Tim’s face hurt. Shards of wood slit his skin and sweat oozed into the cuts, burning, bringing tears to his eyes. He grimaced thinking how long it’s gonna take to remove all the splinters and he pictured Jason’s face, screwed up in concentration with a pair of tweezers in his hand, leaning towards him. A creaking stair brought his mind into the present. Danger was upstairs.
Tim understood the two men in his home meant to hurt them. Larry, the guy who’d shot at them, was the unthinking bully. A coward who liked to terrorize when he knew he had the upper hand. Tim had seen his like before. He would also be the guy who’d take off if there was a possibility he could get hurt. He’d be easy to handle. Just get him to think he’d get hurt trying to take Tim and Jason on and he’d leave, tail between his legs. The new guy, Lyle, would be the troublesome one.
Fear and that man were distant cousins. His voice remained steady, unaffected by events but amused at the same time. Lyle enjoyed this new world. Tim sensed the world falling apart was Lyle’s idea of a good time. An overwhelming urge to use the washroom overcame Tim. Fear tickled his bowels and pressured his bladder. He tapped his feet. What the hell was Lyle doing up there? He strained to hear something. Even Lyle speaking to them was better than the silence.
“So. What’s it gonna be?”
“I told you already. No.” Jason said. Tim quivered by his side, his earlier bravado gone.
“That is very disappointing. You see, I need to know if you’re hiding something from me.”
“Frankly, I don’t give a crap what you need.”
“You should, friend.”
“I’m not your goddamn friend.”
“I don’t like the tone you’re using fella. I don’t think you’ve considered the precarious position you’re in.”
“Ha! My position? I’ll see you before you see me if you try to come down those stairs. I’ll have the drop on you every time!”
“Yeah. That’s true. If I wanted to come down those stairs. Which I do, but not on your terms. What you need to think about is what am I willing to do to get what I want.”
“Get out of here. You’re the only one who’s going to get hurt here.”
“Man, you just don’t get it,” like a teacher disappointed with a student’s answer. “You’re gonna let me come down there and check if there are any females down there worth taking. And then, I’m gonna take your guns and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. If you’re gonna give me anymore of your shit, I’m gonna kill you both. I’m getting tired of fucking around here.”
“Oh yeah? How you gonna do that? I’ve got the gun down here.”
“Well, you see. I’m a problem solver. And I look at you guys down there, hunkered in, ready to defend with a hail of bullets and I think to myself, why go down there? Why not get them to come up to me?”
“Good luck with that! You’re crazy if you think we’ll come up to you!”
“Oh, you’d come. I expect you’d come running pretty quick after I toss some beer bottles filled with gasoline down there. Of course, I’d have set some rags in the top, lit, before I tossed them. A hillbilly Molotov cocktail. They’d break right open on that concrete floor down there. Yeah, I expect you’d run up here real quick then.”
Jason gulped and glanced at Tim. What could they do? Let the guy down here? Let him take Jason’s gun so he could shoot them both in the face? Tim chewed on his lip, his body buzzing electric, his mind churning for answers. There’s no way he could take Jason’s gun. They’d have no hope then. Sweat beaded Jason’s face. Indecision bulged his eyes.
This time Tim spoke, “We’ve got no women down here. The only woman who ever lived here was my mom and she’s dead in the garage. Go take a look if you want.”
“Yeah. Saw her already. I must say, the bugs surely did a number on her. And, like I said before, I’m not gonna take your word for it.”
“Fine. You send Larry down here, unarmed and he can take a look around and tell you we’ve been telling the truth all along. You’re not getting our guns. You wanna burn us out. Go ahead. But just know we’ll be coming up shooting.”
Tim turned to Jason. Jason nodded at him. Tim didn’t want Lyle to come down here. He was the dangerous one. Better to send Larry. He’d be easier to manage.
“That seems like a pretty good idea young fella. Except, I’d hate to leave here without more guns. They’ve become an essential tool lately.”
“Yes they have. And we’re keeping ours. They’ll keep us alive.”
Lyle chuckled, “The only reason you’ll stay alive today is because I’ll let you. But it seems we’ve reached an agreement. Larry!”
A chair scraped back and feet pounded above, “Yeah Lyle?”
“Give me that shotgun.”
“Larry?” Lyle’s cold voice moved through Tim, threat implied in his tone.
Sound of metal hitting a palm, then, “Now go down there and tell me what they got.”
“They got guns, Lyle!” Larry whined and Tim knew it would do no good.
“Why are you making me repeat myself? Do I look like a parrot? Get the fuck down there!”
“Alright! Alright! Uh…what am I looking for?”
“Larry. You are looking for women. You know, the gender without cocks, you goddamn moron!”
“Ok, Lyle. I’m going.”
The stairs creaked and a black boot appeared.
“Don’t shoot! I’m unarmed!”
Black jeans, dirty and frayed moved into view and then a large belly covered in a stretched black shirt. Beady eyes surrounded by greasy hair and a mouth hidden by an unkempt beard, Larry surveyed the room, aware of Jason’s gun pointed at him.
From upstairs, “Well?”
Larry said, “They got nothing. Less than nothing. Some mattresses, not much food and definitely no women.”
“Alright. Damnit! Let’s get out of here then. Find us some pussy elsewheres.”
Larry nodded at them, grateful they hadn’t shot him, and he walked up the stairs.
A whispered conversation wafted downstairs. Footsteps thundered into the garage and Tim shrugged at Jason. Tim stood and crept to the base of the stairs, listening. Running steps approached him and Tim jumped back. A bottle flew down the stairs with a flame licking the rim. It hit the ground, bounced once and when it hit the floor again, it smashed spilling liquid everywhere. Flames billowed.