Chapter Three: Luke, Meet Bobby. Bobby, Meet Luke
The old man had started towards the wooden back steps of his house while Luke was still seated on the crabby grass that was his side lawn. The garden hose continued to spread water across the blacktop driveway. The German Shepherd followed suit, bounding at his master’s side with his shaggy, black and brown tail swishing behind him. Luke put his legs underneath him and started after the old man, landing a hand on the old man’s shoulder. Luke had been raised to respect his elders, so the hand wasn’t firm and it wasn’t harsh. It was tentative and coaxing.
“Sir. You can’t…” That was as far as Luke got before the old man’s cane shot into his stomach, forcing all his air out all at once and causing him to double over in pain.
“Damn it. I barely touched you. All you brats are too damn soft nowadays.” The old man said, laying a hand on the brass doorknob and turning it. He swung the door open and pulled Luke along by the collar, spilling him onto the kitchen floor. The German Shepherd came in next, his overgrown nails clacking the dusty-gray tiled linoleum. Lastly, the old man slammed the door, moved around Luke and pulled up a chair at the kitchen table.
“Who are you?” Luke asked breathlessly. He was going to vomit again. He could taste the bile at the back of his throat.
“Christ, boy.” The old man said, picking himself up out of the chair and snatching Luke by the arm. Luke’s feet scrabbled for purchase as the old man dragged him toward the kitchen sink. Luke found it and held himself up as he released into the metal basin. He spat out a slimy string and turned the tap on, washing the bile down the drain.
“Who are you?” Luke asked again, adding some force behind his words.
“I’m the man that saved your life last night.” The old man said.
“I don’t think so. I was in bed last night.” Luke said, turning to face the old man.
“Your legs turned to jelly? Your chest hurt? Your head feel like someone’s been stomping on it? Your heart pumps blood to the rest of your body. If someone monkeys with it, it causes all sorts of havoc with the rest of your body. The man who did it to you was looking to kill you. I chucked a boot at him.”
“You saved me with a boot? Do you have some medication that you’re supposed to be taking?” Luke said.
“Cute. How about I make swallow your teeth, Pecker-wood. You have two choices here: Believe me and live. Don’t and die.” The old man said, his voice sounding closer to a growl than human speech. What was odd, was that Luke wanted to believe that the old man had saved him last night with nothing but a boot. He couldn’t remember his dream, but he knew that he’d been dreaming. As hard as he tried, all he could summon was two yellow eyes like twin moons behind a film of smoke.
“Who are you?” Luke said for a third time. He found that he didn’t want to say he didn’t believe, because part of him knew that those yellow eyes were real and something had made them go away.
“They call me Perkins. Dale Perkins, but Perkins is fine. That, there, is Cesar.” Perkins said, pointing to the German Shepherd, who had found a corner in the kitchen and curled up with his head resting on his paws.
“Luke.” Luke said. “Why are you saying that someone wants me dead? What did I do?”
“It’s not what you did. It’s who you are.” Perkins said, returning to the drawn out kitchen chair. The chair creaked and shifted underneath his weight.
“Who am I?” Luke asked.
“Unlucky. Somebody pointed a finger at you and decided that you’d make a good guardian.” The old man said, stretching his legs out underneath the table.
“Who did?” Luke asked.
“That, nobody knows. We’re all just pawns on whoever’s chessboard. They’re looking for you to either die or stop somebody from dying.” Perkins said.
“Who?” Luke asked.
“Who knows and who cares. It ain’t my concern to play their games. You listen to me, it won’t be your concern neither.” Perkins said, scratching his fingers through his iron gray stubble.
“That seems harsh.” Luke said, smiling. The old man hadn’t sounded amazed.
“You ever kill a man? You, even, been in a real fight, Luke? You follow them and they’ll let you die and choose another, seemingly at random.” Perkins said.
“If it isn’t your concern, why would you have saved me? Why not let me die?” Luke asked.
“Because I’m such a nice guy. Or maybe, you’ll end up doing a bit of damage after one of them snaps your neck.” Perkins said.
“Damage?” Luke asked.
“None of your business.” Perkins said, a gravelly growl piquing in his voice.
“It’s about me. How’s it not my business?” Luke asked.
“Because I’m the one calling the shots. I’m the one keeping you alive. I decided what you know.” Perkins said. A sneer was stretching across his face, his lips peeling back to show his off-white teeth.
“I haven’t decided that you are keeping me alive. The most I’ve seen you do is knock me in the stomach and enter my house without my permission.” Luke said, sounding surprisingly calm. Luke and Perkins peered at one another from across the kitchen.
“ I don’t know, but I think that something happened last night.” Luke said, breaking his gaze with the old man. There was a crisp knock at the front door, an affable sound like a delivery man calling. Luke, Perkins and Cesar all turned their heads toward the sound almost all at once.
“Don’t answer that.” Perkins said, leaning forward and gripping his cane tightly.
“People trying to kill me? I’m not even supposed to be here. I’m not going to answer the door.” Luke said. Perkins stole a glance behind Luke and gestured toward something.
“Take that up. Just in case.” Perkins said, suggesting that Luke pick up a freshly washed frying pan, the one that Luke’s father had used to make his breakfast. There was another amiable knock at the front door, sounding slightly more urgent. Luke suddenly distrusted that knock at the door and he snatched up the frying pan. There was something off about the knock, but Luke couldn’t quite place it. It sounded like someone from Federal Express, but it was too low to the ground, like a knock from someone standing at about three feet.
“Why not just call the police?” Luke said, moving toward a tan, hard plastic phone mounted on the wall. To the left of the phone, there was a white message with the legend ‘Numbers to Remember” scrawled across the top. The first number was for Dr. Anton Burns, the family physician. Beneath that, there was the number to the Lowell Police Department.
“You try that, Pecker-wood.” Perkins said, eyeing the back window.
Luke didn’t feel that perceived emergency would be taken seriously by a 911 operator, but he also believed that something was happening and he had to get a cop car in front of his house. The amiable sounded at the front door, except it had lost some of the friendship it had promised. There was a note of irritation in the sound. Luke picked up the receiver and dialed the number for the police. He put the receiver to his ear and heard the conclusion of two hard objects, one dry and the other wet. For a moment, Luke believed that it was coming from beyond the phone, but he began to realize that it was phone lines were occupied with the sound of a metal baseball bat caving in a human skull. There was an initial blow and then a weepy, dazed groan and then there was another blow and another. There was a crack and a ring. Beyond that sound, which could only be murder, the irritated knocking at the front door seemed unimportant. Perkins came and took the phone from Luke’s hand. He put the phone to his own ear and then grimaced at the sound. He put the phone back on the hook.
“We can go out the back. If he’s in the front, we leave from the back without him knowing.” Luke said. His voice felt shaky in his throat, but the words came out clear enough.
“That mean that you’re taking this seriously now?”
“That means something’s happening that I don’t like.”
“That’s a start. Look out that window. What do you see?” Perkins said, pointing a finger toward the window looking out onto the driveway. Luke stole a glance, but he didn’t see anything worth noticing. There was the garden hose that he hadn’t turned off yet. There was the barest patch of the house’s side yard. In the distance, there were Red Maples and Eastern Hemlock regaining their leaves from the winter’s frost. There was nothing worth reporting.
“There’s nothing.” Luke said.
“Look closer. You’ll see footprints.” Perkins said. Luke did see footprints, but he had assumed that they belonged to Perkins.
“Your footprints.” Luke said, suddenly unsure of himself.
“If my feet got wet, yours would have too. We were eye to eye, cheek to cheek. There’s a man in the back as well as the front. You seem like a smart boy. Why would one man be loud while the other one stays silent?” Perkins asked.
“Distraction. He wants us at the front door, so we’d have our backs turned to the back door. What if we just leave out the front. Rush past the guy up front.”
“Monkey with their plans. I like it, but the man up front could have a gun. I don’t know about you, but I could never outrun a bullet.” Perkins said.
“Then what?” Luke asked.
“We go straight for the man in the back. Get the drop on him before he can on us. But first, you go up to your room. Get something on other than bed cloths. Pack a bag as well. I’m giving you thirty seconds. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight.” Perkins continued as Luke hurried up the stairs, scrambled into a pair of blue jeans and threw his feet into some sneakers. He pulled his bed shirt off and failed to noticed a bead of blood at the exact location that Perkins had struck him. He dumped his school books out of his Army-green book bag and began stuffing in clothes.
“Thirteen. Twelve. Eleven. Ten.” Perkins called. It came to Luke that he was unquestioningly packing away his things to leave to places-unknown with a man he had just met. Why? The only explanation he could come up with was that it felt right. He needed to be gone from this house filled with his dead mother and his crumbling father.
“Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Time’s up, Pecker-wood.” Luke came down the stairs with his book bag slung over his shoulder and the frying pan clasped in his hand.
“I’m ready.” He said, looking down the stairwell to Perkins and Cesar.
“Well, I’m delighted. If we could get going?” Perkins growled, moving back into the kitchen.
Perkins stood at one side of the doorframe while Luke stood at the other. Cesar stood between the two of them, wagging his tails and waiting for the open to swing open. Perkins gripped the handle and pulled it open on the morning light. No explosions or screaming. No gunfire or scratch of metal on metal. Luke could hear a sparrow chirping in the distance, but that was all. Perkins stepped out ahead of Luke with Cesar trailing along at his side. Luke followed after, closing the door to the house behind him. He was considering whether or not he should lock the door when a young man stepped into vision. He had short, blonde hair, blue eyes, broad, muscular shoulders attached to muscular arms. Luke had taken in all of this, but the young man’s most striking feature was the scuffed, metal baseball bat in his right hand. Luke’s eyes locked onto that, remembering the phone call.
Perkins had seen him in time, raising his crimson cane up to repel a strike from the young man. It was lucky he did, because the strike would have cut straight through Perkins’ middle, blunt instrument or not. There was another strike, sending long, echoing clacks up into the air. Luke was thinking that the cane would snap at some point and the young man wasn’t holding back. One strike and Perkins would be gone. Cesar must have had the same idea as Luke because he launched himself up through the air like a furry bullet. The addition of Cesar had distracted the young man long enough for Perkins to take the offense, cracking him across the face with the length of the cane. The young man was on one knee, a red mark stretching across his face and droplets of blood dribbling from his mouth. His arm was bleeding from where Cesar had bitten him. Perkins had his cane raised up in the air, ready to kill the young man. The cane came down and the young man struck out with the bat, swept Perkins off his feet. Next, he bashed Cesar across the side, there was a loud snap that had to be a rib breaking. Cesar howled out in pain.
As soon as Perkins smacked down onto the ground, he had rolled onto his knees, but by that time, the young man was on his feet, readying his bat to give the same treatment the young man would have gotten a few seconds before. Before he was able to, Luke came with the frying pan. It seemed that the young man hadn’t considered Luke a threat until the moment the frying pan was ripping though the air. Crack. Luke brought the frying pan across the young man’s face and he went sailing to the ground. The baseball bat flew from the young man’s hands and onto the blacktop driveway. Impossibly, the young man was raising from the ground, his face soaked in a stream of blood. The young man’s progress was slow, making Luke wonder if he’d given the young man a concussion.
“Come on.” Luke said to Perkins, pulling on the old man’s arm. With Perkins on his feet, Luke turned his attention to Cesar who was panting and whining. Luke gingerly put his hands underneath the dog and lifted him up.
“Give him here.” Perkins said, taking the dog from Luke. The two stole down the street with the dog whining in Perkins’s arms.