venerdì 7 settembre 2012

Red Oak

Every morning I walk my Dylan around, he is a quiet hound but he pisses on your foot if you get distracted watching a skirt or a car or what the hell to write for ten bucks a story in this sparrow-fart town of Red Oak, Iowa.

I wasn't born here, my mother died immediately after my birth in a hospital in Iowa City. My father moved here to work in 1976 when I was two years old and he has been sent here at the old railway station. In fact, if there are two things that Red Oak is famous for these are the railway and the Second World War. I'm sorry, I should point out about the railroad that this town is most famous for its underground rail system, rather than the one up on the surface. Through these tunnels, for miles and miles, blacks slaves were helped to escape to the free states and to Canada during the Civil War. As for the other war, many guys here have given their lives in Europe and the Congress has given the name of the town to a battle cruiser years later.
There was a time when my father was still alive, that he told me many stories before I went to bed. Those were not just stories that made you sleep, they were anything but lullabies. He would sit on the bed and he would take off his horn-rimmed glasses. Every night for me was a big dilemma: I did not know if I wanted to listen to that stuff or not, because I would fall asleep too late, but at the same time I was dying of curiosity due to the vibrations that his words would cause me. A year after that I knew enough about what I will tell you here, I remember that I asked my father why he would tell me that creepy stuff rather than just fairy tales, but being a lousy writer I will report what the reason he gave me later in the story, trying in this way to keep you interested in what will happen.
What I can tell you now is that every time I watch a horror movie I don't feel any need to cover my eyes.

If I wrote that Red Oak is a very small place, or if you like to hear it again a “sparrow-fart town”, is because few people live here. By the end of the twentieth century the population grew relatively slowly and the new generations have ended up in big cities or in other holes on the shores of America. So here they all seem to know everything about everyone, but what is curious is that I never heard from others apart from my father the facts of the underground tunnels. It seems that it is a great taboo around here. People live their American Dream, and if I may be so trivial, when I saw Jonathan Harker end up in that inn in Transylvania to ask for a castle I got up from the couch and went to the window to look at the last of many sedans parked in the yard with a wife smiling and waiting for her husband at the door. Asking about a castle to those happy little family would have broken their internal balance and would have made ​​them feel uncomfortable even if they would have tried hard not to show it.
The only time that everyone shown a purely awkward silence was during the telethon of six years ago, when none other than Johnny Carson himself, who was born here, made ​​a joke alluding to the "secret business" that wives of Red Oak would carry on underground once their good husbands went to sleep at night.
At that moment, as we were all standing in front of the small stage behind the Town Hall my father drummed with his fingers over my shoulder and supposedly we both enjoyed that moment of truth.
Once back home I told him that embarrassing silence was due to the alleged infidelity of wives and that wouldn't have to do necessarily with that problem. He moved from the stove and looked at me with a frying pan in his hand. He asked me to tell him how old he was, and I told him that he was exactly the age of Johnny Carson. He then asked me why Johnny had gone from that place quickly. To seek success elsewhere? To have a career? I asked that trying to remove all those suspicions I had just like the people we were talking about.
He left because of that hole under his kitchen son.
A hole? He had never said anything about any hole in private homes. The only ones I knew were somewhere in the Town Hall, in the old Methodist church and in the bathroom of a diner closed for thirty years now. I would like to point out that the only time I wanted to see if those holes really existed I shit in my pants and went home. Well, this is just the first part of the whole story of course, otherwise I would not know what to tell you and I should give up those precious ten bucks that I will get from a small literary magazine in Chicago. Ten lousy dollars for a short true story nobody ever told, can you believe that?
But back to us, I remember that when I started taking it more seriously was right after the death of my old man, who left my life at the age of seventy for a fucking lung cancer. During the months following his death nothing had happened around me that pushed to get to the bottom of the matter, something had happened inside me: a series of feelings motivated by the anger towards a father I loved and who had been left alone by the entire community because of his ideas. With a big dose of masochism I wanted to find out if those facts were true along with the existence of that Black Man of whom he had spoken to me for many nights, that Black Man that had garrisoned the underground caves for many many years. When I say the Black Man I mean that he was black in his complexion and not only that it could be the lord of darkness. His name was – and I tremble at the thought that still is - Prince Hall, a legendary figure in the American history over the last three centuries. He was no ghost, no Boogey Man you could see on TV or in the latest version at the only cinema in town. He was real guys, and I wanted to expose all the inhabitants of Red Oak at the cost of my hair getting white altogether, I wanted to do justice to my father, that's what.
The first thing I did was to finally open my father's handbook. I know it sounds stupid stuff like the ones you see in the movies, but if you will show mercy I will tell you that I hadn't found it in a secret drawer closed with a key hidden in a book. I always knew it was there on his dresser but as long as he was alive I never had the urgency to open it. Thing was I didn't want to find myself alone with that terrifying world, I had room service every night and also a goodnight kiss that made the pill a little easier to digest.
The second thing was to lock myself in the library reading of Red Oak and Prince lobby with the notebook in hand and with a new brand to try to put down any track that would anticipate an exploration in those caves.
When I grabbed from those high shelves all the books about the underground system intertwined with the huge drains the librarian gave me a bad look, but soon he went on minding his business and drinking his pint of coffee. I had made a big mess, several other volumes had fallen down on the floor and I lost half a day before concentrating on the material. At the same time I guess it was all part of the desire to postpone the thing indefinitely, just like when I was taking small breaks between one paragraph and another, or when I spent hours choosing what kind of coffee I wanted from the machine down the hall. After two months, however, I'd put together an idea about what people were hiding in Red Oak, and especially what was the reason.
Now I will inform you about a couple of historical backgrounds so that it will be easier for you to follow the thread of my theory and make your personal opinion out of it.
When the black Freemasonry had found its way into this country at the end of the eighteenth century - and from Boston it scattered itself throughout most of the northeastern states - the ideas of abolitionism had been emulated by many other brothers, many of whom have received an education by entering the lodges in young age. During the nineteenth century, and with the fury of the Civil War, those ideals have found greater strength due to the growing hope due one of the main purposes of the conflict, the abolition of slavery. Consequently, the Black Masons, whose founder was none other than Prince Hall, tried in every way to move their affiliates (not only) to the Union states so that they could put together a military power that would allow them to attack the Confederation and free an overwhelming number of black slaves from the chains.
In 1863, in the midst of the conflict, a black lieutenant stationed at the town of Red Oak sent a letter to Prince Hall himself - whose headquarters was in Boston - to notify the existence of a very long tunnel that from Canada would go down south for miles and miles and cross the Republic of Alabama to finally reach the banks of the Mississippi river from which began the border to the free state of Mexico. It is no coincidence the fact that in that letter Canada and the Mississippi River were referred to as "The Promised Land" and the "River Jordan".
It happened that Prince Hall sent many followers in Red Oak. The plan was to go down in those caves and set a real iron train that would travel underground. Through a sophisticated system of espionage blacks slaves living in the Southern states through a sophisticated would be gathered in the underground stations and start their journey towards a freedom they had never known. Everything went well for the first two years. And in those big books I could admire the drawing of the coal-fired locomotive “Freedom”, a train that could reach forty miles per hour underground. The enormous mass of exhaust steam went up into a complex ventilation system and then emerge from the manholes on main street here in Red Oak. The white citizens of the town, totally unaware of that formidable plan, attributed the cause of that black smoke to the devil that he was underground and that loved to remind with those high puffs that hell would have been too close for sinners.
A year before the war was won by the Union all went wrong. I found evidence of this in the diary of a soldier belonging to the Boston Division. He had collaborated in the success of the plan for the last two months. Ten thousand slaves were brought to Canada from Alabama, when a small number went to Mexico, but not before they swam for a mile at least, in the waters between the Mississippi delta and the coast.
The problem started during the night. The Freedom had been traveling for a month under the soil of Texas and then, after passing through the other states it had entered the Republic of Iowa four months later. Its cargo was about a hundred slaves, some with their entire families. For the journey they had little food and water they were pretty exhausted. It was to be considered normal that many would have not survived to see their Promised Land.
As I love to repeat "many" would have been normal, and even if the train had crashed into a rock and they were all dead - something with a high probability of risk after all - it was to be described as a “normal” accident, but when that same soldier went down to the station that is now under our Town Hall and found a sea of ​​bodies with a hole in their chest he had decided to use words like "unlikely typical of normal circumstances" in his letter to Prince Hall.
And now it's time to talk a bit about Prince Hall. The man of Caribbean origins who, as I said, gave rise to the first black Freemasonry. Believed died in 1807 at the age of seventy-two this man has never ceased to exist. When I say that a soldier and a lieutenant had sent their letters to this person, I mean the person, not the name of a Masonic family that has his name until today. Prince Hall would have written to these two men about himself in first person putting down his signature at the bottom. Prince Hall himself would have taken the train before the end of the Civil War and would have traveled to Red Oak with a congregation of Masons wearing jewelry, leather apron and a blue silk collar.
In his memoir the same soldier describes the events of those days. He wrote - and I had found everything already noted in my father's notebook - that he escorted a group of black men of Boston from the Town Hall entrance, through the hole and finally to the place of the massacre.
Prince Hall has been described as a man who wasn't apparently upset at the sight of that genocide. The soldier wrote that he walked through the bodies with a face made of stone and that now and then he would call one of his brothers to share a few words, like a surgeon who reveals a drastic situation to his assistant, added the the witness. The second day the train was dismantled. The operation took place underground, and everything was done without the knowledge of the white citizens of Red Oak, who would remained locked up in their houses during that long winter and eating the food they had accumulated at the end of the summer. On the third day Prince Hall asked the mayor of the town, the Methodist Aaron Smith, the granting of the number 103 on Victory Street. Smith was reluctant despite President Lincoln had sent him a letter of recommendation for Grand Master Hall. As stated by the soldier in his writings, at the time there was no need for a black man to live in one of the seven confederated republics to be subject to racism. But in the end the will of Lincoln was always more or less effective in the Union states and Hall managed to get the use of the two-story building that would have become a diner in the fifties.
Hall and his team of thirteen Masons settled in that building and never returned to the Town Hall. They would only come out early in the morning to reach their private couch at the town railway depot. From there they would load a carriage with a series of mysterious wooden crates and carry them to 103. The day they stopped to come and go with was already the eighth day that Prince Hall had set foot in the town, and none of his men were seen on the streets for more than a year.
in 1865 the Civil War was finally over and the Union celebrated its success in each state with huge parades and parties with tons of alcohol. But as the soldier continued, 103 Victory Street remained closed as usual and none of those men was seen around. Once, a group of white soldiers, having seen the wooden boards nailed to the windows, thought that building was a brothel and kicked the door in. Two of them managed to escape and went straight to jump on the Nishnabotna River were they soon drowned. The others were never found. Another time, a white preacher making his quest through small towns decided to camp in there. He broke an axle from a window and went inside. The man was found the next day lying on the mud of Victory Street, the rest of his mutilated body was all covered with big burns. A month later, by the river that cuts through Red Oak, a black man totally naked was found on the sand with his throat cut from ear to ear. He was a mason who had arrived in town along with Prince Hall. He was dead the day after he had revealed to the local newspaper what was going on inside number 103.
The director of the Red Oak Bulletin published the confession on the first page of the September 7, 1867. I present here a summary of the article: a black man by the name of Samuel Hinds stepped in the press office on the morning prior to the day in which he body was found by the river. He confessed what he had seen and attended inside the number 103, Victory Street. The details concern the phenomena to which he and the members of the Masonic cult led by the Master Prince Hall witnessed during the long period of one year after their arrival in Red Oak. After bringing the tools of their worship in the building and have it adapted this into Masonic temple he and his brothers have expanded a sewer hole forty feet deep in which they entered. Having set up a small camp underground, in a clearing at the crossroads of an old railway tunnel and having there practiced their worship every night in the hope that no further evil things would happen. In this respect, the man reported the real reason he and his brothers came into town, describing the mysterious murder of a hundred black slaves in the intent to escape from the Confederation territory during the past conflict.
After reading the testimony I had taken the trouble to better inform myself on the Masonic statutes and their regulations. The goal was to understand the nature of certain objects that were brought to the building by Prince Hall and his crew, and maybe to discover something that would have appeared – knowing nothing about Freemasonry – too much complicated to understand.
I opened some old leather-bound books that contained dozens of rituals and after I had read them here and there for a long day I was finally able to understand two things: the first - which in my opinion is the least important since it's a matter of form – justifies the cruel killing of the mason Samuel Hinds by the hand of his brothers. In fact, according to one of the main Masonic amendments, a brother mustn't tell who to who does not belong to his lodge what happens in it. It 's the famous Masonic betrayal re-enacted in other circumstances other than the ones narrated in the Bible. The second thing concerns the Masonic tools: the article presents a brief list of the objects that Prince Hall told his brothers to bring at the number 103: a Bible, which is the most important book in the whole Masonic ritual, and then, from a number of chairs and jewels and decorated pillars and rough stones, what is highlighted is the use of a “long flaming sword”, so-called among Masons. This sword would have the power to overcome many difficulties while fighting evil, and more specifically - as it's described in the old manuals – this powerful weapon can defeat the Lame Goat that lives under the earth's surface where his reign begins.
I didn't need to read too much about the Lame Goat, or the goat with the tail, horns and hooves, it was the devil. If I believed to that story I also had to believe in the Devil and that in that same moment he was looking at me from under the marble floor of the library. It was a lie big as an elephant and I slammed the book on the table. The librarian awoke suddenly from his reading and invited me to calm down.
I thought I had wasted all that time, I thought about those cowards who lived in Red Oak that would laugh at me and my father for believing in that story. They could laugh at me alright, but my father had died, and for that reason I couldn't quit. I had to get to the bottom of the matter, I had to go so deep that I would end up underground, and my legs started shaking.

I went down in November 1993. At the time I did not believe in God nor the Devil, and people have always said that these two things have always gone together. I put in a backpack a flashlight, two sandwiches,a bottle of water and a bottle of whiskey so that, eventually, I could not believe my eyes.
My bike had a flat tire, so I started walking from my house to the old diner, at 103 Victory Street. At two in the afternoon of a rainy autumn I saw nobody around, the usual cemetery. It was a normal thing, especially in a small town, but thinking back to that story, I imagined that people was hiding behind the windows and that they knew exactly where I was going. Just like the inhabitants of a village in Transylvania, at the feet of the castle. Walking along the last avenue before my destination I was attacked by a strong wind behind him as if it wanted me to hurry up. Everything was so full of sadness, my situation was not good: I was alone in the house, my father was dead. In Red Oak there was anything to do and I hadn't found a woman yet. If you add that I was going to find the devil, you would feel exactly the way I did on that day: I was excited by the risk of doing something different, I was excited by the fear of dying from fright and never come back. The diner had lost all the chrome plates on the front and the grout had gone away from the walls. It was a strange building where two different architectural styles had been fused together, but after the newer facade was completely gone the old one had resurfaced, and boy that was scary enough for me to stop and go back. It seemed like a little church without a steeple, the windows were closed with plastic panels and cardboard, and in one of the two on the ground floor there was a circular hole from which you could see all the darkness inside. At the door still intact and made of hard oak hung a notice of seizure of the property dated 1962. Having seen that the door was firmly planted on the ground I went back to the window and I easily enlarged the hole by ripping off the rest of the cardboard and plastic. I jumped in and ended up in a large room occupied half by a long counter with twenty chrome stools all in a row. On the ground there were pieces of glass, porn magazines, used condoms, syringes, tourniquets, torn stockings, rat poop and so on. The smell was unbearable. I took the handkerchief from my pocket, I poured some water in it and put it on my nose. There was nothing that suggested the entrance of a hole in that room, and even behind the counter, nothing.
I went to the bathroom which was paradoxically as big as half the restaurant, and there I saw a whole square meter of floor made of white tiles occupied by a mountain of cockroaches moving slowly over each other. In my life I have never have never been afraid of those animals, they only made ​​me sick. I took the bottle of whiskey and poured some of the liquid on them. They moved faster and two large ones, ran on my legs that I slapped them and squeezed one in one hand. In few minutes they all returned in the hole, but now they had fifty percent alcohol whiskey on them. I lit a big match in a single shot and threw it on them.

(to be continued)

sabato 18 agosto 2012

The Lamp Post Man

Donald Burgeze was drunk, really drunk, that day that he started to talk alone in the mirror, Newark suburbs, late, old toys in the backyard. He had been trying to be better all his life. He wanted to be a writer. From the very first moment he conceived the meaning of that word as the people's recognition of him as one. He was excited by all that stuff: the people, writing books, a writer writes, and the street going: “hey! Wait a minute! That's him! Who? That fucker there? Doncha know him? No! Well that's him, don't you fucking read the papers? No.. I read books, and you're telling me that he's a writer and not a journalist aren't you? Yeah but, you know...
What had brought Donald in the mirror hearing those voices wasn't only Bushmill's, he had to make peace with an idea that had been haunting him for ten years. It wasn't the first time he had stepped in the toilet and stood there for a long while, he thought that it would make him feel normal again, that other people didn't exist and that it was all in his mind, reality just a big creation of his own, no God, no good and evil, no nothing, just a neat hard-glass mirror with toothpaste stains on it.
The first time he had ended up in the toilet was after a dozen nights spent re-writing “the night was humid”, studying the sound of that statement, so unfamiliar to him, so bold like he wanted to prove something that wasn't in him yet. The night could have been “moist” or “wet” or “soaked in acid”, it wouldn't matter to him, cause there was no story to tell, but just the beginning of a pure emulation, a writer's act, and even after two pages he couldn't understand whether he liked it or not.
He thought that he had gone out to offer a sample of a tasteless imitation of some good wine. But the people weren't so stupid. Non that stupid at least.
Than he got better. Maybe it all began when he saw that man outside his window, “standing there in Clinton Avenue as a black lamp post that had lost its light, sad for something that had happened to him two years ago somewhere south, and ended up in that large brick basin that sloped toward the long Passaic river.”
That was his first story incipit as a writer, and he was enthralled by it at the very first moment he had put it down with frantic fingers on the keyboard. Then Donald returned to the window and that man had disappeared even if he thought he had seen him for a second sneaking in a “dark alley as a furious cat”, he would have written later two days before he sold for fifty dollars the first chapter to a web magazine.
For a long year Donald had been in deep trouble, the man was no more out there kicking cans and giving to him that constant spark that would ignite the rest of his novel. Yes, he saw him a couple of times more fighting with a “big slavish bull that used to sell dope all over the neighborhood”, but that was the last time for him. The second act had been set on that moment, and it started off: “ The man had left Georgia State to experiment wild life, his love was gone, his dream was over and done and he needed to get back to the evil roots of humanity, and what better than Newark could satisfy that desire? A big dark cathedral whose transepts were the empty streets heading nowhere and the main entrance was just an open throat to the black ocean.”
By the time he had finished the third act he never saw that man again. Donald's name was printed in the Newark Post's art section only two weeks after the last three chapters were released on the web magazine. Page 23, “BURGEZE, THE WRITER WHO TELLS THE TRUTH”, was the title of the article that praised the skills of young writer Donald, his capacity, of how – as the writer himself had declared in his first interview - he had followed that man from day one when he first saw him standing outside his window. The Lamp Post Man was a ninety-nine pages novel whose synopsis said it was built on a game of real testimonies put together to depict a mysterious man's identity and story. The article went on: “Burgeze highly plays with non-fiction by using self-collected proofs. He's got a humble will to provide the reader with a very possible story”.

Seven years had passed since Donald's first attempt to write, and it took only the last two months for fame to claim it hers and let him buy a new car and a bigger fridge. The Lamp Post Man wasn't a best seller by spring, but easily, it could have reached the top ten in Jersey within one year time.
Donald was going to be forty soon, the eternal “I did it” smile on his face. He also managed to pay a cleaner and get rid of those toothpaste stains on the mirror. And there he was, shaved and shiny like a respectable man, a writer. Now he believed he was his own boss even if the new editor would ask him to write something boring soon. Why don't you write about women on the moon waiting for husbands to come back from visiting planet earth? You have to dare Don! It's 2012 for chrissake!
I can't even say how in hell your book has hit the jackpot so much being something people have read a thousand times... That's what his short agent had told him in the restaurant, pushing him into take advantage of the fact that his name was still in the air, and that it would be good for him to write something that would really prove his talent.
You talkin' about my story? You didn't like it? Donald asked the editor who was slowly chewing a big piece of lobster.
Listen Don, this never happened to me. I know you two weeks and I still wanna be your friend but I feel unsafe with you... I feel you got some kind of angel somewhere...
Think so? Have you read my book?
Hey... it's not bad, did I tell you that it's bad? No, never, I never told you that Don.
Then what's with this angel? Do you think I got some kind of recommendation?
Sometimes I do, honestly, I published some nice non-fiction writers before, and believe me when I tell you that whenever I had all the critics on their side it took no less than one year. Here I'm talking about something fast, too fast maybe and I can feel the heat around me. You might say that I don't like to win easy cause in this business that's never a success... Yeah you could say that.
Donald pushed his dessert away.
Alright, listen carefully Don, I'm not telling you this because I'm your real friend. This is business. Only I don't want to fuck up with the wrong angel and find myself starting from scratches again. I took a risk with you, and whenever I take one I know exactly how long does it take to win or lose.
I get what you're saying, said Donald who more than once felt like he couldn't explain to himself how everything had gone uphill so fast for him. He reckoned it might have been the market, nice and simple, mainly the short man before him who managed to call the web magazine and make a nice bid, critics in his pockets, ok, also good writing – of course he had thought about that - but what else? What angel? Suddenly he remembered that time he saw that face down in the street looking at him. Donald freaked and stepped back from the window, then he sat back and put his fingers on the keyboard getting inspiration from that look, trying to get what must have been beyound those deep eyes that never blinked under the heavy rain.
He didn't know anything about that man. Of course, he was just a John Doe that happened to give his fingers some inspiration after a “humid night” seven years long. His novel was fiction all over, only it was sold as a product of an author who would step out of his cozy room to go after the last man minding his business in Clinton Avenue late at night. The web magazine had already labeled it that way, and Donald wouldn't mind as long as he got his fifty bucks, the first money he ever made out of writing.
I don't know nothing about no angel sir, Donald concluded in the end still thinking about that man.
Don... The only reason why we're making business together it's that every single publisher wanted a piece of you, I just got faster than anybody understand? You and your Lamp Post novel were in some sort of a big auction, who would pop big money for you would win the race, but I tell you son, books aren't just horses in a track, this is a poor market and whenever it gets rich it takes at least the time for those fucking critics to come back from their holidays...

Donald went back home, Clinton Avenue was of a bright red with all that water dripping on those brick buildings. A long sedan was there by the sidewalk, black windows and all, “silent as a coffin” Donald readily noted in his mind.
Funny thing was that he thought it had always been there, across the road, but he just couldn't bet on it. He walked up the dim stares and locked himself up, he was home now, with plenty of time to get himself a drink and lay on the sofa. At one point the deep silence in the room invited him to stand up and make some noise. Like a kid trying to push away an incoming twist of terror Donald started to talk alone, repeating passages from his novel and moving in circles. He would silently laugh, caught now and then by a stroke of vanity, till when, as a ball in a spinner he would let himself reach the window again.
He was there, staring at Donald with those deep eyes whose real story was impossible to tell. He turned his face to the door, was he safe? He got back to the window. The man had disappeared, supposedly mounted in that sedan that wasn't there anymore.
If angel was the name of a secret helper that was greasing his way up to success, that man down there didn't look like no angel. He was more likely to be shark that wanted his money back or some other lowlife with the suit and the driver. While thinking fuck it and I don't care Donald tripped over the carpet and fell. There was something solid underneath it, and at first glance he thought it was a rat but it wasn't. It was a round piece of plastic, a camera with its electronic eye pointed at his laptop screen. Just a tiny hole on the rug. It was looking at his laptop.

Two days had passed since that night and Donald made sure he spent them outside his flat. He would go home just for dinner, get straight to bed and be sure he pulled the sheets over his head. He would wake up at the scream of an ambulance and he would stare at that red light under the carpet.
The same day Donald happened to know the truth he had decided to call his editor. Also he couldn't get on with his new thing, that if it wasn't already hard to put down it also required his stressed mind to calm down and focus on the new subject. What he could do, Donald thought while listening to the cold voice of the editor, was to write a sequel of The Lamp Post Man. His fingers wanted to be back on it so bad that he couldn't stand still in his chair. That was the only thing to be done, he was out of motivation for everything else. And he had a lot of material too, more than before: that face, the car, the camera hidden under the carpet. He just had to put all the things together in a nice thriller and he would have sold more copies than ever. He knew it as well as he knew that his editor would have finally quit bothering him with the conspiracy theory and all that angel nonsense.
Donald took few breaks from writing and he kept sipping a full glass of brandy that lasted until he finished writing half of the first chapter: “What's survived in my mind, what I saw was him again, and I really couldn't believe he hadn't changed a bit, fire and demolition were still in his eyes, he remained the living proof of hatred and despair, a man that had lost everything in his life could turn into a devil...”
Donald turned the TV on and saw his face in the news. The word “devil” had produced an endless echo in the air and he raised the volume to see if he had won another prize he forgot about. He heard the newsman going: “...young and successful writer Donald Burgeze has been found dead in his flat in Clinton Avenue two hours ago. Coroner said it was a hundred percent murder and that the killer left a message written with the blood of the victim.
Experts believe that the man who stabbed the writer in the chest sixteen times is the main character of Burgeze's best seller and non-fiction novel The Lamp Post Man, yes you got it right, the same man whose story Burgeze wrote in his ninety-nine pages novel. A bit of advertizing now folks and then back with this sad and amazing story...”
Donald gulped down a dry rock and watched the door. He approached the window expecting to see him right there. But he wasn't, he was behind him.
Yes, Donald could feel the thhick breathe of a man exhaling on his shoulder. Once he had found the courage to turn back and face him it was the first time he had seen him that close. His chin was thin and pointy, a better version of Carl Malden's nose was stuck between those two “piss holes in the snow”, deep, black eyes staring at him without a blink. Then he spoke.
Do you know why I'm here?
What do you want?
I think you know...
Donald peed on his pants instantly. He couldn't move, that man looked like he could control every single movement. The next thing that came out of his mouth was why: why that incredible thing he just heard on TV, why all that fast success had his editor skeptic about his talent, why? Why Donald was afraid and kind of certain he was going to get stabbed and killed?
Why? He finally asked.
Because there's always something better you can sell to the people. You don't understand do you?
We bugged your flat to know exactly what were you doin' from the day you submitted your chapter to the webzine. We suggested them to exaggerate your persona a little bit. To have you more like an adventurer, to follow this man and get to write some exclusive bits of his existence. And you did a good job Donald. I mean, wait a second, your prose sucks and we had to pay a lot for those critics but the thing you're really good with is mystery. You did a good job with me, you made everything up but it doesn't matter Donald, you did a good job.
What's gonna happen now?
Sit down, I'll tell you something else first, ok?
Donald was shaking, but if he had survived to that meeting and somebody would ask him about that man he would have said that those manners and that face had charmed him from the beginning to the end of that conversation. Still he couldn't see why he had to be wasted at all.
You see Donald... By the way, do you mind if I call you Don?
Go ahead...
We are the reason of your success Don, your editor wasn't wrong. But he doesn't need to worry now cause he's dead.
Well, more or less it's the same reason why I have to kill you too. Don you're about to take part to the biggest thing literature has ever accomplished. You're gonna be remembered forever Don.
Listen to me: you write a decent book, we find it and we like it, but most of all we make some adjustments on your figure as a writer. We like your title though, it's dark and mysterious. We provide you with a flesh and bones lamp post man, which is me, right here and now. He's a very dangerous man , a “devil”, as you wrote one hour ago on your sequel there. He saw you after him and he wants to get rid of you and your editor. We sell this story, a true story about the end of a true story teller as you are and we get stinking rich Don.
But... You gonna need someone to write it down.
We know.
What about me?
No, I'm sorry but it takes a good one now, the story is too big.
Can I give you a good title?
You sure can Don.
Ehm... What about “The Return of the Lamp Post Man”?
Shit, you really are crap Don.

lunedì 30 luglio 2012

The Comedian

The Ole Oscar Theater in New York was a shithole, Luke thought to himself. A comedian has to start from somewhere, he would say to his friends after the fifth round of shots at the Lab. Yep, we all do, one would say, and what about hecklers? Luke would pour himself another one, down the hatchet, a cool grin and “that shit makes you tougher doncha think? It gives you character, talent alone is nothing boys, you should know that by now...”
In those nights at the Lab there was always the man to whom they owed the rent. A comedian too, an old one, Lenny Bruce style, sitting in a wheeled chair behind them with the gazette always at the same page, the horses, a matter that had brought him in the audience for once, winning money or losing money, no shakes, no embarrassing silence and no fame, just some win win extra buck with no kicker.
Occasionally Luke would look at him, the only source of doubt for what he was saying, a piece of a fussy audience that man was, while those scared boys would yeah yeah Luke like little monkeys holding hands in circle, all scared of the stage.
Fifty miles far from the Lab Luke had lost that cool grin of his. He wasn't home, his father wasn't there either and he would really need to get some confidence and some sense of belonging now. His father Jonah was at work, struggling to make ends meet in this recession.
Tense like a howl sitting on a thin branch he moved his eyes from the leather cushions to a big tall glass of tap water in front of him. He felt like he had to drink it all as if he was in some strange hospital, humor surgery, yeah, but was he that good? Fuck it. What the fuck, fucking job... Hecklers were already shouting out there, beyond that thick crimson curtain, getting warmed up for the hunt: let's bring him down, let's pay these five bucks and have a laugh just like in High School ok? You're all set guys? And then a greedy Hitchcock-like “yees...” just when the curtain was slowly pulled open and revealed the dark mahogany stage where the bird was going to put his tiny hairless foot. Woop woop! And Yeah, ALRIGHT!! All those c'mons hollered from the back row where the “Heckler's spectators” were sitting ready to watch their show.
Luke appeared showing a two-bit worth confident smile, he didn't even look like he was out of control on purpose, as many comedians would rather go for, and he happened to be there without a plan. He knew for a fact that the owner wanted him to finish earlier so that those naked girls could get on stage. Smudged and confused notes came up to his mind altogether: smokers, white is beautiful, the coward street fighter, Scranton police, girlfriends on bachelor's parties, weed, Nixon horsefucked in prison, dykes on holidays, fuck English, how I spent the first day with my dick, satisfied taxpayers, limo hookers, Elvis taking a crap while singing, my new van, let's get high, and finally his favorite let's kill dogs and avoid war... The long list was scrolling down too quickly in his head and he couldn't catch any of those lines. He looked at the green emergency exit. I'm fucked, he thought while the seconds passed and the temperature in the audience got hotter. Oh yes, he could already spot the hint of an unfair phrase out of the lips of those unfriendly faces. Fuck it.
Hi... I'm Luke and I'm a comedian...
Silence, just a quick “hurry up!” shouted a guy with a big coke from the front seat.
You know, what I don't understand about comedy gigs is that huge glass of water they want you to drink. Why not whiskey uh?
…You know I've drank it all and now I need to take a long leak... So? What's it about? Do they want me to finish earlier cause the guy has to clean the crapper before ten?
Silence. Luke thought that one of those clues at the Lab was just right for the intro: “Forget about the list, just improvise some stuff that they can see: a stool, a glass of water, the curtain. Make them feel like you are a good improviser and you'll win their respect.”
A possible sign of appreciation from the audience, if real, was not to be put into words, but just the low breathe and the sound of straws shaking ice in the cocktails.
You know? I was born in Fyffe...
Heckler: Where is that?
Oh it's Alabama man...
He wasn't even born in Alabama, a Brooklyn Jew he was, but he thought that he could create something funny out of that lie, and he was wrong now that it was too late.
Heckler: The fuck are you doin' here?
Oh well, I get paid to make you laugh asshole...
Luke knew that he had pushed it too far and too soon. But those excited verses from the women out there made him stronger. Problem was what's next to that? He knew it was just a jolly, a sparkle of nitro for a slow car running in a straight line, and what about the incoming bends? What about those driving skills? What about talent and character? A suspended bunch of glorious seconds were to disappear soon to leave him in a new and even worst beginning. He knew that, so he rushed it.
And what's that lousy Jamaican shirt you're wearing pal?
A collective laughter, definitively brief.
This is not Cancun mister, this is the Ole Oscar friend... And Luke looked around as if he was not sure about the importance of that name. And they laughed, and finally he thought he was on the right track. Only that guy wouldn't let it go that easily, they were still even after all.
Heckler: you got something against my shirt jerkoff?
Oh no, not at all, just against who's wearing it, that's too much for you sir, you look like an optical illusion...
He knew that last phrase was too long, it did sound like a conversation bit, nothing like a comedian on stage. Just two people arguing in the street, that's what it looked like, and why a comedian should do that? Where was the difference? That heckler wasn't going too far, it was his job, and Luke's job was to stall it with style, evoking people's laughter to shut him up, make him hesitate so that he could grab the ball and get on with his act again.
Do you know how many smokers live in Fyffe? Jeezus, would you believe me if I tell you that...
Hecker: I wouldn't believe to any of that shit you gonna say anyway bozo...
Oh... Is that a fact?
Heckler: Yeah!
Oh yeah?
Heckler: Yeah!
Voices had destroyed the previous calm of a difficult game yet still open, some laughing and some booing at Luke. All it had been ruined now, that sacred silence was gone. It was the democratic chance of every comedian who would step in that cage of lions that now had been covered with soap. Luke reckoned that he still had to learn how. His act was over. The heckler had won. Ashamed like hell Luke was now standing there with the mike up is ass. Then he came off the stage facing the boos of the front row with that guy still calling him looser, go home and whatnot.
When the girls started to dance a lousy can-can all half-naked Luke was already having a light beer alone, small tears in his eyes, his hands clasped in two fists.
The owner's head popped out of the big crowd like a plastic puppet reciting “you don't even get the open bar tonight boy, and what's with that stunt anyway? Man up Luke, and do it fast for another place cause from now on you're just another customer here. I don't wanna see your ass on that stage anymore, okay?

He arrived home with his red Chevette whose scratches were covered with stickers saying “laugh at name and I'll get paid”, “I'm not a man, I'm a comedian”, “Yes I know, I'm driving a shit-car”, “Call me loser please”, “One day you gonna read of me” and so forth...
His old man and him had been living in a old house for twenty-six years, which was Luke's age and just half of his mother's when she had reached heaven after having bounced on Manhattan's asphalt.
That same old house seemed haunted that night that had finished too early for Luke. He opened the front door and went to the kitchen, put together a baloney & mayo sandwich, grabbed a coke from the fridge and turned the small TV set on. A reporter was trying to say something under a cloud of dust, a twin set of skyscrapers had collapsed behind his back. America would air that tape forever, and Luke turned it off, tired to see more of that sad footage after seven years, now that offices were the most safe places in town, being no people in them.
Outside the kitchen window a parade of sport cars slowly cruised down the road. Those powerful engines muttered something bad in the chilly air, and it reminded Luke of that fucking guy in the audience, trying to waste his act all the time. That bastard owned him from a privileged position, so easy, thought Luke. And what about the people who had paid five dollars for the show? He fucking hated the guy.
He stepped on the stairs, no sound from the first floor.
Silence. That heckler's voice was sill bouncing like a spiky little ball in his head.
Walking the dim corridor he got no answer, maybe he was sleeping. That early? Luke wondered if everything had to be fucking early that night. He entered his father's room, Jonah as in “Jonah and the whale”, real Jewish.
Dad? Dinner?
The bed was empty, but Luke saw one hand lying on the floor beside the bed. Fuck! Dad! Oh God. The ambulance got there but it was too late. Jonah had killed himself putting some lye in a full glass of lemon cordial. He had left a piece of paper on the bed. Luke read it again and again sitting alone in the kitchen.

A man without a job is not a man anymore son.

Forgive me,

your father.

The crack had brought the Lebovits to their knees. Their bank account had been frozen for months and bills were long as cheap toilet paper. Not a word, Luke was intelligent enough to understand how his father's smile had changed during that 2008. But he was a good man, the best man on earth.
On Bar Mitzvah Jonah gave to his son some toys and a nice comedy record: The Andy Kaufman Special aka Andy's Funhouse, recorded 1977 and aired on ABC in 1979.
Luke thought about that voice changing, making impressions and then becoming real again, the voice of a sad man who just wanted to please himself, that was it. He wanted to make himself laugh first of all that Andy. Audience's reaction was a consequence of it and nothing more; he wouldn't care and they would laugh, he owned the stage as a shy guy whose act was perfect, locked up in his own world, high quality art.
Luke would put much effort into being normal, confident, and that would crash him before he could make the difference. There had been comedians too afraid of locking themselves up, even the big ones, miserably laughing at their own jokes to fill up that embarrassing silence, trying to be cool just like the audience did whenever it turned into a stupid giant with no face, a bunch of human beings backing up the heckler or the satisfied one just the get an identity in the group, so easy. “The more risk a comedian takes the more bravos he would get in the end”, the Lab would teach him, but it was a very thin line to walk and Luke knew it.
After the death of his father he practiced in the mirror for three month, but still he couldn't get what he wanted. Vanity would precede him. So he moved away from it and turned on the camera. At the beginning he couldn't get rid of the electronic eye but in time he would go down to the kitchen, eat his sandwich and suddenly remember that it was all on tape. Then he would watch himself changing expressions and vocabulary inside his most familiar environment, but still it wasn't enough. It seemed too easy and unnatural.
When he realized that he needed a job he got it in one day: Kitchen Porter in a Thai restaurant downtown, he said to his father tomb before laying a rock on his grave. He started to cry at night thinking of him but he would always get up early in the morning when all New York City seemed as if it was built that same night, ready for hope and progress. He would cycle to the City Hall, put his backpack down and an empty paper glass in front of him. Then he would start talking as if he wouldn't care, taking a big load off, moving his hands all over his body just like he did under the shower, singing occasionally and removing with all those clever lines all the grease that American society would dump on individuals. Luke would see amidst the people a giant moving on fake behalf of its single members, talking politics and smiling like an hypocrite. The way he would show this grudge would make him look like an unintended creep that was left alone in his room to complain with himself, and all the people in the street would laugh at him as they never did and as if they didn't want him to notice. Luke had never thought comedy could have been so real.
One night he decided to get back to the Ole Oscar. There in his mind was still the memory of that night with the heckler and that dead hand beside his father's bed.
The owner didn't recognize him, Luke was just another asshole booed on stage after all. He left the glass full of water on the stool and moved away the curtain. The people down there were talking loud and didn't expect him to start that soon but nobody complained.
Sorry I'm early but I don't care, really I'm sorry folks but I couldn't give a shit...
He looked honestly stressed and a couple laughed immediately at that opening. That heckler was there, same seat, drinking his tall soda. Luke spotted him and his mind didn't even go “what the hell”, he just went after him as if he was somebody that happened to be in his cross-hairs for too long.
Say man? Why are you looking at my dick?
Heckler: Hey how you doin' darlin'? What you gonna do this time? Run?
Luke remained serious till he could, than he panicked for a bit and returned to the heckler pretending to be someone who was afraid of get beaten up in the street. The rest of the audience saw him taking off his shirt and jumping as a the slimmest boxer they had ever seen.
No man, I'm gonna stay here just for you... ding, let's fight the heckler... bum bum, bum bum!
He pretended he was boxing with him, a real looser living in a world of his own, fighting the dragon with a wooden sword. That number had been a must for comedians as Richard Pryor in the seventies: a ridicule slim boxer trying to scare the big one.
More couples began to laugh: the show had been unpredictable and funny till that moment and there was nothing better for five bucks.
What's your name Ace?
Heckler: “fuck you” is my name bozo...
Suddenly Luke got what hecklers were about: angry people with no creativity, not even the two-bit fast rebuttal you would get arguing in the streets. They would just take advantage of their easy power by bombing a difficult profession. Most of the times, Luke reckoned, they would show more muscles than brain, sitting aside some tits and legs with a nasal voice who would get wet on some man's talk.
Alright, listen Fuckyou, I went downtown the other day, I cycled all the way to fuckin' Manhattan and I saw a couple of Fuckyous in front of Ground Zero ok? Do you remember what happened? – alright, maybe you were watching American Gladiator and drinking a flat can of Miller and whispering some “Too Fast and Too Furious” bullshit to your lady “Titsandlegs” over there – but I have some consideration of your tribe and I'll tell you what happened alright?
Luke got the attention of the audience, his flanks were almost covered now, but he had to keep on. It was a risky improvisation and yet a story was about to be told.
This tribe of yours man is a pure fuck-up lemme tell ya... Do you know how to spot a Fuckyou member in the street? Ok, ok... Folks you're lucky tonight, you got yourselves the biggest sample you'll ever get, but I wasn't this lucky you know?
I was crossing the street with that big nowhere in front of my face reminding me how words fly even higher than planes when I hear a voice behind me saying “That's fucking huge Wendy! Jesus Wendy! Do you see that?” I tell you, Wendy was having fries while trying to walk as a Dalì elephant on her ten-inch stilettos. Her MacDonald big ass would nod the slowest “no” on earth folks, and it meant that no other chick, not even Paris Hilton could have his own Fuckyou boyfriend. He was her own fuck-up deal guys, cause who among the “chewing mortals” would walk her around all the time believing the fact that a giant “Taylorist burger burp” could mean true love to him, that making love to a nail-painted pudding could make him fart as he was still ten, feeling all the luv in the world while watching what those Islam warriors had done to his country and his flag.
Audience was hypnotized.
I tell you folks, I was trying not to, I know I got a job to do and since I'm cooooomedian and I have to make you laugh... I must take the shit out of these Fuckyou boys and Titsandlegs women all the time, even tonight, right boy? He concluded addressing the heckler.
You see what I'm saying folks??
And everybody laughed crazy. It was a real show, and even more real when the heckler jumped on the stage and started running after Luke who was still engaging the audience with “you see what I'm saying?” Then the heckler's girlfriend hollered “Fuck him up Jim!” but Jim had too many fat muscles to get a hold on Luke who had stepped out of the stage and now was shaking hands to all the people who could hardly believe that it had been a total improvisation.
At a certain point, tired to run, he went outside through the emergency exit. The audience followed him in the silent street of another night started early and already about to finish.
Luke grabbed a yellow plastic cone from the asphalt and started to wave it at Jim like a sword. Jim ran toward him as a raging bull but Luke felt ready and still sober like in all those five weeks after that miserable night.
He waited for the right moment and then he hit Jim from above as a crazy toreador. The fuck-up beast bit the dust and closed his eyes. The people stopped laughing. The police came, handcuffed Luke who watched out of the car window and saw that old comedian from the Lab shaking his head from the top of his wheeled chair.
Luke Lebovitz managed to be a comedian, but never a man.

domenica 13 maggio 2012

The Great Bixby (The Job)

I’d like to spare it for another night guys, but this is brilliant. I was told this story and more of them fifteen years ago when I was having a beer in Cleveland and this old man came to me.
What are you? He asked with a cigarette stuck in his mouth as if it would have been there since he was born. A journalist? Sort of, I replied. Well you might be interested in some old stories I happen to know.  Uh, ok… I said pulling my recorder out of my pocket. What’s with that? I told him that my memory wasn’t the best and that… Turn it off son, you’re not a Hoover boy are ya? You mean a fed? Yeah, what the heck did I say? No no I ain’t mister, I’m just a student. I study fiction… Fiction? The hell is that? I create stories you know how it is… No I don’t know how it is… Alright, alright enough! Bring in your notebook and I’m gonna let you have it son…
I had with me a small block of paper, the same where I wrote orders at the campus cafè. Yeah that will do… Here, use my pen. He gave me a pen that wasn’t just a pen, but an art-deco Wahl-Eversharp fountain pen that once I tried it on paper it leaked ink all over it. I said fuck and the old man frowned grabbing my arm. Hey! You talk with some respect when you hold that pen you follow? That’s Bobby Randall’s pen, he gave it to me when he died and you mind your words kid… Well Mr… I’m Roy Shelton Bixby. Mr. Bixby I apologize, that’s really a nice piece of antique! Oh to hell with it boy, it’s just a pen… Listen now, if you buy me a drink I’ll tell you about “the job”… Sure, beer? Yeah, buy me a chaser of that beer and a shot of good Old Overholt and you’ll have your goddamn story, a real one for a change.
It took ten minutes for the bartender to find that old bottle of rye whisky, but it was there where it had always been, behind all those shiny unsmelly brand-new globalized spirits with different names but still sons of the same concept, progress, future and whatever. I could feel America standing behind them as a frowny wild cat incapable of resting. The old man swallowed his first whisky in one gulp and took a sip of his chaser. Then he looked at me. Alright kid, you got a spare cigarette?

The Job

The night was moist that 15th of June in Cleveland. Roy Bixby was counting all those unfinished cigarette butts on the golden over-brimmed ashtray or scattered here and there on the floor. He thought that he would have spared some dollars for another bottle of gin instead of buying Camels again.  He thought he could do that but he knew for a fact that he was a big smoker, especially when he drank. So he would stand still in his office chair trying to solve that conundrum. Booze or smokes, booze or smokes? He lit up half a cigarette and looked at the door opening. A rich woman would appear there in front of him. Beautiful, crossing her legs and asking for a light with that office finally turning into a respectable place with no dirty corners and no stains of alcohol or ancient phlegm everywhere. She might leave me a bunch of her long classy cigarettes too, he fancied. No, no, she’d give me tons of money to find her stupid cat and then we’d go dancing at the Euclid and I would be her rich lover, yeah… sure, he sadly concluded sipping what remained of his quarter of rye whiskey. Yeah sure. You’re still dreaming Roy. And as if he was really dreaming the phone woke him up sounding like a train whistle in a cemetery. What the hell! It scared the shit out of Roy Bixby alright.
Roy? It was John Leonard, AKA Lenny or “John Gimmeacall” for the reason that he used to pay back his debts by providing clients to Roy or to the Police Departement.
You drunk?
Whaddaya care?
I got a job for you.
Forget it John I’m closing up. Gimme the money instead.
It’s a small talk, then you’re free to go and buy another bottle.
I need cigarettes too…
Than take this job. A guy should drop by in fifteen minutes or so.
What is it?
Easy stuff, nice pay.
No kicker?
No kicker.
All right, I’ll take it.
Good, I’ll give you a call later.
For Chrissake, thought Roy. His head was like a balloon with broken toys in it. A small talk, yeah sure… So what? He said aloud. Right after the last sip he reckoned that he was a thirty-five years old man who complained almost about everything. Might as well let that guy in. He was a private detective after all…
One of his smaller troubles was that he felt alone in his dull existence. He craved to talk to someone just for kicks but that room was business and his dick attitude wouldn’t let him, so that he looked like a taciturn asshole most of the time. That’s what you get Roy, burping up all that whisky as an old tractor. That’s what you get when you help people solving their stupid problems, they would leave you alone in the end. Alone and welcome, that’s it. To hell with it. He kept wracking his brain on that thought but he couldn’t cry anymore but if he would have considered again that a private detective was the one who would get to know people’s secrets, you can bet your ass he would have cried as a kid cause he wouldn’t get any friends out of it at last. He was aware that secrets were the key to friendship in that life. Knowing all those things and not being loved in return was inhuman. Ok, there were lies at the beginning, because it would take too much for a client to tell him that he was a queer in the first place. The case could have been solved earlier with no lies, but since he was to be paid by the day lies made him richer, so to hell with it. His wallet would get empty pretty soon and all those lies would please him just for a while, then again the truth as heavy as a granite block would fall on his head in a hangover morning when he’d wake up alone and miserable with no cigarettes.
Somebody knocked twice on the glass panel where the smudged letters “R Y BIX Y” appeared outside on the silent corridor of The Big Memphis Hotel. Yeah, to hell with it… said Roy scratching his eyes and slapping himself a bit. What do I care? The door opened and a guy without money walked toward him and sat on the small wooden chair in front of his desk. Roy was glad for the fact that maybe he wouldn’t waste too much time being the other moving so fast and all. Maybe he’s gonna speak even faster and I can go to bed and start with it first thing tomorrow, he thought smiling as a kid, but he wasn’t even thinking, really, he was drunk as a barrel.
Mr. Bixby?
I’m Terry. Mr. Leonard told me that you might need some details.
Details for what?
For a job.
A job.
Yes. Lots of money.

Oh yeah. There is this woman. Someone stole her diamond and she’s ready to pay a lot of money if you find it.
Oh really? If it’s a lot of money why don’t you find it yourself?
I’m not very good at this kind of things Mr. Bixby. I live on the street…
What are you in for then?
Five bucks.
Here’s one. Talk. The rest later, maybe…
Alright, listen. Yesterday night a man called Frank Sender broke into this rich woman’s house and stole her dead husband’s diamond. She didn’t call the police but she called me to help. But I ain’t got a gun sir, so? What do a I do? I thought it was better to tell what I knew to a pro, make few bucks out of it and goodbye.
This Sender guy, you know where he lives?
Oh yeah. 51 Morris Street. He’s a full time hustler.
What where you doin’ there?
I was eating a sandwich.
A sandwich?
Yeah, the thing is, I was walking there when I saw this guy sneaking out of a window. I knew that it was Mrs. Budreau’s window. I bring paper and milk now and then, you know how it is…
No I don’t know how it is… But I might wanna talk with this lady. She’s the one who pays in the end is she?
Yeah but she’s in Florida now.
I don’t like it… What’s your name kid?
Terry, I told you.
That’s it?
I’m an orphan.
Alright, what else?
That’s all I can give you.
All right listen, I’ll give you two bucks for it.
Oh c’mon man! Four!
I don’t trust you boy.
Alright alright…
I’ll see you around, take a hike…
Alright Mr. Bixby, and remember, a lot of money for you if you find that diamond.
Yeah yeah… Hey, you got a spare cigarette?
No I don’t.
Ok leave me alone now. Goodbye.
When that boy left Roy had less money than before, so no booze and no smokes. His mood went bad just like the Indians last season and he thought that the best thing was to go out and produce some real dough out of that lousy story. So he grabs his trench coat, walks down the smoky stairs and starts his old Plymouth under the heavy summer rain. He drives five miles through Carnegie Avenue and when he gets to Morris Road he imagines himself lighting up a cigarette. Jesus, I’m so broke… What now? Oh yeah 51.
And number 51 was there, a sad red-brick building that looked like it was built in a day. A porter, no, a wino pretending to be a porter was sipping a cocktail from an amber glass bottle. Roy saw a big bundle of fresh crisp dollar bills coming out of that man’s right patched zoot suit brown jacket. He thought he could have some of that money and he did. Muttering something like “fucking day” at the man’s ear Roy snatched the notes and made them disappear under his sleeve. His mind went to hell with it… It’s a free world and every way you skim it’s your problem pal… The lightheaded wino was half asleep but he managed to repeat “fucking day” back, touched his crotch and flamed up half of a cheap cigar out of a paper envelope. He didn’t notice, good. You keep those cigars thought Roy, you keep them friend, now that I got your money I feel just like quitting, ah ah ah, hell!
Roy’s night had changed in a jiff and he felt like he hit the jackpot alright. Still he thought it was too soon to leave that case alone, might have been some extra money there for him.
With a childish grin on his face he disappeared inside a dirty hall and reckoned that he would be better in robbing people than getting the robber. Yeah, but there was a time when being a cop… That time is gone Roy, he admonished himself, you better get that through your head or you’ll have to put your mind to sleep with red pills. He climbed up three stories full of roaches panicking on the walls because of those heavy raindrops falling down from an open ceiling that made him feel right on the edge of a roman pantheon. Cleveland sure can look creepy on rainy days, used to say his dead pal Bobby Randall before getting killed in that hell of a police ambush. Being cops together was like sitting in a bar, drinking and dreaming of a better life and believing in something that was clean and immaculate. It took two to believe that, and still took two for one of them to die and leave the other poor bastard alone. It’s a hell of a city, said Roy spitting out a raw oyster of phlegm on that one last step.
The only door that had a rusty tag with the name “Sender” carved on it was open and everyone could get in. Roy drew his heater with the same one bullet that was left there from 1934, the year he decided not to shoot it into that lawyer’s chest. She can have the money, the bitch. No Roy, he said, let’s do this together, we can win this Roy! I tell you this Roy, listen to me…  You give me half of the money she wants from you and we’ll get rid of her in court! You can bet your shoes we will Roy!
And Roy bet his shoes and lost them alright. After he’d been paying that shark for a year for an endless divorce trial he had found out that the spiv was banging his ex and buying her things, hats, horrible hats with paper pineapples on them. What a fruit… He remembered he told Bobby who went: men like that I’d like to shack-up with the wives, and Roy rebutted that it was the precise point: this guy ain’t got a woman Bob and he got mine. But you don’t want her right? Hell no… So? To hell with them no? Yeah, to hell with them…
Roy entered the small apartment and freaked out. There was a giant big black spider coming down the roof. He turned on the light and found himself in a small creepy living room under a hang lamp that was just a hang lamp and not even a spider. There was nobody there, nobody but the scent of a ghost coming out from hundreds of cheap rye whiskey bottles amidst a dozen pictures with a man and an old woman. He picked one, unframed it and looked at the other side. “Frank and his old beloved mum.” The man in there had the same sad face of the porter from whom he had stolen that bundle. Roy felt guilty, so guilty that he touched the money and felt guilty again. C’mon he said, stealing from a poor bastard with no mum… And what about the diamond? You go down now Roy and give back the money! No, no, you ask him about the diamond first and where the hell it is and only then you give that money back you follow?
He ran down the stairs feeling all balled up and thinking about those lazy cops laughing at his name. Roy Bixby a private dick? Yeah, he couldn’t solve a case if the case itself would knock on his door and tell him what happened… He don’t have the eye for opportunity this guy, he never did. Yeah alright but at least I got morals don’t I? I am bringing back the money ain’t I? And as for opportunity I sure did what had to be done. If opportunity doesn’t knock build a door, and that’s why my office has a door with my name on it
With these bitter thoughts Roy stepped out of the building and caught that wino by the name of Frank Sender playing with a crow bar on his Plymouth door. What the hell! Went Roy pulling out the gun.
Hey Frank!
Frank Sender stopped and startled. He must’ve thought for a second that it was the cops. No, wait, this guy looks just like me, nothing more than a wino… and Roy thought: no wait, he’s nothing more than a clumsy cat this Sender… They kept staring at each other, two immobile felt hats under the rain.
Hey bozo! You might wanna reconsider stealing my car. I got your money right here!
What! Asked Frank putting his hands in his right empty pocket. Hell! He exclaimed.
And here’s my heater too Frank, wanna look in the hole?
Hey wait friend…
Yeah I’ll wait… We talk?
Yeah sure thing. That’s a nice car by the way.
I know, and you leave it alone you follow?
Anything you say chief!
They sheltered from the rain in the hall like a strange couple with Roy holding his gun in one hand and that man’s bundle in the other. He thought he had money and power in one single shot but also that the case was still chintzy as a charity gift. Ok Frank, here’s the thing. I know you stole that diamond. What diamond?
I’m a private detective…
Ah… You stole my money Mister…
That don’t change it don’t it?
Don’t know, you tell me uh?
Don’t crack wise with me bozo… I got the gun remember?
Ok ok… A good horse got me that money, I swear!
It came up that Frank hadn’t sold the diamond to a junk shop and very little else. Just a horse and that lucky ticket still with him. That night he was celebrating his next day when he would hop up on a train and leave Cleveland for good. Big deal, thought Roy. You’ll spend your hundred in two months time if you keep smoking those big cigars and buy what it takes for your crappy cocktail...
Since when you adopted me?
You better get your flaps down kid, or you’ll take off!
Can I get my money back? I earned it!
If you shut up and listen you’ll get the chance to earn it back you follow? Now, I want you to answer to a couple of questions while we drive…

They got in the Plymouth and left Morris Street when two prowl-cars had just pulled up to the curb in front of number 51. Lieutenant Pioppi and Detective Mackey were sitting in the rear with that guy Terry in the middle. The orphan liked to play with two figures to have it right.  
And why the hell did you tell Bixby? The man can’t pinch a fly sitting on his nose… Said Mackey who never liked Roy, not even back in the days when he used to throw lots of them flies in the cooler. Pioppi shut his partner up with a fast look, returned to the young man and became serious from the top of his trench lighting up a cigarette. He was a clever man, police laziness had got into him in a small percentage.
Let me tell you something Terry, you don’t wanna jive us, we are the police… And this is not jacks, you get up to go home… if you lie to me you ain’t goin’ home you hear? Detective Mackey nodded at those words making a serious face and blowing the smoke on the car window. Yeah we are the police alright… Roll it down Mackey! Said the lieutenant, it’s getting’ London in here for Chrissake!
They went over there for the same reason Bixby did. To catch the thief. The other patrol pulled up at the front of 51 and two cops got out and drew their pistols. Pioppi stepped out and told Mackey to wait in the car and watch the snitch. The Detective complained and asked for how long and his superior said to stay there until he made lieutenant.
They acted like they were in the worse ambush training, with the two coppers chatting about broads on the stairs and Pioppi getting in that flat and getting out of it without any clue and no pinch. He reckoned that John Leonard was to get out of the help list, involving the police in a joke like that. The only thing that kept the other half of his mind real was Roy Bixby, and he decided to pay him a little visit first thing in the morning.

…And why this Terry would call you a thief Frank? Asked Roy holding the wheel and a nice cigar with one hand and the loose heater with the other. I don’t know no Terry Mister… He’s an orphan Frank, does that ring a bell? No it don’t, I told ya!
The Plymouth entered a hairy neighborhood not far from downtown and after a few silent red-brick buildings it reached what it seemed to be an old school with shut windows. What’s with this place Mister? Asked Frank who if still would have had his money with him he could have afforded to get the creeps.
I don’t like this story Frank, and that’s the same reason why I go for the worst place and the worst urban home in town you follow? You know Mr. Bixby… Call me Roy. You know Roy, I can’t fucking believe that just one hour ago I was gettin’ my kicks by drinkin’ a nice cocktail and touchin’ that race money and now I’m here with nothing but a darned piece pointed at me!
Yeah it’s a crazy town ain’t it Frank?
Roy didn’t quite know if that man would help him with the case as he didn’t know if he wanted to keep the money he stole from him in the end. What he knew was that he was talking to somebody for a change. That Sender guy seemed alright to him, nothing like a shuckster really.
Youn know Frank, we might even find this Terry I was tellin’ you about… If I get the chance to face him Mister, this Terry who put the but on me to-morrow, I’ll be glad to help you and myself Mister… Good, you ain’t no bum Frank, you’re a good man.
But will I get my money back right? We’ll see about that, you just make sure we make our interest in this story and you’ll get what it’s yours… Remember, I need to find that diamond…
They left the Plymouth behind a dark corner and walked together to the gates of that scary orphanage,  both pretending to be brave by making a serious mug, but truth is that place was giving them the willies.
It happened that these two similar men, Frank and Roy, two broke winos, went yellow that night when once inside that drain, they heard some whispers coming up from the basement. Hell! Croaked Roy, and Frank went: what’s cooking downstairs? No clue, let’s go down and have a look see…
They crawled down two stories of stairs where a few red-eyed rats would stare at them from the black corners. The more they were going down the more they could hear what was what. The clean voice of a crooner produced by a huge grammophon behind the one door standing at the bottom of the stairs. Roy held tight his revolver and put his ear on that strong oak panel willing to tell how big was that train coming toward them. In that instant Frank reached for Roy’s pocket. He wanted his money back and for what he knew that night was getting too much in the soup.

Next morning Lieutenant Pioppi went to see Bixby. He didn’t want to talk on the phone, he wanted that case pegged and he knew that Roy was usually more in the know about these kind of things than the police. Once he stepped out of the door and put his feet on his green lawn he saw Detective Mackey leaning against the patrol car and smoking his tobacco. We go and have a word with Bixby Lieutenant?
Git in the car…
On the third floor of the Big Memphis some young Mexicans were running along the corridor with a burning pinata on their hands and shouting “arriba arriba arriba!”
Pioppi stopped in front of Roy’s office and knocked once and the two times faster on the glass panel. A feeble voice inside muttered “whaat?”
It’s Pioppi, open up.
Wait a minute…
You drunk?
Wait a minute for chrissake… wait…
Detective Mackey asked the Lieutenant if he thought Bixby was crying. He might, Pioppi said with a pessimistic mug. To hell with him, he thought. Open up Bixby or I’ll kick the door in!
Roy Bixby opened the door with his two tiny peepers half-shut and the smell of an unflushed john on the weekend. He looks pretty much fried to me sir, declared Mackey.
Come in and sit down… Oh God he’s dead… He’s dead!
Who’s dead Roy? Asked Pioppi feeling like that day when Bobby Randall got shot and Bixby was crying like a baby in the changing room. Who’s dead son?
You mean Frank Sender? The guy from the job?
Yeah, we went… How come you know him?
John Leonard sent us this snitch Terry…
I should have known better, we’ve been on same case Lieutenant…
Terry told us. He’s in the cooler now, don’t you worry about him, police took care of him alright, said Mackey proud of the force. Then Pioppi went out to the kitchenette and poured a stiff jolt of Old Overholt in two glasses, one for him and one for Roy. He looked at Mackey’s proud mug and sent him out to buy some lunch. Take your time he uttered, and the other closed the door behind him. Now Roy was looking at his piece as if it were a kid with a fancy toy.
I’ll have to hold it on you but I think you better let me have it…
Alright. Roy put his whisky down and stood a moment listening to the same silence in that room that would get him sad an lonely. Then he took another long sip and began with the story.
He happened to meet what kind of crooked society dwelled in that abandoned school, that orphanage they broke in last night. Mrs Budreau would pretend to be robbed by some guy once a year to feed those orphans by selling the same old diamond story to a detective. And there was a list of a hundred private dicks caught on that web. They would buy some name and an address to get that diamond in order to get paid by the lady; they would give away few bucks that would turn into big ones if fifty or sixty flatfoots were going to buy another story like that with another lady around the town. All those
details were profitable for the orphanage.
I’m not gettin’ any shut-eye… These Mexicans went off the deep end…
Why the dead?
I was holding him as a suspect and he tried to escape…
What’s your take on him Roy?
Innocent, he was just a gambler, nothing more… A good man.
Alright Roy, listen... You’ve closed the case and I’m sending the boys to that school to bring these damned orphans down.
Roy Bixby stood silent, ready to take whatever that mouth would have sentenced.
I’ll leave you alone with your dead, it’s a swell pinch and you gave it to us, we’re even Bixby. I’ll tell the boys to bring some cigarettes. The feds will go bananas when they’ll know we pinched those orphans.
I’ll see you around Roy.
Yeah. I’ll see you around Lieutenant.

Waco Guzman