The Walking Wounded - Cover

The Walking Wounded

Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay

Chapter 8

Neither Kevin nor Karin said much while they ate. It was beef stew, which had been simmering quietly most of the morning, with French bread to sop up the juice. Kevin had three bowls, and Karin two, and between them they demolished a loaf and a half of bread.

With the bowls in the sink, and only coffee cups in front of them, they sat quietly for a minute before Karin said, "Tell me about yourself, Kevin."

"Tell you about myself?"

"Yes. I do want to help you as we've agreed, but I think if I know more about you I'll be able to help better."

"Well, shoot, there ain't much to tell. I was born in 1960 in Visalia, and I guess we moved around the area a bit. The first I remember is in Fresno, and that's where I lived until I come to Albuquerque. My old man was a drunk, and mostly we lived off of welfare and whatever odd jobs he picked up. An' I think he run a small time con every now an' then. I never knew my old lady – he said she took off with some dude when I was a baby, and maybe she did, but he lied easier than you breathe, so who knows. I quit school when I was 15, and left home too ... if you can call it home when the old man's wasted half the time and never once says a kind word to you. Shoot, what really happened was he kicked me out 'cause I'd taken up with some girl. She must o' been really gross if he didn't like her. He'd carry on with just about any broad he found, some of 'em younger than that girl. Anyway, I joined the Skulls when I was 19, and I've been one of 'em ever since."

"What did you do for a living before you started working for Wal-Mart?"

"Fixed bikes, sold drugs, sometimes I'd hold something or carry something, put in a day here and there on construction sites."

"Hold? Carry?"

"Yeah – cash, drugs, stolen parts, whatever."

"You were a criminal, then."

"Yeah, I guess you'd say that. I never thought about that before, but I guess I was. I was just doin' what everybody in the club did. I only got busted a couple of times, though, once for a possession charge and once for domestic violence, and I only did county time."

"How did the domestic violence charge come about?"

Kevin scratched his cheek through his beard. "The old lady I was livin' with at the time called the cops, and since she'd got a bloody nose they took me in."

"You had hit her?"

"Yeah. The way I thought then was that you gotta keep a woman in line, an' you do that with your fist if you have to. I guess maybe I still think that way, but I don't know ... I ain't never known no women who weren't biker chicks."

"Kevin, you never hit a woman – never. Not even a 'biker chick.' Women are people, you know."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. But bikers aren't real big on civil rights, you know?"

"Actually I don't, Kevin – I'm learning more about bikers talking to you here than I've ever known." She took a sip of coffee, willing the anger out of her voice. "How did you become a Christian?"

"By bein' a criminal, in a way." His beard moved with his smile. "I sold some H to a guy, and it turned out bad."

Karin interrupted. "What's H?"

"Horse ... heroin. There's a lot o' names for dope. Heroin's skag, or junk, or H, or horse, maybe other things. Cocaine is coke, blow, snow, Bolivian marching powder, flake ... and there's rock too, what they always call 'crack cocaine' on TV. You got amphetamines, which is speed, and methamphetamines, which is crank or meth. And there's crystal meth too, ice we called it. Marijuana is weed or grass or smoke ... I knew an old guy once, told me he was a Beat, whatever that is, an' he always said when he lit a joint that he was doin' a stick o' tea. There's all kinds o' pills, too, all got their different names."

"So you sold someone bad heroin. Was it your fault?"

"Naw – the guy I'd got it from must o' cut it with somethin' really lousy. You buy skag or blow an' most o' what you're gettin' ain't the real thing, it's just whatever they cut it with – powdered sugar, flour, roach powder, whatever. I think maybe people who're gettin' high on that stuff are mostly gettin' the rush from whatever everybody cut it with. It's got stepped on all along the way – every time someone sells it, he cuts it to increase his profit."

"But he thought it was your fault?"

"He didn't care. He knew who'd sold it to him, and he decided to kill me. An' he was with a big club, bigger than the Skulls, an' we decided it'd be better if I just took off for a while. I made a run up to Chowchilla, an' one o' that bunch was up there an' and tried to do me, an' a guy rescued me. He just popped in an' got me out o' there like it was nothin'."

"Who was he?" Karin was leaning on her elbows, her chin on her folded hands, looking intently at Kevin as he spoke. He doesn't speak properly, but he's the most interesting person I've ever talked to, she thought.

"Turned out he was a preacher, run a church there. I asked him where he'd learned to be so brave, 'cause he come in while bullets was flyin', an' he said he never learned it – God give it to him when he needed it. Well that got my attention. I been shot at before – I been shot twice – an' I know just how scary it is. I thought maybe that guy'd been in the Army or somethin', but he said no, it was just the Spirit o' God. An' I thought that'd be a good thing to have, since they was out to get me, an' I asked how I could get it." Kevin paused for a sip of coffee.

"Well, you should o' seen the look on that guy's face. It was like I'd just asked the $64 question or somethin'. He explained about Jesus, an' faith, an' all that, an' I gotta tell you, I didn't understand it. An' he prayed for me to understand – an' suddenly I did, an' it was like bam! All of a sudden I did believe. An' when he figured out what'd happened, he give me a Bible, an' told me the best thing I could do was go somewhere there wasn't anyone who'd know me. An' I figured he was right. If I hadn't met him I'd still be hangin' around Fresno, and prob'ly dead by now – I was always too dumb to get out, even if I did start workin' for Wal-Mart 'cause it was easier than dependin' on sellin' dope."

"Did you still sell drugs while you worked for Wal-Mart?"

"Yeah, just not so much. In time I probably would o' quit it, but it's hard to get out of a rut you're in."

"You did stop selling drugs after you became a Christian?"

"Yeah." Kevin grinned. "It was like a light going off – I didn't want to have nothin' to do with 'em after that. It's a good thing I never got hooked on any o' that stuff – I'd toke a joint once in a while, or snort some blow or some crank, but that's all. I never did shoot anything. I ain't afraid o' needles, but I never did want to get high bad enough to stick one in me. Either way I'm glad I never got a jones. I don't know how I'd o' handled goin' through withdrawal."

"You said you dropped out of school when you were 15. I'd like to make a suggestion," Karin said, "and I hope I don't offend you."

"I don't think you will."

"What I'd like is to teach you English – better English – as well as helping you with your Christianity. I imagine that you have some trouble reading the Bible."

"Yeah, I do. Hey, that'd be great, Kar. I know my English ain't so great, an' if I could understand the Bible better that'd be a good thing."

"Okay, then what I'll do – beginning now! – is to correct you occasionally. I won't try to fix everything all at once, but bit by bit I think we can do some good. And I'll see if I can round up an English textbook somewhere, not right away, but when you're a little better able to work with it."

"Works for me. Just be gentle with me, okay?" His smile was eager, and a bit gentle too ... though gentle wasn't a word that Karin had been accustomed to using in connection with bikers.

"Gentle it is, then," she said. She drank some coffee and stood. "Want a refill? I'm empty here."

"Sure." Kevin got up and joined her at the counter. They stood close together, her shoulder almost touching his arm. She'd been accustomed to being the tallest woman in any group, taller than many men, but she realized just how big Kevin was when she noticed that his shoulder was even higher than hers, and that if she looked over at him her eyes were level with his ear – a little lower than that, actually.

"You're a big one, you know that, Kevin?" she asked.

"They called me Big Kev in the Skulls. I don't think I ever met anyone as big as I am. Some taller guys, yeah, basketball players, but they was all skinny, an' I'm big around – an' not just my gut either."

"No, you're not skinny." They separated again, taking their full cups back to their seats. "First correction, Kevin – they were all skinny. 'Was' is singular, it's about one person or thing. One person 'was, ' more than one person 'were.'"

"Okay, they were all skinny. I guess I know that, sort o' – it's just you get into a way o' talkin', an' after a while you don't think o' nothin' else."

One correction at a time, Karin thought. But there will be a lot of those times before we're done. In the meantime she said, "It sounds like you've had an interesting life."

"I once saw a t-shirt. The slogan was an old Chinese curse, I guess, and it was, 'May you live in interesting times.' I know why it's a curse – if my life hadn't been so interestin' I wouldn't have scars."

Karin shuddered. "I don't even want to know about that. As bad as my marriage was I never got any scars out of it."

"So," Kevin said, and paused, grinning, to get Karin's attention, "tell me about yourself."

Karin laughed. "You got me there, didn't you?" She shook out her hair, letting the curls resettle on her shoulders. "Well, I was born here in Albuquerque. I've lived here all my life – including nursing school at UNM."

"That's the University o' New Mexico?"

"Yes. I graduated from UNM and went to work at the Lovelace Hospital on Gibson." She pronounced it loveless. "I met my husband when I was 25. We dated for three years, and got married in 2000. But he was abusive – not physically, but mentally. He ran me down every chance he got. He tried to make me feel ugly, useless, incompetent ... he destroyed my nursing career. He got me so convinced I wasn't smart enough to be a nurse that I began acting stupid on duty, and I had to quit before they fired me. And then he said that just proved he was right." She wiped away tears that had spilled from her eyes. "I found this church last year, and almost immediately the elders realized I was a wreck. They talked to me, and it was so wonderful to have someone who listened to me. They listened, and then told me that I wasn't stupid – which I'd known, but Jerry had made me forget." She took a swallow of coffee, and wiped at tears again. "And so I filed for divorce earlier this year, and it was final the middle of October."

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