Small Town

Page 43



He got up, switched on the light. Opened the drawer, and yes, Jesus, there it was, sitting between two pairs of socks as black as a murderer’s heart.

He drew it out and looked at it, a little turquoise rabbit, expertly carved by some fucking Indian with too goddamn much time on his hands.

eighteen

THERE WAS NOdearth of information. You could sit in an Internet café and surf the Web for a modest hourly fee, and leave there knowing how to make nerve gas and botulin, how to construct all manner of bombs and incendiary devices. Even a nuclear bomb. Secrets that earned the death sentence for the Rosenbergs were readily available to anyone who knew how to use a computer and consult a search engine.

But what good did it do to know that a truck packed with a particular fertilizer and a particular detergent could bring down a building? If you were an older gentleman, living alone in a fourth-rate hotel room, how could you possibly assemble those compo-nents? Where would you get a truck, let alone its explosive contents?

A constitutional amendment guaranteed him the right to bear arms, and there were groups of men throughout the country who exercised that right to the fullest extent, equipping themselves with machine guns and automatic rifles, with bazookas and grenade launchers, with enough sophisticated weaponry and ammunition to unseat the government of Brazil. But could he walk into a store and buy a gun? Well, perhaps, if he rode a train to Virginia or North Carolina and back.

Practically speaking, though, he couldn’t buy a gun, he couldn’t purchase dynamite. He didn’t have access to a lab where he might produce some sort of biological or chemical weapon, or the opportunity to purchase the raw materials for them.

He had hands that could encircle a throat. There were stores that would sell him hammers and chisels and screwdrivers and charcoal lighter fluid. But now it was time for sacrifice on a larger scale, and the tools for such a sacrifice were impossible to obtain.

Fortunately, he was resourceful.

T H E G L A S S J A R S , S I X of them, had each held a quart of apple juice. He’d bought them two at a time at supermarkets, brought them back to his room, and poured the contents down the sink.

The gasoline had been slightly more difficult to obtain. To get it you had to go to a gas station, and you needed a car for them to put it in. But suppose a man’s car was several blocks away from the station, and he needed gas to get it started?

“I got no container,” the station owner told him. “You need an approved container. What do you think, you can cup your hands together and I’ll fill ’em up with five gallons of gas?” It was a Wednesday night when he had the conversation with the gas station man, and stores that might carry such containers were closed. He thought of getting a length of plastic tubing and siphoning the gas from parked cars. But he might be noticed, and anyone who saw him would know at once what he was doing.

Besides, if he did siphon the gas, he’d need a container to put it in.

In the morning he found a hardware store on Twenty-third Street, not far from Harrigan’s. They had five-gallon and two-gallon containers, and the smaller one would fill all six jars, with two quarts left over. He bought it and took it to a different gas station from the one where he’d had the conversation. This one was the Getty station on Eighth Avenue and Horatio. A man he assumed to be a Sikh filled the can for him and took his money. He thought of saying Thank you, Mr. Singh, thinking to surprise the man by knowing his name. All Sikhs, he knew, had the last name of Singh, though he didn’t know why. Thank you, Mr. Singh, he might have said, but of course he said nothing at all.

The rags with which he stoppered the jars were wadded-up strips torn from a plaid cotton flannel shirt. He didn’t have to buy the shirt but instead had fetched it from his storage locker. He never wore it, it was too large for him yet short in the arms, a bad fit altogether. He’d taken it from the apartment only because it had been a Father’s Day gift once. That was why he had never discarded it over the years, and why it was among the few articles he took when he left. His son had given it to him, and how appropriate to put it to use now, to sacrifice this remembrance of his son even as his son had himself been sacrificed.

The lighters were disposables, the Bic brand, better than matches because you could operate them easily with one hand.

They sold them everywhere. He’d bought three, at three different stores, just to be on the safe side.

The hammer was very much like the one he’d used on East Twenty-eighth Street, and might have been the same brand, though he’d purchased it at a different store.

The straight razor he’d happened upon in the Salvation Army thrift shop on Eighth Avenue. It was similar to the one that had been among his father’s effects, although he couldn’t recall the man ever shaving with anything but a safety razor. Maybe it had been his grandfather’s before him.

He could have bought the razor from the thrift shop, they only wanted five dollars for it, but he thought it might be a worthwhile precaution to slip it into his pocket.

H E W A S B A C K I N his hotel room by 1 A.M., and it took him just twenty minutes to fill the jars with gasoline, stuff their mouths with the flannel rags, and pack them into a large canvas tote bag he’d bought from a homeless street peddler with his wares spread out on a blanket. When he asked the price, the man said, “I usually get five dollars, but I’ll take two.”

He used his pillowcase to keep the jars from banging against one another. That was the one thing he’d forgotten, not realizing it would be a problem until he started putting the jars in the tote bag.

He should have gotten some rags, or some extra clothes from his locker, but the pillowcase was a good improvisation. Loaded, the tote bag had some weight to it, but it wasn’t too heavy to be manageable, and the hammer fit neatly along one side, handle down.

Ever since he stole it, he’d kept the straight razor in his pocket.

He’d drawn it out many times, in the privacy of his room, and had practiced with it, returning it each time to his pocket. He checked, and it was there now.

His first stop was Harrigan’s. When he’d initially planned this, he thought he would hurl his gasoline bombs, his Molotov cocktails, through the window. But plate glass wasn’t that easily shat-tered. Suppose his jar bounced off the window and exploded harmlessly on the sidewalk?

With that in mind, he’d bought the hammer. But when he got there he saw that the door was wide open, a hook securing it.

Maybe the air-conditioning wasn’t working, maybe the room was too smoky.

It did make things easier. He walked in the door, stood in the doorway, put his tote bag on the floor at his feet. He drew out one of the cocktails, lit the rag, and hurled it toward the back of the room, where the musicians were playing. There was a loud noise and a burst of flame, but he was too busy repeating the process with a second jar, which he lobbed over the people drinking at the bar so that it exploded against the back bar mirror.

He picked up his tote bag, hurried out the door.

H E C O U L D N ’ T S E E I N the window at Cheek, but neither could they see out. He stepped up next to the window, waited for traffic to die down on the avenue, waited until there was no one around to see what he was doing. He tucked two Molotov cocktails under his left arm, took the hammer in his right hand, and smashed the window.

He ignited both wicks at once, sent them sailing one after another through the opening he’d created. Tossed the hammer in, too, because he didn’t need it anymore. There was no window at Death Row.

H I S F R I E N D W I T H T H E shaved head and the earring was still on duty, and smiled in recognition when he saw him. “Hiya, Pops,” he said. “A little past your bedtime, isn’t it?” He came closer, muttering something about being unable to sleep.

“Why I work nights,” the fellow said. “I’ve had trouble sleeping all my life. What’s in the bag? You got something for Buddha?”

“Is that your name?”

“It’s what they call me. You bring me a sandwich?”

“Better,” he said, and held the bag so Buddha could see it, but down low, so that he had to bend down and forward for a good look. The razor was in his free hand, open and ready, and in a single smooth motion he drew it across Buddha’s throat. Blood gushed as from a fountain, and he didn’t draw back quickly enough to keep from getting some on himself, but it couldn’t be helped.

Poor Buddha collapsed onto his knees, trying to raise a hand to hold back the gouting blood, his eyes wide in disbelief. His mouth worked but no sounds came out of it.

That was the hard part. Now it was child’s play to open the unattended door, to walk to the head of the stairs, and to put to use the last two Molotov cocktails, lighting their wicks, hurling them into the void at the bottom of the stairs. He dropped the two Bics into the tote bag—he’d lost the third somewhere, evidently—

and tossed it down the stairs.

Shouts, cries, flames leaping . . .

Outside, he looked for the razor. He’d dropped it earlier, and saw now that Buddha had collapsed upon it. He spotted the tip of the handle protruding from beneath the fellow’s bare shoulder.

Blood had pooled around it, and he decided not to bother. The razor couldn’t be tied to him, anyway, because no clerk could remember selling it to him. So he’d done the right thing when he took it without paying.

B A C K A T H I S H O T E L , he showered and shaved. He used a disposable razor, made by the same company that produced the disposable lighters. He wondered how men had managed to shave every day with straight razors like the one he had used on Buddha.

He remembered the man’s kindness, the gentle nature lurking beneath the rough macho exterior. Tears welled up, and he had to interrupt his shave because they blurred his vision. He blinked them back, and bowed his head for a moment, honoring Buddha’s sacrifice.

Back in the room, he saw that there was blood on his shirt, blood on the sleeve of his jacket. Probably on his shoes, too. He’d wash off the shoes, and he could sponge the jacket so nothing showed. There’d be traces that would show up if they tested it, but if things got that far it wouldn’t matter, would it?

The shirt wasn’t worth salvaging. He’d get rid of it in the morning. And the two-gallon container of orange plastic, with two quarts of gasoline still in it. Or should he keep the container? He might very well need it again.

No, he could buy another if and when he required one. Better to be rid of it for now.

He got into bed, and immediately regretted the loss of the pillowcase. It had been in the tote bag when he disposed of it. He’d meant to retrieve it, but it had slipped his mind. Probably just as well, because it would very likely have smelled of gasoline, but now he had to sleep on the bare pillow, covered in a rough striped fabric like mattress ticking. And right after he’d shaved, too.

nineteen

IN THE DAYSafter he’d walked in on the leavings of the Curry Hill Carpenter, Jerry Pankow had wanted nothing more than to call his remaining clients and tell them to find someone else. He even found himself considering a return to Hamtramck for the first time since he had the good fortune to leave the place.