Long read- two episodes. Apologies, but they need to go back-to-back. Should have been out on Christmas Eve, but…
“It’s not right, Junior. Nothing is right.” Carrie Louise turned, looked over her shoulder from her seat on Bobby’s porch steps at the empty-but-lit-up-for-Christmas house.
“You’re right.” Eldridge Junior turned to look with her. “About all this, anyway. Never thought we’d get to here. Bobby not being in this house, us scattered all over. Like one of those movies where everybody grows up, gets different, moves away. Maybe they have a reunion twenty years down the road, people cry or get drunk and show their asses. If that happens I’m stayin’ wherever I am, lettin’ it all alone.”
“I saw one on TV like that. Bobby ‘n me were eatin’ his momma’s Christmas pecan cookies buried in ice cream, the year before she left…And all these people were at a reunion or a wedding or something and they got snowed in and it messed up everything. All the snow, and…Shit.” The tears came, Eldridge waited. “It was so cold on TV, and the ice cream…I thought I was cold and stuck my feet up under Bobby’s leg…What was I? Twelve maybe? He was it, you know? My whole world.”
Eldridge put his arm around her, let her cry in silence.
“Junior…Do you ever hear from him? At all?”
“Couple of times a week. Texts, mostly. Some email, not much. You know him. Short and sweet. With the phone he can say ‘here’s my apartment’ or ‘burned the shit out my hand’ and send a picture along. He uses the computer for keeping up with business, doing research, taking online business classes. He says the Internet is the biggest university in the world when you filter the garbage.”
“Why did he just dump me, Junior. What’d I do?”
Junior pulled his arm back and his phone out. “Nothin’, CL. He wonders the same thing.” He scrolled his texts, showed her ‘tell cl hey if she’s not dead’. Here. Nothin’ to it, take a look.”
Carrie thumbed through Bobby’s texts, paused on some, huffed about others, stopped on a few about her and the tears took over.
“See, he couldn’t get you to say anything back to him all summer long when he texted you. When he called, your phone rang into forever, no voice mail. He tried email. Even called that dorm place and some girl said ‘I don’t know you, fuck off’, called him a perv and hung up. The next time he tried to call, the number was out of service.”
“Land lines are extra money, for nothing. So we did shut it off. The other stuff is impossible. He just didn’t try. Aunt Liz says he hates me for being smart and —”
“Last I looked he was paying for both of us to get college educations, get even smarter. And leaving it with us in his no bullshit, I gave my word way. Sure as I’m sittin’ here I watched him, CL, right where you’re at, try to text and call. He figured you just decided he was a dumb redneck and the hell with him and Houma. Just like his momma. You know that’s never set right with him, his momma leavin’. Figure that’s why the lights are up, for you and her. The angel there in the window? That was hers. Bought it when Bobby was a baby. It’s just like the one in your momma’s window. Bobby can act like nothin’ bothers him, but he wouldn’t let a Christmas go by without those two angels.”
“You know that to be certain sure true, for a fact?”
“I do. Bobby called the house, asked Senior to hang the lights for him the day after Thanksgiving. Senior said Bobby told him he didn’t care a damn about the rest of it, but Senior had to find the angel, and it had to go in the window. Senior found a picture in one of the boxes of lights and Christmas goings on that Bobby must’ve used to remember how it all went up, Christmas to Christmas. Senior figured it out like he would do, havin’ told Bobby he’d light the place up. Here we sit.”
“It still ain’t right.” She snuffled, wiped her nose on the sleeve of her hoodie. “Empty and all.”
“Nope.” Junior handed her a Jack in the Box napkin from his windbreaker pocket. “It ain’t. Can future lawyers say that? Ain’t?”
“At home in Houma with friends, and friends who should be here, they can.” She turned to look at the empty house dressed in empty holiday cheer, the angel in the window. “It’s starting to look like everywhere else they can’t. That’s where Aunt Liz and them are trying to keep me, though.”
Carrie Louise pushed herself up, walked across the veranda to the angel glowing in Bobby’s front window.
“What am I gonna do?” She slowly ran her index finger down the glass where the angel had warmed it. “He’s off out there in California and all, driving fancy cars, being around way too many of those pretty girls and having way, way too much fun…”
Bernie was laughing when she answered the knock on Bobby’s apartment door. Monterrey Mick pushed her and the door into the wall, lurched into the small living room.
“Mick, what the —”
“Shut up.” He reached across himself with his left hand, dragged her around and shoved her at the round kitchen table littered with wadded up Taco Mejor wrappers, her purse and several open file folders. Bobby and Creighton sat on the far side of the table with three opaque plastic glasses and an open bottle of champagne.
Bernie recovered, shoved Mick’s shoulder. “Look, asshole, I get enough of your shit on the clock.” She started to shove him again, and he pushed her back.
“No, you look.” Mick pulled a ridiculously long barreled, nickel plated wild west revolver out of his jacket. He wavered for a few seconds, like the weight of the gun had altered his balance. “All of you look.” He leveled the TV gunslinger special on each of his targets, moved it back and forth between them. “Two million. That’s all I want. All I ever wanted. Two mill and I’m out of here, nobody gets hurt.”
“That line is beyond stale, even in Hollywood.” Creighton took a sip from one of the plastic glasses. “Christmas Eve, Mick. Money like that is three days away, best case. Besides, you’ll just blow it on hookers and coke and be done inside a year. If it doesn’t kill you, you’ll be homeless somewhere they have zero pity for broke Americans.”
“Fuck that, and you. I stay here and I’m a restaurant? I’m a fucking artist. I turn rusty iron into dreams and you fuckers want to put empty, painted shells of muscle cars in an over-sized gas station with my name on it? Where mom and dad and their greasy-fingered little screamers can watch junior college mechanics slap Bondo on some yokel’s Ranchero? That’s somehow better than killing myself with hookers and blow?”
Bernie shoved her hand into her purse, lifted it off the table and pointed it at Mick. “No you don’t. No, no no. Not this time, buddy. I’ve waited five years for my chance out of cutoffs and off the TNA wagon. No way do you fuck this up for me.”
Mick laughed. “What the hell, Bern? You got a loaded tampon in there?”
Bernie shifted the purse a few degrees to the right and it barked like a Chihuahua being muffled in a fat lady’s arms. Just behind Mick and little to his left a framed starving artist print of rain slicked streets in Paris dropped to the floor and shattered. Mick jumped and the cowboy gun boomed a shot into the floor. When Mick looked up the purse was gone and Bernie had both hands on the grip of a pink Ruger 380 that was pointed straight at him.
Mick checked Bobby and Creighton, couldn’t decide where to point the king size cowboy pistol.
Creighton held up his hands. “We’re unarmed, there’s no money, so you two shoot each other or work it out before Santa and the pizza get here.”
“You don’t get it. None of you.” Mick looked like he was about to cry. “I just want the money. No restaurant, no custom cars, no TV show. No fucking grief. I want out the pile of shit my life’s turned into, and two mill isn’t too much to ask. I made people happy. I fucking deserve it. If it’s a year long funeral procession, I don’t care. Hear that? I. Don’t. Care. Two million doll—”
BAM, BAM, BAM, loud and sharp rattled Bobby’s front door.
“BOBBY B? FBI. WE NEED YOU TO OPEN THE DOOR.”
“Way too much fun now.” Bobby shook his head, raised his voice. “It’s open.”
The door banged into the wall again. Two men stepped inside, one black, one white, both in jeans, t-shirts and blue windbreakers, their badges on lanyards around their necks. They spotted the pink Ruger and Mick’s long, shiny cowboy special, pulled their handguns and modern danced a slow, bowlegged cross step around the room. A tall man in dark slacks walked through the middle of all the guns like they weren’t there, set a briefcase on the table in front of Bobby and offered him a small, relaxed smile.
“Agent Hyland, Bobby.” He scooted the taco wrappers out of the way with the briefcase, dropped it to flat. “You have pizza on the way?”
“Perfect. I’m originally from outside Omaha. Bum Fuck USA. Out where they say boredom breeds excess? I thought we knew how to cut loose come Christmas time. But I gotta to hand it to you, Bobby,” Briefcase man hooked his sunglasses on the lanyard that held his badge, looked around the room. Took in all the players, the guns, the taco wrappers, the champagne bottle, the shattered bad art, nodded approval. “You throw one helluva Christmas party.”