Grift the Garter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: June 11, 2019

Reads: 76

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Submitted: June 11, 2019

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Chapter One

I whipped the rain-tarp in the wind and pebbles sprayed, some catching the breeze to fall on the music festival booming in the streets below. Grackles dodged and took flight, dipped into the crowd for garbage meals while I tried to shut out the band piping poor Blink 182 covers through Austin. 

Rock shows get me as wild as the next guy, but when there’s no home to hide in, no walls to duck behind, and the party never ends and you’ve gotta sleep sometime, amplifiers grind on your nerves. 

Homeless life’s worse without a pal there. An ear to bitch into, another pair of hands. Someone with a lighter when mine goes dead. About the only way I knew how to ask for help was a lighter, or a key-bump when cash went sour and coke rode high. 

Might be, if I asked for help that day the world went sideways, I’d live under a roof. Not on top of a hostel in downtown Austin. 

I lit a half Marlboro I found on the green rim of a public trash can with the last match in a tattered book. I remembered American Spirits, and owning my very own pack. When a white lighter brought bad luck, and I could afford to crush them under heel. Now a lighter was a lighter, a smoke was a respite, and every penny went to enough Evan Williams to pass out under the plywood lean-to.

The six foot by eight-foot artificial wood leaned on milk crates. I’d coated the top side with tar paper and sprinkled gravel, and hoped no police or traffic choppers would notice. Six months and no complaints. 

I was proud of my little dwelling. Getting the board up the fire escape unnoticed stood tall as my greatest accomplishment since I fled Baltimore for Texan streets. Looking for a way across the border; realizing that I needed more than transit. I’d need somewhere to land. 

South, and my distant Argentina refuge, drew my eye. Austin lay so close to the Mexican border, and so far away from the only home I dared to imagine anymore. A vineyard near San Rafael. I’d work the grapes and retire beat from the sun with a glass in my hand and maybe even a senorita with callused hands. We could rub each other’s shoulders in the tent or shed or wherever the fuck, fuck in the dirt. 

I shook off the fantasy, turned back to the task at hand. All my hoard fit into the tarp, and I double wrapped the blue parcel with neon pink bungee cords, gripping the Marlboro butt in my teeth. Off-brand Carhartts, foraged flannels and my treasured brown sports coat and the stolen sleeping bag any self-respecting Salvation Army would ditch in the dumpster. No books. Three hundred and fifty-five bucks in ones, fives and tens for a plane ticket.

These were my worldly possessions, and if the bellboy across the street was right they’d get drenched in the coming rain. So even though I was late getting back to the taco trucks, I checked for overlaps and creases and then I heard the hound. 

The howl broke through the cacophony of South By Southwest, the music festival that haunts Austin every March. Cut across the rooftops, and I thought I saw a black muzzle and white teeth across Sixth on top of Buffalo Billiards. I know I saw red hanging around and down a thick neck, frayed at the end. 

If it was a dog, and it was on a rooftop, it must have chewed through the scarlet leash. Or maybe maroon. It was hard to see. And noise from the street distracted me from the hunched, muscular shadow. I hardly noticed the taller silhouette at the hound’s back. 

Brazos street flooded with celebrities playing at locals, locals playing at celebrities, and tourists reveling in a city that used to be weird. I didn’t belong in Austin, and I wouldn’t claim the city as so many transplants did. But I’d seen the pictures. This town used to bleed strange truths. 

Now it bled craft beers from breweries selling out to Anheuser-Busch at first opportunity. Airhorn blasts pierced the hubbub, some drunk ruining everybody’s fun with dull tones like an air raid siren that insinuated, “Pay attention! This matters! Dear fucking God, this has got to matter!” 

Then I saw Junior flying through the crowd, gunning his LimeBike scooter through the barricades on dirty Sixth. 

I didn’t know his name then, or that he went by Junior. He wore a black suit. Coat un-bottoned and his white shirt stained with spilled drafts and even then, you could tell a tailor cut that fabric for the mad gentleman. An emerald shaded, lace garter was tied around the Lunatic’s head, keeping greasy red hair out of his eyes. 

Lunatic comes capitalized in Junior’s world, but just like I didn’t know his handle I didn’t understand the world he came from. 

A cop, I didn’t recognize him, hollered for the redhead to stop and strained through a pair of sixteen-year-old girls snapping phone photos to grab his coat tails. 

The Lunatic didn’t notice, his grin split between terror and glee. He’d rigged the airhorn to the handlebars of his scooter with a handkerchief. He yanked on the trigger. Matthew McConaughey hit the pavement, tripped by a tall woman gripping her cocker spaniel. She dove to save the pup from the mad gentleman’s charge. The cops followed, pushing through the crowd that gaped at Junior’s audacity. 

I glanced back for the hound, but the shadows had vanished. A breeze whipped down the alleyway next to the Firehouse hostel. I checked my burner; 11:52 PM. Only five minutes till my so-called lunch break ended. 

On the streets I’d sweat through my long johns in under a minute. The last gasp of winter cut down by festivities, the death rattle sounding of a thousand melodies that’d hit the color spectrum like American vomit. 

The Lunatic below hit his airhorn one last time, his scooter slowing on the hill up Brazos and alongside the Driskill Hotel. He aimed for the Driskill, but the crowd had backed away to clear the center of the street for his rampage. He looked up, towards the rooftops, and we made each other. He winked at me, then kept scanning. I followed his eye-line and wondered if he saw the hound, too.

Still no sign in the shadows, but from atop the building across the alleyway I heard that same howl. It couldn’t have come from there. The first howl had definitely emitted from across the Sixth, and that would’ve been a fifty-foot jump. 

The mad gentleman winced at the echo. The cops drew close, and more came down the hill. He was boxed in. He had maybe five seconds before the force shut him down. 

The only way through the crowd was the alleyway, and that was barricaded to keep out the riff-raff. No place to run except straight into the arms of the APD. He didn’t seem to notice the cops at all, just kept scanning for that hound. 

Time slowed down. I thought about Argentina. The vineyard thousands of miles away. A waiting home. I couldn’t go to jail now. Not when I was so close. 

I eyed the fire escape. My way on and off the rooftop. It’d been tricky since they put up the barricades; if the iron stairs slid down they’d hit the white plastic rails. And if they slammed down with enough force, they’d bust through. 

There was always something helplessly charming about the mad gentleman. Like an action hero who should get shuffled off in the opening gun fight but somehow, he lives. Dodges bullets and quips while the bad guys breathe their last. 

A guy like that could help you out of a tough spot, I thought. Someone you want owing you a favor. Regal, even with that green lace hanging off his face. 

That’s what the voice in my head said. He’s a mean son of a bitch, the realist between my ears, and he’s only gotten meaner with age. There’s another, quieter character that lives somewhere near my sternum. He hides behind the realist. Filters his thoughts through lost opportunities and paths to the bottle. You could call him Ethics, or Morality. I call him kiddo.

The kiddo didn’t want any favors from the mad gentleman. He saw another lost soul. A guy who needed another pair of hands. 

I jumped over the concrete wall that lined the hostel roof and hit the fire escape hard. The iron shook, and flakes of rust shook free. I kicked one leg over the railing and then the other, resting my weight and leaning back. Every second counted. Wished I’d worn gloves. This was going to suck. 

 


© Copyright 2019 Ian Humphrey. All rights reserved.

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