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Authors: Kevin Hardcastle

Debris (11 page)

BOOK: Debris
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The free city paper was sitting
on the counter one night when Arthur spelled off the black-haired clerk again. He asked her if she wanted to buy more whiskey.

“Fuck no,” she said, and left pretending to gag.

Arthur laughed and watched her go out into the humid dusk, fog of gnats hassling her as she went. Noise of the street and then the doors came back and sealed him in with the quiet. He set up at his post and then he read the paper, came to a page that had been deliberately dog-eared. He unfolded the flap and tried to work the crease with his palmheel. “Hard Luck Hotel” in masthead lettering. A newsprint photo of the very building where he sat reading. It took him a minute to recognize it, so little did he spend his time on the sidewalk looking at the building facade. Plans were relayed by the journalist, to level the place and build atop the plot. The article talked about pre-war glories for a paragraph and then told the crimes and murders and oddities for three. The O'Flynn boy was mentioned in there as were his failures and fibs. The historian they had interviewed about the hotel spoke to the little attention the hotel had gotten compared to other heritage buildings in the city, was asked to posit reasons why. “This is probably one we could stand to lose,” he'd said.

Arthur leaned back on his stool and studied the lobby through the Plexiglas. Faint sound of doors opening and closing. Great ceiling fans moving re-circulated air. A young Dutchman came down by the stairs carrying a basket of dirtied work clothes, went toward the laundry room. Tall and sharp-shouldered with hair the colour of straw. When he came back he held one hand up with the littlest finger but a nub. Arthur smiled and the young man walked past the booth and went out the front doors into the black.

Arthur pulled a drawer and found the hotel ledger, opened it and looked to the inside front cover. He dragged the phone across the desk and picked up the receiver. Underscored the number with his forefinger as he dialed. On the eighth ring someone picked up.

“What is it?”

“I didn't wake you did I?”

“Arthur?” said O'Flynn.

“We need to talk, kid.”



Contractors visited throughout
the fall and winter. If rooms went vacant they were closed for good and their keys were pulled from the office pegboard. By early spring O'Flynn stopped in at least once a week with city officials, tracked slush and roadgrit across the lobby flooring. Fixtures came down. The cherry wood stairwell railing was dismantled and wrapped in cloth. A high-hung chandelier built through with spider web cities had to be lowered and stripped and cleaned. The clerks were let go one by one until Arthur and the black-haired girl had to split the day between them in twelve-hour stands. A nearby shelter found low-income housing for the lingering tenants and the black-haired clerk left with the last of them, crate of whiskey under her arm. Arthur missed her something terrible and he hadn't been prepared to feel like that.

O'Flynn had bought out Arthur's lease for six months' rent and whatever he could carry out of the place. Engineers were marking the walls and drilling holes for their charges during the end of his stay. Arthur could not really sleep nights so he rode an abandoned bicycle around the maze of hallways. When he did sleep he slept shallow and had odd dreams. Just a touch off the mark. The city perhaps a decade after the war. Arthur walking the centrevein main street from highway to lakeshore and casting out east and west from there. He wore a greycloth suit and his tiny nest-egg built into the brim of his hat. In the dream he was very tired and trod strangely. Next he was taking whiskey and beer in a dive bar near the university grounds. The real O'Flynn with his huge hands and head. Something wrong with his eyes. Arthur sat with a contract in his pocket and kept trying to call the barman. Above the backbar pictures of a woman and small boy in frames. He'd thought them lost and climbed over the bar to take them down.

He woke up slapping at his hindquarters where his back trouser-pocket should be. He turned over and found his wallet on the nightstand. Arthur looked at it for a time and then the cobwebs cleared. The wallet he'd been looking for was lost in a fire near forty years ago and the photographs went with it. He'd no address to send for more and no more letters were sent to him though he waited long for them and knew they'd never come.



Arthur left the hotel for the last
time on a Sunday morning. He took nothing but a small case of clothes and his other personals. Most of the rooms were still furnished with the windows curtained and the dusty bed linens rumpled atop their mattresses. Many of the doors were unlocked or open. O'Flynn was there to seal the building and trade Arthur his settlement for the hotel masterkeys. Arthur shook the man's hand and gave them up. O'Flynn did not check them.



Two days later Arthur came back
into the hotel by the alley-bound sub-basement entry, travelled a series of broken steps and a long, damp corridor until he found the boiler room's back door. He'd come with a prybar and had to lever the thing open. All of his weight and gumption against the seized and oxidized hinge-bolts. He made space enough to shimmy through and then hauled the door shut behind him.

In his room he sat barefoot in the chair and listened to records. He'd taken his wristwatch off and laid it face up on the near side table. Three mason jars of whiskey stood aside it. At midnight he took his first drink in thirty-three years. He kept pace by the watch and counted minutes between each tilt of the jar. He sobbed but once and it didn't last. Fire blew in Arthur's nostrils from the second pint of whiskey. Dawn came gradual by the southeastern window, through part-drawn curtaincloth. By his footsoles he felt the first charges go. The empty jars slid across the tabletop. He sat alone and saw the world around him shift like water sloshing in a bucket.

















ean O'Hara stood in
the hallway of his apartment while the phone told him that his old man was dead. He put his forearm to the wall and leant hard on it. The wallpanelling spoke a little under his weight. Otherwise the place was quiet as could be.

“Was it his heart?”

“I don't know any real way to tell you.”


“He was killed.”

O'Hara looked at the receiver for a long time and then put it back at his ear.

“I don't know what you mean.”

“There was an incident involving another resident here. Friend of his.”

O'Hara had already gone back to his bedroom and he was into the drawers. The voice on the phone started up again but he cut it off.

“I live in the city,” he said. “I'll be there before sun-up.”

After that he pitched the phone sidelong across the room and heard the pieces dance across the flooring.



They carried the old man out
on a gurney and O'Hara was there to watch him clear the ambulance doors. They'd not let him see the body and he had a mind to step up and pull back the sheet but the thought soured in his head right away. He sat aside with police in the front lobby of the retirement home until doors started opening and old, ponderous faces showed in the gaps, eyes blinking, one lady full awake and her hair bang-upright like she'd took lightning and lived. The cops asked him to follow them to the station to talk it over. They stood up but he didn't.

“Where's the fella that killed him?” O'Hara said.

“In his room with some other officers,” said an older cop, tall and broad with hands you might find on a gorilla.

“He's not in holding?”

“Son,” the cop said. “He don't even know he done it.”



Perhaps a dozen people attended
the funeral mass and Sean knew them all and talked long to some. He tried to draw up faces in his mind of folks who hadn't come by, but then he'd not been back to that town more than four times in ten years and didn't know who was truant or who was simply dead. An old friend who'd once cleared sawn-down pine acres by horse and cart with his father eulogized the man and it was short. Sean learned nothing new from anyone he talked to after the mass. He never saw any of them again.

In days to come he did not leave town. He dug in at a one-level motel that looked downhill to a landlocked and geese-shitted lake and he kept standing empty whiskey bottles and empty beer bottles on the counters and tabletops. Often he sat out front and watched leaves detach by the dozen and float away from the treeline. He'd already taken days off of work and he called back to the city site-office where he was foreman to say they should assume he'd need all of the days he had left for the year, even if it didn't turn out so. He slept nearly twenty-four hours in one stretch and woke up skullhammered at six-thirty of some morning and dragged ass to his car.



He left town to the north and
travelled a wooden bridge over patchwork swampland. The car struggled up a series of narrow foothill lanes with near hairpin switchbacks. The sun had cleared the eastern horizon and set columns of fire between the roadside pines. O'Hara had the windows open full and papers blew about at his feet. Woodsmoke in the air as he came upon a boarded filling station and soon afterward the busted main strip of the hillbilly hamlet. The last building he saw on that street sold fireworks and ammunition. A car sat crooked in the frontlot and a man seemed to be asleep in it. The store windows were dark yet.

He drove the little village in a wander, passing back through the centre street time and time again from the top and bottom side. He saw a diner open at one corner and slowed but thought better about stopping anywhere. Fifteen minutes gone he idled under a street sign and turned his hand over. Name of the road on his palm in black marker. O'Hara turned and crept the street with his head swivelling to either side like a lawnsprinkler. Some of the houses were not numbered but they were few enough to make the math easy.



On the trip back across the
marshway pass he didn't even feel part-drunk anymore and he lamented the hour of day and how much of it was left. O'Hara gave his head a shake and pulled into a greasy spoon at the reaches of town and went inside. Three old men sat with their cups. One at the counter. Two in booths. All of them apart. The waitress sat on the customer side of the counter in her smocks and she had her chin down at the crook of her elbow. She saw him come in by the backbar mirror and stood up slow.

He ate eggs and bacon, too much of it and too fast. Drank Coke instead of coffee and that got him a funny look from the waitress that lasted the whole time he was there. O'Hara read the city paper throughout the meal and when he got tired of it he shoved it aside and saw the town paper holstered in the napkin rack. He pulled it and laid the pages out and stopped chewing all at once.

They had a picture of his old man on the front. In the photograph, the elder O'Hara might have been fifty or so and he stood in the forefront of a bayside grain elevator. They'd cropped it mostly to his rockjaw face with all his scars and that bridgebroke nose. The photo wasn't much bigger than the kind you'd see in a passport. And beside it a grand, near full-page shot of the man that had killed him. His name was Charles DeCarlo Jr. and Sean knew that much but he'd not had a face to pair it with. Now he did. Younger days with a million-dollar smile and an army uniform hung with decorations. Infantryman in Korea wounded four times and discharged honourably with battle commendations at Kapyong and Seoul. Testimonials in there from family and friends as to his kindliness and gentle nature despite the many men he supposedly buried in the Far East. They reported him sequestered for good in the facility where he'd done for the elder O'Hara, stage six dementia that rendered him unfit to try at court. They'd lately moved him to another wing.



Not a mile from the motel he
sat at a stop sign for too long until he heard knocking at his windowglass. O'Hara turned quick to his left and saw a dark- haired woman aside the driver door. She held her hands out like he'd kept her waiting forever. He put the window down. She leaned in.

“Jesus,” he said.


“How are you?”

She smiled at him. Little crow's feet by her eyes and her face slightly bigger, her hips rounder. She had rogue greys in her long and black, black hair. He couldn't slow the goings on in his chest and he didn't much try.

“How about we get out of the street?” she said.

O'Hara nodded.

“Where you headed?”

“Motel by the lake.”

“Sweet Jesus, Sean,” she said.

He watched her walk back to her truck, idling in the lane behind his car. She got in and shut her door. Nobody else in the road. He rolled out slow with the woman trailing him.



They sat out on the porch
in front of his room. Sean had an icechest at his feet full with bottles. He dragged it over so that it sat between their lawnchairs. She didn't look at it, just at him and then at the motel grounds. He opened the chest and knuckled two beers up from the icewater. He turned the caps one by one and offered her a bottle. She did not move for it. O'Hara drank one down to the dregs and set it by. Started on the other. She shook her head and took it out of his hand. Pulled deep and rested it on her chairarm. He dug another out and pulled the cap.

“I can only have the one,” she said. “They're waitin' at home for someone to feed them.”

Sean blew air hard over his lips and smiled. He shifted in the seat. She reached over and put her hand on his shoulder, grabbed the back of his neck firm. He closed his eyes a second and hung his head. Lifted it again.

“It's terrible what happened,” she said.

He cleared his throat. She wouldn't stop trying to look him in the eye. He would only nod and sip at his beer.



He got up mid-morning and
started working on the condition of the room. About eleven the cart pulled up by the window and he heard a knock but told them to carry on. After a minute he went out and followed in the path of the cart until he found it. A young, ponytailed girl was inside one of the rooms turning down the bed, silver ring through her bottom lip. She turned to see him in the door and froze up a little. He had clean towels from the cart in his hands and asked if he could take them. She came over and took them out of his hands and swapped them out for proper-sized towels. She didn't say but a word. He went back to his room and kept at the cleaning.

Three hours later he walked through the service entrance at the hospice and travelled the corridors. He went to the opposite side of the building from where his old man had been living and started checking nameplates, door by door. He met a man shuffling past with a four-legged walker and that man waved and went on. O'Hara found the room he wanted right before a dogleg in the corridor. The door had been stoppered open and sunshine lit the hallway carpeting in a rhomboid shape. Sean went into the room and kicked the stopper clear.




DeCarlo slept in his chair
near bolt straight. Nonetheless, his head lolled and he had a dried salt line aside the corner of his mouth. The man would have been perhaps six and a half feet tall were he to stand. O'Hara stood not quite six feet in workboots, taller than his old man had ever been by an inch. DeCarlo had thick hair yet, white through and combed to the side. Elephantine ears with one lobe gone and the bottom cropped oddly. By the looks of it he still had most of his actual teeth.

Sean leaned in and shook him gentle by the shoulder. Like brickwork under the dress-flannels. When DeCarlo stirred he seemed to have trouble getting his lids up and then they just went all at once. O'Hara let go and sat back. Studied the big man's eyes. It was like looking into deep water.

“O'Hara?” the man said.

“Not the one you think.”

“Are we playing cards tonight?”

“I told you, I ain't him. I'm his son.”

DeCarlo sat forward slightly to better see.

“Where's he at?”

“You know where he is.”

The old man fingered his cropped ear and hummed something. His hands shook considerable.

“You gonna tell me what happened between the two of you?” Sean said. “You miserable, evil bastard.”

The old man frowned hard, shuffled in his seat. Sound of joints popping but it seemed not to bother him. For a few seconds they stared at each other and then the older man looked toward the window. Had to squint against the sun. Then at once he stood tall, patted his pants pockets and the breast-pocket of his shirt. Sat back down. In the sitting he reset himself. Looked like he might drift off again. Sean took his arm hard through the shirt. DeCarlo snapped to and tried to clear the arm. O'Hara held it fast with both hands and clamped it down to the chair.

“You killed him, know it? Knocked him down and knelt on his neck until he gave it up.”

The man kept struggling to get his arm back. Sean had to stand.

“That wasn't yours to decide on you piece of shit. Ya hear me?”

DeCarlo just shook in the chair and started grunting, chuffing through his big teeth. He was looking all over the room when O'Hara cuffed him hard at the cheek with the flat of his hand. Short shot but loud in the room. The old man swatted the air where the hand had been and then grabbed his chairarms hard enough that one came loose. He stared at Sean and the younger man stood up. Something in there that had to be reckoned with. A minute by and no man moved. Then DeCarlo let go of the broken chairarm and started to fiddle with his ear again. His chest filled and sunk perhaps a half-foot by each hurried breath. Slowed and slowed. O'Hara sat back down in his chair and studied the man some more. They were like that when the orderly came into the room.

“You can't be in here,” he said. “Who are you?”

“Payin' a visit.”

“You family?”

“Not even a little.”

“Do you know him?”

“I do.”

O'Hara had already gotten up out of the chair when the orderly told him to leave. He saluted the orderly and went. He didn't look back to the old man.



In the tavern he drank whiskey
and beer and by midnight he'd piss-streaks down the leg of his jeans and no skin on the top two knuckles of his left hand. He sat at the bar turning a ragtowel red and when they tried to chuck him he pinned the backbar mirror with an ashtray and leapt over and took a forty of Irish, swung it around like a cudgel. They'd no proper bouncers and he booted the door open himself while they were calling the cops. Someone called him a fucktard and he wheeled around to come back but the door was pulled shut and bolted and he hammered on it but a few times before he remembered how close the cop shop sat in relation to the tavern. O'Hara left the main street by a wooded pass and entered the lake gulley. Went knee-deep through dead leaves and damp brush. He carried the bottle yet but didn't open it. Truly he wasn't even that drunk. When he got to the hotel he saw to fixing that. Turned off all the room lights and left the
flickering and drank from the whiskey bottle. He'd hooked a headset into his phone and listened to music in the dark. He sang crazily for a while. Then he started calling people.

BOOK: Debris
9.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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