One Last Thing
I’m watching Glebb Smolko waltz off the witness stand, winking and smirking at me. Nobody I know knows anything about him, except that he’s a baby faced hustler who turns every dime into a dollar and finds you with the eyes at the back of his head.
The jury hasn’t even come back yet, but the air in the room amounts to the confession and the verdict, all entangled in a single, perverted conscience. People- women- are already hanging their heads, slipping their belongings into their pursues to sneak away early. They want to beat the congestion that spills into the 404 North off the courthouse ramp. Glebb is a five time all-star. They’re about acquit him for a battery of crimes. For a moment, I abandon my senses and imagine what would’ve happened if I’d never testified in his favor.
And then I remember I have a girlfriend at home. Waiting and cooking and believing that I need her. And that Glebb has summoned me here to settle a debt I’ve inherited. The debt of associating with the woman who is not my girlfriend, the one who stands between him and me.
The Hogshead was the kind of place men with money to spare went to stray. Married men. Men with incinerated dreams, with faces contorted in permanent, dented frowns, throwing promises at hips in thigh high skirts that juggled beer trays with the tips of their fingers. I’d gone there to make a drop, but found V instead.
Nobody says a word. Swishing back and forth by my table, she lowers her gaze, but keeps tilting that chin in my direction. She’s showing me she knows where my eyes are, that she wants to feel them there when she looks away. By the time I’m ready to leave, it’s too late.
From the moment we bumped shoulders, I knew Glebb, owner of The Hogshead, was not the man you cross. Everyone knew. Whenever Glebb entered his bar, people straightened their spines. It’d become second nature. A reflex. Owning the bar meant owning everyone in it. It meant owning the staff. Owning V.
She and I had collided before. She tried peeling away from work, then remembered she had a task to perform. Technically, I hit her from behind, but she backed the ass of that car into me. A crimson coated ’72 Porsche, frog eyes flipped, flooding the deserted lot. Fishing out her info, I notice the ownership, insurance, even the gas card, all in his name. Glebb had been running insurance scams up and down Ontario, laundering cash with his collection of bars, nightclubs, and chop shops.
Fear and hope is a nauseating cocktail. Good thing V and I had already bypassed the customary get-to-know-you bullshit in the time leading up. I used to be what they call a point man. I moved packages, large and small, living and not so living. Point A to B. My first drop happened when my father appeared to tell that he'd reversed his mortgage, cashed out the RRSP, and invested the heroin into his arms. The package went one way. It ticked. It went to his creditors and his creditors never came back. I reasoned that if it came down to the old man or justice, I'd pick the old man. I did.
Then V happened. Then she saved me from the ambush. She kept me drinking and was my eyes when I was however many drinks in, seeing triple. She's the one who made me quit the racket. It would’ve been my third strike. There would’ve been no coming back.
All chummed up, she invites me over.
“Follow me,” she says.
At her apartment she unbuckles her hair and shakes the brown free from its knots. Someone’s switched the safety off the .380 that sits on the coffee table. She lifts the cannon and traces it around the generous plump in her lips, mouth-flirting with the barrel. It clicks the way a gun clicks when it’s ready to fire.
“Give it here,” I say.
The week before, the suicide hotline put her on hold. Next thing I know she’s at my door, barefoot in nothing but a bra, mascara swimming down the curves of her lashes, calling for me.
“Cole,” she says.
She’s a permanent fixture in his operation. Glebb’s last job is going to be his masterpiece, his final farewell. The two of them are supposed to scoop the loot and leave, but V wants me near, and waits for me to give her a reason. That’s why she shares the plot. That, and because she can’t stay away from me.
I rope my shirt around her back. Standing in my loft, she gathers herself. She walks over to the bathroom and leaves the door open. She looks in the mirror and sweeps stray hairs off her forehead, then repeats the mantra.
“After this, I’ll quit him for good.”
I tell her to let me call him so I can change his mind. But I know his kind. They don’t change their minds. Cancer doesn’t change its mind.
I’m back to my girlfriend at home, mopping up broth with bread, reliving the reason I’m so thick with hate. Glebb had met, raped, and fired V in the span of a weekend, the same weekend she saved my life. I forbid myself from giving her too hard a time about him. This on account of how my own girl is wide mouthed and wrong about me. About how I feel and where we fit in. About how she’s been wrong all along.
“Where are you going now?” the girlfriend moans...
I’m staring at the pair of mangled hands that belong to Mr. Smolko, and they wave through the air with purpose, like a conductor’s. I barter to cancel V’s debt in exchange for a favour.
“She’s insolvent,” he says, smirking that courthouse smirk.
The plan is to make it look like an accident. I’m going to torch the bar.
“Nod if you understand,” he says.
I’m too busy thinking of V to think at all. I nod, knowing I’ve gone too far. I then remember the last talk.
“Promise me,” she says.
I promise that no matter what, I won’t become like them. Even if it means losing. Even if it means losing her. But all I can think of is this girl who I love and what I have to do to get things done.
On the night of the crime, the crime doesn’t happen. Glebb calls me from a hospital bed. When he asks me to visit, I know the end is near. Glebb never phrases anything in the form of a question. Glebb never asks.
“Could you?” is how simply he puts it.
It’s the end alright. I just don’t know whose end it’s going to be.
Before entering the hospital, my phone flashes and dings. My girlfriend- my ex-girlfriend- has poofed into thin air. It’s the third dinner I’ve missed this week. She grants me the courtesy of a voicemail instead of a text. I stop, take a measured breath, then walk into the ward for the damned.
Glebb’s bodyguard paces by the door. With his head, he motions me to go inside. I whip out a comb and try to string it through the curls in my head.
The window faces his face, the moonlight bounces off his scalp. He doesn’t let me speak. He says he’s put a contract on my head. He says that if I don’t stay away, he’s going to kill V and me, the both of us in front of the both of us. Even after he’s buried. Slowly and simultaneously, so that we can witness what we’ve done. He’s laughing, laughing and dying at the same time.
“Have a stick,” is the last thing Glebb says to me.
I relieve him of his of DuMauriers, even though I don’t smoke. I know she’s been here. A diamond stud, sized like a speck of sugar, meant for the hole-punch through V’s nose, sits in plain sight.
There’s a difference, I want to tell him, between what you are to her and what I am, yet I never do. It’s the difference between one last thing and one thing that lasts. I keep my trap shut and leave with the thought.
The clouds are clumping together, and I’m thinking this has to be another scam. If Glebb’s men are going to hit, they’re going to hit now. If you can’t see down the line, you can’t see.
Outside Toronto General, I pluck a butt from the dead man’s pack. In a nearby bush, a party of motherless blue jays dangles from a nest, sandwiched between a cluster of decaying shrubs. I watch those birds sing through these rain drops. I re-hook the nest back onto a branch, and think about swinging my third strike, and how I stopped being good a long time ago. The word is just sound and syllable.
I close my eyes and there she is, slouching on my couch, resting a champagne glass on the belly that Glebb put a baby into, then terminated. I take a long, careful drag of the cigarette, and brace for the blow that’s going to put me to peace. The jays are still chirping, and I wait. I wait for the end to come, but it never does.
Days later, I open my eyes and find myself hovering over Glebb’s casket, expecting the body to rattle. Resurrect. Something.
To his associates, you attend out of respect, or what’s the same to them, naked fear. But I have my own reasons. I think V is going to show. I prepare to tell her that she can take as long as she needs. That I’m going to leave the light on for her, because that’s what you do when it’s true.
During the funeral chatter, I hear that somewhere along the line, V and Glebb had started up again. This explained the diamond by his bed.
I shake my head like a horse and return to earth. One of Glebb’s guards is staring at me. The funeral’s almost over, and V is still missing.
All the same, it didn’t matter now. I was immune to her love. Or so I thought.
About the author:
Penn Javdan's short story, "One Last Thing," was born while he volunteered in an urban hospital providing care to mental health patients, reading to an old man who died in his arms.
Educated at Harvard and originally from Toronto, he has lived in NYC, Southern California, and Boston, Massachusetts.