section . slurs and shields
SOUTH CAROLINA, AGE 10
He shrunk in his seat. The stiff wooden chair kept him high above the ground, with dangling limbs and wooden curves that prodded his spine, his legs, his hipbones, all for the united effort of rectifying his slumping posture. His toes wiggled beneath the glass table while his fingers clutched the edges firmly. He felt a sheet of chill beneath each toe. It crept up his legs. It hurt like a churning belly ache.
“If you weren’t so stupid- Are you listening?”
He nodded. “Yes – Yes, Yes.” He stammered. Yes, father.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
His eyes lowered. At 10, shame was a powerful feeling. Its hand felt heavy as it weighed him down, and as it clutched his ribs in one hard grasp, shoving him further into his seat. He did not want to look.
“I’m talking to you.”
You? Me, he thought. How vile that sounded, like a curse or a creature set to be captured. You. What did I do, he thought as his fingers squeezed the table. He expected it to shatter but it didn’t. It was thick and strong. Father’s fingers were tucked away. He bared a hard fist. He lowered it against the table twice, each resulting in a sudden jolt, a skipped beat, and eyes clenched tight.
“Why can’t you answer these goddamn questions?! Look at me!”
He looked at him. He lifted his head and watched a pair of warm brown eyes glisten over with spite.
“Daddy?” He whimpered. “Daddy.”
“Don’t call me Daddy, you weak little-“
Mother stood at the door with her hands busily sifting through bag handles shifting one heavy weight for another. “Roger, you know it’s no use. He’s not right.”
section . motel shit
DETROIT, AGE 17
“I’m coming back.” Wicks was a short man with pudgy fingers and gray distant eyes that stared off in opposite directions as he spoke. He muttered something that sounded like shuffling leaves in a forest. Scratching his beard, he repeated it again, this time louder, with the squeaky quality Murphy was accustom to.
“I’m not leaving. I’m just picking up Jan. Do me a favor.” He said.
Murphy twisted around. He shifted in his stance and shoved his fists into the pockets of his uniform. His eyes moved quickly from the door of Room 222 then to the man’s crooked nose. It settled occasionally on the rim of Wick’s glasses. The frames were thick and dark with a marbled red and black pattern that reminded him of cheap goods. He avoided staring into the wandering eyes, either out of respect or disgust. It felt as if it might be both. Old Maeve wouldn’t like this, he thought. She didn’t like Wicks and she wouldn’t like him helping the man. Murphy quickly looked over his shoulder, eyeing first the elderly couple of Room 250, then the vacant stairway. He turned back with a frown. His fingers moved up to his face to trail along the patches of dark blonde facial hair that was struggling to grow in. Do him a favor? What could he possibly offer the man at a time like this? He shifted in his place again, then settled back to Wicks with a firm nod.
“Sure. Yeah. What is it?”
Murphy stepped back to put space between the two but Wicks quickly closed the distance and grinned up at the young man. “Good boy. Don’t let anyone in, right? None of the other gals cleaning up. My friend’s coming by. The big guy with the mustache… His name’s Russell. Just him. He’s alright. You can hand him the keys-”
“I can’t give him the keys. I can open the door though.”
“Why not?” His features changed, his eyes darted to the center then continued drifting downwards as his lips curled up into a frown.
“Well, you and Jan… You have the two keys. I’ve got the Janitorial keys. I hand you these and don’t get the rest, we can’t make copies, you see? It’s a part of Management rules. We’ve got copies for reasons. You can give me your keys if you want. I’ll hand it to the man.”
Wicks stepped back. He expected this to go easier. He nodded firmly and then looked up with a smile just as crooked and flawed as his wonky nose.
“Yeah, good. Alright.” Wicks said with a loud, boisterous laugh. “You got it, kid. Don’t let anyone in, remember.” He patted Murphy on the shoulder and walked away, limping.
Room 222 piqued his interest.
He stood idly by, awkwardly leaning over the desk of the motel’s welcome center. Within view of the room was most of the second floor terrace. He could easily peer through the foggy plastic-like window without budging from his station. No one had come by for Room 222. Not Russell, not Wick, not even Jan.
There was something exciting about waiting. It sparked a bizarre curiosity. Most days at the motel were spent rummaging through discarded belongings. It was dull, thrilling only when he found something decent to pocket for the evening like a watch, a bottle of mace, or a mystery novel. There were some residents who he would find fascinating enough to poke through their things. In Room 168, there was an old man who read detective novels with pinches of sultry romance, the type of novels that had cheesy covers that mixed damsels in distress and everything that was even remotely noir. In the TV’s VHS slot there would be a porn video. It was always gay porn. When he died Murphy cleared the room of both the novels and the porn, replacing them with a bible he had found in the trash.
Wicks wasn’t the sort of man that made snooping easy or profitable. He came and went at strange times during the day, and was never consistent. There was never a schedule that he could follow. The old man at least was predictable. He went to the diner for breakfast, a movie, a diner for lunch… a diner for dinner… anything in between was up for his imagination. All he knew about him was chronicled by a list of receipts. He was boring. Murphy was boring too. He looked down at the sign in sheet and wondered what would happen if he wasn’t so boring. If he did something excitement. If he was someone exciting. He bit his lip and smiled.
“I’ll be back in a few,” He said quickly to one of the workers. The girl was sitting back, filing her nails and glancing at the small portable television. Nothing existed beyond her soaps and her digits, so he stepped out quickly and quietly. Climbing the stairs to the second level, he scanned the area with short, sweeping glances.
A string of what-ifs surged into his thoughts. What if Wicks returned or Jan returned? What if Russell showed up? By comparison to Wick’s short stature, Russell was a large guy. He was tall with broad shoulders. Even his mustache was big. It was heavy and fluffy but bright and intolerably ginger. His knees buckled in his presence, even when Russell’s lips curled into a friendly smile. Even when his bright blue eyes twinkled with interest. Even then, the man’s presence melted him into a state of uncertainty. But this thrilled him. He knew there was a sense of danger. He knew that Wicks and Russell were not good men, that they were the type of men in fact who made a living off of being rotten and dangerous. Still, he reached for the door knob, swiped the key and opened the door to Room 222. He stepped in quickly, avoiding any lingering moment that could be seen from anyone outside. He flicked the light switch.
In a crumpled heap of twisting sheets laid Jan. Her pale white limbs were spoiled with bruises and red, and gashes that looked rough and monstrous like claws. She was tangled up in the corner with a heap of other belongings. The bed was stripped bare but blood had already soaked into the mattress. The carpet too. The walls look smeared, as if someone had attempted to wipe blood clean but left it half done. He swallowed. He turned to the door and reached for the knob but it twisted on its own. The door swung open and standing there was Russell and Wicks, each glaring at him, one with wonky eyes, and the other with a look of disappointment.
section . narc
DETROIT, AGE 22
Observations of the Night:
The room was wet and slick. Pale Blue. Walls were cold. His fingers felt chilled.
His father liked the room cold.
Bare feet, cold floors. Eyes shut. Screaming. Please. Please.
“Please, I want to get out of here! Let me out!” He grunted. His eyes opened. Bloodshot red. Red. Red. They were stabbing him. Extracting things.
“No. No. No.”
He spent the night weeping.
He spent the night shaking.
His feet were cold. He ripped his clothes off. He kicked at their heavy hands.
They stabbed him again. They choked him. They whispered repeatedly, hushing against his ears as he ripped at the stab wounds and the threads connecting them.
“Mister Murphy… relax… we’re going to give you something to help you sleep.”
Meth, Cocaine, Heroin, Oxy, Everything, Everything, Everything.
Observations (2 months later):
“Everything is itching.” Murphy mumbled. He pressed his lips against his beard and dug his teeth into the frayed fluff. “Goddamn itching… like…. Like…”
“It may take a few more months.”
“I don’t have a few more months. I have right fucking now and it’s scratching at me. Like those little bugs, those bugs under your skin. That-That-”
“You need to sit down, Murphy.”
“I need to sit down?”
“Murphy, please. Murphy-”
His hands went around the man’s neck. “Murphy.”
“Are you listening to me?” His face was turning blue. He was gasping, clawing at Murphy’s arms. Finally he let go and stumbled back until he fell to the ground. The other man held his neck in one hand, stared back with wide, wet eyes and gripped the armchair with the other hand.
“Don’t tell me what to do.” Murphy declared.
section . 1 800 MURDOCH
SEATTLE, AGE 27
It was dark, too dark to do any sort of real business with anyone, legal or not. 3am wasn’t a decent hour at all. Harvey shook his head and thought of how likely it would be that they could get any help at 3am. What he’d done wasn’t planned but he had hoped… he had hoped that there was some way out of it but at 3am? He was fucked.
“You know him?”
“What do you mean you ‘guess’?”
“Look,” Stanton shrugged his heavy shoulders. He closed his brown coat over his slender frame and looked down at his friend. Harvey was about a head shorter but his build was more athletic and impressive. You wouldn’t guess it from the nervousness behind his eyes but he was a fierce competitor on the field back in high school. Now, a life of a car salesman had rotted every ounce of strength in his muscles and every sense of confidence from his bones. He was the weakest strong man Stanton had laid his eyes on. “I know him about as much as anyone does. We’ve got a working relationship. He takes care of things. Messy things.”
“This is a little more than ‘messy things’, Stanton, it’s my whole life… it’s my livelihood. My kids-” Harvey clutched the man’s coat. “You’ve got to understand.”
“Harvey, I’m telling you he’s a professional. Top notch.”
“We’re in a shitty trailer park!”
Stanton pulled his coat away from Harvey’s hold and continued towards the trailer.
Harvey followed quickly after a couple side glances. He had never been in a trailer park, especially not at 3am and the unseedy dwellings seemed even more ghostly, though Stanton assured him that if there was ever a safe time to be here it was now.
Stanton stepped up onto the metal walkup and knocked.
“What’s his name again? Murphy?”
“Yeah, Murdoch Murphy. Try not to look him in the eyes, he’s not real good with that. Kinda smells fear too. Like a shark.” Stanton said. He smirked.
“You’re some help.” Harvey muttered.
“He’s not the kindest fellow but he’ll help you and he’s the best I know. Works for more than just the average Joe so he might need a bit of a sell from me. Just don’t chat too much. You’re the worst, Harv-”
The door swung open. The sound attracted a white cat that seemed to jump up out of the bushes. It ran up quickly to Harvey’s leg, went in and out, snaking its way through the legs of the two men before jumping up into the arms of the man at the door.
“Night.” Stanton said before warming his hands with a rub and a blow. “Can we come in?”
Murphy kept the door open and walked away to the small space before the kitchen. He sat at the table and released the cat. The creature climbed its way onto the counter and curled up into a ball. Harvey and Stanton followed in and sat at the table.
Harvey’s stomach churned.
“Yeah, a woman. In a motel near the exit to the stadium.” Stanton said. He rubbed his hands again.
Murphy laughed loudly and settled his chin into his palm. “Motel, huh? Original move there… So what does it look like? I’ve seen them all, dime a dozen like they say right? Woman in a motel room. She a prostitute? You got too rough with her is that it? Don’t answer that.” He said quickly with a grin. He didn’t like abusers.
“There’s no blood. It was… It was an overdose.” Harvey said. Stanton shot him a look and shook his head. The man shrugged and smiled weakly. Harvey continued, “She’s my mistress. I had broken things off. I’m heading out of town. New job. And…” He paused and stared down at his hands. They still smelled of her. He closed his eyes tightly and brought his face down into his hands, weeping quietly as he went on. “And I had broken it off. And I felt bad so I went to see her and when I got there she was dead. Just dead. A needle right in her arm. So I took it out and I started giving her CPR. I must have spent an hour trying or something. I felt her pulse, I swear I had but she’s dead now and I’ve got my DNA all over that room.”
“I called Russell.”
“Russell doesn’t do this anymore.”
“I know… I know… I just thought… I know it’s not your usual job.” Stanton said, meeting Murphy’s eyes.
“No… but I like a personal job every once in a while.” Murphy said as he stood up and walked to the kitchen. He rested against the counter and began to pet the white cat. It yawned and stretched, then turned to its side as he rubbed behind its ears. “I’ll do it. Leave the key to the room… I’ll call Stanton when it’s done.”
“How are you going to get rid of … of Louise?” Harvey questioned.
“You either have a conscious or you’re a morbid fuck, sir. You don’t have to worry about anything, so do yourself a favor and get yourself a nice car to celebrate that new job of yours.” Murphy smiled. It was strangely a warm smile, one with a sense of affection that was designated only to Fluffy the Cat. “Go on. Get the fuck out.”
They didn’t hesitate to stand and leave. Once they did, he lowered to the cat and kiss its back, mumbling into the fur that Daddy had to run an errand.
6 o’clock morning news: “…Fire fighters were able to control the fire but an unidentified woman was found dead. The fire department investigators say that the fire was an accident and a product of drug use as well as discarded materials. Police say that the boarded building was home to homeless youths and drug addicts. They are not sure if they can verify if the woman died of an overdose or the fire, as other homeless residents were able to escape with minimal injury. This is Hanna McClary, back to you, John.”