Silhouettes

Oh, honey, there are shapes beneath these roads. They push me and they drag me, and, God help me, I’m yoked to every mile. I am numb to the drizzled headlights and smudged taillights, the curves, the swerves, the nerves of bumper-to-bumper, the mathematical sinew of the overpasses, the posterboard landscapes, the flat hallucinations of the alpha and omega. Oh, and sweetheart, the construction, the obstructions, the crazy and the caffeinated, they want to pour their horsepower into the concrete while I’m steering left-handed, trying to pry the goddamn plastic lids off the goddamn Styrofoam cups, and honey, I always spill the hot coffee on my fucking wrist.

These have been my nights and days since I left you.

And then I came upon this place: a slender space beside the swagged shoulders of an unmarked highway. I recognized the tarnished ancianos who were waiting for me. There were six men and a woman, and they were sitting in a straight line on the sloped walkway of the Motel Fatigado. A flat line of hands rose to guard eyes against dust and sun. They studied my silhouette for a moment, then resumed their pinched slouches.

An old man dismounted from his chair and approached. He was wearing a shredded straw hat and baggy jeans. His shirt was a clean button-down, faded antediluvian white. He could have been an Old Testament priest soliciting confessions, eager to pore over fresh sin. More likely, he was tired of sitting.

You have el bagaje? Suitcase?” he asked.

I nodded.

He pulled a packet of folded tissue paper from his shirt pocket, and offered me a cigarette. He told me that Room 8 was vacant and clean. He did not ask me my name. I accepted his tobacco, and he lit it with a wooden match. His hands were narrow and veiny.

He said his name was Cándido, and the woman was called Melancholia. “The new guests always ask about the woman. You see her? The beautiful woman who sits among the dogs? She is clean-handed. You understand? Inocente. She knows magic. You prey on her, you will leave with bruises.”

I nodded.

Sit with us,” Cándido said. “Melancholia keeps the plastic cups in her room. We have tap water and tequila. Perhaps there is ice. I will introduce you to the others.”

I declined.

***

Forgive me for my long absence. I’ve  been dealing with some health issues and slowly working on a new novel. I hope to get back into regular posting and visiting soon, so please bear with me. 🙂 – SB

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Speaking of Drunk Larry…

Ricky laughed. “Speaking of opening the door. Guess who was waiting on me to open the joint this morning?”

Drunk Larry.”

Hell, yeah.” He combed through his hair with his fingers. A quick task since all that was left were gray bristles. The boy he had been rode a Harley Softail and had hair down to the middle of his back. Now he looked like a retired drill sergeant. It was like looking at a double exposure. An old habit from a fractured past. How many of us want to look at age straight in the face? “I mean, how many times have we tossed him? Eight? Twenty? So he’s standing there – shaking there – and he starts bitching how I was five minutes late opening up. Did you know he’s still parking his van behind the bar? Sleeps there, I guess. He can’t afford another DUI, so he forces himself to walk those twenty extra steps.”

I wonder if we can do something about that,” I said. “Convince him to take his business elsewhere.”

It’s not like we’re getting rich off the guy. We’re the idiots for serving him. He’s stiffed us more times than I can count.”

I told you not to serve him. Show him the door. Head first, if needed.”

Ricky nodded. “Aww, I feel sorry for him, Bart. He’s harmless. But you’re right. There’s other places he can go to weasel a few drinks. Gilly’s would fit him better. It’s a dive. And he ain’t exactly supporting our pension fund.”

This isn’t Cheers,” I said. “And he isn’t Norm. He’s probably draining off customers. Nobody likes a drunk, even in a bar. A tire iron to his windshield would do it.”

Yeah, probably would.” He grinned, but I didn’t grin back. “You serious?”

Serious as suicide,” I said and regretted it. It hurt in all the wrong places. “We can do it tonight, after closing. I’m done with Drunk Larry.”

Uh huh. Christ, Bart, one shot of Chivas and you’re ready to go full-on, ain’tcha? Oh, and by the way, he was rambling on about something he saw at Wolf Creek last week. Something about moving shapes. It was all mixed up. He was a fucking moving shape.”

I studied Ricky’s face, and it was calm. “What do you think? You worried?”

Me? Nah. He was stewed. It’s been too many years to mean anything. Something would have come out by now. He’s just a nervous drunk, afraid of being caught sober. I figure he spends a lot of time out there, hunting for beer bottles to cash in at the Depot. The Creek’s where all the kids go to drink. His brain is as pickled as Einstein’s.”

You think so?”

Sure. It’s been years and years since–”

All right,” I said, and considered. “Two beers a night, Ricky. Whatever’s on tap. And then show him the door.”

You worried about him? Seriously? I’m sorry I mentioned it.”

Don’t be. It’s probably nothing. But it bears watching, right?”

Everything bears watching, Bart. You taught me that.”

Did I?” I asked. It was a real question.

Rehearsal

We grew to become cruel men. We gathered our wounds and we coddled our scars and lionized them under the tract lighting of The Saluda Bar. When called upon, we mourned our dead, and then moved on. But sometimes we couldn’t.

This past July I lost my son, Daniel Benton Sawyer. He was twenty-three years old. I could tell you the number of months and days, but I won’t. My life was a rehearsal for this loss and I am unprepared to measure his life against mine.

Two days after my boy’s passing, my friend Wayne Scobee was busted for illicit behavior. He offered to blow a Georgia Tech student in a Ruby Tuesday bathroom stall. The boy was nineteen and he broke Wayne’s nose. I thought about breaking it again if he showed up at the funeral, but I was too goddamn tired. Nineteen? My head orbited that number like a comet. Nineteen. That was younger than Danny. I needed time to sort through the rubble, and time was no longer a luxury, if it ever was. My heart was too cruel a place for any illusion of forgiveness.

(A work in progress)

Brother Efrim

Ah, brother Efrim. He never told his story well. Everything about him was submerged. He wore both masks, the comic and the tragic. When he drank, he was the best goddamn drunk he could be. Sober, his heart was larger than anyone she knew. Elani loved him and she understood the depths, the wear-and-tear of pride, the oscillating moods. She tried to rescue him, and still hoped she could. He was stubborn.

She often drew him in her sketch book, always from memory. He had little patience for sitting still or staying in the moment. His face was angular and whiskered, pliant skin over bone. The portraits were always in charcoal and pencil, because that was him, practically a Dickensian character, bare meat on his bones, unwashed hair, seared lips.

She found him once, on one of her rescue missions, slumped on the sidewalk. The street lights dredged the pavement like flour, and he was a shapeless drift of luminance. He was waiting for the better angels to show up. Or his sister.

She cupped the back of his head. No more, he mouthed, but the words were a malt liquor vapor.

***Excerpt from a work-in-progress, The Stone Age***

Romantic ideas

“I love her, you know.”

“Everyone loves her.”

“But, yeah. I mean really.”

“Well…..”

“No, really.”

“She’s a nice girl. But c’mon. You’re too young. She’s too young.”

“Doesn’t mean it isn’t real, Efrim.”

“Well don’t tell her. She’ll get all upset.”

“Why?”

“Just because. You don’t know, David. She’s… flighty. She gets these big romantic ideas and she doesn’t know what to do with them. She cries at the end of movies. She keeps a diary and draws hearts on the cover. She thinks the Partridge Family is real. If she thought things like that were real… well, I dunno. She’d take it too serious. She’d imagine wedding cakes and sparkly placemats. She’s not old enough to know that those things aren’t ready for her yet. If she knew that you loved her, she’d think bad things could never happen. And bad things always happen, especially to kids.”

“Maybe not this time?”

“Just wait, David. Please.”

“But I love her.”

“Then you should wait. Okay? You wanna shoot off some firecrackers?”

“Hey, yeah!”

The father of children

The move to Wishing was the best thing. Frank Cobin wasn’t a big shot in town anymore, engorged with bravado and insolence. He was the stranger in town, and had no favor with the thin-faced men: the corner-men, the hustlers, the scammers, the casually dangerous.

The move to Wishing was the worst thing. Marooned from his pals, Frank took his temper out on his wife and kid, bullied them with his knuckles and insults. His ambitions were volatile, written in chalk, scribbled and wiped clean every day.

Eldridge caught him with his pants down, with that woman from downtown, that woman who worked at Bibby’s Department Store, and his old man didn’t have much to say about that. He had a weakness for the Negro women, he told his boy, and

runnels of sweat ran down her round belly, clean like rain water. Her breasts rose with every inhalation, nipples hard like rock candy, hips churning to a hallowed beat. Eldridge could smell the woman’s sweat, and it was not fear-sweat, but a submissive heat-sweat, her face straining for pleasure, her eyes greedy, flooded with inside light, and

don’t tell your mother, don’t let her know.

And his father cried and groveled, but not for forgiveness. He needed to preserve that secret, that deep echo of himself, and he begged his boy not to draw out that darkness.

Eldridge never did tell, but the secret exhausted him. It was a guilty-belly, hungry-belly secret, like a tongue against a throbbing tooth. His father stopped using his fists, and Eldridge learned to use his. He discovered his own appetite that night, and the shades pulled down on his childhood. The shadows, he understood, never went away. They clove to everything, and soon the headaches began, and his temper grew more sour.

Eldridge stared down at his father, his old and ruptured flesh, and heard Frank’s impious excuses for the last time. He ended that part of his life for good. No one ever knew.

“The father of children”, he said, “has a duty to protect them, not bury them.” That was what Frank Cobin did. He buried his son in a lie.

“The father of children needs to be accountable,” he said, and kneeled on his father’s shoulders. The old man had turned scrawny in his old age, dry as jerky, so it wasn’t hard. It was like resting on a piece of shredded hickory.

“You punished us for the smallest mistakes,” he said. His voice was calm, almost soothing. He lowered the heel of his hand on his father’s throat, and he felt its pulse, irregular but strong. “You betrayed your wife and your child for the sake of a whore.”

“No whore,” the old man wheezed.

“You couldn’t be trusted. Who do I trust now? You made us feel like dirt, like we were useless. And you were whoring around like a man of the town, laughing at us behind our back. And the only thing you’ve ever been ashamed of is that you were caught. How do you think that makes us feel? At least Mom was spared. I protected her.” He sunk his hand deeper into Frank’s throat. He felt bone and gristle, paper thin.

Then things got fuzzy around the edge of his temper.

**Excerpt from The Stone Age — a work in progress**

Academia

The funeral was simple but elegant. There were few in attendance, other than his father’s former colleagues whom David barely remembered. He recalled dim dinners with them, and the unappetizing fare such as oysters and fowls that were not chicken. There was wine and cognac, and peach-based desserts. Sometimes there was a sweltering ham, sliced thick, and rich, lumpy potato salad, and that felt more honest. The men would talk about academia, and the women would discuss complex novels and romantic poetry. It was a rarefied environment, full of big ponderings and show-offy intellect, and David understood none of it. He reckoned they were trying to impress one another when they debated the arcane, pausing only to parse each other’s words until they had no meaning. Dull and dull. The nights usually ended with Donald at the piano, playing something “bawdy by Bach”, played barrel-house style. That was the best part of those nights, and David loved his father most when he riffed on the keys and then gave David a broad, unselfconscious grin.

He recognized only one of the pallbearers, Stanley Olay, a fat man not much younger than his father. He used to pull nickels out of David’s ear, and bring the latest copies of The New Yorker, where they were displayed on the coffee table and gathered dust until his next visit. Occasionally, he would pull out a packet of photographs, usually of his children, or his favorite restaurant architecture, and he and Donald would sit on the porch and discuss college politics, who was up for tenure, who was retiring. David remembered those visits only because because Stanley Olay was friendly and unimpressive. He didn’t try to be the smartest person in the room.

**Excerpt from The Stone Age, a work-in-progress**

A change in the weather

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David showed up with a knapsack on his back, a big grin on his face.

What’s with all the mystery?” he asked. “Note in the mailbox? Ya’ll can still come to my door.”

Efrim shrugged. He didn’t want to explain. It seemed too complicated and he didn’t want to hurt David’s feelings.

Elani smiled when she saw him. She always smiled when she saw him, and she pointed at the bag. “Whatcha got?”

David brush an errant pine limb from his head. “I love the smell of these old pines, but they get in the way. They could trip a boy up.” He smiled back at Elani. “Some of my old books. I already read them to pieces but thought you might like them. Seriously, Efrim, what’s with the secret message? You’re lucky I checked the mailbox first. My folks would wonder what the heck was going on.”

Efrim shrugged again. “It’s hard to explain, I guess.”

Our daddy doesn’t want us to play together anymore,” said Elani. “But he’s hardly ever home, and Mom doesn’t care.”

Oh,” said David. “It’s like that, is is?”

Like what?”

Never mind,” said Efrim. “You can’t stop friends from being friends.” And then, shyly: “Right?”

Right,” said David, but he frowned. “I don’t want to get you guys in trouble.”

It’s our trouble,” said Elani. “We’ll be careful, won’t we, Efrim?”

We’ll be careful,” he said. “What kind of books?”

‘Aww, I got some Hardy Boys, and some Tom Swift, and there’s one, To Kill a Mockingbird, you might like. My dad says I read to much white bread, but it’s still a good story.”

Elani giggled. “How do you read white bread?”

It means they’re too white,” said Efrim.

What’s that mean?”

Doesn’t matter,” said David. “They’re all right. Hardy Boys are sorta dumb, but I read them all. There’s a couple of Westerns, if you like that kind of stuff. Louis L’Amour. I thought they’d be fun to read when it’s too hot to play.”

I don’t read a lot,” said Efrim. “Some of the words… I can’t read so well.”

You read me a lot of stories,” said Elani. “Some of the big words are hard, and I don’t understand them all, but you read okay.”

He shrugged. “I make up some of the words,” he said.

Context,” said David.

Huh?”

You might not know what the word is, but you fit one in that works. I learned that in school last year. You know what the word’s supposed to be, but sometimes it’s too fancy.”

I know that,” said Efrim. “My teacher says I’m lazy.”

David looked around, uncomfortable. “You’re not lazy. It was your idea for the rope swing and how to put it up. And the steps to climb it up the tree. That’s not lazy, it’s good thinking.”

Oh, I’m all right for building things and figuring out how things work. But reading and writing, not so good.”

You know how to tell stories,” said Elani. “That’s pretty smart.”

David nodded. “It took me awhile to figure out how stories work, Efrim. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy, it just means you don’t care about them as much as you do other things. Me, I can’t figure out how to build a soap box car with my dad. I bet you could figure it out in a minute.”

Efrim thought about it. “Wouldn’t be that hard. Probably get most of the stuff from the dump.”

Sure, but I wouldn’t know how to start. Maybe we could–”

A rumble from the sky, flat and distant, and a rush of wind, almost ticklish in the heat, swaying the leaves and grass. The sky was still bright, but it wore a yellow second skin. Something coming in from the lake, something serious if it moved fast enough. The raindrops would be fat and hard if it took hold.

Oh oh,” said Elani, and her voice sounded like an echo.

***

Excerpt from The  Stone Age, a work-in-progress

Sea Legs: Chapter 3

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My friend and writing partner K’lee was good enough to write a synopsis of the tale so far, and it’s available at https://obzervashunal.com/2016/06/29/a-sea-legs-synopsis-whats-it-all-about. It’s an ongoing story that’s open to anyone who wants to jump in. We still don’t know where it’s going, but that’s half the fun. Add a few sentences or paragraphs in our respective comments, along with your name and site address, and you’re in! (Photo by K’lee)

***

She’s crazy. I knew it the day I met her. I mean, what kind of woman gives a schmo like me a hundred thousand bucks to go out and find women to be ‘nice’ to their husbands. Yeah, funny how I said husbands, ’cause I’ve done this crap twice now. Two husbands, two divorces, and now she’s got this Mr. Carlisle with his fancy Brownie and not so fancy Buick, heading over to the Mondrian to catch –
I could tell him; warn him. Get him to see he’s being played like a fiddle with one loose string. But, then what? He’d start asking me all kinds of questions and I’m already in too deep, taken too much of Mattie’s moolah to get out now. He might be the kind of private dick to go right back to the source and tell her what I-
I just gotta stick it out; this one last job, then I’m out the door.  I’ll tell Mattie she can keep her money. No amount is worth all this stress,, the danger. Hell, I wanna be here to see my kids grow up, get into good schools, marry, have good lives. and I won’t if I keep playing with the fire that is Mathilda Von Sette.  (K’leehttps://obzervashunal.com)

***

You might be surprised how many men walk the streets, broken down to their bones. They carry their skin like useless baggage, their hearts crumpled, their heads a stew of dwindling bank balances and confused cravings.

Some call them gold-diggers, or the old stand-by, femmes fatales. Those words don’t do them justice. They’re women who drink the marrow out of men for pleasure and then toss away the rinds. Every man’s known at least one; they know how to field-dress a man’s self-respect and reputation, and they know where to bury the hide.

I was looking at one now, but I knew it. They’re not always beautiful, but they’re cunning and have at least one attribute that some men can’t live without: long silky legs, or full lips, a smile that melts the grip on your wallet. Or a voice like the devil’s mistress, a rush of smoke and honey. That was her: Corrine. Lorre was a dead man before he unbuttoned his collar for her, but the chump didn’t know it. They never do.

She arched her eyebrows when I offered her a smoke. My own heart thudded a little when I chased it with my Zippo, mesmerized by the curl of her lip.

I don’t dance, sailor,” she said. “You don’t look like you know the right steps. Not in those shoes.” She laughed.

I can foxtrot,” I said. “And I do that really well.”

Well bully for you. Thanks for the smoke, mac, but I’m waiting on a friend.”

A dancer, I bet.”

That’s none of your never-mind. You need to hit the bricks before he gets here. He’s temperamental about the company I keep.”

I’m a big boy,” I said. “I can take care of myself.” I looked into her eyes, and they were diamond chips, polished and blue. “What kind of a chimp makes a lady wait around for a ride? Your friend a cabby? I’ll tip him a fin to get lost. I can give you a lift. Might not be a Cadillac, but it’s got wheels.”

I don’t think so, sailor.”

I shrugged. “Your loss, sweetheart.” I flicked my smoke towards the gutter. “Another time, maybe.”

I doubt it,” she said.

I don’t,” I said, and padded off liked a cat. (Steve)

To be continued….

Sea Legs: Chapter 2

One of the rules of the gumshoe business is this: don’t let personal feelings get in the way of a clean job. I followed Paul Lorre to his house. It was a straightforward drive, down privileged streets lined with pencil-thin sidewalks. My Buick was as out of place as a wart on Susan Hayward. If he saw me, that was good. Over-confidence is every sap’s downfall. I didn’t know Lorre, only by reputation, and I didn’t like him. He had that monied attitude that put the sour in my belly. But I pushed that aside. I wasn’t paid to like him.

He lived on Upper Riverside, in a neighborhood loaded with swells and their chunky Edwardians. The houses hung fat shadows over everything like they were supposed to. Lorre made his money after the War, turning land into gold through some tidy alchemy that most chumps don’t understand. He had a knack for it, and it was barely this side of legal. I didn’t dislike him for his money; I disliked him because he wore it on his face, all the time. The clever man with a sneer, a man who thought he owned the world, or the prettiest piece of it.

Lorre wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t surprised. He parked his Nash in the driveway, and escorted his sugar-baby to the front door without a qualm. She was just another rich man’s entitlement. My camera was loaded, but something felt off. Way off. It felt too easy.

Another rule of the gumshoe business is this: trust your gut; if it feels wrong, it probably is. (Steve)

Was there more to this case than just exposing Lorre as another lying, cheating son of a bitch? Just for a moment, I heard that little voice in my head, agree with my rarely wrong gut. I put down the camera and decided to dig a little deeper into both the beautiful woman who hired me and Lorre. (Alexis https://atribeuntangled.com)

***

He was the Golden Boy who tried his best to keep me from throwing myself from the roof of the building. And then the Gin won out over the foggy future prospect of a police pension and I found myself on the outside, broke but free from all the bullshit the city bosses shoveled downhill to cops who did the job. Golden Boy had a wife and three kids and kept his shoes shined. He stayed and I managed to get out before all the pinches with busted lips and the mugshots with turbans caught up with me.

Carlisle. How’s the kids?” The phone booth stunk and something slippery and dark was on the floor.

Shithead. You only call me when you want something. The kids have all had birthdays since the last time I heard from you. She may be knocked up again. I need to make sergeant, soon.”
Golden Boy was working burglary now. On his way up the Inspector’s ladder from missing persons. But he had access to the card files and knew every clerk downstairs in records. If there was anything I needed to know he could find it. If he didn’t get caught… (Mike Fullerhttps://mikefullerauthor.com)

Bastard. He wasn’t going to pass on an opportunity to make me feel shitty for not remembering his kids birthdays. All part and parcel for squeezing a few extra greenbacks out of me for a job. “You’ll make sergeant, get sergeant’s pay, and still take an arm and a leg from me for every call, you son of a bitch. At least your intuition’s still on point. I do need a favor.” I whistled out the nervous breath I’d been trying to hold back. “You hereby have my permission to verbally lay me out after I tell you who it is I’m scouting and why.” (K’lee (https://obzervational.com

***

Join K’lee (https://obzervational.com) and me in the adventure. Add a few sentences or paragraphs in our respective comments, along with your name and site address, and you’re in! No prior gumshoe experience is necessary.