she’s a heavy sleeper

praying mantisOIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Nine

Bicky moaned and squeezed his leg above the wound.

“But you said he killed her,” Gil said.

“He did,” Jerry replied. “He just wasn’t in the room at the time.

“He’s already lost a lot of blood, Jerry. If he dies…” Hart stood up. Jerry fired the gun into the floor near his feet. Hart started then froze in place.

“Sit down and don’t ask me again. Sit down and let me finish my story,” Jerry said, waving the gun at Hart. “Sit down!” Hart sat.

“I was about to cross the street to my own car. I wasn’t really comfortable spying on Sonia.” Bicky snorted and Jerry fixed him with a vaporizing glare. “I had to jump back behind the house when the other car came. This one belonged to your mother-in-law.”

“What? Did the whole world visit that night?” Hart said sarcastically.

Jerry’s impatience released itself in a huff. “May I continue – please?!” Hart snorted and looked away.

“Pay attention,” Jerry said. “Because you never get a second chance.”

Hart rubbed his face as if deciding something, and turned back to Jerry.

“I went back to the kitchen window. Good thing your neighbors aren’t close by, because the girls were screaming at each other. Seems Kitty also wanted that report.”

Hart chuckled once, then twice.

“Go ahead, laugh,” Jerry said. “It’s ridiculous, right? Everyone running around like chickens for a few inches of paper. But it’s true.”

Bicky moaned in pain and passed out, his head hitting the floor with a thud.

“Oh! Can’t have that.” Jerry walked over and kicked Bicky in the injured right leg.

Bicky roused, bellowing.

“This is the best part, Boss. Don’t fall asleep now.”

Tears streamed down Bicky’s cheeks. With great effort, he propped himself up on one elbow. His head lolled against the cool stainless steel siding of the TDU.

Jerry knelt down and patted Bicky on the cheek. He grabbed Bicky under the chin and rolled his face from side to side. “It’ll all be over soon, Boss. Don’t worry. I promise.” He gave Bicky another smug pat and returned to his seat.

“He’s fading,” Jerry said. “We better jump to the end.”

Bicky sputtered and began convulsing as if freezing.

“Jerry, please…” Hart said, watching his father-in-law.

“Hey kid, that machine throws off a lot of heat, right?” Jerry asked. Gil nodded.

“Go open the door. It’ll be better than a blanket.”

Gil grabbed his water bottle, walked over and held it to Bicky s lips. Bicky tried to drink, but with his shaking, spilled half a swallow out the sides of his mouth.

“Hey, Florence Nightingale, I didn’t say do that.”

Gil set the bottle down next to Bicky, pushed back the outside grate, and slid open the door of the TDU. A blast of heat burst up and out and Gil recoiled from it. He walked back to his seat and threw an impetuous glare at Jerry as he did so.

“Ah, whatever. I guess it’s good to show a little compassion to your enemies now and again. Keep ‘em close. That’s what I say. You’re a good kid.” Gil held Jerry’s eye, but said nothing.

“Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. Kitty wanted the report, too. To bargain with him,” Jerry nodded toward Bicky, “for her freedom. That night, she finally told Sonia the truth. It was a secret she’d kept for thirty-two years. Nobody knew. Not even me. I got it all after the fact these last few months,” he said to Hart, “or I probably would’ve told her.” Jerry nodded as if in agreement with himself. “She didn’t believe it. Called Kitty a liar. I gotta think it wasn’t because of me, per say, but just the shock of it.”

Jerry furrowed his brow and stared at the back wall of the barn, his voice taking on a somnambulistic quality: “I should have walked in then and stopped it… all that pent up emotion flying out like machine gun fire. Kitty hit her. She didn’t mean to. I just don’t think she realized the toll all those years had taken on her. On them. I mean, if she wouldn’t have had Sonia, she would’ve never stayed in the first place. I would’ve seen to that.”

Jerry cleared his throat as if to dislodge the memory. He shook his head. “Sonia went nuts. I never saw her like that. She threw her tea cup at her mother. Kitty put her arm up – it was still steaming – and it broke all over the floor. Tea and shards of glass everywhere.” Jerry snorted defiantly. “She got a couple nice second degree burns on her arm because of it. Next thing I know she’s running from the house and I’m running after her.”

“What about Sonia?” Hart’s voice was cracked and tinny.

“I didn’t see her fall. Cause if I did, I would’ve gone back. She was crazy with rage. I think she slipped on the wet floor, maybe banged her head on the counter. I heard a noise, but I thought she just threw something else.

“You didn’t go back to see if she was okay?” Hart was on his feet.

“I couldn’t. I had to go after Kitty.”

Hart lunged for Jerry who was unprepared for the attack. He toppled Jerry from the stool and the gun clattered to the floor. Gil reached to pick it up, but Jerry’s foot kicked it away along with Gil’s hand in the process. Gil winced and dropped to the floor holding one hand in another.

The two men struggled, punching, kicking, biting, clawing, rolling up, around and over each other. Bicky crawled toward the center of the floor toward the gun, a painful, slow propulsion. With each inch forward he risked being trampled by the fighters, first a finger, then an arm, and finally his leg, the last of which caused him to lose consciousness for half a minute, passing out where he lay. Gil watched the fight in relative safety from his position in the corner, holding his injured hand, his body following every punch and kick.

Hart’s pent up anger launched him like a heat-seeking missile and he pounded Jerry inexorably with the full fury of it, but anger is not a thrifty shopper and after spewing it all over the room, Hart spent himself, leaving Jerry with the edge. Several minutes later, Hart sat in a heap in front of the TDU, with a black eye, blood dripping from his nose, and a variety of scrapes and gashes that would be telling their story for days to come. Jerry emerged with a gash over his right eyebrow which bled profusely, a broken pinky finger, jutting out in an unnatural position, and the gun. Both men had given and received more than a few blows to the stomach and now prodded their tender mid-sections. Jerry spat out some blood, turned to Hart, and pulled the trigger. It grazed Hart’s elbow. Hart howled and cradled the injured arm.

“Now you sit,” Jerry said to Hart. Blood oozed from the cut above his eyebrow, dripping into his eye. He blinked it away, but it was pervasive.

“I am sitting,” Hart spat back. Jerry raised the gun again, but Gil grabbed a rag and shoved it in his free hand. The gesture grounded Jerry who retreated by lowering his gun. He wiped at the wound before nodding at Gil to take his seat on the hammock, then walked over and dropped the bloodstained rag in front of Hart.

Hart ignored it, ripped off a sleeve of his shirt, and bandaged his elbow. He was sweating, given his injury, and that the temperature in the barn had risen considerably since the door to the TDU had been opened.

Jerry walked over and peered inside to the wide, gaping mouth of the giant stainless steel tank below. “How far down’s that thing go?”

“About two stories,” Gil said.

“Probably what hell looks like.” Jerry took a step back and wiped at his brow. “You can’t build this machine. It’ll ruin the only good thing we got left to us.”       

“What are you talking about?” Hart said.

“It’ll kill the oil industry. Akanabi’s stock price’ll go way down and my money’ll be worthless.” Jerry whirled around to face Hart. “Kitty left me all her money, you know.” Jerry smiled sardonically at Bicky who was trying to stand up.

Bicky grabbed the stool for balance, but fell back down with a sickening “oaaaaw.”

“And you know what I’m doing with it, Boss? Huh? Turning a profit, you say? Noooo. I’m giving it all to the environment just like she wanted. And it’ll be in our names. Together on the same legal document. Like a marriage license. Together forever in history.”

“I didn’t care what she did with her money, Jerry. I never did.”

“Hhmph,” Jerry grunted.

“I just wanted…” Bicky’s voice splintered like wood . . .“her.” Bicky took a faltering step up, his weight bearing on one leg, his arm leaning on the stool for support. “And the baby.”

“My baby,” Jerry growled. “Did you know that, Boss? That Sonia was my baby?” Jerry wiped at the dripping blood now mixed with tears that cascaded down the side of his face. “We may not have always known it, but we belonged to each other,” Jerry gushed.

A strange gurgling noise arose from deep in Bicky’s throat. He doubled over, first coughing, then hacking, then vomiting. When he was finished he stood taller.

As the fire in the TDU diminished the available oxygen in the room, Bicky began a slow march toward Jerry, stopping intermittently to suck in a raspy, labored breath. He leaned against one of the barn’s dozen posts for support. “I don’t know…what I knew. I just wanted…” Bicky grabbed his stomach and started hacking again. His pant leg, now a dark, saturated red, was plastered against him, the pain drawing him down from the inside. Bicky leaned against a post while gravity, always one to side with a downward spiral, forced him to crumple.

“Kitty said she had always been petrified you’d find out who it was. That’s why she never told me.”

“This is a bunch of crap,” Hart barked in disgust. “Bicky, set him straight, please.”

“Doesn’t he wish. Tell him, Boss. Tell him how you tried and tried to get her pregnant.”

“Shut up.” Bicky said. He pulled himself up by inches. He grabbed the post with both hands and pushed off, a ship leaving port.

“Finally went and got checked out by a fertility doc a few years after Sonia was born. Check the records for Mason Coleman.”

“Shut up!” Bicky hollered.

“It was Bicky’s brother’s name. The one that died. He used it as an alias. Didn’t want the highbrow Houstonians finding out that the great Bicky Coleman’s sperm don’t swim too well. When d’you figure it out, boss? When she left me all the money?”

“Shut…Up!” Bicky roared. He collapsed in a spasm, clutching his leg.

Hart rolled to the side, ready to stand, but Jerry motioned him back with a wave of the gun. Hart ignored him, pulling himself up into a crouching position.

Jerry fired a bullet inches from Hart’s face. There was barely a sound, just the friction in the air as it passed, and Hart fell onto his haunches. With one big breath, Gil sucked in his fear and covered his mouth.

“She wanted you to believe it was yours, but after awhile you knew better, right. You just didn’t know who, huh? Well, me neither.” Jerry grunted and shined his gun on his pant leg.

Bicky crawled to the next post and laid his head against it, catching his breath.

“You coming after me, Boss?” Jerry said, humor mixed with malice. “Well come on then. I promise not to shoot you.”

Bicky rose and took a slow, halting step, and then another, his face contorting in pain with each one. “This machine…will….be…built. With or… without you,” he wheezed. “It’s time…has come. You won’t…stop it.” He cleared the debris from his throat and spit on the ground.

“Watch me.” Jerry’s face contorted and he raised the gun to Bicky’s chest; Bicky continued his funeral march.

Jerry growled and squeezed the trigger. The bullet lodged in Bicky’s forearm. A shot of blood squirted out. Bicky grunted, more than screamed – as if all the screams already had previous engagements – and stood, eyes closed, swaying in the middle of the room. He pitched forward, but latched onto a beam forestalling the crash. He panted like a dog, trying to steady himself before walking, slow and stiff toward his nemesis, a plane locked on auto pilot, unable to alter its course. Jerry may have had the gun, but Bicky had the upper hand.

“Why didn’t you let her go?” Jerry said, the years of anger and longing, bubbling up to the surface like a spring.

Bicky stood within inches of Jerry now. The two men glowered at each other, breathing in rage, breathing out hate.

“I did. She didn’t want to.”

“You lying sack of….” Jerry raised the gun to Bicky’s heart, but Bicky just smiled, unsteady on his feet, yet undeterred, his ragged breath flowing more easily as adrenaline started a quick trot through his body.

“She said you wouldn’t let her go. That you’d disown Sonia if she left you. She didn’t want her daughter to grow up with no father and no money.”

Bicky shook his head. “You were her father. You had money. Not as much as me, granted, but you could have provided for…”

“But I didn’t know!” Jerry screamed.

“Stop it. Just stop it!” Gil yelled, and covered his ears. Jerry whirled to face the boy, raised his gun and shot him. The bullet hit him in the shoulder and came out the other side. Gil hit the floor without uttering a sound; his eyes rolled back in his head and his lids fluttered.

“Noooo!” Bicky grabbed onto Jerry for balance and the two men began an awkward choreography. “Damn you,” Bicky yelled, a strangled curse. He tried striking Jerry with his fist, but Jerry deflected the hit. Each held fast to the other’s arm, pushing, pulling, a scant few feet from the miracle machine, as exhaustion and heat coaxed the sweat from their pores.

“You could have let us go?” Jerry sobbed. “Why didn’t you…?”

Bicky glanced over at Gil who was lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood. Hart crawled to him and checked his vital signs. Jerry and Bicky struggled, edging ever closer to the open door of the TDU. Inside, the fire raged without apology at thirteen hundred degrees Farenheit.

“Gil,” Hart said. “Gil. Can you hear me?”

“Maybe the time just wasn’t right, Jerry. Unlike now.”

Bicky broke free of Jerry’s grip, and with all the force remaining in his battered body, shoved him.

Gravity stepped in again, bolstered by its cousin, Entropy, and Jerry started to fall. But like a magnet, or a mirror that reflects what we truly are, Jerry pulled to him that which was most like him: Jerry and Bicky plunged over the small lip of the TDU together. Jerry only had time to scream once, falling as he was at a rate of thirty-two feet per second per second, an angst-ridden, shrilly noise that reverberated in the barn even after the men had bottomed out.

Hart shuddered. The flames danced, then roared, eating all the remaining sound in the room until there was nothing left but silence.

➣➣➣

“Gil? Are you alright?” Hart squeezed Gil’s hand. “Gil?”

Gil opened his eyes and blinked at Hart. “Am I dead?”

“No, but once the shock wears off, you’ll wish you were.” He knelt down at Gil’s side and wrapped his good arm around Gil’s boyish, angular shoulders.

Gil hid, rabbit-like in the crook of Hart’s arm, scanning the room, assessing the casualties. “One hundred and two,” he said, a muffled observation.

“One hundred and two what?” Hart asked.

“One hundred and two uses.”

Hart laughed once and squeezed Gil, crushing him to his chest. He tore off the remaining sleeve of his shirt and wrapped Gil’s shoulder.

Gil flinched. Sweat had plastered his hair to his scalp so that he looked like a preformed plastic Ken doll. His complexion was the color of ash. Tears fell in careless, random fashion down Gil’s cheeks and Hart felt the steel grip on his heart loosen. He squeezed Gil again and brushed back his hair. Hart staggered over to the TDU, slid the door closed, but didn’t look inside.

“Kori can take us to the hospital,” Gil said.

“I’m surprised she hasn’t been out her yet, with all the noise.” Hart said, helping Gil up.

“She’s a heavy sleeper,” Gil said.

Hart laughed for real this time and threw his good arm around Gil’s good shoulder.        “Can you walk?” Hart asked. They breathed in tandem, heavy and erratic. Gil nodded and they walked to the door, a pair of contestants in a three-legged race.

to be continued. . .

read this first

copyright 2013

you’re in control

Comet_P1_McNaught02_-_23-01-07OIL IN WATER

Pam Lazos

Chapter Seventy-Eight

Fifteen minutes later due to Hart’s intercession, Bicky sat leaning against the wall of the TDU, his leg wrapped in a tourniquet that Hart was tying off. The tourniquet, made from pieces of an old ripped bed sheet turned rag, was streaked with dirt and motor oil; Jerry had refused to allow anyone in the house to get medical supplies. Bicky flinched as Hart secured the whole mess in place with a finishing nail.

“There are more civilized ways to get retribution, Jerry.” Hart snapped.

“Don’t tell me it’s not something you thought about yourself from time to time, Mr. Chief of Engineering.”  Hart snorted.

“You know what surprises me, Hart? What surprises me is that a thousand freaking people a day don’t just get up out of bed, strap on a semiautomatic, and blow the crap out of something. That’s what surprises me.” Jerry’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and scratched the barrel of the gun against his scalp. “And everywhere there’s death. People dying.”

“People are always dying, Jerry. It’s just the one that’s got you upset.”

“Actually, it’s two. And if you give me a minute, I’ll tell you about it. But first I want to clear some things up with your boss, here. Before he passes out, that is.” Jerry stooped down next to Bicky.

“You proved your point, man. You’re in control,” Hart said. “Now let me call an ambulance.”

“And then what? Have me arrested? I’m a rich man now. Rich men don’t go to jail.”

“Look, Jerry,” Hart said, watching Bicky. “Given the extenuating circumstances, I’m sure we can work things out,” Sweat poured from Bicky’s ashen face, but he managed a nod.

“I want to tell you a story first,” Jerry said. “Sit down,” he said to Hart. “Keep the kid over there on the hammock. Take the chair over next to him.”

Hart laid a hand on Gil’s shoulder and pushed him toward the hammock

“And get that beast outta’ here.”

Gil snarled at Jerry, but did as commanded. “Come on, Max,” Gil said. Max ran over and stood next to Gil, wagging his tail. Gil walked him to the door and ushered him out. “Stay,” Gil said. Max started barking as Gil shut the door on him.

“You better shut him up or I’ll shut him up for you,” Jerry said.

Gil’s eyes watered, but his voice didn’t waiver as he opened the door again. “Ssshhh! Sit, Max. Be quiet. Understand?” Gil raised his index finger to his lips and Max whimpered once, but sat down as instructed. Gil’s sad, brown eyes blinked, shutting the spigot on them as he closed the barn door. He took a seat on the hammock. A soft low growl rolled in like a wave through the crack under the door.

“You did the right thing,” Hart said, squeezing Gil’s hand. Gil returned a brave smile. Jerry’s face clouded with something akin to regret. He rubbed a rough hand over his eyes and it was gone.

“Story time, eh?” Jerry folded his arms across his chest, facing Hart and Gil, the gun poking out from under his arm.

“You see, one night, I’m sitting outside your house — ”

“My house?” Hart narrowed his eyes at Jerry.

“— and I’m watching, and I’m waiting, and I happen to see a familiar car pull into your driveway and lo and behold, who gets out, but your father-in-law. That means kin-by-law, you know, and brings with it a certain degree of responsibility which a lot of people don’t take seriously enough, I think. It’s not just about a seat at the holiday dinner table.” Jerry fixed Bicky with an accusatory glare and the two men could not let go the sight of each other.

“Anyway, he doesn’t knock, just goes right in like he owns the place. You know what I’m talking about, right?” Jerry tilted his face toward Hart for emphasis, but wouldn’t break eye contact with Bicky. “So I get out of my car and I walk around to the kitchen window to see what’s happening. Bicky’s in there and Sonia’s got the kettle on for tea and it’s steaming, but not whistling yet. She’s putting a tea bag in her cup and she’s got her back to him. The windows are open, which I don’t understand because it’s hot as hell out…”

“Sonia didn’t like air conditioning,” Hart said, his voice thick.

Jerry nodded. “And if not for that small fact, I wouldn’t be relaying this story to you now as I’ve witnessed it,” Jerry said to Hart, his eyes still glued to Bicky’s face. Anyway, I hear bits and pieces of things. Bicky says: ‘Sonia, enough,’…and then something something. And Sonia says: ‘Where’s what,’” and Bicky says, ‘You know what…’ and the tea kettle starts screaming and I can’t hear a thing for a minute, but this ear-splitting whistle and Sonia and Bicky stare at each other and words come out of their mouths, but I can’t make them out until finally, he yells at her to ‘shut the kettle’ and she very calmly walks over, grabs the kettle and pours herself a cup of tea.” Jerry smiled at Bicky as if he had just one-upped him.

Sweat continued its downward spiral, pouring from Bicky’s face and scalp while his face changed from pale grey to pale green. Bicky squeezed his right leg, but did not avert his eyes.

“You never could back her up, could you? That’s what always pissed you off about her,” Jerry said. “How did it make you feel, Boss, to finally have no control over something?”

Using his hands for balance, Bicky tried to stand, winced in pain and dropped to the floor, both hands wrapped around his thigh just above the entry wound.

“Kind of like now?” Jerry asked, the pleasure of the moment apparent on his face.

“Jesus Christ, Jerry. What the hell are you talking about?” Hart said.

Jerry sidled over to Bicky and put the gun to his face. “You want to tell them?” Bicky shoved the gun away, breaking eye contact.

“Uh oh,” Jerry smiled and patted Bicky’s face. “You lose.” Bicky said nothing.

Jerry sauntered over to Gil and Hart. “He’s quiet tonight,” Jerry said, a note of mock concern in his voice. He let out a long, labored sigh. “So – Bicky whirls on her, like this.” Jerry grabbed Gil by both arms and gave him a violent shake.

“Hey!” Hart said, jumping up. Jerry dropped Gil’s arms, stuck the barrel of his gun in Gil’s ribs and held up a single finger. Hart froze.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Jerry said, shaking his head and motioning for Hart to sit down. He grabbed Gil again.

“He was in her face, squeezing her arms, saying a bunch of what, I’m not sure, and it must have hurt because Sonia finally let out a yelp. So what’s the son-of-a-bitch do? He loosens his grip, but still doesn’t let her go.” Jerry shot Bicky a murderous look.

Jerry dropped his voice, his face taut with recall, one hand tightening around Gil’s arm, the other still poking the gun in Gil’s ribs. “I wish now I had gone through the window after him.”

“Oooww!” Gil said. Jerry jerked on Gil’s arm as if to bring him back in line, but when he looked at Gil’s small, pinched face, he released his grip.

“Sorry,” Jerry said. Gil inspected his reddened forearm, already forming a bruise.

Jerry’s eyes misted over, but he continued: “‘I don’t have it,’ she said. ‘Don’t lie to me,’ he said. ‘What you sent wasn’t what you took,’ he said, and then a bunch of stuff I didn’t hear.”       Jerry swiped at his watery eyes with his free hand, then rubbed his forehead with the barrel of the gun, leaving a bright, red welt. He pushed Gil toward Hart and motioned them back to their seats. He shook his head like a wet dog, before pointing the gun at Bicky. “Son-of-a-bitch,” he said, drawing back the trigger.

“Jerry!” Hart yelled, and pulled Gil behind him.

Bicky braced for the bullet, his face scrunched and tense, but his eyes were unwavering in their gaze. Jerry leaned back, inhaled slowly and fired, lifting his gun slightly before pulling the trigger. The bullet drove harmlessly into the wall above Bicky’s head. Bicky began shaking and sucked in a long, raspy, breath.

Jerry stood up and walked over to the drawing table where Gil had laid out a blueprint of the TDU. He thumbed through the drawings using his gun as a finger to turn the pages. He turned back to Bicky.

“What were you thinking that day, Boss? Did you understand? Were you resigned? I’ll never get why you so uncharacteristically backed up. Why’d you leave without it, huh? When you knew she had it? Cause you know, she’d be alive today if you would have just done what you always do which is not taken no for an answer.”

“I was with Bicky at the Union Club that night, Jerry,” Hart said. “I left before he did. So he couldn’t have been at my house.”

Bicky looked at his son-in-law; his lips forming into a slow, sad smile.

“Loyal to the end, aren’t you, Hart?” Jerry sat down on Gil’s stool, pointed the gun and spun around once. The moment he was in a direct line of fire with Bicky’s head, he planted his feet on the ground with authority.

“I tell you your wife would be alive today if not for him and you defend him. You’ve been duped. We all have.” Jerry spun around again and came to another abrupt stop in direct line with Bicky. This time he fired. The shot went into the wall just above Bicky’s right shoulder. Bicky heaved out a lung full of air, but refused to utter a sound.      

“‘Just tell me you didn’t go to the newspapers,’ he said, and she shook her head. Just the way he looked at her, trying to see inside her, to see what she was up to. But he never could, never did understand her. Not like I did. Jerry swiped at his eyes and stared at the floor.      

“What happened next?” Hart asked.

Jerry spun around a third time and once again pointed the gun at Bicky who was now sobbing quietly, the muscles in his face tight with pain. “I’ll tell you what happened next.” Jerry fired and the shot drove into the wall less than an inch above Bicky’s left shoulder.

“Bicky left.”

 to be continued

there is more before

copyright 2013

without warning

OIL IN WATER

 Pam Lazos

Chapter Forty

“What?!” An incredulous Hart stared at his father-in-law across the broad expanse of Bicky’s mahogany desk. “How the hell did you let that happen, Bicky? Every regulatory agency within a hundred mile radius is gonna be on this. Not to mention the citizens’ groups. The lawyers are probably running to the courthouse now.” Hart rubbed his temples.

“Oh, would you cut the dramatics,” Bicky said.

“Negative. Positive. Attention’s attention. You must like it regardless.”

“Of course I don’t like it. Who wants to get sued?”

Hart paced the floor and ran his hands through his wavy black hair, puzzling out the next move. Bicky grabbed a cigar from the humidor, put his feet up on the desk and lit up.

“Did you get the leak in the Gulf under control?”

Hart interrupted his pacing to stare at his father-in-law.

“Well did you at least tell them it was fixed?”  Bicky lit his cigar with great care.

“Or that we were working on it? They might not come inspect if you tell them that.”

Hart struggled to control the myriad profanities readying themselves for dispatch. “You know, the thought just occurred to me that I have no idea how I’ve managed to work for you this long.”

Bicky chortled, set his feet on the floor and shuffled through the newspapers covering his desk, a cigar wedged between his teeth, his right eye closed against the smoke. “My, my. Somebody needs a nap.”

“You might prefer to pay the paltry fines rather than fix the problem, but I’m the guy they come looking for. And I’m not playing cover up for you or your sorry-assed company anymore.”

Bicky leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Are you job hunting?”

Hart waved him off. “And yes, as a matter-of-fact, the leak is fixed. Mahajan and Stu finished the job.” Hart sat down opposite Bicky and glared at him. “I suppose you heard what happened to Stu on this trip?”

“Yes. Most unfortunate. But you managed to save the day once again.” Bicky smiled, baring his picture perfect, ultra white teeth. It was a malicious smile and Hart shuddered. “Sonia always said you were her hero.”

The blow was calculated and intended, hitting its mark with precision. Hart blanched. He felt better, more in control since the dive with Stu, but it was tentative and fragile and he knew it. A wave of nausea surfaced and he swallowed the telltale saliva pouring into his mouth along with the urge to vomit. Hart walked around to Bicky’s side of the desk and stood at the window behind him, a breech of etiquette, definitely a threat. Bicky sat motionless, refusing to turn around.

“You better give the man some time off unless you want to lose your best diver.”

“I’ve already sent a memo. He’ll be receiving a substantial bonus in his next paycheck.”

“It’s not about the money, Bicky.”

“It’s always about the money, David.” Bicky opened The Philadelphia Inquirer with care as if it were a sacred parchment. The front page news covered the oil spill in the Delaware River and continued on A-3 with a full two-page layout .

“Not for Stu. You can’t keep giving him six-week rotations with no time off to see his family. He’s got a baby. And plenty of money saved.”  Hart glanced at Bicky who registered nothing, then down at the street below; people scurried along, no bigger than ants. He knew why Bicky liked this window. From here, the world outside was sterile and inaccessible like most things behind glass were. From here, both the minutia and the momentous in life fell the same way, like raindrops swept into the storm drain en route to the river. The river where all would be washed clean. The problem was what to do when the river needed a bath.

Hart caught a slight twitch in Bicky’s shoulders as he rounded the corner and he smiled to himself. Although he would never intentionally harm his father-in-law, there was no telling what he might do in a fit of rage. And there was something about Bicky that could bring a man to a boil. More than once lately, Hart found himself wanting to throttle the stink out of him.

“Duly noted. I’ll make sure he gets the next three weeks off.” Bicky sighed and turned to the Daily News . “Happy?”

“As a clam. Although I’d sleep better if I knew you did it because you understood why.” Hart knew that everything Bicky did sprang from an ulterior motive as opposed to a stab of conscience, but still he held out hopes for redemption.

“I never understood that clam reference,” Bicky said. “Is it because they look like they’re smiling or because they harbor expensive jewelry and think only they know about it.”

Hart continued pacing.

“Sit down already. You’re grating on my nerves.”

Hart flopped down in a chair. Although the dark circles under his eyes looked permanent, physical exhaustion was remediable. Emotional exhaustion, however, had etched a deeper, wider swath in his soul and left scars so deep that even a truckload of vitamin E couldn’t eradicate them. Sonia used to put an eye pillow filled with lavender on Hart’s fatigued eyes when he hadn’t slept. Then she’d massage his feet until he did. The body repaired itself in sleep, she said. The healing occurred while the mind was dreaming. She said it wasn’t sleep that healed, but dreams. Whatever it was, Hart was deprived. He rubbed his eyes too hard and sparks of light shot across his closed eyelids. He finally stopped and looked, bleary-eyed at his father-in-law.

“So what do you want me to do?”

“Oversee the cleanup for starters. I got guys down there now, but frankly, some of them couldn’t find their ass with both hands. And I mean that in the nicest of ways.”

Hart studied Bicky’s face. That smooth, tan, imperturbable face. He couldn’t remember if Bicky ever had plastic surgery, but if he hadn’t, he was some freak of nature. At sixty years old, Bicky had barely a crow’s foot. Maybe that’s what a clear conscience got you.

“Get you out in the field, man. Meet some people. Life goes on. So must you.” Bicky said the last bit summarily, but Hart pressed him.

“And by that you mean…?”

“It means what it means.”

“Coyness isn’t one of your best attributes,” Hart said rising.

“I’ve got a driver downstairs waiting to take you home. Call Phyllis an hour before you’re ready to leave for the airport. She’ll arrange for my private jet to take you to Philly. You gotta give them an hour to get ready, though, if you don’t want to wait.” Bicky smiled, his trademark, like he was in pain.

Hart sighed. The job did have its perks.

“Call me with the details as soon as you have them,” he said, returning to his paper.

Hart left without saying goodbye. Had he known at the time that this particular exit would be his last, he might have made more of an effort.

 ➣➣➣

Mrs. Banes greeted Hart at the door. He tried to engage her in small talk, an activity toward which he knew she was favorably disposed, but she was tight-lipped and unflappable, a sure sign that something was up at the Coleman estate. He was not surprised, therefore, when she lead him to the drawing room where he found Kitty holding court with Jerry Dixon. Hart saw Jerry stiffen, but his facial expression didn’t change.

“Hey, Jerry,” Hart said, extending a hand. “Good to see you, man.”

“Good to see you, too, Hart.” Jerry shook the proffered appendage, warmth replacing wariness.

When Hart kissed his mother-in-law hello, she took his hands and held him to her, studying his eyes. He flushed, but did not pull away from the bony, arthritic pressure of hands that had aged overnight. He dared not look at them and was relieved when Kitty released him.

“Have a seat, David. Mrs. Banes will bring us some tea.” She turned to Mrs. Banes, but the housekeeper was already out the door.

“I’m going to make a few phone calls,” Jerry said.

Hart caught their exchanged glances and used the few moments it afforded to study Kitty’s unguarded face. It had lost that luminescent quality that pointed to eternal youth. Where all her high society friends had plastic surgeons on the payroll, buying face lifts and tummy tucks like magazine subscriptions, Kitty came by her beauty naturally, and could have passed for a woman in her forties rather than one in her sixties. Not now though. Sonia’s death had knocked those indigenous good looks right off her face; the former light scratching around her eyes and mouth now deep and embedded.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Jerry said, solely for her benefit.

Kitty nodded, rubbed her gnarled hands together and grimaced in pain. Tossing protocol aside, Hart knelt down and took one of her hands, and, rubbing in circular fashion, started with the knuckles then worked his way toward Kitty’s palm.

“It’s like it happened overnight,” she said in answer to his unasked question. She lifted her free hand, studying it abstractly as if the appendage were not her own. “Rheumatoid arthritis runs in my family. My mother’s hands looked very much like mine do right now for as long as I can remember. Although that never slowed her down much.” She curled her free hand into a fist, testing its suppleness.

“I thought I had it beat. I mean, there was some stiffness in my joints in the morning, and at odd moments when I stopped to pay attention, but I exercised and I ate right. I didn’t abuse my body.” She smiled and put her free hand up to Hart’s face, tracing the jaw line over a faint line of stubble while he continued massaging her other hand.

“They aren’t kidding when they say stress can kill you. It almost got me,” Kitty said. “Almost.”

Hart squeezed the sides of each finger and pulled them gently from their sockets, releasing the air that had gathered in the joints with a slight popping sound. Hart rubbed the other hand, massaging the stiffness out of the joints, the wrists, the knuckles. Kitty’s face look serene and for a moment, pain free.

“I know it’s not like the pain you have, but it’s my own and I don’t think I can come to terms with it. Children are meant to bury their parents, not the other way around.” Her voice caught and she said nothing further.

Hart hugged her gently, afraid that her frail body would crumble in his arms. He felt the warm tears land on his shirt in rapid succession. He rubbed her back until she pulled away and wiped her eyes. His heart, cleaved into two useless and ineffective pieces on the night his wife died, migrated an even greater distance apart. He held both Kitty’s hands in his, rubbing her knuckles with his thumbs the way he used to do for Sonia when her hands throbbed, the signs of the rheumatoid arthritis already apparent despite her youth.

“A paraffin bath would help this,” Hart said. “Sonia’s got a machine that melts the wax. You dip your hands in a bunch of times, put on plastic gloves and then a cloth mitt to keep them warm. I could bring it over.”

Kitty smiled. “It’s not paraffin I need, David.”

Mrs. Banes entered with a pot of tea and a platter of cakes. She poured the tea, added cream and extended the cup to Kitty. Hart let go of Kitty’s hands and took the tea pot from Mrs. Banes before she could pour him a cup.

“Thank you,” he said, and set the pot down next to Kitty. Mrs. Banes nodded and left.

Hart glanced at his watch. “I gotta go, Mom. I told Bicky’s pilot I’d be there by three.”

Kitty nodded and sighed. She handed him the tea cup which he set down. She lifted her arms to him and he pulled her to her feet. They stood facing each other, Hart still holding her arms.

“David?” she said. He lowered his head to better hear her. “May I ask something of you?”

“Of course, Mom. Anything.”

“Get out of the oil business. Before it ruins you.”

The smell of jasmine tea wafted up to him, and Hart inhaled deeply, searching Kitty’s inscrutable face for clues.

“It may be sooner than you think, Mom.” He looked at his watch again. “But right now I’m still on the payroll, so… I’ll call you when I get back.” He kissed her on the cheek and released her.

“Be careful then,” she said, touching his cheek before she eased herself into her chair. Not without difficulty, Hart thought, as he left the room.

➣➣➣

Jerry was walking the length of the driveway when Hart came out of the house.

“Pretty big mess you got up there in Philadelphia, eh?” Jerry said.

“Worst part of my job,” Hart replied. Hart had his keys in hand, but Jerry stood rooted to the spot in front of the driver’s door and Hart couldn’t get in the car.

Hart always had an affinity for the man Sonia called uncle, joking and laughing with him whenever they had occasion to be together. But in the months since Sonia’s death, Jerry had become remote and uncommunicative and they found themselves with little to say to each other. More than once, Hart’s mind wandered back to the snippets of conversation he’d overheard while sitting in Bicky’s study, when his mind was reeling from the effects of his drug-induced state. Hart’s inability to recall those few days had left him with an uneasy feeling, like Bicky and his chief of security had been involved in some sort of conspiracy which Hart was not privy to, but at the heart of which was Sonia. Unable to recall more than fragments of what transpired, he’d put his suspicions aside, but the wariness revived itself at times, sua sponte and without warning. What Jerry wanted now, Hart could only guess, but something was bothering the man.

“What’s up, Jerry?”

Jerry bent his head like a bird trying to get a better view, and looked at Hart as if he’d just spoken to him in Aramaic. “Ummm.”

Hart eyed his colleague with a scrutiny generally reserved for problematic oil derricks. The once erect figure sagged a bit, the squared shoulders hunched, the closely cropped, military-style haircut had grown unkempt. Hart thought about his own appearance of late and cringed. How could one woman affect so many people . Their eyes locked and Jerry stiffened as if preparing for a blow.

“I… I blame myself. If I’d been there, I’m sure there was something I could have done. I had this feeling….” Jerry shook his head and stamped his foot like a bull ready to charge. “She’d be alive today.”

Hart stared at Jerry, mouth agape. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected the ex-marine to say, but it wasn’t that. “Hey, Jer. How could you have possibly known?”

Jerry cringed and stepped back as if Hart had delivered a physical blow.

“Jerry,” Hart said. “I could say the same thing. If anyone’s to blame it’s me.” Hart had never spoken the words out loud, although he’d thought them a million times, and they came out now, slow and deliberate. He was guilty, and what he stored could power a small city. The words hung in the air between them like wood smoke until they both looked away, blinking their eyes with the sting of it.

“I gotta go,” Hart said.

Jerry moved away as if commanded. Hart put it in reverse and didn’t look back.

 to be continued. . .

to read what let to this state of affairs go here

copyright 2012

dark shadows

copyright 2011/all rights reserved

 OIL IN WATER

a novel by

PAM LAZOS

CHAPTER TWO (b)

 In exchange for driving privileges, Robbie had completely rebuilt Kori’s engine, supplying it with more torque than a freight train.  The second child, Robbie was stocky and athletic and possessed of neither Kori’s prima donna attitude nor Avery’s command of the English language.  Born with dyslexia, he struggled to spell sometimes, yet he was mechanically inclined and could build anything from scratch.  That coupled with a keen imagination earned him the monikor, “Mr. Fix-It.”

Kori stuck the key in the ignition and the car roared to life, radio blaring.  Gil covered his ears and screamed.  Kori jumped and turned to see ZiZi licking Gil’s face where he lay huddled on the floor, his hands tightly clasped to his ears, his vocal cords exploding in wave after wave of high-pitched wailing.

“Gil.  Easy.  Gil!”  Kori turned off the radio, but the engine still wailed like a colicky baby.  Avery climbed in the back, pulling Gil up to a sitting position, covering his ears and rocking him gently.  Gil stopped screaming, but his body continued convulsing.

“Do something before he has a fit,” Kori yelled to Avery.  Avery’s gaze swiveled; his eyes settled on the glove compartment.

“Tissues,” Avery said.

Kori handed Avery a package of tissues.  He folded one and rolled it between his hands, scrunched it into a conical shape and inserted one into each of Gil’s ear, grabbed Gil’s shoulders and took several deep breaths indicating Gil should mimic him.  Gil’s chest rose and fell rhythmically and after a minute, his shaking, along with the tension in the car, subsided.

“Are you sure you want to leave?” Kori asked.

“Just go before he has another freakazoid attack,” Avery said.  Gil looked past Avery with wide, doe eyes and a slack mouth.

“Drive!” Avery commanded.

Kori watched Gil in the rear view mirror, rocking gently in the back seat, tissues sticking out of his ears.  She stifled a laugh and pulled out of the driveway; she’d only made it a few hundred feet when Gil spoke.

“Pull in here.”

“What?” Kori asked.

“Just do it, Kori,” Avery said.  Kori shook her head and muttered something under her breath, but pulled into Aunt Stella’s driveway anyway, a scant three doors down from their own.

“Why are we parking at Aunt Stella’s house?”  Kori asked.  “we’re practically still at our house.”

“Yeah, Gil,” Avery added.  “This doesn’t bode well for concealing our whereabouts.”

Kori fished through her purse for a cigarette, found the pack and pulled one out.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” Gil said.

“I don’t, really.  Just once in a while,” Kori answered.

“Shut the lights and cut the engine,” Gil said.

“Stop telling me what to do,”  Kori said, but obliged.  “This is ridiculous.”  She found her lighter, flicked it once.  It didn’t take.

“No!” Gil whispered.  He shoved Kori’s head down across the console.  Avery bent his head down next to Gil who was crouched on the floor in the back seat.

“Jesus, Gil,” Kori said, her chest pressed against the drive shaft.  “You’ve been watching too many Bruce Willis movies.”  After a minute, she sat up.  “Gil.  Enough!”

“Get down!” Gil said, and turned to peer out the back window.

A car was creeping down the road.  The driver killed the lights as it passed Aunt Stella’s house.  The trio huddled together, peering out the back window as the car pulled into the Tirabi driveway.  A dark figure emerged, climbed the porch steps and unscrewed the light.  The porch went dim.  They watched the dark silhouette playing with the lock.  Moments later, the figure walked in the Tirabis’ front door.

“Did you lock the door?” Kori demanded of Avery.

“Ssshhhhhhhhh!”  Gil said, staring wide-eyed and fascinated.  The children saw a shadow pass by the window, followed by the erratic beam of a flashlight, sweeping the room.  The figure emerged, carrying a long tube under his arm.  In one fluid motion, he jumped over the railing and rolled onto the ground.  The car backed out of the driveway and crawled down the street.  Halfway up the block, the driver flicked on the lights and drove away.

“Let go of me,” Kori jerked away and Gil released the stranglehold grip he had on her neck.  Kori breathed in short bursts trying to regain her composure.

“What just happened?”  Avery asked.

“The drawings,” Gil replied.

“What drawings?” Avery asked, but even as the words left his lips, an explosion on the Tirabi porch caused their car windows to vibrate.  The front door of the house blew off its hinges and several of the windows on the front porch shattered.

to be continued. . .

Eureka

copyright 2011/all rights reserved


OIL IN WATER

PAM LAZOS

Chapter One

Marty Tirabi sat on a stool aside his drafting table, an aluminum pie plate in each hand.  His eyes were closed, his spine erect, his breathing slow and regular, his conscious mind sitting on the pinnacle of present awareness.  At the exact moment Marty’s consciousness shifted, sliding across the threshold from beta to alpha to delta like a single-base hitter stealing home, Marty’s grip slackened and the pie plates clattered to the floor.  He woke with a start and stared, wide-eyed, at the back wall of the barn where It sat, all the while scanning his interior databases for a revelation that refused to be retrieved.

Marty rubbed his forehead.  This was how Thomas Edison did it, mining the gem-rich ground of his subconscious by bringing himself to the brink of sleep, then pulling back with a start for a third-party observer’s view.  The result of Edison’s efforts was the light bulb and one thousand and ninety-two other patented inventions, but Marty’d be damned if he could get Edison’s process to work.  For him, it was just there, a vision that sometimes crept, sometimes hurtled from unconscious to conscious awareness – claircognizance some called it, a simple knowing – and suddenly Marty would know how to pull it all together.

But not tonight.  Frustrated, Marty spun his stool around, laid the pie plates and his overtired brain on the drafting table, and stared at his father’s oil lamp, its soft, incandescent glow casting ectoplasmic shadows on the blueprints beneath his head.  He started to fall – no aluminum to stop him this time – but was halted at the threshold again.

A faint hum jarred him back, a soft, deliberate noise like the whir of a refrigerator motor or the patter of a soft rain.  He felt it in his feet first.  It climbed up his legs as it grew in intensity, settled in his heart, and then shot up to his forehead.  His head vibrated.  Marty rose slowly so as not to disturb the hum’s cadence and strolled across the barn floor toward the back wall, convinced that a nonchalant attitude was imperative to the hum’s survival.  He tried not to smile, tried not to look directly at It until he had stopped in front of the thousands of pounds of steel assembled in six distinct units.  He sniffed the air.  Dozens of smells slid past the cilia in his nose and traveled along his olfactory nerve, stopping at the cerebral cortex to register:  methane, plastic, burning rubber, decay, ash.  Even in a closed-looped system, the vapors, like his dreams, always escaped.

And then, suspended in the air like dust motes lollygagging in a single ray of sun, the smell of oil, sharp, sweet and slightly acrid, knocked on the registrar’s door, tap, tap, tap, piercing Marty’s nasal cavity and shattering his equilibrium.

“Hahahahaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Marty clapped his hands and because he was half-Greek, did the only dance he felt comfortable doing, a little hop/skip combo that was the backbone of most traditional ethnic dances.  He repeated the steps over and over until he came full circle.  He added a little jump to his combination.  The word Eureka came to mind.

to be continued. . .