This short story was originally published on Beat to a Pulp and is re-printed here with permission.
I knew I was a dead man when the cop walked into my bar. It was the way the cocksure bastard sauntered over the threshold, sniffed the moldiness of the stained oak panels, and smiled. Some little joke there, formulating in his bowling ball of a head. He drew his gun, checked the safety, and stuck it back in its holster. Oh, he was going to have a good time at my expense, and he was going to take his time about it.
I’d been banging his wife the past six months. Should have seen this coming, instead of listening to Lori. He doesn’t give a damn what I do, she’d told me. I knew no man could be cool with what we were up to. Hell, if she’d been my wife, I’d have strangled her for stepping out on me. But I was just her Monday and Wednesday midday screw.
The cop took his time checking out the barflies already perched on stools at eleven-fifteen in the morning. I had a good three inches on him, but I was lean, if you wanted to be nice about it. He looked like a rough bastard, one with bulging biceps and no neck. Harry, that was his name. Harry Harrison, like his parents hated him at birth and gave him a crappy name. Hey, Harry, I wanted to say, get your ass out of my bar. But I had to pretend I didn’t know who he was, and hope he’d figure me for a punk who couldn’t possibly be shtupping his old lady.
“Uh-huh.” I focused on not dropping the glass I was polishing. The closer he got, the more my hands rattled. He couldn’t shoot me in front of Old Stan and Persky and the other regulars. Could he?
“You got Charlie McCraggan stashed in the back there?”
Charlie McCraggan’s was the name of the bar. Even with the peeling paint on the sign outside, you could make out my dad’s name.
“Okay, you got me beat. Where is he?” His voice was cheery, like he was the kind of beat cop who handed out lollipops to kids. Harry Harrison. I had to remind myself not to use his name.
“He died a year ago. Heart attack.” The words came out in a torrent, like a keg had been tapped. “I’m his son. I own the bar now.”
“What are you, all of twenty-one?” The prick smiled at me. Lollipop time.
“You got a name?”
“Bill.” I almost bit my tongue off to keep myself from saying Billy. That was what everybody called me. My parents, when they were alive. My sister. Everybody I’d ever worked with. Every woman I’d ever fucked. Billy couldn’t look at the cop without his knees knocking. Bill could stare down the cop and not be chickenshit.
“Then I need to talk to you.” Harry Harrison was thirty-eight, Lori had told me, but his face was cracked with lines, like something left out in the sun too long. He was dark for a white guy, burnished like copper. “This girl came in here almost a week ago, recognize her?”
I stared at the photo he held up, but couldn’t even tell if the girl was hot or skanky. Harry Harrison was in my bar and it wasn’t because of Lori? What were the odds? “Don’t know her.”
“University of Toronto student. She thinks a guy who bought her a drink here spiked it. She didn’t go to the hospital afterwards, but she’s pretty sure he attacked her.”
“That’s terrible.” I looked at her picture again. The girl was pretty, a redhead with full lips and a knowing smile. “I don’t know her.”
“This would have been Wednesday, midday crowd. Were you here between noon and four?”
Last Wednesday afternoon? Your wife was wearing her naughty nurse uniform, I wanted to tell him. She puts on this little white starchy dress with a white cap and red fuck-me pumps so high they’d stop traffic. “I probably came in around five. So I didn’t see her.”
“Where were you before that?”
“With a friend.”
His smile crinkled up his eyes. He’d gotten me. I was too freaked out to come up with an alibi. Lori had clawed my body until I was a bloody mess. It was July and I had to wear long sleeves because the broad was an animal.
But Harry Harrison didn’t ask anything else. He gave me his card and thanked me. Said he’d be in touch. With that threat stinking up the air he sauntered out of the bar.
Lori liked to be strangled, and normally I complied. But on Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t.
“Harder!” Lori got off on being dominated, but only if she stage-managed the entire process.
Lori grabbed my hands and put them around her throat. “Harder!” A psychotic flame flickered behind her blue eyes. When she came, it was with a shudder that swept over her entire body.
Later, when we were lying in bed, smoking weed and fighting sleep, she whined, “What’s wrong with you, Billy? You’re not yourself today.”
“I told you what’s wrong. Your steroid-sucking ape of a husband showed up at my bar. He knows about us and he’s going to kill me.”
“Harry’s not going to kill you, Billy. He couldn’t care less what I do.” She inhaled deeply and exhaled meditatively. “He’s cheating on me, you know. He hasn’t laid a hand on me in a year. Can you believe that?”
“Why don’t you get a divorce then?” I wished I could kick my own ass after the words jumped out of my mouth. Why the hell was I asking about divorce? I didn’t want to marry her. Lori was hot, no doubt about that. She was like a Barbie doll with a tiny waist, long legs and a Stairmastered ass. Her tits were plastic, true, but they looked great. She was a peroxide blonde with big eyes, a pretty face, and a mouth that could suck you into oblivion. But she was also a whiny nag, a lazy pothead, and a spoiled brat who thought it was everyone else’s job to keep her happy.
“We’re not divorcing because I’d lose the house. Harry, like, inherited it before we got married. Left to him by some crazy old aunt. It’s a gorgeous house. I totally love it.”
“Maybe he’ll divorce you,” I muttered. I’d never been inside her big-whoop house. I stared at her neck and caught sight of purplish bruises starting to surface. No matter how much cover cream she used or how many scarves she wore, there’d be no hiding that.
“Harry wouldn’t do that. He doesn’t believe in divorce.”
“Look, maybe we should cool it for a while. You know, till this blows over.”
Lori sat up straight. “Are you trying to get rid of me, Billy?”
“No, no. Course not.” I’d been trying to get rid of her for a couple months. I didn’t like the rough stuff she was into, and she grated on me after a while. Her voice was shrill and loud, and she never shut up. I knew I should say Hell, yeah, get lost and don’t let the door hit your ass. But I was a coward.
Lori’s eyes narrowed. “You know, if you piss me off, Harry might start looking into the little sideline you’ve got going at the bar.”
By sideline, she meant the weed and pills we sold to some special customers. We didn’t do Roofies, so whatever had been slipped into that girl’s drink didn’t come from under my counter, if it’d happened at all. Still, I couldn’t believe Lori was threatening me. I was just about to tell her where to go when she laughed. “Had you going there, didn’t I?” Then she rolled another joint and begged me to bang her again. I told her I had to get to the bar. Truth was, I wished I had the nerve to ask her to give back my key.
* * *
“What’s with this fucking cop?” asked my cousin Seamus. With his County Clare accent it sounded like Wuts wit tis fookin cup? My cousin had come over to Canada three years ago, when his father kicked him out of the house for being a jerkoff. At least, that’s what I put it down to. Seamus spent his first two years in Toronto sucking up to my dad, who was a softheaded guy when it came to his family back in Ireland. Dad brought Seamus into the business, telling me it was just a temporary move till my poor cousin got on his feet. I got the shock of my life when Dad died and I found out he’d changed his will. I’d inherited fifty percent of the bar. Seamus got the rest.
“There’s nothing going on with any cop,” I said.
“Course there is. He’s nosing around, asking after some slut got her drink spiked.”
Seamus had a knack for putting things just so, and for getting my back up. “Someone slipped a Roofie to the girl, I guess. I didn’t see it.”
“Well, it’s a big fookin’ deal if we got ourselves set up to have the cops watching us,” Seamus said.
“Look, make yourself useful and unpack those bottles, will you? We’re running out upstairs.”
“Don’t you be giving me orders, Billy McCraggan. You’re not my lord and master.” He was getting wound up for his usual speech on how I was keeping him, a proud Irishman, down, when my sister poked her head in the room. Gwen was only two years older than me, but she liked to act as if she was my boss. She talked down to both Seamus and me, and truth be told, we were both a little scared of her. She had dark eyes like a gypsy and a cool snake tattoo on her shoulder that I kind of envied.
“Hey, boys. You’re coordinating outfits when you leave the house now? How sweet.” Gwen arched an eyebrow. I looked at Seamus and realized she was right. We were both wearing pale blue dress shirts, both in chinos. Talk about hitting rock-bottom. It wasn’t bad enough that I had to work with Seamus, but we lived together, too. Since Mom was dead, Dad left the house to Gwen, which seemed fair enough in theory—after all, I was supposed to get the bar—but since I only got half the bar, I was bitter. Gwen rented it to us, so Seamus and I shared a three-bedroom semi-detached house on Palmerston Avenue. She kept a room there, but she also rented her own apartment on Bathurst, claiming Seamus and I were slobs. Since she didn’t charge us much in rent, it was a sweet deal except for having Seamus in my face morning, noon, and night.
“Don’t look now, but the cops are back,” Gwen said. “They’re going to put customers off drinking here, never mind buying anything else.”
“Cops, plural?” I asked.
“No, just the one guy,” Gwen clarified. “But he’s the size of a gorilla.”
“I’ll be right up,” said Seamus. “I can handle this.”
I would have been glad of anyone else taking care of this, but not Seamus. He knew all about my thing with Lori, and if he figured out the cop was her husband, he’d blab. Seamus would love it if I got toted off to jail. Then Charlie McCraggan’s would be all his.
We followed Gwen upstairs and found Harry Harrison planted at the bar, deep into a pint of Guinness. “Hey, Billy.” He raised his glass. “Thought I’d come in, check out the scene. Must do a great business if you’re this packed every night.”
Our moldy Harbord Street bar was hopping for a Wednesday evening. We were busy, yes, but nobody got rich on a third-rate Irish pub that sold cheap draft and attracted the flintiest of tippers. In my dad’s day, it had barely kept a roof over my family’s head. Now, I couldn’t have afforded the rent on the place, not without the sidelines. The money was in the shit we dealt on the side.
I smiled and nodded like I was glad to see him. Gwen smiled at Harry Harrison, but she kept her mouth shut.
“Make yourself at home, officer,” Seamus said grandly. “We’re glad to have you. Next time, bring some of your brother officers.”
Once a suck-up, always a suck-up.
“Thanks,” said Harry Harrison, shaking Seamus’s hand. “Don’t mind if I do.”
* * *
He came back every day that week, but he never brought his brother officers with him. It was always Harry Harrison and his big biceps crowding my bar. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I bumped into him on the block just north of my house, then again outside Gwen’s apartment building. Suddenly I felt like the musclebound cop was stalking me.
“You can’t come over anymore,” I told Lori on the phone. “I’m telling you, your husband knows what’s up. He’s everywhere I go.”
“Don’t be silly,” Lori drawled. “Harry’s at work now.”
The stupid pothead. I wanted to throttle her through the phone, only this time for real. See how she liked that. “He’s a cop. He roams around the neighborhood. He comes into my bar.”
“Harry doesn’t care what I do,” she said. “Seriously. I asked him last night if he was fucking some pretty young thing because there was lipstick on his collar. Just like that old song. Bright red, like the bitch was marking territory.”
“What did he say?” I held my breath.
“He said there was no one but me.”
“Well, then, he’s not seeing anyone, is he?”
“Oh, Billy, you’re such a kid,” Lori laughed. “That’s what I told him, too. That’s what married people all say!”
* * *
Harry Harrison was a dog hankering after a bone. I ran into him in Bellevue Square, just after I hit a couple head shops I did regular business with. I was carrying a bag bursting with weed and pills.
“Heya, Billy. Nice day, huh?”
“Yeah.” He had to be following me.
“You going to the bar now, Billy?”
“See you, pal.”
I kept walking, getting hotter under the collar with each step. Could I report him for harassing me? Fat lot of good that would do.
I got to the bar and saw it was empty, except for Gwen rubbing the wooden countertop with a cloth, like she thought she could polish scars out. Harry Harrison was scaring customers off. Even the lamest barflies had flown off to some other shitty bar.
“I can’t take it anymore!” I yelled. “That psycho is driving me out of my mind!”
Gwen arched one brow. “What did Seamus do now?”
“Not that dumbass. The cop!” I kicked a barstool, knocking it and a couple others over. When I kicked the counter, Gwen grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me forward. For a second, I felt like I was six again and Gwen was eight, and she was going to kick my ass like she always did. She was little, but she was tough, and the makeup and dresses she wore couldn’t hide that.
“Don’t you dare rough up Dad’s bar. I’ll wring your weasel neck.” She shoved me away. “If you want to get mad at someone, go after Seamus.”
“You’re clueless, you know that, Billy? Haven’t you noticed him disappearing in the middle of the day?”
“I guess.” Now that Gwen pointed it out, I realized the lazy bastard had been shirking off worse than usual. “Where the hell is he?”
“At home.” Her dark eyes studied me. “You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you? Go home and see for yourself what he’s up to.” She held out one red-taloned hand. “But leave the stuff here.”
I handed over the weed and pills and split. As I walked, I pictured myself kicking Seamus’s lazy ass out of bed. Sure, he was bigger than me, but I had the element of surprise.
When I unlocked the door, the smell of skunk hit me in the face. Seamus liked a bowl as much as anybody, but this was early in the day for him. Then I heard a crazy laugh and stopped dead. Lori? She had a key to the place. Had the stupid pothead wandered over when I wasn’t here and got Seamus to give her some dope? I slipped off my shoes and slid across the linoleum. She laughed again. This time I heard Seamus say something, though I couldn’t catch all of it.
What I got was “Fookin’ Billy.”
I stopped in my tracks. They hadn’t heard me come in. I slid a little further, skating in my socks down the hall. The door to Seamus’s room was open. I looked in and my hair stood up on the back of my neck. Lori and Seamus were buck-naked in bed, and Seamus’s back was covered in raw, red claw marks like he’d just tangled with a velociraptor.
No wonder he was wearing long-sleeved shirts in the middle of summer. I thought I was the only moron doing that, but he was, too, and for exactly the same reason.
They were passing a joint back and forth, and I smelled the good Hawaiian stuff I never let Lori near because it was too damn expensive to waste on a pothead who’d smoke anything.
“So, when you gonna drop the hammer?” Seamus asked.
“I did. Harry won’t believe me. He’s all like, you’re screwing that stringbean? He doesn’t even shave. And I’m like, look, Billy’s a tiger in bed, okay? And Harry’s all, like, I’ve been shadowing that lowlife and he’s so afraid of his shadow he’d give Wiarton Willie a run for his money.”
“Who the fook is Wiarton Willie?”
“He’s a groundhog. He tells you when winter’s over.”
“Fook that. You have to make him believe you.”
“Don’t you think I know that? I will. I just need time.” She must’ve taken a long drag because there was a pause and a deep, happy exhale. “Don’t worry. Harry’ll tear Billy from limb to limb. Then Harry will go to jail and we can be together. It’s just going to take some time.”
There was a satisfied, singsong quality to her voice, like she was reciting a nursery rhyme. She was happy, visualizing her knuckle-dragging husband ripping me to shreds. I slid back across the floor, picked up my shoes and went outside, closing the door with the quietest click I could manage. Seamus and Lori were planning to get rid of me like I was some patsy? It had a stoned logic to it. Seamus would own the bar outright and the pothead would have all the drugs she wanted.
I pulled my shoes on and stumbled down the porch. On the sidewalk, I smacked right into Harry Harrison.
“Thought you were going to your bar, Billy.”
I blinked at him, too stunned to answer. He really was following me. He’d been told I was screwing his wife, and his mind had to be wrestling with that possibility.
My mouth moved. “I’m going to the bar, officer. I wanted to talk to my cousin, but he’s got, um, company.”
“His lady friend is over. Lori.”
“Lori,” he repeated. “She’s in there now?”
“Yeah.” Tear them from limb to limb, I thought. Go for it, gorilla.
“Let’s go in there,” he said.
He gave me a funny smile and pushed past, knocking me back a couple of feet. He marched up the porch and turned back. “Do the honors?”
I scrambled up, turned the key quietly as I could and opened the door. He clapped me on the shoulder and went in. I waited on the porch, straining my ears for noise. There was shouting, but it died down fast. Lori wailed, but that dropped off suddenly, too. Had he killed them? I backed away, afraid Harry Harrison would wring my neck next. I kept inching back, then turned and ran like hell.
* * *
That afternoon, Harry Harrison’s brother officers finally poured into the bar. “Bill McCraggan, you’re under arrest for the murders of Seamus McCraggan and Lori Harrison.”
“Murder? Are you out of your fucking mind?”
One cop clapped me on the side of the head, and the low lights of the bar got brighter as they swirled around my head.
“I’ve got an alibi,” I croaked.
“Well, we’ve got an eyewitness. Let’s go.”
They dragged me out, kicked me into a squad car and barreled downtown. In the police station, I caught sight of Harry Harrison, looking like a truck had run over his foot. Maybe that was supposed to be sadness over the death of his wife, but he couldn’t quite fake it since he’d murdered her.
“That’s your eyewitness? He killed Seamus!” I yelled. With my hands cuffed behind my back, I couldn’t point, so I jerked my head “Murderer! He killed my cousin! And he killed Lori!”
Another officer smacked the back of my head. “Shut up. You’re not doing yourself any favors.”
“No! Officer Harrison followed me home. My cousin was in bed with Officer Harrison’s wife. He murdered them.”
A roomful of cops gave me the hairy eyeball. “Nice try, douchebag. We’ve got a sworn statement that you came into the house, discovered your cousin Seamus in bed with Lori Harrison, and killed them both in a fit of jealous rage.”
“Is that what he told you? It’s Harry Harrison’s word against mine?”
“Oh, there’s more to it than that.”
I didn’t understand what that meant until an hour later, when my sister came in. By then, the cops had put me in a cage. Gwen talked to some cops and pointed at me, then strolled over until she was in front of the bars. Her eyes cut into me.
“I can’t believe it, Billy. What were you thinking?”
“I didn’t do it, Gwen. Harry Harrison did. He murdered Seamus and Lori.”
“I knew you and Seamus were both sleeping with that cheap whore, and I knew it would lead to something like this one day.”
“Come on, Gwen! You know I’d never…”
“And now, with Seamus dead and you in jail, I’m going to have to run the bar by myself. Whatever will I do?” Her voice was quiet. “Oh, right, the same thing I’ve always been doing. Running it while you and Seamus act like idiots. Dad should’ve left it to me. That would’ve made everything a lot easier.”
“But, Gwen, you…” The words stumbled off my tongue. “You know I didn’t…”
“Well, I gave a sworn statement to the cops that you did.” She smiled. “You should be happy. Seamus is six feet under, where he belongs. And you’ll get twenty-five years, maybe with time off for good behavior.”
Set up by my own sister? I couldn’t believe she would do that to me. “You’ll never be able to run our sideline business. Seamus and I handled that. You don’t know how.”
“Harry’s going to help me with that. Didn’t you know we’re a couple? That time you ran into him outside my building, I thought you might’ve figured that out. I guess you weren’t as bright as we thought.”
After she left, an officer came over to the cage. He let me out and cuffed me, then dragged me downstairs to arraignment. In court they read out my name as “William McCraggan.” I wished suddenly, with all my heart, that I could go back to being Billy again.
Hilary Davidson is a travel journalist and the author of eighteen nonfiction books. Her articles have appeared in more than 40 magazines, includingDiscover, Reader’s Digest, and Martha Stewart Weddings. Her short fiction has been widely praised and included in anthologies such as A Prisoner of Memory & 24 of the Year’s Finest Crime & Mystery Stories and Thuglit Presents: Blood, Guts, & Whiskey. Originally from Toronto, she now lives in New York City. Her debut novel, The Damage Done has been nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, and the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Crime Novel.