Eloy sat in his kitchen thinking it might be time to move on. Then Dylan crept to his mind. That boy needed someone strong in his life. Somebody he could count on. He felt for the kid—a mother who had disappeared on him, father who didn’t care. No friends that Eloy ever saw him with, except little Riley. Now even she was gone. Then again Eloy didn’t have any companions either and knew he was in no position to judge.
Photographs from time long passed were scattered on the table before him. The top photo exhibited Eloy in full dress uniform, adorned with ribbons and medals, stern expression on his face, looking young and ready for anything to come his way. Eloy picked up the Leica camera he rarely used anymore. He had been an avid cataloguer of events throughout his life . . . until he discovered the cache of dirty photos in his footlocker. The thought that The Boy could have used his cherished camera to document some of the filth had disgusted him so Eloy hid it away for years. He only discovered the 35mm after unpacking from his move to the Rubicon Ranch house. He looked at the miniscule window that registered seven exposed pictures on the roll.
Last year he thought maybe he could become buddies with Morris Sinclair until his daughter, Moody, skidded that relationship to a halt. Eloy shook his head. She was a pretty woman, but her nickname suited her. He had been on the porch oiling the hinges of the Leica’s back housing, thinking maybe he’d take up his old hobby again when Morris appeared at the steps. They visited for an hour, sharing tea and memories of times captured on film. Then Moody screeched to a halt at the curb, stomped to the porch, scowled at Eloy, took her father’s arm, then sped away.
The stranger who usually drove around with a young woman in the passenger seat looked like he might come over one time. The man had stopped in front of the house when he was alone in the car. But then he drove onward. No one ever took an interest. Except Dylan. Eloy knew that because of the boy he couldn’t leave town, disappear without a word, not even leave a note on the door as he had in the past. Still, with the recent discovered bodies, Rubicon Ranch felt more like Detroit than a lazy bedroom community. The realization disturbed him as much as the thought of his son reappearing.
He sighed, placed the camera on the kitchen table and took the cane from the back of a chair. Figuring he may as well do the task he’d been putting off, he crossed to the door that led to the garage. He clicked the switch on the wall and the bright overhead light lit up the area as the garage door crept upward. He looked out on the street and although no headlights swept the street, and he couldn’t make out any figures standing in the yards directly across the way, Eloy knew he needed to keep up his charade. He limped to the driver’s side door of the 1984 black Cadillac, slid behind the wheel and brought the beast to life.
The Caddy idled its smooth purr as he closed his eyes and breathed in the faint pine scent provided by a cardboard tree that hung from the rearview mirror. A memory came to him, bright and new as the day he lived the experience: Sitting behind the wheel, accelerating the Caddy to eighty-five as it barreled along the highway, Pacific Ocean to the left, rolling hills to the right. His wife sitting beside him, wind from the rolled down windows billowing her straw hair. Her laughter on the edge of girlish giggles, shouting over the roar of the engine, “Faster, Eloy, faster!”
Wetness dripped down his cheeks. He shut the remembrance back into the vault of his mind, wiped away the tears and backed the Cadillac to the driveway. He got out of the car and looked left to right. No one loitered or walked the sidewalks bathed by the streetlights and he could only hear the chatter of a television somewhere and crickets chirping.
He filled two buckets with water from the spigot near the porch, then dumped soap into one of the containers and sloshed the suds around with a sponge. In case any of his neighbors spied on him from behind closed curtains, he enhanced his limp unaided by the cane, which caused the water to splash over the rims as he returned to the vehicle. His training, although honed decades ago, alerted him that someone stood behind him.
He lowered slightly and looked between his legs. Dungarees, small feet, stance close together, non-threatening as far as Eloy could assess. “Hello, soldier.”
The shoes backed up a quick step. “How’d you know I was here? I tried to be real quiet.”
“First thing they teach you in basic training is to beware of your surroundings at all times.”
“Do you learn that before they teach you to shoot a gun, or after?”
The boy’s obsession with the infliction of carnage disturbed Eloy, not for the first time. Hoping to divert the subject of weapons, he tossed Dylan a sponge. “Get busy.”
Dylan ran a finger along the trunk. “It’s awfully dusty. Where’d you drive it last?”
“Haven’t washed her in a while.”
Dylan plunged the sponge into the bucket of suds. “I didn’t know you even had a car. Looks like it’s been out in the desert.” He drilled Eloy with an accusatory look.
Eloy remained silent, merely polished a headlight over and over.
“Did you drive it out there?” the boy continued to prod. “We’re not destroying evidence, are we?”
“What are you talking about, young man?”
“That’s where they found Riley. In the desert. Did you know?”
“Are you asking me if I had anything to do with that little girl’s death?”
“Well, I . . . I . . .” Dylan’s shoulders drooped as he studied a pool of water on the driveway.
“Are you accusing me of doing something illegal?”
Dylan looked in the direction of his house.
“Are you questioning an officer, soldier?” Eloy all but yelled.
Eloy could only see the boy in profile, but his jaw muscle bulged and the edges of his hair trembled. Dylan slowly turned his head to Eloy and the old man saw a fury building—the shining eyes, flat expression, ready to snap.
“Yes, sir,” Dylan said in a dark tone that surprised Eloy. “I am.”
Eloy held the scowl for a long moment. Then he smiled and said, “Good for you, soldier. Very good.” He laid the sponge down, took up his cane and headed for the open garage. “Come on inside. I’ve got some leftover meatloaf.”
Ten full minutes passed before Eloy heard the click of the back door shut. He pulled two heaping servings of meat and mashed potatoes from the microwave, then placed plates on the table.
Dylan took no time to take his seat and begin to devour the meal. Eloy sat in stunned silence as the two-inch thick slab of meat disappeared in four bites. Dylan drained his glass of milk, swiped his hand across mouth and let out a loud belch.
“Manners count, young man. Even in the presence of an old fart.”
“Sorry,” Dylan mumbled. He pushed his clean plate forward and reached for the top photograph on the pile Eloy had stacked on the edge of the table. “Is this you?”
“You got lots of medals. Must have been a real bad ass.”
“Do you still have the medals?”
“Sure. Packed away in the basement. Maybe I’ll show them to you someday.”
“That’d be cool.” Dylan set the picture aside, placed his crossed arms on the table and leaned in closer to Eloy. “You’re not gonna tell me why your car’s so dusty, are you?”
“There’s nothing to tell.”
Dylan shrugged and reached out to fiddle with the strap attached to the Leica. “Would you let me drive it some day?”
Eloy chuckled. “Well, if I did, you’d have to promise to bring it back.”
Dylan blushed, looked down and began to draw figure eights on the tabletop with the tip of his finger.
“What do you want to run from, Dylan? And are you going to ask to borrow my saber along with the keys to my car?”
Dylan stuck his hand in his pocket and something inside jangled. Heavy and metal sounding. Eloy wondered what it could be and hoped it wasn’t a handful of bullets.
“Don’t do anything stupid, soldier.”