"Now the thing must take its course. It cannot be hurried. Dune"
Big-bellied Roscoe Larry is sole proprietor and chief operating officer of a company that exists in name only, and that name, “Mayfield Interiors,” is printed in six inch Constantia script across the sides and back of a white 1999 Chevy Astro minivan. Inside, amongst shoals and bumpers of fast-food detritus, pornography, and assorted impact-type tools, is a cardboard box containing glossy brochures which illustrate the wonders “Mayfield Interiors” will perform in Kansas kitchens and bathrooms: sleek new countertops; “cutting edge” high-velocity toilets; faucets that look like they were designed for spacecraft. This literature is the full extent of the company. There is nothing more
Today is the day Roscoe Larry’s sister, who works at ShamPoochie Dog Grooming Service in Lawrence, gives him the addresses of women who have made appointments for next week. Roscoe gives her one-hundred dollars for this information, which she attempts to produce in handwriting not her own lest such document fall into the wrong hands, namely, the sheriff’s
For said list is Exhibit A in a series of rural crimes common to a sixty-mile radius of Lawrence, i.e., burglaries in broad daylight
Q: What kind of day is a good day for a daylight B&E in rural Kansas?
A: Any day the dog gets groomed
Because if the dog’s not home it’s a good bet nobody else is either
One of the targets Roscoe Larry has chosen is a residence ten miles north of Valley Falls on a road known as West Valentine Way, an area known for expansive, well-mowed manors. Among many possible accomplices, Roscoe taps Jesse Jessop, not necessarily because Jesse is a skilled burglar, but because Roscoe received a gram of coke from Jesse on verbal a month ago and has yet to reimburse him. Jesse is threatening to kill not only Roscoe but Roscoe’s dog, a pit bull named Rooster23. To settle the matter, Roscoe offers this juicy plum of a castle owned by a four-poodle family named Broadstone
The plan is fabulously simple: drive up, drop off the accomplice, wait while he knocks on the door. If nobody answers, get him inside, then get the hell out of there; when he’s done, he’ll call. Pick him up
Today the mother ship is full, three other criminals besides Jesse, plus the pit bull Rooster23, all bound for rural households in the general vicinity of Valley Falls, up to and including Hiawatha, Nortonville and Oskaloosa. Roscoe has described a large county orbit in his plans for the day; everybody’s got just under thirty minutes to toss his house for cash, jewelry, handguns and drugs, especially benzos and Oxycontin, though Roscoe will sell (or snort) almost anything
One time an accomplice ran outside with a saddle and a new Stetson hat still in the box. This ain’t no horse trailer, Roscoe bawled, and you ain’t no fuckin’ cowboy. If you cain’t stuff it down your pants, I don’t wont it. Go put it back.
A large gold non-denominational crucifix legitimately purchased in Kansas City for almost a thousand dollars hangs by a gold chain from the mother ship’s rearview. It reaches almost to the dashboard. Roscoe’s got Christian issues. He does not believe the Lord God minds if he liberates only lucre, weaponry, drugs and “the palace jewels,” as he puts it; in fact, it is entirely possible that, from a social justice perspective, the Lord, if not actually blessing his labors, might simply but on purpose look the other way. Lord’s got better things to do
One of those better things is thwarting the homosexual agenda. You see any dicks in here? he asks, rifling through the porn on the floor in response to a comment Jesse made regarding same-sex marriage in California to the effect that Who the fuck cares?
Little shit, I care, that’s who! Homos get their own goddamn van, ain’t gonna ride in mine
Roscoe Larry is a career criminal from a family so bad it was less family than chain gang. Roscoe’s father was a one-night stand and his mother killed herself with meth and alcohol before he was six. He was raised by a grandmother who cooked everything in bacon and weighed four-hundred pounds. His grandfather was a caricature of every bad thing a man could become. One day in the shed behind the house Roscoe saw him rape a dog with a stick, then cut its throat with a buck folder and drag it out to a ditch where he soaked it with gasoline and set it on fire. Roscoe, who had also been violated by this creature, imagined himself similarly slit and immolated. Late that night while his grandparents and siblings slept he set the house on fire. He let it burn half down before dragging out a brother and two sisters. His siblings were placed into foster care and he never saw them again. Roscoe, presumed to have perished in the blaze like his grandparents, lived in the leafy copses and abandoned houses of rural Kansas for a full year till he set one of those on fire, too. He was eventually captured and placed in foster care himself. He bounced around almost twenty homes until he aged-out of the system at eighteen and drifted into a life of whatever
Roscoe leans around and says, You got something to tell us, Jesse?
Queer, that’s wut
Shut the fuck up, Roscoe. Only queer in this car your thievin’ ass. Don’t change the subject
Homos walk. Not in my van
I say “Who the fuck cares” and that makes me a cocksucker? YOU the cocksucker, Roscoe. I don’t kill you ‘cause you stole my blow, I kill you ‘cause you stupid. Stupid as my stupid ass
What you care about queer marriage?
What the fuck YOU care about queer marriage? YOU the one makin’ the noixe up there, white-trash mutherfucker. Jesse points a finger at him- I tell you something else, shitwad: You ain’t off the hook yet. Wait till I see the house, THEN I tell you. Fuckin’ crook
Jesse Jessup is a career criminal who was raised as a fundamentalist (i.e., polygamous) Mormon on the Utah/Arizona line. When he was sixteen he was driven with five other sixteen-year-old boys to Las Vegas. They were given forty dollars each and told never to come back, the Lord has spoken
What happened? Jesse asked another boy when the van pulled away. What did we do?
Nothin’, the boy said, old guys want the girls. My sister Eliza gonna marry a man sixty years old from Parowan. She’ll be his ninth.
In Vegas, Jesse learned to hustle the hard way – the hard way because he was hustled himself and learned difficult lessons which usually began with his face in a couch cushion and his pants down. By age seventeen he was pimping six other boys, all outcasts from polygamous communities. By eighteen he’d killed two men and buried their bodies with quicklime in the desert north of Lake Meade. By twenty-five he’d developed a raging crack habit and was sentenced to eight years in Nevada corrections for manufacturing & distributing. By thirty-five he’d migrated to Kansas as a meth entrepreneur, developed and conquered a nasty crank habit, then settled down to relatively low-risk B&E’s and more or less recreational benzos
I tell you something else, Jesse yells up to the front of the van: I hear you killin whores
I hear you a niggerlover, so what?
Better than killin whores
Who told you?
Reliable source, that’s who
Pulled it out a your asshole cause you’re mad, that’s all
What I seen, you do just about anything
Percentage in off’n some little girl?
Get your rocks off maybe old man
Put your stupid ass out RIGHT HERE I didn’t owe you. Talkin bout a man like that! Tell ya one thing: Least I LIKE bitches
Back to that, says Jesse
Then why you always talkin about queer marriage?
I aksed ONE GODDAMN TIME you make this issue!
Far as I’m concerned you aksed for a reason
Queer as a three-dollar bill
Know why I don’t believe in god, Roscoe? Cause I don’t believe god would make somthin fuckin stupid as you. That’s how I feel. Now we BOTH burn in hell cause you the one what made me doubt
One of the perks of working with Roscoe is a little pick-me-up right before the job go down. He makes lines on a piece of broken window glass he keeps in the glove, does one and passes them back
DOWN PAYMENT! he shouts to no one in particular. Shittin’ in HIGH cotton! Today’s gonna be a GOOD day, feel it in my bones! He twists around in his seat. Gonna offer up a little prayer, he says - safety, riches, clean getaway. Take from the rich, etc. Gonna pray with me might be a extra line in it for you
Jesus Lord, says Jesse to those around him, my shit’s bad enough already without I start prayin with Roscoe Larry
Rooster23 has chosen a victim in the center of the van, a young man with bad acne who lives in a trailer court in Topeka. He mounts the man head-on, paws on shoulders, slobbering his face and hard-humping his crotch
WooooEeeee! shouts Jesse, you got bigger proplems than California, asshole – your boyfriend’s cheatin on ya back here -
Roscoe turns in his seat and swats at Rooster23. Offa him, he shouts - Push him away gotdamit!
I cain’t, croaks the young man, well-pinned to his seat, trying to cover his face with his hands. Gonna bite hell out of me -
Roscoe reaches way back and grabs Rooster’s tail. He jerks it hard and the dog yelps. A turd pops out and the van begins to stink
Classy outfit you got here, yells Jesse, cracking a window. Very goddamn classy.
They do a drive-by of the Broadstone house, three-car garage and all. What you think, yells Roscoe over his shoulder - Fireworks on the TV?
No one home we’re good, says Jesse. I’m happy
Roscoe u-turns and rolls briskly up the driveway. Jesse jumps out with a brochure and rings the doorbell. Stands there two minutes. Runs back to the van for a crowbar and, as the van rockets out the driveway and down Valentine Way, circles to the back of the house where he jimmies a door to a mudroom. He cracks an inside door to the kitchen and pokes his head; listens for another two minutes before deciding the place is, indeed, uninhabited, and strolls right in
Jesse’s got a B&E routine he’s used for years, a protocol he follows unerringly after he’s unlawfully penetrated the dwelling of another human being: masturbate, eat, get high, steal
The first thing he looks for is a laundry hamper, which he empties on the floor and pokes through until he finds panties. As it so happens, la Broadstone’s are the size of a poncho and Jesse has a hard time keeping them on his face, the leg holes so big they keep slipping back down over his shoulders. He runs upstairs where he figures the master bedroom is and finds a bureau belonging to the man of the house. He jacks off over the sock drawer AHHHHHHHH then cleans himself up with the panties and hangs them over a lamp like he always does
Then down to the kitchen and into the refrigerator, hongry as hell! He finds roast beef and bread and makes himself several sandwiches, utilizing also uncommonly good (organic) brown mustard, lettuce and pre-sliced provolone. He has a beer or three
As he eats he wonders about, room by room, planning the house-toss. Last bite upstairs he breaks suddenly into action as if there’s not a second to spare, dumping drawers, sweeping shelves clean to discover what’s behind, throwing books off bookshelves – bathroom, bedroom, spare rooms, linen closets. He works furiously, methodically, and begins to find things: his and her Glocks, one in 9mm, the other .380; a small wad of cash ($635) hidden in an enormous black bra in the missus’ bureau; jewelry, including four nice diamond rings and an emerald brooch; prescriptions Lorazepam, Clonazepam and generic methylphenidate
He shakes out two Lorazepams, a methylphenidate and two Clonazepams. Using the end of a spoon he finds in a toothbrush cup, he grinds them to fine powder, mixes them up, lines it nice&clean on the counter, and, in one mighty snort, vacuums off the whole affair. The last thing he remembers is admiring a 1960-ish family photograph downstairs above a couch: mom, dad and nine grown children, four of them women, three quite attractive
He wakes up someplace cold, dark and quiet. In a moment he understands he is naked; a moment later he also understands that he is shackled
Jesse Jessop blinks his eyes and sits up. He hears the sound of ignition, a whosh of gas-fire, and realizes he is affixed to the water heater, probably in the basement
He feels for the wall and leans back. Ho/hum, chained buck naked to a water heater in someone’s basement after he masturbated in a sock drawer, tossed all the closets, stole stuff, got high and passed out. In a life like Jesse Jessop’s nothing could be more natural. Where is god, he wonders lazily, in times like these? Where is the god of Roscoe Larry - or does He just sit up there on the rearview, swinging from that heavy gold cross, laughing at the fools? Still benzo-drowsy, he nods his head, closes his eyes and falls back asleep
The lights are on. He’s suddenly looking at two huge Anglo-Saxons, a man and a woman he correctly identifies as the ruling class. They appear to be in their fifties; the man has a trim little mustache; the woman is wearing a flowery dress the size of a tent. They are sitting in folding lawnchairs in the middle of a room which, indeed, appears to be the basement. The man is reading the Wall Street Journal; she is knitting. Jesse Jessop blinks blinks blinks
The man drops the newspaper to his lap, smiles and says, Well good morning! The woman does the same with her knitting and also smiles. We’re the Broadstones, the man says, George and Mary – but you already know that. Brother Roscoe Larry and his merry band! Would you like to introduce yourself?
Jesse laughs. You catch Roscoe?
Then you know who I am
Sure do. Just want to hear you say it
Roscoe make a deal?
God only knows
Won’t be the last
Good. Get it over with
Broadstone smiles. He reaches behind his seat and tosses a mop bucket, which bounces and slipslides till it hits his legs. Do your business in that, he says. If you mess on the floor I’ll make you eat it
Next morning he hears them clomp down the stairs, George Broadstone carrying a thick green folder, Mary a tea service with cups. Before they seat themselves in the folding chairs Mrs. Broadstone asks if he’d like some tea. He nods his head and she brings him a cup, which he holds to his lips with cuffed hands
George lifts the folder. This is your dossier, Jesse. Do you know what that is?
Shakes his head
Your life as interpreted by various law enforcement agencies. You may wonder how I have come into possession of such a thing?
Nods his head
At one time I was a district attorney. Then I was judge
What you do now?
Whatever I please
Must be nice
Not when you come home and find what we found
You’re sorry you got caught. However – he hoists the dossier to the level of his eyes – this certainly sheds light on the situation. May I ask a few questions?
Can I have another cup of tea?
Mary rises and pours
What’s the point?
It’s part of the process
The process by which I make decisions
Shit. Do what you’re gonna do
Why were you expelled from the community?
Old men didn’t want the competition
Girls, of course
How did you survive?
Any way I could
Did you kill people?
Obviously a “yes”
Take it any way you want. Wasn’t going to live like a roach
Which means you weren’t going to do honest work – and I say all this taking into account the odious circumstances under which you were raised. However, it‘s a character issue, Jesse. Character shines through no matter what
If by honest work you mean 5 bucks a hour, you damn right I wasn’t. How much you make a hour?
That’s not important
What your daddy do?
He laughs and looks at him for a moment. Why, he was a judge, too!
Shit, he says, and glares at him. You got some fuckin’ nerve aksing questions like those. You know that’s wrong
It’s not wrong, says George Broadstone, it’s the way the Redeemer made this world. Take it up with Him if you don’t like it. Tell Him he made a mistake
My father sent his wives out to work. He sat home and watched TV. Do the fukkin math before you start throwin shit around
Some hours after the Broadstones returned upstairs Jesse hears a fight. There are slurs, slaps, shouting, curses, crashes. Some additional hours later Mrs. Broadstone descends barefoot in a white bathrobe carrying a pot of coffee and chocolate cake. You must be hungry, she says. How about some dessert? Her face is swollen and her eye sockets are going blue-green with highlights of black-red. Blood is visible in her nostrils. She smells of whisky
What’s goin on up there?
Mr. Broadstone has an alcohol problem, that’s what’s going on up there. She seats herself on the floor beside him, breaks off a piece of cake and lifts it to his mouth. I’ll feed you if that’s alright. Is that alright?
Don’t much care what you do
What you want to say is, “I don’t care if you shove it up my ass!” Isn’t that right, Jesse? You opened Pandora’s box, him coming home to a house like that. Do you know what that means, Pandora’s Box?
Not completely stupid, lady. Listen, you gonna shoot me or cut my throat why don’t you just go ahead and do it. Tell him you got raped or same damn thing
She breaks off another big chunk and slowly stuffs it into his gaping mouth. He lifts the coffee pot with both hands, drinking carefully in case it’s hot. When he’s done Mrs. Broadstone loosens the tie on her robe and lets it drop. Jesse gasps at breasts the dimensions of the mop bucket. She smears a bit of chocolate icing over her plate-sized nipples and shoves these also into his mouth
Sometime after this encounter George Broadstone himself descends, similarly barefooted, wrapped in a bath towel, obviously drunk. He is carrying a belt
That whore come down here? There it is goddammmit! – he points to the remnant of the chocolate cake and the coffee pot. He lifts the belt: I’ll ask you the same thing I ask her: You want the buckle or the tongue?
He gets the buckle, without first making his preference known. George goes at him with wild fury though he misses at least half the time and finally falls down and lies on the floor with Jesse. Mary, now fully dressed, appears a few minutes later, gently helping George to his feet and, without a glance at Jesse, assists him slowly up the stairs
You people ain’t dis-functional or nothin’, Jesse observes when Mary pays him another visit, this time stripteasing just out of reach. Here I’m thinking your kind holds the world together
We DO hold the world together, she says, just not the way you think we do
What way, then?
Our way. Trust me
She moves to cover him with her bulk. I haven’t had sex in twenty years. This is like Easter and you’re the bunny. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
When George and Mary again appear before him he wonders truly if he’s not losing his mind. They are dressed in Sunday best; George carries a Bible. Mary is heavily made-up and wears large round sunglasses. There are four little white poodles jumping around. They sit down in the lawn chairs and George says, Well it’s been quite a holiday, hasn’t it, Jesse?
Get them fuckin’ dogs away from me. I hate poodles
I’ve got a little something for you, George says. He pulls Roscoe’s crucifix from his jacket pocket and dangles it before him. He throws it on the floor just out of reach, its long heavy chain chiming as it tumbles across the concrete
Something to think about, he says, then offers a hand to his wife and assists her tenderly up the stairs
The drinking starts right after church. George again descends the stairs with the belt, this time completely naked except for Nike runners, and beats Jesse for ten minutes. As before, most of his shots fall short or wide of the mark. When he’s done he falls heavily in a lawn chair which collapses with a loud snap. Help! he cries, Heeeellllllp! When Mary does not respond, George crawls up the stairs and out of the basement
A few minutes later Mary comes down still dressed in her church clothes. She hitches up her skirt, removes her queen-size panties, and straddles him as he leans against the wall
Bang! This time George sneaks up while Jesse’s sleeping and lands a good one with the buckle. Stars and streaks explode across Jesse’s field of vision and he does his best to cover up
Where’s that cunt? shouts George. I can smell her. Tell me where that filthy cunt is or I’ll kill you
Jesse is alone now for several days. No sounds issue from upstairs and Jesse figures they’re holed-up on the second floor. He is half sleeping when he hears the basement door creak open. George wears a white tennis outfit; his knees are scarred and swollen. He is hobbling, and does not appear fully ambulatory, much less a recent player of tennis. He stands before him for several minutes
Roscoe was a poor soul, says Jesse finally. He made my life look like a goddamn picnic no matter what you think or what you do
I know that
Then why’d you kill him?
Great men whom god hath consecrated for great purposes are subject to great passions.
What about the rest?
Off somewhere I guess. Old Roscoe never showed up
He loved old Rooster23, didn’t he?
How’d you know that?
Old dog-fighter from way back. Named all his dogs Rooster
George takes the crucifix off the floor, wraps the end of the chain around his hand, and whirls it over Jesse’s head
Queer, he says. You don’t think I know what you are? Queer as a three-dollar bill
There’s another fight upstairs, a bad one, and Jesse wonders if he’s killed her. An hour later, in the now blood-soaked bathrobe, she staggers downstairs
He’s going to strangle us both and burn the house down, she croaks, that’s what he said. He drowned my poodles in the bathtub
In the FUCK’s his problem?!
He’s Catholic, she says, but he likes men
What you mean he likes men?
Just like it sounds
Then why’s he calling me queer?
Same reason he’s calling me whore
But I’m not queer
And I’m not a whore. He thinks you found his pictures
The ones with Roscoe Larry
They go way back
That’s the truth
Why don’t you leave?
I’ve had abortions
I don’t do what he says, George tells the bishop
Bishop sends me to hell
This the same Bishop pokin’ little boys in the asshole?
Then why do you believe anything he says?
Can’t help it
God damn, he declares. God DAMN! He shakes his head. Fukkin SCARY world when I’m the normal one
Shortly after Mary goes back up, George comes back down, wearing nothing but white socks and the crucifix
You fucking queer, he says. What have you done to my wife?
I was queer I wouldn’t do nothin with your wife
George goes at him with the crucifix, swinging it in wide arcs across the ceiling, smashing it down on Jesse’s hands which are covering his head, upon his legs and knees, upon the hot water heater, upon the wall, upon the floor. He gashes Jesse’s head and blood pours between his fingers and over his face. Xhausted, George falls to the concrete and stretches full length. In five minutes he’s snoring
Mary walks halfway down the stairs and surveys the scene. She goes right back up, snaps off the light and shuts the door
What a life, Jesse mumbles. I think this takes the cake
When George wakes up, Jesse hears him crawl toward the stairs. Halfway there he falls heavily back to the floor and doesn’t make another sound
When the light comes on again George is gone. Jesse, who has been wide awake the whole time, has not heard him so much as breathe, much less climb back up the stairs
There is another fight, the worst yet. The door flies open and Mary comes screaming through. George’s follows and kicks her off the landing. Mary’s great volume is briefly airborne, then collapses on outstretched arms halfway down, somersaulting the rest of the way to the floor. George shuts off the light and slams the door
Oh God, she finally groans. Oh God help me
Can you crawl?
Come over here
When she finally reaches him Jesse examines her head to foot. Right arm broken at the wrist, one kneecap obviously shattered, huge knot on her forehead, drowning in blood
He discovers a small bracelet on the wrist not broken. There is something attached and it feels like a key. He fits this into the keyhole of his manacles and they open right up
Mary dies in his arms, which is to say as much of Mary as he can get in his arms
George, outfitted in a crisp business suit and brandishing his Glock, descends the stairs. He sits in the undamaged lawn chair and crosses his legs
Do you know what I like best about myself?
Even after all this – he sweeps his Glock around – I still retain the capacity for disgust
By the way, your wife’s dead
Life is a paradox, he says. She was eating herself to death anyway. Were this a television show – George again sweeps the weapon, pausing momentarily at Mary’s body - how would it end? A cheap device, deus ex machina? Miraculously slip your bonds and clobber me with a pipe you’ve somehow loosed from the water heater? Reunite with your six-toed kin in Utah?
Jesus looks down on you and pukes. Me he just shakes his head; you, he pukes
Burning the house. Five minutes. It’s 2AM and I’m in St. Louis. He lumbers back up the steps and at the landing turns and says, Screaming in the flames makes a saint a saint. You’re in good company
He does not close the door. Fifteen minutes later Jesse smells smoke and makes his way upstairs
There are two cars left in the garage, both with keys in the ignition. Jesse checks each to see which has the most gas, a black Toyota. He runs upstairs to the bedroom and opens the drawer with the colossal brassieres; as he had hoped and expected, the wad of cash has been restored
The fire is really going now and he makes three tries through smoke & flame before he’s able to re-enter the garage. He starts the Toyota - it is indeed two AM, 2:18AM to be exact - and pulls out onto Valentine Road. He checks left, he checks right, and, as George correctly predicted, points it west, straight for Utah. He turns on the radio, tuned already to NPR and BBC World News: Continuing hostilities in Congo; simmering tensions in Bosnia Herzegovina; a plane crash in New York. All around him, across the dark and tumbling countryside, he knows people dream oceans, ice cream, sex, falling. He finds music, opens the sunroof, vows to quit Kansas before daylight. Bless your soul, he says aloud to dead Mary, now roasting like a pig in the basement of her own home. If there’s such a thing as Jesus, He will crush you to his heart
PD Mallamo has appeared in, among other journals, Lana Turner, Granta, Barcelona Review, Sunstone, decomP, Eclectica, Conte, and the anthology Fire In The Pasture. He is a MacDowell fellow, has degrees from BYU and the University of Kansas, and lives with his family in Lawrence.