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Labor & Economy

The Dixon Family Chronicles: “The Sink Man”

Gary Phillips

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Illustration: Jeffrey K. Fisher

“You don’t know what the hell you sayin’,” the red-eyed man blurted. He came off his barstool too fast, knocking it over as he did so. Drunk, he teetered over to Hank Dixon, who’d turned on his stool toward him but remained sitting.

“Best slow your roll, Al,” the one-handed bartender Pierre Gaston said languidly. He took hold of an empty glass between the pincers of his prosthesis. Behind him and above the bottles on a flat screen TV, played a near mute newscast about a truckers’ job action at the port.

“Oh, I’m’a slow somethin’,” Al Griffiths sneered, ignoring the advice. He stood close to the stockier Dixon; Griffiths’ beer and vodka chasers a heavy aroma in the other man’s nose. “You didn’t go around with Juanita. She wouldn’t have had anything to do with you, toilet seat fixer.”

Dixon squinted at his accuser as he sipped on his beer. “This was after she dumped your trifling ass. She moved up to a brother who could keep a job.”

Nervous chuckles filtered through the stale gloom of the Scorpion’s Tap.

Griffiths shot back, “You a goddamn lie, Dixon. She was too fine for you.”

Low and steady he growled, “You ought to listen to Pierre.” Dixon started to turn back toward the bar top, signaling he was through.

Grabbing Dixon’s arm, Griffiths said, “I’m not done talkin’ to you.”

Dixon pivoted around and lashed out with the heel of his palm in a fluid motion. Griffiths stumbled backward, arms windmilling. His balance already precarious, he got tangled up in his own feet and landed hard on his backside.

“Da-yum,” a woman said.

Pleased all those years watching kung fu flicks like House of Flying Daggers had paid off, Dixon now stood over the sputtering man. “Come on,” he said, sticking out his hand. Not too many years ago, he’d have followed up with his fists, not trying to de-escalate.

Griffiths swore at him and got up on his own. The excitement had sobered him up just enough he didn’t try to swing on Dixon. Rather he gave everyone the finger. “Ef all, y’all,” and stomped out of the bar, listing side to side.

“Sorry about that, Hank,” Gaston said. “Didn’t realize the history when I’d asked you about her.”

Dixon allowed a wan smile. “I knew the history.” He never did cotton to that loudmouth. He sat down to finish his beer. Dixon was aware Gaston kept a Remington semi-auto shotgun in a rack underneath the bar. Just in case Griffiths or any other frisky patron got it in his head to return and settle matters like too many times in the news these days. His cell vibrated in his jeans pocket.

“Sheet,” he muttered, recognizing the number on screen. He answered, clearing his throat. “Yes, Mrs. Gutierrez?” He listened to the older woman, nodding curtly. “I’ll be right there.” He thumbed off.

“Duty calls?” Gaston said, returning from filling an order.

“Don’t it always?” He downed his brew and left, walking south on Maple. It was past six in the evening but what did that mean to a live-in handyman, Dixon lamented, and not for the first time. He returned to the Eden Arms and got his toolbox from his apartment.

Later, after a trip to the Home Depot on Slauson and Western for a replacement part, Hank Dixon finished his repair of Alma Gutierrez’s bathroom sink. He then turned on the water to check for leaks. He felt the pipe and connections for wetness, then he turned the faucet off, satisfied. Feeling good about his accomplishments twice in a night was a record for him.

He put the adjustable wrench and several other items, including the Teflon tape he’d used for wrapping the pipe threads for a better seal, back in his tool box.

“That should do it, Alma,” he said, stepping back into the front room of the modest apartment.

The widow Gutierrez sat on the couch, listening and nodding, her smartphone pressed to her ear. “Yes, I understand. Okay,” she said, glancing up at Hank. On her lap was an open issue of TV y Novelas magazine. She ended the call, putting the phone and magazine aside.

“That was Belle,” she said softly.

“Yeah?” Belle was the daughter of the elderly owner. More and more she’d been taking on the role of landlady as her mother aged and added more ailments.

“She said they might be selling this place. The University wants the land.”

“What?” was all Dixon could say.

“I know. They lied to us. What a surprise.” She looked off, frowning. Quietly she said, “Where could I go?”

Dixon was wondering the same damn thing and drawing a blank.

To Be Continued-


The Dixon Family Chronicles appears every Wednesday. See also:

Chapter 2: “SOL”
Chapter 3: “Time Is Tight”
Chapter 4: “Early in the Morning”
Chapter 5: “You Gonna Step Up?”
Chapter 6: “Esoterica”
Chapter 7: “Which Side Are You On?”
Chapter 8: “A Little Past Seven”
Chapter 9: “No Justice …”
Chapter 10: “Live for Today”
Chapter 11: “The People United”

Watch Gary Phillips talk about his webserial.

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