Scot Sothern

by Horror Sleaze Trash on February 22, 2012

LOWLIFE: Rat Fink

Text & Photos by Scot Sothern

For five days a cold-blooded rain trampled Greater Los Angeles.  The locals were in a tizzy, stacking sandbags, like sopping diapers, around iffy foundations.  Hillside homes slipped and slid down the muck on the six o’clock news.  Heroes in helicopters fished drowning idiots up from the flooded LA river and freeways trundled forward at three miles an hour.  I loved the rain, the hipster patter on the pavement; windshield wipers smearing my technicolor view.  It was dramatic, like the quiet that follows gunshots, and romantic, like a kiss goodbye.

It was late and the liquor stores, at every corner, were gated for another three or four hours; bums curled into sleep like guard dogs in the doorways.  The storm had trickled to a drizzle.  The streets were silent; the low rumble of my Camaro, king of the jungle.  I was solitary, somewhere in the ruins, with nowhere to be, nothing to do, and a vampire thirst I needed to slake.  In the shadows, on the sidewalk, a working woman in tatterdemalion camouflage crawled up from a foxhole, like a battlefield ghost, and signaled me with a reticent smile.  Pulling to the curb, I tipped an imaginary hat, opened the passenger-side door, and she climbed in.  She was made of flesh and blood.  Her face was doughy and freckled, her eyes narcotized.  She wore a stocking cap from which spilled matted plaits of unwashed hair, and in the crook of her left arm, a faded, red rose tattoo, hypodermic thorns in the tangle of vines, red and abscessed.

She spoke through a carious yet winning smile.  “What’s your name?  Mine’s Rose.  I’m really glad you stopped for me.  I’m clean, so you don’t need to worry none.  I don’t got no syph or aids or nothin!  You’re not a cop are you?  Turn left here.  You got anything to smoke?  Turn right.  How much money you got to spend?  You got anything to smoke?  What’s your name?”

“I’m Scot.  Go through the ashtray, there might be a roach.  Welcome aboard.”

“Scot huh.  Scot Scot po pot.  Go left at the light.  I got a garage.  I live in it.  Hey, here’s a roach.  A good one.  Got a lighter?  Go that way.  You’re good lookin’, I don’t see guys look like you much.  What do you wanna do?  Turn right up here.  Go slow, we’re almost there.  You got a lighter in here?  It’s really a nice car.  How much you pay for a car like this?  Where’s a lighter?”

I handed Rose my silver Zippo. “I only have twenty bucks to spend and I want to take your picture.  Where we going up here?”

“Park behind that truck.”  Rose flambéed the joint, sucked smoke and studied the Zippo on which, enameled in black, white, and lavender, was a Big Daddy Roth Rat Fink.  She gave me a sidelong casing, and dropped the lighter into her pocket.

“Gee whiz, Rose, where’d the lighter go?”

She fished it out and gave it back to me along with a shrug and a grin.

I returned the grin and added a wink.  Pulling in behind the truck, I killed the ignition but left the lights on for a minute, scanning the neighborhood.  Capitalist bombs had dropped from the sky.  Old, once dignified four-square homes were slumped with shame.  Inebriated mailboxes, stuffed with wet trash-mail, tongues hanging out, unchecked until the third of the month.  The road was rutted and muddy.  I saw an old guy, faded grey and spectral.  He ran tippy-toe through marshy weeds from behind one dead oak to another.  He kind of freaked me out.

Rose was sucking roach remnants through her burning fingernails.

“Did you see that guy?”

She ate the ash and chewed the nail.  “What guy?  I din’t see no guy.”

“Over there, playing peekaboo.”

She put a friendly hand on my arm.  “Let’s go inside, Scot.  C’mon, isn’t nobody out here anywhere.”

“I want to know who that guy is.  Is he a friend of yours?”

Her smile went away. “He’s shit.  He’s nobody.  Don’t pay him no attention.”

“Is he going to be a problem?”

“He won’t do nothin’, c’mon, let’s go inside.”

A sheet of heat lightning delineated distant storm clouds like a monochrome newsreel of World War II.  The rumble of thunder was somewhere in the future, beyond my audible range.  I grabbed my backpack from under the seat and followed Rose up a skinny sidewalk, through a chicken-wire gate, to the back entrance of a ramshackle two-car garage.  Rose keyed the padlock, pushed open the door, and we stepped inside.  She pulled the chain of a bare bulb.  “Watch where you walk, it’s been rainin.”

The floor was muddied, puddled, and sloped.  The plank walls, pocked-marked and soft with rot.  Three shopping carts filled with plastic bags and castaway clothes; dead and wounded furniture; a large galvanized trash can filled with old TV Guides.  Nothing of current value, no one’s keepsakes, childhood books or toys, nothing lost, missed, or remembered fondly.

I found a semi-dry spot and set down my backpack.  The air was thick with mildew and sour with the taste of mold.  A low-hanging cobweb caressed my face with sticky, translucent, fingers.  I slapped it away, but not before a gaggle of make-believe mites ran into my hair and down my spine, making my skin itch like a nettle rash.  I shook myself like a wet dog, took a breath and lit a smoke.

“Here’s twenty bucks.  I want to take some pictures.”

Rose sat on a slim, stained and frayed, sleeping bag draped over an ancient mattress and springs.  Snuggled in the folds, next to Rose, a big fluffy black cat opened it’s eyes and yawned.

“Hey, kitty-cat, how’s it going?”

“That’s Big Mama Hoodoo.  Me an’ her is sisters from another life.  Can Big Mama Hoodoo be in the pictures too?  Want me to take off my clothes?”

“Yeah, yes, to both questions.  That’d be good.”

I checked the camera and flash settings while Rose undressed.  “You sure all you wanna do is take pictures?  I’m clean.  Do you like blonde girls?  I gotta frien’ that’s blonde and real pretty.  You could take her picture, she lives in the house here.  She’s clean too.  You’d like her; she’s real pretty.  You take pictures of pretty girls alla time, I’ll bet.  Good lookin guy like you.  We should go and meet my frien’ and you can take pictures of both of us.  You got any more money?  You wanna meet my frien’?”

“Maybe later.  Let’s go ahead and take some pictures now.”

Rose posed, on hands and knees, next to Big Mama Hoodoo, and pretended she was the cat’s sister, cocking her head and saying meow meow, while I clicked the shutter.  She was a natural, like a little kid playing dress-up.  She stood up and jumped up and down on the mattress flapping her arms.

I motor-drove my thumb and burned film.  “That’s good, that’s great, just a couple more, do that again, yeah that’s perfect.”  I shot to the thirty-sixth frame then wound it up and began packing my gear while Rose got dressed.

A sound, the sniff of a runny nose, drew my eye to a large hole booted in the bottom corner of the garage door.  The creepy guy I’d seen outside had his head in the hole and his eyes on me.  I jumped a foot and yelled, took three quick steps to the hole and kicked, but missed.  Gravel scattered as he ran away. “Jesus!  Who the fuck is that guy?  I thought you said he wasn’t gonna bother us.  What the fuck was he doing, peeking in at us?  I really don’t want to be dealing with that guy.”

Rose was pulling up her pants.  “He’s nobody.  He means nothin.  Forget him.  You wanna meet my frien’?  She’s real pretty.  She lives right here in the house.  C’mon Scot, you’ll like her.”

I had shot up the last of my film and so my rationalization for staying, hanging-out with Rose, and friend, was shot as well.  However, I had recently expanded my artistic ambitions: I was going to write a memoir of my sleazy adventures, with the ladies of ill repute, to go with the photographs.  Diane Arbus meets Charles Bukowski.  Therefore, I needed to put myself at risk to jazz up the story, titillate my future fans of both the book and the movie.  More importantly, the photo session with Rose hadn’t sparked my libido and my libido needed sparking.  I needed a hard belt of something dark, dangerous, sexual, and ill-advised, before heading to Gus’s place, where I would toss and turn, in my makeshift nest, and not get to sleep until it was time to get up again.  Maybe Rose’s friend would appease my addiction.  Maybe I’d get off, and get a story as well.  “Yeah, okey,” I told Rose. “Maybe I can hang out for a little while.  Let’s go meet your friend.”

We went from the garage to the house and around to a door with a boarded-up window, both shamefaced and misanthropic.  Rose knuckled a shave and a haircut while I kept watch for the creeper.  By now I had ascertained the old guy was probably not a physical threat; he was more afraid of me than I of him, but still, I didn’t want him sneaking up on me.

Rose and I shuffled and said nothing for thirty seconds or so before an anxious female voice squeezed through the keyhole, “Who is it?”

“It’s me, Rose.  I got a frien’ for you.”

Inside, the sound of a something heavy scraping across the floor.  The door opened a crack and a couple of shaded eyes took us in.

“Oh god, Rose, who is that with you?  Oh god.  I look like shit.  Oh god, oh god.  Is he okay, Rose?  Do you know what you’re doing?”

I donned a friendly face.  “Sure, I’m okay.  I’m a good guy.  I’m safe and sane.”

“Uh, alright, shit, come on in.”  She opened the door and backed away, veiling her face with her hands.  We walked into the kitchen and she ran into a bathroom.  I closed the door behind us.  Rose said, “Help me with this,” and began pushing an old weighty kitchen table up against the door.  “Bunch of niggers came in last week.  Knocked out the window.  Stephanie jus’ told ’em get the fuck out.  Din’t you, Stephanie?”

“Yeah,” Stephanie yelled from the bathroom.  “Yeah, Rose.  Who is this guy, Rose?  What’s he want?”

Rose herded me, like a blue-ribbon stud, to the half-opened bathroom door.  “He’s a photographer.  He’s my frien’ and he jus’ wants to meet you.  His name is Scot.”

Stephanie poked her head out to give me a quick once-over.  She said, “What do you want?”

“Companionship.”

“Are you serious?”

“Sort of.”

“Can you help us with some money?”

“Yeah, maybe, probably.”

“Oh god, I don’t know.  Okay, alright.  Go into the other room while I get ready, both of you.  I’ll be there in a minute.”

In the living room a cluster of three nicotine-hued bulbs hung from the ceiling by a single wire.  The walls were blotted yellow like urochrome stained underwear.  There was no furniture.  In the center of the room a plastic garbage can sat collecting drops from the leaky above.  Next to the garbage can, on the floor, sat a big ugly white guy.  We both tensed.  He growled and jumped to his feet.  His eyes were bleached-out blue, and flitting nervously.  He had a bulbous fetal-alcohol-syndrome forehead.  His aura needed fluffing.  Rose took my arm and pulled me forward, serving me up, “This is Clay, Scot.  He’s cool.  It’s alright, Clay.  This’s my frien’ Scot.  He’s jus’ here to see Stephanie.”

“Hey, how’s it goin, Clay?”

He sniffed around us to the kitchen, bristling like a bulldog. With a nasal bluegrass twang he muttered, “Ahs gonna talk to Stepney.”

Rose and I sat on the floor in front of a large overflowing orange ashtray, a People Magazine, a TV Guide, The National Enquirer, a Vogue Magazine.  Rose bummed a Kool King which I lit for her, clinking my Zippo open and shut.

Stephanie blew into the room like Autumn in the Ozarks, with Clay storming in on her heels.  She had fixed her hair, applied foundation, mascara, lipstick, and slipped into a clean white cotton dress and plain pumps.  Rose hadn’t lied, Stephanie was very pretty.  Very pretty.  I wanted to grab her and hold her and run away with her.  She looked more out-of-place than I did.  She sat next to me, Indian-style, and offered me her hand.  “I’m Stephanie.”

“Hi, again.  I’m Scot, pleased to meet you.”

Clay linked into the circle and spoke, gruffly, at me, “Why’r y’all here?”

It was easily deduced that Clay was low on intellect but it was just as clear that he could and would kick my ass without prior notice.  He reminded me of certain childhood friends, long since banished from my life.  “I don’t know why I’m here,” I told him.  “It just sort of happened.  Maybe I’m lonesome.  I guess I just want to hang out for a while before tomorrow starts everything all over again.”

“Whatta y’all want?”

Stephanie took my arm and admonished Clay, “You leave Scot alone.  He’s here to see me.  If you can’t be nice, you’ll have to leave.”

Clay lowered his eyes and snorted phlegm.

Rose said, “Scot’s my frien’, ain’t you, Scot?  Me and him took pictures, din’t we?  Scot gave me twenty dollars jus’ to take my picture, so’s I told ‘im I got this frien’ an she’s real pretty.  That’s you, Stephanie.  You’re the one that’s real pretty.  I’s right, huh, Scot?  Don’t you think she’s real pretty?”

Stephanie was the queen and absolute ruler of this little monarchy.  She said, “Shut up Rose.”

Rose shut up and scrunched hurt into her face.

Now Stephanie spoke directly to me, excluding the others.  “I like your shirt.  It’s sad, but it’s nice that you’re wearing it.”

I was dressed in my standard uniform, hooded zipper-front sweatshirt, tee shirt, jeans, boots.  A couple of months back the Tiananmen Square hullabaloo had gone down with the world watching.  The front of my tee shirt was silk-screened with the already iconic image of Tank Man, the idealistic young comrade standing up to the green, Red Army, tanks.  I told Stephanie yeah, thanks, I’m a commie pinko at heart but China is pretty fucked-up.  It seemed an odd subject considering the members of our little powwow.  I figured Stephanie wanted to show me she was aware of the world; that she was more like me than like her backwoods subordinates; Rose and Clay.  Point taken.

At the end of a very short pause, Rose butted back in, brought the subject back to something we could all relate to.  “You got anythin’ to smoke, Stephanie?”

“Shut up, Rose.  Don’t you know when to just shut up?”

Clay opened a fist and voilà, a milky-white ball of crack cocaine.  He smiled and said, “Ahs got this here.”

Stephanie said, “Jesus, Clay!”

Clay was clueless.  “Wa ah do, Stepney?”

“I got a pipe.”  Rose was back in the saddle.  “Lemme get the pipe.  There’s enough we can all have some.  I’ll get the pipe, okay, Stephanie?  Scot don’t mind, do you?  See, he don’t mind.  Lemme go get the pipe.”

“Sure, it’s alright by me,” I said.  “Go get the pipe.  I’m pro drugs.”

Rose crawled, on all fours, to the other room to fetch her paraphernalia.

Clay looked at the floor and said, “Y’all mad at me, Stepney?”

Stephanie reached a hand over to Clay and stroked his face.  “No, Clay, I’m not mad.  I just wish you would be more careful.”  Clay raised his head and smiled, his bad mood lifted high from her touch.  His bottom teeth were missing.  “Ah protect Stepney,” he informed me.  “Ah was by mahseff an Stepney helped me.  Ahs from Sant Louis.”

“St. Louis,” I said.  “I thought I heard a bit of Misery in your voice.”

Clay squirmed around on his butt like a dog with a dingleberry.  He was getting excited.  “Y’all know Sant Louis?”

“I’ve been there.  I’m from nearby.”

“Ah lived atta ribber at Pont Street.  Y’all know whare that is?”

“Yeah, maybe.  Sorta.  Is it down by the river?”

He held his knees and rocked.  “Ats it.  Ats it.  Down atta ribber.  Hey Stepney, Scot know’d whare ah lived at.”

Stephanie tended to keep her head turned, hiding her left profile, concealing waxy splatters of burn scars, like semen on clean sheets, starting an inch below her left ear, and disappearing down the back of her white cotton Peter Pan collar.  “That’s nice, Clay.  You need to settle down, now.”

Rose was back with a well-charred glass pipe, which she handed to Stephanie, who placed the drug on a picture of Arsenio Hall in a porkpie hat, on the cover of the TV Guide, and divvied it up with a fingernail.  She put the largest piece in the pipe and handed it to me.  I handed it back. “You go ahead.  I’ll spectate.”

She touched my arm, my leg.  “I’ll give you a shotgun.  You’ll like it.”

“Yeah, alright.”

I handed her my Rat Fink lighter, the ritual torch.  She spun the wheel and sparked the wick.  The coke melted and crackled into a thick rich smoke that smelled like exploded firecrackers and cotton candy.  Stephanie sucked the life from the rock and inhaled down to her toes.  Without exhaling she took in another.  This one she held in her mouth.  She put her free hand at the back of my neck and pulled our faces together.  She put her mouth on my mouth and blew narcotic smog into my system.  I took it in and held on to it and looked into her eyes.  My extremities went tingly.  My heart marched double-time and my head fragmented.  My balls and butthole vibrated and I got a boner.  Stephanie pulled away and we both exhaled dizzy whooshes of spent smoke.  My fingers were throwing sparks.  I said, “I’m Henry the Eighth I am, Henry the Eighth I am I am.

Stephanie put a hand on my cheek, kissed my other cheek and whispered into my ear, “If you have money we can get another rock.  Just me and you.”

“Huh?  Uh, I donno, maybe.”

Our private moment shattered when Rose jumped in with, “My turn my turn my turn.”  I had forgotten we weren’t alone, forgotten where I was and who I was.  Clay and Rose were waiting their turns at the pipe.  Stephanie handed the pipe and my lighter to Clay.

Clay looked at the lighter then at me and said, “At Fink!”

I said, “Yeah, Big Daddy Roth.”

He plucked up one of the remaining chunks of dope and started the process.  Rose objected.  “It’s aposed to be my turn, Stephanie.  Why’s Clay get a turn before me?  It was my idea.  I got the pipe, din’t I?  I brought you Scot, din’t I?  It’s not fair, I gotta sit here and wait while everybody else gets alla good parts.”

Stephanie said, “Shut up, Rose, or you’ll have to go wait outside.  I know you don’t want that.  Elmo’s out there and you know it.  I saw him when you came in.”

This got my attention.  “Elmo?”

Rose raised her volume.  “Don’t you tell him, Stephanie.  It don’t matter nothin.  C’mon, Stephanie, lemme have a turn at the pipe.  I brought you Scot, din’t I?”

“Elmo?  The peeping Tom?”

Stephanie turned to me. “Rose’s husband.  He was beating her up, so I put Clay on him.  Now he’s all weird.”

Drug residue exploded from Clay’s lungs and he giggled.  “Ah hit ‘im real good with muh club, huh, Stepney.  Hey Scot, y’all wanna see muh nigga-knocker?”

“Do I want to see your club?  Is that what you’re asking?”

“Uh-huh, wanna see?”

I said, “Maybe later.”  Or maybe I said, “Maybe later gator.”  The smile on my face was starting to hurt, and my words had reverb.

Clay palmed my lighter and handed Rose the pipe and a book of matches.  Rose lit up and sucked and held it in until she was red.  She exhaled blue smoke and held up her hands, making kitty claws with her fingers, saying “Meow meow, purrrrr.”

I couldn’t sit still and needed air.  “I can’t sit still.  I need air.”

Stephanie took my arm and whispered, “Let’s take a walk, Scot, just you and me.”

We arose like smoke and a thousand crystal gnats blinkered around my peripheral vision.  We were nearly out of the room when I made an about-face, retraced my steps, and knelt down next to Clay.  “Hey Buddy, you got my lighter?”  He took it from his pants pocket and gave it to me along with a gummy smile.

*

Stephanie and I walked together under a spooky moon.  The sidewalk was broken into chunks.  Curbs were flooded.  Yards were mud and weeds, rubble and ruin.  Everything organic was dead.

“When I was a little girl, I lived in Connecticut,” Stephanie told me.  “We used to play step on a crack, break your mother’s back.  Did you do that?”

“Not really.  We didn’t have cracks where I come from.  We just had holes.”

“You’re funny and I like you, Scot, but I don’t know what you want.  Why did you take pictures of Rose?  Are you making fun of her?  Are you making fun of all of us?”

“I don’t think so.  I don’t know.  Maybe sorta.  I like to take pictures and I can’t afford real models.  It’s just what I do.”

“Do you want to take pictures of me?”

“Yeah, but I’m out of film.”

“Do you want to sleep with me?  You can.  I want you to.  I’m not really a whore but I do need some money for coke.  Just a little bit.  My family had money.  I went to college for three years.  You went to college too, I can tell.”

“Actually, I was kind of a retard and higher education didn’t work out for me.  I answered a higher calling, you know; sex, drugs, rock and roll.  If I could do it all over again, I’d skip highschool as well, get a head start on the bohemian lifestyle thing.”

“You don’t like to be serious, do you?  Rose told you that I’m pretty.  Do you think that I am, Scot?  Be serious and honest.”

“Yeah, sure, I think you’re pretty.  I think you’re very pretty.  Prettier than I’m used to.”

“I have scars all over my back and part of my neck.”

“Yeah, I know.  Doesn’t make any difference when I look at you, but I expect it bothers you a lot.”

“A boyfriend in New York said I stole his stash.  I didn’t steal, Scot.  And I’m not addicted to anything.  I just want some, you know, just for tonight while you’re here.  I can stop tomorrow.  He threw a pan of hot bacon grease on me.  I never took his stash.  Do you believe me, Scot?  I never touched his stash.”

“I believe you.  And even if I didn’t, it doesn’t change anything.  The guy was an asshole.”

“I was in the hospital for a while.”  She touched me, cautiously at first, squeezing my left biceps, then hooking together our arms.  “Do you really think I’m pretty, even with the scars?”

“I think you’re beautiful, Stephanie.  I’m an idiot for not having more film.”

“You do?  Really?  Will you stay with me tonight Scot?  Do you want to sleep with me?”

“Yeah, I do.  But, I don’t know, I should probably go soon.”

We turned a corner.  Two doors up, a couple of kids sat on a curb, plunking rocks into puddles, breaking curfew.  Stephanie directed us toward them.

“Do you have twenty dollars?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.”

“Let me have it.  I’m going to get us a rock.”

“They’re selling drugs?  They should be selling Kool-Aid.”

“Their parents are watching us from the house.  Just be quiet and let me do the talking.”

“Yeah, alright.”

We approached the little guttersnipes with a smile.  They were black and skinny.  They both wore baggy clothes with big pockets.  The little one was eight or nine, about the same age as Dashiell.  The older boy I guessed at thirteen.  The side of his face bore a pinkish discoloration shaped like the map of Texas.  Both boys nodded at Stephanie and glowered at me.  The littler guy spit through his two front teeth at my boots.  The strand divided into four parts: three hit the street and one went down his chin.

I took out my wallet and gave Stephanie my last remaining twenty, the last of sixty dollars originally earmarked for child support.

The little guy spit again, this time he bulls-eyed my left toe.  I wiped my boot on the back of my right leg and gave the kid a grin and a wink applauding his spirit.

Big brother said, “Can’t take your money, Stephanie.  Don’t know your friend.  Look like motherfuckin police to me.”

“Well he’s not the police,” Stephanie called the boy by his name which I didn’t get.  “Get me a bag.  He’s with me and that’s all you need to know.  Take this twenty and go get me a bag and hurry up, I don’t like standing out here.”

Big brother looked at me for a while then he looked at Stephanie for a while, and mumbled something I didn’t get.  He gave the twenty to his little brother along with a push and the little guy ran through the front yard and disappeared into a two-story dump.  We waited without talking.  I lit a smoke and entertained myself by blowing smoke rings and poking my index finger through the holes.  A cool wet breeze was blowing, street lamps flickered.  I thought of clever things to say but kept them to myself.

A few minutes later the kid was back with the goods, which he gave to Stephanie.  “Next time don’t bring nobody else,” he spat,  “Mama said so.”

As we walked away I wondered about the future of America and I thought about Dashiell and I hoped he didn’t grow up to be like me.

We headed home, Stephanie’s left hand held my right in a soft young lover’s grip full of hope and sexual urgency.  In her right she squeezed a white knuckle grasp on the rock cocaine.  After a while she took my hand and spun herself under my arm like a smooth dance step.  She put her left hand on my neck, her breath on my face.  “You hurt, don’t you, Scot?”

“Huh?”

“When you don’t think anybody is looking you twist your neck.  You’ve got a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders and I think I can make it better.  I’ve got magic fingers.”

“That’d be nice, I guess, I mean, if you could.  Nobody ever noticed before.  It’s kind of weird.  Tell you the truth, right now, I’m kind of tight from smoking that speed.”

“I thought so, I can almost read your mind.  It’s like I already know you, Scot.  I already know you, and you already know me.  It’s fate that we came together like this.  You and I are different than everybody else and I think we belong together.  We could be good for each other.”

I couldn’t think of a reply so I kissed her on the lips, the way a hero kisses a virgin.  Her eyes were hazel and for a moment I thought she was going to cry.

“Let’s stop here for a little bit, Scot.  I don’t want to go back yet.  Let’s just talk.  Do you ever go dancing, do you like to dance?”

“Uh, do I ever go dancing?”

“Yeah, you know, to the clubs.  I used to go dancing all the time.  God, I love to dance.  That’d be really nice if you and I could go dancing sometime.  When I was in junior high I took ballroom dancing lessons at the country club; seems so strange now.  I was shy and skinny and the boys made fun at me because I was flat.”

“Me too, sort of.  I mean, nobody made fun of me because I was flat, but I took formal dance lessons.  My mother bred me for society and success.”

“Mine too.  If you don’t want to go dancing maybe we could go to a movie sometime.  I read a review in Vogue about a new Woody Allen movie that’s supposed to be good.”

Crimes and Misdemeanors, I ah, saw it the other night.  It was alright, had a good ending.”

“Oh.  Maybe we could see something else.  Sometime.  You know, together.”

“Yeah sure,” I lied.  “I’d like that.”

“I guess we should get moving,” Stephanie gave me a tug.  “I think I want to get high again.  You know?”

“Yeah, I do.”

Back to walking, rain clouds shrouded the moon, and windblown shadows animated weedy front lawns.  One of the shadows took human form.  It was Elmo.  He kept to the side and just ahead of us, bounding from one inadequate hiding place to the next.  I maintained a close watch.  The crack-cocaine concussion had finally stopped vibrating my braincase and my heartbeat was almost back to normal.

At the house the lights were all on and the door stood open.  Apparently the fear of weapon-wielding bill collectors had played out.

Clay sat on the floor in the living room, hunched over an opened can of Colt 45 malt liquor, holding it with both hands as though he was strangling a small animal.  Rose sat, with her arms lassoed around her knees, rocking on her butt, smiling like a happy baby.  “You get anythin’ to smoke?” she asked us.  “I could use a little sumpin to smoke.  I got that twenty dollars Scot gave me, Stephanie.  If you want, I can give you it for sumpin to smoke.”

“Yes, Rose, we got a bag and you can have some.  But you should give me the twenty for later.”

Rose dug through her pockets for the crumpled bill.

When Clay saw me he gleamed a prospector’s grin and shouted, “Hey Scot, Hey Scot, looket I got, looket I got!”  He set down his can of malt liquor and picked his club up from the floor.  He swung it around like a caveman felling a mate.

I waited until the club came down for a landing, walked over and knelt next to Clay.  “That’s a pretty cool club, Clay.  Can I see it?”

“Ah made it all, jus’ me by mah self.”  He handed me the club.

It was nice, for a club, carved from dark wood, lathed into a half baseball bat, shined with shellac.  “This is nice, Clay.  You made it all by yourself, huh?  That’s pretty impressive.”  I handed it back and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder.  “You got any more of those Colt 45’s?”

“Inna icebox.  Go head get you one.”

I thanked him and went in to the kitchen.  In the fridge, two cans of Colt 45 and a half a Reese’s peanut-butter cup sat alone.  No basic food groups, just like home.  I heard a sniffle at the open door and took a look.  It was Elmo.  I jumped a foot and yelped, as before.  Elmo had a haunted appearance that weirded me out; he was translucent, like Casper the friendly ghost.  He was holding the cat, Big Mama Hoodoo, curled and purring, in his arms.  “Hey Elmo, I don’t think you’re supposed to be in here.”

He froze, closed his eyes and played invisible.  He wore a stocking cap that was a twin to the one Rose wore.  I pretended I couldn’t see him and walked back to the other room.  I took two long drinks of cold brew.  It washed away the evil crack taste and massaged my speed-sore neck and shoulders.

Around the campfire all eyes were on the peace pipe which was prepped and ready to launch.  I sat on the floor and handed Stephanie my lighter.  She clinked it, cooked up the crack, and aromatized the room with the sharp gunpowder smell.  I increased my malt liquor intake.  Stephanie vacuumed smoke, and then, at the same moment, we all looked up.  Elmo, still believing in his invisibility, stood watching us from the doorway.  Big Mama Hoodoo had stopped purring.  Stephanie spoke softly, holding in smoke.  “Get him out of here, Clay.”

Clay was up and moving fast.  Elmo turned to run but didn’t get far before Clay began swinging his customized cudgel.  A glancing blow to the back of Elmo’s head sent a bloody divot of hair spinning through the air.  Elmo dropped Big Mama Hoodoo, who let out a yowl, which sounded like OUCH, and flew out of the room without touching the floor.

Rose jumped up and ran, after Elmo and Clay, through the kitchen and out the back door.  I left my can of Colt 45 and got up to follow.  Stephanie grabbed my hand and attempted to pull me back down to her.  She blew smoke up at my face.  I broke her grip and trailed the others outside.

Clay stood victorious, beatific, in the moonlight.  He held his club skyward, looked at me, and puffed with pride.  “Ah fucked Elmo up real good, huh, Scot?”

“Yeah buddy, you sure did.”

Elmo was flat on his back in the mud.  His eyes were open but unfocussed, his face bloody, and puffed up like rotten fruit.  His right arm was doing electric flip-flops.  Rose was on her knees at her husband’s side.

“Big ol’ Elmo, you was gonna take care of us.  We was gonna be high alla time.  I was gonna be your pussycat, meow meow meow, ‘member that?  You was aposed to keep us high alla time, member, Elmo?”

She went through his pockets, pulling out a handful of change and tattered green singles.  “You got some money, Elmo?!  Where’d you get all this money?  I could be gettin rock with this.  Whered alla this come from?”

Stephanie came out of the house and down the steps.  She wrapped her arms around my waist as though she might pick me up and carry me away.  “Let’s go back into the house, Scot.”

“What about Elmo?  He’s kind of fucked-up.  Maybe we should take him to a hospital.”

“Just forget about him, Scot.  Forget about all of them.  They’re nothing but trouble.  They’re not like us.  Let’s go back inside and get high and go to bed.  Just you and me, Scot. Together.”  She ran a hand up my inseam and kissed my three-day stubble.

I broke away, took out my keys and walked toward the car.  “I’m sorry, Stephanie, but I think I need to go now.”

“Please don’t leave me, Scot.  I don’t belong here.  I belong with you.  I’m not even supposed to be here.  I’m supposed to be someplace better, just like you are.”

I looked at Clay, Rose, and Elmo in the yard, then into Stephanie’s eyes.  They were glassy and wet.

“I’m sorry, I have to go, and I have to go now.”

I legged it to the car, climbed in and cranked the motor.  Stephanie walked back toward the house.  I had a sudden dawning, killed the engine, climbed back out and yelled to Stephanie.  “Hey, ah… Stephanie!”

She turned and straightened her shoulders.  “Yes, Scot.  What?”

“Do you have my lighter?”

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