Muscle and Blood is the first in a series of novels featuring protagonist Hal Taylor. Set in Salt Lake City, it tells the story of a guy who started out bright, an athlete, and through a series of unfortunate life events descended into near-alcoholism. He lives in a trailer park, with his only friends a curmudgeon of a grandmother and his barkeep. The story opens with Hal working as muscle for a loan shark, until Hal finds himself framed for murder and on the run. Hilarity ensues.
Frank Gingham never leaves the back office at Gingham Motors, so far as I know. Your mileage may vary. Academically I know that some neighborhood in Salt Lake City has a nice little house where a man named Frank Gingham pays a mortgage, but that might as well be a base on the moon to me. I get the phone call, I come. I do work, I come back, I get meagerly paid. I don’t get invited to dinner. I don’t know his middle name. I’m not there when he goes to church on Sunday, or the porcelain God, or whatever he does when I’m not around. He’s an enigma that gives me work, and I hate the fucker.
My visits to Frank, always planned, are treated like unwanted interruptions to precious hours watching porn on his laptop, waiting for important phone calls, or getting blown by the rotating staff of women he runs to tricks through intermediaries. I’ve walked in on any one of those three things. Today it’s porn. Always the kind with some woman screaming in pain, not pleasure. Maybe he thinks it’s the other way around. Wouldn’t put it past him.
I flap the photos in my hand a few times before they hit the desk, though I don’t like the smell that wafts back up when I do. Grease, coffee, sex. Gingham shifts his eyes to the pictures, then back to the screen. A half minute goes by. He sweeps the shots up and files through them, giving half a glance before they go back on the filth-caked blotter. “So?”
I peel bills from my pocket and sit them on the desk. He looks.
“That’s two hundred dollars.”
“Yes. It is.”
Gingham lets the money sit. He looks at the pictures closer, picking them up one at a time. “You got more money somewhere in those jeans? Maybe up your ass?”
“Turn out your pockets.”
I do, rolling my eyes. Nothing but lint. The usual. I tuck the pockets back in.
“I may have to kill him.” Frank says this casually.
The idea of killing a man over four thousand dollars. I can’t wrap my head around it. “I think he’s good for it. He’s scared enough. It’ll take time. He legitimately can’t get it.”
“You gonna make those payments when he doesn’t, then?”
“I know. That’s what you call a rhetorical question, dickhead.”
Unclench the fist. “I’m just telling you what I think the man will do. I think he’ll pay. Some money later is better than no money and a dead guy, right?”
“You’re soft in spite of all that muscle, Taylor, you know that? You don’t know people.” Gingham holds up the key picture, the money shot. Dale on the floor with two black eyes, a crooked jaw, holding what must be a broken arm in a pool of blood. My pistol is pointed at his head in the front of the shot. Pretty good framing for a Polaroid. “You beat him this bad three times and he doesn’t pay? That’s a man who can’t come up with the money, and won’t.”
“You told me to go hard. I did. Most of this came after I got the cash.”
“You miss my point. This doesn’t even cover his points.” Gingham throws the pictures across the desk. Two hundred dollars disappears. “Shavers gets one more week to start making his full payments, then he’s no more use to anyone.”
“I know guys like this. Really. You don’t have to kill him.”
“Imagine that. You telling me my business when you can’t come up with more that two hundred bucks?” Gingham keeps his eyes on the screen. “I think I know guys like him better than you, or you wouldn’t be working for me, now, am I right?”
Have to let that stand, so I do. About a minute passes before I clear my throat.
Gingham looks at me as if I’ve only just come into the room. “You need something?”
“I want to go home and get drunk now, if you don’t mind.”
“Two hundred dollars is what you bring me when you were sent to get a grand, and you want a share?” Smug, self-important, glib shit. Look at that smile.
“I did beat a man nearly to death. A nice man. A man who was once a friend.”
Frank opens his desk. Two five-dollar bills slap down from the day’s take to the tune of obscene moaning from the speakers.
“That’s right. And it comes out of the next job. You fucked up. I send extra muscle, I expect more than you’re sent to get, not less. At very least the agreed-upon amount.”
I stare at that money. Wonder where it’s been.
“Miller Time, Taylor. Go on. Get the fuck on out of here. I hate your face.”
I take a roll of Polaroid film from the stacks on the shelf to replace what I used. I take the two bills and stuff them in the breast pocket of my flannel. I stare into those empty eyes.
They stare back. “You got something to say?”
“No, Frank.” I turn and walk out.
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