A work of fiction by H.B. Koplowitz
A watcher in the shadows peers into a moonlit room, where a beastly man is bending a beautiful woman across a mahogany desk. The man’s pants are at his ankles, the woman’s skirt hiked above her hips. Her panties cling to one of her pumps. His ebony cock and her alabaster thighs shimmer in the moonlight, causing the voyeur to tremble, both revolted and aroused. The beast mounts the beauty from behind, and she surrenders unconditionally, splaying her arms across the desk as if being crucified. In a primal call and response, she echoes his grunting thrusts with escalating moans. The voyeur can’t stop a tiny, anguished whimper from escaping, and feels a humiliating orgasm building irresistibly. Spasming in shame as well as pleasure, the watcher vows vengeance. A furtive fantasy has become a ghastly reckoning…
Do you really need a prologue? Especially since you don’t know how to spell prologue?
Well, I’ve read a few mystery novels, and I noticed they all seem to have prologs. I mean prologues. So I thought I’d give it a try, especially since the goal of this exercise, when I started it some 40-50 years ago, was to cram as many mystery novel cliches as I could into a single story.
No it wasn’t.
True that. Chapter One began in 1974 as my first essay for an English 101 class at Southern Illinois University in my hometown of Carbondale. I was asked to write a descriptive passage. Another section started out as my second English 101 essay, in which I was assigned to write in dialect, and I decided to try my hand at black lingo.
Smooth move, X-Lax.
As a mental exercise, I thought about turning the characters and places I’d conjured for the class assignments into a whodunit with interracial and psychosexual undercurrents. And rather than worry about an outline, I’d let my imagination guide the evolution of the characters and plot. The impetus for the story came from a BBQ restaurant/lounge on the east side of Carbondale, where I worked for a minute in the early 1970s. The owner was a beguiling ex-cop and ex-bank robber, and I was a lowly, long-haired busboy who would watch from the sidelines as smooth-talking black dudes hooked up with platinum-haired white chicks for interracial flings. So that was the core — three days in the life of a strapping black lounge owner named Blackjack Willy, and a scruffy, white, covetous, busboy named Hal.
A dubious foundation.
It remained a mental exercise until the 1980s, when the chapters that comprise Day 1 were written during a burst of creativity while I was using a Kaypro computer in Decatur, Illinois, and snorting a lot of cocaine.
But then the coke ran out, and you didn’t look at the manuscript for another decade.
In the 1990s, while using an iMac in Los Angeles, I revisited the manuscript, rewriting what I had and pushing the plot forward, halfway through Day 3, in fact. I added characters and began ex- ploring back stories, plot twists, and playful tributaries, wherever my mind would wander, and I wasn’t doing cocaine then, just cigarettes and pot. Actually, a lot of pot. But I put it away again, unable to get to the ending, and also unable to inject the story with a speck of a theme, or insight into interracial psychosexuality or anything else.
And then your parents died.
And after they passed away, in the spring of 2011 I left my journalism career in Los Angeles and moved into their condo in Boca Raton, Florida. Suddenly with lots of time on my hands, I decided to give Blackjack Willy one more try. I began to rewrite what I had yet again, and realized I had unintentionally created a fairly diverse cast of characters. I then intentionally tried to make it still more diverse, in particular by adding a strong Hispanic female character.
But it took so long to write the story that times had changed, and no matter how diverse the characters were, exaggerating stereotypes had become not just politically incorrect, but profoundly unfunny, especially coming from a straight white guy.
Indeed. And that’s what got me thinking about adding a “prolog” to trigger warn those who might find some of my stock characters, dialect and nonconsensual sex to be objectionable.
And who might those people be?
Oh, blacks, gays, women and the disabled, for starters.
I see. So what did you come up with?
Well, you’ve heard of woke fiction. I wanted to alert readers that this is unwoke fiction. If it were a movie it would be R-rated for explicit sex and other “adult content,” including bad ethnic humor and off-color language, up to and including the n-word.
More like incel fiction, if you ask me.
I prefer to think of it as Freudian. It’s the 1980s, when females were still chicks and males were still dudes. A time before smartphones, social media and cancel culture, when a certain amount of ethnic and sexual hazing was as much a bonding mechanism as it was actionable.
In addition to all the other potentially racist, sexist, homophobic, pornographic and otherwise objectionable material in Blackjack Willy, one of the plot devices is called the Monkey Demon, an homage to Richard Farina, who used the term in his first and only 1966 novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. But the main reason I used the word “monkey” is because it has a “K” in it, like “Buick,” making it inherently funny. Unfortunately, now the word is also inherently racist.
And so yet another decade passed.
That it did. But at 10 p.m. Thursday, July 15, 2021, nearly a half-century after I began this tale about a dude named Blackjack Willy, I completed the rough draft. It was an auspicious occasion, as I was recovering from a breakthrough case of Covid-19. Perhaps being 70 years old with a potentially fatal disease focused my mind on the fact that the race to finish this story was coming to an end, one way or the other. Miraculously, the last 10,000 words poured out of me in a relative torrent over the course of a sickly week. Despite the passage of so much time, the climax was very much as I envisioned it when I got the original idea 47 years before.
That’s nice. But getting back to the prologue, you really can’t use it.
Because if you have to explain the joke, the joke’s not funny.
True that, too.
Day 1: Monday October 21, 1985
Gnarly rays of sunrise slither through a torn curtain, revealing the grunge of a dreary kitchen. Cockroaches laze in the sink. A scouting party of red ants recons crumbs on a chipped Formica counter. A big black ant stumbles off a rotting window sill and falls onto the greasy counter. Oblivious to the danger surrounding him, he indolently munches on a bread crumb. Obeying an instinct older than race, creed or national origin, the red ants are stirred into a frenzy as they attack the black intruder. The black ant shrugs off the first assault, but they cling to his legs and underbelly and swarm over his back, stinging him and each other. The pummeling wears the black ant down, and like a rummy past his prime, he sinks into a swoon.
There’s a burst of Olympian thunder as a light flicks on and an abused human throat rumbles in an unsuccessful attempt to clear away the phlegm and mucous of a booze and smoke-filled night. “H- a-r-r-u-u-u-m.” The cockroaches scramble for cover as the kitchen is invaded by a middle-aged black man. Hungover and crabby, he rummages through the cabinets, slamming the doors unshut. Paunchy, yet athletic and savagely handsome, he is black as Africa. His once hard gut strains the threads of his sleeveless undershirt and spills over the waistband of his chalk stripe pants. Red paisley sus- penders dangle at his sodden sides.
Though groggy, he moves with catlike grace through the cluttered kitchen. Tugging his balls, he opens the refrigerator and winces at the light. Poking through the fruits and vegetables, he snags a leftover pork chop and a beer. He plops the beer can down on the counter, causing the red ants to scram. Dazed and clueless to the juxtaposition of universes that has spared him, the black ant staggers forward until he falls into a gap between the counter and refrigerator, to die just as stupidly another day.
Grabbing the pork chop, the man looks at it skeptically, then rips the meat away from the bone with his teeth, chews rapidly and swallows. He draws the beer can to his lips, closes his eyes and takes a lingering swig. Some of the beer dribbles down his chin, adding a glint to his ebony skin. His face contorts into an expression of excru- ciating pain, then relaxes into one of complete calm. He puts down the can, slowly opens his eyes, and stares at nothing for a moment. Blackjack Willy Butler greets the day.
Willy is in his element, if not his home. He used to live in Carbonboro, before moving to upscale Murdale, seven miles and a social strata away. But whenever he can he slips back to Serene’s place. Serene is a lousy housekeeper, but that’s not why he goes there.
Blackjack devours the rest of the pork chop, lights a Newport, and heads to the bathroom to take a dump. In the middle of his exertions there’s a knock at the front door. Butler grunts, not at the knock but at the progress of his bowel movement. Another knock, this time more insistent.
“Serene?” he hollers half-heartedly. “Get the door, Serene. It’s Cap.” No response. He wads a pull of toilet paper and wipes his ass. “Get outa bed woman,” he shouts. “Shit,” he mutters as he glances at the smears on the tissue, then drops it between his legs.
Willy stumbles out of the bathroom, still pulling up his pants. Af- ter another rap at the door he opens it, revealing a stocky, cockeyed black man in a busser jacket and chauffeur’s cap. “What’s hap’nin’ Boss?” the man says.
“My man,” Willy responds. “My main man Cap.” His bloodshot eyes, vacuous a moment ago, now twinkle. “You caught me in the middle of a crap, Cap. I thinks I got me a hanger.”
An unusual remark, except Willy and Cap have been friends since preschool, and their relationship had changed little since. More than soul brothers, they were like flesh and blood brothers — he the elder who teased and tormented the younger, and Cap the younger, who idolized him just the same.
Cap grinned sheepishly. “In that case Boss, you’s definitely riding in back today.”
Willy put on a starched shirt and Cap helped him into his tailored suit coat. “Lookin’ g-o-o-o-d Boss,” Cap cooed. “Where’s Serene? I gots something for her.”
Blackjack scowled. “Passed out, I guess. I musta been too much for her last night. You knows how that is.”
Cap didn’t, but he smiled salaciously anyway. “Sheet,” he said, his misaligned eyes darting in dual directions. “Well, I’ll just put this here,” he said, shyly taking a late-blooming wildflower out of his jacket and tenderly placing it on the counter, over the former battle- ground of the ants . “Serene likes flowers, don’t she?”
Willy shrugged. “How the fuck should I know? Let’s ride.”
Cap led Willy out to a leased stretch limo, compliments of Murdale City Hall. The limo came with tinted glass, facing back seats and wet bar. Blackjack had made only one modification — wide whitewall tires and spoked hub caps.
With a flourish he exhibited around no one else, Cap opened the back car door for Willy and closed it smartly behind him. Serene’s clapboard house abutted a freeway ramp, but Cap knew to take the canyon road and not say a word. He never knew what to expect dur- ing the ride from Carbonboro to Murdale. Sometimes Willy wanted to sit up front and horse around; other times he sat in back and sulked. Once he punched the accelerator and jerked the wheel to chase a squirrel over a curb and up onto someone’s lawn. Today, he sat in back and gazed listlessly at dilapidated houses until the road dipped into a wooded area, where the sun glistening off the dewy leaves spaced him out like a punch in the face.
Cap smoothly navigated the car down a long sloping curve. At the bottom of the hill the road abruptly narrowed into a rusty bridge that crossed a creek. As a child, Willy used to fish in the creek, sitting on a grassy meadow, his bare feet dangling in the water. But as the bridge came into view, Blackjack wasn’t thinking about fishing or grassy meadows. He was thinking about his first piece of white meat.
He had been a junior in high school, and she had been his English teacher. A shy, sinewy woman of 25, with delicate bones and long dishwater blond hair that was usually in a bun. She had a stack of Joan Baez records and a desire to join the Peace Corps, a liberal knee-jerker whose mission was not merely to educate but uplift her students. She’d been told to watch out for Willy, that he was crafty and disruptive. But in him, she told herself, she saw a spark of intellect glimmering behind an impoverished mind. A speck of humanity which, if nurtured, might enable him to rise above his squalor.
Willy recalled how she used to hover over his desk in class, close enough for him to get a whiff of her perfume. Her breathing would become shallow and her hand would tremble as she leaned closer to make a correction on his paper. She took a keen interest in his themes, not noticing most of them had been written by someone else. She began talking with him after class, and one day she suggested he come over to her apartment to rewrite a short story.
She had no conscious intention of seducing him that night. But it was she who had him sit on the sofa, and she who kept brushing against him as they went over the short story he hadn’t even read, much less written. Nor had Willy meant to fuck her, although he had instinctively played her that way from the first time he’d had to talk to her after class, giving her just enough white jive to make her think they were communicating, meanwhile bumming Cokes and even cigarettes. Bumming her body was merely a logical extension. Nothing personal. It was just the way he played everybody.
He made his move when she got to talking about black writers and rage. He gave her his best malevolent glare, and she gazed back into his eyes, transfixed. Her mouth went dry and she began to wobble, dizzy with a fear and arousal she had only fantasized about be- fore. Slowly, Willy closed the distance between his face and hers. “You want this mama,” he cooed just before engulfing her lips and filling her mouth with his youthful tongue.
From a part of her psyche she had never dared explore came a soft moan. Letting the thrill wash over her for a moment, she finally shuddered enough to break away. “Willy, no,” she said, trying to treat him like some innocent schoolboy with a crush on his teacher.
Willy just smiled. “You can’t help yourself,” he bluffed.
“I think you’d better leave,” she protested, but let him take her limp wrist and pull her toward him. Mesmerized, she watched as he placed her hand over the growing mound in his jeans. “No, Willy, this is wrong,” she said, but found herself unable to move her hand, even though he had taken his away. Then she watched in horror as of its own volition, her hand began to stroke his erection. “Oh God, no,” she moaned, which was the last resistance she made.
What Willy couldn’t take off he tore off her writhing body. She pretended she was being raped and tried to lay still. But when he started to penetrate her, she helped guide him in, and with a shudder she began humping, her eyes rolling back in her head and her nails digging into the arm of the sofa behind her head. He came fast but she came faster, something the white boys at Claymore Christian College had never been able to accomplish.
On the way home that night, Willy took the canyon route to Carbonboro. As he approached the bridge he was doing 75 miles an hour. A young fawn had wandered onto the bridge, still awkward on its spindly legs. Willy had but a moment to see the deer, but in that moment, with his headlights bearing down on it at 75 MPH, for a split second before he creamed Bambi on the bumper of his mom’s 1958 Bonneville, he saw in the animal’s eyes that same look, the same fear and fascination that had been on his English teacher’s face.
As Cap glided the limo across the bridge, Blackjack tried to remember the teacher’s name but couldn’t. He recalled how she had begged him not to tell anyone. How it would ruin her. But of course he told. He bragged to anyone who would listen. The day she re- signed in shame and left town, she actually went to him and apologized. Dumb bitch, he thought.
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