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How to Get a Career Off the Ground by James Dolan

O'Dowd, Mike O'Dowd, the recently unemployed would be homeowner and thirty year old father, O'Dowd, squared his tie and stepped up to the desk in the smoky lobby. Catching an eye, he announced confidently that he was here for an interview with Earl. Two or three pairs of eyes set in weathered and fallen faces looked up from clerical tasks for a moment or two to look him over. One said Just a minute. He picked up an old black phone and hit a couple numbers. Yer guy is here! He bellowed into the phone. His name was Mack it said on the handmade nametag on his chest. Earl'll be with you'n a minit.

Earl emerged, a suave gray haired fellow who resembled Peter O'Toole in later years, with a gray goatee and silver rimmed glasses. He carried a just lit Benson and Hedges between the fingers of his left hand as though it were precious, and he took puffs from it as though it were the means by which he stayed alive. Earl put out his hand. Mike? How are you? Thanks for coming today. Why don't you follow me down the hall here to my office-can I get you anything? Coffee? OK - Mack! Would you get Mr. O'Dowd a cup of coffee-you want anything in it? Black? OK, Black Mack, just bring it on back to the office.

They entered an office furnished in castoffs. Earl gestured to a pair of orange, chrome framed, coffee stained chairs that looked sourced from an out of the way airport somewhere. He lit another Benson. He crossed his skinny legs clad in cheap but elegant looking pinstripe slacks. O'Dowd didn't think it would be too unusual for Earl to turn up wearing an ascot. Tell me about yourself, Earl said, sounding like he'd been waiting for days to hear the story.

From a tree outside, a flock of starlings suddenly took off, cut left, jinked right and then disappeared. O'Dowd began. Well, I went to the University, a Catholic college, and I studied existentialism and European philosophy there. I worked at the State Hospital for a cupla years after that and then went up to Pittsburgh for a Master's degree in Psych. Came back here and been knocking around in different treatment centers and outpatient clinics ever since. I had some, uh, major philosophical differences with the Dallas Family Therapy Center and they let me go. I am trying to buy a house, I have a year old son, and I've been married about 8 years.

Earl had been studying the lit end of his cigarette during this recitation, and O'Dowd was worried that he'd not been paying attention. He took a sip of his coffee. It was burned. A huge silence settled. O'Dowd was uncertain as to whether he should dredge up more facts or just let the silence continue.


Suddenly, and still studying the burning cig he rolled back and forth between the fingers on his left hand, Earl said When can you start? O'Dowd, completely unprepared for the shock of immediate acceptance, stumbled. Start what? Whaddya want me to do? Do what?

I got a bunch a men gonna be showing up here in the next few weeks gonna need a good strong counselor such as yerself. They all have alcoholism or drug addiction histories. We need someone with credentials. We need you. When can you start?

How much is the pay? Twenty thousand, said Earl. Goddam O'Dowd thought. God fucking damn. I have hit the jackpot. A seven thousand dollar raise! Holy shit! I can't wait to call that asshole realtor and tell him to bring that deal back to life! He could hardly wait to show his wife the grizzly bear he'd just killed.

Umm, uh, when can I start? O'Dowd muttered, hesitating, not wanting to look too eager. Earl was staring at him through his thick steel rimmed specs. Would tomorrow be too soon? asked Earl, in a tone also used by funeral directors and car salesman. No, no, that will be fine, said O'Dowd, somehow elated and bewildered at the same time.

Great! Said Earl, standing, extending a hand with a 32nd degree Mason's ring on it. Befuddled, as he had expected nothing so instantaneous as this, O'Dowd rose to his feet, took Earl's hand and shook it. Earl raised a finger on his right hand, then looked at the floor, touching the finger now to his lips. One more thing, he said. How d'ya feel about convicts?


O'Dowd did not respond right away. He thought it might be one of those trick interview questions, and he thought Earl was rolling him a bomb maybe, one that if mishandled, might swing his good fortune the other way again as quickly as it had swung toward him. Convicts? Convicts are fine. No problem. Thinking about his old man, a convict all his life, still a convict up in El Reno. Did Earl know some how? Was he being tested in some weird way? Nope, no problem with convicts, he announced proudly.

Good, 'cause I didn't think you were the type that would have a problem. Thing is, a few of our clients here at the halfway house are gonna be coming from TDC. This last in a semi-conspiratorial tone of voice, a shared secret just between the two of them.

TDC? What's that? O'Dowd asked. Texas Department of Corrections, Earl assured him. Some o'th'guys'll be coming from the joint. Problem?

O'Dowd, smiling, reassuring Earl that he was not one of those with a stick up his butt so big he'd mind a few convicts, said Hell no! I don't mind any convicts. Great! Said Earl. See you at nine?

Yeah, see you at nine. Smiling, shaking hands, elated. O'Dowd on cloud nine, thinking Oh yeah! A door closes, and a window always opens. O'Dowd, walking down the hall, past the sad eyed ex-alkies manning the desk, looks at his watch, sees he has time for a workout, heads to the track.


The wife was not very impressed with the big grizzly he'd shot. You don't seem very excited, O'Dowd shouting at the wife. I got a fucking job, and we can pull the house deal out of the ashes, and its 7 grand a year more than I was making the Dallas Fucking Family Counseling Center with the bitches in sensible wraparound denim skirts, goddammit and you don't seem very excitedwhat the fuck's a guy got to do to get some god damn appreciation, or maybe a little encouragement?

I think it's fine, the wife says. I am very happy for you. Why the hell's she happy for ME, fer cryin'out loud, O'Dowd to self. This thing is a happy thing for us both; we get to buy the house for god's sake. It's just that this thing with the convicts, it bothers me, and they hired you so fast, doesn't that make you a little suspicious? Like they were desperate or somethingI don't know, it just doesn't seem right, somehow.

O'Dowd boiling away, steam gathering, boiling. The wife's every word a lash, her tone of voice the salt. Elation burning away, leaving only ashes inside. I'm going out, he says, I'm going to get some beer. Ya want something? No, she says, I'm fine. Just be careful. Don't stay out too long.

Firing up the green Datsun, finding reverse, turning up the radio, Billy Idol, White Wedding, backing out, heart pounding, down the block. Only a block to the beer store. Buy a six pack of Miller Lite Tallboys. Open one, drive around slow, sipping. O'Dowd, boiling, beginning to simmer down. Fuck it man, I'm taking that god dam job, and that's all there is to it. Get that house deal back up and running, get on with my life. He wondered what the old man up in El Reno would think about him getting a job with cons. Not exactly what he went to college and grad school for, was it? But who knew? Who the fuck knew?


At nine o'clock in the morning, on August first, O'Dowd stepped back in the doors at Alcoholism Treatment and Rehabilitation Center, briefcase in his left hand, and asked for Earl. Said Tell him Mike O'Dowd is here. Mack looked as if he'd seen his own mother's ghost and leapt to his feet. He's expecting you, right? Mack bellowed, a lit Camel hanging from the corner of his down turned mouth, a Styrofoam cup of black swill in his hand. There were several others seated around, all middle aged or older, all beat up and wrinkled, several with false teeth or thinning hair died black and wearing Salvation Army dress clothes. They turned in their groaning castoff swivel chairs and gave him a long, expressionless look.

Earl appeared as if making an encore. He motioned for O'Dowd to follow him. They went in his office and O'Dowd filled out the employment papers. He gloated secretly to himself when he realized he'd be making over three hundred a week, take home. So, now what, Earl?

Well, your group is waiting for you in the cafeteria. O'Dowd felt like he'd been hit with a cattle prod. What group?

Oh, we got a bunch in last night. 'Bout 75. Lifting the edge of a folder to check a number. Nope. 77. Come in last night. Earl calmly regarding the various items on the desk, trying to decide which triviality to address first. Not looking up. Right hand up to the shirt pocket for the pack of Benson's. The left reaching for the ancient Aladdin's lamp table lighter.

I got a group? O'Dowd had some kind of idea about a training or orientation period. Something not quite sodrastic. In his gut, squirrels started running in circles, snakes slithered into muddy holes in the ground.


Yeah, they're down in the cafeteria waitin' on ya. Told 'em to just sit tight, the counselor would show up at nine or so. O'Dowd tightening up like a pneumatic torque wrench. 75? 77, Earl corrected him. 77? You want me to lead a group with 77 men in it? Where'd all these guys come from?

Earl looked up for a second from the meandering his eyes were doing on his desktop, looking for something not there. Earl looked directly into O'Dowd's, just for the briefest second, and then away, leaning back in the chair, lighting a cig, inhaling, letting smoke out for a long time. Remember? We talked about it yesterday, in your interview. TDC. The joint.

Ah, the joint. Where some of the clients would be coming from. O'Dowd had just called the realtor that morning, said Bring that deal back out, we're ready to rock and roll. He thought of nature footage he'd seen one time of a coyote caught in a paw trap. Convulsive. He felt convulsive. Earl sat smoking, staring out the window at the starlings in the hackberry, cleaning his nails. O'Dowd thought, Ah, well, the way out is in, right? He backed out of Earl's office, Earl still leaning back, looking out the window, smoking. Earl said, Lemme know how't goes..

Yeah, O'Dowd said, drifting down the corridor in the blue fluorescent light, past the old men on staff clustered around the front desk. He looked down at the brown linoleum floor, saw his feet, not his feet walking along below him. It was more like he rode on the shoulders of a midget who was walking. Nothing belonged to him, this was not his world. What world was it? Now the brown metal double doors, opening onto the stairwell. Down the stairwell, he could hear the bedlam from the cafeteria. The seventy seven men, waiting for their counselor.

O'Dowd opened the doors to the green floored, low ceilinged cafeteria with pipes running across and the food counter on one side, and each of the twenty four tables surrounded by three or four guys. They were all smoking, laughing, talking, poking each other in the arm, looking at porn magazines pilfered in from somewhere. Earl had told him to confiscate porn if you caught them coming in with it, but to leave it alone in their rooms.


Torn shirts, tattoos, bad hairdo's, ripped old jeans, cigarettes rolled up in t-shirt sleeves. They were passing a mag with a photo of a girl with huge breasts on the cover. O'Dowd felt a noose tightening on his neck. He stared down the tunnel, sounds rung around the room distorted by fear and adrenaline. He opened his mouth to speak, nothing came out. He tried again, still nothing. This is what it is like for the dead, he thought. They walk amongst us, but we don't listen.

Finally, the words came. OK! FELLAS!.FELLAS! My name is Mike O'Dowd. I am new here at ATRC, but I will be your counselor. We are going to have a group meeting here tonight. In a few days more counselors will be on staff and we won't have such large groups, but for right now, I'm it. Is there anything anybody wants to talk about? .'nything at all? (long silence, replacing the bedlam of minutes before) We're here to talk, find out about you guys. I am sure somebody has a question.

A voice from the back. Hey man, you the fuckin' counselor man. You just start your counselin', just come on wid it, and we'll tell ya when to stop. OK? Whoops and hollers from all the other men. The porno mag resumes its rounds, cigs are lit, and they go back to what they were doing. O'Dowd had disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

He stood there a minute, then backed out of the room. He thought about Earl sitting at his desk, smoking, cleaning his nails. Fuck you, Earl.

O'Dowd went to his own office for a while to collect his thoughts. He looked at the freshly applied MC Escher print on the wall, one in which a book is open in a still life setting, showing an illustration of horned lizards that are leaving the page to the right, crawling up and over a pile of books, maybe a plant or two, and then re-entering the book's open pages from the left. O'Dowd loved Escher. Outside, the August sun banged the world open, slapped it silly, and everyone staggered around
as though they'd been slugged. OK, O'Dowd whispered to himself. OK.

Over the hall, and down. Sign on the door said Chief Counselor. Christ Almighty. Knock, knock, step in. Earl looked up from his desk, fresh Benson smoking in his left hand, an open file in his right. He looked for all the world like a counselor doing counselor-ish things. How'd it go? Cheerful, positive, encouraging, like he just knew it would go great, and couldn't wait to hear how great it had gone.

How soon're the other counselors gonna come on board? Earl's eyebrows went up above the boundary of his spectacle rims. Ahh, we have a few on line. Why?

Just wandering. O'Dowd went back down the hall to his own office, leaving Earl's eyebrows frozen in place above his glasses.


He sat and stared at his phone a while, then picked it up and dialed a number. Say, Tim? Yeah, hey, Mike O'Dowd. Yeah, yeah. Long time hasn't it? Hey, man, question. Y'all hiring? No? Not at all, hunh? Alright. Well thanks Tim. Yeah, yeah, we'll get some lunch. Later.

Two new counselors started the next day. One was Carla. She had light olive skin, and lank brown hair that hung in no particular style around her face. She had a large hooked nose that dominated her features like one of the rock outcroppings in Monument Valley. Carla wore old worn out clothes from the seventies. She looked like someone who had no significant income for the last five years. She was a social worker. O'Dowd loathed social workers because they frightened him.

The other was Mia, young, with ringlet blonde hair and eyes the color of the Caribbean sea. She'd been out of school for less than a year, and was of course excited to be working in 'the field'. O'Dowd felt much closer to her. Naturally.

With the new counselors, the groups were cut down significantly. O'Dowd was scheduled to meet with his new group of only twenty some odd men at six on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. He stumbled down the stairs into the basement of the old building where the meetings were held.

Earlier in the day, he'd found an old electrical contraption down there. It was huge, beige, and had black Bakelite knobs and toggle switches all over it, and a couple big sweep gauges. It rolled on heavy four-inch casters. On top of it rested a glass jar with a hardened plug of rubber inside. He finally figured out that it was an ancient electroshock therapy gizmo from back when the building had been a psych hospital operated by Dallas County.

He entered the room where his men waited. Scuse me! Guys. GUYS! The usual. Fuck 'em. Goddammit. Just fuck 'em. Hey, everybody. Listen let's get going with the meeting. We're gonna talk about marriage and the family tonight!

Hey, counselor, ya fuck yer old lady lassnight? Bet she got some big ole titties.

OOOooohweee!I bet she does got some big old titties. Say man, she suck yer dick?

You KNOW she suck his dick man, whatchoo talkin' about? You know white bitches'll go down on a man quick. Can't get no sister to suck yer dick, gotta getta white bitch go down on yo' ass.

He could feel gears turning and valves opening and closing inside of himself, he felt words forming in his throat, but none came. None seemed appropriate. He felt like the farmer in the field, looking up as the mile wide tornado bore down. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.

Now Miss Kandi Luv was on his feet. She came to the front of the room, and laid her hands on O'Dowd's shoulders. He stepped back immediately, to let them fall off again, horrified. Kandi's legs were shaved and gleamed smooth and chocolate-y beneath the high cropped cut-off jeans he wore. He had on a red checked gingham shirt unbuttoned and tied at the waist, with a matching doo-rag on his head, and gold loops pierced his ears. He was about six three, one ninety-five.


Kandi's Kandi's real name was Roy. He had a sweet smile that showed the sun and moon gold caps on his front teeth. Roy spoke. He said, Honey, don't you let these mens bother you. They just a bunch o' babies. To the group she said, Ya'll jus get off the counselor's back and let him do his job, maybe he can help some o' you!

Hey, counselor! Roy'll suck yer dick, woncha Roy? She'll suck that motherfucker right off of ya, idnat right?

Kandi was looking directly into O'Dowd's eyes as this was spoken, arching one eyebrow for emphasis on the right words. She said, Maybe he ain't no homosexual, but he don't have to be one to do the nasty with Miss Kandi Luv. Kandi launched a little kiss into the air, aimed at O'Dowd.

The words echoed in the masonry walls of the little room in the basement of the rotten old building. He froze. He had no choice, because he had no idea of what else to do. All he could think about was Earl. What would Earl think? And he hated himself for the fact that it somehow mattered to him what Earl thought.

Finally, he sat down. Kandi tried to sit in his lap, but he shooshed him off. The convicts were ignoring him now. Someone had broken out the porno mag, and it was going around the room. He wanted a beer, a joint. He wanted to leave, never come back. But he couldn't. The contract on the house had gone through. He was going to have to stay. Fuck you, Earl.

Later, in Earl's office, Earl said, Well Mike, I'm hearing good things. Good things. Mike thought, Like what? You mean the wind blowing in the trees? When he went home at night, his bowels were in an uproar. He was prone to hyperventilation. He couldn't sleep. When he did, he dreamt of horrible, violent confrontations with convicts. In one dream, a huge bald headed guy with a tattoo of the Coyote butt fucking the Roadrunner drawn on his naked scalp swung a gigantic axe at him. Somehow he got it, and proceeded to hack the man to pieces, but the pieces all began to scurry around on the floor and grew mouths with sharp fangs that ripped at his flesh.

He tried to talk to his wife about it, but all she could say is that maybe he needed to think about a different profession. Oh great, he thought, that's the solution! Go back to school. He had a headache all the time. Running was his only escape. He could go out, and within a mile, all that was behind him. But never very far.


One day, he was in the cafeteria, standing in line at the food counter. Curtis, the big cook was serving him. Yeah, Curtis lemme have some o' that hot link, and the rice and beans. S'mice tea, too. He slid the tray on down, and fished for his money, but Curtis looked both ways and said Don' worry none about it, Mister Mike. Thanks, Curtis, he said. O'Dowd found a table in the raucous cafeteria, and began to eat alone. Suddenly, he smelled perfume and looked up. It was Mia. He immediately stood up, excited and asked her to sit.

How's it going? she asked, co-ed like, not really wanting the answer. Just making small talk. I'm miserable, he said. What the hell is going on here? I hate these guys. I am thinking about one thing and one thing only: get the house deal done, and then I get the hell out of here.

Mia was looking at her nails. Ignoring him. Her nails were French tipped, the white crescents blazing across the ends of her fingers. She wore an assortment of small, costume jewelry rings, one or two rings on each of three or four fingers of both hands. Her tan wrists were wrapped in fine gold chains, a small watch, tiny bracelets. Must take her an hour to go anywhere, he thought.

She said, Did you know that Carla is having an affair with Bill? Bill was Earl's boss, the guy that went to the Board of Pardons and Paroles and proposed the halfway house project to them and secured the contract. O'Dowd tried to think of Carla and Bill fucking. It did not come easily. Bill had been married a long time. He was pot bellied, disheveled, at least twenty years older than Carla. No shit, really? They're having an affair? How do you know? O'Dowd had a much easier time thinking of himself fucking Mia.

She told me. She said it started almost as soon as she started here. She says he is going to leave his wife as soon as he gets a few things worked out. O'Dowd, married man O'Dowd, thinking about the consequences of such actions. Not wanting to be unmarried, but wanting very much just then to be pulling Mia's pants down. She said, What're you thinking about? You seem a million miles away.


Ah, nothing! Nothing. Just ah, you know, how the fuck'm I gonna get outta here? You know. That kind of stuff. The loan on the house, it went through, we move in soon. So, I'm stuck in a mortgage now. Which is good. You know, it's good.

She glanced at her watch. Gotta go, I have a meeting with Earl. She stood, bent over, put both hands on the table, put her eyes into his. I'll see you later, she said. Yeah, later, Mia. Later.

O'Dowd wandered out to the parking lot just to move around, get out of the building. He was leaning against the railing that went up the wheelchair ramp when one of the men from his group emerged from a car. He was a short man with sloped shoulders and muscular white arms covered in jail house tattoos. He was holding a pack of Winstons in his left hand and a lit one in his right. He had wavy red hair and a scraggly red beard. Cheap mirrored sunglasses, a khaki work shirt. He came up and leaned against the railing with O'Dowd.

Hey man, he said. Got something to say to you, if you don't mind. Go ahead, said O'Dowd. He didn't give a shit. His name was LaMont. LaMont Wayne Davis.

LaMont said, Man, you gotta show your manhood to these guys. See, you get in the joint, its everman for hisself. First thing you do is find you the biggest sumbitch you can, and you fight his ass, and even if you take a whuppin, every con knows you got your manhood and they can't punk your ass. And you gotta show em the same thing. You don't do that and its only gonna get worse.

O'Dowd listened carefully. He said, So whaddya mean? How do I show em my manhood? He'd never, as long as he knew, been asked to show his 'manhood'.

For the second time in less than ten minutes, the person he was talking to stared deeply into O'Dowd's eyes for several seconds before speaking. Montywayne, as he liked to be called, finally broke the gaze and said, I dunno man, you gotta figger that one out on your own. But I'll tell you one damn thing: Don't you go feelin sorry for any o' these sumbitches! Like turning yer back on a cur dog-they'll fuck ya before you even feel the Vaseline goin on. Just show'm who's in charge.

Montywayne crushing out the smoke, and reaching for another. A flock of starlings in the limbs of the hackberry and live oak, shitting and squawking. Convicts' wives and kids in decrepit old Oldsmobile's and Buicks in the parking lot, discarding fast food trash. A toxic sunset. Somewhere out beyond it all, in the hills northwest of town, stood the bell tower in the middle of the plaza at the University. On another planet from this, where his 'manhood' suddenly seemed so goddamn important, for Chrissake, to pay the frigging mortgage.


Once, O'Dowd and his dad were out driving around, drinking beer. It was right after he got done with the Leavenworth stretch. Going real slow, just taking it easy in that big old Electra 225 of his. His dad was telling him the stories of the old days. Every now and then, when he'd had a few, Doc would let his guard down and tell the truth. He was talking about a time he took a contract to get some money back from a guy holed up at the Adolphus.

Doc shook the guy down in his room, but couldn't find any dough, so he took him down and locked him in the trunk of his car. Took him to a rock quarry in East Texas and dangled him over the edge of a gravel pit by the heels until he was 'singin' in nine languages.' That was how he said it. 'Singin' in nine languages.' O'Dowd broke up on that. It just broke him up.

Anyway, Doc's idea on mortgages was that if you ever got to where you couldn't pay, you just 'put it in the sky', got the insurance and went on with your life. O'Dowd barely remembered the fire at the house down in Florida in the early fifties. That was when Doc put their first house in the sky.

O'Dowd didn't think he was up to that stunt. So he got himself ready. That night, the very night he'd had his session with Montywayne, O'Dowd walked in the meeting room. The usual cutting up. Total disregard. O'Dowd didn't even know he'd started. He just suddenly started hearing this huge loud voice. YOU WILL FROM NOW ON PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT I HAVE TO SAY IN THIS ROOM. THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER DISTRACTIONS. IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH ME, THAT PROBLEM WILL BE SETTLED TONIGHT, IN THIS ROOM, OUTSIDE, IN MY OFFICE. WHATEVER, BUT IT WILL BE SETTLED. And the voice was his own.

O'Dowd, saying his prayers, preparing to die. Silence. Twenty four men hanging their heads, attentive, listening. O'Dowd called out the names of the worst offenders, told them to meet him after a while in the hall. Nothing, no resistance, no nothing. He met with the offenders. Each one said something like, Naw man, I'm glad you did it. Sumbitches were getting on my nerves. I couldn't hear a word you was sayin'.

He had trouble believing what was happening, but it was true. The harder and more direct and threatening you were, the more they seemed to like it. The better they acted. O'Dowd felt liberated. He felt like a kid with a new power tool, a chain saw or something, and he wanted to find more and more stuff to use it on. It was heady.

He went back up to the office and sat looking at his Escher print for awhile. He made some calls, called home. Did some paperwork. He felt like a million bucks. Like he wanted to get in a big old car and drive around slow, drinking beer, letting the night roll on. Earl had gone home. Just about everybody, gone home. The experiment that Montywayne had suggested was a monumental success. His life, unlivable just a few hours before, was his own again. He strolled down the brown linoleum hallway, through the day room, out the metal side door with the wheelchair ramp. Out into the Dallas summer night.


Crossing the parking lot toward the green Datsun. A scattering of cars, most he didn't recognize. It was curfew, so most of the men should be in the house by now. Over head, a crescent moon lingered like a thumbnail clipping in the dusty sky. Only the faintest pink and orange still clung to the western horizon. He passed two cars with a slight open space between them. He saw something white on the ground seeming to writhe around. He almost passed on, but stopped. He heard grunts, and heavy, strained breathing. Someone seemed to be crying. He looked harder at the darkness between the cars.

It was two people. One, Mia, was in her bra and panties, the remains of her dress hanging in rags from her neck. She was being held down on the ground by a man he couldn't quite recognize. No, wait. It was Montywayne. He knew for sure he recognized the curly hair black in the moonlight, the scruffy beard, the jailhouse tats on the arms. O'Dowd felt the blast of adrenaline hit after he was able to make sense of what he saw. It was a death struggle. Or seemed to be.

Mia saw him and her eyes flared. Montywayne's arm was across her throat. He was mumbling and cursing something about a fucking bitch. O'Dowd thought he might have been drunk or stoned somehow. Montywayne seemed to have no idea he was there. So O'Dowd knew what to do. He ran to the Datsun, pulled his keys and opened the trunk. He grabbed the tire iron and walked back over to where Mia and Montywayne were struggling.

He thought about what Montywayne had said: Don't go feelin sorry for these sumbitches, don't turn your back! They'll fuck ya..Yeah, Mr. Wiseguy, they'll fuck ya alright. O'Dowd, feeling the power of his victory in the group. O'Dowd, the avenging angel. O'Dowd swinging the iron at Montywayne's head, feeling the connection like it was a home run. You know how it is when you hit a home run? Like the ball is weightless? Like it just barely ticked off the bat? Like you could just barely feel it at all? That was how it felt, and it felt good. Montywayne sprawled like loose spaghetti on top of Mia. O'Dowd put a foot in his side, rolled him off.


Mia lay quiet for a moment, then silently burst into tears. Her face was sprayed with blood. She had scratches and bruises all over her throat, chest, and breasts. An earring had been ripped out. She tried to pull the rags of her dress down to cover herself. O'Dowd still processing. Everything that happened after he saw Mia and Montywayne on the ground was automatic. He heard a loud clanging sound, and started, then realized it was he, dropping the tire tool. Montywayne made not a sound.

He got a blanket from the car. Wrapped Mia up in it, brought her in the house. She was shivering in the heat, her jaws snapping together as though motorized. They called 911 and waited. From inside they saw the ambulance guys working on Montywayne. The back doors of the ambulance open, two men sliding the gurney in. They were not hurrying. Some cops came inside, asked questions. Mia said she went to the car, and found Monty squatting beside it with a can of something in a bag he was huffing. She said he threw the can down, and came after her, grabbed her clothes. And then she didn't remember much until Mr. O'Dowd helped her. After many, many more questions, and getting name, address, and phone number from O'Dowd, they said Thanks, we'll be in touch, and left.

O'Dowd, the avenging angel, was so happy, he hardly knew what to do. His career seemed to be getting off the ground. He found his niche. His sword flamed, and it flamed brightly. Suddenly, the future was lit well. When he left the building that night, he stopped at the package store across the street, and bought a six pack of Miller Lite Tallboys. He also threw a copy of Penthouse up on the counter. He drove home slow, with the magazine open to the foldout on the passenger seat, a Miller between his legs. He cruised down Industrial with the buzz already starting to hit. The signs said, Live Girls, Come On In. Out of Towners Welcome!! XXXtra Entertainment Tonite!

O'Dowd went slow, sipping the beer, listening to the Clash, taking it all in. He couldn't wait to see Earl in the morning. He was starting to feel better than he'd felt in a long, long time.


Copyright 2001 by James Dolan


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