An Excerpt from "Black Ice"
“What do you want me to say?” Joe asked.
Tom Mercato shook his head and waved his empty glass at Joe. “You only have to agree with me. That’s it.”
They were alone at Joe’s house, drinking in the finished basement. Joe had a nice setup down here—a huge flat-screen TV that took up half of one wall, couches, vintage movie posters on the walls, and a fully-stocked bar. There was a roaring fire going in the brick fireplace, and, between the two of them, they had finished off a third of the bottle of bourbon Tom had brought over. He’d invited himself over to finish the discussion they’d started this morning at McDonald’s, and Joe had been happy to oblige.
And while Joe wasn’t planning on hurting Tom, he couldn’t rule it out. The man needed to be brought down a peg or two. Tom was a hothead, but Joe just let the man talk and talk and talk. Joe was practicing holding his temper, keeping calm even as Tom got more and more drunk—and more and more annoying.
Upon Tom’s arrival, he had jumped right into the ObamaCare discussion from this morning. And while it might have looked to the others like he hadn’t been listening, Joe repeated all the arguments right back to Tom, sparring with him to keep things interesting.
“Look, Tom, you know I hate politics,” Joe said, waving his glass at Tom. “When I want a challenge, I get out the chessboard. Interested in a game?”
Tom shook his head as he paced back and forth in front of the fireplace.
“No, Joe. Everyone knows you can’t be beat,” Tom said, not saying anything else.
“Well, I don’t see the point of talking about politics all the time,” Joe said. “There’s no point in talking about it if you can’t do anything about it. Right?”
He looked at the fire, and Joe wondered if he’d gotten an early start on the alcohol. He’d seemed tipsy even when he’d arrived two hours ago, parking his silver Lexus in Joe’s driveway. Tom had more money than he knew what to do with, and two women to choose from, and everyone loved him, but he still seemed unhappy. It did Joe’s heart some good.
Finally, Tom answered, leaning on the mantel above the fireplace. He put one foot up on the wide brick hearth. “I just get mad sometimes,” he continued. “Like this ObamaCare thing—they’re lying to us, man! Can’t you see that? I’m all for improving the healthcare system in this country—God knows it’s a mess—but how can it be a good thing to have the Government step in and tell people what kind of insurance people can buy?”
Joe shook his head, not caring. The argument had gone on too long and he’d lost interest. “I don’t know.”
Tom shook his head, suddenly angry, or so it seemed to Joe. Maybe it was the bourbon.
“And what will happen when the government starts ‘managing care?’ Death panels and rationing. Not at the top of the list? You don’t get a kidney,” his voice rising in volume. “You know what’s going to happen, Joe, and we’ll be paying for it!”
Joe said nothing and looked at the fire in the fireplace.
“Paying for the privilege of lines and waiting lists and healthcare being doled out like treats to a dog,” Tom said loudly, as if he were talking to a whole table full of people. “Joe, I’m so sick of things going downhill, and I think this election could be really important. It’s a chance for us to—”
“What do you mean ‘a chance for us?’” Joe stood and went to the fire, pulling open the doors. “There is no ‘us;’ it’s just the politicians.” Joe took the poker out of the metal holder and began adjusting the logs in the fire, turning one until it caught alight.
In his mind’s eye, he imagined turning and running at Tom with the white-hot poker.