Dad's an Asshole
After Uncle Spence got through pointing out a few things he wanted cleaned every week, he and Bruce talked about football.
Maybe this won’t be so bad, Bruce thought. Uncle Spence had only showed him about an hour’s worth of stuff to do and told him that anything else would come from Duane. That’d be fine. Bruce liked the big guy and never got tired of his stories about life before and during prison. He could just kick back and keep the guy talking until his ex-prison friends showed up for their weekly get-together. He’d only met those guys once, but they had been a lot of fun too.
“Did you go easy on him?”
He’d completely forgotten his dad was even there.
“Hell, no,” Uncle Spence said, winking at Bruce. He tossed a set of keys to Jim.
Jim raised the keys. “Thanks.”
He walked back to the car with Bruce in his wake. “We got another stop. Let’s head out.” He called over his shoulder, “Thanks again, Spence.”
“No problem,” Spence called back.
Duane stuck his head out of the garage bay.
Bruce waved, but Duane’s returned wave was halfhearted. He looked like he was sizing Bruce up for something.
Maybe he’s annoyed that he has to babysit me, Bruce thought as they walked to an older model half-ton truck and got in.
“What are we doing here?” Bruce asked, hoping the stop at the Pack-n-Save Supermarket was just to pick up nachos or something.
The last time he’d left, he’d made a little bit of a scene. The owner’s son, Mason, had gotten on his nerves and he’d walked out after working there a whole week.
Mason was an asshole. He didn’t understand how his brother could be so head over heels over a shit-head like him. His dad had just made him some sort of supervisor and the power’d gone to his head.
Jim seemed happy about getting a parking place right next to the handicapped spaces right by the door. “You’re gonna beg for your job back.”
“Shit! Dad! No way!”
Jim turned a level stare on him. “I’ve already called Mr. Keller. He’s expecting us.” His jaw clenched. “Unless you have another job lined up that I don’t know about…”
Bruce took a deep breath. “No, Daddy.”
“Then we’re going in. You’re begging for your job back. If you don’t walk out of there with the job, no matter what you have to do, I will make your life holy hell until you run screaming out of this county. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, sir. But—”
“No buts!” Jim grabbed Bruce’s shoulder. “You will work. And right now, this is your only shot at a job. I called a few other places, and they’d all heard about you and that Mason kid fighting in the store. Nobody else wants you right now—even my own damned boss won’t hire you.”
The walk from the truck to the door felt a million miles long and his feet were heavy as tractors.
Mr. Keller was alright—sort of—but that prick son of his, Mason, was a shit-head.
He’d deserved that gallon of milk upside his head. The mighty football player had gone down like a sack of potatoes. Hell, he’d meant to punch him with his fist when he’d made a comment about Susan, but all he had handy was the milk. Bruce wished it’d been an industrial sized can of pasta sauce or something. Mess up that pretty face so he wouldn’t have a chance with Susan and Dex would shut the fuck up about him.
The automatic doors of the store slid open, releasing artificially cooled air and the smell of over-ripe cantaloupe.
Between the doors and the customer service desk, Bruce ran through every scenario he could think of. None of them worked out with him getting out of Dad’s house. He and Dex couldn’t get a place. They were both broke. Susan still lived at home.
Maybe Uncle Spence would let him live in one of the rusty cars in his junkyard. A roomy old Crown Vic?
“We’re here to see Mr. Keller,” Dad said.
The girl behind the counter looked at Bruce skeptically.
“Hey, Jill,” he said, trying to not look as uncomfortable as he felt.
She smiled. “Been okay, Bruce?”
As Jill leaned over to press the call button on the old announcement mic, she snorted. “I bet.” She bent down to get close to the mic. “Mr. Keller to customer service, please. Mr. Keller to customer service.”
Before she could even straighten up, her phone rang.
She answered and the person on the other end started talking before she could even say hello. She nodded a few times as they waited.
“Of course, sir.” She turned to them. “He said for you to come up to his office.”
They both cut their eyes to the back of the store. A strip of four-foot tall two-way mirrors set close to the ceiling ran the length of the back wall over the deli department. On the other side of that row of mirrors was Mr. Keller’s office. He’d seen them walk in.
Bruce was in a nightmare. The walk down the cold dairy aisle might as well have been a death row march. The surprised hello from Lou, one of the kids from produce, felt like one of the other prisoners yelling goodbye from his cell.
Dad didn’t slow, and Bruce had to keep up, so he just nodded at Lou and pushed forward.
Way too soon, they pushed through the light, floppy metal door into the dingy stockroom. Mr. Keller’s office was up a set of concrete stairs just inside the door. They were up the stairs and on the landing outside his door within seconds.
Dad rested his hand on the door knob and turned to look at Bruce. “You will walk out of here with your job back. You hear me?”
“Yes, sir.” Defeat. If he’d ever wondered what absolute defeat sounded like…
When Dad pushed the door open, Mr. Keller smiled. “Jim, good to see you.” He stood from behind his ancient desk that looked like it had been scavenged from a high school principal’s office—in a really poor district.
“You too, Ray. Thanks for seeing us.” Dad sat in one of the two metal folding chairs facing Mr. Keller’s desk as Mr. Keller settled back into his.
Bruce hadn’t expected a friendly handshake, but the guy hadn’t even looked at him. He sat in the second chair and kept his mouth shut.
“No problem, Jim. It’s always good to see you. But…” He rattled some papers on his desk. “I’m just not sure about this.”
Dad nodded. “Well, I just appreciate you not saying ‘no’ outright.”
That’s when Mr. Keller acknowledged Bruce. “I did tell your dad no. I don’t want you back here.”
Then, why’s Dad putting me through this shit?
He got ready to stand. “Well, then—”
Dad slammed him back into his chair, almost knocking it, and Bruce, over. He don’t remember which, or how many, curse words he said. But when he saw Dad was about to strike again. He shut up.
“Ready to let the man finish speaking?” Dad asked evenly.
Bruce swallowed. “Yes, sir.” Then he turned to Mr. Keller. “I’m sorry, sir.”
Mr. Keller nodded approval at Dad. “Good job, Jim. I’m not sure I believed you had him under control, but…” He shrugged. “I would still say no if it was up to me. But if he can convince the new manager, I’ll go with his verdict.”
New manager? Bruce leaned forward. That could definitely work in his favor.
Mr. Keller smiled. “I’m heading out to supervise the opening of our new store over in Middleton.” He glanced at his watch. “Aw, hell. I gotta get going.”
He stood, grabbed his keys off the desk, and headed for the door.
“I’ll send the new manager in and you can plead your case.” The last look he gave Bruce reminded him of how people in the movies look just before they said, “And may God have mercy on your soul.”
He stepped out the door and yelled, “You ready? Come on up!”
Dad glared at Bruce. “No matter what.”
Feeling a lot more relaxed, he leaned back in the chair. “Don’t worry. I got this.” There was almost nobody in the world he couldn’t sweet talk—as long as he hadn’t knocked their son loopy with a gallon of milk, of course.
In a few seconds, Mr. Keller’s voice wafted in from the hall. “I’m heading out. You need anything, call me. And…”
“I know. Be nice.”
“Hell, no,” Mr. Keller said. “Not even a little.”
They both laughed, and Bruce had to try to control his bowels.
The fucking bastard knew. He knew that whole time.