Family
Part 4
Ed called the next day to give me the skinny on the box. Nothing real exciting, just papers with names, dates, and numbers on them. He said somebody from Narcotics recognized one of the names, so he gave it all to them. Fine with me. "Oh, and your cousin seems to have dropped out of sight," he added before he hung up. I snorted. "Got dropped off the end of the pier, more likely. He'll probably show up after the next storm." I didn't shed any tears. Lynn looked through the stack of papers. She said everything circled had my name in it. Anything I did that made it to the papers, even if it was just a speeding ticket, was there. Plus my graduation from high school. A picture of me in my uniform when I got my badge. The time I got in the paper for supposedly saving Stens' life. I had no idea what Mabel wanted all that for. It was creepy. Lynn picked out the photos she thought I might want, and we got rid of the rest. I threw away half of the ones she picked out. I was left with 4 pictures. There was another one with my mother in it. She was at some kind of a family picnic, I guess, and standing with several other girls and their babies. There wasn't any writing on the back, so I didn't know when it was, or who the other girls were, but Lynn said she thought there was some resemblance, so maybe it was my mother's family. "You see, right around the eyes, they all have the same look. Like you have." "Me?" "Uh-huh, around the eyes. I think you have your mother's eyes." So we kept that photo. There was one of Mabel standing with a man-or a boy, I guess. Neither one of them looked like they could have been more than teenagers. She was wearing a long dress, and had a big bow in her hair. He had his arm around her waist, and they both looked very happy. On the back it said "Me and Tom". I assumed this was the Tom of the Valentine. I don't know why I wanted to keep this one, but I did. There was the first picture Lynn showed me. I said I didn't need a picture of the old man, and she put it on the table and said she could do something about that. And then there was a picture of me and Norma. There was no date on the back, just our names, but I musta been about 5 or 6, and so Norma musta been 3 or 4. Neither one of us had a shirt on, and it looked like we'd both been playing in the mud. I had Norma's hand, and she was laughing. I looked at it a long time. I didn't really remember her this small, but it looked just like her. "Oh, look, she's so tiny. Who is she?" Lynn asked. She was looking over my shoulder. I sighed and handed the picture to her. "That's my sister." She was silent for a while; I suppose she was trying to decide whether she should ask or not. "I didn't know you had a sister….where is she?" "I don't know." She didn't say anything for a long time. I looked over at her and saw her eyelashes were wet. She'd be crying in a minute. If I'd been a better person, I probably woulda put my arm around her. At worst I guess I could've just ignored it. After all, she was just feeling bad for me. But then, that was the problem. I stood up and walked over to the window. Put my hands in my pockets. Thought for a minute. "You like this house, don't you?" "Well, yes, I guess." I looked back at her. She looked confused. "Do you like it enough to own it?" "Do you?" See, I told you she was smart. Not gonna commit herself till she knew what was going on. "I gotta check with Murchison first, but it looks like maybe Mabel left me a little money. I thought you might like to have this house." "What about you?" Real quiet. Like she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer. "I don't know." After a minute, she said, "You don't like it here. In Bisbee. Your aunt left you her house, and you're going to move back there. And you're leaving me here. Is that it?" "Move to Mabel's house? God, no. I'm thinking of burning it down." "Then what is it?" I took a deep breath, and sat down next to her again. I didn't know if I could make her understand. "I don't want you to cry. You know?" While I was talking, a tear slipped down onto her cheek, and I wiped it off with my thumb. "About me or over me, or because of me. I've brought you nothing but grief, baby, you know that. "You're pretty. And smart. You've got your own business, and you've got family here, a decent family…….You won't have to be alone if you don't wanna be……" She slapped me. You know, it was just reflex. It was kinda like when Mabel hit me that last time, and I didn't even have to think about it. My fist came up automatically. We were lucky this time. I didn't hit her. It was close, though. "You see, baby? It's in the blood." Got up to leave. Had to go. I was gonna have to hit something, and I'd broken enough of Lynn's things. She grabbed my arm before I got out the door. "Are you trying to sell me that 'I'm leaving you for your own good' crap?" I shook her off; happened to look up and there I was, in the mirror by the door. It was a reflex again, I guess. I didn't think about it. I just pulled my arm back and slammed my fist into the mirror as hard as I could. More than once. Lynn said, "Omigod," and reached for me again. I gave her a push and went out the door. Got in the car and started driving. I'd driven for a while before I realized blood was dripping from my hand onto my trousers. I pulled over and was gonna use my handkerchief to wrap it up, but there musta been glass in it 'cause trying to do that hurt like a sonuvabitch. And that's why I stopped in Tucson. By the time the nurse cleaned the glass out of the flesh around my knuckles, and the doc finished the stitching, it was late. So I stayed over. And then, I don't know why, I just stayed the next day, too. Slept, ate, took the pills the doc gave me, and slept some more. I stayed at the Rainbow Motel 5 days total. I spent a lot of that time in my room. Maybe I was feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I was grieving. Not sure I know what the difference is. I never once thought anybody'd be looking for me. Just didn't. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm not too bright. Can't help it.
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I got picked up by the cops again a coupla weeks after Benny kicked me out. I'd seen the black&whites cruising, but they never stopped me, and I guess I thought Mabel hadn't called them this time. Actually when they picked me up I was pretty glad to see them. I'd ventured into the Mexican part of town-I went there occasionally 'cause short, round Mrs. Ruiz would feed me the leftovers from her restaurant after they closed for the evening. Not too often, didn't want to be a pest, but she was a pretty good cook, so I dared it once in a while. There was a ritual involved with eating there-she'd shake her head, tsk, tsk at me in Spanish, brush off my shirt with her dish towel. Then she'd pat my cheek, hand me the box full of the delicious things she made and present her cheek. I was expected to give her a peck there, and I always did. She'd smile and shoo me out the door with that dishtowel, unless it was raining, then I got to eat in a corner of the kitchen out of the way. That night when I left by the back door into the alley, Ramon and his cousins, who pretty much thought they owned these blocks, were rolling a drunk, somebody I didn't know, a new guy that might still have something on him you could hock. I guess he didn't have anything, 'cause they were all madder'n hell. Felt sorry for the guy for a minute, then tried to just get out of their territory without being noticed. But they saw me. They were talking in Spanish, I don't know what they were saying when they closed in around me, except I was pretty sure it was something I wasn't gonna like. I was pretty scared until Ramon started slapping me around. Then it was strange, I stopped being scared-and it was like I had this bubble of rage rising up in me, and it got a little bigger every time he touched me, till it exploded and I went for him. I woulda got killed if the cops hadn't shown up, 'cause there were 5 of them and yeah, I had a knife, but they had knives, too---but I made Ramon yell; I got him down on the ground and made him bleed. And you know what? It felt pretty good. Damn good. And that was when I made up my mind. No more running, no more hiding. No more scrambling to stay out of harm's way. Not for me, not any more. I was a man, and I was gonna act like one. No matter what. And that was the state of mind I was in when they took me back to Mabel. When he was putting me in the car, Officer Beckmann said, "Yeah, I saw you a coupla times, kid, but I didn't know it was you. You musta found a good hole-up-you know, I bet you put on 20 pounds. Your aunt ain't gonna recognize you. You ain't got all that hair anymore. And there's something else…I don't know what it is, you just don't look like the same kid." He looked real serious then. "I'm sorry I gotta take you back. Looks like you're doing better on your own. But it's the law. Until you're 18, if she wants you, you gotta go back." Something to think about.
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I spent my last day in Tucson picking up things like aspirin, a razor, a change of clothes, that kind of stuff. I started to LA late in the afternoon. Didn't get there till real early in the morning. I hadn't really thought where I was going to stay when I got there. I hadn't been thinking much at all since I left Bisbee. My hand was pretty stiff and sore. The doc said I was lucky I hadn't cut anything important. I probably could have found a motel open at that time of the morning if I'd really tried. I probably could have stayed at Ed's if I had to. So it might seem strange that I decided to go to Mabel's. Where else would I go when I'm in the middle of destroying the best thing that ever happened to me?
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I knew my way around that house in the dark. I didn't have to turn on the lights until I got to Mabel's bedroom. There was no mattress on the bed-since that was where she died-but you couldn't pay me enough to sleep in this room anyway. I was just looking for blankets and maybe pillows. I figured I could bed down in the parlor. I heard rustling down the hall in the kitchen-sounded like maybe a rat had moved in already-and then a noise more like a clank. Maybe not a rat, then. A raccoon or something else that'd come in through that broken back door, and I was gonna have to chase it out before I could settle down. I turned on the light in the kitchen but didn't see anything. Heard something again, back down the other hall. The door to my old room-now the storage room-was closed. Maybe whatever-it-was was in there and couldn't get out. I opened the door slow, standing well back, so if the animal decided to jump for the opening, I wouldn't get 4 paws full of claws in the face. Nothing. The window had never been opened up again since I was a kid, so it was pitch black inside. I stepped in, listening, reaching for the switch. Lynn said later I hadn't watched enough movies in my life. She said if I had, I'd have been able to predict what happened next. Something whacked me on the side of the head, and I staggered against the door. I was still standing, but I musta been dazed, 'cause my first thought was that Mabel had changed her mind. I didn't have a second thought-I got hit again right away. The room was gone, all I could see were big flashes of light, and I think I fell down on my knees. Not sure, but I thought I heard a far-away cry of frustration, and another crashing blow against the other side of my head to go with it. And then I'm pretty sure I passed out.
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Mabel met us outside when the black&white rolled up to the house. "Thank you, officers," she said, like she did every time. They touched their hats just like they did every time and drove away. Officer Beckmann had turned around and shaken my hand and wished me good luck before we got outta the car. "Well." Mabel looked me up and down. "Come along into the house." She walked behind me, like she thought I might make a run for it right away. "Go to your room, and get settled in again. I will come for you when supper is ready." I knew what she would do, and she did it. I heard the key turn in the lock after I stepped in the room. I didn't wait for her footsteps to recede down the hallway before I lifted my knife outta my bundle of clothes. It took a while to hack enough wood from around the lock for the door to swing open. The Bitch was standing just outside in the hall. Her mouth was open. "What do you think you're doing?" "I'm not a kid. And you're not going to lock me in." I could see that strange look on her face, that look I could never figure out. Now I thought I knew what it was. I had mentioned her to the girls once. They asked me questions about her that I couldn't answer. Like how old she was. Whether she was pretty. Whether she was happy. They made me realize I'd never seen her, not really. A kid never knows these things about an adult, I guess. But if I wasn't a kid anymore, if I was a man instead of a kid, then maybe she was something else, too. I looked at her. She was a woman; not young, but not so old; not so ugly, maybe, if she wasn't trying to look stern all the time. Right now, she was scared. Maybe not of me and my knife, but something. You don't think of the adult in your life being scared, unless you can see the thing they're scared of. You don't recognize it when you see it. This was the strange look on her face that I could never identify. It was fear. The girls also mentioned, with a lot of giggling, that if she was Miss White, then she'd never been married. "Do you think she's still a virgin?" I didn't know the answer to that, but I couldn't imagine her doing any of the things we did in bed. More giggling. "Doesn't anybody wonder what she wants with a big handsome boy like you?" "Mabel? Are you kidding? She hates me." "Oh, sweetheart, I bet she doesn't hate you. Maybe she's just shy." That was cause for a lot more giggling. I felt vaguely sick then when I thought of Mabel doing it. With anybody. It was just too nasty to think about very much. So I didn't. Looking at her in the hallway outside my room, trying to see her with a man's eyes instead of a boy's, I had to admit she wasn't ugly. She looked like a normal woman; all the right equipment in the right proportions. 'Course it was hard to tell for sure because of the ugly dresses she always wore: shapeless, baggy, sacks tied around the middle. I squinted my eyes and tried to figure out what she would look like without them in the way. I looked back at her face after a minute or two, and realized she'd been watching me while I was studying her, and she knew what I'd been thinking, too. Her face turned beet red. She didn't say anything. She just turned and strode away toward the kitchen. Huh.
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I don't think I need to tell you how bad my head hurt when I woke up. It musta been daylight 'cause it wasn't quite pitch black in here; I could make out the cracks in the ceiling, the same ones that'd been here when I was a kid. I shut my eyes again, kinda hoping I could go back to sleep before I really figured out what I was doing here in my old room, but something poked me in the side, and jagged white streaks of pain shot through my head. "Yeah, I know you're awake," somebody said. "You can't fool me." I opened one eye and tried to find the source of the voice. Couldn't see it right away, realized I was gonna have to move my head. Damn. "You're not so smart now, are ya……. yeah, you're not such a big fucking deal now." Was he talking to me? "Hey! I'm talking to you. Don't play dumb." And he gave me a kick in the side. At this point I figured the pain in my head was about as bad as it was gonna get, so I might as well open both eyes and think a little bit. Try not to play dumb. That was gonna be tough. I'm not a genius to begin with, and my head hurt so bad I could hardly remember my own name, anyway. You know who it was, but I was thinking a little slow right then, and I had to see his face first. I had to squint to make out his features in the gloom. "What'd you hit me for?" Ronnie leaned over me. "I oughta kill you, you know that? Why the hell couldn't you just do what I asked you to do?" I was gonna reach up and grab his tie, pull him down and sucker punch him---and that's when I found out my hands were tied behind my back. Not good. "I thought you said you weren't a cop anymore. I thought you said….ah, hell, this is the way things always go for me. Now you know where I am." "I don't give a shit where you are." "As long as nobody knew where I was, I was safe. All I had to do was wait 'til everybody stopped looking for me." "Who's looking for you? Not me." He looked terrible. Looked like he hadn't had a bath, or shaved, or maybe even eaten, since I saw him last. "They said it was my fault the cops got the box." "Who?" "But it was your fault. Why couldn't you just help me? What the hell is it about my fucking family that none of 'em ever helps me!" You'd think I'd learn. I oughta know by now how to keep my mouth shut. "Maybe 'cause you're such a screw-up? Maybe 'cause if they help you, you'll take them down with you?" He lifted the hand that was holding my .38, and pointed it at me. "I am so fucking tired of you. All I ever heard from the old bitch was Wendell this, and Wendell that. No matter what I did, it was never as good as Wendell would have done it. Wendell never cried. Wendell was tough. Wendell was brave. Shit." He pulled the hammer back. "St. Wendell." His hand was shaking. He bared his teeth. I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be a smile or a snarl. Didn't much matter, I guess. "Maybe I'll just send you to heaven." Not a lot of options at that point. I drove my foot as hard as I could at his knee. He didn't even try to get out of the way. The snap when the joint broke was louder than I expected. He screamed as he fell. I rolled the other way, then tried to get up and out the door, but tripped on something I couldn't see. Lucky for me, 'cause a bullet whistled over my head as I went down. Another shot, wild this time, and then another one. He'd never be able to follow me with a broken knee. All I had to do was get through the door. He was sobbing. I could see him waving the gun aimlessly, and he let off another shot. I ducked my head. I was laying half on the pile of boards that were stacked in here, and I tried to slide off, keeping low, but it was like I was stuck on something. Couldn't figure it out. Suddenly heard banging and yelling from the front of the house. At that point, I didn't care who it was, anybody woulda been fine. I yelled out where I was, and heard my name in reply. A bullet came way too close to my face. I could feel the little whiff of air as it went by, and the splinters of wood that flew up from where it hit. Ed came through the door like the Marines. "Drop it!" Ronnie, still weeping, turned the gun toward him. Ed shot. Ronnie didn't duck. I suppose if I was a better person, I would've felt sorry for the bum. But I'm not and I didn't. "You OK?" "Peachy. Just untie my hands and help me get up." I wanted him to hurry up. I could see a trickle of Ronnie's blood coming out from under the body. It looked like it was headed this way; I'd just as soon not still be sitting on the floor when it got here. Ed tried to help me stand up. I cursed, 'cause something besides my head suddenly hurt like hell. He let go. That was worse. What the hell was I laying on? Now that I didn't think I was gonna die, I could feel it. Something was digging into my arm and leg. "Get me offa here." I put my good arm around his shoulders. He pulled and when I stood up, a coupla pieces of lumber came up with me. I forgot about the nails. Ed called for one of the uniforms standing out in the hall. The officer pulled the lumber off, none too gently. Little trickles of blood ran out of about 8 or 10 little holes in my suit. "Thanks," I said. "It's OK. Where the hell have you been? We've been looking for you for days. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't worried about you, I was just trying to save my own skin. I thought Lynn was gonna rip me a new one when I didn't know where you were…..Hey….Bud……" His mouth kept moving, but I couldn't hear him anymore. The ceiling swung into view. I turned my head and watched, just for a few seconds, the trickle of blood on the floor slowly coming toward me. I wasn't sure I wasn't dreaming, so I closed my eyes to find out. And it was gone. Good.


Part 3 Part 5


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