Here is an excerpt from the second chapter - Mexico City Blues - of the Burroughs novel. It is the first draft, so I apologize for any sloppiness or errors. My motis operandi is to write the entire manuscript and then edit out the excess and indiscrepancies, as any sane writer should. I vary rarely edit while I am writing the first draft. The second chapter is to introduce all the supporting characters of the novel, here it focuses on Kells Elvins.
Joan slammed the oven door shut to drown out the raucous laughter issuing from the dining room, irritably recalling that morning when William burst into the apartment overly ecstatic, relaying news that Kells Elvins had returned to Mexico City with his wife, Marianne.
Apparently, the newlyweds rented a new apartment on boulevard Ávila Camacho out on the road toward Guadalajara near the remodeled golf course. William related that a few years prior Elvins spent time in Cuernavaca studying with Erich Fromm; he learned some Spanish and now wished to continue his studies. He enrolled in Fromm’s psychology course at the medical school of UNAM, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. William then informed Joan, and without much notice of preparation, he had invited Kells and his wife over for dinner that evening.
“As I was saying, I served as a marine during the war where I lost hearing in one ear thanks to a fucking Jap shell bursting right by my head.” Kells sat at the head of the table, dressed impeccably in a pressed white shirt, black slacks, and a pearl-buttoned black and grey sweater vest, nursing his martini. He swung the glass about in a well-manicured hand to accentuate a point in his story. A tall man who possessed classic, well-defined features, he was immensely attractive to women, with deep black eyes, curly, wiry brown hair. William believed he was the most charming man he ever met; well built, athletic, and described on occasion as “a playboy.” Charismatic, cultured, and well-read in many fields, Kells attained an excellent vocabulary and as he spoke, held everyone captivated with every word and gesture.
Kells took another sip of his martini, “At the time, my radio code name was Big Picture and my colonel was one Shifty Schaeffer. I had just hit the beach with Major Ash, whose radio name was Clinker, and as our unit rushed in there was a hail of machine-gun fire. I immediately dropped onto the sand and tugged at Ash’s trouser leg, urging him to get his ass down. At that point machine-gun fire sheared off the top of Major Ash’s head raining his blood and brains down all over me. Colonel Schaeffer called on the radio and asked, ‘Howya Elvins. Put Major Ash on the phone.’ Momentarily stunned, I simply radioed in, ‘Big Picture calling Shifty, Clinker is dead.’”
“Big Picture calling Shifty, Clinker is dead.” Repeated William. “What poetry.”
“How was the farming business in Texas with Kells, Bill? I understand you both made quite a profit from your collaboration.” Across from William sat a very pregnant Marianne Woofe, Kells’ second wife. A well-bread and attractive woman, she attempted to put on the air of enjoying the evening. The fact was, she actually wished to leave. She recalled, during a stay in an Acapulco resort, she noticed a scorpion skittering across the tile floor of their bungalow and discerned immediately it was a malicious creature. She felt the same way about William. Her eyes scanned the man who sat across from her - cadaverous looking with yellow fingers, thin lips, bad teeth, and eyes resembling those of dead fish. The prospect of spending the entire evening in the company of this distasteful character was becoming intolerable.
William lit a cigarette, tossed the match into a large marble ashtray next to him overflowing with smoldering cigarette butts, “Well, my dear, I wouldn’t say it was bad. It did offer its perks. There were the weekend trips to the coast, Corpus Christi and South Padre Island, and during the week long evenings drinking and smoking on Kells’s porch or at my own digs. Priorities, my dear, priorities.”
With nimble fingers, Kells fished the olive in his martini, plucked it into his mouth and chewed, “However, it turned out that 1950 witnessed the worst freeze in the Valley for fifty years, decimating the citrus groves and nearly putting us out of business. That’s when I decided it was time to fold. I explained to Bill, ‘I want to make a lot of money. I think selling is a good solid clean thing to do.’ Eventually, I sold my land and, using tips given to me by Clint Murchison, invested wisely in oil enough to provide myself with an income of a thousand dollars a month. And with that, here I am.”
“Clint Murchison?” Marianne asked.
“Old friend. Texas oilman. I would sit around with his cronies and ask, ‘Hey Clint, when are you gonna get yourself cured?’ You see, “cured” meant get rich, properly rich, not the two or three million Clint already had. He always offered to help me if I asked, so I was understandably well disposed toward him.”
“Oh.” She said.
“Marianne, do you realize Bill and Joan share a certain psychic ability?” Kells asked. He noticed his new wife was becoming bored with this patter and decided to change the subject.
She glanced at the scarecrow figure in a worn fedora shrouded in cigarette smoke under the harsh yellow light of the ceiling lamp. “Psycho, did you say?”
“Now, now, Marianne. Don’t be a square. I for one respect the “second sight” Bill and his wife possess.”
“Really?” She smirked.
Burroughs swirled his sherry in his dirty glass. He detected her contempt, however for his respect of Kells, decided to keep his demeanor cordial. Not looking at her, his focused his attention on the sherry. “Indeed. Back in Pharr, Kells would ask me, ‘Tell me about the man, Burroughs, tell me about his hands.’ Eyes closed, I would concentrate on Murchison. ‘I see his hands are twisted, he has terrible arthritis. His hands are twisted. Being down there with all that shale.’ And Kells would say, ‘Yes, the man’s got arthritis, that’s right, Burroughs.’ ”
“Really?” She sighed. This time she wasn’t holding back her disdain.
“And don’t forget our excursions over to Reynosa.” Kells smiled. “By the way, Bill, did you hear about Gene Terry?”
“Ah, yes. Tiger Terry.” William took a sip of his sherry, swirled the contents in his mouth, swallowed. “He would haphazardly drive around in a ’38 Ford Pickup he called The Black Death. Excitable kid. Once, he entertained me by performing an impromptu tightrope balancing act on the top strand of a barbed wire fence. Whatever happened to him?”
“Well, Gene got drunk and went into the lion’s cage at Joe’s bar,” He glanced at Marianne, “That’s in Reynosa, Mexico.” He focused back to William. “One of the lions leapt up and clawed his back, leaving some nasty scars. José and the waiters always warned Gene to stay away from the lions, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“How horrible.” Marianne interjected.
Ignoring her, Kells continued to William, “One night, Gene boasted to two friends how he would pet the lions, but they didn’t believe him, never having been to Joe’s. The three drove across the border, went to a few bars, finished up at Joe’s around 1:30 a.m., where Gene showed them the lion cage. The waiters warned him to stay away. Gene snuck in when they weren’t looking. He lifted the large wooden bar across the door and dragged his terrified friends inside. His flashlight startled the lioness and she attacked him. His friends ran to safety outside the pen, but the door slammed behind them. As Gene was about to open it, the lioness slashed open a main artery in his leg, then dragged him down by his neck. His gruesome screams brought the staff running. They pushed the door open and several of them went in, chucking bottles and glasses at the lioness. She dropped Gene and Roberto Perez, the lions’ trainer, held her back with a chair as he leveled his .45 and fired, hitting her in the chest, killing her.”
At that, Joan hobbled out of the kitchen and plopped the metal basin holding the roast onto the table with a resounding thud.
“Dinner, folks.” Joan croaked.
“Ah, wonderful! I am famished!” William exclaimed extinguishing his cigarette.
Before his two guests could utter their approval, with a large cutting knife, he attacked the roast like a savage animal, rending off huge hunks of meat which he threw onto their plates. Disgusted, Marianne gawked when she noticed the roast was nearly raw, the majority glistening in pinks to deep red. She sat silently as then William proceeded to snatch up from his plate a great slab of dripping, greasy meat in both hands and gnaw at it voraciously.
Not touching her dinner, Marianne asked with a placating smile, “Do you plan to return to the states, Mr. Burroughs?”
Between noisy chomps, William stated, “Still under indictment in New Orleans for possession of narcotics. Having jumped my bail, my first move is to locate a competent lawyer to block any possibility of being extradited.”
“Oh.” She sat in silence the remainder of the meal.
After dinner, the friends sat in the living room having drinks. Joan, though polite and made it her duty to keep her guests glasses full, remained silent. She gazed with crimson eyes at the stately woman who sat in the corner chair, not holding a beverage and obviously looking down her nose at the proceedings.
Guess I could warm up to the uppity cunt, Joan thought.
“Can I offer you a drink, Mrs. Elvins?” Joan asked.
Marianne averted her cold gaze from Kells. She thought Joan as a frumpy, amorphous woman, with a doughy face and large eyes belonging in antique dolls, made of blue glass and vacant, reflecting everything and seeing nothing. To Marianne, she seemed placid and shy, or a well-meaning mental patient let out for the afternoon.
“You can call me Marianne.” She smiled.
“Can I offer you a drink, Marianne?”
“Do you have any milk?”
“Yes. Milk, please. I don’t wish to imbibe while I am with child.”
Joan placed her glass of tequila onto an end table, as she stood, her pocketbook fell onto the floor and popped open. Pills of every shape and color cascaded out and rolled across the dirty rug. Gracelessly, Joan got down on her hands and knees and picked them up by the handful, shoveling the pills back into her purse, smiling and murmuring to herself. As Marianne silently looked on this pathetic creature, neither Kells nor Burroughs gave her the slightest attention.
The alcohol taking effect, Kells slurred, “Remember, Bill, in between my drinking and farm management, I was attempting to write the Great American Novel, but alas never devoted enough time or attention to it.”
William recalled, “Yes. You never did write all that much. Always encouraged me, though.” His attention flitted over to Marianne. “Kells felt, in a way, that without my influence he would never have realized anything, I do believe turned him on to possibilities beyond he would not had realized unless he had known me: a less conventional life, less conventional ways of thinking, and his basic interest in writing came from the work that we had done together.”
“Oh, you two collaborated on a book?” She asked her husband. “You never mentioned that, Kells.”
“A short story, actually.” He said down his glass. “A rather hilarious incident taking place aboard a sinking ship. Based it on the Titanic…”
“Sounds morbid.” She chuckled. “I like romances, myself.”
“Well, my dear, nothing came of it.” William sniffed.
“I must admit, Marianne, I consider Bill the most fantastic writers I had ever seen. I did keep all of letters and reread them often. The man has talent.”
“That is very kind of you to say, Kells.” William said. He turned to Marianne, “I necessitated someone to tell me I had talent and could do it. On occasion, Kells suggested I simply set down, in a straightforward, reportorial manner, my adventures as a junky, which I proceeded to do.”
“You’re writing it?” Kells asked.
“Wrote it. I call it Junk. A month prior, I employed a young woman named Alice Hartman, who was enrolled in the Writing Center at MCC, to type the manuscript. The entire manuscript being written in long hand. The woman was a proficient typist, but we were at odds when she insisted on making editorial changes. Every time I wrote “junk”, the broad would change it to “opiates,” and I constantly reprimanded her for that, ‘But I want to use the word ‘junk,’ I don’t want to call it ‘opiates.’’ I sacked the ignorant bitch and typed it myself that by this last January, I sent the completed manuscript to my friend Lucien and asked him to attempt to sell it to a New York publisher for a $1,000 advance. Very likely it won’t sell at all. But you never know.”
“How exciting.” Marianne stated. “I wish you success, Mr. Burroughs.
“A thousand dollars is an admiral chunk, Bill.” Kells said. “I seriously believe you could make a vocation out of your writing.”
William chuckled at the thought. His laughter sounded like an unoiled machine. His usual monotone held a tinge of aspiration. “Indeed, the advance would come in handy. I wrote Junk largely for money. Of course, being responsible not only for myself, but also for Joan and the children, I have an absolute duty to place their welfare high on the priority list.”
Gathering her pills, Joan stood. “He also has to pay for his junk and cocaine.” Joan grunted, “A book called Junk. How apt.”
“The milk, Joan.” William stated, sipping his martini.
“Yes, my liege.” She did a slight curtsy and wobbled into the kitchen, clomped out, and handed the half full bottle of milk to Marianne. She didn’t offer a glass. “How did you and Kells meet? Or did you get married on account he knocked you up?”
“I beg your pardon?” Marianne said, taken back.
“Well, it is a rather amusing story.” Kells smiled.
Marianne’s faced was flushed crimson in rage. “If you tell that story I’m going to throw this bottle of milk right at your head.”
Ignoring the threat, Kells continued, “I was entertaining some friends at a nightclub when I saw this beautiful, but well intoxicated, woman staring at me from the bar. I made my way over, we struck up a conversation. I never knew a woman so passionate when drunk. Immediately, she invited me up to her room and…”
With an infuriated ‘oh!’, Marianne threw the milk, hitting Kells across the temple. A look of such fury crossed his face that William was certain that he was going to leap up and bust her across the chops, but then he collected himself and said calmly, “If you’re going to do a job you might as well do it right.”
He picked up the bottle from the floor next to him and casually poured the remainder of the milk over his own head.
Marianne shot up from her seat, strode to the door and collected her coat and purse hanging on pegs attached to the wall. She turned and shot, “Mr. Kells Elvins, you are, by far, the most graceful man I had ever met. You are also alcoholic, volatile, and sadistic,” She glanced at William and Joan, “and, in my humble opinion, overly tolerant of the hangers-on who provided you with an audience.”
She flung the door open, stormed out, slamming it behind her. The three sat in silence, listening to Marianne clomp down the stairs and out across the patio.
Joan casually fished into her purse, popped a Benzedrine tube and stated, “Bill was right, Kells, with the ladies, you sure can pick them.”