Will had his eye pressed up against the peephole, peering into the empty hallway of the apartment complex. Satisfied, he turned back to Tommy, sitting on the well worn sofa. “No, not ‘assaulted’, I said ‘salted’. I think Carl is tryin’ to eat me.”
“Eat you? What do you mean ‘eat you’?”
Will plopped down onto the plaid recliner. His expression contorted into — what Tommy assumed to be — his ‘serious face’. “Just as I said. I think Carl’s a cannibal, Tommy.” He leaned back, the smug self-sure grin on his lips.
Tommy rubbed at his temples. “I don’t have time for this.” Will continued to sit: smugly. Tommy quickly realized he would be best served to just get it over with. “Alight,” he sighed. “What makes you think he’s a cannibal?”
“For starters, he salted me.”
“What, with a shaker?”
“With a shaker.”
“Maybe he tripped.”
“You don’t trip into multiple shakes.”
Tommy shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, granted.” He took his beer off the coffee table and took a swig. “Well, maybe he had a good reason then.”
“What, so I wouldn’t ice up in the winter?”
“Well, I — ” the sound of keys jingling in the lock cut Tommy short. Will dove behind the recliner, one eye peeking from around a side. He shook his head slowly with his eyes wide: the international gesture for ‘don’t tell him I’m here.’
A moment later, Carl stepped through, tan trench coat impeccably crisp. He must have noticed a strange look on Tommy’s face, because his brow immediately furrowed.
“Hey, Tommy. What’s… going on?”
Tommy muttered under his breath “I can’t believe I’m going through with his.” Then, to Carl, “Here, why don’t you have a seat.” Carl removed his jacket without ever taking his eyes from Tommy, then slowly slid onto the couch beside him.
“Beer?” Tommy asked, reaching into the ice tub beside the couch. Carl shook his head. “Okay, look. I think the easiest thing is just going to be to put this out there, and then that’s the end of it. Carl, are you trying to eat Will?”
Carl chuckled. “Why of course not. That’d be silly.” Tommy eased back into the sofa. “His meat would be much too stringy.”
Will sprang up from behind the sofa, brandishing an accusational finger as he charged forward. “See there! See there! That’s exactly something a cannibal would say.”
Tommy squinted at Will. “And how exactly do you know what a cannibal is likely to say?”
Will’s finger fell to his side and his mouth hung open for a moment. “Well, I could be one.”
“You’re a cannibal!”
“Yes, but that’s not the point.”
“That most certainly is the point.”
Will gave a sheepish shrug. “Well, look, I don’t eat anybody I like.”
“You’ve actually eaten people?”
“Sure, but they weren’t very nice people.”
“That’s just sick.” Beside him, Carl licked his lips.
Will gingerly took the beer from Tommy’s hand and placed it in the center of the coffee table. “Look, Tommy — let’s say this bottle here is your sis. And, let’s say, for example, some hooligan walked up,” he demonstrated, walking his fingers across the table, “and punched your sis straight in the nose.” The finger-man let loose a massive roundhouse, sending the bottle clattering to its side.
“My beer!” Tommy scrabbled to tip it upright before it soaked the carpet.
“Piss you off a bit? Don’t like someone messing with your sis?”
“You spilled my damn beer. I don’t much like my sis.”
“Fine.” Will reached for the bottle again but Tommy clutched it protectively to his chest. “Okay. The same hooligan comes up and punches your mum, straight in the nose. Now how do you respond to that particular brand of wanton violence?”
“I don’t know. I should imagine I’d punch him back.”
“One of your little girl punches? So a little bump on the cheek, and then he’s back roaming the streets, punchin’ mums as he sees fit?”
“I’m not saying that at all! I just think that your particular choice response is a bit over the top — I’m not going to eat the man!”
“You know what you are, Tommy? You’re a mum-puncher apologist.”
“I am not!”
“Carl, feel free to chime in.”
Carl put a comforting hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “It’s really all about choosing the juicy morsels. The legs, the back…”
Will nodded. “I think what Carl is saying is that it’s about choosing your battles.”
Tommy shook out of Carl’s clasp. “That’s not what he said at all!”
“We cannibals don’t go around willy-nilly, eatin’ who we please,” Will continued. “We’re not some random mum-puncher like you, Tommy, feedin’ the rage of your tiny manhood by takin’ it out on frail old bags.”
“Hey now! Let’s not bring my manhood into this.”
“Call a spade a spade. Honestly, Tommy, between your mum-punchin’ and anti-cannibalistic propaganda, your miniscule manhood and ugly mug are the least of your worries.”
Carl nodded. “I’d eat his face…”
“Right. Exactly, Carl. And I suppose you’d call us cannibals for that, huh, Tommy?”
“But, but — ”
Will grabbed Carl’s coat off of the hook. “Let’s get out of here, Carl. Go grab us a drink.”
“But he’s trying to eat you!”
“I admire a man of principles, Tommy. At least I know where he stands.”
Rich Matrunick occasionally finishes stuff that he’s started. You’ve been warned.