I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

Chapter Nineteen – Inferno

We were saved from the Tale of the Five High Schools by the door to the garage blowing open. A man and a dog flew in. The dog was an Irish setter, just like the one on Zoya’s card. Rushing Chase, she wagged so hard she was moving as much sideways as forwards.

“Hi, Honey,” said Chase, offering cheese. “Her name is Honey,” he confided out of the side of his mouth to me.

”Don’t feed Honey from the table,” lectured Zoya, but not as if she really thought she’d have an impact. She was looking hard at the man slowly removing his muddy outdoor gear.

If I had ever wondered what Chase would look like at sixty, here was one way to guess. This man was a little shorter than his son, a little broader, head crested by an unkempt pelt of graying ginger hair standing straight on end. He kicked off his boots, hung up a glittering mackintosh and stood twisting a leash over and over in his hands as if undecided who to sentence to home confinement.
His gin-colored eyes froze me. Chase had his mother’s eyes, thank God. This man was like one of the Fluffernutter dads; always conducting some internal experiment with me as bound captive. His eyes rolled me in a way that made me shiver.

Zoya, who had been throwing ice, bitters and boozes into a glass tall enough to match her own, rushed forward on her teetering high heels.
“Drink?” she asked hopefully.Good call. He pocketed the leash to accept his drink.

“My father, Cutter Farrell,” Chase introduced formally.
Now I knew Chase’s real name — Steven Farrell. Was this magic I could use?

Cutter advanced in a stiff-kneed walk, studying me to the point of embarrassment as if purchasing livestock. I felt like one of those maiden offerings in the Bible; scoured for “blemishes”. Damn Chase anyway for arguing against masks and makeup in his silver-tongued way. With my mask on, I would have been more bulletproof!

And it was not as if my judge was blemish-free. His skin was stained raw with weather or drink and so heavily lined you could lose large objects in those crevices. The seams assumed a jigsaw pattern; as if he had been cobbled together from the rejected parts of his perfect children.
“Jasmyn Suzino,” said Chase. Since I was holding my breath.

I felt mysteriously handed over, as if he was giving me away. It’s not so much your beloved’s parents that are the problem; it’s the way your beloved acts around them. I was being introduced to the dragon I was meant to battle. Like a desperate deb ejected from the cotillion I offered my hand; palm up. He took it, holding it too long; stroked the palm, counted out some crazy incantation and folded my fingers inward as if a mysterious something had passed between us. His own hands felt mangled, like someone let a chisel slip. I could perform no mind or muscle reading on this man. That might have been the spell he’d attempted to invoke; certainly his was a very unpleasant mind to read. In fact, I flushed hot beneath his raunchy gaze. Was it me and Chase he trying to imagine in bed together? Or me and him?

“Jasmyn just had the most horrible experience,” gushed Zoya the Great Distracter, plainly expert at throwing herself in front of problematic conversations as if they were runaway trains. “A girl fell out of her window and was killed.”

Cutter Farrell took a long drink, still staring. He didn’t say, “Poor Jasmyn.” He said, “That’s one way to get rid of a roommate.”

Naked-faced and undisguised, I blushed that deep and painful flush that old men so relish.
Chase’s father smiled. He seemed profoundly uninterested in strange women falling out of buildings, compared to this live woman, brought into his house by his son and currently standing right in front of him. I picked up my glass; needing booze but also requiring something to throw. Now I get why people clutch these things so fiercely at parties, along with anything else they can find; cigarettes, bongs or Desert Eagles.

“Suzino,” Cutter drawled. “What kind of a name is that?”
“Portuguese,” I told him bravely. “I think my Mom took out some syllables so people could pronounce it.”

“Lot of that going around.” Cutter slyly eyed his frozen son. “So, is your father still in the picture, so to speak?”
“Dad,” warned Chase.I gave the short answer. If the truth hurts, you had better get used to
it. “No.”

“That’s the Portuguese in him,” said Cutter, laughing mirthlessly. He pulled a grape off the plate and popped it in his mouth.

“Dad, that’s a rotten thing to say,” said Chase. I had never heard Chase’s voice this weak, this emotional. I admit it scared me. By now he ought to know insulting comments from family members are better ignored. Otherwise, where could we all go from here?
Cutter turned his attention to his son. “Nice of you to show up,” he sneered. Without taking his eyes off his son, “When’s dinner?”

“Maybe an hour. Maybe forty-five minutes.” The priestess seemed suddenly vague and dispirited, as if the magic might not come together after all. As if ultimately, no one could be nourished. Maybe the whole concept of food was just a tiresome illusion.
“Good,” said Cutter, drumming his fingers on the granite counter top. “I’d like to speak to the pair of you in my study.”

As I climbed off my barstool he said, “Bring your drink. You’ll need it.”
I couldn’t stop thinking of the leash in his pocket. This seemed like a man to whom everything was a weapon. But what could he do with it? Tether us to something? To each other? I was plenty scared but determined to hide it. I knew Chase needed me to be brave.
Argued Chase palely, “We can talk here.”
I hesitated. I certainly wasn’t going alone.

“You always preferred hanging with the ladies,” said his father, dragging it out. “The ladeeez…” He popped another grape, chomping furiously. “I’ve got something I guarantee you’ll want to see. Call it a business proposition. Man to man. It’s only fair you give me a chance to get some of my money back.”

This time Chase didn’t resist. I could see it wouldn’t do any good, any way.
“Here we go.” He gave the last of his cheese to Honey who was drooling with gratitude and kissed his mother as if kissing her goodbye. She put her hands up to the cheek his lips had touched, trying to rescue the kiss from the oblivion where kisses disappear. Maybe she could paste it in her scrapbook.

I trailed after the two men, noticing their shoulders identically squared. Genetics are amazing. Chase looked so much like his father but was nothing like him inside. Maybe a little of his rabble-rousing came from Dad. Cutter felt the pessimism of the intelligence, but had clearly never experienced the optimism of the will. That must be Chase’s legacy from Zoya. Cutter acted like a man who thought with his body. He might be heavier and meaner but if it came to a battle my money was on smarter, younger, sweeter Chase. No contest.

The study was the exact opposite of the blazing dining room. Here was a place where light was not admitted. Although he had the best window in the house – a huge, rounded Palladian – the dusty wooden shutters stretching across it looked inoperable. In the murk I saw a widescreen TV, uncomfortable-looking leather sofas dotted with hook-like buttons, and a massive rolltop desk exploding with papers. Past due notices, doubtless. The decor was oppressively masculine; rifles, creels, pictures of dead animals. It smelled like no one was ever allowed in to clean; more likely no one wanted to. The miasma was too destructive.
Chase put his hands on his hips and assumed an aggressive stance the moment the door was closed.

“What’s this all about?” He asked. “Don’t think I’m putting money into any of your schemes.”
I put down my wineglass hastily in case I had to back him up.His father smiled richly as if about to share a hellatious joke. “You’ll love this one,” he said. “It’s surefire. I found it on the internet!”
We stood in semi-darkness. I thought it odd that nobody even tried turning on a light. On the other hand, twilight fed my fantasy. If I summoned up the power of invisibility, I could take Chase with me. The party was over.

Cutter picked up the TV remote and black and white figures, seen from overhead, uncoiled in slow motion and jumped out into the room.

They were naked. All the archetypes represented,– cheerleader, jock, the gay black guy – Bettie Page — they were us. There in the horribly familiar dream lab six figures slithered and surrendered, piled and unpiled, higgledy-piggledy. All that was lacking was a musical score. Ragtime would have been perfect. Cutter rewound and replayed some treasured moments.

“Oh, my God, I’m going to be sick,” I said turning away. I looked around desperately for something to use for a basin. Fishing creel? Powder horn?
The men ignored me.
“Give me the disc,” said Chase. He charged his father.

“It’s digital, you idiot,” said Cutter, holding him off effortlessly. “Don’t you think it will make millions? Here’s a fine thing for a father to have to see. I hope they paid you plenty. How much for whoring out your girlfriend? Is that what they give credit for at college these days? I suppose you’ll claim it’s art? “ He raised his voice to a high, mincing screech with a weird Irish accent. “Will you be taking it around to the film festivals?”

“Give -–me—the remote,” grunted Chase, darting with his father. They grabbed at each other’s heads; cuffing like bears, trying to bring each other down.

Couldn’t Chase see a fight was exactly what his father wanted? No physical confrontation could repair this disaster. I backed away as father and son struggled together, rocking against furniture, colliding against walls.

“Isn’t this a fine birthday present for your mother?” gasped Chase’s father. “Always wanted to show the world what a big man you.”

The remote fell to the floor while they struggled, film frozen on a single frame: the long naked back and bald head of Dr. Corso looming over our pile like a cat peering into a fishbowl. I denied, I prayed, I pretended, I bargained; it couldn’t be real. My intuition reached horrible perfection; my golem-mask had launched into eternity, discreditable and disgusting forever and ever. How does one come back from that? What is left? Could I flee my tarnished body and remain simply spirit, forever? Bereft, abandoned; we needed to awaken from this nightmare, but there was no life to get back to. My body had been stolen. I needed another universe, a place without technology, sex or even self-awareness. A world without betrayal.

“Run, Jazz,” choked Chase. His father had him in a strangle lock.
“Too late, Missy,” grunted Cutter. ‘Those pictures are your résumé. Follow you forever until you die of AIDS. Welcome to the big time, buddy! Don’t blow your shot!”

Chase whimpered with rage. His momentary recoil allowed his father to bend down, grab his son by bicep and ankle, and attempt the cross face cradle I’d been trained to recognize. I shouted something like, “Stop that!” or “Get off him!” but they both ignored me. The moment his son’s shoulders touched the floor, Cutter threw his arms up in a winner’s salute.

“Pinned,” he grinned, turning his attention to me, “Don’t I get the girl? Everyone else did. To the victor belong the spoils.”

Panicky, I was feeling for the door. Cutter kicked his son as he stepped over him; Chase grabbed his leg and threw him. On his way down Cutter hit the side of the coffee table, painfully. But like an adrenalin-crazed fighter he didn’t seem to notice it.

‘Hey, I won fair and square,” he said. “Who’s the better man? You uncled.”
“I’ll never uncle to you,” said Chase, hoisting himself up. “Keep going, Jazz. We’re getting out of here.”

His father lunged for him. I grabbed a hefty vase, broke it over hard his head. Cutter went down.
Zoya was right outside, cleaning a front hall that didn’t need cleaning. She wore reading glasses not to miss any microbes; tore them off the moment she saw us.

“Where are you going?” she gasped. “You can’t go. Jasmyn, make him listen.”
“We’re leaving, Mom,” said Chase. “Can’t stay. Dad’s up to his tricks. But it was good to see you, though. Happy birthday anyway.”

He picked her up as if she was a doll and set her aside to stand with her plaster children.
“Please don’t go,” she begged. She started to cry. “Let’s talk it out.”

“Sorry,” said Chase. “Not this time. You can come with us, but we’re leaving.”
She backed away, shaking her head as if she feared he might kidnap her. And we were out the door.

Chase stepped on the gas, making the engine roar while I was still climbing into the car. I was afraid of getting run over – or worse – far worse — left behind.

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