by Blaise Marcoux
|part 1 of 3|
The sky burned pink as the sun bid farewell. Palm trees whispered back and forth to each other as the ocean breeze flowed around them. The tide eased into the sand, scattering the seagulls that had congregated on the shore a few hours earlier. The islet was full of noise, but exuded tranquility.
The house resting on the center ridge, the only one on the island, stood out like a beacon, the windows beaming light into the sea. It was a picture-perfect scene from the deck patio. But the boys ignored it.
“Check,” Milo droned, moving his white queen into place.
Pongo eyed the piece apathetically. Bishop blocked queen. “Why are we here, Milo?”
“Not this again.” A white pawn moved up two spaces. “Please, not this again.”
A black pawn responded. “I’ve developed a new theory. This one’s foolproof.”
“Oh, like the last twenty?” White bishop crisscrossed over from behind the trenches.
Pongo frowned. “Don’t be difficult, Milo. Just listen.” Black made another move, capturing the white queen. “Poor father was strapped for cash in his young twenties and desperately needed assistance.”
Milo groaned and unleashed his knight.
Another black pawn stepped forward. “So father sees an advertisement in the paper or a poster on a lamppost or some such. A pharmaceutical company needs a test subject and is putting out feelers for any volunteers.”
The white king performed a castle move. “Pongo, the only subjects admissible for that type of thing need an illness that can be treated by the medication.”
“Yes, well, father lies...” A third pawn moved forward, joining the others in the advance.
The white bishop finally struck. “Oh, so now father is a liar. Yes, father seems the lying type. But let me guess. This medication ‘impairs’ father. Resulting in his eccentricities. So the pharmaceutical company recompenses him handsomely, resulting in the purchase of our home.”
Black was playing sloppy now; a pawn flayed back, capturing the bishop and failing to properly strategize the board. “You have to admit, Milo, it makes a certain amount of sense.” The sun was beginning to set on the ocean.
“And what of mother? Where does she fit in your timeline? And can any lawsuit win really cover an entire island? There are so many holes in this; it just doesn’t make sense. Naturally, of course, because you got this from a book. I can always tell when you’ve been sniffing in the thriller section again.” From its hiding place, the white knight snagged the offending black pawn, moving into prime position of taking the leftmost rook.
Pongo threw up his arms in frustration. “Well, then how do you explain how he... how he... just is?”
The front door flew open, and Mello Mango, in a white apron covered with tomato sauce, yodeled, “Oh, Milo! Oh, Pongo!” He cocked his head quizzically at his sons’ patio activities. “Oh! You’re playing chess! I never played that, I didn’t know how to, I always played horseshoes, but it was always with myself, and I didn’t have any horses or shoes so I’d throw a can into the trash pail, but I always missed, so I’d go drink another soda, and then I’d throw the can into the trash pail and miss, so I’d drink another soda and...”
“Coming, father!” interrupted Milo, jumping up. He shot Pongo a look and walked inside, his brother following behind him.
* * *
Milla listlessly chopped the carrots. At age twelve, she had become accustomed to being the real cook in the family, while father dawdled about with some attempt at chimichangas, or at least what father thought was a chimichanga recipe. Father and mother probably had an interesting relationship before mother’s... untimely death.
Because of us, thought Milla, and she nearly cut off her index finger. Because of Pongo, Milo, and me. Because we were born.
Father galloped in, giddy over his perceived dinner success. Her brothers trailed in, and she could see they had been fighting again. She had always thought that if Milo read less Voltaire and Pongo read less LeCarré then both would be better off.
“Storm’s coming,” Milla let the others know, sprinkling the salads with Thousand Isle. “The radio said so. Father, we really should board up tonight.”
Mello stirred a soupy substance around in a pot; thankfully, Milla could count on her father forgetting to serve the dish. He beamed at his only daughter. “Oh, a storm! We had a storm once back in Arizona and the lights went off and I couldn’t find Mr. Mungo and then I accidentally stepped on him, I think it was him, but we had a lot of cats and I don’t remember all their names—”
“We’ll do it, Milla,” cut in Milo.
“So I’d name them by the alphabet, but sometimes I would get confused because some of them looked the same, and sometimes I’d use numbers, but some of them looked the same so I’d get confused—”
“Thank you, Milo,” Milla responded, seating Mango quickly.
“So I called them all Bob, but sometimes I called them Mr. Mungo, so I probably stepped on Mr. Mungo, but maybe it was Bob—”
“Say grace, father.”
“And oh! Grace! Thank you God for the rain and the clouds and the butterflies and Saint Patrick’s Day and butterflies and night crawlers and for the television and for our home and for the salad and for lollipops and for clouds—”
“Amen!” chorused the children.
“Oh! Food!” And Mello began to devour the salad.
* * *
Lightning dashed across the sky.
The man in the dark trench coat crammed himself through the window inch by slow inch. Ragged gasps escaped from his throat, his bloodshot eyes twitching wildly around the room. A piece of broken board tore into his coat and he winced but he kept crawling. With a crash he landed on the linoleum, pain jolting through his shoulders.
He could hear steps coming, running, racing. He tried to raise himself up, but sheer willpower wasn’t enough; he needed energy, he needed sleep, he needed less pain. They were here now, four of them that the man couldn’t make out in the lack of lighting. But a flash dispelled the darkness, revealing three confused children and... ah. Mango.
“Mango,” groaned the man in the dark trench coat.
“Oh!” shouted out Mello joyously, launching himself into the man and nearly squeezing the life from him. Then Mello stepped back from the hug. “Oh, wait! Who are you?”
“Mango. Mello Mango,” the man managed to say, struggling to stay upright. “It’s me. Don’t you remember? Dillon Hammond? From back in the day?”
“Oh! Which day? Tuesday or Wednesday?”
“You’ll have to forgive our father,” Milla explained, “he’s—”
“Milla,” Milo sharply interjected, “we don’t know who this man is. He could be a thief. Or—”
“Not a thief,” wheezed the man, and then he fell to the floor.
Mello stared at the man unthinkingly.
“Father, he needs a med kit,” Pongo quietly noted.
“Oh! Med kit!” Mello raced out, leaving the three children with an apparently comatose stranger.
“Why,” Milo wondered aloud, “am I the only one not throwing caution to the wind? A man breaks in. That’s generally assumed to be a crime. Just because he can confuse father doesn’t mean he can confound us. Seriously, people, think!”
“I am thinking!” Pongo retorted. “Whoever he is, he clearly needs help. I don’t very much think a thief is going to go rob a house in this man’s condition. Have you no charity, Milo?”
“Oh, have we been reading Dickens now, Pongo? What’s next, a passionate defense of the poor?”
“While you two fight,” Milla muttered, “I’ll be dragging this man to the sofa. Feel free to help anytime.” She pulled the man onto the couch, propping him up to keep him from slipping onto the floor.
The three offspring pulled up chairs and circled the man like an eager audience at a freak show. Only the rising and falling of the man’s chest gave any indication of life.
“Now,” Milla began, keeping her eyes on the man, “one detail you two haven’t considered is how this man got here. Maybe he’s from the delivery people.”
A plane dropped supplies off at the island every Friday; gnarly men with blue uniforms would unload food, lecture tapes, toilet paper, and the like.
“Of course, he doesn’t exactly look the part. He’s wearing black, not blue. And he knew father. And the deliverymen barely do more than grunt, much less address father. So I think the driving question is not whether this man is crook or victim, but rather how he knew we lived here.”
The man violently coughed, jolting the children in their chairs. Then with his eyes still closed, the man groaned, “What are you kids, a bunch of mini-professors? Who talks like that?” The man bowed over, ragged breaths escaping from his chest.
Pongo shrugged and muttered something about geniuses, but Milo talked over his brother with vehement questions. “You were awake that entire time? Why were you pretending to be knocked out? Who are you? Why are you here?”
The man finally opened his eyes, his crimson-veined, hysterical eyes. He peered at Milo with intensity, then growled, “Where. Is. Mango?”
Milo crossed his arms. “He’s not here. So that means you’re going to have to deal with—”
Mello bounded into the room, clumsily juggling a med kit and triumphantly cawing, “I found it! I found it!”
The man chuckled at Mello. It was a harsh sound, lacking mirth. Then he moaned; Mello had slammed the med kit into the man’s chest. “Oh! Oh! Sorry! I started by looking in the basement, then I checked the attic, then I checked the basement again because I had forgotten I had already checked there, but then I found it in the basement—”
“Mello, it’s so great to see you again!” the man cried out with forced cheer.
“Oh! It’s you! From the marches!” Mello pulled up the man, embracing him, and made the man cry out in pain. “Yet! It’s Dillon Hammond and Mello Mango again! Oh! I should make you a sandwich!” Mello dropped Dillon to the ground and raced out of the room.
The triplets regarded Dillon on the room. “Marches? What marches?” wondered Pongo.
Dillon glared up and struggled to stand again, flinging the unneeded med kit to the side. “You’ll have to continue your inquisition later, tykes.” He paused. “Because, you know, an inquisition is—”
Cold disdain crossed Milla’s face. “We know what an inquisition is. We have a library, you know.”
Dillon began to limp out of the room. “’We know what an in-key-sishun is. We so smart, we can say big words, look at us,’” he mocked before exiting the room and slamming the door.
Milo harrumphed. “What was that you said about charity, Pongo?”
“That maybe we could donate him to charity. Because I doubt he could fetch anything at an auction.”
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by Blaise Marcoux