Sunday, July 5, 2009

Short Story Sunday VI

Wade carried on a silent exchange with the boy. His eyes stated - I did this for you, son. Jeremiah's unblinkingly responded - Thanks, Dad.



Copyright by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Wade observed with indifference each feature of his old neighborhood that had changed, noticed without a trace of nostalgia that which remained the same. He walked with a slight limp on his left side, chewed a piece of gum exclusively in the right half of his mouth. Periodically he re-tucked his shirt into his jeans. This was a newly acquired habit, caused less by vanity than a need to get re-acquainted with his clothing.

Eight years had passed since the soles of his shoes last touched this pavement. The fact that he had counted each day served only to lengthen its duration. He was painfully aware that they could never be retrieved. But he could seek retribution. There were debts for him to re-pay, scores he had to settle. Such thoughts held Wade's spirit captive throughout his lost years, much like how the prison walls confined his body.

The shortness of Wade's temper had grown to legendary status in these parts. His existence was marked by a succession of attempted quick strikes. Why study when a classmate could be bullied for schoolwork? What was the point in toiling bitter hours when greater wealth could be obtained with less exertion? Why spend his ill gotten gains on what could be taken with little risk?

Wade's method of operating was to seek victims who had little chance of defending themselves. He feasted on the young and the old, handicapped and pregnant, blind, deaf or just plain stupid. Many considered this an indicator of a barbaric disposition, but in truth, Wade wished to shun violence whenever possible. By victimizing those least likely to fight back, he rarely found it necessary to harm them. He only hurt those who deserved it, those who had done him wrong. For them he felt no pity, and to the maliciousness of his retaliations there was no limit.

Calvin Morris was victim number one. An outgoing personality and seemingly kind demeanor were perfect masks for Calvin's predilection towards young boys. Wade decided on his fourteenth birthday that he was finally big enough to express disapproval of Calvin’s abhorrent behavior.

People were shocked by the brutality of the slaying. The corpse found three days later had been mutilated almost beyond recognition. There was no mistaking that the killing had been a personal matter, but the sadist responsible was never discovered.

The span of time between offense and vengeance was considerably more brief Wade's second go round at homicide. When Vinny Carbine thoroughly whipped him in a fistfight; took his money as he lay battered on the ground; then added insult to injury by spending it on a date with Wade's girlfriend; vengeance was publicly sworn. Three weeks later Vinny's prone body was found in an alley, right next to the pipe which brought about his demise.

Wade's reputation grew steadily from then on. The word was out that he was a man of his word, and his say on a matter would be the final one.

He paused before a familiar building, the first stop on his homecoming tour. Wade had never been inside, only done what he was doing now, looked up at the third floor window. The intensity of his glare seemed almost capable of setting the building ablaze. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the pigeons perched on the ledge chose to take flight.

The man spotted through the window was none other than his father. Luther Cole had abandoned his family shortly after Wade’s first steps. Unlike most deserters, he did not vanish from sight. Instead he moved only five blocks away, taking up with a woman who had three kids of her own to whom he became a loving, responsible step-father. Though their paths frequently crossed in the years to follow, Luther treated his first born as a stranger.

Wade ran a hand over the bulge in his back pocket where his knife was carried. Unlike his father, he did not possess the ability to ignore the ties of flesh and blood. But after a minute passed, he walked away. He was impotent to act upon the rage his father stirred. Being a long absent father himself, he had to be open to the notion of forgiveness. Otherwise he could not dare ask it of his own son.

A man with a ferret-like face spied Wade and swiftly abandoned his companions and the game of dominoes they were engaged in for the shelter of a bodega. He did not move quickly enough to escape Wade's notice.

Eight years earlier, Rico had supplied incomplete information that resulted in Wade's incarceration. It had been a reasonable oversight under the circumstances, but Rico knew of men killed for less malicious deeds by more forgiving souls.

Mrs. Wilkins was chosen by Rico, who received his usual fee for the tip, because she perfectly fit Wade's criteria. She was over seventy years old, lived alone, didn't have a dog, and had amassed a tidy sum over a frugal lifetime which she trusted no bank to hold.

Rico failed to come across only a single detail, but it was a rather significant one. Mrs. Wilkins' steroid popping grandson was staying with her for a week while his apartment was being painted. Wade managed entrance into her home before she could close the door, only to find himself in an unmovable headlock. Although the bare minimum of his breaking and entry was accomplished, a good fright was put into Mrs. Wilkins, one which proved too much for her weak heart. This did little to evoke sympathy from the jury of peers who would later deliberate and condemn.

Wade walked past the bodega without interest. Fortunately for Rico, the anger he expected to face was tempered by the fact that less time than usual had been given to select a mark. Speed was more essential than caution at the time. Wade had been urgent to pay off Wallace Morgan, their neighborhood's resident loan shark. Ordinarily he would not have borrowed so heavily, but betting on Mike Tyson seemed a sure thing. Iron Mike turned out to be a great disappointment. Wallace however, would be true to form and zealously pursue the debt. Every dollar not promptly received would be taken out of Wade's hide.

The playground that Wade approached doubled as Wallace's base of operations. Up ahead was a familiar profile, topped off by an ever-present fedora. Wade patted his back pocket. If Wallace wasn't willing to be reasonable, he would have to be paid back the hard way.

When Wallace turned around, it was immediately obvious that the dilemma was resolved. The vacant stare in the former tyrant's eyes said as much, as did the drool that dribbled down his chin. The bullet that entered Wallace's skull three years earlier miraculously failed to kill him, but left nothing the same except for his extravagant wardrobe. Wade smiled, nodded to the former hooker who loved Wallace and now spent her days playing nurse for him, and moved on.

Upon arrival at the penitentiary eight years earlier, Wade ended up in the same cell block as another graduate of these streets. He and Ronnie Hastings had not much cared for each other back in the old days. The mutual dislike was not cured by their new circumstances. They mostly avoided each other, but men in confinement tend to find one another sooner or later.

The timing of their scuffle could not have been worse for Wade. He was up for early release, but any shot at it evaporated with the altercation. He spent another two years behind bars, and felt those seven hundred plus days were owed to him by Ronnie.

Wade knew precisely where their reunion would take place. This was going on the assumption that Ronnie had been able to reclaim the corner from which he did business, selling pot which was predominantly oregano and cocaine that was mostly flour. Wade was curious to see if in continuation of the theme, the blood in Ronnie's body would largely consist of cherry syrup.

The element of surprise should have been on Wade's side, but it was the lack of illicit activity on the corner that came unexpectedly. He didn't need to wonder why for long. The explanation was sung to him. He followed the sound of exuberant gospel music to its source, a store front church which had formerly been a hardware store. The revival was at full force, and Wade decided to take a peek.

It seemed his eyes must be deceiving him, but after a double and then triple take, the same sight remained before them. The man waving his bible from behind the pulpit, rousing the crowd to heights of religious ecstasy, was none other than Ronnie Hastings. He had moved less than thirty feet from his old spot, but had apparently converted from a small time dealer to one peddling the greatest narcotic of them all. Surely this was a con, but if so, Wade had to admit it was a convincing one. People were dancing in the aisles, praising God like there would be no tomorrow. Wade could almost feel a whiff of Holy Spirit creeping up on him, so quickly stepped outside before he felt inclined to throw money into the collection plate.

Though he held strong reservations about the sincerity of Ronnie's new vocation, until he knew for sure, he would put his payback on hold. He was willing to mess with many a dangerous thug, but drew the line when it came to stepping into the ring against the Almighty. If Ronnie's soul truly had been born again and was dedicated to saving others, then it was safe from Wade. For now, anyway.

Continuing on his journey, it wasn't long before Wade stood outside the home of his best friend. He and Larry had once been like brothers. They were always in the same classes at school, until Wade's troubled home life spilled over to his scholastic efforts, causing him to be repeatedly left back until he quit altogether in his freshman year of high school. By not getting regularly promoted, Wade became the biggest and toughest of his classmates. Once he decided to take advantage of this status, the role of bully came naturally to him. This proved to be the seed of activities which eventually blossomed into the criminal. As for Larry, he chose to take a more straight and narrow road than the sinewy fast lane Wade raced upon. But the bond between them was never entirely severed, for they shared a secret that would secure it for life. Larry was the only person to whom Wade had confessed his killing of Calvin Morris, and the motive for that act.

There was something else that they shared as well. Four years earlier, Larry had visited him in prison and confessed his love for the mother of Wade's child. His blessing of the union was requested and given. Wade gave the matter scarce thought at the time. Why ponder what one could do nothing about? As long as he was behind bars, they could be together whether he liked it or not. But he was no longer anesthetized by fate's cruel twists, nor in a position where his feelings must be kept on hold. He was now free to vent them any way he saw fit.

Wade was startled by the front door opening and crouched behind a bush to remain hidden from sight. Larry came out carrying a trash bag, which he deposited a few feet away from the shrubbery, completely unaware of how vulnerable he was to a strike.

But he was safe from harm, for Wade bore no ill will towards him. Larry was a good friend and a good man, the kind Sarah deserved to be with. Wade could only bring pain and hardship into her life. His ways were set, and they were not those of a steadfast husband. Larry and Sarah had been honest about the relationship that developed between them, dulling any sense of betrayal on Wade's part. His son could do far worse than to have a man like Larry for a live-in role model.

Wade moved steadily as a shark until he came upon the building he was raised in. There would be no open arms to welcome him if he ventured through the door of his mother's home. He wouldn't even be allowed to cross the threshold, for she had disowned him, just like his father years earlier.

Once Wade's livelihood became apparent to his mother, she attempted to correct the error of his ways. But he ridiculed her efforts as a born again mom. Her opinions no longer mattered to him. He did not feel he owed any apologies to the woman who had given him life but absolutely no reason to find pleasure in it. Not after she tainted it by filling the side of the bed vacated by her husband with a succession of men.

Wade's childhood was spent watching a constant stream of strangers pass through the whorehouse his mother made of their home. It was urgent desire to be anywhere the sounds from her bedroom could not be heard that made him such easy prey for Calvin Morris. Getting high was his mother's top priority during his formative years, and she did what she had to in order to fund her suicidal hobby. After a near fatal overdose, she finally straightened up. Then she performed a hypocritical 180 degree turn and became intent on rehabilitating, reprimanding, and sobering up all less than pious souls within a stone throw. But by then, Wade had hardened beyond redemption.

After he was arrested and the outcome of his trial was apparent, his mother could have opted to make peace. It may have been comforting to believe he was worthy of a mother's love, even if it was only a token gesture. Instead she saved her most condemning diatribes for last. She acknowledged no accountability, and expressed regret only for giving birth to him.

Wade's hands trembled at the thought of his mother's neck between them. For a woman to forsake the child she bore was the most unpardonable of acts. Hell most certainly had a special spot reserved for her. But Wade would not be the one to send his mother to her inevitable destination, for to harm the woman who delivered him into the world would be equally damning. Instead of going upstairs, he headed to a nearby motel. A matter of utmost importance was on tomorrow's agenda. Although he was leaving numerous loose ends untied for the time being, there was one appointment that absolutely nothing could prevent him from keeping.

The following morning Wade headed nervously towards P.S. 217. His prior night's sleep had been a restless one. Around the most reckless, fearless and lawless of men, he felt no qualms. But the thought of finally meeting the boy he had fathered was downright terrifying.

Wade had been arrested and convicted during Sarah's pregnancy. When she used to visit him in prison, back while they were still playacting the facade of being a couple, Sarah offered to bring their child to meet him. Wade vehemently refused. He didn't want his son's first memory of him to be that of a prisoner, a number recycled by the state.

Wade had committed many a calculated, unnatural act. But of one sin he could not be accused. From the moment Sarah told him she was pregnant, Wade strove for nothing less than the best for his child. Though he did not love Sarah, he decided to act as if he did. His kid deserved a nurturing environment. Wade intended to buy a house, marry Sarah, and create the family he had always fantasized about being a part of. The first goal would be the most difficult to accomplish, for up till then he had spent money as fast as he stole it. One lost bet and botched robbery later, his big plan was swapped for a prison term.

Wade lost eight years of being a father, nearly a decade of his dream. Once it came to be reality, his life would turn around. He would become the man that his son needed him to be. He would not leave Jeremiah with bitterness and questions in place of love and guidance, for he knew too well what that could do to someone. He had created a life, so had no choice but to be responsible for it, to protect his legacy from an often hostile, always indifferent world.

Wade entered the schoolyard which was teeming with raucous grade school children. The natural exhilaration of youth was heightened by the fact that this was the last day of school before summer vacation. He scanned their joyous faces, searching for a younger version of his own. His name was called out. Wade turned towards the voice and his gaze fell upon Sarah. He lowered it, and there beside her stood his son.

As he walked towards them, two questions loomed in his mind. What would he say to the boy? How does one begin to be a father? Wade crouched down, held his fingers out, and caressed the child's beautiful face. He looked a good deal like Sarah, especially around the mouth. But those eyes. Wade had seen them thousands of times before in the mirror. Nevertheless, it was something else altogether which confirmed that this was indeed his flesh and blood. Something else that caused a tidal wave of love to pour from Wade's heart. Like his father, Jeremiah was chewing a piece of gum exclusively in the right side of his mouth.

And yet no words came to Wade. It was Jeremiah who initiated the conversation, which he did wordlessly, with a smile.

"Jerry, is this your father?"

"Yes, Mrs. Cornwell."

Wade looked up from his son to the person who had walked over and interrupted their first meeting. He knew the name from Sarah's letters. Though her visits had ceased after she took up with Larry, they maintained a regular correspondence to keep Wade up to date on Jeremiah's progress. Mrs. Cornwell was his son's teacher. She would be his teacher again once classes resumed, for Jeremiah had been kept back a grade.

In one fluid motion, Wade removed the knife from his pocket and plunged it into Mrs. Cornwell's abdomen. A subtle twist made certain that the damage inflicted would be permanent. Making a child feel inferior to his peers due to arbitrary scholastic measures could cause major psychological damage. Such actions should never be taken lightly, if at all. This woman had chosen to play God over his son's life, an unmerciful and unforgiving one at that. Someone needed to safeguard children from people like her. Wade was a father, duty bound to keep his child out of harm’s way.

He turned his attention back to Jeremiah, peered deeply into the twins of his own eyes. Oblivious to the screaming, and chaos, and spilling of blood around him, Wade carried on a silent exchange with the boy. His eyes stated - I did this for you, son. Jeremiah's unblinkingly responded - Thanks, Dad.

x x x x x

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