: Pulling up once more in front of the Tupperman home in Old Metairie, Bruce Halloran unbuckles his seat belt, turns down the radio, turns up the AC, and proceeds to go through the motions of extricating his cellphone from his jeans pocket from a seated position. After a few moments of otherwise comical contortions, he succeeds in rescuing his phone and calls his new “friend” Young Mr. Tschantz. On the first ring, it picks up.
“Good morning Mr. Halloran. What can I do for you today?” The preternaturally young voice chirps away once more, crawling under Halloran’s skin like a determined chigger. A practiced sneer emerges on his almost non-existent lips.
“Yeah, yeah, g’mornin’.” He excretes the words deliberately. “I need your help.”
“I will do all I can for you, Mr. Halloran. What is your request?”
“I need for you to find out everything you can about a guy named Jeremy Tollivar Youngblood. Where he is now, what he’s doing, that kind of thing.”
There is a moment of silence on the line before Tschantz chirps once more.
“Mr. Halloran, I’m not certain if that is in my power. According to the rules of Mr. Pitts’ will--”
“Hey!” Bruce exclaims tersely. “You said you could rent me the car, you just can’t drive it. Right?”
“I...I believe those were your words Mr. Halloran. But ostensibly...yes.”
Bruce smacks his lips, a snide grin behind his sugared words. “Well then, I need you to rent me the car named Jeremy Tollivar Youngblood. I need specs on the vehicle, age, mileage...damage to the vehicle. I need all that before we can ‘rent.’ Got it?”
“...very good, Mr. Halloran,” comes the young Mr. Tschantz’s reply. “I will have that information for you as soon as possible. Shall I call or text?”
“Text,” says Bruce, looking towards the house with a strange mix of excitement and dread. “I don’t think I’ll be available to talk until tonight.” He hangs up quickly, and shuts off the engine.
Back inside the odd living room of the Tupperman home, Phil Tupperman seems to be more interested in telling Bruce his story. He’s certainly more alert than the yesterday. Today, the single pitcher of iced tea has grown into a two pitchers, one each of tea and lemonade, and a platter of cold cuts, cheeses, cookies, and crackers. There’s also a newly opened pack of Salems on the table, along with a matching antique ashtray and lighter proudly displaying the legend “Krewe of Cleopatra.” Quizzically, Halloran asks,
“Did somebody else come by since yesterday?”
“O-oh, no!” Phil exclaims, suddenly concerned. “I...well, occasionally I still like to have a cigarette. When I’m in the mood. And you seemed...well, I was just trying to be...a good host.”
Bruce looks at Phil, now looking at the pack of cigs as some kind of failure. This guy is really out of the loop, he thinks to himself. He hasn’t smoked in years. Funny. Salems were Pitts’ brand. Come to think of it, when he still smoked it was Salems. Because Sara Joy smoked them too. Sonofabitch. Without knowing quite why, Halloran decides to take out two cigs and light them simultaneously. He hands one to Phil, who looks at it like manna and takes it gingerly, uttering a genuine “thank you” as he does. Both men take deep drags. Instantly there’s a communal feeling between them, but for different reasons. For Phil, it is the experience of having a smoke with someone who has a shared history with him. Even though he’s still not certain of why this stranger has come into his home and made him recall the past. Still, he slept better last night than he can remember.
For Halloran, it’s an act of charity. On the smallest scale imaginable, but an act of charity nonetheless. So what if he hasn’t had a cigarette in years? One drag of that sweet mentholated smoke into his lungs and he’s back again better than before. At least for a little while. The familiar burn in his chest brings back all the wonderfully tawdry memories of his heyday.
Aww yeah, Halloran thinks as he inhales. That takes me back to when all this crap happened. Yeah...better to be in that headspace. And I’d forgotten the nicotine tingle. Yeah…
OK, time to get back to work.
Pouring himself a glass of lemonade, Halloran sits his fat ass into his chair, takes another puff and says,
“Now. Where were we yesterday?”
Phil takes another drag, knocking his ash into the tray.
“I...w-we…” He bites his lower lip. “T-the therapy.”
Halloran remains silent, taking a long drag in the interim. He waits for Phil to start on his own. Another management trick he learned at the cable company. Give them all the silence they want and eventually they will fill it. Again, the axiom works.
“...at first, I wasn’t sure what has happening. Every morning we had a...they called it group session. We were supposed to...we were supposed to tell each other about any and all gay feelings we had experienced during the previous day. A couple of them...wait a minute...wait...I remember...two guys, Kendall and...Carlson! Yes. Kendall and Carlson, they were always the first ones to talk every morning. They were...they were...they liked to shock people. Some of the things they said they thought about...stuff I had never even heard Gary Pitts talk about. The things they concocted. And it was all just to get some kind of rise out of the psychiatrist. I mean, sure...some of it was kinda funny. I remember one time Kendall and Carlson started demonstrating what they were talking about on each other. The other guys and I thought the psychiatrist was gonna explode…”
Phil takes another drag, deeply. Exhaling and gushing cloud of smoke with satisfaction, he continues.
“I mean...they were practically going down on each other. And it was funny. For a little while, it was funny to see this...uptight jackass set on his ear by a couple of bar fags...we’re not supposed to say that anymore, are we?”
“Fag, fruit, cocksucker, ass bandit, who really gives a shit?” Halloran exclaims, taking another puff. “Don’t worry about being politically correct. Just spill.”
Tupperman grins a bit. It’s been a very, very long time since anyone has been so up front with him. He likes the familiarity. Emboldened he continues.
“It was fine. For a few days. Kendall and Carlson kept trying to push the guy’s buttons every morning in session...then...then it all went bad.”
Phil takes one more long drag then savagely crushes the half-smoked Salem in the tray. He takes great pains to be certain he has crushed every burning ember out with malice aforethought. Without thinking he reaches for the pack and lights another. This cigarette will burn down to the filter in the ashtray.
“After about a week,” Phil says, hugging his knees into his chest, “we came to group and found ourselves hooked up to IV’s and strapped to gurneys. I don’t...know exactly...what they...pumped into us. But whatever it was...it was horrible. A-all...all I can remember is...wanting to throw up. And not being able to...dry heaving...for hours. And while w...we were strapped down...the doctor...he...he’s holding up pictures of...of hardcore gay pornos...I was so sick...everytime one of us would wretch, he’d switch to a different picture. And every time, that gut-wrenching feeling would get worse. When we couldn’t take any more he would stop and we would be wheeled back to our room to ride out the rest of whatever it was they put into our veins. And the next morning it was a different psychiatrist but the same treatment.”
Halloran takes another final drag before crushing out the butt. He’s heard similar stories before, but only third-hand at best. He’s never heard it from someone who’s actually experienced it firsthand. He’s morbidly fascinated by the tale.
“Go on, Phil. Keep talking. You’re doing fine.”
Phil casts his gaze down on the carpeting, as if looking for an escape route. Taking another deep breath, he composes himself. After all...this guy asked.
“This went on for...what, nearly two, maybe three years? Every morning, hours of group. Every afternoon, fighting to recover after the drugs and the slide show...every evening...the ‘cocktail.’”
Halloran perks up.
“Cocktails??? What hospital in town served cocktails?
“That’s what they called it, a medication ‘cocktail,’ Phil sighs. “It knocked you out within minutes, but it gave you horrible dreams. I remember one dream I had over and over again nearly every night. I was...I was in the woods. Someplace I’d never been before...every night...I’d hear Jeremy’s voice calling to me from the woods. And I’d run to find him through the trees, dodging in and out between them in the twilight...and then…” Phil trails off, his face contorting into a state of confusion, shame, and longing. Taking a few halting breaths, he goes on.
“I--I’d find myself back in group. With a needle in my arm. strapped down on a bed. And...and the monsters would come.”
Tears jump out of his eyes, which grow red and angry very quickly.
“...they...the monsters...would tear into my skin...into my muscles, my bones...they would slowl--slowly...consume me. There wasn’t anything I could do...except let them eat me all up...then it was morning again. And it started all over.”Phil’s face has drooped into an achingly sad frown. Bruce can hardly look at him like this. So sad--so...vulnerable. It makes him incredibly uncomfortable...This Is My New Orleans.