Don’t Judge a Life by its Cover

Submitted into Contest #142 in response to: Start your story with someone being given a book recommendation.... view prompt


American Creative Nonfiction Thriller

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

“May I recommend J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye?” said an older gentleman who had walked up next to me while I was standing in front of the shelves of classic literature at the local library.

I looked over at the man who reminded me of an old 1970’s mobster; dressed in a blue suede jacket, with tan slacks and on his feet, white Ian Drummond dress shoes. His suit is complete with a light blue flat cap like golfers wear. Large gold-trimmed glasses were black as night but prescription lenses over his eyes. Even behind the gray hairs flowing out from his undershirt, I could see the curving band of several gold necklaces.

His hands projected out toward me, and within their grips, a small paperback book. The book was well worn and yellow with the stain of age, and I could make out that it was a copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

I stared for a moment, just taking in this surreal site, trying to understand what was happening. I raised my left hand and took hold of the edge of the book. The older man gave it a slight shove toward my chest, forcing me to reach up and grab the book with my other hand.

He just let go of the book and said, “Enjoy! Don’t become a phonie.” Then he scuttled off toward the entrance of the library.

I gave a muted “Thanks” response and then looked at the book I held. “I’ve been meaning to read this,” I sat the book back on the shelf and headed out. I did not see the older man again as I went out of the library onto the street and headed for my friend Johnny's place a few blocks away.

“That’s it, Johnny, I’m out. I bombed out for not showing up enough. Can you imagine that? The bastards get paid for me going there, then they toss me out because I don’t go all the time.”

“But Christian, I thought you enjoyed anthropology?”

“I did, ole boy. I surely did. Fascinating topics on the study of what human culture is, but I started feeling like none of them knew what they were talking about anyway. A bunch of fakes. Fuck’em, Johnny. I get plenty of culture in the neighborhoods and travel. Hand me a swig of that juice, would ya?”

Johnny handed over a half-full bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. I took it from him and commenced taking down a very long swallow. Johnny grabbed it back.

“Easy Christian, you’re going to be stumbling out of here again. Man, your uncle is going to be pissed. What are you going to tell him?”

“Tell him? Hell, I ain’t going to tell that prick anything. I’ll avoid him. Let the school give him the news. Still gotta figure out a way to see my niece Tabby, though. She’s a great kid and always loves hanging out with me. Figure I better do that before I hit the road and just travel, man. That reminds me. I was in the library checking out some reads I might like to take with me on my journey, and this crazy old man came up to me with a copy of Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger and says I should read it and just walked out. Weird, I just put it back and headed over here, but you ever read that book?”

“I think I did back in junior high, can’t remember much, though. Sounds like some old geezer shit. He probably wanted to take you home and have his way with you, man! Hahaha!”

“Shut the fuck up, Johnny! Hand me that bottle!”

“Say, Chris. I gotta tell ya somethum to get it off my chest before you go roaming about. I ran into Sally the other day, and we got to talkin.”

Right away I could see where this was heading and I took another mean hit off that bottle and my face began getting bloodshot red as I felt the anger boiling to the top of my head. I always knew Johnny had a thing for her, even though me and Sally had been broken up for a few months. Johnny knew better. He and I always had a kind of unconditional understanding that we wouldn’t mess around with each other's gals even if broke up. Sure I could make more sense of it if it had been a few years but not this soon. I got so firey mad I just whacked Johnny across the head with the now near-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker. He went down like a cold fish, a regular glass jaw. I stood over his body for a moment and saw blood pooling behind his head.

“Get up you faker! You’re as good as a con man as those T.V. evangelists. Haha! Bet you even going around calling yourself a born-again, you fake. Hahaha!”

I kicked Johnny’s feet but he didn’t move. Just the scuffling of his shoes across the floor from me kicking at them. I bent down. It looked like he was breathing but I wasn’t sure. I suddenly got really scared and tears filled my eyes.

“Why’d you go and do that with Sally? Why Johnny? You know we’re supposed to leave each others' gals off-limits at least for a good bit of time anyways. Oh, Christ! You piece of shit!”

I kicked at his feet again and his body shuddered but no moan or positive proof of life. Tears flooded my eyes and fear gripped my entire mind.

“Fuck, I just got axed from school now I think I just killed my old friend,” What to do? All I could think of is run and that is just what I did.

Out of Johnny’s little apartment, I went as quick as I could to the stairwell. I saw a woman coming out of her apartment near the stairs so I tucked my head down low shoved my hands in my pocket making myself as non-discrete as possible and plowed on past her with purpose. She started to say hi but I was already hitting the door to the stairwell and once on the stairs I was in a sprint down them. My mind was a blur on the way down thinking about where to go. I just decided to get to the nearest subway station and then go from there.

I passed a couple of cops near the station and I felt sure that they were already looking for me. I could’ve sworn they were staring right at my guilty face. If I could only blend in like the rest of these fakers. Once I made it onto the train I just sat in the nearest seat that wasn’t surrounded by other people and pulled my knees up to my face, buried my face into my knees for what seemed like hours, crying and groveling to myself. Finally, I got a hold of myself and looked up at the next stop. I then looked at the subway map and knew right where I was going. Not but a few more stops away was the more seedy part of town. Plenty of dingy bars, strip clubs, bums, and people who were probably as in bad shape as me.

I checked my wallet and saw I had a hundred dollars on me plus the debit card for school. That still had a couple of grand on it. Fuck it! If I was going down mine as well go all the way.

I went to an old hangout that I used to frequent a lot, a nightclub called Nitro. I knew I could immerse myself into techno glory and get myself checked out into a psychedelic high that I would think it was Nirvana. There, Stephanie found me.

“Christian! Hey man, how have you been? Haven’t seen you in a bit. Where’s Johnny? He’s usually not far from where you are.”

Damn, running into her. She was Johnny’s ex and she is drop-dead gorgeous. Long brunette hair that waves like calm rolling seas down her perfectly oval-shaped head. The dimpled chin is smooth and etched just right with her mouth and plump red lips. Her long slender neck gave an urge of a vampire fiending to take a bite into it. Her neck led down to her chest which scored high on the sexual desire meter. I couldn’t help but feel in shock but could not overcome staring at her beauty.

“Haven’t heard from him in a while. Think he went out of town,” I at last replied.

“Hugh, not like him. No matter. It’s fun time, bitch!”

She did a little twirl and then brought up her hand that contained a blue circular pill that had an etching of a clown on it. I looked at it in hesitation.

“It’s Molly mother fucker. Come on be a clown with me.”

At that, I could not resist. It wasn’t long before I was down the rabbit hole and we were on the dance floor into another realm melting into the waves of sound and light and into each other into the crowd.

Before we left there were several other psychedelics, speed, and enormous amounts of booze consumed. It was sometime the next day, I believe, that I woke up in a large bed with several women and a couple of other guys all sprawled out naked or maybe wearing an undershirt or underwear. Stephanie had her head cuddled into the side of my neck. She was naked with just a blanket covering her waist that draped over onto me.

“Ohh…oh god, what did I do? I went and did it with Johnny’s girl. Shit!”

Stephanie startled and breathed out. Her eyes were half-open, but she had heard me and answered.

“That’s been like a year ago dude. Don’t start being a little bitch. Me and Johnny are still friends but more just on the party side these days. Besides I’ve seen you looking at me. So don’t go treating me like some hoe passed around between buds. I wanted to fuck, so you got lucky. Hell, I think all of us did. Shit! What all did we do last night? Was that last night?”

“I’m sorry Steph. God, I am so sorry. Look there’s something I got to tell you concerning Johnny. Ugh…umm…well.”

“What? What is it? You guys go gay or something?” she gave a little giggle, “because that shit would not surprise me the way you two hang together.” she laughed again.

“No. No. God no! Nothing like that. It’s just, well, it’s just. Aghh! Fuck! I got to go.”

I reached up and felt my pants up behind my head. I threw the blanket off and pulled my pants back on and crawled through the sprawled out pile of lusty flesh, landed my feet on the floor while finding my boots and grabbed whatever shirt looked like it would work for me, and started for the door. Stephanie sat up.

“Wham, bam, thank you ma’am! I see how you are Christian,” she started laughing. “Hey, it was fun! We should do it again sometime. Next time bring Johnny!” she kept laughing as I exited the room.

It took me a bit to figure out where I was and once I did to decide my next move. I grabbed my phone and gave my kid niece a call. I wanted to feel normal and going to hang out with my 12-year-old niece somewhere would be just what I needed.

“Hey Tabby, what ya doin?”

“Uncle Chris is that you? Yeah! Are you in town? Wait till I tell dad.”

“No no no no no, don’t tell your dad or your mom, Tabb, please; I want to surprise them that I am back in town. Right now I figured maybe you and me could go hang out for the day then I’ll surprise them later. It’s Sunday, right? So you don’t got school or nothing. Think you could escape? I know you are good at it.”

“Ok, Christian. I won't say a word especially if take me to my favorite park and try to kick some goals past me! I can tell mom and dad I’m going over to Cindy’s. Me and her hang out at her place a lot on Sundays. I’ll meet you at Park Place station in an hour, ok?”

“You got it kiddo. See you there.”

I felt a big relief. My kid niece was the perfect thing at this moment to get my mind off the heavy shit and get the poison coursing through my system out from the night before last. I realized I was in that bed for a whole day and night.

I met Tabby at the station and rode with her downtown where the park is located. It had lots of soccer fields, woods, a lake, and even a carousel that she used to love to ride as a little kid. She took me straight to the soccer fields to show me her skills at being a goalie. It wasn’t long before it started raining.

“Come on Tabbs, let’s go jump on the carousel for a few spins and get out of this rain!”

“Really, Chris? What am I seven?”

“Ohh, come on. Indulge your poor ole uncle one more time. We’ll sit in the sled and we can chat and play on our phones till the rain calms down. Whataya say?”

“Oh, alright. Race you there!”

Off she went faster than I wanted to run but I trudged along heaving hard as my hangover was clearing up. We made the carousel before most others got the same idea and grabbed one of the sled seats. We were having a great time riding around as she told me about school, her parents, and showing me her Instagram. I pulled my phone out and noticed a message indicator.

“Holy shit! Holy shit! I can’t believe it! Fucking Johnny!”

“Johnny, hey isn’t he that one guy you were always hanging out with? What’s so special about him?”

“Oh sorry kiddo. It’s just I heard he had been in a bad way and hadn’t heard from him.”

I read the message to myself, “Hey you douche bag. Wtf, over? Anyway, all forgiven. I get it, give me a ring when you get this.”

“Tabbs, you're going to be mad at me, but I am going to have to take you back and go see my friend. I am sorry but it is a serious thing so please understand and know I will be back tomorrow, I promise.”

“Ahh, man! But as long as you promise. I understand I’m not a little kid anymore.”

“Thanks, Tabby.” I gave her a big hug and when the ride stopped we jetted for the train station as the rain had calmed down to a drizzle. On the train ride to the station, I got another message from school. More good news! I had been forgiven for the absence and offered another semester under probation of no excused absences. After I left Tabby at the station I had met her I, went back to catch the train to Johnny’s neighborhood. I gave him a call while on the train.

“Johnny, hey man. How are you? Dude, I am so sorry. I freaked the fuck out and just ran.”

“Shut up you scammer. You’re an asshole but whatever. I would have done the same thing. Anyway, get your lame ass over here and we’ll hit this bong and party this thing out.”

“Alright, man. Shit, you are a good friend you lame ass. Hey, I gotta tell you about Stephanie when I get there. First I got to stop by the library there is something I got to get.”

I got to the library and went and found the book The Catcher in the Rye right where I had left it. I picked it up and as I turned to go there was that crazy old man again all in the same get-up.

“Did you read it?”

“No, not yet, but you got me interested so I came back to get it. Thank you.”

“You know reality is sometimes stranger and a lot more dangerous than fiction. Would you rather read it or live it?”

“Right, thank you again, sir. Gotta go,” that was weird. The old bastard watched me check the book out and go. I gave a wave as I left. He just held one hand up and waved me off like I was a waste of time.

Another couple of blocks and I was at Johnny’s apartment building. I rang his apartment from downstairs and he buzzed me up. I took the book out of my bag holding it up as I opened up Johnny’s door.

“Hey, Johnny! You're not going to believe this man! That old man…”

“Stephanie! Christian! Really you fucker?”

“Johnny, what’s with the gu…” were the last words out of my mouth as a hammer hit me in the chest sending me flying back, blood spewing from the bullet hole. My book went flying out of my hand onto the floor.

Johnny walked over and picked up the book and he read the first thing he saw on the page it was on,

“I think that one of these days…you’re going to have to find out where you want to go. And then you’ve got to start going there. But immediately. You can’t afford to lose a minute. Not you.”

Johnny lowered the book and looked at Christian bleeding on the floor and spoke.

“What a phony.”

April 21, 2022 16:08

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