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Authors: Louis Maistros

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The Sound of Building Coffins (7 page)

BOOK: The Sound of Building Coffins
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He spins around quickly; trying to get a good look at his surroundings before the bobbing haze of torchlight disappears. His eye catches something just before the glow is consumed by black.

About fifteen feet forward and to the left he thinks he’s seen an anomaly in the wall; a smoothness in the midst of rough, irregular stone—probably a trick of the light or a phantom of morphine. He feels weird regret that the killers have gone in the other direction. He needs their light.

Carefully, he gropes his way towards where he thinks he saw the smooth spot. If it is real, if he didn’t imagine it, it may be some sort of door or passage. This could be a good thing and it could be a bad thing, but at least it is a thing.

He runs his hand firmly against the wall as he moves forward, searching for the slightest change in texture. There is an abrupt transformation beneath his hand from sandstone to glass. He regards the transformation suspiciously and considers the morphine in his blood.

He tests the smooth surface with both hands, running his fingers against it, searching for clues to its purpose. Glass. It is exactly like smooth glass. He pushes against it. He slaps it with open palms. It is solid and thick. The anomaly is about four feet wide. It has no attributes of a door. It is
different
from the wall, but it is
of
the wall. Antonio Carolla wants to believe there is more to it than that. Needs to believe it.

Does
believe it.

There is nothing in the glassy stone to pull or grip, so Antonio pushes hard. Throws his body against it. Again. Again. His shoulders and spine ache from the impact. It all seems so ridiculous, flirting in the dark with this weird bit of hope, hunted and cornered. This thing is not a door. It is simply a smooth spot in the wall. It may very well be a miracle, but it is not
his
miracle.

Antonio Carolla is lost. He is letting go. He can no longer entertain the possibility of escape. A useless smile stretches his cracked lips.

His legs buckle beneath him. He collapses, sobbing, against the smooth surface of the cruel wall, his exhausted body sliding easily to the dirty floor against it. He cries loudly now, not caring if Sallie’s murderers will find him sooner, not caring that Sicilian men don’t cry. Be done with it, he is thinking. “Come and get me, you bastards!” he shouts. He sits on the ground, his back against the smooth spot. Weeping. Lost. Eyes wide open for no good reason in the dark.

And then it moves.

Startled, he lurches forward and away. The glassy wall has moved approximately an inch and a half. He leans back against the wall, braces the worn soles of his shoes to the coarse dirt of the ground; pushes.

It
is
a door. Like the door of a tomb. It glides easily with a low groan, then stops. Just enough for him to squeeze his body through and in.

The door is about two feet thick. There’s a greasy quality to it. Through the opening he sees the walls are turning orange once more; the mob is returning this way. He pushes the massive door from inside—incredibly, it shuts without a sound. It’s possible they have seen him or the movement of the door. Antonio Carolla waits for long moments.

Long moments pass. He hears nothing. They have not come for him. He is safe for now. He believes he is safe.

Chapter eight

Beauregard Church

 


Which cell is it, niggra?” The butt of the Winchester rifle hits hard to Beauregard’s blood-sticky head for the ninth time in less than five minutes. “Where’s that dirty dago at, boy?”

Beauregard has no clue where Antonio might be. The last place he’d guess would be his own cell, but then you never know what a man might do with enough morphine jumping around his skull. Wherever he is, Beauregard has to take these crackers
some
place—he doesn’t know how many more knocks to the head he can take.

With his head swimming from blows Beauregard pauses to rub his eyes, wipes some blood out. The gang’s apparent leader mistakes Beauregard’s pause for spite or laziness and lays another whack into him for luck or encouragement. The sound that comes out of Beauregard’s mouth is so pained and pitiful that he fails to recognize it as his own:


There ’tis, dammit! There’s the dago’s cell! Now, have at ’im and stop smacking me with that damn thing already!”

He indicates the open cell with a wave of regret. Though he knows it is far from likely, he fears Antonio might actually be in there waiting for them.
Dumb wop if it’s true
, he thinks. Tears mix with blood on Beauregard’s cheek as he crosses himself and watches the men swagger to the mouth of the cell, the rank smell of their murderous hearts sickening his own.

Chapter nine

The Cell Has No Walls

 

The odor is foul in these new surroundings. Antonio’s foot kicks against something that makes a dull clang and suddenly he understands the source of the odor. A bucket. Parish Prison standard issue. Recently used.

Theory: He is in an ordinary Parish Prison cell. Standard issue. He confirms this theory by sense of touch. Eight feet. Four feet. Cot. He stands on the cot. Touches the ceiling. Seven feet.

Standard.

The only difference is that there is no barred door. He steps down from the cot. Sits. His legs are trembling.

The cot is oddly warm, as if someone has recently slept here. He lies down on it—the cot feels good to him, it’s almost like being home. He closes his eyes as if it matters. There is blackness either way.

Somehow, it is darker in this place than it was in the hallway. This is not possible. No light is no light. Blackness is blackness. But still, it feels darker. There is always something darker, he thinks. Idle thoughts. There is no time for philosophizing about varying degrees of total darkness. Antonio Carolla reflects purposefully, thinks of a plan.

He will stay here a day or two. He can go without food and water for that long. Then, after the authorities regain control of the prison, he will yank open the tomb-like door and surrender himself to the warden. The warden will have to turn him loose—he is, after all, innocent and recently acquitted of all charges.

Having a plan feels good and his heartbeat slows. His mind drifts in and out of sleep as adrenaline subsides and morphine transforms his tired muscles into pools of warm water. He curses himself for taking the last two pills so soon—he will suffer mightily in the coming days as the terrors of withdrawal begin. But it will be all right.

Drifting. The air and his skin join the warm water of his muscles. From force of habit, he reaches a hand up to the wall alongside the cot. Brushes his fingers against clammy stone. His fingers trace etched impressions:

D O M

He jerks awake. Adrenaline jumps back to life in his brain. This is wrong. This is very, very wrong. He continues to feel out the letters:

I N I C K

It is not possible that he is back in his old cell. He traces the letters again. He is wide awake. This is not possible. He must think.

He gets up from the cot. His legs wobble beneath him.

He walks to the other end of the cell. In this standard issue Parish Prison cell, he should only be able to take five steps. He takes six. Then seven. Eight. Nine.

Thirty.

Still, he walks forward. The cell has no walls.

This is a dream of morphine,
he thinks.
It must be so.

He rubs at his eyes.

Upon lifting hands from eyes, Antonio Carolla sees the familiar starburst patterns that every human sees after rubbing his eyes in the dark. The pinpricks of phantom light within the confines of his eyeballs give him minor comfort. They are, at least, not black. He stares at the kaleidoscope designs that dance beneath his eyelids like will o’ the wisps, focuses on them. He adores the light inside his eyes. It is light. Some kind of light. Its circles and patterns feel like silent laughter.

 

*

The torchlight of the seven vigilantes fills the cell with deep orange to reveal the body of Antonio Carolla, lying face down on the floor near his cot, not breathing. Beauregard stands back and away, still dizzy from blows, eases himself back into the hall. The men quietly tie Antonio’s hands and feet, as they would any prisoner, and drag his body through the innards of the prison towards the light of day. In the square outside they fashion a noose, throw the long end of the rope over the low hanging branch of an ancient oak. Their blood warms as the crowd roars its approval. Beauregard looks on, head in hands. He cannot believe they mean to execute a corpse. Neither the killers nor Beauregard realize that Antonio is not yet dead.

The noose is placed around Antonio’s neck.

 

*

Light flares and spreads within the mind of Antonio Carolla. Bits of empty, dancing light explode and multiply, filling his eyes with a burning white. The light sears the backs of his eyes. Too bright. He rubs his eyes once more, hoping the whiteness will fade, but it only worsens. What was once perfect blackness is now perfect, excruciating light. It is all he can see. Is this what it means to go blind?

His eyes close and he feels the sun on his face. This is not possible.

He hears music.

 

*

The body of Antonio Carolla trails the comet of his skull, yanked up hard towards the heavens, noose snapping tight. His neck pops like a firecracker, his eyes fly open. The crowd shouts its endorsement. Antonio shakes and shudders but does not hear them. Does not see them. Only hears music. In his mind; he is not bound, there is no noose, strangers do not wish him dead.

The music in his head is that of a trumpet. Or cornet. A single horn chasing after a single elusive note. Holding. Dipping. Leaping and crashing—but not crashing. Saved. It is a trumpet that he hears. Or cornet. Like in a parade.

He sees nothing, only white light. Then a face. It’s the face of an angel, the face of his baby son.

Dominick smiles at his dying father. Speaks: “Papa.” His first word.

Antonio Carolla reaches up to touch him, finger to cheek. The skin of Dominick’s cheek is soft as clay. The face is changing now.

Antonio Carolla watches as his son’s face melts into the many shapes it will assume within its lifetime. From early childhood to adolescent boyhood to early manhood. The face becomes less sweet as it grows older. Lines form. Its gaze becomes complex and troubled. There is a longing in the eyes. There is a violence in the eyes.

Antonio Carolla is looking into the face of a young man, a face that will someday belong to his now one-year-old son. The face has the pallor of death. It speaks:


Jesus is mad, Papa. Wait for me. I will look for you in the water. I will find you in the storm. Jeeka bye boo.” The future ghost of Dominick Carolla takes his father’s hand.

The son leads the father to a wide green river. There are lights beneath its surface. The lights are dim but joyful, they are welcoming. Antonio is not afraid. He says to his son, “Goodbye for now.”

 

*

The sun is going down on Congo Square.

Antonio Carolla is dead. His body dangles between those of two Sicilian compatriots, his wide eyes empty and blank. Trash and debris, remnants of chaos, give the impression of recent war. The square is empty of any living soul save for Beauregard Church.

Beauregard holds a dull knife in his hand, walks to the base of the tree, cuts the rope that suspends Antonio, gently lowers him to unsympathetic earth. The air is heavy and has no wind in it. Beauregard looks at the knife in his hand, stoops down to Antonio’s body. Takes his hand into his own.

A hoodoo medicine man called Doctor Jack once told Beauregard of witches in Europe who refer to the severed right hand of a hanged man as a
hand of glory—
and that a
hand of glory
can work powerful magic. Beauregard figures Antonio might be due a little power in the next world—he’d certainly had none in this.

He slices into the wrist of his friend, finds it bloodless. From the ground beneath the hanging tree, liquid the color of rust bubbles up in a tiny spring.

In his mind he hears a baby crying.

Chapter ten

The Tenant of the Tin

 

The band of six—Typhus, Diphtheria, Buddy, Beauregard, Trumbo and Doctor Jack—walked the nine blocks from Charley’s barbershop to the Carolla house in silence, walked right down the center of Burgundy Street without passing a soul along the way. Uncomfortable thoughts zigzagged between them, unspoken. The street was slippery with recent rain and horseshit, little green blades of codgrass peeking up from between smooth rocks as if trying to fathom the wisdom in starting new life at this particular corner of the world.

No one had ventured to ask Beauregard about the contents of his tin. No one seemed to want to know. All they knew for sure was that Beauregard had been among the last to see Antonio alive, and that he now claimed to have something belonging to him.

BOOK: The Sound of Building Coffins
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