Apr 13, 2017, 05:58AM

Chapter 20: The Ten of Hearts

It was a beautiful sight.

Chapter 20 ten of hearts st.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

A serialization of The Sound and the Shadows. Last week’s chapter.

Davy woke alone, the night before receding into unreality. Getting up, he roamed the room, examined the colonial furniture and portraits. But his thoughts were on Jenny. He found a bathrobe in the closet, put it on and sat before a typewriter, elbows resting on the rosewood desk, chin cupped in his palms. Sunlight pouring through antique windows, Davy spent a few minutes moving his head with his fingertips while peering through the wavy panes, the world outside undulating, almost psychedelic. He was reminded of that afternoon smoking weed with Anne in the mountains, overlooking the bluff, the world melting like ice cream. Anne was so beautiful that day. Every day, really.

Anne... Whatever happened to old Anne? I’m sure she’s okay, a big girl with too many distractions to hold a grudge for very long, although I’m sure she was brit-tee pissed for a while.

Eyebrows scrunched, he typed a short poem on a piece of watermarked paper:
The thin tailfin
of the fish
the water’s surface...
Davy unrolled it from the typewriter and read it, nodding slowly. He’d read it to Jenny at the earliest opportunity. It said so much, painted such a vivid picture, in just four extremely short lines. The fish glistened, leapt from the page, practically bit your nose!

Opening a small drawer, he was impressed with its ease of movement as well as its heft. Over 200 years ago, with comparatively crude tools, artisans built this intricate table with the precision of watchmakers. How’d they do that? In the back of the drawer was a deck of cards. Shuffling them, he wondered which card he’d like to be. Instinctively, he looked down his nose on the low numbers: twos, threes, even up to sevens. Losers. On the other hand, the royal cards were ostentatious, especially the ace. Only an ass would want to be an ace. Or a king. And the queen’s a Victorian hag. Maybe a jack with his insouciant air? But even that smacked too much of all that was evil and antiquated with monarchies. Not that Davy was opposed to evil or antiquity, per se.

Ten! That was the card that resonated with him. It was up there, respectable with a touch of formidable, but not showy. Okay, so 10. But which suit? Black’s a statement, a most serious color with all its funereal associations, but red won his heart every time. And speaking of heart, Davy the Romantic chose hearts: 10 of hearts, that was the card he’d be if he could be a playing card.

Putting the cards away, he thought of Jenny, sexy Jenny, bright as a new penny winking from the sidewalk in the high noon sun. Was she real? Was last night real? Oh, she was real enough, and Davy had her number: there was a piggy bank, a piggy bank aching with emptiness, where a heart should be. He was fine with that, as he was with the notion of giving Roger the boot, the terminal boot, kicking him on to the next incarnation or the eternal void, whichever the case may be. He’d say a prayer for Roger Dodger, no hard feelings, just business. A soft knock on the door; enter Jenny with a silver tray, coffee and toast. They had breakfast in bed, talked about this and that before getting down to brass tacks.

“He has money, and lots of it. When we met I was at a low ebb, the lowest in years, decades. In a sea of circling sharks he was a lifeboat.”

“Okay, but how could you have a kid with him? That’s just...”

“Please. Will’s just one of those Russian imports. As much as I truly care for the infant, I’m ready to return him. He’s a millstone, lovable, yes, but… Presently, the more pressing point is to get rid of Roger—without any traces. That accomplished, we’ll have a fortune. Not a million, or a few million, but close to $20 million, enough to plant us in clover for the rest of our years. First, you need to go, not be a presence. No neighbors should recognize you. No taking Thorndike up on the offer of living here. I’ll give you plenty of cash so you can stay on at the Hotel Utica and keep a low profile for a spell. Kira’s got a vacation coming up, giving you a two-week window of opportunity. I’ll be in Denmark, a rock-solid alibi...”

“Denmark? I’ve always wanted to go to Copenhagen, to live there...”

“Perfect, because that’s where we’ll settle, eventually.”

“I just love the sound of that word, Copenhagen...”

“I know. It’s starts with a hard sound, then goes suddenly soft...”

“Exactly!” he said, looking at her, his eyebrows raised. Jenny’s ankle rested on a knee of her crooked leg, the bare foot keeping time to a mystery melody. Love beams poured from Davy’s eyes. The ring in his nose, her slightest yank of the chain would lead him anywhere she chose.

Davy admired her jawline; her fey eyes, a shade of gray...

“And we’ll have a place in Montenegro,” Jenny said, “a mansion overlooking the Baltic. Plus a summer house on Ibiza. But first we have to dispose of Roger in a way that can’t be traced to either of us. After I leave, you’ll poison him with alterpaine.”


“A clear, tasteless, odorless liquid that leaves no trace. These days it’s almost completely forgotten about, but it used to be used in photo development.”

A few weeks later Jenny flew to Copenhagen, Will in tow.

Davy, dressed in a black turtleneck and spanking new blue jeans, hummed, “You Are My Sunshine” as he stood at Roger’s door and rang the bell, unannounced. The morning sky was bright cyan. Davy detested the old man’s reaction to seeing him: the way his hands tossed up, the “Ohh!” Roger’s expression was puzzled. To what did he owe this visit? Had a date slipped his mind?

Swallowing bile, Davy thought, “What an old maid: pudgy and fussy and pink” as he followed Roger through the living room, down a hall, into the kitchen, and accepted his offer of tea with a smile.

In order to angle for an opportunity to slip the dose into the fossil’s drink, Davy endured a monologue, stared at the old man’s nose—purple with broken capillaries, a drop of clear snot gathering at its tip. While Roger droned, his head tilted to this side and that. He loved the sound of his voice. From the living room a grandfather clock marked the hour, eight sad chimes, clear as the day’s sky.

“...And then! After the waitress took at least an entire 20 minutes before even bringing me my menu! I had to remind her: crackers! And water. For crying out loud! Can you imagine? So. An afternoon of motoring, then to be left there like a poor soul stranded on a desert isle without a little something to nibble on, a drop to quench a parched throat...”

Flecks of spittle on the corners of Roger’s mouth turned Davy’s stomach before he began daydreaming about Ping Pong. He’d really had a passion for that as a kid, before Mother stomped all over his dream. Mother and that miserable geezer who couldn’t hit the ball worth a damn. Why? Why did there always have to be something—something!—blocking my path, every goddamn step of the goddamn way? Others get to be the greased pig, slipping through fate’s snares, laughing at the would-be captor. Me? Trapped, blocked, smashed at every turn, my clock cleaned. Even when things seem to be coasting, it turns into a sad, bitter joke, a set-up, my legs cut off at the knees.

“And the menu! Well! Let me tell you! If the noisy child was grating, it was little compared to the annoyance of the lack of selection! What could the management have been thinking when they decided to proffer such a dearth of choice? It’s not how I would run such an establishment. In fact, if I had...”

Davy glanced at the wall clock. A full 10 minutes had passed since the grandfather clock tolled, 10 minutes as heavy as 10 hours or 10 years. He began to say something. The cross look on Roger’s face stopped him. These speeches weren’t conversations. An interruption threw Roger off track, angered him. The floor safely back in his hands, the fool blathered on. “Anyway! As I was saying...”

Doesn’t he know what a great crime it is, forcing tedium on someone? Roger was a walking, talking wet blanket tossing himself on an ember of vitality. A sadist, a passive-aggressive sadist. Worse than a narcissist, he was a mountainous bore.

Feeling the siren call of the daydream muse, Davy fought it, tried to concentrate on just when to add the poison. Why doesn’t the old bastard just get up and use the bathroom, for Christ’s sake? Then Roger let out one of his sighs, a sigh that bespoke of tolerance. Tolerance: a word, an attitude that angered Davy with its self-anointed position of superiority, its essence of dismissal, of benign condescension. The sigh’s very timbre set Davy off the way it spoke volumes about undeserved privilege in its weak whine, the tone of a usurper who had merely managed to be rewarded with this front-row-and-center cushioned seat on Easy Street. Fuck that shit! Davy stood up like a man, took two quick steps to the marble counter, picked up a meat cleaver, and in one smooth, swift swoop brought it down on the coot’s crown.

The blade glanced off the bald pate, surgically slicing a three-inch circle of scalp, sending the skin spinning across the room, Frisbee-like, adhering bloody-side to the facing wall. It would remain there until the police and forensic experts arrived, gently coaxing flesh from wallpaper with tweezers and a humidifier, placing it into a plastic bag, tagging it for the lab.

Incensed at his bobble, Davy raised the weapon a second time, brought it home like a champ, planting the implement so solidly in the top of Roger’s skull that it took a serious exertion to free it for the third attack. The stunned duffer shivered before keeling over, blood gushing from his top, hosing the floor. Davy crouched over him, his lungs heaving like an animal’s in heat, burying the cleaver into the skull over and over and over until the offensive head was a puddle of mush, a melon squashed. The morning sun poured in the room, honey over tomato sauce.

As this transpired, there were two Davys, one hyperventilating and covered in warm blood, the other viewing the scenario as a disembodied soul, clean and serene. Astral Davy looked down dispassionately, focused on Roger’s feet and shoes: too small and too narrow for a man.

Back on earth, the gore-splattered Davy felt a tremendous load lifted off his shoulders, a dizzying release, knowing he’d never hear that bland, appalling voice ever again, before the panic stabbed his heart: this wasn’t the plan! Now things were fucked, smudgy with clues and fingerprints and one big, sloppy carcass. A tsunami of nausea hit him. The floor shifting and heaving like a cheap carnival ride, he turned and spewed his breakfast into the kitchen sink, then ran cold water at full tilt, using the spray nozzle to cool his head.

Rising to full height, Davy felt like a titan whose entire essence was fizzy and aflutter with 10,000 monarch butterflies. His thinking was as lucid as he began to formulate a plan of sorts. He undressed, dropping bloody clothes on the tile floor, then went upstairs and got in the shower, hot water blasting him clean. After toweling dry, he slipped into a bathrobe and, for good measure, shaved for the second time that morning. Freshened, he padded downstairs, gathered his clothes off the floor, and carried them to the washing machine in the basement. The washer churning, Davy assessed his situation. Okay, I finally blew it. This is a mess, a massive mess, complete with a carcass to dispose of. But here’s a truth: the physical evidence is finite. It can be dealt with, bit by bit.

Davy found a blue plastic tarp in the garage, brought it in the kitchen, and wrapped the corpse in it. Before he dragged the load down to the basement across the dirt floor to the deep freezer, he paused to admire the kitchen. Someone had done a really nice job: all mod cons, clean-as-a-whistle lines, in an antique setting. In this kitchen Jenny will peel me a grape, pop it into my mouth, a mama bird feeding her hatchling before we fly from this nest. Good times ahead! Think positive!

In the dark and dank basement, hacksaw in hand, Davy cut Roger into pieces, a hand, a forearm, and so forth, wrapped them in newspaper sections and packed them in the deep freezer, until all of Roger was safely put up. Davy stopped a few times to catch his breath, wiping salty sweat from his eyes with the arm of his robe, back against a stone wall, feeling cold through the thick terrycloth. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it’d stall for time until they could figure out something foolproof. They’d not only have to get rid of the body parts and the tarp but this entire giant freezer as well. (The clothing he’d burn today.) Granted, a Herculean task, but with proper organization and forethought, it can be accomplished. Yes, I blew it, but it’s a correctable situation.

Rounding up a pail, sponges, a mop, and a bottle of pine cleaner, Davy went to work, first mopping the kitchen, the stairs, the hallway, finally the shower, five times, any trace of blood removed several times over, he hoped. Only when he was finished with that chore, and showered and shaved again, did he notice he was ravenous. Raiding the fridge, he ate like a beast.

Davy burned the robe and Roger’s clothes in the fireplace and took another shower, just to be on the safe side. He retraced his steps with a bucket of pine cleaner and a sponge, wiping anything he’d touched, destroying any trace. Thorough, he must be thorough. Remembering the razor, he went upstairs to fetch it: it has my DNA.

Getting his clean duds out of the dryer, Davy dressed. Fortunately the clothes were dark, any remaining bloodstains were more or less invisible. He’d burn them later, but for now he could walk around without attracting notice. And they smelled nice and fresh, the jeans even lost a shade of that too-new stiffness. Then it occurred to him: Who would ever look for Roger? He had no family, no real friends. It could be months, if ever, before he’s missed. And if his absence were noticed, who in their right mind would call, would dare to wake that sleeping dog of monotony? This was almost too sweet. We can just take over as if he never existed, without not too much concern for my having gone a little nuts. Anyhoo, time to split.

The morning was gone, replaced by afternoon, replaced by twilight. Into this dimming eventide stepped Davy, exiting the kitchen door. He looked up to see a bright star and wished upon it, walked along a slate path to the street, down the hill, the two blocks towards Clinton’s town square. He saw a young girl, about ten, with her toddler brother sitting on their front lawn.

“Cute!” he said to the girl.

“What’s that?”

“Your brother! He’s cute!”

“He’s special needs, mister.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I wanted a sister.” 
“Well, what can you do?”

“Nothin’... ‘cept this.” She punched the little kid in the stomach. He howled feebly at first, then full throttle.

Hands a-pocket, ambling the purple dusk, kicking a pebble as he walked, Davy knew he had to steal another car. Maybe best to walk out of Clinton, follow Route 12B towards Utica, then when things thin out a bit nab one? Someone’s always leaving a car unlocked somewhere, sometimes with keys under a floor mat if not in the ignition. The dopes never learn. It won’t be too tricky, even if a busybody’s looking out a window. It’ll be dark, I’ll be quick, and there won’t be Clinton traffic or stoplights to contend with, just a smooth sail home. I’ll park in the Munson Williams lot, walk along State St. and work my way downtown to the hotel.

Davy felt good, alive, as only a man whose dreams are coming into focus can feel. There was no guilt, only a euphoric sense of relief. Good riddance, Rodgie Dodgie! Yeah, Jenny’ll be miffed that I flipped my wig and let things rage out of control. But we’re safe, of this I’m certain. We’ll have it all: love, freedom, security, power, style. He looked forward to growing old with her, to winter nights sprawled before a roaring fireplace in a Swiss chateau. Or yachting in the Baltic. And, of course, Copenhagen, heavenly little Copenhagen, magical antiquity covered in snow, Hans Christian Andersen come to life. Life! What a concept! Life! There for the grabbing, provided one had heart!

Copenhagen was life, eternal life... That jazz club on the wharf: Davy could see it, could smell the tobacco, taste the brown bread and whiskey, hear the bop as Jenny’s face floated before him, Little Will long gone, returned to the motherland, or fatherland, or whatever the Russians called it. A tough break for the Willster, I guess, but it’ll be his part for the war effort, taking one for the team. Russkies are made of stern stuff: the tyke will land on his two feet with the grace of Nureyev. Anyway, he’s a baby. His Stateside life won’t even be a hint of a memory. Besides, I saved his life. He owes me. Call it even.

Walking in the night, under a full moon, he sang a little song, lyrics improvised to a folk tune popular decades ago:
Davy row the boat ashore! Ol-lay-loo-YUH!
Davy row the boat ashore! Ol-lay-loo-oo-YUH!
Sister Jenny, take a bow! Ol-lay-loo-YUH!
Sister Jenny, the time is now! Ol-lay-loo-oo-YUH!
Shoreline a-comin’, silver an’ sleek! Ol-lay-loo-YUH!
Future lost to the meek! Ol-lay-loo-oo-YUH!

It was on 12B that Davy spied two cars, one black, one white, Jaguar XK120s, headed in his direction, slowing down as if they recognized him. Anne Howe was in the black one, Mona in the white, each equipped with a walkie-talkie. Uh oh! Davy ran up a side street, past ranch houses, SUVs and basketball hoops. Tires squealed, churning blue smoke: the chase was on! They’d found the bastard! Davy got off the street, into backyards, a labyrinth of deep suburbia. In the cloak of night and the tangle of backyard clutter, Davy could lose them for a stretch, but the commotion was attracting attention. Suddenly outdoor floodlights were blasting the dark here and there, a chessboard of bright and dark, exposing him, the bride stripped bare. A man shouted, “HEY! WHO’S OUT THERE? I’M CALLING THE COPS!”

Running, tripping, trying to disappear in the black, he slammed into an ATV in a back yard, the end of a handlebar stabbing him in the ribcage. OW! Doggedly he hobbled, a hunted rabbit, zig-zagging through an obstacle course of above-ground pools and shrubs, in-ground pools and BBQ grills, skateboards and badminton nets, hopping over fences. He could hear the Jags, the high-pitched whine of the engines, the tires shrieking. Then he didn’t hear them and he knew they ditched their cars, were on foot, armed.

A shot! Then a second one, this one whistling past his head. Fuck! On a backyard deck a beefy man in boxers and flip-flops, holding a high-powered deer rifle, yelled, “DON’T RUN, PUNK, OR IT’LL BE YOUR LAST MOVE!”

Frozen in the lights for only a moment, Davy bolted, staggered as fast as his leaden feet and exhausted lungs could stagger him, fled the suburban nightmare theme park, aimed for the road. Rifle fire whizzed by him, followed by the sound of a breaking window. “OWW! WHAT TH’ FUCK! I’VE BEEN SHOT! MY FUCKING HAND! AHH!”

“HAROLD! WHAT?” said a woman.


From across the way, “YOU ASSHOLE! YOU SHOT HAROLD! HIS HAND’S BLOWN OFF!!! (Pause.) MORON!”

“SORRY, BECKY! MY BAD! (Pause.) CALL 911!”

Harold hopped around the bedroom, grasping his bloody stump, a flat screen blaring away, oblivious to his distress, a cool cyclops, blind to a world that watches it intently.

Davy ran, ran until he was lost in a camouflage of trees, and kept running, an escapee with bloodhounds on his trail. Approaching a glen he noticed all was quiet, too quiet, before turning around, coming face-to-face with Anne, silver moonlight playing on her silver hair, reflecting on the silver pistol in her fist pointing at Davy’s sinking stomach. Her other hand held a walkie-talkie.

He thought, “Wow! She’s even more beautiful than I remembered!” as Jenny became a fading memory. What color are Jenny’s eyes? Before tossing it aside Anne barked into her walkie-talkie, “Hey, Mona! I found the son of a bitch!”

Davy said, “Look, I can explain everything!”

“Worm! Don’t hand me that crap! This isn’t amateur night in Dixie!”

Good, she’s talking, I’ve stalled her for a moment, I’ve got a minute, all I need is a goddamn minute. I can gab my way out of this—and have the pants charmed off her before the night’s done. It’ll be old home week. We belong together!

“Hey! I wrote a new poem! Wanna hear it?”

Just look at her! It was crazy of me to walk out on her. Then he heard a click, the click of her gun’s hammer pulled back, one giant step closer to the trigger being pulled. He ducked, leapt into bushes and ran like a lunatic, stumbling through the night, lungs bursting. Instinctively he hit the dirt just before a shot was fired, the bullet zipping six inches over his head. Then he stood up much too quickly: his brain turned to pink champagne, then ebony for a second, before he went down, his back slamming into a tree before he hit the ground. The wind knocked out of him, Davy struggled to get up and winced, a stab told him he’d broken a rib. No luxury of time, he was on his feet, gasping, running, 12B was visible, just ahead, within reach. From there he’d find a way. Where was a cop when you needed one! Blood gurgled up his throat, out his nose and mouth, onto his turtleneck. In the midst of this agony he flashed on his teenage obsession with high-fidelity equipment, that world of oiled walnut cabinets, brushed aluminum, calibrated knobs, tone arms weighing 1.5 grams and a cornucopia of companies to be discovered in catalogs and at the local hi-fi dealership. Davy got a thrill in the store, twirling the dial on an FM receiver, honing in on classical music—centuries old—then with a twist of the wrist, the thrum of an acoustic modern jazz bass, hissing cymbal, a trumpeter finding notes from outer space.

There were brands whose stark initial caps stood for authority: KLH, AR. And there were makes whose names delivered him to an invigorating highland morning mist: Scott, McIntosh. Germanic Thorens practically shouted Achtung! He’d settled on a used Harmon-Kardon monophonic amplifier he found at a garage sale, a single KLH speaker box and a Dual turntable, all perfectly respectable names delivering decent, if non-stereo, tone and an aura of sophistication to the meager surroundings in that boarding house existence. Listening to The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Time Out,” he was transported from New Hampshire to a corner table in a smoky Manhattan jazz den, a bevy of mascara-laden fashion models vying for his attention. He loved that old mono set, meditated on it as he tumbled, toppled and trampled through the woods coughing up blood.

When the shotgun failed her, after she hurled it to the ground, Corrina ran to the garage. She would’ve turned on the pickup’s engine and rolled down the windows, the garage door shut, but she didn’t have the luxury of time. That suicide e-note sent, cops and EMTs could be swooping in at any second. So she got in her truck, backed out the driveway, sped away from her house, one of a half-dozen aging split-levels facing a cornfield. Furious, she drove almost blind, no plan other than a vague notion of sailing off a bridge, slamming into an embankment, or maybe, going to a gas station, filling the tank, then spraying the truck inside and out with gasoline, get in, slam the door and light a match, just blow up everything! GOD DAMN IT ALL TO FUCKIN' HELL!

Suddenly she decided, forget suicide. Have a drink instead.

Corrina drove to a liquor store in downtown Waterville and, when the sleepy owner wasn’t looking, swiped a case of Jack Daniels, tossed it in the back of the truck, drove to a secluded area, hopped out, opened a bottle and guzzled like a Cossack, danced a little jig, sprawled in the grass, drinking, and stared up at the trees, getting up every so often to piss in the bushes.

“A toasht! I propozh a toasht... To life!” she said, wobbly on her feet, holding the bottle to Old Man Moon.

Seeing triple didn’t prevent her from falling into the metallic red truck, getting back on the road and bellowing along with the radio, window rolled down, her elbow resting. Did she feel fine? Not yeah, but hell yeah! Corrina shook her head, tried to concentrate, barreled towards Clinton on 12B, gave it the gun. Jesus, I’d forgotten how good Jack tastes! Why’d I ever quit drinking? Was I nuts or what?

As the pickup zoomed towards Davy his last thoughts weren’t even thoughts, at least not thoughts as we think of thoughts. They were a burst of feelings, several points of view overlaid in the same instant. If they were thoughts as we think of thoughts, and if they took their natural time to express themselves in words instead of emotions packed into a second, they would have read like this: first, he would’ve thought about how much he loved the color, the metallic red, of the truck as it closed the distance between itself and him. Secondly, bewildered, he wondered why something that was about to kill him could be a color he loved so much. This gave him a sense of betrayal and powerlessness—an odd relief. Amidst the sudden swirl of thoughts, another layer was added when he remembered something Anne had said: “Everyone knows their birthday, but no one knows their death day. Every year we land on both our birthday and our death day, but we only know our birthday, not our death day. What will that fatal day be? October 13? February 7? June 26? We don’t know, we don’t know...” And now he knew his death day. Then the lights went out.

Davy splashed across the sky, atomized, big buckets of cherry syrup tossed glistening and translucent into the full moon’s magnificent and pure light. There wasn’t enough of him left to cremate, let alone bury. It was just a matter of the Adirondack sky, its temperament switching on a dime, clouding, the heavens ripping, a punishing downpour washing the crimson goo downhill into a gaping drain, cleansing the pavement all night long. (One femur was spared, knocked into the upper reaches of a maple for a few weeks until it returned to earth. Discovered by tweens, it became a prized and mysterious showpiece in their clubhouse.)

The next morning, Davy’s demise was news, the buzz of the town, before the incident slipped into a sea of amnesia.

In 1960, nine days before Christmas, two airliners collided over Staten Island, New York. One crashed into Staten Island, the other plowed into Park Slope, Brooklyn brownstones. The crash killed everyone on board both planes, as well as six people on the ground, including a man walking his dog.

The initial lone survivor of the disaster was 11-year-old Stephen Baltz of Wilmette, Illinois, who was catapulted from the jet into a snowbank. Before dying in Park Slope’s New York Methodist Hospital, he told rescuers that he’d looked out the window prior to the collision, at snow falling on New York. “It looked like a picture out of a fairy book. It was a beautiful sight.”


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