“Maybe you’re right,” said Swiveller. “That is, if it was kids who did it. Where do you come up with all these crazy ideas, anyway?”
“From the library, man,” said Weatherby. “I find out about all kinds of stuff there. That’s where I got the skinny on the CIA’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination. And a lot of other stuff too. Sometimes I take Ernie in there to get warm.”
“I thought you couldn’t have dogs in the library,” said Swiveller.
“Ernie is so small; I keep him in my coat. Nobody has ever noticed.”
“So do you think all that is true about Luther?” said Swiveller.
“It’s what the book said. But even if it isn’t true,” said Weatherby with a grin, “it ought to be.”
“Spoken like a true theologian.”
“How are things with the Parks Department?” Weatherby asked. “I see they kept you, even though you had to go to the cracker factory.”
“The job’s okay,” responded Swiveller. “I’m on thin ice but that’s not unusual. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday at Arcadia cleaning up Fern and Roy’s crap along Spring Creek.”
Weatherby laughed. “Those two are the main attraction over there. More entertaining than the zoo and it doesn’t cost you a nickel.”
“They’re fucking unbelievable,” said Swiveller. “Garbage scattered everywhere—beer cans, shit-stained panties, cigarette butts, used bloody Kotex pads, old filthy clothes, adult diapers rolled up and loaded with gravy—you name it. I tell them all the time, this isn’t your fucking house. You two don’t live here. Not that it does any good. Yesterday Swanson and I filled nearly a dozen large trash bags with all kinds of crap—pots, pans, clothes, shoes, food, all rotten, filthy, crawling with vermin.”
“Me neither. If it weren’t for the constant mess, I wouldn’t have an issue with those two. I used to tell them that. Be cool and keep your shit picked up, I’d say, and you won’t have any grief from me.”
“I don’t know how anybody can live in such filth,” said Weatherby with disgust.
“Me neither. If it weren’t for the constant mess, I wouldn’t have an issue with those two. I used to tell them that. Be cool and keep your shit picked up, I’d say, and you won’t have any grief from me. Not to mention the cops. But I gave up on the lectures long ago. Fern and Roy live the only way they know. Like us all, I guess. The problem is Arcadia is a goddamn public park and I work for the parks department. I don’t bother with niceties anymore. I just show up and start shoveling. Whether they’re there or not.”
“I imagine that crazy Fern has something to say about that.”
Swiveller laughed. “Oh yes. She says she’s going to kill me and burn my house down.”
“When is this going to happen?”
“Never. She’s been saying that for years,” Swiveller said with a sigh. “It’s an ongoing battle. One that will outlast us all, I’m afraid.”
“You’re a bastard, Swiveller,” said Weatherby, his grin revealing a set of blackened teeth. “You’re always fucking up somebody’s pad.”
“I know it,” Swiveller said, eyes glazed, as if in a trance. He had his pocket knife out and was whittling away at a thumbnail. “But the sun shines on the wicked too. Maybe it’s the mood elevators and the tranquilizers but today I woke up from a weird dream I’ll be damned if I can remember and I actually felt good, like today was going to be a good day. I suppose I really am going crazy.”
“A good day?” said Weatherby, “With all this cold and fog? What kind of nonsense is that?”
“I don’t know. I like the cold. By the way, thanks for coming to visit me at the hospital. I’m sorry they wouldn’t let you in.”
“They probably have a policy of no winos allowed,” said Weatherby, filling his Adidas bottle.
“Actually, it’s considered a privilege to have visitors other than family. I didn’t get any privileges. They’ve got a level system gig in there. If you cooperate, you move up the levels. I wasn’t in the mood to cooperate. The groups were boring and stupid and the nurses were bitches. So I stayed the entire week in the closed unit on Level 0. No visitors. No privileges.”
“Jesus, what did you do the whole time?”
“I sat out in the lounge in front of the nurses’ desk and read Les Misérables, the whole 1200 pages, man. Even the boring chapters that have nothing to do with the story. Reading about Jean Valjean freed me in a way. A couple of the orderlies were friendly and we bullshitted a little now and then. Once this crazy bastard in the room next to mine tried to club an orderly with this piece of metal he’d somehow torn off the door. The orderly kicked his ass. That was the high point of the week. Finally, the psychologist told me I was, as he put it, ‘sabotaging my own treatment’ and discharged me.”
Swiveller stood up. “Well, I guess I better get started on that grill. I might have to chisel that crap off.”
“I’ll go over with you—hey, where’s Ernie?” said Weatherby, looking around. “Do you see him, Dick?”
“Maybe he’s under that blanket in the basket,” said Swiveller.
Weatherby poked at the blanket. No response. He pulled off the little blanket, revealing the dog. Ernie opened his eyes, stood shakily, and barked.
“Ah, possuming, I thought so,” said Weatherby. Ernie wagged his tail and barked again. “Come on, Dick, you’ll get a kick out of this.”