Chapter 9: A Man Named Terry Hut
The neighborhood was quiet and unmoving as if the heat had sterilized and killed every living thing on the surface of the planet. I parked the Jeep underneath the only tree that provided a semblance of shade on the street. Even though it was at least 115 degrees, I put the top up to keep Cerberus inside the vehicle. The girl at the pound was right; he was dangerous. If anything smaller than a fullback walked by, he’d have no problem snatching them off the sidewalk and using them as a chew toy.
The windows were cracked a couple of inches but it still felt like an oven inside. Cerberus just stared at me as I peeled myself off of the seat, his mouth open just enough for me to glimpse the arsenal of teeth inside.
If he wasn’t occupied, he’d probably just chew his way out, so I tossed him an oversized Mag-lite and said, “Stay.” He went to it like a bone.
Even though I was in the hospital for less than twenty-four hours—much to the annoyance of that doctor who insisted that I needed a drilling expedition inside my brainpan—Benoit already had time to wrap his house in a plastic tarp. Wide arcing trenches from my tires scarred his front yard and bits of house littered the empty driveway.
I scanned the area but didn’t see anyone. It made sense. Anyone crazy enough to be outside in this heat probably had bigger problems than worrying about some guy sneaking around their neighbor’s house. As I pulled the tarp back to slide inside I became acutely aware of how unarmed I was. Benoit and his posse no doubt had a host of guns at their disposal. And it didn’t help that I was never one for guns since every time I was in the presence of a one I always ended up getting shot. .22s, 12-guages, Berettas, Glocks, hell even piss-ant BB guns (a childhood game resulted in me spending the better part of an afternoon prying a damn copper ball out of my chin).
Inside, the living room looked the same as it did the night I got my Martha Stewart on. Black tire marks painted the floor underneath a carpet of broken wood and glass. Tiny shards littered the blood-stained couch. The chair I had sat in that night was a blackened husk and a dark smear pooled across the ceiling directly above it.
I saw Benoit’s answering machine lying on the ground next to the remains of an antique end table, but any hope of getting information from it disappeared as soon as I picked it up and its innards spilled to the floor. Then I heard it.
Something was…chirping? No, that wasn’t it. A soft sound was coming from down the hallway, the only visible part of the house unaffected by my remodeling. At that moment, having a gun didn’t sound like such a bad idea. But, me being me, I was going to have to do with what was available. There was a hunk of a table leg sticking out from the bottom of the couch. I grabbed it, pulled it out, and started to move slowly and deliberately toward the hallway, but the flotsam underneath my feet crunched and crackled.
Every step I took was a Fourth of July fireworks display and I couldn’t help but cringe as I made my way across the room. I was thankful that the chirping at the end of the hall started and stopped, oblivious to the racket I was making. Fortunately the hallway itself was free of debris.
The noise was a little louder as I came to an open door at the end of the hallway. When I peeked inside, I did a double take. There, on a perfectly made king-sized bed, was a baby. The boy, if its blue jumper was a proper indication, was cooing and gurgling at some imaginary thing hovering above his head.
There was no one else in the room.
An open suitcase overflowing with jeans and t-shirts was lying next to the bed. I pulled back, shot a glance down the hallway behind me but saw no one. Back inside the room the baby squealed a sound akin to a laugh and drooled over its cherubic face.
It took a few seconds for me to process the idea of Benoit having a baby. The only explanation I could think of was that one of the locals must have offered it to him as a sacrifice. Even though there were few things in the world I wanted to do more at that moment than feel Benoit’s windpipe crack in my hands, there was no way I was going to start anything with a kid in the room. Maybe Benoit wouldn’t be too eager to have a throwdown either. But something told me that if he really wanted to start shit here and now, I was going to be the only one impeded by the baby’s safety.
A shadow moved in an adjacent room off the far side of the bedroom. Most likely a bathroom. There was a clank of plastic and a groan of stiff hinges from a medicine chest closing. If I could get into the bathroom, I could pummel that son-of-a-bitch and not have to worry about the kid getting hurt. Guess it was someone’s unlucky day.
I stepped inside and moved around to the side of the bed. The baby giggled and kicked its feet in the air, his round face split with a wide, toothless grin.
“What’s so funny, babydoll?” A woman stepped out of the bathroom with a handful of toiletries. She was short with dark hair, a little wide in the hips, and had a round, pretty face. When she saw me, she froze.
Now, I don’t have kids. I’ll probably never have kids. But despite the fact that I’d never spawned myself, I was fully aware of the preternatural instinct that came to the surface whenever a person’s child was threatened. And when a wiry stranger holding a broken table leg with a look of terminal anger on his swollen and stitched face was standing over your infant child, the concept of self-preservation ceased to exist. Nothing else mattered but the safety of that child. And I could tell by the look in this woman’s eyes that the only thing on her mind other than protecting that little bundle of joy mewling on the bed was how she was going to dispose of my body.
I took two slow half-steps back from the bed and away from the baby. I lowered the hunk of solid oak I was holding to my side and held the other hand out to show her it was empty. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You’re the one, aren’t you?” She moved forward, putting herself between me and the baby. “You did this to my house. My home.” She dropped the bottles of shampoo and bars of soap at her feet then brandished the toothbrush like a shiv. “My baby’s home.” When she said it, she growled in a way that would have given Cerberus a run for his money.
I learned long ago that it doesn’t matter how bad you are, how tough, how hard. You never…never fuck with a mom. They will eat your lungs and wash them down with a pint of your spinal fluid if they think you’re a threat to their little tikes. There are no limits to what they’ll do to protect their babies. Hell, this whole goddamn mess was proof of that. And right now there was no doubt in my mind that this little woman wanted nothing more than to give me an Oral-B lobotomy.
What was it about me that made people want to shove things inside my head?
The only thing missing was an old clock-tower moving ominously toward noon and a set of spurs on my feet.
“Get out.” She held the toothbrush in a white-knuckled fist and took a step forward, still keeping herself between me and the baby.
“I’d like to. But I’m looking for the person who…who I thought lived here.” If this woman ended up goring me with that damn thing, I was going to rise from the dead and haunt my brother until he went insane and took his own life. All this because he needed a mic stand. What the fuck.
“He isn’t here. Now get out.”
I slowly set the table leg on the ground. “I just want to find him.”
The baby was getting a sense of the tension in the room and started to cry, kicking its chubby legs in agitation. Mom gave a glance to the kid then turned back with a flourish of her toothbrush. “Get out of my house!”
Now I was starting to get agitated. “Look here, lady. I—”
She screamed and charged me. Normally, I’d just side-step her with a swift kick to the knee, throw a little hand-grab and take the toothbrush away. But this wasn’t seven feet of ‘roid riddled henchmen. This was five feet of pissed off mom. And being that I was a big fan of my lungs and spinal fluid, I did the only thing I could think to do in that situation. I turned and ran like a little girl.
When I rounded the corner out of the bedroom and into the hallway, my feet slipped out from under me. My hips hit the ground hard and a spike of pain shot up my spine and into the hole in the side of my head.
The violent patter of momma’s footsteps stopped behind me. I looked up just in time to see her coming down on me with the toothbrush in perfect Norman Bates fashion. I rolled out of the way and into the destroyed living room across the glass and splinters, found my footing and jumped over the couch as she took another swipe at me.
The bloody couch was between us, but I didn’t think it would stop her. “Dammit, woman will you hold on a second! I don’t want to hurt you!”
“Well I want to hurt you. Look what you did to my house!”
She had me there. I suppose I could have claimed that it was an accident, that I was drunk and lost control of the car, but that wouldn’t explain the smackdown with the crowbar. “Yes, I did this to your house and I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you and a baby lived here. But Julius stole something of mine. Something very valuable.”
The baby was screaming in the other room. The mom stood stiff on the other side of the couch, the shattered remains of the toothbrush sticking out of her tiny fist. She kept glancing back and forth between me and the crying from the other room. She let out a deep sigh then relaxed. “Well, isn’t that just like him.” She threw the broken toothbrush to the ground and crunched her way back to the bedroom.
I followed her at a safe distance, but she completely ignored me. When I stuck my head around the doorframe, I saw her holding the baby, shushing and singing to it. I wanted to ask her questions but I didn’t think it was safe enough to actually step inside the room. If I was going to poke the bear, it was probably best if I did it through the bars of its cage with a very long pole. “Um, I know you’re busy, but if you could just tell me where I can find Julius, I’ll go ahead and get out of your way.”
Mom set the now quiet baby on the bed again. She grabbed the suitcase, tossed it on the bed next to the baby, and started shoving even more things inside. “What did my husband steal this time? Money? Drugs?” She snorted a laugh through her nose. “Your girlfriend?” She looked up at me as she twisted a t-shirt into a ball.
She folded a yellow onesie and put it on top of the t-shirt. “Just a box, huh. Well, what’d you have in it? Money, drugs? Your girlfriend?” She chuckled to herself.
Her hands stopped moving. “How’s that?”
“Where’s Julius now?”
The mom pushed the clothes down into the suitcase and tried to zip it closed. “Don’t know, don’t care. Bastard left me to take care of this mess.” She grunted as she closed the zipper the last few inches then set the suitcase on the floor next to the bed. “Fuck him. I’m tired of cleaning up after him.” She turned to the baby. “You didn’t hear mommy say that bad word.” The kid giggled and grabbed his feet in his pudgy hands.
“When’s he coming back?”
The mom picked up the baby and rested it on her hip before bending to grab the suitcase. “Look mister, I’m sorry that my husband took your box. I really am. But you’ve ruined his house, so why don’t you call it even?”
“I can’t do that.”
She shrugged her shoulders and moved toward me with the suitcase in tow. “Wait for him then. I don’t care.”
“Will he back soon?”
She moved past me and dragged the suitcase down the hallway behind her. “Sure, as soon as he’s finished with his latest bimbo. But I’ll be damned if I’ll take him back again. I’m done with this shit.” She stopped and turned to me. “I suppose I should thank you since you were the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.”
I tested the bandage on my forehead. My sweat was causing it to slide off. “Glad I could help. So, he’s off with a new girl?”
“He doesn’t even bother to hide them anymore. At least before he tried to be discreet. But now I guess he just doesn’t care. He brought this one to the house, my house, grabbed some of his clothes and just left. Well two can play that game.”
I ran up and helped her with the suitcase. She scowled at me instead of thanking me, but at least she didn’t bare her fangs and vamp my throat. “What did this new girl look like?”
“Like a whore.” I didn’t know it was possible for someone so short to actually look down at me. She shifted the baby to her other hip. “I thought you said he didn’t steal your girlfriend.”
“Ex-wife, maybe. And he can have her for all I care. But was she about my height, tiny, long dark hair? Really pretty?”
The mom started moving toward the front door which now hung at an odd angle in the wall. “Yes. Pretty. I pop out one kid and I become some sort of freak.”
“That’s not what I…look, did they say where they were going?”
I held the plastic tarp aside for her but she opened the front door and walked through. “I don’t keep tabs on him and his hussies.”
There was a cab melting on the street out in front of the house. The woman stopped and pulled a little pullover cap on the baby’s head to keep it from roasting in the sun.
When we got to the cab, I tossed the suitcase into the trunk. The baby was blowing little bubbles in its spittle as it played with a string on his mother’s blouse. “He didn’t say anything about where he was going or when he’d be back?”
“All he said was that he and his bimbo were going to see some Terry Hut guy and they’d be gone for a couple days. Which leaves me to call somebody to fix this mess.”
“Terry Hut? You mean
She pulled her gaze away from her ruined house and said, “Yeah. That was it. You know the guy?”
I started feeling queasy and my head was pounding. “It’s not a guy. It’s a place.”
“Yeah? Well if you find my rat bastard of a husband there, tell him that his wife and son left him. And he better not come looking for us.” She got in the cab and shouted an address to the cabbie.
I leaned in the open window. “I’ll make sure to tell him. Thanks. And hey, I really am sorry about your house.”
She twisted her mouth into a sneer, covered her baby’s eyes with one hand and flipped me off with the other.
“Fair enough.” I smacked the cab on the hood then watched it speed down the road.
Back at the Jeep, Cerberus was inside, turning the Mag-Lite into something resembling a melted Tootsie Roll. I pulled out my phone and started punching buttons.
“Hey, Luna. It’s Dingo. Things just got bad.”
She made a burping sound then asked, “Oh, god, how bad?”
I started to wipe a stream of sweat from my forehead, but I stopped when my fingers felt the thin line of scar tissue over my right eye.