FICTION: One Gold Tooth by Patrick Cooper

“That cat right there,” Isaac said. “That’s the one I been talking about.”

Markus put his drink down on the bar and looked where Isaac was pointing. “The fat one?”

“Fat as a house.”

The fat man bent over the pool table and lined up a shot. Markus figured him to be in his late 20s, early 30s. He could practically hear the seams on the guy’s white slacks scream in agony as they were pushed to their limit.

“Watch him though,” Isaac said. “Man’s good.”

The man took aim and kissed the three ball off the seven, sinking it.

“Smooth shot.” Markus nodded.

“Told you,” Isaac said. “Man’s good.”

“He looks familiar to me. Doesn’t he look familiar?”

Isaac frowned. “Naw. I don’t know any dudes that fat.”

“Picture him skinny. The face. I swear he looks familiar to me.”

“Shut up, Markus.”

Markus shrugged and spun back around in his stool. Isaac leaned back against the bar, holding his gin and tonic, gently swirling it in his hands. He nodded his head as he watched the fat man rack the balls again.

There were two pool tables in the small, dimly lit dive. The jukebox quietly played sad country ballads and the whole place smelled of stale beer. One flat screen above the bar played Jeopardy.

“Man, every day,” Isaac said.

“What’s that?” Markus said.

“Every day this past week he stops in, always around six. Dressed to the nines. Stands there sweating through his white suit, shooting pool by himself for a couple hours.”

“He’s a man of routine. Structure. Nothing wrong with that.”

“Now why the hell is that, Markus?”

“Structure’s good for people.”

“No. Why’s he come in here every day around six and shoot pool by himself?”

Markus shrugged. “Maybe he likes pool. Knows this place’ll be empty and he can have run of the table.”

“Think harder. Man dressed liked that, he can afford his own pool table. Nicer than the ones here. Think harder, now.”

Markus sipped his beer and thought on it. “Maybe he doesn’t want to go home to his wife right away. Lots of guys do that. Stop off for a few drinks after work. Get a buzz on before going home to the wife.”

“Could be. Man’s got a ring on. Yeah could be.”

“Or maybe he just likes shooting pool, like I said. Who the fuck knows.”

“But why here?”

“Drinks’re cheap.”

“This ain’t no cheapskate, I’m telling you. Come outside with me for a sec. Have a smoke. I wanna show you something.”

Markus finished his drink. He signaled to the bartender Chris that they were dipping out for a smoke. It was uncommonly frigid for February in Orlando. Markus buttoned up his denim Sherpa jacket and pulled the collar up around his neck. Isaac was just in a tee shirt, pretending the cold didn’t bother him. Always playing it cool. He put two cigarettes in his mouth and held the zippo flame up to their tips. He passed one to Markus, who had at least a foot and a half on Isaac’s small frame.

Isaac nodded towards the other side of the small dirt parking lot. “See that white BMW over there?”

“Yeah,” Markus said, taking a drag.

“Know what that stands for? BMW? Big Motherfucker in White. That’s the cat’s car.”

“Matches his suit.”

“Told you, man. This ain’t no cheap bastard. High society cat shooting pool in a dive? How about that. Must work at that investment bank downtown or something.”

Markus shook his head. ”Looks too young to be a banker. And I still says he looks familiar. He don’t look familiar to you?”

“I said no, he doesn’t look familiar.”

“I think he does.” He took another drag. “Why you got such a hard on for this guy anyway?”

Isaac took a long drag and slowly blew the smoke out. He smiled at Markus. His one gold tooth shining. “I wanna take him.”

“Get the hell outta here with that.”

“Man, not anything crazy. I seen his bankroll a few times now. Thing could choke a horse.”

“You planning on sticking him up in the parking lot or something? Like some punk kid?”

“No, none of that preschool bullshit. See, before big boy leaves, he always pays his tab, slides some of those bills off his roll. Then he heads into the bathroom to drain the main vein. Then he gets in his BMW.”

“Big Motherfucker in White.”

“BM fucking W. He gets in his car and heads home or wherever. Doesn’t really matter where he goes after that. Long as we take him in the bathroom.”

“Oh it’s we now?”

“Need your help with this one, Markus my man.”

Markus took another drag. “I’m listening.”

“I got it all figured out. Dig, when the fat man goes into the john, I go in 10 seconds after him. Give him time to break out his dipstick. Then I bust in hot and heavy. Stick a knife in his face. Tell him to give it up. A man with his dick out, that’s a vulnerable man. Then you come in and save his ass from the big bad black man.”

“I don’t follow. Why am I saving him? Why’s his dick out?”

“Because he’s taking a piss. Forget his dick, man. I only pretend to mug his ass. Then you come in and save his ass.”

“Why not just mug him for real? You said he’s always got that bankroll on him?”

“Because I ain’t no fucking mugger, Markus. And because once you save him, he’ll feel so goddamn gracious he’ll have to give you a reward and then some. He’ll be in your debt, man. In your pocket. Then you can pull him outta your pocket when you need a favor. A favor from a rich man is worth more than the bankroll in his pocket.”

“And his dick is out this whole time?”

“Forget his fucking dick, Markus! Did you understand what I said?”

“Yeah, but what sorta favor am I asking him for?”

“The green kind. Listen, a week or so after you save his ass, you call him up and say you need a loan. You have some kind of emergency. Serious car repairs or something. We take him for more than that bankroll in his white Dockers and he never hears from us again.”

Markus stood there a moment thinking. The ash on his cigarette grew longer than what was left of the actual cigarette. “I’m supposed to call him? How do I get his number?”

“If he doesn’t give it to you,” Isaac said. “Be sure to get his full name. We can look it up later. Shit, Markus. Think.”

“I dunno man. Tonight?”

“Naw. He looks dim but he might’ve seen us together. Tomorrow we come back. You get here like at five and chill at the bar. Let him see you here by yourself. Then I’ll come in around seven. Hang around in the corner all menacing like. Then we take him in the bathroom. Besides, I left my good knife at home. I need my good knife. The big knife.”

“How am I supposed to save him? How do I stop you?”

“Step in between us and throw a wild punch. I’ll pretend it connected and go down like Marvis Frazier versus Tyson. Like a movie punch. Then you two bolt outta there and head for his car and he’ll grease your palm.”

“Why won’t he just tell Chris there behind the bar what happened? It is Chris’ bathroom after all.”

Isaac threw his arms up in frustration. “Do I hafta explain every goddamn detail of every goddamn thing to you, man? Use your head!” Isaac realized he was raising his voice and continued more quietly, “You pretend to punch my ass. I go down. Then you hustle him outta there real quick. Out the bathroom and out the bar. Grab him by the arm. You lead the dance. Don’t give him time to talk. To Chris or anybody else. Run outta there like I’ve got fucking dynamite strapped to my chest.”

Markus nodded. “But I should give him time to put his dick away?”

Isaac rubbed his forehead in frustration.

Markus said, “I’m just fucking with you. I can hustle him outta there, sure. And then when all of this is said and done, we split this so-called loan he’s supposed to give me?”

Isaac looked at Markus with eager eyes. “I’ll take a little bit more since it’s my idea. But judging from the size of that bankroll, that suit, and that fucking car over there, you won’t have to worry about paying the bills until summer. Once you get that loan, it’s milk and honey, baby.”

Markus flicked the butt into the street. He stuffed his hands in his coat pockets. Sighed, “I’m not sure, man.”

“C’mon, Markus. Ain’t no thing. I know you need the scratch. And me? I can always use the scratch. Times are tough all over.”

Markus could use the scratch. Two weeks ago he’d been fired from his job of twelve years at the juvenile detention facility for selling weed to the kids. All the other guards had been cool with it until one bitter old timer found out Markus was making more than him. He didn’t think it was right that Markus was making money on the side on top of his salary. Tax-free. So he snitched.

Now Markus was unemployed and having a hard time explaining to potential employers why he was fired from a good job after a dozen years. He could lie all he wanted. Once they called the detention facility for a reference he never heard back. The only other place he’d ever worked in his life was at a hardware store loading mulch into people’s trucks. That was back in high school. The store had closed down while Reagan was still in office.

He thought he could stay afloat for a while dealing, but his connect had stopped answering his calls. Markus figured he’d caught wind about what happened at the juvie facility and wanted nothing to do with him now.

Markus lived humbly and had a decent amount saved. That pile was getting lighter every day though. He needed to find something quick or he’d be living out of his car by the end of next month.

Markus thought about these things then said, “Fuck it. I’m game.”

Isaac’s eyes shined now. He slapped Markus hard on the back. “Beautiful, baby. You get here around five tomorrow and nurse a drink. I’ll need you sharp come show time.”

“Guess we’ll have to find a new bar to regular, huh?” Markus said.

“Yeah, can’t risk the big man seeing us together. Wing night is something else at this joint. But there are other watering holes around here. Better ones. I’m gonna head home. You go in and pay the tab. I don’t want the fat man to maybe see me again. I’ll pay you back later on.”

“See you tomorrow then,” Markus said. He hoped he had enough cash on him to cover their tab. He’d been rubbing nickels together lately. Eating open-faced peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and dinner.

“Don’t forget, five,” Isaac said.

Markus threw up five fingers. He fished in his pockets and pulled out two $10s. It was enough to cover the tab and leave a humble tip. After paying he walked back out into the cold and to his car. It was a compact. Even with the seat all the way back his knees brushed up against the wheel. No way he could survive living out of this tin can.

He turned the engine over. Through the windshield he saw Isaac sitting in his car. A spacious black Cadillac with chrome wheels. Tinted windows. A sound system that could be heard from the space station.

Isaac worked at the juvie center too. That’s how they knew each other. Isaac was a senior supervisor. It was a cushy gig that involved a lot of sitting behind a desk. He never had to deal with the kids. Isaac was never bored though. He had plenty of side scams to keep his mind occupied. That’s how he could afford the Cadillac, the McMansion, the gold tooth, and the timeshare in Vero Beach. When Markus got fired, Isaac had given some shallow sympathies and said, “Tough break. Something’ll come up soon, baby.” Like rolling a fat man in a dive bar bathroom.

Markus squeezed the steering wheel of his little shitbox until his knuckles turned white. He stared at Isaac’s car and said to himself, “Yeah, Isaac. You sure could use the scratch. Times are tough all over.”

*

Markus got to the bar at ten to five. He didn’t sleep well the night before. It may have been nerves but he never really slept well since getting fired. Especially when he drank, which he’d been doing plenty of the past two weeks. Drinking always made him pass out early and wake up around 4am, anxious for the sunrise so he could feel like a normal person.

He’d spent most of the afternoon doing yard work. Then he went inside and practiced throwing a convincing punch at the mirror for a while. One time he actually hit it, leaving behind a crack and a small patch of blood. He showered off and got dressed. Threw some clothes in a garbage bag and tossed it in the trunk of his car. Wrote a quick note to his landlord and taped it to the front door. Put the key under the mat and drove to the bar.

Markus ordered a Jack and ginger. He looked at the clock. There was time to kill so he spent it losing a few hands of electronic poker and failing miserably at the movie trivia game. After three drinks, the fat man in white stepped into the bar. He waved to Chris and ordered a rum and Coke. His voice was on the high side and Markus felt a pang of sympathy for him. Big sweaty fat guy with a pansy voice. He must’ve had it rough coming up. Maybe he comes here after work cause his wife doesn’t respect him. Maybe he’s lonely as the next broke sucker. Still, he looked familiar.

Then it clicked. The pansy voice drove it home.

“Holy shit,” Markus whispered.

He watched as the fat man went over to the pool table and set up shop. He placed his drink on a small table nearby. Rolled his sleeves up. Racked the balls with surprising deftness.

There were four other patrons in the room. A couple in a booth argued loudly over whether they should order food or cook when they get home; the man shouting something about “spending money they don’t have.” One guy was falling asleep in his pint. Another guy was shooting darts, taking forever to line up a shot only to miss.

Isaac came in halfway through Markus’ fourth Jack and ginger. He was wearing a black tracksuit with white trim. An Orlando Magic hat sat backwards on his head. He sauntered up and ordered himself a gin and tonic. Tossed Markus a quick smirk, the one gold tooth glinted off the neon above the bar. Isaac took his drink over to a corner table. He sat there eyeballing the fat man. Playing it cool all the way down the line.

Nearly an hour went by. Markus nursed this last drink. Finally the fat man came to pay his tab. He slid some soiled bills off his bankroll. Markus chanced a glance and saw lots of Benjamins and Jacksons looking back at him. Then, just as Isaac had said, the fat man headed for the bathroom.

Markus counted ten seconds off in his head…eight, nine, ten. Markus watched Isaac slowly rise from his seat and head into the bathroom. The door swung behind him.

Chris the bartender watched it too.

“What the hell’s your friend doing?” Chris said. “Why are you both being so weird today?”

Markus put his last $20 on the bar and said, “We need the bathroom for a few minutes. There’s another $20 in it for you when I get out.”

Chris shrugged and stuck the bill in his apron. He said, “Just don’t be blowing each other in there. Weirdos.”

Markus took a deep breath and steeled himself in front of the bathroom. He made a fist with his right hand and pushed the door open with his left. Isaac had the knife out and was waving it in the fat man’s face. The fat man was pressed up against the urinal with his hands up and his dick out.

“Stay outta this, man,” Isaac said rocking slowly on the heels of his feet. His eyes remained locked on the fat man. “Just walk away.”

Markus took two big steps forward, fist cocked back, and threw a haymaker at Isaac’s face as hard as he could.

Nose bone shattered under Markus’ fist. Isaac’s head snapped backwards and a wave of blood splashed against the stall behind him. Isaac wobbled on his feet. Eyes wide and wild. He dropped the knife. Put a hand up to where his nose had been a second ago. Thick blood oozed between his fingers.

“The fuck?” Isaac had time to say before Markus pivoted on his heel and kicked him full in the chest, knocking him on his ass. Markus thought he felt something snap when his boot connected. Isaac sat there and moaned. The fat man stood there frozen. Hands up. Dick out.

Markus winced and flexed his fingers in pain. Felt like he broke something. Before he could worry about it, Isaac started to get up. Markus stepped forward. He grabbed Isaac’s head and slammed the back of it into the sink. The porcelain cracked.

The fat man slowly put his hands down. Him and Markus looked down at Isaac, who lay unconscious, his arms and legs splayed out like he was making a snow angel.

A few seconds went by and the fat man said in his shrill voice, “Th-thank you. I thought that guy was gonna kill me.”

Markus stood there flexing his sore hand and staring down at Isaac. He said, “Put your dick away.”

The fat man complied and zipped up. He said, “Really, thanks. I…fuck I was scared.”

Markus turned and looked at the fat man. Paused a minute. He had to sell this. He scowled. “Dennis? Dennis Yates?”

A wave of confusion washed over the fat man’s face. Then his jowls slowly turned into a smile. He put his hands on his big hips and examined Markus. Then, “Holy shit. Of all the people. Markus?”

“Damn Dennis,” Markus looked him up and down. “You let yourself go.”

Dennis laughed. “Yeah, tell me about it.” He patted his belly. “After juvie, my dad took me in. He’s pretty well off and I guess all that wealth made me soft. Shit, that was what? Ten years ago now? Are you still at the detention center?”

“Not anymore, no.”

“Sorry to hear that. You were one of the good ones. You still dealing?”

“Nah, moved on from that. You were one of my best customers though.”

Dennis took a handkerchief out of his ass pocket. He wiped the glaze of sweat off his forehead and muzzle. He said, “Nothing else to do in a four by six room, right? What’re you doing now for work? You still live in town here?”

“Yeah but not for long. Thinking about moving up to Myrtle Beach for a while. I’ve got a cousin up there I haven’t seen in a long time. Maybe I can find work up there, y’know? As for what I’m doing for work in the mean time…” Markus nodded over towards Isaac. “I knock motherfuckers out for money.”

They both laughed. When they stopped there was an awkward silence. Markus looked at Dennis and raised his eyebrows impatiently.

Dennis got the gist and said, “Oh! Of course. Here, man.” He reached into his deep front pockets and pulled out the bankroll. He started to peel the rubber band off. He stopped and shrugged. Stuck the whole thing out to Markus. “Just take the whole thing. Like I said, my old man’s well off.”

Markus took the thick roll and nodded thanks. There was another awkward silence. Markus went back to looking down at Isaac. Dennis finally said, “Should I, uh, should I ask Chris to call the cops?”

“No,” Markus said. “You should probably just get on outta here.”

“Okay then. You take care of yourself, Markus.” Dennis took another glance at the bloody pulp of Isaac’s face and added. “And, uh, keep up the good work.”

“Thanks,” Markus said. “Be seeing you.”

The door swung behind Dennis. Markus fingered the bankroll in his jacket pocket. Isaac groaned.

Markus moved forward and stood over Isaac. The showboater. The gloating goldtooth grin of greed. Isaac was regaining consciousness. Before he could open his eyes, Markus stomped down on his mouth with the heel of his boot. He crouched down and shoved three fingers in Isaac’s mouth before the man could swallow the teeth he’d just knocked out. Markus fished around in there for a few seconds then pulled out the one gold tooth. Then he slammed Isaac’s head against the bathroom floor to send him back into dreamland.

Markus washed the tooth off in the sink. He polished it off on his jacket and held it up to the light. It twinkled. Satisfied, he tucked it away in the coin pocket of his jeans and left Markus bleeding on the floor.

At the bar, Markus peeled off a $20 for Chris and told him Isaac was asleep on the bathroom floor. He tossed the bartender a salute on his way out. Headed out to the parking lot.

Chris looked out the window and watched Markus drive away in the little shitbox. He washed off a glass and said to himself, “Those guys are fucking weird.”

# # #

Patrick Cooper’s crime fiction has appeared in Spinetingler, Thuglit, Dark Corners, Shotgun Honey, and Out of the Gutter. He writes about film over at Collider and Bloody Disgusting. He lives in Orlando with his wife and a very handsome dog.

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