Smoking meth was way better than
snorting it, Jayden decided—the rush quicker. He somersaulted over the back of the
couch. The flabby brown cushion skidded from under his butt. His legs flailed. A bare calf
whacked the coffee table. A glass butterfly figurine took flight, smacking into the wall.
“Uh, oh,” Matt said, “you’re
in deep caca now.”
Jayden’s high diminished
favorite butterfly, dude.” Matt held up the now wingless figurine.
His heart fluttered. “Maybe we could glue it.”
“We?” Matt said.
“Me.” Jayden scrambled
up from where the cushion had dumped him to search for the wings.
He had to do what Matt wanted or he’d end up sleeping in his truck
and showering at the homeless shelter. The roof over their heads came courtesy of Tasha,
and Tasha was Matt’s girlfriend.
a moment to spot the pieces of clear glass. He held them up. The wings had made clean breaks
from the torso. Thorax? He strode to the
kitchenette and pawed through the junk drawer, searching for Krazy Glue.
up behind him and whacked him on the side of the head, just because, then ran his fingers
through the items Jayden had dug from the drawer—rubber bands, twisties, Ziploc bags,
screws, a bullet.
Jayden bulldozed the stuff back into the
drawer, crumbs and all. Then he scanned the counter for the two wings and realized he’d
shoved them into the drawer with everything else.
“Tasha’s gonna be so pissed.”
twitched. Tasha waitressed at a high-end restaurant, saved her crystal for double shifts,
and paid the rent. “Tasha’s not so in love with you right now, either.”
Matt flipped his sun-bleached hair like he was still the Greek god Tasha
had fallen for. “What are you saying, dude? Tasha loooovves me.” But Matt’s
dilated pupils almost obliterated his blue eyes, and his board-shorts bagged on his once
“You have bad judgment,”
he said. “Been bad since middle school.”
so,” Matt laughed. “I’m hangin’ with you.”
Jayden sorted through the junk in the drawer again and came up with
one wing tangled in dental floss.
a plan,” Matt said.
In spite of the meth high, Jayden had a
sinking feeling. Matt’s schemes always meant risk for him and reward for Matt. In
high school, it was the price he had paid to run with the cool kid. Now it was the price
he paid for room and board.
“My dad lost the tenant in his granny
unit,” Matt said.
“Your dad wouldn’t rent to you.”
He unsnarled the glass wing and searched for its mate. Matt’s dad was a successful
Santa Cruz real estate agent—a man who regarded his son as a losing investment. Still,
he’d forked out the money for three stabs at rehab. His own father wouldn’t
have tried even once if it weren’t for his mother; his father had hated him since
he was a fetus, poisoning his mother with preeclampsia.
found the other wing wedged inside a folded Bed Bath & Beyond coupon. “It doesn’t
help,” he muttered, “that you made me steal your dad’s Rolex last time
out the door.”
Matt bounced around the kitchen, jabbering.
“Maybe we should reorganize these cabinets for Tasha.”
don’t think that’s a good idea. Fixing her butterfly is the best bet.”
He looked at Matt and then at the kitchen counter. “Where did you put the body?”
Matt scratched his head. Frowned. “I gave it to you.”
“No. You didn’t.” He sighed. How
was it possible to feel tired when high on meth?
Matt patted his pockets. He came
up empty. “Dude,” he said, “it’s been a couple years since I left my dad’s.”
“You mean since your dad kicked you out.”
“Why are you so harsh?”
Jayden hurried to the living
room to look for the butterfly thorax, Matt trailing behind him.
“My dad has a weak spot
for me,” Matt said.
In Matt’s family there were three girls and then—finally—Matt, the baby
boy, the prize. “Just how do you think you’ll get back in good with him?”
Jayden asked, spotting the thorax on top of the shelves of cinder block and planks.
“My dad is like Clark Kent,” Matt said. “Under his
business suit is like a tie-dye shirt with a dancing bear on it.”
“What are you even talking about?”
“My dad is a Dead Head.” Matt came right up on Jayden’s
shoulder, practically breathing in his ear. “I mean a one-hundred-percent, to-the-bone,
Head. He wants us to play “Ripple” at his funeral.”
He elbowed Matt
back a step. In the kitchenette, he practiced fitting the wings to the body even though
he had no glue to affix them.
“That’s where you
come in,” Matt said.
heart sank. Matt’s current scheme might suck even more than a previous plot to steal
a Johnny Rice surfboard. “I say we go to Home Depot and buy some Krazy Glue.”
Matt snatched away the three pieces of butterfly
and stuffed them in his pocket. “We’ll do that. But as you pointed out a moment
ago, fixing this thing might not be enough. Tasha’s pretty sick of all this. And
in my dad’s granny unit, you could have a real bed. In a bedroom.”
Jayden turned slowly. “What’s your big plan?”
“Dead Central,” Matt said, pacing to the refrigerator, peering
inside, closing it, then walking in a circle. “Man, they have this Jerry Garcia doll
my dad would flip over.” His voice pitched with excitement.
“Your dad wants a doll?”
“No.” Matt snapped
his fingers in front of Jayden’s eyes. “You’re not following, dude.”
steered his faded red Toyota truck up the golden foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
He’d only been up to the university for “Weed Day” on 4/20, and then
he’d entered from the other side to reach Porter Meadow. This edge of the University
of California campus provided sweeping vistas of the ocean that failed to calm him.
He turned and drove toward the redwood forest.
The individual colleges of the university were tucked discreetly among the trees, the whole
campus like a sprawling park.
His phone directed
him toward the McHenry Library, the home, according to Matt, of Dead Central, a permanent
Grateful Dead display.
When Matt had proposed the
scheme, Jayden had felt like tackling him, plucking the glass pieces from his pocket, and
jamming. But, here he was, making the final turn to reach the library.
“You’ve arrived at your destination,” the phone said.
Ahead of him stood a Student Union. No library. He continued up the
narrowing road. A couple of students hurried along on the shoulder, backpacks swinging.
They looked like they could be going to a library.
passed a large, empty turn-out. A bicyclist zipped by, too close for comfort.
He soon found out why no one else was driving. The library reared up
from a wooded hollow. Its parking lot was small, with all the spaces designated for handicapped
or staff. The last thing he needed when out on a caper was to get a ticket. Wasn’t
that a cliché for how they tracked down bad guys? Parking
ticket near the scene of the crime?
Circling back to the large
pull-out in the woods, he eased his truck onto the bare earth. He swiveled his head, scouting
for any No Parking sign. None. But why is the space empty?
He climbed from the truck and slipped on his backpack. The dirt area
could hold 50 cars; clearly it was meant for more than a pull-out. Maybe there was a trailhead
and nobody felt like hiking today?
He hoofed it
down the road toward the library, wishing he’d had a bump of something, but he and
Matt had smoked up their supply. Another reason to do this thing. Matt might beg or pilfer
some money from Tasha, but he wasn’t going to share any score without something in
return. So, even though Jayden thought this was the stupidest idea in the world, his grungy
athletic shoes thumped along toward the library, stirring up redwood duff.
Students lounged on the Global Village Café’s patio and steps.
Jayden wiped his sweaty hands down his board-shorts. While perfectly dressed for the surfing
community of Pleasure Point, he stuck out here. Just
what you don’t want during a heist.
the adjoining library. On the other side of the spacious foyer, the circulation counter
stretched, several library staff at work. A dark-haired woman at the counter studied him.
He blinked. She looked like his mother—all delicate bones and sweetness.
He pivoted quickly, relieved to see Dead
Central right there, a room off to the side of the entrance.
I was there, I was the only person in the room,” Matt had said. “No docent
Jayden scurried through the doorway. Four
old people were inside!
Fortunately, they seemed to be together,
and he expected they would leave as a unit. Unfortunately, they seemed to be in no hurry.
Sweat trickled down the inside of his O’Neill’s
tee shirt. He stood in front of a glass display case, overwhelmed for a moment by a riot
of bright-colored objects. The Jerry Garcia doll sat on a shelf, a Cabbage Patch kind of
thing. His mom had loved those stupid dolls. She kept them on display in the hallway, and
his father allowed it, because he doted on her, had trouble denying her anything—the
only reason his father had tolerated him. If it weren’t for his mom, Jayden truly
believed his father would have ripped him from the womb and drowned him, rather than to
allow his mom the agony of her pregnancy.
The woman from the circulation
counter peeked into the Dead Central room. Jayden’s heart panged. She even had big
brown eyes like his mom.
And Jayden knew he looked like his mom—even
more so now that he was ten pounds lighter and had let his dark curls grow—so it
was weirdly like seeing himself.
The group of four, two men—one
bearded and one bald—and two women—both with long gray hair, one with braids,
one with locks free-flowing to her butt—bent over the flat display cases. They reminded
him of the kind of weathered, tough old people he saw walking the beach picking up driftwood.
They all wore jeans and tops that advertised the band.
woman with braids, tall and raw-boned, emphatically tapped the glass. “I was there.
I mean right there. I was probably just out of frame of this photo.”
The library worker backed out of the room, apparently satisfied that
they were all innocent visitors to the Dead collection. Trusting. Just like his mom had been.
cool stuff. Back in the corner. Where I don’t think the security camera covers,”
Matt had said. Obviously, Matt had given the idea some thought before Tasha’s butterfly
ever hit the wall.
Jayden moseyed past Grateful Dead beanies,
posters, and license plates. He inspected the old farts and wondered how much longer they’d
take. His attention drifted back to the display—tie-dyed clothes for little kids,
stuffed bears of every size and color, and psychedelically-painted toy vans.
The braided woman was holding forth. “August 9th, 1995,
the saddest day of my life,” she said reverently. “Such a shock.”
“Oh, come on, Alice,” said the bald, short man. “Jerry
Garcia was an overweight, diabetic, drug abuser.”
“Who invited you, Shelden?”
be honest with you, Shelden?” Alice asked.
Shelden fronted her with a palm. “I’m trying to have a nice time here.”
Edging around the room to the far corner,
Jayden found his prize, a framed letter, signed by all the Grateful Dead, hanging freely
on the wall. Small enough to slip into his pack. He just had to wait—
He whirled, flushed, like he’d
been caught. The old woman with the braids—Alice—had snuck right up on him. She
read aloud over his shoulder: “Dear Dead Heads: This is the way it looks from the
“Far out.” She waved her friends
over. “You guys, check out this letter.”
The other three clustered around
him. Alice continued reading: “Your justly-renowned tolerance and compassion have
set you up to be used. At Deer Creek, we watched many of you cheer on and help a thousand
fools kick down the fence and break into the show.” Alice paused and turned to the
group. “Do any of you remember receiving a copy of this?”
“Holy cow,” the bearded man said. “The Dead were pretty
upset with their fans.”
“Not their fans,” Alice said.
“The cheapskates who thought they should get in for free.”
created that culture,” Shelden said.
about so fast she whipped Jayden with her braids. “They did not! All those vendors
around the concerts and the crowds who broke down the barriers, they were free-loaders.”
Jayden felt like he was trapped inside a
hippie drum circle.
Shelden held his ground, chin up. “Yeah,
well, when your early gig is with the Hare Krishna founder, tell me you’re not sending
a message the music is for everybody?”
Shelden,” Alice retorted. “Bands have to make a living.”
“Alice,” the second woman said, “this young man was
here first. Maybe we should give him some breathing room.”
“I could use some coffee,”
the bearded man sighed.
“That sounds heavenly.”
The woman tugged on Alice’s arm. “Come on. We can continue this after we’re
As they trickled from the room, the silence
buffered him. Given the passion he’d witnessed in Alice, maybe a Dead memento could
stir the heart of Matt’s dad. Head on swivel, he reassessed the room. He was tucked
in a blind corner, his back to the door hopefully blocking the view of anyone entering.
Reaching out, he unhooked the framed letter and stuck it in his unzipped pack. He slung
the pack over his back and turned to leave.
worker stood in the doorway. “Did you find everything you wanted?”
Her eyes searched his face the way his mother’s had when she asked,
“Are you doing okay, honey?” the question meaning so much more: Are you using?
Are you stealing?
Bobbing his head, unable to speak, Jayden
moved toward the frail, vulnerable woman, relieved when she scooted aside. He hadn’t
killed his mom with preeclampsia when she was pregnant, but he’d been killing her
slowly ever since, and he felt enormous relief that he didn’t have to push by her
double. “Yeah, thank you,” he mumbled, turning toward the library entrance.
He nearly collided with the towering big-boned Alice.
gulped. Alice’s position and height provided a much better angle to see the corner.
Instead of reentering Dead Central, Alice wheeled and followed Jayden out the glass doors
of the library.
He hurried up the walk to the
roadway. The denim around Alice’s long legs swished behind him. When they reached
the roadway, he spun to face her. “Why are you following me?”
me the letter.”
her fingers at him—just like Matt did. She stretched out a wrinkled palm with rings
on every finger.
“Go away!” he hissed.
“This is harassment.” To have Matt’s
treatment come from this old lady flushed him with humiliation.
“Harassment?” she snorted. “You’re a little
“Why don’t you report me then?”
He took off running. Surely, he could outrun her.
Alice was in shape, her athletic shoes pounding the dirt behind him. Her hands grasped
the pack and jerked him backward. He lunged forward with all his strength and broke free.
“What does a punk like you want with that?” she panted.
He glanced back.
Alice was bent over, hands on knees.
toward the turn-out, rooting his truck keys from his pocket as he ran.
Behind him Alice continued up the road like some friggin’ zombie.
Matt had told him Deadheads were crazy but this was insane. He rounded the bend to the
turn-out in the redwoods.
He halted. His red Toyota had
disappeared. Blinking, he rotated in a full circle as though there might be some way he
could have missed seeing it. Had someone stolen it?
Alice huffed up to him. “Missing
“My truck. Someone stole my truck.”
Alice laughed. “You were towed, you idiot. Didn’t you read
the sign at the entrance?” She swung her wide hips in what he guessed was an old-time
dance move and started to sing about “truckin’.”
His heart raced in panic. He was trapped here with contraband and a
lunatic. “Not funny.”
it is.” Alice picked up the tempo of her swaying and sang with full-throated confidence
about cards not being worth a dime if you didn’t lay them down.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She snapped her
fingers again and pushed out a demanding palm.
stealing,” he protested.
Alice tilted back her throat and
made a sound that reminded him of a marching marine. “How can I be stealing when
it’s not yours?” She held up one of her braids as though inspecting for split
ends. “Extorting, maybe.” She dropped the braid and stuck out the hand.
was sick of the whole business. He extracted the framed letter and slapped it into her
and headed back toward the library. “Enjoy.
I’m going to report that you stole it.”
little snitch,” Alice hollered after him. “Who do you think the librarian will
believe. Me, or some tweaker roaming around with a backpack?”
Jayden covered the distance to the library as though he’d been
teleported. The small, dark-haired woman—the ghost of his mother—stood by a
cart, a book open atop a pile, her face bent in reverie.
want to report a theft.”
She lifted her head. “I’m glad
you made the right decision.”
He stepped back. Blinked. She had seen him take the letter. The woman knew everything.
She came around the cart and whispered softly, “I have a son of
He knew what she was telling him—the
deception, the heartache, the mother’s love that didn’t stop. Until it did.
Until one day when she woke up feeling broken, like she was a failed mother, part of the
problem, an enabler.
A tear leaked down his cheek. He swiped
it angrily. “That woman with the braids took it from me.”
shook her head. “Deadheads are such fanatics.”
She put a hand on his shoulder and leaned
close. “That letter’s not an original. It’s a copy in a cheap frame—something
we can afford to hang in that blind corner.”
headed back to the circulation counter like that was all. He trailed her. “So you
don’t want to pursue this?”
“You know how it is with
property theft,” she said pointedly. “The campus police wouldn’t waste their
time.” She picked up another pile of books from the counter and carried them to the
loaded cart. “Maybe you could contribute twenty bucks toward buying a new frame?”
“I don’t have twenty bucks.”
The ghost of his mother rolled the cart toward the library stacks. She
was going to disappear—again. Like his real mother who’d been shattered by
his last fiasco. “I could work for you,” he offered, his heart sailing, desperate.
“I’m no fool,” she said. “I used
to be, but I’ve learned. I can’t trust someone like you.”
butterfly hitting the wall, the wings broke from Jayden’s heart. Tears dripped in
earnest. He felt like that time long ago at the Boardwalk when he’d been separated
from his mom. A lost child.
“They towed my truck,”
he told her.
The brown eyes softened with
sadness. Two students brushed by, cutting their eyes toward them, then emphatically minding
their own business.
The woman patted his shoulder, again. And
then, like the crazy Alice, began to sing—not like the old
hippie raising her voice to the majesty of redwoods—but rather a tentative sound
modulated to the library setting.
dried his tears. “What’s that?”
“Ripple.” She narrowed her eyes at him.
“I thought you were a Grateful Dead fan.”
shook his head vigorously. “I don’t know anything about them. That letter was
for my friend’s dad—so he’d give us a place to stay. That song, the one
you’re singing, is the one he wants at his funeral.”
“Good choice. You should listen to the lyrics sometime.”
Humming, she rolled away.
It would do no good to follow her. He had
to find his own path, but his arms already itched with the sensation of crawling bugs.
He couldn’t call Matt. He couldn’t
return to Tasha’s apartment, to a life surrounded by meth, because if he had some,
he’d disappear into the redwoods and smoke it right now.
the library into a sliver of sunshine. There must be a bus into Santa Cruz. He patted his
pockets and dug into every crevasse of his pack already knowing he wouldn’t find
even a penny. He spun around toward the clusters of students hanging out in front of
the Global Village Cafe. If he tried to bum the fare from them, they’d think he was
running the stranded-traveler scam.
Well, one person knew he really
was stranded. He headed up the steps into the café.
Alice saw him coming. Her chair
screeched back, and she launched to her feet.
meekly up to the group of four. “I’m not here to start something,” he
“That’s good,” Alice said,
“because I would finish it.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,
Alice,” Shelden said. “What do you need, son?”
He glanced toward Alice. “As
Alice can testify, my truck was—”
“We’re not giving you a ride,”
Shelden folded his arms over his chest.
“Would you let the kid finish his sentence.”
“I’m fine with the
bus,” he said.
“Listen to this cheeky,
entitled little bastard. I’m fine with the
bus,” Alice said. “Why should we give you anything?”
“How much is the fare?” Shelden asked, lifting and pulling
a worn leather wallet from his back pocket.
“You’re enabling,” Alice said.
scowled up at Alice. “Yup. That’s right. I’m enabling this kid to catch
a bus.” He handed Jayden a five-dollar bill. “I hope that covers it.”
Jayden scanned the café for a
student to ask where he could catch the Metro.He’d get off as near as he could
to home and hopefully his feet would head in the right
direction. Because right now, his heart wanted was to crawl back to what was left of his
mother and to mend something more fragile than a broken glass butterfly.
A two-time Claymore Award finalist,
Vinnie Hansen is the author of the Carol Sabala mystery series, and LOSTART STREET, a stand-alone
novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Santa Cruz Noir, Crime & Suspense, Web Mystery
Magazine, Destination:Mystery!, Fish or Cut Bait, Fishy Business, Fault Lines, Transfer,
Alchemy, Porter Gulch Review, Lake Region Review, Santa Cruz Spectacle, phren-Z on-line
literary magazine, PseudoPod, and Mysterical-E.