spaceThe number four subway train was already packed with riders when Ivan Rodney got on at the Nevins Street station in Brooklyn, It had already made fourteen other stops since leaving the beginning of the line at New Lots Avenue. He had a long way to go, fifteen stops to Grand Central Station in Manhattan, then four blocks to walk to the office on Thirty Eighth Street. Each time the train stopped he tried to inch his way farther toward the center of the car, so he could hold onto the stainless steel pole that steadied the amalgam of riders as they swayed, whenever the train leaned into its turns. He also slowly crept one hand up from his side toward his neck, to partly unzip his oven-like blue ski jacket and then pull the Daily News, which had worked its way out from under his other arm, back into a secure position, tucked over his chest. He felt jealousy for his wife, who had only to ride a bus or walk eight blocks to her salesclerk job at A&S, and reinforced this jealous image with thoughts of this morning's mailroom, stacked high with thousands of brochures that he had to get out this same Friday.
spaceIvan was experiencing that peculiar subway fellowship for the man in the army-surplus field jacket and baseball cap, who had also gotten on at Nevins Street and had also inched his way to the center of the car. He now stood at Ivan's side, at a right angle to his left shoulder. As the train passed over a short gap in the third-rail and the lights momentarily dimmed, Ivan wondered if his eyes were deceiving him as he thought he saw an ICE PICK emerge from under the field jacket and come straight toward his copy of the Daily News. Then the ripping pain in his chest both like a tearing and a seizure all at once, and he was unable to breathe, and he lost track of everything, and he DIED.
spaceThe crush of other passengers held Ivan's body upright in its place as the train roared into Grand Central. The doors opened and the outburst of charging riders pushed the body all the way over to the exit doors before it was bumped and elbowed to the floor, just as the doors were closing. A single cursing passenger fought the crush of the doors and finally extricated his leg as the train started, crept and then accelerated out of the stations The few remaining passengers, all having scrambled for the suddenly available seats, averted their eyes from the corpse on the floor, while pretending to sleep or read.
space Illinois Governor, Samuel G. Shelby, seeking reelection for a third term, was returning from a Bar Association dinner, his fourth and last speaking engagement for the day. His limousine slowed, then stopped at a dim and deserted corner of Chicago’s LaSalle Street, in the financial district. Following a whispered conversation with another man, who then walked away, the Governor's Executive Assistant, Floyd Shields, entered the Governor's car and seated himself on one of the folding jump seats, across from the Governor. "Well, Sir," he advised, “number one was TOUCHED this morning on the subway in New York City. That leaves us with only two more."
spaceWhat’s taking so goddamned long, Floyd? And how do you know the guy you were talking to didn't realize that this was the Governor's limo? Was hie the one who told you about the TOUCH in New York?"
space"No Sir, I got that information through a series of intermediaries on phone calls around lunch time. As I've assured you many times Sir, we’re extremely cautious. And when we finish the list I have another team on standby, to sanitize those who are now doing the list. So you see, you’ll have at least triple insulation. with nobody ever using real names. Only numbers, Sir. Only numbers!
space"Quick, Floyd,” the Governor urged, “we have to catch Bob’s eleven-thirty talk show. He’s interviewing that one we dug up who was Blake’s beer stealing buddy in High School. Boy! That was a find! Especially since he's a homeless wino now."
space“Yeah,” Floyd agreed, "I bet we'll knock Blake down by at least five percentage points in the polls with this one."
space"I'd feel better if you had said TEN percentage points. Stealing beer is serious stuff, Shhh, now and let me hear how Bob uses this guy to roast our beloved opposing candidate, Big Bill Blake."
spaceThe TV showed the talk show host seated behind the usual desk and to his right a shabby, dissipated and prematurely aged guest occupied the closest end of the sofa. He haltingly recalled his teenaged friendship with Shelby's opponent. "Yes, Bill and I…were good friends. We…hung out…together all the time…asshole (bleep) buddies...we were."
space“Tell us about stealing the beer,” Bob prodded.
space“Yeah, that's right…the beer. Well…Bill and I were fifteen then…and…we used to get high…every day on beer…after school...or skip school and stay drunk…in the park…all day…we never had to pay for…the beer because we…had this deal we’d…pull on the grocery stores. I’d go in a store…go to the back…near the beer refrigerator…and just goof around. Then...,Bill would show up…outside…and…take a PISS (bleep) on the plate glass window… any fruit and vegetable…stand that…might be outside.” The guest seemed to be warming to his task, beginning to enjoy it, as he became more and more animated, even standing and pretending to take a leak on the Host's desk as he gestured to show how brazenly the act had been done by Bill.
space"So…he's out there PISSING (bleep)…and…naturally the owner gets mad…as hell…and goes running outside.… That's when I'd pop the cap...like this...and chug-a-lug a bottle of beer…and…set the empty back in...the refrigerator…fast as that…before he could even get…back inside. Then I'd…walk out of the store just as calm as you please…knowing that...guy was...studying me all over…sure that I had stolen something...but there was…NOTHING TO SEE! Next store...was my turn to…take the PISS (bleep) and Bill’d get his bottle of beer…and on and on...till we'd be stoned. Then...we’d go to the park and PISS (bleep) in the bushes…you know…how beer makes you go.”
space“So the man who wants to be our governor was a beer thief,” Bob announced pompously, “and it seems he was also fond of exposing himself on the City's streets, all as reported by our friend here. We'll be happy to give Blake equal time, at some point, but I know our Governor, Sam Shelby would never do anything as disgusting as the things we've just heard about Bill Blake!”
space“Smiling confidently, Governor Shelby jabbed the “off” button on the TV and again directed his attention to Floyd, “You see how important your assignments are? That guy on the subway this morning, seems like a nobody doesn't it? “Well, let me tell you. It was back in the Army, thirty years ago, We shared a pup tent on maneuvers. One night, I don't know yet what I was dreaming, but we woke up and I was hugging and kissing him, the same as if he had been a woman. Now can you imagine how that would have sounded on a talk show! The only way to assure victory these days is to clean up all loose ends and get the goods on the other guy. Never leave anything to chance that can be controlled! How many shows did you get that wino booked on, to tell about the beer stealing?”
space“Three more, Sir.”
space“O.K., but five would have been better. It’s only three weeks to Election Day, so we’ve got to concentrate our stuff now and give it lots of repetition."
spaceIn Springfield Illinois, Governor Shelby's hometown, Irma McCrory lingered over the jello dessert in the dining room of the home for the aged where she lived. She was hoping for a little more stimulating conversation from the three other residents at the same table, to forestall the loneliness that was an ever-present threat. At seventy-eight years of age her mind seemed as sharp as ever and it hungered for stimulation. There never appeared to be enough interesting conversation, even though the home was populated exclusively by retired teachers. Irma consoled herself with the thought that her NIGHT would be VERY interesting, since she had convinced Mr. Woodcox a lively seventy-five year old, to sneak into her room after midnight and remain with her until almost morning.
spaceLater that night, Mr. Woodcox was especially quiet about shaving a second time in one day, particularly since it was eleven p.m. Then, dressed in only a robe and scarf, he patted on some aromatic bay rum and assayed himself contentedly in his dresser mirror. The only hindrance seemed to be the commotion and in-and-out traffic caused by the prostate attack of his next-door neighbor. After forcing himself to remain calm, and pacing up and down for an extra fifteen minutes, the ado out in the hall quieted down and he set off on his stealthy journey, to Irma’s room in the adjoining wing.
spaceIrma had been pleased that she was feeling butterflies in her stomach, reminding her of twenty or thirty years earlier, but the jittery expectancy had begun to turn into queasy anxiety before she finally heard a gentle tapping on her door. Blushing with anticipation, she quietly eased the door open, but in the half-light of the hallway she was surprised that she could not recognize the figure who quickly stepped inside her room. “Who are...was all she managed as she saw the gleam of an ICE PICK rising toward her chest and then plant itself upward, under her last rib, slightly left of her sternum. The pain was a tearing and a seizure both at the same time, and she was unable to breathe, and she lost track of everything, and she DIED.
spaceMr. Woodcox tapped several times on the door, but getting no response, he then tried gently pushing it. As he did this he could tell that there was some obstruction behind the door, so he backed away and retraced his steps down the hall. He wasn't overly surprised, and he felt he could understand the fear of the women who got cold feet at the last minute. Sometimes they were widows who had only slept with one man in their whole life. He had found that they simply wanted to be wanted, but that's all. He didn't grieve over any lost conquest, since there was very little competition for him in residence and his "dance card" was booked solid for the next several weeks.
spaceThe backs of the necks of his Chauffeur and his bodyguard were being studied carefully by Governor Shelby as his limousine turned onto LaSalle Street and cruised toward the spot to pick up Floyd. The Governor silently questioned the privacy afforded by the glass partition separating him from the driver's compartment, as he pondered when his opponent might try to substitute two of his agents for the two up front whose necks he had long since memorized, No. they'd have to come up with something better than that, he bragged to himself. Maybe they'd try to get some of those magic masks they always use on "Mission Impossible," he chuckled.
spaceIn a few moments Floyd was seated on the jump seat in front of the Governor and was giving him the report on Irma McCrory. The Governor noticed that after Floyd finished describing how Irma had been TOUCHED, he still continued to stare, as if waiting for something. Obligingly, he inquired, “What is it Floyd?” then answered himself, “I guess you're curious as to the reason McCrory had to be TOUCHED, aren’t you?”
space“Yes Sir. I must admit that it was a curious assignment, a seventy-eight year old woman. I guess it had to be something from when she was younger, like all the rest.”
space“But of course, Floyd my boy! You surely don't think that it was because I asked her for a date yesterday, and she turned me down do you? Ha! That's a funny one. That is! Yeah, you want to know, don't you. Well, I'll tell you, since the job has been done. She was my high school English composition teacher. Back in those days I was very sure about everything. I thought I knew exactly how I could handle the world, and I didn't hesitate to say so. I did some compositions about people of other religions, minorities and people from other countries that were, let's say, off-color. I never dreamed at that time that the political system would someday make me NEED the votes of those kinds of people, who, by the way, turn out to be not so bad sometimes. So, you could imagine McCrory on some talk show, spouting off about my old views! She might even have saved some of those compositions, for all I know. Simply couldn't risk it you see, with the election only two weeks away now. It's not even for my sake. The twelve million good people of this State NEED ME. You can simply look at my record to prove that. Twice as much money for education; thirty percent more for health care; improved bridges; twenty-five percent more for jobs and so on. But I'm preaching to the choir. As my Executive Assistant you prepared all those numbers for my speeches. And I’m grateful to you Floyd. Very grateful!”
space“Yes, Governor, Sir, you do have a great record, maybe the best any governor of this State ever had. There could be even bigger things in the future, according to the polls. After you win this time you probably will take a serious look at the national level, eh?”
space“One step at a time Floyd. But I want you to know I'm not overlooking your potential to fill my shoes if I move up. It wouldn't be too hard to do. First a stint as Lieutenant Governor, and then the run for the Office itself, with a lot of help from me in Washington. But that IS getting ahead of ourselves isn't it? What are you doing about that last name I gave you?"
space“We're right on it Sir. We’ll have a report for you in a few days, a week at the most. I’m sure it'll be successful, just like the others. I'll let you know as soon as it becomes a fact. But Sir, if you don't mind my saying so, it seems like OVERKILL. These aren't important people in the true sense of the word. Even more unimportant than that wino who says he stole beer with Blake. Blake can just deny he ever stole beer or anything, can't he?”
space“In one sense you're right, Floyd. The people on my list aren't important. I'd even go so far as to say they are IMPOTENT, in their own right, but they become important people because of ME! It's who I AM that has made them somebody! And that's what has to cost them. If they had become SOMEBODIES I wouldn't be able to get rid of them so easily. So you see it's their own fault, in a way. I think you can take a lesson from it…BE SOMEBODY! Don't be a nobody who once KNEW a SOMEBODY, You might have reason to regret it!”
spaceThe late October day was sunny and warm in Key Biscayne, Florida, and Adam Emerson was determined to get the very last drop of it. He stretched out on a towel on the beach of the Silver Sands Motel and only occasionally lifted his head to follow a pair of gently bobbing breasts or a sleekly curved backside. He was at constant odds with himself as to whether he was being juvenile, or acting his age of forty-five, by taking off to Florida rig ht after his divorce. He had decided on divorce one day when he realized that either his twenty-year job as a mail carrier, or his twenty-year marriage to the same woman had to go. He was unable to find other work, so he had taken the path of least resistance. At this moment he questioned whether he should have pushed his old car down from Philadelphia for these few days on a beach. He reminded himself that he had to nurse that car for several more years, until he could financially recover from the divorce. Lifting his head again while contemplating these matters, he got a spray of sand in his face from a gorgeously formed nymph with a bathing suit that merely had a suggestion for a bottom.
spaceShe jogged laughingly toward the water and continually glanced invitingly over her shoulder at Adam as she went. Impulsively, Adam leaped to his feet and, twisting through the crowded knots of bathers, followed her into the water. His mind sparkled with visions of running his hands through the little strings that made up her scanty swimsuit, as they would frolic in the water. Diving in and starting to swim under water to the place where she was treading water and waiting for him, he shortly encountered a huge man with enormous arms and legs, magnified by the water, and covered thickly with hair. The man was wearing black draw-string swim trunks and in spite of the water's distortion, Adam was sure he saw the gleam of an ICE PICK, flashing out from under the trunks, as a hairy arm seized him around the neck. He felt a ripping pain in his chest like both a tearing and a seizure and he was unable to breathe, and he lost track of everything, and he DIED.
spaceThe puncture wound in the chest allowed surprisingly little blood to escape into the clear blue-green water. The gigantic man held the corpse under water for more than five minutes so that when he released it remained submerged. Leaving the water, he laughed and played with the woman Adam had followed, caressing her around and about her string swimsuit.
spaceThe Governor’s limo slithered through a torrential rainstorm as it negotiated its way to the usual corner on LaSalle Street. At the instant that the car stopped, the Governor lowered his window and urged Floyd forward, “Come on, make it snappy, it's a Goddamn hurricane out here!” Floyd dashed from the darkened doorway where he had taken shelter and, skipping over rivulets of water, made a Grab for the door handle precisely as the Governor was pushing the door open for him. Consequently, he bumped sharply into the edge of the door and fell sideways into the torrent of water rushing crown the gutter. As he arose, soaked and dirty, the Governor eyed him with repugnance, and he crisply ordered,” Take your raincoat off and turn it inside out, so you won’t get the car seat dirty, and HURRY UP!”
spaceAfter a short report from Floyd, the Governor admonished him with, “It sure took you long enough to finish the list. The election is only three days away!”
space“Sorry Sir, but it was complicated by the subject suddenly driving to Florida, where we had to set up a whole new process from scratch.”
space“All's well that ends well, they say,” sighed the Governor, “but I'm not sure that last one was really helpful, since it took so long. But better safe than sorry, right Floyd? Now that it’s over you probably want to know why, as usual, Huh? I can see you do so I'll just end your suspense. That guy pulled me out of my burning car eighteen years ago in Decatur. I was on my way home from an office Christmas party, so naturally, I had been drinking. Way too much I should say. Anyway, it was about three o'clock in the morning, and I maybe dozed a little at the wheel, and the next thing I knew I was propped up against this guy's car and my own car was off the road, smashed into a tree and on fire. My car hadn't much gas in it so it never actually exploded, simply burned itself out while that guy was driving me to my house. I had a few bruises that Cora patched up and the cops never got a chance to find out I was drunk. I'm sure that guy saved my life!”
space"You see Floyd, years ago drunk driving wasn't like it is now. Well, hell, you remember the bill I signed two years ago, creating all those severe penalties. However, years ago it was kind of a he-man thing to do, proving you could hold you liquor, so-to-speak. I later found out where the guy lived and left money for a new suit of clothes in his mailbox, figuring he must have messed up whatever he was wearing when he saved me. Anyway, I bet he never knew my name, never would have known I became Governor unless somebody would have found him and told him. But I feel better that he’s out of the way. I thought of a few more names yesterday, but it's too late to do anything about them this time around. We’ll simply have to wing-it through Election Day, right, Floyd?”
spaceThe limousine passed through the gates of the Governor’s mansion and delivered the Governor to the front steps, at the curve of the driveway. A moment before getting out he was reassured by Floyd that he still had a lead in the polls.
spaceOn the morning of November fifth Floyd was sitting in the jump seat across from the Governor and was being bitterly reproached for the disastrous news delivered by the media projections right after the polls closed on the night of November fourth.
space“You and my campaign manager cost me the goddamned election, Floyd. I don't know how you managed it, since I really did my part well, but somehow you BLEW IT! And by fifteen percent of the vote too! What an embarrassment. Boy, you really screwed it up! I'm dead politically after a loss like this. How wrong could you be? A third grader could have done better!”
space“Let me see that morning paper you're trying to hide!” Snatching the newspaper out of Floyd's hands, Shelby grimmaced at the headline which read: “Blake humbles Shelby!”
spaceWhile the ousted Shelby was reading the news article about the election, Floyd took out his personal notebook and on a page headed, “My campaign for Lieutenant Governor” he quickly penned in the following, with an asterisk: “Shelby saw me fall into the gutter. TOUCH HIM!"
in our survey
Is there ever any way to finally judge whether one life was more important than another?
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