Richard Van Camp
An excerpt from the short story “Because of What I Did” from the upcoming collection, “Night Moves”, with Enfield&Wizenty by Richard Van Camp, 2015.
I unscrew the light bulb outside Lester’s house and Torchy nods to me to call for him. That’s when I see he has a baseball bat.
“No weapons,” I told him. “Don’t think I didn’t see your knife.” I say to Sfen. His mouth opens in surprise and I can tell he doesn’t want to be here.
“Never you mind, Radar,” Torchy grinned. “You got your reasons for being here, and I got mine. We’re getting that nine so do what you’re told.”
“Nine?” I said. “It’s eight.”
“Hell no,” Sfen said. “Benny said nine.”
The circles of fire touch even closer until they lock and I know they’re lying, trying to confuse me. They look at each other and I feel something pass between them. It raises my skin. Darkness. A whispered plan.
The porch lights turn on and the brothers step back into the darkness, vanish.
“Hello?” a voice calls. “Flinch?”
I look and there Lester is, peeking out his door.
“Hi,” I said. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” he said. “Everything okay?”
I hold up my shovel and nod.
I leave the shovel outside. He lets me in and I close the door behind me.
“You’re out late,” he smiled. “Aren’t you cold?”
I nod. “I’m okay.”
I stand there and look around. There are pictures all over the wall of Lester and his late wife. She was a big woman with curly hair. In each photo, Lester beams. He has his arms around her like he is holding on for dear life.
“Thanks for shovelling last week. How much do I owe you?”
“Sorry,” I said.
He looks up. “Why are you sorry?”
“I’m not here for me,” I said.
“Oh?” he says.
“Benny’s back,” I said.
His face changes. I watch it. Lester goes from being a kind old man to someone younger, someone cunning. “He’s back?”
“And you’ve come to collect.”
I stand to my full height. Why does it feel like there's someone else in this house—standing near me?
“So you are the gentle way,” he says.
I nod again.
“How much did he say I owe?”
He thinks about this. “I heard he got stabbed on his last day in.”
“He’s hired the witch from across the river?”
I watch him as he makes his way to his freezer. I watch his hands. I watch his eyes.
“They used to be partners in fornication,” he says. “Are you sure you want to be a servant with that crowd? You could work for me.”
I'm quiet about this.
“How’s your mom?”
I won’t take the bait.
“I’m sorry,” he says and he watches me. “So what happens if I don’t pay up?”
“The brothers, Torchy and Sfen, are outside. Torchy has a bat. Sfen… a knife.”
Lester gets a flush under his throat that warms his cheeks. “You’re telling me those boys are outside?”
“They are,” I say. “And Torchy wants nine grand.”
“Just like that, huh?” he asks. “Benny’s back and it’s just like that?”
I nod. He knew this was coming. Where is the girl? I need to see her eyes.
“Okay,” he says and shows me his hands. “I’m going to reach into the freezer. There’s eight grand. I’m going to move slow. Do not hurt me. When I give you the money, I want you to give Benny a message.”
I watch his hands as I open my own. “Okay.”
“Tell Benny,” he says as he reaches into the freezer, “that I want to play him again and tell him that we’ll play double or nothing.”
He knows something, I think. Lester knows something about the world now that no one else does. I can see it in him. Creator, what is it? What have you given him or what has he stolen from you? Let me be your hands here.
“I’ll do that,” I say.
And that’s when the door opens behind me.
It is a woman’s voice. I turn and see the face of a girl my age. She stands in a fur coat. Wolf. And red high heels. Her hair is up in a bun and she has dark skin. Her lips are painted red and her eyes jet black. She is not a pretty girl. Her nose has been broken once. She is round, heavy, sad.
Where have I seen her before?
And that’s when I feel something bad. Like my skin is being cut by cold and slicing ice. Like something’s scraping the insides of me and pulling my guts out with sinew snapping from crooked hooks across the room and behind me. I lean quick on the counter and Lester catches that before he looks at the girl with scolding eyes.
“I filled the truck,” she says. “But there’s a truck blocking the driveway. I don’t know what to do.”
I study her and realize that she doesn’t even see me. There’s something wrong with her. Is she blind? Deaf? She looks deaf—blind halfway through her eyes maybe. That’s the only way any of this makes sense.
Lester’s brow furrows. “Where did you park?”
She looks through me and immediately at the floor. “Sorry. On the road. I did not know what to do so I parked it down the road. I’m sorry.”
I blush at how gentle this young woman’s voice is, how shy. I look at her again and realize that she is much like a younger version of the picture of Lester’s wife on the fridge. Is this their daughter?
“This is Flinch,” Lester says.
“Pleased to meet you,” she says and holds out her hand. She doesn’t look all the way up, like everyone else. “Happy full moon. I’m Crystal.”
But it isn’t. I take her hand. Is she stoned? Her fingers are so freshly painted that I can smell the nail polish. I’m not sure if I am supposed to kiss it like on TV or shake it, so I shake it once.
“Well, Flinch,” Lester says and hands me a stack of cash, shrink-wrapped. “You pass along my message to Benny about double or nothin’, and you tell that old squaw of his that I said hello.” He looks right at me and then gives me a dirty look. “Sorry about your mom.” He moves in the way of Crystal and helps her with her coat. I am being dismissed.
I leave and walk outside, puzzled. Drugs? What is wrong with her? Is she just shy? Is this medicine?
The brothers are waiting for me and I stop. “Drive. I’ll meet you there.”
“Did you get it?” Torchy asks.
I nod and feel so suddenly weak. “Go.”
“I told Torchy it was eight,” Sfen says. “I want you to know—”
“Go,” I repeat.
And they leave.
Benny will be mad that I didn’t get the gloves. The moment passes. Creator, you know I did all I could here. We’ll break in another time.