Then Sarah spoke what they both knew: “That Wendi woman did.”
Sarah, who knew her son thought more of Wendi, her ex-husband’s last girlfriend, than she did, changed gears again. “So, you’re at the house. What’s it like?”
“Like Van Gogh vomited.”
“Whoever he is,” said Sarah. “Some of the furniture in those email pictures Bates sent looked, well, valuable. Whatcha think?”
“Dunno, Momma, guess so. Bates said most of it’s knock-off, but some might be worth somethin’. But hey, there’s these statues in the yard. They’re weird but that doesn’t matter, they’re fancy as hell, worth big bucks, Momma, huge bucks. And there’s dozens of ‘em!”
Sarah perked up. “Statues? Like Auntie J’s concrete Jesus and those adorable lambs?”
“No, Mom, not concrete—stone! Carved. Chiseled. You know, sculptures!”
Sarah didn’t sound impressed. “Well, BK, statues or no statues, doesn’t matter. We ain’t seein’ no money outta that house.”
“For sure,” he agreed, examining a tag hanging from the couch. It was an auction label. There was one matching it on the opposite couch and others on all the artwork he could see. “Looks like Bates is gettin’ ready for a yard sale, Momma, to pay off the creditors, I guess.”
“Don’t start me on that tuh-urd, Bates.” Sarah pronounced turd using two syllables. “Just look over what Bates has for you, carefully, sign it, and you know the rest. Hustle back with that three thousand. The super’s screamin’ about the back rent, so let that tuh-urd Bates worry about everythin’ else.” She changed gears again; Sarah was an efficient gear-changer. “BK, you eat lunch?”
“Because, you know, that medication, that Q-peen—”
“—Whatever it’s called, you need to take it with food. That foreign doctor—”
“Yes, him, he said so, and I finally got to the library to look it up online. Says you need three meals a day with it. Eat, Billy. You’ve lost so much weight, you’re a stick with hands. Speakin’ of, what was lunch?”
“Now, Billy, you must eat, of course, but don’t waste money. Eat what your momma packed in the cooler. Have you put it in the fridge? That chicken won’t keep in this heat—it’s a scorcher here, by the way. Bates said the house would have power. Does it?”
“How’s the Corolla?”
He looked through the floor-to-ceiling windows framing the front doors. The car gleamed in the sun. “It’s fine, ‘cept the AC’s still dead. Alignment’s pullin’, too.”
“I pray it’ll be alright, and we’re more worried about you, anyway. You don’t sound so good, Sweetie.”
“We? Who’s we?”
His mother paused; he could hear her thinking. “We are your momma and your girlfriend. And don’t say Amanda’s not your girlfriend; you’ve been sleepin’ at her apartment.”
“What? You guys are talkin’ now? I thought you hated Mandy.”
“No, I dislike Mandy. There’s a difference.”
“Mom, I don’t want you talkin’ to her—”
“Sweetie, that’s not up to you. Look: please just take your medicine and come home in one piece, okay? ‘Cause I got a bad feelin’.” Sarah regularly had bad feelin’s.
“Okay, Momma: ‘Take my meds.’ Got it. It’s just weird, you know, you and Mandy talkin’.”
“Just keepin’ track of my son’s whereabouts. Believe me, we’re not tradin’ recipes. Listen, I hafta go. Your momma—that’s me—loves you. And who loves me back?”
“Jesus, Mom, I’m twenty-two. Don’t make me say it.”
“Don’t blaspheme. Now, tell me who loves me.”
“Billy the Kid. Ya happy now, Mom?”
“Delirious! Take your medicine, Sweetie-pie. Love you. Bye!”
“Love you too, Momma,” he said. With a click-beep, the call ended. Billy was used to Sarah having feelins and finishing conversations like a drill sergeant, but his mom and his girlfriend talking? That was new. He stewed over an image: Mandy and his mother sitting on some couch comparing notes, but he dropped the thought. He was feeling better—at least a little—and didn’t want to jinx it.
He continued looking through one of the glass panels abutting the front doors. Outside, the two robins he’d scarcely noticed earlier had just alighted on the shoulders of the large tollbooth samurai, the Big Hoss. Strange, he thought. The statue now definitely faced away from the road, toward the house—toward Billy. Coulda sworn it had been lookin’ the other way. But had he really been paying attention? No.
The fat robins perched comfortably, enjoying the view while digesting their worms. Suddenly, the statue vibrated. The unsuspecting birds felt this tremor through their talons and flew off to the safety of the hawthorn bushes. Billy saw them take flight but thought nothing of it; he was too far away to notice such a quick movement.
Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road