The following post, by Geoffrey Jason Kagan Trenchad, is the ninth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. Last semester, five authors were asked to write two chapters each, not knowing what their fellow authors would write until the previous chapters were published.

The story of a bat mitzvah and a marriage gone bad has morphed into a murder mystery. You can read the first eight installments here. Be sure to check in next Monday for the conclusion. You might be asking what we’re asking: how will they wrap this up?

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Mike Lowry)

Re: Case # 120-9

Nov 3 2008 3:14 PM

Subject exits Whole Earth Montessori School, 277 E. 78th St.

Subject wears red backpack, brown shoes, tan pea coat, green scarf

Subject walks south on Lex

Enters 77th St. subway stop

< Sent from my iPhone >

 

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Mike Lowry)

Re: Case # 120-9

Nov 3 2008 3:46 PM

Subject boarded 6 train approx 3:16 PM

Transfered at Grand Central to 4 express approx 3:31 PM

Exits Union Square in front Virgin Megastore

Walks N thru park

Enters B&N bookstore

Escalator to 4th floor

Takes copy of Watchman graphic novel from shelf

Escalator to 3rd floor

Buys hot chocolate at café 

Sits at table in front of window

< Sent from my iPhone >

 * * * * * 

Mike thanks God for living in the future. Back when he started, he had to take all his notes by hands. If it was a car watch, no big deal. But a foot follow, it gets to be a pain in the ass trying to write down everything but not look like your writing everything down. These days he just e-mails himself. Time and date recorded without ever having to check a watch. And these days everybody’s shuffling their thumbs. He can be standing in the magazine aisle of a bookstore between Modern Bride and Soldier of Fortune monitoring all movements of a subject without looking suspicious at all.

Jeremi is at the part of Watchman where the bad guy reveals how he did it. How the master plan was conceived of and executed. There is a flashback and a voiceover. A series of panels show a man falling out of a window. The ground gets closer and closer in each frame. The good guys tell him he must be stopped but they don’t realize it’s too late.

* * * * *

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Mike Lowry)

Re: Case # 120-9

Nov 3 2008 5:21 PM

Subject exits B&N main doors

Turns right on 17th St., westbound

Turns left on 7th Ave., southbound

Walks to 14th St. subway stop

< Sent from my iPhone >

 * * * * * 

 

Mike thinks this is stupid. He can’t let it end like this. They were married for Christ’s sake. Still are, sort of. They made promises in front of God and everybody.

He remembers how she looked walking down the aisle, like a movie star, so beautiful it didn’t seem real. He had balled up his toes into a little foot fists to keep his leg from shaking, just like his dad told him to do.

Even if it’s over, it doesn’t have to be like this, he thinks. They can be civil. This is not a Dashiell Hammett novel. He is not Sam Spade. He is a real private investigator.

He does not need to have a spurned ex.

He is a real private investigator who is stalking a 12-year-old prep school kid that doesn’t have the body mass to throw another boy of comparable size off a balcony. Especially if that balcony has a rail that comes up to near the boy’s shoulders. It’s simply a question of leverage.

Yes, Mike is a real private investigator who is making his rent this month taking money from a clearly depressed and desperate father who is willing to drain his dead child’s college fund to find out why he died. A client that will not take a simple suicide for an answer.

* * * * *

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Mike Lowry)

Re: Case # 120-9

Nov 3 2008 6:11 PM

Subject goes N on 1 train, last car

Exits 103 St.

Subject walks E to Amsterdam

Turns left

Subject enters parent’s house

1038 Amsterdam Ave., Jessup Building.

< Sent from my iPhone >

 

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Katherine Brenerton-Lowry)

Re: hey

Nov 3 2008 7:23 PM

hey, sorry about the other day. can we get dinner? drink later?

< Sent from my iPhone >

 

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Katherine Brenerton-Lowry)

Re: hey

Nov 3 2008 8:45 PM

seriously. let me make it up to you. just a drink.

< Sent from my iPhone >

 

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Katherine Brenerton-Lowry)

Re: hey

Nov 3 2008 9:52 PM

make your paranoid husband feel better. just tell me to go to hell.

 < Sent from my iPhone >

 

From: (Mike Lowry)

To: (Katherine Brenerton-Lowry)

Re: hey

Nov 3 2008 9:53 PM

you could just get old school and tell me to 7734209. ;]

< Sent from my iPhone >

* * * * * 

 

Mike knows he shouldn’t be here. He knows that just because she didn’t return his e-mails, it doesn’t mean something’s up. He’s walking down Katherine’s hallway, half expecting to see her turn the corner. Fuck, that would be awkward. What’s he gonna say if he sees her? What if she’s with a date? Shit, he thinks, she’s still using my name. If that was worth something to the doorman, it should be worth something to whatever guy she’s…

Mike reaches her apartment and the door’s an inch ajar. He knocks firmly on the frame.

“Hello? Anybody home?”

No answer.

This is a bad idea, he thinks as he enters. In the doorway he tries to reach with his ears, but there is no noise. He takes a few more steps. The coffee table has been pushed off center and the lamp is tipped. An arc of blood is splattered against the wall leading to the bedroom.

Every nerve in Mike’s body is screaming to get out of there. He very much regrets leaving his gun at home. The blood splatters get thicker the farther he gets down the hall. The door to the bedroom is half open. He pushes the door open with the tip of his shoe. The blankets and sheets have been ripped off the bed. The mattress is covered with a puddle of blood. His wife’s body is sitting against their old headboard. Her head is in her lap.

 

The following post, by Sarah Finch, is the eighth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. It is being written by five authors, each of whom write two chapters each. You can read the first seven installments here. Be sure to check in next Monday for Chapter 9.

Neither the man nor the woman were paying attention to where they were going. Both were lost in thought as they headed in opposite directions down a narrow hallway, only to be violently jolted back to reality when they turned a corner at the same time and their bodies smacked against one another.

“Excuse me,” the man said, offering a weak smile in apology.

“Yeah, okay.”

He was momentarily taken aback by her lack of courtesy, but there were greater things weighing on his mind than one woman’s rudeness. By the time he got on the elevator, he was again thinking (obsessing, really) over the death of his son the previous day. He had no way of knowing that the woman he had just encountered was thinking about the same thing.

The woman kept walking and then entered the office that the man had just left. “Hi, I need to see Mike,” she told the receptionist.

“Uh, do you have an appointment?”

“I’m his wife.” She paused, a pained look flickering across her face as she thought about their separation and the happier days that seemed so long ago.

The receptionist frowned and picked up the phone on the intercom. “He’ll be right out,” she said after putting the phone down.

A door opened and a man in his late thirties strode out into the waiting room. He had almost generic good looks—the smooth-skinned, brown-haired, strong-jawed kind of attractiveness that called to mind that of an anchorman on the local news. “Katherine, what are you doing here?” Mike asked the woman in the trench coat. He didn’t attempt to hide the annoyance in his voice.

“I don’t know.” Katherine’s voice faltered and her posture seemed to wilt under harshness of the man’s tone.

Mike noticed the receptionist was not concealing her interest in the tense exchange, so he took Katherine by the wrist and led her out of the office. “Come on. If we have to do this, we’re not going to do it in front of my employee.”

“Let go of me,” Katherine hissed.

“You want me to let go? That’s rich,” Mike laughed. “That must be why you called earlier today.”

“You don’t have to manhandle me,” she shot back, the words echoing off the walls of the narrow hallway. Had her voice always been like that? Mike had never remembered it being quite that sharp, even when she was at her angriest.

“Fine.” He let go of her unceremoniously. “There’s a place on the corner that serves shitty coffee. Let’s go and get this over with.”

“Get what over with?” Katherine asked.

“This.” Mike gestured to the space between them. The motion was jerky and stilted, reflecting the tension that was etched on his face. Mike liked being in control, and he suspected that Katherine was not going to allow him to have the upper hand. She probably wants this to be messy, he thought. “Coffee shop,” he said. “Now.”

The short trip to the cheap diner was excruciating for both of them. Katherine snuck an appraising glance at Mike, noting that wrinkles were now beginning to make inroads on his face. There were frown lines that had not been there the last time she had seen him. The spidery veins on his wrist were more pronounced, too. The thought that he might feel as much duress as she did was comforting, not for his suffering but for the solace that she might offer him.

Mike stared straight ahead as Katherine looked at him. He pretended she was not there—and she knew that was what he was doing. “Just don’t make a fucking scene,” he said gruffly as they reached the diner.

The Imperial Diner held the dubious distinction of making the worst cup of coffee in Manhattan. That wasn’t enough to stop it from being Mike’s haunt of choice, as he generally valued fast service and low prices over the ability to choke down the sludge that was served. The pink-haired waitress, who didn’t look a day over fourteen, showed them to a booth and Mike refused the proffered menus, instead ordering two coffees, one black and one with half and half.

“You remember how I like my coffee,” Katherine said, attempting a smile.

“Yeah, some things you don’t forget,” Mike said. His tone was carefully neutral, and his wife was at a loss. If it had any significance to begin with. She had forgotten how he would put panes of fogged glass in front of his words, as if taunting whomever he was talking to. “Why are you calling me and coming to my office?”

“I just need to talk to you.” Katherine saw the smirk on his face but she chose to ignore it. She didn’t come here to have a shouting match. “Things haven’t turned out the way I expected them to. I don’t like being alone, Mike.”

“You said being alone wasn’t a bad thing, that it was good for your artistic juices, or some such crap.”

“It’s one thing to be alone for a few hours or a few days,” Katherine said. “I feel like I’m in solitary confinement.”

“Self-imposed solitary confinement,” Mike reminded her. He took his elbows off the table so the waitress could set down their coffees. He flashed the young woman a smile and Katherine’s mouth pursed in a sour expression.

“Self-imposed?”

“You were the one who sent that e-mail saying I wasn’t taking this seriously and we shouldn’t be together. Why would you want to start this again? We’d just end up in the same place.”

“You don’t know—”

“Yes, I do, Katherine. We would just fight over the same crap. We’d be at war, fighting forever, for the rest of our lives.”

At war. Forever. The Forever War. Katherine shook her head, wondering why the title of that goddamn book was following her around. “I just don’t want this. This life.”

“And you think I could fix everything that’s broken?” Mike shook his head and took a long gulp of his vile coffee.

“Not everything. But sometimes we were really good together, Mike. And maybe I was expecting too much of you, expecting too much of our marriage. No relationship is really a magic pill, and I understand that now. Part of me was terrified that we’d end up like my parents, sitting at opposite ends of a long dinner table without a word to say to each other.”

“I don’t think silence will ever be the problem. It’s not as if we ever ran out of things to say to each other.” Mike let out a halting laugh. “Or, more accurately, things to e-mail to each other. Half our communication was done through the fucking computer.”

“But you’re the one who traveled everywhere,” Katherine said. “What the hell else was I supposed to do, send a carrier pigeon?”

“If we’re already rehashing this shit five minutes into our conversation, shouldn’t you take it as a sign that these issues wouldn’t go away with any kind of fresh start?”

“There’s no such thing as a fresh start. That’s not what I’m looking for.”

“So, we’d be building on the foundation of our marriage? That’s not very solid ground, Kat.” Mike missed Katherine’s slight flinch at his use of the nickname. He had not called her Kat since those early, heady days that were filled with dewy-eyed romance unmarred by practical considerations.

“It was solid ground once,” she insisted. “It could be again.”

He shrugged noncommittally. “Why is this happening now anyway? Is it just that yesterday was the anniversary?”

“Yes. I don’t know. Maybe. I feel as if everything is coming apart. A boy died yesterday. He committed suicide by jumping off a balcony. I didn’t see it, but I catered the bat mitzvah where it happened. When I saw his picture in the paper I realized he bumped into me just before he jumped. I was one of the last people he had contact with. I didn’t even know him. That’s scary as hell. No one in this city knows anyone, we’re all just floating around, alone. I need someone. I need something.”

A pall had come over Mike’s face at the mention of the boy’s death. He was relieved that Katherine was staring out the window and not looking at him, as he didn’t think that even his best poker face would be very convincing at the moment. His professional life and his personal life were not supposed to collide in this way. The odds would seem to be infinitesimal that his wife, who he’d been separated from for a year, would have been at the scene of a case he had just been hired to investigate.

He suddenly felt very uncomfortable. He didn’t believe in signs; that was Katherine’s thing. But her reappearance coupled with her connection to the case he had just taken complicated his orderly view of the world. Maybe people came in and out of his life for a reason. Maybe now he would have to believe in something other than himself.

Katherine gazed outside, watching the people hustle back and forth on their meaningless errands. She wondered if anyone would notice if she stood in the middle of the street and screamed as loud as she could. She wondered if Mike would notice. She wondered why she cared.

“This was a mistake,” she said at last.

“Katherine—”

“I’m sorry, Mike. Just forget this, okay?”

She fished a few worn singles out of her wallet and threw them down next to the untouched mug of coffee, then got up and walked away without looking back.

The following post, by J.L. Balderama, is the seventh installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. It is being written by five authors, each of whom write two chapters each. You can read the first six installments here. Check in each Monday for a new post.

Hello?”

Mike hears a woman’s voice from far off somewhere behind his head. He’s facedown in bed, his cheek mashed into the pillow, limbs splayed in a dead-man’s pose. A chalk-figure pose. When he opens his eyes, he sees lines of gray and yellow, the light coming through the bedroom’s blinds, striating the carpeted floor.

Wait. He doesn’t own blinds. And he refinished his floors last year. Hardwood.

In one movement he pushes against the bed and flips himself up and over to sitting. He needs his glasses. Where are they? He feels around on the nightstand. Please oh please let them be—ah, yes, here. He slips them on and takes stock of the room: big bed, big ugly armoire, closets with mirrored doors on his right, a round table and two chairs off to the left, a coffeemaker on a plastic tray. He’s in a hotel. He could use some coffee. There’s a buzzing in his ears. Somewhere around the corner there’s a low, incessant hum, which he presumes to be a mini fridge.

How’d he end up in a hotel?

“Hello?”

The voice comes from around the corner. Echoes in the bathroom. It’s definitely a girl.

“Hello?” he answers back.

“Hello? Hell-ooo?”

“Hey!” he says. “I’m in here.”

“Hello? Ugh, Jesus Christ.” He hears the plastic thwap of a cell phone slamming shut. She comes into the bedroom.

Oh, dear.

Vague flashes of memory. He and his buddies at Joe’s in the Village. A table of girls, all college age, too young, too unbearably hot. Pitchers of beer, rounds of shots. His table, rowdy. Sideways glances from the girls. The flipping of hair. Mikey—that’s Mike No. 2, out of four at the table, all his friends are called Mike these days (what’s up with that?)—dares him to go over and say something to the girl in the red dress.

It must have worked.

Exhibit A: Girl, wrapped in a towel.

Exhibit B? He scans the room. Yup, O.K., there it is: red dress crumpled on the floor under the round table.

He wishes he could remember what it was he said.

She tosses the phone onto the bed. He sees that it’s his.

“Who’s Katherine?” she says.

Oh, fuck. “Huh?”

“Katherine. She’s called, like, three times in the last 10 minutes.”

“And you answered the phone?” He bends to pick it up. “This is my phone, right?”

“Yeah, I answered it. Fuckin’ woke me up.”

He examines the girl. She is slim and pretty, but she slouches in a way that is unseemly. What was her name? Anna? Alice? His head suddenly hurts.

“And what did Katherine say?”

“She didn’t say anything. That’s what’s fucked up. She hung up every time.”

“I imagine,” he says, “she was expecting to get someone else.” He doesn’t try to hide that he’s annoyed.

He gets out of bed and starts picking his way around the room, retrieving shoes, pants, socks. The girl drops her towel and looks at him with expectation. He feels a throbbing in his groin, but he’s not going to encourage her. At least, not until he can remember her name.

Alix? Alexa?

In the bathroom he finds his shirt, drenched, plugging up the sink.

“Hey! Why is my shirt in the sink?”

“You barfed!”

He barfed. Great.

“So, hey,” she says, slinking around the bathroom door, hanging there off the side of the frame like a monkey on a tree. “Who’s Katherine?”

It’s none of the girl’s damned business. But he knows he’s not going to see her again.

“My ex,” he says.

“Ah. That figures.”

* * * * *

Later that morning, Mike Banning, P.I., sits in his office. Computer on, notepad by the phone for quick scribbling, a cup of pens, his Glock semiautomatic stashed within easy reach. Work is the one part of his life that’s not a total mess. There’s a wall of steel cabinets, alphabetized and ordered by date, and another batch of files, open cases, in a smaller cabinet under his desk. At any given moment he knows the location of every item in his office, down to the last unsharpened pencil and cell phone battery and photograph and canceled check. He never understood how other P.I.s could be so sloppy, the theory that clarity could come amid physical chaos. This—clean, efficient—is the only way he knows how to do business. Time is money and he hates to waste a minute. Time is even, on occasion, a matter of life and death.

That’s one thing Katherine never got: When he was on a case, time was precious. His brain was tuned, every moment, to the task at hand. He didn’t have the mental space to worry about her worries when he was already worried about getting his own job done. Call from every airport? Call from the hotel? Call when he wiped his ass? Please.

Katherine had problems. It’s why she couldn’t write. She couldn’t focus. She’d made all these claims before they were married—she didn’t mind that he traveled a lot, no, not at all; she needed the solitude, the room of her own and all that shit. He’d gotten her text message the day before: “Two years.” Christ. Now that she was alone, she couldn’t leave him be.

Yeah. Poor Katherine. She had major problems.

“Hey, Mike?” Jay, his partner, pokes his head around the office door. Jay is good-looking, balding, works out a lot but can’t quite shake his paunch. His wife cooks too well. Jay has a family. He’s found a way to make it work.

“Hey, what’s up, Jay?”

“You hear about that kid who jumped off that building uptown yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

“We just got a call from a guy, claiming to be the kid’s dad. Says he’d like to retain our services. Says he doesn’t trust the police to do their job.”

“Oh, yeah? He say what he was after, specifically?”

“Just a hint. He said it was a ‘sensitive matter.’ Said there might be a suspect he didn’t trust the cops to chase down. Said he’d like to come in, to talk about it.”

Mike swivels to the computer and brings up his calendar. “All right. See if he can come in today, around 3.”

The following post, by Mario Zambrano, is the sixth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. It is being written by five authors, each of whom write two chapters each. You can read the first five installments, including chapter one, also by Mr. Zambrano, here. Check in each Monday for a new post.

Katherine woke up with her head over the edge of the bathtub. She had been dreaming about a boy, but she couldn’t see his face. She could only remember what his body felt like between her legs.

The ceramic was cold against her skin, and the muscles in her neck were numb, like her legs that were folded over each other. She was naked except for black trunks, and was soaking in a pool of vomit on the blue-and-white tiled floor. The taste of cotton was in her mouth, and bile, and as she peeled open her eyes she could hear a baby finch singing at the windowsill. A bus horn honked somewhere down the street, reaching her third-floor apartment as she lay in her drunken position from the night before. The walls reflected lemon yellow—obviously, morning sunlight.

She remembered how bright the fluorescent lights were in her bathroom, and how she had stared in the mirror while tracing her eyes with her forefingers. She had looked at herself for so long she became a stranger to herself, and asked, “How could I love you?” She must’ve collapsed like a building, she thought, a bomb set at the bottom of her heels that made every floor crumble. As she gained consciousness, she tried to remember what had happened. “What was it?’” she thought, “this liquid pool under my body?”

“Yes,” she remembered. “I got drunk.” Tears shot out of her swollen eyes, and her face scrunched like a balled-up tissue. She remembered touching herself as she sat on the toilet—how desperate she was to feel love. “Filthy…” she thought. “I yelled profanities about Mike with my hair in front of my face. I turned off the lights and had a bottle of wine in my hand.”

She tried to smile as she closed her eyes, thinking, “But I had fun, didn’t I?” She extended her legs and unglued her neck from the tub, not changing the position of her head. Her body felt decrepit. Pink vomit covered half of the floor, and just like a child—spoiled, ashamed—she cried. She opened her mouth and made a soundless expression as though she was screaming. She slowly discovered the joints in her body as she moved her limbs. The sound of the baby finch became more obvious to her as she held her head up—a headache throbbed to the rhythm of her heartbeat.

Katherine reached for the faucet on the shower and turned the knob. She crawled inside, and the water was cool, tapping like small knocks all over her skin. She turned the knob further and felt the warm water fall over her as she stood up. She took off her trunks and washed off the remains of that pink regurgitation that had become like a layer of second skin on the backs of her legs. Her hair was wet and her mind was warm; she remembered faint scenes from the dreams she had had while passed out on the floor: an overweight bum on the subway singing gibberish in mumbling whispers; that boy… Jeremi, from the bat mitvah she had worked at—he was older in her dream, but still, a boyish face—and he was on top of her. No, she had covered his face with a down pillow and made love to him. She was flying at one point; she dreamt of moving through the sky with breaststroke movements.

“Did any of that mean anything?” she wondered. The sunlight shooting through the window was a fire orange under Katherine’s eyelids. She turned her head to feel it on her face, and covered herself with lather—chamomile with fennel seeds.

* * * * *

After showering, Katherine slipped into a pair of clean jeans and put on a red, long-sleeve T-shirt. She walked to the kitchen and felt the urgent need to get rid of any evidence from the night before: the three bottles of red wine, the tequila bottle. It was the tequila, Katherine knew, that caused her headache.

She took two Tylenols and cleaned her apartment, putting every framed photograph of her and Mike face down. But when she checked her phone she noticed two missed calls from the night before. Mike had tried to reach her. The screen didn’t mark the time. It said: yesterday. She walked to the window in her living room and looked down to the street—a Sunday morning with mothers pushing strollers down the sidewalk. Her phone was in her hand, and she tried to decide whether or not to call him. “Yesterday was our anniversary,” she thought. “But what would I say?”

She felt like going to the nearest coffee shop. She needed to see people and feel people. She walked to her front door and grabbed The New York Times on her welcome mat, got her keys, and reached for her garnet hairpin—a red firefly with gold wings—knowing that even though Mike had given it to her she couldn’t throw it away. It was the one gift he had given her that seemed to complete everything she had ever wanted from him. He had given it to her one night at a restaurant in the West Village, and he had worn a suit jacket, which was so unlike him. He was proud of her because she had won first place in a short-story contest.

When she opened the small black box, the garnet firefly had seemed to reflect how he saw her—delicate, beautiful, and with wings. If one thing were to be salvaged from the story between them, it would be this, she decided, as she held it up towards the light that shined across her living room floor. A photograph of the firefly would be the book cover of her novel if it were ever to be written.

*  *  *  *  *

The coffee shop at the corner of Sackett and Henry attracted customers with laptops, and when Katherine walked in there was only one seat available in the corner. She took off her jacket and ordered a cappuccino at the bar while turning her head to all the laptops in the room, curious as to what a blond man by the window might be writing—a thesis, a biography?

There was a pen on her table, and she drew circles within circles in the margins of her newspaper. There was too much foam in her cappuccino, and after three sips there wasn’t any more espresso. She ordered another, and then sat down and opened the Times to the book reviews section. She browsed the news headlines to see if anything had been written about the boy that had jumped, but she found nothing. 

The first novel in the fiction section seemed familiar to her: The Forever War. She drew a cliff bordering the book cover’s image—a mustard color—with a man jumping off the edge with his arms out to his sides, a swan-dive position. Then she remembered: it was the book the girl on the train was reading the day before. Suddenly, because of the word War, because of the word Forever, she wanted to call Mike. She stood up and walked outside to have some space to walk around as she spoke. She looked at her thumb over the call button, and then up to the sky, thinking, “One one thousand, two one thousand, three…” and pressed the button.

 

           

 

 

The following post, by Tony Tallon, is the fifth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. You can read the first four chapters here. We’ll be publishing a new chapter each week.

The bar on Bleecker was all exposed brick and votive candles lighting drunk faces that hovered over glasses of red wine and whiskey—alcoholic earth tones of crimson and brown. He spotted her lonely frame hunched on a barstool, a swizzle stick pressed between her lips, and could make out her jaw jutting to-and-fro, chewing the plastic furiously. He noticed her chestnut curls pulled back, and the elfish points of her ears.

He approached with caution. Something about her demeanor warned of a woman who did not appreciate approach. Her face was blank, and if it weren’t for the swizzle stick, it would seem she was still as stone.  Jeremi took the seat next to her, all too aware of the distance between them and ordered a Jack on the rocks.

Systematically turning his head from one muted TV to another, watching the news to his left, reading the ticker, then the game on his right, Jeremi constantly checked the score. When he turned to the game his eyes landed first on her, noting quickly how her stern and distant gaze had not moved from her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. It placed her petite head on the shelf amidst half filled liquor bottles.

“Did you know,” he finally said, “that Southern Comfort is not a whiskey, but rather a cordial? Most people don’t know that.”

“Very nice,” she said, uninterested.

“My name is Jeremi, with an i,” he said, making a gesture to shake her hand.

“How delightful.”

“Do you have a name?”

Her head finally turned from its reflection and her eyes made first contact. He was stunned by their immediate fury. “Look,” she said,  “you seem like a nice kid, but that’s just it, you’re a kid and I am an old woman, so if you don’t mind I am gonna sit here, slurp down this cheap red wine and pretend that I am someone else.”  She turned back to her reflection and took a swig from her glass.

Jeremi waited a minute, not quite sure what to do. “My parents were part of that group of people who liked to misspell things. They almost named me Philip with an f.”

“I am really not interested.”

“Then why are you still sitting here?”

She shifted on her stool. Her fingers ran across the edge, and her lips puckered. She flipped a curl and Jeremi noted its chestnut brown hue. “I don’t know. That’s a very good question, and I have a better answer.” She took her wine glass and shoved it through the vacant air between them. A wave of red cupped through the air and splashed against his face. “Good night…and by the way, I am much too old for you.”

She collected her things and headed for the door. Jeremi started to wipe his face with cocktail napkins. He was now more aroused for a chase. He followed her out the door and grabbed her hand as she tried to hail a cab.

“Wait,” he said, “How old are you?”

“Thirty-eight. Now, will you leave me alone?”

“Well I am 23, you’re not too old for me, you’re perfect.”His grin showed he was a little too sure of himself. “Let me buy you a drink, or coffee, or tea? Let me sit next to you on a barstool and pretend you think me dashing.”

She let out a sigh. “Fine.”

“Wonderful. And what’s your name?”

“Katherine, and I’m pretty sure it’s spelled correctly.”

 


The following post, by Geoffrey Jason Kagan Trenchad, is the fourth installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. You can read the first three chapters here. We’ll be publishing a new chapter each week.

Katherine said it was gonna be slow this winter, but Michael was optimistic. His band, The Black Maria, had just opened for Hold Steady at the Bowery Ballroom. Greg Finn, Hold Steady’s lead singer, said he loved ’em and Mike figures if he plays his cards right he might have a tour lined up to cover December’s bills, and maybe a little extra for January. God bless Katherine, he thought. It was a rare and precious thing to find a catering company owner in this city who understood it was not, in fact, your life’s mission to carry champagne trays or fill amuse-bouche soup glasses or pour gallons of fucking Diet Coke at an uptown bat mitzvah way too early on a Sunday.

Mike is just at the point where playing music is almost enough to meet the rent and pay bills on time. But every second he’s not on stage or in the studio, he’s tending to The Black Maria’s MySpace page. Or sending out links to demos. Or calling some promoter about money they owe. Or a million other less than glamorous tasks that he never thought would be part of the whole struggling-rock-star gig when he was in high school. Not that he’s complaining. He can’t afford to buy his girl the perfume that she likes, but he lives in New York fucking City and he plays music to make most of his living and that, too, is a rare and precious thing. 

Besides, the job that fills in when the T-shirts don’t sell isn’t that bad. Sometimes it’s just pouring sodas for seventh-grade girls who think the tattoos creeping out from the cuff of your work shirt are the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. Sometimes you get to take home an extra gift bag because one of the guests didn’t show and it just happens to have a bottle of Lolita. Sometimes your boss, who is the nicest white woman you have ever worked for, takes your tray of brownies and sends you on a smoke break.

In the hallway out to the elevator Mike passes the most distraught preteen boy in all of Manhattan, which put him in high running for the most distraught preteen boy in the world. Mike remembers how utterly trapped it felt to be that age. He had read a story on the train this morning about a girl who shot another girl in the face. They were in the seventh grade, and up until recently had been best friends. Broken-heart necklaces and all. Mike thinks about all the times he thought of doing something like that, or worse, and is so glad he just buried his face deeper into sci-fi novels and the soundproofing he put up in his room. He plotted and schemed like an arch criminal to save his money and not get strung out or get anyone pregnant, and he made for damn sure he got the fuck out of his small town if it was that last thing he did. Good luck to you, he thinks, saddest little preteen boy in Manhattan.

Mike rolls a cigarette while he walks through the lobby to the front door. He flicks the loose tobacco stuck to the calluses on the fingers of his chord hand. There’s a bad cut on his index finger that he sealed last night with crazy glue, but now it’s opening back up. Mike starts to scroll though the favorite numbers saved in his cell phone. Thinking about how he’s gonna tell his girl how he got to work OK and on time, despite the hangover and subway fuck-ups. How the Jonas Brothers are setting up for their very special acoustic set for a very special birthday princess, and he’s happier than a puppy with three dicks to be outside and on the phone. How he loves her so much sometimes he just aches for enough ways to say it.

Mike thinks about saying all of this as he steps out from under the awning to light his cigarette. He realizes, flicking the lighter faster and faster as he curses at it, will not in fact, make it work. Mike closes the phone, goes inside to borrow a book of matches from the concierge, steps back out from under the awning and hits send. On the fourth ring a body smashes face first into the sidewalk in front of him. There’s not much blood at first, but the thud of impact is accompanied by an eerie cracking of bones that ripples through the cold November air. When the blood does start to creep toward his feet, he can’t seem to move out of the way. Clare says, “Hey baby, hello, can you hear me?” Mike quietly mumbles, “Oh my god oh my god oh my god.”

The call drops and Clare is unsure what to do. Should she call back or wait for Mike to call her back? The last thing she wants is for him to try to call her while she’s trying to call him, and for them to get caught in a purgatory of busy signals. She takes the stack of poems she was grading, the ones by the students in her gifted and talented program, off her lap. On the top is a poem from Jeremi about cars. She knew it was going to be terrible and is more than a little relieved to be interrupted. Somewhere in the pile underneath is a poem by Ballard about birds that she won’t read until after she hears the news. Clare puts the whole stack on the nightstand next to her bed. She lights a well-rolled joint that hangs out the corner of her mouth. She paces from the living room to the kitchen and tries to call Mike back.

 

 

 


The following post, by Sarah Finch, is the third installment of 10, 12th Street Online’s first serial novel. You can read chapters one and two here. We’ll be publishing a new chapter each week.

The crowd huddled in a semicircle on the sidewalk with everyone speaking in hushed tones. One man took a picture with his cell phone of the body that was sprawled on the gray pavement.

A patrol car came to a stop with the siren’s wail abruptly dropping off, and two cops emerged. The older one, a white man with sandy blond hair and a total absence of body fat, began talking into his radio to cancel the ambulance and call for a few extra officers, as it was plain to see that the jumper had not survived.

His partner was a black man in his late twenties who had a shaved head and neatly trimmed goatee. He went to work trying to corral the passel of gawkers.

“Okay, everyone get back. Come on, step back!” he ordered. “NYPD. Give us some room here.”

“You in charge here?” a gruff voice asked.

The younger cop looked up. “Who are you?”

“Ed Simmons. I manage this property.”

“Officer Antoine Davis, 19th precinct,” he replied in kind. “Anybody know who this person is or where he fell from?” The police dispatcher had reported it as a possible jumper, but Antoine didn’t want to believe that someone would be so willing to give up his life.

“It’s a teenager,” Simmons said. “And he didn’t fall. All our reports say that he jumped. There’s a bat mitzvah upstairs and my guess is that he was one of the guests. We don’t know his name yet.”

A teenager. Suicide was hard enough for Antoine to fathom, let alone wrapping his mind around the idea that someone so young would give up all hope.

He had only seen three dead bodies since becoming a cop: one elderly woman (presumably homeless) who had died of exposure near Chelsea Piers, one fifty-something man who had suffered a heart attack on the V train at rush hour, and a woman who had been suffocated by her boyfriend. Death had not seemed frightening to him when he saw those bodies; there was nothing so much as an expression of peace on their faces. Even the suffocation victim looked like she was happily asleep.

A jumper was something else. Human bodies were not designed to win contests against concrete, and the knowledge of what the crash could do to skin and bone was making Antoine’s stomach churn.

The crowd still lingered, just pushed back several yards. Antoine was stunned that people would want to fix their eyes on the human wreckage that lay before him. It was like a grotesque doll whose limbs had been affixed at unnatural angles. The face was smashed against the sidewalk, and he knew it would be impossible to try to get a physical description of the boy from what remained of his face. He gingerly patted down the pockets of the boy’s pants, hoping to find some ID on his person. No luck.

He looked once more at the macabre sight and could only hope that the boy had found whatever peace he had sought. But this was not peaceful, Antoine concluded. This was frightening. This was unnatural. This was violent.

This was what death was supposed to look like.

“We’re calling for extra officers so we can speak to everyone who might know why this happened,” he told Simmons. “I’m going inside and I need you to show me who was in charge of the party. Hey, Larry!” he called to his partner. “Stay with the body, okay? I’m gonna see what I can get from the guests.” The other man nodded his assent.

Antoine walked into a hall whose festive decorations contrasted starkly with the hushed atmosphere. People were moving slowly, as if underwater. A group of caterers stood in a corner, unwilling to break the somber mood by waltzing around with trays of hors d’oeuvres. Occasionally, hungry guests would walk over to grab a crab cake or a brownie or a chicken wing, looking almost apologetic as they did so.

“That’s Mrs. Stieglitz,” Simmons said, pointing at a woman in a crimson dress and matching shawl. “Her daughter is the one having the bat mitzvah.”

“Mrs. Stieglitz?” Antoine took out his badge and showed it to her. “I’m Officer Davis. Can you tell me what happened?”

The woman just shook her head. “No. I can’t believe this. My poor daughter—to have this happen on what’s supposed to be such a happy day!”

Antoine was struck by the woman’s reaction. He was unsure whether it came from lack of sympathy or from shock, or some combination. It unnerved him either way. “I’m very sorry that this had to happen,” he said. “Do you know the name of the boy who jumped?”

“No. Josephine says that all of her friends are here inside and are safe. Our family is accounted for.”

“There are a few older kids,” Antoine observed.

“My son, Jeremi, invited several friends.” She gestured over to a blond boy who was chatting with an impossibly pretty girl; he seemed unperturbed by the tragedy that had just occurred. “But he says they’re all here.”

“Okay, I’m going to need to talk to him.”

“Are you saying he’s lying?” Mrs. Stieglitz’s voice became harsh and Antoine noticed that her forehead didn’t move along with the rest of her face.

“Ma’am, I’m just trying to sort through all this. My primary concern at the moment is to identify the boy who died so we can notify his family, and I’d like to talk to your son because he seems to be the same age. Please,” he added. The woman’s mouth was set in a firm line but she nodded. Antoine thanked her and walked over to the boy. “Are you Jeremi?”

“Yes.” He turned to the girl and gave her a shrug that was a silent gesture to send her away. “This whole thing is crazy.”

“It is. Do you know the boy who jumped?”

“No.” The answer came far too quickly and Jeremi’s eyes didn’t seem to be focusing on anything in particular. Antoine knew the boy was lying. Teen boys were great at deceiving their parents, but he wasn’t so easily fooled.

“He seems to be about your age. Your mother said you had invited a few friends. Is it possible he just tagged along with one of them?”

“I’m telling you, I didn’t know him.” He punctuated each word with a slight shake of his right hand, which was balled into a loose fist. Antoine wondered if Jeremi might even believe his own words. The boy’s eyes were still unfocused, as if his real sight was turned inward.

”Let’s talk somewhere quieter, okay?” He walked Jeremi out into an empty corridor, and the teen sighed heavily but didn’t resist. “Okay, I need you to be honest with me.” Antoine kept his voice soft, realizing he wouldn’t get anywhere by badgering the teen. “There’s a boy your age who just killed himself. He was here at this party. I understand how upsetting this must be if he was your friend, but this wasn’t anyone’s fault. I just want to know his name. I can tell there’s something you’re holding back.”

Jeremi seemed to shrink into himself now that he was away from the rest of the crowd. The cocksure attitude and suave grace that had first caught Antoine’s eye retreated, leaving a young man who wasn’t quite sure what face to present. “He wasn’t supposed to be here,” he said finally, his voice quiet and steady. “I didn’t invite him.”

“What’s his name?”

“Ballard.”

“What’s his first name?”

“No, Ballard is his first name. Ballard Stone. I go to school with him. He lives on West End in the eighties.”

“You two are friends?”

“No, not really. He’s an okay kid, I guess.” Jeremi paused. “I mean he was an okay kid.”

“Why did he jump?”

“I don’t want to talk about this, okay? I wasn’t there. I had gone back inside. I wasn’t there,” he said again. “Can I go now?”

“Yeah, go ahead.” Antoine could see the guilt on Jeremi’s face, but he wasn’t about to push further. The kid—Ballard Stone, what a name—had jumped and that was his choice alone. Antoine’s job as a patrolman wasn’t to unravel someone else’s despair; it was to serve and protect, and to deal with the undesirable elements that nobody else wanted to touch.

He wondered if Ballard had seen himself as an undesirable element. Or maybe Jeremi had been the one to define him as undesirable. Or maybe it was not that simple.

Antoine walked back into the party and made his way out to the balcony, where Ballard had jumped. The view of the sidewalk beneath showed the boy’s body still sprawled on the concrete. He stared for several long moments. There were two more patrol cars at the curb and an officer was stringing police tape around the area. The crowd had not gone away; in fact it had swelled, and he could make out two small children watching the scene with an adult. He was disgusted by their curiosity, and by his own.

An officer draped a black sheet over the body of Ballard Stone, and Antoine turned away.