Risky Choices: Chapter Seven

From where Greg sat, he could see the city lights, pulsing sad and beautiful through the sheet of rain still coming down outside as he tried to come up with a plan. As far as he knew, his contact had not arrived, and Vi seemed to be in no condition to offer her usual wisdom.

Meanwhile, Vi could not help the cringe working its way up her spine. Not only was Pete’s Pub a hovel, dull as a mud bucket and smelling of a combination of liquor, stale cigarettes, and too many bodies in want of a shower, it was dim and dingy, providing the perfect place for the underworld to begin rising to the surface, and Violet was finding it increasingly more difficult to think.

Pete watched as Big Tony sauntered towards the bar. The big buffoon huffed into his fist before dragging a bar stool under his ass and thumping his dirty fist down in front of Pete.

Pete narrowed his eyes at Big Tony and warned, “Easy on the bar.”

Big Tony growled.

Violet turned at the sound. “Christ,” Vi hissed. Her stomach knotted into a fist, the next heartbeat threatening to break her. With an imperceptible shake of her head, she said, “I don’t believe this. What the hell are we doing here? What the hell were we even thinking?”

“Don’t bloody stare,” Greg said.

“We’re finished,” Vi fretted. “He’s got us like two wasps in a jar.”

Like a dog refusing to walk anymore, Greg thought of rolling over onto his back and surrendering, but he said, “Dammit, Vi, let’s just think about this. We’ve gotten out of plenty of scrapes before.”

At the bar, Pete asked Big Tony, “What’ll it be?”

“Gimme a minute,” he said, breathing heavily. “I’m a bit winded.” He eyed the liquor selection while he caught his breath. “A treble poke of Yellow Spot, on the rocks,” he ordered eventually, his voice still sounding a bit spent.

A jockey-sized man sitting at the bar, who until this point had gone generally unnoticed by all, asked in a lilting Irish brogue, “You know your whiskey, do you, Big Man?”

“An’ if I didn’t?” replied Big Tony, gunning down the two-bit talk by showing the man his back.

“I am Irish,” the man said to Big Tony’s fat bison shoulders. “We know our whiskey.”

“Bloody Irish,” scoffed Big Tony.

Bigs tried not to let his laughter show, staring intently at his phone and reaching to the plate of fries on the bar in front of him. He put a fat handful into his mouth, several pieces falling out of his gob and onto the floor. He fingered his phone with greasy sausage fingers, pretending he was reading something important. He discreetly turned his eyes on Violet. She said something into her hand, and Greg nodded and turned his eyes towards the toilets. “We’ve got you now, babe,” he murmured around his mouthful of fries.

“You will have to get out through the ladies’ room,” Greg whispered to Violet.

“Tony’s probably got men out there waiting; his rats are never far from the soles of his shoes,” said Vi.

Greg was glad she seemed to be thinking more like her usual self. “I don’t know,” he said, rubbing his eyes with the heals of his hands. “I don’t know what to think, but you have got to go. Now.”

“And you?” she asked. “What the hell about you?”

“Go, God dammit” Greg urged her.

Vi counted to three and then stood up.

Big Tony picked up his tumbler and tilted it towards his lips, swallowing the amber-colored whiskey. The drink slid down his throat like an oyster. He slammed the empty glass onto the bar.

“Careful with my bar,” grumbled Pete.

“Two more Yellow Spots. One big, and one small for the little Irishman,” Big Tony smirked, licking his lips.

“Sure,” said Pete. “Coming right up.” His surprisingly television-star-white teeth glowed in the blue neon light behind the bar as he flashed his teeth in an expression somewhere between a smile and a grimace.

The Irishman said, “Ah, ’tis Irish, the grandest drop, and it’ll put hairs on your chest, Big Man.” Big Tony raised his glass. The Irishman did the same, adding, “Get that the other side of your shirt.”

Assistant DA Wallace looked on with a scowl, waiting for backup to arrive. Big Tony grunted and swallowed the remaining booze he was holding in his mouth from his over-large shot.

Violet stared at Greg, not wanting to leave him alone.

She was making a sitting duck of herself. “Just go, God dammit. Please, just get outta here,” Greg said.

Vi did her best to keep the heels of her shoes from pecking down on the tile floor while walking as casually as possible to the restroom. Bigs shifted in his seat, scratching his thigh, Wallace looked at his watch, and Big Tony knocked another one back at the bar before Greg finally watched Vi slip into the restroom.

Suddenly, Greg thought of God, and he believed for a moment that God might actually exist. God is everywhere, he thought. He looked into the empty glass in front of him as if God could be in there. “Please, we need your help. I’ll do anything,” he whispered into the valley of the hand he held resting over his mouth.

Pete poured another round and walked away from the bar. The Irishman and Big Tony were pointing at one another, bantering like they were old friends.

A hint of the conversation rose above the rest, “Go and shite, Big Man,” and they both dissolved into guffawing laughter.

Greg shifted in his seat and watched Pete go into the ladies’ restroom. His nerves got hotter. He watched Pete return and wipe down the bar with a cloth. The barkeep turned and winked at Greg, but Greg didn’t see the sign, unaware that his unknown contact was right in front of him.

The Irishman and Big Tony talked about a horse. The Irishman offered a name.

“Whiskey Choices?” Big Tony slurred.

“No,” said the Irishman. “The name’s Risky Choices.” They both laughed. “Ten to one, and it’s going off in five minutes.”

Big Tony slapped down a fifty and said, “Make sure of it.”

The Irishman made a quick phone call. “All fixed,” he said afterward.

Pete picked up the remote control and changed the channel on the television closest to their seats at the bar. He un-muted the program. The commentator talked numbers and distances as horses pranced at the starting gate. The Irishman and Big Tony shouted at the TV when the gates flew open, and then at one another. In no time at all, the horses slowed down and came to a stop.

“I told you!” crowed the Irishman. “What did I tell you; I told you didn’t I?”

Big Tony called for more drinks. “The luck of the Irish then, was it?” mocked Big Tony boisterously.

Big Tony coughed, and then again, this time rapping at his own chest as if something was lodged within that he couldn’t quite shake loose. A ringtone started its repetitive announcement of an incoming call. Big Tony reached a hand into his coat and took out his phone. The ringing grew louder with the speaker exposed.

“Shut the hell up,” he ordered like the phone could do his bidding, looking at the screen before declining the call.

Pete pointed the remote and muted the television once more. The horses were still walking around with white foam clinging to their mouths. A man threw a bucket of water over one of the horses.

“Where is it anyway?” asked Big Tony.

“Africa,” provided the Irishman. “Silver Springs.”

A man with a walking stick ambled into the bar. He didn’t look at anybody, just pulled a coin from a pocket and deposited it into the slot of a more-ancient-than-retro jukebox in the corner. The song that played was about dancing with a hole in your shoe. The Irishman began to sing along.

Big Tony turned in his seat. “All this whiskey, now I gotta piss,” he said to no one in particular. He tried to stand.

“Are you okay, Big Man?” asked the Irishman as Big Tony swayed on his feet.

The metal feet of a stool squealed across the floor before it fell to the tiles with a clatter. Greg looked around to see what the commotion was about. It sounded like the start of a brawl without all the shouting. He saw Big Tony falling. The legs of another stool skidded as Big Tony displaced it before hitting the floor, his head resting on one ear and his mouth wide open.

Pete leaped the bar like a much younger man and Wallace came running.

“Leave this to me,” the assistant DA commanded with as much authority as a man of the law can muster.

Greg heard the front door slam shut and saw Bigs walking away from the bar, hightailing it away from the scene of the crime before the cops could show, sparing not so much as a glance back for his boss. In that moment, Greg became almost certain of God’s existence because, if this wasn’t the big break he’d prayed for, what else could it possibly be? So Greg stood up, prepared to make his getaway, yet he couldn’t help but pause to watch the scene unfolding before him.

The assistant DA pumped on Big Tony’s chest, pushing down hard with the heels of his hands. Then Wallace blew hard into his mouth. Big Tony’s body showed no response, and his eyelids looked like sandbags.

“Sweet Jesus,” said the Irishman, sitting up straighter on his bar stool. “I think he’s gone.”

Greg looked around. Everything felt as if it were occurring in slow motion, as if the bar were somehow underwater. The light bulbs blurred, and Greg felt dizzy. The smell of fried food coming from the kitchen was sickening, and he doubled over, clutching his chair for support.

Pete approached him. When Greg showed no signs of righting himself, Pete grabbed him by the shoulders, forcing him upright, and said, “What are you doing? Get out the back. Go now.” Greg paused, and Pete knew he needed reassurance. “I told Violet the very same.”

“You did? You helped her get out?” Greg asked, resisting Pete’s attempts to push him towards the back door.

“Yes. Now go,” Pete insisted. “Now is your only chance.”

Knowing Vi was out there gave Greg the strength he needed. He squeezed Pete’s arm in thanks and crept out the back door. When the steel door closed behind him, he found himself in a narrow alleyway. He looked right and left. There was no sign of Bigs, no sign of anybody, not in the downpour. The only living thing brave or stupid enough to be out in the weather was a stray cat tearing at some bags.

Greg heard the whine of an emergency vehicle drawing closer, and then another. Probably the police and an ambulance, Greg guessed, making his way out of the alley.

At the end of the alleyway, Greg crossed the road and crested a hill. In his breast pocket, he felt his cellphone vibrate. He lifted it out and let it ring and ring some more. On the screen he read:


His heart kicked. Little Toni was the last person on Earth he wanted to talk to at the moment. He thought of Vi. The suspicions, the guilt. The hurt. Every error and mistake, his and hers, that had brought him to this very moment.

Is she safe? he wondered, desperately needing to know the answer. “Where are you, Vi?” he asked into the night.

His phone eventually stopped ringing and immediately started again. He sent the call to voicemail. Soon, an alert popped up, notifying him of a new voice message.

He steeled himself, and then opened the message to listen.

“Hello, darling Gregory. It’s me, if you couldn’t tell,” said Little Toni’s voice. “Vi is safe here with me. A little more than panicky I’d say, so best that you get here as quickly as you can. We’ve all got to get moving. Oh, and darling, one more thing. Have you heard that your old flame Mable Swan is dead?”

Greg wanted to shout. He didn’t believe a single word out of Little Toni’s mouth, but then again, he couldn’t quite bring himself to discount her entirely either. Why couldn’t she just leave them alone? He pocketed his phone, but then took it out again to check the time.

He knew he had to get to the bus depot. Don’t run. Don’t be seen running, he told himself. He took a shortcut over a fence, through the park, and then over the wall, his grip tenuous on the rain-wet rocks. His shoes slipped on the grass and mud as he ran towards the station, glowing like a fire up ahead.

At the depot, he stopped a moment beneath a canopy to compose himself before purchasing a ticket, shaking out his coat to make it look as if he only meant to escape the rain. After paying his fare, he made his way to bus number five and handed his ticket to the driver who didn’t much look like he ought to be a bus driver. Greg studied the man for a moment.

“Please, take your seat,” said the driver, his tone leaving no room for argument.

Greg peered down the spine of the bus, empty save for the two of them. Feeling a bit awkward, he walked past the empty rows, arbitrarily stopping halfway and taking a seat. Soon, the lights of town raced by and began to fade. Up front, the driver watched the road, turning the big wheel in the direction of every bend. In the distance, Greg saw the lights of another town, and for a moment his heart felt light. He laughed quietly to himself because although he knew he was certainly a stupid man, this was the safest he had felt in ages.

Greg looked out the window and saw his own reflection mirrored on the glass. If only Vi were there with him. Greg rubbed the heels of his hands over his tired eyes. When he dropped his hands back into his lap, the blurred reflection of someone standing over him had joined his own, and he nearly jumped from his seat.

“Vi,” Greg whispered, afraid to say her name any louder for fear her appearance was but a figment of his imagination.

Vi was crying, tears streaming from her eyes. “We made it, Greg. We really made it.”

Greg’s breath caught in his throat. “Vi? Is it really you? I didn’t see you. How did I not see you?”

“I’m here, Greg,” Vi said, slipping onto the seat next to him. She took his hand, feeling his knuckles as if to assure herself he was real too.

The bus turned into the station.

“Final stop,” said the driver.

Greg and Violet left the bus depot, trying not to look overly hurried.

“We have to leave this place far behind us,” Greg said.

“I know, but I have to tell you something first.” Vi put a hand on his arm, halting his long strides. “They set me up; I hated you for the affair, but I’d never have you killed.”

Greg was surprised at the laugh that worked its way up from the pit of his stomach. “Vi, I never believed any of that,” he assured her. “But we can talk about that another time. Soon, with all of this behind us, we will have plenty of time.”

In a matter of weeks, the new town became familiar. Greg found a job as a truck driver, and Violet worked as a paralegal in a law office under false credentials. As a result, Greg was often out of town. He was happy for the time to reflect, and although Vi was often lonely, she was happy knowing Greg was safely behind the wheel and far from any sort of trouble, right where he belonged.

One evening after eating yet another dinner alone, Vi relaxed in a steaming bath. She heard the phone ring in the next room.

“I’m in the bath!” Vi yelled at the phone as if Greg could hear her through the ether, surprised he had called so early, as he was normally on the road driving at this hour.

The ringing stopped and started up again.

“Come on, Hon. Call me later,” she demanded, sinking further into the bubbles.

As Violet lay down to sleep that night, the phone rang again. Propping herself up with one elbow in the center of her pillow, she picked up the receiver on the second ring and held it to her ear with her shoulder.

“Hey, Hon,” she said into the phone. There was no reply. “Greg, is that you?” she asked, confused and a little annoyed.

The line went dead.

Vi reached for her cell phone and dialed Greg’s number. She listened to his voice apologizing and asking her to leave a message. She rolled over and looked at the clock on the nightstand, noting that 11:37 p.m. was a little late for just anybody to be calling. She put Greg’s pillow over the phone and drifted off to sleep.

At 4:33 a.m. the phone rang again. Against her better judgement, Vi answered with a sleepy greeting.

“Hello,” said a woman’s voice.

“Yes?” Vi questioned groggily.

“Can you tell Greg that I’m pregnant?” asked the woman.

Vi found herself instantly more awake, and for a heartbeat, she contemplated demanding to know the woman’s name, but she didn’t.

Instead, she pulled the phone’s cable out of the wall with a sharp yank. She was done playing games, and she wasn’t about to let lies ruin her life again. Keeping things from one another had been their downfall once, but Greg and Vi had promised one another never to keep secrets like that from each other again.

And Violet believed Greg would keep his promise, just as she kept hers.

As she lay down to go back to sleep, Vi closed her eyes and imagined Greg out there driving somewhere in the night, a crystal clear sky above him and the evening star shining bright like a beacon of hope on the horizon.

Albert Moot

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