Rodney Parish for Hire
by Harlan Ellison and Joe L. Hensley
There was going to be a sorry boy on Farrow Street, and Rodney Parish knew who it would be. It would be Rodney Parish, and he could already feel his Daddy’s strap across his fanny. He hurried on through the twilight.
He mumblingly darned the kids who had urged him to join them, illicitly swimming in the condemned pond behind the Chesapeake Lumber Company. He darned and double-darned them, because he had missed dinner, and Daddy got madder than anything when that happened; Rodney’s Parish’s Daddy used his big wide barber’s strap pretty often, and Rodney hated that, hated the hurting. It wasn’t worth the swimming. No indeed not!
In fact, he didn’t much like his Daddy, when it came right down to it.
It was as he crossed Euclid Avenue that he saw the accident. The big blue car came out of the side street without stopping, and roared into the yellow-and-gray car with a smashing roar that made Rodney jump and clutch at his ears.
Rodney stared through his thick lenses at the two cars, and it made his strangely pudgy face squish up like when Miss Dexter made the chalk skip on the board. He ran over and looked in the yellow-and-gray car.
The man was crushed up against the door, and the steering wheel had been driven through his chest. There was blood coming out of the man’s mouth, and it had spattered across part of the shattered windshield. The man was not breathing, and Rodney noticed with interest that a yellow tinge had come over the open eyes.
A man with gray hair and a plaid vest stumbled out of the blue car, and staggered up to the broken window through which Rodney stared at the dead man. Rodney wanted to giggle at the way he looked.
The man in the plaid vest put his fist in his mouth, like he wanted to eat it, and he started moaning like Noobie when the cat scratched at his ears. Then the man in the plaid vest came around the car, and sank down on his knees in front of Rodney.
He wasn’t much taller, then. “Listen, listen to me good, kid,” the man said, and Rodney Parish noticed he was crying like a girl or something. “Listen, kid. If anyone, if anyone asks you what happened, tell ‘em…tell ‘em…this guy was coming real fast down the street and hit me after I’d stopped…”
He went on for a long time, explaining it really good for Rodney, so Rodney could blame it on the dead guy, and that wasn’t right until the man in the plaid vest promised to give Rodney fifty dollars, and gave it to him, right there.
Then it was all right, and Rodney told the policeman what the man in the plaid vest had told him to say. That was okay, then.
Then it was worth getting strapped by Daddy. Then it was okay, coming home late.
It took Rodney Parish only four months and thirteen days to realize how that sort of thing could be used. It was just renting yourself out, like Daddy did when he cut the men’s hair downtown. It was okay doing that.
As long as you got what you wanted. Because it felt good inside, doing bad like that. Of course you couldn’t always count on seeing an accident and having a nice man, like the man in the plaid vest, give you fifty dollars for a simple little thing like changing a story. But Rodney kept remembering the way the man in the car had looked, with the nice red stuff pouring out of his chest and the liquid, yellow look to the eyes. Besides, the fifty dollars hadn’t done him much good, not dribbled out the way he’d had to do it. He’d been smart enough to know that he couldn’t go out and buy a bunch of new things, things that he wanted for his stamp collection, for his coin collection, for his baseball bubble gum card collection. New acquisitions brought questions, so the fifty dollars had to be spaced out, but in four months it was gone.
And there were still gaps in all of the collections.
Of all the kids at the Twelfth Avenue school the one Rodney hated most was Jimmie Larkin. He was the one who’d started the hated nickname that Rodney now bore on the playground—”Owl Eyes.” Jimmie was the first one to die. Rodney did it for a tongue-tied little Italian boy named Salvatore Maggini. His reward was an 1898 Indian Head penny, which filled a vacant slot in his coin board. Of all the kids that Jimmie Larkin picked on, Salvatore was his prime target. It was Salvatore that Jimmie beat up every day for a solid week. It was Salvatore that Jimmie pummeled and ridiculed at every recess.
At first Rodney “Owl Eyes” Parish was merely relieved that it wasn’t he that was getting the lumps from overmuscled Jimmie. But then the idea that had begun some four months ago in fertile ground thrust out its first green shoots. People who were the way the man in the yellow-and-gray car had been couldn’t pick on you. People who were in the shoes of the man in the blue car-well, they would pay.
He caught Salvatore in the boys’ rest room, where he was spending a miserable recess hiding from Jimmie Larkin.
“How’d ya like it if that old Jimmie Larkin never bothered you again.”
The black eyes came up to his. “Go on,” Salvatore managed to stutter, “you can’t whip him.”
“You gimme your Indian Head penny and I’ll make sure he never bothers you again.” Rodney scuffed one shoe over the other. “By day after tomorrow.”
There was hate and fear in Salvatore’s eyes. But there was also hope. He nodded.
“Gimmie now,” Rodney said. He held out his hand. Salvatore filled it.
Jimmie was easy. Despite his muscles he was dull witted.
Rodney sidled up to him after school. “Hey, Jimmie,” he said.
Jimmie looked back at him with infinite disgust. “Whatcha want, Owl Eyes?”
Rodney smiled his most ingratiating smile. “I got something I want to give you if you’ll walk home with me.”
“You know that old baseball glove I got, the one with the stuffing out? Well, you can have it.” He shook his head. “I don’t like baseball, anyway.”
Tenth Avenue and Farrow Street was the busiest intersection in town. Jimmie Larkin died under a truck there. All it took was an outstretched foot as they raced across to beat traffic.
Jimmie looked even better than the man in the car who’d died.
All smashed and gray and with his eyes starting out of his head.
In the next six months there were three others. Not all from the Twelfth Avenue school, of course. The need for Rodney’s particular talent was spread around. And all payment in advance.
There was the blonde girl at the old pond behind the lumber company—the one who insisted on stomping the pigtailed girl’s mud pies as quickly as she made them. The pigtailed girl had a stamp that Rodney coveted. He waited while the mud pie girl ran home for the stamp. Then he drowned the blonde girl after stunning her with a piece of wood. That one hadn’t been particularly enjoyable as they’d made him leave and he never had seen the blonde one’s body. But it was summer work.
The best one was the boy at school he’d pushed out the window. They’d washed for days and never got the pink tinge out of the sidewalk. Rodney made the place a shrine. He could get a thrill just standing near it.
That one’d been the best because he was a tattle-tale, and three kids had all chipped in to get rid of him; they had each contributed ten baseball cards, Rodney Parish’s most important hobby of all. Thirty pictures, almost every player on the Dodgers and Yankees, with the exception of the real-hard-to-get Mickey Mantle card.
It was the Mickey Mantle card that eventually caused the death of Leroy Tarvish.
Owl Eyes stood in the shadow of the building, near the concrete apron with its six manholes down which they dumped coal for the school; the concrete apron on which the kids played “pussy-inna-corner.” He stood there with his odd pudgy face squished up, with his crew cut bothering him—the haircut had been the day before and little pieces of it were down his back itching worse than anything—and his soft, blue eyes behind their great lenses staring at the scene on the playground. His glasses were dirty, but he saw it all right.
Arville Hickerson was the rich boy, and he was all the time trying to make friends with Leroy Tarvish and his bunch of rough kids. Leroy all the time shoved Arville and told him:
“G’wan, you skinny piece’a dog-pee,” and that made Arville madder and madder, until he would give anything to kill Leroy Tarvish.
Even his Mickey Mantle baseball card from the bubble gum. And that was hard to get, because they only packed maybe one of that kind of card in a box, and nobody else in the whole neighborhood had it but Arville Hickerson, and that was only because he had a rich old man.
So Rodney Parish made it known to Arville that he was available. For a price.
With the Mickey Mantle card safe inside the stack of pictures, the rubber band holding it snugly between Johnny Logan and Roy McMillan, Rodney waited for his time. He had become an expert, in his way. He was the smartest kid in the block, no matter what that snotty old Miss Dexter said!
The time came.
Leroy Tarvish had to wait for his older sister Sophie one afternoon. All the rest of his gang had gone home, and he was just sitting around the schoolyard, doing nothing very much, just waiting for his old sister to come on out so he could go home and watch TV for a while.
Leroy looked up from his game of mumbledy-peg and saw that old Owl Eyes coming across the schoolyard. Leroy didn’t like Owl Eyes; he gave him the scrimmies, somehow. There was something real-whatchamacallitqueer about Owl Eyes. He was all the time collectin’ something.
“Whatcha want, Owl Eyes?” he said the name nasty, because he was sure it would bother Owl Eyes.
“Play what? No, huh-uh, I don’t wanna play nothin’. I’m waitin’ for my sister, then I’m goin’ home to watch TV.”
“Thought’ch’d like to play for a while before your sister comes out. Why’d she hafta stay after school?”
“None’a your business, Mr. Big Eyes.”
“Bet she was bad!”
“You’re stupid, too. She’s beatin’ erases for Mr. Hollowell, that’s why, you stupid dope.”
But after a while, he gave in, and they teeter-tottered for a few minutes, and ran around until Leroy tripped Rodney Parish and made his glasses all dirty. Then Rodney said, “Hey, get onna swing. I’ll make you go high.”
So Leroy Tarvish went high. Very high and very fast, and at just the right moment, at just the right speed, Rodney Parish slammed the swing sidewise, flinging Leroy Tarvish into the metal pole bracing the swing. Leroy Tarvish’s head hit with a crunch and stuff came out even after he lay there in the dirt.
And not till he had straightened up, after crouching for a long time watching the gray stuff, did Rodney Parish realize Leroy Tarvish’s sister, Sophie, was standing by the school door, giggling.
Rodney grew tired quickly, perhaps because Sophie was older. But he did not catch her that afternoon. And the next day no one said anything to him about Leroy Tarvish, so he knew Sophie Tarvish had not ratted on him. But she was a stinker, and he knew she would have to die.
He thought he had her that afternoon, when he followed her into the girl’s toilet, but Mrs. Kneipper saw him and dragged him out with indignation. He could have shoved Sophie out the window and she would have died beside the flag pole on the sidewalk.
It made Rodney feel high and warm and nice to think about it.
But she continued to elude him, and it wasn’t until three days later that he saw her going down to the basement of the school. He followed her.
She went into the big room that said No ADMITTANCE, where the coal bins were, under the manholes on the “pussy-inna-corner” game. It was dark and scary in there, but he went in, too.
“Sophie? You in here?” he asked.
“I’m in here, you stinky you!” she answered.
“I’m gonna kill you like your old brother, just like him, and you’ll bleed and be dead and rot and stink too, you’re such a—”
There was such a rush of chill air, that Rodney for a moment did not realize Sophie had crept up on him, and swatted the air in front of his face.
She was taunting him. She ran farther back into the bins.
“I’ll get you, you old rat-stink you! I’ve killed lotsa other kids and got paid for it, too, so that’s how much you know! So you ain’t so good!”
He was back in the bins, feeling the pieces of hard black coal under his shoes. The bins were almost empty. He’d catch her and smash her old head in.
There was a distant muttering from above. He looked up and all there was to see was the light-line made by the circle of the coal bin manhole cover. He stretched his hands out in front of him to find her, but it was so very dark.
Then, abruptly, Sophie was behind him, and she swatted at him again, calling him dirty names, and he was going to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones—” but her hand knocked off his thick glasses, and he was stumbling around in the darkness, crying.
Then somebody pried off the manhole cover, and he heard the distant thunder that was the truck rolling up, and as Sophie ran back out through the door she yelled, “You old dope, you! I knew they’d be bringin’ it today!”
And Rodney Parish stumbled around with the word dope in his head, crying to be let out, until they dumped three tons of hard, black anthracite on him.
Sophie stood by the swings and watched the truck roll away. Then she turned and started home. That stupid boy! If he hadn’t kept bothering her, she wouldn’t have had to do anything bad to him. She wasn’t going to tattle; she didn’t like Leroy Tarvish, her brother, very much, anyhow. He was always kicking her.
But that had been interesting, what Owl Eyes had said about killing kids and getting paid. A new two-wheeler, and the extra clothes for the Barbie doll she’d gotten for her birthday, and…
She wondered, as she hurried home, if she should have cards made up, like that cowboy on the TV.