David J. Schow
The Kenilworth Arms is a mongrel apartment building in down-town Chicago, built and re-built, its rooms divided and sub-divided; in some ways it seems to have a strange life of its own - a
Jonathan is a commercial artist, running to the city after a bad relationship; Cruz is a drug dealer running from an accidental death in Miami; Jamaica is a prostitute, running from her life. They could not have chosen a worse place to run to.
When the deaths begin, they go almost unnoticed, so deep in degradation is the apartment block steeped. But the Kenilworth Arms and its horrific occupant need blood for their survival, and the trickle soon becomes a flood. In Chicago there are many ways of death - as Jonathan, Cruz and Jamaica are about to find out…
'Schow is the chap who first coined the term
, and his second novel is every bit as splattery and punkish as his first.'
'Pumped up with manic intensity and shoved right into your face. It works.'
'It's raw, it's rough, and it's not for wimps… A damn fine book.'
Scaning & primary formating:
Secondary formating & proofing:
Time heals no wound;
It merely cauterizes the scars.
Chicago is Hell, and Hell is freezing tonight.
Boner uncaps his bigmouth silver marker. PUNK DEATH SQUADS BONER A#1, he writes across the port window of the El car, drowning the other proclamations there.
Marginally female, a ragbag watches in fear from the far end of the car, eyes like wet black seeds, body a huddle of scarves and threadbare castoffs. She gathers her shopping-bagged junk closer and shuffles for the door before the guy writing on the windows can notice her and work some petty violence. She has a lot of trouble hanging onto all her garbage while battling the handle of the hatch that connects the cars. Nothing on the El moves or works with subtlety.
Boner signs off with a flourish; his mark. The newer El cars are some kind of graffito-resistant aluminum from Japan. Paint pens, Outliners, nearly anything hoses right off. It’ll be fun outfoxing progress. It always is.
He has already dismissed the ragbag from his notice. She represents zero potential for gain or sport. Neither does the wino passed out in his own chunky vomit. No goodies; no cash. Boner recognizes the stench of hydrochloric acid and recycled green beans. The puke mixes with the black slush tracked all over the floor of the car. Finding traction is a big challenge.
Nobody rides the late trains if they can avoid it.
Car by car the train bucks over a junction, dislodging clots of snow; Boner fancies he can hear the snapping of electricity. The fluorescents let him preen. He peers past the
and gang codes and spiderweb ruptures marring the window’s thick plastic. He slips off his mylar shades and cracks his gum.
He is gaunt and ectomorphic, blade-thin with prominent, red-rimmed aquamarine eyes - a feature that never fails to startle citizens who expect dark eyes on a nigger. His hair is a quarter-inch of buff-dyed bristle. It does little to conceal the two parallel crescent scars on the back of his head, souvenirs of a childhood ritual he survived. Thin wrists, long fingers, no nails except for the pinky, which is tapered, spatulate. His Adam’s apple is the size of a golf ball. He is gangly despite his layers of clothing and his down moustache tells strangers he really isn’t very old. Little three-point spaces separate each of his front teeth. When Boner smiles it is not a pretty display. Boner rarely smiles while on the prowl.
His split lip from the fight still stings. He can’t sneer so he keeps his face neutral and frozen, and death to anyone who fails to notice how sullen and pissed off he is. Tonight he is wearing his red-laced combat boots, and a shredded Levi vest over a biker jacket with a pyramidal green leather back. Studs and chains hold everything in concert. He jingles when he walks, like a belled ocelot. Stay clear or eat pain. Inscribed on the industrial denim are arcane mojo. KILLER PUSSY. D.R.I. STONER’S EVIL. No one comes close enough to read.
Boner was worse than bad.
He grins at his reflection, then grimaces as a dot of bright red blood interrupts the maroon scab on his lower lip. His gloves are fingerless, so he dabs, squinting at the blood as though trying to decode it. Then he touches the fingertip to his tongue.
The world was black scuflmarks, and dark snowmelt that stank of burning tires, and a wind howling off Lake Michigan that bludgeoned the chill factor down to minus twenty and falling, and the sharp sparking of the third rail in the night, and a wino unconscious in a bog of his own barf. Boner thinks Chicago is pretty cool.
He hustles out a bescummed hash pipe and fires up the button in the brass bowl. His lungs grab a harsh full pull without spasming to drive out the dense fumes. His eyeballs tingle; his brain spells relief.
Smokables, shootables, snortables - Boner is a connoisseur by virtue of broad mercantile involvement. He vends the best, only and always, because he is connected, notorious, and coveted. You be illing? If you don’t know Boner, you don’t know shit. He smiles at the thought, more cautiously. His lips holds. The cold helps anesthetize the slow throb of pain there.
Light glances off the ice crust on the township sign as the El lumbers past. Only locals know the sign reads OAKWOOD and boasts population stats a decade out of date. All Boner cares to know about Oakwood is that it is the hub of a cluster of woodsy suburbs for the highballers who pull the nine-to-fiver in the skyscrapers downtown. Old houses, here. A lot of Frank Lloyd Wright and tree-lined avenues and cutesy names intended to confer a feeling of turn-of-the-century stability. Too goddamned many churches and not nearly enough bars. In fact, Oakwood is a dry township, which means you can’t buy so much as a beer at the 7-11. To Boner the drink racks in the convenience mart coolers look comically crippled. On a street map, Oakwood is a dead rectangle of upscale real estate completely engirded by bars, liquor stores and nightspots - the surface streets forming Oakwood’s border are a literal dividing line. Your right to drink begins and ends on the double yellow stripe. Boner thinks this is a big giggle. So do the entrepreneurs holding the alcohol licences on the leeward side, all around.
But somebody has to staff the dry 7-11’s, and collect the garbage of the wealthy, and provide reaffirmation of caste, so the State Street El tracks form another of Oakwood’s many dividing lines. To the south - the other side of the tracks, yes - is the scullery in this house of the privileged. Every township, no matter how pristine, has its low-rent quadrant, and Oakwood has Garrison Street.
Boner lives on Garrison Street. It puts him within striking range of Oakwood High School, one of his principal sources of income. Business is good.
He unleashes a cloud of acrid smoke and thinks about bashing the wino, since it is nearly time to debark. A quick laugh, as a sign-off. Two steps and he jacks his boot hard into the wino’s midsection. Yeah. The man contracts with a woof.
. Bile bubbles from his slack mouth. It steams in the chill air of the car. Still alive.
What a miracle
, thinks Boner.
He writes EAT ME on the wino’s forehead with the silver marker, stepping daintily to avoid getting puke on his boots. Next stop is his. He scoots off.
As far as he knows, wino-tagging is his own unique innovation.
The Garrison Street station is deserted at three in the morning. What a surprise. The front door glass has been replaced with industrial plastic, still intact so far, but one door is cocked open against the fierce wind on a broken closure arm. Some frustrated commuter has ripped the receiver out of the pay phone again. Boner doesn’t check the slot for change. What for? He is holding more than five hundred cash, in neat fifties.
No one is sleeping in the shelter of the station tonight. Or dead.
Boner sucks the last of the life from the hash button, then stows the pipe. Its warmth leaches through his pocket. He keeps the pipe in his left Levi pocket. The right holds his Mexican switch, a white bone handle housing a seven-inch, double-edged vampire fang. In his upper pocket are his silver pen and his Zippo. His belt features several dozen keys on a chain pull, plus the leash to a zippered billfold with Harley wings. Mounted against the small of his back beneath his coats he carries a larger Special Forces survival knife. Somewhere within the leather he also packs a coil of razor wire on ring handles. His mirrored tong shades hang now from a button slit. Boner is wearing enough metal to freak out an airport alarm system twice over.
Besides the five hundred bucks in mad money, Boner’s biker wallet contains a letter-perfect fake ID for Illinois State, three attorney cards for emergencies, American Express from his boss, ditto, and a smattering of Polaroids: Here is Cynder, going down on him (from above, out of focus). Here she is spreading her legs for the lens. Here she is with a wine bottle jammed up her twat, fucking the mix of whiskey and codeine that made her so photogenic in the first place…
Snapshot: Here is Boner, crunching alone through a four-foot snowpack to the building on Garrison Street. Too much party. He is tired and has to piss.
The building is four stories of ancient red brick befouled by a dandruff of dirty snow. Thick stalactites of cloudy ice hang to frame the east doorway. Above the door, vague shadows suggest the name in granite intaglio beneath. KENILWORTH ARMS.
Boner does not bother with keys. The east door is usually open. So much for security. The foyer is no warmer than the tarmac of Garrison Street, unplowed and cold as the balls of a corpse. He notices names on strips of embossing tape, pressed into slots on the vandalized gangbox. Not his. He does not check for mail.
Dead ahead, a loose caul of musty carpet patches the narrow stairway. It is the color of dust except for a dark, wet stain on the second and third steps that looks like blood. Boner’s boots leave cleated footprints all the way up to the second floor landing.
In his wake, sleet slashes in through the skewed east door and makes that weird keening it reserves for after hours. The old building shifts and creaks. Boner thinks of thumping around inside a palsied dinosaur finally setting down to die. It is no longer called Kenilworth Arms on the lease forms. Long in advance of Boner’s residence it was bought out by a corporate realtor. Currently it is administrated by a grubby foreign landlord whose cubbyhole door, in the basement, reads BUILDING MANAGER. One day the realtor will vend the property, or flatten it for redevelopment. Until that day, Kenilworth Arms will continue to slip through the cracks. Boner appreciates this. He shares a kinship with anything that survives on the outskirts of polite civilization.
He hears water dripping.
Kenilworth ’s single-wide elevator is rocky, claustrophobic, unsafe. It has been stalled at the second floor for weeks, reeking of Lysol and cat urine. From Two, you had to hike up anyway. The stairs are not a configuration original to the building; they seemed tacked on, too narrow, with oversharp corners. Boner can touch the walls to either side as he ascends. A fat person could not make it. The cheap paint smothering the wallboard is blackened from all the hands before him.
Down the second floor hallway Boner can see the elevator doors are open a crack. The forty watter inside has burned out or, more likely, been broken. In addition to the urine smell, the air wafting down the corridor carries the thick miasma of fried food, plus an odor like dirty socks that makes Boner think of jail.
Up one more confined flight. Boner’s on top, on Three. Technically the basement level is a floor, but no one seems interested in documenting this with room numbers.
Across from the dented elevator doors on Three is a little table holding a coffee can containing plastic flowers shrouded in dust. Above this, an oval mirror is miraculously unbroken. Up here the floorboards groan with the sound of incontinent old men squeezing out painful farts. TVs babble mindlessly, ceaselessly, hot deals on used cars in the predawn. Halfway down the hall one of the yellow bulbs is dead. Boner passes through the pool of darkness and hangs a right past a head-high column of icebox doors built into the wall. Most of these have been nailed up. Some still open and close. They were installed during a time when the iceman could make his deliveries without dragging huge drippy blocks over your nice kitchen linoleum.