jacks or better got a little busier around 7pm. all the tables were full and there were only a couple of stools open at the bar. cypress johnny was busy to say the least. but he was a pro and he stayed ahead of the game by anticipating his drinkers. a very useful tool he’d learned long ago from julio and ben. as several people would leave a couple more folks would enter. so far a steady paced evening. one of the new arrivals sat at a just emptied table and another sat at the bar.
johnny dealt with the bar patron first. he was setting a napkin down in front of the man when he said.
scotch neat. single malt. doesn’t matter. whatever you have.
you got it.
the man put a twenty on the bar as johnny poured him his drink. the man sipped his scotch and pushed the 20 a little closer to johnny and said.
cypress johnny moved from the bar and took the other newcomer’s order.
campari and soda with a twist.
coming right up.
back at the bar johnny fixed the man his drink. it was something most folks didn’t drink in the US. it was an italian or at the least a european drink.
but every bar had a bottle of compari which just sat around for the most part. it was a drink cypress johnny enjoyed while on vacation. say up in tahoe while he was playing cards. compari and soda was something he could drink all day. he brought the drink to the table. the man had a twenty in his hand.
this is yours. keep it.
thank you, sir.
not a problem.
johnny was busy right up until it was almost poker time. there were a several poker players sitting around waiting for the game to begin. along with the two big tippers. most of the drinkers had left the front door opened and eddie otto walked into the bar.
eddie also greeted the waiting card players.
looks like you might get to deal tonight, johnny.
yeah, maybe. let’s wait and see. tommy doesn’t live that far away and he’s always ready on weekend poker nights. we’ll wait.
your call, my friend. i’m going to set up.
yeah. maybe something later.
as eddie entered the poker room the roar of motorcycles out front got everyone’s attention. all heads turned to the sound. as the bike sound died away the door opened and jerry powell strode into the room. cypress johnny nudged open the pistol door with his right knee. he realized he’d forgotten to check it earlier. not good but nothing he could do about it now.
evening johnny. eddie.
as jerry neared the bar and the door opened again. the four bikers just as scruffy as before waltzed into the room. they acted as if they owned the place. junior, tiny, grease and fresno. it was only natural that all eyes were on the four as they made a beeline for the bar. the man who was drinking the single malt scotch turned from the scene to watch it again in the reflection of the mirror behind the bar. junior spoke.
jerry. johnny. eddie. evening y’all.
only jerry returned the greeting.
johnny our usual.
cypress johnny pulled two ales and a lager from the cooler. along with a diet coke. it was their order the last time they had played cards. he set them on the bar. junior pulled a ten spot from a pocket and told johnny to keep it. the four sat at the bar drinking. johnny was about to call the fill in bartender tommy when the regular friday night poker players decided to leave. it seemed unspoken as they all made a mass exit without saying a word. not long after that the compari drinker left. soon to be followed by the single malt drinker. eddie was at the poker door when he said.
ok. guess it’s just one table then. you gentlemen ready to start?
jerry and the four bikers got up and followed eddie into the poker room without a word. no one was saying much so far that evening. cypress johnny was going to be left alone again with his thoughts. as the poker door closed he checked the .357. it was still there and ready to go. he felt around a bit more under the bar and found what he was looking for. a hank lll cd, ‘straight to hell’. he plugged it into the player and turned it up. it pretty much fit his mood.
the bar just had a few stragglers the rest of the evening. a quick pop and they were gone. cypress johnny sat by the loaded pistol and played music on the cd. no one in the card room wanted a drink from the bar. as per custom at 1:45am he made his last call. shortly before 2am the five card players left the card room and said their goodnights. junior seemed to leer at johnny as he made his way to the door. the motorcyles boomed to life as eddie spoke.
same deal as last game. junior as mister bon viant, tiny losing his buy in to the rest of them and the other two not much fun.
interesting. i’m going to lock up. you want anything?
nah. time for bed. another game again tonight. see you around 9.
eddie sat the money bag on the bar and made his way outside. johnny followed him and locked the door after he was gone. he turned off the neon sign and put the money in the safe after cleaning out the register. johnny locked up and drove straight home to call julio with his report.
cypress johnny’s ride home was uneventful. little traffic and no fog to deal with. he parked his car in the garage and closed the door with the remote as he walked to the backdoor. once inside he poured a glass of wine and flopped on the couch. he picked up the phone and dialed julio’s number.
he didn’t hear it ring. he just heard julio say.
yeah, julio. you must be right on top of the phone. i didn’t even hear it ring on my end.
it’s been sitting on my lap since 2am. so, how did it go?
same as last time. nothing new to add other than the usual friday poker regulars split when the bikers showed up.
that doesn’t surprise me. what about eddie? any signs of his betrayal?
not that i saw julio. though he didn’t sit around for an after work drink like usual. said he was tired and he’d see me tonight.
ok. yeah, maybe it’s tonight. whatever it is. no money pickup until monday. it’s a chunk of change but nothing worth making a big scene over.
i just don’t get it.
i agree. i’ll be ready and i’m ready for my meeting this afternoon.
good. if shit goes sideways tonight use whatever your judgment dictates. ok?
will do julio.
alright then. call me if there’s time after your meeting.
i was planning on it.
get some rest johnny.
the line went dead. johnny finished his wine. rinsed out the glass, turned out the lights and went to bed. cypress johnny slept soundly until 9am. when he woke up he made some coffee and as it perked he went out to picked up the paper off the the front lawn. taking it out of the plastic bag he saw nothing of interest on the front page. a good thing. it meant that the local yokel politicians had been kept at bay for another day. perhaps.
there wasn’t much to do for that afternoons meal. the peppers were already done and marinating. the sauce was thawing out in the fridge. nothing wrong with that. most tomato based sauces were better after some time under serious refrigeration. while johnny was drinking coffee he filled a large pot with water and set in on the stove. he took out the fontina and salami. cut some slices of the cheese and arranged them on a plate along with some of the salami. covered the plate with some plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. the salami and cheese would be the antipasto along with a caprese salad he would make later. going outside johnny picked some fresh basil from the backyard. he brought it in and rinsed it at the sink. he was as ready for the dinner meeting as he would ever be.
by the time 1pm rolled around cypress johnny had showered and changed clothes. he turned the burner on under the large pot of water to get it boiling before his guest arrived. then he made the caprese salad. he wouldn’t add the basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar until it was time to serve it. taking the roasted peppers, salami and cheese along with the italian teleme out of the refrigerator he set them on the kitchen table in order for them to come to room temperature. he set the table as well. then he opened a pretty decent bottle of zinfandel made from the grapes of an old local vineyard that was still active and producing stellar grapes. at a quarter to 2 he turned on the oven and placed the chibatta loaf inside to crisp up. the large pot was boiling so he added plenty of salt. the marinara sauce was almost thawed out. he emptied the containers into a sauce pan and set the flame under it to a medium low. he was ready. johnny knew his guest would be right on time.
at exactly 2pm his front door bell rang. he opened the door to a dapperly dressed man around the same age as julio . something about the man was vaguely familiar.
yes. and you are…?
you can call me dino. i brought some biscotti for dessert.
thank you. ok. nice to meet you dino. please, come in.
the two men shook hands. then johnny led the man into the kitchen.
we’ll be more comfortable here. the food is just about ready to go. thanks for coming by and helping julio and i out, dino.
my pleasure, johnny. maybe i can settle an old debt for a mutual friend.
johnny had been pouring a glass of wine for the two of them as dino was talking. he handed his guest the glass of wine, picked up his and was about to make a toast when he stopped and said.
i know you. you were in jacks or better last night. single malt scotch neat and you sat at the bar.
the man smiled and said.
that’s right johnny. my driver and i paid you a visit last night.
ah, ok. comapri and soda.
correct again. we wanted to get a lay of the land and see exactly who we would be dealing with. salute.
as both men drank dino said.
this is pretty good stuff. i may try to find some of it.
yes, it is. it reminds me of the old days around here because it’s one of the last producing zinfandel vineyards. what did you find on your visit last night?
more of that later. you know we met years ago as well. i guess you don’t remember.
really? no, i guess i don’t.
it was in the late 50’s. you, julio, ben, my oldest son and myself went out to banning to shoot cans for the day at ben’s sister-in-laws place. she was a recent widow and ben spent some time out there helping out his older brother’s widow. she had a couple of kids and a son about my oldest sons age. we spent the day shooting tin cans and eating hotdogs.
ah, yeah. ok. i do remember that. amazing. it was a long time ago.
life has a way of coming back around to you sometimes.
cypress johnny had his guest sit while he finished up the meal and set the caprese salad on the table.
let’s start with the antipasto and then i’ll drop the pasta.
everything looks wonderful and the smells. ummm. very nice. you paid attention as a kid.
yeah. nona and mom. plus mom’s sisters. and her two brother’s. they taught me well. plus plenty of practice.
like i said, you paid attention. this is marvelous food here, johnny. real deal.
glad you’re enjoying it.
the two men ate and talked. cypress johnny finished up the pasta and served it to his guest. his dinner guest was properly impressed by the marinara.
that was a delicious meal, johnny. thank you very very much.
you’re more than welcome, dino.
that teleme was excellent. the perfect end to a great meal. i may have to come back sometime. just to make sure your quality hasn’t slipped.
haha. sure, dino anytime.
now as to your problem. yours and julio’s. you know of course, that julio wants you to takeover when he can’t manage it anymore. jacks or better and the place downtown. you’re like a son to him. the one he never had.
i kinda figured that but it’s nice to hear it anyway.
sure. ok. you both know what i did. and who i worked for. i’m retired now. well, as retired as i can get. but i’m out of most of it. i just settle contested stuff on an as needed basis. it gives us old guys something to do. i can help you and julio. it will be an off the books thing. you both have no worries that my old employers will ever come to you and ask for anything in return. you have my word on that. this is my way of settling my debt to my old friend ben morris. and julio as well. it squares things up. and closes the book. i’m more than happy to help out.
i assure you that things will smooth out very soon. you and julio shouldn’t worry any more about your problem.
thanks again, dino.
ok. johnny, i’ll leave you to get ready for work tonight. thanks for the wonderful meal and perhaps we’ll see each other again sometime.
i’d like that dino.
the two men shook hands out on the front porch as dino was leaving. his driver was no where to be seen. johnny watched as dino walked out to the sidewalk and turned south. cypress johnny went back into the house and called julio. julio picked up on the first ring.
yes, julio. you’re getting good at this. dino was here and he just left. he’s going to help us out.
i thought he would. we go back but he was more of ben’s friend and there’s the other thing.
yeah. he says things will, in his words, smooth out. and we needn’t worry about his former employers coming back to us. it’s a personal thing from him alone.
yes, of course. that’s good to know. ok. so, we have the game tonight. i’m going to call tommy and have him show up. another body won’t hurt. plus, if there’s a crowd he’ll be there and ready to work. ah, he can deal too. so let him do it. i’m not telling tommy anything about eddie. we don’t really know where tommy stands. anyway, i want you out front.
ok. fine by me.
you guys be careful. ok?
i will. and julio. thanks, for everything. everything.
my pleasure, johnny. you know you’re family to me. your family were all like family to me long go. i need to repay their kindness. more book closing.
yeah, julio. ok. i’ll call you when i get home tonight.
alright. talk to you later.
cypress johnny hung up. then cleaned up a bit. took another shower and changed clothes. he wanted to be fresh for whatever the evening was going to bring. when he was finished he left for work. wait at home or wait at jacks or better. either way he would have to wait.
jacks or better was busy but not as busy as it was the night before. cypress johnny did his usual pre-shift routine. he made sure he checked on the the pistol. it was in place. and loaded. johnny told willie he could leave as he was ready to start work. willie left and johnny started taking orders. the bar remained semi busy. there were even some of the regular saturday night players already in place. johnny wondered if they would stick around when the bikers showed up. time would tell.
at around half past 8 tommy walked through the door. he gave johnny a wink and a greeting.
tommy. good to see you. you want a drink.
ah, yeah. it wouldn’t hurt. brandy rocks. good stuff, please.
johnny smiled and made tommy his drink.
a few minutes later. eddie otto walked in. he seemed a bit surprised at seeing tommy already there and he almost covered that surprise.
guess we’re expecting an over flow tonight.
yeah, maybe. julio just wanted to be ready for a change. tommy will deal tonight if he’s needed.
ok. fine by me. i just work here.
you good, eddie?
mmmm. vodka rocks. absolut. tommy let’s go back and get set up.
eddie picked up his drink on his way into the poker room. tommy followed him.
just before 9pm jerry powell came in the door. he looked around and seemed surprised and perplexed.
ah, um, are junior and the guys in the back?
nope. haven’t seen them tonight.
are you playing this evening?
i was…now…i. be right back i’m going outside to make a couple of calls.
as he was leaving eddie came out of the poker room and said it was time. six people got up and went inside the game room. jerry powell never came back. tommy sat around and shot the shit with johnny and had a few more drinks on the house before he left. the rest of the night was uneventful and fairly slow. johnny made his last call at the usual time and shortly there after the players left the building as did a couple of the usual drinkers. eddie came out of the game room with the money bag. he placed it on the bar and said.
ok. johnny. see you wednesday night.
no night cap?
not tonight. i gotta run.
with that he was out the door. cypress finished up and locked up. the night was chilly in that middle fall kind of way. a slight fog along with the slight dairy cow smell. johnny made it home without any trouble. as soon as he was inside he called julio.
right, julio. everything went ok. as a matter of fact, jerry was the only one who showed up. no sign of the bikers. jerry left without playing.
there was an audible sigh from julio.
ok. good. i don’t know what to make of it yet. maybe…hell….i don’t know. thanks, johnny. i’ll talk to you in the morning.
ok, julio. night.
the line went dead and johnny made himself a vodka rocks. he sat in the dark drinking it and thinking. when he finished the drink he went to bed. he slept fairly well and didn’t wake up until around 9am. while the coffee perked he went outside for the paper. the fog was thicker as was the dairy cow smell. cypress johnny filled his lungs with the smell as he bent down to pick up the newspaper. removing the damp plastic wrap johnny caught the headline below the fold. the headline read: two separate homicides four bikers dead. cypress johnny raced inside to call julio.
yeah, julio. i just got the paper. something interesting…
i know. i spoke with our friend a little while ago. i didn’t want to wake you.
he’s quick. that’s all i’m going to say.
yeah. i think you told me once you knew where jerry powell lives.
yeah, a guy told me one time. i can find it. if he’s home his pickup will be out front.
go there right now. our friend’s idea. make an appearance. i’m sure you’ll think of something to say.
ok. i’ll leave now.
i’m going to call eddie and terminate our relationship. call me later.
one more thing, johnny. take a couple of weeks off. on me. willie and tommy can cover. i’ll find someone else as well. we’re going to need to anyway now.
you earned it, johnny.
johnny hung up. got dressed and headed off to jerry powell’s home. he knew the general vicinity and he was able to find the street after a few trips around the area. johnny knew he found the right place when he saw jerry’s red pickup parked in the driveway. after he parked johnny walked up to the front door. he rang the bell then stepped back off the front steps. the same guy that told cypress johnny where jerry powell lived had told him it was a good idea to do that. it made you seem less threatening. there was a wait but eventually the front door opened. jerry powell stood in the doorway. he didn’t look well. a bit haggard and grey around the edges.
what do you want?
nothing jerry. julio and i just wanted to make sure you knew it was over. whatever was on your feeble little mind…is over. for good. got it?
jerry powell didn’t say a word. he just nodded his head yes.
as the door was closing johnny said.
fuck you, jerry.
cypress johnny, feeling nothing, stood there for a moment before he made his way back to the car. johnny fired it it up. he drove south to his home with the new riders song, ‘dirty business’, playing in his head.
he was a block or so from his home when his cell phone rang. it was the southwest airlines stewardess. she would be back in ontario on wednesday.
cypress johnny’s vacation went very well. in particular the lovely evening spent with the southwest airlines lady over dinner and drinks followed by more drinks at johnny’s home. the rest of his vacation passed uneventfully and johnny was more than ready to get back to work even with the changes at jacks or better. julio had hired another dealer, some retired guy who’d worked for many years at the commerce casino dealing black jack. he’d moved out to the ontario area after he’d retired and wandered into the bar one night while johnny was on vacation. from there he’d been offered the job as the house dealer for jacks or better. so far things had worked out for both parties.
johnny went back to work on a monday night. he thought another run on the night shift would be a better way at getting back in the saddle again. plus, it would give him a chance to get to know the new guy. the night had been slow as monday nights usually went especially in the fall. most people stayed home on monday night after having worn themselves out watching football all weekend long. cypress johnny made another last call to an empty house when the front door opened.
johnny was down on the floor putting the money bag in the safe. he stayed there wrestling with the bag and said.
sorry we’re closed.
i heard you were back.
the voice was familiar. sadly familiar. a bit slurred but none the less familiar in a heart thumping way. the voice belonged to jerry powell. johnny stayed down and opened the little door revealing the loaded .357.
is that you jerry?
who do you think it is johnny? the easter bunny? stand up, ass hole.
johnny stayed down and answered.
wrong time of year, jerry. more like the great pumpkin. the great pumpkin bumpkin jerry powell.
i said stand up you fucking coward!
why jerry? i like it down here.
cypress johnny heard the shuffling of feet and a chair scraping across the floor. it sounded as though jerry had stumbled into a table. johnny grabbed the pistol and stood up keeping the firearm under the bar and out of sight. jerry powell was semi reeling about the bar. he had indeed stumbled into a table and chair. jerry was about to ram another table when he caught himself on a chair. he was also waving a gun about. to johnny it looked like and old .32 caliber automatic. the hammer wasn’t back so johnny figured he had a few moments time if it came to it. jerry would have to chamber a round before he fired. johnny doubted jerry was sober enough to remember to do that act before he came through the door. hopefully.
you’re a real piece of shit, johnny. you and your dago pal, julio. a couple of real smart asses. you humps thought i’d just go away after you had your mob friends ice my biker pals. well, guess what? wrong!!
jesus, jerry. what the hell are talking about?
jerry lurched to the left again but caught himself. barely.
you’re a funny guy tonight, jerry. tell you what. why don’t you have another drink. on the house, of course. then you can tell me about your biker pals.
i don’t want another drink.
jerry said that as he plopped down into the chair he was hanging onto. he tried to arrange his body a bit better in the chair but that was working about as well as walking for the man.
fine. so tell me about them.
who? the bikers? yeah. ok. guess i owe you that. ah, when i was in jail for my manslaughter rap. i met em. nice guys. well, ah, i met junior. we were cellmates for a few weeks before my lawyer got me bailed out. we talked a lot.
about what, jerry?
johnny was thinking if he could get jerry to talk some more maybe he’d eventually pass out and johnny could let the cops deal with jerry and his .32 auto. jerry was having trouble focusing.
junior had this idea. he and his boys needed a place to deal their illegal sideline stuff out of. drugs. car parts. guns. women. you know the usual stuff. i thought this place would be perfect. after all it was already sorta not legal and all. junior and i figured if we could run everybody off and turn it into a biker joint julio would be more than happy to part with it at a nice low ball price. with my local connections i’d be the front man. but no. you fucks fucked it up. ass holes.
jerry was amping up again. his anger filled the silent still bar air. as he tried to stand up he pulled back the hammer and fired a round wildly towards johnny.
cypress johnny ducked behind the bar as glass and bourbon splashed to his right. damn, he thought. old jerry was a mess but he somehow had managed to chamber a round and get the hammer back down without firing off the round before he came in. score one for jerry. the nice thing about a .357 is that you don’t have to chamber anything. the pistol is a double action. you just pull the trigger. the gun does the rest. johnny put both hands on the pistol. took a deep breath. held it. stood up.
jerry was startled at the sight and fired another wild shot. this one into the ceiling. as jerry was getting his bearings once again he fumbled with the automatic and the magazine fell to the floor. he looked at it and then fired his last round. it banged into the thick wooden bar front. that was enough for cypress johnny. johnny fired two quick rounds into jerry powell. one into his chest and the other caught him about mid nose. jerry powell was dead before he hit the bar floor. screw jerry telling the cops his story thought johnny. nobody needs that action.
johnny walked around the bar and over to the now dead jerry powell. he saw that the .32 was indeed empty and still in jerry’s hand. the magazine with the left over rounds on the floor a few feet away. he left the scene it as it was. johnny went back to the bar and dialed 911.
911. what is your emergency?
i just shot an armed robber here at jacks or better on east holt blvd in ontario.
after he was finished with the 911 call. cypress johnny took out his cell phone and called julio. as julio was answering the call johnny heard the approaching sirens. he left the .357 on the bar top and went outside to meet the police. by the time he got to the door his call to julio was over. putting the phone back in his pocket he opened the door to a foggy night and the smell of long ago dairy cows.
copyright 2011 by john hauge