1,4 - Majeaux
FBI Casefile 4815/1623-42
Second handwritten journal entry in small black notebook.
The men came out of the dark as I walked from the diner to the B&B. Three men, two in front and one that was quiet behind me but I knew was there. Could feel their intentions, the sharpness of their thoughts scraping violence out of the future. I shook my head, surprised and chagrined that I had been discovered so quickly. And yet there was something gleeful in me, a freedom found in the simplicity of the moment. Inwardly I spoke words of challenge, invoking my will.
The ground where I stand is all that I am. Come move me from it.
On the left in front of me the man removed a pistol from his coat; he had slicked-back hair and a long, sharp nose. The man to the right had close-cropped stubble for hair and a thick mustache that was a few decades out of fashion. He flicked his hand down and a tactical baton telescoped toward the ground. There was the sound of movement, footsteps rushing, from the man who thought he was unseen behind me.
“Are we talking about this at all?” I said. “No? You sure you want to do this?”
No reply, and Mustache surged forward, the baton cocked back for a blow to the lower half of the body, my right knee. The fact that Slick Hair hadn’t just shot me in the head outright meant either these men intended to subdue me and take me somewhere or they had orders to keep this quiet. It was probably a combination of both.
From the start my hand had gone into the right outside pocket of my suit jacket, fingers closed around Crybaby. I took the switchblade out, thumbed the catch. The stiletto blade flipped open with a whisper and locked, extended.
Mustache came at me with surprising speed. The baton whipped around. I sidestepped. Punched Crybaby up into his armpit, biting deep. Yanked it out and stepped back.
All of this was noiseless. Mustache dropped the baton and pressed his hand into his armpit. He coughed. Blinked furiously. Fell to his knees. Blood began to pour out of both of his eyes, two red rivers that streamed down his face. At last he toppled forward onto the ground in front of me.
I know, Little Wing, I know.
This part of the story, I started right in the middle. That’s where the action is though and sometimes that’s where the beginning has to be, otherwise what kind of storyteller am I? Also it happened last night and it’s right there in the front of my mind.
However, let me go back. Let me snap the puzzle pieces together, just a little.
You already know I spent that night, two nights ago now, in the motel room at the Evergreen, dreaming. I woke up at midday the next day and I was still so damn tired, so spent. I should have known right then what was happening, it was the Sorrow coming on, but I wasn’t thinking clearly, I was still half submerged in the deep echoes of all that dreaming, only half awake.
Gary Cooper checked me out of my room. It was like he had never left his little niche behind the front counter, I could have sworn he was sitting in exactly the same position, wearing the same clothes, watching the same black and white movie on his little TV.
“It was a pleasure, Mr. Majeaux,” he said to me as I left. “Come and stay with us anytime you’re in town, always a discounted rate for a man of your stature.”
I walked out to Beech Boulevard. I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I was exhausted. I could have stretched out anywhere, in a doorway, beneath a tree, behind a garbage bin. Just close my eyes and lie there. I had a few dollars left, enough for a meal somewhere maybe, but if I wanted another night in a hotel room I would have to generate more cash and I didn’t exactly feel up to it.
A BMX bike leaned against the side of the convenience store in the strip mall on the corner of Beech and Leaf. A young man sat cross-legged in front of the bike, facing the sidewalk, looking down at a large piece of paper which was unfolded and spread out on the grass. As I approached I saw that what was unfolded was in fact many sheets of loose leaf graph paper all taped together to make a larger surface area for what appeared to be some sort of map. The young man looked up from the map and looked at me when I stopped and stood over him. I can only blame the onset of the Sorrow for the fact that I hadn’t noticed until right then he was wearing a Mexican wrestler’s mask.
We did not speak to each other. At the moment I thought little of it. He held a pencil in one hand as if he had just finished drawing something on the map, which was oriented so that I could read it. While the lines of the streets on the graph paper were bold and straight and the houses, buildings, and trees had been drawn, in pencil, with some skill, the words written next to each destination and place of interest were illegible, jumbles of backwards, upside-down, even imaginary letters that were either some kind of personal code or written there by someone who had lost their mind.
I saw that one place on the map had a description written somewhat legibly, though misspelled and the words crudely-formed in the manner of a small child having only begun to learn how to write. It was a drawing of an old house with a garden out front. Two stick-figure women with skirts—one with very long hair and the other with short, spiky hair—stood in the garden, holding hands.
Jeny + Karens Bed & Brekfast.
All at once the young man snatched his map up from the ground and folded it over and over into a thick bundle of stacked pages, which he stuffed beneath his shirt into the waist of his jeans. He snatched up his BMX bike and went down the street without looking back at me.
I had seen on his map that the Bed & Breakfast wasn’t far from where I stood at the corner of Beech and Leaf. I smiled a little. There were one or two things I could probably do in order to find lodging there.
I pressed the button to flash the lights at the pedestrian crosswalk on Beech Boulevard. I crossed the street. At the last minute I was forced to leap to the far sidewalk as an old station wagon bore down on me without appreciably slowing, then braking much too late. At the wheel a young woman with long, straight black hair waved at me, contrite, mouthing the word “Sorry.” By reflex a minor but somewhat nasty afflictive Cantrip had been on my tongue. I was about to lash her with it; instead I held it back.
My approach to the Bed and Breakfast was one of reconnaissance. I walked the blocks uphill on Beech and turned to the left onto Mayfair Street, lingering at the corner where I untied and retied my shoes, having a look at the house which was three properties down from the main street. A white sign on the front lawn read Mayfair House Bed & Breakfast. There was a pleasant flower garden occupying a good portion of the front yard. The house itself was quaint, painted in bright yellows and blues, had a welcoming front veranda where wicker easy chairs with throw cushions were an invitation to put the feet up and unwind.
I doubled back to an alley behind the houses on Mayfair, coming up to the B&B from this vantage point. A small garage had been converted into a storage and grounds keeping building and was next to a concrete pad where guests could park. There was a blue Volkswagon Golf parked there now, the only car. A low fence separated the parking area from a landscaped yard which contained an elegant Koi pool and a sizable stonework patio arrayed with metal tables and chairs that gave the impression of a sidewalk cafe.
There were blue recycle and black garbage bins in a row along the side of the old garage. I went through them and found what I needed.
I walked down the alley a few paces and sat down with a fence at my back. I waited, watching.
A woman came out from the backyard of the Bed and Breakfast and closed the gate in the fence behind her. She was dressed in gardening coveralls that hugged her full figure, round stomach, and were dark at the front from kneeling in earth. Her short-cut hair was nearly purely white, not dyed that color but naturally grayed to pearl, which might have been the only feature that dated her otherwise ageless, unlined face. She looked around surreptitiously. She produced a cigarette and lighter from the pocket of her coveralls.
I narrowed my eyes and focused. A cigarette is an easy thing to interfere with, even at a distance.
The woman put the cigarette between her lips and saw at once that it was bent and broken, as if it had been crumpled accidentally in her pocket, though when she had taken it out, it had been whole. When she plucked the cigarette out of her mouth to have a look, it fell apart in her fingers.
My cue. I made a slow approach so that she could watch me come up the alley toward her. I couldn’t know what Anpenpan made of me in her eyes, but she was regarding me impassively. Her eyes held curiosity; her faint smile wasn’t unfriendly. I tipped Anpenpan to her as I drew close.
“I noticed some bad luck there,” I said, “with that cigarette, but lucky for you I have a few left in my last pack.”
I had removed a rumpled cigarette pack from the Hello Kitty backpack earlier, and I held it out now for the woman, one of the remaining two cigarettes in it slipping out for her to take. She did.
She read the label on the pack. “Meursault. I’ve never seen this kind before.”
The label depicted a man in a suit staring at the sea, standing on a beach where washes of tide scalloped the sand. “They’re Algerian,” I said.
The woman lit the cigarette. Its smoke spread out around us, lingering, faintly sweet. A few moments of quiet.
I stepped closer to the woman and looked directly into her eyes, speaking slowly, clearly, with authority. “My name is Gabriel Majeaux. I am your friend, an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time. We met many years ago and worked together, becoming close acquaintances. You trust me completely. I told you I was coming to visit you here but you have forgotten because you’ve been so busy lately. You would love to have me stay here as long as I like.”
I took the cigarette, only partially burned down but its power spent, out from between her lips and crushed it on the ground with the heel of my shoe. The woman blinked a few times in rapid succession then looked at me, her wide eyes startled, caught in a conflict of confusion and clarity.
“Karen, what’s going on here?” There was another woman standing with one hand on the gate at the back fence. She was noticeably younger than Karen, taller, and willowy thin. She was dressed in a light blouse and long skirt; her auburn hair was tied into one thick braid that went down past her waist. I felt an acute intelligence in her gaze as she regarded me.
Karen shook her head as if her thoughts had finally resolved. She put a hand on my arm and smiled warmly. “Jenny, this is Gabe. He’s finally here!” To me she said, “Took you long enough.”
Jenny came through the gate hesitantly. “Who is this?”
I held out my hand. “Gabriel,” I said. “Pleased to meet you. I apologize for not knocking on the front door but I saw Karen out here in the alley as I was coming up Beech Boulevard. I thought I would surprise her.”
Karen was looking at Jenny strangely. “It’s Gabe! Did you forget he was coming?”
Jenny shook my hand. She smiled but it was disingenuous. Plainly she was assessing the strangeness of the situation. I could already sense the dynamics of this couple’s relationship. Karen was accommodating, voluble, possessed a strong personality and love of making people happy; Jenny was perceptive, decisive, judgmental.
“I don’t think you ever mentioned that he was coming,” Jenny said warily.
Karen sighed. “You know what, you’re right. I’m so sorry but I think I forgot to tell you.” She groaned. “I can be such an asshole, but Gabe knows all about that. We worked at the Firm together, oh ages ago now.” The effect of my second-last Meursault cigarette was working through her thoughts, she was creating our story.
I grinned at her. “A long, long time ago.”
“It really was, wasn’t it?” Karen laughed.
Jenny was watching us interact. There was nothing in Karen’s behavior that suggested I wasn’t exactly who she said I was. Karen’s hand had remained on my arm affectionately throughout this exchange.
“Well,” Jenny said finally, “why don’t we get you settled in, Gabriel. We’re lucky, there’s only a few reservations on the books in the next little while.”
I went up between the two of them through the gate and into the yard. Along the back fence, canary yellow daffodils rose above a dusting of snow-white hellebore.
“How long were you planning on staying?” Jenny asked.
Karen answered, “He’s welcome as long as he wants, Jenny.” Then she strode ahead up the path along the Koi pool. “Let me sort out a room for you, Gabe.”
Jenny stopped by the side of the pool. She looked at me intently. “It’s nice to meet you as well, though I have to say it’s a bit of a surprise.”
“Awfully sorry about that,” I said.
“Not your fault.” She paused. “And you worked at Grainger and Gamble with Karen?”
“What kind of law did you practice?”
Jenny nodded. “Interesting.”
Karen called down to us from the house. “Gabe, let’s get that suitcase in your room and let’s get you a drink! You must be starving as well, I’ll get some dinner going.”
Jenny gestured at the backpack. I had been carrying it in one hand. “I can take the suitcase for you, if you like.”
“No,” I said. “It’s very heavy, I wouldn’t dream of letting you slug it up those steps.”
We made our way between the metal tables on the patio and went up a few steps into a covered back porch that had been built onto the house. Karen was waiting there, beaming at us. “I’m so happy you’re here finally. How long have I been trying to get you to come out and stay with us?”
I shrugged. “A while now.”
Karen went into the house ahead of me. “Come on in, here it is, our pride and joy, Mayfair House B & B, if you can believe it.”
I followed her inside, Jenny trailing. “It’s very nice,” I said truthfully. The interior was decorated with impeccable taste. What stood out was an abundance of original artwork taking up nearly all of the available wall space, giving the house a vibrancy that helped transform it from being simply someone’s home into a place where guests were welcome.
“You’ve got the best room, up that staircase and down the hall, last door on the right.” Karen clapped her hands together. “I’ll make us some food.”
“Karen,” I said softly. “If it’s alright with you, I’ll actually pass on that, I happen to be very tired and I would appreciate the opportunity to have a late afternoon lie-down.”
“Oh,” she said, not disguising her disappointment. “I was hoping to catch up, Gabe.”
Jenny intervened. “Let him have a nap, Karen, he’s tired.”
“I promise we’ll talk all night long,” I said, “just like old times.”
“Alright,” Karen said. “But you’d better keep that promise!”
I turned away from the couple and headed up the staircase. The upper floor was decorated with even more artwork, a profusion of different styles and media that provided a kaleidoscope of colors and forms. There was a single, shared bathroom at the top of the stairs and three or four small bedrooms along the short hallway.
I found my room, went in, shut the door. Sat down on the bed. Rubbed tired eyes that felt like bruises in my face that would never heal. Slipped off Anpenpan and put it gently on the bedside table: I wouldn’t need to wear it all the time around Karen and Jenny, their versions of me would remain constant now. I shook my head, laughing to myself. My tricks had found me a place to sleep but it was going to take some work to keep up the forced illusion of friendship.
A knock came at the door, followed by Jenny’s voice. “Sorry to disturb you already, Gabriel, but I just wanted to have a quick word, if that’s alright.”
I went to the door of the room, opened it. “Of course, Jenny,” I said. “What’s on your mind?”
“This may come across as a little rude,” she started, “but I feel it’s important to get it out of the way, if you know what I mean.”
“Go ahead.” Right at that moment I felt a tremor come into my hands. I clasped them together to stop it.
“Well, it has to do with Karen. You knew her a while ago, back when she was a lawyer, and I just think you should know that a lot of things have changed since then.”
I felt the tremors spreading. My arms, then my shoulders. I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing them open again with an exertion of effort.
Jenny had taken no notice of what was happening to me; she pressed on with saying what she needed to say. “Obviously you’re used to things being a certain way with someone, and when you meet them again some years later, the changes you see in them might take some getting used to. What I’m getting at, and I’ll just come out and say it, is that I saw you were smoking with Karen in the back, and it’s a serious thing, for her health, she is absolutely not allowed to smoke cigarettes, at all, ever. Oh,” she said then with sudden alarm, “are you alright?”
I had had no choice but to sit down on the bed in the middle of her speech. My shoulders were moving back and forth as I forced air into my lungs. I gripped my knees with hands that quivered uncontrollably.
I started to cry. No, I wept.
At first I tried to choke it back, hold it in. Then great, desperate sounds heaved out of me as if ripped free from someplace within. Tears ran freely from my eyes. I sat on the bed and cried as if there was nothing left of me except for grief. Jenny stood in the doorway of the room and watched me, mortified.
Finally she sat down next to me. I continued to sob. She leaned into me, put an arm around me, and I rested my head on her shoulder. “You’re okay,” she said softly, repeating, “you’re okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
The Sorrow is one of the greatest, enduring, most potent works of magic ever completed in all of known history. Its curse, its power, affects men like me in different ways—I’ve known some who languish into a malaise that lasts weeks, months; others who strike out in anger at their loved ones, often tragically—and its reach is inescapable. There simply is no becoming what I am without suffering from it. There is no feeling like it. An alien thing, a darkness from outside the boundaries of what makes you who you are, it arrows through all defenses and takes residence—becomes, for the duration of its tenancy, a second self, a tyrant self, commanding oblivion.
As far as the Sorrow went, I was fortunate. It made me incapacitated, it plunged me into depths of emotion without abandon, but only for a brief time. And when it left me I was completely free of it. I have been hated by others because of the comparative ease of my passage through this affliction.
Jenny still held me. Already I could feel the Sorrow lifting. I was realizing belatedly that I should have recognized its onset in the last few days. The encompassing fatigue I’d been feeling had always been a sure sign that the Sorrow was imminent.
“This is a good place to be,” Jenny said. “It’s safe. Whatever’s wrong. We’ll talk through it. Whatever you’re running away from. Karen will know what to say. What to do. She’s amazing like that.”
I took a handkerchief from a suit jacket pocket. Wiped the tears from my face.
“You’re good,” Jenny said, releasing me, moving apart, looking at me. “You’re good now.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“That was intense,” she said.
I laughed. Jenny laughed.
Suddenly we were both laughing hard. Laughing hysterically. I threw back my head and the laughter cascaded out of me. Jenny grabbed her sides and then suddenly slipped off the edge of the bed to the floor. I let myself fall back onto the covers. I felt as if I had reached a state in which tears and laughter were inexhaustibly inseparable. I covered my face, laughing and crying into the lines on the palm of my hand.
© 2016 by C.D. Miller