by Randy Dills, 2095 words
M.T. shut the door and watched the car pull into traffic carrying off her golden goose to parts unknown. Satisfied that she’d seen the last of Cathy, she shut the door on solidarity. She had her hand in a cookie jar. A big cookie jar. There were butterflies in her stomach. Not now, she told herself. Not this close to the finish line. There was only Delia to deal with, she thought. She turned. Saw Delia leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, smiling slightly. M.T. blanched, thought, which of us is the fox and which is the hen?
“Let’s take a drive,” Delia said.
In the car, Delia asked:
“Whatcha ya thinking?”
Shit. Delia knew. M.T. looked her up and down, finally seeing Delia for the first time. How did this baby-faced youngin’ get around on her so fast?
“Sisterhood,” M.T. tried weakly. Maybe it was not too late for solidarity after all. Maybe she could still get a little taste of the Clucker’s cookie. She could share, right? She glanced down at the Ace of Spades tattooed on her forearm. Or, she thought, I might have one card left to play.
Delia laughed. “Not a bad day’s work at old Tattoo Confidential, eh?”
“I’m thinking that we might could be friends, the two of us.” Delia paused, watched M.T.’s face grow pale. Delia chuckled about how fast a piece of her dad’s fifty grand score had mushroomed into a billion-dollar haul. Billions. She could axe her Powerball habit now. She thought back to her econ classes at NYU. And money grows money, she thought. In her head, she started spending. Milan’s Quadrilatero d’Oro on Friday. Ibiza on Saturday. Back in her condo in the Village in New York on Monday. Still, she felt a pang. Oof. What is that? She thought back to the feelings wheel in her Psych 101 textbook. Tried to pin the feeling down. Was that knucklehead Tim Bird’s idealism rubbing off on her? Was it watching M.T. use the traveling sister’s network to send Cathy into the ether? Was it seeing that rag tag crew at the shelter running their nickel and dime fundraising scheme to save the animals from the needle? Don’t get soft.
They parked in front of Tattoo Confidential. They got out and looked at the store front. The LED closed sign flashed in the dusk. Delia nodded at M.T.
“What’s wrong with this picture?”
“A tattoo parlor closed at this hour?” Delia said. “Not a good look.”
“I cleared the books tonight,” M.T. said.
Delia did not reply. She looked up and down the street. Saw foot traffic picking up. The streetlights snapping on. A man with close-cropped hair and a handlebar mustache, striped shirt, and cuffed jeans put a sandwich board out in front of the curated burger joint across the street. Tough to make that go in this town, Delia thought. She noticed the burrito shop next door, the bayou chicken and shrimp place next to that, and the Korean chicken shop beyond that. They all had signs in the windows offering vegan options.
A Clucker’s delivery truck turned the corner. It pulled in front of the burger shop and parked. The driver turned on the yellow flashers and pressed the in-cab lift gate button to engage it. He opened the door and hopped out of the cab. He trotted to the rear of the truck where he pressed two of the three buttons on a panel above the taillights to tilt the lift-gate down. When it was level, he released one of the buttons and the gate descended all the way to the pavement. Frost dissipated from the interior of the hold and drifted out into the evening air. Pallets of frozen chicken stood wall to wall.
The mustachioed man said, “You’re kind of late, aren’t ya?” The man fidgeted. “Tu,” he started, then stopped. “Usted?” he paused again. “I don’t know how to say that in Spanish.”
The driver shrugged. Did not bother explaining. “Don’t worry, man.” He glanced up to see two teens approaching rapidly on ten-speed bicycles. “THIS IS A DIRECT ACTION!” one of them called into a megaphone. “MEAT IS MURDER!” He tried to get off his bike while holding the megaphone, got tangled and fell over.
The second teen tossed a leg over the frame and hopped off his bicycle at a run. The driver watched the bike coast by him down the street as if the teen had left his body and a phantom continued to pedal. The teen uncapped a canister and threw orange paint all over the Clucker truck’s red hen logo. The protester with the megaphone, with scraped knees and elbows, got up and handcuffed himself to the truck’s side mirror. “WE WILL NOT STOP UNTIL ALL THE RESTAURANTS IN THIS TOWN HAVE DIVESTED THEMSELVES FROM THE INTERNATIONAL MEAT CARTEL LED BY THE…” He was interrupted by the high-pitched static squawk of the megaphone. “…UCKERS OF THE WORLD. YOU KNOW,” he continued, unfazed, “FOR THE ANIMALS. FOR THE FUTURE!” The driver looked at the mustachioed man on the sidewalk. Looked back at the screaming protesters. The one with the paint was now trying to glue his freshly shaven head to the side of the truck. The driver shrugged. Put his hands in his pockets and sighed. A few people stopped and looked. Pulled out their phones and switched-on video. Most walked by without looking back.
“Hey man,” someone called from out of the hamburger shop. “You got any non-meat meat burgers left?”
Delia’s smile grew wide. She opened the door of the tattoo parlor and propped it open with her foot. “Come on in,” she said to M.T. with a wave. “There might be more good to be done yet.”
M.T., irritated at being wrong-footed and chafing at being invited into what she thought of as her own shop, stepped inside over Delia’s long leg. Delia moved her foot, let the door swing closed and clicked the latch. She took a last look at the scene unfolding around the Clucker’s truck. Pulled the cord and let the blinds drop to the floor in a whoosh, shutting out the rest of the world.
They would-be philanthropists moved into Carson Fox’s office. Wherever he was, he didn’t know he was no longer the sole proprietor of Tattoo Confidential. Sometimes life comes at you fast.
Delia gave M.T. her elevator pitch.
“Next-gen mafia does good. Women helping women. Save the planet.” She may have left a few things out. “We can fund the network that took Cathy away. And other things. I think we might even get some of the shelter volunteers on board.”
“What about your dad and your uncle?” M.T. asked. “They both seem pretty keen on taking up space.”
“You’ve seen them. They are liabilities. My dad has just retired. I retired him for his own good. And Pino? Pino could be useful in a very limited capacity. Like minding the door out front while we do what we do back here.”
“And Carson?” M.T. asked.
“He’s a liability too,” Delia said. They’re on the way down, but us? It’s our time.”
Delia studied M.T. Her posture and facial expression made it seem like the tattoo artist was buying in, but Delia thought she was playing coy. Watch your step, she told herself.
“The endowment is the public face here in this town,” she continued. “Gives us all a stipend if we’re disciplined, but we’ve got to move boatloads of cash.” She paused. “And then what? Would you be satisfied with tattoo parlors? Pizza parlors? Funeral parlors?”
M.T. remained expressionless.
“I’m not a mind reader, M.T.”
“We spend it.”
“No, darling,” Delia said. “We invest it.”
Delia typed into the laptop. “How would you like to take out the Clucker Brothers? Not just Tyson’s money, which, remember, wasn’t his in the first place, but his whole operation? And win one for Cathy and the sisterhood while we’re at it? And do a good turn for the animals?”
Delia swiveled the laptop on the desk and slid it over to M.T. The tattoo artist read the screen.
“Cultivated meat product,” she read aloud. “Huh?”
“Slaughter-free chicken!” Delia exclaimed.
M.T. stared at her blankly.
“You don’t need chickens anymore. They can, like, return to nature. Free-range or something.”
M.T. slouched. Then she sat up in her chair and leaned forward, and said,
“You mean we invest in this?”
“Welcome to the world of V.C., baby. We’re Angel Investors now.”
“Huh,” M.T. repeated. “Lab grown meat.” What the –?
There was a knock at the front door.
At Clucker’s farm, the group of men stood in a tight huddle in stupefied silence, chickens continuing to mill around and weave through legs, squawking. “They need to be fed,” Tim chirped. He plopped to the ground, keister first, indicating that he had nothing more to say. Bull locked eyes with Tyson Clucker. The former billionaire’s nostrils flared, but he looked away. Made like he got a phone call and turned his back on the group. Bull sized up the uniformed officers Sgt. Pepper and Officer Chuck. He’d heard the name Delia and began to plan his exit.
“Um, hey fellas,” Phil said. “Are you gonna write any of this down?” Yokels, he thought.
Bull kicked at the gravel but kicked a chicken instead. Looked at Phil. I should have left you in the coop. He looked down at Tim.
“Don’t say anything, Squirt. Get a lawyer. In fact, call mine.” He grabbed a notebook and pen from Sgt. Pepper’s hand and scrawled out a name and number on the empty page.
He ripped it off the pad and tossed it at the boy on the ground. “The kid has counsel,” the ex-con said. He clicked his tongue at Cherry and turned on his boot heel. Five sets of eyes watched the paper swirl in the air and flutter toward the earth. By the time the men looked up, man and dog were peeling out of the parking lot in the old pick-up.
Delia, Bull thought. Go home, moron. She’s not worth it. Go home. Or just go warn her and then go get chicken. He took a left on the main road toward town. He had some cash burning in his pocket. Go get a tv dinner. Hell, get a rotisserie chicken. She’s too young. But it’s been so long. He remembered the way her fingers brushed his arm, the way he got lost in those deep brown eyes when she told him, “You look good swinging a hammer, Cowboy.” Yep, I have to warn her how hot things are getting. He floored it and pushed that bucket of bolts to the limit. He thought back to their walk in the park. But she don’t like Cherry! He looked at his dog, head lolling out the window in the wind. Pure joy. He took his foot off the gas. Damn it, she don’t like Cherry, I know it! No one gets between Cherry and me. The bar then. Get some fried chicken at the Hen House and maybe one of them pretty barmaids too. But those brown eyes…lead straight to Walla Walla, buddy. Or worse. She’s using you. He punched the stereo on. Meatloaf, 1993. The last good album. He caught that tour at the Tacoma Dome with Stacy Fledermaus and Becky Hölle. He about went through the roof from the jolt it gave him. Stacy, I screwed it up so bad with you. And Becky, wow, where are you now? He turned the volume all the way up. And now Delia crossed my path. Just right there. Cherry, such a good girl, she led me right to Delia. Redemption! His heart swelled. That’s lust, not love. Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe! Lotsa women out there. Move on. Go take a cold shower. Get some food in the belly. Throw the frisbee with Cherry. Cherry, my one true love. He looked at the tattoo on his arm. Love. “I ought a get a back piece of you next old girl,” he reached over and tousled Cherry’s fur. The way you swing a hammer. He came into town. He could go right. Home. Or he could go left and warn Delia. Get Delia. Run off with her to the coast. Or the San Juans. Those eyes. A man could get lost in those eyes. Those heels. “Damn, girl,” he said to Cherry. “I think she’s the one!” He turned left.
Oh no, Bull! Big mistake!
Thanks for a great chapter, Randy.
Thank you! Excited for your upcoming chapter, Patti.
Those eyes. Those heels. But can she cook? Something other than books, that is. I’m rootin’ for Cherry.
Great job, Randy!
Thank you! This is such a fun story to be a part of. Hard to get more animal names in their like you did, but I snuck at least one in there.