By O. Lucio d’Arc
Carole has been on The Coast for years, but Upper Black Eddy is a place she knows. It is a signpost along the Delaware River on the road to New Hope, which is a bustling little art colony now a tourist attraction with bars, restaurants and stores.
You drive east from Bethlehem, than south along the river from Easton, through Raubsville, Riegelsville, Holland – like counting in Moravian – to Upper Black Eddy, with bridges here and there that take you to Good Old Jersey on the opposite bank of the muddy Delaware.
They talk it over. If Magnum killed their housemates, they must do something. Call the cops. Or talk him into confessing. Or light up. Then they decide: Upper Black Eddy here we come. The whole gang.
But it is a long ride, and not Uber-friendly. They will need a car. Steve’s parents have taken back with them the only car at The Doldrums. Who else has a car? They ponder. Only one person they can think of and, reluctantly, Diz makes a call.
Raphael’s big black sedan is parked in front of the house 18 minutes later.
No matter what kind of shirts and blouses and coats and hats they put on them, The Ponders still look – well – different. They sit them in the back with Scott Free. There is plenty of room. Diz and Carole are up front as distractions for Raphael, who is in his civvies – black silk shirt, black pants, big silver belt buckle, pointy shoes.
“Hungarian Halloween,” Diz tells Raphael when he looks in his rear-view mirror a minute too long. He seems to buy it. He is that kind of brainless insect molester.
As they turn south out of Easton it grows dark. Diz has the radio up loud to discourage Raphael from asking questions, although he just seems glad to be sitting with two perky women in his front seat, wishing the guys back at the station could see him.
The winding road goes past giant gnarled trees and old summer homes ready to fall into the Delaware. Lots of darkness and shadows for Raphael’s headlights to knife through.
“Car go right here,” says Magla from the back seat as they came over a small bridge. Diz tells Raphael to hang a right and they start up a small dirt road just wide enough for one car.
Around a tree-shrouded bend they see a dilapidated house, no lights, no unbroken windows, roof sagging, nowhere to turn around. No other cars. Raphael pulls up in front of the front porch. Are you sure? he asks the backseat. The three nod. Scott Free acts like he isn’t there. And wishes he wasn’t.
“I’ll go in first. All of you stay in the car,” says Raphael, opening his door, inhaling deeply so his chest sticks out almost as far as his belly. He takes a small revolver out of an ankle holster. His Doldrums passengers are aghast, his Ponder passengers stoic and unemotional, as best you can tell.
Raphael walks up to the front door and calls out,” Magnum! It’s Raphael! Come on out! Now! We’ve got guns!”
It sounds pretty good, but there is no sign from within. Raphael pushes the door open, peeks in and goes in, gun leveled. When he is out of sight, the door slams closed.
The Doldrummers and Ponders sit silently in the car, waiting for a shout, a scream, a gunshot, something, anything.
After about three minutes a voice comes out through a broken window. It isn’t Raphael’s. “I’m done with rhyming,” says Magnum. “Come in here, now, or I shoot this bean-eater in the dick.”
They didn’t know if he was that good of a shot, but after exchanging glances and nods, Carole, Diz and Scott Free get out of the car and file one by one through the doorway and into the dark house. After all, Raphael has the car keys.
Magnum lights a candle. They can now see he has cut off his long beard and shaved his head, and is wearing his sad rodeo clown face – white makeup, big red frown, blue rings around his eyes.
Raphael is lying on his stomach on a ratty carpeted floor, not moving, a trickle of blood oozing from his head. Magnum, his broken nose bandage mostly red now, stands over him with Raphael’s pistol. He aims it at the newcomers and tells them to sit against the far wall. They do.
“I’m glad you came,” says Magum, the Doldrummers trying to get used to his scarey face and his words not rhyming. He acts harried, sweaty, guilty, but he is smiling crookedly through his greasepaint frown.
“Know what it’s like to be the butt of so many jokes, in and out of the rodeo?” he says. “Know what it’s like to be so smart, to be so talented, to be good enough to be a great teacher, to be president even. And to be so damned small.
“Dead is the new small, as Dave and Adele and Bugs and those rodeo pricks found out. And you will, too,” he sneers.
“And then there was Mary,” he says. They all look confused. “Your fucking souse of a mother,” he says looking pointedly at Carole. “She split up my family when my parents died, sent us all to different homes. Little people had no options, but she made it worse. This is all about you, bitch.”
He walks closer to them.
“One bullet each for you three, two for lard ass and the last one for me,” he says, rolling the barrel of the pistol. “Who’s first?”
“If you haven’t already shot me, shoot me first,” says Raphael from the floor. He rises to one knee and then stands up in front of Magnum, his head bleeding. He is so wide the other three thought of running while Magnum couldn’t see them clearly, but the drama holds them in place.
“Gladly,” says Magnum and pulls the trigger twice, the gun four inches from Raphael’s face. The pistol clicks twice. Click click. Magnum fires again and again. Click. Click.
Raphael grabs the pistol from Magnum. “No bullets. Me and a loaded gun? Are you fucking nuts?” he says, reaching for Magnum. Magnum ducks under his arm, rolls on the floor, grabs the lit candle and tosses it at Raphael, who goes up like a short-order grille fire. Magnum takes off at a run toward a door to another room. He runs smack into Grivort, who puts him down with a neck choke, the same way Magla had done to Silver Boy in the cave. Magla and Stentil stand behind him in the doorway.
Scott and Diz quickly roll Raphael in the tattered carpet and put out the fire. He doesn’t look good. Since nobody has cell service out there in the boonies, they hustle Raphael into the back seat of his car and Scott Free takes off for the clinic in New Hope at breakneck speed.
At the old house, Diz has tied up Magnum with some old frayed electrical cord she found. The Ponders stand over him. Carole and Diz aren’t sure what to do next. “We will take him,” says Magla. “Put him in car trunk.”
Scott Free is back sooner than they expect. He has dumped Raphael at the door of the clinic and screwed. Too many questions if he waited around. On the long drive home Carole and Diz sit up front with Scott Free and The Ponders sit in the back.
At The Doldrums, Stentil and Grivort carry Magnum from the car trunk down to the coal bin and through the door to the cavern. We never see Magnum again. Well, maybe that’s not true …
I’ll never be as witty
As Conway Twitty.
I’ll never swing my pelvis
Like a young and sexy Elvis.
I’ll never be a smash
Like good old Johnny Cash.
But now I can always be as high
Even to Carole, sitting on a stool up on the stage with her guitar, the song sounds better than it ever has. Carole’s voice had a new timbre to it, an echo that enriches it. Must be the cavern …
They have moved a lot of the furniture from the house to the cavern, and scavenged from the sidewalk after the Lehigh students vacated their college digs and went home for the summer. They have hung some musty drapes, have candles in well-placed sconces and created a bar using an old door and two sawhorses. They were, they say, ready.
They plaster signs on telephone poles, and put flyers in 7 Elevens and WaWas. The flyers say: “The Caberet in the Cave. Party with the Undead.” The cardinal rule, it says, is don’t tell the fuzz.
Carole sings. Diz tends bar. Scott Free is the matre’d. Raphael, half his face covered by a World War I leather Phantom of the Opera mask, mans the door, bounces the unwelcome and meticulously frisks the single chicks.
Magla cooks – special ribs and chunky steaks and an eerie and familiar eyeball soup her opening night specials – and Grivort waits tables, Stentil buses and sings Hungarian folk songs during Carole’s break. Their rags and luminous bones are a huge, huge draw.
The place is packed. People wait in the coal bin to be escorted downstairs when someone leaves, freeing up a space. They really need a bigger cavern.
There is no doubt. They are all going to be rich.
Thanks, Dad, hums Carole, who kinda misses him.
But he doesn’t know that.
Carole segues into an old Tom Waits tune.
I’m gonna wash the sins of my father
I’m gonna wash the sins of my mother
I’m gonna wash the sins of my brother
Til the water runs clear.
Oreste P. D’Arconte, who writes fiction under the name O. Lucio d’Arc, is a retired newspaper publisher and a weekly newspaper columnist. His short stories have appeared in the Murder Inc. trilogy of anthologies and he has had his poetry published in several literary magazines. A resident of Attleboro, Mass., he also wrote a hardback history of the Attleboro YMCA in 2017.