Read Marked Man Online

Authors: William Lashner

Marked Man

MARKED MAN
WILLIAM LASHNER

For my boy Jack,
hardball pitcher, blues guitarist,
King of the DDR

Contents

1

It must have been a hell of a night. One…

2

The tattoo appeared on my chest at a rather inopportune…

3

I walked to my office that afternoon with a light…

4

“I’ve changed, Mr. Carl,” said Theresa Wellman. “You have to believe…

5

Charlie the Greek found me.

6

The Randolph Trust sits on a leafy suburban street in…

7

Two men waited for us at a great mahogany table…

8

It had seemed a simple enough plan. I had one…

9

I had missed the early wave of evening broadcasts, but…

10

“The name is Carl,” I said to the reporter who…

11

“Such a charming office, Mr. Carl,” mewed Lavender Hill as he…

12

“You look like a beaten dog,” said Phil Skink, staring…

13

You can tell a lot about a lawyer by how…

14

Rhonda Harris and her little notebook were waiting for me…

15

There are about fifty cases on the list each day…

16

The candle and incense, the darkness and thick, plague-infested air…

17

“Where are we going, Phil?” I said as I drove…

18

Club Lola was a wide, spotlit room, smoke-filled, dark-walled, with…

19

It’s not every day you sit in a diner with…

20

I have a big red file folder that I keep…

21

Judge Sistine was a large, humorless woman with the forearms…

22

I had been putting it off, but I could put…

23

“So we saw on the TV you’re representing that Charlie…

24

“Victor Carl here.”

25

There are hosts of people you don’t want to hear…

26

She was waiting for us by the front door, long…

27

I wasn’t long back from our visit with Sheila the…

28

“I don’t know what you’re going on about so much,”…

29

I don’t normally take a taxi to work, being that…

30

Ghosts. I was surrounded by ghosts, or at least those…

31

“It wasn’t any trick to find your boy Bradley Hewitt,”…

32

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” I said to…

33

Later that night she lay naked beneath me, facedown on…

34

“Can you do me a small favor?” said Monica Adair…

35

It was the movies that finally determined it for me.

36

This time I was dressed to blend: sneakers and jeans,…

37

The sound of the calliope puffing away, the smell of…

38

“I’m sorry, Mr. Carl, but you’re not on the list.”

39

“It’s been like this for about a year,” said Jenna…

40

Why,you’re a regular Sammy Glick, aren’t you?” said Agnes…

41

“It was tough, what happened to Ralphie Ciulla,” said my…

42

I got to the office early the next morning, fiddled…

43

Sometimes it’s a chore to find someone, sometimes it can…

44

I picked the most unlikely place possible. Dirty Frank’s. The…

45

Family court, that last bastion of civility, where mothers and…

46

We return now to the curious case of Sammy Glick.

47

The brown building of the Randolph Trust, with its great…

48

I drove right back to the city, parked on the…

49

Stanford Quick was sitting in the easy chair, the same…

50

To avoid the crowds and reporters waiting outside, they let…

51

It turned out to be Los Angeles, which was absolutely…

52

The man from the squawk box was waiting for us…

53

You might think that I told Lou where to stick…

54

“What did you think of the script, kid?” said Theodore…

55

“I think I’m going to throw up,” said Monica Adair.

56

We’ll call her Lena, because that’s the name she called…

57

“You keep pressing button, it very annoying,” came Lou’s voice…

58

Did it rankle? You bet it did.

59

“I’m bringing him home, Mrs. Kalakos.”

60

“And what exactly do you want from me?” said Beth…

61

I took the expressway to I-95 and followed it south,…

62

We were traveling east, toward familiar turf. If all was…

63

It was a strange reunion, two old friends with a…

64

The whole night of the robbery, Charlie had been seized…

65

It was dark now, with only the flickering of the…

66

I figured it out right away, exactly what was happening.

67

Well, not quite disappeared. They lay about fifteen yards away…

68

I didn’t know I was in a race.

69

“I’ve brought him home to you, Mrs. Kalakos,” I said.

70

They buried Chantal Adair beneath a bright summer sun on…

71

Due to the funeral, I was late for Beth’s closing,…

It must have been
a hell of a night. One of those long, dangerous nights where the world shifts and doors open and you give yourself over to your more perilous instincts. A night of bad judgment and wrong turns, of weariness and hilarity and a hard sexual charge that both frightens and compels. A night where your life changes irrevocably, for better or for worse, but who the hell cares, so long as it changes. Batten down the hatches, boys, we’re going deep.

It must have been a night just like that, yeah, if only I could remember it.

It started inauspiciously enough. The preceding few days I had been in the center of a media storm. The
New York Times
on line one,
Live at Five
on line two,
Action News
at six, details at eleven. Now, I am never one to shy from free publicity—the one thing, I always say, that money can’t buy—but still, the exposure and the hubbub, the constant vigilance to make sure my name was spelled correctly, the crank calls and dire threats and importunings to my venality, all of it was taking a toll. So that night, after work, I took a detour over to Chaucer’s, my usual dive, for a drink.

I sat at the bar, I ordered a Sea Breeze, I let the tang of alcohol, with its blithe promise of sweet ease, slide down my throat. There was an old man perched on the stool next to me who started talking. I nodded at his words, yeah yeah yeah, even as I looked around to see if there was anyone else of interest in the bar. A woman in the corner gave me the eye. I tossed it back. I finished my drink and ordered another.

My memory here sounds almost coherent, but don’t be fooled. Even at the moment of which I write, it is starting to break apart. The old man, for example, I can’t remember what he looked like. And in my memory I can’t feel my feet.

John Lennon is singing from the jukebox, imagine that. The old man is talking about life and loss in the way old men in cheap bars always talk about life and loss. I finish my drink and order another.

The door opens and I turn to it with the great false hope one holds in bars that the next person to step inside will be the person to change your life. And what I see then is a beautiful face, broad and strong with a blond ponytail bobbing behind it. The face still lives in my memory, the one thing I remember clear. She looks like she has just climbed off her motorcycle, black leather jacket, jeans, a cowpuncher’s bowlegged walk. The very sight of her gives me the urge to up and buy a Harley. She stops when she sees me, as if she had seen me before. And why wouldn’t she have? I am famous, in the way you get famous for a minute and a half when they plaster your face on local TV. I give her a creepy smile, she walks past me and sits at the bar on the other side of the old man.

I finish my drink and order another. I order one for the woman. And, to be polite, I order one for the old man, too.

“I loved my wife, yes I did,” the old man says. “Like a fat kid loves cake. We had all sorts of plans, enough plans to make a cherub weep. That was my first mistake.”

I lean forward and look beyond him to the blonde. “Hi,” I say.

“Thanks for the beer,” she says as she taps her bottle of Rolling Rock.

I raise my glass. “Cheers.”

“What’s that you’re drinking?”

“A Sea Breeze.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“I detect a note of scorn. I’m man enough to drink a prissy drink. Want to arm-wrestle?”

“I’d pop your elbow flat out of the socket.”

“Oh, I bet you would.”

“Let me try it,” she says.

I smack my elbow onto the bar, twist my palm into a wrestling grip.

“Your drink,” she says.

“See, you can’t make plans,” says the old man as I slide the drink past him to the woman. “Life don’t let you. Wasn’t long afore I found out she was sleeping outside our marriage bed. With my brother, Curt.”

“You don’t say,” I say.

“I just did,” says the old man. “But I could deal with that. Leastways she kept it in the family. No need to upset the apple cart and spill the milk.”

“What do you think?” I say to the woman, whose pretty face is twisted sour after a sip of my drink.

“It tastes like hummingbird vomit,” she says as she passes it back.

“My name’s Victor. Victor Carl.”

“What, they run out of last names when you were born?” she says. “Had to give you two first names instead?”

“Exactly that. So what do they call you?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“I’m just trying to be friendly here.”

“I know what you’re trying,” she says, but a smile starts breaking out anyway.

“It was the cancer, finally did in all them plans,” says the old man. “It tore up the throat. Curt’s throat. When he died, she up and ran off with the night nurse. Happiest day of my life when she left. Now I miss her every minute of every hour. I loved her true, like a Hank Williams song, but what does that matter?”

I snatch down the rest of my drink, and that is apparently the moment my mental recorder decides to go seriously on the fritz. I remember Jim Morrison intoning sweet mystical nothings from the jukebox. I remember my drink tasting funny and me laughing at the joke. I remember the old man getting up for a moment and me slipping onto his warm stool so I could sit next to the woman. I remember ordering us another round.

She smelled of beer and gasoline and a clean sweat, that I remember, and I thought as I sat next to her that if I could bottle her scent right there, I could make a fortune in the perfume racket. At least I
hope I only thought it, because if I said it that would be a truly lame line, which might explain what I seem to remember next, her giving me a strange, piteous look before pushing herself off her stool and starting out the door.

I don’t remember if I followed her or not, though I assume I did. I assume I did because, in my memory, it is as if right then a door opens and I step through it and find myself inside a strange, muffled darkness.

This is the sum of what I remember of the night, and after that, nothing.

 

I
AWOKE
with a full-body cramp on a hard tile floor. My head was leaning awkwardly against a wall, my legs were sprawled at uncomfortable angles, one of my arms was missing.

An instant after I realized the arm was gone, I found it, dead to the world, pinned beneath my side. I rolled over to free it, sat up in a panic, flopped the appendage onto my chest. I slapped it, pinched it, let relief slide through me as, slowly, painfully, the nerves in my sleeping arm tingled to life.

I was now sitting, I realized, in the front vestibule of my building. The night I had passed through was gone. The gray light of dawn slipped softly in from the street, revealing the sorry state of my corporeal condition.

My suit was in tatters, my shirt untucked and torn, my tie untied but still looped within the buttons of my collar. My heavy black shoes were on, but my socks were missing. And I smelled like a mangy dog who had rolled in something. Physically, my neck was stiff, my hip was aching, my mouth was a cesspool, someone was chopping wood in my head, and there was a sharp, stinging pain in my chest, as if I had fallen smack into the middle of a heart attack.

Damn, I thought as I tried to rise on shaky legs and failed, plopping down again on the sore hip, it must have been a hell of a night. I tried to remember it all, but nothing came through, except for the image of a blonde in a leather jacket.

On my second try I staggered to my feet, fell with a clatter against the mailboxes, pushed myself back to standing. The small room
stretched and contracted, the tiles in the floor spun. I sucked my teeth, they felt furry.

I tried the door into the building but it was locked. I patted my jacket, and then my pants, and was shocked to find my keys and wallet still in their rightful places. Okay, good, things were not totally out of control. I was home, I hadn’t been mugged, this could all be handled. I unlocked the door, pushed it open, fell forward through the doorway.

My apartment, two flights up, was in as disastrous shape as was I. The cushions of the couch were slashed, the walls defaced, the shade of each lamp distended and torn. Atop a large television, with its screen smashed, sat another television, a small portable, with one of its rabbit-ear antennae bent like a defective straw. You might surmise that this was all fallout from my wild night, but you would be wrong. It had been like this for months, the by-product of a rage expressed toward me by an overzealous dental hygienist. The less said about her the better, yet the telling point is not that it happened but that, in the time since it happened, I hadn’t done anything about it other than applying a few rolls of duct tape to the slashed fabric. What it said about the state of my life could fill volumes, but it wasn’t volumes I was interested just then in filling as I burst through my door and staggered to the bathroom.

In front of the mirror, as the back of my hand wiped my dripping mouth, I recoiled from a ghastly sight. Lon Chaney was starring in the story of my life, and it was definitely a B movie. Turning my attention to my costume, I quickly realized that the only thing salvageable was my tie, an indestructible piece of red synthetic fabric that was a miracle of modern science. You want to know where all the money thrown at the space program went? It went into my tie.

As quickly as I could, I pulled off the tie, then my suit jacket, my shoes and my pants. But when I unbuttoned my shirt, something stopped me.

Taped to my left breast was a wide piece of gauze. The pain in my chest was apparently not just metaphysical. And, to my horror, I noticed that leaking through the gauze was blood.

My blood.

I ripped off the tape and slowly peeled away the gauze bandage.
There was blood and an oily ointment, as if I had suffered through some sort of medical operation, and, beneath that, something strange seemingly pasted onto a patch of my skin just above the nipple.

I started wiping away the ooze, but it hurt too much, my skin was for some reason too raw. With a little bit of water and soap, I gently washed away the ointment and blood. Gradually, bit by bit, the thing underneath became clear.

A heart, bright red, with two small flowers peeking out from behind either side and a fluttering banner across it all, a banner with a name inscribed that I had to read backward in the mirror: Chantal Adair.

I just stared at it for a moment, unable to process what it was. When it came to me, I started rubbing at it, I started scrubbing it, as hard as the pain would allow. But nothing happened. It wasn’t pasted on at all. There it was, and there it would stay. For the rest of my life.

Damn. I had gotten myself tattooed.

 

A
FTER
I showered and shaved, I put on a pair of jeans but no shirt. I sat on my ruined couch, with a lamp on and a mirror in my hand. Through the mirror I stared at the tattoo on my chest.

Chantal Adair.

I struggled to remember who she was and why I thought her important enough to inscribe her name atop my left breast for all eternity. I struggled to remember her and I failed. The entire night, after I stumbled out the door of Chaucer’s, was a total blank. Anything could have happened. Was she the motorcycle blonde who had started my engine to running that evening? Most likely. But maybe she was someone else, some mysterious woman I met in the course of a long, bleary tour through the darkness. And was my attempt to immortalize her on the skin above my heart a terrible drunken mistake, or was it something else?

Chantal Adair.

The name tripped sweetly off my tongue. A pair of iambs bracketing a mystery.

Chantal Adair.

The tattoo itself was peculiar. There was something outdated about
it. The heart was boldly red, the flowers yellow and blue, the banner carefully shaded about the slope of its curves. It was not the type of tattoo you would see on the young students showing off their skin art in the parks on summer afternoons. It belonged instead on the forearm of an old sailor man called “Pappy,” with the name of a prostitute in Shanghai scrawled across the banner. It was, to put a word on it, romantic.

Chantal Adair.

As I stared at the tattoo and said the name out loud, as I tried to dredge her image from the rubble of my memory, all I found was a sharp spurt of emotion that I was unable to identify. But the whole thing made me wonder. Sure, tattooing a stranger’s name on my breast was most likely the product of an inebriated whimsy I regretted even as the buzzing needle slid the ink between the layers of my skin. But I couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t stop hoping, that maybe it was something else.

Maybe, in the course of the long night, I had slipped through my weariness and drunkenness into something approaching a state of grace. Maybe only then, with my defenses down and my craven heart open to the full beauty of the world, had I been able to find a connection with a woman untainted by irony or calculation. And maybe I had chosen to scar my breast with her name so I wouldn’t forget.

Chantal Adair.

Sure, she was most likely nothing more than a drunken folly, but maybe she was something else. Maybe, just maybe, she was the love of my life.

There I sat, in the wreckage of my apartment, in the wreckage of my life—no love, no prospects, a gnawing sense of existential futility along with the certainty that a better life was being lived by everyone else—there I sat, staring at a name writ in ink within the skin of my chest and thinking the name might save me. The human capacity for self-delusion is beyond measure.

And yet there was no question but that with her name on my chest I was going to find her. The case that had me in the papers and on the news was a case of grand theft, of high stakes and lost souls, of an overbearing Greek matriarch, of a strange little man who smelled of
flowers and spice, and of a Hollywood producer selling all the wrong fantasies. It was a case of failed dreams and great successes and murder, yes murder, more than one. And in the middle of that case, as it all swirled about me, there I sat, thinking that a name on my chest, thinking that Chantal Adair, could somehow save my life.

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