THRILLVILLE: Will "the Thrill" Viharo's weird, wild world of Pulp Fiction, B Movies, & the Lounge Lizard Lifestyle.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Early Works: "Little Black Bullets" and "Night Notes"

Here are two more old short stories of mine published years ago in a little literary magazine called Expression, during my youthful "literary period," pre-pulp, though there are small hints of the excess exploitation to come. The pop cultural references are still numerous, though my stuff back then was obsessively preoccupied with star-crossed romantic relationships, since I was such a lonely dude, working various odd jobs to survive, getting involved in a series of doomed affairs, and always writing, writing, writing...

by Will Viharo
Originally published in Expression, Winter 1990

He used his typewriter like it was a machine gun.

Whapwhapwhapwhapwhap. Rapid-fire rhetoric, words like little black bullets, straight to her heart.
“I miss you, I need you, I love you...” he shot.

The phone rang, and he ceased fire. He let his machine intercept the message before he self-destructed.

Beep. Dial tone. Silence.

Maybe it was her after all, but she was too scared or brave or smart of stupid to leave a message. She knew he screened all his calls, especially at night, when he worked on his plays. She knew he was probably prostrate with grief on the floor, an empty bottle of gin by his bleeding side, arms outstretched like Jesus. And she still didn't leave a message, if that had been her and not another wrong number.

“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you,” he typed.

“I want freedom,” she'd told him three weeks before.
“I want bondage,” he'd replied.
“I want to travel,” she said, “alone.”
“I want to stay home,” he said, “with you.”
“I want out.”
“I want in.”
“I want me.
I want you. Finally we agree on something.”
“We can't share me anymore,” she said coldly.
“Why not?”
“I don't know.”
“I don't either. Another point in common.”
“I still love you.”
“I still love you too. We're on a roll.”
“As a good friend.”
“Not as a lover?” he said, internally collapsing.
“...not anymore,” she forced herself to admit.
“That's sad.”
“It is.”
He sighed, trying not to cry in front of her, even though she was, at least a little. “I liked it much better when we were disagreeing,” he said. “We had more to talk about, which meant more time together.”
“Don't prolong the agony,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Just let me go.”
“It's easy for you, isn't it? To just walk away.”
“Yes and no.”
“This is no time for multiple choice. You kill me, you know that?”
“Bang, bang.” Her sense of irony seemed cruel at the time. Maybe it was her way of dealing with the tension, by plugging holes in it.

His apartment was like something out of Edward Hopper; stark but colorful, old-fashioned and dimly lit. And lonesome as hell.

New Age music played on a CD. It soothed him, helped him relax. He tried to sleep, but he had to get up soon anyway and start his new job, delivering newspapers to stands all around town. He hated getting up early, but it beat office work. It was in an office where he'd met her. He was an errand boy and she was doing temp secretary work. They had a brief fling after a few drinks-after-work dates, a Roman Candle affair; then he got serious, and she got lost.

She was a sculptress, molding images that pleased her, and hopefully pleased others enough to pay her rent. She felt restless, and couldn't sleep. She thought about dialing his number again, hoping he'd pick up instead of letting the machine do it, because by the time his message played – a sad blues song about waiting for his baby to call him or something – she always lost her nerve to talk. She didn't know what to say to him that didn't sound empty and patronizing and pedantic. Feelings change, people change, I never wanted a serious commitment, you know my history, we're still young, you still have your work, how about those Oakland A's? Forget it. It was like beating a dead hearse, she thought, I mean horse. Whatever.

She flipped on the TV to some old movie with Rita Hayworth called Gilda. In typical film noir tradition, Rita was a femme fatale breaking the hearts of desperate, shady men on the fringe of society. Glenn Ford played her ex-lover, now working for her current husband, some German guy who ran a night club in South America somewhere. Argentina. Anyway, Rita and Glenn torment the hell out of each other for the whole show.

She almost changed channels, but wanted to see how it ended.

He decided to tune in an old Miami Vice episode on cable. Sonny Crocket was falling for a French woman who was really setting him up to get killed and ripped-off by her dealer-lover, played by Ted Nugent. A song called “Cry” played over the violence and deception as Nugent and Crockett shot it out; then Crockett arrested the girl on Miami Beach, cooly putting his shades on to hide his tears as she walked away with her arm around the waist of another cop.

He finished off his beer and flung the bottle against the wall. It shattered into a million pieces and shards of glass flew everywhere. He put his hand over his face to protect his eyes from the little fragments.

Her loneliness felt like emotional AIDS, and she knew it was terminal, with no known cure on the market, and she'd tried everything. Gilda ended happily, with the German husband getting bumped off and Glenn and Rita going back to New York a happy couple. Only in the goddamn movies, she thought.

There was a knock at the door.

“I was in the neighborhood,” he said meekly as she let him in. “You know, to start my paper route.”
“I wish you hadn't have come,” she lied.
“I need to talk to you,” he said. “I don't understand why we both need to be unhappy alone. We could at least be unhappy together.”
“That doesn't make any sense,” she said, pouring them both a drink. “There's nothing left to say or do. It's just over. No special reason. Things change.”
“I miss you,” he whispered. “I need you, I love you...”
“Don't,” she said, moving away from him, opening her door again. “You should go. People want their papers.”
“So? I want you but can't have that. People don't always get what they want, do they?”
“Please leave.”
“Did you try calling me earlier?”
“Are you lying to me?”
His eyes wandered over to the figure she was sculpting, nude, twisted, in pain. “Nice work,” he said.
“Thanks. It isn't finished yet.”
“Missing a penis?”
She gave him a cold, hard look. “Breasts.”
“You should go.”
“I'll die if I never see you again.”
“Everybody dies,” she said as he walked out the door.

After he'd left, she noticed there was blood on the carpet, and wondered where it came from. She tried to clean it up, but it had stained already. She covered it up with a throw rug, pretending it wasn't there, hoping no one would find it and ask her incriminating questions she couldn't answer.  (End)

I wrote Night Notes while I was actually working as a desk clerk at The French Hotel in Berkeley, CA, circa 1989-1991. This fluffy little piece of prose poetry doesn't begin to reflect the truly epic oddness of that place, which seemed to attract all kinds of colorful kooks from around the globe. Later it was expanded into my unpublished novella Shadow Music, which was adapted for this Berkeley radio play in 1996. The themes are nearly identical in both pieces. Years later, inspired by similar experiences, I wrote and published my extremely graphic horror-noir-bizarro novella Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room, which went a lot further in capturing the strangeness of that little hotel, albeit in a greatly exaggerated fashion.

Posted on my blog as a preview of the book, check out chapters OneTwoThree, and Four of Freaks for a striking contrast in style, tone, content and over-all approach, as well as a striking example of how my brain has deteriorated in the intervening decades. For now, here is a pristine preservation of a young, naive, hopelessly romantic mind at work..

by Will Viharo
Originally published in Expression, Fall 1990

She took a room in The French Hotel because she wanted to pretend she was still in the south of France, happy and tan, and not back in Berkeley, broke and blue. The hotel was in a three-story red-brick building along with The French Cafe, with neon signs designating each. She liked the modern, brightly-lit décor of the rooms and the European fragrances of espresso and croissants. The overall ambience was casual, almost informal, but clean and well-kept. She pretended she was residing in a small French villa. In fact, she rarely ventured outdoors. It was early winter and raining frequently now, but that was not the reason for her self-imposed isolation. She was trying to concoct a cocoon, spending mornings and afternoons reading long, romantic novels in the cafe, and wasting away the evenings dozing and idly watching television. She hoped this would continue forever, but the sad fact was she was nearly out of money. It was almost time to face the real world again, and she dreaded it. Still, she tried to appreciate the time, and funds, she had left. After all, life itself is impermanent, she reasoned, so why worry about the future?

She fancied herself a poetess, but other than her graduate theses on the Romantics, in which she provided some updated examples of the mode from her own talented but dormant imagination, she had nothing to show for it. She realized that making a living as a poet – even a successful one – was not a realistic prospect in this day and age, in this country. One reason for her flight to France had been a vague desire to become an expatriate, hoping the spirit of Anais Nin would take possession of her heart and pen. But all she really did was transfer her dreaming from one continent to another for a few months, until her savings ran out. Now it was back to Eugene, Oregon, to wait tables and live in a rustic artists' commune and eventually commit herself (either way). Her only reasonable alternative – a nine-to-five job was not in the running – was to simply stay in this hotel and find a way to freeze time as well as her assets.

At least she had a sympathetic friend in the night clerk. He fancied himself a saxophone player, although he didn't know how to play and was too cheap, and broke (at five bucks an hour) to take lessons. But he listened a lot to Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday records, hoping their well-honed blues would, via osmosis, be assimilated by his heart and soul and maybe even lungs and lips. In the meantime, he had his job, his room, his cat, his bills, his dreams, and his records.

He hit it off right away with the poetess who never wrote poetry, since he was a saxophone player who never played sax. Secretly, he was in love with her.

“It's the thought that counts,” he told her one night as they sat listening to his blues tapes. She smoked and he drank coffee; she had in her lap an empty notebook and a pencil. She laughed at his statement, but inside she felt sad and lost. She had to find a way to justify her existence and pay her hotel tab at the same time, but soon. This was her last paid night in The French Hotel.

“Tell the owner I'm thinking about paying my bill,” she told the desk clerk/sax player.

“I'm afraid he won't even offer credit for your thoughts,” the desk clerk laughed.

“Not even a penny?” she smiled. He noticed her legs as she crossed them. She let him notice, and didn't pull the hem over her knee.

“Not that they're not worth anything,” the desk clerk said more seriously. “Maybe if you wrote them down people would pay to read them. In a book of poems, I mean.”

“Nobody cares enough about poetry to support me.”

“That's probably because you're still alive. People go for dead poets.” He was trying to balance the books and listen to the music at the same time. Invariably he screwed up the accounts. He was on notice already as it was. He was looking for another job, but couldn't find anything he wanted to do as much as play the sax in a smoky nightclub. Not even close. He had the soul but not the instrument, the vision but not the voice. Inwardly, the music never stopped. The trouble with that was only he could hear and appreciate his compositions and classic covers. If only he could live inside of himself all the time, and never come out. He'd invite the poetess in once in a while, of course. If she wanted to come, that is. He had a feeling she'd like it in there, given the chance. It was dark and cozy and he wouldn't charge rent and make her get a demoralizing job.

“My poems are too sentimental, anyway,” she said, taking a slow, sexy drag. “Or they would be, if I wrote them down.”

“Today it's sentimental. Tomorrow, it'll be poignant. That's usually how it works,” the world-wise desk clerk explained.

“I see,” she smiled. “So maybe I should just die. As a career move, I mean.”

“Don't kid around about stuff like that,” the desk clerk said. “This time of night, anyway. Gives me the creeps. They don't call it graveyard shift for nothin'.”

“Sorry.” She decided to change the subject to something livelier. “I like your taste in music.”

“Thanks. So do I.”

“Although I prefer Patsy Cline myself.”

“I like her, too. Bluesy voice.”

“Patsy Cline, Billie Holiday...ever read Sylvia Plath?”

“Nope. Why?”

“It seems you have a thing for tragic women.”

“Maybe. Maybe I do. At least from a distance.”

She took a long, pensive drag on her cig. “That's too bad. You should take a closer look sometime.” She met his eyes and they both smiled. He looked back down at the books. He'd just messed up again. What the hell – it was fate. Obviously he was meant to be a fuck-up, or a “social pariah,” in romantic terms. If he didn't move quickly, his future would catch up with him.

“Have you ever noticed,” the poetess said abruptly, “that a saxophone sounds like an orgasm feels?”

He broke the point on his pencil. “Ummm...I never really put the two together, to be honest.”

“Think about it. Hard.”

“You ever look into a mirror and watch yourself disappear?”

“Do you want to come to my room?”

“You didn't answer my question.”

“You didn't answer mine.”

“Yes, I would,” he said.

“No, I haven't,” she said.

“I've already seen your room,” he said as they walked down the long, dark hall.

“Not with me in it,” she said.

“In my imagination,” he said low, but she heard it.

“Reality's better,” she said. “Time to trade up.”

She smiled slyly as she led him to her room. He brought his tape player and the screwed-up books with him, his blood pounding with anticipation. At least one fantasy would come true tonight, he thought, and maybe it would inspire the rest to follow suit.

“Don't bother,” he said, pulling out the key to her room just before she opened it herself. He let them in and locked the door behind them.

“What if the phone rings, though?” he asked, sitting tentatively on the edge of the bed. “Up at the front desk, I mean?”

“At 2:30 in the morning?” she said, pointing at the digital clock. She'd left her underthings strewn across the bed. He pretended not to notice. She went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. “I'll be out in a minute. I'm just going to freshen up,” she called to him. He had the accounts open on his lap, and he gazed at them as if they interested him a great deal. He was slowly deciding to quit before they fired him, to save time as well as humiliation.

She appeared in a flimsy fuchsia bathrobe five minutes later. She had her hair wrapped in a towel. She massaged her scalp and dried her hair as she turned on the television.

“Why don't you have cable?” she asked absently as she finished drying her hair. Her bathrobe fell open and exposed her cleavage, but the desk clerk nervously kept his nose in his books. Was this a come-on or a put-on? For once he was more preoccupied with the present than the future.

“The owner's too cheap,” he mumbled. He turned on the tape player low, so that the volume didn't completely drown out the television.

She flipped the channels quickly, then shut it off. “Nothin's on anyway,” she said with a grimace.

“You shouldn't be wasting your time watching television anyway,” the desk clerk said.

“What should I be doing, then?” she asked ingenuously as she sat down beside him on the bed, the warmth of her thigh seeping through his slacks. She took the account book away from him and tossed it into the wastebasket.

“Why did you do that?” he asked, as she leaned even closer to him, so that her breath touched his cheek.

“I've had many lovers,” she said, leaning over him and shutting off his tape recorder. He moved to turn it back on, but she gently intercepted him, holding his hand in hers.

“If you've had many lovers,” he said hoarsely, “does that make me just another statistic?”

“I can hear you, you know,” she said.

“Hear what?” he asked, uneasy.

She began kissing his neck and unbuttoning his shirt. He didn't stop her.

“Your music.”

“You just turned it off.”

“I don't mean that music. I mean the music that has led me from one bedroom to the next, looking for its source. Sometimes I'd hear it while sitting in a bar, and a man would approach me, light my cigarette, and take me home. But I'd wake up feeling empty, hearing nothing. Then, later, when I was alone, I'd hear it again. I'd try to write lyrics for it in my notebook, to try to understand it. At first I thought I was only hearing the music from your machine when I came here, but now I realize...”

He cupped her face in his palms and kissed her, long and deeply. He looked into her dark eyes and was drawn into her little dome-covered world.

“I've imagined this moment since the first time I saw you,” he said, opening her bathrobe fully and kissing her breasts. She moaned and shut her eyes, and he leaned back onto the bed. “I'm so happy I wasn't hallucinating.”

“The music is so loud now,” she whispered. “I can't hear anything else.”

Later, after he lay exhausted in her arms, she hummed the music that had once been trapped inside his head.

“The night is full of epiphanies,” she said softly.

The next morning the manager of The French Hotel came in to find no clerk on duty. She called his home number but it was disconnected. He never returned for his paycheck.

A week passed, and the manager finally noticed that room 302 was not up-to-date on the bill. She marched up to the room and rapped on the door. When no one answered, she tried all the keys, called a locksmith, and then the owner, but no one could open the door to 302.

Inside, the desk clerk sat on the edge of the bed, shirtless, playing his saxophone as moonlight streamed through the blinds, and the girl lay beside him with her feet up, writing in her notebook. The digital clock was stuck at 2:30 a.m., but it was no longer the musician's responsibility to fix it. They did, however, have cable T.V. The night would never end.

The police broke into the room and the manager identified the bodies, already cold. The cause of death is still unknown. Late at night, some visitors to The French Hotel claim to hear music, but no one can ever find its source. The lyrics are haunting, people say.


VOLUME ONE: A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge and
Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room

VOLUME TWO: Lavender Blonde and Down a Dark Alley

VOLUME THREE: Chumpy Walnut and Other Stories

Fate Is My Pimp, Romance Takes a Rain Check, I Lost My Heart in Hollywood, Diary of a Dick

The new Vic Valentine novel HARD-BOILED HEART now available from Gutter Books


My short story BEHIND THE BAR is included in this anthology:

My Vic Valentine vignette BRAIN MISTRUST is included in this anthology:

Screening of the Director's Cut of Jeff M. Giordano's documentary The Thrill Is Gone,
Monday, November 17, 2014, 5:30pm at the Alameda Free Library