To read the prologue, you can find it here
It wasn’t every day that a middle class couple was executed in America. But then again, it wasn’t every day that you get two spies convicted of selling atomic secrets to the Soviets.
The Rosenbergs were the hot subject in Charley’s Bar: a place where men usually came to drink and smoke their troubles silently away. A frequent downtown goer would’ve noticed that us boys were completely distracted from our daily hobbies. Hell, even the cigarette smoke wasn’t all that bad. If anything was in the norm, we all still sipped away at our drinks while having arguments about the matter.
“They got what was coming to them,” George Barklens, the son of old Charley himself slurred, “damn spies don’t know when to quit. If I were the judge, I would’ve sentenced them a hundred times over!”
“We all know that’s just the drink talking, George,” I called out with a slight grin on my face. “You don’t have enough in ya to even swat away a mosquito.”
A few chuckles came in agreement from the boys at my table. Anyone else would’ve heard my little insult, but ol’ George there had gone deaf with his drink. That was good for me, I guess.
Normally, I was very strict about how much time I spent in Charley’s: one hour, two drinks, a cig, and then out. But, there were those special little times when I went there to do some real thinking. Because it was usually dead silent, it was perfect for writing.
Now, I wasn’t a full time writer, but it sure beat the hell out of every other job I had. Unfortunately, all the pay I got from writing only came for when I wrote articles to local newspapers. I tried the short story route, but the editors didn’t even get past the second page, the tight bastards. But I didn’t give up. And because of this, I stared down at a blank piece of paper while George continued to ramble on.
“And then I would’ve jailed their little ankle-biters…!”
Frank, my best pal, snorted. Unlike me, he was already on the hook and circled. However, that didn’t stop him from sneaking away to the bar to laugh at Barklens’ drunken claims every now and then. If there was anyone to get gringles from, it was from another old pal of mine, Howard, or Big How Jr. for short. Now he could really throw a punch, although he was nothing like his 300 pound shady old man. If you didn’t want to go “cuisin’ for a bruisin'”, you’d stay away from his business, whatever it was, as much as possible. Luckily for George, Howard Senior wasn’t there to protect his boy.
“What’re you laughing at, chubby? I’ll come over there and you won’t be laughing no more!” Howard was about to open his mouth when:
“Don’t rattle your cage too much George,” Nancy, the bar waitress, called from behind the nearest counter top. “You don’t want your father to hear you, now do you?”
And then there was Nancy: a fine woman of twenty-five. I could go on describing her looks that put up there with the Hollywood greats which would say much more than if I talked about her personality. The only thing that I found interesting in that department was the fact that she spent her days off reading those sappy romance novels more than finding a man for herself, and even that wasn’t that interesting.
Regardless of what I have said or might say, Nancy was a great friend. George never saw her intelligence though, and so the next thing that came out of his mouth was;
“How about this dolly, why don’t you come over here and serve us another swing of drinks?”
“I think you’ve had more than enough alcohol today, Mr. Barklens,” she replied in a sweet, yet somewhat bitter, tone. She headed my way; her hips swayed sensually from side to side with each step she took. It wasn’t something she could help, but nevertheless, I grinned, sure to keep my eyes on every little detail I could. Being full of cockiness and half the alcohol George had in him, I shouted,
“Yeah dolly, why don’t you get me another Manhattan, hm?”
“Oh don’t you go starting, Shelton. If you’re gonna behave like that, then you can forget all about that trip to the diner,” She said sternly, though her face had turned red.
“Nancy, you know I meant nothing by it! Tell you what; how about I buy you two cream sodas instead of one this time?”
“Two? You barely have enough of your own bread for one!”
“Hey, hey…” My smile had faded just a little as I grabbed her arm and placed her small frame onto my lap. My arms instantly found their way snug around her middle and refused to let go. “I’ll get the money for two, don’t you worry ’bout a thing.”
A thin eyebrow of hers rose slightly, though judging by her even redder cheeks, she was trying hard not to stutter. “Oh really, and how will you do that, Mr. Morris?”
“I’m not a writer for nothing, you know; I’ve got something planned,” I said with a half drunken grin. Whatever charm she saw, (or did not see) in that smile earned me a laugh and a small smooch on the cheek.
“So tell me, writer; what kinda story are you working on now?”
She had me there. Women could always see through a man’s lie, no matter how convincing you tried to make it look. The fact that I hesitated for a good few seconds did not help me.
“Well, to be honest, I don’t have a story yet…which is bad since I have a personal deadline..but I might just write about a simple man with his beautiful dame who visit the house of a twisted-”
“Cut the gas, Shelton,” Nancy interrupted with a slight eye roll. “You know how much I hate horror stories!”
“It’s only a little blood and guts,” I teased, my hand running up her arm. She huffed before pulling herself off my lap, much to my disappointment.
“Eight o’ clock is when my shift ends tomorrow; be here and with bread, Mr. Morris,” And then she turned on her heels and walked away.
“She the doll you want?” Howard asked after she was clear out of earshot. I turned back to my pals with a small shrug.
“I don’t know, How…”
“You certainly treat her like your girl already, Shel. You might as well get circled.”
“Circled?” I laughed. “Nah, I think I want to stay free from any long time commitment. Say Frank, got the time on ya?” I asked suddenly, turning to him. He sighed and furrowed his brows, bringing his arm closer to read the tiny markings on his watch. A few squints and arm adjustments later, he mumbled;
“Thirty-six after seven.”
“A lot more time than I thought. So fellas, who wants to help me with the next big story of America?”
“Who do you think you’re gonna to be, Shel?” How asked with a smirk, “Salinger?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of Mark Twain,” I replied, my expression mirroring How’s.
“Then why don’t you put all those skills into writing something similar to the Rosenbergs before anyone else does it? We all know that small story idea you fed to Nancy back there is never going to get down on paper, might as well write something worth your time,” Frank suggested.
“I don’t think that’d be worth my time either, Frank.” My eyes stared at the contents of his drink before trailing down to the Rosenbergs’ printed faces. The couple was already a big no-no on my list; suppose if I do get famous off of something centered on it, I don’t want to get accused of being a communist sympathizer. “All I want is a horror story that’ll scare the pants off of America.”
“America’s already scared, Shel; the reds made damn sure of that,” Frank said with a snort as he took another swing of his drink.
“Not helping.” I rubbed my temples; the dizzying effect of the alcohol was getting to me. “Dammit, it’s too loud in here…”
Howard wrapped a thick arm around my shoulder. “Before ya look like George, you better get home and clear your head.” Frank nodded in agreement.
“And if sweetie over there,” -he pointed with his glass to Nancy- “Comes back around, we’ll tell her you went home earlier this time.”
“Yeah, but it’ll cost ya some other day,” Howard added with a grin. I shook my head.
“Whatever. See ya later, fellas.” And with that, I rose up from my chair and walked out of that bar, just right before I heard a loud thud from behind. I didn’t need to look back to tell that it was George who had fallen out of his seat, unconscious.
“Oh God, somebody call an ambulance!”
“He’ll be fine! He does at least once every week; his old man will take care of him…someone call Charley.”
I laughed. It was about time that man fell to the floor, was worried he wouldn’t drink enough. The lights outside were just turning on, and in some way it made the sunset seem better. I stood there and closed my eyes, breathing in the fresh summer air. It was nice to get out of that stuffy bar; for a while, I could pretend that I didn’t have any worries; no problems with money, I actually had a draft of my story, rent wasn’t due next-
“Please help me…” I opened my eyes and turned around to the sound of the voice. God, I wish I hadn’t.
The woman was a mess; everything about her screamed bad news, from her raw bare feet to her wrinkled, dirtied dress. She wasn’t crying, only staring at me with bitter eyes. In her right hand I noticed she was clutching a yellowed piece of paper so tightly that her nails had broken through the surface of her skin. I opened my mouth to ask her what was wrong, if I could help her, but the lady squeezed her eyes tight and let out a wail.
“He’s gone…they never told me he’s gone…why would they lie?” She placed her hands on her head and fell to her knees; the crumpled paper fell to the ground.
I swallowed a thick lump that had gotten stuck inside my throat and said,
“Miss, what do you mean…?”
She pointed to the paper. Her face was sort of twisted up, as if she was trying to cry, and was just trying way too hard for any real tears to come out. Curiously, I knelt down and picked up the dirty paper to read it;
Cause of Death: Cerebral Hemorrhage.
Patient 1688 underwent-
The woman’s dried tears mixed with the crumpling had destroyed most of the print. The only other thing I could make out was the words, St. Lawrence Asylum.
“Who was this…?” I looked up to her, but the distressed woman had gotten up on her bare feet and walked away…right into the busy street of buses and cars.
What happened next is…unclear. I don’t really remember anything else from that night as I was only half sober, and I only found out a week later that she had been Mrs. Baxter, an old sweetheart of Charley’s. Nothing else came up, and the papers had labeled it as an “accident”. Nobody knew why she was so distraught, but whatever caused her to go nuts pointed to three words; St. Lawrence Asylum.
Call me twisted all you want, but her death and that paper she’d been holding was what caused me to write my story centered on a nuthouse. I needed more though, and to get more I had to visit St. Lawrence itself. The wheels were turning around in my mind, and whatever the risks were, I would take them.
And everyone has to take risks to get what they want, right?