An excerpt from The Mercy Killers by Lisa Reardon
Gotham Fiction Teacher Lisa Reardon has recently published her novel, The Mercy Killers (Counterpoint Press); the story of a guy who takes the rap for a crime committed by his brother, avoids prison by fighting in Vietnam, and spends a good deal of time in McGurk’s Tap Room.
Early praise for The Mercy Killers: “A timely novel of terrific suspense that is as socially aware as Dreiser, as astute about working-class American character as Raymond Carver or Joyce Carol Oates, and altogether terrific.” - The Washington Post
The novel’s wicked mixture of tragedy and humor is apparent from the get-go, as seen in these opening pages:
It’s hard to think how different their lives would have been if it weren’t for the mess they got themselves into, if it weren’t for that war, if they hadn’t all been so young and stupid and scared. On a rainy evening in the spring of 1967, Old Jerry hunkers on his bar stool like a liquor-soaked question mark. The topic of conversation is his long-awaited suicide.
The bartender brings him a shot of Stoli. “From Olivia,” he says, “A little early happy birthday for you.” Old Jerry gives Olivia a nod and a wave across the bar. She waves back. Almost sets her chiffon hair scarf on fire with her cigarette. Old Jerry adds the shot to the other two her has got lined up.
“Everyone thinks it’s a joke but I’m telling you, Gil, I want to die.” Old Jerry tilts his shot glass at the bartender. “I’m seventy years old. I can’t get my dick stiff, I can’t take a solid dump, I smell bad.”
You don’t smell bad when you take a bath.”
Gil McGurk, forty-one years old with arms like firewood, picks his teeth with a cocktail sword and works the daily word scramble in the newspaper.
“I can’t take a bath.”
“Too skinny. Bones bruise my ass if I sit in the tub.” Gil’s eyebrows go up, but he keeps at his puzzle.
“That’s right. Bony old naked bastard sitting on a rubber stool with Mr. Limp Dick. "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. A man who can’t even piss straight, how’s he gonna kill himself? I need some help.”
Old Jerry scratches where his clothes hang loose. “I itch, too.”
“Because you won’t take a bath,” replies Gil.
“We covered that, my friend. And if I weren’t older than Jesus’s final fart, I’d still want to kill myself after sitting in this place so long with guy as boring as you.” He swallows one of the shots. A watery trickle runs down his chin and leaves a few drops on the bar. He rubs at them with his bony wrist. The cuff of his ancient flannel shift is as soft as a spaniel’s ear. “Why don’t you have a drink and quit being a prick?”
Gil puts the newspaper down. ”Haven’t had one in seven years, Jerry.”
“Seven years of you being meaner than shit.”
“Seven years of me not killing myself with booze.”
“It doesn’t work anyway, trust me. Tell me what’s in the newspaper, will you? Read me how the country’s going to hell.
Gil turns the paper over. “Rash of Auto Thefts in Willow Run.”
"That’s probably Gino’s doing all by himself.”
“Johnson Seeks the Hearts and Minds of the Vietnamese.”
“There you go,” Old Jerry says, “Read me that one.”
Gil reads the first few paragraphs and then turns to page 6B to continue. Old Jerry mutters “cocksucker” once but Gil says to shut up or he won’t finish. At the end of the article, Gil sets the paper down to take delivery of Carlsberg. Old Jerry calls after him, “You see? Who want to live when you got that going on in the world? What are we doing over there?”
Gil nods toward the TV. “Killing commies and getting rich.”
Old Jerry watches Gil and the delivery guy carry the beer into the bar. “So what do I have to do to get a guy to kill me?”
“Just keep it up,” Gil says.
To read the rest of this story, look for The Mercy Killers at bn.com. Copyright © by Lisa Reardon. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved.