The Unknown: The Red Line.

Dhose fuckers left me behind. My car was gone and my laptop too. Which has all my writing on it. Bastards. What they had done was clear, and what end of the stick they left me with. The Unknown Slush Fund? That was gone, too. In Dirk’s fridge, there was a moldy crust of Gorgonzola, a flat, half-drunk Miller High Life, and some sour buttermilk. The place disgusted me and it smelled like rot, so I got the hell out of there.

Every man’s a con man and you can’t trust those guys as far as you can throw them into a pile of trash. I lit a cigarette and wondered why they left me, and stole my shit, and what they planned to with it. It had to be money; somehow, that’s what it always comes down to, that’s the bottom line, dollars and cents. Could I hold it against these guys if they were in for the quick kill, if they were on the make from day one?

Of course I could, and I did. I was walking up McMillan Street at fucking 5 A.M. and I wished harm upon those guys. I hadn’t changed the oil in about two years and I smiled as I thought that the Corrolla might pick now to crawl up and die. Not that I wanted something extremely bad to happen to those guys. They fucked up, they were thieves, they were deceitful, hey what’s new?

But why now, and why like this, and why did they take my writing and my laptop too? It’d be one thing if they left me with something, but of course Dirk’s computer was just a twisted mass of charred metal and plastic, after that rocket scientist had, one acid-discombobulated evening, come up with the brilliant idea of trying to wire his hotplate directly into his motherboard so that he could fry up little cocktail weenies for supper while he was proofing The Unknown.

The best laid plans of guys like Dirk and William . . . so these fuckers left me no way to write . . . again I wondered what they were planning on doing with my writing . . . sell it? Yeah, right. On a good day, when the sun is shining and folks are feeling generous, my writing and a buck will get you a cup of coffee.

By now they’d probably sold the laptop, and discarded my only copy of all my best shit. That hurt me, right there. It was like a sharp kick to the gut from a cop at the rail yard.

Which is where I was headed, just as soon as I got done stealing a portable typewriter and a ream of paper from the University of Cincinnati English Department. It was early, and nobody really recognized me with my beard, and it was just sitting there in the corner. No big deal, I figured, I’m a writer, so I need a typewriter at least, you know?

So at the rail yard I stumbled, the portable in my backpack was kind of heavy and the train was moving fast. Fell flat on my face and the next thing I know, this bull’s standing there holding me by the scruff of my neck. He knows my name. Somebody at the Department noticed the ream of paper was missing and phoned it in. Even as I was hopping the rail yard fence in hopes of catching the eastbound to Indianapolis, the helicopter had been hovering behind.

So they put me in a holding cell with a bunch of guys and I don’t want to write much about that. I worked out a deal with a guy. He made sure nobody “queened” me, and in exchange, I explained to him the finer points of James Joyce’s Ulysses, and additionally made up some shit about Gravity’s Rainbow. Guy had some smack, too, so within an hour I was back on the dirty shit.

Tom LeClair bailed me out and got me a bus ticket back to Chicago. He urged me to stay the hell away until the heat cooled off. The Dean said he’d drop the charges if I’d do a web page for his dog, but he didn’t want to see my ass among those rolling hills until I returned for my dissertation defense, and I agreed.

I sold off all Dirk’s books at a used bookstore for a grand total of twenty bucks before I got on the Greyhound. I was sweating all the way back to Indianapolis. My life was shit and nobody could be trusted. Those guys would take the whole floor if you gave them an inch.

I scored more H in Indie. I was nodding the whole way back to Union Station. I was seeing angels through the fog and I didn’t give a rat’s ass about those guys trying to scrape a few bucks off the shabby remainders of my life’s work. I had the fix and I was in it. For me the writing was about the writing of it. Those guys would never understand that. Money slips away, I would have it and then it would be gone. Let them take it and make some fucking Otto Preminger-type of Hollywood extravaganza with it. I made the words and I had my fix. It was dark and I was nodding. Figure it all out in the morning, which anyway might never come.

I walked from Union Station to the El at Clark and Lake. The night was cold and it was windy. Little pellets of freezing rain cut into my cheeks like daggers of betrayal. I rode the train in a trance, got off the Blue Line at Division, stopped in at Cut Rate Liquors, stood at the long bar and began to get drunk. Old Style and shots of Jameson’s, four apiece, and I got to admit that I’m feeling the anger. Two guys get into a knife fight at the other end of the bar and before you know it I’m arguing with some toothless postal worker having a couple on the way to his route.

“Look, Sparky, it was the guy with the knife out first what was to blame.”

“They’re all scum. That’s why I don’t give a rat’s ass about yer mail, or any that comes out of the Wicker Park Station. Half these people are scum, and I’m gonna risk my life for the other half? Right. I’d rather burn the shit. Fuck these people.”

“Don’t say that.”

“You live here, you can kiss your mail goodbye.”

“You bastard.”

I’m drunk and tired and I live in the area and mail is tremendously important to me and I don’t always get it, so the next thing I know we’re swinging and crashing into bottles. Last thing I remember the bartender has hopped over the bar, there’s a shotgun in my nose and some beefy bastard picks me up by my feet and throws me face first on the pavement and I’m a bloody mess as I start to crawl towards Paulina.

I score more H on Cortez and shoot it up under the streetlight. The night is cold and one of my teeth is hanging on only by a bit of gumskin and I’m shooting a vile chemical into my veins and it seems like the only the thing that can comfort me and I’m standing amidst the rats and winos and the filth and garbage and I’m wishing I had a song.

Then some fuckers in a Cabriolet roll me, I don’t remember much, they took my last five bucks and left me bleeding in the gutter. A bald guy woke me up, saying “Hey, hey, hey,” as I was drifting through pleasure and pain, imagining I’m hearing jazz, clotting blood filming over my eyes, wet and sticky on my skin. Turns out the guy’s Myopic Joe, he takes me to his bookstore. He lets me wash up, loans me a copy of City on the Make, and he makes me some coffee.

When I finally make it back to the apartment on Paulina, the next morning after the night before after the night before that, there’s an eviction notice on my door but the key works and most of my shit’s still there. Maestro has been fed during my absence, and his litter box is clean. Nobody sold me out in Chicago. My cat attempts to lick my wounds and I shoo him away. A light blinks on the answering machine.

Dirk and William. The axle broke in West Virginia, and they need a ride. Fuckers. I scrape up all my change and head for Division Street thinking I know where there’s a game I can get in on for cheap. Maybe I can win a few hands and come up with enough to buy a used car.


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The Unknown at Spineless Books.