(Go here to read our previous episode or click here to return to Chapter One of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “If there is a moral in this grim tale it is this: dames spell trouble.” J.J. Hunsecker in Argosy.)
Yeah, it was good to be back on good old Ivar. The month of May in old Hollywood all ripe and bursting with life after yesterday’s monsoon, the smell of eucalyptus, blood-orange sun sinking through the palms, and just the slightest breath of Sunday smog drifting down from the freeway, home was good, home was fucking good.
Buddy parked the car out front, grabbed his overnight bag and headed into the house. Ming was waiting inside the door and Buddy leaned down and patted her on the head. Okay, he really had to masturbate, but first he had to eat, so he dropped the bag by the door and headed into the kitchen.
The phone rang, he picked up the kitchen wall phone and said hello, but it was another one of those annoying no-answer jobs, so he hung it up.
He could smell something good; he looked in the oven. Oh, yes, Liz had made a lasagne, still hot under a sheet of foil, possibly a vegetarian lasagne, but that was not a bad thing. Liz: she’d even laid a place setting on the kitchen table.
He opened up a Valpolicella and poured a glass. Ming took her place by the back door and began to meow. All right. Buddy went over and let her out. But wait, music, he wanted music --
He went into the living room, looked at his racks of CDs, then decided he wanted to hear Trovatore (Price, Domingo, Milnes), which he had started to listen to on the flight but most of which he had blissfully slept through. He went over to the front door and got the overnight bag, and he was heading back to the stereo while unzipping the bag when the doorbell rang.
Still holding the bag, he walked back to the door and looked through the peephole: some vaguely familiar young guy with a nearly shaven skull and a goatee -- a friend of Philip’s? Well, he didn’t look completely like a criminal and he was pretty scrawny, so Buddy opened the door.
“Hi, Mr. Best.”
The kid had a backpack over one shoulder.
“Do you -- remember me?”
“Wait -- you’re not -- uh -- Chad, are you?”
“No, I mean Jeremy. Jeremy.”
“Philip’s friend? You know, Deirdre? No --”
“No, what am I saying --”
“So, anyway, Philip went to the movies.”
“I’m not Philip’s friend.”
“I’m Liz’s friend.”
Oh. The drunken loser boyfriend. Okay:
“So, you, uh, shaved your head.”
“And grew a goatee.”
“Is that a new look out in Milwaukee?”
The kid looked puzzled.
“So,” said Buddy. “Keith --”
“Craig. My name is Craig.”
“Craig -- sorry. Craig Craig Craig.”
“I want to see Liz, Mr. Best.”
“She’s not home, Craig.”
“Can I wait?”
“Uh -- does she know that you were -- uh, dropping by?”
“No. She told me not to come.”
“Ah, you spoke to her.”
“On the phone.”
It was dawning on Buddy that the kid was at least a little drunk, or high, or both.
“Kei- Craig. Craig, have you been calling here and hanging up, not saying anything, that sort of thing?” Craig hung his head. At least a little drunk, maybe one or two horse-tranquilizers thrown in. And more or less insane. “Do you know how annoying that is, Craig?”
“Okay, well, don’t do it anymore, all right?”
“I’m sorry. I just wanted to talk to Liz.”
“Well, I take it you have gotten through to her.”
“Yeah, sometimes she would answer the phone.”
“And did she want to talk to you?”
“Um, uh --”
“Well, I don’t know if she wanted to talk to me, but she talked to me. At first. Sort of.”
He had a really dumb midwestern accent, like his mouth was full of bubble gum.
“Right,” said Buddy.
“Yeah, then she said she didn’t want to talk to me.”
“And yet you kept calling. And then you come all the way out here from Milwaukee --”
“Madison. You come all the way out to Hollywood from Madison, Wisconsin, to see a girl who doesn’t want to talk to you?”
“I love her.”
“Craig --” all right, go easy here, Buddy -- “if you really love her then you should respect her wishes.” And fuck off.
Buddy was still holding his overnight bag in one hand. It seemed best to hang on to it.
“I’m in love with her.”
“Craig --” The kid had bloodshot blue eyes, and behind them was some sort of human being, a fucked-up human being, but still human, try to remember that -- “Listen. Being in love is like having the flu. It can be very intense and very painful. But, believe me, after a while it goes away. And then, well --”
“Then you’ll be fine.”
“No I won’t be.”
“Yes you will.” Well, come to think of it, maybe he wouldn’t be. But -- “Look. You’re young. I’m old. I know. I’ve gotten over so many chicks it’s not even funny.”
“I won’t get over Liz. I’ll never get over Liz. Not in a million years. She’s the only woman I’ll ever love.”
“Come on, Craig -- what’re you, like the Wisconsin Heathcliff?”
“Heathcliff is a dog isn’t he? Are you saying I’m like a dog?”
“No. No, I’m not saying that. And the Heathcliff in the comic is a cat. But the Heathcliff I’m talking about was a character in a novel. Wuthering Heights.”
“Oh. Sorry, I never read that book.”
“Well, there’s a good movie version you can rent, with Laurence Olivier.”
“Can I come inside?”
“No, Craig. You can’t come in, Liz doesn’t want to see you. What you should do is -- how’d you get out here, anyway, did you drive, ‘cause you don’t look in such good --”
“I took the bus.”
“All the way from Milwaukee.”
“Right. That’s impressive. Well, look, Craig, what you need to do is just go back to Madison, and get over it.”
The kid just stood there.
“Do you have a return ticket?”
Fuck this. Just when you’re ready to sit down and eat some lasagne --
“Okay,” said Buddy. “Do you have any money?”
“I have like fifty-some dollars. And I have a MAC card but I only got like twenty-some dollars left in my account.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“When did you get into town?”
“Is that all your stuff there, in the backpack?”
“Okay. I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, Craig. I’m going to drive you to the airport, I’m going to buy you a ticket, and we’re going to get you on the next flight to Madison. And while we’re waiting I’ll buy you a nice dinner and we can talk everything over.”
“I can’t get on a plane.”
“Why. Why can’t you get on a plane? You’re afraid to fly? I’m terrified to fly and I fly all the time. You just suck it up. Order a drink, two drinks --”
“I’m not afraid to fly. I have a gun.”
“You have a gun.”
“And why do you have a gun, Craig?”
“I was gonna shoot myself.”
“Ah. And do you still want to shoot yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
All of a sudden Buddy was very much in the here and now. Okay:
“Craig, you say you love Liz. How’s that gonna make her feel if you shoot yourself.”
“I know. It’s selfish.”
“Yes, and stupid. Now Craig, where is this gun?”
“It’s in my backpack.”
“Okay. Now I think you should let me have the gun, Craig.”
“It’s not mine.”
“Whose is it?”
“Does he know you have it.”
“I don’t think so.”
“So you stole it?”
“Well, look, let me have it. I will ship it back to your uncle.”
“I don’t know.”
“All right, Craig, listen, you can’t carry guns on airplanes. So here’s what we’ll do. Give me the gun, I’ll ship it back to your uncle. You can give me his name and address, and I’ll just ship it anonymously, he won’t even know where it came from.”
“They have metal detectors at the post office. They’ll find out it’s a gun and think it’s like, um, terrorists.”
“Look, Craig, tell you what, I’ll throw the fucking gun away, and I will mail your uncle the cash to buy a new gun, anonymously.”
“He doesn’t need the money.”
“Okay, Craig, fuck this. Just give me the gun and I’ll dispose of it.”
“Craig, if you don’t let me take it I’m going to call the cops.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. We’re just talking.”
“You’re carrying a stolen gun.”
“So give it to me. I put it away, I drive you to the airport.”
“’Cause I think I want to shoot myself.”
“Okay. All right. Here’s what I’m going to do, Craig. I’m going to ask you one more time, and if you say no I’m going to close the door and I’ll call the police.”
“I’ll shoot myself.”
“Well, I’m sorry. Now, let me have the gun.”
Craig took the backpack off of his shoulder. “No,” he said.
“All right, Craig, I’m sorry.”
Buddy started to close the door and Craig rushed him and knocked him back into the house. Buddy staggered back but stayed on his feet. Craig stumbled a bit too, and then stepped back towards the doorway. He pulled a zipper on the backpack, reached in and brought out an ancient-looking blue-steel six-shooter. He slung the backpack over his shoulder again.
“Craig,” said Buddy. “Don’t be a douche bag.”
Craig put the muzzle of the gun in his mouth. He was staring at the floor. He pulled the trigger but the gun didn’t fire. He pulled the trigger again. It didn’t fire. With extreme clarity Buddy realized it must be an old single-action model, you had to cock the hammer to shoot it, this kid was just so not with it. Craig drew the gun out of his mouth and stared at it. Buddy stepped forward and swung his overnight bag at the gun just as Craig was pushing back the hammer with the heel of his left hand.
The gun went off, and Buddy went down.
He was on his back on the hard wooden floor, his left leg was bent up, and there was the bullet hole in his thigh with blood pouring out and down, soaking his crotch.
“Oh, shit,” said Buddy.
“I’m sorry,” said Craig. “I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry.”
“I’m really, really sorry.”
“Right,” said Buddy. He was bleeding like a motherfucker. He didn’t know if the bullet had hit an artery or not but he was definitely bleeding like a motherfucker. “Okay, Craig. Listen, I need you to call for an ambulance.”
“I’m gonna go to jail. I better shoot myself.”
“Craig, just stop the bullshit. There’s a phone on the table next to the sofa. Go get it, dial 911. Tell them someone’s been shot, you need an ambulance.”
All right, the pain now, but the pain was not the problem.
“Okay,” said Craig.
Buddy lay there, bleeding, the pain throbbing and growing from his leg, wondering if he was going to live, trying to stay awake, and yet also watching himself, and wondering how he would do this scene in a movie, and being aware of how he was watching himself, oh fuck it -- he could hear Craig’s stupid mumbling Wisconsin voice. Buddy knew he might die from this, this was a new experience -- he’d had close calls on the freeways before like anyone else, but, fuck it, fuck this -- part of him was sinking away but the rest of him was trying to concentrate on staying alive, his whole ridiculous life draining away while he watched and got sleepy, what a stupid way to go, was there a smart way to go?
Craig was standing there again. He still had the backpack slung over one shoulder and he still held the pistol.
“I called them.”
Buddy was actually glad to see Craig there, at least Craig was part of the world.
“They said they’d send an ambulance right over.”
Buddy made an effort to concentrate.
“Okay, now, Craig, get out of here. And throw that gun away.”
“You won’t report me?”
“Why not? I don’t know, because it was an accident. Here --”
Buddy tried to get his wallet out, it was in his right front pocket, but his fingers weren’t working properly. The wallet came partway out, he sort of knocked it the rest of the way, it slid down onto the floor.
“There should be a hundred. And twenty, thirty bucks in there. Take it. Take it and. Get on the next bus. To Milwaukee. Madison,” said Buddy. “Madison.”
“Why would you not report me?”
“Why should I? Now take the -- take the money. And split before the cops get -- cops get here. And lose that fucking gun. Throw it -- away.”
So, update: he couldn’t move but he could still talk. But his voice felt like someone else’s voice. And the pain felt further away, which was scary.
“Where should I throw it?”
Christ what a retard --
“It doesn’t matter, Craig. Just toss it. In a dumpster. Fuckin’ --”
Craig put the pistol into his backpack and zipped it in, then he got down on one knee and picked up Buddy’s wallet. He took out all the cash and laid the wallet back down. He stood back up, shoving the money into his jeans pocket.
“If you report me I won’t blame you.”
“Fine. Just go. Now, Craig. And. Do me a. Favor.” Now it was getting hard to talk. But with this nitwit it would be best to spell everything out --
“Yeah?” said Craig; now the nitwit was pulsing in place, tilting sideways towards the doorway, all of a sudden he’s itching to get the fuck out of here --
“Um leave the door open so the paramedics can --” What? Oh. “Get in.”
The idiot took off, and Buddy just lay there, bleeding like a stuck pig, his entire left leg and hip numb now. He felt drowsy but aware. Panic lay right around a mental bend but he didn’t want to die that way if he had to die, so he thought about Liz, and Philip, and Deirdre, and he told himself that if he lived he would try to be a better father, okay, he thought of his mother and told himself he would call her more often, if he lived, also he’d really try just to be a better, all-round -- yeah, right -- then he thought about Cordelia...she was a good thing to think about...he went over it all in his head, going back to the first time he’d seen her, back when he didn’t even know who the hell she was, on stage, that play, what the fuck was it called ...that slip she wore fucking hell...
-- ambulance screaming, what a fantastically wonderful sound, voices out front, okay...
(Pease turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™; rated R for absurd violence.)