Some Debts Can't Be RepaidbyHeathen Hemmingway©
"I like to think of it as a divining rod, sometimes." The man in black said, his voice gravely and hoarse. "Or maybe a pendulum."
Several moments of awkward silence passed, and then he spoke again.
"You see, I have to make hard decisions on occasion, and most often there is no right decision per se, only one that is less..." He paused for a while, looking down at his hands as if in deep concentration. "Destructive."
They were sitting at a small table in a dimly lit room. One single bulb illuminated the room, naked in an old green fixture overhead with a beaded chain hanging down a few feet above them. It cast a harsh glare. And the table, well it was truthfully a miserable little creature, an old beat-to-shit card table that was a cheap piece of work when it was new. Sitting across from the man in black was a sweaty black man. He was sporting one hell of a bruise on his right cheek and a cut above his left eye. His eyes were bloodshot with fatigue. His eyes kept darting from the man in black to the object sitting at the center of the table.
"I got it as a gift a long time ago." He continued. "Somebody I was crazy in love with. I collect them, matter of fact. She had no idea how to choose a good one from a cheap one, but somehow she happened to find this one, and man it's a beaut."
The black man was aching to talk, to attempt to negotiate, but he feared he had already resigned himself to his fate. A part of him, I would suppose the survival instinct, wanted to try, at least. He was fighting a number of inner demons as he sat there listening to the man in black talk. He was scared, no doubt about that, but the fact that his life was likely to end any second wasn't the thing that frightened him most; it was the detached calm that the man in black radiated as he sat there talking.
"It's a Solingen, made in 1853. It was fabricated by the Kabeso Razor Works. It's survived a number of wars, been shipped all over Hell and back, and somehow it ended up in the hands of some old lady out West who had no idea what it was worth. So my ex found it on Ebay for twenty dollars, and here it sits."
He picked the item up, and old straight razor. The handle was made of a hard, plastic-like substance. "Bakelite." The man in black said to himself, almost a whisper. "Early form of plastic." He hissed as he slowly opened the blade with a practiced flex of his thumb.
The blade shone dully, flecks of bright silver showing though the rough aged patina in places. Finally, as the man in black had expected, the tension got the better of his company. The black fellow leaned back in his chair, aching as the tight hemp rope gnawed into his wrists, and he let out a long, exasperated sigh.
"I can't pay the money back now. I just can't." He finally cried in a long exhalation. His accent was profound; the word 'can't' coming out as 'cain't'. "But I can pay it back man. I can."
"Oh can you now?" The man in black replied with a wry smile. There was a tense moment of silence between them as they sat there staring at one another.
"Well." The man in black continued. "If you can pay it back then all is good, I would imagine?"
His captive suddenly exhaled aloud and cried. "Yes! Exactly man! I can pay it back. For real, man. I can!"
The man in black sat there staring at him for several more long and tense moments. "You see, there's the problem." He said. "Some debts can't be repaid."
"Ah, shit man!" The black man replied, almost instantly. "You think I don't know there's gonna be some interest?!? Some steep interest? Yeah, I know that man. And I can still pay it."
"I don't think you're keen to the situation yet, my man. There's definitely some repayment going to be made, but it won't be in the form of money." He drawled, then sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. He had no worry of his company tearing free. The chair was bolted to the floor and he had tied his hands himself, and he could tie them in the dark if need be. They were bound tightly, laced between the metal chair's backing.
The man in black had what could fairly be called quite a few peculiarities about him, and he had cultivated them honestly enough. He was born in a small bedroom town in Alabama where the smell of natural gas always hung faintly in the air. An old immense textile mill was an ever present fixture there, looming over everything and everyone. It sat next to the Thurlow Dam like a fortress on a hill, or maybe a haunted house that emanated a foreboding shadow over the entire town. It seemed that by the time a young person reached working age, they found themselves working in the mill or had parents who had been for years gone by. It was like a rite of passage; if you lived in Tallassee you eventually found yourself trudging through the mill by the dam, working long hours with sweat-soaked clothing and developing layer upon layer of calluses on your fingers and palms. At the base of the dam there was a massive jumble of behemoth river rocks worn smooth by age and running water, mixed with enormous pieces of concrete and rubble created when the new dam was built and the old dam was demolished at its feet. As a child he would climb and play on those rocks with the agility and confidence of a bird in a tree. He dove headlong into cool tidal pools filled with crystalline green water, with an abandon that could only come with careless youth. The man in black was, by no stretch of the imagination, a careless youth any more. Truth be known, most days he had the weight of the World on his shoulders, and today was one of those days.
That was a long time ago, in a much less jaded and painful time for him. As for his peculiarities, though, one of them was that when he got angry, his Southern accent was prone to be more evident. His 'country' was much more pronounced, so to speak.
As a young boy, his mother told him countless times that he needed to be the smartest child in class, he had to listen the best and show those around him that he wasn't just another forgettable hick in a small Southern town. "You have to show people that you're smart, Son. Not just smart, but very, very intelligent." She would say.
The man in black had been a remarkable child that way; he was a rare boy who tried his best to do what his mother told him, despite the many hardships the other children created for him along the way. As a child he soon realized that he lived in a world that had very little refinement. For a blooming young mind, a small town can seem to be the ultimate form of confinement, a Great Wall between anyone with a dream that went beyond throwing a football or driving a big rig. He was one of those kids who spent the better part of his placid times daydreaming about the world outside of his small hometown.
As he sat there listening to his captive breathe in a steady (yet somewhat rapid and hectic) pull and draw, his mind wandered as it was often want to do, and absentmindedly he caressed the razor's handle in his hand. It was an old ragged thing, the edge chipped in places, but the metal was still thin and keen, so despite the random cracks along its edge, it could still cut quite well. While holding the razor that was made in a far-off place during a turbulent and far-off time, he found himself thinking about some of the rarer moments in his youth when his mother took him to see the World outside of his small hometown.
When he was seven or so his mother packed the ten of them into her old beaten up Pinto wagon and they took a merry jaunt to the big zoo in Birmingham. As he sat there it dawned on him that he could remember damn near every animal he had seen there, excited and exhilarated in a way that was so rare and precious to him. Despite living in crippling poverty, his mother always knew how to ignite his interests and keep his curiosities alive. Of all the exotic and otherworldly creatures they saw that day, two stood out in his memory the most clearly. One was an enormous polar bear, dirty white and menacing as it stood upright on its hind legs and watched the people as they watched him. He never begged for food or provided any cute or funny tricks, instead he stood there perfectly still, massive and malevolent, its eyes fixed on the people just out of his reach in the bear habitat. The man in black found himself wondering now just as he did as a kid -- 'What is he thinking? Does he want to eat us? Is he filled with anger, hate? Or is he defending his territory, daring us to cross some invisible line that draws the boundaries between our territory and his? Or is he just deciding which one of us would be the best to eat?'
The other creature there that fascinated him to no end was a cobra, a large and sinewy creature coiled up under the copse of a mimosa tree in the reptile exhibit. No doubt the creature's venom sacs had long been removed, and possibly even its murderous teeth, but nonetheless it looked evil and ever-patient as it lie there under its shadetree. He was riveted by the small plaque that was affixed to a small metal post next the outer barrier of the habitat. 'The King Cobra -- The world largest venomous snake, so fierce it preys on other venomous snakes. ' The big snake never moved, which made it only more frightening and fascinating to the kid as he watched it, dark olive green coils that shone like a polished stone. He imagined scenes from the old National Geographic books his mother would bring home for him; a wrinkled old Hindu man wearing a red Turban and sitting cross-legged as he played a gourd-shaped flute in front of a large wicker basket, a large crowd gathered around him as he played. For several minutes there was nothing to see, just the hoarse whistling of the crude flute. Then suddenly the top of the basket moved, grew still, and then moved again. Then the lid fell aside and slowly the King Cobra emerged from the basket as the crowd took several uneasy steps back. The man played the flute a bit faster and the snake gently swayed from side to side, flicking its tongue out and moving in rhythm. The kid had to wonder; was the man controlling the cobra with his music, or was the snake mesmerizing the man? He was spellbound by the fluid, hypnotic movements of the large powerful snake, swaying gently as it watched the man, unblinking, waiting for the right moment to strike.
He jolted in his seat, his eyes opening widely. The black man sitting across from him was looking at him with a baffled stare. How long had he been lost in the memory? One minute, five?
'Well.' He thought to himself. "It's time to be done with this and go home."
"So as I was saying." He spoke suddenly, a bit loud this time. "Some debts can't just be repaid. And then forgotten like they never happened. Like when you broke that gal's face up in Red Mesa..."
The black man took on a lost expression. He sat there muddling over what his captor had said, and a look of dread fell over him. He remembered that night, but he also remembered much more that had happened that same night, and was struggling to decide if the man in black knew, too. In a terrifying way, his situation started to make sense. This wasn't about a gambling debt as he first expected.
"That was a long time ago man. Is that why you got me here?"
"No, not quite." He replied. The word 'no' sounded more like 'nah', as he unwittingly spoke with a more pronounced drawl. "Though it is certainly related."
The man in black held the razor up to eye level, slowly moved it back and forth in front of his eyes and watched the feeble light glint off of the blade.
"You see, it was bad enough that you had to beat that gal so bad. Her facial bones were crushed in a number of places, and despite some pretty remarkable efforts by some very talented surgeons, well frankly Mister you didn't leave them much to work with and she has spent every day since living with some damned intolerable pain, not to mention having to look in the mirror every morning to see what's left of her face staring back at her." He explained. "But that's not the hard part. The hard part was when you thought she was dead, so's you went into her house afterward and raped and strangled her thirteen year old daughter. Now that's the hard part."
"Look man..." His captive cried, but his words were cut short when the man in black reached across the table and pressed the end of the straight razor under the ball of his right eye.
"You thought you got away with it. You thought after all this time that everyone had forgotten. Well I'm here on behalf of the one person who didn't forget." He said, pulling the razor away from the man's face, holding it inches in front of his eyes. The old razor was ragged and for the most part unremarkable to the casual observer, but for the man in black it held an exotic quality. It was a simple and purposeful thing, menacing and keen, much like the cobra coiled up under the mimosa tree at the Birmingham Zoo so many years ago. He moved the razor gently from side to side, watching the black man's eyes as he followed it, transfixed by it, like the old Hindu man charming the snake with his primitive flute.
"You ain't no snake charmer." The man in black said quietly, and suddenly the blade darted out in a flash and slid across the black man's throat. A thin red line bloomed across his neck, followed by gout of blood and a ragged howl from his victim. The man in black stood up and tugged at the beaded chain. The room fell into darkness.
As he lie there feebly clinging to the faint remainder of his life, the dying man heard (or thought he heard) the man in black speak, his words floating off into the darkness.
"You ain't no snake charmer..."
"Some debts can't be repaid."