Robert Owen Co-op (3)

October, 2016 – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Some time well after midnight, Jack Coulter wakes up and listens. He can hear Tamara’s regular breathing next to him, and, downstairs, occasional sounds possibly from the kitchen. Not too bad. Upstairs, it’s as quiet as the grave.

Rising carefully, he smiles down at his sleeping hostess. If he’s ever in a college town again, he will definitely remember the Lost Icelandic Wanderer act.

Then Jack sees that his pants are underneath her. Fuck! How is he supposed to case the joint with no pants on? But there’s no way he’s getting those out from under her without waking her up.

OK, calm and aware, buddy. Calm and aware.

He looks around the room and is immediately rewarded by the sight of a lovely nightgown, hanging on the back of the room’s door.

Excellent. If anybody sees me, I just smile and walk toward the bathroom at the end of the hall. They’ll recognize that it’s hers. I’m just Tamara’s latest loverboy, going to freshen up. Which is quite a bit better than having some college girl scream bloody murder seeing a strange half-naked guy walking around the house.

The nightgown isn’t exactly Chuck Norris’s smoking jacket, but neither is it Paris Hilton’s negligee. It’ll do. Jack slips it on, picks up his canvas bag, and quietly opens the door.

~

At two o’clock in the morning Rick is on the porch again, sitting in the swing. He doesn’t sleep very well when he’s been drinking. He’s not drinking now, though. Just having one last smoke before trying to turn in.

Outside the night air is at last getting nice and cool, and there’s a big full moon just starting to fall west off the top of the sky.

“Hey, Rick,” a voice says from the darkness of the tree-covered sidewalk.

“Hey, Allison,” he replies. “Have a seat!”

It’s Tamara’s roommate. She’s good-looking, too. Rick sighs, and hits his smoke.

“Oh, I can’t, Rick, sorry,” she smiles. “It’s been a long night already.”

“What the hell,” he asks, a little belligerent from drink and sad thoughts. “You got early midterms? Just sit for a minute. You don’t want to go upstairs right now. Trust me.”

Allison stops on the porch and brushes hair out of her face. “What are you talking about?”

“Tammy’s got a guy up there.”

“Oh, fuck.” She inadvertently glances toward the turret, as though she might see right through the porch’s roof.

“Yeah, exactly.”

“God damn it.” She sits down on the swing next to him and pushes off angrily. “I do not need this tonight.” She looks at him. “Is it Ben?”

“Oh no,” Rick smiles. “Ben is so two weeks ago. Now it’s the Lost Boy from Iceland.”

Allison looks at him. She has the most beautiful eyes: gray under dark eyebrows. Rick looks out over the porch railing, and blows smoke. “What?” she frowns. “Iceland?”

“Well,” Rick grins. “That’s what he said. And that’s what she bought. Hook, line, sinker, and tackle box. But if that guy’s ever been any closer to Iceland than New Jersey then I’m Leif Frikking Erikson.”

Now Allison is scowling fiercely. Rick can feel it without even looking at her, like heat-rays.

“Seriously? The guy said he’s from Iceland? And she went upstairs with him?”

“Yeah,” Rick nods morosely.

“How long ago?”

“Eleven, I guess,” he looks at her, not liking the way this is going. It’s not like it’s his fault, after all. “Why?”

“Rick!” Allison is exasperated. She does exasperation very well. “Tammy’s been up there with a con-man for three hours and you didn’t even say anything? The guy could be robbing us right now!

Studying him, Allison makes a wry face. “Oh, but you didn’t think about that part, right?” she says, frowning. “You’re too busy thinking about some guy scoring with Tammy.”

Realizing that his mouth has opened, Rick closes it. He didn’t realize that his secret desires were quite so non-secret to every casual observer.

“God damn it, Rick!” Allison says. “OK, it’s probably nothing.” She sighs. “But let’s go up and just take a peek.”

~

The first two rooms that Rick and Allison check are empty. The third one is not.

“Hello!” Jack says, looking up at his two surprise visitors and recovering his character instantly. “Can you show, please—where is bathroom?”

Jack turns on his most engaging and innocent smile, directing it especially at the girl who looks unfortunately inclined toward hostility. It’s a shame to see such suspicion on such a lovely face. Realizing that he has left the bag on the floor beside him, Jack tries to pick it up surreptitiously, but only manages to partially snag one of the two handles. The bag tips over and spills some of its contents in a pile on the floor.

The content that it disgorges is mostly cash, of course.

It looks like a lot of money, but actually there’s nothing bigger than twenties and fifties in the whole bunch, which has been a source of some irritation to Jack during the last several minutes. Don’t college kids use large bills?

Both of Jack’s visitors look like their eyes are about to pop out of their heads.

“Oh my god!” the young lady shouts. “He’s robbing us!” And she takes off running down the hall.

“You son of a bitch!” the young man declares, and charges Jack with more enthusiasm than skill.

Jack easily sidesteps the drunken charge and goes to trip the guy, but then, realizing that this maneuver would put his own bare foot right in the pile of cash, holds back. So, instead of sprawling face-first, the enthusiastic young collegiate gentleman manages to twist sideways enough to grab the robe Jack is wearing. Jack goes down hard right next to the guy, kicks him once in the head, slips out of the robe, and jumps to his feet.

There are voices down the hall and around its bend, shouting. The natives are getting very restless, very quickly.

“Dude,” Joe College says from the floor, “you don’t have any pants on.”

“Yeah.”

Jack looks down at the money, which has been scattered by their fall. His bag has apparently been kicked out of sight, probably under a dresser that’s against a wall just a couple yards away.

“I think Allison went to get the shotgun,” Joe College explains.

Jack looks down at him. “Right, yeah.” With one last regretful glance at the cash on the floor, Jack takes off out the door and dashes back toward Tamara’s room.

“There he is!” some new idiot shouts from down the hall. “Allison! Get him!”

Jack slams Tamara’s door behind him, hoping it will magically lock itself, leaps to the mega-bed, and extracts his pants from beneath Tamara’s sleeping form with a speed that spins her like a top. Thus rudely torn from dreamland, Tamara shouts wordlessly, and blinks herself awake, trying to focus her eyes on Jack as he attempts to set a world speed record for pulling his pants on.

Yonar?” she says sleepily. “What’s wrong?

“Gotta get back home, honey,” Jack says, still trying to hop around into his pants. The damn things are bunched up so that he’s managed to get both feet only halfway through. “Iceland’s melting!”

And then time runs out.

The door bursts open, and Allison is the first one through it, followed by a respectable gang of wild-eyed cheerleaders baying for blood. Jack turns his head in slow motion, and sees her carrying the biggest shotgun he’s ever seen in his life. The double-barrels lowering, her eyes widening.

With his pants still only halfway on and his hands still gripping their waist, Jack leaps head-first, directly through the open window. Even flying through the cool night air, Jack has time to think Crap. I didn’t grab the boots! The boots that he swiped, fair and square from some dude in Gandy Town who was a little too old and a little too unwary. Oh well. Won’t be the first time I been barefoot.

Suspended in mid-air, with gravity stubbornly failing to work as fast as he needs it to, Jack hears the gun detonate behind him with a sound like the end of the world. Trumpet of Doom. Biblical disaster.

And I saw when the Chick opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the Two Chicks saying, Come and see, for I have opened a can of Whoop-Ass upon him!

Two wasps with hot-iron stingers and apocalyptically bad attitudes nail him, one on either side of his ass.

Apparently woken up by the gun blast, gravity only then resumes its proper function, hurling Jack into the bushes by the side of the house. The bushes are eight feet tall and unpleasant. Rolling out of them, punctured, scratched, and cursing, Jack hops twice, getting his damned pants on at last, then glances up to see the new young lady—Allison?—leaning out of the window with her two-barreled weapon.

Damn, Jack thinks briefly. She’s even better-looking than Tamara! He spares a very momentary regret for missed opportunities.

Jack takes off running barefoot across the night-wet grass as the gun goes off again, blowing a crater in the dark earth six feet behind him.

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