Dilly and Boz, page 19
Slipping his old chassis back into gear, he completed his journey to the kitchen, flicked his antique Philco radio in pea-green Lucite to the oldies station and was met with the sound of Herman’s Hermits crooning about not going out into the rain because you just might melt. Sugar. Considering the weather outside, and except for the sugar part, how apropos was that? Hard to believe the lead singer, Peter Noone, was doddering around in his seventies now. Jeez, it seemed like only yesterday he was just a gangly kid with a cute Mancunian accent singing on Ed Sullivan and making the teenyboppers, boys and girls alike, cream in their underwear.
Grinning at the memories, Puffer prepped the Mr. Coffee machine with good old Folgers. No snootyass cappuccino for him. He parked himself at the kitchen table to wait for the coffee to brew. While he did that, he stared through the window and watched the rain. He interrupted himself long enough to reach over and turn down the radio so the music wouldn’t wake Estelle.
A secretive little smile twisted Puffer’s lips as he thought about the night behind him. For two people with a combined age of close to 160, he had to admit he and Estelle could still rattle a few bed springs. It might not be the loveliest thing in the world to watch, but he wasn’t planning to set a camcorder at the foot of the bed and fire their shenanigans up for the masses on YouTube after all. The only people he and Estelle had to please were themselves. And they seemed to be doing that just fine.
Puffer pulled a tiny box out of his pajama pocket and flipped open the lid. The wedding ring inside, platinum with a half-carat diamond and two small rubies at either side, sparkled gaily under the kitchen lights. Puffer turned it first this way, then that, watching the play of fireworks twinkle off the tiny object.
Today was the big day. He took a moment to wonder if the rain was a bad omen but quickly pushed all doubts aside. Screw it. Estelle wasn’t apt to get another wedding proposal anytime soon, so he seriously doubted she would turn him down, even if Puffer Moran wasn’t exactly the spitting image of Brad Pitt.
His attention drifted to a good-sized baggie of marijuana propped against the salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen table like a condiment. Would the proposal come easier if he were well and properly stoned when he delivered it, or should he attempt it straight, without the benefit of inebriates.
He gazed back at the ring nestled neatly in the tiny box.
At that moment, a clap of thunder made him tear his gaze from the ring and shift his attention to the kitchen window. The face he saw there in the rain staring back at him made Puffer’s heart flutter up into his throat like a startled pigeon. He gave a start and clambered awkwardly to his feet. The ring spilled out of the box and clattered across the kitchen floor. He had just enough time to watch it roll under the refrigerator before a second crack of thunder—this one a whole lot closer—made him peel his gaze back to the window. This time he saw nothing but rain. The face was gone.
That didn’t mean he hadn’t recognized the ugly puss the first time. It was the fucker who popped him in the nose back at the record shop. Dilly’s boyfriend’s ex. Otherwise known—at least in Puffer’s eyes—as the deranged, jealous asshole with the bigass fists.
He took time to give his honker a gentle squeeze in sympathetic remembrance before he tossed the ring box onto the kitchen counter and bustled off toward the back-porch door.
The rain was pouring down, but Puffer didn’t care. He stepped through the door in his ratty pajamas and five seconds later was drenched to the bone. Still barefoot, he stepped onto the sodden grass and stormed off to circle the house, looking for the creep at the window.
The next thing he knew, a hand came groping out of the mist, snagged him by the shoulder, and spun him around. Before he could bellow a single word of protest, a fist the size of a Honey Baked Ham caught him square in the gut, driving every speck of air from his lungs. His skinny six-foot-eight-inch frame folded up like a pocketknife. He toppled forward, his face hitting the rain-soaked grass and sliding about a foot and a half before it stopped moving.
Thinking about it later, Puffer figured he blacked out for a minute after that. But when he did wake up, he felt the weight of a bull elephant squatted across his chest.
He squinted up into the rain and glared at the face smiling down at him.
“Where’d they go?” the asshole demanded. “Tell me where the cabin is.”
Over the asshole’s right shoulder, a streak of lightning sliced across the rainy dawn sky. After that, if anything the rain started coming down even harder.
“Bite me,” Puffer snarled.
Lying soaked in the wet grass, the growing downpour smacking him in the face, he gave a shiver, and promptly blacked out again.
SINCE THE old man had left the back door open when he came charging outside, Bobby made quick use of it by dragging the ancient fucker back into the house before the neighbors could see what was going on. Dumping him on the kitchen floor, he stood there listening to a Mr. Coffee machine bubbling on the counter and some sort of old-time rock and roll crap bebopping on a pea-green plastic radio that might have been parachuted in from the middle of the last century. Jesus, how old was this guy?
Bobby shook the rainwater off himself and stared down at the wet geezer at his feet. The man was so long and skinny, he looked like some sort of weirdass stick man lying there. He remembered him, of course, from before, when Bobby’d popped him in the nose at the record store. Maybe this time he shouldn’t have punched him quite so hard. If he scrambled the old fart’s brains by socking him in the puss, it would take even longer to find out where Boz and his little boyfriend had gone.
He nudged the still body with his muddy shoe and was rewarded with a grunt. Thank God. The old fart was still alive.
Bobby grabbed a kitchen towel off a rack by the sink and wiped down his face and hands and hair. He pulled up a kitchen chair like he owned the place, plopped his ass in it, then casually shook out enough white powder to keep him going a while longer. He tapped it into a perfect line on the kitchen table and sucked it up his nose without further ado. His body shuddered, and as soon as the meth hit his inflamed sinus passages, he doubled over and damn near puked. It took him a minute of gasping and retching before he managed to keep the drugs down. He suspected what he really needed was food, since he couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten. But he didn’t have time for that now. If he was still alive when he finished doing what he had to do, maybe he’d eat then. Eat and then sleep for a year and a half, because frankly, he was fucking exhausted.
He ran a fingertip over the residue of meth on the table and rubbed it over his gums, hoping for a little added boost. Something down in the recesses of his mind had been nagging at him. Something about Angel, the little Guatemalan trick. Bobby tried to remember back. Tried to pinpoint what it was his brain was trying to tell him.
Then it all came flooding back, and he knew. He knew what he had almost forgotten. Angel’s death. The fire. The sirens in the distance. Every detail came stampeding back in. Jeez, how could he forget murdering somebody? Maybe he should cut down on the drugs, huh? Take up needlepoint?
That last thought struck him as so funny, he sat there at the old geezer’s kitchen table and laughed out loud. But the laughter didn’t last long. He began to wonder if the police were out there in the rain somewhere, hot on his trail, closing in. Had they started piecing things together? Had Angel’s roommates told them about the big guy Angel was seeing? The big guy he was fucking? The big guy who had finally done what Angel’s roommates had always warned Angel he would do one day?
Bobby’s gaze was drawn to the gray sky outside pelting rain. After the cops got through with him, was this miserable wet dawn destined to be the last one he would ever see? Was he experiencing right now the last hours of freedom he would ever know?
Bobby’s laughter died, and cold determination took him. He nudged the old guy with his foot again, and this time the man’s eyelids fluttered open. He gawked up at Bobby si
The old man had a little trail of blood dribbling down from his beak of a nose. His attention flickered to the kitchen doorway, and for the first time Bobby wondered if there was anyone else in the house.
Bobby started to rise and go look when the geezer spoke. “What do you want? What the hell are you doing here?” There was no fear in his voice, just an awakening annoyance. Like he couldn’t believe Bobby Mayfield had interrupted his morning coffee.
Bobby grabbed a fistful of the old man’s T-shirt and hoisted him off the floor as if he didn’t weigh anything. Dumping him in one of the kitchen chairs, Bobby reclaimed his own chair and sat across from him. He stuck a foot in the old guy’s crotch to make sure he stayed in place.
“Everybody calls you Puffer, right?” Bobby asked. “So where’d they go, Puffer? Where’s the cabin?”
Puffer raised a liver-spotted hand and wiped a rivulet of blood off his upper lip, smearing it across his cheek in the process. He sat there trying to look stoic, but he didn’t quite carry it off because the fear showed in his eyes. Bobby could see it.
When the old man said nothing, Bobby dug his size thirteen clodhopper into the old guy’s crotch, and that animated his features considerably, don’t think it didn’t.
“Why do you want to know?” Puffer howled, squirming under the grinding foot that Bobby figured would start turning his balls into jelly if he applied a wee bit more pressure.
Apparently, Puffer agreed. “Stop it!” he cried, flopping around on the chair like a fish out of water. “I’ll tell you. Just stop!”
Bobby lifted his foot from the old guy’s nuts. They sat staring at each other for a minute. Bobby sucked up some meth-laden snot, relishing it like a connoisseur, and the old guy cradled his balls and tried not to sob like a baby. Watching him like it was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen, Bobby took the time to casually shake a cigarette from the pack in his pocket and light it up. He sighed like he was in heaven, then blew a cloud of smoke in the old man’s face, which the old fart tried to ignore.
When the silence lasted a little too long, Bobby leaned forward. “Tell me. Where have they gone? Where exactly is the cabin?”
Puffer managed to dredge up a weary smile and aim it in Bobby’s direction. “Fuck you,” he said.
Bobby had enough time to see the reflection of a moving figure sliding across the old guy’s corneas before a crash of pain slammed him in the back of the head and knocked him off his chair. He landed on his knees at the old fart’s feet. And since the old fart seemed to see an opportunity while Bobby was down there, he lifted one of his longass legs and kicked out with his muddy bare foot, catching Bobby square in the face with enough force to snap his head back.
Bobby rose up, bellowing like a bull. He whirled away from Puffer long enough to see who had attacked him from behind. To his surprise, he was confronted by an old skinny broad wearing a nubbined chenille bathrobe. She had bunny slippers on her feet, rollers in her hair, some sort of night cream slathered all over her face, and a wind-up alarm clock, which now sported a broken glass front, dangling from her scrawny hand.
At that moment, Bobby was pretty sure it was an alarm-clock-shaped lump rising on the back of his head.
Without thinking, he swung a roundhouse at the old broad’s head. In mid swing, at the very last nanosecond, he opened his fist to deliver a slap instead of a punch. Still, on contact, the old lady flew across the kitchen like rag doll. She landed in an unmoving heap with her head stuck under a chopping block table. A jar of uncooked spaghetti toppled over from the impact, and pasta cascaded down on top of her.
Bobby wondered vaguely if he’d killed her. Or ruined the spaghetti.
The old guy seemed to be wondering the same thing. About the broad, not the noodles. He flew across the room and dropped to the old woman’s side. He gently brushed the spaghetti off her face, and laid his cheek to hers, murmuring her name.
“Estelle. Are you all right? Estelle?”
The old lady was lying as still as a rock. A new rush of fear twisted Puffer’s face. He turned with a furious glare, staring at Bobby standing over him.
Bobby registered the fear and fury in Puffer’s eyes, and he used those emotions to get what he wanted.
“Tell me where the cabin is,” he calmly stated, “or I’ll make sure the old lady never wakes up again. Then for dessert, I’ll kill you too.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Puffer hissed.
Bobby rubbed the bump on the back of his head. “Try me.” Puffer, still cradling the limp old lady in his scrawny arms, considered his options. He could see the old guy trying to ferret a way out of his predicament, but he wasn’t having much luck, as Bobby damn well knew he wouldn’t.
He took a threatening step toward the old lady, and Puffer clutched her tighter, more protectively, in his arms. The old guy looked beaten all of a sudden, and Bobby knew he had won.
“Give me a piece of paper,” Puffer said while a lone tear erupted from his left eye and slithered down the side of his nose. “I’ll have to draw you a map.”
He pointed to a drawer under the kitchen counter, and Bobby yanked it open and extracted a tablet and a pen from the mess inside. He tossed the items at Puffer, who was still holding the old woman in his arms on the kitchen floor.
“If you lie to me, I’ll come back and kill you both.”
Puffer nodded, and with a trembling hand began to jot down notes. Bobby stared at the notepad as the old guy wrote. He saw highway numbers and freeway exits, listed in a row. With shaky penmanship, the old man drew a map with squiggly lines that showed the gravel road to take in the backcountry up by Julian, which Puffer had to explain because he had only tagged it with a capital J.
Puffer handed the notepad to Bobby, who studied it for a minute.
Satisfied, Bobby demanded, “On your feet. Leave the old broad where she lays.”
Bobby looked around, finally turning to Puffer for assistance. At the same moment, he spotted the old woman’s eyes on him as well. He apparently hadn’t killed her after all.
“If you want to live,” he said, “find me something to tie you both up with.” He flipped his cigarette butt into the sink, where it sputtered in the dishwater. He offered both the old man and the old woman a beaming smile. Magnanimous as hell. “I need time to do what I have to do before you go running to the cops.”
“You’re not going to kill us?” the woman asked, her eyes wide and frightened. He noticed for the first time that she wasn’t wearing teeth.
“Not today,” he said. He snapped his fingers at Puffer Moran. “Now go get the fucking rope.”
DILLY LISTENED to the clattering rain. It sounded like God was up there with a dump truck full of BBs, pouring it over the cabin’s tin roof. Leon was sprawled on a stuffed chair in the corner with his head under a pillow, and Grace had disappeared into a cabinet hours ago. Neither of them liked the racket any more than Dilly did. If it was this noisy every time it rained, it was small wonder Puffer didn’t reside here all the time. Even for a pothead like Puffer, no amount of marijuana would make this clamor bearable for long.
Boz sat across the dining table, his toes under Dilly’s pant cuff digging through the hair on Dilly’s shin. Both men were poring over the Sunday paper, which Boz had driven into town to fetch while Dilly conjured up some breakfast. Their bellies were full, the cabin still smelled deliciously of bacon and strawberry jam, and they had the newspaper spread out in front of them, going through the ads for apartments available for rent back in the city. This was only after they had passed the funnies back and forth, snickering especially over Pickles, which they both loved, and briefly checking out the headlines on the front page to see what sort of insanity was going on in Washington.
A fire roared in the fireplace, fending off the dampness from the storm. The cabin felt toasty warm, lit golden by a trio of kerosene lamps placed in strategic loca
He removed his glasses, wiped them clean on the tail of his shirt, then popped them back on. He reached out and plucked Boz’s cell phone from the mess of newspaper on the table in front of them.
“Nope,” Boz mumbled, clearly amused. “It still doesn’t work.”
Dilly checked anyway. Boz was right, of course. No signal. The phone refused to respond at all. He looked up and had to smile. Boz’s hair was sticking out in every direction, and his eyes were still puffy from either sleep or sex, both of which they had gotten a little too much of the night before. He pressed the camera button on the phone and took a snapshot. They both eyed the result and howled like lunatics at the startled expression on Boz’s face.
“I like being cut off,” Dilly pondered out loud as the laughter died away. He set aside the phone and trailed his eyes to the nearest window to watch the rain. “I like knowing we’re on our own up here.”
“At least until Puffer wants his cabin back.”
“And that’s not for two whole weeks. I like that we can’t see another house from where we are. Just trees and hills and at the moment a ton of rain. There’s a lot to be said for living off the grid. No phone or light bills. No salesmen pounding on the door. No emails hawking Viagra. No telemarketers hawking everything else.”
Boz grunted. “No internet porn. No Game of Thrones. No ice-cold beer.”
They shared a smile and went back to the want ads. Boz’s toes continued to massage Dilly’s shin. The rain continued to pummel the cabin roof, and the pets continued to bury their heads, clearly wishing they were back in the city, away from the noise.