||[27 Aug 2005|11:42am]
Well, here it is. Hopefully I didn't miss any confusing errors. Weeeeee.
EDIT: AWWWW BASHIZAJIT!! NO INDENTS? *gnashes teeth, punches self in nuts* Well maybe it's endurable anyways. But I doubt it. Hmph. No freakin indents. What were they thinking? Also, fixed name thing and another little inconsistency (which was more aesthetically pleasing, but nevertheless an inconsistency and it must die).
Vance carefully smoothed the creases of the letter against the bed. Then he poured out the last of his heroin on it and separated the powder into two thin lines. He made sure not to obscure the words, so that he could read them again.
The band misses you. We hired another sax player but he’s not the same. We don’t get the good jobs with him. At least talk to us, even if you aren’t coming back. Wendy wouldn’t have wanted you to act like this.
He kept reading it over and over, then looking back and forth from the letter to the black saxophone case at his feet. It was a final attempt to feel bad about what he planned to do next. After several minutes of this, he still couldn’t bring himself to care, so he picked up the phone on the table beside him and dialed the number of a local instrument store. [better name for an instrument store, common and proper?]
“Big Sammy’s Instruments, how can I help you?”
“Hey,” Vance replied. “Remember me? I called yesterday about the sax.”
“Well, I haven’t changed my mind,” said the clerk. “Eight hundred is the most we’ll give you for it.”
“What if it used to belong to Vance James?”
“Hmmm. Hold on a second.”
Vance heard the clerk conferring with someone else for a few moments. When he came back to the phone, he answered “Nine hundred.”
“What? That’s all?”
“You’re not gonna get anything better,” the clerk said. “He’s not as popular after he left the group like that.”
“Alright, alright.” Vance grimaced. “I’ll take it.”
“Just stop on by any time you like.”
Vance hung up the phone. He carefully rolled a dollar bill and snorted the heroine through it, one line in each nostril, and then lay back on the bed. It was cheap stuff, almost black with impurity, but it would put the craving off for a while. More importantly, it took his mind off of Wendi. When it was over, he’d sell the saxophone and get something with more punch to it. He lazily studied the texture of the ceiling, waiting for the high.
The crash was one of the worst things Vance had ever experienced. In between fits of drowsiness he vomited and wept. By the time it ended, night had fallen and it was probably too late to visit Big Sammy’s. He made a mental note to never buy from the same dealer again. Whatever he was cutting his H with was poisonous.
Vance’s gaze alighted on the carpet in front of his door. While he was in the bathroom, a letter had dropped from the mail slot. He picked it up, and turned it over twice to find that the envelope was blank except for the words “Master Vance James.” He opened it and unfolded the paper. Each letter in the message seemed to have been cut out of a magazine, and it took his mind a few seconds to adjust.
I’ve got your woman. Bring $1000 cash to the alley near the middle of Laconia Boulevard at 11:00 tonight… if you ever want to see her again.
Vance’s jaw dropped. Then it quickly tightened, and his teeth ground against each other. Of all the cruel jokes, he thought. Of all the things the things to do to a man, who’d do that? It couldn’t have been someone from the band. They knew how bad her death had hurt him. They’d been at the hospital when it happened. But who? The more he thought about it, the angrier he got. He checked his watch; it was ten thirty-two. Not too late to give the punk a lesson.
He walked to his dresser and pulled the clothes out of one of its drawers. Underneath them was a pair of brass knuckles, which he dropped into his pockets. As he turned to leave, a desperate thought ran through his head: what if it’s real? He shook his head. You’re outta your mind, motherfucker. But the thought had taken hold of him, as irrational as it was. If it were possible to have her back… He turned to the dresser again, this time to look at the old cigar box on top of it. The last of his money was in that box. It was about one hundred and twenty dollars. Not enough by itself, but maybe Sammy’s closed late. He stuffed the money into his wallet, picked up the saxophone, and was on the street.
The owner was turning off the lights and getting ready to leave just as he walked up to the store. Vance rapped quickly on the door. The man strolled over to the door and pointed to the sign on it.
“We’re closed,” he said. “Come back tomorrow.”
“Please,” said Vance. “I need the money.” He pointed at the instrument. The owner eyed him thoughtfully.
“I’ll give you seven hundred for it.”
“You said nine!”
“And I woulda given you nine. But it’s almost eleven o’clock at night now, and the other stores closed a while ago. A man’s got to make a profit.”
“Come on, man. I need nine hundred dollars.”
“Yeah, me too.” The owner’s expression was apathetic.
“Alright. Fuck you,” said Vance. “I’ll find someone else then.” The owner said nothing. Vance stormed off. Shouldn’t have told him I needed it, he thought to himself. He checked his watch. It was ten forty-five. He’d have to walk fast to get to Laconia by eleven. As he strode down the sidewalks he saw another instrument store, but it was closed.
The buildings on Laconia were filthy and decrepit; the road itself was cluttered with garbage. Vance observed that someone had jarred a bird’s nest out of a tree, and that the corpses of the three baby birds inside had been neatly arranged on the sidewalk, side by side. A sick feeling came over his stomach. He slipped the brass knuckles onto his left hand and kept it in his pocket.
He first saw the alley from across the street. It was narrow and dark; it seemed even darker than the night around it. For the first time, he was afraid, and it occurred to him that walking into a pitch-black alley in a bad neighborhood with a saxophone case in one hand was not something that sane individuals did—never mind trying to ransom a dead girlfriend. He laughed nervously to himself and began to step back. “Must’ve been that bad H.” Then the sound of a gun cocking pierced the silence.
“Too late for that, kid,” said a voice near the entrance of the alley. “Get in here. Right now. And take that hand outta yer pocket.”
Vance could hear the blood pounding in his head. He slipped his hand free, careful to leave the brass knuckles behind, then walked into the alley. After a few seconds, his eyes adjusted to the darkness enough to make out the form of the man holding the gun. He was short, thin, bent over slightly, and seemed to be wearing a trench coat. For an instant, Vance thought he could see a network of wrinkles on the man’s face. Then the man made a quick, beckoning gesture with his gun and walked backwards into the alley. Vance followed him.
They walked like that for a long time, neither of them saying anything. The air became cooler as they progressed, and the light dimmed until Vance could barely see. At some point he began to feel like he was walking on a downward slope. He put his hand against the wall to steady himself, and found smooth stone rather than the texture of bricks. Finally, the dark form in front of him stopped and spoke.
“The money’s in that case?” the man inquired.
“Yeah,” said Vance. “Well, in a manner of speaking.”
“’In a manner of speaking.’ You playin’ games with me, buddy? The deal was one thousand cash and it better be goddamn cash.”
“It’s actually a saxophone. But it’s worth nine hundred dollars, and I’ve got a hundred in my pocket.”
What followed was the most nerve-wracking silence Vance had ever endured. Then his eyes caught a slight upward motion of the gun in the man’s hand, and he knew there was just a moment of indecision before it fired. He took advantage of it in the only way he could think of.
“It’s a quality instrument! Could go for more than nine if you found the right buyer. It’s got a good sound. I could show you.”
The gun didn’t lower, but after a pause the man replied: “Seems to me like it’d have to be a hell of a sound to sell fer nine hundred dollars.”
“It is. It sounds beautiful, man. You wouldn’t have any trouble selling it off quick, there’s plenty of people—”
“Play it, then. Let me hear it.” The man’s tone was not warm, but there was a hint of amusement now.
Vance crouched, undid the clasps on the case, and assembled the instrument inside. Then he slung the strap over his shoulder, stood up, and put the saxophone to his lips, his hands feeling around in the darkness for the keys. He hesitated for several seconds, too scared to move a muscle. He searched his mind for something to play, but all he could think was if I fuck this up I’m dead.
“Well? I don’t got all night,” the man said.
Vance cleared his mind and waited for his heart to slow and his hands to stop trembling. He could remember one piece now, the last one he’d performed before putting the sax up for good. It was a melancholy piece he’d composed when Wendy died. He took a deep breath. He didn’t think. He started to play. The first few notes were shaky, but as he got into the music, Vance felt his confidence return. He closed his eyes and imagined himself onstage with the rest of the band. The music became powerful and moving. When it came to an end, Vance stared back into the darkness of the alley without fear or expectation. He’d played it as well as it could be played, and now the matter was out of his hands.
After a pause the man sighed, then said, “Yeah. I can see how that might be worth somethin’. Put it back in the box and wait here.”
As Vance listened to the man’s receding footsteps and placed the instrument back in its case, a conflict brewed in his mind. This grouchy old shit isn’t gonna bring Wendy back to life he thought. I’m gonna get shot to death here, and who the hell is gonna come down this long ass alley to find me? I should get outta here before he comes back. Three times he turned around and took a step towards the entrance. Each time a voice in the back of his head commanded him to stop. What if she’s really here? If there’s just a possibility of having her back… nothin else matters. Not even the goddamn H.
Then he heard the footsteps returning. He furrowed his brow in concentration. Two sets. There were two sets of footsteps, two distinct rhythms. He held his breath. Can’t be, he thought, there’s no way at all. Two pairs of feet came to a halt in front of him.
“Here she is,” said the man. “Leave the sax on the ground and hand me the cash.”
Vance pulled the money out of his pocket and held it out. The man found his hand in the darkness and snatched the money away. Suddenly, the glow of a small flashlight pierced the gloom as the man counted the bills. The light was too small to illuminate the man’s face, but when Vance strained his eyes, he could see the outline of the second person. It was a woman. Just before the flashlight clicked off, she moved her head and the light reflected in her eyes. Vance knew those eyes. His heart began to beat faster.
“I’ve been pretty damn nice about the, eh, method of payment,” the man said. “You know I shoulda shot you down for breakin the deal. But now yer gonna listen careful and do what I say, or there’s penalties. Got me?”
“Yeah! Yeah, whatever you say.”
“Good. Here’s how we’re gonna do it. She walks behind you, and she doesn’t talk. You don’t touch her, you don’t talk, and you don’t fuckin look back. Soon as you do any of those things, she’s comin back with me.”
“Uh. Alright. I can do that.”
“Then get movin.”
Vance turned around and started to walk. He listened intently for the sound of feet behind him, and they came. It occurred to him that he couldn’t tell which one of them was following, but he pushed the thought away. Just a few minutes away. Then I’m outta here, and Wendy with me. God, how is this even possible? There’ll be time for questions later. Just a few minutes away.
After walking for what must have been half an hour, Vance was not out of the alley. He couldn’t even see the entrance yet; the darkness in front of him was solid and unchanging. Vance wondered how the man would know if he were to reach back and take Wendy’s hand, but couldn’t bring himself to risk it. He decided he must have walked faster coming into the alley, and quickened his pace.
Vance was still walking when morning came. Heroin withdrawal had set in and he was suffering with each step, but finally he could see soft light coming from the entrance. Relief overwhelmed him, and he sprinted until his strength ran out. Then his feet came to a halt. He stared forward, unable to believe what he saw. The entrance was not any closer. A frustrated grunt burst out of him. He willed his tired legs into a jog, and watched as freedom stayed exactly where it was. The gap would not close.
Many hours later he was crawling on his hands and knees. The sun’s light was strong now, but all that it illuminated was the unmoving rectangle. It couldn’t seem to pierce the darkness of the alley. It’s an illusion, he thought. Drug sickness. Can’t be more than a few seconds away. He kept crawling until dusk came, and then his body collapsed on its side.
Slowly, sadly, he pushed himself back onto his knees and looked behind him. The faintest ray of twilight fell down into the shadows and lit Wendy’s face.
“I can’t go,” he cried. “I can’t go no farther. I’m so sorry.”
“I love you Vance,” she said. “But you know you can’t bring the dead back. You can find’em if you know where to look, but you can’t bring’em back.”
Then the light was pushed away, and Vance with it. A powerful force slid him across the ground until he came to rest on the sidewalk. A foot stepped out of the alley and landed beside him. Vance looked up, and it was the man. Half of his wrinkled, skeletal face separated from the shadows, gazing at Vance. He lowered the saxophone case onto the ground.
“Don’t get any ideas, kid,” the man said. “It’s just worth more in yer hands than in mine.” Then he stepped back and was gone.
With his last ounce of energy, Vance made it to a payphone. He dialed the only number he could think of.
“Who’s this?” came the response.
“Max, it’s Vance.”
“Oh. Really? Glad to hear from ya, man. What can I do for ya?”
“I need you to pick me up. I’m on Laconia Boulevard.”
As the man walked silently through the alley with Wendy, a third pair of feet came in beside him. The hairs on the man’s neck raised, then he realized who it was.
“You drive a hard bargain, Charon,” said the second man.
“Dammit,” the first said. “You caught me, chief. Who told you?”
His companion laughed harshly. “Didn’t think I’d notice your absence?”
“Guess I’m in deep shit now.”
The second man was silent for a moment, then said, “No. I don’t think any punishment will be necessary. Just tell me why.”
“Well, it’s pretty quiet down here. Every once in a while a man gets to wanting a little music—“
“Ah. So it has nothing to do with the fact that he should have overdosed fatally today.”
“—and if he keeps a life out of yer hands, it’s a nice side effect.”
“Confess, Charon. You’ve gone soft. I remember in the olds days if they couldn’t pay the ferryman he left them on the shore. What was it you said? ‘Let’em wander the bank of Acheron for all eternity, the cheap fucks.’”
“Hold on now,” Charon replied, offended. “I took his money. I’m not all good. And you might as well confess yourself. You’d march every wraith outta the underworld to hear that music again.”