What is the most American crime? It’s when people fight other people for jobs. To get a job by all means. It’s pathological. We shouldn’t work that much. We shouldn’t labor at all. This general situation is unbearable for all of us. We don’t have a solution for a state we are in. We can’t find an exit from this desperate state, and I don’t mean New Jersey.
I write about New Jersey in this novel simply to make a point.
We fail to find the Exit, because it simply wasn’t designed. The entire life has to be changed and humanity has to be released from its bondage of illusion, otherwise this music will play forever.
There’s no Exit, and there never will be one. At least not for these people.
A man, a human being, doesn’t owe anything to anybody. He shouldn’t labor that much. He shouldn’t do many other things. He doesn’t owe anything to anyone.
Read CHAOS AND FRACTALS, a satirical mystery novel, about American gladiators fighting each other to death for jobs.
DIVORCE STANDS OUT AMONG other things I don’t like about marriage. After three failed marriages, I still can’t accept that a man I taught to shower, brush teeth, wear clean clothes, and eat healthy would start hunting in different hunting grounds and abandon me. I married my first husband by mistake. I married my second husband for romance; and I married my third husband for money.
My dad, a military officer, and mom, a nurse, thought I could do so much better with my looks and brains. They gave me a great education; I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at 4th and Walnut Street in Philadelphia, which was an Ivy League college. I majored in Business Administration. Years ago, my parents had dreamed of me working for Bear Sterns or Lehman Brothers, running some important department, getting my career together, and at the age of thirty-five marrying some executive, with a couple million dollars yearly benefits package, and having a couple of beautiful kids in a mansion.
Instead, I married right out of college a guy I had met at the Mystery Book Club in the local Ink & Blood Book Store. Steve was short, with a triangular ‘chicken’ chest, and a round head. Add short-cropped hair, round glasses and a barn sweatshirt year-round, and you get the picture. He swept me off my feet, being an endless source of crime stories, real and fictional. He also educated me about gender relationships with my pregnancy as an unexpected complication. We got married a month before Iris invaded our lives and spent the following year arguing about which one of us should enter the Greater Philadelphia area workforce and start winning bread for the family. It was Steve who gave up and filed for divorce. Being single, he could stay in his parents’ basement, have meals every day and still keep up with reading every mystery novel ever published.
After Steve took off, and as a result of equitable distribution of marital property, I was left with our daughter Iris, and my first husband made away with the furniture and a 61-inch flat screen Scenium TV.
My second husband was kicked out of our rental property by the local police department after some amazing facts about his sex life surfaced.
Considering all of that, I wasn’t terribly surprised when my third husband walked out on me on a bright Monday morning. The night before we spent kissing in the dark; next morning, after a substantial breakfast, my husband finished his coffee, belched and said casually that he was leaving.
“Bye, sweetie,” I said and rushed toward the door to see our daughter, Iris, to the bus.
“I mean, I’m leaving you.”
I tripped over the carpet. The following day we spent arguing over divorce. It turned out that after four years of marriage, he had decided to go out and explore other options. He used the word ‘options’ like it wasn’t our marriage and our child we were talking about, but some alternative routes to take to get to his relatives in New Jersey.
After three months, our divorce was complete, and the settlement was based on the equitable distribution relief principle. My husband evicted his stepdaughter and me from his house in the presence of two cops, and let us take only our personal belongings, like a pile of mystery novels and computer games. My husband’s lawyer argued in the court that the defendant, a.k.a. me, didn’t contribute much to the family budget because I did not hold any job other than being a housewife. I couldn’t afford a lawyer, so I argued on my own behalf that it was our mutual decision for me to become a stay-at-home mom. Still, I hadn’t produced any income for the past four years, they argued, and was entitled only to low child support. I lost my house, because it was my husband’s; I lost my car, because it was my husband’s also. I kept some pieces of furniture, though. All antiques with mismatched drawers.
Struggling to survive in a sluggish economy, I took the first job available. I started to drive a cab, because I could keep my cab after hours. Besides, driving was one of my two favorite things to do. (The other was reading mystery novels.) I could drive anywhere, anytime, regardless of weather conditions. When I wasn’t behind the wheel, I would most likely be found lying in bed with a new whodunit and a nice calorie-packed snack.
Six months later, I knew the streets of Philadelphia like my parents’ backyard. We rented a place on 4th and Arch Streets, a quiet sleepy neighborhood, where shootouts and police raids were usually over before three, and burglaries wouldn’t start until nine in the morning. After moving here from a Huntingdon Valley mansion in the Philadelphia suburbs, we got burglarized twice. The first time, thieves took our TV, which I didn’t miss; the second time, they took my quilt, which I did miss. In this neighborhood, a single white mother living without a boyfriend had ‘troubles’ written all over her; that’s why I carried a compact pink, rubber-coated, ten-pound gym weight in my purse.
This particular glorious October morning, I kicked my Ford to life and cruised slowly towards the Market Street Station, looking for a client. A man in a business suit flagged me down, and soon I had several dollars stuck in the pocket of my purse. Two hours later, rush hour turned the city streets into something remarkably similar to an elementary school’s hallways: the same chaotic traffic, the same noise, and the same intense knowledge of the priority of one’s needs. It was time to get off the road and have the second daily cup of coffee. I pulled into a secret parking space between two rundown buildings off Spruce and 13th Streets and went into a tiny Uncle Tad’s coffee shop. They brewed very strong coffee and had carried good ole American Tastykakes about a thousand calories apiece, but that was all I needed to finally wake up and start a bright new day.
The place was packed and stepping inside I held the door for yet another hungry fellow. Moving in lockstep between narrow shelves, I felt the guy’s hot breath on my neck. He got so close that he poked me in my head with the tip of his baseball cap. After three divorces, a man’s body in close proximity could cause skin irritation, nausea and seizures. Inhaling and exhaling rhythmically, I filled my cup with coffee, got a heavy chocolate Tastykake, paid at the door, and got outside as fast as humanly possible.
I finished my snack and coffee, sitting on the cab hood. Food stinks up the car too much; and I liked to keep it clean. I threw the paper bag into a trashcan and opened the car door, when suddenly I was pushed inside the cab with such force that my face met the steering wheel and salty blood filled my mouth. Somebody clenched my neck from behind and ripped my earrings off. They were 3.5-carat diamond earrings that my third hubby had given me as a wedding present and forgot to include in the list of marital property items. The earrings were worth more than the cab I drove, but for me they also had a sentimental value, like tiny particles of dust from my past comfortable, suburban life. I never expected that the process of separation from my earrings would cause me so much pain. Instinctively, I turned around, and smashed my purse into the predator’s face.
He grunted, pulled his knee off my back and ran. I reached him ten feet away and hit him with my purse again. He fell to the ground. I stepped on his wrist, bent over and, with a victorious cry, pulled my earrings from his clenched fingers.
Now, according to the Silver Cab Company policy, I couldn’t leave a cab unattended at any time. Jumping up like a mountain goat, I ran back to the car and got inside at just the moment when the police interceptor wheeled in, soundlessly but with blinking lights. Thinking solely about the Silver Cab Company policy and the prospects of losing my job, I kicked the engine to life and floored the gas pedal. My Ford jumped ahead, and as if in a bad dream, I noticed a guy standing in front of the car. I slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. My Crown Victoria hit a man with a thud, knocked him of his long feet, and moved on top of him, like a true woman would do. Moments later, the car door was flung open, and strong hands pulled me out and pressed me to the ground. I tasted not only blood in my mouth, but dust as well.
I spent the rest of the morning answering questions and signing papers. The sergeant detective, Chris McAfee, a middle-aged guy with a round kind face, wanted to know if I had met my attacker before. I wasn’t sure if the definition of the word ‘before’ covered a five-minute time period and answered negatively.
“You see,” the sergeant sighed, handing a statement to me for reading. “This guy claims that he lost his memory after you hit him twice with the weights. He claims not to remember his name and his address. We sent his fingerprints out, but it might take days before we get a result, if he is local.”
“What if he is not local,” I asked, signing the statement without reading.
“If this is his first offense, or if he is not local, we might never find out who he is. That is why it is really important for you to recall seeing him before.”
The assailant had been a bit taller than me, physically fit, with skin the color of a strong coffee brew. I saw at least a dozen guys like him every day.
“Go, look at him again. Maybe it will help.” The sergeant took me to the room with a glass wall, through which I could see my attacker talking to a cop. The diamond hunter was wearing blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and the nicest facial expression.
The sergeant picked up the receiver and listened to it for a couple of minutes, then turned to me with a sad smile.
“He says that he never attacked you. He says that he wanted to take a cab, and approached you, and you attacked him and hit him in his face. He says that you ripped off your earrings when the police car showed up.”
“What?” I choked on my own saliva. “Wait. I was standing there, next to my car, having coffee. Then I opened the car door, he pushed me inside, smashed my face against the steering wheel, ripped off my earrings and took off. Now, he’s saying that I attacked him? This is the most blatant lie I ever heard in my life.”
“What about the cop in the car? He saw…”
“He saw you jumping inside the cab and trying to drive away,” the detective said.
“What about the guy I ran over? Maybe he saw something?” I was grabbing at the last straw, and the detective knew it.
“Maybe,” Sergeant McAfee said, looking at me with fatherly compassion. “A very slight possibility. But we can’t talk to him right now. He’s got a brain concussion and right now he’s sleeping in the hospital.”
For lunch, I got a cup of weak coffee and a doughnut. Then Sergeant McAfee took me to the City Courthouse. We waited for half an hour for the judge to call my name. The judge, enormous in his black robes, observed me through his round glasses, then moved his glasses to the tip of his nose and observed me from above them.
“Okay, what do we have here? Rachel Rydal. Thirty-five years old. Physical assault on a man, disobeying a police order to stop and get out of the car, an attempt to escape from the police, in the process of which another man was hit and run over and was injured. What is this, ma’am?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “The black guy pushed me inside the cab and ripped off my earrings.”
“Do you work?”
“Yes. I drive a cab.” Hot tears ran down my face as freely as if the judge just opened a faucet.
“Where are those earrings?” the judge asked. The sergeant produced a plastic bag with my jewelry. “Where did you get them?”
“They were my wedding present.”
“Are you married?”
“No, your Honor. Divorced. One child.”
The judge snorted, flipping through my case pages. “Okay, Miss Rydal. Bail is set at nine hundred ninety-nine dollars. Find a lawyer, will you?”
Being unable to produce a thousand dollars, I was locked up in a cell at the police station for the night and had another weak coffee and a glazed doughnut for dinner. I needed to get out of jail while I was able to get through the doors. One permitted phone call was used for my friend Kathy, who drove all the way from Montgomery County to pick up Iris to stay with her, until she would get money to bail me out. The idea of calling my parents never even entered my mind, since my dad had a serious heart condition, and I wouldn’t be able to explain to him how just a brief involuntary encounter with another human being turned me from a nice, reliable, hard-working woman into a criminal.
Exhausted, I instantly fell asleep, and woke up in the morning to the voice of a police officer calling my name. For a moment, I couldn’t recall what day it was and where all my furniture had gone.
“Rachel Rydal, you have somebody waiting for you.” The young handsome cop opened the cell door. I stepped out into a hallway while he was fastening handcuffs on my wrists and asked him if Kathy had paid the bail.
“They will give you all the information,” the cop said, ushering me into yet another hallway. “You will get to meet your victim.”
“My who…?” Well, excuse me, but it’s me who was a victim. This was my role. I’d been a victim of circumstances, of my husbands’ treachery, of the sexual revolution, and a downsizing economy. And, if I victimized somebody, it was me, myself and I.
The police officer opened the door in front of me, and I stepped into a reception room with two men in gray suits standing there looking at me. The younger man was wearing dark sunglasses, as if he was hiding his face. It was he who said, “Miss Rydal. Your bail is paid. Don’t worry about anything. This is your lawyer, Richard Madnick.”
The older man with the huge shoulders and skinny legs nodded, scanning me over with a sour facial expression. Obviously, he didn’t like the sight of me, an innocent woman, standing with my hands cuffed.
WHERE IS YOUR PARTNER, SON?” the man hoarsely asked a cop standing behind me. “She might be a homicidal maniac for all we know.”
A what? And this was my lawyer?
“Listen,” I straightened my back, feeling like a queen being tormented by a liberal member of a Parliament. “What do you want from me? I can’t afford a lawyer. Don’t you get it?”
“You don’t have to pay a dime,” the younger guy said. “Dick will take your case pro bono. He has some community hours to do this year. Don’t you, Dick?”
“Thanks, but no, thanks.” With hands tied behind my back, I could just shake my head in disagreement.
“Let me introduce myself first.” The younger guy wasn’t taking ‘no’ for an answer. “My name is Alexander Davidoff.”
“Davidoff? Like vodka, eh?”
“Davidoff is an old noble Russian family.” The guy stared me down, indignantly. “My great-grand-grandfather was a poet and a musketeer. He fought against Napoleon and won.”
An overwhelming respect made me actually smile at him. I knew that Napoleon was a brand of expensive French cognac. That was quite a heritage. Probably, his predecessor had filed a lawsuit against the liquor company and won it. For a second, I wondered about all the money the family got. No wonder his great-grandson looked like a prince. Maybe, it was his hobby to bail out women?
“Well,” I said. “Why would you care to pay my bail for me?”
“Because,” he replied, taking off his sunglasses and revealing black bruises around his eyes. “I’m the guy you hit with the car yesterday, when I was rushing to help you. I saw everything that happened, and I think that…”
He was trying to say something else, but the door burst open and my best friend Kathy Bowles galloped into the room, spitting words like machine gun bullets.
“Are those your lawyers? You have to help her, guys. This idiot just jumped under her car. I think they work together: a black guy attacks people and a white guy jumps under cars. This way they get jewelry and money from people and collect insurance money. Hi, I’m Kathy.” She gulped for air. “I have your bail money, kiddo. Let’s go, I’ll take you home. Iris misses you.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “Kathy, let me introduce you. This is Alexander Davidoff, the man I hit with my cab.”
“Don’t talk to them.” Kathy regained her composure in a second. With her platinum blonde mane, starry-blue eyes and a motherly bosom, my friend looked like a size eighteen sex-bomb. “It’s a criminal case, and you will get a state defense lawyer. Don’t trust them. I’ve heard about these kinds of tactics of the opposite side acting friendly and all that. In no time they will slap you with a million-dollar lawsuit.”
The old guy, Mr. Madnick, suddenly started to laugh, choked on his laugh and coughed, spitting out words, “She… doesn’t have a million dollars… She is dirt-poor. She is judgment-proof.”
“Well,” Kathy bared her long white crocodile teeth. “Maybe you guys want her to rot in prison? You’re not gonna get her.”
“No, we just…” Mr. Davidoff started, but Madnick interrupted him, “I don’t mind. She is the kind of a girl my mama cautioned me about. Never believe a redhead. Never.”
My friend clenched her heavy fists. “You’re an evil man to say that.”
“Yep, you got that right, ma’am. I’m an old evil crazy white man with zero tolerance for criminals and shouting bitches.”
He hadn’t even finished his little speech when my best friend, red-faced and sweating, opened her purse, pulled out a bunch of dollar bills and stuck them at the old guy’s face, shouting, “Did you see that? You will never get that. This is not for you. You are a money grubbing… lawyer!”
“Kathy, no…!” I shouted, and moved, trying to get between them. The officer behind me grabbed my cuffed hands and jerked me back. My weight was about one hundred fifteen pounds and the cop weighed twice that much. I lost my balance and stepped on his foot, sending both of us falling back. He hit the ground with a terrible thud, and I landed on his stomach.
Meanwhile, uninterrupted, Kathy threw the money at the old guy’s fat face. He turned around and opened his palm to slap her, when Mr. Davidoff jumped and pushed him away. The old guy’s legs gave up and he went down like a doomed tree in a hurricane. Falling, he swung his leg and tripped Kathy, who, trying to keep her balance, grabbed Mr. Davidoff. I saw everything while the police officer jerked me up. For some reason, an enormous pang of jealousy came over me the second I saw my partly injured cognac prince hugging my best friend.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Kathy sang at his face with her sweet Northeast Philadelphia accent. For ten years, she had been happily married to her college professor, but at this moment I started to worry about the stability of her marriage.
“It’s perfectly fine,” Mr. Expensive Vodka answered, trying to untangle his arms from her long gorgeous hair.
A terrible moan sobered us all. The officer pushed me ahead, and we all gathered around lifeless Dick, who was lying on his back with his eyes closed.
Mr. Davidoff kneeled in front of his older friend.
“Dick, are you okay? Do you need a doctor?”
The old guy responded with another gut-wrenching moan.
“He probably injured his spine. You see, he can’t talk,” I said.
Mr. Davidoff looked at me thoughtfully, obviously reevaluating his optimistic view of my mental health.
“He’s your lawyer. He had better start talking, because that’s what he does for a living.”
As if hearing him, Dick opened his black eyes with eyelashes so long and thick they looked covered with layers of mascara and threw a dirty look at his friend. “How come you guys got to schmooze with these beautiful chicks and I didn’t?”
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