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Shadow Wall
Cain 4-A
© 2022 James LaFond
Banjo, Camp Captain, Sovereign Auto Co-Op, Thursday before Halloween
“Oh how unlike the place from whence they fell.”
-John Milton, 1668, Book 1, Paradise Lost
Tray and Alvin just got in from the trash run. Miranda was tending to the old man’s nose, whose objections that he had his own doctor did not fly with her. The fellow was tall and over-lean, oddly wide-shouldered in the extreme. Banjo had taken his ruck off, the old fellow being stiff as a board and seeming to suffer numerous and constant pains. The ruck sack must have weighed a hundred pounds, of oiled gray canvas, with nickle buckles.
As a former exercise physiology major and an occupational therapist, turned to Chinese Medicine when the Big Pharma scam became a total killer sham, Banjo could not factor the build and proportions of this character. He must have been suffering from some kind of rare and expansive auto immune malformation. The man’s pain tolerance must be off the charts based on the malformation of shoulders and knees detectable under the drape of canvas. Audible, slipping joints, vitamin-d deficiency, a knocked off nose that barely bled?
The man was seated on the couch/bed center, his ruck to his left, his striking dragon-headed cane propped in the hoist strap, Miranda to his left, cleaning his nose with her honey and coconut oil ointment. His Love was oh so cute in her yoga pants and poncho and hippie hair braid, her uncut bangs of black pulled back behind her head to confine the rest of her shiny hair. It was amazing how well she kept the camper, considering all he did was work and drink. Tray’s camper was nearly gutted, a mechanic’s shed. Bruce, Good God, the thing ran, but there was only room for the driver and if two were on the clothes-heaped bed, they’d have to stack up.
Banjo waited for his guest to be seated, before extending his hand again, “Name’s Banjo. I’m Camp Captain, security, location, government interface.”
The man rumbled, like an iron lung, in an odd old English accent, “Cain, Captain Cain, late of His Majesty’s Service.”
‘His,’ service? Holy shit, this dude hasn’t served under Charles, must be a hundred!’
The man seemed to recoil, as if demeaned by being the object of some crass curiosity, and nodded apologetically, “Humble to be asked aboard, Captain Banjo.”
Banjo then corrected his rudeness, feeling as he did that he had given offense, “Our blond grease monkey here is Tray, lead mechanic. The tall mop-headed trash man is Bruce, he deals with our suppliers and clients.”
The men both nodded as Miranda dabbed and asked, “Cain, could we take off your hat, please, I’d love to see that whole head of silver hair. You are such a striking man!”
“No injury received, Captain,” said Cain as he tipped his hat back to reveal an over pale scalp without a hair on it above the olive wreathe of final stage male pattern baldness and seemed to be attempting humor awkwardly, “All the hair there cushions the hat rim and keeps it from to slide. My lee mates, may Time be kinder to ye pates.”
Miranda kissed him on the cheek and the man’s pale face flushed to an almost living pallor as his deep black pupils, so feline and like those on the dragon-headed cane, winked to life in those steely blue eyes afloat in pearly yet blood shot whites of eye.
Cain repeated with a smile that caused his upper lip to split, split right down the middle and reveal a purple rather than bloody wound, “No injury received! Fairest lass on this lee shore ta be sure.”
Miranda, who was now trying to hug all the way across to the second broad shoulder, which she rubbed over the coat close enough to show an unnatural round outline, kissed the now flushed cheek and assured him, “I saw, saw it all on the camera. That Tacoma Crew are snatching girls off the street. If I didn’t have Banjo, I might be in that pickle Little Oakland A is in.”
The man seemed confused, so Banjo pointed to the security display on the counter in front of the sleeping alcove where the TV would be, showing six frames in high resolution.
The man nodded, understanding, and patted Miranda on her knee, lightly, like she was made of glass.
Tray was cracking a beer and handing them around, “No rum, Captain. Vodka is gone and all we have is PBR.”
The big left hand went up, opened like a stop signal, unbuckled the top of the ruck, reached in, and came out holding a quart-sized brass flask with a wine cork stopper and declared, “Overproofed, t’ ease thy ills, by me personal physician, best Hispaniola swill distilled—pass ‘er ‘roun’ men!” clearly ordered the odd, eccentric giant.
Banjo took a swig and his eyes and nose burned before he even swallowed, “Fuck!”
The giant boomed with some savage mirth, “Ye sons o’ gray gods, pluck a Frenchman w’ ye cloth yard shaft!”
Bruce took a hit and gasped, passing the bottle to Tray who took a double, held it in his mouth, swished it around and swallowed it with a lusty gush, “Yeeeyah!”
Miranda took a tiny nip and sneezed, causing her nose to wrinkle, “Oh my.”
“Glass,” asked Cain.
Bruce extended one of this morning’s coffee cups and Cain, extending an arm long enough to do a standing dunk on the basketball court, and filled it.
“The crew’s good portion!” declared Cain, before putting the flask to his lips, tilting it, and draining perhaps half of what was left, enough to knock Banjo out.
“Men, lee mates o’ mine, I must recover yon nabbed lass, where, pray tell dwell yon yammer pack o’ black dogs o’ Hell?”
The man made to stand but realized that his head would hit the bulkhead and sat back down with the worst popping of knee Banjo had heard—and once upon a time he was an occupational therapist before he refused the vaxx.
Rather than words slur, as the man sat back down and the couch that could slide out into a bed bent, his diction became better. The right hand of the rum drinker who continued to swig with his left, narrated with a play of talking fingers in mime, a voice that rang clear and sank into their hearts as the four of them began to hold the anachronism among them as both true and dear.
Miranda was curled on her knees, fairly hypnotized by the play of mighty hand, a hand that could have palmed a basket ball, its forefinger stained black.
Questions he asked about who bought girls, who sold them, where they were rented, where displayed, were couched in such rhythmic metaphor and old time euphemism that the rum circle become a circle of truth and trust, a place where bad actors remolded themselves into allies against the world’s deep malefactors.
Fluent rhymes were asked.
Bluntly considered, the rhymes were searchingly answered.
The cup was passed before the tilted flask.
In time, where he had sat and they stood, he now keenly towered while they languidly reclined, the deeply split lip now healed.
“It is time,” he hummed, like steel, his nose somehow returned to his face, now as sharp as a hawk’s beak, the ruck somehow returned to his back.
“Yaaz Master,” Banjo heard a West Indian voice chant, “My Mighty Master!”
Bruce was drooling, “Bad-ass…”
Tray was mumbling, “Drunk on my ass—you got no shadow Captain,” pointed their mechanic, to the inside of the white door, where a shadow of a shoulder should have been cast in the ceiling light.
“Thy shadow be stowed,” answered Cain, “below decks in ye craw hollows of a harried soul, strapped upon back, down yon troubled hallows blow.”
“Fuck, yeah, Daddy, go raise some goddamned cane!” slurred Miranda, making a little fist of power.
Out the door the man went, with a tip of his hat and the duck of his head. Banjo had, by duty, to escort him out. So up he rose and slurred, “Seein’ ya out, Cap’n Cain—”
“Wow, that would ‘ave hurt sober!” Banjo mumbled as he was lifted off the ground by one iron-like hand and tilted onto his feet. Looking up into the moon white face of that hawk-nosed man, his eye whites totally shot with blood, his iris a cobalt blue, his pupils winks of catlike onyx, Banjo felt blessed, just felt it, beyond thought as he was, living in the drunken realm of keen though fleeting human observation.
“Captain, thank you.”
Cain nodded and smiled thinly, then frowned grimly, “It be Captain Banjo en crew ‘as blessed ye old screw,” said Cain as he gently pressed a flattened right thumb between his ally’s eyes, in a tender, grandfatherly way.
The man then turned and marched off on unnaturally springy legs, as if he was strapped into carpenter’s stilts or perhaps the athletic prostheses used by Special Olympics amputee runners. That march became a bounding stride and saw the man clear an Audi parked in the next lot and then bounce like some flightless raptor, like a great-coated starling with a third leg in one hand and a world of hurt strapped to his back.
“Good luck, Captain Cane,” and somehow Banjo’s soul sank a little into his belly as a native sense that he wished well a man beyond the help of mere happy Chance seated its sorrow in his very marrow.
“Banjo, baby, come to bed. I need a hug,” came her lovely voice from the camper door.
They had almost gotten her once, The Tacoma Crew, and he knew she’d be the night and another day worried sick about Little Oakland A, as they called her.
Historical Note
Just as “cracker” was a term alternately used to describe the bond Gaelic soul driven to his labors by the crack of the Anglo whip, as well as he who on behalf of their mutual master cracked that whip, the term screw not only referred to the man who flattened thumbs with torture screws and likewise locked doors with screw keys, but as well to he who had his thumb so flattened once upon a hard-deserved and cruel-served time.
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