Johnny America




The Bank of Amer­i­ca Plaza glowed like a fifty-five floor cig­a­rette in the hu­mid At­lanta dusk. Out­side of the en­trance, Kevin Ike­man set his brief­case on the side­walk and wiped the sweat drip­ping from his nose. This call was his first in two months. Dur­ing that time, he had tak­en to mop­ing in his box­er-briefs and tex­ting his ex-lovers who had mar­ried men whose im­por­tance had out­last­ed his own. Kath­leen had mar­ried an im­por­tant lawyer for Para­mount and sent Kevin the oc­ca­sion­al pic­ture mes­sage of her pedi­cured toes sun-drenched on a yacht tra­vers­ing the Pa­cif­ic. Nik­ki had moved to Fair­fax Coun­ty, Vir­ginia with Chris­t­ian Christ (pro­nounced Chrĭst) whose mon­ey had no ap­par­ent ori­gin and no ap­par­ent bounds. Last Christ­mas, their an­nu­al card in­clud­ed a lengthy anec­dote about how Christ­mas was pro­nounced with a short “i” large­ly be­cause the Christ fam­i­ly pa­tri­archy’s his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. She pro­vid­ed no fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion of their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, though Kevin pic­tured a long line of Christ men in the base­ment of a sec­u­lar tem­ple sur­round­ed by can­dle­light, kneel­ing at an al­tar, and chant­i­ng in Latin through cer­e­mo­ni­al boar-head masks. She had al­so in­clud­ed a par­en­thet­i­cal re­mark ex­plain­ing that Fair­fax Coun­ty was the third wealth­i­est coun­ty in Vir­ginia. Fifth in the na­tion! Yowza!, the aside con­clud­ed. Af­ter read­ing the let­ter, Kevin had imag­ined de­liv­er­ing a right hook to Chris­tian’s grotesque­ly cleft chin, crum­bling him to his traver­tine floor. The bit­ter re­minders of Kev­in’s ro­man­tic de­cline flashed in his mind as Leonard the se­cu­ri­ty guard placed a fat hand on his chest and told him he was­n’t al­lowed in the Plaza.

“I was called twen­ty min­utes ago to come save — ” Kevin reached in his sport coat and read out of his memo pad. ” — one Francine Kir-chews­ki — Kir-chinski?”

“Kevin,” Leonard said, “you know you can’t come in.”

“Leonard, I just got a phone call from the fifti­eth floor. There’s a woman be­ing held against her will.”

“You know they tell me these things, and I can’t let you in, Kevin. I’m sor­ry. It’s my job.”

“I’m not go­ing to make a scene — I’ll just get in and get out, and then Francine K’s saved, and we can all go on our way.”

The se­cu­ri­ty guard nod­ded to­ward the blue span­dex suit arm hang­ing out of Kev­in’s brief­case. “You can’t change in here, Kevin. I’m sor­ry, but don’t you think it’s time to hang it up?”

“I was­n’t go­ing to change, Leonard. I just left it in there from the last time.”

“Every­thing’s fine. Take the night off, Kevin.”

Kevin thought how eas­i­ly he could wran­gle Leonard, lock him in a clos­et, and punch a hole in the top of the door for ven­ti­la­tion. Then he could float up the el­e­va­tor shaft, rip open the steel pent­house doors and de­tain the of­fend­ers un­til the au­thor­i­ties came to clear the scene. Francine, like the oth­ers, might be a bit bedrag­gled but no more worse for wear, and her hair, which Kevin pic­tured to be wavy and gin­ger, would fall to one side of her face and drape across her freck­led clav­i­cle, and maybe she would shed a tear of re­lief — a post-anx­i­ety cleanse — and he could meet her on the el­e­va­tor to­mor­row with­out his blue span­dex body­suit. He would stand com­fort­ably next to her with the knowl­edge that he saved her years of grief, pos­si­bly death, and ask her, if she would be so gen­er­ous, if he could take her for a cold sweet tea and a Monte Cristo sand­wich, which they could lat­er walk off in the park. They would watch the swans coil their necks around each oth­er in fa­mil­ial bliss.

He would not wran­gle Leonard, how­ev­er, for he could not com­mit the evil deeds he’d fought for decades to cur­tail. Lock­ing Leonard in a clos­et would­n’t do Leonard’s port­ly wife, Mi­mi, and be­hav­ioral­ly chal­lenged daugh­ter, Ki­mi, any fa­vors. Not to men­tion Mi­mi had sent him the loveli­est Christ­mas card last year, which de­tailed Kim­i’s strug­gles through a manslaugh­ter charge and brief stint in ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion. Al­so in­clud­ed in the card had been a fam­i­ly pic­ture of the three of them clad in Christ­mas sweaters in front of their tele­vi­sion. Kim­i’s pea green hair ap­peared ra­dioac­tive back­lit by C.O.P.S., but her teeth gleamed straight and white, and her eyes stared with the clar­i­ty of an old­er soul. Kevin still kept the pic­ture on his refrigerator.

He of­fered his hand to Leonard. “Sor­ry for the both­er. Tell Mi­mi and Ki­mi I say hello.”

“Will do, Kev. It’s noth­ing personal.”

“Don’t wor­ry about it. Take care, Leonard.”

Kevin walked around the side of the build­ing and as­cend­ed slow­ly to­ward the glow­ing peak of the Plaza. He no longer had rea­son to keep his iden­ti­ty a se­cret. He watched his re­flec­tion bend in and out of the win­dow­panes. His tweed sport coat itched the back of his neck. A gust of wind lift­ed the camel fe­do­ra from his head and sent it sail­ing in­to the busy in­ter­sec­tion be­low. If it would­n’t have en­dan­gered the cit­i­zens in traf­fic, he’d have sent his sport coat bil­low­ing behind.

Out­side of the fif­teenth floor, he re­called Kath­leen hand­cuffed and gagged with a rag writhing in the cor­ner of a burn­ing ware­house. From a bal­cony above her echoed an evil laugh. A flam­ing rafter col­lapsed just in front of her bound legs. Kevin could not re­mem­ber the name of the vil­lain, just the look in Kath­leen’s emer­ald eyes af­ter he had flung the smol­der­ing rafter across the ware­house and lift­ed her to safe­ty. He had set her on top of a near­by build­ing and un­gagged her, and she had kissed him hard and cried. “Who are you?” she had asked, and for the first time, Kevin in­tro­duced him­self as Kevin. A year lat­er they were en­gaged. Two months af­ter that, he flew up to the Para­mount lawyer’s pent­house, who he sus­pect­ed she was sleep­ing with, and he found her eyes closed and back arched in un­bri­dled bliss with two oth­er women and the part­ners of the Smith, Smyth and Schmidt Law firm.

Out­side of the twen­ty-first floor, he ad­mit­ted to him­self that his hair­line was receding.

Out­side of the twen­ty-sev­enth floor, he re­called Nik­ki hang­ing by her an­kles from the Fifth Street Bridge just above on­com­ing traf­fic, her face pur­ple and swollen with blood. She screamed for help from the fray­ing rope that held her, her thick brunette hair wav­ing in the wind. Just as the rope was ready to un­wind, he had snatched her from an im­mi­nent and grue­some death. Nik­ki had kissed him, too, but lighter, like she had pic­tured the mo­ment many times be­fore. Though they were nev­er en­gaged, Nik­ki leav­ing him for Chris­t­ian Christ stuck with him even longer than Kath­leen’s af­fair. She had seemed so cer­tain she want­ed the safe­ty of his strength over any­thing else. She had told him she want­ed to stay friends and that she would nev­er for­get what he did for her, but em­pha­sized that she owed him noth­ing. He was not en­ti­tled to her love. She nev­er asked him, specif­i­cal­ly, to save her.

He nev­er asked to be born like this, he thought as he con­tin­ued his ascension.

Out­side the thir­ty-fifth floor, he ad­mit­ted he’d grown chub­by and did­n’t car­ry it well.

He briefly hov­ered in front of the plas­tic tarps pro­tect­ing the ren­o­va­tion on the thir­ty-sev­enth floor, where two months pre­vi­ous he was flung through the win­dow out in­to the dark night by a wealthy tech en­tre­pre­neur whose ti­ta­ni­um suit still did­n’t match the strength with which Kevin had been born. The bat­tle had been long and de­struc­tive, but he had de­feat­ed the en­tre­pre­neur and car­ried the en­tre­pre­neur’s cap­tive lover to safe­ty. That was the way of it now — no tick­ing time bombs or sprays of gun­fire or sleep­ing gas, no hench­men wait­ing around cor­ners or be­hind el­e­va­tor doors, no ran­soms made on the chil­dren or wives of pow­er­ful fam­i­lies, no plots for mas­sive wealth in un­marked bills. Vil­lainy was the thirst of those who want­ed to hold what could nev­er be held.

A crowd gawked be­low him. The sun poured be­low the hori­zon. Sirens grew be­low. A he­li­copter whirred in the distance.

When he ar­rived out­side the fifti­eth floor, he cupped his hands be­side his eyes, peered through the win­dows, and be­gan his search for Francine. In a wal­nut-pan­eled of­fice on a leather so­fa, he found a woman in bag­gy leop­ard-print pa­ja­mas scoop­ing cot­tage cheese out of its con­tain­er with Dori­tos. No­body sat at the desk across from her. She stared at the evening news, which played live he­li­copter footage of Kevin float­ing out­side her win­dow. Kevin turned and looked be­hind him at the he­li­copter veer­ing to cap­ture a shot of his face. When he looked back to the Plaza, the woman stood be­fore him, her right hand pressed on the oth­er side of the win­dow. Their eyes met, and he again pulled his memo pad and a pen out of his sport coat.

“Francine?” he wrote.

The woman grabbed a cube of post-its and a pen from the desk. “That’s me,” she wrote.

Kevin thought she looked a lit­tle bored, but calm and com­fort­able, nonethe­less. He wrote, “Are you okay?”

“I’m lone­ly,” she wrote, her face flushed with guilt.

Kevin glanced at her size­able wed­ding ring. “I’m sor­ry,” he wrote. “Why did you call me?”

Francine wrote some­thing down and scrib­bled it out. Be­low the scratched out words, she wrote the truth: “I just need­ed to know you would come.”

Be­hind her, the of­fice door opened and a man in a suit stared wide-eyed at Kevin. The man formed the words “get away from there” with his lips, then went to the desk and di­aled 9−1−1.

“Thank you,” Francine wrote. Be­low that she wrote, “Sor­ry ☹.” She looked down. The man in the suit grabbed her wrist, and she yanked it out of his hand. Kevin could hear her muf­fled voice through the win­dow as she told him not to touch her.

Kevin float­ed back­ward and rammed the fifti­eth floor win­dow over and over, even af­ter Francine and her well-dressed cap­tor were long gone. She would find the right lawyers, he thought, peo­ple who knew how to free her, and for the first time, his pulse slowed, and he grew tired.

Filed under Fiction on August 29th, 2014

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