tick tock on the clock
and a drumstick rimshot sounds.
“don't rhyme,” they say,
but I'm wrapped
in chains and bound
by the grace of God
I'll keep these restrictions
of my soul tethered down.
close your eyes.
feel the gravy blood of your veins
glop and slop their way through your
limbs, fingers, toes.
remember the cold as you sat
wild-eyed in the dark parking lot
when you kissed that first night.
you went for more, further, deeper.
this was love, unfettered, flustered and warm.
you start undressing when
the red & blue lights like
mixed berry pie go flashing on.
“goodnight,” you say, cuffed,
like all loves that have ended before.
By Drake Patterson
The only sound is the rain and an occasional car swooshing by. It’s 3 am. I should be home in bed. But I’m here at the office, catching up on paper work. I got a tip from someone in the know that the IRS is planning a surprise visit. I’m ready for a paperless world. These old file cabinets are busting at the seams, reminding me of how long I’ve been at it. Before I came to this jerk water town, I was young and ambitious but twenty years tailing philanderers and snapping pictures for insurance companies has worn me thin. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who it is staring back. I’ve gotten gray at the temples and my eyes look like a crinkled bag. I guess we all get stuck in the past, when in the present, we’re knee deep in shit.
Just then I hear the bawl of a child. My first instinct is that someone has abandoned it at the soup kitchen across the street but the screams become long and drawn out like a motorbike stuck in first gear. I look out the window but all I see are the local bums trying to stay dry. I pop out on the stoop to get a better look when I see two cats rolling in a ball of fur. I should break it up but I’ve got a ringside seat. There’s an orange tabby on top –all claws and teeth. It’s a helluva fight. They finally part and I see the other one—a scrawny alley cat that’s missing one eye. There’s blood coming from his nose. I’ve seen enough. I shoo the orange one away but the scrawny one still wants a piece and chases after him. That’s what I get for butting in. Let them kill each other. I should be home in bed. I should burn all my paperwork in a garbage barrel. The IRS would have their suspicions but what could they prove? The only witnesses down here are the drunken bums and who’s gonna listen to them?
Since I’m out, I light a smoke. The rain isn’t hard enough to wash the scum off the streets but it feels good on my face. Just then some mangy bum appears, begging for a smoke. I give him one to just to make him disappear but I know it’s only a matter of time before all the zombies come dragging their wet blankets across the street to bum away my whole pack.
I go back inside. My phone rings. I jump three feet off the ground. Who the hell calls my office at this ungodly hour? It’s probably a wrong number from the west coast, when normal people are up and about. It keeps ringing.
“What the hell do you want?” I yell into the phone. There’s a long pause but I hear breathing on the other end. I soften some. “Who is it?”
“….I need to talk to you.” The voice sounds familiar but I can’t seem to place it.
There’s another goddamn pause. I want to yell, ‘What kind of ass calls at this time of night?’ but now I’m curious.
“Can we meet?”
I knew that was coming. Now I give the long pause right back at them. I hear the two cats ripping each other up again. I look out the window but only see my reflection. What kind of fool have I become?
“I’m guessing it can’t wait?”
“You know Leo’s…the all-nighter off of Front?” It’s almost a whisper.
“The chicken and waffle place?”
“I’ll be there in thirty.”
They hang up. It feels quieter than before. I wasted a whole cigarette. It died in the ashtray. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. But then again, I get a bad feeling about most things. I could go home, crawl inside my sheets and get some well-deserved sleep. I could crack open that bottle of single malt I was saving as a reward for organizing all my damn paperwork. I could grab my pole and waste a morning catching bullheads. With all these options, you’d wonder why Leo’s Diner at four a.m., would be the one I go for.
I drive down the city streets. Bridgeview Falls looks almost decent at this time of night. But I can smell dead fish coming off the river and I realize it’s not night but early morning. The street lights blur in my windshield. A cop pulls up to me at Sixth and Amsterdam and gives me the once over. I nod. He doesn’t nod back.
There’s a small crowd at the diner. It’s mostly iron workers getting a bite before the factory opens. Tough bunch. I usually sit at the counter but these thugs aren’t moving over. I grab a menu and take a booth near the window with a view of the bridge. There’s one lone barge chugging up the river, leaving brown foam in its wake.
“Coffee, baby?” An African- American woman, wearing earrings you could use in a hoop toss, shows up with a pot of each. She has purple eyeshade and fingernails painted like the American flag.
“Is it fresh?”
She doesn’t respond. She just pours some in my cup, which sloshes over the side and onto the table. She doesn’t bother to wipe it up. The fatigue is suddenly on me. No amount of coffee is going to keep me up. This is no time to conduct business. I toss a couple bills on the table and stand to go when someone in a wet raincoat takes me by the arm and leads me to a table in the back. If it was a stronger grip, I’d be obliged to waylay their ass across the counter but the hold on me is more guiding than pushing. I have a feeling this is my contact.
We sit. The person across from me is wearing a scarf and a hood. They look like the Grim Reaper or a visitor from Islamabad with bad intentions . They undo the scarf and pull the hood back. What’d you know? A gorgeous blonde. She looks like a girl I use to know.
“Karissa…what a pleasant surprise.” She hasn’t aged a day since she left me. As good as those blue eyes look, I stand to go.
“No wait.” She stops me with her hand. She smells like a vase of flowers. “I know I was a real shit but we have to talk.”
“Business or personal?”
“Whichever you like,” she says, sliding her lips into that smile that could melt a rock.
“Business.” I sit back down. What did she expect? That I’d wrap my arms around her and say ‘I missed you, baby’?
The waitress is suddenly on us. “You forgot your coffee,” she says, putting it down in front of me, making it slosh again. “We like it when you pick a table and stick with it.” She realizes I have company. She smiles. “Well good morning. Coffee, gorgeous?”
“Is it fresh?”
“I crushed the beans myself.” She pours her a cup and doesn’t spill a drop. “Ya’ll ready to order?”
“No…can you give us few, Honey?”
“I’ll give you anything you want, baby.” She laughs and leaves but not before she gives me a look that says, ‘ I’m a piece a shit and I better treat her friend right.’
“Let me guess…you heard “Reunited” on the radio and thought of me?”
“No…I got real problems Les,” she says, shaking rainwater from her golden locks.
The rain is now coming down with purpose. Maybe we’ll all get washed away in a flood.
“Just to be fair, I’m officially on the clock.”
“I expected as much.”
She must be in the money. She didn’t bat an eye. And a further look at her, I know those fancy clothes and jewelry didn’t come from the local Goodwill. She’s wearing a big rock but I don’t want to know why. I just want her to spill her guts so I can go home.
“I met this guy—“
“Your first mistake.”
“… A real looker. Brazilian, blue eyes, built like a swimmer. What’s a girl to do?”
“Run away. You know, like you did to me?” My coffee’s gone cold but I don’t expect Honey will be back for a warm up.
“Lester…please.” She takes her coffee down in one sip. “This guy…he’s a winer and diner and I’m head over heels before I hit the ground. But it doesn’t take long to realize I’m not the only filly in his stable.”
“Karissa…as much as I’m enjoying the chit-chat …you better get to the punch because I’m about to drop.”
“Ok…this guy…if it’s dirty, his paw prints are on it. And guess what? He’s not the Prince Charming he came off as. He’s a real hot head.”
“He hit you?” I feel my guts twist up. I realize my hand is a fist.
“Easy there Rin-Tin-Tin... just threats.”
“Like…he’s gonna put me a shipping crate and mail me to Sao Paulo where there’s a nice warm whorehouse waiting.” She looks out the window. Rainwater is spilling off the gutters.
“You want me to talk with this guy?”
“He’s no longer the problem Les.” Since her cup is empty, she finishes off mine. “The streets clean up themselves.”
“They found him tied to a pylon under the pier. They stuffed a pipe bomb in his mouth and walked away.”
“I hear that’s not good for the gums.”
She cracks a half-hearted smile. “They identified him by the monogram on his Italian loafers.”
“And you want me to find out who did it?”
“Ready?” Honey appears. She’s got her pad out and it looks like she isn’t coming back. She’s smacking on some gum and blows a pink bubble.
“Give me the Man Slam with sausage,” Karissa says.
I look at the menu. The Man Slam has about everything you could ever order at a dump like this all on one plate.
“Just more coffee.”
She pops her gum again and sloshes me another cup. She grabs the menus and walks away.
“She doesn’t like you.”
She digs some smokes out of her purse. She takes one out and lights it with a lighter that looks like it cost more than my car. She blows smoke rings. Who taught her that?
“He called me Tweety.”
“Yesterday morning,” she says, taking a long drag and stubbing her cigarette out, “…there was a dead canary on my windshield.” Her hand is shaking. I want to grab it and hold it still. I want to hold her. I want to dance with her in a smoky bar with a stack of quarters on the jukebox. I want to kiss her deep and taste the gin on her tongue. I want to tell her she’s the only girl who’s done anything to me in a long time and life has gone black and white since the day she left. But I know better.
Honey arrives with the food; a heaping plate of pig meat and eggs. Karissa tears into it like she just came out of the desert on a forty day fast. She looks up and half a ham is hanging out of her mouth but she looks sexy doing it.
“They sent you a message.”
She raises her eyebrows to let me know I got it right. Her jaws are too busy on the Man Slam. The second wave of exhaustion now comes. It’s a tsunami. It’s been close to forty eight hours since I felt a pillow under my skull. I don’t want this job. I’ve got enough problems with the IRS. I promised myself a vacation—a long weekend in Atlantic City where I can booze and whore it up and no one will mind. This is not a little job but I remember that face. It was young and sweet at one time and those eyes once had a shine. She’s someone else, I’ll admit, but I feel a sense of responsibility and it’s a feeling I don’t want.
“It’s gonna cost you plenty.”
She opens her purse and pulls out a folded envelope. She tosses it on the table. She gets butter on it from her toast, which she is now sawing down like branches in a wood shredder. It’s not sealed. I see a stack of Franklins and do the quick math and there’s probably close to three g’s. That should cover my Atlantic City trip quite nicely.
“Where you staying?” I ask.
She wipes the grease off her face. She takes the cigarette out of the ashtray and re-lights it. She looks me dead in the eye and I know I’m about to get swindled again.
“That’s the other problem,” she says.
I wake up somewhere around seven. It’s still raining. The other side of the bed is empty but her heat remains. I have a felling she left hours ago. She’s probably at the airport clutching a one way ticket to Miami or New Orleans or Toledo, for all I know. I wish I could say good riddance but old feelings have been stirred, so I stir some scotch right into my coffee and John Coltrane’s trying to help me to understand.
I wake up the next day slumped over the kitchen table. The bottle of scotch is empty. It’ll make a nice candle holder. I feel like the Belmont Stakes ran me over. Its dark out and I can’t tell if it’s morning or night. The clock says five. A knock. I scramble for my pants and throw open the door expecting to see the one thing that could cure me but instead I see Bridgeview’s finest.
“Lester Waits?” The big one says.
“What I’d do… park in a handicapped?” I hate these guys. I’ve been dealing with them for twenty years and they seem to get dumber and uglier.
“Mind if we come in?”
“I’d mind very much.” Who the hell do they think they are? Think they’d let me just walk right into their place?
“You know a Karissa Quinn?”
I plead the fifth. I’m still reeling from the booze and I don’t want to give these Barney Fife’s anything.
“A waitress pegged you two in Leo’s a few days back,” the runt says. “You got an alibi?”
“I was abducted by a bottle of scotch.”
The runt doesn’t laugh. “Maybe you need thirty days in the drunk tank?”
“Now I remember...cute, blonde, blows smoke rings.”
“When’s the last time you saw her?”
“Look fellas…I got a hangover that could kill big game. This line of questioning will have to wait until I’m rested and my lawyer is present.” I try to shut my door.
The big ape grabs me and throws me into my apartment. These donut munchers have their pistols drawn before I hit the floor. The big ape puts his foot on my chest. The runt gets close so I can hear him.
“Look asshole. We know everything about you. We know why she came to you. We had people watching the whole scene from the parking lot and we saw you leave together.” He smells like salami and shaving cream. “I hope she was a good lay because you’ve seen the last of her.”
He drops a couple polaroids on me. I look. It’s Karissa. Her head is against the driver’s side window of a brand new Mercedes. Her blonde curls hang in her face. It looks like she’s blowing me a kiss. She looks almost perfect except for the blood that runs down her cheek and the bullet hole in her head.
I make some kind of inhuman cry and they let me up. They want me to identify her but I can’t look at the picture again. I want a drink, a tall one. But I know where that will get me and I’m still poisoned from the scotch. The big cop takes me by the arm and leads me over to the kitchen table. He pours me some coffee from the pot. It’s a day old but I gag some down.
“We’ll give you an hour to get it together Waits. We’ll be expecting you down at the station.”
He gives his partner the signal that it’s time to go. I know the little asshole wants to work me over. Let him. I’ll get a few licks in before they knock me cold.
“Don’t make us come looking for you pops. I might not be in a good mood.” He smacks me behind the head. They leave and I lock the door. I fire up a smoke and go out on the deck even though there’s a bite in the air. Poor Karissa. She thought a man was her ticket out. Well, she was right.
I could go down to the station and tell them what I know but I don’t know much. Maybe they’ll try and pin it on me. It’s not like I can recollect the last twenty four hours. Or I could go do some investigating myself. But like Karissa said, the streets clean up themselves. I go back inside and open the fridge. A beer won’t hurt. Stuck inside my six-pack is an envelope. I tear it open. There’s a note.
Dear Sweet Lester: Here’s everything you’ll ever need. No one deserves it more. Kiss..Kiss, Karissa.
There’s a key attached to a plastic ring that says G-233. There’s nothing to tell me what it’s for. I got a gut feeling it’s a storage locker and an even bigger gut feeling that’s it’s got more than patio furniture inside. It’s then I realize why she left it. She knew she might not get out of Bridgeview alive. I guess she picked me to be her benefactor. I decide against the beer and stick to my coffee. Everything I need, huh? Then why do I feel like crawling back under the sheets and letting Bridgeview just rot in the rain?
303 s. B street
Fairfield, IA 52556
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Hidden in Plain Sight. . .
This is what nobody sees
Nobody sees this
Because it's too painful
Too flawed to show
So I hide
I wait until
Nobody can see
In the dark
And it always
Comes back to me
It can never hurt me
Because I can make
It light again
That Consumes me
About what I'm doing
As long as I'm quiet
And don't disrupt it
It won't tell about
What nobody sees
Amy threw back her head and laughed.
“Look at you,” she said. “You’re happy!”
“I suppose I am,” I said, and gave a twirl before she could ask.
She clapped her hands together, and stood up from her chair. She grimaced ever so slightly at the weight shifting to her knees, immediately smiling wider to hide the moment of pain.
The light in that house was warm and dim, the furnishings (of her choosing) dark wood and earthy textiles. It fit her, this house, filled out her thin figure and made the gray in her hair grandmotherly.
“Let’s dance,” she said, and slid a delicate arm around my waist, grasped my hand in hers.
“A dance before dancing?” I teased, already falling into her gentle rhythm.
“And after dancing, and always.”
As we swayed and spun in the quiet night, the old cat Maggie jumped up on the sill to peer out the window. I thought she was looking for the neighbor’s tomcat; Amy wondered if she could see the ghosts in the church graveyard.
“I saw one, just the other night,” she said, as casually as anything.
I never did know what to think of her otherworldly encounters.
“I was coming back from the grocery store with that bottle wine and some olives, and I decided to walk through the cemetery and take a look at some of the names, while there was a bit of light left over from the day. He was sitting on the ground under the pine tree, where most folks are Mayes or Frosts. I’ve been meaning to go back, to see if there’s a little boy buried there, but I haven’t yet”.
“Want to go now? We can be a bit late, the dancing doesn’t start right away”.
“Isn’t the cemetery closed after dark?”
“Sure, it is,” I said, laughing. “But I’m the only one around to watch for intruders”.
So we put on our coats, gathered our keys, cell phones, and wallets into our pockets, and headed out the door. Amy paused to lock up behind us, as she always does, and we crossed the street to the little white church. I paused to look at its darkened windows, but Amy went straight on to its graveyard, stopping only at the locked gate.
I hurried to catch up, pulling the key from my pocket. It took a few twists and firm pushes to get the key into the lock, but it finally turned, as it always does.
I took Amy’s hand and she led me toward the far end of the cemetery, and the tallest trees. Some moonlight lit the path, but we were walking away from the street lights, and the shadows were deep.
“Here,” she said. “Somewhere around here”.
We were standing beside a towering pine tree, its shadow engulfing the cluster of graves at its foot. Amy bent down, squinting.
“Here,” I said, pulling my phone from my pocket.
I turned on its flashlight and bent beside her, peering at the stone.
“No,” she said, before I’d read it. “Too old”.
We moved on, she declaring each resident too old or too female.
“Look for an angel,” she told me. “Angels mark children’s graves”.
I was beginning to feel anxious. The light from my phone only made the world outside its beam seem darker, and the graves looked like strange and threatening shapes out of the corner of my eye.
“Here!” she said. “An angel!”
Something huge lunged out of the tree towards me. I screamed.
“Did you see him?” she asked.
Shaking, I looked down at my feet.
“No,” I said. “It’s just the tomcat”.
She looked at me, took in my pale face and shaking hands, and stood up.
“Let’s go dancing,” she said.
“Yes,” I replied. “I would like that”.