THE GREAT STEPHEN KING ONCE WROTE DON’T SWEAT THE small stuff, which I mulled over for long enough to realize that I don’t entirely agree with it. I get what he means: we all have enough major sorrow in our lives without freaking out over the day-to-day hangnails and such, but sometimes sweating the small stuff helps you make it through the big stuff. Take me, for example; I have had enough earth-shattering events happen to me, beside me and underneath me to have most people dribbling in a psych ward, but what I do is try not to think about it. Let it fester inside, that’s my philosophy. It’s gotta be healthy, right? Focus on the everyday nonlethal bullshit to take your mind off the landmark psychological blows that are standing in line to grind you down. My philosophy has gotten me this far, but my soldier sense tells me that things are about to come to a head.
There isn’t much call for deep thinking in my current job in Cloisters, New Jersey. We don’t do a lot of chatting about philosophical issues or natural phenomena in the casino. I tried to talk about National Geographic one night, and Jason gave me a look like I was insulting him, so I moved on to a safer subject: which of the girls have implants. This is one of our regular topics, so it’s familiar territory. He calmed down after a couple of swallows from his protein shake. Me talking about issues scared Jase more than a drunk with a pistol. Jason is the best doorman I have ever worked with, a rare combination of big and fast and with a lot more smarts than he lets on. Sometimes he’ll forget himself and reference a Fellini movie, then try to cover his tracks by giving the next guy through the door a hard time. Guy’s got secrets; we all do. He doesn’t feel like burdening me and I am absolutely fine with that attitude. We both pretend we’re dumb and we both suspect we aren’t as dumb as we pretend. It’s exhausting.
Most nights we have time for chit-chat out front. Everything’s quiet until ten thirty or so. Generally just a few small-time players, under-the-radar guys. The party crowd doesn’t show up until the regular bars close. The bossman, Victor, who I will describe in detail later because this guy deserves a movie of his own he is such a dick and to talk about him now would ruin the flow; anyways Vic still wants a couple of bodies out front. Sometimes it takes two to shut down a fight if there are accusations flying around on the back table. It can get pretty heated in there, especially with the little guys. I blame Joe Pesci.
So I generally do the night shift, not that there’s a day shift per se. Twice or three times a month I pull doubles. I don’t really mind. How am I going to pass the time at home? Do push-ups and listen to Mrs Delano bitch?
Tonight I get in at eight on the dot. It’s midweek so I’m looking forward to a quiet evening chewing power bars with Jason and talking surgery. Just simple distraction, which is the closest to happiness I’m expecting to get in this lifetime.
Jason and I are watching this Russian throw around kettlebells on YouTube when I get a call from Marco on my headset. I have to ask the little barman to repeat himself a couple of times before I get the message and hustle back to the casino floor. Apparently my favorite girl, Connie, leaned in to slide cocktails on to a table, and this guy goes and licks her ass. Moron. I mean, it’s on the wall on a brass plaque. Not ass-licking specifically. Do Not Touch The Hostesses, it says. Universal club rule. Some of the hostesses will do a little touching in the booth, but the customer never gets to touch back.
When I arrive, Marco is trying to hold this guy away from Connie, which is probably more for the guy’s safety than he realizes. I once saw Connie deck a college footballer with her serving tray. Guy’s face was in the metal, like a cartoon.
‘Okay, folks,’ I say, doing my booming doorman voice. ‘Let’s get this handled professionally.’
This announcement is met with a couple of boos from the regulars, who were praying for a little drama. I grip Marco’s head like a basketball and steer him behind the bar, then loom over the offender.
The licker has his hands on his hips like he’s Peter Pan, and Connie’s fingers have left red stripes on his cheek.
‘Why don’t we take this into the back room,’ I say, giving him five seconds of eye contact. ‘Before things get out of hand.’
‘This bitch hit me,’ he says, pointing in case there’s some doubt about which bitch he’s talking about.
His finger is coated with the remains of a basket of buffalo wings, and sauce on fingers is something that has always irritated me more than it reasonably should.
‘We got a time-out room just back here,’ I say, not looking at the brown gunk under his nails. What is wrong with people? You eat, you keep your mouth closed, you wipe your fingers. How hard is that? ‘Why don’t we discuss your issues back there?’
Connie is quiet, trying to hold her anger in, chewing on some nicotine gum like it’s one of the guy’s balls. Connie has a temper, but she won’t slap without good reason. She’s got two kids in a crèche over on Cypress, so she needs the paycheck.
‘Okay, Dan,’ she says. ‘But can we move it along? I got people dying to tip me. This is an open-and-shut case.’
The pointer laughs, like it’s funny she should use that terminology.
I shepherd them into the time-out room, which is barely more than a broom closet; in fact there are a couple of mops growing like dreadlocked palms out of a cardboard box island in the corner.
‘You okay?’ I ask Connie, glad to see she’s not smoking. Six months and counting.
She nods, sitting on a ratty sofa. ‘Dude licked my ass. Licked it. You got any wipes, Daniel?’
I hand her a slim pack. You always carry a pack of antiseptic wipes working a bottom-rung New Jersey casino like Slotz. There’s all sorts of stuff you can catch just hanging around.
I look away while Connie is wiping the barbecue sauce off her behind. You can’t help noticing cleavage in this place, but I figure you can avoid the lower regions. I try to keep my eyes above the waist; leaves everybody with something. So while she’s cleaning up, I turn to the guy. The licker.
‘What were you thinking, sir? There’s no touching. Can’t you read?’
The guy is going to rub me the wrong way. I can tell just by his hair, a red frizz sitting on his head like a nest fell off a roof.
‘I saw the plaque, Daniel,’ he says, pointing towards the casino floor. This guy is a pointing machine. ‘It says do nottouch.’
‘And what did you do? You touched.’
‘No,’ says the guy, switching his pointing finger over to me, so close I can smell the sauce, which is putting me off barbecue for a month at least. Except ribs. ‘I didn’t touch. You touch with your hands. I tasted.’
He stops talking then, like I need a second for this brilliant argument to sink in.
‘You think I never heard that stupid shit before? You seriously think you’re the first guy to try that on?’
‘I think I’m the first attorney to try it on.’ His face lights up with smugness. I hate that look, maybe because I get it a lot.
‘You’re an attorney?’
More pointing. I’m tempted to snap this arsehole’s finger right off. ‘You’re goddamn right I’m an attorney. You try anything with me and I’ll shut this shithole down. You’ll be working for me.’
‘I’ll be working for you, sir?’
Sometimes I repeat stuff. People think it’s because I’m stupid, but really it’s because I can’t believe what I’m hearing.
The guy goes for option A.
‘What are you? A parrot? A fucking retarded Oirish parrot? Kee-rist almighty.’
This is probably the way it goes in the office for this guy. He doles out garbage and people take it. I’m guessing he’s the boss, or close to it. Only the boss or the mail guy can not give a shit how they look to this extent and get away with it. Suit and spectacles that could have been stolen from Michael Caine circa 1972, and of course the Styrofoam ring of ginger hair.
‘No, sir. I’m not a parrot,’ I say, nice and calm, like I learned in doorman school. ‘I’m the head of security and you touched the hostess, whatever way you want to dress it up.’
The guy laughs, like he’s got an audience. ‘Dressing things up is what I do, Mister Daniel Head of Security. That’s my motherfucking business.’
He says motherfucking all wrong, like he learned it from the TV. It doesn’t sound right coming out of his attorney’s face.
‘It’s your motherfucking business?’ I say, saying the word like it should be said. I learned it from a Romanian mercenary working for the Christian militia in Tibnin. Anghel and his boys would tool past our camp most days in their beat-up VW, stopping to strike deals for long-life milk or pasta we’d traded from the French garçons. I liked Anghel okay; he never shot at me specifically, his whole head was a beard and I appreciated the way he said motherfucking.
Only one carton, Paddy? I give you perfect good mozzerfokken hairdryer.
Made it sound real; the double z. So sometimes if I want to make an impression I say it the Romanian way. Often it’s enough to confuse a guy, put him off his stride.
But not this guy. The ginger monkey is seriously unimpressed by my double z and proceeds to make his second mistake of the evening that I know about. He steps up to me, cock of the walk, like I don’t have eight inches and fifty pounds on him.
‘What is this parrot shit?’ he says, and believe it or believe it not, he taps me on the forehead. ‘You got a goddamn plate in your head? Kee-rist almighty.’
I am surprised by this tap on the head but also happy, because the guy has touched me now.
‘You shouldn’t have touched me, sir,’ I say sadly. ‘That’s assault. Now I got to defend myself.’
This takes the wind out of his sails. Being an attorney this jackass knows the letter of the law regarding assault. He is aware that now I got the right to put a little hurt on him and claim I felt threatened. I practice my threatened face so he can visualize how it will look in court.
His pointing finger curls up like a dried turd, and he takes a couple of steps back.
‘Now listen. You lay one hand on me . . .’
He can’t finish the threat, because I got a free shot and he knows it. At this point I would dearly love to take that shot and put this attorney out of everyone’s misery. But Connie’s got her kids in the crèche and the last thing she needs is a court appearance hanging over her head. Plus the courtroom is this guy’s arena. Before the judge he’s a gladiator. I can just see him, jumping around like a little ginger monkey, pointing like there’s no tomorrow. And in all honesty, my threatened face ain’t all that hot.
So I say, ‘How much money you got in your wallet?’
The guy tries a little bluster, but I’m giving him an out and he knows it. ‘I don’t know. Couple hundred maybe.’
Bullshit he doesn’t know. Attorneys and accountants always know. Generally they stash little wads of notes all over, in case they get stuck with a pushy dancer or hooker later in the evening. This guy probably knows how much cash his sick momma has rolled into her tooth jar.
‘Gimme three,’ I say. ‘Gimme three hundred for the hostess and I won’t have to act in self-defense.’
The attorney physically flinches. ‘Three hundred! For a lick. Kee-rist almighty.’
He’ll go for it. I know he will. The alternative is explaining to his high-roller clients how he got his face rearranged in a dump like Slotz, where we got mold on the carpet corners and toilets with chains.
The guy is fumbling with his wallet, like the bills are putting up a struggle, so I grab it, making sure to squash his soft attorney’s fingers a little.
‘Here, let me count that, sir. You’re shaking.’
He’s not shaking, but I want to plant the idea that he should be. This is not a tip I picked up in doorman school. The army shrink gave me a few conflict tips before my second tour.
It’s true I snag the wallet to hurry this whole thing along, but I also want to help myself to one of this guy’s business cards. It’s good to have details about troublesome customers. Let them know there’s no place to hide. Once I have his card, I can find his wife, and I’d like to see him try the taste defense at home. His monkey head would be on a plate and no jury would convict.
I count out six fifties and toss him his wallet.
‘Okay, Mister Jaryd Faber,’ I say, consulting the card. ‘You are hereby barred from Slotz.’
Faber mutters something about not giving a shit, and I can’t really blame him.
‘We thank you for your business and urge you to seek counseling for your various issues.’ Standard get out and don’t come back spiel.
‘You’re making a big mistake, Daniel,’ says Faber, something I hear so often they should carve it on my tombstone. ‘I got serious friends in this town.’