||[Feb. 5th, 2005|05:33 pm]
"All literary men are Red Sox fans." John Cheever
Note: This is the second chapter of a novel I'm working on. I'll keep posting these as long as you all promise to buy the finished copy.
Three of a Kind
John looked both ways before he crossed the street.
The buildings behind him were crumbling, abandoned. The darkness cloaked the path John made. The lights of the inner-city drowned out the night sky.
John looked up and down the street as he limped his way across. He couldn’t bend his right knee, so he pulled it along, hopping as the leg came forward. The ankle throbbed with pain, and John grimaced while clutching his thigh. Almost there.
John lugged the locked leg over the edge of the sidewalk with a mighty heave. He tried to bend to catch his breath, but could only do so on his left side. Sweating profusely, John licked his lips and wiped his brow. Dimmed streetlights lined the sidewalk like a row of dead trees. John needed as much dark as he could get.
Three tanks, his goal, loomed above him like a trio of giants. White and massive, the squat containers held millions of gallons of natural gas. Floodlights (those that still worked that is, the whole facility was in disrepair) bathed the cylinders in an orange glow, revealing the building-sized letters adorning the tanks. A barbed wire fence made a tight perimeter around the gas.
John followed the fence to a gray pillbox: the security station. He avoided a speed-bump while crossing the vehicle entrance. The station’s door was closed, but a dim light came from the window. John struggled to the door, having more trouble keeping his leg locked. He knocked.
He heard shuffling inside. Maybe he caught the guy napping. The handle jiggled, and the door opened. A thin man with dark hair stood in a green-gray uniform.
“Hey,” John said, panting. “Can you help me out?”
The guard looked confused. “Whatsa matter?”
John pointed back the way he’d come. He grabbed his leg (the motion had tugged at it) and winced. “I crashed by car back there aways. No one’s around. So I headed here.”
The guard gave John the once-over. “Got a phone?”
“Yer shit outta luck, then, kid.” The guard thumbed over his shoulder. “Phone’s dead.” He squinted, thinking. “But let’s see what I can do for ya. Lemme grab my stuff.”
“Thanks.” John’s breath quickened.
The guard nodded and turned. He grabbed his coat and flashlight.
John reached into his pants and slowly removed the machete. Careful not to make a sound. He brought the blade forward as the guard turned back to the door.
John sprang into action. Grabbing the guard’s shoulder, he plunged the machete through the man’s gut. Dark blood poured out onto John’s hand. He pushed the blade deeper, through the man’s back. The guard grabbed John’s shoulder, but all his energy had been sapped. His incredulous eyes bulged as he stared at John. The color from his face drained away while his mouth opened and closed. Like a dying fish.
John tightened his own grip on the guard’s shoulder and pulled the machete up. The guard’s body jerked with the blade. John looked into the dying man’s eyes. “Sorry.” And the guard could see the remorse in his killer’s eyes.
One more jerk and the guard’s innards seeped onto the floor, landing with a sickening smack. With strained effort, John extricated his weapon from the guard. The suction made a sloppy sound, like stepping through mud.
The guard collapsed to the floor, clutching his side and convulsing. Blood pooled at the corners of his mouth, dead eyes staring at the ceiling. John couldn’t stand the sight of the twitching, dying man. He took the machete and shoved it through the guard’s throat, pinning him to the floor. One last violent spasm coursed through the guard, blood spewing out his throat.
He walked into the station and reached for the guard’s coat. He wiped his gore-stained hands, and tried to dab the blood from his shirt. It was to no avail, the shirt was drenched in most of the guard’s blood.
John kneeled beside the body and relieved it of its pistol. He wiped the gun with the coat and tucked it in the back of his pants. John searched the body for a key ring, but found none. He needed those keys.
The guard’s desk sat cluttered with loads of papers, and John found no keys there. He moved to the back of the room (where the guard retrieved his coat and flashlight shortly before his demise). Sure enough, on a hook near the locker, was the guard’s elusive key ring. John shoved it in his pocket.
With that taken care of, there was the matter of the body to attend to. John didn’t want a corpse lying on the floor for all the world to see if he could help it. He stood over the body, wrapped his fingers around the machete’s handle and tugged. The guard’s body flopped a little, but the blade stuck. John held back nausea as he pulled harder. The body flopped more, and the blade stayed put. I don’t want to do this. John planted a foot firmly on the guard’s chest and placed both hands on the machete. He yanked with all his might and the blade escaped with a shloop. The guard’s jaw involuntarily opened and closed as a new river of blood erupted from the throat wound. When the fingers began twitching, John lost his lunch in the corner.
John didn’t dare touch the guard till he stopped moving. He waited a good ten minutes.
John took the guard’s coat again and used it to soak up the blood at the body’s neck. He knew he couldn’t clean it all up, but he didn’t need to.
With enough of the blood gone, John hunkered down behind the guard’s head. He reached under each arm, clasping his hands together across the guard’s chest. His left arm missed touching the lethal wound by mere inches.
Crouching was all John could manage. The guard’s dead weight must have been at least two-fifty. Leaving a broad streak of blood along the floor, John dragged the body to the chair by the window. This’ll be the hard part. He got the body to sit up, leaning its back against the chair. John moved in front of the body. He cupped his hands under the guard’s armpits and lifted. The guard fell into the chair without all that much effort. Surprising. The body’s silhouette would be visible through the window, but that was all. A thick dust caked the glass, it hadn’t been cleaned in years. Thank God for that.
John turned away from the guard and spied a panel on the wall. It had two circular buttons, one green and one red. Green means go. John pushed the button.
There was a short buzz followed by a heavy clanking from outside. John went to the door and saw the large gate lumber across the vehicle entrance. He checked the body once more. Copeland, the nametag read. I wonder if he had a family. John didn’t like that train of thought, so he derailed it. He cast one last look over the room (the guard’s body had begun to stiffen) and closed the door.
John walked trough the open gate and towards the middle tank. The light here was better, but that necessarily wasn’t for the better. John could see the damage the dying guard had done to his clothes much clearer. He felt like vomiting again.
John arrived at the gargantuan drum. The door at the bottom of the stairwell was locked. He pulled out the key ring and started with a random key. Grabbing the padlock, John inserted the key, turned, and turned the knob. No effect. Next key. No effect. Next. No. Next. No. Around number thirty, John hit the jackpot. The padlock’s ding reverberated between the tanks.
Clang-clang-clang. John’s footfalls ringed out on the stairs. He raced up the stairwell, hoping the noise wasn’t loud enough to warrant unwanted attention. He stopped about halfway up.
This is the easy part. John reached into his pocket and pulled out the black box. It was magnetic, so he just stuck it to the side of the tank. He fiddled with the dials till the screen lit up. 15:00:00. Good. John rubbed his lips nervously. One more thing to do. He pressed the START button.
Like a bat out of Hell, he flew down the stairwell. Clang-clang-clang-clagclangclang. The door at the bottom swung back and forth lazily, John palmed it open as he ran through. John bolted, unthinking, until he reached the opposite side of the street.
He slowed down to a brisk walk.
The entire block was in disrepair. Streetlights, like broken toothpicks, littered the sidewalk, as did debris from the ancient buildings. John couldn’t catch a cab here.
On the next block, a car stopped and John froze. He ducked into an alley. The car moved on.
A pimp and three hookers kicked a young man lying on the ground. The hookers were screaming profanities at the top of their lungs. Probably a disrespectful john. John laughed uneasily.
John saw a cab and hailed it. The car turned around and pulled up to the sidewalk. John got in.
The cabbie had one of those names that had too many consonants and not enough vowels. “Where do you want to go?" Where came out as vhere and do you want to came out as one word.
“Home,” John said.
"Where might that be?” John told him.
The cab stunk of a hundred different funks, none of which John could separate. He wanted to be an asshole and ask the cabbie how often he cleaned, but he was detached at the moment. Plus he didn’t want to make an impression. He checked his watch absently (although absently wasn’t the smartest way to do it, considering the circumstances).
The cabbie pulled up to the apartment building and John paid the fare. He stepped out on to the sidewalk and the cab pulled away.
In the distance John heard a heavy thump followed almost immediately by a thump-thump. The ground shook, and windows rattled. He looked back the way he’d come. A brilliant fireball opened like a massive umbrella in the night sky. Thick clouds followed suit.
His job was done.