Self-Inflicted Wounds


Russell Hatler

Daniel Bancroft was mildly amused to see the Cuban girl attempting to put the moves on the middle-aged American hot shot. The American turista spoke no Spanish beyond a guttural “Muchas Gracias” and “una mas Cerveza, por favor” and the Cuban girl herself had only a rudimentary grasp of English. They both spoke fluent grope-and-fondle, however, and it was apparent that their protracted negotiations were about to bear fruit. The bartender waddled over to the dark corner of the bar where they sat, hunched closely together, and quickly became the focal point of their conversation. She smiled at the American and quoted from a menu of goods and services in a currency so foreign that it resembled nothing so much as Monopoly Money. The Cuban girl sealed the deal by thrusting her right hand underneath the American’s large, silver belt buckle and together they wandered off upstairs to the private rooms.

The bartender returned to her station midway down the bar and continued to swipe half-heartedly at the sudsy beer glasses with a gray, limp dishrag. According to the neon clock behind the bar it was half-past two in the afternoon. Now that the Cuban girl and the American had departed the bar was almost empty. A lone fly settled on the table and listlessly contemplated Daniel’s half-filled beer glass, beads of sweat trickling down the outside curve of the Pilsner glass. The heat was oppressive, even though it was mid-November, and the ceiling fans were revolving lazily overhead. The Caribbean humidity seeped into Daniel’s lungs and settled deep and for a moment he thought of Cleveland and the home he had left behind. Then he swept the fly away with a casual wave of his gnarled right hand, the arc of his hand barely missing the beer glass. Daniel grasped the glass clumsily and lifted it to his lips, draining the rest of the warm, flat beer.

The bartender looked over and motioned with her hand to her mouth, another? Daniel shook his head but made no move to leave the table. She shrugged and returned to her chores. He was no stranger to Spanish, but he took care not to advertise his fluency. He had discovered long ago a man learns much by listening quietly to conversations not necessarily intended for his ears. In his line of work or one should more appropriately say in his prior line of work, information was power. Though age and arthritis had crippled both his hands his decision-making facilities remained remarkably clear. And so it was that he could still make brilliant plans but was severely hampered in the execution therein.

Despite the heat Daniel wore a long-sleeved shirt, plain white broadcloth and unbuttoned at the neck. It was essentially the same uniform he had worn to work at his day-job for twenty-five respectable years, although he wore no necktie these days. For the other job it mattered little what he wore as long as it was unremarkable. What mattered for that job was his brute strength and careful attention to detail. Daniel had always been deceptively strong. And he had always been very good at details.

Another dark-complexioned girl came waltzing down the wooden stairway. Her hair was a tawny shade of brown, a sort of mousy tint and Daniel suddenly recalled by contrast the vivid, flame-hued profusion of Genevieve’s hair. God preserve the poor tortured soul who dared call his formidable wife Ginger! Her younger sister, who lived in Shaker Heights, called her Jen but to everyone else, including her husband, she was Genevieve. Ah, she was quick to anger and slow to forgive. But tucked away behind that world-class temper was a cunningly disguised streak of passion that would take your breath away.

Well, we all make mistakes and Daniel’s was the upshot of a marital spat that took place the weekend he was scheduled to leave for an annual convention in Omaha. He had been made General Agent by this time and had recently opened his own fledgling agency. He was due to fly out early the next morning, Sunday, and he had already made the necessary arrangements. Next week was also the week of Genevieve’s birthday and she made a big stink about Daniel being unable to attend the obligatory festivities. One thing led to another, and dishes were thrown. He stormed out of the house (uncharacteristically, as you might imagine, making matters ever so much worse) and slept overnight at a local hotel. Fortunately, his bag was already packed and in the car so he didn’t have to slink back to the scene of the crime to fetch his luggage.

Daniel fumed about the incident all the way to Omaha, including the forty-five-minute stopover in Chicago. By mid-morning he had resolved not to make his usual telephone-call-upon-arrival to assure Genevieve that all was well. In fact he had not phoned home at any time during the day Monday either, and ended up going out with the boys after sessions to Ross’s Steak House for dinner and several glasses of a pretty bad red wine, finally ending up in the sack (the details were fairly hazy but the cold reality of the amorous encounter was confirmed nine months later in a Registered letter delivered to his office) with one of the waitresses whose name he could barely recall the next day. Congratulations, it’s a boy! Being an honorable man he had agreed to participate financially in the child’s upbringing. Being a coward, he hadn’t mentioned the compromising situation to Genevieve.

My God, where does the time get to? For over fifteen years he had been obliged to fiddle with the family balance sheet big time to cover what he had come to think of as the “Nebraska Affair” and after a while it looked like he was going to have to come clean. Then, as luck would have it, he ran into Tony. Literally.

Daniel had fallen into the habit of stopping by a blue-collar bar on the way home from his office. The bar featured six quarter-pool tables placed side-by-side in a tight quadrangle. Daniel enjoyed the camaraderie of shooting a few games of eight-ball and drinking a couple of beers in the company of hard-working guys. Of course, he slipped off his tie and jacket before going in and rolled up his shirt sleeves to the elbow. He was also careful to observe the local interpersonal niceties. So, when Daniel accidently bumped into Tony, who was in the process of executing a particularly complex bank shot, eight-ball in the corner pocket, he apologized profusely and offered to buy Tony another beer. This was to replace the beer Tony had spilled when he was jostled. To further complicate matters the cue ball had dropped into the corner pocket instead of the eight-ball, giving Tony’s opponent the game even though the guy had insisted immediately that Tony replay the shot.

It never rains but it pours. In the bargain the cue ball had somehow gotten jammed up in the network of grooves and tunnels underneath the slate-and-felt tabletop and failed to drop out of its customary cubbyhole at the end of the table. Tony slapped his meaty hand on the side of the table in frustration and kicked furiously at the thick, wooden leg to no avail.

Daniel offered to help rescue the cue ball. Tony backed off and Daniel reached under the railing and picked up the end of the table and gave it a vigorous shake. The cue ball rattled down the groove and plunked out of the cubbyhole. Daniel set the table back down and wiped his hands on his pants.

Tony flung his arm over Daniel’s shoulder and playfully swatted Daniel on the chest.

“Thank you, my friend,” he hollered over the racket in the bar. “I am personally amazed at the ease with which you lifted that table.”

“No problem,” replied Daniel, a bit ill at ease to find himself in a bear hug from another guy.

He disentangled himself from Tony and went to get Tony the replacement beer. That was the end of the story as far as he was concerned. So, Daniel was pleasantly surprised when Tony showed up at his agency the following Wednesday afternoon and offered to supplement his diminishing take home pay.

“Say kid,” said Tony, even though Daniel was probably a few years older than Tony. “I got a business appointment in Kansas City on Saturday, and I could use some muscle to come along in case there might be problems.”
Tony proposed a generous sum for Daniel’s services, which would be paid in cash, and Daniel agreed immediately to the arrangement. He didn’t ask, and Tony didn’t mention, the nature of the business deal. Cash meant no paper trail, Kansas City meant adventure and the whole enchilada meant a weekend away from the little woman. Throw in first class transportation and the decision was a no-brainer.

Tony gave Daniel a business card with a fax number, a cell phone, and an address and in return Daniel gave Tony his own cell phone number. They agreed to meet at the airport at 8:00 Saturday morning in order to catch the 9:30 flight to KC.

They got to Kansas City around 3:30 in the afternoon Saturday. Daniel had promised Genevieve a gift from one of her favorite shops in Kansas City. They had gone down there on vacation four years back and had spent a remarkable week and a half argument-free and Genevieve had discovered an antique jewelry store that handled estate pieces. He figured to get a lot of mileage out of this trip.

The business appointment was set for 11:00 Saturday night. Daniel didn’t ask for details and Tony didn’t provide any. When they entered the room, they were patted down and the four guys they were meeting invited them to sit down at the table. It was a massive, wooden, round table, like something out of King Arthur, but these guys were no knights. Tony did most of the talking. Then the other guys switched to Spanish and chattered back and forth for a few minutes. Daniel listened impassively to the exchange, although he had taken two years of Spanish in high school and another four years at Ohio State. Then he asked in English if he could use the bathroom. Sure, one of the guys said and he nodded to a door in the back of the room.

Once inside the bathroom he quickly dialed Tony’s cell phone to let him know what the guys were planning. Which was to take both of them out once the business arrangements were finalized. And they didn’t mean take out as in dinner. When he emerged from the bathroom four sharp pops later, he found Tony standing over three dead guys and a mortally wounded fourth.

They ran like hell to the rental car and sped back to the airport where they napped on metal couches until the next flight out to Cleveland at 6:30 Sunday morning. He never figured out where Tony had acquired the heat or how he had disposed of it afterwards and Tony wasn’t talking.

In light of the fact that his grasp of Spanish had been a big plus for both of them Tony sweetened the remuneration considerably since there was a lot more than muscle to be grateful for. Daniel in turn promised Tony he would seriously consider future contracts of this nature but that he hoped to be able to provide critical information in a more timely fashion so as to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. He was secretly thrilled to be on Tony’s team. It beat the Bejesus out of peddling insurance.

The arrangement between Tony and Daniel continued on and off for four more years and life was sweet until Daniel was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The good news was that the cancer was not aggressive. Daniel still had a few good years ahead and the cancer, although invasive, was not expected to be especially painful. Something else concerned him. Daniel was by no means a wealthy man, but he really wanted to be able to provide something of substance to his son. The problem was that Genevieve was blissfully unaware of the boy’s existence. Daniel grappled with his limited options and finally decided that a full confession was the only solution. He reasoned that the affair had taken place some twenty years ago and there must be some rational statute of limitations for adultery.

Boy, was he mistaken. Genevieve not only took issue with the act of adultery, the geographic location of the act, the circumstances surrounding the act and the consequences of the act, she started tossing the crockery before he had begun to plead his case for the moral correctitude of providing an inheritance for his bastard son. His concern was less for the preservation of the good dinnerware than for the mental stability of his bride but when he tried to curtail the onslaught of recriminations, she cranked it up to a full-blown rage. He wrapped his arms around her really tight, trying to calm her down. Then he heard something snap, and she went all limp. He wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but he was pretty sure it was permanent.

She was still breathing heavily even though her head hung sideways at a funny angle. The flush had gone out of her face and she looked more peaceful than she had in years. But somehow Daniel knew she wasn’t coming back. He dragged her out to the car and propped her up in the passenger’s seat, taking care to fasten her seat belt tight and low across her lap. Then he got into the driver’s seat and headed for a tree he knew of on a country road a few miles west of town. Shortly before he arrived at his destination, he switched off the passenger side airbag, unsnapped Genevieve’s seat belt buckle and mashed down on the accelerator. He must have been doing sixty-five when he hit the tree. The windshield finished off what he had inadvertently begun. His airbag prevented him from joining Genevieve on her voyage to wherever we go when we are no longer here.

Goddamn! The impact hurt a lot more than he had thought it would.

There was an investigation but, since Genevieve had only a modest life insurance policy and there was no sign of foul play, the issue was resolved with a citation for a seatbelt violation. Daniel was contacted by several reputable law firms over the ensuing three months offering assistance in instituting civil liability proceedings against the manufacturer of the auto, the airbag and even the seat belt buckle mechanism but he declined, sticking to the story he had originally given to the investigating officer which was that Genevieve had hated the confinement of a seatbelt and insisted that the airbag be disabled whenever she rode in the car because she had heard they do more harm than good.

He hung around Cleveland a couple more years. Then he sold the agency to a colleague, wrapped up his affairs and booked passage to the Caribbean. His last will and testament left the bulk of his estate to his son and a generous bequest to Ohio State. Now Daniel was content to drift through whatever life he had left, until the cancer took its eventual toll.
The new girl, the one with the mousy hair flounced over to his table and sat down.

“Would you care for some company, Senor?” she asked in halting English.

He shook his head, no, he had no interest in her company, and he dismissed the girl with a casual wave of his gnarled right hand.

She shrugged her shoulders, got up and wandered back to the bar. It was not that he wasn’t sexually attracted to her or that she wasn’t strikingly beautiful in her way. The honest truth was, Daniel simply wasn’t that kind of guy.