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Authors: The Place of Dead Roads

William S. Burroughs

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THE
PLACE OF DEAD ROADS

William
S. Burroughs

Table
of Contents

I
2

Stranger
Who Was Passing
2

1
2

2
6

3
9

4
17

5
23

6
26

7
33

8
43

9
47

10
52

11
58

II
63

HIS
FATHER'S PICTURES
63

1
63

2
66

3
72

4
80

5
83

6
90

7
92

8
98

III
104

QUIEN
ES?
104

1
105

2
116

3
120

4
128

5
135

6
146

7
157

8
162

9
169

10
173

TO
DENTON WELCH,

FOR
KIM CARSONS

Stranger Who Was Passing
1

SHOOT-OUT
IN BOULDER

SEPTEMBER
17, 1899.
What appeared to be an Old-Western shoot-out took
place yesterday afternoon at the Boulder Cemetery. The protagonists
have been identified as William Seward Hall, sixty-five, a
real-estate speculator with holdings in Colorado and New Mexico, and
Mike Chase, in his fifties, about whom nothing was known.

Hall resided in New
York City, and wrote western stories under the pen name of "Kim
Carsons."

"He was
apparently here on a business trip," a police source stated.

At first glance it
appeared that Chase and Hall had killed each other in a shoot-out,
but neither gun had been fired, and both men were killed by single
rifle shots fired from a distance. Chase was shot from in front
through the chest. Hall was shot in the back. Nobody heard the shots,
and police believe the rifleman may have employed a
silencer.

A hotel key was
found in Hall's pocket, and police searched his room at the Overlook
Hotel. They found clothing, a
38
revolver,
and a book entitled
Quien Es?
by Kim Carsons. Certain passages
had been underlined.

Police
investigating this bizarre occurrence have as yet no clue to the
possible motives of the men. "Looks like an old grudge of some
sort," Police Chief Martin Winters said. When asked whether
there was any reason Chase and Hall should want to kill each other,
he replied, "Not that I know of, but we are continuing the
investigation."

T
he
Sunday paper played up the story, with pictures of the deceased and
the cemetery, and diagrams showing the location of the bodies and the
probable spot from which the shots had been fired. When asked about
the make and caliber of the death weapon, the Medical Examiner
stated: "Definitely a rifle. Size of the exit holes is
consistent with a
45-70
dumdum bullet, but the projectiles have not been recovered."

The article quoted
the underlined passages from Hall's book
Quien Es?

Papers in an old
attic
...
an old yellow press clipping from
the
Manhattan Comet,
April
3, 1894:

Three members of
the Carsons gang were killed today when they attempted to hold up the
Manhattan City Bank. A posse, dispatched in pursuit of the
survivors, ran into an ambush and suffered several casualties
...
Mike
Chase, a U.S. marshal, stated that the ambush was not carried out by
the Carsons gang but by a band of Confederate renegades armed with
mortars and grenades
...

This poem was wroted
by Kim Carsons after a shoot-out on Bleecker Street, October
23, 1920.
Liver Wurst Joe and Cherry Nose Gio, Mafia hit men,
with Frank the Lip as driver, opened fire on Kim Carsons, Boy Jones,
Mars Cleaver, known as Marbles, and Guy Graywood, described as
an attorney. In the ensuing exchange of shots Liver Wurst Joe,
Cherry Nose Gio, and Frank the Lip was all kilted. Only damage
sustained by the Carsons group was to Boy's vest when he took refuge
behind a fire hydrant.

"My vest is
minted," he moaned. "And it was dog shit done it. There
should be a law."

Owing to certain
"offensive passages" written in the French language
the poem could not be quoted, but an enterprising assistant
editor had copies made with translations of the offensive passages
and sold them to collectors and curiosity seekers for five dollars a
copy.

Stranger Who Was
Passing

un grand principe
de violence dictait a nos moeurs

(a great principle
of violence dictated our fashions)

Surely a song for
men like a great wind

Shaking an iron tree

Dead leaves in the
winter pissoir

J'aime ces types
vicieux

Qu'ici montrent
la bite...

(I like the vicious
types

who show the cock
here...
)

Simon, aimes-tu
le bruit des pas

Sur les feuilles
mortes?

(Simon, do you like
the sound of steps

on dead leaves?)

The smell of war and
death?

Powder smoke back
across the mouth blown

Powder smoke and
brown hair?

Death comes with the
speed of a million winds

The sheltering sky
is thin as paper here

That afternoon when
I watched

The torn sky bend
with the wind

I can see it start
to tilt

And shred and tatter

Caught in New York

Beneath the animals
of the Village

The Piper pulled
down the sky.

LET
IT COME DOWN.

Appointment at the
cemetery
...
Boulder, Colorado
...

September
17, 1899

Mike swung onto the
path at the northeast corner, wary and watchful. He was carrying a
Webley-Fosbery
45
semiautomatic revolver,
the action adjusted with rubber grips by an expert gunsmith to
absorb recoil and prevent slipping. His backup men were about ten
yards away, a little behind him across the street.

Kim stepped out of
the cemetery onto the path. "Hello, Mike." His voice
carried clear and cool on the wind, sugary and knowing and evil. Kim
always maneuvered to approach downwind. He was wearing a russet
tweed jacket with change pockets, canvas puttees, jodhpurs in deep
red.

At the sight of him
Mike experienced an uneasy
deja vu
and glanced sideways for
his backup.

One glance was
enough. They were all wearing jackets the color of autumn leaves, and
puttees. They had opened a wicker shoulder basket. They were eating
sandwiches and filling tin cups with cold beer, their rifles propped
against a tree remote and timeless as a painting.

Dejeuner des
chasseurs.

Mike sees he has
been set up. He will have to shoot it out. He feels a flash of
resentment and outrage. God damn it! It's not fair!

Why should his life
be put in jeopardy by this horrible little nance? Mike had a
well-disciplined mind. He put these protests aside and took a
deep breath, drawing in power.

Kim is about fifteen
yards south walking slowly toward him. Fresh southerly winds rustle
the leaves ahead of him as he walks "on a whispering south
wind"
...
leaves crackle under his
boots
...
Michael,
aime tu le bruit des
pas sur les feuilles mortes...
?
Twelve
yards ten
...
Kim walks with his hands
swinging loose at his sides, the fingers of his right hand brushing
the gun butt obscenely, his face alert, detached, unreadable...Eight
yards
...
Suddenly Kim flicks his hand up
without drawing as he points at Mike with his index finger.

"BANG! YOU'RE
DEAD."

He throws the last
word like a stone. He knows that Mike will
see
a gun in the
empty hand and this will crowd his draw...

(With a phantom gun
in an empty hand he has bluffed Mike into violating a basic rule of
gunfighting. TYT. Take
Your
Time. Every gunfighter has
his
time. The time it takes him to draw aim fire and
hit.
If
he tries to beat his time the result is almost invariably a miss...

"Snatch and
grab," Kim chants.

Yes, Mike was
drawing too fast, much too fast.

Kim's hand snaps
down flexible and sinuous as a whip and up with his gun extended in
both hands at eye level.

"Jerk and
miss."

He felt Mike's
bullet whistle past his left shoulder. Trying for a heart shot
...

Both eyes open, Kim
sights for a fraction of a second, just so long and long enough: the
difference between a miss and a hit. Kim's bullet hits Mike just
above the heart with a liquid SPLAT as the mercury explodes inside,
blowing the aorta to shreds.

Mike freezes into a
still, gun extended, powder smoke blowing back across his face.
He begins to weave in slow circles. He gags and spits blood. His gun
arm starts to sag.

Kim slowly lowers
his gun in both hands, face impassive, eyes watchful.

Mike's eyes are
glazed, unbelieving, stubborn, still trying to get the gun up for the
second shot. But the gun is heavy, too heavy to lift, pulling him
down.

Slowly Kim lowers
his gun into the holster.

Mike crumples
sideways and falls.

Kim looks up at the
trees, watching a squirrel, a remote antique gaiety suffuses his
face, molding his lips into the ambiguous marble smile of a
Greek youth.

Definitely an
archaic
from Skyros with that special Skyros smile.

Who is the Greek
youth smiling at? He is smiling at his own archaic smile.

For this is the
smile that happens when the smiler becomes the smile.

The wind is rising.
Kim watches a dead leaf spiral up into the sky.

The Egyptian glyph
that signifies: To stand up in evidence.

An ejaculating
phallus, a mouth, a man with his fingers in his mouth.

Kim waves to his
three witnesses. One waves back with a drum stick in his hand.

Hiatus of painted
calm
...

Pate, bread, wine,
fruit spread out on the grass, gun propped against a tombstone, a
full moon in the China-blue evening sky. One of the hunters
strums a mandolin inlaid with mother-of-pearl as they sing:

"It's only a
paper moon
..."

Kim lifts his gun
and shoots a hole in the moon, a black hole with fuzz around it like
powder burns.

A wind ripples the
grass, stirs uneasily through branches. "Flying over a muslin
tree."

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