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The allnighter (a short.., p.1
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       The Allnighter (a short story), p.1

           Stuart Connelly
 
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The Allnighter (a short story)
From the anthology

  CONFESSIONS OF A VELOUR-SHIRTED MAN

  ISBN: 978-0-557-71899-3

  copyright © 2010 by Stuart Connelly

  All rights reserved.

  First published by

  AMALGAMATED PRESS

  555 59th Street

  New York, NY 10019

  Cover and logo photograph by Sherry M.

  www.sherrym.com/

  Cover design by Topeka

  The Allnighter

  Polar bears danced just on the edge of his vision. Polar bears danced just on the edge of his vision. Polar bears danced just on the edge of his vision. That is, he thought he could see wispy, white figures, maybe polar bears, darting and floating, or maybe just darting, or maybe just floating, in the periphery of his mind. God, he’d take anything at that point — a shape, a shimmer, a color even. Tell yourself these shapes are polar bears, he told himself. Failing that, tell yourself these shapes are shapes. Tell yourself they are, at any rate. At least give me that. They are, they are, they are…

  They are not. Parker’s eyelids pulled themselves up like window shades. No dreams, nothing even close. Why bother?

  He pulled the covers down quietly and slipped out of bed. Chloe stirred a little, but as usual, she didn’t wake up. Parker padded to his closet and slipped into the cabbie clothes he kept way in the back: chinos, a Ralph Lauren checked shirt, a pair of Weejuns. Faux Cabbie, he thought when he looked at himself in the outfit.

  He went downstairs, picked out an apple from the fruit bowl near the front door, grabbed the Mercedes keys, and quietly left the house. Inside the car, Parker opened up a black bag sitting in the passenger seat. He dug around a bit, moving a pair of forceps, a stethoscope, and found what he was looking for — Tylenol Three. Trying to sleep always gave Parker a pounding headache.

  He tapped out three codeine-laced pills into his palm and swallowed them dry. Then he pulled out of his garage, and drove down his quiet suburban street toward the city, where another car in another garage awaited him.

  He pulled into the twenty-four hour underground lot a little before midnight. He knew the shifts, they were just like the ones at the hospital, and a guy named Arthur should have gone on at eleven. But Parker didn’t recognize the man in the booth.

  He drove up, hitting the button that dropped the driver’s window with a clean electronic hum. “Where’s Art tonight?”

  The man in the booth was reading a copy of Sports Illustrated, and he didn’t look up. “Quit. Leave the keys, we take care of it.”

  “No, I’m just switching cars. I know where it is, don’t worry.”

  The guy looked up from his magazine. “Whatdya mean, switching?”

  “I have two cars. I keep one here during the day, and at night I drop this one off and get the other one.”

  “Then you gotta pay for two spots, buddy.”

  “No, that’s what I’m saying. Art knows all about it.”

  “Art don’t work here no more.”

  “I understand that. What I’m saying is that I pay for this spot around the clock. Every day, I have an annual contract with this garage, you know? Every night I pick up my other car and I drop this one off.”

  “And I’m saying that’s two cars, that’s two contracts.”

  Parker clenched his teeth, trying to hold back the anger. “That’s one spot. One parking spot.”

  The guy leaned through his window and rested his forearm on Parker’s car. “Look, man. I just started here, okay. I’m not gonna break any rules, I’m not gonna get fired, and I’m not gonna let you back there to trade up cars. Understand?”

  He smiled at Parker, and that smile, more than what the attendant had said, or how he’d said it, set Parker off. He could see tobacco stains running along the man’s bottom gumline. Parker shot out a hand and grabbed the guy’s wrist. He held it in a deathgrip, and with his free hand, he found the window button. The little motor kicked in, running the man’s hand up to the top of the door. He screamed when his hand reached the top and the safety glass bit into his skin. The cheap watch he was wearing shattered, spilling tiny springs and gears onto the leather interior of the Mercedes. The little window motor whined.

  “If I drive away, your hand’s coming with me,” Parker shouted through his window.

  “No, God!” the man screamed.

  “You going to let me switch the cars?”

  “Yes, yes! Let go!”

  Parker dropped the car into neutral and gunned the accelerator. The engine raced furiously, drowning out the attendants shouts.

  “You sure?” Parker asked.

  “Yeesssss!” The man’s knuckles flopped against the velvety interior of the roof.

  Parker fingered the button again and the window dropped away. The attendant fell back into his booth. Without another word, Parker put the car in gear and drove into the bowels of the parking garage.

  When he came out again, five minutes later, he was in a bright yellow cab. He went past the booth slowly and could just barely make out the attendant’s words: “You’re out of your fuckin’ mind, pal!”

  Parker took a deep bite into his apple as he turned out onto the street. By the time he was three blocks away, the anger had almost completely subsided. In its place was confusion. Parker couldn’t for the life of him figure out what had made him behave like that. The irritating feeling of the confrontation was still there, in the pit of his stomach, but that tidal wave of fury was gone. It was bad to lose control. He made a mental note to watch that in the future.

  Then he flipped a switch on the dashboard and his “On Duty” sign lit up on the roof of the car.

  During the next couple hours, business wasn’t very good. Parker circled the city over and over in his cab, eyes darting back and forth, covering both sides of the street.

  Around two-thirty that morning, a slight spattering of rain began to fall. Parker smiled, along with every other cabbie in the city, though unlike the rest, he didn’t smile every time it rained. Rain meant fares, and fares were the way these cabbies earned their living. Not Parker; for him, sometimes picking up passengers was an inconvenience. Sometimes he just wanted to be alone in the night.

  That night, though, what he wanted was company. The rain would boost his chances there. He turned onto Fuller Avenue, where some of the big hotels stood, dusty giants of the forties. Halfway up the block, a couple flagged him. It was a traditional late night combination. He was an older man, well-dressed and white-haired, who cut an imposing figure. She was much younger, maybe late twenties, wearing a short red dress with a long slit up the side. She had blonde hair with streaks of auburn. Parker bet himself even money she worked for an escort service.

  He pulled into the semicircular driveway in front of the hotel and the couple got in.

  “Where to?” Parker asked, staring into the rearview mirror. He got his first tight look at the man. It was Clive Trunks, the director of Santa Ana’s Hospital, where Parker was a resident. And he wasn’t with his wife.

  Parker felt little pinpricks of sweat bleed through all over his skin. His heart started pounding. He quickly averted his eyes from the backseat.

  “It’s past this young lady’s bedtime,” Clive said, in the booming voice Parker knew so well. “Let’s get her home. Twenty-three fifteen Cross.”

  Parker snapped the meter on and drove. He slipped his Orioles baseball cap on and pushed himself a little lower in the seat. This was the moment he had feared since he had started cruising the night — that a patient, or someone else he knew, would recognize him. The results could be disastrous: to his marriage, his career, everything. And this was the director of the goddamn hospital, no less. The d
irector! Driving Clive just then, Parker was hard-pressed to really believe he would take chances like that with catastrophe. But deep inside, he knew the reason: as dangerous as it was, it was still better than lying there in bed — night after long night. While the rest of the world slept.

  In back, Clive and the woman kept themselves busy with childish games, pawing at each other and giggling. Parker listened, not believing that this could be the same man he knew. Still, he was thankful Clive was preoccupied.

  The ride took about fifteen minutes, and was punctuated by the girl’s false, tired protests. “Stop it,” she’d say, laughing, or, “Don’t you ever give up?”

  Finally, Parker pulled up in front of the brownstone on Cross Road. The girl pulled her wrap up around her shoulders and gave Clive a thick kiss. “Later, Baby,” she said. She got out of the cab and closed the door. Clive didn’t get out with her.

  “That’s five sixty-five, pal,” Parker said in a throaty voice.

  “Yeah,” Clive said. He sounded distracted by something. “Yeah, I’m not getting out here, so you can just keep the meter running.”

  Oh, come on… “Where to?”

  “Not sure. Sometimes I just like driving around the city, you know?”

  It seemed like an impossible practical joke to Parker. The man just wanted to drive around in a cab in the middle of the night. “Just drive… around?”

  “Yeah, around.”

  So Parker started driving.

  Clive was quiet for the first couple minutes, just long enough to make Parker think he might get away with it, when Clive leaned forward against the cage.

  “Quite some girl, huh?”

  Parker didn’t say anything.

  “What do you think, buddy?” Clive asked, and Parker looked back in the mirror in time to see Clive do the one thing Parker had been praying he wouldn’t do. Clive’s eyes dipped down to the look at the hack license pinned to the back of Parker’s seat.

  He watched Clive form the words.

  “Parker… Hamilton?”

  Parker pulled over to the side of the road. He put the cab in park and turned to face his director. “It’s me.”

  “Dr. Hamilton. My god, it’s really you.”

  “It’s really me, Clive. It’s really me, driving your cab.”

  “Ah, about the girl…” he started nervously.

  “Clive, I don’t care about that. That’s your business.”

  “Well, that’s exactly how I see it, Parker. Good of you.”

  “If you’re going to ask me about this, I’m afraid I don’t have a very good answer.”

  “I do,” Clive said flatly. “You’re an Allnighter.”

  “No, I’m not. I’m not one of those.”

  “You don’t need to sleep, right? You drive a cab to pass the nighttime. But that is your business, not mine.”

  “I’m not an Allnighter,” was all Parker could manage. He’d read a few articles on that cult, heard a few rumors.

  “But you’re here, aren’t you? Driving this cab? I don’t sleep either, Parker. I know another Allnighter when I run into one at three o’clock on a Wednesday morning.”

  “You don’t sleep?”

  “Nope,” Clive said. He looked over his shoulder out the back window at the deserted street. “Parker, I think we might look a little suspicious sitting here like this. Why don’t we go have a cup of coffee somewhere, or something. Talk things out.”

  They sat in a booth at the Cup O’ Gold Diner on Hawthorn Street. The waitress came over to their booth, holding a pit of coffee in one hand and two thick mugs in the other. “Who needs coffee?”

  “Two cups, please,” Clive told her.

  “No thanks,” Parker said, “I don’t…”

  Clive held up a hand cutting him off. His eyes never left the waitress’. “Two — regular.”

  She put the mugs down in front of them, poured the steaming coffee from almost two feet in the air. She pulled a handful of plastic half-and-half containers from her apron pocket and walked away.

  Clive turned to Parker. “We always order coffee. It’s part of it.”

  “Part of what, the cult?”

  “The game. It’s part of the game.”

  “What game is it you’re talking about?”

  “Oh, don’t tell me you don’t hide this from people. Does everyone know you don’t sleep?”

  “Of course not.”

  “Does your wife know?”

  Parker was silent.

  “Neither does mine,” Clive said. “Listen, people think we’re perfectionists. We’re never tired, we never slur our speech in the morning, or bitch about how ungodly it is to crawl out of bed when it’s still dark. That’s genetic behavior for most people, practically. We have to learn it. It’s like talking about sports. This is the masquerade. It keeps people from resenting us because we seem so superior.”

  Clive did most of the talking, while Parker just listened. They kept getting refills on their bottomless cups o’ gold, though the caffeine was useless to them both. Like Clive said, it was part of the game.

  “So you want me to become an Allnighter,” Parker said finally. Clive had been staring him down. “You want me to have a label, an affiliation.”

  “What you have now is a chance, if you join us. The term Allnighter, I didn’t come up with that. That honor belongs to a guy named Carl Scudder. He opened a bar in Pittsburgh right after Prohibition, called it the Allnighter. Carl was one of us. He thought he was the only one, too. He never slept, so he figured a bar would surround him with people for at least part of the night. And that was true, but he started seeing a pattern. There were certain regulars who stayed until closing every night, even though they had day jobs. These guys got to know each other. They were argumentative, irritable, but they were friends. So Carl got up the nerve to talk to them about his problem, and what do you think happened?”

  “They all had it, too,” Parker said. “All the regulars.”

  Clive nodded. “Not long after they put this together, there was a shooting in the bar. One of the regulars shot someone in an argument over the World Series. That’s when Carl started making some kind of connection between sleeplessness and temper.”

  “So he’s kind of your founding father?”

  Clive ignored the comment. “The bar had a basement Carl used for storage. He opened it up to the regulars for a meeting place. That was almost sixty years ago. Now, if you look hard enough, you can find a bar called the Allnighter in almost every major city in America.”

  “A secret society.”

  “Of sorts, yes. A lot of the Allnighters are very successful. We make sure these places stay in business. and if we need help, we just look in the yellow pages.”

  “What do I look under – Therapy?”

  “There are thousands of us, Parker. My Lord, there’s nothing magical or mystical about it — it’s a birth defect, a handicap. I don’t know what causes it. It’s glandular in nature, though whether it’s something extra or something missing, I’ve no idea.

  “Basically, we fall into two categories, and they both make sense if you think things through. Either we are super achievers, we use that extra time studying medicine, or the stock market, or anything along those lines. That’s you and me.

  “Or we’re the vagrants, the people who couldn’t cope with it. I don’t know, if it were a pituitary gland thing, we might all be better off. If it kicked in once you had your bearings. You know, you learn how to fake it after a while, just to keep out of trouble, right? But this starts right from birth. So many of us are orphans — orphans and abused kids. People just can’t handle a baby who doesn’t sleep. They go crazy.”

  “I was an orphan,” Parker said.

  “I know that. A lot of the doctors on staff are. I hire as many orphans as I possibly can. It’s a long shot, but over twenty years at Santa Ana’s, I’ll bet I’ve helped a few of us.”

  “U
s.” Parker repeated the word, weighing its meaning.

  “Us is right. We have to stick together.”

  “I don’t need to be rescued, Clive. I don’t sleep. Okay, so there’s a club for people like me, you say it’s not a cult. Fine, that’s a comfort, but I’ve been getting by just fine.”

  “Parker, forgive me, but you don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”

  “Yeah?”

  “That’s right. Listen, it was you last year who kicked that nurse, wasn’t it?”

  Parker winced. Clive was going to dredge up black marks from his record. “Yes. I kicked her, lightly, because…”

  Clive finished. “Because she handed you the wrong size sponge.”

  “Because she kept handing me the wrong sponges.”

  “Damn, I remember hearing about that incident, and something told me to check into it, but…” He trailed off.

  “It was no big thing, Clive.”

  “Parker, if you know me, you know I’m the last person in the world to advocate pop psychology. But there’s a mental process that occurs when people sleep that you and I don’t get.”

  “Dreaming, you mean.”

  “Yes, we don’t dream, but that’s the activity. The process that activity represents is the important thing. The process is like a pressure valve. Ordinary people get to release tension every night that you and I just let build.”

  “That’s your theory, anyway. One theory.”

  “I’m telling you, that’s the truth. Are you going to sit there and tell me you don’t lose your temper more than anyone else you know?”

  Parker didn’t give the question a moment’s consideration. “I lose my temper when the situation warrants it.”

  “Oh, come on, Parker,” Clive said with disgust. “Admit it, little things get to you all the time. They crawl under your skin, don’t they?”

  Parker told his mind not to reference the incident at the garage that night, but the file was called up anyway. He ignored it. “What’s this all about?”

  “It’s about danger, Parker. The very real danger that goes with being an Allnighter.”

  “It sounds like it’s about melodrama.”

  “I’m not joking, here. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I am. I think I probably got to you in the nick of time. How old are you? Because it builds up, you know. The pressure. Over time. Too many murders in this country are committed by us. Way out of proportion with our numbers. Suicides, domestic fighting. Random acts of violence. I’m not joking. You know those stories that crop up — the bank president leaves a little early on a Friday afternoon and goes home and massacres his wife and his three kids? No explanation for why. Those guys are almost always Allnighters.”

  Parker wanted to dismiss that, but found he couldn’t. It was too close. He had felt like killing Chloe so many times, and he could remember standing behind her, clenching his fists at his side, struggling to hold back.

  “We’re just trying to help each other. Why don’t you come over to The Allnighter with me? I’ll show you what it’s all about.”

  Parker glanced at his watch: it was pushing four-thirty in the morning. “I better be going, Clive. My
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