The death of Katherine Moore overshadowed all other news for the past week. It was mainly due to the gruesome nature of the killing, her body was found littered with knife wounds, but also because she was an up and coming actress. All the news channels and the newspapers used the same professional headshot of hers where she was candidly looking slightly to the left of the camera, getting a profile view of her slender nose and her long blonde hair and her lively eyes, as the newscaster said. They kept referring to her looks as graceful and soft but he didn’t understand that. How could you tell that from a black and white photo? What he did understand was the use of words like potential and budding because she had just starred in her second movie which, to him, meant that she was on her way to becoming a relatively successful actress. Because that’s how life worked. It was like a ladder, you have to climb it one step at a time, no skipping, and she had started climbing and eventually, her work would have lead her to greater success and so, in that manner, her death was tragic.
“Her life unexpectedly—” The newscaster was saying when he changed the channel and right that second his mother’s nagging voice rang.
“Jaaake, I was watching that,” she said from somewhere in the kitchen behind him. He heard the tic-tic-tic of the knife striking the cutting board. “Put that back on, please.”
“Haven’t you had enough of that same ol’ story by now?”
He did as his mother said.
“The horrific scene was first reported by the victims’ landlord some three days after the initial incident as the other tenants complained about the foul odour—”
“Here, hun, eat something before you go.”
His mother joined him on the sofa with a plate of sliced apples with salt sprinkled on top and a handful of almonds bundled together on the side.
“Not hungry right now,” Jake said.
“It’s always good to go into big days—”
“With a full stomach,” he completed her saying, “I know ma and I’ve told you before that those kinds of things don’t matter.”
“Listen, mister, you may have gone to a fancy college but there are something books don’t teach you.” She kicked off her slippers and sat on the sofa, Indian style and had one of the apple slices herself as she watched the news. There was no point arguing with her. Her way of thinking was set so he just grunted in response and bit down on a slice, snapping it in half, making sure she heard the crunch.
“Tsk-tsk-tsk,” she shook her head as they showed pictures of a young Katherine in her first school play. She was dressed in a white tutu with wings. She was meant to be a fairy.
“If you keep watching this kinda thing over and over your brains gonna rot,” he said, “like it ain’t full of worrying already.”
“You sure you didn’t know her?” She had completely ignored his comment.
The newscaster said they were still looking for the individual who did it and that the police had a few leads they were pursuing.
“I bet you a dollar it turns out to be a man.”
“Just a feeling I got.”
The news switched to a different story. This one about a highway robbery in California and she turned off the television and placed the remote control on the table in front, on top of the newspaper with Katherine’s face.
“What are you wearing today?” She asked him. “Wear something nice so Mr. Edwards can be impressed.”
“I’m wearing one of the shirts and ties he got me.”
“That’s a good idea.”
Mr. Edwards was his manager. He gave him a birthday present each year. The present was the same every year. A collared shirt with a matching tie, nothing fancy but a nice gesture. By now, he had five such combinations and in another month he would have six. He wore one of the combinations for this special day.
A dark blue collared shirt which would be neatly tucked into his freshly ironed trousers. With it, he picked out a checkered pattern tie with various blends of different shades of the colour blue. He made sure to match his shoes with the outfit for Mr. Edwards was an old school kind of man who put weight on a man’s shoes.
“Dark blue?” She asked.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Oh nothing hun, you know you look handsome in any colour but extra handsome in something livelier. Don’t you have that salmon shirt?”
“I don’t like that kinda stuff. It draws too much attention.”
She cupped the bottom of his chin tenderly, “Why don’t you want to draw attention to such a handsome face?” He batted her hand away. She continued, “And I bet that burgundy tie will look something special with that Salmon shirt.”
He replied with a grunt.
“Okay, fine, you do what you like.”
She took the empty plate to the kitchen but not before sliding her forefinger across the surface of the plate and picking up some salt that was left behind and licking it clean off her finger.
“Are you sure today is the day?” The sound of the tap turning on and rushing onto the plate filled the moment of silence that followed her worrying.
“I told you everything is in order.”
“But don’t get too worked up if it doesn’t happen today.”
“Course it’ll happen today. It’s as simple as one plus one equals two. I put in the work and now I’ll get the promotion.”
“Okay, I believe in you—”
“I got a favor to ask you though.”
He joined her in the kitchen, leaning against the dark grey granite countertop with spots of black in different circular shapes. He folded his arms across his chest. His mother opened the cabinet beside the stove and took out a pot.
“I need the place to myself tonight.”
The burner clicked three times and came alive. She placed the pot over the flames and turned to look at him.
“What’s the special occasion?”
“I’m meeting someone for dinner and if all goes well, you know, it’s best that your not around tonight.”
“Whose the special lady?”
She poured milk into the pot and the twisted the pink bottle cap back on the milk carton.
“Amy. Friend of a friend.”
“She’s no hussy is she?”
“Ma, come on.”
“Sorry, dear, just don’t want my boy to get taken advantage of.”
He let out a sigh, “Could you please just go to Aunt Jenny’s or something.”
“Jenny might be busy tonight.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll go.”
“Great. I’m going to go get changed.”
His mother smiled at him.
“Hurry up, I’ll have the milk ready by that time. Lukewarm just how you like it.”
The meeting with Mr. Edwards went off without a hitch. First, Mr. Edwards compliment him on his salmon shirt and burgundy tie. Second, he invited him to take a seat and got straight to business. Mr. Edwards wasn’t a man who liked to waste time in small talk. Third, a few thank you’s and handshakes later, he left Mr. Edwards office with the thought of the car brochure that was in his desk drawer.
Apart from that, the meeting had only further solidified his understanding of life. You moved up in a rational, orderly, step by step basis. Now that he had the promotion, the car was next and then, getting his own place. It was all falling into line. When he remembered he still had his date with Amy, he thought maybe today would be the best day of his life.
“You got the promotion?” She sounded surprised as if it were even up for debate.
“Didn’t I tell you. There was no other possibility,” he said as he flipped the brochure page and paused to admire the red convertible BMW.
“I’ll bake some cookies for Mr. Edwards.”
“You don’t have to do that. In fact, don’t do it. It’ll look too desperate.”
“Nonsense, he will love them. I’ll start right after this.”
He flipped the page and grunted in response. He knew there was no point in fighting his mother once her mind was made up.
“They say they’re getting real close to identifying the suspect.”
“What suspect?” He held the phone in-between his ear and shoulder, leaning back, he folded the top corner of the brochure page that he liked.
“The one who killed the Moore girl,” she said, “Are you sure you didn’t know her?”
“Yeah ma, why would I know some random woman?”
“There’s just something familiar about her.”
“Like I told you before you probably saw her in some dish detergent ad or something.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Or maybe at a grocery store.”
He could hear his mother thinking. If she were a poker player she’d be a bad one because every time she wrestled with her thoughts, she’d take these long inhales and quick exhales like she was hyperventilating. Thinking of poker, he thought it may be a good idea to go celebrate at the casino on the weekend.
“Ma, I gotta get going.”
“Huh? Oh,” she had forgotten she was on the phone he thought, “Okay hun, I’ll call you later.”
“Don’t forget about going to Aunt Jenny’s.”
“Oh, almost did.”
“I’m only teasing you. Now, whose worrying?”
His mother laughed by herself as he rolled up the brochure and batted it around as if he were hitting home runs at the park, “Speaking of it,” he said, “Did Amy call by any chance?”
“I don’t think so, no, only call I got was from telecommunication—-”
“I think I accidentally gave her our home number. I was meant to confirm with her about our date tonight.”
“I’m sure it’s fine and I’ll keep by the phone in case she does call.”
“Okay, thanks ma.”
“Take care and don’t drink and —”
“I know, I know, you don’t have to worry about that, I’m not a little kid.”
“You’ll always be to me.”
“Make sure you’re not home, ma, I don’t want another Monica Lewis situation happening. She never talked to me again.”
He rolled his chair closer to the desk so he could put away the brochure in the drawer.
“She was a hussy. I did you a favor.”
“Ma, I mean it, if you mess things up with Amy I won’t forgive you that easily. I really like her.”
“Fine, don’t be so dramatic. I already called Jen and made plans for tonight.”
The giant tv screen played the last few minutes of the Bulls game. He had been watching it since the first quarter. The Bulls were out of it by the end of the second quarter. In front of him were four empty bottles and a plate of french fries with only the small, burnt ones remaining along with the smeared ketchup. He took of his burgundy tie and tossed it on the wooden table which was marked with spillage over the years. The smell of cigarette smoke passed him as a group of guys walked past. To his right were a series of pool tables, from one came the sound of a gunshot as the cue ball scattered the other balls.
He went to the bathroom to relieve himself in order to make more room for the liquor. As he was leaving the bathroom stall, he bumped into another man who was coming in.
“Sorry,” he mumbled moving aside to let the man pass.
“Jake?” The man called his name.
Jake studied his face for a moment, trying to recall a figure in his memory that resembled this man whose face was half hidden by a patchy beard and the brim of his dirty hat shadowed the other half of his face. Only his eyes were clear which were paler than the rest of his tanned face as if he had been out in the sun for a long time with sunglasses on. He failed his attempt to correctly piece the picture together, an attempt that was made difficult with the liquor that circulated in him.
“Sorry do I know you?”
The man cracked a smile and put a hand on his shoulder. For a second he tried to remember if he had been coming in or going out of the bathroom.
“It’s Roy,” he said, “Roy Campbell. Remember?”
The name was familiar, very much so, but the face still didn’t match any of his memories of Roy Campbell. It was as if some stranger had picked that name out of a hat in some twisted reality show and now, he could go on living a life that didn’t belong to him and it was up to people who knew the real Roy to figure out if this one was an imposter or not. If he got it right maybe a camera crew would jump out from the corner.
Roy seemed to have read his mind as he scratched his beard and kept smiling.
“I know I look different. Haven’t had the time to clean up, you know how it is.”
He didn’t but he said he did.
Roy asked him to wait a moment as he went into the bathroom. He quickly returned and the two of them sat down at Roy’s table. Empty peanut shells littered the round stained wood table, along with a tall glass of water in which the ice has melted adding to the volume in the glass.
Jake reached for a couple peanuts which he cracked open.
“I’ll get us a pitcher,” Jake said.
“Not for me,” Roy replied, he dug into his back pocket and got out his wallet inside of which was his AA token. “Almost sixty days.”
“I just came here to watch the game,” he nodded at the big screen.
“What a blowout,” Jake replied.
Roy cracked open some peanuts and emptied the shell out in the palm of his hand before tossing them back into his mouth.
“What you been up too?” He asked.
“Going good?” He chewed with his eyes fixed on the tv screen.
“Got a promotion today so yeah, going pretty well I say.”
“Big shot over here,” he said, “No I’m kidding, that’s great. How’d you do it?”
The waitress brought him a bottle of beer and refilled Roy’s glass of water.
“What do you mean?”
He took a sip and held on to the bottle to feel its cool temperature run through the nerves of his fingers and into his palm.
“How’d you stick to a place long enough to fool them into giving you a promotion? I tried so many times but I couldn’t hack it. After a few months I would pack my things up and keep on moving. Even now I’m getting the itch to get going, to go somewhere else, to run away in a sense.”
Jake shrugged. He was recalling now why he hadn’t kept up with Roy over the years.
“We can’t all just leave, besides that’s how things are. You put in the work for long enough and you’ll get rewarded. Two plus two equals four.”
He rubbed his eyes with the moisture from the cold bottle.
“That logic is too simple,” Roy said. Before Jake could reply, Roy changed the subject. “You married yet?”
“Not even close.”
“Really? We all thought you’d be the first one to bite it.”
“I don’t know, you just seemed like the type.”
“Looks like you bit it.”
Roy closed his hand around the glass of water but even through it you could see the pale moon like ring imprint around his finger.
“I was about too,” Roy said, “Was engaged but then I found out she was cheating on me so I decided to return the ring and get something for myself.”
“We got one thing in common then.”
“What’s that?” Roy asked.
“Lousy luck with women,” he said, “Was supposed to meet a girl here but got stood up.”
“Yeah, it is like that sometimes. When I found out she was cheating on me it kinda broke me, you know. Couldn’t get myself to go to work after that,” Roy explained, “And got let go but that’s a blessing I think.”
“You’ll land on your feet.”
“You think so?”
“Oh I know, we always said Roy was the kind of guy who was going to do big things. You just got to start stepping.”
“Two plus two equals four.”
The game ended and for a brief moment, the channel switched the news coverage of the actress’ murder. Roy watched, quietly sipping on his water and as the newscaster began to talk about her promising movie career the channel switched to a football game and Roy shook his head, placing the glass of water down.
“Maybe she deserved it,” Roy said.
This time Roy shrugged as he leaned back into his chair.
“Who knows what she did to get the guy to act that way.”
“Does that matter?”
“Two plus two, right?”
“What do you mean?” He asked Roy.
“Well, outside the moment of madness, there must have been a catalyst for the person who did that to her and if that catalyst was her then it adds up to it being her fault or at least part of the equation.”
“Man, that’s twisted. I’m sure whoever did it will be caught soon. It’s only a matter of time.”
Roy washed the peanuts down with his water.
Jake had finished another beer and got the urge to use the bathroom again. As he stood up he stumbled a little and caught the back of the chair to stay upright. Roy asked if he had enough and Jake slowly shook his head but even that simple movement caused him to grab the chair.
“Don’t drink much,” Jake explained.
“I can see that. You need help getting up the stairs?”
“I might just head on home.” He squeezed his temple.
“Can’t let you go by yourself. Did you drive here?”
He nodded and immediately regretted it.
“Give me your keys, I’ll drop you off and take the train back.”
“It’s a bit dirty but I’m gonna get a new one soon,” Jack tossed the empty McDonalds paper bags in the backseat and sat down. He apologized for the smell as he cracked the window, he said something about the gym bag in the backseat but Roy told him not to worry. The radio station started to play “wish you were here” by Pink Floyd and he turned the volume up as they drove.
“Every time I hear this song it reminds me of Cor,” he said, “Remember when he got a standing O for playing this at the talent show? Man could he sing.”
“He’s dead now,” Roy said as if he were commentating on the incoming dark clouds which gathered above them.
“What?” He turned the song down. “He’s what?”
“Stop saying that. I got a letter from him just the other week.”
“A lot can happen in a week.”
“You must be mistaken. I’m talking about O’Connor.”
“I know. He’s dead.”
“Stop talking like that, like it isn’t a big deal like you aren’t talking about something serious. What’s wrong with you?”
The song ended and a radio advert of new tires replaced it. Jake turned the radio off.
“You sure?” He asked.
Roy kept his eyes fixed on the road and nodded.
“I got a call from his sister. She was trying to get some old photos of us all. O’Connor never liked pictures so he didn’t keep many.”
“How’d it happen?”
“Just random luck. He smoked some weed that had some other shit in it and he went to sleep and threw up in the middle of the night and it went back down into his lungs. Pretty much drowned in his own vomit.”
“Can’t imagine a worse way to go.”
“He was all alone too. On the road for some gig. That’s the worst way to go. Being all by yourself. I couldn’t handle being by myself.”
“I should call his mother.”
Roy nodded in agreement.
“Life can be so chaotic,” he said, “One moment your riding high and good and the next it all goes to shit.”
The rest of the ride was spent in silence except for the occasional directional instructions which he told Roy.
“Make yourself at home,” he said as Roy followed him into his house. “I got some food and drinks in the fridge but not much.” He hurried upstairs, saying that he’d been holding it in for almost an hour now.
Roy went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Upstairs, he could hear Jake walking. There were a couple cartons of milk, some fruit, and vegetables, a Tupperware with some rice in it, leftover Chinese food and a box of four cupcakes with the word ‘congratulations’ stickered on the plastic. He closed the fridge. There was a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter, beside the telephone where a yellow light was flashing. He opted for a chocolate chip as he pressed the button to hear the voice message.
“You know I think you’re a real jerk and in all my times I’ve never seen anything more cowardly than to get your mother to call off the date,” a woman voice rang through the speaker. He ended the message without listening to the rest.
The phone rang right after and the name ‘Aunt Jen’ flashed on the little screen.
He picked it up.
“No ma’am, it’s Roy.”
The woman’s breathing picked up and for a few seconds, she said nothing.
“Hello?” He said.
“Campbell, ma’am. And you are aunt Jen?”
“No, I’m Jakes mother.”
“Oh, we met a few times but I don’t blame you for not remembering me.”
“Where’s Jake? Put him on the phone. Please.”
“He’s not here right now.”
He could almost feel her beating heart from the quick exhales.
“Put Jake on the phone,” She said. “Let me talk to him.”
“I can’t right now.”
“Why not? Where is he?”
“He had a little too much to drink but don’t worry, I’ll look after him.”
“Tell him I’m on my way. Tell him I’m coming home. You hear?”
“Don’t worry ma’am.”
She finally broke.
“Oh god, Jake, Jakey, oh god. I know what you did. I know it’s you who did it.”
“It’s okay, ma’am, it’s going to be all right. Do you understand?”
“Where’s Jake? Put him on the line.” Her tone became more authoritative like mothers usually are and it reminded him of his own mother and he smiled sadly to himself, thinking about what his mother would think of him.
“I can’t ma’am.”
“What have you done? What have you done to him?”
“Ma’am you remember that Bob Marley song? Don’t worry, be happy, ma’am you remember?”
He heard Jake walking upstairs again and told the woman he’s got to go now. She was crying. Another woman voice said something the background but he couldn’t hear what was said. He tried to think of something to say, some comforting words but his own mute screams were deafened by his cries of loneliness.
He hung up the phone and disconnected it.