THE MAN I NEVER MET // Part 1

01BeatrizAlbuquerqueTODavid

Hexagram 16 is named 豫(yù), “Providing-For.” Other translations include “enthusiasm” and “excess.”

Chapter Five — One Week Later

Time’s up, said the guard.

She took out a lipstick and pushed up the gel, but as she pressed the red to her ruby lips, she chased the color away, subtracting evidence of the artificial one millimeter at a time. Her skin was smooth and I looked at those baby soft hands of hers and marveled. She was turning me inside out. She was familiar, but who she was and how she knew me were questions I had no easy answers to.

She held the note against the glass partition:

Shut Jack Marley’s mouth permanently and your slate will be wiped clean.

Only the Swede could give me a directive like that. And her voice, too, was thin and crackled. She set the phone face down on her side and held a fat, round pen. Using the writing end, she erased the ink from the message in quick, florid movements. The paper went back into her purse.

I was in complete shock.

These days, everyone calls it Paradise Ranch, she said. There’s this new Gentleman’s Club over on 35th and Park Ave. Seventh floor, invite only, best dancers in Midtown—Charlene, Natasha, Sapphire—you know it?

What do you mean—you did me a favor? I don’t know you.

But she grinned and let out short bursts of air that added up to a laugh. Where had
I heard that voice before?

Odd, isn’t it, she said. You’re almost more free inside there than out here. I’m
beginning to think I did you a favor.

I picked up the phone. I set it back in the cradle.

She made eye contact, put the phone to her ear across the glass partition and I sat down. I searched her face for a memory. It was nowhere. She was a girl with a largess of flowing blond hair draped over her shoulders waiting for me.

I did not recognize anyone in the visitor’s area.

I followed the guard through the corridors of the penitentiary past the other lugs I called my neighbors. It smelled like a gym. The guard unlocked the door to my cell and let me through.

Do I look like a secretary? he said.

Who is it?

You got a visitor.

I was hands behind my head, contemplating the hardness of the prison mattress and the toll it had taken on my upper back after a few crummy days.

The guard rapped his baton on my cell.

Chapter Four — Tuesday

In the end, I was going to jail not for the murder of Bruce Walter, but for the murder of Fatboy Charlie, a man I thought I never met.

Now they had reason to search for a body in Death Valley, just this side of the California state line. That body belonged to Fatboy.

I had been impersonating him when I thought I was impersonating Walter. Fatboy Charlie was the one with the chronic neck pain, not Bruce Walter. Only then Detective Lowry told me the real Bruce Walter had been killed and his body washed up on the shores of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Forensics knew the body was fresh, because longer than a couple weeks in the
brisk Atlantic and tissues would transform into a bubbly, soap-like fatty acid that halts bacterial growth. There was no such evidence of saponification in the body of Bruce Walter.

I had not killed Walter at all. Detective Lowry informed me they had been expecting someone named Fatboy Charlie to walk into the office.

I was dead wrong. Walter was just dead. I had murdered the murderer by way of murder. They should have thanked me, but instead I was headed to the California State Penitentiary.

When Lowry said the body, I was sure he meant the body of Bruce Walter, and I was also sure I had killed Bruce Walter. But Detective Lowry was bluffing when he asked me what I did with the body. I told him that I dumped it in Death Valley.

Because you are missing the death certificate of Bruce Walter, said Lowry. He was built like a monolith.

There’s nothing? Why? I said.

The paperwork looks pretty good, said the executor, Trevor Williams. Except one thing. There isn’t any inheritance.

All the documents are there, I told him, straightening my thoughts back to Walter’s Aunt Megan and how sure she made me feel. “How long until I can collect the inheritance?”

Just let me take a look at the documents and we’ll have you on your way, said the executor, but he moved too slow.

I emptied the contents of Walter’s bag and watched him check over the papers, signatures and all. It seemed like I was in the clear and I would walk out of there with over a million bucks of Walter’s inheritance.

I was Bruce Walter at the end of a cross-country trip and I had enjoyed myself. I was not a liar. I was breathing okay, both inhaling and exhaling, like a normal, average, honest person.

There was another guy by the file cabinets and I didn’t like the look of him, but it was too late now. He had a grey suit, the kind of cheap threads a cop might wear — or worse, someone from the D.A.

There was a thick layer of dust over the file cabinets where he was looking tough. He fit into his suit too tight.

I had no choice but to play my hand. He looked at me with a kind of knowing, or so I thought.

Personally, I tend to fall asleep when the road gets too straight, said the executor.

Across Nebraska, for example.

Beautiful country, I said. It is such a rare pleasure to drive. It’s meditation,
watching those white stripes.

Did you have a good drive? said the executor.

Thank you, I told him, and took off my coat.

The executor shook my hand as if everything were completely normal. I felt cross-eyed.

A door behind the main desk cracked open and a voice came through.

Bruce? Bruce Walter? said a man, peering at me with big black eyes. His eyebrows denoted a sense of calm, and so I followed his lead. Won’t you come in, Mr. Walter. I’m the executor, Trevor Williams.

My pulse jumped. I almost wanted to confess right there to the secretary. It was really happening. My impersonation was either going to pass the test or it wasn’t.

The waiting room smelled like a hospital that got unplugged.

I set down a copy of the Los Angeles Times. I picked it up again, and scanned the obituaries. The magazine selection was dismal. I wondered if the executor would see through me right away.

Have a seat, said the secretary, so I sat next to a plastic plant sitting in plastic dirt. I told her my version of the truth: I do.

Do you have an appointment? she asked. She could not have possibly known I had just killed a man.

In Los Angeles, I walked through the door with the frosted glass: Trevor Williams, Attorney.
Bakersfield was sunny, but Los Angeles was sunnier, and I was there to burn a hole straight through my life.

In the morning, I mixed up some sugar in a foam cup of the lukewarm brown water they called coffee, dropped the key off and headed for Los Angeles. There was nothing left to do but go through with it anyway, to the end of the road.

Or the beginning.

(To be continued…)

Image © 2015 by Beatriz Albuquerque.

© 2015 by David Moscovich, all rights reserved.




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