Chapter 17: 5001
The stoners knew a shortcut back into town and it only took us thirty minutes to make it back to the Jeep.
“Dude, what the FUCK is that?” Dwayne asked.
“It’s a dog, you moron. Now get in.”
Dwayne walked back around to the driver’s side with me and Steve. “Man, I ain’t never seen a dog like that. No way am I getting in over there.” He hit Steve on the arm. “Dude, you go.”
“No way. You called shotgun, not me.”
“Boys! Unless you two want to see a real shotgun, get in the fucking ride. The dog isn’t going to hurt you.” Cerberus would most likely kill them before they felt any real pain, so technically it wasn’t a lie.
They both got in on the driver’s side but Dwayne forced Steve to get in first and scoot in behind Cerberus. The dog tracked them both with his large head. He shoved his nose against them and sniffed. Both Dwayne and Steve froze, their bloodshot eyes wide and unblinking.
“Which way?” I asked. Neither one of the boys said anything. “Steve, where do you live?”
It took only a few minutes to get to their apartment. It was one in a four apartment house located in one of the seedier neighborhoods just off campus. Lights and loud music were coming from one of the top apartments. The other three were dark.
Dwayne and Steve both got out on the driver’s side. I grabbed my backpack from the back and then let Cerberus out on the other side. “Roommates having a party?” I asked.
Cerberus ran to the curb and pissed on a Cavalier while the three of us walked up the porch steps. Steve was still fiddling with his keys when the dog walked up to me.
“He can’t come in. No pets allowed.”
“Sure, you tell him that.” Cerberus sat next to me staring at Steve. Even sitting down the damn thing was almost looking at him eye to eye.
“He’s not going to go killing anybody is he? There’s probably a lot of people upstairs. And I don’t want to lose my security deposit.”
“He’ll be fine.”
We made our way upstairs to an open apartment. People were crammed into the living room, all of them dancing while a DJ was spinning unfashionably rusty tunes in the corner. Colored lights flashed in the smoke. The floor was moving up and down like a trampoline as the partiers moved in time with the music. Another hour of that and the old house was going to collapse.
Steve turned to me and shouted. “You want something to drink?”
“No. Your computer. Where is it?”
He gestured with his chin and led me past the throng of dancers. All of them stopped to stare as we made our way past, Cerberus getting most of the looks. We entered a bedroom where a couple was getting amorous on a mattress and box spring shoved into a corner of the narrow room.
“Hey! How about knockin’ first.”
Steve threw his hands into the air. “Dude, my bed!” The girl grabbed a blanket and covered herself. “What’s wrong with your room?”
“Oh, man. That Zeta chic is passed out in there.”
Dwayne couldn’t stop laughing. But while Steve’s domestic crisis was unfolding, I stepped past them all and sat down at the computer. The guy under the covers said, “Come back later, guys. We’re almost done.”
The girl peeked out from under the covers. “We just started!”
“Aw man, and I just did laundry.” Steve stormed out past Dwayne as Cerberus walked over to me, his giant tongue lolling out of the side of mouth.
“Dwayne,” I said. “How about getting me some shoes.”
“Man, you better hook me up wholesale, that’s all I got to say.” He followed after Steve.
I started tapping keys and tried to ignore the swelling pain in my head. All of my stitches were gone and even though the river had washed away most of the blood, the hole was still leaking pretty badly. After I found the bid, I was going to have to scan the room for something to stop the bleeding.
Searching eBay was going to be tough. The problem with selling something like this was that you couldn’t openly advertise it. Not so much because of the nature of the thing, but putting anything connected to my brother online was about as bad as hawking Nazi memorabilia.
“Well fuck me running.” There it was.
Asher Family Heirloom.
Handmade keepsake box crafted by Rick Asher, Sr. Father of famed P-Dot guitarist, Rick Asher, Jr. Hand carved from Brazilian Ash and Chilean Rosewood, this beautiful work of art was used as a jewelry box by Mrs. Asher for years and carries the very spirit of their family heritage.
That sly little kitten. She was selling the box and only hinting at what was inside. She never once mentioned Michael’s name. In fact, the only place Michael came up was in the close-up photograph of the top of the box where our names were all carved into the wood. Darby used Michael’s name as the example of the craftsmanship. But the idea that my mother used it as a jewelry box was completely off base. My dad had made it to hold sassafras roots as treats for us kids. We would always come home from school and grab a couple of roots from the box and suck on them until their flavor was gone. And no matter how many times we raided that box, my dad had always managed to keep it full.
The girl behind me started whining. “I can’t do this with that thing staring at me.” I looked back. Cerberus was at my side, but he was watching the couple with an uncomfortable intensity.
“Hey man, can you keep your dog from doing that?”
“No.” There were only ten minutes left. I logged in and placed a bid. The current bid price was eighty-five dollars. I bid ninety and set up a max of five grand. I didn’t have the money, but Rick did. And there was no way I was losing this bid.
After it showed me as the highest bidder, I grabbed a fresh pair of jeans and a t-shirt out of my backpack and started to change. When I pulled my shirt over my head, I almost passed out from the pain.
“Can you do that somewhere else?” the boy asked.
If it wasn’t for the bolt of electric razor wire slicing through my brain pan, I would have kicked the two of them out. Literally. Instead, I ignored them and tried for the second time in just a few hours not to vomit.
Once I got some dry clothes on, I collapsed in the chair and watched the screen. Cerberus put his heavy head on my lap and sighed. Something pretending to be music was thudding from the other room, making every vein in my head throb. I tried to wash away the saccharine sounds with the memory of a Gutter Fern melody and the image of their delicious guitar player, but the music was just too damn loud.
Behind me, the two kids were getting dressed. Cerberus lifted his head when they got off the bed but then put it back on my lap once the kids had given up the idea of confronting me. I scratched him behind his ears.
As I stared at the screen, I noticed that at the bottom next to the words ‘Serious Buyers Only,’ Darby had listed an email address and a website to contact for payment options. The email address was email@example.com and the site link led to a ‘brass hand’ search result on Wikipedia. Any serious buyers would know exactly what it was she wanted.
I hit refresh. Two minutes left on the bid and I was still top buyer at ninety. Dwayne walked in with a pair of tan work boots. Steve followed behind him with a red plastic cup in each hand.
Dwayne set the boots on the floor. “There you go, dude. You find what you were looking for?”
“Yeah.” I pointed at the screen. “Just in time, too. I owe you guys big for this.”
“Just make sure you hook us up. Like with backstage passes or…hey, Mr. Asher. You sure you okay?”
I turned and looked at him. “I’ll be fine.”
“You’re shakin’, man. Look, the hospital is just up the road—”
“No. Thanks, but no. I can’t go to a hospital.” Steve held out a plastic cup. I waved him off. “A drink is the last thing I need right now.”
“It’s water. Heather gets home from her shift in an hour. Why don’t you have her take a look at you when she gets back.”
“Yeah, man,” Dwayne said. “Don’t go dyin’ on us. That would harsh the festivities.”
I took a sip of water and hit refresh again. When the screen pixilated back into existence, I felt as if the back of my head just fell away and my brain oozed down the back of my neck. The auction was over and I wasn’t the winning bidder. I had lost.
By one fucking dollar.
I stood up, kicking the chair out behind me. Cerberus took a step back and gave a short, deep bark audible even over the mess of noise coming from the living room. I was only vaguely aware of what I was doing as I tossed the chair out the window. At that moment, everything was in season. The desk, clothes in the closet, posters on the wall, everything.
The music stopped and people gathered inside the room. I was still in a blind rage, trashing everything I could get my hands on as they poured in to see what the racket was about. Cerberus was standing on the bed, growling at the partiers and keeping everyone at a distance. After a few minutes of primal screaming, I stopped. I couldn’t suck in enough air. My chest was heaving and my heart was ready to burst. I looked at my hands and at the shredded poster I was holding. Then I noticed the familiar yellow lettering lined in black and the dark silhouette of Rick’s face on the torn paper. My mind turned to static. I yelled so hard that blood spurted from the open wound in my head and spattered on some of the horrified college students watching me have my breakdown.
Then I was done. I stood there panting, out of breath with a ruined P● poster in my hands and a face straight out of a Romero flick. I was having trouble seeing out of my left eye and my legs wouldn’t stop shaking.
Dwayne took a step closer and said, “Dude, I think that is your skull.”
I nodded and put a finger to the hole above my eye.
“Yeah. I think you’re…ri…”