Hello fine folks, hope your Saturday started like mine. While watching the Lightning win on the beach with a beer in my hand, I also witnessed rabbit seagulls attacking helpless children that pelted them with sand. The sunshine was amazing. But as a grey fog lingered over the ocean, the beautiful scenic turned into a Stephen King novel – dark but subtle.
To add to this awesome Saturday, here’s chapter 2, rough and uncut from my book, The Gentleman.
Chapter 2. Knock, Knock
James slept through the morning and most of the afternoon. He woke to the sounds of silence and the light from the sun peeking through the curtain. Before that night, he hadn’t slept for three days and before that, a week.
He rose from the bed and wiped the dirt from his face and crust from his eyes. The tiresome duty of standing up caused his bones to crack and pop. The letter was still in his hand, and he flung it from his fingers. The image of the paper ignited the empty feeling, the hole inside him deepened, and ached in his belly, and he grabbed his rum to smother it.
He sat in the chair and pondered his next escape.
“I did the soot shit, I did the necklace crap,” James said as looked over the list he constructed of his entire Houdini trick.
“I can’t leave, I’m stuck here.” He crumbled the paper in his hands and threw it onto the floor.
For hours, he sat drinking, leaning over in his chair, and glaring at his shotgun.
“A bullet hole straight through my mouth and out the back of my head, no pain, no more running, no more games.” The memories of the Gentleman’s torture melded with his discussion to pull the trigger.
He thought of the time The Gentleman usurped him to shoot an elderly woman in the head. He put the bottle of rum to his mouth. The smell of the pistol, the blood from her head, the way her body twitched when she fell, these images were as vivid in his mind as the day they happened. “I shot that fucking old bag in the head,” He put the bottle of rum to his mouth.
“I, I put my hands, and I…Oh god.” As he stretched his eyes, the opening of the bottle went to his lips.
The things he had done for the Gentleman, the gruesome things that had changed him from whom he was into a hardened criminal, echoed inside of him. In a weird way, he enjoyed this new emotion, guilt. For so long, that feeling remained absent, and only the desire to kill invaded his conscience.
The last act before he lost his soul involved his daughter. She stood on the ledge of the building in Charleston South Carolina wearing her Sunday best and arms spread for flight. All because he didn’t want to play any more games, his daughter became part of the wager. The Gentleman gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Him or his daughter James or Jenni. That choice was an easy one for him, and he did it without thought. And because he didn’t want to play the games, the fine print read, The Gentleman keeps your soul.
“Then he, I tried to stop it. I said I was done.” James spit gingivitis from his mouth and stared into the swirling liquid from the glass that he shook from one side to the other.
“Look daddy I can fly. ‘ Me or Jenni’ he said. My little girl.” He wiped the sweat from his face, then poured more rum into his crusted mouth.
He drank and drank until he became a drunken fool. Bantering, laughing at inappropriate times, and crying in the next moment, anyone who walked by his room would have guessed someone else was in there with the way he carried on in conversation.
“Rum, the bes-s-t-t woman- I never had-d-d. Always – listened and made me feel – better when I needed yah the mos-st-t.” He slurred and took the biggest swig of his life. When he slammed the bottle, covered in the grime and dirt from his fingers, on the table, large drops splashed on the ground.
The ring in his right hand, he slipped on his left ring finger – it fell off.
“Why did I even take this thing with me? Fucking ring doesn’t fit anymo’.” He took a drink and spit some of alcohol on the ring, “good reddens.”
He picked up a picture of him and an older man out in the woods and read the back, “Jimmy and Dad’s first deer.”
“Give me a sign, old man,” he said to the photo. The note from The Gentleman found its way to his hands and spoiled this tender moment.
“You can’t have me.” Holding the paper to his face, he struck his lighter on the corner and watched as the blue and sapphire flames engulfed the cotton paper. The fire flickered in his eyes and the ashes fluttered like butterflies in the room. The letters Mine shined lavender before melding with the smoke from the sage at the window seal.
He turned his head away from the letters and focused on the shotgun.
“I can’t wait, the longer I wait…” He took five deep breaths and slapped his face.
“All right this is it, no more games, it’s now or never.” Positioning the barrel of the gun in his mouth, he leaned over, and his dog tags draped from his wet neck.
Once he closed his tired eyes, he squeezed the trigger at the speed of slow motion.
His face scrunched, and he breathed heavy from the anticipation.
Snout, sweat, and tears covered his face, hands, and the gun.
Squeeze, sweat, snout.
Tick tock, squeeze, and heartbeat.
Thump, thump, from his chest. These sounds heightened with each second that passed and he continued pulling the trigger.
He flinched to the loud click from the rifle ricocheting throughout the room.
After opening his eyes, he let out a deep sigh to the sight of all the rounds on the table. As he removed his finger from the trigger well, someone banged on his hotel’s door.
“Delivery for James Greene.” The muffled voice shouted.
“Delivery? But?” he asked with the barrel still in his mouth.
He stumbled from his chair, fell to the ground, and pulled on the curtain for assistance with standing up right. Walking became harder after finishing a fifth of rum. Out of the window, he saw the man set the package down and walk away from the door.
“It’s not him.” Knowing the man at the door wasn’t The Gentleman wasn’t enough for him, and as a precaution, his feet followed an invisible tightrope to his shotgun that he took it with him to the door. When he opened the door, a strong gust pushed in the cold of the night, and the wind bit his face and blew his hair.
“What’s this?” His teeth chattered. He stepped over the line of sulfur and soot by the doorstep with his bare feet and retrieved the package.
“Who the fuck knew I’d be here?” he said and scratched his shallow beard. A muscular woman, or what appeared as one, with emerald green eyes, wearing a blonde wig, and a prostitute’s startup kit followed a stocky man into the room to the left of James. She pulled on the man’s jacket and placed soft kisses on his neck. While the man opened the door, she waved and blew James a kiss.
“Eew,” James shuttered and closed his door – his big toe’s print divided the line.
“Lola…L-o-l-a, Lola,” he laughed.
“I haven’t laughed in weeks.” Using the burning sage from the window, he purified the door and used the sage as a wizard’s wand over the package, eliminating any essence of the demon. “Just in case.”
“Doesn’t smell like that son of a bitch.” He pulled out his knife and carefully opened it with four fingers, and revealed the letter inside.
“What the fuck is this?”
“Meet me at the return address. You’ll be able to get rid of ‘em once and for all.”
He tossed the paper aside, blew hard through his nose, and kicked the splintery table.
“Stop fucking with me?” The baseball rolled out from his bag, and he picked it up, rotated it in his hand, and rubbed off pieces of concrete that remained on it from the other day.
With a marker in hand, he drew a large X on the wall. The smell of the ball reminded him of college, the women, the drinking for fun and the parties, and Jeff, and he held onto the memories.
“Greene at the mound looks at his catcher and shakes his head.” As he leaned forward, he twirled the ball behind his back in his left hand.
“The count is three two, the catcher signals again, he shakes his head. He can’t hear the crowd chanting because of the pressure.” His two fingers sat on the top of the ball near the threading, and one sat underneath.
“He winds up and releases.” The ball spiraled; sweat and the filth from his nails went with it. It banged on the black X at 80 miles an hour, and clumps of plaster from the wall fell to the ground along with it.
Someone hit the wall in the room to James right. “You fucker, stop hitting the wall, asshole!” a man’s voice screamed.
The man’s words didn’t reach his ear,, he picked the ball up, “Jimmy’s perfect game,” and placed it back in his bag.
“Where are you, you piece of shit?
Suicide was still a way out from it, it seemed, and he wrestled with the reality of parting with the world as time passed.
He reached in his bag and found a picture that belonged to his father. It was a picture of his grandfather, he had never met him, but the stories his father told created an image of a WWI Vet, a simple man with family values and a man not afraid to spare the rod. On the black and white picture, with brown spots from age, stood a tall man holding a pregnant woman and they stood outside a white plantation home. They exuded happiness, they appeared new, they seemed dreamy; as if they had it all and nothing in the world could take that away from them.
“This was your old man? I wish I would’ve known you better dad. I wish I was there, I should’ve been there, but I chose to deploy again…” He stood it upon the table.
Once he turned on the TV, he opened a new bottle and let the warm liquid slide down his throat. He walked around the room with the bottle turned up to his mouth until he needed air to breathe. Moving in front of the mirror, he beamed at his scars, some from the war and others from The Gentleman and, ran his four fingers over them.
“Get rid of him, uh?” He said and fell flat on the bed.
The black and white TV blared reruns of old sitcoms, and the knocking of the bed from the other room hit the wall near his head, “Oh Jimmy,” a deep voice called. But he lay staring into the darkness.
The sounds around him became background noise, “Get rid of him? That’ll be the day,” he muttered.
Morning came with a deafening pounding on the door. Sweat shot from his body as he rose with horror written on his face. He slapped his head several times and said, “I’m not him anymore.” The knocking didn’t cease. James put on his pants, emptied contents from a bullet into his hand and looked in the door’s peephole.
“A letter for Mr. Greene,” a man said. The man peaked around the corner as James opened his door.
After tossing the substance onto the man’s shirt, he relaxed his face when there was no sizzling, bubbling, or smoke; the man only looked at the powder James hit him with and forced a smile on his face.
“Leave it on the floor and leave.” He gave no apology for his actions. The demon took his gratitude and sense of decency long ago.
“Yes, sir, and have a great day.” The man nodded his head and left the area.
James waited until he was no longer in view before opening the door completely.
His appearance was that of a coal miner returning to the outside world after a week of hard labor. As he bent over to get the letter, he paused at the sight of the divided line, and he used his unsteady hand spread the soot over the space. The room next to James opened and the woman he saw from the other night, and a half-naked man, trampled outside. James winced at her new appearance; she didn’t wear her wig, she wore smeared makeup, and her voice dropped to a baritone. The man’s stubby hands pushed the woman onto the wet gravel, and he tossed her clothes beside her.
“You didn’t tell me you had a dick!” the man screamed.
“You still owe me” the woman said and held out her hand.
“Get the fuck outta here!” the man pulled out wads of cash and threw the bills into the air.
“Yah didn’t mind it when I was suckin’ yah tiny dick, and you were fuckin’ my ass!” she said and picked up the money.
“You’ll get yours tonight.” She gave the man the finger and wobbled away on the wet sidewalk.
The man cuffed his hands around his mouth and yelled to her, “Bag yah face honey, bag yah face.” his voice carried in the spacious lot. James watched the spectacle, leaning on his door’s frame, and the creak from his door caught the man’ attention.
“What the fuck yah looking at cock sucker?”
James shook his head and slipped back into his room.
“That was fucking weird,” he said and slapped the envelope in the palm of his hand. “The same address,” he put the package close to his nose, “… and it smells like peaches.” He flipped it on both sides,
“Who the hell is this?”
“Meet him at one thirty or meet the barrel?” He repeated and chewed away at his fingernails and rustled his tangled hair.
“Get rid of him?” He rushed to the envelope and ripped the packaging to shreds.
“Yah time is running out if you wanna be done with him, now’s the chance. You can’t escape him at 1:30, not even in death. He won’t stop until you’re his.”
“What do I do?” James clutched the letter in his hands and sat back in the chair. The letter scrapped away the idea of suicide that callused on his brain.
“It is about time I shave this,” he said while rubbing his thumb and index finger against the wiry facial hair. Afterwards, he lumbered into the bathroom and switched on the light.
When the lights came on, hundreds of roaches scattered into different directions inside the sink and into the walls. They didn’t drive him out of the bathroom, and he flicked the ones that crawled on his body onto the floor and smashed the ones on the sink. He stood in front of a mirror a mirror covered with every type of human secretion and mold, and touched his sunken cheekbones, drug his fingers across his stubby beard, and felt the grooves of time written under his eyes.
“Who are you?” He reached in his wallet for a picture of himself in 1971 and held it up against his image in the mirror. These two men, the one in the image and the one in the mirror, only shared the same ocean blue eyes.
“Jeff…I’m glad you can’t see me now.” He clasped the two sets of dog tags that hung around his neck.
When he turned on the water in the sink, brown-yellow water and the smell of sewage slushed out of its opening, but after sometime, light-yellow tinted water flowed, steam rose and the smell of sewage decreased.
“Ah, god dammit, it’s either too fuckin’ hot or ice cold.” The hot water burned his hand, and he hobbled around in response to the pain.
“Fuckin’ ice cold water it is.” He turned on the opposite dial and placed his hands underneath it. Pieces of his hair twirled down into the drain as, he stroked the blades against his wet face.
“Not bad, not bad, ‘Clean up’ he says. ‘ Meet me there’ he says.” He knocked hair from his razor into the sink. “Fuck, you I say.”
“Ah!” After nicking his neck, he placed pieces of sandpaper toilet paper on the cut; they did little to stop the bleeding. The second he looked up, another man’s face grinned to him from the mirror.
“No, you fuckin’ piece of dog shit.” His hand pushed all the rage in the world, seven years of pain, and 150 pounds of skin and bones, into the mirror. The glass shattered and propelled into the air, cut his skin, and covered the floor. He turned his body to the emptiness behind him, and when he turned back to the mirror, he only saw 20 different images of his frightened face. His fist, unclenched, rested to his side, and the blood rolled from his fingertips to the bathroom floor. He swallowed his trepidation that wedged in his throat and charged into the bedroom. Wrapping his hand with an old shirt, he sat shaking and cowering in his chair.
He paced in his room for hours twirling his knife in his wounded hand, and he topped off the second bottle in the other. Oh how he wished he could stop time, but the clock marched on and time speed up.
“I won’t let that fucker have me, not this time.” Panic inked its way into James stomach, and he picked up the rifle and scrutinized the chamber.
It was fully loaded. He cocked the rifle and sat in his chair, his eyes fixed on the clock. The scenery from the other day played out, him in the room with the gun in his mouth, but this time, the bullets were in the chamber.
His breath fogged on the metal part of the gun, and his hands shook the weapon against his teeth. He bit down, hard, on the end of the barrel and closed his eyes. His fingers tightened on the trigger. Then, the radio in the room came on.
Ain’t wastin’ No Mo’ Time by the Allman Brothers played, and the picture on the table tipped over. The glass of the frame became a broken mess, his gun fell from his hands, and he gravitated to the broken frame.
His feet crushed some of the items that surrounded the frame, and he bleed onto the floor, but his blood didn’t show on the already soiled carpet. In an effort to remove the pieces of glass from the picture, he blew his foul breath over it and the image drifted.
After he grabbed the picture, he focused his eyes on the words on the back of the photo. “The Greene’s Dec 1917. Fixed the family’s home on Everest RD. Here’s to you William!”
“What?” He went to the box and compared it the two addresses.
“This is the same street.” He ejected the rounds and fell in his seat
“I guess that’s my sign old man. You always had good timing.” His hands grasped the bottle of rum, and he toasted it to the sky.
The time read six p.m. when he packed his belongings into his duffle bag, and he stuffed them in any way they’d fit.
“I got time. I got time. I can get there before he comes. I can get there.” he said and parted from the room into the dusk.
His jog decreased to a stride, and his stride became a dead stop.
What am I doing? I don’t even know who this is and if this is my family’s place?” He said and ran back to the hotel room.
The door to the hotel next to his lay wide open, and he felt compelled to enter it, which went against his better judgment.
“Hey, mister you okay?”
He stepped inside and turned on the lights near the door’s frame. The room smelled of sex and bourbon. Lilac melded with the aroma. He scanned the room and saw the man spiraled across the bed with his throat slashed. The sheets had leopard spots of blood. It was obvious someone murdered him and left him sitting with a dirty tank top, socks, his tiny cock cut off and stuffed in his mouth. Blood gushed out from where the man’s penis once sat.
“Eww,” James put his forearm over his nose to decrease the smell. A note with a knife driven in it lay on the nightstand. His face tensed when he read the words, “You’re next,” and fled out of the room at the speed of sound to his truck. He spiraled his bag into his 1959 Chevy Pickup truck and threw himself into the driver’s side. The keys fumbled in his hands, and he dropped them many times in the puddle on the floor.
“Come on.” He used both hands to steady the keys and find the hole. The engine roared when he turned the key forward. The lilac smog traveled from the room and suffocated him in his truck.
“Not this time.” His foot pounded on the gas, and the truck accelerated away from the hotel for the highway. The structure of the hotel crumbled into ash and in the rear view’s reflection, stood a man in a suit in the area where the hotel once stood. [NP]