ON THE ALBINO FARM – CHAPTER 25

            If I don’t get enough sleep, I make some really stupid decisions.

            If I’m lucky, someone intervenes and stops me.  If I’m luckier, I doze off before I can do anything.

            “Love, Love me do…”  Vandy’s cell phone rang again.

            There were a hundred or more rings I could have programmed into it.  I had almost punched in “Hell’s Bells,” but AC/DC doesn’t translate well into wimpy little electronic beeps — not enough balls.  I considered ABBA; they would fit, but the only cut on the menu was “Fernando” and I hate that one.  I wanted “Dancing Queen.”  I settled on the Beatles because they were my dad’s favorite.  We played them at his funeral.

            “…You know I love you.”

            “Hello.”  It was hard to get the first word out.  I’d been sitting immobile on the curb as the sky gradually brightened.  The rain had dwindled away, and I was soaked.  Did I mention my butt was wet?  It was all I could do just to croak that single word.

            “Good morning, my friend.”  It was Vandy.

            “Carl.”  I managed one more word.

            “Did you lock your door?”  There were a lot of people speaking all at once behind him.  Was he at a party?  That would be strange.  I wasn’t thinking very straight.

            “Where are you?”  I did three words…amazing.

            “I’m in the parking lot of the Further Creek Country Club with about a thousand concerned citizens, Liz Nice, a shit load of TV cameras, another hundred wannabe cop nuts with scanners, a van full of militia types, and about fifty really pissed off blue hair bridge fanatics.”  He didn’t sound all that happy.

            “God bless you.”  Three more words got out.

            “Listen, I just called to tell you we got some preliminary DNA back.”

            “And?”  That was easy.

            “It’s Mikey on the blouse, but Terri had somebody else inside.”

            I didn’t really like the way he put it.  But how else could you say it?  For Vandy, it was as delicate as he ever got.  I couldn’t think quick enough, so I just told him the truth.  “It was Hunter.”

            “The good Father, huh?  Same blood type as Mikey?  That’s why the preliminary test would…  Shit!”

            “Problem?”

            “I already got an angry message on my voice mail this a.m. from the D.A. warning me about, quote: ‘badgering any of the Bishop’s people,’ unquote.”

            “You only talked to Doug twice, right?”

            “Yeah, and not since Tuesday.  Well, fuck ‘em.  I’m going to badger him, anyway.”

            “No, you’re not.”

            “Oh, yes, I am.  I don’t care if I go to hell.  I hear retirement pay stretches further there, anyway.”

            “He’s dead, Carl.  He’s dead.”

            “…Fuck!  You didn’t kill him, did you?  Please tell me you didn’t kill him.”

            “He shot himself.”

            “Tell me you didn’t help.”

            “Maybe I did.  I pushed him…maybe I did.”  Maybe if I’d changed the subject.  Maybe if I’d helped him pray, or…

            “Where is he?”

            “That’s a pretty deep question, Carl.  Where is Doug Hunter now?”

            “You on drugs?”  Vandy meant it.

            “No…not yet.”  I stood up.  Where was that meth dealer’s house?  Oh, yeah, three blocks east.

            “Where is he?”

            “The body is in the rectory.  In the library, or should I say the video room?”

            “Oh, Christ!  Was it him on the tape?”

            “No.”  It was hard to even think about those images.

            There was a pause.  I could hear the crowd behind Vandy trying to get organized.  Somebody had a bullhorn.  A golf cart was beeping as someone put it in reverse.  People were shouting, “Look out, look out for her foot!”  It sounded like chaos.  I like chaos.

            Vandy let out a big barrel-chested sigh.  “Get away from the church.  I’m sending some people down there.  I’ll head down, too. You all right?”

            “Yeah… No… Yeah.”

            “Go home.”

            All I could say to that was a weird little giggle.

            “They’re going to charge Mikey today.  One count of first degree homicide.  They’re waiting on the sex charge and the… the kid.”

            “Torey.”

            “You know he’s dead, Tools.  It’s been four days almost.  He’s most likely dead.”

            “I gotta go.”  I didn’t want to hear this.  Had the man in Doug’s nightmare sent out the policeman to find him?  Redlands.  Fuck.

            “One more thing… Valerie’s getting out this morning.  She might already be out if her friends made bail.  I heard she was acting a little strange…if you want I…”

            I cut him off.  “Thanks Carl, I gotta go.”  I disconnected.

            I hailed a cab.  It splashed me with muddy water as it pulled over.  What the hell, it went with my mood.

            Since you don’t live here, you don’t know how odd it was to have a cab for hire so immediately available.  This is a medium-size city of the heartland.  We don’t have a lot of taxis.  The ones we do have sit at the Big Muddy International Aerodrome — that’s the airport by the river.  The drivers read our shitty newspaper and wait for business travelers stupid enough not to rent a car.  A few idle away at the Greyhound station where they recruit runaway girls for some big city occupations.  If you stand on the street downtown, you might see four cabs go by in an hour.  We don’t trust cabs here on the edge of the plains.  We drive ourselves.  It was a miracle when the hack drove by.  I needed a miracle.

            “Where to?”  He was wearing a turban.  Big city, small city, some stereotypes are true.  That’s how they get to be stereotypes.

            “Take me to…no…take me to an ATM.”  I needed money.  I’d given almost all of mine to Kenny Corleone.

            “Where to?”  Oh no.

            “An ATM.”  I spoke very slowly.

            “Ann ate eeee yem?”  Shit!  This was some miracle.

            “A money machine.”  I spoke louder, like that would help.  I made a vague, charade-like movement with my hands to indicate moolah.  It was useless and I knew it.

            “Ah…monee…moneee!  O.K., O.K.”  Did he get it?

            He sped down the street, turned, screeching, onto the viaduct and floored it.  My back was pressed against the seat like Sally Ride during blast off.  I was trying to think of a magic phrase when he whipped it left, then right again.  I was looking for a cup holder to crawl into.  I was in a Happy Cab, and I wasn’t very happy at all.

            “We go bank,” the cabbie shouted over the Bollywood soundtrack blaring out of the taxi’s speakers.

            “Sure.”  I was fighting too many G-forces to engage in a long conversation.  That’s when I saw Father Corleone’s black Lincoln Town Car up ahead.  It was making a right hand turn into a parking lot.  Not just any parking lot, either.  It was pulling up to the casino.  Corleone had a lot of strange hangouts for a priest.

            “Turn in here.”  I shouted at the cabbie.  He didn’t blink.  The brakes locked up, all the tires spewed gray smoke.  A quick crank of the wheel, and we were in a powerslide.  I hit my head on the back of the front seat.  By the time I cleared my head, we were stopped at the front entrance of the Golden Calf Casino.  Corleone’s Lincoln was nowhere in sight.

            “Wait here,”  I yelled back at the cabbie, as I scrambled onto terra firma.  I hadn’t paid any fare yet, so he was likely to stick around – for a while.

            The Golden Calf Casino, like all gambling dens, is not subtle in its architectural style.  The cab had slid to a stop under a big curving portico, topped with a thirty-five-foot tall, vaguely Babylonian, gilded bovine idol.  It was supposed to be the calf that had seduced the Israelites while Moses was up the mountain in a meeting.  Remember, when he came down, Moses was all pissed off.  Typical.  The working class blows off a little steam, and middle management shows up in the break room with an angry ten point memo from the CEO.

            The casino proper was built like a ziggurat.  A multi-stepped fake mud brick pyramid draped with bright green plastic plants ala the Hanging Gardens Galleria.  Now I know that’s got nothing to do with the calf story, but don’t expect historical accuracy at casinos, theme parks, cathedrals, or universities.  You’ll be disappointed.

            I’d done some grazing at the casino before, so I knew there was a parking garage around back, and that’s where I figured Father Kenny had headed.  He’d park and head inside.  I went through the front doors and figured I’d catch him somewhere on the gambling floor.

I don’t gamble…with money, anyway.  Gambling is for suckers.  They weren’t able to build this huge monstrosity because people won.  One time there was a picture of a local personality being ushered into an old paddy wagon on the front page.  He was trying to cover his face, but that was silly because everyone in town knew him.  He ran a few games of chance in a notorious nightclub that had stood not too far from where I was now.  The headline said, “Local Gambler Arrested.”  My dad laughed and shared some fatherly wisdom with me.

            “Son,” he said.  “You see this man?”

            “Yes, Dad.”  God I loved him.

            “This man is not, as the newspaper alleges, a gambler.”

            “He’s not?”

            “No, son.  He is a mathematician.  His customers are gamblers.”

            My dad was, as usual, right on.  All casino games are mathematical formulas.  If so many hands are dealt, so many wheels are spun, so many slot handles pulled, the percentage the house keeps will be such and such.  You can count on it.  There is no chance involved if you own the place.  Just look at the giant gold thing out front.  You might be lucky once or twice.  Keep coming back, they will build a bigger gilded cow.

            It was about seven forty-five.  Hard to tell.  They never have clocks in these places.  They don’t want you to really know what time it is.  Does anybody really care?  I did a quick scan — there was no sign of Corleone.

            I still needed some money – for the cab fare, for Val’s bond if she hadn’t got sprung yet, and for a few other contingencies I suspected were about to arise.  I headed strait for the roulette table.

            That’s right.  I had no money, zero, zilch, and I headed for the roulette table.  Roulette has the worst odds of any of the casino games.  Only idiots play roulette.  At 7:45 in the morning only the most brain damaged of the idiot sub-set play Roulette.  Exactly the kind of mopes I was looking for.  There were three completely tanked cretins sitting there with moderate-size piles of chips.  They were totally hypnotized by the spinning wheel.  I sat down.  Two minutes later, I stood up.  I had made all their neat little stacks just a bit littler.  They never suspected a thing.  That’s the price of mixing Roulette, stupidity, and free drinks.

            I spotted Father Corleone over by the slot machines, and I headed towards him at a near run.  He saw me coming and turned with his arms outstretched like he was going to hug me.  I remember thinking that he was a real piece of work – wanting to hug me.  That’s when I realized that I was stumbling badly.  I was so tired that I couldn’t pick my feet up like a normal person.  I’d thought I was running towards him, but with my shoes catching the plush casino carpeting, I was actually executing a long, clumsy fall in his direction.  Only my forward momentum kept me close to vertical.  Just as gravity was about to put a punctuation mark on my comic sprint, I ran into his chest, and he caught me before I hit the floor.

            “Mr. Hutchence, you all right?”

            “Fuck.”

            “Easy.”  Corleone steadied me as I regained my balance and stepped back a decent, socially acceptable distance.

            “What are you doing here, Father?”

            “Well I…”

            I repeated what I had been thinking when I saw his car pull up to the casino.  “Kind of a strange place for a clergyman.” 

            “I’m picking up my mother.”

            “Your mother?  I’m fucking sure.”  I know I’d actually almost liked him after meeting him at Kim’s the night before.  I’d even believed he was telling me the truth.  It’s just that I was in a very cranky mood that morning.  I was kind of in a hurry, and I was sick of priests.  “You know a kid named ‘Pies’?”

            “Pies?  No.  I don’t think…”

            “Don’t fuck with me now, Kenny.  I’m not in the mood.  Doug Hunter is dead.”

            “Dead?  Father Hunter is dead?  Did you kill him?”  Everybody was making me the prime suspect.

            “No.  He killed himself.”

            “Oh, my God.”  Corleone sagged back against a Beverly Hillbillies slot machine.  Elly May’s tits were sitting on his head.  “He was molesting Torey.  I’m sorry.  We all knew Doug was troubled but… I never suspected…”

            “He didn’t do it.”

            “The Monsignor was running his parish.  Oh.  Marty, it’s the Monsignor.  Shuldik is…”

            “An asshole.  But I don’t know for sure yet if he’s the guy.”

            “He has to be.”

            “Maybe.  What I do know is I have to be sure before I…”  I decided that Vandy’s advice still applied.  I kept the rage down inside me.  I didn’t want to say too much.  “Just answer me, Father.  Think.  Did Torey ever mention a kid named Pies?”

            “I can’t…  Wait.  Torey did say he had a good friend down in Vaporville that he liked hanging out with.  But the boy’s name wasn’t Pies.  It was a Hispanic name.  I can’t remember.”

            “You’ve got to remember.”

            “I… I… No, Marty.  I’m sorry.  That’s all I can remember.  Except that the kid lived down by the old lead refinery.”

That was the worst part of Vaporville.  Would Torey be hanging out there?  He was my son.  That’s exactly where he’d go.  It was a start.  “That’s all you can remember?”

            “That’s the best I can do.”  Ken Corleone rubbed his face.  “If I could help, I would.  Believe me, I’d do anything to help Torey.”

            I tried to get my fatigued brain to work.  I was trying to come up with the next step.  I was so tired.

            “You look terrible, Marty.”

            “Yeah.  Listen.  I could use your help.”

            “What do you need me to do?”  Corleone sounded sincere.  That usually makes me suspicious, but I was too out of it to react normally.

            “Go to Kim’s house.  Stay there.  Help her.”  I was making stuff up as I went along.  But I did have an idea of how things might go, and if they did…

            “I can do that.”

            “Be careful.  My guess is that Officer Redlands will eventually make an appearance there.”

            “Why?”

            “He’s looking for Torey, too.”

            “Well, of course he is.  The police…”

            “Listen, Ken, forget the police.  And whatever the fuck you do, don’t tell Redlands anything.  Don’t let Kim tell him anything either.  Not until I tell you different.  Torey’s life is in danger.”

            “From Redlands?’

            “Not only Redlands.  Just keep an eye on things at Kim’s.  And then later I might ask you another favor.”

            A silver-haired, short, chubby, Sicilian woman interupted, “So now you’re doing dialog from the Godfather with your friend, Kenny?  You know I don’t like that movie.”

            “Mama.”  Corleone was embarrassed.  “Marty, this is my mother, Mrs. Delizia Corleone.”

            “Ma’am.”

            “So nice to meet you.  Are you drunk?  You look drunk.”

            “Mama!”

            “He looks drunk.”  She was right.

“I’m just tired.”  Italian mothers have a way of putting you on the defensive.

“Mama, we have to go home.  I can’t belive you came here in the middle of the night.”

“I couldn’t sleep.  I didn’t want to disturb you.  What’s the problem?  I left a note.”

“Let’s go home, Mama.”

As they turned to leave, Father Corleone said, “I’ll go to Kim’s, Marty.  I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”

“Thank you, Father.”

            I headed over to the cashier.  I was hoping they weren’t watching the security cameras very closely.  They usually weren’t this early in the day. I cashed in eight hundred and seventy-five dollars from my little trip to the Roulette table.

            I rushed back to the portico.  I couldn’t have been gone more than twenty minutes.  Sikh man was still there in his turban.  At least I thought he was a Sikh. It’s a cool religion.  Mix in a little Sufi with some Hindu, reject the caste system, and encourage purity and toleration.  That’s why it pissed me off after 9-11 when some bigoted assholes, seeking revenge for the medieval horror inflicted on us by some twisted Saudis, shot some Sikhs.  They are as far from Islamic fundamentalists as you can get.  The idiots might as well have plugged some Southern Baptists.  I hate it when racists don’t do their research.

            I gave him Valerie’s address.  He seemed to understand numbers fine.

            Needless to say, his chauffeuring style got me there pretty damn quick.  I paid the fare and tipped him fifty.  The way some so-called Americans looked at him these days, I figured he deserved combat pay.  I stood on the sidewalk and looked up.  I was home.

            This apartment was home to me.  My place sure wasn’t.  I hurried up the short porch steps and turned the knob.  It was locked.  I didn’t have a key because Val thought that was a bit more commitment than she was willing to risk with an alcoholic thief who had issues.  Go figure.  I opened the door and went in.  You knew I would.

            The kitchen was quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator.  Valerie wasn’t here.  I sensed it.  My senses were acute when it came to determining if a place was empty.  I dumped the videotapes I’d taken from St. Phil’s on the table. I fumbled in my waistband and pulled out the leather book of Milton.  I looked at it a second, thinking of the carnage I had witnessed among all that poetry.  I was too sober to think about it now — maybe later.  I tossed it on top of the fridge.  I went down the short hall past the bathroom to the bedroom.  The bed was empty.  I threw myself on it.  Where was Val?  She should’ve made bail by now.  Where was Torey?   Where was Pies?   I needed to think.  I needed to rest just a second while I figured out my next move.  Oh, yeah, the meth.  I needed to get some meth.  I closed my eyes.

            It’s hard to describe a dream.  A description needs some order to it or it doesn’t make sense.  But dreams don’t always have any order.  There isn’t always a chronology.  Up and down don’t exist.  The brain just fires off images, sounds, tastes, and sensation in its own indecipherable operating code.  I’m not trying to be Carl Jung here.  I’ll just relate the dream as it comes back to me now. 

            I saw brains on books.  I heard Terri reading Chaucer.

            Her voice was clear.

                                    “She was so charitable and so merciful.

                                     She would weep if she saw a mouse

                                     caught in a trap and it was dead.

                                     Some small hounds had she that she fed,

                                     with roasted flesh or milk and fine white bread.

                                     But sore wept she if one of them were dead,

                                     or if some man had struck it in the head..”

            I tasted peanut butter and jelly.  I smelled Torey’s hair.  I felt Valerie next to me.  She touched me on the head and rolled on top of me weeping.

            I woke up with her tears soaking the shirt on my chest.  I held her. I didn’t say anything. We drifted off again, together.

            My dad lay in his coffin.  I touched his hands and said goodbye with my lips brushing his ear.  He was only 54 years old.  I had disappointed him so many times.  But he was always glad to see me.  He opened his eyes, and then he winked and smiled.  We closed the lid and buried him.

            Dracula was chasing me.  I covered my neck and ran.  There was no escape.  I suddenly turned and yelled, “Wild blood!  Wild blood!”  Now he was frightened, and I chased him down a dark stony dungeon hall.

            Bugs Bunny stopped me and laid a big sucking wet kiss right on my kisser.  “Don’t be afraid of the drama, Doc.”  He hopped away.

            I think I flew over the Albino Farm and St. Philomena’s steeple.  Terri waved to me from the lookout.  I just slept after that, in darkness.  I held on to Valerie’s warm body.  I like darkness.  I love her warm body.

            It was about noon.

            “Love, Love me do.”  It was muffled.  Where was the pocket?

            “You know I love you…”  Valerie pulled the phone out from somewhere under her and handed it to me.

            “Hello.”

            “Tools?  Wake up!”  It was Vandy, of course.

            “Yeah?”

            “It’s a messy scene over here at Saint Phil’s.  Thought you should know.  Church officials kind of hurried our investigation.  They almost beat us here. The chief himself showed.  Two minutes after me, he’s there and he sez, ‘It’s a suicide, open and shut.’  The boys in black say, ‘Please get your ass out of the building.  Thank you for your concern.  Bye, bye.’  Very curious.”

            “Yeah.”

            “One other thing.  You won’t be happy.”

            “What.”  I was sticking with one word at a time.

            “Mikey just got arraigned at the courthouse.”

            “O.K.”

            “He pled guilty.”  Vandy hung up.

            Where was Bugs Bunny when I needed him?

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