The California Zephyr
by Joe Butterman
Chapter 11: Mr. Arndt Strikes Home
I was brushing my teeth after breakfast. It was a Tuesday. For breakfast I’d had my choice of cornflakes, or shredded wheat. This was the standard breakfast at the Arndt’s. Sometimes one could have a banana with it, but there were none today. It was served with milk from the bottle, not cream, or even half-and-half; similarly, white sugar was the only sweetener provided: neither brown sugar, nor honey, were ever available – both are sweet, but also have a distinctive taste. Can’t have that.
Despite breakfast, I was feeling very good, and very proud of myself. The entertainment company that I’d bought stock in just after Christmas had just announced that it would open a huge amusement park in Anaheim, the stock had surged. I’d heard about it in Geometry; Mr. O’Flaherty had mentioned this in his usual introductory talk about the stock market. My hand shot-up, “Sir, may I go to the office and make a phone call?” “Certainly,” he smiled; he knew I owned the stock. I flew to the office where I begged the receptionist: “Mr. O’Flaherty knows I’m here, please can I make a phone call, it’s an emergency.” She nodded, dialed me an outside line and handed me the phone and told me to dial my number. I dialed the brokerage; the receptionist watched and listened to the following, with an expression of disbelief growing across her face, as my conversation went:
“Mister Guildford, what’s all this about Anaheim?” He confirmed the report and stated that the stock was already up a point.
“How much to I have in bonds?” He told me.
“How much do I have in cash?” He told me.
“Good. Sell the bonds just as fast as you can, take the cash, and buy as much as you can at the market. I’ll call again after the market closes and we can discuss a stop loss. And maybe some additional purchases.”
“No. I want to hold on to all of the electronics. We’re not going to ride just one pony.”
“No. No margin. Well, let me think about it.”
“Okay, I’ll call you later. Good day.”
I hung-up. “Thanks Mrs. Abernethy, back to Geometry,” she nodded looking perplexed. As I turned around I noticed the vice-principal regarding me, with just a hint of curiosity on his impassive face. “Hi Mr. Comeskilling,” I smiled and dashed.
I slipped into the classroom, and started toward my seat, but didn’t get very far. “Well,” Mr. O’Flaherty said, “what did you do?”
“I’m buying more sir,” as I continued toward the safety of my seat. I would not reach it for a while, “come up here and tell the class that the market is a real tool,” Mr. O’Flaherty directed. I stood beside him, and looked hesitantly out at all of my classmates, I was real nervous. Then I thought, this is nothing, if I can tell the story of El Cid naked, I can certainly talk about the stock market dressed. I went on for twenty minutes. My account would soon be worth over $10,000.
I was jolted by an explosion from the back of the house. Then there was a shriek. That can’t be right. I thought it sounded like a rifle. A rifle? The back of the house? There was another shriek. But there’d only been one shot. So, like an idiot, I run toward the sound of a gunshot with my toothbrush in my hand. I burst into the kitchen and stopped, transfixed. Two Shoes was still sitting in his chair, but was back up against the wall and was as white as a blood-spattered ghost. Mrs. Arndt was sitting on the floor at the other end of the kitchen. She was now screaming and wailing. Between them there was a life’s disaster. The table was turned over and broken; the floor was covered with broken glass and dishes, cereal, milk, and blood. In the middle, what was left of Mr. Arndt lay with his feet drumming, arterial blood pumping from where the face had been, his heart was doing its duty as it emptied him. His old .30-06 deer rifle lay beside him. “Are you hurt Two Shoes?” I yelled. Dazed, he shook his head – no. I looked at Mrs. Arndt, who looked okay, though she kept on wailing, “Noooooooo. Oh. Noooooooo.”
I dashed to the telephone in the front room. No one had put the police and fire numbers there, so I dialed the operator, she answered crisply; breathlessly, I asked for the police number. I think she must’ve heard Mrs. Arndt in the background; she told me to hang-on and connected me herself. I answered the questions and the dispatcher told me not to hang-up, and suggested artificial respiration, I told her it was way too late for that. “I’m gonna get ‘em outta the kitchen, I’ll be right back.” I set the receiver down and went back to the kitchen. It was as before, except that there was no longer any movement at all from Mr. Arndt. I was now aware of the smell: an horrific mixture of blood, gunpowder, terror, and shit. “Come on, Two Shoes, help me get your Mommy outta here. Right now!” He shook himself, and came to me, together we supported and carried her into the living room and lay her on the couch. For a second I worried as she was drenched with blood. ‘Fuck the couch,’ I thought. Now she was only moaning. I made Two Shoes sit in a chair with his head between his knees, breathing deeply. I’d read, somewhere, that this was a good thing to do, it was all that I could think of at the time. I went back to the phone and told the dispatcher that everyone was out of the kitchen now, and that I could hear the sirens. She asked me questions and kept me talking. I think she was trying to comfort me by keeping me talking rather than just get information. I was grateful to her, though I never said it, “they’re here,” I said, and hung-up. I started trembling, but I went and opened the front door, and told the policemen and the ambulance crew, “he’s in the kitchen,” and pointed down the hall.
I went back to the phone and called the ranch. Margarita answered on the third ring, “Margarita…it’s Carlos…please get Daddy or somebody, it’s terrible.”
“Are you okay Carlos,” she demanded in her turn.
“Si, si, I’m okay, please Margarita, get my Daddy.”
“Stay right there,” she ordered, the receiver clunked in my ear, and I could hear her yelling down the house. I took my own advice, and leaned forward and took several slow deep breaths. One of the policemen ran out the front door and down to his car. Gramercy came on the line, “Charles, dear, what’s the trouble,” her voice was calm and serene. Her voice was as good as the deep breaths I’d been taking. I sat-up straight in the chair and tried to gather my wits. “Mr. Arndt just shot himself in the kitchen. And he’s dead. And Mrs. Arndt was in the kitchen when he did it. And Two Shoes was in the kitchen when he did it. And he didn’t kill them. I was in the bathroom when he did it.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yes Gramercy, a little flustered I guess, but not hurt.” Her voice was distant, now, on the phone, as she said, “Charlie isn’t hurt. Arndt just killed himself in front of his family.” And then my Daddy was on the phone and I knew that everything was going to be all right.
The ambulance took Mrs. Arndt. She had continued to moan, with an occasional shriek, they gave her a shot. She calmed right down; they brought in a stretcher, helped her on it and left. They did not use their siren as they pulled away.
I went and sat with Two Shoes and tried to comfort him. I put an arm around him. I felt completely inadequate. What can you say or do for someone who has just seen his father kill himself? He leaned against me; he was kind of sobbing, but not really crying; as if he was somehow trying to cry about something that he couldn’t believe had happened. When the policemen attempted to ask him questions, he spoke with difficulty, and sometimes sobbed. I answered their questions, if it was one that I could.
My cavalry arrived in two waves. First, in the Roadmaster, were Mommy, Daddy, and Gramercy. There was no doubt that the Roadmaster had been going well over 100 mph on the way to town. Second, about twenty minutes later, the Studebaker arrived with Matt, our foreman, and Tomas. It wasn’t near as fast as the Roadmaster, but they’d wasted no time. By that time, my Father had taken charge of the situation. He was conferring with the police sergeant, and the detective, who were there, but he had an air of quiet authority about him. They deferred to him. A distant part of me realized that he was working with them, not trying to tell them what to do, so much, as helping them to get an unpleasant job done. Mommy and Gramercy were consoling Two Shoes at the moment, so I went over and stood next to my Daddy. He put his arm on my shoulder and I nestled against him. He told the sergeant about the son in Fresno; he said that he would be taking me and “Val” home to the ranch to await the arrival of the son; he would stop at the hospital to check on Mrs. Arndt, tell her what he was doing, and offer her our home, too, if she were going to be leaving the hospital soon; he asked me to find a set of house keys for the sergeant, I did so; he sent Matt, Tomas, and I to pack-up all of my belongings, and everything that Val would need for an extended stay with us, we did so.
When this was done, the policemen were thanking him for his assistance; Mommy and Gramercy were sitting in the back seat of the Roadmaster with Two Shoes between them; Matt and Tomas were in the pick-up, with all of the luggage, ready to go. We left, stopped briefly at the hospital, and then proceeded home in company at a sedate speed so the pick-up could stay with us. There was, after all, no hurry.
Margarita was waiting for us when we pulled into the yard, and she enveloped me in her arms as soon as I was out of the Buick. I hugged her back. Then the women hustled Two Shoes into the kitchen. Daddy asked me to come with him, and we went to his study; he said he was going to make some phone calls and wanted me there, “in case there are some questions I can’t answer.” Had the circumstances been different, I’d have felt good about this.
The first call was to school. He was quickly connected to Mr. Comeskilling. They exchanged pleasantries. Then to the point: “Have you heard about the Arndt’s? Then I’ve got some terrible news. As you know, my son Charlie has been boarding in town with the Arndt’s; their son Val is also a student of yours. Tragically, this morning, Mr. Arndt shot himself in the kitchen in front of his wife and Val…yes…yes. No he wasn’t in the room; he was getting ready for school. Well, right now, Mrs. Arndt is in the hospital. The police are trying to get their eldest son. I don’t know. The one in Fresno. Are their others?” I shook my head “no” to my Father. “For now, Val is here at the ranch, we couldn’t leave him in that house alone. Yes.” Looking at me, “when do you want to go back to school?”
“As soon as I can.”
Back to the phone, “yes. Thanks. As soon as I find out anything about Val, I’ll let you know. I told the folks at the hospital that Mrs. Arndt was welcome here, too, but I think she may be there for a little. Yes. Thanks Major.” He hung-up.
“Major?” I asked. “Indeed,” and that distant look came, the one that I had come to equate with the war, “Sergeant Major Comeskilling, one of the finest soldiers I’ve ever known.”
He regarded me with calm approval, “You did well at that house.” All I could say in response was, “I tried the best I could.”
“Well, your best is very good indeed. Why do you think this happened?”
“Liquor,” I replied without hesitation. “Almost every night Mr. Arndt sat in front of the TV and drank whiskey. He’d hardly say a word to anyone. Sometimes he’d be home drinking before we even got home from school. Those nights he would usually fight with Mrs. Arndt. Val and I would always go to the DQ to eat on those nights. We’d come home after the fight, after Mr. Arndt left.” I paused and considered all of this. “Poor Val, I sometimes call him ‘Two Shoes’. Don’t know why, just seemed to fit. Grand Belle says that no good thing comes from strong drink. She’s right.”
“She frequently is. A wonderful woman.”
We tried to call Val’s brother. They’d already received a call from the police and were trying to locate him. He was on the road with a load of hay. Daddy gave them our number and said that Val would be staying with us, and that Mrs. Arndt might be here later, too. He told them he’d call if there were any changes.
The phone rang; my Father regarded it for a moment, as if to gather himself, and answered on the third ring. His mood seemed to lighten, “it’s for you,” and he handed me the receiver. It was Davey, and he seemed more upset than I. I told him the basics, thanked him for the call, and told him I’d call him later today.
We went to the kitchen. The ladies were all there. They’d fed Val and put him to bed in a guest room. Food and sleep, the first and best cures for all ills. All of the ladies in my world were in agreement on that. I suggested that Val should sleep with me, tonight, as I didn’t think he should be alone for the night. “Whatever you think best,” Gramercy decreed. Margarita set places for my Daddy and I to have lunch. When we’d finished, she gave me a double helping of flan for dessert. We were just up from the table when the La Salle purred into the yard and Davey and his Father came quickly up to the house. Daddy and I met them on the front porch. Mr. Pendleton almost saluted my Daddy; Davey was in something of a state, almost in tears. He hugged me ferociously and asked repeatedly if I was all right. I assured him I was okay and told him that Val was asleep in a guest room. We then asked them into the kitchen where Margarita was already getting started on their lunch.
I stood-up and said I was going to go sit with Two Shoes, in case he was awake, or woke up suddenly, or something. Davey stood-up and announced, “Me too!”
“What about your lunch?” I fussed.
“I’ll fix him a plate,” Margarita solved the problem. We went down the hall to his room, knocked gently, and then entered.
Two Shoes was lying on his back, he was wide awake and staring at the ceiling. We went up on either side of his bed and took turns kissing him; then we each held him by a hand and tried to offer him our help and our love. He started to cry.
“Do ya wanna be alone?” Davey asked him.
“Oh God no,” he sobbed, so we held him tighter and tried to comfort him as best we could. At length, he did fall asleep and we tiptoed from the room to take a little break. Tomas was coming down the hall to meet us.
“Patron, I’ve thanked the Blessed Virgin many times that you are okay, you have a visitor on the front porch. None of us know him it would seem.”
“Thank you, Tomas,” he followed me toward the porch since no one knew this visitor.
“Why Dino. How good of you to come.” There, indeed, standing at the foot of the porch, looking hopelessly out of place in his butchered Levi’s, his black Wellington’s, and his black leather jacket stood Dino. “Tomas, may I present a friend and fellow student at school, Dino,” Tomas came down the steps and shook hands with Dino, you could almost see the hostility evaporating now that Dino had been vouched for. Then my Daddy appeared on the porch, “Daddy, let me introduce my friend and school mate, Andreas Ismenia Naissus, we all call him ‘Dino.’ Dino, this is my Father, Mr. Scott.” They shook hands.
“What can I do to help, sir?” Dino asked.
“Well, I think first you might want a bite to eat.” Daddy glanced at me and I said, “Come on Dino” and I took him into the house and to the kitchen where I introduced him to Margarita and wondered if she might have a bite for a poor caballero to eat. She just laughed, and told me in Spanish that poor Dino wasn’t much of a caballero dressed the way he was. While she bustled about, Dino finally asked me the question he had driven here to ask, “Are you all right Carlos?” I smiled and thanked him. Again in Spanish, Margarita thought that there might be hope for Dino, but he was still no kind of caballero.
While Dino ate, I went back and checked on poor Two Shoes, it dawned on me that I was feeling very big-brotherly toward him, but that really wasn’t quite the right description for my feelings because we had been very sexual over the past months. He was asleep. As I was returning to the kitchen, I was called into the living room where Daddy, Mr. Pendleton, and Davey had apparently been working out my future. My future had been in very capable hands. I would be spending the rest of the school year with Davey and his folks. I would be returning to Reno no later than the weekend and would be back in school Monday, depending upon what would be happening with poor Two Shoes. Gee, I kinda wondered to myself, I wonder why we didn’t just do that in the first place; but then, I thought, I’d never have had my older-younger brother Two Shoes; I went all spiritual for a few minutes and decided that Jesus wanted Two Shoes in my life for reasons of His own.
“Come on, Davey, let’s go find Dino.” We trooped down to the kitchen where Margarita and Gramercy were busy. “Where’s Dino,” I wondered.
“He was trying so hard to be helpful,” Gramercy explained, “that Margarita called Tomas in to get him out of the kitchen. They’re out there somewhere, probably on a tour.” Margarita nodded emphatically.
We went out and decided to start our search in the workshop; Dino was a mechanic after all. Sure enough, one of our Ford tractors was idling happily, Dino had a screwdriver in hand and they were chatting amiably. “Patron. Senor David,” Tomas greeted us, “Dino has made this thing happy,” he pointed with a horseman’s disdain at the tractor, which had long enjoyed an unblemished reputation for unreliability.
“Bueno, maybe my Daddy will give you a job here, now that we’ve decided you’re gonna graduate. We’re kinda long on the cavalry and short on the mechanized in this operation.” I had noted that Dino was not a “senor” and I looked closely at Tomas and there was, at least to me, a discernible softening around his eyes as he looked at Dino. He was not being discourteous. He switched off the happy tractor. In the silence, we could here someone from the house, shouting for Davey. We went to the shop door and Daddy and Mr. Pendleton were on the porch. They waved for us and we started toward the house.
“Patron, a moment,” Tomas requested. Dino and Davey continued, and I stopped for Tomas. “Patron,” he looked at the ground, “perhaps I can go to town and visit with Dino sometime? Dino has asked me so to do.” “Certainly, Tomas, if there is anything I can do to help you, just let me know.” Tomas smiled hugely, “Gracias mi Patron…mi amor, gracias.”
When I got to the porch where everyone was, I said, “Daddy you know that Ford tractor that never runs right?” He nodded, “Dino has fixed it.” He turned to Dino, “Thank you very much, Andreas.” Dino blushed and mumbled something about it being no big deal. Davey looked a little startled to discover Dino’s real first name.
Moments later, we were saying our good bye’s to Davey and his Dad. I thanked Mr. Pendleton for all of his help and Davey and I exchanged ‘manly’ hugs with our handshakes. Daddy was also profuse in his appreciation for all of the “captain’s” help. The La Salle purred off to Reno.
I walked Dino to his car. “You be good to Tomas, dear,” I told him, “he’s a very sweet young man and we all like him a lot. I kinda think you’re gonna like him a lot too. He is muy caliente.” I was standing next to the door and the Ford had rumbled to life. I leaned in his window and kissed him. “And remember that I love ya, cutie,” he grinned hugely, we had another lingering kiss, I stepped back and waved him on his way.
Margarita had asked me what some of Two Shoe’s favorite meals were. I was nonplussed by this question because his Mother was a lamentable cook, and we had mostly eaten cheeseburgers at the DQ. I decided that we should do steak, with all of the trimmings. Can’t hardly go wrong with that.
Two Shoes was starting to bounce back to life. He was kinda quiet and shy at dinner, but he thanked us, for everything, and, most importantly, he ate with a huge appetite. Margarita gave him two helpings of flan for desert with extra honey and cream. We spent the evening quietly. I played some ‘happy’ Mozart on the record player and we all tried to make Two Shoes feel comfortable and at home. I took him off to bed around 9:30. We took a leisurely shower and I washed and massaged him thoroughly. I took a long and leisurely time, and kissed away his tears, until he fell asleep in my arms.
The next morning we heard from Two Shoes’ brother; one of his hay trucks would stop at our ranch and take him down to Fresno on Thursday. His Mother was going to be in the hospital for a while longer. His brother thought it would take sometime to settle all of the family’s affairs in Reno. Frankly, I thought it was really shitty to have a hay truck stop and pick him up after what he’d been through. I told him to write me as soon as he got settled so that I could keep in touch. He said that he would, and we kissed goodbye in my bedroom and shook hands by the truck.
Saturday, we went to Reno and I moved into Davey’s; we had adjacent bedrooms at one end of the house. It’s great to have friends that love you.
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