Saturday, November 15, 2014
Far Sharper Than Just Any Serpent's Tooth
Samuel Duncan knew there wasn't a chance in hell his parents would let him leave for college alone and in peace. Despite repeated pleas that they just allow him to load up the few belongings he felt would be needed and head up to Clemson University without them he knew deep down they just could not resist the urge and would follow him up to try and continue to dominate his life. If that was the case, Sam was going to throw caution to the wind.
While still early in the morning when he arrived the campus grounds surrounding the high-rise dormitory where he would be living the next four years, if everything went as planned, was as busy as an ant hill someone had kicked. Cars, trucks, and vans were scattered around his building and all the others nearby with new college students and parents busy offloading a wide array of small appliances and cheap furniture.
Sam parked his car in the lot reserved strictly for students and hiked the half-mile to the dorm taking just some clothes packed in a travel backpack and his new laptop on the initial trip. After showing his registration papers to the pretty young girl sitting at the desk in the lobby he claimed the key to his room and walked up the required four flights of stairs. Once inside he found his roommate had not arrived yet. Both sides of the small dorm room were mirror images of the other consisting of two twin-sized beds, two small desks with an attached wooden bookcase, matching chairs, and small closets. He immediately claimed one of the beds by laying his backpack and laptop on the left side foam mattress then plopped down in one of the chairs.
The small room was dominated by the window on the opposite end from the door. It offered a view of three other dormitory high-rises and a section of the main road leading to the main part of the campus. Uninspiring to say the least but the cold and efficient design of the buildings sort of matched the worn nature of the wooden desks and chairs in his room. Sam couldn't help but wonder how many students over the years had sat in the very spot he now occupied.
With the door to the room shut hardly any noise from the hallway seeped in allowing Sam an unusual amount of solitude, which, unfortunately, only lasted about an hour before the first of his parents showed up.
“Sammy,” his mother Ellen Parks, yelled as she stormed through the door, “we were all supposed to convoy here together!” Her face almost glowed in righteous indignation at what she considered to be a show of disrespect. “After all your stepfather and I have done for you and you treat us so callously.”
Sam was almost as angry as his mother was annoyed. “Mom,” he said forcing his voice to be calm, “I told you that I didn't need anyone coming with me.”
Ellen acted like she hadn't heard a word her son had spoken and went into a long diatribe about the sorry condition of the room openly wondering if it was modeled on a prison cell. Sam was able to tune out his mother's meaningless rant by grabbing his laptop and beginning the process of connecting to the university's wifi, to prepare for what amounted to as Armageddon for his family.
Sam didn't hate his mother, it was just that she was an overbearing perfectionist struggling with disillusions of grandeur. Having been born to an upper middle class family in the small town of Georgetown, South Carolina Ellen fell in love with the city Charleston, situated sixty miles to the south of her hometown, during a fifth grade school trip. After seeing the magnificent colonial homes and meeting several important people Ellen decided during that trip that not only would she live there, but would be accepted by its high society.
Ellen had gone as far to construct her life around that idea by first attending the College of Charleston mainly to make connections, then marrying Sam's father, an attorney who she thought might one day sit on the Supreme Court, then by raising a child who would go into politics. While she did graduate from the College of Charleston everything after that fell apart.
The first being that Sam's father, Michael Duncan, became a glorified ambulance chaser after a short stint as a county prosecutor. For years his face had emblazoned the sides of buses and billboards all through the South Carolina Lowcountry proclaiming his ability to make the insurance companies pay. Ellen's second assumption that her child would go into politics was a total nonstarter. In a blatant attempt to dissuade his mother or her fantasies for him, Sam joined the American Communist Party and posted a picture of himself standing next the flag of the old Soviet Union on Facebook. Given the backward attitudes and unparalleled vindictive nature of South Carolina politics Sam's action, while ultimately childish, was in essence political suicide.
Truthfully, Ellen never had a chance of being accepted in Charleston high society, mainly because she was not born into any of the proper families. When Michael give up the county prosecutor's job to become a personal injury lawyer the two promptly divorced with her marrying an up and coming golf course developer named Barry Parks a year later. Through it all Sam realized he couldn't judge his mother too harshly because all during the time his parents were married his father had been a serial womanizer.
As if on cue the door to his room opened again with his father, Michael, coming in and step-father, Barry just a couple of seconds behind. “Yeah, you tell that bastard if he doesn't agree to my terms I'll sue his ass sixteen ways to Sunday.” Michael said to someone through the Bluetooth device he was wearing in his right ear. Sam's step-father, Barry, rolled his eyes at the overly dramatic nature of Michael's cell phone conversation.
It would have been difficult for two men to be more different from each other. Michael was a man in his mid-fifties and of average height and build. His most distinguishing physical feature being his bald head, something he played to his advantage in all his advertisements for his personal injury law practice. Dressed in a stylish black sports coat, orange polo shirt, and white slacks, Michael always looked like he could have modeled for a fashion magazine for those over fifty.
Michael's upper scale fashion combined with a witty down home personality had allowed him to build both a successful personal injury practice raking in over a million dollars a year and charming close to two-hundred women into his bed. Michael's greatest accomplishment in his career field was curiously enough not successfully suing some errant insurance company or negligent product manufacturer for his wronged clients but by coming to numerous backroom deals with those businesses to soften their losses.
One of the greatest struggled in Sam's life was trying to keep some respect for his father after learning what he did behind the legal scenes. It was near impossible since Michael was nearly always on his cell phone discussing some aspect of a injury case. It made Sam feel incredibly sleazy to have his father openly talk on the phone in front of him about screwing one of his clients over. The situation was made worse when Michael would look over a Sam and winked, as if to include him in on his shenanigans.
His stepfather Barry was almost a completely different type of person, and not in a good way. He had the build of a football linebacker and not only knew it, but made a conscious effort to use his size to intimidate people when it was useful. Barry had at one time been an athletic superstar for the Andrews High school football team eagerly recruited by several different colleges in and out the state. His college athletic career was cut extremely short by the fact that no one other than his uncle, who was his high school coach, could tell the hulking man-child anything.
All it took to have Barry literally tossed out on his ass was a mild attempt at intimating the head football coach of a major South Carolina university. In the process of flying through the air and landing on the sidewalk of the coach's Columbia, South Carolina office he injured his right knee. With no other options, since the military wouldn't take him, he limped back home telling everyone it was the injury that ended his career.
However, Barry's path to the American Dream was cut by the riding lawnmower his uncle let him use to start making some money. With the addition of a commercial-grade leaf blower and weed whacker Barry then became an entrepreneur. Once his business was built up enough that he needed some help he could claim the title of respected community job creator.
What saved Barry from a lifetime of residential lawn care drudgery was the chance meeting with a golf course developer who saw him as a kindred spirit struggling to make a honest living despite a growing legion of welfare leeches and lazy bums looking for a handout. It was a strange viewpoint disconnected from all reality for Barry and his friend to hold since every person under their employment were minorities often paid under the table and well below minimum wage. Still though, Barry took to building golf courses like a pig to a pool of muddy shit or a politician to carefully managed bribery, which is essentially the same thing. By the time Barry married the newly divorced Ellen Duncan he had more than enough money to provide the kind of lifestyle she demanded.
Over the years since Barry had married Sam's mom he had come to a few conclusions. Namely that like many others in South Carolina, Barry was an idiot savant, that he could do one thing really well and absolutely nothing else. To ask Barry what he thought of some abstract idea would exactly like going up to a tree and asking what it knew about American politics. The second thing was that Barry and his development company could claim credit to the destruction of more coastal wetland in South Carolina than any other person. To Sam, Barry was more than just a combination of dumb brute, unethical businessman looking for any way to cheat a person out of a buck, or blatant ignorant hypocrite blissful blind to the world, he was the personal embodiment of twenty-first century America.
“Sammy my boy,” Michael exclaimed taking a few minutes to actually talk to someone in person instead of over a phone. “We were supposed to have a family breakfast this morning. Denise even bought you a present and wanted to see your reaction when you opened it.” He added while walking over to rub his hand through Sam's hair as if he was still five years old.
“Dad, we talked about this, I didn't feel the need to have breakfast or convoy up here. Sam said giving both Ellen and Barry a sharp look. “Wait a minute,” Sam said after a second of thought, “where is Denise anyway?” He added figuring if the shit was going to hit the fan his father's twenty-something trophy wife might as well be around for the initial impact, especially since she was going to play a major part in the fireworks.
“Listen Sam,” Barry almost growled, “I didn't want to come up here, the Carolina game starts in a couple of hours and I wanted to be back home in front of the television. So keep your whining to yourself, I don't give a damn.”
“Watch your mouth moron,” Michael said, “that's my son your talking to, so keep a civil and respectful tongue in that slobbering pie hole.”
This was the main reason Sam wanted to be free of them all. From the moment Ellen brought Barry home there had been what amounted to a low-level war going on between them all. At first Barry played his usual card and tried to intimate Michael, who promptly responded by alerting certain government types to his hiring practices and questionable impacts on the environment.
Barry and Ellen tried to respond by threatening to take Michael to court to challenge the shared custody agreement. Their high card was Michael's womanizing.
Neither side would back down and when a family court date was set not only did the judge, a personal friend, dismiss the allegations of moral impropriety against Michael, he offered him full custody of Sam. Something Michael declined since it would have put a crimp in his style.
Barry didn't fair as well during his day in court, investigators found severe irregularities in his employment practices resulting in fines that almost put him out of business. Michael, using personal contacts, stopped the environmental review and had a private conversation with Barry telling him if he ever got half an idea Sam was endangered he would spend time in a federal prison. Since then Barry was scared of Michael and usually did everything possible to stay on his good side. Which generally meant free and unlimited access to all the golf courses he either controlled or could talk the owner it letting Michael play for free. Golf courses being the place white people conduct the most business, Michael happily accepted.
Since that time both Ellen and Michael had been engaged in what amounted to a parental cold war with each doing their best to show they loved Sam more than the other. This meant both parents, and their respective spouses, attended every special function and activity Sam took part, even when the step-parent very much didn't want to go.
“Sammy honey,” Ellen said, “you just don't understand how much Barry and I love you. It's so mean and hateful the way you treat us.”
Sam looked at the people taking up far too much space in such a small room and felt it was time. “Mom, Dad, and Barry,” he said, “there's things you all need to know about each other and I've been waiting for just the right moment.” With those words Sam hit a key on his laptop bringing up a video with the camera situated outside was was certainly a cheap motel.
“This here mom,” Sam began, “is video outside the Red Roof Inn in North Charleston. Notice the sports car in the center of the screen.” Barry, always one needing a few minutes for reality to fully process inside his brain, didn't realize until it was too late that the car in the video was his. By the time he realized what was up the video showed him coming out of a ground floor room with Michael's wife Denise following behind. Denise inadvertently helped Sam make his point by clearly shoving her panties inside the small pocket book she was carrying. The video then ended with Barry backing out of the motel parking lot and driving away.
The real-life Barry, standing in Sam's dorm room, knew that not only had the shit hit the fan but that Ellen would do everything her power to financially ruin him. Never in his life had he felt so utterly powerless. His usual course of action would be to begin threatening both Sam and his father but with Ellen standing beside him even he, with his limited mental capacity, knew that was impossible.
“Sammy, Ellen screamed, “you turn off that computer right now! We'll need to talk about this as a family at some point.” His mother statement initially confused Sam, until he realized that for his mom Barry was not only a reliable and undemanding meal ticket but that she was no longer a young and attractive woman. She knew that if the video was seen by anyone else, her reputation would be ruined, she'd have to leave the state over the embarrassment.
“Wait a minute you little shit,” Barry said suddenly coming to life, “after this I refuse to pay a cent for you to go to college. That clearly isn't me in that video, you've doctored it or something.” He said desperate to save his ass.
After hitting another key on his laptop, another video began this time at the same motel but positioned much closer to his sports car. This time it was Barry leaving the room without being fully dressed.
“Oh yeah,” Sam said to both Ellen and Barry,” I forgot to mention I uploaded both these videos to the internet and sent emails to everyone in your contact lists to watch them. As for my college tuition Barry, my entire four years was paid for by the inheritance I got from my grandfather. Plus, I imagine you and mom have some serious things to discuss on your drive back down to Charleston. At least you'll never have to worry about me again.
Sam's paternal grandfather, Jacob Duncan, had been a tough old, Great Depression era curmudgeon who happened to own several square miles of inland swamp land just north of Charleston. About the time Sam was born several developers had begun offering him ungodly amounts of money for the property, including the individual who a few years down the road would take Barry under his wing. After the wheeling and dealing was done Jacob pocketed a couple of million along with setting up a sizable college trustfund for Sam. Jacob, being an intelligent man of the world, along with not caring one bit for his grandchild's mother set up the money so he wouldn't have to depend on anyone, as long as he got a college education.
Realizing Sam was totally untouchable, Barry knew he was utterly powerless, but after years of dealing with such a massive idiot Sam felt the need to twist the knife a little more. 'Barry, one last thing, you remember the summer I helped out at your office? What did you say to me back then? That I needed to do some actual work before I went off to college. Well I found several curious memos and canceled checks back then and mailed them off to a few state and federal officials this morning before I left. I figure you and mom better settle things no later than Tuesday.”
Barry would have liked to say something, anything really then get violent. But Ellen stormed out of the room and even someone as dense as Barry knew it would be wiser to follow her, especially since she was muttering the word “divorce” as she walked out. That left Sam's father, Michael, who up until that second had been utterly speechless.
“Dad,” Sam said, “I'm sorry about Denise, I'd been collecting stuff on Barry for quite a while and she made the mistake of leaving a message on his private line back at the house. They seem to have started seeing each about a year ago.”
“That's okay son,” he said almost beaming in pride. “I was about to dump her anyway.”
Sam didn't hate his father, nor his mother for that matter, but now it was time to cut the strings with him as he had clearly with her. “Dad, I want you to know I didn't leave you out of my little sting. I've alerted the Bar Association of your unethical behavior concerning your clients. I figure you;ll have some visitors as well in a couple of days.”
That clearly surprised Michael. “Well son, I guess its best that I leave now.” He said as he walked out the door but still clearly smiling. As the door to his dorm room shut, Sam took a deep cleansing breath and reveled in the peace that had finally come to him.