Chapter Seven


Over the first few months after arriving at the Palace, I finally got the guts up to check out the third floor of empty hotel rooms. Baron wasn’t having any of it.
“I’ll meet you back downstairs, fool!”
“Oh come on, Baron, you little chicken shit! What, Are you afraid of ghosts? Whatsa matter with you??”
He would not give in to my taunts.
“Screw you, Susan. I see a lot more than you do, and I’m seeing more than I want to. You go riiiight on ahead, I’m outta here…idiot…”
As he went down the stairs, I bent over the railing. “You scaredy cat… I mean scaredy dog!”
He looked up at me with the same disdain that was common to me. He didn’t even answer, he just kept on going. Finally, at the second floor landing he turned back to me.
“You never listen to me, Susan. When are you going to listen to me?”
“I listen to you Baron, hell, you never shut up!”
Oops. Ouch. “Hey, I didn’t mean that! I was just kidding!!!”
He said one last word before heading down to the kitchen.
Man, I was in a pickle. No, I was in a pickle jar. Do I stand up and be “not scared”, or do I run fast as I can to catch up with him?
No, this time, I’ll be the smarter one! Which of course, meant I was being more stupid.
It was so eerie up there on the third floor. I couldn’t believe I was up there by myself. But then I thought “What could be worse than what I’m going through now??”
It became still, quiet. The rattling chains and turning door knobs ceased. I had scared them away; they wanted no part of me!!!
I walked down the hallway with a new found power. “Come on! Scare me!!!”
The ghosts shrank back, not certain how to escape me. I was a walking, living ghost. I had much more power. They couldn’t scare me! I was already in Hell!
I rapped on the doors as I went down the hallway…”Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Then, there were no more ghosts, they were scared shitless and moved into the building next door, the little fraidy-ghosts. I no longer worried about them. From then on, when I encountered one, they ran away, scared beyond death. It must have been the look in my eyes.
About half way down the hallway, I found a little alcove on the right. It contained a short set of stairs.
Hmm that’s odd. I wonder where those lead to…
It was the stairway to Heaven. At the top of the stairs was a hatch that opened onto the roof. Before I knew it, I was looking down at all of Raton. It became my true getaway.
I’d lie down and look at the stars. If I looked into them long enough I began to feel upside down. Or rather, it was as if I were above the stars, looking down on them. I felt like I was going to fall from the earth down into them. The inertia gave me a feeling of having no gravity. It made me feel terror and glee at the same time.
No one knew how to get there until I showed Paul. Baron finally regained his balls and followed us.
“Where did they all go, Susan? Where did they go"
“That’s not for you to worry about little buddy. Sometimes I really can do things that you can’t. But believe me Baron; I know we are not even half way even. Are you good with that?”
“Well, hell yeah, Susan, you think I like always taking the load? It’s nice to see you’re coming around! I need a partner, not a child!!”
“Baron, sometimes I wish you would shut the hell up.”
We both were tickled and guffawed at that one.
Paul, Baron and I started hanging out up there a lot. It was one little triumph over my dad.
Paul and I could get goofy, with no one watching us. We joked a lot up there. We’d push each towards the ledge, but always kept a firm grip on each other’s jacket. This always pissed Baron off. He knew the risk, but Paul and I didn’t care!
By September, I was contemplating diving head first off the roof of the Palace. Paul was more than happy to join me. We’d land right at the front entrance! The thought became increasingly appealing.
That’s when I knew. I had to get us out of there. Watching my little brother’s abuse was crushing me. It was so cruel, and so often. I was suffering for both of us now.
We’d either kill ourselves or find a way out. This convinced me that I had to make a plan and the plan had to succeed. Finally, I came up with a perfect solution.
Every so often, we huddled together. I did most of the talking to keep him informed. I told him to be patient and try to stay as far away from Dad a possible. I knew the sparkle that had returned to his eyes would be a dead give away. I told him to keep his head down, just like always did when Dad was around. And for God’s sake, quit walking on your tiptoes, Paul!
Paul was agreeable with anything I said. I probably shouldn’t have told him anything yet, not until I was certain we could get away. The hope and happiness he felt brought me such undeniable joy. He knew that his shitty existence was going to end. The problem was, he was walking on air, a delight to me, that I kept hidden.
As I thought about it, it suddenly occurred to me that we had to act sad and solemn to hide our happiness and excitement. How very, very strange. I was so used to the opposite. I’d grown accustomed to wearing a sweet smile and happy with my life, when inside I felt dead. Yes, this was a very strange, ironic twist, and it confused the hell out of me.
I knew Dad’s routine, his habits; I would find a way to get us out of that building without his knowledge. The plan would be; we’d run to the bus station seven blocks away and catch the last one leaving for Amarillo at 9:00pm.
I started squirreling away money from my nightly tips. It wasn't long before I gathered enough to buy two bus tickets back home. After I saved an extra two hundred bucks, I waited. And waited. And waited.
Around the beginning of November it happened. Dad was downstairs in the bar playing his Svengali act with the customers. The restaurant was almost empty.
It had snowed until around five pm that evening. When the snow stopped, the sky became depressing. It was grey and miserable outside. It was the kind of weather that kept normal people at home, sitting by the fire, eating a bowl of chili.
On the other hand, bar patrons are a different breed. They thrive on the alcohol for the warmth and its ability to push the weather’s mood away. When I walked into the bar, there were at least twelve to fifteen people, all shit-faced or soon to be shit-faced. At least eight or so were gathered around the bar, as Dad poured out drink after drink and lie after lie.
Around 7:00-7:30 PM, I poked my head around the end of the bar to get his attention.
Everyone was is in stitches. Dad had just taken a breath after laughing at his own joke. Finally, he head dropped his head down slightly, shaking it back and forth.
I heard his mind thinking the usual, “Whew, that was a good one! That was a topper!”
Finally, his head swung my way and he caught me in his eyes. A question marked appeared on his face.
God, I was taking such a chance here. If I told him it was so slow in the restaurant and I wanted to check out early, I knew he would say yes. Then I could join him at the bar. I didn’t have to fake when I told him I felt sick, like I was going to throw up.
“Sure, Suze, you don’t look too well.”
“It had to be that left-over crab salad, Dad. It smelled OK, but now, I don’t know…"
He studied me thoroughly. Thank God, I really did feel like throwing up. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t faking. the only time he left me alone was when I was sick . His concern was not for me.
Then someone called for another drink.
“Alright, go on up, then.”
That was it. Tonight would be the night.
I told Paul to stay in his room and keep quiet.
"Pack light, OK? Don’t leave this room until I knock you on door. Oh yeah, also, don’t wear your boots. We’ll put em on after we get out the back door. I’ll be dammed if someone in the kitchen hears us….and, listen, as soon as we get out the back door turn left, immediately. We’ll go down the alley and hide behind the dumpster. We’ll put our boots on there. I don’t care if our socks get wet, we can’t take a chance going down those stairs.”
"OK, Sue, I got it.”
“OK good. Now, after we get our boots on, we’re gonna go to the other end of the alley and go right until we hit Main Street.”
“But, Sue that’s going in the different direction…”
“Shush! I know that. We're going to go west, up the alley, then north across Main Street and hit the alley behind those shops across the street. Then, we’ll head back east through allies until we get to the bus station. It’ll take a little longer, but we won’t get caught in the open. It’s only a couple of miles. We should get there just in time to get our tickets and get on the bus. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, yeah, Sue, smart idea…yeah, yeah.”
I pulled him to me and hugged him tight. I whispered to him that it wouldn't be long before we were the hell out there, just as long as he followed me. I stopped the hug first, but he wouldn’t let go.
"Come on, little bro, everything's cool. I've got to get packed. And don't start crying, OK?
Keep your head clear, ya got it? Don’t worry."
His voice trembled as he whispered, "ok, ok...sure, sure…”
I walked down to the end of the hallway, entered our flat and started packing. I couldn’t wait to get down the back stairs and outside the hotel. I couldn’t wait for my sweat to touch the cold night air. I knew I had to do this. I had to take this risk. I was going to get us far, far away from that monster.
We’d be half way to the Texas border before he knew we were gone! I was so excited; I couldn’t stop grinning. I couldn’t stop trembling. I could see my heart thumping through my shirt! It took all my will to remain calm.
I took a couple of slugs from my pint of Seagrams, then I slipped it into the inside pocket of my ski parka. Pints were easy to hide from grown-ups; two more were already in my bag. I felt the familiar warm, glow of the whiskey.
Yep, we were going through with this. I packed a few clothes and my toiletries. I threw in a few things to keep us busy on the bus. A pack of cards, a little checkerboard, along with my most valued cassettes a transistor radio. I threw in a few photographs and that was it. It was time to go.
Baron was next to me, settled around my stomach. The wide elastic band at the bottom of my parka kept the wind out and Baron in. But I knew his nerves were getting to him. Even though he was nice and warm, I felt him shivering.
As I zipped up my small duffle bag, I heard a deadening sound of boot steps, first distant and then louder until they stopped at the main bedroom door.
I heard the key slip into the lock My vision zoomed into the knob.. My mind crashed into such terror, I couldn’t breathe. I would not let myself believe that the squeaky knob on the door was turning. It was as if in slow motion. Yes, it was definitely turning.
The door opened, not slow, not fast, it was deliberate timing. The attempt to escape instantly evaporated. My ‘perfect’ plan had just fallen dreadfully short. How could he have known?

“Where do you think you’re going?” The “look” came over his face. His insanity jumped to a level I had never seen before. After he saw my luggage and the bus tickets in my pocket, everything turned red; my vision could only see red. I honestly watched this man turn into his demon. As he took it all in, he slowly shook his head and said “Tsk, tsk tsk.”
The fist that hit my jaw was so lightning fast, I didn’t realize it knocked me to the floor. All I knew was that I was no longer standing and I was staring at the ceiling. Oh my God. I’ve done it. I am going to die tonight.
I felt like a stray dog, just nabbed up off the street. Instinctively I knew my fate. I stopped all feeling, I became a nothing. I couldn’t care anymore. Just finish it. Please just finish it. That is when he won…again…but this time…forever.
A dog needs to be beat only once but thoroughly for a transgression. It never makes that mistake again. It learns instantly. I had completely lost control of my destiny. I lost contact with time.
Then my father became kind and sat the bottle of whisky down next to me. I had never been so grateful. It was such a mind-fuck. I would never, ever try to leave him again.
When I woke up, I wasn’t sure if I were dead or alive. The last thing I remembered was my dad putting a gun to my head, his eyes ablaze in a scotch soaked rage. He was screaming that he had nothing left to live for. I knew I was going to pay dearly for standing up to that unthinkable psychotic empire in his head. His reality was completely his own; it would not be challenged under any circumstances.
It must have been quite disconcerting to him when I collapsed unconscious in a corner of the small main room in the flat above the bar. Like a pathetic doomed rabbit, I felt my heart had burst before things went to black.
It was in that corner that he left me, not knowing how to handle a situation that he did not completely control. There was no telling how long he looked at me before he sat down on the day bed that doubled as a couch and poured another drink.
I found him passed out in the bedroom obscenely exposed and snoring with gusto. I could do it, I thought. I could end this right now. However, as much as I hated him, I didn’t have the nerve to look for the gun. He could have woken up at any time and it was best to act as if nothing had happened the night before.
I threw away my ripped clothing and unpacked my bag, silently hanging my belongings in the closet he had built especially for me in the bedroom where we slept.
It was just before 7:00 am. School was starting in an hour and a half. It is enough time to clean myself up and gather my senses. A bath was soothing, but it didn’t console me; I was too broken.
With a towel wrapped around me, I looked into the mirror. I didn’t recognize who was looking back at me. I bent down and brushed my teeth, not looking at the mirror again. I dressed and proceeded to embark on another “normal” day.
I met Paul downstairs in the restaurant kitchen. He was preparing his favorite breakfast, a chunk of French bread drenched in half-and-half, heated slightly. He hunched over, not daring to look at who was approaching, but it was me. He looked at me with painful, searching eyes.
“So it didn’t work,” I said, as if he didn’t know. Paul trusted me and I let him down. “I failed; I’m a piece of shit, I’m so sorry, Paul.”
As some sort of consolation I said, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t think you had anything to do with it and it’s going to stay that way. I promise.”
I watched huge teardrops fall into his bowl.
“Susie, don't say that. I love you. I heard everything last night.”
“It’s no big deal, Paul, don’t think about it.”
He didn’t look up as I started chiding him. I was getting mad now.
“Stop it! I mean it! Do you want us to get caught? Get out of here! Hurry up and get to school!”
Dad was comatose upstairs, but if he did come down and see Paul like that, he would go nuts. He would assume Paul was a co-conspirator in my betrayal to leave. He’d probably accuse him of planning the whole thing that Paul had somehow, persuaded me to go along.
The scenarios in my head were taking on multiple lives of their own. I didn’t need this. I would have enough to deal with later.
“I said move it, now, before he wakes up. PLEASE!”
Paul dropped his spoon, got up and dumped his bowl into the trash. He came towards me and laid his head in my arms. “Thanks for trying, I’m sorry too,” he whispered. I felt the convulsions of his withheld tears.
I held him, and he held on to me.
I pulled his head up and looked him straight in the eye. “Paul, don’t let anything get to you, ever. Do what you can to survive. I need you to do that, Okay? Don’t go crazy on me. What you heard was not as bad as what you’ve been through. WE ARE IN HELL, RIGHT NOW. Don’t lose me! Don’t leave me!”
His crying caused him to hiccup. Finally he said, “Okay, okay, but don’t leave me either”.
“Not a chance, little brother, not a chance. Now go on, get your butt outta here.”
“I can’t, I can't leave you with HIM!”
“Paul, trust me on this, I’m older than you, I’m smarter than you and I am stronger than you. You know why? Because I am your BIG sister. So there, get moving…”
The failed plan was always our secret. Dad would never learn of Paul’s involvement. It was a meager way of protecting him, which helped me feel better about all the times I couldn’t.