This afternoon I decided to play hooky, end the day a little early, snuck out of DBR&C, down the back stairwell, wandered over to Third Avenue until I found a bar that seemed quiet enough, but not too quiet. The barkeep and a few boozehounds were glued to the TV, Yankees game. In the back I spotted Frederick. In the shadows, fittingly.
Frederick and I never clicked. I can't explain it. I was willing to be friendly. He was a close friend, fellow Eli, of Lara, an ex with whom I'm still chummy. So palsy-walsy was a path of least resistance if nothing else. But some guys just have a bug.
Frederick had a bug.
The best way to illustrate that is to recount the time I first met him, Lara dragging me to his apartment. Said apartment was tastefully, too tastefully, appointed. Too much detail, not enough warmth. Freud had a term for it. Regardless, it was impressive. So I proffered, "Cool pad ya got, Fred."
He snipped, "It is not cool. It is not a pad. And my name is not Fred. It is Frederick."
And there he was, as ever. The trim mustache, Brooks suit, the supercilious smirk. Against better judgment, I figured, what the hell, bygones and all that jazz.
"How are you doing, Frederick?"
He sniffed, took a slow sip of his rickey, set it on the counter, gently, and replied, "Fine, just dandy... until the air went lousy."
I didn't think. I threw a right. Clocked old Freddy on the chin, sending the little fellow toppling. The back of his balding head hit the wood floor with an almost musical clunk that was mostly drowned out by the cheering up front. Maris hit a homer.
I felt an absolute fool, apologizing to the old boy as I crouched to help him to his feet. Then I saw his eyes. His blank eyes. Orphan Annie eyes. Like in the movies, I felt for a pulse, his wrist cooling under my thumb.
The sports buffs didn't notice my exit any more than they noticed my entrance.
I meandered to a newsstand and stared at the headlines: Kennedy, Nixon swimming from this paper to that. I felt as if I were made of Jell-O. Distantly, I almost bought a Motor Trend, but nixed that notion. Don't be noticed! To be noticed might mean to be recalled on a witness stand. I scurried to the office, head ducked, slunk in the way I'd left. I hadn't been gone very long a-tall, hadn't even ordered a drinky-winky. If I were missed I could chalk it up to a men's room visit.
Now I made it a point to be seen, to be recalled: a little water cooler chit-chat, flirting with the steno gals.
Never killed a man before, not even in the army. I'd been stationed in West Berlin, never saw a lick of combat.
That evening the phone rang. I clicked off the hi-fi, picked up the receiver to hear, "Del!"
She sounded frantic. I said, "Lara! Dearest darling! How art thou, fair maiden? You soundeth vexed. Tell old Del all about it. Did you chip a nail? Miss your period? Spill, girl."
"Del! I... I... Gosh... Bruce just called me. Frederick's... dead! He was found lying dead on the floor of some crummy bar!"
To create the distinct impression that I knew nothing of this I quipped, "I guess the drinks pack a wallop in those Village watering holes."
"Oh, Del! I know the two of you never got along, but he is dead. Dead! And for your information, it wasn't a Village bar. It was on Third."
I feigned some sympathetic noises, cooed customary words of condolence, and got old Lara off the blower in not overly due haste.
A word about Lara. Gorgeous. Redhead. Stacked. To beat the band. Let me put it this way: if an XKE, with a full tank, motor running, driver's door open, could be a girl it'd be Lara. I like her with the top down. That said, she can be a bore as only an Ivy Leaguer can be, as only a devout reader of Saturday Review can be. And it truly 'twas a bit of an effort for me to work up even the slimmest veneer of sorrow regarding dear old... Fred.
I'll say this for Frederick, he could get under Lara's skin with his Bama boy routine. Deep roots in the Deep South. the Southe'n Tinker Belle carried no truck with Lara's bleeding heart razzmatazz. He'd drive her up the wall while maintaining a mint julep demeanor.
Me? Agnostic on all fronts. Do not care. Life's too short. Never voted. No church. No allegiance to anyone except numero uno. And of course, the almighty buck. (A moment of reverent silence for the dollar. In that I trust.)
I gave Ayn Rand a short spin. Too moralistic pour moi.
As for the Ivy League, and college in general: overrated, in my not-humble opinion. I went from high school to the army to the DBR&C mailroom, scoped out who was who, chatted 'em up, the charm turned on, tossed my two cents into conversations at strategic points, and here I be, the sunny side of 30, copywriter moving up the ladder, an MG in the garage of my weekend home.
A tumbler of Scotch, my first drink of the day, the hi-fi back on, I retired to the couch, took a long swig and I marveled. I marveled, specifically, at how calm I was. Initially, I'll fess up to being shook. Sure, but that was the fear of being caught. But I believe I am clear, hound's tooth clean. And I don't feel guilty. Why should I? The man, a thorough pest, had been rude, per usual. Did I overreact? Arguably yes. Arguably no. However, what's done is done. There's no turning back the clock, there's no putting old Freddy back on his twinkle-toed feet.
The hi-fi played on.
I shrugged, took a second long swig. The Scotch warmed my belly, warmed my blood, made me desire a smoke. So I lit a cig, settled back and let my thoughts amble. Then I remembered. I had killed a guy once before!
I was a kid, 12, riding my bike all morning on a crisp autumn day. I'd crossed our county's line, and from there, the state border, traveling from New Hampshire into Vermont. In reality, it wasn't all that far. But I used to love that. Entering another state made me feel that I'd cut the tether, was sailing. Anyway, I took a back road that led to a long driveway with a rusty sign posted: PRIVATE. There was pine forest on either side of that dirt drive. The drive must've gone a quarter-mile before turning a bend. Well, there's nothing quite like that to pique a boy's imagination, especially a kid steeped in Hardy Boys mystery novels. What's going on back there? What are they hiding? Moonshine operation? Spies? Counterfeiting? Maybe there are whores! Hair as golden as a Fort Knox bar! Nude and tied up!
I ditched my Schwinn in the bushes, trotted down the way, around the corner, kept going another quarter-mile or so before I came to the shack. I peered in a grimy window, but couldn't see much. No whores, alas. Regardless, I was curious. I opened the door to a spooky creak. To be on the safe side, I had my Scout knife in hand, blade out. So when the old coot leapt from the shadows, I was ready to sink that shiv clean between ribs, up to the hilt. As I jumped back, he fell, deader than a doornail. I didn't get too much blood on me, none on my t-shirt or jeans. I washed my hands and knife in a water tub in front of the shack. Then I tore away from there like a bat out of hell, hopped on my bike, pedaled home like a demon.
After a few miles, my mind cleared enough to think. An old backwoods geezer like that doesn't have much contact with the outside world. No mailbox. Made sense. No bills because no electricity, no phone, no mortgage. Chops wood for heat, so no fuel deliveries. On the rare occasion someone might send him a letter, it'd be held for him at the post office. Few, if any, will miss him. And I'd left the door open. Critters of various sort will dine; there will be no evidence of what transpired. I felt an enormous sense of relief, knees weak, a warm gentle Hawaiian salty sea-wave of comfort, realizing I'd committed a perfect homicide. And I'd done it without one iota of planning. That evening, at dinner, I had thirds. And two desserts. Slept well, had a vivid and pleasant dream. I could recite that dream to you, it's returned to me clear as a bell. But what's more tedious than someone telling you their dream?
An aside: a creepy old bastard like that? Dead or alive, what difference does it even make?
Anyhoo, I'd put all of that out of my thoughts until just now. Funny how the human mind works.
Think of it, what are the chances of one guy committing two perfect homicides?
It almost makes me want to go out and commit a third.