Fiction by David Boyle
Steven Shaw climbed the steps to his third-floor apartment. The wood planks creaked under his feet, causing his footfalls to echo in the lobby below. It had been another long night of waiting tables and assisting in the kitchen at The Riviera on 29th Street in Manhattan. He hardly had the energy to reach the top of the staircase. If he didn’t get into bed soon he felt as though he’d collapse from exhaustion; working extended shifts had been grueling. He arrived at his apartment and began searching his jacket for keys. From the far end of the dimly-lit corridor Mrs. Bennett, a fifty-year-old insomniac, whistled, drawing Steven’s attention. He turned in her direction and smiled wearily. She waved at him. “Sleep well,” she said. “Add a few hours for me.” Mrs. Bennett’s voice was husky from her pack-a-day habit.
Shaw pulled off his coat and plopped onto his bed. The initiative to get undressed had diminished long before he hit the mattress; he just wanted to close his eyes and put an arduous night behind him. He fell asleep fully clothed. Thirty minutes later while in a sound sleep, the hourly chime on his watch chirped, waking him up. As he opened his eyes, a shaft of moonlight cut through his window. A garbage can could be heard tipping over on the sidewalk. A car sped past his apartment and he heard its tires screeching. No way could he sleep now, he’d never find a rhythm.
Steven sat up in bed and lit a cigarette—a two-year-old habit of his that he couldn’t shake, an addiction he picked up in the restaurant business. He had been trying to wean himself from the tobacco, but lacked will power and incentive. The nicotine high gave him a rush and kept him slim, a benefit he couldn’t resist. Reaching over to his night stand he turned on the lamp.
Now he had the urge to take a walk, so he put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt and began a leisurely stroll through the barren city streets. One thing Steven had always enjoyed about the night was the calm setting in, pouring over the night, the sensation as refreshing as a cool glass of water on a stifling day. Blinking lights were everywhere. He had the naked sidewalks of Brooklyn all to himself. On Tillary Street he passed a flight of cast iron stairs hanging from an apartment building just like his—this one, though, appeared to be some kind of brothel. Clear lights blinked over a picture of a shapely woman. Above the picture of the woman: Open 24 Hours For Your Pleasure. He laughed; then he turned the corner and began crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge.
The bridge—all 6,000 feet of it—looked gigantic, even at night. Lights lined the steel girders, the support beams overhead. Bulbs outlined the upper frames and side panels. As he strode the pathway which ran parallel to the right hand railing, he listened to his shoes clanging on the meshed metal. Not much traffic. The waves of the East River rolled peacefully under the placid glow of the moonlight. Ahead he came to a booth, a control room of sorts, a guard’s station. A dingy light bulb illuminated the interior, accenting scuff marks and fingerprints on the glass, as well as a mess of papers on the floor. In the corner of the booth on a metal table sat a phone, its base coated with a layer of dust and grime, the numbered buttons difficult to read. For a moment, Steven considered using the phone to call his boyfriend who lived downtown. Being alone on the bridge late at night just above flowing water and surrounded by bright lights put him in a peculiar mood.
He further appraised the booth and wondered if whoever had been there was going to return soon. The butt of a cigarette was still glowing in an ashtray, and a logbook was open with a pen tucked in the crease. Feeling daring, Steven picked up the phone and began dialing his boyfriend’s number. After four rings a man answered, a deep male voice. “Hello?”
“Martin?” Steven asked.
“Hey, Stevie. Were you thinking of me?”
“You must’ve been. You’re not home, since I don’t recognize the number. There’s a lot of static too. Where are you?”
“Tell him,” a voice from behind Steven said.
“Where are you, Stevie?” asked Martin. “Who are you with? Why are you with somebody else and calling me so late?”
Steven shuddered. A short, stocky, gray-haired man with a curly mustache and leather gloves stood before him. Caught off guard, Steven kept silent. “Hang up,” the man said, pointing at the phone’s cradle.
Martin’s voice was still coming through the receiver. “Steven? What’s going on? Where are you?”
Steven hung up the phone. “Good,” the strange man said. “I don’t like distractions. It’s tough to think.”
Steven stood quietly. The man placed his gloved hand on his arm and patted it. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to hurt you. Besides, take a good look at me. Do I appear threatening… intimidating in any way?”
Steven was reluctant to answer. He shook his head. “Okay then,” the man said. “What are you doing here, young man? Why are you walking this bridge at this hour, in this city?”
“I couldn’t sleep. Who are you anyway? Some weirdo?” Steven started walking away.
“Someone you need to know,” the man said. “Someone who can change your life—for the better.”
Steven stopped in mid-stride but didn’t turn around. “Yeah right. Good night.”
“You may go of course, I won’t stop you,” the stranger said. “But if you’re looking to learn more about your future, I may know some things.”
“Nothing’s wrong with my life,” Steven responded.
“I never said there was.”
“So what’s your deal, old man?”
“Do you enjoy living in a dump, Steven? Do you like working all those hours at a restaurant just to bring home barely enough money to pay your bills?”
“Who the hell are you, man? Have you been following me?”
“Oh no, I’m not as creepy as you think. I’m actually quite harmless and private. I just know things, see things.”
“You in the mob or some twisted cult?” Steven asked.
“No, I’m not. But you could be part of something extraordinary if you can get past my rather unorthodox approach.”
“What’re you talking about? I don’t even know your name, or anything about you.”
“My name is Clarence. I visit this bridge when I’m beckoned.”
“And do what, Clarence? Scare people?”
“That’s not my intention. I pick someone whose energy demands my time—my gift.”
“What kind of gift?”
“The gift of sight.”
“I’m not blind, Clarence.”
“In some ways you are, Steven.”
“You’re way off base. And I don’t have time to listen to some drunk fortune teller or palm reader or whatever you are.”
“Would you like proof of my ability?”
“Now that you mention it, I would. I’m calling your bluff.”
“Fine. I welcome the opportunity to enlighten you.”
“Well, I’m waiting,” Steven said.
“In the morning you’re going to buy a pack of cigarettes, as you normally do.”
Steven, his jaw slack in astonishment, ran his fingers through his wavy hair. “How did you know—?”
Clarence held out his hand. “Please… let me finish.”
Steven stifled a laugh. “Fine.”
“When you purchase your cigarettes you will discover the proof you’re looking for. If at that time you still doubt me...” Clarence started to leave. “Until tomorrow then.”
“But,” Steven said abruptly.
“No buts, Steven. Tomorrow’s another day. You’ll see.”
Steven watched Clarence go. He waited for him to disappear like a ghost but that did not happen. Clarence was real, every bit of him. Unusual, he thought—but real. Steven went home and called Martin before going to bed, giving him a brief account of what had happened. Martin was relieved that he was all right.
The next day he woke up early and, as always, he went to the corner store to buy cigarettes. He had to be at work by noon. Besides, being up early gave him the opportunity to take care of little things: laundry, grocery shopping, going through the previous day’s mail. Occasionally he would call his parents in Los Angeles.
“Pack of Newport Lights, please,” he said to the clerk.
The cashier reached for a pack of matches and threw them into the bag with his cigarettes. “That’ll be eight bucks.” Steven handed the clerk a ten-dollar bill and the cashier handed him his change. Without counting it, he stuffed the money in his pocket and left the store. Around the block a panhandler in the street spotted him and begged for money. Steven refused to give the homeless man any cash. “Leave me alone, okay. I don’t have any money. I’m just a waiter.”
“Bullshit, man. You got all kinds of dough on you.”
Annoyed and wanting to prove the man wrong, Steven pulled out the lining of his pockets. What he discovered was inconceivable: three hundred-dollar bills. “I told ya, man,” the panhandler said. “You’re rolling in it, and I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten in days.”
Steven stared at the bills in his hand in disbelief. How could this have happened? The clerk, Hendricks, is a bright guy. There’s no way he could have been mistaken. I have to go back and fix this. I don’t want him to get in trouble. Steven immediately returned to the store and waited for an opportunity to speak with the clerk. He looked around the store but did not notice a manager anywhere; he didn’t want any problems. When Hendricks was free, Steven went to the front desk. “Can I help you, Shaw?”
“You sure can,” Steven said. “Can we talk in private?”
“Sorry, we can’t. I’m not allowed to leave this register, but what is it you need?”
“I’d prefer to speak with you elsewhere, if you don’t mind.”
“Actually, I do mind. I have to stay put. Again, what can I do for you?”
Steven mumbled. “I bought a pack of smokes and handed you a ten-dollar bill.” He looked around the store discreetly to see if anyone was eavesdropping.
The cashier looked puzzled. “Well?”
Steven leaned over the counter. “You gave me three hundred-dollar bills back.”
“Are you sure, Mr. Shaw? My draw’s in good standing. Boss just checked it before going to the bank. As long as the big chief here’s not bitching about my work, you and I are cool.” The clerk winked at Steven.
Steven shook his head. “This can’t be right. I only gave you a ten.”
“I don’t know anything about it, I told ya,” the clerk said. “I really got to get back to work now. Boss catches me bullshitting and I’m up shit’s creek.”
Steven’s eyes were wide. “All right then. Thanks for your time. Sorry I bothered you.”
* * *
Sitting in bed, Steven pondered the oddness of his good luck. He had been to the store just about every day for the last few years and had dealt with the same clerk, yet this afternoon Hendricks acted oblivious to Steven’s explanation. Nobody just gives someone a particularly large unwarranted sum of money as change without being aware of it on some level. Did Clarence know the cashier in some way and put him up to something? Is this the help he was talking about? Most people would be curious about why they were given money for no reason, and what, if anything, was behind the extravagance. Was it good will? A scam? Steven didn’t know what to think or what to do next.
Later that night, Steven returned to the bridge to see if Clarence was there. He walked along the railings and checked the booth, but did not find the mysterious man. At this point, Steven was about to give up. Why keep searching for what he believed was probably some figment of his imagination, or some drifter who aimlessly roamed the city. As he began moving leisurely down the pathway back toward the heart of the city, he heard a voice behind him. “Leaving so soon, Steven? I came looking for you too.”
Steven stopped. He had just scanned both sides of the bridge and saw no one, then Clarence appeared from out of nowhere. What the hell is he? he wondered. “What’re you a ghost, Clarence? A magician? Do you live under this thing? What?”
“How can you be confused by my appearance?” With his own hands, Clarence patted down his body. “See? I’m human.”
Steven put his hands in his pockets. “That doesn’t mean much to me. What I want to know is, why—?”
Clarence interrupted. “Why did that man give you hundreds of dollars?”
Steven squinted. “Yeah.”
Clarence took a step toward Steven, his hands behind his back. “I don’t know why, Steven. I only knew he was going to give you the money. I’m not aware of the intentions behind it. Last time we met I saw a halo of luck around you… an energy, if you will; and I was certain about my vision.”
“You a fortune teller, Clarence? A mind reader?”
“No. But when I see things that can benefit someone—which happens rarely, by the way—I try to find them, tell them. You should be grateful.”
“About what? How bizarre you are?”
“No, Steven. You should be grateful that when you go home tonight you will receive a phone call, the subject of which will change your life. I’d rush home if I were you.”
As crazy as Steven thought the man and his musings were, he turned and made haste for home. When he arrived, he grabbed the phone off the table and brought it with him into the kitchen. He sat at the table, staring at the phone, waiting for it to ring. The clock hanging above the sink read two minutes past midnight. He pulled out the other chair and put his feet on it. With his fingers he rubbed the buttons of the phone as if he’d never seen them before; he treated them like delicate nipples. Across from him, standing on a table, was a calendar, with a note indicating that he was not required to work until three o’clock the next day, later than usual. He turned and glanced at the clock again: thirteen minutes past midnight. The phone still hadn’t rung.
Steven stood and began pacing the floor. A few minutes later when still nothing had happened, he walked over to the living room window and looked outside. He saw the immense Kopenhagen Snuff sign blinking against the building on the north end of the parking lot across the street. It was always flickering day after day, night after night. Down in the street, coming from around the corner, he saw Mrs. Bennett, the insomniac, heading home from her typical late-night stroll.
Time was going by so quickly and still nothing had happened—no phone call. He had become impatient and decided to take a shower. Just as he lathered up his body he heard the phone ring, or at least he thought he did. Immediately he turned off the water to focus on the noise. The apartment was silent, the phone not ringing. Perhaps he was hearing things. Am I losing it?
He rinsed the soap from his body, closed his eyes, and tried to enjoy the warm water beating down on him. But the image of Clarence was rushing through his mind. He quickly finished his shower and resumed waiting for the damn phone to ring. In some way he was a bit disappointed in himself for believing that Clarence had any control over his life or any special foresight. Maybe he was being manipulated by a con man. Steven had seen quite a few con men in his life—the restaurant was owned and operated, as others were, by crooked people and mobsters—but Clarence didn’t fit that mold or have that shady look.
He stepped out of the shower, got dressed, and then sat down on the living room couch staring at the walls. He had grown tired of waiting for the phone to ring. The only option he could think of now was to will it to ring. He went across the room and picked up the phone, then brought it over to the couch with him. With the phone in his lap, he fondled the buttons again, closed his eyes and wished for luck to strike another time. The waiting was maddening. Come on, come on, come on… Damn it.
The red light on the receiver flashed crimson as the phone finally rang. Despite his eagerness, Steven did not answer it right away. Instead he wanted, for some strange reason, to hear the sound of the jingle once or twice. He took a few deep breaths and picked up the phone on the third ring. “Hello?”
Nobody was there. “You son of a bitch,” he shouted and then slammed the phone down onto its cradle. “What the hell is wrong with me?” he cried out. He got up from the couch and paced the floor again, mumbling incoherently to himself. He went to the refrigerator, pulled out a can of beer and drank it in one swig. When he was done, he squashed the can in his fist and whipped it into the sink. He was making himself crazy—or was this part of Clarence’s game?
The phone rang again…
Steven ran over to the table and answered it. “Hello,” he said, short of breath.
“Steven Shaw?” the voice responded.
“This is he,” he replied. He felt so anxious he could hardly contain himself, the receiver wobbled in his sweaty grip.
“My name is Wilkins Mortimer, I’m calling on behalf of Newport cigarettes. You’re a winner of the sweepstakes drawing you entered last year. We’ll need—”
Steven had forgotten that he entered the sweepstakes. “What did I win?” he interrupted rudely.
“I was getting to that. First things first, Mr. Shaw.”
“How many packs do you smoke a week, we need this information for our records.”
For a few seconds Steven did not respond. Since meeting Clarence on the bridge, he hadn’t smoked a cigarette. “Are you there, Mr. Shaw?”
“Uh…oh…yeah… about a pack and a half a day, a…around… over ten packs a week that would be, right?” He was too nervous to think clearly, to calculate accurately.
“There’s no need to be exact, Mr. Shaw, it’s just part of our survey before a winner can collect the prize.” Steven couldn’t wait any longer to find out what he had won. “What the heck is my prize, man?”
“One more question first, Mr. Shaw.”
Anxious and impatient, Steven bit his lip. “What?” he asked.
“Do you want the two-hundred thousand in a lump sum or installments?”
The phone loosened in Steven’s trembling hand, his eyes widened, his mouth became dry, the response now caught in his throat. “I…I…want it all up front…soon…as soon as possible.”
The representative took his information, congratulated him and wished him luck. “Thank you for using our products. A check is in the mail.”
After hanging up, Steven peered at the clock: 2:00 a.m. He grabbed a sweater and, overwhelmed with excitement, ran to the bridge. Clarence’s visions were authentic, as real as the blood rushing through his veins right now. At the bridge he stood in front of the booth. He surveyed the north and south ends of the bridge, then stared east and west. His weird but clairvoyant friend was not around. As he walked along the bridge a car passed him, the tires moaned on the grates. The driver shouted at him. “Go home, drunk!” and then threw a cigarette out the window that almost struck his arm. He walked to the railing and looked out into the darkness, gathered his thoughts.
A voice from behind him: “I’m glad you came back to see me.” Steven whirled and saw Clarence standing there, a smirk on his face, his arms folded in a confident knot in front of him. Steven’s mouth was wide open, as if he’d seen—or felt—a presence. Clarence sighed. “Do you believe me now, Mr. Shaw?”
Steven approached him and grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket. “Who the hell are you? Why me?”
“An undignified response coming from a man whose entire life has changed within a matter of days. Please let go of my coat.”
Steven backed off and tried to control his heightened state of conflicted emotions, a mixture of happiness and utter disbelief. “I just don’t understand. I—”
“I know you’re confused by this wave of good luck, but I have nothing to do with it. I can only see it before it happens. These visions I have do not apply to everyone.”
Steven laughed, incredulous. “Do they apply to you?”
“Unfortunately they don’t, not any more. You’re only the second person who has been the recipient of my ability.”
“Who’s the other?” Steven asked.
Clarence smiled. “Me.”
“I retired five years ago. I had money in the bank and a good marriage. I worked a part-time job to keep myself busy. The extra money was fun money. I woke up one day and wondered what the point was of working when I didn’t need anything more.”
“So what happened?”
“I took a walk one day and had a vivid daydream about this new life: doing things I only did as a kid, seeing the world, and connecting with old friends. I may be old but my life suddenly became diverse and exciting. Better than ever actually. But then, not long after the change, my wife left me for a priest.”
“You saw that coming?” Steven asked.
“Yes, Mr. Shaw. And I couldn’t stop it. I can’t justify why this has happened to me, nor can I make peace with what my wife did at such an untimely phase in our life. But that’s in the past. Now I see fragments in your life and, instead of ignoring what I see, I’ve decided to reveal them.”
“No more chatting here on the bridge, how about we get a drink or something, Clarence. We can delve deeper into—”
“No, thank you. I must get home to more pressing matters, but you enjoy yourself and have fun at work tomorrow.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Clarence nodded and made his way into the shadows.
* * *
At the restaurant, Steven had been swamped with work. Since the lunch rush the place was extremely busy and, less than five minutes ago, his boss told him to take a break before the dinner crowd started filtering in. He went out back with a soda and a magazine. From around the corner came his boyfriend Martin. “Where have you been, Stevie? You don’t return my calls, haven’t stopped by in days. What’s going on?”
Steven put his hand on Martin’s shoulder. “You’re not going to believe this.”
“Let’s go somewhere private.”
Martin couldn’t wait to hear the news. “Okay, fine.”
The two of them went behind a dumpster. Martin looked him up and down. “What, no cigarette for me?”
Steven hesitated, then tapped his empty pockets. “Haven’t smoked in days. Never gave it a moment’s thought.”
“Did you undergo some intervention?”
“No, Martin, but I feel great.”
After a lengthy conversation, they emerged from behind the garbage compactor. “You gotta meet this guy, Martin. Maybe he’ll see something good for you too.”
“Are you sure this guy isn’t some crazy wino, or murderer or something? I don’t know, Stevie. You mysteriously receive extra cash and win big bucks from some random sweepstakes? Maybe he’s up to something or luring you into a trap of some kind. Money is, after all, the perfect bait.”
“No way can he be, Martin. He’s had more than one chance to attack me and he hasn’t done anything strange. This guy doesn’t come across flashy either. Besides, I can handle myself against some old fart, you know.”
“I know. Just make sure you have eyes in the back of your head. I’ll see you later.”
“Take care, Martin.” They embraced and parted.
* * *
Steven and Martin were sitting up in bed at three o’clock in the morning. Neither of them could sleep: The drastic changes in Steven’s life had his mind spinning. Martin enjoyed being around his lover now; his current mood and personality were unprecedented. “You’ve been transformed, Stevie. I like the new you.”
Slipping into a pair of pants, Steven walked to the kitchen for something to drink. Martin followed him, wearing only his underwear, flaunting his tanned athletic body. “Even the sex is better. Whatever you’re experiencing, Steven, rub it off on me.” Then with a playful smile he said, “Inject me with it.”
Steven poured a glass of juice and offered some to Martin who gave him a funny look. “We’ve been together for three years and it still hasn’t registered that I don’t like juice?”
Steven didn’t respond. He stood quiet, pensive. Martin leaned into him and stroked his face, his silky black hair. “C’mon, let’s go see Clarence. I wanna meet the guy who has waved his magic wand over our life.”
“Maybe tomorrow, Martin. I’d rather get some sleep. Between the excitement and sleep deprivation, I’m dragging my ass lately. It’s hard to get through my shifts at work.”
Martin began rubbing Steven’s shoulders. “You know you can’t say no to me. I don’t ask for much but I’m serious about marching right on up—”
“Okay, okay, Martin. We’ll go. And then I’ll need a breather for a while, all right?”
“You’ll get no argument from me.”
Martin grabbed a pair of Steven’s jeans from the chair. “I’ll dress you myself.”
Steven grinned. “Compromise is the key to any relationship.”
* * *
They approached the lighted booth. Cars drove over the bridge, one of which had music blaring from an opened window. Martin turned to Steven. “Don’t you find that annoying?”
Steven wasn’t paying attention, he was studying the bridge.
Martin became frustrated. “Are you listening to me, Steven?”
“Yeah, yeah, I hear you, man. It’s just that this place seems different to me all of a sudden.”
“Well, for one, Clarence is nowhere to be found.”
“Does he normally wait for you here?”
Steven rubbed his own left arm with his right hand. “No, it’s just the whole atmosphere feels…” He paused, looked around him. “Off.”
Martin placed his hands in his pockets. “Look, I’m sorry I forced us out here. I was curious.”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Steven said. “Let’s just walk a little farther and see if Clarence turns up.” Martin nodded and followed him. About thirty feet ahead, Steven pointed at the choppy water below. “Hear that? I like that sound.” They went to the railing and looked over the edge.
Martin shook his head. “Damn, how do suicidals jump from this height?”
“Why don’t you ask Robert Odlum?”
“Who the hell is he?” Martin asked.
“He was the first to jump from this. That was back in 1885. The poor bastard died on impact.”
“Oh, man, Steven. I’m petrified just standing here. Now I have your little story in my head. What are you doing to me, man?”
“You’ll get over it, Martin. I mean, look at the reflections of the lights on the water.” He pointed in the distance. “Check out that little boat. It’s pretty far out there, floating by itself, the occupants probably gazing at the breathtaking skyline.”
Martin smiled. “I’ll agree with you on one thing. It’s definitely peaceful from up here.”
“Do you know what I’m going to do with my winnings, Martin?”
“Buy me a boat, bigger than that one, and put it on the water, maybe a big-wheeled truck to pull it.”
“Sorry to slam your idea, but why not just rent one some weekend? It’s a lot cheaper.”
“I want something I can call my own.”
“What do you call your car, your apartment, your life?” There was a pause. “Me?”
“What the hell are you talking about, Martin? I’m talking about a boat here and you’re casting pearls of wisdom?”
“Easy, babe, I was just talking shit, you know th—”
“Good evening, gentleman.”
The men quickly turned. “You’re stealthy, Clarence,” Steven said. “Scared the crap out of me.” He held his hand against his own chest.
“Me too,” Martin said. “Old man’s good, soft on his feet.” He gawked at Clarence. “You’re not what I pictured.”
“Oh no, what did you picture?”
Steven nudged Martin with his elbow, trying to shut him up. “Well, you’re a regular guy. I guess I imagined someone more…polished looking, or, or a wizard type.”
“I’m happy to disappoint.”
“No disappointment on my end. It’s nice to meet you actually. You’ve done wonders for my man here. He speaks highly of you.”
“Is that so? I’ve done nothing for him, though, if I may be honest?”
“Oh, come on,” Martin said. “He won a pile of dough, got slipped extra cash at the dime store, and has been off the stogies. What do you call that?”
“I call that good luck. All I did was reveal what I was seeing.”
“What do you see for me, Clarence, because I gotta tell you, my life needs some sprucing up?”
Steven gave Martin a dirty look. “Do you mind? Let’s not—”
“It’s quite all right, Steven, I can be straight with him.”
“Cool, whaddaya got?”
“Absolutely nothing, young man. I’m drawing a blank.”
“Thanks a lot, Clarence,” he said, disappointed.
“You asked, right?”
“Your point?” Martin said.
“I wasn’t trying to make one. I told Steven before that two people in my life have benefitted from my visions, and he is one of them. I’m not a crazy person, nor a psychic or anything else your imagination can conjure up. I am just like you except for some crystal clear flashes.”
Martin pulled at Steven’s shirt. “Let’s get out of here.”
Steven rubbed his forehead. “Sorry about this, Clarence.” Clarence saluted him as they left the bridge.
* * *
Martin had convinced Steven not to return to the bridge right away; best to take a hiatus from Clarence’s strange but rewarding visions, no matter how tempting they were to hear. Even in his absence, Steven was the recipient of two more unforeseen and life-enriching situations: The owner of the restaurant where he worked asked him to be his business partner. After years of hard work and good service, the owner, William Carbone, felt that, if anyone was the man for the job, it was Steven. The attractive offer would, at the beginning, quadruple Steven’s annual salary. In addition, Martin, his long-time lover, wanted to share an apartment with him. Steven Shaw’s life had taken an extraordinary turn and all without having Clarence in the picture anymore.
Days following the enticing offer, Steven agreed to move in with Martin. His check had come in the mail and, with his surplus of money, he paid the first year’s rent in advance and added some furnishings. The only thing he hadn’t done was jump at the generous offer to become partners in the restaurant with Carbone. With his new-found fortune he was not eager to commit to anything; he wanted to revel in what he had. In time he would put together a long-term plan.
One evening the two men had a gathering at their apartment; they celebrated Steven’s successes and good fortune by inviting some friends over. He had put his money in the bank and, as his reputable financial advisor had explained, his investment would grow, and in time the sizable accounts would make him even wealthier. He also had accepted the partnership and was drawing a handsome salary. The party was the icing on the cake, a treat.
The crowd spent hours drinking, eating, telling jokes, engaged in various discussions; the party was just like any other. One of the men at the party overheard Steven, who was huddled in the corner of the room with Martin, talking for a good thirty minutes about Clarence. With much prodding, Steven’s friend had convinced the group—ten of them—to head out to the bridge and see what this Clarence character was all about. Despite Steven and Martin’s resistance, the guests convinced them to go.
Within the hour everyone was at the bridge. This time Clarence was there waiting for them, standing by the booth, a slight wind ruffling his ashen hair. The group remained silent, curious looks on their faces, more interested in how he and Steven were going to interact; the group looked as if there were a magician before them about to perform a mind-blowing trick. “Look, I know there’s a lot of us here, Clarence, but—”
“No need to explain yourself, Mr. Shaw. Their appearance is harmless in my eyes.” Clarence stood straight and crossed his arms behind his back, appraising the group. “Nice friends you have, Steven.”
Steven glanced at his pals. “I agree. They’re a curious bunch too—nosy is a better way to put it.”
Martin nodded at Clarence. “Hey, Clarence.”
Clarence smiled, acknowledging him.
Nervously, Steven cracked his knuckles. “Putting their curiosity aside for a moment, I’m glad I came tonight. There’s something I want to tell you.”
“Go ahead, speak.”
Steven ran his fingers through his hair and dried his sweaty hands on his trousers. “I’m not coming back to this bridge anymore. I have to get on with my life…and so do you.”
Clarence smothered a laugh. “By all means, Mr. Shaw. You’re free to do as you wish, although I wish you would stick around.”
“What’s happened in my life is astounding, Clarence,” Steven said. “Thanks for sharing your visions. But really, this is the way it has to be.”
“I’m sure you’re destined for good things too, Clarence, especially after what I’ve been through.”
Clarence pursed his lips. “Well, Steven, there’s even more in store for you.”
“This guy’s amazing, I told you,” Steven said to his friends.
“Thank you, Steven,” Clarence responded.
Martin’s face came alive with anticipation. “What else do you see in his future, huh? What’s on the horizon for Stevie boy?”
Clarence fastened the top buttons of his jacket, the sea breeze now nudging stronger. “Well, I don’t know how this relates to you, but some insomniac will finally be able to sleep. That vision is completely arbitrary, a bit hazy at the moment too.”
“Mrs. Bennett will be delighted to hear that. I can’t wait to tell her. That’s who you’re likely seeing. She’s been that way for over a year. Now she smokes like a chimney. The entire hall stinks for crying out loud. I can say that now because I’ve quit. But she’s good people, you know.”
Clarence massaged his own neck, as if he’d felt a cramp. “There’s more to tell, guys. I think it’s vital I share a vision that’s dubiously etched in my mind. One that has taunted me ever since I awoke this morning in a cold sweat. And since I don’t feel the need to dawdle, nor the desire to prolong revealing this vision, I’ll get to the point. Well… to come right out with it, Steven, whether you’re ready or not… you’re going to die… in a week. I’m terribly sorry, son, but it’s going to be brutal too, in so many ways. This vision has left me restless and weary and quite sickened, which is why I came here tonight, hoping I’d see you. This is the first bad vision I’ve ever had.”
The crowd was frozen. Steven trembled. Martin clutched him. Clarence embraced Steven’s quivering body. All eyes fixed on Steven. “I really am so sorry, Steven. I can’t control what I see. We can only wait and see what happens. Please go in peace and be careful. With a stroke of luck, perhaps your fate will break my streak.” Clarence walked away.
Steven’s friends surrounded him and assisted him off the bridge. He had trouble staying on his own two feet, he hobbled like a drunk. His grim fate overwhelmed him like a raging tide. “That son of a bitch,” Martin mumbled, now acting as a crutch under Steven’s arm. Deep down he knew there was no reason to harbor any anger toward Clarence, but what else could he do? He was trying his best to comfort Steven.
At the apartment, they placed Steven on the couch, got him a few shots of whiskey, and helped him drink them. “I might as well get drunk, I’m going to die anyway,” he howled. As he drank, some of the liquor spilled down his chin and onto the chair. He stood for a moment and wiped the excess from his mouth and then, without warning, broke into a tantrum and began destroying his own apartment, throwing anything he could get his hands on: sofa cushions, lamps, coat stand, CD rack. He flung his belongings across the room and almost hit his friends. The group backed away, unsure of what he might do next in the heat of his breakdown. The situation appeared to be escalating, the potential for danger increasing. Steven was tall and lanky; but under the circumstances he had the strength of a wild bull. Martin tried to restrain him but got shoved forcefully into the wall; the impact put a hole in the sheetrock, a picture frame crashed to the floor and shattered, the vibration caused a candle next to the front door to fall from its holder. Steven screamed again, “Go ahead, call the damn cops, I’m gonna fucking die anyway.”
Using his eyes, Martin signaled to the group and together they tackled Steven and held him down. His outburst turned into hysterical crying, the volume raspy, gut-wrenching; his face flushed red. Martin started weeping as well, clutching Steven on the floor, doing his best to restrain him, console him. Once the situation was under control, which took a few minutes of intense grappling and exertion, the rest of the guys left, leaving Martin alone with him on the floor. Steven fainted during their embrace.
Hours later, Martin opened his eyes and realized that Steven had left, and most likely had gone back to the bridge or was roaming the streets alone. He quickly searched for Steven and soon found him at the usual spot. Clarence was nowhere in sight. Steven stood on the outer ledge seconds from leaping into the deep, choppy East River. From behind, Martin carefully approached him, trying not to exacerbate the situation. He stopped about ten feet behind him. “Steven, let’s go home.”
Steven turned and glared at him. “It’s too late for heroics, Martin. I just want to be alone. Keep your distance.”
Martin reversed his steps. “Whatever you say. I just want you to come down from there. Please come off that ledge. I love you. We can get through this together. You’re not going to die.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because you have a whole life ahead of you, Stevie, and Clarence is wrong, I know it.”
Steven tried to suppress his brimming emotions but couldn’t. His arms trembled, his grip on the pipe-like railing began to falter. Drool issued from his mouth in strands. “How can…can… you know…know that?”
“I just do, Steven. So what’re you gonna do? End it this way? So what if Clarence has been right so far. Maybe everything’s a huge coincidence. Did you ever think about that?”
Steven shook his head forlornly, tears streamed down his face. “Clarence!” he shouted. “Clarence, Clarence, Clarence! You tell me, you son of a bitch! What’s gonna happen to me? I can’t take it anymore!”
Steven climbed back over the ledge and ran down the center lane of the bridge, never looking back at Martin. Martin chased him but was having difficulty catching up. “Steven, please stop,” he pleaded. “We can beat this thing.”
A hundred feet ahead, Steven came to a staircase and stopped, his eyes widened in horror: Clarence was splayed on the staircase, blood leaking from his ear, dripping down his neck. Martin approached Clarence’s body and checked for a pulse. “He’s dead, Steven. He’s cold already.”
Steven sat on the ground in front of the railing and placed his head on his knees. Martin sat as well, then put his arm around him. Steven’s face was pale and gaunt. “I’m terrified.”
Martin wiped Steven’s face with his trembling right hand. “So am I. But our life isn’t over yet.”
A versatile writer, David Boyle has written and published two short story collections. His newest book, Abandoned in the Dark, has been adapted to film by Cover 3 Productions. Though he earned his readership by creating intense real-life dark fiction, Boyle has garnered a reputation for composing literary stories, essays, articles, aphorisms, reviews, interviews, analyses, a good number of which have appeared in magazines.
Visit him online at www.facebook.com/authordavidboyle.