A New Old Derived Short Story
I like a bacchanalia of words. Henry Miller introduced me to that. I think my words are consistent with my character. Not all writers are like that. There are two newspaper columnists whose writing style I admire. They have a pugnacious, pungent, pugilistic way with words. Yet they appear meek, mild, and morose when they appear on TV in talk shows on Sundays. They disappoint me. I have an impression that they want to be liked and thus try to compensate for their off-screen bellicose personality. Norman Mailer and Hemingway were more like my kind of writers. In public as well as in print they were aggressive and full of bravado, bravura, and braggadocio. Jerome David Salinger (yes, that was what J.D. stood for) once famously had his teenage protagonist in his exquisite novel say that if he liked a certain book, he would write to the author and request an audience. That sounded fair enough, in fact downright touching. But the irony was that Salinger became a recluse in mid life and refused to grant interviews.The writer I really wanted to meet was Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian born writer whose amazing English has dazzled all students of English. It has been a wet dream of mine to be able to conjure up and arrange English words like Nabokov did. But he was a genius and I am not. Besides, he grew up in St Petersburg in an aristocratic family and had French and English governesses to instill and drill into his brain French and English when he was a toddler while I was a poor boy from a war-tornSoutheast Asian country, who had severe speech impediments as a toddler and who learned English at a second-rate high school institution.
Anyway, once a man has been in jail and gone through hell on earth, he is sensitive and attuned to all improvements, no matter how small, in his physical well-being, and to the slow growth of peace and serenity in his overwrought mind. But most important of all, he sees through the hollowness of fame and prestige and status, and the illusion of safety. He is eternally on alert and has a look of cynical wariness in his eyes. He trusts nobody but he acts otherwise. And of course, he has no interest to go back to prison although he has just committed an act that easily can put him behind bars and solidly back in hell again if he is not careful and the long reach of the law catches up with him.
I am such a man. Behind the sunglasses, I watches a young Aria Casino valet parking attendant placing my dark brown suitcase containing $250,000 in big bills and a backpack containing a loaded Glock 17 in the trunk of a Camry I paid for in cash two weeks ago to a dealership on Sahara Avenue. I hand the attendant five dollars, give a quick sweeping look of mysurroundings, get into the car, and turn left onto the Strip, heading north to US 95.
I am calm and confident as I can be. I slept well last night, surprisingly so, considering of what had happened, and this morning had a nice healthy breakfast consisting of blueberry yogurt, smoked salmon, cream cheese and bagel, orange juice, a plate of fruits, sheep milk cheese, and assortment of nuts.Prior to having breakfast, I went through my daily routine of Yoga stretching exercises and sitting and then lying meditations in my hotel room. Then I soaked myself for at least half an hour in the warmest bath water I could tolerate while closing my eyes and trying to block everything out of my mind and at the same time telling my body to get recharged for a new life ahead. It was the first and very likely the last time I treated myself to such a luxury. I was dreaming of such decadence during my five years in Angleton, LA.
I am financially okay again, at least for now. I am well rested and fed. My silver Camry is brand new, unpretentious and therefore not easily recognizable, and has a tankful of gas which can easily get me near my old haunting hunting ground of Phoenix before a refill.
Somebody said that as long as a man's hopes outnumber his regrets, he is still okay and his life still holds meanings. By that crude but profound measure, I am okay. There was a time when I was filled with regrets and despair. However, a glimmer and sliver of hope, a thought that I was stronger than my circumstances, kept me going. Then slowly my outlook and willpower improved. I went to the gym to work on my body during the day. In the evenings, I fed my mind with books on philosophy and sundry other subjects. I began teaching myself foreign languages and started speculating about the functions of the brain and the power of auto-suggestion/self-hypnosis. Buddha's first line in the Dhammapada rang in my ears day and night: "we are what we think." Finally I picked up the pen and started writing. I also picked up poker, first as an avocation, and after ten years flirting with it, I decided to marry it and transformed it into a vocation to prove to myself and the world I was superior to at least 90% of the participants in this financial gladiatorial contest. However, I went broke, did a stupid thing, got arrested, and thrown into the slammer for five years during which I suffered from abuses and learned first hand about human predation and degradation. I got out two years ago, 62, wiser, leaner, stronger, full of emotional and physical scars, and broke but strangely hopeful. "What does not destroy us makes us stronger." rang in my ears along with "You are what you think."
Now I have $250,000 in the suitcase, 2 grand and some change on my body, and a brand-new Camry on the road. And I feel like a millionaire, although I am not there yet. But wait, does that really matter? I was a millionaire once, but I was not happy and hell-bent on self-destruction. I think of my estranged Hindu wife who didn't pay me a single visit during my stay in a big house at the taxpayers' expense, and who is a multi-millionaire and is living high on the hog. My two daughters didn't visit me either. All of a sudden, I feel alone and lonely. My spinster sisters told me they are still living in the same house in Dallas. I keep in touch with my sisters (but probably no more after today) although my once deep affection for them largely evaporated. All they do is to complain and bitch about how I have wasted my education and embarrassed my relatives, and that my parents must be rolling in their graves in "shame and humiliation" because of me, their once most promising offspring.But at least my sisters stayed in touch and visited me from time to time during the five years of hell and gave me $10,000 to "restart" my life when I got out.
The phone interrupts my reverie. "Yes?" I said, trying to sound cool after looking at the number on the screen"Listen", a familiar voice at the other end, "another news for you. Actually a follow-up, the ladyhas to travel south also. The man is missing her company. Please make same travel arrangements. And do it asap. Agreed?" I was surprised and couldn't resist asking, "What's going on?""No question, Yes or No. I need an answer now!" I know better, a No means I must run very fast and very far andtravel incognito, preferably down in Mexico where my little bit knowledge of Spanish would help. A Yes may not be that good either. Things don't smell right and are out of joint in the state of Nevada, and in the state of my mind. "Are you still there? Yes or No." "Yes", I say finally and without enthusiasm. Five minutes later, I turn the car around at the next exit. I just left Vegas less than an hour ago.
I check into Gold Coast, an off-the-Strip casino popular with the locals, especially Asians, and big enough to ensure of my anonymity. I have my luckyblack cap on, down low, covering most of my eyes, as I walk into the casino. I pay withcash for three nights under a falsename. I park myown car this time, on the ground level, near the exit, prompted by an unsettling feeling that the task of "travel arrangements" I am entrusted to do for the lady are fraught of complications and danger, unlike what I did to her man.
I was not sorry what I did to her man. In fact, I would have done it for free. So when word got to me that somebody would pay $50,000 to have Joshua, the arrogant little kike, to have a permanent vacation away from the face of the earth, I jumped at the opportunity, even at the possible, maybe probable, risk of going back to prison. That was how much I hated Joshua. I was not rational then. I am not rational now. I know perfectly well that violence is rarely a solution to a problem. Indeed, it often adds to the problem. But, as Pascal once wisely remarked, the Heart has its own reasons that the Reason itself would know nothing about. Man is never a rational animal. He is a self-conflicting being, incomplete, and more under the sway of emotions and curiosity than intellect. That's why I am back in town. I want to know. Money is not the prime factor. But it helps.
I knew Joshua way back when he was a kid fresh out of Louisiana State University back in early 1990's, playingpoker after hours during the week, and all day long and sometimes night, too, during the weekends. Suffice to say that he became a professional poker player two years after graduating with a degree in accounting. He and Ibecame friends but he screwed meover money. It took me 20 years to finally settle the unfinished business I had with Joshua shortly after I ran into him at the Bellagio during the 2013 WorldSeries of Poker. For years I had wanted to do the "right" wrong thing. And I did it. I wouldnot let the little prick think he could get away after screwing me. I couldn't live with the smug and disdainful expression on Joshua's face when I asked him for my money back. Joshua told me to get lost. For the first time in my life, I kept mymouth shut, apologized to Joshua for having bothered him, and I walked away and stayed away from Joshua for about ten days. But I played at Bellagio in the small game $1-$3 No Limit Hold 'Em while watching Joshua plying his trade at the $80-$160 Limit Table. I discreetly followed him after he finished playing. The bastard had stamina! He often came in the afternoon and played until 2 or 3 in the morning. And he was good. He routinely cashed out $6,000 to $8,000. But he always left with a buddy of his who was at least a head taller than him and much younger. They both had an air of cockiness about them. Finally, I caught up with him in the parking lot of Bellagio, alone, the night before the Main Event of the World Series of Poker started. At first the little kike acted tough and refused to get into the car with me after I told him that I needed to talk with him, but he got compliant when he felt the Glock pressed against him under the my black leather jacket and heard my hate-filled voice.
Once inside the car, I sternly told Joshua that if he wanted to stay alive, he must be quiet and do as he was told. Terror-stricken, Joshua nodded his head. I then took out a flask and told him to drink the content as it would relax him and made the upcoming conversation between us more pleasant for both of us, besides making him more docile when meeting somebody later. Joshua then blurted out , " Who are we gonna meet? Oh, No, please Roberto, you are not going to poison me, are you? Take all my money, I almost have twenty grand on me. I had a good night. That is much more than what I owed you."
-"Don't be silly. It's just a sweetened herbal tea. Just shut up and drink it. You're trying my patience. " I snarled at him. "Just tea?" The little bastard persisted."Yes, drink it. All of it. We don't have all night."
Of course, it was more than just tea. I had dissolved 30 Percodan pills along with a pint of vodka and a mountainfull of sugar. I wanted him to be quiet and fast asleep while I was driving. By the time, we hit Charleston Street, going west, the bastard was snoring. I drove into the Red Rock Casino parking garage and parked in between two cars. I took out my "First Aid " kit from my backpack, took out a syringe of high-grade heroin, and injected the content into the vein of his left arm which was dangling conveniently close to me. Luckily I was ambidextrous and had no problem took care of business using my left hand while my right hand holding the Glock under my leather jacket just in case the kike was faking sleep. He was not.
By the time I reached my destination which was Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, Joshua's heart stopped beating. I drove to an isolated area that I had done reconnaissance a week earlier. It was off the hiking path. I turned off the car's lights once I got there. I put my left index finger under Johua's nose to be deadly sure. No air movement. Good.In the dark I carried him to behind a big boulder and proceeded tostrip him of his clothes, shoes, wedding ring, watch, and gold chain with the Star of David, and placed them inside a black garbage bag. I then removed all his teeth with a plier, and cut all his finger tips with a hunting knife. I placed them in a smaller black garbage bag. took out my cell phone and took a picture of Joshua's naked and very dead body, softly saying to him, "Say hello to your executioner, asshole!" The whole process took about five minutes.
On the way back, I stopped at the self-help car washing facility whereupon I vacuumed and wiped thoroughly the inside of the Camry to make sure none of Joshua's hairs and clothing fibers stay inside the car. I also gave the car's exterior a good wash twice, especially the tires and the underside of the car so no smart detective would link me with my visit at Red Rick Canyon Conservation Area in the dead of the night.
I got rid of the small garbage first by dumping its contents in the toilet bowl of a 24-Hour Jack-in-the Box and flushed them down. I then washed the inside of the bag thoroughly and rolled it up and pushed it in the soiled paper towels receptacle and covered it with more paper towels. I then texted to my contact: "Done. Wire the balance ASAP. Confirming photo on the way." I then sent the photo. Two minutes later, I deleted the photo and the text from my phone.
I then drove back to the Strip and got off at Tropicana Avenue and drove to the parking lot of the Siegel Suites. I moved there right after I got the $10,000 "starting money" from my sisters. Where else could I go? After what I went through, I couldn't get a regular job befitting my education and experience. Poker was now my vocation although it started out as an avocation. I played conservatively and with much discipline and patience. Doing time in Angleton taught me to be very patient and alert and observant. That translated well into poker. I was frugal and saved my pennies. The jackpot I hit at Caesar's six months ago was a big help. It boosted my bankroll to almost $180,000. I felt secure enough to start dabbling in small swing trades at equities.
It was around two in the morning when I stepped into my furnished studio apartment. I opened the big plastic garbage and went through the pockets of Joshua's pants. The bastard was not lying. He had $19,000 and some change. I smiled. I thought for a moment what to do with the ring, the watch, and the gold chain. I knew I should get rid of them along with the wallet and the iPhone 5 cell phone. Then guess what, his phone rang. The screen shoved a woman about Joshua's age, a name Sarah, and a phone number with the area code 714. I had it ring and go into voice mail. I then flipped through the phone history and as I guessed, Joshua called the number often, everyday, sometimes several times a day. It must be his wife. And he and his wife must have a house in the LA area. I entered the number in my own iPhone 4GS. I was glad I did. Then reluctantly I smashed Joshua's phone, quickly packed my belongings and moved to Aria for two nights.
It was three am of a Thursday when I checked into the hotel. I hung a No Disturb sign outside the door. Thoughts were racing through my mind although I tried to stay calm by doing breathing and stretching Yoga exercises. I finally dozed off from fatigue. A bing from the phone woke me up around 7 am. Text message! I opened it. It said, "Good job! Balance on the way after bank opens this morning".
I tossed and I turned until eleven. I took a quick hot shower and went to the bank. The $25,000 wire transfer arrived about an hour prior. I took out $9,700 in cash and then went grab a bite at Asia Buffet on Sahara and Rainbow. I then came back to Aria and emptied my cash from the deposit box at the Poker Room and went straight up to my room. I packed my money in the suitcase, checked my Glock twice and put it in the drawer of the bedside table and tried to sleep. I had a long drive ahead of me in the morning.
I have been pacing in my hotel room at the Gold Coast for at least two hours now. I think better when I am walking or taking a dump. All my best ideas come for these two activities. I stop, get into the bathtub, and turn on the water. I keep flashing the warm water over my face while sitting up. I am having one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I know I was impulsive and vengeful and stupid and vain. I know I screwed up my life again. I know I failed to live up to my potential. I know I lived life dangerously and stupidly. I jump out of the bath tub, dry myself, take out the three books I always carrywith me from the backpack, and jump into bed with them. I flip through the Upanishads first and then Nietzsche's Ecce Homo. By the time, I get to the Dhammapada, I have made a decision. A tough one, but I know I make a right one, even at big costs to me. I must bow to the higher principles and powers of fairness and justice. I must not be egocentric. I want to die with peace on my mind. We all die anyway, now or twenty years from now, that really makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. A man must have true pride, otherwise he is just an animal. I walk back to the bathroom and have a good look at myself in the mirror. I then know, for sure, I am not a type who would steal candy from defenseless children or kill for money an innocent woman who has done nothing wrong to me..
I get dressed quickly, take out the Glock, put it in the holster on my chest, heave the backpack on, and carry my suitcase into the elevator. I stop at the public phone, put 8 quarters in, and called Sarah. I hope she does not answer the phone. But she said, "Yes?" on the first ring, sounding very nervous and uptight. She must be calling Joshua like crazy the last two days. She could well be already in touch with the police, reporting him missing. I spoke, with a broken English and a French accent as best I could, "Sarah? Listen very carefully, mademoiselle, get out of house and run away fast. Now. Your life is in danger. " Then I hung up.
I drive to a Verizon store and buy myself an iPhone 5 and have it activated. Then I take out my old iPhone 4GS and text to the contact, "Sorry. Cannot do new job. " I walk to the nearby storm drain and throw the old phone in. I get back to my car, back to the same US 95 I was traveling earlier about four hours ago. It is now past 2pm. I will hit Phoenix around 6-7pm, stay overnight in a motel, then head south to Mexico. I hope I find some nice se orita down there to help me with my Spanish. I may go as far as Costa Rica. I know in Costa Rica they have casinos that host poker games.
Lesser men seek gratuitous power over other men. They find enmity and loneliness and sometimes painful death in the process. Joshua was such a man. True and real men seek mastery over themselves. They find peace and emancipation.Ego, thy true name is Insecurity. It has taken me a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to arrive at this simple truth. Now I am just a simple man with a simple plan: staying alive within the confines of my conscience.
WissaiJuly 27, 2013
1. Joshua, being "typically" Jewish, didn't honor his financial debt, thus "leading" to his death. That was the implication, but I didn't know how to artistically say that. This is only a skeleton of a story; it needs to be fleshed out.
2.More info is needed about the person who wanted both Joshua and Sarah dead. Again, the implication was that Joshua was an evil man, much worse than the protagonistHe not only screwed the protagonist up, but also the person who hired the protagonist. I have to find a way to tie this loose end to the narrative.
3. Of course, it's fiction, baed on irritated imagination. I am that vain and stupid to implicate myself publicly in a murder. It has been gratifying to me that several readers have inquired if the story is based on true events.