Authors: Kevin Hardcastle
He woke up in ruination and she
was asleep sitting up in the bed beside him, shoulders against the headboard. She had a funny look on her face and snored tiny and she was as pretty as a woman would ever get for him however long he had left to know one. O'Hara had to piss with a fair bit of urgency but he wouldn't get up for fear of waking her. Odd light behind the windowshades either from the lot-lamps or the mustering of the sun but he couldn't tell which and shut his eyes awhile more. He did not sleep. She stirred just a few minutes later and laid her palms to either side of his head. He could feel her breath by his eyelid. She tugged his hair a little.
“You still asleep?” she said.
She let the hair go. Flatted it back with her fingers.
“Always you were bad at that,” she said.
O'Hara put his hands to the mattress and slid himself back so that his neck crooked at the pillow and his elbow lay over her thigh. That was as far as he made it.
“You were in a state last night,” she said.
“Anything good happen?” he said.
“Don't be stupid.”
He tried to turn over but she held him fast. Put him back. She was under the covers and most of him was not but he got one arm past to where he could feel her dress-hem and the skin of her bare leg below. He put his forearm to the inside of her knee and his fingers about her ankle. Waited to see what would happen. She didn't clear him out but that was all. He lay there snookered.
“I thought you'd get married,” she said.
“Well, where is she now?”
“I don't know.”
“Northern California for a long while. Think she shuffled off to Oregon since. I've only heard what I've heard. An' that ain't much.”
She ran through his hair again with both hands. Moved her forearm around the underside of his neck and her fingertips dug in at his left shoulder, thumb to his collarbone.
“You gonna be okay after I leave here?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Hell,” he said. “I couldn't even buy my way into a scrap last night.”
“That's not a big surprise.”
“It's a small town, Sean. They all know who your dad was.”
He sat up in the bed and looked at her.
“You know what I mean.”
“I'm the only one who really knows it.”
O'Hara got clear of the bed and looked for his jeans. He found them and picked them up filthy and tossed them to the corner of the room. Went to the drawers. She sat at the edge of the motel bed and set about putting her shoes on.
“If you're just gonna go out lookin' for trouble again I can call the cop shop and tell 'em to make up a bunk for tonight.”
“I ain't yours to worry about. Anyways, don't you know? You can get away with murder in this fucking town.”
There were two squad cars over
at the home when he passed by near dusk. Cops could be seen plain in the lot and he figured the rest to be inside with the old man DeCarlo. He cranked hard at the wheel and came around in the road, crested up into the frontlot. There he stomped the brake and slid short.
“Fuck it,” he said.
O'Hara turned to see over his shoulder and backed out into the road again. He left at a good clip. In the rear-view he saw nothing and kept on. He'd been at the bottle again but only beer so far and he drove straight enough. No matter. As he reached the county line there were reds firing in his mirrors. He drove awhile and as calm as could be before he coasted over into the shoulder-sand and turned the key back. There were two cops that came to him and one was the older cop he'd seen the night his father had been throttled and the other was young and about as wide as he was tall. O'Hara wound the window open.
“Son, get out the damn car,” said the older cop.
“Why?” said O'Hara.
The cop stood back a step with his thumbs hung in his belt. He stared. O'Hara opened the door and got out and sat on the hood of his own car. Crossed his arms. The cop eyeballed him hard and he didn't move an inch from where he stood.
“You didn't hurt him, right?” the cop said.
“Answer me like you know I'm not an idiot.”
“I didn't. I just talked to him.”
The cop eventually nodded. He spat in the road. Looked off to where no cars carried on the tarmac and looked back to the young cop who had already spelled off toward their cruiser.
“You know I went to school with your dad. Well, not directly. We were a few years apart. But we saw each other around.”
“I wasn't his friend per se. But I did like the man. Once we ended up on the same side of an unwinnable kind of scrap and by God he won it. I don't even know how it started but I'll remember him in it long as I live.”
Sean stared over blankly, bit his upper lip and nodded once. The cop nearly said something else but he stopped and then he unhitched his thumbs. Around them the daylight crept out and the last of it spread low on the fields and behind croprow lines of hand-planted firs.
“If you'll carry on thataways back to the city I'll just shake your hand and say so long. How 'bout that?”
O'Hara got off the hood. The old cop stayed exactly in place. His partner had started coming back over in a hurry and the older cop froze him with a glance. The old cop held out his gigantic hand and O'Hara took it firm and looked him in the eye. When they let go the cop paused a beat as if to take the boy's stock and then he walked back to his car. He didn't get in and he didn't get in. Finally Sean went around his own vehicle and settled into the seat. Lit up the ignition. He peeled out from the gravelsand enough that it kicked all over and then the tires caught asphalt and he continued southwest by that winding roadway.
By twilight he saw the turnoff
posting and he kept going until the last he could, and there he hauled the wheel around and skipped over the macadam and the close corner of the turnoff curbing, churned turf there a second or two before getting out of the muck to the road proper. He pinned another beer and the incline helped him drain it.
The village streets were sparely lamplit and when O'Hara left the main road there were no lights at all save for those that burned behind housecurtains and dropped blinds. He coasted slow until he found the street again and there he drew up against the curb and shut off the engine, left the radio playing and the window open. He must have slept because when he shook awake the clock digits had climbed by hours. O'Hara looked to his left and right and to the right he could see a man bent down and watching him through the passenger-side window frame. He was about as big a man as you could get.
“You're parked out front the wrong house, bud,” said the man.
O'Hara stared over at him and started smiling funny. The man shook his head and walked away over the front lawn and toward the lit porch of the small house. O'Hara squinted hard against the near-dark and saw the man's truck in the drive and a woman looking out from behind the outer screen door of the porch. Sheetmetal mailbox not three feet from the car with “DeCarlo” stencilled into it. He could see no toys nor bikes nor paddling pools. He called out and the man stopped in the yard and turned, mountainous and anvil-headed. O'Hara opened his door and got out. He set his feet in roadgravel and rose full, liked it enough. Above him bats pinwheeled in the warm night air and carried past. He went around the car and started up the asphalt drive to where the man stood waiting
HUNTED BY COYOTES
queak said he could
hear coyotes trailing us through the dark of the field. Heard them getting closer to us as we went.
“You ain't,” I told him. “There's nothin' for 'em to eat off your skinny ass.”
The kid had just come outta high school a year before, lived with his parents up in the north end of the city. We were working there, way up past A Hundred and Seventieth Avenue. New subdivisions all around and roads half-built, mud and gravel and silt. Like old carriage roads in frontier towns of the eighteen hundreds. Between those neighbourhoods were prairie fields of snarled and dying highgrass. You could smell snow in the air but it hadn't yet come in earnest. Any day. We walked in near blackness through a field from one neighbourhood to another. Highstepped over barbed-wire fences and helped each other through the lines. Squeak once got caught and in getting him free we all but tore the ass out of his pants. He dropped his work-binder and out came papers and pens and some of the papers were the deals he'd signed that day. One of them lifted up and floated off on the wind and I chased it down to the street and stomped it flat.
“Hey. You didn't get a code on this one,” I said.
Squeak came up with a hitch in his step, trying to both walk and check out the hole in his workpants. He took the paper from me, smiled as he did.
“They didn't have time to confirm that shit on the call. I just got him to sign and told him they'd call later.”
“You know you got about a twelve percent fuckin' chance of that bein' worth anything in the end?”
We went on, door to door on either side of the road. Some people were home and some people weren't. In that city a late autumn evening came on early, streetlights on at four p.m. and the true dark of night by six-thirty. We worked until nine, or so we were told. Most houses were lights-off with people in bed or out of town for work. You never knew how many people actually lived in a neighbourhood yet. Me and Squeak went from one house to the next, got a few people to answer and stare at us through their screen doors like we had three heads. Some of them listened to us talk and try to sign them up and some of them pretty much told us to take a hike. We went for an hour with nothing to show for it and when I got to the end of the last drive in the row Squeak was waiting there for me.
“My side sucks,” he said. “I'm goin' to the bar.”
He pointed out across the nearby field at a far-off plaza and a set of new stores, signlights plain in the distance.
“You comin'?” he said.
I stared at the lights and made a fart sound over my lips.
“Fuck. I'll do one more street. Then I'll meet ya.”
He kept calling my phone
when I was inside the house with a well-to-do middle-aged couple. I ignored it and went on with the deal. They signed up and I phoned the call centre from the house line. Got the code. Gave the man his copy and shook his hand and told them to have a good night. When I came out onto the front porch Squeak was right there, pale as could be.
“I'm bein' hunted by coyotes,” he said.
“What the hell are you sayin,' man?”
“They followed me 'cross the field again. I could hear those sons of bitches callin' out to each other. They're right by the fence on the other side of the street. They wouldn't stop comin'.”
I walked down the drive and out into the road. Squeak tried to get hold of me by the tail of my workshirt but he couldn't hold on. He hung back and I stood in the middle of the street, lamplight behind me from the houses and blackness in front. I started to laugh and heckle at Squeak over my shoulder when a set of yellow eyes lit up in the shadow. I got serious real quick. Then two more sets of eyes came to be and floated by through the murk.
“I told you they were out there,” Squeak said. “I was waitin' for one to step out and then I was comin' right into that house with ya.”
“Do we got the ability to make fire?” I said.
“I don't have anything.”
I looked back at the house. Thought about how crazy they'd think we were if we holed up in there. I took the papers for my deal and stuffed them into the binder. That was money I could lose by giving those people doubt and I needed that money bad.
I started out of there on the part-finished sidewalk on the built side of the street. Squeak walked beside me on the front lawns to the houses.
“Stay in the light where I can see you, kid.”
We met the rest of the crew
up in Whitecourt. Drove there in Squeak's beater car. The heater ran in fits and starts and Squeak had to put his mitts and hat on. That fall had been long and mild but you could taste winter in the air, more so the farther north we travelled. When we got into town the rest of the crew was at a double-stacked motel with a lot full of rigs and jacked pickups. Most of them were already out at the cars holding photocopied maps with areas highlighted on them by Ben, who had recently taken over running our crew. Me and him were friends enough before that, but now he had a job to do. I waited for him to assign an area of town for me and Squeak. As I was standing there I saw another buddy of mine, Matt, coming out from his second-floor room. Half-awake with his clothes on cock-eyed. He held the door open. Out walked one of the girls from our crew. She waited for Matt to lock up and said something at him as he passed by. Then she followed him down the steps and pretended not to see me standing there at all.
“Squeak,” Ben said, and gave him a map. “You're workin' with Jessica today. You all can take her car. I got some good area for you guys.”
Squeak looked back at me and I just shook my head. He went on. She'd gone clear around the lot and Squeak met her at her hatchback and got in. As soon as he got his feet in the car they were driving off.
“You're workin' with me today, buddy,” Ben said. He wore a shiteating grin and backhanded me on the arm with his binder. He looked me in the eyes. “It'll be good. I scoped out a spot on the way into town. It's gold. Trust me.”
“Where's fuckin' Matt workin' at today?” I said.
“He's out on his own. Some area he's worked up here before.”
I just nodded.
Ben drove us on and on past
fresh-planted subdivisions. Godawful McMansions and modest new bungalows for young people starting out, big yards and wooden fencing and double-driveways. A few times we happened upon some older places of brick and hardwood, farmhouses that had stood up to an age of seasons bleak and brutal, buildings that waited solemn for the coming winter. We passed all of that by and drove over a forestbound railway crossing and there we travelled dirtroads and ended up in a rundown trailer park at the edge of town. Lousy units with battered metal siding and broken screen doors. Nicer double-wides with full gardens shrivelled to the soilbed. Other trailers with front porches built on and old men sitting out with tallboys of Pilsner in the early afternoon.
“I fuckin' love
s,” Ben said.
I was going to tell him that there was something wrong with his brain but I knew we were about to pull over and go to work and my guts wouldn't let me talk for all their turning.
We were circling the park on opposite sides of the roadway. Ben skipping from door to door like he was trick or treating. After every knock I had a few seconds where I prayed nobody was home, but I talked to those poor folks that answered anyway. Tried to explain to them the benefits of fixing in energy rates for five years. I took noes no problem. Went on and got the few easy sign-ups that I could, thankful just to have some numbers. Ben didn't take any noes well. He had long since figured out how to disassociate and keep on with the pitch. He was the best agent in the whole outfit.
Halfway through the park I had two deals. Ben had nine. He was having trouble stuffing that last one into the slip in his binder, fat as it was. Those papers with his chickenscratch writing on them would get him six hundred and thirty dollars, and it wasn't yet dinnertime. We took a break and Ben smoked.
“You aren't gonna go all crazy on Matt when we get back, are ya?”
“She wasn't ever my girlfriend. It's a dirty fuckin' move though.”
“There's only so many girls on a crew. This shit happens.”
“It's like fuckin' high school. Bunch of hyenas circling. Nobody follows any rules.”
“Just stay positive, man,” Ben told me. “We're gonna make a bunch of money on this trip. That's the whole point of everything.”
About a half hour later I came to a trailer with sorry, busted toys all over the decking. There were no vehicles in the drive but the lights were on, and I could smell a fry-up from where I stood at the door. I knocked. When the door came open I could see nobody, but then I looked down and there was a small boy standing there. The kid was five or six years old with training underwear on. No pants and no shoes. Wrinkled T-shirt with a Polaris logo on the front. In his upturned hand he held a mittful of pan-fried perogies, grease dripping down his little forearm. He picked one off with the other hand and took a bite of it. The kid could have been dirtier. His face and his hair appeared to have been washed with water at the very least.
“Hey bud,” I said. “Are your folks around?”
He shook his head.
“My mom's at work.”
“You know when she'll be back?”
“I'm just here about the gas and power. No big deal.”
He ate another perogy and studied me. I looked around the trailer and saw a living room with a couch and an old
, a science fiction movie playing through the
. Some kids had made a spaceship out of a washing machine by the looks of it. There was a pile of clothes in one corner of the room and a pile of firewood in the other. The kitchen came right off the living room and he had the greasy frying pan on the lit burner of an ancient electric stove.
“Dude. How long has your mom been at work for?”
The kid looked up and mouthed a silent count.
The kid looked out past me for a second. Dusk settling in heavy on the park. He started shuffling back behind the door.
“I better go,” he said.
I started to say something but couldn't figure out what it was and then the door was shut. I stood there a long time and then I got off the porch and walked on down the lane.
Two men were yelling down from their deck at Ben when I got to him, cans of beer in their hands. They kept trying to wave him off and get him to leave but he just stood there with his binder, a goofy look on his face, his creased-up pants all but hanging off his ass. The men were in jeans and workjackets. Dirty ball cap on the one doing most of the yelling.
“I know what kind of scam you're runnin'. People in here got burned before on this. What d'you think you're tryin' to do?”
“Tryin' to save you some money. If you don't want to save money that's up to you,” Ben said to him.
“Get outta here.”
Ben turned around in a circle and looked up and down the gravel road.
“Yeah. Get the fuck outta here.”
“Get out of what? I'm not in anywhere.”
The man pitched his half-empty beer can at Ben. Ben stepped to the side and watched it go by. He started to laugh and walk toward the porch all at once. I got over between him and the men up there.
“D'you know there's a little kid down the way who ain't seen his mom in days,” I told them. “He's all on his own. You guys know where the mom's at?”
The men didn't seem to care for the story. One of them spat.
“She'll be back soon enough. She always comes back there sooner or later. Now go on.”
“I should call social services and get 'em down here is what I think.”
“You'd have to be an even bigger asshole than you already are to do that?”
“You call it in and that boy'll end up in a foster home or a fuckin' orphanage until she gets him back, or until she doesn't. Didn't think about that though did ya, whiz kid?”
“You are special,” Ben said to the guy. “Are you aware of exactly how special you are?”
The man stood up tall and went into the trailer. The other one started smiling. He took a pull from his beer and then made a pistol of the fingers on his free hand and dropped the hammer. Ben gestured like he was jerking off at the guy. But he did it while we were leaving, and we left that place pretty quick.