The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2019

All Issues
APR 2019 Issue


… the rats.

The rats? Was I saying "rats?" Was I saying? Was I? Was I… ? Was I what?


Saying what?

The voice inside me says, "Look at the paper."

My right hands goes for my left inside jacket pocket. There, I feel it, is a pen—and two long narrow cards.

What are they?

I pull them out. They are very broken down and soft. On the other side they say "Lotto." They are for placing bets. How did they get there?

I put them back in my pocket and feel, I feel a paper clip and lint and a piece of paper folded and folded. I take this paper out. It is a piece of yellow note paper. I unfold it.

I wonder why I'm looking at this.

"Look at the papers," the voice says.

I look at the paper.

The yellow paper says, "Do you know why he died?" Why am I looking at this paper? In the corner it says, "Look at the other papers," and, "Do not put this one down." "Do not put this one down." I know this. The world is divided into such thin pieces but each piece is so wide where is the other piece? The piece of what? What?

Look at the
      other papers.

Do not put this
       one down.

Do you know why he died?

I'm holding yellow note paper in front of me. My left hand leaves the note paper in my right hand and then puts itself inside my left coat pocket and there is a pen and a paper clip and two pieces of thin cardboard. What are they? They are broken down Lotto cards for placing bets. Where did they come from? The store.

The store. The store. I have a piece of yellow paper in my one hand, my right hand. In my left hand I have two Lotto cards. Where did they come from? I put them in my pocket. The yellow piece of paper says, "Look at the other papers." My left hand moves from the left pocket across to the right one. Better not change hands or I'll get lost. Get lost. Get lost. Get lost.

"Look at the other papers."

My left hand roots through papers. Papers. Note paper. They are blue. I open them still holding the yellow paper.

At the top of the first blue paper is written, "Paper clip." My writing. Paper clip.

Paper clip.

I must find myself a paper clip or all my papers will get lost. Do I have a paper clip? My right hand moves, but it holds the yellow note paper. Wait a minute.

Yellow paper in my right hand. "Do not put this paper down." Blue papers in the left hand. "Paper clip."

… Paper clip will have to wait. The paper says, "Paper clip," in blue ink.

Under that it says, "Marty is still dead," in black ink.

In red ink:

I mean he is dead.  Still.  Still I mean he is dead and still he is still dead and still.

Police.  Still.  Still police.  Marty still police.  Marty still dead police. Marty dead still police.  Don't know.  Don't know.  Marty dead still police don't know.  !

Marty dead and the police still don't know why. Why? what about the police? and Marty? Oh. Marty still dead and the police still  dead  don't know.  !!!  The police. Don't know that Marty is dead.  No.  Marty is dead and the police don't know who.

Your wife's number is 483-1213.

Your wife.  My wife.

Sergeant Bingly  376-1574

I'll call Sergeant Bingly. I see a phone.

I am standing inside a living room with closed curtains. The TV in front of me isn't on.

I hear Sergeant Bingly voice on the phone… . What? Wait. Wait? Write. Just write.

Look Harrison.  Bill, just write this down.  No don't write th--   Do not call me every time you see my phone number.  Only call me when you have a reason to call.  Then I will get you what you want.  Look.  I like you.  You were.  Good.  One of the best PIs I ever worked with and Marty was the best detective we had but I can't help you till you get better.  Now.  Are you writing this, too? Bill.  You don't have to writ

End of phone call.

Marty is, Marty is dead and the police don't know who killed him.

Yes, this makes sense.

I write in my new blue pen next to this, "Yes, this makes sense," with an arrow pointing to it. It. "Marty is dead and the police don't know who killed him." Yellow paper is bunched around the pen.

And I am holding blue papers in my left hand.

Blue papers.

… What? What?

"Turn the pages," the voice says.

Turn the pages. I move my right hand, but it is holding a pen and yellow paper. "Do not put this one down." I pinch this paper with my thumb and first finger. With my index finger and ring finger I scissor the top piece of the blue paper in my other hand, pull it off and put it under the other papers. This is a long list. It is in my handwriting. First, it says, "Facts." Then:

Marty is dead.

 Call Sergeant Bingly. 

Marty is shot dead.

Marty wears money belt.

 Call Marty's wife.            /your

 Find Marty's phone number (from wife.) 

Only call if  776-0239 

for reason

 Call again at 3:15

 Why call? 

  Call Marty's wife. 

 Marty's number? 

Marty's wife says:  A man called me, Billy, asked for Mart.  I I told him Mart was out.  He asked where and I said I.  Don't know.  I'm sorry I just find it hard to talk about.  But.  The man said he had to get in touch with Mart.  Or else they couldn't get together that day.  I told him I'd do what I could and finally hung up.  When Mart called back I. I. I.  Told him.  To go to 21st St. and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn.  That was the last.  I'm sorry I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to carry on like this.

Marty was told to go to 21st Street and Fourth Avenue.

Where did Marty die?--Call Sergeant


Sergeant Bingly.

"Marty died in the alleyway between 23rd and 24th Street, Bill. You know that. Or you should, I guess."

Two blocks away.

"Two blocks away from 21st Street. Marty died two blocks away."

"No other clues Sarge?"

"No. You would know better than me."

That is all I know right now. This is all I know. What? Let me reread this now.

Before I forget let me write.

Marty died two blocks away from where a man told him to meet but the question is who.


Who killed Marty.

The voice says, "Witnesses?"

Let me write this down.

Witnesses? Who killed Marty and what about witnesses?

A woman is saying something to me.

She says, "Do you want your check?"

Check? I say "yes" and wait for what happens next. She tears a pale green check out of her check book and hands it to me. It says:

Hamburger    4.75

Salad         3.45

Coffee        1.50


Tax           .95


I am not hungry. There is a cup in front of me with a shallow pool of coffee in it. Beside me a row of men are sitting on stools.

She asks me, "Do you want to pay now?"

I say, "The tax is wrong. The tax on nine seventy is eighty six cents."

She lifts one of her eyebrows.

I say, "The total is ten dollars and fifty six cents."

I am in a room made of cinder blocks painted pale green. A fluorescent fixture attached to the ceiling lights up the place. I am in front of a desk. The desk is covered with papers. Ceramic cups are filled with pens and stacked metal shelves hold more papers. The metal gray chair behind the desk is empty. The floors are smudged with dirt and are wet. The walls have kick marks here and there. The floors smell from a sour mop. Overall, the place is somewhat worn, but basically clean. A man walks in the room. His body is very heavy and loose. Black glasses sit on his little nose. The pores in his skin are darkened and opened. He nicked himself shaving this morning. His clothes are neat. In my left hand I am holding a yellow piece of paper. It says, "Don't put this down." In the other hand I have blue papers. The last line says, "Marty is dead and what about witnesses?"

The man sits down in front of me.

I say, "Marty Bell is dead and I want to know what you know about it. Did you by any chance just happen to see something, little man?"

The man shakes his head. "No."

"Do you know anything about it?"

He shakes his head. "No." He holds his breath a minute. I'm getting to him. "Do you know who I am?"

"I'm asking the questions."

"Bill. Do you know who I am?" Something else is going on. "Do you recognize this place?"


"You don't recognize this place?"


"You don't remember that you've been here fifty times before? Your wife brought you here."

I look at him. The pores in his skin are dark and open. He nicked himself shaving this morning.

"Read this paper."

I am holding a paper in my one hand and papers in my other hand. He lays a paper in front of me. It is type written. It says:

Harrison, William M.       42 years old

Harrison, William M. is me.

"Read this part," he says pointing to the writing further down.

The patient was brought to Lenox Hill Hospital by the local police at 6:35am on April 16 in an state of extreme disorientation. The police reported that they had confiscated one .45 caliber pistol of Colt manufacture along with a private investigator's license and other identification. Traces of blood were found in his hair. X-rays of the patient's skull revealed that one .22 caliber bullet was lodged in the Internal Parieto-Occipital Sulcus of his brain. Following the patient's disjunct phrases police went to the corner of 24th Street and 4th Avenue in Brooklyn and discovered in an alley the body of Police Detective Martin Bell also hit by .22 caliber bullets. There were also rat bites to his face and hands. A .38 caliber pistol was found in Bell's holster. No .22 caliber pistol was discovered, nor was there any other evidence. No witnesses except, apparently, Mr. Harrison are known. The bullet was removed from the patient's brain as a result of a procedure from 2:30pm to 6:45pm that same day.

Post operative observation of the patient over the next two weeks revealed that he was suffering from extreme aphasia induced by trauma incurred by the injury. After 6 weeks the patient was deemed recovered from his wounds, diagnosed as totally amnesiac, and released in his wife's custody on June 28.

"Mr. Harrison."

I look up.

"I'm Gerald Worth, your case worker. Now, your friend's murder is very important to you. Do you remember anything about what is mentioned in this document?"


"Do you remember anything about the hospital?"


He has a small smile and rubs his thick dough-like fingers on his face. He feels a small scab where he nicked himself shaving.

"Is there anything more you can tell me?"

"About what?"

"Bill. Take this document with you. Add what you learned to your other papers. As long as you keep one continuous flow of words that you can distinctly retain, as long as you keep the words flowing on the paper, you'll understand."

"Flow chart," the voice says.

"Flow chart," I say.

"Yes. Keep the idea's flowing like a computer flow chart," the man says with a smile. He wears glasses.

The sky is overcast. Horns are honking. There are two signs on the lamp post. "23RD STREET" and "4TH AVENUE." There is a four story apartment building without fire escapes.

A man is shouting. A horn honks very loudly. It makes pain in my ears.

"Get out of the way!"

I am standing in front of a car. The grill is a thick patch of chrome like an apple pie made out of metal.

"Get out of the way! Are you stoned or stupid?"

A small tubby man sits motionlessly behind the wheel. He wears glasses. The horn hurts in my ears.

I step on the sidewalk. A droplet stings my face. I hear water dropping around me. An engine is roaring. A car speeds away down the street. I catch a glimpse of a small man wearing glasses. Could he be going to call someone? Who?


I am on the corner. The next corner there is a sign. The sign says, "23RD STREET."

In my hands… . In my hands, in my hands.

"Look at the paper," the voice whispers.

I look at my hands… . No. In my hands there is no paper. I got that one wrong. On the back of my left hand is written in ink, "23RD STREET" "24TH STREET"

"4TH AVENUE" in my handwriting.

Two men are standing by a bodega. The smell from the store is soapy. I glance at the one man. He looks Spanish. He wears a gray hat with a wide brim. His face is dead blank. He is staring at my hand. My hand is straight in front of me. I keep walking.

"Walk past the bodega," the voice tells me.

I keep walking.

There is an alleyway. I am standing in front of it. There are garbage cans. Litter is on the ground. I hear papers rustle.

"Rats," the voice says.


Along the street a Spanish man with a wide brim gray hat is standing there staring at me. Behind him on the awning of the bodega I see a sign has been clipped up. It says, "Lotto." Behind that on a street lamp is another sign.


I glance up the street.


I look down an alleyway. There are garbage cans.

"Rats," the voice whispers.

Rats. Rats.


"Walk in this alley, now," the voice in my skull says.

I step carefully into the alley. There are scrapes and breaks on the brick of the building on the left from a car. Rats… scrapes… . Rats!? The scrapes are not fresh.

I'm standing in an alley. I walk to an opening into a street. There are two men standing in the street outside a bodega. One is Spanish. He wears a gray hat. The other is dressed in a white shirt with a pointy collar.

"I guess he's a local Italian," the voice says.

Yes. A local Italian.

I study their faces. They are not looking at me. Now. Now. I look up. The sky is gray. A droplet falls on my face. I turn around and walk back into the alleyway. There are garbage cans. Garbage cans.

"Rats," the voice whispers.

There may be rats.

There are scrapes on the building to my left that are not fresh.


Scratches on the brick. Scratches on the brick. There are scratches on the brick from a car.


I turn around. Two men are looking at me. One looks Italian. One looks Spanish. One looks Italian. His face turns red.

"What are you doin' here." The man steps toward me.

"Garbage," I say. "Health Department."

The man stops. They look at each other. A man steps from around the corner. He is short and fat. He has a round hard fat face.

He talks to the two men, "What's going on—" and he sees me. His face jumps off his face. He is frozen. His face is a mask.

"Suspect," the voice says.


"Suspect," the voice says.

"You are suspect," I hear myself say. "Now."

The man is fat. His skin has blood red underneath. His eyes pull in. He moves at me. I watch him.

"Look. Look at them move," the voice says. "Don't get lost."

The fat man's mouth falls open.

"What?!—Get him!"

A man who looks Italian comes toward me with his fists clenched. He breaths on me and he swings his fists. My arms move up. His left fist strikes my wrist with pain. I catch his other hand, butt his nose and kick him low. A Spanish looking man has his hand in his shirt. I smash his hand inside his shirt. He "uhmms." I punch, kick, punch him. A fat hard man is pulling his hand out of his coat. I kick his hand. What? Pop. A hole blows out through his coat. I hear a sound behind me. I punch the fat hard man, hear a fist behind me and duck. Turn. I block, he kicks and my knee fills with pain. I punch. I punch. I block, punch. Turn. I trip over a fat man on the ground who is holding his body up on his arms, a small gun in his hand against ground. I kick his face. I see a gun and reach for it. I am jumped from behind and fall with someone on me. I am on the ground, beside me is a gun. Someone is on my back. I reach for a gun. I reach for the gun. I can touch it. My finger hooks the grip. Someone is tearing my throat. I am touching a gun. I hold it. I twist, break away, stand.

"Up," I shout.

"Step into the street," the voice says.

I step into the street.

"Holler," the voice says.

"Holler! Holler, help! Get the police!" I shout.

I am standing. I am shouting. "Police, please, police, please." I am holding a gun on three men. The sidewalk and street are empty. An old woman is leaning out a window. The alley is lined with garbage cans. Garbage cans. Policemen are standing around everywhere. Police cars are parked everywhere. A big man, a sergeant, a sergeant Bingly, is standing by me.

He is saying to a man with a camera, "—local hoods. Drug money. Months ago they tricked Marty and you out, Bill. Bill, you just walked into them. They didn't want to see you just standing here. The witness to Marty's murder."

"Witness," I say. "Any witnesses?" I say to the sergeant in front of me.

"Yes, it's all right, Bill. You pointed out the scrapes on the building. Their car was parked right around the corner. Can you believe it? Scraped up on the side. The twenty two was hidden in the tire."

"Marty's murderer," the voice says.

"Maybe things will be better now," I say to myself.

Maybe things will be better.




"Maybe things will be better," the voice says.

Who is this voice? Who is this saying who is this saying voice?

Let me think.


Wayne Conti

Wayne Conti has placed stories with Open City, The Brooklyn Rail, Chicago Quarterly Review, Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, Anderbo and Pindeldyboz. One of his stories was adapted for radio and played on public radio stations around the country. He is a resident of Downtown NYC, where he is the proprietor of Mercer Street Books.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2019

All Issues