BLOOD ON THE HARDWOOD CONCRETE CH.3 - SWEAT OUT SOME ANSWERS
By Matthew C. Plourde
The broad from Different Happyness wasn't kidding; someone actually lived in those complexes beside the sewage processing facility. The smell here on those sweat-locker summer days must be as rancid as the Chief's daily swamp ass. Slowing down, you notice a few lights valiantly attempting to give the dilapidated apartments the semblance of civilized life. Even when you were desperate you had never lived in a place like this. At least, you hope you never would... good thing you refrained from popping the Chief.
Your rusty Ford Escort, with all 200,000 miles heaped upon its weary frame, shudders to inactivity and you sling your feet into a puddle.
You sniff the acrid air and aren't certain the puddle is composed entirely of water. Did someone actually piss beer in the parking lot?
Let's get this over with, you think as you approach the crooked apartment complex.
You light a cancer stick and inspect the scrap of paper again: Building 3, Apt 21. The cracked path winds behind the first complex and you see them. They beat you here and they are already on a basketball court.
Sweetwater notices you and trots in your direction.
"Where's my phone?" he asks.
You savor the moment by blowing a cloud of smoke in his face. Rocking on your heels, you smile.
"Give it up!" Sweetwater pleads as he reaches for your coat.
You push his hand away and produce the goods. "Simmer down, Nancy. It's right here. I only used it to call your mom and thank her for a great night last night."
Sweetwater snatches the phone and checks the device as he walks away, muttering to himself about someone's mother. Or, maybe it is some other phrase with the word "mother" in there. You didn't hear and you don't care.
You approach the scene with the rest of the team and groan.
"Are you guys really gonna play? Now?" you ask.
Twiggy does his one eyebrow up and one eyebrow down thing, bulging one eye comically, and says, "These kids think they can take us old men! You believe that?"
Curly slaps you on the back and says, "We'll be here if you need us for backup. Yeah, backup."
"Lousy, good-for-nothing..." You traipse off towards building 3, one hand inside your coat and your cig in your other hand.
Your ascent to the second floor via the concrete staircase is serenaded by the sound of bouncing basketballs and hoots. Unfortunately, the stench of the nearby sewage has now inundated your clothes. One more thing to throw onto the fire with your office chair. First, the pork-filled rage from the Chief, then the tiny flasher, and now the shitbox.
This is going to be one long night.
You find apartment 21 and you realize the night just got longer: bogus address. Nobody lives in building 3. Only building 1 appears to be occupied.
"Fuuuuuuuuuuccck..." you whisper to yourself as you check to ensure nobody is around. Nope, it's all clean. Well, dirty, but empty.
You pull your pistol and scan the area. The scream came from the basketball court. Rushing to the scene, you see Meadowlark clutching his ankle.
"It's just twisted," he says.
"I'll call an ambulance," Sweetwater says as he touches the screen of his phone.
Meadowlark limps to the grass and says, "I told you I don't need no ambulance! Put that shit away."
Curly looks in your direction and says, "You find yer guy?"
You shake your head and reach for another cigarette.
"You gotta play, then," he says and you nearly spit your unlit cigarette from your mouth. "Hey, I got fifty bucks on this game!"
You examine the other team: youthful and muscled teens from building 1, no doubt. They grin as they inspect your squat, just-shy-of-300 pounds frame. God certainly designed you better for sitting in a car (or couch) and navigating the occasional staircase, not basketball.
"Go to hell, I'm not playing," you say.
Curly puts his lanky arm around your shoulder and says, "If you do, Sweetwater will look up that address on his phone. It can find all kinds of wacky shit. Like, say, who used to live there. Maybe your guy gave an old address and you can still find him?"
Damn. The 'Trotters know their crime, no mistaken that. The idea makes sense. Heck, you played basketball in high school. Well, you went to a few games. That's gotta count for something! Doc said you need to exercise more, so maybe this can count for the month. —year?
"Fine," you say as you remove your jacket.
You do your best to stay out of everyone's way. The game flows from one side of the court to the other and you jog to at least feign some interest. Luckily the ball never comes in your direction.
After a few minutes (hours?), you start huffing. The lasagna sits like a cinder block in your gut and you swear it tried a jailbreak more than once. Panting at the center of the court, you decide you are finished. Heart thumping. Sweat drenching. Knees shaking. Screw the Harlem Globetrotters for blackmailing you into this. Screw them all.
"Look alive!" Sweet Lou shouts. "We need this score!"
Your sluggish brain catches up with the action around you and you notice one terrifying fact: that Spaulding is headed right for you!
Somehow, you wrap your meaty fingers around the ball's bumpy surface and your arm erupts in pain. Did he have to throw so hard? Then, your eyes widen. Those young boys on the other team are streaking towards you!
Like a maniac, you try to dribble and run towards the hoop at the same time. You reign in the ball using two hands and pump your legs faster to try and avoid the inevitable clash of athlete vs. lasagna-lovin'-never-has-been. Exhilaration arrives when you realize you are going to get your shot before they reach you.
You stretch skywards with the ball and collapse as your chest explodes in torrents of agony and ripping. You convulse and vomit some of the lasagna, though most of it just stays in the middle of your throat, stuck in traffic. Your chest constricts like someone is pulling your skin and bones from your spine. As everything tightens beyond your ability to remain conscious, you know what's happening. It's exactly how your father and grandfather died.
Before the world goes black you think you hear Sweetwater say "Heart attack!"