From the Miasma

    August does not lend itself to cool reasoning. Heat and humidity alter senses. Fetid extremes don’t simply quicken our humors but agitate them.

   Somehow the ancients understood this. And somehow given current advances in science we today dismiss their view as archaic.

   We seek reason where none exists. When the answer fails fitting our box we prefer believing the dilemma “inexplicable.” Or worse, chop the matter down and stuff it into an approximation which mollifies us. “Close” suffices because “right” taxes us too much.

   Besides, getting it right just may upset a lot of comfortably held perceptions. Well, hidebound ones with which we’re comfortable.

   I turned my back on Quarropas at an opportune time. Ten days after arriving in Las Vegas, the sort of mayhem nobody expects erupted inside the old address. Gothic fury that became grand guignol expiation gutted quiet, leafy, genteel, pleasantly fat, happy and dull suburbia.

   Murder-suicide. Defrocked newspaperman as I am, I still see that subject as a hungry dog does a pork chop. I wish I hadn’t. I knew the victim and his killer.

   Conflicted feelings aside, it’s one of the few times I wish my byline still graced The Reporter-Dispatch, or its present regional advertorial incarnation.

   The city I left behind wasn’t immune to homicidal outbursts, but they shocked far more because of their infrequency. Long years between dead bodies, the chattering class’ incredulous gasps and of course unsubstantiated gossip. Plenty of time passed allowing memories to mercifully recede. So much so when another bloody incident occurred, the invariable summarization of the vague prior case never clearly revived it.

    Doubtlessly this one will stick vividly in communal memory. The elements contained within are similar to the kind of Third World savagery which horrifies Western audiences while confirming our belief in the innate ferocity of “those people.”  

    That the killing involved a pair of “those people” will vie with the act’s fury. When mentioned years from now, the coda shall always be “Could you expect any different from them?”

     When mother became a widow I knew it my duty to reside close to her. Intuition must’ve informed me. No way I could’ve known that father’s death began the dissolution of their cohort. In the eight years between their respective demises, none of the old gang remained. Mother joining them slammed that book.

     During this period I resided in an SRO. Proximity to mother’s apartment was unbeatable. Unfortunately, Quarropas rents, even for a box, are exorbitant on the way to extortion. Suspecting I’d spend much of my down time with her it was senseless maintaining a whole lodging for myself. Reflecting on then, I was correct. Especially towards her end.

     Mike, the victim, manned the overnight desk. Usually his shifts ran on weeknights. He must’ve switched schedules with one of the usual weekend attendants. At first I was confused. Several “Mikes” rotated through that spot. Not knowing the circumstances, who can doubt there may be some guilt within the Mike timing spared?

     Someone an organization would prefer in such an attentive position, Mike was deliberate and conscientious. His manner tempered situations, not fueled them.

     His obit gave his birthplace as Eretria some 60 years ago. A mistake. A lazy one at that. At his birth, Eretria existed as an Ethiopian province. By the time Eretria gained independence Mike had already immigrated to the United States.   

     He performed the ideal immigrant dance. The lionized one. The one which most of today’s native-born citizens might find impossible to endure. His journey encompassed and emphasized family. In doing so he and they prospered. Not in the material-crazed American way, but through appreciable living standards. His family not only practiced virtues, they also exemplified them.

     A strong man of faith, Mike frowned on us residents failing to share his temperance. I gathered he saw even the weakest drink, nursed no matter how long, as an onramp onto Perdition Highway. Yet Mike didn’t scold. He did just enough to make his displeasure felt, though hardly with any sour buzz-kill righteousness. Mike let simple glances of disapproval over his glasses suffice.

    Then it was over. Quick squalls, if those. At least for me on those late-arriving Friday nights when well-deserved cocktails sanded edgy workweeks. Perhaps my good nature bought me his patient reprieve. Or he’d conceded I was already lost on that highway and the sole recourse was to pray for my best.

    Either way, I never entered that building sloppy or slurring. Nor belligerent. No. The man who killed him, he occupied all those slots and more. Eddie. Eddie, the known commodity, was bad enough news. No one suspected how worse he’d become.

    Eddie lacked Stateside family. He was the freest of free agents from Senegal. No allegiances, no associates, just quick twitch responses. Who among us could’ve imagined it was a fuse?

    I heard he’d taken a curious path to the United States. Hadn’t he been a soccer player in Senegal? One who caught the eye of a scout always searching for young, hungry potential? Someone who could be cheaply signed and exploited then made to feel indebted for the opportunity?

    Eddie had about 10 years on me. In the Senegal of his youth, during black Africa’s transition from paternal colonialism to nationalistic despotism, doubtlessly indentured servitude in some European jerkwater seemed a giant step up. 

    Be the template of his life. See a chance, grasp at it, wind up flailing and resentful of the tease. How he settled in Quarropas is a mystery. By the time he reached town its bedroom community label no longer suited. Eddie would’ve had a shot in the Quarropas of my boyhood. The one in which he arrived aped Gotham aspirations while appropriating little of its sophistication.

    Think of rustics wearing haute couture.

    Sober, Eddie was quarrelsome, rash and adversarial. I never saw him drunk, only hung over. After the volcano had rumbled, spewed magma and flung a few boulders. Signs the villagers below never heeded.

    Also in his 60s and bespectacled, he came across as hulking. Though the years had slightly stooped Eddie’s shoulders, he remained amazingly fit. After all that occurred one can wonder whether his was a natural physique or did supplements stem time and tide and skew his self-perception?

    I suppose smaller people, weaker people, regarded Eddie as menacing. He did nothing to dispel this. However, when pressed by those of equal or greater stature, or, better, people who brushed off his tactics, he cowered, simpered and jived.

    Afterwards, he probably seethed from having yielded.

    Modest as Mike appeared, he wouldn’t have retreated from Eddie. Life had heaped plenty on his plate and he’d cleared it. The East African possibly saw the Senegalese as ultimately tiresome, not intimidating.

    Only after rumors became gossip did the extent of Eddie’s threat become widespread. Even dead, though, he retained enough beyond the grave influence to limit attributions. Except for the authorities and building management, other people quoted “preferred to remain anonymous.”

    Last day of August I had already been in Las Vegas two weeks. Anticipating Labor Day, it would’ve been a quiet weekend in Quarropas. Only stragglers who couldn’t afford or finagle shares on the Island or at the Shore likely filled the city’s bar strip. Establishments for young adults expending their youthful exuberances before responsibilities clamped down. They were accumulating the experiences we all summon later to overcome the drudgery of real life. I’d logged my hours in them, too. Funny thing is I can’t remember the instant I’d outgrown such diversions. A stubborn habitué, Eddie never realized he tarried on that stage. An old man who’d aged out but couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge his diminished role.

    Eddie had conflicts with whoever manned the early morning lobby. He didn’t just wink at the rules, he ignored them. Mostly for sneaking in afterhours visitors. I gather the usual weekend deskmen calculated enforcement against repercussions. Same thing with administration. CCTV recorded the building’s common areas. No doubt the videos were inspected on Mondays. Both obviously concluded the cure worse than the problem. Decisions which likely emboldened him.

    Eddie didn’t try sneaking in an unauthorized visitor the night he killed Mike. For whatever reason, Eddie found that evening’s bar scene particularly disappointing. Or maybe some pointed rejection made his night exceptionally galling.

    The walk back to the residence was short. Not time or distance enough to dissipate his humiliation.

    Rather than one of the expected faces, instead Mike regarded Eddie. Deep in his cups as he must’ve been, I bet Eddie went off on a paint-peeling tirade against “stupid fucking bitches!” Just the phrase which would’ve displeased a gentleman like Mike. I can hear him sighing, then trying to placate Eddie. His calming attempts could only have further inflamed the moment. With Eddie, particularly then, no recourse existed.

    He was hot. Mike’s trying to soothe him fed his flames. Eddie must’ve yelled a combination of words which jarred Mike. Inconspicuous as he behaved, he was, nonetheless, a prideful man. No way he’d let a lump like Eddie read him without responding. A reaction Eddie might’ve mistaken as “bullying.”

    The killer carried a knife. Looking back, how long had he secreted that weapon? Was it constant on his person or just defense for nights out? How close had others’ interactions with Eddie come to his flashing, much less using it? Who had dealt with Eddie now doesn’t think the same thing? Him in the wrong condition, hearing the wrong words at the wrong time could easily have inflicted Mike’s fate on another, no?

    Police confiscated that morning’s video. But someone from administration had to have also watched before surrendering it.

    Mike must’ve stood up. Drunk, angry Eddie saw the gesture as alarming. Unsheathing his knife, he reflexively stabbed Mike. Eddie not only wrenched Mike’s life away, his aggression splattered walls while steeping the floor in blood. Maybe just then Eddie’s mind cleared. Crazed as he had been, inescapable consequences became his new road. Drenched in Mike’s blood, finally calmed, Eddie left the lobby. He left a trail to the elevator.

    Wouldn’t that have been a sight if another resident had late-night munchies and ran across Eddie on the way to the vending machines? Though by that time his fever had been quenched. Still, facing a blood-soaked man holding a knife doesn’t immediately call up cool collective thinking, does it?

    Eddie reached his habitation without meeting anyone. Although his next act was sure, his steps by then were uncertain. He left blood-streaked walls along the walk to his room.

    Inside, did he take stock of his possessions, by extension his life? Who wouldn’t have? Sixty-plus years and it wasn’t much. Maybe he recalled some along ago fresh day. The kind where youthful optimism leaves zero space for pessimism or potential roadblocks. At some time don’t we all dwell on when everything waited ahead for us? Then later wonder how we got so badly detoured?

    Time between video stamps and the first fire alarm was brief. His room contained explosive materials. He quickly fashioned a device, then detonated it.

    The explosion didn’t rouse sleeping residents so much as Eddie’s howling. Had someone presence of mind, he could’ve timed how long it took for Eddie to finally die. For those residing in nearby rooms, no doubt his screams will never end.