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 athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© 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


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:

STEINWAY & SONS

“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 athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© 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.

“What?”

“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 athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© 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 athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© 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 athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© 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.

Posted in Angle of Attack | Leave a comment

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.”

“Powerful?!”

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.”

“What?!”

“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!

ME: TMI

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 athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© 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.

Posted in Angle of Attack | Leave a comment

The Angle of Attack: Chapter 15


Chapter 15*

Yet another barred door rolled shut with a heavy clang that reverberated down the next corridor and automatically locked behind me. Sealed ever deeper within the complex, so dreary and lacking in natural light, its disorienting subterranean quality did nothing to dampen the claustrophobic panic swelling within me. Nor did the pair of tattooed inmates up ahead who, looking up from their half-assed floor mopping, fixed me in hard baleful eyes which, despite the presence of the enormous guard escorting me, made me feel as susceptible to an unholy end as a tethered goat. Ever since Phoebe had dropped me off, the sight of the tall chain link fences topped with tight coils of razor wire, the sniper towers with their dark tinted windows, the stars and stripes snapping under an angry wind, all made my instincts scream: “Turn around right now and RUN!” So what countervailing forces were suppressing them and propelling my leaden legs onward?

None that had any influence over Dylan, that’s for sure. “That does it,” he had spluttered shortly after the bug strike, getting nothing out of his cigarette unaware that, in his fumbling attempt to light it, he had burned a long smoldering hole down its side. “Fuck this,” he said, flinging it from the window and peering up into the sky as if it might next rain African elephants.

“Has it occurred to you Dylan, your life might be less stressful if you quit smoking?” I asked.

“That does what?” demanded Phoebe.

“Next exit, I’m turning around and going home. That’s what that does.”

“Do you think he could be gay?” mused Dani as we watched Dylan and Phoebe arguing in the parking lot from the window of the truck stop diner. “Look how he’s got his hand on his back with his hip stuck out like that. It’s effeminate.”

“Is it?”

“That’s the way a woman stands when she’s pissed.”

Perhaps, but it also struck me as the way a young hood might stand when getting dressed down by his mother in public and has a gun shoved down the back of his pants for just such occasions. But now he had wound up and kicked one of the fat unyielding tires on a rig parked behind them and was cartoonishly hopping around, grimacing, on one foot. “That kid’s a walking contradiction on a lot of different levels. I wouldn’t speculate too much on his body language.”

“I almost hope he is gay,” she sighed.

“Why?”

“I get the feeling if I took off my clothes and danced around in front of him stark naked, he wouldn’t pay a damn bit of attention.”

“You mean you haven’t already?” Dani’s eyes narrowed to slits at this and she huffed indignantly even as she struggled with the smile catching in the corners of her mouth. God, she reminded me of Melanie sometimes and I watched her with melancholy fondness as she struggled to locate the zinger comeback eluding her.

“So, that’s all settled then,” said Dylan sliding into the booth next to Dani, slapping his hands together and looking excessively pleased with himself while Phoebe stomped off to the restrooms. “I’m– ”

“Heterosexual after all?” I ventured, causing Dani to direct a swift eye-watering kick to my shin under the table.

She needn’t have bothered. Only a flicker of bafflement registered in Dylan’s face before he shook it away and continued in bubbly high spirits, “I’m going to drop you dopes off in Lucasville and then I’m out of there.”

“Where to?”

“Going to keep heading south down to Lexington. I’ll hang out there until you’re good and done with all this grim reaper shit. Then I’ll come get you.”

“What’s in Lexington?”

“Real Kentucky bourbon for one thing, Paul. I can bring some back for you if you want a break from that horse piss you drink.”

“You read my mind,” I said, swirling the muddy dregs at the bottom of my cup of Jack-spiked coffee.

“There’s a guy at Pappy Van Winkle’s who owes me. Stuff is velvet.”

“Sounds like an underpants outlet for old men, but I’ll take your word for it.”

“What about me?” whimpered Dani with all the dejection of a dog left out in the rain.

“Don’t worry, you’re coming with me babe,” said Dylan sunnily. Before Dani could register that he had just called her “babe” or that he’d slung his arm around her shoulder, he planted a noisy wet kiss in the middle of her forehead which, Dylan ever in the process of exsanguinating from some part of his body, left behind a glistening red smear. She slowly rotated her head back in my direction, shoulders quaking as some vesuvian joy awoke, spread across her stunned face and ignited the gases in her eyes. Oblivious to wearing Dylan’s kiss, and her hair pulled back in a tight braid, she looked like a freshly anointed Hindu brimming with the promise of nirvana.

“So long suckers!” Dylan might as well have been saying when, a few hours later, he saluted us through the windshield before spinning the wheels and literally leaving me and Phoebe and the bags dumped at our feet in the dust. Standing there in front of the roadside we had just checked into, we watched Dani castaway waving out her window until the highway doglegged southwest and they were gone. Right the hell out of Dodge.

Probably playing the ponies and drinking Pappy Van Whatevers this very minute I lamented, my tongue dry and perspiration tracking down my side as a heavy steel door with a shuttered sliver of window loomed up ahead.

“You alright, Hoss?” said the guard in a honking voice, resting a giant’s hand on my shoulder that, under his tremendous height and pear-shaped girth, tilted me over towards him. On the wrong side of 50, he had the unpaved red face of a professional drinker and sported a singed walrus mustache that concealed his entire mouth even when he talked. But when you found his eyes, sunken above dark bunched skin, they were gentle and steady and invited unpolluted answers.

“He ate the face off a girl my daughter’s age,” I said mechanically, recalling one of the godless bedtime stories Phoebe had read me the night before from a fat scrapbook of newspaper clippings she had brought along. “While he…”

“Praise God we soon won’t be sharing the same planet with him,” he interjected, as if God was going to be relocating Carrick Mayweather to Mars. “And I’ll tell you something else,” he said, as we came to a halt in front of the door. “The party got started early last night, from what I hear. Bright boy found himself, how shall I say… accidentally left alone in the boiler room with four of the biggest, meanest sons of bitches we got in here. They could hear him screaming through the heat vents all the way down in S Block.”

“So, what, is he half dead in there?”

“Not a scratch on him,” he said with a merry wink. “Round 2 tonight with any luck.”

“Right,” I said softly, picturing myself in an easily removable orange jumpsuit cornered by four iron pumping convicts chomping at the bit to vent all their angry hopelessness. “I know someone who will be delighted to hear that.”

“So, are we ready, Hoss?” said the guard, shaking out a long toothy key from the jumble hanging from his belt. “Or do you just want to call it a day?”

“Ready,” I heard a disembodied voice say and as the door slowly swung open it released a sour vinegary odor much like the stench of fear that wafted over from Gary during the Lajes landing. I clutched at my crucifix through my shirt and reaffirmed under my breath the solemn vow I had scribbled on the back of countless bar mats since my conviction:

DEATH BEFORE JAIL

“Ladies and gentlemen, captain here. Santa’s sleigh is creating some wake turbulence in the skies tonight and the wind is against us. We require a steep takeoff out of here and it’ll be tricky but hang on to your seats, I got this. Champagne will be served as soon as we reach cruising altitude. Over and out,” I said merrily, adjusting my headset to better anchor the reindeer antlers Melanie had given me earlier.

“God, this never gets old!” I cried a few minutes later, pushing the 777’s nose higher, my organs jiggling inside me as every rivet in the aircraft shook under the wind. Below, the blazing lights stringing Long Island faded fast and above the golden sails of the International Space Station winked into view. Hard to imagine there were people in there. Hard to imagine there were people anywhere except for us right here, right now in this mini sky-city streaking across the night towards Newfoundland and the black, cold waters of the Atlantic beyond.

“Watch your angle of attack, Paul,” said Gary sharply. “It’s a plane, not a damn rocket ship.”

“Tomayto-tomahto,” I said giving him a playful elbow to the ribs he swiped away irritably.

“Not if you stall out, it isn’t.”

“Lighten up, Gary, it’s Christmas eve and you’ll never be more free and alive than you are right now!”

“Sure,” he grunted with a sidelong glance at my tinkling antlers. “And don’t start lecturing me about fear of flying and jet roulette. I know the odds…”

CAUSE OF DEATH ODDS OF DYING
Struck by Meteor 1 in 700,000
Flesh Eating Bacteria 1 in 1 million
Shark Attack 1 in 3.7 million
Struck by Lightning 1 in 9 million
Struck by Airplane Part Falling from the Sky 1 in 10 million
Airplane Crash 1 in 11 million

“A person would have to fly on average once a day every day for 22,000 years before they would die in a U.S. commercial airplane accident.”

Dr. Arnold Barnett, MIT

… and it’s not flying I’m scared of,” said Gary.

“Breakfast time, Mr. Manson,” sounded the shrill voice of Sister Vera, as a meal tray came clattering down on my bed table. I poked at the warm aluminum bag slumped over the lip of the plastic plate still recovering its equilibrium. It looked dishearteningly like the one from yesterday morning which, when I’d pulled back its seal, had released a puff of sweaty sock odor and contained two pieces of damp bread Sister Vera had insisted was toast.

“It’s not toast. Toast is toasted. Hence the name. Even the airlines struggle to fuck up toast.”

“Language, Mr. Manson!”

“It’s true, I work for one. What did you do with this? Bring a bedpan to a boil and steam it?”

“Mr. Manson, this is a hospital not a restaurant.”

“Right. Where if sickness doesn’t kill you, the food will.”

“Now, you listen to me,” hissed Sister Vera, making a tight fist as if in preparation to deck me. “Guess what happens if you don’t start eating right this instant?”

“I’ll live to see another day?”

“I’ll report loss of appetite which means you won’t be going anywhere soon.” The words hit me like a hammer blow. All night long I had been listening to my roommate on the other side of the curtain separating our beds alternating between sobbing and vomiting something so vile smelling I had no doubt he was dying; his insides having gotten a head start on decomposing. The only thing that had saved me from slipping into howling madness were the minibar bottles I had convinced Melanie (still in that sweet prepubescent age where she would have walked over broken glass to please me) to smuggle in for me during a visit with Ally earlier in the day. Now, the threat of being stuck another interminable night with him in this horror show of needles and tubes and catheters and beeping monitors and itchy sheets and dull fluorescence and hollow corridor voices convinced me to attack my steamed piss bread as if it were one of the delectable onion burgers I snarfed down at JFK before flying.

But when I looked up at Sister Vera, her mouth twisted into a malignant sneer, her eyes feasting on my misery, she struck me as the reincarnation of a younger, slenderer version of Aunt Carrie. Right down to the writhing Jesus crucifix surfing a swelling undulation in her tunic formed by breasts better suited to a stripper. The lunge towards it, so reflexive it even surprised me, was halted in its tracks by the tearing of stitches above the throbbing spot in my abdomen where my appendix had nearly exploded. I shrieked once, pornographically decorating Sister Vera’s face with the pulpy contents of my mouth; Sister Vera shrieked twice and fled; and my roommate began whimpering piteously like something run over.

I stood at the foot of my bed shrugging into my overcoat, blood slinking around my wedding band and down my finger from where I’d yanked out the IV, blood spotting my gown where the stitches were leaking. Not much time before Sister Vera would be back, probably with a cohort of burly orderlies instructed to fasten me into a straitjacket. “Help… help me please…” rasped my roommate from behind the curtain. Pushing it aside, I was startled to see a man only ankle-deep in his thirties, not the sulfuric old geezer I had developed in my mind, sunken so deep in his bed he looked as though he was being slowly consumed by it. It had been pushed up close to a window besmeared with greasy fingerprints and containing only an unbroken red-brick wall, fuzzy under slanting morning sun, for a view.

“What is it, man? Hurry, I got to run.”

“My… my breakfast…” he said, half lifting the arm not plugged into three different IV poles and flapping at the food cart Sister Vera had abandoned. I swung it over to him, burning in shame as it dawned on me that, after a night of emptying his stomach, this man was famished for the very food I’d been so petulantly railing against.

“Here, knock yourself out,” I said and, after a glance up at me with the wild, desperate eyes of someone drowning, he turned away to stare out the window as if the red-brick wall might crumble under the weight of his suffering and reveal the able-bodied world still obliviously humming along without him.

“Or at least that’s what I thought. It only occurred to me later he was probably too weak to reach for his own tray. He probably just turned away in disgust. But I was frantic. I just took off. Left him there with a cart full of meals he couldn’t eat.”

“I’m sure he got one in the end,” said Shannon absently, harp plucking at the ridges of her corduroys, her pen lying untouched atop a blank pad at her side. What’s up with her today?

“I still think about that guy a lot. Stuck in that… that prison,” I said, meat grinding the word. “With no gas in the tank to run like I did. What a way to end your days. I’d rather put myself down with the .38. I’d–”

“.38?” chirped Shannon, suddenly attentive, her twitchy bird face activated. “You have a gun?”

“No,” I lied not because I didn’t want to explain how I had come into its possession, but because I couldn’t remember how I had.

“You said, the .38.”

“I meant a .38.”

She stood up abruptly, walked over to the window and drummed on the glass with her fingertips as if telegraphing a message in Morse code to one of the insurance geeks across the street.

He’s got a gun. Stop. Lying about it. Stop. Notify your people. Stop…

Letting out the short sigh of someone who has just come to a decision, she returned with some crumpled papers retrieved from her desk. “I think,” she said, ironing them out before me on the coffee table, “you may have left these behind last time.”

“The way he was trying to break down that wall with his eyes, I would have dragged him out of there with me if I wasn’t half-dead myself,” I said, Phoebe’s face half in shadow now that the sun had slipped from the sky and filled the drab motel room with soggy twilight. “So that’s why I hang on to that thing,” I concluded, nodding at the .38 lying in her lap. Had Phoebe been my girlfriend, I would have nailed the articles of the riot act to her head for snooping through my things, especially since she had done it while I was out battling with an uncooperative cigarette machine on her behalf. In all my years with Ally, she had never been a snooper and that’s a fact because had she known there was a loaded gun in the house, easily discoverable in the bottom drawer of my desk, it would have ended up at the bottom of the Hudson not far from my bullet riddled body. Whether it was inherent trust in me or an inherent desire not to know, who’s to say, but even when I loaned her my computer forgetting it was paused mid-way through Alice’s Anal Adventures in Wonderland, rather than rain down grief and misery on me, Ally had hooked it up to the TV so we could watch the rest of it together. What a magnificent, rare creature she had been in so many ways I was only now beginning to fully appreciate.

“I don’t understand,” said Phoebe softly, glancing out the window where the red neon ‘VACANCY’ sign was slowly flickering to life, its ‘N’ burned out, and lonesome highway noise came through like the distant roar in a shell.

“You have control of your life up until you’re admitted to hospital or– ”

“Or jail.”

“Now do you understand?”

She nodded and smiled weakly as she set down the .38 on the windowsill with a heavy clunk and reached for her cigarettes. “I’m sorry I went through your shit. It’s not my place,” she said, her face aglow in lighter flame. “You know we all love you, don’t you, Paul? Me and Dylan. Dani and Lucy. Your friends.”

My friends. What was it Dani had said to her father? “If I want to go with my friends, I’ll go.” Is that really what they were? And what would they think if they knew the other night, before heading out to meet them at Milkwood’s, I had stood out on the end of the dock as the pale moonlight feathered across the lake, put the gun to my head and pulled the trigger, the one round I had spun in the cylinder not making it to the firing chamber?

After I had shaken out the six bullets into the palm of Phoebe’s hand and folded her fingers over them, I said, “Here, you hang on to these for now. Russian roulette is an ugly game.”

~

To be continued…

*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available athttp://bit.ly/2u7rqcL

© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 15), 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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