Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 347 - Robert Caporale


First published in CONFRONTATION MAGAZINE, Long Island University

Paulie gets word she’s living with this Air Force guy out of Kansas, a dirt farmer flyboy, he calls him, and they’re stationed in Jersey City, New Jersey. She called Paulie in the middle of the night and told him she made a big mistake by leaving him and she wants to get back together, she misses him terribly. According to Paulie, she called in tears, whispering and sounding scared. Real scared. So he asks her if her crop-duster flyboy is knocking her around. She says come and get me, bring me home, Paulie. So Paulie shows up at the Acres all fired up and convinces a bunch of us into taking a ride over to Jersey City with him. He’s got the address written down on a crumpled piece of paper. We pile into his car. He’s too wired to drive. TJ drives.

TJ’s a good drive. He’s not a big conversationalist. Does one thing at a time. He once tried to drive himself to the hospital with his jaw snapped wide open. He was working the third shift at a bakery. One night, he kept dozing off so he drops a tab of speed and yawns large when his jaw dislocates, pops right out of the socket, can’t close his mouth to save his ass. He jumps into his car and starts driving himself to the emergency room with his mouth stretched open like a big fish eating plankton when the speed kicks in and freaks him. He can’t swallow. He thinks he’s going to choke to death on his own spit like rock & roll stars. He pulls over and starts knocking on front doors at 3 A.M. Lights flick on, curtains get pulled aside, doors open and TJ hops around on the front stoop all dressed in white and covered in flour, drooling and waving his arms and pointing into his wide-open mouth dancing this ghostly pantomime jig hoping to get someone to help. Who knows what those poor people are thinking? They slam the door in his face, lock up tight and slide a sideboard over.

We stop for beer and wine and we score some smoke. We gas up and hit the Wilbur Cross Parkway feeling pretty good. By the time we blow into NYC, it’s dark and drizzly and we’re buzzed. We go clubbing. Paulie’s a little pissed off at first. He’s looking forward to playing the knight in shining armor. He’s been pumping himself up, getting himself into the right frame of mind. Now he can hardly wait to get to Jersey City and untie his college sweetheart off the train track and save her from the evil bomb-dropping corn-eating flyboy. But TJ will not give up the car keys, and Paulie’s not really insisting too hard now after watching NYC girls strut down the neon boulevards. We go to the Village, Harlem and 42nd Street. We buy more dope from a merchant marine, he tells us it’s from “Asia Minor.” Last call 4 A.M., we do a quick head count and find where we parked. We collapse into the car and TJ squeals onto the Jersey Turnpike. Everyone crashes except for TJ and Paulie. TJ’s a trooper; Paulie’s on a mission. The rest of us are along for the ride.

TJ gets the hiccups. He gets these terrible, loud, grotesque hiccups. He gets them often after a long night of nightclubbing. These hiccups come from deep inside somewhere, and they ricochet out of him in tandem, like from some reverberation chamber. And there’s never any precursor, no rhyme or reason to the timing or spacing between them. After about a half-hour of these madding sounds, Paulie decides he’s going to put an end to them once and for all by scaring the snots out of TJ. He makes like he’s sleeping for awhile and waits till it’s death row quiet with only the big V8 moaning a soft sleepy lullaby. Then out of nowhere, just when he feels a hiccup might be coming along, Paulie dives over onto TJ screaming at the top of his lungs and grabbing TJ and shaking him. Instinctively, TJ veers off the highway into a deep grassy gully that separates the east and westbound lanes of the turnpike trying his best to keep the car from flipping over. We’re all jolted awake now and we’re screaming and crawling around because we think we’re about to impact and die some horrible mangled loop-to-loop death. All anyone can make out are the two beams of headlight either trailing up into a drizzly gray night, or swooping down filling the windshield full of lime green wet grass. Gray/green. Up/down. Loop/loop. Gray/green. Up/down. Loop/loop. TJ has both hands on the wheel and he’s doing right by us. He’s turning into each looping skid and pumping the shit out of the brakes at the same time. Finally, he brings the whole 75 MPH package to a safe stop and everyone calms right down. No one says a word; we just breath like thieves on stolen air. After a couple of minutes, TJ hiccups, then shifts the car into gear and spins it out of the grassy knoll and back up onto the westbound lane. Lucky TJ was driving. Anybody else, we’d all been dead. TJ’s a good drive. He’s a pro. Does one thing at a time.

As we pull up in front of this Big Brother looking apartment complex with a row of thin, sad-ass Jersey City trees lined up in front of it, the night sky is being washed clean away by a misting acid rain, leaving it in this pale industrial state of colorless pain. Paulie wants back-up so he nudges us awake. We stand out on the sidewalk by the car, squinting at each other and lighting up cigarettes. We’re all a little woozy with new sailor sea legs and we feel like Velcro; everything is sticking to us, the rain, the pale light, even the fire and smoke from the cigarettes.

A newspaper delivery van screams up the avenue. We all turn and look at it. The van slows down slightly, a bundle of morning papers come flying out the door across from us, hits the sidewalk in front of a coffee shop, bounces once then gracefully careens through the plate glass window, shattering the entire store front. The noise of crashing glass surrounds us, tightening into our flesh like strands of coarse bailing wire. The delivery van locks ’em up, beeps backward, stops. The driver jumps out, reaches through the smashed window and retrieves the bundle of morning papers. He carefully cleans off shards of glass and places the bundle innocuously on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop. He looks over at us and shrugs before stepping back to the van and poking around under the driver’s seat, pulling out a red brick. He drops the brick into the coffee shop and drives off. We turn and stumble up the stairs to the front door of the Coral Capri Apartment Complex.

Inside, Paulie finds the right flat, referring to his crumpled piece of paper a half a dozen times. The rest of us loiter in the narrow hall in front of door 202 like a pack of sedated circus animals. Finally, Paulie knocks on the door. He knocks soft and slow, but steady, non-stop for three or four minutes until it doesn’t even sound like knocking any longer. It sounds more like a dreamy blue drum solo from a somebody done somebody wrong song. The door cracks open and a slice of the object of Paulie's desire is standing there like a sweet piece of frosted white cake with long cream legs. She’s tugging on a cotton teddy that's twisted on her. Paulie, she whispers in this treacly voice.

Myrna, he whispers back. It’s a beautiful moment. Beautiful but brief.

Myrna glances down a long hall behind her. Some of that pale grainy industrial morning is just beginning to filter into the apartment. She opens the door a little more, Hey guys, she says. We nod, shuffle, glance at our shoes.

Paulie says something like, you look great.

We’re trying to hear, but they’re talking so soft. She must have asked him what he’s doing there, because Paulie says, matter of factly, I came for you.

She gives him a puzzling look.

Paulie says, You asked me to.

Down at the end of the hall, inside the apartment, the shadowy figure of Flyboy steps out of a room and leans on the door jamb rubbing his eyes.

Myrna shrugs.

Christ, Myrna.

We all hear that. We all hear Paulie say, Christ, Myrna.

Myrna holds out her hand. Shows Paulie a sparkling new wedding band. Poor Paulie. All the air seeps out of him. You can hear it escaping like steam heat. He has no idea where to go or what to say. You can almost see him traveling around like a mad man inside of his own body. From one corner to the other, top to bottom. Searching for an out.

Flyboy starts dragging himself down the hall.

I’m sorry, Myrna whispers. You should all leave now.

TJ takes a hold of Paulie’s arm, gently tugs at it. Paulie pulls away, steps towards the door. TJ grabs his arm, yanks him back into the hallway.

Flyboy gets up behind Myrna. He towers over her. His shoulders are wide and his neck is thick. She fits perfectly into his chest cavity. Flyboy folds his arms across Myrna. She’s melts away.

Please, Myrna purrs, don’t do this.

The acid wash has misted down from the morning sky tarnishing Paulie’s shinny medieval armor. Outside, we stand by the car. Paulie looks up to the second floor window. I should have just dragged her sorry-ass out of there, he says.

She’s married.

He must have some kind of hold over her.

Yea, she’s his wife.

But she called me.

That was her way of saying good-bye, Paulie.

Paulie peels his eyes off the window. I can’t just walk out of here empty-handed.

Where’s here? somebody asks.

New Jersey, somebody says.


What time is it?


Everybody in the car, TJ says. We pile in. Paulie’s mumbling something. No one pays any attention.

Damn, TJ says.

What now?

The keys. He gropes into his pockets. I can’t find the keys.

Hot-wire it.

Wait here, TJ says and two-steps up the stairs and through the doors into Coral Capri Apartments.

We crawl back out of the car, light up smokes.

Before long the doors to the Coral Capri Apartment Complex bang open and TJ bolts out with Myrna in tow.

They quickstep down the stairs.

TJ’s looking business-like.

Myrna wearing a man’s raincoat over her teddy; a classic London Fog. She’s trying to keep up with TJ and not trip over the coat at the same time.

Christ, somebody says. Kidnapping.

TJ tosses the keys at Paulie. We’re outta here, he yells.

We all flick cigarettes and dive back into the car.

Paulie fires up the big V8, pops the clutch, screams away from the curb. Myrna is in the front seat sitting between Paulie and TJ. Everyone is looking straight out the windshield. After a few city blocks whiz past, we ask, what happen back there?

TJ and Myrna glance at each other, smile. Pretty soon we’re all wearing shity smirks. Myrna slides the wedding ring off her finger, drops it into the ashtray. Paulie and TJ nod to each other.

Paulie veers onto the Jersey Turnpike.

TJ slouches down, closes his eyes.

Nobody looks back.

BIO: The following is a list of magazines and journals that have previously published some of Robert’s work.

Spit Ball, Cincinnati, OH 1992
Fiction Forum, Los Angeles, CA 1993
Atrocity Magazine, Pittsburgh, PA 1993
The Springfield Journal, Springfield, MA 1995
Spout, St. Paul, MN 1997
Paradoxist Literary Journal, Phoenix, AZ 1998
Atom Mind, Albuquerque, NM April 1998
Wildcat. The Maverick Press, San Antonio, TX November 1999
Lucid Moon, Hampton, NJ December 1999, April 2000
Lummox Journal, Long Beach, CA 2000
Hick And The Blackman, Cape Girardeau, MO 2001
The Café Irreal # 5, e-mail Feb. 2001
Zuzu’s Petals Quarterly, Ithaca, NY 2001
Confrontation, Brookville, NY-2002
Lummox Journal, Long Beach, CA 2003
Avatar Review, e-mail 2004
Ink Pot/Literary Potpourri, Fallbrook, CA 2004
Conversely, San Francisco, CA 2005
Alsop Review, e-mail 2005
Tattoo Highway, 2006
Hardboiled, Brooklyn, NY 2007
Zahir, Encinitas, CA 2009
Flashquake, Albany, NY, 2009
The Café Irreal # 32 November 2009

Robert has received a favorable review from Rich Horton in the August 2009 issue of LOCUS magazine for his story entitled Fataway, which ran in the summer 2009 issue of ZAHIR.

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