Blues From A Gun, Chapter 7: So You Wanna Be A Superhero?

By Bryan Pedersen

he tombstone reads Maxwell Besson, Jr., and not much else. If you do the math on the carved b. and d. dates you come away with twenty-three years. That’s all.

There’s no charming epitaph to sum up his short life. Not a surprise. When your last day on earth was embarrassing and tragic the people that etch out your marker tend to go for simplicity. The less said the better.

But when I look at the marker I only see what they left off. Below his given name I read “Jumble”. Beneath that, “Shot dead by a man he thought was his friend.”

It’s quiet out here. So quiet I can hear the grass crunch as I walk on it. Not sure if it’s from last night’s frost or because nobody’s visited the kid’s grave in awhile. Don’t really care. The pale grass is brittle and the tree branches are bare. Nothing blooms this time of year. Right now, that gives this place a bit of quiet symmetry.

That will change soon enough. The earth will round the corner and find spring waiting with its warm sun and torrents of rain and these raw tree limbs will sprout fresh new buds. As it always does, life will go on.

Except Jumble’s won’t. Not this spring, not the next. But hopefully I won’t be dwelling on him anymore by then.

I don’t know why I came here. It felt like something I should do, but that could be because I’ve seen this scene in too many movies. Now that I’m here I don’t know what to do next. I’m not above telling him I’m sorry, but standing all alone in the cold I can’t help getting the feeling that there’s no him here to tell.

Hell with it. I’m here, might as well try. So I reach out, place a hand on his slab of granite, and open my mouth.

Then my phone rings.

“What.”

“Charlie, it’s Frank.”

I look around, hoping no one is near because even though I didn’t see it posted anywhere, talking on a cell out here feels all sorts of disrespectful.

“Okay,” I say.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“I’m at Holy Oaks.”

“I see,” Frank says. “Anyone I know?”

“Jumble.”

“Of course. Well, that’s good. Take your time. Call me when you’re done.”

“That’s it? I thought you’d be pissed.”

I think I hear Frank laugh. “Pissed? Does that sound like me?”

“Last time we talked you were all about me moving on and leaving things like this in the past.”

“That’s right.”

“And now?”

“Charlie, if you feel like visiting your friend, then visit your friend. You should try to leave these things in your past, but life’s heavier moments do have a tendency to cling, and there’s no one right way to deal with grief, or with guilt.”

“That almost sounds like a contradiction.”

“Oh, it most certainly is. I contain multitudes.”

“Alright.”

“Charlie, if our emotions were logical and travelled along one steady course then we would’ve long ago developed a universal standard for dealing with what troubles us. However we are messy and random creatures and often find that we require different remedies for the same ailment.”

That sounds more like Frank.

“So once again, I’m glad that you are where you are because if you feel that’s where you should be right now, then you’re right. Take your time, do what you feel you should, then please call me when you finish. I have a favor to ask of you.”

And then he hangs up.

After the cemetery I head over to Waxy Discharge, my favorite local record store. The name’s a little misleading, it’s not all vinyl, mostly CDs now, but it’s been around long enough for the name to have once been more accurate. I stop in once every couple of weeks, more to kill time and distract myself than for any specific music to buy.

Today, it’s all about the distraction.

First I check the new releases wall, then the display of employee picks. I flip randomly through the stacks, picking some copies of a couple bands I’ve been meaning to get to, then I make my way to the listening station.

As I’m putting on the headphones my phone rings again. It’s Frank, so I turn off the cell and put the headphones on and listen to a dozen different bands, each one hyped by record labels as being comprised of the best aspects of previous, more popular groups.

One of them sounds pretty good so I add it to the two CDs I’ve already grabbed. All of that gets me through half an hour. Next I make my way to the record bins.

I don’t usually buy albums, but flipping through the sleeves gives me one more thing to do. Occasionally I find one that I think Jenya might enjoy.

There’s one other reason I do this. I’m looking for a vinyl copy of my favorite disc of all time: Songs About Leaving, by Carissa’s Wierd. The day I find that album is the day I buy my own record player. My problem is that this pretty band with the misspelled name broke up years ago and all the members have gone their separate ways. A bigger problem than that: I’m about ninety-five percent sure they never released a record version of that CD. But still I look. Every time. Doesn’t matter which record store I’m in, I always check before I go.

But it’s not here. It’s never here. Like I said, I’m fairly certain it never existed to begin with. Yet I can’t stop myself from wanting it.

Walking out of the store with three new CDs I finally turn my phone on and call Frank back.

“I tried calling,” he tells me. “I thought you might’ve forgotten.”

“I stopped by the record store.”

“Of course. We do all cope in our own way.”

“You need a favor.”

“Yes. Tell me, Charlie, do you have any dinner plans?”

The Saranset district is almost beautiful at night. Tiny white lights dot the walkways that stretch alongside of and span out across the river. The streets are made of cobbled stone and the sidewalks are wide and accommodating. The area itself is filled by all sorts of upper-scale restaurants, some of the city’s classier nightclubs, and during the day is frequented by affluent shoppers hitting up the many specialty boutiques.

It’s the perfect place for a first date.

It’s also overpriced, pretentious, and not unique as people think. Seriously, every medium to large sized city has the exact same area with the exact same brand of unique local cuisine. It’s boho franchised. Plus, in the summer, there’s the added bonus of a faint horseshit odor from the carriages that clamor about the streets.

There is another good reason I tend to avoid Saranset, and it’s got nothing to do with the scenery. But Frank said he needed a favor, and even though it sounded suspiciously like a blind date I said I’d do it. Still doesn’t mean I like being here.

Ten miles an hour is about as fast as you can drive down these ragged streets. There aren’t as many pedestrians in during cold winter nights, but they’re still around, and the cobbled surface will screw with your alignment if you’re not careful.

I’d like to find a parking spot near The Chez Valez, but if that doesn’t pan out there are a couple of garages that will do. When I find nothing open near the restaurant I drive on, and even though I know what’s ahead of me, I keep going. I drive a few blocks and keep looking, and since fate’s a bastard there finally is a spot. Right in front of Banquo’s.

Banquo’s is a nice little brewpub that’s been serving up their own food and ale for almost twenty years now. It’s a place I used to frequent a while back. It wasn’t their beer or food so much that made me a regular, it was Stacy.

Even parking here, just seeing the restaurant again, my stomach gets tight. It’s crazy because it’s been five years since I’ve last talked to her so there’s practically zero chance she still works here. Even if she does there’d be no guarantee that she’d be working tonight. Besides, what could I say to her? I should just ignore it, get out of my car and walk down to The Chez Valez to meet Frank’s friend. I should forget about Stacy. I should.

When I push aside the heavy wooden door I’m greeted by a cute young blonde. She’s perky and says, “Hi! Welcome to Banquo’s! One tonight?”

I lie because it’s easier. I tell her I’m meeting someone, so with a big smile she lets me by. Truth is, it might not be a lie, though my gut is hoping that it is.

The restaurant’s about two-thirds full, the service staff circulating back and forth. I work my way through the dining room, faking a sense of purpose in my walk so nobody will notice this lone man wandering around, then I see her. Against all odds, there she is, long auburn hair and still stunning, working right behind the bar, and I don’t know what to do.

So for once I follow my twisted gut, turn right around and walk away. I double back past the host stand and straight into the men’s room. It’s bright and clean in here and I’m greeted by a me in the mirror that resembles the me that Stacy used to know. But this guy staring back at me now, he’s older and paler, he has shadows under his eyes that weren’t there five years ago, and even though he doesn’t say it I’m sure he wants us to go.

He’s probably right, I shouldn’t be here. I should be three blocks away, meeting Frank’s friend in The Chez Valez. If I leave right now and walk straight there I might still make it in time.

If I leave right now.

Which I should.

The bar is set back against a tall and wide window. The polished wooden counter arcs out in a half-moon, locking Stacy in behind it. Behind the glass are the large kettles and drums that the restaurant brews their beer in. A couple of guys are sitting on one side so I head to the other, pull out a tall chair and sit.

Stacy’s pouring a pint, her back to me. I watch and wait. Her arms are golden-brown. Topping off the beer, she walks it to one of the guys and I‘m starting to think that she hasn’t changed at all. That five years have passed and she hasn’t aged, hasn’t wrinkled or gained weight or given up and adopted one of those choppy hairstyles middle-aged women so often resort to. She looks exactly as I remember her.

Except while watching her putting away a couple of glasses I catch sight of a glint on her finger. It’s a nice sized rock and finally I realize: of course things have changed. After all, it’s been five years. I’m older, she’s married.

“Oh, my God. Charlie!”

“Stacy.”

I’m not sure I grasped how nervous I was until she caught sight of me, but when her eyes lit up my nerves melted. Her joy, my relief, and suddenly I’m wishing I had done this sooner.

“It’s so great to see you,” she says, and everything in her face makes me believe her.

I ask how she’s been and we chat a bit, still more eyeing each other, catching up visually more so than by saying anything meaningful. She steps away for a moment to do serve a drink and returns.

“What else have you been up to?”

“Well,” she says and gives a sheepish grin. “I figured out how to make a baby.”

It’s funny how time can fly by. You get caught up in your work, in solving your day to day problems, and you lose track of how quickly the days pile up, how they turn into years. Turn into your life.

“Really?”

“Yeah. Turns out it wasn’t too hard.”

“Congratulations,” I say, and even though it feels weird, I think I mean it. At least I’m forcing myself to mean it. “Boy or girl?”

“Girl.”

“Name? Age?”

“Alana, and she’s a year and a half now.”

“Wow.”

“I know,” she says with widening eyes.

“And she’s good?”

“She’s amazing.”

It took this long, but I finally notice it: she really isn’t the same person I knew five years ago. In that moment, with her eyes focused on me, her entire consciousness was someplace else. In that moment she was all about her daughter, and I can’t really explain how that is, but it was. And already I know that Alana is a lucky little girl who must love her mother dearly.

It’s also when I learn a particularly harsh truth; some of the doors from our past, they really are closed to us. Maybe that’s what time is, a steady closing of doors.

We talk a little more, and it’s nice. But even though I can’t tear the smile from my face, or she from hers, I also can’t help feeling sad. I know all the dance steps that brought us to this point, and maybe it was for the best because she’s seems happy, seems to love her husband and her child and her life. So why don’t I feel better about it?

Selfish, I suppose.

“I’m sorry,” she says. She reaches over and grabs a coaster, places it in front of me. “I suppose you want a drink. Need a menu?”

“Actually, I should go.”

“You haven’t told me what you’ve been up to.”

“It’s a long story.”

“So? I’ve got time.”

“Yeah, but I don’t. I’m supposed to be meeting someone.”

“Oh, okay, that’s cool,” she says. And I think for her, it is. I look at her again and I don’t think there’s a thing I could say that would shake her. That’s what I see in her now. A sense of permanence, conviction and resolve that wasn’t there five years ago. She looks centered and complete.

Before I leave she tells me her work schedule so I can stop in again when I have more time. I tell her I will, but I won’t.

Exiting Banquo’s I head straight for my car. My head’s a mess and I need some space and time to straighten it out. First question : What the hell did I expect?

I was a moment in time for her, and then her life went on. Of course it did, but even if she hadn’t gotten on with her life, what was I going to do about it? I made a decision five years ago to keep her away from all of this, and even though I hate it I still think it was the right one. So that all makes logical sense, but it’s not comforting me right now.

Maybe tonight’s the wrong night to meet Frank’s friend. Maybe I’m better off leaving, taking a rain check on it all. I can go back home, maybe stop by The Ellipses for a quiet drink or three. Tomorrow I’ll call Frank, apologize, set something else up.

Or maybe not. Fuck me, suddenly I can’t make a simple decision. I’m already down here, and it’s not too late. I can’t decide because I can’t focus. I’m still stuck on Stacy, on what five years can do.

Fuck it, fine. I’ll leave this parking spot and drive over to The Chez Valez, drive even though it’s only three blocks away. If there’s a convenient spot out front I’ll park and go in. If not, I go home. The parking gods can decide.

Ice crunches under my tires as I back out. I drive slowly, stopping at the intersection for people crossing. People, all of them paired off. All of them looking happy. Makes me want to kill someone.

Seeing Stacey makes it clearer, defines my life, delineates what I have and what I don’t. What I have is a way to get by. Five years of following company policy has allowed me to survive. My life froze back then, stopped evolving. Now, this life that I have, it’s cold and it’s dead and it isn’t life at all. Now I see it, see how surviving is not enough.

I turn the corner and see the restaurant and every single parking spot up and down the block is filled. But there’s something else. A line of people and some punches being thrown at the end of it. A woman running off in the other direction. I pull up closer and see a man struggle to break free from the line and start to chase after her.

And I know him. It’s fucking Fin.

So I turn the wheel to follow. I play it off as curiosity, try to pretend to myself that I don’t know what I want to happen next. My trip to Banquo’s has numbed my sense of reason. Seeing Fin chasing some poor girl… I try and forget about should for once, and toy with entertaining what I want to do.

Another block and she’s still ahead but Fin’s keeping up well. It’ll be a good race, at least for a while. She’ll have adrenaline, but that only lasts so long.

A couple more blocks and he follows her down into a parking garage. I park in the turning lane and flip on my hazard lights.

There’s a tire iron in my trunk and I grab it. At the entrance of the garage sits a bright yellow tollbooth with an old lady inside. A distant gunshot shatters the night’s silence, echoes up and down the structure, and she reaches for a phone.

“Hang it up,” I tell her from the doorway behind her. She’s frozen in place so I slam the tire iron against the top of the doorway to persuade her into obeying. “Do it now.”

She does.

Inside the booth there’s a small desk. It’s cluttered with some knitting supplies, a cup of coffee, and a bible. In front are monitors showing the parking garage’s different floors. On the one marked basement I see Fin pointing a gun at the girl.

“What’s your name?”

She’s quiet at first. I ask her again, louder.

“Martha,” she says.

“Martha, you need to go home now.” I stay behind her so she won’t see my face. “I want you to walk away. I want you to leave and not turn around.”

“But.”

“You read that bible, Martha?”

“Y-yes.”

“Then you know what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back, right?”

She nods her curly grey head.

“Don’t look back, Martha.” I step back, off the edge and into the shadows. “Now go.”

She hurries off on shaking legs. When she’s gone I duck into the booth and figure out which tape recorder goes to the basement camera. I eject the cassette and take it with me.

I keep my steps soft heading down the ramp, the tire iron good and solid in my hand. After a couple of turns I catch sight of Fin’s scalp, his thinning blonde hair. He’s facing away from me, arm raised, gun pointed at the girl as she cowers against the basement wall. I stick to the shadows and the cars to keep hidden as long as I can.

They’re talking, but I can’t make out what. It’s quiet but cavernous and the cement walls echo and garble their words. Closer and closer I get, moving slowly until the girl finally sees me and tips my presence with her widening eyes. Now I’m quick as Fin turns my way, glancing back over his shoulder. All it does is present his broad forehead to the arcing iron rod in my fist, and I feel something dark deep down inside of me let go. After five years of frustration and stasis, this is exactly what I needed.

It’s solid contact. His skull momentarily catches the tire iron, holds the metal with bone, and then caves in beneath it. There’s a rattle as his gun tumbles to the floor. Fin’s now limp body starts to follow suit.

Bleeding and dazed, he wavers before me in a kneeling position. If I give him time he’ll topple over on his own, but right now that’s not good enough. I pull back my arm and swing again, and as he starts to collapse I connect one last time to the back of his head, whipping the iron rod at the base of his skull as hard as I can.

The blows have turned his head to a bloody, malleable pulp. I look up and see the girl in the corner staring back. What she says surprises me.

“Hey, I know you.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, you’re the crossword puzzle guy.”

And now I remember her, too. “From the bar last week.”

“Yeah,” she says. She looks down at Fin’s bloody body and flinches. “You are a good guy in a tight spot.”


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