Freedom Lane: Brothers in Arms

Da’Quarius sat in bed, coughing into his hand. He had a box of tissues on the nightstand and a plastic shopping bags full of used snot rags hanging from his nightstand drawer. Rose came to the door, wearing a face mask. “I just got off the phone with your uncle,” she said. “He’s sick too.”

 

“Dat supposed to make me happy?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“You’re going to stay with him while you two recuperate,” Rose said.

 

“What?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “You’re gonna segregate my ass?!”

 

“It’s a quarantine!”  Helen snapped from down the hall, her voice muffled by her own face mask. “We don’t need you getting us sick and killing us with your germs!”

 

“She’s right,” Rose said before Da’Quarius could retort. “She’s crass, but right. It’ll be a lot worse for Helen and I to get the flu at our age.”

 

“I get it,” Da’Quarius said. “Just get me outta here, an’ over to Paulie’s so I can cough an’ puke over dere.”

 

“That’s the spirit,” Helen said. “The car’s out front. Hop in the trunk and we’ll have you there in a flash.”

 

 

***

 

Freedom Lane 

 

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

 

Season 11, Episode 2: Brothers in Arms

 

***

 

Paulie greeted Da’Quarius by Rose’s car, his robe draped over himself. He was shivering from his own flu symptoms, but he came out anyway so Rose and Helen wouldn’t have to come into his germ-filled home. “I should have him back by the weekend,” Paulie said. “We’re probably through the worse of it.”

 

“Thank you,” Rose said, her mask still on. Helen was in the car, spraying the backseat where Da’Quarius sat with Lysol. “We’re going to spend the afternoon disinfecting the house, but we’ll call to check up on you two tonight.”

 

Da’Quarius stood with Paulie, waiting to go inside to continue his miserable bout with the flu.

 

“Give me a minute with them, Rose,” Helen said, exiting the car.

 

“Be careful,” Rose said.

 

“Don’t worry,” Helen said. “I’m not touching them or anything.”

 

Helen walked to Paulie and Da’Quarius. She reached in her pocket and pulled out a metal flask. She handed it to Paulie. “This is my own special flu remedy,” she said. “I used to brew this in prison during flu season.”

 

“Was dere anythin’ you didn’t do in prison?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“Yeah,” Helen replied. “I didn’t snitch, ever.”

 

“So what’s in this?”  Paulie asked, looking at the flask.

 

“A little of this and a little of that,” Helen said. “Don’t drink too much of it.”

 

“How much are we supposed to take then?” Paulie asked.

 

“What am I, a doctor?” Helen retorted, shrugging. “Just take a shot or two every five or six hours. You’ll feel much better. But if you start to get sleepy; go to sleep.”

 

“Why?” Paulie asked. “Is there Ambien in here?”

 

“Just go to sleep,” Helen repeated. “Okay. I’m off before you two kill me. Goodbye.”

 

***

 

Tony stood near the counter of Paulie’s Pizza on State Street when a man came in wearing a suit and tie. He walked to the counter with a purpose. “Is the owner here?” he asked.

 

“He’s out for a few days,” Tony replied. “Can I get you anything?”

 

“My name is Tom Asher,” the man said. “I was actually wondering if I could rent this place out on Friday night. My buddy is getting married, and its a quickie marriage. His girlfriend is pregnant, and they’re catholic as hell. He loves this place. I’d be willing to pay whatever.”

 

Tony thought for a moment. “We don’t normally do this,” he said. “I would have to come up with a rental price, and food and drinks would be separate.”

 

“That sounds fair,” Asher replied.

 

“Tony!” Alice whispered, pulling him away from the counter by his arm and toward Paulie’s office. “You can’t rent this place out. What would Paulie say?”

 

“Paulie put me in charge because he trusts me,” Tony replied. “And I’ve known him a lot longer than you have. He’d be more pissed if I turned down the money and a guarantee of a packed restaurant. And it’s a stag. You and your staff are gonna make out great on tips.”

 

“Can you handle this?” Alice asked.

 

“If I can’t, it’s on me,” Tony replied. 

 

“Fine,” Alice said. “But I’m not stripping!”

 

“Nobody’s asking you to,” Tony said. He turned back to Asher. “I think we can make this work.”

 

“Excellent,” Asher said. “There’s just one more thing: there’s going to be a theme for the party.”

 

Tony looked puzzled. “What’s the theme?”

 

***

 

“So what are we gonna do?” Da’Quarius asked, sitting on Paulie’s couch, wrapped in a blanket.

 

“I don’t know,” Paulie said, sitting on the other side of the couch with a box of tissues in front of him. “I don’t suppose we’ll agree on anything to watch on TV.”

 

“Don’t you got a smart TV?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“Yeah,” Paulie replied. “So?”

 

Da’Quarius picked up the remote and went into the TV’s menu. He pulled up Netflix and put in a user name and password. “Here,” he said, flicking through the list of available shows. “Flounder hooked me up with a password, so we can watch whatever we want.”

 

“Wow,” Paulie said. “I never knew that was on my TV. What’s that movie there? Draken, Son of Drog?”

 

“Dat’s a good one,” Da’Quarius said. “I saw dat when it came out last year. What ‘bout dis? You ever see dis show?”

 

“Brothers in Arms?” Paulie replied, looking at it. “That’s the biker gang show Tony used to watch and rave about all friggin’ day. I had to hear about these bikers dealing coke and solving all their disputes through arm wrestling for months at a time. I thought they ended it three or four years ago.”

 

“Dey have da’ whole series on here now,” Da’Quarius said. “You can watch da’ whole thing from start to finish.”

 

“Put on episode one, and we’ll see where it goes,” Paulie said. “But first, we should take a little medicine.” He grabbed Helen’s flask from the table.

 

“You really gonna trust dat stuff Helen made?” Da’Quarius asked. “I don’t even wanna know what she put in dat. I’d take da’ apple from da’ witch from Snow White before I drank some of Helen’s homemade medicine.”

 

“She wouldn’t give it to us if she didn’t swear by it,” Paulie said. “It’s more than likely a mixture of medicines she had and a bit of liquor. I’ll go get a couple of shot glasses while you get the show on.”

 

“Fine,” Da’Quarius said. “But dere ain’t no princes dat’ll kiss you when dat shit knocks yo’ ass into a coma.”

 

***

 

The bachelor party at Paulie’s Pizza began, and Asher stayed by the front door, greeting his friends and taking tickets and donations, putting the money in a metal case on the table near the front door. “Welcome to Larry’s stag!” he said in a booming voice.  He was wearing a leather jacket and torn jeans, as were the guests coming in. Some had eye patches and bandannas, keeping the motif of the biker gang themed stag Asher had in mind for his best friend’s bachelor party.

 

Alice showed the guests to the main area. Tony and Sal had moved the tables around so they were in a circle, giving the group an easier time to move about and talk. The waitresses went around, taking pizza orders and bringing out pitchers of soda. Some of the bachelor party goers had brought their own beer or liquor, which was one of Tony’s stipulations since Paulie’s didn’t have a liquor license.

 

“This is actually working out nicely,” Alice told Tony.

 

“I told you,” Tony said. “What kind of nerd wants to have a stag at a pizzeria anyway? There’s no way these guys are going to get too crazy. I bet they don’t even get a stripper.”

 

Alice laughed. “Well Paulie should be happy with you on this one,” she said. “I don’t want to jinx it, but you did good.”

 

“Yeah I did,” Tony said. “Will you look at these mooks though? They’re all dressed like bikers, but not one of them rode a hog here. They’re just a bunch of posers.”

 

“They’re not posers,” Alice said. “It’s just a theme. Haven’t you ever been to a theme party?”

 

“Like one of those sex things where you have to wear a mask?” Tony said. “Because that was only once, and it wasn’t even in this country.”

 

“No,” Alice said. “You known that’s not what I mean.”

 

“You mean like those furries?” Tony said. “I saw a documentary on those assholes. They dress like giant stuffed animals and bang. It’s sickening.”

 

Alice sighed. “Maybe it’s not a guy thing.”

 

“You know what this reminds me of?” Tony asked. “Remember that show ‘Brothers in Arms’?”

 

“That biker show with the all the arm wrestling?” Alice asked. “I never saw it. It looked really dumb.”

 

“It was great,” Tony said. “But I can’t see getting crazy over it like these bunch of losers.”

 

Two men walked in as Asher held the door, each carrying the side of an arm wrestling apparatus, similar to the one in the Brothers in Arms bar in the show of the same name.

 

“Look at this,” Tony said. “If they start betting real money I’m gonna hustle them good.”

 

Alice rolled her eyes. “I’ll be waiting tables if you come up with any more bright ideas.”

 

***

 

“Put on another episode!” Paulie exclaimed as the credits rolled after their fifth straight hour of Brothers in Arms. “This show is fuckin’ great!”

 

“On it,” Da’Quarius said, hitting play on the next episode. “I feel great too. This medicine Helen made is da’ shit!”

 

“It’s time for another dose too,” Paulie said. He carefully filled two shot glasses and handed one to Da’Quarius. “Salud.”

 

“Salud,” Da’Quarius repeated, downing the shot of Helen’s medicine. “Damn, dat tastes gross as fuck.”

 

“Wait a second,” Paulie said. “Pause the TV. I gotta go get something.”

 

Da’Quarius did as Paulie asked, pausing the TV as the show opened. He waited a few minutes, and Paulie returned, wearing a leather jacket and jeans.

 

“Yo,” Paulie said. “Check me out. I’m Elias Peabody. Where’s my money, Silvia?!”

 

“Holy shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Lemme wear it too. I wanna be Elias Peabody next!”

 

“You can have it if you beat me,” Paulie said, kneeling on the floor and leaning on the coffee table, putting his elbow down. Da’Quarius did the same, locking hands with Paulie. “Ready?”

 

“Ready,” Da’Quarius replied. The two arm wrestled, their arms pushing against each other. Paulie grunted, giving it all he could, pinning Da’Quarius’s hand down. “Damn!”

 

“That’s how it goes,” Paulie said. “We’ll get you a headband and you can be Tommy Mash.”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said.

 

Paulie yawned. “Maybe we should get some rest.”

 

“But we already started dis episode,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“Alright,” Paulie said, sitting on the couch. “One more episode, but we have to get some shut-eye right after.”

 

“Deal,” Da’Quarius said, hitting play.

 

***

 

Two men dressed as bikers arm wrestled in the table in the center of Paulie’s Pizza dining area. There was a rope across the door leading there, letting the foot traffic customers know it had been reserved. Most who came in were okay sitting in the main area or taking their food to go. Some people even peered into the area to watch the men arm wrestle in their leather jackets and torn jeans.

 

“Pizza’s up!” Tony called as the waitstaff started bringing pies out to the tables. The men cheered and got ready to eat, each one pulling their own personal pizza toward themselves. Paulie was going to be very happy after Tony settled their bill and got paid for his night’s work.

 

Sal, Paulie’s chef who worked directly under Tony, walked from the back, wiping at his brow with his forearm. “These guys sure can eat,” he said in his monotone voice to Tony. “I don’t remember the last time we had to make so many pizzas in such a short amount of time.”

 

“Sorry about that,” Tony said. “But business is business, right?”

 

“That it is,” Sal replied. “I just wanted to see the party. I have to go back to work. Delivery calls are still coming in too.”

 

“You do that,” Tony said. “You’re doing good, Sal. I appreciate your hard work tonight. I know it’s been a bitch, but you’re a monster. I mean that in a good way. I’ll let Paulie know too when he comes back to work.”

 

Sal beamed and went back to the kitchen to continue working.

 

“You too Alice,” Tony said as Alice passesd, carrying a pitcher of soda. “You and your staff are doing great tonight. I’ll let Paulie know that too.”

 

Alice blushed, speechless, and brought the pitcher to the table.

 

“Shit,” Tony said to himself. “I should call Paulie and see if he wants me to send him some dinner or something.”

 

The opened suddenly, and Paulie sauntered in, wearing sunglasses, a leather jacket, and pants that looked like he had just cut holes in them. Da’Quarius was with him, wearing one of Paulie’s ties around his forehead like a headband.

 

“What’s this?!” Paulie asked, looking around. “What’s going on in my place of business?!”

 

“Paulie,” Tony said, coming from behind the counter. “I can explain.”

 

“No need to explain,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s ‘bout time you get taken out back an’ stripped of your rank.”

 

“What?” Tony asked. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Your rank as a brother,” Paulie replied. “Your know the rules. Nobody questions the boss.”

 

“Aren’t you supposed to be sick in bed?” Tony asked.

 

“He just questioned you again, Elias,” Da’Quarius said. “You want me to beat da’ shit outta him now?”

 

“Wait a second,” Tony said. “Are you guys doing Brothers in Arms too? How’d you know about this party?”

 

“Did he just question you again, boss?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“Sounds like it, Tommy,” Paulie replied. “And nobody has a party at Brothers in Arms without the boss present. I think I’ll mingle a bit, ya dig?”

 

“Boss,” Tony said. “This is a private party.”

 

Paulie pulled down his sunglasses and glared at Tony. “Strike three,” he said. “Bust him down to size, Tommy.” He walked past Tony into the party as Da’Quarius tried to give Tony a thrashing.

 

***

 

Paulie walked through the party, looking around as he went. Alice and Sal watched nervously from behind the counter. Asher got up and walked to him. “Hey,” he said. “If you’re here for the party, you need to buy a ticket.”

 

Paulie scoffed. “I don’t need to buy a ticket to get into my own place. Step aside, junior.”

 

“You’re the owner?” Asher asked. “Do you always give people attitude who pay cash to rent your place out?”

 

Tony came over as quick as possible, limping. Da’Quarius trailed.

 

“I tried to stop him, boss!” Da’Quarius called.

 

“It’s alright,” Paulie said. “I got bigger fish to fry. There’s a guy in here who thinks I need to pay to get into my own club.”

 

Asher looked over Paulie for a moment. “You’re doing Elias, aren’t you?” he asked, a smile sneaking on his face. “You had me there for a minute, too, you -”

 

“Shut up,” Paulie interrupted. “Don’t come into my place and disrespect me.”

 

“Then with all due respect,” Asher said. “This is my best friend’s stag, and we were having a good time.”

 

Paulie chuckled dryly. A moment later Da’Quarius added his own. “You think you’re going to set the rules in my place?” he asked.

 

“Take him outside,” Da’Quarius said. “Do a strap match!”

 

“What’s a strap match?” one of the guests asked.

 

“It’s from season one,” another replied. “It was where Elias strapped his arm to Carlito’s, and they had their fist fight. Dude, did you even watch the show?”

 

“We don’t need the strap,” Paulie said. “Looks like we can settle this right here.” He sat on one side of the arm wrestling apparatus. “If you can beat me, you can not only stay here, but your party is on me. You won’t have to pay one red cent.”

 

“Come on, boss,” Tony groaned. “I put a lot of work into -”

 

“Deal,” Asher said, sitting across from Paulie. He held the handle with his left hand and extended his right to Paulie. They grasped palms and Da’Quarius stood between them.

 

“GO!” Da’Quarius exclaimed.

 

Paulie and Asher arm wrestled. Their arms moved back and forth as they struggled against each other’s strength. Paulie had the upper hand, bringing the back of Asher’s hand toward the padded mat, but Asher resisted, straining as he fought back.

 

Then several things happened at once.

 

Paulie coughed, sneezed, and farted at the same time, sending a stream of saliva and snot into Asher’s face. He lost his strength when he did this, and Asher smashed his hand into the mat, beating him. 

 

“What the hell?!” Asher exclaimed getting up, his face covered in Paulie’s bodily fluids.

 

“Boss,” Tony said. “Did you just shit yourself?”

 

Paulie turned and looked at Da’Quarius. “I think we need to go home and get some sleep.”

 

***

 

Da’Quarius came back into his home on Freedom Lane a few days later, feeling better from his bout with the flu. “Welcome home,” Rose said, smiling. “How was Paulie’s?”

 

“It was fun,” Da’Quarius replied. “We mostly just watched Netflix.”

 

“Good,” Rose said.

 

“How’d the medicine work?” Helen asked. “I told you that stuff works wonders.”

 

“Dat shit was hardcore, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “You had me an’ Paulie thinkin’ we were characters on a TV show!”

 

“What did you give them?” Rose asked.

 

“My homemade flu remedy,” Helen replied.

 

“Oh no,” Rose said. “Last time you got me to take that I thought I was Anne Frank, and I hid from the Nazis in the attic for twelve hours.”

 

“Why does nobody listen to me when I tell them to go to sleep while on it?” Helen asked. “There’s on rule! It’s not my fault you can’t sleep off your hallucinations like normal people.”

 

“You didn’t do anything too crazy, did you?” Rose asked Da’Quarius.

 

“I’m okay,” Da’Quarius replied. “I’d hate to be Paulie right now, doe.”

 

“Why?” Rose asked. “What did Paulie do?”

 

***

 

Paulie stood in the main area of his pizzeria, facing Tony, Alice, and Sal, all staring at him with their arms crossed. “I can’t express how sorry I am,” he said.

 

“You should be,” Tony said. “I put a lot of work into that night, and it would’ve went off without a hitch if you didn’t show up all goofy off of cold meds.”

 

“Sorry,” Paulie said. “I screwed up.”

 

“Well you didn’t make a dime off renting the place, and they didn’t pay for the food they ate,” Tony continued. “So the night was a waste.”

 

“Sorry,” Paulie repeated.

 

“The waitstaff didn’t even get tipped,” Alice added.

 

“Sorry,” Paulie repeated again.

 

“The kitchen staff worked extra hard to make you a good profit,” Sal said. “We all hope you’re happy.”

 

Alice and Sal all walked off, leaving Paulie with Tony.

 

“You gonna say your sorry again?” Tony asked.

 

“No,” Paulie said. “I just have to figure out how to make things right for you three.”

 

“I’m fine,” Tony said. “You screwing up and getting reamed by me for a change is enough.”

 

Paulie laughed. “I guess the loss of the night is a fine punishment too.”

 

Tony laughed, but it soon turned into a coughing fit.

 

“Shit,” Paulie said. “I got you sick too. Better take some time off.”

 

“Alright,” Tony said, wiping his nose with his forearm. “Just do me one favor.”

 

“Sure,” Paulie agreed.

 

“Get me some of that flu medicine your sister makes,” Tony said.

 

 

 

The End

 

*******

 

Coming soon: an adventure so big it can only be…. 

 

Freedom Lane da’ Movie 2 in Space!

Freedom Lane: Daq da’ Police

“I ain’t never done dis,” Da’Quarius said, speaking softly so his mothers wouldn’t hear and wake up. He had his X-Box on and running in case they did come in. He’d just tell them he was playing an online game.

 

“It’s alright, honey,” the woman on the other side of the phone said. “I can help you along.”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. He met the woman on Twitter, and she insisted they “phone-fuck”. She said she was thirty-five, but she could have been closer to fifty as far as Da’Quarius knew. The only personal information she had given up was that her name was Lisa.

 

“What do I do now?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“Talk black to me,” Lisa replied.

 

“What?” Da’Quarius asked. “Like ‘fo’ shizzle an’ shit?”

 

“No,” Lisa said. “Blacker.”

 

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I dunno wha’chu want me to say.”

 

“Just talk black, goddamit!” Lisa exclaimed.

 

“Fry me up some fish and bacon!” Da’Quarius snapped.

 

Da’Quarius thought Lisa would hang up after that, but she moaned on her end. “Yes,” she said. “More.”

 

“Umma steal yo’ damn car!” Da’Quarius said.

 

“Yes!” Lisa moaned. “What else.”

 

“Umma run you over with it, you stupid ho!”

 

Lisa groaned and moaned as a notification from his friend Flounder popped up on his X-Box to start a game. “Hold up,” he said, picking up his headset. He put it on to respond to Flounder. “Sit tight. Umma come blast yo’ face off in a minute, mo’ fucker.”

 

Da’Quarius put the headset down and picked his phone back up to finish with Lisa. But all he heard was her screaming in terror and hanging up.

 

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said, putting his phone down and picking up his X-Box control. “I guess dat last part was way too black fo’ her white ass.”

 

 

***

 

Freedom Lane 

 

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

 

Season 11, Episode 1: Daq da’ Police

 

***

 

“I didn’t threaten to kill any white bitch!” Da’Quarius shouted. New Haven police officer Rocco Priolo was standing in his living room on Freedom Lane.

 

“That’s not the report we got,” Rocco said. “The woman called the police, telling them you threatened to run her over with a car and shoot her face off.”

 

“Oh my,” Rose said. She was sitting next to her wife and life-partner Helen, a worried look on her face as Rocco read the charges some woman in South Carolina had brought forth about her adopted son.

 

“What kind of bimbo is this?” Helen asked. “Why is she talking to a thirteen year old boy on the phone? Can’t we get her arrested for pedastry?”

 

“I don’t want any of dat!” Da’Quarius said. “She’s just some freak from Twitter. Call her up. I bet I can clear dis up in five minutes. She wanted me to talk dat way to her!”

 

“We can’t,” Rocco said. “We got word from her local police department. She died.”

 

“Oh no,” Rose said, a hand on her chest.

 

“I didn’t do it!” Da’Quarius said, his hands flailing. “I’ve been here since I talked to her da’ other night. I ain’t never been to South Carolina!”

 

“Relax,” Rocco said. “She died after accidentally opening an artery masturbating with some kitchen utensils.”

 

“Kid,” Helen said. “You need to show me how to use that Twitter.”

 

“No,” Rose said. “I think he’s going to be banned from Twitter for a while. Possibly forever.”

 

Da’Quarius sat down on the couch, crossing his arms. “Damn dead chick,” he muttered. “Fuckin’ up my Twitter game an’ shit.”

 

“So there’s no punishment?” Helen asked. “This broad’s dead, so she can’t possibly press charges against Da’Quarius for an innocent conversation she took the wrong way.”

 

“No, there won’t be any charges,” Rocco said. “But your son should learn about what the consequences for his actions will be if he breaks the law.”

 

“Shove a nightstick up your ass,” Helen said under her breath.

 

“Excuse me?” Rocco asked.

 

“I think he’s right,” Rose said. “I worked as a career dispatcher for the NHPD, and I think Da’Quarius can stand to learn a lesson from all this.”

 

“Dis some bullshit ‘bout to come,” Da’Quarius muttered. “I can feel it.”

 

“I have an idea,” Rose said. “Here me out, Rocco.”

 

***

 

“So let me get this straight,” Helen said, sitting on her bed while Rose packed. “The kid is going to be spending all weekend with that cop?”

 

“Yes,” Rose replied. 

 

“And you’re going on that hippy retreat?” Helen continued.

 

“It’s not a hippy retreat,” Rose sighed. “But yes.”

 

“And I’m going to have the house all to myself?” Helen asked.

 

“Yes,” Rose said. “I’m sorry I didn’t plan this better. I forgot this weekend was the retreat when I asked Rocco to take Da’Quarius with him for the weekend. I’d skip the retreat, but this year is likely my last one. I’m going to be too old to go hiking in the woods and camping soon.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Helen said. “I’m going to hold down the fort for you.”

 

“I have faith in you,” Rose said, smiling.

 

“That’s right,” Helen said. “I’m going to hold down this quiet, relaxing, no kid having fort. God bless America.”

 

***

 

Rose dropped Da’Quarius off the following Saturday morning at Paulie’s Pizza on State Street. “Officer Priolo is going to meet you here,” she said.

 

“Sweet,” Da’Quarius said, nodding. “Check out what I got for da’ weekend.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of aviator lenses, which snapped onto his regular, yellow-rimmed glasses.

 

Rose laughed, looking at her own reflection in the lenses as Da’Quarius gave her a mean mug. “I thought you’d hate this,” she said.

 

“Nah,” Da’Quarius said. “We gonna bust up some bad guys. Maybe toss ‘em in jail an’ shit.”

 

“I doubt that,” Rose said. “I just hope you learn something.”

 

“Umma learn how to choke a hooker with a nightstick,” Da’Quarius said.

 

Rose sighed. “Promise me you won’t do anything like that.”

 

“You know I’m jokin’, Rose,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma go meet up with Paulie an’ Tony. Have fun on yo’ hippy thing.”

 

“I am not a hippy!” Rose exclaimed as Da’Quarius got out of her car and ran toward the front door of Paulie’s Pizza.

 

***

 

“So my old pal Rocco’s showing you the ropes this weekend,” Tony said, finding Da’Quarius waiting in Paulie’s main area. “Make sure he shows you where all the good gay hook up spots are.”

 

“Da’ fuck do I wanna know dat?” Da’Quarius asked. “An’ why you so interested anyway?”

 

“I’m not,” Tony said. “He’s just told me stories about how he has to bust up the gay orgies every Friday and Saturday night. It sounds friggin’ hilarious.”

 

“You real fucked up, Tony,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“Oh!” Paulie exclaimed, coming from his private bathroom with a newspaper tucked under his arm. “Don’t fill the kid’s head with your nonsense. He’s about to learn about the law enforcement in this city. You could’ve benefited from a ride along with a cop when you were a kid.”

 

“I learned plenty from my family,” Tony said. “Just from the opposite side of things.”

 

“You and me both,” Paulie said. “We were raised hearing about how the police were the bad guys.”

 

“I blamed the police for my father getting arrested,” Tony said. “It took me years to come to terms that it was his own fault. The police didn’t force him to break the law after all.”

 

“I was the same,” Paulie said. “When the feds flipped my father, I blamed them for his death for the longest time.”

 

“See,” Tony said. “We’re the same, you and me.”

 

“Yeah,” Paulie said. “We both could have benefited a ride along with the police officer.”

 

“Are you guys done?” Da’Quarius asked. “I wanna leave before you guys start huggin’ an’ shit.”

 

Paulie and Tony looked at each other, neither saying anything.

 

“Hey, fellas,” Rocco Priolo said, coming into Paulie’s, breaking the awkward silence. “I’m here for the kid. You ready?”

 

“You know it,” Da’Quarius said, adding his aviator lenses to his glasses. “It’s gonna be fun ridin’ in da’ front of da’ cruiser instead of da’ back dis time.”

 

“Come on,” Rocco said. “We got a long shift, keeping the streets safe.”

 

“From who?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

Rocco looked at Da’Quarius, his brow furrowed in a look of extreme seriousness. “From themselves.”

 

***

 

Rose made her way toward the rows of tents with her small duffle bag on her shoulder. She huffed, walking on the soft, leaf-strewn earth. It was going to be a cool night, so she packed an extra blanket. But she knew she’d still feel the coldness in her bones. As much as she tried to deny it, she was getting older, and she wouldn’t be able to come on this retreat much longer.

 

“Rose!” Casper, a large man with a big, white beard said from his folding chair. “I’m so glad you came!”

 

“Hi Casper,” Rose said. “You’re looking well.”

 

“Thanks,” Casper said, offering a smile with a few missing teeth. “I’ve procured a special treat for tonight.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Rose asked. “What would that be?”

 

“Iowaska,” Casper replied. “We have a real shaman too from Honduras. She’ll be supervising us tonight while we brew and take it.”

 

“That sounds a little dangerous,” Rose said.

 

“Don’t be a stick in the mud,” Casper said. “Nobody will force you, but do you really want to miss this opportunity to look deep into yourself and find out the secrets of the universe?”

 

“I don’t know,” Rose said. “It sounds fun, but I try not to do drugs.”

 

“Just think about it,” Casper said. “How many of these opportunities are going to come around, after all?”

 

Rose thought for a moment. “What the heck. This may be my last retreat anyway.”

 

***

 

Da’Quarius rode with Rocco, watching New Haven from the passenger side window. “Hey,” he said. “I bet dat guy right dere got some drugs. Let’s go search him an’ arrest his ass.”

 

“It doesn’t work that way,” Rocco said. “I need a reason to search someone.”

 

“I just gave it to you,” Da’Quarius said. “He looks like he’s carryin’.”

 

“Why?” Rocco asked. “Because he’s black?”

 

“Don’t make dis ‘bout race,” Da’Quarius said. “He just looks like da’ kinda guy who’d have some shit on him.”

 

“Like I said,” Rocco said. “We don’t operate that way in this day and age. Maybe ten or fifteen years ago I could have stopped anyone who looked suspicious, frisked them, and brought them in if I found any drugs. Nowadays, everyone got camera phones and attitudes like drugs aren’t illegal any more. If I frisk and try to take anyone in, I better be sure I’m doing everything by the book.”

 

“Society ruined itself,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“My old partner had a way of spotting a potential criminal,” Rocco continued. “They waved to him.”

 

“Dey just waved?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“Yeah,” Rocco replied, chuckling. “Every time he drove by someone and they waved, he’d frisk them and almost always find something to bring them in on.”

 

“So let’s go see who’s wavin’!” Da’Quarius said.

 

Rocco sighed. “We can’t. The old ways are tried and true, but we just aren’t allowed to use them anymore.”

 

The radio squealed, and a female voice started speaking. “Is anyone in the vicinity of Legion AVE?” the dispatcher asked.

 

“Shit,” Rocco said. “That’s us.” He picked up his mic and pushed down the receiver. “This is Officer Priolo. I can take the call.”

 

“Head over to Rite Aid,” the dispatcher said. “They need help with one of their customers.”

 

“Roger,” Rocco replied, putting the mic back in its holster. “Probably got a shoplifter or something.”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s go get us a shoplifter.”

 

***

 

Rose had picked out her tent and was settled by early afternoon. She had her chair set up near where the fire would be and was looking forward to a relaxing day before the circle geared up in the evening to commune and speak of the issues of the world. 

 

That and the promise of the shaman and his iowaska in the evening.

 

“Rose!” Sally, a robust middle-aged woman with gray hair and a sun hat, said, walking up to Rose’s tent. “I heard this may be your last year as part of the group.”

 

“Yeah,” Rose replied. “I’ve had a good run and made some great memories. It’s just too much when you get to my age.”

 

“You’re only as old as you feel, dear,” Sally said. “And you look like you don’t feel quite your age.”

 

Rose sighed. This was true. She barely felt seventy-four years old, but the retreat was for the young. There were people there older than her, but she felt herself drifting away more and more each year.

 

“To be honest, I don’t know if I’m still into this as much as I used to be,” Rose said. “There’s so much new stuff going on in the world, and I just can’t relate to a lot of what is said. I almost didn’t come this year, but I figured I’d give it one more go.”

 

“And I’m glad you did,” Sally said. “If your mind’s eye being closed is an issue: just wait until you’ve tried the iowaska. Have you ever indulged?”

 

“No,” Rose answered.

 

Sally laughed, placing a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “You’re in for one crazy night,” she said. “Prepare your mind to be opened as it never has before.”

 

***

 

Rocco pulled his cruiser into the Rite Aid parking lot, and he was able to see the disturbance right away. There was a car parked in the pharmacy drive thru, and the driver was now standing outside of his car, arguing with the store manager.

 

“Here we go,” Rocco said, putting the car into park. “Don’t get too close to this guy. Some of them are biters.”

 

“Word,” Da’Quarius said.

 

Rocco exited his cruiser and approached the man arguing with the manager. “There a problem here?” he asked. Da’Quarius kept his distance behind Rocco.

 

“Yeah, there’s a problem!” the customer shouted. He was nearly bald with round glasses. “These assholes are telling me the drive-thru is for pharmacy customers only!”

 

“I am not sending my pharmacy techs into the store to do your shopping!” the manager retorted.

 

“I just need two things!” the customer exclaimed, yelling his complaint at Rocco now. “Condoms and red Gatorade! Is that so much to ask?!”

 

“Sir,” Rocco said. “The sign clearly states that -”

 

“Two things!” the customer interrupted. “Condoms and red Gatorade!”

 

“What you wanted isn’t the issue!” the manager retorted.

 

“It’s the principle!” the customer exclaimed.

 

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Gimme twenty bucks an’ I’ll go get your shit. I’d be in an’ out faster than dis dumb-ass argument.”

 

“Sir,” Rocco said, addressing the customer. “If you don’t move your car, I’m going to have it towed.”

 

“THIS IS AMERICA!” the customer shouted getting in Rocco’s face. He pushed his finger into his nose, flicking it.

 

“That’s it,” Rocco said. He wrestled the customer to the ground in a flash, pinning his arms behind his back one-handed. He then pulled a zip-tie from his belt and tied the customer’s hands together, reading his rights the whole time.

 

“Damn!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!”

 

Rocco tossed the perp into the back of the cruiser and slammed the door. “That’s ninety percent of the job right there, kid,” he said, “arresting assholes at drug stores.”

 

“You’re going to get his car our of my drive-thru now, right?” the manager asked, his arms crossed against his chest, a sour look on his face.

 

“And there’s the usual thanks we get,” Rocco sighed.

 

***

The Honduran shaman made her speech, wishing everyone a good trip within themselves. Her second then distributed ceramic bowls of the still-steaming concoction, urging them to drink together once distributed. Rose was handed hers, and she looked into the bowl, smelling the aroma of boiled leaves. She had been asked a dozen times if she was sure she wanted to try, if she could handle the trip. She decided she wasn’t too old, that she could handle it. Everyone drank, and Rose did too, letting the iowaska down her throats and toward her belly. A bucket was placed in front of her as she handed the bowl back to the shaman’s second. Vomiting was inevitable.

 

People spoke of life and others tapped drums slowly. Rose listened, absorbing their words and the beats of the drums. She found herself sitting next to the shaman, although she didn’t remember when she had joined her.

 

“Thank you for this,” Rose said, unsure how to address the old Honduran woman.

 

“There is no need for thanks,” the shaman replied. “I am here to assist those on their spiritual journey. I can tell you have not taken one before.”

 

Rose leaned forward, vomiting into her bucket.

 

“No,” Rose said, looking back up to answer the shaman. She wanted to say more, but her mouth no longer worked. She realized the fire in the center of the camp was gone, replaced with a pillar made out of rainbow, stretching straight up into the sky. Figures were emerging, unicorns and fairies end elves and midgets. They hummed and danced and Rose watched, transfixed by all of it.

 

“Hey,” one of the midgets said, coming up to Rose. He wore a green and brown tunic and a bowler hat on his head. She thought she recognized it at first, but she dismissed the notion. 

 

“Hello, little one,” Rose said. “My name is Rose. What’s yours?”

 

“Shut the fuck up, witch,” the midget said.

 

Rose was taken aback. She realized she did recognize the midget. It was Harold Fuchs, Helen’s enemy.

 

“What did you just say to my woman?!” another midget shouted, shuffling over with use of a cane. This was unmistakably Helen. She walked up to Midget-Harold and kicked him in the crotch. He fell over and disappeared under a blanket of dirt and leaves.

 

“He won’t bother you again,” Midget-Helen said, walking up to Rose as the ground regained its original shape after swallowing Midget-Harold.

 

“Thank you,” Rose said. “You’re always here to help me.”

 

“You’re strong too, Rose,” Midget-Helen said. “I made you strong like me. You just don’t realize it.”

 

“I don’t think of myself that way,” Rose said. “Maybe because I’ve always had you to be strong. You’ve always been my strength.”

 

“You know this is a bunch of hippy shit, right?” Midget-Helen asked.

 

“I know,” Rose replied.

 

“I brought the whole gang too,” Midget-Helen said. She motioned toward the rainbow pillar, and a Midget-Da’Quarius emerged, righting a jet black unicorn with an afro. Paulie held its reigns.

 

“That unicorn’s a bit racist,” Rose said.

 

“Shit,” Midget-Da’Quarius said. “It’s your vision, biddy.”

 

“Madon,” Midget-Paulie said. “Friggin’ stunad. Ah fongool!”

 

“Why’s he talking like that?” Rose asked.

 

“He doesn’t know any other words,” Midget-Helen replied.

 

“Puttana de Eva!” Midget-Paulie spat, smiling despite his obscenity.

 

“Oh,” Rose said. “Well, I’m glad you’re all here.”

 

Rose bent forward, and heaved into her bucket.

 

***

 

Rocco pulled his cruiser in front of Da’Quarius’s house on Freedom Lane and put it into park. “I hope you learned a lot about law and order today,” he said. “You ready for another long day of policing the mean streets of New Haven tomorrow?”

 

Da’Quarius scoffed. “Yeah,” he said. “How ‘bout we swing by some more stores to see if anyone is bitchin’ at da’ employees.”

 

“The job’s not all shootouts and drug busts,” Rocco said. “That stuff’s all good for TV and movies, but real police work is just making sure everyone doesn’t act like a bunch of assholes all the time. A day where you don’t have to draw your gun is a good friggin’ day to me.”

 

“Real police work can suck my dick,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“This is my career,” Rocco said, getting serious. “God forbid I have to take down a punk like you one day. I worked hard for my badge, and I’ve gone through my share of bad days. I’ll be damned if I let a kid like you disrespect it from a single slow day.”

 

“I’m just kiddin’,” Da’Quarius said. “You still gonna meet me at da’ same time tomorrow?”

 

Rocco sighed. “Sure, kid. Whatever you want.”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said, opening the door. “Just try an’ make it more excitin’.”

 

Da’Quarius ran inside while Rocco watched, muttering. “You little shit.”

 

***

 

Rose woke up on top of her sleeping bag. She hadn’t even made it into her tent the night before. She sat up and looked around, seeing the others stirring from sleep, some moaning. The sky was cloudy. It looked like rain. The tents were nowhere to be seen.

 

“What happened?” Casper asked, getting up. His face was read and covered in blisters. He must have fallen asleep near some kind of insect nest. Rose counted herself lucky that she hadn’t done the same.

 

“I don’t know,” Rose replied. “Last thing I remember we decided to take a walk through the woods.”

 

“That’s right,” Casper said. “That shaman woman led us out here.”

 

“She was a false shaman!” Sally said, standing up under her own power. The others were all up, looking around, confused. “She led us out to the woods while her and that second of hers robbed us blind.”

 

“No,” Rose said. “That can’t be.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Sally asked. “Then where are we? The shaman’s job is to keep us safe, guide us on our spiritual quest. Our shaman led us on a literal trip, leaving us in a strange place when she was done with us. Where is she now?”

 

Everyone looked around, somehow expecting the shaman to show herself once again. Rose knew better. She also knew the group, and they would walk aimlessly around the woods if left to their own devices. Someone had to be strong and get them out, and Rose remembered what Midget-Helen had said the night before.

 

You’re strong too, Rose. I made you strong like me. You just don’t realize it.”

 

“Alright,” Rose said, raising her voice. “We just need to find the camp. Even if that shaman robbed us, she couldn’t have stolen all of our cars. At the very least we’ll be able to make it back to civilization in one piece.”

 

Casper bent over and vomited onto the ground. “We don’t know how far away we’ve walked!”

 

“We’ll find our way!” Rose said. She knew she had to be harsh in order to get them to follow her, keeping them in check for their own good. “All we need to do is to find the path we trampled getting here. That’s the best place to start.”

 

***

 

Da’Quarius rode with Rocco on his second and final day of his ride-along. So far the trip had been quiet. Neither one had brought up Da’Quarius’s comments from the day before. 

 

“Let me ask you somethin’,” Da’Quarius said, breaking the silence in the cruiser. “How come the cops are so unfair to blacks.”

 

“Excuse me?” Rocco asked.

 

“Don’t pretend like it don’t happen,” Da’Quarius replied. “Dere was dis black dude who got arrested for stealing forty bucks worth of steaks from da’ store. He got twenty years after it was all said an’ done. Den dere’s dis white chick who threw her newborn baby out a movin’ car, killin’ it. She got probation an’ house arrest. How da’ fuck is dat fair?”

 

“That’s not the police,” Rocco said. “That’s our fucked up justice system. I read about that woman in the news, and I would have liked to be the arresting officer. I would have choked the bitch out.”

 

“What ‘bout da’ black guy who stole da’ steaks?” Da’Quarius asked. “Would you have choked him out too?”

 

“Depends,” Rocco said. “If I’m being honest, most shoplifters try to run, and end up tackled and brought down harshly. If he resisted, then he’d get the nightstick or worse. That can add years to a sentence too. I don’t know the details, so I can’t answer.”

 

“Figures,” Da’Quarius muttered. “All of a sudden you don’t know da’ details.”

 

“Look,” Rocco said. “You’re the one who was egging me on to racially profile more yesterday. You can’t tell me to frisk a guy because he’s black one day and chastise me for working in the fucked-up, racist legal system the next.”

 

“How ‘bout we only arrest hispanics today?” Da’Quarius asked. “That should help dis racial tension.”

 

“That’s not how things work,” Rocco said. “We’ll arrest law-breakers, regardless of race. What happens after that is out of my hands. I’m not one of these assholes blasting blacks in the street, kid. Not all of us are trigger happy racists.”

 

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Things are gettin’ dark up in here.”

 

“Let’s just do another honest day of police work,” Rocco suggested. “We’ll even hit up Paulie’s for lunch. How does that sound?”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “I can get on board with dat. Pick up da’ radio and make a few calls, Rocco. King Kong got nuttin’ on us.”

 

***

 

Rose led the way through the woods, followed by the twelve other members of her retreat. She found their path easily enough, finding the trampled brush and the articles of clothes and items that were dropped along the way. She silently thanked Midget-Helen for clueing her in on how strong-willed she actually was, and she silently thanked real-life Helen for making her sit through all those survival shows on TV.

 

“I’m starving,” someone whined, not for the first time. They had no food, and they had vomited the contents of their stomachs the night before during the iowaska circle. Rose didn’t think they were too far into the forest, but they were low on energy. She was feeling tired from not eating since the day before herself.

 

“Here are some berries!” another exclaimed, picking at some red berries from a bush.

 

“Don’t eat those!” Rose shouted, turning and putting her hand up.

 

“But I’m hungry,” the man said, holding the handful of berries. “And nature always provides!”

 

“Were you born yesterday?” Rose asked. “Those are probably poisonous. You’d have to be an idiot to eat those.”

 

The man looked away, embarrassed, letting the berries in his hand fall to the ground.

 

“What about these mushrooms?” a woman asked, crouching next to a tree.

 

“You’re dumber than the berries guy!” Rose snapped.

 

The woman looked as if she was slapped in the face, but Rose didn’t care. She was hungry and tired and cranky, and she knew she had to be harsh in order to get everyone out of the woods safely.

 

“We need to eat, Rose,” Casper said, speaking softly next to her. “I’m not dumb enough to start eating berries and mushrooms, but we’re going to have to have something.”

 

Rose looked around, and she saw her answer. “Can you start a fire?” she asked.

 

Casper dug through the pockets of his sweater. “I still have the matches from last night’s bonfire,” he replied. “I can find some dry wood and probably start one.”

 

“Good,” Rose said. “Bring everyone to the clearing we just passed and start a small fire.”

 

“What are you going to do?” Casper asked.

 

Rose watched the squirrels in the trees, scurrying about. She crouched slowly and picked up a rock. “Nature will provide.”

 

***

 

Rocco and Da’Quarius entered Paulie’s Pizza a little after noon. They were greeted by Tony, who was standing by the front counter. “Hey, Rocco,” he said. “Kid.”

 

“Yo,” Da’Quarius said. “Unca Paulie here?”

 

“Nope,” Paulie said. “I’m in charge for lunch today.”

 

Alice, Paulie’s head waitress, came from the seating area. She gave Rocco a huge smile. “Good afternoon, Officer Priolo,” she said.

 

“You know you can call me Rocco,” Rocco said.

 

“Do I have to?” Alice asked, feigning a pout.

 

“Oh!” Tony exclaimed. “Quit your flirting!”

 

“I’m only greeting our customers,” Alice said, giving Rocco a wink.

 

“She didn’t even say ‘hi’ to me,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“Hello, Da’Quarius,” Alice said, turning toward him. “Do you two need a table?”

 

“We can sit in the main area and bullshit with Tony,” Rocco said. “Is that alright?”

 

“Fine by me,” Alice said. “Holler if you need anything.”

 

“You don’t serve out here!” Tony shouted as Alice left, winking at Rocco again.

 

“I gotta use your can,” Rocco said. “Get the junior officer and I some meatball grinders.”

 

“Coming right up,” Tony said as Rocco went to the restroom. Tony turned to make the pizza when something fell to the floor. Da’Quarius spotted it as Tony scrambled to grab it.

 

“Hey!” Da’Quarius said, snatching the baggie from Tony. “What do we have here?”

 

“None of your business,” Tony said. He tried to grab the baggie back from Da’Quarius, but it was pulled away from his fingers at the last second.

 

Da’Quarius opened the bag and peered inside. “Well, well, well,” he said. “Looks like I’m ‘bout to make my first arrest up in here.”

 

“Come on,” Tony said. “Any other day and you wouldn’t be a dick about this.”

 

“But I’m a junior officer today,” Da’Quarius said. “Once Rocco comes out of da’ toilet, we’ll get you cuffed an’ brought in. I hope you don’t have any priors.”

 

“Here,” Tony said, pulling his wallet out. He took out a fifty dollar bill. “Take this and don’t tell Paulie.”

 

Da’Quarius looked at the fifty for a moment. He snatched it from Tony and tossed him the bag. “Don’t let me catch you breakin’ da’ law again!”

 

“Da’Quarius!” Rocco said, standing behind him with his arms crossed. “Did you just take a bribe?”

 

“No,” Da’Quarius said. “He was just giving me dis fifty bucks fo’ no reason.”

 

“I heard the whole thing,” Rocco said. “Officers of the law do not take bribes. Give Tony back his money.”

 

Da’Quarius handed Tony back the fifty, which quickly disappeared into Tony’s pocket.

 

“Junior officer Masters,” Rocco said. “You are hereby dismissed of your duty.”

 

“Shit,” Da’Quarius. “Rose an’ Helen are gonna ground me for sure.”

 

“Tony,” Rocco said, causing Tony to jump. “Get that bag out of my sight and get us those sandwiches.”

 

Tony nodded and ran off to make the grinders.

 

***

 

Rose and the others finished the lunch of roasted squirrel. They were both awed and disgusted with Rose’s ability to kill six squirrels with rocks, but they all ate, despite a few protesters about vegetarianism. Rose had argued that they needed to eat to keep their strength, and there wasn’t a Whole Foods in walking distance to buy organic broccoli.

 

“Are you ready to go yet?” Rose asked. She had finished her own meager meal of squirrel meat, and she had waited for the others to finish.

 

“Ready,” Sally said, offering Rose a sad smile. She had insisted that squirrels were her spirit animal, and Rose had told her she’d be a spirit if she didn’t shut up and eat.

 

“Good,” Rose said. “It shouldn’t be much longer.”

 

Rose led the others once more, keeping her bearings. She looked around often, looking for evidence of their previous trip into the woods before the shaman ditched them and presumably robbed them of whatever she and her second could have carried off, including Rose’s bag and purse.

 

It took the better part of an hour, but they found the campsite. They had been right. Everything of value had been taken. “This is a disaster,” Rose said.

 

“Rose,” Casper said, approaching her. The others were behind him, all looking nervous. “I want to thank you for getting us back here.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Rose said. She smiled at Casper, but she noticed he didn’t return it. He had a look of sorrow on his face, and she knew what he was about to say next had come from the group and not him.

 

“We think it’s best if you don’t come to the retreat next year,” he said.

 

Rose was taken aback, but not surprised. She looked into the distance, and she saw Midget-Helen, nodding at her with a knowing look. She then turned and disappeared into the trees with Midget-Da’Quarius and Midget-Paulie.

 

“I guess I had to be like Helen to get everyone out safe,” Rose said, “but the downside is Helen isn’t welcome back to a lot of places, even if her intentions aren’t entirely devious.”

 

Casper looked at Rose, nodding. “Who’s Helen?”

 

***

 

Rocco drove his cruiser up Freedom Lane toward Da’Quarius’s house after lunch. “Here we are,” he said.

 

“Look,” Da’Quarius said after a deep breath. “I’m sorry ‘bout da’ bribery thing. I was just fuckin’ with Tony. I wasn’t going to arrest him or keep da’ money.”

 

“You need to be serious when you’re on the clock,” Rocco said. “Do I know Tony breaks the law? Of course I know. We help our friends, not torment them. How many times have you been on the receiving end of a favor from me?”

 

“I know,” Da’Quarius said. “For what it’s worth, I did learn a lot dese last two days. It was actually a good experience.”

 

Rocco smiled. “I won’t tell anyone you said that,” he said. “Why don’t we just say… what the fuck is going on here?”

 

Da’Quarius turned to follow Rocco’s gaze. There was a large, older hispanic woman looking through the windows of his house. There was another behind her keeping lookout, obviously missing Rocco’s cruiser as he pulled it over and killed the engine a few houses down. He was holding a purse.

 

“Dat’s Rose’s purse,” Da’Quarius said. “Da’ fuck he doin’ with dat?”

 

“They more than likely stole it from her,” Rocco said. “They probably found her ID and took her keys. They’re going to try and rob the house.”

 

“So do we arrest ‘em or wait for Helen to kill ‘em?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“We’re on the clock, kid,” Rocco said. “I can’t ignore this.”

 

“Yo,” Da’Quarius said. “Lemme get a nightstick.”

 

Rocco took his nightstick and handed it to Da’Quarius. “If you get caught, you stole that from me.”

 

“Whatever,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s go arrest us some trespassers.”

 

Rocco nodded and left the cruiser, followed by Da’Quarius. They ran toward the robbers, Da’Quarius brandishing the nightstick and Rocco holding his tazer. “Freeze!” Rocco shouted.

 

The two robbers stopped for a moment and tried to run. Rocco fired his tazer, hitting the male in the chest. He shook and fell to the ground. The woman with Rose’s purse tried to flea, but Da’Quarius hit her across the top of her chest with the nightstick, knocking her down. Rocco was there a moment later, wrapping her wrists together with a zip tie.

 

The front door opened, and Helen came out, brandishing a crowbar. “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON OUT HERE?!” she shouted.

 

“We got them, ma’am,” Rocco said.

 

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius added. “Fucked ‘em up too.”

 

“Go on inside, kid,” Rocco said, “I’ll get them from here.”

 

A car pulled up to the front of the house, and Rose got out of the passenger side, looking at what was going on. “Oh,” she said. “I see you met the shaman who robbed everyone blind and left them in the woods.”

 

“Shaman?” Helen asked. “This bitch was trying to get into our house! Lucky this cop came, or I’d have been guilty of murder.”

 

“Not in self defense,” Rocco said.

 

“Good to know,” Helen said. “Hey, Rose. What are you doing hanging out with a shaman anyway?”

 

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius added. “What kind of hippy shit is that?”

 

“Where’s your car?” Helen asked.

 

“Well,” Rose said, picking up her purse, “since I didn’t have my keys, I couldn’t drive it home.  And I’ll have you I know I was as far from hippy as possible this weekend.”

 

“Well if there’s no more conversation,” Rocco said, pushing the two perps toward his cruiser, “I’d like to get these two losers downtown.”

 

“Excellent idea,” Rose said. “We’ll be pressing charges, of course.”

 

“Look at you,” Helen said. “I like this no-nonsense Rose. That retreat actually beat the hippy out of you. You should go next year too.”

 

Rose glared at Helen.

 

“What?” Helen asked.

 

 

 

The End

Freedom Lane – The Meat Market (When Helen Met Rose)

Helen sat on the cot in her cell in Havenville Penitentiary, writing in her notebook with the last two inches of her pencil. There was no real money to be made in writing prison fiction, and most of the notebooks passed around bearing her work had disappeared, but she felt great satisfaction in the hobby. Anything to pass the time of her long sentence was welcome.
 
“Ventriglio!” a guard shouted. Helen closed the notebook and put it on her mattress. If she tried to hide it, the guard would have reason to seize it. “You still writing your memoirs?”
 
“That’s the problem,” Helen said, approaching the cell door. “It’s my life story. It’s not done until I’m dead.”
 
The guard chuckled. “You got mail,” he said. He handed the letters through the bars. The one from her mother was opened, “randomly” searched. It was one of the perks of being the daughter of a suspected mob capo. The other wasn’t open, and Helen was grateful for that.
 
Helen tossed the letter from her mother aside, saving the update about Paulie and whatever else was going on for later. She tore open the envelope with the return address of a P.O. box in New Haven, her home town. Helen took the contents out and placed them on top of her notebook: one letter and one photo.
 
“Oh, Thorny,” Helen said, taking in the photo. The red-headed woman who called herself Thorny Flowers had sent one every month or so. Helen had signed up for the prison’s pen-pal program as a goof, but she ended up getting a letter two weeks later. Helen responded with the horny ramblings of a woman on the inside, and she was shocked that Thorny had also responded, continuing the dirty talk and included a picture of herself, completely in the nude.
 
“I’ll see you later,” Bea, Helen’s cellmate, said, finishing the conversation she was having as she walked. Helen stashed the letter and photo under her pillow. She didn’t want Bea to know there was someone else, someone she wanted more.
 
“How’s the book?” Bea asked, sitting down.
 
“Almost done,” Helen said. “I needed to take my eyes off that paper for a bit though. How’s things in the yard?”
 
“Smooth,” Bea replied. She went into detail about their operations, but Helen didn’t pay much attention. Her mind was on Thorny, her photo, and the letter she couldn’t wait to read.
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 10 Finale: The Meat Market (When Helen Met Rose)
 
***
 
“Alright,” Da’Quarius said, marking up the magazine with a pen. “Now what are your hobbies?”
 
“What on earth are you two doing?” Helen said, waking up from the nap she had taken in her recliner.
 
“Da’Quarius is doing a survey with me,” Rose said. “So you need my hobbies?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Well, I love to read,” Rose said. “There’s also gardening, and I’ve always had a love of horticulture.”
 
“You said ‘gardening’ twice,” Helen muttered.
 
“Gardening and horticulture are not the same thing,” Rose said.
 
“You dig in the dirt and plant shit,” Helen said. “They’re the same.”
 
“Horticulture is much more complex than that,” Rose said. “Think about it as gardening on a grander scale.”
 
“Then you’ve never done any horticulture,” Helen groaned.
 
“But I like to read about it,” Rose said.
 
“Bah!” Helen said. “Wait… What time is it?”
 
“It’s a little after one,” Rose said. “Why?”
 
“I need to go,” Helen said, getting up.
 
“Where are you going?” Rose asked, following.
 
“I need to visit the meat market,” Helen replied.
 
“Oh,” Rose said. “Let me get my keys and -”
 
“No,” Helen said, putting up a hand. “I can take the bus just fine.”
 
“But I can drive you,” Rose said. “You don’t need to take the bus.”
 
“The bus is fine,” Helen said, throwing on her coat. “I’ll be home before you know it.”
 
Rose wanted to argue more, but Helen was out the door, shuffling with her cane toward the sidewalk.
 
“Do you know what that was about?” Rose asked, addressing Da’Quarius.
 
“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “But she said she needed to go to da’ meat market. I known what dat means.” He laughed a little bit, stopping when he saw the look on Rose’s face.
 
“I’m just playin’,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m sure she really does need to get some meat or somethin’.”
 
Rose’s face didn’t change. She looked toward the door, biting her nails.
 
“Come on,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen is too old to do anything like dat, right?”
 
“I don’t know,” Rose said. “It’s been so long since she’s deceived me like this.”
 
“Deceived you?” Da’Quarius asked. “She’s only goin’ for meat.”
 
Rose walked toward the door and looked out the window.
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Would you feel better if we followed her?”
 
Rose turned to Da’Quarius. “Is that okay?” she asked. “Isn’t that an invasion of her privacy?”
 
“I dunno ‘bout any of dat,” Da’Quarius said, “but I’m all for it if it helps.”
 
***
 
Rose sat in her car, watching Helen from half a block away with Da’Quarius in the passenger seat. She was sitting on the bench near the bus stop, waiting. “This still feels wrong,” Rose said.
 
“It’s alright,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen cain’t see fo’ shit. She ain’t gonna spot us.”
 
“That’s not what I mean,” Rose said. “I’m talking about stalking her.”
 
Da’Quarius looked over at Rose, the look of worry still heavy on her face. “Hey,” Da’Quarius said. “You guys never told me how you two met.”
 
“Sure we did,” Rose said. “Remember when you found that photo of me? I used to send her letters in prison.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, “but den you two lost touch for a while before she got out. I’m sure dere’s a story.”
 
Rose seemed to lighten up a bit. “There is, actually,” she said, “but Helen doesn’t like me telling it.”
 
“Well, shit, Rose,” Da’Quarius said. “What kind of son would I be if I didn’t know it?”
 
Rose looked at Da’Quarius and smiled. “You got me there,” she said. “Alright. Here’s the full story of how Helen and I got together.”
 
***
 
Rose was walking down state street, carrying her bag of books she had just purchased from the secondhand shop. She could have driven, but it was too nice of a spring afternoon. Besides, she didn’t have to work until the following day. She decided to head back to her home on Freedom Lane, the same one she shared with her mother until she died, and rest in the backyard.
 
“Thorny?!” a voice exclaimed, just feet away from her. Rose stopped dead. Thorny Flowers was a name she thought she’d never hear again. She had used it back when she signed up for the prison pen-pal program, finding a sheet lying around the precinct where she worked. The letters she wrote as Thorny started innocently enough, but they picked up steam when the letters sent to her P.O. box came back riddled with sexual innuendo.
 
“That is you, isn’t it?” the owner of the voice, a woman with curly, brown hair sad, coming around to look at Rose from the front.
 
“I’m sorry,” Rose said, nervously. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
 
“Oh shit,” the woman said. “Of course you don’t recognize me. It’s not like I had a camera on the inside to send you a picture of myself. It’s me: Helen! Helen Ventriglio!”
 
Rose was shocked. There was another name she had thought she’d never hear again, let alone stand face-to-face with the woman attached to it. “How long has it been?” Rose asked. “Did you get released early?”
 
Helen looked away at this. “Yeah,” she said. “Good behavior and all that. Did you keep writing to me?”
 
“Oh,” Rose said. “I stopped when I got a letter threatening my life if I tried to send you any more letters or photos.”
 
“Bea,” Helen muttered.
 
“Who?” Rose asked.
 
“She was my cellmate,” Helen replied. “She’s the jealous type. She probably found one of your letters after I got out and replied. That also explains why I never found you at the post office.”
 
“Is she coming after me?” Rose asked.
 
“I doubt it,” Helen said. “They added a few more decades to her sentence. We’ll be in our eighties when she gets out.”
 
“Oh,” Rose said.
 
“So what do you do around here for kicks, Thorny?” Helen asked.
 
“Call me Rose,” Rose said. “My real name is Rose Masters.”
 
“Rose?” Helen said. “Ha! Thorny Flowers. You’re like a sexy riddler.”
 
Rose blushed. “So what brings you down to New Haven?” she asked.
 
“I live here now,” Helen replied. “I mean, I did before prison, so I guess I’m back, have been for a while now. It’s funny how we’ve never run into each other.”
 
“Yeah,” Rose said. “Funny.”
 
“Anyway,” Helen said, “You should let me walk you home.”
 
“Oh really?” Rose said.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “There might be dangerous criminals and ex-cons out here.”
 
Rose laughed. “Sure,” she said. “I live right on Freedom Lane, just a few blocks off State Street.”
 
***
 
“So dat’s it?” Da’Quarius asked. “You guys just ran into each other on da’ street?”
 
“It was an amazing coincidence,” Rose said. “We had lived within blocks of each other, and neither one of us knew it.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said, unconvinced. “I just thought there’d be more to it. Helen, da’ ex-con and Rose, da’ hippy policewoman.”
 
“I was not a hippy,” Rose said.
 
“Helen said you were,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Nor was I a policewoman,” Rose added. “I was a dispatcher.”
 
“All I’m sayin’ is I thought dere’d be more drama,” Da’Quarius said. 
 
“Oh, there was drama,” Rose said, “but it wasn’t until we were dating.”
 
“Get to dat part,” Da’Quarius said. “We got time. Helen’s bus ain’t even here yet.”
 
“Alright,” Rose said. “So Helen and I started dating almost immediately after we ran into each other…”
 
***
 
“That was nice of your brother to treat us to dinner last night,” Rose said, walking on the sandy beach of Lighthouse Point, her shoes dangling from her left hand. She was holding Helen’s with her right. 
 
“He won’t ever let me pay,” Helen said. “I had to fight him to give him his first dollar. It’s framed in his office. I should’ve shown it to you.”
 
“Next time,” Rose said, smiling. 
 
Helen returned the smile. “Do you want to get some lunch?” she asked.
 
“Sure,” Rose replied. “I know a place not to far from here. The guys at work rave about it.”
 
“Sounds good,” Helen said. “Let me take a picture of you first.”
 
“Can you be in it with me?” Rose asked.
 
Helen looked around, spotted a man reading on a bench and ran over. She returned a moment later, showing him how to use the camera she had borrowed from Paulie.
 
“Say cheese,” the man said.
 
Helen and Rose smiled, their arms on each other’s waists. The man snapped their picture. “All set,” he said, handing Helen the camera. “You two make a cute couple. What are your names.”
 
“I’m Rose,” Rose said. “And this is -”
 
“Mary,” Helen said. “Mary Smith.”
 
The man wished them a good day after Rose thanked him, and he went back to his reading. “Why did you give him a fake name?” Rose asked.
 
“Force of habit,” Helen replied. “You’re one to talk, ‘Thorny’.”
 
The two walked back to Rose’s car and drove to the small restaurant just on the town line. Helen looked up from her menu and saw to police officers walking in. They looked in her direction and started walking over. “Shit,” she muttered, hiding behind her menu.
 
“What?” Rose said, looking around.
 
“The friggin’ pigs are here,” Helen said. “I think they spotted me, too. They never give me a break. They’re always looking for an excuse to harass me. Every single one of them makes me sick.”
 
“Hi, Rose,” one of the officers said, giving her a tip of his hat.
 
“Hi, Ernie,” Rose said, smiling. “Carl.”
 
“Hello, Rose,” Carl said. “We’re just picking up our lunch, so we’ll let you get back to your date. We just wanted to say hi.”
 
“I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” Rose said.
 
“See you at the office,” Ernie said. He gave Helen a quick nod before he walked to he counter to get his lunch with Carl.
 
“I’m a police dispatcher,” Rose said, turning red. “Maybe I should have mentioned it.”
 
“Oh,” Helen said, watching the officers leave. “I didn’t mean that ‘pig’ comment, not about you anyway.”
 
Rose chuckled. “I get it,” she said. “You’re of a different mindset than me. I have my career in law enforcement, and you… you’re…”
 
“An ex-con,” Helen finished. “You can say it. I did time on the inside. I live with it.”
 
“It’s probably a good idea to get all of this out there,” Rose said. “It’s not good to keep secrets from each other, even this early into our relationship.”
 
“Relationship?” Helen asked.
 
“Yeah,” Rose said. “I was hoping it was anyway.”
 
Helen smiled. “Yeah,” she said. “I guess you’d call it that. I’ve never had once of those before.”
 
“Since we’re telling secrets,” Rose said, looking slightly embarrassing, “would you mind telling me what you did?”
 
“What do you mean?” Helen asked.
 
“What did you do to get put in prison?” Rose asked.
 
“You didn’t run a background check on me?” Helen asked.
 
Rose laughed. “I could, I guess,” she said, “but I couldn’t do that behind your back. I figured you’d rather I hear it from you.”
 
“I guess I have to tell you at some point,” Helen said. She thought of what to say very carefully. She looked into Rose’s face, reading the interest on it. The words she wanted to say didn’t come out. Instead, instinct kicked in, and she she said something she wasn’t expecting.
 
“It was a misunderstanding,” Helen said. “I was arrested for something I didn’t do, and I couldn’t argue my way out of it. My parents had no money for a lawyer, and the public defender sold me down the river.”
 
“Oh my,” Rose said. “What did they say you did.”
 
“Assault,” Helen said. “Bitch said I attacked her, and I did no such thing. She thought her boyfriend was sleeping with me, but I hadn’t been within ten feet of the asshole.”
 
“I can see why you don’t like the police,” Rose said, putting her hand over Helen’s. “They system hasn’t exactly been kind to you.”
 
“No,” Helen said. “It was downright fucked up to me. Luckily my father got me our after only eight years.”
 
“How’d he get you out?” Rose asked. “Was he able to find a competent lawyer after all the time and reopen your case?”
 
Helen looked at Rose again, calculating in her head. “He just knew some people,” she said. “He was able to talk to the right ones, and he got my sentence reduced.”
 
“Thank God he did,” Rose said.
 
“Are you ready to order?” the waitress said, coming to the table.
 
“Yes,” Rose said. “I’ll have a summer salad…”
 
Helen watched Rose, a look of worry settling on her face.
 
***
 
Helen stood, supporting herself with her cane as the bus approached the curb. “She lied?” Da’Quarius asked. “Was dat all?”
 
“That’s a big deal,” Rose said. “Sure, Helen tells occasional white fib, but everyone does, myself included. This was a huge lie, hiding some pretty major details about herself.”
 
“I guess dat was pretty messed up,” Da’Quarius agreed. He stayed silent, watching Helen climb the steps of the bus. “You gonna follow her?”
 
“I might as well,” Rose sighed, turning the key and putting her car into drive.
 
Rose moved toward the intersection, moving slowly to follow the bus.
 
“Is dat why you’re worried?” Da’Quarius asked. “You think she’s doin’ it again?”
 
“I don’t know,” Rose said. “I really don’t.”
 
Rose pulled onto the street, trailing the bus.
 
“So what happened next?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose laughed, despite her anxiety and situation. “Are you telling me you’re interested in my story now?”
 
“Well I know dere’s gotta be a fight comin’ up,” Da’Quarius said. “You had to find out somehow.”
 
“There was,” Rose said, “and it was a hell of a fight too…”
 
***
 
Rose and Helen were at the grocery store, picking up some stuff for Rose’s house. Helen had been staying there, leaving her brother to her home on Willow Street where they grew up. “Does your brother miss you now that you’re staying at my house so often?” Rose asked.
 
“I don’t think so,” Helen said. “He’s not that far away. Besides, he has the whole house to himself. I don’t have to make myself scarce if he brings a girl home.”
 
Rose laughed. She was purposely skirting around what she really wanted to talk about: Helen moving in with her. The two had been dating for a few months, but it felt right, and Rose already knew that Helen was the one. Despite their lives before they met, they had come together spectacularly.
 
“What’s the difference between ketchup and catsup?” Helen asked, picking up the bottles as if she were comparing the weight. “Who cares,” she said, tossing them haphazardly onto the shelf. “Friggin’ kraut tomato slop.” She picked up a bottle of yellow mustard. “Now here’s the good shit.”
 
Rose laughed. Helen had a crass way of thinking, but it was so opposite of her own that she couldn’t help by be entertained by it. She couldn’t even imagine where she came up with it half the time.
 
Helen put the mustard into the carriage, and the two walked on. “Might as well get some hotdogs for that mustard,” Helen said. “I got my old grill at Paulie’s place. I’ll have him help me bring it by, since you, for some unknown reason, are not the proud owner of one.”
 
“I’ve just never had the want to grill,” Rose said. “Will you show me how?”
 
“Doll,” Helen said, “I’ll show you how to cook all kinds of dead animals over a flaming bed of charcoal.”
 
Rose laughed again, but her smile faded. There was a woman at the end of the aisle, and she was staring daggers at them. “Helen Ventriglio,” she said, her brow furrowed in anger. There was a man standing behind her, looking just as upset, resting his hand on her shoulder.
 
“Sorry,” Helen said. “I figured I’d remember a face that butt-ugly, but I have no idea who you are.”
 
“Remember this?” the woman asked, gesturing to a scar across her cheek.
 
“No,” Helen said. “Get out of my way before I move you.”
 
“My name is Audry!” the woman snapped. “Audry Fiano.”
 
Helen turned, grasping Rose’s arm. “Come on,” she said, tugging Rose away. “We can go buy mustard somewhere else.”
 
“What’s she talking about?” Rose asked.
 
“Nothing,” Helen said. “That bird has a screw loose.”
 
“They shouldn’t have let you out!” Audry shouted. “Not after what you did to me! I’m lucky I can walk!”
 
“Helen,” Rose said, stopping. “What’s going on.”
 
“I hope you end up back in Havenville,” Audry shouted. “I hope you rot and die in there, Helen!”
 
Helen sighed. “I…” she said. 
 
“I know you only got out because of who your father is,” the man with Audry said. “Did you think nobody would know that Anthony Ventriglio turned snitch to spring you? My uncle went away because of your snitch father!”
 
“Helen?” Rose said.
 
Helen turned, looking Audry dead in the face. “You listen to me, you fucked up assholes,” she said. “You’re lucky I’m with my woman right now, or I’d be dragging you both to the parking lot by your fucking necks. If you ever step to me like this again, you better plan on killing me. Otherwise, I’ll beat you down so hard the coroner won’t even be able to use your fucking dental records to identify you. If you think prison mad me soft, then you’re wrong, dead fucking wrong.”
 
The pair stared at Helen, apparently unable to move.
 
“Get out of my sight before I really get mad,’’ Helen said. “You want me to go back to prison? They’ll send me back for sure when they see what I’ll do to you if you don’t walk away right now.” She stared the two down for another moment, and they walked toward the exit quickly.
 
“You’ll end up back in prison, Helen!” Audry shouted.
 
“Your father’s not alive to snitch to get you out twice!” the man with her added.
 
Helen watched them leave. “Pussies always need to get the last word as they’re running away,” she said. She turned back to Rose. “I’m sorry about -”
 
“What they were saying,” Rose said, her hands trembling, tears forming in her eyes. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
 
“Rose,” Helen said. “Look -”
 
“Tell me the truth,” Rose said. “Is what they were saying true?”
 
Helen looked into Rose’s face. “Yes,” she said.
 
“Why did you lie to me?” Rose asked. “You told me you going to prison was a mistake. You told me your father was a respected member of the community, not a… a mobster. What about your brother, Paulie? Is his pizzeria really a front for the mob?”
 
“Don’t you dare slander Paulie’s name,” Helen said through gritted teeth. “He’s the only member of my family who went straight, and I’m proud as hell of my… my baby brother.”
 
“I can’t believe you’d…” Rose said. “I don’t care. I thought you were the… I can’t do this.”
 
Rose left, giving Helen a wide berth as she walked toward the exit the other’s had used just moments before. Helen watched her go. “I’m sorry, Rose,” she said. “Goddammit, I’m sorry.”
 
***
 
Rose followed the bus, silent. The last part of the story she told must have brought back bitter memories, and Da’Quarius let her get herself under control. “So there was drama,” she finally said. “You’ll tell me when Helen gets off the bus, right?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. The bus slowed down to let some people out. “No Helen. She must still be ridin’.”
 
“If she really is going to the meat market, then she’ll take it all the way to Grand AVE,” Rose said. “It isn’t the best of neighborhoods.”
 
Da’Quarius nodded in agreement. It wasn’t a part of New Haven he was familiar with, but he knew about that area. “So dat can’t be da’ end of your story,” Da’Quarius said. “Dere has to be a happy ending somewhere.”
 
“There is a happy ending,” Rose said, “but it wasn’t a quick fix. She had lied to me about everything, and I had trusted her.”
 
“What happened next?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose looked ahead as the bus stopped at a red light. Rose came to a stop a hundred or so feet behind it. “I guess we still have a little time,” she said. “I pretty much went into a coma after our fight in the middle of the supermarket. I stayed home, except for work. I couldn’t even read. I’d stare at the same page for hours, trying to focus. I thought what Helen and I had was over as quickly as it had begun.”
 
“So what did you do?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“I didn’t do anything at this point,” Rose said. “The next move was Helen’s.”
 
***
 
While Rose had been sulking in her house and job, Helen had been venting to her brother every moment he was home from the pizzeria. “And then she just left me in the store!” she exclaimed. “Can you believe that?!”
 
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “I believed it the first twenty times you told me too.”
 
“Where the hell did I go wrong with this girl?” Helen asked.
 
“Well,” Paulie said, “You should have been straight with her from day one.”
 
“Can the pious shit,” Helen said.
 
“Can I make an observation?” Paulie asked.
 
“Go ahead,” Helen replied. “It’s not like I’ve ever been able to stop you.”
 
“I’ve seen women come and go with you,” Paulie said, “but none have gotten you as riled up like Rose has.”
 
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Helen asked.
 
“You’re in love, sis,” Paulie said. “The sooner you admit it, the better.”
 
Helen waved a hand and walked away. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of beer. She opened it and took a long pull.
 
“You know she loves you too,” Paulie said.
 
“You’re a sappy prick,” Helen said. “So what if you’re right? Do I keep torturing myself over her?”
 
“No!” Paulie said. “You go get her back.”
 
“Don’t be stupid!” Helen snapped. “She hates me now. I’d just come back here with more to bitch about.”
 
“Not if you show up with some gesture of love,” Paulie said.
 
“And what do you suggest?” Helen asked.
 
Paulie thought. “Hey,” he said. “How about those pictures from Lighthouse Point. You gave me the camera with the film inside. Why don’t you find a nice one of the two of you and frame it?”
 
“There’s only one on there,” Helen said, “the one that stunad took for me.”
 
“Do that one,” Paulie said. “Use it to break the ice.”
 
“Then what?” Helen asked.
 
“Then you talk,” Paulie said. “If you want Rose in your life, then you’ll tell her everything, even the bad stuff. She’ll either deal with it or she won’t, but you have to give her the choice.”
 
“Fine,” Helen sighed. “Get me the film.”
 
Helen took the film to the photo shop just a few blocks from her brother’s pizzeria. There was only one other woman in there, a blonde, and she was just leaving. Helen turned to watch her go. “What a body on that one,” she said as the door closed.
 
“Oh, you like her?” the clerk asked. His name tag said “Earl”, and he had a thin mustache and bad combover that said “pervert”.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “God knew what he was doing when he stacked those tits above that ass.”
 
Earl laughed. It sounded like a hyena. “She takes pictures for her boyfriend,” he said. “Nudes.”
 
“Really?” Helen asked. She pulled an order slip out and started filling it out.
 
“Oh yeah,” Earl replied. “She either don’t know I see ‘em or don’t care. I got some copies right here.”
 
Earl pulled a binder from under the counter and opened it to near the end. There were two full pages of the blonde woman, posing nude. “See?” Earl said. “She’s been comin’ here for years.”
 
“Nice,” Helen said, leaving her slip on the counter to look at the binder. “You got a good gig here. Do a lot of broads do this?”
 
“Oh yeah,” Earl said, smiling. “There was this redhead, stopped comin’ by years ago. Now she was hot. I still got my copies of her in here.”
 
Earl flipped to the beginning of the binder, showing Helen a full page of Earl’s favorite redhead. The only problem was that she’d already seen them.
 
“You son of a bitch,” Helen said.
 
“What?” Earl asked. “What I do?”
 
Helen grabbed Earl by the shirt and dragged him over the counter. He fell over as Helen tried to pull him down, but he slipped through her grasp. She then went after him, beating him as he tried to flee, nearly destroying everything in his shop in the process.
 
***
 
“Holy shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen went crazy on dat cracka.”
 
“She might have killed him too,” Rose said, “but someone came by and ran off. Helen knew they’d call the cops, so she fled. They’d put her away for a long time for a physical assault like that, not to mention the destruction of property.”
 
“But she got away,” Da’Quarius said. “So she gave da’ cops da’ slip.”
 
“Well,” Rose said, “she may have had some help there.”
 
“What do you mean?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“You’re forgetting what I did for a living,” Rose said.
 
***
 
“Car eighty-seven,” Rose said into the radio. “Proceed to State Photo on the corner of State Street and Pearl. Suspect is white female, brown hair, red jacket, most likely on foot.”
 
“Roger, dispatch,” the officer in car eight-one-seven replied.
 
Rose put her radio down. She knew the place well. It was where she had gotten her own pictures developed years ago. She even knew the clerk who had been beaten. The way he leered at her has always made her uncomfortable. She wondered if he was looking at her photos, seeing her…
 
“Masters,” the desk sergeant, Perkins, said, jarring Rose from her thoughts. “Stay focused.”
 
“Sorry, sergeant,” Rose said. “It’s just the perp is wandering in my neighborhood right now. I’ve used that place to develop film…”
 
“Don’t get personal,” Perkins said. He was a hard man, never showing a side of himself that wasn’t tough. “We’ll get her. We got Sanders on site now. He said our perp left her name on a slip. Put a A.P.B. on one Mary Smith.”
 
“Mary Smith?” Rose repeated. The name sounded familiar, and it took her a moment to realize where she’d heard it.
 
“There a problem, Masters?” Perkins asked.
 
“No,” Rose replied. “No problem.”
 
“Then do it,” Perkins said.
 
Rose did as she was told, knowing nothing would come back. Helen was smart to use the fake name, but they still had enough of a description to go by. If Helen was found…
 
“Masters,” Perkins said, returning. “Our perp was spotted on State, between Bishop and Lawrence. Send eighty-seven to pick her up.”
 
Perkins left again, and Rose froze. She knew what was on State Street in that area: Paulie’s Pizza. Helen was likely heading there now, looking for a place to lie low until the search for her waned. Rose could end it now, sending the police straight to Paulie’s to pick up Helen, sending her back to prison.
 
“Car eighty-seven,” Rose said into her radio. “Proceed to Bishop Street, corner of Orange. Suspect was last seen there.”
 
“Bishop and Orange,” the officer responded. “Roger.”
 
Rose sat, knowing what she did was wrong, but she couldn’t let Helen end the night in handcuffs. As horribly as Helen had lied and as much as she hated disobeying her sergeant, she didn’t want her back behind bars.
 
“Why did you send them to Bishop and Orange?” Perkins said, bursting into the dispatch office.
 
“That’s what you said,” Rose replied. “The perp was spotted near Bishop and Orange.”
 
“I said she was on State,” Perkins said, “between Bishop and Lawrence.”
 
“No,” Rose said, arguing to buy more time. “You clearly said Bishop and Orange. I know what I heard.”
 
“Go home,” Perkins said. “Your head clearly isn’t in here today, and you just let a perp get away.”
 
“I’ll call my union rep,” Rose said.
 
“Go right the hell ahead,” Perkins said. “Start with a two day suspension. Want to make it a full week?”
 
“No,” Rose muttered.
 
“Good,” Perkins said. “Get out of here before it is.”
 
Rose left her station and exited the dispatch office, grabbing her purse and jacket on the way out, uncaring about the other dispatchers watching her storm out. She had never been so humiliated. There was no sign of any reprimand in her folder, and now she was suspended from work for two full days.
 
Rose got into her car and drove away from the station, heading toward State Street. She knew she’d find Helen hiding out at Paulie’s, and now that she had been punished for protecting her, she was going to demand answers.
 
***
 
“What?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “How are you gonna tell me dat you blamed Helen for dat?”
 
Rose shrugged. “I was furious,” she said. “Humans don’t always act rationally when they’re emotions are turned all the way up. I felt obligated to help Helen, and I was mad I got in trouble for it. Looking back, I know it was my choice to do what I did, but I blamed her at that moment.”
 
The bus turned onto Grand AVE, carrying Helen closer to the meat market. “I still don’t know what she’s up to,” Rose said. “It looks like she is actually going to the meat market.”
 
“See,” Da’Quarius said. “You had nuttin’ to worry ‘bout dis whole time.”
 
“But she could be meeting someone there,” Rose said. “Then it’s not a lie that she said she was going there.”
 
Da’Quarius sighed. “I still say a seventy-nine year old biddy cheatin’ is pushin’ it,” he said. “’Sides, you said yo’self dat Helen hadn’t deceived you da’ way she did when you started datin’.”
 
“But still,” Rose said. “Why would she go through all of this trouble to go to the meat market when I can drive her? She has to be hiding something.”
 
Da’Quarius watched the bus as it stopped at a red light. “Well how’s your story end?” he asked. “You found Helen, right?”
 
“Yeah,” Rose said. “I was right about where she was heading. She went straight to Paulie’s to hide out while the police were searching for her…”
 
***
 
Helen rushed into Paulie’s Pizza, closing the door in a rush. She started closing the blinds. “Oh!” Paulie said. “It’s nice to see you, sis, but what are you doing to my windows?”
 
“I need to hide out for a while,” Helen said. She sat at a booth and dropped a binder in front of her. “Can I use the space upstairs?”
 
“It’s being renovated right now,” Paulie said. “I’m going to turn it into an apartment to make some extra scratch.”
 
“I don’t care if its finished or not,” Helen said. “I just need to spend the night. I should be able to leave tomorrow.”
 
“What did you do?” Paulie asked.
 
“I did what you asked,” Helen said. “I went to go get the picture to make up with Rose.”
 
“That’s not something you hide out over,” Paulie said.
 
“Well,” Helen said. “I kind of beat the piss out of the guy at the photo shop and took his binder.”
 
“That creepy mook?” Paulie asked.
 
“Yeah,” Helen replied.
 
“He looks like he could use an ass-kicking,” Paulie said. “What he do to deserve it?”
 
“This,” Helen said, pushing the binder toward Paulie. He opened it, flipping the pages. 
 
“Madon,” Paulie said, flipping through the photos. “I knew he was creepy, but he’s on a whole level above that.” He was about to flip to the next page, and Helen stopped him, slamming her hand onto the page.
 
“No more,” Helen said.
 
“What?” Paulie said. He looked at his sister’s face then back to the book. “Oh, I get it now.”
 
“What?” Helen asked.
 
“You saw someone you knew in there,” Paulie said. “Judging by how you’re acting, it was probably Rose. Is that right?”
 
Helen sighed. “If you weren’t my brother, I’d kick your ass too,” she said.
 
“If I had a nickel every time you told me that,” Paulie said, rolling his eyes.
 
“You don’t get it, Paulie,” Helen said. “These are the pictures Rose sent me when I was on the inside, before we had ever met in person. They were personal. When he showed me that he had copies, it felt like he had stolen a piece of our story from me.”
 
“Say no more,” Paulie said. “I know a thing or two about having something stolen from you, and I hope you never experience it on the same level I had.”
 
Paulie looked toward the picture of Shronda near the counter, and Helen tried not to let him know that she noticed. He had the love of his life and their unborn child stolen from him by a drunk driver, cutting their own story tragically short. Helen felt like her anger about some photos was petty compared to what Paulie had lost.
 
“Regardless,” Helen said, “I still need to hide out.”
 
“Use the upstairs area,” Paulie said. “Like I said: it’s not finished, but you should be comfortable for the night.”
 
“Good,” Helen said. “As long as nobody finds me squatting -”
 
The door opened with the jingling of bells, and Rose walked in.
 
***
Helen walked off the bus as it idled in front outside of Carrero’s Meat Market. She walked inside, and Da’Quarius and Rose were no longer able to see her. “She was really goin’ to da’ meat market,’ Da’Quarius said. “See. You had nuttin’ to worry ‘bout.”
 
“I guess not,” Rose said. “I still don’t understand any of it.”
 
The two waited, and Helen came outside a few minutes later, carrying a white bag with a box inside. Helen walked back to the bench by the bus stop, sat down, and waited. “Come on,” Rose said. “She’ll be waiting for the bus for the better part of the next hour.”
 
Rose drove along side the curb with her blinker on. She stopped in front of Helen, and Da’Quarius rolled his window down. “Yo,” he said. “Da’ bus is broken.”
 
“What the hell are you two doing here?” Helen asked.
 
“Just get in,” Rose said. “There’s no reason to wait for the bus.”
 
Helen sighed and got up. “You two are a couple of nosey Nellies,” she said. “You might as well take me home now that you’ve caught me.”
 
“Caught you?” Rose said as Helen got into the car. “So what did we catch you doing?”
 
“Buying meat,” Helen said. “What the hell else would I be doing?”
 
“Wha’chu get?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” Helen said, “but they had crab meat and claws on sale, so I got a whole bunch to make spaghetti and crab for Rose.”
 
“With the red sauce?” Rose asked.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said.
 
“I love that!” Rose exclaimed.
 
“I know,” Helen said. “We’ll have it tonight with garlic bread.”
 
Rose smiled as she drove home, relieved that nothing sinister was actually going on.
 
“But I wanna hear how da’ story ends,” Da’Quarius said. “I mean I know you two end up together, but you left me hangin’.”
 
“What the frig are you talking about?” Helen asked.
 
“I was telling the story about how we got together,” Rose said.
 
“I don’t come out smelling like roses in that one,” Helen said.
 
“I beg to differ,” Rose said. “Mind if I tell him how it ends?”
 
“Go ahead,” Helen said. “Sounds like he knows almost the whole thing anyway.”
 
“Alright,” Rose said. “So I had just gotten to Paulie’s…”
 
***
 
Rose sat across from Helen in the corner booth. Paulie had made an excuse to head to the kitchen, leaving them alone. He had taken the binder with him, promising to burn it after he closed. “Why’d you come find me?” Helen asked.
 
“Well,” Rose said, “I just got suspended for two days for sending the police away from you, so I have some time to kill.”
 
“You did that for me?” Helen asked. “Why?”
 
“I honestly don’t know,” Rose sad. “Maybe I wanted to talk to you myself and get your side of things.”
 
“How’d you know it was even me?” Helen asked.
 
“Mary Smith,” Rose replied. “You used the same alias at the beach.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Helen said. “I need to start cycling through those more often.”
 
“So talk to me,” Rose said. “I can easily call my sergeant and tell him where I am. I’d rather have you tell me the truth.”
 
“What do you want to know?” Helen asked.
 
“I want to hear all of it,” Rose said. “Why you were in prison, how you spent your time there, who your father was and how he really got you out, everything.”
 
Helen sighed. “That’s a long story,” she said.
 
“Tell it,” Rose said. “I have the time.”
 
So Helen talked, telling Rose everything. Assaulting Audry in the middle of the street, her and Bea running their block in Havenville, and her father and how he had snitched his friends and associates to the feds in order have her released from prison early. She told Rose what was in the binder and why she had beaten the photo shop employee.
 
“So he kept all my pictures?” Rose asked.
 
“He did,” Helen said. “Paulie is burning the book, so he can’t share them with strangers any more.”
 
“Wow,” Rose said. “You were right. What a story.”
 
“I told you,” Helen said. “That’s why I kept the truth from you. Why would someone like you want to be with someone like me?”
 
“Helen,” Rose said, placing her hand on top of Helen’s. “Of course I want to be with you. I love you.”
 
“Really?” Helen asked.
 
“Yes,” Rose said.
 
“I love you too,” Helen said. “Do you think it’s safe to sneak out of here, maybe head back to your place?”
 
Rose laughed. “I’ll pull my car around the back. You can hide out at my house for a while.”
 
“How long?” Helen asked.
 
Rose leaned on the table. “As long as you want,” she said.
 
 

 

The End

Freedom Lane: Chico Suave

Helen waited in line at the checkout counter of the supermarket. Rose had ran back into the store to get the box of cereal for Da’Quarius she had forgotten. Helen sighed. “She does this every time.”
 
There was a guy ahead of her in line, trying to pay with a check. The machine wasn’t taking it. “I’m sorry,” the cashier said. “Do you have another way to pay?”
 
Helen groaned. “I’m almost eighty,” she said, “and even I know you don’t hold up a checkout line with a damn check in this day and age.”
 
“Excuse me,” the man said. “I don’t have my debit card at the moment, and I have yet to go to the bank to get cash.”
 
“Listen,” Helen said, approaching and leaning on the register. “You’re holding me up enough already, so can the chit-chat, void your transaction, and come back when you have something to pay for groceries with.”
 
“You, madam,” the man said, “are deplorable. I will not wish you a good day, as I normally would. I only wish for you see the foley of your attitude.” He folded his check, put it in his pocket and left. 
 
“I’m sorry mister Goldberg!” the cashier called.
 
Helen watched the man leave. “Oh shit,” she said.
 
“What?” Rose asked, finally returning with the box of cereal. “”What happened?”
 
“I’ve just been cursed,” Helen said, a look of horror on her face.
 
“Cursed?” Rose asked, putting the box of cereal on the conveyor belt.
 
“Cursed,” Helen repeated, nodding. “I will suffer the curse of the jew.”
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 10, Episode 6: Chico Suave
 
***
 
“Come on!” Da’Quarius shouted, jumping down the last two steps and putting on his Vagabond Saints hat from the coat tree. “I wanna be dere for Paulie’s grand re-opening!”
 
“I already told you,” Helen said, sitting in her recliner with her arms crossed. “I’m not going.”
 
“You have to go,” Da’Quarius said. “He even has a celebrity comin’: dat guy from da’ radio show you like.”
 
“I never liked that Chico,” Rose said, coming to the coat tree and putting her coat on. “His show was always too raunchy for me. And you’re coming, Helen. Think of how devastated Paulie will be if you miss his big day.”
 
“You know that I’ve been cursed by the jew,” Helen said. “For the last week, I’ve been bumped, bitten, lost, and all around fucked over, ever since that jew from the supermarket cursed me.”
 
“Will you please stop saying stuff like that,” Rose said. “You sound really anti-Semitic.”
 
“Please come,” Da’Quarius said. “You know you’ll regret it.”
 
“I refuse to bring this curse to Paulie’s,” Helen said. “I will not step foot into his place until it’s been lifted.”
 
“How do we lift it?” Da’Quarius asked. “Is dere a way?”
 
Rose sighed.
 
“There is a way,” Helen said, “but I can’t share it with you two. I have to go on a quest, all the way to Jew Haven.”
 
“Where’s dat?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose sighed again. “She’s talking about Westville,” she said, “the western part of New Haven. There’s a large Jewish community there.”
 
“The Garcia brothers’ hispanic voodoo failed to lift the curse,” Helen said. “There’s only one more option: to go to Jew Haven and lift it myself.”
 
“If I drive you there, can you be done with this?” Rose asked. “I won’t ask any questions. I just don’t want you to miss Paulie’s big day. But please stop calling it by that name.”
 
“It is decided,” Helen said, rising from her seat. “You run along to Paulie’s, kid. Rose will drive me to Jew Haven to lift my curse.”
 
“Are you OK with that?” Rose asked Da’Quarius.
 
Da’Quarius shrugged. “Whatever gets Helen through da’ doors,” he said. “Umma run ahead. I don’t wanna miss anything.”
 
“Good,” Rose said. “With luck, we’ll see you at Paulie’s soon.”
 
***
 
Robert “Chico” Hurley walked into Paulie’s Pizza, carrying a milk crate of eight-by-ten photos of himself in front of a radio microphone. He had never visited before the fire, but the place looked fantastic. He saw his old friend, Paulie Ventriglio, talking to his small staff. He saw Chico walking toward him, and he broke away.
 
“Robert!” Paulie said, extending his hand. “How’ve you been.”
 
“I’ve been better,” Chico said honestly. “And it’s ‘Chico’ now.”
 
“Oh yeah,” Paulie said. “Mister big time radio star changed his name.”
 
“Look,” Chico said, lowering his voice. “Thank you for answering my message; it’s been a long time since high school. This means a lot to me that you’d let me be here for your big day.”
 
“It’s nothing,” Paulie said. “We’re helping each other here. I get to have a local celebrity at my grand re-opening after all.”
 
Local celebrity,” Chico scoffed. “I’ve had a hard time finding work since the station cancelled The Chico and BJ Morning Show and let me go.”
 
“Friggin’ corporate mooks,” Paulie said. “They wouldn’t know a good radio host if one was under their desk. I haven’t listened to the show since you got canned.”
 
Chico laughed. “The Morning BJ Show not doing it for you?” he asked. 
 
“My friend still listens,” Paulie said. “He said it’s mostly garbage talk. He loves it.”
 
The door opened again, and a black kid in a black hat and yellow glasses came in. “What up, Unca Paulie?” he asked.
 
“This is my nephew, Da’Quarius,” Paulie said proudly. “Where’s Rose and Helen?”
 
“Dere’s a problem,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen is still goin’ on ‘bout da jew’s curse, and Rose took her to Westville to try an’ get it lifted.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “Are they going to make it?”
 
“Rose is hopin’ to get her here later today,” Da’Quarius said, “but Helen won’t tell us how she plans on liftin’ da’ curse.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Chico said. “Did your say she’s been cursed by a jew?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s what she thinks anyway.”
 
Chico looked at Da’Quarius, then to Paulie. When he saw they weren’t laughing, he decided they were actually telling the truth. “Well, OK,” he said. “Where can I set up my stuff?”
 
***
 
“Yo,” a man in a white tee shirt said, approaching Chico’s table as he set up the stack of photos. “You that radio guy?”
 
“I’m Chico,” he replied. “Did you want an autograph?”
 
“Are they free to Paulie’s employees?” the man asked.
 
“Sure,” Chico sighed. “Why not?”
 
“Then make it out to ‘Tony’,” he said. “Do you remember me? I used to call in during Pissed Off Fridays?”
 
“A lot of people called in on Fridays,” Chico said, signing the photo. “Everyone has something to be pissed about.”
 
“I used to get on all the time,” Tony said, “complaining about my boss hogging the shitter all day.”
 
“Oh my God!” Chico said. “That was Paulie? That’s this place?! I need to call BJ. He’d love to hear… never mind.”
 
“Hey,” Tony said. “I want to let you know; them canning you was bullshit. That prank was the funniest friggin’ -”
 
“Oh!” Paulie said, storming toward them. “Why aren’t you in the kitchen?!”
 
“You got two of us back there now,” Tony said. “Why don’t you go bust Sal’s balls?”
 
“Because Sal’s actually working,” Paulie said, “despite it being his first day here and his trainer, you, being absent in the kitchen.”
 
“Sorry,” Tony said, rolling his eyes. “I figured you’d want to put the whole day on your pizza-slinging personal Jesus Christ back there.”
 
“Do not take the lord’s name in vain!” Paulie snapped, pointing directly into Tony’s face. “If you’re so bitter and jealous, why don’t you get back there and show Salvatore how we sling dough in New Haven.”
 
“Fine,” Tony said, snatching his autographed photo from Chico. “I’ll show Amish boy how we do things in the city.”
 
“Sorry about him,” Paulie said as Tony walked back toward the kitchen. “I figured we can use some extra help due to this place being bigger, but he acts like I’m trying to replace him.”
 
“No problem,” Chico said. Some people started walking toward his table.
 
“I’ll leave you to your fans,” Paulie said. “I’ll send the waitress over for lunch in a bit. It’s on me.”
 
“Thanks,” Chico said, settling in to meet his adoring fans.
 
***
 
Rose drove down Whalley Avenue, through Westville. “Any idea where we’re stopping?” she asked.
 
“I’ll know when I see it,” Helen said, staring out the window. “These places are way too nice. I need a place more off the main drag.”
 
“You want me to turn down some side streets?” Rose asked.
 
“Don’t stray too far,” Helen said.
 
Rose turned down a street, driving slow so Helen can possibly spot for whatever she needed. “Any idea how long it will be?” she asked. “I know Paulie is probably waiting for you.”
 
“Soon,” Helen said. “I can feel it.”
 
Rose turned back onto a main road, driving past apartment buildings and condos. She passed a few storefronts as they approached the intersection of Fountain Street and Whalley.
 
“There!” Helen shouted. 
 
Rose nearly drove off the road. “Here?” she asked, turning on her blinker and parking.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “This is the place.”
 
Rose looked out of her windshield. “This is a pawn shop,” she said.
 
“It is,” Helen said, opening her door. “You wait in here. Be ready to move.”
 
“What are you going to do in there?” Rose asked.
 
“I can’t say,” Helen said. “If you know, then it won’t lift my curse.”
 
“Alright,” Rose said. “I’ll be right here.”
 
“Good girl,” Helen said. She left the car, slamming the door in her wake.
 
Rose watched her go into the pawn shop, wondering what Helen had in mind, hoping it wasn’t anything too sinister.
 
***
 
Chico greeted his fans and signed autographs, collecting ten dollars a photo. Some were genuinely glad to meet him after he was unceremoniously fired months ago, and some people just wanted to know why he did what he did. He dismissed the latter quickly.
 
“Hello,” the waitress said, smiling. “Paulie sent me over. What can I get for you for lunch?”
 
“Hi,” Chico said, returning the cute waitress’s smile. He read the name off her tag. “What do you recommend, Alice?”
 
“The pizza here is great, obviously,” Alice said. “They have a new sandwich called The Flounder too. It’s a meatball parmigiana full of seasoned fries. It sounds weird, but it’s really good. If you’re not on a diet, I suggest the Dee-Quizzy.”
 
“What’s on that last one?” Chico asked. 
 
“They take a chicken cutlet,” Alice said, “and they -”
 
“Hey!” Tony said, returning from the back. He nearly shoved his way through the short line of waiting fans. “What are you doing? I can’t bother mister radio star, but it’s alright for you to stand here and flirt?”
 
“I’m taking his lunch order, you moron,” Alice retorted. “You better get back into the kitchen before Paulie catches you goofing off again.”
 
“Oh!” Paulie shouted, coming toward them again.
 
“Too late,” Alice said.
 
“Get your ass back in the kitchen!” Paulie shouted, waving a hand in the air.
 
“I’m going!” Tony shouted back, waving his own hand. “I’m just managing your waitstaff for you.”
 
“I don’t need your help with the waitstaff,” Paulie said. “I need you cooking. This is our first day back, you stunad!”
 
Tony went back to the kitchen as he did before, and Paulie returned to behind the counter.
 
“So,” Alice said, turning back to Chico. “Have you decided?”
 
***
 
Art Glassman had worked at Fountain Pawn since he inherited the business form his father. He had experienced his share of odd customers, but luckily never anything he couldn’t handle. He thought nothing of the chubby old lady who was now browsing the counters, absently touching his wares.
 
“Can I help you?” Art asked as the woman approached.
 
“Oh,” the woman said. “I’m sorry. I was lost in my thoughts.”
 
“That’s no problem.” Art said, offering a smile under his gray mustache. “Are you looking for anything in particular.”
 
“I’m shopping for a gift for my son’s birthday,” the woman said. “He loves jewelry, but I think it makes him a little…” she shook her wrist.
 
“Ah,” Art said, nodding politely. “I think I have some necklaces he might like.”
 
“No,” the woman said quickly. “He has tons. He doesn’t have one bracelet, though.”
 
“I have a few he might like,” Art said. He reached under the counter and pulled out four different bracelets and put them on a fabric sheet. The woman looked them over.
 
“I like this one,” she said, pointing at the the silver bracelet on the left. 
 
“Very nice,” Art said, picking it up. “Do you want a closer look?”
 
“I’d actually like to see what it looks like worn,” the woman said.
 
“I can’t let you wear it,” Art said. “Sorry. Store police.”
 
“I figured,” the woman said. “Can you wear it. I’d like to see it on your left wrist.”
 
Art pulled back his sleeve to humor the old woman, who he suspected was about to leave without buying a thing after all this. The old ladies who wandered in often wasted him time.
 
“Oh,” the woman said. “You’ll have to take off your watch.”
 
Art smiled, undoing his gold watch, also his father’s. He placed it gently on the same cloth as the bracelets. He put the silver bracelet on in its place. “Is this good,” Art asked.
 
The woman got close, breathing hot breath directly into his face. He reeled back from it, opting for the fresh air to the side. “How is that,” he asked.
 
“Good,” the woman said. “I’m going to go and come back with my wallet. My son keeps my money for me.”
 
Art sighed, nodding. He knew the time spent with the woman would end up with no sale. “I hope to see you later,” he said, taking off the bracelet.
 
“I’m sure you do,” the woman said, leaving.
 
Art huffed, packing up the bracelets, shaking his head. “Bitch,” he muttered, locking the cabinet. He turned to walk away, but something felt off. He felt his wrist and then looked at the counter. His watch was gone.
 
“Shit!” He snapped, running around the counter and heading toward the door.
 
***
 
Chico stood up and stretched his back between fans. He was exhausted from signing his name so much. It was beginning to get a little humiliating, but he needed the money. There wasn’t much work for an unemployed morning radio guy in his sixties.
 
“Chico,” someone said.
 
Chico turned back toward his table to sign another in a long line of autographs, earning himself another ten dollars. He was shocked by who had shown up. “BJ,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
 
There stood Chico’s former on-air partner, BJ, taller, fatter, and hairier than Chico ever was or ever would be. “I heard you were going to be here,” he said. “I live in the neighborhood, and I eat here all the time. I did before they burned down, I mean.”
 
“Really?” Chico said. “I went to high school with the owner.”
 
“Small world,” BJ said. The two looked at each other for a moment, unspeaking, the space between them endless.
 
“Look,” BJ said, “about what they did to you…”
 
“You should have stood up to management for me,” Chico said. “And I’m not talking about when we stood up to them on the air at their own insistence because Howard Stern was doing it.”
 
“How could I have?” BJ asked. “That prank you pulled… It was horrible.”
 
Chico scoffed. “They always wanted us to push the envelope,” he said.
 
“What did he do anyway?” Da’Quarius asked, walking toward the table. “I keep hearin’ ‘bout dis prank, but I haven’t heard what it was.”
 
“Who’s this?” BJ asked.
 
“Paulie’s nephew,” Chico replied. “There’s a whole cast of characters around here. Don’t ask.”
 
“Well, Paulie’s nephew,” BJ said. “Chico thought it would be funny to turn the music on low for a full half hour, making our listeners turn their radios up. Then, he turned it way up, playing car crash sound effects.”
 
Da’Quarius doubled over with laugher. “Holy shit!” he shouted, holding his stomach. “Dat’s fuckin’ great!”
 
“There were thirty-seven car accidents,” Chico said, “scattered across the state. Every one of them jumped on a class action lawsuit against the radio station. Three people died.”
 
“Oh,” Da’Quarius said, his laughter subsiding. “Dat’s kinda fucked up, Chico.”
 
Chico sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t hold a grudge,” he said. “I skirted the manslaughter charges, but I’m still responsible for three deaths.”
 
“Chico,” BJ said. “I know we can’t work together anymore, but I’d still like to be your friend.”
 
“I’d like that,” Chico said. “I missed bullshitting with you every morning.”
 
“Me too,” BJ sad. “The broad who replaced you is a shrill bitch too. I piss in her coffee mug.”
 
Chico laughed, and BJ joined in. They smiled at each other.
 
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said, walking away. “Umma go see if Paulie needs help before you guys start makin’ out an’ shit.”
 
They followed Da’Quarius with his eyes as he retired to the back. “Hey,” BJ said. “I got some eight-by-tens in my trunk. Mind a little company?”
 
“Not at all,” Chico replied. “We’ll draw a better crown with a reunion signing after all.”
 
***
 
Helen swung the door to Paulie’s Pizza inward. “The cures has been lifted!” she exclaimed, holding up a gold watch. Chico and BJ stopped their joyful conversation, watching her walk between the booths. Everyone in the pizzeria watched for a moment before going back to their meals and conversations.
 
“How’d you do it?” Da’Quaruis said, coming out from the back.
 
“She can’t tell,” Rose said.
 
“I stole a gold watch from a jew,” Helen said, smiling. “Curse is broken.”
 
“Wouldn’t doing that make you double-cursed?” Paulie asked. Rose shot him a dirty look.
 
“Nope,” Helen said, spinning the watch on her finger. “Reparations have been made.”
 
A family turned to watch Helen for a moment, a look of confusion on their faces.
 
“Let’s go sit and eat,” Rose said, leading Helen.
 
“Hot damn!” Helen said. “You rebuilt my favorite booth!”
 
“I had to have it for you, sis,” Paulie said.
 
“The place looks fantastic,” Rose said, looking into the new area with the tables and chairs.
 
“Thank you,” Paulie said. Alice came next to him, holding a pen and pad. “Oh, this is Alice, my new head waitress. She’ll be taking your order.”
 
“Fancy,” Helen said. “I’ll have my usual. Paulie knows how to make it.”
 
“The usual,” Alice said, writing it down. “What is that?”
 
“Well,” Paulie said, “my big sis has the same thing every time she -”
 
“Whatever she’s telling you is bullshit!” Tony shouted, rushing from the back. “Also whatever Sal tells you is bullshit too!”
 
Paulie sighed. “Can someone tell me what’s going on here?” he asked.
 
“Tony’s been getting upset every time I talk to a guy,” Alice said. “I don’t know what’s going on with him and Sal.”
 
“Nothing,” Sal said in his deep voice, coming from behind Paulie and making him jump. “I think we’re getting along very well.”
 
“I’m sure you’ll make something up,” Tony said.
 
“I’m ending this right now,” Paulie said, turning to face the three of them. “Tony, you are not to harass Alice in any way.”
 
Tony screwed up his face in though. “But what if -”
 
“Any way!” Paulie exclaimed. “Alice, you are not flirt with guys purposely when you know Tony can see.”
 
Alice looked taken aback. “But -”
 
“Do you deny you did it?” Paulie asked.
 
“No,” Alice said, looking away.
 
“Sal,” Paulie said, getting Sal’s attention. “You’re good. Tony, get along with Sal.”
 
Tony nodded, begrudgingly.
 
“Also,” Paulie added. “You are not to hit on any other members of the waitstaff.”
 
Tony looked offended. “But -”
 
“Period!” Paulie said. “This is a new era for Paulie’s Pizza, and we’re all going to get along here. Capeesh?”
 
Tony, Alice, and Sal all nodded and went back to work.
 
“Oh!” Paulie called after them, getting his customers’ attention as well. “And you’re allowed to sleep with one another either!”
 
“Madon,” Helen said. “You’re going to have your hands full with these stunads. The place looks great though.”
 
Paulie looked like he was going to be mad, but he started laughing. Then, the others joined in. “Dat waitress never took our order,” Da’Quarius said.
 
 
 
The End 

Freedom Lane: The Plumbing Game

Helen and Rose walked through East Rock park near sunset on a Friday evening. “See?” Rose said, holding Helen’s hand. “I told you a short walk would be nice.”
 
“Bah,” Helen replied. “It’s cold, and I’m going to be sore in the morning. You’re going to have to deal with me then.”
 
Rose sighed, enjoying the late-March dusk despite Helen’s promise to make her next morning a hellish one.
 
“Look who it is,” a nasally voice said. Rose turned to see Harold and Lee Fuchs walking perpendicular to them. She was so entranced with her walk that she hadn’t seen Helen’s enemy and his husband.
 
“Hi Rose,” Lee said in his lispy voice. He looked worried, perhaps dreading another verbal scuffle between Harold and Helen.
 
“The squirrels are out,” Helen remarked, still looking forward. “Scavenging for a couple of nuts, boys?”
 
“You’ve got some nerve,” Harold said. “Lee and I are just out for a lovely walk, and you ruin it with your crassness. I bet you think you’re clever too.”
 
“I’m very clever,” Helen said, “you cranky prick.”
 
Harold moved forward, but Lee tugged at his arm. “Come on, Harold,” he said. “You promised your therapist you’d try to move past this.”
 
“Therapist?” Helen said, turning to Harold with an eyebrow raised. “You’re finally going to get that noggin of yours fixed? I would have put it into the microwave if I was a daffy as you.”
 
“Helen,” Rose said. “That’s uncalled for.”
 
Helen shrugged and started walking toward the parking lot where Rose had parked. “Come on,” she said. “I think it’s time to head home.”
 
Rose gave Lee and Harold a sorry look as the two argued and followed Helen.
 
“Why’d you tell her about the therapist?!” Harold was shouting.
 
“I’m sorry!” Lee exclaimed, tears spilling down his cheeks. “I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
 
“It’s not a big deal any more,” Harold said, “because I’m not going back to that quack now that Helen knows about it!”
 
“Did you have to do that?” Rose said, getting in the car next to Helen. “They’re fighting now because of you.”
 
“Harold started it,” Helen muttered.
 
“He did not,” Rose said. “You’re going to make up with them tomorrow. I’m going to drive you over there right after breakfast, and you’re going to make peace with Harold. Even he didn’t deserve that.”
 
“You don’t simply make up with Harold Fuchs,” Helen said. “Don’t even try to bring me over there. You’re going to end up humiliated, and I am going to hate telling you I told you so.”
 
“We’re going tomorrow, and that’s final,” Rose said.
 
“What if there’s an emergency?” Helen said.
 
“Then we’ll deal with the emergency,” Rose said, “but don’t think one is just going to fall into your lap.” 
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 10, Episode 5: The Plumbing Game
 
***
 
“I have an emergency!” Manny Garcia exclaimed, pacing around Helen and Rose’s den as they watched along with their adopted son, Da’Quarius.
 
“What happened?” Helen said, feigning compassion.
 
“My brother and I need some help,” Manny continued. “Can you guys come over. Your’e so good at getting of jams.”
 
“Sure thing,” Helen said, getting up with a grunt. “You better come with me, Da’Quarius.”
 
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You cain’t even try an’ stop me. Da’ Garcias always have da’ funniest problems.”
 
“You are not going,” Rose said. “I told you we’re apologizing to Harold.”
 
“Oh, was that today?” Helen said.
 
“You know it was today!” Rose snapped. “I told you last night right after we left the park that we were doing this today.”
 
“But you said an emergency trumps apologizing to that prick,” Helen said. “And this young man has an emergency on his hands.”
 
Manny nodded, a look of dread on his face.
 
Rose sighed, knowing defeat was imminent but refusing to completely give up. “Fine,” she said. “Go help Manny and Antonio with their emergency. I’m going to go over to Constitutional Way myself and apologize on behalf of us both.”
 
“Good luck,” Helen said, walking to the coat tree and grabbing her coat. “I’m not going to enjoy telling you a certain something later. You coming, kid?”
 
Da’Quarius was already by the door, his black Vagabond Saints hat already on his bald head. “Let’s go, biddy.”
 
***
 
“So what’s yo’ problem?” Da’Quarius asked, walking into Manny’s house, across the street and one house up from his own. “You lose a bottle cap inside one of yo’ porn chicks or somethin’?”
 
“That I can deal with,” Manny said, leading Da’Quarius and Helen through his house. “This is much worse.”
 
“Did one of your girls get eaten by an alligator?” Helen asked.
 
“What?” Manny asked. “Why would we have an alligator in here?”
 
Helen shrugged. “So what are we working with here?” she asked.
 
“It’s Mickey,” Manny replied, “our boom mic operator”
 
“What happened to dat wonky-eyed, loud-mouthed asshole, Joey?” Da’Quarius asked. “I thought he did yo’ mic stuff.”
 
“He died or something,” Manny replied. “I dunno. Fuck him anyway.”
 
“So what’s wrong with da’ new guy?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Manny stopped outside a closed door and sighed. “You’re gonna have to see for yourself,” he said, opening the door, pushing it open, and stepping aside. Da’Quarius and Helen looked inside to find Mickey with his pants off, sitting on the toilet, huge gut hunched forward, dead.
 
“Dis shit is gonna fuck me up,” Da’Quarius muttered, “like some deep-ass psychological shit.”
 
“Oh shit,” Helen said. “You guys shoot some freaky porno over here.”
 
***
 
Rose stood in front of the door of Harold and Lee Fuchs. She reached out to ring the doorbell, but she hesitated. She knew apologizing was the right thing to do, even though Helen wasn’t with her, Harold would have started the fight if Helen hadn’t beaten him to it, and he had a track record of being nasty every chance he got. She also wondered if Helen would even bother to follow up if she just told her she visited the Harold and Lee and went straight home. She knew she couldn’t lie, so she pressed the white button, listening to chime of the doorbell.
 
The door opened a moment later, and Esmerelda, the little girl Harold and Lee fostered when convenient for them, answered the door. “Hi,” Rose said, smiling. “Are your dads here?”
 
“Those putas aren’t my dads,” Esmerelda said. “But I can get them if you want.”
 
“Please,” Rose said. She waited at the door.
 
“Come in,” Esmerelda said, realizing Rose had been waiting to be invited. Rose obliged walking into the Constitutional Way home. 
 
“Who was at the door?” Lee’s voice asked from the kitchen. “It wasn’t that pesky mailman, was it?”
 
Esmerelda said something to Lee, but she hadn’t raised her voice like he had, so she didn’t hear. Lee came into the den. “Rose!” he exclaimed, smiling a smile that was more than likely fake. “What brings you to our home?”
 
“I want to talk to you and Harold if that’s okay,” Rose replied. “It’s about what happened at the park last night.”
 
“Oh,” Lee said, the smile leaving his face. “It’s best not to dwell on these things. Harold is taking a nap now. With luck, you can get out of here before he -”
 
“Who the hell are you chatting with?!” Harold bellowed, coming down the stairs in his automatic chairlift. “If it’s that mailman again, tell him I’ll be more than happy to write the postmaster general like the last time!”
 
“Oh dear,” Lee said. “It’s too late.”
 
***
 
“Da’ fuck happened to dis guy?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed.
 
Manny shushed Da’Quarius. “Keep your voice down,” he said. “We need to move him quietly into one of the spare rooms for a little while.”
 
“And you figured an eighty year old woman and a thirteen year old boy were the best accomplices?” Helen asked.
 
“At least tell us what happened,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Alright,” Manny said. “We were stuffing Mickey full of fast food to get him to shit and clog the toilet. He ate enough to feed five people in one sitting. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
 
“Why da’ hell did you do dat?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“We’ve been hiring plumbers to fix our toilet,” Manny replied. “Once they show up, we try and get some of our cam girls to fuck them on hidden cameras for GarciaTube. Antonio freaked out when I tried to call nine-one-one. We have a plumber coming right now!”
 
“Couldn’t you just tell da’ plumber da’ toilets were fucked up?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“What?” Manny asked. “Why?”
 
“Step aside,” Helen said, pushing Manny in the chest with her hand. “You’re lucky I’ve had to hide a body or two when I was on the inside. I’m going to need the following items: a hacksaw, a hammer, an awl, latex gloves, a shower cap, a few dozen feet of plastic sheeting and two… make that four trash bags, the black ones.”
 
“No,” Manny said. “Don’t cut him up! We just want him moved until everyone leaves. We don’t need plumbers and our cam girls freaking out over this! We’ll call nine-one-one after the shoot.”
 
Helen sighed. “Alright,” she said. “Let’s hope this guy already emptied his bowels. Get under his other shoulder kid.”
 
***
 
“What are you doing here?” Harold asked, crossing his arms across his chest, staring daggers at Rose. “Did you come to torment me some more?”
 
“I wanted to apologize for what happened last night,” Rose replied.
 
Harold huffed. “And where is Helen then?” he asked. “Am I right to assume she doesn’t share your sentiment?”
 
“Helen…” Rose said. “She had an emergency. She couldn’t make it.”
 
Harold huffed again, turning toward Lee.
 
“Why don’t you hear her out,” Lee said. “Maybe you can finally bury the hatchet with Helen once and for all.”
 
“Oh, I’ll bury the hatchet alright,” Harold said, “right between that butch bitch’s eyes.”
 
“Come on,” Esmerelda said, piping up from outside the adults’ conversation. “How long are you gonna hold onto d’jour hate?”
 
“Long enough to drive you back to that Bridgeport orphanage,” Harold said. “Lee, get my keys.”
 
“D’jou don’t even drive,” Esmerelda muttered, crossing her arms. “Puta.”
 
“I’ll tell you what,” Rose said. “Maybe we can make a deal of some kind that will put this whole feud between you and Helen behind all of us.”
 
“I’m listening,” Harold said.
 
***
 
“Ready?” Helen asked. She had Manny get under one of Mickey’s armpits and Da’Quarius on the other. She was willing to help heave him too, but Da’Quarius had talked her out of it, worried that she was going to hurt her hip or back or both. She agreed to supervise.
 
“Ready,” Manny and Da’Quarius said in unison.
 
“Heave!” Helen said. Manny and Da’Quarius tried to lift, but they fell short. Mickey’s body only lifted a half a foot from the toilet before he fell back on it with the slap of his dead cheeks on the seat. The sound of a wet balloon deflating filled the bathroom as his bowels emptied. It lasted a full thirty seconds. Manny flushed the toilet after it finally stopped.
 
“Damn!” Da’Quarius said. “Dis floor is too slippery. Can we put down a rug or somethin’.”
 
“I don’t have any spare rugs,” Manny said, breathing heavy. “This is useless. We’re gonna get caught. I’m just going to come clean. Help me eat some pot plants before the police find them!”
 
“Stop freakin’ out!” Da’Quarius harshly whispered. “Tell him to calm down, Helen… Helen?”
 
Helen was transfixed on Mickey’s body, specifically the lower part. “Holy shit,” she said. “This faggot has a snatch!”
 
“What?” Manny said, walking next to Helen to see what she was looking at. “There’s no way that Mickey… This faggot has a snatch!”
 
“You shouldn’t call him a faggot,” Da’Quarius said. “Dere’s better words.”
 
“I know a snatch when I see one,” Helen said, “and that is one, big, hairy snatch.”
 
“Lemme see,” Da’Quarius said, walking over. “Holy shit!”
 
Helen and Da’Quarius looked at each other, then burst out laughing.
 
“He was always talking shit about trannies and calling them faggots,” Manny said, “and it turned out he was born a bitch the whole time.”
 
“At least we know where the stench of rotting fish is coming from,” Helen muttered.
 
“I still can’t believe how anti-trans he was,” Manny said. “He posted shit on Facebook all the time saying trannies shouldn’t use regular bathrooms or some shit. He wanted them to piss and shit in the bushes.”
 
“Let’s just get him out of here,” Helen said. “Get ready to lift his fat ass again.”
 
“Why’d you feed him all dat shit?” Da’Quarius said, getting into position. “He weights two tons now, an’ he stinks like what shit would shit if shit had a digestive system.”
 
“We’re almost done here,” Manny said. “All we have to do is get him up and into the -”
 
The doorbell rang, and Manny froze, looking toward the front of the house. “I thought the plumber was already here,” he said. 
 
Da’Quarius ran to the window at the end of the hall and looked toward the street “Oh shit!” he exclaimed. “Da’ fuckin’ cops are here!”
 
“Well shit,” Helen said. “Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t start carving this fat fuck up after all.”
 
***
 
“So let’s hear it,” Harold said, sitting in his easy chair with a grunt. “What’s this deal of yours?”
 
Rose wracked her brain, trying to come up with something on the spot. She knew Harold would be difficult to sway, but she wasn’t expecting such hostility without Helen witch her. Finally, she figured out a deal. “How about dinner?”
 
“Dinner?” Harold asked. “Is that your big solution?”
 
Lee sighed. “She’s trying to reach out,” he said. 
 
“I like dinner,” Esmerelda said. “Will Daq and I be invited?”
 
“You’ll be eating gruel at the orphanage!” Harold snapped. “I’m not taking this bribe anyway. A meal can’t erase the years of torment wrought upon me by that foul woman.”
 
“Please just come by for dinner,” Rose said. “In all fairness, you’ve given Helen your fair share of torment as well.”
 
There was a sharp intake of breath from Lee, and Esmerelda watched the two, transfixed to the spot as if her feet were nailed to the floor.
 
“Are you suggesting,” Harold said, standing up and grinding his false teeth, “that I am responsible for the bad blood between Helen and me?”
 
“Not entirely,” Rose said. “I’m suggesting that both of you are responsible.”
 
“You have some nerve,” Harold said, glaring at Rose.
 
“At least consider it,” Lee added. “You said this long-standing feud started when -”
 
“Not another word,” Harold snapped. “Don’t you dare bring up what happened!”
 
“All I’m asking is to give Helen a chance,” Rose said. “I’ll talk to her and make sure she gives you the same chance in return. Come by tonight at six for dinner.”
 
“I will not!” Harold shouted, slamming a foot on the floor. “I will not come into that witch’s den, allowing her to poison me and bury me in her backyard!”
 
“Harold…” Lee said, approaching slowly.
 
“She’s Satan!” Harold shouted.
 
“You’re a little out of line, Harold,” Rose said, finally losing her patience. “Helen may be a little crass at times, but she is not Satan. You’re a crazy old man, Harold. I see why Helen doesn’t like you.” Rose’s hand, now out of her control, flashed, slapping Harold in the mouth. She reeled back a second later, surprising herself at what she had done.
 
“Rose!” Lee snapped.
 
“Ah!” Harold said, holding his mouth. “I bit my tongue!” He spat into his hand, checking it for blood.
 
“Oh my,” Rose said. “I’m so sorry Harold, I didn’t mean to -”
 
“Get the hell out of my house!” Harold said, pointing a finger. “So help me God, you red-dyed hippy, I’ll rain down eighty years of rage upon your life. Don’t test me, girly!”
 
“Fine,” Rose said. “I’ll leave.”
 
“Rose…” Lee said as Rose past him.
 
“It was lovely seeing you again,” Rose said, addressing Lee. She turned to Esmerelda. “You too, dear.”
 
She left through the front door, slamming it harder than she had intended.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius watched from the window as the police office waited for someone to come to the door. “Shit,” he said. “Dat’s Rocco.”
 
“Who?” Manny asked.
 
“Tony’s cop buddy,” Da’Quarius replied.
 
“Do you think he’ll help us out?” Manny asked.
 
“Not if he finds a dead body!” Da’Quarius snapped.
 
“Calm down,” Helen said. “Hopefully this idiot’s idiot twin can keep the cop from coming up here.”
 
“Antonio isn’t my twin,” Manny said.
 
The door opened, and the trio upstairs moved over to the top of the stairs to hear the exchange on the first floor. “What can I do for you, officer?” Antonio asked.
 
Rocco looked through the door. “Do you mind if I come in?” he asked.
 
“Not at all,” Antonio said, obviously nervous. He moved aside, allowing Rocco to enter. He looked around.
 
“Someone from this house dialed nine-one-one,” Rocco said. “Nobody picked up when the dispatcher returned the call, so they sent me to check up on you. Good afternoon, ladies.”
 
There was a greetings from some girls. 
 
“And you too, sir,” Rocco added. There was a gruff hello from whatever plumber was there with Antonio and his cam girls.
 
“I dialed by accident earlier,” Antonio said. “I meant to dial four-one-one to get the number for a plumber. I must’ve been on the other line with them when they called back. My bad.”
 
“No problem,” Rocco said. He walked around a little bit more. “There’s only one more question I need to ask.”
 
“What’s that?” Antonio asked.
 
“Can I use your bathroom?” Rocco asked.
 
Manny grasped Da’Quarius’s shoulder hard as all three of them held their breath. They were doomed unless Antonio could talk Officer Priolo into putting off the relieving of his bladder.
 
“Sure,” Antonio said, causing Helen to curse under her breath. “But use the downstairs bathroom. The one upstairs is all fucked up right now.”
 
“Thank you,” Rocco said. He walked off, led by Antonio to the downstairs bathroom.
 
“You have two bathrooms?” Helen asked, giving Manny the stink-eye.
 
“Yeah,” Manny said. “Why?”
 
“You could have closed this door and not let anyone up here here at all,” Helen said.
 
Manny stared at Helen. 
 
Helen sighed. “Friggin’ stunad.”
 
***
 
“I sure hope everything is alright over there,” Rose said, closing the curtain. She was watching the Garcias’ house. There was now an ambulance and two police cars in front of it. “Is this what their emergency was about?”
 
“No,” Helen said quickly. “They needed us to plunge a toilet.”
 
“Those two don’t know how to plunge a toilet?” Rose asked.
 
Helen shrugged.
 
“I don’t know how they get along without any common sense or skills,” Rose said with a sigh.
 
“So how’d your talk go with the twinkle-toe sisters?” Helen asked.
 
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Rose replied. “But it was… uneventful.”
 
Helen was about to ask a follow-up question, but the doorbell rang. Rose moved forward and opened to see Rocco Priolo standing on the doorstep in his police attire. “Hi, Rose,” he said. “I need to talk to you about your slapping of Harold Fuchs.”
 
“Ha!” Helen said.
 
“He was saying the most horrible things,” Rose said, tearing in up as she addressed Rocco. “I don’t even know where the slap came from.”
 
“I talked him out of filing an assault charge after I caught him lying to me several times about the severity of the ‘attack’,” Rocco said, “but I want you to be careful about slapping people in the future.”
 
“Yes,” Rose said. “I mean ‘thank you’, officer.”
 
“You ladies have a good evening,” Rocco said, tipping his hat and walking back toward his cruiser.
 
Rose turned, to see Helen’s smiling face watching her. She wanted to turn away in her embarrassment, but she felt it better to own up to what she had done. “I think I deserve an ‘I told you so’ from you,” she said. “That man is insufferable to say the least.”
 
“Maybe later,” Helen said, giving Rose a small pat on her bottom. “Is dinner about ready?”
 
“Da’Quarius,” Rose said, turning her blushing face away. “Can you set the table for dinner?”
 
“Sure,” Da’Quarius said. He ran off into the kitchen to get plates. A moment later, the doorbell rang.
 
“Can you get that Helen?” Rose said, walking toward the kitchen. “I’m going to get dinner out of the oven.”
 
Helen huffed and got up from her recliner. She shuffled toward the door and opened it up, finding Harold and Lee Fuchs standing outside. “Hi, Helen,” Lee said. “Harold has something he wants to say to you.”
 
Harold looked at his feet, muttering.
 
“I can’t hear what you’re whispering to your shoes,” Helen said.
 
“Lee and I would like very much to have dinner with you and your family,” Harold said.
 
Helen peered at Harold. “Why?” she asked.
 
“Lee thinks it’s time we made peace,” Harold said with a long sigh at the end for effect. He looked into Helen’s face. The look on it told her more than his attitude had. She wondered if he really wanted to start anew.
 
“Sorry,” Helen said. “We don’t serve food out of mens’ anuses.” She slammed the door. Walking away from it, she muttered: “Friggin’ snitches.”
 
“Who was that?” Rose said, bringing dinner to the dining room table.
 
“A couple of roofers,” Helen said. “They’re soliciting for work.”
 
“Oh,” Rose said. “I thought… Never mind. Ready to eat?”
 
“Yes I am,” Helen said, walking toward the table. 
 
 

 

The End

Freedom Lane Special: The Search for Kenny Kums

Your regularly scheduled program will not be seen tonight, so we can bring you this special presentation of Freedom Lane.
 
***
 
Tony approached Paulie, who was overseeing the final stage of Paulie’s Pizza’s remodeling. “Hey, boss,” he said. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”
 
“Sure,” Paulie said, setting aside the prints he was reviewing. “What’s up?”
 
“You don’t need me here right now,” Tony said, “not until just before you open, right?”
 
Paulie sighed. “Are you feeling useless?” he asked. “I can find something for you. How about you work with Sal on that new pizza oven?”
 
“I wasn’t worried about being useless,” Tony said.
 
“Oh,” Paulie said. He shrugged. “I guess having nothing to do suits you.”
 
“I was asking for a bit of time off,” Tony said. “Something’s come up, and I can be back in two weeks to help you open this place.”
 
“Sure,” Paulie said. “You rarely take a vacation. Is everything alright? This sounds important.”
 
“It is,” Tony said. “I’m flying to Vegas to head to a porno convention. Kenny Kums will be there, and I want to find out why him and I look exactly alike. It’s time I got answers.” 
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “Good luck with your little adventure. Don’t miss my re-opening, or I’ll kick your ass along with this Kenny Kums mook for good measure.”
 
***
Freedom Lane: The Search for Kenny Kums
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
***
 
Tony walked through McCarran Airport. He stopped near a large window and stretched his back. He was glad to be off the plane, looking at the hot afternoon in front of him. He turned to go to the baggage claim when he ran into someone. “Oof!” Tony said, righting himself. He helped the man off the ground he had nearly tackled. “Sorry. I always get a little loopy after a plane ride.”
 
“Are you alright, Lee?” another old man, almost bald and hunched, asked in a nasally voice.
 
“I’m fine, Harold,” Lee lisped, getting up. He smiled toward Tony. “He’s a strong one.”
 
“Keep in in your pants,” Harold said. “That was the plane ride from hell, and I need to change my pad.”
 
Lee shushed Harold. “We’ll get you to a bathroom,” he said. “Just calm down while we’re out here.”
 
“Hey,” Tony said. “You’re those gay mooks!”
 
Harold and Lee turned to look at Tony. “Excuse me?” Harold asked.
 
“You know,” Tony said. “Those two gay mooks who are always bugging my friend’s sister, Helen. I work at Paulie’s. It’s me, Tony!”
 
Lee and Harold gasped. “I fly to the other side of the country,” Harold said, “and I’m still reminded that old prune lives on.”
 
“Don’t worry,” Lee said, grasping Harold’s arm and dragging him away. “Las Vegas is a huge place. I’m sure we won’t see him again. Come on, let’s go get your pad changed before we pick up our bags.”
 
“What crawled up their butts?” Tony asked, watching the pair walk away. “Besides each other, I mean.”
 
***
 
Tony stared from the window of the curtesy shuttle, taking him straight to the Excalibur hotel & casino. There was Elvis music on the radio, and he watched the large, obscenely built casinos as he passed. “I can walk around this place for a month and never see everything,” he said.
 
The cab driver just grunted, apparently no longer thrilled by his job or its locale. Tony sat back, noticing little cards sticking out of the pocket of the seat in front of him. He reached in, pulling out the cards with pictures of women and phone numbers. “Holy shit,” Tony said. “Who the frig are these broads?!”
 
The driver looked in his review mirror at Tony. “Those are escorts,” the driver said.
 
“You mean hookers?” Tony asked.
 
“Escorts,” the driver corrected. “My sister is a working girl, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t call her a hooker.”
 
“Sorry,” Tony said, flipping through the three cards he had. “Hey, you got any of these cards with her number on it? I’ll tell her you sent me.”
 
The driver hit the brakes, bringing his cab to a screeching halt. He opened the door and exited, opening the door to the back. “Get out,” he grunted. “Now!”
 
“Hey,” Tony said, shrinking back as the driver tried to reach in and pull him out. “It was a compliment, you crazy bastard! I didn’t even call her a hooker!”
 
The driver screamed, coming into the back of the cab, spittle flying from his mouth. Tony opened the other door and got out, running across the street as other cars screeched their tires so they wouldn’t kill him. The driver shouted, unable to get across the street to the fleeing Tony.
 
“Dammit,” Tony said, ducking into a souvenir shop and hiding behind a rack of sweatshirts. “I thought Vegas was classy. I could’ve gotten this treatment back in New Haven!”
 
***
 
Harold and Lee stood in front of he counter of their hotel, waiting to get their key car. “Have you two visited here often?” the woman, her name tag naming her “Belinda”, asked, making small talk why she clicked away on her keyboard.
 
“Oh, yes,” Lee said, beaming at the chance to talk about their past trips. “Harold and I come once ever couple of years for a few weeks of rest and relaxation. Isn’t that right, Harold.”
 
Harold grunted, watching the people coming in. He wasn’t big on conversations with strangers (or just about anyone).
 
“We were here when Sinatra died,” Lee said.
 
“Yeah,” Harold said, still staring off. “They shut off all the lights in his honor. What a load of crap that all was.”
 
“Well,” Belinda said, swiping their room key. “You’re all set. Enjoy your stay.”
 
“Thank you,” Lee said. He turned to walk toward the elevators when he walked into someone. He fell to the ground on his bottom.
 
“Let me help you up,” the man he ran into said. It was the same guy form the airport.
 
“You?!” Harold snapped. “Why did you follow us here?!”
 
“I didn’t follow you anywhere,” Tony said, helping Lee up. “I’m staying here too. Small world, huh?”
 
“It’s a lovely hotel,” Lee said. “Don’t forget to check out the pool area.”
 
“Can we get up to our room so we can shower and change our clothes?” Harold asked.
 
“Why do you need to shower?” Tony asked. “Didn’t you just say there’s a pool?”
 
Harold groaned. “Remind me to go nowhere near the pool if this guy is around,” he said.
 
***
 
Tony stayed in his hotel room long enough to use the toilet, shave, and get ready to go. His suitcase was mostly full of wife-beaters, but he wore a light-blue collared shirt instead. If he was going to meet Kenny Kums, he wanted to make a good impression. He threw on some aftershave in case there were any porn chicks at the convention who’d want to take him back to their hotels.
 
Tony walked through the casino toward the exit, and he noticed Harold and Lee sitting side-by-side at a row of Golden Girls penny slot machines. “Hey,” Tony said. “You guys having a good time?”
 
“Is that Helen’s nephew or whoever again?” Harold asked, pulling the lever of his machine, causing the digital reels to spin.
 
“Ignore him,” Lee said, pulling his own. “We’re on a roll.”
 
Harold did just that, pulling his lever again, making Dorothy and Blanche blur as they spun around, giving Tony no more of his time.
 
“Well,” Tony said. “I’m off to find Kenny Kums.”
 
“Who’s that?” Lee asked.
 
“Don’t engage him,” Harold groaned.
 
“He’s this porn star who looks exactly like me,” Tony said. “I’m finally going to find him.”
 
“Good for you,” Lee said. “Good luck.”
 
“Thanks,” Tony said, continuing his trek toward the casino exit. He left and jogged into a cab and gave him the address of the convention to the driver (luckily not the same one from earlier), and he was on his way. The sun was setting, and the lights of Vegas were going to soon be lit.
 
Tony paid his entrance fee and wandered around the convention, keeping an eye out for his mirror image, the porn star Kenny Kums. He was distracted often, checking out the talent and trying to see if any if his favorites were in attendance.
 
“Hey,” a pimple-faced guy said, stopping in front of Tony. “You’re him.”
 
“I’m who now?” Tony asked.
 
“You’re Kenny Kums,” Pimple-Face said. “I’m a huge fan of that Power Rangers porn parody you did.”
 
“Oh,” Tony said. “Sorry to disappoint, kid, but I ain’t Kenny Kums. I just look like him. Im actually looking for him to find out if we’re related or something.”
 
“That’s amazing,” Pimple-Face said. “I know where his table is. He’s scheduled to be here soon. He’s never, ever made a public appearance before. Want me to take you there?”
 
“Sure,” Tony replied. “Lead the way.”
 
Tony followed the eager-to-please Kenny Kums fan across the convention. He saw the hottest women he had ever seen chatting it up with their fans and signing autographs. “Figures,” he said. “All this talent strewn about, and I’m following a mook with adult acne.”
 
***
 
Lee spun his reels at the same time Harold did. The Golden Girls turned into blurs on the screen before settling. They both lost. “This has to be fixed,” Harold groaned. “I hate this digital garbage.”
 
“Do you want to go play a table game?” Lee asked.
 
“I hate people more,” Harold said.
 
A waitress came by, carrying a tray of assorted drinks. “Can I get your gentlemen anything?” she asked.
 
“Yeah,” Harold said, yanking the lever downward, “a tall glass of ‘shut the fuck up’. Do you know how to make that, or do I need to explain?”
 
“Excuse me?” the waitress asked.
 
Lee sighed. “He’s asking you to get lost, darling,” he said. “I can’t blame him. You’re a jinx.”
 
The waitress left in a huff as Lee and Harold yanked their levers down again.
 
“I actually could use a tonic,” Harold said.
 
“I’m sure she’ll come back around,” Lee said.
 
They pulled their levers.
 
***
 
“Here we are,” Tony’s new pimple-faced friend said. They stopped in front of a wooden folding table with a single chair behind it. Next to it was an easel with the name “KENNY KUMS” across the top and various pictures from Kenny’s films. 
 
“I don’t see him, though,” Pimple-face said. “I guess he’s late.”
 
“I can wait,” Tony said, crossing his arms. “I didn’t come all the way out here not to find out why him and I look the same.”
 
“Good luck,” Pimple-face said, slapping Tony lightly on the shoulder. “I’m gonna get my sister’s dildo autographed for her birthday.”
 
Tony gave a short laugh. “Nothing but friggin’ perverts around here,” he said.
 
Tony waited, looking around every now and then for the porn star who shared his face, but he was a no show. “Hey Kenny!” someone exclaimed. Tony turned to see if he had finally arrived, but he realized it was him who was being addressed. He was ready to give the same story he gave Pimple-face, but he was cutoff before he could talk.
 
“I thought you weren’t coming,” a fat load of a guy said. “Why are you over here? Aren’t you going to sign autographs?”
 
“No,” Tony said. “I’m not -”
 
“Come on,” the woman behind the fat load cried. “We came all the way out from Illinois. You’re our favorite. Please!”
 
“Yeah,” fat load said. “Please take my money for a signed photo!”
 
The small crowd cheered in agreement.
 
Tony looked over at the table, and he saw a stack of pictures already there. He glanced at the empty chair, the one Kenny Kums was refusing to grace with his hairy ass, which wasn’t unlike Tony’s own. “Fine,” he muttered. “If Kenny Kums ain’t coming, then I’m gonna at least take his fans’ money.”
 
Tony went around to the chair and sat down. “Alright, perverts!” he exclaimed. “Who wants a photo of a porno mook with a name written on it?!”
 
***
 
Harold and Lee pulled the levers on their machines, watching the Golden Girls spin around. They had been at it for hours, and had lost track of the time and how many times they’d been up and down money. “Hey, fellas,” Tony said, walking back in. “Still at it?”
 
“He’s back,” Harold said with a sigh. “Why won’t he leave us alone?”
 
“You’re at the same machines I spotted you at before I left,” Tony said. “That was like ten hours ago. It’s after three in the morning, ya mooks. Don’t you sleep?”
 
“Look around,” Lee said, his bloodshot eyes glued to the digital reels. “Does this place look empty to you?”
 
Tony turned and looked at an old woman sucking down oxygen as she spun her own reels. The lights flashed and the machine chimed, mimicking the sound of coins dropping. The woman didn’t seem phased by whatever she had just won.
 
“Well I’ll have you know I won big,” Tony said, proudly.
 
“I wasn’t aware we asked,” Harold muttered.
 
“Did you meet your brother then?” Lee asked.
 
“Why are you addressing him again?” Harold said, pulling his lever.
 
“Come on,” Lee said, finally letting go of his own lever. “We’ve been at these machines for twice the length of the flight. I think I need a little mental stimulation.”
 
Harold sighed, pulling his lever.
 
“He’s not my brother,” Tony said. “I don’t think he is anyway. He might be, even though my mother says he’s not.”
 
“Well, did you meet him?” Lee asked.
 
“No,” Tony said. “But I did take his seat at the convention, and I signed his name to a few hundred autographs. I fucked up and signed my own name for about an hour, but I stopped after a few people got pissed about it.”
 
“You don’t think that’s stealing?” Lee asked.
 
“Hey,” Tony said, shrugging. “He ditched me along with all of his fans. It’s no more than he deserves.”
 
“I’m done,” Harold said, pressing the button to cash out. “If I have to look at Bea Arthur’s sour puss any more, I’ll go even more impotent.”
 
“Good idea,” Lee said, cashing out his own machine. “I’ve just about broke even. How’d you do?”
 
“I’m down a hundred,” Harold said. “To hell with the Golden Girls. We’ll hit the Supermarket Sweep machines tomorrow.”
 
”Mind if I give it a go?” Tony said.
 
“Be my uninvited guest,” Harold said.
 
Tony sat in Harold’s seat, pulled out the wad of cash he made impersonating Kenny Kums, peeled off a twenty, inserted it into the machine, and hit the “BET ALL LINES” button. The machine displayed three Bea Arthurs, and the amount shot up into the hundreds. “Whoa!” Tony shouted. “The rich get richer! Does my money come directly from Bea Arthur’s gash, or what?”
 
“His first spin?” Lee said, staring in disbelief. “Harold…”
 
Harold turned away and walked toward the elevator. “Asshole is lucky I don’t have a gun.”
 
***
 
Tony walked the strip the following day, sleeping until eleven in the morning. He had no idea where to go next. He knew Kenny lived in Vegas somewhere, but he had no idea where. Even if there were houses, he didn’t know how to find them. There was no listed address for Kenny Kums.
 
Tony sat on a bench near Caesars Palace, his head in his hands. He had made some quite a bit money; so he’d be able to have a nice vacation, but he felt it would be a waste if he never got the chance to confront Kenny Kums.
 
The porno convention was over, Kenny Kums hadn’t shown up, and Tony couldn’t see anything except dead ends. 
 
“Hey, buddy,” an overweight Hispanic said, clicking some cards together. He held them out to Tony, and he took them: two cards with pictures of escorts on both sides.
 
Tony looked them over, contemplating calling one of the numbers. “Hey,” he said. “I wonder if anyone ever collects these like baseball cards. I’ll trade ya a Monica for a Karla…”
 
Tony stared at the card, interrupting his own monologue. He read the name of the nude blonde on the card again; her full name. 
 
“Karla Kums.”
 
Tony pulled his phone from his pocket and dialed the number.
 
***
 
Harold and Lee sat by the pool under their umbrella, safe from the desert sun. The waitress had just dropped off two fresh iced teas. Harold lay with his eyes closed while Lee read a paperback. “This is what I sorely needed,” Harold said. “It’s nice to relax, warm my cold bones, and not be bothered by -”
 
“Hey, fellas,” Tony said, walking toward their table in his swim trunks, dripping from his dip in the pool. “You decided to let the machines cool down?”
 
“Who is that?” Harold asked, refusing to open his eyes.
 
“It’s him,” Lee replied, “the guy from the slots last night and the airport before that; Tony.”
 
“I don’t know any Tony,” Harold said. 
 
“Is he still mad?” Tony asked, “Or does he really not remember me?”
 
“It could be either one,” Lee replied.
 
“Well I’m all clean now,” Tony said. “The chlorine should kill the germs from the porno convention last night, and I’m all set for my date with the hooker.”
 
A family who had just come into the pool area turned and left after overhearing.
 
“Oops,” Tony said. “I mean ‘escort’. I forget how sensitive people are about that in this city.”
 
Lee gave tony a disgusted look. “Have fun.”
 
“Lee,” Harold said. “If you don’t stop talking to him, he’ll never leave us alone!”
 
“He remembers you,” Lee said with a shrug. 
 
***
 
There was a knock on Tony’s hotel room door, and he walked up to it and opened it, now wearing just his wife-beater and jeans. “Hey,” he said. “You must be Karla. Come on in.”
 
Karla walked into the room. She was wearing a black teeshirt and jean shorts. “Your must be Tony,” she said, looking around the room. “You ready for our date?”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “I just want to ask -”
 
“Wait,” Karla said, holding up a hand. “You said you had cash. I need it up front, or I’m out of here.”
 
“I just want to ask you a question,” Tony said. “I’m not paying for that.”
 
Karla gave Tony one of the dirtiest looks he had ever gotten from a woman (and he had received tons). “Look,” she said, “I didn’t come all the way here for nothing. You can talk, ask questions, sing a fuckin’ song, or whatever else you can think of, but you’re not doing shit until I get paid up front.”
 
“Fine,” Tony said. He pulled one of them hundred dollar bills he received from his winnings the night before and handed it to Karla. “Now can you answer my question?”
 
“Shoot,” Karla said, holding the bill up to the light.
 
“Are you related to Kenny Kums?” he asked.
 
Karla gave Tony an odd look, the hundred dollars already stuffed into her pocket. “Who?” she asked.
 
“Don’t play stupid,” Tony said. “I know he’s hiding for some odd reason, but I only want to talk to him. Are you his sister or wife?”
 
“Did you just call me stupid?” Karla asked.
 
“No,” Tony said.
 
“Yes you did,” Karla said, approaching. “You just called me stupid.”
 
“Are your related to Kenny Kums?!” Tony exclaimed. “The porn star?!”
 
“It’s a fake name, you asshole!” Karla shouted. “Do you really think that’s a real last name? Are you fuckin’ retarded or just a loser?”
 
“OK,” Tony said. “I’m going to need my hundred bucks back now.”
 
“No refunds, dickless,” Karla said. “I’m gonna go.”
 
Tony blocked the door. “You’re not going anywhere,” he said.
 
Karla laughed, but only for a second. Her jab hit Tony in the nose, and his head rocked back. Tony wiped the blood from his nose with the back of his hand and looked at it. “You chicks always talk about equal rights,” he said, “but you’ll end up getting equal lefts too.”
 
Tony swung, but Karla ducked it, hitting Tony with another quick jab. She then kicked him in the nuts and pushed him over. She stepped over him to get to the door, but Tony grabbed her by the leg, dragging her down to the floor.
 
“I don’t hit women,” Tony said, “unless they swing first.”
 
“Is this what you like?” Karla sneered as Tony pinned her down. “The rough stuff will cost you another couple hundred.”
 
“You think I still want you?!” Tony said. “Well, I do.”
 
Karla kicked Tony off, sending him into the wall. She got up and kneed him in the face for good measure. “Too bad,” she said. “If you ever call me again, I’ll come back with a knife.”
 
“Bitch!” Tony snapped as the door closed. He got up, holding his nuts. He was right back where he was with his search for Kenny Kums, and now his nuts hurt and he had wasted a hundred bucks in the process. He fell back on the bed and fell asleep waiting for the pain in his face and crotch to subside.
 
***
 
Harold and Lee were having brunch at a buffet, each sitting with a full plate in front of them. Lee nibbled on some strawberries while Harold dunked his sausage in maple syrup. Lee was about to remark on how nice it was to have a quiet breakfast together when someone sat down across from them.
 
“Yo,” Tony sad, sitting hard in the seat. He dropped his own plate on the table, covered in eggs, pancakes, bacon, and fried chicken. “These buffets are great, huh?”
 
“He’s here again, Lee,” Harold said, staring at his plate. “Why’s he here again?”
 
“What happened to your face?” Lee asked, looking over Tony.
 
“I guess I’ll just go ignored,” Harold sighed.
 
“I got into it last night,” Tony said. “Damn hookers don’t like being ordered around.”
 
“A hooker did that to you⁈” Lee exclaimed. A passing waitress shot them a dirty look before walking away.
 
Escort,” Tony corrected. “I thought we covered that yesterday.”
 
“Regardless,” Lee said, “why did she do this to you?”
 
“I’m thinking of getting a hotel room somewhere else,” Harold said, cutting up another sausage. “How does The Bellagio sound, Lee?”
 
“She didn’t like me grilling her about her relative,” Tony said. “It was that or when I blocked the door and refused to let her leave my hotel room.”
 
Lee signed. “So another dead end?” he asked.
 
“I may just book myself a room there,” Harold said. “You can stay here with your new boyfriend.”
 
“I may just head home at this point,” Tony said.
 
“Who’s stopping you?” Harold asked.
 
“I mean,” Tony continued. “I just don’t know how to find this guy.”
 
“Can’t you ask around?” Lee said. “Is there anyone in the business you can ask?”
 
Tony thought for a moment. “I do know a couple of guys,” he said. “I can try to contact them through their website. They might know how to find them.”
 
Tony picked up his fork and knife and started cutting into his breakfast. “Let’s eat!” he said, forking up a chunk of fried chicken with some of his pancakes.
 
“I’ve lost my appetite,” Harold said, pushing is plate away.
 
“It’s all you can eat!” Tony said, food flying from his mouth. “Get your money’s worth, bro!”
 
***
 
Tony sat in the seat of a local internet cafe. He had paid in advance in cash to use the computers. It was off the beaten path, so he’d hoped there was less of a chance of porno sites being blocked. There was a printout sign on the wall that read “DO NOT VISIT PORNOGRAPHIC WEBSITES”. Tony laughed once and typed “GarciaTube.com” into his web browser.
 
Tony clicked around the site, looking for contact information on the site’s owners: Antonio and Manny Garcia. He had known them through Paulie’s nephew, who lived across the street from them. They were also regulars at Paulie’s, and he had done a few odd jobs for them in the past.
 
“Screw this,” Tony said, giving up on looking for a way to get in touch with the Garcia brothers. He clicked on one of the web cams.
 
The girl in the web cam room was already in her lingerie, entertaining the men who had already been there. “Come on, boys,” she said. “Spend those tokens if you want to see more.”
 
“Go get the Garcias!” Tony typed. She read some of the messages coming in and looked confused. “I’m willing to put on a good show if you’re willing to spend a few more tokens on me.”
 
“Don’t ignore me!” Tony typed. Some of the others in the chat room were now telling him to shut up. “Go get Manny or Antonio and shut your face!”
 
The girl huffed and left the room. The others present exploded in angry outbursts at Tony, but he ignored them. He waited only a minute, and Antonio Garcia came onto the screen. “What the fuck are you doing?!” he exclaimed. “I’ll have you booted and banned, you fuckin’ troll!”
 
“It’s Tony!” Tony typed. “I need your help!”
 
Antonio sighed. “Hold on,” he said. “I’ll invite your into a private room.”
 
Antonio left and the girl came back to the screen, apologizing to her digital audience. Another minute passed, and Tony was invited to a private room. He clicked “OK”, and he was staring at Antonio in another bedroom.
 
“Hi,” Tony typed.
 
“I can see and hear you,” Antonio said. “You’re on cam too, bro.”
 
“Oh,” Tony said. “That makes things easier.”
 
“What’s up?” Antonio asked. “It better be good if you’re interrupting one of my cam shows with it.”
 
“I’ll get you a free pie when Paulie’s opens back up,” Tony said.
 
Antonio brightened up. Free pizza always did it with him and his brother. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
 
“I need you to find the address of Kenny Kums,” Tony said. “I know from his bio on his website that he lives out here in Vegas, but I don’t know where. He was a no-show at his own autograph signing, and this hooker wasn’t his sister like I thought. I nearly had to beat her to get rid of her?”
 
A woman sitting near him turned to look, shook her head, and went back to her typing.
 
“I meant escort,” Tony said. “They’re really sensitive about that out here.”
 
“You said his name is Kenny Kums?” Antonio said, typing as he said it. He read whatever was on the screen while Tony waited. “It says here he was signing autographs at the convention last night.”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “That was me. We kind of look exactly alike.”
 
“I see that,” Antonio said. “I’m reading the information on him now. You guys could be twins!”
 
“Can you tell me where he lives?” Tony asked.
 
“No,” Antonio said. “This is weird. His bio does say he lives in Las Vegas, but every one of his movies was filmed on the East Coast. The Las Vegas thing is a lie. Porn stars often lie about being from the West.”
 
“So he might not have even come out here,” Tony said. “Great. I came all the way out here, and he’s really closer to where I was.”
 
“Are you sure you want to find this guy?” Antonio asked. “He seems like a joke.”
 
“What do you mean?” Tony asked.
 
“It’s kind of like those bad horror movies,” Antonio said. “People like ‘em cuz they’re bad. This guy is making the ‘b-movie’ version of porn. People are into it cuz they’re fans of bad movies.”
 
Tony thought back to the type of fans he met while at the convention. There were more guys than girls, and they all seemed to be nerds, and not just the perverted kind.
 
“Fuck it,” Tony said. “Even if I don’t find the mook, at least I had some fun out here.”
 
“There you go,” Antonio said. “Enjoy yourself. Maybe you’ll come across this dude if you keep your ear to the ground. Try some titty bars or something.”
 
“Thanks for the help,” Tony said. “You’re really good at this stuff.”
 
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Antonio said. “I am a professional and -”
 
Antonio was smacked in the face by a purple dildo. His brother, Manny, stood behind him. “Have some tokens!” he shouted, roaring with laughter. “How many for you to wipe your ass with that thing?!”
 
“You jerk!” Antonio said, turning, holding his bleeding mouth. “You knocked my fuckin tooth out!”
 
“Oh shit,” Manny said. “My bad.”
 
“You’re taking me to the dentist right now!” Antonio shouted. “I’m getting that gold tooth I always wanted, and you’re paying for it!”
 
“You’re getting the one with the pot leave engraved on it?” Manny asked.
 
“You fuckin’ know it,” Antonio replied. “Let’s go.”
 
“You’re a couple of nuts,” Tony said, clicking out of the chat window. “Now let me see if that broad got enough tokens…”
 
***
 
“We are not going to The Bellagio,” Lee said as Harold started to pack his bag.
 
“I’m done with this place,” Harold said. “Every time we turn around, that guy is here.”
 
“He’s harmless,” Lee said. “He’s probably homesick, and he finds some kind of comfort in knowing there’s two others from New Haven out here.”
 
“It’s perverse is what it is!” Harold snapped. “He’s been following us around for the last two days, telling us about his perverted dealings with porno actors and prostitutes!”
 
“He has not,” Lee said. “We’re at the same hotel, and we’ve just crossed paths a few times. We probably won’t see him any more.”
 
Harold huffed, tossing his clothes into the suitcase. 
 
“Come on,” Lee said, taking Harold’s clothes back out of the suitcase. “Come down to the casino with me, and you’ll see. We probably won’t see Tony again for this entire trip.”
 
“Alright,” Harold sighed. “Let’s hit the slots.”
 
“That’s the spirit,” Lee said, walking toward their door and opening it. “There’s a Golden Girls machine with your name on it.”
 
“Hey,” Tony said, walking by the room. “I didn’t know we were on the same floor. I’m like three rooms away from you guys. What you do think about -”
 
Lee slammed the door. “How about we wait ten minutes?” he asked.
 
Harold crossed his arms and sat on the bed.
 
***
 
Tony walked through the casino and went outside. He walked down the strip, looking for something to do that could lead him to Kenny Kums. He was positive it was hopeless. Then, fate shouted in his direction.
 
“Kenny fucking Kums!”
 
Tony turned, and saw a short, middle-aged man with curly hair standing ten feet from him. “I’m not him, pal,” he said.
 
“Look,” the man said. “Someone who looks like Kenny sat at his table at my convention the other night. My money says it’s you, seeing as he’s dropped off the face of the earth. Speaking of my money, whoever was at that table left without giving me my cut of the money earned.”
 
“Oh yeah, Frodo?” Tony asked. “You gonna take it from me?”
 
“No,” the man said, “but my associates are.” He whistled, and two car doors opened. Two large, black men stepped out, cracking their knuckles.
 
“Shit,” Tony said, running off. Most of his cash was in his room safe, and he didn’t want them dragging him back there to take it all along with his Golden Girls winnings.
 
Tony ran through the traffic as he did on his first day in Vegas, nimbly avoiding death by vehicular manslaughter. His pursuers did the same, keeping an uncomfortable distance as Tony made his way to the other side of the street. He nearly shoved into some guys handing out escort cards, and he ran past, making his way into a taxi.
 
“Get me out of here,” Tony said. “Get me to the Excalibur. No… Better make it the Luxor. I’ll have to sneak in through there.”
 
Tony ducked as the taxi moved. His pursuers ran past, unaware that he was in the cab.
 
“Rough day?” The cabbie asked.
 
“Buddy,” Tony said. “You don’t know the half…”
 
The cabbie was watching him intently from the mirror. “I was hoping I’d find you again,” he said.
 
“I don’t want any trouble,” Tony said. “I’m sorry about the last time. I know your sister has a respectable job as an escort. I bet she’s nothing like this bitch I met the other day, Karla Kums.”
 
“Karla Kums is my sister,” the cabbie said. “Wait… Are you the asshole that took a swing at her?”
 
Tony looked in the cabbie’s rage-fills eyes in the rearview mirror. “I gotta go,” he said, jumping out of the taxi and running away.
 
***
 
Harold walked through the Excalibur casino. “This was such a nice idea,” he said. “I can’t wait to be playing the slots and enjoying a cold iced tea, free from that…”
 
Tony was running through the casino toward them, sweat pouring from his head.
 
“Oh no,” Lee groaned.
 
“Can’t talk,” Tony said, running past them. “I’ll catch up later!”
 
Lee and Harold watched as he ran toward the elevators.
 
“Good riddance,” Harold said. “Now help me find a good machine.”
 
***
 
Tony slammed the door of his room and put up the deadbolt. “Fuck Vegas!” he spat, sitting on his bed. “I’m staying in here until it’s time to go home.”
 
“You shouldn’t talk to yourself,” someone said. Tony turned to see his himself sitting in a chair by round table, wearing a fur coat and dark aviator sunglasses. But it couldn’t have been him, because he was him.
 
“Kenny Kums?” Tony asked. “How’d you get in here?”
 
Kenny laughed and took off his sunglasses, haphazardly dropping them on the table. “You’ve been looking for me,” he said.
 
“And you’ve been avoiding me,” Tony added. “What gives?”
 
“I just wanted to give you a taste of the life, Tony,” Kenny said, standing up. “How’d you like it?”
 
“What the hell are you talking about?” Tony said. “I only sat at your table because you weren’t there.”
 
“Wasn’t I?” Kenny asked.
 
“No,” Tony replied. “You wasn’t.”
 
“How’d you like the rest of your trip?” Kenny asked. “I’m talking about the Vegas life: the money, the escorts, the adventure.”
 
“Have you been following me?” Tony asked. “What’s your deal anyway? You some kind of sick freak that gets off on being a confusing jerk?”
 
“I’m you, Tony,” Kenny said.
 
“I’m a little bit country,” Tony said.
 
“You’re me.”
 
“I’m a little bit rock n’ roll.”
 
“Dammit!” Kenny shouted. “You’re such a… Fuck it. You ever see Fight Club?”
 
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “So?”
 
“How are you not getting this?” Kenny asked. “Remember how it ends?”
 
Tony stared at Kenny, realization finally hitting him. “No,” Tony said.
 
“You got it,” Kenny said.
 
“You stole the friggin’ ending to Fight Club?!” Tony asked.
 
“It’s where I got the idea,” Kenny admitted with a shrug.
 
“I love that movie,” Tony said.
 
“I know,” Kenny added.
 
Tony stared at Kenny, unblinking. “So let me get this straight,” he said. “You exist in my brain, and you’ve been using my body to make campy porn movies, set up the elaborate plot to get me to Vegas, and got me to willingly be you at the convention? That makes no sense!”
 
“I almost died in the fire when you almost died in the fire last year,” Kenny said. “I only want to live for real. You won’t go away. We’ll be one whole person as Kenny Kums.
 
“I wanted you to see what life could be like. You don’t have to be Tony Baloni, pizza-man any more. You can be Kenny Kums, manly porn star. You’ve seen the money, girls, and adventure that can be had out here. All you have to do is let go and become me. You can do this, Tony. You can be Kenny Kums.”
 
Tony stared at the figment of his fucked up imagination. “I’m leaving,” he said.
 
“And go where?” Kenny asked as Tony walked toward the door. “I know these guys who are after you, and I know how to get them off your back. I can get you into bed with that hooker, and she’d end up paying you. You can have the money and sex and the celebrity. All you have to give up is your droll life back east.”
 
“They’re called escorts, you stunad,” Tony said. “You got a little cum in the brain or something, fuck-boy?”
 
Kenny’s face stretched into a mask of rage. “You will become me,” he said.
 
“Oh shit,” Tony said. He bolted out the door and ran down the hall.
 
***
 
Harold and Lee sat at their slot machines pulling the levers and staring at the digital reels as they spun around, turning the faces of the Golden Girls turn to blurs. Harold’s machine chimed away as he won, showing three pictures of the whole cast. “Jackpot!” Harold said, beaming.
 
Lee looked over and smiled. “See,” he said. “Our luck was bound to -”
 
The machine lurched, almost falling over, but righting itself. The power blinked off and then back on, but the screen was blank, rebooting. When it came back online, Harold had a zero balance.
 
“What the Hell is it now?!” Harold exclaimed.
 
Tony ran from the opposite side of the machine. “Sorry,” he said. “He’s trying to kill me. Friggin’ Kenny Kums is trying to kill me!” He ran away, knocking over a waitress with a tray of drinks in the process.
 
“I hope he gets you!” Harold shouted.
 
***
 
Tony ran between machines and old ladies. Casino security guards were now watching him, talking into their radios. “You can’t outrun me,” Kenny said, sitting on top of a slot machine. Tony turned and ran the opposite way, nearly colliding with a blackjack table. “I’m still here,” Kenny said, sitting at the table.
 
Tony ran away again. Security was closing in on him, so he headed toward the exit. He nearly tripped over the velvet rope nearing the lobby. “Need a hand?” Kenny said, holding out a hand as Tony tried to right himself.
 
Freed from the rope, Tony ran again, right into casino security. “Let me go!” he shouted. “He’s after me! I need to get away from him!”
 
“There’s nobody after you,” another security guard said. 
 
“You can’t see him!” Tony exclaimed. “He wants my body! He’ll kill me for it!”
 
Tony saw Kenny waving at him from across the lobby. 
 
“Get him in the back,” one of the security guards said. Tony was dragged off.
 
***
 
Tony sat in a room with no windows. They had left him alone after dragging him away from the lobby, but he had company. “So now we can talk about this,” Kenny said.
 
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Tony said.
 
Kenny leaned across the table. “It’s not all that bad,” he said. “Get paid to fuck, lounge by the pool, get paid to fuck some more, hang out at the casino, fuck for fun, get paid to fuck. I can go on. What’s back in New Haven for you? It’s nothing like you can have out here. Just say the word, and you can be Kenny Kums full-time.”
 
Tony drummed his fingers on the table. “Sure wish these security guys would come back,” he said. “I’m all alone in here after all.”
 
“You can’t ignore me,” Kenny said. “You’re avoiding answering. Are you afraid that you want to be me more than you want to be you.”
 
“I’ll give you a straight answer,” Tony said, “but you have to go away after I give it to you.”
 
“You have my word,” Kenny said. “If you can convince me that you don’t want this life, then I will leave.”
 
“And never come back?” Tony added.
 
“And never come back,” Kenny repeated.
 
“Your life sounds great,” Tony said, “but I’m fifty-five, which makes you fifty-five. How long can you make cheesy pornos and expect to keep selling? Besides, I got no trouble getting laid on my own.”
 
“You’re still not convincing me,” Kenny said. “Make your nut, and you’ll retire out here like a champ.”
 
“I’m not leaving Paulie either,” Tony said. “He’s always been good to me, and he’s going to need me when his new place opens.”
 
“But he’s phasing you out,” Kenny said. “He hired this goon, Salvatore, to do your job, and he’s hired your ex to wait tables. Will he really need you after he re-opens?”
 
“Did you pay any attention while you were locked away in my brain?” Tony asked. “Him and I have been though more than you can even imagine. There’s no way Paulie would ever ditch me. I owe him more than I let on, and I’ll always be loyal to him as long as he’ll have me. Besides, I still have my friends and family too. I can’t ditch Da’Quarius either. I still have a thing or two to teach him.”
 
“So that’s it?” Kenny asked. “You’re going to stay Tony, knowing all you can have here?”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “So you can fuck off now.”
 
Kenny sighed.
 
The door opened, and Kenny was gone. A security guard came in and sat across from him. “You caused a lot of trouble, running around like that,” he said.
 
“Sorry,” Tony said. “I haven’t slept for days. I guess my mind was playing tricks on me.”
 
***
 
Harold and Lee took their seats on their plane to head back to Connecticut, taking up the window and middle seats. Lee let out a satisfied sigh. “I love getting away every now and again,” he said. “It makes you appreciate what we have at home a little more every time.”
 
Harold looked out the window. “Vegas is always so noisy,” he said. “I can’t wait to have a bit of quiet, starting with this flight.”
 
Someone else plopped down, taking the aisle seat to Lee’s left. “Hey,” Tony said, his carry-on bag sitting on his lap. “I guess we’re going to be plane buddies too.”
 
Harold sighed and put his blindfold over his eyes. “Do me a favor, Lee darling,” he said.
 
“What do you need?” Lee asked.
 
“Don’t wake me if terrorists flies us into a building,” Harold said, crossing his arms and lying back.
 
***
 
“I’m back, boss!” Tony called, walking into Paulie’s Pizza, still being renovated by Paulie’s contractors. “The place has come along nicely.”
 
“Welcome back!” Paulie said. “I hope all went well.”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “You’re not going to believe -”
 
“Sorry,” Paulie said, walking past Tony. “I got a million things to do right now. You’ll have to tell me about your trip later. Get that suitcase out of here too. I don’t need one of these mooks tripping over it and suing me.”
 
Tony watched as Paulie walked toward the kitchen area, shouting at one of his contractors. “Shit,” he said. “I could’ve been a friggin’ porn star.”
 
 

 

The End

Freedom Lane: Double Daq Attack

Da’Quarius sat in his homeroom, waiting for the day to start. Mr. Hessman was sitting at his desk, reading the paper after he took a quick attendance consisting of him asking if anyone was out that day. The door opened, and Hessman quickly stashed his newspaper as Principal Johnston appeared with a new student.
 
“Sorry to interrupt your morning ritual,” Johnston said. Hessman gave everyone a look that told them to shut the hell up about what he was actually doing.
 
“I’ve got a new student for your home group,” Principal Johnston continued, smiling. “I want you all to welcome Daquan Brown.”
 
The boy came in. He was tall, wore thick glasses, and was black. His eyes seemed drawn to Da’Quarius who had been the only black kid in his group, and one of the few in the school, up until a few seconds ago.
 
“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Dere goes da’ fuckin’ neighborhood.”
 
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 10, Episode 4: Double Daq Attack
 
***
 
“I want that thing out of my house!” Helen snapped, following Rose from the kitchen to the den.
 
“You’re overreacting,” Rose said, carrying a small cage with a green parakeet inside. “Besides, I recall you trying to keep an alligator as a pet.”
 
“And you never shut up about it,” Helen said.
 
“There’s a huge difference,” Rose said. “This parakeet won’t kill and eat Da’Quarius’s dog.”
 
“You don’t know that,” Helen said.
 
Rose sighed. “This was my cousin’s pet bird,” she said. “She left it to me in her will, and I’ll take care of it per her wish.”
 
“I didn’t even know you had a dead cousin with a friggin’ flying booger,” Helen said.
 
“I haven’t heard from her in years,” Rose said, “but for some reason she left me Ronald in her will.”
 
“Ronald is a stupid name,” Helen said. “Let’s name him Ass-face.”
 
“We are not renaming him,” Rose said. “He already answers to Ronald.”
 
“ASS-FACE!” Helen shouted. Ronald leapt, flapping his wings. Feathers fell to the floor from between the bars. 
 
“Looks like he answers to that too now,” Helen said.
 
The doorbell rang, and Rose went to the door, still carrying the bird cage. She opened it to find Manny and Antonio Garcia, their neighbors from across the street, standing on their porch. “Hey, guys,” Rose said. “What’s up?”
 
“We’re here to see Helen,” Anotonio said. “We have a copy of the movie with the snowman and the-”
 
“Whoa,” Manny interrupted. “Nice parakeet.”
 
“You like him?” Rose said, holding the the cage. “This little guy is named Ronald. He’s a happy little bird.”
 
Helen scoffed from her spot on the couch.
 
“We’ve had a few of them,” Manny said, poking his finger through the cage bars, watching Ronald shuffle away along his perch.
 
“Yeah,” Antonio added. “We’ve never had one that wasn’t addicted to pot.”
 
The Garcia brothers tittered as Helen sighed loudly, rolling her eyes. “Even their pets are potheads.”
 
“Our last bird gained like five pounds,” Manny said. “He had the munchies all the time.”
 
“That’s impossible,” Rose said. 
 
Manny shrugged. “He liked his sweets,” he said. “Little bastard had no self control.”
 
Helen stood up. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat about your fat, drug-addict birds,” she said, “but I need to take a shit.” She left toward the downstairs bathroom.
 
“Bye Helen!” Manny called, waving.
 
“Hope everything comes out alright,” Antonio added.
 
The Garcia brothers turned back to Rose. “Does your parakeet know any tricks?” Manny asked.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius sat at lunch, the new kid, Daquan, was getting in the line, trying to decide what to get. “Dis some bullshit,” he said.
 
“What?” Flounder asked. “Are you talking about the new kid?”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Mo’ fucker thinks he can come up in here and start shit.”
 
“Are you upset they got another black kid in class?” Flounder asked.
 
“No!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s racist. I’m mad cuz da’ only black kid dey can find wears glasses like me an’ his name sounds kinda like mine. Just imagine if another Korean came here, an’ his name was Cuttlefish.”
 
“But you guys are loads different,” Flounder said.
 
“You’ll see,” Da’Quarius said, scowling. “Shit ain’t gone down yet.”
 
Next period, Da’Quarius sat in Ms. Kotter’s math class. Daquan entered, showing her his schedule and explaining that he was new. “Oh,” Ms. Kotter, a woman who looked almost as old as Helen, said. “I’ll sit you right next to your twin brother.”
 
Da’Quarius slammed his book shut. “Da’ fuck?!” he exlcaimed. “Dis some racist-ass bullshit!”
 
***
 
Helen sat in her favorite chair, flipping through the TV Guide. The top of her head was itching, so she scratched it, returning her hand to turn the page a moment later. Seconds later, she felt the itch again. She returned her hand to her head to scratch, and it bumped into something.
 
“What the hell?” Helen said. She moved her hand around her head, and she knocked whatever was there off. It flew off, circling her.
 
“YOU GODDAMN BIRD!” Helen shouted, swatting at Ronald with her TV Guide. “I’LL KILL YOU!”
 
“What’s going on in here?!” Rose exclaimed, coming in from the kitchen, finding Helen swinging her arm at Ronald as he flew about the den, wings beating to keep himself away form Helen, chirping frantically. Dutchie started barking and jumping around in excitement.
 
“Eat that fucking’ bird, dog!”  Helen shouted at Dutchie.
 
“Don’t tell him that!” Rose shouted, trying to catch the elusive parakeet.
 
“He ate my damn canary that time!” Helen retorted. “This dog loves eating birds!”
 
“Eating birds isn’t good for his stomach!” Rose shouted.
 
“HE’S A KILLING MACHINE!” Helen screamed. “LET HIM KILL!”
 
Rose huffed, going into the kitchen. She returned with a dish towel, tossing it in the air at Ronald. She hit her mark, and Ronald fell onto the couch under its weight. Rose rushed over and picked him up before Helen could swat him or Dutchie eat him.
 
“Your leave that flying rat in its cage,” Helen said, panting.
 
“I don’t even know how he got out,” Rose said. “You leave him alone. He was just scared.” She left to put Ronald back.
 
“He better be scared,” Helen muttered. Dutchie whined next to her. “Don’t worry. We’ll get him.”
 
***
 
“Can you tell me why Miss Kotter has ejected you from her class?” Principal Johnston asked.
 
“She sent a referral,” Da’Quarius said. “You know why she sent me.”
 
“I’ve told you before that outburst and profanity are not permitted in my school,” Principal Johnston said, folding his hands.
 
“Yo’ teacher bein’ racist is okay, doe?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“That is a very heavy accusation,” Principal Johnston said. “Can you tell me exactly why you’d think that?”
 
“She insisted dat I’m twins with dat new kid,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Which one?” Principal Johnston asked.
 
“You know damn well which one,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“Miss Kotter is very old,” Pricilla Johnston said. “She gets confused easily. She’s from a different time.”
 
“Can I go now?” Da’Quarius asked. “You’re a second away from tellin’ me her bein’ racist is cool cuz she old an’ white.”
 
Principal Johnston sighed. “Go,” he said, waving his hand toward the door. “Just try not to shout and swear like that again.”
 
“Maybe I’ll calm down after you euthanize Miss Kotter,” Da’Quarius mumbled.
 
Da’Quarius left, making his way up toward Mr. Hessman’s class. He was early for Social Studies, but waiting for Johnston to reprimand him had taken up most of Miss Kotter’s class. He opened the door, expecting Hessman to be alone. Instead, he found that Daquan was already there.
 
“I know it’s tough to be new,” Hessman said. “You don’t fit in with the others in the honors program, but I bet you’ll give them a run for their money if you apply yourself. Oh, hi Da’Quarius.”
 
Daquan turned around, noticing that Da’Quarius had entered. He didn’t offer a greeting.
 
“Look,” Mr. Hessman said. “Daquan was telling me about what had happened in Miss Kotter’s class earlier. I know you’re not twins or brothers or even related, but I think you two can be friends.”
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius scoffed. “You’d like dat I bet. Two black kids doin’ yo’ biddin’ instead of one.”
 
“There’s no need for this jealously,” Hessman said. “I’m giving the class a black history month paper to do. I want you two to work together.”
 
“But it’s March,” Daquan said. “Black history month was last month.”
 
“Sure,” Hessman said, “if you believe what our white government wants us to believe.”
 
Daquan gave Hessman an odd look and then turned to Da’Quarius.
 
“Don’t look at me,”. Da’Quarius said. “Hess does shit like dis all da’ time. I bet he just forgot to give us da’ report to do.”
 
“Regardless,” Hessman said, “consider the two of you paired up, and I’ll be looking forward to see how you work together.”
 
“Should we study at your house or mine?” Daquan asked.
 
“Shit” DaQuarius said. “Better be yo’ house unless you want to see an’ lady stranglin’ a little green bird?”
 
***
 
Rose sat at the kitchen table, holding Ronald in her left hand. She held a tiny pair of nail clippers in her right. A book she got from the library called “Caring for Your Budgie” stood open in front of her.
 
“Sorry about this,” Rose said, “but it looks like your previous owner didn’t do this much. Also, I don’t want Helen screaming how you’re ripping the skin from the top of her head if you land on her again.”
 
Ronald chirped, showing his disdain for the whole situation. Rose took one more look into the budgie book and clipped.
 
Ronald screeched, the tip of his toe dangling. “Oh no!” Rose said. “I’m so sorry.”
 
Ronald escaped Rose’s grasp, flying erratically through the kitchen, dipping tiny droplets of blood. He flew through the door, making his way into the den.
 
“That damn bird is loose again!” Helen shouted. “It’s on the rag now, dripping blood all over!”
 
Rose sighed, picking up the dish towel and heading into the den.
 
***
 
Da’Quarius and Daquan were at Daquan’s house, starting their report. Da’Quarius had ben adamant about switching partners, but Hessman wasn’t willing to let him team up with Flounder as usual. “Who should we do this report on?” Daquan asked, clicking through a list of prominent figures from black history on his computer. “How’s Rosa Parks?”
 
“Nah,” Da’Quarius replied. “All da’ white kids always pick her.”
 
“Then who?” Daquan asked.
 
Da’Quarius thought for a moment. “How ‘bout Zachary Boddy?”
 
Daquan typed the name into Google and scrolled through results. “Oh my God,” he said, reading. “I’d do my report on Malcom X before I chose this guy.”
 
“You don’t know Hess like I do,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis is da’ shit dat gets his nut.”
 
“This guy got arrested for poisoning whites-only water fountains,” Daquan said. “He pleaded guilty and was killed in prison after stabbing a guard.”
 
“All fo’ da’ cause,” Da’Quarius said. “He burned down a church in a white neighborhood too, but dey never pinned it on him. Dat was right here in old New Haven. I bet my moms was around fo’ dat. Helen might’ve roasted a marshmallow in it.”
 
“Alright,” Daquan said, going through the information. “If you think this is the best guy to do the report on.”
 
“Trust me,” Da’Quarius said. “Just make him look like a hero. White America tried to vilify him an’ shit.”
 
Daquan started to cut and paste information when something caught Da’Quarius’s eye. He opened a yellow folder on Daquan’s desk, finding white papers covered in drawings. “Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You draw all dis?”
 
Daquan move quickly, closing the folder and moving it away. “Don’t look at that,” he said.
 
“Dat was good doe,” Da’Quarius said. “You a comic book artist or something?”
 
Daquan beamed. “It’s just a hobby,” he said, fixing his glasses. “My parents say that I should give it up and focus on choosing a career.”
 
“Don’t give it up,” Da’Quarius said. “Fuck wha’cho parents say. Draw yo’ ass off. Bring some to school. I know some mo’ fuckers dat can help write some dialogue an’ shit if you want. You guys can put an issue or two online and see if anyone likes it.”
 
“Really?” Daquan said. “You’d do that?”
 
“Fuck yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Now lets get dis report written.”
 
Daquan smiled, and the two got busy preparing their oral report on the life of Zachary Boddy.
 
***
 
Rose was cleaning out Ronald’s cage. He had lost his toe due to the accident with the clippers. She had called the Garcias, and they told her to seal the wound with superglue. It had worked, but she still felt horrible. Ronald kept lifting his leg off his wooden perch.
 
“I know you’re hurting,” Rose said, putting a fresh piece of gravel paper on the base of the cage. “It’ll heal, and you’ll be yourself in no time at all.”
 
Ronald turned away from Rose and jumped onto a lower perch.
 
“I guess I deserve that,” Rose said.
 
“Rose!” Helen shouted from the den. “Don’t forget to take the meat out of the freezer!”
 
“Oh,” Rose said. She had forgotten. Helen wanted to make a lazy lasagna for dinner, and she needed a pound of ground beef. Rose went to the freezer and took it out. Once it was in the sink to thaw, she closed the freezer. She turned toward the cage and noticed that Ronald had gotten out again.
 
Rose listened, waiting for Helen to start screaming about the bird flying around the house again. When no scream came, she walked into the den. “Did Ronald fly in here?” she asked.
 
“Who?” Helen asked, flipping channels.
 
“Ronald,” Rose said. She sighed. “The flying booger.”
 
“OH!’ Helen said, feigning surprise. “That little shit hasn’t come in here. Is he loose again?”
 
“He got out of the cage,” Rose said. “Did Dutchie get him?”
 
Helen looked over at Dutchie, who looked at them lazily from his bed. “Nope,” Helen said. “That lazy mutt hasn’t moved in a while. It’s mongrel nap time.”
 
“Where could he have gone?” Rose said, looking around.
 
Helen sighed and got up. “Let’s go find him before he shits all over my pillow.”
 
***
 
“…and that’s why we should all be more like Rosa Parks,” the red-headed and freckled Cecilia said, finishing her report along side Todd, who was smiling handsomely.
 
Mr. Hessman sighed. “Alright,” he said, making an animated checkmark in his book. “That’s three Rosa Parks reports now. Raise your hand if you also did Rosa Parks, so I can give you a C plus and write down that you did make your report.”
 
Hessman marked his notebook of who was raising their hands. He gave two other students C pluses. “Anyone else?” he asked.
 
Flounder’s hand shot into the air. “Stop it!” his partner, a boy named Seamus, said. “We didn’t do Rosa Parks.”
 
“I know,” Flounder said. “I just hate talking in front of people.”
 
“You’re giving your report, Flounder,” Hessman said, “but I think we should hear from Da’Quarius and Daquan next.”
 
Da’Quarius got up and walked to the front of the class, followed by a nervous Daquan. They stood and faced the class.
 
“Who is your report on?” Hessman asked. 
 
“We did Zachary Boddy,” Da’Quarius said proudly.
 
“Zachary Boddy?” Hessman asked.
 
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“The guy who poisoned the water fountains and set fire to the churches in the name of civil rights?” Hessman asked.
 
“Dat’s da’ only Zachary Boddy I know of,” Da’Quarius said.
 
“You know some view him as a sociopath and a serial killer, right?” Hessman asked.
 
“Daquan and I disagree with dat statement,” Da’Quarius said. “We say he’s a New Haven civil rights hero, vilified by white America.”
 
“Excellent,” Hessman said, straightening up and looking intrigued for the first time that day. “By all means: let’s hear your report.” 
 
Da’Quarius cleared his throat and looked at the index card in his right hand. “Zachary Boddy was pivotal to da’ civil rights movement, right here in New Haven,” he said.
 
“Prior to his arrest,” Daquan continued, “Boddy was a key member in the New Haven Black Tigers, an organization he had started with a longtime friend, Richard ‘the red blade’ Freeman.”
 
“Boddy and Freeman led the Black Tigers through the streets of New Haven,” Da’Quarius said, “burnin’ an’ lootin’ in a time when it wasn’t part of every day life. Boddy was even said to have taken out -”
 
The door opened, distracting Da’Quarius and Daquan from giving their report. Principal Johnston stuck his head in. “I’m so sorry to interrupt,” he said. “I need to have Daquan.”
 
“He’s in the middle of giving a report on Zachary Boddy right now,” Hessman said. “It’s quite riveting too.”
 
“The lunatic?” Principal Johnston asked.
 
“Civil rights activist,” Hessman corrected. He scoffed. “You over-privileged whites will never understand what he did for his people.”
 
“Well I need Daquan nevertheless,” Johnston said. “Come with me, young man.”
 
“No,” Hessman interrupted. “I’m his assigned faculty advisor, and I demand to know what this is about.”
 
“Not in front of the others,” Principal Johnston said through his teeth.
 
A girl came in behind him. “That’s him!” she exclaimed, pointing at Daquan. “He’s the one who is drawing nude pictures of all the girls! He left his folder in the library.”
 
“Really, Daquan,” Hessman said, turning toward him. “Did you have to be that guy?”
 
“What happened to da’ comics?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Daquan shrugged. “I like nudes better,” he said.
 
“Come along, Daquan,” Principal Johnston said. “Grab your bag and lets go. Your parents are waiting downstairs for you.”
 
“Not again,” Daquan said, grabbing his backpack and leaving. “This is how I got booted from my old school.”
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said as Daquan was escorted out of class. “I was startin’ to like dat guy.”
 
“What are you waiting for?” Hessman asked. “Let’s hear more about Zachary Boddy.”
 
***
 
“So your new friend was expelled?” Rose asked, sitting at the kitchen table during dinner.
 
“I don’t know if he was my new friend,” Da’Quarius said. “We just did da’ one report together. But yeah, he got kicked outta school.”
 
“Anything would be an improvement on that gook kid,” Helen said. “Did he get expelled from your school too?”
 
“No,” Da’Quarius replied.
 
“Damn,” Helen said, eating a piece of lazy lasagna, followed by a swallow of water.
 
“What happened to da’ parrot?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
”He was a parakeet,” Rose said. “I don’t know where he went. He may have somehow gotten out and flown away.”
 
“Good riddance,” Helen said. “That little shit was a handful and a half.”
 
“You barely did anything with him other than throw a fit,” Rose said.
 
“Can you get me some ice?” Helen said, handing Da’Quarius her glass.
 
“Sho’, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. He got up and opened the freezer. “Fuck!”
 
“What?” Rose asked, getting up.
 
Da’Quarius turned back toward the table and dropped an icy green chunk on it. “Yo’ bird was in da’ freezer, Rose.”
 
“He must have flown in when I was taking the meat out for dinner,” Rose said.
 
Helen poked it with her fork. “He’s dead alright.”
 
Rose shrugged. “At least he’s with his old master now,” she said.
 
“That’s the spirit,” Helen said, eating some ziti.
 
“You just poked da’ dead bird with dat fork, biddy,” Da’Quarius said.
 
 
The End
 
****
 
Coming this summer:
Rose, Helen, Paulie, and Da’Quarius will take you to new heights in Freedom Lane da’ Movie 2: In Space.