Michael Dibdin: Dark Specter

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Michael Dibdin Dark Specter
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    Dark Specter
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Michael Dibdin

Dark Specter

And Tharmas calld to the Dark Spectre who upon the shores

With dislocated limbs had falln. The Spectre rose in pain

A Shadow blue obscure amp; dismal.

William Blake: Vala, or the Four Zoas


Jamie shot Ronnie Ho four times. Once in the head, twice in the chest, and once in the gut, where he’d heard it hurt real bad. Two shots went wide.

“Jamie!” yelled his mom from the porch. She’d been talking to Marsha Dawson for about an hour, and had gone outside, still talking, to pick up the mail.

“What?” he yelled back.

His mother appeared in the doorway, portable in one hand, her blue bathrobe billowing around her, sorting through the mail.

“What’d I tell you about using that thing in here?”

“But, Mom …”

“Junk, junk, bill, junk. How come no one ever sends me a real letter?”

Jamie sulkily unpopped the suction caps of the darts from the mirror. Two misses wasn’t bad, and if it’d really been Ronnie Ho he’d have got in closer before he squeezed the trigger.

“I bet Wayne gave you that darn thing, just to bug me.”

“I bought it with my allowance.”

“Get him to pay a dime in child support, no way. But any crap guaranteed to drive me crazy, no problem.”

“I’m bored, Mom!”

His mother sashayed through to the kitchen, pushing buttons on the phone.

“Do your homework.”

“I’ve done it.”

“Yeah, right!”

“I have too!”

He knew she knew he was lying, but if she called him on it he’d ask her to help him out, and she didn’t know diddly about math. They’d changed it all since she was at school. Plus he was getting OK grades-she’d back off.

“Did you get new batteries for my Game Boy?” he said, following her down the hall into the kitchen.

“Hi, Kelly!” his mom said in the chirpy voice she used for leaving a message. “Friday’s our girls’ night out? I was wondering if I could catch a ride with you. Call me, OK?”

“Mom? Did you get those new …”

“I forgot.”

“Oh, Mom!”

“Why don’t you go downstairs and play with Kevin and Ronnie?”

“They won’t let me. They keep saying I’m too little.”

“Well, they’ll just have to …”

The phone rang. His mother drifted around the corner, through the dining area and back into the living room.

“Hello? Oh hi, honey. You are? Is it OK with her mom and dad? Uh huh. Sure, as long as they don’t mind. What time’ll you be home? OK. See you.”

“Who was that?” demanded Jamie.

“Megan. She’s spending the day with Nicole.”

“No fair!”

Just then the Accident started up in the next room. Dawn sighed loudly and went to stick a pacifier in its face. Jamie threw himself down on the sofa, feeling sulkier than ever. Megan was fourteen and got to go to sleepovers and goof off for the whole day with her friends, but what was he supposed to do? Once he and Kevin had taken care of themselves, tearing around the basement, staging fights, gradually stepping up the noise level until Mom had to come and tell them to shut up. But since Ronnie Ho came along, his brother had no time for him. Ronnie Ho was five and a half months older than Kevin and smart and his parents were Chinese and took their shoes off at the door and ate wonton soup the whole time and neat stuff like that. Kevin thought he was the best thing since microwavable popcorn. As for Jamie, he was just a kid. No one was interested in him.

His mom reappeared, the baby in one arm, its bottle and the portable in the other.

“What am I supposed to do?” Jamie exploded.

His mom heaved another sigh. She set the Accident down on the sofa, where it started to howl again, and jabbed at the phone. She’d got Kevin and Megan their own private line, so they could firm up their social lives without bothering her.

“Kevin? Listen, I’ve got to take care of the baby and I want you and Ronnie to do something with Jamie. He’s driving me nuts with that dart gun his dad bought him.”

Jamie lifted the pistol and took aim at the Accident, blew its head apart with a single shot.

“Well, you better, you want your allowance this week,” his mom snapped.

She switched off the phone, picked up the baby and the remote control and channel surfed until she stuck on some cheesy old black-and-white movie. Typical, thought Jamie. He loved his mom, but she had no class.

Nothing stirred downstairs in the basement. Kevin and Ronnie were staying put, hoping Mom would forget about the whole deal. Jamie’d have done the same thing. Ever since Dad walked out, Mom had been like a hard-pressed pitcher facing a lineup full of gritty hitters. At the moment she was o-and-one on Kevin, but she still had a long way to go if she wanted to strike him out. Jamie reloaded his gun and took careful aim.


He snuck over to the TV, giggling, and pulled the dart off the screen.

“Sorry, Mom.”

It worked. She hit redial on the portable.

“What’d I just tell you, Kevin? I don’t care if you’re … Well, how long is …? Just finish and get your butt up here is all.”

She looked at the gun in Jamie’s hand.

“Get that thing outta here!”

“It’s only a toy, Mom!”

“Go clean your room.”

“What did Kevin say?”

“He’ll be up as soon as he’s died.”

Jamie let his body slump in an expression of despair. If Kevin and Ronnie were playing Mortal Kombat, they’d be at it all afternoon. Mom thought that when you died it was like the power went off or something, like it was something real, but on the video you could die over and over again, as many times as you wanted. It was so frustrating! There was so much parents didn’t understand. They should make them take a test or something. It wasn’t fair, putting people like that in charge of kids. It meant that nerds like Ronnie Ho ended up getting away with murder.

He rolled up off the sofa, leaped over the coffee table and froze up against the window. Mr. Valdez across the road was flat on his back on the drive under his Pontiac, “giving head to her front end” as Kevin had said to Ronnie. Jamie wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but he could tell by the way they laughed that it had something to do with sex. That was a whole world he wasn’t looking forward to. It sounded like going to high school. You had to leave all your old friends and routines and get bused across town to some new place where they were all bigger than you and everything was for real.

Some guy on a bike cruised past, turning to look at the house, holding Jamie’s eyes for a moment. Cool ATB, Cannondale or Bridgestone, he couldn’t be certain, but eighteen gears for sure, the seat high and the bars wide, like bucking a bronco. Jamie had seen stuff like that in the catalogs, and downtown you saw guys riding them, but he couldn’t imagine who’d have one around here. People had that kind of money, they’d trade in their car. Still, Jamie made an effort to keep up on product availability, even though all he had was the hand-me-down BMX Kevin had stopped using when Dad gave him a nearly new Giant for his birthday.

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