He stepped into the park confused, scared, and a little high. He felt the gentle autumn breeze blowing past his body, taking what little warmth he had left off of his skin as fast as it rose from inside of him. He shivered involuntarily, but it wasn’t a source of discomfort. If he had to guess, he was in shock.
“Rudy, buddy, can you hear me?!”
The guard standing in front of him was screaming at him, a look of worry apparent on his face. He guessed that he was Rudy, the man the security guard was addressing. He looked around and made sure that no one else was there. That’s when he realized that it was night time. The more he looked around, the more the fog seemed to lift. There was something wrong about tonight. He couldn’t quite remember what it was, but he knew it was big.
“I’m sorry man I’m just a little out of it. I think I hit my head, and now I can’t hear so well. There’s this ringing…”
“Rudy, where the FUCK are your pants?!”
This is when he looked down at himself for the first time. Yes, he was definitely in shock, because until right now he hadn’t realized that he was completely naked. Well, this explained the shivering and the gentle breeze on his balls. At least that question was answered.
“Rudy, I’m calling the cops. Stay there, it’s gonna be ok buddy”.
“Naw man, don’t do that. No cops. Mafuckers never did a damned thing good in this world for me yet” he heard himself say. That much seemed a reflex, and somehow he knew it must be true. Also, he couldn’t shake this feeling that there was something terrible happening right this moment, and the last thing he wanted was to introduce the police into a bad situation. He hadn’t met a black man yet in the City of Detroit that would opt to bring the DPD into a bad situation if they could help it.
“Rudy, buddy, I’ve got to if you don’t tell me what the fuck is going on.”
“Hold on now, just gimme a minute. I’m tryina think.” He lifted his hands to his face and felt something wet. He rubbed at his eyes trying to force the fog to keep lifting and remember what the hell was happening. As he moved his hands away he looked down at them, and in the dark saw something darker on them. The wetness smelt metallic, not salty like sweat. The security guard’s flashlight went to his face, and at the same time both exclaimed, “Fuck, that’s blood!”
Rudy looked closer at the dark spots on his hand, and thought he smelled burnt wood. That was the trigger he needed, apparently. Yes, he was definitely in shock. And if he had to guess why, it would be because of the floor in his house he had fallen through trying to get out of it as it burned.
“LT, what the fuck is going on here?”
Rudy saw another two security guards walking up to the first one, coming out from behind a wall of white and orange lights.
“Jackson, get in your car and head over toward 28th, swing by Rudy’s place. See if there’s anything weird going on over there. And check out our properties next door. If you see or hear anything weird, anything at all, radio back ASAP.”
“LT, where the fuck are his clothes?”
“Brilliant question, Jackson. Let’s see if we can get some answers to that eh? Move!”
One of the cars backed away and the patch of ground in the park got a little darker. The first guard, the lieutenant that Rudy liked to call Big Man, he still stood there looking worried and asking questions. Rudy’s head was spinning. It was all coming back now. The heroin needle, the candles, the curtains and the empty boxes on the floor. He came out of the daze he was in when he felt the heat from the fire as it spread from the curtains to the boxes. The flames were jumping across the room like they were alive, but Rudy was so out of it that he could barely move.
“Tully, do you have an extra jacket in your car? Gym clothes, shorts, anything? This motherfucker is gonna freeze if we don’t get something on him” he heard Big Man say to the other guard. Tully, smaller than Big Man, was a veteran of the Iraq War, and always a little too jumpy. Rudy knew when Tully was driving patrols around the neighborhood projects because he drove like a man convinced every trash can was an IED. That boy never completely came back. Rudy realized that he had always thought Tully was a prick, just another white asshole lording power over any black man that he could. As Tully pulled out a pair of basketball shorts and a t-shirt from his bag and put Rudy’s hand on his shoulder for support while he stepped into them now, he began to wonder if he wasn’t at least a little wrong about the ex-soldier. It seemed that an apparent crisis actually brought out the best of him.
“Uh, boss, I think I found the problem” the radio crackled from Big Man’s belt.
“Well, what the fuck is it, Jackson?”
“Rudy’s house is on fire. But like, really, really on fire” came the nervous reply.
“Fuck, Rudy, what the actual fuck!?”
“Big Man, I think I hit my fuckin head.”
“Well, that explains the whole, naked-wandering-in-the-park-with-a-head-wound thing you’ve got going on here at least” Tully chuckled.
“I just called it in, boss. DFD should be on the way now” came Jackson over the radio again.
Tully came back into the circle of headlights again, this time carrying a blanket. The warmth of the clothes was welcome now, since the late October evening was really taking a toll on the half-naked man. Apparently the shock was wearing off. Tully wrapped the blanket around Rudy’s shoulders while Big Man spoke into his cellphone.
“Yea, that’s right. I was just driving past and saw him. Yes, completely naked. Nah he seems ok, just disoriented. Can’t say I wouldn’t be either if I’d just escaped my own house burning down. But yea, he’s definitely high… Because I’ve seen him both high and sober a dozen times, sir. Ok, yes. Ok” was what Rudy could hear. Big Man’s boss had apparently been alerted to the the excitement.
Rudy sat down and started replaying what he could remember again. It was all fragmented, and distorted. It was like trying to put a puzzle together after being hit in the head and almost set on fire.
“Rudy, talk me through it. What happened? The DFD is on scene, and the police are gonna be right behind. They’re gonna wanna know what happened. Try to think it through and get it out now, it’ll go easier when they talk to you.”
Big Man was right and Rudy knew it. He started talking things out, explaining to Tully and Big Man what he knew to be true, hoping that as he spoke it would make more sense.
“I musta picked up a couple of packs, ya know? I woke up and the gear was there next to the candle, but it was hard to see, hard to breathe. I couldn’t fucking breathe. The flames was just jumpin around everywhere. I couldn’t get to the door. That’s when I felt the floor go out. Aw damnit, it was my mom’s house. I burnt down the only thing I have left from her!”
He was rambling and he knew it, but it was like a dam in his head was broken and all the secrets behind it had come pouring out. And that’s when it happened. He remembered the face staring back at his as he fell through the floor.
“Aw, shit. No, no no no, Big Man, we have to help! We have to go back!” he was crying now, and had stumbled forward into the guard.
“Rudy, it’s ok, we can take you over there. Jackson just radioed that police are there. We can give you a ride over right now”
“Shit, no! Big Man, we gotta go now! She’s still in there!”
Big Man and Tully both froze. They stared at him momentarily, faces blank and then gradually draining of color.
“Rudy, what are you saying? Was someone else in there?”
“Big Man we gotta go! I dunno if she got out!”
“Who Rudy? Who was in there with you? Did you see anyone else after you left?”
Tully was speaking into his radio now, asking Jackson if he had seen another person walking around or near the house.
Sobbing, Randy began clawing at the uniform jacket of the larger man. “Please, Big Man! Please!”
“Rudy, who was in there with you?! Was it a friend, was it another dope fiend, who!?”
The face stared back at him in his thoughts. His mind had been chaotic now since he realized he was standing naked in a field, but this was worse than the past 20 minutes. He saw her eyes, peering at him, black and lifeless. It felt like she was slowly creeping out of the shadows of his memories, parting the fog, coming for him.
“Big Man, she’s gonna get me! I can’t just leave her, if I do she’s gonna come back and get me!”
“Who Rudy, who?? Tell me who it is!”
“It’s my dog, Big Man! My dog Buttercup!”
Big Man’s expression turned from worry and hopelessness to relief, and finally to frustration.
“Rudy, you fucking dope fiend, that dog’s been dead for 5 months. I helped you fucking bury her in May.” He shrugged off from the now homeless man, who collapsed to his knees. He grabbed the radio and called to Jackson, who in turn explained to police and firefighters that they weren’t actually looking for another missing person. Big Man sat on the hood of his car and lit a cigarette, watching the now-homeless man sob and rock back and forth while sitting on the ground. Tully took out a cigarette of his own, and offered one to the despondent man.
“Rudy, you gotta get your shit together. You almost had the LT send people into your burning house to rescue a dog you buried half a year ago from a fire you started cuz you got high, brother. You need real help.”