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Chapter Twenty-Eight

It’s tomorrow already and I’m discovering that watching Turk on the ground hugely asprawl is akin to watching the superstore, Walmart, detach itself from its foundation and decide to embark on an evening stroll. Stumbling over some crack in the sidewalk, it would fall in a thunderous heap of stone and steel and merchandise, then lay there, struggling supremely to get up. Helping Turk to his feet would be like helping Walmart rise to its feet after it has fallen. You’d give up quickly and decide that Walmart, on its back, would just have to stay there until something else came along to alter the situation.

“I’d like to see a patient,” Turk had said at the admissions desk of Saint Mary’s Hospital, speaking to the nurse behind the counter.

Every time some person walked in Turk probably heard The Fountain outside, the sound amputated into ragged segments by the opening and closing of the entrance’s sliding door, a machete innovatively designed for the slicing of audible water.

Across the street from the hospital on a grassy knoll is a fountain with a low stone rim surrounding the water’s moss-colored basin where people sit, serenely eating hamburgers from the Mark’s Big Boy at the broad intersection’s corner, or wistfully casting coins like runes. In the Sixties the site – simply called The Fountain – had served as the hub for gathering impromptu-hungry counterculture youth who, on humid summer evenings, would smoke grass and strum guitars or distill messily clustered tones from the thin silver bullion of harmonicas and then wander down a pillowy emerald bluff that spilled steeply onto lower tiers and invited access to the lakefront and its surprising breezes.

On occasions when the marijuana smoke rose too staunchly and the music and singing too boisterously billowed, hospital officials would complain and squad cars would converge ferally on The Fountain, the congregation of hippies exploding across the lawn to the bluff’s crest and sliding recklessly or rolling or, more intrepidly, diving off the hill’s sill and somersaulting down the long snaking slope, scattering Neanderthalishly into the trees and bushes straggling at the bottom, or darting across the perilous litter-swirled boulevard fed from the south by manic downtown traffic and stretching north, splintering into rusticity as it twisted away from or plunged toward the crenulate lakeline, to the arboreous reaches of upper Wisconsin.

On the beach, sand sucking at their bare or sandled feet, they would dance in tribal triumph, pumping their fists toward the shimmer of buildings, miraged on the other side of lake Michigan’s richly gradient blue and rolling plateaus, that composed a piece of the lit switchboard that was the skyline.

Had Turk walked into the Milwaukee Metropolitan General Hospital where he was born, an elderly nurse behind the counter might have remembered him. By virtue of the fact that he had easily dwarfed all records for birth weight set by the most spectacularly robust babies ever to part pairs of outraged legs in the wailing primal struggle to greet the world outside the womb, the nurse might have extended special treatment to Turk and escorted him personally to the patient he was seeking, as though he were a celebrity receiving special treatment.

But this was a much younger nurse, this hospital wasn’t the other, and Sugar Boy said that the wonder she silently expressed while contemplating Turk stretched into a period of time so hypnotically long that the man with the stun gun, visiting the patient Turk was looking for, had taken the elevator down to the lobby and was passing through it on the way outside to have a smoke, having time not only to study the tableau of Turk looming over the counter before the open-mouthed bespectacled nurse, but to hear him repeat his request a second time. Then the man paused.

“There was a patient brought here a few hours ago to get treated for burns, or smoke inhalation, what room he’s in, and whether he can have visitors now. I’m what you’d call a personal friend of his.”

“What,” the nurse finally said, “is the patient’s name?”

Turk didn’t exactly know the patient’s name. He had to invent something to get around the obstacle. “He had a lotta different names, see, because me and him are like this” – he knitted his fingers demonstratively – “and always use nicknames with each other. So I don’t know his real name, but me and everybody else, well we just call him Sheep because of his hair.”

“Sheep?”

“Because of his hair.”

“I’m afraid we don’t” – she zephyred the computer screen with her eyes, making no effort to light on information – “no Mr. Sheep has been admitted to this hospital.”

Turk tried again. “There we are in agreement. We are in concurrence. I’m saying there’s no Mr. Sheep … he had a wide variety of nicknames. We might sometimes called him something like Lamb, too.”

“Lamb. Because of his hair.”

“His hair.”

“Maybe you should try the county hospital.”

Turk let the remark slide and decided to try a personal touch, glancing quickly at the nametag. “What I’m saying, Nurse Dannon, is … that was my grandmother’s name, by the way.”

“Oh?” More effortful than before, now the multi-talented eyes performed calisthenics, hanging on the upper edge of her stylish glasses like hand-over-hand rope climbing.

“Dannon Jones, yes. And she wore little glasses too, yes, like the ones you got on, but more old fashioned.”

“I see. I suppose she was a nurse, too, mister …”

Turk said merrily, “Jones. Damn, I think she was a nurse, come to think.”

“Maybe we’re related,” the nurse, who was white, said needlessly.

If Turk sensed an insult, he didn’t show it. But he did say, “You go back far enough, you know, when whole hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of U..S. Caucasian men snuck around doing what serial rapists nowadays doing in the open, but never got caught cause I don’t think there was a FBI whatdayoucallit, psychosexual crime unit, it might just be we’re related. The background of it would be a shame, but we could be related.”

Nurse’s Dannon’s young face combusted into flame.

“Nurse Dannon, it’d be hard to miss in your records there where you admitted somebody just got all burnt to hell, pretty recently.” He leaned forward in a delicate sly movement, but mountainously, over the counter, trying to look at the computer screen, but nurse Dannon leaned into the screen protectively, blocking Turk’s view.

The man with the stun gun, Kyle, approached the counter. The stun gun wasn’t yet visibly displayed. “Excuse me my man, did I hear you say you were here to see a burn victim? Sheep?”

Turk smiled broadly. “Ah, yeah, you know who I mean?”

“He’s not in any shape to see visitors right now, but I was just stepping out for a smoke, and I’d be glad to tell you how he’s doing. You know Sheep. Always fucking up.”

“No visitors? Then you must be family?”

The nurse watched them both as though watching any game involving a ball in motion traveling one way, then the opposite way, the flame in her face subsiding a little but not completely extinguished, like a match in a breeze that held back because it had a pyromaniac’s soft spot for fire.

“Strictly family members only at this time until Sheep’s condition is more stable.”

“Oh, well yeah, sure, I can see that. Procedures.”

“Right on. Procedures.”

Right on? Turk must have thought, wondering what year it was.

They walked outside. They followed a brightly lit tulip-picketed brick path that circled the front and rounded to the parking lot in the back, where an ambulance was pulling into the dock that sloped down toward the emergency entrance’s doors. The siren screamed as though it had a red tail that had been stepped on. They left that area with its feline screeching and walked to the parking lot.

Sugar Boy, who had entered the hospital’s lobby with Turk and then decided to use the bathroom by the entrance, now followed them both at a distance. Standing on the side of the ambulance farthest from the parking lot, in the flurry of furious activity and in the zoo of barked and growled and roared commands orchestrating the removal of the victim on the stretcher, Sugar Boy said he could see Turk and Kyle, that he could hear them after the stretcher had been rolled into the emergency room, and that the gaping rear doors of the ambulance shielded him from their sight.

In the parking lot, the two leaned against a black Mercedes. First Kyle leaned against it, then Turk. When Turk leaned, the car leaned too. Sugar Boy said he knew it was going to end badly, because it was his intuition and educated guess that Kyle was dishonest, accustomed to appropriating what wasn’t his own. Just the way he arrogantly leaned against the car, throwing his back intimidatingly against the door as though to intentionally inflict carefree damage, Sugar Boy was able to divine that the car didn’t belong to him and that he had little or no respect for beautiful and expensive things.

“Big man,” Kyle said, sizing up Turk. “Make a car lean like that.”

“I don’t like to miss many meals.”

“What business do you have with Sheep?”

“Like I said, friend.”

“I never heard Sheep say a thing about somebody like you being a friend.”

“Somebody like me?”

“Big man. Big and black.”

Turk sighed elaborately. He drew himself up. It took some time, because of his height and the bulk that had to be drawn up into it. “Maybe everybody don’t have the confidence to announce a friendship they got with a big black man and want to hide it. Sometimes little white boys intimidated by … big … black … MEN.”

“Sometimes.” Kyle said, standing up too. “Sometimes not.”

“If I was a white boy, I would be. I would be, specially if I had it in my mind that I thought I could mess with somebody like me.”

Now there was an aggressive distance, five or six feet between them, the Merecedes tip toeing off to give them room. It only takes a dozen or so words to speed a situation from a neutral point of departure to calamity – from thought, to word, to deed, always in that order.

“I’ll tell you something. Sheep – I guess you must mean Fleece – is in room 411. Know why I’d tell you that?”

Turk shrugged. “I’m game.”

“Confidence.”

“Uh huh. Chinese got a name for years. No doubt in my mind this must the Year of The Confident White Boy.”

“How about I read your fortune cookie? You lied about knowing Fleece, so that makes you no friend of his. And that means you’re no friend of mine.”

“Awwwww,” Turk said, as though saying there there to a child who had just fallen and skinned his knee. “I wish we could be friends. I wish I had two friends like you.”

“And I don’t like the way you talked to that nurse.”

“She acted like she didn’t like it neither, but I think it was just the opposite. You see that blush spilling her secret thoughts all over her face?”

“You know the reason I’m telling you room 411? Because it won’t matter. You won’t be going in there and you won’t make it up to that room, if you try.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

Kyle lit a cigarette. He smoked with theatrical satisfaction. After inhaling once he flicked the cigarette down and toed it out. But when he removed his foot, the spark still glowed maliciously. Then he spat, amazingly accurate, and the spark sizzled and sank into the saliva’s bubbled lace. “Tell you what. Walk away. And I’ll give you a gift, too: You don’t even have to tell me what you were trying to do. Because whatever you were trying to do, I’m not worried about it. Because you’re not capable of pulling it off, whatever it was.”

“Room 411, you said?” Turk began walking.

“You’re walking the wrong way. Don’t walk toward the hospital. Walk away from it.”

“Room 411? I’ll tell Sheep, Fleece, whatever, that it’s Confident White Boy Year, and you sent him your regards in one of them little fortune cookies that crumbles and breaks up like it was nothing.”

Sugar Boy said that Kyle was fast – that much he had to admit. For a moment he struck a pose on the balls of his feet, a nimble equilibrist, then spun, his head turning first and seeming to crank the body around, his body following the way the outer cone of a hurricane clings to and follows the eye inside, the arms loosely outspread with a tap dancer’s suaveness, the back leg arcing beautifully in a crescent as he whirled off a high hop, the whole structure seeking and finding 360 degrees, the side of the foot and edge of the heel slamming solidly into Turk’s chest, the structure setting down precisely in the balanced stance that had been its point of origin.

Turk moved with the blow, a two-step stagger backwards, displaced from the spot he stood on not so much from the eruptive force of the spinning reverse crescent kick as by his own surprise at the man fighting with his feet. Sugar Boy said he was running over to them and stumbled, fell, standing and falling again because of a twist that nipped at his ankle. What would have happened had he’d gotten there he shuddered to consider, because, he said, he was a lover, not a fighter.

He watched Kyle déjà vu what he’d just done, repeating the same ballet again, putting everything into it and yelling from the center of his gyre. Turk saw it coming and though his bulk would have prevented him from moving quickly it was plausible that he might at least have deflected some of it, but he stood with his arms down and chest exposed. The second time when the courier of the foot delivered its impact Turk didn’t budge.

Now it was the Kyle’s turn to be surprised. Maybe he was accustomed to targets smaller than himself collapsing quickly beneath his pummeling feet.

“Confidence, huh?” Turk summed up. “What else you got?”

As though Turk’s words helped him to remember the holstered stun gun he thought he’d never have had to rely on, he grabbed the device and lunged, feinting to the right but following through on the left. The thing about Turk, Sugar Boy speculated, was that if he were beaten in a fight, it would only be because his size was his own deadly opponent, slowing him down, but if he ever laid a hand on you, the fight would be over.

Kyle made the mistake of lingering in the lunge and Turk clamped down on his wrist.

Turk lifted him off the ground so that he wouldn’t have to be bothered bending down to reach for the stun gun. He calmly squeezed stun gun toothpaste from Kyle’s tubed hand and pasted it into Kyle’s neck, the veins there protruding like bucked teeth. When he convulsed, Turk thought that was funny and did it two or three more times, the dinghy teeth receiving a good cleaning, then let him slide in a green fluoridated gel to the ground.

“Sugar Boy!” Turk bellowed immediately. “Sugar Boy, goddamn you, where you hiding at?”

Sugar Boy came, hobbling over.

“I had to get shoe dirt on my chest because you’re off standing somewhere hiding. I ought to poke you with this thing,” Turk fumed.

“I was on my way over here and I fell, and it’s probably a good thing I did fall, but I wasn’t hiding.”

The shoe dirt on his chest had made Turk angrier than anything else. Holding the stun gun, he swept his arm out merely to frighten Sugar Boy and in doing so lost his balance and went down, thunderously, falling on the stun gun.

In my car, after returning to The Kaleidoscope’s parking lot, I’d answered the cell phone I kept in the glove compartment and listened to Sugar Boy excitedly explain that he and Turk had followed James Fleece. Turk’s father, the owner of the boarding house,” had needed help moving a new refrigerator into the communal kitchen to replace the old one, which continuously spilled over the floor’s buckling terrain a sallow stream of water from beneath the grating furred with adhesive black dust at the bottom. However dissimilar the range of dysfunctional symptoms the refrigerator might display, Mr. Mitchell’s method of alleviating its various mechanical failures always centered on Freon. Even if a belt had snapped somewhere, after having the belt replaced, Mr. Mitchell would instruct the repair man to drain the Freon and refill it with what he called a “virgin” supply.

“More Freon,” Mr. Mitchell would command.

“But …”

“But nothing. More virgin Freon, goddamit.”

Mr. Mitchell had chosen to do the work at night, probably hoping it would be cooler, and Sugar Boy had seen The Boy of Fleece walking down the hallway with a brown manila envelop in his hands. Sometimes, if I left the room to buy water or junk food at the corner Seven Eleven, and The Boy of Fleece was due to arrive but hadn’t yet, I’d leave the pages I had written propped outside my door in its own manila envelop so that the pick-up and exchange could still take place. Sugar Boy raced to the kitchen and they both came up in time to see The Boy of Fleece leaving the building and getting in his Jag – he hadn’t bothered replacing the windows shattered by the baseball bat, the sort of negligence my mother thought was inexcusable and labeled “trifling” – and they followed him to his east side apartment in Sugar Boy’s car.

They sat outside watching, waiting, while he went into the building, wondering how they would manage entering the lobby behind the security-reinforced doors. You couldn’t buzz your way in – you needed a key. They were thinking, Sugar Boy said, that if they figured out a way to get through the doors, they could then locate Fleece’s name on the panel of mailboxes they saw on the wall next to the elevator on the other side of the lobby. Finding the name, they’d know the apartment number.

As they were trying to figure it out, the problem solved itself – or rather, The Boy of Fleece himself presented the solution. He turned on the light in his apartment, and Sugar Boy and Turk could see him through windows that had no blinds or curtains – again, “trifling” – moving about lethargically in what was either the living room or the bedroom. His apartment was on the building’s second floor, facing Tyler Street, where Sugar Boy and Turk were parked. They sat in the car, newly delusional in the ease with which the espionage had borne fruit, discussing plans to establish their entrepreneurial footing with a detective agency they would call Double Dicks, Discreetly Satisfying Your Lust For Information. The money would pour in, the excitement of a voyeurism legally sanctioned would be theirs (they would snap photos with sophisticated high tech cameras of husbands and wives engaging in graphically kinky affairs in sleazy motel rooms with people who were not their husbands or wives), and they would bear licenses to carry formidable and impressive side arms. At some point while this discussion took place, they noticed rivulets of smoke issuing from the open window, streams that widened into rivers.

Maybe five minutes later, a fire truck and ambulance that someone had called pulled up in front of the building. The firemen went first. Then the rear doors of the ambulance burst open, paramedics dropping onto the street like paratroopers from a Huey, the team scrambling strategically to the building as though it were a Vietnam village. They rolled the Boy of Fleece out on a stretcher, bagged fluids and solutions above him like cartoon dialogue balloons filled with tragic thoughts, his arms trailing hoses. Following the ambulance to Saint Mary’s, Sugar Boy and Turk watched the whole medico-tactical operation again. Turk, still entertaining visions of film-noir subterfuge, had decided to acquire information, possibly interview the subject if he was alive and conscious.

Sugar Boy called from the hospital parking lot, and now I’m watching Turk, who no longer looks like himself, but resembles a fallen thunderous superstore. We would need a crane capable of moving the Western Hemisphere to pick him up. We would need all the vice-presidents and directors and executives and upper-level managers in the Walmart corporation rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to lift this fallen Walmart of a man to his feet – precisely the type of good decent physical labor vice-presidents in corporations were not prone to pursue, since they may have been far too busy fine-tuning strategies to avoid paying corporate taxes. We would require the assistance of mothers still transcendent with adrenaline whose babies had very recently been pinned under cars. No more impossible task exists, Sugar Boy mumbles, and I agree, and looking at each other hopelessly, we bend to it.

Next Chapter


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