Continued from: Nocking the List: Part 5 — Infamy
They put a good dent in the whiskey, the two of them sitting on the couch side by side with all sorts of World War II memorabilia spread out before them. Carl had Clay Aiken playing on the CD turntable, one track ending and another beginning. Sophie said, “I can’t believe you listen to Clay Aiken.” She giggled this statement, not wanting him to think she was questioning his manhood—even though she was—but she wanted to keep it all playful.
“I can’t believe you don’t,” he said.
“Didn’t you see him on Idol?”
“It was incredible. And he seems like such a nice guy. Visiting cancer patients and…”
She decided that it might be harder to seduce this guy than she originally thought. She shifted the subject in a random direction to catch him off guard, taking back control of the conversation, asking him in a playfully sarcastic tone, “So why do you have a bubblegum card of Hitler?”
Sophie picked up what was, in essence, a bubblegum card of Hitler. Beneath the Hitler card was another card with what looked like a Japanese man’s face on a balloon floating over Pearl Harbor. Beneath that card was what looked like an Asian Charlie Chaplain. She read what was written on the back of the Hitler card, “‘Führer Brain Cells?’” she giggled. “What are these things?”
Carl looked stunned. He gently took the card from her. “A bubblegum card of Hitler?” he said incredulously. “These are Infamy Cards. They are very rare and worth quite a lot of money. The story behind them is very interesting. Infamy Cards were created during the Second World War, written by a man named Louis Ting and drawn by a man named Samuel Carey. I guess describing them as ‘men’ isn’t even really right here. They were just a couple of kids, really. Carey was seventeen, Ting only fifteen at the time of the war. Both of them getting into the army on false pretences. They both showed aptitude for creativity and artistic ability, so they were assigned to create propaganda for the military. It was these Infamy Cards that they created. Anyway, when the Allies were storming Normandy, one regiment was short two soldiers, so they grabbed hold of Ting and Carey, and sent them up the beach. They survived the horror that was D-Day, and they were dragged along with their foster regiment all the way to The Battle of the Bulge. This time, Carey did not survive, and Ting, who watched his friend die in a graphic manner, became so disheartened that he went AWOL and began making rogue Infamy cards, attacking everything from American politicians to popular culture. He disappeared and is still wanted by the military and the F.B.I. He continues to create Infamy cards to this day, working with different artists from around the world. No one knows where he is. He is also known to distribute short stories and essays in bottles thrown into the ocean. Some people have tried to trace the bottles’ journeys to their source. But no one has ever found him. My great uncle actually fought with him in The Battle of the Bulge.”
“Wow,” Sophie said. “Once again, that was a lot of information, Carl.”
Carl flushed and said, “Sorry.”
“No, it’s interesting,” she said. There was a brief awkward pause and Sophie said, “So where did you get all of this memorabilia?”
“Most of it is from my family,” he said, his demeanor perking considerably. “A lot of the stuff’s just been passed down and all.”
“Nice that they gave it to you.”
“Yeah. They all knew I collect the stuff,” he said, “Most of them are gone now.” He paused a moment, regarding his collection, then he said, “So, how about you? You have a large family?”
“I come from a long line of only-children,” Sophie said. “I’m an only-child. My mom, dad, grandparents, all only-children. I guess it’s what gives me my independent spirit.”
“You certainly seem independent.”
The conversation was hovering dangerously close to personal territory, which meant that it was heading to a comfortable silence, and subsequently, a potential make-out session. Sophie was hoping she could get Carl so hammered he’d pass out and she could merely walk out the front door without any physical entanglement at all, but the guy was holding his liquor surprisingly well for a supposed light-weight. Maybe she could get him rambling again about Idol or World War II, and he could literally talk himself into a stupor.
“Okay, time for a drinking game,” Sophie said.
Sophie noted that he had this way of asking a question that was not unlike the village idiot. But this guy was far from dumb. It was more the way he processed things that were going on around him. A slow building of understanding in his mind. As if he needed to take apart and analyze every word said to him.
“I’m going to make up a game right now,” Sophie said. She looked at the memorabilia spread out on the coffee table. “Let’s see here…” She was searching for an object that would have the longest anecdotal potential. She picked up a bayonet, the thing about fourteen inches long—a perpetual polishing of the thing had apparently accentuated the battle scars upon it. Something about it brought up the hairs on her neck. She returned it to the table. The bayonet’s story would surely be a buzz-kill. Just holding the thing felt like holding dread. She searched the table again. There were medals and documents, the stupid bubblegum cards, and then, bingo. There was a doorknocker in the shape of an eagle and swastika.
She said to Carl, “Okay, now, you need to tell the story behind this object without using the word and. If you do say and, then you finish your drink. Got it? Ready? Go.”
Carl said, “I can’t say and?”
“Shit, Carl, you already lost.”
He sat there for a moment as his intoxicated, over-processing brain worked out her joke. Then it dawned on him, and he smiled a sloppy grin, saying, “Whoops. Sorry.”
“Okay, try again,” Sophie said. “And no ands, got it?”
“Got it,” he said, picking up the doorknocker and saying, “All righty-then. This lovely item my great uncle Herbert White got off of an SS captain’s house…” Carl paused a moment, obviously about to say and. He sat a moment gathering his thoughts again.
Sophie smiled. It was her first legitimate smile of the night.
Carl continued his story, saying, “They knocked on the door with this knocker. Generally, they’d have just busted down the door and raided the house, but something about a swastika doorknocker cracked them up, and they couldn’t resist cordially using it. After knocking, my uncle calls up in this high-pitched voice, calling, ‘Hallo, Avon Fräulein.’” Carl began laughing uncontrollably, but he stopped when he noticed that Sophie was not laughing.
She knew it would have been a good time to laugh with the guy, a good bonding moment, gaining his trust and all. But if they both started laughing uncontrollably, there would have been nowhere to go but to kiss. So she arched an eyebrow to get him back on track.
Carl continued, saying, “My uncle used to laugh his ass off telling that story, but you probably had to be there. He had one of those infectious laughs.”
Sophie smiled another genuine smile.
Carl said, “I once had a skinhead offer me a grand for the knocker. I would never sell it because it had such sentimental value to my uncle, and…”
“Wait,” Sophie said, “You said and. You owe a drink.”
“Really? I said and?”
“Two drinks,” Sophie said.
“Oh, man,” Carl said, “I don’t even know if I can.”
“Rule’s a rule, Carl. No reneging. It’s drinking-game etiquette. You don’t really have a say in the matter.”
“All right. All right. Give it here,” he said. Sophie was both sincerely impressed and sincerely disappointed when he downed the drink like a champ. But after a moment, she could see his body wasn’t feeling very champ-like. “I think I need that one to hit my head,” he said, and he stood, wobbly.
Sophie wasn’t quite sure what he was trying to say, but she figured he was trying to say two different things at once. Trying to say that he needed the bathroom and that the alcohol had gone straight to his head.
“Jesus, you are drunk,” Sophie laughed as he stumbled off in the direction of the bathroom.
When Sophie heard the bathroom door click shut, she grabbed her bag and stuffed the war memorabilia into it. Her precision was as flawlessly automated as an assembly line, and she cleared the table in seconds. She did leave the bayonet, however—not wanting to touch the thing. Then she turned and headed for a swift exit, grabbing his car keys hanging on the wall beside the front door.
But she stopped.
She paused and then returned to the coffee table. She had no idea why she was doing this, but she dug through her bag to find the swastika doorknocker. She returned the thing to the coffee table, placing it neatly beside the bayonet, before heading back for the door.
But she stopped again.
She noticed something she hadn’t paid attention to when first inventorying the room. She couldn’t believe she’d missed it. It was what she had earlier assumed to be a framed diploma in the bookcase. She had paid it no mind, but now she realized it was a framed certificate, reading: “For ten years of duty with the Mystic Island Police Department.”
He was a cop. How did she not pick up on this? Well, she guessed in retrospect, it was easy not to have picked up on it. He was not the cop-type. He was way too boring and timid to be a cop. She found that the cops she’d met were generally too stupid to be boring and too arrogant to be timid. But still, there you have it, he was a cop.
His voice came from behind her. At first, she wasn’t quite sure what he said—she only heard her heart beating—but then she realized he said, “What are you doing?”
She didn’t move, her heart still beating in her ears.
She’d only been caught in the act once before. It was in Chicago, and she was able to get down three flights of stairs and out of the building, disappearing into the crowded streets before the fat-fuck she’d robbed was even able to make it out of the apartment. But now she had no idea where she was. If she had to run, she had no idea which direction to even go. Could she make it out to his car before he grabbed her? If not, she couldn’t go running off down the street with this guy chasing her, it would attract far too much attention. And she certainly didn’t want to end up lost in those woods out back. Haunted or not. And what’s more, she had already made a cardinal mistake without even realizing it. Her first mistake was taking the time to return the doorknocker, the second, freezing when she saw the certificate, but her third mistake was the game changer. Her third mistake was not remembering if Carl had locked the door when they first arrived. She always noted those things. She figured she must have been slipping. Or she’d become over-confident.
She turned to find Carl walking into the living room.
Now she had to try and talk her way out of this, but if he was a cop, that probably wouldn’t work. She knew there was no way a cop could let this go. How did she not see this coming? In her defense, generally cops would tell her they were a cop at least twenty times a night. In fact, it seemed they couldn’t not tell her, which is why she always had the chance to bail before ending up at one’s house. But there was nothing cop about this guy, which is why the certificate froze her. And now, she knew that she might have to sleep with him. She’d never had to sleep with a mark. Never so much as a blow job. But sex was generally the only language cops understood when it came to a girl talking her way out of trouble.
She said in a light, airy, don’t-mind-me tone, “Um, well, Carl, I’m not feeling so great. I think I’ll just get going.”
He looked at the coffee table, empty now, save for the bayonet and the doorknocker. She’d even swiped the chess set. And his brain began to do that slow crawl to comprehension, as confusion slipped into his eyes and voice. “You mean, you’re robbing me?”
“It was nice meeting you, Carl, but I’ve got to get going now,” she said, stepping to the front door. But, of course, it was locked. She reached up and fumbled with a deadbolt.
Carl was now right behind her.
She said, “It’s been real, Carl.” She heard the beautiful music of the deadbolt clicking , and she opened the door.
Carl slammed it shut again.
He said, in that village idiot way of his, “You’re really robbing me?”
Sophie turned to face him. She smiled, trying to lay on the charm. But he looked different. His eyes were intense, nostrils flared, teeth bared. She never would have guessed him capable of it, but he actually looked intimidating. However, Sophie found that it was not the anger that was unsettling. It was the confusion in his eyes.
Sophie said, “Look, Carl, why don’t you just take your stuff back, and I’ll be going. No harm, no foul, right?”
He still seemed to be working it all out in his mind, the anger and the confusion seeping across his face like a stain, and he said, “But… I thought we… you’re really robbing me?”
For the briefest of moments, Sophie thought how, at any other time, this bewildered look on Carl’s face would be funny. It would be funny if she wasn’t completely screwed at the moment. “Carl, I need to get going now. Here’s your stuff.” She walked back to his coffee table and began returning the stolen items to it. She knew this was a mistake as soon as she did it. Now Carl was between her and the door. She continued pulling items from her bag, but her fingers kept falling onto individual chess pieces, and she found herself returning his stolen items one pawn at a time.
“You bitch,” Carl said. He said it almost conversationally, but there was a growl to that tone that Sophie did not like at all.
She looked at the bayonet, still on the coffee table. Was she really ready and willing to use it?
Sophie said, “Look, Carl, calm down. I can explain.” Her tone was steady, subdued. She realized she’d crossed a line she’d never crossed before. The line of being in real danger. A situation she was not necessarily going to be able to talk her way out of.
“Me calm down? You can explain?” His voice was screechy and out of control.
Sophie reached for the bayonet, but Carl grabbed her, hard, before she could get to it. She dropped her bag at his feet. He flung her back toward the kitchen. She had nowhere to go now—the front door may as well have been in Istanbul. She figured there could be a back door, but she had no idea where it would lead. The woods? Not to mention, if she ran at this point, he’d be on her, most likely with the bayonet. Like they say, never run from a predatory animal—and the anger in his eyes made him look like exactly that right now. She just needed to stay calm. She could still talk, or fuck, her way out of this. “Let’s talk about this, Carl. This could still have a happy ending.”
“A happy ending?” he said in his confused way. Again, he didn’t seem to get the sexual overtones of her words.
He picked up her bag and checked the heft of it in his hand. “How much did you take?”
Her sarcastic nature of course wanted to say, Obviously I took all of it, asshole, at least I left the doorknocker. But, instead, she mustered her sweetest smile, and said, “C’mon, Carl, let’s not ruin the night.”
“Ruin the night?” he screamed.
And there you have it, folks, Sophie was now witnessing a man that had come completely unhinged.
He swung Sophie’s bag, with a good fifteen pounds of war memorabilia in it, and it caught her right in the chops. She lost her balance and hit her head on the coffee table.
Continued in: Nocking the List: Part 7 — Oh Shit