The Black Velvet Murder
by Jon Vreeland
It was mid summer, July. The sun was slithering down the lightblue sky, hiding behind the old withered house on Sheep Hill. Every day Jimmy would sit on the green couch on the porch and watch the sun go down, waiting for the moon to take its place. He drank whiskey and smoked cigarettes one after another until his head was empty, and the ashtray was almost over flowed.
They lived in the suburbs of Huntington Beach. A two-storey house made of dark gray stone. His family was beautiful. His wife Janie and two young daughters, Mimi and Carly, were everything to him. All three blonde. The girls still in grade school and Janie a night nurse; she had hair like Goldilocks and the eyes of a witch – one who would cast a spell on the Devil for you then kiss your cheek. She had olive skin. Her perfect lips always wrapped around a cigarette and her porcelain face had a charming glow, and to Jimmy, all three were the most beautiful girls he had ever seen, and when he described his girls to other people, a tear always rolled down his drunken face
Jimmy played the organ for a living: funerals, weddings, and every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday he would play at a Catholic church in downtown Huntington Beach; he had been playing there since he was a teenager and never planned on leaving. It was an easy job and he loved feeling the presence of God and the Devil – a love triangle he had been caught in for years. Serenading a dead body at a funeral was his greatest pleasure, and occasionally he would see a man sitting in the pews, grinning a devious grin as Father Gordon gave his sermon; a man with a perfect face, black suit, and hair slicked tight to his head. But every time the service ended the stranger disappeared, vanished in broad daylight. Jimmy knew it was the devil the first time he saw his emerald eyes.
The sun had completely retired. Jimmy walked to the kitchen to pour another drink then headed back to the porch. Janie and the girls were at his sister’s, just around the corner, and he thought of walking there but remembered the stench of the whiskey on his breath, and how his sister – who was two years older – never approved of his drinking. (Jaime didn’t like his drinking either but knew there was not much she could do about it. Their marriage wasn’t at its best and ever since the pregnancy five months ago sex had become scarce; Jimmy often lay awake while she pretended to sleep on the other side of the bed, avoiding physical contact night after night). And he had a mild case of insomnia that would drive anyone to drink – or sedate themselves in some way so sleep was an option, and not just wishful thinking – and on those nights, when his chances of sleeping were nil, he would go into the garage and listen to his records or play the old Hammond organ which his great grandmother played at her church for many years then passed down to him when she died in the summer of ‘92. It was built in 1965 and still in pretty good shape. It was brown and black and had two rows of keys – both of which resembled a piano – and there were ten black foot pedals that were used to play the bass; Jimmy loved the organ’s eerie, morbid tone that sent him into a trance every time he sat down to play…
…3 a.m. and everyone would be asleep. Everyone except Jimmy. For hours he would sit in the garage and play with the lights off, drinking whiskey, smoking cigarettes while a candle burned, dripping black wax on the white piano next to the organ. On the wall he could see his silhouette swaying to the music, and it was the most beautiful picture of himself he had ever seen. Smoke filled the room, small clouds floating to the ceiling in the light of the single flame. His fingers ran smoothly across the keys while he gazed at his shadow, playing in a sleepless dream. He would never play anybody else’s music on the organ, just his own, at all hours of the night; because every time Jimmy closed his eyes, something terrible would happen in his head while he slept…
. . .
The Sun was gone. The night was magnificent. A typical summer night he never took for granted; a sky God had fervently painted himself – diamonds amid a pale crescent moon, the porch in the backyard faced northwest towards their brick wall that was built a couple of years back; other than his sanctuary in the garage, this was the place he adored the most. He continued to wait on the porch for his family to get home, slouching on the couch, resting his bare feet on the black coffee table. There was a black cat strutting on the brick wall he had never noticed before tonight and was pleased to see such a beautiful creature with fur a perfect match to the night sky. Jimmy and the cat made eye contact, then the cat carried on, strolling the wall until it vanished in the night.
It was quiet. Almost too quiet so he went in the garage to put on a record from his massive collection because Jimmy had arranged the speakers in the garage so he could listen to them on nights like this—nights when it was too beautiful to be inside and God had gone the extra mile to disguise the world as if it were heaven, and hell did not exist.
He thumbed through the records and grabbed the one with the white cover and yellow banana on the front just above Andy Warhol’s signature—the Velvet Underground. Perfect he thought. He pulled the vinyl out of the jacket, put it on the turntable, then walked back outside and resumed position.
After a few minutes his favorite song came on, Heroin, and Jimmy began to close his eyes, the wind began to pick up, and a slight breeze gently moved the trees, the branches clawing at the sliver of moon that still remained.
Within a blink of an eye everything was gone; everything except the patio where he sat. All around him were miles of dark desert with no moon, no wind, and only one star. A cigarette slowly burned in the ashtray. The glass of whiskey dripped onto the black coffee table. He heard an organ playing softly in the distance. Then he heard a voice. A voice of a little boy crying for help. “I don’t know where I’m going!” the boy cried. A sad, helpless, voice of a ghost, crying in the dark, in a moonless desert. Jimmy got up and started walking on the sand towards the little boy. His eyes adjusting to the night. A sliver of moon peered over the silhouette of a mountain, dividing the earth and sky. He could see the man playing the organ, then…the voice again. Jimmy walked faster toward the voice. The organ was getting louder. The moon kept rising, painting the night sky a primitive shade of purple and black. “I don’t know where I’m going!!” Then everything stopped. The desert almost silent, just a lonely wolf howling in the dark. The aftermath of the organ still rang in the air but the voice was gone. He stood and waited, and when the desert stayed quiet and still, he walked in the direction he thought he had come from, as the crescent moon climbed the purple sky.
. . .
When Jimmy opened his eyes, it was much cooler. The music had stopped. It was quiet. The wind had died down. The house remained empty. There was a burning in his stomach, slowly burning through the skin and up to his heart. Everything was as eerie as the night was black. He decided to take a walk to the store. “I need smokes anyway,” he thought, “and maybe a couple beers while I’m there.”
He put on his black Chuck’s and went out the side gate, whistling The Velvet Underground between his dried up lips, which smelled like whiskey and Camel cigarettes.
He walked slowly—thinking about the voice, the silhouette of the man playing the organ—down the empty street of his neighborhood and it was dark, hollow like a burned up tree. A layer of fog hovered over the black streets crippling his vision, but he kept going; an evening stroll to get beer and smokes, the simple things in life Jimmy loved.
Ten minutes later he was back home with a six pack and a fresh pack of smokes and their Felix the Cat phone was purring while hanging on the wall of their deserted kitchen.
“Hey,” Janie said.
“Hey babe what’s up?”
“I have to go to the ER because the doctors are closed.”
“Doctors!?! ER!?! What’s wrong!?!”
“I got rear ended by this guy and my back hurts?”
“Were the girls with you? Oh please tell me they are fine.”
“No they were not with me. They are still at your sister’s.”
“Where are you now?” Are you okay? Is he okay?”
“Driving! Where should I go? What if he’s hurt?”
“Do you want me to meet you?”
“Yes!! Why wouldn’t I!?!”
“Okay okay, Can you drive to HB hospital or do you need me to pick you up?”
“I’m driving already.”
“Okay. Just go to the ER. I’ll be right there.” Jimmy’s heart sank into his stomach. He didn’t have a good feeling about the hospital and what the doctor would say, and the thought of anything happening to any of them was making him sick, so he poured himself another whiskey, grabbed a bottled beer, then hastily ran to his white 1965 Pontiac Tempest.
He drove quickly but not fast. The streets still empty in his neighborhood but there were cars out on the main roads. God, please don’t let there be anything wrong with her. Please don’t let there be anything wrong. Tears began to build in his eyes but he held them back. Don’t cry you pussy! Nothing is even wrong! Don’t let her see you cry! Be a fucking man!
When he got to the hospital he saw Janie’s car parked near the entrance. The back bumper was smashed pretty good but the rest of the car was okay. He parked as close to her as he could and then jogged towards the entrance—his heart racing faster and faster the closer he got.
She was sitting all alone, filling out paperwork. For a moment it felt like time had stopped for Jimmy. He stopped dead in his tracks and gazed at his wife who had tears in her eyes like something was really wrong. But, to him, she still looked gorgeous. Her blonde hair hung over part of her face and the skin of her legs were showing under her purple skirt. She wore a black Depeche Mode t-shirt—which barely covered her stomach—and purple Chuck Taylor’s. “What took you so long?” she said. “Sorry, babe. I came right away.” He sat down next to her and put his arm around her while they waited a long, ethereal silence.
The hospital was mellow. Janie rested her head on Jimmy’s shoulder, gazing at the only other person in the waiting room—an older lady sitting in a chair, sleeping under the T.V. that hung on the dirty white wall. The wait felt perpetual. Jimmy trying to breathe lightly so Janie wouldn’t smell the whiskey. He felt guilty about his drinking and tried to hide it the best he could without lying to his wife. Twenty minutes later, a young female nurse walked slowly through the double doors.
“Janie?” the nurse asked with an indifferent tone. “Yeah.” Janie walked over to the nurse and Jimmy followed closely behind. “Right this way please,” and the nurse led them down the long white hallway.
At the end of the hallway, they came to a door and inside the door were butterflies that hung from the walls, door, and ceiling: pink, purple, yellow, green, orange, blue, and white pieces of paper all cut into shapes of butterflies, some big, others the size of a baseball. Jimmy stood there examining the butterflies while Janie stared catatonically at the floor.
“Ok I am gonna need you to change into this for me,” she said handing Janie a light blue hospital gown. “We’re going to run some tests to see if everything is all right,” the nurse said.
“Okay,” Jaine said lifting her shirt slowly.
“How far along are you?”
“Do you feel any pain in your abdomen area?”
“No,” Janie said quietly.
“Do you feel any pain anywhere?”
“What exactly happened?”
“I was stopped at a red light and someone slammed into the back of me.”
“Did you hit your head or anything?”
“No,” she said as tears built up in her eyes. She had the look of someone who was feeling something that only she could feel, something that happens inside the soul, internal pain that cannot be ignored.
The nurse then smeared jelly on her stomach with a white tool that looked like a mini blow-dryer, and plugged into the wall. Janie leaned back and rested her head on the hospital bed where she was sitting, closed her eyes while Jimmy stood beside her, holding her hand, rubbing her head; he looked down at Janie and saw one single tear slither down her face, onto her red painted lips.
“Well I’m not hearing anything yet,” the nurse said. “But sometimes it takes a minute to hear the heartbeat.” She continued to smear the jelly on her stomach while she looked at the screen, and after a few minutes, the nurse wiped the jelly off Janie then told them to hold on while she got a doctor.
“How ya doing honey? Are you in any pain?” Jimmy asked her as he knelt down beside her. Janie shook her head no, then slowly turned and looked away. She was staring at the cluster of butterflies hanging from the ceiling, swaying to the breeze of passing patients and doctors roaming the hallways. For a moment they stood still, just hanging from the ceiling in perfect stillness. Jimmy reached up and grabbed the purple one, and stuffed it into Janie’s purse while giving her a wink. “Little present for the girls,” he said.
The doctor walked in holding a clipboard, shadowed by the same nurse. He wore glasses and was shorter than Janie.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hi,” Janie said, then gave him a closed mouth smile.
“Okay if you could sit up straight and rest your feet on these please,” the doctor said. She was now lying on her back. Her legs elevated and spread eagle. He told her he was going to feel around and see what was going on.
“Doctor is everything okay with my wife and the baby?” Jimmy asked, inadvertently squeezing Janie’s hand in dread of the answer.
“We’re not finding the heart-beat of the baby,” the doc said.
“What does that mean?”
“Just wait a second sir while we take a look.”
As Janie lay on her back, the doctor slid his stethoscope around her olive skin looking for the tiny heart-beat but found nothing. After a few minutes of searching, Jimmy peaked over her gown to see what the doctor was looking at and on the table was a shiny ball of red the size of a baseball. No heartbeat. Jimmy closed his eyes hoping he was in a nightmare, or drunk. When he opened his eyes, one tear fell from his face and landed on Janie’s cheek. He leaned over, kissed her on the forehead, then stood up and took one last look at her beautiful wet eyes. Jimmy knew that it was over.
When they got home that night, Janie went to bed, Jimmy crawled into his sanctuary so he could try and forget this appalling night and poured himself a stronger drink than usual, lit a cigarette, sat in front of the organ and turned it on. Then he lit a candle and set it on the white piano before he started to play his favorite tune while gazing at his favorite picture as it danced amid the sullen room then fell asleep with his fingers resting on the keys of the organ, drowning the air with its enchanting sustain. There were no voices, no wolves howling in a starless desert, no stars and no moon. Just a sleeping serenade and a dancing silhouette.
Jon Vreeland was born in Long Beach California and raised by his parents in Huntington Beach where he became an accomplished musician and struggled with addiction most of his life. His writing paints a picture of the struggles he faced and eventually overcame. Vreeland now resides in Santa Barbara where he attends City College and is a father of two beautiful daughters.