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The Labyrinth

By Steven Arnett All Rights Reserved ©

Other / Thriller

Chapter 6

After the brunch we went to see The Out of Towners at a matinee, then went back to Jan’s place. She was still in a quiet mood but didn’t seem down, and I thought that she trusted me. We made love again, and then lay in bed and talked until it was dark. All about Jan’s life I learned, about how she’d been married and had a baby who’d died when he was only eight months old of Down’s Syndrome, which had almost caused her to lose her mind with sadness, about her ex-husband, a drunk who beat her up and ran around with whatever floozies he could pick up in bars, and how she’d finally got fed up and walked out on him. She told me how lonely she’d been since then, and of the men—who’d wanted her but hadn’t been willing to give her anything in return. I learned about her father, a machinist who she told me was a big, friendly man with a heart of gold who’d died of lung cancer when she was fifteen. About the little Scottie dog she’d had when she was a little girl she told me, how it had got lost once and she hadn’t been able to sleep for three nights until it came home again. I heard about the first time she’d had sex, at a drive-in theater, and I listened to her laugh at how awkward and stupid she’d felt. I told her something about my life, too, when she asked, but of course I left out the important stuff. When we got hungry again we ordered a pizza over the phone. When the delivery boy arrived with it, I went to pay him in Jan’s bathrobe, and she got a big kick out of it when I described the look he had on his face when I opened the door. So we lay in bed eating pizza and drinking beer and somehow, without exactly wanting it, my life changed completely, and I drifted a new way in a life that was destined for drifting. I moved in with Jan the next day.

I was practically married and not minding it all that much. Jan was able to arrange her schedule at the restaurant so that she usually worked only when I did. I let myself get lulled into domesticity, even though I kept telling myself I was only going to stay with her a little while. Jan was a pretty good cook and was good at all the little things that make a home comfortable. A lot of nights we just watched TV, or Jan watched TV while I read, and it was such an ordinary life it makes me laugh now to think about it. All we needed to complete the picture was a baby whining in a crib. We went out a fair amount, though, to movies, to bowl, to dance and drink at bars, and I got to know Jan’s friends, some of them married couples, some of them divorced “working girls” like herself. Jan was moody sometimes, but she never seemed to doubt that I cared about her. It was so easy and so comfortable living this way, especially to be able to go to it after the grind of the shop, that it took a while before I realized what a quagmire I’d got myself into. I didn’t take Jan to meet my parents, though. My mother would have been horrified if she knew I was with Jan, and my father would have understood only too well, and I didn’t want to go anywhere that would remind me of the murder. I lived in a bubble of domesticity and suspended animation for a while with no obvious end in sight.

Jerry Ragotzy worked near me on the assembly line. He was pretty old to still be working on the line, about fifty or so, and real quiet. He did his job without complaining and mostly kept to himself. Short and balding, he had a plump face and gray hair, neatly combed, and strangely pensive eyes. He never got involved in pranks or joked around like the other guys did. He never drank or used drugs as far as I knew. He was a family man, and the guys used to needle him about his teenage daughter, who they said was a real knockout. He was a completely reliable guy, the kind of employee the company liked to have, and he was always willing to lend someone a hand. When I started he gave me a few tips that made the job easier and helped me out when I got behind. Even in coveralls, he always looked neat.

One night he called in sick. The foreman was surprised, because it was just about the first sick day Jerry had ever taken, and he made some crack about it that had to do with Jerry’s daughter. But he showed up at the plant that night anyway, about two hours after the shift started. He came to the line around where I was working and started talking like a real smart ass, getting in people’s way while they tried to work. He was really upset about something but it was hard to make out just what it was. Finally, the foreman came over to him.

“What the fuck are you doing here if you’re sick?” he said.

“I’m sick, all right,” pointing hard against his own chest. “I’m sick of you and I’m sick of this fuckin’ plant.”

He was sweating even though it wasn’t hot in the plant that night.

“Then why don’t you get the fuck out of here and let these guys do their jobs? Or do I have to write you up to get the message through to you?”

“Go ahead and write me up, you asshole. I don’t give a fuck.”

He was leaning against a rack by the line and sneering at the foreman. The foreman moved toward him like he was going to grab him. But Jerry walked away, like he was suddenly timid again, and almost everyone on the line who’d been watching laughed. When I got my break a little later I went down to the cafeteria. Jerry was standing on a table shouting.

“I’m white collar,” he said, waving a huge screw driver in the air. “I just forgot to wear a tie today.” He brought his hands up to his throat like he was adjusting an invisible tie. A few men were standing in front of him, and everybody in the cafeteria was watching him.

“Those mother fuckers think they’re better than us, just because they wear a fuckin’ tie. I wonder how they’d look if we strangled them with their fuckin’ ties?” pretending to strangle himself with his invisible tie. A lot of guys laughed. It was like he was a stand-up comedian doing a really edgy routine. I walked up close to him. His face was red, and he looked wild and distraught. His eyes were so jumpy, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d shattered and fallen out of his head. They seemed bigger than usual, and were bloodshot, and restless with disjointed movement. They were the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen, like something you’d see on a fiend in a late show movie.

“Why should we have to come in here and work like pigs every day while management sits up in their fuckin’ offices and laughs at us, and call us rats? Huh? Why should we have to put up with that shit anymore? I’ve had it.” He blinked, looking like he didn’t quite know where he was for a moment.

“And what about all these goddamn niggers in here? Lazy ass niggers, that don’t want to do nothing all day but sit on their asses and get high. Or chase after whores. It’s enough to make me puke.” Half the men in the room were black. There was murmuring among them and I heard guys say “mother fucker” and “asshole,” but none of them went after him. They knew he was crazy. But the tension in the room became like hot, suffocating, stagnant air. If even one white man had laughed, a race riot might have been set off. But not a single one did. Fortunately, Jerry went off on another tangent.

“Look at all those fuckin’ cars out there,” he said, though we couldn’t see any cars from the cafeteria. He was waving a giant screwdriver, that he must have picked up somewhere in the plant, wildly in the air. “Yellow and black and red and green and blue, everything but polka dots. Why the fuck do they have so many colors? What’s wrong with—” He seemed to lose his train of thought. He’d been shouting, but at the end his voice died down. Four plant guards walked in. They came near him and one of them said, “All right, buddy, come on down and come with us. The party’s over. You’re all through giving speeches for today.”

Jerry held the screwdriver out toward the guard, but his hand was so shaky he couldn’t hold it out straight.

“How would you like to get your fuckin’ eyes poked out?” he said.

“We’ll give you one more chance. You can either come with us of your own accord or we’ll have to do it the hard way. I’d hate to see it come down to that. And things will work out a whole lot better for you if we don’t have to.”

“You’re just a bunch of fuckin’ stooges for management. Why the hell should I do what you assholes want?”

The guard who’d been talking to Jerry moved up quickly and pulled him off the table he was standing on. He put up a hell of a struggle kicking and screaming as the guards took him away, and he jabbed one of the guards in the stomach with that big screwdriver before they got it away from him. He didn’t stop struggling even after the guards poked him in the stomach over and over and beat him on the shins with their night sticks, and he didn’t stop shouting insults at them. I heard a couple of days later that they took Jerry to the mental hospital that was conveniently located just down the road from the plant. The plant seemed more like a hellhole to me than ever. It just wasn’t worth the money any more.

“What’s wrong, Honey?” Jan said later that night when we were in bed. She was on her side facing me, and I was on my back.

“It’s nothing about us or anything like that. It’s something that happened at work today. A guy went crazy, and they took him away.”

I could tell that Jan didn’t understand why this would bother me so much.

“Was he a friend of yours?”

“Not really. I knew him a little bit.”

“Well, don’t worry yourself too much about it, sweetheart. It wasn’t your fault. There wasn’t nothing you could do about it.”

She moved closer, and kissed me and caressed me. But I just lay there like a dead fish, like I wasn’t even aware she was in the room.

“Maybe if we fool around a little you’ll feel better.”

“I doubt it.”

“Well, I don’t know why you’re taking it out on me just because some guy at work cracked up.”

“I’m not taking anything out on you. I just have a lot on my mind, and there’s nothing you can do that will make me feel better.”

Jan moved away from me as far as she could without falling off the bed. Later she moved back over and put her arms around me and tried to cheer me up again, but I was as cold as ever.

I hardly ever read newspapers when I was 15 and rarely watched the news on TV or paid attention when I heard the news on the radio, except as kind of a vague background noise. So I really didn’t have a good idea about how big a story this would be, although I knew that any murder in this town would pretty much be a big story. I mean, in those days we had like two murders per year. I started scouring the Detroit News and the Livonian newspapers, and after a couple of days this story appeared on the front page of the Livonian:

DRIFTER FOUND MURDERED BEHIND SIBLEY’S

The Livonia police reported today that a man was found stabbed and murdered in the woods behind Sibley’s Lumber Yard off Plymouth Road west of Middlebelt Road. They had responded to the scene after receiving a call from a brakeman for the Pennsylvania Railroad, who had spotted the body just after dawn when the freight train he was riding on passed nearby. Police are still analyzing evidence gathered at the scene and have not come to any definite conclusions yet about what happened that they are willing to share with the public. No identification was found with the victim.

He could have got in a fight last night with another drifter, who stabbed him and then jumped on another box car that came by that night,” said Detective Sergeant William Borage of the Livonia Police. The wooded area between the train tracks and Plymouth Road is known as place where drifters sometimes stop after jumping from trains. The Michigan State Police have been called in to assist the investigation. Anyone who has information about the murder is encouraged to call the Livonia police or this newspaper.

There was also a small story about it in the News and kids at school talked about it, but it wasn’t that big a deal to them. I mean, it was way less important to them then the Homecoming Dance that was coming up, and after a couple of days, no one talked about it at all.

I snapped out of that mood, though, and in a few days everything was practically back to normal. I stopped asking myself the Big Questions. The pain and the hurt I’d felt about the murder had started to fade a little. I managed to overlook how much I really despised the work I was doing and the way I was living, and fell back on the tired excuse that I was only living this way for a while, just long enough to save up a little more money. I suppose it’s always easy to justify not breaking out of a rut. I told Jan I was sorry for being so cold to her that night, bought her a bouquet of roses, and took her out for a steak dinner at her favorite restaurant. Then we went home and made love and everything was almost all right again.

“You don’t seem to care about nothing besides what you’re doing right now,” she said as we lay in bed talking that night. “Haven’t you ever wanted to make plans or had dreams about what you’d like to become?”

“Nope. I try to avoid it. But that’s not as bad as you might think. This way I’m never disappointed.”

“What you need is something to make you grow up. I don’t know what the hell it would take, but you sure need it. I thought once it could be me, but I know now that it never will be. You’re never going to get nowhere the way you are now.”

“You’re probably right,” running my hand along her side. “I’ll have to give that some thought.”

I hadn’t forgotten Charlotte all this time. We still wrote to each other (hers were addressed to my folks’ house), and a couple of times I talked to her on the phone. I told her it wouldn’t be long before I’d be out to see her. I didn’t mention Jan, though. She said she was working part-time at a department store in Clay, her home town, and that her mother wasn’t doing too well. She told me she was dating some guy but that it was no big deal, and that she was lonely a lot. She said she was looking forward to seeing me again.

On afternoons when Jan wasn’t home I still usually stopped in at the Oasis and drank a couple of quick ones before work. One day when Jan went to visit her mother and I was in a pretty shitty mood, I went there about two o’clock, three hours before my shift started. I sat down with some of the guys from the plant and started drinking pretty fast. I was probably downing a beer every fifteen minutes or so. It must have been some time after three when I heard the guys at the next table talking about the Vietnam War. Something in the news that day, a protest march or the bombing of a Selective Service office or whatever, had set them off. They were really getting down on students who protested the war.

“They’re nothing but fags and communists,” one of them said. “The only reason those mother fuckers are against the war is they’re too yellow to fight. They oughta just let the National Guard shoot them bastards. But there’s always some wimp politician holding ’em back. They might hurt the little darlings,” imitating a woman’s voice as the others laughed. “And while they’re at it, they oughta let the Air Force drop some H-bombs on the gooks over in Vietnam.”

It was all clichés. None of them seemed to have even a spark of intelligence. I’d heard such inane talk many times before and hardly cared at all, but this time I really got pissed off. Maybe it was the beer or maybe I was just in a belligerent mood. The guy doing most of the talking was big and had thick dark hair combed straight back. He looked like he could have played linebacker if he got rid of his pot belly. He had a big nose and a tic by one eye and looked Polish. When he made a point, sometimes he pounded the table. He was sitting with a thin guy who was smiling at what he was saying and looked bored, and two other guys who were mostly echoing what the fat guy said. I got more and more disgusted with what I was hearing.

“They ought to take them fuckin’ hippies and cut their hair off and put ’em in the Marines. Maybe that would make men out of them.”

I turned around toward him.

“Hey, fatso,” I said. “I’ve never heard so much shit come out of anyone’s mouth in my life. Haven’t you ever had an idea of your own in your life? Don’t you have a brain in that whole fuckin’ fat head?”

He got up from his chair and stood next to me.

“What did you say, boy?”

He took a little bit of the hair on the back of my neck and pulled it hard. I punched him in the stomach and he buckled over and fell on the floor, groaning. Then one of his buddies got up to come after me. I started to get out of my chair, but he punched me in the face before I’d stood all the way up and knocked me to the ground. My face hurt and I was dazed, but I stood up after a few seconds. The guy tried to punch me again, but I ducked and hit him in the mouth. A barmaid came over and shouted, “All right. Break it up! Break it up or I’ll get the cops out here.” But the tough bartender was off that day and nobody tried to break us up. Instead, everybody in the place formed a circle around us, and laughed or cheered one or the other of us on. After I hit the guy in the mouth, there was blood on my hand and the skin on my knuckles was gnashed. What happened after that isn’t completely clear to me, but I remember that one of the fat guy’s buddies got behind my back and held my arms while the fat guy punched me. I thought all the men in the circle were laughing at me and that their faces were distorted and gruesome. And I remember when the police first came in and broke through the circle of onlookers.

After that I don’t remember much—I passed out for quite a while—until I was down at the police station. I had bandages on my head and hand and felt drugged, but I could still feel bruises all over my upper body. I was sitting in a plain white room in the police station alone, waiting for I didn’t know what. I felt sick and disoriented, like I’d been awakened in the middle of a nightmare. Finally, I was led into another room, where I was asked a lot of questions, and then my fingerprints and mug shot were taken. The police weren’t that bad. One of them was even friendly and joked about the fight. I was pretty docile. I wondered if any of the others had been arrested and where they were. It was dark out by the time I was handcuffed and driven to the county jail, where I was put into a big holding tank cell which already had about a dozen men in it. A few of them were sleeping on the floor or on the concrete benches that jutted out from the wall. A few were talking, but the rest just sat there looking bored or spaced out, occasionally saying something or other. I learned before long that one of the men was in there on suspicion of counterfeiting, two were escapees from Marquette Prison in the Upper Peninsula, and the others who talked about it were in on drug charges, drunk driving, or barroom brawls. Half of the men were black and half were white.

I thought I was in a pretty dangerous situation when they first put me in. There were some pretty rough looking characters in that cell. One of the prison escapees looked especially gruesome: He only had about three teeth left in his mouth, pimples stuck out from what looked like about a three day beard, and he had long, greasy hair that didn’t look like it had been washed in ten years. He would have made a great-looking pirate at a Halloween party. His eyes were yellow like they were filled with pus or he had jaundice, and they were sunk deep in his head. His skin was pasty, like he’d been lying in a stale, dank dungeon for years, and he looked like he’d like to slit your throat just for the fun of it. But he turned out to be friendly and seemed to be in a pretty good mood under the circumstances. He asked some of the guys what their “max date” was, the year when a prisoner’s sentence ends if he has to serve the whole thing. He said his was “84,” just like it was next week or something, instead of thirteen years. That got me curious so I said, “What are you in for?”

“Murder,” he said, and I tried to nod as nonchalantly as possible.

Still, after I’d been in the cell an hour or so, I wasn’t scared any more. Almost everybody there was too drunk or too high to be dangerous, and fairly often a guard came by to check on us or put another man in the cell. A tough looking guy who looked about fifty or so and said his name was Buddy Baines asked me what I’d got thrown in for, so I told him about the fight, but when he asked me what the fight was about, I told him it was over a woman. He laughed and seemed to like that. I wasn’t in the mood to get in any more fights about the war that night, especially in there. Buddy was in himself because of a fight in a bar. He thought for a moment after I’d told him my story and said the judge probably wouldn’t give me more than 6 months in jail, like that was supposed to make me feel better.

Buddy got talking to this slick character who’d been picked up on the counterfeiting rap. They both seemed to think he wasn’t in much trouble, since it was his first “fed” charge. “He’s better off than you are,” Buddy told me, which made me feel terrific. After a while Buddy got to talking about all the jails held been in. It sounded like he’d been in every jail in the country—and a few outside the country.

“I was in a jail in Mexico once, if you can call it that. It was more like a fuckin’ snake pit,” he said. “Down in a place called Jalapeno or some goddamn thing like that. It had a dirt floor and no shit hole, so if you wanted to take a piss you had to dig yourself a hole in the ground, right in your own goddamn cell. They didn’t serve no food there, so you either had to have somebody bring food to you or pay the fuckin’ guards a million fuckin’ pesos to do it, and all he’d bring you is some kind of shit wrapped in a moldy tortilla that made you puke. Down there, if a guard lets a man escape, he has to serve the rest of his goddamn sentence himself. But you can still get out easy enough if you slip some money into the right hands, and that’s how I got out.”

Buddy had got it into his head that every problem he had was caused by his being in Michigan. All he had to do was leave Michigan and everything in his life would be OK. That would solve everything. He kept coming back to that refrain through most of the night.

“As soon as I get out of here, I’m getting out of this goddamn state and I’m never coming back. I ain’t had nothing but trouble ever since I got here. I’m going back to California, where I should have stayed in the first place. I figure the judge’ll give me about ninety fuckin’ days, then I’m heading back.” The counterfeiter nodded like he agreed with the estimate of sentence. “There’s a little gal in Fresno I haven’t seen in a long time,” with a smile that was impossible not to understand. “And I hear there’s a lot of building going on out there now. I’ll bet I could find a job easy.”

Buddy and the counterfeiter got to talking about women, and I think I fell asleep for a while or almost asleep, but I remember when Buddy started talking about his first wife.

“She was small, but she could fight like a tiger. She was so tiny around the waist, I could take my hands and put ‘em around it just like that,” holding his hands out in a circle. “She was a helluva good looking woman, too. Damn right. She had blue eyes that could melt you or cut you up into little pieces. I still remember one time when she came in from the rain with her clothes soaked and clinging to her, and I thought, Christ, she never looked so good. She knew what I was thinkin’ as soon as she saw me, and she laughed. We sent the kids down the street to the Saturday matinee and spent the rest of the afternoon screwing. That’s when we were really getting along. We were living in Bakersfield, and I worked building houses and picked up jobs in the oil fields when there wasn’t no building going on. We were broke all the time anyway, though, with three goddamn kids to feed, and me drinking half our money away. It’s when I was drunk that we’d really fight. Christ, I’ll bet she broke more fuckin’ dishes throwing ’em at me than we did eating off ’em,” laughing. “She hated me by the time we were divorced. But do you think I wouldn’t take it all back if I could live it over again?” The counterfeiter nodded like he understood just how he felt. “You’re damn right I would. The good times made it worth every damn minute. You ain’t really living without a woman, anyway.”

He paused to let the significance of that sink in.

“Finally she got fed up with me and all my drinking. We got divorced and I got married again about five years later. Christ, was that a mistake. She was a bitch if there ever was one. We were only married a year and a half. The judge gave her the house and I didn’t even have a chance to get most of my stuff out of it. I came back one day when I thought she wasn’t home to pick up my tools. Her car wasn’t there or nothing. Only the bitch was home and she called the fuckin’ cops. Those son of a bitches came out and arrested me, and she told ’em she didn’t know who in the hell I was, that she’d never seen me before in her life. Then she asked them real sweet to make sure I didn’t get out on bail, ‘Oh, officer, I’m just so afraid he’ll try to come back and rape me,’” imitating his ex-wife’s voice. “‘I’d just be so grateful and sleep so much better knowing he was in jail,’ with the kind of look like they could come back and fuck her that night if they’d just make sure I got locked up. That’s the way she was. Shit,” laughing. “All that for a bunch of fuckin’ tools she couldn’t have used if her life depended on it.”

I started paying less and less attention to what he was saying. I was nodding off, but not quite falling asleep. Sometimes I could hear words but was too drowsy for them to mean much. Then I would wake up enough to piece them together again, like once when Buddy and the counterfeiter were talking about construction jobs they’d had up north. As they talked a sharp picture was evoked in my mind, so that I could almost smell the fresh wood, and hear the pounding hammers, and see pine woods around a half-finished house. But what they were saying faded in and out, and, closing my eyes and leaning against the wall, I withdrew inside myself. I thought about what a disgusting life I was leading, working at a job I couldn’t stand, doing work a monkey could do. I imagined myself getting killed at the plant, run down by a forklift or stabbed by one of my “brother” workers, and I felt like laughing bitterly, thinking how ironic that would be. My reason for working there had always been that I wanted to save some money. Then I’d be able to live like a drifter and go from place to place, since I thought that I could never settle down and live a normal life. But now I realized how phony that had become, how it had just become an excuse not to change and not to have to think about the future, to sit on my ass and do nothing but kill time. You don’t need that much money to live on the road, anyway, which was what I wanted to do. If I needed money somewhere, I could always get a job for a little while. I’d hardly saved a dime since I’d met Jan anyway.

And why was I living with her, I thought? There was really only one reason. We didn’t have a thing in common when we weren’t in the sack. The laughter and banter there’d been so much of between us in the beginning had about played themselves out. We were just spinning our wheels together, and I was being a real prick about it, because she was putting more hope in me than I was ever going to deliver on, even though I really hadn’t treated her all that well. But I suppose she didn’t expect me to be any better than the men in the Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn songs she listened to all the time. I decided that as soon as I got out of jail I’d leave Michigan and head out West. I’d try to get in touch with Jack and see if he wanted to go with me, and eventually I’d make it to Oregon to see Charlotte. I didn’t think I’d ever come back. I thought that maybe Jack and I could drift from place to place like Jack Kerouac, never staying in one place long enough to get into a rut or have everything seem stale. Or Charlotte could go with me, at least for a while. I wanted to be free of all ties and responsibilities. If I lived that way and the police ever did figure out what happened on October 9, 1964, maybe they’d never be able to find me.

Jail was really starting to get to me. I was getting sick of looking at all the degenerates who were in the cell with me, and I’d sobered up enough to realize how dangerous it could be in there. Lack of sleep was getting to me, too. Every time I closed my eyes to try to sleep, though, it turned out to be useless. My head just filled with things that I wanted to forget forever. I went over every detail of what happened on the night of the murder. I remembered seeing my best friend get run over by a car when I was a kid, seeing him squirm and the blood seep out from under him on the pavement, and the crowd huddling around. I remembered when I’d had the Hong Kong flu, sitting up in bed trying to eat some eggs and then vomiting. I remembered Jan coming in out of the rain, crying distractedly, saying she’d just seen someone with a baby and it had made her think of her baby who’d died. Those were the only kind of things that came into my head. But the images got more and more blurry and surreal, and then I think I did fall asleep for a little while.

When morning came breakfast was served to us. We were fed like animals in a zoo. The guard threw slices of burnt toast to us and snack size packages of Sugar Pops and Frosted Flakes, and everyone who wanted it got a cup of black coffee. All I had was the coffee and I only drank half a cup. Even that made me feel sick. A few of the prisoners made smart ass remarks as the food was passed out, and one guy imitated a pig oinking, but most didn’t say anything. The guard smiled like he was getting some perverse enjoyment out of what he was doing. I might as well have been in a pig sty.

A little later I was let out and allowed to make a phone call. Naturally, Jan was pretty upset when I told her where I was and how I’d got there, and said she’d been worried sick wondering where I was, but said she’d be right down to bail me out. I was put back in the cell, but about half an hour later was taken out again and brought to the police station in front of the jail. Jan was there waiting for me. Running up to me, she threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly. She really loved me and I felt so bad all of a sudden about wanting to run out on her that I felt like crying, even though it really bugged me that she could get to me that way.

“You fool!” she said, looking up at me with tears in her eyes. “Your face looks awful, Honey. Why in the hell did you have to get into a damn fight?”

“Let’s go,” I said. “I want to get out of here as fast as I can.”

Back at the house, I was lying on the bed, and Jan was sitting beside me. She had a damp washcloth in her hand and there was a bowl of warm water on the table beside the bed. She’d been gently washing my face around my cuts and bruises, and finally took a towel and dried the wet spots, just dabbing a little bit at a time. I’d taken some aspirin and eaten some oatmeal Jan had made for me, but I didn’t really feel any better.

“That’s enough of that,” I said.

“I’ve done about all I can anyway.” She sat up and looked at me scoldingly. “I just don’t know what to do about you. Getting into a fight.” She clucked her tongue and shook her head. “Messing up that pretty face of yours. And now you’ve got to hire a lawyer and go to court, and who knows what’ll become of you.” I didn’t reply, just stared out impassively like I didn’t even hear her. She frowned. “But I won’t talk about that if you don’t want me to. I’ll try to make you forget about it.”

She leaned down and kissed me on the lips. But I pushed her away.

“Why don’t you just leave me alone?”

She got up instantly.

“Have it your way then, you son of a bitch. Take care of yourself.” She took the rag she’d wiped my face with and threw it at me. “I try to be nice to you, and all you do is treat me like shit. You can go to hell as far as I’m concerned,” screaming the words.

She took the bowl of warm water beside the bed and threw it at me, then stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her. I heard her swear and throw things on the floor, then leave the house and drive away. What she’d handed out I deserved, but I didn’t regret the way I’d acted. I wasn’t in the mood for faking it, and I hadn’t, and now I thought it would be easier to leave.

So I dried myself off and went to sleep on the dry side of the bed. When I woke up it was late afternoon, I looked outside at the snow laced with dirt and tatters of an old newspaper, the leafless trees silhouetted against the gray sky, at the flames coming from a rusty fuel barrel in the next yard into which a man and a boy were throwing trash. Then I went into the kitchen and put a Salisbury steak TV dinner into the oven.

While the dinner was heating up, I called Jack’s aunt and uncle in Perry to see if they knew where he could be reached. But they said they hadn’t heard from him in months and didn’t have any idea where he was. Then I called Charlotte and told her I’d probably be out to see her before long. She sounded a little uncomfortable talking to me, like people do when they talk to someone they used to know well but haven’t talked to in a long time, but she said she was looking forward to seeing me, and told me to call a few days before I arrived if I did end up coming. I sat down with my TV dinner and a bottle of wine, and by the time Jan came back I’d finished that bottle and half of another, and my feelings about her had softened up. I lost all rationality and even felt a little sentimental. Jan went into the bedroom without saying a word. I followed her.

“Get the hell out of here.” We were standing on opposite sides of the bed.

“You can take this any way you want, but I’m sorry for the way I acted this morning. I was really unfair and I was really an ass. And I want to say thanks for helping me out.”

“Like hell. This is just some kind of game for you. You seem to enjoy fucking around with my mind.”

“What would I have to do to make it up to you?”

“Nothing. There’s nothing you could say or do now that would make any difference. It’s not just what happened today. It’s the whole way you treat me. I feel like our relationship is an endless one night stand.” I went around the bed over to her. “Don’t touch me. You had your last chance with me this morning. All you would have had to do is say one nice thing to me. Now get the hell away from me!” I looked into Jan’s eyes but didn’t see anything in them that made me think she wanted to give in. “I’ll move out tomorrow if you want me to,” I said.

“That’s fine by me,” and walked out of the room.

I left and didn’t come back for a couple of days, spending nights in a cheap motel, and when I did I half expected Jan to have changed the locks on the doors and thrown all my belongings out into the street. She hadn’t, though, and she was home. It was late afternoon, and she was sitting on the sofa in the living room. Some game show was on TV. The volume was on low, though, and I got the impression she wasn’t really paying attention to it. When I came in she looked over at me without surprise and without speaking, looking sad and bitter. She looked away again.

“I came back to get my stuff,” I said.

She said nothing, just looked straight ahead, but seemed absorbed by some powerful emotion.

“I’m sorry for everything, Jan. I’m sorry I couldn’t be for you what you wanted me to be. I just can’t stay—”

“Look, I’m really not interested in hearing any more of your lines,” turning toward me now. “I’ve heard enough of your B.S. to make me vomit. If you want to do something for me now, just get the fuck out of here.” But then her lips curled and it seemed she could barely keep her composure.

I really felt bad, and a tidal wave of guilt hit me for the cavalier way I’d treated her. I hated feeling it, it was like nothing compared to the guilt I felt about the murder, but I couldn’t escape it. Nevertheless, there wasn’t any comfort I could offer her now that she would accept. So I just gathered my (meager) possessions together and left without another word.

I was really down when I left Jan’s, more than I ever would have guessed, and I drove around aimlessly for hours thinking about her, going over and over things we’d said to each other and done together. I thought about those first days when I used to go into Dunkin’ Doughnuts and saw her, with her insolent smile and frazzled look. I remembered the doughnut shop framed by darkness, and the questioning look she’d given me the night I’d asked her out the first time, and wondered how out of all probability she’d come to love and then hate me. I remembered taking her to the Elvis concert and the first time we’d made love, and some of the nights we’d lain in bed all night talking. I wondered at how unlikely it was that Jan and I would have got together at all, how we couldn’t have been more different or thought about things more differently, so that the time I’d spent with her already seemed to have an unreal quality about it. And I thought about the ending and the guilt I felt, and after a while it seemed like I’d been driving down dark, deserted streets for days.

I ended up stopping at an old friend’s and asking him if I could crash at his place, but when I finally got into bed I had too much on my mind to sleep.

I cut out every story I could find on the murder after my mother threw the papers out, as soon as there was no one around me in the house that could see me and ask me what I was doing it for. I kept them in the bottom drawer of my dresser under a pile of clothes in my bedroom and took them with me when I moved out. This story came out 2 days after the murder on the front page of the Livonian:

MURDERED MAN IDENTIFIED

The man found murdered behind Sibley’s Lumber Yard on October 10 has been identified, based on a fingerprint match from FBI files. He was Milton Jaszkowski, 46, whose last known address was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He had a long police record, mostly for petty crimes: He was convicted of car theft in 1946 in Milwaukee and spent 18 months in the Wisconsin Black River State Prison. He was apparently an alcoholic with a spotty employment record and several convictions for alcohol related offenses. He had been out of touch with his family for several years. His brother, Edward Jaszkowski, of Milwaukee, said that no one in the family had seen him since 1961. He was married, to the former Rosemary Walters, from 1955-57 and had one child, a son, who lives with his mother. He had 7 brothers and sisters.

On October 12, an autopsy was performed by Dr. Aaron Ruben of the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. Seventeen stab wounds were found, including to the lungs and kidneys, and the cause of death was determined to be from exsanguination—loss of blood.

Detectives from the Michigan State Police and the Livonia Police Department are continuing their investigation of the murder.

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