"I knew Butch was trouble the minute I set eyes on him..."
|I knew Butch was trouble the minute I set eyes on him. I've got a fine instinct about other men, y'see, and so it was often up to me to watch out for Mom and make sure she didn't fall for their tricks. Don't get me wrong now, Mom's a smart lady, but a bit on the trusting side. There was no other explanation for how she could have seen the guy's black leather jacket and buzz cut and not realized immediately that he belonged in maximum security.
"I'll be right down," she called from upstairs. "Make yourself at home."
"Er..." Butch said, staring down at me. He was probably finding Mom's invitation difficult from his current position on our front stoop. He tried smiling. "Well, hi there, kiddo! Happy Birthday!"
I narrowed my eyes at him, both to let him know his false bonhomie didn't fool me and also to make it clear that he was in my territory now, then stepped back just enough that he could edge inside. I closed the door so fast he had to snatch the rest of his arm in or risk leaving it outside.
"Living room's over there," I said, pointing as though he hadn't been visiting for the past month.
He rolled his eyes as he turned. "Yeah, thanks."
I followed him -- never knew when these ex-jailbird types might decide to make off with the TV or a vase -- and smirked when he halted at the sight of my latest stratagem. No sitting on the love-seat for you today, Butch my boy.
He slanted a look at me. "Organizing our comic book collection, are we?" he asked casually as he chose the only unencumbered seat in the room. The ginger way he lowered himself into the worn old wing chair told me he already knew about the unpredictable poking of its springs.
I gave him a chance to get good and settled before perching myself on the armrest of the couch. "So..." I drawled. "Butch--"
"For the last time, Joey," he said with a pained smile. I could almost hear his teeth grinding. "My name is not Butch. It's Kyle. Okay? Kyle."
I ignored this. It was obviously an assumed name, after all. Instead, I continued as though he hadn't spoken. "I think we need to talk."
"Do we?" he said, eyeing me as though he expected me to go for the throat. Oho... Perhaps he wasn't as hopeless as I thought. He had clearly learned to fear me; with a little more work, maybe he could learn to back off before someone got hurt.
Cheered, I beamed a big smile that had him looking even more wary. "Yup, we do. Y'see, I've been wondering if I could see your prison tattoos."
He blinked and stared at me. "My... prison tattoos..." he said at last. I nodded. "Er... what prison tattoos?"
"Oh, Butch," I said, tsking and shaking my head at his stubbornness. "There's no need to hide them from me. I already know, after all."
He pinched the bridge of his nose -- a common sign, I knew, of someone about to tell a lie -- and said, with an elaborate show of patience, "Joey, I've never been in prison."
"Ah, so they never caught you, huh?"
"I'm pretty sure that they -- whoever they are -- have no interest in catching me."
"Hah!" I said, triumphant. "That's where you're wrong! Oh, you think you're so clever, but I'm on to you, mister!"
"If no one's after you, then how do you explain this!"
He frowned and unfolded the piece of paper I whipped out of my back pocket. There was a beat of silence. "It, uh..." He cleared his throat. "It looks like a fuzzy printout of my MySpace photo, with the words 'Wanted: Dead or Alive' written under it in black crayon." A pause. "And decorated with red devil's horns."
"Precisely," I said, nodding. "So you see that there's no point denying it any longer."
He sighed. "What can I say, Joey? You're just too smart for me." He studied the picture again. "Oh, by the way, I think 'Butch' is spelled with a 't.'"
"Huh," I said, taking the paper back and frowning at the offending word. "Maybe that's why I couldn't find the real thing on the FBI's Most Wanted list..."
"Using my real name might help too," he suggested. "Y'know, Kyle?"
I was about to tell him that there was no way the boys at the Bureau would've been fooled by his amateurish attempts at concealing his identity, but just then we both heard someone coming down the stairs.
"Good morning!" Mom sang, practically dancing into the room.
Butch muttered something that sounded like "Thank God" and made a move like he wanted to jump to his feet, but the old chair cushion had other ideas. I took advantage of his floundering to stuff the paper out of sight and give Mom a hug, thus ensuring that her arms would be full of glowering boy when Butch finally stood.
Blissfully unaware of masculine tensions, she kissed the top of my head. "Ready to go, sweetie?" She beamed at Butch. "Hello, Kyle."
"Morning, Val," he said, wisely approaching her other side. "You look great, honey."
"Oh, thank you, sweetheart!" I grimaced as she gave him a peck on the cheek. "It's so good of you to come!"
"My pleasure," he said. "Are we all ready?"
I had to give the guy credit; he had a nice set of wheels. I climbed in the back after the picnic basket and wondered what bank he had robbed to be able to afford a vintage black Cadillac and keep it in such sleek, smooth-running shape.
It was the first dry day in a week, so Butch rolled down the windows so we could enjoy the wind. "You two ever been to the lake?"
"Not yet. Haven't had time, what with the moving in."
"It's a pretty nice area. Especially in the spring. Good fishing too. You fish, Joey?" His eyes glanced at me in the rear-view mirror.
I scowled back and shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. There was something about the way they looked... I couldn't put my finger on it. I mean, I had seen Mom wearing that white turtleneck and black jacket a million times, but there was something different about her today. Maybe it was the way her hair blew in the wind instead of being held back like usual. Or maybe it was the fact that she was sitting slightly turned toward the driver's side and smiling as though there wasn't a single bad thing in the whole world.
Oh man, it was worse than I thought.
Butch, too, was glancing at her like he didn't have a car he needed to keep on the road. I coughed loudly and was rewarded when I saw his eyes in the mirror. Pointing at my own, I glared and mouthed, "I'm watching you, buddy!"
"You all right there, Kyle?"
"Uh, fine," he said, recovering from his swerve. "Yeah... fine..."
We parked some distance from the water, which suited me fine. Oh yes, if he was going to be obstinate about admitting his criminal past, I had other means at my disposal.
"Good God, Val!" he panted a few minutes later, heaving the picnic basket onto the table. "What in the world did you put in here?"
"Just some sandwiches," she said, surprised.
I snickered. "Can't handle a little exercise, Mr. Tough Guy?"
Butch eyed me and opened the top. "Uh-huh. Rock sandwiches?"
"Oh, is that where I left my collection?" I said. "Thanks for finding it!"
"Don't mention it," he growled through gritted teeth.
"Oh, Joey," Mom sighed. "So absent-minded sometimes. Well, never mind." She pulled out the checkered tablecloth. "Why don't you two walk down to the water while I set up?"
"I brought my glove and ball," I said. "Want to throw a few?"
"Sure," he accepted after a brief hesitation, probably aware of Mom's presence.
He was suspicious, I knew. I needed to lure him into a sense of security. Throwing high and easy, I lobbed a couple of easy ones and watched him relax. That's it, Butch, let your guard down now. It's just little Joey, yessiree.
"Food's ready!" Mom called.
Little Joey who used to pitch perfect games for the Little League back home. As his head turned toward the pavilion, I wound up and took careful aim.
"Oh, Kyle, honey, I'm so sorry!" Mom said after we finally half-dragged him back to the table. A zip-lock turned into an impromptu ice-pack. "Oh, does it hurt?"
"Yes!" he ground out, "Ow! Godda--! Sh--! Drat it all to-- Halifax!" he managed at last, looking slightly put out because Mom never let anyone swear while I was around.
"Oh, you poor thing." She frowned at me. "Joey?"
I ducked my head and mumbled "Sorry" at my sneakers. Mom clucked over him a moment more, then went to dig through the basket.
"I bet you are," he muttered once her back was turned, shooting me a watery glare.
"Sorry I missed and only got your kneecap," I muttered back.
"Listen, you little--"
"Here we are then," Mom said, returning. "Joey, can you get the plates?"
"Sure. Here you go, Bu-- uh, buddy. Bon appetit!" I set Butch's plate down and gave him a big, insincere grin. His eyes widened and he looked down at his tuna sandwich like he expected to find it covered in arsenic.
Watching him sweat through lunch almost made up for the way he made Mom laugh. I hadn't really done anything to the food -- there wasn't a safe way to mix Ex-Lax in with the desert chocolates -- but it was entertaining the way Butch nibbled at the edges of his sandwich. I concentrated on that rather than on the amusing stories of his childhood.
"Yeah, he was a good man, my uncle. Practically raised me after my dad left." For some reason, he glanced at me while he said this.
I scowled and stabbed at my cake. As though I would care. Hah!
"Presents!" Mom said at last. "Here you go, kiddo! Happy ninth!"
I tore through the wrapping and crowed when I saw the lightsaber inside. "Awesome! Thanks, Mom!" I couldn't wait to get home and put it together!
"You're welcome, sweetie." She kissed me and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her give Butch's hand a squeeze. My stomach dropped. I suddenly remembered that, however smart she was, Mom had a painful habit of mixing up Star Wars and Star Trek -- which, as every boy knows, is like the difference between R2D2 and a Klingon. I frowned and set the box down.
"And from me," Butch said, handing me a thin package.
This was a surprise. I shook it a little. Nothing. Well, surely he wouldn't give me anything explosive with Mom as witness? I peeled back the paper.
"Er, I know you collect 'em," he said, when I remained silent. "And my cousin said it's pretty rare, so..."
I picked up the First Edition X-Men comic in its clear plastic protector and stared, open-mouthed. I had drooled over it ever since I first saw it on display at the mall and I could already envision its place of honor in my room.
"Joey? Are you okay, sweetie?"
"Yeah..." This didn't change anything, of course. Oh, he was wily, but he wouldn't buy me with a comic book, nope. I slanted a look at him. "Uh, how's the knee?"
"Better," he said, rubbing it.
Later, loading the car, I sidled up next to him.
"Don't go too fast," I grumbled. "Mom's a lady, y'know."
"Yeah, I know."
"I'll be watching."
"Wouldn't have it any other way."
"Good." I paused. "I suppose you could put your arm around her if you can keep the car on the road."
He grinned. "Thanks, Joey."
"No problem, Butch."
Word count: 1995