Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oak Cliff Confidential: Chapter 13

  Sharon chugged the rest of her vodka lemonade, belched, and then looked at Hexom. “Are you out of your MIND? What do you mean I’m going to kill you but I just don’t know it yet?”

  April’s phone began to ring rather than just buzz.

  “Aw, hell.” She whipped the instrument out and flipped it open, not bothering to confirm the caller. “Look, I can’t help it if these crazy-ass white people can’t keep their damn mouths shut. You know I don’t play. Call THEM!” She slammed the phone shut and shoved it back into her jeans pocket, which was a small engineering marvel considering that her pants appeared to be painted on.

  Hexom’s phone rang.

  “Yes? I know. I know. We were about to lose her. I know. One second.” He trudged out of hearing range, taking a seat on the rim of the fountain pool. The three ducks stayed on the other side, floating near Mommy, somehow sensing that Hexom would not be as cordial as Alejandro and certainly wouldn’t have the same musculature. They continued their game of “toot boat”, darting about and laughing.

  Sharon looked at April. April looked at Sharon. The driver of a passing car glanced at them both. Two large birds flew overhead, giving the humans a wary eye. The three little ducks stopped their gameplay, spying the airborne creatures, then huddled closer to Mommy, having watched “Nightmare on Feather Street” the previous evening and fully aware that death could come from the sky at any moment.

  None of this actually accomplished anything, however, so it was fortunate that Hexom chose this time to become sociable again, joining the silent duo as they stood in tandem boredom, having ended his call with, presumably, The Man.

  Sharon’s purse began to ring.

  She sighed. “Has this guy never heard of a conference phone?” She flipped open her own device. “What?”

  “Ah, dear Sharon, how are you this fine afternoon?”

  “Look, cut the crap, not in the mood and my glass is empty. What do you want?”

  He chuckled slightly. “Just a bit of spin control, you might say. Can’t have folks getting the wrong idea.”

  “Really?” asked Sharon, using her skill at sarcasm to inflect that one word with enough background emotion that lesser callers would have burst into tears. “Imagine that. Your little game is getting all out of hand, people not following your inane rules and running their mouths. And it IS just a game, isn’t it, Mr. Roboto? Nothing more.”

  There was a short pause at the other end of the connection, then: “Sharon. Do you recall the car that just drove by?”

  Startled that she had not been allowed to carry her rant to completion, Sharon was thrown. “Car? What car? Why are we talking about cars?

  “Focus, Sharon. It was just there.”

  Sharon’s eyes wandered to the street, and the hazy image of a vehicle flitted through her mind. Something red. The driver looking at her and April, now that she thought about it. “Yes,” she muttered absently, “there was a car.”

  “Then listen.”


  “Sharon, Sharon, stop repeating everything I say. You’re better than that. Now shush. And listen.”

  Sharon stood perfectly still, the phone to her ear, her eyes darting about. She couldn’t hear a thing. Well, except for the ducklings chatting animatedly to one another, having already forgotten the terror that lives in the clouds. Nothing else. Then an odd rumble began. And grew.

  Suddenly, a manhole cover in the middle of the street shot into the air, well above their heads, turning over a few times before dropping to the pavement at an angle and rolling into the side of a Mini-Cooper parked across the street, deflating a tire. Flames briefly flared out of the manhole, and then quickly died away.

  April was suddenly very invested in this development, screaming “Cooper!” and then racing down the path and into the street, heedless of any traffic that may or may not be coming.

  “I trust that you saw that,” said the voice in Sharon’s ear. “Next time it could be something of yours, and not just a suggestively-named opening in the ground. It’s more than just a game, Sharon. Much more.”

  The connection went dead.

  “Well,” said Hexom, standing beside Sharon, both of them gazing at the thick smoke bellowing out of the manhole while April cursed and moaned, fists clenched, a few feet away. “I suppose we should tend to April before her screaming attracts a crowd of people who enjoy that sort of thing.” He started down the pathway.

  Sharon followed, but had only gone a few steps when her phone buzzed. She glanced at the incoming text. “Please advise April that we will be sending an extra check this month. The Mini was inadvertent.” Sharon sighed, started to delete the message, then stopped herself, a vague notion registering in the back of her mind.

  April turned to face both of them. “Momma is SO not happy right now. Damn them.”

  Sharon waved her phone. “He just texted that he’d pay for it.”

  April turned back to her car. “I’m not worried about the money, they always pay for everything. But I have to pick up a fried turkey in 30 minutes.”

  Neither Sharon nor Hexom knew initially how to respond to this startling pronouncement. Hexom recovered first, turning to Sharon. “I suppose we could help her out with that. Your car, so your call, of course.” Then he faced April. “I’m assuming this mistreated bird is awaiting you at Grumby’s?”

  April nodded, then also turned to Sharon, expectant. Sharon, before assenting, had a few delicate queries. “What the hell is Grumby’s? Where is it? And if food is involved, why don’t I know about it?’

  Hexom responded. “They will fry absolutely anything, whatever you want. But connoisseurs of such seem to celebrate their turkeys most of all. It’s on the way to the cemetery, shouldn’t be any trouble.”

  Sharon sighed. “I almost forgot about Merrifield. Sure, let’s load up and head to this Grumby’s, maybe I can find something to take home and devour later when I’m trying to figure all this out. Something fried seems like an appropriate meal after everything that’s happened today.” She looked around the grounds of the salon. “Wonder where Alejandro got off to?”

  Hexom motioned at April. “Hon, get your things and lock that shack up. I’ll go find the hotness.”

  As April scampered toward the stairs leading to Building #3, Hexom and Sharon strolled slowly toward the fountain, eyes peeled for signs of people swooning over something that had just walked by. Suddenly, the ducklings erupted into a chorus of supreme delight, and Alejandro walked around the corner of Building #2. He grinned, leaned down for a final farewell to the duckies,  and then marched in their direction, still glistening and rippling. Hexom filed away the mental imagery for later review.

  April clattered back down the stairs, lugging a laptop, a set of hot rollers, and a butternut squash. The party of four then approached the car.

  As Alejandro opened and held the back door for Sharon, she suddenly paused, studying his chest, and then looked up at his face. “Alejandro, why is there soot on your right nipple? And on your pants?”

  Before he could control himself, Alejandro’s eyes darted to the still smoking manhole and back again. “Um…”

  Sharon slammed the car door. “Alejandro, are YOU in on this, too? Did you just cause that manhole to explode?”

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