“You can want what you want, but you can
only have what you can get.” - holden-
This June 16th was as “June-a-16th” as any June 16th in Vera McAlister’s recent reckoning. The only major difference, it seemed to her, were the jagged shards of window pane, crunching and cracking indifferently, under the heavy soles of her venerated, and battle-scarred boots. The snapping and scraping sounds had the unexpected effect of soothing her very raw nerves, effectively taking her mind off the smarting lip she’d sported for the last twenty minutes. With an OCD edge on, she continued to work the pile, breaking larger pieces into smaller bits.
“When did this happen?” she asked herself, wondering whether
Mr. Jorrisch had discovered the damage yet.
The “House of the Broken Window” belonged to Abraham Jorrisch a.k.a. “Old Man Jorrisch.” The entire neighborhood was well aware of the man and the property on which he lived with its’ unwieldy and overgrown weeds and shrubs that were only matched by its’ owners thick, snowy eyebrows.
Vera McAlister did not regularly think about Abraham Jorrisch. Not because she was an inconsiderate person, but more accurately because the serious consideration of the righteously rebellious nature of modern teen living, took a behemoth amount of her free time. Being, as it seemed to her, the only girl at her school who truly understood the struggle, she couldn’t spare the time.
Truthfully, it had been months since her last memorable nightmare about the old man or the eyesore he called “Home.” So then it wasn’t curiosity, or some morbid fascination about the hermit, that caused Vera to walk down Blister Avenue, past the ancient tumbledown two-story. In fact, the house was two blocks out of her way coming home, as she now was, from the community pool at Mertenz Park. It certainly would have been quicker, and easier, to have exited the park, heading east for the three and a half, arrow-straight, blocks it took to reached “1493 E. Pritchett Lane, Santa Cruz, Ca.” where she had lived, survived, and now existed, for all of her sixteen-plus years. Today, however, Rooney Wilkes, resident teen “Stoner”, had made the regrettable decision to swipe Vera’s boots, as she lay, sunning herself, on the cement deck that surrounded the pool. The very same boots that Vera removed only as she engaged in the three “S’s”: Showering, Sleeping, and Swimming. Rooney’s petty-theft prank had altered the natural order of things.
17 minutes earlier, lying on her stomach poolside, Vera could feel the deep warmth of the early, summer sun. School had been out for three and a half weeks, and per her immutable summer vacation ritual, she had reached the pool at 2:30 sharp. As she arrived, she found that the last spot on the deck (Her spot) located at the far end, was pleasantly and predictably vacant. It was as though the posted “Pool Rules” somehow contained a seventh, unwritten rule, declaring the space on the end to be reserved for Vera McAlister. To date, she’d never had occasion to enforce the mythical statute.
Today, like any other “Pool” day, her routine was simple and perfect; a quick rinse-off at the outdoor shower station, followed by a generous application of “Body Love”, the premier suntan lotion of the area, found in only a few of the best, out-of-the-way, non-touristy surf shops in town. Vera was one of the lucky few who needed no special gimmicks to achieve a very natural, healthy looking tan, so the lotion acted primarily as aroma therapy, with its potent blend of coconut, mango, pineapple, and papaya. The finally step; twenty minutes on each side; face-up, face-down, repeat as desired.
Vera was in the middle of her third rotation, with thirteen minutes to go, according to the timer on her phone. She fixed her thoughts on the gentle, cooling breezes working their way across her oil moistened shoulders, back, and legs. The California air had already dried the six week old, fire engine tips of her spikey, jet-black hair. Up against a deep, native tan, the brilliant red was impressive.
Vera had momentarily drifted off into early-afternoon slumbers, being lulled by the sun, the breeze, and the tinny sounds of A.M. radio. An old-school boom box, situated under the lifeguard stand, was begrudgingly tuned to A.M. 690, “The Golden Past” featuring “The Biggest Smash Hits of the 60’s, 70’s, & 80’s.” The marimba solo, from the middle of “Moonlight Feels Right”, was in its 4th measure as Vera withdrew deeper into her dreamscape. Her tiny, ruby nose stud pulsed up and down with each sleepy breath she released.
Because Vera had never seen an actual marimba, the setting of her dreams consisted merely of a Caribbean beach; Waves and Sand, and a guy hammering away at a broken-down xylophone. She was lying on her stomach, staring into the dreamy eyes of Jimmy Tadesky; 2nd year Senior, who she sat next to in Spanish, last year. In the waking world, it was a fantasy Vera persistently withheld from even her two, closest friends, Sam and Jen. The vibe was pure romance with the scents of her tropical tanning oil adding nicely to the overall sensory effect. All was tranquility, until…
“OH VERA! WAKEY, WAKEY!”
Vera was unrighteously jerked back to the here and now by the droning mockery of Rooney Wilkes. And so, like the sound of a phonograph needle, being dragging across a record, Vera’s beautiful vision was derailed.
Rising up, onto her elbows, Vera craned her head around. With a blinded look in the direction of the disturbance, she squinted at the sun’s brilliance.
“Too bright,” she grumbled in disgust.There was moisture gathered on what had been her down-side cheek. Not certain whether it was drool or pool water, she smudged it away onto her shoulder, then slowly lowered her leopard print, cat’s eye sunglasses from their perch, on the top of her head, and down into place.
Rooney, the self-appointed funny man, was “On point” at the business end of the diving board, swinging Vera’s boots, out over the water, by their heavy-duty laces.
Vera’s reaction, to what she saw, was just as Rooney had predicted it would be, as he outlined the prank to the mob of teenaged “Surfer/Stoner” boys who huddled around the bottom of the board, moments before.In a second, Vera was on her feet and in-route to the scene of the massacre she was presently planning.
“ROONEY, GIVE EM BACK NOW!” she screamed, without tolerance, as she conducted her thin, shimmering, five-foot-four frame onward. The thud of her bare heals striking the hot, cement, pool deck could be easily heard by the assortment of bystanders, as she approached.
Rooney hopped sluggishly from one foot to the other, like an overly medicated kindergartener; leading the laughter for his gaggle of spectators, while his free hand was occupied with the awkward task of pulling up his sagging swim trunks.
“GIVE EM BACK, YOU BASTARD!” Vera shouted.
All eyes were now trained on the diving area, as the “Hunter” prepared to engage the “Hunted.” Without full understanding of how, or why, he had done it, Rooney reckoned he’d pushed the wrong buttons in Vera. She could no longer see reason. Dean, the sole lifeguard on duty, was suddenly reanimated; eyes flashing behind his mirrored shades, at the sound of Vera’s vocal violation of the “Pool Rules (No.2 to be precise. “Use of Inappropriate or Abusive Language.”)
“VERA,” Dean shouted, with irritation measurable on the Richter Scale. “VERA, COME HERE!”
It was too late. Tunnel vision had set in. Vera had a “Target Lock” on Rooney’s face, which quickly drained of color as he saw just how close she now was. There was nothing left for Rooney to do but run, and yet Vera had already covered too much ground while Rooney continued to work the crowd. Added to Rooney Wilkes list of blunders was his failure to provide for an escape route. Swimmers were now disbursing wildly in all directions as Vera reached the base of the diving board’s ladder.
With only the deep end of the pool available to him, Rooney tossed the clunky Doc Martens at Vera as she reached the top step, then scrambled inelegantly, over the end of the board, like an Olympic long jumper who had gotten off on the wrong foot.
Witnesses erupted in a communal groans as Rooney broke the water’s surface, and the sound barrier, with his back.
Vera rushed down the ladder, clutching her boots tightly, as scads of onlookers scuttled aside. Keeping her eye on Rooney’s movement, she tried to suss out which side of the pool he would head for.
“VERA, GET OVER HERE NOW!” Dean shouted again, sounding almost as if he had meant it.
Seeing her chance, Vera dropped the boots on the cement decking, and dived in, crossing the width of the pool, as Rooney reached for the ladder on the opposite side. His upper-half had cleared surface of the water when he felt the waistband of his O.P.’s coming down hard. There was another feeling as well.PAIN!
Vera’s mad grab at his swim trunks resulted in four, several-inch-long claw marks trailing down Rooney’s lower back, as her nails tried catching hold of his swimsuit.
The trunks had already come down far enough to expose the only un-tanned part of his body, as Rooney extended his knee, standing up, one-legged on the ladder’s bottom rung. Her grip was not loosening in the least. With his other leg he kicked at Vera. The poolside entertainment was now, way past funny to Rooney, who felt both pain, and humiliation because of a “Skeez” who apparently couldn’t take a joke.
“LET GO OF ME SKEEZ!” His voice was pitched several octaves higher than he had realized it could go. The pain rose again. Another aimless stab with his kicking foot met with something solid, and Vera’s hold was relinquished as she pulled her hand quickly to her face. He got her all right. He got her good, right in the mouth.
Vera side-crawled back to the ladder on the pool’s opposite side, keeping pressure against her mouth with her free hand. After making several tries, in vain, Vera recognized it was just too hard to climb the ladder one-handed. She removed her left hand from her face and grabbed the ladder rail. It slipped down the pole with a smear of dark red.
Tanya and Terrie (Varsity Co-cheer Captains at Costa Del Mar High School) watched from their deck chairs as Vera ascended the ladder. They were the first to see the bulge of her lips at the right corner of her mouth, and the water-diluted stream of blood working its way down her chin and throat.
“Nasty!” said Terrie, sitting up and pointing.
“You look like hell Girl,” Tanya laughed, through her imported, Texas drawl.
Having finally achieved a firm enough hold on the rail with her right hand, Vera extended a non-verbal finger in reply to her detractors. Terrie, who had already resumed her horizontal position, hadn’t witnessed Vera’s suggestion. Tanya had seen it, and faithfully returned the salute.
As soon as she was on solid footing, Vera looked around for the boots she had hastily discarded in the micro-seconds before her plunge. She soon discovered that they had tumbled under the lifeguard stand and were laying on their sides in a puddle of splash water.
“Vera, get your stuff and get out! You’re banished for the rest of the week.” Dean decreed, without disrupting the text conversation he was having with his boyfriend.
“Stupd hi skool kdz.” - Send.
Vera quietly grabbed the end of the ultra-white, Polo beach towel draped off the back of the raised chair where Dean’s paid, neglect of duty had fully resumed. For openers: a bloody hand print. Next: a “Smiley face” finger-painted in crimson. Finally: Vera delicately patted and dabbed the corner of her mouth several times.
Returning to her launch pad, she reached for her “Vargas Girl” towel, which featured a blonde, with hair like Veronica Lake, wearing a shear, black full slip and talking on an old-style phone while reclining on an unseen piece of furniture. Vera angrily snatched it off of the deck where she had worked peacefully on her tan mere moments before. It all seemed so long ago now.
Vera wrapped the towel around her lower half like a long, island skirt, covering her black faux snake-skin bikini bottoms. She grabbed her black leather mini-pack, slinging it over one shoulder, then picked up the Doc’s and headed for the gate. The regular pool kids were already getting back to their regular pool activities.
As the final puffs of steam left her ears, Vera could hear the mixture of splashing, the, almost cartoonish, “Spring!” of the diving board, and shouts of “Marco” and “Polo.” She could also hear “Rooney and the Pot-boys” planning their pending payback as Alice Cooper sang, “No More Mr. Nice-Guy.”
For anyone else who had just been ejected from the pool, this might have seemed like the “Walk of Shame.” For Vera it was a badge of honor. She had won a small victory against all the irrelevant people who enjoyed making her life difficult. And what for? They all seemed to be choosing who they wanted to be, so why should they waste their time, and hers, ridiculing, and punishing her for her choices?
Outside the gate, Vera grabbed a spot on a bench by the swings and slides. She shook her head violently, sending water flying in all directions, then, pulling a silver comb that had belonged to her Mother, from her mini pack, she smoothed-out her wet locks. She could still hear the voices of Rooney’s entourage’ mocking her as she leaned over to pull her boots on. The sudden, severe pain in her face funneled-down, concentrating itself into the corner of her mouth. Her lips now throbbed.
“Hhhmmmm!” she grunted lightly.
A block down Pritchett Lane, Vera detoured right, onto Open Oak. She did not fancy the feel of mocking eyes on her bare back, all the way home.
It was just after four so the working inhabitants of the neighborhood had yet to start their various migrations back home for the evening. Vera, in an act of growing stubbornness, chose to walk down the middle of the street. A piece of chipped curb concrete was up ahead in the road, to the right, about 20 feet distant. She lifted up the long hem of her beach towel/skirt to allow her lower legs the freedom required for a really first-rate kick. She adjusted her stride, almost instinctively, to kick the targeted object on the “Forward Step” of her left boot. Her steps were perfectly measured and upon making contact, Vera sent the asymmetrical chunk tumbling, and hopping, down Open Oak about thirty feet, landing four feet right of center on the vacant street.
“This time with the right,” she said out loud for no one to hear. With half the distance to the piece still to be covered, Vera had a strong gut-feeling that she was currently out-of-sync for a right-footed kick. She quickly added a hitch in between normal strides, knowing, at an almost cellular level, that her alignment was corrected. Another, even stronger kick.
Her preoccupation with the cement thing had caused her to miss her left turn at Martindale Terrace. Seeing Blister fast approaching, Vera reluctantly gave up on the game, with the same, mixed feelings she got when debating whether to spit out, or swallow, a wad of gum she had chewed a really long time. There was always that physical longing to perpetuate the repetitive movements, but alas… she wanted to get home quickly. Breaking left, over to Blister, she considered calling someone with the Park Authority, to discuss the drug-addled riff-raff who tended to frequent her local swimming hole. She might even have a few anti-superlatives for their choice of lifeguards.
Completing the turn onto Blister Avenue, Vera had a near-déjà vu moment. No one on Blister Avenue seemed to give-a-damn about their properties anymore. Vera noted this each and every time she traveled this street, and was annoyed that things had only changed for the worse since her last visit. Two blocks to the south, Paramour Court was a showplace, but these Blister-heads had conceded defeat long ago. Vera thought about the upcoming Jorrisch place and decided it was a cancer cell, like she had studied in biology the past school year. The malady grew slowly at first, but then, Whammo! Following the path of least resistance, the lawns, the paint, the roofs, all looked atrocious.This is what happens, she thought, when “Caring” dies
Stepping over to the north side of the street, onto the cracked sidewalk, which also happened to be perfect over on Paramour Court, Vera focused on the 10 foot-high hedges, at the far side of 1375 E. They stretched from the back yard almost all the way out to the street, and seemed to Vera, like a giant curtain being slowly pulled open, to her left, revealing the mouth of a polluted river (Geography, sophomore year.) The unquestionable source of shame within the community.
Clearing the hedge, she saw the legendary knee-high grass and weeds, covering the front yard in wide, random patches. She saw the chipping paint, the sagging roof, and the crooked and/or missing shutters. And then, in vivid contrast, there were the half dozen, or so, bright pink notices, pasted to the front door, courtesy of the City of Santa Cruz. They were placed there to inform Mr. Abraham Jorrisch that he had two weeks to effect the legally required health improvements to his property; pursuant to article… blah, blah… or further action will be… blah, blah, blah. Vera recognized those notices. The city had placed identical ones on the front door of her house in the weeks after her father’s death. Judy, her stepmother, was in a deep depression for months. Groceries, and other civilized necessities such as lawn-care, were getting neglected. One day, Vera sold the family mower, and trimmer, to some boys from the pool, who were trying to start their own lawn service. Sadly she had neglected to negotiate a free yard mowing into the selling price. She told her stepmom that the must have been stolen. In those dark days, she didn’t hang around the house much. She found it easier, and far more desirable, to glom-on to Sam and Jen. One day, while Judy was at work and Vera was at Jen’s place, Dave Sanders, from next door, came over to graciously mow and edge, both front and back yards. Vera’s stepmother had voiced her opinion, more than once, that it was Mrs. Sanders who had called the city on them; maintaining it was a spiteful effort, by Mrs. Sanders, to repay her for allegedly “Flirting” with Mr. Sanders. Perhaps Mr. Sander’s good deed was an attempt at an apology.
In the heat of the day, Vera stood there, surveying the old two-story house, which sat back about 75 feet from the street. Over the years, she had memorized the outside of the house in every gruesome detail, but since she hadn’t planned to be home for another hour, there she stood, taking it in once more. Up, on the second floor, on the east side of the house, Vera repeatedly caught flickering glimpses of unidentified black and white objects, floating in and out of an open window. Her first impression was of sheers and curtains blowing out, but then again, the movements Vera witnessed were far too choppy, and random, to be the result of any light breezes, and besides that… there was no breeze.
She stepped from the broken sidewalk to an even more broken up driveway that ran all the way up the east side of the main structure, to a detached, and slanted, one-car garage that the neighborhood kids, decades ago, had named “The Leaning Tower of Piece-O-Crap.” As always, the door was up and the dirty, tan Pontiac Executive was resting comfortably. In Vera’s periphery, the flashes of black and white continued.
She advanced slowly up the drive. A little more than halfway up, she was certain that the white thing in the window was the pull cord on the bottom of an old, roll-up, black-out shade. Then suddenly, there it was again. A black rod extended through the opening, striking the cord and making it jump and sway in and out. Keeping an eye on the swinging cord, Vera reached “Ground Zero”, beneath the window, and was startled by a snapping, crunching sound that came with each footstep. She now understood the window to be broken, not open. Looking down at the broken glass on the ground it seemed likely to her, that the window had been broken from the inside. Focusing solely on the jagged edges of the hole, she was startled to see the head of a small black cat, playfully chewing the plastic ring at the bottom of the cord.
Shifting her weight caused more snapping and crunching. The cat (well, kitten actually) stopped it’s chewing, to looked down at Vera. Then, the furry, black head, with big golden eyes, darted back inside the fractured opening. She wanted to laugh but it hurt too much to even smile. Could the cat have broken the window? Doubt it. The cat’s claws clicked against the plastic ring as “Cord Batting Practice” resumed.
Closer now to the back door, than the front, Vera finished off the pieces of glass beneath her feet, then stepped around the northeast corner of the home for a first-timers look at the back yard. It seemed to be nothing more than a smaller continuation of the front. No more, or less unkempt.
Having decided, right there on the spot, to ask Mr. Jorrisch about the window, she climbed the short set of pre-formed, concrete steps that were shoved up to the fifth step of some rickety, wooden, back porch stairs. At the sumit, Vera found the top three wooden steps to be cracked and wobbly, requiring nimble navigation. From the porch, Vera leaned out, across the iron rail, to get look through a dust covered window, to the left of the back door. No luck, too dirty. The screen door was no longer attached to the house, and now stood, ineffectually propped against the railing on the opposite side of the meager platform. Even without being able to see more deeply into the house she could tell by the partially visible, red, gingham curtains, she was standing at the kitchen door.
The door knob spun around endlessly as Vera tried opening the door. Putting a shoulder into the door didn’t help either. Must be bolted, she thought. Guess I should try knocking.“Knock, Knock, Knock.
“Knock, Knock, Knock.Nobody came to the door. No person came to the door that is.
“MEOW… Meeeeooowww…… RRREEEOOWWWWWWOOOWWW!”
From the muffled sounds of it, Vera figured there was more than one cat inside, and they were possibly very lonely, very hungry, very scared or all of the above.
Vera knocked louder this time.
“KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK!”
Momentarily frightened by the pounding, the cats ceased their crying.
“MEOOOOWWWWWW! MEOW! ROWWWW! REOWWWWWWWWWOWWW!”
“That’s a lot of cats.”
Vera had not had a cat of her own since “Paris” got sent down, when Mr. McAlister remarried.
“I’m Sorry Vera but Judy is highly allergic,” her Father had said.
“But Daddy…” she protested.
“Maybe we can get you another cat SOMEDAY,” he offered, as a dodge.
“I’m not sure right now, but…SOMEDAY.”
“When Judy dies?”
Paris now resided, if in fact he was still alive, somewhere in the Mount Hermon area, with an older lady who was one of her deceased father’s insurance customers. He had sold her a Five-hundred-thousand dollar life insurance policy, and threw in the cat for free.
Stepping back from the door, Vera felt, and heard, cracking from the dry porch planks.
“Yikes!” she exclaimed.
Anxiously descending from the tiny porch, she hopped over the safety-challenged, wooden steps, and on to the solid, cement formation below.
So…, she thought, on top of everything else, he’s a “Crazy Cat-Lady” too.
On her way to the front of the house again, she was inspired to take a few giant strides, then jumping hard, with both boots, onto the window glass, she worked the pile enthusiastically, like a kid with bubble-wrap. Arriving at the front door, she wondered, for the first time, if she had, perhaps, lost her mind. What would she say if someone actually answered? Especially if it was “Him.”
Cupping her hands around her eyes, she stood on tip-toes to peer through the little, square window in the door. The creaking timbers of the front porch brought streams of stampeding cats, from several different rooms, up to the front of the house.
“God, how many are there?” she said.Another round of knocking but nobody came. In the windows, on both sides of the door, cats were hopping onto the sills, rubbing their skeletal bodies on the shredded sheers.
Vera sat down on the top step to clear her head and try to figure things out. Call the Police? Call Animal Rescue? Too many questions. In this particular act of the play she called “My Life”, Vera hated questions. But… Vera hated unanswered questions even more. An anonymous call perhaps? She understood, that if she had been seen traipsing around the property by any of the nosey housewives on the street, she’d have already been “Made.” Because of her very intentional appearance and the impressions she left, the cops might already be on the way.
She got up and attempted the door knob… Locked. Broken window, locked house, no answer, a million cats.
“Cats!” she gasped.
My glasses, she thought. They must have come off in the pool. Damn you Rooney Wilkes.
If she waited till next week, they might be gone forever. Vera knew she had few friends at the pool, or anywhere in the neighborhood for that matter. I’ve gotta go back and get em, she convinced herself. And then I’ll try to come up with a plan for this freak show.
When she reached the bottom of the steps she turned back and saw an orange tiger-stripe, howling in the window.
“I won’t forget about you guys. I’ll be back,” she said sadly, sticking out a bruised, pouty lip.
It was a mild eighty-eight degrees and Vera’s swim suit was finally dry enough. She unwrapped herself from the towel/skirt and dropped it on the ground, then pulled her olive drab cargos and a black “STIV LIVES” tank from her mini-pack, dressing herself in the middle of Blister Avenue, in front of the Jorrisch “Estate.”
With her gear in place, she picked up the towel, shook it out, and was hanging it around her neck as a white Challenger swerved wide to avoid hitting her.
Better stick to the sidewalks from here on out, she decided.
By the time she reached Pritchett Lane again, she had conceded the need for help with her forming rescue plan, and that it would be in scarce abundance. This wasn’t the sort of job to tap Sam for. Samantha was a confirmed “Dog Lover.” Jen loved cats almost as much as Vera, but there was the small matter of legalities. Even if the house was unlocked and abandon, Jen would never trespass.
Vera walked openly, but cautiously through the pool parking lot. She gripped the chain-link fence that surrounded the pool as she reconnoitered the scene.
“It’s back,” Vera heard Terrie saying to Tanya. She ignored it.
“You lookin for these, Skeez?”
It came from over at the volleyball pit; unofficial meeting place of the neighborhood’s skaters, surfers, V-ballers, and those who chose their smoking products off the controlled substance menu. A back-lit, and cocky, Rooney Wilkes sat by the net poles; his ultra-white grin still visible from a half block away.
Idiot, she thought. And… he’s wearing the sunglasses. With teeth gritted, Vera inhaled deeply through her nose. Be cool, she told herself.
Rooney Wilkes, flanked by his Bowank posse, wobbled over and stopped short of the fence by a good twenty feet.
“Can I have my glasses back?” she said calmly.
“I don’t know, he chuckled sloppily, I think I look pretty good. Whataya think Scabbie?” Rooney inquired, with an air vanity.
Scabbie; veteran surf-skater, who never had very much to say, suddenly blurted out, “SKEEBOP!” This was his well-known catch phrase, which was apparently being employed, in this case, as a compliment.
“See. Scabbie thinks I should keep em.”
“Rooney, can we talk… alone?” Her steadiness amazed her.
“Ooohhs” and “Aaahhhs” came from the gang. Rooney dragged her glasses down to the tip of his nose. His attention was fading. Vera could see in his fried eyes that, in her absence, he had nursed his wounds with the Cheeba.
Wilkes was growing suspicious. Was this a trap? He hadn’t had time, between joints, to plan his revenge yet, and he knew he couldn’t think straight enough to improvise anything worthwhile so… he opted for a switch to “Tough Guy” mode. His herbal paranoia was in full bloom.
“We got nuthin to talk about,” he declared.
“Lookit Rooney, keep the glasses if you want but I need to talk to you,” was Vera’s impassioned plea.
If she really didn’t want the glasses back what good were they to him? He snatched them off of his face with lightning speed (as far as his intoxicated mind could perceive speed) and tossed them, fairly accurately, over the fence. Vera shot an arm up into the air, faster than Rooney’s eyes could currently track, and caught them. Rooney was getting nervous, but his curiosity restrained the fear.
“So what is this thing we gotta talk about?” he said.
I can’t believe I’m asking “Ganja Boy” for help, she thought.
“Come out here and we can talk,” she said impatiently.
worth all of this. He’s too stoned to help anyway, she thought.
“Just forget it,” she shot back.
Vera turned to go. If nothing else, she had gotten her shades back.
“Well hang on,” Rooney replied, “How do I know this isn’t some scam?”
“I said forget it.” She repeated, working the lure more deeply into the prize catches’ mouth.
“Time-out now!” Rooney shouted. He actually tried to perform the “Time-Out” hand gesture but his hands couldn’t quite hit their marks.
Vera stopped in her tracks. Her shoulders dropped with a frustrated sigh. After a 3 beat pause she looked over her shoulder, and over the top of her spotted frames. She smiled a crooked smile.
Rooney was hooked. Vera had played him well and now she would reel him in.
Looks were being passed amongst Rooney’s “People.” For probably the first time ever, Rooney, and maybe even some of the other guys, began to consider just how cute Vera actually was under all that punk crap; fat lip notwithstanding.
Rooney jerked the gray-white, sleeveless t-shirt from the waistband of his trunks and pulled it over his head, yanking his long tresses out the back of the collar. Peter Tosh smiled a sunny smile across Rooney’s chest. Next, he threw his yellow, green, and black striped flip-flops down on the walkway in front of him. Slipping them on, and almost losing his balance in the process, Rooney Wilkes moved cautiously up the fence line, towards the front gate.
The boys were in disbelief. Was their fearless leader really going out to meet with the enemy?
Shouts of “Whoohoo!” and “Dude?” followed him on his way.
“SHUT UP!” he yelled, shooting them a look. Shouts became faint snickers.
“I’m here. Now what?” he asked standing a safe, yet defiantly close distance from the Mistress of Pain. Rooney positioned himself on the far side of Vera, giving his pals a ringside seat in case he spotted the opportunity to avenge himself. He worked hard to appear as a man in charge of his own destiny, or perhaps the fog was lifting just a little.
“I found something I want to show you,” Vera said.
“Where is it?” he asked suspiciously.
“You know the trashy, old house on Blister?”
“Old Man Jewish?”
“Jorrisch,” Vera corrected. “Yeah, that one.”
“What about it?”
“Something’s going on over there.”
“Whaddu I care?”
“I want to get inside but it’s all locked up. I was thinking you could …”
“Who ya been talkin to?” He cut her off, lashing-out defensively.
“You broke into the REC Center and busted the change box off of the Coke machine,” she stated as a known fact.
“Says who? I didn’t do it. Why does everyone think it was me?”
“They don’t THINK it was you. They KNOW it was you.”
“Okay. So what if it was?”
“So I need your help to get inside the house.”
“What’s in there? Money? Jewels? What? This is a setup cause you’re still pissed about that, right there,” he said, pointing to her lip.
She self-consciously raises a hand to cover her mouth.
“It’s not about this,” she answered, renewing her cool.
Rooney, thinking that he had seen through her poorly veiled scheme, felt he had acquired the upper hand in their exchange.
“Rooney, there might be something wrong in there,” she appealed, with a voice that softened, in widening ripples.
“Call the Cops then. Whadda you care?” he laughed, still unmoved.
“I don’t wanna talk to the police. Please Rooney?”
Rooney Wilkes liked the way Vera said his name; especially when she wasn’t cursing him.
“So you JUST want me to get you inside so you can JUST look around. That’s all?” he asked incredulously.
She sensed his resistance is beginning to wane, but she couldn’t let up just yet.
“That’s it exactly. If it looks bad we leave and I’ll call it in tomorrow.”
Rooney looks past Vera’s shoulder, at the guys aping behind the fence. He laughed to himself as Scabbie ran his upturned thumb under his chin, from ear to ear. Vaguely aware of what went on behind her back, Vera maintained focus.
“When?” Rooney asks flatly.
“What’s the rush?”
“Lives could be at stake,” Vera stated, full of pathos.
“Really?” he says in solemn disbelief, crossing his arms over Peter Tosh’s forehead.
He thought about it. He appeared to by intensely studying something on the ground as he ran fingers through his chlorine dried, sun-bleached bangs. He thought about it some more.
“Will you do it?” she asks, closing the deal.
Vera’s crooked smile returned.