a novel excerpt by Anthony Kane Evans
An uncanny echo in the petrol station.
The first sign I have of an upcoming breakdown is when the CD player in the car packs up; I know that it has not finished playing the whole CD because we are not yet at our journey’s end. Could it mean that we are half-way, I think. That this CD is linking into LP spaces. That it thinks it ought to be turned over. I reach out my hand to see if this is indeed the case, if, somehow or other, my favourite band has put out a CD with an A and a B side.
“The B Side?” Frank says.
But he says this slowly and I choose to ignore him, more interested in my hand movement.
“Are you talking about the B Side in Rome?” Frank elaborates.
It is then that I see that the CD player is dead.
“That’s one disco I sure would like to hit,” Frank says.
The car lurches. I try to figure out who is out of gear: the car, which is an automatic, or Frank. It’s the car. The car slowly dies on us. It stops a couple of minutes before we reach a petrol station.
“Gas station,” Frank says.
“We are not in America, Frank; we are not too far from one of those Autobahns, but I think you crossed a border and got us out of Germany.”
“I … am … Pinocchio … I … am … Pinocchio … I … am …”
And suddenly, Frank has gone. There I am alone: dead CD player, dead car, dead Frank. Well, they are not dead, of course, they have gone into a black space, all three of them.
As I open the car door, it feels like I am ripping the spine of a beloved paperback. A John Bardin, say, a Helen Eustis or, a late discovery for me, James Hadley Chase.
“That’s it!” I say aloud.
Because this is the mid-point, this is a serious breakdown, this one. You should crack the spine of this manuscript, the one you are holding in your hands, because this is mid-way. And the break is six months long. And it is a black space because Frank, I can see …
“Pinnnocchio … I … am …”
Because Frank does have some problems. My minder, my keeper. It is not a time for him to leave me. Not a time for me to take over the driving and the nursing.
“FRANK!” I yell.
“I … am … not … Frank … I … am … Pinocchio …”
I slam the car door behind me. A fat lot of good that will do. I mean, it is not going to join the two halves of this book together. I consider, for one awful moment, to throw the CD away. There is a pond in a field nearby. I imagine skimming the CD across its placid surface. I stop. There are frogs over there, I can hear them singing. My God, is it that time of the year again? Have we been so long on the road? Has this blackness which I am now a part of been going on since Vienna and am I only now aware of it? Is Frank actually okay? I mean, maybe he is plugged into his Walkman, learning Italian. Perhaps we are in that fine, noble, Imperial land. That would also explain why Frank has a Roman disco on his mind.
I don’t look back. I move on. At the petrol station I ask for a mechanic.
“A mechanic?” the young woman behind the service counter repeats.
“Un meccanico!” I shout out just in case we are in Italy.
“Where is it?” she asks.
I point down the road. She lifts up part of the counter and suddenly she is out of the door.
I wonder if I should follow her, but I spot some second-hand books and videos over in a corner, so I wander over there instead. The videos are mainly mediocre. However, I pick up one that seems to be Dutch with Portuguese subtitles. Amsterdamned with Huub Stapel and Monique Van de Ven. Sounds like a serial killer is loose in the capital’s canals. Frank’s kind of film. I take it over to the counter, look out of the window. She has reached the car.
The books are mainly in foreign tongues. I pick up a Norwegian-Danish dictionary and a book called The Wisdom of Insecurity. It’s my kind of title. The last time I did something like this I was disappointed. I usually go for pictures on the cover of novels. The book begins like this: By all outward appearances our life is a spark of light between one eternal darkness and another.
I flick through the pages; there is a poem about chrysanthemums in there somewhere. I don’t read the poem, but I know now that I will buy the book. That I will try and read it in a straight line and that if I make it to the flower, I will press it into this very book of mine.
I look out of the window. I can see that the young woman is still at the car. I take out my notebook and jot down a scene from a screenplay I wish I was working on called Buddha Crimes.
EXTERIOR – BUDDHIST MONASTERY. DAY.
The street is deserted. Dusty. Windswept. Noir. It almost looks like a town in a B movie Western except that we are in the early 1970s.
Two men stand in the street. A motorcycle cop, Charlie, the pursuer, mid-forties, and Johnny Drummer, the pursued, twenty-six years of age. Johnny backs slowly down the street. Charlie raises his gun and smiles, the smile twitches at one end. Johnny’s face is stricken.
Charlie takes careful aim and shoots Johnny in the knee-cap. Johnny goes down on that knee, letting out a pitiful scream that is like the whine of a small mammal caught in a bear trap.
Take that you punk! And that!
Charlie’s gun spits fire a second time and Johnny is hit in the other knee-cap. Now, he goes down on this knee too. He is trying to scream but cannot; he tries to say something, but he cannot. Foam comes out of his mouth.
Charlie wipes his gun on his trouser leg as though he is wiping off blood. Johnny looks to left and right but there is no help to be had. Charlie takes careful aim.
(hoarsely, with great difficulty)
You should have made an honest woman of my daughter, Johnny. Instead of sneaking out of the back door and heading for the border.
Charlie raises his gun.
Okay, I’ll marry her; I’ll marry her, Charlie. I swear I will.
There is a look of disgust on Charlie’s face as he raises his snub-nosed revolver. There is a quick reaction shot of Johnny. Written all over his face is the terror of the end. The blackness from which he came and to which he is now about to return. He puts his hands up to his face and screams hoarsely. As he screams there is a:
SLOW DISSOLVE TO
INTERIOR – CONCERT HALL. EVENING.
A female pianist is playing one of Debussy’s Études (VI: Pour les accords). She stops abruptly. Plays the same chord again. And again. Like a hacked CD. Her face becomes frightened as she repeats the same hack over and over. The audience, we can’t see them, start to gasp. The pianist looks around at the camera, that is to say, at Johnny.
It’s you! I might have known that you wouldn’t leave me alone. This is my big night and you come to me on your knees. Leave me alone Johnny, just leave me alone!
There is a gun shot.
EXTERIOR – MONASTERY. DAY.
Johnny clutches at his throat. Blood is spurting out. Like in a sixties Japanese samurai movie. Johnny is rocking backwards and forwards on his knees. Charlie turns around, climbs onto his motorbike, and roars off. Dust rises up and settles behind him.
Johnny stops the blood spurting out. A face appears behind wooden blinds at an upstairs window.
Johnny takes a deep breath. He turns to the window. He lets the blood begin to spurt again. With the blood he manages to ‘write’ out the following message:
IT WAS CHARLIE WHAT DONE IT.
INTERIOR – LIVING ROOM. DAY.
A man, William, at the blinds in the background. The blinds are wooden, a dark brown in colour. His wife is in the foreground.
Why, he’s writing something with his own blood!
William moves closer to the blinds to get a better look, presses his face up against them.
William, you know very well that I just painted those blinds this morning.
William moves away from the blinds; the paint has marked his face so that it mirrors the slats of the blinds. He rushes out of the room.
EXTERIOR – MONASTERY. DAY.
William comes out onto the street, just as Johnny drags himself into the monastery. We just see Johnny’s feet going in through the heavy front door. William runs over to the blood-writing. As he reaches it a huge gust of wind comes up blowing the dust which the blood was written on away. William tries his best to read the message. When the wind dies down, we see William’s face. The painted slat marks on his face are now covered with dust.
INTERIOR – MONASTERY. DAY.
Johnny drags himself up to the image of the Buddha. It is not a golden Thai buddha. It is darker. Wooden. More primeval in feel. Bare chested. Dark green robe and maroon trousers. The robe is trimmed with gold. The Buddha is sitting in the lotus position.
(half to himself, half to the Buddha)
Oh, my God! What have I bloody well got myself into!
There is a moment of silence. Then the Buddha’s head turns to look at Johnny. The Buddha’s movements must be done using the stop-motion process as in the best work of Ray Harryhausen. Johnny is not surprised, he even smiles. The Buddha takes an arm down to his side and heaves himself up to his feet. There is a sound of wood creaking. The Buddha image bends down at Johnny’s side. Johnny is trying to talk, with difficulty.
It was …
The Buddha picks up a burning stick of incence and with the ash from it he writes: IT WAS …
Charlie what …
The Buddha writes: CHARLIE WOT …
No, no … what … W – H – A – T.
The Buddha rubs out WOT and substitutes it with WHAT.
The Buddha writes: DONE IT.
There is the sound of police sirens. The Buddha listens with his large ear. Moves back into his lotus position on the shrine.
EXTERIOR – MONASTERY. DAY.
Two police officers are getting out of their car. One wears sunglasses and looks very mean. William points at the door of the monastery. ‘Sunglasses’ pulls his gun.
‘Sunglasses’ charges at the door. Shooting at the lock as he goes. He kicks the door in and sprays the monastery with six shots.
INTERIOR – MONASTERY. DAY.
We see the six bullets in slow motion. The first goes through a lotus petal. The second goes through the forehead of a devilish figure on a Buddhist tanka (tapestry). The third shatters a glass vase. The fourth hits a small bell which echoes for six seconds or so throughout the following shots. The fifth hits the ceiling, creating a small hole through which comes sunlight, gold dust falls into this light. The sixth goes through the left ear-lobe of the Buddha.
The second police officer, Wilson, comes in behind ‘Sunglasses’. Wilson sees the writing. Points at it.
Before ‘Sunglasses’ can look dust blows into the monastery behind Wilson and the message is blown away.
Something was written there!
‘Sunglasses’ reloads his gun, goes over to Johnny, feels his body and looks up at Wilson. Shakes his head.
Wilson looks at all the holes ‘Sunglasses’ has made. (Six quick shots of these six holes – the bell is only dented). He winces when he sees the hole in the Buddha’s ear lobe. He takes one of the flowers from the shattered vase and puts it into the hole in the Buddha’s ear lobe. Everything goes very quiet. Then there is a slight creaking sound, of wood. But we see nothing.
The wind now comes again, but this time it is moving backwards. Sunglasses and Wilson are forced to move backwards. It is as though the film is going backwards, being rewound. Wilson goes with the flow, but Sunglasses fights against it, firing off more bullets blindly.
We don’t see where these hit. Wilson stops Sunglassses’ hand after the fifth shot.
We see the message: IT WAS CHARLIE WHAT DONE IT
So, my stupid brother had to go and do it. Why couldn’t he leave it up to the real police force to track Johnny down. From now on until the end of his days my nephew – if he survives birth – will always be a bastard! Why couldn’t Charlie have left it up to me, I could have twisted Johnny’s arm. He wasn’t a bad kid. Just a typical punk teenager.
Recharged and ready to go.
The young woman comes back into the garage as I am writing “a typical punk teenager.”
“Are you writing a play?” she asks.
“Yeah, only it’s for the movies,” I answer.
“I’m also a writer,” she says, “I’m writing a real play, for the theatre.”
She writes down her phone number and gives it to me.
“If you help me with mine, I’ll help you with yours.”
“What makes you think I need some help?”
“We all need help,” she says.
I look out of the window.
“Is the car fixed?”
“The car, the CD player and Pinocchio.”
“How much do we owe you?”
I pay for the book and the film.
“Is it any good?” I ask, pointing at the video.
“I haven’t seen it.”
“Maybe, I’ll call you,” I say, “What’s your name?”
She points at the card: instead of a name she has written X. I write my full name down, my address, my phone number and Frank’s mobile number. She takes her paper back and, crossing out the X, writes: Marisa Ferioli.
When I get back to the car, I see that it is working fine. She has taken out my CD and put in something of Frank’s.
“You okay, Frank?”
“I … am … not … Pinocchio … I … am … Frank …”
I open one of the back doors, open the driver’s door, extract Frank, put him in the back and drive over to the garage. We need provisions, I reckon. Though I still can’t figure out how long we have been going. How long the gap has been since I was last in, well, not control exactly, but at least in the picture.
Anthony Kane Evans has had around sixty-five short stories published in various UK, French, US, Canadian, Nigerian, Singaporean, and Australian literary journals, e-zines, and anthologies. Journals include London Magazine (UK), Orbis Quarterly International Literary Journal (UK), The Tusculum Review (US), and The Antigonish Review (Canada). E-zines include Litro Magazine, New Pop Lit and Short Édition. Though born in the UK, he lives in Copenhagen where he has made several documentary films for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
“Turning Over the CD” is an extract from a novel, Zero Two. The extract
is exactly at the half-way point in said novel.
Anthony’s previous story for us was “The Cigarette Girl.”