Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 20

As Misty was putting groceries away, she was startled by a slap on her ass. Chalmers, of course. She turned to kiss him, put up a wan smile, but he was out of reach.

"Hey, babe," Chalmers said as he was turning to leave. "Jeramie's about to lose his diaper. I'm busy as fuck in there, if'n you couldn't tell."

"Did you hear about that guy they shot down over on Greek Row?" Misty said, her smile turning to a frown.

"Yeah, I just found out."

"Did you know him?"

"Yeah. And no. It's not like we were tight or anything." Chalmers said. He had stopped his retreat for a moment.

Misty set the last of the canned fruit on the marked shelf. She paused, considering whether or not to say the next thing.

"This... business..." she said. "It worries me all to shit. When is it going to be your turn? What am I going to do when I lose you? It's not a matter of 'if,' you know, but 'when.' Like you said yourself, 'the deal always goes down, babe.'"

Chalmers started to get angry. He ran the splayed fingers of one hand through his straight long hair.

"I'm busy as fuck in this fucking 'business' because that fuck nug across town didn't have his shit together," Chalmers said.

"Me," he said, and pointed at himself with both hands. "Don't fucking worry about me. I watch my back. I take precautions."

Chalmers took a step closer and lowered his voice conspiratorially, "Plus, I know people. I've got my bases covered. When the 'deal goes down,' I'll know."

"How?" Misty said. She reached out to hug Chalmers, who grabbed her in his arms, resting his chin on top of her head. He then grabbed her by the shoulders, gave a couple quick shakes, and said, "Don't worry how. It's for me to know. You just take care of the kids. Keep your shit together as best you can. And I'll take care of my business."

"But for how long?" Misty asked.

Chalmers let go of his grip on her shoulders, lowered his arms, and took a couple steps backwards, getting ready to leave the kitchen again.

"Listen," he said. He put up a hand, cupping it around an ear. Echoes of laughter, squeaking chairs, Jeramie yelping out in surprise at something, the flush of a toilet. Misty got a quizzical look on her face.

"And what should I listen for?" she asked.

"Do you hear trouble? Do you sense it on the horizon?"

"Yes," Misty said. "When I hear about some dude you know getting busted and shot down. And this same fucker kills a cop. You bet your ass I hear trouble. You don't think the police are going to be gunning for revenge?"

"You bet their ass they will." Chalmers said. "So what?"

"You don't think this guy had your name somewhere? Your number on his phone? Some trace of a clue leading to you? Are you so fucking sure you got ALL your fucking bases covered? Who knows. They might have your DNA or some shit."

"Didn't I just tell you I've got my bases covered?" Chalmers said, a smirk passing across his face.

Misty waved her hands in the air. "I don't know what the fuck you mean by that. And I'm supposed to take fucking comfort in what you tell me."

"No, bitch. I know what you take comfort in. I leave the business and the easy mainline dies too. Right?" Chalmers raised his eyebrows. "Just suck it up and deal. We've got today. There's never any guarantees for tomorrow. Fuck tomorrow. Tomorrow don't fucking exist.

"My business is NOW. The hungers of NOW. The needs of NOW. The buzz that baby just gotta have it. Not fucking yesterday. That shit all eat up. Not tomorrow. Too fucking late. But now. NOW! Right? Finish your shit and we'll get you all set up."

As Chalmers turned to go, Misty stared at the mildewy tiled wall beyond the sink. She opened and closed her grip on the edge of the counter. She turned to look at Chalmers, but he was already gone. Fucker's right, she thought, and then said aloud to the empty room, "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" The gnawing edge of hunger, a twitchy raw reality was closing in. She knew what could kill it.

But not until she fixed Jeramie's diaper and checked on the other two. No baby of hers was going to run around with droopy drawers, dammit.

Chapter Ten

The Colonel was in his room, sucking on his Meerschaum and his bowl, snacking on kippers and potato sticks, watching a bad movie starring Rutger Hauer. A couple weeks ago he was at the video store when it closed down. They were giving away the VHS tapes. With a pang of regret, The Colonel had remembered all the Fridays he'd come down here and rented these very tapes.

"If only I'd been more patient," he said to the clerk, who wasn't paying attention, and wouldn't know what The Colonel was talking about even if he was. The Colonel had a way of continuing his thoughts in conversation without regard for whether or not his listener would understand the context of his thoughts.

It took a couple bike trips, but now here sat The Colonel, in his room, in a beat-up recliner, piles of video tapes around him. It would take a few weeks to go through all these videos. As he watched them, he deemed which ones were worth watching again and set them aside. If they weren't good enough, they went downstairs in the common room, on the "free table," where residents put stuff they didn't want.

But there weren't too many takers of the video tapes. Damn DVDs, thought The Colonel. Nobody's even got a VCR any more. The Colonel had three of them, all in working order, which he'd gotten for free from the "free table" and at garage sales over the years. He'd spent all of five bucks on all of them.

If only I'd been more patient," The Colonel said once to Andy. For all of The Colonel's non sequiter rambling, he tended to repeat key phrases over and over again. This was one of them. "I remember in 1981, I was still working at the bank. Married. Joshua was two, I think. I went to Hink's Department Store, downtown, right?" Andy nodded, remembering the long-shuttered Hink's, now a craft and antique shop. The Colonel continued, "And I stood there, debating the pros and cons of BETA versus VHS with the clerk. And I took a VHS player because, you know, it was a better deal. Good call, right? And you know what? I only paid $800 for it, too. And I thought that was a hell of a deal!"

By the time DVD players came into vogue, The Colonel had slipped from middle class respectability and couldn't have afforded a new player. Hink's was gone, beat out by the box stores on the commercial strip at the edge of town. The Colonel's wife and child were gone, too, even though they lived in town and he had visitation rights every other weekend. As was the bank job. It was the usual story of being sloppy, breath giving away signs of lunchtime cocktails, too many hungover sick days. When DVDs came around, The Colonel was working in the dishroom at an ISNU dormitory. The work was steady, a good government job with health benefits.

And The Colonel was left alone. As long as the dishes were done, his supervisors didn't care. And they couldn't smell the booze over the scum of grease and soap. By this time, The Colonel had discovered the effervescent glee of peppermint schnapps.

He never did buy a DVD player. "I'll wait until they're free, this time," he said.

And so it was that in early November of 2005 that The Colonel found himself alone in a Country Acres rooming house, alone with a pile of tapes, four VCRs, a sack of weed, a can of tobacco, a mini-fridge full of beer, cans of sardines and potato sticks, the two foods he ate regularly. On infrequent Sundays, especially during the football season, he'd ride over to a Mexican grocery store and buy hamburger, tomatoes, spices, and dried beans, and spend the entire drunken day watching football and cooking up a huge pot of chili. Often, he didn't finish cooking until well into the evening, so not even he ate any until the next night. And because he didn't have a refrigerator and the huge pot he used didn't fit into any of the shared refrigerators, The Colonel just left the chili out with a paper sign on the counter inviting residents to partake. For all of his drunken loudness and belligerent attitude, The Colonel was generous.

He gave freely of the chili, at least. The beer and weed were another story. He was generous, to a point. If a fellow partyer just came around and "mooched" off The Colonel without ever offering a pipe or a hit from a bottle, he or she didn't last long in The Colonel's good graces. But for those who shared freely and were good company, at least, for them The Colonel was always willing to share a can or a bowl. He was always willing to share his pipe tobacco, too, and his pipe. But the chewed up, dirty wreck of a Meerschaum was never shared. No one, not even Andy, The Colonel's closest friend, in the dregs of drunkenness and out of smokes, would take a hit off the Meerschaum. Luckily, The Colonel always had rolling papers, so anyone out of smokes could roll their own from pipe tobacco. It didn't burn so well, was streaky as hell and had to be re-lit, but was a source of nicotine nonetheless.

And for his generosity, and for his predictability, and for his ability to tell a good tale now and again, though Andy had heard the best of them hundreds of times, The Colonel was almost never alone of a weekend evening. But during the week, now that he no longer had a regular job, there were long hours and days of alone time, which The Colonel quelled in his usual way, slowly getting drunk during the day and when a certain stage of drunkenness was reached, a flip seemed to switch, and all of the bile and hatred built up from a life of wretched vice and neglect, the Vietnam War, all that he'd lost in self-respect and social position, the animosity of family and lost friends, the bile of it all came out in gravel-voiced, spit-flying rants against lawyers, politicians, judges, foreigners, students, women, you name it. The venom of his words would be contemptible, but they were so often repeated, and he followed so predictable a pattern in this regard, that those who knew him came to tolerate, and even sometimes honor, this other aspect of The Colonel's personality.

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