Redemption

I first attempted writing a novel back in 1997.  I got about 50 thousand words into it and stopped.  I trashed most of it and started again and this has happened multiple times over the years.  I just couldn’t get the story right.  The protagonist of this story, who is also the narrator, is a complete asshole in the beginning.  He’s profane, misogynistic, crude, and wholly unlikeable.  The opening chapter, which is below, is probably a case study in what not to do to endear your characters to your readers because it pisses off most people, but my point in being so over-the-top with the opening is that I wanted to show that everyone, yes even this guy, has some redemptive qualities, and during the course of this story, the protagonist becomes a more sympathetic character.  The problem with it is that I didn’t pull off the transition to my satisfaction.  One day I plan to go back to this story and smooth out the very rough edges.  I think the story is still a good one, but I need to make the main character less hateful.

Why am I even posting this?  The purpose of this blog is to serve as scratch pad of sorts.  A place to experiment and play with unfinished work.  Sometimes a dialog results that helps me think about things differently, and I think there’s value in that.  Almost all the work I post here is raw and unfinished, and much of it may never see the light of day in terms of publication.  I haven’t seen many blogs that share that side of the writing process so I hope that my blog is somewhat unique in that way.

I will warn you that the following is profane, misogynistic, and crude (as noted above).  Will Burris is a tormented young man with a twisted view of the world he rails against.  He’s returning home for the funeral of his older sister and to a family that is less than welcoming.  It’s a story of love, loss, and race in the small town of Walden, Georgia.  Will’s only reason for returning to his hometown is to say goodbye to his sister, but old friends and adversaries greet him at every turn, and he finds himself forced to reconcile his past with his future.  It’s a story of redemption at the basest level.

BECCA

It’s a beautiful spring day in Atlanta as my plane begins its descent into the city’s bustling airport. The sky is so blue that I can see for miles along the horizon, and I imagine that the crisp, cool air that will greet me on this early spring morning will remind me of growing up here. Spring was always my favorite time of the year when I was a young boy. I loved the way Mother Nature rolled over, stretched, and slowly emerged from her winter slumber and greeted everyone with the sweet smell of honeysuckle. It’s enough to make one sentimental, but I’m not the sentimental type.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the seatbelt sign indicating our initial descent into Atlanta. At this time, please bring your seat backs to the upright position…,” coaxes Darlene, the flight attendant with the annoying southern drawl.

“Damn, I wish she would shut the fuck up,” I mutter to myself. I have spent the greater part of the flight listening to this woman drone on and on in her hee-haw vernacular about approved electronic devices and how to buckle the damn seat belt. If anyone cannot figure out how to buckle the goddamned seat belt, they shouldn’t be flying.

I peer up the aisle at her as she continues her spiel. I’m in row two, so I can see her clearly. She glances my way and notices my irritated stare. She pauses momentarily, smiles weakly, and turns away quickly. For the first time, I examine her closely and I have her pegged right away. The thick make-up, the over-sprayed hair, and the cheap perfume all conspire to define her. She’s one of those gold-digging dim-wits who probably became a flight attendant in hopes of landing a pilot for a husband. She’s probably on husband number three, maybe four. She’s easy, so she always has a man at arm’s length. Over the years, she’s been hardened by reality, but she fancies herself as wise. Given the accent, she likely grew up in a trailer park in Alabama and now thinks she has escaped her white trash roots. “Not a chance, lady. I can see right through you,” I think to myself.

The chatty flight attendant finally takes her seat for the landing and except for the brief welcome to Atlanta, I don’t hear from her again. She is nowhere to be found as I leave the plane and walk up the jet way. Good riddance.

I make my way through the busy concourse and up toward baggage claim. Just as I remember, baggage service is slow and I wait impatiently muttering under my breath about the lazy baggage handlers and their unionized, entitlement mentality. “Goddamned baggage handlers,” I say aloud to myself. The old lady next to me glances back but hurriedly returns her stare to the vacant baggage carousel. I look at her and notice that she has a dog-eared bible under her arm.

“Welcome back to the bible belt,” I think. Every old fuck in the world down here believes in hell and brimstone. Of course they do. They are on their last leg sucking the resources of the country dry and they want to ensure they go to heaven. Rotting in the ground is going to be a huge disappointment for this old bitch.

The carousel buzzer goes off and the belt shimmers to life. A few minutes later, luggage emerges from the cave below and crashes down onto the flimsy aluminum railing that encircles carousel. Luckily for me, my suitcase is one of the first ones to hit the belt. I grab my case, extend the handle, and dart off to the rental car tram.

The ride to the rental car is uneventful and fortunately so. I’m not in the best of moods. In fact, I’m downright cantankerous. The flight from New York felt longer than I remember and despite the first class seat, I couldn’t get comfortable. That damned flight attendant didn’t help matters. Who names their kid Darlene anyway? Sounds like some hooker I might have met in Dallas. The moment she introduced herself to the passengers I knew I was going to hate her.

As I get into my rental car I remember to turn on my cell phone. No messages. Shit, doesn’t anyone call me anymore? You’d think the office would at least need something from me. It is a workday after all. “Fuck ‘em,” I think to myself.

I scan my contact list on my phone. I don’t have many girlfriends in there, but I do have quite a few escorts listed. I don’t have time for dating anyway, and when I meet a woman, I need to get what I want and get back to business. Prostitution should be legal. Hell, both sides get what they want and no one has to get married or divorced and there is not any emotional bullshit. For some people, relationships shouldn’t be necessary.

I flip through the list to the Fs. Foster. Edward Foster. Eddie. Eddie works at my company’s office here in Atlanta. I’ve met him many times when he’s come to New York for business meetings or training. He’s one hell of drinker and knows where to get the best pussy. I think I’ll give him a call, so I punch the call icon next to his name. I’m sure he’s up for lunch.

“May I speak to Eddie, please?” I say politely to his assistant once she answers the phone.

“May I ask who’s calling?” she asks.

“Will Burris from New York,” I reply in my best business voice.

“Thank you, Mr. Burris,” she returns. She sounds hot. I’ll have to ask Eddie about her. He’s probably already fucked her or at least day-dreamed about it. He’ll fuck anything.

“Will! What the fuck are you doing?” Eddie screams as he answers the line. “I haven’t seen you since we went out drinking last year and you left with that hottie in Central Park.”

“That cost me some serious dough,” I reply exaggerating the circumstances quite a bit. I didn’t actually go back to my place with the bitch. I paid her two hundred bucks and she gave me a blowjob in some nearby alley. I was so drunk, I didn’t care. “I’m in Atlanta. Do you have time for lunch?”

“Sure. What’d you have in mind?”

“Is the Platinum Club still over there in Midtown?”

“You bet! They have a free lunch buffet and some of the best pussy in town.”

“Heh, that sounds good. Why don’t I meet you there at Noon?” I say looking at my watch and notice that it’s almost 11:20 AM. I’m sure I can make it there by then.

“Sure thing. I may be a little late, but go ahead and get a table for us. It will be great to catch up with you and see how things are going.”

“Whatever. I just need to see some hot tits. It’s been a while.”

“Lover boy having some problems, huh?” Eddie laughs.

“Fuck you,” I return sarcastically drawing out the “uck” in mock irritation. Eddie and I are always competing on who gets laid the most and in what manner. I lie most of the time, but Eddie doesn’t seem to mind. Hell, I bet he’s lying too. No way has that short, ugly fuck gets half the women he claims. After a few more macho taunts, we say goodbye and I leave the rental car facility to head up to Midtown. I haven’t been there in years, but the Platinum Club, or the “Plat” as it’s known, is an Atlanta institution. I hope it is still as good as it used to be.

Traffic grinds to a halt as I get near downtown. Goddamned city has a fucking fourteen lane freeway through the middle of it and it still gets congested. I try to relax, but my patience fades quickly. Some dumbass in a minivan cuts me off and immediately slams on his brakes. I hit the brakes hard and the tires squeal. My middle finger comes up reflexively as I honk my horn. The minivan driver returns the favor and yells something out his window. I ignore him. I’m not going to get killed by some hell-on-wheels hick in a minivan today.

Despite the traffic, I manage to get to the Plat just in time for my meeting with Eddie. I hand the valet my key and walk quickly to door anxious to get inside and check out the ladies. As I enter the club it all comes back to me. It’s like I had never left. Other than some slight renovations to upgrade the look, the layout is the same as it was when I was here ten years ago. To the left is the hostess stand before the door to the main room that has a large central stage and catwalk and the four satellite stages that circumscribe the room. Straight ahead is the stairway that leads to the VIP rooms on the second level. These rooms encircled the main room from the second floor. Privacy glass encases these rooms so that the VIPs can see the action from above, but it does not allow the crowd to see the action in the VIP rooms.

The last time I was here, Eddie and I went to the VIP rooms with Russell Duncan, the former Senior Vice President of my company. Russ was a hell-raiser in his younger years, but when he hit his mid-thirties he decided it was time to settle down. He married a beautiful model straight from the catwalk in Paris, settled into a posh apartment in Manhattan, and had two equally beautiful kids. But Russ wasn’t much for settling down. His wife kept him on a short leash, and every time we traveled out of town, he wanted to get shit-faced and fuck anything with a heartbeat.

During one of his visits, we ended up at the Plat one night after an incredibly long day in Atlanta negotiating a big deal for the company, and Russ wanted to blow off some steam. I thought we’d just get a table and enjoy the view, but Russ pulled out a wad of cash and had the hostess take us to one of the VIP rooms. Russ always loved to play the money man, and when he was getting wasted he was at his best. He hit the liquor the moment we reached our seats, and after a few hours, we were all drunk and several thousand dollars poorer.

I don’t remember much from that night other than the first hour or so. I do know I spent a lot of money. I think I may have gotten a blow job, but I could have dreamed it for all I know. Unfortunately, that night was the beginning of the end for Russ. He woke up the next morning with two of the strippers in his hotel bed. One of them ended up pregnant with his child, and he ended up with Chlamydia. Six months later, his wife left him and moved back to Paris with his two kids. Russ was devastated and began to drink himself out of a job. He left the company to “pursue other interests” about a year later, and I never heard from him again. A few months later, I had his job. Success is a beautiful thing.

“Will!” Eddie yells behind me interrupting my thoughts. I turn to greet him and he hugs me before I can extend my hand.

“How the fuck are you?” I ask incredulously.

“I’m doing great especially now that I’m having lunch here,” he replies with his best macho swagger and broad smile. “Believe it or not, I haven’t been here in about a year.”

“I don’t believe you,” I retort. Eddie is as hard-up as they come. He couldn’t refrain from pursuing pussy if his life depended on it. Fortunately, our company doesn’t monitor network activity because Eddie routinely takes porn breaks in his office. He brags about it and occasionally sends me links in email. I had to tell him to send that shit to my personal email because no pussy is worth getting fired.

“Believe it,” he says confidently as he sits at the table with me. He unbuttons his jacket and surveys the room with that big toothy grin of his.

Before we can continue this exchange, a waitress interrupts us to take our drink order. “Are you two having lunch with us today,” she asks.

“Are you on the menu?” Eddie asks coyly. Eddie has had a thing for cheesy come-ons. As long as I’ve known him, he’s always made me wince with his cheesy lines. No wonder he has to pay to get laid.   The waitress giggles uncomfortably and informs him that she is in fact not on the menu. He gasps in mock disbelief trying to continue the charade as if he’s making progress.

“We’ll have the buffet,” I interrupt hoping to put an end to this shameless banter. Eddie gazes impatiently at me as the waitress walks away.

“She’s hot!” he says. “I’d pop that.”

“You’d pop anything. Hell, you’d probably pop your sister if you weren’t related.”

“True, but at least I’ll admit it,” Eddie glares insinuating that I’m in the same sorry state. He’s wrong. I spend good money for classy women and I don’t accept just anything.

“Should I remind you about Laurie Baker?” I ask referring to one of his worse encounters with an ugly, and dare I say, fat woman. Laurie was a young intern at one of the companies we acquired in Dallas years ago. Eddie and I had been assigned to do the due diligence, so we met in Dallas to begin our work. From the moment we arrived, Laurie, for whatever godforsaken reason, was smitten with Eddie, and he played it up piling on the cheesy lines and flirting with her shamelessly. He would throw her a bone and turn around and ridicule her to me in the same breath. He likened it to teasing a vicious dog on a short leash. Unfortunately for Eddie, he had a few too many at the close party for the acquisition and ended up sleeping with Laurie in his hotel room. I ragged him for months about that one.

“Please don’t,” he replies sounding mildly irritated and waving his hand at me as if he were shooing a fly.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Why are you in town? I thought you were working on the deal in Chicago,” Eddie asks shifting the subject quickly.

“I’m not here for work. I’m visiting my family,” I respond.

“You…are visiting your family? What the hell happened? Did someone die?” he asks in disbelief.

“No…I just need to visit my sister one last time,” I lie half-heartedly looking for a way to change the subject.

“One last time? Why now?” he asks. Before I can ask him to drop the subject, the waitress shows up with our drinks and Eddie immediately shifts to undressing her with his eyes. He flashes a smile at her and asks her if she dances too. She just giggles and says she doesn’t. As she walks away, she makes sure Eddie gets an eye full of her ass in the tight shorts. Eddie almost falls out of his chair.

“You are so hard-up,” I say teasing Eddie for his not-so-subtle attempt to be cool and not desperate at the same time.

“Fuck you, Will,” he says without looking at me. “I like to appreciate a beautiful woman and I let my appreciation show.”

“You should just take your dick out of your pants and bang it against the table,” I suggest. “You just might be more successful at getting laid if you are more discreet about it.”

Eddie glares over at me, smiles, and let’s out a laugh in disbelief. “You’re one sick fucker, Will.”

“To sick fuckers,” I say raising my glass in a cheer. Our glasses clink and we both take a couple of long swallows of our beers. By the time we finish our first drink, we realize we ordered the buffet and make our way to the buffet line. Our food is stale and overcooked, but we don’t seem to mind as we finish our lunch and enjoy the scenery. We watch the women dance on the main stage and the various stages surrounding the main stage, and we cheer when our favorite dancer for the moment finishes her act. Occasionally, we wander up to the stage and tip the dancers hoping to get close to their large breasts, nice asses, or whatever part of them we are enthralled with at the moment.

About an hour and a half into our lunch, Eddie decides he just has to get a table dance from the stripper known as Candy. As she finishes her act and works her way across the floor, Eddie leaps from his chair and catches up to her. I watch as they agree upon the transaction. She touches his arm, giggles, and makes him feel like the man of the hour. Eddie is smiling and looking confident. Since Eddie is not a good looking or desirable man, this is probably the only time he feels confident around women – when he’s flashing his cash.

Candy takes Eddie’s hand and leads him over to the couches where these “table dances” take place. I can still see Eddie because our table is along the edge of the main room just off the entrance to the couch area. Although they are called table dances, these dances are more like a bump-and-grind. The girls get totally naked and grind on your dick like you are getting laid with your clothes on. The really good ones will let you suck on their tits and grab their ass. The couch area is dark with just a faint hint of purple neon lights. Eddie’s couch is just under one of these purple lights so I can see him relatively well. He and Candy chat as they wait for the next song to begin. You’d think they were a couple the way they are carrying on, but like all transactions, when the money changes hands everyone goes their separate ways.

The song begins and Candy quickly drops her top and teases her way out of her thong as Eddie grabs her like a high school boy getting laid for the first time. He has this goofy look on his face as she grinds on his lap. After a few seconds of this, Eddie grabs her hips and pretends to fuck her hard by pulling her into his lap. She plays along and twists and moans grabbing her breasts and licking her nipples.

It is at this moment that I realize who Eddie reminds me of most of all – Ron Jeremy. Ron Jeremy is that short, fat, ugly porn star who seems to be in every porn flick made in the past 20 years. He’s been in so many porn flicks and fucked so many women – both hot and not – that he’s achieved a cult icon status. There’s even a documentary about his life. Eddie looks just like him except he has neatly-cropped short hair that is greased back with hair gel and a moustache that is well-trimmed to frame his mouth perfectly. He also wears expensive suits that scream money, but when you look like Eddie, you have to advertise that you’re rich if you ever want to get laid.

In the moment that I think about the similarities between Ron and Eddie, Eddie reappears at the table still wearing that goofy grin and smelling of cheap perfume. “That was awesome, man!” he says in his best macho voice.

“Looks like you enjoyed yourself,” I say snidely trying not to bring up the Ron Jeremy comparison. Eddie and I tolerate each other, but we aren’t mean to each other beyond the usual male bravado. “I need to get going if I’m going to get to my friend’s house before it gets too late.”

“Yeah, sure. I need to get back to work anyway. Thanks for meeting me for lunch. It was fun as always,” Eddie says gathering his jacket and following me to the exit. We exchange what little pleasantries we can muster, shake hands, and go our separate ways once the valet brings my car around to me. I get in and head down the street for the freeway. I have a two-hour drive ahead of me.

Luckily, the freeway is no longer congested as the downtown denizens have returned to their offices after lunch to finish their day and await yet another rush hour crunch. I stomp the gas on the rental car as I merge into traffic on I-75/85 north heading out of Atlanta and eventually veer onto I-85 as it takes me further from the city. I can see the skyline in my rearview mirror getting smaller and the traffic getting thinner as I get further from the city. I settle into my seat and begin to relax.

For the first time since I looked out the window of the airplane upon my arrival, I remember that it is a beautiful March day. The sky remains a deep blue and the warm air wraps everything like a light blanket. Just as I had thought, I can smell the honeysuckle in the air, and it brings back memories from many years ago. I remember growing up here. In fact, this was the only place I had known until I went away to college just before I turned 18. At the time, I thought this place was both hell and the most beautiful place on earth, and March was the time of the year when you could finally get outside and enjoy the world as it came to life.

March was Becca’s favorite month too. Rebecca Mae Burris is my older sister. When I was a toddler I couldn’t say “Rebecca”, so I just said “Becca”. Her abbreviated name became such a habit that everyone in the family picked it up. Even her friends called her Becca. Eventually, it became her name and no one except her family and her closest friends even acknowledged that her real name was Rebecca.

The memories almost make me recoil like one would react if a startling image appeared suddenly, so I turn on the radio and scan the FM band for a local radio station. A good song always washes away anything that makes me uncomfortable. After a few seconds, I find an 80s station and hear Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”. Yet another memory resurfaces, but this time it’s all good. I lost my virginity to this song.

“Missy Moreland, where are you now?” I think to myself as the song plays on the radio. I glance at the horizon and fade into fond memories of my first time and Missy’s beautiful face. I’m sure I’m smiling at this point, and my day seems to have gotten a lot better. If it weren’t for this two-hour drive, I’d be absolutely chipper. It is such a beautiful day. I haven’t visited my hometown in ten years, and I couldn’t have picked a better day to come back – at least in terms of the weather.

“Too bad I’m coming home for a funeral,” I think forlornly. “Too goddamned bad…”

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