The Angle of Attack: Chapter 24

Chapter 24*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

“Sure about this?” said Phoebe, poised with hair clippers over my head, the hum of its blades increasing in my ears like the sight of their undomesticated target made them hungry. Why wouldn’t I be sure? Sitting in front of the bathroom mirror, a plastic table cover clothes-pegged around my neck serving as a barber’s cape, they had already sawed through my beard, its remains now strewn in defeated heaps of steel wool on the floor. And I had been unshrinking when Phoebe lathered up my face with an anachronistic shaving brush and scraped away the leftover scruff with the same straight razor she used to spruce up the corpses at the funeral home, even when the blade glided with practiced ease over the speedbump of my Adam’s Apple and I was keenly aware of being only one mistimed cymbal crash away from joining them.

“Why wouldn’t I be sure?”

“You look like a baby who can’t figure out who that other baby is living in the mirror.” It’s true I was eyeing myself with some misgiving, stroking the spongy skin of my cheeks without the slightest rasp, a cleaner shave impossible under the current laws of physics. But I recognized exactly who that was living in the mirror; the real me, so much younger looking, cockier, unmasked with the beard gone. Once my head was shaved, I would be fully reverted in appearance to my former self and that was clashing with the transformation I sensed I was undergoing. Fully? Opening my mouth to stay Phoebe’s hand, it struck me Dylan had been right; I wasn’t the same without that gold crown prefacing whatever I was about to say with a warning glint, proceed with this guy at your peril.Now I looked more like some hapless dope who’d hit on the wrong man’s wife, and the length of my hair wasn’t about to change that. And besides, the prospect of getting under the shower, hot water beating down on my scalp, stubble flecked soap foam swirling down the drain, exfoliated skin tingling under the coarse fabric of the towel, that glorious feeling of being impeccably groomed when slipping into fresh clean clothes, once my captain’s uniform, the very same pleasure centers in the brain that respond to cocaine activated by satisfaction in life, tipped the balance.

“Go for it,” I was about to say but Phoebe had tracked the seesawing uncertainty in my shifting features, the thump down of resolve to proceed, and made a lawnmower’s path straight down the middle of my scalp, two thick curtains of hair dangling from either side.

“Ta-da!” she sang, pausing to appraise her handiwork, “A perfect reverse mohawk. Funky. Maybe we should leave it like that.”

Subduing a powerful sexual urge to slap her hard across the ass where her trademark denim skirt was at its tightest, finally put to the test my first instincts about her sitting there at the end of the bar on that infernal train from New York, I instead coughed up this uninspired comeback: “Maybe we should retake Hairdressing 101.”

“This is fun. Maybe we should carve a dirty word in the side of your head here.”

“Sure,” I said, sitting on the hand the resurfacing urge had put into motion, “Maybe ‘Fuck you’ could serve as a permanent response to our brilliant ideas.”

“Ain’t being reborn a bitch?” she said with a wink, setting to my head once, bunches of hair calving off under the drag of the clippers and slipping to the floor.

Emerging from the shower, even more invigorating than anticipated, I stood in front of the mirror, its fog burning away under the cold air rushing through the window I’d opened as far as the rusted crank would allow. “God, that knocked at least 20 years off you,” Phoebe had whined with the last swipe of the clippers, the unfairness of being so easily disencumbered from the plight of middle age as exasperating to her as it had been to Ally. Pointing out my eyebrows still contained some telltale gray came off as a taunt and she threatened to shave them off too. Wait a minute, Ally? It’s the first time I’d had an Ally pang for what, at least a couple days now. And why hadn’t I been instantly plunged into melancholy over the memory of Melanie gleefully shaving my head, Ally eating her knuckle as she watched? Ally. Strange too that the sight of my penis, that useless bit of pachyderm skin dangling from the end the bane of my childhood, wasn’t inciting the usual raging monologue directed at Jeff Rosenberg and all his kind for fucking her with his upgraded alternative. Were these the early symptoms of letting go, this ‘conscious disengagement phase’ Shannon was always harping on about? I pictured the end of a rope snapping away over a cliff edge and a different flavor of melancholy, sour and bilious, momentarily rose in my throat before I spat it down the sink and set to brushing my teeth (which had shifted with age into a more uneven configuration I made a mental note to tell Phoebe when the clippers weren’t around) with industrial strength toothpaste designed to kill a man’s breath along with his blackest thoughts. I felt good. Alive. And I wanted it to stay that way.

“Something’s changed,” I said, emerging from the bathroom into the firelight where Phoebe stood at the window, a loon out there with a broken mind wailing in the darkness.

“No shit,” she said absently over her shoulder where a bra strap, taut under the weight it carried, was exposed. “I barely recognize you.”

“I feel like I’m living in the present.”

“What’s that?” she said, stiffening with attentiveness.

“I feel like I haven’t really been here. You know, here. With you and the others. Just mooning around in the past wishing I could get in that tin can,” I said, throwing an invisible dart at Bob Calloway’s simulator even though Phoebe still had her back to me, “And fly back in time to not make those wrong turns. You know? Point the needle straight. So everything now would be just, not perfect, but just– “

“Just as it was,” she whispered.

“Yes,” I said, and I wished she’d turn around now. “But that’s what’s changed. I think I’m starting to move in the right direction now. Eyes forward.”

“Like the future matters?”

“Maybe more that there is one. It doesn’t help that jail is only postponed, not cancelled, but at least I’m in this moment. Here and now. Finally,” I said, willing her to turn around, “With you.” Hunching up, she hugged herself but still didn’t turn, a wet sniffle escaping as I moved up behind her.

“I just want you to be happy,” she murmured, my fingers bumping over the bra strap as they glided along her shoulder blade, insides boiling with desire, absolutely no need for the 25 mg dose that normally got me to the gates.

“I also never told you what a knockout you are,” I said straight up, and the deep kissing and fumbling with buttons began. My belt buckle jangling as she jerked it free of the strap, she paused and said, “It’s been awhile for me.”

“I doubt any longer than it’s been for me,” I said, recalling with a shudder that the last time for me had been with Julianne Moore.

“So be gentle,” she said, with a tremulous laugh as though she too could see the morning after carnage in Julianne Moore’s bedroom that I was shooing from my mind. Proceeding to unzip my fly she glanced up and, her flush mottled white as she blanched, began making odd clucking sounds she seemed to think were words.

“Okay, maybe it has been longer for you than for me,” I said, to which her response was a sustained round-eyed scream of terror.


“There in the window!!!”

“What?! Where?!”

“In the fucking window! There was a face! A terrible… a horrible face!”


To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 24), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 23

Chapter 23*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

The water is so frigid it’s crushing, the bubbles pushed through my nose scurrying away to the cold white sun splatted on the surface above. Brilliant shafts of broken light stab down through the gloom, just beyond the reach of my outstretched arms. Is this the kind of light flatlining people edge towards before being resuscitated on the operating table? If I move into it, will I die? No matter, I’m at peace now. All my accumulated torments, the pain the guilt, falling away like iron filings from a neutralized magnet, they fall with the crucifix I yank from my neck, they fall with the wedding band I twist from my finger, disappearing down into the freezing murk between my slowly egg-beating feet. Tilting my head back up to the light, closer and dazzling now, I’m ready. But there is the end of the dock swimming into view, waving arms and muffled shouts, familiar faces deformed by ripples. Blood thudding in my scalp, I cleave the water until I break through the surface, gasping and spluttering, the crisp December air raking my starved lungs.

“Paul!” cries Phoebe, dropping to her knees and reaching for me, “Help me get him out!” she barks at Dylan who’s standing there shivering in nothing but briefs, presumably Phoebe’s prior instruction to him being, “Get in there and get him out!” Dani is gawking, shotgun dangling at her side, behind her Lucy doubled over, impossible to ascertain whether the sound coming out of her is witch laughter or terror squeaking. “Now Dylan! He’s going under again!”

It’s true, I realize. I am going under again and, picturing my lifeless body settling into the black weeds and slime at the bottom of the lake where my ring and necklace lie, the panic swells. “I didn’t mean it, I’m not ready!” I gargle through a mouthful of fish water and, with a final adrenaline burn, kick with all my might and lunge for the dock. I miss and fall forward heavily, thrashing at the relentless water I’m starting to breathe, when Dylan’s hand appears from nowhere, bracelets flashing, and seizes my wrist in a grip so tight, so unbreakable, my arm would come out before the lake took me back. The last thing I remember through the other hands coming down out of the sky and hauling me up is thinking, are those little butterflies on Dylan’s briefs?


To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 23), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 22

Chapter 22*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

The cockpit vibrations intensified, my organs jiggling inside their membranes, the top half of New York City’s flickering skyline obscured by heavy cloud sinking down in an evening sky. “We got a storm off Rockaway just now,” announced JFK tower in the same folksy voice I used to calm passengers whose mounting anxiety over being crammed into a flying metal tube with strangers was, so to speak, well-grounded. “Runway 31L cleared to land. Previous arrival reported a pretty smooth ride all the way down final.”

“Right,” I said, eying the lightning flaring over the black swathe of ocean to the south of the airport like a naval battle had just gotten underway there. What was it Gary had said at this point? Something lyrical about the “edge of the rain” moving in over Jamaica Bay.

“AA 759, wind now 120 at 23.”

“I got this,” I said, just as the windshield was thumped by a wall of water, the giant invisible hand of an Old Testament god pressing down on the nose of the plane. “Okay, here come the wipers. 15 knots right there. Plus 25 now.”

“Wind shear alert, northeast boundary winds 195 at 15.”

“Fuck,” I said, bursting through the belly of cloud, Runway 31L right there rushing up. Too fast. Headfirst… the cold hard vestibule floor, Melanie falling… tangled up in her own little feet… falling… ‘Da-da… da-da… da-da…’ Ally lunging…

“Terrain,” remarked the GPWS twice in quick succession and then, abandoning English, commenced its hysterical whooping, the red emergency light strobing around the cockpit. Impossible to land at this angle.

“Taking it around! On the go to the left. Max power! Max!”

“AA 759, understand you’re on the go, fly runway heading. Climb and maintain 3,000.”

“Flaps to 15. Down, get down, goddamn it!”

“AA 759, understand you’re turning left?”

Cluster of houses listing heavily over the wing tip, their windows glowing bedtime story yellow through the night and the rain.

Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!

“Power! Power!” I shouted, wrestling with the wind over the control column. It was futile and, no avoiding the houses now, let it go.

“Simulation complete. Descent time: 17 minutes and 52 seconds,” said the less chirpy, slightly more judgmental digital voice of the new simulator as I slumped back and marveled at how realistic the devastation outside the smashed windshield was. The blackened personal effects and children’s toys interspersed in the burning debris a nice touch to capture the magnitude of the calamity. “Landing unsuccessful,” it added dully.

“Gee, I hadn’t noticed.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“I’m surprised you don’t pipe in the smell of roasting flesh just to dispel any lingering doubts about the outcome here.”

The old simulator would just keep repeating “I’m not sure I understand” when I talked to it like this but this one was keen to move me along, “Shall I relaunch AA 759?”

“You could sour the dreams of an entire generation of aspiring young pilots, if you had half a mind for it. Which I guess you don’t.”

“I can modify the severity of the microburst to improve your chances of a successful landing,” it said, and I smiled at the note of sarcasm I could hear creeping in, a subtle feminine brand couched in the language of assistance but still somehow allusive to erectile dysfunction. It was only a matter of time before I irritated a computer Ally would be quick to point out, and then I would have said, “I didn’t even call it a cocksucker,” which in turn would have spurred me to test the simulator’s resilience to abuse in both its male and female iterations.

But Ally wasn’t here and I was a changed man (at least I think I was) and instead said, “No thank you, my flower,” cheerily plagiarizing Dr. Constantinescu’s ludicrous term of endearment, even pronouncing it “flowa” in that pseudo British accent of his, so persuasive had his personality been in the end, his quirks invited emulation. “That would be cheating. And besides, I’m very satisfied with the result.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” said the simulator, simply giving up on me now and reverting to the software’s old protocol for responding to the confounding vagaries of human behavior (“your behavior”, Ally would interject here).

“Back to the drawing board for the AI dweebs,” I said.

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“Relaunch AA 759,” I said, gripping the control column with all the philosophical determination of a rodeo cowboy taking the reins of a bronco seething in its pen. “No modifications. Let’s see if I can put this thing down anywhere near the runway this time.”

“Launching AA 759. You have yourself a real nice landing now,” said the simulator and, as the grim faces of Midtown Manhattan’s towers popped up to the right, buried alive in that insidious cloud, a deep well of darkness directly ahead, I figured the AI dweebs maybe didn’t have so much work cut out for them after all.

To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 22), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 21

Chapter 21*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

“Lena was actually my housekeeper before she became my patient,” said the doctor, pausing to take a long pull on his cigar which required enough cross-eyed concentration and cheek-hollowing sucking power to make you question whether a cigar is ever just a cigar. Directing a geyser of smoke towards the ceiling, he continued, “Showed up on the doorstep out of the blue offering her services. Said her husband was doing time – stealing a piano or some damn fool thing – and needed the extra cash. And was she a lovely girl. I mean stunning. I can still see her standing there in the sun in this lemon-yellow dress, a desperate Pacific smile that could break a man,” he said, framing the view with his hands like a movie director. “Raw unadorned beauty.”

Phoebe and I exchanged a look which he caught and waved off. “No, no, no! It wasn’t ever like that. Even if dear Claudia over there would beg to differ,” he said, nodding at a painting of a plump red-cheeked woman with tight spools of gray hair hanging on the wall among the old maps and looking sour about her position among them. As if her portraitist had been as inaccurate in capturing her lines as the early cartographers taking educated guesses at the contours of the New World, the island of Newfoundland a stick of melting butter above her head.

“Your wife?” said Phoebe, some brilliant powers of deduction right there.

“God love her, even a good one when she put her mind to it. May she rest in peace.”

Claudia seemed to scowl back at him in response to his raised glass and I asked, “Did Lena happen to be in the room dusting under the furniture when this was being painted?”

“Paul,” snapped Phoebe, kicking at my foot dangling from my crossed leg. But the doctor let out a throaty Santa laugh, his belly and breasts jiggling along with each Ho-Ho-Ho.

“My dear boy, you’ve brightened my day.” Watching him dab spittle from his lips with a handkerchief, it occurred to me he had the same kind of grimacing grin I did. A “reverse smile” Ally had called it, unnatural g-forces pulling the corners of the mouth downward against the grain of the normal upward orientation. Ally said I would have the most joyous smile in the world if only I could stand on my head, which I couldn’t. Now I could sort of see what she meant even though the doctor’s teeth were as uneven as tombstones in an old churchyard.

“I’m glad. I don’t get that often.”

“You certainly do not,” said Phoebe.

“It’s a nice theory anyway. Except that Lena was long gone by the time Claudia decided to memorialize herself in oil. A more likely explanation for that peeved look would be her growing alarm over my continuing failure to die. ‘Until death does he part’ was her interpretation of our marriage vows and the prospect of predeceasing an old reprobate like me was as fanciful to her as flying pigs. But sure enough. Been almost 20 years now, hasn’t it dear?” he said, toasting the portrait once more with a wink that begged retaliation from the spirit world. When I told him as much, Phoebe’s silence this time amounting to concurrence, he leaned over with a grunt and, tapping a log of ash from the end of his cigar into the dusty mouth of the ashtray, said, “The very fact she hasn’t yet paid me a visit in the small hours is proof that no such world exists.”

“Or just that there’s no portal.”

“She would find a way. Build one herself if she had to. Which means it’s a scientific certainty this world we live in is it. One reason I haven’t been in such a hurry to leave it.”

“Maybe she hasn’t finished building it yet.”

“Aren’t you the devil’s advocate. If, arguendo, we are indeed going to postulate– ”

“Gentlemen,” interrupted Phoebe in a stiff voice, “As fascinating as all this is, really, could we maybe get back to Lena?”

“Of course, my flower. Of course. Where was I?”

“We didn’t get much further than how beautiful she was. Which we already had a pretty good idea of,” said Phoebe, reaching over and handing him the old polaroid from the house, “From this.”

“Well, well,” he said, holding the photo aloft in both hands and examining it like it was an x-ray of a shattered bone. “Mmmm-hmmm,” he rumbled when he turned it around and read the inscription on the back.

“Does that mean anything to you?” asked Phoebe. “Lena’s Song?”

“It may,” he sighed and, pointing to the piano player with a gnarled Count Dracula fingernail, said, “You wouldn’t know it since you can’t see his face, but that’s the late great Zach Jones.”

He stared at us wide-eyed, expectantly, until Phoebe finally said, “Sorry, who?” when it became apparent he was prepared to wait indefinitely for our powers of recall to engage.

“Youngsters,” he muttered to a more worldly ceiling, causing a chirp of pleasure to escape Phoebe, already a flower in the doctor’s eyes. I couldn’t tell if Phoebe’s susceptibility to his cheesy flattery lowered my estimation of her a notch or if it was more an unwelcome pang of jealousy (Could I ever make her chirp like that?) that further lowered my estimation of myself.

“My daughter would probably have a brain aneurysm if she could hear that.”

“Dear boy– ”

“Or that.”

“So, who was Zach Jones then?” said Phoebe, sitting up straight to redirect the doctor’s attention upon her flowery self.

“A great musician back in the day. Could’ve been one of the greatest if it weren’t for the booze. Doesn’t matter. What does matter for you,” he said, pointing his cigar at me before drawing hard on it once more, mouth opening wide like a yawn was coming, a great mass of smoke slowly drifting out under its own forces of dispersion.

“Yes?” I said impatiently. What was he waiting for with that bombed out mouth gaping? With that abandoned pile of kindling passing for an eyebrow raised as if I already knew the answer. “He’s not…”

“Of course, my dear boy. He’s your father.”

To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 21), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 20

Chapter 20*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

“Déjà vu alright,” muttered Dylan, kicking his spade into standing position and putting his gloves on. The soil was crumbly, softened by a downpour that had left the cold air wet with the mulchy smell of disintegrating leaves, the daggers of the thorn tree dripping. Now in the dead of night the sky was clearing, and the moon peered down but, with a slice of its anemic face lopped off since last time, the yard’s wilderness seemed less alive in its own light and my phone burned more brilliantly in the deeper gloom.

“A bit wetter and darker this time,” I said, refraining from pointing out to him this was hardly déjà vu since we had been standing right here at this exact spot, spades in hand, just a few days ago. The only other difference was that instead of searching the house, Phoebe and Dani were now keeping watch at the top of the yard, the bobbing red glow of Phoebe’s cigarette as they paced back and forth the only indication of their presence. I had to shake away the picture of a night sniper taking aim at it from a rooftop perch on the sleeping mill. Then it struck me it was precisely these distinctions from our first escapade, including the way Dylan had said, “Déjà vu alright,” that funny little ripple down his jaw, which had me in the grips of real déjà vu. So intense was the sensation this was all a repeat, I felt almost reincarnated. Sent back to do what we were about to do, only properly this time? I went colder than I already was.

“You sure you’re up for this, Paul?” asked Dylan with a steadying hand on my shoulder, the zigzag stitching in the glove I’d never seen before pulsing with uncanny familiarity.

“I’m having serious déjà vu about déjà vu,” I said, a hollowness in my voice as the words echoed through the continuum.

“I didn’t really mean déjà vu, you know. We were just here a few days ago is all.”

“That’s exactly what I was going to tell you when it started! Fucked if it’s not still happening. I swear I’ve had this conversation about not having a conversation with you before.

Dylan turned away and stared intently at something big and mesmerizing, like giants striding across the horizon, only he could see. I could tell if the task at hand wasn’t so personal to me, he would be poking at my agitation with a sharp stick. Finally licking the obnoxious half-smile from his lips, he turned back and said in overbaked seriousness, “Okay, so then tell me what I’m going to say next.” I glared at him, probably with the same kind of resentfulness Melanie reserved for me when I paved over her anxieties with inadvertent glibness (“Your freckles are a sign of uniqueness, the sassy dot on an exclamation mark, like Mom’s and just look who she pulled, huh? Huh?!”)

“You just said it, smart guy. Besides, déjà vu isn’t the same thing as clairvoyance.” Dylan opened his mouth but simultaneous bings from our phones closed it again.

Phoebe: Are you two going to get Lena or just stand there chit-chatting all night???

Me: For the record Dylan, I knew Phoebe was about to text us.

Dylan: Give me a break.

Me: Not the exact words, but the gist.

Dylan: Didn’t you just say déjà vu isn’t clairvoyance?

Phoebe: I can’t believe this. Standing right next to each other.

Dani: WTF!!!

“We’re on it, woman,” said Dylan with authority, closing his phone and grabbing his spade by the neck.

“You know you just said that and didn’t text it, right?” I said, tapping out the message for him, replacing “woman” with “ladies” in a rare spasm of chivalry which, coming from me, would only be interpreted as sarcasm anyway.

About to hit send, Dylan hissed, “Get a light over here, Paul, there’s something strange.”

I tilted my phone to where he was leaning over, his nose pinched as though the strangeness of what he was looking at was emitting an odor. Now I could see it. The ground appeared much more broken up, almost tilled, than how we had left it. “What the?”

“Looks like– ”

“Right. Like someone else has been here,” I said, and the bitter expression Dylan wore needed no translation: I wasn’t the only one The Thing had sent directions to before his execution. So much for I can’t start a whole new note now because these cocksuckers only gave me one sheet of paper. Was this how he’d amused himself on his last day on earth? Dispatching different people off on the same morbid treasure hunt as payment for some contrived favor? Perhaps hoping, if the stars aligned just so, they’d converge on the spot at the same time and there’d be a good old Mexican standoff ending, as one always should, in bloody massacre. What fun! The jackal. Then again, he’d also sent me his ashes. I–

“Still got déjà vu?”

“No, I’m fully cured. Thank you.”

“Let’s get her up and get out of here,” said Dylan, unwrapping the body bag Phoebe had swiped from the funeral home, his head swiveling side-to-side like a cyborg’s, “Before anyone else shows up.”

The digging was easy, and the hole deepened quickly. Deeper and deeper until, when we were up to our armpits in hole, Dylan finally broke off and exhaled vapor into a sky with no answers. “What’s the problem?” I said. He turned away and preoccupied himself with his giants once more. I knew damn well what the problem was. “Well?” I demanded anyway.

He clapped another steadying hand on my shoulder and said in a voice marbled with pity, “She’s not here, man.”

“How can she not BE here?” I snapped. “It’s not like she stepped out to get some milk!” But the answer was obvious. Whoever had been here before was after the same thing we were and had beaten us to it: Lena’s bones.

To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 20), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: THIRD INTERMISSION – Lena’s Song


Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

“No peeking,” he whispered in her ear, folding his calloused hands over her eyes and guiding her from the front door into the living room where he gently pushed her down on an unfamiliar piece of furniture, a small bench her searching fingers told her, tight buttons stitched into shallow depressions in the upholstery, like a…

“What is it? What is it?!” she cried, heart thumping against her ribs like a dog’s heavy tail.

“As promised,” he said, his hands falling away.

The black lacquer finish had been polished to a mirror shine and her dumbstruck face shimmied in its light, a shelf of gleaming white and black keys beckoning below that impossible arrangement of elegant letters:


“Oh my god, Tym,” she gasped, joy irrigating her eyes and overflowing down her cheeks. She looked over it him leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, a self-satisfied smirk hacked from the tough tissue of his jaw, and shrieked, “A Steinway! For me?!”

“Sure as hell ain’t for me.” Launching herself across the room, she tackled him through the door, legs wrapped around his waist, and unleashed a barrage of sloppy kisses that left his face and neck slick with spit and lipstick. “Brand new!” he crowed, holding her effortlessly in his powerful arms.

She put a finger to his lips to shush him, quite certain a closer inspection would reveal the telltale signs of prior ownership. What did she care? She’d been letting Tymothy’s “brand new” thing slide for so long (except that time he brought home matching satin bathrobes monogramed with other people’s initials) she was hardly going to call him out on it now. Not when for the first time since she was a girl, since before the fire, she at long last had her own piano. No more housecleaning over at Father Waylon’s rectory in exchange for private play time on his baby grand, no more sneaking a few notes off Penelope Galloway’s old jalopy of a piano, it’s discolored keys sticky from the pawing of her three monstrous little boys.

And, however unfulfilled most of Tymothy’s other promises remained, he had made good on this one. The most important one. And what if this was just the beginning? That next he might announce they were moving to the city? Finally leaving this miserable little house in the shadow of the steel mill, so forsaken it was outcast from the other three miserable little houses on the street and none had been built beyond it. The way he was looking at her now, that bright eyed way he’d once always looked at her, the world so big and boundless, she considered fellating him right then and there, on her knees with him holding her head in a basketball grip setting the rhythm just the way he liked.

But Tymothy had always been several steps ahead of where he actually was. From an early age he rejected the presumption that, just like his father and grandfather before him, he would go straight from high school (graduation optional) to work in the mill, “good honest money for good honest work” the family mantra went.

“So what are you going to do instead, big shot?” said his mother frostily who, having never received the ‘Don’t Favor One Child over the Other’ memo, was balancing his older brother Hank on her knee and stroking his chest with her fingertips like he was a human harp.

“Yeah, what?” chimed in Hank who full on embraced his destiny and had recently taken to marching around the house in his little hardhat emblazoned with ‘Jerusalem Steel’ dispensing instructions and advice to imaginary coworkers after his father had brought him (and definitely not “that little peckerhead” Tymothy) to the mill on a 1940s version of Take Your Child to Work Day.

It was a good question and, sitting on the hard linoleum in the middle of the kitchen floor, Tymothy buried a finger knuckle-deep up his nose to consider the problem. The answer came a couple days later when a radio program came on about Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. Tymothy and Hank didn’t really follow, but what Tymothy gleaned from their father’s gruff explanation was 1. Danger: Yeager was a daredevil (a test pilot), 2. Mystery: working in secret (for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), forerunner of NASA), 3. Thrills: who had flown a rocket ship (a rocket engine-powered aircraft) faster than voices (the speed of sound: 343 meters per second = 767 mph = Mach 1) almost as high as the moon (45,000 feet). Their father, a GI in the war who’d fought and fornicated his way up the Italian peninsula from Salerno to Anzio while the “pretty flyboys” loafed around in their bomber jackets smoking pipes, frowned at Tymothy’s delighted clapping and smiled when Hank, noticing, served up a tonsils-exposing yawn. He had only grudgingly tolerated the broadcast in the first place because Yaeger was a fellow West Virginian without a college education.

Didn’t matter. After a fitful night’s sleep dreaming of rockets and the moon, Tymothy awoke bursting at the seams with the right stuff and announced, “I’m going to be a daredevil,” at breakfast.

“Sure,” said his mother, pinching his ear and giving his head a shake, “you and half the other boys in America this morning. Test pilots have nerves of steel, Tym.”

“Yeah, chicken,” snickered Hank, distilling what was being implied here, their mother’s preferred tactic of indirect insult by comparison one she would liberally deploy over the coming years.

  • Jeremy Deacon is so nice and polite (you’re not)
  • Bennet gave everyone an A (except you)
  • Football players need to be mentally tough (unlike you)
  • What a beautiful Christmas present Hank (yours not so much)
  • That Gideon Pippin will be a real heartbreaker one day (you won’t)

As undeterred and resolute as he was setting out, “I’m not half the other boys in America”, this persistent needling ever corroborated by his brother’s bluster and his father’s roaring silence, whittled down the blade of his ambition until, by the time he approached the end of high school where he’d performed lamentably both in the classroom (not for lack of brains but an overabundance of impatience) and on the football field (not for lack of a big strapping body, well suited to work in the mill his mother liked to remind him, but an underabundance of athletic ability), what had once been a mighty sword was now more of a pocketknife. But still a knife since there was still no fucking way he was going to work in that fucking mill. He may not be going to NASA or the Air Force or anywhere else terribly interesting for that matter but, barring a meteor strike, he was at least going to get the fuck out of Hillsborough and live in the city as God was his witness.

Or, as Lena was his witness, as it turned out.


To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: THIRD INTERMISSION – Lena’s Song), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 19

Chapter 19*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

“…five… six… and seven,” I said, coming to a halt and closing the compass app on my phone. Mayweather had been right about one thing: the crouching thorn tree directly ahead did look devil sent, its gnarled branches stacked with angry spikes searching and possessed of intent to injure. The dusting of hoarfrost gleaming dully under a cold moon only lent it and the rest of the wildly overgrown yard an additional layer of sinister ancientness. Dylan flicked his cigarette at it, its spinning orange ember vanishing in the tangles as though swallowed. Gripping his spade behind his neck like a combat weapon, he cleared his throat and announced, “I’m discombobulated.”

“As your mom would say: again, in English.”

“I’m not happy.”

“Why? Because the exact spot isn’t marked with an X?” Wearing a hangdog look, he turned away and blinked at the idle refinery, once a blazing mini city at night, now a dark outline against the sky save one dim sentinel light pulsing wearily atop its tallest smokestack. What was his problem now?

“What I said about you back at Milkwood’s was,” he paused to stamp on his spade until it was blade deep in the hard ground and standing independently, “not so nice.”

As closing time approached, he had leapt to his feet with a yelp and cried, “NO MOTHERFUCKING WAY!” loud enough to invoke Hal Topper’s instant presence at his side.

“Son,” he said through gritted teeth, one hand clapped firmly on Dylan’s shoulder, the other gesturing at the now mostly empty tables as if they were crammed with shocked patrons, “this is a family establishment. That kind of cussing is just the excuse I’m looking for – not that I need one – to eighty-six you from here for good.” Crimson faced, Dylan folded his lips into his mouth in an effort to dam up whatever choice words were amassing behind his teeth, sat back down, and simulated smashing his head against the table. “Why don’t you do it for real, son?” growled Hal Topper, “and save me the trouble.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” said Dani firmly, shooing away her grumbling father like he was a pesky stray too miserable and long in the tooth to kick, her intervention uncharacteristically delayed perhaps being of the mind Dylan’s hostile outburst had warranted some measure of punishment. After all, it was her and Phoebe who’d come up with the plan after driving over to 116 Primrose Way earlier in the day and discovering it was the last of only four houses on the street, set apart from the others, and conveniently abandoned. For some time too judging by the photograph they had taken showing the lower floor boarded up, the windows of the upper floor mostly smashed, their peeling shutters sagging on loose hinges. “What’s your problem, Dylan?” demanded Dani, ever more assertive and comfortable in her own skin with him, less the besotted admirer and more the Bonnie to his Clyde.

“I already got dragged off on one fool’s errand chasing around after The Thing,” he whined, fixating on the twisting black smoke of a guttering candle rather than make eye contact. “And now, even after The Thing is finally dead and buried– ”

“Buried? Paul’s got his ashes in his backpack,” interrupted Phoebe with an unmistakable twinkle of malice in her eye.

Dylan swung around to face me as if he’d forgotten I was there. “Paul! Please tell these obsessive females you’re not down with this cockamamie scheme!” I squirmed under the competition between the help-me-out-here-man pleading in his eyes and the increasingly familiar you-are-on-MY-side resoluteness in Phoebe’s. When fragments of a conversation I had had long ago with Max Fischer in a Zurich bar on the pros and cons of Swiss neutrality began tumbling from my mouth, they both looked away in disgust. I fled for the sanctuary of the restrooms two flights of stairs below, closer to the center of the earth whose gravitational pull had suddenly become irresistible. “Fucking Judas!” hollered Dylan after me as Phoebe and Dani piled on for the “obsessive female” gibe; then the more indistinct sound of Hal Topper’s ire reigniting in the kitchens.

“Listen,” I said, casting a glance over my shoulder, flashlight beams sweeping through the blackness of an upstairs room Dani and Phoebe had made their way to, icily fearless it seemed to me even if Dani’s shotgun was leading the way, “The list of names I’ve been called over the years, especially this last one, is long, vicious, and creative. Just the other day Lucy called me a syphilitic butt weevil. So, calling me Judas is almost a compliment okay? Don’t worry about it.”

“It was after that,” he said, grabbing the spade and working it furiously, clods of dirt and stone thudding down in the darkness behind him. “When you went downstairs. I said things have all gone to shit since you showed up. That I wished we’d never met you. I said you’re a loser and a lush who crashes planes, got what was coming to you when you lost everything. I…” He stopped digging and, leaning back on his hands, breathed fog into the clear star-chipped sky.

“I get the picture,” I said, wondering if he was going to choke on the Adam’s apple, normally a prominent ineptly shaved shark fin, that had disappeared in his throat. “It’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t,” he snapped. “I said I hope they throw away the key when you go up to the joint. That’s beyond the pale. Mom actually slapped me across the face. She never did that before. Then she stormed out in tears and Dani had to remind me how happy you make her. Don’t shake your head like that. It’s true. She also pointed out if it weren’t for you, me and her would’ve never hooked up. Not to mention hitting the jackpot in Lexington. You’re a good guy, Paul, and I owe you an apology. I’m sorry, man. Forgive me.”

He looked at me expectantly, the Rolex on his wrist no sanitation manager could hope to afford catching in the moonlight, the grip of a 9mm sticking awkwardly out the front of his pants like he had deliberately angled it so at least his bits wouldn’t get blown off were it to discharge of its own accord. Even he was instilled with the same principled earnestness I had observed in Melanie and her friends, and which Dani also had in spades; a more advanced moral circuitry seemingly unique to these Gen Z-ers, the genetic heedlessness of preceding generations somehow having skipped theirs. It was almost infuriating to see moisture in his eyes over not inaccurate slights I hadn’t even heard to get ruffled over.

When I told him so, he pointed a finger in the air and said, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, it does make a sound.” I stared at him and he spat through his teeth at the shallow crater he had dug, one that would become his grave if he kept that shit up. When I told him so, he leaned on his spade and examined his nails so much as to say, ‘I’m on strike until you accept my apology.’

Patting his shoulder, I grunted “We’re good,” and, abandoning my original plan of supervising Dylan’s efforts, started digging in the hopes of sweating out the chill I felt percolating through my bone marrow. What was it Holden had beseeched me to do during the trial? “For God’s sake, Paul, at least act remorseful.” The thorn tree rustled even though there was no breeze and it dawned on me, cold little feet skittering up my spine: I couldn’t recall a time – from the morning after our wedding when she awoke alone only to find me snoring in Dorothy’s flowerbed cradling an oversized garden gnome, to the night her tears shimmered under the glare of Julianne Robbins grimacing face frozen on the TV, to this very moment right now – I had ever uttered the words “I am sorry” to Ally. I had just taken it for granted she would forever put up with my crap. How is that possible, especially when she had always been so quick to apologize to me, repentant even on those rare occasions she was ambushed by modest flatulence despite my shameless volleys being capable of setting off the car alarms outside and sending Melanie fleeing for her room? With the palette of my feelings ordinarily confined to the primary colors of happy, sad, angry, the addition of the blended hue of remorse somehow intensified the shading of the world, put its shapes into starker perspective. I stopped digging while Dylan carried on softly whistling away, his world a brighter more orderly place for having cleared his conscience. I felt fit to drink his blood, my knuckles whitening as I strangled the shaft of my spade.

“Woah!” came a stifled cry from Dylan, his blade shearing through something more brittle than roots.


“Quit pointing that thing at me and shine it down here.” I hovered my phone over the pit and almost stumbled in when its radiation illuminated a broken tusk of bone spearing out of the black soil.

“You don’t suppose it’s his old pooch, do you?” I said weakly, a tinny smell of corruption pushing me back from the edge.

“Son… of… a… bitch!” groaned Dylan, articulating each word with intensifying fury. As I watched him rub his temples with the heels of his hands, it vaguely occurred to me Mayweather may have led me here so I might have the honor of beefing out his Wikipedia page. Best not share that with Dylan since he was now making like a javelin thrower with his spade and I doubted he would suffer much of his prior remorse if I presented as an even easier target than I already was. “I don’t suppose its treasure either,” he boiled over, harpooning the pile of dirt he had created instead.

To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 19), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 18

Chapter 18*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

“What are the chances?” murmured Phoebe, turning her back and flicking her lighter in a cupped hand until a sinew of smoke escaped the corner of her mouth and was obliterated in the wind. Unaccustomed to Phoebe’s stream of consciousness musings, Lucy looked up at me from where she sat at the end of the bench, stuck out her bottom lip, and shrugged.

“Zero that we know what you’re talking about,” I said.

Standing there in cat sunglasses, their pointed corners encrusted in rhinestones, and Grace Kelly scarf, Phoebe looked every bit the aging movie star, stoical in the face of a waning career and self-engineered tragedy, even though the Marlboro poised between two gloved fingers was, as usual, bent out of shape like an old nail. She tapped it in my direction as if to ash on my ignorance and, pointing at the plaque memorializing Mildred Stanfield’s untimely end, said, “The chances of that.”

I pulled out my phone and read from the screen: “There’s a 1 in 9 million chance of being killed by lightning.”

“Wow,” said Lucy. “She must have been cursed.”

“Maybe, but according to this those odds are WAY better than winning the Powerball. Or going down in an airpl– ”

“I meant finding someone who loves you that much,” snapped Phoebe.

Not a single sentimental molecule in her body, Lucy clapped a hand over her mouth to conceal the incredulous amusement her eyes betrayed. The inward groan I gave voice to when I said, “What? A sign on a bench? In a cesspool out by the airport? That no one ever comes to except to spray-paint CUNT on it? It’s not exactly the Taj Mahal, my dear.”

I should have known this inexplicable showing off to Lucy would trigger something volcanic in Phoebe. Sure enough, she slid her glasses down her nose, gripped her cigarette between thumb and forefinger and pointed the heater, elongated and jagged as it receded in the wind, in my face like it was the tip of a blade. “Don’t you ‘my dear’ me. We’re here aren’t we? To scatter the ashes of your old friend. Because it’s a special place. Even if it was in the middle of the Sahara Desert or on the moon!” she shrilled, the tendrils of the old willow flailing assent in the wind. “Who would do something like this for you if you suddenly dropped dead? Not me, that’s for sure!”

“We could just freshen up this paint job,” cackled Lucy, turning and patting the faded green ‘C’ she had her back to. I watched sullenly as Phoebe and Lucy high-fived this proposal, the inevitable 2 versus 1 dynamic of threesomes reconfiguring to my disadvantage, to the ostracized position I had become increasingly familiar with as Melanie waded deeper into her teens and allied herself more and more with Ally.

Phoebe had a point though: who would? And my chest tightened as memories of Ally once again tugged at my heart. Those Sunday dinners when she would give me the best cut of steak or largest slice of cake and scowl at Melanie, somehow not as deserving, when I shared the extra bounty with her. The tender, non-judgmental nursing that time I went so overboard at the American Ballet Gala I had been dragged to, I was too shattered to get out of bed and take Melanie to the soccer tournament she’d been hyping for weeks. The glorious unreciprocated massages when I came home after long-haul flights. The shoulder biting when I teased her and unselfish devotion in bed. Had I not made the Lajes landing and the plane had gone down, the remnants of my catastrophically destroyed body ending up at the bottom of the Atlantic or in the belly of a shark, I could imagine Ally cleaning out our savings to build a cenotaph, her own private Taj Mahal, somewhere spectacular like that secluded patch of beach in the Ozarks where we had fucked under moonbeams and dozed to the pleasing sound of boats moving through water. What was it Bob Calloway had said to me on my wedding night? With such authority it was almost menacing? “She’s a keeper, Paul. DON’T FUCK IT UP.”

“How do I make sure I don’t?” I asked in all sincerity as I gazed at Ally glistening and heaving under the lights of the dancefloor, all the other women out there looking pasty and heiferish in comparison.

He slung a great bear arm around my shoulder and pulled me into his unyielding, hard as concrete, body. “Women are insanely resilient to our bullshit so long as they feel loved. And that’s so easy it’s not even funny. All you have to do,” he said, counting off his points with emphatic meaty fingers “is: one, keep your fucking dick in your pants; two, make her laugh; and three, every now and then, drop a random gesture of affection. Humping her from behind every time she’s leaning over doesn’t count.”

“Too bad.”

“Not really. It still counts to show how horny you still are for her. Which is important. But a heartfelt kiss on the hand in public will translate into the real thing – with bells on – in the sack.”

This sensible enough advice must have gotten deleted by some memory gremlin the instant Bob released me from his grip and marched off to find Sarah as if stirred to action by his own guidance. Reflecting on it now, I had always been able to make Ally laugh at will, even during the somberest of times (perhaps especially during the somberest of times), her face splitting open with teeth and laughter often until, knees squeezed together and crotch in hand, she begged me to stop. But on Bob’s other points, I had failed spectacularly. Making it all the more astonishing that she went so above and beyond, pandering to me year in year out.

A jerky Instagram loop video of Jeff Rosenberg spontaneously kissing Ally’s hand while strolling down the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, our Promenade, for all to see began sadistically playing in my head until I felt a hand cupping my chin. “Jesus Paul, we were just kidding,” said Phoebe.

“I wasn’t,” said Lucy dryly, still sore at me for cracking that, with her cape coat billowing in the wind around her diminutive frame, we might just as easily attach her to a string and fly her like a kite as scatter Harold’s ashes.

The fog clearing, I studied the little worry crinkles around Phoebe’s eyes and grunted, “It’s not that.” She pursed her lips and nodded sadly and, as she turned and winced into the wind clawing at her headscarf, as beautiful in her glorious damage as the grand crumbling buildings in Old Havana, I was overcome by a powerful unfamiliar impulse, perhaps also blown in on the strange and volatile wind. I took her hand and pulling off her glove, pressed her palm to my lips and kissed her there with all the tenderness an empty man could muster for a woman who, if there ever was one, deserved to be loved. And without having to be struck down by lightning to pay for it.

To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 18), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 17

Chapter 17*

Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.

Dylan swung on to the highway and the motel receded quickly in the back window, its boxy lines breaking down under the hard morning light of a winter sun, melting into the horizon until it was gone. It was hard to believe it still existed or had ever existed, that the events of the last three days and nights had been anything more than visions in a fever dream. In just a few short hours we would be stretched out in front of the fire at Milkwood’s, Lucy due to join us, Dani’s father lurking somewhere in the walls. I turned back around. The full case of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve jingled merrily in the trunk as we passed through the slipstream of a roaring semi weaving in and out of the lanes like it was on an F1 circuit.

Dylan grinned at me in the rearview, his manmade dimple cratering, the other as perfect and angelic as a baby’s. “You love that sound, don’t you? Chumps in the store fork over 150 bucks a pop for that stuff.”

“You told us that already,” said Phoebe, as suspicious of Dylan’s “procurement” of the booze as she was of the fist-sized roll of cash he’d peeled a couple of $100 notes from back at the motel to pay our bill. She had scoffed at Dylan’s claim they won it at the track (“you couldn’t win a draw with only your name in it”) but she didn’t press it, ever reluctant to acknowledge any part of Dylan’s obvious shadiness. She would rather embrace his official job title, ‘District Manager, Hillsborough Department of Sanitation’, than entertain any notion that anything in his possession might have been “procured” at the end of a gun. So instead of saying something like ‘What makes you any different from the rest of us chumps?’ she said, “Say it again and I’ll scream.”

“Sure you will, Phoebe,” he laughed, thumbs drumming the steering wheel with a catchy enough sense of rhythm it got Dani batting at the glove compartment with the end of her Slurpee straw.

“I’d take her word for it,” I cautioned, especially as calling her “Phoebe” instead of “Mom” amounted to a double taunt. “She’s been practicing on me.”

“YOU are supposed to be on my side,” said Phoebe, squeezing my knee hard enough to make it jerk reflexively.

Dani caught this out of the corner of her eye and swung around. “Oh! Oh! Are you two…?”

“No!” we called out in unison.

“Some of us didn’t come all this way just to count ceiling tiles,” said Phoebe corrosively, causing Dylan to spit a freshly lit cigarette out the window in a shower of sparks, seized by a sudden coughing fit. Recovering, he glared at Dani who was glaring at me while Phoebe deftly lit a Marlboro, engulfed Dylan’s head in a cloud of blue smoke, and said, “Aren’t you even going to ask us how it went?”

“How what went?” he growled, swatting at the smoke like a bear beset by bees.

“I can’t believe this. The execution of the man who almost killed us both, you little dipshit!”

To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 17), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Angle of Attack: Chapter 16

Chapter 16*

It was those hands, one folded in front of the other on the table’s edge, I couldn’t take my eyes off when I entered the room. Lily white and slender, a woman’s hands with long fingers as delicate as flower stems, the handcuffs could almost pass for jewelry if they weren’t attached to a thick belly chain, slack around a narrow waist. Even if you dipped them in blood, they’d look more artistic than the brutish hairy hands you’d expect a killer would need to mangle his victims into such unrecognizable states even seasoned forensic pathologists, according to Phoebe’s scrapbook, had turned green.

“I think you’d need a PhD in astrology to make that one look like she’s dreaming something nice,” I had muttered over Phoebe’s shoulder, an obscene crime scene photo she’d downloaded from the dark web splashed across the screen of her laptop.

“Cosmetology,” she said, looking up and raising an I-know-you-know-that eyebrow.

“I knew that.”

“I could have done something with her,” she sighed, shaking her head like a mother wondering where she’d gone wrong.

As I mulled again the unlikelihood of that claim, he cleared his throat and I finally gathered the wits to look up at the rest of him. Small build to match his hands. Oily brown hair combed back off a broad forehead. Tired, colorless eyes set a touch too far apart in a bland face unobstructed by the Hannibal Lecter bite mask I had half anticipated and free of the psycho tics I now searched it for. So at odds with the grimacing monster pics in the press, it crossed my mind I might have been put in the wrong room and was sitting opposite some white-collar stiff dinged for securities fraud. That impression was augmented when he tapped his thumbs together, interview-style, and said in a reedy, clerical voice, “So Paul Manson, what can I do for you today?” as if I was the one who had requested the meeting. As if I had come to renegotiate my mortgage.

“What’d he say? What’d he say? What’d he say?” chanted Phoebe, bobbing up and down on the balls of her feet, slapping her sides to the beat of her insistence. Only late afternoon and the light in the chilly motel room was already failing while an uncertain rain stuttered at the window. Closing the door behind me, I shivered and side-punched the light switch on the wall only for the unshaded incandescent bulb dangling from the ceiling to flare, pop loudly, and die.

“Great,” I said, realizing I had so gotten used to the warm fires cheerfully crackling away in the afternoons in my cabin and through the evenings at Milkwood’s, I was physically craving one now. I wanted to go home. Home? My self-imposed exile back to Hillsborough, the long days of emotional self-flagellation, yearning for my family, my job, New York, now felt like a beach holiday. “I suppose we can still huddle around the end of your cigarette.”

Crushing out that notion at the bottom of a glass ashtray large enough to substitute for a murder weapon, Phoebe stuck out her neck, eyes wide and incredulous. “Well?”

“At least we have these,” I said, dumping the paper bag clinking with bottles on the bed. I had gotten the cab to drop me off at Big Dan’s, a liquor store tucked away a half mile back from the motel on an overgrown strip of road so quiet and empty it belonged in a dystopian movie. But there were two cars in the parking lot and an ‘OPEN’ sign hung askew in the glass door which, rigged with sleigh bell chimes, jangled noisily when it flew open under the force of my relief. A tall slinky blond in the vodka section swung round and peered at me over black shades, long fake eyelashes fluttering while the extraordinary mass of denim-clad humanity behind the counter, presumably Big Dan himself, remained undistracted from ogling her bare legs. She put a finger to her lips to silently hush me but, when I opened my mouth to inform her she wasn’t exactly in a library, she winked coquettishly and turned away again. Then I noticed it, the subtle clue Max Fischer had taught me just in time one night in Bangkok: her legs – they kept on going when they disappeared up her skirt, straight unbroken lines with indeterminate endpoints.

“That everything, darlin’?” boomed Big Dan, neckless through an avalanche of fat, his head looked like something squeezed from a tube. The blond set a bottle in front of him and hushed him with another finger to the lips as a miserable little black-and-white TV with coat hanger rabbit ears crackled behind him:

…all of his appeals exhausted, barring an eleventh hour stay by the governor, Carrick Mayweather will be executed tomorrow at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility at…

“Good riddance, right darlin’?!”

“He’s not even scared of death,” said the blond in the deep, rich bass-baritone of important men.

While the color flooded Big Dan’s face, carefully constructed fantasy scenarios kicked over and set ablaze, I set down my bottles and asked the blond nonchalantly, “how do you figure?”

“He asked for death by torture.”

“That’s all talk, talk,” I said, giving the blond a light pat on the side just to fuck with Big Dan’s head a little more, “trust me, he’s absolutely shitting himself.”

“How do you know that?” said Phoebe as I unscrewed a 40 of jack, put it straight to my lips, and looked out the window where the arms of the motel’s windsock, a grinning tube man with blue rapper braids made from plastic streamers, were flailing around under a rising wind.

“That’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it?” he asked broodily, the question reflecting a shift to a new unprefaced line of thought uncannily similar, minus the charm, to Phoebe’s out-of-the-blueness.

“Define ‘that’,” I said, wearily. The stuffy room, painted a blaring fire engine red, was filled with the cloying odors of his emotions and I winced as the dull opening chords of a headache resounded through my frontal lobe.

“That this time tomorrow I’ll be dead,” he said, cracking his knuckles and cocking his ear to the sound. “Put down with a needle like a fucking dog and burned in an oven,” he growled, his eyes switching in a flurry of blinks to a dark pigment, one not found in nature. It was the same ocular transformation that had occurred when he had described his plans for Dylan if the C-section he was performing on Phoebe had not been interrupted by “the creature in the trees.”

“Didn’t you ask the jury to recommend the death penalty? And then request death by torture?”

“C’mon, Paul, you know that was just for Wiki,” he said, shaking his chains for emphasis as if I wasn’t paying attention, nodding off to sleep. He had done this before after swapping out his eye color: saying “you know” as if I really did or really should “know” something unique to his life, especially his childhood:

…you know how he taunted her about black musicians…

…you know the way he’d rip off his belt…

…you know she would dress me up like a fucking girl just to piss him off…

…you know her bags were all packed the day the mine collapsed…

…you know that’s when I dropped the block from The Tightrope…

“Right,” I sighed. Him and his damn Wikipedia page. One he’d never even seen; he’d been locked up for so long now. Totally unmoved by the distinction between fame and notoriety, the fact that his exploits, each murder a fresh masterpiece in savagery he freely admitted were designed to out-outrage the last, had been chronicled and “immortalized with FIVE HUNDRED AND EIGHT footnotes!” on the internet (which he still called the Information Superhighway) convinced him he had secured an enduring place in history. “If you’re in Wikipedia, you’re a somebody,” he had snorted after I pointed out ‘Toilet paper orientation’ also has its own page, something I only knew from Melanie, a committed ‘under orientation’ advocate on the spurious grounds of paper conservation (“if the paper comes down behind the roll, it reduces the risk a toddler or cat will unroll all the paper batting at it,” she had claimed straight-faced despite our house being uncontaminated by either.) “Good or bad doesn’t matter,” he said, smacking his thin bloodless lips, “you’re still a somebody”. Ever brooding on my own nobodyness these days, it rankled that this somehow resonated. What if I had actually killed everyone on the plane? Hundreds more than Carrick Mayweather’s measly 11? It still wouldn’t have earned me a spot in the pantheon of assholes in Wikipedia, only a mention of my un-hyperlinked name in the American Airlines Flight 321 article. Afterall, getting drunk and crashing a plane only qualifies you as a douchebag. Hanging a homecoming queen in a tree with angel wings constructed from her own lungs qualifies you as a fascinating monster, one warranting FIVE HUNDRED AND EIGHT footnotes.

“But before they incinerate me, they’re going to cut open my head and take my brain,” he muttered, his perspiring skin excreting another sickly whiff of fear. “To ‘study for abnormalities,’” he air-quoted over his crotch, the veins in his white arms standing up as he strained at the belly chain. It was a hell of a thing, I had to admit. Your last full day and night on earth. Knowing that tomorrow, as the second hand of your watch steadily sweeps away the last precious minutes and hours, by the time most people east of the Mississippi are sitting down for dinner, there will be nothing left of you except your brain floating in a jar labeled ‘ABNORMAL’.

“Warranting posthumous study, no less,” I said, whether to myself or a man too agitated to hear anything beyond the boundary of his own voice I couldn’t say.

“They’ll probably just toss my ashes in the garbage. Or down the fucking toilet,” he spat, hot indignation scalding his face the same crimson hue I could imagine it turned at the onset of his ordeal in the boiler room the night prior.

“Take heart,” I said glibly even as I felt my skin tingling in terror on his behalf, “your Wikipedia page will live on with the rest of us.”

“Love letters?!”

“From dozens of women, if he’s to be believed.”

“Why? How?”

“I looked it up on my phone. It’s called, wait a minute, let me find it again… Hybristophilia. According to Wikipedia– ”

“Don’t mention Wikipedia again or I’ll scream!”

“You’re screaming right now.”

“I’ll scream louder.”

Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer.”


Others ‘see’ the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him.”

“Little boy?!”

“He says he’s received an offer to have them published.”


“They could call it ‘Tender Kisses for a Reformed Face-Eater’.”

Phoebe glared at me. The end of her cigarette flared and crackled in the neon bathed darkness, her neck muscles rising in sharp ridges as if straining against an invisible choke collar. “I’m ashamed of my sex,” she said in a clogged voice through missiles of smoke, furiously grinding out the cigarette like it was the eraser end of a pencil and there was an obscene word (‘female’?) written on the bottom of the ashtray. She held up the accordioned butt, regarded it coldly, and dropped it atop its less violently treated predecessors. Briskly slapping her hands together, mission accomplished, she turned back to me sighing through her nose.

“You should teach Dylan how cigarettes work,” I said, admiring the last inverted V-shaped contrails streak from her nostrils. “You’re a pro.”

“Don’t change the subject, Paul. You’re always doing that.”

“You have complete mastery over them. With him, the tail wags the dog,” I persevered.

“I don’t get any love letters from anyone. Do you get love letters?”

“Hate mail more like.”

“Not even from Ally?”

“Especially from Ally!” I coughed through a mouthful of Jack. “And now look who’s changing the subject.”

“I mean before, dummy!” she cried as a cold hand clutched at my heart and squeezed. All of Ally’s notes. Every time I flew, without exception she slipped a note, written in sweeping calligraphic handwriting, in the blazer pocket of the uniform she had fastidiously ironed the creases from (under Melanie’s scornful gaze once she had married feminism to her climate activism). Sitting on the tarmac with Gary, firing the engines and waiting for the tower to clear us, I would fish them out and read them. Beautiful and exhilarating, they invariably ended with her signature signoff:

Fly safe. Come home soon. I could never live without you, my captain. Ally Cat– xoxoxo

I had kept them all but on that last slushy day at the house we had lived in together for over 20 years, my suitcases sitting in gloomy light at the front door, Ally and Melanie gone to the movies, the cab honking impatiently outside, I had rushed back to my desk and rummaged through them only to fetch the .38.

“How could I have left them behind?”

“I knew it,” said Phoebe quietly, the flesh around her half open mouth soft and sad as she reached for her Marlboros. “Probably publishable.”

“I only ever had one fan, but I was the most famous person in the world to her.”

“Two minutes and it’s a wrap, okay Hoss?” boomed the guard, his massive head tilted horizontally through the door as though he were standing on the wall outside instead of the floor. I punched two grateful thumbs up in his direction as he sniffed at the air disdainfully. “Jesus Christ, Mayweather, you smell like boiled eggs.”

“Blow me, you fucking cocksucker.”

“Pot kettle, from all I hear. Two minutes, Hoss.”

Mayweather slumped forward, head bowed, and let out a long high-pitched sound somewhere between a sigh and a whistle, his body seeming to deflate like a balloon along with it. As his jumpsuit crinkled inwards, I was struck afresh by how slight and harmless looking he was. I imagined if he were to suddenly break free from his restraints and come at me, the exhale from my yawn would be enough to repulse him.

He lifted his head laboriously, as though it were made of iron, and said, “So, you believe in God, eh?”

“God, no.”

“Then what’s with that big golden Christsicle around your neck? Just in case?”

“Just something from my past.”

“What from your past?”

“I don’t really remember.”

“Really? It matches that tooth of yours perfectly. Like they’re made from the same gold.”

“I don’t think so.

“Like they’re connected.

“I don’t think so.”

“Like they’re…” he paused and blinked his eyes darker and darker “…trophies,” came a strange croaking voice that sent enough of a shiver up my spine for him to notice me shake it out through my shoulders. He nodded sagely and as he did the already cramped room seemed to get smaller while he got larger, dilated pupils flashing and vulturine, suddenly just the sort of man who could snap free of his chains and disembowel me with his bare hands.

But then the guard’s key rasped in the door behind me, all went back to normal, nothing but a pathetic frightened creature sitting in front of me. Freshly emboldened, I shrilled: “What? You mean like the fucking scalps you kept in your refrigerator?!”

He rearranged his crotch as if to dislodge an uncomfortable downward pointing erection, shrugged, and said, “There’s nothing wrong for men of action like us to take souvenirs of our achievements.”

“Achievements!” cried Phoebe, timbering backwards onto the bed where she made sweeping snow angel movements, the cheap linen bunching up in drifts around her head. “Death by torture! Give him what he asked for!”

I was about to make a crack about how that might jazz up his Wikipedia page even more when, looking over from our makeshift bar by the window, I saw her face was slick with tears. Sitting next to her on the bed, her thrashing had tugged her blouse up over her midriff exposing a length of angry scar. So thick and wormlike, I half expected its bunched-up segments to move when I touched them. “This is your trophy of his failure,” I said, my fingers arriving where the wound arced and wriggled under the waistband of her pants, “and his downfall. Branded right on your body. How perfect is that?”

“Paul,” she said breathlessly, a bright smile clashing with her wet face. “You can say the dopiest things but sometimes, just sometimes…” She gently pushed her pelvis up, my hand resting on her belly just above the first button of her fly, and murmured, “Do you think we should?”

“I want to,” I said, and I really did since my testicles were contracting in anticipation, but–

“But you’d pretend I was Ally,” she said matter-of-factly in a fluent demonstration of mindreading. I looked up at her, desperate to blunt the truth of it when she lifted my hand to her lips, kissed my knuckles lightly, and said, “It’s okay. Really. I’m just happy you’re here with me. It’s all I need.”

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” I white lied.

“I love you for saying it. Let’s have a drink now, huh?”

She didn’t have to ask twice but, as I was putting the finishing touches on her G & T, my phone binged.

DANI: Definitely NOT gay 😊

ME: Congratulations.

DANI: He had a panic attack halfway through.

ME: Of course he did.

DANI: Had to go outside for a smoke and pace around but when he came back – holy shit!


DANI: I’m walking sideways now 😛

ME: TMI damn it, Dani!

DANI: 😛 😛 😛

“What is it?” said Phoebe, now at my side by the window.

“Seems Dylan’s a rock star once he’s gotten over the stage fright,” I said, holding up my phone and watching her eyeballs race side-to-side.

“Son of a bitch,” she mumbled through the lipstick-bloodied filter of an unlit Marlboro, apparently oblivious to the boomerang nature of the insult I elected not to point out.

“Cheers,” I said, and the moment I did the bedsprings in the adjacent room began groaning at a breakneck tempo and, if it weren’t for all the squealed “yeah babys” coming though the wall, you’d think the young girl in there was having boiled water poured on her.

“Jesus Christ,” said Phoebe, coldly eyeing the watercolor print of Mount Vernon dancing on the wall. “Is she fucking a jackhammer, or what?”

“That or a lonely trucker. Same difference I imagine,” I said and then, with a great rattling bellow, it was abruptly over.

We clinked glasses and turned to look out the window where an ambulance whooshed by, flashing lights activated but siren-less in the empty darkness of the highway. Phoebe rested her head on my shoulder and sighed. Below, car doors slammed and an enormous cylinder of flesh penguin-walked towards the reception, one balloon hand dragging a shiny new-looking suitcase on wheels, the other around the waist of a tall slinky blond with no hips. “What do you think their story is?” said Phoebe, tracking my gaze.

I put my arm around her shoulder, the pleasing rise and fall of her ribcage against mine, and said, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”


To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 16), 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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