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Authors: Tom Piccirilli

Tags: #Mystery & Crime

Clown in the Moonlight (16 page)

BOOK: Clown in the Moonlight
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"Would you feel better if she was nineteen? Or twenty- nine? You feel better about the old lady? She was seventy- one. I killed her with my fists. Or—"

"I want to know why, Collie."

"You're asking the wrong questions."

"Tell me or you'll never see me again."

His icy eyes softened. Not out of shame but out of fear that I would leave him forever. He licked his lips, and his brow tightened in concentration as he searched for a genuine response.

"I was making ghosts," he said.

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I appreciate you showing up. Really. Come back tomorrow, Terry. Okay? Or the day after. Please."

I thought of a nine- year- old girl standing in the face of my enraged brother. I knew what it was like to be caught in that storm. I imagined his laughter, the way his eyes whirled in their sockets as he made her lie down on the floor beside her parents and brothers, pointed a .38 at the back of her head as she twisted her face away in terror, and squeezed the trigger.

I made it to my car and threw up twice in the parking lot. I drove through the prison gates and waited on the street until I spotted the guard who'd made me repeat my name three times.

He eased by in a flashy sports car so well waxed that the rain slewed off and barely touched it. For a half hour I followed him from a quarter mile back, until he turned in to a new neighborhood development maybe ten minutes from the shore.

The rain had shifted to a light drizzle. I watched him pull in by a yellow two- story house with a new clapboard roof and a well- mown yard. There was an SUV in the driveway and the garage door was open. Two six- or seven- year- old boys rolled up and down the wet sidewalk wearing sneakers with little wheels built into them.

I drove to the beach and sat staring at the waves until it was dark. I'd been surrounded by mountains and desert for so long that I'd forgotten how lulling the ocean can be, alive and comforting, aware of your weaknesses and sometimes merciful.

Five minutes off the parkway I found a restaurant and ate an overpriced but succulent seafood dinner. I'd been living on steak and Tex-Mex spices for so long that it was like an exotic meal from some foreign and romantic land. The lobster and crab legs quieted my stomach and loosened the knot there. I listened in to the families around me, the children laughing and whining, the parents humorous and warm and short- tempered.

The wind picked up and it started to rain harder again. Streams of saturated moonlight did wild endless shimmies against the glass. I drank a cup of coffee every twenty minutes until the place closed, then I sat out at the beach again until the bluster passed.

It took me three minutes to get into the screw's house. I stood in the master bedroom and watched as he and his wife spooned in their sleep. She was lovely, with a tousled mound of hair that glowed a burnished copper in the dark. One lace strap of her lingerie had slipped off her shoulder, and the swell of her breast arched toward me.

I found his trousers and snatched his wallet. He had a lot of photos of his children. I left the house, drove to the water, and threw his wallet into the whitecaps. I didn't want his money. I didn't want to know his name. I didn't even especially want to hurt him. I was testing myself and finding that I'd both passed and failed.

I was still a good creeper. The skills remained. My heart rate never sped. I didn't make a sound.

I hadn't broken the law in five years, not so much as running a yellow light. My chest itched. My scars burned. The one where Collie had stabbed me. The one from my broken rib. And the largest one, made up of Kimmy's teeth marks from the last time we'd made love. She bit in so deep under my heart that she'd scraped bone.

I drove home through the storm, thinking of the ghosts I had made.


Futile Efforts


arks got off the bus at the stop around back of Louie's Suds'n'Slop, where the whores and the moonshine runners rattled the trailers on the other side of the parking lot.
Louie's jukebox twanged and mewled about motherless kids, dying dogs, and broken hearts.
The yeehaws, boot-stompin', and the sharp crack of the cue ball busting up the rack made Parks' teeth ache.

So, after a pretty wild run of luck, he was already burned up.
You could swear ten thousand times that you'd never return to where you'd come from, but when you had no place else to go, you went right back.
Jesus, look at the place--he thought he'd never even come within a thousand miles of the whole damn state, and now he was home again.

The edges of his vision had been lit with swirling streaks of red over the last fifty miles of state highway, and now his hands were cold and aching.
For the last three days, it had felt as if a steel band had been tightening around his chest, another around his head.

Parks had been gone six years, married and divorced, and had written and directed two films.
The first had been a sleeper hit which garnered feel-good reviews and a fair amount of cash.
There'd been talk of an Academy Award nod.
Though it hadn't happened, the very buzz about the possibility was nearly as good as if it had short-listed.
He'd been prepped as a director to keep an eye on, and the studio had shined his ass and given in on some pretty stupid demands on his part.
When you can get away with it, you push.
So he did.

The second film had gotten him kicked completely out of the biz.
His wife had taken half of what he'd owned and the lawyers had chopped the rest down to a hole in the ground.
He learned quickly who his real friends were.
He didn't have any.

Now Parks was twenty-seven, bankrupt, and on his way back to see his older brother Floyd, who hated him, just so he could steal Floyd's land.

The ride wasn't over yet, and in some ways it was only starting.
It'd make a good story for cable three-four years down the line.
Rebuilding a career from the rubble, tragic figure rises to face new challenges.
He could sell it down on Wilshire Boulevard so long as it had the right packaging.
He could play himself once he got back into the game, so long as he had enough for the ante.

The farm was just under five miles from the Suds'n'Slop but Parks walked it.
He had no luggage besides a small satchel with a change of clothes and his latest script.
He didn't intend to stay long.
He already had a new attorney going through the paperwork back in Beverly Hills, but he owed it to Floyd to put in a visit face to face.
It was going to be hell.

Already Parks had lost all the calm and slickness he'd nurtured in L.A., and could feel it bleeding out from him as he moved from the highway onto the dark dirt roads.
There was enough moonlight that he could still see, but he didn't even need it.
He knew the way home and could find it blind.

It took about an hour.
By the time he saw the broad expanse of the farmhouse opening up through the starlit stalks, he was covered in sweat and smelled like his brother, his grandfather and father and all his many cousins who worked the earth.
He trudged up the trail of flattened grass past the rusted hulks of pickup trucks and tractors that spotted the terrain like lost battlements of the ancients.

Parks had just hit the first stair of the porch when Floyd flung open the broken screen door, said, "Come on in, if you must," and receded into the house.
The mousetrap hinges on the screen had squealed their last, with the screws pulled completely free from the rotting wood.

Parks stepped inside, feeling his mother somewhere behind him, out in the dark fields.
It got to him so much that he actually turned around and had to take a quick look.

Floyd was across the room drinking a can of beer, foam flecking his chin and collar.
He had a farmer's muscular arms and a trucker's gut.
His wife, Myrtle, had paled and softened into a doughy plumpness, and she now wore only a vacuous bovine expression of complacency.
Her vacant eyes skittered over Parks' face but she couldn't seem to place him.

They'd had four kids when Parks left for the west coast, but he didn't remember any of their names.
Now six children were spread out on the first floor, and there was all kinds of thumping going on upstairs.
Sounded like at least three more.
They looked so similar–-shaggy blonde heads, sexless placid faces, plain overalls–that he thought of them almost as a single child.
Seeing only the one kid at various stages of life rather than several running around.
Somebody dropped a plate of cinnamon rolls on the floor and called out, "Broom!"

Père Hull sat in a wheelchair in the middle of the room with a little TV tray in front of him, facing away from the television, which had a truck show on, guys screaming and engines roaring, crashing into shit.
The old man was crocheting a teal scarf that looked about twenty feet long already.
Even though the knuckles of his huge fists bulged with arthritis, the needles quietly clicked together at an incredible speed.
Parks was impressed.
His grandfather gave a grin and said, "You must be hungry.
Long trip you've been on.
Go eat something.
Come talk later, if you got a mind to."

"We're about to have dinner," Floyd said.
"Come sit.
We set a place for you."

So Parks went into the kitchen and stood at the foot of the table where he'd taken his meals for the first twenty years of his life.
He felt an odd tension as his head slowly crowded with mixed memories.
Not of the house or his family, but instead all the reviews, the pitches, starlets, agents, and executive meetings.
This life could swallow your entire future, all your ambitions and expectations, if you let it.
You had to hold on to whatever gave any kind of definition and meaning to your existence.
It's what got him writing screenplays and fooling around with a video camera in the first place.

The Brooms carefully seated themselves around the table.
Parks thought if he blinked too fast they might all converge into the one kid.
He kept waiting for chatter but there wasn't any.
Floyd made no introductions and Parks took the last remaining empty chair.
Of course, his brother had set his place in the same seat where he'd eaten all those years before.
Telling Parks, in a sly way, welcome back.
You thought you were out but you can never really leave.

They poured gallons of fresh milk, straight out of the cow.
The Brooms gave him the occasional glance but nothing more.
They ate in silence and Parks decided to do the same.
He kept clenching and unclenching his hands.
It felt like he had a touch of arthritis himself.

Despite the trouble he knew was coming, he still had an appetite.
In other circumstances, the meal would've been wonderful.
He hadn't eaten like this since he moved out to the west coast, where everybody was a vegan or bulimic or counting their carbs or getting their gastric bypass surgery.

Mounds of steak, mashed potatoes, fresh bread, and a number of vegetable dishes passed into his hands.
You had to pay four hundred bucks at Spago's to eat a third as well.
The American heartland.
He hated everything about it except the food.

They worked the plates across the table with the well-practiced actions of a fire bucket brigade.
As they were finally winding down, Floyd asked him, "Hey, you think you can help me with my pickup tomorrow?
I got to overhaul the engine.
Got my tools out on the porch, we can give it a crack before lunch."

"I don't know much about cars, Floyd," Parks said.
Christ, this could get out of hand very soon.

"You don't need to in order to help somebody out."

"That's true enough.
Give me a minute here, okay?
I'll be right back."

"Seein' the man about a mule, eh?"

Something like that.
Parks headed down the hall and past the bathroom to the gun rack on the wall.
Père Hull watched him but said nothing, the needles little more than a blur.
Parks drew the bolts from the two rifles and stuck them in his back pocket.

BOOK: Clown in the Moonlight
6.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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