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by Phillip Ghee

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"Damn!” He spat, frozen in mid stride, he glared at the newspaper headline staring at him from the bus stop bench. He continued to walk down the street, muttering to himself and God as he chewed more than smoked the butt end of a Camel cigarette. The murder rate for the city was up and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. He was on his way to the library to pound out the latest revision his much-hyped and much-late theater script.

The wind whipped up and sent his oversized trench coat fluttering in the breeze. A few drops of rain begin to fall. A lucky drop managed to put the Camel butt out of its misery. However, the misery of its former host continued unabated.

Broadus Knowles had lived in Hollywood for close to three years now. He wanted out but some local success mixed with a self-imposed guilt due to estranged family problems kept him tethered to his post like a wild mustang relegated to a children’s pony ride farm.

 Another, “Damn!” He tried to be early enough at the library to get prime seating.  But the bums and the rejects and the misfits of society had already beaten him to the call. A well-ventilated corner seat was what he was after. He hated the smells and aromas that arose from the library yet he chose not to work from any other locale. The stench that could arise, especially in the confines of the tightly cramped computer room at midday was overpowering. Yet he was almost inexplicably drawn to it. He could sense its odors and collage of patrons, the slow onset of death.

He always carried sani-wipes to meticulously clean what he knew were the disease and germ strewn keyboards. Often he briefly considered wearing a surgical mask to guard him from the tuberculin coughing that on any given day would surround him on all fronts.

The cold crisp air held all the signs of an approaching morning storm. Perfect, he thought, he always did enjoy writing about murder while dead grey skies pissed on the lowly inhabitants below. He pulled the coat closer to him. He failed to button it but he did tie the long belt around his waist. He rubbed the stubble on his face and pulled the frayed collar of what used to be an expensive shirt. One of the nearby transients surveyed his situation and flashed him an extra scarf. Broadus affected a grimace-like smile and declined. He wasn’t about to buy anything from that man. Apparently, the old guy mistook him for one of them.

The library finally opened. All that mattered to Broadus was his extremely late script. Once seated and engaged, the words came quickly, at times too quickly. It was if the words came from another place. He sometimes felt destined to come up with every premise, plot point, coma and period. All creation would rest with Broadus. Broadus gave life and whiffed it out, at his leisure and when he deemed fit to do so.

Outside the rain was raging. Now this pleased Broadus very much as he attempted to keep tempo on the keyboard to the accompaniment of the drumming of the rain as it pelted the rooftop. The words now just flowed out automatically. His aim was to maintain the beat, the rhythm. 

Today the library was more civil than usual. The storm had affected the turn out. Half the computer stations were still vacant. The annoying jerks and those barely clinging to sanity were all absent. The rain had managed to broker an agreed upon peace. There was no cursing, no tempers flaring. The powerfully-built, well-armed security guard seemed bored with having no excuse to leave his desk. The only hint of malcontent surprisingly came from gum popping teenage school girl who rolled her eyes with contempt at Broadus, believing his rapid and rhythmic typing to be nothing more than a grandstanding fraud.

Unnerved by the sensation that he was being spied upon, Broadus, without missing a beat, went for a quick survey of the shiny-lipped adolescent. She gave him the full exhibit of her non-approving pout. Although generous layers of make-up did give her a look of approaching maturity, he could tell that if she had in fact blown out her sweet sixteen birthday candles, it must have been only a day or two ago.

He met her glaze with no emotion or surprise and then returned full attention to his symphony of words. Rejected by such a nonchalant look, the girl‘s pout now turned to incredulous open mouth surrender. As if in retaliation, she, for no clear reason, deposited the wad of gum to the back of her hand. Stubbornly she returned to her attention to her computer screen. With a free hand she eventually and absentmindedly stopped tugging at the scrunchy holding up her bountiful crest of multicolored locks. The released locks unfolded and gently parachuted down to rest upon her shoulders, to the delight of no one.

Amazingly, almost simultaneously in conjunction with the let up of the rain, Broadus tapped out the final words of his script. He gave the concluding unraveling of the murder mystery a once over. Satisfied that the logic was sound, that the twist in plot was plausible as well as exciting, he defiantly clicked the save icon, rummaged through his pockets until he found his flash drive, and transferred the file.

When he paroled his vision from the now black computer screen there was no hesitation as to its next assignment. The girl. His reason for such scrutiny was academic. His earlier split second appraisal of her had pegged her as an archetype for a possible future character. He now wanted to take full inventory so he could etch a description of her to long term memory.

Usually he would be able to covertly perform such an undertaking in a matter of minutes. However, this time he was caught in mid-appraisal. She looked dead-on and fully into his eyes. Hers were full, wide and alive with color. Her nose was straight and petite, yet the hint of hawkish angularity about it announced more predator than prey. And now there was the matter of the shiny lips, not quite red, not quite pink, almost iridescent due to some cheap and flashy drugstore brand of lip gloss.

Broadus winced. His cell phone went off. Call it a cheap premonition. He already knew who the text was from: Stan Weldrite, the owner, producer and all around busybody when it came to operation of the Sutton Place Equity Theater. The text began as sharp and to the point, and then aimlessly wandered off stating and restating the same message. Come to the office immediately with the completed script. NOW! …blah, blah, blah… cost expenditures, deadlines, commitment, yada, yada,yada.

Broadus realized that Stan had reason to be upset. Over the years he and Stan had been through this sort of thing several times. He texted back: On my way, be there soon. Then he pocketed the phone and against better judgment enacted a quick peripheral look over in the direction of the girl. The girl was no longer there. He exited the library too.

Outside, a lazy sun had begun move away the gloom and show its face. Broadus felt pretty good. He searched his coat pockets for a celebratory smoke. The transient who had flashed him the extra muffler was seated on the stone wall, helping himself to what was obviously a donated bag lunch. As a toast to his success Broadus walked over to the man, establishing eye contact and offered him a smoke. The man reluctantly accepted the Camel but kept a wary eye on him. Time to move on, Broadus thought.

Broadus loved to ride the trolley but decided to walk to Stan’s office today. He needed the exercise. He trudged along the boulevards, block after block, wondering whether he might have seen the girl again if he had taken the trolley instead. He hadn’t completed his analysis of her. He started thinking about his next play, it always was the same, finish one, start another.

The storm clouds appeared again as Broadus finally reached Stan’s place. One last drag, and Broadus made his way to the back of the theater and up the stairs to the office. Stan accused Broadus of being a diva-like elitist concerned only with his own reputation. Broadus sat silent and even slightly amused as the animated Stan went through his own torch song performance. Having first issued his rebuke, Stan, now more calm, took a seat behind the thick oak desk. Broadus was just as much Stan’s bread and butter as Stan was his. Both men knew this and now Stan affected a more professor to student-type tune. He recited a complete description of the business functions of the theater.

He pulled off his glasses and leaned further over the desk. The actors, he explained, needed ample time to rehearse the script. The wardrobe department would need to be prepared for any late character developments. Then there were the sets and lighting, props, everything awaited the damned script. Stan finally finished his tirade and sat back in his chair. Broadus slipped his hand into his pocket and withdrew the flash drive. His broad smile was met with the sigh of relief from Stan. “It’s done and it’s perfect”, beamed Broadus. An excited Stan went straightway to the intercom and summoned his personal assistant. The day, the play, and their futures were once again saved.

The next morning, Broadus savored his sense of accomplishment, another job well done. Stan was right, of course. He was something of a diva, creating more drama than absolutely necessary. He looked around his pent house apartment, tidy and comfortable, a state of the art laptop on a clear glass tabletop awaited him in the corner. Beautiful furnishings, well stocked bar, professional kitchen, everything anybody could possibly want. And look at the view, all of Los Angeles sprawled before him right off of his wrap-around balcony. Why did he always have to go to a grubby library and sit among the rabble to finish these projects?

Broadus knew why. He had to leave this nest, get out of here. There was no drama in his real life. His friends didn’t inspire him. He had to become one of his characters in order to dream up the next plot, set the next scene, describe the next delicious murder, and then devise the perfect ending. He had to find his victims out there.

But today he would celebrate, take the day off. He earned it. His fee would show up on his next bank statement, in a day or two, as always. Maybe he’d plan a trip somewhere, try a library in another town. He yawned and picked the sleepy cat up from his lap, and got up. He needed to go fetch the mail, pay the bills.

He opened the door, and the newspaper was there at his feet, as usual. He had forgotten to pick it up this morning. He pulled off the rubber band and unrolled it, and looked at the front page. In horror! There, right before his very eyes, a picture of the girl. It had to be her, he knew that face, those eyes, that look. And then the headline, Murder! the seventy-second murder of the year in this city. The girl was found strangled at the trolley stop near the Sunset Boulevard library late yesterday. Broadus smiled.

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