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It was a lucky coincidence that let Alban meet Mark in the driveway instead of getting surprised by the reunion at the front door, where he would have felt a pressure to let him in the house. He almost never looked out the window when people pulled into the driveway anymore. But when Mark pulled in Alban happened to be on his feet near the window anyway, and the noise of Mark’s engine was curiously loud. So he glanced out the window and saw a Honda Prelude the same shade of yellow as a bumblebee. It had a sticker across the top of the windshield that read HONDA in letters that were only a little bit not color-matched with the paint. The hood had air intake slots. The engine revved one more time after the car was parked, as if to say it resented being shut off.
Alban felt like he was watching one of those computer models for aging suspects on America’s Most Wanted: this is what the felon looks like now. How do I keep him from meeting Lenny? He watched the driver’s side door of the Honda open, and saw the familiar square face begin to emerge.
Alban thought as he went out the front door, I’ll improvise something.
He walked briskly towards the Honda. Mark had just achieved his feet. Alban arrived kind of awkwardly then, bearing down on the man as he was trying to get his feet under him.
“Hi, Alban,” Mark said, giving a knowing, scheming smile that had always said, I’m in this more for me than you, but I’m confident you don’t know that.
“Holy shit,” Alban said agreeably. “How are you doing?”
“Good, dog.” Mark did not look good. The gold chains around his neck were thicker now. Absurdly thick. Thick enough to say that the man who wore them felt that the most important thing about himself that he wanted you to know was the diameter of the chains he could afford to drape around his neck.
The rest of Mark was thicker, too – probably fifty pounds of it. The old square stoniness of his face was puffed and oozing out now. So was his midsection. He looked prosperous. He looked like he was prospering himself to death. He looked like decadence and decay. “How you doing?”
Alban said crisply, “Can’t complain.” He wanted to give the impression that there wasn’t anything Mark could suggest to him that he’d be interested in. “I was just about to clean out my car.”
Dog was new. Mark had called everybody dude back when Alban had known him.
Alban picked up the garbage can outside the garage and carried it over to his Altima. He hoped there was something to clean out of it, because he didn’t want to take Mark in the house.
Mark, as in mutilate.
Alban was in luck. The inside of the car was a mosaic of empty shopping bags, sandwich wrappers and toys. He started putting the trash into the garbage can. Mark leaned on the car and watched him do it.
“You still got that pharmacy job, dog?”
“I’m working at a different place now, but yeah.”
“Yeeaahh,” Mark gave his scheming smile again. All thieves together, eh, dog?
Alban shook his head, but gave a rueful smile to get Mark on his side. “I’m not doing that anymore.”
“Sure you’re not.”
“What? What? Are you crazy, dog? If you’re not doing it then you’ve got to get back in. We can make mad money. I can get twenty bucks for a perky, man. Twenty bucks a pill. You must be selling. Who you selling to?”
“I’m not. I’m out,” Alban shrugged, showed his teeth in a what-can-I-do smile, and turned his palms up. “It was too risky.”
“Come on! What ever happened?”
“Too risky,” Alban shook his head.
“We got to do it.”
“Whatever you say, man,” Alban said in a tone which meant no.
The other man’s eyes grew hooded. There was a sinister pause before he spoke again, and then his voice was deeper. He seemed to be turning into more and more an inhuman blob right in front of Alban’s eyes. “Fuck you,” he said.
Mark drove away in his noisy car, still acting like he could not believe Alban would turn his back on him like that, behave so treacherously, and making each departing gesture slowly, so that Alban would have maximum opportunity to crack and say, “No, no, I take it all back! I can’t stand your displeasure! I’ll steal all the party pills you want! Anything for you!”
Alban went ahead and actually cleaned out the car while he was out there with the garbage can. He saw Lenny watching him curiously from the window, his hand pressed against the glass, no doubt leaving a print. All the windows in the house had abstract patterns of prints at Lenny-level. Back here, too, Alban realized for the first time while he excavated the layers of trash on the floor of the back seat. Both side windows had hand marks.
The car looked a lot better for his ten minutes of effort, even if he’d only hit the biggest pieces of debris. Maybe he’d bring the vacuum out, too.
He put the trash can back in front of the garage, and took an armful of dinosaurs and F-16s back into the house. “Lenny!” He shouted, but he didn’t have to because Lenny was waiting for him eight feet inside the door, and Alban felt foolish. “You left all these in the car. You know they’re going to get broken or lost out there.”
“Who was that?” Lenny asked instantly.
Shit. Alban had hoped Lenny would be distracted by the Tyrannosaurs and the interceptors, but no dice. When Lenny wanted to know something he was like a dog with a bone.
“That was a guy named Mark.”
“What kind of car did he have?”
“A Honda Prelude, but he’s done some things to it.”
“It was loud!” Lenny trod on Alban’s explanation. “Is he a one of your friends, Dad?”
Alban thought of and discarded a couple of responses. Not yet in this fucking lifetime. Yeah, friendly like a walking disaster. Money is welcome, even in a dirty sack. He said, “Not really.”
“Is he a person you used to know?” Lenny was fascinated with the idea that you could come to a point where you didn’t know someone anymore, that relationships could end. At six and a half years old, he didn’t know anyone that he hadn’t known as long as he could remember.
“He’s a person I used to know. And that’s just fine with me.” “Okaaaayy,” Lenny said, which is what he said when he didn’t understand something but had lost interest.
“Put these where they belong.” Alban transferred his armload to his son.
Lenny said, “I want a story, Dad,” that night, while Alban was putting him to bed.
Alban told his son stories almost every night. He never read them. Or almost never. There had been a few times when Lenny had heard of a book at school, and asked to have it read to him. Alban wanted Lenny to work harder on his own reading skills, so he would make Lenny promise that he would read it himself, later, as a condition of having it read to him now.
But most often Lenny wanted the usual method.
Alban made up the stories he told Lenny. Tonight he said, “There once was an evil wizard. All the magic this wizard knew was in his magic potions. The magic that was in these potions was that if you drank one, you’d want to drink a second one. And if you had the second one, sooner or later you’d want to drink a third. And there were a couple of different types of potions. Some would just get you excited, like you wanted to go run around the house ten times. And there was a happy potion that made people happy. This was very good for the evil wizard, because people would pay him lots of money for these potions. And so the wizard started to get fat from all the food he ate, and he bought himself a rack full of different Tommy Hilfiger wizard hats, and a souped-up crystal ball. And he also spent the money to get nasty and dangerous wizard pets, like a cockatrice named Patrick.”
Lenny never asked for clarifications during the stories. He watched with big eyes; he let Alban unroll them as Alban chose. And Alban realized that he needed to doctor this one, because so far there wasn’t any reason people shouldn’t take the potions. The wizard was going to come out looking like a happy capitalist recruiting poster.
“But if you drank enough of the potions, which you would end up doing because, like I said, if you had one you wanted another, they would make you stupid and lazy. And all you would do all day was drink potions, and make the evil wizard rich because you were buying them from him. A cockatrice, by the way, is a very mean chicken as tall as a man, and it can turn you into stone by looking at you.”
Alban stopped the story and looked deeply into Lenny’s face, to make sure he was keeping up. There was a moment of silence.
“Tommy Hilfiger doesn’t make wizard hats,” Lenny advanced slyly.
“They do. Trust me. What? You don’t believe me? I’ll show you the Tommy catalogue tomorrow. There are, like, six pages on pointy hats.
The evil wizard got his potions from a gnome servant at the Alchemists’ Guild. The Guild brewed the potions for legitimate reasons, certainly not for evil wizards to sell at parties, but the gnome was good at making shelves that were one-third empty look like they weren’t the gnome’s fault. And the gnome made money off the evil wizard. And, unfortunately, everybody needs money, and usually think they need more than they really do.
This went on for a very long time, and a lot of people got lazy and stupid drinking up the potions. Then, one day, the evil wizard decided to move away, to another city where he could make even more money selling potions at bigger parties. And the little gnome at the Alchemists’ Guild eventually got caught stealing potions by his masters, because you can make ten shelves that aren’t really full look like they‘re not your fault, but not a hundred. He was kicked out of the Alchemists’ Guild because he had broken the rules. “Potions are for people who really need them, not to be guzzled down at parties,” the head Alchemist told the gnome. And the gnome had to spend several years in the dungeon before he was sorry enough for what he had done that they let him out again.”
That was the end of the story. Alban watched his son’s face.
Lenny gave a nod. “Good night, Dad,” he piped, snuggling into his pillow.
“Good night, Leonard.” Alban shut off the light, and left the room.
Alban was opposed to booze on the grounds of scientific philosophy. Alcohol was an amateur’s messy tool for brain chemistry management. He relaxed with sedatives.
He took one small Valium and sat down with one of his John Grisham novels. Every time he read Grisham, he thought that he should write a novel himself. Grisham had his lawyers chasing their paper trails – why couldn’t there be a book about pharmacists? Pills appearing and disappearing, despotic chief pharmacists whom nothing could make die or retire, so the younger guy below him never gets promoted. People who could only speak Farsi trying to get prescriptions for condoms. Madness and chaos. Bumping into clients out in public and making a massive effort to think something besides, I know you’ve got a genital rash, Mrs. Crosby, and the twenty-two year old bartender who lives next door to you has got the exact same thing!
Most people don’t realize how hard it is not to violate your professional ethics like that when you’ve just eaten two Dilaudid. It was worth a book.
It would be in the usual tradition of producing a memoir or pseudo-memoir of a life you’d retired from. Grisham didn’t practice law anymore. Sammy “The Bull” Gravano wasn’t a wise guy anymore. And Alban was just an assistant pharmacist these days. A DEA agent named Hopscotch had something to do with that.
There was a cruelty about your early twenties, once you’d got a few years past them. They were kind of like when you would shit in your pants as a toddler. Mercifully, nobody really remembers the indignities of being a toddler. Twenty-four, on the other hand, is a year that can be morbidly examined with great clarity in memory. Every innocent, arrogant asininity was preserved in 32-bit color. And you should be so lucky that the problems you caused yourself were as simple as a load in the pants.
When Alban finally got caught stealing pills four years ago, agent Hopscotch of the Drug Enforcement Agency offered him a choice. In spite of the agent’s name, the choice was no joke. Alban could lose his professional credentials and go to jail for a tediously long time, or he could testify against a regional executive in the drug store chain where he worked, saying that the executive was making Alban’s pilfering possible by doctoring the paperwork in exchange for a cut of Alban’s profit (and doing the same thing for several other guys, by the way).
Alban made that decision before agent Hopscotch got to the period at the end of his sentence. It was easy; they already knew the middle manager’s name; the things they wanted Alban to say in court were even true.
By the time they caught him, Alban wasn’t stealing very much. He’d been practically retired. It had devolved into a hobby, really, by that stage. Just a few pills for just a few friends. That’s why the DEA was willing to let him keep his license, although the incident was noted. There’d been no questions about it at his next job interview, and Alban had volunteered no answers.
He’d left his glory days of pill pilferage behind him, gradually receding in the wake of time, like everything you left behind. He was a single father on the backside of his third decade. He had a professional name to uphold. There were forces that made it impossible to be a twenty-two year old party cowboy all your life, and it was unlucky karma to resist them.
Mark was clearly trying to resist, and he looked pathetic, like shit was squiggling out all of his cracks.
Mark had been gone less than a year to the big city when Alban had his involuntary conversation with the DEA, but he had swiftly receded into the distant past like a lost relic. Mark had been Alban’s biggest buyer when Alban was the Prince of Prescriptions. The fact that Mark had a savage temper as easily set off as a car alarm had seemed, at the time, like a colorful detail easily overlooked.
The nerves being strummed in her back caused spasmodic shivers across Isis’s entire nervous system. Each twang convulsed her chest and made regularly spaced noises: “Mmmph...mmmph...mmmph.” The twangs started to tickle, and she giggled into the pillow.
Alban lay on his side behind her, using his tongue to tease the base of her spine right above the cleft of her sweaty buttocks. And just below the tattoo of a naked fairy woman sitting on a mushroom, with the crescent moon rising behind her.
When Alban heard her giggling he deliberately licked her harder, making her laugh out loud. Then he crawled up next to her, his soaking genitals pressed against her buttocks, and put his arm around her in a post-coital embrace, taking her breast in the palm of his hand. “Mmmm,” she moaned pleasurably, and pushed her ass back against him, but they were both used up.
The curtains were closed in the bedroom of Isis’s house trailer; afternoon light made them glow softly. It was Isis’s day off. Alban was working five to ten that evening, and Lenny was in school.
Alban was licking her earlobe. He stopped when Isis said, “I saw Mark the other day.”
Silence for two beats. “You did? How did that happen?”
“I don’t know. He found me somehow.”
“He found me, too.”
Isis twisted around to look at Alban. “He did what? How?”
“I don’t know. He finds people. Kind of like gonorrhea that way.”
Isis turned away from him again. Alban tightened his grip a little bit. “He wants to get back together with me,” she said with an angry weariness, like she was being forced to fight a sequel to a ludicrously old battle.
“What did you tell him?”
“I didn’t tell him anything.”
“How could you not tell him anything when he says he wants to get back together?” Alban’s voice was sharpening.
“Because he didn’t say it.” Her voice carried irritation. “But he was all, like, ‘Oh, baby, baby, we got to hang out sometime.’ You know? I’ve got his cell number on the kitchen table. He wouldn’t leave until I took it.”
“Did you tell him about us?” Alban felt that the answer to that question was going to have an important influence on the future.
Isis was light and firmly dismissive at the same time. “That’s none of his business.”
Alban’s sex organs felt cold and sticky now, pressed between them. But he didn’t pull away from her because he didn’t want her to misinterpret it.
“What did he want from you?” Isis asked him.
“He wanted to get back together with me,” said Alban, and Isis barked out a laugh. “He wants me to steal pills for him to buy and resell.”
“What pills?” She turned her head to look over her shoulder at him again.
“You know, the usual pills. Dilaudid, Percocet, Valium, Vicodin, Xanax...” Alban always experienced a little Masonic thrill when he spoke the secret language of pharmacists. Invoking the Names. But he felt the stiffness in Isis’s body, and it told him what she was thinking. “Jesus Christ, Isis, I’m not going to fucking do it.”
“Good,” she shrugged.
“I’m not! I’ve got a kid to think about! And I’m not half as stupid as I used to be.”
She repeated, “Good.” But in a tone that said she was content with the answer.
They were silent for a drowsy minute. The wind blew the branches of the tree outside against the side of the trailer. Alban listened to the sound of it, a fumbling salvo of insentient tapping.
“What the hell would bring him back here, anyway?” Isis asked through closed teeth.
Alban held one breath, so that he wouldn‘t snap when he spoke. “I don’t know what would bring him back here,” he said gently. Isis’s body told him that she didn’t find that very comforting.
Why would he come back here? He’d left and been gone four years. What loyalty did he have to this area? It was like a tornado returning to the scene of the crime.
In spite of his sleepiness that night, Leonard wanted a story at bedtime.
“I thought you were tired. Do you even remember leaving grandma’s?” It was nearly eleven. Alban’s mother had watched Leonard while Alban was at the pharmacy.
“No. I’m not tired. I would like to hear a story.” Leonard’s eyelids were drooping. Alban had a feeling that this story was going to be short. At least, the story Leonard was about to hear would be short.
“One day, the evil wizard came back.” One day, the evil wizard came back. Alban had just said the words spontaneously, but even he was hushed by the father’s voice at bedtime, and it was a more eerie experience because the father was him, and the voice was his. He had a satori of continuation, and the feeling that his paternal title carried a capital F right now. He wasn’t just somebody who poured the cereal into the bowl. One day, the evil wizard came back. That was the kind of thing that, when you said it, to listen was compelled.
“He had been away for many years in the big city, with his souped-up crystal ball and his pet cockatrice named Patterson. He got into a lot of bad behavior in the big city, and he did things that weren’t very nice to a lot of people. And of course he sold his potions, because the potions were all the magic he had.
Why did he come back to the small town?”
“I don’t know,” Leonard answered. Rhetorical questions were a little beyond his grasp while he fought to keep his eyes and ears open for the story against the whirlpool of sleep.
“Well, that was a good question. And a lot of people in the little town who had been happy to see the evil wizard get the hell out asked that question when he came back. And there were a lot of ideas. But for sure, one of the reasons that the evil wizard came back was a beautiful woman he used to date. Her name was...Angela.”
Alban stopped, and looked at his son. His eyes were closed. But the cessation of Alban’s voice stirred Lenny, and his eyes opened again.
“Angela had dated the evil wizard for about two years before the wizard had left town, and it hadn’t been any fun. Because how can an evil wizard be a good boyfriend?”
“Are you a good boyfriend with Isis?”
“Yes. Angela and the evil wizard had been fighting a lot when the evil wizard decided to move to the big city and leave her behind, but now he had come back to the small town, and he still had the runty little cluster of nerve-firings that he thought of as love when he thought of Angela. He wanted her for his girlfriend again, even though he had abandoned her and disappeared to the big city for many years.
But Angela didn’t want the evil wizard back, for two reasons. First, she had been a very young woman when she dated the evil wizard, and it had been a big mistake. Dating evil wizards is always a mistake. And second, while the evil wizard had been away, she had fallen in love with the handsome troubadour with the golden voice, Chad.”
Leonard’s eyes were half closed, but sleep hadn’t blocked his ears yet. “What happened to the gnome?”
“What happened to the gnome who stole the potions from the potion place?”
“Uh, he’d gotten out of prison after serving his time and settled down with his lady gnome parole officer and had a bunch of gnome kids. And he was never bad again.”
Leonard laughed at that, and turned his head into his pillow like he did when he was about to sleep, his eyes shut. Alban studied him like that for ten seconds. A child sleeping had such potential. Their humanity was like a divine visitation.
This was what Alban was a father for.
It looked like Chad, the musical wonder, was going to have to wait.
Alban kissed Leonard’s head above the ear. “Goodnight, Lenny.” Then he left the room and switched out the light.
The next night, at a few minutes to eight, Alban’s phone rang. Alban went into the kitchen and put his hand on the receiver before he turned his head over his shoulder and yelled to Lenny, who was playing video games in the living room, “You’ve got about half an hour until bedtime! Lenny?” No answer except the sound of an ATV crashing. Alban put the phone to his ear. “Hello?”
“Hi, baby,” Isis greeted him.
“Hi, sweetie,” Alban’s voice warmed up. “How was your day?”
They chatted for a couple of minutes. Then Isis changed the subject by saying, “I think I pissed Mark off today,” in a tone that said she wanted to tell him more.
Alban felt the acid start to build up in his stomach. “No kidding? What happened?”
“He was all, “Oh, baby, we got to spend time together,” you know, like he wanted to get back together with me again. But I sure don’t want to get back together with him. So I told him that I was involved with somebody. I thought they would have to be the end of it, right?”
“Right. If you’re involved with somebody else, that’s it.” Even as he spoke, Alban realized: “Except I don’t think Mark is going to swallow that.”
“I told him I was involved with somebody, but he kept asking if I would go out with him. He didn’t believe I had a boyfriend until I told him it was you.”
Alban’s bladder was watery. “I bet he didn’t take that very well.”
“He stormed out of here,” Isis admitted with a shakiness in her voice that made Alban think that there had been some pretty good fireworks before Mark left. He wondered, had anything gotten smashed?
“I just guess everybody’s disappointing him. I still won’t steal any pills for him.”
“Well, he’s pretty pissed. I don’t think he’ll be asking you again,” Isis laughed. “Me, me, me, and oh, yeah, me. You know how he always was, couldn’t stand not to be the center of attention.”
Alban got off the phone with Isis and put Leonard to bed. “Can I have a story?” Leonard asked.
“Not tonight, kiddo,” Alban said. “I’ve got things I need to do after you go to sleep.”
“What do you need to do?”
“Housecleaning,” Alban lied spontaneously. “Now go to sleep. Tomorrow is a school day.”
Alban did not houseclean. He sat on the edge of the recliner in front of the television, watching CNN and rolling his head around on his neck without assuaging the tightness there and in his shoulders. CNN was all about Army Rangers who had ridden a wedge of helicopters against a field command center in remote Afghanistan, and people getting letters dusted with anthrax. It was too intense for Alban’s current state of mind, and he switched to Comedy Central instead. But whatever sketch comedy show that was on CC failed him; it wasn’t funny. He turned the TV off.
“This is stupid!” Alban said suddenly. So Mark was pissed off. Who cared? Mark was always getting pissed off about something in the old days and shooting off at the mouth, shoving people around. It didn’t matter. Alban was having an anxiety attack over something that didn’t matter! Mark had been arrested for violence a couple of times, but that was before he got sluggish and puffy. Alban had grown up. Mark was a harmless barker, chained up to an adolescence that had gotten rank and sad. Forget it. Forget him.
Alban tried to do that for another four hours. He watched Big Daddy on HBO, which, in contrast to Comedy Central at the moment, buoyed him up by being hilarious. Which might have been a mistake, as far as putting him to sleep went. And he couldn’t get the Mark issue out of his mind, or the poison of adrenaline out of his blood. Fuck him, anyway. Who did that guy think he fucking was? He’s gone four years and comes back thinking, what? That Isis had just been waiting on the shelf for him to come pick her up again? Life went on; life changed. That’s what Mark as in Mutilate couldn’t wrap his mind around. Mark sure hadn’t changed, and it looked like it was killing him by slow degrees.
Alban went to bed, but still he couldn’t sleep. There was a book on the nightstand that he’d been trying to finish reading; he made a lot of headway on that project now. But sleep wouldn’t come. It was nowhere in the house except Lenny’s bed.
Alban got up, went to the kitchen for a glass of orange juice, drank it, and went back to his book and his bed.
Then he heard a noise. He knew what Lenny coming out of his room sounded like, and this noise was not that. Lenny had a habit of talking to himself when he came out of his room, in addition to the usual noise of Lenny’s bedroom door opening, and the noise that Alban heard was none of that. He glanced up – then went back to his book.
But two seconds later, he heard another noise. It intruded on him slowly, like the approach of a gust of wind, a little subsonic susurrus.
Alban’s heart, stopped. Then started racing – the book propped up on his stomach shook with his thudding heart – because the sound was the sound of one of the living room window screens being ripped or cut. That wasn’t an accident, and it wasn’t a branch against the roof. Someone was trying to get into Alban’s house.
Alban lay in his bed, listening to the sound until it definitely didn’t go away. Then, as stealthily as he could, although every rustling of the bedclothes sounded to Alban like a truck slamming on its brakes, he got up and went to his dresser. He reached into the back of his sock drawer, and felt around until he found the Glock pistol clip he kept in the back. The shiny brass shell at the top of the clip gleamed like an Arabian lamp in the light from the reading lamp on the bedside table.
There was a metallic scrunching noise and then a little screech, like metal on metal, as a status report on the person trying to break into his house.
Alban opened his closet door and reached up onto the top shelf, behind where he kept his winter sweaters, and brought down the Glock pistol itself. He’d had this thing since he was twenty-one, and he’d touched it about half that many times in the years since. He’d never actually fired it, but it had seemed like a cool thing to have, mostly because the law had said he could on that magic birthday. He’d gone and gotten wiped-out drunk when he turned two decades and a tenth, too.
He’d never fired it, but he knew how it worked. He stuck the clip in and chambered a round. He left his bedroom and walked quickly down the hall towards the living room, pointing the gun in front of himself, in a general way, with his right hand. When he passed Lenny’s room, there was no noise from inside. But there was a heavy grunting to be heard from the living room now, and a deep voice muttering something that sounding like, “Motherfucking (indecipherable).”
Could that possibly be Lenny? Well, Alban reasoned, just don’t shoot anybody until you get a really good look at them.
The light switch for the living room was at the end of the hall. Alban switched it on, then put half his body around the corner to see what was making all that mysterious noise – he was still unsure if he was doing this properly.
The windows in the living room weren’t all that big, or at least the portion of them that opened wasn’t. Probably to prevent precisely this kind of thing, Alban realized with an unused corner of his mind, the part, apparently, that reverse-engineered windows.
Grunting and sweating, wearing a basketball jersey, denim jeans baggy enough to make two pairs of pants, and a white Kangol hat, Mark as in Mutilate had his head, body, and one leg inside the living room. He had pulled the screen out of the window, and Alban could see it sagging on top of the bushes outside, tips of branches poking through. In his left hand, he had a big black military knife that flashed Alban back for a moment to CNN. His face was flushed red with emotion and effort, and when the light came on he twisted his neck to look at Alban with a clenched-teeth expression that said, “Just wait a minute, and I’ll give you yours.”
For what seemed like a very long, contemplative moment, Alban tried to figure out what the fuck motivation or set of circumstances could have gotten Mark into this position. When he did figure it out, which was before Mark got his other leg out of the bushes and into the living room, he raised the pistol, which he had lowered, and, forgetting anything he might have known about how to use the three white dots to aim, he sprayed several bullets at Mark.
The bullets killed him, going into his body, through his forearm, and one clipping his nose in profile in a jolting spray of gore. The window shattered and a new black hole appeared in the wall. There had been a series of noises like a big hammer against a big, badly tuned bell. Mark fell into the house, and lay at a weird angle relative to the floor.
Impulsively, Alban ran up to him and stared at the puzzle that was his body, trying to see if it was going to do any more moving. The weird angle, Alban saw after a second, was because Mark had fallen on his knife hand, and apparently the knife had been driven into his body. The handle was propping him up.
Shit, Alban thought, feeling like he was maybe going to puke very suddenly and vigorously, I just killed Mark as in Mutilate, with the flashy car.
There was a noise that sounded like, “Urk!” and then, “Uh-oh,” from the hallway to the bedrooms. Alban looked, and Leonard was standing there.
“Who is that?!” he fearfully demanded.
“A very bad man,” Alban blurted. All he needed now was for Lenny to recognize Mark as the guy with the flashy car, forcing Alban to explain why he’d just killed a man he knew. Lenny was too young to know that most of your enemies were people you knew. Alban could just imagine him piping up in the next second, “Isn’t he the man with the car?”
Instead, Lenny asked, “Is he sick?” Lenny was about ten inches from being hysterical, and it was obvious to Alban by the way Lenny twisted the word sick that Lenny hoped the man was sick, because otherwise he had to be dead, which was a condition Lenny had no experience with, and was hoping to avoid a crash-course in coping with now.
Alban crossed swiftly to his son and scooped him up with both arms after quickly hiding the handgun in the back of his waistband, and carried him back to his bedroom. “The doctors are coming for him now, Len. You don’t worry about it. You just go back to bed.”
In Lenny’s room, the boy started to weep helplessly, and he didn’t even know why, which made it more of a torture, until he was squeezed out of emotional energy and slept, even with all the policemen who were now in the house. He was just overwhelmed by things he couldn’t comprehend.
More than a week later, after the police inquiry and the removal of the body, after Alban took comfort in the presence of Isis so that he could accept the invasion, Alban told Leonard this story at bedtime:
No matter how she denied or protested his love, the evil wizard would not leave Angela alone. He wouldn’t believe that Angela didn’t love him, even though he’d been gone a very long time and the people of the town had tried to forget him, and it was stupid of him to think that Angela had just been waiting like a toy on the shelf for him to come back.
When the evil wizard discovered that Angela had fallen in love with Chad the troubadour, he was filled with a vile jealousy. The wizard lost all reason in his mind. He decided to kill the troubadour, because Angela couldn’t love a dead man, and when the usurping musician was gone, she would be with the wizard again.
The wizard took no time to plot or plan – his rage was so great that he just went straight over to Chad’s house at the College of Troubadours to murder the musician who had the love of Angela.
But when the wizard came to battle Chad, sneaking down his chimney in the middle of the night, he made too much noise, and Chad heard him coming. And the wizard only brought a dagger, while Chad had a gun – this is a very serious mistake to make. And so Chad triumphed over the evil wizard, because Chad was the Hero, and the wizard could not see that in matters of love, evil potions are no help.
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