|Moon Children, Part 2|
By J.S. Kierland
Cowboy's compact slipped through the snow packed streets. Abandoned buildings, graffiti walls, and broken windows blurred in the storm. Hector looked for Christmas lights but the streets were dark. The few diehards left in the neighborhood had gone to sleep. He leaned over and tapped Shadow on the shoulder. Shadow shook himself awake, coiled in the front seat, opened the door, and rolled out onto the blanket of new snow.
"Turn the corner and park," Hector said.
"I hate this mysterioso shit, man," Charley said, pulling over in front of a darkened building.
"Turn off the headlights," Hector said. The street vanished into an umbrella of whiteness that covered the windshield.
"What the hell we doing?" Charley asked.
"Waiting," Hector said, slumping back into the seat between Bee and the sleeping kid.
* * *
Shadow hugged the wall and climbed up into the heart of the old building. The tenement's deadening cold clung to him like an icy sheet. He stopped near a heavy metal door and slammed it. The echoing sound exploded through the deserted building, making the rats scurry back into the walls.
Rushing through another door he dragged a trashcan with him, rolling it up onto the broken cement blocks in the middle of the room. He began filling it with pieces of wood from a pile near the window. His fingers were numb and he fumbled with the matches. He lit one and its small light tore across the empty room. He waved the lighted match from right to left across the window and ran back to drop it on the wooden slats. The match licked at some half burned paper near the bottom of the can and he pushed down on the wood so the flames could spread. The fire started to smoke and he threw in some longer pieces of the flooring until it crackled to life. Three short yips came from below. He yelped back and the hollow sound of his bark echoed through the darkness. Looking around to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, he threw another piece of the flooring into the fire.
Charley came in first. He stood in the doorway holding one end of the bulging tablecloth. Then someone shoved him from behind. "Let's warm this fucking place up," Hector said, pushing past him into the room.
"Yeah, yeah," Shadow said, going for more wood.
Bee came in holding Michael's hand and pulling the other end of the tablecloth behind her. She slid the cloth from under the clattering wine bottles and wrapped it around the little boy. Leading him closer to the fire she began rubbing his body to get him warm.
"I don't like this place," the shivering kid said.
"Who cares what you like?" Hector said.
"You told me you were gonna take me to your house."
"This is my house," Hector said, heading for the dark pile of blankets on the other side of the room.
Shadow laughed at the surprised expression on the kid's face and went back to poking at the fire until its sparks popped against the blackened ceiling. Hector shoved a blanket at the kid and pointed to a dark corner.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" Michael said, holding up the stained brown blanket with the smell of fire on it.
"Roll up in it and go to sleep," Hector said.
"That my blanket?" Shadow asked.
"It's mine," Hector said.
"What're you giving him your blanket for?"
"Cause I'm staying up all night."
"I'll stay up with you," Bee said.
"It'll be your turn tomorrow."
"I don't like the kid taking your blanket," Shadow said, stirring the fire.
"The kid's only got pajamas," Bee said.
"I still don't like it."
Hector pulled him away from the fire, and said, "That's the one giving us the trouble...not the kid."
Shadow glanced over at Charley. A thin piece of tubing lay in his lap and he opened his bag of powder and dipped in his spoon. He bent his left arm and tied the rubber tube around it. "Hey, I'm okay," he said when he saw them watching. "I'll sleep right here next to the fire."
Shadow started towards him but Hector pulled him into the far corner. "That's why we didn't get paid," Shadow said. "He bought that bag of shit with our money and paid what he owed."
"Get some sleep," Hector said.
Shadow threw his blanket down across the cold floor, and mumbled, "I don't like guests."
"Want a hit, kid?" Charley asked the staring little boy.
"I don't think so," Michael said, as he watched Charley suck the dull liquid up into the needle.
"Looks like you could use some."
"Take a hit and you'll stop shivering. Be like you were back in your own little bed again."
"Really?" the kid said.
Hector grabbed Charley's arm below the rubber tubing and stared across the open fire at Michael. "Get over in that corner with Bee and stay there!" he said.
"Hey, man," Charley moaned. "I wasn't gonna--"
"Go to sleep and shut up!"
"I'm the Lone Ranger, man."
Hector let him go. "Keep that shit to your self," he said moving back to the fire.
Charley stuck the needle into his arm and pushed down on the plunger. His body shook as he drew it out, loosened the rubber tubing, and rubbed his arm.
Bee moved across the room from the other side. "Make him go down to the river to do that," she said.
"If I let him go we'll never see him again. That shit he just put in his arm will put him out for the night."
"I don't like him doing drugs around the kid," she said, heading back to the corner.
"You were too much out there tonight, Hector," Charley said with a laugh. "Incredible. The Iceman. I could hardly believe it when I saw you coming back out with the kid."
Michael got up, wrapped in the tablecloth, and moved along the edge of the flickering light toward the fire. "Is he really a junkie?" the kid asked. "I saw a guy do that on TV. One a those cop shows that--"
"How come you ain't sleeping?" Hector asked.
"I don't like it here," the kid said.
"Go to sleep anyway."
"I'm hungry," Michael said.
"Maybe you should've left the little shit at home, eh?" Charley asked.
"You gonna entertain us all night with your druggie-bullshit, or what?"
Charley raised his hands defensively. "Don't get mean on me, man. I'm away, baby," he said curling up on the floor.
"Now you," Hector said pointing at Michael. "I don't give a shit if you sleep, or not. Just roll your ass up in that blanket and shut up!"
"Don't you know you can't trust junkies?" the kid said. Hector stared down at him. "That's why you didn't get my Dad's money. Maybe you ought to--"
"If you don't go to sleep your ass is gonna be in deep shit!" Hector said.
The kid swallowed hard, trying not to cry. "How am I supposed to sleep if I'm not tired?" he asked.
"Just do it!"
"I'm cold and this place is like being outside."
"All you gotta do is face the fire. It'll feel like you're inside," Hector said, throwing in more wood.
Michael pulled the smelly blanket closer to him as he edged toward the fire. "You going to sleep too?" he asked.
"I'm not going anywhere," Hector said.
"You protecting us?"
"You ask me one more fucking question and I'm gonna punch you out." Michael looked down into the fire as the new wood caught the flames. The uneven shimmer glowed against the walls in the stark, empty room. "Stop worrying," Hector told him. "This place looks a lot better in the daytime. You'll get used to it."
"I don't think so."
"You got three things to do here. Don't ask dumb questions. Keep warm. And three...go to sleep."
The kid started back to the corner but stopped when he saw the tennis trophy on the floor with the bottles of wine. The nameplate glistened in the flickering light. JASON GRIMSKY PINE RIDGE HOTEL SINGLES CHAMPION 1982.
"How long do I have to stay here?" Michael asked.
"Another dumb question."
Michael picked up the tennis trophy. The leaping tennis player glowed. He rubbed its rough edges and started back to the dark corner with it.
"Shadow will get pissed if you take that," Hector said.
"It's my Dad's trophy," Michael said.
"Not anymore. Everything in that pile belongs to us now. That's the way it is here. Shadow took the trophy. It goes in his pile. Same goes for you."
"I took you, didn't I?" Hector said. "You go in my pile."
"What do you mean?" the kid asked.
"It means you do what I tell you."
"Suppose I don't," he said.
"Around here, if you get your ass in trouble it can be the end for all of us. But if you do like I tell you, it can be the beginning of something. You know what I'm saying?"
"No," Michael muttered.
"Just go to sleep and think about it," Hector told him.
Michael put his father's tennis trophy back where he'd found it and looked around the room at the sleeping lumps in the dim, fluttering light. The air had gotten warmer and heavier. Hector held his hands over the fire, waiting for the kid to close his eyes and nestle into the roughness of his mother's lace tablecloth.
* * *
The old stone house looked deserted except for the blue light from the Christmas tree. Eli parked the car and walked up the path. He rang the bell but nothing happened so he took out his cell phone.
"It's me again," he said to the answering machine. "We've got to talk before the fire investigator shows up. I'm outside. Open the goddamned door." He tapped on the window but couldn't see anything. Then he rang the bell again, tried the handle, and to his surprise the door swung open.
It wasn't until he crossed the living room that he noticed the broken pieces from the Turkish vase strewn across the floor. When he turned, Stella was staring up at him.
"Oh, my God," he said.
When he finished untying her he moved to Jason who had fallen over in the chair. Stella ripped the tape off her mouth and picked up the phone.
"Don't call the police...not yet," Jason said.
Stella put the phone down and turned on a lamp.
"What the hell's going on?" Eli asked. "Does this have anything to do with our building?" They didn't answer. "Somebody say something," he said.
"I don't know where to begin," Jason said.
"Begin at the beginning," Eli told him. "You must've got my message," he said. "Start there."
"Tell him what happened," Stella said.
"That building...tonight. I had it burned down."
"Burned down? You know what you just said?"
"It's against the law."
"The supplier showed up looking for more money."
"You mean the arsonist came here tonight?"
"Tell him," Stella said in a tight shout.
"Tell me what?" Eli said.
"They've taken Michael. Kidnapped him," Stella said.
Eli's mouth went dry and Stella began to cry.
* * *
The fire had nearly gone out. Hector couldn't tell how long he'd been asleep. Something had wakened him. He heard a sound on the stairs but it might've just been the rats getting closer to the fire. He rubbed his arms to wake himself but stopped when he heard the sound again. By the time he got to the door Shadow had moved in behind him. They waited in the chill air listening to the scuffling noises coming out of the darkness.
"Yo! Hector! You up there?" a thin voice called out.
"It's Toozey with his kids," Shadow whispered. "By now they're all over the place."
Hector took in a deep breath. "What do you want, Tooz?" he called into the darkness.
"Need to talk with you, bro."
"It's late," Hector said.
"Nobody sleeps in the ghetto, baby. I got my kids watching both sides. That okay?"
"Come on up. Real slow," Hector said.
A gray shadow rose like a ghost from below. A tall thin black man moved soundlessly up the steps and a tableau of little faces emerged behind him. Hector waited until he heard the wheeze of Toozey's chest before he stepped out of the shadows.
Toozey stopped on the stairs when he saw him. "How `bout talking inside near the fire?" he said.
"I got people sleeping in there," Hector said.
"Yeah, we know. You got a deal goin' down," he said. "Ain't like you to sleep with junkies though. An that kid you dragged in looks like he'd be better off hanging out with us."
"What do you want, Tooz?"
"That fire you lit tonight was a beaut, baby," he said. The low murmur of children's voices rippled down the stairs behind him in agreement.
"You come to talk money, a job, or what?"
"Hey, don't get uptight, man," Toozey said. "We ain't trying to move in on anything. We're just clocking you. Keeping things straight in our little village. No surprises."
"Thanks for the interest."
"I got more," Toozey said moving up the stairs. His head hung suspended in the darkness. "I come to talk. What you got. What I got. I'm talking assets, liabilities, that kind a shit. It's time the night fox got together to fight off the wolf."
Hector could see the kids more clearly now. They were on either side of the stairs. They'd even come in over the roofs. Toozey just kept moving up between them. Never looking at them. He finally reached the landing. "I wanted to let you know I was coming, bro, but the word is that you got rid of your fax," he said with a wheezy laugh. His eyes gleamed over the short dark beard that hid the delicate features. He had on a baggy, torn topcoat that covered him like a brown paper bag. Toozey smiled then gently hugged Hector, moving his hands to feel for weapons.
"All I got is my old friend," Hector said taking the shiv out of his pocket to show him. The kids on the stairs looked up at the gleaming piece of metal. A rustling ran along the walls as they pushed one another to get a better view.
"Where's my main man?" Toozey asked.
"Right here," Shadow said from the darkness.
"Damn," Toozey said with another laugh. "See that, kids? That's the kind a thing you gotta learn. Be like Shadow. He's my finest graduate. We miss you, Shadowman."
"What's this shit about foxes and wolves?" Hector asked.
"The night fox must come together in peace," Toozey said. The children giggled and their laughter ran through the empty building. Toozey raised his hand and the silence returned. The rings on his fingers glistened in the dim light. "The wolf sleeps," he said. "But we've got to be ready. He'll wake up soon and want to eat again."
"Juicer's the only wolf I know," Hector said. "Ain't you working for him?"
Toozey wheezed, then shook his head. "We don't deal that shit anymore," he said. "Drug people can't be trusted."
Hector watched the frieze of dirty faces along the stairway. No one moved. "Are you saying you're out of the drug business? No more pickups...no more deliveries?"
"You got it. I want to merge. One operation."
"What happened between you an' the Juicer?"
"We parted company."
Hector looked straight into Toozey's dark eyes trying to read them. "You got anybody on drugs?" Hector asked.
"No," Toozey said, glancing at Shadow. "I've lost my share of good people that way. You never know with drugs."
"I don't deal with druggies," Hector said.
"What about Charley?"
"Who told you that?"
"That's what he told the Juicer when he came in to pay off what he owed. Never saw such good timing. We were about to take the prick's car," Toozey said. "Charley laid down some big money and I know that boy ain't worked in awhile. You guys must've cleared a bundle."
Hector could feel Shadow tense behind him. "We try to stay away from the junkies," Hector said. "They hustle their way into everything."
"If you and me merged we could cut a lot of that shit out. More jobs. Get things done faster. Wouldn't need junkies."
"Who'd run the game? My people look to me. Your people look to you."
"The night fox must look to each other," Toozey said. "I don't know how Shadow might take it. Or Bee. I wouldn't expect you to be handling my man Crazy Eyes either, or my kids. I'm saying we should try moving together a little at a time. See how it works."
"What do we tell Juicer? That we're going into business for ourselves? Pushing him out?"
"Juicer is the first business we take care of, baby."
Hector started to answer but stopped when he saw another dark, slim figure moving up the stairs between the kids. Crazy Eyes. Toozey turned in a frightened way until he saw him. "Que pasa, man?" he asked.
Crazy Eyes waited until Toozey came down the stairs, then whispered something to him. "It seems that me an' Juicer have officially come to a parting of the ways," Toozey said.
"Looks like you got custody a the kids though, eh?"
Toozey laughed as he started down the stairs. "It's time to go out on our own, bro," he said. "We might even think about moving the operation to some place like L.A. or Miami."
"I could go for warm," Hector said.
Toozey kept laughing as he disappeared between the rows of suspended heads. Then they were suddenly gone too.
"Toozey's in trouble," Shadow said.
"Divorces ain't easy."
"Especially when the Juicer's on the other end," Hector said, and he went back inside to put more wood on the fire.
(Part III will appear in March/April issue)
. Just keep going to the shoe departmen
"Mustard...relish.", mustard, r took. about Charley."
"Where's Mr. Grimsky?" a quick breath. She started to speak again but heard the loud snap of a deadbolt behind the door, followed by the scraping of a chain lock. The heated air from inside rushed out at them. Stella peered through the crack in the door. "It's only me, Mrs. Johnson," she said.
"I don't think I can help you," the thin voice answered. "We don't know where Charles is and haven't heard from him in--"
"We're desperate, Mrs. Johnson," Stella said.
There was no answer. Then the door opened all the way and they stepped into the dimly lit foyer. The smell of burnt logs and cigarettes hung in the air as they moved across the marble floor. The woman turned to them in the dim light with a glass in her hand. "Can I get anyone a drink?" she said. When they refused she extended her glass and filled it from a line of crystal decanters. "Please, sit down", she said. Eli sat in one of the upholstered chairs near the fire. Stella sank into the couch and crossed her legs.
"You haven't heard from your son, Charles, in awhile?" Eli asked. The woman nodded and looked at him for the first time. "Doesn't he have a phone?"
"No," she said. "But sometimes he ships out to work on the freighters and that's probably--"
"He was at my house early this morning," Stella said.
The simple statement seemed to stun the woman. She hesitated, and then muttered, "It's been difficult for Charles. You know young people. Don't know what they want to do."
"We know about Charley, Mrs. Johnson," Stella said. "About his problem with drugs."
The moment hung in the room as they waited for her to say something else. A burning log shifted in the fireplace and made a dull thud as it fell across the logs below it. The woman nervously smoothed her gray wool skirt, and said, "I'm sorry. I hope he hasn't been any trouble to you but--"
"We've got to talk to him," Stella said. The woman seemed to withdraw into herself, sipping her drink.
Eli shifted uncomfortably in the chair. "Were you the one that told Charley about my brother's problem with a building he owned in the Bronx?"
"I don't know anything about that," she said.
"Then it must've been your husband."
"No, no. He doesn't know anything about this."
"Maybe he should know about it," Eli said. "Your son came over to my brother's house the day after the party and offered to burn down a building for him. He could've only knownabout it if you told him what you'd heard at the party the day before."
"I don't think so," she said, fighting back the tears.
"You did tell Charley about that building, didn't you, Mrs. Johnson?" She stared back at him with a foolish smirk on her face. His question seemed to sober her for a moment.
"Yes, I told him about it," she said. "I thought he might be able to help Mr. Grimsky."
"Then you must've called Charley to tell him," Eli said.
"No. He was here at the house. But I haven't heard from him since," she said, reaching for the glass again.
"You're facing very serious charges, ma'am," Eli said.
"Charges?" she said, looking up in a daze.
"Accessory to arson, kidnapping and--"
"Kidnapping," she said, glancing up over the whiskey glass at Stella. "Oh, my God," she moaned and took in a deep breath. "I haven't heard from Charles since he went over to see Mr. Grimsky." She lifted her hand to her face and Stella knelt down next to her. "He told me not to worry...that there wouldn't be any problem," she said.
The fireplace popped and spit. "I'm sure you'll hear from him soon," Stella said. "Please call me right away when you do. We've got to talk to him."
The tearful lady on the couch nodded, took another long sip of her drink, but when Eli started talking again she looked up in a frightened stare.
"Don't tell Charley we've been here," he said.
"I'd never do that," she said.
"Tell him you've got some extra cash. He'll come running," Eli told her. "Then call us." She kept nodding but it was hard to tell if she was listening. "If we don't hear from you we'll have to tell your husband," Eli said.
Her back stiffened and she glanced at her watch. "He'll be here soon," she said. Her hand nervously brushed back a wisp of hair. "I'll do everything I can," she said, heading unsteadily for the front door. "G'night,
(Part III will appear in March/April)