A short story
by Chris Hibbard
There was a point when he realized he wasn’t going to make it as a writer.
He used to spend days on end in front of his ancient computer, typing, revising, spell-checking, then throwing everything away and getting drunk for two days to celebrate. After a few hundred times of this, it came to him. He was not meant to be a writer. It wasn’t going to work out. He simply couldn’t make the words come in a fashion that meant anything to anyone who read them.
Some authors, great writers, could make you weep or wail, laugh or roar with their words, with the way their prose flowed across the page. Looking at the pathetic collection of sentence fragments on the monitor in front of him one bleary Monday morning, he realized that not only was he never going to be one of those authors, his face was never likely to grace the inside back cover of a piece of adventure trash on the discount rack at the wholesale store. Maybe he didn’t have the continuity of thought to put something like that together, Maybe he just wasn’t smart enough. In any case, the day he decided to stop trying to be a writer was the day that he really started to live.
The next morning, Tuesday, he climbed into his beat-up Chevy Nova and went out looking. If he wasn’t going to use “I’m a writer” as an excuse for being poor and homeless, he better start finding a cure for those conditions. Unfortunately, over the years he had spent blearily staring into the wan glow of his word processors and scotch glasses, his employability has only decreased. He was 33, and feeling every second of it. Since he got shit-faced every time he failed to put something down on paper that satisfied him, he had spent a good portion of his time, and of his liver, completely wasted.
He’d told himself it was time to quit smoking years ago, yet still absently sucked down three-quarters of a pack of cancer stick each day. His hair was rapidly disappearing, thinning at the temples and being replaced by what appeared to be beard stubble, which rose every higher on his face every morning as he forgot to shave. His clothes were perpetually wrinkled from falling asleep at his desk, or passing out on the floor, or on the sidewalk, or in the back seat of his car. Between the wrinkles and the resumes, the job hunting was slow-going.
His name was Jarvis Satanta, and he woke up one day completely miserable. “Fuck this”, he said aloud to himself as he looked around his messy room and felt his back crack in three places from sleeping funny on a cheap lumpy mattress. ‘Fuck this and the horse it rode in on’, he thought, ‘It’s time to get some.’
So that was it. He knew a couple of things, a few dirty secrets that he had stumbled upon while attempting to forget some others. For instance, he knew that every Thursday, around nine p.m., in a very dark parking lot by the beach, two men met to make an exchange. One of these men was Tim Powers, a coke dealer who had begun moving blow in college as a way to pay for books, and soon became the only one smart enough not to get busted by campus security. After earning himself a philosophy degree and several hundred thousand dollar, Powers was the only guy in town you went to for nose candy. He had the best prices, the best product, and was as reliable as a plastic straw if you wanted to snort, provided you had the bucks. Every week he met a guy from the city who sold him several keys of fresh white snow. These two men spent no more than ten minutes talking shop – who was hit, who was busted, who was back out and dealing again. Then they exchanged briefcases, and that was it.
Jarvis had learned all of this from Powers himself, who, as it turned out, was not as professional or scrupulous when he was drunk as when he was sober. He’d allowed Jarvis to get him all liquored up and ply him with questions about the drug trade as ‘invaluable research’ for another bad story that had never made the cut. The whole episode had rather sickened Jarvis, who was a big fan of the sauce, but had seen too many people dry up and blow away as a result of coke, and H, and meth. So this week, Jarvis was going to end all that, and solve his own problems in the process. He could cure the drug problem on the South Shore and put a little coin in his pocket while doing it.
The parking lot Powers met his connection in was along the bathing beach, the blacktop strip stretched for miles down the shore. It was winter, and nobody ever parked there. The road running parallel was well-lit but poorly traveled. The cops never laid speed traps in the lot, though one would think that they would. Jarvis had planned to write about that in a story, “but fuck that”, he thought, cruising through town to the meeting place, “fuck writing about it.” It was time to do what they’d said to do in those stupid shoe commercials. He sat in his car about two kilometres from where he knew they met every week. He kept the engine idling but the lights off. There was no moon this night, which made it the ideal evening for shady dealings, and even more perfect for what he had in mind.
He was more elevated at this point than was the spot where the two men would meet, and even though the night was pitch black, he knew he would see the headlights of the two cars as they pulled into the dark parking lot below. Tick, tick, tick. Time slows to a crawl when one is waiting on the actions of others.
There. Powers’ BMW pulls in. 30 seconds behind it, as usual, is the city guy’s Lincoln Navigator. Jarvis smiled. God bless punctual drug dealers. He waited a moment, allowing the two men to align their cars as they always did, parallel to each other but facing in opposite directions. They got out. Jarvis knew his moment had arrived. He shifted into Drive and accelerated as fast as possible without allowing for his tires to squeal.
* * *
The two men shook hands amicably, greeting each other with the businesslike candor of two executives having a power lunch at The Keg.
“Tim. How is everything?” said the first. His voice, as smooth as churned butter, did no match the scarred, pock-marked face that delivered it. That face has obviously seen some portion of a knife fight, yet wore a surprisingly warm smile in the blackness of the evening.
“Great Rob, how’s James doin’?” James was the man with the plan, the guy the Columbians talked to in the city. Tim always liked to ask about the health of the principal, make it seem like he gave two shits. He didn’t of course, but asking went along with the image.
Tim looked like a grad school student: oxford pinpoint button-downs, khaki pants, loafers and a grey pinstripe beret covering close-cropped black hair – quite the image actually; all business, especially behind the wheel of a $50,000 Beemer The coke business had been good to him.
“Oh fine, fine, nothing to report. How’s about here? Everything running smoothly?” Rob picked up the briefcase from the sidewalk as he said this. He obviously didn’t feel like small talk, but didn’t want to appear rude.
“Yep, no worries really,” said Tim, “though we had a…”
His thought was interrupted by sudden movement attracting his eye. He turned his head in annoyance just in time to witness his own death hurtling toward him in the form of a 1977 Chevy Nova, painted a curiously uniform matte black. The Nova was running dark – its engine and lights were off – yet it was coming at close to 150 kilometres per hour. The sickening explosive shriek of metal that smashed Rob and Tim to death was quickly swallowed up by the constant crash of the winter surf. The ebb and flow of wave after wave also masked the grunts and mumblings of one Jarvis Satanta, who extricated himself from the smoking wreckage of his once proud vehicle.
Undoing the homemade crash harness, Jarvis shook his head repeatedly to realign his brain, which felt like it had been completely disconnected inside his skill, and was now rattling around like a bead in a maraca. He pulled himself out of the wreckage through the window, tearing his firefighter’s suit slightly on a small piece of jagged metal. He had stolen the suit a couple of day’s ago out of the local fire station – idiots left their doors open all day long, even when they were all upstairs eating lunch.\
Stumbling over to what was left of the other two vehicles; he flicked on his headlamp and immediately saw what he was looking for, still clenched in the dead hand of Rob, though the arm wasn’t connected to anything anymore. “This is it,” Jarvis thought – “a brown briefcase with gold clasps.” If he cared to search, and had the stomach for it, he knew he would also find a black one with silver clasps containing the coke. That was not what he was after, he could let to local cops wonder about that.
Shaking off the last of his collision shock, he pulled the gas can from his backseat where it was wedged tightly and poured the contents liberally over the wreckage of all three cars. He had left his Zippo at home this time, deciding to use wooden strike-anywhere matches instead. After he had emptied the Jerry can, and dropped it casually into the pile, he stepped back and breathed in the fumes, a reminder of where he was. Reaching into his left pants pocket, he retrieved the box of matches. Holding one between his fingers, he struck it against the striker on the side of the box, and watched the flame dance in the gentle nighttime breeze. Then he dropped it. The gas ignited, just like in the movies. Unlike the movies however, he would not be sticking around to enjoy it. As soon as the match had hit the ground, Jarvis was gone – running through the night, briefcase in hand.