Tim Reed sits in the driver’s seat of his ancient and rust-punched Datsun hatchback, balancing a screwdriver on the tip of his finger. Hutch and Tim are killing time, waiting for some poor guy to come home so they can terrify him and, if necessary, perform grievous harm to the fragile architecture of the man’s body. It’s the usual deal: reluctance to pay a debt owed. When this happens, when their boss encounters someone offering resistance, there are phone calls. Verbal requests. Polite reminders. A process old as time. And finally, after all that, Tim and Hutch come by. It’s just work. The screwdriver handle, pitted red plastic, wavers only slightly as they sit in the gloom, Tim’s features lit pale green by the ghostly glow of the dashboard. The rain’s coming down so hard it sounds like someone’s flinging pennies onto the roof.
Hutch runs an arm across the fogged window but there’s nothing out there to see. Sweet and gentle homes locked in slumber. Windows glowing, cars snug in their driveways. A nice neighborhood. It still surprises him sometimes, the vastness of people they get sent to talk to. All different sorts. Often, they’re the furthest things from hard men. Just regular folks. Regular people with their big ideas vanished, people suddenly stuck behind one too many bad moves.
Hutch finally tells Tim to put the screwdriver away.
“Because it’s gonna look f***ed up if a cop drives by and glasses us, is why.”
They had a thing go south last week, marginally south, Hutch and Tim and a lazy-eyed meth addict named Dolph, and Hutch’s knuckles are still scabbed-up from it. Tim’s cheek laddered with scratches from Dolph’s dirty fingernails. That sort of thing rarely happens, but they already look sketchy as hell.
“Just do it,” Hutch says.
Tim sighs and drops the screwdriver to the floorboard.
They wait. The rain tapers off a little. Tim smokes, cracks the window. They’ve parked across the street from the guy’s house. Hutch gets a little nervous every time headlights roll across the windshield. Tim’s car—its rear passenger window a milky cataract of plastic and duct tape, the seats so shredded it looks like a family of four has died of a knife attack inside—doesn’t fit the street. The guy most certainly has enough money to upgrade to something nicer. Something that doesn’t look like shit, at least. Feels like a big screw-you to the world, this car. They’re both felons, and Tim, he knows, has a .38 tucked behind a panel in the driver’s-side door. Guy’s still on parole too. They’re both a wrong look away from going back to prison.
They wait. Listen to Tim’s tapes. When Peach Serrano sends you to retrieve a debt, you retrieve it.
“What my concern is,” Tim says after a while, lighting another smoke off the previous one, “is which king died and made you, like, second in command. That’s my question.”
“You’re being serious with this?”
Tim shrugs, pushes a lock of dark hair behind his ear. “Have they, like, sewn a tapestry with your face on it, my lord? Your f***ing countenance or whatever? You sitting on your throne, looking all majestic?”
“Look around you,” Hutch says. “Now look at us. Look at your car.”
“I don’t get what that has to do with me dicking around with a screwdriver—”
“Because,” Hutch says, actually getting kind of mad now, “the last thing we need is some cop driving by this piece-of-shit ride of yours, thinking you’re in here playing with a knife or something. ‘Oh, no, it’s actually just a screwdriver, officer. We’re just two f***ing leg-breakers hanging out in the dark, sir. Felons, with an unregistered piece. No problem at all, sir, how are you?’ ”
Tim sniffs. “This still doesn’t explain why it is that you—”
They’re saved when a car pulls into the driveway of the house. Tim nods, immediately all business, and Hutch starts the stopwatch feature on his watch. They step out quickly—Tim long since having smashed out the dome light—and walk fast and quiet across the street.
“Excuse me,” Hutch says. The guy’s leaning over, getting groceries out of the backseat, in a hurry to get out of the rain. He’s just some guy. White, doughy. Khakis and a North Face jacket. Where do they come from, these people? How does a guy like this get in deep with Peach? He looks as dangerous as a painting in a motel room. The fear walks large across his face.
It makes sense: It’s raining, dark. There’s two guys standing in his driveway. One of them a huge smokestack of a man with half his head dented in. The other one grinning with yellow smoker’s teeth and a scuffed leather jacket and a—is that a screwdriver he’s holding in his hand? It is. Hutch swears under his breath.
“Get your ass inside,” Tim hisses. He presses the tip of the screwdriver against the man’s belly.
No kids, they’d been told. No family.
Just this guy and his debt.
They sit him down in his living room. He weeps on his couch, holding a pillow in his lap.
They don’t touch him.
He pays in full, has the cash right there in the house.
“That was under five,” Hutch says when they get back in Tim’s car. He’s feeling good.
“The hell it was.”
Hutch shows him his watch. It’s still going. He presses stop. Four minutes and thirteen seconds have passed from the time they got out of the car to the time they got back in it.
“A bet’s a bet,” says Hutch.
Tim mutters and hikes his hips up, fishes out his wallet from his back pocket. Passes Hutch a twenty.
They stop for burritos and eat them in the car. Tim texts his wife to say he’ll be out late and they toss their garbage and head across town to the next job. It’s a Friday night and traffic sucks. Hutch is tired. Dolph’s scabs itch. When they make it to the second address on the piece of paper Peach has given them—no way they do any of this using GPS or over text or anything—they see that the apartment building is a two-story L-shaped affair with a parking lot maybe half full of cars, most of them only slightly less ruinous than Tim’s. Far from downtown, this is the land of check-cashing kiosks, grated windows, open-air dope deals. Chinese food places next to tire repair joints with misspelled words on the marquees. There’s a pair of dumpsters against the far wall of the building, tagged and overflowing with trash.
Tim reaches into the door panel and puts the revolver in his pocket.
“You sure you want to bring that?”
He snuffs his cigarette in the ashtray, and says through a mouthful of smoke, “Sure I’m sure. I don’t like apartments, man. You get jammed-up in an apartment, you’re f***ed. I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.”
Hutch looks at the building. It’s started raining again. He believes in intuition, has survived on it at times, and something in him agrees. Something’s off. This one will give them trouble somehow. “What’s this guy’s name again?”
Tim fishes the piece of paper out of a cassette case in the console and squints at Peach’s terrible handwriting. They’ll burn the paper at the end of the night. It’s a system that has worked with few logistical hang-ups for twelve years, ever since he and Tim started working for Peach Serrano.
“That’s what it says. Dude is in deep too. Shit.”
He passes Hutch the paper.
Hutch squints in the weak streetlight. “Does that say twelve thousand?”
“It does,” Tim says. He lights another smoke.
That bad feeling. Just right there, right in front. “I’m gonna get the bat,” Hutch says, and Tim pops the trunk. A guy twelve thousand in the hole is willing to do a lot of things. Twelve’s absolutely worth trying to pop a couple guys that come to the door. He roots through the trash and bungee cords and empty bottles of motor oil in Tim’s trunk until he finds the little wooden fish bat, all scarred and dark with oil. Tim steps out, gets the pizza box from the backseat. Puts the baseball hat on. Eighty-second is a few blocks over, a white-noise machine cut through by the occasional throb of bass from a passing car.
“Ten minutes on this one?”
“I don’t want to play this time.”
Hutch is surprised. Tim sees the look on his face.
“I don’t feel good about this one, dude.” He’s got the revolver there against his leg. “Alright?”
Hutch says, “We could just tell Peach we tried and no one was home.”
“He’ll just make us wait, man. Hang out in the parking lot all night. You know how he is.” Tim’s right. Peach demands results. If no one’s home, he’ll just make them spend the night in the car, watching the place.