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Shortcut Man

A Novel
By p.g. sturges

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CHAPTER ONE
Tisdale Regrets


Tisdale was a professional nonpayer of rent and I’d been sent to see about him. He lived in a court up off Hollywood Boulevard on Hobart.

A professional nonpayer paid his deposit, his first and last, a few more months to establish his bona fides, then settled in for a spell of hard luck.

It had come down to this, he would declare, choking a sob, his mother’s medicine or the rent.

Just this once slid into twice and after a while his mother died again. By then the landlord knew he was in for a porking but too late. The nonpayer would claim hardship and file for bankruptcy. In like a tick, it could take two years and lots of money to get him out. Sometimes ten grand in legal fees alone. That’s when a heads-up landlord would call me.

I’m Dick Henry. The Shortcut Man.

Tisdale’s place was in the back, in the middle. The lawn on either side of the cracked concrete walk was weedy and unkempt. A few scraggly bushes surrounded one of those towering Hollywood palms whose image had lured millions to false paradise.

Meanwhile, someone nearby was torturing a guitar Van Halen style, and when I got closer it was coming from Tisdale’s.

I stepped up on the little porch. I knocked through the screen and waited. The guitar quieted, someone rumbled across the floor, and the door opened.

I didn’t like him right off. Approaching three hundred doughy pounds and six feet tall, red rat eyes peered through long stringy hair. The face was fat and dirty, and gave evidence of recent rib eating. I smelled cheap marijuana.

“Yeah?” said Rib Face.

I waved. “I’m Dick Henry.” I tried to be pleasant.

“Yeah?”

“You Mr. Pissdale?”

“It’s Tis-dale. With a T. And if you’re here about my guitar, you can split right now. ’Cause I don’t turn it down for nobody. I know my rights.”

These guys always knew their rights. I felt a tingle in my fist.

“Actually, I don’t give a shit about your guitar.” I was still trying to be pleasant. “I’m here about the rent.”

The concept of rent took an appreciable amount of time to make its way through the circuits. Finally it arrived.

“The rent? The rent? You should know better than to harass me here, fuckhead. I know my rights, Landers knows my rights, and you know my rights.”

Tisdale ran his fingers back through his hair. “You don’t come to Landers’s freezy drafty leaky piece-of-shit house when I’ve declared bankruptcy.” His teeth were a yellowish green. “Now should I call my lawyer?”

It was an option.

But by this time the tingle in my fist had turned into a buzz and suddenly it was drawn, as if by a celestial karma vacuum, right through the fly-specked screen and directly into Tisdale’s nose. There was a satisfying crunch and down went Tisdale.

I pulled the door open and went in. The sight of his own blood had weakened his resolve and reorganized his priorities. I grabbed him by the collar, helped him to his feet.

“Your rights have come to an end, friend, and your obligations have begun.” I checked my watch. “You got twenty-five minutes to get everything you own out of this house.”

Tisdale held up a cautionary hand, eyes watering. “My nose, man. You broke my fucking nose.”

I checked my watch again. “Now you’ve got twenty-four minutes to get out.”

Tisdale attended his nose with a grayish T-shirt that had been lying around. Now it was red. Soon it would be brown. “Hey,” he resumed, “you just can’t throw someone out on their ass. There’re laws.”

In principle I agreed. In principle. “Yeah, there are laws, but they don’t apply to you anymore.” According to my preliminary investigation, his mother had died five times. Three times of cancer, twice of tuberculosis, once of intestinal blockage. Wait a second. That made six. And his father. A cerebral hemorrhage. And kidney failure.

There was a knock at the door. I checked my watch. It should have been Rojas.

It was.

Rojas exuded menace like a whore exudes cheap perfume. Of medium height, stocky, tattooed, unsmiling, with eyes concealed by Wayfarers under a black leather porkpie hat, Rojas was a badass Eastsider. We shook hands and a hint of a grin played in and around his soul patch.

I introduced the parties. “Enrique Rojas, meet Michael Tisdale, a.k.a. Mike Jones, Mike Smith, Mike Bush, and Mike Lane.”

Tisdale searched Rojas’s face for mercy.

“Buenas tardes, motherfucker,” said Rojas.

Tisdale looked back at me. I hooked a thumb at friend Rojas. “Mr. Rojas is here to see that you don’t backslide on your promise to vacate the premises. Otherwise I’ve asked him to beat the piss out of you.”

“My promise to vacate?”

I checked my watch again. “You got twenty minutes.”

“Hold on, man. I can’t get everything out in twenty minutes. Look at this place!”

I shrugged. “Save what’s most important. The rest is going in the Dumpster.”

“I’m going to call the police.”

“Go right ahead. I bet you have lots of friends down there.”

Tisdale’s only recourse was the practical. “I can’t move out of here in twenty minutes, dude. It can’t be done.”

I looked at Rojas. “Mr. Tisdale says it can’t be done.”

Rojas nodded, looked around. Then he walked over, grabbed the TV, lugged it, connecting wires and all, out the door and dumped it over the railing. In the house, various items crashed off shelves and slouched toward Bethlehem.

“What’s next?” Rojas brushed his hands upon his return.

“Start with the guitar.”

Tisdale interceded with a shriek. “Please. Please.

Now you get the gist of how I saved Mr. Landers $7,500. And earned $2,500 for myself. I’m Dick Henry. The Shortcut Man.

© 2011 P. G. Sturges

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