The Watchtower by Alex Carnevale



The Watchtower

by Alex Carnevale






The crook manned the watchtower, its lights. Our reconnaissance says he takes women off a steamer, keeps them in a house in Rancho Verdes, and ships them north. North? The trail narrows to Tierra del Mar. The sky and sunlight, the air. I bunk with Fabini, who works Vice. He knows what I hate more than anything, and that's a liar. He tells the truth about his wife Jodie. Her hygiene lacks, and that's not her only problem.

       "The things we do not have bothered her. She stayed in her house, and that was that. She'd say, 'We can get a bite to eat if you want to.' I said 'Want to? Do I?' Her estrangement was total."

       Let's talk about this. We share sundaes, take the tram to the hotel.

Sipping on juice-boxes, hit the pool.

       "You have a great tan," I say.


       "I SAID YOU HAVE A GREAT TAN."  Day's end, we caught the crook. It's possible I'll make captain soon because of it. In the interest of disclosure it turned out the girls were, in fact, trannies. The boys on recon caught the shit on that.




In the morning I'm working on a sketch of Fabini. He comes by and appraises it. "My chin," he says, gesticulating. He tells me of a scam he's put together, which involves fleecing a meteorologist in Napa, Gene Monahan. "Doctor Gene Monahan is a rube," he cackles, eating a piece of watermelon.

       Dawn. The impossible, the derelict. Coffee. I yawn through the sunrise, fuchsine, thistle, plan a vacation to the Alps. To pass the time I recall the names of the mountains: Ligurian, Dauphiné, Graian, Bernese, Lepontine, Glarus. To explore fauna that lie among the cliffs, the edge of living. Clouds. I can name what I long for, but never to others. I walk behind my house, into a neighborhood where urchins play stickball. Skells watch the boys sweat. The field is surrounded by trash. Double off a tent, and one of the boys powers the ball, wrapped in tinfoil, over the fence. He whips his head, yells, and salutes.




At a safe house in Paso Robles, I keep my girl Kailani. She's out at the supermarket giving me time to survey three cornfields I am buying. Mexicans and Okies, the settlers dot the landscape. Two twin migratorios beg me for change. The problem with owning this house is, I can't just wring the scum up by the necks. I would have to drag them to an outpost near Carmel and bleed them. That kind of heat. No. Instead I slink back home and read this novel from the seventies called Son of the Morning. Its biblical preface masks the sex. Like all books it concerns childhood. Kailani returns from her trip. Ohhhhh, tomatoes.

       Once we're in bed, there's nothing to confess.

       "I love you," I say.

       "Did you pay the cable?"

       Late at night I go hunting for valley quail. The wings rise above and touch the light from the window. 'If you can't piece it together by now the bet is that you never will' that's what I will tell her, but when I come back, my beard tinged with salmonella, she is gone.




There's a note in my office, scrawled on loose-leaf paper. Whoever has written this note to me has arranged a few haikus for my benefit, all involving the word 'flue.' The effort doesn't go unappreciated. My boss Sternberg is asleep on a little couch I keep for sleepovers. His dog, an Irish setter named Oregon, snoozes on the floor. He swallows, wakes.

       "You know," I say. "Compulsive behavior, especially as it relates to pets, is one of the five principal traits of a serial killer."

       "I have considered killing," my boss says. His thick, hairy shoulders. "You going to be at that bust tomorrow?" I can't believe there's a bust and I don't know about it. Collecting myself, I grip his lapels and smell his musk.

       "The biggest pipeline is in British Columbia," I stutter. "Would you excuse me?"  I climb out of the basement and head to my car, where there are no cigarettes.




Kailani calls from Compton, begging me to come get her. Down at the mission, a priest is meting out small doses of crack to the reformed addicts. There's also an ample supply of methadone. The priest is humming as he doles them out . Kai is propped up against a marble fountain, her legs stretching from her neck to her mottled sneakers.

       "Get in the car," I say. A hobo chants "merciful, O merciful!" Two streets kids touch each other's haircuts. The excess of body odor liquefies my throat, and the chemical smell reminds me of basil. I don't make anything and neither do these folks, their stillettos, blue lips. Outside, above the sirens, a high school marching band passes by.




Back in Paso Robles she's climbing the walls. I wash her in the tub, which used to house some nitrous cans, leaving a yellow tinge to the tile. In a state like that, she's muttering everything she can't remember.

       "Thanksgiving. Cornucopia. Bitch said, 'I need weed.' So what?

Chomping ninnies. Levelheaded kind of cocksucking whore," she says.

She needs cleaning. Some tawny lord has placed a dozen baggies in her rectum. I dig out the source of her discomfort. She gives me a bossy look, and begins flailing once more. That night, I keep my wallet underneath my ballsack. That's the last place she will look.

       In the morning she's over-caffeinated and pouty. I can barely raise my head. She wants to go to a waterpark. "But that's all the way in Torrance," I say. She agrees to drive and I sleep the whole way. When I wake a white pre-teen wearing a shirt that says "THAT'S A BARGAIN" has his forehand pressed against the window of my car. Inside the park, Kailani is wearing a motorcycle helmet and swimming goggles, chasing teenagers around a miniature-sized racetrack. I sit down and watch her crash her cart into other drivers, snarling like a wacked-out hyena. On one hand it's therapeutically helpful. But there's something to be said for avoiding the mouse she gets under her left eye from the racetrack operator.  I'm the only one left to survey the damage on the drive home. "I'm hunnnnnggggggry," she says. Her last meal is dandelion stew.




I'm spending the day with my son Paulo. We're having a serious dinner in an Indian restaurant that smells like chamomile. I'm correcting the boy's habits, his posture, his tendency to lisp when he is nervous. The current cause of his nervousness is thunder.

       "You must be fully in control of your mind," I tell him. The waiter skulks over to the table, ashamed of his news.

       "You've got a phone call, sir," he says. I put a hunk of steak on

Paulo's plate and take him aside.

       "Who did they ask for?"

       "What do you mean?"

       "Let me clue you in on something, numb nuts," I say, glowering.

"That's the freaking governor's son over there."

       "Of course, it is," he says. I shake my head and grab the phone. I mute my fury – there's always a worse place, a more terrible place that one might be receiving a call from.

       "Is that you?" Fabini's voice says. "You yelling at the help?"

       "What is it?" I say. It sounds as if Fabini hands the phone off. A muffled voice, an exhortation. Obsolescence, silence, drums. Then a man's huffing. A chill.

       "That's Doctor Gene Monahan," Fabini says. We found him spread out under a prize pony in his shed. He opened the damn safe himself."

       "Gene the Queen," someone chimed in.

       "Our fence can't handle Gene's passage," Fabini said. "He had an asthma attack when we hit Monterrey.

       "I can't drive up there," I say.

       "We need to use your safe house. Not for a few hours, but tonight."

       "On one condition."

       "Anything," Fabini says.

       "Ask the bastard how long it's going to rain."




Around the end of the month, it's time for departmental honors. The ceremony is at a restaurant in La Hoya. My hands hurt from clapping, a pain alleviated, if only momentarily, by a moment of silence commemorating the passing of Fabini's Jodie. I'm more upset than usually about the smelly wife’s passing.

       Sternberg comes over to me and hands over a cigar. "Go get some air," he says. As I'm walking to the door I hear somebody from Processing say to his jowly buddy, "He always gets like this," and before I can gather myself, I'm flailing at him. We’re on the ground and I’m trying to get him in an armbar. The murmurs from the group that watches this, none of which I can individuate. The world is underwater. A couple guys drag me off, and as my skull opens the door, I see Fabini's regal chin, as I wish I had captured it the previous Sunday.

       Outside the restaurant, my pocket change is littered along the sidewalk. The trip back to L.A. takes less than an hour at night, and I am counting the mile-markers. To think I once walked this road, from Sausalito to Tijuana, without shoes.




Alex Carnevale is a recent graduate from the MFA program at The New School. His work has appeared in horseless press review, Sports Illustrated, and otoliths. He is managing editor of CapGun, a literary journal based in Brooklyn, and the creative force behind This Recording, an arts and culture webzine.



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