A Steady Rain
By Keith Huff
Farrar, Straus and Giroux Copyright © 2010 Keith Huff
All rights reserved.
Lights rise on DENNY and JOEY.
DENNY We just signed on as a Nielsen family, yunno, the ratings guys? They come into your home and attach this, the fuck, this box to your TV. And when you watch, all you do you pass around this remote and whoever's watching what, they punch in they're watching, right? They hooked a box up to the TV in Noel's room. There's even one buttoned up to the black-and-white kitchen set and the 38-inch boober me and Connie got in the boudoir. So the first night we got it, Connie and the kids and me, we're lounging around in the family room figuring out how we can push all these buttons at once. Yunno, really screw up the Nielsen guys? And my partner, Joey, he's over, I explain to him what's the deal. And he tells me ...
JOEY You go pushing more than one button at a time, Den, you're not screwing anybody. You're just canceling yourself out.
DENNY The fuck do you know, you fuckin' mick? Are you screwing anybody presently?
JOEY Same thing you vote Democrat and Republican the same election. And besides ...
DENNY ... Einstein continues ...
JOEY Them Nielsen guys pay more attention to toilets flushing during commercials than to any frigging box.
DENNY And I tell Joey he's fulla shit. Which he is usually. 'Cause, I mean, is he a Nielsen family? The elbow-bender still lives in this one-room chinch pad looking over an alley. Never married, not even dating, for Chrissake, so his chances of even having a family let alone being lucky enough to get the call from Mr. Nielsen and enlisted into the privileged ranks are pretty slim, yunno what I mean? So, of course, he puts down the value of being a Nielsen family 'cause people, friend or foe, they do this all the time consistently. They put down what you got 'cause they don't got it 'cause they wish they had it but they don't. Even shits like Joey. I known the guy since kinnygarten. He puts down marriage, kids, big-screen TVs, everything that has value that he don't got 'cause if it has value that makes him a very poor man by comparison.
JOEY So Denny's on his way to the fridge for another Bud Light, laying into me for dumping on his conspicuously acquisitive lifestyle again, when all a sudden the front pane window explodes in like this huge spiderweb of splinters.
DENNY Hole big as a nut at the center.
JOEY And across the family room the screen on the big set ...
DENNY ... the 52-incher, the one we just knobbed on hock from Best Buy to make a good impression on the Nielsen people ...
JOEY ... it explodes, too.
DENNY Nobody knows what the hell is up, glass falling all over my wife and kids, Joey diving over them to cover them best he can.
JOEY Heinz was barking at the TV set 'cause it's still, you know, sputtering fireworks and smoke.
DENNY I had to yank out the plug and collar Heinzy and by this time Connie is screaming 'cause there's all this blood.
(The lights change.)
JOEY Things were already pretty choked that night before the bullet hit. Denny'd made up his mind to reform me. We'd both been passed over the third time in a row on detective promotions, I'd been half-fractured most the time since and Denny refused to let me put my life on the rocks about cowplop of that particular ilk.
DENNY Best friends since kinnygarten. It's only right.
JOEY Now, I don't know the Department has a quota system.
DENNY Fuck they do.
JOEY Denny says they do.
DENNY Believe me, they do.
JOEY I don't know. I do know I aced that detective exam the third time in a row ...
DENNY We both did.
JOEY ... and fifty guys with lower scores got upped to plainclothes ahead of me.
DENNY Fifty guys upped to the ranks of dickhood with not only lower scores and less service but who just all happen to be a lot more ethnic than me and my bog-hopping amigo paisan over here.
JOEY I'm not saying there's reverse racism.
DENNY Fuck if there ain't.
JOEY But Captain Dickerson ...
DENNY The supreme dick of all dicks.
JOEY ... he's had it out for me and Denny ever since we went through the Department grievance procedure and forced him to remove reprimands he'd tucked in both our files. The reprimands were for racist remarks and sure, Denny and me, knocking around in the locker room might have let slip a rude word or two about the apparent injustice of this unstated quota system.
DENNY But Dickerson's cheese-eating rat patrol overhearing something not even intended for their fuckin' ears gives the man no right to put reprimands in our files that can effectively stonewall our careers.
JOEY So I was blitzed a lot ...
DENNY A lot? Joey, you were spoon-feeding yourself sterno for breakfast.
JOEY ... and Denny, to keep me off the sauce, he talked Connie into having me over just about every night of the week.
DENNY We kind of adopted the mutt. Heinz took a shine to him.
JOEY I appreciated the gesture. It was a good thing to do. Denny was always doing things like that, always looking out for people. He was a good guy. A people person.
DENNY You show a nonstarter like this the good life, beautiful house, beautiful wife, beautiful kids, a dog, all these TVs, it can have kind of a reformative effect, right?
JOEY Did me anyway. Only Denny, he'd bring these women to dinner night after night trying to fix me up. He brought this one woman Rhonda over. A hooker. I know this for a fact because I'd seen Denny taking money from her out on patrol. Nothing inherently bad in that. A dozen or so hookers, he looked after them and they greased him. In exchange, he wouldn't run them in, keep the pimps off their backs.
DENNY Hey, I enabled those girls to keep just about most what they made, exactly the way free enterprise in this country should be.
JOEY Like I said, Denny was a stand-up guy. But this Rhonda ... what a trip. Denny, he thought the kind of girl I'd fall hard for was Rhonda's type. When actually she's more the type he'd go for. Which was one of his faults, I guess. It was apparent from the first moment we all sat down at dinner what was up. Connie was bringing in food, tossing Denny the fisheye. And Denny's getting all pissed off at me because I don't talk to Rhonda. And Rhonda, I don't know, she's sensitive, I guess. Three glasses of wine, she's stuffing her face, she never ate food like it, complimenting Connie, spitting chunks of half-chewed lasagna across the table onto Stewy's high-chair tray. Then she starts in about her childhood, which, believe me, was no Disney movie. When Rhonda brought up incest at the dinner table, that was it with Connie. She left the room. Denny's shouting after her: "Get back to the table, be civil, we got company!"
DENNY That's me ...?
JOEY That's you.
DENNY You're doing me.
JOEY I'm doing you. But Connie was a good match for Denny because she wouldn't take any of his shit. I always thought that about them. They were a good couple. So Connie gone, who does Denny lay into next?
DENNY I told Joey, I told him: it's perfectly logical. To start a new life, person's got to make new friends, right? Rhonda don't get exposed much to the good life. I want to expose her to the good things, give her a taste of how good the good things can be. It's you all over again, Joey. You got no right to look down. Everybody at this table knows you got a fairly severe drinking problem.
DENNY Okay, well, hey, so maybe Rhonda didn't know till now. But she's company. And besides, I bring you to our table night after night for the same logical purpose. You get exposed to the good life suddenly, the bottle in your case, making a living flat on your back in Rhonda's, it don't look so fuckin' appealing, right? Am I right? What? What I say?
JOEY Fortunately, the phone rang. So Denny, before he answers it, he tells us:
DENNY Sure, the fuckin' phone rings, drop everything just to yap with some fuckin' scammer wants to sell me TV Guide. You two entertain yourselves, okay?
JOEY And he leaves me and Rhonda there alone at the dining-room table. I couldn't think of anything to say. Neither could Rhonda, I guess. But while we were sitting there, out the corner of my eye, she's sitting next to me, I could see her bottom lip start to quiver like she's going to cry. But before she did, she runs out the front door with her coat. Denny comes back into the dining room jumping for joy because he got called to be a Nielsen family, but then the smile drops from his face and he asks me:
DENNY The fuck is Rhonda?
JOEY She split.
DENNY And how you suppose she's supposed to get home, uh?
JOEY Didn't she drive?
DENNY No, she did not drive. The general idea, shit-for-brains, is you give her a lift home. One thing, another, land the green, sink the putt, a family guy, uh?
JOEY You promised you weren't gonna do this anymore, Den.
DENNY The fuck is wrong with you, Joey? She's a nice girl.
JOEY Did I say she wasn't?
DENNY Did you say she was? All night, you're Buster Fuckin' Keaton with the silent bit. Dipshit didn't say two words to her all night. I told him, it don't just happen, Joey. You got to make a fuckin' effort. Great woman like Connie don't just fall into your lap. And you know what the lowlife tells me?
JOEY I told him, Rhonda is not Connie, Den.
DENNY As if I don't know the fuckin' difference. What, he thinks I plucked Connie newborn in her birthday suit out the Virgin Spring when I married her? She had a history same as Joey, same as me, same as Rhonda. I told him that.
JOEY And I said, it's not the same thing and you know it.
DENNY What are you, a lawyer? Correcting me, what I say, what I think, you know what this is?
JOEY I got to go.
DENNY A double fuckin' standard!
JOEY Oh, is that what it is?
DENNY It's a double fuckin' standard, J. Rhonda's had a hard life.
JOEY We're all doing hard time at the Rock, Denny.
DENNY Harder than any lumps you know.
JOEY Save it for the pulpit, okay?
DENNY That girl lays her life on the line just to make it day-today out on the streets and you dish her off beyond redemption?
JOEY All right, don't shut up.
DENNY You tell me it's not them and us? Rhonda ain't one of us, uh?
JOEY Denny grabbed his coat and told me:
DENNY Tell Con I'm taking Rhonda home.
JOEY ... and stormed out the door.
(The lights change.)
JOEY This bit about them and us? Sergeant Wallace, he suggested maybe to get on Dickerson's good side before the next detective promos are made, me and Denny, we maybe take this race-relations seminar the Department is offering free, no charge. So I sign up, but Denny, he's too busy being a family man and all, and he asked me to coach him on what they teach me, you know, watch his back so he don't let anything remotely mean-spirited slip in the locker room like before. So I do, I did. And we're busting these two gangbangers, these Latino and African-American gentlemen. We caught them pants down with all this pharmaceutical grade H and coke — morphine, too, a fishing-tackle box fulla vials. We load the haul into the squad-car trunk, the cuffed gentlemen into the backseat, and up front I tell Denny, the names he called these guys while we were reciting them their Mirandas, he should be a little more cautious. That's all I said. And he gets all defensive.
DENNY Say what, what I say?
JOEY The words, Denny, the words.
DENNY What, I said it to you, Joe. Polite company, you're my goombah, my partner in crime. What, are you gonna tell on me?
JOEY The trick is to not even think those words, Den.
DENNY Think 'em? What, you want inside my fuckin' brain, now, you Irish tampon?
JOEY You asked me to help you on this, I'm helping you.
DENNY How can I not think what I'm thinking, Joey?
JOEY I'm only saying, Den.
DENNY It's all I heard our neighborhood since day one.
JOEY Forget about it, okay?
DENNY You, too, Joey. You know the neighborhood. My ma, my dad, they barely had fifteen words of fuckin' English between 'em, these included.
JOEY Don't get a hard-on about it.
DENNY Who's getting a hard-on?
JOEY You're getting a hard-on about it.
DENNY How can I not fuckin' think what I'm fuckin' thinking?
JOEY It offends people, okay?
DENNY And I'm not offended you tell me something's wrong the way I think. Something evil inside me?
JOEY Nobody said evil, Den. Who said evil? Who?
DENNY Nobody, okay? But I'm maybe as sensitive as this gangbanging ethno-shit in the backseat, maybe I take it that way.
DENNY They get more sensitive, I should be less?
DENNY They want tolerance from me they should start tolerating my intolerance.
JOEY It's not them and us, okay? That's what I mean, okay?
DENNY You don't know what the fuck you mean.
JOEY We're all the same, Den, all right?
DENNY You are the egghead. I am the walrus.
JOEY Don't denigrate it, now.
DENNY Personally, I don't cogitate transcendental shit like that so well (punching JOEY), so I punched the fuck.
DENNY And I told him, keep your koo-koo-ka-chew shit, Joey. You know what PC fly ball said to me?
JOEY You've got to quit hitting people, too, Denny.
DENNY What, you're all sensitized, too, now? I love you, Joey. What do you want me to do? Hug and kiss you in public?
JOEY Knock it off, Den.
DENNY Wub you wittle tumtum?
JOEY You don't realize how hard you hit.
DENNY (Punching JOEY.) What, that?
JOEY Knock it off!
DENNY Oh, he's so sensitive. (Wraps JOEY in a headlock and gives him a knuckle sandwich.) So sensitive you could use him to wipe a wittle baby's bottom.
JOEY (Pulling away.) Will you effing knock it off, Denny!?
DENNYEffing? Excuse me, effing? Would that be with one Fs or two, Officer Friendly? Please at least pay me the respect of swearing like a man in front of me or not at all. (Pause.) What a baby.
JOEY It's not about being a baby. It's about you treating people better.
DENNY Oh, you take a seminar in Racial Speak and suddenly you're Mr. Fuckin' Rogers?
JOEY Maybe so, yeah, sure, why not?
DENNY You might think it, but that seminar ain't gonna make one flyshit fleck of difference your detective app comes up again 'cause you're the wrong fuckin' color, spud.
JOEY I'm making an effort, okay?
DENNY Shits bust my balls day and night with this pasta basta wop shit.
JOEY It takes an effort, Denny.
DENNY Do I file a lawsuit? Issue a fuckin' reprimand? You and me, we take it on the chops 'cause it's funny, we got a sense of humor about it, it's the way things are. So, please, I don't wanna subject it to any more of your narrow-minded, neo-Nazi bullshit this afternoon 'cause I'm trying to do my job and drive a fuckin' squad car over here, all right?!
JOEY Then drive!
DENNY I'll drive when I'm fuckin' ready to drive! (Pause.) So, hey, Poindexter, you still coming over to dinner tonight or is your spoon arm too wounded? (Pause.) Connie's making lasagna. (Pause.) Douche bag. (Pause.) C'mon, Joey, hey.
JOEY I got things to do, Den.
DENNY Things, what things? Rearrange the affordable portables around that one-room roach motel you call home?
JOEY I been over too much lately.
DENNY My kids love you, Connie loves you, I love you, Heinzy loves you. Your right leg, anyway. We want you there.
JOEY It's your family, Den. I'm all the time in the way.
DENNY Joey, we grew up together. We're partners. You're family. I care about you. I don't want you going back to that armpit of a bachelor pad and sticking it to a bottle of Schnapps tonight.
JOEY Can't you ever give it an effing rest?!
DENNY My ears, please, I'm sensitive. Hey, you got a problem with the bottle, I got a problem with my mouth. We're helping each other out, right? Right? We're gonna be detectives together someday, Starsky and Hutch, this is good for us, right? I look out for you, you look out for me. Back to back, Joey. Come on.
JOEY No way I'm coming over if you're trying to fix me up again.
DENNY You asked me never again. Would I do that to you?
JOEY That was the night he fixed me up with Rhonda.
(The lights change.)
JOEY After Denny stormed out to drive her home, I went upstairs to give Connie his message. She was in Stewy's nursery looking out the window. She looked so beautiful holding him, you know, the way moms do. Room was dark. Moonlight on her face. Stewy conked out on her shoulder. I tiptoed over, brushed Stewy with the back of my finger on the cheek and saw out the window what Connie saw. Denny was out in the driveway with Rhonda. She was crying full out by then. Denny was, you know, consoling her. Connie didn't like that one bit. It started to rain that night, I remember. I don't think it let up more than a minute or two till this whole mess was over. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A Steady Rain by Keith Huff. Copyright © 2010 Keith Huff. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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