The front door softly hissed closed. There was nothing to see down the hall but I kept looking there, hoping Runt would do the right thing and come back.
A movement on the floor commanded my eyes. Dante’s jacket moved slightly. Casey’s right hand appeared and pulled the blood-soaked coat off her face.
“You guys trying to smother me or something?” she bellyached. “That little turd left five minutes ago!”
We all laughed nervously.
“Just making sure the little turd was really gone, I guess,” Sonja said. “Jeez, you’re a bloody mess.”
“I might be a mess but I’m a damn good actress. And so are you guys. Maybe we should start a community theatre.”
“Naw,” said Javi, putting his arm around Sonja. “That’d cut in to my poker time more than the ladies do. Thanks for the shoutout to fun, T.R., but I left me a winning streak at Sonja’s place and I want to get back to it.” He and Sonja sauntered off, arm and arm. Was Javi really with the DEA or was he bluffing? You just never know about poker folker.
“Javi, you’re always on a winning streak,” said Grey, turning and following them down the hall.
Doc looked down at a smiling Casey. “She was such a pretty girl. Not much in the brains department, but pretty. Too bad she had to die so young.” Casey flung some fake blood at him and he put up his hands in self-defense. “I’m leaving. I’m leaving. My work here is done. See ya, T.R. It was fun.”
“Good bluff, Doc. Thanks, you guys.” I yelled down the hall, “I owe y’all. Drinks are on me.”
“Gee, thanks, T.R. I seem to remember something about drinks always being free where you work!” Grey yelled back, laughing. “Dante, you coming?”
Dante looked at me and shook his head. “You’re too much for a guy to keep up with, T.R. You got more guts than any man I know,” he said. “What with Hold’em. And snakes. And guns. Damn, T.R., datin’ you…well, there’s just too many balls in that bed. And the biggest ones are yours!”
He leaned over and kissed me on the cheek before hurrying after Doc.
I looked at his retreating back, then turned to Casey.
“Were you just dumped?” she asked.
I didn’t know. I didn’t care either. Nothing really mattered to me at the moment.
“That’d be fine with me,” she said. “He made me mad writing you that hot check.”
“Huh. Dumped. At least he put poker first on his big balls’ list. He’ll remember that set-over-set.”
The door shut behind him and except for me and Casey, the big building was empty.
But it wasn’t scary anymore.
I’d been scared since Sloppy was killed but I wasn’t scared now. Mad, yes. Hurt and disappointed, certainly. But I wasn’t frightened anymore.
“Runt, you little turd!” Casey finally said. The faux blood made a sucking noise as she sat up. “Just leavin’ me dead like that! Steppin’ right over me! Too chicken to even go tell my poor husband and babies.”
“A sack of saturated snake shit!” I said, my voice a monotone.
“A pouch of putrefied puppy poopy!” Casey shot back.
“A coop of calcified chicken caca!” I said with a little more feeling.
OK, those were good ones considering we hadn’t played alliteration cursing since we were in middle school and weren’t allowed to use real cuss words.
“I hate to think my own brother could be that hateful. I guess I knew he was low ─ but not that low. He is what he is, I guess. Do we tell Ralph about the role his fake gun and blood played in all this?”
“No way. We’ll not tell Ralph anything. He’ll never let me out of the house again. We going to clean this up?” she asked, looking down at the bloody mess.
“Hell, no. Let Sirlo clean it up. Let him wonder what happened here. Gosh, we’re going to get blood in that pretty yellow Hummer.”
It was too much to hope for that Tom Junior would have to clean up the disaster in the hallway. I knew better. He wouldn’t even have to clean up his mom’s car. But he’d have to face his father some day and clean up that mess. I’d make sure of that with a phone call.
I pulled Casey up off the floor and we walked down the hall together, our red footprints on the carpet growing fainter with each step. Outside Sirlo’s we took a deep breath of hot Texas air. It was over…sort of. I couldn’t help but sneak a couple of looks around to make sure Tom or Eddy weren’t waiting to nab me again. Or Aunt Lois. But Tom was probably home in bed and I definitely knew where Aunt Lois and Eddy were.
“I hope Aunt Lois and Eddy are all right in that tiny bathroom,” I said to Casey. “What if they died in there?”
“Get real, T.R. They’re not going to die there,” she replied. “They’re uncomfortable and it’ll be embarrassing when one of them has to use the bathroom but they’re not going to die there.”
“Yeah, I was just thinking of all the beer they’d drunk. At least they’re related. Maybe I should tell someone they’re trapped there.”
“Yeah, you should ─ tomorrow,” Casey said.
“Right. Tomorrow. First thing. I’ll do just that!” We both laughed.
OK, it was a funny visual of Aunt Lois and Eddy together in that dirty, tiny room. Still I felt sorry for Aunt Lois stuck with stupid, stinky Eddy. Better than me being stuck with stupid, stinky Eddy, though!
“Well, at least Runt’s out of it. Probably way out of it. Knowing him, he’ll run far away. This is trouble so deep even his love for The Barely Legal won’t keep him from riding backwards clear out of the state,” I said.
How Runt would get by in the future I didn’t know or care. The pickle he was in wasn’t my fault. It was all his doing. Besides, he had skills. He just needed to apply them in an appropriate, legal manner. I refused to worry about him, especially after what he put me through this past week.
“Yeah. You were right about needing witnesses. Legally, nothing would have stuck to him, even if Tom Senior wanted to press charges. Everything he did had Tom Junior’s permission all over it. Runt would have gotten off scott free. Again. We’ll have to start calling him Teflon.” Casey paused a moment. “I’m surprised Dante came, though,” she said.
“Me too. Maybe I’m not so dumped after all. Not that I care one way or the other, you understand.”
“Yeah, right. What about Shade?” Casey asked.
Hmmm. Shade. I didn’t know what to do about him.
“Runt. Shade. Dante. Eddy. Tom, both junior and senior. Men! They’re all the same ─ they’re users. I just haven’t figured out Shade’s angle yet.
“My house for clean up,” I told Casey as I started the Hummer. “Good thing it’s dark. We’d give anyone who sees us heart failure. Look at us. We look like we’ve each had a couple of surgical procedures.”
“We have. We cut a little turd out of our lives!”
Yeah. I wouldn’t miss the turd part of Runt but I would miss the little brother part. As far as brothers go, and they usually don’t go too far, he was OK. He was blood kin, my mom’s favorite child, my father’s chip off the old block. But Casey was right ─ mostly he was more a turd than anything else!
“I need to get rid of this Hummer, too,” I told Casey. “My Mustang’s still at Shade’s place.”
“No. It’s in the alley behind our house. Shade still has the duelie though.”
I pulled the yellow beast into my driveway. Casey jumped out but I just sat there for a moment. Home again, home again. Tonight I would sleep under my own sheets with my own pillows. No bogymen under the bed or in the closets.
Of course, that meant no Shade either but that was fine with me. I’d sworn off men forever the minute I overheard Runt say he used me, betrayed my sisterly feelings for him. Coming on the heels of a fifteen hundred dollar H.C. from a guy I’d been dating, and hearing about a sixty-something-year old man taking advantage of my good friend Weeba, I felt I learned my lesson: Men are not to be trusted. Never. Ever. No matter who they are or what they tell you.
I opened the door of the Hummer and stepped out.
To be continued.