Sunday, April 12, 2009

Moonlight Falls

(What follows is the prologue of my new noir novel, Moonlight Falls, which will be published by RJBuckley later this Fall. Hope it peaks your interest.)

“He reached out and took the knife to slaughter.”



Man’s life is flashing before his eyes.

He’s a little amazed because it’s happening just like it does in a sappy movie. You know, when they run real fast through some homespun super-eight film starting with your birth, moving on to toddler’s first-step, then first day at kindergarten, first communion, first prom, first Gulf War, first marriage, first born son, first affair, first divorce . . .

So why’s the life flashing by?

Man’s about to execute himself.

He sits alone at the kitchen table inside what used to be his childhood home, pistol barrel pressed up tight against his head, only a half-inch or so behind the right ear lobe. Thumb on the hammer, index finger wrapped around the trigger, hand trembling, eyes closed, big tears falling.

On the bright side of things, it’s beautiful sunny day.

Outside the kitchen window wispy clouds float by like giant ghosts in a heavenly blue sky. Blue birds chirp happily from the junipers that line the perimeter of the north Albany property. The cool wind blows, shaking the leaves on the trees. The fall air is cool, crisp and clean. “Football weather” his mortician dad used to call it back when he was a happy-go-lucky kid.

On the not so bright side, a bullet is about to enter his brain pan.

But then, as much as the man wants to enter the spirit world, he’s not entirely insensitive. He’s thought things through. While he might have used his service-issued, .9mm to do the job, he’s decided instead to go with more lightweight .22—his backup piece. To some people, a pistol is a pistol. But to the man, nothing could be further from the truth. Because had he chosen to “eat his piece” by pressing the pistol barrel up against the mouth’s soft upper palate, he’d guarantee himself an instant death.

A good death.

Problem is, that “good death” would leave one hell of a spatter mess behind for some poor slob to clean up after his soul has left the building. So instead of choosing the safe, “good death,” he’s opted for the more thoughtful no-mess, easy-clean-up kind of suicide—the assassin’s death. Because only a professional killer with a steady hand knows that a .22 caliber bullet hasn’t got a chance in hell of exiting the skull once it’s made jelly filling of your brains.

Outside the window, the wind picks up.

The chimes that hang from the eaves make a haunting, jingly, ghost music.

The super-eight memories inside his head have ceased. His life story—the entire thirty-six year affair from birth to this very moment of truth have officially flashed before his eyes.

Roll credits . . .

Man swallows a lump, thumbs back the hammer. The mechanical action reverberates inside his skull.

There’s no stopping him; no penetrating the resolve of the already dead. He’s happy with himself for the first time in he can’t remember how long. So happy, his entire body weight seems to empty itself from out the bottoms of his feet. That’s when a red robin perches itself on the brick ledge just outside the picture window. Just a small scarlet feathered robin that’s beating its wings and staring into the house with its black eyes.

“Don’t look,” the man whispers.

He plants a smile on his face a split second before he pulls the trigger.

Four Years Later

Albany, New York

140 miles north-east of New York City

I’m escorted into a four-walled basement room by two suited agents—one tall, slim and bearded, the other shorter, stockier, clean shaven. The space we occupy contains a one-way mirror which I know from experience hides a tripod-mounted video camera, a sound man and several F.B.I. agents, the identities of whom are concealed. There's no furniture in the room, other than a long metal table and four metal chairs. No wallpaper, no soft lamp light, no piped in music. Just harsh white overhead light, concrete and a funny worm smell.

As I enter the room for the first time, tall agent tells me to take a seat at the table.

“We appreciate your cooperation,” stocky agent jumps in.

Out the corner of my eye, I catch my reflection in the mirror.

I’m of medium height. Not tall, not short. Not too badly put together for having reached the big Four Zero thanks to the cross-training routine my I put myself on not long after my hospital release. Nowadays, my head is shaved. There’s a small button-sized scar behind my right ear lobe in the place where the fragment of .22 caliber hollow-point penetrated the skull. I wear a black leather jacket over black jeans and lace-up combat boots left over from my military service during the first Gulf War. My eyeglasses are rectangular and retrofitted from a pair of cheap sunglasses I picked up at a Penn Station kiosk. They make my stubble-covered face seem slightly wider than it really is. So people have told me.

Having been led to my chair, I am then asked to focus my gaze directly onto the mirror so that the video man or woman stationed on the opposite side of the glass can adjust the shooting angle and focus.

“Please say something,” requests stocky agent while removing his suit jacket, setting it over the back of an empty chair.

“There once was a cop from Nantucket,” I say to break the ice.

But no one laughs.

“You get that?” the taller agent barks out to no one in particular.

“Okay to go,” comes a tinny, hidden speaker voice. “You gonna finish that poem Mr. Moonlight?”

“Knock it off,” stocky agent orders. Then turning back to me. “Before we get started, can we get you a coffee? A cappuccino? You can get one right out of the new machine upstairs.”

“Mind if I burn one?”

Tall bearded agent purses his lips, cocks his head in the direction of a plastic “No Smoking” placard thunder-bolted to the wall.

Stocky agent makes a sour puss, shakes his head, rolls up the sleeves on his thick arms. He reaches across the heavy wood table, grabs an ashtray, clunks it down in front of me as if it were a bedpan.

“The rule doesn’t apply down here,” he says. Then, in this deep affected voice, he adds, “Let’s get started, Mr. Moonlight. You already know the routine. For now we just want to get to the bottom of the who, what, wheres and hows of this train wreck.”

“You forgot the ‘why,’” I say, firing up a Marlboro Light. “You need to know the why to establish an entire familiarity with any given case.”

Stocky agent does a double take, smiles. Like he knows I’m fucking with him.

“Don’t be a dick, Dick,” he says.

I guess it’s important not to take life too seriously.

He laughs. I laugh. We all laugh.

Ice officially broken.

I exhale some smoke, sit back in my chair.

They’re right of course. I know the drill. I know it’s the truth they’re after. The truth and almost nothing but the truth. But what they also want is my perspective—my take on the entire Scarlet Montana affair, from soup to peanuts. They want me to leave nothing out. I’ll start with my on-again/off-again love affair with my boss’s wife. Maybe from there I’ll move on to the dead bodies, my cut up hands, the Saratoga Springs Russians, the Psychic Fair, the heroin, the illegal organ harvesting operation, the exhumations, the attempts on my life, the lies, deceptions and fuck-overs galore.

As a former fulltime Albany Detective, I know that nobody sees the same thing through the same set of eyeballs. What’s important to one person might appear insignificant or useless to another. What those Federal Agents want right now inside the basement interview room is my most reliable version of the truth—an accurate, objective truth that separates fact from fantasy.

Theoretically speaking.

“Ask away,” I say, just as the buzzing starts up in the core of my head.

“Just start at the beginning,” stocky agent requests. “We have all night.”

Sitting up straight I feel my right arm beginning to go numb on me. So numb I drop the lit cigarette onto the table. The inside of my head chimes like a belfry. Stocky agent is staring at me from across the table with these wide bug eyes like my skull and brains are about to pull a JFK all over him.

But then, just as soon as it all starts, the chiming and the paralysis subsides.

With a trembling hand, I manage to pick up the partially smoked cigarette, exhale a very resigned, now smokeless breath and stamp the cancer stick out.

“Everything you wanna know,” I whisper. “You want me to tell you everything.”

“Everything you remember,” tall agent smiles. “If that’s at all possible.”

Stocky agent pulls a stick of gum from a pack in his pant’s pocket, carefully unwraps the tin foil, folds the gum before stuffing it into his mouth.

Juicy Fruit. I can smell it from all the way across the table.

By all indicators, it’s going to be a long night.

“I think I’ll take that cappuccino after all,” I say.

For the first time since entering the basement interview room, I feel the muscles in my face constricting. I know without looking that my expression has turned into something miles away from shiny happy. I’m dead serious.

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