Short Stories

Dangerous Moonshine

"I've been drinking dangerous moonshine since 6am", were the first words out of Red's mouth, as he slid into Carl's truck. The unprompted admission was Carl's first indication of what kind of day it was going to be. They were both stage hands, though Red was mostly retired at 68. Like most people in a "feast or famine" industry, odd jobs filled in the gaps. They were on their way to install a lift chair in a stairwell in the home of JR Pickett, one time concert promoter, sometimes AV contractor, most of the time crook, and all of the time son of a bitch. Carl didn't much like it, and had told Red as much, but Red insisted, and a hundred bucks was a hundred bucks. Carl was about 50, stoutly built and quiet. He could be considered handsome, in a working class way, with thick forearms and curly salt and pepper hair, worn a little shaggy. Red was tall, thin, had a shock of coarse white hair in a ponytail, and a gold tooth made more prominent by the fact that it was the only one in his mouth. Red was a constant talker, and unrepentant flirt. He would walk right up to a girl young enough to be his granddaughter and pull a cheap souvenir coin he had picked up in Greece from his pocket, featuring a bust of Helen of Troy. He would ask the girl to turn in profile, show her the coin, and say "Did anyone ever tell you, you look just like Helen of Troy in profile? Absolutely stunning. Now I see why that face launched a thousand ships”, take her hand, bow and kiss it, then leave with a flourish. It never failed to make them blush and smile. Red told stories that made the younger hands think the old man was full of shit, until he shimmied up the truss, barefoot with a crescent wrench, faster than a spider monkey, and worked circles around them. 
Carl was in no mood for it today. This time last year he was in a position to turn this job down. Red was his usual, chipper self, making comments about every woman they passed. Carl had heard enough.
"Say Red, what would happen if I was to stop, let you get out of the truck and do your Helen of Troy routine on the next girl you see? Let's say she doesn't pepper spray your geriatric ass on the spot, let's say she says "oh my god you are the man I've been waiting for, take me now." What are you going to do then Romeo?"
Red looked hurt for a moment then launched into a retort.
"I still got something left in the tank, son. Besides, you know that little girl at the VA that hands out the medicine? She slips one of those blue pills in my ration every so often, so I'm sure I could rise to the occasion."
"Ok, that's enough Red. I am truly sorry I asked." 
They were quiet for a minute, Carl felt a little bad about bursting the old man's bubble, and then Red piped up.
"In all seriousness Carl, you're probably right. I just love to see them smile. I love the way they smell. I love to hear them talk. It's like the sun coming up over the mountains, it just makes my heart happy. I get lonesome sometimes, wish I had settled down. Hell even an old nag would be someone to laugh at my jokes. At least less of a wet blanket than my present company"
This was one thing that confounded people about Red, you never knew if he was dead serious, pulling your leg, or some combination of the two. Carl decided if they weren't going to be quiet (and Red wasn't), he would at least change the subject. 
"So that fat fuck JR needs a come-along to haul his bovine ass up the stairs these days?" Carl asked. Red snorted a laugh. JR Pickett was a guy everybody just loved to hate. He had money, but was always crying poor. He did everything as cheap as possible. He took an almost perverse joy in shorting guys, but his low bidding on jobs meant he had most of the work in town, so everybody bitched, and dealt with it. 
"I believe Diane insisted" Red replied. Diane was J.R.'s fourth wife. A likable, well put together lady, with an easy smile that made you know something was going on behind the silent exterior. It was clear she was a knockout in her day, and even at 60, didn't look half bad. It was often wondered aloud how she ever ended up with a repugnant character like JR. 
When they got to J.R.’s, they parked Carl's old Chevy truck in the back. Diane greeted them at the kitchen door with a smile.
"Hi boys, come on in. Just so you know, he's in awful humor today"
She looked directly at Carl as she spoke, locking eye contact. It made Carl uncomfortable and he looked away, looking up just in time to see her flash a little grin at Red. When she turned away  Carl gave Red a quizzical look and Red gave a little shrug.  They proceeded into the den where the staircase began. J.R. was in his recliner, watching a 24 hour news channel, hurling insults at the television.  As expected the lift chair was cheap, with badly translated instructions. Carl got to work. He already knew that outside of maybe holding something up while he drilled it, Red wasn't going to be much help. 
After about two hours, the rail was bolted to the wall. Diane brought out some chicken salad sandwiches and iced tea for the boys. When she sat a plate on the tv tray next to JR, he didn't acknowledge her. When she walked back into the kitchen JR set into complaining.
"Can you believe this woman? On my ass about the diet, exercise, this shit, that shit, Now with the drinking? She threw out every drop in the house. Goddamn bottle of Pappy Van Winkle I've been saving for six years. Why? I couldn't take her lip anymore and gave her a rap across the mouth. One, with an open hand. What the hell else was I supposed to do? She blames the liquor, and not her damn nagging, so it's out with one of the last pleasures I have in this world."
The talk made Carl uncomfortable. He was here to do a job, make $100 and leave. Red, on the other hand, seemed to delight in it. He plopped down on the sofa next to JR's recliner and put his feet on the man’s glass covered coffee table. 
"That's a damn shame JR, a damn shame. Why right in my lunch pail out there I have a Ball Mason Jar containing, what I believe to be, the best moonshine I have ever had the pleasure of imbibing"
Carl rolled his eyes at Red's theatrics. JR was a little agitated, and the more Red blathered on about women, their place, and what right they had to tell a man what to do, the more frantic JR seemed to get. He hadn't had a drink in two weeks, as he was basically homebound these days, and Diane wouldn't bring him more. Carl found Red's behavior odd, given the "I love women" speech Red had laid on him in the truck. This wouldn't be the first time Red had contradicted himself, but this kind of mean talk was unexpected. Red suggested that they send Diane on an errand and crack that jar he had in his lunch cooler. JR called Diane into the room, peeled a few twenties off the roll in his pocket, and told her he had a taste for butter pecan ice cream. He asked her in a syrupy sweet voice to run to the corner store and get some for them and their guests. 
Diane gave JR a peck on the cheek, said "Yes dear", took the money and left. As soon as her little BMW convertible had cleared the drive JR exclaimed, "What the hell are you waiting for you dried up old ball sack, where's that hooch?"
Red went to the truck and got his little cooler. It contained a jar of sweet iced tea and a jar of clear liquid. There was also a stack of red plastic cups. Red sat two of them on the table, half filled them with the iced tea and then poured the liquor on top. He returned the jars to the cooler. Carl, fuming now, continued working.
“Go easy JR, it's powerful stuff"
Before he could get the word's out JR had killed the cup, and shook it at him. "Don't bother with the tea he grumbled". Red filled JR's cup about a third full with nothing but  white lightning. JR knocked back the cup and it took his breath away. Wheezing and coughing he sat back in his chair, with a barely audible "goddamn". When they heard Diane at the kitchen door, Red quickly put the cups back in the cooler, and slid it under the coffee table with his foot.  Diane stuck her head in the door and asked if everyone wanted ice cream. Carl declined, Red said "certainly" and JR didn't answer. Diane served up two bowls, and took a seat on the opposite end of the couch from Red. Carl was putting the finishing touches on attaching the seat to the rail. Carl plugged the motor into an outlet, hit the controller, and watched the empty seat zip up the stairs. Everyone turned to look upon hearing the sound.
"It's about damn time" Red said. Carl couldn't even look at him right now, he was so pissed. Red made a big show of shaking the seat and pulling on the rail. He even pulled a crescent wrench from his pocket and checked a few of the bolts. 
"Honey, you look tired." Diane said looking at JR. It was true, he looked paler than normal, and had hardly touched his ice cream. "Maybe you want to ride your new chair upstairs for a nap?" JR nodded his head, and Diane got up to help him, with Red close behind. They got him into the chair, but couldn't quite fasten the safety belt around his considerable girth. This time Carl sat on the sofa. Diane asked JR if he was ready, but he hardly responded. She handed him the controller, but he couldn't grip it so she used the one on the side of the machine. The machine whirred and struggled to drag JR up the stairs. When it got to the top there was a click and then all 350lbs of JR came tumbling down the stairs. Carl jumped from the sofa in a panic, Diane and Red just stood at the landing of the stairs looking at JR still on the floor.
"Oh shit, Oh shit" Carl was starting to hyperventilate, "Oh shit, I killed J.R."
JR was bleeding out on the hardwood floor like he had been stabbed.
"No you didn't". Red replied, holding Diane's hand now. 
"When I told you I had been drinking dangerous moonshine, I wasn't kidding Carl. That shit is 160 proof at least. Put a horse out, or at least a broke down old bull. I pulled the release pin on the seat almost out, he hit the top then know."
"Doesn't hurt that I  held his blood pressure pills, and doubled his blood thinners for the last week. He should have never raised his hand to me. Wasn't the first time either, as he'd have you believe. I ran into Red picking up JR's medicine at the VA, and we talked for hours. I can't remember the last time somebody just listened to me. I lost track of time. When I got home that night JR hemmed me up in the kitchen and worked me over good. Oh the next morning he was all apologies, but I wasn't buying it again. I made him promise to stop drinking, but I knew it was a matter of time before he killed me." Diane added.
"Why are you telling me this?" Carl asked.
Diane tossed a banded stack of $100 bills on Carl's lap. 
"Just to be sure you understand. Just to be sure we are on the same page. Why don't you boys head on out. I need to call the ambulance."
Red was gathering up his cooler and pulling Carl to his feet.
"Red honey, call me later?"
Carl shook his head in disbelief.
"Anything left in that jar?"
Red kneeled next to the body, fishing the fat wallet from the back pocket. 
"Are you robbing the dead now?"
"Just making sure the cheap son of a bitch is really dead."

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