For this stop on the tour, Tom is offering a short story called “Osteoporosis,” which I am pleased to present without further ado. It’s free, but if you enjoyed it, I encourage you to check out The Last Kind Words.
They hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years, and then a call from out of nowhere, six o’clock in the morning, let’s meet tonight.
Now they were sitting in one of those kitschy sports bars with nine flat-screen TVs hanging from the ceiling, staring at each other over a pitcher of beer and a wicker basket of salsa and chips.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Depends on your definition of kidding.”
“How about if we use, what you might call, the generally accepted definition.”
The noise was up there for a Thursday night, a lot of pretty and not-so-pretty girls seated at the bar glancing around, bored, waiting for some guys to buy them drinks. In one corner clustered a handful of young men with eager eyes and stupid, slack smiles, already half in the bag but still too insecure to give it a whirl. It was early yet.
“I’ve heard this story before. I’ve seen it in movies. It never turns out well for the guy in my shoes. Doesn’t particularly work out for the other guy, the guy that you play, either.”
“Let’s not get hung up on old, bad pictures.”
“Right. So let me take it from the top, just to get it straight in my own head.”
“If I’m getting this right, if I’m understanding it correctly–”
“I think you probably are.”
“–then you want me to ice your wife, Gloria. The mother of your four kids. The woman I toasted on your wedding day.”
“That was a nice speech, sounded very sincere.”
“What you’re telling me is that after nineteen years of marriage she’s fed up with your inattention, your lack of affection, and your daily hostility. Your obsessiveness, your crazy compulsions. Your quirks, the nasty thrum in your voice. Your volatile temper. The way you leave your socks on the bathroom floor. She says you’re emotionally distant–”
“That’s it exactly, and you put the emphasis in the right places too. You don’t even realize it but you’re doing a rather good impression of her.”
Dressed up like a ref, whistle bobbing on a string around her neck, the waitress came over when she saw their glasses were empty, and poured them each a fresh one from the pitcher. The salsa wasn’t bad, the chips fresh and salty.
“Okay, and now she’s seeing a divorce lawyer behind your back–”
A roar of disappointment from the bar, someone failing to make a catch or a run or a basket, who the hell knew.
“Joey’s brother? Kid who used to always start fights with the biggest guy on the other team in roller hockey?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
“So we know he likes to brawl.”
“He doesn’t just brawl, he wins.”
Both of them remembering the worst scrap they ever had on the street, Joey and his brother chopping down with their sticks and shattering collarbones, breaking jaws, causing concussions, the neighborhood ladies screaming, a fire engine and three cop cars thundering in like there was a chemical plant about to explode.
“He a top attorney?”
“He’s got himself a penthouse office down in Soho.”
“That those new high-rises, the ones that are all glass, they keep killing pigeons?”
“A couple blocks further north, but still a sweet area. I’ve got some investments there.”
“All right, so she’s seeing a big gun lawyer and she’s going to take you for all she can. She knows about your hidden assets, the portfolios, the money tied up in real estate, bonds, cash in a couple of bank deposit boxes…how much did you say she could pull in?”
“Half of what I’m worth, she could rip me about six mill.”
Both of them nodding, thinking the number over. The amount meaning different things to each of them.
“So you want me to bump her off at a time when you have your alibi firmly established, like when you’re in the middle of some business meeting surrounded by twenty execs–”
“We’ve got some clients coming in from Chicago next week. I figure I can take them down to Wiggles, show them a good time, make a scene.”
“They’ll get wrecked on that cheap booze. That place probably moves twenty pounds of X every night in the john. Will your Chi guys remember enough to be able to testify?”
“If not, the dancers will, if the tip is big enough. Those girls, they never forget a great tip. And I’ll make sure to use my black card.”
“Okay. And in return you’ll do me a favor that you say is of equal worth, of equal value. You will, you suggest, knock off, for me–
“One good turn deserves another.”
“–you’ll bump off, for me, Mr. Saknussum. The person you’re willing to kill, as a favor to me, is our old eighth grade gym teacher.”
The notion hanging out there, sort of spinning through the air. The pitcher empty, the ref coming by to put another one on the table, pour them glasses.
“I didn’t ask you to kill Mr. Saknussum.”
“You didn’t have to. I remember how much you hated him.”
“Mr. Saknussum is probably eighty-five by now.”
“He’s still healthy as a bull. Guy still works out, can military press two-fifty, even with the osteoporosis.”
“And you know this how?”
“I’ve kept tabs on him over the years.”
The obsessiveness, crazy compulsions, and the nasty thrum presenting themselves. Another missed chance on the television, screeches at the bar. A couple of the drunk not-so-pretty girls were staring at the boys, their moist faces full of sorrow.
“I’ve got nothing against Mr. Saknussum.”
“Oh, come on! I’ve heard how you talk about him! About how much you despise this guy, how you wish you could put him in a gunny sack and drop him over a cliff.”
“I said that maybe thirty years ago when we were twelve.”
“And he made us shinny up those ropes all day long. Up the ropes, down the ropes, and those rings! And the high bar. And the wind sprints, god–”
A nice long pause, all these memories and considerations being muddled over.
“I would think, seeing as how you want your wife gone so you can save yourself a few million bucks, that you might have at least asked me if there was someone else I might want to ice a little more than our eighth grade gym teacher.”
“Why? Is there someone else you want dead?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Of course you didn’t. So Mr. Saknussum it is. Just give me a date and time when you can establish an alibi and I’ll get my wire-cutters and–”
“You’re going to wire-cutter the guy to death?”
“No, no, that’s for before, to show him what pain is, to teach him that some of us were capable of achieving success on our own, in our own way, regardless of whether or not we were able to climb those ropes all the way to the top. Or do the parallel bars. Or–”
“You know, I think I’m going to have to pass on this deal.”
“Pass? Why do you want to pass? It’s a fair trade!”
“It’s been good seeing you again, let’s not wait another fifteen years, right?”
“But what about my wife?”
“She might be right. You do seem a bit emotionally distant and a little quirky. You might want to work on that.”
“What? Wait! Come back! Let’s talk this out. Was it the remark about the wire-cutters?”
The punks finally had enough liquor in them to start making their moves. But they were still too slow, taking it too easy, without any idea of what was coming for them around the next corner. They didn’t understand that in no time they’d be gray, ashen-eyed, balding, full of resentment, and suffering from osteoporosis. You had to take a few risks. You had to sidle up next to the prettiest of the pretty girls, give her a wink, hit her with your best grin. Sometimes you had to put everything else out of your head–the late mortgage payment, the nasty letters from the IRS, the child support, the palimony suit, the eighty-five year old gym teacher who could still make your stomach swirl with bile when you thought about climbing those damn ropes, the high bar, the rings–and just go out and enjoy yourself.
You had to order another beer and formulate a plan. You always liked Gloria. Your speech sounded sincere because it was sincere. You figured it wasn’t out of the question to maybe stop by and say hello after all these years, show her some attention and emotional support, let her cry on your shoulder. Six million for a divorcee. Yeah, or twelve mill for a widow.
You look back at him, still sitting there finishing up the free chips, wearing a four thousand dollar suit, three-carat pinkie ring, muttering to himself. It makes you shake your head and give a sickly chuckle.
The girl asks you what you’re laughing at and you say, Nothing, honey, I like the way you smell.