arm, lower my shoulder and bump him away from her.

That surprised even me. What did that mean? That I wanted Charlene? Or I just wanted an excuse to fight Leon?

No time to think about it. Leon lets out a roar like some kind of swamp creature. He tackles me to the floor and, before I can catch my breath, we’re wrestling and rolling around on all the fruit peelings and garbage.

He’s sitting on top of me, doing a little jackhammer action with both fists to my ribs. Powerful for a little guy. I’m not surprised. And those bony hands hurt.

Luckily, Charlene is no shrimp. Somehow she manages to pull him off me and step between us. I’m on my back, massaging the ribs. Leon jumps to his feet like a cat ready to spring. But then I see his shoulders sag. He looks away.

And I know he’s thinking what I’m thinking. We’ve gotta back off here and be cool. Our jobs ain’t the greatest, but they’re all we got.

I stand up and raise both hands. Like truce, man. Leon nods and backs up to the kitchen counter.

I turn and see this grin on Charlene’s face, and her eyes are still sparkling, like excited. “Oh, my!” she says in a girlie voice. “Did I cause that?” She even giggles. “Was that really over me?”

“Just kidding around,” I mutter.

“We were just waking ourselves up,” Leon says, stretching.

“Do I have to tell Dr. Nell about this?” Charlene asks, teasing. “I sure hope you boys can be trusted on your own.”

She doesn’t wait for an answer. She’s out the kitchen door. And about a minute later, I hear the staff Jeeps crunching down the gravel drive, which means Leon and I are all alone, in charge of two hundred residents.

We can work together. No biggie.

Most of the old folks here at the home are pretty nice and don’t give us much grief. Ida is my favorite. Poor thing’s been sick. Usually, she’s as flirty as Charlene. The old thing likes to grab me by the ears, pull my head down and smooch me on the lips. But the last few days, she’s been lying around moaning, acting pitiful as an old hound dog.

Leon and I brought out the smoothies on a tray and began passing them out around the front room. A couple old dudes were glued to the TV already. They sure love those cartoons, the louder the better.

I handed Frankie his glass. He raised his gnarly hands and signed, “Thank you.”

I signed, “Your welcome. How are you today?”

His fingers moved slowly: “I feel a little old.”

Leon makes fun of me for talking to the guests. But almost all of them can talk really well, and I don’t see any reason not to chat with ’em a bit. They always like it.

Frankie taps my shoulder and signs, “Cookie? Cookie?”

I laugh and sign back, “Later.” Frankie is one of the oldest guests and the least trouble. He used to work in some kind of science lab in Texas. His pal Frannie worked in the same lab.

Next up-our least favorite dudes. Sweeny and Bo. These two guys were in show business. Big deal, right? But they act as if they own the place. Try to cross them and-well, that son of a bitch Sweeny bit me twice. Believe it?

They’re nasty and bad-tempered and are always getting the other guests all riled. Talk about bad news. The only time their eyes light up is when they’re causing trouble.

Leon and I each had one smoothie left on our trays. Sweeny’s and Bo’s hands shot out. They’re grabby as weasels in a chicken shack. I started to hand Sweeny his drink-then pulled it back.

“Hey, Sweeny, watch this, dude,” I said. I tilted the glass to my mouth and drank it down. I wiped juice off my mouth with the back of my hand. “Mmmmmm. That was good, man.”

Leon laughed. “We’re in charge today, guys,” he said. “No one to give you bad boys a break. Boo hoo.” He copied me, gulped Bo’s smoothie down in front of the old guy, then licked his lips.

Sweeny and Bo looked at each other like they didn’t believe it. Then Bo pointed at us and rubbed his two pointer fingers against each other.

Shame, shame. That’s what that means when they rub their pointers back and forth.

“It’s not your day,” I told them. “Everyone went to town to celebrate a birthday. Know what that means? Leon and I get a little payback time.”

Then Leon went too far. As usual.

He gave Bo a little slap across the face. Not a hard slap, but it seemed to stun him. Leon laughed. “Think you haven’t been asking for it?”

Again, I couldn’t just stand there. I pulled his arm back. “Careful, Leon. Don’t hurt ’em.”

He snickered. “What are they gonna do about it?” Leon raised his hand and gave Sweeny a slap. It made a loud smack, and the old guy’s head snapped back.

This wasn’t good. Leon and I have been working here ever since we got out of the can. Six or seven months, taking care of these guys. So far, we’d done okay. I didn’t like these dudes any more than Leon did. But why look for trouble now?

Leon gave Sweeny a slap on the cheek. “How’s that feel, buddy?”

Sweeny lowered his head sadly and rubbed his fingers together. “Shame, shame.”

Leon laughed and raised his hand to give Bo another face slap.

“ Leon, you’d better not-” I started.

But I didn’t get to finish my sentence cuz Bo grabbed Leon ’s arm up by the shoulder-and yanked him off his feet. I let out a cry as he whipped Leon over his head and sent him sailing into the wall.

Leon groaned as his body slammed hard into the wall. The whole house seemed to shake, and a stack of DVDs toppled off their shelf onto the floor.

Leon climbed up slowly, looking kind of green. And before he could catch his breath, Sweeny jumped off his bench, shot forward, and head-butted Leon in the gut. Leon went ooof, just like in the cartoons, and his face turned from green to blue. Breath knocked out, definitely.

These old chimpanzees weigh about 200 pounds. They’re over five feet tall, you know. And adult chimps are several times stronger than humans.

They’re big and ugly and dangerous, which is why people send them here to The Haven. They’re only cute ’til they’re six or so. Then they turn into big, hairy monsters.

I guess it was some lamebrain in Washington who had the idea to open a retirement home for chimpanzees back in the Louisiana woods. When we heard about it in the prison, we laughed at first. Then we started to get angry, thinking about these chimps living in luxury with their DVDs and wide-screen TVs, their playrooms, three meals a day served to them on trays in their puffy armchairs and five acres of woods to play in behind their house.

That made us angry when we looked around at what we had.

The ugly, old chimps were living high on the hog, all right. And every day, we got the slops.

Did Leon and I have a chip on our shoulders when we started working here? Like I said, we just needed jobs.

But now some bad feelings were out in the open, and we had to tie things up and push ’em all back. Like trying to get toothpaste back in the tube.

Leon was still kinda purple, wheezing and holding his chest. I had to deal with these monkeys.

I stepped forward, thinking hard, trying to look tough. But what looks tough to a monkey?

Bo glared at me, a big, toothy grin on his ugly face, waiting for me to make a move, I guess. Or planning his next one.

Behind us, the other chimps were going nuts. Leaping up and down, screeching and howling, heaving their smoothie glasses at each other. I saw Frankie-good old Frankie-crouch down and take a big dump on the living room floor. Guess he was upset.

Pretty soon, I knew the shit would be flying.

Holding his stomach, Leon pulled himself to a sitting position. He was moaning and groaning. You wouldn’t like it either if a 200-pound monkey took a dive into your belly. “ Wayne, we gotta get help,” he choked out. “Can’t let this get…out of control.”

We had an agreement with the prison. It was in our rule book. Call ’em up in an emergency, and they’ll send

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