practical definition of hell
some, high school never ends. We wake from nightmares of going back
for one more credit, finding it that much harder to realize we've
Our demons from those years cannot hurt us anymore
when subtracted from our own personal slant. But the ones
we depended upon the most never gave us the tools to dispel those
old ghosts. When you are young and think the world cannot hurt you,
the inertia of immovable walls can be terrible indeed.
Yet, after all, there comes a point when you have to take personal
responsibility. No matter what, the real world comes creeping in.
You adapt to it and overcome it ... or the ghosts have won. Some
people make the decision to make no decisions at all. And that impasse
may be the practical definition of hell.
Some of us never learn in time ...
atmosphere of Vets Field outside Reagan High on the afternoon of
May 25 was all chemical winds off new Astroturf and the slick boot-rally
feel of a tent revival on Sunday morning TV. The preacher at the
podium was robed in Robert Schuller blue, and there were plenty
of lights and cameras and fake ferns.
But this ceremony was secular and the preacher only 17.
Capped-and-gowned punk rockers in the back row were already falling
asleep, the rainbow of their Celtic haircuts whipping in the winds
that whipped the racing clouds and made Bible-epic beams tear through
from the unseasonably hot sun.
The clouds could have cared less about the purple, overreaching
speech going on below them. Their motions were so much faster and
yet more eternal than the rite of passage they witnessed in their
gorgeous spiral nimbus time-lapse.
There would be no rain on this parade of several hundred clueless
children on stilts listening to the last boring lecture through
which most of them would ever have to suffer. The heshers and shoppies,
hippies and heses all were waiting in shadowy desperation
for this numb shit to get done flapping his pecker-holster so they
could bomb out to Culver City for the big kegger.
"Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ..." Casey Fulmer's grin
was beatific. His blue eyes shone like lighthouses beneath the mortarboard
cocked at an angle over his tousled blond crewcut. "... once
said that the gods frown on ultimate happiness."
Casey's teeth were a whitened Tom Cruise miracle of orthodontia.
"Longfellow never went to Reagan."
The metered applause had begun like a '50s studio tape-loop at
the word "Reagan." It swelled and rolled through the visitors'
bleachers, and the well-fed young Billy Sunday basked in the glow
of his valedictory speech, blushing like the child he was. Casey
held up his hands like David Letterman, signalling the crowd to
"I've often heard people call high school 'the best years
of your life ...'" He absolutely had the floor, and boy did
he know it. "Lot of people my age would reply to that: 'Gee,
is that all we get?'
"But I disagree." Casey surveyed the crowd, looking like
he knew exactly what he saw. "Because it is in these years
that you see your path, you find your dream ... and then you sink
all your teeth into it and hold on."
One would almost be inclined to suppose that Casey believed what
he was saying.
"In high school, you only begin to find out what you're made
of. And if you don't seize that knowledge, it will plow you under."
His eyes searched them all ... and a few of those same punk rockers
in the back row looked at each other, thinking to themselves that
Golden Boy looked like he was reading from a teleprompter at gunpoint.
But that reaction was only elicited from the two or three truly
"High school is nothing but the darkness before real life."
And that scares memost of all, Casey thought, swallowing
hard but only using the thought to broaden his grin for the cameras.
"No matter what, these years stay with you forever."
He looked around.
"You all know what to do. I've said enough. Class of '99,
welcome to your dreams! Thank you, and good afternoon."
Casey's father leaned on a metal quad-cane as he got to his feet.
Bill Fulmer was the first one in camcorder row to lead the standing
knew the rest of his night's fate after he made his speech, took
his diploma from the principal ("Well done, son," a somewhat
puzzled Dr. Robinson was heard to say around the handshake) and
Graduation Night was when most kids got into trouble, Casey's folks
had reasoned. Casey had been allowed to have his fun at prom.
(Most of those back-row punk rockers had been firing paint balloons
from an inner tube slingshot rigged on a high hill overlooking the
casino at Paramount's Great America. The Class of '99 haut monde
had elected to have the Prom Afterglow at Great America, half of
them emerging from their rented limos flying on acid, pimps in their
Besides, Casey's mother, Deidre Fulmer, had all the aunts and uncles
in town for the big dinner. Deidre and the Mexican maids had been
orchestrating things for weeks.
Though Deidre tutted at the untouched Indian bread and curry
dip in the big Waterford tray on the coffee table, she was secretly
pleased. That would be her movie-watching leftovers later on that
weekend. No one but her ever liked it, anyway.
Deidre was always a film freak when Bill was having an MS exacerbation.
Lia the maid would see to his Betaseron injections; Deidre had learned
early on that Bill was such a baby about needles and all that, so
it was better to have someone around who could pretend to lose her
English when the abuse started to fly.
Bill worked himself to death, but there had come a point, around
Casey's sophomore year, when Deidre and Bill's marriage had become
a Nordstrom window-display. The second they had the kid safely ensconced
at UC-Berkeley, Deidre had planned, she would void their pre-nup
uncontested and move down to Marin Head with Ramon. Ramon liked
to take his catamaran out in the bay. Ramon worked for George Lucas.
Ramon was young and strong and never cried late at night. Ramon
never took his life out on his kids.
But all of that was not just then.
gathering began as an unqualified success. The aunts sat in the
parlor sipping Napa Valley merlot, talking about David Guterson
and Don DeLillo, while the uncles gathered on the porch over microbrews
and talked about golf and SUVs and How Big Is Your Computer Processor?
After about an hour of hearing last-minute dinner prep and walking
through the theatrical blocking of the interminable Family Fun ...
Casey found himself shaking in the upstairs bathroom, with one white
Banana Republican deck shoe propped against the door like a junkie
shooting up in a downtown pay-toilet, desperate for one second alone
For a long time in the recent past, since the last grind of finals,
Casey had been falling hard and fast in ways he had only
begun to realize by their immediate effect. His subconscious had
a way of scaring the shit out of him these past two months. And
he had no idea where to go, or who to ask for help.
But he had only begun to realize just how far out of whack his
head had gotten when he first heard, as the applause from his valedictory
speech began to die down, the desperate, pounding, seashell wind
... of utter silence.
Someone had been talking at him his whole life, in one form or
another. Casey had never heard this much silence before today. And
he had no idea how to take it all in.
The silence was a white haze of static in his ears, forcing his
perspective straight down a dark tunnel. The silence made it impossible
for him to hear all his relatives' glowing praise that day for his
3.99 grade-point average, and he had lettered in track, after all.
Well, maybe Coach Cooper wasn't such a bad sort ... All the relatives'
words twisted out and away like some kind of an echo-pedal plugged
into his brain, cranked up and up until the multi-tap effect was
swallowed in a hiss of white noise. And then the silence overcame
The silence rang in his head as his mouth made numb replies to
their flattery and the crackling freight of dead presidents in every
card he took with numb hands and thank-yous, his cheeks desensitized
to every pinch and his ears ringing louder every time he heard:
"That's my boy."
Casey had a card-pile going on a table in the dining room. But
he didn't think about that at all. Everything was a reflex, knowing
what he should do and yet utterly unable to "be there."
Casey felt that the silence might, over time, drive him entirely
After a long, interminable grayed-out moment splashing cold water
on his face by the bucketload and staring into the mirror ... the
bathroom door creaked open again.
And then Casey blinked, finding that he was sitting on top of the
stairs that led up from the front hall of his parents' old rambling
house in Pacific Heights, prime San Francisco real estate his dad
had carved from the flesh of his techie rivals.
Casey found that he was looking down at the beige deep-pile carpet
of the foyer from over the banister and straight down, his perspective
pulled back to his Aunt Judith sitting two steps below. Her legs
in black Capri pants were crossed at the ankles, as if she had been
talking for a while.
Judith looked worried in her own totally practical way. Her black-beaded
Carmen Marc Valvo jacket looked like Marion Zimmer Bradley chain-mail.
She held a small water glass of Tullamore Dew on the rocks in one
soft, windburned hand. She took slow sips.
There was a frightening wisdom in her hazel eyes, a distracted
cosmopolitan wisdom long since buried under slagheaps of other people's
"Your dad should have never had kids."
She had been ... talking. Casey became aware, like when a DJ shifts
speeds on a turntable, up to the reach of human range from sub-audible.
Casey forced himself back into the moment. Judith's eyes swam with
his reflection, anxious and concerned.
What she had been saying was shaming the place inside himself from
whence the silence seemed to swell. That worried him, especially
since he couldn't seem to get a fix on where he was since he had
left the podium.
But with that shame came a crystal of acknowledgement that he had
done nothing to bring about. Frankly, at the moment, it seemed like
he hadn't done much of anything.
Galaxies of swimming white specks and expanding purple spots washed
over Casey in the mother of all head-rushes. He was going to throw
up. He smelled Lysol and the formaldehyde they used to clean the
draperies. He looked down at his hand, and the hand looked as far
away as the Cone Nebula.
"I ... never thought about it like that before," Casey
managed in a strangled croak. He thought of all the lies that his
life had always been: his bottomless bank account, his black Beamer
convertible, all of it as empty and meaningless as wind in a seashell.
He heard the never-sleeping weathervane of his subconscious creak
out a small sob that sounded 12 years old. His eyes reflected the
skies out past them in the stairway skylight, racing skies out past
the yard and the west wall choked with ivy. Too little and too late.
"Why do you hold everything back?" Judith asked in her
soft, rasping voice. She climbed the stairs toward him.
"Is it OK not to?" Casey swallowed hard. "I feel
like I'm already dead."
Judith's eyes were full of a darkness he could not begin to understand
when she hugged him.
His eyes begged Judith to finish the sentence. "I never thought
about holding anything back, I guess I just ... dummied up, and
"Oh, kid." Judith looked at him sorrowfully. "You
act like your life is over. But, with the benefit of 54 years of
job experience at Life ..." She broke the hug, and chuckled
an endearing whisky-and-Marlboros chuckle. "Your envelope hasn't
even been opened yet."
It seemed, in that moment, that he could almost hear.
And then Deidre Fulmer poked her head of blond curls around the
doorway to the main hall.
"There you are," she said to Casey, grinning like a billboard.
"Everyone was asking after you."
She glanced at Judith. "Little bit of post-graduate advice?"
Judith sighed. The moment had been slain.
"More or less," she rasped. "I didn't mean to keep
"No!" Deidre beamed, crossing the carpet in her impossible
heels that wavered only slightly for this early in the evening.
"Not at all!"
Casey swallowed. What he felt in that moment was something like
doom. He was still a child in so many ways, and the umbilical cord
the dinner table, Judith looked back at Casey sorrowfully. That
was one of the only things he remembered, because his mom seemed
to be playing the geisha waitress, refilling his wine glass every
time Casey turned around. In Judith's sad gaze, he felt deep waters
closing over him. And in his 18-year-old mind, they were eternal.
"My son," Bill Fulmer was trying to stand up in his wheelchair,
"will carry on everything that Selvant Technologies represents.
I used to be a little worried ..." he snorted around his cigar
"... that I'd die without any kind of ... assurance ... in
that light, but ..."
Bill glanced down the table as if his son were on a very small
glass pedestal, ringing crystal that could shatter with one swing
of a blunt instrument but yet still holding, somehow. "I see
everything I wanted to be ... in him. And that's ..." he sighed.
"... that's all right. I didn't think I could get used to this
MS. But now I've made my peace."
The wine glass shattered in Casey's hand. It made two very tiny
cuts in his palm, no more, although all that good Cali cabernet
went hell to breakfast across the white Irish linen tablecloth in
front of his place at the table. Only a few people closest to him
brought Casey's supper up to him, glancing around the room and pulling
the door shut behind her.
"You ..." Rosalia had separated the "j" sound
from the "y" a long time ago, but in her excitement she
had forgotten high school. "Too much for you?"
Casey was facing the wall. He turned to her ... and the young chica
was forcibly reminded of her brother Opaldo, who had been beaten
senseless by the cops and turned loose, arriving back home a vegetable
fit barely for working on cars. That had been down in Mazatlan,
a world and a lifetime away. Yet, seeing it now, 'Lia wondered about
a lot of things.
She set the plate down on his old rolltop desk, looking behind
her, but only halfway.
"There it is, Ca-sey. I come back later on."
When 'Lia came back later, her charge was asleep. The meat had
been gnawed on, but not much else. She cleared away the plate and
the untouched glass of white grape juice. She wondered how Opaldo
was doing. Maybe tomorrow she would call her mom.
walked in one week later. The maids had brought the dishes up and
down. Casey had his own bathroom in there, a regular apartment fahcryinoutloud,
so why had he not ...
She took a deep breath, standing with her hand on the soft brass
knob. She would not lose it. There had to be some kind of rationale
for this, or she didn't know what was what.
When she opened the door to Casey's bedroom, the smell was old
sweat and soft desperation. On the other side of the room, her baby
boy was lying in bed and staring at the ceiling.
"It's been two weeks," Deidre began, crossing the room,
wanting to pick him up and take him in her arms. He looked pale,
like he hadn't slept at all in the time that he had remained in
this warm little womb. Her Southern grandmother would have said
that this room smelled like mare sweat, and Deidre wouldn't argue.
Night mare, she thought, and wrinkled her nose.
But she hid the reaction bravely, hiding under the professional
cover of whom she was in daylight, managing to croon: "Son.
I don't know what's bugging you. But no matter what it is, we'll
get through it. We alw ..."
Her son rolled over in bed with the meat-marionette motions of
a Tom Savini zombie. Deidre jerked and moved back a step.
His yellow-ringed blue eyes were bright with fear and pain.
"Don't talk to me about getting through it," he hissed.
"Back when dad could still move around enough to belt me in
the face ... you taught me to be utterly powerless." His voice
assumed a mocking female contralto: "Don't hit him in the head,
Bill! For the luvva God, oh ..."
Casey broke off, taking a deep breath.
"I have no idea what to do when I get out on my own. I have
the feeling ..." His throat clicked when he swallowed that
hard. "I have the feeling I may just burn out like a falling
star. You want to know what you can do for me?"
The gesture Deidre made might have been a nod. Her blond ringlets
vibrated no more than a quarter inch.
What Deidre did, in that moment, was walk four steps in her impossible
heels and smack her son in the face as hard as she could. Casey
laughed, though in the moment just afterward she could see the red
palm-print coming into focus across his right zygomatic arch, a
bruise framed in bone with the terrible permanency of a brand.
"Don't you dare blame me for this," Deidre hissed, and
stomped downstairs for another drink.
rolled in about half an hour later.
"That's where it is, huh?" The chemo was making Casey's
dad slur his words. Or maybe it was just the Chivas. Either way,
it came to the same.
Casey did not turn his head toward the wheeled thing in the doorway.
Casey had skinned and eaten this man in his nightmares countless
times, nightmares from which he woke with only a blessed sense of
relief. In one of the more recent ones, he had been doing the dinner
dishes with Hannibal Lecter, and shyly told the good doctor (with
a dishtowel in his hand, thumb-shining the last water spots from
a Stryker autopsy-saw) that the doctor had done for him what Casey
could not do for himself.
Lecter had glanced back at Casey with sad commiseration in his
strange maroon eyes.
"Don't sell yourself short, lad."
Now, though, Casey faced the wall and cringed in his bed. Though
his dad was in a wheelchair, Casey's body could not help but remember
the automatic response of wanting to run, hide, build a Rube Goldberg
mousetrap to supplant the weak lock on the door as his dad's fist
battered it down and a much younger Casey quavered: "No...
No... No ..." on the other side.
In the air of the room now, the smell of Chivas was the animal
musk of Hamm's beer in much leaner times, ten bucks a case down
at the 7-11. He remembered calling the cops on his dad after the
first time Bill had sprung his jaw, and hearing the old man's voice
(which had, from the other side of his forked tongue, paid off Chief
Kettner and the attending physician) saying, "You're not a
part of this family anymore, because you brought in outside influences."
"Are you on drugs?"
Oh, the stuff coming out of his dad's mouth just got funnier and
Bill rolled into the room, his rock-chiselled Charlton Heston face
a mask of cheated fury. "I knew it. I gave you too much freedom.
I should have had us all in church from the beginning. I just thought
I could get you there on my own, but you kids were all so willful
Casey thought of his beloved older brother Vance, with his two
kids and his law practice out in Walnut Creek. Vance still called
every so often, but he was disowned ... and, frankly, Vance didn't
seem like he wanted to get involved. Casey didn't blame him. Vance
had escaped the tentacles of this particular octopus.
But now that it was his turn, Casey had no idea whatsoever what
Bill rolled forward three feet ... to the big old maple chest of
drawers on the left side of Casey's room. Right by the closet, it
was, the one Casey had put a deadbolt lock on after he'd read that
horrible Stephen King story, "The Boogeyman," to his father's
endless derision (not that endless derision from Bill Fulmer was
germane or even unique to that particular situation).
"Let's just see what you've got to hide."
Bill grinned the alarming, ape-like grin of a Monty Python jailer,
and began to root through Casey's sock drawer with a hungry expression
on his face. It was as if he expected to find something.
Casey turned his face to the wall again. It was so much easier
to shut this all out, to wrap his skinny body around itself and
take lots of deep breaths.
His father's fingers seized on something, and the fusillade of
rolled-up socks paused like the eye of a hurricane. Casey could
smell 'Lia's laundry soap and his father's hectic alcohol stink.
He waited, laughing on the inside.
"What is this, GHB?" His father was adamantly victorious,
ramping his wheelchair backward, almost to the rollbar in a near-wheelie.
"I heard about this. You think you can ..."
As he had been speaking, Bill turned the cologne bottle around
so that the Adidas logo flashed out in raked-back white letters.
Bill hucked the bottle at the wall, and the room filled with the
stench of a hundred-thousand high-school dances.
Casey had to give his dad credit. Rather than actually taking that
point to exit with some face, Bill proceeded to empty and upend
all Casey's drawers, leaving every pullover and pair of boxers to
fall where they would, every wifebeater T-shirt and hoody sweatshirt.
His father had the most disappointed look on his face that Casey
had ever seen.
Oh, and he did not stop there. For a man in a wheelchair, Bill
Fulmer's inventiveness knew neither bounds nor limitations.
One file cabinet, one writing desk and two wardrobes later, his
father sat in the doorway, breathing hard, his face vermillion.
Ought to quit smoking, Casey thought, but did not turn his
face from the wall.
He was remembering the first time he ever tried to slit his wrists.
He didn't know to do it vertical instead of horizontal ... and his
father's horrified secretary Louise had not bothered to set him
Casey was remembering the hospital psychiatrist, a Dr. Stein, who
had diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, and the opening salvos
with the Famous Mr. Bill: "Well, if you have a bright kid and
you keep him on a short leash ..." Casey's dad had pulled him
out of therapy and, since then, since sophomore year, it had been
Business As Usual.
Bill turned back in the doorway, backing up the wheels of his chair
a quarter-turn and cocking his head.
"What did I do wrong?" Casey's dad seemed to be asking
the question to himself, and nothing more. "I gave you the
world on a plate. You've got a future like nothing anyone in your
class could even conceive of. So what ..."
Casey bared his teeth at his father in the dim, moonlit darkness
of the room.
"Kill me," he invited. The silence seemed to stretch
out for some time.
"Aaaah ..." His father flapped a hand at him, and rolled
out of the room.
The stink of Adidas cologne in that room did not fade for years.
Neither did Casey.
He kept looking worse, upon each return. The holes in his clothes
spread and frayed, pinned with safety pins and then forgotten. His
hair crossed the shades of the seasons. The spikes cropped up in
his hardier jackets. The methedrine sores kept cropping up at the
corners of his lips, the selfsame marks of sleeping under bridges
and getting a haircut from hanging too long round the barbershop.
His teeth got to looking more and more transparent. And his eyes
always looked lost. His eyes were the worst part.
And always always when Casey came back, it was in
that catatonic state, begging them for the only real gift they could
have truly imparted. In those long nights, he seemed to be both
his true self ... and yet not himself at all. Casey's folks saw
both sides. But the situation bespoke something neither of them
It was killing them softly. Deidre always made excuses. He's our
son, dammit. We can't just turn him away.
But after a while Bill began doing just that. When he was able
to dial a phone ... he began taking out restraining orders. You
had to renew them once a year, and justify cause ... although, with
one apparently immoral town judge in his back pocket, cause was
not Bill's primary concern. He told them that he feared for his
life and what the hell were they gonna do about it ... and then
Bill sat back, smoked a fat medical joint, and tried to forget the
abortion that was Casey.
Until the next time.
Or until Bill was found slumped over his wheelchair, in the yellow
incandescent light of his study, with all the Wyoming antelope heads
looking down at him as if to say: "Your turn." Deidre
hesitated a while before calling 911. By that time, Bill had become
a bit hard to bear.
After the three-hour wait in the ER at Cedars-Sinai, Deidre was
informed that her Bill had expired due to a massive myocardial infarction,
very little if at all to do with the MS.
"He was just worn out," the resident, a Dr. Wyszorec,
said wearily, taking off his mask with the air of a high-school
athlete who has just gotten three times his share of yardage at
the big game. "There wasn't a whole lot we could do, once we
got him in here." The doctor sighed. "Look, Dee, I ..."
"I'm better off." Deidre touched the pack of cigarettes
in her pocket. "He was hell on earth to deal with, after a
while." She looked up into the doctor's eyes. "No worries.
You did all you could."
No matter what that idiot doctor had said, though, Deidre knew
that her Bill had died of a broken heart. And she was well on her
way. Ramon had sailed back to Cuernavaca two years after Casey's
And she was still right there.
"Central Precinct, this is ... oh, fuck you. No. Take me offa
your list. Right now. Are you stupid?"
Sergeant Hittleman covered the receiver and glanced over at their
newest vice narc, rolling his eyes. The vice narc shrugged, his
own eyes illegible behind the hair extensions.
"Yes, ma'am, you have indeed reached a business. You have
reached the central precinct of the San Francisco Police Department
at 850 Bryant. Are you aware that it's illegal for a telemarketer
to call a ..."
Patrolman Joe Abramowitz shoved a clipboard at Sgt. Hittleman,
the 17-year-old junkie chick in front of him looking at the floor
with her greasy brown hair coming out of its ponytail in front,
hanging in her face. This one was a repeat bust.
Hittleman looked Joe in the eyes, made a scrawl on the bottom line
of the clipboard, and glanced back at the vice narc (what was his
name? Gutierrez? Gandolfo? Some Latino name with a "G"
and more than two syllables. Hittleman barely got to meet any of
the new undercovers before they were blooded, usually two weeks
worth of shit detail and acting classes later). Hittleman's big,
clammy cop-hand held the phone like some interesting new species
of household pet he was about to kick across the room.
"Well, excyoooooze me," he said through his nose, exactly
like the old Steve Martin bit. "I don't care if you're taking
a census for Caesar, you don't fucking call businesses. And you
especially do not tie up this line. We got reality goin' on out
there, lady. Deal with it."
Patrolman Abramowitz marched the little gutter chick through the
big swinging doors on the other side of the room, talking to her
in low tones. Hittleman slammed the phone down. "I ask you,"
he sighed. "Reminds me of that shithead up in Pacific Heights.
Our little pet."
Gutierrez-Gandolfini-Goldwin-Mayer brushed the extensions out of
his eyes. He was sipping the horrible desk coffee from a Styrofoam
cup, hunting around on the little table against the back wall for
a container of creamer that was not already cashed.
"Which one, sir?"
The new guy had patches of rainbow-colored mushrooms and shit all
over the back of his denim jacket, "Grateful Dead" and
"The String Cheese Incident" and "Ani DiFranco."
He was their wonder boy up in the Haight-Ashbury. Hittleman heard
it all. And the bust always got pinned on some real street kid who
wasn't even around when it went down. All the Mexican cops at central
called the new vice guy Il Spectro, and Hittleman assumed that stood
to reason if he couldn't even remember the guy's name.
"William Fulmer the third." Hittleman stuck out his gut
in his dress-blue shirt and pooched his lip like he was Mayor Brown
about to make a speech. "King Nobody of Fuck All. Whatzit,
that academy guy with the lip ..."
The vice cop sniggered. "Randyll." He had found his creamer,
and was rattling somewhere between three and 10 sugar-packets in
his hand to get them where he could tear them off all at once. It
made a sidewinder noise in the steam-heated air of the lobby.
"Yeah, him. Or it. They had Randyll down here pullin' night
dispatch when that Fulmer asshat would do his thing. Randyll didn't
"Naw," replied .... Galindo. Hittleman snapped his fingers.
Lupe Galindo. Sounded like a boxer name, almost. The sergeant crossed
Alzheimer's off his mental checklist of Shit to Worry About This
Week. He looked around.
"Three prowler calls a week. From Pacific Heights." Sgt.
Hittleman leaned forward, savoring the pause. From a holding cell
downstairs, something that sounded like an off-line washing machine
banged the walls below. "Silicon Valley prick. He was in computer
chips or something. Guy's got an alarm system costs more than I
take home in a year. Lexus or three in the garage. Splendid. And
he's makin' three prowler calls a week."
Galindo moved back across the room on little cat feet in black
Converse sneakers, to stand in front of the desk with his coffee
in his hand. "What's the punch line?"
Hittleman sighed, wishing you could still light up a butt inside.
Tonight had been pretty dead, other than the usual round of shit
up in the TLs that central hardly ever saw.
"It was his son, man." Hittleman's eyes were lost in the
gray clouds swirling over downtown through the blinds of the side
windows. His small mouth was locked in a sneer. "My God. We
used to have a pool on when this guy would call."
Galindo stepped over to the table, looking back at the sergeant
as he grabbed one of the two metal folding chairs in front of the
table, parked it backward in front of the desk and sat down, without
spilling a drop of his bottom-of-the-pot battery acid.
"His son?" One thick eyebrow raised like an autonomous
"Yeah." Hittleman relished his own chuckle. "He
had a restraining order on the kid." The sergeant's face became
twitchy and old, his voice raised in a mimic that sounded like Jimmy
Stewart in an old movie. "I want him ouuutta here!" He
nodded approvingly when Galindo laughed.
"The kid looked like that girl," he jerked his thumb
at the swinging doors. "Sores all over his mouth, dressed like
a punk rocker. But his I.D. ... it was his son, all right. "
"He ever get loud?" Galindo was very confused.
"Naw." Hittleman leaned back in his chair. "Nice
as pie, from what I'd see in the reports. We'd hold him for 24 hours,
sent him up to Graystone one time. He'd always end up back on the
street, and round and round she goes. But the damnedest thing ..."
The sergeant shrugged, unsure of how to proceed. "We'd ask
the kid what he wanted us to do, man, like, why he was doin' what
he did, and ..." He sighed, looking down. Galindo waited. The
pause seemed to the young vice cop to be an actual physical eternity.
"Kill me." The sergeant had always been an excellent
mimic. Vice Detective Galindo reared back in his seat at the sight
of the young boy's face pushing itself through from the jowly basset-hound
mask of the night-desk man. "Serious, man. That was all he
said. 'Kill me.' That's all he ever said to us. Bruh ..." The
sergeant's eyes were cold and flat. "I'm askin' you, man. Weird
"You ever still get any of those calls ... from the dad?"
Hittleman reached under that night's log ... and held up the day's
obituaries section from the Examiner.
"Not any more."
The house was cold. Deidre had said something to 'Lia about it,
but there were so many rooms even for central air. Anyway, 'Lia
was always gone after about 4:30.
She sighed, flipping through the channels on the TV. A&E was
depressing, some old movie she didn't care to know anything about.
But the Cartoon Network was doing a retrospective of a lot of those
old "Steamboat Willie"-era early forays into the animated
They always made her smile. Deidre looked at the clock and took
a blue Valium from the days-of-the-week pill caddy that always reminded
her so much of the birth control containers she used to get from
the free clinic up in the Haight. It would be a few minutes, but
that nice Monopolowa vodka would help it along some.
She got so edgy in this house, nowadays, but it was still hers.
She'd held her looks, and there were no shortage of options. The
security of the place was worth holding onto ... Holding, indeed
all of Bill's holdings that remained contingent on maintaining
the property and running his company with an iron fist. He'd had
a weird will, but better not to argue. Bill had gotten quite particular
in his last days. She hadn't contested his final arrangements.
Anyway, she liked the house. She liked the way the sunbeams slanted
golden through the dining room at the death of the day, and the
rose bushes along the west wall that seemed to hold their blooms
until late October no matter how much the new migrant gardeners
butchered them. There was something to be said for pride of place.
On the screen, a bug-eyed little Disney cartoon woman was sweeping
her back porch, singing an old traditional song in a screechy Betty
Boop voice that was somehow endearing:
"Oh .... the cat came back ...
He wouldn't stay away ...
He was sitting on the porch
On the very next day ..."
Deidre fumbled for the remote control beside her. She'd heard a
beep. Usually the knocks and pings of the house, all her appliances,
meant nothing. But this beep was different.
Had she not known better, it almost sounded like the alarm in the
front room. She waited for the space of 10 breaths. Nothing.
By that time, she was feeling the Valium way down deep in the pit
of her stomach, warming her in tune with the vodka. She thought
dreamily of Ramon, back then, and wondered what he was up to these
Her finger took the cartoons off mute. By then the cat (a scruffy
Felix prototype if ever she'd seen one) was yowling at the back
gate, and the old woman had returned in force with her broom, mugging
at the camera.
"The cat came baaa-aaack,
He didn't want to roam.
The very next day,
He was home, sweet home ..."
Footsteps thudded up the high foyer stairwell. Someone was home,
dragging himself off to bed. Even through the vodka and Valium,
it took Deidre roughly 20 seconds to make the stairwell.
The reek of cologne had stagnated in that room. But it did not
drown out the swampy miasma of what lay there on the bed.
His beard had grown in patchy, she saw, very long at parts, flushed
baby skin at other parts where no hair would grow. She had a bit
of Native American blood. She hadn't thought about that much, before
looking at Casey's face just now (even obscured as it was by the
greasy locks of a mohawk that hid his eyes).
"Casey," Deidre said from the doorway, her slippered
feet sinking in beige carpet.
Her son mumbled something and turned to face her on the bed. Deidre's
face was a frozen Viking mask.
"Aren't you happy that you killed your father?" She pushed
the door open, and it creaked like a Boris Karloff radio show. "We
would have given you everything. I was so proud of you."
She stood where she was, in her black housecoat and slippers, looking
as if she wanted to find something blunt and beat him with it.
"This ... I ..." She swallowed. "All I have, I ..."
After seven or eight deep breaths, she looked back at his filmy
unfocused eyes. "What?" Deidre hissed. "What? Name
it. I've got money to go round the world several times. What do
you want, just so I'll never have to see you again? You ..."
Casey's cracked lips exhaled as his rheumy eyes turned to follow
her. She did not want to know where he'd been.
She screamed at him, a feral, female sound of ultimate disgust,
and slammed the door.
moon was shining down through the blinds of Casey's old room that
had been kept just as it was.
Deidre pushed the door open, her eyes lost in the view from
the window. She watched a falling star wink down, then out over
the bay and the endless grind of downtown, far away in another world
where even survival was not anywhere near a sure thing.
Casey barely struggled. He'd always had two pillows on his bed,
and only snuggled further near the wall when she yanked the drooly
top one from underneath him and pushed it over his face, holding
it on both sides with one knee over his head.
After the initial kicking ceased, she turned him to face the
wall. She looked at him for a while, shook her head, and then walked
back downstairs. A&E had borne fruit after all: "White
Christmas," with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. She put a blank
tape in the VCR.