Death and Forsythia
again, spring had come to the city. It was much more comfortable sleeping than
it had been just a couple weeks prior and I had decided to sleep in. Being
homeless and unemployed, living under a bridge and subsisting on a small
government disability check and the kindness of others, there was little
purpose in the “rise and shine” mentality.
My name, by the way, is
Robby Metcalf. I was a
soldier at one time and I fought in Iraq. The Humvee I was riding in got blown
up by a roadside IED and after that, my head was never right. Doctors at the VA
waste a lotta time and money trying to treat me, but I throw away most of the
meds. The weird thing is, once I got back from the war and they let me outta
the hospital, I found out I could understand and talk to animals. Dogs, cats,
birds, horses, even snakes, makes no difference. I do whatever I can for my
community and I live under a bridge. The animals know me and they help in any
way they can. I trust them more than people. Animals don’t lie and they never
try to screw you over for money.
On this particular morning
as I yawned,
stretched and farted and tried to settle down in my sleeping bag, my rest was
intruded upon by a persistent squealing noise. I was used to the squealing of
brakes from the bridge overhead, accompanied by the rumble of trucks and the
smell of diesel exhaust, but this was different. This was what you might hear
around a playground or day care when the kids were outside, just having
themselves a hell of a good time.
Once that sunk in, I sat
up rather quickly and
looked around. What I saw, from my perspective, was nothing less than
astonishing. There, a scant fifteen feet away, in the morning sunshine, was my
best friend Fuzzy, a 120 lb. ex-police German Shepherd, who was herding and
watching over a pretty filthy toddler wearing nothing but a sagging diaper and
a winning smile. This was the source of the squealing. It was readily apparent
the kid really liked the nice doggie and I already knew Fuzzy doted on kids. It
seemed we had somehow inherited a child. Well, fuck me. . . .
“What the hell, Fuzzy?”
“Oh, hey Boss. Look
what followed me home! Can
I keep him?”
“Can you keep him?
Shit man, that’s a kid! He’s not a pet. And we damn sure
can’t afford one of those. The diapers alone. . . .”
“Yeah, speaking of
diapers, Boss, this needs a
change.” Fuzzy nosed the kid’s ass and turned away, snorting and then flopping
his tongue out. Would have been comical, if the situation weren’t so dire.
“Well, I don’t
happen to have a supply of
Pampers here. We’ll have to go shopping. More importantly, where the hell did
you find him?”
“Oh, he was just wanderin’
around down there,”
Fuzzy pointed with his nose, “and as soon as he saw me, he just latched onto
be about freezin’ to death. Let’s
find somethin’ to warm him up a bit.” I started digging around through my
semi-clean clothes and came up with a flannel shirt that would have to do. I
rolled the sleeves until they were half their length or less and quickly popped
the kid into the shirt. It actually wrapped around twice, but that was okay.
Extra layers wouldn’t hurt. All the while I was doing this, he was squirming
and hollering. As soon as I set him back down, he went straight to Fuzzy and he
“I think we’re
gonna need the cops for this
deal, but first you’d better show me where you found him.” I picked the boy up
and balanced him on my arm as we started out walking south along Ninth. He was
barefoot and he was a black kid and, being white as a flock of seagulls myself,
I knew this might cause some real problems if someone saw us and took the whole
deal the wrong way. What do you say to the first big guy or lady who wants to
know where you got that kid? ‘Honest, Dude, I’m really not a child thief/molester,
please don’t shoot me in my ass. . . ?
We only went a couple of
blocks when Fuzzy
stopped and said, “Right there, Boss. He was playin’ in that vacant lot right
there. I was just out for a mornin’ pee and he spotted me and . . . you know
The area wasn’t all
that promising. The houses
on either side of the vacant lot were boarded up and the ones further away
looked like crack houses. Further south, I saw one house that looked like it
had been cared for in a reasonable manner and I started that way. On my arm,
the kid was slobbering and making car noises. I wondered if he was trying to
cut a new tooth.
I looked the house over
from the street, taking
in pale yellow siding and white trim on a frame that was probably built after
World War II, when the soldiers came home. A dark green Pontiac Grand Prix sat
in the gravel drive to the right of the house and some forsythia bushes were
starting to bud out next to the porch. As soon as I started up the porch steps,
the kid started wailing.
I stopped and looked at
Fuzzy. He was looking
up at me, his tail slowly wagging. “Just set him down here, Boss. I’ll watch
I looked at the front door
and noted that it
was slightly ajar. Suddenly, I realized the place was too quiet. Spookily
quiet, and a goose walked over my grave. “Yeah,” I said, “you watch him and
I’ll just take a quick look inside here….”
“Ahhh . . . you don’t
wanna do that, Robby. . .
I looked back at Fuzzy and
he was down on his
belly. The kid was trying to climb onto his back and Fuzzy, my constant pal and
companion for the last several years, had just called me by my given name and
he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “What’s goin’ on, Fuzz? We got trouble here?”
“Oh yeah, we got trouble.
You can’t smell
“Nope, sorry Bud.
I got nothin’ here out of the
ordinary. What is it?”
“Blood. Death. Dead
people, Boss. I’d stay out
and call the cops.”
“But there might be
someone alive, Fuzzy. A few
seconds could make all the difference . . .”
so, but you do whatever you gotta
do. Be careful, man.”
I stepped to the door and
only wished I had a
pair of latex gloves. I elbowed the door open and stepped carefully through,
alert for any sound from inside. I could hear something dripping, probably a
faucet with a bad washer dripping into a sink. The front room was clear and the
door I came through didn’t appear to have been forced. So far, so good.
There was a doorway to my
left, hung with a
bead curtain and directly ahead and slightly to the right was an archway to the
back of the house. There was a stairway to the second floor directly in front
of me. Any way I went, if there was anyone here and they were armed, they could
get in behind me and I was fucked.
I chose the room to my left
and stepped through
the bead curtain with barely a whisper from the hanging, multi-colored plastic
First body. Black male,
face down, shirtless.
One in the back of the head and two more in the back, all from pretty close
range. This would be a good time to go the hell back out the front door and
call my friend, Julius Tambar, to bring the cavalry. Julius is a city cop and a
damn good one. He does a job every day that is made even more difficult because
he is black. He also believes me when I tell him I can talk to animals. He’s
seen it firsthand.
I carefully stepped around
the blood pool and
continued toward the back of the house. I stepped into the kitchen and found
number two. He was still in the old, cracked kitchen chair he’d died in,
somehow propped against the table. It looked like the merest touch would send
him toppling to the floor. There was white residue and a pair of glass crack
pipes on the table, along with a lot of other trash. Number two had taken a
round in the face, just below his eye and another almost dead center in the
chest. He too was a black male, black t-shirt and khaki shorts, no shoes and no
more heartbeats, either. I looked to the kitchen sink, where the dripping noise
was coming from. Blood was coming through the ceiling from the second floor and
dripping into a pan in the sink. I shuddered and backed the fuck outta there.
From the living room, a
clock started chiming
and I nearly crapped my pants. I waited for my own heart to settle and moved
on, back to the stairs and up to the second floor, moving on the outside edges
of the treads, hoping to keep the stairs from creaking. Near the top, I stopped
and peeked onto the second floor, taking quick looks and ducking back down. I
could see a foot protruding from the bathroom doorway at the top of the stairs,
wearing a red shoe. Number three. Black female who might have been pretty ten
years and fifty pounds ago, and when she was still alive. She too had caught a
round in the back and another in the head. Her head was against the side of the
tub and her neck was bent at an uncomfortable angle. Her pain was long since
gone, though. She was the source of the blood dripping through the floor.
I moved quietly through
the two bedrooms,
looking for more victims, but that seemed to be all. As I was about to leave
the second bedroom, I noticed a baby bed and a stack of disposable diapers.
There was a smell of urine, too, and I wondered where that was coming from.
Using my shirttail to avoid
leaving prints, I
opened the closet door to my left and something moved in the dark. I heard a
low keening sound and then a sob of despair. Quietly, I said, “You can come out
now. They’re gone. I won’t hurt you.”
A voice answered, with a
quaver, “You the
“No, but they’re
gonna be comin’ in a few
minutes. If you need to leave, I’d do it now.”
she said, as she crawled out of the
closet, “they gots mah baby!”
Now I knew where the urine
smell was coming
from. At some point, probably at the height of the shooting, she’d pissed
herself. I’d have probably done no better. I looked her over. She was light-skinned
and maybe still in her twenties. She wore a black tank top and shorts that had
been white until the shooting went down. She wore no shoes and no jewelry. I
could tell she was pretty and I was sure her smile would light up a room.
“Is he about two years
old, just wearing a
“Oh, Jesus honey,
please tell me you seen him?
Is he alive?” She was standing now and the top of her head just about reached
my shoulder. She was gripping my arm just above the elbow and her imploring
face was inches away from mine.
He’s out on the front porch with my
dog. C’mon, let’s get you outta here.”
As we passed the bathroom,
I saw her glance
inside and I figured she’d start wailing any time now, but to my surprise, she
held her cool and we made it downstairs and out of the house. On the porch, she
scooped up her little boy and then the tears came. Again, I’d have probably
done no better. I dragged out my cell phone and called Julius from the front
sidewalk, telling him what I’d found and giving him the address.
asked, as his siren started
whooping in the background, “how do you manage to get into so much shit?”
“Just blessed, I guess,
can ya just hurry up
and get here, man?”
“On the way. . . .”
Within a minute we started
hearing sirens. Soon
a rescue squad and an ambulance pulled up and stopped a block away. I knew the
drill. They’d be forced by their own protocol to wait until the cops arrived to
secure the scene before they could move in.
In another minute, cops
started showing up.
Tambar was actually the third car to pull up. By that time, two other cops had
moved us back to the sidewalk and they had moved into the house and checked it
top to bottom. They came back out and got out the crime scene tape and went to
Julius parked me in the
front seat of his car
and the black chick and her kid went in the back seat of another. Separate the
witnesses, so they don’t get their stories together. Again, standard procedure.
“They been dead a
couple hours, looks like,”
Julius said, “so tell me, how’d you get involved in this?”
I explained about Fuzzy
finding the kid
wandering around and watching over him until I woke up, then bringing me back
down to the house. His only comment was, “Damn, wish I could talk to that dog
like you can.”
The squad and ambulance
left, but not before
the medics checked out the woman and the kid, just to be sure they were okay. I
knew in just a little while, the coroner’s wagon would arrive. I also knew the
black woman was in trouble. As soon as the word got out that she had been in
the house and she was still alive, the shooters would be looking to take her
out, as a possible witness who could identify them.
And, by extension, I might
be in danger too.
They might figure she’d told me who they were, or at least what they looked
like. It wasn’t long before we all got hauled downtown to give statements. I
knew the neighborhood was watching and we might all have just shortened our
lives by not walking away when we had the chance. Julius told me not to worry,
that they’d stay on top of things, but I knew better. At least I didn’t have to
worry about Fuzzy. He was going to spend his day riding around in a police car
police building downtown was a place I was all too
familiar with, having been there before on a few occasions. In police-talk,
they call them “interview rooms.” The term “interrogation,” you see, has become
passť. Sort of like how they never arrest anyone anymore. They detain them. Or
take them into custody. Same shit, different terminology.
was placed in Interview 6 and left to stew for an hour. I
didn’t stew. Fuck that. I put my head down on the hard table and took a nap. I
wasn’t handcuffed, but I knew the door was locked. I didn’t even bother to
check. At the end of an hour, Detectives Clerk and Beckmeyer came in to get my
statement. Did I need to use the restroom? No. Did I need something to drink?
No. They already had my DNA on file. Maybe they hadn’t checked on that, yet. Or
maybe they were just being genuinely friendly.
Robby. Tell us how you came to be inside the house
at 714 Cleveland this morning.” I told my story. They pretty much let me run
through it the first time uninterrupted. Then, they began trying to pick it
apart. Why didn’t I just call the cops when I found the kid? It’s the
neighborhood, I explained. You don’t call the cops over trivial shit. I figured
I’d just find where the kid belonged and maybe keep some young mother out of
trouble with Child Protective Services.
do you know Trish Bennett?”
The kid’s mom. Oh, is that her name? You didn’t know
her name? Nope. She probably doesn’t know mine, either.
so it went. With a few bathroom breaks and, what the
hell, one cup of hideous coffee. I was back out on the street in a mere four
hours. No ride home offered, I started walking, thinking hard about Fuzzy.
Sometimes that works. Somehow he knows I’m thinking about him and he’ll come
find me. This time, a marked cop car pulled up and there he was, happily riding
you’d be off-duty by now,” I said, as I climbed
close. ‘Bout fifteen minutes, if nothin’ breaks
between now and then.”
we appreciate the lift. . . .” Tambar reached across
and handed me something heavy and small, wrapped in a shop towel. I unwrapped
it just enough to see a Beretta .25 semi-automatic, tiny, black and deadly.
prints on that,” he said, “I’d keep it that way, if I
were you. I took that off a pimp last year and it’s unregistered.”
I in that much trouble?”
Maybe not. We don’t know yet. If someone comes
after you, I’d like you to have something in your hand more lethal than your
dick. If I was sure you was in
trouble, I’d make ya go get a serious firearm.”
okay, I appreciate this, too.”
don’t target practice and don’t shoot yerself in the
balls. . . .”
is the house where everybody got shot Trish’s house?”
Turns out she just came there with her sometimes
live-in boyfriend, who happens to be little Deandre’s daddy, to buy some dope.
She says while they were there, some other thugs she didn’t know showed up and
the shootin’ started. She heard it goin’ down and hid in the closet. Didn’t
know where the kid was and she was too scared to come out. So boyfriend is dead
and the dealer and his old lady, too. We have no idea how the kid got out
alive, unless the shooters figured he was too little to bother with.”
being the motive?”
and maybe turf. Maybe the scumbag that lived there
was dealin’ where he shouldn’t have been.”
Trish get her kid back?”
not yet. She’s gonna hafta go to court. Show cause
and alla that, since the kid was in the home of a known drug dealer and was
technically endangered. Plus, a caseworker will hafta go out to wherever she
lives and look over her house and all that, see if it’s a fit environment to
raise a kid.”
do me a favor?”
her address for ya, right?” Tambar smiled, but only
with his mouth. His eyes looked wary.
. . . I’d like to look in on her, make sure she’s all
me, you’d be better to leave it alone.” Now he
wasn’t smiling at all.
Yer probably right. . . .”
Du Bose. It’s right off Columbus. . . .”
were pulling in under my bridge and I realized Fuzzy and
I hadn’t eaten a damn thing all day. “Thanks, Man,” I said as I opened the car
door. I stepped to the back door and let Fuzzy out.
funeral, Dude.” I glanced in at him and he was
smiling again, “Just watch yer ass, okay?”
it turned out, I didn’t have to go looking for Trish.
She found us, later on that evening, when Fuzzy and I went out and scored some
dinner. I was sitting at an old picnic table behind Big Pete’s Bar-B-Que
Emporium on 12th street, and Fuzzy and I were working our way
through ribs and brisket that was left from the day before. The owner, a guy I
just knew as Sandusky, never threw away anything that wasn’t spoiled. He had a
good following of homeless peeps and stray dogs and cats to feed.
somewhat familiar dark green Pontiac pulled up in the
alley and the driver’s window rolled down. Trish looked me and Fuzzy over, then
said, “Hey, can I talk to you?”
was about finished anyway, and I spoke to Fuzzy. “If she
decides to kidnap me, I’ll be back home later, okay?”
looked up from his meal just long enough to give me two
wags and a “Be careful,” then he turned back to his grub. I sauntered over to
the car, intending to talk to her through the window, but she motioned me to
come around to the passenger side.
I slipped into the car, she turned to me and reached out
with both arms and I held her. “Thanks for what you did today. You coulda just
walked away any time. . . .” She was breathing close to my ear for a moment and
then she moved away. I watched her smooth, pretty face as two tears tracked
down her cheeks.
very welcome. If there’s anything else I can do,
just let me know.”
Tambar said you live under a bridge . . . is that
It’s by choice. Keeps me tough and independent.” As I
spoke, I was looking her over. She was wearing a light blue blouse and a navy
skirt that hit just above her knees and black two-inch heels. Her hair was cut
in a short ‘fro and picked out and shaped perfectly. She cleaned up nice.
don’t suppose you own a suit?” She sniffed, then grabbed
a Kleenex from a box on the dash.
but I could probably come up with something.”
may need a pallbearer. Don’t know when the funeral will
be. Don’t even know when they’ll release Donnie’s body.”
put my cell number in your phone and you can call me
as soon as you know something. Will that work?”
think that would be great.” I gave her my number and she
keyed it in. “Okay, well, I’d better get home, then.”
reached over and squeezed her hand and said, “Hang in
there, Trish. It’ll get better.” She made no reply and I stepped back out of
the car and watched her drive off. Fuzzy was up on the bench of the picnic
table, finishing off my dinner for me. He looked up with that doggie “oh shit,
I’m caught” expression, and I just grinned at him and said, “Well, aren’t you a
good helper?” I dumped our trash in the provided receptacle and we headed for
dark, as I settled into my sleeping bag and Fuzzy
moved up between me and the dangers of the world, my phone buzzed. I checked it
and found a text from Trish. It said, “Good night, Robby Metcalf, wherever you
are.” I answered with a smiley face and went to sleep.
funeral will be at Jackson’s over on 14th
and Lowry, Tuesday afternoon at two. Can you make it?” Trish had finally
called. It had been almost a week with no word, but I knew she hadn’t forgotten
me. I got a text from her almost every day. I seemed to be hearing a lot from
Julius Tambar, too. Usually he was “just checking in on me.” It told me he was
can be there. Am I still going to assist?” I hated the
you can, I’d appreciate it. Donnie had a few friends,
but most of them are thugs. I don’t want them touching him. They’re mostly the
reason he’s dead.”
I’ll be there.”
I went about my normal daily rounds, I watched my back.
Nobody seemed particularly interested in me. Fuzzy was watching, too. We’d had
a conversation about the fact that we might be in trouble. He seemed to
understand, although the mechanics of revenge and retaliation seemed to escape
scraped together enough money to go to the D.A.V. store
and find a suit that fit reasonably well, along with a white shirt and paisley
tie. I still had a pair of black leather military dress shoes that would work
well enough. I stashed all my funeral gear in a locker at the YMCA, where I had
a lifetime membership, courtesy of a cool old gal I’d helped once.
and Lowry wasn’t a very long walk and it
was a fairly cool day. I did get a few looks on the way over, and I’d have to
say I looked pretty sharp. I’d even brushed Fuzzy and he was on his best behavior,
walking beside me at the “heel” position, without any leash.
arrived at Jackson’s Mortuary about twenty minutes
early. It was an old red-brick mansion that had once been a private residence
and it was still the nicest place for several blocks. Mr. Jackson didn’t feel
it would be appropriate for Fuzzy to be in the chapel and Fuzzy didn’t care for
all the flowers anyway. He opted for a spot on the carpet in the lobby, back
out of the way.
casket was front and center, a bronze job that
looked like it would weigh a ton. Trish was right up front with some of her
relatives and when I started to take a seat in the friends’ section, she turned
and saw me and motioned me up. I stepped up and was introduced all around and
then I was seated with the other five pallbearers. I was the only white boy in
service was not quite twice as long as it needed to be,
but the preacher was in his element and he was gonna save at least one soul, it
seemed. It wouldn’t be mine, but that was okay. When the service was over, I
assisted with the casket and we headed for the graveyard. Fuzzy was allowed in
the front seat of the limo, with the driver.
He set about making the driver nervous by smiling at him a lot, until I
told him to knock it off and lay down.
graveyard was on the southeast side of town and had
been there since the Civil War. It covered about fifteen acres of prime real
estate and held thousands of graves. The amount of money spent on marble and
granite staggered the imagination. At the gravesite, we six again muscled the
casket to its position on the contraption that lowers it into the ground. We
were under a green canvas tent that was keeping the wind at bay, and the day
was turning chillier. I had let Fuzzy out to go wander around. I told him,
“Don’t wander off too far, Bud. Keep a sharp eye out, okay?”
told me not to worry.
had done a hitch in the Marines, and the honor guard
was there, along with a rifle squad. Nobody does a funeral like the Marine
Corps. The fact that Donnie had died in some dope dealer’s house had no bearing
on the honors he deserved. After the final prayer, the preacher looked across
to the Gunnery Sergeant and gave an almost imperceptible nod and the Marines
did the rest. The Gunny’s sword flashed in the weak sunshine, and the salute
was fired with such precision that the seven guns sounded as one. The volleys
echoed and rolled away across the thousands of graves and I could almost feel
the old soldiers stirring underground.
bugler who played Taps was the real deal, not using one
of those new electronic horns most of the services have gone to. The Gunny and
a Lance Corporal folded the casket flag and presented it to Trish, “on behalf
of the President and a grateful nation.”
were standing around, meeting and greeting, and the
Marines were packing their gear into two vans, when I heard Fuzzy raising hell.
He was quite a distance off, and coming like a bat out of hell, yapping up a
storm. A ways behind was a Maroon Toyota Avalon with two guys in it. As they
got closer, I saw a gun barrel and I started yelling, “Down! Get down! Get to
was cover all over the place. Thick, granite
tombstones make great bullet-stoppers. As the Avalon rolled by, the passenger
opened up with a 9mm handgun. Like most city boys, he was all over the place,
holding the weapon one-handed and sideways in typical gang-banger fashion.
you’ve been in combat and you’ve been shot at with
serious intent enough times, you get to know when the incoming rounds are
close. They have a different sound from shit that’s missing by a mile. I only
heard one round that had that wicked snap that tells you it was close. Further
back, behind my position, I heard a scream as somebody took a round. People who
have never been in combat tend to stand and gawk when somebody yells, “incoming!”
or “get down!”
worst mistake the shooter made was ever getting up that
morning. The second worst was beginning to shoot too soon. By the time he got
parallel to me, he had fired his weapon dry and he was fumbling around with
another magazine. That was when I stood up, with a two-handed combat grip on my
measly little .25 Beretta and shot him not once, but twice, right in the face.
result was immediate. He slumped over onto the driver,
who was trying to make a speedy getaway and deal with his big, dead ass at the
same time. Fifty feet on up the narrow cemetery road, he drilled a tree and
took an airbag in the face. Ten seconds later, my Beretta, still holding six
rounds, was screwed in his ear. I was joined in less than a minute by four
plain-clothes cops, who had attended the funeral, just to see who might show
up. They had been back amongst the trees and headstones, videotaping the
proceedings when the shit went down.
took away the Beretta and, once again, I got a ride
downtown. We left just as the second ambulance was pulling up. Apparently, two
people had been hit in the gunfire. Fuzzy rode home with Trish and her two
cousins. Once again, Interview 6, and the hour-long wait. It was two different
detectives this time. Where did I get the gun? Found it. Where? Under a bridge.
Did I know it was illegal in this state to carry an unlicensed weapon? Of
course. Charge me or cut me loose. In the end, they didn’t charge me with
anything. And no, they wouldn’t give me a ride home. But,
when I sent a text to Trish, she was glad to come get me. Alone. Except for Fuzzy,
and he doesn’t tell tales. . . .
On the way to her place, as we passed by the house of
death, I saw bright yellow against the pale yellow of the house. The forsythia
was in full bloom.
Crist is a tired, broken-down old motorcycle cop from
Wichita Kansas. He began writing a novel in 1994 as keyboard practice and
has since written four more novels, several novellas and a butt-load of short
stories. His publications have been seen in Bewildering Stories, Tales of
the Talisman, A Twist of Noir, A Shot of Ink, Eaten Alive, The New
Flesh, The Sink, The Edge, Skin and Bones, Twisted Sister and Kudzu Monthly,
a few. Recently,
he had three stories accepted by John Thompson at Hardboiled, for two anthologies that
were published in April of 2014, The
Undead War and Hardboiled, both
available from Dead Guns Press.
He also has
four books up in Kindle format, for sale on Amazon.com:
Dreaming of Mirages, The Gazing
Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for
Burial, his latest zombie fiction. One of his novellas, Surviving Montezuma, is being serialized
by Anne Stickel at Black Petals.
72 last June, he still rides his big Harley every day that weather permits
and is now completely retired. He volunteers as a blood
services driver for the American Red Cross and he is also a member of the American Legion Riders and the Kansas Patriot Guard.