TDYKn – Chapter 2.1

Dead Air in the Afternoon

Believe everything you hear. Nothing is too impossibly bad.


On the morning of the first murder, Moose Flats awoke as usual, early but lazily. The town yawned, stretched its workman’s muscles, scratched itself in damp, hairy places, and lumbered into the day, half-blind and blinking but confident of encountering nothing new or unusual, let alone dangerous.

From the dried-out marshes surrounding Greyere’s Hill in the north east, to West Point, where the C.P. railroad emerged from a thicket of grain elevators to cut across the highway access road, the town sweltered in the August heat. Long before noon, tar patches on the streets were beginning to melt. Black, thick, sticky ooze crept down the creases and cracks of the asphalt, drawn by a purposeless gravity, making meaningless progress through a day dead and dull.

The denizens of Indian Paintbrush Village, a trailer-court town on the north side, suffered most from the heat. The aluminum siding of their homes-on-wheels broiled and bubbled, frying to a crisp any insect unfortunate enough to light upon it – grasshoppers mostly, they had reached near-plague proportions this year. The air was as thick and heavy as laundry on the line, dead weight that ground down any effort at movement or industry. Oppressive as it was, the weather promised relief in the form of a violent thunderstorm. The brilliant blue of the sky gave no indication of the deluge to come, but the approach of dark clouds, bristling with awesome electric potency, could be felt in the fillings of teeth and the pregnant veins wrapped around skulls. There was no woman, man or beast that did not sense the storm’s coming or, as the heat ground them down, wish for its fury to break the stifling oppression.

Terry Umble and Rue Read emerged from one of the twenty or so mobile homes in the Indian Paintbrush Village and drove toward the city centre and the broadcast offices of CRAK radio. Terry had trotted out every item in his paltry back of tricks to get the girl to go home, but she was passionate in her desire to visit the radio station and now that it had become the scene of a crime, she would not, could not be dissuaded. Her ghoulish enthusiasm conjured in him a murky dread.

They made their way through broad inactive streets to the town centre. At Creek and Regina they swung left and passed briefly under the shadow of the oldest domicile in the city, a gray and peeling two-story mansion slowly folding in on itself. Old man Toole sat in the shade of the porch whittling the chess pieces and flutes that were on sale in cardboard boxes by the register of every convenience store in town. Toole noted the passing of the unusual car as he noted the passage of all traffic past his house – without missing a cut. Along the main strip of Moose Flats, Anthony Henday Boulevard, they passed a gathering of disheartened men in plaid shirts, farmer tans, ball caps and protest placards. Several held poles from which effigies of Big Bird dangled by the neck or sat impaled through the belly. The heat and the tedium were taking their toll on this gathering of the militant wing of the pro-llama contingent. They had been waiting for hours for anyone worth heckling to emerge from the town hall. So far only Chief Schertz had been seen coming and going, and everyone liked him.

The doors to the building and to the chambers themselves were unlocked. The demonstrators could have marched right in on the meeting and spoken their piece. But they were novices at the business of protest; it seemed more polite to remain outside. Gill Read stooped amongst the protesters, removing his hat and mopping his brow once a minute, wincing at the thought of farm tasks untended. He hadn’t a damn to give on the question of whether the town mascot should be a llama or ostrich. The price of alpaca would not be going up either way. If you want to give people something to look at, why not a giant Athenian hoplite or a Carthagian tireme? But the llama-herds had to stick together. They enjoyed bulk rates on feed, shearing, stock and veterinary services. So where the others led, Gill Read trudged, grumbling, after.

“Hey Gill, where’s that pretty little girl of yours?”

“She’s at home taking care of what I oughtta be doing.”

“Well, I swear I just saw her with one of them radio-crackers. She was in that banana-yellow Citroen that just went by. Stuck her tongue out at me.”

Gill stared intently at the toes of his boots. “She’s at home,” he said firmly.

The Citroen lurched to a halt outside the Pond Centre, taking advantage of one of the few things Terry liked about life on the spacious prairie – angle parking. The Pond Centre had been a movie theatre in a previous incarnation until a multi-screen complex opened up at a strip-mall one block over. The marquee still loomed over the entrance, the few letters remaining on its face arranged to spell “Adventure” with a redundant “P” tucked in the bottom corner. What had been the main gallery now hosted a farmer’s market once monthly, flea markets twice yearly, and served functions ranging from church socials to high school graduations to charity bake-sales. In years when it was too cold to enjoy beer-swilling outdoors it provided a roof for Oktoberfest. The centre’s second floor had been recently purchased by Spatz Inc., which in turn leased it to CRAK FM. Martin Spatz owned the one and chaired and managed the other. What had formerly been the projection booth was now the nerve centre of CRAK. Any disc jockey who felt inclined to do so could swivel his chair in the broadcast booth, or studio A, and peer through the square aperture that had once allowed a strong beam of light to carry moving pictures to the far wall of the auditorium below.

DJs on the late shift used this little window as a means of evading the no smoking in the studio rule. Finger-length burns on the wood of the bottom frame attested as much to their transgressions as to their forgetfulness. Though he was not smoking, Larry Mantis had his head stuck through the aperture and was calling to himself. “Hello, hey loo, hey loo.” He had the broadcast volume down to a bare squeak so that he could enjoy his echoes more thoroughly.

“Hey Larry.”

The disc jockey spun and shot a broad smile straight past the programming director at the pretty blonde behind. Rue responded with a giggle that Terry didn’t think suited her. “You okay? I’ve come to send you home.”

“Yeah, sure, never better.” Larry flashed his lively, utterly vapid eyes over Terry’s shoulder and began spinning the gold hoop through his nose with his thumb, like the wheel of a Zippo lighter or the chambers of a revolver. “Hey, I can just keep goin’, ya know. Trevor should be here in about fifteen to twenty. Who’s yer friend?”

“Trevor’s not coming, I called him… are you stoned?”

Larry took on a hurt look. “No, man! Straight-edge forever. Independence starts with body chemistry.” He held out a steady hand as proof of his chemical purity.

“It’s just, I mean fuck,” Terry spluttered in exasperation, “there’s a dead guy here.”

“No there isn’t. Cops took him.”

“Where are the cops anyway?”

“Dunno. Said they had to go, and they went.” Larry shrugged and began craning his neck again to get his winsome face around the programming chief and into the view of the girl. Terry shifted his weight to block the effort.

“Okay, when this track ends I went you to make an announcement. Say that it’s the end of the broadcast day and we’ll resume tomorrow.”

“Whoa, Terry! Yer shut’ner down? Sealing and Spatz’ll shit. Does this mean the staff meeting is off? Cuz I got plans.”

Terry waved him off in disgust and stepped across to the entrance to studio B. He was surprised to find no barrier, no yellow police tape. The door was not even shut tight. As he pushed it open, Rue moved past his back into the broadcast booth, laughing at some antics Larry was up to.

Studios A and B shared a wide Plexiglas window for interview purposes, though no interviews had yet been conducted by the CRAK crew. No personage worthy of an on-air chat had yet happened by, and the window had become a billboard plastered with notifications of album releases, promotional posters, general invitations to CRAK parties and clippings from the press deemed humorous or provocative by the discriminating members of staff, adorned with their pithy remarks, each one-upping the last in toilet graffiti style. A pale light seeped through this layer of postings and provided the virginal studio B with a dusky illumination.

Terry could see nothing amiss: reel to reels, control board, head and mic sets, all in the same semblance of order as when he had last troubled to look. Only the chalk man outlined on the floor was new. Blood was smeared and had gathered in small thickening pools along the uneven surface of the gray static mat that covered most of the floor. Terry stepped in gingerly, careful to avoid trespassing on Brian Riesling’s outline, for fear of what, he did not ask himself. From his new vantage point he could make out what Chief Schertz’s remarks had led him to expect:  “Luke the Drifter” written on the wall across from the window. The rust-coloured letters were evenly spaced and streaked in a manner that indicated a paint brush had been used.

Fighting a rising retch and unpleasantly aware of a tremor in his hands that started at the elbows, Terry abandoned the scene of the crime and marched quickly down a short hallway to the record library, a slightly alphabetized jumble. Numerous efforts had been made at organizing the holdings on the basis of genre, but each in turn had precipitated a civil war within the CRAK crew and been halted, leaving stranded the albums and CDs part way into a process of reorganization. Some aficionados demanded a sub-category with an “experimental” designation, while others feared that this would only serve to ghetto-ize the works of less conventional artists. Station ideologue Peter Sealing vociferously opposed categorization on the basis of sound stylistics alone. This, he said, constituted a degradation of lyrical content and political posture  which were at least as important as musical form. The issue of whether the gender dimension ought to be reflected in the library organization had proven particularly divisive, setting feminist and transgender camps at each other’s throats. A crosswork of volatile fault lines had thus been rent in the small community, and the library reduced to an incomprehensible tangle in which an item could only be found if one already knew where it hid.

It took some time and considerable ferreting before Terry could confirm what he already suspected: CRAK possessed no Hank Williams in any format. The murderer had navigated the combination lock and knew enough of the control board to play his song. This indicated an inside job. But then again, he might have coerced Brian into playing it. Indeed, Terry noted with a grim chuckle, it would take a knife to the throat for most CRAKers to spin a country-and-western disc. On the other hand, the killer had acted with purpose and a cool head, inhumanly cool given his tiny window of opportunity. Moreover, he had his own copy of I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. None of that sounded like a CRAKer to Terry Umble.

Back in the booth, Larry was getting on great guns with Rue, dialing his nose ring and chattering enthusiastically through an elongated explication of the reverse swastikas embossed on the kerchief he wore around his shaven head. “Hey Terry, all done. We are officially dead-on-the-air. Coupl’a phone lines lit up but I didn’t feel like gettin’ yelled at…”

“That was stupid. It might have been Spatz. I’ve been trying to get hold of him all day.”

“Mighta been, mighta been Sealing too. That guy gives me buttrash.”

“Well, one man’s buttrash… We should clear out, I want to lock everything up. Can I drop you someplace?”

“Nah, we’re goin’ around the corner fer coffee.” Larry grinned broadly.

“Why don’t you come? It’ll be fun,” said Rue, making apologetic eyes.

Terry had been looking for a chance to off-load the jailbait all morning – since Chief Schertz had knocked him off his chair at least. Now that the opportunity arose he grimaced and struggled to stifle rising envious bile. Handing her over to Larry seemed irresponsible; Rue was out of bounds for him too. It did not matter to Terry that Larry was pretty, fit and young. What bugged him – what crawled deep up his ass and expanded – was the breeziness of his character. The moral and legal subtleties of a year or two in the girl’s age did not matter a whit to the Mantis.

“No, I got some important stuff to do.”

“Okay, Mister Terry, but don’t think you’ve gotten rid of me. I know where you live.” Rue tongued her fang at him as she bounced past. The couple were only halfway down the stairs when Larry had her laughing again. A girly laugh, Terry thought. She ought to know better.

Across from the Pond Centre, where Terry Umble sat at the crime scene in the dark listening to some of his favourite songs of misery, crouched one of the few brick buildings in town – three stories and no elevator. The structure had started life sixty years ago as a bank, then went on to house a variety of enterprises: a saloon, a video arcade, a short-lived fine dining establishment, an even shorter-lived Pentecostal foray into this staunchly Lutheran and Catholic territory. On this day the ground floor was shared by the Last Chance Cappuccino Bar and Saddle Up, a tourist-oriented shop specializing in overpriced cowboy accouterments. Outside the entrance of the latter loomed a sturdy eight-foot pillar with an enormous saddle on top. For three dollars and fifty cents the proprietor would produce a stepladder, a giant cowboy hat (in white or black) and an instant camera, should customers be without their own. The second story offered office space, two-thirds of which was rented, and the remainder was residential. The loft, a prime piece of real estate but for the absence of an elevator, was home to Evil Jim and had been for the ten months since he’d returned from the penitentiary. Evil Jim was not home, but his friends were there: Gator Bob, Kevin Rorshak, and Stan Lubrinski, the latter being more of a friend of a friend, strictly speaking.

They had been knifing hash for most of the morning through a sawed-off two-litre pop bottle. Stan would not smoke dope any other way. He obstinately refused anything rolled in tobacco. “Gotta keep my wind for the NHL,” he would invariably insist. Since he was already twenty-two and still playing defense for the Fighting Moose, this pretense seemed a little strained, but few locals were reckless enough to point it out to “Mad Dog” of the Moose, or to call him by his Christian name Constantine for that matter. He was a mossy bowling ball of a man, blessed with connecting eyebrows and Rogaine knuckles. He sported a markedly Slavic face, big, round, and fleshy. All of its features, however, were puny and drawn into a tight little circle at the very centre. If you squinted at him, he appeared to look exactly like what he was – a complete asshole.

Truth be told, he might well have had a shot at professional hockey in some sort of bruising capacity but for a compound leg fracture suffered on grad night. At the bush party that followed the official celebrations, he and his brother had fallen into a violent drunken dispute as to the quickest way home. In rival pickups, they set off speeding along alternate routes, only to crash headlong into one another at an uncontrolled intersection twenty yards from their driveway. It took over a year for Stan to regain the strength in his leg and Kenny, the elder, would never again be right in the head. It took considerable embarrassed vigilance on the part of the Lubrinski clan to keep the drooling giant safely clear of machine tools, medicinal supplies, small children and such animals as were not strong or swift enough to escape his grasp.

Aware that his brother was somewhere in the vicinity but dimly uneasy about the welcome he’d receive should he attempt to join the party, Kenny the elder loitered in the shade of the Saddle Up awning, amusing himself with a chunk of roadkilled porcupine on a stick, which he fancied to be a piece of dangerous medieval weaponry.

Three floors above, Stan the younger sat ensconced in a rocking chair beside Evil Jim’s mattress, roaring with forced laughter at the hijinx of Gator Bob and Kevin, which at that point consisted of a game they called “Flying Fuck.” They stood stark naked about five paces apart and attempted to toss donuts onto each other’s penises. A “Robin’s Special” forty-eight pack had been acquired for the occasion. Stan had begged off playing on the grounds that his was too big for a donut hole – like the Alaska pipeline, as he had put it. The point was quite moot, though, as in its long and storied history no one had ever scored a legitimate point in the game. “Flying Fuck” was a local equivalent of the Wall Game played at Eton College in two respects. First, the score didn’t matter. Second, the rules were arcane, unwritten and known only to the inner circle. Rule number one, known as the Prime Directive, held that one could never accuse an opponent of making up rules as he went along. It was also implicitly understood that one must never call attention to the fact that it wasn’t a game at all, but a transparent and drug-inspired excuse to combine two favorite activities – food fights and hitting each other in the balls.

Little Kevin had gained entrance to such advanced social circles through his ability to make the older boys laugh, and his willingness to do absolutely anything to do so: light his farts on fire, wave his genitals in public, ask girls in a bar to come meet his friends “Neil” and “Bob,” and provoke fights which Stan would finish. Once he even won two flats of beer by successfully shitting his name in the snow. His career as a self-abusive buffoon had begun during his second week of Grade 2, at the impressionable age of seven. Kevin had succumbed to the urging of the recess crowd and pushed his pinkie finger into a wall-mounted pencil sharpener while an older boy gave the handle a quick turn. As the blood streaming down his forearm left a spattered trail on the dirty yellow tiling, he bawled without restraint all the way to the nurse’s office. But none of the children teased him for his crying afterward. On the contrary, they seemed to regard him with a kind of awe. The fingernail grew back eventually, albeit in a stunted manner, but better still, he seemed to have found a means of gaining acceptance and respect.

He never looked back, though one-upping himself had become quite a challenge, particularly since he had already achieved the astonishing coup – it made the local papers – of arriving on stage to receive his high school diploma wearing a pirate’s hat and eye-patch and a strap-on marital aid over his trousers. He was quickly mugged and forcibly removed by Zane from gym and Berner from shop, but not before he waved his whirring over-pink member at the French teacher whilst barking “Here’s Johnny!” Mme. Souvaine, a pretty but highly strung woman, spilled half-digested hors-d’oeuvres onto the lap of her floral smock and shortly thereafter left town forever. Henceforth, the mandatory French courses at Moose Flats High were taught by people who could not speak the language.

Kevin’s parents were both heavyweight drinkers and brawlers and somewhat indiscriminate in the targets of their constant inexplicable rage. Evil Jim had given him an apartment key as a passport to more peaceful territory in times of trouble.

The lock turned and Evil Jim stomped in, clutching a jean jacket in one fist, a sports bag in the other, hiking boots thundering on the antiquated hardwood. He was stained with sweat. Clumps of his black hair stuck to the sides of his face.

“Hey E.J.,” blurted Kevin, suddenly aware that his benefactor might not appreciate this impromptu festivity. “Ya know what I just seen?” He gestured to one of three full-length arched windows looking over Pond Centre, the one through which his rosy bottom could be seen by all passersby. “Rue Read with one of those CRAKers. She rolls up and goes in with one, then scoots off with another even freakier lookin’ one.”

“Fucking hosebeast,” said Bob, chomping into a donut and reaching for his underwear. “I dunno what you guys see in her. Texarkana trash, southern belle on top, refried beans underneath.”

“Fresh young poontang,” said Stan, rubbing his crotch and grinning to show that he knew of what he spoke.

Evil Jim said nothing and remained in the doorway squinting Eastwood-style.

“Somebody got hurt over there too, like bad hurt. Cops, ambulance, everything.” Kevin gestured across the street.

“Fuck’em,” said Stan.

“He wasn’t hurt. He’s fucking dead,” said Gator Bob with authority. “Gonzo Alonzo.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Sure, they just covered his face with a sheet to protect his identity.”

Kevin pulled a face. Stan coughed “asshole” into his sleeve. All three were hoping for Jim to give some sign that he didn’t mind them being there. But Jim stayed silent and motionless.

“You should’a been there at Mickey’s last night,” Kevin tried again. “Stan beat the fuck out of a CRAKer. Blindsided the guy right there at the bar…”

Stan rocked back and beamed. He loved to have his horn blown and kept Kevin close for that very purpose.

“Ah yeah? What the guy do?”

“Do?” Stan screwed up his face in perplexity.

“He didn’t have time to do anything,” Kevin laughed. “Toldja he got blindsided completely. Bam bam bam!”

Evil Jim trained his frosty gray eyes on Constantine. “You’re a dumb piece of shit.” He spoke flatly without a trace of humour, but both Bob and Kevin laughed.

Anyone else would have felt Stan’s knuckles for such an affront, but Evil Jim had a peculiar way of making people take the cautious route. He had a reputation, not so much as a fighter, but as a lunatic who would strike back with whatever might be handy, be it a salt shaker or a tire iron. And, he’d been to the penitentiary.

What Jim knew and no one else guessed at was that while his time in jail might make him more dangerous it also made him far less likely to indulge in casual violence like punch-ups. In the months since his parole he’d gotten by with just reputation and an unnerving stare.

What Stan knew and no one else suspected was that he felt sick. He’d fight if he had to, but there was a nauseating sensation that came from his right hann Spatz de him hope that no one would call him out.  For the first time in his life, he did not want to hit any one. The prospect of raising his fist to punch made him feel like vomiting.

What no one knew or suspected was that a tiny shard of Peter Sealing’s filthy tooth was lodged in Stan’s knuckle. And that shard was poisoning his blood, destroying his limb and starting to kill him one cell at a time.

After glowering for a moment, Stan forced out a chuckle and Jim settled everyone’s nerves by tossing his things to the floor and sitting down. “Fuck it’s hot… So G-man, got a call from Malech’s office. Seems you made us some work already. Just wrecked the first thing ya saw when I dropped ya off, didn’t ya, ya dumb fuck.”

“Haven’t a clue what you’re yappin’ about,” Bob smiled fruitily and stepped into his trousers. “I’ll take the fifth.”

Behind him, Kevin scampered to plug in the hot plate that served as Evil Jim’s sole cooking appliance.

“Ya can’t take the fifth unless yer in America, retard. Anyway, we got a fence to fix and some prairie dogs to catch. I’ll check the piles, see, and you can handle the gopher round-up.”

“That’s bullshit. He didn’t lose any gophers. They’re not gonna leave their burrows this late in the season – no matter what he does to ‘em when nobody’s lookin.”

“Hey Jim.” Over a glowing hot-plate Kevin flashed apologies in his big eyes. “Ya wanna suck a knife? Stan’s gotta whole quarter and it’s real good shit…”

Evil Jim twisted a smile in the hash-owner’s direction, removed his ball cap and scratched his head with the brim. “Weeell, if it’s Stan’s, what the fuck. Too hot to work right now anyway.”

A relieved Gator Bob approved of this course of inaction. “Prairie dogs only really come out at night anyway, don’t they?”

“That’s only the vampire ones.”

“Har har har.” Kevin imitated a vampire prairie dog and everybody laughed hard. The hash laughed too, then it kicked hard and cut the connecting wires between their brains and mouths. For a while the closest any of them came to speaking was to exchange puzzled expressions.

Kevin’s cell phone broke the spell. It was his mom and he crawled off in search of a corner where it might be easier to make sense of what she was saying.

Stan slumped in his chair, snoring and sweating, occasionally scratching at the back of his right hann. Jim used a pair of needle-nose pliers to pluck pebbles from the treads of his boots and place them carefully in an ashtray. Gator Bob was startled to find himself standing and staring into the icebox. He pulled out an ice cube tray and poked at it with his finger.

“Hey guys, I put this in there, like, they all went in at the same time, but some are completely frozen, but some aren’t at all. They just got this thin skin on top. What’s that all about?” Bringing the evidence with him he came and sat on the floor next to Jim, his plan to mix rye and sevens all around now completely lost in the mists of time. “Weird, huh?” He tried vainly to interest Jim in the mysteries of the ice cube tray. “You know, something really freaky happened last week. I was sorta asleep, like just under the surface and the phone started ringing, like a real phone. And I was so messed up that I started dreaming that the phone was ringing. I tried to answer it, like again ann Sgain, in the dream, but each time something got in the way and it would stop. But as soon as I lay down again it started ringing and I had to start trying to answer it again. And I thought, what if I answered the dream phone and it was me calling from real life saying, ‘Get the fuck up, it’s time for work!’ Pretty cool, eh?”

Evil Jim blinked at him. “I think it’d be pretty cool if you actually gave a shit about being up in time for work,” he said with a hard smile.

Bob stuck his tongue out and tried to make a farting sound but his mouth was too dry and the effect fell well beneath his standards.

“Hey guys,” Kevin came bounding and chirping back. “It was a serial killer, calls himself Luke. It was a serial killer that killed that CRAKer guy over there.” He waved his hann St the window. “My mom says it was an inside job. She says it’s obvious since we didn’t have a murderer here before that he musta come with them.”

Jim looked up and appeared interested but his remark was disdainful as ever. “Yer ma say how a guy gets to be a serial killer with only one kill?”

“She didn’t say.” Kevin put on his hurt look and sat down.

“Doesn’t matter how many you kill,” Gator Bob weighed in with authority, “all you need is a nickname and an M.O.”

“M.O.,” snorted Jim. “Shit.”

Bob ignored him and continued to share his expertise with Kevin. “M.O. means a specially nasty way of killing people that nobody else has thought of before. Like in Seven everybody gets killed in some kind of nasty Old Testament kind of way. Or like Hannibal the Cannibal – there ya got yer nickname and M.O. all in one.”

“My ma said she wouldn’t be surprised if people in town figured that now’s the time to get rid of anybody they always wanted to waste.”

“Makes sense to me,” said Bob, scooping up a half-formed ice cube to chew on. “All ya gotta do is copy the M.O. and plant the nickname somewhere, like on the body. Boom, you’d get away with it for sure. If the cops are looking for one guy, they keep looking for him. That’s bureaucracy for ya.”

“I’m in,” said Stan, bolting up in his chair and shocking everyone with this sudden sign of life. “I mean if we can get away with it, hell yeah, let’s take out a CRAKer.”

“I’d rather take out that Smits guy from the Hills,” said Gator Bob, rubbing the side of his head in recollection of the full beer can that Smits had beaned him with.

“I’d like to do my parents, both of them.” Kevin cast his vote with severity and no one doubted that he had good reason.

“Hey,” Stan blurted as a random brainwave struck him, “if little Rue is hanging with the CRAKers, then she’s fair game. Am I right? That’d be some fun.”

“Shut up,” snapped Evil Jim.

“Up yer ass, E.J.” Stan snorted. “Like all the way up. Didn’t think you’d be such a girly-man about it. You think she’s just for you?”

Jim leveled his pliers at Stan like a pistol. “I told you to shut up, Connie.”

“Oh, I get it. Yer the only one around here who gets to kill anybody. Course it was only some lady and her kid and ya needed a case of beer and a pick-up to do it.”

Gator Bob rocked back and let out a high whistle like incoming artillery; he knew exactly what was coming. Stan didn’t and he took the needle-nose pliers square in the face. That they landed flat and did little damage was pure chance. Stan threw one clumsy right. Aiming at the eye, he caught forehead instead, and that was the last punch he ever threw with that hann. His forefinger knuckle chomped down on the shard of tooth like molars coming down on a stone. He bent over and shrieked in a stranger’s strangled voice.

Evil Jim came at him like a tilt-a-whirling dervish, raining down fists, knees and steel-toed boots in furious waves, while Stan could do little but try to block and grab on with his healthy left hann. Those present were all too stoned to later say how long it lasted – a thirty-second flurry or an hour-long beating. But eventually Stan raised his hanns with palms exposed in surrender. His ear was torn, he’d lost a clump of hair, his face was swelling all over and evenly as though from some massive allergic reaction and was glazed with snot, blood and eye water. Not until the following morning would he be aware of the extent of the damage to his torso.

Panting and silently mouthing threats, his capacity for violence scarcely tapped, Evil Jim eyed Stan warily as the big man collected his lumberjack coat and stumbled out the door.

That little Kevin would not be coming with him was understood. Kevin always stayed with the winners. There would be no bad blood there. That this was far from the end of it between Stan and Evil Jim was also understood. Jim paid it no mind though. Everywhere you looked in this town there were fuses burning, uncoiling and hissing like angry snakes. But they were nothing but fizzle and empty threat – in the absence of dry powder.

He probably didn’t need it but he made a point of rolling a joint anyway from the hash that Stan had left behind. His fingers were trembling from the adrenaline dump and from the echo of blows delivered, and he made a criminal mess of it.

Next Chapter.

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