A lopsided divorce agreement made for anemic alimony. Dick punished his ex-wife through late payments, enough to hurt but not enough to be sued over. His son? Richard paid lip service to his future, bragging to his sketchy gambling associates about the account he’d set up for Billy’s education—its accumulation, good for a semester’s worth of books and perhaps a school shirt, instead went to paying bills.
Despite his worsening headache, he tried to stay in the present, because the manor still awaited.
He recalled the floor plan as best he could from his one other visit. The building had two stories and about twenty rooms; it was U-shaped, open on its northeast side. The main building and its east and west wings surrounded an outdoor Italian marble terrazzo complete with two ewer-holding nymphs pouring water into a fountain. The terrazzo overlooked a large backyard running to the rear wall.
The building exterior featured ocher-colored bricks bordered with dark green trim clashing with the blue roof tiles overhead. The color of the manor’s bricks matched fetid carpet he and his mother had once seen while landfilling an old mattress the super said was too big for their apartment dumpster. The memory of that moldering carpet, coupled with the exterior’s competing tricolors, now made him queasy.
The manor walls boasted large, top-quality windows, but these were unevenly sized and asymmetrically arranged, giving the building a rickety look. This was deceiving, however. Prior to construction, Richard directed the architect to “Make it bomb-proof, I don’t care what it costs.” The architect had delivered. The structure was solid; in fact, so solid it could withstand a tornado strike. “No foolin’, a full-on F1, perhaps an F2,” the proud architect had crowed, even as Richard disputed his bills, eventually paying just thirty cents on the dollar.
BK walked up to two stout-looking oak doors whose lionhead knockers gleamed in the afternoon sun. He raised his finger to the doorbell but thought better of it. Who would be home? Instead, he retrieved keys Bates had FedEx’ed the week before, locating the one labeled FRONT DOOR.
It’s my home now, at least for tonight. He inserted the key.
The lock was stiff, requiring him to twist the key firmly. He pushed hard below one of the knockers and after an initial squawk, the door opened. He stepped in; cool air enveloped him. The foyer smelled like an office: a mixture of drywall, rubberized plastic, and carpet cleaner.
The interior was dark, contrasting sharply with the brightness outside. Before his eyes could adjust, an annoying beeping startled him. Alarm! He’d forgotten his father’s Gestapo-like penchant for security. BK pulled the key from the lock, examining the fob for a security code, but found none. Beep-beep! Beep-beep! went the alarm, and from his previous visit, Billy knew he had less than twenty seconds to punch in the four-digit code before a truly unpleasant (and unstoppable) blaring started. Dammit, Bates, why didn’t you give me the code? He stepped to the keypad just inside the door, his hand poised over the numbers; if he didn’t act fast, Richard’s home-security company would be sure to send a rent-a-cop to ask questions.
What’s the code? Don’t say you changed it! Somethin’ to do with that old rock dude, Purple Prince?
“Just ‘Prince,’” said Richard, very lifelike.
“Not ‘Purple Prince’, just ‘Prince.’”
And that helps me how?
“Remember the song?”
He tried remembering: Gettin’ down like it’s— No. Gonna get down like it’s— No.
“Son, gonna party like it’s—”
“1999.” He punched the numbers. The beeping ceased. Before closing the doors, he looked across the roundabout pavers toward the line of tool-wielding statues. At seventy yards, they seemed less real, more like the toy soldiers of his youth—specifically, Dwayne’s samurais.
They do look like an army, Richard. Billy stared at the large, cross-armed statue. Even at this distance, the determined stare of the stone king, the obvious leader of these ninja coalminers, was uncomfortable—he couldn’t stare back.
Hadn’t it been facin’ more toward the gate when I got here?
“Pay attention, Son,” Richard said.
What? Oh yeah, sorry, Dad. Coolin’ off the whole neighborhood—my bad. Billy, feeling 12 again, closed the door to save AC, then sat down on the lesser of two ostentatious couches in the foyer, dropping his head between his knees because his father’s hallucinations had returned.
“You’re not really here, Richard, are you?” he asked.
. . .
Good. Keep it that way.
Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road