Oedipus Gus
"Gus my friend, you really in the shits now." The fat pig of a sheriff was laughing at him. Chewing on the sizable nub of his cigar and jiggling his belly. Laughing at him. Gus lifted his gaze to bore in on Sheriff Wendel Hatfield’s fat forehead. He wished in that instant that he could will that pig-man to explode. ‘Die! Die! Die!’ he shouted in his mind. The furrows in his forehead increased as he visualized sticking the blob with a stilletto. He’d pop like an overcooked sausage.
The sheriff’s guffaws ceased when he looked again at Gus. A barely perceptible nod of his head and Gus knew what was coming. The right side of his temple exploded in a wave of light and sound as Deputy Grizzer laid into Gus with his truncheon. Gus’s head rebounded on the table in front of him and he fell to the floor with his chair. His wrists twisted painfully; his handcuffs were looped through the seatback. Gus’s left ear smacked on the concrete floor already wet with his blood. A new flow made its way across the curves of his skull, down his cheek and over his swollen lips. He tasted copper and instantly felt sick. Blinded by the blows and seated, though sideways, Gus floated in the spinning world of disorientation. He blinked his eyes futilily as the nausea welled up in his throat. The gagging began for real this time as he curled his neck forward.
"Get that sunavabitch up before he chokes on it." Deputy Grizzer looked quickly at the vomiting mass on the floor and thought better of it.
Grizzer whined meekley, "But boss, he’s..."
"Goddammit! I said get him up." The fat man pointed his improbably large finger at Gus for emphasis. "Now, shit for brains!"
Deputy Grizzers eyes grew big and wide. "Yes boss!" He tried to pick Gus up by the chair he was attached to but there wasn’t enough strength in his skinny frame. He glanced up at the Sheriff who was continuing to berate him. "Sunuvabitch..." He looked again at the vomit now mixing with blood on the floor. "Good for nuthin..." Gus seemed to have stopped retching for a moment. "Inbred..." Grizzer wrapped his arms around Gus’s chest and heaved him upright. Gus lolled his head to the left and vomited on Grizzer’s leg and boot.
"Aw shit! Shit, shit shit. Boss, ya see what he did done? These are my brand new Wranglers and..."
"You dumbass." Sheriff Hatfield came around the table, unbothered by the bile and crimson he walked through. "You remember that colored boy who died on us last year."
"Yes boss."
"Well, do ya recall what he died of. Do ya?"
"Uh, he fell down the stairs at Jim and Tonic’s and was dead when we found him." Grizzer smiled. He did good remembering after all this time. The Sheriff hauled off and smacked him across the head with his open palm. Grizzer was knocked backward and his prized black Stetson fluttered to rest on the filth covered floor.
"My hat..." he whimpered, diving after his soiled treasure.
"You illegitimate lump of poor white trash." The sheriff seized the back of Grizzer’s collar and jerked him to eye level. "I ain’t the god damn ACLU. I know what happened. I wish to God you knew what was happening once in a while." The sheriff stepped back and pointed at Gus’s now listless form. "He choked on his own dinner, ya remember that you moron. Just like our friend Gus here was about to. Now if they raised all that fuss over some negro..."
Grizzer, totally lost, interruped the sherriff. "But boss I thought we were supposed to say that..."
Hatfield looked up at the ceiling, frustrated again. "Just shut up." He waved his hands in Grizzers face.
"But boss..."
"Just shut ya trap before I get Lenny to fit ya with a muzzle. Just get our friend here cleaned up and tell me when ya done. I has got to make my pitch again." The sherriff moved to face the delirious Gus. "I had a Klan meetin tonight and now I am going to miss it because you can’t make a simple logical deal. Wise up boy. My patience has its limits!"
With that, the sherriff turned and disappeared with a slam of the interrigation room door. Grizzer immediately leaned over Gus and smacked him lightly across the cheek with his truncheon. "You see what you done." He slid Gus around and leaned over so they could see eye to eye. "I knows you can hear me." Gus’s head lolled slightly upward and he tried to pry his swollen eyes open. The breath from Grizzers rotting mouth wafted into Gus’s nose. "When this is over, me and you got us a score to settle, ya hear?" Gus’s only response was to vomit once again.
"Shit, shit, shit. Bossss! He done puked on me again. Bossss..."
* * *
"Gus old boy, you are definitely in it now," was the only thought that kept running through Gus’s head as he walked through the door of the Colton, Mississippi sherriff’s office and into the rain. Glancing over his shoulder, through the large front window he could see the Sherriff at his desk, sipping his coffee and grinning. Gus guessed that the Sherriff felt confident that the task at hand would be complete by the morning. Gus frowned, turned and plodded off into the night.
Gus shivered underneath his canvas coat, the rain couldn’t get to him but the cold was definitely pissing him off. Or was it the thought of what he had to do. He could run, but they probably had someone following him. There was no way he could get his dope back, they had locked it in the evidence safe. And if he didn’t get it to Tallahasse by the day after tomorrow, he was in deep shit. If he and the dope just plain never made it, well, his life was over. He had contemplated going South to Mexico or Brazil but the Sheriff said he knew where Gus’s mother was and that he’d let JoJo know if he ran. Gus remembered well JoJo’s first ‘undeniable truth,’ as he liked to call his threats. Before Gus’s first dope run, what was it? Five years ago? It seemed so far away now.
JoJo had told him in his slippery New Jersey accent, ‘You screw me, I screw you. I will not only kill you, I will kill every member of your immediate family in a most gruesome and entertaining manner. Then I will slop their bodies to my dogs." He sounded quite serious at the time. JoJo was a serious man. This hadn’t bothered Gus at all; he and his mother had different last names and he hadn’t even seen her in four years, ever since she had re-married and he had left home. She would be so ashamed of him if she knew of the life he chose for himself. He had wanted to go back, had tried so many times. Once he even made it to the driveway of her new home. He just couldn’t make himself get out of the car and go inside. The penance he exacted upon himself was too great, his punishment was isolation.
Once, when he was still shooting up, she had walked by him as he lay on a park bench. His beard and hair were long, his odor repugnant. She gave nothing more than a pitying glance, not even breaking stride. His mother had not recognized her son. Such a travesty should never occur. Gus reflected that it was probably that single event that made him stop his frequent trips to the heroin shooting gallery. His mother meant so much to him. Why she had to marry that asshole he didn’t know.
Grunting back a sniffle, Gus reorganized his thoughts. He knew nothing of the rest of his family. Gus’s mother had left his father when she was pregnant and moved to a trailer park in Phoenix. So how the hell could the sherriff know her. She had told Gus nothing about his father, but he knew she was from the South. ‘Could the Sherriff be his father? ‘ Gus revolted at the thought and landed on the same conclusion he had a week ago after his arrest and interrogation. The sherrif had laid it out simply. Do this job or he’d prosecute for dealing and introduce JoJo to his mother. Run and he’d do the same. Do the job and he’d give Gus his dope back and let him go on his merry way.
"Yeah, right," he thought. "I’m screwed. Where the hell is this place."
Soon he saw the large neon rooster a block and a half ahead. Gus broke into a trot, the sound of his feet splashing trough puddles the only sound on the somewhat deserted main street of the anonymous Southern town.
Gus stepped through the door of the Cock-A-Doodle Bar and Grill and was assailed by a medley of smells. Rotting beer and pungent sweat assailed his nose. The red-lit room was nearly empty. A fat couple, obviously drunk, sat in one of the booths to his left. Three men sat at the bar to his right. In the back, someone appeared to be welding judging by the hiss and sparks that occasionally shot into view from around the corner. He casually wandered over to the bar and sat on the short L-end of it. He folded his arms across his chest and examined the men in front of him.
In the middle of the bar was a wrinkled lush. He wore the standard plaid shirt, dirty cotton-filled vest and blue cap that read ‘Grainger Excellence.’ He was muttering incoherently, apparently conducting a conversation with his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. This definitely wasn’t his man.
Two stools closer was a husky body that terminated in a mass of hair. Gus couldn’t tell if the shape was man or woman and he didn’t want to hazard a guess. He’d seen too many of the women around here. This stool’s occupant was definitely not his target either.
He shifted his gaze to the left only to find he was being grilled by a black beard with eyes. A red cap sat on top of his head and a grizzled lip curled in obvious distaste. The hatred flowed freely from his pupils. Normally, Gus would have asked him ‘just what the fuck were you looking at you cocksucking bastard’, but he had other things to deal with right now. Besides, this guy looked like Bluto on steroids. His man definitely wasn’t here. He dipped his head and shook it in frustration. This was the only lead that fat pig of a pig had given him. Now he was really in the shits.
"Well golly!"
Gus snapped his head up, wondering if the beating he’d taken from Boss Hog and Grizzer had caused some kind of brain damage. Gomer Pile had just announced himself. The front door swung shut and a new actor joined the scene, slipping into the stool next to the beard with eyes. "I jus knew we’d git us another good buddy in here sometime." Gomer leaned over and pounded Gus twice on the back. Gus winced in pain but tried not to show it. He extended his hand and Gomer pumped it wildly.
"I’m Gus."
"Well Gus, I’m Leo and this is Ed," he smacked the bearded mass to his left on the back. "And that’s Pat and that crazy sonofabitch at the end is my daddy. How ya doing daddy?" Leo leaned over the bar and looked at the muttering man, waiting for a response. Finding none he shook his head and turned back to look at Gus, smiling like a goofball.
Gus looked at his enormous ears, balding head and grease stained blue mechanic’s outfit with the embroidered nametag that said ‘Leo.’ ‘Bingo’ he thought, my man has arrived. He thought Leo a little small for a hit man.
"Well, golly son," Leo began, "you’re either here for drinkin or screwin, and I don’t think Pat’s in any shape to ride ya tonight." He must have thought this very witty as he broke up into a fit of nasal laughter. "So I guess you’re gonna have to buy us a round." He looked directly at Gus, suddenly very serious. Ed cranked out a viciously huge grin and gripped his Budweiser bottle a little tighter.
Gus met Leo’s gaze directly. His body cried out for stomping this little inbred twit’s face into the barroom floor, but the circumstances and the increasingly ominous size of Ed halted that line of thought. Back down...
"Why I’d be happy to buy you gents a round. But I haven’t seen the bartender since I got here." Gus smiled as warmly as possible and shrugged his shoulders. Ed smiled a little bigger and relaxed his hold on the bottle. Leo turned and shouted towards the back room.
"Elias! Elias, get your ass out here and get us some beers." He leaned farther over his stool, already on the verge of tipping and called to Elias again. The sparks stopped flying from the back room and Elias strode towards the bar. "There he is," Leo pointed. "See, thats Eli."
Gus wondered just what the hell they ate around here. Elias must have been 6’2" and weighed about 250. He leaned on the inside corner of the bar and with a jerk of his head flipped up the shield on his welding mask. A neatly trimmed brown beard adorned his face and his eyes gleamed with, something. Gus couldn’t rightly tell.
"What can I get you gents?" he inquired.
Leo again reached over and put a comradely arm on Gus’s shoulder. "Our Buddy ah, uh"
"Gus," he reminded.
"Yeah, Gus." Leo nodded and smiled like a lunatic. "Gus here is buyin’ a round." Leo raised his head and announced, "Bombs for everybody." Simultaneously the couple in the booth cheered while Elias smiled. Ed smartly rapped his empty bottle on the bar.
"Mighty kind of you." Gus silently remarked on Elias’s undeniably non-southern accent. Elias flattened his hand in front of Gus. "That’ll be payment in advance of course."
Gus shook his head and dug into his pockets, slapping two fives into Elias’ hand. Elias motioned for another. Satisfied with the fifteen, he went to work filling the order. The couple rose and staggered over to the bar. In front of everyone except the comatose Pat, Elias placed a warm Bud bottle and a shot of something he poured out of a mason jar. Before lifting the lid off this moonshine, he lowered the welding shield and breathed deeply and audibly holding the ‘shine at arms length as if hazardous to touch. This amused Leo greatly and he nearly collapsed in another spasm of nasal guffaws. Ed just grinned. Gus wondered if Ed was a retard. Elias served up the round, including one for himself, and raised his mask for a toast.
"To the moon," he hissed in a deep bass tossing the ‘shine with one hand and downing the beer with the other. Gus tried his best to follow along, letting the kerosene ignite what the beer quickly cooled. Elias, Ed and Leo finished one, two, three and howled loudly and enthusiastically. Gus just smiled and tried to keep from passing out. He wondered if too much of this ‘shine would make him blind.
"So my friend," Leo begin, drunk within minutes. "Who kicked your ass?" Elias ducked to examine the shiners Gus still sported.
"I had a little scuffle in Biloxi," replied Gus. "They’re dead now."
"Was it a couple of coloreds," Leo spat, hoping. "Was it?"
"Yeah, it was a couple of ‘em," he said, holding up two fingers.
Leo giggled moronically and proceeded to recount all the beatings he had administered in his lifetime. A fractured skull here, a gorged eyeball there. Aggrivated assault, endangerment, attempted murder; Leo was quite the middle-aged delinquent. Elias shook his head, either disturbed by the recollection or bored with its repitition, Gus couldn’t quite tell, and left for the sanctity of his workroom. Gus turned his attention back to Leo and learned how to make ‘the best damn jailhouse moonshine in Mississippi.’ Leo seemed very proud of himself.
‘What a putz.’ thought Gus. Perhaps eliminating this little jackal wouldn’t be so hard after all. Gus bought him another beer in a futile attempt to shut him up.
Many rounds later, Elias dragged Gus into the back and showed him the cannon he was assembling. He explained that it was a pneumatic harpoon gun he smuggled off a whaler he had worked on last year. He was making a mounting for his boat and was gonna use it to ‘hunt’ gators. ‘More like splatter gators,’ Gus thought. The harpoon for this baby was as long as his arm, the point bigger around than his fist. God the hicks down here were weird as hell.
Ed ducked out at about 2:00, nearly giving Gus a heart attack in the progress. Gus was still in back, watching Elias hook up the compressor when he spoke for the first time that evening.
"We’re leavin Elias." Gus spun his head around to see Ed carrying someone over his shoulder. For a heart rendering moment he thought it was Leo, but as Ed turned a mass of hair flew across his shoulder and Gus knew it to be Pat. Ed had scrounged himself a date.
Elias leaned around the corner. "See ya Ed. And this time, if Pat don’t wake up you take her to the urgent care and get her pumped. You hear?"
"Yeah, yeah." Ed dismissed that notion with a flip of his hand and was gone. Gus found Leo underneath one of the booths. The old mutterer had vanished.
"Well," said Elias as he looked at Leo snoring under the table, "it seems about that time." He looked around the bar. "Shit, where’s pops?"
"I dunno." Gus dragged Leo out and laid him flat. Now came the hard part. He had to figure out a way to get Leo alone. He wasn’t about to quit yet. "What should we do with him? You want I should take him home."
Elias had looked in the bathroom and was peering behind the bar. "Lord would you? I’m gonna have enough trouble just finding pops. Damn crazy old fart probably passed out in the alley again."
"Sure Elias," he nodded, digging Leo’s keys from his pocket. Gus smiled with pleasure as his task became magnatudes easier. "Where do I drop him off."
"Actually, his place is right across the street." Elias pointed at the doorway outside. "Go, straight across, up the stairs, second on the left. That’s his key there." He pointed again. "Let me help you get him up."
They heaved Leo’s deadweight up and over Gus’s shoulder. Gus was no lightweight, he had broken broncos and done some calf wrestling a few years back, but the toils of the evening and the beating of a week ago seemed to weigh him down impossibly. Or was it the task that was almost at hand. Elias helped him to the door and held if for him.
"Real nice meeting you Gus." He patted Gus on the back and pointed towards his workroom. "You ever want to try that bitch out you just swing by, you hear?"
"Thanks man." Gus swung his hand free and shook. "Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow." Thank god he wouldn’t be able to. Although he genuinely liked Elias more than anyone else he’d met in this pissy little town, he was a looser like all the rest. Gus hefted Leo again and began the long struggle to get him home. From the bar, he could hear Elias calling for pops. Outside, the rain had stopped and the street was again quiet.
* * *
Totally exhausted, Gus collapsed in a pile with Leo in the middle of Leo’s squalid second-floor apartment. Leo rolled over and tried to kiss Gus.
"C’mere Pat." he slurred. Gus pushed him away and rose, shutting the door. He didn’t bother to turn on the lights, he could see well from the streetlight shining through the window. He looked out on the street below. The Cock-A-Doodle sign was dim and Elias was locking the door. Pops must have been found and sent on his way. He watched Elias speed away in his dinged up red pickup.
Gus turned and sat on the bed. He looked at Leo sprawled on the soiled carpeting. A mangy orange cat leapt out from nowhere onto the bed and rubbed along Gus’s back. He paused to scratch it. The moments slipped by and Gus found himself drifting off, the cat’s purrs singing his alchohol dulled brain a sweet lullaby. Feeling he was falling, Gus snapped awake, shook his head and stood. He still had business to do. He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and withdrew a .38 revolver and a silencer. He casually mated the two pieces and checked the alignment. The streetlight glinted on the chrome barrel as he took aim from a foot away.
Gus stood there for a minute, just pointing the weapon at Leo’s head. Twice he cocked, then uncocked the gun. He had to do this. <Click>. He couldn’t kill in cold blood, not like this. <Click> They were going to kill him, his mother. Even if they didn’t his life would be over. <Click> Gus stood, shaking, sweating. Half an inch of space separating the hammer from the bullet, life from death. He had to, for his mother, for himself.
The revolver burped twice and a crimson pool spread from Leo’s head. Another stain on the carpet. Gus began to shake violently and ran for the door, catching himself as he gripped the knob. Musn’t panic. He sat back down on the bed and waited for the tremors to stop. He’d heard many a story about the ‘first time’ but looking down at Leo’s body, he’d never thought, what? That it would be so easy to end a life. He looked at the revolver. So easy and so difficult. Somehow calmed by emotions he’d never felt before, Gus made to leave. He removed the silencer, wiped down the barrel and placed it in Leo’s right hand. A nice tidy suicide for the Sheriff to take care of.
He looked around the room, wiping off the doorknob and checking for anything he might have missed. Leo’s blood was leaking out on the carpet. More blood than Gus thought a man could have. A river of blood seeping towards the door. He had to leave. Soon, the flow would exit the apartment into the hallway calling for attention. He wanted to be far away when that happened. Stepping around the spreading gore, Gus opened the door to find pops snoring outside. Thoughts slowly clicked and Gus risked a quick look back in the apartment. Yes, now he saw it. There in the corner was a cot. Pop’s bed. Fuck. It really was his pop. Gus hoped somebody would take care of the old fart. Stepping over Pops, he quietly closed the apartment door and tiptoed down the stairs.
* * *
Gus met Deputy Lenny three blocks away behing a darkened supermarket. Gus found him sitting on the trunk of Gus’s Cadillac.
"The deed done?" Lenny’s moustached mouth chewed a toothpick as he mouthed the words.
"Yeah, its done. Where’s the stuff."
Lenny rose, turned and unlocked the trunk, all the while watching Gus. "It’s all there." Gus removed one of the side access panels and verified that the cocaine was once again in his possession. Satisfied, he closed the trunk and reached for the keys. Lenny dropped them on the wet pavement and turned, laughing as he walked away. Gus retreived them and screambled into his car.
* * *
Ten miles out of town and no one in sight. Gus figured he was in the clear. Amazingly enough, the Sheriff seemed to have kept his word. Still, he wouldn’t feel comfortable until he got this stuff to Tallahasse. Shit, maybe he’d even call his mother. He switched on the radio as he rounded a corner and onto the Carlysle Bridge. Seconds later, the road behind him lit up with blue and red as three squad cars turned on their lights and sped towards him from the rear. Simultaneously, two cars blocking the road ahead flipped on their spotlights.
As he came within a hundred yards of the vehicles, he noticed the big gold star that belonged on the side of Sheriff Wendel T. Hatfield’s cruiser. Furthermore, he could make out the sheriff and Deputy Grizzer standing side by side in front of the vehicles, holding shotguns, pointing them at him. Ok, so maybe the Sheriff was an asshole after all. Seeing no escape, Gus slowed. His spirit was dashed. He was in big trouble. Under arrest for...
The first shotgun blast tore five large holes in the windshield, Gus ducked behind the dashboard as the car began disintegrating in a hail of rifled slugs. Gus was in a panic, his trousers suddenly warm and wet. He never thought he’d die over this shit. He couldn’t believe he was going to die over this shit. What a worthless way to go. His mind raced. They had no intention of arresting him. Even better for them if he’s dead. No annoying suspects to make any odd accusations. Just a nice dead drug runner and a nice closed case. Sneaking a quick look out the remains of the windshield, Gus realized he had no choice. He had to try and run through the blockade. He stole another glance for guidance and gunned the riddled Caddy, urging it forward. The engine moaned and shot a geyser of steam in protest, but accelerated nevertheless. The sheriff and deputy emptied their weapons and attempted to flee, but were unsuccessful. They had not anticipated this tactic from docile Gus. The fat Sheriff’s body was caught directly in the path of the Caddilac. Pinned between this and his cruiser, his body burst apart nicely, just like Gus had imagined. The deputy was caught in the periphery of the collision and was propelled over the railing and into the maw of the river. Realizing in the instant of the crash that he should have listened to his mother and worn his seatbelt, Gus gripped the steering wheel for dear life. When the paramedics arrived, they had to pry it from his fingers before extricating him from the tree he finally landed in.
Gus awoke in the hospital feeling, nothing? He was informed that he had broken his neck, spine and a number of other bones with obscure names. His skull was lacerated severely from the jagged windshield and tree branches. He was told he would remain in the hospital until he healed. Then he would be transferred into police custody. And then, thought Gus, I will be dead. The police loved their sheriff like a tike loves his mamma’s teat. Officer Lenny shot him a vicious glare whenever he rose from his post outside the door to pace in the hallway. There was no escape. The really great part, thought Gus as he listened to the man in the bed next to him mutter incoherently about his dead son, was having to listen to this shit. He had been placed in a room with the incoherent pops and was forced to listen to him wail on and on. This old fool was showing him pictures of his family. Jesus.
"And this one here," sniffled Pops, "is my boy. And this is his wife and my grandson..."
Gus’s heart stopped as Pop’s waved an old photo in front of Gus. It was a sight he knew well. His mother’s face. Younger, but definitely hers. And, readily apparant from her bulging belly, many months pregnant. Gus looked up at his grandfather and faced very suddenly with the enormity of what he’d done, closed his eyes and wished it would all go away. All he could see, eyes open or closed, was Leo’s life leaking out onto the floor of a soiled apartment in Colton, Mississippi.