; he just wanted to be larger than life. And, apparently, knocking down anyone and everyone who got in your way was the best way to get there. By high school, his dad tried to channel that destructive energy into purer pursuits.

He had been banned from high school football after the first game where he broke some sniveling lineman's ribs in a particularly nasty clash. The wrestling coach wouldn't even consider letting him try out. "Boy's got a reputation Mr. Holcourt. Maybe sophomore year, when he's mellowed a bit. Have you thought of taking him to the guidance counselor?"

The guidance counselor, a kindly, ancient man, was no help. Because Bruno didn't want help, and he didn't seethe with violence. When you thought of a maniac, you thought of a brooding loner in a trenchcoat. Not a clean kid who still didn't need a shave. It's why Bruno now let his scraggly beard grow in in its fits and bursts; "You have to look the part," his first partner-in-crime told him. "Any prick can wave a gun around. Guns scare anyone. But they ain't scared of you. You want people to fear you, not some dinky thing my grandma can kill a bear with."

Bruno embraced that philosophy. By his senior year in high school, his parents had finally divorced. He was happy and hoped they'd realize that so many other things drove them apart besides him. His dad descended into the booze, and his mother took a second part time job to pay the bills. The judge let him have some say in which of his parents he wanted to stay with, the answer was easy.

"I'll stay with mom," he had said. "She needs me."

And it was true. At first she had lots of questions about his after school job. "It pays really well, ma," he would say, as if it were an excuse. Slowly she asked fewer and fewer questions. Then, she just started to ask him to be careful, and he always was. Bruno might have grown into a six foot one muscle head, but he wasn't stupid. He kept a pocket calculator to make sure the boss's flunkies didn't try to screw him on a percentage. But, he had something else too.

"Street savoir faire," his partner-in-crime called it. "Saw that in a movie. That's what you got to have on this job."

The years passed by, moving from one job to another. His mother eventually passed on, complications from something. The doctor had tried to explain it to him, but Bruno hadn't cared. He had helped his mother because it was a sonly duty, not out of love. Duty was big for his new friends; duty and obligations. He paid his debt to his mother, and he buried her at the nice church she attended.

When he got the call that his father had passed, he simply shrugged and said, "No one named Percy here. You got the wrong address."

Then he went out and did his job for the night. After, he called the boss, punched some numbers into the calculator, and agreed that was the right price for his services. Then, he said, "You know where to meet me for the drop off."

He hung up the pay phone, wiped off the handle, just in case some nosy private eye tried to lift any prints from it, and walked out of the booth into the rain (pushing the door open with the handkerchief.) Street savoir faire, like looking more than both ways on the street to catch a tail. Tonight it was easy to tell he wasn't being followed, because no one was on the streets.

The only real light out was where he was going to get his night's pay. He opened the door and scanned the diner; in a corner was a shivering, small man, with a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. Bruno recognized the diner's logo on the cap, and the familiar blue striped shirt and dismissed him. Kathy had been saying they needed to get new help, and that man looked like he came cheap.

"Mr. Bruno, your usual table?"

"You know it, doll face," Bruno said. He had studied how to talk-the-talk. Older ladies were doll face; young women were kittens. Older men were pals; young men sports. Friendly men were buddies; the enemy were buddies, with a sinister tone.

"New guy giving you any trouble?" Bruno motioned towards the guy in the far corner.

"Oh, no sir," she said, pouring him a cup of coffee on the house. "He's on his way out, if you'd like."

"Yeah. I like my privacy," Bruno said, and pulled a fifty from his wallet. "Give it to him. Tell him to consider it a tip."

Kathy thought about it, put the bill into her apron and took down Bruno's order. She tore the sheet and gave it to the old greasemonger, and then went to have a word with the new guy. Bruno
tipped an imaginary cap at the man as he looked at the bill and got up. Doing nice things made Bruno warm inside. That was more than the poor bugger could make all night, and he was getting the rest of the night off.

"Saint Bruno," he said to himself. "Got a nice ring to it."

As the man left the diner, Bruno was too busy making sure the safety on his pistol was on to realize that the man had no shoes.

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