I'd just finished my second cup of coffee the next morning watching some dopes on television describing the political climate in Washington. What you do is read between the lines, what they say isn't going to happen is already in the works, they do a lot of diversion, kind of like the shell game but couched in erudite observations and expert testimony. All conjecture. All bullshit. I'd sassed the screen for the last time and had put my coffee down when I heard knocking at my gate. I yelled through my window,
"I'm not home."
The knocking resumed with a tone that wasn't going to relent.
Two detectives. One looked just like Elvis in his comeback show, except he wore a suit and dusty shoes. The other was what you'd expect, shaped like a pear, booze blossoms, hair properly combed. They kept knocking as I crossed my lawn and I opened the gate, stepped back making it plain we'd be talking outside. The pear shaped guy, Johnson, wore so much after shave he'd make your eyes water in a close space like my front room.
"Yes?" I said mocking them.
They proceeded to ask me the same questions they had the last time, and the time before that, concerning three bodies
that according to the neighborhood had fallen out of the sky with bullet holes in their heads.
"I believe they were pimps." I said again.
"So you've said."
"Which you already know."
This went on for about five minutes, they weren't any more into it than I was. They were plainly going through the motions.
Elvis checked his notes with each question, I guess to see if my story had changed. It was tedious.
"I never heard a thing. Nothing. No. I was working late, yes I was awake."
"But you didn't hear anything."
The pear rocked on his heels, looked into the sycamore above us, sighed,
"I will." I said.
"You will what?"
"I will call you, if I remember anything I haven't told you or something comes up."
They turned on their heels, interview over.
I was about to close the gate behind them when Elvis turned around.
"Found another girl this morning."
Involuntarily I glanced over their shoulder at the Plymouth across the lane.
Their eyes followed mine.
"What's wrong, Abner?"
"Well, if you remember anything you haven't told us, or something comes up. Give us a call."
I closed the gate and snapped the lock shut on the chain, went inside and turned on the local news. Sure enough
five miles up the road in a ditch another young prostitute, trussed up, face down.
A few minutes later the helicopters started circling the canyon.
I was heading up to the highway for some beer when I heard a lot of yelling going on between the hillbilly and Sissy.
His point was that she was his daughter and she'd be going with him. And her point was that she wasn't. He took her by the arm and half dragged her to his gate, kicked it open and pushed her inside.
All this had drawn an audience, people were cleaning their nails and glancing up at them. A few had their chins perched on their fence tops. Guys down the lane were sitting on their car hoods pretending to be engaged in other matters.
The coke dealers opened their front door a minute, looked up and down the lane, watched the row for a minute and went back into their den.
The hillbilly returned all their glances and stares, then he went in and locked the gate behind him.
The owl hit our roof while I was staring at the ceiling enduring Lisa's fevered breathing as she rustled around in the sheets. Couple times a week I'd wake up to it. If I wanted I could probably find his position on her like some kind of ghost.
Didn't matter night or day trying to reach her was like trying to get in her dream. She was gone. Or going. I didn't know which but I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about it. She didn't know I knew and I let her pretexts of domestic normalcy sooth me as I kidded myself. That was the ceiling I was staring into when the owl hit.
They say the whole sea quiets in the moments before a shark hits you. Fish clear out. Kelp itself pauses and just about the time you think something is strange...Well, seems like it might be the same way for predatory birds in their swoop and drop. Because that bird hit hard, felt like God'd bounced a brick off the roof. Then there was some scrabbling, then silence. And the next morning one of Rachel's kittens was missing.
It was a Friday and Rachel took the rest of the litter, three little males and the two females to the highway grocery store up on the PCH after school and got rid of all but one of them to what she hoped were safer homes. She came through the screen door steeled with some pride at doing the right thing though her eyes were red nevertheless. She loved those kittens.
There were strange in general going's on all over the valley. We'd had a girl, an old man, and four girls of questionable repute moved in to the house next door between us and Abner. And then that afternoon Grant-a thug from Junior's who I had managed to stay clear of for the past year we've lived down here whistled me over from his truck with what looked like friendly pretense. He has one of those very large heads some Germanic types have...or Swedes. His face seems to fill the whole side window, with his brow like a shelf, and ever calculating eyes. He has dominoes for teeth, that massive face and strangely feminine lips. He gets out of the truck his bulk squeaking the trucks springs, towers over me, joint burning in the air between us. I shook it off and he waggled it in the air,
He looked at me with what I'd term askance, you know, dubious. Questioning and a bit disapproving. You had to read a guy like Grant he's likely to get physical and make some kind of sport of you. His game was intimidation and he always seemed to be seething with the chance to get rough.
"What do you pay your guys?"
"I don't. I just..you know, crew boss or foreman or something. I don't pay them."
"What does the guy who does pay them, pay them?"
"$3.50, four an hour."
"Eight hours anyway."
"From when to when?"
"Seven to four..sometimes five."
"Well..see..my PO would like to think I'm working. And I'd like him to think I'm working. But.."
"You don't want to work."
"Umm, yeah. I mean maybe something.."
"..Part time to keep you on the books."
That mask of a face he wore tried to approximate a smile, turned your blood cold.
"That's the idea. And if you ever need a favor..anyone ever bother you, or your wife and kid, or you want to stretch out your
thing into some strange once in awhile nobody would have to know. Man, there's always something warm to fuck..."
Okay he'd about spelled it out, there was no use hemming and hawing about it,
"I don't do the books but depending on the job I could use labor and sometimes a carpenter though it's..not really carpentry slamming shower units into bathrooms.."
"But you could write a letter get a W-2 or something?"
"How about tomorrow?"
"Okay..beat the traffic I leave at five-fifteen."
"Welcome to the straight world."
It was an exit line and I just sort of jogged off like I had something pressing at the house. His voice boomed over the valley
"969-G-E-T-H-I-G-H.. Gimme a wake up call.."
I waved my hand over my shoulder without turning around and just cursed my fucking luck under my breath heading back to the safety of my front yard.
Abner was leaning on an old post in the rotunda looking kind of amused, which annoyed me,
"What's so funny?"
"Did I say anything was funny?"
I followed his eyes since he'd made a point of keeping them on what he was watching and laying out that line like he was
speaking of something I should know about, or consider or be aware of.
I looked down the road to the driveway Grant had appeared from and saw this new girl in the neighborhood who'd moved in
with the hillbilly and his girls walking through Junior's gate and up to his front door. She was halfway up the walk when the door opened and with the black plastic that covered all the houses' windows rippling in the breeze she disappeared.