A scraggly kid sneaks onto a small town's only skate park. He never wears a helmet. Illumination comes from two lights spilling over the high school parking lot because the moon, and most everything else, is shrouded in humid fog.
His brother, Tony, has hooked up with Bozz, who's up from Boston for the night and has just hit the red button on his DV. The two are on Fulton Street, regarded by both as among the most gangsta and real places in town. Tony's spitting fast, barely pausing for breath, spewing word associations sharper than ever before, pouring 20 years of life into rhyme. He sees Bozz shaking his head in amazement, and both know this is the hottest shit ever. Tony keeps his eyes on the camera lens.
One of Tony's friends from middle school, who never even made it to ninth and got his ass kicked once for liking anime, is pumping gas for some yuppie at the Circle K hugging Route 1. Two drunks are lobbing hockey stats at one another in the parking lot. If this gets much louder, he's gonna step inside and give a heads up to Cindy, who's working the counter.
The yuppie is a man named Wade who lost his consulting job last week. He rented out the home he owns on Long Island and has spent the past few days driving up US 1 in the most leisurely manner possible. He's got a suitcase in the backseat which holds exactly three rumpled suits, the only clothes he bothered to bring along for the ride. He'll probably be staying with his brother, who is a fucking Republican but lives on the mountain. Wade adores the smell of gas, a hint of it in the air on a hot night, so he stops thinking about what he's going to do after he arrives on his brother's doorstep and looks out the window at the yelling hicks, somewhat obscured by orange fog.
One of the drunk guys, Hal, used to work for Wivern Cement in Gravelport. He'd been in love with that plant since he was a kid --whenever his father drove past the hulking black structure, Hal wasn't able to take his eyes off the thing. His senior portrait was taken in the shadow of the sooty labyrinth. Hal drove Wivern trucks for nearly a decade until he fell asleep behind the wheel one morning and plowed into some poor asshole's house. The only thing destroyed, besides the side of the house, was the poor asshole's foot. The guy had been sleeping on his couch, and the truck came to a stop just as one of the wheels rolled over his toes, his ankle. There was an ongoing battle over damages in court. Hal doesn't even buy his own beer most of his time. He gets into fights with the guy in the Ram, and after awhile Hal and Ram Man get tired of screaming about the Pirates and head down to the Black Pearl. When they drink, they never speak to one another, never swap stories about legal fees, bored children or spiteful wives.
In the Black Pearl the drunks are most often served by a young woman, Clarissa. She's talked the owner into hanging a few of her portraits and one of her landscapes up around the bar, but she knows they suck. So right now she's eying some of the older guys and hags in here, slurping up their drinks and cracking old peanuts, wondering if any of them are artists, if any of her sloppy customers are from away and famous. If they think better of her paintings than she does.
The only person of regional note in the Black Pearl is a piccolo player, amateur scat singer and sometimes art collector who has played with most of the wind ensembles in New England. He's seeing the sights up here for a week or two, thinks maybe he'll check out the Ross Gallery. The little town is not as he'd expected. This here isn't Peyton Place, not by a long shot. He doesn't notice the paintings.
The guy sitting two stools down from the piccolo player isn't of note, but should be. Robby raped a mentally-handicapped girl in the summer and late fall of 2003. She's dead now, but it had nothing to do with him. Just sleeping was enough to kill her. Robby works as a dishwasher in one of the restaurants off Main Street, and every now and then wonders if he's scrubbing the plates and washing the wine glasses of the girl's parents, her idiot friends. Robby wouldn't know, even if he looked into the dining area, since he never laid eyes on them.
The raped girl's father just finished his shift at the Steel Works and waves goodnight to Ben, who's still working the floor and will be until dawn. He takes a moment to smoke after he clocks out and stares out into the harbor, the lights of Endsborough's South End spread before him on the right, the illuminated dome of the county courthouse gleaming hardest. On the left there's the lighthouse, some tourist shit. Sometimes he sits on a pile of pipes and lets the pain ebb out of his feet, but tonight he doesn't ache much. Sparks spray out of the shop, and the raped girl's father catches a noseful of eggs thrown into a fire-pit, a smell wafting in from the sewage treatment plant on the water. His work shirt is soaked through, but he doesn't care because he's staring at the lights, the glowing courthouse.
On Front Street, overlooking the Steel Works, Elwood waddles home. He closed the college at ten, then spent the next hour inside that gross Burger King next to the school, the only place nearby open so late, jotting notes on napkins and mumbling paragraphs to himself. He's been building his manifesto, on paper and in his mind, ever since he quit his grocery job. Liberal, conservative, Elwood knows that the Big Two are the same in every way but name. He's part of a growing movement, one certain to shake up the reigning socialist government, one that will stop religious nuts from keeping a chokehold on the government. He helps folks trying to enroll with their placement tests, and this spring he had to turn away the rapist's father, who wanted to brush up on his history but would've needed to take Adult Ed everything. If Elwood glances down and sees the rapist's father, smoking in front of the sparks, he might recognize the guy. Rubbing imaginary grease onto his pants legs, Elwood wonders if Ron Paul's assistant got his e-mail.
Elwood's mother is on patrol, passing Fulton Street for the third time this hour. There's little need to patrol other places on her beat; sure, perhaps there's somebody out driving who could set off the breathalyzer, maybe there's a kid walking the streets with a hunting knife. But almost every incident of this town's crime happens on Fulton. Out of the corner of one eye she spots Tony rapping, observes Bozz filming, but doesn't really give a damn. Pointing a camera in someone's face won't stop their heart from beating. Spitting can't kill you.
Leonard's spitting out his window. Fucking bugs.
One of the droplets lands on a flier flattened on the sidewalk. This flier was made to promote a cafe reading held last week that no one attended. The teenager who read his poems to no one but the staff is Geoff, and predictably he's on his computer now, typing purple verse. Geoff tried to write his first short story, a thinly veiled account of his mother's alcoholism, earlier tonight but it's no good. Those words meant anything; they were as empty as mannequins, as the heart of a politician, as his soul. Geoff continues typing with one hand, pumping lifeblood onto the screen of his ancient laptop, as he gets his converted lightbulb heated. It's clumsy work.
Geoff buys some of his shit from Robby.
Robby gets the shit from a kid in the woods who drives up once a week.
The woodland kid is named Mitch, and right now he's driving past the high school. Sometimes, not often, he deals in the parking lot, usually to friends and guys from the steel mill. Music buzzes in Mitch's ear since his radio's been broken forever and he doesn't want it fixed. As he's about to turn off Broadway Mitch watches a teenager fooling around in the skate park. The night's second customer.
The first customer was Wade. Mitch smoked with him at a rest stop just past the Wal-Mart. Wade's a sociable guy and Mitch isn't ruined enough yet to look like a monster, so they made small talk in the dark, watching headlights cut through the fog. Wade was far too clueless, even for a rights-advocating liberal, to see that Mitch was making a pass so they parted ways with a casual goodbye, nothing more.
After he gets the rest of the mosquito off his tongue, Leonard notices Mitch pulling into the high school. He takes note, of course -- none of the guys driving Mustangs around town look like backwater hicks, an observation he's instantly ashamed of. But instead of tailing Mitch, instead of using the presence of his grumbling pickup to dissuade Mitch from sharing peanut butter crank with a teen who's just bored and wants to skate, wants to be anywhere but inside this stupid little town obsessed with sea bugs, Leonard turns toward home and picks up his cell to see if Elwood is back yet, if his wife is done patrolling.
Follow the writer at twitter.com/zcolewriter.
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