A Novel

Chapter 7: Sanctuary

Same day—still Tuesday, August 25, 1987—but deeper into the afternoon » Durney McKusker in his office at Shady Rest, private road house, rural-exclusive fuck pad/gambling den/nerve center of Durney McKusker's small empire, his small empire of crime. About two and a half miles north of Tiskilwa, ten miles west of De Pue.

[See Document Insert 7-001.]

Shady Rest: built as deep into the timber as possible, accessible only by a long, winding drive, the entrance blocked by a padlocked chain hanging between two concrete posts. The chained entrance, in turn, hidden behind a road-side barbecue stand, which stood beside the principal county road running up the bluffs between Tiskilwa and Elmville.

Shady Rest: first floor: the operations that could, in a pinch, pass as legal: a bar and a row of video poker machines—mostly Draw Eighty. The bar paid-out, if the player knew to ask, and they all did know or else they wouldn't be there in the first place. Hostesses ensured that everybody enjoyed himself, and discreetly made themselves available to those who were willing to pay for the privilege of a more private tête-à-tête upstairs.

Shady Rest: basement: reached by a staircase concealed behind the bar. Down there: high stakes video gambling surrounding a stage for raunchy pole dancing ho-bags. A cashier station built into the north wall behind bullet-proof glass. A door on the south wall opened onto an outdoor cock-fighting pit. Blood sport, blood sport, blood sport.

The same staircase connecting the first floor with the basement connected both with a second floor above. Up there: the private rooms where hostesses and dancers could take their clients. And up there: Durney's private office.

Durney sat at his desk, trying to concentrate on a row of figures in a cash book. Durney became increasingly distracted by a couple noisily fucking in the adjacent room. He picked up his telephone; he called the bouncer downstairs: "Ed, what are we at capacity up here or something?"

"No, just Booner Tazwell with Melissa."

"Only one customer huh? I thought you were gonna give me the unexpected-but-completely-welcome news that all rooms were full at four o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon, but you say that's not the case, eh? Well how many times do I have to tell you to start filling rooms at the other end of the hallway?"

"But I don't tell the girls which rooms to take. It makes the customers feel like they're paying for sex. You know, going with prostitutes. They don't like that; they say it feels more romantic when they get to choose a room themselves. You know, any room that's open. Like they're at a party or somethin', spontaneous like."

"They pick any open room you say? Then make sure they know that when every room is open, to pick the one farthest from my office," and he slammed the handset onto its cradle.

Fucking: groaning, moaning, iron bed frame banging against the wall, bed springs chirping. Goddamn animals, why can't they just do it on the floor? He's got to cum any second now. Booner ain't no lover boy. Get it over with already. Go back to your job; go home to your wife.

Just then Ora Thomas and Riley Simmons burst into Durney's office, holding between them a bloodied-up kid, a teenager. Riley put the kid in a double-jointed hammerlock while Ora drew his gun.

Realizing this must be the kid Blondie had called about earlier, Durney stood up, "What's this?"

Ora answered, without removing his gaze or his gun from the kid, "This scumbag tried to rape Connie."

Though the kid spoke with difficulty, he managed to say, with an undertone of insolence, "She didn't think she was being raped until after she invited me to her motel room—"

Ora holstered his gun and threw a straight left at the kid's head, "That's her father you're talking to."

". . .and until after I was giving it to her good."

Then a left hook to the kid's nose.

"If I'd've wanted to rape her, I'd've done it—"

Hand-twisted slipper punch to the nose, meeting its target with blunt force, smashing bone and cartilege.

". . . and finished it—"

An uppercut to the jaw.

". . . and plenty more besides," the kid concluded, with a bubbling, bloody sibilant.

Durney: "What's your name, kid?"

Ora again drew his gun and pointed it at the kid's head.

In an exhausted whisper, he said, "I ain't no kid."

"Well whatever you are, you'll never be a man if you don't answer the question. I've seen enough hogs gelded to know how to fix you with my own hands, so I'll ask you again, and you ought to think about the gun pointed at your head before answering because I could have you killed right now and I can guarantee that no one would ever know what happened to you."


"Your full name, and don't think about lying."

"Hotchkiss. Floyd Hotchkiss."

Durney to Ora: "Take him down the hall."

Ora and Riley lifted Floyd by his arms, and dragged him out of Durney's office. Blood on the floor, a streak of it to the door. The floor had seen plenty of it. Blood sport. Muscling in. Control the bureaucrats; control the politicians; give the public what it wants, what it needs: blood sport.

Durney sat back down at his desk and called Lory Price, an old friend and gambler in La Salle who sometimes ran shakedowns for Durney. "Lory, Durney here."

"Hey, Durney! How's things in your neck?"

"Pretty good. Same as usual, I guess. Hey, you gonna be around the next few days?"

"Yeah, I'll be here. I'm running bag right now for Leona. She's got some serious build-up going on out here."

"That so? Well, good for her, I guess. Look, I might need a trigger—not sure. I'll put down a hundred dollar retainer, and another grand if I need the job done."

"Sure thing Durney."

"I'll send Scerial Thompson with the retainer."

"Terrific." Then, before hanging up, Lory added, "Oh, by the way, did you hear about Charlie Aimes?"

"What about him?"

"He got pounded pretty bad Sunday night. Found unconscious outside Menocken's. Charlie says he don't know his assailants; says he can't even describe them. Sheriff's men investigated but they couldn't find nothing."

Durney: dead silent.

Lory continued, "Well on this other matter, I'll look out for Scerial, and just call me with details if you need the job done." He hung up.

Durney, as if in a daze, held the handset to his ear for almost a minute before replacing it, gently this time, onto its cradle. He sat quietly, thinking about Charlie. Wondering about Charlie. Several minutes passed in silence, then the telephone began to ring, and brought him back to the present. He picked up the telephone.

Ed: "Hi, Durney. Sorry to bother you, but Todd Menocken is down at the barbecue stand. Says he'd like a word with you."

Todd Menocken almost never came to Shady Rest, or to any of Durney's road houses as far as Durney knew. His appearance now, coinciding with the news about Charlie, seemed to spell trouble ahead. Todd must have discovered that Charlie was selling burnese out of his De Pue road house, and must've pounded the whole story out of Charlie—Durney's role in the scheme and everything. Fuck. The only question was what Todd intended to do about it. Todd would be well within his rights to do just about anything, but Durney doubted whether Todd had the muscle to pull any serious retaliation. Durney took a deep breath—something he hardly ever did—and said, "Okay, let him in."

It would be at least five minutes before Todd arrived. Durney sat at his desk, thinking. Trying to think what to think.

Several minutes later, Todd, accompanied by one of his thugs, entered Durney's office after a perfunctory knock on the door.

As Todd approached Durney's desk, Durney stood and said, "Hello Todd."

"Hello Durney. You look surprised to see me."

Durney replied, defensively, almost dismissively, "No, no, I'm not. How are you Todd? How are things?"

Ignoring the pleasantries, Todd said "I suppose you heard about Charlie." Then, he threw a blue and grey Addidas duffle bag onto Durney's desk and, gesturing to the bag, said, "I guess you know what's in that. Don't pretend you don't."

Durney said nothing.

"Stop trying to peddle this shit out of my road houses. Get it?" Todd paused to light a cigarette, flicking the matchstick into the air, a sign of contempt. "I could hardly believe, when I first learned, that you could be so stupid. What are you trying to do, start a turf war?"

"You know me better than that, Todd. Come on. But that market, De Pue, Selby Township—it ain't near to being tapped out. You got all those workers, the miners, from the coal mines—"

"That's right Durney, I have those miners. And when they're buying your shit, they don't have money to spend at my places. Christ, Durney, they mine coal for that money. Isn't that enough? Can't they just enjoy their beer, play bolita, and go home? They want to buy this shit, they can come over here. But you stay out of De Pue."

"Oh I see how it is. Makes you feel real big, keeping your hometown clean. Is that it?"

"It doesn't make me feel anything and it wouldn't matter if it did. I'm just saying, look elsewhere for customers. Everything's just jake in De Pue, and it's gonna stay that way. You think De Pue isn't tapped out—it's Elmville's got that problem, and it's a liquidity problem, and you aren't doin' nothin' about it, and people're beginnin' to notice, the wrong people, Durney."

"What the hell do you mean by that? What people?"

"The wrong people," he repeated. "Do I have to spell it out for you? You're becomin' a chiseler, Durney, gettin' too old for the rackets maybe. Lost your nerve or somethin'. All that wealth up there in Elmville, all those rich pigs: county seat, manufacturing, agriculture. But it's sittin' in too few bank accounts. Excepting your gamblin' addicts, there's a limit to what any one person'll spend: he can come down here, get laid, get drunk, bet on a cock fight—he's only one person; can only blow his load so many times in a week. What's your cab joint here bring a week? Peanuts, I bet. Sure, you could move him on to harder, more expensive stuff, but then he loses his grip. Sooner or later, usually sooner. He loses it, you lose him, or at least you lose his money, cause he'll still be hangin' around, fuckin' your girls, buying your dope, all on his good credit, 'til he don't even got that no more. No nothin' but risk. 'Cause now you're tied to him; shackled to a corpse. He goes down, you're gonna go down even harder. Peddlin' dope," and he gestured again to the duffle bag. "Cops don't give two shits about the buyer—it's the pedlar they're out for, and in the end, not even him, but the supplier. You'll either go to prison, or else you'll have to sing and then you make yourself some enemies that'll make you wish you was in prison, make you wish you was even dead."

Durney, a little boastfully, responded, "I think I've got the local law enforcement well in hand, Todd, but thanks for your concern."

"Sure, sure; I know you do. Sheriff Spaulding? For now maybe. But things start gettin' ugly, he's gonna cover his own ass first. You got the wrong approach. Forget this shit, fuckin' dope. The real trick, Durney, is to get more money into more hands. One guy only gets laid once in a night: fifty guys can get laid fifty times. Spread the wealth: more people lookin' for a good time, some pussy and a round of poker: soon you got five hundred suckers 'stead of fifty. Get it now?"

"I don't need you to explain the business to me Todd."

"Sure ya don't. Don't matter. Couple months ago I did you the biggest favor anybody's ever gonna do you. I invited somebody in to fix the problem for you. I like you Durney; I do. Sure, I want you off my turf, and that's part of it. But here's some free advice: you gotta find some way to break that big iceberg of capital up there into pieces, and if you do, you'll be the great big winner. I won't have nothin' you want anymore. See what I've done for you? What I'm doing? And you go and pay me back by double-crossin' me—"

"That wasn't a double-cross Todd, and you know it."

"Okay Durney. But don't do it again."

The two men shook hands.

On his way out the door, Todd said, "Charlie Aimes'll probably be lookin' for a job, if you got anything."

Durney felt humiliated, but also panicked. Todd had just as good as announced his intention to move in on Elmville, which would be a disaster for Durney. And maybe Todd was right; maybe Durney deserved it, not just as retribution, but because he had never been aggressive enough in Elmville.

Already humiliated, confused, and worried, Durney recalled his more immediate problem with Floyd.

He left his office and entered the hallway, which by now had grown dark along with the darkening sky outside the east window at the end of the hallway. He thought, it's like they say in the song, Apollo withdrawing from the world, leaving Jerusalem in darkness.

The hallway seemed long and dark; above each brass wall sconce glowed a nimbus of light. Georgia Pacific Gold Crest Pecan wood paneling lined the walls, and the bedroom doors too—all the doors except the second to the last on the right, which was painted green. A green door that opened onto the janitor's closet, which housed heaps and heaps of sheets, clean sheets and dirty sheets, the dirty sheets waiting to be washed in Clorox. Clorox for the cum-stained sheets that came with the cunt-loving customers.

Floyd would be in the last door on the left, diagonal from the green door.

The pecan-wood paneled walls turned to molten amber. Bubbling molten amber, bubbling like boiling tar. Then bubbling like boiling beer, pasteurizing beer. Pasteurizing beer. The word "pasteurizing" began to fill Durney's mind, like tokens filling the coin bank in a video-poker machine, bottom to top. Like a computer program that could print the same word over and over until somebody pressed an "escape" button on the keyboard. He had seen such a computer program demonstrated at an Extension fair in Elmville. The word "pasteurizing" filled his mind the way this computer program made a word fill a computer screen, except the word "pasteurizing" printed in his mind from the bottom to the top, like tokens filling a coin bank. He despaired because he could not spell the word "pasteurizing", even though he could see it clearly. Just as clearly as he could see a quarter, even the words minted on it, and still not be able to name those words.

The word-he-could-see-clearly-but-not-spell kept filling his mind like quarters filling a canvas bag. Except that unlike the quarters filling a canvas bag, the words could never overflow his mind's capacity to contain them. Not because his mind was infinite, but because his mind was finite, closed, encased in skull. There was no possibility for overflow; his mind contained no more room for the words, but the words kept coming, pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizing pasteurizng pasteurizing pasteurizing. There was no opening for overflow, no escape button to stop the printing on his mind, but the word kept printing itself upon his mind, kept dropping like quarters into his mind.

The boiling pecan-wood paneling began to scream, like a woman in the unaneasthetized pain of an agonizing childbirth. It screamed no words—his mind was free now, empty of words and clear again. The walls screamed no words, just pure, raw pain. The screaming assaulted his ears; it assaulted all his senses: he could hear it and see it and smell it and taste it and feel it. His mind was free and clear and empty, but his body cried out in the agony inflicted upon it by the screaming that assaulted his senses. He became aware of his senses as portals through which the screaming entered his body, through which pain entered him: his mind was now free and clear, but his body had become filled-almost-to-bursting-point with the screaming which, like water sinking an ocean-liner, now both filled him and surrounded him. But unlike a sinking ocean-liner, he could not sink; no law of physics would enable him to find his own level even in pain: he would never, like the ocean-liner, sink into the sea and in sinking become part of it. No law of physics could stop the screaming from flooding in through his senses. The screaming would have to destroy his body before the pain could cease.

Durney finally reached the green door. He pressed his right hand against it, and the green door was cool. He pressed both hands against it, and then his cheek too. The green cooled him; the screaming stopped; the boiling pecan-wood paneling became solid paneling again. His world solidified and became silent. With his cheek against the green door, he could see diagonally to the door of the room where Riley and Ora had taken Floyd, the last door on the left.

Durney reluctantly left the cooling green door, and stepped diagonally across the hallway to the last room on the left. He entered the room. Floyd looked dead, lying face down on the floor of the room that had been designed for putting men in the mood to fuck. A body on the floor of a room designed for putting men in the mood to fuck; one of the many rooms designed for putting men in the mood to fuck; rooms for fucking women's bodies; a body on the floor of a room for fucking women's bodies.

Durney looked away from the body, at a taxidermied trout mounted on the wall, and, while Ora and Riley stood aside, Durney stared at the taxidermied trout. A fish. Hooked and killed and preserved and mounted. Durney thought, my surroundings inhabit me; they inhibit me. Like a fish in a river. My surroundings are my life and my limitation. But I can be hooked and killed and preserved and mounted. And I can hook and kill and preserve and mount. A fish, you can keep it forever, hooked and killed and preserved and mounted. Durney mounted the body on the floor; he ripped the t-shirt off Floyd's body.

Durney smelled perfume in the air around him, and he stood back up; he removed his leather belt and administered eleven lashes to Floyd's naked back.

On the walls hung nude women who had been caught by a camera and then mounted. Portraits of nude women, who spun around Durney's head, making him dizzy. He grabbed Floyd's hair, like a handle, and turned Floyd onto his side, in the process ripping from Floyd's skull a handful of hair.

Still clutching the brown hair, which was scented with blood and sweat and cheap shampoo, Durney's eyes surveyed the bed, the portrait above it, the subject's nipple ring and her lollipop lipstick: he kicked Floyd's chest with his Red Wing boot.

The bed's pile of lavender pillows: he lugged away at Floyd's legs, breaking at least one bone clear through the skin, the compound fracture visible through the rips in Floyd's blue-jeans.

The bed's emptiness, its appearance of waiting for a man and a woman, an ape and a slut: he delivered a stiff, straight, kidney punch with his boot, and then began boring into Floyd's abdomen with his boot, blow after blow.

A brief, fountain-like stream of blood flowed from Floyd's mouth. The floor, already splattered with blood, now held a pool of it, with blood still leaking from Floyd's mouth into the pool to which that mouth had given birth, like a small, forest pond fed by a gurgling spring.

Ora said, "Don't you think that's enough Durney? We'll never be able to get this room cleaned if you keep it up. We can take him out back and kill him if you want."

Durney felt short of breath and a tightness in his chest: his heart. The doctor had warned him about his heart. But even as he recognized the danger, he felt no fear of it. He welcomed the idea, which slowly transformed itself into a wish for death. The room disappeared and he found himself alone in a timber on the river's flood plain. A swarm of words darted around inside his mind, like a cloud of summer gnats at dusk:

feel this living lean youth's vain glittering waters and let the warm waking deep brightest pool mirror brightly my hands dip the same again in the swift free wrinkled red-stream and still course through wildest vein of life-blood drink with glee oh bathe my brow and leap below through shrunken flow for all betrays my hopes and plays through heart mid sands from every sluggish visage frame through these 'tis with all the how of me

These words flew around inside his mind like a cloud of gnats, which, while in constant motion, remain in a group, each word constantly rearranging its position, but also constantly in motion, as if trying desperately to make a meaning.

Then, at a snap-to, the words formed themselves into a poem, a poem he had memorized as a child:

"How brightly leap, mid glittering sands,
The living waters from below;
Oh, let me dip these lean, brown hands,
Drink deep, and bathe this wrinkled brow;

"And feel, through every shrunken vein,
The warm, red stream flow swift and free;
Feel, waking in my heart again
Youth's brightest hopes, youth's wildest glee.

"'Tis vain, for still the life-blood plays
With sluggish course through all my frame;
The mirror of the pool betrays
My wrinkled visage all the same."

And then as quickly, a breeze dispersed the words and blew cooling air over Durney's hot skin. The poem disappeared; the words had been dispersed, and for a few moments he had no thought of Floyd or Ora or Riley or Shady Rest. He simply stood alone, in a timber on the river's floodplain, at peace.

The room reappeared along with his memory. He still clutched in his hand the hair he had ripped from Floyd's head.

Finally, responding to Ora, he said, "No, call an ambulance."

Ora looked at him with panic, "Durney, are you okay? You'd better sit down."

"Not for me, for the kid."

"You sure that's a good idea Durney? They're gonna ask questions, want answers. Spaulding won't like it; there'll have to be a police re—"

Feeling his chest tighten again, Durney shouted at Ora, "I didn't ask for your god-damned opinion! Do as you're told and don't second guess me, and don't do it again ever!"

Ora and Riley quickly left the room, closing the door behind them.

Durney, still holding the hair from Floyd's head, released it. The hair fell into the blood, which had begun to thicken and clot; the hair fell like feathers into a kettle of cooling, hot tar. Durney fell to his knees, put his hands on Floyd's body, and began emptying the boy's pockets.