Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - Pet Octopus by Matt Olmstead
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A petty criminal tells his tales of deals gone sour in this suspenseful and humorous story from screenwriter/showrunner Matt Olmstead.

Pet Octopus

The first time I ever willfully defecated in my pants was two years ago—it was sometime in the winter because I recall wearing long johns under my slacks—and I overheard Renny Pavelka tell Kyle (I never got his last name) that "enough is enough" and he wanted me dead. I was in the other room and had lied to them about my knowledge and/or involvement in missing gambling proceeds of Renny's. I knew I only had two chances: escape, which I had unsuccessfully attempted by trying to wrest my wrists free for the last few minutes, and stalling for time. The latter is one of the things I'm admittedly good at, some might even say I have a flair for it, but the tone in Renny's voice was grave and I knew I wouldn't be able to talk my way out of it with Kyle because, like Renny, I sensed he'd had his fill with me.

That's when I remembered a conversation I had with a British gentleman years prior. It was at a barbeque at my friend Craig's apartment. Turns out this Englishman used to work for the British secret police (M-5? M-6?). One anecdote involved training he received in potential hostage situations; specifically, what to do in order to buy time. The solution/suggestion was to defecate in your pants as that would hopefully repel the captor as they would neither want to be near nor be responsible for the clean up. Duct-taped to the chair in Renny's room, I wondered how closely, if at all, my predicament resembled a true hostage situation in that the one the British gentleman described may have been one where the captors were under strict orders from the Geneva Convention not to kill the captive, whereas my captors were under no such restrictions. But when Kyle walked in carrying a knife and tarp, I abandoned any debate regarding the efficacy of the plan and made the decision without hesitation. As I exhaled and relaxed and voided my bowels, I was struck by the strangeness of how one hears a story four years ago—completely forgets it—then remembers it at the exact needed moment. How does that happen? The brain truly is amazing.

Just as Kyle rolled out the tarp—he got hip to what I had done and was not happy about it. But the desired result was achieved, because for the next fifteen minutes Kyle and Renny squabbled as to what to do with me and who was going to do it. As their argument hit its apex, cops showed up on an outstanding warrant for Renny, so he had no choice but to cut my binds and I scurried out the back door. Later, enough of the missing money was returned to Renny and he took me off his grievance list. Afterwards, however, I did incur a variety of nicknames—"Poops," "Pooper," you get the idea; and even though I tried to convince people how what I did was an actual success story because it saved my life, the reply was along the lines of "whatever, Poops..." or the like. And so it was that ultimately I had to leave Tacoma because the name-calling diminished my credibility considerably. Though unrepentant, I swore I'd never do it again.

Yet here I was in Milwaukee tied to another chair, a gun held to my head by Zeke Penrod. Money was missing, of course. It always ended up missing. Bad habits aren't free. Normally I would be able to anticipate when the jig was about to be up and blow out to the next city. Another of my talents, I suppose. But I stayed a day too long because I was scheduled to appear before The Honorable Judge Connie Ek today at 3 p.m. My court-appointed attorney had assured me if I agreed to go into court-ordered substance abuse counseling, the variety of charges against me would be dropped. I was determined to make that court date and start fresh. I don't know why now of all times I decided to start fresh, but the feeling was sincere and I long ago stopped questioning why certain things happen at certain times.

So all I had to do was stall Zeke and somehow make it to court at 3 p.m. It was currently some time between 10 and 11 a.m. because I heard Oprah and her tickled audience in the next apartment. So with Zeke determined to recoup money I no longer had and he was therefore never going to see, I decided to implement what I had begun to refer to as "The British Solution."

As I started taking deep breaths in preparation for the foul act, Zeke's cell phone played "Another One Bites the Dust," and he answered it. "Yeah...Uh huh...Uh huh...Got it." He disconnected the call.

"You just got thrown a Hail Mary, fucknuts." He leaned down, and I felt his breath on my ear. "I want Derkos. Get me this Derkos character and I'll let you live."

Maybe I didn't have to soil myself and risk it not working and getting shot in the temple after all. Derkos was a bookie I referred acquaintances to. If this was all about serving up Derkos, I could do that and have plenty of time to make my court date. Lately, I had been entertaining the idea of doing voice-over work, for commercials or cartoons or both. My grandmother would always compliment me on my voice and in the years since her passing I've had a few random people compliment me on my voice when they'd heard it on their answering machines or the like. I had no idea how to break in—moving to Los Angeles would most likely be the first step, but that journey would only happen with this great new fresh start I was going to receive. The only problem was that I'd never actually met Derkos. For that matter I'd never even spoken to him—in person or on the phone. We communicated by me leaving voicemail messages at some number and him texting a confirmation back.

"I can get you Derkos."

Zeke brought me a wild berry juice box—that's all he had left in his refrigerator and he apologized, needlessly—as I sent Derkos a series of texts. I was referred to Derkos a year ago by a nice-enough guy at a friend's weekly poker game I sat in on once. Derkos was a good bookie, as far as they go, and he clearly liked his privacy and was cautious. But lately he'd been sending me texts asking if I knew of any other friends who wanted to place bets. That meant, obviously, he was in some sort of financial bind. So the way to get him to meet in person was to lie and say I had a new friend who wanted to bet $50,000 on a game but wanted to meet the bookie in person, at least for the first bet, because that was a superstition of his. The series of texts I sent characterized this new client as a "whale" and "compulsive" and other tantalizing bits that, I hoped, would prove to be too tempting to Derkos.

"This Derkos has been pissing the wrong people off. Moving in on the wrong people's action," claimed Zeke, pacing in front of me.

"What are you going to do to him?"

"Don't fucking worry about it."

Derkos still hadn't agreed to meet, instead asking for elaborate drop-off scenarios. I felt the circle tip of the barrel of the gun against the back of my neck and it gave me a quick chill—moreso because the metal was cold than because of the impending threat, though the impending threat was not lost on me.

"I think you're wasting my time."

I told Zeke I wasn't and quickly fired off a text to Derkos that stated no sweat i'll find someone else. Keep it non-pushy, was my reasoning. I could hear Zeke breathing heavily behind me and whispering to himself. That's when I got the most concerned for my life because it sounded like he way hyping himself up.

"Fuck you." I didn't know if he was saying it to me or the angel on his shoulder trying to talk him out of doing something bad.

He racked the gun and I started getting dizzy. In my mind I was jumping up and doing a reverse head-butt, but the fear paralyzed me from trying to attempt any physical retaliation.

My cell phone bleeped and Zeke quickly looked over my shoulder and we both read the text reply together. Derkos was ready to meet at 1 p.m.

That gave me plenty of time. The closer the court time approached and the more real it became—I envisioned my blazer and slacks and tie and shirt that I had lain out on my bed this morning—the more disgusted I became with the people I was dealing with. I suppose in a sense I was disgusted with the life I'd been living, but more disgusted with the people.

I rode with Zeke in his car. The plan was for me to meet Derkos outside this club that Zeke's boss owned, the Towne Lounge, then bring Derkos in where Zeke would be waiting. The club didn't open until 7 and it would be empty. I again, somewhat naively, asked Zeke what he had planned. He replied "I got a bullet for you, too, you lucky motherfucker. Do you want it or do you want to shut up?" I shook my head and looked out the window at the river and told him I didn't want it. This was officially Derkos' problem and in my mind I imagined dusting off my hands.

Zeke's phone rang and he spoke in a strangely cheery voice to someone he clearly answered to. "Yeah...he's right here...Completely." A chuckle, then: "Oh, he's playing ball alright. Carney Lansford wishes he played ball like this motherfucker over here." I didn't know who Carney Lansford was but I'm assuming he was a baseball player and that the reference was about me. "What?!" I looked at Zeke, who was looking at me, his face ecstatic. "GET the fuck out. Are you kidding me?!...When did you hear this? Oh that's fucking awesome. I'll call you after. Okay."

Zeke disconnected the call and bit both his lips as if trying to hold onto a secret or keep from laughing. Finally, he took a deep breath, regained a normal expression and turned to me.

"So you ready for this...POOPS?" He gave me a shove and broke into laughter. Clearly the story and nickname had made its way here. I decided right then and there I was going to leave Milwaukee until I realized I had already planned to. He kept up with the laughter and comments for the rest of the ride and in my mind I imagined strangling the life out of him and then throwing his body out of the car and then using the car to get to the court date, but he was bigger than me and the whole physical confrontation thing has never been my forte. When we pulled up to the Towne Lounge he said "this goes through with Derkos, you're in the clear, alright?" I nodded. That's all that was important to me right now.

The Towne Lounge was one of those no-sign-on-the-door deals. I went there once to give Zeke a payment but I didn't stay long because the music was super loud and the cocktail waitress kept walking past me like there was something very important she had to attend to. During the day no one was around and I was the only one on the sidewalk. I had smoked six cigarettes when I heard a car and saw a brown mini-van approach. If this was Derkos, my admiration for him increased because of the low-profile nature of his automobile. The mini-van pulled to a stop and a chubby but cute woman in her 30s got out. She wore jeans and sneakers and a red Disneyland sweatshirt.

"Are you Todd?"

I nodded.

"I'm Derkos."

My mouth got dry. I looked down at her hands, which were clasped together tightly. She had a bunch of tassels and charms on her key chain.

"Are you...I mean, is this your husband's thing?"

"No. I'm Derkos. Is that a problem?"

The question had no weight or threat behind it. She was nervous and just wanted to get the money and scram. I looked back down at her clenched hands when the door to the Towne Lounge opened and Zeke ducked his head out.

"Who're you?"

"Do you have the money?" she asked.

"You're Derkos?"

"That's right."

He looked at me for verification.

"She's Derkos," I confirmed.

"Seriously?"

"Is that a problem?" she asked now for the second time.

Zeke winced. I'm pretty sure it was reluctance. But it was brief and then he smiled and waved her in. "Well I got the money. C'mon. Let's have a drink. I like to know who I'm giving 50K to."

Something about all this rubbed her the wrong way, because she looked at me as if to read me for a sign. I can't imagine I was able to mask it, and therefore I believe she indeed should have read it, but she must've really needed that money because she walked ahead of me into the club. I glanced at the time on my cell phone. 1:30.

Zeke was standing near a booth. He had brought along a paper bag filled with some old motocross magazines of his to act as the cash and that was on the table. Derkos walked with tiny, hesitant steps, like her ankles were cuffed. As soon as she got to the booth, Zeke's smile disappeared and he pointed at me.

"Watch the door." I back-pedaled to get a better angle on the door as she turned and looked at me. She knew this wasn't good and her haunted expression was hard for me to look at so I just stared at the door. Even when I could see in my peripheral vision that she had turned back to Zeke, I just stared at the door.

"Do you know who Rick Savrinn is?"

I heard her sigh a bit, like she was now getting the reason for her being here and it was not a good reason. "I can explain, sir." That struck me as especially pathetic, her calling him "sir."

I could see Zeke raise a gun and Derkos gasped.

"Do you have the money or not?"

"I can ex—"

"—DO YOU HAVE THE MONEY OR NOT?"

I heard a few sniffles, then a resigned "no."

"Hey Poops."

I turned to see Zeke. The reluctance was back on his face. "Get me a shot of tequila."

I quickly walked over to the bar, found a bottle and poured a shot.

"And check the fridge. Get me a lime slice if it's there."

There was a lime and I cut a slice. I finally looked up at Derkos and she was crying, but not protesting.

"HURRY THE FUCK UP." Zeke was losing his courage.

I walked as quickly as I could without spilling the tequila—which I poured to the rim. I moved to set the shot on the table, but Zeke grabbed it out of my hand, spilling half of it. He downed the shot and bit the lime, then I saw the muscles on his arm tense as he leveled the gun at her.

I took one step forward and raised my right hand like I was being sworn in. "Zeke, let's not do this. Let's just all walk out of here in three different directions."

"FUCK YOU—POOPS." He spun the gun on me. "Do you want the next one?"

I shook my head.

I don't know if it was the shot or him yelling at me, but Zeke now had successfully beaten down the reluctance and he got a clear-eyed look of resolve on his face. Derkos saw it too and she brought her hands up to cover her face as she continued to cry.

"Sorry, honey, " were Zeke's final words.

I sunk the lime-cutting knife into Zeke's neck almost all the way up to the handle. His eyes bugged out and he emitted a guttural sucking-in noise that didn't sound like anything I'd ever heard so I have nothing to compare it with.

He turned to me slightly and I noticed his body relax. So much so that I was able to reach out and pluck the gun out of his hand like an over-ripe fruit off a limb. Derkos, as dumbstruck as I, was now staring at Zeke.

Zeke brought his hand up to the knife, which had now released blood from his neck, then his expression changed into anger. He slowly took a step toward me with his hands extended, Frankenstein's monster-style, so I shot him with his gun. I couldn't really see the bullet hole, but I shot him for sure because he lurched back and slumped half into the booth and half on the floor in an awkward position.

I couldn't take my eyes off his, and I wondered if this was some instinctual behavior, whereupon an animal kills another, they are somehow obligated to stand there until the expiring finally expire. I don't know. I'd never pulled a trigger before.

I felt Derkos's hand on my shoulder. It was a gentle touch. It was actually more her fingertips than her hand. Then I heard the sound of the soles of her sneakers slapping the cement floor and the door opening up and her mini-van's ignition turning and its tires kicking out whatever little rocks must have been on the road.

The light went out of Zeke. Literally, that's what happened and I knew he was dead. I don't know how long I stood there, but at a certain point I began to consider disposing the body and covering any evidence, but I didn't even know where to begin so I just quietly left.

I flung the gun down a storm drain two blocks away and kept walking—in a daze, as I hope you'd imagine. I don't know how long I walked, but at a certain point I came upon a burger restaurant and walked in because my feet led me there. I sat at the counter and asked the waitress the time.

"3:30."

I will admit that I felt more loss at the fresh start I had missed out on than having stabbed and shot and killed Zeke. I ordered a piece of banana cream pie and a hot chocolate because something deep inside was telling me to hurry up and have something sweet and good, perhaps to counter-balance what I had just done at the Towne Lounge. I thought back to the look on Zeke's face as he approached me with the knife in his neck. Maybe, with his hands outstretched like that, he was looking for a hug. I gave it some more thought and decided that that wasn't the case, but I didn't feel any better.

As I mechanically moved the first bite of the pie into my mouth I heard the front door open and the staticky squawk of a police radio.

My legs went numb. My heart immediately started beating all the way up to the back of my tongue. In the distorted reflection of the metal pie case I could see the policeman walk up and stand right next to me.

"You having a good day, officer?" the waitress asked him.

"So far." The policeman responded.

It seemed strangely quiet except for the sound of a woodpecker at work on a light post nearby, until I realized it was my shaking hand rapidly tapping the fork against the plate. I don't know how long it had been doing that. I raised the fork so it would stop and just looked straight ahead at a snowmobile-themed calendar on the wall. The mouthful of banana cream pie that I'd been unable to swallow had now turned to mush under my tongue.

The waitress brought the policeman two to-go coffees. He thanked her by name, then I heard the creak of his leather gun belt as he turned and stared down at me.

"How's that pie?"

I needed to do something. To remain motionless and unresponsive would confirm his suspicion that I was suspicious and worth questioning and/or hassling. For some reason I pictured Derkos and her red Disneyland sweatshirt. I guess by doing so it got me out of my own head enough to where I was able to swallow the banana liquid in my mouth.

"Delicious."

I even turned and looked up at the policeman and smiled. Even though my face was probably flushed and I had a sweat moustache.

He smirked and eyeballed me up and down. But a car horn honked outside and he looked back to see his partner waving him from inside the double-parked patrol car.

The policeman then turned to the waitress and held both cups up in thanks, then walked out. It took a few moments, maybe a minute, for the adrenaline to return back to wherever it comes from in your body.

I set the fork down and leaned on the counter and dropped my head and closed my eyes. Then the words came into my head and repeated themselves, over and over. First they were a reassurance. Then a celebration. Finally, as I clenched my teeth, a prayer:

I survive. I survive...

About the Author

Matt Olmstead is a northern California writer living in southern California. He has a wife and five kids.