The Losers | Chapter 8 of 15

Author: David Eddings | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1539 Views | Add a Review

Please hit next button if you encounter an empty page

In taberna quando sumus

i

Toward the end of May the weather broke, and there were five or six days of sunshine. Raphael moved outside to luxuriate in the warmth, coming in off his rooftop only to eat and sleep or to go to work.

Quite early one morning he saw Crazy Charlie coming furtively out of the house next door. Charlie always tried to attend to those things that required him to leave the safety of his apartment early in the day when there were few people on the streets and in the stores. He avoided contact with people as much as possible, even crossing the street when he saw someone coming up the sidewalk toward him in order to make chance meetings or the possibility of conversation impossible.

This morning, however, Flood was waiting for him. The small red car came down the street a moment or so after Charlie emerged, pulled into its usual parking place behind Raphael’s car, and Flood bounded out. Without any preliminary word, he came around the back of his car and placed himself on the sidewalk directly in front of Crazy Charlie. “ ‘Morning, friend,” he said with a breezy cheerfulness.

Charlie mumbled something, his head down, and tried to cringe back off the sidewalk onto the grass.

“I wonder if you could give me some information,” Floodpressed. “I seem to be lost. Could you tell me how to get back to Interstate 90?”

Charlie pointed south mutely.

“I go that way?” Flood assumed an expression of enormous perplexity. “Man, I’m completely turned around. I could have sworn that I had to go that way.” He pointed north.

Charlie shook his head and gave more specific directions in a nasal, almost trembling voice.

“Man,” Flood said with an ingenuousness so obviously faked that Raphael, watching from his rooftop, cringed. “I sure do want to thank you.” Without warning, he reached out, grabbed Charlie’s hand, and shook it vigorously.

Charlie looked as if he were ready to faint. Having someone talk to him was bad enough, but to have someone actually touch him—

“Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” Flood went on in the same breezy tone, releasing Charlie’s hand.

Charlie looked around, confused. In all probability he had not paid any attention to the weather for several years now. “Yes,” he said in the same hesitant voice, “it seems pretty … nice.”

“All that rain was starting to destroy me.”

Charlie had begun sidling away, moving up the sidewalk away from Flood’s car, but Flood kept talking, walking along beside him.

Raphael watched the two of them move slowly up toward the end of the block, Flood talking animatedly and Charlie appearing to grow less apprehensive as they went. By the time they reached the corner they were talking and laughing together like old friends.

They stood on the comer for almost ten minutes in the slanting, golden light of the early-morning sun, and when they parted, they shook hands again. Charlie seemed almost wistful as he looked at Flood’s retreating back, then his shoulders slumped again into their usual slouch, and he crossed the street to pursue his early-morning errand.

Flood was buoyant when he came up the stairs and onto the roof. “How ‘bout that?” he crowed. “Were you watching?” “Of course. Wasn’t I supposed to be?”

Flood ignored that. “I’ve been laying for that silly bastard for four days now. I knew he’d have to come out sooner or later.” “Why don’t you just leave him alone?”

“Don’t be ungrateful. Look at all the sleep I’ve missed for your benefit.” “Mine?”

“Of course. You’re the one who’s so damned interested in him. His name’s Henry, not Charlie, and he gets a disability pension because he’s nervous—that’s the way he put it—I get nervous.’ He’s supposed to be in therapy of some kind, but he doesn’t go. He has seven cats—he told me their names, but I forget what they are—and he used to have a little dog named Rags, but Rags ran away. Sometimes, late at night when everybody’s asleep, he goes out and looks for Rags. He calls him—very softly so that he won’t wake anybody up—but Rags never comes. Henry misses him terribly. He didn’t tell me the name of the dragon who sleeps on the floor in front of that cupboard—as a matter of fact, we didn’t get into the question of the dragon at all.”

“Jesus,” Raphael said, feeling a sudden wrenching pity for Crazy Charlie and the abysmal emptiness of his life.

“Sad as hell, isn’t it?” Flood agreed. “A couple times there I almost broke down and cried while he was talking.”

“You?”

“Come on,” Flood protested, “I’m not totally insensitive, you know.”

“You could have fooled me.”

Later, when they had gone inside to have coffee, Charlie returned to his apartment. He put down his packages and began to talk animatedly.

Flood watched him intently through Raphael’s binoculars. “I think he’s going through the whole conversation again, word for word.”

“Why don’t you leave him alone?” Raphael said disgustedly, realizing that he had said it before.

“I didn’t hurt him.” Flood was still watching through the

binoculars. “For all I know, I might have done him some good. God knows how long it’s been since he actually talked to somebody.”

“That’s not the point. You’re using him—that’s the point.”

“Everybody uses people, Raphael.” Flood still had the binoculars to his eyes. “That’s what we’re here for. You used him for months and never even talked to him—didn’t even take the trouble to find out his real name. At least when I used him, he got something out of it. Here.” He shoved the binoculars at Raphael. “Go on and take a look at him. He’s genuinely happy. When did you ever do anything like that for him?”

Helplessly, feeling somehow furtive, Raphael took the binoculars and looked across the intervening space at Crazy Charlie’s broadly smiling face. He knew that what Flood had done was wrong, but he could not put his finger on exactly what it was that had made it wrong. And so he watched, and for the first time he began to feel ashamed.

Chicken Coop Annie had waddled out of her house to yell at her kids. Flood came down the street and stopped to talk with her.

On his rooftop Raphael knew that the meeting was once again deliberate and that it had been carefully staged for his benefit. He had even seen the brief flicker of Flood’s eyes as he had thrown a quick glance up to be sure that he was sitting there.

Chicken Coop Annie was wearing a tentlike wrapper that somehow accentuated rather than concealed the enormous nudity that lay beneath it. She giggled often as she spoke with Flood, her pudgy hands going nervously to the tangled wrack of her hair.

Flood eyed her boldly as they spoke, an insinuating smile playing about his lips, and Annie glowed, her eyes sly and her expression and gestures grossly coquettish.

They talked for quite a long while as Raphael watched helplessly from his rooftop. As Flood left, Annie raised her arms, ran all ten fat fingers through her hair, and shook her head with a movement that was somehow enormously sensual. When she walked back toward her house, her waddle seemed to become almost a conscious strut.

“Her name’s Opal,” Flood announced when he reached the rooftop.

“Really?”

“She has urges,” Flood said, leaning against the railing.

“I noticed. Are you two going steady?”

“Interesting idea. Maybe if she was a little cleaner …”

“Why let that bother you? If you’re going to wallow, why not go all the way?”

“Don’t be crude.” Flood suddenly laughed. “My God, she’s a big woman! You don’t realize it until you get up close to her. She’s like a monument. A woman like that could scare a whole generation of young men into monasteries.”

“Aren’t you getting tired of this game?”

“No, not just yet. The street still has enormous possibilities.”

And again, in bright and vivid morning air, Flood strode step for step with grim-faced Willie the Walker, deep in conversation, their words chopped and measured by the steady rhythm of their feet upon the sidewalk.

Sitting, Raphael watched them pass and turned away in disgust.

“Name’s George,” Flood informed Raphael later. “He had a heart attack ten years ago. His doctor advised him to get more exercise—suggested walking. That might have been the wrong thing to say to George.”

“How much longer are you going to keep this up?”

“The old boy covers fifteen miles a day,” Flood said, ignoring the question. “His doctor dropped dead three years ago, but old George keeps on walking. The only trouble with it is that it’s the only thing he’s got to talk about. He’s a walking city map. He talked at me for a solid half hour, reciting the street names from the river to the North Division Y.” He stopped and winced, shaking one foot. “Goddamn, my feet hurt.”

“Good.”

And again as Mousy Mary struggled down the street with two huge sacks of groceries, the ever-present Flood came to her aid with overwhelming gallantry. Suspicious at first and even apprehensive, she finally permitted him to carry one, then both. By the rime they reached her porch, they were chatting together as if they had been neighbors for years. Her runny eyes brightened, and her slack mouth trembled now and then into a fleeting and tenuous smile. They talked together for almost half an hour before Flood came back across the street and up the stairs to the roof.

“Would you believe that her name really is Mary?” he told Raphael.

“Whoopee.”

“They’re going to give her kids back this weekend. Somebody finally got smart enough to really sit down and listen to that mother of hen. I guess the old bag’s genuinely certifiable. They ought to fit her for a straitjacket.”

“I could have told you that. So, what are you proving by all of this?”

“Just verifying your theory. You know—scientific method, empirical data, independent observer, all that shit. A theory isn’t worth much if it isn’t subject to verification, right?”

“I think there’s also some question about the presence of the observer as a factor in the validity of the tests, isn’t there?”

“Shit!” Flood said disgustedly. “Next you’ll be talking about the noise in the woods.”

“Why not? It’d be a damn sight more useful than all these fun and games.”

“Oh no, Raphael. You’re not going to put me off the track that easy. I’m going to run down each and every one of your losers before I’m through. We’re going to have a good hard look at the face of reality—warts, pimples, and all—and nothing less than get-ring run down by a garbage truck is going to stop me.”

“That’s an interesting thought.”

“Be nice.”

And again, in conversation with Freddie the Fruit under the hard and watchful eye of Freddie’s girlfriend. Freddie, almost girlish, wriggled under the full impact of Flood’s charm. Even the girl thawed a bit, though her expression was still suspicious.

“Harold and Wanda,” Flood told Raphael. “He’s Harold, she’s Wanda.”

“Obviously.”

“Not entirely. A very tough broad, that one. She had a boyfriend named Douglas once. She’s got his name tattooed on her shoulder—D-U-G. Can you imagine carrying an illiteracy to your grave like that? Anyway, they’ve completely reversed the traditional male-female roles, and they’re really quite happy. He flirts with men to make her jealous, but he’s probably not very serious about it. It’s all part of a very elaborate game they play. Your original theory was an oversimplification this time. That’s a very subtle and complex relationship.”

“So?”

“I just thought you’d like to know, is all. After all, they’re your losers, not mine.” And Flood grinned, his dark eyes glittering in the sunlight.

And again on the porch with Sadie the Sitter, both of them lounging at their ease. “He drinks, of course,” Sadie told Flood. “I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, sure. He has for years now. Sometimes when he comes home, it’s all he can do to make it into the house, he’s so drunk.”

“Then why does she act as if they were so special?” Flood asked, playing the straight man.

Sadie smiled knowingly. “Her family had money. They’re the ones who set him up in business—and she never lets him forget it, let me tell you. That’s why he drinks, naturally.”

“Naturally.”

“And the one next to her,” Sadie went on, pointing. “She’s always bustin’ a gut tryin’ to keep up. They spend all their time tryin’ to out-uppity each other. It makes me sick.”

“I don’t know why people have to be like that.”

“That’s all right. I’ll be comin’ into some money pretty soon. Then we’ll see who’s gonna outfancy who.”

“Good for you,” Flood approved.

Sadie nodded smugly and stuffed another handful of potato chips into her mouth. “Get the hell away from that rosebush, you little bastard!” she bellowed at one of the children she was watching.

“That woman is an abomination,” Flood told Raphael later. “I’m moderately immoral myself, but she’s not even human. She hates everything. Talking to her is like crawling into a sewer.”

“It was your idea,” Raphael pointed out. “Had enough yet?”

“What keeps her alive?” Flood exclaimed. “What keeps her from exploding from all that sheer, overwhelming envy. Oh, by the way, her name’s Rita. They call her husband Bob the Barber.”

“So?”

Flood shrugged. “I just thought you’d be interested.”

“What made you think I’d be interested? I could see what she is from here. I didn’t have to sit on her porch and let her spew on me to find out everything I needed to know about her.”

“I don’t see how she fits into your theory, though.”

“She’s a loser. You can smell it from here. There’s a catastrophe just around the corner—something crouching, waiting to pounce on her.”

“That’d be one helluva pounce.” Flood laughed. “Maybe it’s Jamesean—’Beast in the Jungle’ and all that crap. Maybe her catastrophe is going to be the fact that no catastrophe ever happens to her.”

“Aren’t we getting a little far afield? How much longer are you planning to play this little game?”

“Only as long as necessary, Angel,” Flood said with an infuriating blandness. “Only as long as necessary.”

Jimmy and Marvin were on the lawn of the house up the street laboring with Jimmy’s new car—a battered Ford in only slightly better shape than his old one. They had brought speakers out of the house and connected them to the car’s radio and had turned the volume all the way up. The mindless bawling they called music bounced and echoed off the front of the houses and shook windows from one end of the block to the other. As they worked they had to scream at each other to be heard over the noise, but that was not as important as the fact that the music attracted attention—that everyone knew that they were out there doing something important.

And then, inevitably, Flood came sauntering down the street, hands in his pockets and a cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth, though Flood rarely smoked. “Hey, man,” he said to Jimmy, who had just come out from under the gaping hood of the Ford to stare at him truculently, “what’s happening?”

Jimmy answered shortly, his face still suspicious, but his words were lost in a fresh blare of noise from the radio. Flood walked a few steps toward him, his face questioning, and Jimmy nervously backed up a step or two. Raphael had noticed that Jimmy’s mouth often got him into more trouble than he could handle.

“What’d you say, man?” Flood asked pleasantly. “I didn’t quite catch it.” He spoke quite loudly.

Jimmy mumbled something, his eyes down.

“I’m sorry,” Flood said over the music. “I still can’t hear you.” He went closer to Jimmy, who backed up a little farther.

“What’s the matter with it, man?” Flood asked Marvin, who was struggling under the hood with the stubborn guts of the sick car.

Marvin answered shortly and then began to swear as his wrench slipped and his knuckles smashed against the solidity of the engine block.

“Ouch,” Flood said, “I’ll bet that hurts like a son of a bitch. Did you check the coil?” He pointed at something under the hood and murmured some instructions.

“Jimmy,” Marvin shouted exasperatedly, “will you turn that fuckin’ radio down?”

“What for?” Jimmy’s tone was still belligerent.

“Because I can’t hear myself think, for Chrissake.” Jimmy glowered at him.

Flood reached into the engine compartment and carefully disconnected a wire. The music stopped abruptly in midsquawl. The sudden silence was stunning.

“Sorry,” Flood said. “Wrong wire.”

“What the hell you think you’re doin’, man?” Jimmy screamed at him. He went to the side of the car and started to bang on one of the speakers.

Flood reattached the wire, and naked noise erupted into Jimmy’s face. The pasty-faced young man flinched visibly and stepped back a few paces. “Jesus!”

The music stopped again.

“Hang on,” Flood said. “I’ll get it.”

Jimmy approached the car again, and once again the full volume blasted into his face. “Aw, for Chrissake!” He climbed into the car and turned the radio off. “Hey, man,” he said to Flood, “quit fuckin’ around with my car, huh?”

“Shut up, Jimmy,” Marvin told him, still leaning into the engine compartment.

“What the fuck you talkin’ about?” Jimmy demanded. “It’s my goddamn car, ain’t it?”

“Okay.” Marvin straightened up. “You fix the bastard then.” He threw down his wrench.

“Come on, Marv,” Jimmy pleaded, “you know more about this than I do.”

“What’s the problem with it?” Flood asked.

“Son of a bitch runs like a thrashin’ machine,” Marvin replied. “Half the time it won’t start at all; and when it does, it sounds like it’s tryin’ to shake itself to pieces.”

“Timing,” Flood diagnosed. “You got a timing strobe?”

Marvin shook his head.

“Leon’s got one,” Jimmy offered hopefully. “You think you could fix it, man?” He looked at Flood with an almost sick yearning on his face.

“Shouldn’t be too tough. I’ll need that strobe, though.” “Lemme use your car, Marv,” Jimmy said. “I’ll go get it.” “Why not?” Marvin gave Jimmy his keys and then turned back to Flood. “Hey, man, what’s your name?” “Jake.”

“I’m Marvin. This is Jimmy. Let’s have a beer while we’re waitin’ for him to get back.”

“Don’t drink up all the beer, man,” Jimmy protested.

“Get some more. Pick up the strobe and go over to the store an’ get some more.”

“I ain’t got no money.”

“Here.” Flood took out his wallet and pulled out a bill. “Why don’t you pick up a case?”

“Hey, Darla,” Marvin yelled at the house, “bring out a couple beers, huh?”

Jimmy went to the curb and climbed into Marvin’s car. Flood and Marvin went up on the porch and sat down as he pulled away. One of the girls, a blonde with stringy hair, brought out some beer, and they sat around on the porch, talking.

On the roof Raphael watched. He wished that Flood would get away from them. He felt strangely angered by the easy way Flood had insinuated himself into the rowdy, clannish group up the street. He was startled to suddenly realize that he was actually jealous. In disgust he pushed his chair away from that side of the house, rolled himself across the roof, and sat staring moodily into the alley at the back of the house.

He could still hear their voices, however, laughing and talking. Then they turned the radio on again, and some bawling half-wit began to sing at the top of his lungs about true love in a voice quavering with technically augmented emotion.

Raphael got up and stumped into his apartment. In part it was anger with Flood, but it was more than that, really. Raphael had never been particularly attracted to rock music. In the first place it was normally played at a volume about two decibels below the pain level, and in the second place he found the lyrics and the actual musical quality of the stuff absurdly juvenile—even simpleminded. He was quite convinced that most adolescents listened to it not so much out of preference, but rather so that other adolescents could see them listening to it. It was a kind of badge, a signal to other members of the tribe. There was something beyond that, however. Since his accident Raphael had rather carefully kept himself in an emotional vacuum. The extent of his injury had made that necessary. There were thoughts and feelings that he simply could not permit if he were to retain his sanity.

Even inside, however, the blaring music penetrated, and Raphael grew angrier. “The hell with that.” He crutched to the bookcase and ran a finger across the backs of his tape cassettes. It was childish, but he was too irritated to care. “Let’s see how they like this.” He pulled out a cassette and clicked it into the player. Then he turned the volume up and opened the doors and windows.

The tape he played was a pyrotechnic work by Orff, an obscure German composer of the early twentieth century. It was quite satisfyingly loud, and the choral lyrics, in Low German and corrupt Latin, were suitably cynical and of course quite beyond the comprehension of the cretins up the street.

Raphael waited in the maze of naked sound.

After several minutes the phone rang.

“Yes?” he answered it.

“Don’t you think that’s a little loud?” Flood asked acidly.

“Not particularly. Sounds just about right to me. It pretty well covers certain undesirable noises in the community.”

“Don’t get shitty. Other people don’t want to listen to that crap.”

“What’s the matter, baby? All your taste in your mouth?” “Grow up. Tum the goddamn thing down.” “Just as soon as you persuade your new friends down there to turn down that garbage they’re listening to.” “We aren’t hurting anybody.” “Neither am I.” “Just turn it down.”

“Stuff it.” Raphael hung up.

The tape played through, and Raphael turned it off and went back outside.

Flood and Marvin were leaning under the hood of the car while Jimmy hovered anxiously behind them. The speakers were gone, and the neighborhood was silent.

“I think that’s got it,” Flood announced, straightening. “Give it a try.”

Jimmy got into the car and started it. “Hey, wow!” he exulted. “Listen to that baby purr!”

There was a racking snarl up the street, and two of the motorcycles came down to the house, bumped up over the curb, and stopped on the lawn. Big Heintz and the skinny one Raphael had named Little Hider dismounted and swaggered over to the car.

“You still fuckin’ around with that pig?” Heintz demanded.

“Hey, Heintz,” Jimmy said proudly, “listen to her now.” He revved his engine.

Heintz cocked one ear toward the car. “Not bad,” he admitted. “What was wrong with it?”

“Timing,” Marvin told him. “Jake here spotted it right off.”

“Jake?” Heintz looked suspiciously at Flood as if the inclusion of someone new into the group without his express permission was a violation of some obscure ethic.

“This is Jake,” Marvin introduced him. “We got Leon’s timing light, and he fixed the bitch in no time at all.”

Jimmy backed his car into the street and roared off, tires squealing.

“You a mechanic?” Heintz asked Flood. “I tinker a little now and then.” Flood shrugged, wiping his scarcely dirty hands on a rag.

“Know anything about bikes?”

Flood shook his head. “I’m not into bikes.”

“Where you from?”

“Detroit.”

“Never been there.”

“I wouldn’t make a special trip just to see it.”

“Let’s have a beer,” Heintz suggested, his manner relaxing a bit.

“You bet, Heintz,” Marvin said quickly. “We got a whole case. Jake bought it.” He hurried up onto the porch and yelled into the house. “Hey, Darla, bring out some beer, huh?”

Heintz draped a meaty arm over Flood’s shoulders as they went up onto the porch. “What brings you way out here, Jake?” he asked in a friendlier tone.

“I’m on the run.” Flood laughed shortly.

Heintz gave him a startled look.

“I don’t get along with my family,” Flood explained. “We all decided it’d be better if I kept about a thousand miles distance between us.”

Heintz laughed harshly. “I know that feeling.”

They gathered on the porch, and the women came out of the house. The sun was just going down, and they all sat around talking and drinking beer.

Jimmy roared up and down the street several times, showing off, then parked at the curb in front of the house.

The talk grew louder, more boisterous, and more people arrived or came out of the house. Raphael had never been able to determine exactly how many people actually lived in the big house, since the population seemed to fluctuate from week to week. Their relationships were casual, and it was difficult to determine at any one time just who was sleeping with whom. Sourly he sat on his rooftop and watched Flood insinuate himself into the clan. By the time it had grown dark, he had been totally accepted, and his voice was as rowdy and boisterous as any.

The party continued, growing louder and more raucous, until about eleven-thirty when two police cars arrived and the officers got out to break it up.

Flood came down the street, got into his car, and drove away. He did not even glance up at the rooftop where Raphael sat watching.

ii

The first of June fell on a Wednesday, and Raphael went in to work early. Normally he waited until about ten in order to avoid the rush of traffic, but the first of the month was different.

Heavy traffic still made him jumpy, and he was in a bad humor when he reached the store. Denise was inside, and she unlocked the door to let him in. “You’re early.”

“Mother’s Day,” Raphael replied shortly, crutching into the barnlike building. “I have to get home early to guard the mailbox.”

“I don’t follow that.” She locked the door again.

“The welfare checks come today. It’s also the day when I get a check from my bank in Port Angeles. The kids over there in Welfare City find unwatched mailboxes enormously fascinating on Mother’s Day.”

“Why don’t you move out of that place?” He shrugged. “It’s not that big a thing. You just have to be careful is all.”

“You want some coffee?” “I thought you’d never ask.”

They went back through the dimly lighted store to the cluttered workroom in the rear. It was very quiet in the big building, and shadows filled the comers and crouched behind the endless racks of secondhand clothes that reeked of mothballs and disinfectant.

“Is your friend still in town?” Denise asked as she poured coffee.

“Flood?” Raphael lowered himself into a chair. “Oh yes. The pride of Grosse Pointe still lurks in Fun City.”

“Now that’s exactly what I mean,” she said angrily, bending slightly to bang down his coffee cup with her dwarfed arm.

“That’s what you mean about what? Come on, Denise, it’s too early in the morning to be cryptic. I’m not even awake yet.”

“All those cute little remarks. You never used to talk that way before he came. When is he going to go away and leave us alone?” “Us?”

“You know what I mean.”

Raphael smiled briefly. “Sorry. I’m grumpy today. It’s always a hassle on the day when the checks come. I’m not-looking forward to it, that’s all.”

“Why don’t you just have your bank in Port Angeles transfer the money directly to your bank here?” she asked him, sitting on the edge of the table. “That way you wouldn’t have to worry about it.”

Raphael looked up, startled. “I never thought of that.”

“I think you need a keeper, Rafe. You’re a hopeless incompetent when it comes to anything practical. What’s he up to now?”

“Who? Oh, Flood? I’m not sure. He’s playing games. He’s going around introducing himself to all my neighbors. It’s all very obscure and not particularly attractive. He says he’s doing it to ‘bring me out of my shell,’ but I’m sure there’s something ehe behind it as well. Jake Flood is a very devious young man.”

“I hate him.” She said it flatly.

“You’ve never met him.”

“I never met Hider, either—or Attila the Hun.” “You’re a very opinionated person, Denise.” He smiled at her. “He’s going to hurt you, Rafe. I can see it coming, and I hate him for it.”

“No. He’s not going to hurt me. Flood likes to manipulate people, that’s all. I know him, and I know what he’s up to. I can take care of myself.”

“Sure you can.”

“Little mother of the world,” Raphael said fondly, reaching out and taking her misshapen little hand, “you’re going to rub raw spots on your soul if you don’t stop worrying about all of us.”

“Well, I care, dammit!” She did not pull her hand away.

“You’re cold,” he noted, feeling the tiny, gnarled bones in the dwarfed hand.

“It’s always cold. The other one’s fine, see?” She reached out to put her other hand briefly on his wrist.

“Well.” Raphael released her and reached for his crutches. “I guess I’d better get to work.”

She sighed. “Me too, I suppose.”

Raphael rose and crutched smoothly through the dim light to his bench and the pile of battered and broken shoes that awaited him.

He went home about eleven, and Flood was waiting for him. The top was down on the little red sports car, and Flood half lay in the front seat, his feet propped up on the opposite door.

“Loitering, Damon?” Raphael asked, coming up beside the car.

“Just watching your people. They’re all out today, aren’t they?”

“Mother’s Day. They’re waiting for the mailman.”

“Mother’s Day?”

“The day the welfare checks arrive. Big party night tonight. Let’s go upstairs.”

“Right.” Flood climbed out of the car. “Is that why all the kids are out of school?”

“Sure. It’s sort of like Christmas—very exciting. Lots of money and goodies and stuff.”

“Nigger rich,” Flood said as they climbed the stairs.

“That’s one way to put it.”

Later they sat by the railing, watching the street.

“Who’s that kid belong to?” Flood asked, pointing at a longhaired fourteen-year-old with a permanent sneer on his face lounging against the light pole on the corner. “I don’t think I’ve seen him before.”

“He’s a thief. He’s probably looking for the chance to steal somebody’s welfare check.” “You’ve seen him before?” “I sure have. He stole my groceries once.” “He did what?” Flood was outraged.

Raphael told him about the incident with the cabdriver and the two bags of groceries.

“Slimy little bastard,” Flood growled. “That he is.”

“Can I use your phone for a minute?” Flood asked, his eyes narrowing.

“You know where it is.”

Flood went inside and then came back in a few minutes, a malicious smile on his dark face. He sat down again and watched the street.

“What are you up to now?” Raphael asked him.

“That’d spoil it. Just keep your eyes open.”

Up the street at the house of Heck’s Angels, Jimmy and Marvin came out and began tossing a Frisbee back and forth, casually walking down toward the corner where the kid stood.

Raphael suddenly had a horrid suspicion. “Look out, kid!” he shouted.

But it was too late. Jimmy and Marvin pounced on the kid and held him, laughingly avoiding his desperate kicks.

“What do you guys want?” the kid yelled at them. “Lemme go.”

Marvin held the kid’s skinny arms, and Jimmy squared off in front of him.

“Help!” the kid screamed. “Somebody help me!” Jimmy hit him in the mouth. “Help!” the kid cried. Jimmy hit him again.

They pounded him for several minutes, and after he fell to the sidewalk, they kicked him in the stomach and face for a while. Then they sauntered across the street and glanced up at the rooftop.

“Good job!” Flood called down to them. “Thanks.”

“Anytime, Jake,” Marvin called back up, grinning. They went on back up the street, talking and laughing.

On the corner the kid pulled himself up, using the light pole. His mouth and nose streamed blood, and his eyes were swollen nearly shut. “Dirty bastards!” he sobbed at the backs of the two who had just beaten him.

They turned and started back, and the kid ran, half crouched over, holding his stomach with both hands.

“Quite satisfying, wasn’t it?” Flood said to Raphael, his eyes burning.

“It was disgusting. Sickening.”

“Of course it was, but satisfying all the same. Right? I liked that little touch—the warning you gave him—-just a moment too late. Nicely done, Raphael. Perfect timing. You get all the satisfaction out of watching the little bastard get the shit stomped out of him with no guilt attached to it at all, because you did try to warn him.”

“You’re contemptible.”

“Of course I am.” Flood laughed. “We’re all contemptible. We all have these base, vile, disgusting little urges—revenge, hate, spite, malice. Each man’s soul is a seething sewer. I just bring it out into the open, that’s all. I take a certain pride in my disinterestedness, though.”

“In your what?”

“That was for you, Raphael. I didn’t give a shit about that kid one way or the other. You’re the one who had a hard-on for him. Look upon me as an instrument of a vengeful God. The Archangel proposes, and Jake Flood disposes. Just be careful about the things you wish for while I’m around, though, because you’ll probably get exactly what you want.” His eyes were very bright now. “Admit it. Deep down in that part of your mind nobody likes to look into, you really enjoyed that, didn’t you?”

Raphael started to say something, but suddenly could not, because it was true. He had enjoyed it.

Flood saw his hesitation and laughed, a long, almost bell-like peal of pure mirth.

And then the mailman came, and the streets below exploded with people. Impatiently, they waited on the sidewalk for him and literally grabbed the checks out of his hands as he approached. As soon as they had the checks, they dashed to their cars and raced away in a frenzy, as if the world might suddenly run out of money before they could convert the checks into spendable cash. “Get in the car! Get in the car!” mothers screamed urgently at their children, and their men hovered closely, even anxiously, over the women who held, each in her own two tightly clenched hands, that ultimate reality in their lives—the welfare check. For those brief, ecstatic hours between the time when the checks arrived and the time when they all watched in anguish as the seemingly vast wealth dwindled down to the last few paltry dollars that were surplus, the women were supreme. The boyfriends who had beaten them and sworn at them, ridiculed and cheated on them, were suddenly docile, even fawning, in the presence of the awful power represented by the checks. As the day wore on and so much went for rent, so much for the light bill, and so much for payments on this or this or that, the faces of the men became more desperate. Mentally, each man watched that huge stack of tens and twenties melt away like frost in the sun, and since he knew that he could only wheedle a third or even a quarter of what was left, his eyes grew wide with near panic.

But first there was the orgy of shopping, of filling the house with food. An hour or two after the checks arrived, the cars began to return, clattering and smoking as always, but filled with boxes and sacks of groceries. The children screamed and squabbled and ran up and down the sidewalks almost hysterical with excitement. They gorged themselves on candy and potato chips and swilled soda pop as fast as they could drink it, knowing that what they could not eat or drink today would be lost forever.

And then, when the food was in and the money orders for the bills were all bought and safely in the mail, the men took their women inside and, each in his own fashion, cajoled a share of the loot. It was only then that the parties started.

“My God!” Flood said, watching. “It’s a circus down there. Does this happen every month?”

“Every month,” Raphael told him. “It’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July all rolled into one—and it happens on the first of every month.”

The all-powerful women emerged from their houses, contented and enormously satisfied that they had once again provided bountifully for their dependents. The scrimping and borrowing and hunger of the last week were forgotten in an orgy of generosity and open-handed benevolence. For the moment at least, they were all rich. “Let’s cruise around a bit,” Flood suggested. “What for?”

“Because you’re taking root in that chair. It’s unhealthy to sit in one spot for so long. Let’s away, my Angel, and behold the wonders of Welfare City on payday. Call it research if you like—an observation of the loser at play.”

As he almost always did, Raphael succumbed in the end to Flood’s badgering. It was not so much that he accepted his friend’s feeble excuses, but rather that he, too, felt the contagious excitement from the streets below. The thought of remaining stationary while so much was going on became unbearable under Flood’s prodding.

And so they cruised in Flood’s small red car, drifting slowly up and down the streets of shabby houses with junked cars sitting up on blocks in the yards and broken-down appliances and boxes of junk piled on the porches. The streets were alive with people, and they sat on porches and lawns drinking and laughing. Music blasted from a dozen radios and record players, and packs of kids on bicycles rode wildly up and down the streets.

“A good old-fashioned truant officer could have a ball today,” Flood observed.

“They don’t seem to pay that much attention in Spokane.”

“Sure. After all, how much education do you need to be able to sign a welfare check?”

They pulled up in front of a tavern on Broadway.

“Now what?” Raphael asked.

“Let’s have a beer and take a look at party time in the poor man’s social club.”

“Why not?” Raphael dug his crutches out from behind the seat and they went in.

The first thing that struck them was the noise. The place seethed with people, most of them already drunk and all of them shouting.

Flood found a small table near the corner, got Raphael seated, and then went to the bar for beer. “Loud, huh?” he said when he came back.

“You noticed.”

“What time do the fights start?” Raphael looked around. “Hard to say.”

An Indian shambled by their table with his mouth gaping open and a sappy look of bludgeoned drunkenness on his face.

“The old-timers were right,” Flood observed. “They can’t hold their liquor, can they?”

“He doesn’t seem much drunker than anybody else.”

“Really? I’d give him another five minutes before he passes out.”

“He could surprise you.”

“Let’s get up a pool on which way he falls. I’d bet on north—that’s the side of the tree the moss grows on.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“You know—child of nature, all that crap.”

“Why not south then—the way the geese fly? Or east to west—with the rotation of the earth? Or west to east—with the prevailing winds?”

“Interesting problem. There he goes.”

Raphael turned in his seat. The Indian had reeled against a wall and was sliding slowly to the floor, his eyes glazed.

“No bet,” Flood said. “The son of a bitch passed out vertically.”

An argument broke out at the pool table, and two drunken young men threatened each other with pool cues until they were separated.

Everyone was a big shot today, and loud arguments erupted about who was going to pay for the next round. The noise was stunning, and Raphael began to get a headache. “Had about enough?” he asked Flood.

“Let’s have one more.” Flood got up quickly and went back to the bar. As he turned, a glass in each hand, a tall black man with graying hair lurched into him, knocking one of the glasses to the floor.

“Hey, man,” the black man apologized quickly, “I’m sorry.” Flood’s eyes were flat and his expression cold.

“Let me buy you another.” “Forget it.”

“No, man—I mean, it was me that spilled it.”

“I said to forget it.” Flood deliberately turned his back on the man to return to the bar.

The black man’s eyes froze, and his face went stiff. He drew himself up as if about to say something, then looked around as if suddenly realizing how many whites were in the bar and where their sympathies would lie in the event of an argument. “Shit,” he muttered, and cautiously made his way to the door, his face still carrying that stiff, defensive expression.

Flood returned to the table and put down the two beers.

“You could have let him buy,” Raphael said.

“I don’t like niggers. I don’t like the way they look; I don’t like the way they smell; and I don’t like the way they’re trying to niggerize the whole country.”

“The man was only trying to be polite. You didn’t have to shit on him.”

“That’s what they’re for, Gabriel. The only reason they exist is to be shit on.”

Once again Raphael felt that strange shock that always came when Flood let the other name slip.

“Look around out there,” Flood went on, obviously unaware that he had called Raphael by the wrong name. “You’ve got a whole generation of white kids trying to wear Afros and speak in fluent ghetto. Something’s radically wrong when white kids knock themselves out trying to look and sound like niggers.”

“Ship ‘em all back to Africa, huh?”

Flood grinned at him. “Gotcha!”

“Damon,” Raphael said in exasperation, “quit that.”

Flood laughed. “You’re still as innocent as ever, Raphael. You still believe everything anybody says to you. You ought to know me better than that by now.”

“May all your toenails fall out. Let’s get out of this rattrap. I’m starting to get a headache.”

“Right on.” Flood drained his glass.

They got up and made their way through the seething crowd of half-drunk people between them and the door.

Outside, the sun had gone down and the streetlights were just coming on. They got into Flood’s car and sat for a few moments, letting the silence wash over them.

“Great group,” Flood said.

“Letting off steam. They build up a lot of pressure during the course of a month.” “Doing what?”

“Living, Damon. Just living—and waiting for the next check.” Flood started his car, and they wound slowly through the streets. “Haven’t you had about enough of this sewer?” he asked finally. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Let’s find some other town. Let’s pack up and go on down to San Francisco—or Denver, maybe.” “What brought all that on?”

“The place is starting to irritate me, that’s all.” Flood’s voice was harsh, almost angry. “You can only take so much of a place like Spokane. It’s called Spokanitis. That’s when you get sick of Spokane.”

“I’m settled. I don’t feel like moving just yet.” “Okay, Raphael.” Flood’s voice was strangely light. “It was just a thought.”

“Look, Damon,” Raphael said seriously. “I appreciate your coming here and all. You’ve pulled me through some pretty rough times; but if the town bothers you all that much, maybe you ought to cut out. We can keep in touch. Maybe by the end of the summer I’ll want to try something new, but right now I’m just not ready to take on that much change. You can understand that.”

“Sure,” Flood said, his voice still light. “Forget I said anything.”

“When do you think you’ll be leaving?”

“Oh no.” Flood laughed. “I can stand it as long as you can.”

They pulled up in front of Raphael’s apartment.

Across the street the light was on in Tobe and Sam’s place, and

Flood looked speculatively at the house. “Let’s go see how the old boys are doing,” he suggested, and bounded out of the car before Raphael could answer.

Uncertain of what he was up to, Raphael crutched along behind him toward the shabby little house.

The two old men had made some effort to clean the place, and they themselves were clean for the first time since Raphael had known them. There was still caked dirt in the corners, but the floors had been mopped and the woodwork wiped down.

They had been playing cribbage at the table in the dining room, and their cups held coffee. They were a little embarrassed by company and stood around, not knowing exactly what to say. Finally Tobe offered coffee.

“Wait one,” Flood said quickly, and dashed out of the house again. He came back a moment later with a brown-bagged bottle of whiskey and set it down on the table. “Why don’t we all have a drink instead?” he suggested, his eyes very bright.

Tobe and Sam sat at the table, looking at the bottle with a terrible longing on their faces.

“What do you think, Sam?” Tobe asked hesitantly.

“I don’t know,” Sam said, still looking at the bottle. “Maybe one won’t hurt.”

“I’ll get some glasses.” Tobe got up quickly.

In a fury, almost sick with rage, Raphael stood up, took his crutches, and stumped out of the house. Blindly, he went down the steps, jabbing down hard with the tips of his crutches. For a moment he actually hated Flood.

On the corner, in the pale glow of the streetlight, Patch stood watching him as he came out of the house. Then, after a moment when they had looked wordlessly at each other, he turned and went on silent feet out of the light and into the darkness, and then he was gone.

iii

Flood was in a foul humor when he came by a few days later, and he’d only been at Raphael’s apartment for a few minutes before they were snapping at each other.

“Maybe!” Flood said. “Don’t be so goddamn wishy-washy. Give me a date—some kind of approximation.”

“I don’t know. I told you before I’m just not ready for that kind of change yet. If this place bothers you so much, go ahead and take off.”

“How can you stand this town? There’s absolutely nothing to do here.”

“All right.” Raphael said it flatly. “I’m going to explain this once more. Maybe you’ll listen this time. I’ve got some pretty damned big adjustments to make, and this is a good place to make them. The fact that there’s nothing to do makes it all the better.”

“Come on. You’re fine. You’re not going to adjust by just sitting still.”

“I’m not sitting still. I’m in therapy. I’m still learning how to walk, and you want to drag me off to a town that’s wall-to-wall hills. Have you got any idea how far I’d bounce if I happened to fall down in San Francisco?” It was the first time either of them had directly mentioned Raphael’s injury, and it made him uncomfortable. It also made him angry that it was finally necessary. It was because of the anger that he went on. “That’s the one thing you just can’t understand, Damon—falling down. If you trip or stumble, you can catch yourself. I can’t. And even if you do happen to fall, you can get up again. I can’t. Once I’m down, I’m down, baby—until somebody comes along and helps me get back up again. I can’t even bend over to pick up my crutches. I have nightmares about it. I fall down in the street, and people just keep on walking around me. Have you got the faintest idea how degrading it is to have to ask somebody to help you get up? I have to lie there and beg strangers for help.”

Flood’s face was sober. “I didn’t realize. I’m sorry, Raphael. I guess I wasn’t thinking. You have, I suppose?”

“Have what?”

“Fallen.”

“What the hell do you think I’ve been talking about? Christ, yes, I’ve fallen—a dozen times. I’ve fallen in the street, I’ve fallen in hallways, I’ve fallen down stairs. Once I fell down in a men’s room and had to lie there for a half hour before some guy came in and helped me up. Don’t beat me over the head about moving until I get to the point where I can get back on my feet without help. Then we’ll talk about it. Until then I’m going to stay right where I am, and no amount of badgering is going to move me. Now, can we talk about something else?”

“Sure. Sorry I brought it up.”

They talked for a while longer, but Raphael’s mood had turned as sour as Flood’s, and both of them were unnecessarily curt with each other.

“I’ll catch you later,” Flood said finally, standing up. “All we’re going to do is snipe at each other today.”

“All right.” Raphael also got up and crutched out onto the roof behind Flood.

At the railing he looked down into the street and watched Flood come out at the bottom of the stairs.

Next door Crazy Charlie was furtively putting out his garbage. His face brightened when he saw Flood. “Hi, Jake,” he offered timidly.

Flood turned, changing direction in midstride without changing his pace. He bore down on Crazy Charlie and stopped only a few inches from the nervously quailing man. “Henry,” he said, his voice harsh, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you—for your own good.”

Charlie’s head swiveled this way and that, his eyes darting, looking for a way to escape.

“How come you shave your head like that, Henry?” Flood demanded. “It looks silly as hell, you know. And you missed a place—-just over your left ear.”

Horror-stricken, Charlie reached up and felt his head.

“And why don’t you take a bath? You stink like cat piss all the time. If you can’t keep the cats from pissing on your clothes, get rid of the goddamn things. And just who the hell are you talking to all the time? I’ve seen you talk for hours when there’s nobody there. Do you know what they call you around here? Crazy Charlie, that’s what they call you. They watch you through the windows and laugh at you because you’re so crazy. You’d better straighten up, Henry, or they’re going to come after you with the butterfly net and lock you up in the crazy house.” Flood’s voice was ruthless, and he kept advancing on the helpless man in front of him.

Quite suddenly Charlie broke and ran, stumbling up the stairs, almost falling.

“Nice talking to you, Henry,” Flood called after him, and then he laughed mockingly.

Charlie’s door slammed, and Flood, still laughing, went to hiscar.

Upstairs, Raphael caught one quick glimpse of Crazy Charlie’s haunted face before the shades came down. They did not go up again.

iv

Several afternoons later they were in the tavern again. Some need drove Flood to such places occasionally. They hadn’t spoken of the incident with Crazy Charlie, nor had Flood raised again the issue of leaving Spokane.

The tavern was quieter this time and less crowded. The orgy of drunken conviviality that always accompanied Mother’s Day had passed when the money ran out, and the losers had settled down to the grim business of grinding out the days until the next check came. The ones in the tavern spaced their drinks, making them last.

The only exception was the large table where Heck’s Angels sat in full regalia—creaking leather and greasy denim. They drank boisterously with much raucous laughter and bellowed obscene jests. They all tried, with varying degrees of success, to look burly and dangerous.

Big Heintz, his purple helmet pulled low over his eyes, bulked large and surly at the head of the table like some medieval warlord surrounded by his soldiers, and drank and glowered around the tavern, looking for some real or imagined slight—some excuse to start a brawl. The others—Marvin, Jimmy, Little Hider, and two or three more Raphael had seen but never bothered to put names to—glanced quickly at him after each joke or remark, looking for some hint of a laugh or expression of approval, but Big Heintz remained morose and pugnacious.

“Hey Jake,” Marvin said to Flood, “why don’t you two join us?”

Flood raised his glass in mock salute, but made no move to shift around from the table at which he and Raphael sat.

“Maybe he don’t want to,” Big Heintz rumbled, staring hard at Flood. Suddenly he turned irritably on Little Hider, who had just punched the same song on the jukebox that he had already played three times in succession. “For Chrissake, Lonnie, ain’t there no other fuckin’ songs on that sumbitch?”

“I like it,” Little Hider said defensively.

The song was a maudlin lament by some half-witted cracker over his recently deceased girlfriend. Little Hider sat misty-eyed, his thin, pimply face mournful as the lugubrious caterwauling continued.

“Shit!” Heintz snorted contemptuously when the song ended. “I think he left out the last verse,” Flood said, grinning. “I never heard no other verses.” Little Hider sounded a bit truculent.

“I thought everybody knew the last verse. It’s the point of the whole song.”

“Well, I never heard it. How does it go?”

Flood looked up at the ceiling. “Let’s see if I can remember it.” And then he started to sing in his rich voice. The impromptu verse he added was cynical and grossly obscene. There was an almost shocked silence when he finished.

“Hey, man!” Little Hider said in the almost strangled tone of someone mortally offended.

Suddenly Heintz burst out with a roar of laughter, pounding on the table with glee.

The other Angels, always quick to follow, also began to laugh.

Big Heintz’s laughter was gargantuan. He kept pounding on the table and stomping his feet, his beefy face red and contorted. “You slay me, Jake,” he finally gasped, wiping at his eyes. “You absolutely fuckin’ slay me.” And he roared off into another peal of laughter.

Flood’s impromptu parody changed the tone of the afternoon. Big Heintz was suddenly in better spirits, and the Angels quickly became gleeful and sunny-tempered. Raphael had almost forgotten Flood’s gift for parody, which had so amused him when they were in school. The Angels still swaggered back and forth to the bar for more beer or to the men’s room to relieve themselves with their cycle chains and chukka sticks dangling from their belts and their eyes flat and menacing, but their mood was no longer one of incipient riot.

Flood pulled their table closer to that of the Angels and introduced Raphael as Rafe, casting one quick apologetic glance at him as he did.

Big Heintz watched Raphael hitch his chair around to the newly positioned table.

“Hey, Rafe,” he said good-humoredly, “how’d you lose the pin?”

“Hit a train.” Raphael shrugged.

“Hurt it much?” Big Heintz asked, grinning.

“Scared it pretty bad.”

This sent Heintz off into another gale of table-pounding, foot-stomping laughter. “You guys absolutely fuckin’ slay me. Fuckin’ absolutely waste my ass.”

The party went on for another half hour or so. Raphael watched and listened, but didn’t say anything more. Finally he turned to Flood. “I think I’ll cut out.”

“Stick around,” Flood urged. “We’ll go in a little bit.”

“That’s okay. It’s not too far, and I need some exercise anyway.”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m serious. I really want to walk for a bit. I’ve been riding so much lately that I’m starting to get out of practice.”

Flood looked at him for a moment. “Suit yourself. I’ll stop by later.”

“Sure.” Raphael pushed himself up. Carefully, avoiding the tables and chairs, he crutched out of the tavern into the pale, late-afternoon sunlight.

It had rained that morning, and the streets all had that just-washed look. The air was clean, and it was just cool enough to make the exertion of walking pleasant.

The houses here were all turn-of-the-century style, and many of them had a kind of balcony or sitting porch on the second floor. Raphael thought that those porches might have been used quite frequently when the houses were new, but he had not seen anyone on one of them since he had come to Spokane.

Bennie the Bicycler rode past on his way to the grocery store.

Raphael kept walking, consciously trying to make his pace as smooth as possible. It was important to measure the stride. Too short and he stumped; too long and he had to heave with his shoulders. The idea was to kind of flow along.

It was farther back to his apartment than he had thought, and about halfway there he stopped to rest. He had not walked much since he’d bought the car, and he was surprised to discover that his arms and shoulders were tired.

The snarling roar of the motorcycles was several blocks away when he first heard it. He leaned against a tree and waited.

The three bikes, with Big Heintz in the lead, came charging down the street, popping and smoking as always. Oddly, or perhaps not. Flood was mounted on one of the bikes, and he didn’t seem to be having much difficulty with it. Big Heintz had a vicious grin on his face as they roared by. Trailing behind the bikes were two of the Angels’ clattering cars, and behind them Marvin was driving Flood’s little red sports car. They toured the neighborhood slowly, letting themselves be seen.

Bennie the Bicycler came peddling back with two sacks of groceries balanced in the basket on his handlebars. The Angels came sputtering back and spotted him.

The original intention, if it had even fully formulated itself in Heintz’s thick skull, was probably simply to buzz Bennie once and then go on, but Flood was aboard one of the bikes, and that was not enough for him. As he passed Bennie he suddenly cramped his front wheel over hard and drove in a tight circle around the man on the bicycle. Bennie wobbled, trying to avoid the snarling motorcycle. Big Heintz and Little Hider, already halfway up the block, turned, came back, and followed Flood in the circling of the wobbling bicycle. Bennie’s eyes grew wide, and his course grew more erratic as he tried to maintain control of his bicycle. The noise was deafening, and Bennie began to panic. With a despairing lunge he drove his bicycle toward the comparative safety of the sidewalk, but in his haste he misjudged it and smashed headlong into the rear of a parked car. With a clatter he pitched over the handlebars of his bicycle onto the car’s trunk and then rolled off.

The front wheel of his bicycle was twisted into a rubber-tired pretzel, and the bags fell to the street and broke. Dented cans rolled out, and a gallon container of milk gushed white into the gutter.

With jackal-like laughter the Angels roared away, leaving Bennie sprawled in the street in the midst of his bargains. As he passed, Flood flickered one quick glance at Raphael, but his expression did not change.

Slowly, painfully, Bennie got up. Grunting, he began to gather the dented cans and moldy cheese and wilted produce. Then he saw the bicycle. With a low cry he dropped his groceries again and picked up the bike. He took hold of the wheel and tried to straighten it with his hands, but it was obviously hopeless.

Raphael wished that he might do something, but there was nothing he could do. Slowly he crutched on past the spot where Bennie stood in the midst of the garbage that had been his whole reason for existence, staring at the ruin of his bicycle. His lip was cut and oozed blood down onto his chin, and his eyes were filled with tears.

Raphael went by and said nothing.

When he got home, he went up the stairs and locked the door at the top.

Up the street the Angels were partying again, their voices loud and raucous. Flood was with them, and his red car was parked at the curb among theirs. Raphael went inside and pulled his curtains.

The party up the street ground on, growing louder and louder until about midnight, when somebody on the block called the police.

V

Toward the end of June the rainy weather finally broke, and it turned warm. The stunning heat of July had not yet arrived, and it was perhaps the most pleasant part of the year in Spokane.

Raphael found that the mornings were particularly fine. He began to arise earlier, often getting up with the first steely light long before the sun rose. The streets below were quiet then, and he could sit on his rooftop undisturbed and watch the delicate shadings of colors in the morning sky as the sun came up. By seven the slanting light was golden as it came down through the trees and lay gently on the streets almost like a benediction.

Flood came by infrequently now, although he often visited with Heck’s Angels just up the street until the early hours of the morning.

A kind of unspoken constraint had come between Raphael and Flood. It was as if some unacknowledged affront had taken place that neither of them could exactly remember but that both responded to. They were studiously correct with each other, but no more than that.

Raphael considered this on one splendid morning as he sat with his third cup of coffee, looking down over the railing into the sunlit street. He had placed his scanner in an open window, but it merely winked and twinkled at him as the city lay silent in sleep, with yesterday’s passion and violence and stupidity finished and today’s not yet begun. He felt strange about Flood now. Weeks before he had even experienced a sharp pang of jealousy when Flood had first begun to hang around with the Angels, but now he was indifferent. He noticed Flood’s comings and goings at the crowded house up the street without much interest.

A movement caught his eye, and he turned slightly to watch.

Spider Granny, housecoat-wrapped and slapping-slipper shod, trundled down the other street on her morning pilgrimage to the porch where Sadie was already enthroned in ponderous splendor.

Ruthie, the retarded child, recognized her and bellowed a bull-like greeting from the playpen where she spent her days.

“There’s Granny’s little darling,” Sadie’s mother cooed. She bustled up onto the porch and fussed over the drooling idiot in the pen.

Sadie said nothing, but sat stolidly, her head sunk in the rolls of fat around her neck, and her face set in its usual expression of petulant discontent.

“She seems more alert today,” Spider Granny observed hopefully. “She recognized me right off—didn’t you, love?”

The idiot bellowed at her.

Sadie still said nothing.

“Are you all right, Rita?” Sadie’s mother asked her. “You sure are quiet this morning. I’ll fix us some coffee, and you can tell Mother all about it.” She patted the idiot’s head fondly and bustled on into the house. A few minutes later she came out with two steaming cups and offered one to her daughter.

Sadie did not move, and her face did not change expression.

“Will you take this?” her mother demanded irritably, bending over with the coffee.

Sadie sat, mountainlike in her gross immobility.

“Rita,” Spider Granny said sharply. “Snap out of it.” She set the coffee cups down on the porch railing and turned back to her daughter. “Aren’t you feeling well, dear?” She reached out and touched the sitting woman.

The scream was enormous, a sound at once so vast and so shocking that it seemed to lie palpably in the street. Even the birds were stunned into silence by it.

Spider Granny backed away, her hands to the sides of her face, and screamed again, another window-shaking shriek.

The idiot in the playpen began to bellow a deep-throated bass accompaniment to her grandmother’s screams.

Doors began to bang open up and down the street, and the losers all came flooding out in response to the primal call of Granny’s screams. Mostly they stood watching, but a few went down to Sadie’s house.

Sadie, sitting in vast and splendid silence, neither moved nor spoke, and her expression remained imperially aloof. “District Four,” the scanner said. “Four.”

“Fourteen-hundred block of North Birch. We have a report of a possible DOA on a front porch.”

“Have you got an exact address?” District Four asked.

“The complainant stated that there were several people there already,” the dispatcher said. “Didn’t know the exact house number.”

“Okay,” Four said.

Spider Granny had finally stopped screaming and now stood in vacant-eyed horror, staring at the solid immensity of her daughter. The idiot in the playpen, however, continued to bellow and drool.

More of the neighbors came down to stand on the lawn. The

children came running to gape in silent awe. Chicken Coop Annie waddled down, and Mousy Mary scurried across the street.

Queenlike Sadie, sat to death, received in silence this final tribute.

Then the police arrived, and shortly thereafter the ambulance.

Bob the Barber drove up and pushed his way through the crowd on his front lawn. He spoke with the policemen and the ambulance drivers on the porch, but he did not touch his wife or even seem to look at her.

They struggled with Sadie’s vast bulk, and it took two policemen as well as the two attendants to carry the perilously bending stretcher to the back of the ambulance.

The crowd on the front lawn lingered after the ambulance drove off, murmuring among themselves as if reluctant to leave. Two of the women led Spider Granny, weeping now, back up the street to her house, and the rest of the crowd slowly, reluctantly broke up. The children hung around longer, hoping to see something else, but it was over.

Bob the Barber sank into Sadie’s vacant swing and sat, his gray face seemingly impassive, but Raphael could quite clearly see the tears that ran slowly down his cheeks.

The idiot in the playpen drooled and bellowed, but otherwise the street was quiet again.

From up the street, his black hair glistening in the sun, Patch came. Somber-faced, he passed the house where the idiot bellowed and the thin, gray-faced man mourned. He crossed the street and walked on past Mousy Mary’s house. He glanced up at Raphael once. There seemed for an instant a kind of brief flicker of recognition, but his face did not really change, and as silently as always he passed on up the street and was gone.

Comments

user comment image
Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

Share your Thoughts for The Losers

500+ SHARES Facebook Twitter Reddit Google LinkedIn Email
Share Button
Share Button