Jonny watched from the couch in the living room as his father burned pancakes on the griddle. The smell was starting to fill the cozy trailer, and Jonny’s stomach made familiar growling noises.
“Jesus Fucking Christ, you piece of shit.”
Larry hit the side of the griddle. It wasn’t his fault the bitch left him with all this fucking responsibility shit and whatnot, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe he had been a bit of a lazy asshole. He looked at Jonny from the kitchen sighed.
“Sorry bud, they’re gonna be a bit burned this time.”
“That’s ok Dad. I’m really hungry.”
Jonny clutched his stomach. Larry rushed into the living room and picked him up and flew him like a spaceship to the kitchen. Jonny giggled as the air whooshed past his face. Larry set him down at the table and then clutched his back and grimaced. The muscles in his lower back knotted.
“I don’t think we can do that anymore. Probably too old for that now anyway.”
Larry carefully lowered himself into his own seat. Steam rose from the tower of food sitting in the middle of the table. Jonny grabbed the bottle of maple syrup and squeezed as hard as he could. The sticky brown substance oozed out of the bottle and crept toward the edges of the plate, consuming the surface area of the slightly blackened pancakes. He looked down at his breakfast and hesitated.
“Dad, when is Mom coming back?”
Larry paused mid bite and looked over at Jonny with a heavy face.
“Um, well, I’m not exactly sure. She’s very busy with her work right now. She texts me and asks about you every day, though.”
“Of course, wants to make sure you’re being a good boy for yer ol’ dad here.”
Jonny’s smile stretched across his face. He looked at his breakfast plate with a renewed hunger and proceeded to violently and joyfully devour the food. Beads of syrup dangled from his face and hands in the aftermath. They cleaned themselves with wet wipes from the bathroom and sat down in front of the television to watch the morning cartoons. Jonny leaned back into the couch and put his feet on the coffee table like his dad. Larry looked over and smiled.
“Your cousin is coming over today to hang out while daddy runs some errands.”
“Jeffy. He should be here any time now. You guys should go to the park.”
“Hey kiddo, you watch your mou-, eh, never mind.”
Larry ruffled Jonny’s reddish blonde hair and Johnny laughed. He was amazed at how much his son resembled him with their curly hair and freckles.
“Where are you going?”
“Um, not sure yet. A few different places.”
The front door to their trailer swung open and hit the wall. A kid not much older than Johnny strutted inside with a bicycle helmet under his arm.
“Hey there Jeffy! Thanks for coming over. You two have fun ya little derelicts.”
Larry rushed out the door leaving the two adolescents alone in the living room, the cartoons still playing on the tube.
“Hey dick face.”
“Hey shit head.”
They both giggled. Jonny ran into his room and grabbed his helmet and a backpack with his collection of Magic cards and a couple family sized packs of beef jerky. It was the only backpack he had ever owned, dark blue with black straps. Despite frequent use, Johnny had managed to make it last the entire way through sixth grade. A few holes, sure, but he figured it still had a couple years left. He raced back out to Jeffy.
“Let’s hit the park first and play some cards by the creek.”
They galloped to their bikes at the foot of the front porch and sped away toward the Moonview Trailer Lot entrance sign. Gravel kicked up from their tires and made little pings on the metal sign as they cruised past and turned toward the park.
* * * * * *
Larry journeyed toward downtown in his red ’96 Saab 900 he called ‘The Slob.’ The engine was so loud it could be heard approaching blocks away. It emitted a low frequency droning noise like a small plane with propellers mixed with a sub-woofer. He grabbed a cigarette from the breast pocket of his flannel, sparked a lighter, and rolled down the window. Loud and enthusiastic voices echoed through the car speakers about the upcoming sport season and all the implications surrounding it. Larry sighed; he knew their team stood no chance again this year and this kind of perpetual optimism bummed him out. He changed the channel to the old-timey country station and sang along to an old Marty Robbins tune. Larry came upon his usual morning stop, The Lakehouse. The Slob veered left across incoming traffic and into the rectangular parking lot. He threw his keys on the floor below his feet and then headed inside.
“Well, well, well, look who it is.”
“Shut up Diesel, ya asshat.”
Larry sat down at his favorite spot near the tap of rotating brews. The inside of the bar was dimly lit with dingy wooden furniture. But, it was spacious, probably the biggest in Desolation Springs. The walls were all decorated with a variety of animal heads that the owner Rosco swore he had shot and stuffed himself. There was a moose, some deer, a bear, and even African animals like a giraffe and water buffalo. Diesel brought over a pint glass and filled it with Larry’s current favorite, a blood orange IPA. The reddish orange liquid swirled as it flowed from the tap into the glass. Diesel was Larry’s favorite bartender at The Lakehouse. It was mostly because Diesel was the only one who ever felt sorry enough to help Larry. He was very tall, taller than most men Larry knew. His skin was of very dark complexion, like a rich steaming cup of dark roast. Larry quite enjoyed his accent as well. Jamaican he assumed, but for all he knew Diesel could be from any one of those Caribbean isles.
“Got any extra work for me today Big D?”
Diesel frowned. The lines in his forehead were deep.
“When ya gonna get a real job, Larry?”
“Never, hopefully. If I play my cards right.”
Larry smiled wide and pushed his curly hair away from his face. His teeth were stained dark yellow and pieces of food were trapped between his un-brushed gums. He downed the rest of the beer in his glass and held it out for a refill. Diesel rolled his eyes, filled up two more pints and walked around the bar and sat next to Larry. They clinked their glasses together and drank in unison.
“How’s the boy?”
“He’s ok. Keeps asking me where that bitch went. Can’t just leave it alone.”
“Can ya blame him? It’s his muddah for God’s sake.”
“Yeah, I suppose. I keep tellin him that’s she’s away on some kind of work trip. He still idolizes her, thinks she’s some kind of fucking saint. Can’t find the heart to tell him that the woman who birthed him is a selfish raging cunt who only cares about the next best fix. And fucking. God does she love to fuck. What a whore.”
Larry pulled out a couple of cigarettes and handed one to Diesel.
“Ya idiot, the kid’s gonna figure it out.”
Diesel took a long drag, almost half of the cigarette in one inhale. He finished the remainder of his beer just as quick.
“Alright, Larry, I do have somethin for ya. Nasty bit a business on the north side. I’m gonna grab some supplies, come find me when ya finish wit breakfast.”
Larry nodded and watched Diesel disappear through the door in the back of the bar. He looked around the room, and realized he was the only one in there. The Lakehouse didn’t really get busy until at least the afternoon, but Larry was a different kind of dedicated. He looked around again to make sure Diesel wasn’t coming back and propped himself on the bar, mouth open under one of the taps.
* * * * * *
“Bam motherfucker! I win again!”
Jonny took one of the cards from his hand and threw it on to the battlefield. Skullbriar, The Walking Grave. It had artwork of a monster with decayed skeletal features rising out of the Earth. Jeffy frowned and threw his hand down.
“Not fair, dude. You have way better cards than me.”
“Wanna go again?”
“Nah, I’m bored with this now.”
They each grabbed their respective decks and placed them back in their protective cardboard boxes and then into Jonny’s backpack. The sun was at its peak in the sky. They moved from their spot in the shade by the creek and found a sunny spot on a hill to stretch their bodies and soak up the heat of the day. The park had become a hotbed of activity since they had first arrived. Hoards of screaming children thrashed around the park’s playground. Dogs zigzagged around the open fields in pursuit of bouncing balls, soaring saucers, and scurrying squirrels. The boys relaxed in the sun for a while without speaking, eyes closed and minds open. Jonny wandered into a dream for a few minutes. A woman stood in front of him in the living room of his trailer. He couldn’t tell who the strange woman in his house was. She was out of focus, and her features were distorted. Her arms reached out for him, stretching from her body like she was some kind of mutant. He dodged their grasp and sprinted out the front door. Once down the front the steps, he tripped and the sensation of falling on his face startled him awake. He looked over at Jeffy who was rolled over on his side snoring. Jonny shook his arm.
“Hey dude, wake up.”
Jeffy sprang up from his side and looked around, momentarily bewildered about his surroundings. A strand of drool dangled from the corner of his mouth. He wiped it on his sleeve and slugged Jonny in the arm.
“Hey! What the fuck?”
“Fuck you asshole, I was in the middle of an awesome dream. There was a chick with really big boobs.”
They both laughed and simultaneously pictured the women of their dreams, focusing most of their imaginative attention on the large breasts aspect of these women. Johnny laid his head back down on the hillside.
“My dad is a major asshole”
“I know my mom left us, she’s been threatening it for years. He keeps telling me some stupid story about her being on a work trip. Like I’m stupid enough to actually believe that.”
“Why do you keep playing along with it then?”
“I’m not sure.”
Jeffy was silent and played with the grass at his feet to avoid awkward eye contact. Jonny stood up, and grabbed his bicycle from the ground.
“Let’s find her.”
“What the hell do you mean?”
“I doubt she left Desolation Springs, all of our family is here. I know a few of her favorite spots.”
“Somethin to do.”
The boys hopped on their bikes and sped off through the swarm of happy park-goers toward the heart of downtown. They met up with a bike path at the edge of the park and followed it along the river. A multitude of bikers, joggers, and casual wanderers crowded the path as it paralleled the winding features of the rushing water. There were a few homeless men with shopping carts that slept along the accessible parts of the riverbank. Jeffy let go of his handlebars and continued to pedal with his arms stuck out like the wings of a small propeller airplane. Jonny followed suit and sped his bike up next to Jeffy. He pushed him with his own outstretched arms and Jeffy flew off his bike into the grass on the side of the path. His landing zone was next to a large shopping cart with five or six garbage bags of varying size and color, a few of them filled to the brim with plastic and glass recyclables. The owner was asleep in the grass a few feet away. Jeffy scrambled to his feet, huffing.
“What the hell Jonny? I almost fucking died running into this scumbag’s shit.”
The vagrant owner of the shopping cart grunted and rolled over in his sleep. Jonny cruised back around with a grin on his face.
“Quit cryin, pussy. Let’s get goin.”
Jonny sped off down the path. Jeffy rushed to his bike and was in hot pursuit. The homeless man whose cart they had disturbed sat up and looked around for a moment. He spotted his shopping cart, crawled across the grass next to it, and promptly fell back asleep.
* * * * * *
“That fuckin prick, Diesel. Big dumb motherfucker.”
Larry was on his hands and knees in the bathroom of the Sixth Street Inn scrubbing a particularly crusty toilet with yellow rubber gloves and a net for his tangled mess of hair. Rosco, the owner of the Lakehouse, also owned a few other businesses in town. Diesel was his second in charge, first lieutenant of the ship. This was mostly because Rosco had become fat and lazy in his old age. Diesel handled the daily shit like giving Larry random odd jobs wherever they were short handed, and usually these types of jobs were the short handed ones. The Sixth Street Inn was a derelict motel in the north part of Desolation Springs. A pink neon sign displayed its name next to fake palm trees and plastic flamingos. It was the kind of motel with no interior except the rooms themselves. There was a small hut where the on duty manager was supposed to be, and two other sections of building with the doors to the rooms on the outside. They were each two stories high with a staircase on the side of the building. Usually Larry was here scoring dope or sizing up the hookers, but every once in a while Diesel made him clean this shithole. Larry put down his gloves and walked out to the second floor balcony to smoke. He grabbed a cig from his breast pocket and leaned against the handrail. A woman in matching bright red mini skirt, heels, and leather top strutted down the sidewalk in front of the motel. Her hair was dyed bright blonde, so bright it was almost white.
“Hot damn, I’d like to take that for a ride.”
Larry checked his pockets hoping by some miracle he had even just enough for some hand play. She came close to Larry’s position underneath the balcony he was on, and looked up at him. Larry’s cigarette fell out of his mouth and landed next to her on the asphalt.
“Son of a fucking bitch.”
* * * * * *
“Why the fuck would we come here?”
Jonny and Jeffy stood in front of a brick building on one of the more deserted streets in the downtown area. The window display had mannequins sporting lacy lingerie and suggestive versions of superhero costumes. The front doors were glass, but completely covered with black construction paper to obstruct viewership of the innards of the store. A dirty store sign hung crooked on the wall next to the door. Wankers: Come and Enjoy.
“She used to work here.”
“Dude, I don’t think we’re allowed to go in. We should try somewhere else.”
Jonny ignored Jeffy’s protests and pulled open the door. Inside was a dimly lit room with gray walls. The boys stopped and looked around in amazement at all the magazine shelves with naked women in varying suggestive positions and a wall full of colorful penises. A heavy set man with square glasses, gauged ears, and a variety of other piercings and tattoos sat behind the register. He looked up at them and surprise and worry spread across his face.
“Hey! No kids allowed in here!”
Before they could take another step inside, he had sprinted around the register and blocked their advance. He looked down at the boys and he had another look of surprise, but a smile spread across his face this time.
“No Shit? Little Jonny? Didn’t recognize you at first. How’s it goin bud?”
“Hey Sea Bass, I’m pretty good.”
“Look, you guys can’t be in here, so let’s step right outside the door and you can tell me what’s on yer mind.”
Sea Bass ushered them outside and closed the door quickly, looking around the block to make sure no one had seen two kids exiting from his sex shop.
“So, what’s up Little Jonny? How’s yer mom been doin?”
His forehead perspired, presumably from all the extra physical activity that hadn’t been on his schedule for that day.
“Well, we sorta came here to ask if you’ve seen her. She kinda split from me and my dad.”
“Oh. Shit. No. I’m really sorry.”
“It’s ok, no worries. We were just bored.”
Sea Bass stood awkwardly with his hands on his hips, occasionally scratching his head and frowning.
“Both of you should hold on for just like two minutes, and I’ll be right back.”
Sea Bass scurried back into the store and reappeared again shortly. He handed each of them a bottle of neon green soda with advertising on the side that promised unlimited energy and unlimited fun.
“I’m sorry I can’t help anymore than this, Jonny. I haven’t seen your mom probably since she quit, a while back now. It’s hot out there, hopefully these drinks will help out a bit on your quest.”
Sea Bass disappeared behind the Wankers sign and the boys went back to their bikes. Jonny sat down against the wall and contemplated their next move. Jeffy bent down next to the trashcan and pulled up a pack of cigarettes.
“Badass! There’s still like half a pack in here! Want a smoke?”
“No, I’m ok.”
A cop car rolled past their position and slowed down, curious why a couple of kids were hanging out at this sort of an establishment. Jeffy stuffed the pack into his pocket, terrified that he had just been busted. The cop was about to roll his window down when the boys saw him grab his radio. Flashing lights and sirens exploded from the car, causing Jonny to spring to his feet. It flipped a bitch and tore off down the road into the depths of the city. The boys looked at each other, wide eyes and clutching their chests. They erupted into laughter and hurried down the sidewalk with their bikes. Jeffy opened Jonny’s backpack and buried the cigarettes at the bottom.
“Maybe we should just go to the police station, they might have seen her.”
“I don’t know about that, Jonny.”
“It’ll be fine. They’re supposed to help kids like us find lost parents, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
The police station was not far from this part of town, and it only took them a few minutes to get there. A fleet of police cars, trucks, SUVs, and other official looking vehicles filled the surrounding parking lots. Most lay dormant in parking spaces, while the remainder was an occasional stream of incoming vehicles with perps, and outgoing ones on the prowl. The building was a large concrete rectangle with three levels. Jonny led Jeffy up to the doors and into the lobby. He walked up to the front desk where a friendly man greeted them with a smile. The officer had a large scruffy beard covering the entirety of his face and a messy head of brunette hair.
“How can I help you boys?”
“I was wondering if you could help us fin-“
“Larry Jonathan Leibowitz Junior! What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”
Jonny swung his vision to the left to where the shouting had come from. A blonde woman in bright red leather sat chained to one of the benches in the hallway. Her face was contorted menacingly and her eyes burned with fury. She attempted to break free from her restraints even though in the back of her mind she knew the struggle was futile.
“Mom? What’s going on?”
Jonny ran over to his mother and wrapped his arms around her. She pulled back from his hug.
“Listen to me, Jonny. Your selfish asshole of a father had me arrested just because he’s pissed at me. Don’t worry about momma, but you need to leave. I don’t want you hanging out around here. It’s not safe.”
The officer that had originally greeted them walked over to Jonny and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Sorry, but we need to leave your mom alone for right now. Come with me, and I’ll get you boys something to eat from the vending machine. You sit tight, Melinda”
Jonny and Jeffy followed the officer to the vending machine where he got them each a bag of chips and a candy bar of their choice. He led them to a lounge area where they sat on couches and ate.
“I’m sorry you had to see your mom like this. I didn’t recognize you at first, but I actually do know your parents. My name is Officer Griswold, or you can call me Officer Barry, or Barry if you like. You should get home to your dad, he’ll probably want to explain a few things to you. Let me know if you ever need anything, kiddo.”
Officer Barry escorted them to the front and helped them locate their bikes. Jonny did not feel like riding his bike anymore. He grabbed it by the handlebars, and slowly guided it down the sidewalk toward home. Jeffy followed suit and walked next to his cousin. They did not speak, nor did they need to at that moment. It felt nice to walk. The sun had made it past the peak of the day, and the sweltering heat of the afternoon was dissolving as the evening ushered in a cool breeze.
* * * * * *
“Your mother is a prostitute, Jonny.”
Jonny had barely stepped through the door to their trailer park and oriented himself in the room when his father had blurted this out.
“You know what sex is right? Jeez, who am I fucking kidding? Your what, 13 now? Of course you know.”
Jonny nodded his head. Of course he knew. His mother had worked at a sex shop, and his father was a degenerate. It wasn’t like they had ever been discreet about anything ever in their lives.
“Look, son. I know I told you that your mother was away on some kind of work trip or some shit, but the truth is, that was a lie. Well, actually now that I think about it, it really ended up being less of a lie than I thought. But, the point is that your mother is a dirty whore that makes men pay money to have sex with her. So, I called the cops on that bitch. Don’t need that kind of filth out on the streets, in front of the children.”
“I knew you were lying, Dad.”
Jonny nodded. Larry scratched his greasy head and looked at the ground. He seemed remorseful and sad. But then something happened. An almost manic smile formed across his face. He ran over to Jonny and hugged him tight and ruffled his hair.
“That’s my boy! Always knew you were sharper than the rest! Should have never doubted ya, son. We don’t need her Jonny. Trust me. Wanna go play some video games?”
Larry extended his hand. Jonny looked at the hand for a moment, and then up at his father. His face was smiling and excited. Jonny couldn’t help but smile back. He grabbed his father’s hand and they ventured into another galaxy, ready to fight together against hordes of disgusting, face-eating aliens.