A GOOD PLAN

“Okay,” Paul said. “Morbid… Sure it is. I know that, dick-wad, but death is always morbid, man, for real. The thing is what happens after and that is that life goes on am I right? I mean, my Bro. flies back to Seattle, he don’t like me anyhow… Randy goes back to work bustin’ his ass down the paper mill and so do you. End of story. Oh, maybe you think of me tenderly from time to time.”

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A GOOD PLAN

“No,” Paul slurred, as he shifted around on his bar stool and looked directly at Jack, “I mean dead as in gone! As in outta here, friggin’ history, get it?”

“Yeah, dead as in dead, as in suicidal again as in I told you I don’t know how many times you can’t do that. You got resposisilillyties? No, resposabilities. To-hell-with-it, you know what I mean.”

Apparently Jack couldn’t talk any better than he could, Paul thought, but they had both been drinking since eight this morning and it was now nearing four PM what else could you expect? Paul asked himself. And not beer either. If they had stuck to just beer they would have been be fine. But Jack had got him going on the ginger brandy chasers. Beer… Shot of ginger brandy… Beer… Shot of ginger brandy. And that was the way the day had gone. “I knoooh,” Paul said, still slurring his words, “that I got them things, respectabilities, but I. Have. Had-it. Fuck it! I mean, less say I croaked right now. Jess sittin’ right here on this beer-stool-Beer-stool was a private joke. Neither of them could remember which had started calling it a beer-stool, but they both knew one of them had-drinkin’ and then I croaked. Say a freakin’ heart attack, prob’ly would be, or a stroke. Anyway! Dead, like, right now… You’re sitting right freakin’ there and I buy the farm. Then what?”

“Hey for real, man, like, mental health might be a thing to think about here.”

“Uh uh, you ain’t got it yet is all. I don’t mean dead as in dead I mean dead as in gone, get-it?”

“Same thing, man, same…”

“No it ain’t,” Paul said as he leaned forward from his stool nearly surprising Jack into falling off his own stool. “I mean the supposing thing is the same, but the premise ain’t. Hey, I said premise right I ain’t too far gone. In other words, just play along for a quick sec., okay?”

“Fine,” Jack said wearily. He tipped back his glass of beer, drained it, and looked at Paul.

Paul nodded.

“Two more, and a couple a more shots too,” Jack said, once he got the beertenders attention.

Beertender was another private joke, but one they had picked up rather than invented. “Okay,” Jack said once the beers and shots had come and he had downed his shot and chased it with some of the beer. “Gotta piss like a race horse, man. Then we’ll get back to this.”

“Again? Man you’re pissin’ like every ten minutes,” Paul said, quickly cutting his eyes to the darkened rear area of the bar.

“Yeah? Well so are you, man,” he got up and staggered back towards the men’s room. Laughing as he went.

Paul cut his eyes quickly toward the darkened rear area once more, as a shadow parted from the darkness and came forward quickly. Jack was back a few seconds later.

“Okay,” Jack said picking up the conversation once again. “You’re croak city right here. Right now so… I guess I call the cops, right? Friggin’ CSI time or somethin’?”

“Sure you do, or the beertender does, but I mean after. After they come and get me and drag my ass down to the city morgue or whatever it is they do, then what?”

“Well…” he thought for a moment, not sure where Paul was trying to lead him. “Okay, the funeral. Me, probly Randy from work, your brother’d fly down from Seattle probly. We all cry, an… An then we plant you. Over and done.”

“And?”

“And what? You’re frigging worm food there ain’t no and then what.”

“Sure there is. There always is.”

“Got me swingin’, man. I don’t know where the hell you’re goin’ with this and I’m seeing two of you sittin’ there and I ain’t really sure which one of you came up with this bull-shit, but it sucks. It’s morbid, man, kinda sick.”

“Yeah? well now I gotta piss, but you hold that thought, man. I’ll be back in a flash.”

Jack watched him go, and then turned away from the dark area at the rear of the bar. He ignored the slight rustling noise beside him. Concentrating instead on the back bar. Counting the bottles. He didn’t turn back around until Paul came back and seated himself on the barstool once again.

“Okay,” Paul said. “Morbid… Sure it is. I know that, dick-wad, but death is always morbid, man, for real. The thing is what happens after and that is that life goes on am I right? I mean, my Bro. flies back to Seattle, he don’t like me anyhow… Randy goes back to work bustin’ his ass down the paper mill and so do you. End of story. Oh, maybe you think of me tenderly from time to time.”

“Not friggin’ hardly… I got somethin’ you can tenderize, man,” Jack said laughing.

Paul laughed right along with him. “Okay,” he said at last, “that was cute, but for real life will go on; end of story. I don’t have that ever-lovin’ Mortgage comp’ny on my ass. Same for the bank that has my truck loan. Joan can’t grab me for no more fuckin’ alimony, it’s the end… The real end, it’s over and life goes on.”

Jack stared back speculatively. “Listen, for real now, you’re startin’ to scare me, man. There’s no reason to do somethin’ like that. Hire a friggin’ lawyer, man. Go to court and fight her. Hand the goddamn keys to the truck back and the keys to the house and file bankruptcy. The end, problems gone, fini.”

“Not true, man I thought about it. Even talked to a lawyer. As long as Joan doesn’t ever remarry I gotta pay her. If I don’t have the money they’ll throw me in the slammer until I come up with it. As for the house I could give a shit. The truck’s nearly paid for why should I hand over the keys just because we can’t get no hours down the mill? Uh uh; I spoke to the same lawyer bout that. They’d make me pay it. I’m single, no dependents. They’d grab my whole fuckin’ check and send it off to the court every week. I’d end up bustin’ my ass for nothin’.”

“Okay… Okay fine, but dead? Being dead ain’t the answer, Paul, for real.”

“I agree.”

“Well, what the hell! You been arguing that bein’ dead is the answer!”

“It is… But not really dead: As good as dead, but still alive.”

“Okay, splain this one to me.”

“Easy… I been thinkin’ for over a year about it; here’s my plan. I go huntin’, right?”

“Right.”

“That’s it. I never come back.”

“A year? A whole friggin’ year and that’s the best you came up with?”

“Uh uh. I got a plan… A real good plan too… I’m about average size, right?”

“Right.”

“Do you know how many guys are average size?”

“Like, a real number?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, since it’s average I guess a lot would be.”

“Zactly. Friggin-a. In fact you’re average, am I right?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, well since I’m average all I need is another guy that’s average, to make my plan work.”

“Uh uh, flawed to the max., man. What about, like, dental records. Or, like, blood type, or, like, I don’t know there’s a friggin’ million other things they can compare. Scars, uh, shit, I really don’t know, but I do know there are a lot of things.”

“All true,” Paul said, as he took a deep drink from his glass. “All true, but who gives a damn.”

“You would. See, if you do what you’re thinkin’, like switchin’ a body for your own, they’ll know, and… And why in hell am I even discussing this with you? Do you know how crazy this sounds?”

“Prolly does sound crazy, but I worked it all out. You know I got this partial plate, on account of that football thing back in school right?” Jack nodded. “Well last year when I went up to Canada huntin’ I had a new one made. I wear it a lot too, to get used to it. It’s a little bit different than the one Doc. Freiler made me, but I am used to it.”

“So a persons mouth is different. A lot different,” he signaled the beertender once more, and waited for the fresh shot and beer. “How you gonna find someone with the same teeth missing in the front like you? And even if you did they’d have to be average and then the partial plate would have to fit. A lotta if’s, if you ask me.”

“Well the thing is I didn’t ask you, but if I did you’d have to give it the same amount of thought as I did, and you’d see it ain’t rilly a big deal. A pair a pliers, pull out the teeth so it’ll fit…”

“Jesus, Paul that’s sick. You tellin’ me I don’t know you? You tellin’ me you’re the sort of man that could do somethin’ like that?”

Paul grinned. “No. Just bustin’ your balls, Jack. You fall so friggin’ easy that I can’t resist it.”

Jack broke into a huge bray of laughter. “Oh shit. Oh shit, you had me… I gotta admit it, you had me hook line and sinker, Paul. Oh that was good, Jesus that was good, really I mean it.”

Paul laughed right along with him. “So’d you tell your old lady you were goin’ huntin’ with me this weekend?” he asked once he got the laughter under control.

“Christ no! She’d have a shit-fit if she thought I was out enjoying myself. Uh uh. She thinks I’m doin’ my hitch with the guard this weekend. She don’t know my hitch ended last year. You know… It’s so Cindy and I can have some time alone occasionally.” Cindy was Jack’s girlfriend, Paul knew. They’d all gone to school together and knew each other well.

Paul nodded. “Well, I’m for the woods for an hour or two. Pick a good spot. I’d like to get one this year. Then we can rent a room for the weekend, stay the hell outa this bar and bag somethin’ decent tomorrow, hopefully.”

“With ya,” Jack said, as he tossed back the last of his beer. He followed Paul out of the bar.

Paul drove the twenty miles up into the forest preserve in silence. Jack had passed out beside him nearly as soon as they had left the bars parking lot. He parked and shut off the truck. Jack came awake.

“There?” he asked foggily.

“Uh huh,” Paul agreed, his voice blurry, and indistinct. He levered the door handle open, and nearly fell getting out of the truck. Jack tumbled out from the other side, and they stumbled off up a nearby trail into the late afternoon darkness of the forest.

“So,” Paul said, after they had walked a few hundred yards. “I never finished my idea.”

“But I thought you said you were kiddin’?”

“Did.”

“So?”

“Wasn’t,” Paul said simply.

“You’d really be able to do that?” Jack asked looking directly at Paul for the first time since they’d left the truck. He had his rifle with him. Not only was it with him, but it was in his hands, and he’d come to a dead stop in the middle of the trail.

“It ain’t so much that I want to,” Paul said softly. “I have to. The banks really are drivin’ me crazy, Jack and I’m sorry, but it has to be this way…” He raised the rifle slowly as he finished speaking.

“Hey,” Jack said in a near whisper. “It was funny before, but this ain’t, man. This ain’t even slightly funny.”

“I don’t suppose it is… Do you want to hear the rest of my story?”

“Uh uh. You’re sick man, you’re goin’ too far with this… Jesus Christ, we’re friends, Paul, we’ve…”

“Been friends since first grade,” Paul finished. “That’s why I chose you, Jack. I know you, in and out. We’re built the same, we look a lot alike…”

Jack stared back at him.

“so,” Paul said quietly. “What you have to do is burn the body. I lied, it can’t work as a huntin’ accident. But as a drinkin’ and drivin’ accident while you’re huntin’, especially with all these curves up here. It’ll do just fine. It’s gotta look real obvious too. Real obvious so they don’t check too close.”

“First grade, man, think about it…” Jack blubbered.

“I did and the trouble is how am I goin’ to get you to voluntarily hop in that truck and drive it off a cliff? So I said to myself shoot his ass, stuff him in the truck and then set the pedal and let it drive itself off the cliff. Won’t work though, or it could, but a bullet’s a chancy thing. Could hit a bone, leave a hole that ain’t natural, tip them off. Uh uh, I sez finally, won’t work. Won’t work at all,” his hand fell down to the side of his belt buckle, where his knife case was. He patted it affectionately. “Knife? That’s risky too though. Nick a bone, leave a mark that ain’t supposed to be there, who knows what could happen? And besides it’s too messy to deal with,” his hand fell away from the knife case. “so I decided the thing to do is put you out some other way so’s I can get you into that truck… You agree?”

“Jesus, Paul, first grade and all. First grade!” he pleaded.

“Yeah… I know… First grade… And there was someone else there in the first grade with us wasn’t there? There was and I knew I would need help and I knew it had to be somebody I could trust too.”

“Huh? Hey come on, man. Think it over, Paul… Please?”

“You know. I didn’t expect that you’d go jelly on me, Jack, I really didn’t… Cindy? Our Cindy? Wasn’t Cindy there in the first grade too?” he raised his eyes up and past Jack. Staring into the woods. “Come on out, honey. It’s okay.”

A tall dark-haired woman stepped slowly from the trees.

“You-You, knew?” Jack managed.

She said nothing.

“So… Gangs all here, and all that leaves is the how of it. So I said to Cindy-Did you know about Cindy and me? Obviously you didn’t-So I said, how? No gun… No knife, how? Oh she’s good, Jack,” he stopped and wiped the sweat that was running in his eyes away. He had gone easy on the beer, but even so he had drank quite a bit. And he was feeling it. Dizzy, sick even and now was not the time for that. He drew a deep breath before he spoke again. “So, Ciny… I mean, Cindy said, the thing to do is to slip a sedative into a drink… But how? I asked, Well easy, she sez. He slips off to the bathroom and you slip it in. No big deal. He comes back, he drinks it, you get the both of you the fuck out of Dodge, he passes out, plop him in the truck… The end, she said,” he took two steps backwards. The friggin’ ground was all the sudden moving, he thought with alarm.

Jack suddenly straightened and stood from the ground where he had been curled nearly into a ball. The mask of fear gone from his face. A wide smile setting comfortably there now. Paul took two more steps, lost his struggle to keep his balance, and sat down hard.

“Good plan,” Jack said softly.

Paul tried to raise the rifle, but it seemed to be glued to the ground. He pulled the trigger anyway. Nothing… A dry click. He was positive he had loaded it before they had gone into the bar.

“If you hadn’t of told Cindy,” Jack said as he stumbled forward, “it would have worked. I knew about you all right. I figured it out a long time ago, buddy-boy. Cindy always was a slut. Never could keep those legs shut… But we both know that don’t we. I went right to her, Paul. Laid it all out and man was she sorry. She begged me to forgive her and she told me what you had been planning. She ain’t as sick as you are, Paul. She couldn’t and wouldn’t go through with it,” he paused and stared down at Paul who was still trying to stand up. He was having no success at all. Jack giggled before he continued.

“I can do it, though. That’s why I drank so much today. It ain’t goin’ to be easy, but I’ll make it: I’m drunk enough to do it. Switched the beers while you were in the can… Ain’t that friggin’ funny? Ain’t it?” he asked. The truth was though, that Cindy had switched the beers, he hadn’t been able to do it… She’d been in the bar, hiding back at one of the dark corner tables towards the rear and Paul had never once looked in her direction. He’d gotten the rear area where the light wasn’t so good so she could do the thing while he was in the can, for just that reason. But he’d drank maybe a little too much beer trying to work his courage up, and far too many shots. He wasn’t feeling all that good, and there were three Paul’s looking up at him from the ground. He stumbled again himself.

“Cindy switched ’em,” Paul mumbled from the ground.

Now how the hell’d he know that? Jack wondered. He stumbled again, and finally found himself sitting back on the ground. One second up the next second down. He swiveled his eyes toward Cindy.

“Had enough,” Cindy said quietly. “Had enough of you promising to leave your old lady for me. Had enough of both of you treating me like shit… Like a slut. I switched them all right. To you, when you were in the bathroom and then back to Paul when he was in the bathroom.” she smiled thinly.

Paul groaned from the ground, and his eyes suddenly slipped shut.

Jack tried to hold his eyes open, but they just wouldn’t stay.

“Shoulda treated me better. Shoulda treated me like a lady. Shouldn’ta told all your buddies about what we did in bed. Shoulda…”

Jack lost the battle to keep his eyes open, and they finally slipped shut. Darkness… A bird calling from far away in the forest… Cindy’s voice droning on and on from far away… Fading away, farther and farther, and…


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