A Christmas Story

Big Mike liked to say, “If you don’t know why, you won’t know when.” The guy wouldn’t trust his own mother to love him if she wasn’t after something. If he knew what you wanted, he trusted you, but otherwise he figured you only kept your hands in your pockets because you didn’t want him to see the knife. Better to go up to him with your hand out, looking for a favor. He was the closest I had to a best friend.

During the week I hustled fares for Lyft, but on Saturdays I worked off the app, shuttling around guys who needed a ride to places they shouldn’t be, in a car that didn’t belong to them. Those nights I’d hang out at Clancy’s, a strip club on Indy’s east side where Big Mike worked as a bouncer. He also did favors for the owners, the kind where they’d say “Go kick that guy’s ass” and he’d do it, no questions asked. For him that was job security.

So Saturday nights we’d kill time bullshitting and smoking cigarettes until I started getting calls when the bars closed. Over the last few months, we’d got to know each other pretty well. Halloween night, some guy I drove left a gold Rolex in the back seat of my car. I looked to give it back to him until he turned up in the obits. That’s when I got my idea to play Santa Claus, and do something nice for Big Mike.

Two nights before Christmas, there we are in front of Clancy’s, smoking cigs and talking about girls, and there’s a lull in the conversation. That’s when I pulled the paper bag out of my coat.

“Merry Christmas.”

Big Mike frowned and took it from me. He glanced at the contents, then wadded the bag closed up again.

“And?”

“And a happy New Year,” I said. “And nothing. It’s Christmas.”

He threw it at my chest. I was too surprised to catch it, and the damn thing hit the sidewalk. I was sure the glass would be broken when I picked it up, but it wasn’t. A Rolex is a pretty good watch.

“Don’t be an asshole, man. I’m trying to be nice.”

I held it out to him but he knocked my hand away. Like a dumbass I tried again, and this time he shoved me, hard, and I tripped backwards over my own feet.

“Fuck off with that Christmas shit,” he said, and he reached down to try and grab me by my coat collar. Mike is big, but I’m fast, and I managed to duck him long enough to get back to my car. And since I didn’t feel like getting the shit kicked out of me, I got in and drove away.

For an hour I drove around downtown, phone in hand, waiting for an off-the-app call to keep me busy and take my mind off Big Mike and the Rolex. But it was still too early, and no calls were coming in. Finally I turned my car around and drove back to Clancy’s. Big Mike rose up off his stool as soon as I walked back in. I held up my hands.

“Hey. Whoa. Hey, man, easy. I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry about earlier.”

He didn’t look happy. But he was listening.

“I should have been honest,” I lied. “I wasn’t up front with you. I got you the watch, yeah, but I do need a favor. Okay?”

“Which is?”

“I need you to take care of a guy. A rider that ripped me off. I need him to settle up.”

His expression shifted, just slightly. Eased a little. I knew he wouldn’t take the Rolex yet, but at least he’d consider it. He turned to a guy sitting at the bar—Little John, a bruiser about five pounds lighter than Mike.

“Watch the door for me.”

Little John nodded and got to his feet. Mike and I went to my car. I didn’t have anybody in mind. I’ve got enemies, sure, but nobody that wouldn’t find a way to hit me back even if I put Mike on them. But it was Christmas, and Mike was my friend, and so off we went. Two wise guys looking for nobody, without even a star to guide them.

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