New Fiction: The Vocalist (Part 2)
November 16, 2001
Continuing our tale of THE VOCALIST
Following his medical analysis, Trevor called out sick from the office. Thus, he was able to spend the day to his liking. He chose to spend a considerable portion of the morning at the pond at Dingle’s Quarry. The peace and serenity ushered in a state of relaxation denied him during his evening crime-fighting escapades. The lake represented a safe haven, a place where noise, pollution, and crime simply did not exist. The lake was his sanctuary, and Trevor enjoyed every quiet moment as he listened to the wind blowing gently through the tall oak trees surrounding the lake, and the splash of water as striped bass swam against the lake’s crystal surface. He breathed deeply the fresh air, the smell of distant pine clearing his previously clogged sinuses. He absorbed it all and denied the analytical part of his mind its pressing wish to calculate, to formulate theories and hypotheses, to rationalize and consider the words spoken to him earlier from both Marcia and Michael. The time to address those situations would come later, but now, one with nature, Trevor felt truly at ease.
When she finally arrived home from the office and walked toward the front door, Marcia’s sole desire was to be off her feet. The workday had brought stress, tension, and physical pain. She was overseeing the autumn fundraising campaign for the school; this lofty task involved coordinating a dozen volunteers and training them to make pledge phone calls to former graduates. Marcia had been able to recruit four volunteers—a mere one-third the number of volunteers required for the campaign. It would be impossible for four individuals—working 10 to 12 hours per week—to contact the 35,750 alumni in the six-week period before the winter break. Yet, the calls needed to be completed prior to the break since the school’s capital campaign was set to begin in January and Marcia knew it was fundraising suicide to call the same constituency during the same time period for two separate fund drives.
Her physical pain was the result of having lifted 20 boxes filled with direct-market mailers that would be sent to potential students over the next five weeks. The UPS driver, when asked if he would kindly bring the boxes to the back of the student center, had issued a polite but sincere “fuck off.” So she’d transported the boxes herself, at the expense of her lumbar spine.
The commute home had been especially trying. A jackknifed tractor-trailer had spilled 5,000 gallons of crude oil, resulting in the closure of the north- and southbound expressway. Subsequently, the few alternate routes she knew of were filled to capacity with frustrated commuters. Thus, when she finally reached the front door of her modest home, she really only wanted to kick off her pumps, fill the tub with hot water, find the latest Signals catalog, open a bottle of chardonnay, and slip into a comfortable numbness.
Trevor, not knowing of the day Marcia had undergone, only thinking of the evening he wanted her to have, met her at the front door--a mixed bouquet of red and white roses in his hands—and said, “Welcome home.”
By evening’s end, the agony of her afternoon had become but a dim, fast-fading memory. Trevor had surprised her with flowers, champagne, a dinner he’d prepared on his own (and although the au gratin potatoes were somewhat overcooked, Marcia could not distract from the gesture itself), candles, and a back rub with fragrant oils that had more than soothed her aching spine. Afterward, they had made love and showered together. As the clock approached the midnight hour, they talked of life and their place in the world—the kind of abstract conversations in which lovers occasionally engage before drifting off to sleep. There was no mention of crime fighting. No talk of what powers this villain has, or what grand scheme that villain conceived. Their only words were of each other. The criminals of the world would need to be confronted by someone else this evening (even though in the far, far recesses of his mind, Trevor knew there was no one else). The thought was quickly pushed away; this evening belonged to Marcia and to no one else.
The following morning Trevor awoke before Marcia. The sky was morning gray, and while he walked Dog around the block, his mind began to focus on a single realization: That wasn’t really bad—I could get used to that. An evening alone with Marcia—without distraction, without compromise. The Vocalist did not venture out last night, yet here we are—the world survived. Whatever fiendish plots were being concocted by the Scallion and Mr. Black & Blue would have to wait until the weekend. Trevor reached down to retrieve Dog’s waste with a plastic bag, a latex surgeon’s glove on his right hand, and thought, “I wonder if Superman ever had to clean up dog poop.” Dog paid no mind to his self-proclaimed master, and merely continued sniffing at the ground in highly excited, Dog-like fashion. As Trevor stood up, he heard a pop sound in his back and felt a razor of pain shoot through him like an unexpected prick of a needle on one’s thumb. He reminded himself that today was Thursday and that he would, therefore, have nearly two days to rest his body before once again donning his Vocalist attire. He and Dog returned home. Trevor showered, then prepared a light breakfast of coffee, toast, fruit, and yogurt and brought a tray to Marcia who was only beginning to stir. As he dressed for work, Maria smiled, and thanked Trevor for the meal and for the previous night of surprises.
As he often did during his morning commute, Trevor listened to his recorded “shower monologues” from the week. He’d learned that, with regard to alleged “super-criminals,” it was often helpful to try to contemplate and anticipate their future plans. Yet, he soon realized he’d learned virtually nothing of the Scallion’s plans, and he knew even less about Mr. Black & Blue. That’s because you don’t allocate enough of your time each day to honing your crime-fighting skills. The thought had rocketed its way into his mind as only thoughts can do. He didn’t attempt to argue with himself, for he knew the thought could not be disputed. Therefore, he concentrated on what he knew about his nemeses, which, he had to admit, was merely nothing at all. He’d fought the Scallion before, and had been victorious. But Trevor knew that his Vocalist abilities were no longer what they once were, and he doubted very much that the Scallion was undergoing a similar diminishment of power. Mr. Black & Blue was the x-factor Trevor didn’t want to think about.
As he continued his traffic-filled commute, Trevor passed the Bailey Building at 67th Street and Allegheny. Were that he had x-ray vision and could see through walls, were that he could track a man by the sound of the man’s heartbeat, were that his olfactory senses were heightened to such a degree that he could recognize an individual by the scent of his cologne, Trevor might have detected the presence of Arnie Drake, who resided on the 12th floor of the run-down, albeit historic, tenement building built, and once owned, by wealthy industrialist Thomas Bailey.
Arnie Drake, dressed in a spotless undershirt, red & white striped boxer shorts, and ankle socks stood anxiously next to an ironing board, atop which lay a section of a large cape comprised of a cotton-polyester material that he’d purchased from a fabric shop’s going-out-of-business sale several months ago. He’d taken the material into a nearby clothing maker where he gave the tailor specific instructions. The resulting cape was, he believed, far more valuable than the $40 he’d paid the tailor (even though he did so begrudgingly). Yet, try as he might, Arnie could never quite iron the cape to his liking. The cape, which historically offered protection against the elements had, in modern society, become synonymous with justice—the pursuit of, or the escape from. Arnie, as the Scallion, sought the latter. The cape was, to Arnie, symbolic on multiple levels. It represented an image that served to separate Arnie from his fellow apartment dwellers—from the common man, per se. It elevated his statute, which was, otherwise, rather unimpressive. And as he felt elevated by the cape, Arnie also felt it necessary to speak in an elevated fashion.
Yet for all its symbolism he was unable to properly press the garment to his liking. The steam iron continued to defy his wishes until his patience reached an end. Arnie held out the iron and stared into its sprayer, shouting, “Ineffectual tool of the benign! Were you a living thing I would smite you down upon the earth until you could no longer befoul such noble attire!” The iron remained silent save for the whisper-like hissing of steam that quietly escaped into the room. The picture on the television set, which had been ice-rink clear, began to hop, skip, and jump as if in a hopscotch tournament; the set’s audio likewise diminished until becoming inaudible. Arnie, who had been enjoying a biography on Christine McVie, erupted in fury at the TV’s sudden defiance, and he moved his stocky body across the floor in bulldog fashion. His fists beat down upon the wooden frame of the 17” Sanyo like a drunkard at a bar who’s suddenly been flagged by the barkeep.
“Electronic tool of the dense!” he screamed. “You are more worthless than the newspaper upon which Lonnie defecates!” Lonnie, Arnie’s 10-year old South American parrot, sat silently on the perch within his 3’ x 5’ metal cage. The pound-pound-pounding of his fists became more than the aged Sanyo appliance could bear; the picture faded to gray then to black. A fluff of smoke escaped from the back of the TV’s vents, as if to say “goodbye, cruel world. I hope my countless Sheriff Lobo reruns brought an iota of pleasure to your otherwise miserable lives.” Sudden silence filled the room as Arnie’s rage ceased at the realization of his actions. The silence was broken, seconds later, as the sound of escaping steam grew louder and louder upon Arnie’s ill-shaped ears. The sound continued in intensity, resembling that of a tire that had suddenly been punctured by a knife. In his attack on the TV set, Arnie had inadvertently stepped onto the hand-iron’s electrical cord, tipping the upright iron face down onto the ironing board—directly onto his cape. Too late, he carelessly removed the hot iron, burning two fingers on his right hand, and he cursed as only men of power and delusions of grandeur are capable of cursing.
“Blast and Hell’s inferno! The entire world would appear to be testing my patience. But mine is an unlimited resolve.” He continued his monologue as if addressing an audience. Perhaps he considered Lonnie to be his audience, but if so, the parrot audience of one paid no mind and mimicked no reply.
“Were my reflexes but a trifle slower my cape would have been damaged beyond all use!”
But the cape had been damaged; a fact to which even Arnie had to attest. A triangular-shaped impression had been embedded into the fabric. There was no undoing the damage, but it was low enough on the cape to be mostly unnoticed. Mostly.
It was, however, enough to further enrage an already enraged little Scallion. He screamed a string of incoherent profanity that was as loud as his lungs would permit. From the floor above his was heard a piercing thump-thump-thumping that was clearly not that of a beating heart. Indeed, it was either a broom handle or booted foot being brought down upon his ceiling. Arnie stared up at the dirty ceiling wall and said in the smallest of voice, “One day. I will destroy you, my tenement-dwelling toady.” He stepped back from himself for a moment—stepped outside the Scallion persona which had become his sole identity—and assessed the squalor in which he was living. His goals as the Scallion were not lofty—he merely wished to exist in a comfortable lifestyle, a lifestyle that he would gain through acts of super-villainy. Yet, in his three years as the Scallion, he’d given up the security of full-time employment (he’d worked as a claims adjustor for AllState); he’d been forced to relocate from a comfortable, three-story trinity to a one-bedroom dwelling that could most accurately be described as “lived in and/or died in”; he’d abandoned all social contacts including family and close friends; he’d not been with a woman for nearly four years and had accumulated an obscenely large collection of pornographic materials; he’d amassed no great, or even small, fortune—and he knew the reason why: His career in crime was without focus.
Yet, how often he’d devised grand schemes—plans so dastardly no other person on earth could imagine—schemes that he devised almost daily. And always, always, they seemed so promising on paper. However, in actuality, they’d always been beyond the scope of even his great abilities to make reality. His recent attempt to construct a plutonium-based argyle time-displacement ring was thwarted when he realized that argyle and plutonium combined were lethal to the touch. There were countless other ideas, all doomed to reside for eternity upon the drawing board. Yet, he kept planning, dreaming, and scheming, for such things were all that remained real to him. The dreamer within, who’d abandoned his civilian identity and all of its fixin’-bar toppings, believed someday (soon) he would do something magnificent—something that would make the world take notice. He’d managed to acquire the experimental isotopes needed for his latest idea, but he knew that completing the project would require funding. To that end, Drake had recently formed an unlikely alliance with Mr. Black & Blue, a sinister villain whose mob ties had garnered him the respect and finances necessary to actually turn ideas into reality. Sadly, Mr. B&B was solely motivated by money. He would sooner rob a drive-thru McDonald’s than create a plasma-charged orbital satellite that could alter the energy being released by the sun to control the world’s weather. B&B had no imagination, but he was useful to the Scallion in the same way a bicycle’s training wheels are useful to a child. Theirs was a temporary alliance that would someday be cast aside, or would, at the very most, end with B&B functioning in subservience to Arnie. Drake took great comfort in that realization and, upon completing the ironing of his costume, donned his colorful green, white, and black Scallion garb in preparation for his upcoming meeting with his certain-to-be-short-term Italian ally, Mr. Black & Blue.
NEXT: THE VOCALIST continues
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