Apartment Life (Part Ten)

Apartment Life (Part Ten)

(click here to go back to Part Nine)

Ronnie’s nose hurt and his head throbbed. He had been punched in the nose once, but it didn’t compare to this. Something in there was broken, or torn. He lifted his head off his mom’s shoulder and leaned his head back.

“No, son, don’t do that. You’ll get sick on the blood running down your throat, and it won’t stop the bleeding any faster. Just sit with your head straight up and down.”

One first aid class, and she’s an expert.

A brunette woman with dark brown skin walked up holding a handful of white gauze. Her pink scrubs featured Scooby Doo characters. “I’ll trade you,” she said. “Pull those paper towels away nice and easy.”

Ronnie gently pulled away the dark red, pulpy mass. A few dried spots hung on as he tugged a little harder.

The nurse quickly applied the gauze, then lifted Ronnie’s hand up to replace hers. “Hold that there, just like before. I think you’ll like that better.”

She led him and his mom to an X-ray room, where a technician had him lie very still on an oblong metal table. The hulking mass above him clicked and whirred as it traveled the length of his body. If that thing fell, I’d be dead for sure.

“What about a CT scan?” Susan asked. “I always hear ‘ER’ mention a CT scan.”

“We’ll do that, too, if the doctors decide it’s needed,” said the technician.

The nurse then took Ronnie to an ER room, where a man lying on one of the beds let out muffled groans.

The nurse shot him a disapproving look. “Shots, what are you doing here?” she said.

“I’m sick. Very sick,” he replied.

“No, you’re not.” Then, to Ronnie and Susan. “I’m sorry. We try to keep him out, but it’s hard for some of our newer folks to tell him from the legitimate patients.”

“I’ve run out of patience,” Shots said. “I’m fed up with the lot of you.”

“Either get up or I’m calling Security,” the nurse said.

With a growl, Shots stood and strolled easily from the room. “Just tryin’ to stay warm.”

“Sit right here, young man. The doctor should be with you in a few minutes.”

Ronnie complied. Anything would feel better than walking. He never realized how bumpy walking was. “Okay,” he said. The vibration in his voice sent a fresh round of stabbing pain through his nose and head.

Who the hell is Outhouse, anyway, and what did he mean, ‘I seen other men go down worse than this’? Although he had difficulty concentrating on anything other than the pain, he had heard too much to hold it in.

“Bob?”

“Yes, honey?”

“Do you doe anythig aboud Oudhouse?”

“Not really. Just that he works at the bottling plant.”

“He said he… ow.”

“Does it hurt too much to talk?”

“Yes.”

“Hold on a minute.” She got up and walked out of the room.

Ronnie sat there watching through the glass as an orderly in the next room thumped a paper football across a table. An orderly sitting opposite him slumped when the tightly folded triangle stopped, one of its corners sticking past the table’s edge. Touchdown, Ronnie thought.

Susan came back carrying a pen and a pad of paper. “Here, write it down.” She held the pad as Ronnie wrote with one hand, held a bloody mass of gauze against his nose with his other.

——-

After the move, Trena, her mom, and her mom’s asshole husband Larry settled into their new apartment. Larry started work a week later at a local Coca-Cola bottling plant, and earned a respectable, honest wage. Trena’s mother didn’t have to work, but volunteered at a local hospital. She had worked as a nurse since Trena started first grade, and after marrying Larry and his income, she found volunteering a less stressful way to stay in healthcare.

“Plus, now, I can take summers off and we can go on trips,” her mom said.

Trena wasn’t so sure that would work out now that Larry had a factory job.

Before the move, and before she met Larry, Trena’s mother worked hard to become an RN and made good money doing it. Her first husband — the only man Trena ever would call “dad,” — had been killed in a car accident, so it was just her and her mom, taking on the world.

Her mom met Larry after he was shot by a mob hitman. He explained to her that he was “one of the good guys.” They grew to like each other as he healed, and eventually fell in love and were married. Trena and her mom moved into Larry’s big house.

In the house, Larry had a private office where Trena was not allowed to go. The room’s contents and the things that went on inside were a secret. He outfitted the door with a padlock, and no matter how hard she tried, she never found the key. Even the clothes he wore suggested he was hiding something; Larry never roamed around the house in anything less than slacks and a long-sleeve Oxford shirt.

Every time his friends came over, they looked at Trena like she was a piece of meat. She got angry with Larry because it was wrong for men to look at 12-year-old girls like that, but he never seemed to mind their furtive glances at her. Both Larry and her mother told her she was imagining things.

Only once had he said anything to his friends. “Hey, Louie, for chrissakes, the kid’s only 12. Give her a couple more years, will ya? Now deal the damn cards.”

She chided herself because she liked it when the more handsome men leered at her. Still, she never risked a flirtatious look at any of them. It was just gross to think of that.

Although she hated her home life, school was great. She had lots of friends, some of them cute boys, and a few teachers had taken a special interest in her math skills. One of them invited her to join the Math Club.

Then one day, Larry came home and told them they would have to move.

“I’m in something called the ‘Witness Protection Program.’ They’re giving us new names and a new life. Doesn’t that sound exciting?” He looked at Trena as he said it.

“New names? What about my friends?”

“Just our last names, honey. If we don’t move, we could all be in danger,” said her mom, as if she had known about it for quite some time.

Trena looked at her, incredulous. Why doesn’t asshole move, and we can stay where we are?

Tears welled up in Trena’s eyes. “I wish you two had never met!” she screamed, then ran to her room and slammed the door.

For a while in the new place, all doors were open unless somebody was in the bathroom. Larry never rushed away from dinner to take a call in a locked office, and he often walked through the apartment wearing only his t-shirt and boxers. None of his perverted friends came around anymore.

One day, about three months after they started their new life, Trena noticed that it had been a while since she had seen Larry in his underwear. Most girls would be happy not to see their stepdad in any state of undress. It was a reminder, though, of the way things were before they moved.

For a parent-teacher conference one Thursday, Trena got out of school early and headed straight home. She was anxious to download a new song a friend had shared on her iPod. The bus ride seemed to take forever, catching every red light.

It was exciting to have a friend, after leaving behind all those she had known. There had been no phone calls, no letters. She hadn’t been allowed to tell anybody she was moving. Now, she was doing well as the new kid in school, and meeting a lot of kids she wanted to know.

When she got home, she saw Larry’s car in the parking lot. He should be at work. She walked quietly to the front door, eased her key into the lock, then slowly turned the knob.

A few steps inside, she noticed Larry in the kitchen, his back to her. He was on the phone, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth. A black strap ran over his left shoulder to a point a few inches below his armpit. Another ran across his back to the same spot. When he turned slightly, she saw it was a gun.

She put her hand to her mouth and barely stifled a gasp.

“Yeah, Louie. I been fine. You guys miss me?” A pause to light the cigarette. “Get outta here. Yeah, I blocked caller ID because I don’t want my new number showin’ up in your phone.” Like a fire-tipped conductor’s baton, the cigarette wagged rhythmically as he spoke.

“Look, Louie, I can’t stand bein’ a workin’ stiff. I gotta get in on a deal. Anything, Louie. Just get me back in.”

It confirmed what Trena had suspected all along. Larry was not “one of the good guys.” Mom’s got to know this.

There he was, putting them all back in jeopardy. After her mother had agreed to give up everything she had worked so hard for — the friendships, the co-workers — he was messing it up. Trena then wondered if her mom had lied to her when she first met Larry. How could she not have known? She didn’t know how to bring up the mysterious phone call and the gun.

A few days later, she heard pebbles bouncing off her second-floor window, and when she looked down, she saw Ronnie. Mad at Larry and her mom, she decided to go with Ronnie wherever he led her.

So now, here I am, and I can’t even tell Mom about Larry.

She lay still, listening to the blips and bleeps of the various monitors attached to her body, and longed for some music to drown it all out. She couldn’t even ask someone to turn on the radio.

——-

Susan couldn’t believe her eyes.

Despite having a hard time making out some of the words, she was able to decipher Ronnie’s awful handwriting. It sounded like Outhouse was some kind of gangster.

She tried to hold back, but the words just came out. “Not only were you messing around with a little girl, but she’s a gangster’s daughter? Perfect.”

“Gibbee a break. Ow.”

“Sorry. What about the guy who helped you?”

Ronnie scribbled a few more lines onto the page.

Susan’s mouth dropped open. Tall. Long gray hair in a ponytail. Big gut. “It couldn’t be…” her voice trailed off.

“You doe hib?”

“I might have met him here in the ER right after you left for the bathroom.”

“Suddavabitch.”

(continue to Part Eleven)

6 Replies to “Apartment Life (Part Ten)”

  1. Interesting twist. I really enjoyed someone taking Outhouse out but now it seems there will be more to his story. Hey Mark this is great it is kind of like a ceral. Have you heard the one about Post Toasties?

  2. Rob – So glad you mentioned Post Toasties. I haven’t thought about that in years. Problem is, I can’t remember the setup for it. Something about Post Toasties being annihilated, but two went on to become four, four became eight, and so on…

    Yeah, it was nice seeing Outhouse get whipped. I have other serials (but not cereals) out here, too.

    In the Pages links section on this site’s right sidebar, check out “Talk With a Killer” for a relatively short but suspenseful one (especially if you like twists), and then “Falcon” for one that’s longer and quite a bit more lighthearted. For a long one that’s a crime thriller (and a prequel to “Talk With a Killer”), read “Wall,” which begins on my Regular Life blog and ends up over here.

  3. Sounds like things are coming together now and we should start to see some resolution in the near future. You’re picking up steam here, Mark.

  4. Mark, this is great. Like peeling off the layers of an onion, getting to the meaty parts near the center. Your descriptives are great, your imagination impressive. When we get to the conclusion, I will definitely go on to read your others…

  5. I haven’t replied to two of you guys’ comments. I guess I was pretty busy at the time.

    Simon – Yep, resolution came pretty shortly after this.

    Dave – Thanks.

    Linda – Thanks, and I hope you do.