A Loser’s Game by Lance Nalley

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A Loser’s Game A Novel

Word Count: 52,107

Written by: Lance Nalley 901 Lincoln Road #10 Yuba City, CA 95991 (530)673-1359 lancenalley@yahoo.com

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Chapter 1

Johnny Knox was not the kind of kid most would believe a woman like Danielle would fancy. He was too young, too poor, and too skinny. So when Danielle walked in that night, no one would ever have guessed what hell would come to be paid as she set her eye on the young man. Johnny was the quiet melancholy sort. He was a kid that might be noticed

because of his look - dark and grungy - but would never bring attention to himself by being loud or obtrusive. In a crowd, Johnny hung towards the margins, keeping in the shadows just outside the action. He wasn’t afraid, just wary. He had developed a habit of watching and listening while others talked and moved. He lingered around the fringe, studying people. Johnny was 17 when he met Danielle that night. She was 21. He had come to the party that night looking for girls, as teenage boys will do, and that objective had been reached. But Danielle was an impatient and controlling woman who wasn’t about to wait for anyone else to make the first move. She always knew what she wanted, and when she saw it she took it. So she didn’t wait for Johnny to find her, she found him. Danielle saw Johnny hanging around the beer keg, and she liked what she saw. He was a little taller than average and gangly, but she kind of liked gangly. What really

turned her on, though, was the muscle definition in his arms, the dark and brooding eyes that watched constantly, and, of course, the good size bulge in the front of his pants. He was leaning against the kitchen counter with his feet crossed in front of him, and this position put that bulge right out there for all to see, and she was seeing and enjoying. Danielle knew men liked her. She was no beauty queen, but she knew she looked pretty good. She could hold her own in competition with average girls in the looks

department, but there was more to her than looks. What turned men on the most about her was an attitude that emanated from her anytime there was a man in the room. It

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didn’t matter whether it was a good-looking young man or an ugly old farmer with a beer gut, a switch was involuntarily tripped in her soul and sex flowed from her pores. Everyone in the room could see it, and men could feel it. She had one physical attribute that was extraordinary: she had very large breasts. And she knew better than anyone what those breasts could do. She knew there were men who would risk life and limb to make love to a large breasted woman, even if the rest of her is the embodiment of repugnance. Those billowy icons of femininity can inspire small-minded men to great extremes of valor and foolishness. That was the male

weakness that gave her power over them, and it was the one attribute that gave her an advantage over most women. Danielle walked to the kitchen where Johnny was standing, never taking her eyes from him. He had noticed her and he saw she was coming his way, but he never would have believed she had her sites set on him. “Hello there,” Danielle said as she reached out and touched Johnny’s rippled forearm. “Would you mind pouring me a beer?” The stereo speakers blasted the music of some obscure rock and roll band so loud she had to yell to be heard. Johnny looked up at her silently, studying her face for a moment before answering. “Sure. You want a mug or a cup?” he yelled back. “A cup will do. I wouldn’t want to break anything.” Danielle unabashedly stared at Johnny’s crotch for a few seconds as she answered his question, and he could not help but notice. He was not sure whether to be embarrassed or flattered. He had never seen a woman doing that before and was not sure exactly how he was supposed to react. But it seemed his penis knew how to react, because it did not hesitate to show its approval. He quickly stood up and surreptitiously rearranged himself, hiding his involuntary approval of her admiration.

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Johnny grabbed a beer cup off the stack next to the keg and began pouring a beer for Danielle, as she continued to observe his form covetously. As the beer flowed into the plastic cup Danielle moved right up next to him and ran her fingers through his hair. Her big breasts were touching his back as he leaned over the keg. “Do you live here?” Danielle asked. “No, I’m just here for the party,” Johnny answered, standing up straight. “A friend of mine lives here, though.” It was a lie: he didn’t know anyone who lived in the party house. He had heard about the party at school and assumed there would be so many people there he would never be noticed. Danielle was still standing very close, almost touching him. He thought maybe it was because the music was so loud and she needed to be close to hear him. But he knew that hadn’t been why she was feeling his hair a moment earlier. “I guess if you’re asking me you don’t live here either. talking loudly into her ear. Danielle just nodded. She made no effort to move away from him and kept Right?” Johnny asked,

looking into his eyes with that hungry look Johnny had only seen a couple of times in his life. He thought he knew what that look meant, but he had just met this girl. He didn’t even know her name yet. “Do you know anyone here?” he asked. “Not really, I just crashed,” she giggled a little and pursed her lips, giving him a sheepish look. “Humph, that’s funny. Me too. I really don’t know anybody who lives here either.” Johnny knew very little about women and even less about sex. He had had a

couple of encounters with girls in high school, but they were always awkward and less than blissful. He was not a virgin but not much past it. Most of his experience consisted of hand jobs in the back seat of a car between classes. Twice he had gone all the way

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with a girlfriend, but each time it had happened so fast he hardly knew it had happened at all. “Let’s go outside for few minutes, okay?” Danielle said. “Okay,” Johnny replied. Danielle’s car was parked across the street and down a little. She told Johnny she wanted to get some cigarettes, and they walked over to the car. She got in, unlocked the passenger-side door and motioned for him to get in. “You want to smoke a doob?” She asked. She was already opening the ashtray and picking out one of about half a dozen joints that filled the small compartment. “Why not?” Johnny answered. She lit one up and drew on it, holding her breath in as long as possible for the maximum effect, then handed the joint to Johnny. He took a drag and handed it back. “Let me give you a shotgun,” Danielle said. “I don’t think I know what that is,” Johnny replied. He felt a little stupid admitting it, but he didn’t think she cared whether or not he knew what a shotgun was. “I’ll show you. Come here.” She scooted closer to him and he moved toward her a little. “Come closer; I need to blow smoke in your mouth.” He moved up next to her and she snuggled in close, pressing her breasts against him. She took a deep drag from the joint, then put her hand behind his head and guided his face to hers. She flipped to joint around, putting the lit end in her mouth and pointing the other end into his, then she blew into his mouth as he inhaled the smoke she fed him. Johnny was hyperaware of her breasts pressing against him as she blew the smoke into his mouth. He was much more aware of that and the closeness of her lips than he was of the smoke he was inhaling. When she was finished, she moved her mouth away from his, but her body was still pressed against him, and she looked into his eyes, looking back and forth from one eye to the other like she was comparing them.

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“Hold it in, now. Don’t let it out,” she said softly as she continued to look back and forth from his left eye to his right. When he couldn’t hold his breath any longer he

exhaled. Then Danielle took another drag off the joint and leaned in again bringing her mouth to his, feeding the smoke to him for a second time. She kept her face very close to his when she was finished and stared into his eyes as if she was waiting to see something happen. And something did happen. Later, Johnny could not recall how long it had been from the time Danielle gave him the shotgun until they were in the back seat, but it didn’t matter; he remembered enough. The way he recalled it, he had suddenly been aware that she was giving him a blowjob. His pants were around his ankles, but he didn’t remember pulling them down. She was fully involved in blowing him with both hands as well as her mouth when he came out of the fog and back into the real world. One hand was on his balls and the other was wrapped around the base of his dick as she bobbed up and down on it. She knew what she was doing. She didn’t just slide her lips up and down his shaft, she

twisted them up and down, in long, wet strokes that made his head spin. He didn’t know how long she continued doing that; he lost track of time. But, after he blew his wad and she swallowed it like it was honey, they climbed into the back seat and he reached under her skirt and pulled her panties off. She was pulling off her blouse and slipping out of her bra as Johnny plunged his raging hard-on into her wet, warm tightness, and groaned. Danielle grabbed his ass with both hands and ground into him with every ounce of her strength. She growled like an angry tomcat, gritting her teeth and staring at his face with eyes that looked as if they would explode at any second. Had anyone walked by the car at that moment, neither of them would have noticed. But the passer-by would have. They could not have avoided noticing as the horny wet bodies clawed at each other and screamed in passion. They could not have

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kept from hearing the growling and grinding as the car bounced back and forth on its springs. Johnny and Danielle came in spasms, as pools of sweat and sex juices accumulated on the vinyl seat under Danielle’s ass, oblivious to the world outside the car. “Fucking fine fuck,” Danielle exclaimed when it was all over. She hadn’t moved a muscle in several minutes. She was as limp as a warm rag. “Shit, did you ever tell me your name?” Johnny asked as he slumped back onto the other side of the seat. Danielle was still in the prone position, her legs spread wide, giving Johnny an unrestricted view of her nakedness, and she showed no sign of embarrassment. “Yeah, I told you. You don’t fucking remember.” She expelled a chuckling little laugh. “I told you, Johnny, right before you pushed my head into your lap. You must be stoned.” She laughed some more. “Shit, I can’t remember. Fucking shit, what was that shit?” “Danielle, you fucking twit. Good stuff, huh?” My name is Danielle. And that shit was Red Hair.

Technically, Danielle was a rapist.

Johnny was under age and she wasn’t, but

Johnny certainly didn’t feel like a victim of sexual assault. He felt like a starving miner who has just struck a vein of gold as wide as his arm. repeatedly assaulted by her from now on. Johnny never went home that night, or the next night for that matter. He did call his mother to tell her he was going to stay at a friend’s house for the weekend. He knew she wouldn’t tell him he couldn’t stay, because she knew if she did he would stay anyway. His call was not to ask permission, it was just to keep his mother from worrying and bitching at him when he did return home, which he knew he would eventually have to do. He would be happy to be

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That night, after thoroughly exhausting each other, the pair passed out at Danielle’s apartment and slept until noon the next day in her queen sized bed. When they woke up, Danielle rolled over and straddled Johnny for the fifth time since their first meeting. He had no trouble rising to the occasion and she had no problem getting what she wanted. “God damn, boy, has anybody ever told you you’re one hell of a fuck?” Danielle asked as she flopped back on the bed breathless. She craned her neck sideways and reached behind her to the nightstand for a cigarette. “Well, not exactly,” he replied. He didn’t really want her to know how inexperienced he was. He had no idea

whether or not he was a good fuck. He was pretty sure she was good because if she was any better it might kill him. But if he was good it had to be her doing because he had no idea what he was doing. He was just doing what felt good to him. Apparently, what felt good to him felt good to her as well. Danielle saw in his face that he was hiding something and she was pretty sure she knew what it was. “You weren’t a virgin were you?” She asked. “No, of course not,” he said, but the lie showed in his eyes. “You are, or I guess you were before last night, weren’t you?” “No, not exactly,” he replied. “What do you mean, not exactly. You either are or you’re not. Which is it?” “Okay, okay, I’ve done it twice before.” “Alright. I guess you weren’t then.” “But it wasn’t like that.” “What do you mean?” “I mean it was quick.” “How quick?”

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“You know, real quick.” “Come on, man, spit it out. What you’re trying to say is you’ve never had a really good fuck before, right?” “Yeah, I guess so.” “Well, for a guy with almost no experience you sure have a knack for making a girl cum like a fucking fire hose.” Johnny was not sure what to say to that. embarrassing for him. So he didn’t say anything. “I’m starving. How about you?” she asked. “Hell yeah.” Danielle went to the kitchen and made two bologna sandwiches and brought them, along with a bag of barbeque potato chips, back to the bed. When they were The whole thing was a little

finished eating Danielle went back to the kitchen and returned with an ice chest full of beer. She dragged it in and dropped it beside the bed, then put a Metallica tape in the stereo and cranked it up loud. Johnny had never had beer for breakfast, but he didn’t want to appear unmanly, so he popped a top and drank it down. Danielle had three to his one and then instructed Johnny in a new method of servicing her. He did as she told him, and she expressed her gratitude by returning the favor. Johnny and Danielle never left the apartment that weekend. They hardly left the bedroom, and by Sunday night Johnny was in love. It doesn’t take much for a young man to fall in love, and the idea of having sex on a regular basis is usually more than enough to put him over the edge. Johnny didn’t know he was in love, but he knew he could think of nothing that would feel worse at that moment than having to leave Danielle’s bed. So he didn’t.

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He called his mother and told her he wasn’t coming home and he would see her after school on Monday. She asked him why he wasn’t coming home, but he wouldn’t tell her and she couldn’t make him.

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Chapter 2

Johnny was late for school Monday and wouldn’t have gone at all except that Danielle had to go to work, and without her there was no reason for him to stay. At 9:30, when Danielle left for work, Johnny began the walk to the high school. It was about a mile from Danielle’s apartment, through the low income housing of Riverside and into the white trash slum where Johnny and his mother lived. He walked down the sidewalk in the newer part of town where Danielle lived. Apartment buildings stood on both sides of the street with graffiti on the block walls surrounding unfenced parking areas for residents. The buildings were ten or twelve years old and still looked pretty decent, but the areas around the buildings were littered with trash and broken toys. Anything of value wouldn’t be left out in the open for long before someone took it, but worthless junk could stay forever in this place and no one would bother to pick it up and throw it in the dumpster a mere twenty feet away. Past the apartment buildings the sidewalk ran out, and Johnny walked on the gravel shoulder of the narrow streets. Little houses built fifty and even sixty years earlier lined these streets. Potholed gravel driveways occupied most of the area in front of most of these old houses. Very few had lawns, and even fewer had paved driveways. Old beat up cars claimed their space on the gravel spots in front of the little houses, some on blocks, others with missing parts. No one here owned a new car. If

they had someone would have stolen or broken everything in or on it before long. Nothing nice could survive here for long. Johnny dragged himself down the streets and sidewalks, and through the vacant lots filled with junk cars and tumbleweeds to the high school. Once there, he couldn’t concentrate on his schoolwork, though; he was exhausted and hung over. So he spent the day daydreaming and dozing.

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When the school bell rang and woke him from his afternoon nap, Johnny dragged himself across the parking lot and around the corner to his mother’s house. The small wooden house was peeling paint and had cardboard taped over a window in the front. The yard was overgrown with knee-high weeds, except under the Mulberry tree where two lawn chairs sat. The ground under the tree and around the

plastic chairs was bare from the scraping and rubbing of feet and the lack of sunshine. There was no car in the yard; Johnny’s mother did not own one. She was one of the very few people Johnny knew who had never learned to drive and didn’t even want a car. Johnny used the key on the string around his neck to open the front door. The little house was dark though it was 3:30 in the afternoon and the sun shone brightly outside. Old yellowing drapes covered the windows, and the only light came from the TV screen flickering in the living room. The house smelled of old beer and cigarette smoke. The air had a stale and grimy feel to it, and the old shag carpet was stained and smelled like mildew and urine. “Where the hell you been? I called that so-called friend of yours. He said he ain’t seen you all weekend,” his mother snapped as soon as he came through the door. “I met a girl.” “A girl. You met a girl, and you been shackin up with her all weekend?” “Whatever. I need to take a shower and get some clean clothes.” “Who’s this girl? Where the two of you been stashin yourselves all this time?” “She’s just a girl. Don’t give me no shit, its none a your business.” “Well, don’t you go and get her pregnant. You’ll wish you hadn’t.” “Don’t worry about it, mom.” Janet was a young mother, just 31 years old. Johnny had never met his father; he didn’t even know the man’s name. Janet tried not to volunteer any information in that regard. Information only elicited more questions and what she perceived as criticism.

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Johnny didn’t really care that his mother had been young and unmarried when he was conceived, but she thought he cared. She thought everyone cared. Her father certainly had; he had made that plain. She thought less of herself because of it too. Janet had never been married; she had seldom even dated, much less maintained a relationship long enough to think about marriage. She knew a few men and

occasionally one of them stayed over night in her bed, but she didn’t have a serious relationship with anyone. When Janet’s widowed father had found out she was pregnant at age 13 he had sent her to live with an aunt. He said he could not deal with a pregnant teenager and, “there’s no damn way I’m raisin no bastard kid. I done raised all the worthless fuckin kids I’m gonna.” Janet barely knew her Aunt Shelly. She hadn’t seen her since her mother died eight years earlier. Shelly was her mother’s younger sister and the only real family Janet had on her mother’s side. Two months after Janet went to live with her aunt, Shelly was arrested and thrown in jail for possession of methamphetamine. The police came to the house and asked

Janet if she had any family, and she told them her father lived in LA. But they could not contact him. He had apparently moved without telling anyone where he was moving to. A social worker took Janet to a foster home, and she lived there until Johnny was born. Afterwards she lived in a group home for unwed minor mothers. When she turned eighteen, she applied for welfare, food stamps, and subsidized housing and moved out on her own. Nothing much had changed since then except that Johnny had gotten bigger and Janet had gotten older. Janet drank more than she should, but she never bothered anyone and never got in trouble. She didn’t own a car and didn’t have a driver’s license, so drinking and driving was not an issue. She got a ride from a friend or took the bus when she went shopping and generally went straight to the grocery store and back. She had no money to do

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anything else.

She spent most of her time sitting in her little rented house watching

television and drinking beer. Johnny was always a quiet kid and kept to himself. He wasn’t stupid, he could do well in school if he took a notion, but most of the time he wasn’t interested. He never caused trouble so no one pushed him. He passed his classes but just barely. He was promoted every year to the next grade though he never really realized the full benefit of the previous grade. Johnny had a small group of friends that weren’t exactly popular but weren’t shunned either. All the other kids knew who they were and knew they weren’t a problem as long as you left them alone. Occasionally, a newcomer to the high school would pick a fight with one of the members of Johnny’s group. The newbie would soon find he had made a serious mistake in judgment. Johnny and his friends avoided fights whenever possible, but when a fight was forced upon them they used whatever resources were at their disposal. In other words, they didn’t fight fair, and anyone who knew them They were desperate people who resorted to

understood this and left them alone.

desperate means when the need arose, and as a result someone could become seriously hurt if they were a big enough threat. Johnny and his friends were a little goth and a little grunge. They always appeared to be somewhat less than spick and span, and their clothes were usually less than pristine. They were poor, and they could not conceal that fact, but they did their best to camouflage it by pretending their attire was a statement: a choice. But in reality their

lifestyle and fashion were more a result of economics than of preference. They tried to maintain a certain standard they had set for themselves, but could only show what they had. Most of the boys Johnny hung around with had no father living in the home. Some, like Johnny, didn’t know who their fathers were. Johnny did as he pleased all the time. His mother had long ago abandoned the idea of restraining him. She had never had the heart to punish him when he was little,

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and when he got bigger she could not have punished him if she had wanted to. Besides, she thought, he was basically a good kid. He stayed out of trouble as far as she knew and always went to school. That was enough for her. She tried to encourage him to do what she thought he should by complaining incessantly and doing little things to irritate him when he didn’t. These were her only means of encouragement or punishment. She knew no other way. Johnny loved his mother. She was his only family and he was her’s. He would never intentionally hurt her, and he was the only person in her life who she knew would never abandon her. But she was also his only resource. He knew how to get what he wanted from her. This usually meant getting her to do favors for him. But the reverse was also true: Janet knew how to get what she needed from Johnny. It was a game of sorts, but a game of survival not of amusement. They more resembled partners than parent and child. There was no authority in the mother’s voice, no respect in the child’s. There was negotiation: give and take. And there was the unspoken knowledge that the

separate goals of each depended on the participation of the other, and that reciprocity was a necessity for both to succeed. This was never discussed and may not have even been consciously realized, but it was understood nonetheless. Johnny usually did what his mother wanted him to do if it wasn’t too inconvenient for him. He would do anything to protect her or help her if the need was present, but he would not allow her to dominate him. He could not let her win the war of wills if there was a conflict. It was a matter of pride. Johnny went to his room and dragged out some of his dirty clothes from the hamper in the closet. He owned three pair of jeans and half a dozen pairs of socks and underwear. He found them all and threw them in the washer on the back porch. After he had set the machine he returned to the living room. “Mom, you got any money?”

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“No I ain’t got no money,” she replied angrily. “And, I ain’t gonna have none till the first.” “I need to get something to eat.” “Look in the fridge. There’s some stuff in there you can have.” “Never mind.” Johnny went back in his room and closed the door. He lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He wanted to see Danielle again tonight, but he didn’t want her to think he was too clingy. Should he go over to her house later or would that piss her off, he

wondered. She had said she wanted to see him again soon. What did she mean by soon? Fuck it, he thought, I’m going over there in a little while, when she gets off work. After a two-hour nap, Johnny left his room and headed for the front door. Janet was still sitting in front of the TV in the dark living room sipping a beer and smoking a cigarette. “Where you going?” She was copping a buzz by this time, so her words slurred slightly and her eyes were glassy. “Out,” was Johnny’s snappish response. He couldn’t stand his mother when she was drunk: she was stupid and obnoxious. “Out where?” “Just out,” he said and opened the door, went out into the sunshine, closing the flimsy door behind him, without another word. Janet’s head wobbled around to face the TV again as she took a drag off her cigarette.

At ten o’clock that night, Johnny sat on a bench across the street from Danielle’s apartment waiting for her to come home. wasn’t home. Danielle got off work at 8:00, but she still

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Johnny got up, walked back the way he had come, through the refuse of the city to his home. His mother was passed out on the couch, a cigarette still smoking in the

ashtray. He put it out and went to his room.

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Chapter 3

Monday morning Danielle arrived at work precisely ten minutes late, as usual. It didn’t really matter what time she got there. Jim, the owner of the little bar and grill, didn’t show up until time to open the shop at 11:00. He would never know she was late, and she would be ready when the sign turned. She entered the restaurant and closed the door behind her, but didn’t lock it. There was no need. She turned the lights on and walked behind the bar to prep for the day’s business. A few dishes were always left from the night before. All the beer and soda

machines needed to be checked. The bathrooms needed to be stocked and cleaned, the tables arranged with condiments, and the garbage cans emptied out back in the dumpster. Danielle had dropped out of school when she was 16 and her mother never noticed. She didn’t do well in her classes and had no interest in education. She had discovered her ability to get what she wanted from gullible men by that age and found it much easier than working hard at anything, especially schoolwork. She didn’t need any more education than she already had to make a living with her newfound talent, so she just stopped going. She planned to marry a rich man and live forever on his masculine weakness for her feminine flesh. Danielle worked full-time at Jim’s Bar and Grill on Riverside Avenue, the main street of town. It was temporary, of course, just until she could find the right man. She took orders and poured beer while Jim cooked. Jim was a nice guy to work for. He was a

50-year-old widower with two teenage daughters. He treated Danielle just like he would like an employer to treat one of his children. But generally he wasn’t very good with people. He had no patience for idiots. That’s why he needed Danielle. She was good for his business.

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Danielle liked her job. Mostly she liked the attention she got from the men that came to drink beer and bullshit at the bar. She enjoyed it so much she seldom wanted it to end when the restaurant closed at 8:00. The guys usually invited her to go to a nearby bar, and they were happy to provide all the beer she could drink for as long as she would stay. Most of the time she had a few free beers and got home in time for the 11:00 news, but occasionally there were unexpected developments. Tonight would be one of those nights. There was a new guy in Jim’s Bar and Grill that night. He was older than she, midforties she guessed, but he was very attractive and made no secret of his interest in her. He was of above average height with salt and pepper hair and a velvet tongue. He

chatted her up while he drank beer and sat next to her at the bar where they reconvened when the restaurant closed. “So, Danielle,” he said as he locked eyes with her, “should I be worried about some jealous boyfriend charging in here and trying to slit my throat while I’m talking to you?” “No, no need to worry about that at all.” She followed the statement with a coy grin. “There’s no man around here that has the pleasure of sharing your bed on cold nights?” “No, I don’t have a regular guy, if that’s what you mean.” He was staring directly at her chest as she answered him, and she definitely noticed. But she was not insulted by his obvious ogling. He licked his lips and brought his eyes conspicuously back to hers. “But you aren’t apposed to sharing your bed with a man from time to time are you?” “Well, I’m certainly not gay or some sort of nun.” “Hmmm,” he said as his eyes roamed her body.

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She watched him survey her from just below the neck to the ankles and an amused little smirk crept onto her lips. She leaned back in the chair, her tanned legs crossed. She absentmindedly swung one foot rhythmically below the short skirt she

wore. Her eyes twinkled as she watched his eyes move back up to hers again. He looked at her face to gauge her reaction to what he had just done with intentional blatancy, and all he saw was amusement. “Is there something you want to say, Mr…… I’m sorry I forgot your name.” “Actually, I don’t think I ever told you my name. It’s Dave.” And he presented his hand to her in a show of formality that she was not accustomed to. She took his hand after a moment of surprise, and he put his left hand on top of hers, caressing it lightly. “I just want to say you look very fine this evening.” “Hmm. Well, thank you.” “Oh, you’re welcome. And while I’m at it I would also like to say that, though I love looking, I would love touching even more. Would you mind?” He glanced down at her thigh as he spoke. Danielle was a bit surprised by the mix of formality and forwardness in the mannerisms of this man. It might have been off putting to some women, but it was wildly erotic to her. It seemed out of place in a beer bar, but Danielle wasn’t about to complain. “Jeez, Dave, you aren’t a bit shy are you?” Danielle actually blushed a little at this remark. But she was not embarrassed. “I don’t know yet. Let me think about it for a while.” Dave filled her mug from the pitcher on the table, and then topped his off as well. “Have you ever been to Aruba?” “Uh, no, can’t say that I have, Dave.” The question seemed absurd. “You should go there if you get the chance; it’s beautiful.” “I bet it is. I’ll bite; I guess you’ve been there.”

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“Oh yes. there.”

I go there once a year.

I have a little bungalow on the beach down

Danielle thought she knew where this was leading, and she liked the idea. Dave continued as Danielle watched his face intently. He never took his eyes off of hers. He placed his hand on her knee and moved his face closer to hers. She could smell the beer on his breath and could see his eyes were beginning to gloss over with the alcohol he had ingested. But his speak was not effected. Except for the eyes and the smell of alcohol, there was no indication that he was the least bit intoxicated. “Maybe I should take you there sometime. Would you go away like that with a man you barely know?” “That depends.” “Depends on what?” “Whether or not I thought it might be worth the trip.” “I think it would be worth your while.” Dave’s hand moved up Danielle’s leg slowly and lightly until his fingertips nudged the edge of her skirt. She looked down at his hand and then back to his face. There was no reproach in her eyes; no surprise either. He moved his fingers under the skirt a little further and still she made no move to stop him. He moved his face closer to hers and saw her look from his eyes to his mouth and back again, and he knew she would not refuse him.

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Chapter 4

When Danielle woke up in the morning, she was in Dave’s bed. remember how she had gotten there.

She could barely He

Dave was up and getting ready for work.

walked by the bed on his way out and handed her a piece of paper with his cell phone number on it. He leaned over her and kissed her on the lips softly as he slid one hand under the blankets to feel the nipple of her left breast. He gave it a little pinch and a chill went up the back of Danielle’s neck. “Call me,” he said, “we’ll do it again some time.” Then he walked out the door leaving her alone in his house. She smelled coffee, so she got up to find it, not bothering to dress. She walked through the house inspecting it thoroughly. It wasn’t a bad place. It was big enough for two or three people to live in. She walked through each room looking over the furniture with a discriminating eye. She didn’t know fine furniture, but she knew crappy furniture and this was not it. The dining room set was oak and looked expensive to her. She knew she had never had anything that nice in her home when she was growing up. The sofa in the living room was leather. She knew that was expensive. She found a bathroom and looked in the medicine cabinet. there but some aspirin and shaving supplies. There was nothing

She guessed that meant he was pretty

healthy; no rash creams or AZT. She sat down to pee and realized her clitoris was raw when the pee made it sting like fire ants were sinking their little fangs into it. Until then the night before had been a bit blurry, but now it was all coming back. Man, Dave had definitely made it worth her while. She went back to the bedroom and found her clothes scattered around the room and gathered them together. There was a twenty-dollar bill on the nightstand on her side of the bed. She considered it a tip and stuck it in her pocket as she left the room.

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Danielle poured some coffee took it out onto the patio she had discovered off the kitchen. She sat down in one of the padded iron lawn chairs she found there and sipped her coffee slowly. The weather was perfect, and she felt pretty good despite a mild headache from drinking too much beer the night before. And she started imagining what it might be like to live here, in this house. It could be pretty great, she thought. Dave might be the kind of guy she was looking for, perhaps. She wasn’t stupid, though, she knew this was just a one nighter, but maybe she could parlay this one nighter into something bigger. Maybe it would be worth her while to try, but she wasn’t sure yet. She was still working on the plan to marry a man who would take care of her, but she thought she might have discovered a flaw in that plan. She was not comfortable

being controlled by a man. As a matter of fact, she only felt truly fulfilled when she was in control. She wanted to tell her man what to do and how to do it, especially in bed. She could play the submissive female when it was in her best interest. This was what she had done last night, but it was not her natural posture. She never thought of herself as being selfish or demanding. She simply assumed she was entitled to being happy, and men didn’t seem to know what they needed to do to make her happy. She merely supplied them with the information they needed. If they didn’t want to do as she asked they could always go somewhere else to satisfy their needs. But Danielle found that successful men were less willing to be controlled. So,

though they had the material wherewithal to provide for her needs, they were not willing to fulfill her emotional needs. And the men who were willing to let her control them were wimps and usually too lazy to hold a job long enough to actually be considered a success. But she had been doing all her experimentation with older men: men like Dave who had already reached their professional goals or failed to do so. They were at an age where their potential was known and realized. This had been the best bet in the past, because

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she would not be going into the relationship blind, not knowing what kind of man she was getting. But maybe she would fair better by betting on a young one who had not yet reached his potential. If she could find a young man who had the physical qualities she required, and the willingness to be controlled, maybe she could mold him into the perfect man. Johnny Knox might be just the guy she was looking for. They had certainly worked well together over the weekend. He was more than willing to acquiesce to her demands. And he had performed quite well. It was yet to be known if he had the potential to be successful in a financial sense, but she was willing to hang in there for a while and see what happened. She was still young, and men still bent over backwards to accommodate her, so there was no rush. When she finished her coffee, Danielle left Dave’s house, rode the bus back to her apartment and went back to bed to sleep off her hang over.

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Chapter 5

On Tuesday morning Johnny opened his eyes mistakenly thinking, for just a second, that he was still in Danielle’s bed. But as soon as his sight cleared and he could see the brown stained ceiling that was so familiar to him, he knew he was home in his own bed. And he was disappointed and immediately missed her. What he wanted more than anything was to get up and go immediately to Danielle’s apartment. Being away from her was agonizing. But he was afraid she would not be pleasantly surprised to find him at her front door unannounced at eight o’clock in the morning. The only woman Johnny knew anything about was his mother. And he doubted his knowledge of his mother’s moods would be of any value to him in gauging the attitudes of his new love interest. He had no idea how long he should wait so as not to appear too needy. He was pretty sure being too needy would be a huge turn off for her, though, and it was not something he wanted to risk at this point in the budding relationship. Johnny got up, put on some clothes, and went into the living room. His mother was sitting in front of the flickering TV in a cloud of cigarette smoke drinking a Budweiser. She had never gone to bed the night before. He could tell by the glazed look in her eyes that she was smashed. He went into the kitchen without a word to her and opened the refrigerator. There was a half full twelve pack of beer, some bologna, a couple jars of jelly, mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise in the refrigerator. He pulled a couple of pieces of bologna out of the package, squirted some mustard on them and rolled them up for his breakfast. walked into the living room as he chewed the bologna and looked at his mother. She noticed him from the corner of her eye and turned to look at him, but turned her head too far and missed him. She wobbled it back a few degrees and looked at him with the numb expression of the profoundly intoxicated. He

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“What?” She asked sharply. “You been sitting here all night?” Johnny inquired, though he already knew the answer. “What’s it to ya?” “How much beer did you drink?” “None of your fucking business. days?” “You don’t gotta do nothin.” Johnny paused, and Janet turned her unsteady face back to the TV that was tuned to the shopping channel. The woman on the screen was talking about some kitchen gadget that did everything but cook the vegetables for you. This was something Janet would never use if she had it, because she never cooked. “Mom, when ya gonna get some food, there’s nothin in here to eat?” “When I get paid, god damn it. What do you want me to do, shit some money? I ain’t got no money, get it?” “How much did you spend on all the beer you drank last night?” “Who the fuck do you think you are, huh?” She turned her head back toward him. A cigarette stuck out from between the fingers of her left hand, and a beer sat on the end table next to her. The bags under her eyes were more pronounced than usual, because of the lack of sleep, and dark circles ringed her glassy red eyes. She was missing several teeth and those she still possessed were either dark brown, from smoking pack after pack of cigarettes, or black with decay. “I can spend all the fucking money I want on beer and you can just keep your god damn mouth shut. I ain’t gotta answer to you.” Johnny looked at her with disgust. He hated her when she was drunk. When he was younger she didn’t get drunk very often, at least not that he noticed. She always drank, but lately it seemed she was drinking more and drinking enough to get fall down drunk more often. What, I gotta clear everything with you these

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“You are my mother!” He spat. “You are supposed to at least feed me!” The volume of Johnny’s voice had risen slightly and a tinge of redness was beginning to rise in his cheeks. “You’re gettin to be a little too big for your fucking britches, aren’t you boy?” Janet was pulling herself up in the chair now and turning her body toward him as if she might jump out of the chair and into his face at any moment. “If you think you’re big enough to push me around you are dead wrong.” “You get food stamps for me. You are supposed to use them for me, not to buy your fucking beer so you can sit up all night and get fucked up!” Johnny was on the verge of yelling at this point. More color was washing into his face, his hands were forming into fists, and his chest was heaving. Janet jumped up out of her chair and took two steps toward Johnny, which brought her within striking distance of him. repulsed by what he saw. “You ungrateful little bastard!” she screamed. “After all I’ve done for you, you Johnny looked into his mother’s face and was

have the fucking balls to stand here and talk to me like I was some piss ass piece of shit on the street! I am your mother. You will not talk to me like that.” The nauseating odor of old cigarette smoke and beer overwhelmed Johnny’s senses, topping off his feelings of disgust for the drunk, ugly woman standing before him. He felt the nearly uncontrollable urge to hit her: to smash her nose into her disgusting face and watch it bleed. His arms screamed to move, to beat her unconscious, but his brain would not let them. He was as angry as he had ever been at anyone, and he could find no reason not to punch her in the head, except for one: she was his mother. Despite all her obvious faults, she was his mother and, in spite of his anger and his disgust at her appearance, he loved her. Janet stared at Johnny, silently waiting for his reply, and he stared back at her for a moment. Neither one of them had a clue as to what they would do next. Then Johnny

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turned and walked to the refrigerator and opened the door. He pulled the half empty twelve-pack out, put it under his arm and headed toward the door. “What the fuck do you think you’re doin?” Janet screamed. “That’s mine! You leave it alone, you fucking asshole!” She scrambled toward the door to block his path, but in her inebriated state she tripped over the oak veneer coffee table, smashing it to pieces and hitting her head on the television on the way down. “Oh, oh, fuck! God damn you, you fucking little cunt, look what you did,” Janet wailed. Johnny paused with the front door half open and looked down at his mother lying in the pile of broken press wood. Her hand was on her forehead and she was beginning to cry in pain and frustration. “God damn you! Give me my beer back,” she screamed. She reached toward him, taking her hand off her forehead and it was covered in blood from a gushing cut. The blood ran into her eyes and she grabbed a handful of her t-shirt and wiped her face with it. She began to scramble to her feet, and Johnny hurried out the door, slamming it behind him. Janet yanked the door open a split second after it closed and ran out into the street after Johnny, screaming, weeping, and bleeding. “Give it back, god damn it. Give it back,” she cried. But Johnny ignored her and kept on running down the street away from her. He stopped about three blocks away and around a corner to catch his breath. He could no longer hear her screaming, but her curses were still ringing in his ears. He pictured her on her knees in the street weeping and beating her fists on the pavement, blood running down her face. His anger was nearly played out, and he began to feel bad for his mother. But he knew she would not go without for long. She knew plenty of men who would give

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her beer. She would either go to bed and sleep off her drunk, or she would find one of those men and make a trade. Johnny hoped she would do the former.

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Chapter 6

Johnny got to school early and sat on the edge of the cinderblock planter in front of the building. After about twenty minutes, the high school seniors started arriving in the parking lot, squealing tires and showing off their tweaked out rice burners. When Johnny saw a blue Camaro pull in the lot he got up from his seat on the block wall and walked toward it. The car parked, and Johnny reached the open driver’s side window before the kid inside had time to get out of the car. Johnny talked with the kid for a moment and then handed him the half full twelve-pack in exchange for a fivedollar bill. Johnny walked across the street to Taco Bell, bought two 69-cent burritos,

walked back to the school, and on to his first class of the day. The teacher was talking in front of the class, he knew this. And he could hear the voice but the words all melted together. His ears were working just fine, but the thoughts in his head were drowning out the words, and he couldn’t understand what was being said. But then he didn’t care to understand. Danielle and last weekend was all he could think about. curvaceous body in his mind’s eye. He could see her

He could feel the softness of her skin and the

urgency in her embrace. All he wanted to do now was run back to her apartment and make love to her again, and again. He wanted to leave school right immediately and walk to her apartment, but he was afraid she wouldn’t be there. Or worse, she would be there and be angry with him for coming over unannounced. But he couldn’t stand it any more. He decided to go back to the bench across the street from her apartment. When he got there he would sit and think, and decide what to do next if anything. When his class was over, Johnny ditched the rest of his classes and walked to Danielle’s apartment. He sat on the bench for an hour and saw nothing. Where could she be, he wondered. Her car was not parked anywhere in sight. He agonized through the hour wait, wondering and considering his next move. Finally, he could stand it no

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longer and he walked across the street and knocked on the door lightly. He heard no movement inside and no one came to the door for several seconds. He turned to walk away, and suddenly she was there at the door. She had been sleeping. Her hair was a mess and she squinted and blinked at the bright light outside as she peeked through the narrow opening to see who was knocking at her door. She perked up a little when she realized who it was and opened the door a little wider. She was wearing a long T-shirt with nothing underneath and he could see the

nipples on her oversized breasts poking at the thin material. “Hi Johnny. What are you doing here?” “I don’t know. I guess I just wanted to see what you were doing.” “I’m doin nothing. Come in.” She stepped back a little and opened the door wide. Johnny walked into the

apartment and she grabbed his hand and led him to the bedroom. His worries were gone in a flash. She was very happy to see him.

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Chapter 7

Johnny didn’t go back to his mother’s house that night. He wasn’t afraid to go back, but he knew he would have to hear some shit that he wouldn’t like hearing. But that was all the punishment he would receive: a few minutes of bitching and griping and some threats of retribution if he ever did it again. Janet never followed through on her threats. She couldn’t; Johnny was too big for her to control. So the next afternoon, after school, Johnny went back home to get the bitch session over with. “Where the fuck have you been?” Janet snapped as he walked in the door. “You don’t give a shit about your mother sittin here worryin her ass off all night do ya?” “I didn’t think you’d want to talk to me.” “I’da loved to talk to ya, especially if you was ta show up here with my fucking beer under yer arm.” Janet replied, “Who the fuck do you think you are stealin from me like that. I oughta beat your ass for that.” “Go for it.” “Don’t get smart with me. I’m still your mother.” Johnny walked passed Janet to his bedroom without a word and started gathering up some clothes. Janet followed him and leaned against the door jam at the entrance to his room. “Where you off to? You still screwin around with that girl?” “Her name is Danielle, Mom. What do you care anyway?” “I don’t care, but don’t you be telling nobody you don’t live here no more, they’ll cut off my assistance.” “I ain’t telling nobody nothing. Don’t worry about it.” Janet lit another cigarette and took a drag.

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“You’re still going to school ain’t ya.

You start missing school and they’ll get

suspicious ya know. Then they’ll send some cop over here to see if you’re still here. I don’t want no cops snoopin around here.” “I know better than to tell anybody anything, Mom. that.” Johnny had been living off the system his whole life; he knew the rules. And he knew they were always looking for ways to trip him and his kind up. He had friends You don’t need to tell me

whose mothers had been charged with welfare fraud, and it was a regular occurrence for someone he knew to be evicted from their home because county assistance had been discontinued for one reason or another. In his life and the lives of everyone he knew, maintaining county assistance was of the utmost importance. His mother and those like her knew no other way to survive. It’s how they had always lived. Janet would have no idea how to live any other way. She knew very few people who had legitimate jobs. When someone she knew did get a real job she didn’t see them much after that. They usually moved away. There were a lot of people making money in other ways in their neighborhood, usually selling drugs, dealing in yard sale junk or stealing, but people with real jobs were a rarity. Janet barely had the intellectual wherewithal to manage her life as it was; It took every bit of her concentration. She would never be capable of mustering the energy or the will to perform a real job even if one was dropped in her lap. Finding and securing a job was definitely beyond her capability. She had abilities, though; they were just not the kind one can capitalize on in the job market. They served her well in her current position, though. She could give one hell of a blowjob if the right payment was offered, and she had an uncanny ability to recognize an opportunity to rip someone off, but these skills are not what your average employer looked for in an employee. “I’ll see ya later,” Johnny said as he patted his mother on top of the head. She slapped his hand away from her head as she exhaled blue cigarette smoke.

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“When are ya comin back?” “I don’t know. A few days.” “What the hell? Are ya movin out?” “No, I’m just gonna be out for a few days.” “God damn it Johnny, you can’t just run off and leave me.” “I’m not leavin you. I’ll be back.” “I know what yer leavin for. Sex. That’s why yer leavin: for sex.” Johnny said nothing. He did not want to talk to his mother about that subject. “Are you mad at me, Johnny? I’m sorry if I made you mad. I didn’t mean to, I just get so…….” “I’m not mad at you, Mom,” Johnny replied. “I just want to go stay with Danielle for a few days. I really like her.” Janet was beginning to tear up and she sniffed as her nose watered. “I don’t want you to leave me, Johnny.” “I’m not leaving!” “But ya will. You’ll stay over there a while, then the next thing ya know ya won’t be wantin to come back here no more.” “Mom, I can’t live with you forever.” “Why not?” “Because I’m not a kid anymore.” “I don’t wanna be here all by myself. I get so lonesome.” “I’ll come back tomorrow after school and see you.” “You promise?” “Yeah, I promise.” “Johnny…Ya know I love you, right?” His mother hadn’t told him that since he was about ten years old, and it was a bit of a surprise to hear it now. But he was glad to hear it nonetheless.

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“I know,” Johnny said as he stared at the bundle of clothes on his bed. He wanted to say he loved her too, but the words were stuck in his throat. He just couldn’t bring himself to say them. He did love her, in spite of all her faults, but he just couldn’t say it. Instead, he grabbed the bundle of clothes, stuck them under his arm and kissed his mother on the forehead as he walked out the door. Johnny walked down the gravel shoulder of the road heading toward Danielle’s apartment. He was sick of this shit hole of a neighborhood. He was tired of the junk cars on blocks and the mangy dogs barking at all hours of the day and night. He was tired of having to scrounge for food and having to wear old worn out clothes. He loved his

mother, but he was ready to do something other than beg and steal for a living. He could not spend the next year living as he always had. His mom was going to have to stop depending on him when he turned 18 anyway, and he could not wait that long. It was time she started learning how to get along without him. Johnny had never had a job and had no idea how to go about getting one, but he was determined to find out. He didn’t know how to do anything that anyone would want to pay him to do either, so he didn’t even know where to begin. He had heard about people making good money in construction, and there were housing tracts going up all over the valley. He thought he might look around some of those housing developments and see if there was something he could do. That night Johnny slept in Danielle’s bed. He told her of his plans to find a job and to stop going to school. “My mother might lose her aide but I can’t help that,” he said. “You can’t take care of her from now on; you need to worry about yourself.” Danielle agreed. The next morning Danielle gave him a key to her apartment, so he could come and go as he liked. “Now go find yourself a job,” she said.

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Johnny skipped school and went to five construction sites that afternoon.

He

watched the men working, studying different jobs to see which he thought he might be best suited for. At the fifth site he visited, he saw a guy shoveling sand into a mixing machine. The man wasn’t much older than Johnny, and he looked approachable. He

talked to the guy and found out he was mixing stucco. Johnny watched for a while. There didn’t seem to be much to it. So when the supervisor came around, Johnny asked the man about a job shoveling sand. The supervisor looked at him suspiciously. “How old are you, son?” “Eighteen,” Johnny said. “You sure, you don’t look it?” “Yeah, I just turned eighteen a couple of weeks ago.” “You ever done this kind of work before?” “No, but I know I can do it.” “It’s hard work, ya know. All the hod carriers on this job depend on the guy mixing to keep them busy. And it gets damn hot out here in the summer. You sure you can handle it?” “Yeah, I can do it.” The foreman had a contemplative expression as he said, “You be here at 7 am sharp and we’ll give you a try. If you make it all day then we’ll talk.” “I’ll be here.” Johnny walked away knowing he had no idea whether or not he could make it through a whole day of shoveling sand. The hardest work he had ever done was mowing lawns and he hadn’t done that very often. But he was determined to give it a good try. He would have to miss school but it had to be.

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Chapter 8

Johnny was ten minutes early for work, which made his new supervisor happy. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name yesterday. Fact is, I didn’t really expect you to show up today.” “My name’s Johnny.” “Great, Johnny. Name’s Chet. I’m gonna let Larry here show you the ropes then we’ll see how ya do.” Johnny wanted to ask how much he was going to get paid, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to seem too concerned about the money. He would prove that he could do the job first, then he would ask about money. By 9:00 Johnny’s hands were blistered. Chet noticed his problem and threw him a pair of gloves as he walked past. The first hour had been easy, even invigorating, but after that the shovel got heavier every time he lifted it. Sand worked its way into his shoes and grated his feet. His entire body was covered in a thin layer of dust and his throat was as dry as cotton in spite of the water he drank constantly. At noon everything stopped for lunch. All the construction workers went to their pickup trucks, got their coolers, and sat in the shade of the apartment building they were constructing to eat their lunches. Johnny had no lunch. He hadn’t thought that far

ahead. Besides, he hadn’t had anything to make a lunch with. He knew Danielle would have given him something, but he was too proud to ask. He was used to going without lunch, though; he did it most days. But most days he had not shoveled half a ton of sand. He was definitely wishing he had brought something to eat. One of the guys noticed he had no lunch and tossed him a sandwich and a coke. Johnny was grateful, but was not sure whether or not to say it, so he just mumbled a quick thanks and ate.

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“Hey dick head, I saw you up on that scaffold wackin your pud like it was Superbowl Sunday or something,” one of the construction workers said to someone. Johnny had no idea who the man was talking to until the other construction worker answered. “Suck my dick you turd pounder. I was bustin my ass up there,” came the answer from the man who had given Johnny the sandwich. “Didn’t look like it to me. Looked like you were just up there day dreamin about fuckin your momma.” “Maybe you should stop starin at my ass and do your job.” “You wish I was starin at your ass.” The man who started the exchange with Johnny’s benefactor was a big blond haired man with a full beard and mustache. He had a fairly large beer belly, but his arms looked like steel cables and there was a tattoo of some indescribable beast with an arrow through its neck on his giant bicep. “Hey shit head, what kind a engine you got in that hunk a junk you’re drivin?” the blond man asked of a younger, thinner man. “You calling my 56 Willy a hunk a junk? There’s a 350 under that hood. It’ll kick the shit out of that fuckin Ford of yours,” he replied. “Yeah, and I bet your sister don’t give head either does she?” Laughter erupted from the men gathered around the blond man. apparently the leader of an obnoxious crowd. Johnny had been slightly unnerved by this exchange at first, but it became apparent that this was the customary banter of this group. Though it seemed the insults were just a harmless game, Johnny thought he would like to stay as far away from the blond man as possible, so he made a point not to look in his direction and stayed as quiet as possible. But the blond man could not let the new guy get through his first day He was

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without a few insults. He was a predator looking for new flesh to assault and Johnny was the freshest meat of all. “Hey new guy, you ready to quit yet?” Johnny pretended he didn’t hear him. “Hey pussy face, answer me!” “You talking to me?” Johnny replied. “Yeah, I’m talking to you dumb ass. Who’d ya think I was talking to, my dick?” Johnny was about to discover that trading insults was not just conversation among these construction workers, it was a right of passage. If you could give as good as you got you might earn some respect. But if you lost your cool and got angry you wouldn’t last long. These men weren’t office workers who regularly attended sexual harassment training seminars, or were chastised for using politically incorrect language at work. These were men who tested each other daily, who looked for weakness with the persistence of a yellow jacket swarm on a rabbit carcass. If a man had a soft spot they would find it. They would find it and work at it until it was wide open and weeping. The smart ones in this crowd kept their mouths shut, never exposing their weakness. Some, like the blond man, covered themselves by attacking others and intimidating them into submission. Johnny instinctively knew the score. This crowd was not entirely foreign to him. He had lived with conmen and con-women all his life. attacked in order to avoid being attacked themselves. He lived among those who He knew it was a cover for No one

weakness, but he also knew this blond man could hurt him if he decided to.

would do anything to stop him. He was the alpha male in this group, at least in his own eyes. Johnny could see intelligence in the eyes of some of the other men in the circle, but that intelligence kept them from getting involved in this fight. It was his and no one

else’s. He would learn to deal with this blond man or he would not work here.

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Bowing to the blond man’s intimidation was not the way to survive, though. That was a sure way to get pushed right out of this group. It was what the blond man was hoping for. Johnny must find a way to prove he was not intimidated by the blond man without challenging him. Johnny met the blond man’s gaze and asked, “You talk to your dick much?” “What?” the blond man asked. “Do you talk to your dick much?” Johnny repeated. His eyes met those of the

blond man’s and never wavered. Johnny’s expression was stoic: so devoid of expression that the blond man could not tell whether or not Johnny was kidding. This was an answer that might have been expected from a junior high school kid, but from Johnny it threw the big man off guard. “Aw, you’re a fuckin dumb ass.” Johnny’s response had the effect of causing confusion in the big man’s tiny mind. He was not sure whether Johnny was an idiot or a smart ass. So the result was a loss of interest. Johnny made it through the first week without a problem. Mostly he just avoided the big blond man and all the other guys who let it be known they were sure their shit didn’t stink. Johnny was the littlest fish in this pond and he knew it. He would have to bide his time and survive before he had earned the right to be considered one of the big fish; then and only then would he be immune to the force-feeding of bullshit. Not all the guys on the job were into the mind games, some just wanted to do their job, get their check, and go home and drink a beer and watch television. But to others, men like the big blond man, this was their life. It was the most important part of their life. It was the only place where they might stand out from the crowd and be better than someone else. It was the place where they showed the world what they were made of: that they were valuable. Nowhere else in their life was this the case. They were not extraordinary in any other realm or in any other role. They might be married with a

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family, but that was not their pride.

That did not fulfill the need for recognition that

burned in their chest. They may have been the cool, tough guy in high school, but now their hair was thinning and their middle growing and they were no longer cool or handsome. They were not intelligent enough to match wits with other men, or educated enough to debate any issue without betraying their ignorance and making themselves look foolish. But they could play this tough guy game at work and win. They made the rules, and they knew the game better than anyone else. These men talked about their genitals like they were their soul, their mind, and their legacy. The most often uttered remark by these mental midgets was a sarcastic request for someone who has gained their momentary distain to suck this symbol of their manhood. They talked constantly about the size and grandeur of the thing. They

worshiped at the foot of the giant they had created in their pants, when in reality it is most likely indicative of every other aspect of their being: less than average. The giant they had created was a myth, a lie. But no one will ever know. This they could conceal; this they could hide from view, because anyone who asked them to prove their claim would be called a fag and ridiculed into oblivion. The rest they could not conceal. Their ignorance, their stupidity, their insecurity could not be hidden; it was there for the entire world to see. And the mental midgets knew this if nothing else. Though he could never articulate it, Johnny knew about these men. He had lived with them all his life. The con men who occupied the streets where he played as a child, the women who lived off the system, they all played the same game. Johnny had grown up watching this game being played. It had been part of his life since birth. He had watched his mother play this game to pay for their food and housing. He had studied the intricate details of it. It was not something he was consciously aware of, but he knew it. He never thought about it, and could not have told you how it was played or what the rules were, but he knew them. They had become part of his hardwiring. It was ingrained

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in his brain and in his soul. Though Johnny was not a predator like the big blond man, he could play the game as well as anyone. But Johnny’s motive was not his own superficial glory as it was for many of the men on this job and on every other construction job. His motive was survival on the most basic level, the same motive that had driven everyone he had known growing up. To survive the people around him needed to get what they could from those who had it. And to do this they had to manipulate them in one way or another. Some were better than others at this game and they were the ones who had the most. Those who were not as good at it were the ones who lost the most. This was a fact of life. It was a way of life. Johnny was right at home here. He could play this game without much effort. It was yet to be known whether Johnny was one of the ones who would be good at the game, but he knew the game. And, to his advantage, these men had no idea he knew it. Johnny played the game well enough to last through the first week and to his first paycheck. And his first paycheck consisted of more money than he had ever seen in one place in his life. He wasn’t sure, because his mother also knew the game and had never told him how much her monthly cash assistance check was, but he thought he may have more money in his hand at that moment than his mother’s check was each month. And, though Johnny had dropped out of high school, he was not a stupid young man. He knew this could be his ticket out of the world he had grown up in. Johnny lived in poverty but he saw better lives all around him. He saw them on television; he saw them on the streets as he walked from place to place. There were houses where grass grew in the front yards. There were parents who dressed in clean clothes and didn’t sit in front of the TV drinking beer all day long. He had lived among the refuse of society since his birth but he had not failed to notice that it was not the only world one could live in. He had seen the culture of self-loathing passed on from mother to daughter, mother to son, during his short life, but he had no intention of following in those lousy footsteps.

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He knew, again without conscious thought of it, why many stayed in the culture of poverty and continued to search daily for the very basics of living. He knew the people he lived among saw no other possibility for themselves. They knew others lived in a

different world where the necessities of life came more easily, but they did not believe they could live there. They were different: somehow inferior to that world. They would be spotted there and marked as a trespasser. They would be hunted and caused to fail by those who played their own game outside this realm of poverty and mere subsistence. They didn’t understand the system of the world beyond their realm. Oh, they knew well the system of welfare and how to grab the crumbs that fell from the world above, but they didn’t know how the system worked for the ones that lived in that other world. The law, the books, the rules, they were all too complex and baffling. To them it seemed some had rights and others didn’t and they knew if anyone was not worthy of those rights it would be them, they would undoubtedly get the shitty end of the stick if there was a shitty end to be had. So they stayed where they knew the system, were the rules were clear to them. Drugs and alcohol were part of that culture of self loathing, of that there is no doubt. But, regardless of the ideas that many on the outside had, the drugs were not the cause but more accurately the effect of that culture. They worked to dull the pain of the knowledge of one’s own devalued position. The alcohol, the speed, and all the other

vices gave momentary pleasure. They gave a reason for living, and an excuse for not succeeding. Somehow, somewhere on some unconscious level, Johnny knew these things. Maybe it was genetics. Johnny had no idea who his father was; his mother had never told him. He thought there was a good possibility she didn’t know his name. She had, after all, been a mere child and a victim of a crime when Johnny was conceived. She had

known the man was much older than she was and not someone she knew or had even seen before. She suspected he may have paid someone for her. The man might have

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told her his name, but if he had she could not remember it.

And even if she had

remembered it would not have been his real name unless he was very, very stupid. But Johnny had always felt different from the people around him in many ways. He was like them in that he lived by the same means, but he was different in that he could see into people’s minds and sense their motivations and predict their next move. He was not telepathic, but merely very perceptive and intuitive. In this way he felt like a foreigner in this world were he had grown up. But he was intuitive enough to know that no one around him realized he was out of place. They could not see his mind as he could see theirs. He moved through his neighborhood watching and listening like a child in an aquatic museum, between rows of glass tanks with giant fish and tiny sea urchins coexisting all around him. He participated in this society because it was where he lived, but he was above these creatures he lived with. He was more than they were. Johnny would not cash his paycheck today and spend it all on nothing of value. He would keep it. He would save, and some day soon he would get out of this hole he had lived in his whole life. He would work his way out.

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Chapter 9

Chet gave Johnny a ride to the bank and he cashed his check.

He opened a

savings account with half of the week’s wages, got the other half in cash and put it in his pocket, then walked the three blocks to Jim’s Bar and Grill. Danielle was wiping down the counter when Johnny came through the door. She looked up when she heard the buzzer, which indicated someone was entering the restaurant. When she realized who it was walking in the door, she left her towel on the counter and came around the bar to meet him. She moved easily up to him, looked up into his eyes and surreptitiously reached down to his crouch and cupped the bulge in his pants with her hand. “Stop that,” Johnny said weakly. There were two old men drinking beer at the bar, and Johnny was not one for public displays of affection. “You know you like it,” she replied. “What are you doing here?” “I just got paid. Thought you might want to go out to dinner.” “Fuck yeah, you thought right. long?” “I guess so.” Johnny was ready to eat now, but he would wait. “You want a beer? Jim’s gone. I can sneak you one.” “Okay,” he replied. Johnny went to a table in the back of the nearly empty restaurant and sat down in a chair facing the bar. Danielle filled a large white paper cup with beer and brought it to him. She sat the beer on the table and then threw her leg over Johnny’s legs and sat down on his lap facing him. Her short skirt rode up her legs so far that only the very essentials of decency were preserved. She pressed her breasts against him, grabbed the back of his head, and forced his mouth open with her tongue. She ground her lips into his But I can’t leave till eight. Can you wait that

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mouth and reached as far down his throat as she could with her tongue. Johnny was not accustomed to public displays of affection and was anything but an exhibitionist, but Danielle’s antics were having their intended effect. And, in spite of his embarrassment, he could not bring himself to make her stop. Danielle could sense the arousal in Johnny, and reached one hand down to his crouch to confirm her suspicion. Her hand on his groin was nearly more than he could tolerate, and he snatched it away quickly. He was positive, if he allowed her to, Danielle would give him a hand job right there in the restaurant and leave him with a mess in his pants. Not that he would mind her giving him an orgasm, but Johnny could not allow that to happen anywhere someone might witness it. He just couldn’t do it. His idea of To him

excitement did not include an audience of old lecherous beer drinking men. affection was best in private. It would have to wait until they were alone.

Not only did Danielle not mind that the two old men at the bar were watching, but it seemed she may have even enjoyed the idea that she had an audience. It made it all the more exciting for her to think that other men were looking at her with their dicks getting hard and knowing she would never allow them to touch her. Or maybe she would, someday if they were real lucky. It was her prerogative. She had the power in this

situation. She decided who would get to come and who wouldn’t. She had the power to make them want her, she had the power to make their dicks hard, and she had the power to frustrate them or to relieve their frustration. She could decide to give them the best fuck of their lives, or she could leave them with only their own hand to finish the job. It was all up to her. “What’s a matter, Johnny, don’t you like me anymore?” Danielle asked facetiously, feigning hurt feelings with lips pouting. “Of course I do, but those guys are watching us.” “Fuck them,” she said, “They’re just wishing they could have some. jealous of you, Johnny.” They’re

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“I guess, but I don’t like being watched.” “Oh, don’t be a party pooper! Don’t you like to do things a little different every once in a while?” “Well, yeah, I guess so, but I don’t want people watching me.” “Can I still sit here?” she asked. “Oh yeah. No problem. Just save the making out for when we’re alone.” “Okay, whatever you say, party pooper.” Danielle got a kick out of embarrassing Johnny, but she knew better than to overdo it. “Where we gonna go for dinner?” “I don’t know. Where do you want to go?” “Well, I guess that depends on how much money you got.” “I just got paid. I got lots of money.” “Yee haw! Let’s go to Sizzler.” “Sounds good to me.” “Hey missy, can we get a fill up?” one of the old men at the bar yelled at Danielle. “I gotta go,” She whispered in Johnny’s ear. Then she quickly licked his earlobe before he had time to protest and dismounted his lap, leaving him with a cold, exposed feeling and an embarrassing bulge in his pants. Men filtered in and out of the bar for the next three hours, having a beer after work and then bidding the others at the bar good bye as they headed home. Some flirted with Danielle, and she flirted back in that cocktail waitress, touch-me-not manner that keeps the tips coming in but leaves no opening for anything beyond mild innuendo. Some of these guys apparently knew Danielle pretty well. They asked her questions

about the goings on in her life, and Johnny was introduced as her boyfriend to one of the more friendly of these men. His name was Matt. He was polite, but Johnny detected a note of disbelief or maybe disappointment in the tone of his voice and the expression on his face. Johnny got the impression that Matt, who was several years older and a couple of inches taller than he was, had more than a friendly interest in Danielle and didn’t

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appreciate the presence of competition. And Matt didn’t look to be the kind of guy who would really consider a skinny kid worthy of competing with him. He reminded Johnny of the blond man at the job site, but with better manners and a modicum of control over the words that left his mouth. So Matt didn’t verbalize his resentment, but Johnny could see it nonetheless. When Danielle finally managed to get the last old man to leave the bar at eight fifteen, and finished washing the last of the beer mugs, they walked out the front door together and Danielle locked it behind them. “Whew, what a day!” she exclaimed, as they walked to her car. “My feet are killin me. And I’m starving.” “ Me too, lets get some grub.” They drove to the Sizzler restaurant on Riverside Avenue a few blocks north of Jim’s Bar and Grill. They each ordered New York Steak and all-you-can-eat deep-fried

shrimp. They went through the salad bar on their way to the table. Danielle sipped a beer as they ate their salads and waited for the entrees to arrive. “What are you gonna do with your money, Johnny?” Danielle asked. “Well, I’m gonna spend some of it. I need some stuff, like clothes and stuff.” “Yeah, that will take care of this check, but what are ya gonna do with your next check, and the one after that. You do plan on keeping this job, right?” “Fuck yeah! I’ve never seen this much money before. My mom’d freak out if she knew I had 500 bucks. She’d be figuring out some way of getting some of it from me, that’s for sure.” “Oh, I don’t think you should tell your mom about it. She will find out some day, I suppose, but later would be better than sooner.” “Hell no, I’m not telling her nothing. I got 8 months till I turn 18 and then it won’t matter what I do. She’s gonna lose her aide then anyway and there won’t be a damn thing anybody can do about it.”

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“Does she know you’re not going to school?” “No, she don’t got a phone, and I been pulling the notices from the school out of the mail before she sees um. I ain’t worried about that. I just can’t let Welfare find out I’m living with you. If they do Mom’ll lose her aide and she’ll be S.O.L.” “She’s gonna be fucked in eight months anyway, she better start figuring out what she’s gonna do.” “That’s her problem; I can’t make her do nothing. I gotta worry about what I’m gonna do. I gotta worry about my life.” “Yeah, so what are you gonna do?” “For now I’m gonna save up. When I get enough I’ll get my driver’s license and buy a car.” Johnny reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. He peeled off five twenties and handed them to Danielle. “Here, this is for my part of the rent and stuff.” Danielle took the money and stuck it in her bra between the cups. “Great, we can go to the grocery store tomorrow and spend this real quick.” The food arrived and the conversation waned for a few minutes as their mouths were occupied with chewing and swallowing, but as they moved from ravenous to mostly satiated the eating slowed and the conversation picked back up. “What kinda car do you think you want?” asked Danielle. “I want a truck. transmission. You know, like an older chevy with a V8 and an automatic

Not a really old one, but one that I might be able to work on myself if

something goes wrong with it. Not one of those computerized ones.” “What’s your favorite color?” “I think yellow or green. Probably yellow, like canary yellow. Chrome wheels.

Some of those Yosemite Sam mud flaps, you know the ones that say ‘Back Off’ on um.” Danielle giggled a little and looked at Johnny as if he were her favorite child. “Really, you don’t think that’s a little dorky?”

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“Hell no!

Yosemite Sam is cool.”

He exclaimed without the slightest bit of

resignation or embarrassment. “Whatever blows your skirt,” Danielle replied. “After the driver’s license and the car, then what?” “It’s a truck not a car. After that, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll save up to buy some land.” “You’d have to save for a long time to be able to afford anything around here.” “Maybe just a couple of acres in the hills, you know up by Red Mountain or someplace like that. What would you think about living out there?” “I don’t know. I’ve never lived out in the boonies, have you?” “No, but I’ve gone out there a couple times. There’s a lot of people living out

there in trailers and stuff. They do there own thing, nobody bothers um.” There was a pregnant pause as an expression developed on Danielle’s face that suggested there was something on her mind. She had a little pursed grin on her lips as she picked at her food and looked sheepishly up from her plate at Johnny. “What?” Johnny asked. “What do you mean, what?” Danielle replied. “You know, you’re thinking something. Tell me.” “Oh you’re just gonna think I’m stupid.” “I doubt it. Besides I just told you something you thought was stupid and it didn’t kill me. Go ahead and tell me, I know you want to.” “Fuck you, I’m not telling you anything.” Danielle didn’t want him to know she wanted to tell him, but his perception was better than she thought. She wanted him to believe he had convinced her to tell him something she didn’t want to tell him. “Fine, don’t tell me.” “I don’t want to tell you anything, I want you to tell me something.” “Ask me then.”

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The defiance in Danielle’s eyes faded and she recovered the coy female demeanor she found so useful in dealing with men. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” She asked. “When I grow up?” Johnny replied. “Yeah, you know, what do you want to be in ten years?” “Hell if I know.” “Well, do you want to be a fireman, a policeman, a pimp, or what?” “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.” “How about a dad. You want to be a dad?” “Oh shit. I guess so, but not anytime soon. Why? Do you want to have a kid?” “Well, yeah, some day. I think most women do.” “You want to have a kid with me?” “Well, maybe. As long as you don’t suddenly turn into a big asshole.” “You think I’m gonna turn into an asshole?” “No, but you never know.” “I’m not pretending to be anything I’m not. What you see is what you get.” “I know. But, you’re such a nice guy, and every guy I’ve ever been with has I’m not gonna turn into anything.

turned out to be an asshole. They’re real sweet till they get what they want and then they start being a jerk all of the sudden. I don’t want you to do that, and if you’re gonna do that I want to know now.” “I’m not gonna do that. I’m not a jerk.” Johnny hesitated. He had been feeling something since his first night with Danielle that he had never felt before. He wasn’t completely sure, but he thought he was in love with Danielle. He knew he couldn’t stand to be away from her. He knew he only felt completely comfortable when he was as close to her as he could physically get. Even when they weren’t having sex, his favorite place to be was lying between her legs, with

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them wrapped around his waste and his head on her soft breasts. She filled that hole inside him that he had always been unable to fill before. She completed him. “You know,” he said softly, ”I think I’m in love with you.” He was afraid to say this to her. He wasn’t entirely sure it was true, for one thing. For another, he wasn’t sure what she would say in return. She might laugh at him. At least that was what he thought might happen before tonight. But she seemed softer than usual tonight. She seemed to want to open up to him. It seemed she might have the same feelings for him. He wanted to know if she did. He needed to know if she did: if she loved him. He needed desperately to know what she was feeling about him, and he was sure she would only tell him how she felt if he said it first. “I will not turn into an asshole,” he said. If Danielle was surprised by his statement it didn’t show. Her pleasure showed, though. She had heard this before, from several different men. Most of the time it It had

happened in bed as the man was about to give her the gift of his orgasm. happened like this before too, but she doubted it had ever been more sincere.

She smiled and her eyes turned to glistening pools of triumph. She reached and gathered his hand into hers. “I’m glad you said that,” she said. “I think I could fall in love with you too. I mean I probably am falling in love with you, but I’m afraid. I don’t know if I really want to let that happen.” Johnny was, on the one hand, elated. She loved him! At least he thought she did. She didn’t exactly say it that way, but he was sure that was what she meant. But on the other hand why did she not want to jump into love with both feet? Why did she not want to melt into his body and become one with him in every possible way just as he wanted to do with her? Now that they both knew they felt the same way, why would she not want to love him with every fiber of her soul?

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“Why? What do you mean you don’t know if you want to let it happen?” Johnny asked. “I told you, man, other guys have told me they loved me and they turned out to be jerks. I don’t want to let that happen again!” “It’s not gonna happen with me! You should know that! Come on, I love you, you love me. What more do we need? How can I prove it to you?” “You don’t need to prove it, I know it. But I’m still afraid. Look, I know you’re not a jerk but it’s gonna take some time before I feel comfortable with this. It’s okay, it’s not your fault, and I’m sure eventually I will be fine. You can still know I feel the same way about you that you do about me, I’m just gonna be a little more careful about letting you in than you might like. I promise, if you keep being who you are for a while longer I will begin to trust you. I promise. And I am so glad you told me how you feel. It makes me very happy.” Johnny said nothing. He wanted her to be as excited about their new love as he was. He wanted her to profess her undying love for him and give herself to him

wholeheartedly, but at least she hadn’t rejected him. At least she was happy he was in love with her. He could live with that; that and her promise that she would someday give her heart to him completely. “Okay,” he said. He wasn’t really sad, but he thought she owed him more than she had given. So he didn’t allow himself to be too happy about what had just happened. “Cheer up baby,” she said. “I bet a good blow job would make you feel better, wouldn’t it?” “Uh, yeah, probably.”

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Chapter 10

“Happy birthday, sweet buns!” Danielle said, waking Johnny up that morning. It was the day of his eighteenth birthday. “Now I’m not a rapist anymore,” she said facetiously. “Get up; we have to get over to your mother’s house.” She kissed him on the lips and jumped up, running to the shower. Johnny’s mother was not overjoyed at the prospect of her son turning eighteen. His passage from minority to majority status meant the end of her free ride through life, meager as it was. Without a dependent child in her home she was no longer eligible to receive cash aide from the county. She could apply for General Assistance, but that only lasted for three months and was so little it was hardly worth the trouble. She would still qualify for food stamps but because she was not disabled she would have to work with the probationers and those sentenced to community service to maintain her eligibility. It wasn’t a glorious future that now presented itself, but she had known this was coming for some time. She had begun preparing for it, but her attempts at landing some menial mindless job, which required little or no skill or experience, had not panned out. Janet had some friends in town. She had, after all, lived there in that house for the past several years, and she had attended many of the required workshops and trainings that Welfare required all recipients to attend in order to maintain their eligibility. She had met plenty of people there who were of her ilk. One of the people she met was a guy named Pete. Pete was the big burly biker type who subsisted on whatever he could scrape out of the system along with a little illegal sideline business he operated out of his garage, under the camouflage of a grimy motorcycle repair shop. Pete was always willing to give a lady a place to flop if she were willing to pay his fee. They didn’t need any money, though. As long as she gave it up whenever he

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requested it and acquiesced to his every whim her every need would be met.

His

standard of living wasn’t stellar, but he provided the necessities: food, shelter, and beer. And Pete was in the market for a wench at the moment. His last one had nearly died from an overdose and was locked up in rehab. She might get out some day, but her brain was fried and she really would not serve his purposes any longer. Chances were she would be living in one facility or another for the rest of her life. Pete had been to jail a few times and had even gone to state prison for a couple years. Most of his offenses were of the minor drug possession type, but some were more violent. Pete was a bad ass, and anyone who knew him knew better than to cross him. He had beaten a few guys senseless, and there was even rumor he had killed a guy once, but he had never been arrested for any of these offenses. The offense that had put him in the state pen for two years was assault on a police officer. The cop had pulled him over on his bike for looking like a dirt bag and not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. When the red light came on behind him, Pete had pulled his bike over to the curb and stopped. Pete was used to being stopped by police, it happened quite often. But that day was an especially bad day for such a stop and Pete was not in the mood to take any shit. He was on his way to deliver on a deal he had made earlier in the day and had a bag of crystal meth in his pocket. He knew if the cop found the bag of drugs he was going to get locked up for a while. He also had a 380 auto in the back of his pants just in case he needed it, and if this asshole cop found the gun Pete might get shot, not to mention getting locked up for a while. Pete had pushed the kickstand down on the bike, dismounted and turned around to face the cop. “So what’s the problem officer?” Pete asked. The cop was still ten feet away as Pete spoke, but he kept coming until he was within arms length before he answered.

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The police officer was a couple of inches taller than Pete, which made him about six feet, six inches in height. But he didn’t come close to matching Pete’s three hundred pounds of bulk. “What’s my problem?” the officer asked. His right hand was on the butt of his pistol and the thumb of his left hand was hooked lightly into the top of his utility belt. The officer’s dark glasses made it impossible for Pete to see the man’s eyes, but the expression on the rest of his face told him the officer was more than willing, and thought himself able, to kick Pete’s ass if the opportunity arose. “No, I asked what is the problem. responded calmly. The cop didn’t answer right away; he just stood there breathing in Pete’s face for a moment. His breath reeked of coffee and cigarettes. “I have detained you because you didn’t come to a complete stop at that corner back there. Why, you got a problem with that?” The cop moved his face an inch or so closer to Pete’s. “Right, right, I see. Let’s just get this over with, alright. Just write the ticket.” “You know, I think you better step over here by my car.” “Don’t pull this shit on me, god damn it. Just write the fucking ticket.” Pete knew what was coming and the adrenaline was starting to pour into his blood stream. He could feel his heart rate increasing, and he knew soon he would be breathing hard and he would be unable to conceal his anger from the cop. “Don’t give me any shit, asshole,” the cop said. “I need to check in that jacket of yours to see if you have any weapons.” “I’m telling you I don’t have anything weapons. Just write the fucking ticket and quit yanking my chain.” Pete could see the officer was starting to get angry. His grip had tightened on the pistol, and the smug expression was changing to a sneer. You know, why did you stop me?” Pete

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“Buddy, you better pull yourself together or you’re gonna get yourself fucked in the ass, got it? Now move your filthy ass over to the car.” Pete didn’t move. He stood, his arms at his sides, fists balled up, and stared at the cop’s dark glasses. The officer reached up to grasp the microphone of his radio that was clipped to a loop near his collar, and Pete instantly reacted to this momentary distraction. Pete swung his right arm up hard, catching the cop’s chin with the heel of his hand, and whipping the man’s head back sharply. He heard the crack of his jaw and the crunch of his teeth, and then the cop fell to the pavement. Pete, still breathing heavily with excitement, stood for a second staring down at the cop and pulling himself together. Then he calmly stepped to the cop’s side and kicked him hard in the ribs. The man didn’t react: he was out cold. “You fucking pig!” Pete said to the unconscious officer. Then he stomped on the cop’s right hand with the heal of his boot. He stomped again, and again, until he could see plainly that the man’s hand had been broken in several places. “Fucking piece of shit. I guess you’ll have to learn to shoot with your left hand now, won’t you?” Pete started to walk back to his bike, but decided he wasn’t finished punishing the cop, and turned back around. He kicked the cop in the head and delighted at the sound of his skull bouncing on the pavement as it fell back down. Then he stomped his rib cage and heard a crack. The sound of the cop’s rib breaking caused something in Pete’s mind to snap, and he went into a frenzy fed by his hatred of all the cop stood for: the system, the power that kept him down, the laws that bound him, the fucking shit it forced him to eat every damn day just to survive. It all rose from his chest into his head and he

stomped the cop with all the anger he could no longer restrain. He drove the heel of his boot into the cops stomach and into his groin over and over.

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Pete had stomped on the cop nearly a dozen times before another police unit came screaming around the corner with its lights flashing and siren blaring. Pete had been so intent upon stomping the asshole cop into pulp he hadn’t even heard the police cruiser until it was nearly on top of him. When he did finally see it, he turned around to run and found another cop car coming at him from behind. He turned again and ran up the driveway of the house in front of which all this had taken place, between it and the house next to it, into the back yard, over the back fence and into the alley. He fished the bag of meth from his pocket as he ran and threw it as hard as he could into the back yard of an anonymous house and kept running. dumpster as he ran by. Just before he got to the end of the alley a cop stepped from behind the corner of the redwood fence, pointed a 40 caliber glock at him and told him to freeze. Pete turned to run back in the direction he had come from, and suddenly two more cops appeared from that direction. They immediately tackled him, driving him into the dirt surface of the ally face first. The officer who had stopped him with the gun, ran up and dropped dow,n planting his knee in the back of Pete’s neck, driving his face even harder into the dirt. The other two grabbed his arms and pulled them behind him and cuffed them. Pete went to county lock up that night. The police officer he had attempted to stomp to death sustained a couple of broken fingers, lots of bruising, a fractured jaw and a broken rib. The District Attorney began by charging Pete with attempted murder but had agreed to drop the charge to felony assault on a police officer in exchange for a guilty plea. So Pete plead guilty and went to state prison for two years. Pete was a bad ass in prison too. At six feet four inches tall, and three hundred pounds, no one bothered him. He had experienced a nice smooth two year vacation at Chino and came home rested. The little rundown house his mother left him when she He also managed to toss the 380 into a

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died was just as he left it. No one in the neighborhood would even think about touching anything Pete owned while he was gone. Anyone who did would be risking their very life. Pete was a mean and unsympathetic man when dealing with any adversity. But he was considered a sweetheart by the biker chicks. He didn’t beat women for no reason. He didn’t have the sickness of the mind that makes some men feel the need to demean a woman or torture her for the pure enjoyment of it. He didn’t have a hidden need to

dominate a woman because he felt powerless in his life like so many cowardly men do. He didn’t feel powerless at all, just the contrary: he knew he was the most powerful man in his world. He would beat a man to death if it fit his purpose. If the man was a threat or was disrespectful and was of no use to him, Pete had no qualms about pounding on his head until his skull broke open and his brain spilled out onto the ground. But he was practical. If a loyal friend pissed him off he might slap him in the side of the head with his club like hand, but he would not seriously hurt him. The same was true in regard to

women. Pete didn’t beat a woman for the pure enjoyment of seeing a woman beg and grovel like your typical wife beater did. If there was a good reason to hit a woman he had no problem with knocking the crap out of her, but he wouldn’t beat her beyond what was necessary to keep her in line. Janet met Pete and found his strength and unfettered masculinity very attractive. There was nothing wimpy about this man; he was all man and hard as steel in more ways than one. So when she needed a place to stay she mentioned it to him after she had finished giving him a thirty minute blow job. His reply had been, “As long as you keep doing that you can stay as long as you want, darlin.” So it was a deal. She would suck his dick and do whatever else he wanted her to do and she could live here free of charge and free of beatings. But if she breached their contact all bets were off. Johnny didn’t know Pete, but he knew of him. He knew that people said he was not a man to mess with. But he knew nothing that would cause him to be concerned

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about his mother living with him.

He was just another man who lived the way many

others lived in this neighborhood. As a matter of fact, from the perspective of Johnny and the other young men in the neighborhood and of the subculture that encompassed it, Pete was akin to royalty. So not only was Johnny not concerned, he was actually a little proud of his mother for snagging such a big fish in their little pond. Johnny had never actually met Pete until today, and when he saw him he knew immediately why Pete garnered such respect from his peers. Pete was not only a big man, but he was a man who exuded strength and silently demanded respect. He wore a long, full, black beard, which matched his wild black hair. His head appeared to be a stranger to scissors or comb. His mouth could not be seen through the hair on his face, unless he smiled or laughed, showing his brilliant white teeth. But his eyes were what put fear into the soul of any man who angered him. They were frightening even when he wasn’t angry; even when he laughed. They were a piercing, sharp blue, with pupils so sharp they seemed capable of cutting your heart out like a laser. “Hi, Johnny.” Pete stood erect but relaxed and offered his hand to Johnny, cordially. “I’m Pete.” “Hello, Pete.” Johnny said nervously. He took Pete’s hand and made eye contact. Pete’s eyes looked friendly now, but he could feel the potential for cruelty in them, and he knew they held no tolerance for weakness. “Your mom talks about you all the time,” Pete said. “I think I know you already.” When Pete spoke it was not an ignorant voice one heard. This was unexpected from a man who lived in a shack and made his living selling crank. His pronunciation and vocabulary were evidence that he was not a stupid man. His intelligence apparently That was part of his

exceeded that of most of the people he came in contact with.

strength: he was smarter than everyone around him and he knew it. His understanding of the mentality of the people he lived and did business with was another of his strengths. He knew what they were going to do before they knew it. This ability caused many of his

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less intelligent peers to believe he was psychic. And it made everyone he knew afraid to even think of crossing him. Being on the good side of Pete was a very good place to be; but being on his good side meant being close to him, and it also meant being trusted by him. As long as you lived up to that trust and did not betray it, you were safe from harm. Getting close,

though, gave rise to the potential for making a mistake and igniting the temper of a dangerous man. Pete was loyal to his friends and would go to any length to protect them, but he held them to a high standard and expected from them the same loyalty he gave. Johnny had come to his mother’s house to help her pack and move. Danielle,

wanting to get in the good graces of Janet Knox, had come along to help. Danielle also knew of Pete, but had never met him. “Where do you want us to start, Mom?” Johnny asked. “Wherever. Everything has to go.” Johnny wandered around and looked at the years of clutter that littered the house. Pete and a couple of his friends had already loaded most of the furniture into Pete’s old pickup and hauled it away. Some of it went to Pete’s house, but most went to the dump. Or, more accurately, the side of a dirt road in the hills that served as a dump. Johnny had already cleared out all of his own things and moved them to Danielle’s apartment, so all that was left were all the little things that seem to take so much time to move. Johnny wandered around the house surveying what remained. He found a few

little things he had forgotten about. He had lived in the house most of his life, and there were many memories for him there. He eventually made it to his mother’s bedroom. He noticed some boxes half in and half out of the closet, with papers spilling out of the top and onto the dirty carpet. He picked up the papers and began putting them in the boxes. They seemed to be the only boxes in the house. They would need many more boxes to get all Janet’s stuff out of the house.

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As he picked up the papers, he found his birth certificate. He had been born at Riverside Community Hospital on June 4th, 1979. The space where the father’s name was supposed to be entered was blank. He had seen this before. His mother had had to present his birth certificate many times while applying for welfare benefits, but he had never really looked at it. He put it in the box and continued to pick up papers and pack them away, but now he was looking at them to see what they were before stuffing them into the boxes. All the papers were old. Some brown with age. There were some old photos too some were black and white, others were in color. Johnny suddenly realized he had found the box where his mother had stored the records of her life. Most people have such a box. They usually contain old love letters, pictures of family and old friends who haven’t been seen in years. This one had all those things. And, like most children, Johnny was curious about his mother’s life, because it was part of his life. It was his past as well as hers. As Johnny was looking through these things he didn’t feel like he was doing anything wrong, he didn't feel like he was invading his mother's privacy. He felt like he was discovering his past. He picked up old photos of people he had never seen before, and newspaper clippings of historic events of local importance. He began to notice there were a lot of newspaper clippings about a man whom Johnny had heard of. Everyone in Riverside had heard of him. He was locally well known as the richest man in the valley. Clyde Simmons was the founder of a manufacturing company that had grown from the proverbial garage based business to an empire. Western Manufacturing Corporation employed more people in the valley than any other single employer, other than government. Mr. Simmons lived in a house on Park Hill that was palatial by local

standards, and everyone knew who lived there. Johnny found a dozen or so newspaper clippings about this man, Clyde Simmons. They were in regard to different social events, and articles about business in the valley.

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Johnny wondered why his mother would have so many articles about this man, and about a business she had no interest in. As he was reaching the bottom of the pile of papers on the floor he picked up an envelope with a letter inside. The envelope was addressed to Mr. Clyde Simmons, at the address on Park Hill, from Janet Knox. There was a stamp on the letter but it had obviously never been mailed. The letter had been sealed at one time, but the glue had deteriorated and the envelope came open in Johnny’s hand. He opened it and pulled the letter out. It was almost two pages long, hand written in his mother’s writing. Johnny read the letter slowly, unhurried by the prospect of his mother walking in and catching him. Had he known what the letter contained he may have been more

cautious, but until he was through it the idea that he had just discovered his mother’s deepest darkest secret never occurred to him. But by the time he finished the letter he was in shock. He quickly put it back in its envelope and stuffed it deep into the box under the other scraps of paper. He made sure the articles about Clyde Simmons were not

visible, and he picked the box up and carried it outside to Pete’s truck just as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. But something had happened. The rest of the day Johnny was quiet and contemplative. He and Danielle, his

mother and Pete packed and moved all of his mother’s things. They stacked most of the boxes in a bedroom in Pete’s house along with a bunch of other junk left there by who knows who. Johnny and Danielle said goodbye and drove home.

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Chapter 11

“What’s with you today?” long.”

Danielle asked.

“You been moping around all day

The contents of the letter Johnny read the day before had been shocking. And he had thought of little else since reading it. Something else he could not stop thinking

about was whether or not it would be wise to tell anyone about it. But he doubted he would be able to keep this kind of revelation a secret, especially from Danielle. She knew him well enough now to tell when there was something on his mind. “Come on,” she said. “Tell me what’s going on.” “I found something at my mom’s yesterday,” he replied somewhat reluctantly. “You found something. Like what kind of something?” “Something big.” He still hesitated. Johnny had already decided to tell Danielle what he had found, but he still wasn’t sure whether or not he really should tell, and he was a little afraid of what her reaction would be. “Stop bullshitting me and tell me what the hell you found, damn it,” she said playfully. “Oh man, I don’t know if I should tell anybody, but I can’t stand it.” “Well, you have to tell me or I’ll have to kick your ass, so spill.” “All right, all right, hang on a sec. I’m not sure I believe this myself, it’s too crazy. But I found this box with a bunch of papers in it, and I found a bunch of articles about that rich guy, Clyde Simmons.” “Yeah, what about him?” “Well, I couldn’t figure out why my mom had all those articles, but then I found this letter. Man, I can’t believe this.” He paused for a moment, staring at the floor. “It was a letter my mom had written to Clyde Simmons telling him she was having his baby.”

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Danielle looked puzzled for a few seconds, and then realization began to light up her face. “The baby was you!” she declared. “It must have been,” Johnny replied. “But Mom never mailed the letter, so I don’t know if he ever found out.” “Oh, man. You could be rich!” “Ppsh, right. Like that guy would ever admit to being my dad.” “But we could prove it. You know, with a blood test.” “I don’t know. I need to think about this.” “What’s to think about? Let’s ask your mom about it, and if she says he’s your dad then we go tell him and you get in the will or maybe something even better.” “I don’t want to do anything about it right now. I sure as hell don’t want to tell my mom I know anything about this. She doesn’t know I know, and I’m pretty sure she

wouldn’t be happy about it if she did. I just want to think about it for a while. Okay, so just keep cool for a bit.” “Okay, but you’re a dumb ass if you ask me. I’d be getting some of that if I was you.” Johnny was confused. His mother had told him she didn’t know who his father was. Actually, she hadn’t came out and said she didn’t know who his father was.

Whenever the subject came up she had always said she didn’t remember his name. She said it was too long ago and she hadn’t really known him very well. Johnny had gone through a stage, when he was about twelve years old, during which he was obsessed with knowing who his father was, and he had bugged his mother about it until she had threatened to beat him if he didn’t stop. He had never stopped wondering, though. And now he may have his answer. But obviously his mother did not want him to know about it, and she must have a reason. He was afraid to bring it up to

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her, but he felt like he had to. He had to ask her because he had to know, and she was the only one who had the answer. The fact that the man was rich made very little difference to Johnny. He would be happy to be part of a wealthy family and experience all the benefits that go with that, but he would seek out his father whether the man was rich or poor. He wasn’t looking to punish him for not being there for him all those years either, he wasn’t even sure he would want to have a relationship with his father. heritage, about the history of his family. But he wanted to know about his

He had never had a family other than his

mother. All of Janet Knox’s family was either dead or gone and their whereabouts were unknown. There was really no one who shared his genes. There was no one that looked like him or sounded like him. There was no one he could count on for help no matter what he needed. He was pretty much alone in the world with only his mother, and now with Danielle. He had no ties, no roots, and he wanted them if they were to be had. Johnny wanted to know about his father more than he wanted to know him. He wanted to know about his family, if there was one. He knew of the Simmons family,

everyone in the valley knew about them. They had been around for as long as people had lived here, and they owned much of the property in the city. There were a few other business men in the city whose names were recognized by most of the old timers in the valley, but the Simmons name was the most famous, because it was the richest. Clyde Simmons had just been a hard working machinist working out of his garage fifty years earlier. But he invented a new type of hydraulic valve that was far superior to anything that had been built before and scraped together a few dollars to begin manufacture of the valve on his own. He had leased a shop, hired some help, and started a business that exploded with the expansion of the use of hydraulics in just about every type of machinery built. He held the patent for his valve and was the only manufacturer of it, and all the big machine building companies wanted it, including Caterpillar, John Deere, and Kamatsu.

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Now there was a housing construction boom taking place in the valley. Everywhere a person looked around the valley, land was being converted to tract housing. And this housing boom was making a lot of people richer than they had ever dreamed. Clyde Simmons was rich before the houses started being built at a staggering rate, but now much of the land he owned was worth many, many times what he had paid for it. Over the years, as the profits from his manufacturing company increased, he had invested in property. He could sell off all his land and be very wealthy, and make all his family wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, without his manufacturing company. It was the ultimate American success story: an average Joe who had worked his way into riches with nothing but the strength of his back and his mind. Johnny knew some of this story, everyone did, but now he was going to find out more. One Saturday, while Danielle was working at the bar and grill, he went to the city library and the librarian helped him find some information on the history of the valley and its residents. He found an article on Clyde Simmons and read all about his success. Johnny found out that Clyde Simmons had no sons. He had three daughters, and they were all married to men who worked for Western Manufacturing Corp. The sons-inlaw would presumably continue the family business after Clyde was gone. Johnny thought about Clyde Simmons every day and every night for a month before he finally decided he had to bring it up with his mother. There was no other way to get it out of his head. The idea that this man could be, and most likely was, his father was a preoccupation that would not let him go. All day as he shoveled sand and mixed stucco he thought about it. At night when he tried to sleep the thought would not leave his mind long enough to allow him to relax. If he did not find out the truth one way or another the possibility was going to drive him insane.

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Johnny opened the front door of his mother’s new home and walked in announcing his arrival as he did so. Janet was sitting in a dilapidated lazy boy in front of the TV. The dingy little room was filled with cigarette smoke. The walls were stained brown from

years of smoking by its occupants, and the place had a smell that seemed to be a combination of body odor, stale cigarette smoke, and old beer cans. Johnny didn’t notice the smell, though; he had grown up with it. His home and every other home he was

familiar with had had the same odor permeating its walls and curtains, and everything within it for as long as he could remember. Even the apartment where he lived with

Danielle had this same smell, though it was not as strong as it was in Pete’s house. Johnny never even really thought about it, it never occurred to him to think about it. The smell was just a part of a home as far as he knew. Johnny didn’t smoke, which was anomalous within the group he and his mother associated with. Everyone else he knew smoked, even Danielle. He had tried smoking once, when he was a young kid. It had made him cough, it hurt his chest, and he nearly vomited. And he saw what it did to people. His mother’s teeth were all brown and she coughed a lot. To Johnny smoking seemed like a stupid thing to do. It didn’t seem to him that it did anyone any good, so there was no up side to it. Cigarettes cost money, too, and that was not something the people he knew had an abundance of. He had seen his mother buy cigarettes with her last dollar and go with out food. A sweating beer can sat on the coffee table in front of Janet and a plume of blue smoke rose from her cigarette into a putrid cloud near the ceiling as she looked up at her son coming in the door. Stacks of junk lined the walls of the little house. There were boxes of clothes, boxes of old antiquated electronic components and small appliances, stacks of plastic milk crates filled with unidentifiable junk. In some places there was

barely room to walk between the piles to get from one room to the next. It seemed as if someone had planned on having a yard sale some years previous and had stacked all this

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stuff up in anticipation of that sale, then decided not to have the sale and just left everything sitting there until the yard sale mood struck again, but it never did. The old sagging dark curtains hung over the windows just as they always had at Johnny’s childhood home. Janet didn’t like sunlight much; she preferred the dank dark and the glow of the TV. “So you finally decided to come by and visit your old mom, huh Johnny?” Janet scolded. “I haven’t seen you in weeks.” “I’ve been kind of busy.” “Yeah, I bet. So what brings you around today?” “I wanted to ask you about something.” “You and what’s her name on the outs?” “No, why?” “Nothing. What you want to ask?” “I found some stuff when you were moving the other day.” Janet saw the nervousness in her son and knew this was something she wasn’t going to want to hear, but Johnny knew something and she needed to know what it was. “What do you mean, you found some stuff? What kind of stuff?” “Well, that’s what I wanted to ask you about.” “Well, go ahead ask. I can’t answer till you ask.” Janet was getting nervous now. Johnny had never had a problem asking her about or for anything. He was an independent child who had little or no fear of his mother’s retribution. She had tried when he was younger to figure out how to intimidate him so she could make him mind her, but nothing she had ever tried worked. She could do

everything in her power to make his life miserable while he was disobeying her but it didn’t seem to deter him. She could sometimes fool him into doing something her way when he was young, but as he got older he got wise to that as well. It wasn’t that he refused to do anything she wanted him to; he would do something for her if he wanted to,

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but it was when he didn’t want to that it was the most challenging.

But he always

seemed wise to her manipulation. Sometimes he did what she wanted, and sometimes he didn’t, but he was never nervous. This was a side of her son she had never seen before. Johnny hesitated, and shuffled his feet nervously. His hands were in his pockets as he looked at the ceiling still trying to figure out how to say this even though he had rehearsed it a million times in his head. But he still couldn’t think of a subtle way to put it to her. “I found some stuff about Clyde Simmons,” he said, abandoning any attempt at subtlety and going for the direct approach. “I found the letter you wrote to him about you having his baby. Was that baby me?” Johnny expected his mother to be shocked at the realization that he had made this discovery, and angry that he had the balls to ask her about it, but if she experienced either of these emotions she didn’t show it. For a second she didn’t say anything, she just looked at the end of her smoldering cigarette, then she leaned forward and rubbed it out in the ashtray on the coffee table. Janet looked at Johnny as she leaned forward to pick up her beer, and he could see a little shame in her eyes, but what he thought he saw mostly was relief. “Sit down there.” She motioned to a chair next to a pile of dirty junk with the hand that held the beer. She then raised the can to her mouth and took a long, healthy

swallow of its contents. Johnny sat in the chair as his mother requested and prepared himself for what he feared would come next. He had no clue what his mother might say or do. He had

expected her to be very angry, but it did not seem that she was going to react as he had anticipated. “I figured this would come up some day. I thought I could keep it from you forever when you were a kid, but I guess you’re not a kid any more.”

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This was the calmest and the most articulate Johnny had ever seen his mother. She spoke slowly in a quite voice as if she was trying to remember a speech memorized long ago for just this purpose. She paused for a second to collect her thoughts, and

Johnny waited silently. He knew this must be difficult for her and he would not ordinarily force his mother to do anything that would cause her this much discomfort. But this was something he desperately needed to hear and she was the only one who could tell him. “Yeah, I’m positive Clyde Simmons is the guy. I didn’t know who he was back

when it happened, but a couple months later, after I knew I was pregnant, I saw his picture in the paper and I recognized him as the guy who….. who was your father.” Janet pulled another cigarette from the pack of generic brand smokes, tapped its filter on the table, stuck it between her lips and lit it with a plastic bic lighter. She inhaled the smoke deeply and blew it back out at the ceiling. “Does he know?” Johnny asked timidly. “I think he does, but I guess he don’t want no kid by some welfare mom. I bet he don’t want no one to know he fucked a little thirteen year old girl while his wife was waiting for him at home either.” Janet began to get visibly agitated and Johnny knew she wouldn’t hold her cool much longer and once this conversation ended she would likely never allow it to be brought up to her again. So at the risk of igniting her anger he asked her why she

thought Mr. Simmons knew about him. “Because I wrote him another god damned letter and waited outside his office till he got there and handed it right to him, that’s how.” Janet was getting upset and the anger began to rise and mix with shame. Tears began to well up in her eyes and her voice grew louder. “If you’re thinking of walking up and telling that old son of a bitch that he’s your daddy you better think again,” she yelled as tears began to run down her cheeks. “If you think there’s gonna be some happy reunion with your daddy you got another thing

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coming. Now, get your fucking ass out of here and don’t you never talk to me about this again.” Pete had heard Janet yelling and came running to the front door. He was a man who always expected trouble and was always prepared to deal with it in the way he had found most effective. He slung the door open hard and it banged against the wall as he injected his bulk in full force into the living room of his house. He stopped for a brief moment just inside the door to let his eyes adjust to the dim light and to survey the situation. This momentary pause in his rush to defend his home may have saved Johnny from getting clubbed on the side of his head before Pete knew who he was hitting. During that brief moment, Janet saw what was about to happen. She knew it wouldn’t be the first, or the last time for that matter, that Pete would rush into a scuffle with the intent of knocking down the first person that came into view. “It’s just Johnny, Pete, calm down. It ain’t nothing you need to worry about,” Janet said before Pete could inadvertently break Johnny’s jaw. Pete looked at Johnny sitting fearfully in his chair not looking at him, and then looked at Janet with tears running down her face. “What the fuck?” Pete asked. “Nothing, it’s nothing, man. I just don’t want Johnny bugging me right now. Now get the fuck out of here Johnny, I don’t want to deal with your shit right now.” Johnny saw the fear in his mother’s eyes as she looked away from him and he looked up at Pete tentatively. He could see that Pete was fully prepared for battle. His chest was puffed out, and his arms were stiffly held at his sides with fists clenched. And he saw for the first time the eyes that so many grown men feared with every once of their being. Those eyes were not just angry, they were murderous and cold as steel. For a second Johnny genuinely feared for his life, but as Pete’s street warrior mind began to comprehend the reality of the situation, the angry eyes turned soft.

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Pete watched Johnny as he slipped past him and out the door.

He was still

somewhat tense but he was in control. Pete looked at Janet for a second as she tried to collect herself, and then left the house going back to what he had been doing in the garage.

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Chapter 12

Janet didn’t want to remember that night. She did not want to think about it, but now she could not drive it from her mind. Damn that kid, she thought. Why’d he go digging around in her stuff? She knew deep down that he was entitled to know, but the memory was painful, and she wished more than anything that she could develop incurable amnesia and lose the ability to remember what happened that night. She was a thirteen-year-old girl with no mother. She had feelings and urges she didn’t understand. Things were happening to her body that scared her, but she could not talk about any of this with her father. He was a gruff, manly man, who took no shit from anyone, and exhibited little if any concern for the plight of others, especially weak little girls. She was staying the night at a friend’s house one night. She had simply left a note for her father telling him she would be back in the morning. That was fine with him. He knew where she was and that was all that was necessary. As she slept in a twin bed in her friend’s bedroom that night, she woke to find a man standing over her looking down at her. When he saw she was awake he put a finger to his lips to indicate she should be quite. The full moon was shining brightly through the window, and she could see the man nearly as well as if it had been bright daylight. He was about her father’s age, but she had never seen him before; he was a complete stranger. But she was not sleeping in her own home that night and was disoriented. She did not know why this man was here, but there were always strangers coming in and out of this house. Some stayed the night, others just stayed for a few minutes and left. belonged here or not. The man knelt beside her bed and whispered to her. “Be quiet,” he said. “You are sleeping in my bed.” Janet did not know whether this man

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Janet did not reply. She merely lay there looking up at the man, wondering what he was going to do. “There’s nowhere else for me to sleep. There’s room for both of us.” Before she knew what was happening he had slipped under the covers with her. The only thing for her to do was to move over as close to the wall as she could get. The man turned on his side facing away from her and seemed to go to sleep. Janet laid Why don’t you just scoot over a bit?

beside him for what seemed a long time staring at the ceiling. She wanted to get out of the bed and go get in bed with her friend across the room, but she would have had to crawl over the man next to her to get out, so she just lay there quietly. At some point she fell asleep, but was awakened by a familiar feeling. It was a good feeling, one she often created herself by rubbing between her legs with the knuckle of her thumb against the little bump down there. Sometimes she had dreams where she was straddling something firm but soft, like the padded arm of a chair and having that feeling. Sometimes her daddy was in the dream. Sometimes her now dead mother was in the dream too. She liked any dream that allowed her to see her mother, and she liked these dreams most of all. In them her mother and father were together and they loved her, and they made her feel good. Tonight, though, the strange man was in her dream. He was rubbing her with his finger, then he moved over her and she felt pressure between her legs. It was too much pressure. It felt good like the rubbing at first, but then it hurt, and she woke up to find it was not a dream. The strange man was on her and in her. She started to scream and tried to get away from him, but he put his big hand over her mouth and nose and held her arm with the other hand as he continued to do what he was doing to her between her legs. He held his hand over her mouth and nose so she could not breathe. He held her that way until she had no strength to struggle against him anymore, and then he let go.

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She did not resist anymore for fear that he would smother her. She did not have to wait long. It was all over in just a couple of minutes after she stopped struggling. When he was finished he stayed on top of her for a moment, and then whispered in her ear, “If you tell anyone about this I will kill you. Do you hear me? I will cut your throat and you will bleed to death. Did you know you can’t scream when your throat is cut? Did you? You can’t talk and you can’t breath. Don’t forget that.” Then he looked her in the eyes and she was sure he meant what he said. The look in his eyes promised he would do as he said he would. He got out of the bed and left, and she never saw him again. She never learned why he had been there and no one ever mentioned anything about him. She never told anyone what happened that night. When she found out she was pregnant she knew her father would make her tell him something, so she made up a story about being at a party and there being a bunch of boys there she didn’t know. And that she and some of the other girls had gotten drunk, and she didn’t remember what had happened after that. And she lied to Johnny today too. She had never given any letter to Clyde

Simmons. She was afraid he would kill her if he ever found out she was pregnant. She had been lying her whole life because she was still, to this day, afraid of that man. She didn’t know why she kept those newspaper clippings, she probably shouldn’t have. But he was the father of her child. She hated him, but he was Johnny’s father, that could not be denied. She had not had sex with anyone else until a couple of years after Johnny was born. It had to be him. If she had just thrown those old clippings away no one would ever have found out. But she had forgotten she had them. They had been in that box in the bottom of her closet for 15 years. They were old news and had meant nothing to her for a long time until Johnny brought them up.

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Knowing that Johnny knew the truth was both liberating and horrifying. She didn’t want anyone to know what had happened to her that night so many years ago. She was ashamed. She had fought with the guilt for fifteen years and had yet to overcome it. She should have gotten out of that bed that night as soon as that man appeared. She should have screamed or something. She knew she could have done something to stop it from happening. But she also knew she hadn’t been the one who committed a rape, Clyde Simmons had. She knew ultimately it was his fault, but that didn’t clear her of her own feelings of guilt. Now that Johnny knew she felt a sense of relief. secret to hide. At least, not from Johnny. She no longer had that dark

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Chapter 13

Danielle was frustrated with Johnny’s complete lack of interest in the Simmons fortune. To her it seemed he should care a lot. He should want to get his fair share of the wealth so bad it was all he thought about. This was certainly true for her. There was a fortune just sitting there waiting for Johnny to take it and give some of it to Danielle, of course, but he wouldn’t even look at it. Johnny seemed to think he really wasn’t entitled to any of it. He seemed to think you had to earn something to be entitled, but Danielle knew this was not the case. A lot of rich people had done nothing to earn what they had. Most had been born into it, and even those who had not been born into wealth had not earned it with hard work, they had figured out a way to legally steal it from others. It was all about leverage and positioning. One had to find a position of opportunity and then find some leverage in that position and use it against those who had the money. It was the way of the world; it was the natural order. Johnny now had both position and

leverage, but could not see the opportunity that was staring him straight in the face. Danielle could not make Johnny see things her way. He was too honest, or too weak. Something was definitely wrong with him if he did not want to get as much as he could out of that old man, especially after what he had done to Johnny’s mother. nothing else Clyde Simmons needed to pay for raping a little girl. Janet hadn’t told anyone the details of what happened, but she didn’t need to. It was obvious. She had been thirteen at the time and he had been much older, exactly how old was irrelevant. Clyde Simmons had been an adult and this constituted statutory rape regardless of whether or not it was consensual. So Mr. Simmons deserved to pay for that, he was lucky he hadn’t gone to prison for it years ago. Well, if Johnny wouldn’t do it then Danielle would have to do it herself. But she would have to be careful. Johnny could be pretty stubborn when he wanted to be, and if he found out she was pursuing Simmons behind his back he would likely get pretty angry If

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about it. She wouldn’t want to anger him to the point where he would go back to his mother’s house and leave Danielle holding the empty bag. Danielle said nothing to Johnny about her thoughts. She couldn’t tell him how

much she wanted Clyde Simmons money. It would have to remain her secret.

Sunday morning Johnny awoke to find Danielle under the covers with his dick in her mouth. This was a special treat she liked to give him occasionally. Waking up to a blowjob was the most delicious feeling in the world. She usually did this when she

wanted to stay up late and he wanted to go to bed, because he had to get up early and go to work the next day. She would make up for not going to bed with him by giving him a blowjob when she finally did decide to join him in bed. For Johnny, it was definitely worth the wait. Danielle knew how to make Johnny come when she wanted him to, and it didn’t take long for her to make him reach that point this morning, because she was in a bit of a hurry. She was about to put her plan in place. When he finished, she came out from under the covers and tried to give him a big wet kiss. “Get that nasty mouth away from me,” Johnny exclaimed. Danielle knew he wouldn’t let her kiss him right after she had given him head, but she was playing with him. She tried this every time and every time he reacted the same way. And she thought it was funny every time. Danielle laughed. “Let’s get married,“ she said. “What!” Johnny couldn’t have heard her say what he thought he heard her say. “You heard me. I want to get married.” “What the hell made you think of this?” “I don’t know. I been thinking about it for a while. Don’t you want to marry me?” “Well, I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess so.”

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“You guess so! What, you just want to fuck me for a while and then dump me?” “No, I…I just…It just isn’t something I’ve thought about. Don’t you think I’m a little too young to get married?” “Fuck no, you’re just right. You’re eighteen, ain’t you?” “Yeah, I guess. But I don’t know if I want to……” “Well you damn well better decide soon cause I’m ready to get married, and if you won’t marry me I’ll find someone who will.” Danielle’s eyes welled up with tears and she got up from the bed and ran into the bathroom. She had planted the seed, now it would grow in him and he would ask her, she knew he would. The idea of getting married had never entered Johnny’s mind. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to live with Danielle for the rest of his life, he just hadn’t thought he would need to marry her so soon. And he had never thought she would demand that of him. He thought she would just always be there. Apparently, this meant a lot to her though, and he did not want to hurt her feelings. He did love her and hurting her made him feel bad, very bad. Johnny got up out of the bed and got dressed. Danielle was still in the bathroom. He didn’t hear any sounds coming from inside so he couldn’t tell whether or not she was still crying. He knocked on the door. ”Danielle.” “Go away,” she replied in a pitiful, dejected voice. “I do want to marry you. You know I love you.” “I don’t believe you.” “I’m gonna prove it. I’m going out and when I come back you’ll believe me.”

Danielle was not a zombie, she was a living person and she did have feelings. They were different than the feelings Johnny had, though. She felt love and sadness. She

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loved Johnny and she wanted him to love her enough to marry her, but her feelings were self-serving. She didn't know she was any different than anyone else. She, like most people, believed everyone was just like her. She thought everyone had selfish motives for every emotion, for every action. She didn’t see other people through a window but through a mirror. The bad things she knew were in her, she saw in everyone else too. The hatred she felt for herself, her weaknesses, and the evil she knew was in her, must be inside everyone and they must all hate themselves like she did. Everyone had to be like her and because of that conviction it was okay for her to manipulate others into doing what she wished because they were all doing the same thing. It was fair play, it was merely reciprocity. It was the give and take of life, it was the way the human species managed itself, and it was how everyone got what they needed. But Johnny was different, that she did understand. He felt from the outside. He was perceptive, and he could see how other people felt. He could see their emotions on their faces. He could feel them, and he reacted to them in a way that was foreign to Danielle. Somewhere in her mind she had a faint knowledge of this fact. Her conscious mind could not accept it, though. Sometimes she would get a glimmer of recognition but as soon as it began to make its way to her consciousness her cynicism overwhelmed it. It just could not be that people, any one, did anything without an ulterior motive. Somewhere hidden in the outward goodness of Johnny was a selfish goal. If this were not true Danielle’s world could not exist. Without selfishness behind every motive of every person, Danielle became evil. If other people did things without self interest as their

primary motivation, Danielle was more bad than others. Without this belief she could not continue to delude herself about her own goodness, or badness. So it was okay for her to manipulate Johnny into doing what she wanted. From her perspective, he must be receiving something he needed or he would not allow himself to be manipulated. He certainly was receiving something valuable from this relationship. He got her companionship. And he got good sex. All men want that, and he had it. In

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Danielle’s own mind, she was a valuable commodity. To her, his having her was all the payment he needed for doing her bidding. And she knew he would agree if asked. It was only fair that he reciprocate by giving her what she wanted. She was worth much more than what she had. Her affection and her sexual skills were more valuable than what she was receiving in return. Johnny needed to find a way to make up that difference. On second thought, she would find the way and instruct him as to how to accomplish the task she designated for him. For now, what she wanted was to be married. That is what she wanted today. And later she wanted a nice big house, a couple of kids, the respect of people she knew, and a husband who would do anything to make her happy. considering what she gave in return. Was it? That was not too much to ask

Johnny had grown up watching people being manipulated by others. It was how many of the people he knew made a living. Money was scarce where he came from, and people used what they had to get what they needed. Women used their bodies, men used their violence, children used aggravation. It was a way of life. He knew Danielle was manipulating him, but it would not have occurred to him that this was anything but normal. It was just a means for expressing her need. He understood that she had needs and she would manipulate him to get them filled, and he would fill them if he could. He loved her, and he would marry her if that was what she needed to be happy. He had to. He could not live without Danielle, and he could not live with her if she was unhappy. Johnny had been saving up money for a car. He had been putting half of every paycheck for the last six months into a savings account. He probably already had enough to get a decent car, but he wanted to have more than enough. something else: he needed to make Danielle happy. Johnny walked down the street to the bank automated teller machine and withdrew the maximum amount from the machine: $300.00. He would walk to the mall a But now he needed

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few blocks away and look at engagement rings, and when he returned home with that ring Danielle would be happy.

Johnny and Danielle had a June wedding at a little chapel next to the highway in the desert just outside Victorville. Janet and Pete were there to witness the ceremony and sign the certificate. They all stopped for dinner at Denny’s in San Bernardino on the way home, and the life of Mr. and Mrs. Johnny Knox began with little fanfare and no honeymoon.

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Chapter 14

When she had finished washing and putting away all the beer mugs that morning, Danielle pulled the phone book out from under the cash register at Jim’s Bar and Grill and flipped through it. She found the listing for Western Manufacturing Corp. and wrote the number down on a note pad. Then she looked for the private number of Clyde Simmons, but it was unlisted, of course. No rich man lists his home phone number in the phone book so distant relatives can call asking for money, or so strangers can call and harass him. Clyde may be a child rapist, but he wasn’t stupid. She wished Johnny would do this. It really was his job to do, but he didn’t express the slightest interest in Clyde Simmons money. He wouldn’t even talk to her about it. Whenever she tried to bring it up he changed the subject or simply got up and walked away. How could he not see that this was an opportunity to get what they needed from this man? Besides, the bastard deserved to pay for what he had done to Johnny’s mother. How could Johnny not want to make that lousy pig sweat and worry about the whole world finding out what kind of an animal he was? Didn’t he love his mother? Didn’t he love Danielle enough to want to make her happy? Wasn’t her happiness more important than any apprehension he had? Well, if Johnny wouldn’t do it, Danielle would do it for him. She didn’t think Johnny was capable of conducting a good blackmail anyway. He didn’t have the heart for it, or maybe he didn’t have the balls for it. Johnny wasn’t afraid of anyone, but he never saw fit to be assertive. He never had the gumption to impose himself on others to get what he wanted. Danielle knew Johnny could be intimidating if he ever decided to be. He

could stand up and be a man if the thought ever occurred to him, if he ever thought he deserved to. If Johnny ever wanted something bad enough he would be a man who got what he wanted, he had just never wanted anything that much. He had never been so passionate about anything that he would take a risk. He had just never felt the way she

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felt. He had never wanted something so bad he was willing to risk his soul for it. But she knew what that feeling was. She knew it well. And the cure for that longing was possible. She was about to get her hands on what she needed to satisfy it, to fill that hole inside her. The answer to the prayers she said every night was within her reach. If she could do this she would no longer have to beg God every day for what she could never expect him to provide. If she could make this man beg her not to destroy him, if she could take from this man what he valued the most she would be fulfilled. If she could make him grovel at her feet she would take his power from him. If she could make him utter a plea for her to spare him, she would have the life she wanted. She would be worthy of love and respect. She would no longer have to curse herself in the mirror. She would no longer loathe her ineptitude. She would no longer have to beg for respect from men who only wanted to fuck her. She would no longer have to spread her legs to feel wanted. She would have defeated the most powerful of men: rich and old. She picked up the phone to dial, but put it back down on the cradle almost immediately. What would she say when someone answered? It would undoubtedly be a secretary that answered. Certainly, Clyde Simmons didn’t answer his own phone.

Danielle would need to make up a fake name to give the secretary, and a reason for her call. Danielle thought for a few moments then picked up the phone again and dialed the number. After three rings an exasperated young female voice said, ”Western

Manufacturing”. Danielle hesitated for a moment and said, “Can I speak to Mr. Simmons, please.” “Is he expecting your call,” the secretary asked in a somewhat irritated tone. “No, but this is an important personal matter and I really need to speak with him." “May I ask who is calling?” “Tell him his favorite niece is calling.” “And what would be his favorite niece’s name?”

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Danielle didn’t answer; she hung up the phone instead. She had not expected such resistance. It had not been part of the scenario she had gone over in her mind. She thought the secretary would be intimidated by the idea of a favorite niece calling and would nervously put her right through to the big man himself without any further fuss. She would have to think of a better plan. The bell rang signaling the entry of someone into the bar and grill. It was still early, 10:30 am, but there were some patrons who wanted a beer early in the day to dull the headache from all the beers they had the night before. Danielle looked up to see the gray eyed man she had spent the night with a few months earlier walking toward her. As she recalled, that had been a pretty good night. He had been like putty in her hands that night, begging with his eyes for her to do just a little bit more than what she was doing. begging eyes. “Hey stranger,” she said, with an amused smirk on her lips. “You never called me,” he said. “It’s very bad manners to sleep with a guy and then never call him again, you know.” There were many things about this guy that Danielle would never forget, but at the moment she could not remember his name. She searched her memory for it and finally it clicked in her brain. “Well, Dave,” she said in a sarcastic tone, emphasizing his name, ”a lady doesn’t call a man for a fuck. A lady must be called.” “Oh really, should I have called?” “Of course you should have. A lady might be insulted if a guy doesn’t call after she has given him the ride of his life.” “Were you insulted,” Dave asked. “Well,” Danielle faked a hurt expression, causing her lower lip to sag slightly. “Maybe a little.” She liked for men to look at her with those

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“Is there any way I can make it up to you?” Dave moved closer to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Not now, you can’t. I just got married. You missed your chance,” but she made no move to extract his hands from her shoulders or to move away from him. Dave looked into her eyes and he saw no resistance. He heard her saying he had no chance of getting what he wanted from her, but her eyes looked exactly the same as they had that night some months ago when she was saying yes. Dave had been with many, many women. He knew a real no and he knew when a woman was just doing her duty by pretending to say no, and this was the latter. Dave moved even closer to Danielle, and she still did not move away. If she had tried he would have kept her from doing so by holding her by her arms. He was gripping them lightly but was prepared to tighten his grip at any sign of resistance. Instead, she stood where she was and tilted her head up to look at his face. Dave wasn’t the only one who knew a look when he saw one. Danielle also saw a look she was familiar with: the look men have when they want something and they are convinced they are about to get it. She loved that look too. She liked the begging look, but she loved the confident look just as much. She pretended to like to tease a man, but while she enjoyed the tease she really liked a man who knew he could have her. There was a conflict within her: she needed to be in control, but a man who could control her was the biggest turn on she had ever experienced. She held back to feel the power in her hands, but she wanted more than anything to be overcome, to have the power wrenched from her and rammed into her until she could stand it no longer, and she came with a mind numbing jolt of electricity that raced in wave after wave from her pelvis to her head and back again. Dave leaned forward and kissed her. She still didn’t move. She allowed him to kiss her, but she didn’t kiss him back. She just stood there, with her face tilted up to his and let his lips caress hers, but she didn’t part her lips and invite his tongue inside.

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He moved in even closer, grabbing a handful of the long brown hair that hung down her back and pulling on it gently but firmly to tilt her face even further up toward his. He felt her body respond to the gentle tug. He felt her will give way to his, and he knew he had won this battle. He pulled on the handful of hair a little harder and began grinding his lips into hers, and she could hold back no longer. She gave in, kissing him back and grinding her crotch into his thigh. She reached down and grabbed the crotch of his jeans and felt the stiff member within. Danielle pulled Dave backward into the storage room. She slowly sunk down to a squatting position and began desperately pulling at the buttons on Dave’s Levis. When she had freed his cock from its denim confines, she took it in her mouth, and Dave groaned. Suddenly, without warning she pulled her mouth away from him with a sharp sucking sound. She moved up to his mouth and rammed her tongue down his throat as far as it would reach, while at the same time pulling up her short skirt and tugging at her panties. She pulled them down, and in the same move spun around bending over the big sink and pushing her now bare rear end against his throbbing penis. Before Dave could move, Danielle reached between her legs and guided him into her and pushed back hard. Dave grabbed the waistband of her skirt and began ramming his dick into her hard and fast. In a few short seconds they both exploded in orgasm, and Dave fell back against the wall and sank to the floor, exhausted. Danielle turned around and looked at Dave with a grin. He was spent, with no strength left in him. She liked that. She had taken his strength from him. She grabbed the back of his head and rammed his face into her crotch and growled, then she leaned down and kissed him again. “See what you missed.” She said. Then she laughed and went back to the bar, leaving Dave sitting on the floor with his still half-hard dick hanging out of his pants.

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“Damn,” Dave said, and he banged the back of his head on the wall behind him. “Why the fuck did you have to go and get married?”

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Chapter 15

“God I hate that mother fucker,” Johnny mumbled to himself. The sight of Bob repulsed him. Johnny’s hatred for the big, blond man was so intense he had to grit his teeth, and bite his tongue whenever the man was within view. It was all he could do to keep his hatred inside and not unleash a firestorm of venom in the bastard’s face whenever Johnny saw the cocky son of a bitch look in his direction. Bob. Not much of a name, actually. It was more of a curse, like shit or fuck or suck my dick you fucking prick. It certainly wasn’t unique. Johnny would just as soon call the man cock sucker, or pussy face, or fuck wad: the same names Bob favored as pet names for Johnny and his ilk. Construction workers are a notoriously crass and foul-mouthed bunch, but Johnny had never expected such blatant abuse when he went to work with this stucco crew. He expected to be picked on by the older guys, and, as he now knew, the picking was not merely for sport. It was taken much more seriously. It was a right of passage: an initiation. The wages in this line of work were very good, but they did not come easily. The work was hard, but that was only part of earning the money. Every man on this crew busted his ass on the job or he didn’t stay; it was as simple as that. But he also had to be able to take shit and give shit back without crossing the invisible line that led to getting your ass kicked. If you could do the work and you could take the shit that was dealt you, you would earn not only your wages but the respect of your coworkers as well. If you couldn’t, they would pick at your wounds until you bled to death. Johnny had been doing the job for six months and had seen a few guys come and go. The big, blond son of a bitch with the beard, and the giant piston-like arms was usually the reason they left. Others gave the new guys crap, but Bob enjoyed it. More than that, even; he relished it. Johnny could see the joy in the big man’s eyes when he found a weakness and a way to cut open the soft belly of a vulnerable man. It gleamed in

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his eyes like the sparkle of a man in love, or a woman who has just opened a box to find a huge diamond ring. That look of nearly orgasmic pleasure could not be concealed. The last guy to exact the wrath of Bob had left barely able to walk under his own power. Johnny had watched, knowing full well what was coming. The new guy just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand the system and that bucking it would only get him hurt. He had only been on the crew for a week before Bob had antagonized the poor, stupid fool into taking a swing at him. “Hey pussy face,” Bob yelled at the new guy one morning. “Pull your fucking pants up so they cover your fucking ass. You looking to get reamed?” Bob had harangued the man, who was actually not much more than a kid, from the day he started work. And the kid was either incapable or unwilling to hide his disdain. A couple of name calling events had resulted, but this only encouraged Bob to dig deeper. He loved grinding the stake in, and loved even more the look of hatred in his victims face. The young man bristled at Bob’s statement that morning but left his pants as they were. Bob walked over to him, as the kid smoked a cigarette before commencing work for the day. He walked around the kid, blatantly checking out his ass and rubbing his hands together. “Mmm mm,” he hummed. “A little less hair in that crack, and I’d take it myself. You’d like that, wouldn’t you queer boy?” With pure glee sparkling in his eyes, Bob looked at the kid, daring him to react and hoping with every fiber of his repulsive soul that he would. And Bob was not disappointed. The kid, a twenty year old with a wiry build, turned and caught the big man with a right fist to the jaw. If the kid had expected to knock Bob on his ass with that punch, he was sorely disappointed. The hard right barely registered on Bob’s face, except to produce a wicked smile.

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“Ha ha. You done fucked up, queer boy,” Bob said, as he stared back at the kid for what seemed like a full thirty seconds. The kid showed no sign of backing down but stood staring back, hatred bleeding from his pores. Without the slightest warning, Bob’s fist, the size of a ten-pound hammerhead, shot forward with imperceptible speed into the kid’s stomach. His arm, huge and rippled from years of heavy work, pushed forward into the kid’s torso until it seemed to disappear inside him. Air escaped the young man’s mouth in a sharp gasp; a guttural grunt, sounding like entrails coming lose, burst from him, and he fell to the ground in a heavy, unconscious heap. The big, blond man looked down at the injured young man with a mixture of joy and disgust. He kicked him in the ribs for good measure and turned toward the men watching. “Get that fucking piece of shit out of here,” he said, as he got into his pickup and drove away. Johnny wasn’t about to get involved in someone else’s fight. That did not pay, from his experience. He had watched it all take place without uttering a sound. If the big man had left Johnny alone, the two would have coexisted without incident, but that was not to be. Bob could not leave a quiet guy like Johnny alone for long. He was just too tempting a victim for the sadistic bastard. And it did not take long before Johnny caught the eye of the big man. It was lunchtime, and Johnny had just taken the first bite of his sandwich when his turn came around again. “Hey fuck wad,” Bob yelled. Johnny knew whom the son of a bitch was talking to, but he pretended not to. Bob picked up a small dirt clod and threw it at him. It hit Johnny’s hand and splattered dirt on his face and on his lunch. “Hey asshole, I’m talking to you!”

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Rage jumped in Johnny’s chest, but he held it down. It would do no good to lose control of himself; he had witnessed that first hand. He looked up from his lunch, using every ounce of self-control he possessed to not let the anger show in his face. Johnny didn’t say anything, but Bob knew he had been acknowledged. “Ain’t that your old lady that works down at Jim’s Bar and Grill? The dark haired girl with the big tits?” Johnny did not immediately reply to the question. He didn’t like the idea of anyone making such a remark about Danielle’s breasts, but coming from this man it was more than rude: it was bait. And Johnny knew it would not stop there. But he had no choice, so he reluctantly nodded in affirmation and awaited the inevitable. “I thought so.” A glimmer of anticipation came into the big man’s eyes. “Ya know, I think I fucked her once. Does she still like to take it up the ass?” Bob laughed, and looked around at his cronies. They laughed with him. Johnny said nothing. But the hatred burned in his eyes so brightly that Bob could see it from his seat twenty feet away. “Ooh, look boys. I think I pissed little Johnny off.” They laughed some more. But pissing off little Johnny was not something Bob should have taken so lightly. Johnny did not look intimidating, and he did not seem capable of doing harm to a man such as the big blond bastard, but he was indeed capable. Under that quiet, seemingly calm exterior was a brooding, calculating mind that would find a way to do whatever he needed to get done. Johnny did not enjoy hurting people, but he had grown up in an environment where self-protection was one’s own responsibility and vital to survival. The white-trash ghetto he had lived in his entire life was rife with people looking to take from others by whatever means necessary. They were like rats on a decaying carcass. They fought over every scrap. He had known more than one person who was found dead in a ditch the day after the Welfare checks came in the mail. He knew men who collected money from more

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than one woman every month for no apparent reason, and he knew women who kept old people in a filthy room out back so they could collect their social security checks. He had watched these people work their own system from his highchair. And he had continued to watch his mother finagle her way through the improvised system as he grew up. It was not a well-oiled machine: it required manipulation and improvisation. And it required the ability to do what it took without sympathy. Revenge was one of the cogs in that machine. It kept the parts in line. It kept the system from coming apart at the seams. It was the means for enforcement of the unspoken laws that regulated the machine. It was an inherent part of the culture, and Johnny knew no other way of life. Pissing off little Johnny was like grabbing a rat by its whiskers. As small as it was, it would undoubtedly hurt you as badly as it possibly could. The rat did not bite out of meanness or out of a love for causing pain; it bit out of fear and the instinct to survive, and it would chew its way into your gut and sink its filthy, decaying teeth into your heart if that was what it took to break free. Johnny would watch and wait for a chance to get even. Bob loved his beer. He hated to go home to his wife, because she had him by the balls when he was there. She was smarter than he was, and she would not bend to his will like the meatheads at work. So he stayed after work everyday until dark, drinking beer with the guys who kissed his ass to avoid being eaten alive by him. The old lady griped at him every night, but it was the one thing she could not take from him, so he was always the last to leave the job site. And the beer always seemed to move his bowels for some reason. So, as the ass kissers drove away to their homes and their wives, Bob usually sat for a while in the porta-potty. Johnny knew this. He knew Bob’s routine well. And he watched. Bob started his pickup to let it warm before he left for home; then he entered the port-a-potty. The little plastic house rocked slightly as the big man situated himself, dropping his pants and settling onto the seat.

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Johnny’s nerves stood on end in anticipation of his impending move. He was hyper-alert, and the darkness creeping in from the east invigorated him. He had always loved the night. He had extraordinarily good night vision and had learned to hide himself in shadows. He could move through his neighborhood at night better than most, and he could hide from the demons that inhabited the night there. He felt the power of his stealth as he crept toward the port-a-potty and Bob’s truck. He moved quickly but quietly from shadow to shadow as he listened to his own breath. He opened his mouth so as to breath more quietly and free his ears to warn him of any interference. Johnny crept to the pickup as its engine ran. The driver’s side door was open. The truck sat high off the ground on its lift kit, and Johnny had to pull himself up to get behind the wheel. He knew he would only have one chance, and if he failed the big, blond man might actually kill him. Johnny was fully convinced that the man was capable of murder. He was capable of anything, Johnny thought. So he needed to be sure of his actions and make his moves very carefully. He sat behind the wheel for a few moments in contemplation, then he decided. He put the automatic transmission in drive and stomped on the accelerator in a sudden burst of anger and determination. He would do this, and the son of a bitch would get what he deserved. He spun a rooster tail as he gunned the big truck in a tight circle, bring it around to the back of the little plastic housing of the port-a-potty. He sat for a split second, not in hesitation but in planning; then he stomped on the gas pedal again. The truck roared into the back of the plastic house knocking it sharply forward. Johnny urged the truck forward behind it, slowing some in an effort to avoid knocking the outhouse any further. He hit it again, this time a little softer, but hard enough to knock it over onto its door, trapping the big man inside. He gunned the engine quickly, scooting the house along the dirt. He gunned the engine again, and the truck jumped forward and slightly up, bringing the bumper of the big four-wheel drive up onto the plastic housing. The port-a-potty was pinned under the front bumper with the door of the plastic housing

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pressed firmly against the ground, trapping the son of a bitch inside without hope of escape. Johnny gunned the truck’s engine one more time, spinning the tires and pushing the weight of the truck further up onto the plastic housing of the shitter. He was taking no chances. Johnny got out of the truck and walked to the front of it. The blue chemical stew that filled the holding tank of the portable bathroom was running out the gaps around the door. Bob was thrashing around inside, cursing and screaming like a whore in labor pains. “You cock sucking mother fucker! You get me the hell out of here or I’ll fucking wrench your head off and bash in your skull with a fucking shovel!” He screamed so loud it sounded as if his vocal cords were ripping into shreds. His voice squealed and cracked in pure undeniable rage and terror. Johnny stood, expressionless with his hands in his pockets, looking down at the green plastic housing as Bob flailed away inside, causing the sides to bulge one way and then the other. He looked around and saw a piece of two by four lying a few feet away and retrieved it. He held it above his head waiting for the right moment and then swung the board down hard on a bulge in the housing. The board made contact with flesh, and the man inside screamed in pain. “You fucking bastard,” the big man screamed. He was nearly crying. It could have been from anger, or it could have been from pain. It really made no difference to Johnny. Then the big man’s voice became quieter, and he spoke from between clenched teeth. “I will find out who you are, you son of a bitch, and I will fucking kill you for this.” Johnny had no doubt the man meant what he said. He raised the board again and brought it down on the plastic housing. It made contact again, and Bob screamed. Johnny dropped the board on the ground and walked away, leaving the pickup truck running as it sat, with the plastic port-a-potty pinned beneath it. He had never uttered a word, and there was no way the big man inside the outhouse could identify him.

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Johnny laughed nervously under his breath as he reached his own pickup, around the corner. “I think that mother fucker will think twice before bad mouthing somebody again.” He turned the key, started his truck and drove slowly away in the direction opposite the job site.

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Chapter 16

Johnny was stunned. He hadn’t had time yet to decide whether he was happy or sad. For now he was just in shock. “I thought you were on the pill,” he said disbelievingly. Danielle was still holding the stick she had just peed on. “I was, but the doctor told me I should stop for a while.” Danielle had never really been on the pill or used any other type of birth control, but Johnny did not need to know that. “Why did you have to stop? And why didn’t you tell me?” “I don’t remember exactly. You know how doctors are. They talk so fast and use all those big fancy words. I don’t know. He just said I needed to stop for a while. Aren’t you happy? Don’t you want to be a dad?” “Shit,” was all his straining mind could muster as a response. “Fuck you, Johnny! You better not give me no shit. You did this you know. Nobody forced you to fuck me. Hell nobody could have stopped you if they had wanted to.” Johnny just stared at her, not knowing what to say or even what to think as yet. All kinds of things were running through his mind. Babies cost money. Where was he going to get more money? Damn, he was only eighteen. He thought he probably wanted to be a dad some day, but he certainly hadn’t expected to be a father now. He had no clue how to be a father; he had never had one. What exactly did

fathers do? What was he supposed to do now? Should he be happy or not? He guessed he better at least pretend to be happy or Danielle was going to make his life a living hell, this he understood without even thinking about it. “I’m not giving you any shit. I’m just surprised, that’s all. How do you expect me to feel?”

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“I expect you to be happy and glad you were lucky enough to be the one to knock me up, that’s how I expect you to feel.” “Okay, okay, just give me a minute to get used to the idea.” “Well, don’t take too long cause you’re going to be a dad whether you like it or not.” There wasn’t anything he could do about it; he was going to be a dad. Inside he was seething. She did this on purpose, he thought. She wanted to get pregnant and didn’t want him to know because she knew he would object. Johnny was no different than any other man: he had not idea why women did the things they did, but he was pretty sure he had been hoodwinked. “I’ve gotta go think,” Johnny said. “What’s to think about?” “I just need to go….” “Where the hell are you going? Johnny, you better not be thinking about leaving me.” Her lip quivered a little, and she reached for him. He held her, and she laid her head on his shoulder. Johnny could feel her warm, wet tears on his neck. “I’m not leaving.” Johnny whispered in her ear. “I just need to go think a little. I need to figure out how I’m gonna do this.” “I can’t do this by myself,” Danielle sobbed. “You’re not going to do it yourself. I’ll be right here. I’ll be back in a little while. I promise.” “Don’t stay gone long.” Johnny nodded. He went out the door, got in his truck, and drove to his mother’s house. If he were going to talk about this with anyone it would be her. She wasn’t exactly his best friend, but she was his mother, and she certainly knew what it was like to be a parent.

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After Johnny left, Danielle sat on the bed in the bedroom and looked at herself in the mirrored closet doors. The incident with Dave at the Bar and Grill haunted her. If it had only been the one time she might not worry about it so much, but it hadn’t been just once. Dave came back a few days later and an encounter nearly identical to the first had occurred. Then a week or so later it happened again, and a few days later again, and a week or so later again. All in all Danielle had given in to the man half a dozen times. It had ended about two months ago, just about the time she would have conceived. She decided not to tell anyone. She would even deny to herself that Dave might be the father. She had to. Dave would never suspect that the baby might be his, and Johnny would never suspect that it might not be his. No one but Dave knew what they had done, and she would deny it to her grave. As long as she convinced herself no one would ever know. She did feel guilty in her own way. But guilt was not a motivator; it was merely a side effect of life. She must not let her guilt cause her to jeopardize her survival. She needed Johnny to survive. If she lost Johnny she would have to find another man who would suit her needs, and she had concluded that this would be nearly impossible. Dave was the only other man that might be a viable choice, but she was sure Dave wouldn’t want her. He had just wanted a quick fuck. He might not even like her for all she knew. And he was too wise to her ways for her to con him. manipulate him the way she could manipulate Johnny. And Johnny made her happy. Sometimes she thought she would be happier She would never be able to

without him, but that was only because she sometimes wanted the attention of other men, and sometimes she just wanted a good solid fuck by someone other than her husband. She needed a challenge occasionally. She needed to test the power of her sex appeal. The day she could not convince a man to fuck her against his better judgment, would be the day she lost her femininity. That’s the day her life was no longer of value to

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her or anyone else. Her sex was what made her a person of value. Without it she was worthless. The baby, though, might change things. She was feeling differently already about some things. She had wanted to be a mother since she was twelve years old. It was always going to be someday, but now it was going to be in seven months. Yes, she had deceived Johnny. She had told him she was using birth control when she wasn’t. And she had done it intentionally. She wanted a baby more than anything. But she also wanted Johnny. She wanted to keep him and be able to charm and

overpower other men, but just as badly she wanted to be a mother. Could she do both, she wondered? She was sure she could. Johnny would never believe she had cheated on him. She could keep secret what she needed kept secret, and she could have this baby and pretend it was Johnny’s whether or not it actually was. To her it was Johnny’s baby, regardless of biology. It had to be: he was her husband. There was no alternative.

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Chapter 17

Danielle could not understand why no one else was interested in the opportunity that seemed so obvious to her. Clyde Simmons had money, and they all knew something that Clyde Simmons would not want others to know. What could be easier or more

obvious? The opportunity was there for the taking, but apparently no one else wanted Mr. Simmons’s money. She had to find a way to make them interested. Danielle knocked, and a few seconds later Janet opened the door. Danielle had never come to the house before without Johnny, and the surprise showed on Janet’s face. “Well, hello. What’s the occasion?” Janet asked. “Nothing really,” Danielle replied. “I was just wondering, you know, if you and

Pete had plans for this weekend. I was thinking it might be nice to have you two over for dinner sometime”. “Well, I’m not sure, actually. I will ask Pete when he gets home, but I think we could probably do something like that.” “Great. I think Johnny would like that, and I think we should get to know each other better. Sometimes I need to talk to another woman, you know. I’m just around men all the time”. “You want to come in? Have a beer?” “Why not?” Danielle replied. The two women had a beer together and talked. Danielle skillfully steered the conversation in a direction that brought them around to money and men, her favorite subjects. She baited the conversation with a casual mention of the name Clyde Simmons, hoping Janet would feel compelled to spill her feelings about the man, because of the friendly nature of the conversation, but Janet didn’t bite. So Danielle came right out with it. She was not one to beat around the bush if some hacking was what was needed to get to the root of the matter.

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“You know, if I were you I’d be getting some money out of the jerk,” she declared, after confessing that she knew about Johnny’s father. Janet lit a cigarette, drew deeply on it and blew smoke up at the ceiling. “How exactly would you do that?” Danielle shrugged and crushed her cigarette out in the ashtray on the coffee table. “We could tell him about Johnny and threaten to tell his wife unless he gives us money.” “Us?” Janet replied. “Yeah, you know, me, you, Johnny.” “What the fuck makes you think you have anything to say about this?” “Well, I am Johnny’s wife.” “What fucking difference does that make?” Danielle, somewhat surprised by Janet’s resistance, attempted to reply but before she could get a word out Janet launched into a tirade. “You ain’t got nothing to do with this, and it ain’t none of your business.” Janet stood, placed her hands on her hips and looked down at Danielle. “I know your kind and I know what you’re trying to pull but it won’t work on me, you gold diggin slut.” Danielle stood, anger flushing her face, and planted her feet in front of Janet’s. “You better watch your mouth, bitch, unless you don’t want your son coming around.” Janet moved to within three inches of Danielle’s face. “You fucking little whore! Are you threatening me?” Danielle could smell her rotting teeth. “I’m telling you that I’m Johnny’s wife, and if you think he won’t believe anything I tell him you’re stupid as hell.” “Listen here, you little bitch. If you think Johnny’s gonna side with you over me you’re crazy. I’m his mother. And I want you to get the hell outta this house, and don’t you bring this shit up to me ever again. You hear me?”

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Janet was showing no sign of backing off, and it was obvious that she was not going to consider including Danielle in any scheme to get money from Clyde Simmons. Arguing any more would be a waste of time. Danielle grabbed her purse from the couch and left without another word, slamming the door on her way out. So that was that. But Danielle told herself the war was not over when it came to Simmons’s money. She would just have to wait and look for another opportunity to come along.

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Chapter 18

A few days later, while Johnny took Janet grocery shopping, an idea came to Danielle, and she made the trip to Janet’s house again. But this time it was Pete she was coming to visit. “How about a blow for some blow?” she said. Pete turned to find her standing behind him in his motorcycle repair shop. He hadn’t heard her come in, but when he realized who it was a grin broke across his face, and a knowing twinkle came into his eye. That look was devastating to women. It made the old biker chicks feel twenty again and weakened the knees of any female he had ever come into contact with. Even other men could feel the effect: they could see the women around them melting under his stare. “You like the nose candy, do you?” he replied and moved a step closer to her. Danielle felt her knees go a little mushy, but this was her element. That mushy feeling wouldn’t divert her. “That too,” she replied. “You want the blow before, or do I go first?” “I think you’ll like it better if I get mine first,” she said. “Okay, if you promise I won’t be disappointed.” He picked a small mirror from off a high shelf and took a baggy from his pocket, pouring its contents onto the mirror. He chopped up the white chunks into a fine powder with a utility knife blade and arranged it into two lines, each about an inch long. “Take your hit,” he said, and handed Danielle a rolled up twenty dollar bill. She took it from him and snorted one of the lines expertly. Pete did his line as she watched, and then turned to her with watering eyes. “Come back here,” he told her, and led the way to a little room in the back of the shop that contained a beat up old couch and a refrigerator.

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Pete took a beer from the refrigerator, popped the top and handed it to Danielle. She took it eagerly and gulped down half of it immediately. Pete opened one for himself. “So?” he asked as he sat down on the couch. “So what?” Danielle asked as she moved into the space between Pete’s knees and looked down conspicuously at his crotch. “So, I get mine now?” Pete looked her up and down as she lowered herself into his lap and began unbuckling his belt. “How about letting me have a look at those big tits of yours?” Pete said, as he tipped the beer back for a good-sized swallow. “That will be extra.” She had his fly unbuttoned by then and was digging in his boxer shorts, attempting to wrestle out his half hard cock. “I’ll make it up to you.” “How?” “The terms will be determined at a later date.” That look was back on Pete’s face, and it was more than enough to convince her. Danielle pulled her T-shirt over her head, and reached behind to unhook her bra. She held her large breasts up with her forearms and laid them in Pete’s lap, wrapping them around his dick. “Mmm. You’ve got a big dick, Pete,” she said, as she proceeded to rub her breasts up and down his shaft. Pete said nothing, but watched Danielle with obvious pleasure. “There is something you could help me with,” she said, just before she licked the end of his cock. “Yeah,” he said, without the slightest sign that he had noticed her tongue action. “What might that be?”

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“You know about this guy who is supposed to be Johnny’s dad?” She took the end of his dick in her mouth and rolled her tongue around it, but never took her eyes off his face. “Oh!” he hesitated for a moment. “Yeah, old man Simmons. What about him?” “He owes Johnny something, don’t you think?” She took more of him in her mouth while continuing to stroke him with her breasts. “Oh god! Oooh... yeah I suppose he does.” “How about you help me get it from him?” she said, and then pulled herself up to a near standing position, leaning forward with her hands on his knees. She slid her lips to the base of his cock, swallowing it completely. “Oh shit! You mind talking about this in a few minutes, sugar? I’m not really in the mood at the moment.” She laughed and brought a hand over to assist in stroking, as he took another swallow of beer. Danielle removed his cock from her mouth, but continued stroking with her hand. “He’s a millionaire, you know.” “You go back to doing what you were for a few more minutes, and I’ll do anything you want.” She giggled and bent to take him in her mouth again. She slid her lips up and down his shaft and stroked him manually until he blew his wad down her throat. She clamped her lips around the head of his dick and swallowed, then eased him from her mouth with a pop as the suction broke. She smacked her lips, reached for her beer and downed it in one gulp. “So, you think you want to help me with that then?” “Oh yeah,” he said. “I think I do.”

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Chapter 19

“All I want you to do is stand there,” Danielle said. “Just look at him with those intense eyes of yours.” “That’s it? Just stand there?” “Yeah, just stand there.” “Okay, this is your baby,” Pete said. Pete wasn’t used to standing on the sidelines, but this girl had an attitude that impressed and amused him. He wanted to see her work. He was quite sure any man who ended up on the receiving end of her wrath would be one sorry man. And, conversely, any man on the receiving end of her favor was going to be a happy man, at least for the moment. He had experienced that himself. Danielle was, Pete thought, a female version of himself: loyal and generous to her friends and allies but the ultimate misery for her enemies. Watching her would be like seeing how he would act if he were a woman, and Pete was a curious man. Danielle had planned this out without much help from Pete. He was just there for backup and intimidation purposes, and no one could be better suited for the job or enjoy it more. Danielle had told Pete that Clyde Simmons often worked late, and he parked his car behind the building that housed his office. The sun had set about an hour earlier, and she and Pete were parked in a hidden spot, behind a garage, waiting and watching Simmons’s Cadillac. “Shit, there he is,” Danielle said. Pete noticed that she exhibited little anxiety. The balding, middle-aged man came out the back door and headed toward his car. “Wait till he gets in, then pull up behind him,” Danielle commanded. Pete grinned. She was really going to do this. It amused him very much. He couldn’t wait to see what she would do next. “Okay, now,” she said.

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Pete calmly and quietly drove his pickup out of its hiding spot and stopped it behind Simmons’s car. He saw Simmons look at him in the rear view mirror, but couldn’t see him well enough to interpret his look. “Okay, now get out and stand where he can see you, and I’ll tell him what we want.” What we want, Pete thought. But he did as she asked and watched as Danielle got out of the truck and walked toward Simmons’s car. Simmons didn’t move and Danielle walked up to the window of his car and tapped on it. Pete heard the buzz of the electric window motor. “What do you want?” he said, irritation apparent in his voice. Danielle got right to the point, as was her style. “Do you remember fucking a little thirteen year old girl about twenty years ago?” The man’s face began to flush, and a mixture of hatred and fear filled his eyes. “What the fuck are you talking about?” “Janet: the little girl you raped in her bed twenty years ago?” “You’re out of your mind,” he said, but his face betrayed him. “Well, she had a baby. It’s your’s. We have proof and we want money.” Simmons suddenly swung the door open hard, catching Danielle in the face with the corner of the window frame. It tore open her left cheek and sent her sprawling onto the pavement. Simmons got out of the car and strode toward her. He didn’t seem to notice Pete. “Who the fuck do you think you are? You can’t blackmail me, you little cunt!” Danielle’s face was gushing blood, and she reached up to touch it. She looked at the blood on her hand and, instead of crying in pain, jumped to her feet and came at Simmons as if she would tear his head off. “You son of a bitch,” she muttered between clenched teeth. “Hey, hey,” Pete stepped toward them, but wasn’t quite fast enough.

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Before Pete could stop her, Danielle curled up a fist and punched Simmons squarely in the nose, and he staggered backward until he was leaning against his car. Pete grabbed Danielle’s arms, pulling her away from the man. “Watch it, sugar, you’re gonna get yourself in some shit,” Pete told her, as he struggled to keep her under control. “Oh you’re already in some shit,” Pete heard from behind him. He turned, Danielle’s arms still in his grip, to find Simmons pointing a revolver at him. “Wait a minute, Clyde,” Pete said. “We don’t have to go that far, now.” “I’m merely protecting myself,” Clyde said. Blood was running from his broken nose and his voice was muffled and wet. Pete let go of Danielle’s arms and raised his hands in the air. Danielle didn’t move; she just stared at the gun. “Well then,” Pete said. “Who are you gonna shoot? Me or her? Cause if you want to shoot her, go ahead. But I never touched you.” Clyde chuckled humorlessly as Danielle looked at Pete in disbelief. “You fucking coward!” she said. “You’re the one that started all this,” Pete replied, but Danielle saw the twinkle in his eye that told her there was more to his words. “Fuck you,” Danielle replied. “You want this guys money just as bad as I do.” Simmons took advantage of the bickering to wipe his nose on his sleeve, and then glanced down at the bloody smear it left behind. In that instant, the instant Pete had been hoping for, Pete reached behind him and pulled the nine-millimeter pistol from his belt, and when Simmons looked up he was staring at Pete’s gun. His own gun had gotten a little heavy and was now pointed at the ground in front of Danielle, not at Pete. “Just put that son of a bitch away, Clyde.”

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Clyde Simmons froze. He didn’t put the gun away, nor did he make any move to raise it, for several seconds. Pete could see the indecision in his face. This was not the first time Pete had faced a man with a gun, but he was pretty sure it was the first time for Clyde. Pete knew better than to take anything for granted, but he knew his own skills and was sure they were better than the little fat man’s. He also knew talking was a distraction and interfered with action. “What you gonna do, Clyde?” “Shoot him, Pete,” Danielle screamed. Just as Danielle screamed, Pete saw the decision to act rise into Clyde’s face, he saw Clyde’s eyes raise to look at him, and he saw the muscles in Clyde’s arm tense. And before Danielle had completed her scream, Pete’s gun boomed in his hand. In the dark, the flash from the burning powder lit the scene like a flash bulb, and Pete saw the bullet impact the man’s gut in slow motion. It made Clyde’s fat jiggle in waves around his waist, and he reached for the point of impact as if to try and block it. Clyde dropped his gun and slumped back on the Cadillac. Fear had replaced the anger in his face. “Fuck!” Danielle mumbled. “You did it. I didn’t think you’d really do it.” Pete said nothing for a moment, and Danielle just stared at the old man as he slid down the side of his car and sat heavily on the pavement. He was gasping for breathe, and blood was beginning to soak his shirt. “Come on, lets get outta here,” Pete said as he headed for his truck. Danielle followed quickly, looking over her shoulder twice before reaching the door of the truck. Pete drove away calmly, but Danielle was still dazed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” she said. “What are we gonna do now?” “Nothing. We’re gonna do nothing, and we’re not going to tell anybody. You hear me? Keep your fucking mouth shut, and we’ll be fine.” “Fuck!” Danielle said, as she lit a cigarette with shaking hands. “I need a drink bad.”

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Chapter 20

“We’re knocking off early today, Johnny,” Chet said. It was Friday and payday, and the guys were eager to start their weekends. Chet often shut the job down a couple hours early on those days, if the crew had made good progress during the week. Johnny proceeded to clean the mixer and put his tools away. Bob, the blond man, no longer worked with the crew. He had moved up to Montana, where his wife’s family lived, and no one had heard from him since. And no one missed him. When he had finished cleaning up, Johnny got in his truck and drove to Jim’s Bar and Grill to meet Danielle. He was hoping to have a nice dinner out, if Danielle was in the mood. Johnny walked in the door of Jim’s to see Danielle standing next to the bar with a man he didn’t know. They were standing very close, facing each other, and the man had his hand on Danielle’s hip. She was looking up into the man’s face with a glow in her eyes Johnny thought was reserved for only him. He stopped, in shock, and watched for a moment, before Danielle saw him. Her expression changed immediately, and she reached down, taking the man’s hand off of her, and walked toward Johnny without another word to the man. Panic rose in Johnny’s chest. He didn’t want to believe what he had just seen. He wanted to believe there was some explanation other than what seemed to be, and he was eager to hear that from Danielle. But he had to fight his fear. He had to keep it in check, or he would not be able to accept her explanation, and he desperately wanted to accept it. “Hi sweet buns,” Danielle said as if nothing was wrong. “What are you doing here so early?”

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He could feel the anger building in him, but Danielle’s apparent deference to him dampened it slightly. He watched the other man as he sat down at the bar, pretending not to notice what was going on in the front of the restaurant. “Who is that?” Johnny asked. “A customer,” she replied. “Why was he touching you like that?” His anger was rising, and his voice with it. Danielle grabbed his hand and pulled. “Come here,” she whispered, and she led him to the utility closet. Once they were inside and the door was closed, Danielle took both his hands in hers and looked up at him. Her bottom lip was trembling, and she was on the verge of tearing up. “Listen Johnny, customers flirt with me. It’s part of the job. It doesn’t mean anything.” “Who is that guy?” Johnny asked again. “I told you. He’s just a customer.” “What is his name?” “Why do you want to know?” “I just do. Tell me!” Johnny’s voice was rising again. “Okay, okay. His name is Dave, but there’s nothing going on between us. He’s just a guy who comes in here a lot to drink beer. He flirts with me, and I act like I like it, and he gives me good tips.” “You let him touch you?” “No! I mean, yeah, but not just anyplace. Only you can touch me anyplace. You’re the only one I want.” “He looked like he was about to kiss you,” he said. “Was he?” “Hell no! He knows he’d get the shit slapped out of him if he tried that. I told him I’m married. He knows better.”

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Danielle wrapped her arms around Johnny’s waist, pulling herself up tight to him. “Don’t be mad at me, Johnny,” she said. He could tell she was on the verge of crying, and he hated it when she cried. “I love you. Please, don’t be mad at me.” Johnny’s heart softened as he felt her despair rising. Her warm tears soaked through his shirt and his anger seemed to vaporize. He put his arms around her, hugging her back. “Okay,” he said. “Don’t cry. I’m not mad.” He kissed the top of her head, and she turned to look up at him. There was a tear running down her cheek. “I love you, Johnny.” “I love you too.” She pulled away a little and wiped her face with the back of her hand. “I need to get back out there. Jim’s not here.” “Okay,” Johnny said, but he held her by the shoulders and kissed her mouth. She responded by pushing herself against him and probing his mouth with her tongue. He could feel that she wanted him right there and then, but she pulled away. “I can’t,” she said. “I have to get back out there.” She opened the door to leave but noticed he was not following. “Aren’t you coming?” she inquired. “I think I better wait a minute.” Danielle looked down and saw that there was a good sized bulge in the front of his pants. “Oh, I see,” she giggled, and left him alone in the utility closet. When he came out a few minutes later, Dave was gone and so were all the other men who had been sitting at the bar when Johnny and Danielle went in the closet. Johnny took a seat, and Danielle poured a beer and sat it in front of him.

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Johnny felt a little self-conscious after what had just transpired. He had never been in the position to accuse Danielle of anything like that before, and his reaction embarrassed him. He was sure all waitresses flirt with their customers, especially waitresses in bars. He didn’t know this first hand, because he was not old enough to go into a real bar, but it did seem logical that men drinking and being served by an attractive woman would expect a little flirting. He was sure it really meant nothing. His reaction had been naïve, he assumed. And it appeared he had frightened off all of her customers. “I’m sorry,” he said a little awkwardly. Danielle was clearing the bar and wiping it down, and she looked up at him when he spoke. “Don’t be sorry,” she said, and she came around the bar toward him. She touched his face and kissed him lightly. “It’s okay, Johnny, really.” Johnny hung his head. “I should trust you, but I didn’t.” Johnny looked up at her and thought he saw a spasm of guilt cross her face. “Stop talking about it,” she said, and she turned and went back around the bar. “It’s over and we’re not going to talk about it anymore.” Danielle went back to wiping the bar and, without looking up, asked Johnny why he had come there in the first place. “I wanted to take you to dinner.” She looked up and her eyes brightened. “Good idea.”

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Chapter 21

The newspaper article said Clyde Simmons had been shot during a botched car jacking. He had survived but had sustained a nearly fatal gunshot wound to the abdomen. It had required two surgeons four hours to repair the damage, but it was expected that Mr. Simmons would recover. He would, however, wear a colostomy bag for the rest of his life. Mr. Simmons had not gotten a good look at his assailant, so he could not give a good description, but the police were looking for a young Hispanic male, medium height, with a slight build. Danielle read the article at the bar and grill before she began getting the place ready to open. “Why the fuck did he tell them that?” she said to herself. When she and Pete left the parking lot that night, she was sure Simmons was dead. She had not worried about him telling anyone who shot him, but he had lived and was telling the cops that it was a car jacking. Danielle did not understand why he would do that, unless he wanted to get his own revenge instead of letting the police do their job. “Son of a bitch!” she muttered. She had used Janet’s name that night. She had asked him if he remembered a little girl named Janet. He would assume Janet had planned the blackmail and would certainly try to find her. Danielle doubted the man even remembered the little girl, and surely wouldn’t have known her last name, but Danielle wished she had not went to Janet with the proposal of getting money from Simmons. If Simmons did manage to track Janet down, she would know it was Danielle who had been in that parking lot that night. Danielle grabbed the phone and dialed Pete’s shop. “Have you seen the paper this morning?” she asked as soon as he answered. “Who the hell is this?” he replied.

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“It’s me, Danielle. Have you seen the paper?” “No, I just got up. Why?” “Simmons. He’s alive.” “Shut the fuck up! You say another word and I’ll cave your fucking skull in.” “What the hell is your problem?” “Where are you?” “At Jim’s.” “I’ll be there in a few minutes. Don’t say anything to anybody. I mean it! Keep your fucking mouth shut!” Pete hung up before Danielle had a chance to reply, and fifteen minutes later he walked through the door. Danielle showed him the paper, and he read the article thoroughly. “Fuck!” he said when he was finished. “I should have put one in his head.” He looked at Danielle and his expression scared her. Just as his eyes had the power to make her knees go to mush, they now made a chill go up her spine. At that moment, she truly believed he would kill her if he thought it would benefit him. She hoped the hatred and evil in his look was meant for Simmons, but she was the only other person besides Simmons who knew he had been the one to shoot the man. “What are you gonna do?” she asked timidly. He stared out the glass front of the restaurant without speaking for a few moments. “I don’t know,” he said without looking at her. “But don’t you breathe a word to anyone.” Danielle was getting nervous, and it showed. Pete reached over and grabbed the nipple of her left breast through her clothes and held her by it. She opened her mouth to scream but saw the look in his eyes and instantly decided against it. She grabbed his hand and gritted her teeth against the pain.

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Pete leaned within two inches of her face and looked straight in her eyes. “You understand me?” “Yes,” she spat. “Let go!” Pete yanked his fingers from her, snapping the end of her nipple painfully. He looked at her as if he was going to say something else, but instead turned and walked out. Danielle broke into tears as the door swung shut.

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Chapter 22

Clyde Simmons had just arrived home from the hospital and was settling into his new lift recliner when the large plate glass window in the front room smashed in. A large gasoline filled glass bottle with an unlit wick landed on the Persian carpet at his feet. Simmons heard at least two, maybe three, motorcycles accelerate away immediately. After the glass had stopped tinkling and the women had stopped screaming, Clyde looked at the bottle carefully and noticed a note attached to it. “Hand me that note,” he directed his nurse. “I don’t want to go near that thing,” she replied. “Hand me that note or you’re fired!” Clyde’s face reddened. She skittishly moved to it, delicately plucked the note from the bottle and handed it to him. The note contained two words: Drop it. “Lousy bastards!” Clyde muttered, and he threw the note down. “Get that thing out of here, and get someone to fix that window.” He pushed the button on his chair that lifted him into a standing position and had started to walk slowly to his bedroom, when the phone rang. A maid answered it and called to him. “Mr. Simmons, sir. There’s a man on the phone who says he knows about this bottle coming through the window and wants to talk to you about it directly.” Clyde looked annoyed. “Fine, direct it to my study. He’ll have to wait a minute till I get there.” Mr. Simmons made his way down the hall and picked up the extension. “Yes?” “Whatever it is you’re thinking, stop thinking it.” “Who the hell is this?” “Look old man, just drop the whole thing or you’ll wish you had.”

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The phone clicked and Simmons heard a dial tone. He sighed. “Fuck, I’m tired!” His daughter, Jackie, came in the room just as he placed the phone back in its cradle. “Are you alright, Daddy?” “Yeah, I’m fine. Help me to my bed, will ya?” Jackie helped her father to his bed and tucked him in, then left the room. I’m going to kill those mother fuckers, Simmons thought. I’m going to kill those mother fuckers and pound their bodies into blood meal. “Jackie!” he yelled. She was still in the hallway. She retreated the three steps back to his door and popped her head in. “Yes?” “Call John Stanton and tell him I want to see him, will you?” “John Stanton. I thought you fired him.” “I did, but he has skills I need right now. Tell him I will make it worth his time.” “Alright. I’ll call him.” An hour later, Stanton walked in the door of Simmons’s bedroom. “So, you’ve decide I’m not so worthless after all?” Stanton said. He didn’t look angry, only a little contemptuous. “I have a job for you. If you want it, fine. If not, you’re on your own. But you are not being employed by Western Manufacturing. This is a contract job, and no one is to know you are working for me.” “Okay, give me the details and I’ll tell you whether I’ll do it or not.” “I want you to find the mother fuckers who shot me.”

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Chapter 23

Pete saw the van drive by the house again. He slunk back into the shadows of his shop, watching through the open door. The van drove by slowly, and the man inside looked much too interested in the cars in the driveway for Pete’s comfort. And it was the third time it had driven by that day. Pete slipped out the back door of the shop into the alley and hurried toward the street. He looked around the corner of a wooden fence and saw the van park on the side of the street. The man inside left the driver’s seat and went into the back where Pete could not see him. But Pete knew that also meant the man could not see him either, so he slipped up next to the van and waited. After securing some loose items in the back, John Stanton opened the sliding door to exit the van. He was sure he had found the right house. His informants had said the guy who lived in the house fit the description Simmons had given of the guy who shot him. The biker community was damn tight, and it was not easy to get information on anyone who associated with the relatively small group, but Stanton knew people, and they had assured him Pete was the guy. He couldn’t be sure, though, until he talked with this Pete, and that was his plan. But as he stepped out of the van a fist smashed into his face and he heard his nose break like someone had snapped a twig in his head. He fell backwards, landing in a sitting position. His eyes closed involuntarily, and his head spun wildly. The next thing he was conscious of was Pete on top of him and a knee in the his chest, holding him firmly to the ground. “Who the fuck are you, and what the fuck are you doing snooping around here?” Pete’s face was inches from his. He could feel Pete’s breath. He opened his eyes then to see Pete staring back at him with eyes so hard they seized him with fear. “Who the fuck are you?” John blurted in response.

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Pete butted his forehead into the bridge of John’s nose, and he groaned. Pete grabbed him by the hair and held his face even closer to his own. “I will bite your fucking nose right off your ugly fucking face, you stupid mother fucker! Answer my question.” “I’m not telling you shit!” John replied. Pete suddenly jumped off his chest and began dragging him toward the alley by his hair. Stanton gritted his teeth and winced, but he did not scream. Neither one of the men wanted the law involved, and drawing attention would cause nothing but trouble. Pete dragged John behind a dumpster and flicked open a knife, holding it to the bottom of the his ear. “Look, dumb fuck,” Pete said. “I’m not playing patty cake here. I’ll cut your fucking throat.” John Stanton looked back at Pete and knew he was telling the truth. This was not the first time John had been threatened with a knife, but it was the first time he thought the man holding it might actually kill him. In a fair fight, where Stanton was on equal ground with his opponent, he could hold his own. But the unexpected blow to his nose had nearly knocked him unconscious and had caused him to go blind for a few seconds. He was still very dizzy and wasn’t sure whether or not he would be able to stand on his own. He decided to cut his losses and live to fight another day. “I’m looking for a guy,” he said, after what seemed like a long moment of contemplation. “What guy?” “Well, I’m guessing it’s you.” “Why?” John shrugged. “I’m told a guy over here might sell me some product.” Pete pushed the point of the knife into John’s cheek. “I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. I think you’ve got the wrong neighborhood.”

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“Okay, man. I’ll be happy to get the hell out of this neighborhood, considering the welcome I’ve received.” Pete stepped away from John. “Get the fuck out of here.” John got up slowly, holding onto the dumpster to steady himself, and began staggering toward the van. “Hey,” Pete said, and John turned around. “Don’t come back.” John nodded and made his way to the van. As he drove past the house on his way out of the neighborhood, he noted the open door to the shop, the number of cars and motorcycles in the driveway, and that the front entrance to the house had no security door. “Fuck, my nose hurts,” Stanton said.

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Chapter 24

Johnny woke up Sunday morning to what felt like Danielle nudging him gently in the back, but he quickly realized it was the baby inside her, now almost to term, kicking while she was snuggled up next to him. It was a very strange thing to have his not-yetborn child making itself know to the outside world, but what amazed Johnny even more was Danielle sleeping right through it. He turned over and watched as the little lump in Danielle’s stomach moved around, disappeared and then reappeared in a different spot. Apparently, the baby was wide-awake. He put his hand on the little lump and felt it move and it filled him with awe. This was the first time he had completely grasped the reality of the child that would soon be entering his life, and it was the first time he understood that he was a father. Danielle slept peacefully, and she was more beautiful than he had ever seen her before. Laying there, her face completely free of tension, her dark hair hanging in chunks, she seemed so lovely and warm. She was a mother: someone who loved another more than herself, someone who would do anything for her child. His child. He kissed her pale, sleeping lips. They were soft. She smelled like soap and clean sheets. She felt warm and supple. A new feeling was rising in him for her. A feeling he had never experienced before. He had loved her for a long time, and he had lusted after her even longer, but this new feeling was more than those two combined. It was those two feelings but with something new and powerful added. She was his family. She and the baby that kicked inside her were his family, and they were the center of his universe. They were the reason for his existence, and they were all important. There was nothing he would not do at that moment to protect them. He would die if necessary to keep them from harm. Danielle’s eyes flickered open as he looked down at her.

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“What are you doing?” she asked as a knowing smile took over her face. “Nothing,” Johnny said. “Just looking at you.” “Why?” she asked. She knew why, but she wanted to hear it from him. He shrugged. “Because you are beautiful.” She rolled onto her back. “Come here.” He kissed her and, though she had just woken, her mouth tasted sweet. “I was watching the baby kicking. How can you sleep through that?” “Oh, you get used to it.” Danielle pulled her nightgown up above her swelled stomach and ran her hands around it. “Here, feel right here.” She took his hand and pushed it gently against her. She bit her lip and looked at his face. “Can you feel that?” He shook his head. “I don’t feel anything.” She moved his hand around and pushed in again. “Can you feel it now?” Just then the baby kicked his hand. Surprise and amazement spread across both their faces. Danielle giggled. “How about here?” she asked, as she opened her legs and moved his hand to her pussy. He ran a finger along her slit and found it moist and warm. He wiggled his finger inside and rubbed her clit with his thumb. Danielle moaned. “Oh god,” she whispered. “Lick me, Johnny, please.” Johnny moved down between her thighs, nudged her hair away with his lips and flicked his tongue across her clitoris. She moaned again. He sucked the little nub into his mouth, sucked on it and flicked his tongue across it simultaneously. Danielle moaned louder and faster. He continued, and she grabbed his head with both hands, pushing his face into her crotch so hard it took all the strength in his neck to resist. Her moans

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graduated to a low scream and he knew she had climaxed, so he gently rolled her onto her side. “My turn,” he said as she looked back at him. She moaned quietly as he eased his cock into her. He moved slowly for several minutes, then grabbed her hips and lifted. She understood his prompting and moved to her knees. His thrusts became more insistent. “Is that okay?” he asked. “Oh yeah! Do it harder.” He gladly obeyed and in a few minutes he ground his pelvis into her ass and growled as orgasmic spasms shook his body. He held himself inside her until the spasms subsided, then collapsed on the bed next to her. She moved her face over his and kissed his nose. “I have taught you well,” she said. Johnny chuckled, closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

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Chapter 25

Johnny had continued to add to his savings account even after the purchase of his truck. Now he felt a bit of security with the knowledge of that safety net. He had enough saved that he could actually survive without working for a couple of months. He had

never been out of work that long since starting his job, but there had been times when the weather had been bad or there had been a lapse between jobs that kept him from working for a week or two, and he knew the possibility of being without work for longer periods was there. It hadn’t really worried him before, but with Danielle pregnant things were different. With a baby coming, he began thinking further into the future than he ever had before. He began wishing he had finished high school. He hadn’t liked school and didn’t see how it was benefiting him at the time, but in the future he knew he would need that diploma. Johnny could always go back to school at night. He could take the course for the General Education Diploma at the community college. He thought he might just do that. It couldn’t hurt. Johnny knew he wasn’t stupid. As a matter of fact, he thought he was probably smarter than a lot of people. boring. School had not been difficult for him; it had just been

He immediately understood things presented in classes that other kids in the

class could not grasp. But he had learned early not to let anyone know he understood these things. The other kids were not impressed by his ability to grasp difficult subject matter. They had had the opposite reaction, in fact. They despised any indication that he was smarter than they were. And his social status, that of Welfare gutter rat, made the matter even worse. The other kids taunted him incessantly. They were cruel without apology, and the more he tried to prove them wrong the more they tormented him.

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Johnny was not a kid who was driven to impress others. It was enough to know for himself that he was intelligent. He had no desire to prove that fact to anyone else, so the negative feedback was enough to censor any indication from him that he was anything but a dumb gutter rat. But inside his head he saw the world differently than the other kids did. He wasn’t sure exactly why or how that happened to him, but it had. Johnny began to have different feelings about Danielle as well. She was more than just someone to have sex with now. She had always been more than that, but now it went way beyond what it had ever been in the past. She had always been his

companion, but now she was carrying his child inside her. He had always been protective of her, but now he was feeling things he had never experienced before. On one occasion, while driving Danielle to work at the Bar and Grill, a man in an old Chrysler had nearly run into the passenger side of Johnny’s truck, where Danielle was sitting. Before he had time to think about it, Johnny had gotten out of the truck and

walked up to the driver’s side of the Chrysler. He had no plan and had no idea what he was going to do when he got to the driver: he had just reacted. Before he actually

reached the driver, though, Johnny saw the old man’s frightened eyes through the windshield and the look brought him back to his senses. He never said a word to the old man; he simply turned around, got back in the truck and drove off. But the experience scared him a little. He had never lost control of himself, ever, for any reason, but that time he had come close: closer than he ever wanted to come again. One thing was obvious to Johnny: his life was now changing drastically and he could not stop it. He had been a little angry at Danielle at first, but once he accepted the fact that it was going to happen whether he liked it or not, the idea began to become more attractive to him. Maybe he would like being a dad. Maybe he would even be a good dad. He was beginning to look forward to fatherhood and thinking about having a legacy.

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Maybe he should go back to school and get some education so he would be able to provide for his family. He certainly wasn’t going to live on Welfare like his mother had, and he didn’t want to shovel sand for the rest of his life. So he would have to make a plan to better himself. He had done it before, and he would do it again.

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Chapter 26

Janet answered the door to find a man she had never seen before looking back at here through the screen door. “Yeah?” she asked. “I’m looking for Pete. Is he around?” “Who’s askin?” “I have some business I want to discuss with him. Is he here or not?” Janet looked at the man cynically, and put her hand on the door as if preparing to close it in his face. “You’ll have to come back later. He ain’t here right now.” In one swift and fluid movement, John Stanton pulled the screen door open with his left hand and hit Janet in the face with his right, before she had time to slam the door on him. Janet stumbled backward into the living room with the force of the punch, and John followed her in. Janet tripped over a box of junk in the middle of the floor and fell onto her back in front of the television. John stood over her looking down with a fierce expression. “When is that son of a bitch gonna be back?” “Fuck you!” Janet screamed, as she wiped her bloody lip with her hand. Her other hand lay on the floor next to her, and John immediately stomped on it. Janet screamed in pain, pulling her hand to her chest. “What the hell do you want,” she asked as she began to sob. “I want to kick the shit out of that mother fucker, that’s what I want.”

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Janet’s expression changed, and she grinned in spite of the tears in her eyes. “You? You’re gonna kick the shit out of Pete?” She was on the verge of laughing in his face. “Nobody kicks Pete’s ass. If you got a brain in your head you’ll get the fuck out of here before he comes back and cuts your fucking head off.” Stanton did not enjoy being taken lightly by crack whores like this filth lying as his feet, and his anger began to rise. “Maybe I should just kick the shit out of you, then.” He glared down at her for a moment. “Maybe I should just fuck the shit out of you. What do you think of that?” Janet laughed out loud, threw her legs apart, and beckoned to him with her hands. “Come on, tough guy. You think I ain’t been fucked a few times by big, dirty pricks like you before? You think Pete will really give a shit if you fuck his whore?” She reached down and began unbuttoning her jeans. “Here, I’ll make it easy for you.” She had her pants down to her knees when John kicked her in the thigh. “Cover up that nasty pussy of yours, bitch. I wouldn’t fuck you with his dick.” John’s nose wrinkled up like he had just gotten a whiff of rotten clams. “You just tell that mother fucker that I’m still watching him. I’ll get my chance. Someday.” John turned and walked out the door, and Janet rolled onto her side and began to sob, holding her sore hand against her chest. She was sitting in her usual spot in front of the television with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other when Pete walked in the door an hour later. Her left cheek was bruised purple, her lip was split, and her hand was wrapped in gauze. When Pete looked at her she burst into tears again. “What the fuck?” Pete asked, and he stepped closer to her to get a better look at her face. He recognized the cause immediately. “Who the hell did this?”

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Janet knew the man would pay for this. The implication that Pete wouldn’t care what Stanton did to her was not entirely true. Pete may or may not care for Janet as a person, but he certainly would not allow thugs to come into his house and damage his property or attack his woman freely. Whoever had done this would pay. Even if the man had simply come into this house uninvited and insulted Pete, he would pay. It had nothing to do with whether or not he cared for Janet. She knew that well, and she knew if she evaded Pete’s questions she would be just another impediment to him. She might be beaten again but by Pete this time. She also knew this would initiate a battle that might cause her trouble again in the future, but it was too late to try and avoid that, and it was beyond her control. “He didn’t say who he was,” Janet said quietly. “You didn’t know him?” “Never seen him before.” “What did he look like? What was he driving?” “I didn’t see his car. He was about six feet tall, I guess, and had black hair down to his shoulders.” “Did he fuck you?” She laughed humorlessly. “Hell no.” Pete got down on one knee next to Janet’s chair and touched her face lightly. She looked back at him as he examined her wounds, and she thought maybe he did care. His eyes looked the way they did when he petted a puppy or watched a kid kick a ball. “Do you need to see a doctor?” he asked. She shook her head. “I’ll be okay. It’s just a few bruises.” She looked at him again and decided to risk a question. “Do you know that man?”

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“I don’t know him, but I have met him before,” he replied softly as he continued to look at her sympathetically. “What are you going to do?” she asked. She saw a glint of the steel that so terrified people flash through his eyes. He pulled her to him and hugged her without a word, then kissed her on the forehead, and went out the door to his shop.

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Chapter 27

When Tyler was born, Johnny fell in love with Danielle all over again. He saw her in the hospital bed, breast-feeding his son, and a feeling he had never experienced before filled him. In her hospital gown, her face puffy from hours of labor, and her hair matted and twisted on her head, she was the most beautiful woman on earth. And she looked happy. In spite of the hard labor and the pain she was beaming and near shedding tears of joy at the sight of her son feeding at her breast. Without a doubt, the world was new for the two of them. It was filled with possibility and hope. Later, when the tiny boy was brought home and they were caring for him, Johnny fell in love again, this time with his son. Fatherhood, so far, had entailed some things he had not expected. This tiny person, who had yet to develop a personality, was more

important to him than life itself. This tiny boy was a precious gift from the heavens: from the maker of all things. The idea of securing a future for his family was omnipresent and all-important. These two people, his family, depended on him. He was no longer a man in the world alone; he was a man who had to make a living for his family. An enormous weight had just been hoisted onto his shoulders, but he would not have traded that weight for all the gold on earth. Danielle, too, was experiencing the realization that her life was no longer just about herself. She had begun to realize this before Tyler was born, though. As she

carried the child in her belly it slowly dawned on her that it was real: she was going to be a mother. When the baby began to kick inside her she felt it. She felt what all mothers must feel as their child grows inside them: love like they never knew could exist. “I want to go to school,” Johnny told Danielle one morning as they lay in bed with Tyler between them. “Go ahead,” she said. “You could take some night classes, I guess.”

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“Yeah,” he replied, as he stared at the ceiling dreamily. He still had the secret savings account and more than enough money to pay for classes at the community college. “First I have to get my GED, then maybe I’ll keep studying for a while. I don’t want to shovel sand for the rest of my life.” “What do you want to do?” Danielle asked. Johnny didn’t answer right away, he thought about it for a minute. “I’m not sure. Maybe I should just take a few classes and see what I like.” “Why don’t you go to truck driving school?” “Hell no! I don’t want to drive all over the country. Why? Do you want me to be gone all the time?” “You don’t have to drive across country. construction company or something.” “I don’t know,” he replied. “I don’t think that’s what I want to do. I don’t know what I want to do, but I’ll figure it out.” He thought for a minute more. “I think I’d like to be the guy who does breast exams at the hospital.” He grinned and waited for Danielle to protest, but she had been busy changing Tyler’s diaper and hadn’t heard him. “Huh?” she said. “Boobs. I want to be a booby examiner.” “Oh, shut up. These are the only boobs you’re going to be examining.” She pushed her breasts together with her arms and displayed her cleavage for him. He grinned. “Show them to me then.” You could drive local. Like for a

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She immediately pulled her shirt over her head and jumped in his lap.

She

grabbed his head with both hands and pushed his face into her chest, and he did not resist. “See there. You’ve got more boob than you’ll ever need right here.” “I don’t know,” he said. “I think I could handle a few more.” “No you can’t. Because if you do you won’t have these to handle anymore.” “You’d leave me for touching another woman’s boobs?” “You damn right I would! If I ever catch you cheating on me I’ll leave you and take Tyler with me. I’d make damn sure you never saw him again.” “I wouldn’t cheat on you.” “You better not!” “I wouldn’t. I love you.” Johnny looked away for a moment and then back at her. “Would you cheat on me,” he asked. His face gave away his fear of her answer. He knew she would say no, but he was afraid she might not really mean no, and he thought he would be able to tell if she was lying. “Only if you deserved it,” she answered without looking at him. “What do you mean, if I deserved it? How would I deserve it?” “Well, if you cheated on me, or left me, or started being an asshole. Then I might find someone else.” “Ah, that ain’t gonna happen,” he said. He hadn’t seen a lie in her eyes when she answered him. He thought she was telling the truth. He grabbed her by the waist and pulled her to him. She looked triumphantly into his eyes and kissed him. “Let’s have some breakfast.” “I don’t think I’m ready to get up yet,” he said with a facetious grin. “Oh, I know what you want.”

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She lifted the covers and crawled underneath to give him his favorite wake up call.

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Chapter 28

It had been a few months since Pete shot Clyde Simmons, and it had been a few weeks since John Stanton beat Janet, but Pete had not forgotten about either one of them. He was a patient man, and he knew the value of waiting until your mark believes you have forgotten about him. He still did not know who Stanton was, but he was sure, whoever he was, he worked for Simmons. The summer was in full swing, and Pete and about a dozen other guys in his club were itching to cruise up the coast. He had one of his boys, a big mean bastard named Jack, who Pete trusted implicitly, stay in the shop while he was gone to keep an eye on Janet and to beat the living hell out of anyone who came around to cause trouble. They left early on a Saturday morning, motored up to Ventura the first day and stopped at a bar called The Lamplight. It was a place they had visited many times before, and the atmosphere was exactly what they liked. They backed their bikes up in a row in front of the bar, dismounted and stretched before entering the old squatty building. Inside, two pool tables occupied the back of the bar, wooden tables and benches took up the rest of the floor space. The men, all in black leather and most with bandanas tied around their heads, entered loudly, walked to the bar and ordered beers. When they had received their orders and paid, they moved to the back of the bar, next to the pool tables. Pete sat down at the table nearest the games and all but two of the bikers joined him. Those two grabbed cues from the rack on the wall and chalked them up. “You see that blond bitch with the big tits I pulled up next to at the stop light back there?” one of the guys asked. He was talking to no one in particular and didn’t wait for an answer before proceeding. “That poor thing had tits so big she couldn’t keep them in her bra. They were spillin out all over the place.”

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“Fuck yeah, I saw her,” another guy said. “It looked to me like she was turning her nose up at you though, Stinky.” The banter continued, but Pete wasn’t hearing it. He was thinking about the man who had come into his house and beat up his woman. He looked up at the men gathered around him and slammed his hand down on the carved up table. They all stopped talking and looked at him expectantly. “Any of you fuckers know a guy about six feet tall, dark hair down to his shoulders, drives a drab green Chevy van, and probably worked for Western Manufacturing at one time?” Most of the men shook their heads, but Stinky looked to be working up a memory. “There was a guy like that working there back a few months ago, when my brother worked there. He got fired, I believe.” “What was his name?” “Oh, I think it was John something, but I don’t know for sure. My brother might know, though.” “When we get back home I want to talk to your brother,” Pete said. “Sure thing, Pete.” No one inquired as to why Pete was asking about this man; they knew better. And the subject never came up again. The bikers were royalty in the local culture of welfare and poverty. They were knights on iron horses. They flaunted the law and scared the regular folks. So, late Monday afternoon, when the bikers arrived back in Pete’s neighborhood, all the women and kids watched from the front doors of their homes and cheered as the bikes roared past. Pete pulled into his driveway, with Janet watching from the door and Jack waiting in front of the shop. Stinky pulled in behind him. Pete motioned to Jack, he walked over

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and Pete spoke with him for a moment, then Pete and Stinky rode off with the rest of the bikers, as the neighborhood cheered again. Five hours later, Pete and Stinky left a beer bar on the outskirts of town and headed to an address in an old rundown neighborhood, known as Will Town, five miles away. They cut their engines a block from the house and coasted a ways, parked the bikes around the corner, and walked the rest of the way up the street to the house. The drab green van Pete had seen casing his house was parked at the curb in front of the house. The front yard was surrounded by a four-foot chain-link fence, and a huge Pit Bull lay on the porch. A dim light shone through one window, but there was no sound coming from inside the house. Pete tapped Stinky on the shoulder. “Let’s go around back,” he whispered. They walked around to the alley and up to the wooden fence at the back of the house. No gate was visible, so Pete pulled on the top of one of the redwood fence boards and it came loose easily. He pulled off two more boards, and they slipped through the fence into the yard and up to the back door. Pete pulled his pistol from his waistband. “Stay here,” he said. “If that fucking dog comes around here shoot his ass.” Stinky nodded, removing his own pistol from his vest pocket. Pete looked at Stinky’s gun. “Man, when are you gonna get a real gun? That thing ain’t big enough to kill flies with.” “Don’t you worry about that. It shoots straight.” Pete shook his head and then moved to the door. He tested it. It was locked but not sturdy. He pushed against it with his hip and shoulder, then bumped it a little harder. There was a cracking sound and the door moved. Pete pushed on it a little harder and it opened. He slipped inside as Stinky watched nervously. Pete was hyper alert as he moved through the house. His eyes seemed to be seeing better than ever, and his ears were alert to the slightest sound as his feet moved

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him silently along the floor. He could feel every bump in the carpet and his skin could feel the tiniest change in temperature as he moved from one room to the next. In the hallway, he counted three doors. That meant there were most likely two bedrooms and one bathroom. All three doors were at least partially open. He moved to the first door and looked in carefully. It was dark, but there was almost a full moon, and the windows were open to let in the night air. His eyes were accustomed to the darkness, so he could see well enough to tell there was no bed in the room. It was a storage room. He moved on to the next door. It was a bathroom. The last door would be the right room. Pete looked around the corner carefully and saw the man he was hunting, lying in the bed naked with no blanket on. Pete moved over next to the bed quietly and looked down at the man’s face. It was definitely the man he had beat the hell out of in the alley. He was snoring loudly and his breath smelled strongly of beer. It seemed he may have passed out drunk, and would be hard to arouse. With one quick movement Pete pushed the barrel of his pistol down into John Stanton’s mouth until it would go no further. John’s eyes fluttered open instantly and he tried to reach for the gun, but Pete rammed it down his throat hard, pinning him to the bed and preventing him from crying out. Pete looked down at him with his steely eyes, his teeth gritting in an evil white smile outlined by the bush of his black beard, and he laughed quietly. “You’re a dumb mother fucker, you know it?” Pete said bleakly, as he held the man, pinned by the throat. John’s hands flailed weakly as he gagged on the gun barrel. He grabbed at Pete’s arm and Pete rammed the gun harder into the back of his throat. “You are about to die, fuck head,” Pete told him. He held the gun with both hands and pulled the hammer back slowly. “Audios, mother fucker!”

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He pulled the trigger and there was a loud thump as the gun discharged into Stanton’s throat. The bullet blew the back of his throat and neck away, and traveled through the mattress into the wooden floor. Instantly, John Stanton stopped struggling, and Pete stared down at his dead eyes. A second later, as he was wiping the blood off his gun onto the mattress, Pete heard three loud pops come from the back yard and knew he must leave quickly. He ran out the back door, past the dead dog, and met Stinky at the fence. They slipped through, ran down the alley, mounted their bikes and roared away.

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Chapter 29

Tyler grew very quickly, as children do, and Johnny’s affection for him grew exponentially. It seemed like no time before he was crawling and shoving everything he could find into his mouth. Danielle took a couple months off work after Tyler was born, and then went back to the bar and grill part-time. She started working evenings more than days so Johnny would be home to take care of Tyler, but Janet also watched the baby part of the time. Sometimes Danielle brought Tyler to work with her for a while, until Johnny got off work and then he came and picked the boy up. Jim’s Bar and Grill was a friendly place and no one minded if the baby was there for a little while. Johnny enrolled in night classes at the local community college, studying for his General Education Diploma. After three months of study, he passed the exam on his first attempt. There had been a small ceremony at the college, where he and five others received their diplomas. Danielle and Tyler had attended. Janet could not make it, though no reason was ever offered for her absence. “I’m going to keep taking classes,” he told Janet as he showed her his diploma. “What for? You done graduated,” she replied. “I like school,” he said “And I do pretty well too.” Janet reached for the diploma, and Johnny handed it to her reluctantly. No telling what she might do with it. She was a little drunk already, though it was early afternoon. She stuck her cigarette in her lips, drew on it and squinted at the smoke. “You need a frame for that.” “Yeah, I’ve got one. I’m gonna hang this on my wall and start working on another one.” “You’re gonna be a college boy then, huh?” Johnny shrugged. “I guess I’ll try it.”

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Janet looked at him skeptically. “What ya gonna study? Art? How to save the squirrels and trees, or what?” “I don’t know yet.” “I think you ought to learn to be an electrician or a plumber. They make damn good money, ya know.” “That’s not what I want to do.” Johnny didn’t bother to try and tell his mother what it was he wanted to learn. She would never understand. Her world was very small. It encompassed Pete’s tiny run-down house, a twelve pack of beer, and a pack of cigarettes. What Johnny wanted to know about went so far beyond her existence that she would never understand. She would think he was crazy for even wondering about such things. To her, and to nearly everyone he knew, the things he wondered about were beyond practicality. They didn’t put food on the table or gas in the car, so they were useless. “I haven’t decided yet what I want to do. But I have to take some General Ed classes first, so I’ll just do that and figure out my major later.” “Humph. Who’s paying for this, college boy?” Janet asked through a haze of cigarette smoke. “All I have to pay for is books. The state is paying for the rest.” “You’ll get too big for your britches with all that education, and you won’t want nothin to do with your old stupid momma.” Johnny knew she would think that. He didn’t think she would say it, though. He knew better than to announce his plans indiscriminately. The people he knew would not be happy for him. They would only be suspicious. They did not understand education or people who had it. They only knew that people with education came into their homes and told them they should live differently. They knew educated people did not approve of them and their lifestyle. Sometimes the educated people in the government came and

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took their babies away, or arrested them and took them to jail. Educated people could not be trusted because no one understood them or their laws. “I gotta go,” Johnny said. “I’ll see you later.” Janet just nodded. It was the last time Johnny would talk to his mother.

At two thirty the next morning, Janet and Pete were awakened by the sound of breaking glass. Pete was up and running toward the front door before Janet’s alcohol fogged mind had cleared well enough to understand what was happening. When she finally did comprehend, she got up to follow Pete. He was standing at the end of the hall looking out toward the living room. Tiny pieces of glass glinted in the light from the street light, and a breeze moved the curtains where solid glass had been. Janet walked past Pete as he went back to the bedroom to retrieve his pistol. She neared the window, careful to avoid stepping on the broken shards, saw a rock on the floor and walked toward it. As she bent to pick it up, several shots were fired outside, and she felt something slam into her chest. She suddenly lost her breath as if it had been knocked from her in a fall. She flashed back to time when, as a child, she had fallen from a tree and landed on her back. She had lain on her back not able to breathe for what seemed an eternity, staring up at the summer sky. Now the feeling was the same, but she was staring up at a black ceiling. She tried to scream for what seemed like several seconds, but couldn’t. She remembered she needed breath to scream and with great concentration she managed to draw in a small amount of air. “Pete! Pete! Help me. I’m bleeding.” But it was not loud enough for him to hear. Pete rushed back into the room and looked briefly at her. Tires barked on the pavement outside as a car sped away, and Pete ran to the door, opening it quickly and

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running out to get a look at the car. Another volley of gunfire erupted from some bushes not forty feet away, and Pete fell on the sidewalk in front of the house. Immediately, a pool of blood began to form around his body, and he let out one last breath as his fingers loosened their grip on the gun. A man stepped from the bushes and looked at Pete, stuck his gun in his belt, and walked away unhurried. “Pete! Pete! Are you okay?” Janet muttered. She heard nothing from outside. “Pete!” She tried to get up but was too weak to lift herself from the floor. She tried again to scream, but she could not draw enough breath, and she coughed until her lungs filled with blood and she could cough no more.

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Chapter 30

Danielle sat Tyler on the bar at Jim’s so she could show off his new tooth. He was not happy about being held still where there were so many new things to grab, and he was even less happy to have his mother digging her finger into his mouth. “Hold still you little shit,” Danielle said as she wrestled with the toddler. He grabbed at the napkin dispenser, nearly knocking it off the bar, so Danielle wrapped one arm around him to hold his arms down and used her other hand to pry his lips apart. “See? Can you see it?” Dave looked carefully, but he could not see anything that looked like a tooth. He held Tyler’s head still with a hand on each side of his face and looked again. “Oh yeah. I see it now,” he said. The little boy looked back at him and grinned, and suddenly a realization overcame him. He studied the little face again, this time more carefully than he ever had before. He had known when Danielle found out she was pregnant that it was possible he was the father: the timing was right. But Danielle had assured him her husband was the father. She was absolutely sure of that, though how she could be so sure was a mystery to him. “Women just know,” she had told him. But now he knew. The little boy in front of him was an exact replica of Dave’s younger brother. He didn’t know why he hadn’t noticed it before. His eyes, his nose, and even the curve of his lips matched exactly. The boy was undoubtedly his son. Dave’s expression changed so drastically that Danielle understood immediately what had just taken place, though she pretended not to. But it was almost more than she could bear, watching Dave’s eyes soften as the realization hit him. She knew the simplicity of her life had just come to an end.

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“Come on short stuff,” she said. “Your daddy will be here any minute to pick you up.” Dave’s expression changed again, this time to a more contmplative look. He was counting the months again in his head. He was trying to remember dates, just to be sure. And he was wondering what he would do if he became absolutely positive. Was there any way to be that sure? Dave was forty-two and had no children. He had never even been married or had a relationship that lasted more than a few months. He was a businessman and had never taken the time to settle down. Now he had financial security and all the material things he needed, but he had never really thought about being a father at this point in his life. He had assumed it was too late for that. And though the idea that he might now be a father was surprising, it was not the least bit offensive to him. He could see himself playing with a child, and teaching a child the things he knew. He could imagine himself being a father. “Danielle,” he said softly. “Are you…..Is he really…” He couldn’t find the right words but was determined to say it one way or another. “He looks just like my little brother.” Her heart jumped into her throat. She should have known better than to allow Dave to get so close to Tyler. But she had the unconscious desire for Tyler to know his father, and she had known for some time that Dave was that man. She had not admitted it to herself, but the knowledge was there in spite of her unwillingness to acknowledge it. There was a resemblance there and none to any member of Johnny’s family. Maybe, deep down, she had even hoped Dave would notice the resemblance, but she had not considered what her response would be if he did. “No. No he doesn’t.” Her immediate reaction was to deny. But Dave wasn’t so easily put off.

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“Yes, he does. You’ve never met my brother.” He hesitated for a moment, then looked her in the eye. “Is this my son?” Danielle’s lip began to quiver, and tears welled up in her eyes. She reached out and put her hand on Dave’s arm. “Please, don’t,” she said. Dave looked at the boy, who looked back at him with a worried frown on his lips. Dave shook his head and slowly turned and walked out the door. As the door swung shut behind him, the phone rage, and Danielle answered it. All the signs of impending tears were gone. “Jim’s. Can I help you?” “It’s me,” Johnny hesitated. “My mom is dead.” “What? Why? What happened?” “Someone shot her. Her and Pete. They’re both dead.” A look of horror spread across Danielle’s face. “Oh my god!” was all she could manage.

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Chapter 31

Johnny bought his mother a casket and a plot at the cemetery. There would be no one to attend a service, so none was held. Johnny, Danielle, and Tyler stood by and watched as the cemetery men dug a hole, put the casket in it, and covered it up. Janet had been Johnny’s only family, besides Danielle and Tyler, and though he still had his wife and son, he felt as if he had been left alone in the world. He had no blood ties to anyone. The police had come to his and Danielle’s home to question them in regard to the shooting, but they had no leads and Johnny had no hope that the killer would be caught. “Do you know anyone who would want to do this?” the officer had asked. Johnny had just shook his head as he stared down at the floor. “And you ma’am?” The officer looked at Danielle. “Hell no,” Danielle answered with conviction. “Janet never bothered nobody. Hell, she hardly ever left her damn couch.” Johnny didn’t care whether or not they caught the killer. It wouldn’t bring his mother back. So he held Tyler, watching the grave being back-filled as tears streamed silently down his cheeks. His mother, such as she was, was gone. He held Tyler tight as he started to fidget, and kissed him on the forehead. His son was his only blood relative now. Tyler looked up at his face and seemed to be fascinated by his tears. “Come on,” Danielle said. “Let’s go home.” The tractor that had buried Johnny’s mother was preparing to leave, and it seemed appropriate that they do so also. Johnny hugged Danielle close as they walked back to the car. “Promise me you’ll never leave me, Danielle,” he said as he held back a sob.

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She pulled him closer. “You know I would never leave you.” She looked up at him and he kissed her lightly. Then he buckled Tyler into his car seat and drove back home.

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Chapter 32

Danielle had known she was going to leave Johnny for a month before she did it. She had been wrong about Dave. When he discovered that Tyler was his son he was very interested, even insistent. He wanted very much to be a father to his child, and he was not going to take no for an answer. He had insisted on having paternal testing done, and the results were undeniable: Dave was Tyler’s father. Dave was not a man Danielle could push around and she knew it. She enjoyed manipulating him to the extent that she could by using her body to make him want to do things he knew he shouldn’t, but he was only manipulated as far as he allowed himself to be. Where his son was concerned, though, Danielle would not win any fight she started with Dave. And Dave wanted his son. And as Tyler grew Danielle had begun to see Dave in him. His eyes were that same hazy gray color, and his mouth was identical to Dave’s. Looking at her son and seeing the attributes of another man besides her husband gave her a strange longing she could not quite identify. It was almost like she had lost her own father and could see him from afar but could not touch him. She felt a strong urge to complete the circle of

parentage: to unite her son with his true father. Danielle was not the one to bring up the idea of Dave being involved in Tyler’s life, Dave was. It had happened just a few days after Dave realized, while looking at Tyler on the bar at Jim’s, that the boy was his son. “I want to be in his life, Danielle,” he said. Knowing her schedule, he had come into the bar and grill early, before any customers had arrived. Danielle didn’t respond immediately, and he watched silently as she thought about his request. “That ain’t gonna happen, Dave. Johnny would completely freak out.”

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“Johnny needs to know,” Dave replied. “It isn’t fair to him or Tyler that he doesn’t know.” “How am I gonna tell him that. Oh, by the way, dear, Tyler’s not your son. Now what would you like for dinner?” “I don’t care how you tell him, but he needs to know, and I need to be a father to my son. I’ll go to court if I have to, and you know I will.” Danielle knew he was not bluffing, and she knew he had the resources to do it. She put her hand to her forehead and tears began to brim her eyelids. “I can’t tell him,” she begged. “I can’t!” The tears spilled down her cheeks, and Dave stood and came to her side, placing his hand on her shoulder. “Look, you can come live with me if you want. I’ll take care of you and Tyler. You’ll never have to work again if you don’t want to. I’ll buy you a new car, and you can even have your own room if you don’t want to share one with me.” He lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. “I will marry you if that’s what you want. We don’t have to get married, but I’m willing to go that far if that’s what it takes. I want my son.” What choice did she have, really? She could refuse Dave’s offer, but once Johnny found out the truth he would leave her anyway. So why not take Dave up on his offer? He could give her a life she couldn’t possibly dream of with Johnny. He was a successful businessman. He was not as rich as Clyde Simmons, but he had more than enough to take care of her needs and even her wants. He owned five quick-lube service stations in the Riverside area and a couple other small businesses, which virtually ran themselves. He didn’t have to work any more than he wanted to and had a very comfortable, steady income. He owned a very nice home in the hills, with a pool. He had half a dozen cars, and a condo in Maui. All this he promised to share with Danielle if she would bring his son

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and move in with him. He promised her almost unlimited freedom as long as he could live with his son and raise him. It was an offer Danielle could not refuse. She did love Johnny in her own way, but her love was selfish. She loved for herself: for the fulfillment of her own needs, not in an altruistic way. His feelings were not really a concern to her, they never had been. It was all about what she could get from the relationship, and she had done alright with Johnny but now she had received a better offer and she was going to take it. This was about her life, after all. How could she not take it? It was too good to pass up. Her only problem now would be convincing Johnny to give her up without making a scene. But she never doubted that she could make him let go. She could handle Johnny; he was easy. The timing was not good for Johnny. His mother had just died, and now he would lose his son, but she saw no way around it. She could not bring herself to face him with it though, so she had worked out a plan that afforded her the easiest way out.

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Chapter 33

Johnny came home from work Friday after cashing his check at the bank and found himself alone in the house. It wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, so he didn’t think much of it at first. He checked the mail, thumbed through the bills and junk mail, finding

nothing of interest. Then he looked through the refrigerator, found a beer and took it to the couch in front of the TV. It was not until he had finished his beer and gone to the bedroom to change, that he began to realize something was definitely amiss. All the personal items Danielle kept on the night-stand next to the bed were gone. All her makeup was gone from the top of her dresser. He looked in the closet and all of her clothes were gone. He began to panic. What the hell did she do, he thought? Where the hell did she go? Had someone taken her against her will? Johnny raced to Tyler’s room to find it nearly empty. All of Tyler’s things were gone except the youth bed Johnny bought him when he got too big to sleep in the crib. Danielle had been acting strangely lately. anyway, so he wasn’t too alarmed by that at first. She was kind of a moody person But one evening when they were

arguing about something stupid and petty she had proclaimed that it didn’t matter anymore. Anymore, was the word she had used. It sounded like something a person would say when they didn’t care anymore. Like something she might say if she had

decided that their disagreements were inconsequential. This would be the case if she had plans to leave, and it appeared that was indeed the case. But that had been the only indication that there was any problem. They hadn’t had any big fight. She hadn’t

threatened to leave him. She had seemed perfectly happy when he left for work that morning.

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He went back into the kitchen, wandering and wondering what he should do next, when he noticed a note on the table. How he hadn’t noticed it before was beyond him, but he hadn’t. He picked it up and read it.

Dear Johnny, I can’t explain this to you. You just wouldn’t understand, but I have to leave. I’ll let you know where I am when I get settled. Danielle

“What the hell?” he wondered out loud. “What the hell is going on?” He wandered around the house reading the note over and over. He could not believe she had done this to him. How? Why? None of it made sense. If he had had a clue as to where she was he would have gone after her. If he thought he had any chance of finding her he would go and look. But he had no idea where he should start. He could not imagine where she might go. He walked outside and looked around the front yard. All of Tyler’s toys were gone. He walked around the yard thinking and racking his brain. How could she leave? How could she do this to him? If he could find her he would shake her and demand that she tell him why. He got in his truck, drove to a liquor store and bought a twelve-pack of beer, then brought it back home. He sat on the couch drinking and hoping she would call. When it reached midnight and she had not called, he had drank eight of the twelve beers and felt more alone than he had ever felt in his life. He got up to go to the bathroom, tripped and fell on his face. He could not gather the will to pick himself up, and he lay on the floor and cried. His mother, his wife, and his son had all left him, and he was utterly alone.

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Chapter 33

Johnny waited all weekend for Danielle’s call, but it never came. He sat, motionless most of the time, on the couch staring at the television. He never bothered to turn the set on; he just stared at the blank screen. He only ventured from the house to make trips to the liquor store, and then he left for only very brief periods. He did not want to be gone when Danielle’s call came. Monday morning he woke with a throbbing head and sick to his stomach. He stumbled out of the bed and made it to the toilet just in time to heave into it. He lay on the floor for a long time, soaking up the soothing coldness of the floor tile, before getting up and making his way to the living room. He sat on the couch and stared around the room at what remained of life. Bottles were scattered around, some half full. It looked like the remains of an all night party, but it had all been done by him as he wallowed in his misery. And all that time he had racked his brain trying to figure out why she had done it. But he could find no reason that made sense. He still could not understand why she would take his son and leave like she had. There was just no good reason for her to do it. He had to find her and get them both back. He had to or he would die. The pain and loneliness would kill him. He should be at work already, but he could not go. He was too sick. He was too sad. Work did not matter any more. He got up and his head swam. He ran to the toilet and heaved again, then got in the shower. He shaved and dressed, and headed out to his truck to find his wife. He went to the only place he knew to look: Jim’s Bar and Grill. She was very loyal to Jim and certainly would not leave him in the lurch, so Johnny was sure she would show up for work as usual.

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When he arrived, he was happy to see that her car was in the parking lot in its usual spot. At least that had not changed. Johnny had spent time with Danielle in the morning when she was preparing the bar and grill for business. He knew her habits and could readily anticipate her moves. He knew she would come out the back door at some point to take out the garbage from the night before, and he would be there when she did. He could have went to the front door, she seldom locked it behind her after she went in, but she would be able to see him approaching, through the glass front of the building, and he was afraid she might lock him out. Surely she knew he would come looking for her. She had to know he was

desperate with worry and grief. She must know he would do whatever he needed to do in order to find his son. But maybe she thought he wouldn’t fail to show up for work. She knew he valued his boss’s trust and maybe she thought he wouldn’t come looking for her until after work. But he did not want to risk waiting. He did not want to give her the opportunity to react because he didn’t know how she would react. He needed to surprise her. Johnny turned over a pickle bucket and positioned it behind the back door to the bar and grill and sat on it. When she opened the door she would not see him until she had cleared the door and was on her way to the dumpster. It was a good twenty minutes before he heard the knob turn, and the door opened toward him. He silently stood up, and as she walked in front of him Johnny put his hand against the door and hastened its return to a closed position. Danielle didn’t notice him for a second or two, and when she did it startled her so badly she dropped the black bag of garbage she was carrying and screamed involuntarily. It was no comfort to her when she realized that the person standing less than five feet away was her husband, because when she looked at him she saw an expression she had never seen on his face before. He looked very sad and pale, but his eyes were no longer

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the soft amiable eyes of the man she had married. They were hard and angry, like Pete’s eyes had been as he pinched her nipple after he found out Simmons was still alive. This was not what she had expected from Johnny. The eyes of a stranger may have been less frightening. “What are you doing here? You scared the shit out of me, god damn it,” Danielle screamed at him. Johnny didn’t say anything for a moment. He had rehearsed what he wanted to say over and over during his weekend alone, but suddenly it all sounded wrong. The lines he rehearsed had changed as time passed. At first he had decided to apologize for

whatever it was he had done wrong that made her leave him. But as the hurt in him festered, and he became more angry at her for leaving him alone without so much as a phone call, his speech became less apologetic and more threatening. Now, though, even that seemed inappropriate. Here she was going about her life like nothing had happened while he was dying inside. He wasn’t sure what was going to come out of his mouth when he opened it, so he didn’t open it. The anger in him was so overwhelming he was afraid once he let it loose he would not be able to stop it. “Are you going to say something or just stand there,” Danielle asked. If he hadn’t been blocking her from the entrance into the bar and grill she would not have asked that question; she would have simply darted back in and locked the door. She was afraid, but she would not allow Johnny to see that. His anger twisted his face into a sneer as he forced himself to speak. “Why did you leave?” Spit flew from his mouth with the words, and his chest heaved with a

frightening mix of misery and fury. Danielle had not expected this. She thought she would easily handle Johnny. She thought he might cry, and he would surely beg her to come back to him, but she would pacify him with promises and flattery. She would tell him what a good man he was, but how she had just needed more from life than what she could have with him. She would

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tell him that she still loved him and always would, and she would tell him he could visit Tyler whenever he wanted to, and they would be friends from now on so they could still raise their son together. She had assumed she would be in a superior position when this confrontation occurred. She pictured Johnny with his head in her lap while she caressed his hair and made promises to him she had no intention of keeping. But Johnny was no longer the meek little boy she had married three years earlier. The person standing before her was a man who could hurt her. The eyes she was looking into were not the love filled eyes of the boy she walked down the isle with. These eyes were filled with anger and hatred. “Where is my son?” Johnny asked abruptly. The question frightened her, and before she had time to think she had blurted out the truth. “He’s not your son.” “What the fuck are you talking about?” Johnny asked. Suddenly, his expression took on a confused look. Johnny took a step toward Danielle and asked again. talking about?” Danielle panicked and said the only thing she could think of. “He’s not your son, Johnny. He’s not yours”. She had not intended to tell him so soon, and it wasn’t a conscious decision on her part, but maybe by instinct she knew if she could confuse Johnny maybe she could buy some time. He would need to understand before he could react, and he would not understand this for some time. And Danielle desperately needed the time it would take for him to consider this new information. “I had an affair, Johnny. Tyler isn’t your son. He is the child of the man I had the affair with.” Danielle paused and watched Johnny’s face. He was still confused and she could see him trying but failing to comprehend. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I..I.. just….I don’t know…I just.” ”What the fuck are you

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Her lip began to quiver and tears streamed down her face. She fell down to her knees and cried as Johnny stood dumbfounded watching but still not believing. Slowly Johnny’s face regained its natural composure and his body relaxed. He was loosing the anger for the moment. The adrenaline was petering out and sadness was taking its place. He looked at Danielle weeping on her knees on the black pavement of the alley and felt love for her, still. He hated her for what she had done, but he still loved her. But he also hated himself, because at that moment, just as he was just beginning to grasp the meaning of her betrayal, he longed for her touch. He still wanted her to love him. But he also knew he would never be able to forgive her. Johnny walked past her to his pickup, got in and drove away.

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Chapter 34

Johnny ruminated on his misery. He locked himself in and drank until he could maintain consciousness no longer. When he woke up, he started drinking again. He lost track of time, and sometimes was not sure whether he was awake or dreaming. Hallucinations or dreams, he was not sure which, began to dominate his mind and his life became a maze of unreality with alternating demons and angels as his companions. He walked into a room and saw Danielle fucking the man she had left him for. He stood and watched for sometime before he realized Danielle was watching him. She looked right at him and moaned with pleasure as the man thrust himself into her over and over. She looked into his eyes as she cried out in orgasm, with not a hint of inhibition or shame. She pulled at the man’s ass with both hands and begged him to fuck her harder, while she looked back at Johnny. In his hallucination he felt not sadness, only rage. He felt more anger than he could ever imagine himself feeling and it was all directed at her. She had betrayed him in a way that he could never outlive. She had hurt him like no other human being on earth could hurt, and it seethed inside him. It burned and welled up like volcanic magma, vaporizing everything in its path. From nowhere, Tyler was there too. He was crying and crawling around his mother as she vocalized her orgasm. The man was on top of her, between her legs, and Tyler could not get to her. He cried and crawled, looking for a way to get to his mother, but the man occupied all of her. Then suddenly Tyler stood and pointed at Johnny and screamed in fear. He screamed like a terrified child lost in a giant shopping mall with no hope of finding its mother. Johnny tried to run to his son, but he could not move. He closed his eyes and growled, and the next thing he knew he was flying. He flew over the graveyard where he

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had watched his mother’s body buried. Tyler and the man who was his father were playing catch on top of the grave. Danielle rolled in the grass next to them and laughed a haunting, evil laugh. The boy was playing catch with his father, and it caused a horrible sadness to come over him. He could fly no more. He plummeted toward the earth and his mother’s grave. He plummeted toward the man playing catch with Tyler. He crashed into the earth with an explosive impact and it hurt his head terribly. He regained consciousness and found he was on the bathroom floor, lying in a puddle of vomit. His head was pounding so hard he thought it might actually kill him. If it did not stop very quickly he would wish for death. Dying at this point would be a welcome relief. He crawled to the bathtub, turned on the cold water and stuck his head under the flow. It took the edge off the pain for a moment as he adjusted to the cold. He suddenly felt sick again and vomited without moving. As the water washed the puke down the drain, he turned his head and rinsed his mouth, then drank deeply. He had not known he was thirsty until the water hit his throat but then realized he was parched. When he had drank and found a towel to dry his head, he felt somewhat better. He went to the refrigerator and took a beer from the shelf. He popped the top and took a drink, but the taste repulsed him. He spit it in the sink and threw the beer in the garbage can, then lay down on the couch. How could he live like this, he wondered. How could he leave the house and function with people looking at him with this horrible pain in his gut? His son was not his son after all. His wife had betrayed him, and he hadn’t had a clue. How could a man be as stupid as he had been? He had not even known she was screwing around on him. How can a woman share her bed with a man for so long, promise to love him forever, and deceive him so viciously?

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Nothing about the world made sense anymore. Nothing about it was good. Nothing about it held promise for him. He did not care to live in a world where a man could be so badly hurt by someone with such little consequence. Danielle was living with the man at that moment. She would be sleeping with him every night. Tyler would grow up with this man as his father, not Johnny. And she had known all along. She must have known. Women just know, he had been told. They had some sense that men did not understand. She had lied to him over and over. She had told him she loved him many, many times, but how could she love him and do such a thing to him? For two hours, Johnny sat in the kitchen drinking coffee and thinking about how Danielle had betrayed him. Rage began to build in him. Not a reckless rage, though, a cunning, contemplative rage. He had no son. He had no family. There was nothing for him to lose anymore. And Danielle was the one to blame. The remedy for his misery began to formulate in his mind and it focused on the source of his pain. He began to see clearly what the solution must be.

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Chapter 35

Johnny had scared Danielle for the first time. She had never seen him with so much animosity in his eyes before, and it worried her. She could not believe he would actually hurt her, but she was sure his rage was real. She had promised Jim she would continue to work for him until he found a replacement. It was the least she could do for him after he had treated her so well for so long. But she hesitated for a split second before going into work that morning, remembering how Johnny had cornered her a few days earlier. He couldn’t confront her at home, because he didn’t know where she lived, but he knew her work schedule. But she decided it was ridiculous to worry about that. Johnny was not a violent man. Certainly he would not come and bother her again. Dave had delivered on his promise. She was living a life she had never dreamed was possible. Her old car had been traded in for a new BMW convertible, and a babysitter had been hired to care for Tyler while she fulfilled her promise to Jim. She had her own room, but had chosen to sleep in Dave’s room most of the time, since moving to his place. She hadn’t decided yet whether or not she would marry him, but there was time, and she thought she might as well. She went about her routine as she prepared the restaurant for opening. She had just restocked the Styrofoam cups when she turned to find Johnny standing silently behind her. “Holy crap!” she nearly screamed. “What the fuck are you doing sneaking up on me like that?” He didn’t say a word but stepped closer to her. His eyes looked dead and stagnant. He was pale, and sweat rolled down his forehead. She tried to slip past him, but he moved to block her and she gave up the idea. “Why would you do this to me?” he asked.

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He sounded like he had a severe head cold, nasally and wet, and he moved closer to her. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” “Oh you didn’t.” The volume and tone of his voice rose steeply. “How could you do it accidentally?” His lips quivered and his eyes reddened. A tear spilled onto his cheek. “It just happened, that’s all. I didn’t…..” Johnny’s hand shot out and his fingers gripped her throat like iron bands. Danielle grabbed his arm with both hands, but he was much too strong for her to have any effect. He pushed her backward; she took two steps, then tripped and fell onto the floor behind the bar. Johnny landed on top of her, still gripping her throat. He drove his knee between her legs, forcing them apart and lay between them like he had so many times before. “What? Did you fuck him by accident?” His face was barely two inches from her’s and he forced her thighs apart with his hips. “Did you accidentally pretend his child was mine?” Danielle was about to lose consciousness. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and her lips were turning blue. Johnny let go of her throat, and she took a deep rasping breath. She tried to scream, but her voice would not work. “Please,” she whispered hoarsely. “You’re hurting me.” She didn’t believe he would kill her. He was just trying to scare her, she thought. But he was hurting her. “Oh, you don’t know what hurt is. I hurt!” he yelled in her face. “I’m the one that’s hurt!” “Please, Johnny,” she put her hand to his face. “You know I still love you. Kiss me.” Rage overwhelmed him when he heard her lie to him again. She thought she could seduce him. She still thought she could manipulate him with her pussy, and the idea infuriated him. He put his forearm across her throat and pushed with all his pent up

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anger. She gagged and her eyes bulged. He watched as she looked back at him, dying, and it filled him with joy and sadness at the same time. She deserved to die. If anyone deserved to die it was she, but he still loved her. In spite of his anger and pain, he loved her. He thought he might as well die along with her. He felt her body tense, and she fought him weakly, but she didn’t have the strength to save herself. He could feel her heart beating wildly beneath him. Then it began to slow. Slower and slower it beat, until it stopped, and her body was lifeless beneath his weight.

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Epilogue John stumbled through the open gate just as a yellow glow began to creep into the eastern sky. He fell to his knees and heaved the contents of his stomach onto the cemetery lawn, then hacked up the remaining mucous from his burning throat and spat it at the headstone nearest him. He got to his feet and, as he stumbled between the graves, took another drink from the nearly empty whiskey bottle in his hand. “There you are, you fucking bitch,” John slurred as he approached the headstone. He drained the bottle into his mouth and smashed it on the stone now within his reach. “You ain’t gonna fuck with me no more,” he said, and he pressed the broken end of the bottle neck to his throat and pushed on it until blood began to ooze from his skin. He screamed in pain as he yanked the broken glass backward and laid open the side of his neck. He put his hand to the wound and could feel the warm blood running from it. But the wound wasn’t deep enough to be fatal. If it had been the blood would be gushing and squirting from the wound. What he felt was only a trickle. As he pulled his hand away and looked at the blood on it, a sob escaped his lips, and he covered his eyes with the bloody hand. He dropped to his knees and the sobs turned to bellows as he vented his despair and outrage at the cool predawn sky. “Shit!” he cried. “I don’t even have the guts to die.” He threw the piece of glass at the headstone and it exploded into tiny pieces. “It’s your fault,” he yelled at the headstone. “If it weren’t for you I….” His voice trailed off. He did not know how to finish that sentence and didn’t have the energy to try. Suddenly an expression of resolve took over John’s face and he got shakily to his feet. He walked twenty feet or so backwards, away from the grave marker, then sprinted toward it. He bent at the waist and ran head first into the solid marble stone with a sickening thud and crumpled into a heap beneath it. An intense spasm of pain burst in his head, but it quickly faded into soft edged pictures that flashed before his mind’s eye like a slide show. A young woman with love in her eyes, held him as they made love. She cried out his name over and over, and when he fell, spent, on top of her, she whispered in his ear. “I love you. I will always love you.” But she lied. It had all been a lie. Oh how she had lied. The reality of her lie reverberated in his mind until he could stand it no more.

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“He’s not your son,” she had told him, and those words tore at his mind and wrenched his gut. Things had all started to take shape that day, long ago, as her confession screamed in his ears. The nights she was gone from home with no explanation. The way one certain man was always hanging around her, the way that man always moved surreptitiously away when John came around. He was too young to understand, too naïve to know what was happening right behind his back. He had cursed himself for his ignorance for many years since. How could he have been so stupid? How could he not have known? Another scene flashed before his mind’s eye: a little boy held out against a blue sky with cotton ball clouds floating by overhead. The grass scratched his neck as he lay there on the lawn holding the boy up to heaven. The boy laughed and John laughed. He had believed he was a father. He had believed he held his own little miracle right there in his hands. John’s legs involuntarily pulled up to his chest and sobs escaped his mouth as he relived the nightmare that had fueled his anger: the anger he had failed to control. He rolled over onto his back and mumbled nonsensically. “Come place me. Come, come, way …..” “No,” he cried, as the pictures continued to flash before his mind’s eye. John felt her beneath him, his arms around her as she died. He felt her heart beating, fast at first, then slowing. He held her arms to her sides, and slowly choked off her air. Her breasts pressed against him, and she arched against him as he lay between her thighs in the same position they had made love in so many times before. She did not believe he would kill her. By the time she knew her mistake it was too late; her strength was gone. He loved her, yes, but he hated her as well. He wanted to take her away from that other man forever. He wanted to punish her for betraying him, but he could not let her go. Then, as he hugged his legs to his chest, the pain began to drain away. He began to warm from the inside and his mind began to back away from the painful memories. His muscles relaxed and he began to feel like his body was being lifted from the cold earth into a warm cloud of peace. Suddenly, the clang of iron shattered the air as the front gate to the cemetery opened and a truck roared through. The truck sped toward John and lurched to a halt a few feet away. A big man in coveralls climbed from the cab.

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“Hey, what the hell are you doing there?” The man yelled as he hurried toward the grave marker. “Hey you, buddy. Get the hell up and get outta here. This aint no camp ground.” The man kicked John’s leg. “Look, buddy, you gotta get outta here. If you’re not outta here in five minutes, I’m callin the cops.” John did not respond. ”Wake up, you fucking drunk. Get the hell outta here.” The man looked down at John with contempt, his eyes narrowing, his brow creased. He kicked John in the side, harder this time. “Wake up, god damn it. You fucking dirt bags all think this is your own private playground, don’t ya? Get up before I stomp your guts.” John groaned, and rolled to his side. “Don’t, oh god don’t.” “Get your ass outta here now, or you’re gonna wish you’d never been born.” John got to all fours as the man headed back to his truck and started the engine. Then he fell back down, face in the dirt. “Oh God, just let me die.” He mumbled into the dust. “Please just let me die.”

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