1052 Lincoln Drive
The Birth of Bane
By: Jeremiah Favor
PART ONE: CONCEPTION
Chapter One: 1052 Lincoln Drive
From the very first moment my mother laid eyes upon the house atop the hill on Lincoln Drive, she was in love.
It was located upon a secluded street, nestled in a hilly corner of Highland Park, itself a small community wedged in between Glendale and Pasadena in sunny southern California. Having five bedrooms and two and a half baths, one could say the house was a large one. For our family, coming out of a two bedroom, one bath rental, the house on Lincoln Drive was a mansion.
It stood perched at the top of a great rise in the earth, the property stretched throughout its’ environs, nearly an acre square, which was unheard of in that part of the city. It was set back from the street, screened by a massive white elm and the largest magnolia tree I have ever seen in my life. Together, these twin giants hid most of the view of the house with broad boughs that branched out nearly a hundred feet from their thick trunks. The elm was over one hundred and fifty feet tall!
The front yard, as I recall seeing it on that first summer day in 1986, was a meandering affair. It covered the entire front portion of the hill, a jumbled conglomeration of over-grown grasses and bushes, making it hard to see where lay the ground. There was a series of stairs leading up from the street, cutting in between an untamed Lantana bush and the double-car garage. Where the stairs ended, a wide walkway began, switch-backing its’ way upward some fifty yards to a broad patio and the front porch at its’ left.
I remember listening to my mother and her real estate agent/friend, a guy named, Jesse Walkins, as they spoke of the property. We were on the way over from our small abode off Figueroa Street. I’d been sitting in the back seat of his Cadillac, my younger sister at my side, and my little brother beyond her, next to the other window. He and my mother were in the front seat. He had been telling her he thought the plot might be too much. It was big and needed “a lot of tender love and care”, which was realtor-speak for “fixer-upper”. He’d told her he typically wouldn’t have shown her something of this magnitude, because an estate of this size was out of the price-range her and my father had designated.
I recall his finger as it wagged. “But there is nothing typical about this place,” he’d said, eyebrows arching, a wide, plastic, Ken-doll grin on his face. “Pillar,” he went on, calling my mother by her first name, “with a little elbow-grease, you and Leonard could turn it around and resell the place, and make a fortune.”
My mother had looked skeptical, but all of that changed the moment she’d seen the house. “Oh my!” she breathed as she stepped from Jesse’s car, her head craned as she gazed upward through the throng of plant life.
“Like I mentioned, it has five bedrooms and three bathrooms. One of which only has a toilet, sink and shower, so it’s technically considered half of one, but hey, who’s being technical, right?” He guffawed as if he was as funny as Johnny Carson.
My mother’s gaze remained riveted upon the dark green house atop the hill.
Undeterred, her friend forged on. “There is also a working toolshed, a back house – currently being rented, so you’ll have some assistance with the mortgage – and there are a number of other out-buildings as well, mostly used for storage or whatever.” His smile was glued in place. “There is a finished basement, a full-sized attic and multi-leveled deck on the north side of the house with an eight-man hot tub. So, you can see what I mean when I say the place is huge. I think the square footage of the main house is nearly three thousand feet. You and the kids… and Leonard… will have plenty of room to stretch your legs.”
“How much did you say it was going for again?” asked my mom, still unable to look away.
“That’s the real kicker, kid,” he replied as cheesy as Mr. Rodgers.
I frowned and shared a dubious looked with my sister, Valerie, who rolled her eyes in disgust. I could tell she didn’t like Jessie all that much, probably because he was a little friendlier with my mother than she thought was proper. She hadn’t known back then they’d dated back in high school. Their level of intimacy simply grossed her out.
For me, it was weird seeing another man close with my mom, but it was no more than that. My father had always been so mean to my mother. It was also nice to see someone treat her the way she should be treated, every day, and not like some dust broom to be discarded upon a whim, treated with disdain.
Back then, at fifteen, Valerie wore her fine, brown hair straight, parted down the middle with bangs. She was light complected with eyes matching her hair, her face narrow, pointed at the chin. She’d always been a skinny child. She was often told, by the older men of our family, she was “smuggling walnuts” instead of sporting kneecaps like the rest of us. It was because her legs were so thin, her knee-joints kind of stuck out.
On that day, she wore a knee-high, baby-doll dress, corduroy, azure in color, matching barrettes keeping her bangs from her face. They’d grown long, because my mother hadn’t trimmed them in a while. She had on over-the-calf, white stocks and blue and white oxfords on her feet. She looked cute, but then Valerie had always been a pretty girl. She was a tinier, younger version of my mom.
Elijah, only six years old, had come from the car and sought out my mom’s hand immediately. He was more solidly built than both me and my sister. He had a thick mane of coarse hair, dark, cut in a bowl-like fashion. His features were equally dark – his eyes deep brown to the point of shining black, his skin a deep russet as if he tanned in the sun frequently, though he hadn’t. He’d worn a tie-dyed t-shirt, jeans and a scuffed-up pair of Keds.
I was the proto-typical male of our family. I wasn’t tall nor was I short. I was thin-framed like Valerie, only I was the masculine version. I had broad shoulders for my age with ungainly hands and feet that I prayed I’d grow into as I matured. My hair was shorn in a very military-looking flat top manner, cut tight against my scalp on all sides, except the top. I had chocolate-colored irises and a narrow face only not as severe as my sister’s.
I had come dressed a bit more formally, because I had a date with a new girl from school. I had been anxious earlier, gearing myself up for an afternoon date, but, instead, I’d got suckered into going along with my mother to look at this “awesome new property Jessie was dying to show us.”
Blah, blah, blah.
Thus, I was wearing my best 501 jeans, a button-up shirt and my latest pair of navy-colored, slip-on Vans.
“Eighty-nine thousand, Pilly, that’s what they’re asking.” He sounded proud of himself.
My mother grunted in her feminine way. “Seems too good to be true, Jess. What’s the catch?”
“Catch? Other than it’s rundown, hasn’t been lived-in in over three years and it’s in dire need of every sort of household upgrade imaginable… well, there is no catch.” He clasped his hands behind his back and rocked back and forth upon his heels. “I’m being up front with you. It’s going to need a lot of work, but with Leonard’s salary and your availability, I really think between the two of you – and with the help of your strong children – you could get this place up to snuff in no time.”
All three of us grimaced at his reference to us working on the house. What a crock! This guy was a douche-and-a-half, I thought, stepping away from the rest of them, trying to get a better view of the house from the street. I was amazed to find I couldn’t. The trees literally blocked every angle. I couldn’t make out the house clearly from any vantage.
“Think of it as an investment. I bet in ten years you could get a quarter of a million for this place with the proper upgrades, landscaping, etc., etc.”
My mother harrumphed, but stayed otherwise quiet.
His Hollywood smile faltered. “Why don’t we take a look at the rest of it. What do you think?”
“Sure,” my mom had mumbled.
I felt my face fall. How long was this going to take? I had a hot date. I wanted to get the hell out of there and make my way to my new girlfriend’s house. Her name was Myra. She was a sexy little number, who was definitely hot to trot! We had only been dating for a few days and I hadn’t really had the chance to make-out with her yet. An issue I wanted to remedy that day. I didn’t want to waste the daylight hours walking around some old house, even if was big. I wanted to have Myra in my arms.
Chagrined, I followed everyone else up the stairs and walked onto the grounds proper.
To this day, I will never forget my first impression of the front yard. It reminded me of something straight out of Lord of the Rings. It could’ve been the Plains of Rohan, it was so overgrown and wild looking. Where the lawn should’ve been grew a two-foot high morass of untended grass and weeds, probably more weeds than grass. Above that sprouted great tangles of Birds-of-Paradise, looking as though they hadn’t been cut back in more than a decade. And that was only on my right hand side. To my left, it was even worse. Great knots of trees and bushes loomed, held fast by an invasive Ivy plant, growing everywhere. Nowhere was this more in evidence than upon the towering magnolia. The ivy clung to every square inch of its’ trunk and nearly every branch, up to the highest reaches of the massive tree. I had never seen anything like it. It was like being in the Amazon.
Of course, covering all else, was the broad-leafed elm. Like the Great Mother herself, she blanketed all, screened the front yard from prying eyes beyond.
“Tell me, Jess, why is the house really priced so low? And be honest,” she said quickly, but stern. “Remember, I’ve always known when you were lying…” Her brows arched.
Jeez, what had gone on between these two? Did I really want to know? Maybe Jessie had been as slick and sly back in the day as he appeared now. Had he been a player?
He breathed loudly, glancing upward into the colossal underbelly of the elm.
“Jessie,” implored my mother, using the same tone she’d use on one of us when we weren’t acting with our best behavior.
He shifted his weight to stand on one foot, one hand on his hips, the other gesturing toward the domicile before us. “Someone died in the house, ok?”
“What?!?” exclaimed my mom.
“Oh god, that’s creepy,” muttered Valerie, peering at the house with haunted eyes.
I felt my face wrinkle with distaste, all thoughts of Myra and her luscious body banished forthwith.
Jessie raised both hands in supplication. “It wasn’t a murder, or anything nefarious for that matter.”
“Jesus, Jess, does it really matter?”
My mother’s friend stood erect once again. “Well, yeah. I think it does. She was a nice old lady. The house had been built for her by her husband way back in 1909. She lived in it her entire life and when she got old, she silently passed away in her rocking chair in the sunroom, overlooking the northern side of the property. It was all very pleasant and neat. No big fuss.”
“Mom, I want to go,” stated Valerie, her face drained of color.
“Yeah, mommy, let’s go,” urged Eli, tugging at her hand.
“If it’s as ‘neat’ as you say, then how come no one’s bought the house in over three years?” inquired my mother. I could see her ire was on the rise. Jessie having brought her out to look at a potential home for them with a checkered past wasn’t sitting well with her. My mother wasn’t an overly religious or superstitious person, but hey, everyone has their limits, right?
“Well,” began the realtor, “the last owners used it as a rental home and a series of bad tenants left the house in sorry shape. When they put it up for sale, there weren’t any takers. All this time, the house has sat here, for sale, getting all the more dilapidated, while the asking price continued to plummet.” He stopped, scratching at his neck in contemplation. “It’s one of those Catch 22 things. It’s really a beautiful home. It’s just been on a continuous downward spiral for the few years...” He trailed off, looking away from us. His eyes darted about the front of the house. “It really has a lot of potential.” He was speaking more to himself, then to us. “If I’d have known about it earlier, I would’ve bought myself. I would’ve made a good chunk of change when I flipped it too.” He sighed.
He sounded genuine, but he was a hard read. I knew there was reason he drove a Cadillac. He was no slouch when it came to selling homes. And, it appeared he was no novice at playacting either.
My mom bit her lower lip.
“Mom,” said Valerie, trying to get her attention, but my mother was in deep thought.
I could tell the place was “creeping” my sister out.
“You said it had a sunroom?” she asked her one-time, high school squeeze, tilting her head to the side. She was in a considering mood, it seemed.
Jessie smiled. “Yeah, Pilly, I told you, the house is magnificent. It just needs someone to care for it, to restore it to its’ former glory, so to speak.”
“And you’re not bull-shitting about the old lady, right? I mean, it was a peaceful death, correct?”
Jessie gave my mother a mock salute, even went so far as to stand rigid. “Scout’s Honor.”
Oh jeez, forget what I said earlier, this guy was a double-douche.
“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have a look.”
“Mom, no!” commanded my sister, fists clenched at either side. “The house is too scary. I don’t want to live here.”
“We’re not moving in just yet, Val. We’re only ‘looking’ at the property,” explained my mom, using her fingers to make quotation marks at either side of her head.
“I don’t want to look,” said Valerie, petulant.
My mother’s lips pursed. “That’s fine with me, young lady. You can stay out here and keep this over-grown front yard company.”
My sister glanced about quickly, nervous. “Are you kidding me?”
“No, Valerie, I’m not.” Then, she turned to look at Jessie. “Come on, you old trickster, let’s see what you’re trying to get me into.”
Her friend merely chuckled and led the way.
“This had better not be like that time in ’65,” said my mom as an afterthought.
Jessie was stricken in an instant, his eyes darting from me to Valerie to Elijah like a housefly trapped inside jar, everywhere at once, unstopping, trying to get away. He was actually blushing!
What had he “tricked” my mother into doing back in 1965? My face screwed-up when it hit me. Eeeew! Mom!!!
We came up to a good-sized patio, laid out directly below a pair of large windows seeing into the kitchen. The area was covered with weathered-looking, lattice-work. Some virulent vine had weaved its’ way so thoroughly through the crisscrossing wood, hardly any light made its’ way through. And, this was light already made dim because of the combined canopy provided by the two gargantuan trees dominating the front of the house.
Jessie turned left and walked up six wide steps onto the porch that stretched the remaining length of the house. The farthest end of it was actually screened in, a rickety card table and four folding chairs could be seen from our vantage. It would make a nice place to sit, bug-free, in the warmth of a California summer night. There would be no mosquito bites while sitting in there.
The man walked up to the front door, which was almost six feet wide, clearly the largest door I have ever seen used as an entryway into a someone’s home. And, to our surprise, he knocked.
He must’ve noticed our shock, because he said with an errant chuckle. “Once the house fell under my purview, I hired a caretaker of sorts. Only, he’s a little eccentric.” He said the last sentence behind the back of his hand as if he were telling a secret. “The last time I brought a potential buyer over; we walked in on him and his girlfriend -.”
“Jess! There are children here!” cautioned my mother. It was more for Valerie’s sake than mine. She was deathly afraid of her only daughter losing her innocence before the proper time, which probably meant sometime during her 40’s.
My mother’s friend caught himself, straightening his tie as he cleared his throat. “…Um, sorry, about that. It’s just we didn’t expect to see anything in happening in the living room, you know -.”
“Jess, we get it.” It was a warning. Shut the hell up or I’m gonna box the shit out of your ears.
“Ok, sure. Yeah,” he mumbled, straightening himself for a second time in as many moments.
He was about to ring the doorbell when a tall, skinny (nearly emaciated) young man answered the door. He was disheveled to the point of being slovenly. Though it was early afternoon, it appeared as though Jessie’s knock had aroused him from bed. His hair was long, matted, pasted against the sides of his skull. There were dark circles under his eyes and three days’ worth of stubble on his face. He was wearing a worn flannel shirt and torn-up jeans. His feet were bear, dirt-stained as if he’d walked around in that manner for some time without showering. I can’t say he reeked, but there was a pervasive oily smell about him, not quite full-blown body odor, but something close to it. It smacked of something sweet.
Back then, I didn’t know the smell of an addict.
“Oh hey, Freddie… How are you doing this fine afternoon?” said Jessie as if it were a joyous occasion.
Freddie grimace. My mother’s friend was like a bazooka in his sensitive ears. He ran a not-so-clean hand through his hair. “Why didn’t you tell me you were bringing over buyers,” he demanded testily.
It was Jessie’s turn to reciprocate. “I did tell you, Freddie. Two days ago, I called you and told you I would be bringing a good friend of mine over to see the house on Saturday. Today is Saturday.”
Freddie teetered on unsteady feet, running his other hand through his tangled hair. “Really?”
“Yup. I wouldn’t lie to you, would I?”
“Naw, I guess not,” replied the musty man before us. “Well, shit man, I wish I’d’ve remembered. I’d’ve cleaned up the place a bit.”
I could see a formal dining room behind him. The large table was strewn with pizza boxes, Chinese food containers, various wrappers and cups from a myriad of fast food joints. There were as many on the floor.
And, there were no chairs in sight, which was sort of weird.
“Don’t worry, Fred, the house is going to need a lot more than a little Spic-n-Span,” cajoled Jessie. Then he recalled we were there and smiled awkwardly. I think he felt he’d said too much.
Freddie nodded, stepping back, the door opening wider with his retreat.
My mother laid eyes upon the room beyond, her breath catching in her throat.
Before us, across the broad expanse of the chamber was the largest, stone and mortar fireplace right out of a British cottage, deep in the country. The thick mahogany mantle, still lustrous despite a heavy coating of grime, added to the overall picture perfectly. Even with my lustful thoughts of my newfound girlfriend swirling in my head, I couldn’t help but appreciate the workmanship, the sheer beauty of it. It was magnificent.
“Oh my,” whispered my mother as she peered about the large front room to our left, gazing through the windows on that side of the house. The deck and a jumble of trees and other flora was visible beyond.
Jessie hung back and let us explore a bit, though Valerie stayed by the door, still wary.
Eli let go of my mother’s hand and began to walk around, a serious expression on his face. He was so cute. To me, he looked like a midget appraiser there to assess the value of the property.
Freddie merely spun in place, his bleary vision barely able to keep up with our languorous movements throughout the room. “You from around here?” I heard him ask my sister, his voice suddenly husky. Maybe his lack of focus had blinded him to the fact she was only fifteen. Or maybe, it hadn’t mattered to him in the least. Maybe fifteen-years-olds were right up his alley. Valerie was a looker, and the slob was definitely looking.
My mom hadn’t heard. She was too busy peppering her one-time boyfriend with question after question.
In the end, Valerie hadn’t needed any assistance. She could be the bitch necessary to ward off your average, run-of-the-mill Perv. “You’re serious, right?” she had asked, incredulous.
“Wha?” was all Freddie cold manage.
“Whatever,” uttered my sister, spun on her heel and walked out the door to stand overlooking the jungle that was the front yard.
I shook my head, a half-smile growing upon my face. Even at fifteen, Valerie could put a man in his place in the span of a few seconds.
“So, Pillar, would you like to see the rest of the house?” asked Jessie.
My mom nodded, her eyes sparkling like they did when she was enthused over something.
“Why don’t we start with the second floor and then the attic,” he began, his arm indicating the way.
It was obvious to me he didn’t want us seeing the any of the desolation left behind by Freddie.
“Then,” he went on, “we can take a gander at the backyard and the back house.” He smiled. “After that we can hit the various toolsheds and the basement. Sound good?”
“Lead away, Jess,” answered my mother, her handbag clutched at her stomach, her head like the red orb of a Cylon, forever swaying this way, then that.
Within the hour, my mother was on the phone with my father. He had liked, more than anything else, the idea that one day the house would make him a ton of money. But, that was typical of the man. Money was something he understood thoroughly. People, his wife, his own children… well, that was something else entirely.
An hour later, after two large pizzas and a 2-liter bottle of coke had arrived and were devoured, my mom was signing the initial paperwork in order to purchase the house and everything in it.
I was happy my mother was happy. She deserved it. Only Valerie was completely put-off over living at 1052 Lincoln Drive, but she’d always been a little mule-headed.
When all the “i’s” had been dotted and all the “t’s” crossed Freddie told Jessie he had to be out of the house within a week. We all sort of felt bad for him, because he had looked flabbergasted. As if he hadn’t considered what us buying the place meant for him.
He had stalked off incensed, muttering under his breath something about not wanting to move back with his skank of a mom. I hadn’t heard much more. By then, he was already in the master bedroom, most likely rummaging through his meager belongings.