Today, I am going to do something a little different and share a scene from my novel My Problem With Doors. After being honored in a novel writing competition, it was published by a new small press in late 2010 (you can find it on amazon.com here and as an eBook on Google here).
This is probably one of my favorite moments from the novel. I hope you enjoy this excerpt.
He was waiting at a table in a private part of the restaurant. He was sitting alone and tracing his fork across the tablecloth. He seemed to be fascinated by the lines they made on the fabric. His medical tool chest was nearby on a separate chair. It was as if he had positioned his weapons so I would know that they were there. It was when he took a sip of his red wine that he noticed me standing near him. His smile broke into a frown. “You’re late.”
“You didn’t give me a time.”
That answer didn’t appease him. “I’m not the kind of person who should be kept waiting.”
I decided not to test him with a biting reply and sat quietly across from him.
Jack seemed to be overjoyed that I was there. He clapped his hands cheerfully and motioned for the waiter to come over. “My guest has arrived.”
The waiter nodded; I could see by his discomfort that he didn’t really want to get too close to a man who would have dinner with such an odd man as Jack. He began to recite the specials for the day, but I promptly interrupted him. “I’m not eating.” I did give him a few coins to dismiss him, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off of my companion. I didn’t trust Jack, not in the least. He knew I wanted to stop him. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have poisoned my food?
Jack, with a sway of his hand, brushed off the idea of my not eating and ordered steaks, “rare and bloody,” for both of us. When he said “bloody” he made sure to emphasize it for my benefit.
After the waiter left, we sat in silence for a few moments. Jack picked up his knife and began to twirl it between his fingers. I instinctively clenched my right fist as I watched him play with it. If he were to throw it, I probably had about an eight in ten chance that I could grab it before it reached my face. I had to make sure I didn’t cease being prepared for that possibility.
Jack seemed to enjoy watching the changes in my posture and expressions while he played with the knife and his motions became faster and more intricate. “Does it bother you that I have this knife?” he asked.
“You know the answer,” I replied.
“Are you thinking of all the things I could do with it?”
I didn’t bother to respond.
He sighed and put the knife down. “You’re really not fun.”
“Then why did you invite me to dinner?”
“It’s not often you get to have dinner with the man who will kill you.”
I smirked. “Are you referring to you or to me?”
He smirked back. He had incredibly rigid posture, perfectly straight and not a curve in his body. “So you must have some questions for me?”
“Not particularly,” I responded.
“Don’t waste my time and yours. You know this is why you met me for dinner. You want to understand me. Are you looking for motives?” This idea seemed to give him a sense of pride. “So ask, boy-o.”
We sat in silence.
The waiter returned with the food, hurriedly placing it in front of us and then left.
I didn’t touch my food. Jack didn’t care that I didn’t. With a light touch, almost what one would expect of a lover, he first grazed his fingertip over the meat, then with a soft near caress he ran the tip of his knife along the top of the meat and then…cut. He smiled as the blood eased out of the wound and around the blade, entranced by the path of the blood.
He began to eat. “Do you want to know why?”
I didn’t respond. There was something incredibly monstrous in his devouring of the steak. I felt sick. I wanted to vomit but controlled my stomach. I couldn’t let myself lose control in this situation. I couldn’t.
Jack didn’t wait for me to respond. He swallowed and answered his own question. “I am testing God,” he said as he continued to eat, “I want to see how evil I have to be until He responds and says ‘no.’” He laughed at the idea of God telling him to stop.
“What if there is no God?” I asked.
“Then who is to say what I am doing is wrong? It’s just an action. An action followed by a result. Tomorrow will go on as usual in Whitechapel. People will go to work. Where is the sin then?”
“But you’re killing people.”
“Have you killed anyone?” I could tell he already knew the answer to that question. It must have been written on my face from the first moment he had met me. “Yes,” I said, “but that’s different.”
“How so? Death is death. My victims are just done with an artistic vision.”
“It’s still the same result, merely the nature of the act is different. Consider this, student…” Student? He had called me student. “…A general sends his troops into battle. Dozens die because he told them to fight. Is he less guilty than I? The outcome is identical.”
“He doesn’t take part in the act of killing.”
“True, he doesn’t manually hold the weapon, but he does lead them to their death, so it is morally equivalent. The result is the same. The general is guilty, I am guilty, you are guilty. God is guilty.” He took another bite of his food. “Why don’t you kill me now?”
“We know why you didn’t kill me last night. You were scared—”
“I wasn’t scared.”
“Yes, you were, student, now don’t interrupt. Look at me. Why don’t you kill me now? You seem much braver now. And look, there is a knife right in front of you. I’m sure that could be a handy weapon.”
I looked down at the knife. It looked like the one I used to carry as a child. I looked back up at Jack. “It would be wrong to kill you here.”
“Why?” he asked with his mouth full of food.
“Because of all the people around.”
“Ah,” he said (I seemed to have given him exactly the answer he wanted). “Because they would see what you will have done. Better to do it in a dark alley.” He laughed again. “I’ll lend you my case of tools if you want.” He patted the box sitting next to him.
“I’m not like you,” I said heatedly.
“No, you are worse, student,” he said. “I kill for Art, for History. You stumble.”
“You don’t know anything about me.”
He looked at me closely. “I know those clothes aren’t yours. They barely fit you. And I can tell that you have no idea how much money you have. You seem to have trouble even recognizing the coins for their value. You gave that waiter quite a fortune as a gratuity.”
“I’m American,” I quickly explained. “That’s why I’m having trouble.”
“If other people believe that, that is fine, but don’t expect me to believe it. The man with the suit—did you kill him?”
I paused, gazing into his unblinking face. “No.”
“You hurt him though.”
“Why didn’t you get arrested? Where was the justice? The police? Why didn’t God stop you from hurting that innocent man?”
“There is no God.”
“So you feel at liberty to do whatever you want?”
“No, I’m not the same as you.” I was getting frustrated; my forehead felt sweaty. “Stop twisting your argument like that.”
“But I am not getting in trouble either. Look at this wonderful dinner I am eating after what happened last night. Isn’t that appalling? Like a general sitting down for dinner after a big battle. I bet he is as hungry as I. No difference in the dinners.”
“The difference is that I am here now.”
“Oh yes,” he said, going back to his food. “And you are going to teach me a lesson?”
“No, I’m just going to kill you.”
“Will someone come to kill you after you kill me?” He paused. “Wouldn’t that be fair?”
I hesitated. “Probably.”
“What I know that you don’t, is that you can’t save everyone, boy-o. One of the hardest lessons in life to learn is that sadness is a part of life. Sadness, cruelty, and death. You can’t escape them. All you can do is accept them.”
I was getting bored with this. “Listen Jack—”
“Please don’t call me that name. I hate the name the papers have come up with for me. It’s like those awful fake letters they publish, claiming they are from me.”
“What should I call you?” I asked.
“‘Sir’ would be nice.”
“How about ‘Professor’ since you have so much to learn, student,” he said, leaning forward.
“Stop calling me that.”
“How many people have you killed?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’d bet it is more than I. You’ve killed many, many, many people, haven’t you, student?”
“So you think killing me will wipe away all your crimes? How much blood do you see when you wash your hands? Can you sleep at night? Do you toss and turn?”
“I sleep like a baby.” He took another bite. “I sleep perfectly well every night.”
“My life is different.”
“It’s all the same in the end. Why do I have to keep saying that to you? The people are still dead, by my hand or by yours. God and the Devil do not care.” He carefully cleaned the corners of his mouth with his napkin. “God and the Devil can not tell the difference between you and me, and a wise man can not tell the difference between them in turn.”
“I can’t wait to kill you.”
“Pish posh, such words, student, such words. Such outbursts lead to bad marks.”
“Are we done with this facade of a dinner?”
He placed the napkin down on the table. “If you wish.” He stood up. “Remember this difference though. When the history books close, I will be remembered for my actions. I will live on. And even though you are a killer as well, maybe more so than I, you will not be remembered. I won’t be lost in time. You can take care of the bill with the beaten man’s money. I assume I have the pleasure of looking forward to seeing you in a dark alley sometime in the future?” He smiled and bowed. “Good night, student. Until we meet again…”
This excerpt was from my novel My Problem With Doors.
It can be found on amazon.com here.
The ebook can be found on Google play here.
An ebook and audiobook version of the novel is also available via the online store of the publisher here.