I'm finally posting the excerpt I had planned to read on RRW Live October 29, before yet another sinus infection and laryngitis turned me into a croaking, coughing frog.
This excerpt is from Chapter 3: Demon Alcohol and the Return of the Monstermen. In this interlude, Leysa Henko is skulking along the seedy streets of Tallenook's alcoholic section, making her "bread deliveries," when she comes to the house of notorious drunk and child abuser Ned Tinshire.
Readers have told me this part of the book brings a tear to their eye. Leysa is so helpless on the streets, even though she is surrounded by children and others enjoying the summer.
"As Leysa approached the door, her knees went to jelly, her mouth tightened and dried, and she felt a stinging in her eyes as her increasing sweat made its way down to her forehead. She found herself walking slower as she approached the front door of the Tinshire residence, a miserable heap of faded reddish-brown brick that seemed to lean to the right and had numerous vertical cracks in the front door and even a few spider cracks on the windows. She quietly knocked on the door, hoping against hope that he wasn’t at home. But he was.
“Whooo ish it!” Tinshire bellowed in a bombast that seemed to shake the bricks and aggrieve the fading door of his downtrodden house. None of the kids playing on Carmichael Street even looked up at the sound of Tinshire’s blasting voice. They only knew him as the drunk of the neighborhood; beyond that, Ned Tinshire was a ghost.
Leysa had heard that stilted dialect before and was terrified. She knew what it meant. It meant a disheveled, unshaven pig-man with half his teeth missing, smelling of B.O., with an undershirt barely covering his protruding hairy gut, in his underwear and socks was about to stagger to the door, and yell a second time before opening. It meant Monsterman. She was right on all counts.
“I shaid, whooo ish it! Ansher me na er go the hell away!”
“M-M-Mr. Tinshire…” she lost her breath for a few seconds, unable to speak out of terror. He interrupted.
“Yeah, thash me, who the hell’re you?” Still, the door remained closed.
“It’s Leysa H-H-Henko, I have your b-b-b-bread for this week.” Bread was the codename they gave the vodka.
Silence on the other side of the door. Leysa hoped he would just pass out on the other side of the door so she could run away, run far, far away from this wicked place. She wanted her mommy.
Tinshire had forgotten that they called the vodka “bread” and while Leysa kneaded her hands, setting the brown bag down on the stoop temporarily, Ned Tinshire paused for a few seconds to wonder if he had actually ordered bread. “Bread?” Then he remembered. “Oh, oh, bread, yeah, bread. Ah, my bread!”
The door opened and there stood Ned Tinshire, a former captain of and ace pitcher for the Tallenook High baseball team, wooer and kisser of WHS’ finest beauties. His formerly blue eyes had long ago gone gray from too much hard living and booze, and his fat, swollen tongue appeared to hang perpetually from his nearly toothless mouth; he seemed to be constantly smacking his lips as if he was thirsty. He propped himself up, leaning against the doorframe for support, wobbling a bit, threatening to fall over if even a stiff breeze blew past him.
“’Bout damn time!” he yelled, grabbing for the bottle on the stoop, and nearly losing his balance and falling down the steps on top of Leysa. Again, no reaction from the kids of summer; their minds were as much on vacation as their bodies.
Leysa grabbed for it, too, to hand it to him, and the two bumped heads, hard.
“Damn stupid kid!” he yelled, rubbing his head and nearly tripping over the child; he steadied himself and raised his hand as if to strike Leysa. Then he remembered his vodka and thought better of it.
“Ah, come on, move already! Christ! Just give me the damn bottle and ged adda here!” He grabbed the bag off the stoop and was back inside and about to close the door before Leysa even got up from the collision; she was dizzy from the hit, her head was throbbing and she thought she might cry. (It’s amazing how quickly a broken-down human being like Ned Tinshire – already a decrepit old man at 48 – can move when his drug of choice is within arm’s reach.)
Leysa fought back the tears and stared up at Tinshire just as he was starting to close the door. She still had to collect, and there was no time for crying now. “But Mr. Tinshire, please, you owe us $2.05 for this week’s delivery, and you still owe us for the last two weeks. My father said” ---
The fear radiated out of her in waves. Ned picked up the scent of her angst like a crazed Doberman, and went for the throat with his retort.
“I’ll pay whenna feel lige payin’, now go away!” he slurred, his eyes fixed on the bottle, his tongue smacking his lips, while his hands fumbled for the door. With that, Ned Tinshire slammed the door in Leysa’s face and her tears finally gave way, turning the beautiful summer day into a watery, confusing maze of prisms and vague images of girls in pimlico dresses and boys in black shoes and short knickers, playing the day away with their hulahoops and baseball games, without a care in the world. Or any knowledge that a frightened 8-year-old immigrant girl stood crying and shaking on Ned Tinshire’s front stoop. To them, Leysa Henko was a ghost, too."