Breach Kick

--7.

I certainly hadn't anticipated this development, and I asked her, "What do you mean you know him?"

"Just what I said."

"How do you know it was him?"

"He was Puerto Rican."

"Maybe he was Mexican? Maybe he was from De Pue."

"No, he said he was Puerto Rican. He was very insistent about it, in fact."

"That's strange. If he really was here, then why didn't he make contact with Sneed, like he was supposed to?"

"He said he would be staying at the motel for a while, but then he left, suddenly. The very next day, I think."

"Did he tell you his name?"

"He did. It was. . .Fernando. . .Pedrosa, I think: Fernando Pedrosa. He said his parents were very rich, knew some famous people, and owned a big horse stable somewhere in the suburbs."

"Did he say what suburb?"

"Yes, but I don't remember. They all sound the same to me: Glendale, Glen Oak, Glen Ellen, Glen Lawn. . ."

"And he never came back?"

"He never came back to the motel."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"He never came back. Why the third degree? I thought you might thank me."

I clenched my fist in the dark and thanked her.

She said, "One more thing: there was something funny about the man he was working for. Durney was involved for a while. I don't know what it was."

Mr. X, I thought. Son-of-a-bitch. Durney and Mr. X. There was my connection between Sneed and Durney. Fernando Pedrosa was my connection to both. Still no connection to Bruce, but at least some of the pieces were beginning to fit.

I went home and put my pajamas on. I was becoming impatient, impatient to kill somebody. I thought I would even settle for killing myself, but then I often fantasized about killing myself. I don't think I ever came very close, except maybe by chance; I don't think you could have called me suicidal. These thoughts were just vivid fantasies; they weren't real. Just because you put a bullet in a revolver, spin the cylinder, put the revolver in your mouth, and pull the trigger--that doesn't make you suicidal. That's just one bullet in six chambers; that's like 83% fantasy. No, those thoughts and even those actions were just fantasies. You couldn't tell people about them, though. There's not much you actually can tell people. The word "tell" can also mean "to count". Somebody told me that once. But you can't tell people about suicide fantasies; it just isn't done. A suicide fantasy is something that stalks you, like a stalker you sometimes forget about: it unexpectedly reappears, catches you, forces you down, and you are powerless to resist it. My doctor prescribed some medications which were supposed to help, but the only treatment that ever really worked was sticking a loaded gun in my mouth, and even that wasn't a cure; it only held the fantasy at bay, kept it from utterly consuming me. When the gun was in my mouth, I, yes, thought about pulling the trigger, but I don't think the fantasy wanted me to pull the trigger; I really don't. I think it knew it would lose its power over me if I were dead. Maybe the fantasy even worked to prevent me from pulling the trigger, like a stalker who finally catches up with you at a rest stop off the Interstate and tortures you by shoving your head in a toilet until you think you're going to drown and then grabs you by the hair and pulls your head back up so you can catch a breath, which your body does by reflex, not by conscious choice--so that you can't not continue to survive--before forcing your head back down into the toilet again.

I put my robe on and stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. The air was hot and humid; I wanted to take my robe off, my pajamas too. You can want to do something and choose not to do it--that's what separates humans from animals. My grandfather taught me that. I don't remember how he taught me--by telling, I guess. Of course, you can't choose not to do all the things you might want to do. For example, if a stalker has shoved your face in a toilet until you almost drown, and then he pulls your head back out again, you can't choose not to breathe when he pulls your head back up, because your body does that by reflex.

I sat on my porch and smoked my cigarette.

Now it was summer, and darkness always seemed deeper and darker in the summer; the return of life made it seem that way: all those trees, and grasses and corn and the lawns-in-need-of-mowing, the lightning bugs and mosquitos and cicadas and all the night animals out there--they made the darkness feel deep and dark and full, the kind of darkness you could get lost in, lost forever even. Not at all like in winter; winter nights are clear.

When I left home that morning, it had been the day before Thanksgiving; now, it was the day before the 4th of July. I had lost seven months of my life. I could tell those months, and still not be able to tell about them them. Christ-fucking two-faced word. This wasn't the first time I had lost time; that had happened to me several times before, so I'm not sure whether it's really part of this story, not sure how much I should write about it. I mean, a lot of things happened in the time during which this story is set, and I don't include each and every incident in the story; I couldn't include them all even if I wanted to. Some of those things were even remarkable. For example, a savings bond my grandmother had given me one year for Christmas when I was a kid--that's just about the least exciting present you can give a kid, by the way--but a savings bond she had given me finally matured and I cashed it in, and after the government took its cut in the form of taxes, I had about $46, and in memory of my grandmother, who was always licking that raw cake batter off her index finger, I went to a whore and ejaculated inside of her, sort of to erase all those times my grandmother licked the cake batter off her finger which she should never have done because of the raw eggs and the salmonella--I cashed in that savings bond she gave me, used the money to buy a whore, and then got a dose of the clap from the whore. I usually wear a condom when I fuck a whore, but I wanted to ejaculate inside of this one, so I didn't wear a condom, and I got the clap from her. I had to be treated for the clap. All that happened in the time during which this story takes place, but I don't include it because I can't include everything, and it really doesn't have anything to do with the story. I took a class on writing fiction in high school, and the teacher said you should only include details that are necessary and relevant to the story. So regarding this lost time business--this seven months of my life that had either disappeared or else I had simply skipped over--I'm not sure if it's part of this story or not; I'm not sure how much to tell you about it, especially since it had happened to me before, the first time when I was a teenager. That first time was actually more significant--or at least it caused more problems--because I was in high school and I had lost all memory of about three months of school, so I couldn't take finals with the rest of the kids, because it was like I had missed three months of class, like in those anxiety dreams when you have to take a final exam for a class you never attended, only this was real, not a dream. That might have been when my grandparents first took me to the doctor to have my head examined, and he first started giving me pills.

A family is like a machine with exposed, intermeshing gears. You have to be careful when working around it; it can eat you alive, grind you up into hamburger meat. All it takes is one thoughtless moment: a piece of hanging jewelry, a scrap of loose clothing, a few strands of long hair. . .and you're caught and it pulls you in and grinds you up. And it's really your own fault too. I mean, it's too bad, but you shouldn't have been so careless.

Anyway, I lost seven months of my life, and it's relevant to the story because it caused the setting to change--from early winter to mid-summer.

I thought about what Harry Thomasson had said, about the parable of the sower. My mind was like rocky soil; no good ideas could take root in it, nothing but bad ideas. I wished I could rip all the ideas out of my head; it would feel like ripping broadleaf from a rock bed. Which reminded me that this night was going to be a good night. I had been looking forward to this night since the night before the day before Thanksgiving, because I would get to take an extra big dose of demerol. I took five different medications for a sickness that my doctor said I had in my head. This is the doctor I just mentioned above. My grandparents first sent me to him when I was a teenager; he examined my mind and said I had a sickness called multiple neurosis. Over the years, he tried lots of different medicines on my sickness, and one of the medicines he had been trying recently was demerol, which I took at bedtime. The demerol pill had to be cut in half. When I cut it in half, however, I hardly ever got a clean, 50/50 cut--usually more like 30/70 or even, sometimes, 20/80. When I got one of these uneven cuts, I took the smaller dose first so that I could have something to look forward to the next day. I loved that feeling, of knowing, all day long, that I'd get to take a larger dose of demerol before bed; I knew I'd sleep well.

Seven months gone or not, I still had that large dose of demerol to look forward to: at least that wasn't gone.

I finished my cigarette, and went back inside, leaving the screen door open but securing it with the hook-and-eye latch. I took my pills, including the demerol I had saved from the night before the day before Thanksgiving. The mere thought of the pills calmed me with their promise of sleep. In my bedroom, I took off my robe and hung it from the hook on the inside of my closet door. I turned the box fan onto high and lay down on my bed, pulling the bed sheet up over my head. I could feel the cool breeze of the fan blowing over the bed sheet.

The next morning I awoke at ten. I weighed myself, recorded my weight, ate a piece of bread, drank a cup of coffee, took my morning medicines, did fifty push-ups, showered, shaved, rinsed my mouth with water, flossed, rinsed with Listerine, brushed my teeth, rinsed again with water, combed a little Brylcream into my hair, and cleaned my face with Sea Breeze. I felt clean and I looked presentable and I was ready to search for Fernando Pedrosa, by starting with the horse stable owned by his parents.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the slightest idea how to begin looking for a horse stable. I thought of Stanley Hendrick, who had been a friend of my grandparents. When I was a kid, he owned the house next to ours, next to the house I grew up in. But he rented that house, which at times caused some strain in the friendship between the Hendricks and my grandparents, because my grandmother would often complain to Mrs. Hendrick about Mr. Hendrick's tenants. Mr. Hendrick and his wife lived outside of town, on the river, so it didn't matter much to them if the tenants were disreputable, but it mattered to my grandmother a great deal, which seemed a tad bit hypocritical seeing as her own daughter had given birth to a bastard, me--had given birth to a bastard, had abandoned the bastard, and had then run away, never to be seen or heard from again.

Anyway, Mr. Hendrick owned horses, and I thought he might be able to help me. He lived on the river, but kept his horses at a stable near Hennepin. I drove out to his house, and his wife answered the door.

Mrs. Hendrick had a giant goiter on her neck. I remember once, when I was a kid, I said something rude to Mrs. Hendrick about her goiter. The Hendricks had come over to my grandparents' house for dinner, and when it was time for me to go to bed, I said to Mrs. Hendrick, "I hope I don't have nightmares about that thing on your neck." I got spanked for that. The next day my grandmother spanked me again, and then afterwards very kindly told me that the lump on Mrs. Hendrick's neck was called a goiter, and that it wasn't her fault because our state was in the goiter belt. The funny thing is, after I heard about the goiter belt, I really did have nightmares about Mrs. Hendrick's goiter.

So Mrs. Hendrick answered the door with her goiter protruding above the neckline of her ratty, lavender housedress. Her housedress looked dirty, but probably wasn't; it was probably just old, sort of like what happens to people when they get old: they start to look dirty, no matter how often they clean themselves. You would never have guessed that the Hendricks were rich by the way they dressed themselves or the shitty little house they lived in.

I asked if Mr. Hendrick was home.

She sighed and said, as if uttering a complaint, "He's out back trying the new outboard motor on his jon boat." You know how people speak when they're complaining, how they speak the entire sentence in one, long, drawn-out breath? That's what she sounded like. I don't think she really was complaining though, or at least not complaining specifically about her husband and his boat. I think her whole marriage--which is to say her whole life--had become a cause of complaint for her, and she had no other way of speaking anymore. Sort of like how some old people are always frowning, even when they aren't necessarily unhappy--like their faces have become frozen in a frown. That's how it was with her, when she said, "He's out back trying the new outboard motor on his jon boat."

It kind of annoyed me the way she said "the new outboard motor", as if everyone in town was supposed to know that Mr. Hendrick had purchased a new motor for his jon boat. Maybe that's not what she meant--I don't know. When the Hendricks and my grandparents weren't getting along, my grandmother would gripe that "The Hendricks have an exaggerated sense of their own importance, if you ask me. They think just because they own a lot of property that everyone in town is always wonderin' what they're doin'." Well, when Mrs. Hendrick made this statment about "the new outboard motor" on Mr. Hendrick's jon boat, I sort of had to admit that I could see my grandmother's point. People should be more careful whether they use word "the" or "a". I think I wouldn't have been so annoyed if Mrs. Hendrick had said, "He's out back trying a new outboard motor on his jon boat."

I walked around to the back of the house, and sure enough, there was Mr. Hendrick in his boat, at the end of his pier, ripping the motor and just letting it run. Freshly tarred hoop nets were scattered about the backyard.

Mr. Hendrick must've seen me because he waved me out. When I reached the end of the pier, he hollered, "Get in!"

I never felt real steady getting into boats, but I managed to seat myself on one of the benches.

He pulled the kill switch, and let the motor sputter out. We just sat there for a few moments looking at each other. I don't know why I didn't say anything, even though he must have wondered why I had come to visit him. I probably should have asked him about his new motor. Finally, he said, "So how are things Ora?"

"Real good, sir," I said. Things weren't real good, if you want to know the truth, but that's just it: nobody does want to know the truth. You're just supposed to say something like "real good" and move on.

He said, "I hear you've been taking it pretty hard, what happened to Durney McKusker."

"Yeah," I said, "I guess that's about right." Whenever I spoke with Mr. Hendrick, I felt like I was a teenager again.

"Your grandfather never did approve of Durney--I suppose you know that."

Ordinarily, a statement like that would piss me off, but I knew Mr. Hendrick didn't mean it that way. I don't know how he meant it, but somehow I just knew he didn't mean anything by it. And in any case, it was true: my grandfather never liked Durney, which was probably the main reason I started working for him to begin with. I guess it was my way of telling my grandfather to fuck off. I don't know why I was angry with my grandfather; it was just a feeling, a strong feeling for sure. But after my grandfather died, I didn't even have the feeling anymore, and without the feeling I had less an idea than ever why I had hated him. I probably resented him for agreeing to raise me, for letting my whore mother off the hook so easily. Durney never let anyone off the hook; Durney was, in many ways, everything my grandfather wasn't. If Durney had been my grandfather, he would have made my mother tell him who my father was, and he would have made my father do the decent thing and marry my mother. Not my grandfather, though; my grandfather was too fucking kind for that sort of thing, so goddamned kind he didn't mind that I was a bastard. He treated me like I was just as good as if I had been his own child. But I wasn't his own child, and I wasn't as good as his own child; I was a bastard--I never understood why he couldn't see that, or why he let it happen. Kindness in men is really repulsive. I sometimes wondered if that was why I hated my grandfather, because he was so kind.

Mr. Hendrick said, a bit sternly, "What can I do for you Ora?"

That made me feel kind of guilty, that I couldn't even be bothered to make a little small talk with Mr. Hendrick, and now he had to make it obvious that the only reason I came to see him was because I needed something from him. I hated feeling like I was just using him. He and his wife had always been real nice to me, even when they weren't getting along with my grandparents. I said, "Oh, well, I know you have horses, Mister Hendrick, and I myself don't know anything about horses, and I was just wondering how hard would it be to find a horse stable in the suburbs."

"You mean a horse breeder?"

"Yeah, a horse breeder I think. Maybe."

"I figured so, since you don't have horses. You lookin' to buy a horse, Ora? If so, you don't want to go up there. You should start--"

"No, it's for another reason." I must have sounded impatient, and was angry with myself because I didn't intend to sound impatient, even though I probably was getting a little impatient.

"Oh. Well, it would be pretty easy. Are you looking for a stable that specializes in a specific breed of horse?"

"No, I just want to identify a stable by the name of its owner."

He raised his eyebrow, as if he knew that my request must have a seamy story behind it. "I guess I won't ask why, but I think you could do that. I'd have to check the list."

"The list?"

"A directory of horse breeders. I get it with a magazine subscription."

Oh, I thought: directories again. If there really is a God, he's probably a directory.

"I think I have a recent one in my office," he said. "Let's go inside. Maybe the missus'll make us a cup of coffee while we look."

As we approached the house, I noticed Mrs. Hendrick standing in the window, watching us. You shouldn't watch people like that; it's rude; it's even ruder than staring.

The back door opened directly onto the kitchen. Mrs. Hendrick came rushing into the room, and, sounding wildly paranoid, said, "Ora, I think somebody followed you here!" She wasn't speaking is her complaining voice, the way she usually did. It's kind of sad that only fear could jolt her out of her perpetual state of discontent.

Mr. Hendrick laughed, and said, "Ma, don't be silly."

I hate it when men call their wives "ma"; it's sickening. Do they like to imagine themselves sleeping with their mothers? Maybe they don't have sex with their wives anymore, and they feel like they're living with their mothers.

She said, "I ain't bein' silly. Why should I imagine somethin' like that?"

Ignoring her question, he said, "Would you make some coffee while I find a book for Ora?"

"So yuh don't believe me," she said indignantly. "Go on and look for yourself. Right out the front window."

She marched out of the kitchen; Mr. Hendrick began making the coffee himself, but I followed Mrs. Hendrick into the living room. She pointed through the picture window, which was covered with curtain sheers. She stood back, as if afraid to approach the window herself. I pulled the curtain sheers aside, and sure enough there was a man standing by my car, looking through the driver's side window. He was strikingly handsome--almost like a movie star. He turned his gaze toward the house, and I stepped away from the window.

I said to Mrs. Hendrick, "You don't know that man?"

"I know everybody around here, and I don't know him." Then, after a pause, she said, "I wonder if it could be the person who murdered that boy they found in the river."

"What boy?"

"The boy they found in the river, that had been murdered. In March." She spoke irritably, as if she couldn't believe I didn't know what she was talking about. But I didn't know. Then there was a look of recognition in her eyes, as if she suddenly realized that I had lost time again. She knew all about that because my grandmother told her everything when the two of them were getting along.

Just then Mr. Hendrick entered the room, and cheerfully said, "Coffee's perking. Give us a holler when it's ready, will yuh ma?"

He took me back into the room that he called his office, which was more like a boarded-up three-seasons room. A window air-conditioning unit was chugging away trying to maintain a barely-tolerable temperature in the poorly insulated room. Really, you'd think a couple as rich as the Hendricks could afford a decent air conditioning unit.

Mr. Hendrick dug through piles of magazines and newspapers, until he victoriously produced a large paperback book that resembled the Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog. He handed the book to me, and I skimmed the table of contents. The directory was organized by some weird classification system I didn't understand, but among the several indexes was a name index, where I found a listing for:

Pedrosa, Ovidio. C-632

I flipped to section "C", and under entry 632 was an entry for the:

Pedrosa Stables
Appaloosa, Appendix, Paint, Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred
2218 Hill Rd.
Glenview, Ill. 60025
(847) 534-7878
Owner: Ovidio Pedrosa.
Established: 1965

I copied down all the information, and thanked Mr. Hendrick. I said, "I don't think I'll have time for that cup of coffee after all."

"I'm sorry to hear it," he said, disapprovingly. "Ma'll show you out."

I thanked him as sincerely as I could, but he didn't acknowledge me.

At the front door, Mrs. Hendrick said, "Do you think that man is gone?"

I remarked that I couldn't see him anymore. She cautiously opened the door. I was standing on the concrete stoop, making my farewell, when I was startled by a high-pitched, piercing noise, which sounded like a hunter whistling for his dog through a megaphone.

"What the hell was that," I exclaimed, and then apologized for using profane language.

"The kids'll be up to it all day."

"Up to what?"

"Oh for heaven's sakes, don't act so innocent Ora. Even you used to play with bottle rockets on the Fourth. When you were a kid."

I tried to laugh agreeably, and then began walking toward my car. I knew that Mrs. Hendrick was watching to see if the man she had spotted earlier would reappear. When I got to my car, I looked around, but there was no telling what had happened to him.