Alain Bontemps | Alan’s Extra Room | The Rorschach Painting | Goodtime Voice-O-Matic | The Siege of Calais | I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime | The Alton Arsenal | The Death of Alan Goodtime (other stories in the arc)
I owe my life to Alan Goodtime. I know how that sounds.
Even without some of rumors about Goodtime, that sentence sounds weird. Culty. The ramblings of a religious fanatic.
The rumors make it sound even worse. I’m not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome and Goodtime isn’t some terrible demon. He’s a man. A man who gave me a second chance.
And like me – like all men – Alan has done things that span the vista of morality. While most people never do deeds that fall outside the common range of ‘bad’ and ‘good’, Alan is simply beyond the ordinary; he has done evil things, but each one is balanced by something damn near saintly.
Again, I know how this sounds. I’ll explain.
About a year ago, I took a drive to Wyoming. I’m not completely sure what happened while I was there. I’ve read my account of the trip time and time again, but it never seems real. I remember being depressed, finding a knife. I remember contemplating using it. Then my memory gets hazy until I was on my way back to California, feeling free and fresh. And carrying a bloody handkerchief.
Since that strange breakdown, I really hit a stride. I started hanging out with my friend Tyler outside of work. We started hitting each other up for lunch and then, at Tyler’s request, multiplayer Halo. We usually do game night once a week now. It was great to finally get out of my apartment and have someone to talk to. I started hitting the town with Tyler and his wife, a semi-famous local artist, to give Tyler someone to crack the odd dick or fart joke to while his wife schmoozed. They helped reinvigorate my life. I felt younger, faster, more athletic and quick witted. I even managed to date a little here and there.
At the beginning of summer, I came into a few days of vacation time. I decided to head up to Pismo and hang out on the beach a while. Though dawn had just broken and the hot summer sun hadn’t yet burned its way through the chill of the ocean night, Pismo was far more crowded than I remembered from when I was kid. Splash Café wasn’t even open and already a line was forming. I hated to think what the lunch crowd would look like. I stopped in at a little beachside coffee shop for a cup of joe and a breakfast pastry – more a chocolate-filled tortilla than anything else – and damn near skipped down Ocean View Avenue toward the short morning waves breaking softly against the sand.
Scalding liquid sloshed onto my hand as I stopped abruptly. I barely noticed the pain; all of my attention was fixed to a familiar sign hanging over an old, wooden door. All In Good Time. The same store onto which I had stumbled in New Orleans. The store where I purchased – or, more accurately, was gifted – the journal that sparked the quest that broke my depression. My heart leapt into my chest like I had unexpectedly seen an old friend, but my legs refused to move. I was caught up in a profound case of ambivalence; part of me wanted to run into the store like it was a childhood home, part of me wanted to turn around and leave Pismo for good. I sipped my hot coffee and asserted dominance over my own body. I walked in.
“Good morning,” a softly accented voice floated to my ears as I pushed open the door. It sounded like molasses roasted pralines – sweet, dark, and rough. Like roasted pralines, I was drawn to it. But, like molasses, something bitter hid behind the thick sweetness. There was something familiar to that voice.
I rounded a corner and was met with the smiling face of the grey-clad man I had met in Ely, Nevada.
“Ah, my young friend. So good to see you again.” The grey man piled a stack of old magazines onto a table behind his ancient cash register and reached a thin finger into a bowl of pistachios.
“Yuh,” breath escaped my mouth in a half-formed word. I ate the last bite of my pastry, never looking away from the man throughout the entire chewing process. The silence had long passed into the realm of awkward. I took a sip of my coffee, peering at him over the rim. I tried again, “You’re from Ely.”
The grey man simply held my gaze, smiling.
“Yes,” he said with a single nod. “And New Orleans, though I think you were preoccupied with your antiquated treasures that day. How did the bound books work out for you?”
“Uh, good. Great, actually! The books turned out to be the memoirs of a guy who sort of came of age during Prohibition. They were everything I was looking for. The perfect American story. I’m working on editing his writings and giving them a little more narrative. Then, I’ll do some research to put things in perspective historically and politically. I’ve already started talking to an agent.” I took another sip of my coffee as I realized I was rambling. I could talk about the story all day.
The man’s smile broke into a short chuckle. “Good. I’m glad you were able to find them useful. So many of these items…,” his head turned to point off into the store, but his eyes were focused much farther away. It was the thousand yard stare that I had seen some of my ex-military coworkers lapse into at the shooting range.
“Well,” the grey man said, turning back to me, “they aren’t properly appreciated for what they can become in the hands of the right person.”
Another odd silence hung between us, the grey man’s smile now sad. I passed the empty wax paper from my tortilla to the hand holding my coffee and brushed my now empty hand on my jeans to clean it. I stepped forward and offered my hand. “I should thank you. You’re directly responsible for getting my life back on track.”
The man took my hand and shook it gingerly. “Perhaps very indirectly. That’s the magic of my business; I pick up things I feel have an energy to them – a life – and they await someone who picks up on their potential as I did.”
The grey man smiled, shedding his melancholia like a cat shaking off water. “I’m Alan. Goodtime. Are you looking for anything in particular today?”
I started to reply that I was just browsing, but realized that wasn’t exactly true. In my line of work – private security for musicians, politicians, and anyone else who had the money to hire us – I was the only employee without a firearm of my own. I was happy using one of the several pistols the company had for loaners, but Tyler kept on my ass about getting one. The difference between knowing where your bullet is going and where it’s supposed to go, he said, could be the difference between another day on the job and a body bag. Private security wasn’t as dangerous as the movies like to make it look, but it is a more dangerous job than, say, mowing lawns. I knew I should get one, I just felt the matte black Glock-knockoffs didn’t fit my style. I wanted something with a history to it, not some constant reminder of America’s gun fetish.
I told Alan as much and he led to a back room. This room held the less typical antique store findings; large machinery, knives, guns, a strangely large collection of neckties. He pulled a six shooter with a wooden grip from the gun display and handed it to me.
“If you’re looking for a piece with some history behind the hammer, this is it.”
The grip felt good in my hand, the contours just right. Not unlike the way a palm rests comfortably on a naked hip. I pulled back the hammer and ran the gun down my forearm, the cylinder spinning as it made contact with my flesh. It was smooth. As I flipped the gun over to investigate the opposite side, I noticed a brand in the metal just above the wooden grip; a small eagle perched atop a partially worn-away swastika.
“Whoa,” I said, not sure I wanted to carry around a Nazi weapon. Who knows what crimes it could have committed?
Alan seemed to catch my line of thought. “Look at the bottom of the grip.”
I did as he instructed, finding what looked like a Catholic cross with a second horizontal beam halfway up the first. I looked at Alan, squinting my eyes in confusion.
“The Cross of Lorraine. Symbol of the French Resistance. And, if you look at the cylinder, one of the grooves is stamped with the letters US. As I said, this piece may be many things but boring is not one. It’s a Smith and Wesson, so it must have began its life in service to the American military. It was likely taken by the Germans as a trinket – everybody loves to play cowboy – and then again by the French. I’m not sure how it made it back to the States, but I have a suspicion I’ve sold this very item before. Years ago.”
“That seems to be a common occurrence for you. The knife I traded you in Ely had been yours before, too.”
Goodtime nodded, not mimicking my smile. “Life seems to have a habit of moving circularly, like there are gravitational centers that we orbit, never really escaping the influence of our central body.”
In Ely, Goodtime had been upbeat. Happy. He met me while I was in a daze, helped me out, and sent me on my way. It seemed now like our roles had been reversed. I didn’t know what to say, but I felt I owed him some cheering up.
“That’s cool, though! To sell something and see it come back. Like a boomerang with history attached.”
“You make a fair point, but this is an antique shop. Items rarely make their way here through trade as did your knife. This shop functions far differently from a pawn shop; most of my inventory has found me by way of estate sales. I occasionally track things down that I see in the news, but items that become noteworthy are typically not found in the ‘From the Lighter Side’ section.” He let out a large sigh and seemed to shrink.
Goodtime’s age had previously been nebulous; was he a young man with prematurely grayed features or an old man with a youthful aura? Now, though, he looked old. His lithe but muscular body seemed to atrophy as I watched.
“I must confess, ah… What did you say your name was?”
“I don’t think I did. Ben Thompson.”
Goodtime grunted. “My shop was located in Texas ages ago and I recall meeting another Ben Thompson. Anyhow, Ben, I must confess that I’m making preparations to retire. I’m finally going to get rid of all this. Most of my inventory has been with me forever and neither I nor anyone else has found it useful. I’ll probably just dispose of it. Relics of an unimportant past. But I know you’re interested in texts, journals, stuff of that ilk. I’ll keep my eye out for items that might interest you and you can have them. Free of charge.”
“Thank you!” I said, stunned. I almost forgot I was still holding the pistol until Goodtime reached for it.
“This, however,” he said, “must be purchased. I’ll need to run a background check and all the rest of the federally-mandated nonsense. You’ll have to wait seven days to pick it up. That is, if you wanted this firearm.”
“Uh, yeah,” Goodtime was talking quickly now, jumping from point to point and throwing me off balance by changing the rhythm and tone of the conversation so abruptly. I got the impression he was embarrassed by his show of emotion and wanted to get me moving as fast as possible. “I’ll take it.”
I filled out the documents, took a numbered tag from Goodtime, and left. The way the waiting period worked out, I would pick up my new gun the day I headed back to LA for work. I walked aimlessly, thinking about Goodtime’s shop and how someone could just give up on an enterprise like that. What would he do for the rest of his years? I found myself at the beach and dug my toes into the sun-warmed sand. I walked along the surf and looked for interesting shells and flotsam. I allowed myself to be lost in a cycle of search and discovery until I began to feel hungry and the headed back to town to stand in line at Splash Café.
Maybe Alan would be free to live a life like that, I thought.
A week later, I picked up my gun and traded contact information with Goodtime. He promised to call if he found any writings with potential and I also made him promise to get in touch with me if he needed help moving any of his goods. I got back to LA and headed to the company range around 8 PM to test out my purchase. Bullets flew true to the target, the tracer rounds leaving beautiful streaks through the air like glowing meridians on a map. The gun was accurate, far more so than any I’d shot before. I almost considered walking behind the target bank to check for a magnet that drew my fire.
Satisfied, I flipped out the cylinder and dumped the spent brass in the recycling bucket.
I looked up. Tyler was walking into the range with a rifle slung over his shoulder and a broad smile on his face.
“I thought you got back tomorrow?”
We slapped our hands into a sort of handshake and touched our shoulders together in an awkward masculine hug. “No work until tomorrow, but I finally took your advice. I’m the proud owner of this beautiful thing. Wanted to take it for spin.”
“Sweet, man! I got some new goodies, too.” Tyler undid a button on his shirt and pointed to a thin layer of nylon underneath. “One of those thin Kevlar vests. Now I can wear one to keep the wife happy but not look like one of those state’s witness mafia dons from TV.”
“It’s the fashion of the summer,” I laughed.
Tyler whistled as I handed him the revolver. “Smith and Wesson, eh? Looks old.” He looked down the sights. “Looks cool, too.”
“It’s definitely both,” I said. “Look at the markings all over it: American, German, and French.”
“That’s pretty cool. You could buff out that swastika shit, I guess.”
“Not a bad idea. I mean, it’s history. But I think the eagle is enough to get the point across.”
“Yeah. Plus, you don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about you, you know? You mind if I try it out?”
I tossed him a box of ammo and he started loading them from his palm with quick movements of his thumb. It reminded me of the way my dad used to eat M&Ms and nuts in the movies.
Tyler spun the cylinder and snapped it closed with a flick of his wrist. “Hey, man,” he said, “I have to go to Cleveland tomorrow. Security for some guitarist getting inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
He fired a few rounds.
“Barstowe is supposed to be my second, but his wife is pregnant and I think he’d rather stay in California. Do you want to try to trade duties with him tomorrow?”
Tyler fired a second volley.
“That should work,” I said. “I’m doing one of those glorified chauffer jobs for some studio exec, anyway. It’ll keep Barstowe right in the center of town in case he needs to get to a hospital.”
“Cool, man. I think it’ll be fun. Good barbecue in Ohio, too.” Tyler slapped the button to bring his target to the front of his lane. It was a bad grouping. Like mine looked when I first took the job. “I don’t know, dude. You might need to do some work with the sights on that thing.”
I jabbed the button on my own lane, watching the target sheet flow like a sheet on a clothes line. I handed him the page and pointed to the all but obliterated center target. Tyler whistled again.
“Have you been practicing?”
“Nah, man. This gun just fits me, I guess.”
“Jesus. I guess so. You might want to join the next company tournament with a grouping like this.”
I told him I’d consider it, then headed home to pack for the flight to Cleveland.
We left the Cleveland Hopkins Airport in our rental sedan and headed north on Rocky River Drive. Once we left the industrial taint of the airport district behind, our drive became a peaceful one. Small to medium-sized houses lined the street, lush green grass overflowed in every lawn. Kids played outside. It was a perfect suburb, but it was hiding something. You could feel it as you looked at the lawns, something lifeless…
And then I had it. There was nothing, nothing, in any lawn. No decorations. No unused toys left strewn about the grass in a multicolored explosion of plastic. Tasteful wrought iron bars were affixed to each window large enough to admit a person. The suburb was nice, but theft hung over the town like a smoke signal.
As we neared the lake and the downtown area, the suburb decayed. First, it seemed as though upkeep was lagging a little. Then decrepit cars sat in front lawns with the hood up, dirty strip malls and convenience stores with overflowing roach traps started appearing at intersections along with tire shops with dubious guarantees and shopping carts full of old coats. The downtown area was filled with loitering young people, the type without jobs and hobbies. The type that necessitate iron bars in the suburbs. The type that gave Tyler and me a job.
Downtown Cleveland transformed, too, as we drove east. Light and color, modern architecture, and fashionable pedestrians rose from the filth like sweet cream floating to the top of fresh milk. Though impressive, I caught faint whiffs of the same smoke from the suburbs. Stronger and more numerous locks than back home in LA. Beat cops walking the streets instead of merely cruising down the avenues. I wondered if there was a current that drug untethered souls down Lake Erie from lifeless Detroit and deposited them on the bustling shores of Cleveland.
The induction went off without a hitch. We enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and the music of the ceremony, keeping our eyes roaming over the doors and the crowd. When our client had retired to his hotel with a couple “guests”, he passed us each both two drink tickets for the hotel bar. Finding the hotel drinks weak and overpriced, Tyler and I hit the streets and ended up near the water at a place called Johnny’s Little Bar. It was dark, loud, full of wooden furniture and the smell of stale beer. The kind of bar you could find anywhere. The kind of bar that felt perennially comfortable.
Our conversation meandered through order like a drunk driver weaving through traffic cones. When we came to the subject of my new revolver, the beer had loosened my tongue a bit and I told Tyler more than was probably wise about Alan Goodtime. Being somewhat inebriated himself, he didn’t question the admittedly hard to believe fact that I had met Goodtime three different times in three completely different places. He simply mumbled something about “six degrees of separation” and let me continue.
We were interrupted by a hand falling on my shoulder. I looked up to see a tall man with vaguely Asian features staring intently down at me, an empty wine glass in his hand. On the left side of his face, his Eastern looks were obscured by a large burn scar running from forehead to chin. It was clear from his uneven stubble that the follicles on the left had been damaged in the fire and no longer produced hair. He wore a nice suit, but it was rumpled beyond the mere hardships of daytime. It looked like he might have pulled it out of a duffel bag. I also noticed that the hand he clutched his drink with was concealed under a tight-fitting black glove, but the hand on my shoulder was bare.
“Did you say Goodtime?” he asked.
“Hey, look, man,” Tyler said, putting his palms out in front of him, “we’re flattered and all but you’re barking up the wrong tree, you know?”
“Alan Goodtime?” he clarified.
“No way,” I said, turning around fully. “No way! You know Alan, too?”
The man nodded, then popped a smile on his face. It appeared quickly. Unnaturally. I couldn’t tell if he was concealing it and finally allowed it to shine, or if the smile itself was disingenuous. I reminded myself that I was drunk and it might have been a perfectly normal smile.
The man held out his hand. “Name’s Yang. Come join me at my table.”
We followed Yang from the bar to a table in the corner. As we sat, he signaled to his waitress for another round.
“I have to tell you, I have motives beyond simple friendship at play here,” Yang said. He pulled a badge from the inside of his coat. “Anne Arundel PD. I’m hoping you might be able to help me out.”
Tyler raised his hand like we were in school. “Where in the blue fuck is Anne Arundel?”
“Shit,” Tyler said, shaking his head. “Pretty far from home. How does jurisdiction work again?”
“Former PD, then,” Yang spat. “Former police detective. I was let go after this,” he gestured to his scarred face. “Nice severance, but I had nothing to do. Picked up some private work.”
Tyler relaxed. “Well, hey, man, you’re in good company as an ex-cop.” He pointed at his chest, then mine, “Ex-military. Ex-student. We’re the ex-men.”
“What branch of military?” Yang asked.
“Army. Little Tyler the bullet catcher.”
“Know any pilots by the names Randon and Taylor?”
“Can’t say I do, man. I was on the ground. Backseat of the Humvee.”
“My cousin Lee was a pilot. Killed by an RPG, I think,” I threw out, the alcohol still affecting my filter. That information wasn’t relevant.
“Was that the question you wanted to ask us?” I changed the subject and sat up straighter, trying to force some sobriety back into me.
“No. Just curious is all. The question I wanted to ask… Well, it’s important to understand that Goodtime isn’t a suspect by any means. Something he sold was used in a robbery. I just wanted to see if he could point me in the direction of the buyer. Is his shop around here?”
I laughed loudly. “Maybe last month! Dude moves a lot. We’re from LA, man. Goodtime’s shop is in a beach town north of there.”
Yang’s brow wrinkled and he cocked his head to the side. “That doesn’t make sense. I got a tip his shop was in Detroit. Hired a couple kids to dig some old junk out of abandoned buildings that had been something in the ‘20s. Followed a lead to Toledo, then here.”
“He’s an antiques broker, you say,” Tyler jumped in. “Maybe he was in Detroit getting those pieces to take back to Pismo.”
Yang shook his head. “The kids said they dropped it off at a store called All In Good Time.” Yang popped that friendly smile back on his face and shrugged. “Oh well! Not important! Goodtime is just a single node in a larger net of people who can help me solve this case.”
Yang jumped a little, then slid his cell phone out of his pocket and looked at the face, his eyes jumping in delight. “Got a lead on the actual robbery suspect. Here in town. About three miles from here. Can I grab your contact info really quickly? Just in case I think of any other questions.”
We gave him our numbers and bid him good luck. Two more beers and game of darts brought us to the end of our night. We paid our tabs and drunkenly staggered back to the hotel.
Six short hours later, we were sipping strong coffee in a town car with our guitarist client. He was scheduled to appear on a few classic rock radio stations and local morning news shows. It was going to be another easy day; listen to some interesting stories about his time in Amsterdam in the ‘70s, stand behind the cameras or outside the soundbooth while he talked about his latest solo album, then grab some lunch. We dropped our client off at the airport to catch his chartered flight back to San Francisco and had the rest of the day to wait until our red eye to LAX. Tyler insisted we head to the Cleveland Museum of Art for the afternoon.
The museum was sprawling. Even a half day wasn’t enough to look at everything. Tyler strolled slowly through the Ancient Greek exhibit, using his phone to make a video for his artist wife, while I marveled at the detail in a dichromatic pottery painting. The work depicted the just and lawful King Lycurgus in the heat of murdering his wife, swept up in a frenzy of madness by spiting Dionysus. From the crazed eyes that wept as though they saw beyond the delusion to the suture marks around the king’s ankle where he had tried to mutilate himself, the painting told the entire tragic story.
My cell ringtone roused me from my inspection. An unknown number.
“Thompson,” I answered, prepared to hear the robotic voice of a sales caller.
“Mr. Thompson, it’s Detective Yang. Are you busy?”
“Not really. What do you need?”
“My partner and I located a studio apartment rented to the thief I’ve been tracking. The local police don’t find the evidence compelling, but I think he may have murdered his accomplice. He’s dangerous, is what I’m getting at. My partner had to fly back to Maryland for some family issues and I don’t feel comfortable investigating on my own. I’m not what I used to be. If you met me and aided my investigation, I’d be happy to pay you for your services.”
I glanced over at Tyler, who was still filming. “Let me talk it over first.”
“All three of us don’t need to go if your partner isn’t free. I just need somebody to watch my back.”
“Well, you’ll probably want him, then. He’s a better shot. Besides, we’re sharing a car. Hang on.”
I heard Yang start to protest as I put the phone to my chest, trying to block the microphone. Tyler was watching me by this point, aware that the call might be important, so I waved him over. I filled him in and he seemed happy to go. A little extra money was never a bad thing and our boss back in LA would be overjoyed if we had Yang go through company payment. I got back on with Yang, told him we were on our way, and started talking fees.
A scant twenty minutes later, thanks to Tyler’s bat-out-of-Hell driving, we pulled into the barren parking lot of a long-abandoned department store. We were back in the part of town where the pall of crime was so strong you could almost taste it. Yang waved at us from his car, an old, beat up Sentra that had to be of legal drinking age. The detective’s clumsy feet kicked an airline-sized bottle of cheap merlot out of the car and onto the cracked asphalt.
“That building there, the warehouse, has an apartment,” Yang said, tugging on his gloved hand. “I guess the foreman of the factory lived there when industry was good. The current property owner is renting out the space until he can find a buyer for the whole property. The current tenant matches the description of my guy. Timeline fits, too.”
“This is kind of illegal,” Tyler said. “I mean, if you’re planning on getting in. If we’re just peeking in the windows, that’s different.”
Yang nodded. “It is illegal. But I suspect you wouldn’t have agreed to come if you cared. When I was a cop, I had to follow the book to nab someone I knew was guilty. Now I don’t. Just have to be careful about not getting caught myself.”
“Just to be clear, we’re bodyguards for you. Any illegal shit you do goes back on you if we get caught. But you sure your guy is guilty?”
“Dead sure. Never been more certain.”
Tyler looked at me, raising his eyebrows as if to say, “your call”.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
“You,” Yang pointed at Tyler, “and I will go in through the front. Ben indicated that you’re the better shot and I think we’re going to have the more potential for danger. Ben, I took a quick walk around the building and noticed an open window. You’re athletic; I’m hoping you’ll be able to climb into it and meet us in the apartment?”
“I should be able to manage that. Sounds good.”
We split up. I trotted off behind the building, hurrying in case the suspect came home while we were poking around his place. I could hear Yang and Tyler working the lock out front. The window was just out my reach and, when I jumped, I could brush the edge with my fingertips but not get enough purchase to hoist myself up. I looked around for some kind of boost; a dumpster, maybe a box. But waste disposal companies didn’t usually service out of business warehouses and any boxes left over had long since been stolen by movers, the homeless, or disintegrated in the rain. The alley was empty, save for dust and food wrapper blowing lazily in the breeze.
“Shit,” I cursed, stepping back from the window to reassess my plan. There was a drainpipe running from the roof down to the alley. It looked fairly sturdy, not the typical residential sheet metal construction. Of course, the metal pipe had been there for years. It could have been completely rusted out on the inside and give way once I put my weight on it. Images of impaling myself on a piece of rusty metal ran through my head as I wrapped my hands around the dirty pipe. I walked my feet up the wall until I found a foothold in the form of a metal brace. That was all the height advantage I needed. I reached out with my left hand, my right still straining to hold me up, and grasped the window.
At that exact moment, a cry of agony escaped the apartment. I couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like Tyler.
I had to get inside to help. Mentally crossing my fingers, I pushed off from the pipe, feeling it bend against my force, and got a two-handed grip on the window. I pulled myself up, scrabbling my feet on the block wall below for assistance. I tumbled inside, decidedly ungracefully, and rolled onto my back, my hand going for the revolver inside my jacket. When my eyes finally focused, though, I was confused.
Tyler lay crumpled on the ground, unconscious. Yang stood next to him, a taser in one hand and a gun in the other. But, instead of aiming at some unseen assailant, Yang had my chest in his crosshairs.
“Gun on the ground,” Yang said, his voice sounding tired. Weary.
I pulled the revolver free with my thumb and forefinger, making sure Yang couldn’t mistake the move for an attack. I set it on the floor beside my legs and slid it over to him.
“What the fuck, Yang?”
“You know more. Simple as that.”
“What do you think, Thompson? I’m some dumb kid with a GED who has no skills outside the military?” he gestured wildly with his taser. “For the record, I tried to keep your friend out of this. He’ll leave unscathed. So will you, if you spill your goddamned beans. I want to know about Alan Goodtime. Talk.”
“I don’t know anything!” I yelled, hoping someone outside would hear me. I knew they wouldn’t, just like I knew the suspect wouldn’t come home. The apartment was bare, save for a few wooden chairs that were probably left over from the warehouse days and some empty airline bottles of merlot. This was Yang’s place. Getting us here was the plan. The endgame. He knew this section of the city was as secluded as farmland.
“Bullshit!” Yang spat, grabbing a roll of duct tape from a dusty drawer and wrapping it around Tyler. “Most people are terrified of Goodtime. They won’t even say his name. Treat him like he’s the Angel of Death. I’ve never heard of anyone who was good friends with the guy. You must be special.
“So what is it? Are you a murderer like him or is he just infatuated with you?”
“He owns a store! A fucking antique store! You’re nuts!” Hazy memories of Wyoming flashed through my mind. Was Goodtime just a simple antique merchant? Were the things I wrote true? Was I forced to murder someone by the grey man?
That was crazy. I was alone, trying to put my life together while reading that journal. No one was around to force any action.
Yang finished with Tyler and moved to me. He set my revolver and Tyler’s Glock on a dented filing cabinet behind me and told me to sit in one of the old chairs. He taped my wrists to the sides of the chair roughly, the tape so tight it slowed bloodflow to my hands and made them slowly turn white.
“Goodtime is a killer. Those military guys I asked you about? One of them murdered his entire family at Alan Goodtime’s request. No reason, no rationale. He just wanted to see the entire Taylor line end in a bloody mess.”
Yang punched me in the face, my right eyebrow swelling almost immediately. For a homeless drunk he had a mean left hook. He had a mean gleam in his eye, too. I was afraid he wouldn’t stop unless I told him something. I racked my brain to come up with a lie that would hold up to moderate scrutiny and sound good enough to get Yang off my case. He hit me again, much softer, squarely in the nose.
Yang stepped back to look at the work he had done to my face. “But murder wasn’t good enough. It had to go further. He brought the bodies back to life somehow, made Taylor stitch them together, and then let them suffer in their infernal, unnatural state. I don’t know if it’s Satanism, black magic, or some kind of high technology – and I don’t much care – but I know it’s evil. What he brings, what he is. Evil.
“And you’re going to help me find him.”
Yang moved in to pummel me again, this time working my torso and arms. He finished with a solid blow to the right side of my face again. This time I felt something crunch. Probably my zygomatic arch. I might need reconstructive surgery if I survived.
“I was investigating Goodtime then, too. A year ago when I learned about the Tayler case. I was trapped in a burning hospital after trying to save my town from the wretched creatures Goodtime conjured. That’s how I got this,” Yang gestured to the burn mark on his face. “I fell into a basement and broke my thumb; almost tore it clean off. I was in a pit of writhing limbs and dead faces. The creations Goodtime called back from Hell. I had seen Taylor’s family, so I cut my thumb off and replaced it with the living tissue from one of the twitching limbs. You do strange things when you see parts of your body missing.”
Yang pulled off his single leather glove. A shriveled, blackened digit sat dying atop purple, infected flesh. As I watched, the thumb flexed slowly downward, balling into a fist.
“See that? I’m no surgeon. I didn’t connect any tendons or blood vessels, I just sewed the fucking thing on. It shouldn’t work. This should be impossible. It’s evidence of the evil, though. If I don’t stop Goodtime, the whole planet will fall into this Hell of undeath. Of living through agonizing torture, each severed limb capable of feeling pain and squirming to escape.”
“Talk!” Yang yelled, punching me with his decaying hand. I could smell the wound, sweet like a rotting peach.
When I again said nothing, he grabbed Tyler’s gun from atop the filing cabinet. He pressed it into my abdomen so hard it hurt. It felt like a dull sword trying to pierce my skin and spill my intestines to the floor.
“I could shoot here, into the liver. You don’t want to be shot in the liver; I’ve seen it. Hard to come back from that. You either bleed out before or during surgery, or you live long enough to die from liver failure.
“No,” Yang shook his head, “we don’t want a sure death.” He moved the barrel of the gun down and to my side. “I could shoot here, but it might bounce off a rib or just graze through the flesh and take a little fat with it. Seen that, too. Fatty flesh is much more orange than you would think. Looks a little like beef fat.”
Yang sighed and centered the gun on my stomach. “This is the place to shoot. We want to start a timer. I shoot you in the guts, you could bleed out if we don’t call an ambulance. You could go into septic shock if you don’t get surgical attention. But with modern medicine, you’ll probably survive.
“Tell me,” he drew back the hammer, “about Goodtime.”
I was panicked now. Couldn’t even think, much less think straight. I said “no” for what seemed like hours.
Then, I started talking without any clue as to what my mouth was saying. “He gives me journals. Just books. I met him in Louisiana and then again in Nevada. That’s it! I barely know him!”
“What else did he give you? A saw?”
“No! Just journals.”
I don’t know why I didn’t say anything about the knife. Maybe I thought Yang would kill me if I told him, if I gave up my value as a prisoner.
“I guess I was stupid to think you’d tell me with a simple threat. Goodtime’s probably got some fix for you, huh?” Yang stepped back from me and let the gun fall to his side.
Yang hoisted the gun and shot Tyler in the stomach.
“No!” I yelled.
“Clock’s ticking, Thompson.”
I couldn’t hear Yang. Couldn’t hear his taunt. Sweat had broken out on my face as I thrashed, consumed with the thought of my best friend dying. Of having to break the news to his wife. I involuntarily tried to stand and walk to his aid, but the duct tape made it impossible and I fell back down. I had gotten off balance and kept falling backwards. My hands tried to brace me but, again, they were taped down.
I hit the corner of the filing cabinet with full force. There was a dry crunch, but no pain. The chair had splintered. I shifted my momentum to the side to take the chair to the ground, trying to put my weight behind it to break the old wood.
The chair flew apart as it hit the ground, my left wrist underneath it. Pain flared through my hand. My revolver fell from the filing cabinet and onto the floor in front of me. Could I get it?
Yang stared at me, eyes wide. I had to act before his surprise faded. I shot my injured left hand out toward my gun. It fit in my palm perfectly, just like it did back home. I lifted it and, somehow – through the pain of my shattered wrist, the swelling around my eyes – pulled the trigger.
A dark red hole appeared in Yang’s suit breast. Right over the heart. He glanced down feebly and attempted, with his mutilated hand, to staunch the bleeding. He tried to catch himself on a shelf as his knees sagged, but his agility was bleeding out on his chest. He missed the shelf and collapsed onto the floor, face down.
I stood, cradling my broken wrist and feeling my racing pulse in my face. I had to get to Tyler. I walked over to his body.
Tyler lifted his head to peer over his knees, still in a sitting position on the chair.
“Holy shit,” he said.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah,” he coughed. “Vest did the trick, I guess. Feels like I got kicked by a ninja in high heels. You want to untie me?”
I laughed. And, though it sent waves of fire through my cheek, I kept laughing. I untied Tyler and we sat for a moment to catch our breath, turned away from Yang’s body.
The chirp of my ringtone cut through the silence. Another unknown caller. Wondering what kind of shit I could get into by answering this one, I tapped the Accept button.
“Ben, it’s Alan Goodtime. I wasn’t going to take you up on your offer of help, but I’ve run into something very important. Is it at all possible for you to get to Alton, Illinois?”
What a fucking coincidence. Goodtime.
“Ben?” Goodtime asked. I realized I had been silent for far too long, lost in a land of possibilities and plans.
“Yeah. I’m in Cleveland right now. I can be there tomorrow. Hey, listen, I’m a little busy at the moment; can you call me back tomorrow morning around 8?”
I ended the call before I could hear his reply.
“Work?” Tyler asked.
“No, Goodtime. Can you call the police about this?”
“I think they’ll want to talk to you, man.”
“Tell them I had to go after something connected. If I waited, I was afraid another murderer would get away.”
“Are you going after Goodtime? I heard most of what that dude was saying and, man, he was batshit. You can’t possibly believe it.”
“Nah, it was batshit; you’re right. But something weird is going on. I think Goodtime has some answers and I think I might get them.”
I stood and headed for the front door.
“Seems dangerous, man,” Tyler called from behind me. “Cops might think you’re running.”
I knew he was right, but I also had to know what had happened to me in Wyoming. I had just proven to myself – by shooting Yang in the heart and feeling no remorse – that I was capable of the coldest murder. I needed to know if this was the first or just the latest in a long string. Goodtime had the answers.
Alain Bontemps | Alan’s Extra Room | The Rorschach Painting | Goodtime Voice-O-Matic | The Siege of Calais | I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime | The Alton Arsenal | The Death of Alan Goodtime (other stories in the arc)