Month: March 2004

Portrait Of A Killer

Portrait Of A Killer

I need time to think about where I will get rid of the gun, so I get off near Kearny and walk the rest of the way to Embarcadero. 

There is a grainy mist in the air that makes San Francisco feel forbidding and cold like it doesn’t really want to receive me. 

I work here, sure, and I live in fucking faraway Montara, but the whole Bay Area feels like a stranger every morning, even though I have come here for over three months. 

Like this is someone else’s city.

I glance at my watch and try to distract myself with calculations about how fast I can walk to the pier and back to the restaurant without being late and getting fired. I have not had the best of records in being on time so far, and it’s not just because of traffic. I have to pull myself together or Mrs. Nicolo’s famous social conscience might wear thin – if it hasn’t already.

And still, there is the gun. I can feel its weight in my bag as I cross the street and make a point of passing the Financial District, without actually passing through. That is a world that is now forever out of reach, after the road I’ve been on for the last three years. 

My career as a drifter would not get me anywhere in those hallowed halls of glass and concrete. And to think I once dreamed of being a lawyer who went there and made an example of some guy who did all the dirty deals, and then I showed society what justice was all about. Just like on TV.

I hurry towards the water and the Bay. I can see the green-blue stripe between the buildings and I think for a brief second about if I should take a boat to Alcatraz, which is crazy because then I could really be late and get my ass fired.

One of the few people who gave me a chance, and I would have let her down. And myself. Well, I’ll be damned if I will let that happen.

So I walk faster.

And still, I feel the gun in my bag, brush at my side, like that little extra weight that shouldn’t be detectable given all the other shit I put in that bag, but it is the only weight I am aware of.

I wonder if I can throw it in the water with none of the tourists noticing?

Then I stop myself. I’ve almost reached the pier, stretching before me, like the road to some kind of vague, abstract freedom.

There are tourists, but not too many. But someone might still see me. I must’ve left my brain in my room. I should go on a tour boat. Or preferably climb down the rocks in Montara and let the damn thing disappear in those hungry whirls of white. Nobody would find it in a million years … 

I shake my head. What am I doing here?

A Japanese couple asks in halting English if I can take their picture.

I agree, because I hunger for their world of carefree normality, and every bit I can steal … I do that.

I give the Japanese couple back their camera and turn towards the water one last time, sighing. 

I know I can never get there. It is only 10 yards away, but it might as well be 10 million miles.  But I can’t stay. I can’t sit down at the edge and just be still as the water and it all day, letting the stillness fill my mind. And I definitely can’t get rid of the gun. 

A bulky man is standing near the end of the pier, struggling to get just the right snap of Alcatraz. When satisfied, he turns, camera dangling from his neck like an absurd dog tag. Then he shuffles after his diminutive wife and mumbles something in a language I don’t understand, but I think it’s Scandinavian.

The bulky man is gone, and then I can see clearly. A woman is sitting on a folding chair at the end of the pier. She is blonde like me, about my age. But prettier. I wonder … was Bulky Guy photographing her?

I smile briefly, and then I see what she is doing, and my heart sinks. 

The woman is sketching with a pencil on a pad, looking as if she is in almost Zen-like concentration. It could be the Golden Gate, it could be Alcatraz, it could be her imagination. But she is doing what I did many years ago. And I don’t do it anymore.

I let myself down more times than I care to count. First, I ditched drawing because I had to study. Then I ditched my studies because my life was too fucked up and I couldn’t concentrate on that. I flushed it all down the drain. I never returned to any of it. 

Well, almost. I do a few sketches now and then, but I am hiding them better than my gun, I can tell you that. I’m not exactly sure why. But somehow it is easier to say that I didn’t get to be a lawyer because I couldn’t hack it in college. It feels more dignified in an odd sort of way. Maybe because I never really believed that I wanted it, but I did it because it seemed like a sensible choice. It was about justice and I like justice. And you could make a shitload of money, too. Not bad.

And now I have less than 200 dollars. In cash.

So I hurry back to the restaurant, half-running. I don’t want to screw more things up this morning.

When I can see the door, I am running all I can – and I can feel the gun hitting me every time my bag slaps against my hip.

I get in and am welcomed by the usual odors of fries and bacon. We’re a restaurant in much the same way McDonald’s is, but I like to think we’re healthier for real.

Mr. Nicolo is at the desk today, so Mrs. N must be at the shelter, I guess. Butch is scrambling eggs and doing dishes and Lidia is trying to look very interested in an elderly gentleman’s story about something before he presumably gets around to ordering. 

Mr. N raises a gray eyebrow as I brush past the desk to find my uniform in the locker out in the back. “One minute. Very good.”

I stop with my hand on the door to the back. “There was traffic … ” 

He waves me off. “I don’t care if you got run over by Dubya’s motorcade. It’s one minute before nine. That’s all I care about.”

The little lecture is followed by one of those smiles, I hope that drill sergeants reserve for their recruits when they haven’t quite given up on them.

I breathe deeply, open the door and get into uniform in record time.

The bag, and its contents, go into my locker and I make sure – twice – that the key is in my left breast pocket where I always keep it.

*

Winter hasn’t lost its grip on San Francisco, but by noon in Restaurant Nicolo I almost feel the skirt and short-sleeved uniform top are too much. 

It’s devilishly hot in the kitchen now. I suspect it is actually too small to do all the fried stuff, but nobody has been here yet to frown and wave regulations. So we suffer through it. And the rest of the place is hot enough, although people coming in for half an hour to eat don’t seem to mind.

My shift is not over until 6 PM, though. By then I’ll be happy to get back out into the frigid Frisco mist.

Butch looks happy in his kitchen, though. Not at all affected by all the boiling and simmering around him. I guess it’s better than the bench in the park, and even if it’s not quite the same as Hotel Fairmont to work here, it’s better than the streets. 

Butch sleeps at the Nicolo family’s shelter and never talks about his wife and kids. I don’t think he is allowed to see them.

“Honey – we’re waiting over here.”

A middle-aged couple seated by the window where you can get at least a slice of the sea-view they talk about on the website. I make my way through the tables and get the order.

The husband, a balding account-type guy with a French accent, is especially annoying, and the wife seems embarrassed by him. He keeps asking all kinds of questions about ingredients I don’t have an answer for, and I’m not sure if it’s because he is just allergic or pedantic. 

Maybe it’s his own little way of feeling power because back home he has none? Not in the house, nor in the bank?

What the hell do I know … But I put on my best, I-love-to-serve-smile and finally I can head back to Butch with the order. On my way past the desk, I catch Mr. N’s eyes following me. He is standing behind the desk, slowly polishing a single glass, surveying everything in the little restaurant – and Lidia and me.

He says nothing when I pass and I hand the order to Butch, who begins flipping open several cupboards. 

“Why did he want the omelet with broccoli?” he moans. “We never have enough of that.”

I cross my arms, “I’m not going back to tell him if you don’t have it. This guy will sue us for sure. He’s got a ruler up his–”

“There!” A triumphant cry from Butch as he pulls out a big green lump from one of the lower cupboards, where we have the refrigerator boxes for veggies.

He hands it to me. “When are you going to draw that portrait of me, dear?”

Butch has been obsessed with getting his portrait since I carelessly told him I could draw one day after shift and too many beers. I could, and I did. Once. In another lifetime … Don’t know if the thought of seeing himself done in pencils and hung on a wall does something for him. 

And why not? Maybe portraits make us feel like we matter? I’ve never done my own.

“Well, Miss Artsy – when?” He dips his head and looks at me with those puppy-eyes which once must have charmed a lot of women. If not everything else had been going to hell lately in Butch’s life, I bet they still could … 

I take the broccoli out of his hand and put it on his desk, so he can get started doing his job. “As soon as you get a shower and get that grease out of your hair, I promise I’ll draw you.”

He grins. “Good. You just made my day.”

And how many times did we have that conversation? And I postpone it every time because I’m not sure I want to flaunt my drawing anymore, or that it’s worth flaunting. 

But the topic always comes up, and the answer is almost always the same. And Butch is polite enough to pretend that this time is the first time he asks, and now we have a deal that means something. It’s akin to a tug-of-war between two different realities. 

We both want something we don’t really dare dream of. I want to feel good again drawing, but I don’t think I have it in me anymore. Butch wants something else – who knows. I don’t think he is hitting on me. I think he really feels it would be a hoot to see himself on that wall. Something beautiful in his life, after so much grease.

But today is not the day when promises will be kept, except to the customers.  

So the battle continues all day. Butch, Lidia and I fight on like good little soldiers, to make sure everyone gets their orders in good time, and that everyone is satisfied.

It’s a battle, but it is also a kind of meditation. It is a routine that allows me to detach from the part of myself that still thinks about the way I’ve gone home these past few months.

It is a safe travel companion. 

So the day ends like it always does. I am dead tired. I get out of uniform. I say hello to Christa and wish her a good evening shift. I take my stuff from the locker and make sure no one sees that I do it, although it is stupid because not even Mr. Nicolo has x-ray vision (not as far as I know).

But if he knew what I brought for work every day, he would throw me out, no matter that I barely have enough to live for after I’m back on the street. He doesn’t tolerate that, and I understand.

But my companion needs to be with me. It is the only way to not think about Jeremy. Or rather, it is the only way to think about him and be able to pretend not to care.

It’s the same always, isn’t it? You report a guy and it gets lost in paperwork, or they don’t believe you. Or they don’t take you seriously because you are white trash coming in with the bus. And then, at some point, you stop reporting anything. You don’t want too many questions, either.

I mean,  I’ve been clean for months now, but I have … friends back in Miami. What if the police want to hear more about them? There were people who gave me what I needed, and it wasn’t good, but it was my choice. I don’t want to rat them out. But any police officer would be suspicious about those scars on my arms – where did they come from? Especially the ones around the veins… 

Well, maybe I cut myself? Yeah, I’m a cutter! That’s it.

Sure, with a needle. Small pricks – right where you usually prick yourself to get out of this world, not to remain in it with some pain only you control.

No, the police are a dead end.  Considering how much I thought I wanted to be a lawyer in a past life, that’s kind of ironic. But that’s how it is.  And now a gun is the only help I can trust.

Pity I’ve never fired it.

*

On my way home on the bus, the whole damn chain of thoughts follows me, and the gun doesn’t help one bit.

I automatically scan the other passengers, especially the guys. Could either of them want to follow me? Or maybe to have a little ‘chat’ with me, with the help of his fists – or even with a knife, as Jeremy once did?

None of the guys look like that, I always tell myself. But then again, Jeremy never looked like that either. And then you got to know him … 

I get off the bus at the usual spot where the highway slants into Montara before there are too many houses. I check my bag for the nth time and get ready to hike the gravel path to the Fremont Home right out where the land ends and the sea begins. It’s not dark yet and I’ve practiced often enough not looking down the slope to my right and into the frothing waves.

That’s my view – each morning. The waves. White whirls mixing with pale blue. A predictable pattern.

So I feel secure where I am going. And I feel secure knowing as I get off the bus I am going there.

For a split second.

For a moment my heart stops, but then I see it is not Jeremy who got off the bus with me. Just a guy who used the back door.

Why didn’t I see him on the bus? It’s not for lack of trying …  

I pull myself together and acknowledge his presence there with me on the lonely road with something that’s supposed to resemble a nod. Because what else do you do when you are two complete strangers about to hike into the oncoming darkness together?

Or maybe not? Maybe he lives in a house further up the road?

But I’ve never seen him here before – not at this hour. Not here.

He picks up his rucksack. “Is this the way down to the Fremont Home?”

I cram my bag tightly against my side. “Yes … it is. You going down there?”

“Right.” He nods and smiles briefly. 

Nice-looking guy, but hey – aren’t they all? Slightly curled hair and beard. Well-trained. About my age – or no more than 30, for sure. But what’s with those dark glasses?

“You know the way?” He eyes me curiously, but despite my best efforts I see nothing with him, I don’t like. Not yet, at least. 

There is … something about him, though, that feels off and that keeps my inner killer vigilant. You know, the one who is sworn to take down anyone whoever threatens me again.

But right there and then I do my best. I do the small-talk routine and find out what I had already guessed: He is going to stay in a room at the Fremont Home like I have done for over three months now. How can I say no to show him the way? 

So we walk alongside the cliffs, out towards the house. And the Pacific sky gets darker while we walk. But I talk to keep myself thinking about that, too.

Obviously he is just a normal guest. He is not a creep or anything – that’s just crazy. And maybe he looks a little like Jeremy and is the same age, but that’s about it.

My brain has been infected and I know it, but I’m doing my best to keep it rational. I want to see a clear path forward, even if I’m a little less able to see where I put my feet the closer we get to the house.

So his name is Daniel, and he works as an engineer-something in Frisco. That’s what I get because he seems to want to rival me in not volunteering any information. It’s all: “Sure” – “Hmm-hmm” – “that’s nice” and so on. But he never follows up, and I don’t press him.

Then we get to the Home and Mr. Conway is waiting up and Daniel goes to get his keys and pay. I head straight for my room and lock the door almost on reflex. In the hallway, I hear Mr. Conway and Daniel’s footsteps, but they don’t talk. 

Who is this guy?

Most of us stay here for a good deal longer than your average motel, but that’s because we are stuck. We were moving from here to there, and then something happened that threw us off course.

Like the quiet man in Grant. He sleeps all day and who I’m sure brings in bottles and takes them out empty in the morning, even though it’s not allowed.

Like the talkative 40-something redhead, Jeanine. She stays in Bradley, even if she probably hasn’t a clue who Omar Bradley is. But Mr. Conway is a military history nut, so that’s how it is. Grant, Bradley – and there are more.

But first, we have Mr. Jenkins, who got evicted for some reason that I don’t know about, only that it was brutal and quick (McArthur). 

And Mrs. List, who has a small travel agency to some islands, and it was going kind of well (Nimitz). But then her husband got nasty. 

Oh, and how can I forget ‘Beans’ as Mr. Brockeridge wants to be called (LeMay). He stays in his room all day, too. Last (and only) time his door was slightly ajar, I saw a screen saver that was some bomber. B2’s I think they are called. Dark metal ravens circling the sky for prey.

But that’s what I know about the people here. Not much more. 

We have this covenant, all the present guests: We don’t talk.

It’s not a covenant we agreed on, obviously. It just came into being. 

Oh, we small talk, of course. We talk about the little communal kitchen at the end of the hallway and who forgot to clean his or her plate. Or if Mr. Conway forgot to buy new toilet paper. But we don’t talk about why we are here. Or where we are going.

Anyway, I don’t know how people find The Fremont Home. Mr. Conway seldom advertises. I was lucky, I guess. But I’m beginning to get the idea that, like me, people find this place if they don’t want to be found. 

And there are a lot more out there who want to come by, but Mr. Conway is a choosy man and apparently he’s got a treasure chest somewhere. I’ve seen him say no to, like, five times more people than actually come here to stay, for shorter or longer periods.

But this guy, Daniel, with the neatly trimmed beard and the evasive attitude – he just waltzes right in, like they know each other or something.

Who is he?

*

The weeks pass. 

Daniel fits right in. He seldom talks.

We seldom talk …

… except about instrumental things, like where is the remote for the television in the common room. But I think about him, almost every day, although I had made a firm commitment on that first night to completely exorcise him from my mind. I don’t need the grief.

But aside from the senseless things about remote controls, Daniel doesn’t talk. Not at all. Not even small-talk. The only time was that time on the path, and that did feel kind of forced, now that I think of it. 

And I have only seen him once come out of his room to actually watch television, and that was just news – half an hour, in silence with me and Quiet Man from Grant, who I think was half asleep, anyway.

Is Daniel autistic? What do I even know of that? I’m not a shrink or a doctor.

But he has these weird habits. He stacks everything neatly in the kitchen, for example. Plates, utensils, even sponges. And I can see it in his room, too, when I dare cast a look through the window, those days when I pretend that it’s interesting to walk the small garden strip behind the house and that I like the Pacific chill more than my health.

It’s not as if I want to know more. I can barely handle my own shit. I don’t want to know why somebody began to drink or somebody got clubbed with the leg of a chair.

And yet, several times I feel like chatting him up, for no reason at all. Is it because he is a guy my age who doesn’t look that bad? Is it because I’m bored? Lonely? Or because I imagine he is the only one I can talk to – really talk to –  because the rest of the guests are too far into their own worlds or too far away from mine?

But I never quite have the courage to try. That part of my mind that keeps track of where the gun is all the time, tells me in no uncertain terms to stay where I am. And he will soon be gone, anyway. Or I will. What does it matter?

Well, of course, it matters. It matters enough to find other excuses. Is it that he is often wearing sunglasses, even indoors? That’s creepy, right? Maybe he has an eye condition? No. Not that. That’s another excuse for a warning not to be taken seriously. For me not to take my gut seriously. Jeremy wore sunglasses all the time. But then again, it was Miami … 

Anyway, fuck the sunglasses and all the other reasons.

Because since Daniel doesn’t talk at all, it is easier to pretend that he doesn’t want to, anyway. I think I see him often enough each day in the common areas, although I haven’t counted. But then he always quickly retreats to his room.

I know a lot about when he goes into his room. Because Mr. Conway installed him right beside my room. So he stays in Ridgway. I stay in McAuliffe. There is no difference to me, but now you know the names. You should also know that I’m freaked out that there are only 5 inches of cardboard wall between us and I never even hear him cough. It’s always quiet in there.

Jeremy was always quiet right before he exploded. He could go around for days in our house in Miami like he was contemplating something deep and profound. He would stare at the ocean. I think he was brooding all the things that had gone wrong – with the movies, with the important people he wanted to get closer to. He told me as much when I asked. But he lied. Those were the surface thoughts that gave him a reason to close himself in.

Beneath those waves there was a deep dark current, and it gradually came closer to the surface, and then it erupted and next thing I knew I would get a fist in my face. One time I could hardly breathe, I thought he had broken my nose, but it was just because there was so much blood.

Then he cried and told me how much he loved me and that it was only temporary. He would get his shit together. He would be the hero he always knew he could be and who I loved.

But of course, I didn’t love him. I remember back home – in that distant place that is faded like an old photograph somebody forgot in the window … There was Ian Cassidy. 

There was that one time Ian threatened me, or so it sounded like. He had his problems. His dad’s fishing boat had not been going well. Everything in school had been going to hell. Then we had an argument, and he raised his voice and said something I don’t remember, but it involved pushing me off a cliff. I broke up the next day and never even looked at him again, no matter how many remorseful notes he passed along to me in history class.

Jeremy was attractive in many ways, but I didn’t love him as much as the crack I inhaled, starting every Friday and then suddenly it was weekend all week.

He could always get that for me. Easy. No hassles. If only I stayed … 

I had screwed up so many things in my life before I met him that it seemed like things couldn’t get any worse, and then it’s easy to take the next step. Because I was looking for the next way to prove to the world I didn’t give a damn. That I was okay with being a screw up and with some people I loved leaving me much too early.

So who cares?

I was going to show the world I could jump off a cliff, or drive too fast, or go out with the bad boys. 

That couldn’t hurt me, and if it did, I couldn’t care less.

And so I could do cocaine.

The illusion worked very well until it didn’t anymore. 

I left Jeremy. Then I almost killed myself on a cold turkey. Then I found out Jeremy had followed me half-way across the states, and he almost killed me when we met. I don’t think he had planned that. He wanted forgiveness. He wanted me back. But there was too much beneath the dark waves, and that somebody had dared to leave him like that made the current unstoppable. It had to come up and my back still hurts because of it.

Since then … Well, I’ve been looking for a place where men don’t go quiet. Where they are predictable, but in a way, I can control. Like Mr. Conway’s methodical, anal-retentive sorting of his military paraphernalia in that attic of the house that looks like a goddamn museum but which most people are never allowed to visit. That and his fussy wife, whom he doesn’t have the balls to divorce. Yeah, go figure.

And now I have a neighbor who is predictable but not in the way I like.

*

It ends on a Friday evening.

I come home dead-tired and feel rotten and then sorry for myself and then angry. Business as usual. Then I think about why my mother hasn’t called and told me she understands why I asked her to go to hell the last time we talked because she wouldn’t cut it out with all her just-go-to-a-spiritual-retreat-and-everything-will-be-fine. Then I put my ear to the wall to Daniel’s room and think about why the hell he does nothing I can hear. I know he is in there right now. What is wrong with him?

Then I try not to feel too cold because I remember what silence is all about. What it can be. Not the kind you find at the end of piers looking at mirror-like surfaces of water. No, I think about Miami and blood in my nose and how it tastes.

Then I think about options:

I could stay and pretend that Daniel is normal. After all, I rarely see him. I don’t have a relationship with him. What could he possibly do – to me? Would he come in, one night, with a knife in his hand, trying to rape me? That’s ridiculous. Isn’t it?

I could leave – find another place. It’s not going to be cheap, though? And this place is as cheap as they get. And I still don’t have much money, although I work my ass off every day. But I guess that’s what’s good about charity, eh? The feeling of being grateful is worth it all, isn’t it? No, I shouldn’t say that. Mr. and Mrs. N are good people. They offered me something when I had nothing and nobody wanted me. But the pay is … pfff.

There are cheaper places, but further down the coast, away from Frisco. And I already spend too much time on a bus. And who knows what people are there? At least I know who is here.

Except for Daniel.

Then I give up. I go crazy thinking about this shit. I should just ignore him or … talk to him. But I cannot do either. I feel like I’m frozen in time. Inside me is some deep primeval pool of tar I just stepped in and it pulls me down. I can’t get out. Can’t move.

But … I can pull out my sketch pad. It’s brand new. Haven’t used it since Sacramento, which would be about four months now.

But I take the plastic wrap off and I find the only pencil I have and I start. 

And … then I notice the gun. Its muzzle is visible at the edge of my rucksack. I put it there after work and now I pulled it half-way out when I clawed after my pad, at the bottom of the rucksack, beneath a horde of laundry.

For a moment I get up from my chair and go over to the rucksack and leave the pad behind. It’s a reflex. I have to get the damn thing back in there. The blinds are up. Mrs. List always walks in the garden strip just before sunset, like a ghost drifting back and forth, thinking about the time it was alive. 

The hell with it. 

I pull down the blinds and I pull out the gun and put it on the bedside table. The table lamp will do as lighting. 

Because, you know, I could use some warm-up. I haven’t done this for four months. I miss it like crazy but my hands feel frozen.

And if I do something borderline stupid like drawing the damn thing, maybe I can unwind enough to draw something I really want. I mean, if you can’t get the thing out of your head then own it, right? Then it goes away, all by itself. At least that was what a shrink once said to a long-gone friend of mine.

So I sit and draw for maybe half an hour, and I quite enjoy it. The gun is ugly and I mostly like drawing people, anyway. But the concentration is good for me. I almost feel like I was back home in mum’s apartment in Cleveland, drawing all those afternoons because it was the only way to feel good when school was bad.

I should have done this before. I should have – wait. What was that?

For the first time in 3 weeks, there is a sound from within Daniel’s room.

And it sounds like someone smashing a chair through the window.

Suddenly the whole room erupts in explosions of things breaking – the chair, the night table, the bed, and God knows what else. And in between … a howling.

Deep, guttural, primeval. 

I want to get up and run now … but I can’t.

Mrs. List comes out from further down the hallway. “What the hell is going on … !?” 

I forgot what a high-pitched voice she has. But the howling drowns it out. And then the door to Daniel’s room is flung open, and he is in the hallway and Mrs. List slams her door right shut again.

Did I lock my door? 

I can hear him up and down the hallway and he knocks on the wall with something – a leg from a chair? And he rants:

“Fuck it – fuck everybody – fuck it – fuck it – fuck it!!!”

First movement and suddenly I got the gun in my hand. Daniel is back in his room, still smashing and howling and cursing everyone and everything.

Did he have a bad trip? I’ve seen that shit before …

For a moment there is a lull in the storm, and it sounds like he is just sitting down and … I don’t know, breathing? Or more like struggling to get air, like an animal that has been underwater for too long.

I get up and think seriously about going to him, but then he starts shouting “fuck” again in staccato rhythms like it was a perverse poem. Something heavy, metal-like is hurled through what remains of the window.

I stand there on the floor with my gun in one hand and my sketch pad in the other. Then I drop the pad and take a step forward.

For a moment the entire world turns around me. I can see and feel long hot nights in Miami, cold sweat in the bathroom, warm blood in the sink, the smell of make-up trying to cover … it all.

I reach for the only weapon available to me now. 

I pick up my phone and call the number.

Mr. Conway answers in his usual amicable way. “What?”

“My neighbor – Daniel – he is trashing everything.” I cram the phone hard in my hand. 

Mr. Conway is silent for long moments. “Damn …” 

The next hour is like a bad movie going too fast. Mr. Conway was in Frisco, and not in his part of the house as I hoped. The hour it takes for him to get back I spend sitting like a statue in the chair with my gun cramped in my hand and listen to any more sounds from Daniel’s room. 

“Fuck … dammit … oh God … ”

That’s all I hear, but his voice gets weaker and he is no longer moving around. But neither am I. I am just squeezing the gun harder. 

Apparently, whoever is in their rooms at this hour, too, all decided that that course of action was a great idea and mimic my example. They probably don’t have guns, or Mr. Conway would sure as hell throw them out. But whatever the case, nobody is tempted to come out and have a look. Like … maybe open the door a bit and ask Daniel what is wrong? 

So we wait.

Slowly the outbursts die, and there is complete silence. If you didn’t know it, you might as well believe Daniel’s room was empty. The only thing I can hear is the rising wind from the darkening Pacific Ocean pulling at what remains of his blinds. They give off a rattling sound and then finally – clank – a gust of wind pulls them to the floor. Nobody inside the room picks them up.

I hear the door to the hallway open, and Mr. Conway’s footsteps. I hear him opening Daniel’s door. The rest – the few short lines that are said thereafter – I don’t want to hear that. But it sounds like a pronouncement of a mission failure I once saw in a movie. Some soldiers had had to do something, and they had all died. When word got to their superior in HQ, he didn’t hold long speeches. He just informed everyone around him in one clipped sentence that they had lost everything. I guess for Mr. Conway that is as suitable as it gets, with his military fetish and all.

I never got to know what war Daniel was in, but he picks up his things and leaves right after that and then it’s over.

Mr. Conway gets a plywood sheet nailed over the smashed window, and then he locks the door and leaves, too. Not a word to any of us. Nobody comes out to ask, either.

It’s like when Mr. Dreyer had a visit from his wife and they started yelling and throwing things around last month. Mr. Conway also arrived and terminated whatever mission they had with their lives right there and then. Whatever battle they were waging had to go on elsewhere or not at all. They were gone the same evening, but in separate cars.

And all the rest of us stayed where we were. Later on, when I met Mrs. List and Mr. Brockeridge in the kitchen, we talked about why Mr. Conway hadn’t purchased new dishwashing liquid.

And so it is after Daniel is booted out. The next day repairmen are already fixing the room. Ready for a new guest.

It is a sunnier day, and the mist has disappeared, even though it is early morning – one of the few clear mornings by the coast at this time of year. I have put my gun in my bag again, ready to go to Frisco, just waiting for the bus. A little, but not too long. 

I am pacing the garden strip between the house and the cliff that leads down to the roaring waves. But it’s not the waves I try not to look at. It’s the window. His window. There are workmen inside. But they don’t care about me. They work. I glance at them while trying to pretend I just stroll. They work. And work. And work. Apparently it was more than just furniture that got trashed, so they will be busy all day, just like me. Too busy to think of too much. Good. I have to get to the bus soon … 

I feel my bag. The gun is there, as usual, but the sense of reassurance is gone. What would I have done if he had barged into my room? Would I have shot him? No. He wasn’t dangerous. I should have talked to him. He obviously had had some bad shit happen to him.

But you never know … Would he have beat Mrs. List with that chair leg if she hadn’t retreated into her room? Better safe than sorry, I say. I have to leave it at that. I have to accept that to protect myself; I have to make some choices and not play the heroine. 

This conclusion is so obvious, it shouldn’t even be an issue. Especially with a nutcase like Daniel.

I am about to walk up the path to the bus when I notice some of the trash in the grass. He flung a lot out that window yesterday, but this particular trash doesn’t look like trash. In fact, this piece here – I bend down, pick it up … it’s a pad.

A drawing pad. Not unlike mine.

For a moment I look at it. Black, faux leather binding, but inside – sure enough – 100 sheets of 130 grams drawing paper. It’s more expensive than mine and more suited for finished art than just sketches.

I refuse steadfastly in my mind to do it, but I see my hands open the pad, anyway. 

On the first page is a date – 14 February 2004 – the day after Daniel moved in. And there is a drawing of a woman.  A 25-something woman.

The details are very lifelike.

In fact, they are so lifelike there is no mistaking who the woman is.

It’s black and white, all of it, but on some of the drawings, there is a whiff of watercolors, as if he had started but didn’t quite trust himself enough to proceed.

My hands are shaking more and more as I leaf through the pad. And sure enough: Aside from a few exceptions – a chair here, a cloudy Pacific sky there – the young woman is on most of 3 weeks’ worth of drawings. 

So I see myself about 20 times all in all. I see myself so clearly even though my killer mind whispers that I am mistaken, and that it has to be someone else. But in the end, even though my hands are shaking like I still have withdrawal symptoms, I reach the last page and I know there is no mistake at all. 

Save for one … 

I reach into my bag, pull out the gun and throw it over the edge of the cliff – far, far out into the eternally white-crested waves.