she did not want to let jeffrey go to mcdonalds by himself, but what could she do?
she had promised him he could go if he behaved, and he had behaved.
and he had done his lessons. he had read the books dr stimson had given him.
dr stimsom had not tested jeffrey on the books yet, but she had assured margo that it was no big deal, that it did not matter so much if jeffrey even understood what was in the books, just that he had the discipline to read them.
and so far as margo could see, jeffrey had actually read them.
it was a nice sunny day, margo could not use the weather as an excuse to even hint that maybe jeffrey could put off his trip until another day.
another day when he did not have that look in his eye.
when he had the look in the eye, margo did not dare contradict him, or make any suggestion that he might take as a contradiction. like, make some kind of a hint as to how long his visit to mcdonalds might last.
when jeffrey first started going out by himself to fast food and other public places, margo had been tempted to follow him in her car and watch - “stake out” - whatever premises he was visiting, but the thought of the kind of rage it would provoke made her break out in a cold sweat.
no, there was nothing else for it.
margo still had faith in dr samantha stimson, who had been recommended by her friends who had similar problem children, and who had such wonderful credentials and testimonials , but still -
every time jeffrey was completely out of her sight and reach, she felt an overpowering premonition of total disaster.
but what could she do?
jeffrey was all dressed up and ready to go. in his kansas jayhawks jacket and cap, which, as margo. knew, “showed he meant business”. whatever that meant, and she could only hope it never meant anything.
he was shaved as well as he was going to be - but with his judgment day five o’clock shadow showing through as savagely as error. margo thought he might look less intimidating if he actually grew a beard, but jeffrey had his reasons - he always had his reasons, though he never revealed them - for not doing so.
and of course he had that look in his eye.
“well, have a good time,” margo told him, with her best attempt at an encouraging smile.
“i’ll try,” jeffrey answered, with what margo could only hope was his attempt at a friendly smile.
margo watched from the window as jeffrey walked off down the street with his unique walk, where he managed to be both slumping and stiff at the same time.
at least it is a nice day, margo thought, he won’t come home dripping wet. nothing could ever persuade jeffrey to carry or use an umbrella, no matter what the weather or the forecast.
margo wanted to call dr stimson, but willed herself not to. what would she say? she would just be wasting dr stimson’s time and abusing her trust.
jeffrey was twenty-four years old.
margo was forty-one years old. after twenty-four years of jeffrey, sometimes she felt she was one hundred and forty-one years old, and sometimes like she was still seventeen years old.
the same seventeen years old she was on that fateful day when jeffrey was just a gleam in satan’s eye and half an ounce in her uterus and she decided to let him see the light of day.
a decision she had regretted every day for twenty-four years.
and that even though she never said so outright, that jeffrey knew she regretted.
and she knew that he knew.
and he knew that she knew that he knew.
walking along, jeffrey was in a pretty good mood.
as he always was, when he could get away from margo at all.
how he wished she would get a job, and leave him alone for about eight hours a day!
but there was no sense thinking such thoughts now, when he was having a taste of freedom.
he could think those thoughts all the time.
the streets were empty, as they always were.
jeffrey wished that they were not, but he knew why they were not.
because they were all sitting inside, on their laptops and tablets and phones.
things were a little better with the new phones, because a few more people would come out into the fresh air. but they still walked around with their eyes on the phones, hardly looking where they were going.
jeffrey dreamed of a world like he had read about, where streets and parks were filled with people, sitting on steps and boxes and arguing, standing on soapboxes and shouting, getting in each other’s faces..
maybe even getting in fights and kicking ass!
but the days were gone, probably forever.
jeffrey felt that in such a world, with no web or internet and everybody out in the streets, he, jeffrey, would have a better chance of realizing his dream.
his dream of starting a new religion and conquering the world.
jeffrey liked mcdonalds because he could sit there and sometimes overhear what people were saying.
but most of the time he had to just imagine, or try to figure out, what people were saying.
oliver stared at the rare treat he had allowed himself - the big mac and fries with a medium coke. it looked quite substantial compared to his usual bowl of vegetable soup, and he was glad he had bought the medium coke to wash it down with and not a small coke as he had originally intended.
he always stared at his food for about a minute before he bit into it, whether he prepared it himself, as he usually did, bought it and took it home, or ate it in a restaurant,
oliver had read many articles of pop psychology in the newspapers over the years, and he knew that this was because his brain was “wired” to be on the alert for rival predators who might wish to seize his freshly caught bounty.
now, for the first time in his life, he actually felt the gaze of a “rival predator”.
the harmless looking young man at the next table, whose existence had barely registered on oliver when he had sat down, was staring at him.
oliver had pretty good peripheral vision, and he had no doubt that the young man was indeed staring at him, though making a comically obvious effort not to appear to do so.
did he, oliver, have something on his clothes or in his hair? he quickly looked down at the front of his shirt and jacket and saw nothing. he glanced even more quickly down at his fly. he did not think it was open and it was not.
as unlikely as it seemed that there might be anything in his hair, he ran the fingers of his left hand through it as casually as he could.
perhaps the young man thought he recognized him? ah - that must be it. of course he did not really know oliver, because hardly anybody did.
oliver turned and faced the young man . he looked right into the young man’s eyes - right into his thick glasses - because he caught him staring right at him.
morley was stunned. this was the last thing he had thought might happen. he did not know what to do.
he heard himself saying - “excuse me”. that was safe enough. then what?
the man morley though of as “gorbachev” looked at him with no expression except mild curiosity.
“yes?” “gorbachev” asked. “what can i do for you?”
morley’s brain was an uncrossable burning desert. but he had to say something.
“um - you wouldn’t happen to have a spare packet of ketchup would you?”
“no,” oliver answered with a straight face. “i don’t use ketchup myself.” he laughed. “you see, i pretty much live on tomato soup and vegetable soup so when i come in to a place like this, the last thing i want is ketchup. in fact, one of the things i like about the big mac is that it doesn’t even have a slice of tomato in it. just two all-beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions, with a special sauce.”
“i see,” said morley. here i am, he thought, having a conversation with a serial killer about slices of tomato.
“but,” oliver went on, “if i had purchased a sandwich with a slice of tomato, i would have been happy to give it to you.”
“thank you,” morley said. “that would have been very nice of you.”
“i thought i saw some packets of ketchup on the counter on my way over,” oliver continued. “so i don’t expect you should have any problem.”
oliver wondered if the young man was incapacitated in some way, but as he did not see a cane or brace or any indication that he was, it was not in his nature to say something like, “what, are you crippled?”
so he just smiled politely at morley.
was the guy laughing at him? morley felt a sudden spasm of rage at his own doofusness.
“you know,” morley blurted out, “i didn’t really want any ketchup at all.”
“oh?” oliver asked, still politely, “then what did you want?”
“i - i thought you looked like someone i know.”
“oh.” oliver looked a little disappointed at so anticlimactic an answer. “well, there is no harm in that. they say everybody in the world has a double.”
“but you don’t really look that much like him - this guy i know.”
oliver nodded, and there the conversation might have ended, except that morley suddenly got up and moved to oliver’s table and sat down across from him.
“have you ever heard of larry landsdowne?” morley blurted out.
oliver had almost gotten his big mac to his mouth, but he put it back down. “yes, he is a serial killer.”
“how much do you know about him?” morley asked.
“i saw a show on channel 8 about him. “ oliver looked at the big mac in his hand. would it be rude, he wondered, to take a big bite while the young man was questioning him.
not that the questioning bothered him, or even struck him as curious. like the conversations he had, or tried to have, with telemarketers, it was a nice respite from his tedious existence.
“i don’t know much else,” oliver added apologetically.
“are you interested in serial killers?” morley asked.
“yes, i am.”
“really?” morley suspected that oliver’s calm demeanor was standard for serial killers.
“yes, i am, but i am more interested in missing children.”
“oh.” morley noticed oliver looking at his food. “don’t mind me. go ahead and eat your burger.”
“thank you.” oliver took a big bite.
“i’m writing a book about larry landsdowne,” morley announced.
“really?” oliver replied, after he finished chewing. “that is interesting.”
“do you read true crime books?”
“no, i don’t read books much. i read the newspapers. “ oliver smiled. “that makes me kind of old-fashioned, i guess.”
“you don’t read books at all?” morley asked. what am i doing, morley thought, having this stupid conversation with a serial killer? and why is he going along with it? why doesn’t he just tell me to get lost?
“my mother had some books and i read those,” said oliver. “books by agatha christie and ross macdonald and james patterson.”
“james patterson!” morley exclaimed, “he is my favorite. especially the ones he writes with howard roughan and michael ledgwidge.”
unsuspected by themselves, the conversation between morley and oliver was being closely watched by another patron of mcdonalds.
“the white race, billy - the pissed on, shit on, downtrodden white race.”
mitch pulled the datsun over about a block from the arby’s, beside a lot where a house was under construction.
the lot across the street was vacant, and the two houses that were visible from where they sat had their lights off.
“aren’t we going go to arby’s ?” donna asked from the back seat.
“what are you, starving?” mitch answered.
“i could use a bite.”
“you can get one later. i think this is a good place to talk. don’t you agree. billy?”
“we can talk wherever you want,” larry told him.
“we could talk at arby’s,” donna said. “nobody’s going to be listening to anything we have to say. or give a shit about it if they did.”
”i said we can to go arby’s later. “
“what, you think arby’s is bugged?” donna persisted. “he’s more likely to be bugged himself.”
“i don’t think so,” said mitch.
“then why don’t we find out? we should have done it back at his house. just find out, then we can all be happy.”
mitch sighed. “sure, why not? you don’t mind, do you, billy? we are all friends here.”
“mind what?” larry asked, although he had an idea of what they were talking about.
“me checking you out,” donna said. suddenly she leaned over the seat, grabbed larry around the neck, and shoved her hand inside his shirt.
larry shuddered at her touch. it was like having a big fat cat crawling over him.
donna reached a little further down and grabbed him around his crotch. “unzip your fly,” she told larry.
“what?” larry gasped. mitch laughed.
“i’m not interested in your needly dick, i just want to see if you have a wire on your leg.”
“can’t you tell just from the outside?”
“unzip your fly and let’s get this over with. you think this is comfortable for me?”
larry complied, and donna with her head almost down in his lap, ran her hand into his pants and down his thighs.
at least she was quick about it, thought larry. does she do this sort of thing all the time? who are these people?
“now your ankles and we are all set,” said donna, leaning back but still with one arm around larry’s neck.
“put your feet up on the dashboard,” mitch told him. “pull your pants up snd your socks down.”
larry did as he was told. donna and mitch gazed thoughtfully at his bare ankles.
“all right, we are all set now,” donna announced and sat back in her seat behind larry. “nothing personal, my man, but you know how it is in this evil world.”
larry, who watched a lot of spy movies and tv shows, thought, yes, unless i have some kind of transmitter in my teeth, or in my skull, but of course he did not say so.
mitch pointed at larry. “hey, pal, your fly is open.” mitch and donna both laughed at this.
“i don’t think billy was too thrilled at your touch,” mitch said as larry pulled his zipper back up. “but i always knew he was that way.”
“all right,” said donna, “where were we?”
“where were we?,” mitch repeated. “where we are is now we are all friends, we are going to have a nice little talk about the old days.”
“but,“ larry repeated yet again, “i don’t know - o k, maybe don’t remember - anything you are talking about.”
“jesus christ!” mitch banged his hand on the steering wheel.
“can i make a suggestion?” donna asked.
“what is your suggestion?’” mitch answered her, glaring at larry.
“just fucking humor him. isn’t that what you were going to do? just humor him. instead of him saying i don’t remember and you saying yes you do every fucking sentence all night long, just tell him who he was and what you two did together and we can go from there.”
“yes, that sounds good,” mitch agreed. he took a deep breath and leaned back in his seat and looked out the window away from larry. “all right, billy, you know what ‘soft son’ is, don’t you?”
“uh - no.”
mitch laughed. then i guess you must not get the newsletter of the national equality watchdog center.”
“the what?” the name sounded vaguely familiar to larry, something he had heard on the news or read online or in the paper.
“’soft son’ , mitch went on, “is what you call an acronym. the first letters make a word. s-o-f-t-s-o-n. and you know what that stands for, right?”
“why don’t you tell me?”
“it stands for ’sick of faggots, totally sick of negroes’. it’s an organization. me and you started it, even though i always knew you were really a faggot yourself. just the two of us.”
“at some fucking college,” put in donna. “a couple of bright boys.”
“that’s right,” said mitch. “at wade hampton teachers college. just the two of us. and do you know what?””
“no. what?” larry asked.
“from that humble beginning, we are now the third worst hate group in america, according to the national equality watchdog center. the third worst.”
“that’s third worst,” said donna, “not third biggest. there’s a difference.”
“she’s right,”said larry, “but still - third worst. that is something. so it’s not like we are nothing.”
larry did not know what to say. the crazier this gets, he thought, the more certain it is these two idiots will finally realize their mistake. but then what?
“this is a lot to take in,” larry said out loud.
“whatever you say, billy,” mitch smiled at him.
“i - um - whatever i might have been when i was younger, right now i don’t really have anything against faggots - or against negroes.”
mitch just laughed.
“i don’t think we really give a shit,” said donna.
maybe i should have called the police, larry thought.
but he knew it was too late.
he finished making his cheese and tomato sandwich.
“mitch” and “donna” - larry still doubted those were their real names - seated at the kitchen table
with their beers in front of them, watched as larry put the sandwich into the toaster oven to grill it.
larry stood in front of the toaster oven watching the sandwich.
“you going to stand there and watch that thing?” donna asked.
mitch took a sip of his beer. “billy likes to make sure things are done right, don’t you, billy? that is the way he always was,” he told donna. “that is why he is going to be such a valuable addition to our crew.”
“that thing should have a little bell in it that rings when it’s done,” said donna. “this is the fucking 21st century.”
“yes, but billy likes to make sure himself,” said mitch. “it’s a good way to be. ain’t that right, billy?”
“whatever you say,” larry answered.
“sounds like a good way to always be slowing things down,” said donna, “but what do i know?”
larry took the sandwich out and put it on a plate and took the plate over to the table.
mitch and donna continued to watch him as he got a small carton of milk out of the refrigerator. mitch wth an amused expression, donna with a look of disgust - but that seemed to be her permanent look.
“we finally ready to talk?” mitch asked when larry sat down.
“you can talk,” larry answered, “but can i say one thing first?”
“sure,” mitch answered, with a hint of exasperation.
“i don’t remember anything about - about when we were together before.” he held up his hand. “i am not arguing with you. i just don’t remember - i must have amnesia or something, that is all i’m saying.
so if i am going to make sense of anything you tell me, maybe you should fill me in on - on when we knew each other before.”
“really?” mitch looked really annoyed now.
“this is bullshit,” said donna.
“you are starting to try my patience, billy,” said mitch, “just when i thought we were getting on the same page.”
larry just shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich.
“you know what i think?” said donna.
“no, what?” mitch asked.
“i think this place is fucking bugged.”
mitch snorted. “i don’t think so. what, did he know we were coming?”
“maybe not, but think about it. here he is, asking you to ’fill you in’. the oldest trick in the book when a place is bugged. ‘refresh my memory.’ ain’t that right, slick, ‘refresh my fucking memory’ while the tape is running, so everything is spelled right out for the prosecutors.”
“you checked the place out,” said mitch. “or did you?”
“i was looking for guns, not wires.”
“but -“ mitch was still not convinced. “why would he have anything? we were never that big before, that anyone would bother to bug him.”
“maybe he went on to bigger things. maybe he is in the witness protection program, that would explain why he has a new name.”
“yeah. it would, wouldn’t it? is that right, billy? are you in the witness protection program, my old friend?”
larry laughed and held up his hands. “no, i am not in the witness protection program. all right, don’t tell me anything. i will try to make sense out of what you tell me the best i can.”
“on the other hand,” said donna, “he might not even be the guy.”
“oh, he’s billy, all right. he admits it - “
“he sort of admits it.”
“but it’s him. i know him, not just his face, but the way he acts - the little pussy way he walks and talks - but you can count on him when the game is on the line, right, billy?”
donna glared at larry, who was taking another bite of his sandwich. “i say let’s get out of here. let's play it safe. we can talk to him in the car - or go someplace, like the arby’s we passed coming here.”
“maybe you’re right. how about it, billy? you mind going for a little ride? even though we just got here.”
“sure, why not?”
“you can finish your sandwich.”
“that’s all right.” larry was happy to get them away from the cellar. “i will put this in the refrigerator, and heat it up later.”
“that is disgusting,” said donna. “letting a greasy sandwich like that get cold and then heating it up? that’s just sick.”
larry ignored her and got up. he put his milk and sandwich in the refrigerator.
mitch chugged the rest of his beer. donna just left hers on the table.
larry followed them outside. the woman across the street, mrs carter, was standing on her lawn.
“good evening, mister miller.”
“good evening, mrs carter.”
“a nice evening.”
“yes it is.” larry smiled at mrs carter and followed mitch and donna to their car, a gray datsun.
neither mitch nor donna had turned to look directly at mrs carter. mitch got behind the wheel. he pointed to the front passenger seat and larry got in it.
“nosy neighbor?” he asked larry.
“not particularly, that i ever noticed.”
“let’s get out of here,” donna said from the back seat. “let’s go to arby’s. get some real food, not some crap somebody made in their own house.”
mitch pulled out. they drove a few blocks in silence.
“now,” said mitch, “we can talk. finally.”
“about what?” larry asked. this is getting old, he thought.
“about what? the cause, billy, the cause. what else would we talk about?’
“oh? and what cause might that be?”
“what cause? you ask what cause? “ mitch laughed and turned to larry. “the white race, billy - the white race. the pissed on, shit on, downtrodden white race.”