Fiction Saturday Returns With – “Family Matters” Part Ten
432 Wilson Ave. #6. I’m not saying it was a dump. That would be an insult to dumps. 432 Wilson Ave. was a cliché. It was a three story building that had been converted from an ugly single family home into six “Studio Apartments” that should more properly be called “Cells.” Apartment #6 was in half of what used to be the attic. From the looks of it on the outside it wouldn’t be very comfortable for anyone over 5’8”. My data sheet said that Nate Williams Jr. was 6’1”. So, maybe I should be looking for a hunchback.
The entire street had the look that nobody cared anymore about how it looked. Abandoned cars, a couple of waterlogged and moldy sofas, and a soft drink vending machine were huddled against the curb. Up the block from 432 a neglected looking dog was curled up right in the middle of the street. It wasn’t dead. I took a closer look as I swerved my car around it. The dog lifted its ugly head to look at me as I drove past, but made no effort to move. You could probably say the same thing about the humans who lived here.
A couple of old ladies, rocking on their front porches, watched as I came down the block, but if anybody asked them – they never saw me. Nobody ever sees anything on Wilson Avenue.
If there is one thing that I don’t like more than just about anything else its stairs. Too many years of walking the beat and then having some idiot I was trying to cuff kicks me in the knee and did damage. An X-Ray of my kneecaps looks like a picture of a handful of cracker crumbs. Every morning when I get out of bed and stand my body sounds like a bag filled with castanets. So what do I have to do at 432 Wilson Ave.? Walk up three flights of rickety, homemade stairs that were bolted to the outside of the building.
I was not in a good mood to begin with and now I was going to have two swollen knees before I even got to knock on the door at #6. “Nate Williams better be there” I thought, “Watching TV, in his underwear, eating a bag of Cheetos.”
A doorbell. Somebody put in a doorbell. One of those new ones with a built-in camera so they can see who’s coming even before you push the button. Well, there went the element of surprise. Whoever was on the other side of the door could tell I wasn’t there selling Girl Scout cookies.
Just out of spite I ignored the doorbell and knocked on the door. It rattled and wobbled. One good shoulder hit and it would have fallen apart like it was made out of cardboard.
When I knocked I could hear some scuffling from inside, some mumbling and what sounded like a chair being kicked over. Nothing that sounded like a shotgun shell being racked up or a pistol round being chambered.
I knocked again, but I moved off to the side as far as I could go without falling three floors to the driveway. No sense being an easy target. There was more mumbling, but closer to the door. I looked up at the camera. Somebody had spray painted the lens. Nobody was seeing anything with that piece of useless junk.
“The Lady or the Tiger” was never one of my favorite stories as a kid and right now I feel like that Lady standing in front of a shoddy door. I put my hand on the grip of my weapon tucked in the small of my back. If there was a tiger behind that door I wanted to show it that I wasn’t no Lady.
I gave it one more sharp knock.
“Hold on a minute, will ya? I don’t move all that fast anymore.”
A lame tiger?
I sucked in my gut. I wanted to make myself as small a target as possible. I moved the pistol to alongside my leg with my finger ready to hit the trigger.
There is nothing like the sound of a deadbolt slide being pulled. Whoever was in there was opening more than one lock. I counted three of them before things got quiet again. I was about to see if I was going to face a tiger with bad feet or the wrong end of a .357.
I braced myself for…for whatever as best I could standing on a small wooden platform three storoes above the ground with nowhere to go but either down or through the door.
“Hold your horses, I’m coming. This better be good or I’m gonna be mad. Making me get and all.”
The Voice pulled open the door. I’d expected it to open out but it swung inward. I think that’s illegal, but I’m glad it did. There was barely enough room for me out there.
“Whatcha want, Cowboy?”
I had to look down to see his face. This was definitely not Nate Williams, Jr., Senior, or any other member of the Williams family. I moved on with my pre-planned first question.
“Where the hell is Nate Williams?”
“Well, who the hell wants to know?”
Whoever he was he certainly wasn’t intimidated by my presence.
This guy who wasn’t Nate Williams was no more than 5’4″ tall and skinny as a rail except for the beer belly that jutted out from his open bathrobe. He needed a shave. He’d needed it for at least a week or two and he was wearing fuzzy pink slippers. He was also carrying a five shot black revolver pointed at my crotch.
The little guy had the advantage. I was so surprised that my weapon was still hanging limp by my side. I figured that I’d better answer his question.
“My name is Barry Livingston and I’m looking for Nate Williams. You’re not him.”
“Nate Williams? Yeah, you got that right.I ain’t him, Sherlock. and you’re not Barry Livingston. He was a kid actor on television. so, shall we start over?”
He waved his pistol disturbingly close to my posterity.
“I’m not Nate Williams and who are you? Don’t tell me Ricky Nelson or I’ll clear cut your Family Tree roght here and now.”
I decided that I’d better be square with him since he held all the cards and that five-shot.
“My name is Mack Ellis and I’m looking for Nate Williams because he wants to kill me.” That was it, short and sweet.
The little guy laughed at me.He laughed, but he lowered the gun, turned and walked back into the apartment. I put my pistol back in its holster. If he was really going to shoot me he would have done it by now.
I followed him into the very low ceilinged attic apartment. I had the urge to bend over rather than hit my head on one of the exposed beams. If Nate Williams ever actually lived here he must have been desperate.
There was only one old overstuffed chair that sat in front of a big screen TV. Off to the side was a single bed. The “kitchen” The walls were bare except for one lone poster thumbtacked to the wall in the kitchen area. It was a large photograph of a horse and jockey taken in the Winner’s Circle at some track. The jockey looked familiar.
The guy who was not Nate Williams saw me staring at the poster. He had plopped himself down in the big chair.
“Yeah, that’s me a few years and a lot of beers ago. That was after The Breeder’s Cup race at Santa Anita. I won by six lengths on a horse that was so juiced I was surprised that he didn’t leak. Drag the kitchen chair over here and we can talk.
“So…Nate Williams wants to kill you? That sounds like Nate alright. He always has somebody he wants to kill.”