What happened to Leon is a dirty shame.

I never liked the guy. I’ll admit that. I thought he was lower than a squirrel beneath a truck tire.

Bad blood between us? Maybe.

But no one can pin this thing on me. No way. I didn’t do it-and I’ve got a roomful of witnesses.

You heard me right. A roomful of witnesses.

The day didn’t start too bad. Yeah, I woke up in the staff bungalow with the same joy, aches and pains in all the usual places, and a wet, hacking cough to remind me I was down to my last pack of smokes.

What else is new?

The sheets on my cot were damp from night sweat. I stood up and stretched. No bones cracking or creaking. Hell, I’m only thirty-eight.

I know my hair is a little thin in front and my cheeks have crisscross lines in them. Charlene says I have old man’s eyes. Well, what do you expect? No one ever built a haven for Wayne Mullet.

The top dresser drawer stuck again, and I tugged it so hard, I pulled something in my right shoulder. Groan. The Louisiana humidity doesn’t agree with furniture, at least not the cheap, piney stuff they bought for our rooms.

I rubbed the soreness from my shoulder, coughed up something nasty and blew it out the window. Then I pulled on the uniform. Baggy, green cotton pants and lab coat, white rubber-soled shoes. Ha. They make the staff dress like doctors, which always gives me a chuckle.

Wayne, your momma would be so proud.

I crossed the back lawn to the kitchen. A promising day. Morning clouds shielding the sun, although the back of my neck was prickling by the time I reached the big house.

And what were those bugs? So many of them, swirling in such a tight circle, they formed a dark pillar reaching high above my head, and I’m six-three.

Leon Maloney is superstitious as all get-out. I hoped he didn’t see this bug thing. He’d probably say it was an omen. Leon is always running on and on about omens. Sometimes I have to show him the back of my hand to make him stop.

He told me his momma had some kind of fortune-teller booth at the back of a saloon in the French Quarter, and she taught him everything you need to know about omens and bad luck. He says she never taught him anything about good luck.

Yeah, Leon can be a bitter dude. Why can’t he just keep it to himself?

Okay. He’s had some real bad luck. I mean last year, for example, one of the old guys pulled out Leon’s left eye-and Leon was just trying to serve him some goddamn soup.

I had to slap a few bugs off my face as I pulled open the screen door and stepped into the kitchen. Some kinda swamp flies, I guess. Don’t know how they got way out here in the woods.

Think maybe they flew, Wayne?

I like to give myself a hard time. Keeps me sharp, you know. But don’t you try it. Yeah, you might say I’m a little touchy. Momma used to say I’d snap at a gator if I had more teeth.

Hey, I grew up on the bayous and I got swamp water in place of blood, and I saw a lot of things pulled up from the brown water a kid probably shouldn’t see.

Well, why get started on that? Speaking of brown water, the coffee smelled good, and they had egg sandwiches this morning on toasted English muffins and the bacon wasn’t burned as usual. So how bad could things be?

Leon was already finishing up. He raised his head from his grits bowl and flashed me a good-morning scowl.

Leon has long, wavy blond hair. He’s into metal music and I’ve seen him go nuts on air guitar, making his hair fly around ’til he was red in the face. He says he could be an Allman brother if they’d let him in the family.

Some kinda joke, right? I never know with Leon. It’s hard to read a guy with only one eye.

What a loser.

Dr. Nell made him promise to stop blasting his music in the staff dorm because it got the old folks all riled. Leon nodded his head and agreed, but I saw that twitch in his stubbly cheek that meant he was angry.

I wouldn’t want to cross Leon. He’s quiet and goes about his business taking care of the retired folks here. But once when he had a big knife and was slicing up the fruit salad for lunch, he told me he cut someone once, cut them pretty good, and didn’t feel bad about it afterward.

He was holding the knife in front of him and had this weird smile on his face after he told me. And I think he meant it as some kind of warning or threat.

Leon and I had some run-ins back in the day when we were guests ourselves, guests of the Louisiana State prison system. That’s when I learned to keep an eye on him. I mean, two eyes, ha ha.

Anyway, I finished breakfast, drained the coffee cup and crushed it in my hand. Leon had a stain on the front of his lab coat, but I wasn’t gonna be the one to tell him about it. I followed him to the kitchen to start making the breakfast for our guests.

We got two hundred old guys living here, so that meant two hundred fruit smoothies just for starters. Leon and I are slicing and dicing the fruit and jamming it all into the smoothie machine. And I’m filling up glasses. We staff guys get paper cups, but the guests get glass, of course.

And Charlene Fowler comes in, all red lipstick and that bleach-blond hair glowing under the fluorescents, green eyes wrinkled into smiles. She’s not in uniform. Instead, a magenta midriff top and white short shorts, with enough skin showing to let everyone see her flower tattoos.

She breathes on me and rubs one long, purple fingernail down my cheek, all flirty, or you might say slutty, like the two of us are something, only we’re not.

I know she’s banged Leon. More than once, I’m sure. But she’s always coming on to me, too. Just to cause trouble and make things even more tense between us. I’ll give her this. She’s a sexy thing, especially for this place.

Leon told me to stay away from her once. But he didn’t want to fight me. He said it kinda quiet and didn’t look me in the eye.

We both know we gotta be careful. Dr. Nell always has her eye on us, and we want to keep these jobs.

Like I said, we both did time in the prison on the other side of the woods from here. Those stone walls poking up from the trees are a close reminder. We know we’ve got it good here at The Haven.

Charlene stays in my face. Her perfume smells like oranges. Or maybe it’s the fruit I’m putting in the smoothies. “Did you forget everyone is leaving this morning?” she says, all breathy, like she’s saying something dirty. “You two boys are on your own.”

I shrug. My shoulder still aches from the dresser drawer. “We can handle it, Charlene.”

Leon chuckles. You never know what’s gonna strike him funny.

“Dr. Nell says don’t forget Ida is still getting the antibiotics,” Charlene says. “And no snack bars for Wally. He’s put on some pounds. She says to keep your cells on. She’ll check in from town.”

Charlene gives us this devilish grin. It fits her face fine. “ Guess Dr. Nell doesn’t trust you boys.”

Leon raises his eye from the bananas he’s slicing. “You trust me, don’t you, Char?”

“About as far as I can throw you.”

“Why don’t you stop rubbing your tits against him,” Leon says, his voice suddenly as hard as hickory. “Come over here and give me some sugar.”

Charlene sticks her head out, like she wants to get it chopped off, and the green eyes sparkle. “Why don’t you make me?”

Leon doesn’t give Charlene any warning. He grabs her by the neck, the way you’d choke a chicken, pulls her over to him and pushes his mouth against hers.

Charlene starts to struggle and spit.

And I don’t think. I mean, I shoulda just stood there and let ’em work it out. Instead, I lose it. I grab Leon ’s

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