Back in the day, if memory serves me right, life was one big party
where every heart gaped wide, where all wines gushed forth.
One night, I took Beauty on my knee. –And I found that I was sick of her.
–And I cussed her out.
I armed myself against justice.
I hit the road. O witches, O misery, O hatred, you can keep the jackpot!
–A Season in Hell, Arthur Rimbaud
March 31, 1994 –Portland, OR
Luke stroked the burlwood stock of the Remington Model 11 twenty gauge shotgun with his fingertips. Freedom from all physical limitations, that was the blessing he imagined his death would confer upon him. Freedom from pain at least, he was guaranteed that, he supposed. Either way, he had understood the deal he was making, when he set out on his drug-fueled sprint to stardom. From the start, his own untimely demise had loomed ahead with inevitable finality.
With its dainty bullets, auto-loading feature and low recoil, the Remington was a sensible choice. A classic, highly collectible and suitable for small game hunting, it was the gun for a sportsman who was also a showman, and a favorite with taxidermists and museum specimen collectors. Not your weapon if you wanted to make a Grand Guignol statement by leaving a messy headless corpse, but certainly the instrument of choice for a suicidal rock star with angelic good looks. Administered by mouth, the gunshot would leave the face perfect and the body easy to identify.
But suicide was not what Luke Mandrake had been thinking about, when he added the Remington to his collection of firearms.
Still, he had arranged for a friend to make the purchase. There was no point in Charity or his Mom catching wind of it. They would only object, even though he had already explained to them repeatedly that his arsenal was essential for the protection of home and family.
Home was the 5000-square-foot chalet overlooking the Willamette River that he and Charity had recently purchased. The nostalgic quaintness of its mullioned windows and solid, half-timbered architecture had charmed Charity, his antique-obsessed wife. The built-in oak gun cabinet with its advanced thumbprint-activated lock was what had sold Luke on the place.
Luke worried about intruders. Paparazzi, thieves, crazed stalkers, presumptuous fans, uninvited salesmen and renegade drug dealers–they clustered around him like flies. It was one of the consequences that ensued upon achieving worldwide fame. Yet Luke could not bring himself to hire handlers. He wanted his real friends to feel comfortable visiting him, wanted privacy for himself and his family. More to the point, he disliked and distrusted police, soldiers–anyone whose philosophy of life veered toward the martial end of the social spectrum. Why would he want bodyguards shadowing him twenty-four hours a day? The last thing he needed was a bevy of hired thugs hanging out in the laundry room, or in the hall by the door, or somewhere around the back of the shed. This was not a way of life, to Luke Mandrake’s mind, that was worth the fantastic quantity of money it would have cost him.
Constant vigilance was the price he paid for his stubbornness.
Within days of closing on the house, Luke had begun to feel trapped there, pacing the carpets as if he were locked in a luxurious cage. His fame, like the bars in the leaded windows, separated him from the society of fellow miscreants and weirdos, from the liberty and the anonymity that had once been his own.
He had to do it. He had to set himself free.
Charity believed in reincarnation, and although Luke was skeptical, when she described to him her vision of the place where souls gathered between lives, it was the very picture of a lost paradise. Maybe he really was on his way to that lush and fruitful garden, over which a female deity presided, wrapped in a radiant aurora. If God were a woman, then surely the afterlife would be a haven for lovers, a place for reuniting, a land of peace where wholeness and tender fellowship were bestowed upon all gentle spirits.
Luke raised his head and gazed out over the Willamette, but he didn’t see black water dimpled with moonlight. All he saw was a window on oblivion.
He closed his eyes, and prepared himself for the shot.