A Novel

Chapter 30: All the Screws

Monday, September 28, 1987, Camden returned to the Marina. He owed Todd over ten thousand dollars.

Where did it all go? Ten thousand doesn't go very far after all.

As long as it doesn't hit fifteen grand, I'll be fine. I can control things as long as they stay under fifteen.

Since he took his first loan almost 2 months ago, his original, self-imposed limit of ten thousand had come to seem less and less intimidating: You gotta think of it as a percentage of your potential—not as some number you basically drew out of a hat. Ten, ten. . .only amateurs think in terms of nice, round numbers like that: ten, twenty, thirty, forty. . .Why not ten thousand, one hundred and thirty seven? Ten, ha! That's amateurville. As a percentage of what I'm capable of, ten grand is nothing, but I will keep it under fifteen, just to be on the safe side. In any case, I can knock it back down under ten grand in a couple days, but for the time being, as long as it doesn't hit fifteen, I won't panic. What good would it do anyway, to panic?

But other people said he would panic, and very soon.

When Camden entered the Marina, the goon tending bar sneered and, with a tilt of his thick head, gestured toward the staircase behind the bar, as if he had been expecting Camden, which was odd because Camden didn't have an appointment.

Wanting to assert some control over the situation, Camden copped wise: "Thanks 'Bruiser'."

The bartender snarled and said, "A real smart alec, huh? A real smart ass. Think you know the drill, bright eyes? Think we's all just sittin' around waiting for the great Camden Brady to pay us a visit? Think again. You don't know the drill. Not by a longshot you don't. Not yet, anyway."

So that was not expected. From this goon who usually communicated in grunts and gestures. It bugged Camden a little, and then a lot. He felt almost as if it was open season on him.

The floor creaked when he walked on it, like cheap plywood. He never noticed that before. He wondered if the ceiling of Todd's office creaked too, when he walked on it. Down here was up there, and all that.

At the bottom of the staircase, Camden saw Harry Thomasson, standing at the end of the hallway, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette, just as he had been on Camden's first visit to the Marina. What a relief to see Harry again, to see him now.

Camden hoped that, after his meeting with Todd, he and Harry might smoke a joint together and have a good laugh over the dickhead at the bar. Harry was the kind of guy who would never be bothered by an asshole like that. Camden thought, "I could really use some of Harry's confidence right now." He hadn't seen Harry since his night on the Obvion, and wanted a chance to pal around again. Harry had a way of making one feel that all of life's troubles were unimportant, that any problem could be taken in easy stride. Camden said, "Harry! How's it going?"

As if he hadn't heard Camden, as if he hadn't even seen Camden, Harry dropped his half-smoked cigarette onto the floor, ground it out with his shoe, opened the door to the dockmaster's office, and disappeared.

Ellen must have told Harry about her date with Camden. Camden hadn't heard from her since that first date. She probably had the wrong idea about what actually happened that night. Christ, the sight of her lying naked in all that blood had just freaked him out. All those blood stains. He couldn't tell her what he had seen, and he couldn't let her see it herself. He rushed her out of that bedroom, back to the truck, back to the Ranch House, back to her car.

She obviously misunderstood. Bitches were also looking for a reason to misunderstand. After that night, Camden kept meaning to call her and explain, but he had been so goddamned busy trying to win back the money he had borrowed—money he had borrowed for her, to take her on an elegant date. Bitches never appreciate a goddamned sacrifice. And here he had thought she was different from other girls. Now he saw that she was just exactly the same. Nothing was ever enough. She would never be satisfied. If he was too busy trying to earn back the money he had borrowed to impress her, too busy to call and coo into the phone for an hour, she'd throw a tantrum. Bitches and hos. She and Trish could get together and have a good old bitch fest.

And Ellen probably told Harry about that date, and she probably gave him the wrong idea about what happened. Harry was possibly even jealous and angry on his own account, that Camden took Ellen out at all. From the very beginning, Camden suspected that Harry liked Ellen; Camden wished Harry had just said so. Hadn't Camden even asked Ellen if she and Harry were going out? And handn't she sworn there was nothing between them? Conniving and manipulative, just like all the others. She probably knew that Harry liked her, and just used me to make him jealous.

The door to Todd's office was closed, but Camden could see lamp light and movement through the horizontally reeded office door window. Horizontally reeded privacy glass. Camden knocked on the glass. About twenty seconds later, the door opened. Todd was seated behind his desk. Camden entered the office and looked to see who had opened the door. Jesus Christ: it's Jared Rone, Jared Rone and his sleazy grinning face.

With phony, exaggerated friendliness, Jared said, "Camden, what's up old pal? You don't seem so glad to see me. In fact you seem real surprised. What's the matter, aren't we old friends no more? I wondered why you never called, you never wrote."

Camden looked at Todd, as if for an explanation.

Jared said, "Remember that night, you and I was real high, driving my Camero eighty miles an hour in a rain storm? You pointed out that we was driving so fast, the rain drops they was going up the windshield, 'stead of down it. That sure was fucked up. You said it was like there weren't no more gravity or nothin' to make the rain drops fall in the right direction. That's about how fast you're goin' right now, buddy—"

"That's enough Jared," Todd said. "I'd like a few minutes alone with Camden. Could you wait outside the door?"

"Sure thing boss. And if I hear the little piggy squealing I'll just put some cotton in my ears."

Jared left the room and closed the door behind him.

"Camden, come in, take a seat. So glad to see you. If you have my money, if you have all of it, I'll make Jared come back in here and apologize to you. I can make Jared do anything I want. Anything at all. You ever had that kind of control Camden, that kind of power, over somebody?"

Camden hesitated; he didn't really understand the question. "No sir, I haven't."

"You ever been controlled in that way, Camden?"

"No sir."

"It's not a very nice way to go through life. People who do, they end up like Jared out there; they end up not very nice people. It's never a pleasant thing to see, but what can I do about it? It's probably better in the long run—guys like Jared, they can't take care of themselves; they shouldn't be allowed to run around uncontrolled, and they obviously can't control themselves. I'm probably doing society a favor. Ought to be paid for it probably. What do you think? Should I send Springfield a bill for services rendered?"

Todd was probably joking, but Camden had become so afraid, he couldn't even muster a courtesy laugh. He knew what was coming, the question that all this banter was leading up to, and it scared hell out of him.

"So I guess what I'm wondering Camden is whether you have my money."

You just had to answer. There was nothing to do but give the answer: "No sir, but if you could just—"

"Camden, you and I, we've been doing business for almost two months now. Except as far as I can tell, all the business has been in one direction: you getting and me giving. I'm finished just justing with you. We aren't going to just anything anymore."

"But sir, I just—"

Todd slammed his fist onto the desk, and shouted, "If you say that word one more goddamned time, I'm gonna have Jared come in here and beat your handsome homecoming king face into such a bloody fucking pulp that all the king's horses, and all the king's men will never be able to put it back together again." Silence. Todd breathed deeply. Todd almost calmed himself down again; he seemed to have enjoyed his own joke because he laughed. "You won't ever get laid again. Your days as the candy kid are over."

"Yes sir."

Todd pointed to the edge of his desk: a small television and a VCR. Todd turned the television so that Camden could see into its screen. Todd then inserted a VHS tape into the VCR. "Camden, I want you to watch this video, and then you and I are going to do business, and this time we're gonna make sure that your accounts balance." He pushed the play button, a green triangular on the VCR:

A bedroom, and Camden was sitting up in the bed, next to another guy. No sound. Camden and the other guy began kissing. Camden kept looking questioningly, maybe nervously, at something or somebody off the screen. Camden and the other guy began to make out; they began touching each other and French kissing.

Incredulous, Camden said, "What is this?"

"Pretty obvious what it is, isn't it Camden?"

"No, it's not obvious at all. How did you make this?"

"I didn't make it, Camden. You did. I only had somebody videotape it."

"That's not true. I never did those things. I don't even know that person. I don't even know where this place is."

"Guess it's a bedroom someplace. I'll have to ask my videographer. As for who that person is, I'd say you know him a whole hell-of-a-lot better than I do. Look at you two? So into eachother. I admit it makes me a little sick to watch."

Camden and the other guy were half undressed, and they kept making out. Camden unbuttoned the guy's blue-jeans, then started giving the guy a blow-job. Camden had an Indian arrowhead tattoo on his back, on his own naked back. He said, "Turn it off. I don't want to see anymore."

"You need to see more, until you're satisfied that this video could not possibly be faked."

"Fine, you've made your point. Turn it off; I don't want to see anymore."

"How about we compromise and I just pause it here, in case I need to resume where you left off, sucking on this guy's cock. Because there's plenty more on this tape, and it just gets worse and worse. It would make quite a sensation in Tiskilwa. I bet there are people all around Bureau County who'd be interested in this video."

"What do you want from me?"

"You know what I want; don't insult me by asking such stupid questions. I want what's mine, and nothing more."

"But I can't—"

"Come back here in forty-eight hours. Bring me my money. All of it. If you can't get the money, then you go to work for me."

"Doing what?"

Todd pointed to the television screen, "More of that. Not on video. Just doing it with men who can afford to pay for the privilege, the privilege of being sucked off by an all-state football player."

"Until I've earned back the money I owe you?"

"No Camden. If you don't bring me my money within forty-eight hours, I own you. Just like I own Jared. It's for life. This video is my guarantee."

"And if I do get you your money, how do I know you won't still use that video against me?"

"It's all about trust, Camden. Just like I said that first time you came here. I trusted you, and by God you're gonna start trusting me."

"I'll be back in forty-eight hours."

As Camden turned to leave, Todd said, "Oh, and Camden, don't even think about skipping town. Your family—I'll just get the money from them instead."

Camden left Todd's office. He passed Jared in the hallway, and said, "Fuck off Jared." As he climbed the stairs, he thought, That bitch, that fucking cunt. She set me up. She must have done this the night we met on the boat. She fucking spiked my fucking drinks. She seduced me. She must have talked me into that bullshit. She was obviously talking to me off the screen, telling me what to do. That mother-fucking cunt. I never should have trusted her. I should have known somebody so slutty would have no morals whatsoever.

There's no anger like a teenager's anger.