Kelly stewed in his beer. He was deep into the 12-pack, had been drinking all day, had even been hitting his personal stash, but wasn’t drunk. He wasn’t high.
“Liberated” was the word that came to mind. He felt liberated and free to make some bad decisions.
Kelly knew that thing that kept coming up from the back of his mind was a terrible idea, though terrible ideas were nothing new. If he wanted to, he could count off the top ten terrible, dumb, stupid things he’d done just in the last month, the last year or even over the course of his life.
He did that sometimes, though rarely. He had to be pretty far in the bag and drowning in the kind of self-pity that only bubbled up when he felt cornered and trapped.
He should feel that way now, but he didn’t.
Kelly felt remarkably clear-headed, all things considered. He’d been self-medicating since just after breakfast. Another man, a lesser man, he thought, would have been completely baked and left staring at the bottles of detergent and fabric softener on the wall.
No, he felt something else, a growing sense of righteous indignation. He’d been wronged and the need to do something about that.
Rose shouldn’t have fired him. She had no right. Matt had said almost as much when he stopped by the day after it happened to talk, to see if Kelly could hook him up.
Kelly had almost turned him away, but he kind of needed the money and Matt had been sort of nice about the whole thing. He didn’t like that Rose had cut him loose, either, but what was he supposed to do about it?
“You own the place,” Kelly told him. “You can tell Rose to hire me back.”
In Kelly’s mind, Rose Waggoner wasn’t much more than a bookkeeper, a secretary and a charity case. All she did was make out the schedules, assign duties and check over their time cards. Anybody could do that. Her authority over any of them at the Shopaminit was marginal, at best, and Matt said they only reason he kept her on was because she was eight months pregnant.
“I won’t lie. She’s a pain in my butt,” he complained, after the two of them went for a drive and lit up a joint. “She’s always getting onto me for something. I don’t come around the store enough. I don’t get the orders done in a timely fashion. I won’t fix anything. People are calling about getting paid. It’s just yap, yap, yap.”
Kelly completely agreed.
“You should just get rid of her, then.”
But Matt shook his head, No, he couldn’t do that. It would look bad if he got rid of her.
“I don’t want a crazy pregnant woman on my hands,” he said. “Besides, she’s going to drop any day now and when she does, that’ll be it for her. So long. She’ll go apply for some benefits somewhere, get on the welfare and be out of my hair.”
“I’ll hire you back,” Matt added, magnanimously.
That sounded good to Kelly. It was a start, anyway. The job at the Shopaminit suited him. It wasn’t all that hard, and he could take whatever he wanted; except for the beer, obviously.
“But what about until then? What am I supposed to do?”
“Just sit tight,” Matt said, sagely and looked off into the weeds past the railroad track. “It’s not like you don’t have other income sources, right?”
Yes and no. Kelly sold a pretty fair amount of dirt weed. He had some good customers, but he also smoked a fair amount of his own product. Mostly, he was only just a little ahead of breaking even, except when he was working.
The less free time he had the less pot he smoked and the more he sold.
“Give it some time,” Matt told him. “Just a couple of weeks.”
That was easy for him to say. Matt and Margie lived in a nice house in South Hills, not in the funky-smelling basement laundry room in his mother’s house. Matt had been sleeping here for the last four months. The room upstairs, the room where he’d spent the vast majority of his nights over the last 30 years, she’d converted into a sewing and craft room about ten seconds after Kelly moved out the last time.
He’d moved out four times since high school, but this last time, he hadn’t really been gone that long –just six weeks. And she refused to give him his room back.
“I’ve already boxed up your things,” she said. “They’re in storage, if you want to look through them.”
She’d also bought a new sewing machine and had set up a craft table. It was something she said she’d always wanted to do. She was trying to make a second career for herself as a quilter and “primitives” artist.
“That kind of stuff goes for crazy money at Tamarack,” she’d said. “Tourists will buy just about anything as long as it doesn’t say ‘Made in China.’”
It might be a line of employment Kelly might look into, his mother told him.
“You know, once you get your own place again.”
Moving back in with her, she said, was only temporary. He was a grown man. He needed to stand on his own two feet. Kelly was allowed to stay in her home, eat her food and use her washer and dryer to do his laundry, but he wasn’t to bring his deadbeat friends around. There would be no overnight guests, no girlfriends and no pets.
If he wanted to live under her roof, Kelly had to get rid of his 40-pound iguana, Nate.
He’d had the lizard since his mid-twenties. He raised Nate up from when he was only about two feet long, including tail, just a scrawny thing then. He’d cared for the iguana, kept him in a huge, climate-controlled terrarium and made sure he got to see the vet every couple of months.
Kelly had raised Nate to carry his own weight around the house. He’d trained him to defend the home and to bite intruders.
Nate and his mother had never been close. She resented having to clean up after the reptile and the cats were terrified of him.
In fun, he would sometimes chase them around the house, but they could jump pretty high and were faster than Nate.
Problem was, Nate scared a lot of Kelly’s so-called friends. None of them were willing to take him in, especially since the terrarium was now gone.
Without having much of an idea what to do, he’d turned Nate loose in the woods behind his mother’s house. Kelly figured he’d be fine on his own. He’d eat about anything and was always catching birds whenever he’d left him on the back porch, near the bird feeder.
Kelly wasn’t sure how Nate would do after fall really set in. Iguanas didn’t like the cold.
Maybe he would slip in a crawlspace under a house or something. He’d heard of boa constrictors and ball pythons doing that. Every now and again, one of them got loose, slithered and was presumed dead for years before turning up during a routine pest inspection.
Reptiles were a lot more resourceful than people imagined, Kelly thought and hoped that one day he and Nate would somehow be reunited.
He doubted it would happen too soon.
Building up resources to get another place of his own had been very high on his agenda, but slow-going. After a couple of weeks of working at the Shopaminit, he’d only saved about 30 bucks toward that end.
He just needed more time.
At first, Kelly thought he’d just go over and talk to Rose, get her to reconsider, apologize again, but he hadn’t been able to catch a ride all morning. All his so-called friends told him they were busy. They had jobs of their own, chores to take care of or else they were spending the Saturday with their kids.
His mother just told him, “No.”
She was busy watching a bass fishing show on television. The television was always set to the educational channels, which Kelly was already tired of.
If his mother wasn’t watching shows about competitive fishing, she was in the middle of a program about how the ancient Egyptians were really aliens or endless documentaries about animals.
“It’s a re-run,” Kelly complained. “You’ve seen this one.”
Kelly, for sure, remembered the show being on. Without gainful employment, there was nothing much else to but sit around and watch television with his mom and the channels she watched tended to run the same few shows on a tight loop.
“I’ve seen part of it,” she told him, firmly. “I want to see how it ends.”
“You hate me,” he’d muttered and stormed back down into the basement.
“I do not,” she’d yelled back to him. “I love you, but I’m through being your taxi. Get a bicycle.”
Kelly wasn’t sure if his current situation allowed him to even ride a bicycle. The judge had seemed pretty mad and warned him that if he was caught behind the wheel of anything, he’d be spending the next eight months in the regional jail.
He hadn’t specified bicycles, but he had said motorcycles, which seemed to be related.
Either way, he didn’t want to risk it.
He had to do something about the job. If he could just talk his way back into getting on the schedule, things would just naturally right themselves. He could keep saving money and in a couple of months, he’d have enough for a security deposit on an old trailer somewhere. He could get out from under the iron thumb of his mother and back on his feet.
Heck, he might even actually go through with the vocational training he’d told everybody about, which could lead to bigger and better things.
Problem was, the more he thought about it, the less likely it seemed that Rose would agree to anything. She’d been thoroughly unimpressed with his apologies and excuses before. There was no reason to believe she’d be more willing now.
He sipped his beer and wondered what he might do to speed along her departure from the Shopaminit family? He didn’t want to kill her. He wasn’t that kind of a guy. Kelly thought of himself as a good person –not very lucky sometimes—but still a good person, generally. A free spirit.
But what if he gave Rose a big scare? He’d seen something about that on episode of “Real Farm Emergencies” or “Big Country Veterinarian.” Wolves or coyotes or maybe a bear had been lurking on the edge of some old goober’s farm. It had scared the sheep into giving birth, which made a lot of work for the farmer and the veterinarian.
He remembered the episode because his mother had made spaghetti that night. It hadn’t gone well for him.
Rose, Kelly knew, was toward the end of her pregnancy, maybe not in sight of the checkered flag, but definitely down to the last couple of laps. If he gave her a good scare, the baby might come a little early, but that would be just fine. Nine months was kind of like a best practices sort of thing, but not really necessary.
He’d heard somewhere that a baby could survive being born after five months maybe and Rose was close to eight.
Heck, Kelly thought he might actually be doing Rose a favor by encouraging an earlier delivery. The baby was due in December. Roads might be bad with snow or something. She might have trouble getting to the hospital and then where would she be?
The roads were fine now.
The idea had merit, he thought. It was still a terrible idea, an awful idea, but a workable idea –and he had the tools to get it done.
Kelly didn’t have much left from his apartment. The slumlord he rented from tossed most of his furniture and affects in the dumpster, including the terrarium for Nate. Kelly had been lucky to salvage clothes, a toaster oven and a .38 pistol, which he’d received as collateral on a debt.
He’d sold his friend, Russel, some dope on credit, not a good practice, but the friend had offered the gun for him to hold until he could come up with the money.
They’d gone out to the shooting range near Kanawha State Forest and Russel had let him fire the gun a couple of times just to show that it was in good condition.
A day later, the friend had been picked up for daytime burglary and breaking and entering. Russel wouldn’t be out of Mount Olive until sometime after the next presidential election, if he was lucky.
There were still three bullets in the gun, not that Kelly needed even one of them. All he had to do was go into the convenience store with a mask on and wave the gun around, make a lot of noise and Kelly bet that Rose would go into labor.
He had the perfect mask, too.
It was kind of a hike to get to the Shopaminit, a couple of miles, but if he started now, he could be there before dark. So, Kelly tucked the gun into the waistband of his jeans and pulled his shirt over the grip. Then he put on a light jacket, shoved the mask tight against his body and zipped up the jacket.
On his way out the back door, he grabbed an umbrella. It looked like rain.