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081920 Dive Bartender photo 2

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CHAPTER 19, EXCERPT 2

Nikki drove him home and turned into his driveway but didn’t shut off the engine. Looked like she had bees in her bonnet and she wasn’t even wearing a bonnet. Frank asked her if she was coming in and she shook her head to the negative. Her face was stern and seemed to judge him and he couldn’t blame her at all. Her eyes were like mirrors; every time he looked in he saw the asshole Frank Ford. “Thanks for everything, Nikki,” he said. “I wouldn’t have made it without you.”

Nor would I have a huge hospital bill coming in the mail to bankrupt me.

“That’s okay, Frank,” she said. “You obviously needed help. Now be sure and follow the doctor’s instructions.”

She wasn’t coming in.

Frank fought off a wave of nausea and dizziness and stepped out of the Honda. Standing in his driveway unsteady on his feet, sadness descended on him like a rain cloud, self-loathing following close behind like a Canadian cold front.

 

The next day dawned as dark and lonely as Frank could ever recall. Goddamn Ray-Ray was doing the same thing from the grave as he’d done on earth, causing a carload of hurt, frustration and anger. Frank couldn’t get involved with the emotional turmoil—doctor’s orders—but the good doctor never told him how to stop his mind from going where it went or why it always went where it wasn’t supposed to. They always leave out those important bits.

So he just sat in his living room smoking in the dark with his little TV on. He’d found a nearly full old pack of Winston’s in his dresser drawer—dry as dirt but still full of nicotine—and was dutifully using them up so he wouldn’t be wasteful. But after half a day of that it dawned on him that he was just like his mother, Joan likely at home doing the same thing he was. Sitting the same way, watching the same shitty television shows and sucking on cancer sticks. Upon seeing it, he went to the kitchen, tore up what was left of the cig pack and threw the remains in the garbage can.

His moods were on a roller coaster, climbing up to where he thought he was back to normal and then without warning rocketing back down to the pits. The headaches were fading and his memory was getting better but he still couldn’t remember any details of the attack. But it had to be Artie Autry; the asshole seemed to be lurking around Judy’s apartment building all the goddamn time. Had to be the drugs. Judy Bruton and Artie Autry—truly a match made somewhere other than heaven.

By the following Thursday afternoon, Frank was certifiably stir-crazy. But he caught a little break when Keith Waverly came knocking at his door. Frank was so surprised by how good the guy looked, he couldn’t help but ask if Keith if had found a magic pill for health and wellbeing. Waverly responded that it was spring and he was finally getting his shit together, running, sweating, drinking a ton of water, push-ups, sit-ups…. Softball season was almost here, man, and too much booze and coke make Keith a dull boy.

Following that revelation, the two of them sat around shooting the shit about nothing until early evening when Keith wandered off to the House of Doughnuts. Later, alone in the house, Frank realized that he hadn’t had a drink or gotten high since the wee hours of Saturday morning. It wasn’t bothering him, but his good friend Waverly had given him an extremely fragrant bud of marijuana. The size of a small egg, Keith said it was something new from California, what they called sinsemilla, which, Keith explained, meant “without seeds.”

Frank was examining the fragrant bud, had it in his hands admiring the beauty of it and wondering if he should try some, what effects it might have on his concussed cranium, when the phone started ringing. He had a strong premonition that it was Nikki and he didn’t want to answer, believing that hearing her voice would send him deeper into regret over what he was currently referring to as Ford’s Folly, Frank doing his best to paint his disgraceful fall with a dab of wry humor and faint-but-wizened regret.

Good luck with that, man.  

Time heals all wounds, they say, but to Frank it still felt like cheating if he got to feeling better at all. He deserved to suffer, didn’t he? But life wasn’t meant for pain and woe, was it? The hippie songs said it wasn’t. And, Christ, man, you can’t torture yourself forever.

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DIVE man in wheelchair

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CHAPTER 19, EXCERPT 1

Sunday noon and they were releasing him from the hospital. Just another lousy Sunday for Frank Ford. He couldn’t stop worrying about the bill. A goddamn overnight stay in the hospital for Christ sake. Couldn’t stop obsessing about it. It was stuck there bothering him, staying in his thoughts, just kept looping around….

The tall gray-haired doctor with the friendly eyes—not an arrogant prick like Frank had expected—had told him obsessive thinking was one symptom you might get with a brain injury, a concussion. Also told him it would be a while before he felt right again and left it at that. Frank couldn’t help but like the guy, especially after the man seemed to accept Frank’s explanation of his injury, Frank saying it was the result of a fall off a ladder onto a wooden deck. The benevolent Doc never brought up Frank’s appearance upon admission, or the stink of booze and puke that was undoubtedly unavoidable.

And Frank was feeling a little better now, at least sometimes. He’d have his moments when he believed he was improving but usually as soon as the thoughts passed by he’d dive back down into the depths and wallow around in the mud for a while playing the game of What Tortuous Thought Will Come Next? A game he was getting pretty good at. And although it was getting a little easier to focus, nausea was there most of the time and periodically he’d get hit with a case of nerves for no seeming reason he could identify, attacks from out of nowhere turning him cold and anxious until they faded away. And headaches still lingered. 

So he was riding it out.

Another worm wriggling between his ears seemed to be trying to tell him something. His own words were coming back to him, some of his past thoughts on repeat. Went back to that night at the mouth of the Lester River talking to Mr. Pills, Frank telling Pills it took two people to work a seine. Frank was just riffing at the time but the bit kept popping back into his head and he couldn’t figure out what it meant, couldn’t see the significance. Was his subconscious trying to clue him in or was it brain damage? Were the circuits misfiring, sending out false signals? And what did it have to do with the image of a smelt swimming freely into the maw of a dip net, the image currently carrying a particularly stinging sort of significance to him.

You are the dip net; I am the smelt… 

Sitting in a wheelchair watching the two main women in his life huddling together up ahead at the nurses’ station, Frank had a vague hunch that the winged beast in his nightmare had some connection to things, some deeper meaning. The beast had two heads—and the words that kept repeating in his head were It takes two people to work a seine. But it was probably just some inappropriate mixing of brain functions due to the concussion.

Nevertheless, the line kept repeating there like a flashing neon sign.

And shit, besides everything else, now he had to deal with his anxious, worried mother and also a girlfriend who seemed to be steadily forging her retreat from the train wreck known as Frank Ford. Both women had been at his side in the hospital for extended periods, and Nikki had brought him some clean clothes from the syrup can, but now they were both waiting for him with concerned looks on their faces as the nurse wheeled him along.

And, man, he felt like a royal dick, having to ride in a wheelchair.

He got signed out and the nurse wheeled him down to the main entrance and his mom stood there looking worried and overwrought while Nikki went to get the car. Then she came rolling up the ramp in the red Honda and he and his mom got in, mom in the front seat. Nikki drove to mom’s building first, and of course Joan had to express how worried she was. “I already lost one son, Frank,” she said. “Don’t be the second. That would kill me.” And of course he never said to her that he’d gotten hurt in the process of searching for Ray-Ray’s killer, a process she’d urged him toward. And, yeah, sure, he’d made a little detour that caused some problems. But she’d made him feel guilty for not pursuing it and was now making him feel guilty for pursuing it. So what if he got a little dinged up in the process, eh?

Frank’s mother got out of the Honda with tears in her eyes and a wadded up tissue in her hand and went up to her apartment, Frank thinking she’d soon be smoking cigs and drinking coffee until she was a ball of nerves and a had an excuse for another Valium.

Mother’s little helpers.

A pharmacist’s dream.

(To be continued)

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DIVE Daytime

CHAPTER 18, EXCERPT 3

But now he could see his little house up ahead—the syrup can.  A small red car was in the driveway… and that pretty blonde from his dream was standing next to the red car and staring at him with a look on her face like that famous painting you were always seeing. The one where this guy is on a bridge or something, his mouth stuck in a grotesque oval… The Scream—man, that’s it… the blond girl had that look, that scream-face… He hoped she wouldn’t scream… would cut his head in two.

What was her name? And why was she standing in front of his house? Looking at her gave him a pleasant feeling but his brain wouldn’t allow it to stay. And then he was back in that disgusting bed, pouring on the cement to cover his self-loathing, that foul smelling winged thing on his back…

Man, it was obvious, Frank Ford was fucking crazy.

Nikki.

Her name was Nikki and she was his girlfriend and he fucked that whore…  drugs were ripping his life apart… Jesus, man, did he get clubbed? Poleaxed? Was he losing it? Lost it? Did Ray-Ray off himself?

Nikki was coming toward him now still ready to scream. Maybe. Frank was trying to open up and feel that good vibe he knew was once there but his heart had a lock on it. Wouldn’t open. Only blackness… no sunshine… sunshine hurt his head…. 

Could she tell he fucked that whore?

She looked sad… he hoped she wouldn’t cry… didn’t think he could stand that… he was always making women cry… Nikki, his mom, Sack’s girlfriend…

Then pretty blond Nikki, staring at him with blue eyes the size of hubcaps, her lips pinched together, said, “Frank, my god, what happened? Where have you been? Are you all right? My god, you’ve got blood all over you.”

So, which question should he answer first?

He was trying his damnedest to think up a story, some kind of explanation for his lost night, but the pieces just would not fit together. So he let it flow like vomit. “Uh, I don’t really know, Nik. I just can’t remember. Went over to Bay City with Waverly to find some things out about Ray—Keith knew this waitress there that talked to Ray the last night he was seen—then we came back to Zenith and stopped at the Metro to see Meagher… and I can’t remember anything after that… I think someone poleaxed me.”

At least the scream face was gone. Now she looked sad, knowing….

She came in close and hugged him and he saw the darkness cover her face as she stepped back, her mouth twisting into something scornful, her nose crinkling.

What he deserved….

As the pretty blond Nikki stood there staring at him with her arms across her chest, Frank bent over at the waist and began puking on the ground, hands on his knees. It splashed on his boots and on her clean white canvas tennis shoes and then she was dancing backward and he was trying to make it better but nothing worked anymore and what’s the point of trying because you always end up back where you started and he had fucked that goddamn whore Judy. Someone poleaxed him… drugs were bad… booze was bad… Frank Ford was bad…

And then Nikki was taking his hand and leading him away from the pile of vomit to her little red car. Go little Honda.

“Get in, Frank,” she said. “I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“Okay,” he said, crouching into the passenger seat of the tiny car. “Who’s gonna pay for it? I don’t have any Blue Cross. Did somebody poleaxe me?”

Nikki shrugged and looked into his eyes. Frank saw water collecting at the bottom of her lovely blues. He watched her walk around the little car and get in behind the little steering wheel.

(End of Chapter 18)

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Dive photo IV

CHAPTER 18, EXCERPT 2

He pushed himself upright and stood waiting for the dizziness to lessen, but it wasn’t going away. He looked around. He knew the area but it all seemed different today. Nothing had changed but it all seemed different. How did that work? And although he knew his own house was nearby, somewhere east of here, he wasn’t quite sure what route to take, what street to choose. But he didn’t have the luxury of time or a properly working brain so he just started walking, hoping something would come back to him along the way. He walked across the avenue to the alley and recalled standing in the shadows last night looking up at Judy’s window. And then all the energy he had left glommed onto the disgusting memories and began twisting in the pit of his stomach like a fifty-pound squid with razor blades for tentacles. Thinking he might puke again, he leaned against the small faded house and turned for one more look at that upstairs window. There was nothing to see but the white curtain.

Then he saw a car come up the hill and swing in front of the apartment building.

Sleazy Judy’s big Buick Electra.

Jesus, hadn’t he left her inside the apartment mocking him with her insane laughter?

Time must truly fly when you’re having fun…

He watched her exit the Buick and walk up to the double-glass doors. Man, she was prim and proper and all put back together.  Amazing… confusing… her recovery time phenomenal.

Now he thought he was floating, his legs getting light, and the pain in his head was so bad he had to walk away. At the eastern edge of the alley he turned downhill because he didn’t have the strength to go up. At the intersection he stopped to read the street signs and his own address clicked into his mind and he turned left and pressed on.

So here it was spring and the leaves were green and the red birds were singing… and, Christ, he did need some love—but he didn’t deserve it. No, he sure didn’t. He’d let down his mother… he’d let down Betty… he’d fucked Ray-Ray’s ex-wife, the whore…  And there was a lot more shit back there to prove how low he was, but he just couldn’t remember it all right now.

Maybe you get to a point where life is no longer worth the effort. A point where there is no longer anything out there that makes it worthwhile….

Maybe he was at that point

Everything was fuzzy except the regret and recrimination.

You’re a loser, Frank. A drunk. Dope head. Worm. Lazy. Ungrateful. Never satisfied. And now you’ve gone and put your dick in that whore. You’ll never get it right, you lowlife shitbag….

After five minutes of walking he was getting a new line on things. His house was only a few blocks away… it was a nice day… sunny… the air smelled good… the sun hurt his eyes… and, man, did the head throb. That pretty blond girl was in his mind floating around with the garbage. Christ, he had to remember… the feeling was just too strong… what the hell was her name? He could hear her girlish giggle in his head, a delightful sprinkle of ear candy that made him think of champagne and wedding cake. Girl made him feel better. But he didn’t deserve to feel better… he didn’t deserve anything good… he wasn’t good… he was a Ford…. Who in hell killed Ray-Ray? They were going to pay… all of them…

Revenge was the only thing he had left.

So he walked on, thoughts coming and going in a loop without making much sense. Forgot them quickly anyway. It seemed that he’d swallowed the old Frank Ford, the one he halfway liked, and now Old Frank was lodged down in his solar plexus doing its goddamned best to devour the new guy.

He should give that one some thought….

(To be continued)

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DiveBartenderImage28

CHAPTER 18, EXCERPT 1

Frank could feel the sun shining on him but was scared to open his eyes. He knew it was going to hurt, and hurt bad. But at least the dream was over, if that’s what it was. This big smelly beast, a naked woman with huge wings and two heads he couldn’t quite make out, had just flown him through the fog and dropped him down on a large barren plain, brown, like a desert. But then the desert changed into an empty parking lot, a big hunk of black asphalt, and there was this beautiful young girl standing over him. Looking up at her made him feel good. She was blond with sparkling, crystal clear blue eyes and he thought he should know her but couldn’t quite find the answer, couldn’t put a name to her. It confused him, made his head throb.

He gritted his teeth and slowly opened his eyes and the sun was like a double ice pick to the pupils. He discovered he was curled up against the side of a brick building with no memory of how he got here.

But it was starting to come back.

And then all he could remember was what he wanted to forget.

Okay, Franko, you got yourself in a real fix this time, dickhead. Messing with hard drugs is always a wrong turn onto bad roads and now you’re on a goat path to the pits of the world, smart guy.

And, Jesus Christ, what the hell happened to his head? Felt like his brains were leaking out. Intense, searing pain, man, words not adequate to describe the sensation.

Okay, genius, just get yourself up on your feet. Take it slowly, up on the knees first. Then one hand on one knee and the other on the other knee and push your miserable rotten self up. C’mon smart guy, you can do it.

He did those things. And was nearly upright before the sun stabbed his eyes again and nausea rushed from his stomach to his throat like a volcanic eruption and his legs buckled and he was back on his knees puking his guts out, bilious burning fluid smelling like a month-dead skunk pouring to the ground, splashing, making a soft, squishy, disgusting sound.

Well, that hadn’t worked out so well.

He stayed on his knees for a moment waiting for the spinning to stop, looking around for something to wipe his mouth with. Didn’t see anything so he pulled up the tail of his white shirt and wiped off the odious yellow fluid. Then he lifted his left hand to what seemed to be the center of the throbbing on his temple. Slow and careful, he felt around a sticky, swollen knob that he could barely stand to touch. Then he looked at the blood on his fingers and his gut rumbled like an approaching thunderstorm.

But hey, the look was nearly complete now. Getting in line with the rest of the Ford men. Puke, blood, dirt in the hair… man, it was all there. Least he hadn’t shit himself. But what was that goddamn smell? Had he pissed his pants?

Reaching down there, it felt dry. And the stink was up high. He put his hand to his chest, slid it upward toward his neck and felt the dampness. Sniffing his fingers, he got a dirty helpless feeling like a baby in need of a diaper change.

Someone or something had pissed on him.

Your final christening, Frank, now you’ve made it to the Ford Family Hall of Fame.

And then a shot of cold fear shuddered through him with the realization that it was sometime in the morning and he was kneeling on the ground in the stabbing sunshine with blood on his head and his hands, right the hell in front of Judy Bruton Pillsbury’s goddamn apartment building.

Fuckin’ A.

He had to get out of here.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 17, EXCERPT 3

Now Frank had fire ants in his head along with the voices, the goddamn dueling voices. He couldn’t make sense of anything. He liked things simple and straightforward and this conflict was tearing him up. Someone needed to shut the fuck up. He put his palms against his temples and tried to push everything back together but it didn’t work. Gazing across the table at Judy, he didn’t think she was wearing any underwear. He grabbed the vodka bottle, tilted it to his mouth and slugged down a double blast, wincing, nearly coughing. Then she put on that come-hither-bedroom-eyes look that he liked, grinning down at him, and Frank saw a goddamn bird of prey about to slam down on a rodent. Two Fords—two rodents. Score two for Judy Bruton. No—three. Let’s not forget the illustrious Mr. Pills.

Frank set the vodka bottle back on the table and watched her sashay through the archway into the next room, each little bounce of her ass a shot below the belt. Frank had already seen the expensive canopied bed in there, the bedspread shining like gold, and now he was picturing her on it.

And then, from the bedroom, “You ready yet, Frank?” Her voice low and thick.

Frank grabbed two red capsules from the tray, slugged them down with another slosh of vodka, picked up the rolled up bill, snorted half the pile of powder and then repeated the act in the other nostril.

Then Judy reeled in the leash while the soiled seraph pushed him from behind and he staggered into the bedroom stripping off his clothes. She was sitting on the edge of the bed just like he’d pictured, pulling the dress over her head before he could tear it off. And then there it all was, waiting for him. And for a scant instant in his head—here and then gone—he saw a smelt rushing headlong into a dip net.

Judy spread herself, grabbed his arms and pulled him down. He slammed inside her, locked his mouth on hers and their tongues lashed together, writhing like snakes. Thrusting with animal lust, hatred, frustration, anger, sorrow and grief driving him on, Frank was climbing toward the top of the mountain, striving for the peak, the drugs taking him places he’d never imagined, when that weak little voice came back in his head, that meek fellow adrift at sea in the oar-less rowboat. Thrusting harder, Frank tried to shut it out but the little man couldn’t be silenced. “That’s it, Frank, pour on the cement until I’m buried. Pour it on until you can’t hear me anymore. Build it up with every stroke until I’m gone forever. Pile on the cement. Pile it on. Build up the walls… pour it on

Frank continued pushing and thrusting and grinding his hips until he was slick with sweat. And then she was screaming and he was groaning and it was all pouring out of him in a feverish, burning, sick rush.

And then he was left there, small, weak and empty, with a world’s worth of dread sliding over him like a sewer eruption. He rolled off not wanting to see her face but compelled to look anyway, like a kid at the peep show pulling back the curtain on his worst nightmare. Man, her look of total satisfaction tore at him. What the hell had he done? Now his skin was a prison and his mind a cage with poison spikes. He wanted to climb the walls and gnaw the ceiling tiles.

He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the floor. Shame wouldn’t let him raise his head. He was drowning in the Lake of Fire, man, and behind him she was laughing. Not loud but he could hear the derision, the mocking.

She was not human.

He stumbled out of the bed in a sullen daze, picking his clothes from the floor and carrying them into the living room. He sat in a stuffed chair and fumbled them on. When he had his boots on his feet he stared at the coffee table: the vodka, the pills, the grains of white powder. With waves of nausea filling him to the brim, he struggled upright. He could still hear her snickering, louder now. She wouldn’t stop. He stared at the vodka bottle, had the urge to grab it and crush her skull. Or take the lamp cord and strangle that smirk right off her face, watch it turn to fear and horror, watch the poisoned life spill out.

Just turn around and rid the world of one more filthy parasite; one more blood-sucker…

But then a voice of reason found its way in.

Ah, come on, man, you knew what you were getting into. You always knew this was going to happen. You had all your denials set up, but you knew, goddamnit. Now take your lumps and get the hell out of here. You got a long row to hoe, dumb ass.

Frank got up from the chair, picked his jacket off the floor and shrugged it on. Feeling like a man who’d just killed the only thing he loved, he walked to the door on shaky legs and slid back the deadbolt. And from the bedroom came one last pleasantry. She said it loud and it cut him like a meat-clever to the soul.

“Thanks for coming, Frank.”

Her grating, twisted laugh followed him out the door like a reoccurring nightmare.

At the bottom of the stairs he could still hear her laughing. He couldn’t tell if it was real or just in his head but it didn’t matter, it was still there, like a jackhammer excavating his medulla oblongata.

As he moved through the well-lighted vestibule, Frank felt naked and exposed and his mind was working rapid fire, trying to grasp some straws. More booze? More coke? Pills? Suicide? You can take a flier, man, be just like Ray-Ray—two peas in the same goddamn pod.

But Frank was never one to look at life as a veil of tears or a grim relentless struggle. At times even—shit, he actually enjoyed the whole mess. But now stepping outside into the dark and the mist and the flashing cop car lights down at the far end of the block, he was thinking it would be a long time before he got back to that nice place. But more pressing, he was still blocks from home and his legs were wobbly and getting worse, something he ingested creeping over him like a lead blanket. He knew if he didn’t start moving he might not make it to his house. And now there was another squad car blowing up the avenue toward him and the beacon was jabbing red and yellow shards deep into his head.

He ducked around the edge of the building into the shadows and watched the cop car turn onto Fifth Street and head down toward the rowdy party. Then he heard a rustling behind him and turned toward the sound.

He saw it coming.

He scrunched his head down and raised his shoulder to block but he was too slow and too late. The club grazed off the top of his shoulder and caught him up high on the temple and his head exploded in white-hot pain. He saw blue lightning with flashing yellow streaks and then his legs disappeared and the lights went out.

(End of Chapter 17)

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DiveBartenderPhoto30

CHAPTER 17, EXCERPT 2

He stared into Judy’s cloudy eyes. She was shorter than he was but somehow she seemed to be looking down at him. He stepped around her and went into the living room. There were easy chairs, small tables and lamps in the corners, and a plush silver-gray couch against the wall with a new-looking, dark wood coffee table in front of it. On top of the table was a tall glass with melting ice inside, a red aluminum fifties-era ice bucket in the shape of an apple and a circular decorative tray, an antique or something, red with green tropical foliage painted around the circumference and a black-and-orange tropical bird in the center. A small pile of white powder and a rolled up hundred dollar bill lay on top the bird’s breast. At its claws were a few loose red capsules and various pills of different colors. A half-empty bottle of Smirnov stood next to the tray like a guard. One soldier not yet dead.

Frank walked over to the couch and lowered himself down, trying hard not to act drunk. He glanced back at Judy and she was still staring down at him with that goddamn gotcha smirk. He leaned back, crossed his legs at the ankles and gave her the evil eye. “So tell me what really did happen that night, Judy,” he said. “I bet Ray never made it back to Zenith, did he?”

Frank kept his eyes on her as she came to the edge of the coffee table. She didn’t walk, she slinked.

“We were going to give him a ride home, Frank. That’s the truth. I told him he’d get over me. I told him we were poison for each other, but he didn’t want to hear it. He was locked into this trip that I was the only woman he’d ever love, the only one who’d ever understand him, that kind of shit. Fuck, Frank, you know how he got when he was loaded. Well, he was fucking maxed out that night on a mix of speed and downs. He’d go from helpless crying to anger and sarcasm in a heartbeat and then back to hatred again. Then he’d get that lost-little-boy look and pout. I tried to tell him I’d always have a soft spot in my heart for him but we’d never be any good for each other—but he was like a fucking broken record, constantly repeating the same shit I’d been hearing for days. And yes, all right, we did have a little reunion fling there for a while. And that was definitely a mistake. Shit, you know, I wanted to let him down easy but he got the wrong idea, I can see that now. But at the time I thought if I was nice to him for a little while he’d begin to see my point of view.”

“And what exactly was your point of view, Judith?”

She gave Frank a peculiar smile. “That I was going to marry Richard Pillsbury and Ray was better off without me. But I told Ray weeks ago that I’d be able to provide him with drugs, samples from Richard’s pharmacies and things. I thought that might help him settle down, you know, accept my reality and move on. I never expected him to come out with the undying love nonsense.”

“It was just nonsense to you, wasn’t it.”

“You ever had a former lover you couldn’t shake, Frank? The feeling’s over for you but she won’t let go, won’t listen, won’t take no for an answer?”

Frank thought back to high school and Carole Strewler. “Yeah, I guess,” he said. “But you still haven’t told me what happened after you left The Cottage.”

She bent over and stubbed out her cigarette in an ornate silver ashtray on the coffee table, her dress riding up high on her gorgeous thighs. Frank tried not to look but couldn’t stop himself. “As soon as we walked out of The Cottage, Ray flipped out. He started yelling and throwing punches at Lew and Lew had no choice but to hit back. They stood there in the parking lot fighting and I couldn’t believe how many times Lew hit him before Ray got knocked down. After that Ray calmed down and he seemed like he was fine, like he got the bad stuff out of his system. We were gonna drive him back over to Zenith, he was saying he just wanted to go home, and I gave him a couple reds so he could sleep. But then we were going out to the car and he got this crazy look and grabbed my goddamn tits and tried to shove his tongue down my throat and I slapped him. I thought he was gonna haul off and bust me one but he just made this weird face, somewhere between a laugh and a cry, said ‘Fuck you, bitch,’ and took off running. Ran off into the dark and I never saw him after that. I swear, Frank.”

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 17, EXCERPT 1

Crossing the avenue his trick knee was hurting and the other one felt weak. He was dizzy, adrenaline had his hands shaking and his gut jumping, and his head was emerging from a dull gray cloud.

Asiata Apartments was carved in stone above the building’s entrance. There was a double glass door with four concrete steps leading up to it and Frank could see a vestibule area with mail slots on the wall and a warm inviting light. But he didn’t feel warm or invited as he stepped in out of the mist and checked the names on the mailboxes, all eight of them.

J. Burton, it said next to #8.

Burton—Bruton. J—Judy. Close enough. Who did she think she was fooling?

Frank grabbed the curved brass handle on the heavy wood and glass inside door, pushed down the little thumb tab and pulled. Door didn’t budge. What the hell? Shit, his brain wasn’t working right. It was one of those systems where you buzzed the apartment and talked on an intercom and the tenant pushed a button to unlock the door. A complicated process not guaranteed to achieve the desired result, but what choice did he have? So he stood there looking around and searching for another way in. But goddamnit, the security building seemed secure. With reluctance he pushed the button for #8, hoping J. Burton/Bruton felt like a visitor at two-A-goddamn-M in the misty fucking morning.

No response.

Frank felt the muscles in his shoulders letting go. No one was home and he was off the hook. But then the winged beast weighed in with a different opinion, digging in its talons until he pushed the damn intercom button one more time.

Still nothing.

He was turning to leave when the metallic voice came through. “Yes? Who’s there? Is someone there?”

Frank put his mouth close to the speaker and tried hard not to slur his words. “Judy, this is Frank Ford. Sorry to bother you this late, but I really need to talk to you about Ray. Something’s come up and I—”

“Well, big brother Frank has finally come around. But what if I don’t want to talk about Ray at two-thirty in the morning, big brother Frank?”

“Then I suppose I’ll have to nestle into a corner of your vestibule here and wait until you come out.”

“Suppose I call the police and tell them there’s a drunk passed out in the entry.”

“Then they’ll haul me in and I’ll have to tell Detective Moore that you were the last person to see Ray alive. I’ve got two witnesses who saw you walking out of The Cottage with Ray on your arm. You and one of your new hubby’s goons.” It was actually only one witness but she didn’t need to know that. Cops went to The Cottage and started asking questions, no telling how many witnesses they’d find.

“My husband is a businessman. The owner of several pharmacies—in three states—why would he need these so-called goons?”

“You tell me. I’m sure you’re privy to the inside info.” Silence on the intercom. “So you gonna let me in or not?”

More silence.

Frank waited, his gut roiling like waves on Lake Superior. Then the door clicked and he grabbed the brass handle, pushed down the thumb flap and pulled the door open. Going inside to an olfactory mixture of cooking odors, cleaning fluids and old carpeting imbedded with the smell of years of bodily functions, he was reminded why he didn’t like apartment buildings.

Going up the gold-carpeted stairs, his legs were like lead and the goddamn winged thing was cooing in his ear like a pigeon as big as a beer truck. An image was forming in the foggy reaches of his mind. An image of him in a rowboat without any oars, cold, lonely and vulnerable as the boat washed out to sea.

At the top of the stairs he pushed back the vision. The hallway had numbered doors along both sides. And judging by the location of the high window, Frank figured Judy was all the way down on the right. He moved unsteadily along the worn carpet until he was in front of door number eight. He lifted the horseshoe shaped knocker and tapped it down, lifted, repeated, and then repeated again.

Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me

(To be continued)

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DiveBartenderImage29

CHAPTER 17, EXCERPT 1

Crossing the avenue his trick knee was hurting and the other one felt weak. He was dizzy, adrenaline had his hands shaking and his gut jumping, and his head was emerging from a dull gray cloud.

Asiata Apartments was carved in stone above the building’s entrance. There was a double glass door with four concrete steps leading up to it and Frank could see a vestibule area with mail slots on the wall and a warm inviting light. But he didn’t feel warm or invited as he stepped in out of the mist and checked the names on the mailboxes, all eight of them.

J. Burton, it said next to #8.

Burton—Bruton. J—Judy. Close enough. Who did she think she was fooling?

Frank grabbed the curved brass handle on the heavy wood and glass inside door, pushed down the little thumb tab and pulled. Door didn’t budge. What the hell? Shit, his brain wasn’t working right. It was one of those systems where you buzzed the apartment and talked on an intercom and the tenant pushed a button to unlock the door. A complicated process not guaranteed to achieve the desired result, but what choice did he have? So he stood there looking around and searching for another way in. But goddamnit, the security building seemed secure. With reluctance he pushed the button for #8, hoping J. Burton/Bruton felt like a visitor at two-A-goddamn-M in the misty fucking morning.

No response.

Frank felt the muscles in his shoulders letting go. No one was home and he was off the hook. But then the winged beast weighed in with a different opinion, digging in its talons until he pushed the damn intercom button one more time.

Still nothing.

He was turning to leave when the metallic voice came through. “Yes? Who’s there? Is someone there?”

Frank put his mouth close to the speaker and tried hard not to slur his words. “Judy, this is Frank Ford. Sorry to bother you this late, but I really need to talk to you about Ray. Something’s come up and I—”

“Well, big brother Frank has finally come around. But what if I don’t want to talk about Ray at two-thirty in the morning, big brother Frank?”

“Then I suppose I’ll have to nestle into a corner of your vestibule here and wait until you come out.”

“Suppose I call the police and tell them there’s a drunk passed out in the entry.”

“Then they’ll haul me in and I’ll have to tell Detective Moore that you were the last person to see Ray alive. I’ve got two witnesses who saw you walking out of The Cottage with Ray on your arm. You and one of your new hubby’s goons.” It was actually only one witness but she didn’t need to know that. Cops went to The Cottage and started asking questions, no telling how many witnesses they’d find.

“My husband is a businessman. The owner of several pharmacies—in three states—why would he need these so-called goons?”

“You tell me. I’m sure you’re privy to the inside info.” Silence on the intercom. “So you gonna let me in or not?”

More silence.

Frank waited, his gut roiling like waves on Lake Superior. Then the door clicked and he grabbed the brass handle, pushed down the thumb flap and pulled the door open. Going inside to an olfactory mixture of cooking odors, cleaning fluids and old carpeting imbedded with the smell of years of bodily functions, he was reminded why he didn’t like apartment buildings.

Going up the gold-carpeted stairs, his legs were like lead and the goddamn winged thing was cooing in his ear like a pigeon as big as a beer truck. An image was forming in the foggy reaches of his mind. An image of him in a rowboat without any oars, cold, lonely and vulnerable as the boat washed out to sea.

At the top of the stairs he pushed back the vision. The hallway had numbered doors along both sides. And judging by the location of the high window, Frank figured Judy was all the way down on the right. He moved unsteadily along the worn carpet until he was in front of door number eight. He lifted the horseshoe shaped knocker and tapped it down, lifted, repeated, and then repeated again.

Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me

(To be continued)

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DivePhotoX

CHAPTER 16, EXCERPT 2

Frank pushed open the door and it complained with a rusty moan. He got out and stood on the sidewalk as Waverly flicked his head from side to side and checked the rearview mirror. Watching the Olds roll slowly away down the avenue, Frank was thinking Good luck, man, always an adventure crossing the bridge at this time of night.

Then Frank looked across the street and saw Jesus staring at him. Shit, it was just a statue in front of the ancient St. John’s Catholic Church. But, man, the eyes did seem accusing.

Frank averted his gaze and crossed Fourth Street, starting up the hill with the rustle of wings at his back. He wasn’t sure what he’d do once he got to the apartment building, only knew he had to go there. He was back to being a drone, a robot, Judy’s clown, the dirty, feathered creature pushing him along. His torment, his obsession, and his madness, were penetrating the layers of alcoholic insulation and tearing at him, making him sting. She owned him. Had his balls in her hand. And he couldn’t stand the pain of it—the shame.

The short walk up the hill didn’t sober him up much, if at all. The neighborhood was mostly dark, streetlights out to accommodate crime it seemed, only the rare porch light or window glowing. Judy’s building loomed ahead of him now, large in the corner lot, the two-story brick structure reaching all the way back to the alley above Fifth Street.

Frank lumbered up the hill and stepped into the alley across the avenue from Judy’s building, his heart thumping like a train pushing up a steep grade and his armpits squeezing out foul, cold sweat. He could see a light in the same top floor window as the last time he was here. Fighting against rising nausea and the weight of the booze pulling at his head, he took deep breaths and leaned against the side of a tiny box of a house abutting the alley, a light mist reviving him somewhat. He could hear loud voices coming from the far end of the block and the thumping of a stereo. Party tonight. Party every night. Gazing up he detected movement behind the gauzy curtain of Judy’s high window, a silhouette behind the glass. As it lingered there for just an instant, he got that familiar spiky heat shooting along his spine.

That old black magic got you under my skin.

Fuck it, he was going in.

(End of Chapter 16)

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