We covered the trash cans in plastic wrap.
Necessary precautions for any party Bubble came to.
My brother and I had one night with an empty house, and neither of us wanted to lose that.
Meredith took the kids to the in-law’s and Keith and I baby-proofed what we could and taped all the knives to the roof of the coat closet. Last week we pulled three drowned squirrels out of the tub and Bubble was passed out with the kitchen cutlery duct taped to his hands, fucking alcoholic bastard, like prison wasn’t enough for him, now he has to come fuck up our lives. Keith was keeping those squirrels for an experiment at work, and his three sons were training them to chase cat toys like house pets; Bubble just thought they were pests. Keith and I put up traps outside and caught a couple wild ones so that Keith might be able to keep his job–Meredith already has divorce papers drawn up.
Bubble got out of prison about a month ago and spent two weeks hitchhiking across the country, I always told him he couldn’t outrun his problems but I moved from the east to the west coast so what’s my excuse?
“Does Bubble drive?” Keith had the curtain drawn back a bit.
“Not as long as I’ve known him. Why?”
“I dunno, somebody’s pullin’ up.”
“Shit, I guess we’ll find out, maybe he got a ride? How long does this pizza need to bake for?”
Bubble came busting through the front door, following him was a man we had never met. But he wore a cowboy hat and some worn out boots; not surprising for this hole in the wall Keith calls a town.
“Hey, Hey! What’s up, fuckers?”
“This big bitch here is Tex. Don’t stare at his ugly ass too long, he’ll make you blind.”
Tex tipped his hat to us and took a seat by himself in the living room.
“Who’s comin’? Anybody I know?”
“Bubble, who the fuck do you know round here?”
“Shit, they’re all in the house already. Last week was pretty crazy, though, no repeat customers?”
“You scared ’em all away.” Keith set the timer for the pizza and turned the game on for Tex.
“Bullshit, that was nothin’ last week.”
“Nobody wants to play Edward Scissor Hands with you anymore, Bubble. And you leave those squirrels alone tonight, alright? Tex, man, whatchu drinkin’?” I grabbed a few beers.
“Tex don’t drink. I’ll drink his for him, though. And I’ll be happy, too.” Bubble chuckled, grabbing the drinks from me.
“Does Tex even talk?”
“Enough to get by. Shit, the guys right there, go ask him your-damn-self?”
The guy kind of freaked me out a bit. He didn’t stink but looked like he should and he had a twitch, hardly noticeable but when somebody jerks their face around a couple times every few minutes it starts to be.
“Tex, where ya from?” I brought him some water and sat down.
“Small world! I’m from good ol’ NJ, too! Keith, too.”
“Is that close to anything?”
“Depends on where you’re talkin’ about.”
“Okay… What do you do?”
“Ain’t much work for an ex-con. Work so hard to change, hardly the energy to actually work.”
“Ex-con? Is that how you know Bubble?” I sipped from my IPA.
“Told me his name was Bartholomew. Just met the guy last night at the bar. Kept talkin’ about pullin’ a job and Lord knows I need the money.” Tex still hadn’t touched the water.
“You’ve got some forehead sweat goin’ on, man. I’m gonna turn down the heat. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Truth was I had to talk to Keith. How the hell is Bubble going to bring this guy in here having barely known him. Kids live here goddamnit.
“Keith. PSSSSSST. Keith come here!”
“And that’s about the time I woke up with my pants on my head and shoes on my hands… Hold on to that for a minute, Bubs. I’ll be right back… what’s your issue now, Jason?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious? Tex, man. Dude freaks me the fuck out.”
“Why? He hasn’t done anything but hold a conversation with you this whole time. He seems alright from where I’m standing.”
“He thinks Bubble’s name is Bartholomew, they only met last night–at a bar nonetheless, he’s an ex-con, he knows where we live now, and he and Bubble have already talked about doing a ‘job’ whatever that means.”
“Woah, Woah, slow down, dude, just breathe. Let’s just talk to Bubs, I’m sure it’s all just a misunderstanding.”
And around the corner we had pistols shoved in our faces. Bubble didn’t say a word as he tied the two of us up, back to back like the movies. I realized now how well we’d been played. Bubble wasn’t here to rekindle a friendship.
Keith’s safe was upstairs in the crawl space, no way they’d find it.
“Found it! Hoist me up, Tex, I’m too short for this shit.”
Splintering sounds lofted down the stairs.
“Bubble must’ve dropped the safe. So much for your DIY bamboo strips.”
“Shut the fuck up for a second, Jason. You talk too much. Can you get loose?”
“Really? If I could get loose I’d’ve done it already.”
“I think I can undo your ties, push up against my back more, try to get a good grip on this shit.”
“OH, BOYS! I know you heard us comin’! We dropped the safe down the stairs for ya fucks!” Bubble bounded towards us, Tex in tow with the safe. “Now, Keith, Jason, tell us the code.”
“Fuck you, Bubs. We invited you to my family’s house. You’re a real piece of shit, ya know that? You drowned all my squirrels, terrorize people with knives, and steal from the only people that ever placed any value on your life. You deserve to be back in the Pen, man, this is bullshit.” Keith spit at his feet. “You remember when we were kids and you were trying to catch lizards and accidentally grabbed a piece of cactus? Jason and I spent hours getting all the little spines out of your hand before you went home because you weren’t supposed to chase lizards at our house and we didn’t want you in trouble so that we could still play together. And the time you had your birthday at our place. We played Red Rover and one of the neighbor kids yelled to pick your sister again because she tripped last time and we all laughed. Or the time we jumped in the frozen lake together and Jason almost drowned because of hypothermia, but we couldn’t pronounce the name back then so we said hippo-ferma instead.”
“That’s the past, Keith.” Bubble lowered his gun and pushed it against Keith’s head. “That was before I discovered how desperate this world makes people. Now, I could beat you, or put a bullet in your brain, but instead, Tex and I are going to skip the bullshit middleman and use some power tools. So, take care now.”
Keith and I watched the door shut and the car headlights moved out of sight.