Friday, April 10, 2015

Falling Up, Chapter 20

*I wanted to post some of Falling UP, an action novel set in Cologne, Germany.  I spent some months traveling through Africa before I wrote this.  Being in Germany with so many Ethiopian friends helped me come to terms with some terrible things I experienced in Africa.

When I copy/paste it usually gets messed up, so I'll try to clean it up and make it readable.

If you would like to purchase a copy, click this link:

He stood holding Dr. Morganstern’s door open, staring out at the rain pattering on the sidewalk and the brown coupe parked with two wheels on the curb.   Headlights lit up the street and he heard tires whining on slick cobblestones.
“Come on.”  Bartholomew pushed him through the door and hurried out beside him.
“Go straight home!” the doctor shouted.
Jesse’s feet splashed in puddles as he rushed along the deserted sidewalk.  Thunder rumbled overhead.  The drizzle turned into a downpour and made the surrounding buildings look like dark canyon walls.  A few windows were lit, and around them he could see drops falling through the glow.  He longed for the warmth inside those apartments, the comfort, the home routine and the things a man does with a woman in cozy rooms, with hours to play.
He turned, leaning forward, keeping his face out of the rain and watched the doctor’s door close in the distance.  He waited a few seconds before speaking.  “There’s more to that old goat than I thought.”
“And you, mister ghost.  Why didn’t you tell me those things?”
“I told you what was important.  That’s not who I am any more.  I built a new life.”
When he reached the corner Jesse glanced to the left and hurried across the street to the park.  On his second step in the grass he felt something squish beneath his shoe and looked down.  “I hate this dog country!  Everyone lives in apartments ... ten dogs for every foot of grass.  Shit.”  He wiped his shoe across the lawn.
“I’m going to Trenchtown for a beer,” Bartholomew shouted, laughing, standing on the corner.
“A beer?  Are you crazy?”  He pulled his jacket over his head, making a tent over his head, drops striking it with heavy thuds, and trotted back across the street.  “After what he told you, you’re going to flash your face around town?”
“You’re not sure about him either!”
“If he could get my records he’s definitely in the game.  Not many people could get that information.  Before you go running around, you need to know if what he said about the guys in the warehouse is true.”
Bartholomew rubbed his head.  “What he said scares me.  It makes me want to be with my family, but I can’t.”  His lips pressed together and he looked away. “Trenchtown’s the only place I feel at home in this country.  I need to feel that more than anything right now.”  He shrugged and turned his palms toward Jesse.  “I got word they’re doing something for me tonight.”
“Damn.”  He let the jacket slide down his back into place and walked a few steps, feeling sympathy for his friend. “Okay, I’ll be your bodyguard.  You coming?”
“You don’t have to go.”  Drops of water clung to Bartholomew’s face.
“I want to be with family too.  You’re all I have in Germany.”
He laughed as they walked.  “What about Zaid?  You’ve been spending a lot of time with her ... working things out, like tangles in the lines.”
“You sound like a teenager.”
“Don’t lose that temper of yours.”
Jesse rushed past.  “When you finish that plan I’m leaving this city.  You and that crazy doctor with phony tails can have it!”
Bartholomew ran and caught up with him.  For a few minutes they walked in silence.
“Pony tails.”
“What?” Jesse looked at him.
“You said phony tails.  It’s pony tails.”  He laughed.
Jesse stopped.  “I just got it.  I know why you get a different woman every week.  You drive them nuts in two days.  Go find another one and torture her so I don’t have to listen.”

This was not Germany.  Once Jesse stepped through the front door he was the minority, a white man surrounded by Africans, and that made him nervous and taught him about fear and beliefs, and helped him understand Bartholomew.  He tried to let it all go and forget about skin color and nationality and everything else that separated him from the people in Trenchtown.  As he always did, he stepped aside at the front door and looked about, trying to be there a hundred percent and feel it all for what it was, not for what it brought up inside him.
Leroy, the handsome Jamaican owner, stood beside the beer taps strumming a drum stick across the ridges in a gourd, head and shoulders swaying with the rhythm of the background music, smiling at the blond woman before him.
“No!”  Leroy jutted his head forward and his mouth fell open. “Call ma dead mama, he cut off his dreads!”
“Hey, brudder.”  Bartholomew tapped a fist against Leroy’s, pulled him forward by the neck and patted his back. “Everything ‘right?”
Jesse watched the two Jamaican’s do their greeting thing.  It wasn’t his culture so he just stood aside and watched it happen.
“’Right?  How can it be ‘right?”  Leroy stepped back.  “Look what that crazy Lizzy did.”  He flung an arm toward the windows and frowned.
“Lace curtains?” asked Bartholomew.  “Everything in Trenchtown was bought by women.  Maybe you tickle ‘em too good, Leroy.”
“Did that policeman come in today?” Jesse asked, stepping up to the bar.
“You mean Twinkle Toes?  Deutz?  No, he was in last night, dancin’ with every woman in the place.”
“That big fat—”
“You should see that mahn dance!”  Leroy looked down at the bar and tapped on it with a knuckle.  “What was it I had to tell you?  Oh yeah.”  He leaned close.  “Tannen and Filou— your ears on the street— are lookin’ for you, and they’re scared.”
Bartholomew gestured with a nod at Solomon, the massive Eritrean body-builder, who stood pouring beer.  “Is Sol’s 12 gauge under the bar?”
“You mean Betsy?  My girl’s always close by.”  His teeth shone a brilliant white as he smiled.
“Keep her closer tonight,” Jesse said. “We might need her.”
 “Brudder, is that right?”  Leroy drew back and cocked his head sideways.
Metal-framed windows spanned the width of Trenchtown, allowing car headlights to dance around the walls as Jesse swept his gaze over the room.  Two metal tables filled the area before the windows.  Laughing students clinked their glasses together as they sang and leaned this way and that in unison.  Beyond the tables, the wooden bar took up a third the width of the room, and where it ended the dance floor began.
He followed Bartholomew to the dance floor and watched as he closed his eyes and swayed to the music as though entering a trance.  Since the episode on the rope, Jesse sensed an underlying fragility in his friend, and that made him stay close, trying to protect him.  As dancers came near, he looked them over and walked over to his usual stool, his back against the wall, the rear exit beside him if he needed it.  And there he felt a peace come over him, as though on vacation in some exotic land, the problems with the children and police far away, the company searching for him on another continent.
“Quiet now, everyone!”  Leroy held up his arms.  “This is a special night, a party for a good mahn, and a good friend.”
People shouted and clapped and cleared a path for an old Turkish woman.  By the time she reached the front of the crowd, her hoarse whispers were the only sounds Jesse could hear, and he hopped off the stool and stepped forward to watch.  She wore a scarf around her head, a print dress over trousers, and held out her withered hands as she approached.
Rashnew pushed through the crowd and took hold of his grandmother’s elbow.  She patted Bartholomew’s cheek and with great effort, pronounced his name, one syllable at a time, then smiled, her eyes twinkling with youthful joy, and spoke in her native tongue.
“My Grandmother says you helped me find a job and gave her money to visit her son in Turkey when he was ill.”  Tears rolled down Rashnew’s face, but he held his chin high, looking at the old woman the entire time.
“It was an honor,” Bartholomew said, holding her hand.
“She says you are her son.”
Bartholomew leaned forward and kissed her forehead.  “I am a lucky man.”
As Rashnew helped her off the dance floor, he turned back and shouted:  “My Grandmother is 86 years old!”
 “What the—” Jesse moved a woman aside and ran across the dance floor.  Two men were coming through the crowd like rugby players, knocking people aside.
“I got to speak to—”
Jesse stiff-armed the lead man, bringing him to an abrupt stop, looked at two vertical scars beside each eye, and guessed the man to be in his early twenties.  The Ethiopian looked backward over his shoulder as though a rapid bulldog was coming.  One of his dread locks swatted Jesse across the nose as he turned.
“You try to pass me again we’re going to fight.  Is that what you want?”
“No,” said Tannen, lowering his head.  “I’ve seen you fight.”
“Tell him.”  His pudgy companion, with a round afro and shiny synthetic sweater, poked him in the ribs.
Tannen turned and shouted in Amharic, flinging his arms about.
“Okay, okay,” Jesse said.  “Settle down.  I know you sell information to Bartholomew, but tonight he’s being honored and I want him to have this time.  Have a beer and tell me what happened.”  He waved for two beers.
“There’s no time. You have to get Bartholomew out of here.”  Tannen looked over his shoulder again.
“What’s going on?” Jesse said, already sensing that something was about to go terribly wrong.  It was not simply fear he saw on Tannen’s face, but terror.
“Today in the cafeteria, someone shoved a pistol in my friend’s crotch.  They wanted information about you and Bartholomew.”
Jesse climbed up on a stool and looked across the barroom, over the top of the crowd to the door.  “What else?”
Tannen nodded. “There’s a car load of men watching Trenchtown.”
“Police?” he asked, fear ringing through him, a tingling, awful feeling, reverberating from butt to shoulders, as if he had struck a funny bone in his spine.
“No, the car is too dirty.”
He knew this was no idle bit of information.  Tannen was a man of the streets who survived by reading people and situations.
“Five guys, brown skin, black hair, one old.  They could be coming right now.”
“Shit.  Okay, here, you saved us.”  He took out two hundred Euros and handed it to Tannen.  He had to get out of the bar and glanced to the back door.  If he could reach it, he could take Bartholomew and run before the trouble started.  Was it Zakai from the warehouse?  Images of the dagger and the blood shot through his memory, and he shouted for Leroy and Bartholomew, hopping as he pushed through the crowd like a swimmer lifting his head and adjusting his course.
In the distance he saw laughing people around Bartholomew and shouted again, shoving people aside as he realized that the terror he had seen in Tannen’s eyes was the same he witnessed at the warehouse.  Again and again he shouted and saw Bartholomew look up, friends patting his shoulder and shaking his hand.
When some Ethiopian music started, men formed one line, and women another, facing each other, hands on hips, elbows out.  Each line leaned in toward the other, craning their necks in and out to the rhythm of the music.  But then Jesse pushed through the dancers and pulled Bartholomew aside.
“Come on, we got to get out of here.  I think Zakai is coming.”
“What?  No, this is my—“
He pulled Bartholomew to the back door.  As he reached for the knob something thumped on the door  and the handle fell to the floor.  A gush of cold air touched his face as the door swung open.  “Run Bart!  Get out!”  Jesse pushed him away, backed up a few paces, and went into his fighting stance, knowing this would not be a fight, but a mortal test of skill and nerves.
A Latin man with slick black hair and acne scars, stepped through the doorway and boldly stared into his eyes.
He had seen that empty, cold stare before, and knew what it meant.  He would not move, nor let the man pass, even if it meant his own death.  He would not allow him into a room of innocent people, into a room of people he loved.  For that coldness meant this man had become familiar with killing, had traded something warm and good inside himself.  He had looked into the eyes of death, and death had sucked everything vibrant and alive from his soul.  The stranger was everything he abandoned when he left the company, everything he did not want to be.
The Latin stepped closer and Jesse saw a slight contraction around his eyes, and knew that was the closest thing to a smile the man had left.  He also sensed the man held a gun, his instrument of death, an extension of himself, inches from Jesse’s chest.  He didn’t see it though, because every bit of his awareness was focused on the man’s eyes.  It was from there the attack would come, from there he would read the assassin’s move.
His entire life was this moment.  All his karate training, the years of exercise, military hand-to-hand combat training, learning the moves, practicing, training, daily sparring, toughening of hands and mind, all boiled down to this second.  He focused his thoughts inward, breathed deeply, picturing his arm pushing the weapon aside.  His arm was already at the pistol, he just had to make it so.  If he could move the weapon a few inches before it discharged, the shot would go wide.  But that was not the greatest challenge.  No, his second strike would be vastly more important.  With that movement he had to kill the man, or someone in the bar would surely die.
Time stopped.  The bar noise vanished.  He heard his own breathing.  His pulse, slow and steady, pounded in every cell of his body.  He felt a light growing within his chest, until it burst forth, like a blinding camera flash.  In that instant it felt like a pin jabbed in a fresh, open gash in his brain.  Jesse jerked his left arm upward, and felt the man’s forearm snap.
He batted the pistol aside and shouted as he reared back and snapped his right hand forward, concentrating the force of his entire body into the blow like the cracking of a bullwhip, aiming not at the killer’s throat, but through it, four inches behind the neck.  He heard a pop when the weapon fired, and knew the pistol had a silencer attached.  The force of his blow lifted the man off his feet, crushed his windpipe and snapped his spinal cord below the jaw.  Before the killer hit the floor Jesse grabbed him and set him on a stool in the corner, took the pistol from his hand and turned.  At the front of the bar he noticed a shattered window where the bullet hit.  No one else had heard the shot.
“Get out.  Get out.”  He shoved people across the dance floor and out the back door, and had emptied the back third of the bar when he heard the scream.
Beside the front door he saw Zakai, a sleek little machine-gun held before him.  It was starting, he knew, and searched the crowd for other gunmen. Over by the beer taps, he watched a stranger reach across the bar and grab Leroy’s shoulder and jerk him forward.
"Hey, what the fuck!"  Leroy batted at the man's arm.
A second man jumped across the bar, knocked the needle from the record player and pointed an uzi at Solomon. The gunman’s black hair brushed his shoulder as he leaned his head sideways, moving two false teeth up and down with his tongue.
"Four minutes!"  Zakai clicked a stopwatch.  Jesse’s heart pounded.  His breathing became deep and erratic as doubt entered his mind.  He didn’t want to plan, didn’t want to be responsible for these people, didn’t want to torture himself if something went wrong as it once had.  All he wanted was to run, to get away from people and keep moving from country to country, not touching anyone’s life, no one getting close enough to touch his.
One, two, three, four gunmen, he counted, his head moving with quick little jerks.  And suddenly he pictured what the bar would look like if someone panicked.  He saw wounded people screaming, rolling in slippery glass and blood.  He closed his eyes and shook the image from his mind.
"Three minutes!" shouted the man stationed at the front door. “Do it!”
“Who do you want?" Leroy asked.
A gunman took hold of Leroy's Afro and shook it so hard that blood ran down the Jamaican’s face.  "You're a good nigger," he said, releasing him.  "Two men, one black, one white, Jesse and Bartholomew, full names and locations."
Leroy glanced sideways toward Bartholomew, and came to attention as though for military inspection.  "Sir, fuck you, sir!" he shouted.
The Latin straightened his tie, stepped back and glanced toward the door.
Zakai nodded.
Jesse checked the safety of the 9 mm with shaking, numb hands, and inched his way across the dance floor.  His hands shook so he could not fire the weapon.  He could hardly hold it with one hand.  When he got behind Bartholomew, he tapped the gun against his friend’s hand, but he would not take it.  Finally he gave up and stepped away with tiny foot movements, wrapped his other hand around the pistol, and tried to return to the place of peace, past the fear, the place he had reached at the back door.  He breathed deeply once more and tried to relax, letting his training take control.
“Two minutes,” Zakai shouted.
“You!”  The man in front of Leroy turned and grabbed the old Turkish woman.
Rashnew screamed and jumped, but the gunman pistol-whipped him to the floor and removed a pair of cable cutters from his pocket.  “Jesse and Bartholomew, I want their full names and whereabouts.”  He placed the cutters on the woman’s finger and looked around the bar as she cried.
That was when he heard the chanting.  It was low at first, and Jesse could barely hear it, but within seconds it increased in volume.
“Shut up, Bart!”  Jesse shoved him.
Bartholomew’s chants grew louder.  People around the bar turned and looked.
“You,” one of the gunmen shouted, pushing through the crowd.
When the man was a few feet away, Bartholomew lifted his beer glass and broke a piece off the rim, dropped it, and broke off another as he chanted.
“One minute.”
The instant the gunman pushed him, Bartholomew screamed and swung the glass, as if driving a stake into a vampire’s heart.  It struck the man in the neck and blood spurted across Bartholomew’s face.  The instant the blood touched him he screamed again like some wounded, demented animal, and raced toward the old woman.
“No, Bart.” Jesse crouched and aimed, hardly able to feel his fingers.
Bartholomew leaped, hissing and screaming, his arms swinging, tearing through the air.  He was inches from the man with the cable cutters when Jesse fired and the man’s head exploded.
Solomon kicked the man behind the bar and crushed his face with a powerful right hand.  With the quick flowing moves of a gymnastic sequence, he dropped and stood up with the shotgun, but the time keeper had vanished.
"Damn!" he shouted.
People screamed and dropped their glasses and dove to the floor for protection, only to be cut on broken glass.
Bartholomew stared at the dead man and reached toward him.  His entire body shook as he covered his mouth and backed away.
"Bart, are you all right?"  Jesse touched his friend's arm, heard his teeth clicking together, felt him convulse and shake.
"Bartholomew!  Jesse!  Get out.  The police will be here any minute.  Run."  Leroy took the pistol from Jesse’s hand, wiped it with a cloth, hurried to Bartholomew’s  glass and wiped it too.  “Get out!”
"Come on.  Walk with me," Jesse said, wrapping his arms around Bartholomew.  “This way.  Walk. That’s good. Keep walking.”