HOME

The street was the same as I remembered it. And the birds swooped as if to herald my return. So it was true, I hadn’t dreamed it. For a moment I stood and took in the beautiful cacophony of noise that I’d never fully appreciated before in all its ugly glory. The sun came out to shine on cue and its warmth informed me that I had now entered a safety zone for lost boys.

How can you know a place so well and yet feel that you are seeing it for the first time? If this is a dream and I awaken now I will be angry all day. Maybe all days.

I continue moving on further into it until I reach the gate no one ever closes, and the narrow cement path  leading to the apartment block steps I once knew so well I could climb them in the dark, and under the influence of too much life. This time there seems to be a lesson learnt in each step and greater effort needed to conceal the weariness of the outsider.

Halfway up I enter the glow from the first storey window that conspires to shine God-like behind the statue of Buddha as if even the universe is welcoming my return.

More steps and more weary remembrances of lessons learned and I am at the front door, knocking in a drum pattern of whimsy and familiarity.

After an eternity of seconds the door is opened and I see your smiling face as I remembered it from a long ago carefree time. Bright, loving and kind. I can now die in my footsteps and not be lost to wander and wonder.

I enter and am surrounded by the comfort of the greatest books and music ever written. Each word and note a friend of mine. And I sit at the empty table. Alone no more. Everything and nothing has changed as I take my place amongst it.

You ask me how I am. But there are no words to convey the miracle of ordained destiny.

For in that sheltered moment, I am home.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2017

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MY FAVOURITE BOOKS LIST

A friend asked me to pick my 10 fave books of all time. The 10 best of anyting is a hard ask but here’s goes. I have chosen those 50 books that moved me the most and had the biggest influence.

1) THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2) GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens.

3) THE DISENCHANTED by Budd Schulberg.

4) THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde.

5) NODDY IN TOYLAND by Enid Blyton

6) A LIFE by Elia Kazan.

7) CRAZY SUNDAYS – F. SCOTT FITZGERALD IN HOLLYWOOD by Aaron Latham

8) CHRONICLES by Bob Dylan.

9) THIS IS ORSON WELLES by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich.

10) A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway.

11) THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

12) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote

13) A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens

14) HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain

15) WHAT’S EXACTLY THE MATTER WITH ME by P.F. Sloan

16) DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller

17) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

18) TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

19) POWER WITHOUT GLORY by Frank Hardy

20) PETER PAN by James M. Barrie

21) DIARY OF AN UNKNOWN by Jean Cocteau

22) ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman

23) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD by Ron Hansen

24) SCOTT & ERNEST by Matthew Bruccoli

25) THE POWER OF MYTH by Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers.

26) ERROL FLYNN – A MEMOIR by Earl Conrad

27) ON THE STREET WHERE I LIVE by Alan Jay Lerner

28) DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig

29) OLIVIER ON ACTING by Laurence Olivier

30) THE MUSIC GOES ROUND MY HEAD by David Johnston

31) FREE ASSOCIATION by Steven Berkoff

32) THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE by Robert Evans

33) MARILYN by Norman Mailer

34) HITCHCOCK BY TRUFFAUT

35) A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway

36) JOURNAL OF A NOVEL by John Steinbeck

37) PICTURE by Lillian Ross

38) HOME BEFORE DARK by Ruth Park

39) TINSEL by William Goldman

40) PORTRAITS by Helmut Newton

41) THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT by Quentin Crisp

42) THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell

43) TEN GREAT PLAYS by William Shakespeare

44) FINISHING THE HAT by Stephen Sondheim

45) W. C. FIELDS – HIS FOLLIES AND FORTUNES by Robert L. Taylor

48) THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN Volume 1 by Mark Twain

49) IN HIS OWN WRITE by John Lennon

50) THE ENTERTAINER by John Osbourne

THE OLD MAN REMEMBERS.

I remember when dinosaurs roamed the earth. About a hundred years ago now. Great fucking clumsy arrogant things – they crashed through everything and left us small creatures to clean up the mess – Well, guess what? They’re gone and we’re still here – Makes you think, doesn’t it? Ah what do I know? …They say I’m the oldest man in the world – well, what does that get you? Huh? A telegram from Elizabeth Vagina the Third of the House of Dimwits or whatever her fucking title is. I’ve had a few titles in me life – The only one I’ve held onto is “Fucking Idiot” – I’m quite proud of that title and wherever I go, even into unknown places – all I had to do is start talking politics and sure enough within a few minutes someone will acknowledge who I am – I used to have a razor sharp memory – but now things blur together – I sometimes can’t decipher between what I’ve lived, read, or dreamed – Well, that’s what the doctors say – but what the fuck do they know, huh? – Let’s face it, if they knew how to live why would they be studying someone’s bowel? – You couldn’t pay me enough, y’know what I mean? – My mind wanders, forgive me – But at least I’ve felt something, y’know? I remember being a small boy – and I saw Les Darcy, the greatest boxer ever, step out of the darkness of a doorway. He was dressed in a beautiful suit, collar, tie, gold fob watch – I stood there transfixed – He was magnetic – He turned and looked down at me and smiled that smile – the smile that would finally kill him – and walked away – Not a word was spoken and I’ll remember it till I die – I hope to God that really happened and I didn’t just dream it – I’m pretty sure it did happen – Life has robbed me of just about everything now – I can’t walk can’t eat -can’t have sex – can’t remember what sex was like – all I had left were me memories – and now He’s taking those away from me – You’d think He’d kill me outright rather than this sneaky stealing of things in the night – How come Darcy, who had everything, died at twenty-one and I’m still here? – Does it makes sense to you? – It sure as hell doesn’t to me – But what do I know? – I’m the Fucking Idiot – But Life goes on – and for some of us – on and on – and on – I have a couple of kids – a daughter – and a son – Haven’t seen either of ‘em in years – Still, I heard they’re proud of me – I believe they tell everyone their father’s the fucking idiot – Sometimes I dream of them – and in my dreams they’re beautiful in every way – But then again, so am I – That’s how I know it’s only a dream – I do remember riding in the Kelly Gang – Did I tell you? – I lived to tell about it, didn’t I? – Told Ned that the ambush at Glenrowan was a big mistake – He told me to fuck off, so I did – It’s lonely having the last laugh – no one laughing along with it – kinda spooky – Joe Byrne was a nice guy – So was Ned but his habit of trying on ladies dresses was a little unnerving to us country boys – He loved dressing up – Finally, he made himself that suit of armour – great concept but like all things Irish, deeply flawed – He forgot to cover his legs – Now I know the Victoria Police are renowned for their stupidity but – give me a break – it only took ‘em a few hours to work out that they could aim at his legs and bring the arsehole down. And down they did – You know what I mean? – I was invited to the reading of Ned’s will – I didn’t know whether to be touched or insulted when he left me his dresses – Anyway, in shame I took off to America – I joined the Seventh Cavalry under the command of General George Armstrong Custer – Well, what a friggin’ lunatic he was, you know what I mean? – Looked the spitting image of Errol Flynn in a blonde wig – I distinctly remember saying to him in no uncertain terms – “Listen Dickhead, there’s six thousand fuckin’ Indians down there!” Well, he just gave me that stupid vacuous smile of his and said “Alright then, let’s be about it!” and rode off, spraying me in mud from the hooves of his equally stupid horse, Bigballs – Well, what the fuck does that mean? – “Alright then, let’s be about it”? – I fairly quickly determined it meant “Let’s get a hurry on and get killed in the most grisly fashion.” Fortunately I had one of Ned’s dresses in me saddle bag and I rode off, side-saddle, in the opposite direction – I got about forty miles before I ran into the James Gang and they gang-raped me – Not the worst experience I’ve had – Still, I did try tellin’ them I was a man – seeing they were obviously too fucking dumb to work it out for themselves – but alas, I fell on deaf ears – I remember one of the Younger brothers grinning a set of decaying teeth and saying “Let us be the judge of that!” – I did and they never got back to me – It was a few days before I could resume riding side-saddle – but there I was – heading across the desert – a changed man – desperately traumatized – and crying into my perfumed hanky – I finally made it to Dodge City where I promptly bought some manly clothes and got drunk to prove I was…well …a man. In my present condition I was finding it easy to walk like John Wayne – I sang a popular song of the day, “Oh Mother, I’ve Just Had a Big Whopper and It Hurt Like Hell” and burst into tears – Fortunately someone in the bar recognized my royal lineage and called out “You must be a fucking idiot”, to which I replied, “Yes. Yes, I am. And I am honoured to be amongst you.” After that, their attitude toward me changed dramatically. Buffalo Bill walked up to the bar and said “You’re the kinda gal I’ve been lookin’ for” – To cut a long story short – I ended up having quite a successful career under the name of Annie Oakley – Let’s face it, I wasn’t the first person in show business to become a star by working in drag. Two years later I left Dodge City with some colourful memories, a love letter from Wyatt Earp, a different view of life and riddled with VD – This altered my thinking somewhat and I took off as a crew member of a sea vessel. The captain was a nice enough man – he had one leg and took an instant liking to me, much to the envy of the other sailors – Well, a few weeks into the voyage I realized we were sailing with a fucking madman. All he wanted to do was chase this fucking monstrously huge whale – I instinctively knew it wasn’t going to end well – He called the object of his obsession, “Moby”. One night, having put up with hours upon hours of listening to him ramble and rage about this fucking boring old prick of a whale, I lost my temper and called it “Moby Dickhead”. The Captain, Ahab, stopped and smiled. And, like everyone in showbiz, he had to embellish my idea by pissing on the tree. He shortened my idea to “Moby Dick.” In my honour, he said. Of     course, true to form, he told no one else about it and my contribution has been lost to history. Not, may I add, the first time I have been written out of a good story – Anyway, we chased that fucking whale until we couldn’t remember what our names were anymore – Then, as moi predicted, that fucking spiteful blob said, “Enough is enough” and turned on us – Smashing the ship to the shithouse and taking the demented Ahab to the bottom of the ocean – All the crew perished except me – I was picked up some days later by a Norwegian whaling vessel and explained my story to them – I said, through an interpreter, that “…we’d all been fucked by a huge Moby…Dick.” I presume something was lost in the translation because I soon found myself back in the ocean. This proved to be a very trying time in my life. Still, what can you do? Fortunately, an English speaking person by the name of Bligh picked me up in his lifeboat. I asked him why he was rowing across the ocean and he confided that he’d too recently experienced a traumatic situation of which he could not elaborate. And, although he liked to whip me twice a day, we got on quite well and it was nice to be back in civilized company. I told him he bore a striking resemblance to Charles Laughton. He had no idea who I was talking about and it earned me another thirty lashes. But, having lived the life I had, I was painfully aware that things could be worse, and contented myself to looking on the bright side of things. Bligh told me he’d never known another man to say thank you after a good lashing. I was a chirpy chap in those days. So appreciative of any crumb. We finally made it back to London and I got a job working for a detective by the name of Holmes. He lived on Baker Street with his “friend”, Doctor Johnny Watson. I soon found out that my new employer was a raving coke-head and would stay up all hours of the night ranting about fuck-all. Several times I stumbled upon their late-night shenanigans – the two of them dancing around – Holmes looking like he’d dipped his sizable nose in the flour jar – with eyes like red pissholes. Creepy bastards. Made me long for Captain Ahab. Still, it was all good experience. I was able to draw on all this in my later life as a successful writer of children’s stories. I wrote under the name of Enid Blyton. My first book, Nuddy in Boyland created great controversy so the publisher changed the name to Noddy in Toyland. Couldn’t help feeling something was lost, but still – it sold well. I felt that the discerning reader was still able to read between the lines and get something out of it. Unfortunately, my favourite character, Big Dick, never quite recovered from my publisher’s molestation.

 

 (c) Frank Howson 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HIT MAN

He had ended up in Van Nuys. A crummy studio apartment with a bed in the living room along with everything else. Well, what there was left of his life. The books, DVDs, unsold screenplays (some had come very close to being produced but that’s a long story and everyone in this town had one), deteriorating videos, clothes that were fashionable a decade before, and letters from his father. The other two rooms were a closet, and a bathroom. He used the closet as his workspace where he’d set up a little desk and his temperamental PC. It was the dream room and like his dreams the rooms that housed them were getting smaller. He would sit there sometimes all night writing a new screenplay in the hope that he could write his way out of this downward spiral he found himself on.

He also worked various part time jobs in order to pay the rent and buy some cheap food. He tried to keep busy to take his mind off the cold hard reality of the situation. If he thought too much about it he suffered panic attacks. He was far from home. And alone.

In April of 1997 he had landed in Los Angeles, full of excitement and fuelled by a motivation that he was going to take this town and knock it on its ear.

He’d saved enough money to comfortably get him through a year. Maybe two if he was frugal. Back home in Australia he’d been quite successful. A hit play here, a well received film there; even a few critically acclaimed books.

On paper he seemed to be someone to watch.

There are no damned seasons in L.A so its easy to have years slip by you. And slip by Jonathan Tarney they did. His father gave up on him ever coming home. Then the old man gave up on life. Jonathan couldn’t even afford the airfare to return for the funeral and his mean-spirited sisters hadn’t offered.

Jonathan had started out living in fashionable West Hollywood, then moved to a sleazy part of Westin Boulevard, then to Sherman Oaks, then to his present rat hole in Van Nuys.

He’d been married, briefly, to an actress, but she gave up on his dream, and then him. She’d realized she needed to hitch her wagon to someone more substantial before her assets expired. And then one day she just left.

Jonathan came home to an empty apartment with some promising news but there was no one to share it with. So he bought a bottle of Jack Daniels. He bought one the next day too. He bought so many he never got around to polishing his script for the interested producer and the deal went away. Just like his wife.

His spiral accelerated after that. He couldn’t help thinking that there was a weird, exciting feeling about free falling. The bills piled up and so did the empty bottles and all he could do was sit and look at them through hollow glazed eyes. He now had much in common with his father. They were both dead. Just in different ways.

When he was especially maudlin he’d re-read some of his late father’s letters pleading with him to come home. He wanted to cry but tears didn’t come anymore. Tears belonged to the living. Those that could be hurt.

One day while he was walking down Sepulveda Boulevard to the 99 Cent Store to buy his canned foods for the week, he saw a notice on a strip joint door advertising for a bartender. He pushed on the door and stepped inside the dark cavern of a place and stood there until his eyes adjusted and he could make out a few shadowy figures. One of them, a rotund shadow, said in a gruff voice, “What do you want? We don’t open for a few hours. Come back later.”

“I’m here about the job,” answered Jonathan.

“Oh? You’re a bartender?” said the rotund shadow man who walked into a pool of light.

“Well I’ve had some experience. Years ago. Back home. I was pretty good at it then. Well, so people said.”

“My name is Louis Moretti. I own this place.” He looked Jonathan up and down and smiled. “Yes, yes, you may well be the answer to my prayers.”

“Please to meet you, Mr. Moretti. My name is Jonathan. Jonathan Tarney,” giving a smile he’d usually reserved for producers.

“Hey guys, I like Jonathan already. Unlike you bums this guys has manners. Have a seat, Jonathan. Tell me about yourself. You mentioned home. Where’s that?”

“Australia.”

Louis Moretti’s eyes widened. He was impressed. He wasn’t sure he’d ever met an Australian before.

“Well how about that? Did you hear guys? Jonathan here is from Australia. You guys are fearless aren’t you? You know Paul Hogan?”

“No. No I don’t.”

“You know how to make a dirty martini?” Moretti laughed, and so did his shadow men.

“Yes I do.”

“Well what say you make me and the boys some dirty martinis and we’ll talk money.”

By the time Jonathan exited the place two hours later, and after making enough exotic drinks to impress Moretti and his associates, he had a new job. The money was good and he was also promised a small share of what the girls made each night.

Jonathan breathed a sigh of relief, walked past the 99 Cent Store and went into Ralph’s Supermarket instead. A celebration was called for, so he purchased some cans of food that actually had names on them, and some real vegetables as well as some meat. It’d been so long since Jonathan had tasted a steak that he was beside himself with the excitement of a child. Hang the expense, he even grabbed a bottle of red to accompany his meal. He felt rich and tears welled in his eyes at how little it took these days to fill him with such euphoria. How far had he fallen? All the pride and ego had long been trampled out of him and suddenly he felt like the luckiest man in the world. Yes he could still cry. He was still alive. And he was going back to his apartment with a car full of groceries. Just like real people do.

That night he sat on his bed and ate his perfectly cooked steak and assorted vegetables, sipped his budget priced but nice red wine and thought of his ex-wife. He wondered where she was and if she was happy. As happy as he was at this moment. He hoped so. All the anger was gone now and all he remembered was that he had loved her deeply and, for a time, she had loved him. In the end that’s all that mattered isn’t it? He would’ve loved tonight to phone her and wish her well but he didn’t have her number anymore. He was no longer considered a friend.

He turned on the TV to watch something mindless so he wouldn’t have to think.

This town had a habit of shrinking your dreams and your expectations down to size. If you were weak you got broken. If you were a survivor you learned to appreciate any crumb that fell from the table.

Jonathan Tarney became a very popular guy at the Tits! Tits! Tits! strip joint on Sepulveda Boulevard. The customers liked him, so did the working girls and, more importantly, so did Mr. Moretti and his associates.

Jonathan was making good money and had even been able to afford a bigger apartment. This one had two bedrooms and Jonathan converted one into his office where he occasionally attempted to write his great screenplay. The one that would make him a household name. Well, an industry name at least. He wasn’t sure the public really cared about who wrote the latest hit movie. He wasn’t completely convinced that many even realized they were written. What did it matter? Perhaps he just did it out of habit. Or to prove to himself that he was good at it even if no one wanted to give him a break. He smiled at the fantasy that one day, after he was gone, they’d discover his work and regret their stupidity. Then the more sobering thought entered his mind that all his work would be thrown out into the trash along with the other possessions of a man nobody really knew or took seriously.

For some weeks Jonathan had noticed that Mr. Moretti had seemed troubled. Not his usual self. Jonathan was fearful that perhaps his boss had taken a dislike to him or maybe one of his associates had complained about something he’d done. Paranoia haunts the desperate and Jonathan was panicked that his job would be taken away from him and he’d be banished back to the free falling spiral and the anxiety attacks about the next rent payment.

A few nights later, one of Mr. Moretti’s shadow men, Joe Camerilli, came over to Jonathan and asked him to stay back and see Mr. Moretti when he’d finished closing out his bar takings for the night.

“Sure thing,” beamed Jonathan, trying to sound and look upbeat, but Camerilli’s expression didn’t change. It gave nothing away.

At the end of the night, Jonathan nervously made his way to Mr. Moretti’s office. He knocked.

“Come in,” barked Moretti.

Jonathan stepped in and closed the door.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Moretti?”

“Yes. Yes, Jonathan.”

With that, Moretti got up and walked over to the door and opened it. He peered out, checking that everyone had gone. He then closed the door and returned to his chair behind his big mahogany desk. His face was grim.

“Have I done something wrong, Mr. Moretti?”

“No. No, not at all. I love ya, Jonathan. I feel you’re the son I never had. I really mean that.”

Jonathan was suddenly so relieved he felt light-headed and exhaled his tension.

“But you can help me. I’m relying on you. I have a problem that someone needs to fix and I am willing to pay for it.”

Jonathan waited for him to elaborate but nothing came. Moretti just kept looking at his talented bartender as though trying to read his every thought.

“Of course, Mr. Moretti. You in a way saved my life – or what was left of it – and if I can help you you know I will.”

Moretti smiled. It was his turn to feel relieved.

“I knew I could rely on you, Jonathan. You have an honest face. That’s why I liked you the first time I saw you. Remember?”

Jonathan smiled at the memory. He was feeling relaxed now, and loved.

“I need a man killed.”

Jonathan thought Mr. Moretti was joking so he went ahead and laughed out loud. When Mr. Moretti didn’t laugh, the cold reality set in that he was serious.

“Are you joking?” asked Jonathan, already knowing the answer.

“I don’t joke about a man’s life.”

With that, Mr. Moretti opened his drawer, brought out a revolver, and gently placed it on his desk.

“This is an unmarked gun. It cannot be traced. You have my word on that.”

“But I can’t kill a man! That’s not who I am.”

“You would be surprised what we are capable of, Jonathan, when the situation arises.”

Mr. Moretti got up and started pacing the room as he spoke.

“There is a man. A very bad man. And he is threatening my life, my livelihood, and that of my family. I cannot accept that or wait for him to strike. I must strike first. You understand?”

Jonathan clearly didn’t.

“If I was to tell you all the things this man has done you would hate him as much as I do. He has killed men, women and children. I kid you not. Answer me one thing, Jonathan. If you had’ve had the chance to shoot Hitler would you have done it and saved all those peoples lives?”

“Of course but…”

“Of course you would. This man is not Hitler but this man is evil. He is capable of hurting me, those closest to me and a lot of innocent people. Good people. Maybe even you. He is nuts. There’s no telling what he’ll do or how many people will step into his line of fire.”

“Mr. Moretti – I am not a killer. I make drinks, I write screenplays nobody wants. That’s about it.”

“That’s why you’re perfect. No one knows who you are. No one would ever suspect you. As far as the police are concerned you don’t exist. I had someone do a check on you. You’re clean. You’re not on their radar for anything. I am willing to pay you a hundred thousand dollars. Hear me? You could turn your whole life around on that, Jonathan. You could go to Mexico, buy a big house and live like a king the rest of your life. No more worries, no more pressures, no more hassles. You’d be free and clear.”

“And what if I fucked it up and got caught?”

“There’s no way that’s going to happen. This guy takes the same route home every night. He’s like clockwork. He has a driver we’ve gotten to and we know that on Monday night he will reach the corner of Van Nuys and Vanowen at 8.30pm. The driver will stop at the cross section. When he sees you approach he will slide down onto the front seat giving you clear access to our man. You will be wearing gloves and empty the contents of the gun into him. You will drop the gun down the water drain on that corner and walk away. Not run. Walk. A block east will be a car with no number plates waiting for you. You will be driven to a hotel on Ventura Boulevard where there’ll be a suite waiting for you. No need to report to the front desk as you are already checked in under a false name. Then next morning you walk out of the room, have breakfast at Jerry’s Deli and catch a cab back to your apartment.”

“I can’t take someone’s life. Even if they are evil.”

“I think you can, Jonathan. Think long and hard about how good I have been to you, and what you can do with all that money. Don’t think of yourself as a killer. Think of yourself as a soldier. And this is a battle. And you have the chance to save your father. I’d like to think I’ve been like a father to you. Haven’t I?…Well?”

Jonathan’s head was spinning. Mr. Moretti wisely sent him home to think about it.

Jonathan couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t sit, he couldn’t stop pacing, he couldn’t comprehend what had happened and what he’d been asked to do. At 5am he drove to an all night liquor store and bought a bottle of Jack Daniels. By 8am it was gone.

Now he was drunk and it was time for the devil to whisper into his ear, “Think about what you could do with a hundred thousand dollars. Go to Mexico, buy a beautiful house, maybe get married again and have someone love you. You deserve it. You have had a hard life. All you have to do to change things is say yes.”

At 9am, still drunk, Jonathan phoned Mr. Moretti and said yes. The wheels were turning now and couldn’t be stopped. Jonathan hung up and had the feeling of free falling again. Only his Maker above knew how this would turn out. His hands trembled as he realized he was placing the biggest bet he’d ever gambled with; his own life. He wasn’t sure if the death penalty still existed in California for murder. He wasn’t even sure if he preferred death to a life behind bars. He frantically tried to get those thoughts out of his head. This had to work. It just had to. He was going to kill a man who didn’t deserve to live. He was doing society a favour. That’s right. Step from the shadows, identify the subject and say goodnight. That’s all he had to do to be free and clear the rest of his life.

Mr. Moretti treated him like a son the rest of the week. Even the shadow associates were friendly to him, smiling and nodding their head with a new found respect. Jonathan liked being treated this way. It had been so long since anyone took him seriously.

He tried to get more information on the man he was to…meet on the corners of Van Nuys and Vanowen but Mr. Moretti and his associates thought that was a bad idea. It was best to know as little as possible about the subject, they assured him. All a hit man ever wants to know is the routine of the person involved and what they look like. The less you know, the less emotionally involved you are. It is just a job. All Jonathan needed to know was this man was evil and had done despicable things.

On the intended night, Jonathan waited in the darkness. He checked his watch. It was 8.25pm. He realized that there was a man approaching who had but five minutes to live. Tonight Jonathan got to be God – it was in his power whether someone lived or died. He wondered how long ago it was ordained that his path would lead him to this spot on this night.

He nervously fiddled with his leather gloves and pulled the gun from his inside coat pocket. He attached the silencer he’d been given and gazed down the street. His heart was beating so fast it was like he was overdosing on amphetamines. Then the headlights of a big black car became visible in the far distance. The driver was good, he was right on time. Everyone was playing their parts in the play to perfection. It felt like it was meant to be.

There was no going back now. He knew too much. If he didn’t go through with it he’d probably pay with his own life. His only option now was to put the bullets into the man in the backseat of the approaching car, or put one in his own brain.

The big black car came to a halt at the corner. Jonathan moved from the darkness and strode towards the vehicle. The driver on cue slid down and sprawled across the front seat. Jonathan was now close enough to see the face of the man in the backseat. He was about sixty-four with silver hair slicked back. He looked confused at the actions of his driver and said something inaudible. He then looked over and saw Jonathan approaching him. It only took him a split second to realize that something bad was about to happen and his last look was of great sadness as he grimaced and awaited his fate. Jonathan emptied his gun into the man, disposed of his weapon and walked away as instructed. It had all gone so smoothly it added to the whole feeling of everything being unreal. As Jonathan walked to the waiting getaway car it sank in that he was a murderer. He couldn’t identify the feelings racing through him. Was it shame? Guilt? Or empowerment? All he knew was there was so much adrenalin pumping through his veins nobody had better get in his way. Not tonight.

He got in the car and his driver sped off. Ten minutes later Jonathan was alone in a hotel suite watching a re-run of “I Love Lucy” and registering nothing. The snappy dialogue couldn’t drag him back from his own conscience.

The next morning it was on all the news programs. They flashed photographs of Albert Esposito across the screen and showed footage of him with his family at his daughter’s wedding. He looked so proud and happy. He gave a speech about the meaning of love that broke Jonathan’s heart and he bowed his head and sobbed. He continued to sob through all the tributes from the community and local politicians who praised their fellow committee member for his efforts to clean up the district and shut down the sleazy strip joints and pornography industry that thrived through corruption of authorities and the sales of illegal drugs.

It was reported that his last words, according to his driver, were for his children, “Tell them I love them.”

This was the evil man? The man who’d been compared to a local Hitler?

Jonathan spent an hour in the shower trying to wash away his guilt. If he’d still had the gun he’d have used it again.

If Jonathan had’ve written the screenplay he may’ve had an ending like this…

It was the perfect crime. He had gotten away with it. He was free and clear and living in a little sleepy village called Ajijic that rests on Lake Chapala in Mexico. He has a large mansion with a guesthouse and a swimming pool. His wife is much younger than him and is a beauty that also possesses a beautiful soul. She genuinely loves him and they are expecting their first child. There is a large photograph of Jonathan’s father in the living room and he seems to be smiling with pride at everything his son has achieved. Life couldn’t be more perfect. At last Jonathan is home. Slow fade to black and the credits roll.

Back in the real world, a man walked into the Van Nuys Police Station at 11.27am and confessed to the murder of Albert Esposito. He told them the whole story and later that day Mr. Louis Moretti was arrested.

The news was broken at 6pm. The anchorperson described Mr. Jonathan Tarney as a failed screenwriter.

(c) Frank Howson

THE DREAM DATE

Tim O’Reilly’s hands trembled as he dialed the number. Her number. Christine Milchem had been the prettiest girl at his high school. A goddess. He had fallen in love with her at first sight and that love had lasted twenty years this January. They had dated a few times during high school and he remembered floating in her presence as if it was a dream. Sometimes, over the years, he had wondered whether it actually had been a dream. Thankfully he had a photograph of them at the Lobster Cave to prove it wasn’t. They had looked good together. Well, so he thought. A handsome couple with life before them. But Christine got a job overseas and Tim stayed at home to pursue some ambitions that wasted him some of his best years. Life was funny, wasn’t it?

He had heard that Christine had married some guy and they’d lived in New York for some years before he got caught with his secretary. Tim married a girl named Lynette who understood him for two years of their ten year marriage. Then she hadn’t understood him at all. They became strangers living under the same roof, going their own ways, not caring enough to even ask. Eight of those years had kinda been like a death. A nothingness. Tim often thought it was lonelier to be with the wrong person than to be on your own.

Well, now at last, he was on his own. There were no more distractions or detours, or certificates binding him to someone, he was free. God Almighty, free at last! A friend had informed him that she was back in town and Tim had tracked down her number. Now he was making the call. Perhaps the most important phone call of his life. Something he should’ve done years ago and stopped her from leaving him. If only he’d done so he could’ve saved them both so much heartache. He was hoping that the time was now right and she would feel the same as him. Perhaps she’d pined for him too and had regrets instead of dreams every night.

It was ringing. His heart skipped a beat and he prayed he wouldn’t have a coronary malfunction before he heard that voice again.

“Hello?” answered the voice, and he was suddenly a young boy again. But a young boy with wisdom. This time he wouldn’t let her go.

“Hello, Christine? It’s me?”

“Who?”

“It’s Tim.”

“Tim who?”

He faltered and so did his voice. All the bravado he’d mustered up for the call was draining away. “Tim O’Reilly.”

“I don’t know any Tim O’Reilly,” she snapped, her tone suddenly that of someone talking to a telemarketer. He’d never heard that tone in her voice before.

“We went to High School, remember? Even went on a few dates. Remember our night at the Lobster Cave?”

“Oh Tim…You were the guy with the red hair weren’t you?”

“No, that was Billy. I’m Tim. Remember the Lobster Cave? We both got a photograph of us there. What a night we had, huh? I told you to go ahead and order anything you wanted, hang the expense, we were going to have a night and create a lasting memory.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever been to the Lobster Cave?”

Now Tim was getting a tone, “Yes, Christine. You went to the Lobster Cave with me. I have the photograph. We had a wonderful time. You told me so. We held hands walking back to your place and we kissed. Admittedly not on the lips, you turned your head, but it was a moment. A magic moment. I held you in my arms and it all just felt…right.”

“Are you sure this is not Billy?”

“Fuck Billy!”

“I did actually. He was hung like a horse. Come on, Billy, stop kidding around. You were always such a joker. Y’know I’ve often thought about that night we had. Even when I was with my husband.”

Tim wanted to vomit. This couldn’t be Christine the girl of his dreams? She was sounding like a tart. Then relief set in. It was probably her sense of humor. He loved a girl with a sense of humor.

“Christine, it’s me, Tim. Tim O’Reilly. Remember? I have brown hair. I was quite tall for my age. Used to play basketball. Stop with the kidding.”

“Oh?…Tim,” the name Tim was uttered with a tone of disappointment not heard since the Titanic captain’s response upon being informed he wasn’t leaving the ship.

“Yes…Tim. Remember me? I’ve remembered you. There hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t thought of you. Not a day.”

“Whatever happened to Billy?”

“He’s dead!” He was as dead as Tim’s tone was.

What?…How?”

“A car accident. Killed three innocent people with him. He was always reckless. Do you remember that?”

Tim thought he heard her sniffling at the end of the phone.

“Thank you for informing me. That was very sweet of you. He was the love of my life. He really was. What was your name again?”

Tim was not sure he answered her. He was gone. Gone in so many ways that nothing much mattered or made sense anymore. He was sitting at the Lobster Cave. He thought it would be romantic to call her from there. He had ordered oysters, lobster and champagne. Exactly what they had chosen on their date.

He looked up bewildered and despairing. A waiter saw this and came to the table.

“Would you like something, sir?”

It took Tim a while to answer. To even remember where he was.

“No. I want nothing else. I’m done.”

Tim paid the bill and left. The waiter went to the table and realized nothing had been touched. Perhaps the poor man had taken ill. Oh well, the staff had a nice treat to look forward to at the end of their shift.

Tim walked out onto the pavement and watched the traffic zip by. The noise and the cold air felt good. He thought back to the last time he’d been here and how that young boy had worked a part-time job for weeks to be able to bring his dream date to this place. He now looked at it long and hard knowing he’d never be back. It was like his dream. Once it’s been dreamed you can’t go back. You must dream new dreams. There would be someone else. Eventually. If he was lucky. And this time he wouldn’t let her go.

He walked home. All he knew was he hated Billy.

(c) Frank Howson 2014

DEATH TAKES A RIDE

It was a black night and the only thing visible was the winding road lit by the high beamed headlights.

Jeffrey Marshall had been driving for 18 hours now and was still a day away from his destination. His car radio had long lost any connection to local radio stations and he was beginning to talk to himself. Well, he thought he was. Perhaps his one-sided conversation was only taking place in his head.

“I’ve never seen a night so dark.” It was impossible to make out anything except the road ahead. It was eerie. It was like the only things that existed in this world were him, and the throw of the light. Before the radio died the last news bulletin warned about the possibility of a serial killer. It was the only thing that could explain the disappearance of 12 people in and around this area over the past few years. Jeffrey didn’t want to think about that. He hated to dwell on things that were unexplainable. All he knew was that people were capable of very bad things. Even good people. And that there were no answers to anything. Well none that made sense anyway. Things were what they were and it was best not to send yourself nuts looking too deep into stuff. He checked his petrol meter and still had half a tank. This was not a place to run out of fuel. He picked up the speed as though wanting to leave this night behind him.

He turned a bend and suddenly there was light and smoke. And a shadowy figure waving him down. Jeffrey was tempted to keep going but it looked like the man had misjudged the bend and his car had landed in a ditch on the side of the road. Jeffrey, against his better judgment, pulled to a stop some distance from the crash. In his rear view mirror he saw the dark figure slowly walking towards him. The man moved in a way that was unnerving. He almost glided in slow motion. Jeffrey hated himself for stopping but he had no control. It was as though he was giving in to the inevitable, and there was a liberating feeling to that sense of free falling.

Finally the stranger reached Jeffrey’s car and tapped on the side window. Jeffrey hit the button and the window came down. He looked into the stranger’s face but the night, and the hood the man was wearing, hid most of his features.

“Can I get a ride with you to the next town?” asked the stranger.

“Of course,” replied Jeffrey.

The stranger opened the door and got in. Jeffrey started up his car and they continued weaving through the black night.

“You misjudged the turn back there huh?” said Jeffrey, stating the obvious in an attempt to kick start a conversation. But the stranger said nothing. He looked straight ahead as though mesmerized by the light and the road.

“Are you okay?” enquired Jeffrey.

Again, there was silence. Just as Jeffrey was about to charge ahead with another question, the stranger answered, “Yes. I’m okay.”

“Have you ever seen a night like this? It’s pitch black. Not a star, not a moonglow, nothing,” observed Jeffrey out loud.

“There is a light. Out there.” The stranger pointed to where the dense forest was to their left.

“A light?” asked Jeffrey.

“Maybe lots of them,” answered the stranger.

“But that’s impossible. There’s nothing out there. I know this area well,” answered Jeffrey.

With that, the stranger slowly turned his head to look at Jeffrey. Suddenly Jeffrey could see his features, his sunken dark eyes and a smile filled with the conceit of somebody talking to a stupid child.

“I know what I saw.” answered the man.

“I’m just saying that there’s no town or energy plant or anything that would be generating a light. That forest is very dense. It’s a death maze. You got lost in there you’d never get out. So, where would a light be coming from?”

“Do you believe in aliens?” asked the stranger.

Jeffrey looked at the man and suppressed his desire to answer, “Well, not until now.” But he didn’t. Instead he gave one of those answers you give when you can’t be bothered considering such things. “I only believe what can be proven.”

The stranger smiled again and said, “So how do you explain the light?”

Now it was Jeffrey’s turn to go silent and stare at the road ahead.

After some time, the stranger added, “And how do you explain 12 people gone missing from around here?”

“Oh that I can explain.”

The stranger waited for the driver to elaborate but instead Jeffrey steered his car to the side of the road and turned off the engine. He shut down the lights and got out of the car walking slowly around to the passenger side and opened the door.

“What’s this then?” asked the stranger.

“I don’t really know. It’s just something that happens and, like your lights in the wilderness, can’t be explained. Now get out of the car please.”

The stranger got out and rose to his full height. It was several seconds before he realized he’d been stabbed. Then again. And again. He felt the blood with his hand just to be sure. Then he looked into the face of Jeffrey Marshall. But there was no trace of conceit, or pleasure, or any discernible emotion on Jeffrey’s face. The most unnerving thing was the sheer nothingness of what he felt and saw.

“Why?” asked the stranger.

“I stopped asking that a long time ago. It just is what it is.”

Four hours later Jeffrey was back on the road. He was exhausted from the ditch digging and pushing the stranger’s car off the road and someway into the forest. His clothes were muddy. He’d have to stop at a motel, clean up, have some sleep, get dressed in some clean clothes and throw his bloody muddy ones into a nearby river. He felt some tingling of satisfaction watching them rush off towards the sea and wishing it was him. They were clean and free. Yet he was chained to this dirt. He had tried many times to stop but it was no use. He was good at it and it calmed him for a time. Then whatever it was inside him would build to it again. He had long ago accepted that this was his lot in life.

It was almost nightfall again by the time he got back on the road. It was another black night. He kept looking for answers in the final expressions of his victims but the truth is there was nothing. No anger, no fear, no confusion, nothing. Strangely, there was a peace. If anything, a relief that it was all over. Jeffrey justified his deeds as acts of compassion. If you believed in a God then wasn’t it destined that Jeffrey and his victims would meet on such a night? And that he would play his role as well as they played theirs. Wasn’t Judas just as chosen as Jesus?

He suddenly thought about the lights in the heart of the forest that his most recent victim, Number 13, had seen. Had he been hallucinating? Was it a premonition and he was glimpsing the lights of heaven? “It doesn’t matter. And it don’t do any good to think about such things,” said Jeffrey to himself.

Jeffrey had never seen a light in the darkness. Only a road. One that bends and goes on forever and, occasionally, along the way, things would happen.

(c) Frank Howson 2014

SYDNEY CARTON

The character of Sydney Carton has haunted me most of my life. My first introduction to him was my mum making me watch the old Hollywood movie version of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” starring one of my mother’s favorite actors, the beautifully spoken English actor Ronald Coleman. Coleman, as Sydney Carton was, as he was in every role he played, sheer perfection. Dickens’ character of Carton is a complex study of the human condition. A man who is brilliant but never achieves the success he deserves or craves because of his humility and his dedication to helping others – most times to his expense. This trauma of frustration in him manifests itself with excessive drinking and a detached apathy to life around him. A man numbed by disappointment and lack of purpose.

“Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.”

As a young boy watching an old black and white movie starring mostly dead people, I sat with my mum in our living room and allowed Ronald Coleman as Sydney Carton to rip my heart out. I remember sobbing at the end of the movie. Heartbroken at how unfair it was that this man should die, and that his death, like his life, would go unnoticed.

Over the years as I grew older, Sydney Carton grew richer in my mind. Through experiences of my own I came to see him differently and with a greater depth to what I, as a young boy, could’ve understood. Carton is in love with Lucie but can’t bring himself to reveal his true feelings to her. When his business partner Stryver tells him of his intention to ask Lucie to marry him, Sydney Carton realizes that unless he makes a move the love of his life will be lost. Carton meets Lucie and reveals his love for her. A love that is so strong and pure that he would lay down his life so that someone she loved would live. But Lucie confesses that she is in love with Charles Darnay, a wealthy young man who has everything that Carton craves. And now his loved one. Sydney Carton despises him and is jealous of everything he is. When Sydney looks at his reflection in the mirror he states, “A good reason for taking to a man, that he shows you what you have fallen away from, and what you might have been…come on, and have it out in plain words! You hate the fellow.”

Throughout the novel several people remark about the similarity in looks between Carton and Darney. They could be brothers. During the French Revolution Darney is arrested as an aristocrat and ordered to stand trial. Carton attends the trial and is appalled at the injustice of the circus in progress before his eyes. Behind Darney in the court stands a mirror and is it impossible for Carton to look at Darney without seeing himself. When Darney is found guilty and sentenced to death by guillotine, Lucie is heartbroken. For most men in Carton’s shoes these events would play into his hand and deliver him what he most desires. But few men are Sydney Carton. He realizes it would be no good to win Lucie’s love this way because she would forevermore be grieving for the man she truly loved. And what good would such a life be to Sydney Carton? It would be as futile and worthless as the one he was now living. Instead, he hatches a plan and bribes people to help him swap places with Charles Darney on the eve of his execution. He would be making good his promise to Lucie to lay down his life for someone she loved.

When Carton is smuggled into Darney’s cell on the night before his execution, and reveals the plan, Darney pleads with Carton…”Carton! Dear Carton…I implore you not to add your death to the bitterness of mine.” This is where Darney begins to feel compassion towards Carton. Not only does Darney not want to feel the guilt of Carton’s death, but he also cares about Carton’s life. The switch is achieved and Darney escapes to join his love, Lucie, while Carton lives out the final hours of what was another man’s destiny. But Sydney Carton is now a changed man. Or perhaps the true potential of Sydney Carton has at last been released. He is now calm and filled with a heartbreaking joy that his life will have had some meaning and purpose after all, and that his great love Lucie will have the life he would wish for her.

A young seamstress who awaits the same fate as Carton becomes knowledgeable as to what has happened and is filled with admiration for this man. She confesses how scared she is. Perhaps Dickens modeled her character on Martha, an important woman in the Bible and one of Jesus’ followers. When Carton and the seamstress are being herded into carts to take them through the streets of jeering people to their fate, the seamstress says to Carton, “…May I ride with you?…Will you let me hold your hand? I am not afraid but I am little and weak, and it will give me more courage.” The seamstress’ words are similar to the discussion between Jesus and Martha when Jesus promises the resurrection to the faithful. Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha replied, “Yes Lord.”

Through this passage Dickens found a way to demonstrate Martha and Jesus’ conversation through the bond between the seamstress and Carton. In the cart on the way to their execution, Carton holds the young woman’s hand and as he looks out upon the crowd of jeering angry faces that line the city he loved he has a vision, “I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, though long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making exploitation for itself and wearing out.” When Carton and the seamstress reach the guillotine and await their call, Carton tells her to keep looking at his calm face and to think of nothing else. It will be over soon.

And there, as he waited away his last minutes he had a vision of his loved one and her son and hoped that the boy would be told good things about him. “I see that child who lay upon her bosom and who bore my name, a man winning his way up in that path of life which once was mine. I see him winning it so well, that my name is made illustrious there by the light of his. . . It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”

In “A Tale of Two Cities” Dickens created a character that shows there is a purpose for everyone, no matter how many mistakes were made in the past. Sydney Carton was not a perfect man. But he was a man made perfect by his sense of what was the right thing to do. And then acting upon it. Even though that thing was not as he wished it would be, he rose above his failings and flaws to give his life a purpose it had otherwise been denied.

(c) Frank Howson 2014.