Hard Hearted

Chapter One

He lay in the third story room, hands folded under his head. It was a twin sized bed, and there was a ceiling fan and he thought it didn't do shit but when he pulled the chain on it and shut it down he couldn't breathe at all then.

And in a maudlin way he liked the shadows the long brown metal blades threw across his ceiling, streaks, coming through like trains, silently flashing past.

He couldn't make them go away…the memories…so he quit trying, they were his bastards, unwanted children…no denying they were his.

He'd lost his seventy dollar paycheck at the track night before. He'd had a hell of a time doing it though. His knuckles were swollen and sore, he didn't remember particulars but him and Emmie had gotten in to it with those guys…cause Jasper…even now he laughed, breaking the silence. That damn Jasper.

This hot July evening he thought of that girl he'd taken in France, and how thick her body was and how she'd breathed through an open mouth and he'd only saw one tit and a fat rosy nipple and he'd come like a man with no future and if you wondered about that, you'd never been desperate.

Now he heard yelling from the street below, but he didn't check it out. Since the war, he didn't feel the need to be curious. Anything got too close, then he'd act. Squash it. Cause nothing that happened here compared to what had happened over there, and he wasn't afraid of anything…real.

He moved his head and looked at the clock on the nightstand. He needed to roll to meet Em and Jasper in time for the movie. He didn't know why he'd said yes like a teenager. He was twenty-four, two years of marching over Europe under General Omar Bradley were behind him.

He wasn't a kid. But he wanted air conditioning…and popcorn. And after that, a steak and a cold beer and then they'd hear the deal, this job Em got for them. He'd see. Once he left the army he was done with being told what to do.

So he cleaned up some at the sink in his room. The common bath was down the hall and he pissed in the sink when he was drunk or just damn lazy like today.

But he washed up there and as soon as the cold splash hit his face he held the sides of the white porcelain bowl, water dripping off his nose. He huffed and felt shit move around in his head, the strafing, the boards piled on top of him…like that could stop it.

Hell no he wasn't going to sit around here. But a movie wasn't what he wanted either cause that was two hours of being trapped, more if they watched the double.

But he went. And Em stood outside the theatre smoking the last of his fag, wearing his suit pants and a white shirt, tie pulled loose, holding the jacket. They'd bought these suits in a southside bar, right off the truck, they didn't ask but gave their sizes, Jasper a 40, Em a 44, him a 42 jacket, and they were the same wheat color, nice made, summer weight, and anything not olive drab, they were good.

Em smiled when he saw Eddie, laughed like he had a joke. Beside him were two dames, Jasper with an arm around each. Eddie could tell they'd been fucked by every guy around this Chicago neighborhood. It was always there, a boldness, and a voice, even the eyes, and the hips, always there, the hole looking for the divining rod, backwards and hungry. That was it. He always knew.

"Took you long enough. We're going to miss the cartoons," Emmie groused, backhanding Eddie's shoulder. Unlike Em and Jasper, he wore his jacket. Like armor.

Em turned to get the tickets. Eddie's too. And Jasper, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, introduced the broads, Blondie one and Blondie two and they loved that, not even knowing the joke behind it, how they called all the easy broads that, one or two with the color of their hair thrown in.

"Hey gorgeous," Marlene Dietrich sidled up to Eddie, slipped her arm through his, her short yellow hair in rolled curls, breath like Clorets gum and cigarettes, black mole drawn one side of her mouth, thick make-up on her eyes, red lips staining a black plastic cigarette holder she held close to him.

The other looked about the same, right down to the mole on her cheek. That one was introducing this one, and who was he to turn down a pair of warm tits on his arm named Blondie?

Jasper and Em were carrying on, the baboon and the gorilla, hooting loudly enough to make his head ache. He didn't want their broads. They accused him of it all the time, taking their women, but he didn't want them, unless he did, then it wasn't his fault they went for him.

Em loaded up on food and he bummed two bucks off Jasper cause that idiot owed him twenty, and here he had a roll tonight and he paid for everything then gave Eddie the twenty.

The cartoons had just started and Em and Jasper ran to the middle, those girls toddling on their spike heels, and their plump asses, and they made people stand all along the aisle while they made their way to some vacant seats smack in the middle of the row.

Eddie held back, standing in the dark, smoking. He'd ditched his box of popcorn. No way he was getting caught in the crowd like that. He saw a woman sitting alone off to the side three rows up. There was an empty seat behind her, on the aisle.

He went there. He could see Em up ahead standing to look for him, but he stayed quiet and still and the broad pulled Em back down.

This girl in front of him was watching Em and Jasper and those girls. The cartoon played, but she was watching the guys. He could just see the side of her face, the curve of her cheek. Why was she alone?

She turned a little to the side as if she sensed someone staring. She had long dark hair and some of it hung over her seat and he smelled her shampoo and it was real nice…girl stuff.

He sat back then and finished his smoke. This was better. The cartoon was about a rabbit named Bugs Bunny and he could hear Emmie's laugh over the crowd's.

This girl in front of him, her shoulders shook with laughter but there was no sound. Then here came two more, they were loaded with snacks and drinks, and the big tits said, "Move Isbe," to her friend, the one in front of him, and she lifted up, that Isbe, and he saw it then, long wavy hair down her back, the curve at the waist, round at the hip, little, delicate, woman.

The two went past her, laughing, tripping some and got in their seats and Isbe dropped down and he swore a cloud of sweet girl surrounded him.

She stood again and faced him while she spread her jacket over the back of the seat and one of the sleeves bounced against his leg.

"Sorry," she said in a low voice, dark eyes flashing at him and a smile and she turned around and fell in her seat again and she said something to the little dark one next to her, and more eyes on him for just a flash and their heads together and giggles and grins, and he lit another smoke and watched them, he stared cause…shit.

He reached forward and felt the sleeve from her jacket that dangled near his leg…it was just a sleeve, but soft, and he imagined her wearing her heart there, and he pressed the material between his thumb and forefinger.

And she flicked her hair over her shoulder and one long tendril was over the seat again, lying along her jacket, and he reached enough to let it brush his fingers, just light and quick, he did that a few times like some sick mug.

Then he sat back and tried to watch the show but he watched her mostly, wondered about her…carefree, laughing easy, going through all the young girl things, whatever those were, he had little idea, like her breasts showing up…kissing a boyfriend for hours and not knowing he had anything below the waist…and all the while he was in Europe getting his cherry popped.

Then it hit him, popcorn, and he brushed off the first few, but they were trying to hit the girls in front of him, and they were short and it was raining on him.

He turned around, three guys back row, high school, Biff and Boff and Junior over there. He just gave them the look and they were talking about it amongst themselves.

But the girls had turned around, too. The blonde one said, "Cut it out punks."

The boys hee-hawed back, and he looked at that Isbe and she said, "You gonna save us Hero?" And she had a dimple.

He sat back and stared at her.

She was laughing with that little one next to her, and that one said he was cute.

He snorted. Cute. Shit.

And here came more popcorn, and the blonde one was turning around again, looking at him and throwing popcorn back at the rowdies.

The usher came and flashed his light and two older ladies got up and moved to the other side of the theatre. The boys told the usher to get fucked. They seemed to know him, and he threatened to bring the manager.

"Kick them out Riley," Blondie said. Riley gulped, and he kept his light on those boys and issued more threats, but as soon as he disappeared they started up again and he got out of his seat and he heard the girls saying, "He's getting up. He's doing it."

He walked past the row that separated him from the miscreants and he went behind them and leaned over the biggest one and said, "You throw anymore shit in their direction I'll twist your wrist so hard you won't play football again."

He said it softly. The guy looked at him and they stared for a few seconds. This one still had pudge in his cheeks and his top lip was sweating.

Then he walked back to his seat. No sooner did he sit than the little one beside Isbe climbed over her seat so quickly he could barely register what she was doing. She plopped next to him.

"Hey," she said.

He just raised his brows. These girls were crazy.

"Um…my friend Isbe up…right there…?" She pointed at the doll in front of him.

Isbe was turned around grinning at him.

"Turn around," tiny girl hissed.

Isbe turned around and laughed.

Blondie threw popcorn at her and said, "You guys are nuts."

"She wants to sit by you," little climber said.

"Oh yeah? What about you?" he said like he didn't know.

She gripped onto his arm and laughed, "You're cute."

"Hey," Isbe said standing up and moving around the end of her row to wait for the other girl to vacate her seat. That one stood up and skee-daddled out of there and Isbe tripped over his feet, ass almost in his face and he mentally bit a knuckle and she plopped into the seat beside him.

The rowdies started up, seeming upset that Isbe chose to sit by him, so he turned around to look at them and that quelled them, but he could feel it building in their little pricks.

She had her elbow on the armrest and they were close. She looked at his mouth, she did that, then back in his eyes and…damn girl.

"What's your name, Hero?" she said.

Blondie looked back and she was smirking and he couldn't care less.

"Hero," he said.

"I'm Isbe."

He nearly repeated that, but he was used to catching his words.

Then the movie started and he couldn't have told you what it was cause he felt this girl so strongly beside him, and not just that, but…it was normal…maybe so normal it was a joke…he was a joke…cause he wasn't one of those boys in the letter sweaters. Those were her kind.

Her little finger was touching his, on his leg. He looked there, her finger against his, looking for a yes, and what was he supposed to do? If he'd sat with Jasper, one of the blondies would be stroking his dick about now, but this little firecracker was stroking his pinkie. He needed to get up and go outside and wait for his buddies.

"How old are you?" she asked him and her hand covered his and they were looking at each other again and she was so young.

"Hundred and five," he said.

"Me too," she whispered, and her other hand reached up and she tapped him on the lips with her pointer finger, and then she stared there and he was stuck in the whole thing and then a piece of popcorn hit him on the cheek. He looked back there and those assholes were smiling big and staring at the screen.

What was he going to do, take it out on them? He could. But what would that do?

"I gotta go out," he said, and he gave Isbe a tight smile, and got the hell out of there. One of those boys said something, and he stopped quick, leaned over the big one, yanked the box of popcorn out of his hands and dumped it over his head. His friend said something and people turned around and said, "Pipe down," and the pimply usher was there, his flashlight trembling. It didn't matter now.

He went quick through the lobby and outside it was night and cooled off cause it had rained some and the storm was still rolling in the sky, thunder and cars splashing through the shine on the street.

He took a breath and the damp felt good in his lungs, they'd been dried up for so long, pulling hard in this city. He ran his hand through his hair, growing long after so many years. Everything felt…so different. Was he really here? For a few minutes in a theatre, in the dark, he had been…present.

Someone honked and his heart stuttered and he walked down the street for a bit and dug out his Camels and fumbled for the lighter in his jacket pocket, and he flipped that open and lit the smoke. His hand shook like his drunk uncle's used to, not because of what he'd done, that was nothing. But because of what he could have done…for nothing…to a kid….

He leaned against a building there and he took that first drag and thunked his head against the bricks, and closed his eyes.

He could blow this off, go back to his room…and what? He needed the work. He'd wait until Em was out and he'd make him say where to meet. He knew where it was but they wouldn't let him in by himself. You had to be spoken for and Em had connections.

He didn't want to eat with them, those broads, he didn't want to watch those red lips move and move with those thick black marks painted on…for beauty.

So he was stuck waiting there for Em and Jasper. Waiting and smoking.


He opened his eyes and there she was, the little beauty from inside, high school Betty, heartbreaker. This girl had nerve following him out.

He was struck at how pretty she was. He just wanted to hear her talk then he'd scare her back inside.

She put her hands in her jacket's pockets.

He was smoking it down now, trying to be at ease. "What are you doing out here?"

She had on this tight skirt past her knees and bobby socks with those black and white shoes. She looked about sixteen. Or twelve. Cute as shit.

"You just checked me out. Like…up and down," she laughed a little. A twelve year old wouldn't say that. A sixteen year old might.

"Oh yeah? Raised in a barn," he said. "How old are you?"

"A hundred and five," she said leaning on the wall beside him.

He shrugged and pitched his smoke, "Mature."

"You been in the war," she said.

"Think so?"

"Yeah. Can I bum a cigarette?"

He reached in his pocket and brought out the nearly empty pack, shook one up and held this toward her and she took her little fingers and her not painted fingernails and pulled it free. She stuck it between her plump pink lips. He flicked the lighter open and she pulled in, letting out the smoke while she smiled at him. Damn.

"You sixteen?"

"Eighteen," she said. "I work for Ma Bell. Switchboard. I hate it," she sighed loudly before taking another pull. "Old ladies all wanting to fix me up with their sons."

She was lying but he played along. "You go with them? The sons?"

She laughed and it was cute, and he didn't want her…to go with the sons. "Sometimes. But…all the good ones have been gone…in the war. Except now…they've come home." She smiled again, took a drag and let it out laughing, "And the good ones…don't need help from their mamas."

He smiled at that. He surely didn't need his mother's help. Good thing. "You always leave before the movie is over?" he said.

"There were some boys…they threw popcorn at me," like he didn't know. "Is there anymore in my hair," she asked, wanting him to take a look he guessed, and he was quick to touch her then, his hand on her shoulder as she'd leaned forward.

Her shoulder was delicate just like he thought, and her hair was soft, but he knew that already. She was feminine, and he liked touching her…too much.

"You're good," he said.

She sighed and leaned back taking another drag. "I hate cowboys. The movie. Those boys…that was funny…what you did. You're like…Robert Mitchum or something."

He snorted. "Coffee?" he pointed across the street.

"I don't drink it," she said and he nodded.

"Right. High school girls don't drink coffee."

"Ma Bell, remember?"

"Right. A hundred and five."

"Your idea."

"Yeah. You better get back inside."

She pitched her smoke into the street and moved from the wall.

"I guess. But I'd rather hang with you."

"You do this with strange guys? You don't know me."

"Calling yourself strange, Hero?"

"Got a smart mouth."

She leaned her shoulder against the wall, tipping her head to rest against it as she swayed her hip back and forth a little.

"You were looking at my mouth…before."

He laughed now. "Shit, girl. You on a bet here or something?"

She thumbed toward the theatre, "With them? Rose and Alice? Nah. Nobody bets on a sure thing."

"Sure thing," he repeated, cause that was his language.

"I like you but…you're a little scary."

"I scare you?" He worked his sore knuckles.

She just smiled, saw the bruises and ran her fingers lightly over them. She scared him. What the hell was he doing talking to a dame like this? She had this kind of look and touch did flips in his stomach.

"What's your name?" she said.

Right on time they heard it, the whistle and the, "Yo, Eddie." Emmie McCarty could blow paint off the walls with that horn of his.

He heard Em say to Jasper, "He's got a broad."

He shook his head as he flatted on the wall. "Ignore that…him."

She laughed a little. "Healthy set of lungs."

"Hey…you want…?" he thumbed toward those guys. "You hungry? My buddies and me…we're going for some dinner…I mean…come with us."

She looked over her shoulder, gathering her jacket more tightly around her. "I don't know anyone."

"Hey," he held out his hand, "come with…."

She looked at his hand but she didn't take it and he let it drop. "What's the matter? You married?"

"No," she laughed.

"Come on…it's just some grub and a beer…."

"Those girls…. If Rose and Alice could come…I would."

He laughed, that blondie and the little climber? "No."

She laughed too. "Get rid of those girls and I'll get my friends. They're way better than those whores your guys are with. "

He shrugged. "You got some guts for a little girl. How you know those broads won't rip your hair out they find out you're moving on them?"

"They let your boys pick them up. We saw it when we were buying our tickets. Those girls wait outside the show and pick up soldiers. They do it every weekend. Tell your boys to get rid of them and we'll meet you around the block. You got a car?"

He could hardly keep up. "How old are you?" he asked again.

She stared at him. "I told you already."

"Give me the number," he said. They weren't going forward if she couldn't answer a simple question.

"Eighteen," she said. "We're all eighteen."

"You really work for Ma Bell?"

"Yeah," she said. "We're operators."

"Okay…operator. Get your girls. We'll pick you up. Green Buick."

He walked her back to the theater. Emmie had his eyes on her. Jasper was preoccupied with the two broads. It would be this way. Jasper had been lacing their Cokes from his flask. He stayed pickled as a rule.

Em eyed Isbe and whistled. Eddie pretended he wasn't annoyed. But the girl didn't scare easy, and if she did, it was over.

Isbe looked at them boldy and waved her fingers before going inside.

"C'mon," he said to Em. "Give me your keys."

"What? I'm driving."

"Give 'em to me."

Em dug in his pocket.

"Where is it?" Eddie asked.

"Around the corner," Em slurred.

Eddie ran lightly to the vehicle, the green beast that belonged to Em's uncle. He got in and started it up and drove it around to the front of the show. The four of them piled in the backseat and he hadn't even taken off before they were lip locked with those broads.

"Hey no fuckin' in here," he laughed, but they didn't hear or care. Normally he'd crank the radio and flip the mirror up, but he didn't do that now. He circled the block and those girls were just coming out of the theatre. Isbe must have had to twist their arms to get them to agree. Well it would be over soon. Even as he'd spied her, just a flash of her coming out of that theatre it was like she was burned on the backs of his eyelids. If he had a girl…like one you died for…lived for…she might be it. If such a thing….

Em was getting crazy, kicking the seat like he was raising over that broad. "No fuckin'," he yelled. Not yet anyway.

Second time around those girls were coming around the corner. He pulled to the curb and barely hit the horn. He heard Rose say, "That's a green Buick."

"Hey, hey," Eddie said, letting his arm fly as he whacked anyone he could reach. "Cut it out. There's some nice girls here want a ride."

He knew that blondie had figured it out. She was talking a mile a minute to the other two. He saw Isbe's face, that beautiful face looking in the car now, seeing the pile in the backseat, and looking to him and he shrugged.

"Get in," he called to the girls, but he meant her…Isbe.

They were arguing, and he saw Isbe's face, he was bent low so he could see her. "Come on."

"Not with them," Rose said. "Get out of here."

"Who's that?" Em said, finally coming up for air.

"These girls want to go with us," Eddie said.

"That's your broad," Jasper slurred. He was never so drunk he couldn't keep the chicks straight.

"What the hell's going on?" Blondie one said.

"Get rid of those sluts and we can take these," Eddie said.

"Not anymore," Jasper sang while Blondie two kept trying to turn his face toward hers so they could keep smooching.

Jasper cranked he door.

Em yelled, "Hey, shut that door. We got pussy here…."

"Pussy?" Blondie two said. "Don't be crude."

"Hey," Jasper yelled toward Isbe's gang.

Eddie had his hand over his mouth. Was he going to let her get away like this? He thought he would, leave it play out. But she was going to round that corner and then he'd lose her.

Jasper was out going after them, and Blondie two was out calling after him.

"Hey you in those jeans," Jasper called. Alice wore rolled up jeans. With his long legs Jasper caught up to them easy. Eddie moved the car slowly forward. He didn't think Isbe would retreat so quickly. She was disappointing him.

She stared at him while Jasper talked to the one called Alice, but that big one, Rose was yakking at him. She was pissed.

"What's going on?" Blondie one kept saying. "Get in the car," she was telling her friend.

"No. No. I ain't doing this. That guy had his hand up my dress and now he'd going after that broomstick?"

"We're gonna have steak," Blondie one said.

Em lunged for her again. "Drive," he said to Eddie, his hand between Blondie's legs.

She shoved him off. "You guys…you promised," she screeched at Emmie.

He put his hands up like she'd pulled a gun. "Calm down."

Blondie one wasn't calming. "We gonna have dinner and go dancing like you said?"

Em leaned back and closed his eyes. "Yes."

Eddie was trying not to laugh. He watched in the mirror and Blondie tried to push Em forward so she could dig out his wallet. Em heaved a sigh and pushed her hand out of the way and went for it himself. He threw ten dollars on her lap.

"Ten lousy dollars!" she screeched.

"I didn't have change," Em said.

She hit on him for that and he covered his head and laughed. Then she was pulled out of the car by her friend and they yelled their ways down the street.

Eddie put on some gas and the car moved, the back door still open wide. He pulled next to the girls where Jasper was still negotiating their surrender. Em had stayed quiet until they got close. "I'll take that one you had."

"The fuck you will," Eddie whispered. She was staring at him, and he saw her make up her mind.

She hit Alice on the arm. "Come on," she said. Then she walked towards the car and he leaned over and opened the door.