Me and Frankie
I closed the front door to Lacy’s (formerly) beautiful two story home as quietly as I could and stepped inside. The latch made little more than a soft, muted click, but I waited.
“Cletus!” Frankie hollered from upstairs, his hollow voice barreling down the stairwell. He’d always called me Cletus, and I’d never really known why. Of course, I’d never really bothered to ask, either. Cletus worked for me, and there was a certain sardonic humor in it, as well. I heard a rapid series of heavy, rhythmic thumps- like an overeager golden retriever falling down the stairs- as Frankie bounded down the stairs of the home that he and my sister shared. “Look at this shit!” he bellowed as an introduction.
Frankie rounded the corner of the stairwell, leaping down the last few steps with childlike enthusiasm. If you took me out of the equation, I think that Frankie was probably the most content of our little group with the way that the world was lived. He lived in the moment- maybe even more than I did- and loved nothing better than what he called “redneck good times.” This could be anything from killing deaders to making homemade explosives, to seeing how fast he could clean all of his rifles, to seeing how many pairs of my sister’s underwear he could put on over his jeans- one faded set over the other- before she finally snapped and started screaming at him.
I liked Frankie.
As he came into my field of view I saw that my hillbilly brother-in-law had a crossbow in his hands. I knew for a fact that Frankie loved that crossbow with the type of fondness that most people reserve for a well behaved child. Maybe the same way that I loved my bat.
As always, there was a prodigious lump at his lower lip where he kept a constant plug of his home grown chewin’ tabbaci’. While Lacy had been growing corn and other vegetables, Frankie had somehow found the seeds to cultivate his own strand of coarse tobacco leaves. It was all natural, and his teeth had taken on an unhealthy brown sheen within the last half year.
“Check it out,” he said by way of introduction, holding the crossbow out to me like a proud father offering up his newborn for familial inspection. “I cut down on the draw line. It’s a bitch to pull, but I bet I can get an extra thirty or forty feet on the distance.”
I made some grunts that sounded appreciative and intrigued, but I honestly could have cared less. Frankie liked killing deaders almost as much as I did, but he grew up hunting game, and preferred to do it like any true hunter: from a distance. Personally, I liked to be a little bit closer when I put them down.
“What are your plans for the day?” I asked, already knowing what the answer would be. Frankie gave me a feigned look, like I’d just asked him the most idiotic question in the world, but his face split into a wide grin.
“Ah, hell, Cleet; the same as they are every day,” he said, pausing to spit a stream of brown saliva into a dingy cup that sat on the kitchen counter. “Find somethin’ to do, take a nap when I get bored. Might find somethin’ else to do after that. I’m feeling ‘specially ambitious today, so after Lacy starts clamoring at me about nothin’, I might just take another nap before it’s bed time.”
I smiled. I’d always liked Frankie’s sense of humor. It was raw and natural, and there were times that I wished I could emulate it. He and I got along well. Sometimes better than Lacy and I did. Most times, maybe.
“I’m heading out for a bit,” I said. “You feel like making a run?”
Frankie’s mood changed in an instant. His eyes snapped up and his face went blank before focusing to a needle’s point. His affable grin came back pretty quick, though.
“Fuck yeah, I feel like making a run,” he said, smiling wide. “You check it out with Lewis, first?”
Jesus; seriously? I thought to myself, resisting the urge to roll my eyes. Why does everyone think I need his permission to do something?
“Lew’s good with it,” I said. “He’s counting on you to keep me out of trouble. I told him you could.” I gave Frankie a suggestive look that was half devilish and half baiting. “You can keep me out of trouble, right?”
“Hell no!” Frankie laughed, without a care in the world. “Why would I want to? Getting into trouble is half the fun!”
Like I said; I liked Frankie.
“Lemme grab a few things real quick,” he continued, setting the crossbow on the counter as he pulled his duffel from the closet. The backpack was worn, military green, and a holdover souvenir from the time he’d spent enlisted in the USMC. Frankie grabbed a couple bottles of water and some meat that he, himself, had dehydrated into jerky. I hesitated to ask where it came from or what animal it was. It was meat, and it served its purpose. He shoved everything into the duffel, and then reached for a quiver of short arrows that sat on the kitchen table.
“Lew said not to bring the crossbow,” I said. I could have let it go; I could have said nothing at all. It’s not like Frankie would listen to me, anyway. But this was my own little way of egging on the situation, and I knew exactly how Frankie would respond. He was always good as a source for entertainment.
“Lewis don’t know shit,” Frankie muttered, half to himself. “Suzanna goes where I go.”
“You shot Jordan, last time,” I jibed, bringing it up on purpose. Jordan was a black guy that lived just beyond the wall to Branberry. He’d lived there for years, and while he was one of the few on the block that had managed to survive the outbreak, he’d had no interest in joining in our little community. Frankie had always considered him an “uppity nigger.” Frankie’s errant bolt had caught Jordan in the calf, nothing serious, but it had riled things up like an anthill for a few days. Frankie responded just the way that I wanted, and it was an effort to keep my smile to myself. Getting him riled was fun.
“It was his own fault!” Frankie protested lightly, a false look of innocent humor on his face. “He shouldn’t have been there in the first place! I was just trying to shoot a jack rabbit; I can’t help it if he wandered in front of my shot.”
I kept my smile to myself as Frankie continued his rant.“Lewis can kiss my ass,” he said, slinging the strap of the crossbow over his shoulder. “I’m bringin’ Suzanna, but I’ll bring Samantha, too, just to shut his pansy ass up.”