(Art by spoon+fork.)
When I staggered into work two days later Howard took a look at me and said, “You just lucked out big time.”
“Why? I’m not late. Am I?”
“No, cops just left! The Dotbusters came here last night and put posters all over the place!”
“Jesus! Are the Angrywalls all right?”
“I don’t think they’re hurt. Just some property damage. The guy was pretty pissed off, yelling at the cops and all. Like that’s gonna help, Apu.”
“I’m going to see if they’re OK.”
I put on a pot of coffee before leaving for the motel office. When I got closer to the door, I saw two fliers wheat-pasted to the glass that both read: “Go Back to India Smelly Curry Motherfuckers — the Dotbusters.”
The office was empty, but I heard some grating sounds coming from the stairwell. I found Mrs. Angrywall there, working with a butter knife on the fliers.
“Bloody cowards, all of them!” she yelled, her voice sounding huge and ethereal in the stairwell’s spiraling chamber. “They put most of them in here where people in the street couldn’t see them. They only had enough balls to put two up on the office door before running away!”
“Maybe you should get those two in the front first.”
“No! I want to keep them up! I want everyone to know that this is a business run by dots! And that we smell!”
“Where’s your husband?”
“He went down to the police station to harass them some more. They had the nerve to blame us for not staffing our office 24 hours a day!”
“I’m going to get a knife and clean off the front doors.”
I left anyway and came back with a rusty old spatula I found under the hamburger stand’s sink.
Mrs. Angrywall sailed out with her finger pointed at my throat.
“Put that down! Don’t touch that front door!”
“I have to get those fliers off!”
“Why do you need to get them off of there so badly? You people put them up!”
“Don’t blame me, man!”
“Well there isn’t a chance in hell that someone black did it! Only a white man would have the entitlement to tell us to get out of his country!”
“How do you know?”
“Well, anyway, there’s no point in leaving it like this. If you let them vandalize your office, they win and they’ll be back to do something worse.”
“Don’t you dare! You. . .you. . .motherfucker!”
I was shocked at her outburst and loosened my grip on the spatula. She ripped it out of my hand and winged it. We listened to it clatter on the concrete.
We both turned to the door.
“Why us, Sean? Of all the hotels, of all the Indians in this entire state, why us!”
“Because you were here and they saw you.”
“Can’t they tell by the way this place looks that we haven’t got money? Why don’t they go after the big hotels and the rich Indians who are prospering on the Jersey shore?”
“These Dotbusters, I bet they’re like high-school kids and they’re not too bright. And the better hotels probably have an office open 24 hours with staff walking around.”
“You’re probably right,” Mrs. Angrywall said. Then she ran her hands through her hair and shifted her feet. “You don’t happen to have any idea who did this, do you?”
“I really don’t know.” But Howard might, I thought.
She turned and walked away.
“I swear, I have no idea!” I said, following her.
“I believe you,” she said without turning around.
“Really, most people you know, around here, aren’t racist.”
“How would you know, Sean?”
“We’ve got good people here,” I said, amazed that I was sticking up for my town, the town that had me thrown into jail.
“That sounds odd, coming from a convicted criminal.”
“Hey, I’m out on probation now,” I pointed out.
We had arrived at the shop room of the motel. She pulled a string and turned the light on. Tools and buckets of parts were neatly arranged in rows on wooden tables. A cot was pushed to the side.
“What’s the cot for?” I asked.
“For sleeping on.”
“I know. Why here?”
“My husband likes to nap here sometimes.”
She was rummaging around and I watched the fabric tighten around her hips as she bent over.
“What are you looking for?”
“For some solvent. If you want to get those fliers off so badly, you’ll need some.”
“That makes sense.”
Mrs. Angrywall found the can of solvent but instead of giving it to me, she sat on the edge of the opened cot and cradled the can.
“Look at this pathetic workshop, Sean,” she said. “My husband is trying to hold this place together with little more than his bare hands, and failing miserably, and still the Dotbusters single us out!”
“You’ll feel better when we get rid of the fliers they left,” I said.
“Out of all the hotels and motels! Out of all the Indians on the Jersey coast! Why us? Why not those wealthy Patels?”
She was sobbing now.
“They deserve it! They’re asking for it! Not us!”
“It doesn’t make things better when you wish bad things on other people.”
“It fucking does! It’s better to see someone suffering who can afford to! Someone who can send their maintenance man to clean off these notices from your friendly local Dotbusters!”
I sat next to her on the cot. She glanced at me, then looked down at the can of solvent and picked at the paper label.
“Your co-worker Howard knows the Dotbusters, doesn’t he?”
“I don’t know.”
“He doesn’t like us, you know, never has. Never says ‘Hello’ or ‘Nice Day.’ He probably tipped them off on when to come down and leave their mark.”
“I don’t think Howard had anything to do with this. He’s all talk and no action. Believe me, I know.”
“You told me he was badmouthing Indians before!”
“I’ll ask him about it.”
“Yes, tell him that if he wants to, I’d be willing to talk to him, too. I took karate in college, you know.”
“Sounds like you want more than a talk. But you have to realize. . .”
“My pot comes from Howard.”
“Ah. . .well. . .” Mrs. Angrywall lay back on her elbows and rolled her eyes. “Ask him if he knows anything. Ask him nicely.”
“Let me take care of this first,” I said, lifting the can from her hands. I got up and walked to the door. “Did you really want to take a picture first?”
“No, no,” she said, springing off the cot. “Not worth the space on a flash memory card.” She wiped her knees. “Back to the stairwell for me.”
I managed to clean the office door off pretty easily. When I got back to the burger stand, Howard was irritated.
“How can you just go off like that and leave me all alone for half an hour?”
“Were you scared, little boy?”
“It’s just disrespectful not to inform me how long you’d be gone.”
“Howard, do you happen to know anyone in the Dotbusters?”
“Not personally. Some guys who were in high school with us. You probably know them, too.”
“That kid who was the younger brother of the guy who stood up during the assembly on smoking.”
“What happened during that thing? I don’t remember exactly.”
“It was the time there was a guy who was wearing a body suit with the organs drawn on it and the lungs and throat were all black and brown? At the end of the presentation he asked if anyone had any questions?”
“No one said anything for a while. I guess everyone was hoping we would just be dismissed. But the principal said he wouldn’t let us go until someone asked a question, so this kid stood up and asked the body-suit guy how long he’d been sucking cock for a living.”
“Oh, yeah! Yeah, now I remember! Mr. Hendrickson looked really mad at first and then he started laughing!”
“Then the body suit guy grabbed his stuff and ran out of the auditorium!”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“So anyway, the kid that asked that question — his younger brother is in the Dotbusters.”
“Are you friends with him?”
“Friendship for me means more than just knowing somebody, and I only just know him.”
“Then how do you know he’s in the Dotbusters?”
“He asked me to join, but I didn’t want to.”
“I’m going to ask you a big favor, Howard. Can you go to the cops and tell them about these guys?”
“No way, man! Think I want that on my record? You rat on people, no one else is ever going to trust you again. You even lose trust in yourself.”
“You saw what they did to the Angrywall’s place! You don’t care?”
“Sean, you have to be smart about this kind of thing. Don’t get personally involved. You come in and start trying to help out, guess what? You end up at the top of the suspects list!”
“Think about it. You just got out of jail, man. You’re probably already at the top of the list as an ex-con.”
“I had nothing to do with this! I am not a racist!”
“You smoke weed every day, right? How would you like that to come out in testimony?”
I didn’t say anything.
“Anyway,” said Howard, “how do you know it was the Dotbusters’ work? It could have been a copycat group, or an ex-member wanting to frame them for this.”
“So what, we just sit around and pretend we don’t know anything?”
“I don’t have to pretend.”
I had trouble sleeping that night. I listened to two girls down on the street talking under my window.
“If you leave with this guy,” one of them said, “I’m never talking to you again.”
“You don’t even know him,” the other moaned.
“You don’t know him, either. Not really.”
“Don’t you want to have fun anymore? It’s the goddamn summer!”
“I don’t trust him. How come he had so many friends in the bar?”
“Because he’s not some goddamn nerd jerk!”
“Do you really have to sleep with somebody to have a good time?”
“Who said I was going to sleep with him!”
“You think you’re going over to play cards or just get high? He’s going to be expecting something when the pot is gone.”
I woke up in the morning with a funny feeling in my face. I had had a nosebleed overnight and the dried flakes of blood were tickling my nostrils.
(Part 16 next week.)