The Silence & The Howl (§.30)

continued from chapter 29


CHAPTER 30

Harmon pocketed a tangerine and ambled out of Harold’s cramped apartment. The early morning chill prompted the man to sheath his hands in his jacket pockets whereupon he felt paper and paused beside a group of vagrants along the road to the old breaker. With furrowed brow and pursed lips, he withdrew a small, immaculate piece of paper – expensive and exceptionally durable – a business card he’d forgotten. Methodically, the man turned the rectangle, reading the name there inscribed in the ascending, amber light.

Lynder B. Partridge.

He slid the card back into his pocket and moved towards the vagrants, who all starred intently at the wayfarer. He greeted them warmly.

“Hows it going?”

The eldest amongst them, a man some fifty years of age, bearded, gaunt and filthy, screwed up his face into a scowl of disgust.

“Going just like it looks.”

Harmon remembered the tangerine he had brought along and removed it from his pocket, extending it towards the man.

“You folk look hungry.”

The anger and disgust in the old man’s face melted into a visage of confusion.

“What is it?”

“Its a tangerine.”

Hesitantly, the bearded itinerant took the fruit and nodded graciously.

“That’s very kind of ya.”

One of the younger nomads smiled and gestured towards the small ocherous sphere held in Harmon’s left hand.

“Wouldn’t happen to have more than one a those wouldya?”

“Fraid not.”

Harmon continued along the road to the coal breaker, as a flock of crows spun off the branches of a nearby tree like a living cloak of itinerant night.

A woman stood upon the edge of the precipice which let down into the gulf—from town to processing plant—adorned in a thin-worn longsleeved sweater, hair-tie and mud-stained fishing boots. A large ant’s nest lay beside her, some five feet off, covered in the onyx-sheen of busy carapaces.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” she inquired, gesturing towards the decrepit facility beyond the ridge, which hung between the effulgent sun and the colorless shade of earth, as if suspended within the bleeding outer horizon of some other-world.

A ruined castle from a fantastical realm.

“I don’t find anything beautiful in decay.”

“Plants ain’t decaying.”

“Plants replace themselves. Breaker can’t.”

“I’m more concerned about the plants than that old ugly hunk of iron. You know there used to be a forest here? Say its only right that they had some payback.”

Harmon gestured to the ant hill beside them.

“Would you say the same for the colony?”

The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.04)

§.04

Otto went to fill up his rusty autowagon for the drive out to the nowheres, leaving Albrecht by his lonesome outside the dingy lifeless building that served as the townhall. While he waited for Otto, Albrecht thought he might stretch his legs and have a look around town and turned of its porch of the mayoral building and headed across the street to the school, where a woman sat beneath the shade of its porch, surrounded by potted plants hung from the underside of the veranda. She was carving something in her left her hand with a knife of bone, thoroughly absorbed in the endeavour. To her immediate right stood a tall, lanky man, with thick bulbous hands, well-worn and gnarled like the roots of a great tree and rusty brown eyes that shone reddish with the midmorning light. A few feet away from both of the figures, to the left of the saloon-entrance, hunched a young woman, watching, with intense interest, a legion of black ants carrying a magnificent looking beetle, which twitched with vain indignancy, its few remaining legs scratching at the remorseless azure sky.

“Morning, ma’ams. Sir.”

The girl looked up fearfully. The gnarled man nodded slowly, without emotion. The old woman’s visage of worldly-detachment swiftly twisted into a fleshy scowl of suspicion.

“You’re not from around here.”

“No ma’am. Albrecht Brandt,” he extended his hand. The woman’s owlish gaze remained fixed upon his face.

“Mal Saunders.” She gestured to the lanky man and the girl, “This is Eddy and Martha. Eddy don’t be rude, say hello.”

Eddy frowned and tipped his mishappen hat.

“You’re here because of the mayor,” Mal stated, “To build that pipeline. That tower.”

Though the words were not spoken in query, he felt compelled to answer as such.

“Yes, ma’am.”

She nodded, more to herself than to Albrecht. Her look of suspicion transmogrified to one of worry and sadness. A visage that bespoke betrayal.

“Do you enjoy your work?” Eddy queried.

“Oh yes. My father was a bridge builder. When I was very young—but a boy—his business took him to Africa. He brought me and my mother along to see it. Ever since, I’ve been interested in building, just ended up bringing water to people instead of helping them cross it.”

The lanky man looked to the old woman as if to measure her approval and then returned his attentions to Albrecht.

“You don’t have no problem with uprooting the land?”

“Everyone needs water.”

“Theys other ways a gettin it.”

“Not out here there isn’t.”

“Theys always other ways.”

Albrecht was silent a moment, confused by the lanky man’s vexation.

“Well I don’t know what to tell you. I was hired by your mayor. If you’ve an issue with the watertower, take it up with him.”

The lanky man grimaced and spit as the old woman shot him a disapproving glare. He feel silent, as if shamed. The old woman then raised the finished carving and held it up for all to see.

“What do you think?”

The lanky man gazed upon it admiringly.

“Its lovely, Ma.”

The little girl smiled and clapped her hands.

Mal Saunders turned the statue round for Albrecht to observe. The effigy was small, only slightly larger than his own fist and depicted a vaguely humanoid female, bloated and monstrous.

“Halloween come early round these parts?”

“No,” Mal responded, “Not Halloween. Please, take it. A gift to welcome you to our town.”

She held out the effigy with a pleasant expression. Reluctantly, he took it.

*

The Machine Of Wester Moorley (§.03)

§.03

Matthias Emery Thall raised his arms in salutations as Albrecht walked through the doors of his study.

“My good sir, at last you have arrived. I am Matthias Thall. Please, take a seat.”

“Your hospitality is much appreciated, Mayor Thall.”

“Oh, please, call me Matt.”

“If you prefer.”

“Otto—why didn’t you pick Mr. Brandt up at the station?”

“Didn’t know when he’d be arriving. You know how it is with the rail, they scarcely know when that thing is coming or going. Lines were down again.”

“Yes. Yes… Well. Nevertheless, we are all here now and, I trust, in fine spirits. You’ll be needing a place to stay, Mr. Brandt, so I’ve arranged some lodgings.”

“That’s grand. Where?”

“Wester Moorley’s place.”

Otto’s eyes darked, brows furrowing. Brandt cast a glance to the mayor’s right-hand man, and then back to mayor, curiosity overwhelming his apprehensions.

“Where is this… Wester Moorley?”

“Otto can show you—isn’t that right?”

“Aye.”

“Well, anything else?”

“About my team and-”

“Details, details! Ah, you just arrived, how thoughtless of me. Mr. Brandt, you must be famished. Can I offer you some refreshment?”

“No, no, I just ate, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, you must be tired.”

“No, took a nap on the train-ride up. Feeling fine.”

I see, I see. Regardless, I’ve many matters to attend to presently. Once you get yourself situated and comfortable, we can see about everything else.”

“As you wish, Mayor Matthi—er… Matt.”

Matthias smiled forcefully—a hollow gesture, and then bent to his desk as Otto ushered the engineer from the mayoral office.

*

The Silence & The Howl | Part 13

§.13

Harmon looked down at the crisp, off-white business card as he switched off the engine of his hatchback in the abandoned grocery store parking lot. He read the name delicately laser etched upon it: Lynder B. Partridge. Below the name was a phone number, address and the word ‘Designer.’ He removed his phone from his pocket and started crunching the keys with his thumb and then stopped. He had only met Partridge once and felt it would be impudent to ask him for help. Partridge might not even be in the town anymore; probably had vacated and returned to the city after the gala. Why would he stick around a crime-riddled and crumbling backwater? There was nothing for him here. The man probably had family matters to attend to as well…

A mellow unease gripped Harmon then.

He was alone and had nothing but his car and a few items he had managed to quickly stuff into ducked-taped boxes in the trunk.

A sudden thought rippled across the torrential ambit of his mind.

There was one other person he could call.

*

Andy leaned forward in his mother’s wicker rocking chair and waved cordially from his uneven and rotting front porch. Harmon looked up and waved back. Neither smiled. Sun was low and the rural landscape hissed with the eastern gale like a thousand invisible snakes. Harmon moved up to the creaking porch, his laptop case loosely slung over his left shoulder and a ballcap low slung over his sleepless, bloodshot eyes.

“Evening, Andy.”

“Evening. Need help carrying anything?”

“Nah. I got it. Thanks for this.”

“Its no trouble at all. Caint believe he’d up and kick ya like that. Beats all. Just aint right.”

Harmon nodded as Andy rose and opened the creaking door of his tumble-down two-story and held it for his guest as sirens sounded in the din.

*

Harmon sat staring at the glowing screen of his laptop, fixated upon the flickering caret and the empty text document that proceeded it. His fists were as flint upon the warm plastic of the machine, its subtle, rhythmic hum, a soothing balm against the ravages of recent memory. He envied the device. Machines knew nothing of betrayal. They were loyal by design in the deepest measure of their essence. He felt as if he had passed into one of his ghastly dreams. He cursed neath his breath, rose and paced. The tumultuous sea of emotion which roiled within him presented no solution and consequently were discarded for ten minutes of pacing and thirty more of strenuous exercise which was abruptly interrupt by the ringing of his small, black cellphone which lay to the immediate left of the computer upon the foldable poker table Andy had furnished him with when he’d let Harmon his spare bedroom. He sprang to the device, flipped it up and held it to his ear.

“This is Harmon.”

Silence a moment. Then a soft and familiar feminine voice.

“Hello Harmon.”

“Hello Bluebird.”

The Silence & The Howl | Part 3

CHAPTER THREE


The art gallery buzzed like a nest of agitated hornets. Harmon, dressed in his finest dirty T and sun-eaten jeans and moving from the entrance to stand before the gala proper, found the chatter irksome and the low, odd-filtered light disorienting. He liked the dark and quiet.

Despite his proclivities he had agreed to attend Bluebird’s gala opening. Her first. She moved up beside him, breathless and beautiful, supple curves ill-contained by a tight, black sweater and revealing leggings over which she wore a similarly tight, black mini-shirt neath which shined newly polished leather boots with small, silver buckles. Harmon found the whole get-up to be a bit too form-fitting but he said nothing and mock-saluted as she approached.

“Hey.”

“Thanks for coming, Harmon.”

“I’m surprised you thought to invite me.”

An expression of irritation palled her well-plied face.

“Why?”

“Been almost a month since we last met. Been last four weeks since we last talked.”

“That’s not true. I called you last week.”

He paused and furrowed his brows before responding, “You didn’t.”

“I swear I did. I’ve been so busy…”

“S’all right. I’m not complaining. Say. Which one is yours?” Harmon inquired placidly as he cast his sharp, green eyes out over the art school’s gleaming marble floor; so clean and shimmering he could make out the stark reflections of all who there stood upon it. Bluebird pointed to a series of paintings upon a silvery panel installation in the very center of the wide, rectangular onyx-colored hall.

As he followed her gesturing hand he caught the reflection of a curious figure from out the corner of his eye, to the immediate left. Thin and trim and garbed in a albescent coat, tipped at the collar with similarly milky fur. When he followed the reflection to its source he noticed that the ivory man was watching him. The man raised a glass of red wine, smirking slight. Harmon hollowly reciprocated the gesture. He felt suddenly strange. As if a liquid had settled within the core of his being.

Bluebird sighed melodramatically and folded her arms.

“You aren’t even paying attention.”

“Sorry. Got distracted. Who is that?”

“Oh my god. He’s looking at us! He’s coming over. He’s coming over.”

“Friend of yours?”

“That’s Lynder Partridge.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He flew in from the city just to attend this gala. He’s scouting for permanent additions to his museum. You’ve really never heard of him?”

“Nope.”

Lynder Partridge strode up to the odd couple, his sharp, bloodless face opaque, luminous oceanic eyes masque’d by circular green-tinted sunglasses that made the iris appear as gold, his pose cordial and restrained.

“Salutations. I’m Lynder Partridge.”

Bluebird was so star-struck that it took her two seconds entire before she responded, and then, only shakily.

“L-lyla Couldry. I’m… I’m such a big fan, Mr. Partridge. What you’ve done with those library renovations in the city and her, in our little town, its just wonderful.”

“Why thank you, Lyla. And your friend?”

Harmon step forward, extending his rough and calloused hand. He didn’t expect Lynder to take it, yet shortly, the elegant ivory man did, extending one of his leather-gloved hands and grasping Harmon’s own, firmly and without hesitation.

“Harmon Kessel.”

“So pleased to meet you, Mr. Kessel. I’m pleased to see a roofer involved in the arts – architects have a long-standing history of interdisciplinary interest, as their own trade demands it, yet the actual builders who bring their creations into being and those who maintain them, are considerably less intrigued by graphic demonstrations such as those which garner the walls of this venerable establishment.”

“Why do you think I’m a roofer?”

“Skin is tan. Burnt about the neck. Your jeans are roughly worn at the knees, shirt, faded about the shoulders and back. Means you spend a lot of time in the sun, shorn of shade and a lot of time on your hands and knees. The only trade wherein that would occur in this town is roofing.”

“That’s clever.”

Lynder remained wholly impassive save for the slightest trace of a smirk which vanished as quickly as it appeared. Momentarily, Serena walked up to the trio and greeted Lyla and then looked to Lynder and Harmon.

“Who are your friends, Ly?”

“This is Harmon Kessel and this is Mr. Lynder Partridge.”

“THE Lynder Partridge?”

“Indeed.” He responded flatly before turning and half-bowing to the woman whose eyes went momentarily wide with surprise. Lynder then cast his gaze out to the installation directly beside Lyla’s, “Is that your work?”

“Y-yes. I’m so nervous. Its my first gallery showing.”

“I shall have to take a closer look.”

Shortly, Serena and Lyla moved off a pace. It appeared to Harmon as if Serena had some important information to convey. He was mildly irritated that Serena hadn’t even so much as said, “Hi.”

“Looks as if the ladies are conferring. Shall we peruse the works together?”

“Sure.”

The duo moved to stand before the center panel installation which harbored Lyla’s works. Paintings. Her centerpiece was a massive colorful oil painting of a large swan in mid-flight, gliding over the top of a pristine, azure pond, surrounded by reeds and cherry blossoms; petals dancing in the wind.

Lynder studied the piece a moment and shook his head before finishing off his wine and handing it to one of the school volunteers who took the crystal goblet with a smile and moved on to the next group.

“What do you think?”

Harmon studied the picture, “I think its pretty.”

“Indeed it is. That’s the problem. Its pretty and only pretty. Nothing but pretty.”

“I don’t think its that bad. Besides, art is subjective.”

Lynder spoke without turning, eyes to the swan, hands clasped gingerly behind his back.

“Subjectivity is objective. If it seems otherwise it is only due a lack of apprehension.”

“Not sure I follow.”

“I mean that those conditions which undergird subjectivity are themselves objective, even if one does not know what those are. To say otherwise is to say that the foundations of subjectivity are themselves subjectively determined. Now that is hardly plausible is it?”

“Well, put like that, I guess not. But why don’t you like the painting?”

“To answer I would pose a question in return.”

“Ok.”

“Of what use is the art which does not seek to force life to imitate it?”

“Well, she’s not trying to force life to imitate anything. She’s trying to imitate life.”

“Precisely. She imitates life and in so doing, presents to the audience – us – an idyll of splendor with which we can do… what precisely with?”

“Appreciate.”

“To appreciate escapism is degrade life itself. It is the act of a coward.”

Harmon wanted to respond. To defend Bluebird’s work, but words failed him. He had never met anyone who was so filled with such quiet passion and lacking the same, knew not how to meet it.

“You think that I’m being too harsh, don’t you?”

“A little.”

“Given your relationship to the author, that is understandable. Understandable but mistaken.”

“Seems kinda snobbish to me.”

“There is a marked distinction between snobbery and elitism.”

“You saying you’re an elite?”

“I said there is a distinction between snobbery and elitism. I did not say I was a member of an elite; that is another important distinction.”

“Lyla likes to say, ‘Art isn’t about being good.'”

“That would explain why her’s is so bad. Think of the trouble that ethos would cause if it were applied to other professions.”

“Whole lot, I imagine.”

“When one is in need of an electrician, what kind does one seek out?”

“The best. What does that have to do with painting?”

“When one selects a friend does one undiscriminatingly accept all, or does one critically discern the trustworthy?”

“The latter.”

“Exactly. So if one holds such standards for electricians and friends, why not for art?”

“Good question. Don’t think many round here would be keen to answer it.”

Lynder briefly looked over his shoulder at the bright-eyed and youthful denizens of the school, mingling with their teachers and journalists and a couple of well-known local artists.

“Gird yourself. The vultures have arrived,” Lynder half-whispered to Harmon with amusement.

“You mean the journalists. I take it you don’t like um?”

“They have no appreciation for art. Their kind doesn’t belong here.”

“You’re awfully opinionated on art. You do any yourself?”

“I do. What about you, Mr. Kessel?”

“Well, sorta. I like to write. Fancy I’m decent enough. Never gotten anything properly published though.”

Lynder removed a small business card from his pocket and handed it to Harmon.

“If you ever wish to send my publishing house one of your manuscripts, give me a call and I’ll personally white-list it.”

“Thanks. Very kind of you. But uh, you haven’t read anything I’ve done.”

“It is refreshing to converse with one who is so unceasingly forthright.”

“Well, I appreciate that. I figure there’s enough lying and obscuring to go around. No need to add to it.”

Lynder turned and moved to Serena’s installation.

“Your friend’s girlfriend’s work is much more interesting.”

“She’s not Lyla’s girlfriend.”

“Oh? Could have fooled me. Once they walked off they moved together rather, how shall I put it… intimately.”

Harmon felt a sudden unease overtake him and shortly thereafter, anger. It was not incited by Lynder’s words, but by a consideration of the prospect that his word’s might be correct. He slowly turned and scanned the crowd. He couldn’t see Lyla or Serena. He ground his teeth and fractionally shook his head. No. It was ridiculous. Unthinkable. She’d never betray me. Certainly not in so deviant a fashion. She loves me, he thought determinedly. Breaking from his reverie, he refocused his attention on the spot where Lynder had stood.

He was gone.

*