Monday, May 18, 2009

A Story - Part One

Click here for the announcement.


To the people of Queens,
I love you. And I
want to wish all of
you a Happy Easter.
May God bless you
in this life and in
the next. And for now
I say goodbye and

- Son of Sam letter

Stuck outside of a shut-down barbershop, near the mouth of a wide, trash-packed alley, a phone booth was lit up, cold and white. Inside, a man tapped out his home phone number on the keypad.

"Hey baby, it's me...Nope. I'm sorry, I'm stuck, I can't get away."

On the street behind him, a cab almost hit a kid dressed all in black who was skateboarding at 9:00 in the evening. The kid skipped his board up on the curb between two parked cars and glared after the cab. The kid thought, but didn't say, things like "Fuck you" and "Fuck off".

"No, it's the Vasey people," the man in the booth said. "They got me, they want me to go out with them. To, well I guess to commemorate the deal."

This was a quiet part of the street. Another car passed, its headlights dancing over the chrome inside the barbershop. Not far away, someone was yelling loudly for someone else to come here and shut up.

"Well, no, I mean, I'm not that far away. I'm only like three, four blocks from the hotel, and I think we're probably just going to go to some place called Olson's for some drinks."

Across the street, a couple stories up, a woman opened a screen door and stepped out onto her balcony. She lit a cigarette and craned her neck so she could still watch TV while she smoked. From the street, the TV could be seen flickering on the opposite wall.

"Because they just told me. No, I'm walking. They'll already be there when I get there, so...No more than an hour, I don't think...No, I doubt it, I mean, it's just sort of like, you know, 'Good job, everyone. Let's all do a shot!'. It won't be..."

From the darkness of the wide-mouthed alley, a man in a slick yellow coat, who was holding a 40 oz. that was half-full of urine-colored beer, shuffled towards the phone booth. He stopped, his body lightly tilted to the left, and stared curiously at the man inside. He did this only for a second before turning his back.

"Okay. I'll call you from Olson's before I leave...I know, but you'll be up, right? No, I know, right. Okay, I love you, baby. Okay, see you soon. Bye, I love you."

He hung up and stepped out of the phone booth. As he did, the drunk in the yellow coat slipped and stumbled, his beer dropping from his hand. The bottle rang off the concrete but didn't break. As it rolled towards the outer wall of the babershop, the beer foamed and crept up the funnel-shaped neck.

"Wup, shit," the drunk muttered, landing on one knee and staying there, head down, as though waiting for a wave of sickness to pass.

The man from the phone booth stopped and watched him. As he watched, the drunk shook his head and muttered some more before sliding both legs out in front of him so that he sat down, hard. He sat there and watched his beer bottle clink against the barbershop's red brick. He huffed out a long sigh and coughed.

"You all right?" the man said, a little quietly, maybe hoping the drunk wouldn't hear him. The drunk shook his head, possibly in response, maybe in reference to something inside himself he privately disagreed with.

"You okay?" the man asked, now taking a few steps toward the drunk. "I saw you go down. You bang your knee?"

As the man got closer, the drunk tilted his head back, the man appearing to him upside down.

"Oh, hey buddy," the drunk said. "Naw, my knee's...I don't know. I lost my beer."

"I saw that. You need help up, or what?"

The drunk's hair was short and ruffled, but a quick combing would have fixed it. His coat was slightly beat to hell, but otherwise he didn't seem too weathered. The man wondered if the bender this man had evidently been on was just a one-off, something spurred by a temporary bout of depression, which, once it had been replaced by a hangover, might not reoccur. This idea somehow made the man less willing to help in whatever small way he could, but he was committed now.

"Yeah, man," the drunk said, nodding. Nodding had replaced head-shaking, perhaps indicating a positive change in his general outlook. He lowered his head, seeming suddenly tired, and lifted his hand so the man could take it. The man did, and braced his legs before pulling the drunk up.

"There you go," the man said.

The drunk plunged a knife, long and thick, into the man's guts. With one hand clutching the back of the man's head, and the other curled around the handle of the knife, he drove the man back into the shadows of the alley. The man started to make noises -- wet, catching noises -- like someone closing their throat to keep from vomiting. His eyes grew large and he began to sweat. Blood ran over the drunk's hand, and some splattered over his body. The blood ran off his coat like water.

"This isn't how you thought it would go for you, is it?" the drunk said. His voice was calm. He twisted the knife hard three times until the man sat down, back into a pile of stuffed garbage bags. The drunk sawed at him, opening a mouth in the man's belly. The man gurgled and cried out, so the drunk closed a hand around his throat, cutting off his voice.

He removed the dripping knife and set it aside. The man's eyes were glazing over, so he tentatively removed his hand from the man's throat. The man didn't scream, though his breathing was loud and quick. The drunk looked at the slit in the man's belly and slowly wormed his hand inside. The man was about to scream, he could tell, so he took a great handful of what he found in there and pulled down. The fistful held, and the man's mouth dropped open, as though what his killer held, so deep inside him, was somehow directly connected to his brain stem. Then his eyes rolled back, and his appearance now resembled the photograph of a ghost.

His killer let go and looked into the man's swimming eyes.

"This is it," he said. "No more for you."

The man's eyes rolled as the drunk put his hand over his mouth and pressed. Then, with his other hand, he retrieved the knife and slashed open the man's throat, moving back slightly as the blood washed down. The man died there, and his killer, long having shed his drunk act, took the man's wallet from his back pocket, and stuffed his corpse into a deep pile of trash. He then took off his coat, threw that on the body, wiped the knife free of prints, and added that to the mess. Finally, he covered everything over. Quickly washing his hands in what was left of the beer, and throwing the empty bottle deep into the back of the alley, he then opened the man's wallet, to see what there was to see.

The dead man's name had been Dennis Scott. The address on his license wasn't local, but there was a keycard for a room at the Global, which was just four or so blocks east of where his killer now stood. His killer, who name was Sam Winnick, turned in that direction and saw the glowing top of the Global and the red light flashing on the hotel's antenna tower, which looked like a dead star. Thumbing through the wallet again, he found photos, family photos, old parents, a young wife, maybe a brother. There was a little money. Winnick looked at the photo of the woman he presumed was Dennis Scott's wife, and he thought of the conversation Scott was having in the phone booth.

He turned and walked east.



Greg said...

Hey everybody, I've read even further into this story. Ha ha! I'm special!

Anyway, I had a long exchange with Bill about this before so for now I'll just let everyone else react and say I'm just happy I can finally read the ending now.

bill r. said...

Greg, do you like the title I finally came up with? It's pretty good, right?

Greg said...

It says what it is and is what it says. Can't complain with that.

Ed Howard said...

I like. I'm looking forward to reading the rest now.

And this:

"opening a mouth in the man's belly"

is some damn good writing, I have to say.

bill r. said...

Thank you, Ed, I appreciate that. Part two will go up tonight...

Marilyn said...

Not what I was expecting, especially this morning, as it intensified a depression I'm feeling right now. It's vivid, for sure, made me feel terrible for the poor victim. It's cruel and powerful.

Greg said...

as it intensified a depression I'm feeling right now.

Nice going Bill! Marilyn, if you want to come over to Cinema Styles or Only the Cinema we'll cheer you up.

But seriously, I hope everything's okay.

And Bill, I re-read part two last night from it's original source you sent me and am really, really looking forward to part three so I can finally see what happens next.

bill r. said...

Thank you Marilyn. At least, I'm going to take "cruel" as a compliment. Sorry it made you feel worse, though. I know how that goes, because -- and please everyone understand that I am IN NO WAY comparing myself to this person -- reading Phillip Roth's The Dying Animal earlier this year really put me in a funk deeper than the one I'm in almost perpetually.

Ed Howard said...

I'm gonna put up a new motto at my place. Only The Cinema: guaranteed not to depress you. Can you say that, Bill? Apparently not.

I do hope everything's OK, Marilyn.

bill r. said...

Thank you, Greg. I'm having a hard time not jumping in with all sorts of qualifications about where I believe some people -- but especially you, since you've read more of the story -- might think this is heading. I realize that's not a good idea, so I'm doing my best to keep mum.

And part two will finish off the chunk you read. For you, new stuff will appear in part three.

bill r. said...

Marilyn, sorry, I also hope everything's okay. Especially since -- though I don't know the specifics of your situation -- I feel like I can sympathize. Sometimes, anyway.

Marilyn said...

Me, too, guys. Work's been bringing me down tremendously in the past two weeks, and I seem to be suffering from a hormonal imbalance and the medical incompetence I've come to expect on a routine basis.

Yes, take cruel as a compliment, Bill. I can't think you were going for anything else, and you nailed it!

Marilyn said...

I will say that most works of art don't depress me when they're good. One notable exception was when I saw the play "'Night Mother." Oh my god, that was depths-of-despair-land.

And thanks everyone for you kind words. It really does help.

bill r. said...

I will say that most works of art don't depress me when they're good...

I assume we're talking about the sad ones, here. I'm not the same way. It's not across the board -- No Country for Old Men didn't depress me, for instance -- but if a work of art is truly bleak and effectively so, then it's going to effect my mood. Especially if disease is involved (see Roth again).

Patricia Perry said...

Bill - Yikes! That was brutal (and I mean that in a complimentary way.) The way you create the atmosphere in the first several paragraphs feels very cinmeative to me - I could see it all as if it were the opening of a movie. That's a compliment,too.

I'm intrrigue - I'll definitely be back for part two.

Patricia Perry said...

I meant "cinematic" not "cinemative". Geez, I wish could type good!

Patricia Perry said...

And I'm "intrigued" not "intriggue". Good grief.

Marilyn said...

Bill, I hear you. I think I'm pretty tough, or at least I used to be. I used to real a lot of nonfiction about terrorism, and there's little more brutal than that. Lately, though, I find myself avoiding anything that I think will get me down - movies, books, music. Shane's love of Leonard Cohen is a sticking point for us because of this.

bill r. said...

Thanks, Pat. It's probably not giving anything away to say that there is more brutality to come. I hope that, by the end of the story, no one thinks I'm wallowing in it. That's certainly not my intention, but I don't know how it will play to you all.

Also, on another topic, I finished Never Let Me Go on Sunday. As I mentioned elsewhere, I don't think it's at the level of The Remains of the Day, but I did think it was very good. And it was kind of a curious book, too, because it's essentially science fiction -- and the SF premise is actually kind of well-worn by this point -- but Ishiguro writes it as if it wasn't science fiction. I wouldn't say he's matter of fact about it, exactly, more that he treats it as accepted, and I thought that gave the book a very interesting feel.

You know they're making a film of it, right? Directed by Mark Romanek and starring Keira Knightley as Ruth (I can't remember who plays Kathy and Tommy). We shall see...

bill r. said...

Marilyn -

Lately, though, I find myself avoiding anything that I think will get me down - movies, books, music...

I go through phases like that. Again, it largely comes down to disease, really, or old age, that sort of thing. I don't completely avoid it, because I'd miss out on too many major films or novels, but I don't consume a steady diet of things that focus on those subjects.

Violence, on the other hand, doesn't get me down in the same way. I can be disturbed by something without it getting me down. I'm reminded of that line from The Conversation:

I'm not afraid of death. I am afraid of murder, though...

Well, for me, you'd have to reverse that.

Patricia Perry said...

Bill -

I agree with you. I don't read much science fiction, so it's hard for me to judge how the Ishiguaro book compares to the usual for that genre. But I did think that Never Let Me Go had a very haunting, melancholy feeling right from the get-go that, even based on my limited experience of sci-fi, felt unusual given the subject matter.

I think I did hear about the movie. I can't place Mark Romanek, and I'm not a huge fan of Knightley, but I'll withhold my judgment till I've seen it.

Greg said...



I think both those words are awesome Pat, especially cinemative.

I find documentaries can significantly alter my mood especially if they are about a current event because then I will get upset, angry, depressed, what have you because of whatever it is still going on. And yet I watch them and read non-fiction on depressing topics all the time. I'm not sure why.

Rick Olson said...

I think we're probably just going to go to some place called Olson's for some drinks ...

That's what the guy gets for planning to go to my house. Or is it Kevin's?

bill r. said...

I find documentaries can significantly alter my mood especially if they are about a current event because then I will get upset, angry, depressed...

And yet I watch them and read non-fiction on depressing topics all the time. I'm not sure why

Yes. We get angry about different things, I'm guessing -- not entirely, probably, but, you know -- but I still know what you mean. It's good to be informed and all that, but there's also a point where I have to ask myself, "Is it worth ruining my whole day? You only live once, and all that."

bill r. said...

That's what the guy gets for planning to go to my house. Or is it Kevin's?...

It's a neighborhood bar you guys own together.


Wings1295 said...

Wow - That was good, and I was so caught off guard by the 'drunk' stabbing him. Very good, can't wait for more!

Rick Olson said...