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Authors: Joe Schwartz

Joe's Black T-Shirt

BOOK: Joe's Black T-Shirt
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Joe’s Black T-Shirt

Short Stories About St. Louis



by Joe Schwartz





Copyright © Joe Schwartz, 2009



Smashwords Edition



All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be shared, reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior permission by the author.





A Stabco Publication



Cover art by Chris Holden, 2009





All of the stories included in this manuscript are the work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.










This book is dedicated to the three women in my life in whose absence this book would fail to exist.



First and foremost, my mother, who taught me that the power in the creative art of storytelling is the suspension of disbelief.



Second, in order only, is my lovely wife, Rhonda. I will be forever indebted to her as she showed me that I was not the horrible son-of-a-bitch I thought.



Third, is my editor and friend, Julie Failla Earhart, my cheerleader and staunchest critic.



To each of you, I say thank-you. I love you, and God bless you for putting up with me.











Slow Motion

Good Intentions



Take It Or Leave It

3 Pigs and A Dog

Father’s Day

Walking Uphill

No More Bets

Free Advice

Blackwater Opera

Family Business

Road to Hell





Dear Reader:

If you are reading this I will presume you to have a disaffected spirit by the very definition that is the stylish, yet dissident black t-shirt. Be it for a band or a high-octane motorsport, it is not clothing as much as a statement of values. Whether it is brand new or thread bare, it represents your deepest, inner reflections. It should act as a warning to the happy, go-lucky set that you can be dangerous if provoked.

These stories are written especially for you. Each one is an effort to tap into that secret psyche that does not conform to society’s rules. Rules that don’t apply to an underclass struggling to survive in that gray area between indigence and working class poor, standards that have become corrupt and inconceivable as our technology begins to exceed our humanity. These stories are not about people with choices as much as they are about people learning to live with the consequences of actions. That’s not to say we move unconsciously, not understanding the eventual outcomes of our self-destructive behavior, it is more about the fact that we simply do not care.

My own life is a collection of black t-shirts. Occasionally, I must weed items that no longer suit my state of mind. Others though, I have had since I was a teen-ager and could shit-can only if it were about to disintegrate. They are the story of my life. The sense of empowerment I receive from one is equal to the disdain of another. They are all precious in my sight. The most significant are those given to me by close friends. I have never received any higher endowment of respect. Likewise, I offer this collection of short stories to you.

All these stories are set in St. Louis, a place that I have loved, hated, reviled, and embraced. In short, it is my home. I have been to many other cities that were flourishing megalopolises. The clean streets, friendly locals, their astonishing monuments and museums, and endless variety of amusements only made me homesick.

St. Louis is a natural landfill of acutely angry people. The town is still a war zone divided by race and money that has hardly changed since I was a boy. Oddly enough, I have grown comfortable within these dire conditions.

I hope that you will see a neighbor, a co-worker, or even yourself in these words. Most important, I hope you will realize that you are not alone. There are other ‘normal people’ with the same inconsolable thoughts of desperation and malice hidden behind the thin veil that is a black t-shirt.

Once you’ve read it, give it to somebody else as a gift validating the adage that it is the thought that counts.



Acrimoniously yours,








Joe’s Black T-Shirt

Short Stories About St. Louis







Slow Motion


I first decided to kill Edgar last summer.

He had come into all our lives three years ago. There wasn’t anything that odd or outstanding about him I could recall. He was a hard worker who didn’t need much instruction to get a job done. When the supervisor asked what we all thought of bringing him aboard full time, none of us had any reason to balk.

The kind of work I do is grunt labor. Digging holes, mowing grass, painting buildings inside and out. It’s good honest work that doesn’t require brains. It’s harder than hell to get on full time in a unit, and I spent two years in part-time limbo hoping to get my spot. Over the last ten years, I’ve learned the mechanics of small engine repair and mower-blade sharpening and mastered the skill of pulling trailers of any size. Even in my chosen profession they are all things unexpected of a woman. Most of the women hired know they don’t have to take this serious. We work for the city. The local government is as bound as the largest federal entity to ensure a fair and equal workplace. Every shop has a woman, a black, and, occasionally, a cripple. Generally speaking, we’re equally despised.

I refused to be quarantined in the shop while my coworkers, the men, went out to do the real work. Besides, they had to do something with me. After two weeks of leaving me behind, I had reorganized the shop twice and power scrubbed the maintenance yard, removing years of tractor grease and truck oil. That night over a thirty-pack of beer, they decided to give me a real job.

Next morning I sat between the shop steward and the plumber. With every turn the obese plumber’s girth shifted onto me. His smell covered me like a fine mist that I could not ignore or get used to.

It was a short ride, maybe five or six miles, to the job site. A bathroom had become ‘inoperable’ over the winter break.

I had two jobs. To go back and forth to the truck for everything and to shovel shit. The plumber took great delight in berating my inexperience. “Jesus wept,” he would say as if divine intervention could help me. “Why don’t ya go bake some cookies, Martha, and leave the real work to the men.” Then he would laugh and send me back to the truck on another fool’s errand. When the back-flow of human waste would inevitably rise, forming an ankle deep black pool of curd-like discharge, I would wade in with my coal shovel, scoop up the watery slop into my wheelbarrow, and dump it out in the woods, downhill behind the cinder-block building. By the end of the day, the problem was diagnosed as a dead possum in the main line. As we rode back to the shop in silence, the plumber’s odor no longer bothered me.

The smell of human waste dogged me for three days after. I lost twelve pounds that week, hardly able to swallow a bite of food. Even my menthol cigarettes did little to disguise the awful taste. The guys all made friendly jokes with me about it until eventually I could laugh too, as if it had happened to someone else.

Then little by little they began to show me different things. Simple things like how to mix oil and gas or how to sharpen the chain saw with a rattail file. Complicated things like making concrete from raw materials or felling a tree safely. It gave me confidence to do these things. It made me a better mother to my two sons and it proved to myself that I could do anything if given the opportunity.

It was all so good until Edgar came around. He was somebody’s brother-in-law, but we didn’t give that much consideration. If you couldn’t hack the work as a seasonal laborer, you were gone, regardless if you were first cousin to the Pope himself. After you went full time, it was damn near impossible to get fired. Until we offered him the full-timer’s position, he was a model employee.






The bing-bong of an electric door chime signaled my entry into the store. Walls of rifles and shotguns stood erect behind the counter with rows of handguns under the glass countertop. The clerk was of indeterminate age, slender with a thick beard. With his coke-bottle thick glasses, his appearance reminded me more of a librarian than an arms dealer.

“Might I help you ma’am,” he drawled in a thick southern accent.
“You might,” I said. “Are you Ricky Larry?”
“Sure ‘nuff,” he said. “’Course most folks don’t usually seem concerned wit’ such.”

“I’m John Roberts.” I said. The name was a code. It had cost me forty dollars in draft beer and a hand job inside the Tinker’s Dam men’s room handicapped stall to get it. Now that I was here, I could only hope my spit-shine hadn’t been in vain.

“Don’t say,” he said. “What can I do for ya’, John?”

He pushed a button under the counter and an electronic lock bolted the front door. Ricky Larry sat a square cardboard container on the counter with the words SMITH & WESSON printed boldly across. Inside was a used .38 caliber, with rust on the barrel and a thick wad of duct tape wrapped around the handle that looked like it would fall apart the first time the hammer dropped.

“What ya’ think?”
“I think,” I said, “that I’ll pass.”
“This here is a right good pistol. Despite the cosmetics.”

I stared at him, not buying his song and dance about how this gun was only used on Sundays by a little old lady to shoot gallery targets.

“You might as well unlock the door,” I said

“Hold your horses. I got another,” he said putting another identical box on the counter. When he lifted the lid, I knew it was exactly what I wanted. A flat black-on-black 9mm Beretta that was no doubt military issue with the markings on the slide and the butt obliterated.

I picked it up and pulled the slide back with ease. The hollow chamber was clean, and the smell of fresh gun oil was overpowering as a barfly’s cheap perfume. The weight was well balanced in my hand. I squeezed the trigger and the slide clamped shut with efficiency.

“How much?”

“That there is a good piece, a bona fide sidearm of the U.S. military. A rare item under such circumstances.”

“How much?” I asked again. If my experience buying used cars was anything akin to this, I knew the more he talked the more it would cost. The trick was getting him to shut up and pin him down to a firm price.

“Well,” he said pondering, trying to accurately gauge my breaking point, “you seem like a nice lady. What ya say, nine hundred?”
“Four hundred,” I immediately countered.
“Now look here,” he said as his tone lost its friendly, country boy appeal, “this ain’t no durn flea market.”
“Seven-fifty,” I said putting my maximum offer on the table.

He combed his beard with his fingers. Eyes that looked too big for his face through the magnification of the lenses stared into mine, trying to determine if I was bluffing.

Through the cloak of thick facial hair, he smiled wide. His teeth were the shade of a Calico cat. “Gawd-dog! Ya drive a hard bargain, lady, but I do believe that’s a fair deal.”

I gave him the money, and he put the gun into a dark blue plastic bag. The weapon’s weight in my purse made me nervous and happy all at once. I held my purse on my lap all the way back home.

The boys were playing video games when I got home. The teenagers needed little from me in the way of survival. After I fixed hamburgers and skillet fries for supper I told them I had a bad headache and was going to bed early. I locked my bedroom door even though there wasn’t a chance I would be disturbed.

BOOK: Joe's Black T-Shirt
12.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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