BY DAVID FRASER
THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS
Grandma sleeps as she always does at midnight, waiting for the express. The bus depot tonight has a slime-green tint to it. We are mingled in the waiting room with other travelers, an assortment, some clutching desperately to cracked vinyl bags, others furtively nudging small cardboard boxes tied with twine closer to their knees, still others standing casually as if they'd lived their whole lives there beside the candy dispenser. I sit quiet now, not waking grandma, bundled into her dusty fox fur coat in July. She's always cold these days and keeps asking me to pick a bus that's going south. I have to dress her now and nurse her through each day. Today itís the mandatory scarf she likes, the black wool pants, her walking shoes wedged carefully onto the foot pedals of the wheelchair, the fur coat of course, I mentioned that, collar up and the linen gloves she started to always wear a while ago. I'm always careful to wrap her scarf over her head, along the sides and out across her forehead to shade the light from her face. She likes to be hidden in a dark cave of silence.
Over the intercom they call our bus. I've got both tickets and I wheel her up to the door not waking her. I carefully lift her up, her body sleeping like a frail bird in my arms, and I carry her to a seat near the back close to the toilet. I let the driver stow the wheelchair while I carry our one bag on to the bus. We travel light and together now. I like the carrying part. I get to hold her close and when I sit her down beside the window I prop her head up gently and pat her soft hair beneath her scarf. When she is awake she likes to watch the fields go by, to look into the dark windows of distant houses and wonder what the lives of those who live there have become. I wonder what our lives have become and feel tired thinking about it.
It's the boarding that's the hardest part for me, waiting for everyone else to get on, wondering what each person who passes by in the bright light is thinking. Once we're on the road and the lights are off, I can relax a little and know that grandma will stay sleeping until the morning. We've been doing this for a while, ever since grandma said, " Jake, you've got to get me out of here. The bitches are trying to kill me." But you know her journey started long before that day she got me involved. It started with the accident when grandpa drove the Buick right into the granite on the side of the road; crumpled the whole front-end, not to mention the ribs and knees of both of them. It took a couple of years for them to recover from that and being up north they didn't get out much. One thing led to another, and all sorts of strange ailments started to afflict them. Mom and dad were driving back and forth, back and forth, griping and arguing until finally they couldn't take it anymore. I know how they feel now.
Grandma has told me over and over again that it was the little things that did it. There were just too many of them in the house, too much of the living sediment collected over time in one spot, too much of memories encased in those things like relics encased in ash and lava.
We all went up there, the day they moved down to Toronto; mom and dad and me, forcing them to leave the granite of the shield, the forest and the last twenty years of friendships and associations. The movers were already there boxing and loading. Grandma sat in a plastic-thatched lawn chair in the driveway looking sternly like a security guard and grandpa wandered the backyard slashing at things with his cane. He decapitated a host of perennials before my father grabbed the cane amid a covering of trampled flower petals. The two of them were solitary shrubs waiting to be transplanted, dug up, roots cropped, limbs limp, and gasping for water and a return to their soil.
The tires of the bus change their hum. I look out to see the gray landscape emerging. I'm tired of mornings; tired of the tension, keeping it all taped up inside me. We are going to stop, the mandatory break where they force us off into the diner and lock up. They always let grandma stay on since she's too old, still sleeping and the wheelchair is too much of a bother for the driver. Despite the break from watching over her, I always get the shivers leaving her there locked up and alone on the bus, like it was her own private coffin to grow cold in.
In the early morning I like to order wheaten pancakes with a round scoop of butter and a pitcher of syrup. I sit alone on the short curve of the counter so I can see the action of the kitchen, watch the waitresses who are sometimes attractive enough to fantasize about and so if I feel like it I can make conversation across the diagonal to the long stretch of the counter.
" Say, son, is that your ma you're traveling with?"
I look up from a syrup-saturated pancake. The voice is two over from my elbow looking like a threadbare preacher, white collar, black vest and a tweed, goodwill suit jacket. Beside him is a frail woman of about forty in a faded blue dress that hangs on her shoulders with the weight of a lifetime of sorrows. I answer cautiously. I'd become suspicious over time when I get singled out for conversation.
" No, that lady is my grandmother, " I say.
" Where are you eventually headed?"
"Just south. When we find a place that feels right, we just stop for a while," I say.
" Isn't your grandmother a little too old to be traveling?" asked the frail woman in the pale blue dress.
I could see from her eyes that she is genuinely concerned and I want to pour out the whole story right then and there, but I say, " It is her idea; I just help her get to where she wants to go."
I thought back to the moving day. Grandma, like a statue rooted in the lawn chair, long after the moving van had pulled away, wouldn't talk. She just stared off into the bush. Grandpa, in the commotion of packing up everything from silver spoons to old notepads with last winter's scrawled messages, took off on us. I noticed him leaving but sat quietly and watched. He ambled across the park out back and into the bush, along the gravel road that curved down toward the lake. He disappeared like a sick animal searching for a place to die. When my parents finally noticed he was gone, I told them. My dad stayed with grandma in the driveway and mom and I went to bring him back.
When we found him, he was sitting on the edge of the lake on the rounded stones. He'd taken his shoes and socks off and was dipping his feet in the dark water. He was closed off and I could see that his environment was rapidly shrinking down to a small cage. For a moment he seemed at peace; for another a dark sadness leaned across his shoulder.
I see from the corner of my eye that the bus driver is getting up. That's the cue. I sip the last of the coffee and leave part of a pancake floating in its syrup. When I get on the bus and sit down again beside grandma, I notice that the preacher and the frail woman are beside me across the aisle. "That's why they noticed grandma," I thought. The next few hours would be difficult. They'd made contact and it was daylight. I lean over to grandma and whisper to her to keep sleeping for a while.
A hand shoots out at me from across the aisle.
" I'm Bill and this is Marsha. We're going to visit a sister parish to do some of the Lord's work there. On vacation, so it's a bit of a holiday from our place."
Marsha leans forward across Bill and says, " Isn't your grandma hot in that fur coat?"
There they are prying into our business. I can't help it if she needs a warm coat.
" She's kind of cold, " I say, and leave it at that trying to look out the window.
The tired part of me wants to tell the story.
" She must be hungry."
" In a minute, " I think, " they'll be asking if she needs to use the toilet." Some times she doesn't have to go but as soon as someone starts asking questions I need to get her up and to the toilet at the back of the bus. It's as if she wants to keep up appearances, be natural instead of sleeping like a piece of stone, or a limp bird perched up on her seat.
Part of me wants to fall asleep and ignore them both; another part like some demon trapped in a bag wants to tell them everything. I decide that today I am really tired and the demon can't be contained. I want to blurt it all out, but start cautiously. I start to tell them the story of the move down to Toronto.
"Sitting in that lawn chair she stopped talking. She was a woman you could never keep quiet, telling stories, asking questions, jumping from air born topic to topic like a bee among flowers. There was no sequencing, just zigzag buzz of monologue and dialogue. It was always electric and eclectic. To see her in silence in the sold, abandoned driveway didn't sit well with me but I wasn't making any of the decisions. When she wouldn't answer him, grandpa cracked his cane across the arms of the chair and the bones beneath her knees. She still didn't talk and I couldn't tell if the tears were caused by the immediate pain or by something deeper.
I drove their Buick south alone following grandpa and grandma and my mom and dad down the highway in dad's car. The bush and granite, the pine smell and the crisp blue sky leaked away in the rear view mirror."
I adjust grandma's scarf and fluff up the collar of her coat around her ears, changing her angle so she can see the scenery from the window. Her face is dark and hidden like she likes it now. I check her wrists and ankles carefully and dab her with some perfumed lotion that she likes to put on in the morning.
Marsha and Bill sit beside me in silence listening and watching me closely. The listening I don't mind, but the watching makes me nervous.
"The house in Toronto is small. Grandma insisted on a house, refusing to move to a low maintenance condo. She just had too much stuff and it all had to come down. She couldn't get her mind around parting with any of it."
I start to tell them about the piles of boxes in the new house and I sense that grandma wants me to tell them about the car. I lean over and she whispers to me in a soft voice, breathy and decayed.
"The Buick didn't stay in the driveway very long. One of my older cousins and his wife had their eyes on it from day one, since grandpa didn't drive it anymore, at least not through the jungle of traffic that would assault him in the city. Up north except for the main highway anyone who could turn a wheel and step on the brake could get by regardless of reflexes and vision. Grandpa had the vision but the reflexes were gone. The highway flustered him although I guess he never would have admitted it even if he'd gone blind. Well, Melinda and Greg borrowed the Buick to do some shopping and the car never came back as if borrowing were for a lifetime. I always hated Greg; as a kid, he'd come up into my room even when I wasn't there and play with my games, the hockey cards, and the classic comics and leave the room in a mess. I couldn't stand it when they visited; it was such a violation, my aunt's false smiles and salutations full of feigned concern, my uncle grunting and sleeping away the afternoon out of sheer boredom and Greg, the whirlwind tormentor, disrespectful of my property.
Grandma sat in rooms surrounded by boxes she wouldn't open and grandpa ranted and punched holes in the drywall raging on about his stolen car. But I knew there was more to it than that and often wondered why they hadn't stayed rooted to the forest and the Pre-Cambrian shield."
Grandma's head tilts toward me and I think I hear her ask me about the boxes. I whisper back that I think the boxes are still okay, even though its been a few months since we hit the road and I don't know what's happened with the boxes.
"Anyway it was the car that grandpa was worried bout, the stolen car, stolen by his own grandson, despicable. Well, Bill, he got it back and I admire him for that despite his rampages with the cane at the end of it all. He knew his rights; he knew social justice and damn it he had the guts to stand up for what he believed.
I can see him now, although it's a re-creation since I wasn't there and only heard about it as an undercurrent to the symphony of knives and forks on plates at dinner; shadow conversations, a disguised mosaic, each little piece needing deconstruction and analysis.
Grandpa took the bus down the west end of town, walked a few blocks to Greg and Melinda's rented flat, the upstairs of a house in High Park. The Buick was in the driveway. He hammered on the front door. No one answered. He stood out on the sidewalk staring up at the windows. Later in the hospital I heard him say that he saw the curtains moving. Maybe it was the wind from a side window that caused them to part so slightly. It set him off. Shards of storm-door glass rippled through the air. The wood of the main door compressed into itself with each blow of the cane, now a lethal weapon, an extension of inner turmoil, corrosive acidic frustration full of the sense of betrayal. The rectangle of double-glazed glass on the inner door shattered leaving loose jagged points along the trim. Cutting his right wrist and forearm. Grandpa opened the front door and was inside ascending the staircase to the apartment above. Melinda met him on the landing; Greg stood at the door. Grandpa's blood dripped like little red moons on the light grain of the hardwood stairs.
Greg said here and threw the keys over the banister to land at Grandpa's feet. He knew what grandpa had come for."
I look closely at Bill and Marsha caught within my story and wonder if grandma's perfume is too strong today. They seem pressed up together along the edge of the window not near the aisle hanging on my every word. I sniff her and smell the decay of too much make-up; too many air fresheners clipped to her hair and placed beneath her blouse. She smiles at me like she always does when I get close to her. I know I've done the right thing, getting her out of that hospital, freeing her spirit. They were going to kill her. She told me that when they had her trussed up in the straightjacket, legs strapped to the chrome bars of the bed.
" Grandpa pulled the Buick into the driveway. The asphalt was flawless, the green grass on the lawn cut evenly and trimmed, the sky was blue above neat orderly roofs and grandma sat in that same lawn chair in a forest of boxes, silent as stone beneath a northern lake. Grandpa closed the door of the Buick for the last time. Blood still ran down through his fingers as he gripped his cane and swung it over and over again, beating the shit out of one of the elements of an atrophied life. He smashed the headlights, the taillights, the side windows, and the engine and trunk hoods. He smashed and smashed until the cane collapsed into a fragmentary splinter, a wooden dagger to drive into the heart of his sorrow. He went for the front door, an oil of rage sliding over him and would have been in among the forest of boxes driving home the stake of his frustration if the police hadn't grabbed him. At that point he collapsed like a bag of rags, lost in the drain of his adrenaline. Grandma wouldn't talk. She didn't visit him in the hospital where they repaired the cuts and pulled out the shards of glass, where he lay as an alien washed up on a shore of antiseptic sheets and from where he never returned to the green grass, the black asphalt, the blue sky outlining orderly roofs. He either filled up with an evil tide or drained away like water on parched sand. He never returned to the forest, the granite and the lake he loved."
" What's your name, son?" asks Bill.
" Jake. I'm all she's got left."
Bill looks at me suspiciously and asks. " Don't you think she'd be better off at home?"
" Where's home, Bill?"
Bill looks at me and I can see a weird shadow of sadness creep across his eyes.
" Is home that hospital full of her demonic illusions of homicide, or the nursing home they'd picked out for her? She wouldn't eat. She wouldn't talk. She couldn't or wouldn't walk. We wheeled her into the funeral home, lifted her up gently so she could kiss his dead silent lips, lips that snarled at a world that he thought had betrayed him. I'm not going to let that happen to her. She'd gone into the hospital on orders to intravenously get her strength up before they were to rehabilitate her atrophied leg muscles. I knew she wasn't coming out and that day I visited her they'd trussed her up. They'd said she'd wandered off at night twice screaming in the lime-green corridors that the bitches were poisoning her; intravenous ripped from her arm, night shirt open and flapping her nakedness. Her eyes were soft and milky, tearful and pleading. ' Take me with you, Jake. Take me out of here. The bitches are trying to kill me.'
I paused at the enormity of the task. It wasn't just the effort of unbinding her, wrapping her up in dignity, lifting her from that antiseptic chrome-bed coffin into the wheelchair, escaping into the night air. It was the total rebellion against the status quo that gave me pause. This was a big step for a conservative adolescent, a sole responsibility. Escape? How does one or two escape still tied to possessions and relatives?"
" Hey, son, she ain't waking up, " says Bill.
I wonder what he really means. Marsha is pale and silent, watchful, as if sensing the air with the pores of her skin.
" She's always like this, " I say. " I think the rides are starting to bore her. I'd like to take her back to the boxes, start helping her to unpack, drive her to the mall for groceries, look in on her, read her a book before she goes to bed, hire gardeners to keep the grass cut and the flowers blooming, take her up to the lake and sit on the dock watching water boatmen skim across on the dark water. She used to call me 'Tupney', two pence, a small amount when I could only tug on her apron and ask for tea. I'd like to do all this instead of drifting, bus to bus at midnight."
" Hey, son, she ain't movin', " Bill says emphatically.
I know it's time now. Too many questions. The bus is slowing down. I turn to grandma and get real close to the silk scarf covering her ear. I whisper to her and she nods. I stand up, grab her beneath her knees and under her arms and lift her. The seat is damp from her perspiration. I think she must have been dreaming, reliving nightmares, running from room to room escaping the crashing sounds of the cane, or running through the park out through the woods and down to the lake. Yes, I've got to get her to the lake, sit her down on the dock, let her dribble her legs into the dark water, maybe let her float off in the coolness of the lake, be home again.
I carry her to the back watching a line of faces squinting up at me, faces like prunes, hands covering their mouths. I maneuver her through the swinging door of the washroom, clutching her close to me, feeling her body crackling and oozing in my arms. I smell the blend of aromas, the hand cream, the air fresheners pasted onto her skin, the smell of fluids weeping out of her. I wait, sitting her on the seat with the lid down. I check her ankles and pull a roll of duct tape from my pocket. I wrap her legs again sealing tighter the plastic wrap beneath her panty hose around her ankles. I do the same with her wrists and her neck beneath her collar and the layer of knotted scarf. I wait longer listening to the murmur of passengers. It's spooky. I feel the bus come to a stop and I sense the journey is really over now.
Carefully I start unknotting the scarf around grandma's neck. Its ends are dripping moisture and I can smell her sweetness on my hands. Her hands once patted my head as I tugged on her apron; those hands that gave me sweets, baked pies, held me as she kissed my lips with her apple-doll face. I remove the scarf and kiss her forehead. Her skin comes away on my lips; it crinkles. Tiny creatures burrow though small holes in her flesh, small bulges weep and crack and drip.
" Oh, grandma, I've got to get you home," I say.
The washroom door is ripped open behind me. Blue and red lights flash through the windows of the bus. Two uniformed officers stand there at the end of the aisle in front of me, covering their mouths. Just behind them, Bill and Marsha stand pale and speechless. I see them all as I turn. I hold my grandma like a precious child and say.
" I'm her 'tupney'; she needs some tea."
REST IN PEACE
As a child I had always protected myself and my stuff - my second-hand toys, my collection of classic comic books, the money I'd hidden in my dresser drawer. I knew all about the injustice of the victim and I steeled myself for personal revenge and its bitter-sweet satisfactions.
I carried the child into the man. I kept a cocoon of privacy around myself. I resisted lending friends my books for fear that they would not return them or they would reappear ragged and dog-eared. No one ever took the same care with my stuff as I did.
I was a fighter against injustice, wrongs against myself and wrongs against those less fortunate or able to defend themselves against bullies and bigots.
At the age of nine, dressed in strange clothes and clinging to a limy accent, I stepped from the ocean liner that brought me from England to North America. Within days of attending the local school I was rolling around in the dirt of the playground defending my honour and subsequently being labelled an incorrigible behaviour problem. I won most of my battles because of the sheer unbridled intensity of my fury. On those days I felt no pain and gave what I received until my opponent's spirit broke.
My mother never believed in my side of any story when the mothers of my protagonists phoned complaining about my brutality. I was left with the taste of distrust for the law and order of adult society. Quickly I learned to believe in the integrity of my own actions.
Spencer, along with his older brothers was a particularly aggressive opponent who would persecute me from a position of strength and then fall victim to my revenge when he was caught alone. On one occasion, the last Spencer incident actually, I found him on the cinder trail behind his home. I systematically dismantled his bicycle before his very eyes then punched him until he couldn't fight back again.
Although the phone call came later and I was reprimanded by my mother and shown the inside of my father's belt while lying naked over the steamer trunk in the basement, I had my justice served.
Two years later while in line to go for lunch in grade four, a boy behind me stuck a pin into the girl in front of me. Naturally I was blamed by the protesting victim and subsequently by the teacher who took the most expedient route to solving the issue. I received an after-school detention while the real criminal laughed in my face at the end of the day.
I plotted the revenge. The next day being Saturday afforded me the opportunity to systematically spend the entire day destroying an igloo that had taken them days to construct in the criminal's backyard while the family was away. I slashed and kicked and poked and ripped at the snow and ice until it was a heap of frozen chunks. Only as the sun sunk low at five in the afternoon did I leave satisfied that justice had been served.
I was a quiet introspective boy who never backed off even when confronted by adults. I had told the vice-principal of the school to get his greasy paws off me after an incident where a bunch of us were playing wall-ball and had been rudely asked to leave. I had been forcible when I'd questioned the rationale of the after-school hours enforcement by the vice-principal. It hadn't helped that the vice-principal had taken me across his knee one day for kicking a teacher and hitting her with a stick. My friends were shocked but equally full of admiration for my actions of standing up to the injustice of a tyrant.
At sixteen I'd punched it out with my father; tit for tat, one blow received, one blow given in return which resulted in the cessation of any other paternal physical violence.
As a young adult, if a store owner cheated me as old man Agnew had, I simply returned the favour in kind, destroying his store signs along the road, hitting him where it hurt, in the pocketbook, the wallet, the bank account. The seeds had been sown in all those years for my ultimate confrontation with injustice.
All my life I had been careful with my money and my possessions. I didn't inherently trust people because I knew that they would cheat and steal, use and abuse. So I was careful not to lend my stuff, not to advance my money for work not done or goods not received. I'd been burnt by cousins breaking my toys when they came to visit, by money stolen if I'd leave it lying around, by a young cute-looking female magazine subscription salesperson sweet talking me into five years of magazines that I had no interest in reading. I'd been burnt in little ways, all of which gnawed at me like a cancer eroding the present enjoyment of my life.
But still I worked hard as a writer and a critic, married a beautiful woman, Susan, the daughter of a fairly wealthy financier, created with Susan two charming well-behaved children upon whom I lavished luxuries galore. I shared my stuff, my wealth with them and we all lived quite adequately on my money and Susan monthly dividends, that is until Spyder Lamm entered our world.
Spyder Lamm owned Lamm Construction and Excavation specializing in building outdoor cedar decks and raising cottages, just north of the city in the lake district. With the children growing I felt we needed extra space in our summer home, so I scouted around for signs in the area advertising construction specialists. I came across Lamm Construction and jotted down the number on a scrap of paper from the glove-box of my jeep. I later called the number and left a message on his answering machine. It took sometime to finally connect but one day he arrived at the summer home to discuss the details. What a talker he was and both of us were impressed by his enthusiasm. He took down the details for raising the cottage and said he'd get the permit and start when we were off on our California trip that summer.
However, one night back in the city, before we left for our trip, he called Susan to ask for two thousand dollars as a deposit for materials, to be held in trust so he could get started. When I came home my gut reaction was to flatly say no. My stomach intuitively churned with discomfort. But Susan on the phone had given her word and he was on his way down from the country to pick up the cheque. I capitulated, got a receipt and rationalized that we were finally getting the renovation underway.
On our return from California we visited the cottage to find nothing changed. We called and called and received no response. We visited the permit office and found that no applications for permits had been submitted and no permits issued.
After further unsuccessful attempts to connect with Spyder Lamm, I decided to find out where he lived and then camp out one night in my jeep and wait for him. I tracked him down through his current girlfriend who worked in the beauty salon in town. He was living with her at the time in an apartment attached to a residential home. So one night I sat alone in my jeep, two houses up the road from the designated house. I waited so long that evening that I fell asleep and was awakened at one-thirty in the morning when his truck pulled into the driveway. Before he could get into the apartment I confronted him beneath the glare of the amber street light; demanded that he either start the project or return my money. He lied to me, telling me that the permit was being processed. I knew then that he was a thief and that my money was probably already spent. I pushed up towards him and confronted his lies, where upon he grew angry, taking the offensive. He was much larger than I and ten years my junior. I knew I was no match, one on one and my citizenship and my sense of self-preservation told me I'd be out of line if I went into attack mode as I would have done in my younger years. We argued and he told me he wouldn't be bothered doing the job now anyway since I'd hassled him and he told me to get lost with two other one syllable words.
I returned to Susan depressed but determined not to let this issue lie dormant. I set about to fight this injustice through the legal system. I went to the police who knew him well, asked to have him arrested for theft, but on hearing my story they said that it was a civil matter. A civil matter! As a further step, I contacted my lawyer and we proceeded to cut our way through the costly red tape of the small claims court. I was successful after six months of processing in getting a claim for two thousand four hundred dollars laid against him. However in the process I discovered I was only one of a cast of hundreds, some with considerably larger claims than mine, who were waiting to be repaid.
Being optimistic I felt I'd for once in my life followed the correct civilized channels rather than resorting to revenge and violence, and was reasonably satisfied that in time the civil law would ensure the repayment of these funds. How wrong I was.
About three months later I was surprised to receive a cheque for seven dollars and fifty-nine cents, the first pro-rated payment from the court garnisheeing his wages. I was jubilant for only a short while because in the following month Spyder Lamm quit his job and declared bankruptcy. The hard fought small claims decision was now worthless, and Spyder Lamm had effectively stolen my money that over a lifetime could earn interest and accumulate into a substantially larger real loss.
After being so easily thwarted I wanted revenge; I wanted what Montressor in Poe's short story wanted - to punish with impunity. But I was much too intelligent for that trap. I knew that the modern-day odds were against me so I decided I'd write a story as a cathartic process and in doing so weave the tale to arrive at some semblance of justice.
The story ate away like a hungry maggot in my brain. A few years passed with the plot incubating in my skull. Then finally one year Susan decided to take the children, now teenagers, off to the west coast for the summer. I said that I was locked into commitments and stayed back. Once she had left the maggot grew more voracious and the embryonic plot started growing inside me. But I needed verisimilitude, truth, research to bring the catharsis into action.
Over time Spyder Lamm had inherited his father's farm and lived there now even though he was too lazy to work it. He rented the acreage to surrounding farmers, citizens who could work and make a living from honest sweat and determined struggle.
On paper I would punish him and get away with murder, but I needed details, descriptions, sensations and feelings of the place where I would exact my revenge.
With Susan and the kids safely packed off, I designed my visits to Spyder Lamm's farmhouse. Phase one involved the photographs using my telephoto zoom; frontal shots taken from the jeep window at dusk and after dawn. Then later I parked on the concession road and entered the bush lot on the far side of the farmhouse. I crept to the perimeter of the woods and with a tele-extender to my 210 mm doubled the magnification of the shot. Becoming more daring I circled the place, moving like a commando across the fields, getting closer and closer, bringing more and more detail in through the lens. I developed the rolls in my make-shift darkroom in the bathroom at the city home, blowing up the shots into eight by ten glossies. The film was fast and not too grainy. With the collage of photos I started creating the words, weaving the story together. But external shots, passive surveillance were not good enough; I needed closer more involved elements of detail, I needed passion, anxiety, even fear blended into the narrative of revenge.
Phase two was a series of excursions deep into the heart of enemy territory. There were two barns on the property, one designed for sheltering the animals, pigs and cows belonging to a neighbour, the other for machinery, tools and spare parts. Each had a traditional loft; each over time had succumbed to the weathering and shrinkage of the boards, creating cracks and splits that allowed light to streak in from the outside. I observed from the loft above the barn housing the rusting pieces of machinery. It was the closest to the house where I could determined the precise comings and goings of the occupant and his visitors.
With a backpack of provisions I spent a week in the barn watching and recording every movement on film and in my notebook . Spyder Lamm technically lived alone but he had many visitors, young people in their twenties, decidedly unlikely farm people sporting leather, studded pants and jackets with insignias of death on their backs, riding motorcycles or driving Jeep JY's. They never came as a group but as individuals often late in the afternoon or late at night just before the lights went out. On the weekend and once during the week, a Wednesday, a young female came and stayed all night. I took a lot of pictures of her as she was so beautiful in a bizarre sort of way. She wore a black laced body suit from her toes to her neck, covered with a very short black skirt and a studded red leather jacket with the collar turned up to meet her short cropped blonde hair, styled more male than female. Her facial features reminded me of Susan, not Hollywood glamorous, but cute and petit.
After the week's vigil I decided to become more daring. Spyder, like clockwork was out of the house by ten in the morning and was always gone until at least three in the afternoon. No one ever visited during that time so I felt safe getting closer and coming out into the open. I was anxious to see the interior to confirm my assumptions about where the rooms were placed. I knew the upper bedroom well since on the weekend and on the Wednesday I'd watched the shadows of the two copulating figures, Spyder and the blonde move together and apart in their sexual rituals that my mind had filled in with erotic details. I must have been missing Susan more than I thought because the mental images of their coupling aroused me and threatened to sidetrack me from the real intent of this operation.
I circled the building and arrived on the veranda at the side door which I had expected would be locked. It wasn't and I was grateful for the past traditions of trust still harboured by farm people. Spyder Lamm wasn't exactly farm people in my mind but I guessed that he felt he had nothing to fear or lose. I took my time moving from room to room; the large kitchen, the smaller living room and dining room, upstairs to the three small bedrooms - two neatly kept and probably preserved since the death of his father, the other a battleground of strewn clothes, socks and foul smelling underwear. A sweet exotic odour ,though, of past adventures with the blonde gripped my nostrils and attempted to deter me from my research. I mapped the place mentally measuring the distances from room to room, from each piece of furniture to the next so that I could move silently at will even without light. You see I quickly realized that the daytime explorations although perfect for gathering data, didn't hold me in the passionate grip of terror that I needed to feel if I were to accurately narrate my revenge.
The next day shortly after Spyder's truck had pulled out of the driveway, I entered the house again. This time I closed my eyes and keeping them closed moved about the house silently navigating from room to room without bumping into the furniture. I ascended the stairs and crept on all fours into Spyder's bedroom imagining him lying on the bed sleeping, vulnerable as I inched closer and closer to within touching distance. The feelings of terror and anxiety were real and palpable.
However despite all the intrigue and planning to bring me to this point in my research I hadn't really thought about the more grisly details, the actual method for my fictional revenge. Here I was in my self-created darkness lying on the pine floor boards of the villain's bedroom without a plan from which to proceed. Could I leave it up to chance to find a weapon, to find a method of overpowering a man younger and stronger. Poe had used Fortunato's own arrogance, his drunkenness to lure him into the chains hanging on the wall of the inner chamber in the catacombs. I didn't have chains or a means to get Spyder drunk and I needed a plausible way to subdue him so my readers would find this tale believable.
I went down to the kitchen looking for weapons. A cleaver and a butcher's knife were hanging beside the stove. I kept them in mind. Then I went back to the barn to search for other found objects. I'd read enough murder thrillers to know that a killer needed to use untraceable objects. Homicide technology and forensic science could weave miracles in unearthing evidence. Even the slightest literal thread of evidence could be enough to trace an act of murder back to its perpetrator.
I rummaged through the machinery barn and found many possibilities that I could interject into the plot as it developed: a rusty pitchfork, a five foot pry bar likely used to dislodge boulders from the fields before back hoes made life simpler, an axe handle, a jagged-edged pruning claw that was designed to fit onto a long pole, and something more modern, a self-propelling, heavy-duty snowblower. In my imagination I had Spyder impaled, slashed, bludgeoned and finally processed into hamburger, bones and all.
The next day was Wednesday; the blonde would be coming over in the early afternoon. The thought of her tight body squeezed into her clothing made my balls ache with anticipation. I decided to raise the level of suspense for my self by entering the house before she arrived. Then I'd be there all alone with her before he arrived and before I would play out the drama of my story. I entered with three weapons, the axe handle, the pitchfork and the pruning claw and carried them up to the spare bedroom like a player in the game of clue. I left two weapons propped up against the wall and took the axe handle with me into the master bedroom, setting up camp behind a row of silk dresses and blouses behind the louvred- doors of the closet where I could see through the slats down onto the double bed. The plan was perfect. I'd watch them making love, enjoy the voyeur experience while gathering authentic details and then I'd sneak out into the darkness long after nightfall when they were both asleep. Of course in the narrative I'd exact my revenge. I'd slip out from the closet and smack them both unconscious with the axe handle, then tie them to the bed each in separate rooms, tape their mouths and eyes and wait for them to gain consciousness. At first I would torment him by getting it on with his blonde, describing for him from the next room each intimate detail, each kiss, each flick of my tongue, each thrust into her openings. And then I'd whisper into his ear, so she couldn't hear me from the other bedroom. I'd tell him who I was and why he was lying there and what I wanted. Then systematically I'd take the pieces of flesh from his body until all the principal and all the interest had been repaid. He'd justly understand what bankruptcy really meant.
With the closet prepared, I waited just back from the window where the light couldn't reveal my image from the road. I watched for blondie's long legs to emerge from her Chevette once it came off the country road onto the gravel of the driveway. She arrived at two bouncing a small red ball of a purse from her right hip as those lovely legs trotted forward causing her hips to sway and bring the aching back into my loins.
When her head disappeared below the window and I could hear the high-heels on the wooden veranda, I slipped into the closet to begin my vigil. I listened to the trotting across the pine floors from the hall to the kitchen, running water, a refrigerator door, ice dropping into glasses, liquid flowing, a sip and a sigh followed by the sound of shoes scattering and then softer feet padding up the stairs.
I heard the jiggling of ice and the rustling of her clothing as she entered the bedroom. She came into view and set two amber-coloured drinks down on each end table. I watched horizontal slices of her at different levels as I adjusted my eyes to peer through the different heights of the louvred slats. She held a greater fascination now in the closeness of the room. I smelled her; the aromas of roasting almonds and flowers pungent without names. There was a slice of petal-soft skin across her cheek, a slice of her loose-fitting black sweater that concealed such delightful items of my imagination.
She propped herself up on the bed against the headboard, took a sip and released a sigh.
"C'mon Denny, hurry up," she said impatiently.
Who the fuck was Denny I asked myself. She was Spyder's bimbette? She wriggled around on the bed digging her heels into the mattress and then extending her legs. I saw a flash of something move through the air - her underpants. Then I heard her self-induced passion as she wriggled over the top of the duvet cover. I ached with the anguish of a fifteen year old with a back seat hard-on. I lowered my head slat by slat until I could see the humming vibration of her finger working diligently against her sex. This was too much. I wanted her as I'd wanted Kim Novak when I was thirteen. Then suddenly she stopped. I heard tire sounds on gravel and she sprang up toward the window.
"Oh, Denny, yes, Denny."
I heard the front door open.
"Dari, are you here? questioned Denny.
Who the fuck was Denny?
Denny was a black leather, studded pants, black leather insignia-sewn studded jacket - Ghost Vagrant - Marlon Brando - Wild Ones - leather-capped filterless fag stuck to a lower lip kind of guy. The parts of who he was fell out in slices, like clicks in a shutter as I watched Dari seduce him, all over him like a slurpy puppy, pulling herself up on him by pressing down on his shoulders as he leaned against the wall, riding her moist sex up and down over the buckle of his belt. I moved my eyes lower and higher like changing channels and in time she had him half-naked from the waist down urging him into a stiffer erection with her mouth. Dari removed her sweater so he could touch her breasts and still standing now together she manoeuvred him from the wall toward the bed. But he fell back against the louvred doors of my sanctuary and she pressed against him. The doors swung in buckling at the crease and they both tumbled to the floor in front of me. I held my breath, hidden behind the silk dresses, listening to the rapid tattoo beat of my heart and feeling my own sex growing hard.
They both giggled and Dari mounted Denny below me and I watched not in slices but in full screen technicolour confusion, lost and wanting to be there instead pinned beneath her. She moved and moved until they both climaxed, his arms stretched out with his hands groping in pleasurable agony for something to grip among the debris on the floor of the closet around my feet.
"Dari, you're dangerous."
"What Spyder doesn't know for now won't hurt him will it. Did you bring the money ?"
"It's in the bike panniers downstairs on the kitchen table, but I brought the jeep. He's only gonna have time to see it, not smell it or even touch it, babe."
They were still on the floor below me when Denny pulled out the gun and waved it in the air.
" Denny, don't you think that's a little bit extreme?"
"We're not talking chicken feed here, this'll be the big one and we're out of here with the cake and with the cash."
" They'll kill us; he'll kill us too if you don't do it first."
" Relax, I've got it figured. Just trust me. C'mon, get off me; he'll be here soon."
Who the fuck was Denny, and for that matter who were "they", and who was Dari who was still continuing to distract me, to come in here and screw up my plot. Poe didn't have any extraneous characters muddying up his revenge. He sent the servants packing to the carnival in such an underhanded way, knowing they'd desert the house and leave him alone to accomplish the deed. I could jump out of the closet now and slaughter both of them before Denny could get his gun out. Then "they" whoever they are would come for Spyder. That's what someone really devious and sinister would do, but I couldn't be sure and my readers wouldn't be sure that Spyder Lamm would be punished with impunity and would rest in peace at the end of the tale.
Part of me told myself that I now had all the data that I needed: I had a variety of endings, twists and turns toward the climax and that I should get the hell out of there, back to my car, back to the city, start writing the cathartic epic and wait for Susan and the kids to return from California so I could get on with my citizenship and our lives. But I'd been hiking through this territory soaking in the sunshine and the scenery and now either by design or by a slippage on the gravel of the ledge, I found myself clinging to the side of a rock wall; a cliffhanger unable to ascend to safety or descend with any sense of control.
They were both dressed now as Dari offered Denny his drink. They clinked their glasses together.
"To us," they said, kissed and walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Fortunately they closed the louvred door in their attempt to rearrange the bedroom to normality. I'd wait for Spyder, wait for their business transaction to conclude, wait if I had to until morning when I could leave unseen and disappear from the pages of this text that was filling up and consuming my soul.
I was snoozing in the closet with night-darkness all around me when I heard the loud voices downstairs.
Spyder's flinty voice ascended to my ears.
" You fucking bitch, you're in this with him. And you, you bastard."
Denny pleaded, letting his voice speed up with his increasing anxiety. " Spyder, let's be reasonable; take the fucking money, it's on the table, we're leaving with the stuff, no hard feelings. Spyder c'mon. You think we were really going to stiff you, we were joking, right Dari, come on, don't do this, Spyder, okay, take the shit and the money, we're outa here, right Dari, Spyder....."
The blast, twelve gauge, imagined at close range, thundered through the house. I smelt the fumes and heard Dari's scream rise to a crescendo in one long mournful note that metamorphosed into an hysterical screech that was cut off abruptly into a gravelled gurgle lasting for half a minute before the tap was finally twisted shut. I heard something heavy, soft and pliable crumple to the floor. Silence. This wasn't my story anymore. I was piss-ass scared and crazy for escape at any cost. To hell with the story; let it write itself.
I emerged from the closet holding the axe handle. I remembered the pitchfork and the pruning claw that I had stored in the other bedroom. I was a dark shadow fleeting across the upper landing to the other room when I heard Spyder's footfall on the lower step of the stairs. In the spare bedroom after grabbing the other weapons, I pressed myself into the darkest corner. Spyder's bulky body loomed in the doorway carrying Dari's body. He laid her on the bed not two feet from me without turning on the lights. He left and I could hear him in his bedroom cursing and throwing objects around.
I had to make my move now while he was occupied, dash down the stairs out the front door into the barn for my camera and backpack and then across the field to my car. That was the plan. But somewhere within the telling of the story, I'd lost control and become a part of it. Dari lying so peacefully on the bed, drew me. I kneeled down in the darkness, extended my had, felt the short soft hair and slid my palm past her tiny ear to the petal smooth right cheek. I leaned closer and kissed her neck below the jawline and slid my lips toward her mouth. Her cool lips moved involuntarily as I touched them with my tongue. She tasted and smelled so exquisite, so pure and erotically innocent in her limp silence. I'd missed my opportunity. Spyder was back; this time a black hulk of menacing confusion leaking light from his bedroom onto Dari and me.
"What the fuck are you doing here?" He moved toward me like a crazed bear. I grabbed the pitchfork and hurled it toward him. The forks caught him on the shoulder and glanced off to the side. It was enough to allow me to drive for the door swing the axe handle to give me clearance from his grasping hands. I rumbled down the stairs, my arches hitting only the corners of the runners as I descended, hearing Spyder behind me. Something diverted me to the light in the kitchen, away from the front door, darkness and salvation.
Across black and white checkered linoleum tile, a dark red pool of congealing blood was slowly spreading from the back of Denny's head. The main wall supporting the white wooden cupboards was a bizarre sculpture of scattered blood, imprinted human hair and lodged bone fragments. Denny's gun, stuffed between his jeans and his tailbone, bulged below his leather jacket. I grabbed it just as Spyder burst through the kitchen door opening levelling the shotgun in my direction. I held the gun at my side behind my leg and faced him. Spyder's face, now that he could see me in the light went through contortions of discovery, searching for a remembrance, confusing my face with associates of other lives, Denny's friends, his own dealings outside the law, inside jails and finally found me with a look of astonished surprise.
"What the fuck?" he exclaimed.
Punish with impunity I thought. I raised the gun, cocked it and fired. I heard the blast of Spyder's shot gun as pieces of the ceiling descended around my ears. He fell back against the cupboards and slid to the floor adding to the previous sculpture he had created.
"Requiescat in pace, " I said aloud standing over him. The story could have ended there, but not being experienced as a violent, vengeful man I couldn't be sure that I would indeed punish with impunity. Technological investigation could certainly undo me and somehow a single bullet in the brain seemed too easy for such a villain. Besides I still needed to gain control of the story. So I took the pruning tool and with a lot of effort sawed Spyder's hand from his wrist, Hammarabi style. I went upstairs to Dari and kissed her on the lips very passionately one more time. She was beautiful and with her arms around me I felt she really cared. I brought her down to the kitchen and laid them all together in a row. The snow blower barely made it through the front door and into the kitchen. With burlap feed sacks tied onto the blower funnel I removed the evidence and punished them with impunity. A little later I warmed myself in the animal barn as the empty sacks burned away in a metal pail while I watched the pigs eagerly feasting on the remains of my story.
No one ever found Spyder, Denny or Dari. I left the money on the kitchen table except for the two thousand and the estimated interest. I left the cocaine too. Spyder's hand, a little dried and wrinkled now, is in a very special place along with the manuscript and no one has disturbed their resting place for at least twenty years.
Mr. Tenzang sat serenely in his garden drinking clear tea from his favorite porcelain cup. The garden dripped moisture all around him and breathed rhythmically in unison with his soul. He had captured, tamed and cultivated a precious patch of paradise amid the dry choking, polluted desolate decay that surrounded his desert home, and he was determined that no one, no freak of natural circumstance, and no community ordinance or by-law would invade the tranquility of his symbiotic relationship.
The front door signal sent its pan-flute notes softly searching for him. Mr. Tenzang pushed the tiny button on his cellular hand monitor that lay beside him on the limestone bench beside the fountain. The distorted masked face of the water meter enforcement officer stared back at him from the tiny handheld screen. The fountain trickled naturally across huge slabs of sandstone creating a reverberation beneath the final underlying rock overhanging the aquatic garden pool. The sounds of water and wavering foliage combined like a symphony with the repeated bars of the pan flute.
For two months he had avoided responding to the door and specifically the water control enforcement authority. He had trashed all the e-mail without any replies and he had recycled the paper edicts that were stuffed through the mailbox. Today was another scorching 115 degrees and he wondered how the bloated-faced water cop could stand out on the searing pavement all day ringing doorbells, breathing in the noxious fumes of a dying mismanaged land. For two years now the terra-formed piece of paradise that comprised the community of Loca Verde had been fading into brown, bleaching itself out into pale yellow, and was in the process of waiting to die, staving off the inevitable like a rotting cancer patient. But Mr. Tenzang was above all that. He had priorities and didn't need too much in order to live. However one priority was crucial and that was water and it made all the difference, especially to the Loca Verde Water Control Authority, the LVWCA.
The pan flutes ceased and the garden continued with its own lyrical composition. Mr. Tenzang let out a deep-chested, inaudible sigh of relief. Two months of harassment was becoming more than he could bear even though in his rational moments he knew the LVWCA would come after him once they detected an oddity with his water consumption and an imbalance on their input/output monitors. After all he was forced into doing something since the edict was only going to allow him a few flushes a day, sponge bath water and a meager portion for drinking. He couldn't let them die, not after he had raised them all from babies at the micro-cellular level. He had invented them, nurtured them, catalytically enhanced their evolution and built their nursery, his garden, a world beyond and above the law.
Mr. Tenzang's house was your standard upper level subdivision home high up in the hills within the pricier range and no different from its neighboring houses except that the front of the home served as the facing barrier for privacy, and from its sides and back Mr. Tenzang had constructed a continuous ten foot stone wall enclosing the garden and effectively creating a bastion against intruders. He house he had inherited along with a substantial fortune from his mother. She had worked hard all her life, sometimes at three jobs, while creating other forms of income through entrepreneurial ventures. She had worked so hard that unlike Mr. Tenzang she had had no time to appreciate her environment, let alone create a pleasing one. Mr. Tenzang had inherited a brick building and a patch of parched domestic grass and with the other assets he'd felt secure enough to quit the biological research center and retire to create his own brand of paradise.
The gritty sound of small pebbles sandwiched between the sidewalk pavement beside the house and shoe leather interrupted the natural music surrounding him. He had purposely neglected to construct a gate into the garden so that the only entrance was through the house from the front door to the outside sliders at the back. He pictured in his mind the silence now, as the water cop stood still in shock at finding himself facing the formidable barrier of the stone wall.
Mr. Tenzang chuckled to himself and whispered to his babied. " You're safe, my little darlings."
A breeze blew a few of the ferns into a response and the variegated light shifted the reflections in the pond. Mr. Tenzang listened for the gritty scrape of frustrated retreating feet but he only perceived silence. Then he couldn't believe his ears. There was the sound of scrambling, hands on bare stone, clothing moving across coarse mortar, shoes scraping. He listened in shock, growing furious with each effort toward the invasion.
" How could this water cop have the audacity to invade my privacy, my home, my garden," he thought, growing frantic at the injustice of it. His father's ornamental curved sword hung in its scabbard above the mantle piece. Mr. Tenzang saw its image before his eyes as the first hand of the intruder came into view at the top of the wall.
" Don't come any further!" Mr. Tenzang found himself commanding as an alternative to the images of the sword in his hand.
A second hand and the beaked nose of the water cop appeared above the wall.
" Ah, so you are home, Mr. Tenzang. We've been trying to reach you for months. Problems with your meter, you know, water consumption and all that. Thought we'd just take a look for ourselves, seeing as you weren't ever home."
" Don't come any higher; you're trespassing on private property right now as it is," warned Mr. Tenzang.
" The Water Control Authority has the right to come in here and read your meter; it's the law."
" Law or not, come no further," commanded Mr. Tenzang, becoming visibly shaken by the arrogance of the man.
The water cop was up and over, down and in the midst of trampling the foliage beneath the wall before Mr. Tenzang could utter another breath. Wide-eyed in paralytic shock Mr. Tenzang stared at the crushed leaves and broken stems of many of his nurtured babies.
" Okay, Tenzang where is it?" The water cop had dropped the polite customer service tone, along with the 'Mr.' now that his feet were firmly planted inside the impregnable fortress that he and his comrades had laid siege to for the last two months.
"Where's what? Asked Mr. Tenzang, his mind racing toward a new strategy.
" The meter, you dumb shit!" All pretense of official register was gone from the water cop's address.
Mr. Tenzang stood with his feet firmly planted in an athletic stance, like a shortstop waiting for a line drive or a tennis player receiving the first serve. A sense of impatience hung in the air. The water cop squinted his eyes into narrow slits and surveyed the lush luxuriance of Mr. Tenzang's garden. He turned toward Mr. Tenzang, took two steps forward and brushed the older man aside like a cobweb across a doorway. He entered the house leaving Mr. Tenzang, a crumpled heap among his plants.
When he returned, he had read the meter and had a triumphant beaming smile.
" We've got ya, Tenzang. Violation of city ordinance, meter tampering. The meter reads zero, yet you've got lots of water. That's not allowed, Mr. Tenzang, and we can prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, which means, no water and foreclosure on this property."
The water cop was just bursting with exuberance. He could have been Elliot Ness finally closing the door on Big Al Capone.
Mr. Tenzang stood in the middle of the garden, hands behind his back saying nothing. An unusual calm had come over him, the calm of decisiveness. The water cop in full audacious arrogance approached him while pulling his cellular communicator from his belt.
" Central command; Roberts here; finally nabbed 4980.... aagh."
The last three digits of the identification number were truncated, as was his body. Mr. Tenzang let the sword that he had grabbed from the mantle while the water cop had been reading the meter, sweep through the air like a fern frond in the wind. The blade didn't hesitate as it swept across the neck, through skin, arteries and bone, sending the head slightly off-center on impact toppling to the ground among Mr. Tenzang's little babies. The body no longer officially arrogant and full of ego stood momentarily pumping its life out across the garden, before it collapsed in crumpled heap at Mr. Tenzang's feet.
Mr. Tenzang shook uncontrollably with the raw adrenaline rush of his actions. He was such a peaceful man and this atrocity of survival seemed so antithetical to his soul. He slumped down beside the headless body and wept. In fact he wept through the rest of the afternoon and into the long shadows of the evening.
When Mr. Tenzang returned to a rational moment, he noticed that the garden had changed. The plants he had created were designed to seize opportunities along their evolutionary path, in order to ensure survival under harsh conditions. Today had been a marker event for them. The roots, fibers, tendrils, fronds, shoots, stems, leaves and the blades of ornamental grasses had grown rapidly seeking the sustenance of the body and the severed head so that all that remained was a parasitic matrix of organic matter feeding itself on the remains of the corpse.
Mr. Tenzang shuttered and ran into the house like a man chased by a tiger. Once inside he locked the sliding patio doors, placed the bloodstained sword in its scabbard above the mantle piece and locked himself in his bedroom.
By morning Mr. Tenzang after a restless sleep awoke wondering if the events of the day before had been part of a bad dream. The garden awaited his inspection as he peered out from the safety on the inside of the sliding glass doors. The slider squawked open and the garden responded with a series of skittering sounds, a rustling of ground cover. Mr. Tenzang warily stepped across the patio stones toward the deeper foliage where the water cop's body had fallen. He parted the mass of leaves and tendrils that had grown up over the body parts. He stepped back quickly, his heart thumping, and his eyes wide in disbelief. The remains were almost totally consumed. Only thin threads of bone remained and the head was a dusty skull that had been carved and gnawed into cobwebs of attached bone like a crude Chinese ivory ball. Mr. Tenzang stepped back onto the patio and sat down on its stone steps to catch his breath. Slowly he began to chuckle hysterically.
" No need to bury anything," he thought. Mr. Tenzang waited quietly surveying his beautiful garden. He let all the gruesome events wash away from his mind and then finally got up, went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, returned with his favorite porcelain cup and sat down in his lawn chair near the fountain to enjoy another day. His garden had drunk from the all night sprinklers and the other things and now the air enclosed in the wall hung rich in cool pure oxygen. Mr. Tenzang breathed deeply and smiled at his creation, his peaceful piece of paradise. But peace was not going to be a part of Mr. Tenzang's day. The cycle started once again. The telephone started ringing in the kitchen. Mr. Tenzang let it plead with him to answer. It rang and stopped and rang again and again until in frustration it fell silent. Then the pan flutes started searching for him once again. Mr., Tenzang pressed the monitor button for the front door. The tiny screen in his palm showed the distorted faces of two Loca Verde water cops. Mr. Tenzang smiled.
" Can't take me down with one, head to head you up the ante and try to tag team me," he thought.
" Should I let them stand around, get frustrated, either go away or climb my wall or should I invite them into the parlor?" he asked speaking not only to himself but also to the garden. The garden rustled back at him, daring him to open the front door. Mr. Tenzang hesitated at the front door. The first had been emotional, full of raw provoked action; this would be deliberate and coldly calculated.
The door swung open.
"Yes," asked Mr. Tenzang.
"We've come to read the meter, Mr. Tenzang. Can we just step in for a few moments?" The taller of the Loca Verde water cops spoke officiously in an overly friendly tone. Mr. Tenzang was wary. Surely they'd know the other guy had been here yesterday and was missing.
"Sure, come on in; it's at the foot of the lower stairs on the left," he heard himself saying just as politely.
The taller water cop descended the stairs and his partner proceeded to move around the kitchen and the living room as if looking for clues. Mr. Tenzang thought he'd take a chance at establishing his story.
" I don't know why you're here today; one of your men was here yesterday to read the meter; Roberts, I think he said was his name. Nice fellow; took the reading and was on his way."
"Hey Bill, Mr. Tenzang says Roberts was here yesterday," the partner shouted down the basement stairs.
" Is that so. That's it. I think I've got all I need here."
Mr. Tenzang heard the footsteps ascending the basement stairs. He opened the slider and stepped out into the garden. He felt like a spider crawling carefully across his web. The partner followed him into the garden. Bill came up the stairs and he too stepped out onto the patio. Both men gasped in astonishment at the verdant beauty, the lush deep green hues, the water trickling into the water garden. They sniffed the air and physically felt its vitality surge through their bodies.
"So this is what it's all about, Mr. Tenzang. Water piracy while the rest of us are dying from the dry heat and the heavy air we can not breathe."
Mr. Tenzang stood close to the taller ferns where he'd stuck the sword into the ground before he'd initially opened the front door. He squinted his eyes together letting the filament of his eyelashes screen the sun into tiny wispy lines. He saw the two figures differently, not as men with jobs to do, and families to provide for, but as alien predators, advanced scouts chronicling details for a future invasion. The trailing tendrils of the garden foliage were watching too, moving slowly and in unison toward the two water cops.
" Mr. Tenzang, we've read the meter; we have the documented proof; I've phoned it in and as of right now this is all coming to an end, Your water has been cut off. Charges will be laid. Payments will be calculated. It's all over, Mr. Tenzang."
For Mr. Tenzang it seemed that he had stepped across the line into another world. The arc of the sword slid though the air, gleaming in the bright sunshine, slicing through the top of Bill's head. The cut was clean and forceful but the sweep slowed in its motion through the bone of the skull. The shorter partner stood stunned and immobile. The tendrils and vines of the garden rushed out toward him and wrapped him tightly around the ankles and waist. The second blow cut swiftly downward from his neck to his torso, felling him to the ground as a slab of severed meat. Mr. Tenzang stepped back wiping droplets of sprayed blood from his forehead. The garden turned wild and active with each one of his nurtured baby plants sending out fingers of foliage to partake in the feast that lay bleeding and dying on the soil.
Mr. Tenzang had saved his garden once again. He sat down in the chair beside the pond, after placing the sword among the ferns. The fountain gurgled and burbled and the garden sang sweet songs to him. After a time Mr. Tenzang retired feeling satiated and calm. The garden was still working in its consumption and he felt himself to be the good provider, the creator, and the god in harmony in his universe.
In the morning reality arrived. The toilet had only one flush, and there was no water flowing in the taps for brushing his teeth or making tea. They had cut him off. He rushed to the back sliders and could immediately tell that the sprinklers had not come on for the over night as they usually did. The garden looked a little hostile without its nightly dose of water. He felt he didn't need to inspect the bodies; he knew they would be consumed. The garden had taken control over the night, spreading out over the patio, climbing up the stone wall enclosure and the sides of the house. The pond was a mass of plants sucking up the available moisture. The paradise had disappeared and along with its transformation entered jungle darkness and fear. Mr. Tenzang was now afraid. He slid the kitchen window open a few inches and immediately the vegetation moved up the wall and onto the screen. One tendril pushed through like a fist and shot quickly into the air above the counter. Mr. Tenzang leaped back in shock, then impulsively sprang forward and slammed the sliding window across. The vine resisted then retracted back through the hole in the screen leaving its scraped outer skin hanging on the edges of the aluminum window frame. Mr. Tenzang leaned back against the refrigerator, energy draining from his body. His calm aloof composure now lay scattered before him.
The sound of breaking glass raised his heart rate and sent more adrenaline surging through his circulatory system.
"The basement window!" he thought. He rushed down the stairs, saw the water heater and the idea struck him just as the first of the vines made their way down the concrete block wall in the storage area. He slammed the door, enclosing them, and then searched about the utility room containing the water heater for the length of garden hose he'd used to water the yard with before the sprinkler system was installed. And there it was, wrapped around its coil on the wall. Quickly Mr. Tenzang wheeled the hose out and attached it to the outlet at the bottom of the water heater. He could hear the vines filling the storage room, slithering across the power-trowelled concrete floor, pushing up against the hinges of the door. He had containers in his lab along with a water cooler and a food cooler and he used these to decant the hot water from the heater. He hauled these up to the kitchen and closed the door on the basement. Without a lock he suspected it wouldn't hold, so Mr. Tenzang hammered three strips of two by four across the frame, top, middle and bottom. Then he filled the kettle, boiled the water and made a cup of tea which he proceeded to drink while sitting on a dining room chair in the middle of the kitchen floor surrounded by the water containers. He faced the front door of the house with his back to the writhing mass of vegetation that now blocked the light from entering the kitchen through the window and the sliding door.
Through many pots of tea Mr. Tenzang waited patiently in stoic silence, unaware of daylight or the closing in of night, unresponsive to the rising sun and the lengthening of the shadows.
Deputy Clemens of the Loca Verde Sheriff's Department rang the pan flutes at the front door. He was a young kid just out of high school. His uncle, the sheriff, stood behind him. Both were sweating beneath the state issue air-filtration masks. Behind them on the road four other officers leaned in combat position against two cruisers. Deputy Clemens continued to press the front door signal with no response. He looked over at his uncle who nodded and signaled with his hand back to the officers at the cruisers. The megaphone crackled.
"Mr. Tenzang, we know you are in there. You are under arrest. You cannot resist forever, so come on out peacefully."
They waited in the sweltering dry polluted heat, each wishing he could be back inside his climate-controlled environment. The megaphone boomed again on the sheriff's signal.
"You have five minutes, Mr. Tenzang; five minutes to come out and surrender yourself to us. Otherwise there will be no more alternatives; we'll be coming in. Believe me, Mr. Tenzang, you'll get hurt."
The house was silent for the duration of the five minutes. Deputy Clemens looked at his uncle. The sheriff signaled the four officers to proceed to the back to scale the wall. They moved quickly and furtively along the outside of the house. The sheriff aimed his shotgun at the lock of the front door but he didn't need to pull the trigger. The doorknob turned and the door swung inward. A rush of cool moist clean air pushed out around their ankles and rose up in front of them. The sheriff stepped into the hall and Deputy Clemens hung back at the door with his firearm drawn.
The house was dark as if all the windows had been boarded up or draped in heavy curtains. Down the hall toward the kitchen the sheriff could see a latticework of light penetrating through the rear sliders. Everywhere looked like a tangle of ropes and leaves. The air smelled of his childhood, playing in the fields beside the river that now existed as a buried pipe with only a trickle of water flowing through it. The sheriff watched the four officers descend and appear as huge black shapes against the latticework of light on the kitchen slider. Everything else in front of him was darkness and gray, silent shadows. He listened carefully, trying to sense Mr. Tenzang's breathing, a slight movement of a foot, or an odor of fear, but nothing happened. He signaled his nephew to remain guarding the door and then proceeded down the hall toward the Kitchen. Suddenly there was movement; the black shapes, his officers started moving irrationally. They were leaping in the air, moving from side to side with their arms and legs flailing about and then they were slamming themselves violently down onto the ground. The sheriff froze midway down the hall, suddenly aware that he wasn't totally alone and he wasn't thinking about Mr. Tenzang. The black shapes moved up and down, and across his line of vision like dark puppets. The latticework of vegetation disappeared to feast as the last of the puppets dropped to the ground. Light flooded the kitchen revealing Mr. Tenzang sitting patiently on a dining room chair. Behind him, the sliding doors were smashed and the garden was thriving everywhere. The basement door lay flat across the floor and the vines of the garden poured out through the opening. Mr. Tenzang's hand moved slowly as he raised his favorite porcelain cup full of the remnants of his water. All around him was his garden, dripping moisture and breathing with him rhythmically. Tendrils wrapped his limbs and rooted themselves into his flesh. Others curled in among his orifices searching for areas in which to symbiotically share his moisture and give him breath. He was captured, tamed and cultivated within his precious patch of paradise. Now fearful the sheriff backed slowly down the hall. He thought he saw a thin tranquil smile appear on Mr. Tenzang's lips when he lowered his porcelain cup, but he didn't wait too long to make sure as he pushed his nephew out the front and slammed the door.
" Four officers down and the water man gone," he thought.
" I'll let the troopers or the FBI torch this baby; I want to get home for supper." He looked back at the door as they walked to the cruiser and he could smell in his mind the sweet moist breaths of air from a childhood place for which he would always long.