WON’T YOU BE MY VALENTINE?
Fiction by charles bukowski
From THE BELL TOLLS FOR NO ONE
Copyright © 2015 by The Estate of Charles Bukowski.
Reproduced by permission of City Lights Books.
Norman clocked them doing 85 going north on the 405, a late model ivory Caddy, he switched on the red, they saw him and slowed. He waved them to the turn-off. They took it and he followed them down. It was 11:55 p.m. on a Wednesday night. But instead of stopping on the main boulevard the Caddy took a quick left and stopped at a residential street, flicked the lights off and sat there. Norman parked behind them, called in a check on the license. Then he got off the cycle and walked toward the driver’s side with his ticket book.
The driver was a woman, about 32, with dyed red hair. She was smoking a cigarillo. Her only attire was a pair of brown, scratched boots and dirty pink panties. Her breasts were immense. On one of them were tattooed the words LOVE IS SHIT. That must have hurt.
Two fat men in their mid-forties were in the back seat. The back seat also contained a bar, a TV, and a telephone. The fat men looked very prosperous and relaxed.
“Your license, please, mam . . . ”
“My license is up my ass,” said the woman.
“That’s Blanche, officer,” said one of the men. “Now, Blanche, show the officer your license.”
“It’s up my ass,” said Blanche.
“I’m going to have to cite you, ma’am, for indecent exposure, speeding, resisting arrest . . . ”
Blanche turned her face full toward Norman. She spit out the cigarillo. Her large lipstick mouth snarled, showing broken yellow teeth.
“Shit, man, whattya mean? Under arrest? For fuckin’ WHAT?”
“Your license, please.”
“Mylicense?Here’smy fuckin’ license! Take a good look at it!”
Blanche took two hands and lifted her huge left breast, which she plopped out over the edge of the window.
“Blanche,” said the same fat man who had spoken before, “show the officer your license.”
“Officer,” said the other fat man, “we’re sorry for all this. Blanche is very upset. Her sister died in Cleveland last night.”
“Your license, please, ma’am . . . ”
“Ah, kiss my pussy!”
Norman stepped back.
“All right, everybody out of the car!”
“Ah shit,” said one of the fat men.
The other was on the telephone: “Hey, Bernie, we’re being busted. Any instructions? Yeah? Really? O.K.”
“Everybody out,” Norman repeated, “NOW!”
He walked back to his cycle to radio in for a squad car.
It was one of the fat men, the heaviest one. He ran up as well as he could. He was dressed in an expensive green suit. The suit was neatly fitted to mold about each of his curves of fat.
“Officer! Look! You dropped something! Lucky I saw it! Here!”
He placed six crisp new one hundred dollar bills into Norman’s hand. Norman looked at the bills, hesitated a moment, then handed them back.
“For your sake, I’ll pretend you never tried to bribe me.”
The fat man rolled up the bills, jammed them into his pocket. He took out a cigar, lit it with a diamond-studded lighter. His eyes—what there were of them—narrowed.
“You know, you guys who always follow the book, you never get anywhere, it’s all dead-end. And I mean, dead-end.”
Meanwhile, back at the ivory Caddy, Blanche sat on the hood. She had lit a new cigarillo and was looking into the sky trying to locate the Milky Way.
The other fat man left the car and walked back toward the cycle. He was wearing an orange jump suit with kangaroo skin shoes. Around his neck was a huge silver cross, it was hollow inside but full, full of cocaine. An ugly film almost covered his entire left eye. But the right eye peered out, a specious but doom-filled green.
“Whatsa matter, Eddie, don’t he take?”
“We got a cub Scout here, Marvin.”
“It’s worse than sad. And it’s too damned bad.”
Norman picked up the mike to make his call.
Eddie pulled out the snub-nose.
“Put down the mike, officer. Please.”
Marvin moved around behind him. Undid his holster. Took his gun. Then lifted his club.
Eddie motioned with the snub-nose.
“All right, officer, take the stroll back to the Caddy.”
Norman walked back toward the car thinking, “Doesn’t anybody see this?”
Where the hell is the citizenry when a cop really needs them?
For some reason he remembered the argument he had had with his wife before leaving for work. It had gotten pretty ugly. And had been over nothing. About where they would go on his vacation. She had wanted Hawaii. He had wanted Vegas.
“Hold it, Boy Scout.”
They stopped while Marvin opened the rear trunk.
They moved on toward the Caddy. Blanche saw them and leaped off the hood. Her breasts almost pulled her to the asphalt as they landed.
“Hey, shit, what we gotthere? Can we wind it up?”
“We can do anything we want with it,” said Eddie.
He pulled the rear door open, kneed Norman in the ass, shoved him in. Eddie got in on one side, Marvin the other. Blanche was at the wheel. The Caddy moved off.
Marvin whistled the opening bars of “God Bless America” and prepared himself a rum and soda from the bar.
“Care for a drink, officer?”
Norman didn’t answer.
“What’ll you have, Eddie?”
“Whiskey with just a splash of port.”
“I’ll have a sake. Hot.”
“We make great hot sake, officer,” said Marvin. “Sure you don’t want one?”
Norman didn’t answer.
“Hey, Eddie, ever noticed something?”
“All traffic cops have asses shaped like Valentines.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s true. Wonder why that is?”
“God’s ways are mysterious.”
Marvin passed the hot sake up to Blanche who swirled it off in one suck. She flipped the glass out the window.
“You people had better release me,” Norman spoke.
“Oh, boy,” said Eddie, “listen to that.”
“It’s sad,” said Marvin.
“It’s worse than sad,” said Eddie.
“And too damned bad,” said Blanche.
“Release me and you still have a chance,” said Norman.
“You’re the one whose chance is limited,” said Marvin. “Officer, let me tell you something: you go by the book, you live poor and you die poor. And often, early.”
Blanche turned her head.
“Ah, stop buggin’ the poor creep! Guys like that, first time he jacked-off he ran to the confession box.”
“Shit, that’s dumb . . . ” said Blanche.
“Things get dumber and dumber in this Nuke age. It’s sad,” said Marvin.
“Worse than sad,” said Eddie.
Then the ivory Caddy was back on the 405, winging through the night . . .
They pulled into a long circling drive, loomed in the silent darkness by trees with long branch arms like octopi; a bit of moon dripped through, but not much, and there were cages, some filled with birds, others with strange animals. All those—the birds, the animals were silent; they seemed contented in a kind of eternal waiting.
Then, there was a gate. Blanche touched a button in the car. The gate opened. It had long teeth, top and bottom. And as the car passed through there was a giant flash of light. The car and all its occupants were transferred to a Space Age security screen.
The flash made Norman sit upright suddenly.
“Relax, copper,” said Eddie, “you are about to become part of the history of this place. Some dump. It’s had many strange owners and visitors.”
“Yeah,” said Marvin, “like Winston Churchill paid a secret visit here, long ago, of course.”
“And like,” said Eddie, “they found out when Winston drank he never went to the bathroom. He just sat there and gulped down quarts of booze and just pissed and shit in his pants.”
“Some stinking drunk,” said Marvin.
“This fucking joint is many decades old,” said Eddie. “Babe Ruth, one night he went on a binge and ripped out every toilet in the place, then gave one of the maids a thousand dollars just to suck the hair under his armpits. Some drinker, that Babe.”
The car pulled up and stopped.
“Bogart once knocked out a butler who said he thoughtCasablanca was an ineffective film,” said Marvin.
“They say Hitler came here after World War II,” Eddie said, “and demanded rattlesnake meat for breakfast.”
“Hitler died in the bunker,” said Norman.
“That was a rigged scene,” stated Eddie. “Hitler died in Argentina, April 3rd, 1972. Now, get out of the car!”
They all climbed out.
It was a warm night, a perfect night. As they moved toward the front door of the huge mansion, Marvin said, “You know, officer, it’s too late now to take that 600. But I’ve got an idea that you damned well wish you had . . . right?”
“Right,” said Norman, surprised that the words had come out of his mouth . . .
After they passed through a line of security guards, there he was: in front of the fireplace. With just a gentle burning of the logs. The fattest man of them all, Big Bernie. Bernie was on the couch. Bernie almost never left the couch. He did all his business there, he fucked there, he got sucked there, he ate there, the dealt there (right off the phone), and he even slept there sometimes. There were 32 other rooms, 27 of which he hardly ever saw or wanted to see, many of them just stations of the security guards.
Big Bernie was 322, he had no children, no friends. He was on the meth and only interested in his work and income, of which most of said income was largely against the intent of the law. These resources were diverted and hidden in branches of legal business, covered and guided by some of the best lawyers and accountants in the world.
There was something almost Buddha-like about Big Bernie. And he was almost likeable. As great power sometimes makes men likeable. Because they tend to be so decently relaxed about matters major and minor.
Big Bernie watched from the couch as the group moved toward him, then stopped.
“Ah hah, what have we got here?”
“We got a cop, boss. The one we phoned in about.”
Big Bernie sighed, “Damn, I hate this sort of thing! Well, I’m a fair man. Might as well send him to his grave happy. Never let it be said I had no compassion!”
Big Bernie looked over at Blanche.
“You give him a blow job now, Blanche.”
“What? He’s a COP! A cop killed my sister last night in that shootout in Cleveland!”
“My child, that saddened me just as much as it did you. But we must carry on. Now, unzip him and get to it!”
“Ah, shit! Do Ihave ta?”
“You do as I tell you, Blanche!”
Blanche got down on her knees and unzipped Norman.
“Shit, I hate this!”
“Half the world is run on hatred, the other half on fear. Proceed.”
Blanche got going. She was a hard worker.
“Where were you born?” Big Bernie asked Norman.
Norman didn’t answer.
“Answer me or you’re dead with a stiff dick!”
“Well, you won’t die there. You got any children?”
“That’s good. That’s real good.”
Blanche kept working.
“Whatever made you want to become a cop?”
“The salary is good.”
“Yeah? Compared to what? Being a dog catcher?”
“Oh,” said Norman, “oh, oh, OH…!”
Blanche began bobbing wildly.
Norman ejaculated. Blanched zipped him up, spat on the rug, walked over to the bar, and mixed herself a whiskey sour.
Big Bernie rose from the couch and walked over to Norman. If Buddha ever walked then Big Bernie was Buddha. He looked at Marvin, shook his head sadly.
“Two things now. We’ve got to destroy the Caddy, even though the plates are fake. We don’t take chances here. And we’ve got to destroy you. It’s the only way. You have to realize that.”
“We gotta do it,” said Eddie.
“We gotta,” said Marvin.
“I’m sorry,” said Big Bernie.
“Fuck him!,” said Blanche, gulping her drink, “he’s just a cop.”
“No Blanche,” said Big Bernie, “cops have feelings, fears, desires, just like the rest of us.”
“Listen,” said Norman, “let me go. I won’t talk. I’ll cover the whole thing.”
“I’d like to, boy, but I can’t chance it. You can ruin a 20-million-a-year business. I have 232 people working for me. You can destroy all their lives. They have families, sons and daughters in college, at Harvard, at Yale, at Stanford. I even have a man in the Senate and four in Congress. I control the mayor and the city council. I just can’t chance your WORD, you understand that, don’t you?”
“All right,” said Norman, “but one thing I want to know. You’re so smart, you’re so in control of things, you know so much about what the hell you’re doing, then how come you keep a dumb CUNT like Blanche around? I’ve met some bimbos but she’stops! Running around in public with bare breasts and dirty panties! And she can’t even give decent head!”
“Blanche,” said Big Bernie, “is my daughter.”
“WHAT? And you had her give me head?”
“I know she gives lousy head, that’s why I keep her practicing, so maybe one day she can giveme better head.”
“I can’t believe you.”
“You mean because I want better head?”
“You’re some mad freak! What are youon anyhow?”
“Life,” said Big Bernie.
Then he nodded toward Eddie and Marvin.
“All right, take care of him.”
They grabbed Norman and pulled him through a doorway.
Big Bernie moved back to the couch, sat down. He turned his head a bit toward Blanche.
“Listen, baby, fix me a double whiskey.”
“Whiskey and water, Dad?”
Big Bernie sat looking at the last burning of the logs in the fireplace. He was going to miss the ivory Caddy. But then he had four Rolls. Or was it five? It was just that the ivory Caddy made him feel like some kind of hot-shot pimp. He felt a bit tired. Running an empire was rewarding yet wearing. Each day for each man was filled with little problems that needed settling. Fail to attend to those and the walls came down. A monotonous attention to trivial detail was the secret of the grandest victories. Fail at small things, when the large ones arrived you’d lose your ass.
Blanche brought him his drink. He smiled, said, “Thank you.”
A double whiskey was good for the soul.
He slammed it down and winter came to an end.
Previously uncollected pulp fiction by the 20th-century American master.
From the self-illustrated, unpublished work written in 1947 to hardboiled contributions to 1980s adult magazines, The Bells Tolls for No One presents the entire range of Bukowski’s talent as a short story writer, from straight-up genre stories to postmodern blurring of fact and fiction. An informative introduction by editor David Stephen Calonne provides historical context for these seemingly scandalous and chaotic tales, revealing the hidden hand of the master at the top of his form.
“The uncollected gutbucket ramblings of the grand dirty old man of Los Angeles letters have been gathered in this characteristically filthy, funny compilation … Bukowkski’s gift was a sense for the raunchy absurdity of life, his writing a grumble that might turn into a belly laugh or a racking cough but that always throbbed with vital energy.”––Kirkus Reviews
Born in Andernach, Germany, and raised in Los Angeles, Charles Bukowski published his first story when he was twenty-four and began writing poetry at the age of thirty-five. His first book of poetry was published in 1959; he would eventually publish more than forty-five books of poetry and prose. He died of leukemia in San Pedro, California on March 9, 1994.
David Stephen Calonne is the author of several books and has edited three previous collections of the uncollected work of Charles Bukowski for City Lights: Absence of the Hero, Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook, and More Notes of a Dirty Old Man.
Title The Bell Tolls for No One