Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I saw through that thin Anglo-Saxon grin of his as he shook my hand. Charles Franklin. He had all of the trappings of the successful - the tailored suit with the handkerchief placed just so, the stickpin and loafers, the watch, ring and cuff links, that air of refined confidence - he was quite an act all right, and not a bad guy, as far as these kinds of guys go. He would do. Charles Franklin seemed OK.

He invited me to sit down. As I eased into one of his upholstered chairs he asked what I would like to drink. Was whiskey all right? Yes, whiskey would be fine. As he poured, he chatted away. He chose his words carefully, in spite of himself. But his talk was not hitting my brain, really. I recognized this kind of happy chatter, and I gave an occasional nod or a casual grin without thinking too much.

Then he came across the room and handed me my drink. I glanced furtively into his vacant eyes as he gave me the glass of whiskey. God, I thought, Charles Franklin. What made him tick? He sat next to me. The lamp between us threw down a beam of mellow light that light up our area and left the rest of the room in shadows. It was an intimate light; a glowing arena. The whiskey was smooth and warm.

"Tell me," said Franklin, "why did you become a lawyer?" Oh not that one! I shuddered on the inside and then gazed pensively for some moments. "Charles, at first I thought I would become wealthy and powerful as a lawyer and use that wealth and power constructively. That is, I would find a stable lifestyle in the community and make that community stronger." Oh God, why did I use that word, "community." Everyone knows that word is code for the huddled black masses. "After a while, before I even started making money at all, I reconsidered. I began thinking, "No - I'll help the poor and bewildered instead. But the truth is, Charles, that I took neither course. So to answer your question, the best answer I can give you is this: at the time, I was able to go to law school, and in this increasingly litigious society, I'm glad I did. It's a comfort knowing the law and being a lawyer. Learning to analyze things is damn helpful. So I went for the knowledge."

"Well, I know what you mean. I often feel that way myself." That condescending ass. Who was he fooling? He loved the goddamn money and the thrill of being in the role, period. I loathed him at that moment. Then I pitied him. At least he was decent enough to meet with me. And he had style. Our mutual friend, Stanley, did a fine job of arranging everything. he would be perfect.

"Sometimes I want to chuck it all and climb a mountain or something," he said. "But then I think of my obligations - to my wife, the kids, what we've built-up her over the years. I'd be totally helpless without them. I daydream from time to time, usually when I'm at my desk in the evening and everything is quiet. Everyone has gone home and things are relaxed in the evening, you know?" Yes, I know. I've had some pretty quiet moments myself these past months now - practically every day. That's what unemployment's all about. Do I know. He said he'd like to climb a mountain. I wonder why I never think about climbing a mountain. I can see him doing it though, all that brightly colored nylon gear on, all snug and standing tall, his breath hanging in the cold air as he humps his way to the summit. God, he was something.

"Well, the law can be home for some, but many are disillusioned. I would say that I'm pretty comfortable with my small practice most of the time, yet once in a you think you want to practice law?" he asked, "Stan said you were weighing your options." "Well, I really can't say right now. Stanley would like to see me practicing. That I'm sure of. We were pals in law school and he always seemed to be impressed with my abilities - he thinks I have talent. And in all modesty I must say I think I do too. We've toyed with the idea of starting a practice together, but it's never gone anywhere. he's too snug where he is. I think about practicing law. I'm trained to be a lawyer and I should be doing it I guess."

"What would you rather be if you weren't a lawyer?"

"Oh, writer, art agent, traveling musician, it depends on which of 15-minute career fantasies I'm having when people ask."

"Well. you're not short on options, are you?" Oh man, I can read his mind. He's brimming with envy, then resentment. Next he's going to get this kind of diffident attitude going. It should take him about five minutes. "I know I must sound flip, but I really must say, I can do a number of things rather well and that has been my downfall - I'm spread so thin doing things that don't really grab me, I can't focus on what it is I really want to do, as a career I mean."

"Well let me tell are one of the first people I have ever met who is a licensed attorney and has so much else on the ball. It's like meeting a Renaissance man." Holy hell. He is following the pattern all right. "Thank you, but I'm far from that. Though I wish you were right, I more often than not feel more like a dabbler or dilettante."

Charles Franklin had a wistful look as he stared down at the carpet. I continued, "I have done many. many things. I try to follow my interests, which are still far-ranging. The down side is that I really don't have the money to continue on for long in whatever it is i am attempting. I have to stop, find a way to pay my debts, and then move on again. It's a different life altogether. You don't lay down any roots. You are certainly too unstable to have a wife - you could never care for her properly, let alone kids." Why was I confiding all of this to him? I only just met him. Oddly enough, he does seem interested.

"Such a life is totally alien to me. And i think I'd just die without my wife and kids. And most lawyers I know could never live like that. With court dates and clients calling, it would be absolutely impossible. But what a life! To be free! A vagabond drifter, a rolling stone!" He was clearly taken with the idea of my life-style. I didn't have the heart to him it was not a life-style i chose, but one which had chosen me. And I doubted seriously if he could ever fully realize the lonely rootlessness that gnawed at me, the finite limits on all that I did. Oh how I envied him at that moment! Maybe Stanley's idea should be tried. If it worked we would both be better off, perhaps.

Franklin went on spewing romanticized thoughts of the road life; places he would go, things he would do - if only he were not held back, he said. But what was holding him back, I wondered. he felt he had obligations, and he did. But he could arrange things so that he could do what he really wanted to do - quit his practice, or at least take a leave of absence, explain things to his wife and kids, then take some money and run. "Do you really want this other kind of life, Charles? Couldn't it be just a Walter Mitty dream?" I ventured, boldly challenging his vision.

"I only know that there is something inside of me, a voice, a longing - I can't describe it but I know it's real. This drab office i come to every after gets so...meaningless. Despite the moments when I get those tremendous feelings of accomplishment, like when I win a battle in court, or i do something else for a client that brings me great joy, it just seems so very...mundane." Classic. He is a classic case of professional burn-out. Maybe he had at last come to the realization, as with so many others of his ilk, that what he was doing was indeed an unfulfilling act, a role that society expected of him. He had bought into the system and now the system was biting him in the ass.

"Charles, I think I know what you mean. But you know, I'd give anything to change places with you." There it was. I said it. The secret was out now. I wonder how he'll react.

"You must be kidding."

"No, I'm not kidding." He had no way of knowing just how much I was not kidding. With each of my breaths, the long, razor-thin dagger pressed gently against my chest. Oh I was serious all right. Stanley's information on that fateful night had led me to this.

"How about another whiskey?"

"Sure." The ice cubes jangling in the glasses on the darker side of the room sent my mind back to how it all began. I had been at Stanley's apartment. He was excited, telling me about a movie he had just seen. It was a surrealistic thriller involving the demon. In it, a man had become completely obsessed with the idea of changing his identity. He had fallen in with a certain crowd, one of whom held out hope that he could realize his ultimate dream. This man was told of a way he could change his identity, and more! Stanley then explained the gruesome rite which was only alluded to in the movie. The rite involved taking the chosen victim, slashing open his chest, plunging the hand into the gaping cavity and yanking out the heart. The participant must then eat the victim's heart while it was still warm and pumping.

"Your drink, sir." Excuse me while i use the restroom."

Suddenly alone in the room, I took a long sip of the whiskey and remembered how i could not sleep for some nights after that meeting at Stanley's. Spurred on by curiosity, I had finally located an occult book that actually described this same gruesome and arcane heart-eating ritual. And, if performed correctly, it was supposed to change the identity of the participant by stealing the soul of the victim. How dumbfounded I had felt at that moment. A little plastic surgery and voila, a new life! It had seemed insanely perfect. I had set about at once looking for contacts and planning for a night just like this one.

I heard Charles fumbling toward the door in the outside hall. I wondered what he must be thinking. I took another long sip from my drink. I felt funny. As he entered the room I noticed he was staring at me. No. It wasn't a stare, it was more of a...glare. I felt faint. What drink slipped from my hand. My God, he's raising a dagger! I felt a sharp, piercing pain, intense, excruciating pain. I thought I was screaming loudly but no sound, not even a whisper came out. Then I blanked. I don;t remember anything else, at least not in the normal way. Yet somehow...I was still in the room.

The phone rang. I picked it up. "Hello, hello...Charles?"


"Yes, it's Stan. How is everything going?"

"Fine," I said, "just as we planned it."

"Wonderful. I heard from the doctor. He'll be expecting you for surgery at 8:00 AM tomorrow morning. I'll visit you at the clinic and then we'll talk about your future. We have lots of ideas for you, now that your free from your old routine."

"That's great," I gushed, "I finally have my dream life and a new career!"

"And don't worry about your wife and kids, Charley - we have them."

September, 2-3, 1993

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