One two three. One two three. Bradley walked down an empty stretch of sidewalk in downtown St. Louis. One two three. There were three steps between the cracks in the sidewalk - an unusually long span for the control joints he thought. One two... He paused, looking back at his parked car. Had he locked his door? Even under a halogen streetlight his Volvo station wagon looked pretty good. The rust along the base of the doors and dented front left fender blended nicely into the dirty maroon paint. The only things of value in the car were his tools, and he wasn't even sure if they were in there.
He continued walking, slipping between two parked cars and j-walked across the street to avoid the closed sidewalk. It was a chilly spring evening, but Bradley felt comfortable in his chino shorts and drab v-neck T-shirt he had dyed himself. He loved cold weather and liked to imagine the day when he could spend summer vacations in a cooler place. At the intersection he stopped and looked back at the six story turn of the century warehouse that was blocked off by a plywood fence that went out into the street. On the building's crown a beautiful masonry cornice circle the red brick structure. Unfortunately, pieces had been dropping and scaring pedestrians.
Some of the windows in the building were shattered or even missing - neglect from the past ten years sitting abandoned. "It would make a beautiful landscaped parking lot," Bradley once told his housemate Lynn, a preservationist. He meant it as an absurd statement, but both knew that's what a lot of people saw. He couldn't take his love for the old city buildings too seriously or his heart would be crushed with every implosion or swing of the headache ball. And Bradley's heart couldn't take that.
He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and continued toward his destination.A light breeze curved over his recently shaved head. He tilted his head down and shielded the lighter with his hand then pulled the lit cigarette from his mouth followed by a stream of smoke. His eyes were a bit blood shoot and his teeth weren't as white as they use to be, but Bradley still looked fairly dashing and suave.
Candy's Bar was located in the basement of a long stay hotel. The entrance resembled that of a New York subway. With its concrete steps in a cove of black and white tile. The 1940's facade had become trendy again without any effort on its part. Brad entered the crowded bar, waved to his housemate across the pool table and headed to the bar almost immediately bumping into Butler who was leaning against a table by the entrance.
"Hey Brad, how's it going."
"Good." Brad had to speak up over the jukebox which was playing some Kiss song. "I loved your obituary for Gene Sarazen. I didn't know he invented the sand wedge." Butler wrote celebrity e-mail obituaries sending them out to aroundone hundred friends. "Have you seen Jason?" Brad scanned the crowd.
"Not tonight." Butler answered. "I forgot to add he got a hole in one in the British open at the age of seventy-three."
Brad moved toward the bar. "I'm going to get a drink. See you later."
Candy the bartender and owner liked very much the business Metropolis brought her on Thursday evenings. The group of twenty and thirty something's were involved in community projects and social activities to promote the metropolitan life style. Every Thursday the group would descend en masse to empty downtown bars, if nothing else at least accomplishing the appearance of a scene. Brad's Metropolis membership had expired several months before, which was somewhat of an embarrassment because all he had to do to renew was walk across the hall with fifteen bucks and give it to his housemate, the organization's treasurer. But fifteen bucks could buy a lot of drinks at Candy's, and he only had six in his pocket tonight.
Brad felt a hand run through the stubble on his head. "Nice cut." He looked back and saw Carrie. "I got Bud's Story. Its great bedtime reading."
"Thanks." Bradley looked down the bar to get Candy's attention. "It's about time you got e-mail." He opened his wallet. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Water." She handed him her glass. "Some of us aren't lucky enough to have our own computers, and they get upset at work if you use theirs for personal use."
Brad shrugged. "I use Linda's computer." The two had had this conversation before. He trying to convince her that getting on line was free and easy. "Anyway you can use any friend, school or library computer that's hooked up. Granted..." Brad thought back to a few incidences. "I've been kicked off a few computers."
"Yea, maybe I should write about it sometime."
Candy came over to were Brad stood at the bar. "Scotch and water." He placed three bucks on the linoleum bar top.
"So when am I going to be in your story?" Carrie asked.
At the far end of the room Brad saw Jan and Tim sitting at a table. He pushed behind a group of people he didn't recognize, then accidentally bumped into a friend, spilling part of his drink on her black leather shoe.
"Hey, sorry Laura." They both looked down at the puddle of scotch.
"That's okay. You need another."
"No." Brad held up his glass which was a quarter full. "I'm looking forward to your dinner party tomorrow."
"Come over." Brad nodded in the direction of Jan and Tim's table.
"Yea, I will in a moment. I have something to tell you."
When Jan saw Bradley, she frowned and waved her finger scornfully. "How could you kill the midget!"
"And Ricardo." Tim added.
"The midget watched over Bud."
Tim disagreed, "The midget was evil, but Ricardo, he was Bud's friend."
"But midget was cute."
"Yea, but he wanted to kill Bud."
"No he didn't. He was only trying to... ."
Bradley let the couple argue while he sipped his scotch. He liked the midget too, but he was tired of having to explain Twin Peaks reference to those who hadn't seen the show. He also had some concerns about copyright infringement laws. He assumed it was okay to use actual or fictional characters in the form of parody or satire as long as he gave them back, but he wasn't sure. After all, he only spent two days in law school. He'd hate to be sued.
Brad bit his lower lip. Maybe he should have refrained from blowing up David Lynch.
"I'm afraid you're seriously disturbed." Laura had joined them at the table. "...but not in a bad way."
"I love caveats." Brad answered. Laura was one of the recent recipients of Bud's story. "Does Will think I'm disturbed too."
"The more the merrier... Actually he hasn't read it yet. I'm sure he'll like it. But tell me why, if Bud can magically appear in Paris and Los Vegas, why can't he get a change of clothes?"
"Yea," Jan agreed, "You're awful rough on Bud. You've got everybody out to get him. It's no wonder the guy wants to kill himself."
Tim finished off his drink, placing it at the far side of the table. "So how much of the story is based on real life?"
Bradley thinks for a moment. "It's pretty factual."
"Was that story about the friend who committed suicide using a feed sack true?"
"Yes. Although I don't know if his body was ever found."
"So everything that happened to Bud has also happened to you."
"Everything except the heroin addicted supermodel."
"Yea that was kinda stretching it." Lynn had joined the group. "And I don't recall the police ever coming and arresting you for indecent exposure."
"It could have happened."
"Bud's Chat Room is not real?"
Jan poked Tim "Of course not."
"No, but I'd heard several people looked for it. Some even though my editor was real."
"Fools!" spouted Jan
"What are you going to do now," Tim questioned, "for a plot since you killed off all the bad guys?"
"They weren't the bad guys."
"Oh yea they were a 'metaphors'," Jan signed quotation marks, "for something else."
"I wouldn't go that far. They were... ." Brad hesitated unable to remember why he put them in the story. He must have had a reason.
"Well, they were the only ones driving the plot along."
"I have a plot without them."
Lynn shook her head. "You killed off the best characters."
"And you lost your plot. All you have left is this one character, Bud." Tim waved his hand like a college professor who poses a question. "To have a plot you have to have some action. You know like Bud is in trouble with the law. Hiding from the cops while he tries to clear his good name. While all along he is unaware of the cancerous tumor growing in his brain, and if he doesn't prove his innocence quickly he'll die without the proper medical treatment, which only one surgeon in the country can perform, the extremely intelligent and sexy Dr. Sanders."
"The story has other characters... and Bud has a lot of things going on, like... his depression and his poetry and..."
"Those aren't plots. They're obstacles, adversities, traits, hobbies, things Bud uses to overcome or fulfill his destiny. But what is Bud's destiny now, if it's no longer escaping the long reach of the midget?"
"You guys really liked the midget."
Tim stood up, "I need a drink."
Jan held up her glass. "I'll take a vodka tonic." Tim took the glass and headed to the bar. "You should try to make it more of a urban thriller."
"Yes, a young patriot trying to fight the money lined pockets of bureaucracy."
"Gallantly trying to rescue old buildings and depressed neighborhoods."
"An evil developer could put a contract out on him."
"Someone kidnaps his girlfriend."
"They stop picking up his trash."
"And you should have several car chases." Laura added.
Brad tried to imagine the part of the car chase where he lets his old Volvo engine warm up. "I appreciate your suggestions but that doesn't sound like Bud."
"Just trying to help." Said Laura.
Brad finished off his six bucks of spending money and said good-bye to his friends. Outside of Candy's the temperature had dropped to the lower fifties, and he was now a bit uncomfortable. He wondered when he would actually get to writing the next chapter of Bud's Story. It was becoming very time consuming, and people kept expecting more. Less misspelled words, better writing, more depth, meaning. Shit, he thought, I don't have much more to offer. He was beginning to neglect more important things such as his artwork and finances. Maybe he should bring the story to a end or take a hiatus. Collect his thoughts, prioritize his goals. Who knows, in a month or two he might come up with a plot.
One two three. Brad walked toward his car trying to avoid a painful recollection from college. His understanding of plot was framed by his experience as a theater major. You have your antagonist and protagonist and the super-objective of the play. As an actor, these things were offered to you in the form of ascript. A combination of rehearsal and staging brought the script to life. While performing in Sam Shepard's "True West" Brad was also suffering a period of severe depression. He had the role of Lee, the violent and manipulative older brother (for some reason Bradley only got the psychotic roles).
The memory he was trying to shut out was the feeling of complete emptiness during the day, and the contrast to the one hour in the evening playing Lee, where he had lines, motivation and there even was a musical score. Sure, Lee was a bad guy. He beat people up. He tormented his younger brother, but Lee had a life, a plan. He had a personality! Brad, on the other hand, was an empty vessel. During the month and a half the play was rehearsed and performed, Brad had no life to speak of. He hid in his apartment and skipped classes. His brief creative moments involved fantasizing about finding some desolate far off place where he could run away to, curl up into a ball and die. The way Brad saw it, Lee was the only reason for him to be around. Without those lines, he'd disappear altogether.
One two three four five.
Brad no longer counted the distance between cracks. He just counted.