“Dustin Jeckle and Mr. Hydel” by Tim Greaton
Today we have another amazing short story by Tim Greaton. You will see these posted occasionally as he has time to write them. I am thankful he takes time out of his busy schedule to provide these for us. This is another great one and well worth reading!
Dustin Jeckle & Mr. Hydel
Dustin rubbed his throbbing thigh and stared out at the busy city of Portland, Maine. He tried adjusting the aluminum brace that ended just above his knee, but the threaded set screw had stripped several weeks before so it would no longer stay tight. You never realized how much you depended on insurance until you no longer had any. He didn’t even want to guess what a new brace would cost.
“You okay, sweetie,” his mother asked. She had been working in the kitchen ever since returning from her job at the diner several blocks away. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
“I told you I wasn’t hungry.”
“Just like you told me your leg didn’t hurt,” she said, her voice suddenly directly behind and above him.
He pulled his hands away from his thigh.
“It’s just a little stiff,” he said.
“So how’s the book coming along?” she asked.
“Good,” Dustin lied. The truth was he hadn’t written more than a chapter in the past month, and as far as he was concerned the entire story was junk. Who would care about a fictitious Maine politician taking bribes? Hell, they all did it in real life and it hardly even made the news anymore. No, his pipedream of becoming a novelist was about as realistic as his becoming a marathon runner since the accident. He just hated that he was dragging his mother down along with his sinking dream.
He forced himself to his feet, gritted his teeth and limped into the kitchen.
“I know you use your crutches when I’m not home,” his mother said, following him. “You don’t have to pretend for me.”
Dustin breathed in the smell of fried Spam and eggs, something she must have picked up on the way home. He glanced down at the stack of half-opened mail on the counter and wondered how much further he had driven his mother into debt this month. Already, the cable had been shut off.
“One of my regulars is a doctor,” his mother said as he settled onto one of the kitchen chairs.
He swooned from sudden pain when his brace caught on the leg of the table. Fortunately, his mother was stirring the contents of the frying pan and didn’t see his agonized expression. She did hear his gasp, however.
“You okay?” she asked.
Dustin exhaled and nodded.
“I’m hunky dory,” he said. “Just hunky dory.”
“Well, that doctor said he thinks a chiropractor might be able to help with your circulation problems. He thinks we should contact someone—“
“I’m not letting you spend any more money on me, mom. It’s bad enough that you have to feed me.”
“You’re my son,” she said. “Of course I’m going to help.”
“Mom, stop! Please just stop!” Dustin rubbed his eyes. “You’ve been sacrificing for me ever since the day I was born and drove dad away.”
“You did not drive your father away. He would have left whether you had been born or not.”
Dustin shook his head.
“You’ve done enough, mom. You raised me. You put me through school. Then…the accident.”
She placed her spatula on the counter and hugged him from behind.
“You’re doing great.”
“No I’m not. I screwed it all up. Everything!”
His mother grabbed his chin and turned it to look directly into his eyes. Though her face had aged, her piercing blue eyes still held the strength of hope.
“You listen to me, Dustin Jeckle. You did not screw anything up. You’re gonna write your book and make me proud. You hear me. You’re gonna make me proud.”
Dustin buried his face in his hands. Without his mother, he knew he wouldn’t be able to go on.
They ate in silence. Dustin kissed his mother on the cheek just before she waddled off to bed. He couldn’t help noticing her stooped posture and slow gait. Though only in her late-fifties, she looked at least ten years older.
Because of me.
Wishing his crutches were nearby, he struggled to his feet and dragged his bad leg back to the front windows in the living room. Directly across from their building was an office complex filled with a bank, stockbrokers and several attorney firms. Oddly, though the rest of the building was dark, the office directly across from him was fully lit. Someone, a man maybe, leaned against the window and seemed to be pounding on the glass. Dustin grabbed his binoculars off from the end table and focused on the scene unfolding across the street. The attorney—he guessed that’s what he was—was dressed in a suit jacket and tie. Tears were streaming down his cheeks.
Dustin scanned the rest of his office. There was no one else there.
What was wrong with him, he wondered. What would drive a man to such emotional turmoil?
The man turned, staggered toward his desk and swiped his arm across the surface. Pencils, pens, folders and a phone flew across the room. He took one last look out the window, his ice blue eyes locking with Dustin’s own, then upended his desk and stormed out of the office. When the light went off, Dustin grabbed his laptop and began to write.
The next day, Dustin tried to see into the office across the street but the sunlight reflecting off the mirror-like glass made it impossible to see anything. Impatiently, he waited for the sun to go down. He spent the time wondering how he had let it all slip away: Susan, his law degree, everything.
When his mother got home from work, she tried to pry him away from the window but he refused to budge. Finally, she brought in the hamburger and fries she’d purchased at the diner. It was cold in the Styrofoam box, but he ate without tasting as he stared at the third floor office across the street. Finally, he could see again. The young attorney was there. His desk and belongings had returned to normal, but he looked tense as he spoke on the phone.
“Do you need anything else, sweetie?” his mother asked.
“Besides a life?” he said.
“Don’t you talk like that. You’re doing good. You got through school. Got your law degree.”
He pounded his forehead with both palms.
“Listen to yourself, mom. You don’t believe that. I blew it, and you know it.”
“Wait till your book is done,” his mother told him, kissing him on the back of the head. “Then we’ll see who blew it.”
Dustin brushed away a tear as his mother crept to her bedroom. She worked too hard.
Because I’m a screw up.
He lifted his binoculars and turned his attention to the window across the street. The young attorney seemed to be in a heated argument on the phone with someone. He got to his feet and gestured with his free hand as he paced back and force. Suddenly, he screamed something into the phone then hurled the cordless receiver at the nearest wall. It exploded into pieces too small for Dustin to see.
The man stormed from his office, shutting off his light as he left.
Dustin lowered his binoculars and remembered his own last tumultuous year at the law firm of Hewitt and Fournier. He’d been with them for almost ten years and felt certain he was on his way to a full partnership—when Susan went crazy. It started with random late-night calls to the office, begging him to come home. He remembered being so buried in work that he just couldn’t break himself away. How did she think he had bought her the beautiful oceanside condo or the Mercedes SL, not to mention the three closetful’s of clothes and shoes? Those things didn’t come for free, and neither did a full partnership.
Dustin ignored the pain in his leg and wrote as fast as his fingers would type. The sun was finally coming up when he slipped from his window chair and slid onto the couch. He closed his eyes and fell mercifully into a deep sleep. It was almost dusk when he woke. His mother was just coming through the door. She carried a small grocery bag.
“I could just eat peanut butter,” he told her, moving to a sitting position.
“My son is writing a masterpiece, and he needs decent nutrition.”
Sure, he thought, if you call political drivel in Maine a masterpiece. He would be doing right to smash the laptop and burn the hard drive. He didn’t tell her that though.
Dustin rubbed his leg. He was starving. Within just a few minutes his mother had cooked up a wonderful meal that tasted like authentic oriental noodles.
“This is really good,” he told her, but apparently she had already slipped off to her room.
She works too hard.
The days fell into a regular cycle. He would sleep all day and then wake in time to see the attorney across the street carry on with what seemed to be some serious issues. Unfortunately, it all began to remind Dustin of his own last days in the legal world. He found himself thinking more and more about the way Susan had slowly begun to unwind and how their marriage started to become an issue for the partners.
“She needs to stop calling the office all hours of the day and night,” Henry Fournier had told him. “She’s upsetting the secretaries, and your billables have been dropping lately. This firm functions well only when our attorneys are functioning well.”
Dustin’s eyes flew wide as the young attorney across the street destroyed another phone and hurled his office chair straight through the window. Fortunately, no one was standing on the sidewalk when the chair smashed in a flattened heap amid the shattered glass below.
“How’s the book coming?” his mother asked the next day when she came through the door.
“I’ll never practice law again,” he told her as though it was something he had never considered before that moment.
“You don’t know that,” his mother said, coming up behind him and stroking his ears. “One of these days, the state police will come to the end of their investigation and will realize you’re innocent.”
“Tell Susan’s parents that,” he said.
His mother scoffed.
“That little harlot deserved everything she got and then some.”
He didn’t answer but did accept the pizza she handed him a little while later. Though she made it from scratch, it was easily as good as anything the best local pizzerias ever made. He stacked the pizza box on top of the rest and resumed his vigil of the office across the street. Never one to disappoint, the young attorney was pacing angrily in the center of the large room. Dustin didn’t know if the other man realized he was there, but every once and a while the attorney would look out with those piercing blue eyes that looked so much like his mother’s.
As the attorney paced, Dustin remembered waiting for Susan’s drug dealer much the same way at their condo one night. Unfortunately, the dealer turned out to be nothing more than a young teen mule. The real hustler remained safe and sound in some urban hole as the Portland police dragged the young boy off to juvenile court.
Dustin peered through his binoculars and watched a man storm into the young attorney’s office. He was tall and thin and wore what seemed to be an expensive suit. The young attorney was obviously not happy but seemed to keep his anger intact. Dustin immediately thought of the way Jacob Hewitt had fired him not so long before.
Turning away from the window, Dustin knew he couldn’t watch anymore.
Up later than usual, his mother came into the room and pushed an entire stack of Chinese takeout containers out of the way so she could sit on the couch. At the back of his mind, Dustin knew there was something wrong about the containers, but he couldn’t quite place it.
“My boy looks so glum,” his mother said, reaching over to stroke his unshaven cheek. “Your law career isn’t over, you know. Someday you’re going to be able to prove that miserable woman you married was at fault. If you hadn’t killed her that day, she sure as hell would have killed you. I knew from the moment you brought her home, she was trouble.”
Dustin would have been angry at the statement but knew his mother was only trying to make him feel better. It couldn’t have been easy taking care of both a murderer and a cripple. His law degree was next to worthless and until the Portland police officially closed the investigation, there was always the chance that he might have a prison term to look forward to.
He fought the tears that threatened to break free.
Though he had been forced to kill Susan in self-defense, he knew he’d never forgive himself. It had been the heroin that drove her to do what she did, that turned her to prostitution when he had finally closed the checkbook on her.
His mother had already slipped away to bed when he wiped his cheeks and looked down at the street three stories below him. It was hard to believe he had fallen nearly that far when Susan’s pimp had chased him out onto the fire escape. Only luck and a shock-absorbing leg bone that shot through his hip and nearly hit his ear had kept him alive.
The office across from him had gone dark. Dustin typed, and typed and typed.
“Jesus H,” Kristin said, as she made her way through the disgusting apartment. The place reeked of rotten takeout and body odor. It was a good thing he paid her well.
“Mr. Hydel,” she said to the unshaven man sprawled across the rented couch. “Are you okay, Mr. Hydel?”
“Dustin,” he said, slowly opening and rubbing his eyes.
She winced at the sight of drool running down one side of his mouth. The man might be a genius, but living like this for even a few weeks at a time hardly seemed worth the three bestsellers he wrote a year.
“Mr. Hydel, your book is finished,” she said. “Your computer sent us the entire manuscript when you typed The End.”
She knelt down to unclamp the aluminum brace on his leg. It was so tight it might have been cutting off the circulation. What would he do next, cut his own hand off to get in character?
“Your agent, Margie, doesn’t like the Death of a Law Career title but after reading the first few pages she said you’ve done it again. She says it’s a guaranteed bestseller.”
“Mr. Hydel, do you know who you are?”
“Dustin Je—Hydel. My name is John Hydel.” He swung his eyes around in panic “My mother—“
“Is at your California home and wants you to call her when you get a chance.”
Kristin stared out the dirty window at the abandoned warehouse across the street. The entire neighborhood gave her the creeps. Why a wealthy man like John Hydel would put himself through something like this she would never know, but she intended to quit just as soon as she received her bonus.