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 them using 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 his phone rang. He knew it was her but he had ignored her twice already. He waited until the fifth or sixth ring before answering it.
“Yeah ma? I’m in the middle of something so if you can make it quick,”
“Are you feeling well?”
“Did you eat something?”
“I will soon,”
“Make sure you do and make sure it’s something filling. 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,”
There was no point arguing with her. Her way of thinking was set so he just grunted in response.
“Good. Eat some almonds and a banana if you’re not too hungry,”
“Okay,” he had hoped that response would be the end of the conversation but she continued.
“Are you feeling well?”
“As fresh as I can be,”
“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 gave him birthday presents 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, neatly tucked into his trousers, which he had ironed that morning and around his neck, he wore one 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.
“Are you sure today is the day?”
Here it came, 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, ma, it’s as simple as one plus one equals two. I put in the work and now I’ll get my promotion,”
“Okay, I believe in you—”
“Ma, I gotta get going or else I’ll be late,”
“Oh, sure hun, I was just watching the news. Awful about that girl—”
“Ma, not right now.”
“Okay call me after the meeting,”
He replied with a grunt.
“Yeah sure, ma,”
“I will talk to you soon then, love you hun,”
“Love you too, ma and don’t worry so much the doc told you not too otherwise you’ll get those headaches again.”
“It’s just in my nature to worry, you know that by now,” she laughed, “but you have a good day now.”
“Oh and ma, I’m thinking about trading in that Volvo for a new car once I get the promotion,”
“That sounds swell but don’t get too upset in case it doesn’t happen today,”
“You gotta have more faith than that,” he said, “well I gotta get going.”
Mr. Edwards was in the middle of asking him if he had finished the report when he placed the completed project on his desk, beside the picture frame of his daughter and grandson.
“Ah, you’re a good man.” Mr. Edwards said.
“I try to be.”
He stood across from Mr. Edwards with his hands behind his back, chest out and chin up for he had read that people like Mr. Edwards picked up on these subtle gestures.
Mr. Edwards pulled the report towards him as he said, “good men are hard to find these days.”
Mr. Edwards slowly shook his head, “that poor Moore girl has me believing that more than ever before.”
“I saw that on the news this morning but I didn’t watch the whole segment.”
“Worse than you can imagine. The paper went into quite the detail and I was just thinking to myself what kind of madness would have to strike a man to go to those extents.”
“A man? I didn’t know they found the person who did it.”
“No they haven’t reported as much but I’ll bet you a dollar it will be a man at the end of all of this.”
“Yes very unfortunate, apparently she had a bright future.”
“You could tell so by her looks.” Mr. Edwards said, “anyways, take a seat for a moment.”
The expected happened after that. A few thank you’s and handshakes and as he left Mr. Edwards office, the only thought that accompanied him was that of the car brochure that was in his desk drawer.
“You got the promotion?” She sounded surprised as if it were even up for debate.
“Didn’t I tell you,”
“Did you eat before?”
“Eating right now, ma.” He said as he flipped the brochure page and paused to admire the red convertible BMW. “Who’d have thought I’d get it without eating.”
She chose to ignore that comment.
“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,”
He grunted in response as he held the phone in-between his ear and shoulder, leaning back, he folded the top corner of the brochure page that he liked.
“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 was wrestling with some thoughts, she’d take these long inhales and quick exhales like she was hyperventilating. Thinking of poker, he thought it maybe a good idea to go celebrate at the casino.
“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 get worked up if I don’t answer, might not be home till late,”
“Where are you going?”
He had rolled up the brochure and batted it around as if he were hitting home runs at the park.
“Going to go celebrate with some friends.”
“Take care, hun, don’t drink and —”
“I know, I know ma, you don’t have to worry about that, I’m not a little kid.”
“You’ll always be to me.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I will, ma.”
It was natural order of things to go celebrate after a progressive step forward and in the same manner, it was natural for him to be in a happy mood with four or five bottles of beer in him and a couple whiskey shots even though he didn’t like whiskey and neither was he fond of beer, drinking itself was something that was on the lower end of his totem pole of fun activities but it was the right thing to do for this occasion.
He went to the bathroom to relieve himself in order to make more room for the liquor and 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.
“It’s Roy,” he said, “Roy Campbell. Remember?”
The name was familiar, very much so, but the face was 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 did not 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 right? 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 and neatly placed the empty shells in one place before wiping his hands clean away from the table.
“I’ll get us a pitcher,” he said. It was the orderly thing to do when reuniting with an old friend.
“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 where the Bulls were trailing the Wizards by ten with six minutes to go.
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. He looked over at the other table where his work colleagues were all talking amongst each other with two pitchers of beer empty and a third halfway done.
“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, “planned on proposing but then I found out she was cheating on me so I decided to return the ring and get something for myself.”
For Jake, there was nothing worse than hearing about relationship troubles of other people. It was all the same. Someone always felt they were short changed but it was the polite thing to do, to sit there and listen and say encouraging words and tell them how their significant other was a horrible person and he did his part as he drank the bottle empty, his words of encouragement got stronger and his hate towards Roy’s ex grew as well.
“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, you know what I mean?”
“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.”
He wanted to argue but he didn’t have the will in him to do so and he went to his colleagues and let them know he was headed home and they tried to convince him to stay a bit longer or to take a parting shot, which he did, and after some more pleading and no’s, he was free and together with Roy, he left the bar.
“It’s a bit dirty,” Jack said as they got in his car, “I’m gonna get a new one soon.”
“Maybe a new place too?” Roy asked.
“That’s the plan.”
Jack leaned his head against the cool passenger side window as Roy followed his instructions towards his house. The radio station started to play “wish you were here” by Pink Floyd and he turned the volume up.
“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?” Jake sat up straight and 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 rather die slow and painfully as long as I’m with someone, you know, 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. The fridge was mostly empty with the exception of a case of beer, some leftover Chinese food and a half-empty bottle of milk. There was an open bag of chips on the kitchen counter and he opted for some of those stale chips. The phone rang and it was Jake’s mother calling as her name 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.
“Roy who?” She managed to say.
“Campbell, ma’am, 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, ma’am but don’t worry, I’ll look after him.”
“I’ll come right over. I’m coming over right now.”
“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. He tried to think of something to say, some comforting words but his mute screams were deafened by the cries of loneliness.
He hung up the phone and disconnected it.