by Nancy Polin
Artwork, “Granny Work” by Somer Willis
The day Arthur Kunkle lost his marbles and killed Justin Wiener’s car stereo came as no surprise to many of the residents of Brentwood Luxury Apartment Homes.
The die had been cast, in a manner of speaking, when old world sensibilities collided with modern tunnel vision. That was about six months after Justin, with his parent’s help, bought an 18- year-old Buick. Not at all unusual for a sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old. Especially for one with his eye on a cute brunette in 4th period chemistry. He’d made it his business to figure out her school schedule. Entirely for informational purposes only, of course. Like a peacock flaunting his feathers, Justin intended to lure his prospective mate with the siren call of a thumping, kick-ass stereo.
Now, Justin wasn’t a bad kid. He treated his mother well, tolerated his father, did okay in school, pulled a part-time job at the corner Sac n Pac and occasionally stopped to pet a puppy. If Arthur had taken a moment to speak to the kid, he may have even figured this out.
But Arthur didn’t and wouldn’t. Through the lens of a myopic baby boomer all he saw was this: backwards baseball cap, overlong t-shirt and pants hanging off the kid’s ass. As far as he was concerned, the observation was synonymous with this: future jailbird of America and fashion disaster. Arthur summed the boy up as easily as Justin dreamed of losing his virginity by high school’s end.
Now Arthur wasn’t a bad person. He treated his wife well, helped his children out financially when asked and occasionally stopped to pet a puppy. The night he shot a drunken swimmer in the ass with a paintball gun was purely incidental. It was after hours, after all. Justin may have even been amused if he’d ever spoken with the man. Then again, maybe not. Those paintballs can hurt like hell.
* * *
The day in question was a hot, humid, sweat on your eyeballs kind of day. Arthur arrived home with the echo of a younger boss pushing him into early retirement, a headache threatening to liquefy his brains and send them shooting out his ears and trace amounts of dog shit on his shoe. That last part was from early morning when he’d shuffled to his car, making the mistake of crossing the lawn for the third time that week. He tended to be a slow learner at six in the morning.
Justin was stoked. Months of scrimping, saving, and passing on good weed sold by the philosophy major in apartment 1244, led to this very moment. He even got a good deal. New head unit, amp, tweeters, mid-range and the killer subwoofer taking up the whole of the trunk should have cost a mint. And it did, save the 10% whittled off by purchasing a demo model. It vibrated through his braces and hurt his ears. He loved it. And he was fairly certain the brunette of his chemistry-related-dreams would too.
But before he could swoop by to impress the object of his borderline stalking, the car needed to be detailed. He’d already washed it at a coin-op and the damned thing had slurped up 5 bucks and spit out a quarter, but it didn’t matter. He’d had five more dollars, the last Lincoln until next payday. The car had been scrubbed into foamy goodness and rinsed with exuberance, sending water droplets misting 30 feet in the air.
With the sun on the verge of being swallowed by the horizon like gum in a classroom, Justin parked in a shady spot near his building and waxed and buffed. His pants slid down further, powered by water weight loss as the sea of sweat blinded one eye and proceeded to run off the end of his slightly upturned nose.
And the music was awesome.
He shook skinny shoulders and bobbed a bird-like head as he worked to help the old dull paint go through a cycle of rebirth.
* * *
Arthur dropped his briefcase and lunchbox on the dining room table, squinting at the note in the middle written in Evelyn’s florid handwriting.
That’s right. Her book club met on Wednesdays. She’d be out until eight or so.
Meaning he had two hours to do absolutely nothing, if he so chose.
Popping the cap off a bottle of beer, Arthur dropped into his recliner and reached for the remote. He wasn’t sure why, but he always held onto hope that maybe one of 3000 channels might have something decent.
A sudden vibration shook the floorboards and entered his insides. It bounced around, intent on pulverizing his organs, eardrums and teeth. He pictured them turning to dust in his mouth and sentencing him to dentures or pureed supper for the rest of his life. Arthur didn’t particularly care for either scenario.
He leapt from the comfort of his worn leather chair and glared out the window. Even the glass rattled in its frame, protesting the thumping of some idiot’s car stereo bass.
Growling, Author didn’t have to look far to find the source of the ungodly noise. Directly beneath his apartment some scrawny teenager in a baggy T-shirt and pants hanging off his ass revealing Batman boxer shorts stood inside the doorjamb on his car to buff the middle of the roof. Sounds oozed like something monstrous all around him, but he jerked his head to the noise while he worked.
Arthur fumbled for the window lock and pushed it open, the frame screeching in protest.
“Turn that down! The whole neighborhood doesn’t need to hear your crap music!”
Unfortunately for Justin, the man’s voice was lost in the awesomeness that surrounded the car. The chanting of deep and meaningful lyrics eliminated all current contact beyond the three foot perimeter surrounding the Buick.
Arthur considered himself pretty even tempered, except for the paintball incident and he felt in his heart, that that situation had been warranted. It was only paint for cryin’ out loud. It wasn’t his fault they were too damned drunk to realize they weren’t bleeding to death. Served them right. Naturally, like tonight, Evelyn hadn’t been home to talk him down off his 20 story ledge of temper.
Damned book club.
Or maybe it was a good thing.
This kid and every other pimply-faced, spoiled and self-entitled one like him needed to be knocked off their pedestals. They needed to know the world didn’t revolve around them and their selfish little ways. They needed to realize Barney was full of shit: they’re not special. Not even close.
Arthur always kept a Louisville Slugger beneath the bed on his side. After living in the big city for so many years it was a comfort thing. He didn’t particularly like guns and always figured there’d be more gratification in swinging a bat at a potential intruder. But now he had another target on his mind.
The moment everything turned red for Arthur was the moment Justin flicked on the little portable vacuum cleaner to suck up all the crap littering the threadbare carpeting in the footwells. It didn’t work great or anything, but he was persistent, bordering on persnickety. If he was lucky enough to invite Chelsea (yeah, that was her name and he’d repeated it using all manner of voice depth to determine the proper pitch to ask her out in – he figured the deeper, the better), he didn’t want her to gross out at the filth of the floors.
The sound of the first blow drove him backward and onto the curb, his tailbone knocking painfully against the concrete. Justin’s mouth opened and closed several times in shock before spittle flew. “What the hell you doin’ man?!”
The guy was familiar, but the kid couldn’t quite place him. Nor did he want to at the moment. All he saw was the intensity and speed at which he swung the baseball bat. His brand new head unit shattered in a blast of plastic, as did the door speaker on the driver’s side.
“Shit! Come on!”
Ignoring him, the man reached down and pulled the trunk release. A chill ran through Justin’s guts, settling in his bowels. The guy was going for his sub-woofer. In his mind’s eye, he pictured charging him and wrenching the bat from him. Unfortunately, reality determined not only a 40 year age gap, but also a 50 lb weight difference. And it wasn’t fat either. The guy was old, but Justin was certain rounded pieces of granite in the form of biceps, moved under the skin of his arms.
And he was obviously bat-shit insane.
* * *
Conner Templeton wandered to his window, scratching his ass and yawning.
The scene below caused one eyebrow to float upward, but that was all the reaction he could muster.
A feminine voice mumbled from the back room. “What?”
“You know that old guy that shot at the people in the pool that one time?”
The girl wandered out wearing cutoffs and a tank top. She yawned and stretched, the day just beginning for her. “Who? Kunkle?”
“Yeah, that guy.”
“What about him?”
“He’s smacking the hell outta Justin Wiener’s sound system with a baseball bat.”
“Really?” She stepped next to him, gazing down at the cowering teenager and the old guy with the red face. “Huh.”
* * *
Judith Yothers had just finished folding her laundry when the bass started shaking her apartment and ricocheting within her chest.
Like everything that wasn’t her business, she chose to ignore it. Just like she ignored the speeders, the litterers, the unsupervised children and the people from the leasing office who wanted to get in to inspect her place. She never let them in and sometimes was fined for it, but she stuck to her guns. No one needed to come into her place. It was her sanctuary and no one had the right to wreck that for her.
One thing she didn’t ignore were the squirrels climbing up to her balcony and pooping on her plastic chairs. It was nice they wanted to visit with her and Mr. Melville. Sometimes Mr. Melville would chirp through the glass at one of the visitors, but they were never frightened by the fluffy white cat’s rudeness. Judith sometimes put out peanuts for her little friends.
The bass stopped suddenly and she thought she heard yelling. Curious, she made an exception to minding her own business.
Cradling Mr. Melville in her arms, she approached the glass with caution, always a little afraid someone might heave a rock through it.
Quirking her head to the side, she blinked at the scene thirty feet from her window. A boy was sitting on the curb, hands flapping and unintelligible words flying from his mouth while a man somewhere in his fifties used a bat to hit something inside the trunk of the car. Judith frowned as she studied the situation.
Maybe a rabid squirrel somehow got stuck in there and the man was trying to kill it before it spread its disease. Or maybe it was an opossum. She’d read they could be mean. Sometimes she’d hear them at night making loud pig-like grunts. Horrible things. That must have been it. Her squirrel friends couldn’t go rabid.
Horror shot a chill through her blood when she recognized the great danger she and Mr. Melville could be in.
Forgetting the boy and the man, she hustled out her side door and kicked peanuts off her balcony. No more free meals for mad and frothing squirrels. At least not on her dime.
* * *
Tabitha Morrow had just put down her seven-month-old for a nap when the bass with its thinly veiled music started.
She sucked in a breath, hoping the fan she left on in the room would be sufficient white noise to displace the noise from outside. Charlie’s sleep patterns could be a little erratic on the best of days but now, of all times, she really needed him to give her a break for a few hours. He was teething and, being a typical man, his pain tolerance was nil and he wasn’t shy about letting her know it. The baby gum gel had helped and he’d settled into an uneasy sleep.
And now this.
Curling her lip in an Elvis-like snarl, Tabitha pushed the drapes aside to peer down.
The music came to a screeching halt and it took her a moment to grasp what she was seeing before the giggles overtook her. They started small and increased in intensity until tears ran from her eyes and she couldn’t grab a single breath. Kind of like contractions.
* * *
Jake Ramirez was in his zone. Intense calisthenics while music flooded into him via earbuds took him away in a mental whitewash as his body flexed and muscles burned.
When the album came to a close, he finished his set, pulled out his buds and began his cool down. He had a system and rarely deviated from it.
Yelling from outside wouldn’t have nixed his routine. Living in an apartment complex brought its share of annoyances, but there was something desperate in the raised voice that Jake couldn’t ignore. His mother always got on him for his impulsivity, but he’d reached his early thirties and the habit hadn’t stopped or even slowed. He was what he was.
Without additional thought, he grabbed his cell from the breakfast bar and pushed through the front door. He descended the stairs, movements quick and fluid.
A teenager was sitting on the curb, yelling mangled words through snot and tears, while a man with receding gray hair and an ugly burnt orange polo shirt beat the shit out of the car with a bat.
Jake had witnessed a lot of weird stuff. Giant men talking to stuffed rabbits in Hollywood. Equally large men dressed in Dorothy costumes with baskets and Cairn Terriers on the West side. People attending Star Trek movie screenings with their asses cut out of their uniform pants. Elvis and Jesus hitchhiking together in San Francisco. He’d always laughed at that kind of weirdness but what he was seeing before him wasn’t funny. Not at all.
The kid was scared and the old man had left his marbles back on Sesame Street.
First Jake called 911 and then he approached the situation with caution, hand out in appeasement. Almost like calming a frightened dog or horse.
* * *
When the police arrived, Arthur watched their approach without any real interest. He was done. The anger and frustration had dribbled from his guts in the same manner the sweat had leaked from his pores.
The muscular Latino guy had confiscated his bat and he’d allowed it without any major protest. After all, the guy had said “please.” Good manners could never be overrated.
A small crowd had gathered. Some faces looked familiar but most blended without distinction. Arthur had lived in the complex for almost five years and knew very few people. Apparently, they knew him though.
The two officers led him away from the broken Buick and its broken and crying owner.
Arthur felt a little bad now. The kid, who was probably 16 or 17, now looked about 11 and Arthur was responsible for that. He glanced at the car with its ruined sound system. He was responsible for that too. In everyone’s eyes, he was the villain here. All because he didn’t think it was right for one person to push their crap music taste on the whole neighborhood. But right was right and wrong was wrong, right?
Either way, his point had been made. He knew he’d be paying for the damage he’d inflicted and was okay with that. The only thing he wasn’t okay with was the fact his wife was probably going to kill him. Either that, or she’d never leave him on his own again.
Maybe that would be for the best.