Friday, August 19, 2016

The Stranger (updated)

Lively Ontario, Summer 1984

Tyson opened the screen door and darted into the kitchen, breathless. 

“Scotty! Hey Scotty! You home? Hi Mrs. Reilly is Scott here? Can he come out –oh.”  Tyson said.
He knew he messed up before Scotty’s mom turned around from the kitchen counter. He lowered his head. 
“I did it again,” Tyson admitted, studying his running shoes. He did his best so sound remorseful, but his whole body was shaking with excitement. He couldn’t wait to show his best friend what he had found. 
“You sure did,” Mrs. Reilly answered. She planted her hands at her hips and gave Tyson a look of disapproval. She was frowning at him, but Tyson saw the smile in her eyes. 
“So what do you do now, buster?”
“I know, I know,” Tyson sighed. He slumped his shoulders and walked back outside. When the screen door closed, he raised his fist and knocked politely.
Coulda been worse, the eleven year old thought. Coulda been Scotty’s Pa caught me coming in without knocking.

“Come in, Mr. McNamara!”
Scotty’s mom was chuckling softly as he re-entered. 
“My name is McNamara I’m the leader of the band,” she sang. 
Patricia Reilly was a short plump and full bosomed woman with bright red curly hair. She was always kind to him, that’s why Tyson felt sad and awkward when he spotted her swollen and bruised lower lip. 
“Can Scotty come outside Mrs. Reilly?” 
He cast his eyes down and pretended to examine the zipper on his navy blue windbreaker.
Before she could answer, his bestest friend in the whole wide world came leaping up the stairs from the basement.  
“One step at a time, sweetie. It’s not a race.”
“Sorry Ma,” Scott Reilly said. 
Physically the two were opposites. Where Tyson was shorter than most boys his age with a thick, solid frame and a head full of loose brown curls, Scott was a scarecrow, his blonde hair straight and always neatly trimmed. 
“Can I? Can I go outside with Tyson?”
“Be home by supper,” Scotty’s mother answered. She knew she had precious seconds to rattle off her instructions before the two kids were out the door and zooming down the street on their pedal bikes. 
“Careful on those bikes, look before crossing the road, don’t go too far, and STAY OUT OF PEOPLES GARBAGES!”
“Okaaaay!” Both boys called back. They were already half way down Sandra Boulevard and picking up speed.

“Where we going Ty?” 
“You’re not gonna believe it, buddy-roll. You gotta see it for yourself.”
 Tyson wasn’t about to reveal their destination and have Scotty race ahead of him. He might be tougher than his good ol’ buddy ol’ pal (Scotty was always sporting ugly blue and purple goose-eggs on the back of his head or ugly cuts under his chin that would scab over and look absolutely awesome) but he was fast. He always beat Tyson when they raced on their bikes, and even though Tyson would point out that Scotty’s bike was newer and nicer than his own beat-up BMX, the words rung hollow in his own ears. His friend had a nervous energy about him, always fidgeting in class and doing annoying things like jimmying his legs under his desk like he was playing an invisible bass drum. Scott never bragged about how much faster he was than Tyson, but that didn’t mean Tyson had to like being left in his best friend’s dust.

The boys pedaled side by side to the end of Hillcrest subdivision, bunny-hopping the curb to travel the thin strip of pavement that served as a bicycle path running parallel to the highway.

“Aw, you shoulda told me we were gonna be exploring,” Scotty called from behind. “I woulda worn my jeans instead of these shorts. I’d have brought more supplies, too.”
“Trust me Scotty, this is gonna be worth some scratches and bug bites. Wait and see!”
Scott Reilly was a stickler about being prepared. Wherever he went, he had his A-Team backpack slung over his shoulder in which he kept all sorts of odds and ends. Scotty called them his “tools” but they were really just a bunch of household items that his friend insisted were high-tech gadgets from the future. The tire gauge was his scanner and sonic screwdriver like the one Doctor Who carried.  He had a tuning fork that warned of impending danger when he held it out in front of them like a water divination rod. The egg beater? A communicator from the 24rth century that when held above his head and cranked allowed Scotty to receive messages from the friendly aliens of Alpha Centauri.

 Secretly he felt the whole thing kind of babyish, but Tyson would never say it aloud. His dad told him that Scotty had it rough at home because his father liked drinking better than going to work. He said Scotty’s Pa wasn’t much of a man. Tyson wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, not really, but he did know Scott Reilly was his bestest pal, his closest compadre and his brutha from anutha mutha, and if that meant believing a tire gage was a sonic scanner or a garden spray gun was a photon blaster that discombobulated alien mutants with a single shot, well then Tyson thought, set phasers to kill
The bag itself was pretty cool though, it had a picture on the back with all the members the A-Team with their names and military specialties listed above their heads. Hannibal, Face, Murdoch and the two boys’ favorite member, B.A. Baracus, played by the imposing Mr. T. with his signature hairstyle stood with their arms over each other’s shoulders, still managing to look completely badass despite the grins on their faces.

The two of them left the bike path and turned left on Black Lake Road. A few hundred feet from the corner was their destination, a large brown brick building containing a bowling alley and bar that they weren’t allowed in unless accompanied by their parents or on a field trip with their school. It wasn’t the building they were interested in.
Tyson coasted into the back parking lot and hopped off his BMX to park it, but Scotty came in like a speeding bullet, leaping from his seat just before his expensive mountain bike collided with the brickwork of the bowling alley’s rear wall.

Tyson was always puzzled about how his friend could be meticulous and organized with the worthless props he carried around in his backpack, and then so careless and destructive with the stuff he owned that was actually worth something. It didn’t make sense.

Then again, Tyson thought as they ventured further into the forest, a whole lotta things don’t make sense about Scotty. Things like the bruises and goose-eggs he showed up to school with sometimes. He never wants to talk about how it happened.
What young boy wouldn’t wanna tell his friends in his class how he got a gnarly lump on his head or a nasty gash on his knee that required stitches? The boys Tyson knew would demand every gory detail while the girls scurried away looking disgusted and wondering why boys had to be so gross.
His mother would nervously check Scotty’s wound and remark how clumsy her poor little boy could be, but Tyson had seen his best friend take a hundred jumps on his mountain bike and climb just as many trees and never fumble or fall a single time.
“We almost there?” 
“Check it out,’ Tyson answered triumphantly.
They stepped out of the sweltering heat of the deep bush into a clearing, and in the center stood the biggest, most well-built cabin the boys had ever seen. Standing two stories tall and made with wooden planks and lumber, it was more of a building than a bush-cabin. There was even a woodstove on the ground level. 
“What is it?”
“It’s a fort that someone has hired us to defend,” Tyson said.
Scotty smiled and recited the intro from their favorite television show: "In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... the A-Team."

The two boys inspected the area surrounding the building thoroughly, quickly discovering the architects and builders of their makeshift fort by the trash they left behind. Cigarette butts, roach-clips and empty beer bottles pointed invariably to teenagers, and not the nice kind like the safety-monitors on their school bus. 

“Looks like this is where they come to smoke their smokes and drink booze,” Scotty said. “What if they come back?” 
“We run, silly.” Tyson waved his arm across the butts littering the ground. “You think a bunch of dumb smokers are fast enough to catch us?” 
Scotty thought about it for a minute before nodding in agreement.
Once inside they climbed the wooden ladder to the second floor and found more drug paraphernalia and empty bottles of cheap wine along with candy bar wrappers and spent bags of potato chips. The air inside the cabin smelled of musty wood and stale alcohol and the teens had carved various swear words into the walls along with the symbols of various rock bands like the VH from Van Halen and Twisted Sister’s stylized TS. The north wall opened onto a deck bordered with a hand railing on which a thick yellow rope was tied that hung to the ground below.

 For the next two hours Tyson McNamara and Scott Reilly defended their position against imaginary threats, taking turns pretending to be different members of their beloved A-Team. The boys were so wrapped up in their adventures they didn’t hear Robbie Castille and the other teen known only a Horvath approaching. Tyson and Scotty were sitting on a couple of red milk crates on the second level planning a patrol route around their fort when they heard “Who’s in there?”
The boys looked at each other, wide-eyed with panic. 

“The rope,” Scotty suggested. They scurried onto the deck and looked down, weighing their options. They could shimmy down to the forest floor, but then what? Run deeper into the bush and risk getting lost in unexplored territory? That’s if the rope held, something they both expressed doubts about during their initial inspection.
“Whoever’s in there, youse better come out by the count of ten,” the voice commanded, “or we’re comin’ in!”
Tyson and Scotty climbed down the ladder and nervously exited the cabin and stared blankly at the older boys standing at the edge of the clearing.
“Jus’ a couple lil’ faggots,” Horvath said. Robbie chuckled at his buddy’s description.
Both teens were wearing denim jackets, Robbie wore a black KISS shirt and green khakis beneath his, Horvath a red sweater with the hood pulled over his head. Tyson and Scotty knew them from the neighborhood, they were just the kind of big kids their parents had warned them to stay away from.

Robbie Castille had long greasy brown hair that covered his ears and hung to his slumped shoulders. He had thin patches of stubble above his top lip and chin, the starting of a mustache and beard that wouldn’t be fully realized for a few more years of puberty. 
Horvath had a narrow face covered with acne, his eyes were always red and puffy and never seemed to open wider than slits. His voice sounded flat and tired. “What were you two bum-chums doin’ in there, sucking each other off?”
“We weren’t doing anything,” Tyson said. He held his hands up to demonstrate they meant no harm. “We just happened to find this cabin and were looking around, that’s all.”
“Ye-yeah,” Scotty added. “We were just gonna leave.”
Robbie cocked his head and pointed at Tyson’s best friend.
“Hey, aren’t you Buzz Reilly’s kid? Old Buzzy the booze-hound?”
Scotty frowned. “Shut up,” he said in a low voice.
Robbie poked his friend. “My mother found his old man passed out in his own puke in the shitter at the ‘Winds,” he said. “Just the other night.” Horvath giggled, a stuttering nasal sound that reminded Tyson of a billy-goat. 
“And what, pray tell was your mother doing in the mens room of the local tavern, Robert?”
It was a high, crackly voice that startled Tyson and made Scotty shiver. It came from behind them. The boys turned to look but saw no one at first.
The teenagers took an unconscious step back.
“Who said that,” Robbie Castille called out. “Who’s there?” 
Horvath walked toward the boys. “Who else you little queers got with you?” 
An old man in a black suit walked out from behind the cabin. He wore a matching bowler hat and shiny dress shoes, not the kind of apparel one would wear to go walking in the bushes. He was smiling, his mouth filled with big pale yellow teeth that looked like the keys on an old broke down piano, decaying and hopelessly out of tune. His shirt was bright white and beneath the collar hung an old fashioned black string tie.
“Who are you?” Robbie’s tough-guy front was betrayed when his voice cracked.
“Answer my question and I’ll answer yours, Robert Castille. How did your mama happen to be in the gentlemens rest room at the Tradewinds hotel?” The old man was eyeing Robbie inquisitively with a glimmer of mischief in his faded grey eyes.
“She-she works there,” he answered, somewhat defensively.
“A serving girl, then,” The stranger said in a mocking tone. “Not a very prestigious position, is it now? Glass houses, my boy. Glass houses.”
“She’s not some welfare waitress,” Robbie insisted. “She makes good money there. She’s the manager.”
“Come now Robert, have you ever seen more than five or six patrons in that dive? What’s to manage?” 
Robbie Castille had no answer.
“You’re right in a way, I suppose. Your dear mother is more than a simple barmaid. The extra money she brings home is from servicing the men who frequent that shit-hole. Sometimes with her hand, my boy, but mostly with her mouth.”
This creepy old man is enjoying himself, Tyson thought. He’s looking right through Robbie. Seeing everything with those soft grey eyes that seem like they’re burning.
“You-You’re lying,” Robbie stammered “My moth- my mom is the…”
The man continued. “When your mother comes home crying like she so often does, do you think it’s the stress of managing a dying business that puts her in such a sorrowful state?”
“Who gives a shit what this old bone-smoker says, Rob.” Horvath cut in. He never took his eyes off the old guy as he spoke. “He’s just mad ‘cause he was getting his knob polished by these little turds when we came along and interrupted.”
The man in the black suit turned his attention to the hooded teen then. “You’ve got quit the fascination with all things homosexual, don’t you Mr. Horvath? Do you judge so harshly when you pleasure yourself to the poster on your bedroom wall at night? You know, the big poster of the tall, dashing curly haired driver of that souped up Trans-Am? The Knight Rider he’s called. Am I correct boys? Is that what the TV program is called?”
Horvath’s eyes were opened wide for the first time since he discovered the joys of marijuana. 
“Fu- fuck this old cock- fuck this old prick Rob. Let’s just go.”
“Yeah,” Robbie nodded hurriedly. “We’ll catch these little jerkoffs later.”
“You will not,” the old man said loudly. The tone of his voice dropped low like an unnatural baritone, and when the echo of his command faded, the forest had gone silent. The birdsong went mute and the noise of crickets and the other insects of the forest abruptly died.
Robbie Castille and his partner looked at each other briefly before turning and running back through the woods the way they had come.

The old man clucked and then let out an amused hoot before approaching the boys and hunkering down on his haunches.

“Well then, now that we’re rid of those two, I think proper introductions are in order, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’m Scott…” 
“You are Scott James Reilly and your friend here is Tyson Emmett McNamara,” the stranger said. “Of course you are. My name is Louis Morningstar, but my friends call me Louie”
“How do you know us,” Scotty blurted out enthusiastically. “How do you know those other boys? Is what you said to them all true?” Tyson kicked his friend’s lower leg and scolded him. He turned to the strange old man. “Sir, thanks a lot for getting rid of those bullies, but we really have to get going.”
“So soon? But I came to your aid, didn’t I?” The man in the black suit removed his bowler hat and held it his chest over his heart, grinning while his pale eyes danced between the two boys. Tyson saw the man was bald save for a few scattered wisps of white hair hanging dull and lifeless from his liver-spotted dome. “Can’t we sit and chat a spell?”
“Well we don’t gotta leave right this minute,” Scotty said. He looked over at Tyson and shrugged his shoulders. “What? We do have time. It’s not even close to supper.”

“I believe your friend is just being cautious, young master Reilly. Very wise, very wise indeed. To answer your question, every word I said to those two hooligans was the truth. When you’ve lived as long as I have, everyone you meet reminds you of someone you once knew. I guess I’ve developed a knack for reading folks, especially the dim-witted kind like Robert Castille and his ilk.”

“You mean you can read minds,” Scott said wistfully. “I knew there was such a thing as psychic, see Tyson I told you there was such a thing.”
Morningstar covered his mouth with a waxy yellow hand and chuckled, heheheh.
That’s not a funny laugh, Tyson thought. He sounds like a villain on a Saturday morning cartoon after he robs a bank or lays a trap for the good guy. It’s a sneaky kinda laugh.
“You see, that’s why it’s such a delight to meet a young man like you Scott Reilly. Such a brilliant imagination. Such spirit.”
“He’s full of baloney Scotty.” The words were out of Tyson’s mouth before he could stop them. “He can’t read the kinds of things he knew about those two dummies and he’s no psychic. That’s the kinds of things you learn from being a spy. Too late to stop now, Tyson thought. He was scared of this Louie character, but his best friend was captivated by the creep and Tyson desperately wanted Scotty to realize they weren’t safe here with him. Everything about the old man was just…wrong. The way he was dressed, the way he carried himself, the way he spoke and especially the way he looked at the two of them was all wrong.
“He’s nothing but a sneak. That’s the only way he can know the things he did about Robbie and Horvath. He’s a nosy old man that peeks through windows and searches people’s trash cans.”
Morningstar recoiled and got back to his feet, grimacing. He placed his bowler hat back upon his head. “How very rude,” he said.
“No kidding,” Scott agreed. Both Morningstar and his best friend were looking at him disapprovingly.
“He made those idiots run like scaredy-cats, Ty. They’d have beaten us up if it weren’t for Louie, and you know it.” 
Tyson sighed and looked down at his shoes.
“I wasn’t the only one doing the truth-telling. What Robert said about your father is also true. He is sick with the drink, isn’t he Scott?”
“Not s’posed to talk about it,” Scotty muttered.
Tyson glared at the old man “And it’s not your business, sir. Not your business at all.”
“He won’t get better,” Morningstar said, ignoring Tyson. “His tantrums will only get worse.”
Tyson saw Scotty’s bottom lip start to quiver. 
“He will continue to hurt you, but your poor mother will get the worst of it, as she always has.”
Morningstar’s voice was smooth and steady. “One day, quite soon, your father will hurt her quite badly.”
Tears were streaming down Scotty’s cheeks. He began to sob.
“Enough,” Tyson barked. “You shut your mouth!”
“It’s alright, lad.” Morningstar’s voice was rhythmic now, hypnotic. He continued to ignore Tyson, like the boy wasn’t even there. “I can help you if you want me to Mr. Reilly,” Morningstar said. “I can make it stop. I can make it so that your father never touches you and your mama again. Will you let me help you?”
“H-How?” Scotty sobbed so hard his whole body shuddered now. He looked up at the old man with an expression of misery and faint hope.
“Don’t listen to him Scotty,” Tyson pleaded. “He’s nothing but a liar. He’s a dirty lying asshole.
Scotty flinched and faced Tyson then, not used to hearing his best friend curse. He looked angry.
“You shut up, Tyson. You have a perfect house with a perfect mom perfect dad who works in the mine and takes you to Wolves hockey games! You and your perfect family go out to the movies and watch Happy Days on Sunday! You know what me and my mom do on Sundays? We tip toe around the house and whisper so we don’t wake up my shithead dad who drank so much the night before he’s sleeping on the floor in our fucking hallway! You know what happens if we wake him up, buddy old pal?”
“I’m-I’m sorry,” Tyson managed. He felt ashamed and deep sadness for his friend. “Why didn’t you tell- this old man, you can’t trust him, Scott. Let’s just leave okay? Let’s leave now.”
“THIS,” Scott screamed, pointing to a jagged mark above his right eyebrow. “THIS HAPPENS,” he screamed again, pointing to the small pink scar where a surgeon had to insert a metal rod to make sure his broken arm healed correctly. “AND THIS, AND THIS, AND THIS!” each time he screamed at his friend, Scotty pointed to another scar.
“Alright calm yourself boy,” Morningstar said. He took a white handkerchief from his suit pocket and wiped the tears from boy’s wet face. When he was done, the old man raised the cloth and appeared to be inspecting it, but when Scott rubbed his eyes, Tyson watched the creepy fellow quickly shove it in his mouth and suckle on it, his eyelids fluttering as if he were tasting the sweetest nectar in the world.Oh man, Tyson thought. What do I do now?

No comments:

Post a Comment