Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Short Story: RIC WITH NO K by Patricia Abbott

Ric didn’t look at me once when they took him out of the courtroom yesterday. I was sitting in the fourth row next to Mrs. Roney, my latest foster mother. There were 64 people in that courtroom; only a couple seats were empty. Mrs. Roney put her arm around my shoulders as Ric passed by, probably ‘cause she knew people were watching us. I noticed when I came to their house three months ago that Mrs. Roney was a lot nicer to me when other people were around. Oh, she was okay the rest of the time, but not like when we were out in public. Those times she put on a little show, hugging me, whispering in my ear, pretending to know all about me. Mr. Roney, a little bitty man with hair that stuck out and a nearly flat nose, never came to the trial at all. There was no real meanness in him though. Meanness took more energy than he seemed to have.

It was Mrs. Roney who took in the stray children. Mr. Roney just went along with it. If he had something to say to me, he usually told his wife—even with me standing right there. Like, “Tell Rumer she left her jacket on the patio.” Mrs. Roney didn’t actually say his words over again, but looked at me till I went to do it. This is just an example though ‘cause I never left my jacket anywhere but in my room. I wasn’t the only kid coming and going in that house. Most of Mr. Roney’s remarks were about chores needing doing or things done wrong. Square corners on beds was one of his biggest worries and he made me cover all my school books with grocery store brown bags to protect them—even after I told him they didn’t charge nothing for marks on books at my school. He also hid bags of the kind of candy that comes at Halloween in the yellow shoe pockets that hung from his closet wall. Oh, I knew what was going on in that place. Those Roneys had lots of secret places from us kids. I don’t know why I’m telling you so much about the Roneys. I guess I’m kinda warming up for the real story.

Ric’s lawyer and the court’s attorney both said I should be there for the sentencing, not that I would ever have missed it. I’d only been in the courtroom on the days I testified before then. They told me to stay away the rest of the time. “You never take your eyes off him,” the D.A. said. And Ric’s attorney said we didn’t need to keep reminding everyone I was only fifteen. One of ‘em wanted me to dress up for my appearance; the other asked me to wear my hair in a pony tail. Oh, I was right in the middle of those two.

I planned on making everyone understand about Ric and me during the trial. I lay in bed every night, first at the Children’s Home, then at the Roney’s place in the Whispering Pines Subdivision, trying to figure out what I would say. I had a good idea of the questions Ric’s lawyer and the district attorney would ask from the times we talked before the trial started. But when I said stuff in court, it came out all wrong. It sounded dirty and cheap—the things Ric and me did together. Maybe I can get it down right on paper, when there’s no one watching or listening or telling me what to think or say. Ric’s lawyer said he was going to appeal the sentence so I’d get another crack at it. The trouble is it seems so long ago already. Some of the things, I might have made up in my head, and the D.A might have made up stuff too. “Don’t let them manipulate you,” a therapist in the Children’s Home told me once. But it’s hard to know when that’s happening. Sometimes it feels like people are on your side and later you find out they’re not. ‘Specially people who put their arm around you and buy you new clothes.

No one guessed the judge would come down so hard on Ric—sending him away for twelve to twenty years. I wanted to gasp or scream when I heard the judge say it. But I knew Ric wouldn’t like any of those dramatics so I held back. If there’s a new trial, like Ric’s lawyer says there’ll be, I can get my story out right. I can explain what we were to each other to the whole world.

I never once got my mother to tell me who my father was. I’m pretty sure she didn’t know, if you can believe that. Kids at school said it was probably my grandfather or my Uncle Ray since she almost never left her house, but I don’t think that’s true ‘cause I don’t look like either one of them. If we were animals, they’d be pigs and I’d be an old barn cat. Jessie herself looked more like a fancy-ass bird that had no business being in your yard but somehow was. Like a flamingo or peacock or something.

My mother—Jessie— was only seventeen when she had me and I don’t know if she even guessed she was going to have a baby till someone pointed out she had put on a lot of weight. They say my mother was a dreamy sort of girl. It was hard to talk to her about anything real, but she knew every fact about Demi Moore and Tom Cruise. She grew up on those stars. She didn’t even need to see their movies after a while. Jessie just made her own movies up in her head. I could see those movies whirling around when she looked at magazines from the eighties she’d saved in an old red record player case. I could see her lips mouthing the words. She even named me after Demi and Bruce Willis’ first kid, Rumer. I’m just glad I was born before the third girl, the one Demi called Tallulah.

Somehow, we made out okay those first twelve years. Welfare took away my baby brother, Emilio, when I was seven, but let me stay with my mother ‘cause I was pretty good at fooling people into thinking she could take care of me. I went to school every day, in clean if used-up clothes. I got good enough marks to move up to the next grade every spring. I made sure Jessie showed up at school or at the church once in a while, watched what she wore outside, and chased her home from her stopping places before midnight. You might think I mean bars by that, but lots of times I found her swinging in the playground or sitting on that low wall over by the Peasley’s garden. Lots of people knew Jessie Simcoe—that’s my mother’s whole name—couldn’t take care of a guinea pig much less a kid, but they probably also knew firsthand what happened to kids in foster care. So no one said anything. And I was doing all right mostly—even if I didn’t have any friends or much money to spend on things. I could live with that easy. I could do that with my eyes shut.

I was still in middle-school when I met Ric. Eighth grade. This is exactly how it happened: I was coming home from school the way I always did, just passing the convenience store at the corner of Walnut Street and Fifth and wishing I had enough money for a bag of those Cape Cod potato chips when I saw Ric coming out through the glass doors. He was about to put a cigarette in his mouth, but when he saw me he put it behind his ear instead and squinted, shading his eyes with his hand. That was about the first time I remember anyone really taking notice of me. He stopped flat in his tracks, taking me in. I kept right on going though, wondering if he still was watching me. I figured he was about eighteen, though it turned out Ric was twenty-five then. He never exactly said he was younger than he was; I just believed it. I saw him again the next day except this time, he said, “We’ve gotta stop meeting like this,” which made me laugh though I tried to swallow most of it down. I knew enough not to take up with strange men on the street. That’s a good way of ending up in the Children’s Home or, even worse, at that place for girls that get knocked up or flunk out of the tough love class at the high school.


The third time I saw him was about three days later ‘cause the weekend came up about then and got in the way. Ric was already out in the street that Monday, leaning against his car, a little red Contour, when I passed by. He did a little dance and I stopped dead, probably with my big mouth open.

“Name’s Ric with no K,” he said. But I misheard him and thought he said, “Name’s Ric. Okay?”

“It’s okay with me,” I said back, shrugging. He laughed. And that’s how we met finally. Ric thought I was making a joke and really, I just hadn’t heard him right.

It turned out there was no K in Ric because his real name was Ricardo not Richard. He was short and awful skinny with dark hair and even darker eyes. I thought he was pretty nice-looking but I’m nearly the only one who ever did. That’s why it was good we found each other that day. No one took a shine to either of us before that day. We about made each other up.

Neither of us was too good at talking. I noticed that right off. We kind of wiggled around by his car and laughed at nothing till Ric lit a cigarette and offered me a drag. I’d been smoking since I was ten—anytime Jessie had money to buy her Salems I took a few. Ric never smoked the same brand twice. He said it was like buying the same candy bar every time. I took the drag he offered me and made the smoke go up my nose. I had practiced that at home enough to be pretty good at it. Ric laughed and said he guessed I could keep the cigarette for myself after that stunt. He lit another one and we mostly just smoked cigarettes and watched the cars go in and out of the lot.

I started counting those cars in my head, the way I always do, but kept that information to myself. Nobody needs to know I count everything that can be counted. Cars turning into a lot, the number of people waiting in line, the number of chairs in a room. It’s a real bad habit but I need to keep track of things, otherwise they get away from me. Distracting, the counselor they sent me to said. Anyway, the lot was busy with people buying stuff for dinner. About five minutes later, Pastor Wilkins from the church I sometimes dragged Jessie to pulled into the lot and I took off, hoping he hadn’t spotted me. Pastor Wilkins’ church is kind of strict but it’s the closest one to our apartment and we never did get a car since Jessie don’t drive. I think if she did, she would drive till she hit the Atlantic Ocean and still keep on going.

Ric and I met up quite a bit after that and soon we even found some subjects to talk about. The DA said later, he was reeling me in by then, but it wasn’t really like that. We just played music, and talked, and smoked cigarettes. Ric never tried to get me to drink or smoke weed. And he didn’t try to kiss me. Not for a long time. By the time he did, I wanted him to, had been thinking about him doing that and more every night. Putting my own hands where his would soon be. So one day we just started kissing and it felt like something we should have been doing all along. It was like falling off the bank into Tyson’s pond for the first time each summer. When that water flowed over you, nothing ever felt so good. I want to do more than just kissing right away—even if doing stuff made me a slut like some people might say. I wanted him to pour into and over me. I wanted to carry him inside me like he was my baby and my boyfriend all at once. I bet nobody in that courtroom wanted to hear that but that’s how it was. For me, at least. Before Ric, I only had mama and that wasn’t enough cause of how she was.

Ric made his living doing favors for a man named Mr. Nerone, who owned a club ‘cross the river. That’s what Ric always called it—doing favors—not working for him. Favors like picking up Mr. Nerone’s laundry, chauffeuring him around town, picking up money from people who owed him. One time Ric was waiting for me in a navy-blue Cadillac. That was the car used for driving Mr. Nerone around town. Ric made me sit on a towel to keep the seat clean, but it was still nice.

Mr. Nerone was a pretty important man; I could tell that from how twitchy Ric was when he had just been to see him or was planning to go. In my mind, I pictured him as big, but when I finally saw Mr. Nerone, he was a tiny man: fat, with piggy blue eyes, and smelling of some old cologne. Mr. Nerone had a regular guy named Tommy who drove him most places, but Ric was the backup driver and fixin’ to be number one some day.

After a while, it seemed like a good idea not to hang around that 7-Eleven store all the time so we drove around when Ric had enough gas. Or else we sat in the car next to the rinky-dink airport our town has and watched planes come and go. Not many did, but I counted them, of course. Ric caught me doing it once in a while, but he didn’t mind. He said there were a couple of weird things he did too, though he wouldn’t say what.

One day, we were sitting there doing nothing when Ric asked me if I wanted to make a little money. “You just have to go into the bathroom at that gas station over on Birch and wait till a lady shows up with a package.” I didn’t much like the sound of hanging around in a bathroom, but Ric said he’d be right outside and it would definitely be a woman who came in with the package. Finally, I agreed, but I was kind of mad with Ric for a minute or two that day. It was the same nasty bathroom for men or ladies so why couldn’t he wait in there himself? Truthfully, I was scared that some man might come in and show me his thing. This had happened to a few girls at school in public bathrooms, and, once on a bus, Sheri Mason once had to hold a man’s thing till he rang the bell to get off. “He got off in more ways than one,” Sheri told us the next day, making a face.

I don’t think it really was a woman who came in either. She was too big and her voice wasn’t right though she didn’t say much. She was wearing a peacocky-blue dress like she’d just been to dinner at a fancy restaurant and wore makeup and nail polish and lots of heavy gold jewelry that rattled when she walked. Before I could take her all in, she was gone and the package was in my hand. After I gave Ric the package, he peeked inside, smiled, and then he gave me $10. “Not bad for ten minutes’ work,” he said, trying to get past it. When I didn’t smile or say anything at all, he added, “I hate sulky women.” So I had to stop being a big baby. I sure wasn’t gonna give Ric up over something like that so I put my head to the grindstone and made Ric forget what he had called me.

There were other days Ric asked me to do things. None of them were sex things like the D.A. said though. Not unless you count letting his friend, Pico, go to third base on me for his birthday. Pico was eighteen and he had never been with a girl. Ric said it was the best present we could give him and it hardly bothered me at all. It didn’t even take five minutes before he was finished. And I knew Ric was standing outside if Pico tried anything more, but he didn’t. Pico just got a shit-eating grin on his face when he opened the car door afterwards. Then we all split a pizza and never once talked about it.

The thing that finally got us in trouble happened because of my mother. Ric had asked to meet her a million times. I wasn’t too keen on it though. You never knew what she’d be like from day to day, but usually she was pretty much out of it. I really didn’t know why he wanted to meet her so much. I never met his family; he claimed he didn’t have none when I asked. The D.A. had some things to say about all this, but that guy was always trying to make Ric look bad and me look stupid.

I finally brought Ric home to meet Jessie in March. It was one of her better days. She was only a few years older than Ric and they knew some of the same people from high school since she had fallen behind and never did graduate in the end. She wore her best pair of jeans and her hair was fixed up pretty good though she was always prone to sticking something in it. That day, she had stuck in a pinwheel. I don’t even know where Jessie found things like pinwheels. When was the last time you saw one? But wandering around the way she did, she found some wondrous things and stacked them up all over the apartment. Once in a while, I would get rid of some of the smellier or dirtier stuff, but the pile grew up again like she watered it at night. You’d think Jessie’d come across something valuable from time to time, but if she did, she hid those items away. The piles I saw were the same things you saw in trash cans at the park: broken toys, candle stubs, empty food and wine containers, discarded magazines, dirty combs, torn clothing, a lost glove. So the pinwheel was a pretty good find for her.

Ric went out after we’d all talked for a while and brought back takeout from the Summer Palace Restaurant and I found out that day that my mother knows how to use chopsticks. I couldn’t figure them out no matter how hard I tried. Ric held one in each hand and stabbed his food, which made us laugh. After we were done, Jessie washed all six chopsticks and I knew where I’d see them next time I looked. That was one of the best nights we ever had. Later, we watched an old movie called Stripes with Bill Murray and drank a liter of Diet Coke and ate a jumbo-sized bag of Cheetos between us. When I fell asleep, Jessie and Ric were still looking through her high school yearbook, which I didn’t even know she had. Ric said later it was somebody else’s yearbook—from some other high school in some other state, but that makes it even better to me. Maybe my mother even walked over to that other state to get it. Jessie could walk farther than anyone I ever met as long as she was going forward. Anyway, it was nice to fall asleep with the sound of my mother and boyfriend laughing in the next room. It felt real normal. Later people would say they did more than just talk but I don’t believe it.

Ric came over a couple more times after that, but Jessie was never that good again. On her worst days, she just rambled on about movie stars and old TV shows that no one else even remembered. But that’s why we lived as good as we did. She got a check each month from the State and a little more money from the County. For being half-crazy. We could stretch that money into a life for us if nothing bad happened.

Ric was nice about it though and never said anything mean to her. And when she fell asleep in her armchair, we could have sex in her bedroom instead of in the car. That part worked out real good. Even though the sheets were gritty and the window bled cold air right in on us, we didn’t mind ‘cause we could be naked there instead of half or more dressed—like in the car. I kept telling Ric, he could spend the night, that Jessie wouldn’t notice or care, but he wouldn’t do it, not ever. Once he was finally spent, he always left in a hurry, barely remembering to kiss me goodbye.

Next comes the hardest part to tell right. My grandmother, who lived down in Kentucky, had died two years before and left us some money from selling her house. It was a lot of money— about ten thousand dollars. Granny’s lawyer made Jessie put it in the bank, telling us to keep it for a rainy day. When Ric was fooling around in her room one day, he found her bankbook in an old purse and asked me about it.

“You know I could invest that money and double or triple it in no time,” he said. I must have I looked like I didn’t believe him because Ric got all huffy and said, “You know, Mr. Nerone has a guy that does nothing but make money for him.” I believed him more after he said that ‘cause I had seen that navy-blue Cadillac and the kind of clothes Mr. Nerone wore. It wasn’t hard talking my mother into it either; it was raining outside and she marched right down the bank, got that money out and handed it over to him. He gave us an IOU, which Jessie fastened to the fridge with a Strawberry Shortcake magnet.

A month or two later, Jessie got a letter from her half-brother in Kentucky saying didn’t we want to put a headstone on Granny’s grave? Once I explained it, Jessie decided she really did want to do that and while she was at it, she wanted to send a gift to Coco Arquette, Courtney Cox’s new baby. Jessie had been a real fan of Courtney Cox since she saw her climb up on the stage with Bruce Springsteen in that Dancing in the Dark video

“Just get me two thousand dollars of the money for the headstone and Coco Arquette and let the rest keep growing,” Jessie decided. “I can get something nice for both of them with that.” She was sitting in the chair, looking at a catalogue from the Target store when I left.

I couldn’t find Ric that day, nor the one after that. I knew where his house was ‘cause he had to pick something up there once and he made me wait in the car. I took a bus up there twice a day for the next three days. But he was never home. I could tell that from a distance ‘cause the mail was making the door hang open and his Ford Contour was gone. Ric had disappeared like this before so I wasn’t the least bit worried except Jessie kept dogging me. She had forgotten about the headstone already but she had a bunch of stuff picked out for that Coco Arquette. Stuff that even I knew no rich lady’s kid would wear or want.

“I’ll go up and get it tomorrow,” I told her, figuring Ric would be home by then. “And maybe we can even have a party—like we did that one time.”

Jessie’s face lit up. “Chinese food,” she remembered. She looked around wildly, and I know she was worrying about those darned chopsticks. I had to throw them away after she gnawed the red paint off one end.

“Maybe we’ll buy some other kind of food this time,” I said. “How about Mexican? We’ll bring it home after I get him. Burritos,” I reminded her, not sure if she knew what Mexican food was. She nodded, but I still wasn’t sure she knew much about Mexican food when we both favored Chinese. Mostly we ate pasta and rice with stuff like okra, corn and black-eyed peas thrown on top. Sometimes we threw a piece of bacon on or some scrappy sausage. Usually it was mostly ketchup and beans.

I took the bus to Ric’s place again. It had gotten real dark, like it might start to rain and I didn’t have an umbrella. I’m not fussy about much, but I hate to get wet and all the kidding in the world about me melting won’t change it. I hurried up the street. Ric’s door was shut tight this time, the mail gone. His car stood on the street but sometimes he took Mr. Nerone’s car so I wasn’t sure if he was home or not. I knocked for ten minutes but nobody answered. Finally some old man from next door came out and screamed at me to go away—that I was disturbing his sick wife and his old dog. I could hear the dog howling so I left after a bit. A dog howling means a storm.

I didn’t have any money just then so I couldn’t go and get Jessie any tacos. I came home empty-handed as usual. Or to where our home used to be because the house wasn’t there. All that was left of our house was some smoky, burnt boards, electrical wiring, a few old pipes and a sink, and some pieces of metal and furniture that hardly looked like furniture at all. Our refrigerator looked like someone had taken an axe to it. Jessie’s bed, an iron stead, was black where one it was golden. The chimney was propped up like a drunken man on the porch next door. What was left of our one-time house smelled twice as bad as the processing plant south of town. It wasn’t just the smell of fire but of chemicals mixing in with it. That yellow tape you see on TV kept me from going inside.

“This your house?” a policeman asked, stopping me when I tried to duck under the tape. I nodded. “Looks like someone burned it down,” he said, half-scolding and half- feeling sorry for me. “Your mama a smoker?”

I nodded. “But she never smokes inside. She had a cousin died that way.” I looked around, feeling sick to death. “Where is she?”

He didn’t answer me. “How do you think this happened if she doesn’t smoke? Who would have burned down your house? Do you have any enemies?”

While I was thinking about that, the neighbor lady walked over and said, “I saw Jessie lighting candles all over the house. Like she was getting ready for a party. Twitting about like some damned fairy.” She started to laugh but stopped herself when she saw that cop’s face. I wanted to tell that lady to be quiet ‘cause she made it sound like Jessie was crazy, not like she was just getting ready for Mexican food and having Ric over again.

“I could see inside real good,” the old witch explained. “Cause it was getting so dark with the storm coming. I could see her flitting around from one room to the next, her long white skirt catching the draft from time to time.”

I started shaking my head. I knew that skirt she was talking about but where would Jessie get all those candles? And then I remembered those piles of junk and the dollar store in town that had closed down a week or two ago. “Where’s my mother?” I asked again.

“Why, she’s at the hospital,” the neighbor lady said. “They took her there in an ambulance.” The cop grabbed my arm just in time.

Jessie didn’t die that night, but I never did see her face again because they had so much ointment and other stuff covering it. “Was it those dollar store candles?” I asked her more than once, but she didn’t say a word or move a muscle. I don’t know why I kept fixin’ on those candles. It was all I could think to say with her under that gauze. I couldn’t pick up her hand, or touch her at all. I just stood there and talked about candles, the nurses, one black and one white, lookin’ at me like I was brain dead instead of Jessie.

After that they took me to the children’s home and started looking for Ric. I had to tell them about him—just too many things came back on him. I never thought they would blame him for any of it. I didn’t see how they could. It was Jessie who burned the house down after all.

They did though ‘cause they heard lots of other bad stuff in my story. The D.A. said all Jessie’s money was gone as far as they could tell. Ric used it up in the first few days after I gave it to him though no one ever said how. They also said he had raped me and hired me out as a whore and a drug courier. Lots of other bad stuff too. The biggest lie that D.A. told was that Ric had also slept with my mother and that was why Jessie got dressed up and lit candles all over the house. She was dreaming of her lover.

The first time the D.A. said that I wasn’t in the courtroom but two people told me at school ‘cause I guess it was in the newspaper. That was about the worst thing anyone ever said to me. Even if I know it’s not true. I didn’t believe anything they said after that. Maybe Ric used Jessie’s money for a little while, but he would have paid it back. I’m sure of it.

The love that we had for those four months was real—the realest thing I ever knew. I think when Ric gets out we will be together again, maybe have a place of our own. I just wish Ric had looked at me once when he passed out of the courtroom. Maybe he didn’t even recognize me after all this time. My hair’s a lot longer. Mrs. Roney says it might be because I’m practically a woman now. If I am, no one can tell us we can’t be together. I’m counting on that.

About the Author:
Patricia Abbott has published literary and crime fiction in publications such as Spinetingler, Demolition, Hardluck Stories, Thuglit, Murdaland, Shots, and Shred of Evidence. She lives and works in Detroit and is working on a novel.