“You really going to meet that motherfucker?” said Dylan Glazer swinging the axe, the black grip of a handgun poking out the back of his elastic blue jeans as he brought it down. The last of the firelogs he had brought over shrieked pleasingly as it split cleanly down the middle, it’s two halves tumbling like dead men into the wet leaves on either side of the tree stump. Pulling off his gloves and stuffing them in his back pocket, he regarded the replenished woodpile beside my patio. Apparently satisfied, he squirted spit through his teeth, lit a cigarette and turned to me for an answer to his question. Asked in the thuggish inflection of second-generation Italians who don’t speak Italian, he had to concentrate hard on the accent because when it lapsed, which it frequently did, he sounded more like a computer dweeb than a tough guy.
And despite the excessive OG gold shackling his neck and wrists (Dorothy would have bloomed at the sight of him), the black hoodie under the black leather jacket, the slicked back hair, the sketchy facial hair, the anonymous naked girl tattoo on his shoulder – despite all that, and despite there being no doubt he was a street hustler like his father who was currently serving a life sentence upstate under the three-strikes law – he used words like ‘invidious’, even imported ones like ‘schadenfreude’, struggling tremendously to pronounce them in his phony Italian accent, his eyes brimmed with the same dreamy innocence as Phoebe’s, he retained enough baby flesh in his 20-year-old face to lend it a cherubic air, and he had the room-illuminating smile of a hungry baby presented with a pair of swollen lactating breasts, a smile that also brought symmetry to his face by producing a winning dimple on the left side of his mouth to match the permanent one on the right, a deeper divot marking the spot where the tip of Carrick Mayweather’s blade had nicked him in the womb.
Could the brutal interruption of his gestation somehow account for these enduring baby features? For the intelligent vulnerability that seeped through the hard exterior he strove to project. I suspected he cursed his underlying tenderness as an Achilles’ heel even though the girls would surely get in line for it, at least judging by the way Dani had drooled over him at Milkwood’s the other night, glaring at me homicidally when I reminded her of her own ‘no renting rooms by the hour’ policy. I could have sworn I caught her sniffing at him and wondered if he might even smell like a baby. When Melanie was born, the amniotic cheese-rind scent emanating from her freshly squeezed body competed with my addiction to the smell of the new Lexus Ally had purchased to pursue a career in real estate. Late one night, a police officer had discovered me in the driveway simultaneously inhaling new car and new baby with a 40 of Jack between my knees. Disgusted but unable to find anything to arrest me for, he had wandered back to his cruiser scratching his head through the top of his cap.
But whatever pheromonal essence Dylan may or may not have been emitting, I too found I liked him intensely.
“Your mother is keen I take him up on his offer,” I said. “We’ll see when we get to Lucasville.”
Frowning at this, Dylan took a long haul on his cigarette and in mid-exhale sneezed wetly, also like a baby it occurred to me, his astonished face shrouded in smoke like something in his head had short circuited. Fanning it away, he examined the heater end of the cigarette suspiciously and said, “Don’t let Phoebe boss you around”. Then, glancing furtively over his shoulder as if she may be hiding nearby in the woods, he said in almost a whisper, “I mean, what’s the point of it anyway?”
“I doubt there is one. When he heard I was coming, he told the warden he wanted to see me. Your mother wants to know what he has to say.”
“It’s fucking stupid,” he muttered taking a hesitant puff from the cigarette as though mistrustful of what effect it might have on him this time. “Why should anything that thing has to say matter?” My only answer to that was to pass him another beer. Tugging it from my hand, I gestured at some blood pooling in the basin between his thumb and forefinger. Dylan also had a habit of spontaneously bleeding, perhaps another echo from his in-utero outrage, that further undermined his bad boy image. He sucked it off with a smack and studied his hand. As usual there was no apparent source, no cut or nick even, as though his body had temporarily opened up, expelled some rogue T cells, and closed back over again. He looked up at me, licked his lips predatorially, and shrugged.
“You’re like a hemophilic vampire cannibalizing himself,” I said, hoping to extend the diversion of attention away from “that thing”. I needn’t have bothered because, as Dylan pulled at the fuzz on his chin to consider this, my phone binged:
Lucy: Phoebe just called and she’s got Harold. She’s going to bring him to Milkwood’s tonight and give him to you. Can you bring him over with you tomorrow?
Me: Just about the most surreal text message I’ve ever received Lucy.
Me: He sounds like a set of car keys.
Lucy: I don’t think he cares what he sounds like Paul.
Me: No, I don’t suppose he does.
“I kind of like the sound of that,” said Dylan with another squirt of spit between the teeth.
“There,” sighed Lucy setting down the white plastic tube, ‘Slater and Sampson Funeral Homes’ lettering stenciled in black up the side, next to a similar but smaller one in yellow which stood front and center in an array of bottles atop the wall-length liquor cabinet, “reunited with mama in The Warehouse.” It seemed a cruel joke worthy of a good haunting for Lucy to have surrounded her mother’s ashes with copious amounts of the exact remedy, now forever out of reach, that would have saved her life. I would have had them bottled in 180 proof so she might spend her death literally rather than just figuratively soaked in alcohol.
“A good haunting?”
“Fuck, did I just say that?”
“You weren’t thinking it. Boy, you really haven’t changed, hmmm? Not one… little… bit,” she said, jabbing at the air with one of her claws for emphasis. In truth, my hazardous habit of unconsciously voicing my thoughts, “babbling to yourself like a madman” as Ally had described it, had been worsening. Once during a dull moment at my trial Holden had almost crushed my toe under his heel when I started musing out loud about Juror # 7’s gypsy bandana: did she have cancer or sing in a Celtic band?
“And I’m not bottling mama either,” said Lucy firmly. “You don’t really believe in ghosts do you, Paul?” The short answer was no, certainly not. The majesty of death, the great leveler, is that nothing escapes – no emanation or afterglow, like the light sucked into blackholes – its silent, black permanence. Nonetheless, I did have a strange way of anthropomorphizing inanimate objects, especially those that struck me as somehow rejected or mistreated: I believed a single streetlight on a little used road must feel isolated, head bowed and cheered only momentarily when a rare car whizzed through its dedicated beam; when I contemplated buying something, as trivial even as a head of lettuce in the supermarket, I would worry it might think ill of me if I put it back and selected one of its fresher looking colleagues; I felt the heartbreak of a rusting kid’s bike with broken wheels that had been chained to a fence and long abandoned; and yes, I could imagine the terrifying claustrophobia those ashes were feeling packed into those sealed tubes, mama’s dying for a drink and Harold’s for an 80 of Oxy, and the vengeance they would reap if ever liberated.
“Certainly not. But if you hear a bump in the night, the first thing I’d do is check on those tubes.”
“Right!” she snorted.
“If one’s missing, check under the bed.”
“Silly as ever, hmmm?” she laughed, neutering my effort to spook her with a dismissive hand flutter.
“Whatever,” I said, draining my Jack and heading for the sliding glass door at the foot of the stairs. “I got to take a leak.” Stepping into the bathroom was like stumbling into a time machine. It wasn’t just the old 1960s chlorophyll-green mosaic tiles or the Farrah Fawcett red swimsuit photo that, incredibly, still hung on the wall. No, it was that antiseptic scent of, what was it? Eucalyptus? Lavender? Pine? Some unique combination of notes powerful enough I could almost hear Harold shouting up to me from the basement impatient to settle a ping-pong grudge (“the fuck you doing up there, homeboy?!”, Lucy bickering with her mother over the length of her skirt (“You look like a fuckin’ bar ho, Lucy!” “You ARE a fuckin’ bar ho, mama!”), and I was engulfed by a tsunami of nostalgia for this seedy old house that had taken me in like a stray, that I had fled to time and again with Aunt Carrie inflicted welts up and down my arms.
I opened my eyes to a tap on the door. “You okay in there?” came Lucy’s grownup voice from far away, like she was calling from the end of a long tunnel. “Sounds like you’re sleeping.”
“Give me a minute.”
“As many as you like. I got something here I’d like for you to have when you come out.” Amazing. Whether for her own benefit or mine, Lucy hadn’t broached a single one of the dreaded questions:
- Where did you go? (I don’t remember)
- What happened to Aunt Carrie? (I don’t remember)
- Why didn’t you ever call or write us? (I forgot all about you)
- Why did you come back? (I don’t know)
- When are you leaving? (When I go to jail)
No, instead she was going to give me present. Little did I know, sitting there on the closed toilet lid breathing through my nose the fragrance of forgotten sanctuary, that she’d just poured a portion of Harold into a Ziploc for me to take home, now more like leftovers than a set of car keys.
“Just answer the question!” blared Frank Hill, tapping a surprising reserve of lung power considering he was looking even gaunter and more caved-in than usual that day. The increase in volume only served to deepen the exasperated fury in Bob Calloway’s face. With his nostrils flaring and neck flesh bulging red over his shirt collar, he reminded me of one of those doomed bulls we had seen together in Malaga’s Plaza del Toros, blood-soaked shoulders stuck full of banderillas, about to make a final charge. If only he would upend the witness box and trample Frank Hill into a pool of crumpled suit on the floor.
I hadn’t seen Bob this worked up since I had accompanied him to the opening of the 9/11 Reflecting Absence memorial and, he being too immersed in a mystical trance to notice himself, pointed out the absence of one of the l’s in ‘Calloway’ in the bronze parapet where Sarah’s name had been etched:
SARAH B. CALOWAY
“No,” Bob whispered, blinking at the inscription. He crouched into a linebacker’s stance to study it close up. Perhaps realizing the missing letter wasn’t going to materialize under the pressure of his gaze, he began scrutinizing the surrounding names, pausing and glowering at one, “SHELLEY R. HOLLINGER”, as though one of its excess L’s rightly belonged to Sarah.
As the silvering hair around Bob’s temples appeared to glow white against the red, I feared he might leapfrog into the 30-foot waterfall burbling into the South Tower’s footprint below, requiring his name (spelled correctly?) to be added to the list of victims. When I said, “Look on the bright side – at least they put the ‘H’ in ‘SARAH’,” he looked fit to take me with him.
“They’re going to fix it Bob,” I said for the hundredth time after I had dragged him away to Ally’s old bar. “They have to,” I said with a conviction I didn’t wholly possess because the entire parapet would have to be redone in order to do so.
“How?” he said coldly, scribbling on a cocktail napkin and pushing it towards me. “Like this?”
As a single tear escaped the corner of his eye and slipped down his dented face, he snatched back the napkin to wipe it away. Slumped in the booth, his hulking body looked like it had sprung a leak and was slowly deflating. Nothing was going smoothly for Bob these days. He lived in Indian Springs, Nevada now, working as a consultant to the drone pilots at Creech Air Force Base who remotely bombed “the shit out of those fuckers who murdered my wife” in the Middle East. His sons, already resentful for being uprooted from New York, now regarded him with utter contempt for the Asian girlfriend he’d brought home with the unpronounceable name who wore thigh-high boots and only looked a shade older than them, a sentiment they were not alone in holding.
“Christ Paul, did he buy that jailbait in Bangkok?!” Ally had cried.
“Maybe. Where’s the harm if she makes him happy?”
“She can’t even speak English!”
“I don’t think he’s with her for the conversation.”
“It’s disgusting. Those poor boys. Sarah must be rolling over in her grave.”
“I doubt it, since it’s empty.”
Unloved by his sons and mostly friendless down there in the suffocating desert heat, he spent a lot of his free time roaming the joylessly bright and noisy casinos of Las Vegas where, he had confided in me, the slot machines had relieved him of a good deal of his savings. I reached over the table and took has big upturned paws in my hands and said feebly, “We’re going to find a way to get that freaking L back, okay?”
Later that night, lying in bed listening to Ally’s steady breathing and the familiar architectural groans our big paid-off house made at night as it cooled off, my freshly dry-cleaned uniform set out for me to fly the next day, Melanie sleeping soundly with a bellyful of the pizza I’d brought home in her room a couple of doors down, I went cold thinking what might have become of me had Ally and not Sarah been obliterated in that torrent of collapsing skyscraper all those years ago.
“What did you just say?”
What had I just said? Which one of me had said it? For reasons already forgotten, I had been complaining about the phoniness of spontaneous sex scenes in movies. “No man exists in real life who can just drop his pants and madly pump away after 10 seconds of kissing.” I couldn’t tell if the way Shannon cocked her head and half smiled signaled concurrence or wistful reflection on her own personal experience with just such real-life men. In case of the latter I added, “rapists don’t count,” just to be vicious. But the doubt had been seeded. What if they did exist? An elite group of sexual carnivores who could, without the benefit of either adolescent hormones or pharmacological stimulus, summon an instant erection upon command? What if Jeff Rosenburg counted himself as one of them? What if Jeff Rosenburg, no doubt perfectly trimmed at his fucking brit milah, was showcasing the skills to Ally right this instant? My Ally?
“I said,” stonily, looking up into Shannon’s avian face crimped with alarm. “I wish it had been Ally who died on 9/11.”
“Answer it!” bawled Frank Hill again, Bob Calloway’s brawny arms swatting the air like a great bear assailed by autumn wasps.
Looking over at me desperately, he ran a hand through his wild Beethoven hair, and said in a seething gravelly voice, “Maybe Paul drinks a lot and maybe you can take a lot of what he says with a fair helping of salt. But by God he’s been a loyal friend to me. And there’s no better pilot out there. Has it ever occurred to anyone that, even if he was blind drunk, he might’ve actually saved all the people on board that goddamn plane? You’re not asking the right questions and he’s not the monster you’re making him out to be, you goddamn sniveling dillweed.” Taking advantage of the stunned silence in the courtroom, he turned to face the jury and said wagging a finger in my direction, “Even if he seems to like being the villain in his own story.”
To be continued…
*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at: http://bit.ly/2u7rqcL
© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 13), 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.