The subway train flew by Lowell Sweeney as he pulled his body weight backwards at the last possible second. There were a few sighs of relief on the station platform, muffled by the roar of underground public transportation. At this hour, it would take four or five minutes before another train stopped by. He would have to stay on the edge, rocking and keep asking himself. Over and over again. Keep trying to find the courage. Might as well get in before somebody calls security. There would be a better moment to die.
Not so long ago, this dying business and these ideas of soullessness and good versus evil were completely alien to Lowell. Fresh out the beat, showing the best clearance rate of homicide department, life was great. It wasn’t a Sunday cruise, especially since Luisa left with the kids last January, but things were simple and success was easy to achieve for the one nicknamed “Chipper” by the Jersey City Chief Of Police himself. His family vaporized, but he was a good guy and he went to bed at night satisfied, knowing that he would wake up and put more murderers in jail.
Ease of body and mind came to Lowell right out the womb, due to fantastic genetics and a financially privileged childhood. Dad was a point guard for the New Jersey Nets for two seasons in the late eighties, played for the Harlem Globetrotters and now taught in the basket-ball program at NJCU. Mom was Miss New Jersey and finished third for Miss USA in 1975. His older sister Alexandra won the prestigious pageant in 1994. Life wasn’t always easy in the Sweeney household. Dad was often gone and when at home, he dreamed about the courts. But Lowell being the fourth child of a fortunate family, he was given a gift when still too young to grasp its meaning.
Lowell Sweeney called the shots growing up. He was his own man. Raising himself up in the great out there while dad was on the court and mom struggled with the girls. By the time he was twelve, he became “the man” to his friends, in whom he found a second family. He also found confidence and a sense of worth in athletic achievements and later, comfort in the numbness of partying. He joked with his high school friends at the bar, that he should patent his alcohol-to-cocaine dosage for optimal work productivity. Sweeney-the-machine, Sweeney-the-party-animal. That was him all right. That was how he came across Howard, Jensen, Wall, Robbie Jones and Marnie Campbell.
While being a partying beat cop is fine, being an homicide detective was a different ball game altogether. Two months after he started his new job, Mike Wall, a veteran working narcotics busted a club’s bathroom door and surprised him with a straw up his nose. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, but about six months afterwards, when Lowell thought it was sage again to do blow in clubs, Wall’s partner Roger Jensen busted on him and this time he didn’t let him walk away with a slap on the wrist. He took pictures with his cell phone before running in. That night, Lowell started working two full time jobs.
Homicide detective and enforcer for the silence/protection racket the Narcotics field guys ran on Robbie Jones, an indie drug dealer that propped himself on top of the game in New Jersey after a big string of arrest a few years back. James Guerrero stopped paying them a few years ago and put two slugs in Bruce Howard’s chest. It turned out to be a career ender. He was currently serving a ninety-nine years sentence in Fairton penitentiary.
Robbie Jones was paying, allowing them free meals in his restaurants and giving them girls on the side, but the three rotten cops were getting greedy. They weren’t satisfied to live like kings on his lap. They wanted more money, more special treatment. Earlier today, they busted on Jones in a hotel room, near JFK Airport, satisfying his only vice. Teenage girls. When they broke into his room, Robbie was taking a bath with fifteen years old runaway Marnie Campbell.
They called Lowell right away. When he arrived, he found Jones naked on the bed and Marnie, in a towel, handcuffed to a chair and already swollen. They pushed one of her own colourful sock in her mouth.
“We came to an agreement with Mr. Jones” said Jensen.
Lowell looked at Marnie and his stomach turned. She was a beautiful girl, petite with long blonde hair. This wasn’t good, young girls shouldn’t have had anything to do with his business of intimidation and hurt. He smiled, but nothing came out except nervousness and fatality. He could have used a line.
“They jacked up the prices again, Robbie?” said Lowell, chuckling.
Jones didn’t say anything. He sighed and pulled his knees up against his body.
“Our friend Robbie is going home tonight” continued Jensen. “He has homework to do, but he’s gonna be a good boy and clear his schedule for us, because he doesn’t want to be called a sick pederast by his wife tomorrow”.
“But Rob needs a lesson, Sweeney. He needs to learn how to negotiate with his back against the wall” added Wall.
This wasn’t police work. It was all backwards. The criminal, the drug dealer and molester would go free and be given a chance to prosper and expand, while the troubled and innocent girl would have to pay. Lowell wouldn’t have minded popping Jones. He was used to do mop up work for the infernal trio and eliminating scumbags wasn’t so bad.
The disgusting, flabby Jones would have been particularly satisfying to kill. He wasn’t especially big, but he was one of those thin people who let themselves go with age and became weighted by fat. One of those I’m-too-fucking-busy-to-work-out type. A little, suburban Kim Jong-Il.
“I’m not doing that” said Lowell, despite himself.
The words came out flowing, like a reflex. His answer was so swift and resolved, nobody talked. The room went completely silent, except for Marnie’s muffled sobs. “Oh God, no. Please”, she was trying to say behind that dirty sock.
“Really, are we gonna have this discussion again, Lowell?” said Wall. Lowell hated him. Jensen and Howard were two old clowns living above their means, but Wall was different. He was younger, colder, more calculative. He loved scamming criminals for a living.
“I’m not doing this, she has nothing to do with the situation. Let the girl go” he pointed Jones, but he didn’t look at him. “I’ll break his arms, his legs and his goddamn face if you want. But leave her out of this. We should have a rule guys, no victims below eighteen”.
He spoke very quickly. The surge of his dying cocain rush mixed with adrenaline kicked in and unpleasant chill, in his bloodstream.
“Now now. Robbie his our friend. Plus he needs his limbs, so he can be contribute to our little sideline here. Don’t look at her like a victim, Lowell. She’s really more of a collateral damage. Plus, you won’t have to clean up anything. Robbie will”.
“Mike, I think he-” interceded Jones, trying to save the girl’s life. But for different reasons.
“SHUT UP”. Wall yelled and threw the Bible he was juggling with on the wall, right over the dealer’s head.
Marnie’s sob became louder, more intense. Poor thing was scared out of her mind.
“You’re one phone call away from IA, Sweeney” said Howard. “Two from losing your job and a little paperwork away from going to jail. So you’re gonna do as you’re told”.
Unemployment. Humiliation. Prison. They played the same cards again and again, but each time, their demands were more outlandish. It started with shaking down a gang house a little more than a year ago. Last month, he had to kill Davis, one of Jones’ lieutenants that went rogue on him. Everybody liked Davis, but he pulled a power play on his boss. He played the game and lost. And now this. How could you gamble when the game was rigged?
“I know it sucks guys, but we have no choice. She’s a young girl, she’s gonna squeal. One hundred percent sure”.
Lowell closed his eyes and reached for his holster. Marnie whimpered and closed her eyes. He closed his too and pulled his handgun out. Not his service weapon, the other gun. The .45. He gave it a good look and looked at Marnie again. She opened her eyes and looked at him, every inch of her body agitated by an uncontrollable tremor.
“Come on. I gotta be home before three-thirty. My wife has her reading club at four and she doesn’t have time to cook dinner” said Jensen. In his voice, his complain really mattered.
In Marnie’s eyes, Lowell could see the flames of hell already reaching out to her. Despair and fear in his purest form. He knew that if he pulled this, the flames would find him too. One more second, where he wished something would happen, but if Jensen or Howard opened their mouth he would shoot them instead and then he would be in trouble. Wall would play his last card against him. Death.
He put the .45 against he forehead, turned his head away and pulled the trigger.
The force of the blast rocked her chair backwards and she crashed against the floor. Her eyes were calm now, but half her head was missing. She died with an air of grace and a gruesome head wound. With that towel around her waist, she almost looked like an angel. One of Jones’ perverted cherubs. Jensen and Howard put their vest on, ready to leave, but Wall walked up to Lowell, solemn, understanding the gravity of the situation. He gave him a card. Marnie’s bus ID. She was from Saginaw, Michigan.
“Remorse is gonna eat you up for a while. You might wanna do good by her family. That always helps me.”
Shocked, still feeling the recoil of the shot in his left hand, Lowell took the card and muttered: “Thanks”.
Then he followed his two partners out. That’s where the reality of death hit Lowell Sweeney. His death. Not the fear or the feeling of fatality, but the fact itself. The ceasing of life. It was shooting through Marnie’s eyes and filling up the room like cyanide fumes. Reality was spinning out of control.
“Sweeney-” said Jones.
Lowell turned ninety degree and aimed the .45 at the drug dealer.
“I don’t need nothing from you. Not even a word”.
“Guys.” It was Wall, peeking through the door. “We don’t have all day. The maids are freaking out and the quicker we’re out of here, the better it is”.
There he was. He left, on autopilot, guided by the monotone and soothing voice of Captain Mike Wall, left the hotel and walked into Forest Hills Station. The way home to New Jersey and a convenient way to take your own life without courage. The electrified rails were ruthless, worse than the electric chair. They would’ve left him limp and smoking for the train to finish the job. But he didn’t do it. Riding the black line to New Jersey, Lowell kept wrestling with his thoughts and wondered why he couldn’t pull it off. He owed his own gruesome demise to Marnie.
Would it get better somebody? For him or for the hundreds of people that Wall, Jensen and Howard kept in their misery? Not if he was dead. In the numbing roll of the train, he thought that it was too late for that. A knightly ending would have been to turn his weapon against himself and end his life over there, in that room. It might not have saved Marnie, but it would have kept her blood off his hands. But it didn’t make sense to him then. Life was still too beautiful back then. Now it was too dark. How fast he had fallen.
* * *
Right outside the Rutherford subway station is the Stevens Community Center. Tonight, like every week, there’s a meeting. Amir is happy to see that the young man he met at his club is here. A poor soul who sniffed his life away like he did himself, eighteen years, eight months and twenty-one days ago. Better yet, he walked up to him and ask if he could talk tonight. Amir smiled and put his big hand on the young man’s shoulder: “Sure, my friend. You look like you could use a little talking.” He offered to sponsor him, gave him his phone number and his business card. Told him to come see him whenever he felt the urge. He hadn’t sponsored anybody since he opened the Jersey City chapter, because his business partners have been on to his little secret.
Now that the meeting was started and that Amir introduced Lowell, he backed away and let him take the center of the circle. He was pasty, wore a heavy stubble and shades, like many addict who are spinning out of control.
“My name is Lowell Sweeney and I’m a cocaine addict. I have no soul and I want to check out. Were can I go from here?”
Bio: Benoit Lelievre is twenty eight years old, he resides in Montreal and writes fiction. He writes a lot in fact. Whenever he’s not trying to give a voice to terrible people who seek redemption in blood, he’s writing on www.deadendfollies.com about writing, books, films, music, everything and nothing. The rest of the time, he’s cultivating his relationship to his girlfriend and grooming a nervous breakdown
3 thoughts on “Burning by Benoit Lelievre”
Grim and beautiful. Had me in its grip the whole time. Fine writing.
Thank you guys. Happy you liked it!