Breach Kick


The Columbia Club: a typical bar with typical neon beer signs hanging in the typical front windows. The place certainly wasn't a club, though perhaps it once was. The second floor windows were dark, like they always are above businesses. Nobody ever knows what's above a business. Apartments, I guess, and yet I never met anybody who knew anybody who lived in an apartment above a businesses. In contrast: all the nice, new businesses like McDonalds, K-Marts, Pizza Huts, Casey's—they don't have second floors.

I made a U-turn and parked along the side of the road. God it was cold out—I didn't remember it being this cold at Emiquon, but the sun had now begun to set; it would be even colder when I came back out. If I came back out, that is. I figured I was probably walking right into a trap. It's pretty much standard procedure: send your enemy someplace where he thinks he’s going to receive something he wants, and then knock him off when he gets there. Usually, if you walk into such a trap with your eyes open, you have a good chance of getting out alive. People always expect you to do something stupid, so if you walk into a trap, they think you're doing it because you're stupid—otherwise, they reckon, you'd have stayed away. But if they think you're stupid, and you aren't, then you got the drop on them, because they'll expect you to act stupidly—or continue to act stupidly, as they see it—and will therefore fail to take every necessary precaution; they will act, if not stupidly themselves, at least much less intelligently than they ought to.

So I just walked right into the Columbia Club and asked for Harry Thomasson. A fat guy at the door, the bouncer probably, pointed to a young man tending bar at the other end of the long, narrow room, and said, "That's him, if you have to know." People say the strangest things sometimes; I really had no idea what he meant by "if you have to know."

I took a seat at the far end of bar. I stared at myself in the backbar mirror. The barber had done a good job with my haircut. He always does. I admire people who are consistently excellent at their work. I used to strive for that when I worked for Durney. My grandfather used to say, "if something's worth doing, it's worth doing well". I don't know whether I still agree with him. Or rather, I don't know anymore whether what I do is actually worth doing. But I do it anyway. That must be what it's like, when you get to the end of a low dishonest life: you don't even know whether what you do is worth doing, nevermind worth doing well. I guess maybe my grandfather wasn't such a bad guy after all, if at his age he could still live by that motto; maybe I had judged him unfairly all those years: what he did he sure as hell did well. For example, when he beat me, he beat me like a real pro. So maybe he was a stand-up guy after all; maybe I did judge him wrong. Too late to regret, or at least too late to remedy. I guess it's never too late to regret.

As I stared into the mirror, I saw, in the reflection, a man walk past me, behind me, from the back of the bar toward the front. The weird thing was that he sort of looked like me; he looked like what I thought I might look like in five or ten years.

Just then, Thomasson approached me, and asked, while dunking dirty glasses in the bar sink, "What can I getchyuh?"

"Club soda, please."

He tossed a cardboard coaster onto the bar, and then, to my dismay, took one of the glasses he had just finished dunking in the dirty dish water, filled it with soda water from the soda gun, and placed the still-warm-and-dripping glass on the cardboard coaster. Club soda is made with sodium bicarbonate; soda water isn't. I hate it when I'm served the latter, but charged for the former. He said, "That'll be two fifty." He never even offered a lemon wedge. I don't actually like lemon in my soda water, but I use the lemon wedge to clean the rim of the glass. I think lemon is supposed to be acidic, so I assume it kills some of the germs on the rim of the glass.

I laid three one-dollar bills on the counter.

When he returned with my change, he said, "You really come all the way down here for a club soda?"

"All the way down where?"

He grimaced a little, as if I he wondered whether or not I was joking.

I said, "You’re Harry Thomasson." It was a declarative statement, not a question. I wanted him to get in the right mood, the mood where what I say goes, and is, and will be. Some people are very suggestible, and can be easily fooled into thinking you know much more than you do. I'm always amazed by how gullible people are. Like that eunuch social worker back at the sanitarium. Of course, they're even more gullible when you're pointing a gun at them.

Anyway, the kid said, "That's right." A good response; the only response, really. Then, trying to act tough, he asked, "What of it?" Questions ruin everything. They really do; they make you look weak.

I said, "You're supposed to have information for me. Richard Kevner sent me here."

"Oh yeah, and who might you be?" Another fucking question. For crying out loud.

"Tinney Cosgrove."

"Never heard of you."

"You don't have to. You've heard of Richard Kevner. That's all you need to worry about."

"Worry," he said, and scoffed. "What if I did hear of him; what if I didn't?" He was a pretty scrawny kid; his tough-guy act was becoming a little difficult to take seriously. I could have broken his neck in sixty seconds.

"Kevner said you could tell me something about Will Sneed, something I don't already know."

"Is that so? And how am I supposed to know what you don't already know?" Question question question. Jesus Christ.

"Let me put it to you this way, kid: Kevner expects you to tell me what nobody but you knows about Will Sneed. That's what I don't already know about him. Everything else I already know."

Again he said, "Is that so?" I thought about carving the expression into his forehead with my Swiss army knife. He picked up a telephone and dialed a number. After about ten seconds, he said, to whoever was on the other end, "Hey babe...Yeah, I need somebody to cover the counter...Just a few minutes...Uh-huh...For sure...My mother's only sister's sister's only son...That's right. Thanks baby." Then he hung up.

Shortly after, a gorgeous young blonde stepped behind the bar. I recognized her immediately; she didn't seem to recognize me, although I would have been surprised if she did, seeing as she had been blindfolded the only time we ever met. They called her the Blonde Bombshell, but her name was Ellen West. Durney had us torture her a little bit. It was something to do with his grandson. In fact, that was the same night that Durney was killed. The Blonde Bombshell looked nervously at Thomasson, and spoke his name as if it were a question, "Harry?" It was almost as if she was surprised to find him there.

Pointing toward the other end of the bar, he said to her, "Fellas down there are drinkin' High Life on a tab. I won’t be long," and he kissed her on the lips and brushed her left tit with his hand.

I followed him towards the back of the bar, where he opened a door onto a narrow, steep stairwell that hadn't been swept in quite a while. He gestured up the stairs, and said "After you."

"No thanks. I'll let you go first, if it's all the same to you." Like I was really going to make it that easy for him to put a bullet in my back. That's what I meant by people expecting you to act stupidly if they think you've been stupid enough to walk straight into a trap.

He shrugged his shoulders, as if it was a matter of no consequence whatsoever whether I chose to go first or last.

At the top of the stairwell was another door, which he unlocked with a key from his pocket. The door opened onto a kitchen. The kitchen smelled like everything in it had been thickly coated with bacon fat. On a mustard yellow electric range was a cast iron frying pan with an egg floating in a puddle of grease. The grease was still hot, and it kept spitting and sputtering the way hot grease does. The kid saw me looking at the frying pan, and joked, "Your brain on drugs, eh?" He laughed a little. "Any questions?" He laughed again. He laughed the way people laugh when they're stoned, when they think their own jokes are transcen-fucking-dentally hilarious.

There were two doorways out of the kitchen, not counting the one we had just entered. Neither doorway was covered by an actual door. Through the doorway on the right, I could see a bed, and on the bed a man was screwing some broad's brains out. He was on top of her, thrusting away with his hips, giving her a good old time, I guess. Her right tit jiggled every time he thrust his hips against her. That right tit was smeared with lipstick, which looked like smeared lipstick. I didn't understand how anybody could become sexually aroused with the smell of bacon fat all over everything. I wondered if the broad had bacon grease on her body. From the back, he looked like the kind of guy who wouldn't care if she did have bacon grease all over her body. He was probably using bacon fat as lube.

Paying no attention to the couple in the bedroom, Thomasson walked through the door to the left, into an empty dining room. I knocked my head on a low-hanging light fixture which was obviously supposed to hang above a dining room table. We passed through the empty dining room into a living room at the front of the building. Three large windows looked out over the Old Rome Road, and to the cold river beyond.

Thomasson turned on a floor lamp, and then invited me to sit on a sea-foam green sofa. He sat in a matching chair facing the sofa. A starburst mirror hung on the wall.

"So," he said, "you want to know what I know about Will. Or you want to know what only I know about him. There actually is something, or did you think Richard just sent you out here to get bumped off? You would think that. You’re probably carrying a gun, too. I hope you are: you'll need that gun, but not today. I do have some information for you, like Richard said. It isn't much, though—what I know about Will that nobody else knows. But it's somethin'. You betchyer life it's somethin'."

"So not even Kevner knows this?"

"No, he knows."

"I thought you said—and for that matter he said too—that this would be something only you know?"

"Well there are different ways of knowing. I'm the only one who really knows this. Rich knows, only he doesn't know that he knows."

I didn't give a good-god-damn about different ways of knowing. I wished Kevner had just told me whatever it was, and spared me the trip to this dive. It wasn't long, however, before I understood why Kevner didn't want to tell me himself. What the kid told me, I wouldn't want to tell anyone either.

"I saw Will Sneed once and only once," he continued, "That was at least two months ago. I was working at a marina up river. One morning my boss came to the marina with somebody he claimed was his brother. His brother couldn't speak and he was wearing a bandage beneath one of his eyes. A cloudy, blood-streaked fluid kept seeping down his cheek. Todd—that was my boss—would occasionally wipe this fluid off his brother's face.

"Later that day, there was a telephone call for me at the bar. I don't usually get telephone calls at work. Guy on the phone wouldn't say who he was; all he said was, 'It's been a while since your last confession,' which was strange because it was true. But I didn't recognize the voice; I don't think he was anybody I know, and he wasn't disguising his voice either—I could tell that much. He said, 'Today would be a good day to make your confession.' So I left work early and went to make my confession at a church in Marquette that's near the marina. I don't know why I went. When I think back, I don't understand it. Sometimes things just happen—we don't even do them; they just seem to happen to us. That's how this was. It just happened. It really did. Anyway, I always take nexus before giving my confession, because I used to think. . ."

Everybody always talks in monologues and this kid was no different:

He went to confession and, while there, had a drugged-induced hallucination which changed his life. When he left the confessional, he saw a painting of some Mexican—a saint or something. This saint began teaching him about Marx and the plight of the oppressed. I'm gonna tell you what—it was every cliché in the book. The saint—the Blessed Miguel Pro, that was the name of the saint—also told him that Todd Menocken's brother wasn't Todd Menocken's brother at all, but was a man named Will Sneed. The saint told the kid that Sneed would that same night become a martyr to the cause of labor. That's what Thomasson knew that nobody else knew, and he only knew it because he had hallucinated it while high on nexus. When he woke the next day, his whole life had changed, and he became completely devoted to the cause of overthrowing capitalism. I'm not making this up; I couldn't make it up if I wanted to.

Finally, he said, apparently signaling an end to his story, "So now you know what only I know about Will. I only met him once. How did you know him?"

"We became friends while he was working in Elmville," I said, I lied.

Thomasson said, "Well, we weren't friends, but we were comrades, and comradeship is greater than friendship."

I asked, "What about loyalty? Is loyalty greater than comradeship?"

"Loyalty to the cause is the foundation of comradeship. Loyalty to a person is just a capitalist perversion of loyalty; it leads to subservience or paternalism, to bondage or ownership. What are you loyal to?"

Perverse subservience? I wanted to smash his goddamned handsome face in, but I said, "I'm loyal to the cause."

He nodded.

I said, "I don't understand why you are working here, in this bar."

"Because the workers from the Cat factory in Mossville come in here a lot. Tending bar gives me an opportunity to meet them and recruit them."

"But aren't they already unionized?"

"They are, but the union is only one layer of organizationn—and it's the most superficial layer. To survive the struggle that's to come, we need a deeper organization. Like what Jesus said, in the parable of the sower, about the seed that fell among the stones, and had no taproot: when the sun came out, the plant withered and died. It's my job to make sure that doesn't happen."

Thomasson seemed too clean-cut to be a revolutionary. There was something about him not quite...convincing. For starters, his clothing looked too new. It all had the appearance of being sort of made-up. Even the room we were sitting in had the empty, spacious feeling of a stage set.

I didn't understand what I was doing there, talking to him; I didn't understand what any of it had to do with Durney or Bruce.

I remembered a line of poetry, "We do not admire what we cannot understand." One day, my uncle was wandering around my grandparents' house reciting a poem. I forget what the poem was called, or what it was even about. I only remember that one line, "We do not admire what we cannot understand." My grandfather, who was practically my father, since I was a bastard and my whore mother abandoned me with them when I was an infant—my grandpa used to stop for road kill of all kinds. He was always saying he could get "good money" for the furs. He'd even stop for dead skunks. If it was a skunk, he would take a syringe out of the glove compartment, and extract musk from the skunk's asshole. He said the skunk's scent glands were in its asshole. He sold the skunk musk: guys would come to the house and buy it from him. He stored in in the fridge in the garage, where he also hung the furs of the roadkill he had skinned—mostly raccoons, muskrats, squirrels, and possums. He sold those too. I never could understand that, and I couldn't understand what Harry Thomasson was all about either.

Trying to wrap up my interview with Harry Thomasson, I said, "So you only saw Will Sneed the one time, two months ago?"

He seemed perplexed, and said, "I didn't say two months ago. I said last September."

"Right, but that would be two months ago."

He just stared at me, as if I were a madman. Finally he said, a little impatiently, "Well, I told you what Richard said I'd tell you. Was there anything else you wanted?"

"No, I guess there isn't. Thank you for your time."

I was just about to stand and leave when he said, "By the way, I know your name isn't Tinney Cosgrove."

Taken aback, I said, "Beg your pardon?"

"I know that's not your real name. I can't put my finger on what your real name is, but I'm pretty damned sure it isn't Tinney Cosgrove. You were one of Durney McKusker's boys. Todd pointed you out out to me once. And he said your name, only I can't remember. But I'm certain it wasn't Tinney Cosgrove. Now, unless I'm very much mistaken, I bet you're interested in a lot more than Will Sneed. I bet you'd like to know what happened to Durney McKusker. What'd'ya say? Am I right? Am I close?"

I didn't know how to respond. I was...I guess they call it speechless.

He said, "Come on! I played along with your little charade. I told you what you wanted to know. Level with me."

I just stared at him. I'll admit it: I was dumbfounded.

He said, "Your problem is that you don't know what you want to know." He laughed. "Your little cloak-and-dagger stunt. You think you're in a mystery or something. You think you can get in secretly, by the back door."

I heard the man in the bedroom groan out what I assume was an orgasm. It was repulsive sounding, like he had successfully completed a strained bowel movement. Absolutely disgusting.

I left the bar.

As I walked to my car, I passed a man sitting in the entryway of the storefront next to the Columbia Club. He was smoking a cigarette. He said to me, "I recognize you."

I stopped and asked him, "You do? From where?"

"You were on a jury. Two years ago."

I had been on a jury; he was correct about that.

He continued, "I was defending a client up in Bureau County. You were on the jury, about two years ago."

I asked what his client had been charged with.

"I don't remember. But I remember you. You were on the jury. Two years ago."

I nodded, and was about to walk away, when he said, "It's a trap, you know."

I turned back around and said, "Pardon?"

Again he said, "It's a trap. You've walked into a trap."

"I'm sorry, but I don't understand."

"It's not really his fault—the kid, Thomasson. He doesn't know any better. He's just...Well, they're labor racketeers, the people he works for; the people he thinks are trying to help the workers. They're going to call a strike at the Mossville plant, but it's just a shakedown. Caterpillar will pay the union bosses to call off the strike, and in exchange the bosses will force Local 974 to vote on a contract that's far worse than the one they're currently negotiating, the one the union bosses will first encourage the Local to reject. That's the trap. That kid friend of yours is walking right into it, and you are too. The bosses've already extended the negotiations twice—just long enough to make it appear like they're bargaining in good faith. The strike will have to be long and bitter, but they've been planning this for a long time; they know Caterpillar is strong enough now to withstand a long strike, but that the workers are resolved to withstand one too. Your friend's job is to supply that extra resolve. But Caterpillar can hang on longer than the workers. Not much longer though. The people who control Local 974 have been waiting years for this opportunity. The timing, everything, is just perfect. A once in a lifetime opportunity, when the waning power of the workers and the waxing power of Caterpillar are in perfect proportion for a massive shakedown."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"I sure do remember you, from two years ago. You were on that jury up in Bureau County. I was defending a client. That's right—I remember his name now: Jared R—"

"Sorry," I said, "I just—"

"You okay or somethin'?"

I raced back to Bureau Junction, and stopped by Blondie's house. She didn't seem too pleased to see me, but not surprised either. I told her what had happened since we parted company the morning before—the whole damned story. I thought she was barely paying any attention, but then she stopped me when I was saying, "According to Kevner, Sneed's contact was supposed to have been a Puerto Rican—."

"Hold on a second," she said. "Sneed was expecting a Puerto Rican, in Elmville?"

"That's what Kevner says."

"And this was in September?"


"I know who Sneed was supposed to meet, who his contact was supposed to be. I met him myself. He stayed at the motel last September."