Billy called his father by his first name whenever he was mad at him—which was often; Richard’s being dead for eight weeks hadn’t changed this. While his father was alive, Billy wouldn’t dream of yelling at him. Why court a cuffing? Death, however, had been a game changer. Now I can yell all I want. Still, he hadn’t yelled—old habits die hard.
As a youth, William Buchanan was quiet, falling short of the gregarious nickname his mother bestowed on him: Billy the Kid—BK for short. Inside his head, however, he could howl like the Arctic: mundane injustices—the loss of a favored toy, schoolyard treachery—could set him off, but he reserved the coldest winds for his otherwise unassailable father. In his pre-teen years, Billy created a serious internal defense against him, an elaborate WWI-styled bunker encircled with razor wire and landmines. He patrolled it with Brodie helmet on and rifle at the ready, eyeing his father over the no-man’s-land between the lines, yelling unpleasant epithets to keep “Hun” Richard at bay. Outwardly, however, when Daddy was about, Billy only whispered.
The secret yelling continued through adolescence. But by the time Billy turned sixteen, the year of the Saturday morning brawl, much of his father’s menace had abated; the dangerous mental Hun had transitioned into a second-class villain, more Doctor Evil than Doctor Mengele. This “mental” Richard stayed familiar, but not chummy; a petulant ranch hand you couldn’t bring yourself to sack.
Said ranch hand had for the last few years served as Billy’s cerebral custodian, maintaining his mental equipment. Richard was feet up and lackadaisical about his duties, his sweating Mai Tais producing impressive ring stains. It wasn’t the negligence that got under Billy’s skin, however; it was his father’s snide commentary:
“You call that clean, Billy?”
“The lawn’s not cut yet? It’s been an hour, for Chrissake!”
“I said two beers!”
“Son, grow some balls and stand up to that prick!”
Being that Billy’s father was somewhat overbearing, the divorce had been a godsend. Now, at twenty-two, Billy’s other influences, a loving mom and a tight extended family, had matured him beyond merely reacting; the tête-à-têtes with Richard, so volatile in years past, now required a true shock to ignite. Otherwise, though Mental Richard could still cause mayhem, he now had to do so from the Prison of Unwanted Memories, and then only on visitor’s day.
Within this correctional institution, Billy’s hatred for his father sat on death row, unwilling to take a needle. In the last three years, however, BK had made progress reconciling his feelings. Richard was now a mere yeoman sitting far from the captain’s chair, manning less-and-less important stations, so it seemed inevitable: one day in the not-too-distant future, imaginary Mental Richard would die.
Then the headaches began.
In June, migraines began overwhelming Billy, staying Richard’s execution. In the last two months, Billy’s imaginary father had begun veering from the predictable scripts of the past toward present circumstances, wrestling him for control of his own mental mic. The good news: these conversations were still inside his head—BK wasn’t hearing voices. He was sure of this. Pretty sure.
Now, however, a shocked, angry Billy found himself ill-prepared as his mental houselights dimmed for Richard Time. On stage, his father sat with cowboy boots propped comfortably on a campy-looking switchboard entitled COMMON SENSE AND MOTOR CONTROL. He was smiling toothily, ignoring a bank of flashing red lights, hands behind his head. Deliberately, he swept his Justins from the panel, pushing backwards on his wheelie stool.
Don’t call me ‘buckaroo.’ You know I hate that. Just explain the statues.
There were several inward-facing sculptures along the wall’s perimeter. Each was a muscular Asian laborer, or perhaps a warrior, six foot plus, holding a tool of some sort—picks, shovels, hammers, axes. They looked old, well-made, and most of all, valuable. Very valuable.
“Aren’t these cool, Son? My own private army!”
BK bristled at this. His father’s lavish, post-divorce lifestyle (and the bragging that went along with it) was nothing new, but these large museum pieces were way over the top, even for his One Percent father.
Richard, who sold you these? And, my God, they’re not cast, they’re actually carved! Must a’ cost a fortune. Seriously, Dad, a goddamn fortune! What were you thinkin’?
Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road