Authors: Keith C. Blackmore
by Keith C. Blackmore
Edited by Lynn O'Dell (Red Adept Reviews)
Cover by Neil Jackson
© 2011 by Keith C. Blackmore
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental. All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Special thank you to Donna Beck, Ken Maidment, and Rob Richter for help with those little things.
Augustus Berry rolled over to the edge of the stained hardwood deck and vomited. He squeezed his eyes closed, the pressure behind them forceful enough to almost pop them from their orbital cavities. He emptied his guts, took a deep breath, and heaved again, feeling as if someone had taken a fistful of his innards and were wringing them out through his mouth. Once that blast passed, he let one arm drop while he panted for air. He cracked open an eye and gazed at the autumn foliage forty feet below. He took in the concrete blocks and the iron support poles that kept up his deck. He thought he saw the splatter where he had just yarked. He realized he was on the deck itself and had damn near rolled off into oblivion. The night before, he had passed out on the comfortable lawn chair and had later moved to the harder, treated surface of the wood.
Seeing the ground far below made him dry heave twice more and then puke when he thought he had nothing left in his stomach. And he roared, not caring in the least who heard him as he voided, just wanting it over and done. When he finished, he stayed where he lay, gut down, ass up, and felt that sensation of wellness settle in, the kind that formed within one’s core after the body ejected whatever shit had made it sick in the first place.
In his case, it had been Uncle Jack, the South’s finest sour mash whiskey. At least, that was what the bottle said, and Gus was one to believe everything he read in print. Especially print found on a whiskey bottle. Booze didn’t lie.
But it sure as hell gave him the shits sometimes.
A cool breeze rose up and slapped him on his bearded cheeks, hard enough to cause him to wrinkle up his face. He took a deep, shuddering breath and cracked open his eyes again while rolling over onto his back. Gray clouds. Fine and billowy like fat intestinal tracts. October clouds. He sat up with his legs stretched out in a V. He scratched at his beard, a great length of facial hair resembling an old rug. The thing was getting grayer, and he absently thought about mowing it with the clippers. He drew his hand across his face, wincing at the contact of stomach juice there and in his whiskers, then checked his hands before rubbing them on his blue sweatshirt and jeans.
“Shit,” Gus grumbled. A broken bottle of Uncle Jack lay to his left, splayed over the wooden deck like a jagged bear trap. He sighed. That stuff was gold, and he couldn’t remember if he had drunk it or not. He had probably thought,
One more drink before bed,
then downed whatever was left in the bottle and passed out.
Jesus Christ. Right on the edge of a forty-foot drop. The thought of passing out, then rolling over and splattering on the rocks and scrub below almost made him heave again. He’d have had to clear the wooden railing, which didn’t offer much room below the lowest plank and the deck, but Gus knew stranger things had happened. Looking toward the front of his house, he found some small relief in seeing that the curtains were drawn. At least some part of him had remembered to do that.
Casting his attention toward the city and the bay that lay beyond, Gus sniffed, hoarked, and ejected a gob over the edge of the deck. Rooftops looked back at him, some black, some gunmetal gray. Silence buzzed in his ears, and in the distance, a seagull allowed an updraft to take it up a few levels. The bird hung in the air for moments before Gus realized it was flying away from him, toward the bay. Smart, for a sea chicken. Gus sniffed hard again, clearing his sinuses, and scratched his balls before rubbing his bald crown. He sat and stared, looking for anything of interest or concern. Nothing. Just another morning in the valley.
Then, he remembered he had things to do in the city. Just the thought made him shudder. It was much safer to just stay home, be safe, and get comfortably ripped out of his mind. Being drunk helped a lot at night, so he probably had a drinking problem. He thought back to his long-dead father, how he had been pleasantly plastered for most of his life, and realized that maybe the old man had been right all along in keeping a bottle nearby. It helped with reality. Whatever. He wouldn’t worry about it until the neighbors called the cops.
That thought made him smirk.
He drew in another breath, scratched his junk once more, and looked back at his house. Perched on the side of the mountain, the two-story timber-frame design had high peaks and plenty of picture windows facing the city. Every window had black curtains. Privacy. It was all about privacy. Gus didn’t need anyone from below seeing lights on in his house. He didn’t need the attention. Attention was bad. As bad as going down into the city.
His stomach rumbled, and he felt the urge to get to a toilet. Grumbling, he got to his feet, wincing at the pain in his hip joints and lower back. He walked off the deck, grimacing at the broken glass and vowing to sweep it up later. He moved past the propane barbeque and the sea-green pool half-filled with rain water and yellow leaves. Shambling, he skirted the edge of his house and made for the outhouse at the far end of the lawn. Gus had dug the hole on the lower slope, away from the main house, then fitted thick planks over it and lugged a blue porta-potty to cover the hole. It was a lot of work for one man, and Gus had lost a chunk of body fat from the exertion. His hand lingered on the scar made by crazy Alice six months ago, back when his potbelly had saved his life. The beer paunch had eroded with time and effort, but the scar remained. Ancient Roman gladiators subsisted on a daily diet of barley and rice, fattening themselves for their fights as the body fat served as armor and protected vitals from their foes’ weapons. Gus thought about trying to get his armor back on, but food was scarce, and until he solved the problem of how to grow his own, he would probably keep on losing weight.
And become more of an alcoholic.
He entered the outhouse and emerged a good twenty minutes later, feeling cleaner and somewhat more alert. He had gotten some good thinking done in there and, standing on the planks with the door banging behind him, thought that the quicker he got into town and did his business, the quicker he could be back in his fortress of solitude. Getting comfortably shitfaced. That sounded like a plan.
He went around to the back of the house and entered through the sliding door which he’d reinforced with a wall of wooden planks nailed to the frame. He closed the door behind him, locked it, and studied the inside of the house. Natural light from the upper windows peeked around the curtains. They were too high to barricade, but when the curtains were drawn back, they illuminated the rustic wood of the interior. Not bothering to remove his sneakers, he walked through the open space of the first level and went to the kitchen to remove a jug of drinking water from the fridge. He drained a liter and belched hard enough for it to hurt. After another sinus-clearing sniff, he moseyed out to the door leading to the garage. He thought about breakfast. His stomach probably wouldn’t let him. He’d be hungry later, though. Maybe.
He opened the door to the garage and stepped into an interior big enough to hold four cars. The black van waited, like a battered, dead bull elephant. He walked around the front, mindful of the thick grill guard that looked as if it had once gone through a wall. He gripped the vehicle’s door handle and sighed in exasperation. Had he really been about to head out without his gear? The thought mocked him, and he shook his head. It was too early in the morning for such shit. He had to focus.
Gus went to a storage locker in the back of the garage and opened the two doors. He reached to the top shelf and pulled down a forty-ouncer of Captain Morgan black rum. He sloshed the half-empty contents around in the bottle, staring into the depths of his locker in a morning malaise. He sipped on the rum once, twice, made a face of war, and took a heavier third.
“Christ on a stick.” He looked at the label. The foppish captain smiled back at him, unconcerned with the world. “Happy fucker, ain’tcha?”
He took a fourth shot of rum, then returned the bottle to its shelf and got to work. He’d finished armoring himself on the inside; it was time for the exterior. Leather pants went over his jeans. A hockey vest of protective padding for his chest and shoulders went on next. Snarling at the burn in his guts, he hauled on his worn leather jacket, noting that the padding made up for the missing fat mass, filling out the jacket. A thick neck brace clamped around his throat. Shin guards and hard plastic knee and elbow pads followed, and he huffed as he slapped them into place. Lastly, he pulled on fingerless black leather gloves. With a groan, he opened the rear van door and threw his weapons into the back. Belching again, he fixed his motorcycle helmet over his head and stood in the shadows of the garage for a moment, waiting for the booze to kick in.
“Bad idea, this,” he said. A guy he’d once worked with used to say that repeatedly before climbing ladders. He’d said it often enough to get on Gus’s nerves. The thought of what might have happened to the guy stayed with Gus as he crawled inside the van. The doors closed with metallic groans, and he knew he’d have to get some WD-40 on the joints. Snarling in that day-after-a- monster-drunk way, he stowed his equipment on interior racks, then stopped for a moment and flipped the black visor of the helmet up and down.
He sighed. He didn’t need to go anywhere. He could just lie on the deck and read and drink, or watch TV and drink, or contemplate life and
fucking drink. God drank above. Gus knew it. The Almighty probably got shitfaced all the time. So why couldn’t he? He didn’t need to go down there, imagining his frayed nerves pulling taut like bare piano wire, or exposed veins being strummed with knife tips.
“Bad idea.” He took a deep breath. But he intended to go
He shook his head, exited the van, and went over to the crank to manually open the garage door. When the door was up just enough for the vehicle to slide under it, he got back in the van. Hands shaking on the wheel, he steered toward the closed gate set into a ten-foot-high stone wall. The barricade encompassed the property from cliff edge around to cliff wall. The place was something of a fortress, and Gus wondered when he would be placed under siege. Not if,
. It happened in the movies.
. He had to bank on it happening sometime. Everything he had done was in preparation for that day. The day when
finally got in.
He slowed the van to a stop, where it trembled and died. He got out, bent over, and lifted the timber braced against the gate, swearing at the weight and the pinch of pain in his back.
and titties,” came from him as he did the same for the other four. He was no carpenter, but he had managed to reinforce the gate with layers of measured and cut softwood, wire twist-offs, and nails. Lots of nails. The gate opened with a girlish squeak and swung inward. He drove the van through, then got out and closed the gates behind it. He returned to the driver’s seat and stared out at the cleared brush and trees, fifty feet out. It was a killing field, laced with shallow trenches and wooden planks spiked with nails. He had gotten that idea from an old
movie. He wanted to do more to reinforce his meager defenses, but he couldn’t think of anything. Sooner or later, he’d have to go to the library again and see if he could find anything on home defense.