A serialization of the novel The Sound and the Shadows. Last week’s chapter is here.
Disconsolate and bewildered, Davy wandered home, stumbled through the front door and up the stairs. On the landing, Esmerelda greeted him, barefoot and in a tartan bathrobe, a few steps outside their bedroom door.
“Where were you? You didn’t tell me you were going out? You’re such an idiot?”
He swung at the air in anger and frustration; she ducked effectively, but teetered then toppled, cartwheeling down the stairs, landing on the hardwood floor, a twisted rag doll, limbs at impossible angles, emerald eyes as dull as newsprint, the dazzle gone in a breath.
Down steps he raced, knowing it was too late. Her wrist revealed no pulse. But I didn’t hit her! I didn’t even touch her...
His mind––first numb for minutes, then racing with ideas, pieces falling into place with the naturalness of a breeze––began to plan. Davy dragged the French-Floridian by her cooling armpits, heels dragging, through the kitchen to the attached garage. Then he propped her up in the Mustang’s passenger seat. Dashing back inside, he changed to jeans and a work shirt, laced up hiking boots, and grabbed a pair of work gloves. In the upstairs bathroom, he popped a couple of bennies and pocketed the bottle for the stamina he’d need. He made a thermos of coffee, put it in a knapsack.
Backing out of the garage, onto the street, he waved hello to a passing back-and-white, giving the cop a manly “Happy to see you in the neighborhood; we appreciate it, buddy” wave before driving out of Evendale, a shovel in the trunk. On the first sharp turn, Ezzy tipped over, her face landing in his lap. Shuddering, he slammed her away with one arm, against the door, her head clonking the window.
Davy pulled over, got out with the motor running. He ran around to her side, opened the door and strapped Ezzy’s clumsy carcass into place. That stupid cop didn’t even notice she wasn’t wearing her seat belt? What are we paying these chumps for!
Confused by so many things: What’d happened to Darlene? Was she abducted? Murdered? What? WHAT? And now a corpse on his hands! He felt naked sitting in their car with her husk. Anyone could look in the windows—clear as glass, you know—and see him with a cadaver. At a stop sign, a mom and two little ones crossed the street. They smiled at him; he sat there and smiled back. See that nice couple in the car? They obey the traffic signs!
There were enough spaces at the Kwik Mart for Davy to park away from foot traffic. He was paying for his chewing gum and three gallons of green Gatorade when he felt the pills kicking in. He knew what waited at the end of his euphoric bell curve: a black abyss. Crossing the parking lot with his bag, he saw some boys on bicycles circling his car. Davy picked up his pace. “Hey! Get away from that car! G’wan!”
They pedaled off, taunting. “Ah, blow it out your shorts! Your broad’s a real stiff!” How much had they seen? How much had they noticed? How much, if interrogated in a day or two, would surface? How much? How soon?
Yeah, we waved at her, just tryin’ to be friendly, but she didn’t do nothin’. That’s when we figured, maybe, she was, y’know, dead. So I went to my Pop...
Even as an adolescent, Davy detested teen boys. A young girl entering teendom takes on the first blush of womanhood, blending all that’s cute from childhood with a promise of what's to be. The 13-year-old boy, in contrast, is a monstrosity: his nose a twisted deformity; cheeks mottled with eruptions of pus; that awful mustache forcing its way to a greasy surface; soft eyebrows mutating into briar patches; the honking voice, cousin to a braying mule, hands and feet too big and clumsy.
Representatives of this lower strain now had the power to ruin him...
Davy saw the little bastards escape down the main road and take a hard left into a development, a place that was snazzy 40 years ago and had gone to seed and weed and peeled paint and for sale signs. He hopped in the Mustang and followed them into dystopian suburbia, but the boys were nowhere to be seen. Everywhere Davy glanced, there were people. People were in their yards, walking dogs, peering into his windows, suspicious of the outsider. He turned around slowly in a cul-de-sac, feeling as if Esmerelda was a blinking radioactive lime-green billboard, shouting, “He killed me! Call the coppers! Please! Someone! Call the police!”
His heart, the size of a basketball, thumped away at his breastplate.
Davy trolled, sharp eyes scanning for those boys, ready to run them over if he found them in a lonely spot. Where are those little shits!
Despite it being only April, despite nothing to speak of in the way of growth, people whiled away their evenings straddling lawn tractor seats, buzzing infant grass down to dirt with a blithe venom worthy of fighter jets napalming Vietnamese tots. A chubby pink-faced man steered his mower into the street, drove alongside Davy’s left, staring into the creeping car. The man began waving. Was he shouting, “This pervert’s driving around with a dead lady in his car! And he’s looking for our boys! He wants to molest ’em!”
A woman with two dogs, each as large as a pony, approached Davy from the right, the canines snapping and snarling, foam dripping from fangs. What was she yelling? Was it, “I’ve got his license plate number! I’m gonna call 911!”? Sweating ice cubes, Davy stepped on the gas, not too much, just enough, and smiled and waved, tried to seem right neighborly, managed an act of cool, maintained it until he was back on the county route, out of the jaws of the fermenting lynch mob.
A few miles outside of town, bouncing down a deserted dirt road, past its last farm, past its last double-wide, Davy parked. The amphetamines now had full control of him. Removing the key, he wondered how long before car keys disappear altogether. They’re anachronistic, soon all will be swipe cards. Swipe: that’s on odd word when you really think about it. It’s actually perfect in its own little way, on several levels. The sound of it, the way it looks in print, heh, heh.
Some day, surely, we’ll simply think our cars on and off. His mind zipping, he suddenly saw a thousand cars turning on, the result of a thousand thoughts. He put the Gatorade into the knapsack with the thermos, and slipped the knapsack on. He then hauled Ezzy out, dragging her to the edge of the woodland. He returned to the car and locked it. The keys? Yes, right here. Okay. He picked Ezzy up and carried her as if over a bridal threshold into the woods, tripping over roots, cursing. He went on for a quarter mile or so, until he found a glen. He dropped her, gasping. Then he sat and sweated, but only for a minute. The sun was going down.
Davy mapped out a rectangle, six feet long by three feet wide, drawing its perimeter with a branch. Then he jogged back to the car once more to retrieve his shovel. Finally equipped, he returned to Ezzy and served himself more speed washed down with black coffee, chased with Gatorade. Then he began to dig.
Dig and dig and dig, down, down, down, the earth was blessedly soft, but occasionally he'd hit a large rock forcing him to work like a fiend possessed, the full silver moon providing ample light for his buzzing eyes. Around two in the morning, Hercules rested in the hole, inhaled deeply of the earthen smells unleashed by his digging and spring’s thaw. He lay there for just a few moments. There was still much work to be done. The cold wet ground didn’t bother him in the least.
Thoughts had been sprinting all night. He’d been careful as he possibly could not to harm earthworms as he dug into ground, thinking about parking lots, gargantuan and ugly American parking lots for shopping centers and malls, acres and acres of pavement burying worms and insects alive. No one ever writes about this, not even environmentalists, and they should, someone should! Do insects record holocausts, somehow, in their insect histories? Ants have to. Ants are so communal. They must share a collective consciousness. Except there are warring ants, right? Black ants versus red ants? So maybe just specific species of ants share a specific mind. It’s as if all black ants are simply teeny-weeny micro pieces of one gigantic black ant, each of them itty bitty ant soldiers (or ambassadors) sent forth to do this or that for the good of all the other black ants from time immemorial, excluding the ones that stay inside the anthill all day, the queen and her handmaidens, or whatever the hell they are. Drones? Is there an ant king? There’s got to be, right? Someone has to make the babies with the queen, right? It stands to reason on some sort of level. Who can deny it? No one, that’s who. Are people, however indirectly, evolved from ants? We always talk about evolving from apes, but what about before apes? Back, back, back, way back. We must spring from ants. Then why don’t we––except in the rarest of cases––share their overwhelming sense of solidarity? It’s as if ants, in the own peculiar and adorable way, are, in actuality, more highly evolved than people. Most people, anyway. How could anyone kill an ant? Even if it’s in one’s home? It’s an ant, for crying out loud! Pure and innocent! They’re so cute! Those little antennae! And they walk in single-file rows, as orderly as an abacus. They boast an intelligence that’s beyond our comprehension. What are the implications of ants regarding mankind? (And further: what’s so kind about mankind?) Ants are the true communists, when you think about it, but without the violence and repression associated with way too much of Communism, not that Tito was so frightful...
On all fours, Davy crawled around looking for an ant to kiss, but the moon for all its might wasn’t providing enough light for that task. He muttered, Dig we must! Nose to the grindstone, he labored away, wondering, now, about blood. Isn’t it more than a bodily fluid; isn’t it more like an organ, in a way?
Later, lying in the finished grave––it almost as precisely right-angled as if machine-tooled—staring at the moon, chewing gum like a demon, Davy thought more about ants—and worms and humanity and the Mercury space program and the Apollo space program, especially the moon landing (what if there was a microscopic lunar civilization, every bit as advanced as ours, thriving right where Neil Armstrong stepped, crushing it into the dust?) and the rise and fall of Elvis Aaron Presley and the advances in underwater travel and what life must’ve been like, truly like, in medieval China (end of the Han and beginning of the Tang eras, for instance) and the conclusions that could be drawn from Martin Luther regarding The Enlightenment and The American Revolution and Freemasonry and, for that matter, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: wheels inside of wheels inside of wheels inside of wheels, spinning, spinning, spinning, when his reverie was disturbed by, “Hiya, Davy! Long time no see!”
He sprang to his feet. “Lizzy! What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“You were pretty easy to locate. I’ve been in Evendale for weeks, shadowing you. You never noticed! Ha ha! By the by, I’m so sorry I ever left you. It was terrible of me, perfectly dreadful, as I’m so sure you realize.” That Main Line lockjaw! His knees weakened! (What a wonderful country this is, that he, a boarding house child of borderline poverty, could wed, however miserably and temporarily, Philadelphia royalty!)
Standing in the hole, he stared at her feet. Still with those sneakers, he just adored those sneakers! His eyes traveled up to her eyes. She came down to his level, sat on the edge of the grave, feet dangling. He rested his cheek against her warm knees. To Lizzy’s right was Esmerelda’s carcass. “Looks like you’re in a bit of a jam, Davy. How will you explain her absence to your friends and neighbors?” She jiggled Ezzy’s foot. “How’re ya doin’ there? Kinda quiet, you sad tomato!”
“W-why I’ll tell them we’ve separated. My God, Lizzy... I can’t believe this! I haven’t seen you in so many years...” He put a hand to his temple, trying to take it all in, sort it all out...
After a moment or two, he said, “Why did you leave me, Lizzy? Why did you do that, leave me for such a douchebag?”
“Because he had money.”
“But I was making money!”
“But he had money. Oodles of it. No times of scrimping, we could piss it away like drunken sailors! We didn’t work; we traveled. Do the math!”
“Davy, don’t listen to her! She’s no good for you, never was! Just a little hussy! I never trusted her, never liked her, not one iota!”
“Mother! You’re dead!”
“There’s no such thing as death!”
“Davy, if you want, I’ll wetwork both these bitches right here and now. I’ll show them there is most assuredly such a thing as death. We can toss ’em in with Ezzy! A three-fer!”
“Darlene!” You’re okay! And you’re here!”
Triumphant with a .357 Magnum in hand, Darlene was itching to pull the trigger.
Davy shook his head, closed his eyes and opened them to the first rays of dawn. Lizzy, Mother, and Darlene vanished, like vampires banished.
He clawed his way out of the grave and rolled Esmerelda in. She landed face down with a thud. He shoveled dirt in, his arms and legs shaking violently with exhaustion. By noon she was covered and he’d spread leaves and branches over the spot, artistically blending it in with the surroundings. Davy gathered the Gatorade empties, put them in the knapsack with the drained thermos, brushed mud and debris from his clothes, and hobbled back to the car, careful not to step on bugs.
Mission accomplished, his breath came easier. He drove along, merging in with the early morning traffic, just another commuter. The next thing he knew he was pulling into their––his!––driveway.
Safe at home, he shaved, then showered for a long time, put on a white terrycloth bathrobe so thick he hardly needed to towel off, and shaved two more times with a fresh blade. Life is good! Trying to chase the cottonmouth away, he drank gallons of orange juice and gobbled vitamin tablets. He knew he should eat but his stomach was a tight raw knot. Parched, he drank still more juice. The doorbell rang.
Standing there was a plainclothes cop, fedora in one hand, badge in the other, gold cufflinks sparkling almost as brightly as his teeth. Introducing himself as Lieutenant Bern Bernhart, he waltzed in as if he owned the joint, started upstairs. Looking straight ahead, Bernhart said, “We’d like to ask you some questions, Mr. Voltaire. You and your wife. Where is she?” Davy trailed behind him.
We? Davy noticed there were two cops, not just one. The second cop, a step behind Davy, snorted. Ridicule? Disgust?
“W-why she’s n-not there. I mean, she’s not here! And you can’t just come in here! Where’s your warrant?”
Looking about, Davy saw that there were, in reality, four cops. Where’d they come from? The door’s closed.
“What’s the matter, Mr. Voltaire? Where’s Esmerelda, you commie punk? We’d like to ask her some nice simple questions, some nice little questions. You seem awfully nervous, my friend. How so with the jitters? Do I need a warrant for a little friendly chit-chat, Mr. Voltaire?”
“S-she’s not here, I tell you. We... we’re separated. She’s with her folks.”
“And that is where?”
There were now eight cops. No, 16. They were all over the place, cockroaches in a slum tenement. Thirty-two of them. Sixty-four. The house was shoulder to shoulder with cops, cops inspecting walls with magnifying glasses, cops on the floor with microscopes, cops tripping over cops, it was a Friday rush-hour subway of police. Claustrophobia gripped Davy’s throat, punched his stomach.
“California? Really, Mr. Raboy, or Mr. Voltaire, or whatever the fuck you call yourself these days, can’t you be more precise? Where, exactly, in that huge state? How about an address and a phone number! And what happened to your beard? Why did you shave it off? Answer me!”
“This isn’t Nazi Germany! You can’t just storm in here with the Gestapo! This is still America!”
“Don’t talk to me about America. You think it’s clever to wave the Soviet flag about? You think Stalin’s enslavement and murder of millions of poor and proudly anti-Semitic Ukrainians was a joke for you and your snotty egghead pals to laugh at?” Bernhart, now facing Davy, stepped down, elbowing cops out of his angry way. Towering over Davy by a step, Bernhart gave him a shove, knocking Davy into the arms of officers. Every cop froze, turned and stared at Davy. There was a hush of anticipation.
“And what was up with that beard, anyway? What were you trying to hide behind it? Or did you think it was cool to look like Karl Marx or your little boyfriend, Che Guevara?”
“No! It’s not like that at all! I’m proud to be an American! And I have nothing to hide! My life’s an open book!”
“He’s a punk!” a flatfoot shouted from above. Another, standing behind Davy’s right ear bellowed, “A commie punk! Let’s strip him and beat him with our nightsticks! It’ll be fun!” A cop pawed at the robe, revealing flesh. “Hey! Looky that shoulder! He’s a regular Ava Gardner! Or a Tina Louise! Let’s make believe we’re on Gilligan’s Island and he’s Ginger and we’re all horny Skippers!”
As a leering unit, they closed in for the kill, roaring for blood. Davy crouched and screamed, closed his eyes and screamed, clutched his head with both hands and screamed again. When he opened his eyes the house was empty, quiet but for its hum. The phone rang. Cold sweat drenching terry cloth, Davy tripped down stairs to answer it, listened, heard a voice, her voice!
“Darlene! What is going on? Where were you yesterday? I waited at the library for hours!”
“Harold’s detective! I had to give him the dodge. I’m sorry, sweetheart! Look, I’m around the corner, at the phone booth.” Davy couldn’t recall a phone booth around the corner. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he saw a pay phone. “Davy, I’m coming right over this very minute. Take me upstairs and fuck me!”
“I don’t think I c-can! I’m a wreck! I’m fraught! You wouldn’t believe what just happened...” She huffed, “Well, you had your opportunity, buster! Don’t say you never had your chance.”
Stunned, easing the phone into its cradle, Davy turned and said, “Mother!”
“Bernhart was right: you are a punk! You just let that girl just slip through your fingers! Let me tell you, Kenneth would’ve had me in his greedy mitts and hammered away like a team of JFKs working on a Vegas chorine’s case! He wasn’t good for nothing else, not a cent in child support, but he could nail me like a son of a bitch! For hours and hours! Hard as a rock, with frequency, that Kenneth!”
“Mother, please! You’ve got to stay dead!”
“Mother, please! I’m a man! A flesh-and-blood man! A victim of circumstances, circumstances beyond my control!”
“You’re a victim of your wet-noodle spine is what you are—punk!”
“Mother, I must say, you are rather ravishing. I never noticed it, hardly, as a kid, but you resemble Kim Novak. Really! You should’ve been on the cover of Screen Play or even Rogue…”
The doorbell chimed, causing Davy to start. He loped over, almost drunkenly, opened the door a crack to see who it was—“Darlene!”—and swung it wide open, hugging her with love and trepidation, as sunshine blasted the foyer. “Oh, Davy! I’m so sorry! Putting you on the spot like that! Can you ever forgive me?”
“Yes! YES! Come in! Mother’s here! We’ll have tea! I’ll make a nice pot of tea and we can sit around the dining table, drink tea and eat crumpets and have a conversation of the highest order!”
A few months prior, Helen Raboy, née Foont, had left a Planned Parenthood clinic outside of Miami, the deed done. Her smile was satisfied, her eyes furious. A score to settle, murder clutched her heart like a miser clenching his last quarter.