This is the chapter from which this novel’s tagline will eventually blossom. I’d tell you the tagline now, but I’m afraid it would spoil the twist at the end of the chapter. It’s one thing to convince external readers at a bookstore to read the book. It’s something else entirely to provide you with an exciting end to a single blog post.
Ride for Life: Chapter 5
John brought Kid’s thoughts back to people lining the walls of The Club’s main entrance hallway with a tug at his shirt sleeve. Those who still looked alive with any ability to be mobile at all rocked in their chairs. One woman to Kid’s left, round enough to roll down the corridor if not plopped in the seat she sat in, mumbled something under her breath. Kid saw this sort of characteristic before and always wondered why they whispered to themselves, assuming they spoke to themselves and not some other person only they could see. He felt nothing but noticed a vibration from his folded up feelings in his back pocket.
The relatively quiet hallway stopped at a narrow but tall counter. Coming up to it, a woman resembling a male peacock with bright blue and jet black hair, overemphasized blue eyelids, and penciled in lips large enough to sail a schooner, clacked away on an unusually loud keyboard. Able to barely peer over the high counter, Kid found the peacock woman’s elaborate details did not stop at her low cut v-neck collar.
Her violently massive chest fought for release from their constricting orange blouse. The ear piercing clacking on the keyboard came not only from a decades old keyboard but her two inch rainbow fingernails. Kid wondered how anyone could manage even the most mundane tasks let alone typing a mile a minute.
Without taking her shiny blue painted eyes away from the screen turned away from her audience, she said, “Can I help you.” Kid could not decide it she asked them a question or if she just spoke to her monitor since her question came with no upward inflection. Fearing he already upset her, he struggled with what to say.
“I…Well, we are…”
“Spit it out, Honey,” she said with the same disinterested tone. Kid stared at the peacock woman in hopes of garnering some knowledge of how to deal with her. His level of discomfort doubled as she was unreadable.
“We…Well, what I mean to say is, this is John Birmingham.”
For the first time, the peacock woman responded, but only barely. Her eyes shifted away from whatever she typed though her fingers continued to clap away making Kid envision the woman not typing anything at all but simply slapping the keys for entertainment value. She looked briefly at Kid. Usually, this initial meeting of eyes gave Kid all he needed to know about how and what someone thought. This was not true of the peacock woman.
He rubbed his hands together trying to release tension. It was as if nothing existed beyond her eyes. At the same time, something jolly and loving twinged where her eye met the bright blue shadowing. Just as quickly as her attention paused on him, it shifted to John. Her eyes flickered with something resembling surprise, though Kid had never witnessed surprise in such muted tones. Then she returned her ice cold stare with blue eye shadow crawling halfway up her forehead to the screen only she could see.
Kid remained quiet for a time unsure if she heard him, understood him, or prepared his client’s intake papers. As time passed, Kid’s hands collected sweat. He rubbed them on his pant legs. Rubbing over his phone with one hand reminded him of waiting voicemails from any number of calls. All of which he assumed were from his mother.
The longer time progressed, the less he wanted to be standing where he stood. He wanted to hide, to disappear. It became clear she had no intention of continuing their conversation. All the while, John giggled and fiddled with a cup of pens set out on the tall counter.
Birmingham’s screeching holler so close to Kid’s face made his discomfort shatter as he jumped where he stood. Collecting himself, he turned to his client. In his hands, John held a porcelain figurine resembling a teddy bear on a motorcycle. Its existence teetered as John’s shaking fingers struggled to keep hold of the delicate representative of a far away goal. He shoved it in Kid’s face.
With swift movements, Kid grabbed the figurine and Birmingham’s hands in one messy ball. John’s eyes widened with confusion.
“Wha,” he screamed, though, already, Kid understood Birmingham as asking why. His smile never budged from his bearded muzzle.
“Huh,” he screeched again.
Kid pointed at himself with one finger and nodded in hopes that Birmingham would relinquish the delicate piece. He did, but only to grab a pair of handlebars only he could see. Wet chuckles were peppered with groans one could only assume were his attempt at making motorcycle noises.
Kid set the piece to his left away from his client and returned his attention to the peacock woman.
He swallowed hard but what he tried to swallow caught in his dry throat, “Miss?”
Her voice held expression though none of it suggested a question.
“This is Mr. John Birmingham.”
“You said that already, Honey.” Her eyes stayed on the screen he could not see.
“Hon. Tell me what you need or find somebody else to stutter at.”
There was no irritation in her voice, but Kid sensed something he could not place.
With a feeling of nothing more to lose, or gain, “This is Mr. Birmingham. He is checking in. He lives here now.”
He hated such direct comments, immediately regretting his forthright tone. Such assertive intercourse escalated the guerrilla. It was always best to be indirect. Few feelings were hurt, and few bruises floated to the surface.
“How hard was that, Honey?”
For the first time, the clacking that somehow became white noise in the background stopped. His ears begged for sound again. The peacock woman turned in her chair staring directly at her audience of two. Something close to a smile flickered in her massive lips puckering up to kiss a canyon.
“What happens now,” Kid asked.
“He fills out these forms and signs his lease, of course.”
Her tone remained flamboyant yet strangely without any readable emotion. She tossed a stapled collection of papers onto the counter in front of the dusty man. John cried out what must have been a “what.” He looked to his staff for explanation to which he only handed John a pen. He took the pen with a wet chuckle before staring blankly at the papers sitting in front of him almost at eye level. It was clear to Kid that his client knew not what he looked at or what to write.
Kid started to lean in close so he too could read the pages Birmingham needed to sign. But the scent emanating from him increased. So he pulled the stapled papers between them.
“Ay,” cried Mr. Birmingham as if Kid interrupted his well-intentioned reading.
“It’s really basic stuff,” butted in peacock woman as clacking returned and her attention returned to the monitor only she could see. “Only says he won’t lose the key, he won’t invite anyone we don’t know about over, he won’t blow nothing up.”
Without acknowledging peacock woman’s comment, John watched her typing. Occasionally, she peered over at him. Each time she did, he gurgled a tempered giggle. When she turned away, he fell silent. Back and forth this continued for several minutes. Kid wondered who would tire first. Then he wondered if either would ever lose interest. A few more times peacock woman turned only her eyes to John and returned them quickly to her work. Kid could tell she played with John as a mother does a newborn child.
One final peering to John, her gaze lingered, then she smiled as her attention returned to her monitor and did not come back to John. Figuring the entertainment value had worn off, Kid tapped his musty client on the shoulder.
“Sign here, sir,” he said as he realized he wasted his breath. He pointed a finger straight up between them drawing John’s attention to it. Then he glided his pointer finger down to the base of the pile of paperwork. An empty line for name and date were its landing path. He tapped the line twice to indicate for Birmingham to sign.
“Oh,” John barked.
His staff cocked back slightly out of surprise. Peacock woman’s clacking keyboard never skipped a beat. John brought both arms up to the high counter. With his wrinkled face twisting in all directions behind his beard, he put pen to paper.
Three minutes in and John still worked on the first pen stroke. Birmingham’s fingers struggled and contorted as if having seizures. Kid watched as his client tried forcing his phalanges to do as he requested.
Kid kept his patience but his left leg tingled as it fell asleep. Then he felt his phone buzz in his pocket. Using this opportunity to leave Mr. Birmingham to his task and the extra time he suddenly had, he pulled his phone from his pocket explained he had a call, and walked back toward The Club’s main entrance.
“Hello,” he whispered before he exited the building.
“Hello,” a gruff female voice yelled.
“Hi, mom.” He swallowed his urge to sigh.
“Hello,” she barked again. “It’s your own damn mother and all I get’s a ‘hello’?”
“I didn’t know it was you.”
“The hell you didn’t. It’s a damn cellular phone. I know it’s got caller I.D. I’m old and gray but not that old.”
Kid could hear his mother’s temper already waded three bottles deep. He sat on the curb upwind from his vomiting episode and waited for her to continue. Her tone dropped to something more approachable.
“I tried calling you earlier. You didn’t answer.”
Her hushed voice let Kid know she verged on tears. Apologies dripped from his lips.
“It could’ve been an emergency.”
“I know, mama.”
“Something could’ve been really wrong with me.”
“I know, mama.”
“You know my health ain’t too good since that bastard of a husband of mine left me to deal with you two.”
“I do know, mama.”
“Then why didn’t you answer.” Like many of her questions that came after an afternoon of binging, this one came with no question mark or upward inflexion. Kid knew these sorts of questions were not meant to be considered but to answered as if childlike rhetorical grade school questions.
“Sorry,” she asked again without a question mark. “Sorry. Sorry wouldn’t bring your poor old mother back from the grave.”
“I was at work. In a meeting. I couldn’t…”
“Oh, now you’re too busy for your mother, huh. Is that it.”
“That’s not it at all, mama. You know that.”
“No. No. I get it.” Passed the receiver, Kid heard glass on glass clinking together. His mental imagery of his mother tossing another used bottle into a trash bin brimming with nothing else was disturbingly accurate.
“Frickin’ Kids move away and the first thing they do is forget about what you done for ‘em. Leave your damn mother alone, dyin’ in a gutter somewheres.”
“Mom,” he pleaded. “Come on. You know that’s not true at all. I was in a meeting.”
“Oh now you’re too damn important for your measly mother is it. Maybe you prefer it if I just disappeared.”
For a moment, the thought of his mother vanishing from memory teased him.
“Mom, I’m still at work.”
“Fine,” her voice fell monotone with a dash of irritation. “You know what. If that’s how it’s gonna be fine.”
She hung up.
Kid dropped his face between his knees from exhaustion and guilt. Perhaps he had neglected his duties as a son. After all, he knew of her ill health. He also knew that by leaving their small town for his new job that her health would take a dive as she drowned in more whiskey. It was his fault she started drinking as early as she did today. She knew that. He knew that. He knew she would not let him forget that. He breathed deep several times choking back his pain. The time clock still ticked.
A light tap on his back made him open his eyes. Peering up just enough to see over his right knee, John sat beside him. His smile widened as did the cloud of dirt wafting off him. Kid returned the smiling favor with his own, more toothy, but less genuine, smile. John nodded in Kid’s direction as if to ask “What’s going on? Something wrong?” To which Kid simply smiled more, held up his phone, and put it back in his pocket. He desperately desired one more deep breath to finish burying his conversation with his mother for future contemplation, but the stench flowing out of his client kept him from doing so. John chuckled.
“Dude,” Kid said mostly for his own benefit, fully aware only he could hear what he said. “You really do wreak something fierce.” He smiled wider.
John retorted by holding up a solitary weathered key. The key could have been brand new, but dirtied by John’s filthy hands.
Perhaps, he thought, it really is that used and abused.
“Hey! Look at you,” Kid said, patting his client’s back. He regretted it the moment his open arm touched John’s jacket. It felt like a decade old oil rag discarded by a mechanic in a garage. His arm felt heavier each time he slapped his client’s back.
“Well, shall we?”
John looked puzzled as Kid stood. A momentary breath of fresh air two feet above the grease cloud below gave Kid enough of the final deep breath he needed to pound the remainder of his phone conversation far enough down to continue. He cocked his head and pointed back to The Club’s main entrance with his whole body. Birmingham stumbled to his feet and followed Kid through the doors.
“Excuse me,” Kid interrupted peacock woman again, but she did not transfer her attention. “Which room belongs to Mr. Birmingham now?”
“Room numbers are on the keys, Honey.”
Turning, Kid found his client wobbling down the hall unencumbered by anything but his own rebelling body, which did not seem to stall him much at the moment.
“Mr. Birmingham,” he yelled. “Wait up.”
He tapped the tall counter and thanked peacock woman. As he turned to catch up, peacock woman’s chubby hand with two inch rainbow talons reached up and grabbed Kid’s hand.
“Honey,” she said with certain comfort and care he did not hear in her earlier dialog. “You keep talkin’ to him like you’re tryin’ to be formal and all. And that’s all well and good. Nobody here is ever that respectful. You’re either new, or raised in a good home, or both. But, honey, you do know that ain’t his real name don’t you?”
Accustomed to constant uncertainty and unexpected comments, what peacock woman said caught even him off guard. He paused, turned to face her penciled over eyes, but could not muster a question. Beyond the paint and sparkles, her eyes requested something of Kid. What that something was, however, he could not identify.
“He’s gettin’ away,” she smiled.
He turned, “Oh, hell.”