Squatters

 ‘Pop quiz,’ Monty said, holding forth in his new abode.  ‘List Your Top Five All-Time Tragic Rock ‘n Roll Deaths.’ 

‘Bon Scott,’ Marty said.  Marty held a can of black spray paint in one hand and a balled sock in the other.  He doused the sock with paint and held it over his nose, inhaling the vapor.  When he took the rag away he didn’t seem to mind the black spot on the tip of his nose.

‘Ronnie VanZant,’ I said.  Marty offered me the sock but I wasn’t having anything to do with it.

 ‘For the sake of simplicity, let’s group all the Lynyrd Skynyrd deaths together,’ Monty said, taking the sock from Marty.

‘Kurt Cobain,’ Marty said.   

‘John Bonham,’ Monty said through the sock. 

‘John Lennon.’  That was me—the purist. 

Marty and Monty chose Gabe’s shack as their pied-a-terre.  It had laid vacant for a week as they slept in the yard.  When Gabe never materialized, my friends took over.

The shack was unpainted, its wood left to splinter.  In places the floor and walls were beginning to rot, victim to the wet Mississippi seasons.  Though high-ceilinged, the place didn’t have much floor space, with no more than twenty feet of wall on any side.  One wide window faced the house, but that wasn’t enough to keep it well lit, not with the pines blocking out the sun.  Gabe had stashed a bagged-out, flea-infested mattress in one corner, and Marty had claimed it for his own without any reservations.  Monty had matched his cohort by constructing a nest out of hay.  It had started as a small pile, little more than a glorified dog bed, but over time Monty had accumulated more and more bedding; a crow building his home.  Various garments were now incorporated into the nest, along with a bail of cotton that Monty had stolen from somewhere.  The nest took up half the shack. 

Tito the Mannequin sat on the floor against the east wall.  On several occasions I had burst into the shed expecting to see my friends, only to find vacant-eyed Tito (who always seemed to be telling me something, though I wasn’t sure what). 

Feeling uninhibited on account of the sock, Monty turned his black-tipped nose in my direction.

‘So you gotta hook me up with Cathy?’

Here we go.  Monty couldn’t stop talking about Cathy.  She’d slain him at first glance, or so he swooned.  I’d never seen the guy so out of his gore on account of a girl. 

‘You’re gonna have to figure out your own way,’ I said.  ‘I don’t have any insight.’ 

Might help if you were related to her, I thought.

Monty fawned over Cathy at every opportunity.  He believed religiously in the seductive power of a massage, and with any opening he would begin kneading her shoulders. He was so obvious that even Aunt Faye noticed, from the bottom of her narcotic binge. ‘Hands off, Reginald!’ Monty quickly withdrew his touch and avoided Faye from there on out (which was proving easy: she was typically either in bed or on the couch watching television…she certainly didn’t know M&M had evicted her son from his shack and were now tattooing it).

‘You think she’s a virgin, Jack?’ Monty said.

‘I’m pretty sure Cathy’s a virgin,’ I said. She’s seventeen and doesn’t have a boyfriend.

‘I know! What an opportunity.’

With aerosol fury Marty began to detail the side of the wall with the black spray paint.  Monty laughed and stood up. 

‘Do we have more paint?’

‘The black doesn’t show up well,’ Marty said.

 ‘I saw some red in the tool shed,’ Monty said, diving out of the door.  I watched Marty continue his expressive scrawling.

‘What is it you’re doing?’ I said.

‘Tagging,’ Marty said, proud as a father. 

‘Are those…’

‘They’re gang tags.’

‘What tags?’

I didn’t get an answer.

Monty returned with a can of red paint and the defamation of Gabe’s shack continued: red and black crossing and overlapping like a bed of ivy.  When they had finished, Marty and Monty sat looking at the walls in awe.  Monty found just enough red paint left to do the sock treatment once more. 

‘She’s just so hot,’ Monty said out of the blue. No one responded but Monty felt compelled to continue.  ‘She’s just has the nicest body, man.  So awesome.  She’s just curvy, man.  It’s trippy.’ 

‘Getting lightheaded,’ I said. ‘I’m getting out of this damn shack.’ 

As I came around the side of the house I saw a sheriff cruiser in the yard. I came up short, sure they were here for me, then remembered it was just my cousin. Then Mitchell pushed open the front door and led his mother out on one arm. She wasn’t moving very fast, and when she stepped out into the sun she looked up in pain, shielding her face.

‘She’s in a bad way,’ Mitchell said without looking at me; he was concentrated on the footing in front of his mother. ‘I’m taking her to the hospital.’

‘I suppose that’s a good idea,’ I said. I felt bad for my aunt, and admired my cousin’s concern. And yet I couldn’t deny that this exit was going to simplify my life. One less layer of scrutiny, and one less reason for Mitchell to come by the house.

‘Let me know what I can do to help,’ I said as Mitchell seated his mother in the passenger side of his cruiser. After he’d buckled her seatbelt and closed her door he walked over to me, standing close to me (I wondered if he could smell the paint fumes).

‘Looks to me like this little summer vacation of yours is turning into a party. I know about the digging and the yayhoos in back. I’m going to be keeping an eye on the place—and on my sister.’

I tried to play if off as no big deal.

‘I won’t deny we’re enjoying Poscataw County, Mitchell. But we don’t mean anybody any trouble.’

This seemed to anger Mitchell.

‘I hear you’ve been in touch with the Calvert Family Trust.’

(If only he knew I’d been in touch with both Calvert Family Trusts!)

‘I have,’ I said. ‘And frankly wanted to ask you. What is the deal with that? Why is a guy named Bingham administering a trust with our name on it?’

‘All you need to know,’ Mitchell planted his pointer finger in the middle of my chest, ‘is that the Jackson Family Trust is being investigated and you need to stay the hell out of the way. Got it?’

I wasn’t one to back down, but this was a pointless fight. I nodded, somewhat sheepishly, and watched him get into his cruiser and drive away.

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