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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

The Subheroes Chapter 9: Right Direction

Submitted by on October 25, 2004 – 9:24 AMNo Comment

Shelley comes out into the front office, glances into the cabinet, and snaps her fingers lightly. Olivia: “[Eyebrows?]” Shelley: “[Head flick.]” Olivia gets up and follows Shelley into the back office. She looks over her shoulder at Marie as she goes and Marie shrugs Olivia luck.

It’s big, the back office, and dimly lit, with a pair of desks flanked by floor-to-ceiling file cabinets on one side and a big maroon sectional sofa on the other side. On the sofa, a man in a three-piece suit is eating nut mix and talking on the phone with his feet up on a coffee table. “Mm hmm. … Right, right. … The B61 goes right there. … No, right there, it’s the last stop.” Shelley frowns and snaps lightly again, and the man mouths, “The Cats.” Shelley: “[Talky-talk-talk hand gesture.]” The man: “[Eye-roll.]”

“All right,” Shelley says, lighting a cigarette. “This is the deal. We’ve got a gig, it’s a pretty involved deal but basically this girl is in a catatonic state and we’ve got 36 hours to wake her up or her mom’s putting her in a home, so we need to get The Russian, which means we have to send a team to Perth Amboy, and also the Route 1 bridge is out, so.”

Olivia hoped that more information would actually make the situation less confusing. That isn’t the case.

“I…don’t understand.”

“The Route 1 bridge. Is out. You can’t use it.”

“No, I — I heard you, I understood the words, themselves, sort of, but I don’t really get what — who the team — why am I here?”

Shelley looks at her for a moment and ashes her cigarette and then she says, “You remember that night last June at Garden State Arts? After the show?”


“You know how you knew that back way to get out? That little one-laner the Parks guys use, it’s not marked?”

“I always go that way…why, am I in trouble?”

Shelley snorts. “‘In trouble,’ ai. No. You know how you almost clipped a guy turning onto the Parkway?”

Oh, Olivia knows. She felt shaky for miles afterwards, thinking how close she came to hitting him, wondering why he didn’t get out of the way, wondering if he’d call the state troopers and report her. Pilar and Anne made up a whole story about him afterwards, the man in the three-piece suit, enemy of illegal shortcuts, wandering the forgotten byways of —

Olivia looks at the couch. The man waves. Olivia looks back at Shelley. A trickle of fear runs down Olivia’s back.

“So I am in trouble. For almost hitting him.”

Shelley shakes her head. “You’re not in trouble.”

“Because it was an –”

“It wasn’t an accident,” Shelley says, and Olivia’s about to say, well, yeah, no, it wasn’t, because nothing happened, because I didn’t hit him in the end so all this is a little creepy, isn’t it, and by the way, also, how did you know what I was going to say, anyway, and then Shelley says, “We were waiting for you.” And then it’s a big creepy, kind of, so Olivia says, “For me?” just to stall, and looks around for something heavy, because she’s going to need to brain at least one of these people and make a run for it.

“Well, not for you specifically. For someone who would use that shortcut. Most of the Parks guys don’t even know it’s there, but Navigators always do.” Shelley opens a drawer, takes out a brass bookend in the shape of a cocker spaniel, and whumps it down onto the desk. Olivia stares at the bookend until the spaniel is seared into her retinas because she’s busted and she doesn’t know where else to put her eyes.

“Very predictable, Navigators,” Shelley says, and folds her arms and waits for Olivia to tear her eyes away from the bookend and ask another question, which finally she does, and the question is whether Shelley has a cigarette Olivia can borrow. Shelley does.

Olivia lights up and watches the smoke funnel up through the banker’s lamp on the desk. The man hangs up the phone. Olivia says, “So I’m a Navigator, then,” and Shelley says yes. Olivia says, “What do Navigators do? Don’t say ‘navigate,” and Shelley says, “Well,” and the man says, “Navigators go with Drivers. Drivers get you there fast, Navigators figure out how,” and Olivia says, “Who’s ‘you’?” and the man says to Olivia, “Whoever,” and then he says to Shelley, “I’ve got good news and bad news, which do you want first,” and Shelley says, “I’ll take the good news,” and the man says, “The good news is that the bad news is not actually all that bad,” and Shelley says, “You know that if you weren’t such a sharp dresser I’d kill you, you know that, right,” and Olivia grabs the bookend off the desk and squeezes it tightly in both hands and says, “EXCUSE ME.”

Shelley blinks. The man holds out his hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Diz.”

Olivia shakes his hand and says, “Okay, great to meet you, Diz, but here’s the thing. What am I doing here?” Shelley says, “I told you. We got a client. The client’s got a friend, the friend’s in a catatonic state, has been for six months. The friend’s mother is putting her in a home for the disabled in 36 hours unless she snaps out it.”

“Can’t they –” “No.” “But what if –” “It didn’t work. The only thing that might work is to find The Russian, because she used to go out with The Russian and also because The Russian is the most beautiful man alive and if anything’s going to knock her loose, it’s him. Problem is, he’s in Perth Amboy, other problem is nobody knows exactly where, so we have to send a tracking team, plus Koufax, and we have to do it fast, like I said, so we need to unretire the Driver and we need to give her a Navigator or she’ll be dicking around at the bridge entrance for two hours and we don’t have that kind of time.”

Olivia wrings the bookend.

“Also, you have to pick up the team on your way because Jenny has to prep The Nose.”

Olivia wrings the bookend.

“So. That’s…what you’re doing here.”

Olivia wrings the bookend. Shelley leans back in her chair and looks at Diz. Diz shrugs. Shelley checks her watch and says, “Ten after nine. Crap,” and then she says, “Look. Olivia. You can do it or not, we’ve pulled off shorter jobs without a Navigator and we’ll do the best we can, but the thing is, don’t ask me what you’re doing here. Ask yourself.”

“But –”

“Ask yourself why you took a card from a woman you’d never met before. Ask yourself why you went where the card told you to.”

“I –”

“Ask yourself how you got here when the card doesn’t have an address on it.”

Shelley stands up and buttons her jacket. Olivia is silent.

“When you have an answer for yourself, let me know, so I can plan,” Shelley says, heading for the door, and then she says to Diz, “Call Jenny. Tell her to prep The Nose,” and she goes out into the outer office.

Diz leans on the desk and holds out another cigarette to Olivia. “How did you get here?” “I walked.” “Mmm.”

The door to the office opens. From somewhere outside, Olivia can hear Shelley saying, “What does that mean, ‘nothing on the frequency’?” and a guy in a big grey hoodie comes in and closes the door behind him. “Koufax,” Diz says. “Diz,” the guy says. “This is Olivia, she’s a Navigator,” Diz says, and the guy says, “Koufax, pleased to meet you,” and he and Olivia shake hands. Olivia’s rings grind against her finger bones in his grip. “Sorry,” Koufax says. “Don’t worry about it,” Olivia says, shaking her hand out.

“I’d better go see what’s up,” Diz says, and he goes out into the outer office, and Olivia can hear Shelley saying, “So you’re saying she’s not –” and the door closes, and then it opens again (“well then get Lionel up there and see if the”) and Marie says, “Could be a while, you guys want coffee?” and Koufax and Olivia both say, “Yes please,” and she closes the door and it’s quiet.

“‘Koufax,'” Olivia says. “Any relation?” “Nope, just named for him,” Koufax says. “It’s my first name.” “Oh,” Olivia says. “But wasn’t ‘Sandy’ –”

My father promised a dying man, is the thing.See, my father used to work in a mill, a lumber mill, he was the floor supervisor at the time all this happened, and one of his guys was a guy named Walter Johnson Turner, who was named after the great Walter Johnson but everyone called him Wally, and my dad says he couldn’t throw a lick, this guy, anyway.

One day a machine in Wally’s section broke down, a joint split or something, and Wally was in there with a — that tool firemen use to open a hydrant, he was trying to fix it, and he wasn’t done, but the guy in the wheelhouse screwed up and threw the switch to turn the machine on, and my dad still isn’t sure but he thinks part of the open joint caught Wally’s cuff. So Wally got dragged into the machinery, but not all the way, just up to his shoulder, and somebody ran up to the wheelhouse and got it shut down, and they cut Wally’s shirt out of the joint with some bolt cutters, and he was laid out on the shop floor, apparently his arm that got caught, the right arm, was all ripped and stretched out so the knuckles were even with his knee on that side.

While they were waiting for an ambulance, my dad stayed with him. He knew Wally was in bad shape because he got thrown into the side of the machine housing a bunch of times before they shut it down — my dad says it sounded like a car door slamming, but crunchier. And later they found out one of Wally’s ribs snapped clean in two and tore his lung, but he hung on for a while there on the shop floor, talking to my dad, and he said to my dad, “You know what they say about Koufax, by the time he retired his pitching arm was longer than the other one.” My dad said he had never heard that. Wally couldn’t breathe so well by that time, and he asked my dad, like in a movie, “I’m not gonna make it, am I, Dan,” and my dad thought about lying but then he said, “Probably not, Wal, that machine tore you up pretty well,” and Wally said, “Well, shit,” and my dad said he was sorry.

Then Wally said, “Maybe you could name your kid after me or something,” kind of kidding, kind of not kidding, and my dad said, “You bet I will,” and Wally said, “You promise?” and my dad promised. The ambulance guys came just then and put Wally on a stretcher, they got him to the hospital but he died not long after he got there. My dad went home, and when he came in, my mother said, “What happened to you?” and my dad said, “Wally got killed on the floor. We have to name a kid after him,” and he went to bed and slept for three days, and my mother thought to herself, what if it’s a girl, but she didn’t say anything until she got pregnant with me, and then she said, “I know you promised, but I hate the name ‘Walter,’ it’s an old man’s name,” and my dad said he didn’t love it either, but he’d promised, what did she want him to do, and then he remembered Wally talking about Koufax, and he asked my mother what she thought about “Koufax” as a name. She said she liked it, she liked names with Xs and Zs in them, they had zip. My dad explained to her about that last conversation he had with Wally, and they thought it would be okay if they named me “Koufax” instead of “Walter,” that he’d understand.

So that’s what they named me.

“Huh,” Olivia says. “Can you throw a lick?”

“Can I ever.”

October 25, 2004



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