Dilly and Boz, page 17
PUFFER MORAN watched Dilly sort through a box of battered LPs. The kid had a glassy look in his eyes like his mind was a million miles away. Puffer wasn’t surprised. Nothing like being in love to put the brain in hover mode. Not that he knew from first-hand experience, of course.
Although he had to admit, good old Estelle had been tossing out romantic feelers lately. Asking casually when Puffer intended to settle down. Asking if he liked doilies on his chair arms. Asking what he thought of mature people tying the knot.
On that one, Puffer had pointed out that if she was talking about the two of them, then “mature” was a bit of a misnomer. They weren’t mature. They were fucking ancient.
She had laughed, of course. Any mention of old age around Estelle was bound to bring forth a chuckle or two. Puffer was beginning to wonder if the woman owned a mirror, and if she did, did she ever look in it?
But for the moment, he pushed thoughts of Estelle aside, and tried to concentrate on Dilly instead. Dilly might be looking a wee bit glassy-eyed, but still he was humming a little tune while he worked. He was humming “At the Hop” by Danny and the Juniors. While Puffer was thrilled that Dilly was starting to savor some of the classic hits from the ’50s, it was like the kid was stone deaf to the fact that music was already blaring from the sound system, and at the moment it happened to be blasting “Volare” by Bobby Rydell, one of Puffer’s favorites. So the kid should show a little respect.
Then Puffer edged around to face Dilly head-on. When he did that, he saw such a mesmerized look in Dilly’s eyes that it made him suck in a dollop of air.
He reached out, and tapped Dilly’s shoulder. Dilly jumped about three feet straight up into the air, that’s how far gone he was in his own private thoughts.
“Puppy love,” Puffer commented wryly, at the same time looking fairly sympathetic.
Dilly blushed but tried not to look like he was blushing. “And your point is?”
Puffer chucked Dilly under the chin and started helping him sort through the albums.
“Your black eyes are fading,” Dilly said, clearly hoping to change the subject.
Puffer frowned. “Yeah, but my nose is still crooked.”
Dilly sighed, and said, “Let it go, boss. Let it go.”
Puffer grunted in agreement. “You’re right. We should be concentrating on other things.”
Dilly squinted, looking instantly suspicious. “What other things might those be?”
Puffer plucked a Buddy Holly 45 from Dilly’s arms, held it up to the light to check for scratches, and seeing none, hugged it happily to his chest. Only then did he answer Dilly’s question.
“Things like what you and Boz are going to do to celebrate moving in together.”
“Moving in together is celebration enough. We love each other. What more could we want?”
Puffer did a little toe shuffle, looking embarrassed. Still hugging Buddy Holly to his chest with one hand, he used the other to dig down deep into his trouser pocket where he pulled out a key fob with a single key attached to it.
Dilly stopped sorting through the box of records and asked point blank, “What’s that?”
Puffer grinned. “It’s a key.”
“I can see that. But what’s it a key to?”
“It’s my wedding gift to you and Boz.”
The word “wedding” made Dilly blush a brilliant crimson. “We’re not getting married. We’re just moving in together as soon as we find an apartment.”
“I know. But in the meantime, this can be a romantic getaway for the two of you. Sort of a prehoney honeymoon.” Puffer dangled the key tantalizingly in front of him. “This key unlocks the front door to my cabin.”
“You have a cabin?”
“Yes. And for the next two weeks, it’s yours.”
“But I have to work.”
“You’re on vacation.”
“But Boz has to work.”
“He’s on vacation too. I arranged it with Lorenzo and Carlotta. Lovely couple. Meatballs to die for. They think the world of Boz, you know. Wasn’t hard to talk them into giving him two weeks off with pay, just like I’m giving you.”
“You’re giving me two week off with pay?”
“Well, you don’t have to look so astounded. It’s not like I’m Scrooge to your Bob Cratchit, after all.”
Dilly gawked at the key, then lifted his chin and gawked at Puffer. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
Puffer filled in the silence. “You’re like the son I never wanted.”
“Lovely. My dad’s a pothead.”
Puffer almost smiled, then thought better of it. “Asshole.”
Dilly took another glance at the key still dangling in front of his face and without saying a word brushed the key aside and walked straight into Puffer’s arms. He buried his face in Puffer’s concave chest and mumbled a strangled thank-you, since he had a mouthful of Puffer’s shirtfront to contend with.
Puffer suddenly felt like he had a turnip stuck in his throat. He reluctantly draped a long skinny arm around Dilly and gave him an awkward pat on the back. When Dilly burrowed into his arms even deeper, Puffer patted a little harder, beginning to panic. The last thing he wanted to do was dribble tears in Dilly’s hair.
To Puffer’s never-ending horror and consternation, his thoughts immediately went to Estelle, and he heard himself ask, “What’s it like being in love? Give me a clue. What exactly are the symptoms? Fever? Nausea? Hemorrhoids? What?”
Dilly pulled back and gazed up into Puffer’s face. He had to squint around the crooked beak to do it, or so Puffer imagined. “Jesus, boss, it’s not like Ebola. Haven’t you ever been in love?”
“Well, there was one remarkable stash of marijuana I picked up back in the ’90s….”
Dilly groaned. “I mean in love with a person.”
Puffer was sorry he ever spoke. “Not that I know of. And I think if I had been, I would have noticed. Don’t you agree?”
“Well, normal people notice,” Dilly said around a broadening smile. Then he tilted his head to the side and studied Puffer a little closer. “It’s Estelle, isn’t it? She’s got her hooks into you, doesn’t she?”
Puffer was monumentally saddened when he heard himself admit the truth. “Hooks, toenails, logging chains, you name it.”
Dilly offered a sympathetic pout. “I like Estelle if that’s what you’re wondering.”
“Yeah,” Puffer acknowledged, nodding his head sagely as if finally coming to grips with the truth. “She’s a pisser, huh?”
Dilly’s smile finally got away from him. He walked back into Puffer’s arms, and this time Puffer accepted him there as if he belonged.
“Boz is a pisser too,” Dilly said. “Ain’t we lucky, the two of us?”
“Yeah, I guess we are,” Puffer morosely agreed, wondering what sort of kettle of fish he had admitted to landing himself in.
As an afterthought, he added, “Don’t burn down my cabin.”
Dilly snorted into Puffer’s chest. “We’ll try not to.”
ANGEL FELT a tooth crack with the first blow. He wailed in pain, only to wail again when he was hurled to the floor, where he hit so hard he tore the skin on both knees. Stunned, he stared down at himself, wondering where the blood had come from that he saw spattered across his chest. Fragments of enamel from the broken tooth, like grit, dusted his tongue. When air hit the exposed nerve endings, pain swelled inside his head. He tasted blood, and only then did he realize his lip was split wide open.
He was naked, as he always thought Bobby liked him. He had been about to drop to his knees to teasingly work Bobby’s zipper down and try to please the man he loved. But then the fist came out of nowhere.
“Don’t…,” he managed to sputter, causing a second spate of blood to spill across his chin. From there, warm droplets once again sprinkled his bare chest. He could feel them raining down, hot to the touch.
Not understanding what was happening,
Confused, he reached out, silently pleading for Bobby to stop. He opened his mouth to speak, to ask what it was he had done, but before he could form the words, before he could utter a single sound, the fist came out again. This time it struck so hard that Angel’s head crashed to the floor and bounced. He felt the broken tooth splinter further, and the exposed nerve sent Taser blasts of agony ripping through his skull. He emitted an agonized cry that ended with a mewling whimper as he hugged his face to the floor, squeezing his eyes shut so he wouldn’t have to see what was coming next.
From some distant corner of his mind where thick shadows lurked, Angel heard other fists banging on his bedroom door. The voices of his friends demanding to be let in. Demanding the fighting stop.
Bobby bellowed back at them, “Leave us alone!” The pounding quieted. Hushed voices broke out on the other side of the door. He turned his head toward the sound and with all the strength he could muster, whimpered, “Help,” once, but he knew they wouldn’t hear.
When he looked up at Bobby, still looming furiously over him, a wicked glint was burning in Bobby’s eyes, and it was then that Angel knew he was not going to survive this encounter.
A deep overbearing regret washed through Angel, as he watched all his hopes for a better life drift away. His hope of finding love with this cruel, beautiful man before him. His dream of living in this great country called America, which he had traveled so far and through such adversities, to reach. His dreams were lost now, and Angel knew it. In a brief moment of clarity, he recognized the unfairness. No one should have to die for the sin of falling in love.
He shuddered through one last terrified breath, waiting. And as he expected, the wait was not long.
When the kick came, when the work boot rushed forward, flying through the air like a fucking wrecking ball, Angel had no time to flinch. The steel toe caught him just below the chin, and with a crunch of bone and a snap of his head, Angel knew no more. The pain that had squeezed his vision into a tiny, black dot, now suddenly faded away altogether, blinking out like the twinkling of a star.
BOBBY STARED down at the bloodied body at his feet. An all-consuming fear began to rattle through him. Muted words screamed inside his head. Voiceless. Terrifying.
Look what you made me do. Look what you made me do!
Bobby’s strength left him so quickly, he almost collapsed. It was like the floor fell out from under him. Reaching to catch himself, he grabbed the headboard of the bed and slowly lowered himself onto the mattress. His eyes never once left Angel’s unmoving body. And reflected off that body, Bobby saw, as if through a fog, his own life, his own freedom, flittering away just as assuredly as Angel’s had. They would come—the police. They would come and arrest him. Strap his wrists to his waist, manacle his ankles together, and lead him around like a pet dog for the rest of his life. He would never get out of jail. Ever. His life, his gay life, would become a joke for the media, for the guys he worked with, for everybody he ever knew.
He pulled himself to his feet and cocked his head to the side. Standing stock-still he listened for what must have been a full minute. The house was as silent as a tomb. If Angel’s roommates were still around, they were being awfully quiet.
Before Bobby could gather enough strength to search for them—and God forbid confront them—he needed a hit. He didn’t think he had ever needed a hit as badly as he did at that very moment.
Dropping back onto the bed, he plucked the travel-size metal aspirin container he used to carry his drugs around and laid out his implements on the end table. The small baggie, the razor blade, the well-used fragment of plastic drinking straw, all the crap tweakers come to know and love. With trembling hands, he spilled a chunk of meth onto the tabletop and started tapping it with the blade of the razor, mincing it to dust. When it was as finely chopped as he could make it, he arranged it in a fat row with the razor blade, then dipped his head to snort it all up.
The old familiar burn reassured him. He blinked back tears and sat there on the edge of the bed while his strength began returning. He flexed his hands, and when pain drew his attention, he gazed down in wonder at his torn knuckles. His eyes left his hands and returned to the body in the corner.
Bobby felt no urge to know if Angel was still alive or not, although by the stillness of the body, he certainly doubted it. No, what concerned him more, was the stillness of the house.
He lifted his eyes to the door, once again craning his neck out to listen. Nothing. On legs that weren’t quite as wobbly now, he moved toward the door. When he got there, he pressed an ear to the wood to better hear what was going on in the rest of the house. Again nothing.
Twisting the lock on the bedroom door, he eased the damn thing open, cringing at the squeak of rusty hinges, and peered out into the hall. Somewhere in the distance, he heard soft music. Mexican music. It was coming from the beat-up old radio the tenants kept in the kitchen, always tuned to some beaner radio station in Tijuana.
Pulling the door closed behind him as he left the bedroom, he began his search. Every room, every closet. It took a good five minutes before he convinced himself he was really alone. The cowards had heard their roomie getting the crap beat out of him, and all they could figure out to do was run away. Typical.
Bobby stopped slouching. Striding now with purpose, he set about doing what he knew he had to do. He had to cover his tracks. He had to make sure nothing of himself—no prints, no DNA—were left behind. And most of all, he had to make Angel’s death look like nothing more than an accident.
Tricky. But not too tricky for Bobby Mayfield.
He stood in the kitchen doorway and surveyed the room, then stepped forward and yanked a plastic tablecloth off the ratty kitchen table, spilling a pile of dirty dishes onto the floor. He grabbed a dishcloth off a drawer handle, then had a better idea and started opening drawers. When he found the drawer containing all the other dish towels, he pulled out a handful. Moving to the stove, he lit a gas burner and held the towels and the tablecloth over the flame until they caught. Stepping quickly now, because the rags were hot in his hands, he stormed through the house, flinging the burning towels and the reeking, melting plastic tablecloth into corners and under furniture.
Hands empty, sucking at a burn on his index finger, Bobby waited in the doorway leading to the living room. In the distance, he could still hear Mexican music coming from the radio in the kitchen.
Only when the smoke and the heated air began to suck the oxygen from his lungs did Bobby move through the kitchen one last time. From there, he stepped through the back door onto a lawn with unmown weeds standing as high as his ass.
Hopping a back fence, he jogged along the alley behind the house until he came to the street at the end of the block. From there, he walked with singular purpose straight to where he’d parked his car. Just as he unlocked the door and slipped inside, he heard the first scream of “Fire!” off in the distance.
Looking back over the hedges and housetops, he spotted a plume of black smoke already rising into the heavens.
With a tight smile, Bobby slammed the car door shut and cranked up the engine. His smile faded as quickly as it came. He leaned sideways to stare at his reflection in the rearview mirror. Heaving a sigh, he tried to ignore the desperation he saw in the eyes staring back.
The desperation lasted all of five seconds before a sharp bark of laughter escaped his lips. Amid the laughter, a cruel light flared in his eyes.
He brushed a smear of white meth from the tip of his nose with an already-blistering finger. Fuck it. All is lost now anyway. Might as well settle a f
BOZ STOOD arm in arm with Dilly in front of the cabin. Together they breathed in the piney air of the high desert, not far from Julian, a touristy frontier town a little over fifty miles from downtown San Diego. Located near the center of San Diego County, Julian sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet, in a swath of woodlands that swelters in the summer and often as not lays buried under a pristine blanket of snow in the winter. Puffer’s cabin perched on a hillside, twenty miles on the other side of Julian, tucked in among a picturesque stand of ancient firs and oaks. Secluded and rustic, the cabin boasted flagstone walls and a tin roof to protect against forest fires, but very little else in the way of amenities. No electricity, no running water, and no electronic reception on any cellular device known to man, or so Puffer had warned them.
“Don’t bother packing your phone,” Puffer had told Boz. “Something about that mountaintop sucks the shit out of satellite signals.”
In the pinecone laden branches above their heads, Boz could make out the songs of a dozen breeds of birds, all happily caterwauling at the same time. The scent of pine lay heavy on the air and Boz sucked it in with delight. It had been a long time since he had been out of the city.
Grace and Leon, tucked inside pet carriers, meowed and whimpered in turn as they sniffed the unfamiliar odors of the mountaintop.
Boz turned to Dilly, a light of pure joy shimmering in his heart. Not that he could see it, of course, but he sure as heck knew it was there. “Well, here we are. Cut off from the world. Just you and me, the dog and the cat, all at each other’s mercies.”
“Goody,” Dilly murmured and swung around to engulf Boz in a hug. They stood like that for the longest time, listening to the birds, smelling the pine, treasuring the fact that they were finally alone. Away from the world. Away from everything.
Boz mulled over the possibilities. “Kerosene lamps. Wood fires in the fireplace. No refrigerator. No central air. No communication with the outside world. This should be interesting.”