Family
Part 2
"Hey, baby," I said into the phone. Man, it was good to hear her voice. The connection wasn't that good, but it didn't matter. Even on the phone, Lynn's voice was the sexiest thing I'd ever heard. And right now all I wanted to do was listen. Wanted to see if she could chase some of those other voices outta my head. Sitting in the dark in my motel room, I listened to her talk about her shop, and Patty's new boyfriend, and the landlord, and didn't feel the need to add a thing. She was happy, I could hear it; happy with her new life, her new profession, her new friends. As happy as I'd ever heard her. When she asked me how the funeral went, I just said, "I'll tell you about it when I get home." And when she asked me if I was all right, I told her I just needed her to talk to me some more. I think I fell asleep with the phone to my ear. Something woke me a little later, a sound. I heard breathing, and the click of shoes against the linoleum. In the glow of the neon sign through the window I could see a figure at the end of the bed, next to my suitcase. I knew who it had to be. I reached over and turned the lamp on. "Cousin Ronnie." Bent over with his hand on the handle of the suitcase, he looked like a deer in the headlights. "Wendell……now, this looks bad, I know….." "Yeah. It does." "But, see, I'm….I'm…..you gotta understand, this isn't what you think it is." "No? What is it?" "See, you're probably thinking I'm trying to rob you…..but that's not it at all." "OK. What is it?" "It's just…..it's just that I gotta have it by tomorrow, or I'm fucked!" I got up and walked over to him. "I don't know, Ronnie, I think maybe you're already fucked." I grabbed his lapels and slammed my knee into his gut a coupla times. "What do you think?" And I let him fall to the floor. He called me a coupla real nice names in between gasps for air. He was pretty soft, and I thought maybe he was gonna puke, but he didn't. He dragged himself up off the floor. I patted him down, and yep, he was carrying. I stuck his gun in the waistband of my pants. "Now let's start over. And I know you don't know me very well, but believe me, if I think you're not telling me the truth, fucked is gonna look good." I had to persuade him a little more, and most of what he told me was worthless, just sniveling, but it all had to do with a package. He was a nobody, an errand boy who couldn't even deliver one stinking package without screwing up. He got drunk and left the package in Mabel's car, who found it, and like the stubborn old bitch she was, kept it. Ronnie swore he didn't even know what was in the package. Maybe he didn't; maybe he did. Didn't much matter. He wasn't getting it back. He wouldn't tell me who the package belonged to. Or where he was supposed to take it. "I'm a dead man if I tell you that---" He was red-faced, sweating, panting. I thought he was probably a dead man already anyway, but didn't say so. Vincent and his gang operated mostly on the south side, so his employer might be one of the newer bunches that had sprung up on the outskirts of town to the north since Mickey Cohen was out of the picture, along with our dear departed Captain Smith. A small group taking up some of the slack. In any case, probably just as touchy about their property (whatever it was) as the mob woulda been. By now, everybody who was interested knew where it was, they just didn't know how to get it. Just like Ronnie. I thought maybe Ronnie'd try to crack me with a lamp when I let him up, or at least swing at me. But he just kinda crawled out the motel room door and limped to his car. The idiot had parked right in front of my room. Oh well. I was already in it whether I wanted to be or not.
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Mabel boarded up my window. She didn't just throw some boards over the outside, she filled it in completely. There was no way to get out of my room now. It'd been 6 weeks since Beckmann brought me back. When I wasn't locked in my room, she watched me like a hawk. If I'da been smarter, maybe I coulda figured out some way to escape, but I wasn't. I thought until my head hurt, but couldn't come up with anything. I was never gonna get away. Never. I was gonna be trapped here for the rest of my life. Which probably wouldn't be too much longer. I was gonna die in this goddamn dark little room.
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I spent part of the morning on the phone. I figured Murchison would have to be at the bank when I used the safety deposit box key I had jingling in my pocket. And Ed said he'd show up with a coupla uniforms, just in case. It wasn't a very big box. Didn't rattle. Didn't smell funny. I handed it to Ed. "Aren't you gonna open it?" Ed asked. "Nope." "Don't you wanna know what's in it?" "Don't care. You can have it." They came around the corner just after we got outside on the sidewalk. Only 3, but there were only 4 of us. One of the uniforms went down right away. Ed got the point man, and the rest of us took cover. So did they. Great. A shoot-out. And I promised Lynn there wasn't gonna be any of that. I heard a squeal. A woman and her little girl were cowering against the storefront next to the bank. Broken glass from the bullet-shattered window fell around them as I watched. I yelled at Ed to cover me, and ran for it. I grabbed the girl with one arm, and the mother with the other, and dragged them behind somebody's new green Studebaker, which was now being shot full of holes. The woman had blood trickling from a coupla places on her head, and of course she was in shock, but otherwise she looked like she was in one piece. The little girl was just scared. She whimpered and wrapped her arm around my neck and wouldn't let go. "Sweetheart, you gotta let go. Here, stay with Mommy." She wrapped the other arm around my neck and hid her face against my shirt collar. It wasn't that I didn't know what to do in a situation like this. Norma used to do just the same thing when she was scared. It was that I didn't have time. "Honey, you gotta let me go get the bad guys." I pulled her arms away, and handed her to her mother, and she started to cry. I crawled along the row of parked cars, and then when I got close enough, underneath. Pretty soon I could see one of them, well, his shoes, anyway, so I aimed at those expensive shoes, and let off a coupla shots. When I heard the howl, I went looking for the other one. Before I could get around the last one, he took off running. I rolled out from under the car, and watched Ed and the uniform chasing him. I think it was the uniform's shot that brought him down. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shoes prop his gun up on the bumper and take aim. I kinda wanted to leave him alive so Ed could interrogate him, but I had to hurry with the shot, so he ended up dead. I kicked the gun away from his hand, and did the same for the point man. The uniform who went down was still breathing. The little girl was still screaming and crying. Her mother was trying to calm her down, but without much success, since she was kinda shaky herself. I helped the woman to a spot away from the broken glass and the dead bodies, a bench a short distance down the sidewalk where she could sit down and wait for the ambulance. The little one had a death grip on her mother's dress; she reached out and grabbed my jacket with the other little fist. She was sobbing like little kids do when they've been crying a long time. "Hey, baby doll, you're OK now….let your mama rest a little bit….see, she's got an owie…. "I talked to her a while, and then she let go of the woman's dress. She laid her head full of black curls on my shoulder, stuck her thumb in her mouth, and panted and sobbed around it. Her other arm curled around my shoulder, and her tiny hand patted me on the back. I walked with her while the ambulance drivers loaded up the injured. She fell asleep for a little bit, I think. Norma was only 2 years younger than me, so when she was this age, I was pretty small, too. I remember carrying her later-I was big for my age, and I remember her as small and fragile-with her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. They took the woman to the hospital; I promised I would stay and wait for the little girl's grandmother. By the time she arrived, the little girl (whose name I still didn't know) had been trying to tell me something for a while, and I was beginning to feel like an idiot. "Oh, she's asking your name," the grandmother said. "It's Bud. My name's Bud." "Pud." She patted me on the cheek and traced the scar there with her finger. "Close enough." She touched herself and said, "Thooth." "Her name's Susie," the grandmother said. "Pleased to meet you, Susie." I got a big beautiful smile, and more patting on my shoulder. Her grandmother said thanks very much, I said you're welcome, and then it was time for them to go. As the woman turned to go with the child, Susie said, "Wait," as plain as day. She twisted around, held out her arms to me, and said, "Mere." She put one little palm on each side of my face, puckered up and waited for me to do the same. It wasn't just a peck, it was an earthy, baby-flavored smooch; I wouldn't mind having one of those every day. I guess I just like kisses. I watched them walk away. Susie waved at me over her Grandmother's shoulder. When I waved back, she laughed, a squealy, little girl laugh; and bounced up and down with joy. Sweet baby kisses. Some people probably take them for granted. When I turned around, Ed was leaning against the car with a grin on his face. "How come you always get the girl?" "Yeah, yeah. You can shut up about it now."
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I woke up before the sun came up. I thought about it and decided it must be my birthday. I was thirteen. On my twelfth birthday, my mother had baked me a cake, and put a little frosting on the top. My old man ate most of it, but I knew she made it for me. She gave me a kiss and a hug, and sneaked me an apple when the old bastard wasn't looking. I closed my eyes and tried to remember what she smelled like, what she sounded like. I tried to hear her voice in my head. I tried to feel her arms around me. Mabel chose that moment to unlock the door and come in. "Time to get up." I sat up; I knew she'd yank my covers off and pull me up if I didn't get up right away. She stopped and looked at me closer in the dim light from the hallway. "Tears don't move me, young man. I think you're a little old for that, in any case. You will oblige me by getting dressed immediately." I didn't want to get up; I was tired. Tired of trying to figure out how to get what I needed without getting beat. Tired of ducking, tired of fighting. Tired of wanting and missing someone who was never coming back. Tired of being alone. Tired of everything. Mabel turned to leave. I threw my boot at her. Hit her, too, square on the back of the neck. I figured she'd kill me for that. I didn't care; now or later, what difference did it make? I laughed at her when she turned around, at the surprise on her face, the outrage. I can still see it. She dragged me out to the woodshed in my underwear. I didn't try to get away, although she didn't notice it at first. After she shoved me inside the door, I walked over to the wall and braced myself with my arms. And waited. The sun was coming up, the first rays came through the open doorway. I could feel the warmth on my back. I remember everything very vividly, the sunshine, the birds chirping, the smell of the raw wood in the piles. I knew I was gonna die. I just wanted her to hurry up. But she didn't. She walked up next to me; I felt her fingers on my back. I looked over my shoulder-she was looking at the purple bruises like she was surprised they were there. What the hell did she expect if she whacked you with a piece of wood every two or three days? She just looked at me. I looked back. "Monroe used to cry when Dad gave him a licking. Every time. Even when he was older. You never do," she said in a kinda far away voice. Her fingers traced over my back again. "I used to put the liniment on his back…but you never cry……I didn't think……you've never cried until today…….." "What're you waiting for?" I said. I didn't have anything to lose; I could pretty much say anything I wanted at this point. She opened her mouth like she was gonna say something but then closed it again. She did give me 3 or 4 licks, but they seemed kinda half-hearted. 'Course, as bruised as I was, they hurt enough. "There, you see, if you accept responsibility for what you do-" she began. She stopped when I turned my head to look at her. "Why don't you just go ahead and do it?" "Do what?" "I'll stand here. A few good whacks to the head, and it'll be over and done with." She looked strange, almost confused. I'd never seen her look that way. "My old man hit my mother a lot more than that, but he didn't need to, she was dead almost right away. The rest was just for fun, I guess……Maybe you think starving me to death is more fun.." "Wendell….." There was enough light for me to see that strange look on her face real good. "…….I'm not trying to kill you….It's my duty to make sure you don't become the same sort of man as your father….." "My old man wouldn'ta let you hit him even once." I pushed away from the wall and took a step toward her. I musta looked kinda stupid. A skinny thirteen-year-old in his underwear. She didn't laugh, though. She backed up. "Nobody hit him. He's the one who did the hitting. If anybody's like him, it's you." "No…Leonard's a….I'm not like him. I only want what's…….." her voice trailed off. Her eyes were big. "There has to be discipline. What else am I supposed to do?" I didn't know what the hell she was talking about and I didn't care. "If you're gonna kill me, you better do it now." And I waited. She just stood and stared at me. Then she looked down at the ground. I thought about that later. When she looked up again, that strange look was gone. "Don't be ridiculous. No one is trying to kill you." She took a deep breath. "Get dressed. I will put breakfast on the table." She turned around, and went toward the house, walking the way she always did, like you better not get in her way. At the breakfast table, instead of the egg and glass of milk I usually got in the morning, there was a bowl of oatmeal sitting at my place. I ate it. While I was finishing my glass of milk, Mabel picked up the bowl, filled it again, and set it back down in front of me. This was so unusual that at first I just looked at it. "If you don't want it, just say so." She carried the pot over to the sink and started pumping water in it. I ate it. Then I turned around and looked at her. She was watching me. "Perhaps….it's possible that I misjudged…." Her fingers were curled around each other, twisting back and forth; she saw me watching her hands and turned back toward the sink. "Go do your chores. I will be watching you through the window." "I'm not a kid any more." "That's nonsense. You're not an adult---" I stood up. "I'm as tall as you. And I'm thirteen. I'm not a kid." She hesitated, just for a second. "You're living under this roof. You'll do as I say." "Let me leave." "It's my duty to look after you, to force you to behave as you should, regardless of your opinion on the matter. And you'll do as I tell you or you'll pay the consequences." "No." There it was again, that disbelief. But there was something else, too, in her face. At thirteen, I couldn't identify it. She hit me. I hit her back. Didn't even think about it first. We were both pretty surprised. Probably shouldn't have been. Blood always tells, they say, sooner or later.


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