Book Excerpt From: THREE AT THE CENTER OF RAGE. As a favor to Charlie, Juan, a weekend nightshift porter, comes down to the windowless locker room in the basement of the bank, and switches on the bright overhead florescent, then bangs three times with malicious delight on one of the metal lockers. Charlie wakes from his dream with the stink of burrowed earth in his nostrils and sits upright with a pounding heart. Where the hell is he? Oh. Not at all amused, squinting at the grinning porter and verging on the ferocious he says, “Thanks, you prick.”
Unmindful of the depth of Charlie’s foul mood, the porter laughs and tells him,
“Anytime, you chalado A-hole.”
Instead of going home on Friday night he had slept in jeans and tee shirt on one of the folding cots stored following 9/11 in the bank’s basement, for whatever emergency that might arise. It is now four a.m. He is still shaken by his dream and he must resolve to not to feel “strange”—his word for the indecipherable. Willing himself to perform in as normal a fashion as possible, he stands very still before his locker until he ceases to tremble. He then unlocks the door and removes clean briefs and socks, a short sleeved shirt and a baseball cap, followed by an energy bar and toilet articles.
He washes up and dresses, makes himself eat the bar he does not want, and brush his teeth. Before returning the articles he reaches into the back of the metal recess, beyond his Koran, and retrieves a small black object.
He hefts the 23-ounce, six-round 9mm pistol, which he then easily conceals in the side pocket of his jeans, a discernable weight and bulk that helps to calm him further. He had, on impulse, recently purchased this pistol from Sonny, along with another that is now hidden with his Glock in his bedroom closet—this other being an unusual five-round Taurus revolver that he had loaded with buckshot shells, offering a close-up body-ravaging defense.
“Expect the worst of everything,” he had said with bravado to Sonny, who hadn’t disagreed as he pocketed close to a thousand for the weapons.
But with curiosity piqued, Sonny asked, “Whatcha preparin’ for, bro?”
So Charlie, laughing, replied, “The apocalypse.”
And a grinning Sonny, his amusement not quite concealing a thoughtful interest, said, “Well if there be serious money in this here apocalypse, Charlie boy, don’t forget me. You my homey, man.”
Charlie is often whiplashed by shifts in mood that are affected by his dreams. A favorite is when he climbs a snow-covered mountain toward its peak and verges on penetrating a sky of nearly indescribable blue, an Olympian color at the apex of the world that he believes he would absorb through saturation, and draw from it a reservoir of strength. And while never achieving the peak there remains above him that eternal promise of success. In one of these dreams, as he had glanced upward he caught sight of a redheaded man standing at the very top of the world, and when he awoke he realized it had been
Frank Driscoll. No surprise to Charlie, the detective’s sincerest admirer.
Whereas, in dreams of an opposite complexion, he has found himself engaged with the chthonic gods of the earth. Gods that others might believe represented fertility and agriculture and the spirit of life and nature. But one of a different persuasion, like Charlie, would look below the earth’s surface and find himself trapped in his own version of the Underworld, held hostage by these gods in the bowels of Hades, a place of decay that stank; would find himself pressed all around by the darkest impulses, urged into overwhelming evil by gods of his own making to whom blood sacrifices must be made. Otherwise death would overcome him. Dreams of a kind he occasionally had as a child where he was confined and threatened by monsters who lived in earthen tunnels. He had once been told by his mother to leave a cookie for Santa outside the door to his bedroom, and thus inspired, instinct and imagination informed him that self-preservation required him to place the dead insects he had captured and killed, the other side of this same door. Sacrifices to monsters that were yet to be designated Greek, never mind titled. And it was not for a while that he realized the house cat routinely scattered or ate the little carcasses.
It is one of these earth-stink dreams from which he has just emerged in the bowels of TrustBank-Manhattan, and while he is wary about the day ahead of him, he would press the barrel of his new pistol against his temple and squeeze off a round, before admitting aloud to even a hint of unease.
By four-thirty the security guard has buzzed him through the heavy brass entrance doors, to Wall Street. He especially likes the night since he cannot see the floating speck that often swims across his vision and sometimes, when he is feeling strange, it corners and appears to grow and pulsate like a living thing.
Now, alone on the street, he owns the sleeping world as he heads west to Broadway and walks north, figuring maybe a mile and a half or more to the F Train stop at East Broadway. A third of the way up he flags an empty cab, the driver of which slows and gives him a careful once over before stopping. Charlie, suddenly expansive, says, “This is a friggin’ luxury for me. Didn’t expect a taxi down here, this early.”
The driver, a man in his twenties, whose I.D. reads: Rana Saleem, glances at him in the mirror as if hoping ‘luxury’ doesn’t mean Charlie can’t meet the meter’s tally. But he replies, “Yeah, picked up some stoned rich guy from an all nighter on the Upper East Side. Lives in one of them condos down near the water.”
“Hey, you got a New York accent,” Charlie says.
“Yeah, but I get profiled anyway. And I’m third gen, man. Brooklyn. So whadda you doin’ out this late?”
Charlie unaccountably plays the big shot and fibs, “I work security investigations on Wall Street. Got held over on a case.”
“No shit? You’re a cop?”
“Naw. Private security. I carry a piece but no badge.”
The eyes in the rearview mirror look worried about the ‘piece’ remark, so Charlie flashes his Bank I.D. card, which looks official. The driver then warms to his passenger, nods and says, “I’m Rana, what’s your name?”
“Walter,” says Charlie as they cruise in friendly isolation like two in a space ship in the wee hours of the world. “You ever read the Koran,” he asks Rana.
“I looked at it but I’m not big on religion. Third gen, remember? Did you?”
“Must be plenty of money in security these days.”
“Not like the stoned rich guy.”
“Yeah. Not like him. I was a software designer ‘til three months ago when the company folded. Wall Street has fucked me… It’s really weird out here at night, man. A helluva way to earn a buck.”
“You think it’s time for a revolution?” Charlie asks Rana.
“Oh, you are so fuckin’ A, Walter. You don’t know the shit I put up with.”
“I got a pretty good idea, Rana… More than you think.”
At East Broadway, the two friendly strangers part company with a really big hey great talking with you, and after the cab pulls away Charlie enters the subway and waits for what seems an eternity for the F Train to Brooklyn. But while leaning against a post and listening to some distant, threadbare voice of recrimination, a tiny dart of misgiving strikes the bloated skin of this good fellowship, gradually deflating it until he experiences a familiar creep of self-loathing. His face reddens and he physically cringes by actually shrugging his shoulders and squinting his eyes as he mentally rips into himself for lying to Rana. Why’d you have to bullshit the guy? Puff yourself up? You could’ve made friends with him, have a beer sometime. You always screw yourself with people.
The train arrives and he finds one other occupant in his car, a sleeping derelict riding the rails, for the moment secure in his isolation. By the time the train has passed two stations Charlie is telling himself by way of defense that emptying waste baskets and mopping floors has nothing to do with the way he feels. That he, Charlie Farrell, is as good as Rana Saleem. He thus turns it around to his usual belief that trust is a dangerous thing. It’s not to be handed out to just anybody. Least of all to some tricky cab driver nerd who at the first opportunity will go right back to making those complicated computer programs.
Then carrying the thought forward into speech as though to the unconscious derelict: “All that coded shit to confuse the rest of us and grab all that data stuff, practically from our fucking heads, for corporations who want to control us. Yeah, but not ol’ Charlie.”
The man’s scruffy head lifts several inches and mutters what sounds to Charlie like a reaffirming, “Right on,” followed by the dropping of his head and a formidably resonant snore. Okay. That settled, Charlie rests back—his cluster of guilts and suspicions neutralized enough for a fitful doze.
He comes fully awake during the elevated part of his trip, and even with the brightening sky he sees apartment lights winking on; the early risers who have jobs requiring work on Saturdays, who are just now dragging their sorry asses out of the sack for peanuts a day. Little people who have no idea of the dangerous Charlie Farrell and the importance of the meeting he is about to have. He leaves his seat and walks to the next car, then the next, both empty.
Avenue X, Harry had said. Then would come Neptune, West Eighth, and finally Stillwell, the last stop in Coney Island. Walk forward, he had said. Be in the front car by the time you hit X. Charlie liked that—X. A mystery station. Harry would be on the platform wearing a red baseball cap, with a B for the Boston Red Socks. Charlie would wear a black cap with a white Yankees insignia. Harry had contacted him by cell phone twice, as Joe said he would, and they had arranged this meeting. Or Harry had arranged it—smoothly, Charlie decided. Yeah, Harry was smooth. Too smooth? Maybe.
So while powered by the heat from his own internal fires, and therefore driven to complete the triangle of himself and Joe and Harry, Charlie remains wary of the man—this latter response, beyond the underground fear of the moment, being merely a featured staple of the Charlie Farrell norm.
The sun has risen enough to glare the horizon, and Charlie is in the front car as the F Train pulls alongside the Avenue X platform. And there he is, Harry with the red cap eyeballing Charlie’s Yankees cap; with Harry, rivaling Charlie’s mistrust by ignoring him and stepping into the second car. The dingdong announces the closing of the doors, and the silver train moves ahead making the two stops before it terminates at the third—Stillwell Avenue in Coney Island. Harry hangs well back as they step from their respective cars, suck in the air of the salted breeze, and walk along Stillwell. They pass Surf Avenue, with Nathan’s Famous on the right and Astroland and the Aquarium on the left, then enter the broad, empty sweep of the wooden boardwalk.
As instructed, Charlie sits on a bench and waits. A lone figure squinting at the metallic sun-dazzled sea and reaching for his sunglasses, while Harry passes him and goes down to the beach and heads directly for the surf. He feels strangely removed from life as he recalls being here with his grandfather when he was five or six, recalls the disappeared crowds and feels haunted by the endless stream of replaceable ghosts; feels hollowed out by his mortality, by a fear of disappearing, until two early morning joggers run the boardwalk behind him. The synchronized patter of their feet reassures him of life ongoing until it slowly fades, the two men having eased past him and the silent amusement attractions, leaving behind a remote sound of some metal part from one of the rides, perhaps a loose cable or chain, clinking repetitively in the breeze and regenerating a sense of emptiness in spite of the brightness of the new day.
When Harry’s figure, made small by distance, arrives short of the water’s edge, he turns to face the boardwalk. After a couple of minutes, with Charlie assuming the other has checked and approved the surrounding landscape, Harry signals by removing his cap and scratching his head, then turns and sits on the sand, facing the surf. Charlie descends and wobbles forward in the soft sand.
Several minutes later, as Charlie approaches, a brief gust carries some of the spray from the crest of a breaker and lightly showers the sitting Harry, who then springs up and backs away. He turns wearing dark metal-framed sunglasses, sees Charlie, presents an attractive smile and extends his hand.
“Charlie Farrell, I presume…” Pauses, then: “Like that Stanley and Livingston pair, you know,” he says with a slight accent as they shake hands.
Still holding Charlie’s hand he says, “I’m being amusing. That movie with Spencer Tracy. I like the old ones.” To Charlie’s blank expression he says, “Not important,” as his eyes use more than a moment to take in and digest the ingredients making up this peculiar Wall Street porter. He sees, as anyone would, a far different creature in him than in Joe Masood, requiring a method of persuasion different from the first. His reaction is sufficiently hidden behind his dark glasses as his gaze then drifts away to scan the boardwalk, the amusements, lying beyond this Charlie Farrell.
At the same time Charlie’s multiple antennae, as finely tuned as the whiskers on a cat, vibrate from what he is eternally programmed to believe—that he is looked down upon. Though Charlie’s immunity, while not always successful, is his gift for warding off the blows of painful knowledge whether real or imagined, as now, as he swiftly escapes by pursuing an alternate path, thinking: Some people hold your hand much to long, and this Harry is one of them, followed by: If ever a man does not look like what he’s supposed to be, it’s this gum-chewing lightly tanned Harry. Considering his Red Socks cap and his medium blue tee-shirt hanging over his belt line, the shirt boldly sporting the words:
SAVE THE TREES
EAT A BEAVER
Plus, this thirty-something man wears spotless white shorts, and white socks rolled at their tops supported by white-and-grey New Balance cross trainer shoes. Fucker spends all his money at the mall before he starts his terror thing?
Well yeah, asshole, Charlie tells himself. What’d you expect—Che Guevera? Crazy, yeah, but then he’d at least look the part, not like some tourist with the kind of big smile Charlie would never trust in the first place. His stomach feels liquid, queasy with apprehension as he looks at Harry, being convinced that people who smile the most are up to no good, the least trustworthy, like his old man with his oily smile. Yeah, and con artists when they take your money, or politicians when they’re lying, which is almost always. Like diplomats while they bomb the shit out of your country, and sadists when they cause the most pain. And so he has this smiling Harry before him, a man he’ll probably never trust, yet the man he will need to connect with in order to stay connected to Joe. To remain in motion; to assuage his rage and his fear of the indecipherable.
Harry’s gaze returns to fix on Charlie as he says with seeming irrelevance, “An interesting place, this Coney Island,” while Charlie knows he continues to be carefully measured as Harry carries on: “I came before, on a Sunday, and I have very mixed feelings. I mean this place is so America. Escapist pleasure, chutzpah and profanity, all in one. And on Sundays—and God forgive this comparison—I think only the pilgrimage to Mecca is more crowded than this place. You like it here?”
“It’s okay.” Where is this guy going?
“That’s not an opinion,” says an opinionated Harry, who then as an expert says, “The beach here is too flat. I like getting about and so I checked your Jones Beach, which is much nicer. Interesting dunes and not so many cigarette butts. But here, atop the Wonder Wheel is a nice view, and I originally thought it would be clever to meet you on that, like in that movie with Wells. You know, the Orson Wells person. The Third Man? A wonderful movie of corruption. Albeit not here and now. But life is not a movie, is it. Where good overcomes evil. And the aquarium is nice. The jellyfish, like very sensual alien creatures, I think. But the circus and freak show personalities with names like Danny Vomit and Remy Vicious. These are beyond me. There is a lot of fear, real and imagined. One has the impression, every other American carries a weapon. Do you?”
Charlie only smiles, like those up to no good.
“I think you do, like your militias. Are enemies around each corner?”
Charlie doesn’t like the insulting question; doesn’t like being probed. Is not used to the exposure of who he is, what he thinks. He knows he is being tested, so straining to keep smiling he says, “Fuck you, Harry.”
Harry asks, “Fuck? Your favorite expression?” When Charlie shrugs he goes on: “You know, I think when the Twin towers came down you Americans suffered sensory overload. I know about the misery and anger, but then how to top that, Charlie? Wow! Very hard. The fun of killing Iraqis in shock and awe on television didn’t do it. So it’s one cataclysmic movie and video game after another. Everything slam bang. Exploding cars, buildings, people, and adolescent vampires with lots of blood. You like the vampires?”
“I think it’s stupid stuff.”
“Good for you. Have a seat,” says Harry, as if he owns this beach he doesn’t like.
They sit facing the ocean, embracing propped knees. Harry speaks into the breeze: “Joe told me, while you don’t say much to others you had quite a lot to say to him.”
Charlie can’t deny that. He’d shot his mouth off in a big way with Joe. Is that good or bad? Idling beneath the immediate surface of his thinking is the knowledge that this Harry has power, and what manages to percolate up from his welter of feelings is his sense of his need to be liked by Harry, which he hates, knowing it to be a major failing, this wanting against his will to be appreciated; a need if discovered and rebuffed that could morph into hate, could metastasize.
Harry says, “He said you liked guns and you were disappointed in the American system. Yes?”
Uncertain about the guns part of it, that he might appear crazy, and eternally harboring the mistrustful demons elbowing their way into rational thought, the conflicted Charlie learning he has been discussed, stifles his knee-jerk anger and almost immediately relents, telling himself he is stupid, for how else could Harry contact him without having Joe in the middle, promoting him? He glances at Harry, hesitates, says, “No argument.”
“Further, Joe said, if you could get your brains sorted and pointed in the right direction, you’d be a dangerous revolutionary, that nothing could stop you.”
“Dangerous, okay!” Charlie exclaims. “But I don’t need my brains sorted by you or anyone else!”
Harry turns toward Charlie, leans on one elbow. “Of course you don’t. It’s what one calls a figure of speech. Mentored is a more accurate word, if in fact it is needed. Though many of us have needed guidance. No?”
Mollified, glancing Harry’s way, Charlie says, “Yeah, I guess, if you don’t have direction.”
“And you think you do—have direction? Where will it lead you?”
“To take down a few big shots I have in mind.”
“Wealthy men in power, I gather. People in control.”
“Nobody controls me.”
“Charlie, we are all controlled to some degree. You are not roaming free in a wilderness. You exist in civilization where there are institutions of government. With secret organizations and armies and police, where laws are enforced. Have you ever failed to pay your taxes?”
A tense Charlie trying to appear at ease, leans back on his elbows, stretches his legs and says, “Fat chance. They deduct it.”
Harry’s chuckle is so soft the sound of the surf overcomes it. He removes his chewing gum from his mouth with thumb and middle finger, flicks it toward the smooth wet sand where a flat sweep of seawater carries it into the froth. He says, “True, and that’s my point. You are held to account, while there are those in power who earn more and pay less; those who make the laws to suit themselves.”
“Yeah. And where the hell is democracy, is what I want to know? Where’s equality? It ain’t workin’ for us, that’s for sure. We need a revolution.”
“Mmm, they say revolutionaries are dreamers. I think this describes you.”
Charlie can’t decide if this is good or bad. If he has been insulted. And his dreams are not good, that’s for sure. “I’m no dreamer,” he says, wondering if being here is a mistake while feeling himself primed for a departure.
“Maybe not. But you think all men should be equal, eh? You’re something of a romantic, then.”
Romantic? What’s that mean? He’s no softy. “What’re you sayin’? You being a smart ass?””
Harry stares at him, then shakes his head. “You disappoint me.”
“Yeah, well I don’t need your disappointment shit.” Charlie begins to rise, brushing off the sand as he moves, this brushing a form of hesitation: in some a reluctance to fight, in others a not wanting to leave.
Harry waves him down, says, “Sit, sit. Anger is good, if you keep it in check. You understand, a child loses his temper while a mature man holds it back ‘til he finds good use for it. I already begin to wonder about you, Charlie. And about what motivates you. You pop like an ineffectual firecracker.”
An angry but chastened Charlie wavers, always fearing exposure of what he himself cannot fathom—a submerged and still undiscovered territory awash in anguish that is ever untouched by light; and needing acceptance from this man that he believes knows more than he does, he reseats himself, assumes the pose of the mature man and says, “Well, you don’t have to wonder, since I’ve been holding my anger in check for a long time. Too long. And that’s about as mature as it’s gonna get. And what’s with the romantic shit?” he asks, with his anger not really in check, thinking, I’m a mature man with a gun who could blow you away, Harry.
“Well, there is Rousseau—you know of him?”
Rousseau sounds familiar. “What’s his first name?” Yeah, like that’s gonna make a big difference, jerk, Charlie canes himself, as if he were two at war.
Superior, amused: “Jean-Jacques.”
“Oh, yeah.” Rooting around, not getting an exact fix but remembering: “One of them philosophers.” See, not so dumb. His shrug says it’s no big deal.
“Yes, right, was one of those eighteenth century romantics. He thought that nature was good and civilization was bad. And in the natural order of things, that all men were equal. He believed it was institutions that defined class and threw up barriers to equality. That an aristocracy created the laws to maintain control of those weakened by this inequality, who otherwise might run amuck.”
“Yeah, well that nails it, man. And we could use a little more of the amuck.”
Smiling, Harry presses on: “Yes, but to reach my point, the opposing view, Charlie—Nietzsche.” Anticipating the question he pauses, smiles, says, “Okay…first and middle names: Friedrich Wilhelm, okay?”
Charlie nods, lies: “Yeah, I knew that. And so what?”
“Patience. So, next century up, the nineteenth, we have this Nietzsche espousing ideas going all the way back before Christ to the Oligarchical Party in Athens, which denounced democracy as dangerous and stupid. And then from our perspective in the twenty-first we have Nietzsche living more than a hundred something years before you and me, who could be an adored founding member of one of today’s more conservative think tanks.”
Charlie, thinking, who gives a shit, says, “Nietzsche, huh?”
“Yes, he said that nature was beyond good and evil.”
“The bankers aren’t beyond it. They are evil, man.”
“According to you, Charlie. That’s your problem. You want them to be good. Morality is what the strong give lip service to. Nietzsche said nature created unequal men who resented their inequality, and therefore they, the unequal weak, created morality to limit the power of the strong. So absolute power according to Nietzsche and his natural order was—is—the supreme virtue.”
“Virtue! That is such bullshit.”
“It’s just a word. Stay with me. He said nature’s wisest form of government is an aristocracy. So forget your government of and for the weakest, stupidest, people.” Harry sits up straight, arches his back to stretch, and asks, “How does that strike you, Charlie?”
Charlie, eternally at odds with himself, even while circling the rim of violence, too often suffers insult to remain included, so while choking on his need for revenge he merely shouts at Harry, “Whose side are you on, anyway?”
“Yours. I asked, what do you think?”
“What’s this, a test?” He rises to standing, towers threateningly as he looks down at the other and tells him, “I think it’s bullshit!”
While looking straight ahead and apparently immune to danger, Harry sniffs, “That’s your major interpretation?”
“No not my major, wiseass. I think it’s like what else is new, about the strong.” His hands clench into fists as rage creeps into his voice: “But weakest, stupidest, is where I draw the line, you son of a bitch. There may be a lot of shit going down, but this is America, buddy. Not everybody here is an asshole. You coming from the B.C. boonies got a lot of goddam nerve.” His torso leans toward Harry, hovering, as though needing physical combat.
Still looking at the surf, but now seeming less immune, Harry stiffens and waits and endures the possibility of blows that in the end do not come. And mere seconds pass when Harry manages to produce a voice that has a challenging edge to it as he says, “Yes, yes, you’re patriotic, I’m impressed, but do you think he is right, or wrong?”
Charlie, seeing how a steadfast Harry has weathered his rage and its possibilities for damage, pulls back from the edge, spins and moves a few feet away, annoyed by his wobbling in the powdery softness underfoot, that he appears ungainly. Believing himself tested for self control as well as brains, he returns and manages to respond: “Definitely wrong, man.”
Gazing up at Charlie and making a theatrical show of being impatient with himself, Harry shakes his head. “Wait, I misled you. What I asked required an emotional response, not a rational one. My fault. Let me rephrase it. Forget right or wrong and think about it. Do you believe what Nietzsche said is true or false?”
“False, for Christ’s sake,” replies a pissed off Charlie as he sits. His nose is offended by the smell of brine rising off fibrous strings and beads of seaweed, dusted by sand yet still glossy from the water, a living alien resting inches from his leg; disturbing him enough for him to pluck it and toss it away.
Observing this fussiness, Harry goes on: “You didn’t think about it. Anger, Charlie, anger. It rules you, destroys your reason and weakens you further.”
Believing he is led into tricky-dick traps, a frustrated Charlie says, “Whadaya mean, weakens further?”
“Just what I said. You being undermined by your emotions, remain one of the weak. Simple.”
“Fuck you, Harry.”
A natural performer, Harry assumes a pose of incredulity when he says, “Mmm. What do you say? Sticks and stones?” He then goes silent while he slips a package of gum from his pocket and offers it to Charlie, who shakes his head no while he studies the enormous rolling power of the Atlantic Ocean that turns from green to a gloomy slate under a passing cloud. It is a menacing view for one whose style hovers between the Australian crawl and the dog paddle, for one who fears the fathomless depths and whatever creatures they contain. All of it as threatening to Charlie as his gods of the underworld.
Harry unwraps a stick of gum for himself, pops it into his mouth, crumples and buries the wrapper in the sand and resumes: “Foolish. Your reaction plays into the hands of others. Not good. Romantic people are emotional; are from the heart, like children. Rational people are the ultimate grownups; ruthless in the way they see reality. Unlike you.”
Jesus, thinks Charlie—on the verge of nausea and yanking himself free of his disquieting thoughts of drowning—this Harry’s gonna go down.
Ignorant of Charlie’s terrors, Harry, while aware of Charlie’s temper nevertheless carries on: “I know, sometimes it’s confusing. The men are opposites, yes, but there is actually a little bit of truth to both. Still, Nietzsche wins out. In this he, in our context, is never from the heart. He is the most modern of aristocratic thinkers, the least romantic, the rational ideal of the capitalist corporate oligarchy. He’s their hot stuff boy.”
“Hot stuff boy? What kinda foreign-American talk is that? And I’m losing track, man.” This touristy looking terrorist offering an apologetic smile is too pleased with himself—this man chewing his friggin’ gum and actually cracking it like a teenage girl, for Christ’s sake. Charlie says, “You really know how to sling the bullshit, Harry.” He lies when he says, “I don’t give a damn about your theories.” He does, when he focuses. But Charlie suffers the thought that he is slower than people like Harry; and that unlike Frank Driscoll, this Harry is looking down his nose. “Just cut to the chase, Harry,” he says to this man he admires and hates.
As if he reads minds, Harry says, “You think I am patronizing you.”
The notion that Charlie could murder, could destroy what he admires, threatens to rise to the surface, producing an emotional scuffle that constricts his throat and for the moment bars his speech, bottling a rage that wants to consume while the drive to be needed, respected, edges close to a passionate submission of will that scares him; so in self defense he thinks: I’d like to rip out your throat; this Charlie-peculiar yin yang neutralizing him enough to play the man in control of himself when he says “You could say that. With all that philosophical crap.”
“It’s more than just crap, Charlie. Nietzscheism rules. A relative handful of the aristocracy control great masses of humanity that are often ignored. Consider how a country needing rescue from genocide is reduced to a cost benefit analysis. Unless of course this country is host to enough valuable natural resources to make a rescue and take over worth the effort. This viewpoint especially in regard to the policies of the West—of America—is simply in the natural order of things.”
“So where’s the news in this? And this ‘natural order’ sounds like it’s okay with you.”
“Hardly, Charlie. But the news for you and others like you—what is not penetrating—is that inequality is not against nature. Nature doesn’t represent anything. It just is. Nietzsche knew it. Corporate America and your president knows it. Every dictator and the warlords of Afghanistan know it. Those like you who don’t are ineffectual. People like you rage, make a lot of noise, and have a heart attack at forty-five or fifty.
Insulted again, Charlie begins to push up from the soft sand while protesting, “Wait a friggin’ minute—”
Harry raises a palm and says, “Temper, Charlie, remember? Just raging against what exists because you think it is bad, will get you nowhere.”
Reaching for control, Charlie resettles himself while thinking, you cross too big a line, Harry, I’ll fucking kill you.
“Just focus and follow where I’m taking you, Charlie. Trouble is, the religious but educated Saudis who knew it and brought down the Towers were too effective. And the disadvantaged religious know-nothings who hope for seventy-two virgins when they blow themselves up are too effective. Trouble is, too much emotion and too many innocent dead, plays into the hands of the aristocracy. And we, the original targets of imperialism, become the irrational monsters who kill merely because we hate your culture. Not because your businessmen and your armies tramp all over our sovereign countries, stirring up fundamentalist resentments.”
“Not my armies.”
“Figure of speech, Charlie. Anyway, an old story. Take a look back to Churchill’s oratory carrying the day against the Nazis, the man who had happily engaged in laying waste to the locals in Pakistan and the Sudan, referring to them as savages and wogs because they didn’t appreciate his colonial presence. See, Charlie? Good or bad? What difference does it make? You can’t change them. You can only discourage them.”
“Churchill was a hero…” says a listening Charlie, hesitating, his tone reflective, “to people…” It occurs to him, some of what Harry has to say is similar to Sonny’s more colorful tutoring about ‘the lily whites,’ and ‘the chiefs.’
“Hero to the Brits, yes. And to the Americans also, who massacred their natives.”
It also comes to Charlie, that Harry, while far too friggin’ snooty—Harry talks to him like he has a brain. He replies, “Yeah, we did, true… And I never really thought about the wogs. Oops.” He ducks apologetically about wogs and offers, “Sorry.”
Harry laughs genuinely and replies, “It’s okay,” as the two boardwalk joggers suddenly materialize in shocking, sweating and panting bulk, crossing in front of the absorbed, now startled, Harry and Charlie, bare feet pounding on the flat sand with shoes in hand, wet-slapping the skimming seawater that sweeps beneath their feet, the sound of their approach having been covered by the surf. Charlie with his own skipping heart is pleased to see the mildly shaken and ever-cautious Harry tracking the joggers until he is satisfied they are not a threat.
He is not the only one who suffers fear, Charlie happily discovers. Far to his right he sees a gauzy mist that is yellowed by the rising sun, rolling in from the Atlantic. It dims the distant stretch of beach where Charlie spies two early arrivals spreading a blanket, the two figures already beginning to fade in the mist that appears to Charlie to be too suffocatingly close for breathing. With Harry being so wary, Charlie wonders if well-concealed watchers could be near?
The tide is still running out and the flat sand closest to their feet is drying. “Let’s walk,” Harry says as he abruptly stands; then without waiting he slowly trails after the joggers who grow smaller as they cover new ground.
Charlie jumps up and starts to follow, but stops to examine the sand and to check his jeans for his wallet, his keys, and especially his 9 m.m. pistol. All being safely in place he walks on, but then pausing he glances over his shoulder and sees that the mist, which seems to move in his direction, has swallowed the two on their blanket. The vanishing figures remind Charlie that two nights earlier he had dreamed of the Wall Street storyteller. He had given him another quarter only to be told by this crazy man, who now appeared to be ten feet tall, that Charlie was disappearing, that he would soon be gone. Anxious to escape this notion of shrinking to zero he hurries after Harry to talk, to prove he exists, and coming alongside, says to him:
“You’re talkin’ Nietzsche. About Churchill and the aristocracy. Tellin’ me, that’s the way it is, and me being pissed about it. And so what about you?”
“You just said it. That’s the way it is. And it will not change unless we apply the right kind of force. I’m saying, Charlie—emotions, anger, rage, do come first. Then it follows that these legitimate reactions have to be mastered. Dispassionate people are less prone to making foolish mistakes. The world’s aristocracy is not in a rage and running amuck. The strong are at a distance, some of whom, perhaps, enjoying a fine wine and a good cigar while their subordinate police and armies are subduing those who are.
“We on the other hand won’t recreate the horror of the Towers, or blow up buses full of innocents. We repudiate those who cut off people’s heads and stone women to death. But we do accept the possibility of limited collateral damage to innocents, just as the armies of the West do.”
This guy goes on and on. Charlie takes hold of Harry’s arm with a firm hand and makes him face him. “Joe talked to me, and now you talk and talk. Get to where I come into it.”
Harry, having felt the unexpected strength in Charlie’s grip, does a quick reappraisal of this rough-hewn porter; and Charlie sees this and enjoys the other’s surprise. But Harry’s attention then shifts momentarily as he looks past Charlie’s shoulder. Charlie feels a sudden chill at his back. He revolves and finds that the mist, having swept rapidly along the surf and beach, has thickened to a milky fog and is about to enclose them, stirring his irrational notion of disappearing and producing enough angst for Charlie to urge the other to hurry: “And the force, Harry. The right kind of force, you said.”
“Yes, yes. Why so urgent?”
Unable to describe the indecipherable he answers with a mundane half-truth: “I hate fog.”
“Really?” Harry replies before explaining reasonably in a teachable moment: “It’s just tiny droplets of water. Condensed vapor. No?” The man is all theater, portraying this, portraying that. The minor conflict now on display being the divide between his amusement and concern. His head tilts to the side as he studies Charlie’s face. Then, at the instant they are both enveloped by the fog’s all encompassing cold, he adopts his pose of incredulity and asks, “If something as harmless as this threatens you, Charlie…” A pregnant pause for effect. “How could you possibly deal with the stress of producing terror?”
Not a word from Charlie.
“And the use of handguns, Charlie, and the possibility of up close killing?”
Charlie, staring at Harry’s face, filmed and reduced as it is by fog, avoids the appearance of dread by not embracing himself and hunching his shoulders against the chill that feels like death; for behind the shell of what he presents to the world as well as himself, is his absolute fear of the total release of violence. A mentally addicted man—ever tempted, ever toying, while never succumbing to the frightening thrill of the actual.
Unrelenting, Harry pursues him: “The stress, Charlie, of hijacking a truck and handling plastic explosives?”
He has heard the words before from Joe, but here they are today— bell-clear and irrefutable. No longer a mind-game safely played on a landscape of the future soothingly remote. Say something, Charlie. He takes a step back and raises a voice that to his ear seems muffled, distant and not his own: “I’m not threatened, I’m telling you. I said I hate it. I didn’t say it scared me. Don’t diss me, man… I’m with you!”
But having said these words he retreats for the moment to a safer place. Enclosed in the fog, feeling indistinct and removed from the rest of the world, and hating Harry for his insistent reality, Charlie pats the pistol in his pocket and thinks how easy it would be to shoot Harry. How he could just walk away out of this fog undetected. True, it is only a momentary fancy, since he needs and admires this man he hates, but the notion of this power breaks through his enduring conflicts and quiets him.
“Okay,” says Harry, “you merely hate the fog and you’re with me. That’s good. “
Was that too easy?
Charlie hates questions. A cautious, “Yeah? Okay, ask.”
Taking a step closer where he can read his face, Harry says. “Joe’s family was destroyed. Therefore I would say he was highly motivated. Wouldn’t you?”
Charlie recalls that when repeatedly interrogated in a recurring dream, he is preemptively thrust against a wall prior to each question. But this is now, you fucking yo-yo, he tells himself. And yet as he answers, ostensibly calm, “Yes, I’d say that,” an ember of fear glows in his heart for a beat or two, since he knows what the next wiseass question will be.
“So what motivates you, Charlie?”
Just as he thought. He hesitates long enough to remind himself that Harry already knows the friggin’ answer; knows that he, Charlie Farrell, is totally pissed. So no problem because Charlie remains in his element of manageable anger dressed in the usual safety of carefully guarded words, not action. “Well, I ain’t no Joe Masood,” he says, his admiration for the absent Joe, apparent. “That’s for sure. And yeah, my family isn’t what Joe’s was. Maybe mine was helped along by Wall Street, but it self-destructed mostly on its own.” The fog chill shivers him as he goes on impatiently: “But I told it to Joe and he told it to you, for Christ’s sake. So that this is news is absolute bullshit.” Don’t lose it, Charlie, he warns himself, and therefore sarcasm seeps out in the place of rage with: “But, okay, if you really like the sound of my voice, I’ll tell it again. ‘Motivation.’ That’s your fancy word for me being pissed beyond telling, pissed at your Nietzsche pricks, man. It’s gone way past them taking more and more and leaving scraps.” Picking up speed: “We’re just bugs to them and they’re squashing us. Holding us back, man. We got foreclosures on our block. My dad’s job disappeared, not that I care about the bastard. But it’s like that everywhere. They’re tearing down these foreclosures and puttin’ up McMansions while your aristocracy, your oligarchy, your natural order Nietzschies got their feet up on their friggin’ desks countin’ their goddam bonuses.” His voice rises and he clenches his fists. “And meanwhile our guys from the boondocks, who ain’t in the club, and never will be, are gettin’ their nuts shot off in Iraq! For your banks and corporations and their brown nose politicians, man. For shit!” His anger jumps another notch north and his words seem loud enough to billow the fog when he says, “Scammed by all that patriotic bull by your Nietzsche pricks drinking wine, you said, who’ve looted this country with their wonky rules and controlled the game. Like TrustBank-Manhattan where they treat you like shit.” His body teetering, his fists still clenched, he finishes by actually shouting, “It’s their game, and Wall Street’s game, and I want to blow them the fuck up!”
The following silence is so abrupt it startles a wide-eyed Charlie; for him the mere absence of his voice is so potent it seems to override the sound of the invisible surf, itself muffled by the fog.
Harry, having quickly glanced around to find they are still safely blanketed, is now nodding. He says, “Well, you do get carried away. You were so fired up, Charlie, I thought you would levitate. I’m impressed. Not so much by your words. They could have been plucked from a liberal editorial. But by how you express yourself. Not everyone feels so—so earnest.”
Charlie, a man who has presented two or three versions of Charlie to the world, vaguely worries he has exposed some corner of himself to Harry, while at the same time wondering if he is being made fun of. Having recovered he says coolly, “Your impressed. That’s nice.”
Again, reading him well, Harry says, “I am not mocking, Charlie. Joe said, point you in the right direction. I believe him… And you said, they’re holding you back. You just said that, right?”
On some days, with an instinct sharper than Harry can know, an alternate Charlie can sort through an incoming phrase and dodge the intent of its knife-edged words. He’s not his father’s son for nothing, and this day’s Charlie knows a trap when he sees one. So when the inside Charlie creeps up on the notion that it’s not the bankers or the CEOs, or the president of the Unites States, holding him back, but one of his indecipherables, the outside Charlie slides past this and says to Harry: “I said a lot of things, and that’s all you heard?”
“I heard it all. But still—who has held you back?”
On a roll: “Forget that and remember the rest. I misspoke.”
Harry laughs. “You misspoke?”
Unsmiling. “Yeah. That’s what your Nietzsche guys always say when they lie, which is like every other paragraph.”
“Were you lying?”
“No, I really misspoke. I was talkin’ for everybody else getting royally screwed. Including me,” he adds as he pats the pocket containing his pistol, as if for reassurance.
“I see. So you are angry for everybody else.”
Charlie sees that Harry has a nasty streak, that even while he wants to have Charlie on his team, Harry finds pleasure in needling him; an unpleasant conclusion he quickly turns away from as he, even in the milk of this fog, spies the black spot crossing his vision, sees it corner and swell and appear to pulse. A patient dream thing that waits, tiny but dangerous. And yet, being a familiar menace to Charlie, he says calmly, “Yeah, everybody else, Including me, I said. I am totally pissed. Dangerously, totally pissed. And I’m gettin’ to be pissed at you, Harry. You can take me or leave me, and you can do it now, here in this motherfucking fog.”
Harry is equally calm, quiet, thinking. Until, as if finally settled in his head about Charlie, he nods again and says, “Okay. Anger. Controlled anger. Good enough. Yours can be the anger of the revolutionary. And if not that, it can remain a mystery to me. It’s all the same, because it is real. It takes all manner of people to make a revolution. What you have can be channeled. It is the commitment that counts. The ability to risk all. And you are committed, Charlie. True? You could lose your life.”
“Why am I here?” says a brave Charlie.
Harry is as quiet as the fog is quiet, apparently giving serious consideration to many things, including the mystery of Charlie. All of which pleases Charlie, assuming this generous solicitude is for the one who could lose his life. But after this long and thoughtful moment, when he responds it is not to Charlie’s question that was not a question but an answer. Instead he tells Charlie, “Your hand keeps going to your pocket, Charlie. To a weapon. You’ve purchased more than one, I know. Don’t look surprised. You don’t hand pick a man without thinking about him, talking about him, watching him. Your man, Sonny, something of an exceptional character, a true mercenary, is a worthwhile contact. Plus another I have in mind. There is more to an explosion than its execution. Lets walk. You asked about the right kind of force. The right kind is minimal. Minimal force. Deaths are unavoidable. So while you must be willing to see people die, the goal is not to kill, but to terrorize. Well-placed explosions around the country, especially here in New York. The object is to not let them rest, to have people always worried and on the edge of panic. You’ll be a part of it, not all of it. But an important part, since you are well positioned to carry out a major demonstration.”
“What about Joe?” Charlie asks.
“He will be back,” says Harry as they continue to walk, the fog closing in behind them.
Categories: My Book Excerpts