UNITED STATES—Everything was sweetly numb. Then his eyes blinked open, his phone was ringing, and there it was: voice of rather like Peter Lorre saying when will you be coming. A taste of sour charity coated his tongue. Dallas girded his response with preternatural wakefulness and hearty cheer.
“Oh, I’m on my way.”
He had already been stolen from that pleasant cliff at the end of the day, when the annoying knowledge of one more kind deed to be done, nudged him off into the edge of delightful oblivion, which a tired should craves, and which, once the body and mind reinitiate action, can never be wooed again. There was one more good deed to be done. It had to be, even grudgingly, for this was Dallas’ coquetry with sainthood.
It had started simply enough, a year or two years before—who could say?—on a bitterly cold night, when he saw the man with the Peter Lorre voice shivering at a bus stop. It would be a long and lonely wait. Even as Dallas was on the way home from his own toils, he gave the man a ride. They talked a bit, Dallas about his own business, as people do in the city, and the ride was dispatched with success. That was the start of it. Another night when it came about that Chester, the man with the Peter Lorre-ish voice, had written a screenplay. Since Dallas had something to do with the movies, he might be able to know what to do with Chester’s screenplay. This was just some talk to fill the long silences ride to the bus stop.
A feature of Dallas’ charity was that it already came equipped with a degree of squirming. Dallas wondered if this was not embedded in the scheme of things. It was far easier to do good deeds for a stranger; as Chester became gradually known, some grumbling arose in Dallas those many nights after Chester get off from the smoke shop . Nevertheless, this recognition reinforced his commitment to continue this good deed—that and the gift of some cigarettes. Dallas had lived for months without lighting one, and now this unwanted gift warmed the cockles of his heart. The smiling thanks he gave to the man with big ears who donned a Kangol cap came were genuine, though the cigarettes kindled resentment, as well.
The ride to the bus stop came to be expected. Days and weeks went by and one night Chester handed him a stack of papers thick as a Bible. Chester’s screenplay. For the love of Pete, Dallas knew that he would never read a page of it. To Chester’s credit, he never asked him about it; instead, they continued the rides to the bus stop, enduring awkward silences, Dallas producing the most canned recitations of the days events, and enthusiastic weather recaps, and both gladly embracing little flotsam of events they could talk about.
Some nights now, Dallas, went through the motions fuming. But there was always some emolument at the end of the journey to truly warm his heart. Candy, cigarettes, little airplane bottles of booze. They flooded him with joy, even as he knew they were no good for him. The nights when he didn’t perform this deed felt a bit emptier and sadder.
Out of curiosity one night he parked by the side of the road after leaving Chester at the bus stop. When Chester’s bus came, Dallas followed it. He watched the bus go by. Chester’s big ears and Kangol cap were visible in the bus’ lighted windows. Dallas was going through all the things he resented, having this sheaf of screenplay to throw in his face and all the assaults on his good behavior. He was about to tell him off royally.
He observed Chester get off the bus. He followed the man, the object of his charity, for half a block through what looked like quite a good neighborhood. Dallas watched him turn into the walkway of one of the houses. It crouched behind an ivy-covered mansion. Chester went down the driveway to the side entrance.
Chester turned and looked at him: “Oh you found me.”
Dallas stammered, “Are are you the servant here?”
“Oh no,” he purred in that Hindu, Peter Lorre kind of way. “This is my house. I have no need of the job at the smoke store, but I help out my nephews for entertainment. I could have a driver take me home every night, but I saw the effects in you when you offered me a ride.”
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am,” said Chester in a giggling knowing tone. “I’m the Big Cheese, I’m Groucho Marx, the Honcho of Honchos. I know that you would like to strangle me sometime, and I forgive you.”
There in the chill midnight Dallas gawked and felt chagrined. He gulped. Chester continued:
“I did all this for you… Say, when I you getting around to reading my screenplay?”
Graydon Miller is the author of “Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood,” available on Amazon https://goo.gl/h92uam