Tommy’s Roof

Michael Mohr is literary agent Elizabeth Kracht’s assistant (Kimberley Cameron & Associates).  In addition to writing a regular blog (Michaelmohrwriter.com) about the ins and outs of the industry, Michael is a published author. His work can be found in Flash: The International Short Short Story Magazine; The MacGuffin; and others. His nonfiction can be found on the San Francisco Writers Conference Newsletter, and as a guest blogger in Writer’s Digest. He lives in Oakland, California.

 

Tommy’s Roof

Retired cops and ex-Hell’s Angels have to have kids somewhere and Oak View, California—ten miles east of the coastal town of Ventura—is where they do.
Scott Casey’s father was an ex-Hell’s Angel.
Scott swings the covers off his bed and grunts, yawning and coughing almost at the same time.
He catches his blue eyes in the bathroom mirror for a moment and frowns, insidious, flipping himself off. He slams the toilet cover, a loud thud sounding against the porcelain, and presses the lever to flush.
Scott enters the kitchen. Tommy, his father, and his mother are eating and drinking coffee. The Los Angeles Times is covering his father’s face. His mother’s eyes drift up creepily, zeroing in on Scott. Her eyes squint hard nails. She’s reading the editorial section of the Times. She drops the paper with a thud.
“Scottie, what the hell is wrong with you, stop scratching yourself like an animal. And put on some clothes for Christ sake!”
Tommy sets the Times down, a picture of the Aurora, Colorado twenty-four-year-old medical student killer on the cover, facing Scott, crashing down to the table. Tommy’s tough tendons flex. The thick, vein-throbbing neck and chiseled but aged cheekbones are what always scare Scott the most.
Tommy’s hulking, mangled hands slightly scrunch up the Times. He eyes his derelict son.
“C’mere boy,” Tommy says. A deep, rough, scratchy voice; a voice which had commanded beatings, administered citizen justice, taken the law into its own hands. That voice. It was a demon voice, but it was a voice Scott couldn’t afford to ignore. Not while he was living under Tommy’s roof.
Scott moves forward, tiny steps like a docile mouse: weak, mellow, easy. Not his usual countenance.
Tommy looks at Scott, hard, the yellow irises of Tommy’s cold eyes dominating Scott’s. Scott swallows. Tommy lets go of the Times, and extends his hand, roughly rubbing Scott’s head.
“Shaved it again, eh?” Tommy says, pulling his hand away and crossing his arms over his chest.
“Yeah,” Scott says. “Ain’t a crime is it?”
Tommy remains motionless. Scott knows this trick. It is akin to a rattlesnake, laying in wait. Suddenly, Tommy would strike without warning.
And he does.
Tommy grabs Scott’s wrist harshly. Scott begins writhing, trying to loosen the hold.
“Lemme go,” pleads Scott. “Mom…”
His mother looks at Tommy. “Tommy, c’mon let ‘im go; he’s gonna be late for school again.”
“Stay out of this woman,” Tommy fires. He tightens his grip.
“C’mon, man!” Scott shouts. Suddenly Tommy swings his left arm, which has been lying on the breakfast table, underneath the Times.
He catches Scott in his right cheek. Scott goes down.
His mother shoots up immediately.
“Goddamn you Tommy, don’t you touch my son, you hear me you sonofa—”
Tommy leaps up and smacks her clean in the face. She bends and almost goes over, but catches hold of the chair and gains balance somehow. She glowers at Tommy and there is a half tear in her eye. She’s used to this. She can’t leave him: the house is in his name, he pays the mortgage, and he had paid for both cars, plus his two motorcycles. One was a black Harley, just like Ron Peterson’s.
Ron Peterson—Scott’s best friend Jason’s father—and Tommy Casey were good pals. They’d been friends since the eighties.
Ron Peterson had led an honest life. Tommy Casey had lied, cheated and stolen. Tommy’d run, as president of the Oak View Chapter, the rugged and nefarious Hell’s Angels. But he’d done one thing which would forever capture Ron’s respect: Tommy’d lived on his wits, and, furthermore, he’d never once, not one time, done anything he didn’t want to do. Unless, of course, you’re talking about jail time.
“You bastard!” Scott’s mom screams. Tommy takes a step forward and she cowers. Scott is still on the floor. Scott had tried once to fight back and the results had been worthy of remembering and never repeating.
“Remember what I told ya, boy. What did I tell ya? Huh? Speak up, Scottie,” Tommy says.
Scott, still sitting on the hardwood floor, wipes a stray collection of tear residue from his eye and looks at his father in anguish.
“You said: I don’t want you lookin’ like no Oak View skinhead.”
“That’s right, boy. Good. That’s exactly what I said. Maybe you can explain your shaved head, huh?”
Scott takes a deep breath and pulls himself up. Standing, he faces his oppressor. Scott’s thin blue lips quiver for an instant and then he sniffles.
“Sorry, sir.”
Tommy eyes Scott with determination. He swivels his gaze to his wife. She swallows.    “I expect you to do as I say, boy. And woman, don’t you undermine me.”
Tommy shakes his shoulders and walks off. She hugs Scott tightly and cries for a moment, then breathes, in, out, in, out. Scott runs his hands through her hair, easy. In a minute they hear the familiar sound of the Harley’s engine, filling the house with mind-bending loudness.
Then the engine noise speeds off, decreasing, becoming softer, softer, fading into the distance.
“I’m gonna kill the sonofabitch,” Scott says, slamming his fist against the kitchen counter.
She begins clearing the table. This is the usual routine. Violence, then her cleaning up for Tommy. Protecting Scott.
“Honey, could you help me clear this table, please? Then you got to go to school, you’re going to be late.”
“Did you hear me, ma?”
Silence.
“I said I’m going to kill the bastard.”

*

Ventura High campus was off of Thompson Avenue.
About two-thousand kids attended. Most of these kids were blue collar. No pre-Yale or pre-Harvard or pre-Princeton students here. No parochial safe haven. Just cliques and cool kids and losers and meth heads and punkers and metal-rockers and, of course, jocks. Jocks: tough guys, assholes, bullies.
The Oak View Crew, which was not actually delineated as such, in fact they were unnamed, just a wild, unflashy group, was none of these above mentioned classifications. The Oak View boys were raw violence and un-pretty truthfulness. When they staked a claim, it was for keeps. When they said “meet behind the Chemistry building, 3:50 pm, after the last bell,” they’d be there. They didn’t mess around.
And, of course, there were girls, too, at Ventura High on Thompson Avenue.
There were two camps of chicks at Ventura High: the Oak View girls, and all the others. The Oak View ladies were, among other things, not like other chicks. They were tough. Tough and mean: ruthless. One O.V. chick—Scott’s girlfriend—Samantha De Little, had smashed a forty-ounce Mickey’s malt-liquor bottle over Taylor Spade’s girlfriend’s head at Taylor’s house party two Fridays ago. The event had not been forgiven or forgotten.
The O.V. boys had not apologized. Samantha had not apologized. Taylor Spade and his jock buddies had demanded hospital payment or threatened retribution.
O.V. had responded immediately: Anytime, creeps.

*

Jason Peterson watches his father, Ron Peterson, as he kick-starts his massive black Harley, in the driveway of their home, 1078 Vallery Avenue.
Jason looks at the clock: 6: 54 A.M. The deafeningly loud sound of the Harley’s engine fills the house. Jason yawns and sniffles, flipping the covers off his naked body, while he watches his father out the window of his room. His father foot-waddles the Harley, finally reaching the main street and heading left, toward Chestnut, which will take him to the snaking Highway, to Ventura, where he currently works doing construction.
Jason pisses, pulling up the filthy toilet cover, the loud sound of his yellow urine assaulting the peaceful water bowl echoing throughout the barren home.
In the kitchen, Jason grabs a hold of the refrigerator, and starts to pull, then stops. He studies the pictures on the fridge: Ron on his stationary Harley from a few years ago; Ron holding the horns of a buck he’d hunted in the mountains from about a decade back (Jason could tell because of the beard and the tighter stomach); his mother with her best friend, Sara Jacobs; and an old photograph of Jason and Scott, age twelve, right before they were about to leave for vacation to Montana. The families had gone that year, 1994, on a big trip to “God’s Country,” to camp and fish and take a vacation for two weeks.
That was the last vacation they’d taken.
Secretly, Jason loves and romanticizes this photograph. In fact, he cherishes it. He would never, ever admit this truth to another human being, but he did. This picture, more than anything else, was what kept Jason going day to day amidst the crazy chaos of being an adolescent growing up in Oak View.
Ron wasn’t an ex-Hell’s Angel or a retired cop. He was just a blue collar guy. But he drank. And he hit.
There were days Ron came home and all was quiet on the Oak View Front. Then there were nights when he came home belligerent. Jason would hear the yelling, and then, eventually, the slapping, and finally screaming and things breaking; glass shattering. No matter how hard Jason tried though, he couldn’t hate his father. Or his mother. He didn’t blame his parents for their shitty existence; he didn’t blame anybody or anything.
It was just the way the world was.
*

Jason Peterson runs up to Scott Casey; they are on Ventura High campus. Eight A.M.
“What’s up, fucker?” Scott says, eyeing up at Jason’s tallness.
“You see the note?” Jason says, tight-lipped.
“About me fucking your mom?” Scott laughs.
Jason punches Scott’s shoulder, hard. “Naw, idiot—the note from that bastard: Tim Dillard!”
Scott’s whole body seems to freeze over, like a corporeal ice tundra, suddenly not moving or breathing or functioning. Eyes like fantastic slats of broken-up glacier pieces: murderous cold blue.
“What’s the score, Peterson; what’s it say?” Scott says.
Jason clears his throat. He takes in air and looks around, scanning the panorama. They’re supposed to be in Mr. Miller’s first period English. Mr. Miller—a real boring jerk; always stuttering and seeming to forget what to say at pivotal moments. An old denizen of the educational world whom they couldn’t, if their lives depended upon it, relate to.
“The note’s from Dillard. Taylor Spade’s chick, Tanya. The bottle incident,” Jason says.
“Yeah. Samantha. I mean, hey, she put a stupid little rich-bitch in her place—those pricks can’t take a hit, huh?” Scott says.
A quick flash of that morning star-shoots across his mind. He imagines kicking the shit out of Tommy. Next best thing: Taylor Spade. Taylor Spade: A rich boy jock who is slated to attend U.C.L.A. next year on a full football scholarship. One of the lucky ones. His girlfriend, Tanya Mendoza, is a Ventura native. They’d met freshman year and never looked back. Now Tanya had had a bottle broken over her head by an angry and accusing O.V. girl and was in Ventura County Hospital.
But Scott knows the score. There are only a few guys who would volunteer to fight one of the O.V. boys: Tim Dillard, one of Spade’s guys, is one of them.
Dillard is a jock, and tough. He’d lived his whole short life in Ventura. He did a lot of Spade’s fighting—a protective machine that hated O.V.
Though no one knew exactly, or at least no one on the O.V. side knew exactly, what the damage had been to Tanya’s head, there remained, within the Oak View circle, a feeling of ominous validation. Tanya, the “rich-bitch” Ventura broad,” had deserved what she’d gotten.
But the Spade boys wanted blood. Oak View blood.

*

“Lemme see the note,” Scott says.
Jason chews his tongue, mouth closed, and sniffles. He hands the note to Scott. Jason begins pacing.
Scott reads the note with lightning speed.
“Ok. Taylor wants us to meet with Tim Dillard, fine,” Scott says, his blue eyes shooting shadows.
“Who’s gonna fight ‘im?” Jason says. “Rocky Boy? James Douglas? Jeff Basel?”
Scott gulps. Takes in air through his nostrils. The scar, about two inches below his left eye—from Tommy—seems to shine. That scar had been received when Scott was eleven-years-old. Tommy had been in one of his near-blackouts, after coming back from Mahony Tavern with Ron Peterson. They’d been drinking whiskey. Again. That night, Scott happened to be in the kitchen, drinking coca cola from the fridge, when Tommy had entered.
“I am,” Scott says, staring at Jason.
Jason’s gaze hardens, fastens on Scott.
That night, Tommy had come into the kitchen and had begun questioning Scottie: what was he doing? Why was he not asleep? What did he think he was doing, drinking Tommy’s coke?
“What?” Jason says, his eyes like pool balls: hard, solid, bouncing.
“You heard me,” Scott says. “I’m gonna fight Tim Dillard.”
That night, Tommy had pulled out his buckskin hunting knife. Scott remembered, with virgin accuracy, the glint of moonlight which had played off the filthy, silver blade. It had been past three in the morning. The local bars in O.V. stayed open past two A.M. for the men.
Tommy had grabbed Scott’s hair. Scott had hair then. He’d grabbed Scott’s hair and held his skinny, small eleven-year-old body against the refrigerator. Scott remembered the plastic liter of coca cola falling to the linoleum kitchen floor. Coke everywhere; he’d felt it between his toes, the black, fizzing liquid.
“Scott. Man—look, we’re bothers practically. Ok, we’re more than that, man: We’re O.V. brothers. But look. What you’re talking about—it’s stupid. This is serious, Scott. This chick’s in the hospital. We’re talking brain damage. We’re talking your girl, Sammy, going to Ventura County Jail. We’re talking—”
“I know what we’re talking about, Jay. Jesus. You think I’m stupid? Huh? You think I don’t know what I’m—”
“Goddamn it,” Jason says. “I can’t talk you out of this, can I?”
“No,” Scott says.
Tommy had held the knife against the soft flesh of Scott’s cheek, below his left eye. He’d held too fiercely. The blade went in, cut tissue, severed veins, caused loose blood rivulets down Scott’s cheek. The hollow, full moon hanging like limp cheese out the window behind Tommy, beyond Scott’s home, where things like this didn’t happen. Where things were different. The O.V. crew had held Tommy in contempt and simultaneously Scott in regard for the ordeal. Tommy was a bastard beyond belief. Scott was a survivor and tough.

*

Scott and Jason go to class, separating after the second bell rings, indicating that Mr. Miller’s class is finished for the day. Thank god.
Scott walks with his heartbeat poking at his brain. Every step brings fear. He is going to fight Tim Dillard. What a world.
The note had said 6:30 P.M. behind the Math building. Usually it would be right after class and behind the Chemistry building, building thirty-one K. But today Spade had chosen after school hours. It’d be dark by then.
By now all of the O.V. boys and surely all of the Spade Crew knew about the fight. The whole school probably knew. It would be a wonder if the teachers didn’t know.

*

There is a wide, huge circle of probably two hundred kids. Not one, as Jason scans the faces, carries a smile.
Jason locates the Oak View circle, standing alone, vibrant, by the cement path lined with palm trees.
Jason treks over to the group. James Douglas, Tom Colmurano, Fred Doder, Cole Sampson, Jeff Basel, David Wellworth, Steve Demond, and Ralph “Rocky Boy” Johnson are surrounding the key player, in the middle. Many are around; other O.V. boys.
Jason nods to James Douglas and the rest, almost all at the same time somehow.
There are about thirty of the O.V. boys. The Spade group: There must be over fifty, easy. The rest are spectators.
Jason spreads a hole between the O.V. bodies and there he is: Scott Casey. He’s already got his shirt off, like a professional boxer. Scott’s tattoos, covering his chest and upper arms, glow from light off the huge headlamp, the lamp connected to the back of the Math building’s wall, like a deathly searchlight.
The biggest tattoo, “Oak View For Life,” covers Scott’s upper back, against his shoulder blades.
Jason grabs Scott’s shoulder. They face each other. Jason lowers his head down, whispers, holding on tightly to Scott’s shoulder.
“You don’t gotta do this, Scottie,” Jason says.
“Yeah. I do.”
Jason searches deep into Scott’s blue eyes. Looks for an answer. Thin lips and fierce eyes. Jason’s grip tightens.
“This about your father, Scottie?”
“Don’t fuckin’ call me Scottie, man.”
Jason loosens his grip. His eyes loosen, too. He swallows and licks his lips, coughs, laughs for an instant, picks at his nose, cracks his fingers.
“It is. That’s what this whole fucking thing is about: Tommy. Tommy—”
Scott whacks Jason in the face. Hard.
The Oak View boys look concerned. They step, most of them, forward a step, then stop. James Douglas’s mouth drops. Douglas puts his hand on Jason’s shoulder.
“It’s alright, guys. It’s ok. Don’t worry about it. Scott’s just on edge, that’s all. No need to get heated,” Jason says.
Silence. Nobody moves.
“Hey!” someone yells, from behind the O.V. crew.
Taylor Spade. He is signaling that the machine has arrived. And he is pissed-off, rearing, more than ready. Scott looks at Jason. Jason shakes his head and raises a single eyebrow, throwing his arm in the direction of the machine. Scott nods. Scott takes a moment and eyes each one of the O.V. Crew, the boys in a mini-circle, within the massive circle around them; a microcosm within a macrocosm.
Each pair of eyes affirms Scott’s decision. Except one.
Scott breathes loudly and begins walking in a circle, around his boys. He punches a few of them on their chests, just for practice. The boys who have been targeted nod in affirmation. This is a sign of strength, both for Scott, and for the boys who have been punched.
Scott stands inside the circle and shakes his shoulders. He slams his fists into each other. Then he nods.
The circle separates and leaves a small opening. Across the way, there is Tim Dillard. Tim looks even bigger than Scott remembers. They hadn’t crossed each other’s path in probably six months.
Scott walks outside of the O.V. ring. He scans the faces of the hundreds. Fear seems to ripple through the place.
Silence.
Fuck ‘im up! someone yells. It is the Spade side.
Kick his ghetto Oak View ass! another kid screams.
Tim approaches. He is big but maybe not quite as big as Scott imagined from thirty feet away. Tim mimics Scott and pulls his shirt off, roughly, chucking it to Taylor Spade, who is standing ten feet to the left, within the ring.
They move toward each other. Scott glances up and catches Taylor’s eyes. Dark, demented, vengeful. Taylor looks evil, holding Tim’s black T-shirt.
Neither Tim Dillard nor Scott Casey speak. They move toward each other like feral magnets, attracted through the sheer laws of physics, nothing else.
You’re a dead man, Casey! someone yells.
None a you punks got shit to say about Oak View! O.V. Pride! an O.V. yells. It is James Douglas. Scott knows by the voice; that rough, raw, almost high-pitched but masculine twang. Douglas’s father has the same voice.
Serrated silence; it goes in deep, fills the pores of everyone, and rests, dank and dirty.
Casey and Dillard are close: a few arms lengths.
Casey’s eyes grow huge. Tim’s eyes remain rock steady. Scott notices Taylor again, out of the corner of his eye. His eye focuses on the black shirt.
Suddenly, as Tim is about to crash into Scott, Taylor throws an object which had come from behind the black shirt, like a dark magic trick. It is a long toss, but Tim catches it: it is a knife.
Scott’s eyes bug to unseen proportions. It all happens so fast.
Scott tries to turn but they are so close; the momentum works against him. Tim grips the knife and grabs Scott’s shoulder, plunging the thing into his stomach. The knife goes in.
Instantly, Tim Dillard runs away. Taylor Spade runs. Then the whole crowd begins, in the fives and tens, to run as well. It is too easy, as if it’d been planned. As if the whole thing had been orchestrated.
Scott Casey, on the ground, his hands covering the wound, which is just above his waistline, looks behind him, in a daze, at the O.V. boys. Most are running away. A few, James Douglas, Fred Doder, and Jason Peterson, sprint over to Scott.
Jason kneels, his eyes massive, face pale, lacking blood. He places his hand on Scott’s hand, above the wound. Blood is everywhere. A miniature stream of blood squirts out of the wound, through two of Scott’s fingers. His eyes have lost their blue hue; they are a darker, royal blue now.
“Jesus, Scott. Jesus. Jesus,” Jason says.
Scott tries to pry his eyes open, and does so half-successfully, coughing and laughing. James Douglas is staring at the wound. James moves Scott’s hand. Scott groans loudly. Blood squirts. James’s eyes go huge. The thing is gaping.
“You know what? I feel fine, guys. Seriously…I feel…warm…ya know…just…warm,” Scott says. He is almost smiling.
Jason leans in close to Scott’s ear. Jason’s lips are trembling. “Go!” he says, full of tears, to James Douglas and Fred Doder.
Fred and James look incredulous.
“You heard me,” Jason says. “Get out of here!”
Fred and James don’t budge.
Jason stands up and grabs James by the collar. Jason slaps James several times, fast, hard. James backs off. So does Fred.
“I said, get the fuck out…NOW!” Jason screams.
Fred and James look shocked beyond belief. They take slow, shallow steps backward. Then, almost on random instinct, they turn toward Thompson and run.
Jason, crying in full force now, looks at Scott. Scott’s eyes are ruby red; they are less than half way open. Scott’s hands have fallen to his sides. Blood is covering Scott’s stomach.
“Scott,” Jason says, leaning in again, close to Scott’s ear. “Scott.”
“Yeah?” Scott croaks.
“I love you, man,” Jason says.
“I love you too,” Scott says.
“Listen, Scott. You know that picture, on my fridge, the one of you and me in ’94, right before the trip to Montana?”
Scott groans, half-moving his body.
“Don’t try to move,” Jason says. His voice has a tone of acceptance. “Scott. Do you know the picture I’m talking about?”
Scott licks his plastic, chapped lips. “Yeah, uh huh. I know the picture.”
Jason looks hard into Scott’s eyes. Tears are flowing. Jason leans closer and places his head on top of Scott’s.
“That picture, Scott, my brother, my Oak View brother, is what has kept me going all these years, through all the bullshit. Through our dads, and our messed-up families. All of it.”
Scott swivels his head, in slow motion, looking at Jason. Tears stream down Scott’s face. Jason is holding Scott’s hand. Jason’s hand is trembling.
“I know,” Scott says. “Me too, brother. Me too.”
They cry and all else is drowned out by the noise and the energy and the feeling. It is as if that feeling, from the Montana trip in ’94, has momentarily returned: Their youth reclaimed. Jason envisions that picture on the fridge. The fourteen days they’d spent in Great Falls, Montana. The unshakeable energy he and Scott had shared. His tears are violent.
Then there is only one person crying.
Jason shakes Scott’s body. He feels Scott’s neck, and then his wrist.
No pulse.
Scott Casey, Jason’s best friend, is dead.
Jason hears police sirens wailing around the corner, on Thompson. He stares at Scott’s warm, dead body. Jason wipes the remnants of tears from Scott’s face, and then his own. Standing up, he raises his hands in the air, ready for the police. He is the only man there.
As the cops from the first squad car pull up, guns drawn, Jason looks to the heavens. He closes his eyes, says a prayer for his brother, and then says these words: Fuck Oak View. I’m done with it. I’m done.
The first policeman approaches, gun extended in front of him.
“Turn around, keep your hands up!” the cop yells. Jason hears other feet padding the lawn from behind.
Jason feels the rough hands searching his body, slapping cuffs on his wrists. He stares at Scott’s shell of flesh, unmoving, stagnant, wasted.
If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take, Jason whispers to Scott’s body as he is hauled off by the police.
My soul to take, Jason whispers.
My soul to take.

more finalists

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailby feather
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssby feather

Welcome to
defenestrationism reality.

Read full projects from our
retro navigation panel, left,
or start with !What's New!

Follow Us