Walt sailed past Martinez, or Rodriguez, at the gate, giving the guard a churchgoer's (or duffer's) wave... it was a quarter to ten, and he was full of useful ideas: paint the den, install another layer of insulation in the attic.  Teach Scottie the meaning of the meaning of the measure of a man, instead of his just sitting at the table, sulking and slurping up some sort of hot, mushy cereal that the corporations didn't usually bring out until winter.

        Missy stood up from the kitchen table, poured coffee, but didn't offer it to Walt... instead, she sipped it herself, then looked at him, saying "Long night?"

        "Yeah," he nodded, then put on his game face,  "You don't know the half... no, the tenth of it," he grinned.  "There's a property up north Mister Z's taken a fancy to, and then... hell, you know how those people are, party 'round Hollywood like there ain't no tomorrow.  So we stayed over, boss paid for the room..."

        "In Hollywood?"

        "Yeah, well, you know... in the flats, Z's crowd is, well... urban.  Open bar, hip-hop... all of that rap crap.  Could've done cocaine, but I stuck with the Black Jack... hey!... that rhymes, doesn't it?  Sort of?  Can't get the beat out of my head..."

        Missy was wearing a pair of those forest-green slacks she'd buy in the spring, intending to garden, but never producing much more than a few scraggly vines of small, hard tomatoes... she pulled a Walgreen's envelope from a back pocket, removed a deck of photographs and lay them on the kitchen table like cards, fanning them out like the dead man's hand.


        Walt picked up the nearest... it was dark and the quality of the photography was wretched but he could see the Town Car, his car... well a car, maybe sort of like his, parked outside Louie's condo.  There were two figures in the snapshot under that, they were blurred but, in the next photo, his own face and Elle's were plainly visible, laughing, high as a couple of kites (or the proverbial floating castle).  There were a couple of views of the Town Car as it turned and went East on Laemmele... some North County wag had been inspired to rename a few of these parallel streets after famous actors, directors and other show people... on the last of these, five of the six digits of the Town Car's license plate were visible.  The next snapshot was of the car, parked in the mud at Precious fuckin' Joy Estates, then two figures, still blurred, emerging.  The last of the photographs simply showed the Marcus/Slater family abode in all of its redneck glory, courtesy of the bare bulb over the door...

        What a fuckin' dump!

        "Wow!" Walt shook his aching head, laying the photographs down on the kitchen table, fanlike.  "May I ask where you got these?"

        "I took them myself.  Scott helped," Missy added, evincing a little matronly pride, or else something different, altogether... "I got a tip."

        "A tip?" Walt chewed on this...

        "An anonymous tip.  Some guy on the phone... but it's not about me, this time," she said, voice rising.  "It's about you, and Hawaii, all over, again..."

        "Hey, so I went to a party after my shift, crucify me, why don't you?  It was the night boss' thirtieth birthday..." and his finger stabbed one of the photographs, "I do the scene to maybe get ahead on the job, then I give one of my co-workers a lift and..."

        "I was going out with Elle Slater," Scottie spoke up, miserably.


        "We were steadies!  I gave her a ring and all... I don't know, I even thought we might get married, someday..."

        "I never... did you have sex with that young lady?" Walter pointed...

        "Did you?"

        Missy coughed before her husband could circle the table and smack some sense into the boy.  "The Good Lord knows, I've put up with so much... I turned a blind eye while you were cheating all those people, and let's call it what it was... cheating!... and then going on all of those other so-called business trips?  Mary Dodge is a friend of mine and so is Linda Baker..."

        "Oh!" Walt threw his hands up.  "Oh... so what have we got here, the bitter ex-wives of BCM, or is it the wives of the ex-BCM?  No... it's... what's that show, Desperate Women..."

        "This desperate woman wants you to leave this house.  Now," Missy added, "...I've already packed a few necessities in your suitcase; Scottie, go get your father's suitcase... and I don't want to hear from you again.  Ever!  When you find some rathole to crawl into, I’ll give you the number of my lawyers…"

        Lawyers!  Plural!...

        "You can't do that!  I'm not going anywhere... it's just as simple as that.  You're so all full of get up and go, get up and get me some breakfast and then, since I don't have to clock in until four, we are going to church... you, Scottie and I.  We are going to behave like a family again..."

        "No..." Missy bawled, "we are not a family, not anymore... I won't just call the police, if you don't go, I'd call those men from the government, I have their numbers," she threatened, and was there an ever-so-thin vein of triumph in that wraithlike voice?  "What would they think about a criminal suspect who can't honor his marriage vows... what else would he dishonor..."

        Walt's voice dropped.  "Now that would be, well, a mistake."  He raised a fist, knuckles still scraped but beginning to scab as a consequence of the beating he'd dished out to Davy Pearson.  "I put a man in the hospital with this," he warned...

        "If you hit Mom, I'll have to shoot," Scottie said from the doorway.  The suitcase that Walt took on short business trips was in his left hand... he hadn't really unpacked it, even, since coming back from Inyo County... and Walt's .38 was in his right.

        "Are you fuckin' nuts... you don't..."

        And then Scottie raised the Police Special and shot his father... well, shot at him, Walt would tell Joe Sybco with regret and amazement, just a week later (although he'd missed by so wide a margin it was probable that the kid had just been screwing up his courage to do something else).  The bullet passed through a honeydew melon that Missy had removed from the fridge and placed on the kitchen countertop; then it had shattered a bottle of vinegar behind it.  Rest in peace, Gallagher...

        "Jeez... you want me to go that bad over this... this miscalculation is all it means, you're jumping to conclusions again.  OK, I'll go, I... I'll give you awhile to cool off.  But tomorrow, I am gonna call Sal, and this crap has to get fixed... and I mean fixed, permanently... by the way,” he scowled, “have you gone off your medication?"

        "Three days, now," Missy replied proudly.  "If you were working normal hours, you would've seen that special on Channel 12, those pills are dangerous and they're being recalled... if I were the one who'd messed up all of our lives, I could call one of those TV attorneys, they're already soliciting clients for a class-action suit..."

        "In-fuckin'-credible!" Walt said, and Scottie dropped the suitcase, circling to his father's left like an armed, but nervous felon in one of those old cop shows on the Antenna TV.  There were probably a few things he should've said, but the kid looked wired... and he hadn't known that Elle's boyfriend, ("the prick", Lou Spicotti had sneered) was his own goddam son...

        So, instead, he threw the suitcase into the backseat of the Town Car, and drove off.


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        He was back in military school, Walt dreamed, during their annual winter excursion to that sad, shabby ski resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  And he was stuck in the losers’ chalet, the way he’d been stuck with losers all through adolescence: the fat kid, bad at sports, the outcast clown.  A loser, even among the losers… locked out of the losers’ chalet while the rest of the cadets lounged and gossiped by a roaring fire, drinking hot cocoa, roasting marshmallows.  Walt’s only possession… his only friend, in fact… was the ancient wooden duck from his childhood that he’d brought to this dreary mountain where the rich kids and clever kids were being conveyed upwards to the top of the slope, as the outcast, beneath, looked from fire to mountain, knocking the puppet’s wooden beak impotently against the window.  Suddenly there was a groaning sound and a lurching – the lift swaying perilously as booming explosions resonated from the skies.  Tiny cadets, some afire, plummeted downwards and, around the rim of the mountain, orbiting cows floated and exploded… gobbets of bloody meat raining downwards as the snowy slopes became a carpet of swarming ants…

        “Let me in!” Walter cried out, banging the window of the losers’ chalet even harder with his wooden duck…

        Someone was rapping on the window of the Town Car, shouting through the glass and metal - an angry young monster, Walter Fales recoiled, bemused and still groggy with menacing dreams...

        "You cannot sleep in my parking lot.  You can not remain here..."

        Walt sat up in the Lincoln's back seat.  The shrieking spectre in shirtsleeves and a skinny, brown tie had a deformed, swollen latex head with warts and oozing lesions, an angry young man in a mask.  Probably someone in management at the Halloween shop, he now remembered... how could he forget?... the baleful, fanged and caped iconic rodent of childhood loomed over the masked, leprous retailer, white gloved fingers waving its sinister invitation in a hot, dry wind.

        Walt glanced at his wristwatch.  Seventeen minutes past four... fuck!

        After Missy had bundled up a few of his things and Scottie had shot at him, Walter had driven around awhile, lingering at places they'd been over the last few decades; little chophouses and takeaway joints they'd driven through... Walter and Catherine Fales - and John, Herman and Scotty.  The Cracker Barrels and Shoneys and Taco Bells, and, even, places gone to the great graveyard of expired franchises, the Carl's Junior on Eisenhower, the Woolworth's and Captain Ahab's and, even, that original Doggie Diner on the other side of San Cris... a photo stand, now.  He'd driven past places they'd been to, places that he thought he'd known and everything was strange, everything looked the same... finally he'd returned like the Good Dog he was, parked and climbed into the backseat to sleep.

        It was Sunday, he also remembered gratefully, which meant that Louie was still probably sleeping off last night, Barry was off-duty and Kenny was in charge.  Kenneth Cohen, with his Interplanetary student loan debtload still being held up in the courts, his allergies and failed beard... good ol' Ken would back him up with Igor here, if it came to a showdown.  He scratched his head, yawned and opened the backdoor, and the creep in the rubber gargoyle's face thrust his mask into Walt's face, screaming that the parking spaces were for customers and employees, not derelicts.  He was a shrimp, actually, and, as soon as the wakened hot dog janitor stretched to his full height, rolled his neck and cracked his knuckles, Igor realized his mistake and was already backing away when Walter's careless shove sent him sprawling on the pavement between the Lincoln and a new SUV with a beagle that some cruel housewife had inside yapping through about half an inch of open window.

        "I work here, you freak," Walter stepped over him, kicking the freak once, on the thigh, and continuing towards the DP at a quickened pace before the urge to Davy the guy welled up.  He clocked in at four nineteen... his watch still two or three minutes fast... and Kenny was out of the office and all over him like someone's sneeze.

"Didn't anyone tell you not to go to Louie's parties?" the floater barked, reminding Walt of the way Missy threatened the boys when they were small enough to swat.  "When Barry sees your timecard, he's going to rip you a second ass.  Lev showed late and Weng called in sick... Weng!  And Louie's still not here.  What the hell went on, last night?"

"Some of us have lives," Walter said, ripping open a whole new roll of paper hats (though there were still a few disheveled specimens nestling on shelves or the floor), "and some just survive."  He checked the angle of the chapeau in the cooler door, tilted it upwards a little so that it resembled a jaunty sailor's cap from a movie about the Second World War, and said "...if Weng doesn't show, do you want me at a register or on the grill?"

"I... you... take over from J...Joe," Kenny stuttered, "do the floors, windows... and don't forget inside the cooler!" as if janitoring was the worstest, most depraved punishment he could dish out.   "All of the surveillance cameras are running, and when Barry reviews them, I want him to see that I left this place clean, and if it's a mess tomorrow morning, then it's Spicardi's fault, not mine."  And then Kenny's bravado drained off, replaced by something akin to sheer terror... " don't think he's just not gonna show, do you?  I mean, without even calling... just leave me hanging here until the middle of the night?"

"How would I know?" Walt shrugged.  "He was pretty fucked up, last night, it was his birthday, you know, hit the big three-oh.  Maybe the thought of spending the rest of his life in fast food Hell made him enlist in the Army... but if he don't show, I'm sure they taught you something in Barstow that'll help you deal with it..."

"Yeah, but..." and Kenny's fist flew up to his own nose, his feet rotated preparatory to his making a run for the office, "...oh shit, I think I'm gonna have another fit!"

And, while the Sunday manager sneezed all over Barry's office... the desk, the files, the computer and monitor bank, even Britney... the creaking wheel of the bucket warned of Joe Sybco's impending arrival.

"Any chance that the Patron's likely to be mustering up another little operation?" Walt greeted the downsized codewriter as he wrung out the wet mop.  He'd only started processing the implications of the previous night, and Missy's reaction, but already knew that he was going to need money, and soon.  A few more quick hundreds, no questions asked, and he'd get through this (and he wouldn't be leaving any cash on furniture, unattended, this time).

"Not for awhile," Joe said.  "I think there's something cookin’ down around the border... it always gets a little crazy around the holidays, Mexicans sneaking home, sneaking back, place flooded with cops and La Migra.  Then there's the complications with terrorists, put that together with Halloween and the elections, you got a scene better left alone.  Sorry!  Speaking of the friends of jihad, Barry's been making Achmed work since you went on nights... Pepe's training him on fries and, you combine that with his natural greasiness, we're talkin' a walkin' stick of suet, touch a match to 'im and Ahab goes up like one of them oilfields in Baghdad..."

"Guy I knew went to Iraq," Walter remembered Matt Baker.  "Private security.  Guess he's doin' alright, makin' money..."

"More than us," Joe surmised.

"For sure!"