Thursday, September 28, 2006
Friday, September 15, 2006
The driving directions from small-town
Melissa barely had the opportunity to take the keys out of the ignition before the front door swung open and Lily and Dave Becker walked out, each wearing an odd expression of both joy and grief.
Three travellers exited through two doors, and then the hugs and welcomes were in full swing.
"Old man", Cade offered with affection. He stick out his hand, but that was disregarded for a savage hug.
"Ah, shut up." Dave threw an arm around his son, who stood a full six inches taller than he, and walked him towards the door where, Cade could tell, dinner awaited. "Lawn looks great, don't it?"
* * *
Dinner happened as dinners should always happen: laughter, stories, good-natured ribbing, and catching up on what was new in their respective lives. The topic of Matt, while not having been intentionally avoided, had been mercifully absent until dessert and coffee. Lily was the first to speak of him, and she said simply: "I just can't believe he's gone."
There were silent nods all around.
Dave, ever the pragmatist, asked, "What was he on?"
Cade chewed thoughtfully on a piece of angel food cake. "That's the thing, Dad. Nothing. They found zip. Elevated levels of testosterone or something, but it was nothing that looked unnatural. Matt just...snapped. That's the best way I can put it. I realize that you weren't there, and it's almost impossible to explain exactly how bad he was, but he was a lunatic."
Lily looked shocked and unsurprised at once. "You shouldn't talk about your brother like that."
"Lily, Cade's right. The Matt that we all knew was never there that night. He didn't recognize us...at least, if he did, he didn't care. He just kept screaming, 'Where is she?' over and over. He attacked Cade on sight. He would have killed us, Lily. It was..."
"It was fuckin' insanity, is what it was," Cade muttered.
"Sorry, Ma. But it was." He helped himself to another piece of cake. "I could show you my x-rays, if you'd like." He pointed to Loki, who was at Lily's feet chewing on a bone. "Look at him. Look at Lis's damn face, Ma. Would you have ever imagined Matt doing that? If it wasn't for a guy who couldn't sleep on one night out of dozens, you'd be planning three funerals instead of just one."
Lily was silent, and one look from his father was enough to tell Cade that the point had been made. Cade knew that look well and intended to copy it for use against his children someday. The table was silent for several minutes, the word "uncomfortable" not quite covering it.
Loki, for his part, continued gnawing on his bone.
Cade cracked first. "Ma..."
"We're all upset. There's no need to apologize."
"Who's apologizing? I'm bent that you called me 'Caldwell'." Dave laughed, tried to stifle it, but failed. He drew mock dirty looks from both women at the table.
"I'm tried to train him, Lily. I really have." Now it was okay to laugh.
Lily stood up and started clearing dishes. The other three stood to help, but she waved the men off. "Thirty-two years and all I've been able to teach your father-in-law is when heavy stuff needs lifting, lift it. You're way ahead of the game."
Cade blurted out, "Tomorrow I'm leaving to go and find out what happened to Matt." A dessert fork clattered onto the table. Cade figured that he looked as shocked as his wife.
To be continued...
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The GMC pulled straight into the driveway and parked, instead of going into the garage, as it normally did. Cade and Melissa weren't staying long. They climbed out and walked (or limped, in Cade's case) to the front of the house. As soon as Cade rattled his keys in the lock, an excited bark exploded through the door.
"Hold on, pal, we're coming," Cade said as he swung open the door. Loki burst through as soon as the opening was wide enough and went a little bit crazy, just because they were back. He jumped into Cade, showing no regard whatsoever for his cracked ribs. In truth, the ribs didn't hurt all that much, but that was probably the meds talking. They watched him run in wide, erratic arcs for a moment and then we able to calm him down. Cade dropped to one knee and stroked the panting dog's fur. He traced a finger along matching gashes that ran almost the entire length of his body. He didn't seem to mind.
"I guess we all got beat up. Hey, if I forget, remind me to cover the window with cardboard or something before we leave. Who knows what kind of wildl-"
He was interrupted by a banging sound in the back of the house. Melissa gasped, and the banging repeated. He heard the tinkle of broken glass. "Goddamn, what now?" He grabbed a shovel that was leaning against the wall, and then he looked at his dog, content that his mistress was scratching him absent-mindedly behind his ear. And then he looked at Melissa, who was looking at her dog with the same expression Cade figured he had on his face.
Why wasn't the dog upset?
Cade took a few tentative steps towards the back of the house, looked into his backyard and smiled. He motioned for his wife to join him.
* * *
Cade walked toward the tall black man in a Michigan sweatshirt. He was wearing headphones, and Cade thought it might not be a good idea to surprise him. "Alvin! AL!" Alvin jumped and spun, mallet in his hand.
"Hey...there he is!" He took off his work gloves and walked towards the couple. "I didn't think you'd be back so soon. Kinda ruined my surprise." He kissed Melissa on the cheek. She hugged him. So did Cade. It felt like the right thing to do.
"Why are you fixing my window?"
"It was broken. Did you paint my garage two years ago when my leg was broken?"
"There you go."
"Neighbors, huh, Al?"
"Neighbors, kid. Now let me finish; I'm sure you want to relax a bit." He pulled his gloves back on.
Melissa said, "I wish. We have to hit the road. Just came to pack a few things. Coffee?"
Al took his gloves off again and let them fall to the ground.
* * *
The instructions consisted of Melissa getting out one half of one sentence before Alvin made it quite clear that, seeing as he had raised four boys, he was quite capabale of handling two cats. And he was sure he could figure out how to get the mail on a daily basis, as well.
"Men." Her voice was mock-exasperated.
"You've been talking to Dorothy. Speaking of..." He reachedinto a a cupboard and pulled out a plate covered in tin foil. Cade's eyebrows rose.
"Chocolate chip?" Alvin smiled. "I do love that woman. Where is she?"
"Daughter's in town. She sends her best."
"I can see that." Cade looked at his watch. "We have to get going." He grabbed both suitcases, which his left side did not agree with at all. He put that one down. "Ow." Alvin picked it up easily, still strong despite his near-seventy years.
They threw the suitcases in the back. Melissa gave Alvin a kiss and opened the rear door for Loki, who happily jumped in. She closed it after him and climbed into the driver's seat. Cade took a moment to say something that needed to be said.
"Hey, don't give me any of that sappy shit, kid. Melissa told me why you went outside in the first place. You didn't have to, hell, you shouldn't have, but you did, just to protect us. Not that I'm surprised; that's the kind of man you are."
Alvin nodded, opened the passenger side door, and motioned for Cade to climb in. Cade did, shutting the door with a thud. Alvin handed him the plate of cookies and leaned towards the open window.
"I'm sorry about your brother. I wish I had time to figure out a better way, 'cept I'm old and slow. But you have to understand this one thing, kid: even if I knew that he was your brother, it still would have come down to a choice of either him or you two, and I wouldn't have hesitated one bit longer than I did. That's the kind of guy I am."
He straightened up, rapped three times on the roof, and went back to work.
Neighbors, Cade thought. That sounds about right.
To be continued...
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Cade drifted in and out of consciousness. He was vaguely aware of motion and an odd red light that faded and intensified, faded and intensified. He caught snippets of conversation that, in his battered state, made no sense to him. If he could have pieced just some of them together, they could have either rid himself of the notion that he was going to die or confirmed it for him, depending on which ones he focused on.
"...gonna be okay?"
"...lot of blood..."
"...looks worse than it is..."
"...just fuckin' drive!"
* * *
When he woke up, he was greeted by a smiling face that, hidden behind an impressive shiner, was his wife's. She was sitting on the edge of the bed; the chair next to it looked untouched. He managed to croak out, "Hey." She replied in kind and planted a kiss on his forehead. It hit him like a sledgehammer, but it was still very welcome.
After the pain subsided a degree or two, he asked, "How long was I out?"
"About a day and a half."
"You take a punch better than I do, I guess."
She laughed, and in that laugh she was hiding something. He knew what it was, but asked anyway.
She said nothing, and looked into her lap.
He sank lower into his pillow. "Goddamn it..." He put an arm over his eyes and cried for a minute or two. He cried for his brother, not for that...thing...that had put him here, had attacked his wife, had nearly killed them both. If not for Loki, they would both be dead.
"How's the boy?" He spoke into the crook of his arm, eager to change the subject, knowing it was futile. He cried harder, in spite of his efforts.
She put her hand on top of his other hand...soft. Gentle. "He's fine. A couple of cuts from the glass, but that's all." She paused "Alvin couldn't sleep. He took a walk, heard the dog barking, the yelling, grabbed his rifle and ran over. Well, as close as he can come to running, anyway. Matt was about to...Alvin saved our lives. And then he almost got shot by the cops for his efforts." This struck Cade as funny, for some stupid reason. Hey, my brother's dead, my wife looks like she went 12 rounds, and my brains are scrambled...I'm just glad I can laugh.
Melissa, to her credit, accepted it as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it was. She brushed a few stray hairs off of her forehead, and waited for him to come back to reality.
"I gotta call my parents. They-"
"They already know," she interrupted. "They called a few hours ago, looking for Matt. They sounded worried, I didn't know when you were going to wake up, I-I'm so sorry!" Now she was in tears.
"Nothing to be sorry about. You did the right thing, babe. Shit, we have to go out there."
"Already been discussed. As soon as they release Matt's body...Jesus that sounds wrong...we're heading out there. I called Donnie, too, and made sure that he knew you were unavailable for a while." Donnie was his agent. "I just got off the phone with Alvin, and in addition to saving our lives he's going to take care of the cats and the mail."
"I may have to work just to pay off the cell phone bill." It was a lame joke, but it was the best he could do. He was struggling, but, for now, he was winning.
"Unlimited nights and weekends, sweetheart." She got up, and stood still for a moment, just looking at him. "Thank you. For what you did for me. For saving me." One of the few things he remembered was covering her, bracing for the blow, knowing that she'd be next. She kissed him on the lips. "I just want you to know that. Let me go get you some water." He didn't know what to say. She walked out, but he knew she'd be back soon.
She was wrong about everything. I couldn't save shit, he thought. Pure, blind, dumb fucking luck saved her, and me. Luck, and a retired neighbor with a gun. He felt small, ineffective.
His big brother was dead.
To be continued...
Monday, September 04, 2006
Cade instinctively brought the gun up to fire, but it took him about one second to realize he was a half-second too slow. He got one off; it might have been a hit, but his big brother charged right through it and tackled Cade so hard he though he might pass out. The gun flew off into a bush as Matt landed on top with crushing force.
Cade was a calm, disciplined fighter, and his brother never became anything but a brawler. He wrestled with his brother, intending to subdue him, smack him across the face a few times, and find out what the fuck he was on to make him go crazy like this. He quickly gained the advantage, pinned the good arm, and thought it might be over. But Matt strained with the other arm, the one with the titanium shoulder, and it made a sickening popping/grinding noise as he threw him off like a bull throws its rider when it decides it has had enough. Before Cade knew it, he was flying through the air, shocked at the strength and disregard for pain he had just witnessed. That was impossible. Last I knew he couldn’t even shoot a basketball, let alone throw a 220-pound guy around with one arm. Then he hit the back wall and crumpled to the ground, all thoughts gone.
When they were growing up, they fought sometimes, as brothers, especially two so close in age, like to do. They were always fairly well-matched, and as adults often joked about their unbeaten record against the other. Truth is, they always fought to a draw, because neither one, in his heart, really wanted to win. They were brothers, and that trumped whatever game or girl they felt was worth fighting over at any given time during their fleeting adolescence.
This time, Matt clearly wanted to win. Matt was pounding on his little brother, not caring where the blows landed. He was repeating his mantra of “Whereisshe? Whereisshe?” His voice grew more and more hysterical with each repetition. Cade covered up as best he could, but he was taking a lot of punishment. He heard his wife screaming from the balcony and then run inside. He knew she was heading to him, to help him, to save him. He wanted to scream, “Stay inside!” but he had no breath.
He’s going to kill me, Cade thought. My brother’s going to beat me to death, and then go after Liss, and I’ll never know why. He thought he heard sirens off in the distance, but he couldn’t be sure. He focused on the only thing he could: keeping Matt busy for as long as possible. He took several brutal blows to his face, and he knew it just wouldn’t be long enough.
Then, a shattering of glass, and a terrifying growl. He had forgotten all about Loki, but Loki had forgotten nothing. It had only been about thirty seconds since Matt had first broken the picture window, and Loki had been working his way through it. He launched himself, all sixty pounds of him, at his master’s attacker with a fury Cade always wondered about, but never thought he’d actually see. He tore into whatever he could grab, and Matt moved off Cade.
Good boy, he thought as he fought unconsciousness. That’s my good boy. Liss burst out of the house, carrying the aluminum baseball bat that he stored under the bed for, well, for something like this, he guessed. Matt threw Loki off and moved for her, but the dog was back on him instantly. She swung, catching him square in the chest; he staggered a bit from the blow, a dog was shredding his leg, and still he moved for her.
Stubbornly clinging to life, Cade struggled to his feet. They didn’t abandon me…least I can do...
Liss swung again, but he moved in and punched her in the jaw, driving her backwards. She collapsed, out cold. Matt grabbed the bat, and the look in his eye was both vacant and homicidal at once. Cade could do nothing but stumble to Liss and cover her up with his battered body. He saw that his brother had raised the bat for the killing stroke.
Two shots rang out in quick succession. They weren’t police-issue handguns. He wasn’t positive, but it sounded suspiciously like his neighbor’s rifle, the reports echoing in his head as he slipped into darkness.
To be continued…