Sunday Archive: Death and Honor, part one
The date I last touched this is 2002, but I think it dates back to around 1999. With many of my short stories, I was clumsily trying to connect them to The Very, with the idea of ultimately folding them into a novel.
Not the case here, though. This is tied into my on-again, off-again unfinished sci-fi novel that haunts my hard drive. I think it’s very important for me to have some complicated maze of related stories that only one person — me — will ever read.
Death and Honor
The knocking seemed to be part of a dream. One of those vivid morning dreams you sometimes have when you fall asleep after the alarm goes off. Jacob opened his eyes and stared out at the hazy, pre-dawn sky; gunmetal grey and ready for rain, reason enough to stay in bed. Waking, itself, felt like a dream.
Coming out of sleep, he seemed to travel through the house, round the hall, into the kitchen, and up to the side door leading onto the porch. In the waking dream, the knocker was a shadow upon shadows. Then he was fully awake, the knocking an incessant and tireless pounding against the doorframe. His left arm was asleep. It felt like a dead animal. His back was out. There was a pain, a small nuisance, behind both his eyes.
He sat up and paused, feeling more exhausted now than he had the night before. It was a bad thing to wake up tired. A sign of decay, and not at all unique. Thousands of millions rose every morning and felt the worse for it. A world gone awry, a society crooked in the back and slightly hung-over. Was that what dad and granddad and everyone else had fought for? The right to grow fat and tired and never have to get your hands dirty?
The knocking. The goddamned knocking. No human being could knock like that. It was mechanical, it was evil, and it was growing in intensity. Jacob lurched to his feet, his hand reaching out and pressing against the wall as the world spun for a few heartbeats. Then he turned and worked his way into the kitchen to see the shape of a man behind the curtains of the side door. When Jacob pulled the curtains aside, he saw a middle-aged, balding man in a cheap suit.
The stranger seemed surprised for a moment, wide eyes staring at Jacob and arm in mid-knock. His pudgy fist was red, as was his face. Jacob fumbled with the lock and pulled open the door.
“Dearest God,” he hissed, “it’s 7am on a Saturday.”
The stranger’s eyes narrowed. “Jacob Mariner?”
“Who are you?”
The stranger reached a hand into his pocket and Jacob flinched, but the only danger here was a business card. “I’m Richard Davisson. I’m a private investigator. Does the name Suzanne Phipps ring a bell?”
The knocking was back. This time it joined the other demons crouched right behind Jacob’s eyes. Of course the name rang a bell. His number one fan.
“No,” Jacob lied because it felt like it was his role, like the line had been written for him. That’s never the end of the scene, though. It’s here where PI Davisson smiles knowingly, and he did. It’s here where PI Davisson says that he knows more about Jacob than any normal person should know.
“Seventeen years old. A lovely young lady. Pregnant, you know?”
“A rape. Took her innocence, everything. She wasn’t like most 17 year olds I know. A clean girl. A nice girl. Went to church.”
“What is this?” Jacob’s throat was closing, his heart was pounding, his vision was all Richard Davisson and nothing else.
“The police aren’t much help in these cases, but Pastor Phipps – that’s the young lady’s father – well, he’s a respected man of the community.” Davisson shrugged, looked up at Jacob and smiled weakly, apologetically. “Normally, this wouldn’t even be a case. Girl cries rape but won’t say who it was – come on. Happens all the time, right?” he paused. “Are you a religious man, Mr. Mariner?”
“Not really,” Jacob replied.
“Well, a shame. I’ve always thought religion helped focus the mind. Gives a purpose to things, helps guide our actions when we are in doubt – “
Why was he putting up with this? “Mr. Davisson, please.”
Davisson raised his hand, “Of course, of course. It’s 7am on a Saturday, as you say, not quite a decent hour. I’ve taken this case, against my better judgment, because I believe in – “
“What do you want?”
“Young Miss Phipps is quite a big fan of yours. Odd for a girl her age, yes? I thought it was all pop music and movie stars. Yet, she seems to be quite taken with your little corner of the media world.” Davisson peered around Jacob and into the house. “I must say, I’m pleased to see that you practice what you preach. Living like an ordinary man, unpolluted by fame… Might be harder after Tuesday night, though, yes? An exclusive interview with Robert Webb, I say…”
Jacob set his jaw. This man had nothing but a handful of names and random guesses. “Mr. Davisson, please. I’m sorry to hear about the Phipps girl, but I don’t appreciate your – “
“Where were you on May 13th?”
Everything inside Jacob stopped. He couldn’t catch his breath, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t blink. All he could hear was his heartbeat. Knocking…again.
“Mr. Mariner?” Davisson leaned forward, looking concerned. “Is all okay?”
“Yes… I was… I don’t remember. Here, I suppose.”
“Do you recall going to town? Perhaps stopping by the parking lot of the old brewery?”
“You were seen there. A couple of adventurers were looking for a way into the buildings. Pretty easy to get in there, actually. Every window broken out these days. You scared them off.”
“Look, Davisson,” Jacob stepped back and put a hand on the door. “I don’t even know this girl; I want no part of this. If you don’t get off my property now, I’ll call the police.”
Davisson nodded, made a small sound and stepped back. “Good day, Mr. Mariner. Good luck on Tuesday.”
Jacob slammed the door and, immediately, sunk to the floor. It felt as if his legs had slowly dissolved. His body had tensed at the first mention of her name. Suzanne Phipps. Jesus Christ…
“You’re weak.” He hissed to himself. He put his face in his hands and cried. Remember her whispers in his ear, the smell of her hair, the feel of her young body against his. She was so pure, so intoxicating…and he was used up, empty. She was 17. Old enough. Old enough.
He lay there for most of the morning, unable to move or think or even catch his breath properly. “What have I done?” Those words were meant for the mirror…meant to be said to his face. He pushed himself up and stumbled into the bathroom, then glared at himself. Too old at 32. What a shame. What an empty, foolish shame. There were women his age; there were plenty of options… But she had caught his eye. She had teased him, followed him around, kissed him behind the trucks in the mall. You don’t have to be over 18 to be a temptress. Not these days.
He turned as soon as the sound hit him. The door to the basement opening slowly, drifting as if a breeze were blowing it open, or the house had suddenly tilted at an angle, which is how things felt at that moment. He was spooked and, for a moment, there was nothing but pure, seething panic.
The door stopped before it hit the wall and he stood there, in the washroom, staring down the hall at the gaping, black maw that lead to the basement.