Sheldon Silverman, GM: a ghost story

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Shelly Silverman sliced open his right cheek with a smart and shining Gerber blade the day he killed his father. He bought a new suit, too. His father always said he was too soft, too pretty, too green to be taken seriously. His father was General Ma...

Shelly Silverman sliced open his right cheek with a smart and shining Gerber blade the day he killed his father. He bought a new suit, too. His father always said he was too soft, too pretty, too green to be taken seriously. His father was General Manager, Shelly a lowly pit boss. A month later, the casino owner promoted Shelly to GM. “Good luck, Shelly,” Pigweed Gold told him. “Too bad your old man’s not here to see this.” “Thank you, sir,” Shelly said. “And it’s Sheldon. Not Shelly.” Pigweed winked and went back to working on the stroke that would soon kill him.

 

That night Shelly practiced for hours in front of the mirror, perfecting the concealed-carry jacket flip, a variation on the “say hello to my little friend” move. He shaved his head. He carefully cleaned the gash on his cheek, which was healing nicely, a big red hook. He laid out his new suit. He practiced putting in a pair of colored contact lenses, white, the creepiest ones he could find. He took “Eye of the Tiger” off infinite repeat and went to bed. He slept deep and clear and woke up smiling.

It’s 2:01 am by the big clock on the wall of his private office. It’s a bleak, nearly empty room, a place for Shelly to get off his feet for a few minutes, eat a cold steak sandwich, and watch the action on the floor. Tonight he stares out the two-way mirror at the bright and busy casino. He takes a deep breath and waits. A moment later he smells low tide, salt air, rotten fish. His palms itch and he clenches his beefy hands into fists. His stomach clenches itself. He sees his father out on the floor, drink in hand, leaning on a slot machine, hitting on a post-adolescent waitress in a tiny dress. Shelly doesn’t move but as he clears his throat he tastes bile. “Jesus Christ, old man,” he mutters. “Doesn’t matter how dead you are, does it?”

He knows his dead father is drinking bourbon. Makers Mark, the old man would shout. On my mark! Get set! Go! He’d down his drink and slam the glass on the bar. Every fucking night. On my mark! The girls would giggle. Night after night, girl after girl. Shelly hears it now, standing in his lair high above the casino floor, the phony laughter of a dead cocktail waitress, maybe two, maybe ten. He stopped counting months ago.

Shelly hadn’t counted on his father sticking around, and that makes Shelly mad. Drinking doesn’t help. Drinking doesn’t hurt, either, but he likes to set a good example for his crew. Not like the old man. Old school, his father would say. Or just old…and wait for the waitress to giggle, give his shoulder a tiny perfumed shove, and tell him he’s not old, he’s just right. And the old man would put his arm around the girl’s waist, and whisper in her ear, or cup her ass, or kiss the top of her head, all of the above or something new. Every fucking night. Shelly killed his father a year ago, and every month since then Shelly feels the high tides get higher, the low tides get lower, and the space between longer and longer. He hears the pier creaking in his dreams, he hears the gunshot when he’s awake. He hadn’t counted on that, either.

“Dead is dead and dead is gone,” he thought. But no. Two days after his father washed up on the beach down in Ocean City, Shelly discovered the Army footlocker in the attic. It was full of lingerie, red and black and man-sized. Shelly pawed through the trunk and sat back, his huge hands full of lace and silk. “Christ, you’re lucky you’re dead,” he whispered. He carried the footlocker out to his Range Rover and drove to the pier behind the casino. He slid the trunk into the water and got home in time to dress for the wake.

Shelly knows he’s tough. He knows he’s the most badass GM of all time. The scar, the Glock, and those dead white eyes make him impossible to fuck with. Only the drunkest drunk, the most vicious meth head, the most doomed and stone broke loser would even try. No one ever wins against Shelly. No one ever tries twice. But every night, every fucking night, his dead father puts him in his place. Shelly tried working days, he tried working nights. He replaced the dealers, he replaced the waitresses, tried to dispose of everyone who knew his old man. Nothing works.

Now in his office Shelly smells brine and fish and feels the floor shift under him. He hears the creak, the sound of decaying planks supported by shifting, rotten pilings. He steps back from the window, the one-way eye in the sky. One foot slides on slick salt water, the other lands on nothing. The slot machines disappear, the roulette wheels and blackjack tables vanish behind a mean high-tide mist that smells like death. The buoy appears as it does every night, riding the waves. Shelly shot at it once. The bullet ricocheted off the plexiglass in front of him and flew into the wall over the clock. It’s still there.

Shelly reaches out as he falls but grabs nothing. He hears the pier give way as he crashes through, and something old and rusted and dull slices his good cheek and rips out his jawbone and half his teeth. He sinks into the foul water behind the casino, far from the friendly boardwalk. He hears nothing as he sinks, but as he hits bottom, landing on garbage, on wreckage, on rot, he hears his father’s voice. “A bullet in the back of the head, Shelly? You couldn’t even look me in the eye?”

“Are we done, old man?” Sheldon asks, in his grim office above the casino floor. “Fuck off. I got work to do.”

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