Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
4195 words
SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

More Rust than Nickel

by A. S. Coomer

He saw them a month ago. He was walking the three blocks to Mallory’s for a beer, taking the way that went past his old shop, and saw them unloading a white and orange truck. He knew they were queer from the start. They were laughing like queers do and carrying on like there was no such thing as common decency.

Cable got real drunk that day.

He had gone by his old place every day since. They’d moved into the upstairs apartment where he used to live and were working on something downstairs where his shop had been. He couldn’t tell what their intentions were. They hadn’t put up a sign and kept the blinds closed most of the time.

He saw the food service truck a few days later and realized they were opening some kind of restaurant.

Probably fucking fondue.

It turned out to be a vegetarian pizzeria and gin bar.

Cable felt sick thinking about it. He’d been in that building for twenty-four years. Twenty-four years selling auto parts and fixing small engines. Twenty-four years living in that tall-ceilinged, three-bedroom apartment above it.

He lived in a fucking HUD dump now. Crackhead neighbors. Daytime hookers. Winos. Faggots. All the low-life bottom feeders and he lived right there among them. Things had never been as bad as the day he was evicted and had to close up shop. He had to apply for housing. He had to apply for social security. He had to move into a rattrap of an apartment.

Everything’s wrong with the world. Nothing is as it should be. Not like it was.

All the memories of the boomtown he knew and thrived in were hazy and lined in gold. Sure, there were problems then. He was divorced, twice, in that time for Christ’s sake. Had been fired from the plant by that prick, Hanson. Had been arrested for DUI and PI more times than he could remember.

But I had a fucking job.

I had something to do with these goddamn hands. I mattered.

There was nothing left for him now. His sister died. Cancer. His brother died. Vietnam. His mother and father were a long time gone. He had no children. His ex-wives...

Fuck that. I got nobody.

Uncle Sam gave him a place to sleep, if he could ever get to sleep with all the buttfucking and partying that went on at all hours of the day and night.

He was looking for a way out. The queers, inadvertently, gave it to him.


“This place is gonna be so great,” Cliffy said.

He was screwing on the cover to the new light fixtures that had come in that day.

“I know. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about anything in my life,” Isaac said.

“Oh, come now. We saw Morrissey last year and I swear you had a hard-on the whole time,” Cliffy said, laughing.

Isaac broke out singing the chorus to “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” and Cliffy stopped laughing.

“You think you’re so freaking funny, don’t you?”

“We both know I am.”

They were set to open on that coming Monday. They’d got the place cheap. C-H-E-A-P. Everything was cheap in Detroit now. Everything was for sale too. They’d had no hiccups at all with the business license, getting the second-hand ovens, all the furniture. It’d been like a golden ray had descended through an opening in the shitstorm and showed them the way.

Cliffy climbed down from the ladder and flipped the light switch.

“Goddamn,” he said in satisfaction.

The multicolored fixtures filtered the light through a series of gold flecks and sparkles and shed it onto the recently waxed table in a glistening pattern of concentric circles.

“That looks great,” Isaac said, hugging him and kissing his ear.

A goddamn travesty. Two fucking retards could’ve finger painted a better one with their own shit.

“The Pink Lady Pizzeria,” the sign read. On one side was a cocktail glass, filled to the brim with a pink liquid and topped with a lime and cherry pierced by a single toothpick. On the other was a slice of mushroom pizza.

In the big front window, where Cable used to hang pictures of Mustangs, Cadillacs, aftermarket fenders, and spark plugs, where it used to tell you the place was Miller’s New & Used Auto Parts & Small Engine Shop, was a hand-painted sign, in a flowery script, with the menu items and drink specials.

Cable read the sign from top to bottom. His face screwed up and up until he looked to be in genuine pain by the time he’d finished. There wasn’t a sliver of meat on the menu. There wasn’t a single beer on there neither. Everything was “gluten-free” this and “vegetarian-friendly” that.

The door opened without Cable’s knowing. The little chain-metal bell he’d kept on the door didn’t inform him it was being opened.

“We’re not open just yet,” the airy, high-pitched voice told him.

Cable jumped. He hadn’t expected the fairies to approach him.

“Haha,” the man laughed. “Didn’t mean to scare you, friend. We’re opening next week. Pink Ladies are going to be half-priced and, let me tell you, I make the best Ladies in this hot pink little city.”

Cable felt infected by the man’s presence. He felt demeaned by the very fact that he had thought of this...this a man.

He’s not a man. He’s a she. A she.

Cable spat at the man’s feet and stomped past him down the cracked sidewalk.


“Another beer, Johnny,” Cable called.

He’d lost count. Stopped counting after nine.

“OK, Cable, but don’t you go getting sick, now,” Johnny said, passing him the bottle. “I had to clean up after Two Times last night and I’ll be damned if I’ll wipe your drunken face in your own puke if you upchuck.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Cable waved Johnny away.

Fuck it. I’ll just kill them myself. Why not? I can do it. It’s not like I got anything going for me if I get caught anyway. At least I’ll be doing some good for this city. Somebody has to do something.

He took a long pull at the beer and set it down on the bar harder than he’d meant to.

Yeah, why the fuck not? They got no right. No right to go and take my shop. Take my apartment. No right to parade around in front of the world like their shit don’t stink. I’ll fucking show ’em. Assclowns.

Cable rose on shaking legs and took the beer with him to the bathroom. He pissed, partly in the urinal and partly on the floor, then spat in the sink. He looked at himself in the scratched and graffitied mirror.

You used to mean something. Henry Cable Miller: small business owner. Good Christian. Purveyor of fine auto parts and fixer of any small engine. You used to build those trucks. You used to bang tail on a weekly basis. You used to...

He slammed the bottle into the mirror before he realized what he was doing. His face felt like it was boiling. The veins in his neck felt like thick ropes choking him.

Fuck this.

He pushed past Johnny coming in through the bathroom door.

“What the fuck?” Johnny said.

“I slipped,” Cable said, dropping three wadded up tens on the bar.

“Hey,” Johnny called as the door shut.


“Lacto-Ovo just sounds gross,” Cliffy said.

“But it’s what we are, Honey,” Isaac said.

The two men were hunched over the enormous chalkboard that was to be hung behind the bar. They’d been working on the menu for the past two hours and sipping at the different gin cocktails Cliffy was perfecting.

“It wouldn’t look right on the board. It sounds like something breeders get. Some lactation disease or breastfeeding irritation,” Cliffy said.

They laughed. They were always laughing together.


Another siren peeled off in the distance. Cable squinted off towards the glittering lights of the Renaissance Center and saw the flashing fire-truck lights reflecting off a billowing cloud of smoke, somewhere near.

Another fire. Don’t these losers have anything else to do besides burn the city to the ground?

Cable huffed up the three flights of stairs to his apartment. He unlocked the door. The smell of the burnt potatoes still hung in the air from that morning.

He crinkled up his nose and tossed his jacket onto the threadbare couch. He opened the freezer and poured himself a shot from the vodka bottle. He turned on the TV for something to hear other than the snot-nosed brats wailing and carrying on next door.

The six o’clock news. A story about Devil’s Night. Last year there were only 93 fires responded to during the usual three days of frenzy. A vast improvement to the total destruction in years past.

Devil’s Night.

In the ’90s, Mayor Archer had renamed it Angel’s Night and called on all of law enforcement as well as the community to take back their neighborhoods. Hoards of citizens patrolled the city, doing their damnedest to stop the arsonists. Arson prevention signs were stapled onto abandoned buildings all over the city. People were asked to “adopt” empty, blighted structures and babysit the places from six in the evening till midnight.

Apparently, it worked. At least a bit.

There’s always fires, though. Something is always burning in Motor City.

A lot of the time it was business or home owners, either hiring somebody or doing it themselves. An insurance racket. Sometimes it was just firebugs and vandals.

You never fucking know.

Cable smiled and downed another drink.


“What d’you want for it?” she asked.

“Twenty-five,” Cable said.

The woman shook her head and turned the radio over in her hands.

“Stolen?” she asked.

She stopped him before he could answer.

“Don’t tell me,” she said. “I’ll give you twenty.”

Stupid slut thinks I stole it. Thinks I’m a fucking thief. Me?!

She gave him the money.

He took the money down to the gas station and bought a plastic five-gallon gas can and a lighter. He paid for three gallons.

The Arab behind the plate glass didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow. Not even knowing that today was October 29th.

All they care about is the goddamn dollar. Should burn down his mosque, too. Make him see that he’s not safe behind that glass. No one is safe in this city. Not me. Not them.

He filled the can then went back to his apartment and waited for dark, taking slugs directly from the vodka bottle.


“A Halloween opening,” Cliffy said into the phone. “Isn’t it just great?”

Isaac, listening to the phone conversation, feigned reading the Palahniuk novel in his hands.

“You’ll have to be there. I can’t wait to make you a drink, girl,” Cliffy said.

Isaac fought against the smile forming on his face. He was just as excited as Cliffy but tried not to be so easily read. He’d thrown everything he had into this. The relationship with Cliffy and the pizza place. They’d gotten a great deal on the building, sure, but he was fresh out of Wayne State and capital was hard to come by. They’d had to borrow from Cliffy’s mother, who Cliffy was talking to just then, and this made him nervous despite the good relationship he had with her.

“Oh, I know!” Cliffy laughed. “He’s Mr. Serious. Always frowning over this and that. But he knows it’ll work out. Nobody can make a drink like this bitch and nobody can make a pizza like he can. We’re going to make a killing. An absolute killing.”

Isaac smiled, despite himself. He was in love.


He watched them from the crooked bench across the street. He sat in the darkness. There were street lights but they hadn’t worked in years.

City can’t even keep the lights on

They were up there in his living room. He could make out the tops of their heads as they pranced around. The place was lit by floor lamps.

Overhead lighting must be too mainstream for them.

He spat and flicked the lighter in his hand. He watched the flame glow in the darkness.


“This is Detroit, mother fucker,” the man had told him. “You can get whatever kind of firearm your wrinkled white heart desires.”

“I don’t need anything heavy,” Cable said.

“Man, any gun in any mother fucker’s hands is heavy. Especially if there’s a price to be paid.”

He settled on a small nickel-plated .380 that was more rust than nickel.

“I ain’t paying you a dime till I know this thing works.”

“It works.”

“Prove it.”

Cable followed the man to a boarded-up brick single-story around the corner. They walked through the high weeds to the side door, which hung open on one hinge. It was dark but the man had a flashlight. He followed him into the basement where two stained mattresses were pushed against each other on the far wall.

The man took off the backpack and fished out a handful of small, golden bullets. He loaded the gun then passed it to Cable.

Cable checked it, felt the weight of it in his hand, then let off three quick shots in the darkness. The noise bounced off the cement and clapped around in his head for several seconds.

“See. Told you, cracker.”


Cable brought the bottle to his lips and found it empty.

“Shit,” he said out loud.

His breath steamed before his eyes and he blinked back tears from the chill. It was going to be cold.

Real fucking cold. But not here. Not tonight.

He picked up the gas can and crossed the street to what used to be his home.


The back steps were rickety, but he knew them well. He went up as quickly and as quietly as he could. He made the landing and looked in through a slit in the curtained window.


Must be fagging it up.

He set the can down, leaned back on the railing then swung forward with everything he had. The door burst open and he heard the bolt break through the weak wooden frame. He slipped on a bamboo mat just inside the kitchen and dropped onto his shoulder, hard.

“Oof,” the air rushed out of his lungs and he couldn’t find a breath.

There was a scrambling sound from the other room. Cable struggled to his knees.

“What the fuck—”

Cable held the gun out with both hands, panting, as the two men came into the kitchen.

“Oh, Jesus,” the other man said.

“Sh...Shut the fuck up, fairy,” Cable said, regaining his breath.

He rose to his feet.

“Put your goddamn hands in the air,” he told them.

The two men did as they were told.

Look like two gay deer caught in headlights.

Cable stepped back and, with one hand keeping the pistol trained on the men, grabbed the gas can from the porch. He kicked the door shut and set the can on the counter.

“We’re going to have us a little Come-to-Jesus meeting, boys,” he told them.

“Listen, man. Just take whatever you want. Anything,” the man pleaded, his voice shaking.

The other man, his fucking lover, tried to smile but faltered. Cable’s face was etched in hatred, sculpted by a desperate desire to harm, to strike, to take back what was his.

“This used to be my house,” Cable told them. “I lived here for twenty-four years.”


He’s drunk, the thought dropped from his mind down into the pit of his stomach. There’s no telling what a drunk’ll do. There’s no logic in it. There’s no reasoning. God help us.

Isaac watched the man teetering on his feet. The gun shook in the man’s grimy hands. He could smell him, a vile sourness of cheap booze and dried sweat. He wondered if the man had actually lived there, as he claimed, or if it was just the fantasy of a violent man on a bender.

“Twenty-four fucking years I ran my shop downstairs,” the man said.

He wasn’t shouting but there was a malice in the voice that caused Cliffy to shrink with each word. Isaac wanted to comfort Cliffy more at that moment than he’d wanted anything in his entire life.

“Hey, now,” Isaac said. “Let’s just calm down. We can talk this out. You need money? You can have it. You want a job? We’re opening a pizza place downstairs. You like pizza?”

The man’s eyes blazed. A strange thought occurred to Isaac. He felt that if he held his hands before those eyes, he would actually be able to warm them in the heat they radiated.

“You think I want to make pizzas? You think I want to work for two buttfuckers?”

Cliffy flinched as if he’d been struck.

Isaac wanted to lash out at the man for that. He hated seeing Cliffy hurt.

“What you want then?” Isaac asked.

The man took a step closer and smiled. It was anything but pleasant. The smell of vodka was abrasive, like kerosene breathing from the man’s mouth.

“It’s Devil’s Night,” the man said.

He raised the gun until it was level with Isaac’s head and Isaac had to cross his eyes to gape down the quivering black hole.


He’d lived in the suburbs his entire life. This was Cliffy’s first place in the city. His mother had warned him and he heard stories but now this.

“Stop, stop,” he begged the man. “Please. Jesus.”

The man pressed the pistol between Isaac’s eyes and tears streamed down his cheeks.

“But, you know, I think Archer was right. It’s more like Angel’s Night,” the man said.

The smile was sickeningly vicious. The man was enjoying this. Enjoying the terror and the looming violence. Cliffy felt on the verge of pissing himself.

“Cos I think I’m doing His work tonight,” the man said. “The Lord’s work.”

“What do you want?” Isaac whispered. His eyes were closed and his whole body was trembling.

The man held the gun there, right between Isaac’s eyes, and smiled.

“Just take whatever you want and go,” Cliffy begged. “We won’t call the cops. Promise. Just take it all and go. Please.”

“Get on your knees, boy,” the man said to Isaac.

Isaac eased himself down on unsteady legs. His hands, as did Cliffy’s, remained raised.


Cable held the gun in his hand and felt fifty feet tall. The queer was shaking on the floor, on his knees, in front of him.

“You love each other?” he asked.

“Y-Yes,” Isaac stammered.

Cable pulled the trigger.


The blast wasn’t expected. It had a flat register and rang hollow in the crammed kitchen.

Isaac’s head snapped backwards and he hovered on his knees for a moment before slumping onto the stained linoleum on his right side.

The piss flowed freely down Cliffy’s leg.

“No,” his voice was tiny. “No, no, no.”

This isn’t real. This can’t be real. This isn’t happening.

The man stood there over Isaac, looking down. His smile was gone, replaced by a hardened, grim determination. The man swung his foot into Isaac’s stomach. When he didn’t cry out in pain, it registered to Cliffy just what had occurred.

“Yes, that’s right,” the man hollered.

He let out a yelp and a whoop and the smile returned to his face.

“This is A-mer-ic-cah,” he said, turning toward Cliffy. “This is Dee-troit.”

Please, God.


God, it felt good.

The pistol was warm in his hands and the vodka was buzzing in his ears.

Taking it back. Taking it all back.

“This used to be my home, you fucking fairy,” Cable said.

He jabbed the gun at Cliffy.

“Please,” Cliffy said.

His voice was small and squeaky.

Like a little girl’s.

“Please,” Cable mocked. “Please, what? You think I’m going to spare you? You, who stole my home? Who stole my livelihood? Who stole my goddamn city?”

The laugh tore from Cable, wild and booming.


This is the end.

It popped up in Cliffy’s mind like a headline. A text message update from CNN. He was scared beyond anything he’d ever known.

His eyes fell to Isaac on the floor. Isaac’s eyes and mouth were open. He didn’t look like himself anymore. Death deformed him. He looked empty. A shell of the beautiful man he’d been. The man who had swept Cliffy off his feet. The man who hadn’t told his father he was gay. The man who gave every last cent to the bank to get this apartment and the storefront below. The man he’d kissed and made love to more times than he could count. The man he’d imagined growing old, gray, and fat with.

It’s over.

“Get on your knees, boy,” the man told him.

Cliffy stood, quaking but upright, and locked eyes with the man.


“I said, get on your knees, boy,” Cable growled.

Cliffy shook his head.

Rage flared, red and boiling, in Cable’s stomach and he pulled the trigger over and over and over.

Cliffy hit the floor and Cable continued firing until the clip was empty.


Cable woke to find himself sitting on a leather couch in what used to be his living room. He was staring at the floor lamps.

How long have I been sitting here?

He had no recollection of anything after shooting the second guy. He didn’t think he had actually been asleep but in a sort of daze. He jerked his head and stood. The gun thumped onto the floor. It’d been in his lap.

He bent to pick it up and a wave of dizziness swept him off his feet.


He didn’t try to get up. The room was spinning and resetting, spinning and resetting. He lay there on the ratty carpet until it settled. When he rolled over to pull himself to his feet, he saw the first man crumpled just inside the doorway to the kitchen.

Involuntarily, Cable’s stomach lurched like it had on the roller coasters at Cedar Point, some fifteen years before. He felt as empty as the rusty pistol.

His mind raced but nothing intelligible surfaced.

Eventually, Cable stood. He walked across the living room and looked from one man to the other. He stepped over the man lying over the threshold, careful not to step into the small pool of thickening blood. He picked up the gas can from the counter.

He started with his bedroom. He didn’t see any of the new tenants’ things. He saw the room as it had been when he lived there. He saw his Ford calendar, days, months, years fluttering by, on the wall. He saw the neon beer sign above the bed. He saw the parade of women, some pretty, some not, all naked and heaving. He saw the window and the little grassy lot in the spring behind the building.

He doused the room.

He went into the bathroom and saw himself, younger by some twenty years, shaving in the mirror. A cigarette waiting on the basin, a cocky smile on his face, the radio buzzing on the window sill.

He splashed gasoline over the floor.

He went into his office. He saw the ledgers and the invoices and the bills. He saw the calculator and the stubby pencils. He saw the ashtray and empty beer cans.

Again, the gasoline.

He went back into the living room. He saw the old burgundy couch. He saw the thick, wood-paneled television and the Lions game playing. He saw the sun streaking into the window, lighting the pages of the Auto Trader in his younger, stronger hands.


The other bedrooms he used to house auto parts and other things from the shop downstairs. A stack of porno in the corner, too.


Lastly, he stepped back over the man in the kitchen. Pork chops and sardines. He covered him with gasoline. Pizza and High Life. He hosed the other man too. He tried not to look too closely at either of them.

His mind turned and turned but nothing sputtered to life. The hollowness was nearly overwhelming. He felt he failed somehow, even though he accomplished what he’d set out to. He went to the back door, the door he walked out of every day for nearly twenty-five years of his life. The door he’d fixed after some crackhead had tried to break in. The door he got drunk painting. The door he had just shattered.

He couldn’t get it to open. He couldn’t go back outside.


He collapsed. Gasoline soaked through his fatigues and his scrotum contracted closer to his body with the chill.


He lay back and felt the liquid soak into the back of his unkempt hair. His breath came in gasps. He felt the tears sting his eyes, the sweet stench of gas in his nose.

He upturned the gas can on his chest then let it fall onto the floor beside him. He dug the lighter from his pants pocket and flicked it.

SHJ Issue 14
Spring 2016

A. S. Coomer

studied creative writing at Western Kentucky University and graduated magna cum laude with a BSW degree. He’s had a great many jobs: investigator of child abuse and neglect in Appalachia, custodian, secretary, floorman at a tattoo shop, burger-flipper, family-support worker at a food-stamp office, and manager of a frozen custard shop, to name a few.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury