[Updated 11/27/2016 to accommodate March 5.5]
“Allez.” Get the center, he let me take it. Feint the head cut, get him to flinch — slash the arm, EEEEP, look over YES, only ONE LIGHT this time, ref doesn’t both calling it out, just uses hand signals. Return to start. Not sure what was up with that touch, he might have just been resting. Or looking to play the tempo game — watch that. “Pret.”
Double-J caught the flanneled man as he fell, then spun him around and tossed him back towards the sidewalk. Watching from the passenger seat of the coupe, The Bird shrieked as she saw the man from the pickup pounce on Double-J, wrapping his arms around the teen. Time seemed to stop a moment, as her vision focused squarely on Double-J’s face.
He was smiling.
Then with a swift backward thrust of his left elbow, Double-J broke the man’s grasp, and a moment later threw his attacker to the pavement, away from the pickup. The flanneled man came charging back, but Double-J deftly side-stepped the attack and struck the man in the side, sending him sprawling down to the pavement as well.
The Bird heard a shout from the other direction, and turned to see the other flanneled man from the restaurant running toward the pickup. Double-J faced the man and crouched down, his fists balled into maces of flesh; seeing the two men lying on the pavement, the second flanneled man stopped, and held his arms up.
Seven days in the future
Tires crunched loudly against gravel and ice in the lingering cold of March, as a large white van, SQUISITO CATERING painted on either side, pulled into an open parking space on Elm Street, three houses to the east of the Embassy Apartments. One of the larger apartment buildings in Bark Bay, the Embassy had three floors, loud radiators, no central air, and a strict 11 pm curfew enforced by the owner, a red-faced former state trooper with a temper as short as his hair.
Rex opened the van’s passenger door, the tall teen getting out of the vehicle shortly before Jimmy emerged from the driver’s side. They walked without speaking up to the building’s entrance, saw in the small half-circle windows of the front door a man wearing a dirty green visor waiting inside. As they got closer, Rex identified the man as Lefty – George Monroe, owner of Lefty’s Auto Repair, where Double-J had worked for the last few years. As Jimmy reached for the front door handle, Rex detected a mixed odor of grease, motor oil, and gasoline, and saw through the window that Lefty was now looking at them, smiling with yellowed teeth and a face covered with dirt, black grease marks, and three days worth of beard stubble.
Definitely Lefty, Rex thought.
Lefty stepped back as the door opened — “How you fellas doing?” — his back against the security door leading to the apartments. The smell of onion blended into the already pungent mélange of garage odors, as Lefty pointed past the newcomers. “That van belong to you?” Jimmy nodded. “‘member seein’ it at the shop, last month. Handling OK now?”
Rex glanced over at the man who had volunteered to help coach the Bark Bay High School fencing team, saw him flinch as Lefty’s breath made contact with his face. “I — yeah, we running good now.”
Lefty clapped his hands, nodding. “Suspension on dose tings are a bitch, but we got hu tuh behave. Shitfire and damnation!” He laughted, hugging his body, as Jimmy looked at him with a combination of awe and disgust. Suddenly, Lefty extended his arm towards Rex — “My name’s George, but ev-body calls me Lefty, so might as well do th’ same.” Out of reflex, Rex shook his hand. “Sorry ’bout all muh dirt –- no time t’ go home, take no shower.”
“No problem. Nice — ” Rex nearly gagged as the full force of Lefty’s breath hit him — “to meet you.”
“Same he-ah.” Lefty then looked down at Jimmy’s feet, raised his head deliberately, eyes scanning the owner of Squisito’s Catering, stopping suddenly at his face — “Not from ’round here, ain’t cha?” — then cackled violently.
Jimmy snorted a solitary laugh. “Born and raised in Louisiana.”
“Ya don’ say? Shitfire and damnation!” Lefty slapping Jimmy on the left shoulder. “Well we all comes from someplace or nuther. Might as well be Weezyanna, or Ja-Pan fer all I care.”
Rex began to feel light-headed, the odor in the entry room beginning to make him nauseous. He pointed to the column of white rectangular buttons on the wall to his left — “What room is Double-J in?” Lefty ran his hand down the crudely fashioned paper labels next to the buttons — “This’un,” then pushed the button next to JOHNSON. A moment later, a sharp crackling sound came from a small speaker on the wall above the column of buttons, followed by a curt Yeah?
“Hey.” Urgency in Rex’s voice, a desire to speak before the others. “I’m here, with Lefty and Jimmy.”
The speaker crackled again, the voice that followed more welcoming. Hey! Guys! Come on up!
A second later, a loud buzz sounded from the interior security door. Lefty opened the door, turned and smiled as he motioned for Jimmy and Rex to walk in. “Second floor, third door onna right.”
The stairs, made of thin plywood and covered with a carpet runner bald and frayed in more places than it was whole, creaked with the ache of age as Rex and Jimmy rushed to the second floor, hoping to catch a respite from the onion breath and garage odors emanating from Lefty. They reached a landing, turned right, bounded up another flight of creaking stairs and reached the second floor of the Embassy Apartments. The second door on their right was open; Rex heard the sound of oil heating in a frying pan as he and Jimmy approached the doorway.
Jimmy stopped, knocked on the sill, above the latch. The response from inside was immediate and violent, as if the action at the door were anticipated with a perverse pleasure.
“JESUS! Goddam door’s OPEN, what more do you losers NEED? This ain’t friggin’ ANNIE’S house, ain’t got no damn BUTLER!”
Jimmy raised his voice to speak, before being cut off by Rex, who rushed him into the apartment, followed by his companions.