Tuesday, July 07, 2009
The Saint Dismas Chip
**Editor's Note** What follows is a short story I've had on the back-burner for some time, but now seems like a good time to publish it as I have a buddy of mine doing a short vacation on the county's dime and I think that this might cheer him up a little bit. Also, my buddy Cormac Brown wrote a short story and dedicated it to me and I feel obliged to return the favor. This story is much more along the lines of the excellent crime fiction that he writes, as it involves two theives. I hope you enjoy it!**
"More coffee, sugar?" the pretty waitress asked.
"Sure Debra. Fill it up," Bill said as he slid his cup over with his huge hand. She pours the coffee and walks away with a gate that would make any grown man utter damn under his breathe.
"Sorry I haven't kept in touch Bill, but I didn't want to screw up your parole by sending you letters from another con," the rat-faced little man across the table said.
"It's alright Tony. I know you and me are square. There wasn't anything you could have written that would have made my stay in the joint any more pleasent anyway. I just figured that you were busy making ends meet and chasing girls. I'm sure the way I pictured you was better than what was really goin' on, but no matter. I'm just glad you came to see me this evening."
"Now Bill," Tony leaned forward over his BLT and spoke a little more softly, "I know you ain't been out long but I've got a honey of a job for us. I know you could use some money 'cause workin' in that bookstore can't be bringin' in much dough. Second story, one watchman pushin' eighty, and at least eighteen grand when we're done. It'd take about an hour..."
"Not interested," Bill said flatly.
"What? You have got to be fuc-" Tony's eyes opened wide.
"No, I ain't kidding. I can't do it. I just can't." Bill dismissed the idea with a wave of his large hand.
"Bill, I know it's been a while and I know the joint makes you do funny things, but you are the greatist thief I've ever seen! You got more skill in your little finger than most guys get in a fuckin' life time. Don't throw your effin' gift away man. You could have nine grand for an hours work. I'm tellin' ya, this job is a honey!" Tony implored.
Bill sighed. "You ain't hearing me Tony. I CAN'T. Look," Bill swiveled his huge frame in the diner booth and pulled at his collar. "You see this little scar on the back of my neck? The one right here at the edge of my hairline?"
"Yeah, so what?" Tony said.
"Didn't it strike you funny that I got parole so early?" Bill asked.
"I just figured you was good, kept yer nose clean and played the game. I've seen it done before..." Tony trailed off.
"Not amount of playing the game would have gotten me out this soon," Bill explained, "I did something in the joint-"
"Whoa! You ain't got to explain anything to me-" Tony started.
"Naw, nothing like that man. Nothing like that. I volunteered for an experimental program for cons. The chaplain put in a good word for me, and they took me and two other guys. We went to the infirmary for an afternoon, they knocked us out and we woke up with a bandage on the back of our necks. No pain, no blood, no nothing. Sure, I had a wicked bad headache for a week, but that was it."
"So what'd they do?" Tony was intrigued.
"They put a chip in me. They called it the Saint Dismas chip. Do you know who that is?"
"No, I didn't spend much time in church. Didn't see the point really." Tony admitted.
"Dismas was a thief," Bill explained, "They put him on the cross next to Jesus. Now there were two thieves up there with Jesus and one, I forget his name, made fun of Jesus for being the 'King of Kings' and still having to die with a couple of thieves. Dismas tells him to shut the fuck up and begs for the the Lord's forgiveness and Christ forgives him of his sins and tells Dismas that he will sit at his right hand in heaven."
"Makes for a good bed time story," Tony sneered.
"It ain't just a story," Bill's voice takes on a serious edge. Tony watches as Bill's hands clutch his coffee cup hard enough to make his knuckles show white. Tony has seen those hands strangle the life out of more than one person. He has seen them beat faces to a bloody pulp and cripple big men in their prime. "Sorry Bill," is all he can mutter.
"So what's this chip do? Does it make you lose your hard on or something?" Tony asks.
"No. I just don't want to be the kind of guy I was before." Bill said. Tony screws up his face in a look of confusion. Bill sees his look and thinks a moment. "Think of it like this: you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner and you eat all the food you want until you can't eat any more. Then a switch goes on in your brain and you know you are full. You are ready to get up from the table and go watch some football on TV and maybe take a nap. You just don't want any more. You are content." Tony nods a little as if he gets it, sort of. "The food is all the jobs I've pulled, all the people I've ruined, all the shit I've done. I just can't do that kind of stuff anymore. I'm full. I'm content."
Tony runs this through his mind for five minutes and the two of them fall silent. Tony pokes at his fries but doesn't eat any as this is processing. Bill empties his coffee cup and no sooner does it rest on the saucer than Debra, the pretty waitress, is at his elbow filling it up. "Bill," she says softly, "I gotta work 'til ten, but do you think you could walk me home? It's Friday and all the freaks seem to be out by then. I know it is a lot to ask but-"
Bill cuts her off, "Sure Deb, I'd be glad to. I can wait. That's no problem. I've got a good book I've been meaning to finish anyway. I'd be glad to wait a couple of hours for you, besides, you know I can't resist your good coffee."
"Oh thanks honey. Last Friday a couple of junkies tried to...you know. It ain't safe in this neighborhood any more," she smiled a smile that would have wilted stronger men. "Can I get you a slice of pie? On the house of course."
"No thanks, but you can keep the coffee coming" Bill returned her smile. She headed over to take the order from a couple of drunks at table four who had just wandered in.
Tony looks up from his untouched sandwich. "Does this-"
"Saint Dismas chip," Bill offers.
"Yeah, does this thing make you do weird stuff? Is there any side effects? Shakes, nightmares, that kind of shit,"
"I can't seem to drink enough coffee, and I sleep like a baby no matter how much I drink. I don't drink booze any more. Half a beer and I'm ready for a nap. I don't get pissed off like I used to, and my neck gets a little stiff sometimes. Other than that, I feel like I always did. I wear glasses now to read, but I think that is just because I'm getting older."
"Listen, I know this doctor, a surgeon, who owes me a favor. He could pull that thing out if you want. I could call him now and he could get you in on Monday. Tuesday at the latest..."
Bill shakes his head. "You don't understand Tony. I don't want it out. Not now, not ever. This is the best fuckin' thing that ever happened to me. All of the sudden life makes sence. I'm happy. I'm happy like you wouldn't believe! I want to work my nine to five at the bookstore and clock out, go to my little room in the back, settle in to my easy chair and read until ten, have a salad and go to bed. I dream like I never have in my life. I feel like I just want to spend the rest of my life doing this. Maybe someday I'll get married and have a couple of kids, a morgage and a ten year old car, but today, I can't picture doing anything else." Bill spreads out his open palms in a gesture that there isn't anything else to say on the subject.
Tony sniffs and lights a cigarette. "I suppose I could let the Holden boys do this one and just take a cut off the top as the fence is mine," he says as he contemplates his own future.
"They don't let you smoke in here," Bill warns.
"S'okay. I'm just leaving," Tony reaches for his wallet but Bill waves his hand. Tony nods, "Take care Bill. I'll see you around," and with that he is gone.
Bill fishes around in his coat pocket and pulls a tattered paperback out and flips pages until he finds his bookmark. He reads for two hours and drinks six more cups of coffee until Debra is finished with her shift. They walk out into the windy night together and after a block Debra reaches over to hold his massive hand in her tiny one. They walk in silence and Bill thinks about the lie he told.
"Tony would never have belived me any other way," he consoles himself, "and I just didn't have the heart to tell him that the scar was from a shiv made from a sharpened spoon. He just ain't the kind of person that would believe that people change."