** Bring me your tired, derivative, overwrought dead manuscripts, yearning to be erased from memory… This is the seventh in an ongoing series where authors get to share a piece of a novel/writing project that died long before it ever could have proven its worth to its parent, its master: the author. Instead of letting the maybe-horrible, maybe-unbearable Word doc remain untouched in some far off and forgotten file folder, why not let the readers at ENCLAVE have a look? Think of it as closure. They won’t laugh, I swear.
This time we have JS Breukelaar, author of American Monster, with an excerpt from a novel entitled “Viper.”
If you are interested in having an excerpt featured in the “From the Grave” series, be sure to email me at michael @ coping mechanisms dot net. **
1. KILL NOIR
Dean’s mother tells her book club that San Diego has never been her final destination. She’d leave in a flash and be back in Brizzie before you could say Margherita. Leave Chalmers, she tells book club, with nothing but memories of his sun-kissed trophy-bride from Down Under that he can choke on or wank on — makes no difference to her.
“Not to mention the old folks. He screwed them over good and prop-pah,” Mackenzie would say sounding, or trying to, like a Guy Ritchie gangsta. Mackenzie with her physiotherapy certifications and shoe fetish.
Pop and Gammy—Pop was a natty little dresser who came to America from some Hungarian schletto to end his days scuttling around a peach-toned twilight home at the edge of the Pacific. Lost to the silent winding hallways and views out faux-bevelled picture windows onto the wrong crashing blue, crows rising out of the aspidistra. Dean riding shotgun on Pop’s Little Rascal, loving the way it glided silently to the dining room where the Mexican valet would reach for the keys and soberly park it in the lobby. Dean loves that bit. Residents’ soft-shoe shuffle to plates of steamed sole on the arms of blow-up nurses. Ah, Southern California.
Aaaahhh…blow-up nurses. In the bathroom Dean goes to work on three glow-in-the-dark pimples, a volley of blood-pus to hurl onto his canvas — the volcanic red and seeping yellow of cave art. He is the remote hunter of the Kimberlys painting prayers on the walls of his mirror cave. He brushes his teeth. Practices his smile, basic variations on a soul-train theme.
Dean has Mackenzie’s green eyes but definitely a little too close-set. In the centre of a narrow forehead above a single eyebrow, a scar where there was once a large mole that looked a little like a mouldy-looking eye until Mackenzie had it removed. Kinky alien hair inherited from Pop, and a wide nose scheduled for surgery. Bad hair like the grocer’s nephew at the market who went to Dean’s last school, packing up the grapefruit and string beans every Saturday afternoon. A raft sailing darkly off to one side of his head.
But here’s a thought: Dreads.
Heavy hair that looks good in a hood with lips soft and moist like a baby animal. Hung. He practices his stance: eyes half-closed, now open wide and stricken and now downcast in terminal sorrow. Dean flails his arms against the speed of pain. He bowed his head against the onslaught. Prepare to dive or is it die?
The bathroom sink starts to overflow.
Dean drifts into his mother’s room. Showered and shaved, but not well. Softly closes the door on a cool white space, vast Chinese rug and wall-to-wall Sony and Pacific glimpses out a humongous window framed in amber waves of drapery. He sinks his hands into her panty drawer, withdrawing, it doesn’t quite close. He elbows a pile of bedside paperbacks onto the floor and finds her Xanax, one/two of which he ritually pops while listening now to the front door softly close. She’d approached it silently from her office, like a cat burglar in six inch Manolos, hadn’t wanted him to hear her leave and try and stop her, not that he does that any more.
CORBAIN’S LAST HURL
Dean has to sit in the middle. Damien gets to be by the window with his nose in the breeze like the welp he is. The three of them stacked up in the front seat and heading south past lonesome condo patches sprouting up like toxic fungus on the punished hillsides. A rash of slow moving lights prickling the vast darkness to the east tells them they’re passing the air force base. Like something out of Tolkien, but weird, Cliff had said one day on a dry run. The Biskit isn’t going to get past track 8 tonight, Rollin, because Cliff keeps playing it over and over. Dean wonders if they’re just going to keep listening to it until they get there. He doesn’t mind.
“We could be sitting in that drying shed right now, ladies,” says Damien.
Jagged holes in the glass like devil’s eyes and a little office at the back with its yellowed map of California still tacked up to a bulletin board behind the foreman’s desk. A calendar on a nail from a window frame: Miss September 1994, the year Kurt Cobain died. Aureoles the size of Mackenzie’s French dinner plates, fingering herself under lace panties. They all liked September: Cliff, Damien, Kevin and Russell slouching on folding chairs around the metal desk, no paint left on it, waiting for Israel and Gemma to arrive on the Kawasaki, hear it coming a mile away.
Russell was the wheel man, nothing else better be necessary, Kevin insisted. The safe was Damien’s. Big farm-boy Kevin was in charge.
“The footage is on a drive. Subject’s got it under the bed. Apparently.”
Gemma had found this out working undercover at Blue Moves, the club favoured by The Subject.
“Not just any Subject,” Israel had assured them. “But a known force in the world of underground memorabilia.”
“Can’t get more underground than Princess Diana’s last home movie.” Kevin got a call then from his ex, called all the time.
“Cheesecake, probably,” Cliff had shrugged. “Like Marilyn’s last sitting. Or maybe the one before that.”
“Is it encrypted?” said Damien. “If the Subject is worth his shit, he’ll have encrypted it.”
“Not our problem,” Israel had told them. “Client’s got this hacker working for him. An artist.”
Israel said how he’d done work for the client before, in his college days, when the client had just one toe dipped in the murky world of dark world memorabilia.
“What kind of scientist has to become a criminal to fund his research?” Gemma had asked.
“Future belongs to the brave,” Damien had a quote from every US president. Reagan was a goldmine.
The president thing drove Gemma crazy. Israel bristled.
“Shut up, Damien,” said Kevin, flipping his phone closed. A picture on the screen of the little girl who lived with her mother.
Israel sniffed and pinched crimson nostrils between soft fingers.
“I got a princess of my very own. Right, Your Majesty?” he’d reached over to pat Gemma on the thigh. Gemma just crossed her legs and looked away so she couldn’t see Israel’s plucked eyebrows draw together in a surprisingly unpleasant frown.
Dean’s gun is a pre-loved .38, superior in every way to the cringe-worthy 22 he bought last year from Cliff’s connect. After Kevin goes in and gives them the all-clear, Dean will cover first for Cliff while he cuts open the steel door to the apartment and then for Damien when they get to the safe. He won’t actually touch anything in the apartment himself. Kevin’s orders.
Dean doesn’t take it personally.
The unseemly footage of Princess Diana, is rumoured to be priceless. Royal Box, Russell’s words.
“She wasn’t a royal when she made it,” Damien reminds Cliff. “It was after the divorce, just plain old Diana Spencer in her all together.”
“Pay dirt either way, “ Cliff turns off Via del Normale and kills the engine, waiting for the call.
“They’re late,” Dean says.
“Who isn’t?” says Damien, obsidian eyes refusing to meet Dean’s, a puffy purple bruise under Damien’s left eye.
After that they listen to Rollin’ maybe fifty times in a row, stop yelling out the chorus as soon as they get Israel’s call. Late, because the phone slipped out of Israel’s pocket, got lost in Russell’s trashcan car, switched in error to vibrate. Cliff pulls out and they’re quiet for the rest of the way.
They pull into a black square of chewed-up asphalt on the West side of the complex as they had rehearsed and know rather than see Russell and Israel arrive in Russell’s old water-colored LeBaron, the disembodied red beads of their cigarettes swimming in the darkness.
“I think Russell’s into some weird sex shit,” says Damien. “I hate working with junkie perverts.”
“Got to start somewhere,” says Cliff. He leans around into the back seat, and Dean gets a whiff of his cologne. He sees the tattoo on Cliff’s smooth chest in the gaping folds of a black shirt: the Mexican Eagle. Cliff passes them the flashlights and toolkits. He hands the larger one to Damien. “Let’s roll.”
Cliff and Dean get out, followed by Damien. They move away from the truck in single file, silent except for the soft rustle of designer sweats. Careful not to acknowledge Russell and Israel. They will meet Kevin for the all-clear and then head into the apartment to get the tape. Dean touches the wall lightly. It’s real. He doesn’t touch it again, in case he’s mistaken and his hand goes right through it, like a ghost-building, and he’s back at home jerking off in his mother’s bedroom. They circle the North wall and come round to the front entrance—two down, two up—where Kevin is supposed to be waiting to oversee the job. But he’s not there. They wait for a minute, then two more.
“Are we going up?” says Damien. “Or not? We were meant to be here, like five minutes ago. Late is bad news.”
“Something is not right,” Cliff says. “Kevin should be here.”
Dean smells something floating down the stairs besides their own echoing panic.
“We would have passed him,” says Damien. “He’s still up there.”
“Why? Why would he be in the apartment? He’s meant to be waiting here for us.”
“Ask Russell,” Dean says. “Go ask him what we should do.”
“That’s bullshit man, I consider myself a professional. I don’t need some fiend tell me what to do—”
Cliff says to Dean, “You go up first.” He and Damien exchange looks.
Dean leads the way this time—if Mackenzie could see him now.
Cliff and Damien are in formation behind him. Sour-smelling smoke wisps down from the apartment and they inch up the stairs, commando style like they practised a hundred times on the ranch.
The Subject’s DIY steel door is lying flat on the floor of the apartment with Kevin beside it on his back, his eyes still open and blood flowing mid body.
They step over him into the dust-filled space, collars pulled up over mouths and noses, pressing themselves against the inside wall of the apartment, where Dean—weapon extended in both hands—makes out the reflective black maws of dead computer monitors. He stumbles over a tangle of keyboards and pizza-boxes. He pastes himself to the wall, adhering to a choreographed role he’d been born to play. They reach the bedroom door. Damien pushes himself to the front. Clothes tumble out of the closet. Shelves spill books and video tapes, one of which Dean, bringing up the rear, compulsively picks up and slips into his jacket. Kevin stares up at him. His hair, overdue for a cut, spread out on the floor behind his head. Blood pools in one of his eyes.
Dean kicks at matt-black Pioneer components strewn across the floor. A toilet seat lies on the Indian print bedspread. The toilet seat is mounted on polished wood. According to the little label on the wood, Kurt Cobain had his last hurl into this toilet, before he broke out of the northern California rehab so that he could shoot himself. Pale chunks frozen in hardened mucous cling to the seat where they are sealed from free radicals in a yellowing layer of polyurethane resin.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” whispered Damien.
The bed at an angle, revealing, in the split-second blink of Cliff’s flashlight, a gaping hole and a splintered safe, empty.
Dean follows where Damien is looking up behind Cliff. Cliff freezes, doesn’t have to turn around. Russell’s blocking the door of the apartment.
“Di another frigging day,” he says, pointing with his gun at the unmade bed, the empty safe. “Never gets old.”