Chapter One: Meet the Man
His first thought was that he had to puke. Right now. A frantic head-spinning dash to the toilet aborted by a trip over the shoes he left in the doorway last night, down he went; heels-over-headover-spewings of vomit down the stairway. He slammed into the hardwood floor at the foot of the stairs with a crack to the back of the head against the windowsill, landing in a heap of hurt and smelly slop, cursing himself and groaning. Perfect. Just frikkin’ perfect. Another wonderful start to the day. One more glorious leap out of the gate into my pathetic and useless life. It’s the booze. Gotta cut down on the drinking. Then again, what good is a lonely night without a few stiff ones?
His name is Owen Fiddler. The one unique aspect of him is his absolute average-ness. Average height and normal weight, a rather plain face, not quite round and not long or angular either. No distinctive features, medium length thinning brown hair that he parts on the right. Brown (somewhat dull) eyes. He’s a little slope shouldered and his taste in clothes is just plain tasteless. Raised by his loving (but also strict and smothering) mother, he rarely saw his alcoholic libido-driven father. He’s forty-five years old, not young (as those positive mental attitude jerks he despises would have him think). He has just enough education, smarts and skills to earn a modest income.
Owen has a job that he hates with a boss that he can’t stand and co-workers that drive him mad. He had had a good wife, but she left him because of his drinking and carousing fourteen years ago, taking their one (at the time) seven year old daughter with her. Owen isn’t a mean drunk, but he has a Johnson-control problem when he gets too loose and he gets that way regularly. Those skanks at the local pub can look awful sexy and pretty through the bottom of a whisky glass. He has more bills than money and drives a twelve-year-old used car. With no good credit (except three credit cards that are always maxed out) he lives in a neighborhood that used to be nice; back before the city’s white flight took all the money out to the suburbs.
Mr. Fiddler feels cheated; cheated by society, cheated by his genetics, cheated by the government, cheated by his very life and cheated by God if there is such a thing. If there is a God, he’s doing a piss-poor job as far as he is concerned. All Owen has ever wanted is to feel happy and have a good time. As if that’s asking too much. But, noooooooo, no way, chump. Your life has to turn out like this!
It isn’t his fault that he used his absentee father as a reason to grow up addicted to feeling depressed, angry and neglected. No fault of his is the fact that he dropped out of school, hence his limited options for career choices.
Not all that bad looking, he’s still not the kind of man women get weak in the knees over from across the room. He attracts the opposite sex with lewdness, drunkenness and shrewdness. One-night stands, that’s about all he’s good for; and at that, he is very good. His single best talent is collecting panties off-guard. Yet somehow the fact that he lost the one woman he ever loved and respected for that same reason is nothing he’s ready to blame himself for. He had tried hard to control his wanderlust when they got married. One little indiscretion she catches him at, that’s all, she dumps him.
Owen doesn’t vote or get involved with even the most pertinent local political issues because it’s useless; the government is out to get him. He’s not an overt crook, but certainly no pillar of integrity, either. He operates with a set of self-first ethics, the kind of man who keeps his promises only until they become inconvenient. Again, according to him those little character flaws are no fault of his. It’s a big dog small dog world out there. Ya do what you gotta to do to get by.
Now he’s lying hurt in a pile of his own slop. He reaches up and grabs the windowsill, pulls himself off the floor and assesses the physical damage; not so bad, a couple bruises on the leg and hip. Head aching with a swelling back-of-the-noggin bruise, he staggers into the kitchen and slugs down four aspirin tablets with a half-empty glass of room temperature Mountain Dew.
He makes a perfunctory cleanup of his mess, telling himself he’ll do a thorough job later (knowing that it’s not true). He never cleans the place up until it becomes unbearable to even a slob like himself. When he finally does have to take several hours and tackle the mountains of trash, piles of dirty clothes, gigantic stacks of dirty dishes and smelly garbage, he feels cheated by the unbearable situation of his own making.
He slouches into the breakfast nook sitting-bench. Thursday morning. Another workday, another meager excuse for a living to play out. None of this is my fault. I deserve much more out of life than this. He stares at the disheveled pile of unpaid bills on the table, grimaces, bites his lip until it hurts and bangs his head back against the wall. “Ouch, shit!” He cries out, wondering in pain at his boundless stupidity for re-injuring his already injured dome. The throbbing subsides. A glance at his watch reads, seven-fifteen. Gotta get moving. Better try to force some breakfast down. Damn! Not hungry and definitely not feeling up for this. Wish I could just go back to bed and blow off the whole day.
Mumbling curses, he opens the refrigerator. He pulls out some sandwich-making stuff and assembles a bland stack of bread and cheap meats topped off with a slice of something insidiously marketed as “cheese.” Gobbles it down without tasting a thing.
Fighting the urge to upchuck again, he takes a lukewarm shower. He puts on his work clothes, forces himself out the door and into his car. Off to another meaningless day at work. Well, here we go. Back on the old not-so-merry-go-round. This sucks. Big time. There has to be a better life than this.
His cell rings. Looking at the caller ID panel, he sees it’s his one younger brother, Paize. Ugh, what does he want?
He can’t stand his brother and is envious of him with all his success and smug selfconfidence. Talk about a better life. Paize lives in an upscale neighborhood with his gorgeous loving wife and their two kids. He owns his own extremely profitable landscaping business, drives new cars and takes exotic vacations. The guy has everything and wants for nothing.
He hated him when they were young siblings, jealous of the good grades he got and the way their mother bestowed such praises on Paize for his ambition and self-motivated behavior. The little jerk would do chores around the house without his mother even asking him to!
Paize is also better looking than he is, or at least that’s how Owen sees it. Their mother had told Owen multiple times as a teenager that if he would just hold himself up straight and stop shuffling his feet, pay better attention to his personal hygiene, grooming, and the way he dresses, he could be so much more attractive. That incessant nagging was about as popular with him as is a loud fart in Sunday school.
Whereas young Owen Fiddler enjoyed lounging on the couch exercising his thumb with the remote control, his brother preferred full body workouts. Paize went to the Gym regularly, jogged, participated in sports at school and loved to ski. As a result he grew up tall and muscular, presenting a more handsome and personable countenance than his older brother.
Owen flips open the phone and says, “Yeah, hello?”
“Hey big brother, how yadoin’?” comes the irritating tenor voice, excessive with chipper as always. This early in the morning it was unbearable.
Owen says, “I’m all right. How ‘bout yourself?”
“It’s all good, everything is just great. Hey Owen, the wife, kids and I are going to stop in unannounced at Mom’s next month on her birthday for a surprise celebration. You gonna join us? We could all take her out to dinner and do something special, you know? It’s been hard on her since step-dad passed. You know how lonely she gets. It’ll cheer her up a whole bunch.” Paize paused, then added, “Sure would be good to see you, too. It’s been a while.”
“Yeah, sure, long as I don’t have to be at work. I’ll show up, I guess.”
“Great! That’s just great. Hey look, let you go. Gotta be off to the office and you’re probably on the way to work, too. Don’t be such a stranger, man. Keep in touch, okay?”
Owen’s “Yeah, for sure, thanks,” is said with as much sincerity as he can summon, which is approximately the opposite of tons. Nobody ever makes any big deal over my birthday. Sitting around with my self-estranged family, exchanging meaningless pleasantries and small talk about stuff I care nothing about, all the while taking it on the chin while Mother praises Paize for all his success and wonderful family … yeah, now that’s what I call a good time for sure!
Oh, well, put that agony off for later. Getting through another day dealing with those imbeciles at work is enough to handle for now. Five o’clock sharp I’m outta there and headed to the pub. It’s New Years Eve and my birthday’s tomorrow. Got a three day weekend coming up and I’m gonna let ‘er rip for sure! The goal of quitting time is all that Owen has to bolster him against the burden of the day.
He stops at a convenience store on the way to get a cup of coffee. Opening the creaky door, he gets out. With a squeak-accompanied shove, he closes it behind him. The door hits the car body with a clunk, bounces back open. Piece of crap car! He fiddles at the latching mechanism with the screwdriver he keeps under the seat. He slams the door shut once again with aggravated flourish. This time it stays put.
The temperature is unusually mild and pleasant for a late December day in the southern region of the Midwest. A choir of winter birds is chirping high in the rusty Oaks. The sky is clear blue and bright, spotted here and there with puffings of cumulus; an evolving canvas of composition meant to represent destiny. But Owen’s mind has no room for nature’s symphonic offerings. He does not see or hear the heavens as he strides across the several yards of asphalt toward the store door. Head down, he shuffles along with the sole intent of procuring a strong cup of java.
As he approaches the edge of the parking lot, he spots a purse lying on the sidewalk. He picks it up, opens it and gasps. Holy crap! Look at all the cash in here! He looks around in every direction. Anybody watching? No! He pulls the thick wad of bills out and stuffs it into the inside pocket of his jacket. He resists the urge to search the purse for credit cards. Nervous! Gotta get the Hell outa here! He tosses the purse back to the ground and beats it back to his car.
Door is jammed.
Damn! He scrambles around to the other side and scoots himself in. Heart racing, he scrapes his buttocks over the stick shift, snags and tears his trousers. What the … God dang it! Can I please just get a small break here already? Finally he collects himself behind the steering wheel, takes a deep breath, sees no one around and starts up the car, chuckling.
There is a God! Five thousand dollars easy, this is one lucky day! I can pay off the credit cards, catch up on all the bills and still have money left over for some serious partying. Wait, you didn’t get your coffee. Ah, to Hell with the coffee. Who needs a lift now? We’re talking Champagne tonight, baby!
Owen pulls out of the store parking lot and finishes the drive to the mill smiling, enjoying the sweet thought cadences of how he will spend this free money. Us down-on-our-luck guys don’t get a break like this every day!
He arrives at the mill, parks his car and gets out. As he walks across the graveled lot to the laborers’ entrance, an unsettling feeling comes over him. An icy undulation ripples down his spine. He is warned from somewhere in his greater being:
“There’s a price to pay for every parlor dance and play.”