A Rough Draft of the Introduction of “At the Top”


“At the Top” is an idea that I originally had centering around the concept of a serial killer pyramid scheme.  I wanted to write a story about a hierarchy of serial killers, however, I ran into a speed bump almost immediately.  Pyramid schemes only exist and work because the lower layer always give something to the layer above them, some sort of commodity like currency.  What commodity do serial killers possess to be able to provide that would make an interesting and believable story?

Nothing.

Coincidentally enough, the next day I ran into my writing partner Josh Bartylla at work and I posed him my conundrum.  After  several minutes of conversation we came up with a solution.  What if instead of a serial killer pyramid scheme it was an assassin’s pyramid scheme?  That way the incentive would exist, and we could nuance it.  From there we started adding layers to it, and now the project (which has been named “At the Top”) includes a poignant look at our memories, aging, and the importance of friendship all framed out by Frank Sinatra’s album, “September of  my Years.”

Check out these opening pages to “At the Top,” which will one day soon be a complete manuscript that Josh and I plan on adapting into a screenplay to submit to Amazon Studios.  Cheers.

“At the Top”

Prologue

The plantation was settled deep within the confines of a Cajun bog in one of the most remote regions of the Louisiana wetland.  At one point the white pillared beacon of the old world aristocracy had sat dead center in one of the largest production lands of the South, but as the decades had waned, the land had turned against the ones who had spent generations taming it.  The family had perished or fled once the house had practically burned to the ground in the latter part of the 19th century.  The rest of the outlying buildings slowly rotted from the outside in as the once profitable lands began to slowly turn to mush and the swampland turned against the rich soils.

The first half of the next century was just as unkind to the manor as it was the surrounding area.  At the conclusion of the Civil War economic turmoil after economic turmoil plagued the region, and thus the Lebeau family plot was never purchased or truly lost to the family.  However, it wasn’t till 1970 that the sole heir of the decrepit mansion returned, and returned to rebuild it.  By the time the long, lost scion came into possession of the house that was no longer a home, it was near collapse, but that didn’t dissuade Remi from buying the land and the manor in an effort to refurbish it to its former glory.

Now, almost thirty-years later, Remi sat contemplating in his office overlooking the same marshlands that had encroached upon the Lebeau lands a century prior.  He sat alone.  He cradled a Brandy in his palm knocking the ice cubes back in forth in a repeated riposte and parry.  In his other hand he held, masked by shadows save for the ember tip, a rare cigar to match his drink and mood.  He was in a large overstuffed chair with his feet upon his Oak desk.

Thinking.  Always thinking.

Papers and books laid askew, and the steeping bookshelves on either side of the room were just as disheveled.  He blew a single waft of smoke up into the air and let it catch the moonlight from the recessed, latticed windows.  Below, his glass ensconced pool reflected and refracted the softly lapping waters’ light, resulting in a dance of shimmering waves across the ceiling of his study.  Between the smoke, the moonlight, and the mirrors Remi was overcome with introspection.  This meditation allowed him to remember.  It allowed him to recall, but more-importantly, it allowed him providence.

Memories

Memories are fiendish.  They have far-reaching, burnished talons that can stab into the cerebrum with fervency and lust.  They are malignant because all memories are apocryphal.

For those individuals with poor memories their ignorance is as the saying goes, ‘blissful.’  The beast still lurks within, but instead it has evolved.  These memories exist in the wretched.  The lonely thugs who play with children and drive nails into coffins.  They are brutish to say the least, but on the whole they are as weak and fleshy as is anything without a spine.  However, these ingrates are protected by their own lies.  The falsities that have secretly roosted into their thoughts.  These birds of prey live and breath in the shadows.  They blend when searched for and are always finding there way into the folds and tears of the remaining gray matter, entrenching itself like a solider in the darkest days of the Great War, except with memories there is no neutral zone, there are no shared Christmases, just fear and nerve gas.

Those with eidetic memories can recall the past immediately, however, it is always in sepia.  No matter how much the Polaroid is flicked back-and-forth it never achieves focus.  It’s blurred, hazy.  It exists.  It can be put in box, lost under the bed, pulled out to reminisce, and shoved back under to be forgotten by the unfaithful.  The photo is a lie though.  It was always a lie.  It exists in a separate, fabricated reality, guarded by the ego, but by most it is irrevocably regarded as the truth.  It is never quite right, nor will it ever be right.  These individuals are dangerous, and here is why: with upmost conviction they believe that they remember the truth.  They believe so wholeheartedly that their past is grounded and accurate that it borders on religious faith.  They rely on it, they believe it, and they adhere to it.  It is always right, and therefore no questions are ever asked.  It is has divine as the Lord, and just as intangible.

Faith is a powerful beast, and it has a way with ambitious men.  It forces them to do things with unwavering judgement and persecution.  Nothing is off limits, and no one will ever present an argument that will dissuade them from their path.  It forces men like Remi to contemplate their past…to remember the stings and the horrors, first kisses and Sinatra songs.

Lloyd

His cheek stung and he could taste the blood dripping from his left nostril into his swollen lips.  It was salty.  Tangy.

“Fuck you,” he spat.

He took another smack.  This time he fell back upon the stained carpet and his left wrist twisted awkwardly.  He screamed and received another backhand for the noise.  He laid whimpering, holding his arm upon his back.  The fucker stood over him like he owned him, and unbeknownst to the boy there was some truth to that.

Lloyd was a brute.  In and out.  He always wore the same wife-beater, a dusted cowboy hat, and a pair of carpenter jeans.  Remi surmised that those were the only clothes that Lloyd owned, but the one time he had cracked that joke within Lloyd’s earshot his other arm had been broken.  A long time ago, Lloyd had worked for Tony Slates crackin’ skulls for pennies, but one drunken night, Lloyd broke the nose of Tony’s nephew; Slate cut him and then cut him loose.  Lloyd still sported the deep scar across his left cheek like a badge of honor.  Once a Scout always a Scout.

He stood over the eight-year, reeking of moonshine and piss.  He scowled, sauntered off, and collapsed into the most prominent lawn chair of the living room.  His pants around his ankles, loudly snoring off whatever booze and drugs Lloyd had consumed before striking Remi.  Quickly violent, and quickly asleep.  The women loved Lloyd.

Still nursing his arm, Remi scuttled out on his back, trying to make sure he held his cries.  As-soon-as he hit the backdoor of the sprawling ranch-styled house, Remi ran for it.  He hit the alley hard and kept running.  He didn’t make a sound, but tears were streaming down his face.

Remi ran almost two miles straight before he made it to Miss Rose’s farmhouse.  As always, she was sitting upon her porch softly rocking and reading on of her famous novels with her big Basset Hound, George, at her side.  She was young in a way that her beauty was true and her years were low, but she was old in the same way Remi was.  She understood him, and during all the years that Remi was with Lloyd Miss Rose was there as well.  She never ratted on him, and she never caused him trouble.  She only helped him.  Rose was the first and last person to ever do that for Remi.  The rest of his life was hard, but Rose never was.  As Remi aged he thought about Rose more often and that small farm town.  Winston, MI was a hard place for Remi to forget, but in his age he realized that, that is how it would always remain and that there was nothing wrong with that.

As he ran holding his ruined forearm, he let the wheat part and the burrs catch in his dirtied hair.  He didn’t care or notice.  He just ran.  He ran with a heavy heart and a purpose.  Miss Rose would help him.  She was his savior.  She would make everything better.

Rose saw Remi break the field, she was up in a shot and came running down the creaky steps to meet Remi before he even made it halfway to the porch.  She held him as he cried.  They didn’t exchange words, nor did they need to.  On that hot afternoon, she clutched the son that was never hers as he sobbed into her shoulder.  She cried to a God that didn’t seem to care.

This was Remi’s first memory.

The only sepia that remained from this particular memory was the part that existed between the breaking of Remi’ arm and the removal of Lloyd’s jeans.  If prison had taught Lloyd anything it was that he liked boys, and like a gift from God he had been given one from the man in the cocked Bowler.

 

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“Johnny Mnemonic” and “Virtuosity”


In the spirit of science fiction, 1995, “Bill & Ted,” and “Safe House” I developed a hankering for Keanu Reeves’ “Johnny Mnemonic” and Denzel Washington’s “Virtuosity.”  I ended up being able to pick up both for under four dollars at the local Hastings—quite a bargain!

“Johnny Mnemonic” with Keanu Reeves, Dolph Lundgren, Dina Meyer, and Ice-T (1995)

(2.14.2012)

“Johnny Mnemonic” is a cyberpunk film set in 2021 in a world where corporations rule the world.  Keanu Reeves plays a smuggler by the name of Johnny Mnemonic who uses a brain implant to smuggle information back and forth between the highest bidders.  In his last job he overloads his implant, gets caught up in a resistance movement, is hunted by a cyborg preacher, and eventually cures the human race of a fatale disease dubbed, “The Black Shakes.”

The film is in complete cyberpunk territory and poses some interesting questions considering that at the time of the film’s creation the true dawn of the information age and personal computer was just beginning to sweep through society.  Keanu’s acting is well…Keanu ‘acting,’ but personally I don’t expect much from him and there are times when I just want to see a Keanu Reeves film.  Ice-T plays a great resistance leader and Dolph Lundgren’s character is all but useless in this movie.  There is already a great villain (a Yakuza member with an electric whip!), so why include a cheesy “Street Preacher” played by Lundgren?

Definitely check this out for a slice of guilty pleasure; it’s worth the hour-and-a-half.

“Virtuosity” with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe (1995) 

(2.18.2012)

“Virtuosity” is another throwback to ’95 and also pertains to the emergence of personal computers and virtual reality.  Denzel Washington plays a cop (Parker Barnes) turned convict due to his act of vengeance on the political terrorist who murdered his wife and daughter.  As a convict he is enrolled in a program that places him in a virtual reality where he must hunt a computerized serial killer who is an amalgamation of almost every infamous killer imaginable—even the one that murdered his family!

As the plot unfolds the computerized serial killer, Sid 6.7, escapes the program via nano-machines and begins to terrorize L.A.  Denzel Washington’s character is pardoned from prison one condition: he must stop Sid.

This movie is a great techno-thriller and throws in some nifty science to flesh out the story.  Russell Crow plays Sid 6.7 masterfully.  He is creepy, sadistic, and is incredibly believable as a serial killer.  Crowe’s performance in “Virtuosity” is by far the standout of the film.

 


“Jack and the Lilac Butcher” and “The Well”


“Jack and the Lilac Butcher” is a novel that I have been slowly working on for the past several months.  It follows two Pinkertons in 1920’s Seattle/Spokane as they hunt for a serial killer that has been dubbed the ‘Lilac Butcher’ by the locals.  Thus far my published previews have been quite popular and I am hopeful that this will be the transcendental ‘one’ once completed.

You can check “Jack and the Lilac Butcher” out in the “Samples and Previews” page, on this very blog, or you can watch as it progresses over at Wattpad (dot) com.  On Wattpad the interaction is more fluid and transparent, so if you’re curious about the Pinkertons journey head over there to give it a thumbs up, a share, or even a comment/suggestion.  Thanks again for the support and the read!

“The Well” is a short story that I composed on a whim after work one evening and serves to amalgamize various points in my childhood, while simultaneously experimenting with point-of-view and style.  I published “The Well” as an eBook over at Smashwords (dot) com and it is available for FREE! as a download for almost any eReader imaginable including the popular Kindle, Nook, and Sony eReader.  So, check it out, and don’t forget to provide some feedback!  A review would much be appreciated.

 

Cheers,

A.R. Schultz

 

Jack and the Lilac Butcher


Epilogue

          It was dusk.  All was quiet.  The neighborhood was coated in darkness.  It was thick.  A few lights dimly shown through the leaves of the numerous trees that dotted the hilltop.  No one would expect him, much less her.  He was alone just like always. He could see the moon.  It hung in the sky like a shy sun.  It goaded him.  It tried to show his location, but even the moon cast shadows.

          He had been here many times before.  Usually he would come in the daylight, but today was after all a special occasion.  He had killed before.  When he was young he always enjoyed capturing stray cats or dogs and ‘playing’ with them before bagging them and tossing them in the river.  He had become quite good at it actually.  First it was a simple smack to the head and then the one time he used a sharp rock and saw the first real spray of blood he knew he had to find a knife.  The next day he stole one from his father’s butcher shop.  He had never been sure if his father had known.  That night when his father back-handed him to the stone fireplace causing his head to rocket with pain and his lips to tremble with blood he had a fleeting thought that maybe his father had known about the knife, but he had never been certain.  Plus, the next hit from his father made him forget that last thought so it was a rather moot point anyhow

          The day after that he took his black-eyed self and used the knife for the first time.  He caught his ‘first’ prey behind the house and used the knife on it over and over again.  Splashing himself with blood until he became scared that he might be caught and hurriedly cleaned up and threw the remains into the river to reside with the others.

          He smiled at the thought of his childhood and shook himself to the present once more.  Behind his back his co-workers had described his smile as murderous and he smiled again at the irony.  Tonight was special.  He had hunted and killed the most dangerous game before, but he felt more alive tonight than before.  Perhaps, because it was a full moon?

          He had been waiting in the carriage house for hours waiting…waiting for the perfect moment.  The way the moon had begun to shrink away told him it was time.  It had given up.  He slowly began to creep out of the carriage house making sure he didn’t make even the slightest of a noise as he slipped out of the backdoor which he had left slightly ajar for just this moment.  He clicked it behind him and began to move between the decorative foliage as he headed toward the main house.  It was large almost manor sized.

 “The rich always have a way of living in grander don’t they?” he thought.

          He reached the maid’s entrance and opened the door without hesitation.  How sad and humorous was it that the lady of the house was the person to provide him with an easy, afterhours entrance without even knowing it? Again he chortled to himself at the irony.  He was a ghost to most.  People told him things without even realizing it or caring.

          He silently fell into the shadows of the house and moved across the kitchen to the stairs.  He crept upwards.  It seemed almost as long as he had hidden in the carriage house, but he knew it had only been a couple of seconds…a minute at most.  He had finally reached her door.  He had dreamed about this moment for several nights and he had to wait to calm down from his excitement.  He didn’t want to be careless.  He finally grasped the doorknob and turned it…first a quarter turn, then finally a full one after hearing no rustle from the other side.

          Once the door was open enough for him to crouch through he was quick and efficient.  He stood, strode across the room swiftly, slipped the knife from his sleeve –the very same he had stolen years earlier- and began to stab.  She screamed and thrashed as the blood soaked through her expensive sheets and coated his face.  She desperately tried to escape, but it was already too late.

 As she started to choke out on her own blood he paused and crouched…he whispered, “It’ll be alright.  We’re having fun, right?”

Seattle

          “Fuck,” said Ryan in pain.

          Half-heartedly Jack replied, “What?”

          “I just burned my tongue on my coffee.”

          Jack just shook his head, and continued eating his scrambled eggs and browns.  The diner was quaint and sat nestled in downtown Seattle.  Not close enough to the Sound to see the water, but close enough to hear the ships passing in and out of port delivering fresh goods to one of the more prominent harbors in the Northwest.  It was cool and crisp, with a slight drizzle in the air that glistened once combining with the reflective nature of the diner’s glass.  The drips and drops coated the glass that Jack peered out of, and in reverse the newly etched glass read, ‘Miss Victory.’

          It had been a slow week, and he honestly would have retorted a quick quip to Ryan’s pain, but he was feeling rather stoic lately and was lost in his thoughts at the moment anyhow.  Nothing interesting had crossed his desk in several months; he and Agent Ryan usually ended up splitting their time between finishing paperwork and boring guard details that usually ended with a round of thanks from some miscellaneous VIP that Jack honestly could give a shit about.

          “Where we headed this time?  Portland?  Further South to California?”

          “Nowhere actually,” Jack replied solemnly.

          “What?” Ryan said with a slight lisp because of his burnt and probably now swollen tongue.

          “Nowhere, presently.”

          “No assignment…really?”

          “Not yet.”

          “This is bullshit,” Ryan said as he gobbled up the last bites of his steak.

          “I know, I know,” Jack said solemnly, and then added “Grab your coat. We’ll head to the office and see if something has come up since yesterday.”

           They paid for their service and Ryan donned his tan trench while Jack grabbed his fedora and placed his jacket over the nook of his elbow and forearm.

          “Trolley?”

          “Yes,” Jack said, “The rain is a little heavier than usual, and like our assignments I’m feeling lazy.”

          Ryan merely smirked.  They headed on out and caught the nearest trolley without much effort and were on their way to the Seattle downtown Pinkerton office.  Within a couple of minutes they were off and briskly walking the block or two it took to reach the front doors of the Northwest branch of the Pinkerton office.  It was still drizzling, but it seems to have started to lighten with several streaks of light streaming through the clouds almost like a less colorful parade.  Standing at the door was a heavyset man of about thirty-five.  He didn’t look opposing at first glance because of his calm demeanor, but Wayne was more than just a doorman.  He was trained to handle ‘trouble’ and on more than one occasion had handled ‘trouble.’

          They showed their IDs and walked on through without the slightest indication that Wayne had even noticed them.  The building was fairly new.  The building boom was in full swing and it seemed as if structures had sprung up everywhere.  Taller and taller each time Jack thought to himself.  Jack and Ryan hopped aboard the elevator and began to upward.

          “Do you think we’ll have anything?” Ryan queried.

          “Who knows.  I’ve seen stranger things happen.  Remember when Reynolds caught that bank robber while he was taken a piss?”

         “Yeah, yeah, didn’t he ditch his partner to take a leak while he was grabbin’ a snow cone or somethin’?

          “It was a Cannoli, but anyhow, yeah he went around to the alleyway to shake the snake without knowing that the bank around the corner had just been robbed and the fucker was bookin’ it down the same alleyway right at him.  That fat bastard Reynolds tackled the guy with his dick out and everything.  I think he got a fuckin’ commendation out of it too.”

          “Lucky fuck,” Ryan sputtered through quiet laughs.

          “If Reynolds can catch a bank robber with his slong we can get a decent case today.”

           The elevator reached its destination and slowly bobbed to a stop. Jack grabbed the metal grate and slid it open with ease.  There were Pinkerton agents and interns hustlin’ and bustlin’ to and fro with stacks of papers.  Several arguments were in session like usual, but none seemed even a hair past a healthy debate.  Jack strode to the back of the office, straight down the middle of chaos with Ryan in tow.

           “Worthington!” Jack’s boss snapped from entrance of his office.

          “Yes sir” Jack hastily replied.

           It was one of the few times that Ryan ever heard his mentor’s voice waiver.

           “Probably the only bastard here with bigger balls than Jack,” muttered Ryan to himself.

          “You too Ryan.”

          Just as quickly as Jack he hurried into the boss’s office.

         “Word has it you guys are bored of guard duty.  Is that true, Worthington?”

          “Not bored per se. More.” Jack began.

          “Shut up Worthington” the boss finished for him.

          Ryan smiled.

          “Wipe that retarded smile off your face boy.  You two are going to Spokane.”