Saturday, November 17, 2012

NaNoWriMo Day 17

Chapter Nine

Jeramie was almost two, and he liked to get in the way, walking in front of the coffee table, in front of his dad.

"Fuck!" Chalmers yelled. "Get the fuck out of the way." He shoved his son aside and tried to get back into the game. He had a headset on with a microphone and was involved in some apocalyptic dystopian shoot-out with other players from around the world. He was trying to be the first to reach a bunker filled with money and medical supplies.

He turned a corner and surprised another player.

"Eat shit, motherfucker!" he yelled, pounding his fist in the air as the pixelated soldier fell down in an explosion of blood.

Jeramie looked at the screen and then looked over at his dad. He imitated his father, pumping his fist in the air, and then looked back at the screen. He was used to the violence, the yelling, and the general mayhem. Quiet made the boy uneasy. He cried when it was quiet, if only to fill the void.

The coffee table was littered with the effluvia of vice -- a large ashtray in the center, filled with butts and tapped out marijuana ash, cashed out bowls flanking it, plastic forks and styrofoam cups from the latest meal, plastic video game cases, DVD cases, empty cigarette packs and their plastic wrappers, and lighters. The couch was leather, and looked brand new. The television a five foot wide flat screen, surround sound speakers on pedestals and mounted on the wall. Jeramie stumble-walked over to his dad and put his arms on Chalmer's legs for support.

Chalmers got a whiff of the boy and nudged him away again.

"Ewww!" Chalmers yelled. "You're full of shit! Again! Just you wait until Mommy gets home. She'll take care of you."

In the bedroom was Jeramie's older sister, Maggie, almost three, and their half sister, Bea, who was almost five, and was the quietest, most shy of the three children. She hated Chalmers, who beat her more regularly, and was quick to tell her she wasn't his child and he didn't know why the hell he had to support her when her deadbeat fuck of a dad didn't do anything to help out, even though he had a job. Bea didn't necessarily understand the economic situation, but she, like all children, was very perceptive of emotion. And she was old enough to know Jeff Chalmers didn't give a shit about her, as he barely gave a rip about Maggie or Jeramie, who were his kids.

And Bea had learned to stay out of the way when Mommy was gone, for although the abuse was brief, a slap here, a shove there, the threat, but never the follow-through of a closed fist, Chalmers was always at his worst in Mommy's absence. She could stay in the bedroom with Maggie playing pretend family until Mommy came home. In her dreams, they lived in a "real" house, where all the rooms belonged to them, and they had a swingset in the backyard, and a trampoline, and a dog, a big, fat, slobbery, protective dog that growled at anybody who dared threaten Bea, her mommy, or the kids.

It was the first of the month, a Saturday morning, and Misty was out getting groceries. Her state aid and food card were fully charged. When she came home, it would take two or three trips to bring in the groceries, diapers, and cleaning supplies. The kitchen had three refrigerators. The landlord, Bob Stoops, had screwed in metal slats on the door and body of each of the refrigerators, equipped with a combination lock. The one refrigerator that had a separate freezer door was equipped with two locks. Each roomer was supplied with a combination to one of the refrigerators, and claimed out a space for their goods. Likewise, each room number got a certain amount of shelf space in the kitchen, territory demarcated with masking tape and room number written in marker.

Because Chalmers was in charge of maintaining the rooming house and was the de facto titular head of the household, and also because, as he claimed, he was the only one with a family living there, he got his own refrigerator and extra shelf space. Other roomers groused about this disparity, but never to Chalmer's face. There was near constant acrimony about kitchen goods. Canned goods or leftover food was inevitably stolen, and the aggrieved party was always told by Chalmers, "That's what you get for leaving your shit out!"

If dirty dishes piled too high, Chalmers would throw them in the garbage or toss them in the backyard when he came in to do his own dishes. Many of the roomers relied on paper goods and would only do their cooking in the microwave. Over time, people became aware of each other's schedules regarding the shared spaces. Shower and cooking times were adjusted accordingly.

While the kitchen was the source of the greatest acrimony at the Augusta Inn, it was also where roomers congregated, drank together, shared meals, and got to know one another. Every once in awhile, spontaneously, and completely unplanned, but usually of a Sunday evening, when folks were feeling magnanimous, a pot luck would form. Folk would take turns using various burners and the oven, or queuing up at the microwave. They would gather in the main dining room and pass dishes around. Chalmers rarely participated in these spontaneous acts of goodwill, but he was aware of them as his room was just off of the dining room and he could hear the hive of activity.

This does not mean that Chalmers or his family kept themselves separate from the rest of the roomers. Misty had company on her shopping expedition. Four of the other housemates also depended on public aid, and had no vehicles of their own. Misty offered them rides periodically, and would try to announce ahead of time when she was going on a grocery run.

Chalmers had enough money, he didn't need to live at the Augusta Inn, nor did he have to drive around in a beat-up mini-van, but he knew Bonneville and had enough friends and family who would question how a guy who didn't work, or at least didn't have steady employment, would be able to afford such luxuries. And it's not like anybody would care what Chalmers did, and Chalmers knew this. Dealing ran in his family. Uncle Donovan and a couple cousins had served time for possession with intent to deliver. Hell, he learned the family trade from Donovan. And the biggest word of advice was to keep it low key.

"No need to be the true fucking player," Donovan said. "All them rims and shit, the grills," he said, pointing to his mouth. "That's just an advertisement to the powers that be. And believe me, son, those powers always have a way of beating a man down. They'll take away everything, man, lickety, and all's you'll have left is a felony record. Shit, man, good luck getting a job with that."

But at 17, Chalmers hadn't taken the lesson to heart, and he got busted in a sting. Barely made it to juvenile court. They wanted to try him as an adult. But those were the only drug charges. And that wasn't on his record. His only long stint was two years, and it was for beating a man almost to death in a bar fight, felony assault. Chalmers always prided himself on his control, his ability to assess others and whatever situation, and to turn it to his advantage. But when he got angry all bets were off. In court-mandated counseling, Chalmers likened himself to the Incredible Hulk, and how the rage made him lose all control and do things he knew in the rational light of non-anger that he shouldn't have done.

Yeah, he'd put a fucker in the hospital, and yeah, he thought, with some remorse, he smacked the kids and Misty around from time to time, if only to assert his authority, but at least he hadn't killed anybody. And while counseling never got to the root of the issue - Chalmers's heart wasn't in it -- he just wanted to serve the hours and get back out on the street -- he thought he'd come a long way in controlling the violence. And he vowed, never, ever, would he go to jail again for hurting somebody. He hadn't killed anybody yet and, fuck knows, while a lot of people certainly deserved it, he didn't think he had it in him to off somebody. This was Chalmers's idea of virtue, and he clung to this idea as proof he was a good person.

And in deference to uncle Donovan, Chalmers kept his dealings low-key. No jewelry. No fancy car. No rims. No nice apartment. His goal was to stay under the radar, keep everybody happy that needed to be, sock away for the long haul and maybe eventually get a legitimate job or use money to start up a business. He was thinking a roofing contractor, or some other job in the construction trades. While he didn't know much about it, the idea of working outside, working with his hands, leading a crew of men appealed to Chalmers. He also knew a lot of ex-cons who worked in construction. Many of the jobs paid cash. Most worked as day laborers. No health insurance. No 401k. Work was sporadic and gaps were filled by public aid. There weren't too many options with no formal training and a felony conviction on your record. Every job application, even for shit fast food jobs, asked about this. And while a felony conviction didn't necessarily bar one from employment, or so the application said, the truth was, it did.

Chalmers dealt because he didn't have many other options. Just like Misty stayed with him, not necessarily out of love or loyalty, but because she could tolerate Chalmers's angry outbursts and loud, haughty belligerence for the big payout. Chalmers kept her in dope, and was enough of a nag on her to keep her from falling off the edge to full-blown junkie-dom. He made sure she ate, and took vitamins, and urged her to snort it rather than take it intravenously. She did this on the sly. He bitched her out every time he found a needle or caught her in the bathroom, on the nod, with the needle still stuck in her pelvis. She couldn't shoot in her arms or toes or other secondary veins, but had to shoot straight for an artery. The cushiony orgasmic bliss gave her quiet and peace, and calmed her frayed nerves. She thought shooting up made her a better mother, and that if she didn't have the stuff she'd of killed the little bastards by now. All the kids knew is that Mommy sometimes spent a long time in the bathroom. And since it was a shared bathroom, the roomers knew the first floor bathroom was often occupied. They had their suspicions about Misty and what she did in there, but like anything related to vice in the August Inn, let those without fault cast the first stones.

Everyone had their thing, and so were tolerant of the idiosyncracies of their neighbors. Don't ask questions. Don't bring the spotlight on yourself.

In a false wall on one side of the bedroom closet, known only to Chalmers, were stacks of hundred dollar bills. By his reckoning, Chalmers had a little more than 100 grand socked away, and from only two and a half years of regular dealing. The money made him nervous, but he had a plan about that, always keeping around a few thousand with his safe and stash, so in case he was busted or somebody robbed the place, the hidden stash wouldn't be sought out. They'd be happy with the "front" money, as Chalmers called it. And if, God forbid, he were busted, someday, when he got out, he'd bust back into this place and get his money back, disappear somewhere and start all over again.

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