An Excerpt from Phillip’s Head

Phillip’s Head

Before you even ask, yes. You are correct. The man’s name was Phillip and yes. He did have a head and yes. I did plan to shove a Phillip’s head screwdriver through said head. Feel better? Now we can move on.

It was a dreary September day when I came upon Mr. Phillip Barrington’s two-story Colonial style house in a place in Oregon I still find difficult to forget. Our first meeting was really something.

I’d been out of options for a week. A spend thrift would have been fine but my monetary habits had long been in the negatives. If I made a hundred, I spent it on the way home while owing thousands and I was happy about it. There is nothing so useful as money that isn’t yours and I had lived it up for quite a while but when my partner in identity theft was arrested I knew the creditors would be after me in a hurry. I pulled a disappearing trick from Los Angeles on up into Oregon with the help of a car I borrowed from a man who never agreed to let me borrow it. Yet my lack of funding led to a petrol deficit which plunged me into the situation of the pedestrian. When I came upon his place I had been walking for days.

If my feet and back were not throbbing to the point of crippling agony I would have continued walking. The heat was up into the high eighties or something and my body was deflated. It was time to seek mercy that I did not deserve.

I strolled up the oyster shell driveway wondering how welcoming the tenant would be. Given that these types of driveways were eco-friendly and cost effective I pictured a calm person with good sense and sound reasoning. I definitely needed such understanding at that point. My grandfather had entertained me with stories about how he had to go from house to house back in the 1940s to find whatever work he could. Most people were hospitable. So I thought I would do the same. Find a kindly neighbor and make my request. Just give me some work for a meal and possibly a bath. Oh just hand me a bar of soap and allow me access to your garden hose. That will do. Just provide a bit of relief. I’ll return a little work. At least I’ll tell them I will. No. I’m not being hunted by creditors. I’m just a poor fellow down on his luck. Let’s just have our nice little transaction and we both win and I will be on my way.

If only…

I rapped on the door twice. Despite my weary state I spun on my heels and took a long look at the property. Only I did not really look. It was one of those long nervous glances we give around ourselves when we feel a pang of anxiety or uncertainty. I spun back around to give another knock and there he was.

“Roger?”

With my fist raised to knock I paused. The man wore a look of mystery with a bushy head of dirty blonde hair, deep set blue eyes and a square jaw. He could have been respectable in a suit and tie- almost like a captain of industry or a high ranking officer of the armed services. Yet with that mess of hair, his purple turtle neck sweater and his skin tight black bicycle shorts he could not be taken seriously. Most people would have laughed at him I suppose. I just stood in awe with my fist raised to knock and my eyes focused hard on taking in what I saw like I was looking at a snake protruding up through my toilet.

The man squinted at me but not in focus. Clearly he was as out of focus as a person could get. I cannot be sure why he squinted but it caused an uneasiness which nudged me to answer his question.

“I am not Roger.”

The man eyed my fist in the air- almost as if he expected the hand to make an attempt at assault. Upon seeing this I lowered it.

“Sorry. My name is Irwin Beckerleg. I am rather out of a position for the time being and I have nothing. Not a place to sleep, no food to eat. I scavenged a bone from a farm nearby only to have a nasty chap take a shot at me with a large rifle. (I embellished a bit.) I was wondering if I might perform some work around the place here to secure a morsel of sustenance and possibly a bath.”

The man looked me up and down. I waited. He looked me up and down again. I swallowed. He shook his head.

“You’re not Roger.”

“That is correct. My name is Irwin Beck-

“What do you want?”

I hesitated. The man stared through me as if I were an hourglass with no sand.

“As I stated earlier I am looking to secure a bit of food and possibly a bath in exchange for some work around your fine place here.”

“GLADYS!!!!”

The booming sound of his voice sent me reeling backward. In my tired senseless condition I toppled down to the porch floor. I lied there transfixed. The man continued to stare outside as if I were not there. A portly woman came to the door. She took a look at the man and then ventured a glance at myself. I suppose I wore a look of confusion and shock. She took little notice.

“What is it, sir?”

“This man wants to work for a meal.”

I said “And a bath.”

“Give him some work.”

Gladys glanced at me, scowled and looked back at the man.
“Well what do you want him to do?”

“Gladys. Just put him to work.”

Gladys snorted.

“Fine. Come with me, fellow.”

I climbed my way back to my feet. My time on the floor had relieved my poor feet and back but as I rose up I paid for it when the agony returned twofold. I massaged my lower back as I walked by the man who kept standing by the door watching for as I could only discern at the time, some man named Roger.

I followed Gladys through the house to the kitchen. I smelled a fine mixture in the air. I closed my eyes. She spoke to me but I did not hear the words at first. Then she spoke again.

“Are you all right, fellow?”

“Cipollini onions.”

A long pause followed. Gladys must have been going through the routine day of the maid and her mindset had been all about going onto the next task without stopping or pausing to relax. Yet after a moment she did pause and I detected a note of intrigue in her voice when she spoke.

“Yeah.”

“Cremini mushrooms.”

A pause followed but this one was much shorter and the hint of intrigue in her voice heightened.

“Yeah.”

“Flatiron beef steak, fresh parsley, baby carrots and the sauce? No. Don’t tell me.”

I had already made up my mind about what the sauce consisted of. However I find it is always best to pause for a good bit to provide suspense to the listener. I kept my eyes closed up until the very second I gave her my guess.

“Pinot Noir. Not too heavy or sweet or light. Just the perfect balance.”

Gladys worked her own magic. She eased her eyes over to the pot on the stove. The steam emanated into the air. She turned her eyes back to me and tilted her head to induce the type of suspense to cause an amateur a great deal of doubt. Yet I stood my ground. She raised her eyebrows as if asking me if my guess was my final guess. I grinned to her and smiled with squinted eyes. She moved her eyeballs down to the left and right to test me once more. However I held my ground.

“Oh all right. Nice guessing, fellow.”

“Thank you. My olfactory sense is one admired by all who have encountered my ability. It is a genial gift from my mother and I have found it most useful. For instance if a person were to-

“Save it, fellow. Just follow me.”

I did as she instructed. We walked past a bedroom on the left and a bathroom on the right until we came to a heavy oak door just beyond a century old portrait painting of a man. The man looked to be about forty years old with black hair combed straight back and an angular tanned face. He was not smiling but something gleamed in the eyes to indicate a bit of cruel humor although I could not really say what. Art has never been my thing and moving old paintings like that is often a useless toil. My thing is money and I was here to get just that. Perhaps there was a safe around but I’d probably have to hustle my way to a few dollars out of the man’s wallet at the appropriate time. I had enough tricks up my sleeve from the old days before I got into the lucrative business of stealing identities. So I followed Gladys through the heavy door to see what was next.

She opened the door and paused.

“You first, fellow.”

I turned the corner and took a long look downward. I could see a set of concrete steps that led to well, something. There was light inside but I could not see what it revealed without taking the first step down. I looked back toward her.

“Seeing as you dwell here, I believe you should go first in order for me to feel more comfortable.”

In a frenzy of explosive movement she took hold of my wrist and flung me through the doorway. I attempted a verbal protest but it was too late. I found myself on the second step and I turned back toward her. I just knew she would close the door and lock me in.

She stood where she was with the door open.

“Go on.”

I turned to the stairs before me. I ventured to the third step down. I could see the corner of a large black object although I could not be sure what. I took a fourth step. I heard her own step behind me. I took the fifth step down. That’s when I saw it.

It had to be a sixty inch screen or maybe larger. I had never seen a TV that large. Before it sat a simple green sofa with red pillows. I felt Gladys give me another shove and so I made my way down to the floor. She walked by me and punched some buttons on the TV and then on the DVD player.

“So what am I-

“Sit down over there and watch. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

As she made her way up the stairs the screen produced an image. I looked up toward her.

“Hey. I’m not here to watch movies.”

“You got that right.”

She slammed the door. That woman was a real beast. I have never been what you would call a fighter in any way but I know that most men who have kicked me around were not half as strong as old Gladys. The woman truly frightened me. Nevertheless I let it go and took a seat on the sofa.

Ah, God.

What a relief to my aching bones. I had walked miles. I can not be sure how many miles but it had to be five or perhaps six. Six and a half maybe. The cushions of the sofa hugged my back and buttocks. I could have sat there for an eternity.

I opened my eyes. Judging by the camera work, an amateur had made the movie. A person was walking along a stretch of green land. It looked local. It was void of excitement or production quality. There was no dialogue or anything. Just a person walking. All you could hear were the footsteps in the grass.

Swish.

Swish.

Swish.

I searched for a remote to speed this thing up but I found none. I recalled how Gladys worked the machines with their buttons and used no remote. I sighed and closed my eyes again. I could feel my system settling from all that walking. I have never been a proponent for exercise but afterward I could always rest easy. I might have even nodded off for a moment. Then I opened my eyes and my relaxation vanished.

“Oh God.”

The voice spoke of insubordinate workers stepping out of line and not following rules. It was the voice of Phillip Barrington. The automatic rifle in his large hands spoke much louder than his words. My heart pumped quart after quart with a rapidity I had never experienced. I started to rise from the sofa when the rifle went to work.

“Ah!!”

I collapsed back to the sofa with a horror chilling my bones. The rifle shots tore through the body of a young man who looked to be Mexican although I cannot be sure. Back then I did not know the difference between a Mexican, a Puerto Rican, a Filipino or an Argentinian but I do now. There wasn’t much blood. Just a lot of holes and the boy went limp like a string of balloons popping.

I felt myself shutter. I no longer felt any fatigue. I knew I had to get the hell out of this mad place. I bolted up the stairs but the door opened before I could reach it.

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