Entry for weekly writing contest #1 (part two)
(Xerxes Boudreaux, a landlord who has some rather unsavory personal habits, was having a normal day until the streyi Jachin Deszcheine showed up to his house. There's some history between Xerxes and Jachin, and it's clear that Jachin is taking advantage of or blackmailing Xerxes in some way. After Jachin leaves, Xerxes drunkenly decides to turn the tables on this youth who torments him. Xerxes' morbidly obese wife Karlita is at work while this is going on, and not expected home until about midnight.)
Please read my DISCLAIMER at the beginning of part one of this story regarding situations that may make some readers uncomfortable.
It took Xerxes only a short time to find the boy. It was about ten o'clock, and the streets were still busy. Every time the wind shifted he could smell the river. His buzz was wearing off, and he tried to keep his mind off what it was exactly that he was about. He knew he didn't look like a man who belonged outdoors, and every so often a passerby would turn and stare; one lady even giggled. He tried to stay calm and keep his nerve, and to think, act, and glance around like someone out trolling for a prostitute.
Damn that friggin kid. Damn him to hell. I'll show his ass.
The child, about ten years old, a slender pale boy with a tousled mop of blonde curls, wearing cargo shorts and a Slayer tee shirt, sat waiting on a cracked retaining wall outside a run-down apartment complex, idly spinning a battered skateboard on its end. Xerxes, with the instinct of long habit, felt the kid almost before he saw him, and paused in the deep shadow of a hedge, watching.
The boy kept glancing up the street, then dropping his gaze to the sidewalk in a disappointed manner; then after a few seconds he would look up the street again. People passed and the kid didn't look at anyone; after five full minutes of watching, Xerxes did not see him brighten with recognition once.
It's him, said the little voice in his brain. With quiet care, he removed his cell phone from its holster and checked the time. Just a little after ten.
He knew this kid, too—these were after all apartment buildings that he owned and sometimes took a part in managing. He had seen this boy around the neighborhood and had of course learned where he lived; he had an older sister, a tramp, who ran around a lot, and his mother worked two jobs and was almost never at home during the day. The kid was one of those who pretty much did whatever he wanted, and was fairly wary and streetwise, though still with a portion of innocence that made him all the more attractive.
He knew beyond knowing that this was the kid.
Before he put his cell phone back in its holster, he flipped it open and sent a text. He remained in the shadows for another minute or so, until he felt confident that his face and bearing now exuded as much benignity and grandfatherly warmth as he could muster. Then he started forward toward the little boy.
It wasn't easy, but he had not supposed that it would be. The boy was suspicious, and determined not to leave his spot. But the fact that he did recognize his landlord and clearly considered him no threat, combined with Xerxes' practiced spiel, finally served to pry him away from his perch on the wall next to the busy sidewalk. Several times Xerxes repeated the story that he had heard of a gang shooting in the neighborhood, and expressed concern about this youngster being out so late and in such an exposed area. His suggestion that they walk down to the fish shack at the corner to get a Coke was finally accepted, and with many a longing backward look the boy allowed himself to be guided down the block. Xerxes made sure to maintain a distance and not to touch the boy in any way, here where people could see.
Of course, it was so hot inside the fish shack that there was no way they could sit comfortably inside. Xerxes' gentle suggestion was that they go and sit in the park across the street. "You'll be able to see the whole street from there," he said. "But it don't look to me like anybody's showin up." At that moment he heard the church clock chime the half hour. It made the hair stand up on his arms.
"Is yore mama at home tonight, boy?" he asked as they crossed the busy avenue, passing the clothing store and the bus stop, then entering the park with its lush growth of cedars and magnolia, mimosa and crepe myrtle, where there was heavy shade and the sounds from the street were muffled.
His lips busy around the straw on a giant-sized soft drink, his skateboard bumping and scraping the ground as he sauntered along, the child nodded. Then he took his mouth away from the drink and said, "But she busy. She got her a boyfriend over, and she tole me I could stay out until twelve."
"Well, that's good that yore mama trusts you like that." Xerxes didn't waste any grandfatherly looks on the youth here—it was much too dark for the kid to see the expression on his face. "But this is a bad part of town. You want to sit here?"
"Oh, I guess," the kid said distractedly. They could see the wall where he'd been sitting down the block from here, and his eyes remained fixed on that spot. He wasn't even thinking about where he was, who he was with, or anything like. He was a million miles away, this kid.
Xerxes' mind was at present a welter of haste and indecision. The boy's mom was up in their place, wanting privacy, so going there was out.
I could take him to the house, he thought. But how do I…
"Well, looky here!"
Jumping up, his heart ready to burst through his chest, Xerxes saw Jachin Deszcheine emerge from the midst of a planting of forsythia about ten feet down the path. It was as black as the ace of spades in this place, but there was no mistaking who it was.
"Jachin!" the boy cried, and started forward. Without thought, Xerxes' hand shot out and grabbed the tail of the kid's tee shirt.
The boy spun, his eyes wide and white in the dark; his drink fell from his hand and the top flew off as it struck the ground, ice and cola splashing everywhere.
Jachin, cigarette clenched in his teeth, his eyes alight with fey amusement, laughed as he advanced on them. "You up to yore old tricks tonight, I see, Zerk," he observed.
In clanging confusion Xerxes held onto the boy's shirt and simply stood, trying to think of something to say. Anger filled his being. "Get the hell away from here, Jachin!" he rasped.
The boy looked from one to the other, trying to understand.
And so the three of them stood: Jachin Deszcheine and Xerxes Boudreaux staring each other down, Jachin's expression changing by slow degrees from a grin to a snarl, and Xerxes' mouth opening and closing, opening and closing—and the boy in the Slayer tee shirt looking from one to the other in frozen astonishment, his breathing shallow, quick, and loud in the humid dark.
A screeching of tires made Xerxes look toward the street; a taxi was pulling up outside the fish shack. The vehicle groaned audibly on its springs as a passenger of enormous weight got out.
"Karlita! Karlita honey!" Xerxes called in a voice faint with terror. "Over here!"
He saw her casting about in the air, and then she looked straight at them. With remarkable quickness for a person of her size she advanced on them, eyes blazing, her pudgy fingers crooked into claws. Not bothering to take the path, with the smashing sounds of a stampeding water buffalo she cut straight through the bushes toward them.
Sneering words of triumph forming on his lips, Xerxes turned back to face Jachin Deszcheine…
But Jachin was gone.
Xerxes Boudreaux got out of the shower, and toweled and powdered himself with care. In the bedroom his wife was at her praying. She had seen the empty vodka bottle and glass on the dining room table, of course, and though she had said nothing, her distressed look had filled him with shame.
Putting on clean pajama bottoms Xerxes now went hesitantly into the bedroom. Karlita, in her long white nightgown, was in the process of taking her nighttime doses of medication—psych meds, diabetes meds, kidney meds, and God-only-knew-what else. She gave him another look on seeing that he intended to get in bed with her, but again said nothing.
With a tiny sip of water to wash down her pills she composed herself for sleep, pulling the covers up under her armpits. Hesitantly, Xerxes got in next to her. She didn't look at him or say anything. Even more hesitantly, he put one arm over her. After about a minute, she turned her face toward him and smiled, ever so slightly.
"Aint you going to stay up and watch your movies, honey?" she asked in a gentle tone.
"Not tonight, baby," he said. The relief that flooded him made him want to cry again, but he clamped down on that. "I'm just tired."
"Yes, I know what you mean. I'm tired too." She patted his arm that lay across her chest, then reached up and turned out the light.
10 October 2008 – (happy birthday, Braxton!)
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