Monday, November 07, 2005
After a brief interlude this evening, in which I replenished my brain cells with a delicious snickerdoodle cookie made with love by Jen, I am back at the computer. I've had the beginnings of that feeling that all artists have in the middle of their work. I hate it. I hate what I'm writing and I'm afraid I'll never make my 50,000 words. But it's only a feeling one gets when they're in the tunnel and can't see where they came in, and sure as shit can't see where the exit is. Kinda like Andy DuFrense in the middle of that sewage pipe on his way out of Shawshank. Come November 30th, I'll have felt like I "crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of the shit-smelling foulness that can hardly be imagined. Five hundred yards. The length of five football fields. Just shy of half a mile." And I'll have come out clean on the other side, raising my arms and my well-sculpted bare chest to the rainy sky.
So who wants to read a little more? Thanks. Both of you. I mean it. In this little excerpt, Stanley realizes he's been humming the theme song for The Crimson Avenger radio show. He then finds and reads a portion of one of his old novels.
“Give it a listen, Stan my boy. See if you don’t tap your toes to it!”
Eugene Christensen was a bundle of energy wound tight and released at the most unexpected of times. If they could have bottled it up and sold it for a reasonable price, they’d have made a killing with college students and truck drivers. That was what Stanley recalled most about his dear old friend. And boy had he ever come up with a toe-tapper. Stanley remembered hearing that tune for the first time and thinking they were gonna give old Orson Welles and The Shadow a run for their money. The Crimson Avenger was gonna ride the airwaves and bring in new fans by the boatload. They’d have to print more novels, reprint all the old ones and pump out some new ones. Because the Crimson Avenger was gonna be a hot ticket.
Of course, it hadn’t, had gone off the air in almost record time, and Bartelby Tompkins – the voice of Jonathan Northrup, known to the underworld as The Crimson Avenger – had gone on to other things. But Eugene had really outdone himself.
And now, sitting in front of his Smith Corona some seventy odd years later, Stanley found himself humming a tune and walking to the closet.
He pulled the chain on the overhead bulb, casting shadows on the shoe rack placed beneath his tailored suits, all zipped up in plastic, like finely made body bags for an identity as dead as The Crimson Avenger himself. Stanley squatted down, maneuvered himself onto his knees, and reached in to the shoe rack.
With effort, he slid the contraption aside.
Behind it was a book case, a small hand made one, something Stanley had come up with ages ago, back when he started to get afraid someone would break into their home and steal their memories. It had been shortly after Esther had gotten sick, and looking back at it now, he supposed it had been just another way to keep his mind occupied.
Baby blue binding wrapped in plastic bags looked back at him, two long rows of them, their white print standing out. They were all here. The only complete collection in the whole world. And he was the only one who knew it.
One hundred and thirty seven books, each approximately two hundred pages, telling the story of Jonathan Northrup, the son of a mayor, who watches as the car his parents ride in is blown to pieces by an evil madman.
“Clad in crimson, nerves of steel,” Stanley whispered. Here they were. The Crimson Avenger novels.
He ran his liver-spotted hand over the books, swiping away some of the dust that had collected on them over the years. He ran a finger along the bindings, looking for a particular one.
“Gotcha,” he said as he plucked a book from the middle of the pack.
After replacing the shoe rack, Stanley carried the pulp book into the kitchen and sat at the table. He turned on the burner under the teapot, sat back down, and stared at Jack Freeburg’s cover art until it whistled.
Fresh cup of tea before him. Stanley peeled back the tape on the back of the plastic bag, and slid the book from its protective casing, something that hadn’t been done since he’d stashed them away back in the fifties.
It was in mint condition, its spine never cracked. He’d probably gotten it from Charlie and hid it away almost instantly, keeping it for Roger, for when he was ready to inherit the collection. It was one of the early ones, its cover featuring The Crimson Avenger fighting an evil-looking, laughing man as a woman looks on in horror.
The title read: The Crimson Avenger, Defender of Rockton Bay in… KNOT IN TIME!!
Stanley carefully turned to the first page, just after the dedication (this one was dedicated to Esther, oh weren’t they all?) and read the preface they’d placed in every book.
The Crimson Avenger, Defender of Rockton Bay! The son of Rockton Bay’s mayor, Jonathan Northrup was a playboy living a carefree life. Until that fateful day, when criminal mastermind Alestair Snyde ordered his minions to kill the mayor, and Jonathan watched in horror as the car his parents were riding in erupted into a ball of flames. There, The Crimson Avenger was born! He stalks the night, punishing criminals, searching for Alestair Snyde, fighting evil and skull-duggery…
Clad in crimson
Nerves of steel!
THE CRIMSON AVENGER!
Stanley chuckled. He’d forgotten those words, but as soon as he began to read them, they’d flowed back like an old song, like the Lord’s Prayer. Like going home.
He riffled delicately through the yellowed pages, inhaling that sweet scent of book, and looking for the excerpt. He found it near the end, during the climactic confrontation, when The Crimson Avenger had found his foe in the home of reporter Sarah Wright, Jonathan Northrup’s friend and confidante.
When Snyde was tying her to a chair.
"The light was dim, murky, and the Avenger had a tough time seeing his hand in front of his face. There was rustling in the room as he crawled catlike through the window. Sarah was right; the Necktie Killer was after her. Her absence at dinner this evening had only magnified Northrup’s fear for her safety, a fear very much realized at this moment.
His boots were cushioned by the nap of her carpet. Good girl, Sarah. The expensive stuff. He took a step forward, and was blinded by light.
The Avenger shielded his eyes but, alas, it was too much. There was someone in the room, someone who had flicked on the overhead. The Avenger’s eyes were adjusting to the light when he heard a muffled cry, movement, the sound of a person fighting restraints. A woman, to be exact.
“Sarah?” He called, blinking wildly. The voice intensified. It was her.
Pain erupted in his chin, across his jaw, and The Avenger staggered back. Someone had clocked him one, clocked him one good. His lips went numb, his eye twitched, and he hit the plush carpet and fell into blackness.
“Wake up, Avenger!” The raspy, wretchedly deep voice penetrated his warm sleep, forced him to open his eyes. He saw boots, caked with dirt and blood, and knew he was on the floor. Sarah’s floor.
One of the crusted boots collided with his bread basket, and The Avenger awoke fully. He released a fit of coughing.
“Get up, you no good do-gooder!” The voice was familiar, and before he even looked into those insane eyes, bloodshot and wild, he knew it was Snyde.
“You!” The Avenger spat. “You’re the Necktie Killer!?”
“Yes. I killed them all. Tied them to their chairs with their husband’s and lover’s neckties and strangled the life from them.” And then he laughs. Funny joke.
The Avenger rose slowly to his feet as Snyde danced around him, relishing this momentary victory.
“You were too caught up in details to see the answer right in front of your face! Me! It will always be me, the face that haunts your dreams, nay, nightmares. The great Alestair Snyde!”
“You’re nothing great, Snyde,” the Avenger spat. “You’re a two-bit hood with his upstairs misfiring.”
He stood, and swooned. The pain was greater than he’d imagined as the blood rushed back to the rest of his body. His head throbbed.
To his left and behind him, Sarah Wright sat strapped to her chair. Her wrists and ankles were bound with neckties, his neckties if he wasn’t mistaken, with another shoved into her mouth and tied behind her head. Her eyes were pleading. Save me, Avenger.
And he would.
For he was clad in crimson, with a heart of gold.
He was…The Crimson Avenger!"
Stanley set down the book, slipped a scrap of paper into the page, and took a sip of tea. Boy oh boy, what a yarn. He smiled warmly as he recalled the ending, as the Avenger beats Snyde to a pulp, has a necktie around the killer’s throat, boot to the back of his head, and is about to kill the evil mastermind. Of course, being the hero he is, he slowly releases the tie, and the police arrive to arrest Snyde.