Friday, September 3, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 577 - Richard Godwin

THE CRUCIFIXION OF THOMAS WALTZ - RICHARD GODWIN

I sleep with a phial of poison beside my pillow, next to the crucifix I will use.

They are coupled in my mind, twin symbols of his allure and deceit. One I keep as a reminder of his hollow toxic heart, the other will serve him well.

They make good bedfellows, these two toxins, the ancient wood gnarled with mystic carvings, the colourless liquid refracting blue when I hold it up to the light. It is strangely prismatic, the phial, standing alone while I take the crucifix in hand and imagine what I am going to do to him.

Beneath its etched and buried symbols, I see snakes and weapons. His hands bleeding on his rosary, their scattered beads spilling like teeth onto the cold flagstones.

Thomas Waltz. I say the name breathlessly, a taste like victory on my palate, and wait for his death.

You cannot do what he did and get away with it.

No matter how firm your belief in providence may be.

No matter how many disciples you may have ready and waiting in the wings to bow and scrape and call you Master and do your bidding.

Thomas Waltz. Piper and fraudster, snake and charmer. The man I once called friend and who befriended my wife.

It all happened like this.

One perfect summer’s day, when the birdsong tricked me into believing in heaven, when I believed more firmly in his teachings than I did in my own existence, I found something missing.

Call it a sense that something was too good.

I had seen him that morning and left on the usual good terms, a spring in my step and smile upon my face.

I remember his face that day as we spoke, his veiled eyes, his little beard, the sanguine charm which dripped from his fingertips like precious metal. Dapper and elegant, he shook my hand, dressed in his Saville Row suit and expensive shoes.

We had been talking of salvation again and after all those black years, when I thought I would never surface again, when the only solace was the thought of suicide, he had made his breakthrough.

Convincing me of the hidden message of the scriptures and the need for service, he had shown me a hope I had never known, and transported me back as skillfully as a pickpocket to my unfulfilled childhood yearnings. Explaining who I was, he had handed me myself, and I tried on his suit of clothes and found I preferred them to my own, however shabby.

‘I can hand you the key, my friend,’ he said, the smile shining on his face.

And I believed him.

Imogen was the kind of woman he adored: feminine and elegant, her beauty exceeded her years and she trusted him as she did anyone who had never give her reason not to.

I was helping him with the tasks he set me. Like a trusting dog, I appeared when he summoned me and did as he asked. Always with charm, of course, that was his poison.

Little did I know.

Returning home that day, I found them.

There in the bedroom, lights dimmed, at first I did not see what it was. The shapes against the bed like some forgotten clothes reminding me of myself. Or my mind initially refused to accept what I was seeing.

He lay there in my bed and she next to him, her arm against the pillow. He was lying on his back and rubbing his belly.

I turned and ran.

Into the black streets.

And then, hours later, drenched in sweat, I returned.

He was gone, of course.

But there lay Imogen.

And, as I approached our bed, I knew something was amiss.

I took her hand in mine to remonstrate with her, to plead, to ask her why, to hope she would say it was not so.

And, as soon as I lifted it, I felt the ice in her palm. Her cheeks were pale blue, like the shimmering edge of the phial of poison which has become my friend.

He had broken her neck, and it lay as limp as a chicken’s when it has been wrung. Her eyes stared back at me from the hell he had made and I knew then what I would do.

I ran from the room straight into the arms of a police officer.

Of course, I failed to give any reasonable defence.

I was tried and sentenced.

And there in my cell, I started to plot his downfall.

Meanwhile, Thomas Waltz continued to exercise his particular charms on every woman who came his way, and I waited.

The money I had saved over the years and put aside I now used.

I hired a detective to keep track of Waltz, to find out his movements, habits, change of address, anything useful to my enterprise. He would report to me at the strange hotel I learned to think of as home.

It came as little surprise when I learned that he was gaining status and influence all the time.

A change of address would do nothing to shake me off, and I knew he would have forgotten me.

*

You see, Waltz was a man of infinite charm. Extremely good-looking, he had the ability to forge sincerity like a masterpiece. Eloquent and persuasive, he would work a target round, feeling his way to their weakness, inching through the doorway, his voice soft as tearing silk, unhallowed and invasive.

But I knew the real Waltz. The hater of women, the rapist, the thief, the poisoner of men’s souls.

When freedom finally wrapped its warm arms around me again, I wasted no time.

I found the address I had for Waltz and, spotting him walking arm in arm with a beautiful young woman, sought and found lodging nearby in a rundown boarding house.

There, in the grime and the dust, watching the rats scuttle across the bare floorboards whenever I came in unannounced, I waited for him.

It was in a nearby shop that I found the crucifix that seemed so fitting for him. Strangely sharpened a little at the end, like some relic from a sect, I took it home at once.

The plan fell into place as easily as a broken bone.

I watched him and saw how he worked.

And then one day, I overheard the conversation which gave me what I wanted.

I was sitting at the little café when he passed by with one of his acolytes. A young man who looked spellbound was listening wrapt in what he said.

I can hear it now.

‘You see,’ Waltz said, ‘we must ensure all our flock are ready. We live in dangerous times. The devil walks amongst us, and we must be on our guard. But with this to defend us, with this,’ thumping the Bible he carried everywhere with him, ‘on our side, we need fear no evil.’

‘Yes, indeed.’

‘So, we arrange for the mystery play, and we raise the money accordingly, and we put it in the church coffer and we prepare for Armageddon, because when the four trumpets sound, we will not be caught unaware like all the sinners. The purpose of our play is to show the inner mystery and drama of the crucifixion, why our Lord and Saviour sacrificed himself for our sins. And so, we need a life size cross.’

‘In the church, Thomas?’

‘In the church. By Sunday. Raise it high so all can see the majesty of our Lord, and the actor can be placed up there. We will show the true meaning of the crucifixion.’

‘Very well.’

‘Who amongst us would do as he did, would put themselves up on the cross? If you believe, if you truly believe, that is what it takes and, as your pastor, I would do it.’

The young man nodded his head gravely.

‘I will have everything ready,’ he said.

They turned and moved away and the rest of their conversation was lost in the sound of traffic.

But I had heard all I needed to.

*

The church was a little way away and that night I broke in by a back window. The latch was loose and no one would notice.

I looked around and saw the perfect place to hide: to the rear of the stage was a storage room to which I found and kept the key.

I returned to my shabby little room and spoke to my wife’s picture for a while.

The next day, I watched from across the street while a ten foot crucifix was delivered to the church.

I bought some nine inch nails and a hammer that felt heavy enough in my hand to do the job. Easy to grip and solid, it would drive Waltz back to hell.

*

I got what I needed ready and waited.

And the next day, I turned up at the church.

The fake beard and tramp’s clothes fooled him completely. The great Waltz dismissed me to the back and let one of his acolytes bore me with the finer details of his deluded trash.

He gave his best sermon and then the play was performed, ending with the actor raising himself on the cross and staying up there while the lights were dimmed. In the darkness, I went into the storage room.

Some hours later, when the sound of voices had died down, the church fell silent. I knew he was still in there, since I could see a light beneath the door.

He always locked up himself, trusting no one with the money.

He ended his sermons with a little cash count before going out to meet one of his women.

I inched my way across the rear of the stage and spotted him, back bent over the notes he lovingly counted off.

Just as he licked his thumb to turn the final few over, I reached round and popped the chloroform under his nose.

He stood up as if jolted and turning with bulging eyes, collapsed in a heap on the floor.

He had not hurt himself, and the effects would soon wear off, so, reaching into his pocket, I found the key to the door and locked us in.

I then dragged him over to the foot of the crucifix, which loomed down at him like an angry schoolteacher.

Removing the rope from my bag, I hoisted one end over the arms and caught the other.

I then tied it round his waist, threading it through his legs and back up where I fastened it around his arms. Swaddled like that, he slept as I prepared his crucifixion.

I had spotted a ladder at the back of the church and now fetched it.

It reached to the top, and so I pulled him up, knotting the rope when he was up there.

It was hard work, but rewarding.

Waltz awoke just as he came level with the arms of the crucifix.

At first, he just opened his eyes and stared about in groggy confusion.

Then, looking at me, he shouted:

‘What are you doing?’

I said nothing and watched his panic rise in him.

Climbing the ladder with my nails and hammer, I watched him descend into fear, his charm and good looks unveiling to the ugly monster he was.

When I had finished with him, he didn’t even look human.

‘Who are you? What do you want?’ he said.

Again, I said nothing.

‘Is it money? I have money.’

I measured him up for the nails, which I now lined up on the nearest arm of the crucifix.

‘In the name of God, stop!’ he said.

I looked at him.

‘Don’t you remember me?’ I said.

‘No. Who are you?’

I mentioned my wife’s name, and watched his pause and the sharp intake of breath.

The great Waltz was lost for words.

‘Now I’m going to crucify you,’ I said.

‘What happened was terrible, terrible,’ he said, ‘but you must believe me, it was an accident.’

‘Accident? No. You killed her. You raped her first, like you do to women who say no to you.’

‘That is not what happened, that is not what happened.’

‘I know what you do, I know who you are, and now I’m going to drive these nails into your hands.’

I showed him one of them.

‘No!’

‘This might just save you,’ I said. ‘Do you believe in your preachings?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then you are going to enjoy this. Don’t you say you would be crucified for the sins of mankind? Well, I’m going to crucify you for your own sins. I’m going to nail you to this cross for my wife and for every woman you have raped, for every lost soul you have cheated, for every man whose life you have used like a fairground attraction. And every time I drive a nail into your flesh, I will enjoy it. You claim great things for yourself, Thomas Waltz.’

I tied his arms into place, adjusting the rope as I did so.

He struggled, of course, but every time he did, I gave the rope a jerk so that it tightened against his groin, until he was choking and retching against the wood.

By the time I had finished and he was ready for his crucifixion, he looked nothing like Thomas Waltz. The handsome charmer had died on the ropes.

‘Please let me go,’ he said.

‘Why?’

‘You can’t do this!’

‘But you can rape and murder my wife and let me go to prison, you can rip off the gullible, and prey on women, lining your pockets with the proceeds of your lies?’

He started to say something, but I silenced him with the first nail.

I drove it straight through his lying hand.

And how he screamed.

It was like a girl’s cry, really. High-pitched, no manliness in it, shameful to hear.

Then, I leant across him and drove the other nail in.

Another scream.

‘This is a good hammer,’ I said.

I moved down a few rungs and removing his expensive shoes, I nailed his feet there and then took a pew and watched for a while.

He was groaning and trying to persuade me to let him down and when he saw that he was wasting his breath, he said; ‘This won’t kill me, of course, you know that. My people will come in the morning, they will get me down, and you will be arrested and this time you won’t get out of prison.’

‘But I haven’t finished with you yet,’ I said. ‘This is just an hors d’oeuvre. The main course follows.’

He glared at me from his cross.

‘I am Thomas Waltz. Get me down!’

‘You are a rapist and a killer,’ I said.

I watched the blood flow from his hands, splashing the stage below.

Then I climbed back up the ladder and took my crucifix out of my pocket.

He was shaking and his throat had dried up.

Every time he tried to speak, his voice failed him.

‘I remember you rubbing your belly after you raped her. Lying in my bed next to her, preparing your lies, preparing your poison.’

‘You cannot do this.’

I opened his shirt so that his belly was visible.

‘Every time you open your mouth, a new lie pops out. I’m sick of your preaching, you are now going to pay for what you did to my wife.’

That was when he made his final attempt.

‘Let me go and I’ll give you all my money. I have a fortune, you can have it, let me go. I am Thomas Waltz.’

I looked at him for a moment and wondered if he really believed any of this, whether his own self-love convinced him he was right, and as I did, the image of my wife lying in that bed swept over my like a wave of nausea and I drove the sharpened end of my crucifix so hard into his flesh that his guts began to spill onto the stage, splashing it like vomit at a party that has turned ugly.

He opened his mouth in mute horror, staring at me in disbelief.

He looked down.

The rent in his flesh was as wide as a grin. The sharpened wood had sliced him apart like a steak. He struggled to move, raped by the crucifix.

I left him there like that for his acolytes to find him, the cross buried so deep in his belly that only an inch of wood jutted out, the note I’d written pinned to his head.

From the stage, you could just about read it:

‘Behold the king of liars, rapist and murderer.’

‘Thomas Waltz,’ I said as I made to leave. ‘A waltz is something elegant and enjoyable. You are neither. Even your name is a lie.’

He looked at me, finally believing in something.

And I locked the door on him and stepped out into the beautiful evening.

BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel. His writing appears regularly at Disenthralled; Gloom Cupboard; Thrillers, Killers ’N Chillers; The New Flesh and Pulp Metal Magazine, among many other magazines. He has a Twitter account and can be found there under the User Name Stanzazone. You can check out his portfolio here. His first crime novel will be published later this year.

His blog, RICHARD GODWIN, which will be undergoing a bit of a facelift to help launch his novel, is the home of the Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse Interviews (which, in this editor’s opinion, deserve as many awards as can be heaped upon them).

9 comments:

Coraline J. Thompson said...

Damn! Gruesome yet satisfying, this is a splendid piece of revenge.

ajhayes2 said...

The whole story goes step by step into madness, corruption and a kind of atonement. Everything led perfectly to the last two lines and the last two lines are two of the best ever. Step by step the arm of the scale wavers and finally settles into perfect balance. Another winner from Mr. Godwin (though I'm not sure that Robert's last name reflects the outcome of this one -- or maybe it does.

Salvatore Buttaci said...

Lines like "
One perfect summer’s day, when the birdsong tricked me into believing in heaven," make reading Godwin all worthwhile. The man knows how to spin a yarn, and the more harrowing the better! Let me also mention the perfect pace and the believable dialogue.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Clever, Richard. Very clever. One of your best.

Curtain Lab, a unique look for your home... said...

My favourite piece so far RG. Very very well done!

I love it!

Callan said...

"this a good hammer" was my favorite line morbid humor
well done

Ian Ayris said...

To write so beautifully something so horrific takes enormous talent. Enormous. I mean 'scattered beads spilling like teeth onto the cold flagstones.' You can't teach that.

There are not many writers I read with my mouth continually agog, my eyes an ince from the screen. Richard Godwin is one.

Brilliant.

Richard Godwin said...

Thank you, Coraline for your fine judgement, Bill for such a gratifying appreciation of what I intended, Salvatore for seeing poetry and your understanding, Jodi for your insight and comment, Paula for reading and enjoying, Callan, for your understanding of black comedy in all its forms, and Ian for what you say here and for your support.

abha said...

Spellbinding.