Authors: Brian Martinez
“I was going to.”
“I know you were.”
“So how is he?”
She sighs into the mouthpiece. “He misses you. He thinks I'm boring. I miss you, too.”
“Elaine.” He grabs a beer and kicks the door shut.
“I know, I know. This is why I can't call.”
“Is he doing better in school?”
“Same as before, good grades but no friends.”
“Your brains and my attitude. He'll rule us all one day.”
“Franklin, before I hang up, can you just tell me you're alright?”
Butcher sinks down into his lumpy couch, beer in tow. “After all this time,” he says, “I don't want to start lying to you now.” He opens the beer loud enough for Elaine to hear, and without another word, she hangs up.
These days, this is how Butcher says goodbye.
After they build the bed, Kevin gives Mary a face which says he can't wait anymore. She knows the face, and without so much as a word he leaves her side to find the boxes marked “computer” in his new office. The way he's organized and tagged their contents, it takes him less than twenty minutes to set the machine up and turn it on.
The internet connection is a big, red X at the bottom of the screen, and while normally this would be enough to throw Kevin into tantrums, today he's calm.
The doorbell rings, an unfamiliar sound for people accustomed to the buzz of apartment buildings, but Kevin skips no beat jumping up from the chair and running to the door.
He waves the man in the logo baseball cap inside and shows him the best place for the wireless router. The man agrees, but an hour later he's struggling to get a signal out of the new rig. Yet another hour passes and he's made no progress, finally noticing, though he should have checked it from the beginning, that even his own phone refuses to pull a signal.
“It looks like the house is a dead zone,” he informs Kevin.
“All sorts of stuff can mess with the signals. Mineral deposits, power lines running through the ground. Whatever the reason, though, a signal seems impossible here.”
After the two men discuss their options, they decide the best would be to ditch the whole wireless idea and stick to a wired internet connection until such time as they can ascertain the problem.
Kevin isn't happy, but he'll live.
It’s a typical Friday night at The Limestone: the beer is watered down, the flat-screen is broken again, and no one knows where the goddamn darts are.
The front door squeaks open. Butcher steps inside, and with him a cool breeze. Only two heads turn to notice him enter, two more than normal on account of him being new to town. As he makes his way past the two hunters bellied up to the bar, his eyes go to the knife holsters on their belts. The sheathed blades make him regret leaving his gun in the car.
He settles into a stool near the end of the bar, his boots hooked over the scuffed metal footrest. He shakes the spilled beer from his fingers as he’s approached by Katie, the girl behind the bar. She slides him a towel for his hand.
“Get you something, cutie?” Her eyes thick with eyeliner.
“How do they let you tend a bar you’re too young to get into?”
She throws him a devil's smile. “I’m not as young as you think. I’ve been drinking for a long, long, long time now.” She leans in close, stretching out her words. “Legally, of course.”
“I’m Officer Butcher.”
“I know who you are.” She takes the towel back. “So what’ll it be, officer? I could fix you up something nice. Welcome you to town.”
“Sugar water with a cute name?”
“Maybe I'll surprise you.”
“I'm struggling to imagine that.” He squints at her. “You're Bill Thompson's daughter, aren't you? Even under all that makeup I can see it in the eyes.”
She looks at her nails with sudden disinterest. “There's only two ways I know of to get a job, and the second one's to be someone's daughter. You want to know the first?”
“I think I got it. Just get me a bourbon neat before your father catches you talking like that.”
She straightens up. “Huh. I didn't peg you for a whiskey guy.”
“I'm a lot things.” He spins to face the bar and she slithers off to pour his drink. As an officer he's learned not to keep his back turned on a room, especially where drinkings involved.
For the better part of an hour he watches the bar and nurses his bourbon, when what he really wants is to throw it back so he can order the second. He watches Ned Seymour and Patrick Will play pool badly and make worse excuses. He counts the mounted antlers on the walls, eleven including the one with the dusty bra hanging from one side for reasons no one remembers. He listens to the hunters talk about the fishing derby and how nothing's biting and how it's because all the tourists are scaring the fish away with their campers and their kids with their bright orange arm floats, even though those folks packed up and went home months ago.
As he's sucking the last bit of whiskey out of an ice-cube, Officer Banks walks through the door.
Drew Banks is big, easily a head taller than Butcher, and the kind of guy who won't let Butcher forget it. His leathery mug, handsome from one angle and off-putting from another, is carpeted with a day's growth, a beard which over the years has moved from deep black to a gray that matches the top of his head. He takes a minute to bullshit with Ned and Patrick before he bothers to head over to Butcher.
Pointing to the glass in Butcher's hand, he says, "Sucking them back, I see."
"You said nine. It's ten."
"It's nine forty-five, don't go exaggerating." He removes his leather jacket and throws it over the next stool. "Anyway I said nine-thirty."
"Whatever you say, Banks."
The large man snaps his fingers to get Katie's attention. She rolls her eyes and comes over, making sure not to lean in too close in case he gets any ideas. "Well hello, girl," he baritones, "I must say, you're looking more of-age every day."
"Doesn't make a difference to you, right Officer Banks?" She puts extra stress on the officer bit.
"Well sure it does. I'm concerned for your safety, and it makes me happy to see how big and strong you're getting, especially in the legs. You look like you could run all night on those things."
She laughs. "You really are a creep, Banks."
"I know it. Get me a beer, will you."
"Don't have much choice, do I?"
"That's a good girl." He ignores Butcher until he has the beer in his hand, chewing on his tongue like a bothered cow. The moment he takes a swig on the wet bottle he turns as if suddenly remembering the other man. "So, Franklin," he says in a mocking tone, "how do you like Shallow Creek so far?"
"Knock it off.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“You didn't ask me here to make small talk."
"Can't an officer engage a brother officer in a bit of healthy conversation?"
"Some guys can. Not you."
Banks takes another chug from his beer. A drop spills, running down his gray stubble and onto on his jeans. "If you're so smart, you probably know what I'm about to say.”
"My best guess is the Sheriff wants you to babysit me, and you wanted to tell me before my weekend off."
"You think I'll sleep on it, that way come Monday I won't fight so much when he tells me. But if you have half the smarts I give you credit for, by now you've figured out I don't work that way."
"Yeah, I'm starting to see you're a stubborn mule." He finishes his beer and orders a second from Katie, minus the attitude. "See her?" He nods to the booth in the corner. A well-dressed blonde in her late thirties sits with her back to the wall chatting up the pair of men across from her. Her green blouse is just a bit too tight to be considered purely professional- the same as her smile. “That,” Banks says, “is Meredith Maycomb. She's very well known in these parts, if you know what I mean.”
“What does she do?”
“I don't know, real estate or something. The point I'm trying to make is she gets around, and I plan to be there when she comes around.”
Butcher rubs his face. “Do I have to remind you you're a cop?”
“That depends, do I have to remind you you're an asshole?”
“I haven't forgotten.” He makes eye contact with Meredith Maycomb across the bar, noting the hungry expression in her eyes, the knowing nod, the confident smile. He nods back, climbs off his stool and throws a few bills on the bar. “It's been fun, Banks.”
“Sure, sure.” Without taking his eyes off Meredith.
Butcher says, “Come Monday I'll be fighting this. I don't need a partner to do my job, and I sure as shit don't need a sitter.”
Banks glances his way. “Then maybe you should stop suckin' on that bottle all day.”
Butcher nods and leaves, looking one last time at Meredith Maycomb and the men with her, buzzing like two flies who haven't figured out yet they're caught.
After unpacking a few boxes, Kevin changes into the oldest pair of jeans he owns and heads outside to assess the state of the garden. He puts his fingers in the dirt and turns over leaves, looking for anything from dry soil to infestation. At first he doesn't pick up on what’s wrong, but soon he realizes there are no aphids or slugs chewing on the leaves, no red bugs nesting in the roots. Despite the perfect conditions, the plant-life here is devoid of their crawling and egg-laying.
For the briefest moment, Kevin's brain allows him to feel lucky. While most homeowners waste their time and money on such day-to-day suburban tragedies, he and Mary will be spared from its touch.
The moment doesn't last.
Over a dinner of chicken and noodles, Kevin brings up the strange business of the garden to Mary. “Do you think it’s strange that I couldn't find a single insect?”
“A bit, but considering how much I don't like bugs, I’m perfectly happy living with the mystery if you are.” The way their legs move gives her spinal shivers, their lack of veins or compassion.
They get back to their noodles.
The next day, though, after looking for him in the bedroom, and the basement, and the driveway, she finds him in the backyard staring into the trees. His body is so still she wonders if it's possible to die standing up. She calls his name but he doesn't hear it. She calls it again and he jumps, startled, and when she asks him what he's doing, he tells her he's looking.
“Looking for birds.”
“First the bugs, then the birds.”
“This is serious,” he says.
“Of course it is.”
“Something is wrong with this house.”
“Of course there is.”
The ground moves. It’s almost imperceptible, just a slight shift of dry dirt. The grasshopper, green as a new leaf, stops to check the air. With its translucent head perked and its antennae working, it looks for danger in the flat rocks, in the dead tree branch, in the small puddle of water ahead. It sees and hears nothing. Yet it knows something is wrong.
The grasshopper takes a few hesitant steps forward, but this time there’s no mistaking it- the ground swells up only inches away, and up from the dirt something rises. With impossible speed, long, dark legs covered in tan hair reach up and grab the grasshopper, trapping it in bristles.
Before it has a chance to fight for its life, the grasshopper is pulled into the waiting fangs beneath the ground, down into the dark, webbed nest below.
“That’s my Mexican girl. Eat up, Blondie.”
Sheriff Green replaces the terrarium's lid and clicks the plastic locks into place. He sits behind his desk, annoyed to hear not just the shift of the chair’s leather but the click in his left knee that comes with every bend these days. Aside from his weathered skin, wrinkled brown from the sun as well as the native blood in his veins, it's the most obvious reminder of his years.
Which is why he doesn't bend down in front of his men.
There's a knock on the door. He tells whoever it is to come in.
“Do you have a minute,” Butcher asks.
“I have three.” The Sheriff motions to the chair facing him, but Butcher prefers to stand.
“I won't be long. I wanted to talk about Banks.”
The Sheriff sighs. “Why I thought he'd keep his big mouth shut I'll never know.”
“That's just the problem- in my old station I didn't have the best track record with loudmouths. I came here to make a fresh start, not to get slapped around by the babysitter.”
“If Banks slaps you, you have my permission to slap him back.”
“Thanks, but that's not what-”
“I don't come to decisions lightly,” the Sheriff cuts him off, “and I don't give bullshit assignments. So is he watching you? Yes. You're an unproven officer in my book, regardless of what your file says, and I like to keep tabs on what I'm not sure about.”