Violence smolders beneath an amiable appearance.
Seth wiped the sweat from his forehead and sipped his beer before leaning back on the inclined bench and pumping through a final set of twelve. His living room consisted of a secondhand couch, a television sitting on a board balanced between cinder blocks, a power rack, a bench, an inclined plane, and a punching bag. Seth lived a simple life. Not spartan, exactly, but he wasn’t interested in material wealth. He liked to feel strong, love vigorously, meet aggression with aggression, and laugh from his belly. Anything else seemed a waste of time.
Seth emerged from the bedroom wearing sweatpants and no shirt. He pulled a coffee filter from his cupboard and started to scoop Folgers out of a can. At six feet six inches, he looked like he had workout equipment for furniture.Central City, 71-72
After his final set, Seth stepped to the punching bag and beat his way through a three-minute routine. Hanging on the wall behind the bag was a picture of Seth and his parents shortly after they’d moved to Central City. Seth’s father had owned a string of bars in Warsaw that catered to the Red Army. He saw the writing on the Iron Curtain and fled to avoid a purge. He tried to rebuild his operation in the US, but failed to accurately navigate the capitalist landscape. After his father’s death, Seth’s mother went to work in a dry cleaner’s shop. The family was poor, but she was proud, intelligent, and hardworking. She did her best to instill integrity and morality in her wayward son, but despite her best efforts, Seth spent two years in St. Catherine’s, where he’d been remanded after ignoring a third red light in a car owned by a woman he’d never met.
After his workout, Seth felt himself in the proper frame of mind. He toweled dry and pulled his arms through the sleeves of a Hawaiian shirt. Fifteen minutes later, Seth pulled to the corner of a junk house in Commerce City. He knocked on the metal of the screen door without a screen, and a face Seth recognized appeared, framed by the light of the living room.
“Seth, we weren’t expecting you.”
“Do you mind if I come in?”
The man wore torn blue jeans and a stained hoody with a skull and crossbones on the back. He hadn’t shaved in several days, and he had more than one night’s worth of bedhead. Despite his obvious distress, the man stepped aside to allow Seth to enter. Between two men on a couch sat two women who’d worked at The Side Saddle before they’d become too strung out to arrive on time or effectively perform their duties.
Seth spoke to the women, “Find another place to be.”
When the door closed behind the women, bedhead said, “Hey man, there’s no need to get uptight. We were going to come in and pay tomorrow.”
“Then I saved you a trip. You are welcome to pay me now.”
One of the men on the couch, a bald man with a skull and crossbones tattoo on his neck, said, “Well, that’s the thing. We won’t get the money until tomorrow.”
“Today is the day.”
A silence hung over the room for a beat until the man on the couch who’d yet to speak began to chuckle. At first it sounded as though he was trying to strangle a cough before it escaped his lips, and the three other men turned to him. Seth had noticed his dilated pupils and bloodshot eyes, no more bloodshot but perhaps a bit more dilated than the eyes of his companions. When it became clear he had a case of the giggles and wasn’t dying, baldy joined the laughter.
Bedhead tried to stem the tide. “Hey guys, this isn’t funny. Seth’s here on business, guys, and we need to handle that. You know?”
The man turned to Seth, and Seth smiled.
Seeing Seth’s smiling face, the man snorted. He did his best to hold it in. His companions had given themselves wholly to frivolity. They sprawled on the couch, heads thrown back, tears running down their faces, trying but failing to calm themselves, to catch their breath. The harder they tried, the more they failed. After the first snort, bedhead held his breath, but the building hilarity escaped in the form of squeaks and creaks, like a deflating whoopy cushion. Obviously, the situation was serious, but seeing the red faces of his friends cracked him open. Their actions in that moment determined their reality. Their actions grew out of their character, and that character defined the truth of their potential.
Seth watched the three men cackle, and he understood that they would never pay what they owed. Given a hundred years, they’d never regain enough traction in the world of consequence to dig themselves out of the hole their lives had become. They’d scrounged enough cash to buy dope, and they’d sold that dope to buy more and to feed their habits. The habits had grown, and they’d borrowed money to buy more dope. They’d paid some back to be able to borrow more, and they’d found ways to tread water while the margin grew.
Seth had always been a man with simple tastes. His predilection toward simple pleasures, more than the history or intention of their friendship, made him one of the few people Kane Kulpa trusted. Seth’s choices defined his place in the world, his disinclination toward power, his innate ability to enjoy drink without needing a drink, to enjoy a woman without feeling beholden, to enjoy a slice of pie without gorging on sweets. Seth Gromski limited his extremes.
Seth removed the pistol from the holster beneath his arm and shot each man in turn. They died laughing.