September 21st, 2000
Screams and jeers.
Laughter and moans.
And applause. Most of all, the applause.
Oh the sweet sound of it to his ears. The fleshy slap of hands against hands, some with enthusiastic force, some to be polite, like a golf clap, trying to convince the player to take the next swing so the game can finally finish. All in unison.
To many, it was the drum-roll of success.
He loved it.
He loved it all.
It was the best part of attending an award show.
Even better when you were a nominee.
And best, when you win.
The rush of blood to your temples as they call your name amongst the contestants like a warm gust of air filling a balloon, pressing the sides outward, expanding moment by moment. Even if you already know your name is on the list, it is still so very exciting to hear it aloud followed by your body growing more prominent to those around you as though they can see your ego getting bigger.
The tension building with each second, tightening with each exhaled breath. Tableaus of serene faces, side by side, eyes wide as though seeing a comet for the very first time. Others on edge as those called try to look around the room with subtlety, checking on their opponents, hoping one might fall suddenly ill and are forced to leave, forfeiting their prize.
The whispered breaths of support, the sounds of pats of backs and the gasps of surprise, as other nominee names are called.
Followed by the increased building of energy and silence as the room permeated in baited breath for the winner to be announced. One rarely can feel silence, but always knows it’s there.
A rush of oxygen, the applause of the audience, more fleshy slaps. Everyone responding, some nod knowingly, others choking in surprise.
Some simply happy to be attending at all.
Then the dragging gruff of the carpeted aisles beneath the feet of rushing ushers and scurrying staff, trying to keep order whilst the winners are directed to the stage. A quick seat filler, hired and dressed as those around them, but who does not count themselves as part of the invited elite, scurried to the now empty chair to give the illusion the audience is still fully packed.
How much he cherished it.
He rose from his seat, nodding to the audience and letting the ushers know where he was. They knew, but he wanted to remind them in case they forgot.
People stood up. Their chair legs scraped along the wooden floors, showing they had risen from their seats, forcing others to do the same.
And they did.
They all did.
Video monitors rolling.
All so very beautiful.
The smell of expensive colognes, fine perfumes, steak dinners, heavy makeup, too much alcohol and a hint of B.O., seemed to spice the evening perfectly, all made flavourful by the success.
All so wonderful.
He knew it, had tasted it before, lived it a lifetime.
He was Jonathon Weathers.
Master of the trade.
Genius of a whole new order.
What many described as a true ‘Natural.’
He knew everyone was jealous of him.
Not only because of who he was, as anyone could be him if the heat of the media were aimed their way, but for what he could do.
He had the perfect combination of skill and most importantly, normalcy.
Many actors and actresses have fantastic good looks. Faces, if you saw them on the street, compelling you to gape at them in awe, from their crisp bone structures, perfect shapes and gemstone eyes which invited attraction.
Staring was instinct.
A perfection that makes these stars the best for certain roles, but eliminating them from others.
But not Jonathon Weathers who was both handsome and normal. No rigid jaw-line which permanently defined some as playboys; he had the smooth chin of an accountant. His five ten height was average, but not so short to make him feel less manly. His swimmer’s physique was easy to mold to appear like anyone from a street pimp to a young lawyer on a case.
His short brown hair was soft, beautiful and easy to alter with the pull of a brush or stroke of a comb. It all made for a perfect presentation, which in the hands of an expert made him stunning.
His icy blue eye could be easily changed with the insertion of contacts or coloured glasses, transforming his face into another.
It was almost spooky, which allowed for his most famous talent of all, mimicry.
A born talent or one you could only hope to learn.
Weathers, if he watched a person long enough; minutes was his minimum, could become that person, in voice and timber, mimicking them so well, so perfectly, he actually scared the real people he impersonated.
Like a mirror, but alive.
He could create whole new personas by combining people’s essences into his own. Blending a little Connery with a touch of Depp; some charm of Kilmer with an edge of Nicholson, creating characters that were not only memorable, but real in every sense of the soul.
Which is how he won tonight.
He wandered up the aisle, cameramen shouting his name, trying to get his attention so to take his photograph.
Hands groping for his, he never saw them, he simply shook them because they blocked his path to the front. Others pounding his back, some not quite gently, as he moved his way to the centre stage.
Celebrities in the primes of their careers. Actors, actresses, producers, directors, writers and so many more, and at this moment, all their eyes were on him.
He reached the stage, the audience on their feet, readying his acceptance speech.
Oh the glory of it all.
The groans and the moans.
The gasps and the sighs.
But most of all the stares. Those burning dark stares, penetrating deep into the back of his head. The coughs and muttered whispers of the patrons as they spat under their breath. ’Jesus, can’t this guy just die?”
He hated it.
He hated it all.
The sounds of bar stools moving as people changed seats to get away from him. The whispered conversations between the bartender and bouncer, nodding to one another that the bruiser should watch him, readying the door for his violent departure.
He was Markus Young, a bum.
A bum in many estimates was a compliment. Even bums knew when they were not wanted. Not Young. His specialty was ignorance and indifference.
Drunk, inebriated, stupid, dense, and so many other adjectives. All used to describe him. He felt privileged. The fact that so many people thought about him at all was a compliment.
He drank almost every night. He would have drank every night if he could, but he usually ran out of money first, if not consciousness.
He knew the staff of the Golden Goose Bar hated him.
Marcus was an eyesore to the establishment, from his grubby oil-stained clothes to his brown dirty hair, the fuel smell acquired from long hours at the brake shop to his sweat soiled uniforms, his five o’clock shadow, grown from two days ago, and always his bloodshot eyes.
He was somewhat tall, but his continual hunch over the bar each night started to permanently curl his spinal column, resulting in an almost cruel gait as though he spent his days picking up coins from the sidewalk.
But as much as the bar hated him, he had one thing they never declined.
Cold hard cash.
Enough money to keep the drinks flowing and the chatter to a minimum.
If Young was drinking, he wasn’t talking.
The bartender knew to maintain this isolation and leave the other customers alone would mean the glass must be topped until Young was broke.
It worked for both customer and bartender and Young never messed with it.
‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke.’ He always said.
He signaled by tapping his empty glass on the countertop.
‘Another Scotch on the rocks.’
The bartender pulled an unmarked bottle from the front, his fast pours.
The cheap stuff.
Young didn’t care.
He wanted alcohol.
He had no plans tonight or any night.
Oh the pity of it all.
The memories of that night flew back at him like a thunderclap. A media storm that he would relive over and over in his thoughts.
Weathers shifted into fifth.
His sports car roared with defiance, but settled into a growl as the driver maintained his cruising speed.
He drove down the road in an almost euphoric zeal. Tonight he had won yet another acting award. He had more than he could count.
According to the press, he was the apple of Hollywood’s eye. North Hollywood as they referred to the fact he was Canadian, but as Weathers said, apples grow in any field and seeds can be planted anywhere.
Plus with his skill, he would be a worldwide arbor phenomenon.
He could still see the flashing camera bulbs in the back of his mind, still feel the theatergoers patting his back, nodding in that way to tell him he did good... Again.
His fans had lined up outside, arm in arm, some wet from the early rain, all screaming his name, both when he arrived on the red carpet to his departure at the end of the evening, with security monitoring his every step.
The limo drove him back to the private parking garage so he could recover his vehicle and drive home.
Weathers liked the feel of driving his own car. He gave up so much for his fame, from his shopping by house staff to his lack of time off due to constant shooting schedules, so any taste of control was intoxicating.
He could still see his agent, Tammy Lanthier, smirking on the sidelines, counting her commissions each time he won, profits increasing exponentially, as her marketing skills made selling a man like Weathers the same as soliciting steaks to ravenous wolves.
So very easy.
He remembered thanking his producer, director, agent of course, and his….
A lightning bolt. The sky lit up like a million cameras taking his photo, all at once and all in his eyes. Luckily, Weathers was used to such flashes.
Brighter this time.
Weathers rubbed his eyes with his free hand. Maybe he had overestimated his resistance.
Weathers dropped into fourth, bringing his engine down a few RPM’s. He tapped the brakes lightly, a feather touch, to allow his eyes to adjust to the moonlight.
Rain pelted the windshield with a continuous patter, blurring the view every few seconds with a heavy deluge of rainwater. Weathers spun the knob on his wipers, increasing intensity to high.
“Some storm.” Weathers muttered under his breath. “Something bad is in the making tonight.”
Weathers liked to talk to himself. He always considered it intelligent conversation. Weathers hit the clutch and returned to fifth.
The roads were icy this time of the year.
The rain, though heavy, was not enough to melt the thin crystal shields of ice which coated the trees, fences and grass filling the open countryside.
His car swerved left and then right, easily maintaining control.
Weathers was an excellent driver.
He always drove carefully.
It was the other drivers he worried about.
Young felt wet and smelled asphalt in the night.
But most of all, Young tasted blood, mixed with a touch of skin from inside his cheek and the knuckles of the bouncer who hit him, and right before he threw Young, face first into the sidewalk from the bar.
Some say teeth have no taste. Wait until you have them nearly shoved down your throat and you will realize, they taste bad. Young tenderly put his hand to his eyes, nose and face.
Nothing permanent. Nothing he had not had happen before.
That bruiser hit him pretty hard, but he was getting used to it. No broken bones or chipped teeth. Tonight was a good night. In the bouncer`s defense, he was trying to protect that young woman.
In Young’s mind, she had not slapped him yet. That was his standard signal to stop. The bouncer beat her to it.
Within seconds, it felt like seconds, but when you are this drunk, time was relative; the combination of eight glasses of Scotch, four beers, two half-drunk wine glasses he discovered in the washroom, one red and one a blend of white and something else, his night ended.
Young got up. He brushed off the dirt and mud. He turned around and stared at the bar. He was going to yell something, but realizing the door was closed, his enthusiasm waned. Leaning up against the wall, he coughed heavily. After a minute, he spat up a mouthful of phlegm and blood. He felt better.
Lightning? He missed it as his eyes were on the ground.
Young looked to the sky and watched as billows of dark clouds filled the atmosphere. Ominous grey tendrils of smoke flooded the night, like a giant multi-legged octopus wrapping itself around the daylight, holding it tight for another eight hours.
Most people would see such storm clouds and be filled with the morbid depths of gloom and desperation. Not Young. Darkness took him every night. This was simply one of those times when the darkness took the sky first.
‘Better get my ass out of the rain.’
Young patted down his jeans, wiping his fingers on his shirt at the same time, searching for his keys.
‘Damn.’ He thought. ‘That prick took them again.’
Young talked to himself too. Since no one else would listen.
Then he grinned. A devilish grin of both malice and contentment. His yellow teeth, filled with plaque and blood glimmered under the night moon. Reveling in his brilliance, he bent down, pulled off his work boot and yanked out his second key for the truck.
Turning back to the bar he laughed. “Who’s the smart one now huh? I got me a spare.” He hocked up a deep phlegm gob out of his chest and lopped it onto the window. The force of his spit knocked him back down on his ass into a puddle. A wet slap of the melted snow on his butt was jarringly unpleasant.
He still felt good. He forced himself back up and staggered towards his truck. He had won tonight. He was driving himself home.
Stuttering under his breath, he declared. “Who’s the winner now huh? Who’s the winner now.”
The radio blared loudly. A Hip-Hop princess Weathers gathered by her voice, overpaid, undertrained and too pretty to be ignored. Not like the good of days of Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra. Music to his ears by experts of their craft. These great artists could weave a tapestry of music into a long blend of ups, downs, goods, bad, passions and pain.
He sometimes wished he had lived in those wonderful times.
He pressed the remote on his steering wheel.
His CD player came to life.
An old jazz classic by Nat King Cole.
With a flick of his throat muscles, Weathers belted out the next song the famous crooner was singing with perfect clarity and tone. Almost like hearing the two exact singers, twins, singing a duet, in tandem. Even a mother would be hard pressed to tell them apart.
Weathers grinned from ear to ear. This was his specialty.
Passing an old worn down mailbox, hanging from the post with an earnest fear of falling, Weathers maintained his focus. ’A few more minutes and I’ll be home.’
Weathers spun the wheel again, giving into momentum, spinning around a sharp corner, a wall of rain water rose from the asphalt and blanketed the view.
With another controlled twist, weaving around a garbage bag blown into the road from one of the neighboring farms, Weathers shot forward.
Even with the falling rain, winds and lightening, the trip was turning out uneventful. Weathers always chose the back roads when driving home at night. He may crave the attention on stage, but he needed some semblance of privacy in his life.
‘If you gave yourself in full to the world, you left little for yourself.’ He always mused.
And right now, he liked his own company.
Young drove with speed and arrogance. He swerved this way and that.
The steering wheel slipped a few times in his grip from the greasy blood slicks still trickling from his busted lip. He wiped his face again with the back of his hand and then down across the seats. Stripes of dried brown crusts traced down the passenger seat in disgusting patterns. But no one complained because no woman ever left the bar with him.
He was still angry and drunk. Not a good combination.
He kept spouting aloud, “Got to keep my hands steady and the truck will drive straight.”
A stupid philosophy because everything appeared to wobble back and forth even when he was stationary, let alone driving. Trees blended into meadows and the road seemed to melt into the sky from his vantage point. No tangible picture appeared. More like a smearing of finger paints strewn about a canvass of despair. Drunks were never the best art connoisseurs but they always had the most interesting visions. And this blurry view through the windshield was only made worse by the continued falling rain.
’Focus.’ He thought. ‘FOCUS!’
Another bolt of lightning startled Young, causing the truck to swing left.
Young felt the tires ripping up the road’s shoulder, pebbles and rocks pelting his exterior paint with annoyance. The truck waivered, hydroplaning a bit, swerving to the side. The chassis thumped, giving a gigantic groan as Young swung back onto the road, grazing a fencepost on the truck’s escape for freedom.
‘Damn’ Young thought. ‘’I was farther off the road than I thought.’
Then he moaned again. “Fuck. And another side mirror.’
At least his boss let him work on his own truck at the shop. Young may be a failure at many things, but bodywork was not among of them.
Young took in a deep cleansing breath and coughed, as he swallowed a touch of blood when he inhaled. He kept thinking, as long as he remained focused on the yellow lines, he knew he could keep himself out of the ditches. He was getting tired of all the tow truck calls. Since the Auto Club booted him out of their plan, all the recent tows were coming out of his own pocket.
At least he was still moving. Travelling fast enough to get home before the police could catch him. Not that it mattered too much to him. He lost his driver’s license a long time ago.
But Young was never concerned about the Law. He knew cops rarely monitored the back roads.
Plus, most smart people stayed off them. Young felt people should know better than to be out of their homes driving around for no reason at night. At least he had a reason. He was at a bar. Back roads are for those who wanted to avoid the police, so citizens should steer clear of them. So if there was an accident, it was their fault.
Not the drunk driver.
Weathers reached for the remote, switching back to the radio. He spun the dial until he heard the sweet sound of rock music over his speakers.
He listened for a few seconds and started imitating the singer again.
Weathers always seemed to amaze himself with the ease he could do this.
But he took his eyes off the road for a second.
Not more than a second.
Regrettably, a second is all it took.
Young was tired.
Tired from the beating. Tired from the booze.
Tired from all the concentration of keeping his eyes on the centre line.
Just plain tired.
He needed only a quick rest.
Not a big one.
He was almost home.
Young closed his eyes.
For a second.
Not more than a second.
And a second is all it took.
The two drivers saw the opposing headlights heading toward one another.
Weathers was blinded by a moment of distraction.
Young was blinded by booze.
They each entered the bend in the road, Weathers flowing left, Young swerving right.
Weathers was on his side of the road.
Young was on Weathers’ side of the road too.
The vehicles collided head on with momentous force.
There was a shattering of glass, crumpling metal and exploding tires.
The rain swooped in and breached any openings they could find in those seconds.
The heavier pickup and the speed of the sports car, combined with the kinetic energy of the crash drove the vehicles from the road and into the trees, tearing through the metal road barrier like it was nothing more than tinfoil.
Side over side, the vehicles spun in a lovers embrace, holding on to one another with hundreds of metal fingers. Skeletal tendrils of smoke enveloped the devastation as the momentum continued, pushing the vehicles deeper into the cornfield.
The truck’s four wheel traction, combined with Weathers’ sudden slamming of his brakes after impact actually diminished the power of the crash. So instead of flattening both vehicles, it only crushed the engines, radiators and electrical systems in a mix of fluids, wires and loose parts.
Eventually, as any force applied to another, both vehicles came to a stop. The only motion and sound was the spinning tires of the truck, upside down, slowing down as the engine seized. The axle and suspensions were completely warped.
And it all happened in the span of a few seconds.
A blackish smoke trail pursued the sports car, smoldering downward through the still falling rain, until it reached the carnage below, hot yellow radiator fluid pouring into the now destroyed field.
The only long braking rubber that could be seen traced the path of the sports car before it left the road and into the stalks.
For several seconds, nothing could be heard.
Both vehicles, now one by the fact both objects now occupied the same space at the same time had finally come to a stop.
For several moments, there was nothing. Only the sickly sweet smell of burning oil, smoke and fresh wood.
And then a single whispered cry from the chaos. “For the love of God.” The desperate plea begged. “Help me.”