I have a talent for being too clever by half.
Take that little interview thing I’d done on all the TV stations earlier that day. Or was it yesterday? Shit, it was one thirty in the morning. It was Thursday already. Torey had been missing for more than three days. My gut felt like it was full of cockroaches. My brain buzzed like a toaster with a fork in it as I wildly ran through scenarios, plans, schemes, plots. I was half a “p” short of panic trying to figure out how to save my kid.
Valerie hadn’t asked me about the stunt except to mention her disapproval right after the mock press conference. She knew me. She knew I was crazy but that I rarely did anything without a reason, even when I was drunk. I did have my reasons.
For one, it was a chance to put one over on the news jackals. It was way too good to pass up. For another, I’m an American, and every American has a God given right to be on TV. It’s in the Bill of Rights, I think. But besides being able to brush up against Liz Nice, there was another, more important reason I did what I did.
I didn’t know where Torey was, but I did know he wasn’t in the Northland woods. If I could keep everybody including the police force busy up there, they’d be out of my way. With all the crowds likely to show up at the country club for the search, and the guaranteed media pack presence, the cops had no choice but to commit a lot of their personnel. If for no other reason than crowd control, they had to be there. Even though they knew of no reason to search there, I had committed them. It was almost like being the Chief himself.
Chief of Police Armand Davis would be there. He was pathologically attracted to cameras. Knowing him somewhat, I’d bet he’d be taking credit for the whole thing by the time his flunkies brought him his morning blueberry bagel. By the way, a personal note — if it’s blueberry, it’s not a bagel. That’s just a pet peeve. This country screws up everything with blueberry flavor or lemon scent. No wonder we feel alienated from any real ethnic roots. Blueberry bagel, my ass!
Anyway, I seemed to have gotten away with my sleight of hand distraction. Like I’ve said, I don’t dislike cops. I just do better work when they are not around. Thief, law school drop-out, alcoholic, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Club member that I am, I’m wired to be a control freak. The chemical wash in my brain demands that I direct all the action on stage. This act in the play would feature my arcane, devious skills and my paternal instincts. No cops.
Besides, Father Doug Hunter was more likely to talk to me about Terri’s murder and Torey’s disappearance in the absence of authority figures. As to citizen search mobs, no matter the motive, they’re still mobs. I didn’t want any do-gooders “helping” me find my son. I’m always more efficient solo.
The terrifying incident with Val and Redlands at the accident scene had made me realize that the stakes were higher than I had admitted to myself. As for Redlands, well he was turning out to be a bit more than just a zealot. He was a crazy bundle of muscle, that was clear. But I wondered if even his puppetmasters realized how frayed his strings were. It was a good thing that Val was headed downtown. I considered it protective custody. That was good. Things were about to get a little dicey.
After I watched Sgt. Moore put Val in the squad car and everything seemed under control, I stepped out down Nineteenth at a pretty good pace. The stretch for my legs, after being crammed into the tiny Neon like an illegal Honduran heading for Dallas, was a relief. I like staying in shape, and I don’t smoke. I may have mentioned that. I was setting a pretty good pace.
The rain was picking up, but I didn’t really mind. I hadn’t been getting much sleep lately, and it was waking me up. I planned a quick change into my dark prowling clothes at my place and then a visit to the church. Wherever Torey was, the key had to be there. I was doing everything on the fly. Planning is overrated in my book.
I turned left and headed down Jesse James Lane. Here in the Midwest we love Jesse. In his day, he was a major celebrity. There’s a historical marker right there on the corner of James and Nineteenth, the building where the First National Stockman’s Bank used to be. Legend has it, Jesse and the gang held it up back in 1883. The city still celebrates Jesse James Day with a parade, rodeo, and civic festival every year. The celebration itself has been moved up north though, to a nicer, safer place. The town fathers don’t want anyone robbed during Jesse James Days.
The fact that the legendary outlaw had been plugged in the back by that dirty little coward, Robert Ford, in 1882, a year before the alleged celebrated crime, didn’t faze anybody concerned. In America, history is easily adjusted, especially if you can make it fit into a three day weekend that encourages folks to spend money.
James Street is always dark, even at noon. I extend my apologies to Arthur Koestler…never mind. Ignore the reference. They just pop out unbidden. I’m sorry for the distraction. The streetlights always seem to get shot out all the way down to Tenth. The further down the numbers you go, the more interesting things get.
Vaporville used to be called the Southside. Times are different now. The rules have changed.
Now, the people are the same as they have always been. They love their kids. They work hard. They don’t like bullets bouncing off their front porch Christmas decorations. They prefer to eat ground beef without fecal matter in it. True, the last names are Jackson instead of Hruska, and the hair care products are different. But the place is really still the same — working people trying to get by.
They are good people.
I was just about to Thirteenth, within four blocks of my pad, when I met one of the good people. He stepped out from behind a rusty Econoline and squeezed off a shot. It missed — although, for a second I wasn’t sure. There was no time to check.
I froze like a Bomb-Pop. “Damn!”
“Give me your wallet! Fuckermother!” He was skinny. No, he was a meth freak. That goes beyond skinny. Not only does your body get rail thin, when you’re on Meth your brain loses weight, too. Psychosis is the desired high. This was a very dangerous citizen.
“Give me the money, wipe ass!”
“Wipe ass? Is that you, Lonnie?” I knew Lonnie. He had once been a pretty girl.
Let me explain. Lonnie had once believed he was a she, trapped in the body of a, well, you know the rest. There’s a lot of psycho babble to explain it, but I just always figured that Lonnie knew. If Lonnie said she was a she not a he, then Lonnie was probably right. Like Ahmed, whatever trips your trigger is my motto. Lonnie was a slim five foot ten when he/she started taking hormones. She/he grew breasts. They were gorgeous. Lonnie loved to show them off like a new car. More women should share that trait. But the poor girl could never get enough money together to finish up.
The thought of what “finishing up” meant always freaked me out. But that’s my problem, not Lonnie’s. Lonnie’s problem was – the world. That’s a big problem. The world didn’t want to let Lonnie be right about who she was. That must have been hard… damn hard. For whatever reason she/he just became what I called “a pronoun problem.” Her/his drug use accelerated, and Lonnie wasn’t very attractive anymore. I assumed she/he still had tits, but I didn’t want to see them anymore. The haters had eaten Lonnie up with their ignorance and their drugs. Fuck the world.
Lonnie also had a curious dyslexic style of profanity.
“Lickercunt, give me the cash, you eatershit!” Lonnie was still waving the gun. It went off again. There was a ricochet off the sidewalk that kicked up some sparks and sounded like a Roy Rogers episode. Trigger was nowhere in sight. I was on my own, face-to-face with a monster who was, in all likelihood, created by my own dear enterprising brother. Mikey had sold lots of meth to Lonnie. He’d sold him some Sunday night at the Palomino. The stash must be gone by now. There was enough irony in the situation to hold up a dozen refrigerator magnets.
“Lonnie! Knock it off, somebody’s going to get hurt!” It was likely to be me.
“I need the money,” she whined. He shouted, “Dammit God!”
“Lonnie!” The gun spit at me. I heard that curious vibrating hiss bullets make when they whiz by your ear – too close.
“Moe-nay! Moe-nay! Give me the Moe-nay!”
“Monet?” Did he say “Monet?” The freak wanted to talk about French impressionists now. It hardly seemed relevant. Besides, all those pastels and flowers didn’t do it for me. Valerie had a Manet, not Monet, so confusing, in her bathroom. I’d sit there on the throne with my knees nearly pressed up against it. It’s entitled, “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.” I like bars, but this one is too bright. A woman dominates the center. She’s waiting for your order. Bottles of champagne, brandy, and absinthe are in the foreground. Whiskey’s in the back. The colors seem wrong to me. There are no shadows. It’s as flat as a playing card. I don’t care for the Impressionists.
Funny how your mind wanders when you’re about to die, isn’t it? At least I assumed that. I hadn’t died yet. Who can really say? My mind wanders all the time.
Lonnie pushed the gun into my stomach and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. I wished I hadn’t been thinking about Val’s bathroom, because I almost… It looked like I’d need that shower after all.
I grabbed Lonnie’s wrist and twisted the blue metal revolver away. I could breathe again.
“God damn it.” I knew the proper syntax. “God damn it, Lonnie, what are you doing?” I was thankful I’d run into someone I knew. I was grateful she/he had run out of bullets. If this had been a stranger, or anyone other than the addled Lonnie, they might have made sure the gun was fully loaded.
Lonnie crumpled to the sidewalk and sobbed. “What… me… I… had… no… please…” It made no sense.
I’m sure no missionary, but I tossed Lonnie a twenty. “Get out of here and stop being an idiot.” That was the whole sermon. I knew the poor lad/gal would spend it unwisely, and it wasn’t like I had a big bank roll but, well, it seemed like the right thing to do. It was one of those story things. I knew Lonnie’s story. I knew how it would end. Even if it was misguided, it was the only way I could show I cared.
Lonnie melted away, talking out loud to her/himself. If I prayed anymore, I would have prayed then. I should have prayed for Lonnie, but I didn’t.
I just shuffled off down the street headed home. It took a few blocks but my pulse rate dropped, and my breathing got a little less jerky. About that same time downtown, Jasmine Moore watched as Valerie was printed and booked. I was reasonably certain that Val would understand.
While Val was wiping ink off her fingertips, I was taking the stairs up to my apartment two at a time, but when I hit the landing on my floor, I stopped cold. My apartment door was open – just a crack, but it was clear — I had a guest. I wished I’d gone ahead and stolen Redlands’ shotgun at that point.
I considered just hightailing it back into the night. But a voice came from inside. “Nasty weather, hey Tools?” When it rains cops, it pours. I pushed the door open and stepped into my humble abode.
Carl Vandy was sitting on my dirty laundry. There was a couch somewhere under it.
“You should have called first, Carl.”
was exactly the wrong thing to say.