CHAPTER #5 TY-STICK SCRABBLE
I didn’t like that situation one bit. Stuck in the upper floor of the drug store with William Dickerman was not exactly my idea of where I’d like to wait out the flood. I wanted to be home caring for my cats and chickens. Although he had never once been anything but an absolute gentleman, I knew he had more in mind. I saw the hungry look in his eyes and the awkward way he moved. Hell, I could smell his intentions on his sin-sin breath.
I gave him a stern look. “If we’re going to be stuck up here in your loft, then I’m going to need something to sleep on.”
In a hot second, I got up and pushed around some old cardboard boxes stacked against the wall. Once the boxes were cleared, I looked at Cassandra. “When I was younger, sometimes I worked late. I set up a room behind this wall.”
There was a big chunk of my statement that was a lie. The bigger than life truth had been sitting in the drugstore loft, was it really forty years?
In the sixties, I was forced to wait on young vivacious vixens who came in for birth control pills, condoms and diaphragms. All those years ago –as my youth slipped through my fingers– I stood behind that damn counter waiting for my opportunity to join in with the love generation, but my moment never came.
I had prepared though. I built my little love den especially for Mary-Jo Severson in 1963. She was more than willing. During that summer she came into my store doing everything she could to get my attention. I never once had the guts to broach the subject. Later my little plan was for Susan Forsner, then Sally Freedman. Although they all gave me so many signs, I never got the nerve.
I’d brought in bottles of cognac and Grand Marnier and sat them on the dresser next to the queen-sized bed. I’d pilfered supplies of rubbers from the store. An old console high fidelity record player with Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra sat ready and waiting. In sixty-seven, I’d even got three pre-rolled Marijuana cigarettes, which I never had the courage to try even one puff. I bought them during a time when smoking a joint was like taking a drink of water. Those little bombshells had been hidden under a small razor slice on the side of the mattress all that time.
I was in my mid-thirties during a time no one trusted anyone over thirty. Free love was uninhibited, untamable, wild as a storm at sea and I was too old.
I’d never been close to a love-in, nor did I have the opportunity to participate in any free love during a time when sex was being passed around like penny candies. Although I fantasized about it for years, I never had the courage for a one-night stand. I wanted to in the worst way, but not once did I have sex just for the fun of having sex.
I was married and happily raising two children in the sixties. Except for more than a few unscheduled stops at the corner of Haight and Asbury during business trips to the city, I was a daddy, sole provider and loving husband. I worked long hours every single day of my miserable life in my drug store. Although I dreamt of being passed around between a score of hippie chicks until my eyes bugged out, it never happened. I dreamed of many things in those days. I’m certain the ever-so-sexy Suzanne Wilson would have followed me up that dark staircase, past the shipping boxes and old displays.
How about Miss Flanders, the blonde bank teller from down the street. Gilda Sherman, Wanda Smith, Marylou Radclif? They had all been willing participants, I was sure, but I never had the guts to take even one of them by the hand and lead them upstairs.
Since the gypsy woman came on the scene, old failed memories haunted me again. Ms. Flanders had stopped in too many times. For months she had given me unceasing hints. She had all but asked me out loud, but I was too scared to take her up on it.
There was the widow Lisa Hesner. After her husband died, she constantly pulled at me with her short dresses and sexy perfume. She would have been more than happy to visit my den.
When it came to attractive women, the only thing that got in my way was my overbite of extreme shyness.
It was not until that night when Cassandra Liltkey and I were forced up the stairs, had I gotten the courage to ask, trick, finagle or entice even one woman into my long forgotten lair.
There was always too much to do, but now that the flood was climbing above nine feet, that sorry, well-worn excuse drew no water.
The bed was still made, the velvet cover, though faded, still glistened red. The bottles of liquor sat on the dresser next to the bed. My room had been secretly walled off with an even more secret door hidden behind some large cardboard refrigerator boxes. It was done in case Lucille accidentally sauntered upstairs. All of the preparation, the ill-fated plans and expense had been, not only for nothing, but an extreme disappointment.
Years later, far beyond the years when a man’s fantasies cease to focus on that soft triangle of fluff at the upper reaches of a woman’s thigh, long before those thoughts are replaced by thoughts of longevity or simply getting through another day, I quit dreaming. I stopped going up to my special room.
After many more years, I’d merely forgotten about why I’d built the room or that it even existed. How many years had it been; twenty, thirty? I couldn’t remember.
It wasn’t until the Gypsy woman burst upon the scene that all those old tomcat feelings came flooding back.
Once I agreed to her dancing in the drugstore display window, some ancient thing was re-awakened. After I grasped her slender hand and looked into her deep blue eyes, the neglected hidden little den took on a whole new meaning. For the first time in ten years, I’d not only returned to my virgin sex room, but also spent one entire afternoon cleaning, dusting, changing the sheets and replacing the condom supplies. Two nights before Cassandra’s début in the display window of my drug store, the room was sparkling clean, ready for whatever might happen.
Although I had plans, I was also realistic. I’d cleaned until my fingers were sore, but I knew I hadn’t a chance in hell of getting her to take one step up the stairs to my lair. . . until the flood. Now that she was so close, I had a giddy flutter in my stomach.
“I’ll get a pillow and you can sleep on the floor out here or you can stay in my little apartment.”
I pointed at the open framed blank wall. “It’s behind there.” I was beside myself with anticipation. She would put a halt to my silly advances somewhere along the line, but I didn’t care. I tried not to crack the grin wanting to spring onto my lips. I’d waited all my life for that moment and it didn’t really matter that I wasn’t going all the way. It certainly didn’t matter that she was thirty years my junior.
My unstoppable grin turned up the corners of my mouth. I had to turn away so she couldn’t see. What mattered most was for the first time in my silly-assed seventy years, I was going to try.
I snapped my head up and gave him a glare. “Get me a pillow. I’ll sleep here.”
“You might have a look. It’ll be more comfortable than this floor.”
“Get the pillow.”
He shrugged, walked behind some big boxes and returned with a flannel-covered pillow and a down comforter. He handed them to me. I smelled the freshness and felt their softness.
He grabbed a broom leaning against the wall. “I’ll sweep the part of the storeroom you want to sleep in.” He had a nervous titter to his voice.
“We need to get some of the spider webs and mouse dropping off the floor before you lay down.”
I’d spent the last thirty years in my grandmother’s spider and mouse-infested house. I’d actually come to terms with the creatures that shared my living quarters. My rule was; as long as they didn’t show their little faces, or leave any sign that they’d been around, I left them alone. The first sign of mice or spiders and I went into a rampage that sometimes lasted for days. I’d lay a storehouse of traps for the mice and got out the broom for the spiders, but never in my entire life was I able to sleep knowing the creatures were on my side of the wall.
I looked up with the very face that I was sure he had hoped for. It was the, I’m-not-sleeping-with-any-mice look. Not to my surprise, the room behind the wall took on a whole new meaning. “Okay, show me your room, but no funny business.”
He looked at me with an expression of hurt. I immediately wanted to take my accusation back.
Without saying a word, he reached out his arms, took the pillow and comforter and turned on his heels. I followed as he wove his way among shipping crates and cardboard boxes to the wall that stretched across the far end of the loft.
The side door creaked as he pushed into the room. When I walked through the doorway, my eyes widened, nostrils flared, heart skipped a beat, which it was prone to do in the latter part of my third decade. I almost turned around and went back out to face the mice and spiders.
Before I stepped completely through the door, I looked hard at Dickerman. “Where are you sleeping?”
He pointed at a couch that took up the far end of the little room. “It folds out into a bed. I also have an aversion to sleeping with mice.”
It was the only answer close to acceptable. Any other and I would have booted him out on his ear.
“Okay, but no funny business.”
He crossed his heart with his index finger.
He tossed the pillow and comforter on the bed and walked over to the small window that overlooked the southern end of the Lyndon B. Johnson parking lot. He unlatched the lock, pulled the window up and peered out on a wall of rain. “Oh my, the entire parking lot is a sea of water. It’s so high, only the top of Sandy Conners stupid macho truck is visible.”
I walked over to the window. The water was half way up his windshield.
Dickerman pointed. “It must easily be six feet.”
“This could be a problem if it gets much higher.”
“Dear lady, if the water stops rising at this moment, everyone who lives within six feet of the earth has already got big problems. I only hope no one got hurt.”
Dear lady? What kind of an archaic, male chauvinistic thing to say.
As we stood at the window looking down on the murky bay, it rapidly rose another foot, swamping Sandy’s outrageously high truck. Once it was completely under, only telephone poles, surrounding buildings and the back section of a speedboat were left to gauge the level of the rising water.
“What happens if it reaches this loft?” I asked, though I already knew the answer.
“The levee’s nineteen feet. The water will have to fill the entire valley before it could rise above this floor. I think we’re pretty safe. Hopefully, it’ll taper off around ten feet. We might get another foot or so, but I’d be surprised if it would ever reach us.”
“Let’s close the window,” I said. “It’s cold and scary out there.”
I was worried about my animals. But, there was a deeper thought, so dark and sinister it only surfaced for fleeting seconds. That thought I would never admit, was of my lawn-mowing, ever-car-washing, manicured-yarded neighbors. It came through more as a wish. Maybe the water would wash away the entire housing tract. I wanted the buildings leveled, the lawns buried in six feet of mud. I wanted those stupid white picket fences pulled up and scattered downstream.
Much later, I learned that I was getting part of my wish. Those freaking pickets were that moment being pulled up by the force of the water and floating downstream toward Sacramento.
These and other thoughts were fighting their way to the surface. I wanted nothing to do with the ugliness of bad thoughts, but there they were, welling up in my craw, bubbling from my unsatisfied belly, gurgling in my throat and almost being spoken. It took a Herculean effort to keep the words from forming, then blasting out in a profusion of cussing and cursing.
There were too many things I had been holding back since grandma’s death. As my Grandma Stikes lay in the hospital, her last few words were, “Honey child,” it was her favorite name for me. “Go get the bastards, but don’t let your anger get the best of you. It ain’t worth it.”
It was the only cuss word I’d ever heard her utter. It was the last sentence grandma Stikes ever spoke and it stuck in my throat like dry peanut butter.
Being stuck in that room with Mr. Horneytoad, with the flood outside and not knowing what had happened to my animals, brought up my rage like a hair ball; first in spits and sputters, but too quickly with all the power and force of a freight train.
I sensed its true intensity for the first time since my Grandma died and it frightened me.
There was one thing held the rage monster at bay. I seldom needed to resort to it, but only that one substance satisfied the hunger of my anger. Unfortunately, I was more than five miles of torrential rain and eight feet of muddy Yuba water away from it. Without thinking about what I was saying, without considering the implications of my request and from whom I was requesting, I turned to the fatherly William H. Dickerman in his white smocked pharmacist uniform. “You wouldn’t happen to have a joint would you?”
I pushed away from the shore, leaving the babe of my dreams behind. My little black bag of tricks was still lashed to the deck of the canoe. In my bag was a small crowbar, two flashlights, a set of skeleton keys I’d bought at great expense from The Dog Man and a twenty-five automatic pistol which I’d never had the opportunity to fire. It wasn’t even loaded.
Since the paddles of the canoe had been washed downstream, I had no way to control my progress. My plan –whether it would work or not– was to float to the nearest empty mansion and find my way in. Once I relieved the building of its treasures, I’d move to the next structure. The houses were so close together, I could easily work my way upstream by pushing from building to building around the huge open space of the golf course until I could float back to the little island. I would bury the booty then go check out my dream babe. Dog and me could retrieve the goods later.
The first part of my plan went like clockwork. I floated to the nearest house and inspected it for sign of occupancy. When I tied the canoe to the verandah railing of the second story, I simply stepped out of the canoe, sloshed my way over to a double glass door and slid my Slim Jim between the two doors. I popped the lock like a jack-in-the-box.
Dripping on the pure white carpet of the master bedroom, happy to be out of the downpour, I stepped over to the antique dresser, opened the top drawer and rifled silk panties and cotton bras.
I was strictly a professional at my chosen field. I knew just where to look. It took less than five minutes to find the hidden jewelry box and pour its contents into a new flannel pillowcase from the bed.
There were times when I was more thorough in my search, but I had a lot of ground to cover in one night. I had a lot of houses to visit and I didn’t have much room in the canoe for stereo systems.
I did a quick search of the other rooms on the second floor, but knew I’d gleaned the lion’s share of the goodies in the one box.
Always a considerate thief, I closed the double glass doors as I left the building. No use in getting the carpets soaked. I threw my bag of goodies in the canoe and pulled it over to the far southern edge of the verandah, fifteen feet from the next building. I pushed off and the canoe shot directly for the window on the upper floor of the next house. The current grabbed me and almost capsized the boat. At the very last possible second, I latched onto the overhead telephone wires. With every ounce of my one hundred eighty pound bench-pressing strength, and not until I friction burned one hand, was I able to pull myself along the wire to building number two.
I tied the canoe off to a metal down spout and climbed along the roof to the first window, which I smashed with my crow bar. It was only my second house and already it was more work than I was used to. I was exhausted and I hadn’t even really begun to stockpile the treasures. What kept me going was my ticket to Peru and all that Peruvian blow. Oh yes, and the babe of the century was waiting or me back on that island.
I went from house to house in a professional systematic order, seeking my own personal version of the American dream. A-chicken-in-every-basket, a-new-car-in-every-garage, wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, though a new Toyota wouldn’t be bad. Enough money to go to Peru on a whim and buy all the blow I could use was so much closer to my dream. That was the night my all-American dream might come true. I wished The Dog Man were there. It wouldn’t be bad to have Dog share in some of the work too.
By midnight I had a boatload of pillowcases filled with jewelry, gold watches, cash and rare coins. I took anything that was small and could withstand being underground for an undetermined time.
It was two-thirty when I hit my bonanza. The house had not been easy to get into. The alarm sounded the second I smashed the upstairs window, but the bell was six inches under water and the sound was so muffled it was easy to ignore. I climbed into a room me and The Dog Man had only dreamed of. Tears welled up in my eyes. Would it ever get any better? Dog would be the only other person who’d understood. He’d be the only person I could tell.
I stood in the grandness where even the knickknacks were priceless. Everything I touched would bring high resell at Rightway pawn in San Francisco. All I wanted was someone to share the moment. It was the crowning jewel of my career.
While digging through some drawers, I came across Harry Trunk’s checkbook. It served the bastard right to live in such richness and pay his help a pittance. I was making up for all those long nights I’d worked for Trunk without once getting paid my real worth.
It wasn’t until I found the safe and after an hour opened it, that I really felt the score was even. There was a second where I actually felt sorry for the old fuck.
The goods from the Trunk house alone overfilled my canoe and I had to leave some earlier loot behind to lighten the load.
With seventeen stuffed pillowcases and a full canoe, I pulled myself through trees and along rooftops to get into what I thought was a good position to float back to the island where my real booty –or was that booby– was waiting.
It was long past three before I got myself set and let the canoe float effortlessly across a quarter mile ten feet above the sixth fairway. I beached at the west side of the only land for miles.
I pulled the canoe onto shore as far as I could and tied it off on a fruit tree. It took a while to find a shovel then the second part of my job began. It was long after the break of dawn before I had a four-foot hole dug and refilled. With the treasure buried, the blisters on my hands boiling, I replaced the shovel exactly where I found it and walked up the flagstone to the front door. I felt so giddy I wanted to open the door and yell, “honey I’m home.”
I wanted to go inside, out of the never ending pouring rain, pull off my dripping poncho and wet clothes and climb into bed with the great Ya-melt-a Keating. I wanted to ravage her –-even though I wasn’t exactly sure what the word meant. Better yet, I wanted fuck her brains out.