Meet Arthur Crowley and the Coroner. Al watches some television.
In the heart of the city a glass behemoth towers above all the other buildings in the area. Throughout the day its shadow twists through the streets like a dark searching hand, laying its cold clutch upon housewife and homicide alike. It seems only one man in the city is beyond the grasp of this daily choking micro-night, and that man’s name is Arthur Crowley .
He sits at his desk in a top floor office like a bull frog on a lily pad, croaking orders into a little black speaker box. Rather than “hair”, Mr. Crowley sports a four pronged comb over, each wavering strip like an unctuous tendril wriggling away from its tether. He wears a fat red tie and a double-breasted blue blazer. The thin white shirt which consistently precedes these articles is perpetually soaked with perspiration. In fact, every pore on Arthur Crowley’s pale bloated body simply pours sweat from the moment he leaves his extravagant penthouse suite in the mid-morning until he lay down upon exotic silks to dream of his fears and his guilt.
Mr. Crowley is pondering with bushy brow furrowed the contents of that days time clock ledger. His horny finger passing over the printed names, each of which represents one cell within the faceless mass that pumps through the veins of his lofty tower. Every time a minor trace of tardiness appears above his thumb nail he makes an angry red mark next to their name with a cracked naked crayon. This ritual carries on with the same unstinting persistence as any recurring natural phenomena. Like the lapping of waves at a distant seashore, the punctual eruption of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, the rise and decline of the mighty Mississippi River, Arthur Crowley is just another twitching gear within the great clockwork of nature. Naomi Letcher---9:04 am.; a scowl and a rage full red slash. Guy Rostov---9:03 am; the crayon seems almost in pain as it is dragged along the paper, thick shimmering fragments of itself tumbling in its wake. Now his yellowed nail scrapes past a more familiar name, Al Solomon--- N/A. He huffs sour breath through his great flared nostrils and frowns, his face looking all the more like a toad’s. Placing the crayon in perfect parallel to the edge of his ledger book, Arthur turns his attention to the little black speaker box. He lets his fingers dance around their target for a moment, fluttering impatiently, awaiting their master’s heed. His fist balls up save for his lumpy pointer and this he thrusts upon the innocent little button, as if wishing to bring it pain. “Where the fuck is that fat faggot Solomon!” The voice that nervously crawls from the speaker is over feminine; high pitched and feeble, almost mouse like.
“He requested the day off sir. He mentioned it was a……personal matter.”
“I don’t want to hear about this cocksucker’s personal life! Between the hours of nine am and six pm he is a lapdog of Crowley & Needs Inc. Lapdogs have no personal lives Karen!”
“Why wasn’t I informed of Solomon’s little scheme earlier? When did he tell you that he wasn’t going to show?” A bead of sweat drops onto Arthur’s gelatinous claw as it shakes with tension, forcing the button to its limit. “ Well!” She responds in frantic please, like a woman being accused of witchcraft while staring down a stake and tinder. “He told me last night. I tried to reach you at your office but you had just left to go home. I would have called you on your blackberry but you told me that if I ever did that again you would….well, you told me not to do it.”
“Jesus Christ! Is this what I pay you for Karen? To keep me un-informed?!”, he releases the button.
“I’m sorry sir, I wont let it happen ag-”
“Yeah, yeah. Just find that fat fuck Solomon and get his ass in here!” Arthur leaves his finger on the button for a long time, thinking and staring into the swirling polished grain of his mahogany desk. “ But first, find out what he’s up to. You can’t trust a man with secrets, and I’m certainly not employing any more staff that I can’t trust. I want you to call up the chameleon on this one, and if it turns out our Solomon is up to no good…sick Lu on em’. ” He releases the button, he turns off the speaker box.
By the time Al Solomon returns to his cubic basement studio it is almost ten thirty am. On the drive back he had contemplated going into work, but the thought of Mr. Crowley’s wrathful welcome to such an unpunctual arrival eventually directed him homeward. Through the miniscule “windows” a moribund light throws itself tiredly about the room, resting in torpid pools here and there but doing nothing to illuminate the space. Al closes the door behind him and lugubriously drags himself over to his emaciated sofa. When he sit’s a great plume of dust explodes into the feeble spears of sunlight, looking much like a dense grey cloud of hungry gnats. With a sigh he loosens his tie and goes about picking up a book which was resting on the coffee table, cluttered with empty beer cans and half finished Chinese take out.
Al is the sort of person we pass by countless times every day. Sitting alone in a near-empty bocca grande up town, munching away at a burrito and wishing it could talk. Staring into the gaping orifice of black beans and soggy steak, waiting for the flimsy tortilla lips to start flapping about television and the government just so they can finally think out loud. These are the people who lack the social homeostasis to function in a retail job, so they confine themselves to a cubicle tomb, speaking to the troll dolls which adorn the secretary desk adjacent to their own. Who drive home to speak to the television set. Who dine alone, staring imploringly into their pu-pu platter for two. This curious species lives primarily inside of their own cranium communicating in a silent tongue to the varied tenants of their dusty minds. These are the working and the dead, and Al walks amongst them.
Al is reading Dan Brown, or Jodi Piccoult, or something of that mass market sort. He doesn’t find joy in trudging through such volumes, but he has heard that the habit of reading is a desirable one…so he reads. Next to his bed in the corner a little stack of books sits, boasting such titles as “How to Make Friends and Influence People” and “Happiness, it CAN be Yours”. There is also a year-old TV Guide hiding in the pile, placed there with it’s spine to the wall for the purpose of adding bulk to the tower. This pile is evidence, in the mind of Mr. Solomon, of his “higher mind.” A totem in testament to his long lost academic self which, in retrospect, stands taller, thinner and increasingly more handsome than the pale bulk he finds in his crusty bathroom mirror each morning. After consuming exactly twenty pages of the crisp paperback he returns it to it’s cluttered perch and again sighs into the vacuous silence.
He turns on the television.
Breaking News: Early this morning police discovered the body of Ms. Samantha Archer at her house on Torino Avenue. Police were led to the scene by a 911 call from Ms. Ingrid Swann, longtime fried and neighbor to Ms. Archer. Ingrid reported a series of disturbing noises issuing from Archer’s home between midnight and twelve-twenty this morning. When reporter on the scene Doug Welch asked local PD about the nature of Ms. Archer’s death they responded that although they hadn’t yet found any incriminating evidence, foul play is suspected. Bruising around the neck of the body leads detectives to believe that she was strang - the body of your dreams? Hi, I’m Chet Castler. You know, just six months ago I was nearly three hundred pounds, unhealthy and unhappy. So how did I get to look like this? Diet, exercise and Trim-Slim EX. Just listen to some of these real life testimonies from - one, two, three, four and turn, two, three, four- I can’t love you Eileen, not after what you’ve done. If I left with you your sister would never forgive me. Why does it matter if she never forgives you Adam! I love you more than she ever did! You’re a wanted felon Eileen! A fugitive! The cops don’t care if you have amnesia or not. They’ll come looking for us. We’ll end up either locked up or de - wrong, wrong, wrong! The only way to settle things with Korea is to show them we’re not going to be intimidated. We have to throw the first stone and nuke them before they nuke us! The only thing that will come of bombing Korea is nuclear war! And we’re ready for one! Nobody has a larger stockpile of nuclear weapons than the U.S of A. We will end out on top! We will end out in rubble! We’re talking about the possibility of the extinction of the human race! We are talking about victory and defeat Dr. Lemon, and if we don’t put up our dukes, and I mean now, then we WILL be defeated! How is complete obliteration NOT defea - I love you dad. I love you too champ. Now lets get on inside, I think I can smell some of mom’s famous meat loaf. YAY MEATLOAF!
The coroner’s office is a rectangular cell of brushed steel with three autopsy tables lined up perfectly at it’s center. Beside the middle table a mustachioed scarecrow of a man sits hunched over the silently still body of what was formerly known as Ms. Samantha Archer. A crooked cigarette hangs precariously from his wispy lips, sending grey-blue smoke signals into the white light above. Against the far wall Finn and Casey stand statuesque, each leaning against it with one foot on the ground. The only sound as of yet is that of an old record player, looking very much out of place on the corner table by the door. From it’s big brass horn the melancholic musings of opera pour forth with a warm crackling consistency. The room is filled with it.
“Quite a shapely piece of meat” the coroner’s eyes gleam as he glances over at Finn and Casey for affirmation. Neither of them make the least effort to respond, Finn watching his feet and twiddling his thumbs, Casey staring straight ahead, still wearing his Ray-ban sunglasses. The coroner huffs a sigh and picks up his scalpel, returning his attention to the cold carcass upon his autopsy table. “Yup” he continues, blowing out smoke as he talks to himself, “she certainly was a looker.” He lays his blade into the pale flesh, splitting goose pimples as he drags it southward. The knife glides with such effortlessness that it seems to be acting by itself, enacting it’s practiced maneuvers on a stage all too familiar. The blade dances gracefully to the sorrowful wailings of the fat lady in the brass horn, its reflection cast luminously upon the lenses of the coroner’s glasses. His aquiline nose flaring with each glimmering pirouette.
Finn cannot watch. He has never been comfortable with the sight of blood, even coagulated blood of a body long devoid of life. Although he can avert his gaze, staring at the white linoleum beneath his feet, his ears cannot escape the quite squishing that flutters furtively behind the rise and fall of opera music, and it sickens him. Close by his side, Casey provides no support, staring blankly from behind his shades and looking much like a wax sculpture. Finn’s complexion is cold and clammy. “You’ve seen this a thousand times old man. Just keep it together. Its not a living person, its just dead meat.” The sound of baked beans being thrown at a canvas. “Its just dead meat Finn, dead meat” squish, “DEAD MEAT” shlop. The song ends and for a moment it is silent. CRACK! The coroner split’s the breastplate with a shiny metal tool, the sound is wet and resonant. “I’m gonna go get some air.” He says it hurriedly as he darts past Casey and makes for the door. Casey does not respond, he continues to stare at the wall, his sunglasses betraying nothing.
Outside Finn squats on a curb with his head sunken, breathing heavily with a hand over his eyes. “Your pathetic.” He thinks to himself, “you’re a pathetic old man. Almost sixty five years on this planet and your still as weak and as sensitive as you were in grade school.” A young girl is jogging by and notices him on the side of the road. She slows down and pulls out an earbud. “Hey” He cannot hear her, he is lost in the ever-expanding cosmic vacuum in the palm of his hand. “Excuse me, sir.” Now he hears her, and lifting his head he does his best to put on a smile for the young lady. “Are you okay?” He looks at her silently for a moment, wearing a prosthetic smile and a confused brow. “Do you need help?” Finn sighs deeply, “No, no I’m fine.”
“Are you sure, you don’t look so good. Can I help you up?”
“That’s not necessary. Thank you, though.” She doesn’t respond, replacing the bud she picks up her pace. Finn watches her for a moment. Every inch of her is taught and muscular, every curve is perfectly formed. She seems to glow with youthful vitality, a heavenly soft yellow light. “A kind girl” he thinks. Then he recalls the carcass on the reflective steel table, split open like a log. He looks to the sky, feeling small and helpless. The sun causes him to squint, sending wrinkles like lightning from the sides of his eyes. It escapes his lips in a breathy whisper, “Keep her safe.”