The Liberation of Casa Hector
Fate is not satisfied with inflicting one calamity.—Publilius Syrus
“Good day?” Ike called out from the kitchen when he heard Fred come in. He was making himself a sandwich, still wearing the faded Nine Inch Nails T-shirt he slept in.
“The best of all possible days,” Fred replied with energy as he stripped off his boots at the door.
That was a relief. Ike did not want her to move in or anything, but he liked Constantia well enough, and what was more, he cared about Fred and the state of mind he’d been in. He was clearly more hung up on this girl than he’d let on before.
The TV clicked on. Election night being an exception, Fred never watched TV.
“What’s up?” Ike said, hastily stowing everything back into place in the fridge.
“Checking the Cash 5 numbers,” Fred answered distractedly.
“So, did you win again?” Ike said around a mouthful of sandwich, coming into the living room.
“I’ve got three so far—“
“What? That’s amazing. I’ve never heard of anyone—“
“The fourth one, too.”
“—who won more than… What?”
The final number was being straightened in the rack. It was a four.
“Well? WELL? Do you have it?” Ike was shaking with agitation, swallowing a whole mouthful of sandwich in one hard lump and a slight gasp for air.
Fred stood unmoving, the ticket stretched between his hands. “3—1—2—0—4,” he read off in a mystified whisper.
Ike stared at the TV screen verifying, digit by digit, the numbers Fred had called.
“YES!” Ike shouted and started jumping, first onto the ottoman, then onto the chair. “YES!”
Landing loudly on the hardwood floor, he thumped Fred’s shoulder. “How do you like Mammon now, Fred?”
Fred looked into Ike’s face, trying to smile. “My mortgage. It’s my debt. The number. This pays my mortgage.”
Ike put down his sandwich. “All of it?” There was no reply. “All of it, Fred?”
“Yes, it should pay all of it. I’m free.”
Fred staggered onto the ottoman and sat there, the ticket still flopping from his left hand, and he wept like it was the first time in his life.
He was free.
Fred looked up into Ike’s wide-eyed gaze. “That’s fresh-made bread.”
“What?” Ike glanced at his sandwich on the table. “Are you hungry?”
“No, not especially,” Fred answered after a moment of thought. “You’re free, too, Ike. No more rent.”
“That mean I’m getting the boot?” Ike asked, sitting heavily on the couch and resuming his work on the sandwich albeit with a good deal less gusto.
“Certainly not. I like having your company. Stay as long as you like.”
Ike grinned. “I could quit FKRS! Soon anyway,” he exclaimed as it occurred to him how much closer to paying off his loans he was.
The phone rang.
And rang and rang.
Ike dashed into the kitchen to pick it up, and was soon screaming into the phone “He won! He won!” as Constantia screamed back at him in a wild, joyfully high-pitched squeal.
Gaining her breath, she gasped, “We’re coming” and hung up. Ike hung up too, and noticing the statue still parked in front of the TV, he flipped off the set and laid an arm around Fred’s shoulders.
“You’re fine, Fred. This is a good thing. It’s the very best.”
“I know,” Fred whispered and walked into the kitchen.
Ike heard the porch door open, and saw Fred a moment later, staring up into the night sky. All Ike could do was laugh and swear under his breath.
About twenty minutes later, Constantia and Paulette dashed up to the house. Ike heard Constantia’s shrieks from the street, so he was there to meet them at the door.
Constantia hurtled into Ike’s arms and he gave her a tight squeeze, lifting her off her feet. Paulette’s toothy grin lit her face.
“Where is he?” Constantia asked when she regained the floor.
Ike stretched an arm toward the dining room and pointed. “He’s in there.”
Paulette slapped him on the back and he returned the greeting, fingertips sliding over the smooth leather jacket.
“Fucking mind blowing,” she said, flipping her bangs out of her eyes.
“And then some.” Ike rubbed the back of his neck as he looked at her. There was a fading purplish bruise on her cheekbone.
Under the golden light of a single lamp, Fred sat at the round table, leaning his cheek on his left hand, punching numbers into a calculator with his right. Constantia leaned in, pressing her lips to his ear.
“Hey, there,” she whispered warmly into it, running her fingers into his hair.
Fred startled. “Now what?” he croaked.
Hastily, she dragged a chair to his side, grimacing over to Ike and Paulette who still stood in the doorway. “You won a lot, sweetie, didn’t you?”
“How much a lot?”
“It depends on how many other winners there are…but…somewhere between $50- to $150,000.” She gasped, grabbing his hand. “Before tax,” he added by way of disclaimer.
“God, that’s a lot of money.”
Paulette stalked into the dim room, Ike following.
“What’s with the long face, Fred? It’s incredible—you won again!” She stretched out her hand, and when he took it, she pumped it vigorously.
Fred finally smiled.
“That’s more like it.”
“It’s shock,” Ike suggested.
Constantia met his eye, then looked back at Fred. “I bet you can pay off your house now.”
“I think so. Casa Hector may soon belong to me.” His voice was hushed. “I need elixir…”
Ike was off in the instant, thundering into the basement. With the pink elixir in his hand, Fred’s face regained a semblance of its usual sharpness.
“Cheers,” he said, and chugged about half the jar down.
“We all need a drink, I think,” Ike suggested. “Elixir, anyone?”
Paulette shook her head in dismay. “Where’s the funeral? Come on, people! We need to go out. Party. Have a few drinks—“
“She’s right,” Ike said. “Come on, Fred. What about Silky’s?”
Constantia was watching Paulette, who stared at Ike. Fred lifted his eyes from Constantia’s hand, which was still wrapped protectively over his.
“Very well, only no public announcements. A private festivity.”
“Cool. I’ll drive—Fred’s got a car—but you all have to promise me something—“
They all turned to Ike with anticipation, as Fred hurriedly finished off the elixir.
“—Fred cannot come home sober.”
“Deal,” Paulette said, thrusting her hand forward, grabbed first by Ike, with Constantia’s and Fred’s piled on after.
“OK, Team,” Paulette called out, staring hard at Ike, who was crushing her fingers. “Break!”
They all scrambled to the door, Ike tossing Fred his CPO as he wrestled his way into a fleece hoodie.
“It’s all good, Fred,” he said, squeezing his friend’s shoulder sympathetically. “You are now a gentleman of leisure.”
“Or something,” Fred said, fast losing the ability to arrange compound sentences.
You will find the previous 22 chapters here.