Crook Takes Pawn Part 97

"Greg!!" Ed shouts after him. Greg turns. A headache is building behind Greg's eyes. It will certainly be a migraine, a real vein-squeezer. Ed hobbles up to him, wincing at the hot asphalt under his shoeless feet.
    "Listen," Ed says quietly, "I think there's one last thing to try."
    "Anything," Greg says with a strangled plea, "I'll do anything."
    "We can't use the car," Ed says, motioning to the Caprice, "but what about the van???"
    Greg stares at him stupidly. "What about the van?" Greg asks, "it's not mine. It's Rebecca's."
    Ed shrugs. "I'm just saying, is all," Ed says in a near-whisper, "you saved Rebecca's life. What's a van worth, compared to that?"
    Ed made the pitch. Greg thought it over. Rebecca's van was almost brand-new, a 2011 model. It was a luxury addition too, with video players in the headrest, and tons of other electronic doohickeys. Also, it came equipped with that OneStar service, which proved enough to stop a car-thief like Jessie. Had that system not been there, Julie may have never been found, at least not alive. It was a valuable vehicle.
    Greg admired Ed's guile. Who knew such a little guy could be capable of such a cunning idea. It was a little bit underhanded to tempt Greg with such an offer. Ed obviously sensed Greg's fervid emotional state, and played it to his advantage. Leverage.
    "I'll ask her," Greg says unsurely. Ed sinks down to sit on one of his overturned trashcans. Rebecca is leaning back in her seat, looking to nap. Greg knocks on the glass. The arm covering her eyes is lowered and she rolls down the window.
    "How did it go?" she asks in a sleep-clogged voice.
    Greg pauses. "Hey baby?" he says in a hushed tone, "Ed brought up something. I--I feel like the most selfish person in the world right now."
    "That's not true, Greg," she says, palming his cheek with her hand.
    "It IS true," he says, "coming back here just confirms what I've been denying. And I hate to ask you, Rebecca, but--"
    Greg stutters again. The request shames him. Once again, he must take from her, without giving. He cannot meet those eyes of hers, knowing he must again take advantage of her.
    "What is it, baby?" she asks, concerned.
    "They don't want the car," Greg says quickly, "but they were wondering if you could part with the van."
    "Like, sell it to them?" Rebecca asks.
    "They don't have much money," Greg says ashamedly, "because I wasn't there to provide. It would be a gift, I guess. For my laziness. If you don't want to, don't give it a second thought."
    "they want it?" she asks, "they can have it. I don't give a shit. Whatever you want, honey. It's all for you, Greg."
    Greg closes his eyes and breathes a sigh of flustered abatement.
    "Are you sure?" Greg whispers to her, "don't do it if you don't want to. I don't want to pressure you."
    Rebecca scoffs and waves a dismissive hand. "Pressure, shmessure. This van reminds me too much of that day, anyway. Time for a new start, right?"
    Poets could not accurately describe the bliss Greg felt. Many relationships felt love, but few couples carried that expression through their pocketbook. Rebecca had spent thousands and thousands of dollars on Greg currently. The total was still tabulating, and Greg knew he could never repay her, neither in cash, or in any other expression of fondness.

    They follow Ed inside, and he summons Diane from upstairs. Greg hears the stairs groan as she descends. Diane pauses, giving a steely look at Greg.
    "You're still here?" she says coldly.
    "I want to show you something," Ed says with vigor, "Come this way, honey!!"
    Rebecca was taking all she could from the van: the childseat, her purse, bags and towels. Upon consideration, Rebecca took one of the portable DVD players, but left the other for Diane. Rebecca's arms are full as she turns and sees them watching her.
    Rebecca smiles and gestures with a cock of her head. "Whattya think of YOUR new van?!!?" she says ecstatically.
    Diane is blank-faced. "What?"
    "It's ours, baby," Ed whispers to her with a grin, "she's giving it to us as a gift. Can you believe it???"
    "No, I can't," Diane says gruffly, "what are you tryin' to pull here?!?!"
Rebecca's smile falters.
    "Nothing," Rebecca says, "no scam. The van was paid off the day it was driven off the lot. Edward says you needed something bigger, and I'm happy to do it, to try to mend things between you and Greg."
    "I'll believe it when I see the vehicle title," Diane says reproachfully. In response, Rebecca yanks the title from inside the glovebox and clicks her pen.
    "Let's sign it over now," Rebecca says. She places the title onto the trunk of the Caprice, and signs her name in the seller blank. She offers the pen to Diane. With great uneasiness, Diane takes the pen, and studies the title like it was some incomprehensible document. Finally, she signs the buyer spot. Her name stands out from the semi-transparent green background of the paper.
    "What about where it says selling cost?" Diane asks nervously.
    "Just put zero," Rebecca says mildly.
    "No, that might arouse too many questions," Ed says, "Just put down $500. We'll have to pay the tax on that, but it won't be much. It'll be easier than having them be suspicious of the transfer."
    "I'm not paying $500," Diane says with a steadfast voice.
    "I know, but just write it down, will ya, Diane?" Ed says, speaking out against her for the first time in a long while. With a flurry of writing, is done.
    "Can you go to the DOT with me today, to transfer it over?" Diane asks Rebecca hesitantly. "before you leave, I just want to make sure there's no problems."  In Diane's esteem, Rebecca had gone from whore to benefactor in a days time.
    "Sure thing," Rebecca responds, "we can go do that, and maybe Greg can hang out with Raymond some more."
    Rebecca was the heroine this day. Single-handedly, she had turned this predicament around. Greg did not ask her what the blue-book value of the van was, but it had to be between $10-$15,000. That was a down-payment on a house, for chrissakes. But Rebecca dispatched with yet another of her earthly possessions, for Greg's well-being.
    "C'mon, I'll show you all the bells and whistles of this bitch!!" Rebecca says animatedly to Diane, as they climb into the van.

    Greg nervously follows Ed up to Raymond's room. As they approach, the heavy sound effects of clashing steel can be heard. Ed knocks. The noise ceases. Ed opens the door.
    Raymond has stayed in the same room since he was in diapers. Greg gazes down and sees the impressions from the now-gone crib settled into the floor. Raymond looks warily at them, poised on a red and black futon. The shades are drawn, and Raymond's pale moon-face is illuminated by the video game's pause menu. Greg feels terrible. His son looks closer to an elderly shut-in than an adolescent boy.
    "Your dad's still here," Ed says, "we just wanted to let you know, we've got a new van, buddy!! A gift from Greg here, your dad really pulled through for us."
    Raymond resumes his game. Being many years until Raymond can drive, the triumph is lost to him. Greg gingerly sits down beside Raymond. The boy scooches away to the edge of the futon, until one elbow is resting on the wooden frame. It doesn't impede his battle at all.
    "Whatcha playing, Ray?" Greg asks. Several seconds go by before Ray mumbles a response. "Killer Kombat," he says. IT is a fighting game, and Greg is actually shocked by how much blood and gore is flying on-screen. In comparison to Greg's blood loss on the robbery day, it seems almost comical. Each uppercut ejects a spewing cloud of red spray. Ray is quite skilled at his little game. He makes short work of the computer opponent, until the CPU character is dazed. With a rapid motion of buttons, Ray's character turns into a tiger and rips the other player to pieces. The words "Execution" come on screen in dripping red font. Even the titles bleed in this game.
    Both Ed and Greg exclaim at this scene. Ray pinches off a smile.
    "That's pretty good, Ray," Greg commends, "you're a natural."
    "The computer is easy to beat, once you figure out his moves," Ray says softly, "real people are harder to fight."
    "Do you have a lot of friends you play this with?" Greg asks. Rays smile goes away. The boy answers without answering. He is alone. Fatherless, and friendless. Greg's stomach gurgles in sympathy with his son. Greg picks up the controller.
    "Ok, show me how to do this," Greg says.
    Ray does not take it easy on his father. The boy pummels Greg's character, never allowing any recovery. Ray even leg-sweeps when Greg's character is on the ground, chaining together one long combo that ends with Greg's empty healthbar. Greg continues. He senses Raymond's hostility, and hopes this is some method of relieving some of that pent-up rage. They go round, after round, after round. Eventually, Raymond is sweating with the effort of vigorously pressing the buttons. Greg has managed to fight back, chipping away at Ray's health, but it is still no contest. Greg finally puts the controller down and waves his arms.
    "I give up!!" Greg says funnily, "you are the master! i have no chance."
    Raymond turns off the game system and stretches. His portly belly is exposed as his shirt rides up. Greg wonders if exercise would reduce that paunch.
    Ed has opened the blinds and cracked the window a touch.
    "IT's a beautiful day," Ed comments, "We should go outside and enjoy it."
    "I don't like going outside," Ray says, as he thumbs through the cases of his extensive video game collection.
    "C'mon, Ray," Ed pleads, "lets get some fresh air. You've stayed indoors long enough. Time to see the daylight."
    Once outside, the three males stand in the front yard, with their collective thumb up their butts. What to do? The heat was a wave of discomfort, rolling off the cement in blurry mirages. Greg wasn't acclimated to the triple-digit temperatures like these California residents were. The thought of physical exertion was not to Greg's liking, but he'd do it anyway.
    "Do we have a football?" Ray inquires. Ed flips a remote and the garage swings upward on its track. So, they did fix that door. As Ed digs around the plethora of junk, Ray wheels out his bicycle. It is a stunt bike, with pegs on both the front and back wheels, on one side. This is done for the purpose of rail-sliding. Greg doubts his boy will ever attempt such a feet. But Ray does startle Greg with a few tricks. 
    Ray circles up the block, and builds up speed. With a grunt of effort, Ray pulls back on his handle bars, and rides a stable wheelie. Greg smiles and applauds him. Ray does another wheelie, this time peddling as his front tire is raised, increasing the length of his stunt.
    "Good stuff, dude!!" Greg says, clapping his son on the back as he passes. Ray seems to be in a showy mood now. Ray slows down considerably, glancing down at the pavement intensely. Without notice, Ray springs into the air, with both front and back tires airborne. Although the back wheel just barely leaves the ground, it still qualifies as a bunny-hop.
    Greg encourages him during it all. Ray steps onto front peg, facing backwards, and propels the front tire forward with his foot. It's not exactly like watching Matt Hoffman tear around, but Greg is ecstatic.
    For his final feat, Ray builds up more speed and launches off a square of curb, like a ramp. Upon impact, Ray's foot slips however, and the boy racks himself on the upper frame.
    "Bwoah!!" Ray grunts, as his bike continues forward, wobbling with his awkward weight. He tumbles from the bike, onto the browned grass of their front yard. Greg walks over to him. The grass crunches under his feet. There was a severe drought in Iowa, but that just meant the grass would yellow, or turn brown. But here in Cali, Greg could see some people's entire front lawns of just dirt. It seemed to be hitting the entire country at once.
    "Are you okay?" greg asks, alarmed.
    "Ugh, my balls," Ray says weakly. To Greg's disbelief, the kid is grinning, although t is a scrunched up smile due to the pain. Greg plops down beside his ailing boy.
    "That's like, the worst pain ever," Ray bemoans.
    "Maybe," Greg says, "but I think I got one to top it. You see this scar here?"
    Ray turns his head to the scar on Greg's jugular.
    "Wicked," Ray says breathlessly, "what happened?"
Diane and Ed never told Ray. Greg surmises that Diane wanted no positive light to be shed on Greg, and so she withheld the shooting info.
    "I own a store in Iowa," Greg explains, "your grand-dad George died, and I inherited it. Last winter, a guy tried to rob me. You know Rebecca, the woman I'm with now?"
    Ray nods his head.
    "The guy tried to kill her and her baby, too. He had a gun, and I had a gun."
    "He shot you?" Ray asks in wonder. Greg nods. Upon further reflection, he laughs. "I also got shot in the ass," Greg says.
    Ray and Greg, father and son, both share an uproarious laugh.
    "My names Forest, Forest Gump, and I got shot in the BUTT-OX." Ray says in a decent impersonation of the fictional movie hero.
    "I can laugh about it now," Greg says aimlessly, "but it wasn't so funny at the time."
    "You killed him? The robber?" Ray asks. Greg nods. It is easier than saying the words aloud. Silence settles between them, broken only by Ed's impatient rummaging in the garage.
    "So, my dad's a hero." Ray says absently, rubbing his aching nuts. The hair on the nape of Greg's neck rises with dimpled flesh, despite the heat. His lost-son has addressed him as a paternal figure, and a courageous one at that.
    "I found the pig-skin!!!" Ed proclaims, holding the football in his mitts.

    Ed, Greg and Ray are all tossing the ball around when Rebecca and Diane return. Diane is driving, and Greg sees an unbelievable sight. Diane is laughing. He sees Rebecca motioning wildly, leaving Diane in stitches. Rebecca could charm the devil himself.
    They exit the vehicle carrying bags.
    "We've got food for y'all!!" Diane bellows, as she cradles a bucket of chicken in the crook of her arm.
    They break bread together. Well, they break biscuits anyway. After Ed and Greg drag their wooden picnic table to the front, they sit down to eat. The chicken is hot and fresh and delicious. Everyone is all smiles and chuckles. The stripped limbs of the chicken are stacked in a pile like a carcass. Everyone is full. Everyone is happy.

    "So, I'd like to call Ray, like once a week, if that's allright," Greg says to Diane. They stand in the doorway to Greg's former home. He is no longer the man of this house, but Ed is sure to carry on. Night has reduced the heat, but increased the raucous noise of the cicadas all around. Moths bump the glass of the porchlight, like dazed refugee bugs.
    "I don't see a problem with that," Diane says. Her civil manner is much more approachable than her other modes of operation. There is no further talk of money. A 15 grand vehicle for 6 years of misery has settled the matter.
    "Maybe I can stop out for some holidays?" Greg asks, "Like 4th of July, or Christmas, or Thanksgiving?"
    "We'll have to make plans," Diane comments. The two exes stare at each other one last time. Raymond is in bed. He and Greg had spent the last several hours talking and mending figurative fences. Greg is literally on the threshold, preparing to leave. But now, there is not the sense of having to scramble for words, or thoughts. It was all laid bare.
    "Goodbye, Diane," Greg says, extending his hand. Diane studies it with a trace of begrudging resentment. But the look disappears, and she shakes.
    "YOu can call me anytime," Rebecca mentions, "I have free incoming nationwide long distance."
    Diane nods and chews her lip nervously. Without ceremony, Diane steps forward and embraces Rebecca.
    "Thank you," Diane whispers through Rebecca's brown locks, "thank you so much."
    "Don't mention it, lady," Rebecca says, slightly muffled from Diane's slab of shoulder. Greg waves farewell as he and Rebecca climb into the Caprice for the return ride. The yellow house turns red as the taillights come on. The house is now orangeish in that ambience. As the car rumbles away, Greg follows the shape of Diane in the rearview until it recedes from view.

Uploaded 07/26/2012
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