The Vocalist – Chapter 1

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote the first and only draft of THE VOCALIST in installment form between November 9, 2001, and January 20, 2002. Way back then I thought it was brilliant. However, sixteen years is a long time, and perspectives change. When I reread the first chapter of the story today, I was frankly aghast at how poorly written it was. I think that, in terms of storytelling concepts, the elements were there, but the actual writing (sentence structure and flow, narrative, dialogue, etc.) was overblown and unpolished. I’m going to attempt to correct that and will be doing a full rewrite because I think that, at its core, THE VOCALIST is a compelling short story worth fixing.

This opening chapter has been rewritten and reedited. In total, 1073 words were cut from the 2001 version. The dream sequence, which you will see in paragraph one, originally spanned 860 words. I’ve managed to compress it here into a single sentence. There’s nothing wrong with scripting an extensive dream sequence, of course, provided it has a purpose. Such was not the case with this story. In viewing the manuscript anew, I found the opening to be long winded and trite, as if I was trying to impress. So it’s gone. As a creative writer, I believe that time and experience are the best teachers. Once upon a time I regarded every word I wrote as sacred. Those days are, thankfully, gone. I realize that if it’s not needed, it has to go. And speaking of which, time to shut up now.

AT 6:08 AM TREVOR DECEMBER’S EYES opened slowly and apprehensively ending an exquisite dream in which he was dining with Groucho Marx, Amber Lynn, and Universal Studios’ Creature From the Black Lagoon. He woke because of a sudden pressure on his abdomen and realized, upon waking, that Jones the Cat was methodically kneading his gut with both front paws. It marked the beginning of a morning, like everyone morning, filled by feline demands.

Trevor and Marcia had adopted Jones from the street after the cat’s former owners had abandoned him. The black feline, merely a kitten at the time, cautiously entered Trevor’s home but quickly discovered that a warm bed, adequate meals, and daily affection awaited. Two years and 8 pounds later, Jones was completely at ease, even among the highly strung dog (named Dog) and beer-bellied cat named Jazz with whom he shared the residence.

Jones received several head pats and drool-purred in appreciation. Trevor eased his aching body slowly out of bed and nearly stumbled over one of the boot’s he’d left lying on the floor.

“Four hours of sleep isn’t gonna cut it,” he said to Jones who offered no reply.
Trevor walked slowly across the hall floor that lead toward the bathroom, carefully sidestepping the various parts of his attire strewn along the path—pants, belt, cape, other boot. The scent of sage breakfast sausage drifted from the kitchen, past the dining room, up the stairwell, and into the bathroom. Trevor caught a glimpse of his tired self in the bathroom mirror–matted black hair, five-o’clock shadow, crow’s feet, flesh devoid of color. Disgusted, he turned away and stepped into the shower and exhaled comfortably while hot water began to massage his aching muscles. A momentarily respite to an exhaustive state.

Mounted atop the front-inside corner of the shower was a small tape recorder. His wet fingers pressed the RECORD button, as they’d done so many times before, and upon clearing his throat, began speaking.

“November 8, 1999: I’m almost certain The Scallion’s headquarters is located in a room in the basement of the Combustible Public Library. A room filled with blueprints. I discovered this room quite by accident yesterday evening. However, at the time of the discovery, I was wearing civilian attire and couldn’t seriously investigate. Later last night, I followed The Scallion to a rooftop meeting with Mr. Black and Blue. I was too far away to hear the specifics, but I’ve gotta assume they’re hatching a sinister scheme. I’d report this to the police, but I’ve learned from past mistakes—particularly the Super-Lunch fiasco—that Lieutenant McMasters would rather arrest me than take my advice. I’ll have to dig up evidence to have these villains removed from society, which means The Vocalist must take to Combustible’s the streets once again.”
Trevor paused momentarily as he rinsed shampoo from his hair before applying a generous portion of conditioner.
“Last night I was off my game, even more so than usual. First, I nearly fell five stories when my cape became entangled in my feet as was jumping across buildings in the Fashion District. Later, I got the jump on a pair of burglars, but they pretty much kicked my ass.” Trevor touched his lower lip—still swollen.
“Marcia woke before me today. She’s been doing this quite often lately. Maybe she’s had enough of it all—long nights being left alone, uncertainty as to whether I’ll return home alive at the end of the night, constant physical injuries, mending a cape she thinks looks ridiculous, and these ridiculous tape-recorded monologues. When I snuck into bed this morning at 4:00 a.m. she said to me, ‘You’re 44 years old. When are you going to stop?’ I just shook my head. Why can’t I tell her that I can’t quit, that I’m obsessed with this whole masked hero thing? Deep down I know she’s right. It’s 1999. My vocal chords are changing—my voice is slightly deeper; the sound I resonate has changed its pitch. Subtle deviations, but noticeable. Ten years ago I could drop an opponent in his or her tracks through a simple fluctuation of tones. Now, these same tones could barely stun an ant.”

After drying and dressing, Trevor sat down at the table opposite Marcia. She attended to a crossword puzzle and quietly ate. Trevor placed several sausage links, scrambled eggs, and toast on his plate. After several silent minutes, the silence abruptly ended.
“You told me you were going bowling last night.”
“I went bowling—for a while.”
“Uh-huh. Then off to play the hero, right? You told me you were only going to do this on weekends now.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“And here it is, Wednesday, and you look like shit and you’re late for work.”
Trevor hesitated, then spoke.
“You don’t understand. This is important. Crimes happen every day, not just weekends.”
Marcia walked toward Trevor and grasped her hands in hers, her eyes grim with concern.
“Can’t you understand you’re killing us?”
“I…”
“We’ll talk later. I’m late for work. We both are. I want you to see Michael about that bruise.”
“What bruise?”
“You’ll find it.”
Marcia grabbed a travel mug of coffee and left the room. He watched her leave, knowing he should follow, but lacked the necessary physical and emotional energy. Best to let it wait. Trevor glanced at a headline on the front page of the morning paper which read “Experimental Isotopes Stolen From Government Compound.” He thought about the blueprints he’d seen at the Scallion’s library hide out, and tumblers within his mind began to unlock.

“That’s a decorative color. Does it hurt?”
“No. Not really.”
“Don’t worry. It will. There’s not much to do about it. Take ibuprofen as needed.”
“Can do,” Trevor said, and finished buttoning his shirt.
Trevor had discovered the purple discoloration running down the right side of his lower back shortly after Marcia had departed. It was only a bruise, but he visited Michael to appease Marcia. Trevor had lived with pain far worse than bruises. There was another reason for the visit—Michael knew. While he tolerated Trevor’s alter ego, and on some remedial level understood the need for it, he’d mended his friend’s body more times than he could count, and had developed a genuine concern for Trevor’s declining physical and mental health. Michael spoke without inflection.
“Work related injury? How much longer are you going to abuse your body like this?”
“Don’t you find it odd that your name is Needleman and you make a living sticking people with needles?” Trevor asked.
“My nurse handles the needle work.”
“What’s her name?”
“Payne. But don’t pivot.”
“I’m doing something important. Something that only I can do.”
“Combustible survived before The Vocalist arrived; it’ll survive after you retire. Your body wasn’t built for this type of abuse. Take a break; at least for a while.”
Trevor had become accustomed to Michael’s lectures. The stocky friend and physician would assume an assertive stance while running beefy fingers through thinning hair, or repeatedly adjust his eyeglasses. Because of their friendship, Michael tolerated the odd office hours he’d sometimes need to maintain to treat Trevor’s most recent injury.
“I’m telling you this as your physician and as a friend, you need to seriously think about what this is doing to your physical self, and to your relationship with Marcia.”
“Has she spoken with you?”
“No, but I can see the rift developing. What’s the crisis, anyway? Ginger Snapp back in town? Or is it Disrupto this time?”
“The Scallion—and probably Mr. Black and Blue.”
“Well, I know you’re rather seasoned at crime fighting—you’ve had your share of victories. But you’re not in your thirties any more, pal. And Marcia is closing on forty. You’re alienating her, and you’re pushing yourself too hard—sooner or later, the camel’s back will snap. Listen to me—take some time away from it—even just a day or two. The criminals will still be there.”
“That’s the problem, Michael. They’re always, there,” Trevor added, thanking his friend before exiting the examination room. He began to feel the dull ache in the side of his 44-year-year-old frame as the door closed behind him.

NEXT: The Scallion, and a parrot named Lonnie.

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