Jittery Dave didn’t have to look through the house, or even say her name again. A shotgun shell stood at attention on the beat-to-shit chartreuse cushion on the beat-to-shit chartreuse chair by the picture window, the one where she liked to sit and watch Buffy and put her feet up on the beat-to-shit chartreuse ottoman and do her nails and tell him not to worry about whatever had him worried at that particular moment, and to make her another shandy.
He glanced at it, and knew it was a 12-gauge. Winchester, Xpert High Velocity.
It fell over when he closed the door.
He took off his Rays cap, flexed the brim four times, put it back on, went into the kitchen and pulled a can of Natty Light from the fridge. Returning to the living room, he turned on another light and spent twenty seconds or so righting the shell on its brass rim before sitting on the other side of the coffee table, in the ochre chair facing the door.
The shell didn’t so much as wobble when the door opened again twenty-seven minutes later, and Haney slid into the room.
Haney smiled at Jittery Dave, and his roadmapped eyes went big when he pretended to notice the shell.
“So that’s where I left that thing.” He leaned over and snapped it up, held it in a beam of porchlight coming in through the window. Examined it. Considered it. “Did it fall over, Jittery Dave?”
Jittery Dave nodded.
“And you set it back up.” The shell disappeared into the left chest pocket of Haney’s grimy jean jacket. “You reckon you did that on account of your condition? Or was it because you were scared I’d be pissed when I came back here and saw it like that?”
“Little bit of both, I suppose, Mr. Haney.”
Haney smiled for real.
“Good answer, Jittery Dave. Got another beer?” Haney turned, cracked the door and had a low conversation with someone on the porch while Jittery Dave went to the fridge. When Jittery Dave came back, Haney was perched on the edge of Corriane’s chair. Jittery Dave handed him the beer over a stained camouflage duffel bag that sat on the ottoman, smelling like an ancient truck battery still shitting out its poison.
Jittery Dave just stood there, his own Natty down there at the end of his arm, shucking and jiving just a bit against his left thigh. Haney told him to sit the fuck down and drink his beer.
“We gotta get down to it, yeah,” said Haney with a wink, “but we got time for a beer.”
Jittery Dave took two quick, small sips of his beer, then four shallow breaths, then two more sips. Outside, the steps leading up to the front porch groaned. Haney snickered.
“Dwayne, he’s a big bitch, right?”
“You ever seen this bag?” Haney leaned forward and unzipped the dirty, foul-smelling duffel. “Everybody knows about my goody bag. Carry all my shit.” He pulled out a filthy red bandanna, unwrapped a greasy-looking glass pipe. A battered brass Zippo came out of the right jacket pocket, the one he hadn’t stuffed the shotgun shell into. “You don’t smoke, right?”
Jittery Dave shook his head, fingers of his right hand tapping the arm of the sofa in a complicated pattern. He looked at the bag, decided it currently weighed between eleven and eleven and a half pounds.
“Yeah, didn’t think so.” Haney hit the pipe and put his head down, rubbed the orange stubble that ringed the scabby bald crown of his head, shook, stomped, and exhaled bitter, somehow oily smoke.
“Mr. Haney,” said Jittery Dave, “where’s Corriane?”
Haney took another hit, waved his open palm at Jittery Dave before it went to his skull. As the toxic cloud billowed from his mouth, Haney asked in a wheeze if Jittery Dave’s sister was a musician.
“She sings, sometimes.” Thumbpinkyringmiddlepointermiddleringpinky-
Haney nodded, smoke curling from his nostrils, his own pointer finger up.
“I heard that.I heard she was a singer.
“I love music, you know? That shit’s crazy. There’s like, nine notes, and millions of people trying to put ‘em together in a way no one’s ever heard before.”
Haney shook his head and laughed, picked up his can of beer and drained it.
“I can’t figure it out, jazz and experimental or whatever. How many ways can you make a hamburger, right? I like the guys that believe in tradition, country, the blues, old-school rap. Guys that don’t try to be, what, you know, fuckin’ visionaries and shit. Those guys that play the same old sounds people have been playing forever, and have a good time, and try to make it their own by, like, talking about shit that actually happened to them.”
Haney raised one eyebrow over the pipe as he spun it back and forth, applying fire.
“Shut up,” he said, coughing, “you fuckin’ gimp.
“Guys like that, they’ve got a saying, you know? They say if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. Chuck Berry or Hank Williams or the Stones, fuckin’ N.W.A. It’s a way of, I don’t know, paying tribute while you’re ripping them off at the same time. You ever heard that, Jittery Dave?”
“I reckon your sister heard it once or twice, her being a singer and all.”
“Mr. Haney, I-”
“So when we caught up to her up at that storage space where she weighs out her bud, with an assload of my crank – some of it in my own fuckin’ goody bag, mind you – I figured she’d lost her perspective, gotten her wires crossed. We decided she’d gotten her imaginary career as a musician confused with her real-life career as a junkie bitch thief.”
The front porch creaked again, and Jittery Dave knew Dwayne was on the northeast corner of the porch, and that someone else was also on the porch, closer to the door, probably sitting in the chair with the back legs on the second board from the wall. Jittery Dave took two long gulps of his beer, then four shallow breaths. There weren’t two more long gulps left in the can, so he set it down on the battered coffee table, near the chartreuse ottoman and Haney’s goody bag.
“Hey retard.” Haney was wrapping his pipe back up in the bandanna.
“Yes, Mr. Haney.”
“I just called your sister a junkie bitch thief. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“I have problems with emotion, Mr. Haney. I’m sorry. It’s the way my brain works.” Jittery Dave stopped talking, cocked his head. “Corriane is all you said.” He took off his Rays cap, flexed the brim six times, put it back on. “I dunno. She’s my sister, I love her. I just … I’m different about things. I’m sorry. You know.”
Haney put the bandanna with the pipe in it into his goody bag. Sat back. Sat forward. Took the bandanna out of the bag.
“I do know, Dave.” He took a little baggie from the duffel, reloaded the pipe. Hit it. Rubbed his scabby crown. “You’re a fuckin’ robot.”
Haney started to wrap the pipe up again, thought about it. “I used to think I could use that shit, about you.” Wrapped it up a little more, reconsidered. Hid it in the bandanna and put it back into his goody bag with a little sigh.
“Get us another beer, willya, Dave?”
When Jittery Dave came out of the kitchen, a scattergun with a pistol grip sat in Haney’s lap. Jittery Dave estimated the goody bag now weighed three and a half pounds. Dwayne, the big bitch, blocked the outside light as he moved back across the porch and in front of the window. Jittery Dave set his beer on the coffee table, and leaned forward to give Haney the other Natty Light. Haney indicated that the surface of the coffee table was close enough.
“Dave, do you think your cunt sister-”
Jittery Dave continued to lean forward. He smashed the full, unopened can into Haney’s face, dropping his own beer and snatching the pumpgun out of Haney’s lap. Haney’s nose exploded first; the window exploded a second later, the big bitch’s shadow dropping. The light from out front returned. Jittery Dave racked another shell and let himself drop behind the coffee table as he blew a hole through the bungalow’s wall to the right of the front door. Somebody shrieked. Four shots came through the window and the rotting wood that surrounded it before Jittery Dave aimed between the legs of the coffee table and fired again through the wall.
The weight of the shotgun told him he was on his last shell as he pumped it and swiveled to his left. Above the edge of the coffee table, Haney’s bloodshot eyes pulsed in time with his runaway heartbeat above the pulped red bullseye at the center of his face.
“No! She’s alive, she’s-”
Jittery Dave lowered his aim slightly and fired, turning Haney’s right shoulder into a sodden, gristly mess. Jittery Dave’s own wasted beer gurgled onto the ruined pine hardwood as he rolled up to his feet, leaned over and deftly retrieved the shotgun shell from Haney’s denim jacket, his eyes moving from the one hole in the front of the house to the other hole in the front of the house, to the dirty porchlight coming in through the shattered window.
Haney struggled feebly in the chair.
“You’re, you, you’re fucking”-
“Be quiet, please.” Jittery Dave dug the truncated muzzle of the shotgun into the casserole where Haney’s collarbone used to be. Haney groaned as Jittery Dave tapped the brass collar of the single shell lightly four times against the gun’s receiver before feeding it into the magazine.
Jittery Dave racked the single shell. Reached down to run his free arm through the straps of Haney’s goody bag and sling it under his armpit. Then he pulled Haney to his feet by the shredded sleeve of his greasy jacket, and listened.
When the sound of the car door swinging open reached him through the soupy, swampy air, he knew he had nine seconds.