Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Short Fiction: Turn Key Operation

Jim has said on more than one occasion how proud he is of this piece of work, and we're inclined to agree. This short fiction was inspired by a television show he had watched last summer about the booming (no pun intended) tourist industry in Israel, and he took it and ran. It originally ran on his myspace.com blog back in June of 2007. And we're running it here because it's Jim's day off and he doesn't feel like being cooped up in the office in front of his computer. -ed.

At 11:00 pm it would’ve looked like any bar in New York City, with its bright orange neon lighted sign, the patrons out front smoking, chatting idly on a Friday night. Only this wasn’t New York City, this was Tel Aviv, and these weren’t trendy New Yorkers, but Israelis, Greek tourists, employees from the near by British Consulate, what have you.

I bought the bar five years ago from an army buddy who was getting out of Israel. He lost his son in a bus bombing that summer, and since then didn’t have the heart to keep up the nightlife lifestyle. He sold it to me, totally turn key, for a song. I was happy to have something to invest my time in since leaving the IDF.

It needed a lot of work; the floors were scuffed and horrible to look at, there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There was a small stage towards the back, but the amplifiers were blown out and there was only one tv in the whole place, directly over the bar. I won’t even start on the condition of the bathrooms.

So I spent three weeks, every day, for about fourteen hours a day remodeling the place to my specifications. It took my entire life savings, over forty thousand dollars to get the place the way I wanted it. I put in plasma screen tvs, bought new speakers, new fixtures, hired some new staff, restocked the liquor, bought some new signs and renamed the place from Koffa’s to The Ocean.

And it was a good name because we were in essence right on the ocean. There was a tiny strip of other clubs and bars along the water, and mine now faced out so that during the middle of the day the place was nice and airy, and at night there was a gentle breeze that would blow in through the front double doors. It was literally paradise.

That was until tonight.

It’s 02:00 am now, and the paramedics, army personnel, police, everyone has finally left. The front of the building is black, the cars across the street are black, the ground is wet. At first it was an oily slick of hot blood and body parts, now it’s with water from fire hoses. The lieutenant responding to the scene explained to me that it would take a while to get a guy with a flatbed wrecker out here to get the cars, so it’d be likely morning before the charred automotive remains would be off the street. He suggested that I get home and get some rest if I wasn’t going to get checked out at a hospital. And then he told me that I should probably put my gun away.

I hadn’t even noticed it, until he mentioned it. I had been clutching a Berretta that I kept behind the bar in my right hand the whole time, the whole hour. My hand was numb, my arm throbbed, my face coated in a filth that consisted of blood, dirt and tears. I tucked the gun into my waist band and walked back inside.

There had been over two hundred people inside the bar when the bomb had gone off. I had been behind the bar, pouring a Bombay Sapphire Gin into a martini glass and flirting with a young American girl, much to my girlfriend Sara’s distaste. I remember pouring the drink, turning to see Sara standing at the other end of the bar, holding her waitress tray, a few empty glasses, apron tied tight around her slender hips. She was shooting lightening into my eyes and I shrugged sheepishly, grinning at her.

She was beautiful, long black hair, 5’6, slender body. During the reconstruction of the bar she had come in in the middle of the day to ask about tabling on weekend nights, she was 19 at the time, I was 27, and I was in love with her.

We dated off and on, mostly on, seldom off. We were always hot for each other, and we would do the most absurd things to make each other jealous. I’d flirt with the young tourists, she’d allow herself to be pawed by the male patrons to get better tips. But even when we were off, I’d always walk her to her apartment at the end of the night. And if we were on, I’d follow her up.

So here I am, standing there, holding a bottle of gin looking at her. She simply shakes her head and walks on over. She leans across the bar and puts her face to mine and tells me that I’m a dirty old man. She’s 24 now, I’m 32, and she pushes her fingers into my receding hair line, and grabs a hold of my short black curls. I smack her lightly on her cheek and tell her that I always knew she loved dirty old men. She smiles sweetly, turns, and struts off back towards the front of the bar where there’s more tables that need tending to.

At about that time, things seem to happen in a lurch, like your DVD is on the fritz. I put the bottle of gin down on the back bar, and turn to look out the big picture windows at the crowd outside. It’s a typical Friday night, the place is an orgy of young faces, laughing, singing, drinking. There’s not a bad seed in the crowd, no one here looking for a fight or to prove themselves a man. It’s mostly tourists and youngsters from the nearby hotel resorts. I let myself smile.

I approach the register to swipe the young blonde’s credit card, when I notice my doorman, Ari stand up from his stool and walk towards someone on the sidewalk. It’s something in his walk, his approach that makes me stop in the middle of what would be an uninterrupted credit card transaction. I stand watching him, and see where his eyes are staring at. I hired Ari on a recommendation from a friend who’s still working in the Mosad, he told me Ari knew his shit, and was looking for some laid back weekend work. I had no problem hiring him. He’s bald, 6’3 and two hundred and sixty pounds, he fills out a black t shirt like a typical bouncer, only unlike a typical bouncer he carries a degree in five different disciplines of martial arts and is the fore most expert in Israeli Krav Magna.

Ari walks up to a small skinny sickly guy in a brown coat. His hair is wet and combed to the side of his head. From where I’m standing at the bar, which is about twenty-five yards from the scene outside, I can see the whites of his eyes. I can see his Adam’s Apple bob in his throat. And just as I’m getting the thought into my head that there’s something very wrong with this, the coat puffs out, like he’s got an air compressor under it. It balloons out from his body and tears. I smell cordite and burning, there’s a flash and what feels like my skull ripping open.

I come to on my back, covered in glass and booze. The bar is on fire, I can feel a rumbling slowly fading under my back, against my spine. I wasn’t out long, maybe half a second. I try to roll over to get on my feet but nothing in my body is responding to the commands from my brain. So I dumbly lay on my back, looking at the far ceiling from between my bent legs.

Sound comes back like you’re turning up the volume on the tv after putting it all the way down. It’s a slow build, first there’s the screams and moans. And then there’s the sound of feet moving. There’s furniture being tipped over, so on.

Finally my body goes into motion. I feel like I’m watching it more than participating. But I feel this need to do something, and then the shockwave rips through my body and brain: Sara. She was right by the door when the bomb went off, oh Jesus.

I turn over and feel every inch of my body reject the notion of moving, but I fight through it, pure adrenaline running through my veins. It’s not anger, but a sense of need. Like being under water and needing air, and fighting to break through to the surface. As I turn over, I’m looking at the Berretta, my nose almost touching the grip as it sits under the register as if it was oblivious to the bombing. I snatch it and push myself up on the bar.

There’s a fog, everything’s wet, people are lying on the ground withering, twisting. Some aren’t moving at all. Some don’t have all their parts. On a far table that’s still standing upright there’s a hand with a wedding ring on it.

The whole front of the building is blown inwards. Paper is all over the place, the floors black and shiny. Cars across the street black, glass everywhere. I clear the bar, clutching the gun and wade through the living Hell all around me. I try not to step on anyone but it’s hard to tell. Ceiling tiles hanging down, insulation on fire, little fires all over the place. I slip and fall down, my hand comes back up red.

Bodies are literally piled on top of each other and it’s hard to tell who’s who and who’s still alive and who isn’t. I call out her name, my voice is hoarse and strained. I can barely hear over the ringing and the people screaming. There’s soldiers outside with Galils and Uzis looking around in a cover pattern. An ambulance is already out front, stretchers already on the ground, people being haphazardly rolled on to their backs and lifted. Fuck a neck brace at this point.

I call her name again, and still nothing. For some reason I’m comfortable accepting that she’s dead. My rationale is that at least she didn’t suffer, hopefully. Hopefully she was close enough to the bomber to be obliterated and isn’t lying under a pile of bodies suffocating and bleeding. God it’s so hot.

Finally there’s a tug at my pant leg and I look down. I see her face, half of it. Her mouth is caked in black, and a rope of spit is between her two lips as she’s trying to talk, maybe say my name. I drop to my knees and grab her up, cradling her head in my arms.

I don’t remember crying, I don’t remember saying anything, just holding and squeezing. Sara’s body is half black, burnt. Her right side is blacked out completely. No hair on her head, just tufts on the left side. Her ear is missing, her eye is shut, mouth doesn’t even look like a mouth, just a twisted wound.

Her right leg is missing, a bloody stump slowly lifting and falling. I shake a little, and she clutches to my chest with a bloody paw. She shudders in my arms, like a gentle cough and her grip gets tighter. God, just hold on, please stay, please.

I lift my head and do as I was taught in the army. I call for a medic, I scream for a medic. I can’t find my voice, it’s buried under all the bodies and debris. I start to cry then, or maybe I’ve been crying all along. I just need someone to help me, help her. The anger then starts to build as she starts to fade.

Finally, a young medic in white runs over and grabs her from me. He pushes me aside and I try to get back to her, get closer to her. I want to tell her I’m not letting her go, I’m not leaving. I can’t find the strength, and I watch them drag her outside, her stump of a leg waving good bye as her head lulls backwards, her burnt face looking up at the young medic in white.

I would later find out that she died on the way to the hospital.

I received a check for two-point-eight million dollars in insurance coverage, and decided that it would be better to just move away. I could relate then to my friend who left Israel after losing his boy. Who wants to own a bar caked in blood?

1 comment:

Angry Ballerina said...

No, this sucks, do it over.