Buick Of Random Blue Color
Although there wasn’t a need to be in any great rush, Winston felt it would be better to get his house in order now instead of waiting until the last minute. After tidying up, dusting the furniture, straightening the bookshelf, polishing the windows and ironing the drapes, the only chore remaining would be the renting of the carpet steamer to pull the loose hair and dander from the living room rug that had not been cleaned since he brought home his pet tabby cat, Mr. Biggles.
He took down the keys from a hook on the wall. His slip-on leather loafers were waiting for him near the front door. His hair was still wet as he looked in the mirror and ran a comb through. He made sure the collar on his pale blue button-up shirt was without wrinkle and the points were edged straight down forming a fine tip. He peered out of the window overlooking the small wooden table in the kitchen.
Vick Rose would be arriving soon. Otherwise known as State Prisoner Number 0027126, from D house in the Palmer unit, or as the inmates called it, easy money. This was in reference to the fact that once you had made it thus far in your stretch of sentence, it was all downhill from there.
When he returned from the supermarket with the carpet steam cleaning unit, Mr. B. was there to greet Winston at the door. Winston slipped the loafers from his feet, one at a time, and placed them neatly against the base board of the wall. He hung the keys on the hook near the door. Mr. B. purred and walked tight circles around his ankles, rubbing against the hem of his khaki slacks. He bent down to pet the cat then pushed him gently to one side. On the wooden table under the window there was a lint roller. He pulled a fresh sheet into place and began brushing the leg of his pant.
He looked at the watch on his wrist. The clock on the wall in the kitchen was two minutes fast. He moved the hands to correspond with his wrist watch. Both were now showing ten after four. If the bus arrived on time, depending on traffic, Vick should be there soon.
In their pen pal correspondences, Vick had mentioned his family were none too pleased after his most recent arrest and incarceration, and he had asked Winston if it would be all-right for him to come and visit for a short while, maybe even look for some work while he was in the area. Of course, Winston had agreed, why not.
The knock at the door startled him. He opened it slowly, just enough to peer outside and while the safety chain remained in place. A man he assumed to be Vick Rose stood on the steps with a travel bag in hand. He stood tall with broad shoulders and looked around the neighborhood from the front steps of the duplex apartment. Winston pushed Mr. Biggles aside with a gentle foot.
“Vick?” he asked.
“Winston, that you?” Vick peered with a bulging eye through the crack separating the door and the frame.
“Yes, please…do come in.” Winston removed the chain from the door and opened it wide so Vick and his bag could pass. Mr. B. inspected the new guest’s pant leg.
“What’s her name?” he bent down to pet the cat. Winston took the bag from his hand and closed the door behind him.
“It’s a he. I mean, I call him Mr. Biggles.” Winston fumbled his words. The two men sized one another up as Vick reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a pack of smokes. Before Winston could protest, he had one lit and resting in the corner of his mouth. He was muscular and sinewy with cheeks drawn in around a patchy beard of three day growth that had started to gray prematurely. Winston finally found the courage to ask if he would please smoke out of doors, directing him to a pair of high-backed chairs with floral cushions on the other side of a sliding glass door leading to a sitting area in the back yard.
Winston watched him stand there and smoke. He hoped he had not offended his new guest. After smoking a cigarette and taking a long, hot shower, Vick sat himself on the sofa next to Kitty and observed his surroundings with the keen eye a convict develops over time from watching over his shoulder or carefully sizing up a situation in hopes of discovering a weakness he might exploit. The apartment was very tidy, with a place for everything and everything in it’s place. Although it was small, only one bedroom and one bath, it felt comfortable and cozy and Vick was pleased to be there.
Winston pulled a roast of beef from the oven and took the lid from atop to let it cool. He picked fresh rosemary and a sprig of thyme from a window sill herb garden which he added to the roast at the last minute. He poured a glass of tea over several cubes of ice for himself and one for his guest. The two sat at the small table in the kitchen, across from one another. Winston took pride in the meal he had prepared. He forked a large serving of meat into the bowl in front of Vick along with some carrots, red potatoes, sweet onion and natural pan juice. Vick took a sip from the tea and placed the glass on the table.
“That’s good. Do you have any sugar? I like my tea sweet.” He tore a hunk of meat from the bottom of the bowl using his bare hand and a salad fork, then chewed it aggressively and quickly. Winston went into the kitchen and brought back a ceramic jar in the shape of a colorful, plump farm girl filled with pure cane sugar. Vick wasted no time spooning heaps into his glass until it seemed there would be no where else for it to go. When he had finished, Winston placed the jar back on the countertop and returned to his seat at the table where Vick now swallowed the last of the vegetables and slurped the pan gravy from the bottom of the bowl. He felt Winston staring at him as he drank the last of the sweet tea.
“Sorry. You barely even started. I’m so used to slamming down chow so I can get me some yard time… I guess that’s something I’ll have to get used to again, being able to sit down and enjoy a meal without being rushed.”
Vick finished his second bowl in the time it took Winston to put away half of his first. He thanked his host and complimented him on how goddamned tasty it was. On his way to the patio he lit a cigarette. He left the sliding glass door open and pulled the sliding screened door shut so he could continue to talk to his host.
“So, how long you been living here?”
Winston carried the dirty dishes to the sink and began to fill it with hot, soapy water.
“I moved here in April of the year before, around the same time I started clerking at the book store.” The water began to rise in the compartment on the left. Bubbles started to form and take shape. He washed the silver first, then the plates and bowls, next glassware and finally, pots and pans.
After the dishes were dried and put away in the cabinet, the two men sat on the sofa and watched the television until Winston excused himself to the bedroom in the hopes that he might get a decent night’s rest. Before going to bed, he offered Vick a clean sheet and a patchwork quilt to bed down with. They each surrendered quietly to a cool, comfortable slumber, while Mr. B. vanished into darkness, laying low, out of sight.
By the time Vick decided to raise from the sofa and untangle himself from the warm quilt he was wound in, the sun had been up for a while. On the floor next to him lay his shirt in a crumpled pile. In the pocket of the shirt, he found a half empty pack of cigarettes. He had left a can of cola on the coffee table the night before but it had been removed and the entire table had been wiped clean. Winston had done his best to clean up after his guest before leaving for work.
After dressing, Vick went to the patio and took a seat on one of the high-backed chairs. A large dog could be heard growling from the underside of a wooden fence directly behind the small flower garden Winston had planted in the common area. The coming spring had coaxed little buds to the outer leaves of the stem where they awaited several hours of sun and April showers to continue pulling them from their timid hiding places. A dog’s frame could be seen in shadowy silhouette between the cracks of the wooden fence. Vick walked slowly to the garden. He plucked a young flower and held it to his nose. He then tossed the bud over the fence in the direction of the dog, who growled at the scent of the intrusion.
Vick kicked the fence in the place where the dog stood guard behind. He mimicked the growl which now came from deep in the animals gut. For a moment the dog fell silent. The two listened, one for the other. Mr. Biggles joined Vick at the side of the garden by the fence to investigate the back yard neighbor. Vick reached down to pet the cat. The dog snarled and fumed from behind the fence. The cat lost interest and began a retreat but Vick bent down and snatched him up by the scruff of the neck. The cat writhed and scratched, trying to free itself, but with one fling from Vick, he was up and away, kicking and screeching through the air on its flight into the neighbor’s yard where the dog’s aggression and fever were reaching a zenith pitch.
There was a brief skirmish. Vick listened, amused. Screams and distressed howls echoed from the other side of the fence. He plucked another premature bud from the garden and tossed it over. In no time at all the dog was silenced and the cat as well. Vick bent at the waist to see what he could see from the under side of the cracks in the wooden fence. The dog had strolled back to the steps that led to the back door of his owner’s home. Mr. B. could not be seen. Deep cuts from the sharp claws of the cat were bleeding in straight lines down Vick’s wrist and between the knuckles of his right hand. He wiped them clean on his pant leg and shirt tail. He looked all around the place but the cat was nowhere to be found. Vick returned to the high-backed chair on the patio and lit another cigarette.
On the counter in the kitchen there was a thick, yellow phone book. Vick thumbed through the pages to find a number for a local service that offered affection and discretion from young demimondes and flirty debutantes of the variety you may dream of while awaiting the arrival of an afternoon train or musing other prospective perversions an erstwhile libertine might be persuaded to ponder. After speaking with a receptionist who helped guide him through the process, he made an appointment to meet a young lady who called herself Violet. It was agreed she would meet him at Winston’s address the following afternoon.
For the remainder of the day he disassembled Winston’s tidy duplex, room by room. He was searching for anything of value; money, coins, jewelry, credit cards, safety deposit box keys, anything he could leverage. The only thing worth attention was what appeared to be a set of car keys to a Buick. The key to the trunk was also on the ring and what looked to be a spare to the front door was on the ring as well. Vick tried the key and found it did in fact unlock the front door of the duplex. The drive way in front of Winston’s side of the duplex was empty. However, right next door, parked under a lean-to variegated aluminum carport, there sat a long, slightly rusted Buick of random blue color, of the four door sedan style.
Vick Rose took a long drag from a cigarette. He dropped the butt on the front porch and smashed it with his heel. He stared for a while in the direction of the Buick in the neighbor’s driveway. As he turned to step back indoors he was startled to see Mr. Biggles sitting in the grass near a bush in the front yard. The cat looked no worse for wear, unlike the grooves still beading dried blood on Vick’s shredded forearm. He removed his shirt and used it to wipe the blood from his arm a second time, cleaning the wound as best he could. The cat, on the other hand, had not a hair out of place. It licked it’s paws nonchalantly with a quick flick of the tongue. Vick was so bemused he almost hadn't noticed the front door to the adjoining duplex opened and a man in a wheeled chair had rolled himself onto his own front porch and was now watching Vick and the cat stare one another down. He didn’t speak, nor did Vick. Mr. B. walked gingerly over to the man on the porch next door and brushed against his leg. The man reached down and ran his hand over the cats arching back, never taking his eyes from the man on the opposite porch. Vick waved. The man did not. Mr. B. spooked himself and ran around the corner of the duplex, darting and juking in and around tall grass, zig-zagging in the direction of the back yard until he was out of sight.
When Winston returned from the book store that evening, he could immediately smell cigarette smoke. The magazines on the table in front of the sofa were not where they had been neatly stacked earlier. The candle on the end table had been misplaced. When he hung his house keys on the hook in the hall he noticed the glass bowl where he kept his loose change looked as if it had fewer coins than before, though he would have to actually spill them out and count each one to know for certain.
Mr. Biggles hurried to him, weaving himself in and around Winston’s feet as he removed his shoes and placed them carefully near the baseboard, toe level with toe, heel against heel. Winston bent down to pet his friend with both hands. Vick was on the patio reading a magazine. He did not hear Winston come in.
Winston began putting things back in order. He sprayed air freshener all around to expel the distasteful aroma of the stale cigarette smoke. He wiped down the coffee table with a clean towel and the end tables too, placing the candle and the magazines in their rightful place. He fluffed the cushions on the sofa and swept the tile in the kitchen. As he was about to begin running the vacuum over the living room carpet, the sliding glass door opened and Vick stepped in.
“ Hey man! Been waiting on you. Wasn’t sure what time you would get in from work,”
Vick walked in the sliding door and sidled past Winston quickly, into the rest room where he stuffed the blood stained shirt into his travel bag and zipped the outer seal tightly. Winston said hello politely and started to work on the rug. Vick went to the refrigerator and helped himself to the last of Winston’s orange juice. He flopped on the sofa waiting for his host to finish vacuuming the floor.
“ You know what we need?” he posed a question to his host.
“ We need some Vodka. Give the juice a little kick, you know?”
He finished the last sip of his juice. Winston looked up from his chores and reminded Vick that he had just drank the last of the orange juice and even if he had not, Winston kindly reminded him that he was in a twelve step program for alcoholics as he was sure he had mentioned in their previous correspondences. Of course, Vick remembered. He apologized and suggested the two go out for some fresh air instead, get a look around town, check the action.
“ Not tonight. Maybe another time.” Winston continued to tidy things up. He suggested Vick go for a walk while he finished the house chores. Vick thought about it and then asked,
“ Don’t you have a car? I mean, how do you get around, you know, to work and all?” Winston thought twice before answering his guest. He was sure he had mentioned in their letters about losing his driving privileges due to over-indulgence. Perhaps Vick had a short memory. It wasn’t discussed frequently as Winston was prone to embarrassment of the subject. He reminded Vick once again. Of course, he remembered. “Yeah sure, I knew that”, he said.
Vick decided to take a look around on his own. He walked up the sidewalk and waited near the main road for a taxi to come by. In a short time he had flagged a ride. He asked the driver to take him to the beach, he didn’t care where, he just wanted to see the ocean. From the back seat he watched young girls in bikinis ride cruisers down front street. Summer was just around the corner but the girls were in a hurry. The water was still too cold for swimming but they were hard at work on their first layer of bronze skin and sun-bleached curls. They smiled and peddled along with young breasts bobbing in tight swim suits. Just over their shoulders the great blue Atlantic could be seen rolling behind the dunes. Vick had not seen such in a very long time and could not help from becoming excited.
“ Ten bucks, even.” The taxi driver said, reaching a hand to Vick over the top of the front seat. Vick acted as if he were having trouble removing the wallet from his pant pocket. He asked the driver to please wait a minute while he stepped out to wrestle the wallet and retrieve the money. Before the driver could answer, Vick threw open the door, scrambled to his feet, turned up the street and ran at full sprint in the direction of the nearest alleyway. The driver sped around the block with the door of the taxi flying open as he turned the corner to try and block the exit. He threw open the driver’s side door and leapt from the vehicle giving chase to the man in the alley, who now turned on a heel and bolted in the opposite direction. The taxi driver found an empty bottle of beer near a dumpster full of last night’s trash and hurled it toward Vick. It connected with the back of his head, ripping a gash that immediately poured blood down the neck of his clean, white, V-neck tee shirt. He slowed for a second to look around, then continued sprinting down the alley until he reached the other end and escaped in a crowd of lazy-eyed, half drunken beach-combers, bumping into them, then becoming a part of their throng as they strolled down the sidewalk shading themselves with cheap sunglasses and up-turned straw hats.
He ducked into a dark, musky bar a few doors down. After telling a well seasoned man behind the bar a harrowing story of being mugged by three ruffian bums in fishnet stocking masks, his sympathy garnered him free drinks and some first aid by a middle aged woman who had seen her better days. She drank fast and cleaned his wound with a bar towel between toking fast on cigarettes and slobbering dirty jokes in the direction of the other patrons.
She introduced herself as Madge. She had a place a few blocks away, if he would like to walk her home? The two could share a steak she had in the freezer along with a half bottle of dark rum, like the pirates used to drink. When his sympathy drinks expired at the bar he agreed to go home with the woman. The two walked to her modest bungalow nestled near the dunes. She began to thaw the steak in the sink and poured them both a glass of rum with two ice cubes. Madge turned on the radio and lit a smoke, speed-sucking nicotine as if it were pure oxogen. She kicked off her shoes and stretched out on a wicker couch. Vick took a hard draw from her cigarette, pulled a hefty swig from the rum, then fell on top of her, attacking her mouth with wide open kisses. She returned the passion. The two quickly landed on the hard wood
floor where Vick finished her off with command and expertise. She was not disappointed. It had been a while for her as well. She poured them each another rum and they took seats in a swing on the deck outside waiting for the steaks to thaw.
Madge licked the fingers on her left hand after swallowing the last bite of her supper. She washed it down with a swill of cold beer and lay across a wicker chair facing the window watching the powder blue shear drapes float away and then fall back around the frame, waiting lazily for the next breeze. Her belly pushed it’s way out from under her tight cotton coral-print blouse. She pulled it down and stretched it into place but it rolled up and over her bloat like a night shade flapping off the guide roller, and this time she left it there, exposed and unashamed.
In the background a television could be heard playing from the direction of the bedroom. The smell of the burnt steak’s juices and drippings cooling in the iron skillet overpowered the smoke rising from Vick’s cigarette. He watched her doze off in the chair, dangling her feet over the arm and resting a bottle of Milwaukee’s finest in her lap. While she slept he rummaged through her things. First her purse, which lay on the floor next to the wicker sofa. Next he made his way into the bedroom where he riffled through her collection of panties in a particle board chest of drawers. In a wooden box of black lacquer painted with red Chinese calligraphy, a collection of gold and silver rings, necklaces, bracelets and ear rings all mingled together. He wasted no time sorting them out. Instead, he scooped them up in one hand and shoved them into his pant pocket. Madge seemed to stir in the other room. Vick stood still and listened for movement. She cleared her throat, belched, rolled over on her side and was quiet once more. After clearing her medicine cabinet of all manner of barbiturate and sleeping pills, he sat himself down and relieved his aching bowels from the rare, over seasoned meat and sweet rum they had devoured after savaging one another.
The money he received from the pawn shop for fencing her jewelry turned out to be more than he had anticipated. She had better taste than he would have given her credit for. On his way back to Winston’s house, he bought a fresh pack of cigarettes and a half case of bottled beer. He opened two on the way home in the back of an unsuspecting taxi cab. When he arrived, he gladly paid the driver and even gave him a generous tip.
Winston met him at the door and gave pause as he took notice of the beer in Vick’s hand and the cuts on his forearm. As Vick walked by he also noticed the smeared blood on the back of Vick’s neck and the collar of his shirt. Vick said hello, walked directly past Winston and Mr. B. to the refrigerator where he placed the beer in the freezer before bringing one down for himself. Not wanting to seem rude to his host, he offered the first to Winston, who shook his head “No
thank you.” Winston asked about the blood and the wounds. Vick was quick to offer up a fanciful tale of attempted assault and robbery similar to the one he had regaled the patrons of the bar with, but by now he had had time to smooth over the conspicuous cracks in the scenario so that it seemed more plausible and slightly less ridiculous. Winston was skeptical, but for a time, assumed the possibility of truth. Vick shrugged his shoulders and popped the cap from the cold bottle, placing it too his lips and enjoying three long, gluttonous pulls. He licked his lips and exhaled loud from the back of his throat. Mr. Biggles started a purr in his throat that soon dropped to a roll from the rattling of his larynx. Vick smiled at him as he walked by the two of them on his way out to the patio.
Winston called to him as he opened the sliding door. “ I am frying chicken for dinner. I hope that’s O.K.?” Vick sat on the chair nearest the door and lit a cigarette. He blew smoke in a cloud above his head. “ Well, it’s not really my favorite. My old lady used to cook that all the time, greasy as all hell. Never was much of a cook, that one. But hey, I’ll eat it. I’m not one to complain.” He kicked his shoes onto the concrete patio and drank his beer.
The chicken fried in a deep pool of clean oil, every once in a while making a popping noise against the lid that covered the cut up bird. On the stove top a pot of boiling water awaited whole peeled potatoes for mashing. Winston paid close attention to the bird for fear of allowing it get too greasy. He watched from the kitchen as Vick drank his beer and smoked his cigarettes. He called from the kitchen...“ Excuse me Vick, I thought one time you told me you had quit, I mean that you no longer smoked cigarettes. Didn’t you tell me that once, a while ago, in one of our letters?” He asked while turning a drumstick. Vick smashed a butt on the cement beside the chair he was reclining in. He poured the rest of his beer on the ground, raised himself and walked into the house, easing the sliding door behind.
The beer in the freezer was almost too cold. Ice had begun to form near the tops around the lids of some of the bottles. He placed the remainder of them in their cardboard box on a shelf in the refrigerator near a carton of milk and a jar of salsa. Winston placed the lid back on the bird.
“ Well, let me see, friend. Fact is, I do recall something along those lines.” He pulled the pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and tapped them on the palm of his hand three times, and then three more. He looked down the point of his nose as he tilted his head back. “ Tough habit to break, I guess. What about you, friend, you ever indulge? Not just smokes, anything. Women, dope, the ponies? What’s your shake? What gets old Winston wound up?”
Vick leaned back against the door jam. He put a cigarette between his tight lips but did not light it. Winston took the pot with the potatoes to the sink and drained them of the hot water. He returned them to the stove top and began smashing them with a large fork. A piece of potato jumped from the pot onto the counter top where Winston quickly wiped it clean.
“ Oh no, I never have tried to smoke. I used to drink a bit, but you know all about that. As far as women are concerned, well, I had a girl friend once, but she moved to Missouri and I lost touch with her. I never enjoyed gambling. It makes my stomach knot up.” He opened the lid and stuck a knife into the largest breast in the pan. The bird was done. He turned the flame off and pushed the pan of chicken to the back burner where the mashed potatoes were waiting for butter and milk and salt.
“ I guess I live a pretty boring life. But we’re happy most of the time, right Mr. Biggles?” He leaned down to pet the cat as it circled around his ankles. It was time for his dinner as well.
While the two sat at the table after dinner, Vick finished the last of the half case of beer. He told stories of life in custody of the state. He spoke of things funny and odd, ghoulish and frightening, unexpected and humorous. He told grand, sweeping epics that held Winston’s attention and stirred his imagination. The cat seemed marginally interested, agreeing with the occasional swoosh of his tail.
That night, Winston lay in bed re-playing Vick’s jailhouse dime-store tales over and again in his half-sleep. What outlandish yarns, he thought. Why had these grandiose anecdotes been overlooked in previous letters? After re-reading some of the penitentiary prose he had received, it seemed Vick had left out some details, even small seemingly inconsequential details, like the fact that he was in fact, a black man. It mattered not to Winston, he was just curious why Vick had never mentioned it before. But for all Vick knew, Winston was of color also. It’s not something that would be readily noticeable in a letter, especially since neither of them had exchanged photos of any kind. And what about the southern accent? Winston was sure Vick had mentioned more than once he was raised in the north, Maine, or Minnesota, he couldn’t recall, something with an “M”. He supposed being raised in the north did not mean he had not spent time in the southern states. He could have easily acquired the stereotypical drawl early in life and was simply unable or unwilling to rid himself of it, a matter of pride or heritage, perhaps? And what of the chicken? Vick had mentioned his mother had always prepared fried chicken for him on his birthday as it was his favorite meal. Winston supposed people grow out of things, even their favorite dishes. Either way, there were little fragments of Vick’s persona that ill fit the character Winston had envisioned of his pen pal all the while they had been exchanging letters.
While Winston pondered the puzzling details of his guest’s quirks and oddities Vick stretched out on the sofa counting what was left of the money he had received from the pawn shop after hocking Madge’s jewelry. He folded the bills in a neat stack and slid them into the rear fold of his bi-fold wallet. His head throbbed a bit from the cold beer. He was surely satisfied, nearly drunk and well fed. Tonight he would sleep like a man entombed.
Brubaker rolled himself down the hall and into the kitchen. The entire duplex had been constructed for him personally a few years back. It was created with extra wide-open spaces between the walls, around the toilet, through the closets and even out of the sliding screened door leading to a patio that mirrored Winston’s, being separated only by a six foot wooden planked partition. It was designed this way for ease of access while he moved about in his electric wheeled chair. He had been injured some time ago and was unable to walk or feel anything below the waist.
He sat on the front porch of the duplex and watched Vick throw small pebbles at the cat. One of the stones hit the Buick under the carport. Brubaker was quick to engage and scolded the man properly.
“ Hey pal, you there, stop screwing around before you ding that paint job!” Vick looked up to see the man in a rust colored terry cloth robe resting on an elbow, leaning to one side of his wheeled chair. The man scowled as Vick smiled at him, trimming his brow down to meet his eyes, which cut slim lines on each side of his gin-blossomed nose. Mr. Biggles scampered across the way to meet the man who bent at the waist to pet the cat without making much of a show of it.
“ Hey my man. Name’s Vick. What they call you?” he walked down the front porch steps and moved in Brubaker’s direction.
“ They call me a son of a bitch, and that’s my car your throwing rocks at,” he gently scooted Mr. B. from the porch and unlocked the wheels of his chair. After he entered his apartment, the front door could be heard locking and then the shades were pulled down as well. Mr. Biggles hurried beneath a small bush while Vick picked up another rock to throw at him. Before he could hurl the stone a checkered taxi-cab pulled into the driveway. A young lady in a tight skirt and halter top blouse exited the car and flashed a sexy, mischievous grin. The two got to know one another sitting on the patio and watching the cat chase dragon flies and dandelion spores blowing in the on-shore breeze. The young lady was all business at first, requesting her fee in advance before any further small talk. They soon agreed they were both thirsty and decided to walk up the hill to a small liquor store that operated out of a Chinese take-out shop where Vick bought more cigarettes and three bottles of cheap, chilled red wine.
A symphony on the vinyl record player was turned up loud and played in pitched crescendos reverberating off the walls from inside Brubaker’s side of the duplex, carrying the sound over to where Violet moaned and gripped the headboard of Winston’s bed with an Asian manicure fresh and tacky, with neon orange popsicle polish. This went on for the better part of the afternoon. In between sessions the two passed a bottle of cold red between them, not bothering to pour a glass, drinking directly from the dark green bottle, followed by sharing a smoke on the patio. When they had finished the last of the wine and were both nearly drunk and mostly satisfied, Vick banged on the wall that separated the two dwellings.
“ You can turn that mess off now, old man,” he banged on the wall once more.
Winston came home and hung his keys on the hook, placed his loafers next to the base board and pet Mr. Biggles as he rounded his master’s ankle. He wondered for the whereabouts of his guest. The sliding door was open and there was an empty bottle of wine on the coffee table next to the magazines. There was a funny smell in the air, perfume or carpet freshener. He tossed the empty bottle of wine into the trash bin in the kitchen. Vick and Violet were coming out from his bedroom, straightening their clothes as they walked past and went out onto the front porch. The bed was a mess and cigarette ashes were scattered on the bedside table.
Vick walked his friend to the end of the driveway where she could await a taxi-cab to pick her up and carry her back to the beach. He reminded her the two would soon take a drive, down the coast, to watch the sun rise over the palms. When the driver arrived to pick her up, she smiled at Vick, who stood on the stoop and watched her slide her tight skirt and partially aroused breasts along with the rest of her into the back seat of the cab. She smiled and waved out of the rear window, blowing him a kiss to remember her by.
When Winston returned home from a trip to the market, he saw Brubaker next door, parked in his wheeled chair on the front porch, wrapped tightly in his robe. He did not look well. He had been known for poor health as long as Winston had lived there, frequently having bouts of bronchitis and on one occasion a nasty case of walking pneumonia. Winston walked up the drive and asked his neighbor how he was feeling.
“ Been better,” he answered in a gravelly tone.
Winston walked closer to keep him from having to speak too loudly.
“ You look a little ill. Can I do something for you? Maybe a cup of hot tea? Do you have any medication you can take?” Mr. B. came to the porch and greeted the two men.
“ I have some pills and some cough syrup. Don’t do much good, though.” He began to cough as he finished the sentence. When he had coughed enough he asked Winston if he might be able to bring over some chicken soup, or whatever he may have in his pantry.
“ Of course. I have chicken and rice, I think. Will that due?” Brubaker shook his head then coughed from deep inside his chest.
Vick had spent all the money he had acquired from selling Madge’s jewelry. Now, he was nearing the end of his last pack of smokes and had drank most of the last of the wine and beer the day before. Winston’s home was dry for financial sourcing and Vick was now thinking of elsewhere as a means to supply himself with the vice and derelict distractions he so desperately desired. He asked Winston of the man next door. What about him and what of him. Although the two had lived next to each other for a time, Winston knew little of the man. He kept to himself, was polite if not slightly brusque most of the time and the two get along fine just that way.
“ I think he collects things.” This caught Vicks’s ear. Winston poured a nice serving of hot chicken and rice soup into a plaid thermos and tightened the lid.
“ Stamps, matchbooks, record albums…” Vick became less interested but was soon raised from the doldrums. “ And coins. He has a fantastic collection of coins from all over the world.” Winston concluded.
He was about to walk next door with the thermos of soup when Vick offered to deliver the good will and medicinal nourishment himself. Winston handed him the soup thermos and Vick carried it to the front steps to knock on the door. Upon seeing Vick standing there, Brubaker held a cotton handkerchief to his mouth and coughed with great force. He folded the kerchief and placed it in the front pocket of the big brown robe. He reached out for the soup and instead of handing it to him, Vick squeezed himself between the wheeled chair and the door face passing by Brubaker and walking into the living room. He immediately noticed a collection Winston had failed to mention; the case with the glass facade containing the rifles, shotguns, pistols and crossbow.
“ Sit that soup down on the butcher block,” Brubaker tried to hurry the man out.
Vick stood in the kitchen and sat the thermos on the table. He looked around trying to take inventory of the small apartment before being asked to leave. He smiled and nodded on his way to the front door. Brubaker jammed the deadbolt in place and twisted the thumb-turn on the knob as soon as the man had walked down the steps. He watched him from the window as he crossed through the carport and up the steps to the front door on Winston’s side of the dwelling. He took the thermos from the butcher’s table and warmed his mouth and calmed his aggravation with a slow sip of the hot soup.
The next day things did not go well for Brubaker. He awoke with a terrible fever. He took several aspirin but the fever would not break. The cough that had been a nuisance the day before was now an elephant sitting on the center of his chest, not allowing any air in or out of his lungs. After a long struggle to get to his telephone, he placed a call to a friend and asked for a ride to the nearest clinic.
Winston watched from his front window as the friend loaded Brubaker and his wheeled chair into the back seat of his car and the two drove away.
“ He must not be feeling any better. Probably going to the doctor today. Guess the soup didn’t help much.” He spoke to himself in the mirror and straightened his tie. One of the bookstore’s district managers would be visiting today and he wanted to look his best. He ran the lent brush over the leg of his pants before giving Mr. Biggles one last pat on the head. On the patio Vick sat quietly in one of the high backed chairs and listened to the car pull from the driveway. He heard Winston say goodbye as he started off for the bus stop. When Winston had left, Mr. B. ran past Vick on the patio and took cover in the garden.
Vick made a call. His new friend would take a cab and join him for a late breakfast. When she arrived, Violet knocked on the door and Vick quickly answered. “ Baby, ooh you look fine! Come on in here!” He opened the door wide and she strut her way past him sashaying into the living room. She mentioned he was now into her for taxi fare and any residual money she had to spend today, although her displeasure was outweighed by the anticipation and excitement of whatever the day may hold for the two. Vick promised her a good time and she was sure he would deliver.
First, they walked to the liquor store down the road where they bought more red wine, beer and cigarettes. Vick placed two sticks of beef jerky on the counter as well, after all he did promise breakfast. Violet was feeling lucky so she also bought a scratch off lottery ticket. Before they were out of the parking lot she had won twenty dollars. Vick persuaded her to buy more, which she did. This time, before they were too far away from the store, she had lost it all. Vick assured her this was not an omen of things to come and they each opened a bottle of beer.
After the two had drank almost a half case of cold beer and nearly two bottles of red wine, Violet removed her blouse and sat on the couch. Her breasts where perky and young and Vick felt pleasure and a little bravado from having such a nubile in his presence and seemingly at his command. He removed her skirt and the two of them laughed as they began to dance around the coffee table. The clock radio sang a tune from a tiny speaker. Vick twisted and popped, kicked and twisted. Violet glided smoothly around him. She moved in and began to rub his crotch. Before he could get fully aroused he stopped her and turned the radio off. He pulled her down beside him on the sofa and began to explain things as they were.
“ I was in the cell next to him. We talked, you know, to pass the time.” Vick opened the last bottle of wine.
“ He was a cracker, you know? From way up north. Michigan somewhere like that. Well, he started getting these letters from this dude. When he was through, I asked him to let me see them, you know? I was bored, real bad. Anyway, it was getting real close time for both of us to get sprung. On the same day, no doubt. Only I got no family, see. Nowhere to go, and he’s getting out, going to stay with this other cracker at the beach, you see?”
Violet took a long drink from the bottle. Vick continued.
“ I followed him to the bus station, told him I was going to see some people out west. We sat in the station waiting on his bus to get there. Next thing I know, he says he got to take a
piss. I say me too. We go to the restroom, and that was it. I didn’t really plan it or nothing, it just happened.”
Violet passed the bottle to him. He took a sip and led her by the hand to the patio where they both lit a cigarette.
“ I followed him into the stall. No one else in there, just us two. I reach out and grab him by the neck with both hands,” Vick held his hands out in a choking pose for her to see.
“ Like this,” he mimicked strangling someone.
“ He wasn’t too strong. He fell back on the toilet and busted his damn head. I squeezed as hard as I could around his neck. I could hear something pop in there. Then he stopped twitching and I laid him out on the floor. Real quick, I took his wallet and a piece of paper he had in his back pocket with the address of this guy, Winston. I came here, told him I was Vick, and that was that, no questions, nothing. So now, I’m Vick. Only Im tired of being this guy. Time to make some moves and get the hell up out of here.” He stood up taking Violet by the hand and began leading her around the makeshift patio dance floor as the tiny speaker in the clock radio buzzed along and kept rhythm.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect, he explained to her. The old hobbled up codger next door was gone to the doctor’s office, probably be gone a while. Winston would be at work the rest of the day. It was perfect. They would take the keys he had found to the Buick, bust in the sliding glass door to the son of a bitch’s house, take whatever they could load into the Buick and cruise on out, wherever they wanted to go. If, in fact she wanted to go with him? Why not? She could at least go for a few days and if she got bored, she could take a bus back to the beach. Why not, she agreed.
The sliding door opened easier than Vick thought it would. Once inside, he went straight for the guns. The case was locked but a swift kick to the glass gave them access. Violet helped him carry the rifles, pistols and shotguns to the Buick parked under the carport. Not being sure of how to use the crossbow, or what it might be worth to a fence, he made the decision to leave it behind. Next, they took the small color television set. The roll top desk gave him more of a fight than expected. The strong box busted easily with help from a hammer they found in a kitchen drawer. Vick left all the coins in the box and lay it in the trunk of the car. He told Violet they should check the bedroom before leaving.
In a sock drawer, some folding money and loose change were found. She took a gold bracelet from the stand next to the bed. The two were caught up in the excitement. They fell on the bed and began rolling around on top of one another. They did not hear the car pull up in the driveway. Instead of making an exit the same way they came in Vick decided to up the anti. He planned an ad-lib confiscation of the man’s wallet, credit cards, money and ATM card. He was a sick man in a wheeled chair. How much of a fight could he possibly put up? Violet was frightened of the idea of being caught. She kissed Vick on the cheek then ran out the sliding door to make her way back to Winston’s.
Brubaker’s friend’s car pulled from the driveway as he wheeled himself up the sloping planks of the handicapped ramp that led to the front door. He slid the key into the hole in the knob, jiggled twice and then turned the dead bolt in a like motion. He pushed the door open wide so his wheeled chair could pass through. As soon as he wheeled himself into the living room he could see the broken glass on the floor in front of the empty gun case. He also noticed the roll top of the desk had been busted as well. Now Vick stepped into the room. Brubaker tried to turn himself around but he could not retreat fast enough. Vick kicked him in the back of the head forcing him from the chair and onto the floor. He landed in a heap near the aluminum stand that once held the color television. He coughed hard, trying to clear his lungs and catch his breath.
Vick wrestled with the man to pull his wallet from the back of his pants. Brubaker was strong in spirit and carried much grit but proved no match for the street tough. From where he was laying, lodged between the con and the floor, he swung from the shoulder and connected with a short hook but this only provoked his attacker. After choking him briefly and smashing his face into the tile floor, Vick rummaged through his wallet and took out six dollars in cash, two credit cards and a local bank ATM.
Vick opened the refrigerator to find a half pint of vodka on the shelf in the door. His nerves made him thirsty and he finished it in one swallow. The man on the floor made grunting noises in discomfort and tried to pull himself up using the sides of his chair. Vick pulled the chair out from under him causing the man to fall face first, busting his nose and bleeding on the floor. Brubaker decided to lay still and hope his attacker would soon leave.
Vick slid the wallet into the back pocket of his own jeans. He gave a last look to the man on the floor lying in his own blood. He moved the chair away from the man to make it more difficult for him to go for help. He also ripped the phone cord from the wall and locked the front door and bolted the lock. Before he left the man once and for all, he pulled down the shades. He stepped over the man and walked out back onto the patio. Mr. Biggles stared at him from his hiding place in the garden. Violet nervously paced in the living room next door at Winston’s. The two gathered Vick’s belongings quickly. He scribbled a note on a pad and left it on the kitchen table.
-Thanks a lot. It’s been fun.-
Winston returned home around the usual time. The cat met him at the door. He slipped off his loafers and placed them next to the baseboard. He walked past the note on the kitchen table and headed directly for the coffee table where the empty wine and beer bottles were still scattered. He would clean the mess for the last time. He had decided on the bus ride home he would suggest to Vick that this situation was not in his best interest and perhaps the two should kindly part ways. It wasn’t just the drinking and the smoking, he was terribly untidy, not particularly appreciative of the meals and hospitality he was being provided and in general just not a very nice man. Winston hoped he would not offend his guest or hurt his feelings but he felt it was time for this conversation to take place.
Since Vick didn’t seem to be present, Winston decided to check on Brubaker. On his way to the apartment, he noticed the Buick was not parked in it’s usual place under the shelter of the carport next door. The car had not been moved since Winston had sold it to his neighbor, desperate to pay court fines and in little need of a vehicle for a time. He walked past where it should have been parked and stepped up onto the front porch. The blinds were pulled tight. Mr. Biggles walked close behind him. Winston knocked softly on the door in case Brubaker were sleeping. There was no answer. He and Mr. B. walked around the duplex and came upon the sliding glass door which was still open. Mr. Biggles spooked himself and ran toward the garden. Winston approached softly and stepped cautiously. He peered into the house as best he could, trying to see through the blinds shading the kitchen which were now closed tight.
Brubaker had crawled on his elbows across the floor until he had reached the gun case. He lay on his back where the glass was strewn on the carpet. He breathed shallow trying hard not to make himself cough. The blood around his nostrils had succumb to gravity and now ran
into the corners of both eyes as he rest his head on the shards of glass that fell from the shattered gun case to the floor. His heart was pounding in his chest, thunderous palpitations. He was certain who ever was creeping on the other side of the door would be able to hear the un-syncopated rhythm. He closed his eyes and tried to wish it all away.
Winston took one step inside. He stopped to hear what he could hear. From the other side of the butcher’s block he could see one of Brubaker’s orthopedic shoes attached to a foot curled in an unnatural direction. He took another step in to try and gain a better perspective.
He remembered the first time he engaged in a fist fight. It really wasn’t much of a fight. A young boy in his class had been picking on him. The boy followed him after school. At some point they tangled up like bramble vines, and began to throttle one another, although most of the throttling was taken and not given. He could still feel that first punch in the jaw. His head throbbed and his eyes watered as if to tear. The weight of the blow and the ringing in his ears amplified the impact until remaining conscious seamed nearly impossible.
Now here he was, in that moment again. A crushing power came pushing into the center of his chest. He immediately lost the ability to catch his breath. His mouth was open wide but no air entered there. His legs became as spindles of spider web. When he landed on the kitchen floor, his jaw hit the tile and that same sense of shock that he had received from that first punch in the jaw returned as if it had never retreated.
On the floor in the living room Brubaker lay with the bow across his chest. He closed his eyes again and exhaled a long breath he had been holding for some time. In the back yard, the
razor-tipped titanium arrow drove itself deep into a small sapling behind the patio. Blood dripped down the bark like molasses, slow and deep crimson, with shreds of torn flesh hanging there. Mr. Biggles watched from a safe distance, confused, hiding in plain sight, crouched low in Winston’s little garden.
Vick Rose and Violet drove the lonely highway south, down the coast for most of the night. By the time the sun had begun to climb its way up and over the tall, wind sculpted dunes and bent Dade palms, painting swaths of cloud with pink pastel and sea foam, they found themselves in the Keys. That long stretch of lonesome highway that separated scatterings of islands and placed one as close to the equator as could be imagined on U.S. soil, now carried them quiet and seamlessly to a destination yet to reveal itself. The slightly rusted Buick of random blue color churned along as if it knew the way.