Cut-Up (The Stolen Scroll)
by Bill Ectric
Jim sat at the library table with his head in his hands. He didnít want to go to jail. Yesterday morning he prided himself in caring nothing for possessions, but today, all the people who could have been his friends probably hated him for something he possessed.
They didnít know it was him they hated. They posted things on the website like, "WhoEVER took the scroll, please return it" and "What a jerk!"
Jim had stolen the Jack Kerouac scroll, which he first heard about in his American Literature class.
The college professor had said, "In the 1950ís there was a group of alternative musicians, artists, and writers known as the Beat Generation. They spoke of new freedoms and wild adventures, which sometimes scared the more conservative public. Some say that the 1950ís Beat Generation is what led to the 1960ís ideas of sex, drugs, and rock & roll."
Jack Kerouac wrote one of the best known Beat books, called On the Road. Jack wanted his words to flow like jazz notes from the radio of a fast car on a dazzling endless highway, so he typed the entire novel on one continuous roll of paper so there would be no stopping between pages. Publishers rejected the scroll at first, but finally released the story as a novel. It was a big hit and Kerouac became famous. Now, some fifty years later, that roll of paper had been purchased for over two million dollars by the owner of the Indianapolis Colts football team, James Irsay.
2 TimeAdjusters and Other Stories
Jim had stolen it on a sudden impulse, the way he imagined most "beat" things were done. A deviate jazz note thrown into the mix. He even thought briefly he might become an "anti-hero" like D.B. Cooper, who stole two-hundred-thousand dollars and escaped from the law by parachuting into the forest, never to be found. Itís fun to read about people like D. B. Cooper as long as it doesnít hurt you, but Jim didnít want to hurt anyone. Besides, now that he had the treasure, he didnít know what to do with it.
The Scroll, on loan from James Irsay, had been on exhibit at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in downtown Jacksonville, FL, along with other artifacts and posters from the Beat Generation of the 1950ís. The overall geniality of the crowd who came to the exhibit had put the museum staff at ease. When everyone was leaving, Jim almost forgot his back-pack. A guard went to the restroom just as Jim walked back in to get the back-pack and, amazingly, for a moment there was nobody in the room. The wood-framed glass case was locked but when Jim pulled up on it, the old wood split just below the groove that held the glass in place. His hand was on the yellowing roll of ink-scored teletype paper, solid and vital, and in two seconds he shoved it into his back-pack. With the band "Janeís Addiction" playing in his head, he "walked rightÖthrough the door; walked right through the door."
Jim went ahead to art class because he was trying to act normal. He was thinking about how to return the scroll without getting caught. The naked girl model took his mind off the problem.
Jim was amazed that the college allowed people to pose nude for art class. This girl model was athletic and natural with medium-sized breasts and a joggerís legs and butt and didnít seem ashamed of her body at all. She had freckles on her nose and Jim thought it was interesting that in spite of her being naked, he kept looking at her face. It was because he couldnít tell if she was scrunching up her nose & eyes in a stylish smile of mischief, or if it was just the shading of the freckles that made her look that way.
Cut-Up (The Stolen Scroll) 3
The girl, whose name was Lilac, had problems of her own. She was trying to get used to her mother moving away, back to upstate New York, and the possibility that her father was a gangster. Her father didnít know it but she had overheard him talking about murdering an accountant for some reason. Murder! Lilac told herself it wasnít true; they didnít mean literal murder, she thought. Maybe her dad meant "murder" as a figure of speech. Nevertheless she told herself, "I am not my parents. I am not guilty for what they do." But she did feel guilty about other things.
Lilac wondered, Do I get modeling jobs in fashion magazines because Iím really pretty, or because my daddy gets me these jobs? Is it unfair to prettier girls who donít have such powerful fathers? And the one thing daddy asked me not to do, posing nude, here I am doing it. If he ever finds out he will be so pissed.
Art students tried their hand at drawing Lilacís nimble form as these thoughts went through her head. Jim thought about Lilacís freckles as he made a half-hearted attempt to sketch her shape.
Meanwhile, Lilacís father, Randy Paquinn, was talking business with his right-hand man, Max. Big bear-like Max was assuring his boss that a murder weapon had been disposed of.
"I threw it into the deep, boss," said Max in his thick, deep, relaxed voice. "I separated the clip from the gun and threw Ďem both in the water where the river meets the ocean, near the sand bar at the Intercoastal Waterway. Nobodyíll find Ďem."
"Alright," said Randy Paquinn. "And all the ledgers are destroyed?"
"Yeah, boss. The accountant is gone and his books are gone. Thereís no evidence to be seen nor hoid," Max chuckled.
4 Time Adjusters and Other Stories
Jim had figured a way to return the scroll. He had a part-time job at Books-A-Million and was often alone in the store at closing time. The store where Jim worked was in a strip mall between a Miami Subs restaurant and a video game store called Got Games. He put the scroll in a briefcase and laid the briefcase on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack. Then he spread magazines over it to cover it up.
He wanted to leave a message that would lead people to the scroll, but he didnít want them to know he was the thief. He couldnít hand-write the note because the police might analyze his handwriting. He couldnít type the note because police can even trace typewriters due to tiny distinctive flaws in the letters. He was going to put the message on the one place he knew all the right people would read it. He would post it on the "Beat" website Literary Kicks. Jim went to the school library and logged on to one of the many computers.
The message Jim typed was:
Iíve found I canít live with this. To recover the
scroll in a briefcase look on the bottom shelf of
the magazine stand at Books A Million next to
Jim hesitated before pressing enter. He was still nervous about getting caught. Then he thought of the "Cut-Up" program that someone had introduced on Literary Kicks. The Cut-Up program scrambles sentences and paragraphs to mimic the bizarre work of writers like William S. Burroughs. The idea was to get new, spontaneous prose by mixing up the existing prose. Jim figured only the most hip readers would catch the message if he put it through the Cut-Up processor. He figured, if nobody got it, he could always go back and re-post it normally.
Cut-Up (The Stolen Scroll) 5
Jim clicked on "cut-up" and the message came back so garbled it made no sense. He tried again, thinking, "It has to at least look like it means something."
Someone was approaching Jim from behind. He quickly pressed the ENTER key and logged off without looking at the final message.
He glanced around and saw the librarian eyeing him suspiciously. But the librarian said nothing and kept on walking.
Max was nervous. His boss, Randy Paquinn, was pissed off.
"What is it, boss?"
"Max, you dumb-ass," began Paquinn. "Donít you know there are divers that use that sand shelf on the Intercoastal Waterway?"
"Boss," said big Max. "There were no divers on the reef when I pitched the gun and clip."
"Max," continued Paquinn, "Look what came up on Lilacís computer. On Lilacís computer! You know I donít want her involved in this!"
Max tried to act relaxed and unconcerned, but his droopy eyes narrowed as his big hand accepted the sheet of paper that Randy Paquinn handed to him, fresh off the laser printer. Of course, they didnít know it was Jimís mixed up message, which now said:
To recover the magazine Iíve found on the
bottom next to the shelf, live with this. A Million
in a briefcase. I canít stand games. Got books.
"Oh, my God, boss," Max finally said after it sank in. "How could they have the books?"
"Well, apparently our deceased accountant made copies before we . . . let him go," said Paquinn.
Max asked, "Whatís this about a magazine?"
6 Time Adjusters and Other Stories
"Magazine is another name for a bullet clip," said Paquinn. "Damn it! They found the gun magazine near the sand shelf. They want a millions dollars to keep their mouth shut!"
"Blackmail!" said Max. "But how are we supposed to deliver the money, even if we wanted to?"
"It says to scroll. There must have been another message further down. Well, weíre gonna find out whoís playing games with us, looking at our booksÖ"
"And when we find Ďem, boss, Iíll cut Ďem up good."
Max walked into the college library trying to look cool despite being fifty years old with a big stomach and his droopy face. He had bought surfer shorts and shirt, some sneakers, and sunglasses, which were now pushed up on his forehead.
The first thing you notice about Max is, his eyelids are heavy. When he looks at you, his eyes look closed like an old hound dog. He walked through the library trying to look at the various students unnoticed. He knew the blackmail message had come from one of these computers.
There was a boy sitting at one table with an open algebra book and some lined notebook paper, working algebra equations with a sharp, yellow pencil. The gangster glanced at the boyís work and thought, "Hmmm, # 2 pencil. Daí best."
There were two girls sitting at a table. One with black hair was holding a cell phone while they both looked down at a text message, giggling. The other girlís long blond hair fell across her face as she looked down. With one hand she swept the blond strands from her eyes to see the reply the dark haired girl was keying in. Their laughter made Max happy.
There was a row of fourteen computers, seven on each side, back-to-back, five of which were in use.
The gangster walked by the first kid who was using a computer , a guy with tattoos and a pierced ear, and saw that the kid was taking a virtual tour of Louvre Museum in Paris.
Cut-Up (The Stolen Scroll) 7
Max walked by the second student, a girl with pretty Italian features, who was searching e-Bay for body latex.
Maxís heavy eyelids raised just a little and he thought, "That ainít no house paint."
The next student was Jim, but Max didnít know yet who Jim was. Max glanced at Jimís computer, which wasnít even logged on.
Jim was deep in thought, wondering if the police were going to show up and put him in handcuffs for stealing the scroll and wondering if the freckled girl in art class was as friendly as she seemed. And would anyone understand the cut-up message he had posted?
Being in the library with the students made Max feel young beyond what the surfer clothes could do.
Suddenly Max looked up and saw his bossí vibrant, freckled daughter, Lilac Paquinn, walking into the library in a dazzle of natural girl style.
Lilac said, "Hi, Uncle Max. What are you doing here?"
"Hey, Lyle," said the gangster, beaming a smile at her with his half-closed hound dog eyes. He whispered jokingly, "What am I doiní here? Canít an old dog get edu-ma-cated?"
"No, really," Lilac said in a low voice. "Did Daddy send you to check on me?"
Max waved his hand as if to say, "No, forget about it," but then he paused and looked at Lilac seriously and said, "Lyle. Are you sure you donít know who sent that message?"
8 Time Adjusters and Other Stories
"Max," said Lilac. "I told you. Everybody on that site has user names and they share all these computers. I donít know who wrote it and I donít know what it means and I donít know why you and Daddy are so worried about it. It wasnít even sent to me. I printed it accidentally when I was printing something else on the same thread."
Jim sat at his table with his back to Max and Lilac, listening to their conversation. He felt an unreal dizzy panic as he began to suspect Max was a cop and was talking about him and the stolen scroll. Jim wondered if Max knew Jimís dad was a police detective; maybe they knew each other.
Max said to Lilac, "Thereís something else."
"What, Uncle Max?"
Max said, "They have a few paintings on display outside the art department. Lyle, one of them paintings looks a lot like you."
There was a moment of silence while Lilac just looked at Max, studying him.
"What," she said, "Are you talking about?"
"Lyle," said Max in a low voice, "I know youíre a big girl now. I got no right to meddle. But your daddy would not be happy if he thought you posed for that picture."
Another moment of silence and then, "Uncle MaxÖI trust you not to say anything."
"Okie-doke, Lyle," said Max. "Iím just watching out for you. I only want the best for you. You know this."
"I know, Max."
In the meantime, Randy Paquinn was scrolling down Literary Kicks looking for some kind of clue, some message, because the "blackmail" note had said "scroll."
Reading about someone named Jack Kerouac playing football in college, Paquinn thought about his son, whom he hadnít seen in a long time.
Cut-Up (The Stolen Scroll) 9
His son used to play football. Paquinn fondly remembered sitting at the breakfast table with his son, both eating big bowls of cereal...What kind of cereal was it? Why, of all things ... it was Kicks. No, Kix. Funny, Paquinn thought. We used to love Kix cereal.
Later that afternoon, Randy Paquinn was driving to his usual bar for his usual martini lunch. His stomach hurt. Not enough food, too much booze, he knew. Paquinn steered his car into a parking lot of a grocery store instead of the bar. He went in, bought a gallon of milk, a bunch of bananas, and a box of Kix cereal. He went back to his office and ate at his desk.
Back at the library, Jim was thinking that, on one hand, Lilacís Uncle must be a cop, but on the other hand, she also had something to hide. He had heard them talking about her posing nude and how her father would not approve. Jim knew how she felt. His dad was a police detective with the Sheriffís Office and he could never tell his dad he had stolen the scroll. He didnít know what his father would do if he found out. Lilac was sitting at a table, her foxy freckled face lost in her science book.
By coincidence, Jimís father was the detective who got the call from a scuba diver who actually did find the gun. The weapon would have never been found if Randy Paquinn hadnít hired the scuba diver to look for it. Since Paquinn thought the bullet clip had been found, he had become paranoid and wanted the gun recovered before the police found it, too.
"Oooo," said Max later. "A bad move."
Even though they paid the diver well and made him swear to tell no one, he decided to squeal on them. He gave three reasons for contacting the police about the gun: (1) He
10 Time Adjusters and Other Stories
didnít want to be an accomplice to a crime, (2) It was the moral thing to do, and (3) Maybe there was a reward.
In fact, there was a reward, but the diver couldnít collect until someone had been arrested. So he took the money Randy Paquinn had paid him and went to the Bahamas to teach scuba lessons for a while.
Jim walked up to Lilacís table, pulled back a chair, and sat down.
"Hey," he said. "Howís it going?"
"Alright, I guess,í she answered.
She was thinking, all these guys come up and talk to me because I pose nude, but they are stupid with it. This guy seems kind of nice. But Iím probably wrong.
Jim said, "A friend of mine has a problem."
"What?" she asked, not sure if she heard correctly.
"Uh, a friend of mine? HeÖlook, my dadís a cop, too. There are certain things he wouldÖI canítÖyou probably know what I meanÖ"
Lilac was a little taken aback that Jim thought her dad was a cop.
During one of Jimís pauses, Lilac said matter-of-factly, "A cop. And you are telling me this, why?"
Lilac and Jim just looked in each othersí eyes for a moment and they both recognized something in each othersí face. Both physical and emotional. Some kind of trust, enhanced by the shared universal pull away from parents and toward each other. Understanding.
Elsewhere in the city, Jim Senior was running ballistic tests on the gun. The gun was linked to a murder that had nothing to do with Paquinn and Max. But then someone confessed that he had later sold the gun to Max.
Cut-Up (The Stolen Scroll) 11
Jim explained to Lilac about the scroll.
She said, "Just give the thing back. Tell them you found it at Books-A-Million. Deny any wrongdoing."
"What about fingerprints," he asked.
"Jeez," she said. "Wear gloves. Tear off a couple of feet of the stupid thing and put the rest back in the briefcase without touching it! Or, put the whole thing into a shredder."
"Godís sake," said Jim. "You sound like a pro at this."
She was a daddyís girl.
Jim went and got the briefcase with the scroll in it, the day after he left it at Books-A-Million. He didnít tear it or shred it. He brought it to the college, still in the briefcase, and met Lilac there.
The plan was that Jimís friend Rodney would pull the fire alarm and when everyone was rushing out, he would just drop the scroll on the front desk and walk out. Let the library people figure out what to do with it. Screw it. He wanted Jack Kerouacís ghost off of him.
Lilac made the plan both easier and more exciting.
Max was talking to Paquinn.
"Lilac thought I left the library," Max said, "But I walked around the corner and watched them through an opening in a bookshelf. The boyís talk was suspicious. Heís all worried about cops and something he hid."
"Itís him," hissed Paquinn. "And heís talking to Lilac, that little bastard! Heís dead."
12 Time Adjusters and Other Stories
Back at the library Jim and Lilac were drinking coffee and waiting with some enjoyment, sharing the intrigue, waiting for Rodney to pull the fire alarm. They reveled in their secrecy and camaraderie.
Lilac followed the plan; she walked to the elevator and went up to the second floor (periodicals), while Jim stayed on the first floor. The plan was, when the alarm went off, Jim would dump the scroll, walk up the steps, meet Lilac, and sneak out another exit.
Jim didnít see Max approaching from behind. Big Max had a large folding knife with a serrated blade that could cut bone. When the knife was opened, it looked more like a hunter's tool than a pocket knife. He fondled the closed knife in his deep pocket, anticipating the quickest, cleanest way to bleed young Jim of his life. No one must see it happen.
The fire alarm wailed loudly. Students lazily looked around to see if anyone was going to move. Some of them slowly started gathering their books, in no hurry.
A librarian spoke up calmly, "Well, I suppose weíve all got to leave."
This wasnít going the way Jim expected. People were taking too long. Impatiently, he went over the door to the stairs and walked into the stairwell. Max waited for the librarian to leave and followed Jim.
Jim was almost at the top of the first flight of stairs, ready to turn the corner. Max quickly brought the knife out of his pocket, extended the silver blade, and held it level with Jimís neck to reach around and cut his throat.
Jim heard the click of the blade locking into place and turned around, instinctively holding the briefcase up for protection.
Max didnít just accidentally stab the briefcase. He thrust the blade into the briefcase on purpose. A strong upward motion of the gangsterís arm sliced a long gash in the side of the briefcase and then yanked it roughly out of Jimís hand.
The case hit the wall with a loud crack and broke open, spilling the scroll out, followed by a narrow wisp of paper that fluttered down after the briefcase and scroll hit the floor.
Cut-Up (the Stolen Scroll) 13
Both men watched as the scroll of teletype paper began unrolling, from the top step down like a regal carpet unfurling in a long, straight line, bumping on each step Ė bump, roll, bump, roll, trailing down the length of the stairs. A clean, papyrus-colored stripe.
Max and Jim looked at the rolling scroll and then at each other. Just then, Lilac walked around the corner.
"Uncle Max!" she said.
Max stood frozen. He knew she liked this kid but he thought, "Iíve got to kill him, anyway."
But then Max relaxed his shoulders. He lowered the knife and let it drop onto the step in front of him. He turned away from Jim and Lilac and sat down clumsily on a step, leaned forward, and put his face down in his hands.
Lilac had suspected that Max and her dad were criminals for so long, she wasnít all that surprised. She was now seriously thinking of moving in with her mother in upstate New York.
Jim and Lilac ran up to the second floor and took an elevator on the far side of the building back down. They walked past the firemen and fire truck without any hassle.
Jack Kerouacís immortal book, On The Road, begins, "I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up."
Conversely, Lilac and Jim were just getting together.
Lilac said, "This is like taping the beginning of one book to the ending of another book!"
Jim didnít know if that made any sense but he agreed with it, anyway.
Randy Paquinn and Max didnít totally get away. None of us do. Years later in a hospital bed somewhere, Max said, "Karma gets ya even if the law donít."
The scroll was eventually returned to its owner, minus the first third of an inch.