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The Shell Game

The Shell Game Parts 1&2

By: emmastark

 

 

Copyright 2001

Rated: ~NC-17~ Non-Consensual sexual situations with a minor involved, heavy alcohol binging, mild slash, language, violence. The kitchen sink.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Stephen J. Cannell and Universal.

WARNING: Non-Consensual sexual situations with a minor involved, mild slash, heavy alcohol binging, language, violence. This one might get a little heavy, folks...

Comments: Please

Summary: Memories can only be held under the surface for so long before they reach up and grab you by the throat...

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Are You Lonesome Tonight, John Coltrane?

 

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Music, on the edge of hearing.

 

BA woke up slowly. The room was very dark, 3 am dark,

and he lay there for awhile, listening.

 

Definitely jazz. Saxaphone and drums, piano, bass.

Wind howling around the windows. Hannibal snoring

softly, sonorously in the next room.

 

He liked waking up to the sounds of other people in

the house. Whatever house they were in. Liked the

familiar voices and footsteps and movements.

 

They didnít have many connections. Any of them.

Couldnít.

 

But they had each other.

 

BA crawled out from beneath the blankets. The air was

cold. Colder here, than LA. Heíd grown up in

Chicago, but he was used to warmer climates now.

 

His robe had been lost somewhere along the way (Little

Creek? Barlow? Hanover?). He pulled one of the

blankets off the bed and wrapped it around himself.

Went to the door of his room. Moved down the long,

dark hallway.

 

A fire glowed in the fireplace in the front room of

the house, casting a gentle, flickering gold light out

into the darkness. BA paused, looking in.

 

Murdock and Face were dancing. Well, not dancing,

maybe. (Could you dance to John Coltrane?) Their

bodies were pressed close together. Their eyes were

closed. They moved slowly, rocking back and forth.

 

Murdock was wearing the bottom half of Faceís red silk

pajamas. His feet were bare. Face had one arm

wrapped around Murdockís waist and the other stretched

across his naked back.

 

Face wore black silk boxers and the red silk pajama

top, unbuttoned. Murdock was draped over him, kind

of, holding him close. Faceís head rested on

Murdockís shoulder.

 

The music stopped, suddenly, sax giving way to drums,

giving way to silence, but the two men kept moving.

They had their own rhythm. Slow. Gentle.

 

Silence gave way to... Elvis.

 

When he was in the VA, Murdock often made his own

compilations of music. Other people might put

together collections of their favorite love songs, or

their favorite ballads. But Murdock wasnít other

people. He had his own reasons for things, and youíd

go crazy yourself if you tried to figure out why he

did what he did. In his compilations, you never knew

what you were going to hear.

 

Elvis was crooning softly in the darkness. "Are you

lonesome tonight?" he sang. "Do you miss me tonight?

Are you sorry we drifted apart?"

 

Murdock clutched Face closer to him. Held him

tightly, protectively.

 

Opened his eyes.

 

BA found himself looking straight into Murdockís dark

gaze. Startled. For a moment, they stared at each

other. Silent.

 

"Is your heart filled with pain," Elvis sang, "shall I

come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome

tonight?"

 

Murdockís lips lifted into a grin against Faceís hair.

Face lifted his head, questioningly, and Murdock

dipped him down a little so he could see BA standing

in the doorway.

 

Faceís eyes got that guarded look for a moment, and he

stiffened. But Murdockís arms tightened around him.

Face sighed, and relaxed again. Closed his eyes

again. Let himself be held.

 

Murdock smiled at BA. Gestured vaguely toward the

couch with one hand, then smoothed his fingers back

against the warm, red silk that sheathed Faceís strong

shoulders.

 

BA hesitated for a moment. But he didnít want to be

alone.

 

He moved over to the couch. Settled himself down,

rested his head on the arm of it. Stared at the fire.

Stared at his friends.

 

It could have been more lonely, seeing them together

there. But they didnít turn him away and it made him

feel better instead, watching them hold each other.

Watching them move gently to the music.

 

He could feel the heat from the fire. Elvis turned

into Jim Morrison. The Carpenters sang something

about rainy days and Mondays. Judy Garland sang

"Somewhere, Over the Rainbow."

 

BAís eyes were half-closed. His mind drifted, but he

kept watching Face and Murdock as the fire burned

itself down.

 

Murdock was still draped over Face, arms enclosing,

but now it seemed like he was leaning on him. Face

supported Murdockís weight, held him tight.

 

Face looked at BA now. As the music faded. Smiled a

slow, lazy half-smile. Eyes admitting he was happy,

like he could hardly believe it himself. BA nodded.

He wasnít sure what he was agreeing to. Nobodyíd said

anything all night except dead people. (Was that why

Murdock had put them together?)

 

Maybe he was saying yes to soft music. Maybe he was

saying yes to dancing by firelight. Maybe he was

saying yes to anything that made the night less

lonely.

 

Face whispered in Murdockís ear and Murdock lifted his

head sleepily from Faceís shoulder. Shivered a

little.

 

Face rubbed his hands down Murdockís bare arms, then

pulled him toward their bedroom.

 

BA settled deeper into the couchís soft embrace and

fell back into sleep.

 

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~fin~

 

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The Shell Game

 

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Drinking didnít help. But it was one of the things you could do instead.

 

Instead of screaming. Instead of crying. Instead of putting your fist through plate glass windows just to hear the satisfying shatter.

 

If you drank enough, all consciousness would leave you. Dreams depart. That was the goal. Can you really drown your sorrows? Hold their heads under blue water, feel them kick and struggle, fighting to get free? Listen to their gurgling screams?

 

The glass slipped out of Faceís hand and rolled under the couch. But that was all right. He had the bottle.

 

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The little boy walked down the wooden pier. The pier was full of noise and people, rides and games. Rollercoasters and merry-go-rounds and shoot the bottle and toss the ring. But he stared down at his feet as he walked along. You could see the ocean through the cracks between the boards. Every time the rollercoaster went by, with its clattering hum and shrieking cargo, the boards shuddered. It all seemed very precarious. All the rides and the people and the buildings on top of narrow, shuddering pieces of wood that you could see right through. Precarious. P-R-E-C-A-R-I-O-U-S. From the Latin "precarius," obtained by entreaty, uncertain. Having to do with praying. Meaning: dependent on chance circumstances, unknown conditions, or uncertain developments or... characterized by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger. Also: depending on the will or pleasure of another. Spelling was one of the little boyís best things. He remembered really well.

 

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Memories pushed at him. Loud and angry. He could hear their voices and they told him bad things. Bad things. All the bad things he had done, and there were a lot of bad things. So many bad things. He made noises to try to drown them out. Could you drown them out?

 

Mary, Mary, full of grace.

How does your garden grow?

Tinker, tinker, fire, lace.

Nothingís what I know.

 

Mary, Mary, full of grace.

How does your garden grow?

Tinker, tinker, fire, lace.

Nothingís what I know.

 

Mary, Mary, full of grace.

How does your garden grow?

Tinker, tinker, fire, lace.

Nothingís what I know.

 

They were nursery rhymes, or praying. Heíd made up lots of them when he was little, to ward off the bad things. You had to say them three times and with a beat like a drum. Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. A beat, quite like, a drum.

 

The memories were loud. It was hard to drown them out. He kept losing the beat of the words, the magic words, the words that would keep him safe. He kept losing the beat of the words, and if he lost the beat they wouldnít work. If he said them wrong in any way, they wouldnít be able to protect him. He began to rock back and forth a little to let his body catch the rhythm. He staggered up from the couch and moved back and forth like dancing. A terrible, whiskey memory dance, but dancing.

 

Mary, Mary, full of grace...

 

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Staying out of trouble was not one of the little boyís best things. Remembering spelling words was much easier.

 

Trouble knew his name. Nobody else did. Theyíd made him up one when he came to the orphanage. But trouble knew and called to him. Only he heard its voice.

 

He liked to do dangerous things. He liked to go fast and be high up. Slide down the long bannister in the rectory. Climb the oak tree outside the church clear to the top, where you could feel the wind move the branches back and forth.

 

He was doing a dangerous thing now. Could you call it a precarious thing? He wasnít sure. Knowing what a word means doesnít necessarily mean you know how to use it. Sister Alice Ann pretty much stopped at definitions and Latin roots. He wondered if she knew how to use precarious.

 

He wasnít supposed to be alone. He was supposed to be holding hands with Avery Banks and staying in line with the others. But Avery Banks had sweaty hands. And he liked to be alone. Other people were... different than him. Or maybe he was different than them. He walked along, behind where all the games were. It was quieter there. He could see the backs of the big machines and there were tubes and cords coming out of them kind of like in Frankenstein. Father Maghill liked scary movies and sometimes, not very often, but sometimes, heíd take a few of the boys over to the Daisy Lake Drive-In in his old white pick-up, where they played old movies in double features. They couldnít buy popcorn, but Sister Grace, who talked funny and worked in the kitchen, packed up graham crackers and apples for them. It was something special. There wasnít much that was special at the orphanage. That was how orphanages were. But the movies were special.

 

Back behind the big machines, there were trailers and old cars. Somebody had made curtains for the car windows, like people lived there. Like the cars were houses. The little boy went over to an old green Ford Fairlaine and peeked through the dusty window, but he couldnít see anything. He wasnít very tall yet, and somebody had taped newspaper over most of it. He wandered in amongst the cars and trailers. The music and the voices, which had been very loud, were quieter here. You couldnít see the rollercoaster anymore, although you could still hear girls shrieking as they did the loop-de-loop. Maybe boys too.

 

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The floor was very cool. He had fallen, lost the beat, but it didnít seem to matter as much now. The whiskey was working in him. Or was it the words? The memories were still there (shrieking), but they were getting fuzzy around the edges. Melding into one another like colors in a kaleidoscope. Like funny mirrors at the carnival where everything became distorted. Everything shifted and changed and melted. In one mirror you became the tall man, all long, long legs. In another, you were a little boy again.

 

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The little boy walked between two cars, running his fingers through the dust on their doors. He was still looking at his feet. He walked on the cracks deliberately. He was an orphan. He didnít have any mother. The water looked black because it was in the shadow of the pier. But you could see white when the water broke against the pilings. Here, the ocean was as loud as the carnival.

 

He didnít see the man until he got to the little folding table. It was just sitting there in the parking lot where all the old cars were, and the man was sitting behind it. He had a mustache and hair going down his cheeks. He was wearing a badge on his shirt that said "Carny" in blue letters.

 

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He laid on the floor and spread his arms out to brace himself, because the world was moving. The world kept moving out from under him. He had already fallen, but he felt like he was still falling.

 

He lifted the bottle to his lips again. He hadnít let the bottle go. There were small puddles of liquor on the floor beside him and his clothes smelled of it, but he hadnít let the bottle go. He poured whiskey down his throat. It burned. He liked the taste of whiskey. He always thought he didnít, until heíd drunk a bottle or two. Then it tasted wonderful.

 

The whiskey came back up, searing, like acid. He rolled on his side (even though the world was still moving, even though he was still falling). His body heaved up a wash of brown liquor and thin vomit. He squeezed his eyes shut against the movement. It hurt terribly. The memories were coming out, and they hurt. They hurt.

 

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The man had three seashells on the table in front of him. Not the kind you could listen to, or the kind with the cross on them. Father Maghill had told them all, when theyíd walked down the shoreline, that heíd give a special present to anyone who found one of the ones with crosses on them. They were special. But nobody did.

 

The man had the kind of shells that were white and shaped kind of like cereal bowls, but not so deep. Clam shells. They were turned over. The man moved them back and forth, sliding them on the tableís slick surface. His hands moved steadily, gracefully over the shells. This one in the middle, that one in the middle, this one, that one, the other. Then he lifted one up. There was a button underneath. A gold button with little sparkly things glued on it.

 

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The whiskey had heaved itself out of him. He needed more, to replace what had gone out of him. He thought maybe there was more somewhere in the house. Which house? He wasnít sure. They moved all the time. Mock turtles donít have shells. They arenít real, after all. He began to crawl across the floor. His knees dredged through the vomit and he fell over a couple times. The world was still moving underneath him. You couldnít trust it.

 

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The Shell Game -- 2

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The man shifted the shells fast, but the little boyís eyes were faster. He was good at games. He won a lot, even when he didnít cheat.

 

This game was easy. Keep your eye on the shell with the gold button underneath. If you were good at games, it was easy. And he was.

 

He looked up at the man.

 

The man smiled at him. Later, he would wonder if there had been a sign in that smile. A yellow sign. Danger, Will Robinson. Danger.

 

But even later, in his mind, it just seemed like a smile. A regular smile like anybody would have on them.

 

"Would you like to play a game?" the man asked.

 

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Heíd been looking for more whiskey. But he was sidetracked by that smile. Looming out of nowhere, Cheshire-like, white teeth in the darkness of his mind.

 

A shudder ran through his body.

 

More whiskey.

 

He pawed the ground with his hands, bending his nails against the implacable wood.

 

More whiskey.

 

But gravity pressed down on him, pinning him to the floor. He couldnít move. Couldnít reach the cabinet full of bottles in neat amber rows. Couldnít even cry out. He wanted to cry out. So bad. Warn the boy. Warn the boy. Warn the boy. But the projector was somewhere up high, out of reach. It kept on playing in his head.

 

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"Maybe," the boy said.

 

"It isnít free," the man said. The "y" on his badge was kind of smudged, like heíd gotten water on it. His shirt was the same gray as the ocean.

 

The boy had found a nickel, earlier, on the wooden slats of the pier. He had fast eyes.

 

Heíd considered winning a goldfish for Anne Marie Wykowski. Or buying one of the big, fluffy cones of cotton candy. The cotton candy was very pink, and he wanted to know what it tasted like. But this was more exciting. This game. And what would Anne Marie Wykowski do with a goldfish anyhow?

 

"How much?" He tried to look like he wasnít holding his breath. The Haunted House was ten cents.

 

"Nickel for a dime, dime for a quarter," the man said.

 

"Quarter gets two bits and two bits gets a dollar."

 

The boy pulled the nickel out of the pocket of his pants. Set it on the little fold-up table between them. The sun shined on it a little.

 

"Looks like youíre ready to play," the man said. "So, hereís how it goes..."

 

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"Nickel for a dime," he whispered into the floor. "Dime for a quarter."

 

Why do certain things stay so clear? Memory is fickle, frosting over this glass, leaving that one clear. Clear.

 

"Quarter gets two bits," he whispered. "Two bits gets a dollar."

 

He could still smell the oil, from the onion rings and corn dogs. The scent of womenís perfume (he would always love that smell, flowers and sweetness ~ nuns never wore perfume). Carnivals would always smell a little bit like salt to him, wherever they were, the heavy saltiness of ocean. Car exhaust and candied apples.

 

He peered through the clear glass at the boy. The boy looked very small and very cocky.

 

He wanted to reach through the glass and take the boy in his arms. Protect him from what came next. Protect him. But the little boy and the man heíd become didnít let people touch them. And the glass held between them.

 

He put his fingertips against it, reaching out.

 

"I know how it goes," he whispered. His lips moved with the boyís lips.

 

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"I know how it goes."

 

The man smiled again. "Youíre a smart one, arenít ya?"

 

The boyís jaw jutted out firmly. But he didnít say anything.

 

"Nickel for a dime," the man said. He picked the button up and held it in a slanting ray of afternoon sun, making it sparkle. Then he set it down on the table and covered it with one of the shells.

 

"Watch," he said.

 

The shells moved fast under the man's hands. The boy watched, keeping his eyes on the shell with the golden button underneath. The shells made a whispering sound as they scraped against the tabletop.

 

When the man stopped, the boy pointed. The man lifted up the shell.

 

The boy grinned. The button, the golden button, was underneath. "I win," he said. "Nickel for a dime."

 

"Aren't you a smart one?" the man said. He slid the nickel over to his side of the table, and took a dime out of his pocket. A shiny dime. He slid the dime over toward the boy.

 

The boy reached out for it. But before he could take it in his hand, the man said, "Dime for a quarter," very softly under his breath. The boy's hand stopped for a long moment. Long enough to count up everything a quarter could buy. To measure a quarter against a dime.

 

He'd won already. It was easy. He could win again.

 

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Next


The Shell Game by emmastark
The Shell Game 5-6 by emmastark
The Shell Game 7-8 (Conclusion) by emmastark

 

 


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