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December 31, 2010
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Excerpt from Trailer Park Noir by Ray Garton
The Riverside Mobile Home Park was so thick with trees, the sun scarcely shone on its residents. There were oaks and elms, willows and silk trees, maples and palm trees, and even a couple pines. They were old trees, and big, and they provided blankets of shade. As a result, the park always had a gloomy darkness about it that remained even on the sunniest days, when only spots
and stripes of gold dappled the trailers and grounds. It was as if the trailers existed in their own dimension of sun-speckled darkness, of shadows on shadows on shadows, separate from the rest of the world.
Riverside had twenty units, trailers of all sizes and shapes and colors, from spacious double-wides to small trailers intended for camping. It started with unit one just inside the entrance on the right, followed by two and three and four and so on in a straight line down the right side of the park. In the rear, the straight line looped around a barn-red house in a semicircle, then became a straight line again down the left side of the park, ending with unit twenty back at the entrance. Trees and weeds grew within a curbed divider between the two narrow paved lanes.
In that small, run-down, barn-red house lived the trailer park's managers, Hank and Muriel Snodgrass. It had a tiny untended front yard that had become overgrown with vines and weeds and the small but colorful flowers the weeds produced. Ivy swallowed up a little long-dry fountain with plaster fairies attached to the rims of the two bowls and crawled up the sides of the house. Beside the house stood a slide, a swing set, and a merry-go-round on which the park's children often played.
Running along the right, or eastern, side of the park, beyond the row of trailers, was the Sacramento River. There was a sandy bank there among all the thick vines and blackberry bushes, where some of the residents went for picnics, or to fish. A white wood-and-metal pier stuck out from the shore from which some residents cast their lines. A sign ordered NO SWIMMING. The river's current was powerful, and just less than a year ago, it had carried away two children who had paid no attention to the sign. They had been found several miles down river, both twisted and dead. That story kept kids out of the water.
Riverside was an old trailer park, established in 1953, and it showed its age. The mailboxes to the side of the trailer park's entrance were dented and rusted. The narrow paved road that made a loop through the park was broken and potholed, and weeds and wildflowers grew up through the cracks.
The July heat was suffocating. There were some fat clouds in the sky and the heat was moist and clinging. The thermometer hanging on the wall on the Snodgrass's front porch read one hundred and fourteen degrees. Shasta County summers were brutally punishing.
* * * *
Marcus Reznick left his tiny cramped office on North Street in downtown Anderson at five-eighteen. He'd just finished up the second of the only two cases he'd had lately, both divorce-related.
Divorces. The cesspit of the private investigator. Where P.I.s went to die.
He'd just told a woman named Linda Straight that her husband Alan was seeing seven different women on his UPS route. He'd shown her pictures of Alan kissing these women in their front doorways or beside his big brown UPS truck. She'd reacted with disbelief. So had Reznick at first. Seven women? The guy had been busy.
The air conditioning in his aging metallic-gold Toyota Corolla sedan did not work, so he had all the windows rolled down as he drove north on North Street.
The baking sunlight was occasionally obscured by the enormous clouds in the sky, sending large, whale-like shadows passing over the ground. Humidity made the air thick. Mirages shimmered on the road up ahead, gradually evaporated, then reappeared farther up. In the short time it took him to get from his office to Stingy Lane off of North Street, the back of his shirt was soaked through to his suit coat, which was also wet. He regretted not taking the coat off before he got into the car. He turned right on Stingy, drove east a short distance, then turned left on Park Way, which led to the Anderson River Park. Halfway there, he turned left into the Riverside Mobile Home Park. He stopped his car in the entrance, unfastened the seatbelt, and got out. He went to the mailboxes, stopped at his, and got his mail, all of it junk. He went back to his car, got in, and put the mail on the passenger seat, on top of his briefcase. He drove past the enormous oak tree that grew up in the center of the entrance to the trailer park, between the two lanes.
When Reznick had driven to work that morning, unit five had been empty. It had been empty for over two weeks, ever since the previous resident had been taken away by the police for beating up his girlfriend, and she had taken their two children and moved in with her mom. The battered old trailer in which they'd lived had been hauled away like the wreck it was. But now, a handsome, spacious, brand-new trailer occupied unit five. A metallic-onyx Porsche Cayenne Turbo SUV was parked in the carport beside it.
Nice and pricey, Reznick thought as he looked the SUV over in passing. What's he doing here?
Reznick drove to his trailer, unit nine, and pulled into the small carport, killed the engine. He took his briefcase and mail from the passenger seat and got out of the car, jangled his keys as he went up the steps. He unlocked the door and went inside.
The front door opened on the living room, with the small dining area and kitchen to the right, and to the left a hallway that led to the bedroom and bathroom.
His chocolate-brown Chihuahua yipped with machine-gun speed as he jumped up and pawed Reznick's shins.
"Hey, Conan," he said. He put down his briefcase and picked up the little wriggling dog. Conan licked his face. "You've got bad breath, kid. Hungry?" He put the dog down and picked up his briefcase again.
Reznick wore a grey suit with a dark red tie, which he loosened with one hand as he put his briefcase and keys and mail on the dining table and walked into the kitchen. Conan continued to yap.
"Hold it down, kid." Reznick went to the front door and opened it, then opened the screen door. Conan hurried outside. While the little dog was relieving himself, Reznick went to the kitchen, took a can of dog food from the cupboard, a can opener from a drawer, and opened it. He used a fork to scoop food into a bowl on the floor beside a bowl of water. He put a rubber lid on the open can, and put the remainder of the dog food in the refrigerator. In no time at all, Conan came back in and went straight for the bowl, his tail, his whole rear end, wagging back and forth as he ate.
Reznick closed the screen door. The swamp cooler in the hall ceiling was already on - he'd turned it on before leaving for the office to keep the trailer cool for Conan. He went to his bedroom, and changed into jeans and a T-shirt, then returned to the kitchen for something to eat. He had some cold fried chicken in the refrigerator. He put a leg and thigh on a paper plate and took them, a segment of paper towel, and a Diet Dr. Pepper to the living room, where he sighed heavily as he sat down in his recliner. He used the remote to turn on the TV. The news was on. Reznick quickly turned it to a rerun of Friends. He was not in the mood to hear the world's problems. He could barely stand his own.
What he really wanted at that moment more than anything - more than fried chicken or a Diet Dr. Pepper - was an ice-cold glass of vodka. It had been over a year since his last drink. He didn't keep track of the number of days or weeks or months the way some alcoholics did because he had not gone through a twelve-step program. Instead, he had done it himself, alone, cold turkey.
"If you don't stop drinking, Marcus," his doctor had told him, "you'll never live to see forty-five. It's going to kill you. It's killing you now. You've got to stop."
He'd decided he could do it without help, but the DTs had hit him hard. His body had quaked as if possessed, and he'd vomited again and again, uncontrollable projectile vomiting, until blood had come up. He'd ended up in the Emergency Room, feeling like he was dying, certain he was in his final moments of life, wondering who would care.
Now he confined his drinking to ice water, Diet Dr. Pepper, and the occasional sparkling mineral water. But a day did not pass without the cravings that puckered the inside of his mouth, when he could almost taste the cold vodka. They usually weren't this bad, though.
He'd fallen into a bottle when his whole life had come to pieces six years ago. Everything had fallen apart.
Before that had happened, Reznick Security and Investigations had been a going concern, the biggest and most successful security and investigation firm in Shasta County. He'd had plush offices and several employees back then, located in the city of Redding, just ten miles north of the small town of Anderson, where he lived and worked now. Reznick had inherited the firm from his father, who had taught him everything he knew. He'd never been happier than he'd been while working there with his dad for those years. Then, after Dad had retired, then had been killed - that had been one of the things in his life that had gone so wrong and had contributed to his existence falling down all around him like a collapsing building - Reznick had the place to himself, and he'd promptly run it into the ground.
Starting over was slow going. He had that tiny one-room office between a beauty parlor and a small accounting firm. The beauty parlor - not a salon, but a parlor - was the old-fashioned kind, mostly pink, with blue-haired ladies wearing too much makeup sitting under hair dryers reading magazines. A few doors down was a barber shop with an old-fashioned barber's pole spinning out front.
It was just Reznick now - he didn't even have a secretary, and there would be no room for one in his office if he did. Just Reznick and two divorce cases, with both now finished. He would've taken neither case back in the old days - he would've given them to junior investigators. Back then, he'd taken on only the biggest and most interesting cases himself, along with his father. They'd taken only the cases that got the most publicity, and he and Dad had been in the paper and on the evening news a lot back then.
Back then. His whole life seemed to be back then, before it all had come to pieces and he'd ended up living in his car for a while.
Conan planted himself on the floor in front of Reznick's chair and stared up at him with big, begging eyes.
"You just ate," Reznick said.
The dog made a small, pleading sound in his throat.
"Oh, all right." Reznick broke off a piece of thigh meat and held it down for the dog.
Conan snatched it from his fingers and happily chewed it up.
When he finished his chicken, Reznick wiped his hands and mouth on the paper towel, then leaned back in the recliner with the plate of bones on his lap. Conan hopped up on the arm of the recliner and settled down beside him. Reznick smoked a Winston, then, after awhile, he drifted off to sleep.
It seemed safe to sleep during the day. Somehow, the daylight held off the nightmares.
-- END OF EXCERPT --