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by Bryan Adrian
Jack, a pharmacist, had been Scott and Brenda's best friend for many years. He
had known Brenda since his days of teenage lust which he had shared with her.
Everyone found it remarkable too, how deeply he had earned Scott's trust over
the years, despite his status as her schooldays "former lover."
Today, Jack hesitantly told all the relatives of Scott and Brenda assembled at
the funeral that "the sum of Scott and Brenda's married life for the last
decade weighs 22-pounds."
This weight included the fabric of the coarse thick sack containing the
unaltered ashes of the couple. Each word was difficult for Jack to pronounce at
the funeral. He said them, nonetheless, with a gentle authority. Jack knew several
of the details of Scott and Brenda's deaths with precision, and not due merely
to his scientific training.
He delivered the epitaph at the burial proceedings over in Oyster Bay, Long Island, where Brenda had first met Scott years back
at a well known country club there. The very same country club which Jack had
scorned privately for fifteen years, ever since Brenda had moved out of her
family house in Harlem, stopped her frequent visits to Brooklyn to see him, and
sailed among the Long Island nouveau riche.
Jack had been left behind in Williamsburg,
struggling with his common pharmacy in its infancy in a poor neighborhood, and
bound by duty to support his invalid mother who lived nearby. Jack found
himself also at that time in the awkward position of finding a new sex partner.
When a team from the coroner's office first arrived at the site of the housefire, they sighed relief to
hear that the firemen had extinguished the flames before the fire could spread
to other homes in Oyster Bay. Scott and Brenda's
house was now non-existent. Not even furnishings nor wall supports remained.
The coroner's men did find however, two human shaped white-and-chalky deposits
upon the smoking ground of the blackened shadow of Scott and Brenda's former
house. The residues of these deposits were powdered calcium and scorched earth,
which together provided the materials used as "the deceased" at the
One of the city officials at the scene indulged in black humor and joked about
the deaths as "eternal homelessness" and "permanently checking
out." An African-american EMS driver who had
chauffeured Scott on a few occasions when he was a part-time limousine driver
employed by the insurance company which Scott managed suddenly shouted out
"now that sucker know what it be like to be black!"
Being burned out and run out and black in America didn't appeal to these
predominantly white government officials and inspectors, so they drove off as
quickly and silently as possible in their sleek municipal car.
Years before this marital holocaust, Scott and Brenda had shared consuming
passions. Love had flourished in the mixed blood of their marriage for a long
and happy time. In those days they resembled a pair of dewy and decorative
tulips, one white, one black, in the grassy meadows of
the secluded North Shore of Long Island. Now, ten years later, nothing remained
but a mound of ash bundled up in a canvas sack. Ashes of the
same color and composition.
The police determined Scott and Brenda's deaths to be "accidental."
They quickly negated all suspicions of foul play, especially a crime of
Jack the pharmacist, however, knew several nefarious details. Details which had been stabbed into his ears by twisted whispers
through the receiver of his Williamsburg
drugstore telephone. Scott, and Brenda, had each called him
independently several times, and confided to him their well calculated plan to
ignite their marriage partner into oblivion. Each had thought that Jack was the
only friend in the world who they could turn to and trust and confide in. Jack
had shrewdly, from nearly the beginning, kept both Brenda and Scott thinking he
preferred only the one of them, and that he too was against the other. Scott
and Brenda often complained about one another to Jack, for years and years. He
had never betrayed their confidences, at least never before their devilish
inferno plot with its insurance scheme.
Scott and Brenda simultaneously, yet independently and without consulting the
other, decided to torch their "till death do us part" partner in a housefire and to make it look accidental. It seems that
throughout their years together they had become a marriage of equals. Sometimes
a submerged thought in one of them that was just beneath consciousness became a
full-blown idea in the head of the other. The scheme seemed a perfect plan. The
living spouse would collect a handsome insurance payment. A
nice hedge to beat back the endless years of global depression. The
corrosive effect of cruel economic cycles and the increasing unreliability of
their friends unhinged them and propelled them to act beyond reason and above
the law. They had both become now initiates amongst the criminally insane.
Their marriage had survived many body blows during the bleak Dubya Bush years.
In-laws suddenly developed racist attitudes, maligning each other because of
the different color of their skin. They never looked at the spiritual poverty
of the times nor at the sinister hypocrisy of many top
layers of government as the probable cause. Hate and discontent were
monstrously born from what had been at one time only minor social differences.
Community values were replaced by communal hatreds. Scott and Brenda were
driven apart and so were their friends and relatives, often on the basis of
race. The international economic paralysis brought out the beast from the belly
of the competing classes, separated from each other by limitations and
imbalances, everything contingent upon economic mobility and race, which in its
darkest heart was singly about money and class. Murder was continuously
broadcast on television dramas, without any moral or political point. Such
cultural developments promised to spew out toxins much deadlier than simply bad
television advertisements and pointless productions bordering on carcinogenic.
Everyone started to think, "Why blame a guy, when he's up against the
wall, to scheme a bit and get by? Any sucker next to me had better fend for
himself, dammit!" With unblinking eyes millions of viewers were washed by
waves and waves of electromagnetic garbage, the selfish and childish themes
repeated night after night on television, sandwiched between advertisements
that demanded more and more product consumption, requiring lots of money that
not many really had anymore, to feed an endless anti-spiritual appetite.
Neither Scott nor Brenda had ever suspected Jack of leading them skillfully to
execute their secret schemes in absolute synchronicity, one against the other.
They never realized that Jack harbored an age old class-grudge against each of
them for having established themselves into their much higher Oyster Bay social
station, rather than toiling like himself in his bleak and humble Williamsburg section of Brooklyn,
where his best customer was a mailman.
Jack shed a minuscule tear as he dredged up yet another time, in the asylum of
his evil thoughts, each lethal sequence of events which had lead to the double
murder. He tried to control himself, but couldn't refrain from crying out loud
and betraying his large dry eyes. His masterly woven crime wore the blemish of
an imperfection. "Good lord!" he blurted out. It couldn't be true. A
small detail had been overlooked. This kind of trifle always bothered him
endlessly. One time he had measured out a prescription for a customer one pill
short and nearly drove off the road thinking about it. His most recent
oversight, however, could get him grilled in the big electric chair. Then, he
too would be a loser and not one of the few lucky winners in the game of
trade-offs, sellouts, rip-offs and betrayals on the national social scoreboard.
Such failure felt to him even more difficult to endure than a slow and painful
Francine, the young cashier from Flatbush he hired less than half-a-year
earlier, could possibly tip the scales of all his dead reckoning. She was only
nineteen years old, cute, shapely and a very competent cashier. Nearly all the
male customers, young and old, lingered at the over-the-counter medicaments
rack to get a better look at her. Jack had never hired an employee like her throughout
his entire career. He was very proud of her. He always let his male patrons
linger and lounge their eyes on her body as long as they needed, unlike the
manager of Manhattan pharmacies over on the
wrong side of the East River. This way he kept
his customers in Brooklyn and tripled his
sales of Penthouse magazine.
It didn't take Francine long either to help Jack discover that her commendable
cashiering skills were dwarfed when compared to her superior gifts in the art
of backroom sex. She even did it with a smile. A wide,
welcoming, enveloping smile. Somehow, every time he sighed in ecstasy,
Jack knew that this habit would one day extract an unseen price. Especially
when she begged him not to stop and snorted in pleasure during the moments
leading up to her climax when she rushed towards it like a thoroughbred
racehorse nearing the finish line. At worst, he reckoned she would ask him some
day for a promotion to the assistant manager's position. He might even have to
pay for her medical insurance. This thought caused him terrible distress.
He never suspected her to have blackmail on the bottom line of her personal
accounting. Now he felt foolish for not having seen that her evil side neatly
matched his own. Yet his envy of Scott and Brenda's success continued eating
away at him with a hunger that devoured him, despite the conventional wisdom he
had accumulated throughout his lifetime, and made him fallible. His greed was
constantly fueled by the stories in the papers about Lotto winners and the corporate
raiders pillaging the concrete canyons of the Wall Street area and of
stupefying embezzlements on almost every Main Street in America. These were the nightly
epistles of consumer television. A massive vortex of moral collapse and
ambiguity was accelerated by decades of class anger and resentment and a
senseless hunger for acquisition shared by all. Jack's own hostility toward the
comfortable and cushy sliver of middle classes which still somehow miraculously
existed now knew no bounds.
Francine's hunger for money and success was only just beginning to bud.
Francine had a disturbing habit of eavesdropping momentarily on some of Jack's
personal phone calls at the drugstore. He tolerated this because Francine gave
him what his wife wouldn't give him by choice. Sexual
gratification. Their marriage was both frigid and childless, in that
order. All along he had thought that his sessions with Francine were only a
minor indulgence on his part. Now he swallowed with difficulty as he remembered
how imprudent he had been to conspire against Scott and Brenda on the telephone
at the store. He had always prided himself on Francine's submission to his
authority and had never once considered her in his detailed precautions. He
certainly had underestimated the skillful range of her activities.
Jack looked down again at Francine's slender legacy. Her
letter of resignation. Minutes earlier she had walked out on him, saying
he had better come up with $350,000 if he wanted her to keep her lush succulent
red lips still. She gave him one week to make up his mind.
This would be long enough to devise a plan to silence her, Jack told himself
after he had thought long and hard upon the matter. He marshaled out his
invincible logic, an aptitude that helped him build up his small business when
he was younger. That nearly forgotten period of his life proved to him that he
had the iron will necessary to eliminate former friends and classmates who were
in the same business, also struggling to make a living, but had unfortunately been
in his way. As Jack measured out the next customer's prescription a solution
came upon him in a rush.
Slip a deadly compound into her regular beverage which she kept stocked in her
refrigerator made up of chemicals leaving no trace of their effect behind in
any unnatural way. A much less complicated project than Scott and Brenda he
realized with satisfaction. He wouldn't have to invest much emotion in this
exercise either. Brenda and Scott had been different. He had nearly reached
with Brenda the plateau that poets have indiscriminately labeled
"love" in the excesses of their inspirations, and he had also felt
unusually comfortable with Brenda's family in Harlem
whenever he visited her during their schooldays affair. Brenda's parents had
never looked down upon him and had earned his undying respect. Coolly, Jack
calculated that Francine would no longer be a threat, to anyone, after the
weekend. He knew many of her domestic habits, timetables, etc., and still had a
key to her apartment from a lurid weekend they shared when his wife was
visiting her family in Israel.
Jack called his widowed mother in Bushwick where she had her little cottage to
confirm his dinner with her at her home for that Saturday night. She asked him
if he could stay over part of the weekend and help her with some lifting and
gardening. He quickly answered yes, knowing full well that this was an
iron-clad alibi. He then measured and mixed his solution from a few of the many
viles and bottles on the rows and rows of shelves. His measurements were
sure-fingered and smooth.
"How unfortunate that she must die," he thought to himself, as he
finished off the last touches of orchestrating Francine's elixir. She was so
much like himself, he reflected proudly, and she had
shown an extraordinary level of endowment and gumption to get ahead. She would
have gone far in New York
if not for her youthful miscalculation. Her years of experience were no match
for Jack's sense of survival.
He knew her death would be a great loss, to his working class pharmacy, and to
the world at large. He sighed a moment, set his watch, pulled down the iron
shutters and adroitly padlocked the heavy iron doors of his store on his way
Bryan drinking his favorite Irish whiskey on the rocks at RUDY'S BAR & GRILL in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, with his old German pal Norbert Bergrath
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