My life is a little complicated.
Some people skate through. Some even throw in a couple double axles and a spin. I do it on one foot, carrying an anvil on pond ice during a thaw. I’m a mess.
Sometimes I think with my head. Sometimes I think with my heart. Sometimes I think with my dick. The success rate of those three modes of decision making are all about fifty-fifty. The ancient Greeks believed that the liver was the seat of the soul. Maybe I’d let my liver do the thinking for awhile.
There’s the old story about the dog who chased every car that drove by his yard. One day he caught one. Now what was he going to do with it? That’s the situation I found myself in. I’d been chasing around trying to find Torey. Now I had him. Now what?
I got Torey to pull himself together. Actually, I think he was just plain cried out. He splashed a little water on his face in the basement bathroom, took a piss, and chugged the last of a Mountain Dew. That’s a very male ritual for facing the world. I grabbed the video, gingerly, like it was poison. We went upstairs.
Mrs. Peres and Pies were sitting at the kitchen table. They were eating some Chinese takeout that she’d brought home. She didn’t look real pleased to see us, maybe a little hopeful we would be gone soon. Pies reached out and shook Plunker’s hand. They were communicating on another level.
“Thank you for taking care of Torey.” I was genuinely grateful.
“I did not know he was here until yesterday.” She didn’t want any trouble. She had seen Liz Nice’s endless live shots from the woods as the searchers slowly lost hope — and lost two volunteer Cub Scouts. The Scouts, at least, were relocated, and the cameras got that “tearful reunion” they were looking for. Hell, they got two for the price of one. The Channel Six news director was so happy, he got a DUI that evening.
“I won’t tell anyone where he was,” I said.
She relaxed a little. “He is a good friend to my son. Not all the children are so good to him.”
Pies was different. That can be a capital offense among children. People say children can be cruel. They’re not cruel, they’re primitive. If someone is lame, or too near-sighted, or socially inept they will not be a help when the bison herd comes within range. Kids, especially boys, instinctively gauge another’s potential hunting skills. Girls? I take back some of what I said. Girls are cruel.
“I thank you, and I thank Pies for your help.”
She was offended. “His name is Ramon.”
As usual, if there was a faux pas to be found, I found the whole pas. I hoped he wouldn’t grow up to hit people with pipes in prison. I pulled my money out. I had about five hundred left from my foray at the Golden Calf. I handed it to her. Whenever I feel awkward, I reach for money.
“Oh, I cannot…”
“I insist. You have been a great help.” I put my arm on Torey’s shoulder and led him towards the front door. I hate the social game of “wrestling over the check.”
“But I cannot…” She held the money out towards me, but not too far towards me.
“Yes, you can. Muchos Gracias, Senora. Muchos muchos gracias.” That was the end of my Spanish.
She slipped the money into her uniform. She was an LPN, after all. She closed the door behind us as we stepped out into the clear, windless night. It was about nine P.M. I checked the time on the nice watch I’d picked up on my way out of jail such a long time ago. I’d been there longer than I thought.
Streets are empty after dark in Vaporville. Honest people don’t go out. Between the cops and robbers you weren’t safe, either way. Torey and I headed up to a service station three blocks up. I wanted to be in a well-lit area.
I gave Torey the last three bucks I had, and he went inside to get some grub. The edible stuff they sell at those places are the end of the over-processed food chain. If you were to unwrap it all and scatter it on a vacant field, you could come back in six months and it would all look the same. The colors are fixed, the shelf life is infinite, and the sheer durability would make any pyramid builder proud.
After he went inside, I tried Valerie’s number again on the cell phone. This time somebody answered.
“Zebnerwincwki residence.” It was a woman. She could pronounce Valerie’s last name. It worried me.
“Pardon me, sir. You called me. It is generally accepted that the proper etiquette is for you to introduce yourself first, and then inquire as to whom you are speaking.”
My head hurt. “Who’s this?”
“As I explained, you should say, ‘Hello, this is — Your Name Here. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?’ Is that simple enough?”
It was Sally Rosemond. Shit, shouldn’t she be in the Bahamas by now? “Sally, put the fucking phone down and get Valerie. I need to talk to Valerie now!”
She hissed through her nose. Don’t ask me how, it’s just something Sally does. The phone clunked down — on the table, probably. I heard some voices in the background. Sally has a loud voice. I could make out what was being said.
“You don’t have to talk to him, sweetie. Don’t talk to him.”
I could hear Val, but it was harder. “Give me the phone, Sally.”
“It’s only going to mean more trouble.”
“I want to talk to him.” It was very worrisome. Valerie was almost passive. I had a horrible feeling she was going into one of her depressions. The last time the black dog got her… well, let’s just say I didn’t enjoy going to that place to visit her. And I had to work way too hard to pay the bill. The Public Defender’s health care plan only covers wounds that actually bleed. Val’s a scrapper, but sometimes she hits the psychic brick wall. She’s just doing the running-away-from-childhood marathon with the rest of us.
“But Valerie, it always ends up the same way. Let him go. We could…”
“Give me the fucking phone, Sally!” That was the Val I knew and loved.
Some more clunking — then, “Marty?”
“Yes, Val, it’s me. Are you all right?”
I always chose the wrong opening line. She burst into tears. It was a day for tears. Did I get a turn?
“Valerie… Valerie?” But the tears went on — and the sobs.
“Valerie, I’ll be right there…” The low battery signal beeped.
“I’m… I’m… I’m doing better now. It was…” The line crackled. Then it was Sally’s voice.
“Don’t come… Haven’t you… asshole… damn mess…” The battery gave up. The phone went dead. I shouted into it anyway.
“I’ll be right there!” I pegged the phone out across the street into the darkness. It made me feel a little better. Futile gestures can be good for you. Never discount misdirected anger.
Torey came out working the last four inches of the reddest wiener I’d ever seen. Didn’t they outlaw Red Dye #9?
His mouth was full, but he spoke, “Dadth.”
He called me “Dadth.” My heart was all warm and tingly.
“Dadth, where areth you going thnow?”
“We are going, we are going to Valerie’s. We’ll stay there while I figure some things out.” What was I going to figure out? I didn’t know the answer or the question.
“Does she have a Playstation? Does she have a good color TV?” He was done with the dog and as crazy as any thirteen-year-old normal boy. A Playstation? That was the top of his priorities?
“No, Torey, no Playstation. And she’s only got an old color TV.”
“Can we go to my house first and get my PS2?” He was serious.
“Torey, some things have happened. I don’t think…” Then something he had said clicked. I grabbed his hand and tugged him to his feet. “C’mon, lets go.”
“I need my Playstation.” Like most kids, he was relentless
“Just c’mon, Torey. Trust me.”
When things get tough in a child’s world, they each have a certain specific method for coping. Some want their blankies, some their pacifiers. Some kids want food. It comforts them. I used to vegetate in front of a T.V. when I was young. When we get older, those comforts mutate into sex, liquor, drugs, or the food thing continues. None of them really make any difference in our situations. But they seem to help at the time. Maybe that’s enough.
I tugged Torey behind me across the parking lot.
“Ow. You’re hurting me. Where are we going?” Torey had that whining sound that kids can turn on at will.
I was trying to love him. I guess I did – in my own way. But I have to confess that, up to then, if I liked children it was only so long as they were other people’s children. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t protested when Kim cut me out of the daddy role with Torey. It was cooler being the uncle – free to leave whenever things got real. I’m ashamed of that now.
“Where are we going?”
“Best Buy. We’re going to Best Buy to get you a Playstation.”
He stopped resisting. “Cool.”
The problem was, it was at least three miles to the slightly ratty South Hills Mall, the nearest Best Buy location. I needed a car. I know, I said I didn’t drive because I’d lost my license. I did respect that one law at least. It was my one last grip on social responsibility. I let go.
There was a Chrysler Sebring in the lot. It was almost brand new, a very attractive, almost bronze color. It had all the bells and whistles including a Commando 501-S security system. The owner also had one of those Club things to lock on the steering column. In twenty seconds, we were heading east towards the 460.
Yes, I am good at what I do. But in this case, the car was idling unattended, and the Club had been in the back seat. Whatever, we were at the store in five minutes. It was open until eleven. The Christmas shopping season was officially on. I think it started on November eleventh, 1952.
The light inside the store was intense, especially after the relative darkness of the store dumpster. Torey was racing ahead of me down the electronic game aisle. He was my son all right. I watched as he pocketed a “Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas” without even the slightest disruption in his stride — a real piece of slight-of-hand.
“Torey, you get the PS2.”
“Whatta’ you going to do?” Torey was checking the overhead security cameras without looking like he was checking the overhead security cameras. I was more than a little proud.
“I’ve gotta get something in the back.” I pointed across the store to the TV section.
“Cool.” He was off towards his prey.
These modern “box stores” like Best Buy are enormous, big enough for indoor track meets. With holiday shopping underway, the place was crowded. All that space and all those people, I was figuring on those factors helping my little plan.
On the back wall of the space was a triple-decked row of small TV’s, medium size TV’s, big TV’s, plasma screens, projection units large enough to use in a theater – basically every kind, type and dimension made in Taiwan, Korea, the Marshall Islands, or wherever the congressional leadership had made the last, best deal for their contributing CEO’s.
Every screen was showing the same picture. There was some big football game on. The bright purple K-State Wildcat jerseys were colliding with the vivid red pants of the Nebraska Cornhuskers on a bright green astro-turf field – Purple Pride versus Big Red. The colors were true and intense. Everything the modern video consumer looks for. About a hundred men, bored while their wives shopped elsewhere, were staring slack-jawed at the broadcast. I remember thinking that it was a great distraction. I should be able to work without notice.
Like Torey, I didn’t even skip a step going by the connector cable display. I had grabbed a good double-pronged mini-plug set with no one being the wiser. And I snagged a blank tape and shed the wrapper under my coat without a single suspicious gesture. I headed over to the far end where they had some of the smaller sets – the ones with the TV/VCR combo. I spun one around and popped in the cables, then repeated the move with the unit next in line.
I pulled Torey’s tape out of my Cubs jacket and slid it home in one set while the blank tape went into the other. I hit rewind, waited a second, and then hit play on the first unit and record on the second. Then I turned, and with my back to the screens, I puffed out my jacket and leaned back. The televisions were small, and I could cover the two displays easy. I leaned back and tried to act casual. It would only take about three minutes to make the dub. I only needed a copy of the early part of the tape, the part with the hand and the ring.
when things went wrong.