“Home again home again, jiggety-jig”

 

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Once the train rolled past the mill across the river the ground flattened and the hill backed off step by step until there was room for the town to wedge itself between its natural boundaries. He peeked through the slitted door of boxcar and saw Rohall’s body shop which was still the first building in town but he couldn’t swear it was still a body shop.

Then a few houses that looked abandoned then the fire house with someone, too far away to make out who, lounging in a chair by the open door. The track bent then, bellying toward the river and away from the football field, robbing him of the close-up view but opening the vista of the grimy little houses sprawling between two bridges and up to the hillside.

He watched the ties clicking quickly past and ventured to stick his head out. There was no one working on the tracks that he could see-no trucks, no equipment-but he’d have to wait for the switching yard to be sure. He had played there as a boy-and later-but now it had fallen into disuse-storing ties and timbers instead of old boxcars to play in.

Nearing the yard and its crossing the train slowed enough to make exiting, if not easy, at least possible. He squatted and stretched watching and waiting for the flattest spot with the least ballast which made the footing uncertain. He was entering the yard now, overrun with tangles of thistle, sedge, sumac trees and at least one very dead deer.

Quickly, while somewhat hidden by the brush, he slid the door enough to sit with his legs hanging then pushed off. With barely a stumble, he was walking beside the train instead of riding in it as he had for 300 miles. His boxcar outpaced him and slipped away. He carried no bundle, no bag, nothing that could mark him as homeless, a vagrant or hobo. Everything he owned he wore or left behind.

The creosote smell of the new ties gave him the same odd feeling it always did. Took him back to his first time; jaws clenched, bent grimacing over a stack of ties, the spring drizzle dripping from his hair. That was just down the tracks from here. If there was another man in the world who was aroused by the smell of creosote he didn’t want to meet him.

Every fucked-up path had a fucked-up beginning and once you hit the crooked way, there was no getting off it. Like riding your bike into a street car track-you were stuck where it would take you. It was always that way no matter what anyone said. Once your wires were crossed, they were crossed and singed into a new direction.

The ten foot fence was new-running beside the track for as far as he could see. He might have to walk all the way to the crossing which would be chancy but where there was a fence there would be holes, loose spots and passages for townies to cut across to the river. There was too much beer to be drunk, weed to be smoked and girls to be fucked on the riverbank to be deterred by a mere cyclone fence.

He ran his fingers along it as he walked remembering what it had felt like, as a kid, to be able to scale something like this. Up like a spider, leg over, drop down. That was a while ago. He stopped. There it was. The bottom two wires connecting the fence to a pole had been cut; the loose grid unnoticeable unless you knew it was there. He squatted, pushed at the bottom and the wire lattice lifted like a curtain.

Just like that he was back in town. And no one was going to be happy to see him.

Vodka and Melatonin-Part II

(Continued from Vodka and Melatonin-Part I)

He didn’t remember the hallway being this long. It usually worked in the reverse: the long hallways and overlarge rooms of a child’s memory shrunk for the man. But he moved along, following an aroma that got stronger the further he went. A soft light spilled from one of the rooms at the end. When he got to the door he didn’t notice the high old fashioned library lamp in the corner-only the light it threw. His attention focused on the three women in the center of the room sitting on cushions around a large hookah.

The flanking women were young. Not children or teenagers, he didn’t think, but certainly no more than twenty five. He didn’t know. It was an arbitrary number. What was certain was their indescribable beauty. The blonde, to his left, wore what looked to be simple jeans and a plaid shirt. The sleeves were rolled almost to her elbows exposing soft downy fur that glistened in the low light. The other, on his right, with piercing green eyes glowing below shining, raven bangs wore a double T-shirt, one over the other, and a small leather amulet of some sort around her neck. She was stockier than the blond-even sitting you could tell she was shorter-but just as breathtaking. Both wore radiant welcoming smiles that seemed to cast their own light.

She, the one who had given him the directions, was sitting between them facing the door. She was roughly his own age, better preserved perhaps, but seasoned. Also, she was completely naked.

“You found us…” she said happily exhaling a sweet cloying cloud that settled over the three of them.

“The directions were perfect”, he lied.

“I really didn’t expect to see you.”

“I didn’t expect to see you naked.”

“I didn’t expect to see you at all”, she said.

The blonde giggled a sound like diamonds tumbling down a silken waterfall.

The naked woman stood. She was a strong brunette with swept wiry hair and a slash of silver running straight back from above her right eye like a lightning bolt. He saw that she had a similar streak running top to bottom through the thick bush below her flat belly.

She placed her hand on the blonde’s head to steady herself as she stepped out of the cushion circle. “Come”, she said tapping him on the arm. He followed her back into the hall and into the next room. Her ass was flat and mannish-always had been-even as a girl. But again, well kept.

In the next room, illuminated only by the streetlight through the window she nodded to a heavy wooden chair. He went over and stood beside it as she wrestled a heavy industrial dolly out of a dark corner. By its creaking limp he could see that the contraption had a bad wheel. She stopped struggling with it when it was close enough.

She glowed the color of old ivory in the dim yellow light as she undid his belt and zipper. Up close she seemed to smell of sage and honey-probably the smoke clinging to her hair. He heard another giggle and answering laugh from the other room. It seemed far away. He kept his hands at his sides as she pushed his pants and underwear down.

“Sit” she said.

He settled himself on the hard wood and focused on the hallways sounds. The deep inhaling and exhaling from the next room and, further away, the grunting and sliding of the behemoth in the front room.

Her breasts hung softly as she untangled the cables that were rolled on top of the car battery on the dolly. She had his full attention as she knelt between his legs cables in hand. He let his eyes wander over her shoulders and down her body. Watching the muscles in her thighs ripple as she shifted her weight from the battery to him and back again gave him the most ill-timed hard on of his life.

“So, what brings you to see me tonight?” she asked lifting his cock, nice sized and well-formed but nothing special, out of the way.

He didn’t have a good answer so said, “Bless me father for I have sinned.”

She snickered lightly and he was happy to have made her laugh. “Try again”, she said.

At a loss, he said something he thought she would understand, “I’ve been smoking again”. He then gasped as she squeezed the clamps at the end of the first cable to his scrotum.

“Ahhh,” she said, seemingly talking into his dick, moving it again. “We’ll see if we can’t take care of that.”

He winced as she pinched the loose skin inside of his thigh and attached the other cable there. He watched the slope of her back as she attached one of the cables to the battery. His hard-on pulsed like a fish tossed on shore to suffocate.  He focused on the sounds from the hallway which had become louder.

“Are you ready”, she asked back over her shoulder holding the other cable over the battery ready to touch the positive terminal.

“I am”, he said reaching down to grab the edges of the wooden seat.

“Are you ready?” she asked again, this time louder-in case he hadn’t heard the first time.

“Yesss”, he hissed, grabbing his hard cock with the other hand.

Her hand hovered over the battery….

Vodka and Melatonin-Part I

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He squinted through the match light to read the numbers scrawled on a wrinkled shred of brown paper that she must have torn off of an old grocery bag.  742, they said, which did him absolutely no good as the hovels and shitholes along this alley were not numbered in the back. He shook out the match and let it fall to the ground.

A little further along, toward the lone streetlight, something about the wire fence behind the blue dumpster seemed somehow familiar. He walked on carefully, avoiding the scattered guts of an overturned garbage can. A rat-it’s grazing interrupted-squeaked and skittered away. A few more paces and a garage materialized from the shadows-the twin doors boarded tightly over. This could be it, he thought, remembering when the doors would stand open by day allowing the ins and outs of the men who worked here. He recalled the rough whine of the impact wrenches and the impossibly loud crashing tires and brake drums and all manner of automotive detritus onto the grease-stained floor. Was that here?

A dim light glowed in one of the high windows of the apartment above. With a cautious familiarity he slipped into the inky shadows of the passage between the garage and the empty house sliding his hand along the cool brick wall as he had as a boy. He came out from between the buildings into an abandoned courtyard illuminated in a muted orange from the foundry glowing brightly across the field.

The fifteen wooden steps up to the simple porch were rickety but the platform itself was sound. The knob turned easily and the door opened into the kitchen-empty but for the appliances leaning forlornly with doors sagged open.  Instinctively he reached for the light switch to his right and snapped it on. Nothing. Thick shadows from the side room played against the wall opposite.

He moved through the void where the table and chairs had once been, into the glowing living room. Against the far wall was a high table draped with a tattered, nondescript cloth and covered with candles. The room was otherwise empty of furnishing but occupied by an enormous naked man posing in the center. The guttering yellow light of dozens of tiny flames reflected in the rivulets of sweat that ran down the man’s wide back and massive arms as he flowed-in a grace that belied his size-from pose to pose-freezing at the completion of each, then sliding into the next.

The massively round beach-ball shaped belly might have been his most remarkable feature had it not been for his balls. They hung heavily like a pendulum and swung lazily from side to side like the clapper on some awful church bell. From the doorway he somehow knew the particular form the behemoth was doing and knew that the coming sequence of movements would involve slow spins and high stately kicks which he in no way wanted to witness so he moved on down the hall.

The Weight

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It was everybody’s bad luck that Danny had started drinking at noon that day. His regular shift was 11 a.m. to 6:00. He would open for the oldsters who needed a shot and a beer between Mass and Sunday dinner then manage his regulars through two football games, turning it over to Nick for the evening and late night. Nick was away this weekend, though, so the day was his. Clean through till 2:00.

They called Benny Pace, Hats, even though he had only one-a tortured fedora that was as sweat-stained as his rolled up trousers were piss-stained. A yellowed white shirt completed his motley ensemble; a shabby connection in his mind to when he was a snappy dresser.

His sons, Elmer and Frank inherited his gambling territory but it wasn’t much anymore. They ran poker machines and illegal pinball always scrambling one step ahead of the law. They carried the air of two “connected guys” but weren’t really. Big fish in a very small pond-but it was their pond.

Two guys at the bar that night had caught sight of the roll of cash Benny was holding. The regulars were used to it-always picked up bills that he’d let flutter to the floor and put them back in front of him. “Did you see that old guy’s wad?” one of them had asked him. Danny didn’t know him-short and wiry. Dark-with a pinched face. “He was lucky at the track yesterday. When Benny hits, everyone hits.” Danny chuckled and tapped his knuckles on the bar in front of the two signaling that their next drink was on the house.

Had he been a little less drunk he might have caught the gist of the conversation. He might have caught their eyes as they were casing the old man and felt what was happening. But he didn’t. The next morning, when he heard about old Benny being beaten and robbed he knew who did it and also knew that nobody could ever know how he knew. This place that he’d inherited from his uncle was a safe place. People came in here to be protected from “out there”. Danny had let the outside in.

But today, in the light of day, drinking coffee instead of Canadian Club he was not thinking about making something right. Some things can’t be made right. Some things just have to be worn.

If old Benny ever got out of the hospital-was ever back in here drinking wine from the jug that nobody else touched-whistling at the girls and babbling in his ridiculous way he would always have to look at him and know that the shit that he got plunged into was on him.

When sunlight slashed through the bar he knew even before squinting at their silhouettes that it was Elmer and Frank. Elmer was Danny’s age, short and round. Frank, older and smaller, did all the talking.

“Sorry about your Dad. How’s he doing?”

“Looks like he’ll make it. Fucked him up pretty good though.”

“Damn shame…” said Danny.

“They were in here? They guys did this?”

“There was more than one?” Danny asked.

“Looks like two. Cops got one. The other…” he shrugged.

“There was a lot of people in here last night Frank. Don’t know…I probably saw them. Hell, I probably served them. I’m sorry.”

“For what? You didn’t do nothin’.”

“Still….”

“No, that’s the motherfucker gonna be sorry. They won’t hold him till the old man can ID him, and he can’t see now so….”

“Shit…”

“He’s getting out this afternoon. We know where he lives. He’ll wished he stayed in jail.”

Danny rubbed at the faux woodgrain on the bar. And rubbed. His eyes were somewhere in the middle distance. And rubbed. Just as Elmer gave his brother his “what-the-fuck?” face, Danny spoke.

“Don’t do nothing. It will be too obvious.”

“What?”

“It will be obvious.”

The Pace brothers looked at one another, then back to Danny. Elmer stuck out his hand. “You know we’re not going to forget this.” Which is why he was doing it. He wouldn’t forget it either.

“I just wish there was something I coulda done.”

“These animals. There’s nothing you could do.”

“Go someplace tonight. Be seen and don’t worry about it.”

Danny had taken out the street light next to the apartments where the guy was staying. Just a few blocks up-not far. Hell, if he was standing up on the roof right now, Danny could see the house he grew up in. This was his alley, his bar and the street above, his street. Deep truth be known, he didn’t even like Benny or his sons-two entitled fucks who never worked a day. But this wasn’t about them at all. Not at this point.

He skulked behind the dumpster and pulled the bandana up to his eyes when the scuffling tread came up the asphalt. He recognized him even in the shadows. Stupid bastard didn’t know enough to stay away.

He gripped the bat tightly and strode up behind. The guy never knew what hit him. Danny tried to be surgical-no need to go overboard. Kidneys to bend him backward-stomach so he’d fold. The most obvious joints and bones next-bust the knee cap, ankle, stomp the hand and teeth for good measure. Left him writhing and moaning. Slipped between two buildings and out to the main street. The bat down the sewer. Done and done.

The next morning he was reading the paper when Kevin Bannon, his most regular of regulars came in for his first beer to wash down his first aspirins.

“You hear about that guy? The one robbed old Benny?”

“No. What?”

“Dead.”

“Dead?”

Somebody put a beatin’ on him. Ruptured his spleen or his kidney…something. Bled out. Right up the alley there.”

“Benny’s sons maybe? Elmer and Frank?”

“Naw, they were at the casino all night playing blackjack and winning like fucks. Everybody saw them.”

A single droplet of sweat trailed from Danny’s collar, down his spine and spread at his belt line. “Well. Fuck him”, he said. “They should give whoever did it a medal.”

“Absolutely!” Kevin agreed.

Danny popped his knuckles on the bar. Beer was on him.

Genesee

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(A few years after The Boy Called Circo)

“You’re Circo, right?” His old rheumy eyes widened then blinked, trying to sharpen focus at the edges. He wasn’t blind by a long shot but back lighting offered a challenge.

“Nobody calls me that anymore”, Tommy growled low enough that only the one person could hear. He could have yelled it though, the place was that empty.

“I knew your grandfather”, he said. “He was a good guy.”

Tommy’s plan to slip unnoticed into a dark room and recharge between engagements had obviously gone to shit. He had come in tense and was not in the mood to become irritated. There was enough of that outside.

“He was too good”, Tommy said biting off the words. “Got fucked more than a whore by people taking advantage of him. Nice guy,” he sniffed and looked at the old man full on for the first time. “Maybe you did too, huh?”

“Not me”, he said sipping at a clear drink that half filled the highball glass in front of him. Unadorned by ice, lime or lemon it could have been water as easily as vodka. “I worked with him. Lost my truck when those developers declared bankruptcy that time.”

“The Liberty Subdivision.”

“Yeah-I’d a lost my house too but your Pap covered me.” He tipped his glass to Tommy before finishing it off in a gulp. “And I paid him back. Every cent.”

Tommy caught the piney whiff. Gin. “Way I heard it”, he said looking down at his own drink, “They paid ten cents on a dollar.”

“You heard right. They fucked a lotta people. Then two years later they were back in business with a new name.”

“That didn’t work out too well as I heard it. They had a problem with fires.”

The old man nodded slightly. “Had a lot of explosions too. Things kept blowin’ up for them.”

“They were careless people, I guess”, Tommy said.

The old man answered with a small shrug, rolling his palms upward.

“What’s your name old timer?”

“I’m Genesee”, he said, extending a hand.

“Like the beer.”

“Like the beer. And I’ll make you a deal. You don’t call me ‘old timer’ and I won’t call you Circo.”

Tommy grinned tightly. He could see this guy working for his grandfather. Ballsy old prick that you wouldn’t see coming until he was in your pocket and it was too late. He shook the offered hand. Firm grip-some steel left in there. “Deal, Genesee”, he said.

“You got a second?” the old man asked. “I got a story about your Pap you might not a heard.”

Fact is, no, he didn’t have a second. He’d been late coming and going all day and this wasn’t going to help things. But really, in his business being unreliable now and again was almost a job requirement.

He waved the bartender over.

The Boy Called Circo

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The drip pot vibrated at a boil on the stovetop.

“Gramma, can I have a coffee?”

She poured it, burnt thick and black, into a shallow cup and pushed the sugar toward him. He fiddled with the spoon that was formed with a small spout on the end as if dumping a spoonful of sugar into a cup was somehow old fashioned. She liked the new things, his Gramma. Even if she horded them all in her little garage apartment across the patio from the family’s grand house.

His name was actually Tomasso or Tommy to those outside his neighborhood, but since he never left the neighborhood as a child it didn’t matter. His given name didn’t matter either as his great grandfather had renamed him.

“Why did Pap-pap call me Circo?”

“Oh he used to laugh when you around. You was always run-you was always jump-you…”searching for the word “….tumble around the yard like in a circus! He laugh and laugh. Said you like a Circo. ‘Circus’. So he call you Circo.”

“I wished he would have called me Tommy-like my name. Everybody calls me Circo now.”

“Every cat in the alley named Tom. You Circo. Better.”

“Some people laugh…like Circo is a joke.”

“They laugh at you, you stop them, huh? You know how to make them stop laugh.”

He waved away her pointing finger. “Alright. It’s alright…”He shifted away from where the .38 dug into his thick waist.

“Who you gone see today?”

“Vinnie, and Joe up on the hill. Then Robert and Shack”. Shack Moran’s real name was Jacques from his French mother. Once he was out of the house he thought life would be much easier as “Shack” so Jacques Moran ceased to be. Until that morning in the not too distant future when a dead body was fished out of the river near the mill outflow pipe. All the reporters then called him “Jacques” in a formal rolling pronunciation and nobody knew who they were talking about. Except for Circo. He knew.

“Circo. You wanna eat?”

“No Gram…” The little man slid off of the chair and looked out the window at the house trying to see if anyone was watching. It was too bright outside-made spying into dark windows impossible. He had parked two alleys away and walked though yards so nobody passing would see his car. But there was only one way in-up the front steps that anyone who was looking from the house could see. He could picture his mother at the kitchen table, smoking and watching her door-keeping track of who came and went. Couldn’t do anything about it now. He was here-and he had to leave.

It wasn’t until they found Shack dead in the river that people began to call him Tommy.

Missed Connection

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“Are we cool?” I asked him, his friend writhing on the ground between us. He was actually the bigger of the two and I didn’t know if they were friends-they had just come in together.

I had given the writhing one-a head taller and forty pounds heavier than me-the first shot and it had almost been my undoing. One of these days that stunt was going to get me killed; but not tonight. Stunned, I gave him the second too, measuring his long, slow, loping punches that seemed to come from across the street.

I should have been out of there an hour ago. There wasn’t anyone worth talking to, the jukebox was broken and the only woman in the place was the bartender who had missed a belt loop and spent most of the evening watching an Elvis movie with her back to me. The one with Ann Margret. Not bad but not worth staying for. But then, had I left when the thought first struck me, who would have been there when he started in on her? Asshole deterrent-that was me. Shitty fucking hobby.

The third shot was mine as I slipped inside his overhand left and busted his liver twice with hooks then a right cross that crushed his nose as he fell past. Oldest combination in fighting-cave men knocked each other out with that shit. Fact that he didn’t see it coming just showed he didn’t know what he was doing. Used to getting his way with size and general aggressiveness.

“We’re cool”, he answered. “Just met the asshole an hour ago-didn’t think I liked him.”

“You coming back in?” I moved toward the door.

“Not my kind of crowd.”

“I got that.”

“Why don’t you come with me then?”

“Where to?”

“…..’Daniel’s’ probably. Maybe ‘Glows’, late….”

“Really not my kind of crowd.”

The big guy smiled, a strange flicker around the corners of his eyes, and shrugged. “That’s where I’ll be.” He turned and walked off without another word.

Inside, the bartender ministered to the knuckles I had split on the asshole’s face. She used cotton and peroxide from a first aid kit and caught the runoff with a beery bar rag. Her own knuckles were slightly swollen from arthritis but her nails were done it a deep pine green that caught her eyes and the tail of a reptilian tattoo that slithered below her rolled up cuffs. Why hadn’t I noticed those before?

“I’m glad you came back in”, she said without managing a smile.

“Me too”, I answered, pretty sure I was lying.