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Exhibit 1.6.24

Valentine’s Day Fiction

 

This is an old story–written in 2003 so one of my earliest–that was homeless so I thought I might give it one today because, despite or maybe because of its youth, I’ve always had a soft spot for it. And you.

 

 

Holyhead

 

Someone died—someone important. A knife in his chest, they found him. In a frenzy brought about equally by Mr. Henry’s wealth and the circumstances of his death, Holyhead emerged after years of suffering the world’s indifference to suffering its attention and its depravity. Nobody knew who killed Mr. Henry and only one person seemed to care for the man. Not us, we were just passing through, maybe lost.

I had pulled Brett’s old truck into what was the hamlet’s only hotel while Brett slept curled in the backseat hugging our only map to his chest. The temperature couldn’t have been much above freezing because I could see Brett’s sleepy breath as I shook him awake.

“Where are we?”

“Some place called Holyhead.”

“You heard of it?”

“No, but they have a hotel.”

The old building did not look promising. A white board with the word HOTEL  in blue letters hung above the one glass door, and by its size—only three stories of white bricks glowing sickly in moon—it might easily have been a sporting goods store or a funeral home. Inside we walked through dead air to a wooden desk with an old man behind it only slightly more alive. To our left there was a couch supporting some smokers. Behind the desk there were two numbered doors and a staircase with a brass rail that had oxidized and now matched the brown carpet on the floor.

“What gives?” Brett asked the clerk before signing for our room with one, presumably lumpy, bed.

“Sir?”

“Why only the one room?”

“The reporters, sir.”

“What?”

“He said reporters, Alex.”

“What reporters?”

“Those reporters,” the old clerk pointed a shaky finger toward the smokers. They took long drags from cigarettes with one hand and held papers in the other. The wrinkled reporters sat around reading their various papers, waiting for leads, wasting their hotel rooms we might otherwise have used.

“They’re here because of Mr. Henry.”

“You heard of Mr. Henry, Alex?”

“No,” I said.

“We’ve never heard of him.”

“Maybe that’s because the reporters just got here.”

“Oh, no. They’ve been here since it happened.”

“Since what happened?”

An old man found by his maid, bleeding all over his impeccable hardwood floor. There had been no break in. The knife had come from his kitchen, and there were no fingerprints save Henry’s. There was nobody who would want to murder the old man, and nobody who would not want to, either. Bleeding to death on his floor, he must have wondered how he could have found such neutrality in extremes. And of course what he’d done to lose it.

“So who did it?”

“Nobody knows,” the old man said. “Why do you think they’re here?”

“Who do you think did it then?” I said.

“Well—”

A man named Silvershmidt who wanted to move in on Mr. Henry’s real estate deals. An illegitimate son who had, to the embarrassment of his father, taken to using Henry as a last name some months before the old man’s death. An excommunicated business associate with a taxidermy fetish. A butler cut out of the will. Only the suspects any decent person gathers if they’ve led a life worth living.

“So which one do you figure did it?” Brett asked.

“The thing is, he left everything to a girl.”

“Who?”

The clerk’s eyes looked from side to side, and he leaned in close pursing his lips but he wouldn’t whisper the name.

But the girls. The girls of Holyhead lived above a bar, and we might have met them two minutes sooner than we did if they ever bothered being at home. Brett was the one who wanted a drink, and the old clerk’s map was one straight line labeled Main Street and a dot on the right side labeled Bar. Still, we would have missed it all entirely if it hadn’t been for the neon sign above the door. We opened the door and stepped inside to find baskets full of brassieres and dresses and garbage sacks spilling out on an old rocking chair. “Hello?” we yelled as it was not inconceivable a town as precarious as Holyhead might have such a bar. But we walked into two of the bedrooms before deciding that the third one would not yield anything other than the strewn sheets and ashtrays full of candy wrappers and cigarette butts we’d already found.

Outside, the sign for the bar waited at its perch above the door. Brett was the one to find the bar’s actual entrance down a crumbling cement set of steps covered in umber leaves that had blown down from the street above. The entrance probably made perfect sense to those who had always followed their unquenchable thirst to the only bar in town, but for everyone who didn’t know the bar—but had the same thirst—the only recourse was a trip through an apartment and a walk around the building.

The bar sucked us inside with a rush of hot air. The girls sat together, the three of them laughing, sharing a bowl of pretzels, sitting on stools at the long bar on the far side of the room. There was an older man, weathered, clearly watching the girls from his table by the door. A khaki trench coat was strung over the only other chair at the table, a fedora and a half-gone beer sat in front of the grim face. As I walked past him I could see his eyes stay straight on the three of them as he brought the mug up to his lips, his eyes suddenly distorted wide in the glass, looking at me, looking at everyone. He had a meandering jaw line and receding hair, but his eyebrows were vibrant and expressive. They too were pointing at the girls.

Brett took a seat at the bar as I wandered over toward the jukebox with quarters in my pocket. Five plays for a quarter. Four selections in, the man sitting alone coughed.

“What?”

“Don’t play ‘My Light Love Leaps Lightly.’” He said it too loudly, like I was sitting across the bar with the girls, where he was looking.

“I don’t know that song.”

“Keep it that way for one more night.”

I returned to the yellowed pages of the listing, but only wanted to get up to those girls so I hit two random buttons and joined Brett at the bar. From behind me a chorus of voices yelled “My Light Love Leaps Lightly.” I was afraid to look back.

“What’s this?”

“I don’t know.”

The lyrics were gibberish: “my light love leaps lightly off the ship’s bow, my light love leaps lightly to her doom.”

“Your favorite song?” the bartender asked while running his thumbs underneath his red suspenders. He was in the classical style.

“I didn’t play it.”

He twisted the ends of his mustached, waxed, and shrugged his shoulders. “What’ll it be the?”

“Just a beer.”

“Now, if I bring it, you will admit that you ordered it, right?” The bartender guffawed and adjusted his bowtie, leaving greasy finger prints on the wings. Brett ordered a beer too and we waited. In the background the voices were building to a crescendo, taking the “My Light Love Leaps Lightly” higher and higher. The bartender brought the beers. We sat at the bar and drank them as the voices reached their apex and settled in for a long, triangle accompanied search for a nadir. “My Light Love Leaps Lightly” over and over and over, lower and lower, gone and gone.

“Did you play that?” one of the girls, I couldn’t tell which one, shouted from the other side of the bar.

“Of course,” I said. “It’s my favorite song.”

The middle girl bent over the bar to separate herself from the others and smiled. She placed a hand on one of the other’s shoulders and stepped off of her stool. Brett maybe nudged my leg on his way to entertain the remaining two girls who were still staring at the floor. The girl, that is to say the girl who was already somehow my girl, hopped on his vacated seat. She was short—eyes level with my throat—but she walked over tall and sat tall, and so she seemed tall. Dark hair fell in front of her green eyes and she smiled as if in on a joke I wanted know.

“You really love it?”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“He hates it,” she said, throwing a thumb back toward the watching man.

“Who’s he?”

“The detective.”

My girl, Samantha, summoned the bartender who winked at me as he took her order and I pulled out a bill. She was young, and her hair looked black under the neon beer signs that adorned the walls. We talked until my songs ran out. When my songs ran out I picked some more, but the jukebox played whatever the hell it wanted—odd songs, songs that only the girls admitted liking.

The girls of Holyhead were like other girls, like other murdering girls. They were not sisters exactly, but through a complicated string of death and abandonment they came to live in the same place, the apartment above, since they were too young to have been alone. Once their last caretaker died—someone’s forgotten great aunt, Samantha could not remember whose—they kept on together. I did not admit that Brett and I had been in the apartment, but she knew anyway.

“Everybody has been in our apartment..”

“Has the detective?”

“Nick? Of course. The police were there all day yesterday.”

She stood up and went to save the girls Brett talked at. Her two roommates held their hands in their laps, eyes on the floor. The three of them could have been sisters. Maybe they counted as such by that point. Brett winked. I looked at the detective. He didn’t. Samantha stayed talking with Brett and the other girls for a minute before returning with a large lime-colored purse.

“Brett said you would come up stairs.”

“He did?”

“Shouldn’t he have?”

“What’s upstairs?”

“My bed.”

We had only been in the apartment for a minute when the girls held counsel in a back bedroom. After moving a sack full of clown-covered wrapping paper off the couch, Brett and I sat down and went about picking at the yellow foam padding peaking up through the numerous tears, gashes, and popped seams of the fabric. I grabbed a newspaper out of garbage bag on the floor and scanned it out of habit. A clothing store in a place called Statesville was having a sale, a local boy had caught a record trout ice fishing, a man named Mr. Henry had been found to have no other health problems aside from the knife in his heart.

“Alex.”

“Yeah.”

“Take a look at that front page.”

I closed the paper and took a look at the first page. There between the weather forecast and a wedding announcement was a picture of our girls walking down the steps we’d walked up. That detective, Nick, was there with his hand on Samantha’s elbow. LOCAL WOMAN QUESTIONED IN HENRY MURDER. In the picture Samantha stood with her chin out, looking entirely above her escort and the wolf-eyed reporters capturing each other more than they could ever capture her.

“What do you think that means for us?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not going to kill you boys, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Samantha said leaning against the wall with a cigarette. “Come on, my bedroom.”

I gulped.

“The both of you.”

We gulped.

Back in the bedroom the two other girls were crying and putting into cardboard boxes the scattered representations of Samantha that made the room hers and not theirs. Stuffed llamas, pursed lips cut from magazines and taped to the walls, one framed photo of the three girls, her, as ever, in the middle. Samantha gestured toward the full-sized mattress, covered with a pink sheet, and together Brett and I sat down upon it awkwardly.

“Why you devils,” Samantha said. “That’s not going to help you move it.”

“Just testing,” I said.

“For weight,” Brett added.

“Can you manage?”

“Of course,” we lied.

Outside the detective leaned against the iron railing of the apartment, his face glowing blushed underneath the neon sign. His gloved hand brought a cigarette up to his mouth.

“Where you boys going with a mattress at this hour?”

“We don’t know.”

“Do you know who owns that pink sheet?”

“Oh, Nick, you know whose pink sheet that is,” Samantha said from somewhere behind us.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Brett pushed the mattress into my chest and I nearly took a tumble down the steps, would have been crushed at the bottom by a falling, pink block maybe. Might have felt just perfect maybe.

“Get moving, Alex.”

“That’s right,” the detective said. “You boys better get moving.”

We navigated the icy streets of Holyhead with our square, pink sail. Samantha led us through alleys and parks, over hills and round a pond. The occasional metallic scrape of a lighter let us know the detective followed and a game laugh and the slapping of a trench coat let us know she did too. Brett and I spit and wheezed, but never stopped the procession. The mattress stretched sinew and arched backs and the winter miles left our hands cracked and blue. Our ears burned pink; our nostrils froze round the edges. Still we never stopped. We walked past the hotel and a squadron of reporters came running when they saw that pink mattress. Everyone knew. Everyone joined, spitting and coughing until we reached, at last, the winding cobblestone drive up a hill to the only mansion in a hundred miles any old way.

Still walking backwards, I pressed my face into the pink and breathed in, leaving a burgundy circle of wetness on the sheet and the smell of lilacs in my nose. Everywhere else, too.

“A little farther,” Samantha said. “You’ll want to watch your step through the door there.”

Inside the house, its immaculate trappings remained in mourning with candles lighting a dim path to the large ballroom in back overlooking Holyhead. There, in a room with wooden floors polished until they gleamed with moonlight, Samantha told us to set the mattress down right in the middle under the skylight.

“You should go,” Samantha said to Brett.

“What about me?” I asked.

“You should stay.”

Outside, Brett told me later, the reporters nearly threw a party over the story of the murderess’s mattress and how everyone agreed the spot where we set it down was the very same where old Henry had been done in, agreed if for no other reason than it sounded like something that should be true even if it weren’t.

“I’m not going to be able to get her,” the detective muttered.

“That’s the end of it then,” a reporter said.

“The end of something.”

Inside the house, Samantha cried while we laid on the bed, a winter storm above us breaking the night. I tried to hold her but she turned her back to me. This was her house now and I imagined she would not stop imagining how she got it. Live with it instead of those other girls of Holyhead whose names I never knew. They probably stayed on in their own place passing nights in a bar where the jukebox played what it wanted to hear while up the hill someone hummed along by heart.

“Did you do it?” I asked.

That damned beautiful girl rolled to face me and maybe there’s not much mystery in any death and we sang together, “My light love leaps lightly down the mountainside, my light love leaps lightly to her doom.”

 

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