Outskirts of Insanity
Jonas Quint grinned at Harry and told him that he knew. Harry hit Jonas Quint, loosened dentures; remnant social graces. Blood-crowned obscenity struck the pavement. Quint’s face left blood scratched into the alley pavement as Harry’s insanity pushed him closer to discovery.
Looking for a way out, not knowing his duality followed him only a few short steps behind, the quick and the dead lurking in haphazard destruction, Harry lunged around the corner. What to do? He had not planned to hit the man so hard, had not planned to hit him at all. If Harry had still been in control, the policeman on the beat would not have heard Jonas Quint’s scream, would not have ordered Harry to halt, would not have been chasing Harry down a crowded, spring afternoon-shoppers’ street. Harry was indefinitely middle-aged and particularly unnoticeable. This invisibility, combined with formidable powers of logic and intractability in the face of danger, were his principal professional assets. His soul was grey, as lifeless and cold as hot lead two seconds after being poured into a mold.
For the first time in Harry’s life, panic struck him, threw him bodily into Jordan’s Sport, Angle, and Hunting Establishment, an unlikely place to be for a man who, on the surface, would never have been suspected of having any idea about weapons, fish bait, jogging, or what tennis racket is right for whom. He heard the policeman yell at him once more to halt, a foreign sound heard for the very first time in the alley ten minutes before. As he turned to face the caller, people near him sensed what was coming and peeled away, ball bearings in a child’s hand puzzle, scattering in all directions, vainly seeking to reach holes too small and too far apart.
Peter Guzzman was a rookie on the Monmouth Police Force. He and his wife, April, had been married only eight months. She spent her hours glued to the television, watching police programs, learning how to worry about the dangers of her husband’s new job. Peter and April -- her nickname was Pookie -- had met in high school at a see-if-you-can-get-served party held in the back room of Harold’s Western Bar and Grill. Peter, wearing his father’s ‘good luck’ fishing hat covered with rusty, worn-out flies, and Pookie, a Mary Tyler Moore clone wrapped in her mother’s leftover cheer-leader persona, were a couple destined for an early try at the marriage-go-round. After the party, they had fallen in pristine debauchery into the back of Peter’s step-side Dodge pick-up and had decided to live happily ever after.
The bullet hit Harry in the middle of the sternum, spun him around, and sent him careening into a life-sized, cardboard display of a father and son casting their fishing lines.
Peter leaned over Harry and asked, "Hey Mister, you alright? Why’d you move on me? Don’t worry; I radioed for an ambulance -- it’s on the way!"
"Is that all he can think of?" Harry asked himself. As he was being rolled over by Peter Guzzman, he slipped his blackjack out of the special pocket in his sleeve. Although he had been dazed by the shot, the bullet-proof vest he always wore had saved his life.
Now Harry did what had to be done. "Hey, Fuck, I’m doing just fine!" He back-hand whipped the blackjack at the unsuspecting officer, crushing his nose instantly. Dragged through his face, the metal weapon collapsed the entire right side of his skull. As crushed ear and mastoid split into a bloody rage, Peter’s eyes, no longer able to see, shut for the last time.
Later Harry would ask himself why he had spoken to the policeman; it was not his nature to play tough guy or speak to a victim. He never felt that his behavior was personal.
"Alright, Harry, stand up!" he screamed at himself. With mind-over-matter determination, he managed to gain his feet and walk out the front door of Jordan’s into the five o’clock pedestrian pandemonium.
On his way to the Guzzman residence, Officer Chip Bradley asked himself why he always had to do the dirty work. "It’s true," he thought. He, outside of Peter Guzzman, was the least-experienced cop on the force, but there had to be more to it than that.
He had heard that the person picked to be the harbinger of bad tidings was usually a good friend, a relative, or the nicely-plump Santa figure every police station seemed to have sitting at the front desk. Nevertheless, Captain Ferguson had picked Chip Bradley for such jobs right from the beginning; the first time had been when old Joe Nussbaum had committed suicide by walking into the teeth of his best friend, his rebuilt Sopwith Camel.
Chip Bradley did not realize that he was always chosen for the task simply because he was one of those people everyone naturally trusted. He had a gentle, almost poetic nature; his mellow, bass-baritone voice swept over the unfortunate, providing the soothing vibrations the situation required.
Harry had made few serious professional mistakes in his career. This one, however, had nearly cost him everything, and there was still a chance it might. Like all of his ‘adventures’, the term he used to describe his work, this one had been planned with more than one way to handle the situation in the event of trouble.
Harry knew that time and oppositional mayhem were on his side. The one error he had made by losing his temper would be analyzed and corrected. The small tactical mistake would be annulled by the fact that he had meticulously covered his tracks before taking care of business at the Jay Barr Real Estate Company.
Harry boarded the Greyhound bus bound for Miami and all stops in between. He felt, for the first time since the confrontation, that he could repose into an innocuous aura of mediocrity he had created for himself as a method of securing his invisibility. The pasty, undemanding spirits of Greyhound travelers had always given him the feeling of secure banality, into which he had gladly disappeared after each job well done.
He settled back into his upholstered oblivion, and, as a small chocolate-covered hand slipped over his arm, depositing half-melted goop in his lap, instead of reaching across the aisle to engage the retreating alien and snap off its greedily-dripping tentacles, he reassured the boy’s mother that it really was not a problem; his firm’s insurance would take care of the cleaning bill, and she should just relax and enjoy the trip.
"Fat chance," he thought, "with that little rat!"
The bus made its first stop at Patsy’s Roadside Rondayvoo. Here, wearing the facade of a reluctant troublemaker, Harry would explain to the driver that, in his rush to catch the bus, he had forgotten his sample-case. Could the driver possibly radio back to the terminal?
It would take too much time for the case to be sent on to Miami, so he would catch the return bus due along in a few hours. This, Harry explained, would be a whole lot better than having to wait around for his samples. He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, feigned embarrassment gripping the muscles around his mouth as he grimaced and chagrined himself in front of the driver.
"Serves me right. I’ll have to catch a goddamn plane down to Miami. Yes, surely serves me right! No time left, you know, no time for business!"
The driver, his droll face lined with years of patience, assured Harry there would be no problem. He knew he would radio back; the staff at the terminal would look for the valise, not find it, and prepare themselves for the whining ‘Gosh, it must be here somewhere, you didn’t look hard enough’ that was sure to follow. In the men’s room at Patsy’s, Harry removed his Greyhound identity. He ditched his battered Chandler chapeau along with the faded-brown pinstriped suit he had been wearing. From his lone cardboard suitcase, he removed a traditional one-piece Air Force mechanic’s overall, a leather flight jacket, and a pair of spit-polished, patent leather boots.
After he had finished changing, he placed the two-pointed cap, slightly cocked, from the right side of his forehead to the back left side of his head, then stood at attention in front of the restroom mirror. He raised a stiff-fingered salute. Sergeant Ben Tapper, Flight Maintenance Crew Chief, U.S. Air Force, Retired. The discarded clothing and collapsed suitcase were disposed of in the trash container at the back of the restaurant.
Harry had timed the operation so that the garbage truck, which made its pick-up along the highway every Tuesday and Friday, would be pulling in for the weekend collection in approximately fifty minutes.