Friday, September 25, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 179 - Robert Crisman


On Getaway Day, the question is this: where do you think it is that you’re going?

They heisted the dopehouse the night before Christmas. It blew up in their faces. Dennis went batshit when Danny, the dopeman, refused to roll over.

They got what they came for, the money and dope, but the wrangle spilled out on the street. Danny came out with a shotgun. Dennis blew him away and killed an old lady just out for a stroll who’d come up behind.

Then he’d gone back in the house and plugged Danny’s woman. The dead drop no dimes.

Eddie couldn’t hang with the mop-up. Dennis put the gun to his head and told him, just drive to the storage. They stashed the loot there. They’d already made plans to get back there and divvy the next night.

But Eddie was not going to hang. Ramon decided he wanted him dead and told Dennis, bag his ass out at the storage and leave his ass there, and then bring the stash out to Ramon.

Dennis fucked up, tipped his hand and let Eddie get back behind him. Eddie clocked Dennis and left his ass there in the weeds by the storage. He also made off with the kilo of dope that they’d heisted from Danny.

Ramon deep-sixed Dennis for fucking it up and came after Eddie.

He almost got him. Eddie came back to shiver and shake at his pad and figure out what to do next. Ramon came up on him and trapped him inside.

Ramon was going to torture his ass but he slipped and they tussled. The neighbor next door started pounding the wall with a hammer. Ramon’s gun hand jerked.

Eddie rushed him, tripped him, and shot out the door, to a bolthole he knew two blocks down. Ramon, gun in hand, rushed out after—too late. Eddie was nowhere. And the neighbor had called the police. Ramon had to split.

Eddie, meanwhile, had pell-melled to Belmont, the Laundromat there. He rushed around back and dove down the stairs that led to the laundromat’s basement.

Down on the landing he wedged himself in a corner. He curled up tight and breathed through his mouth for five minutes. If Ramon found him now...

He huddled, gasping, cartoon explosions lighting up inside his skull. Ramon and that gun... The darkness and silence clutched at his throat. Please, don’t let him find me.

Eddie’d lost cops in this very same bolthole some 20 years back.

It seemed he’d been ducking in boltholes his whole fucking life.

He could not stay. He had to get out, get away. If he stayed there he’d die. Somehow, some way, Ramon would get down there and find him.

Ramon was out there, poking through bushes and shadows right now. And he’d find him. He’d smell Eddie’s sweat and the blood in his veins. He’d come down the steps like a leopard, eyes blood-red slits, grinning murder. He’d come down step by step, slowly, drawing it out.

“Hey, baby,” he’d say, “how do you want it?” He’d make kissing noises.

Ramon never came. Eddie booked. To Aurora in north end Seattle, up by the graveyard, the Ares Motel. A dead-end for junkies and old, flat-back hos.

But a scout flushed him out and Ramon came to call.

Eddie had gone out for smokes. It was six pm, dark. He’d rounded the corner, was headed on back to his room—and there was Ramon and some other vato poised now to kick his door in.

They didn’t see him. He backed into shadows, ready to run past the ends of the earth. Then, bam! This cluster of big motherfuckers busted into the courtyard from back in the alley, straight at Ramon and his partner!

The cops! They’d had scouts too, scouring the town for the fucker who’d maestroed the Christmas Eve slaughter. They rushed in like bad-ass Apaches. They got to Ramon and his partner and slammed them right into the room.

Eddie relearned to breathe and jammed to his car a block down the road from the Ares.

He sped like a methedrine bat to I-5. By the time they came to bag up Ramon, he was halfway to Portland.

He had enough money to get himself down to L.A., provided his beater held up. That afternoon, he’d pieced off five grams to mutts in the District. He’d come back to the Ares with $600 in his kick and banged his own dose. A half-hour later he’d gone for the smokes.

Now, in the car, he had the six bills and maybe a pound and a half of the chiva. He’d banged a ton in his week at the Ares.

The dope in his trunk was a bust just waiting to happen, of course. But, leave it? C’mon, man, get real.


Eddie was thinking, he might even make it. He’d stopped off in Kent and filled up the tank, then went back in the can and topped off again. He got back on the road, blasé blasé. The willies were muted, at least for awhile.

Live large while you can.

Down through Chehalis and bang-on toward Portland. A stop by the side of the road to smooth out the edges. It got smooth as a baby’s behind. The world was a slow-motion parade.

Eddie would daydream back in the day: somehow, some way he’d hit it big. Big money, baby, some kind of way. Bank like he’d dreamed of forever. He knew, way down deep, that it didn’t mean shit, that all the tomorrows were nothing but some other time like it said in that song. But what else was there?

He had this big car in the dream. A snazzy Mark IV, all midnight purple like Batman’s. With bitchin’ chrome rims, cruise control, and a sound system made for angels who scream out to heaven and hell, and on key.

Sights set on Cali in gangster-lean mode. All skies were blue.

China White in the trunk in the dream. Enough to hold him for life plus forever.

The plan? Just fucking go. Down 101 in the cool breeze. Playing tunes, dreaming dreams. And ease in the trunk when the groove would begin to wear thin.

All at his leisure, you dig it? Winding his way down the Oregon coast looking out at the waves. And watching the seagulls swoop down on dinner as the sun tracked its way to Japan.

Heroin’s perfect for that. It keeps out the chill. You’re bundled up snug as a bug in a rug and the world sweeps softly on by.

It turns, of course. One day it’s a raft on the White Powder River. Next day you bang and you bang and you don’t quite hit Eden. Almost, but almost isn’t shit.

You’re chasing it now. Chase all you want. Something cold deep inside you just will not be touched. You’ve used up your ticket. Soon enough, every nerve end you’ve got will be begging and bleeding and shitting all over the car seat. Turns out that Eden is merely a road stop to under a dumpster somewhere.

Eddie knew this. That’s why the gameplan, at least in the dream. He’d feel the turn coming and pull in to some no-tell motel by the sea. One good geez left, the one that would float him to Alpha Centauri.

He’d tie off, find that last vein in life, drive the dope home. He’d lay back on the bed, eyes slowly closing as waves lapped outside. Blackness would come like a loving mother’s caress.

That was the dream. Now, just past Portland, rain started falling. Grant’s Pass by morning? He let out a sigh. In the dream, skies were blue.

Funny thing, it seemed now that time was rushing up on him. Telling him, move! There were ogres and demons in crannies scratching up under him now. The soft, feathered groove was not going to carry him long.

A movie flickered inside his eyes. Reverie was not quite the word. Reverie wafts. Eddie’s visions, wherever they started, locked right on track, the route pre-ordained. Reverie, also, is toothless. Eddie’s thoughts gnawed, under the chiva, insistent.

Up on the screen now, Ramon in deep shadows. Posed and pimped-out top to toe, Mexican chorus-boy pretty. He turned. His eyes locked on Eddie, went dark. His face now was hard as a diamond, lips tight over teeth. Then he grinned, spit contempt, dancing murder. Those eyes! Eddie’s whole life summed up in those eyes.

The rest of the movie bled out from there.

Wars, twisted hatreds, bottomless fear. A cat Eddie tortured in third grade to get past his blues. A wino he hit with a bottle for nothing.

His wanted poster: a sharp-featured, pale, near-white-trash jamoke, to be swept out of sight with the rest of the shavings and sweepings of life in this city.

Out of sight, out of mind.

He’s three years old. He’s dancing and laughing and mugging for mama. She laughs, delighted, she and her friends. The women all love him with laughter, applause, enveloping warmth. He tries a new role: Godzilla, destroyer of cities! A three-year-old monster, roaring and stomping, on stage for the ladies! Powerful, thrilling, the leading man—little man!—once again.

Mama starts wringing her hands.

Mamas would have their babies stay babies. Especially boy children, the next set of dicks in the world. Godzilla scared mama.

Daddy scared mama. Daddy scared Eddie. That dead, failed dog of a man. A voice that could shred you, a backhand... Eddie knew, just from mama wringing her hands, that something inside him and hanging down off him was scary, ugly and wrong, just like daddy.

Daddy ruled. The man had the power, or so it seemed.

Eddie prayed for some power. He wanted the world to fear him the way he feared daddy. Scare all the others, he reasoned, and someday maybe he could stop shaking.

Dear daddy! Only way later would Eddie pick up a chair and put paid to his ass. And then watch him dies of cirrhosis some 20 months later.

Home followed him out in the world. Purse-lipped adults—nuns, priests, and shrinks, the caseworkers, cops—the various suits in this world. At school, in the church, in gray buildings downtown, and in all the canned drama on radio, newspapers, prime-time TV, and the Six-O’clock News.

A framework that outlined an infinite prison.

Fear bleaches your face like stigmata. By this sign the world will know you. Fear also shrieks questions. Hatred comes up with some answers.

Hatred, a friend and protector.

Some say that hatred is love screaming out to be free.

Eddie at 12, a felon-in-waiting, now being cut from the herd. He tells his jailers, fuck you, fuck you sideways. His screams are the dictate of hatred and fear. He tells his jailers, fuck you again and then spits on the floor—thereby complying with all their best efforts.

Always the hatred and fear! Like a river, at times underground, then rushing, torrential, leveling the mountains! Eddie is swept out to sea.

He drove and drove now, on towards Grant’s Pass. And then it was time to pull over and go in the trunk.

Back on the road. Marvin Gaye on the box. Marvin’s daddy, a drag queen, shot Marvin dead.

Eddie’s daddy loved boxing. March ’63, the Wednesday Night Fights. It’s funny what snatches your soul and your gonads for life. Emile Griffith put Benny Paret in the graveyard with 18 right hooks to the head, Round 13. It wired that five-year-old boy from his head to the tips of his toes.

All the boys that he fought scared as dogs. The boys he learned to attack with something in hand if that’s what it took.

A boy, Jimmy Good, throwing bricks, had Eddie pinned on the other side of a porch. The house right behind was abandoned. Jimmy Good threw that last brick and missed—and Eddie leapt on him, man! He leapt, 20 feet, must have been! He flew through the air, wrapped his hands around Jimmy Good’s neck. Took him down to the ground and strangled and strangled and strangled. The white, bursting hatred he felt as he launched off that porch gave him wings, iron strength, the soul of a leopard fastening on prey.

Eddie remembers this one boy he ran from, a rabbit seeing to burrow away from the laughter and sneers aimed at cowards.

Fast cut to black: Eddie’s alone in his room, age 14. A Life Magazine expose, ten years or so out of date. Junkies, Manhattan, a man and a woman, Mary and John, tore from the floor. Their lives, abcesses, horror. Turning tricks, stealing 24-7, chasing the hit that turned them out in the street for the rest of their natural lives.

Eddie can’t wait to get back there.

Funny, the things that will light you right up.

Then, downtown Seattle. The smell of the salt in the sea as he walks on down First. Fifteen years-old and who’s there to school him? Young kings, cutting swathes.

He watched himself watching their every last move. He learned the new language, slathered on greasepaint, and hid in plain sight.

Eddie dressed over with hard talk, the pimp walk and—what?

All the years: dope, prison, bullshit. And the jailers scribbling their notes. Biographers, man! The last chapter already written.

Daddy, the jailers, addiction. Ramon with those eyes...

Alesha, the, uh, love of his life, does her turn.

Alesha. She doled out the drug love in dollops that cost him. Then tossed him like old, used-up Kleenex.

Well, that’s what you get. He’d lived that pulp fiction, where women, the ones who aren’t doormats for love, roll their eyes.

Pulp fiction. Truth hurts.

The hard talk, the pimp walk. Eddie even tried to believe it sometimes. Like all the rest of the comic-book heroes who litter the mix late at night. Who wants to admit that they’re just a lost dog, out there and crying for shelter, with no roadmap home?

Comic-book heroes must all pretend to be men. Men, moreover, according to corporate dictate, with steel-plate facades and the sewer-rat ethics big business demands, regardless of whatever clown show it is that they’re running this week. Success in the mix, i.e., manhood, is measured in dollars. As it is at all levels here in this bankers’ wet dream of a country.

The mix as capitalist hijinks and warfare, funhouse distortions and all.

And failure? They cut off your gonads, what else? And then they dump you into a hole, in a landfill down by the river. Bon voyage, brother.

Our comic-book heroes—businessmen, baby! That’s their refrain, never doubt it. Post-graduate Fool School.

Fake men can never show fear. Too many hostile takeover artists looking for cracks in the armor.

And so these fake men—they murder their tears. They hide behind dope. And they all sob to Jesus or some other fetish in cold, lonely rooms at four in the morning, when all the note-taking snitches and spies have gone home and no one else is around. Except maybe those very last ghosts who can no longer bother to care.

My, my, cheap pulp fiction. Eddie’s tears helped make him real. They were part of his passage to manhood and he killed them dead.

The world is prison with no mercy in it. Get hard in the yard or you die.

Who told him that?

He believed it.

Life in the mix. Death, drip by drip. What else could he do? Stay in school and slog through? Make his peace, make his place, and been what the squares call a man?

Squares. Lames and lops. Sucking the boss off for nickels.

Eddie looked down his nose at the squares and spit up from the gutter.

A man among men!

Alesha and Eddie and old used-up Kleenex.

His eyeballs are pounding. Time to go back in that trunk, geez and geez. Sticky brown Mexican shitball.

Back on the road. The movie has faded to soft, gauzy black. He’s down in L.A. in the bookstore he’d dreamed as his very own thing, with books piled high. He’s deep in his chair in the back with his book, and deep in a chapter where danger’s a shrouded embrace. Outside, it’s sleet—in L.A.!—and the squarejohns are plodding all over the world. The taxman is coming and who gives a fuck? War in Lower Slobbovia, my man? Just some old news.

Now, down past Salem and on through Eugene. Grant’s Pass not too long...

The swell of a soundtrack: the Temptations. Hurry Tomorrow. Yes, perfect and—hush now, the movie is starting!

Foggy mist, closeup—Ramon...

Another long replay of This Is Your Life.

Time to pull over. The side of the road on this twisty stretch is a thin patch of gravel.

A bad place to be, especially on Getaway Day.

BIO: Robert Crisman could have very easily been Eddie. He spent some years living parts of the life depicted in this story. Unlike most of the people who live it, he found his way out. He brought his ghosts with him, however, and his fiction, about lost dogs stuck on the Road With No Exits, is his way of turning his time in the mix to account.

No comments: