Authors: David Searls
To Evan. A great kid and sweet alt-rock guitarist.
The blinking sign was a lecherous wink promising fornication in all combinations of number, gender and form. Germaine Marberry stood frozen in revulsion to the sidewalk along the side of the Utica Lane Church of Redemption. The focus of her glare was the shop across the street, its windows slapped with posters featuring knives, guns, oiled-up muscular men and garish, buxom women. Even more in the way of titillation (just the word made her blush) was promised behind the black curtain in the corner of the showroom within. Though she’d never been back there, of course, Germaine had
plenty. She instinctively knew that the DVD cover art alone could send you to the deepest pits of hell.
It was, as Vincent had called it the other evening in that soft, gentle tone of his, a slap in the face of all Bible-abiding Christians. Especially to those in loyal and regular attendance at the church that stood some fifty yards from that shabby brick, glass and neon sin shop.
“Sin can be found everywhere,” that listless Sara Lamplighter kept trying to tell her when Germaine let her dissatisfaction with the place pour out.
“In Cleveland, sure, but this is Old Brooklyn,” Germaine had shot back. She had the good sense to stay out of the city’s downtown, but where she
spend her time was in her relatively quiet neighborhood.
As if the mere proximity of his shop weren’t insult enough, he—that man—had made the incredibly bad decision to drop in the other day, as though Germaine’s church were some pagan tourist attraction.
“Just curious,” he’d explained with a shrug when confronted by Germaine herself. He’d never seen the inside of the church, he’d told her, and since he spent a lot of time in the neighborhood…
Well, she’d put the lid on his curiosity, she had. And now, if her laser glare could cut through brick and plate glass, he’d be writhing in pain in his heathen haven. But since no decent channel for her well-targeted hostility existed, she could do nothing more at this dusky hour than follow the example of the Lamplighters and Kendalls and Vincent himself, and go home from the evening service.
She harrumphed her displeasure one last time before turning her back on that outrageous Broadview Road porno palace and setting her sights for home.
She had an easy three-block walk ahead of her. The sun had slipped behind the roofs of the tidy wood and brick homes crowding the streets, and the mild evening hummed with gasoline lawnmowers spewing the early-season scent of cut grass. Children played, sprinklers sprinkled and cars and bikes used up the perfect early June evening with the haste of a free gift only available while supplies lasted.
She heard and saw little of this, her thoughts still cutting that bearded man down to size for the mockery of his earlier intrusion.
“It’s not enough,” she’d told him, “that you sell your fornicating movies practically right outside our door. Now you have the audacity to stop in. Why don’t you come back tonight when you’ve turned on your blinking pink sign? You can’t miss it from our windows here.”
He hadn’t said a word in reply, just stared at her like
was the one who’d gone off the rails. God, she hoped he’d understood the sarcasm behind the invitation. Last thing she wanted was to actually catch him at the church one night when she was all alone.
Footsteps pounded pavement behind her. Germaine gasped, spun, bent to present a low center of gravity to her assailant.
“Excuse me,” huffed the thin, hard-muscled woman who chugged by in short shorts and a tight, sweat-stained jersey.
Germaine snorted her general contempt for all joggers, especially the middle-aged sinewy women hot to show off their midriffs. Used to be, a grown person on the run had just committed a crime. Now all it meant was that you were getting a cardio workout by nearly stopping the heart of the unsuspecting folk you crept up behind in the dark.
She was only fifty-one, but Germaine had watched society fester. For instance—and she blushed again in the dwindling light—the very public performances of the slutty couples and trios and God-knows-what combinations of people in those DVDs in that god-awful new shop.
She shuddered. Maybe Vincent ought to explain the effect pornography had on degenerate men with too much time on their hands on account of the economy giving them an excuse to not hold down a job or even try too hard until unemployment ran out—which it seemed like it never did.
The man’s hairy arm came from nowhere, his thick-fingered hand clamping on her mouth, stoppering her startled bleat. He slammed her facedown to the grass of the tree lawn. Her scream broke into useless, panicky wheezes. When the hand slipped partially free of her mouth, she opened up and let out an unbroken scream, then another, before her head was forced back to the ground, her call muffled by fresh, sweet grass and rich, moist soil.
His soft chuckle sent hot breath into one of her ears and she recognized the timber of that chuckle. She could also hear a horn beeping in the distance and the
of a revolving sprinkler. Children squealed a half block away and she caught the thudding bass of a cranked-up stereo in a car on the cruise. This could not be happening. Not with the entire neighborhood out enjoying the warn June evening.
The monster’s coarse, nubby beard tickled the back of her neck. One hand clenched her shoulder while the other began to rove.
Oh God, no.
“You’re going to enjoy this,” he grunted.
Forget the calendar. Summer hit Cleveland that year on the first night of June. It was a Tuesday, sometime after dinner hour, but before dusk turned to night. Tim Brentwood had worn a light jacket with his biker shorts, but now the jacket was tied around his waist, schoolboy fashion. One nylon sleeve kept threatening to slip into the spokes of his rear tire and yank him ignominiously to the Old Brooklyn pavement where he’d be chewed up by any number of big American rusters rumbling by with hanging mufflers and oil-belching tailpipes.
Tim rode with Porter Waggoner, Conway Twitty, Emmy Lou Harris, the Man in Black and Patsy Cline, all of them good ol’ boys and gals tucked away in his shoulder-slung knapsack. Along with what he’d just bought, Tim’s Midnight Rambler DJ Service held an informal option on a small fortune in traditional country-western records in vintage vinyl and cassette tapes currently owned by a retiree friend of Charlotte’s with poor hearing and foreclosure pending. Therefore, the entire collection, a couple thousand titles in all, could be had for the remarkable sum of just three hundred dollars cash, as long as Tim acted by the end of the month.
Sure, he could have uploaded the entire collection on his iPod for
free, but a stream of electrons was hardly the same as owning Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” on seven-inch vinyl from Sun Studios.
Which he, by the way, now did. It was full dusk by the time Tim coasted onto busy Broadview Road from Brookpark, letting the big cars pass him in smirky roars of smartass remarks and haul-ass engines. He inhaled the gas fumes and hot rubber as his Huffy hit a hill. He pumped hard and let his thumbs flip through fifteen handlebar gears.
The truest evidence of summer’s imminent arrival came when he’d drift near a car radio or coast by an open garage bay where mechanics tried squeezing a couple thousand more miles out of old Buicks and Chevys and he’d snatch a few seconds of the game, the Tribe always trailing that year. Tim sometimes felt that if he pedaled long enough he could pick up the entire game from one radio to the next, and that the Indians would be behind the entire way.
On Broadview, still a half-dozen streets from home, Tim saw himself running up the stairs of the up-and-down duplex he shared with his girlfriend. He’d fling open the door, pull Patty onto the back of his bike and race past the old steelyards and find a back way to Progressive Field. They wouldn’t arrive till the game was nearly over, but what of it? It’d be a hell of a thing, riding the night like that for no reason but the ass end of an early season, late inning ballgame. Probably get in for free.
Yeah, right. He couldn’t risk falling farther from Patty’s good graces than usual if he ever wanted to broach the subject of additional capital investment for his latest and greatest musical acquisition. He pumped faster, clicking rapidly through the gear pattern and listening to the satisfying crunch the chains on his derailleur made switching sprockets. He’d have a better shot at permission to spend the money if he made it home at a decent hour.
He began to mentally rehearse his pitch.
“Honey, the more music and the more genres I own, the more business I can accommodate.”
Throw in words like
and it might even sound like a business plan.
Just then he got derailed by the quick jab of emergency lights against the swiftly gathering darkness. No sirens, just lights. Squinting, Tim could make out two cop cars, one ambulance up ahead. The strobe effect had pulled in a crowd that was still spilling out of doorways even as he squeezed his handlebar brakes.
He steered onto a sidewalk and stopped under a sign identifying the cross street as Utica Lane. A few heads turned in mild curiosity at the tall bike rider who, in his neon-blue, stretch-fabric biker shorts and Nike jersey, looked decked out for a French road race. He unsnapped his helmet—the finishing touch—tucked it under one arm and ran a hand through his long, sweaty black hair.
The woman sitting on the sidewalk across the street was lost in racking sobs that easily broke through the crowd’s low murmur. Tim couldn’t get a clear view through the ring of spectators, but caught an occasional glimpse at a tall, angular woman with stringy, graying hair. Not old, certainly not young. The paramedics, two rail-thin men and a wide-hipped woman, crouched over her. A black cop stood just out of the huddle, sneaking peeks at the three, but more often glaring at the gawkers as though daring them to do something he knew how to deal with.
Two more Cleveland Police Department cruisers found parking spots and a couple more uniforms joined the first cop for a huddled conference. Then a lime-green Dodge Charger muscle car from the seventies, faded and dinged, snaked through the crowd and pulled up behind the ambulance. Although the sandy-haired female driver in form-fitting jeans and charcoal-gray T-shirt didn’t look big enough to control such a vehicle, the cop trio broke up to let her in.
The uniforms began to imitate energetic professionals with a lot to do in a very short time. They nodded, gestured, shifted from leg to leg as if eager to be put to work. The petite chick cop said something to each of them, nodded curtly a time or two and swept the onlookers with an arm wave. The cops found notepads and motivation, and began to circulate.
“Who saw what happened?” barked one of the cops at the crowd.
“Guess we know who’s in charge,” said someone from behind Tim.
He was leaning against the
No Parking This Side
sign. Looked to be about Tim’s own age, early thirties, a soft guy with thick, close-shaved beard and ball cap. He’d wrapped his stout, hairy arms around his chest, his hands tucked up under his armpits as though to ward off a chill. The fabric of his black T-shirt stretched tight over a belly that couldn’t be called fat—yet.
He seemed to wink without actually closing an eye, to grin without stretching his lips. It was all in his eyes and in a squat body that seemed wired for barely contained amusement. In another few years, he’d get described as jolly, Tim predicted.
The dude nodded toward the woman who’d stepped out of the Charger. “She’s blonde. She’s fit. She’s got handcuffs and knows how to use ’em. My kinda woman.”
Tim let slip a quick smile that didn’t fit right under the circumstances. He walked his bike toward the dude. “So what happened here?”
He caught a brief glimpse of the victim being led to a stretcher and eased onto it, the female paramedic keeping in gentle contact with the taller woman’s forearm. The chick cop with the jeans that fit so well kept pace.
“It’s Heather Thomas, right?” said the soft dude. “From fifteen, eighteen years ago, when she was with the guy from, well, whatever band it was. No, wait. Heather
, not Thomas. Who the hell was Heather Thomas?”
Tim shrugged. “Did you see it?”