By 2:00 A.M. everyone except the enormously-fat Claude Barlow had left the party. Everyone except Claude and me, that is.
Or is it Claude and I? I can never remember. Miss Apel, my seventh-grade English teacher, tried and tried to drill all that crap into my head, but it never seemed to stick. Poor Miss Apel. She would get so frustrated sometimes. Her eyes would bulge and her face would turn the shade of a ripe tomato, and she would say, “Gordon Malicat, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times…” And she had. She had told me a million times. But it still never seemed to stick. It’s not that I’m stupid or anything; I just get preoccupied sometimes. I’m not stupid. She thought I was stupid, but I’m not.
I stabbed Miss Apel to death and threw her body in a dumpster.
I used a wooden ruler, one end wrapped with electrical tape and the other sharpened to a point on the sidewalk. It took some persistence to penetrate the flesh deeply enough, but I was strong for my age. I went at it like a roofer hammering shingles, really putting my shoulder into it. A knife or an ice pick or something would have been easier, but she was one of them, and it had to be wood.
It had to be wood.
Anyway, all that’s ancient history. That was back in seventh grade, when I was still just a kid. I’m eighteen now, and I have my own place and everything.
Claude Barlow owns the Mexican restaurant where I bus tables. Prick. Last night, before the restaurant closed and the private party started, he called me into the bar while I was trying to finish a four-top practically painted with salsa. He motioned for me to have a seat on the stool next to him.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he said.
That was the kiss of death. Whenever Mr. Barlow called you into the bar, motioned for you to have a seat on the stool next to him, and then offered to buy you a drink, it meant he was going to fire your ass. New Year’s Eve or not. I tried to play it cool, even though I knew what was coming.
“I’m only eighteen,” I said.
“Oh. Well, listen. Remember when I talked to you a while back about speeding up your actions? About getting out of here on time?”
“Can I help it if a bunch of filthy slobs eat here?”
“Yeah. Well, Gordon, I’m afraid we’ve decided to let you go.”
“Let me go where?” I was in smartass mode by this point.
“You can get your final paycheck next Friday.”
I untied my apron, wadded it up, threw it on the floor on my way out.
I had my own little party in my apartment, just me and a pint of Jack. I watched the ball drop on TV. I still had that good old ruler from seventh grade, hidden in the bottom of my underwear drawer. I got it out. He was one of them, all right. No doubt about it.
At 1:30 I drove back to the restaurant. The lot was empty except for Claude Barlow’s Cadillac. I parked by the service entrance. The metal door back there hadn’t been secured for the night, and the alarms hadn’t been set. I walked right in.
Claude was on the black leather settee in his office, passed out drunk. It looked like someone had propped him up in a sitting position, maybe to keep him from drowning in his own puke. He wore a silver party hat and there was a helium-filled balloon tied to his left pinky.
I picked up a half-empty flute of champagne and splashed it on his face. His eyes startled open, as if a switch had been flipped.
“Can I buy you a drink?” I said.
He never got the chance to answer.
When I got home I washed the ruler and put it back in my underwear drawer. You never know when you might need something like that. You never know when you might run into another one of them.