October 31, 1934
I woke up dead this morning.
Wait. What time is it? After midnight. Shit. It wasn’t this morning. Better start over.
November 1, 1934
I woke up dead this morning. Yesterday morning. All Hallows’ Eve. Whatever you want to consider it.
Not dead tired.
Not dead drunk.
As in no pulse, no breathing, dead as a doornail dead.
I mean, I’ve woken up a lot—I assume—and who really thinks about whether they’re breathing or not? Who notices their heart’s not beating? It’s not something you’re totally aware of. It took me a while to figure it out.
It took me less time to figure out I was stark, bare-ass naked.
I guess they did that to me—whoever killed me. They must’ve stripped me. I don’t know if they wanted my clothes or my money. Or maybe they didn’t want me to be identified. But if that was the case, then why didn’t they smash in my teeth or burn off my fingerprints or cut off my face or something?
I was relatively whole—“relative” being an important part of that sentence. The first thing I remember is floating facedown. When I opened my eyes, I was staring at three beautiful women, and I thought they were angels and I was dead and floating on clouds. One was white, the second golden, and the third brown. They begged me with their eyes to come to them, and when I tried to reach them, I found water resisting me, pushing my arms back to the surface.
They were actually statues, carved from Titanic peat and painted in lifelike colors to stand out from the bottom of the swimming pool I was floating in. They craved the touch of someone other than the cabana boy who made eighty-five cents a day scrubbing the algae and grime from their crevices. They sparkled, clean, perfect, almost alive. They wanted to reach toward me—I could see it in their eyes—but instead, their hands were spread over their breasts, just barely covering up the naughty bits. I thought of the Greek Slave and wondered: How the hell do I know what that is?
I lay there for a long time, staring at the bottom of the pool and wondering how long it would take me to reach those sirens, before I realized what should have been obvious: I wasn’t breathing. I hadn’t been holding my breath; I simply wasn’t breathing at all. The red hue tinting my gaze was my own blood leaking into the pool.
Here’s the other thing: I have no idea who I am or how I got in this state. I’m keeping this journal so I can get my thoughts straight while I try to work this
Here’s what I know so far:
First of all, somebody killed me. Did I mention that already? I think I did. Anyway, after I stopped ogling those angels, I swam to the side of the pool and climbed out. One of the first things I noticed was the big gaping hole in my chest. I could stick my finger through it. I probably could’ve stuck my fist through it.
I don’t remember much about guns. Of course, that’s assuming I ever knew anything about them. But what kind of gun does something like that? I wouldn’t think a handgun would. Maybe some big, brutal hand cannon. Or a shotgun. But don’t shotgun pellets scatter? It was one solid hole.
I guess I could've sat there boo-hoo-hooing about it, but what good would that do me? Where would it get me other than still dead and sitting on the side of a pool with no memories? Dead is tough, but dead and still thinking means I’ve got a chance. I can reason my way back into the ball game.
So… somebody rubbed me out. Presumably for a reason. But they could’ve rolled me for my wallet then took my clothes, and none of it was planned. So what was the reason? Well, I aim to find that out. Let me put that in my list of questions.
1. Why did they bump me off?
I guess while I’m doing that, I’d better figure out who it was.
2. Who was the hatchet man?
Here’s the rest of what I know:
The town where I woke up, where I guess I live now, is Ganesh City. Weird name? I don’t know. Doesn’t strike a chord with me. Maybe I’m a recent transplant? I haven’t seen much of it besides the rich egg’s pool where I woke up floating facedown and the flophouse where I’m shacked up now.
Oh, yeah, the rich guy. I guess I should talk about him for a minute.
After I finished fingering my hole, I went for the sliding glass doors. Standing there, naked and wet, I thought about praying that they were unlocked. The truth is, though, if there is a Heaven, I had just come from there, or I should have. I didn’t remember anything like that: no trumpets, no babies in diapers with wings, and—sure as shit—no God to answer the prayers of a walking stiff like me. So I didn’t pray.
It didn’t matter. The doors were unlocked anyway.
As soon as I walked into the house, I knew his name: Ernst Rothering. I couldn’t’ve missed it. It was engraved on everything he owned. European. Dutch? Still not sure. His name was etched into practically everything that could have a name etched into it. Golf clubs, plaques, a big “ER” on the fireplace, pictures of him with the president of the chamber of commerce or somebody signed “To Ernst.”
The rich guy wasn’t there—thank… whoever—but I heard his dogs baying. They sounded as though they were in a kennel somewhere, not prowling around the mansion. In the hallway, old Ernst kept a trophy case full of sculling awards. In the kitchen, outside the cupboard, which would’ve been nice for a servant’s nook, and to the left of the servant’s nook, which would’ve been nice for a flat, he kept his collection of embossed wine glasses from different events, mayor’s balls and the like. He had an indoor gym and a collection of tennis racquets that would’ve beggared a small country. It struck me that he owned all the stuff you figure rich weirdos with nothing better to do would have.
There wasn’t a whole lot that indicated what he did other than schmoozing. I kept looking, but I wasn’t seeing it. Was he a publishing magnate? Owner of the Ganesh Tribune-Chronicle? Old money? Nouveau riche?
Wait a minute. Do I speak French? Je m’… Je t’… no. I guess not. Just that one word. A few phrases here and there, maybe.
I went upstairs. Rothering was way into himself. Pictures of him with his fat alderman spilling out of his shirt and his damned hell hounds splayed around him plastered every spare surface. It was a good thing the dogs were penned. I didn’t want any more holes in me than I already had.
A jarring thought hit me like a dame with a motorcar. What if I was this rich bastard? My hands jumped to my paunch, but no, right off the bat I could tell I wasn’t fat enough. Besides, I had a divot where he kept his spare tire.
A looking glass big enough to choke a whale decorated one wall of the bedroom. I took a moment to acquaint myself with… myself. Short—too bad. My complexion was white, like bleached bone, with a green tinge from the chlorine. I musta been a real pretty drugstore cowboy before, but now I just looked like a drowned rat.
I wondered briefly whether Rothering was my brother, my father, my employer… my murderer? A galaxy of thoughts flew through my head at a breakneck pace, and I couldn’t prove or disprove any one of ’em. I’d already figured out that I couldn’t remember a damn thing from before waking up in the pool.
I knew enough to look for a wallet. It was a place to start. I didn’t have a wallet. Stark naked. Things occurred to me. You know, common sense things, like a man has a wallet. But my first kiss, my last ice cream cone, even my name, my job, all that shit was gone like dust in the wind.
Damn, my brain is a jumble. Half the time, I have these facts and words, and I know what they mean, but I don’t know how to arrange them. It’s as if my brain is a string of Christmas tree lights: When the first one’s out, none of them go on, even if they work.
The bed was big enough to catch Topsy the elephant when she fell. I lay down but then worried I might disappear into it like quicksand, so I got back up. The bedroom was more utilitarian than the rest of the house but still didn’t lack all the beloved tchotchkes with his name on them that seemed to litter every inch of the mansion.
I dove into the fat man’s closet. I figured, hey, you wake up in a guy’s pool, he probably at least owes you a new suit. So I took one. What would you have done? Less? More?
The closet was like a Mexican piazza in the full bloom of spring. I half expected the swallows on their way to Cannelloni to fly over my head. The floor was inlaid with an intricate design in tile, maybe a mosaic or maybe just patterns. He had more fur coats than a man should ever need, and the walls seemed to go up and up into the stratosphere. My neck got tired from me looking at them.
I sort of held out a faint hope that some of the clothes would be a smaller size, maybe from when he had been younger, but no dice. I had to tighten one of his belts to all but the last notch to keep his pants from hanging down below my ankles.
I probably look ridiculous right now. In fact, I’m sure I do. I’ll probably have to find some new clothes once I get back on my feet.
Looking like a kid wearing his daddy’s clothes, I looked around the bedroom, figuring that was where the good dirt would be. I checked his sock drawer and stumbled across a billfold with about eight clams in it. A nice cool payday for me. I didn’t figure it was mine, but then again, better safe than sorry. I’d be kicking myself if I left my own wallet in some stranger’s mansion. A pack of Luckies rested on his vanity, too. I racked my brain for a way to justify taking them, gave up, and just stole them.
Someone flung open a door downstairs, and I heard two mooks come in the house.
I never did quite catch their names, but let’s call them X and Y. Wait, why that? Why not A and B? Eh, well, X and Y will do.
“Come on,” X, the one with the high-pitched voice, said.
“What if Rothering’s here?” Y asked. He sounded a bit like Jimmy Durante.
That was the first time I heard the old guy’s name, even though I’d read it a hundred times already in the shrine of St. Ernst. It sounded like “rote-hair-ing” not “ruther-ing” as I’d assumed. Odd. But then those Europeans are odd. Wait. Are they? I wouldn’t know. At least, I think I wouldn’t know. Or would I?
3. Who is X? Who is Y?
Not many leads. I didn’t get a good look at them the whole time they were ransacking Rothering’s place. But I was pretty sure I would recognize the voices if I ever heard them again. Isn’t it true that a baby bird knows his mother because it’s the first voice he hears? Wouldn’t that be horrifying if I thought of Mr. X and Mr. Y as my mummy-poo and daddykins because they were the first mooks I heard after I pulled my little Jesus Christ parlor trick?
“He ain’t here,” X said.
“What if he’s got dogs?” Y countered. “Or guards?”
Their footsteps stopped.
“He doesn’t have any dogs,” X said, sounding like the idea had gotten stuck up his nose.
A piercing howl broke the stillness of the night, and I heard the two terrified buffoons yelp. In my mind, I pictured them grabbing and hugging one another, like the Katzenjammer Kids in the funny papers. It probably didn’t happen, but the idea made me laugh anyway.
“Lookit all these pictures!” Y shouted, his voice rising a full octave. “He’s got hundreds of them mutts!”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” X said, audibly shaken. “You’d better go first.”
“Why do I have to go first?”
They started bickering like a pair of dames fighting over a purse at Gimbels. I kind of tuned them out at that point. I didn’t much want to get shot if they were packing heat. I had already been shot once, so it probably couldn’t hurt me much more, but it never helps to press your luck.
I figured going out the window was the best option, with hiding in the rich guy’s closet a close second. I could’ve fit a bull elephant in that closet. It was full of shoes.
How many shoes does a man need, fer Chrissakes? Maybe a pair for work and a pair for relaxing and a pair for putting on the Ritz. Who needs a rack of shoes?
Thing was, hiding in the closet would have all but boxed me in. Let’s say those latter-end-of-the-alphabet morons woulda come bursting in with guns, and it turned out I was still vulnerable to guns. Well, it woulda been curtains for me. Lot of “what ifs.” But hey, who’s going to take their life into their hands over a case of not knowing?
Life. Funny word. Wrong choice. Dislife? Ex-life? Unlife? Whatever.
So that left the window. I thought of the old sheet-rope trick but panicked because there didn’t seem to be enough time. And besides, all the sheets were silk or satin or something. Would they even hold my weight?
I flung myself at the pane. Turned out, there was a trellis, so that cut out the need for a middleman. Not only that, but the whole wall was practically full of ivy, so I could climb right to the trellis. It would probably be a tough climb, but it beat searching for enough sheets to tie together while praying they would hold.
Besides, by then, they were already at the bedroom door.
“What do you think?” X’s muffled voice wafted through the crack under the door.
“If he’s got it anywhere, he’s got it in the safe,” Y said.
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Do or die time. I grabbed two big handfuls of the ivy. With a little luck, I could just swing over to the trellis like Tarzan, Viscount Greystoke. Then a climb down, and boom, I’m done. Easy Street.
Well, it didn’t hold. Rich bastard had brand-new ivy. Brand spanking new. It didn’t even hardly stick to the wall.
I fell like a sack of wet newspaper.
Then I was lying on my back with two clumps of cheap-ass ivy in my hands, my nose in the dirt, and my neck twisted all the way around like a bowtie pasta.
“Son of a bitch.” I stood and found myself looking down at my own backside.
You ever have one of those days? One of those days where you wake up and you’re already out of cigarettes, but it doesn’t matter because it’s raining and your umbrella has a hole in it? Then, by the end of the day, sometime between when your boss handed you the pink slip and your old lady left you for your brother, nothing fazes you anymore because you’re so numb?
I may, and I may not have, but I must’ve at some point in my past life, because that’s what jumped to mind at that point. So what if my face was on backward and I was still thinking about it and able to move? That was all after being naked, wet, dead, chased, and jamming myself into some fatbody’s clothes.
I took a minute to twist my head back the right way. But then, it was twisted all the way around instead of just twisted back the way it came. I grabbed the sides of my head and got it all straight, and by that point, it had been too long.
They shot at me. Dumb bastards. They sat up there in that window and watched a man literally screw his head on straight and then took a potshot as if a bullet would do something.
I took off running.
“Hey, come back here!” X yelled.
I don’t guess they got a good look at my face, but, heck, they might’ve with all the time I sat there rotating it in different directions.
Daddy Warbucks had a hedge maze. A hedge maze! Who really has a hedge maze? Nothing Rothering owned surprised me at that point. I was waiting to trip over King Tut’s sarcoffa… sarcaca… coffin. From the wild gunshots, I figured X and Y were pursuing me even as I plunged into the bushes.
What can you say about a hedge maze? If I ever get to Vegas, I’ll put down good money that it spelled out “Ernst Rothering” if read from an aeroplane. But from on the ground and in the weeds, I just saw an unnavigable mess. I almost wished I was back in the pool, staring at those three lovelies, but there wasn’t much for it.
I would figure that with two guys, one would go in one entrance to the maze and the other would go to a different one, then they could cut off their quarry. But no. Those guys weren’t exactly Rhodes Scholars. They both chased me, coming from the same direction.
I kept hitting dead ends. But, then, you know what I did? Just went straight through it. I mean, it was a shrubbery fer Chrissakes, not a brick wall. What good even is a hedge maze unless you’re willing to go along with the illusion? I got all cut up from the briars, but compared to the scratch in my chest and the kink in my spinal column, that was small potatoes.
So after a spell, I gave them the slip. I discovered that I was in the suburbs, so to speak, of Ganesh City. I didn’t see a whole lot of green, which was strange because the rich guy’s mansion wasn’t all that far from the part of Ganesh called the Welcome Mat.
In my ill-fitting clothes, all I needed was a bindle and a glove with no fingers, and I would’ve fit in perfectly.
The Welcome Mat is a slum. They don’t call it that because it’s welcoming. They call it that because it’s where the city wipes the shit off its shoes.
Turning toward the Mat from Lionel Avenue, I was greeted by a decaying gothic archway, a relic of the last century when the Mat was a different kind of place, proclaiming it had once been called Matthew’s Parish. I was reminded of the entrance to a carnival, partly by the archway and partly by the weird smell of carnies.
The graffito was good there. Some of it was glow-in-the-dark. I ran my finger across a tag, wondering what made it glow. I stopped almost as soon as I started. It occurred to me that whatever was making it glow was not something I wanted to get on my bare hand.
The entrance had a message in Bohunk or something. I grabbed a Tribune-Chronicle from the ground to write down the words. There, I saw the date—October 31, 1934.
Of course, it’s after midnight now.
I copied the note with a piece of charcoal I found on the pavement.
Now that I’ve got this notebook, I’m going to recopy it. I’ll keep all my clues here, just in case. Never know when I might need to be reminded of something.
I don’t know if it’s important or not. The graffito was in a different language. Rothering was a foreigner. Coincidence? I think not. Here’s what it said:
PER ME SI VA NE LA CITTÀ DOLENTE,
PER ME SI VA NE L'ETTERNO DOLORE,
PER ME SI VA TRA LA PERDUTA GENTE.
LASCIATE OGNE SPERANZA, VOI CH'INTRATE.
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/braineater-jones-stephen-kozeniewski/1117077618?ean=2940148612100
Book Page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/braineater-jones-by-stephen-kozeniewski/
Author page on RAP: http://redadeptpublishing.com/stephen-kozeniewski/
When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer? What was the very first thing you ever wrote?
Wow, you don’t throw softballs, do you? Hmm, okay, I believe I was six or seven when I wrote a page-long story on my mother’s typewriter (this was back when there was such a thing) about a brontosaurus (this was back when there was such a thing) coming to grips with his long throat. As I recall it won second prize in some kind of youth writing contest. I believe the first proper novel I wrote was an early version of THE HYENA when I was about twelve. I’ve certainly wanted to be a writer since at least then.
Who is your literary hero?
Dostoevsky. Dude could do no wrong.
How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know personally?
In this book? None. I mean, I drink Old Crow and smoke Lucky Strikes like the main character, but I think of that as more of an easter egg.
Describe your main character in six words.
Dangerous dilapidated dapper dead drunk detective.
Describe the world you’ve created in six words.
Booze, ‘bangers, brains, babes, and brawling.
What scene was your favorite to write?
That’s a tough one. Um…well, I’ll tell you which one seems to be the fan favorite so far. There’s a scene set in a zombie brothel where you can mix and match dismembered limbs and torsos to create a sort of Build-A-Whore. People really seem to enjoy that part (ha!)
What scene was the hardest for you to write?
I’m also not really sure how to answer this one so I’ll go with the opinion of my fans again. There’s a really painful scene…oh, wait. I can’t really reveal that without spoiling the book. Ah, can I make one of those vague “it’s a scene where somebody loses somebody very important to them” statements?
What are you working on now?
Well, you know how I mentioned THE HYENA before as one of the first novels I ever worked on? That’s been rattling around in my brain like a pinball for oh, twenty years or so, so coming back to it is like slipping on a glove. I recently had a stroke of genius or a visit from the muse or whatever you want to call it and it occurred to me that what I had previously set up as a far-future space opera should actually take place as a first contact sort of situation on contemporary earth. Also, the main character is now a ballerina. I’m referring to the genre as “balletpunk.”
What's your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
Drink. Okay, maybe my characters are more like me than I previously copped to…
No, I’m just kidding. Of course I don’t find alcohol abuse funny. I wrote a whole book about it. I guess my favorite thing to do when I’m not writing is paint Warhammer models. One of my army…well, I hesitate to call him a “buddy”…colleagues once told me that mindless dexterous tasks are the most relaxing. So true.
Purchase links: <pending>