Friday, June 15, 2012

Come See Me by Martin Green

In 60s California, a desperately lonely man makes a pair of dangerous friends; by Martin Green.

News item: Sausalito, California, June 28, 1963. Wealthy Sausalito resident Ross Clinton has been reported missing, possibly the victim of foul play. Police investigated Clinton's hillside home at the urging of Mrs. Gretchen Himmelman, his closest neighbor. Mrs. Himmelman became worried when Clinton's cat Tiberius came to her door looking for food. She then noticed that Clinton had not collected his newspapers or milk for several days. Clinton never spoke to any of his neighbors, Mrs. Himmelman said, but he was always good to his cat.

Police fear foul play because a number of paintings had been removed from the walls. Blood stains were also found in Clinton's bedroom. An investigation is now in progress.



Do you know what it means to be lonely, dear reader? I don't mean lonely because your family has temporarily left or lonely because you've just moved to a new city. I mean lonely because you have no friends and don't want any, when you've found the world wanting and wish to have nothing to do with it. I mean lonely when you've gone days or weeks without seeing or speaking to anyone, when you huddle in your room with the shades drawn, when you have to relieve the silence by screaming in your empty house, when you think you're going mad.

I live in a house set back in the hills behind Sausalito, which is across the Bay from San Francisco. It's a house which I inherited from my parents, both killed in an unfortunate accident when I was a young boy. At least, the coroner ruled it an accident. The time of which I write is the 1960's. It was a time in which the young had taken over the world. Sex, drugs, peace marches, protests, rock concerts, happenings - these were everywhere.

The streets of Sausalito were filled with young people dressed in bizarre clothes, looking as if they were part of a costume drama, as in a sense they were. In the little Sausalito park, groups gathered to listen to guitarists singing peace songs, the whole scene enveloped in clouds of sweet-smelling marijuana. In dark streets and alleys, juveniles experimented with more potent drugs.

Alone in my house in the hills, I had no part in any of this. With all of my money, my fine furniture, my paintings, I might as well have been a hermit living in a cave. I had divorced my wife, a scheming bitch; I had no need or inclination to work; I had no friends as I trusted no one. Like some wary vulture, I looked down on the Sausalito scene with repugnance but yet with a kind of fascination.

One night, after weeks of not venturing out of my house, I found I was out of food; not a scrap was left except for the cans of cat food I always kept stockpiled for my lone companion, my cat Tiberius. I drove into town and found a place that was still open, a kind of combination bar and coffee house which was evidently a popular hang-out as it was packed solid. More to my purpose, it also sold sandwiches and other kinds of food.

Seated at my table in a corner with my scrappy supper, I observed the scene about me. Most of the other patrons were young, boys in their teens or early twenties with unkempt beards and tangled hair coming down to their shoulders, dressed in raggedy outfits; girls with straight hair, some in mini-dresses, others in dresses down to their bare feet. Most looked dirty, as if they hadn't washed for some time. Many had the blank stares of drug users.

I'd almost finished eating when I looked up to see a young man and a young girl standing at my table. He had long black hair and a beard but both were neatly trimmed. She had long blonde hair, a round pretty face, a mini-dress which ended barely below her crotch.

"Hey, man," he said. "Mind if we sit at your table? Place is jammed tonight."

I looked around. The other tables were all filled although there were empty chairs here and there. "All right," I said.

They sat down and the young man ordered beers from the waitress. Looking at me, he asked, "How about one for you?"

"No, thanks," I replied. "I'm just about ready to go."

"What's your hurry, man? The night's young. Have a brew."

An image of my dark empty house flickered through my mind. "All right," I said. "I'll have one."

"My name's Ken," said the young man. "And this is Barbie." I said my name was Ross. I saw now that Ken wasn't as young as I'd first assumed; his face, what could be seen of it behind the beard, had a worn look to it. I guessed he was at least 30, almost my age. But the girl Barbie couldn't have been more than 18 or 19.

In a few minutes the waitress was back with three bottles of beer. Ken took a long drink from his. "Ah, that was good," he said, wiping his beard. "I was thirsty. You live here in Sausalito, Ross?"

I told him I did. He said he and Barbie were staying with some friends who had a houseboat. Ken said he was an artist. He didn't say what Barbie did, if anything. Looking from him to her, I said, "And are you, uh, you know?"

"You mean, is Barbie my old lady? Nah. We just hang out together."

"Do you ever use Barbie as your model?"

"Model? Oh, yeah, sure, Lots of times. She has a great body."

I looked over at Barbie to see how she reacted to this but she seemed preoccupied with peeling the label off her beer bottle. I said I was interested in contemporary art and mentioned a couple of galleries in San Francisco. Ken didn't seem to have heard of them. He asked me what I did. I answered that I dabbled in this or that, whatever appeared of interest. This evasive answer seemed to satisfy him.

"Not married, huh?" asked Ken.

"No. Divorced."

"Then you live by yourself?"

"Except for my cat."

"Oh, I love cats," suddenly said Barbie, speaking for the first time.

We talked for a while about cats. Barbie, now animated, told me all about the cat she'd had when she was a little girl. As she talked, she moved her chair closer to mine. Sometime during our conversation, Ken must have ordered another round of beers because a new bottle appeared in front of me. I wasn't used to drinking, not even beer, and I was aware that my mind was becoming a little fuzzy.

I don't know how the conversation changed but I began telling Barbie the story of my unhappy childhood, of my travels with my charming but neglectful parents through Europe. Some of the incidents I recounted were true, others I made up. Barbie had moved very close to me now and I became intensely conscious of her. She had greenish eyes, which looked at me intently. Her small mouth, red with lipstick, was slightly open, showing pointed white teeth. I couldn't help looking at her round breasts (she wore no bra) and at the firm thighs displayed by her mini-dress.

"It's closing time, Ross," Ken was saying to me. His voice seemed to be coming from a great distance.

"What?"

"It's closing time. We have to go now."

"Oh, yes." I stood up and had to grab hold of my chair to keep from falling. I didn't know how many beers I'd had. Everything was blurry.

"Why don't we go to your house," said Barbie.

"Yeah," said Ken. ""I'd like to see those paintings of yours And Barbie can get a look at your cat."

I considered. It had been a long time since I'd had any visitors to my house. And once Barbie was there, who knows what might happen. Yes, why not? "All right," I said.

We went out to the parking lot. The night air was cold after the heat and closeness inside. "Is that your car?" asked Ken.

"Yes."

"You look a little shaky. Why don't you let me drive?"

"Yes. That's a good idea."

Ken got into the driver's seat. Barbie guided me into the back, then sat beside me. I gave Ken directions to my house. Barbie put her hand on my forehead. It felt soft and cool. "Don't worry," she said. "Ken's a good driver. He'll get us there." I closed my eyes.

The next thing I knew we were at my house. "Is this the door key?" asked Ken.

"Yes, that's it."

We went inside to the living room and I turned on the lights. They seemed very bright, like floodlights. Ken looked at the paintings on the walls. "Hey, these are all right," he said.

"Would you like something to drink?" I asked, remembering that I was the host.

"Sure."

I went into the kitchen and found an old bottle of vodka which may have dated back to the time I'd been married. "How about vodka?" I called out.

"Yeah, that's fine," answered Ken.

When I returned to the living room with the drinks, Ken was standing by the stereo. "Mind if I turn this on?" he asked.

"No, go ahead."

The music of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique filled the room. "Far out," said Ken. He sat down in one of the armchairs with his drink, leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

"Why don't you show me the rest of the house?" said Barbie, twining her arm in mine.

"Is that okay?" I asked Ken.

Ken opened his eyes and said, "Sure. I'm fine right here."

"All right." I led Barbie to the stairs, saying, "I don't know where Tiberius has gone to. Maybe he's in one of the bedrooms.

"Is this one yours?" asked Barbie, opening a door.

"Yes."

She went in and sat down on the bed. "Hmmm," she said. "It's comfy. Come on, sit down here."

I sat next to her. She put her hand on my cheek and said, "So you're divorced. Did your wife leave you?"

"Yes."

"It must be lonely all by yourself in this great big house."

"It is sometimes."

"I bet it's been a long time since you had a woman here."

"Yes, it has."

She pressed closer to me. I could feel the warmth of her body through her skimpy dress. She kissed me. Almost involuntarily, my arms went around her. She pushed her breasts against my chest. "Come on, Ross," she whispered. "Come on." Then we were tearing at each other's clothes. She was on top of me, her blonde hair flowing across my face, her fingers doing things to my body. I felt an excruciating pleasure.

Now I was on top of her. In a frenzy, I ran my hands over her breasts, along the curves of her hips, up the insides of her thighs. Animal noises were coming from both of us. Then some instinct made me open my eyes and I saw her green eyes staring beyond me. I reached underneath the bed, found the gun I always kept there since I trusted nobody, turned and fired at Ken as he came toward me with what looked like one of my kitchen knives. He staggered and I fired again, then again. He fell to the floor.

Then Barbie was upon me, screaming and cursing. She grabbed my arm and tried to wrestle the gun away from me. I couldn't believe how strong she was. But I drew my arm into my body and then with all my strength pushed her away. She stumbled and then fell, hitting her head against the corner of my dresser. When I looked at her I could see that she was dead.

I stood, gun in hand, looking down at the two of them, the two who'd attempted to kill me and then would have gone on to loot my house. The Berlioz record must have finished because the house was now uncannily quiet. I don't know what I expected. After all, I'd fired three shots: neighbors rapping at the door, police sirens, flashing lights. But there was nothing.

What should I do? I could call the police but what proof did I have that they'd tried to kill me? I could just as easily lured them to my house for my own purposes. And Barbie had obviously been in my bed.

I have a small yard in the back of my house. I had never tended it and it was overgrown with weeds and tangled vines. But I did have some gardening tools, including a shovel. I looked down again at Ken and Barbie. I felt enormously tired and would have liked nothing better than to just sink down on my bed and go to sleep. But even if I felt life was worthless I didn't want mine to end just yet. "You have work to do," I told myself. "Work to do."

I had to leave my house in Sausalito for a while after that, more than a while; I traveled for a number of years. But now I am back and that, dear reader, is what happened some 40 years ago. Or was it? Loneliness does strange things to your mind and it was so long ago.

Am I really a murderer? Is it possible that I actually killed two people? Or did two people kill a misanthrope named Ross Clinton, who may very well have deserved killing? Or is all this just a fanciful story arising from the discovery of an old yellowed news clipping?

I suppose there is only one way for you to find out. The next time you're in Sausalito, come see me. Sausalito has been taken over by newcomers now and is overrun by tourists but ask any of the old-timers and they'll direct you to my house, the recluse up in the hills with all the cats. Yes, come see me, dear reader. Come see me.

3 comments:

  1. i liked it although i was expecting a twist. however i think descriptively it is excellent and the narrative takes the reader into the story. maybe i´m completely wrong, but it almost sounds like somebody mourning the end of innocence.
    michael mccarthy

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  2. 'Descriptively excellent', as Michael says. Not sure why mc got to become such a misanthrope, though.

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  3. The tension and flow of this story is reminiscent of some of Ray Bradbury's and Rod Serling's stories. It has a fine feel to it with just the right amount of creepiness. Well done, Mr. Green.

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