Dave sat upright in the dining table. His laptop was before him, and the icon was clearly blinking on the Microsoft application. His hands were on the keyboard; everything was geared up and ready to go. Dave was a freelance writer for a couple of magazines and literary blogs. His stories were quirky, but profound. He hadn’t won a Pulitzer yet, but, justifiably, that wasn’t his greatest appeal as a writer. All he wanted , was to take his readers to a world of his own, to immerse them in dangerous plots, with eccentric characters, and mind blowing persona; and, finally, settle them with a magnetizing denouement, which inexorably would leave them spellbound, and at the same time hungry for more. A perfect twist, with an ultimate close, that was his goal. And considering the endless demands, sapient readers and publishers made for his works, he would say he was doing a pretty well fantastic job.
Three months ago, he had been saddled with the task of writing a story, with an accountant as the main character. Guaranteed, he could take the most ordinary characters, and transform them into capricious puppets, making them seem like the forbidden fruit everyone wanted a taste of. However, writing about an accountant to him was completely mundane. He had dilly-dallied for three months, and had only eight weeks to meet his deadline. The problem was, try as much as he could, he couldn’t create the perfect story he knew his readers sought after.
Okay. He would write about Larry.
His hands moved hastily across the keyboard, as his mind began assembling the nuance of a plot that had formed in his head.
Larry was an accountant in Brooklyn.
Everybody loved Larry, he was rich and rambunctious. He worked in the stock market as an accountant, where he made a ton of money for some very wealthy investors. And, naturally, the wealth would diffuse to few of the workers who heralded the vengeful vices of capitalism. It was clear Larry had friends in high places.
The Limousine pulled up in front of a skyscraper, Larry stepped out, wearing a trench coat, with a mauve shade, accentuated with a black briefcase. He waved at the driver, who zoomed off speedily, and made a perfect pirouette, he tipped his brown hat at the concierge in mock salute.
“Welcome sir, there is a package for you.”
The concierge would usher him in, and he would of course receive a generous tip.
Larry entered the elevator, each step in full swagger. The elevator would take him to his deluxe penthouse on the seventy ninth floor.
Heck! The man was good.
Everything seemed to moving perfectly for this guy; now, here comes the twist. Dave scratched his head, as emotions heightened, a sudden twist would thicken the plot.
On entering his apartment, Larry would receive a call, the I.R.S had discovered some transactions that didn’t add up in his monthly report. He was needed urgently for questioning.
The split unit air conditioner was at full blast, yet, Larry’s hands were palpitating uncontrollably. His answering machine had recorded five messages, all were from his superiors at the office. “Larry call me back, we need to talk”
“Where the hell are you Larry? Get back to me A.S.A.P!
“You’ve really messed up big time Larry, call me so we can find a way to clean up this shit”
“Larry you have to turn yourself in, you’ve put me in a dilemma here, our investors are pulling out for lack of credibility, and why aren’t you answering your damn phone?
Dave chuckled to himself, he had succeeded in ending Larry’s perfect life in one day, shocking him out of his ivory tower. The I.R.S was after him, his firm had fired him, and they probably would sue him. He would lose all privileges, his penthouse, his limo, his elite circus of friends. Larry’s world had considerably fallen apart, but the spiral needed more momentum. The government was a formidable foe, yes; but he wanted the character uprooted from his life, his setting, his existence. Dave wanted him separated from all that he had ever known. He needed him to be on the run.
One more final blow, something extra spicy yet extra dangerous. That was the hallmark of a great story. His mouth curved up in a sardonic grin as Dave rapped ferociously on the keyboard.
Larry had left his office at seventeen hundred hours. He had taken his usual detour to the Fast Cash casino. The lights were blinding, and the music was reverberating. He was a shark, and needed no introduction. A croupier welcomed him and ushered him into the back room where the big leagues competed. He turned off his cell phone, there was no signal anyway. Larry made five hundred thousand dollars a year, not including the perks, fringe benefits, and fast cash from sly scams which he enjoyed from his firm, yet, Larry was in debt. He was an addict. Gambling had permeated his veins and he loved the habit, although he sucked at it, he never thought about his loses. He was owing big Mike fifty thousand dollars from their last two encounters. Big Mike was a heroine dealer with a penchant for aggression. Everyone knew he was merciless and no one dared stand in his way. Big Mike had sent his hounds who barred the way and had Larry thrown out of the casino.
His eyes soaked in the entire apartment, as if making one final appraisal of what he was about to lose. The mere knowledge of it made him flinch. His eyes roamed his apartment, growing trepidation turned into cursory curiosity as they settled on the envelope which lay on the settee; the package from downstairs.
He picked it up, it was light, almost weightless. Larry opened it and a soft moan escaped his lips. It was real and it was moving or appeared to be. He was drowning in an emetic compulsion that suffused his entire being. The blood from the severed finger made a crimson contrast on the white rug, where he stood. He could hear bells ringing in his ears, or maybe it was the ring attached to the severed finger which had landed on the floor and rolled to the sole of his Italian shoes. There was a note attached to the ring – “you have seven days to pay up, or heads would roll” ~ Big Mike.
Bam! He had done it. It was a perfect setup, meticulously planned, and flawlessly delivered. Dave kicked his tense feet apart, and at the same time, he rubbed his aching knuckles together. Dave was pleased with himself. Larry was on the run…
So, what next?
Try as much as he could, Dave could see no stable backup to the story. There were no supporting characters, the rush and danger would eventually fizzle out midway. It had an epic start, but it lacked the ambiguous substance of a sustaining story. It was simply the story of a man on the run, and every turn would eventually lead to one end – “suicide.”
Between contemplation, his alarm clock rang. It was a reminder, he had to pick up Bob, his son, from baseball practice.
“Save or cancel”
Dave moved the cursor to the right, eyes closed, he clicked. A life became a memory, as it all faded away.
Dave concentrated his attention on the road. He never liked driving, dropping off Bob and picking him up was a chore he had left for… His mind had wandered again. For the past five months, he had thought of the same thing all the time. The same face, the same infectious laughter, he had conjured and recalled until his head hurt. But not anymore, for the sake of his son and his career, he had promised to let the past be what it was – the past. Bob was in the front seat beside him, untying his shoe laces. This was his second baseball practice in the last five months. Coach Murphy had assured him that Bob’s pitch had improved, although it was nothing near what it was five months ago. Bob used to be a playful child, in one word, Dave would have called him “gregarious.” But that flamboyant butterfly had retreated far into his innards, recoiling and retreating, deeper, inwardly, a retrogressive metamorphosis, until there was nothing left but a shadow, a docile caterpillar. Coach had as well assured him, there was an improvement in his teamwork. He was connecting again with other players, even though his voice was barely a whisper. Shock could do that to a child. Things weren’t too different between them, the last five months had been a challenge, but they were on their way to recovery.
Maybe they should go to a restaurant and have dinner. Stacey’s was only a left turn from where they were, or they could order in, or he could grill up something for them. Time was not on his side, he had a story to finish, or start. Either way, a deadline was on the horizon. Dave pulled to a halt and stepped out of the car, Bob followed suit, they were home.
It was no use staring at the screen. He could conjure many concrete ideas, but to condense them, and sort through the avalanche was proving to be tedious. In times like this, Dave was left with only one option; brainstorming with his journal and a pen. The house was calm, Bob was fast asleep, earlier on, they had ordered some pizza and splurged on milkshake. He wasn’t proud of it, but Dave couldn’t remember when last they had eaten something healthy and wholesome.
The scene was drifting, changing, he always based his stories on settings. The place, the town, the state, the culture, the feel of the area, the purlieus, the ordinary people with cosmopolitan lifestyle. He loved to be realistic as well, to give the readers a sense of identity, empathy or more like voluntary discernment.
Larry was an accountant in Massachusetts who couldn’t keep a job. He had scored five different jobs in five different firms in the last three months, and had retained none.
So where was this story headed? Dave kept his teeth locked into the base of his pen, as he chewed angrily, he let out a deep sigh, treading further into rumination.
Larry couldn’t keep a job, why? He had a degree in accountancy. Larry was African-American, and he always complained about the attitude of people towards him. Larry had a temper.
Was that the yoke that never let him be? Was it the bane for his unemployment? Talk about being African-American, was he trespassing on the boundaries of discrimination? Being a Caucasian, and being Black? This was the twenty-first century! Did such conflagration still exist, when homo sapiens turned on each other; when the creatures of intelligence suffer some cannibalistic redundancy, and scorn their kind. Surely, that moment of insanity was over. This might be an appealing plot that would generate some benign controversy, or trigger a cascade of upheaval; to let loose a storm of suppressed emotions, or unearth the subtle nutrition of a leech.
Come to think of it, Aaron had been his friend, a little close to ten years now. They had met at a workshop for emerging writers, and had become a team ever since. Aaron was African-American, and he had confessed to him, that he sometimes felt like a second class citizen. Wait… Aaron had a temper too. Was Larry Analogous to Aaron? Whichever be the case, Dave wasn’t about to write a cornucopia on racial discrimination.
Here were the facts: Larry was an accountant, one without a job, in Massachusetts.
He was African-American, and had a temper. He joined the mafia.
That last line surprised even him. Dave struck his temple. What now? This was Massachusetts, not new Mexico, not Tijuana, what was he thinking? But most of these illegal fronts, founded on false consanguinity, thrived most in secrecy. They were always situated in places that appeared inconceivable.
So was it narcotics, or arms?
Besides that, there had to have been some recruiting process.
Was it a chance meeting with the mafia boss? What was special about Larry that made an impression on the godfather?
No! It had to be a chance meeting with one of the top tiers in the mafia, people didn’t just run into a mafia godfather.
Would Larry be keeping financial records for the mafia? Or would he be sent into the field where the action was?
Narcotics or arms? Godfather or pawn? Field or desk?
Dave’s mind was racing. There was a lot to be sorted out, the possibilities were infinite, yet, somehow out of his reach. Now where would this chance meeting occur? Fronts mostly operated through restaurants, or a gas station?
In times like this, Margaret would gently massage his shoulders, he would close his eyes, and lose himself in her gentle touch until he dozed off. He turned towards the nightstand, where he kept a portrait of her, there were sad eyes buried beneath painful stories, stories untold, stories that may never be heard. He had taken that picture of her two years after their marriage. They had wanted children, desperately, but Margaret was always on the move. Her job demanded it; travelling through countries, living pretentious lifestyles, every time she had left on duty, he had felt a prescient anxiety that she would not return. Maybe child would keep her close, Dave had thought. Their hopes had been lifted, but it had been short-lived. The loss had been devastating, it had changed Margaret, but not in the way he had hoped. She had gone into a catatonic state, a situation, quite similar to what Bob had experienced the last few months. This picture was a scar, a proof of that story. A year later, they had Bob. Now Dave had come to realize the futility of that thought, having a child had not saved her life, it had primed her death.
“Dad, there is a cockroach in my room.”
Dave sprang out the bed, and headed towards Bob’s room. On his way out, he threw the crumpled paper from his journal into the trash can.
“Come on Dave, no harm no foul, I will set it up myself, you need not worry about one single thing, all I need you to do, is show up when the time comes.”
Dave was quiet. It was useless arguing with Aaron, when he wanted something, he always had his way. He wasn’t interested in dating, even the thought of it made him feel funny. The dating website Aaron was already uploading his picture onto, made the idea less desirable. He nodded at Aaron, who gave him a thumbs up. If only to get him out of his skin, he would acquiesce. A horse could be dragged to the river, but this horse would only drink when he chose to. A beep sounded to announce that his profile had been successfully setup. The scanning followed, a match would be found in a few hours. Until then, Dave had work to do.
Aaron was snoring like a rhinoceros in the living room. Dave had abandoned him, and sought comfort in his bedroom. It was one week to the deadline, every second was precious, and rightly should.
“Larry was an accountant in Washington D.C.”
Where there even accountants in Washington Dave muttered to himself. Well, he would just watch and see where the story was headed.
Larry was damn good at his job, until he started forgetting things. Bits and pieces of information, here and there, like a brutal excavation sloughing away at his memory, riding him of who he was, his job; he worked with figures, and a sharp memory was paramount if one had to survive as an accountant in the capital city. But this was a flashback, a recount, a series of events that had led him to this place, this gigantic edifice, a bio-tech lab, where he now sat as a volunteer for the clinical trial of some drug called “Axoniac.”
This was exciting, Dave blurted out exuberantly to himself. But he had to return to the flashback, the motive behind such vociferous audacity, that warranted him throwing caution to the wind. The experiment came with a high level of associated risks. The young doctor beckoned him inside.
“Before we proceed sir, you do realize that this is a new drug which is unapproved for mass circulation”?
“You do realize that you stand a chance of having two or more of the following: cardiac arrhythmia, pectoral angina, diuretic influx, renal failure and nose bleeding”?
“In more severe cases, you could end up worse than you did before treatment.” “I have read the file young man, now get on with it”
“Do you realize that you could suffer all of the above symptoms which could lead to death.”
And if there is a chance of recovery, I will take that. Nothing could be worse than this. Save your speech doctor! I’m exactly where I should be.
Why did it all appear to be a Hobson’s choice for Larry? Why would Larry risk death? Was it only to save his job? His career? His ego? Or something else? Something more profound? Dave had to dig deeper, the key was in the flashback.
Larry had only one child, a son who was a law student at Stanford. He had woken up that morning with a reminder on his phone – “Birthday.” His son’s birthday, but try as much as he could, he couldn’t remember his son’s name.
Was forgetting his son’s name enough reason to make him volunteer for a perilous experiment? The plot needed more ammunition, Dave racked his brains for more.
Larry wouldn’t go to the hospital. He knew what was happening, more so, how it would end for him. His mother had suffered amnesia, then stroke. He had lost a brother too, Harry his twin had developed amnesia at forty, and two years later, he died from an aneurysm. His family genes was a Molotov cocktail of disaster, turning up casualties in each generation. Having turned forty six a few months ago, a figment of hope had risen, just maybe, maybe, he had escaped it.
Dave took some time to cogitate. The story was beguiling. Larry had lost his mother to the same monster which now threatened him. The loss of a mother could have been mild, but losing a twin was fierce. Splitting such bond could trigger the compulsive attitude, and resonance, that had led Larry to Axoniac.
Two weeks had passed, and Larry was into the second stages of the trials. But the most peculiar thing had happened, the lab scientist had told him, Axoniac acted on something called the myelin sheath, which aided cognition and retention. It had worked, maybe a tad too well. Larry could remember everything, even childhood memories as far back as when he was two, but that wasn’t all, he could still remember the number of the realtor, advertised on radio in the morning, he could remember the number of steps one needed to climb, to get to his office on the tenth floor, an adventure he had undertaken only once.
This was unnatural, he knew it.
Larry was turning into a …He couldn’t say it, no!
Larry was turning into a “superhuman.’ Dave was mad at himself. So what was next? Mind reading? Supersonic hearing abilities? Outrageous! Sci-fi was one genre he never really cared for. People who wrote sci-fi to him, were a bunch of lazy, juvenile writers, who indulged in fantasies, and could never craft an incisive, well told story, with real life emotions that readers could connect with. Suffer a writer’s block, and switch to fantasy. This faze, whatever it was, had tormented him enough.
Dave grabbed the remote console, and switched on the Television. A terrorist attack had been launched at the Central Intelligence Agency. A flood of emotions overtook him; rage, fear, despair. The scene flashed before him, “Daddy, come see, mummy is on the TV. The plane had been commandeered, it was a live broadcast, Margaret had been the air hostess aboard, they had both watched, as the monsters set an example.
Dave grabbed his laptop, he would do something he had never done before, he would write the truth; the truth about the man aboard the flight on that fateful day, the insurgent who had travelled incognito, posed as an accountant, the man who had murdered his wife, he would write about Larry.
By Ugochukwu Nwankwo from Nigeria