Tuesday, March 11, 2014

End Lesstin Kering 7 3/11/14

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Oliver's foot slipped in the mud, and he toppled backwards onto the slick bank. Lesstin grabbed the boy's hand without thinking, pulling him back from the edge. The older boy laughed as he dragged himself back toward stable ground.

“Nice grab Less!” Oliver said once he was safely atop the cliff. “I almost went for a swim!” He laughed again and kicked a fist-sized rock off the edge. They watched it fall and fall then splash into the river. “Hey, not too far, is it?”

Far enough down to make Lesstin feel ill. “I don't like it,” Lesstin admitted. As soon as he said it, he knew he shouldn't have. Oliver's smile changed from friendly to wicked. His mouth hooked down, and his eyes grew wide and happy.

 “Lessie doesn't like it?” Every word was punctuated with barbed laughter. “Is he afraid of the height?” He put Lesstin in a headlock and dragged him toward the edge. Behind them, Chase was laughing too. He always laughed when Oliver laughed. Today was supposed to have been different; they asked him to come along, and not because their mother had forced them to. But then Lesstin had to go and open his big mouth.

“Lay off Oliver.” The voice of a hero. Chase Million was the only boy who could tell Oliver what to do. Sometimes. “He just pulled you back from falling in the river.”

Oliver flung Lesstin onto the grass, and spun to face Chase. “So what? I aint fraid of the river. I'll jump off, right now. You think I won't?” He started fumbling with the buttons on his cuffs.

“Give over Ollie. Your pop would slap you purple if you came home with wet clothes, so aint the same with you stripping.” Chase offered a hand to help Lesstin back to his feet. “Crud, you ripped your jeans. Look at that Ollie, bet his pop will throw him through a wall.”

Lesstin's father would never do such a thing. His mom might click her tongue about the grass stains. But he was learning; he didn't say anything.

“Hey,” Oliver said. “Yeah, no deal, right?”

“No,” Lesstin said. The whole day had been a whirlwind. What had he done to make them want him along all of the sudden? He didn't know, and didn't really care. For once, they were glad to have him along.

Chase slapped Lesstin on the back, maybe a little hard. The voice of reason, maybe, but Oliver was his best friend, and the two were more alike than they were different. He laughed as Lesstin stumbled toward the cliff. “I know that look. We all got dads man.”

“He's a good sport, aint ya Less?” Oliver asked. He looked more relieved than cruel, but Lesstin stayed wary. The boy could switch from prancing to pouncing without notice. “I've always said so, haven't I Chase?”

“Sure have,” Chase agreed. Lesstin had never heard them say anything of the sort.

They turned and marched up the cliff side, toward the old train bridge. Rusting beams still connected the old cement pylons, but most of the suspension had been removed or collapsed long ago.

“We were thinking,” Oliver said, resting his arm around Lesstin's shoulder. “Some of the boys pick on you, don't they Lesstin? Call you baby, all sorts of stuff. Nah, nah, you don't need to answer. They're jerks. But Chase, me, our guys, no one says that to us. Do they Chase?”

“What?” Chase asked, as if he had never thought of such a thing. “If they said that, I'd pop them in the face, that's what I'd do. Did someone call you something Ollie?” Chase was the biggest boy boy in the sixth grade. Even the junior high kids left him alone.

“Nah,” Oliver said. “They know I'm too hard for that. But I was thinking, Lessie here, he might need some help. Cover from these...bullies.”

No one had ever talked to Lesstin like this before. He was the butt of the joke, the pincushion for everyone else's bad day.

“What do you guys want?” He asked. That big stupid mouth of his, running off again.

Oliver put his hands up. His cruel eyes were dancing, but his face looked insulted. “Hey now, we're trying to help you here.”

“You want to help me? Leave me alone.” He shrugged Chase's hand off his shoulder. He should have run right away when he saw them. They'd been following him for an hour now, but right then he had a chance to leave. He was fast and knew places to hide. He could have got away, but he had blown it. Stupid.
Chase grabbed Lesstin by the back of the neck. “Look runt, aint no one gonna leave you alone. You know that, smart boy.”

“Lay off Chase,” Oliver said. He looked friendly now. Lesstin had never seen that look before, and liked it less than the cruel dance by far. “We're not saying 'lets be friends.' But we're saying, hey, you got brains, and we got brawn. Mrs. Haden's watching us two close, so maybe we can't do much if you won't give us answers. But you want to, right?”

Lesstin hated giving answers to people, but it was better than getting thrown in the mud every day.

“I guess?” Lesstin said. “Why do I want to?”

“There's a clever one,” Oliver said. He grinned, pleased with himself. “Chase was telling me he doesn't like how Kib and Nate treat you. Weren't you Chase?”

“It aint right,” Chase said. His grin was wide as Oliver's. “But way I see it, they're only half the runt you are. I'll thwop them a bit, and tell em, leave Lesstin alone.” Chase pounded hand against palm.

“Course,” Oliver said, “you'll still have to help them pass. Call it tutoring or something. But you charge them, right? Like you used to, before everyone figured out you were a little twerp.”

Lesstin winced. He had come up with the idea the previous year, but it hadn't quite gone the way he had planned. “And you don't have to pay, right?”

Oliver laughed. Different than normal. This was more shock than deviousness. “Son, we don't pay now. No, you give us half what you get. And we're the muscle, see? Anyone doesn't pay...” Chase pounded his hands together again.

And for a moment, the idea seemed alright to Lesstin. “And you'd keep them from...” He couldn't say it. His big mouth had done enough work for the day. But Oliver understood. And his eyes glimmered, horrible as ever.

“We'd be in business,” he said. “I'm not saying we'll stick our neck out for you. Run to Lady Haden if you want. But you can sit with us at lunch.”

Oliver had thought hard about this. He sat with the nerds at lunch, and it only made things worse. If he could sit by Chase, that alone would save him most of his trouble.

“All right,” Lesstin agreed. Once again he wondered what he had done to earn their sudden friendship.

“Of course 'all right,' runt. Hey Chase, he thinks we're asking.”

“For a smarty,” Chase said, slapping Lesstin on the back of the head, “you sure are stupid.”

“But we aint doing this to just help a poor soul, profit aside.” Oliver picked at his teeth with a piece of paper. “See, Benny Gads made this bet with me. Said, no one would walk across the old track, to the other side. Fifty bucks even. Wave to Benny, Lesstin.” Oliver pointed to a figure on the far side of the cliff. Benny's orange hair marked him even at a distance.

“See, we figure, everyone knows you're a chicken-shit.” Chase guided Lesstin up the gravel hill toward the old rails. “So this helps.”

Lesstin's knees weren't quite shaking. He couldn't stop looking at how the rails ran out over the air, mounting the pylons. They were narrower than his wrist. Occasional wooden boards spanned the bridge, but over the seemingly endless gap between his side and Benny's, there were stretches with only the iron, and a rail at his side.

“So, you walk across,” Oliver said. “And we're in business.”

“What if I don't?” Lesstin thought he knew the answer.

Oliver's brow dropped, and his mouth twisted. This was the look Lesstin dreaded, the angry, and delighted grin of evil itself. “It's funny Chase. He thinking we're asking again.”

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

End Lesstin Kering 6 3/9/14

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Soon Maria was going to pay. She thought she could take everything from Lesstin. She had led him on for years, making him think she loved him. He had been happy, while she had been plotting. Scheming with other men on how to steal the money he earned, so she could live in luxury, with anyone other than him.

Entering the house had been easy. Maria hadn't bothered to change the locks, so Lesstin had simply let himself into what had been their winter home. Not that they had spent much time in it. After the long hot week when they had been visiting and she had fallen in love with the city, they had hired a realtor and bought the house that fall, only spending a few tired days in it before going home.

Walking the dark hallways brought up no memories or regret. This was a place he had no attachment to. But, in the living room, with its broad bay window and high open ceiling, there sat the couch they had spent days and weeks choosing. With its gold stained oak frame, and extra deep back, perfect for napping or sitting. Running his hand over the ribbed cloth filled his head with hot anger.

Oh yes, she would learn that nothing comes free. And for what she took from him, he would take the same from her.

Lesstin fingered the chrome plated pistol dangling in a leather holster inside his jacket. Hard and cold despite being tucked against his warm body. A sinister drain, it sapped energy from everything around it. Hopefully he wouldn't have to use it. And once he was done, he could cast it away.

He wouldn't hurt her. No, even though the scheming bitch deserved it. But what if he was with her? What if they walked in together? He imagined the laughing, happy and smiling, holding hands, talking about dinner, planning children, all the things they had taken from him, that they had lied to him about. He would pay if he dared show his face in the house paid for with Lesstin's money.

Oh yes.

Lesstin shook his head to clear the anger. It had become a madness, driving him onward in directions he didn't always understand. But he always realized what he was aiming for. Fairness. Equality. It wasn't about the money, he didn't need it, could live off the land if he needed to. But she had stolen the money and ruined the company on her way out. This wasn't revenge. He kept reminding himself, it wasn't about making her pay. Not in that way. He just wanted...

He never finished the thought, because a key clicking in the front door announced someone's return.
One question remained. Would she be alone? Or had she brought some new conquest? A toy to be used, then tossed aside when she grew bored.

Lesstin ducked into a bedroom, furnished with a bed and dresser he had meant for their children. Night's shadow cloaked him; she would not be able to see him from the doorway. He could hear her shedding her winter's skin. The shuffling of coat gloves, clicking heels on tile, and the heavy thud of the oversized purses she loved so much. Just one set of each sound, at the heavy metered pace of the tired or patient.

A pause, too long, ate away Lesstin's own patience. Was that a weary sigh? The first tones of a woman he still wanted to love? Or just-

“You may as well come out,” she said. Her voice sounded harder than he remembered. He didn't move. How had she known?

Another pause. “Howard?” She sounded uncertain, maybe a little afraid. Blood pounded in Lesstin's ears at hearing that name from Maria's mouth. HP. Howard. The instigator of betrayal. He would be dealt with in his own time. Justice came before pleasure.

“This isn't funny.” Strained, trying to control her emotions. This was the tone she had used with Lesstin after an argument. Footsteps away, toward that old door to the cold, lonely stone basement. Feet on tile made a return. Still he did not move. Sweat made his undershirt cling between his shoulder blades. This had been the plan, confront her, announce the return of reason and claim what he was owed. His feet were glued to the floor. Staying in the dark felt much better, if still unjust.

A creak from the first step. She would search the rooms and find him shortly. “Who is there?” Definite fear in her voice now. “I'm calling the police.”

“Don't,” Lesstin said. He sprang from the room, perhaps faster than he should have. Maria screamed, her eyes white-wide from the shock. “I'm not...don't call the cops.”

Maria placed a hand on her chest, and stepped down from him. “Lesstin.” Her words came out between shaking breaths. “You scared me half to death. How did you get in...oh right. You have a key. God. I thought you were Howard.”

“I heard,” Lesstin said. Were his cheeks flushed? Would she be able to see the anger in his eyes?

Maria backed down the steps, dodging the small puddle on the landing. “My socks are soaked,” she said. “I'm getting some water. Do you want some?”

“No, thank you.” This wasn't how she was supposed to react. Fear, maybe. Anger, certainly. Anger was fair, reciprocal. But not...what was this? Calm acceptance?

She vanished into the kitchen. “Howard keeps coming by, even after I told him to stay away. He was never a threat to you, you know that, right? Just...a lens, to see what we had become.” Did she sound suspicious? Concerned? A knowing accent tinted her words. Maybe it was the acoustics. They had loved the house's oddly shaped walls and ceilings, how they bent sound, isolating or enclosing.

But to Lesstin, it seemed she must have known why he had come. She knew her crime, and instead of pleading, crying or begging, she turned away from him, she offered him water. It was his water! If he wanted it, he would take it. And she dared, mocking him with that name, as if saying it more made the crimes less.

He could barely hear her words through the blood pounding in his ears. “Oh.” What else to say? She had already discarded his replacement. The gun felt heavy against his chest, a weight that would be lighter in his hand.

“Why are you here?” She returned from the kitchen. Lesstin still stood at the top of the stairs. When she looked up to him, her face went as white as his was blood-red. “Lesstin, why are you holding a gun?”

Had he drawn it? Or had it moved there on its own will? No matter. “They told me not to come here, when I said I wanted to.”

“Who did?” Her voice trembled. Fear at last. Somehow it did not quite offer the pleasure he had expected.

Lesstin waved his free hand. “The doctors! They kept shoving pills down my throat, telling me not to leave, not to do this and that. Not to live! They wanted it this way. Wanted you...to win.”

“Lesstin, don't come any closer.” To his surprise, he had descended the stairs. Which worked well enough. Talking felt less important, less real. The gun, the closeness, Maria, these were real things. These were justice.

“I just want...what you took. The money, the business. I want it to be Fair.” Fair. Harsh to say, but fairness had an oddly unfair manner to it. If one lose, all lose. If one wins, all win. “When one person has, and one has not, it isn't fair.”

“Lesstin, you...gave me the money.” She backed into the kitchen. A clanging sound of something tumbling, and a heavy thud. Her voice was shaking as much as Lesstin's free hand. “Don't come in here Lesstin. I am calling the cops. If you come in here, God help me, I don't know what I'm going to do. Lesstin...”

Of course there was no money. She had spent it on her toys. But it could be made right. “Justice.” He held it in his hand. Nothing else needed to be said.

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