Dennis S Beltatto Junior has skin like dark leather, a silver, square earring the size of a thumbnail, a receding hairline, a set of sleek, worn looking tattoos of crosses, women, and roses stretched arms with veins that looked ready to pop.
“Used to be, you catch it, you kill it,” he told me. “Anything I got in my traps. Skunks, squirrels, rats, whatever. I had to drown it, put it in a black garbage bag, and toss it in the trash.”
“Jesus,” I said.
He was shaking his head, “Oh man, I hated it. I used to have to fill a garbage can with water, and drop the cage in and watch the thing struggle.”
“Want another?” I asked, pointing at his glass.
“Yeah, sure. But it was bad. Inhumane. That’s why they stopped it. Now, you catch and release. Catch something, drive five miles up the road and release it. Let those people worry about the damn thing.”
I ordered him another Jack and Coke. I nursed my beer. The dull pain in my lower spine flared up again, and I stretched myself back to relieve it. “I’ve never had a pest problem,” I said.
“Actually, that’s not true. A few months after the last hurricane, I think something crawled into the walls of my last apartment. It kept scratching around in there. I told my Super about it but he never did anything. After two nights it stopped. Nothing smelled, so maybe it got out.”
“You’ve got to find all the holes and plug them,” he said in between sips. “That’s the only way to make sure, and even then, nothing’s certain.”
I nod. The same nod I given when I don’t have anything else to say but can’t find a way out of the situation. It’s a short, quick jerk. Anyone paying attention would know I’m no longer doing so. There’s the glaze on my eyes. The one beer I’ve had has loosened me up, just a bit, but not enough. My back aches. I took in his slicked back, black hair that may or not be very good looking plugs. I listen some more, and my input became a speed bump for Dennis’ story. One of those, “Yes, that’s very interesting what you just said, BUT, let me tell you something even more interesting than what you just said,” type of deals.
After more than enough time has passed, I tell him I have to go. “Alright man,” he says, despite his being over sixty, “thanks for all your help.” He reaches to shake my hand. I take it and give it a pump, and his hand feels calloused and like chalk. I leave him there to contemplate his death, because no one kills animals on a daily basis without drawing a parallel to their own mortality. I suspect – I don’t know, of course – this is why he designs himself to appear younger.
Outside the air bites, but I had left my coat in the car for some reason. I shove my hands in my pockets and cross the street, and Bailey steps from an alcove leading to a Health Foods Store. “What’d you learn?” He asks, a smile on his face.
My tie is folded up in my jacket pocket, and for some reason I feel it pressing against my chest with much more force than it should have. “Guy has killed a lot of rats and mice and skunks and other things that are small and furry that people don’t like to see alive or in their homes.”
He nods as if he had expected as much, which of course he had. “Did you take anything?”
I shrug. “Too soon to tell. I’ll need to follow up.” I rock back and forth on my heels a bit. “Listen, man, can we do this another time or elsewhere? It’s too cold.”
Bailey swings his arm wide in an invitation for me to keep walking, but I don’t know which he’s allowing. He starts to follow. I go to my car and he jumps in shotgun. “Where to?” He asks, but I don’t feel like going to another bar. Instead I take him to the local library. When he asks why, I explain I have some books due to be returned. He frowned and follows me inside.
In college I worked in the school’s library. It was always quiet, and there was a calm peace to wandering the shelves, putting books back into their place. Not here. Here I can order books, but I can’t stay in the main building. The kids are too loud. For lack of any other place to go because of their age, they flock to this place, which won’t kick them out, and talk about parties and sex and a bunch of other things I shouldn’t have to hear while in a library. The librarians do nothing. They sit at the circulation desk and try very hard to pretend they can’t hear the noise. Horrible for a patron, perfect for what I need to talk to Bailey about.
We sit down next to a couple of kids – all boys – who are talking about so and so’s tits. “The guy is dying,” I tell Bailey.
“Well, no,” Bailey says. “Not exactly. What we do isn’t death. That implies something existed and then didn’t in the previous context. No, what we do is a kind of purge and scrub. No evidence, no life, no death, no existence. No one knows him, no one remembers him, no one even dreamed him. Wiped from the consciousness of humanity.” I tell Bailey I understand, and I think I do, but I probably don’t. “Don’t worry,” he says, patting my arm. “It’s a very simple process, and it won’t even matter if someone catches you doing it, because in the end they’ll never even remember the victim.”
One of the kids is looking at us. Bailey meets his eyes. The kid looks away. A few second later, they all stand and leave. As they pass the circulation desk, the librarian gives a definitive nod, as if she had something to do with kicking them out. Bailey explains more of what I need to do, I return my books, pick up the ones I had requested, and leave.
You don’t generally think people who spend every night in the same bar exist. But they do. Every night, whatever their reasons are, they flock to the same stool, order the same thing, and talk about the same shit with anyone who will listen. They knowingly relive the same day over and over, with minor alterations, hoping that time will forget they’re there and will pass them by untouched and unmolested. This is, of course, impossible. I’ve often wondered if Bailey is a servitor of time. I’ve also wondered if he’s some kind of genie or demon or ghost or CIA agent. I can’t be certain.
What I am certain of, is that I will find Dennis S Beltatto Junior with his skin like dark leather and earring the size of a thumbnail, seated on his stool, drinking the same kind of drink as the night before. I sit next to him and he smiles and doesn’t quite recognize me, or at least doesn’t remember my name, and we start to chat. Then, I reach out and touch his shoulder. He slumps forward, but doesn’t quite hit the table, and I drink him in. I see the father who was always there, but the mother who had the chronic medical issues. I see the bad crowd at school and the girls in the backseats of cars. I see the insistence that he forget about college, because he wouldn’t fit in, and I see the two quick marriages and the two quicker divorces. I see the kid who won’t return his phone call. I see little of the kid before this because there is too little to see. Then he is gone, and I am alone at the bar. There’s no drink where he was, and I know there’s no kid. I know his parents never gave birth to him, and two women never met, married, or divorced him. He exists in my mind only, a now fictional character. The burden, Bailey had called it, mine to bear along with the money transfered to my account; the money I don’t ask questions about because I won’t like or understand the answers.
I drink my beer and leave, and Bailey steps out from behind a streetlight this time, to tell me of my new assignment. I listen, turn around, and walk back into the bar.