Chapter 38: A really, really bad thing

Butchie Block stumped around, wielding a cane, a man contemplating his inner darkness on the stormy deck of Aunt Crabbie’s restaurant. “I don’t know,” he said to Artie. “I don’t know what made me do them things.”

He was talking about Liz Burns, who was Liz Powell when he’d first met her. In those days, Butchie was the wise-acre tough guy and Liz a bright, pretty and popular girl at Holy Trinity. Butchie’s parents had transferred him to Trinity hoping the nuns’ discipline would restrain him, but it only made him worse. Taking motorcycles for joy rides became stealing motorcycles and selling them to Ray Slater’s junkyard, along with drug dealing and occasional street fighting. He had dated Liz only a few times, innocent soda shop dates at first, but he conned her into opening her virgin body to him. She detested his friends, especially the bikers, and was shocked by his drug habits and soon she moved on and asked him not to call again.

“I lost it,” Butchie said. “What can I say? I was high on meth or cocaine, who knows on any given day. I saw her in the deli with who’s that guy … greasy hair, pointy head, Shick-Head that guy.”

“Jimmy Shick.”

“That’s the guy. Whatever happened to Jimmy Schick?”

“He’s selling paint.”

“Selling what?”

“Paint at the Wow Mart. Got laid off at Warner, I think.”

“Anyway,” Butchie said. “Jimmy was a wuss. He shoulda stood up for her. But I admit it, I freaked.It was all my fault. I grabbed her by the arm to try to talk some sense into her. I heard all the stories that went around, I knocked her to the ground, kicked her in the ribs and then pissed on her. Bullshit. A grab, that’s all. I shoved her and stalked off. I was angry.”

Butchie leaned on the salt-sprayed bar and popped open a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

“People exaggerate,” he said. “Whatever you hear in this town, it’s like ten times worse than what really happened.”

He drank. “Fool that I am, I begged her to come back to me. She was the classiest girl I ever met. But that summer she went up to The City and met that Air Force asshole.”

“He wasn’t in the Air Force then,” Artie said.

“She got pregnant. They left town. Butchie loses again. People look at me and see a winner? No. Butchie the Loser.”

The bartender delivered Artie a HopSlam Ale in a frosty glass, and he held that toward Butchie in a toast.

“Here’s to the new Butchie. Butchie the winner.”

“I coulda married her, except I was so young and stupid. A girl like Liz was enough to make a guy get a real job. My whole life would have been different.”

“Yeah, you would have Taylor’s father.”

Butchie spurted beer in a loud laugh.

“You think I’d have a son like that? His mom’s murdered and what, he mopes around? He goes to parties with the Bulgarian prick who stranded her on the island? Are you kidding me?”

“He didn’t know. He didn’t know about the Bulgarian until we tracked down Marco.”

“Yeah, what, a year after Liz died?” Butchie tapped the bar with his forefinger. “If somebody did that to my mom, they’d be in a coffin a day later. A closed coffin, you get it?”

He sat back, trembling. These strange moods came upon him since he’d been shot. The doctors had warned him of anxiety and depression but he didn’t believe them until it all started. The willies, that’s what he called it. The spooky horrible feeling that your life is fragile, without meaning, that your sanity is hanging by its dirty cracked fingernails, and that if there is a God, He is laughing in your face.

He took a long pull on that beer. “You gonna batten down?” He asked Artie. “You heard the hurricane warning? Gonna skim the Outer Banks and come right at us.”

Artie shrugged. 

“You got the plywood right under the house,” Butchie said. “You want help?”

“Nah, we’re insured,” Artie said.

“Must be nice,” Butchie said.

“Nice to what?”

“Have so much money you don’t give a shit.”

“Remember Sandy? We didn’t even lose a roof tile. Dunes, the Bird Sanctuary, that’s why. Mother Nature wants her dunes, man. The assholes on the north end bulldozed their dunes, that’s why Sandy wiped them out.” 

“Speaking of that …” he rested his cane atop the bar. “What do you know about the night Liz died? Go through it.”

“Man, I’ve told this story so often.”

“This is me asking, Artie.”

“I heard her in the morning. She kept her boards in that locker underneath the cottage. She walked out from under the cottage, wearing a black wet suit, and carrying her banana-yellow board. The one they found floating. She paddled out for the early swells, she did that all the time. I saw her again around sundown. Out near the rockpile. She was like contemplating the ocean.”

“Then what?”

“Then I don’t know. Nobody knows.”

Butchie could spot a lie, he’d told so many of them. The slight quiver of the lips, the little raspy catch in the throat, the eyes flickering sideways.

“Artie, help me here. People still suspect me. I gotta clear my fucking name. I know the heap of bullshit you laid on the cops, but this is me, your friend Butchie.”

“No, Butchie …” Artie looked down at his bare, sandy feet.

“Come on. No Butchie what?”

Artie choked up and shook his head. 

“You can tell Butchie.”

“You’re crying now?”

“It’s the damn wind,” said Artie. “Hurricane’s coming.”

“Tears? Be a man.”

Artie bit his lips, arose, knocking the bar stool down. He seemed to barely notice. He stood facing the stiff ocean breeze. Cloud banks loomed south. Red flag warnings flapped along the beach. 

Butchie stepped up behind him, talking into his ear, like a favorite uncle giving sage advice. “You can tell Butchie.”

Artie shook his head.

“It’s all right, Artie, a guy’s gotta lie to the cops.”

“Help me, Butchie. I’ve done a bad thing. I’ve done a really, really bad thing.”

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