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Chapter 17

The taxi parked in the driveway and Emile stared at the flat front of his federal style house with its tall navy shutters and old grey windows. An easy smile broke his face when he realized that his whole search for Ty had yielded only a Lungsee. And Lungsee for some reason couldn’t handle a junior pastor blowing the whistle on buffoonery. It didn’t make sense to Emile. They listened to the end of Faces’ I’m Losing You and thanked and paid the cabbie.

Lungsee threw open his door and stretched out his fat stiff leg. He popped the last Krystal burger up into his mouth like it was a peanut and then he pounded his chest and belched and said, Violence is too vogue now. It’s lost its heart. No credibility. Over-engineered. Like a school science fair experiment or something. It’s our natural state. We really should revisit it.

What? said Emile. They got out of the taxi and the cabbie eased away slowly, honking and waving goodbye.

But we can’t. Know why? Say Moses got the commandments on a Tuesday. But the day before, Monday, you butcher and rape your neighbor’s wife, steal her purse, lust after her dog, and then on your way out, praise her tie-dyed god for a moment. See what I’m saying? Makes me mad as hell.

Say he got ’em on a Tuesday?

That’s right.

Well, I would say that’s a mitigating factor.

I should say so. See, we’re moral, man, and I don’t like it. We were pre-moral for fucking ever and then the nebbish Christians show up and discommode the whole fucking eco-system with their cause and effect, and now you can’t even do the ole cunnilingus in this great state. We’re not post-moral, and that’s the place to be. This? Here? Now? Boring. Fearful times. I don’t like it. Not one bit. And I don’t think I can stick around.

Emile thought about this as he stood at his front door. He looked down and noticed the slate, tapered planter with the small Giant Bird of Paradise sprouting from it was a bit out of place. He squatted and put the heel of his hand under the pot’s rim and tilted it up. There sat the key. Shiny. Silver. Perfectly placed. I can’t believe that Derek guy… what he said… about… For some very strange reason, Emile thought he could fly.

Really? said Lungsee.

I think so, Emile thought. He let the pot down and opened his door and walked in. Lou and Delly slouched on the couches. Lou grinned, but didn’t budge. Delly sat upright, proper and polite, his arm resting on the armrest.

Lungsee strode past Emile and through the foyer and into the den and noticed them but acted as if this were all ordained. The two couches were perpendicular at their ends, Lou and Delly on one each, and Lungsee collapsed in the corner joint.

How’s your album coming, man? he said to Delly.

Delly was unsure how to take this thoughtful question. Just a single, man. He turned away and watched Emile sit on a rain grey ottoman.

What are you doing here, Lou? Emile said.

I came to see you.

That’s why. I said what.

Lou sat up and said with a pointed finger, You know god damn well what I’m doing here. You boys fucked up and got me implicated. Wasn’t supposed to happen that way.

I’m pretty sure it was, said Lungsee.

Lou looked to Lungsee for a moment. Your fingerprints are all over my house, Emile. A couple of them even made their way to my pistol. It’s an easy story, man. An easy story to believe.

Lot of stories swirling around, Lou. You can just reach up and grab one, Emile said with a hand gesture.

That’s right, so let’s see how this one plays out. You break into my house, threaten to kill me, and you get away. Then you continue your crime spree by breaking into Graceland and stealing something valuable. Something extremely valuable. Something they really want back. So then they come to me thinking I can help them, and I say, Gee, you know what? Two deranged dipshits did break into my house just the night before. They fit the bill. They’re crazy enough to do that. I think I can find them.

Sounds like a good one Lou, but I’m confused. Why they would come to you? Huh? I mean, if my house got robbed, I wouldn’t come to you, unless….

It was you, said Lungsee. And by the way, they drank your rum, you moron. What the hell you think they were gonna do with it?

And we weren’t about to burn down a national treasure like the King’s house. That’s just cruel. So, your objectives not being viable any longer, we improvised. Seeing as we were there, idle for a bit, we got creative, said Emile. And for what it’s worth, we still have the little diagram you gave us. In your handwriting.

Lou glared and leaned back. He considered Emile for a long moment and knew that he was a guy he could easily bump into teeing off on the back nine at the club, drinking in the Tap Room after a game of squash or eating snails out at Babette’s. Being born into the elite is like being born into poverty; it’s hard to break out. And the rest just don’t understand that.

He then looked to Lungsee and saw exactly what he needed to see. The truth, exposed, naked and stupid. He saw child’s play going on because to see Lungsee in that house, on the couch, under that Rothko, was wrong. Like a monkey balancing the books.

But it’s always been the same with people. We stick with our kind. Always. The other guy is feared, suspected, defined always by his differences. This makes it easy. This Lou knew. But sometimes you can invite these other guys in. You’re curious. Interested. Friendly.

Or weak. And here it was plain as day to Lou. Emile wanted this Lungsee lump of shit around so he could feel better about himself, thumb his nose at where he comes from and pretend to revel in some working class sense of the world that blacks or janitors or forklift operators wallow in. Like they know better because they’re poor. Salt of the earth crap. Emile let the lump of shit in to let a little authentic, down-and-dirty life rub off on him. And it was all safe because the lump of shit felt his station rise and probably had the notion that this friendship was lasting and real and so he wasn’t about to kill or maim or steal because people are so weak and stupid they will do anything to get a friend and belong. Lou had it all figured out.

You know, Emile, I knew your daddy, he said. Not well, mind you. He was a good bit older than me, but I knew him. See him around, you know. Knew your grandfather, too. My granddaddy and yours were big hunting buds. Out there at Wapanocca. Believe it or not, it was your granddaddy, Emile, that showed me it was possible to reload a shotgun while standing in a johnboat on a fucked up white-capped swamp in zero-degree weather and complete darkness. He showed me that. Really did. He was one of the tough ones, man, I tell you what. And it was on that very hunt that I met my wife. First wife, anyway. Charlotte. She was Duncan Bowditch’s daughter. He was a real good friend of your daddy’s. She was out there pretending to learn to hunt, but she wasn’t. Just scrunching up her face when she pulled the trigger. Cute as a bug… But I knew your daddy... Actually, and not many people know this about your father, but he single-handed got the deal done to settle that big old janitors’ strike here back in the 50s. Before your time, but that was your daddy…

Lou looked at the carpet as his voice trailed away. His head barely shook from side to side.

Emile’s mouth froze, his lips tightened. He was fighting. Tears welled up. He swallowed hard and silent.

What are you doing, man? Lou continued while still looking down. He then looked up. Those clowns down at Graceland, man, they’re protected. More than me. Hell, I got some guys down at MPD that got my back and they gave a riot gun and a few phone numbers of guys if things go south, but those boys down there, they’re different, man. They might come off as dumb country hicks, all silly and shit, but when it comes down to it, they think about themselves and themselves only and even then they don’t think things out too carefully. They’re dangerous, man, okay? They’re uneducated and they do not care. They don’t understand consequences down there, you know what I mean? They got brothers and fathers and sisters doing time, man. Big hard time. At Parchman. You understand what I’m saying, Emile? They’re not our people, and you can’t fuck around with them, cause if you do, you may not be coming back. Or at least coming back as you were.

Emile knew exactly what Lou was saying and his lack of response told Lou he’d gotten in there. Lou was right and hearing his family paraded like this was too much for Emile. The flood of what he didn’t know about his father, of what he imagined, thought and dreamed, welled up and threatened to burst the lifelong dam. And it did.

The toilet, Emile said.

No thanks, I went just before you…

No. That’s what we took. From Graceland. Elvis’s toilet. That’s it.

Lou gaped and quickly realized Emile wasn’t lying. Holy shit. You took the… that’s… that’s fucking genius. Wow! Lou laughed and slapped his knee. Well, fuck me. The crapper? Really? What’d you do? Just light out the front door and run for it?

Emile didn’t answer.

God damn. I can’t believe… Okay, where is it?

Again, Emile didn’t answer

Lou grew perturbed. Okay, what? Gonna tell me it’s safe? Look, this is not a game. They will kill you to get that thing back. Okay? It may be a nice little prank stunt for you two, but they will kill, alright? Now, look, just give me the thing and I’ll take care of it and all this will go away, I promise. You’ll never be looking over your shoulder again. I’ll get it back to them and you’ll be in the clear. It’ll be safe with me…

The only thing safe with you is pussy, Lungsee said.

Lou turned and looked at Lungsee and said through clinched teeth, Come again?

There was no janitors’ strike in the 50s, and you didn’t marry Charlotte Bowditch. She thought you were a pervert. You’re a liar, Lou. A damned coward liar.

Lou sat for a long time staring at Lungsee and then he got up and walked over to him and pulled his pistol and pressed the cold barrel into Lungsee’s forehead. He leaned in close to Lungsee’s face and said, You know what I got? Huh? You know what I got?

Penis envy.

Lou planted his right knee in the sofa for leverage and grabbed Lungsee’s throat with his left hand. Lungsee eyes bugged out a bit and his head rolled back. Inheritance, he said. I got inheritance, boy. I can kill you dead and no one will care. You are forever trash. What you know, think, want, dream or care about means nothing because of who you are. Who you are is not good enough. What you’re made of is not good enough. Where you come from is not good enough. Your genes, your brains, your fucking cells are worthless. None of it matters because of who, you, are…

Lou’s face throbbed red, his veins thick and pumping. You’re a fucking white nigger trash. A dog. A dog who needs to be castrated by the state so you can’t make any more. I can kill you dead right now, call the police and they will give me a fucking medal, a key to the fucking city, do you understand? It’s inheritance, and you don’t have it.

Lungsee stared a dead gaze off into the space in front of the Rothko. The painting, a self-portrait with the artist in a tan coat and blue tie, wearing sunglasses and wringing his hands, seeped into Lungsee’s experience and told him flat out that there’s nothing to be done, and that’s how it should be. Here and now. Inheritance is nothing but debt and habit. This he knew. His mind became blank. His breathing calmed.

Lou ran out of words and he tried to crush Lungsee’s larynx, but he lost strength with his weaker hand, yet the adrenaline kept coming and he lost all control and raised up with the pistol and came down hard, the brutal sharp edge of the butt on Lungsee’s face, and he pounded and pounded and Lungsee did not flinch but he couldn’t help falling over to his right and Lou kept pounding and then the bone shone through and with it bright red blood pulsed out of Lungsee’s beautiful face and Lou put his other knee on the couch and grabbed the pistol with both hands now and he hit and hit and hit until he screamed his breaths and had no more stomach or mind or soul left for the destroyed human underneath him. Lou got off.

Lungsee’s huge stomach sputtered up and down with a little life. It bounced his canteen down onto the cushions. This was the only movement before he brought his hands up under his chin and curled them around each other so that it looked like a little boy taking a nap. The cushions under him were soaked. His chest was soaked. Blood everywhere. His cape had come untied at his throat and had made its way to the other couch. The room smelled of violence, ancient and customary. Inherited.

Emile had stood. He straddled the ottoman with an open mouth, flinched fists and a shocked soul. Delly had slowly backed across the room, all the way to the front foyer.

Lou wiped the sweat and blood from his brow and walked across the room as if on miniature stilts to the front door. His shoulder brushed Emile’s. Neither noticed.

See you around, Lou said. He walked out the front door, disappeared into the sunlight. Delly finally broke his eyes from Lungsee and regarded Emile for a moment, with patrimony baroque and fine, and he then followed his boss out.

Delly didn’t shut the door.

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