Freedom Lane: The Lieutenant
“Get this damn house clean!” Helen snapped at her adopted son, Da’Quarius. “The Lieutenant will be here any minute!”
“I’m movin’ as fast as I can, biddy!” The dreadlocked Da’Quarius snapped back as he brought the garbage back to the front door. Dutchie, the brown pitbull terrier, jumped around him with the prospect of taking a walk to the blue City of New Haven garbage can that sat in their driveway.
“And you better not make any remarks about slavery being over!” Helen said, taking a bottle of windex to wipe down the window in the top center of the door.
“I ain’t never seen you do all dis,” Da’Quarius said. “What’s up wit’chu and Rose’s dad? You got a crush on him?”
“Watch your mouth!” Helen said. “You better not act that way when The Lieutenant gets here!”
“The what?!” Da’Quarius said.
“That’s what Helen calls my father,” Rose said, coming in the room. “This house is clean enough. Why don’t you two relax a bit.”
“Your father is a ninety-seven year old veteran of the Korean War!” Helen said. “He deserves a clean house when he comes to visit.”
Rose just rolled her eyes and turned the TV on.
“How is yo father even still alive?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” Rose asked.
“You never mentioned him before,” Da’Quarius said. “Also, don’t take dis da wrong way, but you old.”
“And he’s even older,” Rose said, flipping the channels on the TV.
“Stop your babbling and get to work!” Helen exclaimed.
“Do I have to clean if Rose gets to watch TV?” Da’Quarius said.
“No,” Rose said, answering for Helen. “Take Dutchie for a nice, long walk. He looks like he’s going to burst, and you two have been cooped up all day while we Martha Stewart the house.”
“Word,” Da’Quarius said. “Come on, Dutchie! You wanna go for a walk?”
Dutchie barked and started jumping at the door, nearly knocking Helen over as she continued to wipe the window with her windex-covered rag. “Watch that damn mutt!” she shouted. Da’Quarius clipped Dutchie to his leash and took him out with the garbage bag.
“What’s wrong?” Helen asked, leaving her windex on the end table and sitting next to Rose.
“You know what’s wrong,” Rose replied. “My father coming here with that wife of his. He didn’t even go to my mother’s funeral for God’s sake! Then theres you, just about rolling out the red carpet for the man. He never approved of my lifestyle, and I have no idea how he’s going to react to learning that he’s a grandfather now.”
“What a summary,” Helen said. “For what it’s worth; I am sorry. I was brought up to respect others’ parents, and your father is a veteran.”
“I know,” Rose said. “I should be the one who is sorry. I shouldn’t let him get to me before he’s even here. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Helen said. “I promise to tone it down a little bit when he gets here.”
There was a knock at the door before it was opened from the outside. “Good afternoon, Rose,” the man on the opposite side said. “Helen.”
“Lieutenant Masters!” Helen exclaimed getting up from the couch and saluting with her right hand. “Let me get your bags. You must need to put your feet up from your flight. Go ahead. I’ll bring you a nice cup of fresh iced tea; just how you like it.”
Rose ground her teeth. “You dirty bitch,” she said under her breath.
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Season 5, Episode 1: The Lieutenant
“You’re what?!” Paulie shouted, twisting his pinky in his ear like he didn’t hear what his oldest friend and employee, Tony, had just told him.
“I quit, boss,” Tony said, shrugging. The two were sitting in Paulie’s office in the back of Paulie’s Pizza on State Street.
“You can’t quit on me!” Paulie said. “Not just like that. We’re like brothers, Tony. What could I have done to deserve this?”
“It’s not you, Paulie,” Tony said. “I have to quit. I went to the doctor yesterday. I’m diabetic.”
“What?” Paulie said. “People work with diabetes all the time. You don’t quit your job. You just inject some insulin in yourself a few times a day. It’s not like you got nut cancer or something serious.”
“I can’t be around all this food,” Tony said. “Pizza and sauce and sausage and peppers. It’s no good. I’ll end up eating myself to death in this place.”
“Alright,” Paulie said. “You do what you gotta do, but let me help you out. Do you have another job lined up?”
“Oh yeah,” Tony said. “I found a vegan pizza place down the road. They need a cook and I have the experience. They hired me with one phone call yesterday.”
“Yeah,” Tony said.
“Get outta here!” Paulie exclaimed. “I’ll keep your tax information on file, you mook. Vegan pizza. You gotta be shittin’ me!”
“Hey, I saw a taxi outside,” Da’Quarius said, coming back into his home with Dutchie. “Does dat mean Rose’s dad is here?”
“He’s here,” Rose said, motioning towards the dining room table where Helen was sitting with Lieutenant Masters and his wife. Da’Quarius could tell that the mood had grown worse since he took his dog for a walk around the neighborhood. “Let me introduce you.”
Rose led Da’Quarius to the table. Her father was wrinkled and thin and had a head of thinning black hair that was obviously died. He had a serious look on his face. He eyed Da’Quarius as if he smelled something rotten. His asian wife was much younger, but Da’Quarius couldn’t put his finger on her age. He knew from his friend, Flounder, that Asians aged differently than regular humans. He figured she was around the same age of his Uncle Paulie; somewhere in her early sixties.
“Hi,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m Da’Quarius.”
“So this is your ward,” Lieutenant Masters said, nodding his head. “Looks strong. He’d do fine in the military.”
“No way,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t need to go to Iraq to get my oil. I can go down to da corner store.”
“But he has a mouth on him,” Lieutenant Masters said, looking more sour than he did before. He put out his hand. “I am Lieutenant Daniel Masters.”
“Lieutenant Dan?” Da’Quarius asked, unable to hide his smile.
Lieutenant Masters slammed a fist on the table. “DO NOT CALL ME LIEUTENANT DAN!” Lieutenant Masters shouted. “Ever since that goddam retard movie came out, I can’t tell anyone my name without them saying it in that retard voice of his. Makes me sick to my stomach!”
“It’s OK, Daniel,” Lieutenant Master’s wife said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Dan was such a good name too,” Lieutenant Masters said. “Why couldn’t they name that character Lieutenant Matt or Lieutenant Ryan?”
“I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” Helen said. “I thought that movie was full of hippy bullshit anyway.”
“I think I need to lie down for a bit before dinner,” Lieutenant Masters said. “Can you help me to the guest room, Hyun-a?”
Lieutenant Masters’ wife, Hyun-a, got up from her seat and helped her husband from his chair.
“Wait,” Da’Quarius said. “We got a guest room?”
“Yeah,” Helen said. “Your room. You’ll be on the couch while The Lieutenant is with us.”
“When da fuck you gonna tell me?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Thought I just did,” Helen said. “Better run ahead and lock your closet, kid.”
“I’m sorry about the short notice,” Paulie said, sitting in front of the woman who came in to work in Paulie’s kitchen now that Tony had quit. Her name was Rita, and she had come highly recommended. She had short, dark hair and a freckles across her nose. “But I need to fill this position asap, you dig?”
“It’s quite alright,” Rita said. “I’ve worked in my dad’s Pizzaria until he sold it to Papa Johns, so I know how hectic it could be.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but can you really work with just one arm?” Paulie said, looking at Rita’s empty shirt sleeve. “No offense. I’m not against hiring people with disabilities, but I ain’t never seen anyone sling dough with one arm before.”
“I can probably sling dough better than your last guy,” Rita said. “Can I show you?”
“By all means,” Paulie said, motioning towards his office door. Rita left, went passed Paulie’s mostly Mexican kitchen / cleaning staff, washed her hands, and got to work with a piece of dough. She kneaded it, rolled it and began tossing it in the air with only her right arm. Everyone who was eating in the dining area stopped to watch. When the dough was circular enough, Rita dropped it on the counter in front of her and started spreading the sauce and cheese.
“Holy crap,” Paulie said. “That’s friggin’ amazing!”
“When can I start?” Rita asked.
“You free tonight?” Paulie said. “I gotta see that again!”
Rita smiled. “Sure,” she said. “I don’t have any other plans.”
The Masters family had a dinner of pork chops and applesauce once Lieutenant Masters had finished his nap in Da’Quarius’ bed. There wasn’t much talk around the table, and Da’Quarius thought he should break the tension.
“So, Hyena,” Da’Quarius said.
“Hyun-a!” Lieutenant Masters snapped. “She’s not a damn scavenger!”
“You sure?” Rose asked under her breath before taking a sip of water.
“What was that, dear?” Lieutenant Masters asked.
“Nothing,” Rose replied. “Da’Quarius had a question for Hyun-a, I think.”
“I was just gonna ask if she was Korean,” Da’Quarius said. “I git dis Korean friend at school, Flounder.”
“What did you say?” Hyuna-a said. “I don’t think I understand.”
“That’s because he speaks in gibberish talk,” Lieutenant Masters said. “He says he knows one of your people.”
“Oh,” Hyun-a said. “That’s nice.”
“Da’Quarius would probably love to hear the story about how you met your lovely wife,” Helen said, nearly glowing.
“No he wouldn’t,” Rose said, shooting Helen the dirtiest look that Da’Quarius had ever seen.
“I was stationed in Korea during wartime,” Lieutenant Masters said, addressing Da’Quarius. “Between killing and ordering men to kill, I came to fall in love with a local prostitute that frequented a brothel not too far from where I was stationed. Do you know what a brothel is, son?”
“It’s like a whore house,” Da’Quarius replied.
“Sure, if you want to be crass,” Lieutenant Masters said. “This slant whore was spectacular in the sack. I think I spent more time there than in battle. Anyway, I was shipped home to my family, and I never saw her again. Fifteen years later, she called me to let me know that she had died.”
“Can I ask a question here?” Da’Quarius asked. “How’d she tell you dat…”
“Let the Lieutenant finish,” Helen said. Rose’s face was buried in her hand.
“Thank you, Helen,” Lieutenant Masters said. “The Korean whore, I forget her name, also told me that I had a daughter with her. I flew back to Korea, leaving my wife at the old house. I decided to make things right with the daughter I never knew. That’s when I met Hyun-a. We fell in love, and we were married as soon as we got stateside.”
“Hold up,” Da’Quarius said. “Hyun-a is your…”
“I think it’s time to clean up,” Rose said, standing up and picking up her plate of mostly unfinished food. “Da’Quarius, can you help me in the kitchen.”
“Help me in the kitchen, Da’Quarius,” Rose said, leaving the table and going into the kitchen with her plate.
Da’Quarius got up, annoyed that he couldn’t get a straight answer to his questions.
“Hey,” Helen whispered as Da’Quarius passed her to take her plate. “The Lieutenant married his fifteen year old daughter. She’s Rose’s half-sister and step-mother. Welcome to the family, kid.” Helen got up and moved with Lieutenant Masters and Hyun-a into the den.
“Great,” Da’Quarius said. “But how’d da dead hooker use da phone?”
Paulie finished up his paperwork as the last of his customers for the night finished up their food. Rita had drawn a small crowd with her one-armed pizza slinging. People were ordering large pies just to watch her make them. He brought in more money than he usually did on a Saturday night, and it was only Wednesday.
“Hey, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said, coming into Paulie’s office.
“Hey, D,” Paulie said. “What are you doing here so late on a school night?”
“School’s out for da summer,” Da’Quarius said. “I needed some air, so I decided to take a walk down here.”
“Everything OK at home?” Paulie asked.
“Not really,” Da’Quarius said. “Rose’s father is staying with us.”
“Oh boy,” Paulie said. “I forgot that old coot was coming by this week. He giving you a hard time?”
“Not really,” Da’Quarius said, shrugging. “He’s a prick, but at least he’s not racist.”
“There you go,” Paulie said. “There’s always an upside to things. Let me go take the garbage out and I’ll introduce you to Tony’s replacement. She’s working wonders with the dough.” Paulie left and walked past Da’Quarius.
“Wait a second,” Da’Quarius said, following after Paulie after a moment. “What happened to Tony? He quit again?”
Paulie was gone already, and Da’Quarius stepped outside of Paulie’s office just in time to see Rita pocketing a large amount of bills from the register. Da’Quarius didn’t know if she saw him, but she moved back to the kitchen as if he weren’t there.
“Come on, kid,” Paulie said. “Rita! Come here and meet my nephew, Da’Quarius.”
“This is your nephew?” Rita asked, coming out from the kitchen.
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “Can’t you tell by how much we look alike?”
“I’m adopted,” Da’Quarius said.
“D comes by and helps on Saturdays for a few hours,” Paulie said. “So you’ll be seeing a lot of him. Now run along kid. The grown ups need to close this place up for the night, capice?”
Rita went back into the kitchen without so much as saying goodbye. Da’Quarius wondered if she noticed that he saw her take the money. “Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said in a whisper. “Walk me outside right quick.”
“What?” Paulie asked. “You want me to blow in your ear too?”
“Just do it,” Da’Quarius said. Paulie did as Da’Quarius asked and followed.
“What is it, kid?” Paulie asked.
“It’s dat one-armed lady,” Da’Quarius said. “She robbin’ you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Paulie said. “It’s her first day here.”
“I’m serious,” Da’Quarius said. “She just pocketed some money from your register. I seen her do it!”
“Get going, kid,” Paulie said. “I know what you’re doing. Tony left because he’s diabetic and can’t be around the food. Getting Rita fired isn’t going to get him back in here.”
“Dammit, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “Everytime you think wit yo dick you wind up in trouble!”
“Oh!” Paulie said. “Get your ass outta here before I leave a boot print in it!”
“Fine!” Da’Quarius said. “Don’t cry to me when she robs you blind. If you need me, I’ll be sleepin’ on da damn couch because Lieutenant Dan and his daughter-wife took my bed.”
“Oh!” Paulie said. Da’Quarius turned around to look. “Don’t you dare call him Lieutenant Dan to his face!”
“Your nephew is sweet,” Rita said as Paulie came back in, locking the door behind him.
“He’s a good kid,” Paulie said, starting to put the chairs on top of the tables so that his kitchen crew could sweep and mop. “Sometimes his mouth just gets the best of him.”
There was a loud knock on the door and Paulie nearly jumped. He turned to see Tony staring at him from the other side. He unlocked the door and let him in. “What are you doing?” Paulie asked.
“I locked my keys in my apartment,” Tony said. “Can I come in through here?”
“Sure,”Paulie said, letting Tony in and locking the door behind him. “Just don’t make a habit out of it.”
“Thanks,” Tony said, walking past Paulie. He passed by Rita next. “Hello.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rita said, extending her hand. “You must be Tony.”
“Should I be insulted that Paulie hired a woman with one arm to replace me?” Tony asked. “Is that what he is saying I’m equal to?”
“Oh!” Paulie said. “What’s with the hostility? You chose to quit, you stunad!”
“I’m just breaking balls,” Tony said. “I gotta get some sleep. That vegan joint opens early.”
“You need to start paying rent if you don’t work here!” Paulie yelled as Tony ran up the stairs. Tony pretended as if he didn’t hear.
“Is he always that charming?” Rita asked.
“I’m sorry about him,” Paulie said. “He’s an old friend.”
“It’s OK,” Rita said. “Thank you for coming to my defense.”
“Hey, Tony couldn’t sling like you in his prime,” Paulie said. “You got a gift there, Rita. A beautiful one.”
Rita blushed. “There’s something that I’ve wanted to do all night,” she said. She leaned into Paulie and kissed him, grabbing the back of his neck with her hand.
“Whoa,” Paulie said, stepping back.
“I’m sorry,” Rita said, looking embarrassed. “I must have read something wrong here.”
“It’s not that,” Paulie said. “I don’t do that kind of thing in this joint. Tony and I always kept things professional.”
“I see,” Rita said. “We can always head back to your place.”
“Sure thing,” Paulie said. “I just need to put the money from the register into the safe.”
“Oh,” Rita said. “I already put the money into one of those orange zipper bags. The register was looking a little full.”
Paulie smiled. He figured that must have been what Da’Quarius saw. “Thank you,” Paulie said. “But I handle the money. It needs to go from the register right into the safe. We can’t have anyone taking it.”
“No,” Rita said. “I suppose not.”
Rose dug in the dirt with her small spade, stabbing at the ground. She wanted to get some fresh air away from her father and Hyun-a. She realized she had dug the same little hole four or five times. She picked up the flowers and put them in the hole. She was pushing the dirt over the roots when she noticed the shadow coming from behind her.
“Your mother had a green thumb too,” Lieutenant Masters said. Rose turned to see that he had come outside on his own. “She used to tend to her garden more than she was inside.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Rose said.
“It was a mental illness,” Lieutenant Masters said.
“Mom did not have any mental illness,” Rose said, standing up. “Maybe it was better than staying in the house with you while you judged us guilty of these imagined sins.”
“That can’t be it,” Lieutenant Masters said, shrugging. “I’m almost a hundred years old, Rose.”
“Don’t use your age to defend yourself,” Rose said.
“I’m just saying that I might not be around much longer,” Lieutenant Masters said. “I don’t want to leave this world until I’ve made things right between us. I know I haven’t been the best father, but I did the best I could, dammit.”
“You left mom and me to marry my little sister,” Rose said. “You didn’t think that was a little screwed up?”
“I don’t expect you to understand,” Lieutenant Masters said. “I was just hoping that you would forgive this old fool for the things he did.”
“Oh, Dad,” Rose said. “You know I’ll forgive you.”
“You’ve always been a little hippy like that,” Lieutenant Masters said, smiling.
Rose laughed. “You used to say that all the time,” she said.
“It’s true,” Lieutenant Masters said. “But I am sorry if I’ve done anything to make you not proud of me.”
“Dad,” Rose said, wiping the sweat from her forehead with the back of a dirty glove. “There’s so much to make up for. You leaving mom the way you did was really messed up, and I was in my twenties when it happened! She was devastated. You didn’t even tell her where you were going. You came back and told her you were married. I don’t even know if you are actually married to Hyun-a. I don’t remember you officially divorcing mom.”
“Things were a lot less complicated then,” Lieutenant Masters said. “A man could just get up and remarry whomever he wanted without having to involve these sissy lawyers.”
“It wasn’t medieval times,” Rose said. “I think mom just didn’t want to go through the trouble. I think a part of her was waiting for you to come back home. She sat at the table every night, playing solitaire and smoking cigarettes at the kitchen table, looking at the door every few minutes. She did that until the loneliness and lung cancer killed her. You weren’t there for that. I was.”
“I know it’s a lot to ask of you,” Lieutenant Masters said. “But I want to have a relationship where we talk about these things. I don’t know if I can atone for what I’ve done; but if I can apologize for everything I put you through over the last of my years, I will.”
Rose removed a glove to wipe a tear from her eye. “OK,” she said. “If that’s what you want.”
“I’d like that very much,” Lieutenant Masters said. “Come on inside. Hyun-a is making us all some lunch.”
Da’Quarius walked with his friend Flounder to the back of Flounder’s father’s laundromat on Foster Street. He wanted to stay out of the house while Lieutenant Masters and his wife were using his room, and he knew just the project that would keep him busy.
“Welcome, Da’Quarius,” Mr. Kwang said. “I see you’ve come to grace me with your presence once again.” Mr. Kwang used to be Da’Quarius’ supplied of bootleg DVDs back when he used to sell them to his classmates. Da’Quarius had also sold Mr. Kwang a vintage nude for his pornographic website. “What do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“Flounder told me dat you rent out spy equipment,” Da’Quarius said. “I need to borrow a camera with a motion detector.”
“I might have something like that,” Mr. Kwang said. “Be aware that this equipment, if I had it, is for novelty purposes only. Me or my business would not be held responsible if you were to use it for anything illegal.”
“Yeah yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “You know I ain’t no snitch. ‘Sides, umma use dis to catch some bitch stealin’ from my uncle. It’s the opposite of wha’chu think.”
“Alright,” Mr. Kwang said, putting both of his hands up. “I mean no offense. I have just the thing you need. This camera is on a motion detector, and will start recording as soon as it is triggered. The camera is concealed in the eye of this teddy bear.” Mr. Kwang reached under this desk and put the light brown teddy bear on the table in front of him.
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “What da fuck am I ‘spose to do wit dat? I’m tryin’ to catch an adult stealin’ money, not a toddler stealing a cookie!”
“He used that to catch my babysitter hitting me,” Flounder said, looking at the floor. “She still does it, though.”
“It is what it is,” Mr. Kwang said. “Take it or leave it.”
“Fine,” Da’Quarius said. “I’ll take it.”
Da’Quarius set the teddy bear camera up at home before waiting for night to fall. He sat on the couch waiting until he knew everyone was asleep before getting up and going to the back door. “You be quiet, Dutchie,” he said, petting his dog on his way out. “I’ll probably be back by midnight.” He was almost out the door before realization set in.
“Oh shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I left the damn teddy bear in my room.”
Da’Quarius opened his door slowly into his room. Lieutenant Masters was snoring away with Hyun-a curled up at the foot of the bed, naked except for a small, light blue blanket. Da’Quarius shook his head at the sight as he tip-toed across his room to pick up the teddy bear camera.
“What are you doing in here?” Lieutenant Masters asked.
“I just need my teddy bear,” Da’Quarius said. “I can’t sleep without it.”
“Little pansy,” Lieutenant Masters said, falling back on the pillow and snoring immediately. Da’Quarius rolled his eyes and snuck out of the house, teddy bear in hand.
“I see you’re getting along better with The Lieutenant,” Helen said after breakfast. Hyun-a volunteered to clean the table, and Lieutenant Masters was in the backyard, lounging in one of their chairs.
“It’s nice,” Rose said. “He apologized for everything he’s done over the years, and I forgave him.”
“Good,” Helen said, leaving through the back door. “Tell Hyun-a to bring The Lieutenant and me some lemonade.”
Rose laughed, going into the kitchen. Hyun-a was in there, already holding the pitcher of lemonade. “I can bring that out,” Rose said. “You relax. You’re a guest here, and you have already done enough.”
“It is alright,” Hyun-a said, holding onto the pitcher. “I prefer helping. We plan on staying for a long visit, and I want to help in any way that I can.”
“How long of a visit are you and my father staying for?” Rose asked.
“I don’t know,” Hyun-a said with a shrug.
“How long did he say?” Rose asked, becoming more assertive.
“He sold our house and all of our belongings except for what we brought here,” Hyun-a said. “We have nowhere to go.”
“Dammit, dad,” Rose said, walking into the backyard. She expected this fight to go on for days.
Da’Quarius was woken by the screams of Hyun-a from upstairs. Dutchie picked up on the screams and began howling in return. “Calm down, Dutchie,” Da’Quarius said. “You louder than she is!”
Dutchie continued his howling as Rose and Helen made their way into his former bedroom to see why Hyun-a was screaming. “He’s dead!” Hyun-a finally said through her sobbing. “Daniel is dead!”
“Oh my God,” Rose said. “Helen, call 911.”
“I’m calling,” Helen said. “See if he has a pulse.”
“He’s dead!” Hyun-a repeated. “My Daniel is dead!”
“Oh shit,” Da’Quarius said, looking upstairs. “Mo’ fucker died in my bed! Biddies best buy me a new one.”
“You just hang out here,” Paulie said, bring Da’Quarius a plate of eggs and bacon. “Rose and Helen are going to be busy with the funeral stuff. I’ll take you to the pizzeria when I have to go work.”
“OK,” Da’Quarius said as Paulie left the room. He was happy to be out of the house on Freedom Lane again. Rose, Helen, and Hyun-a were going crazy over funeral preparations. Paulie came to get Da’Quarius at Rose’s behest as the ambulance was coming to take Lieutenant Master’s body.
Da’Quarius decided it was good time to find out if his camera had picked anything up from Paulie’s. He picked it up just before midnight on the night Lieutenant Masters died in his bed. He figured he would have to skip though most of the tape, but he was sure he’d catch Rita stealing from the register as soon as Paulie was out of the shot.
He plugged the wires from the back of the teddy bear into Paulie’s TV and pressed play. The video was of his friend Flounder, crying on the kitchen floor while a skinny, white teenage girl beat him with a wooden spoon. “Dammit, Mr. Kwang,” Da’Quarius said. “You should have deleted dat shit.”
“What the hell is that?!” Paulie said, coming back into his living room. “Is that woman beating that little Chinaman?”
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. He thought quickly for a lie. “Dis a show about parents dat leave dey kids with shitty babysitters.”
“Turn that junk off,” Paulie said. “I’m sure there’s something more wholesome on TV that you and your teddy bear can watch. I’ll be in the shower, kid.”
Da’Quarius waited to hear the bathroom door shut before he started skipping what seemed like dozens of different scenes of Flounder getting beaten with various objects by his baby sitter. “Shit, nigga,” he said. “You a grown ass mo’ fucker, too. Why you even need dis bitch watchin’ you?”
Da’Qurius skipped further, finally finding Paulie’s Pizza, but the video was of the night, and the display read 3:17 AM. “Shit,” he said. “We got rats settin’ off da motion detector on dis thing?”
Tony stepped into the kitchen wearing his white tank top and boxers. He walked to the counter and started stacking ingredients. He made himself a huge pizza and put it in the oven. Da’Quarius skipped a little further ahead and stopped to see Tony eating a jar of marinated eggplant while he waited for his pizza to finish. “Damn, Tony,” he said. “No wonder yo ass got diabetes.”
Da’Quarius skipped forward some more, getting past Tony boxing up his pizza and bringing it towards his apartment. He finally began to skip all of the scenes during the course of the day until he found one of Rita at the register. “Gotcha, you one-armed ho, ” he said.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Paulie said, coming back into his living room.
“She stealin’ from you!” Da’Quarius said, pointing at the TV. “Look! I bet she gonna do it right now!”
“You’re spying on my pizzeria?!” Paulie snapped. “Gimme that damn thing.” Paulie ripped the teddy bear from Da’Quarius’ hands, pulling the wires out of the TV.
“Now you not gonna see if she stealin’ or not!” Da’Quarius said.
“I trust people, kid,” Paulie said. “I thought I could trust you not to put a camera in my place.”
“Dammit Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “You -“
“I know,” Paulie said. “I must be thinking with my dick. Madon! Get outta here, kid, and take this stupid spy bear with you. I’m really disappointed in you right now.”
Da’Quarius took the teddy bear back from his uncle, and left his house without another word.
The following day, Helen, Rose, Da’Quarius, and Hyun-a came back into their home following Lieutenant Masters’ funeral. There wasn’t much of turn out for it, and they mostly sat quietly for the course of the two hours in front of The Lieutenant’s urn. Hyun-a carried the urn and the folded American flag into the house and sat on the couch with her head down. The others went into the kitchen. Helen put a pot on for tea as Rose and Da’Quarius sat at the table.
“It was a lovely ceremony,” Helen said. “More people should have shown up.”
“My dad was nearly a century old,” Rose said. “The people he hadn’t outlived don’t want anything to do with him. Only Paulie, a few of my cousins, and some old veterans showed up. I don’t know what he expected.”
“We can put dis all behind us now,” Da’Quarius said. “Who wants to go buy me a new mattress?”
“I was just starting to get along with him too,” Rose said. “Until Hyun-a let it slip that he planned on moving in with us and not saying anything. The last conversation I’ll ever have with my father was a fight. If he died one day sooner it would have been us reconciling!” Rose put her face in her hands and began to cry.
“Hey,” Helen said, sitting in the chair next to Rose and putting her hand on her back. “We can’t plan these things. Nobody can. Remember when Paulie couldn’t put things right with his real father? He focused making it right with their family instead.
“Why don’t you try to forget about the fight and focus on the one good day you did have with The Lieutenant and your intentions to make things right. Remember how happy you were after you talked to him in your garden?”
“I don’t know,” Rose replied. “I can try.”
“You can do better than that,” Helen said. “The Rose I know doesn’t try anything. She does it, and she does it right. You can do this.”
“Yeah,” Rose said, looking up and wiping a tear from her face. “I think I can do that. I love you, Helen.”
“I love you too,” Helen said, kissing Rose on her forehead.
“Great,” Da’Quarius said. “Now who wants to go buy me a new mattress?”
“I tell you what,” Helen said, getting back up with and getting the teapot. “Help us find somewhere for Miss Me-Love-You-Long-Time out there, and I’ll get you a whole new bedroom set.”
Da’Quarius stared off while Helen poured tea for everyone. She even poured a cup for Hyun-a. He finally noticed the teddy bear spy camera on the counter. “Hold up,” Da’Quarius said. “I think I know just the place.”
“So she can start work today?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Oh yes,” Mr. Kwang said. “She doesn’t mind hemming pants and sewing sneakers together, does she?”
“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. “She’s Korean, ain’t she? She’ll be OK living above your laundromat?”
“All of my employees live here,” Mr. Kwang said. “They’re paid in room, utilities, and meals. It’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me.”
“Word,” Da’Quarius said. “I gotta run to Paulie’s. Tell Flounder to get a bat if dat babysitter comes back.”
“Will do,” Mr. Kwang said. “Thank you again.”
“Da’Quarius,” Hyun-a said as he walked towards the door. She looked as if she was going to cry. Da’Quarius suddenly felt guilty for pawning her off on Mr. Kwang so he can get Helen to buy him a new bed. “Thank you so much. Nobody has ever been so nice to me!”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said, smiling. “I look out for family, Auntie Grandma.”
Da’Quarius walked into Paulie’s Pizza, knowing that he had to make things right with Paulie. Rose’s reaction to her father’s death had shown him that much at least. He found Paulie going through a stack of papers in one of the booths. “Hi, Uncle Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “Look. I just wanna say sorry for hidin’ the teddy bear camera in here da other night. It was fucked up, but I wanted you to see dat one-armed chick was stealin’ from you.”
“I know, kid,” Paulie said, sighing. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry too. I caught her stealing the same day I yelled at you for accusing her of it. I didn’t want to bring it up during The Lieutenant’s wake, but there it is.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You caught her in your register?”
“No,” Paulie said. “I caught her trying to open the safe in my house. The broad is a clepto.ni was thinking with my dick. I just wish my dick had ears that could’ve listened to you.”
“No doubt,” Da’Quarius said. “What’s up wit dat stack of papers? Lookin’ for another replacement?”
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “These people are all degenerates, though. I’m about to promote Pimple Puss from delivery boy to chef. Madon!”
Da’Quarius had another comment, but Tony walked inside. “Paulie,” he said. “Please tell me I can have my job back!”
“Oh!” Paulie said. “Mister Diabetes is back! To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“That damn vegan pizza place fired me,” Tony said. “Bunch of snotty hipster bastards!”
“Why’d the fire you?” Da’Quarius asked.
“They got tired of me asking all the women if they wanted a large sausage,” Tony said. “You know. Because of the vegan thing. They don’t eat meat.”
“I’m sure that was it,” Paulie said. “I don’t know if I can take you back. Can I call this vegan place for a reference?”
“I wouldn’t,” Tony said, shrugging. “But you do what you gotta do.”
Paulie started laughing. “Get your apron on, ya stunad you,” he said. “You’re lucky I just fired Rita.”
“You know what?” Tony said. “I bet I could’ve kept my job if I offered all of those women a fat zucchini instead. Whattaya think, boss?”
“Just get the oven going and don’t talk to my customers about that shit,” Paulie said.
“Sure thing, boss,” Tony said, walking towards the kitchen.
“It’s good to have you back,” Paulie said smiling. “Now let’s make some pizza!”
“Damn straight,” Da’Quarius said.