“Who is it?” Taylor called.
“It’s not the police, silly,” Steffie whispered. “Cops don’t knock like that.”
Steffie, always hoping to help a neighbor, would open the front door to any knock. This was a habit she regretted when she saw the scarred face of Butchie Block.
“Stephanie,” purred Butchie.
Stephanie scowled and pushed the door until Butchie was just a slot.
“I’m not gonna ask to come in,” Butchie said.
“I brought you some …” he nudged the door and handed her a dark bag … “scones from PLC.”
Steffie shook her head.
“Please take it as a formation of my apology,” Butchie said.
“I’m sorry, Butchie, you’re just not…”
“Like I was out of mind that day. I’m not gonna cop to booze and drugs now. I been man enough to look in the mirror. The old Butchie, he caused that trouble up at Commando, and you got hurt by it. Accept my apologies. Please.”
Steffie grasped the bag. Staring at Butchie she said, in two precise words: “Go. Away.”
“I ask your forgiveness.”
“You want my forgiveness?”
“If you can be so humble. Please, I’m not the same guy, Stephanie.”
“Okay,” Steffie opened the door a little wider, leaned into it. “You want my forgiveness? A hundred bucks.” She held out her hand. “In my palm now.”
“A hundred bucks?”
Butchie dug into his front pocket, brought out a chained leather wallet, and counted out bills. “Hundred even,” he said and handed over the cash. “You want more?”
“You’ve just made a donation to the animal shelter. Now please leave and don’t come back.”
“I don’t hate you, Butchie.”
“I’m trying to make amens for my bad … hey! Is that Taylor? How you doing, buddy?”
Taylor’s face flashed in the bedroom doorway, then retreated to darkness.
“Hey,” Butchie said to Steffie, “It’s okay, I know youse two are an item.” He said louder: “No shame in love, right Taylor?”
Getting no answer, Butchie said: “I know he don’t like me because of you know, certain things I done.”
Taylor emerged from the bedroom.
“Hey, brother,” said Butchie. “I’m on a mission of peace here.”
“What do you want, Butchie?” Taylor asked.
“He’s apologizing,” Steffie said.
Taylor, his voice shaking, said: “Leave Stephanie alone, okay?”
Butchie grabbed the doorframe, winced.
“I”ll be okay,” he said. “Happens.”
He started to back into the hallway, knocked over a cane he’d leaned against the wall, and slowly sank into a crouch. “Jesus!” he cried. “Oooh.”
“Are you okay?” asked Steffie, stepping into the hall and crouching to his level.
“Happens,” said Butchie, eyes swimming, bald head sweating, lips shivering.
Steffie touched his shoulder.
“Passes,” Butchie said.
“You come in,” she said.
Butchie, Taylor and Stephanie converged at her kitchen table. Taylor sat sullen, head in his hands. Steffanie bustled to serve french press coffee, scones and jam on her best thrift-store dishes.
“Butchie, you should go,” Taylor muttered once, but the others didn’t seem to hear him. He picked at his scone, ignored his mug of coffee.
Butchie described the operation that had saved his life in some detail and then added: “It ain’t nothing they can do. Kind of wound I have. I ain’t finished with the operations, neither. They gotta let things settle down in there. I tell you one thing, getting good drugs is no longer a problem.”
Stephanie, feeling guilty about what Taylor had done to this man, encouraged Butchie to talk about his pain. When he’d first appeared at the door she’d flushed with fear, thinking he’d come to avenge himself on Taylor. But now, as he sat and talked in friendly tones, she was truly convinced. Butchie did not remember who shot him.
“It’s like having hot acid run around inside you,” Butchie said. “With lightning bolts. The docs reconnected my guts in four places. The drain hole hurts worse than the big incision. I tell you, it’s so savage sometimes, it’s just, I’m in awe. The pain can cut right through the pills, and I’m taking some real whoppers, which you know, I’d share if there’s any interest.”
Steffie shook her head.
Butchie, from inside his leather vest, produced a pill bottle, and shook out two pink tablets.
“I gotta,” he rose and retreated to the kitchen sink.
Steffie followed him. “You believe in forgiveness, Butchie?”
“The whole world is forgiveness now. I realize that since I been shot. No forgiveness, we’d be killing each other left and right.”
“Would you forgive the man who shot you?”
“Son of a bitch,” Butchie said, and winced. “Coulda just winged me.”
“You’d forgive him, no hard feelings?”
He leaned forward to whisper to Steff: “Your man isn’t doing so good, is he?”
“Depressed,” Steffie said. “Lost his job.”
“I’m finding out who killed his mother.”
“What do you mean, finding out?”
“Billie McGinn. All’s I gotta do is prove it. I had her pimp in my grasp, and the sheriff let him go. He’s gotta be back in Bulgaria by now.”
He winced. “Infection,” he said. “Last thing you want with a gut shot. They put in a drain. It’s like a second wound, only the surgeon done it. You gotta watch that. I go in, you know, every couple of weeks now. But I tell you, he’ll feel better, your man there, once the real estate bitch is in handcuffs.”
“Billie’s my boss,” Stefffie said. “And I love her.”
“Love is blind as a bat,” said Butchie.
Butchie’s cheeks ballooned and he barged into the bathroom, and without closing the door, knelt before the toilet and vomited, loud and strong. Steffie stepped over and watched in horror.
“Excuse me,” Butchie grunted. “American revolution going on in my gut. Don’t get gutshot, take my advice, you know…
He flushed the toilet, cleaned it with toilet paper, rose to his feet. Steffie stepped aside as Butchie headed for the main door and grabbed his cane. Steffie spied blood on the bathroom floor.
“Treating me for PTSD,” Butchie said. “Like a combat vet, you know, back from Afghanistan.”
He limped out into the hallway, coughing mightily. “Stay in touch,” he called.
When the door closed, Taylor seethed: “Are you crazy letting that man in here?”
“Taylor, he practically collapsed at the door.”
“He was acting.”
“He was in terrible pain. Anyone could see it.”
She grabbed his arm. “He doesn’t remember. He really doesn’t.”
“Yeah now. But what if he wakes up tomorrow…”
“What if… what if… you’re what if thinking again. You need a reading. Calm down. He’s out of our lives forever now.”
“You took money from him?”
“For the cat shelter, will you relax?”
At the window, Taylor watched the feet of Shipwreck Bay pad by.
Steffie defended herself. “Was I supposed to leave him moaning in the hall?”
“He’s a changed man.”
“He’s going to remember some day.”
“Taylor, even if he does …
“Denver,” he said.
“Denver now? No Austin?”
“Let’s get married and move to Denver.”
“No. I’m not leaving my mom here to get old alone.”
“She’ll understand. There’s no tech future here.”
“I want a real wedding. Up on Holy Hill. With Julie and Patty as bridesmaids. And my mom crying. And my dad come back to give me away. Not in some courthouse in Colorado. I love you deeply but I’m not going to run away with you. I want to marry the man I fell in love with, not his shrunken shadow. Taylor, honey, you have to get out of that bedroom.”
He sank into the couch, Steffie beside him. “We’ll make it, Taylor, I always knew we were going to make it together.”