Two men waited in a bus shelter. It no longer had a roof, so there wasn’t much shelter to it. It looked like rain. The city stank behind it, stank like the Augean Stables right before Hercules cleaned them up.
“What time is it?” the first man asked.
The first man stared. “You didn’t even look at your watch. How did you know it’s twelve-fifteen?”
The second man shrugged. “You wanted to know the time, it’s twelve fifteen.”
“Yeah, but how do you know that? You didn’t look at your watch.”
“I just do. Don’t you trust me?”
“It’s not about trust. It’s about knowledge. Like, how do you know?”
“It doesn’t matter. Time is irrelevant. It’s all the same.”
“Well, it’s not irrelevant to me! It matters!”
“Then, it’s twelve-fifteen, if it matters to you.”
The first man stared straight ahead. The city didn’t actually smell like the Augean Stables. It smelled more like Hercules’ armpits after he sweated his ass off cleaning the stables up. “Let me see your watch then, OK? Then I can see for myself.”
“No,” the second man said. “Just take my word for it.”
“I have a job to do, and I don’t want to be late, see?”
“Your job will get done one way or another. If you don’t do it, someone else will. So relax.”
The first man pulled out his twelve-shooter and said, “I have a job to do. It’s a matter of life and death, see? Stop jerking me around.”
“Whose life and whose death?”
“Maybe yours,” the first man said. “There’s supposed to be a twelve-fifteen bus here that I need to catch so I can blow somebody’s head off, see? Now what time is it?”
“Well, the way you put it, it sounds more like somebody else’s head is in danger because that’s where you’re going. So I’ll just assume today is his turn and not mine. In which case it’s twelve-fifteen, take it or leave it.” He stared at the sky, “Oh, and it’s going to rain.”
The city actually stank more like Hercules’ ass, because that is the part of his body he sweated off cleaning up the Augean Stables. The city stank or stunk like Hercules’ ass. And the first man was angry because it started drizzling in the shelterless bus shelter and this annoying man with a watch he wouldn’t look at was screwing around with him even though he, he himself had a gun. So he did what tough guys do everywhere.
He pumped the second man full of holes, discharging the revolver in the man’s corpuscle or corpse or libido or abdomen or proboscis or whatever God gave his head a place to sit on till this annoying piece of shit lay crumpled up like Kellogg’s shredded wheat.
“That’ll teach you,” the first man snarled, acting the way tough guys always do, not crying over spilled milk or warm mayonnaise or anything of that sort.
Suddenly two cops pulled up in an un-marked car, drew their service revolvers and said, ‘Put that gun down, wise guy!”
And he did.
“What the hell is going on here, creep?” the first cop said.
“This guy just shot himself.”
“No, he didn’t. We watched the whole thing. You shot him.”
“Then why did you ask? If you knew the answer to the question, then you shouldn’t have asked.”
The cops stared at each other.
The creep thought to himself, ‘This dead guy at least was sure enough of the answer not to look at his watch. That takes character.’ Then he suddenly remembered he left the mayonnaise out when he went out to take the twelve-fifteen bus to blow the other guy’s head off. That meant the mayonnaise would get all sticky and yellow looking and he would have to throw it out. He hated that. “Rats,” he said. Then it really started raining.
“What have we got here?” the first cop asked the second cop.
“This creep shot the guy with the stopped watch. He pumped him full of lead.”
“Whoa,” the first cop said. “You’re getting way ahead of yourself. You don’t know his watch is stopped.”
“OK, I see a guy whose dead body is shredded like. . .who shreds wheat better, Kellogg’s or Nabisco?”
“Never mind. I see a guy whose body is mangled worse than Nabisco shredded wheat. I count seven bullet holes. And his watch is stopped.” The second cop folded his arms with an air of finality.
“You persist,” the first cop said.
“What time is it?” the tough guy said. “What does his watch say?”
“Shut up,” said the first cop. “His watch doesn’t talk, and neither should you.” He turned to the second cop. “And his gun is weird looking. What does that tell you?”
“Hmm,” the second cop said. He inspected the creep’s firearm. It looked like a six-shooter with two barrels. He was familiar with two-barrel carburetors, but this thing, whatever it was, did not smell like gasoline. It smelled like mayonnaise or Hercules’ armpits or Judge Matthews’ ass. “Maybe he already had one hole in him when this creep started shooting,” he mused.
“Probably not. Does this creep have another gun?”
“Hey, creep, got another gun?” the second cop asked.
“No. What does his freaking watch say??”
“Frisk him!! We’re supposed to frisk creeps like this.”
So the second cop frisked him. “I freaked this crisp.”
“I frisked this creep. He’s clean.”
“Then we book him. We take him downtown and let them do the rest.”
“They’ll screw it up. I don’t trust cops.”
“What time does his watch say it is?” the creep asked. “That’s what we argued about.”
The first cop took a look. “Twelve-fifteen. Why?”
“He was right,” the creep said, his facing turning yellow and jaundiced, like mayonnaise that had just gone ten rounds with catsup, and lost. “What does that mean?”
“What day is it?” asked the first cop. “It’s either Wednesday or some other day. The real point is that if it’s Wednesday, then Judge Matthews is presiding. Hear that, creep? Judge Matthews is presiding if it’s Wednesday.”
“Or Tuesday,” chimed the second cop, “And Judge Matthews is a prick.’
“He’s a fair prick, strong but fair,” said the first cop.” They call him Hercules.”
“Unless, of course, you’ve done something vile like leave the mayonnaise out of the refrigerator. He always asks that.”
“He does?” asked the creep.
“Yeah, he had a food poisoning case go bad on him a few years back. Never forgot. He has a thing about mayonnaise being kept cooler than forty degrees. Murder, he can look the other way. Mayo, never.” They cuffed the creep and put him in the back of the squad car as the rain intensified. The creep struggled as best he could, desperately trying to get back to the shelterless bus shelter.
“Please!” he begged, ‘Pul-lease!” He did what tough guys all over the world do when their luck gives out. He begged.
Then the bus pulled up, the driver leaned out of the window and asked the cops, “What are you doing with that guy? He’s dangerous!”
“Hey, lowlife,” the tough guy/creep said. “You’re late. I was going to blow your head off.”
“I’m not late. This is the two o’clock bus.”
“Well, it’s twelve fifteen. So, let’s see. Hmm. You’re early.”
“No, pal,” the bus driver said. “I leave the garage at two o’clock. I see you’re in custody, you big loser.”
“What time is it?” the first cop asked the second. “I’m confused.”
The second cop looked at his watch. The last time he looked, it was Wednesday. “Still Wednesday.”
“Hey,” the first cop said to the bus driver, “You saved a life, you know that? By being late, this guy didn’t get a chance to blow off some other guy’s head. I’m going to nominate you for a medal.”
“Like I said, I’m not late. I’d love to chat with you, but I have to hurry up and make my next stop.” He looked at his watch. “Right now it’s five o’clock. If I step on it, I can be there in two minutes.”
“He’s the other guy with the head that didn’t get blown off,” said the second cop. The bus disappeared.
“Check your watch again,” the first cop said. “It doesn’t feel like Wednesday.”
The second cop shook his wrist and held his watch up to his ear. “It’s stopped. Maybe it’s Tuesday. Maybe time is irrelevant.” Then he checked the dead guy’s watch. It had stopped, too, at twelve-fifteen. “Hey, both watches are stopped!”
The tough guy in back started thinking. ‘Seven shots,’ he thought. ‘I have to work on my aim or my anger issues. He was right about the rain, but wrong about the time. What does that mean? Maybe everything is 50-50, and everything else is irrelevant. Hey, maybe I can beat this thing. Things are looking up!’ He relaxed and stopped thinking. Then he started thinking again. The cops had forgotten something. “Hey, what about the dead guy you left laying on the sidewalk?” The stiff was lying right next to his gun.
“It’s lying, not laying,” corrected the first cop.
“Lying on the sidewalk,” the creep said in a singsong voice.
“He’s right,” said the second cop. “We should get that body. It’s proof that someone actually died.”
“Where do we put it?” asked the first cop. “In back, with the creep?”
“No, that’s creepy. In the trunk.”
“That’s disrespectful.” There was a stunned silence, silent but deadly. “We could call for backup.”
“I hate backup. You can’t trust them.”
“Hey, guys,” the creep piped up, “If it’ll help at all, I’ll just get out of the car so you can take this stiff to the morgue. I’ll wait here.”
The first cop answered. “Hey creep, if we let you wait here on the sidewalk while we take the dead guy to the morgue, will you promise to wait here till we get back and then take you downtown where we can book you for murder?”
“Yes, officer,” the creep said. ‘As long as I don’t get wet.”
So the cops sped off to the downtown precinct, their flashers and horn blazing and the city stinking all around them. But first they picked up the body riddled with seven bullets.
“You know,” the second cop mused, “I think this whole thing is a great big setup. The creep, and the dead guy, their luck just ran out today. That’s all.”
“Oh, really,” the first cop said. “And just who set them up?”
“I don’t know,” the second cop said. He looked up. “Whoever’s making it rain.”
The first cop rolled down the window to get another whiff of the city. “Yeah, the same someone who makes this city smell like mayonnaise.” He nodded. “May-o-naise.”
Back at the bus stop, the creep started thinking. He was getting wet, which meant he didn’t have to keep his promise. Then he did what creeps all over the world do when they receive a Get-out-of-jail-free card . He picked up his gun laying, no, lying on the sidewalk and high-tailed it away from the bus stop as fast as he could. He might go back and wait for the cops to book him, but maybe not. He had to get home and screw the lid back on his jar of mayonnaise. It made the whole city stink like Hercules.
Then he’d go find the two o’clock bus. He still had five freaking bullets.
Paul Smith writes poetry & fiction. He lives in Skokie, Illinois with his wife Flavia. Sometimes he performs poetry at an open mic in Chicago. He believes that brevity is the soul of something he read about once, and whatever that something is or was, it should be cut in half immediately.