Monday, October 29, 2012

Ghillie Suit

If you want to be invisible, live in a city. Who remembers a face in the crowd?

I’ve chosen to disappear in New Orleans, but, most probably unlike you, I could be invisible anywhere. Am I speaking literally? Yes and no. I never vanish in a sense that would satisfy a physicist. I reflect light. If you photograph me, you’ll capture my image. I vanish in a sense would satisfy a psychologist. People really don’t see me unless I allow it.

I have a rough idea how the trick works. Vision is not just in the eyes. Mice raised in darkness are blind as adults even though their eyes are perfectly normal. They never learn to process signals from their eyes into images. I’m able to prevent people from processing my image even though my reflected light reaches their eyes. I become a blind spot to them. No one ever notices the blind spot. But then, we don’t normally notice our natural blind spots either – the ones where optic nerves meet retinas – even though objects as big as houses can vanish into them at middling distances.

The precise physical mechanism of this image block eludes me, but whether it is chemical, electromagnetic, or something else, I can in fact choose not to be seen. I keep quiet about my talent. I have no wish to be to be poked and prodded in a laboratory, so the physics of it will remain a mystery. I don’t believe there is anything supernatural about it.

There are limits to my invisibility. A person has to be in my physical presence to be blind to me. If he watches on a TV monitor, he will see me. The range is limited, too. Anyone beyond about ten yards will see me. This is adequate most of the time. My invisibility extends around what I carry or wear. I’m sure there is an upper limit to how large a volume around me I can screen, but I haven’t tried to delimit it. I can carry a full laundry sack, which is more than enough.

Am I unique? I don’t know. If there are other invisible people, I wouldn’t see them, would I? Many people “blend into the wallpaper.” On a sidewalk we might bump into people we didn’t notice. I think they have a little of my talent. I’ve never met anyone as good at it as I am, but that doesn’t mean no one else exists.

At first, becoming invisible was difficult for me. No longer. Invisibility is now my rest state. I have to make an effort to be seen.

I first became aware of my ability as child in a lower middle class household in Meridian, Mississippi. My parents used to argue a lot. Both were alcoholics. Dad was a nasty one. Mom’s reaction to booze was unpredictable. Sometimes she was maudlin, sometimes giddy, and sometimes mean. When they both were nasty, it was really bad for me. On those occasions I tried to avoid catching the attention of either of them.

One day, while nursing a bottle of cheap Bourbon, my made one of his frequent decisions “to beat some sense” into me. I wanted nothing more than to disappear. To my surprise, he couldn’t find me even though I was standing in the middle of the room he was searching. Then my mom walked in the door. He forgot about me as they hurled abuse at each other. Later, he fell asleep on the floor. My mother looked around the bungalow for me. She walked right past me five times. She called my name with an increasingly frantic edge to her voice. I wanted her to see me then. She saw me.

“Wherever you were hiding,” she said, “go there again the next time your father is like that. Maybe I’ll hide with you.”

I wish she could have done it. Instead, not long afterward she shot my father and herself. I tried to fade away in the foster homes that followed, but for years I couldn’t repeat the feat. Then, I did it again. My foster mom at the time was a self-righteous and preachy woman who was convinced that the moral action in every circumstance was whatever one benefited her. She constantly complained to me that Mississippi was short-changing her on the foster program payments. One day I was in the back yard. She exited the house and called to me. I truly didn’t want to face her just then.

“Where are you?” she demanded.

I was standing ten feet in front of her.

“Right here.”

“This isn’t funny young man! Come out right now where I can see you.”

I walked behind her and made a conscious effort to be visible.

“Right here,” I said.

She jumped, spun around, and cuffed me.

“Don’t do that again.”

From then on I could do it at will. A few weeks of experimentation in public places proved it. One day I walked into a bakery, grabbed two Danishes in full view of staff and walked out. No one noticed. I shoplifted with increasing brazenness. None of my foster parents ever asked how I came by new CDs and clothes. So long as they didn’t have to pay for them, they weren’t interested.

I live a straight and sober life because mind-altering chemicals interfere with my special ability. I discovered this the hard way when I nearly got caught lifting a bottle from a liquor store while drunk. The owner chased me for four blocks before I managed to turn invisible long enough to get away. The high of being invisible beats any high from drugs or booze anyway.

You might be wondering if I can walk into a bank vault unseen. Yes, but not undetected, so I don’t do this often. Security cameras record me.

At 18, I took a Greyhound to New Orleans. I rented a small apartment on Burgundy on the edge of the French Quarter and never regretted the decision. Until recently.

I love prowling the city unseen. I haunt not just the Quarter but the Garden District, the business district, the riverfront, and the cemeteries. Sometimes people hear me or sense a presence. Last night, I passed the streetwalkers on Decatur and turned up Toulouse where two men were in the middle of a small drug sale. Alarmed by my echoing footsteps, the dealer, money in his mouth, spun around and stared in my direction. With one hand he gripped something in his belt. His customer, a bearded man in shabby jeans, looked my way bemusedly. I stood still. After several moments, they returned to their deal, rapidly completed it, and hurried off. Maybe people like me inspire ghost stories.

Avoiding alcohol is no easy task in New Orleans, but I do it. I’m not without vices, though, which is why I entered a “gentlemen’s club” named Chez Tooloose on a hot and humid summer afternoon. The air conditioning in the bar was inadequate, but at least the temperature inside was lower than outside.

On stage was a particularly adorable young woman with librarian glasses and dirty-blonde hair. I’d seen her in the club before, but this was the first time I had caught her on stage. With deliberately smudged makeup and torn fishnet stockings, she affected a frowzy floozy look. It worked for her. I decided to be visible. I caught the attention of the busty bartender.

“What’s the name of the dancer on stage?” I asked her.

“Buy her a drink and ask her yourself.”

“I’ll do that. I’ll be right back.”

“Sure you will.”

Outside, the heat slapped me in the face. Turning invisible, I walked into a music bar a block away from Chez and lifted some cash from an open register drawer. I shaded my face from a camera with my hand.

“You’re back after all,” said the Chez bartender when I re-entered the club in full view. “What’ll it be?”

“Club soda.”

“Not old enough to drink?” she asked.

“Let’s say I have a problem with alcohol.” This was true, after a fashion.

A finger tapped my shoulder.

“Hi, I heard you asked about me. What’s your name?”

The question came from the ersatz rag doll.


“You’re kidding.”


“It sounds like a Great Dane.”

“I didn’t pick my name.”

“Maybe you should,” she said. “You can, you know.”

“I suppose. What’s yours?”

“Ophelia. I picked it.”

“Just now?”

“No, I’ve used it for months.”

“That’s quite a coincidence.”

“How so?”

“We’re both Shakespeare characters.”

“I didn’t take the name from Shakespeare. I took it from The Addams Family.”


“Want me to give you a dance?”

“Sure, Ophelia.”

“It’s not really a gift. You have to pay for it.”

“I understand.”

She led me to a chair in the corner.

Lap dances, when done right, are frustrating. Ophelia left me frustrated. I became a repeat customer.

Ophelia worked the day shift at Chez, which in clubs of this type means noon to eight. On a whim, I decided to follow her in the evening dusk after work. I know this is called stalking, but I meant no harm by it. Tell me you wouldn’t ever do it if you could be invisible.

She walked all the way to Esplanade on the edge of the Quarter. She stopped in front of an old frame building remarkable for its lack of straight lines. The porch roof sagged and windows tilted.

Ophelia looked at a truck parked on the street and said, “Oh, crap.”

It wasn’t my business, but her reaction aroused my interest. She walked up to the door and took a deep breath before inserting her key in the lock. I hadn’t planned to go inside her building, but when she was slow to swing the door shut in back of her, I slipped through. She ascended the stairs. Hearing the creaks of my feet a few steps in back of her, she stopped midway and looked back with a frown. Seeing nothing, she continued to the second floor.

She walked to a door marked 2B, but before she inserted her key, the door opened. Stanley Kowalski could have given etiquette lessons to the man who opened it. Reeking of whiskey, he grabbed Ophelia’s hair and pulled her inside. I quickly followed before he slammed the door shut. Ophelia slapped his face. He slapped her back, sending her glasses flying. I was ready to intervene when they stopped fighting and kissed. A moment later he pushed her onto the bed and climbed on top of her. She didn’t resist.

This was a relationship I didn’t understand, and didn’t want to understand. I decided to keep out of it. I snapped open the door lock in order to leave, but instantly espied a .25 vest pocket pistol pointed toward me from the bed. I stepped aside as Ophelia’s ape leapt to the door, flung it open, and ran out into the hall. I followed. He looked left, right, and down the stairs. He re-entered the one-room apartment, gun barrel pointed at the floor. I noticed a wedding band on his finger.

“Fucker got away,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” Ophelia asked.

“The door didn’t unlock itself. Someone was trying to get in with a key. Who did you give a key to?”

“No one. Oh, what’s the point of talking to you?”

The door swung shut in my face. I heard further arguing inside. I descended the stairs and left. Out on the street I looked at his truck. I contemplated deflating his tires, but concluded this, while satisfying, only would make him stay with Ophelia longer. Another impulse overcame me. I climbed in back of the pickup truck and waited. He exited the building in half an hour.

“Bitch,” he muttered to himself as he unlocked the truck and got behind the wheel.

The ride was not a very long one. He pulled into the concrete driveway of a brick ranch house in a pleasant section of Metairie, a close-in suburb. He parked next to a new Lexus. He got out of the truck and walked to the front door. I alighted on the driveway and walked to the picture window next to the door. I peered inside as he greeted his wife with a gentle hug and kiss. This just didn’t make sense in light of his behavior with Ophelia.

My attention turned to the expensive Lexus, presumably his wife’s car, in the driveway. It was a clue. The houses in the neighborhood were nice, but not extravagant. I peeked in the mail box. Junk mail addressed to Frank and Desiree Fechler was inside. One flyer was addressed to Francis Fechler.

I love the way so many Southerners use pickup trucks as personal cars. I walked to the nearest traffic light and waited for a truck pointed in the right direction to stop at a red. I climbed in back of the first one that did. It was a lucky pick. The truck took me all the way back to town. I got out on Canal.

Back in my apartment, an internet search of tax records confirmed my instincts. The house in Metairie was in the name of Desiree Delamar, obviously her maiden name. A second search showed Desiree Delamar also was part owner of several commercial properties held in common with two other Delamars, surely her parents.

Desiree had the money. Francis had married a rich girl who was in line to be a good deal richer someday. In the meantime her parents were providing them with a comfortable living but not a sumptuous one. Perhaps they hoped Frank would tire of waiting and go away. If Frank wanted to keep his cushy life and cushier future, he had to keep on Desiree’s good side.

Why was Ophelia involved with this creep? I considered possible interventions. A few incriminating photos of Frank and Ophelia mailed anonymously to Desiree might cause Frank some well-earned trouble. On the other hand, if Desiree kicked Frank out, he might move in with Ophelia. Much as I disliked the situation, it was out of my hands. I reminded myself it was none of my business, but found myself hard to convince.

For the next several weeks, I tried to win the confidence of Ophelia at her club. My stock of charm is limited, but whatever I had I lavished on her. The tips I lavished did no harm either. She at least revealed her real name was Olive, an old-fashioned name uncommon in our generation. She asked me not to use it.

I walked past her apartment house from time to time. Frank’s truck was likely to be parked out front at almost any hour. Since he didn’t seem to have a job, you would think Desiree would question his absences. Perhaps his friends covered for him, citing poker nights and such.

One day Frank entered Chez while Ophelia was providing me with a private dance in the corner. He sat at the bar, ordered a drink, and scowled at the two of us. Ophelia cut the dance short.

“Look, I have to talk to that guy. You understand,” she said to me. “It’s business.”

“You mean I’m not your one and only?” I asked with a smile.

She playfully shoved my shoulder. “Some guys get more jealous than you do. They forget that this is just fantasy in here.”

“I suppose they do. Go take care of business. I understand.” I understood better than she imagined.

She took a seat next to Frank at the bar. They quietly exchanged words. He then swallowed his whiskey, and departed abruptly without leaving a tip for the bartender.

I wanted more than ever to break up the two of them for Ophelia’s good and for mine. I left Chez, walked to Ophelia’s building, and waited. A tenant arrived. I tagged close behind him to the front door, but not quite close enough. The tenant slammed the door against me, and it bounced back open. He turned and looked to see what had obstructed it, but by then I was inside. He opened and closed the door experimentally before letting the matter drop.

I climbed the stairs and waited some more. Frank arrived, as I assumed he would. He used a key to open Ophelia’s apartment. This time I was inside before the door closed. I had no clear plan in mind. I was looking for anything that might turn Ophelia against Frank. There was one thing. He rifled through Ophelia’s belongings and mail. I was sure she wouldn’t like that, but how could I tell her about it? Ophelia arrived around 8:20.

“Who was that guy?” Frank asked Ophelia the moment she walked in the door.

“What guy?”

“The guy in the bar you were dry humping!”

“Just a customer. I’m an exotic dancer. It’s what I do. That’s how you met me.”

“Stay away from him.”

“Why? He’s harmless and he tips well. Nothing is going on.”

“He wants something to go on.”

“They all do.”

“I told you, dump him!”

“You aren’t paying my bills, Frank.”

“Is that some kind of crack? Are you ragging on me because I don’t get some big fancy salary at some do-nothing job handed to me by a rich uncle? I get enough of that crap from my in-laws, who could give me a job like that if they weren’t hateful mean-spirited bastards.”


Frank pushed her. She pushed back. They wrestled and threw punches. The fight was just routine for them, but this one was about me. It was my fault. She shoved him away from her and he stumbled. On impulse, I reached out, seized his shoulders, and yanked. He fell hard backwards and slammed his head against the corner of an end table. His skull made a satisfying crack. The table leg broke. Frank hit the floor, his eyes turned up, and blood oozed onto the carpet. Ophelia ran into the bathroom and threw up. I exited the apartment and the building.

I hadn’t intended to hurt Frank. I just meant to pull him away from Ophelia, but I didn’t feel sorry for him either. If he was badly hurt, let him try to explain to Desiree from his hospital bed what happened and where. I paced outside the building waiting either for him to walk out with a bandaged head or for an ambulance to arrive. I narrowly avoided walking headlong into another pedestrian, so I turned visible and continued to pace.

“What are you doing here?” asked a voice from the porch. “Are you fucking stalking me?”

“Oh, hi, Ophelia. I was going home. I live around the corner over on Burgundy. It’s just over there.”

“You didn’t know I live here?”

“No,” I lied. “The Quarter isn’t a very big place. I’m surprised we haven’t run into each other before. I mean outside the club.”

“Yes, I suppose so. How far around the corner do you live?”

“Only a few blocks.”

“Listen, can I come with you? I’m not propositioning you.”

“That’s too bad.”


“I’m sorry. A joke. Of course you can come with me. Is something wrong?”


“My place is just a room, really.”

“I don’t care what it is.”

“Care to tell me what’s the matter?” I asked as we walked.

“I have to think about that.”

We walked silently to Burgundy as my apprehension built. My stomach slowly tied into a knot. We entered my one-room apartment, which contained little more than a chair, a bed, a computer, and piles of paperback books.

“You look puzzled,” I said.

“You always have money but you live here.”

“I’m not a materialist. I spend on what matters to me.”

“Like lap dances?”

“Your lap dances, anyway. So, what’s the problem?”

She decided to take a chance on me.

“I killed my boyfriend.”

“Oh. That’s not good.”

“No it isn’t. It was an accident. I’ve got to get out of here. Out of New Orleans. Can you help me?”

“Yes, but if it was just an accident, why not call the police?” I suggested.

“No! They won’t believe me, Brutus. Is that honestly your name, by the way?”

“It’s on my birth certificate.”

“Brutus, I haven’t exactly been a perfect young lady all my life. I have a felony record. One of the convictions is for assault. I once hospitalized a girl I worked with. They will charge me with something over this. With my record an involuntary manslaughter conviction will put me away for years.”

“But if you flee, you’ll be a fugitive. Let’s consider the options. Does anyone else know about the accident?” I asked.

“Not yet.”

“So, let’s go examine the scene.”

“That will make you an accessory.”


“You’re crazy.”

Nevertheless, Ophelia walked with me back to Esplanade. Inside the building I began to climb the stairs ahead of her.

“How do you know I live upstairs?” she asked.

“I just assumed. Are you on the first floor?”


At the top of the stairs, I let her lead the rest of the way. She opened the apartment door and gasped as we entered. An exceptionally large stain of blood spread out on the area carpet around Frank’s head.

Not wanting to repeat the mistake of showing too much knowledge, I asked, “Does he live here?”


“Does anyone know he is here tonight?”

“No, I don’t think so. Other tenants sometimes see him come and go, but they don’t even know his name.”

“Are you fond of that carpet?”

“It wouldn’t matter much if I were, would it?”

“What does he drive?” I asked.

“A silver Ram pick-up. It’s parked down the block.”

I reached in Frank’s pocket for his keys.

“Put on gloves, if you have them,” I instructed her. “Then bring the truck around front. Wait there. I’ll put him in back and drive him out to somewhere near where he lives.”

“Someone will see you carrying the body. And how do you know where he lives?”

“The address is on his license and registration. I’ll wrap him here in the carpet. It’s dark out. Most people don’t want to get involved even if they do see something odd. Trust me, I’ll be quick and inconspicuous. Wait out front with the engine running.”

She paused for several seconds, but then nodded. She found a pair of rubber gloves by the sink in the kitchenette. She put them on, took the truck keys from me, and left the apartment.

I rolled the body in the carpet and waited by the window until Ophelia parked the truck in front. I tossed the weight over my shoulders. Frank wasn’t a big man, but he was still pretty heavy. I didn’t know if I could extend invisibility around his body as well as my own, but I tried my best. The hallway was empty. I plodded down the steps to the front door and peeked outside. I waited for a pedestrian to pass and then exited with the cargo.

When I thumped the body into the bed of the truck, I saw Ophelia start behind the wheel.

I turned visible and opened the passenger door.

“I guess I’m distracted. I didn’t even see you,” she said.

“Good. This is what you have to do. First, go somewhere where you’re known. Call attention to the time somehow. In case the body is discovered and the coroner can place a time of death, we want to make sure you will not have had time to dump the body and get back to New Orleans. As soon as you establish your alibi, run right back and clean up the apartment. Oh, crap.”


“He calls you on his cell phone, doesn’t he?”

“He uses a Trac Phone so his wife won’t find out.”

“So it’s anonymous. There’s a piece of luck,” I said.

“I’m not really feeling lucky.”

“You had better hurry off and be seen. Go.”

She got out of the truck and I slid behind the wheel. I pulled away from the curb as she watched from the sidewalk.

I drove out of town. At a desolate construction site I I got out of the truck, unrolled the body, and tossed the carpet into a dumpster. I searched the body and the truck for his Trac Phone. It was in the glove compartment. I smashed the phone and put the pieces in the dumpster, too. Then I searched for a seedy bar with a dark parking lot. I found an ideal one on the outskirts of Fat City. Its ill-lit lot abutted a water-filled drainage ditch. A surveillance camera outside the bar pointed at an angle that missed the far end of the lot. I backed into a spot away from the camera.

I waited while a patron left the bar, got on a motorcycle, and rode away. Then I quickly wiped the wheel of prints, exited the truck, and opened the tailgate. Frank’s right trouser leg had ridden up, and I saw a leg holster with his .25. I decided to leave it. I dragged the body out of the truck bed and rolled it into the drainage ditch. He would appear to be a victim of a fight in the bar parking lot. I heard splashes in the drainage ditch. Maybe a gator or two would assist by mangling the evidence further.

I closed the tailgate and walked to the nearest traffic light. I jumped into the bed of the first pickup pointed the right way and rode back to the city.

By the time I returned to Ophelia’s apartment, she was cleaning up the last visible traces of Frank’s presence.

“It will be alright,” I reassured her. “There is no reason for the police to trace the body back to you. Don’t feel bad for him either. He brought it on himself and you did his wife a favor.”

“Brutus, that’s terrible!”

“Maybe, but it’s true.”

She shook her head and smiled ruefully.

“It’s an old joke, isn’t it? ‘Friends are people who help you move. Best friends help you move the body.’”

“So we’re best friends?” I asked.

“More than friends.”

It may sound ruthless, but we made love in her apartment that night.

At 8:30 a.m. Ophelia pushed me awake. I groggily struggled to be observable.

“Were you under the covers or something?” she asked in a puzzled voice.

I could see sharing a bed overnight raised some issues.

“Uh, yeah. I do that.”

“Well, get up and get out. I have things to do this morning. I should go to work today later, too.”

“Yes, you’re right. Don’t break your routine in any way.”

I put on my clothes and allowed myself to be hustled out the door. Two of Ophelia’s neighbors on their way to work, nodded hello to me in the hall. I nodded back, keenly aware I was unshaven and disheveled after the night’s exertions.

I wondered if Ophelia knew I likely would be seen at this hour.

That afternoon, I left my room and walked to Chez. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw Ophelia sitting by herself at the far end of the bar. She waved me over.

“I’m having a drink with you because I usually do, but maybe you shouldn’t stay long,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“What if the police show up and ask questions?”

“They have no reason to.”

“What if they find one? Maybe you’re not as smart as you think, and you left clues behind. Maybe they’ll suspect you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You have a motive.”

“What motive?”

“Jealousy. And your prints are in my room. You told me to wear gloves in his truck, but did you?”

“I was careful. My fingerprints aren’t on file anywhere anyway.”

“I’ll bet you missed something, and they can match your prints if they take you in for questioning. I have witnesses last night to prove I couldn’t have driven the body anywhere in the right time frame.”

“Ophelia, are you threatening me?”

“I’m just telling you that, if push comes to shove, I can point a finger at you. You can’t hold what happened over my head.”

“It never crossed my mind to try.”

“Good. Don’t let it.” She softened her voice. “I’m not trying to be mean. I’m just scared.”

“It’s OK, but there is nothing to be afraid of. Can I see you tonight?”

“I’m going upstate to visit my sister for a few days.”

“You have a sister?”

“Yeah, my mother’s other daughter. I’ll be back on Thursday. You can come over then, and we’ll talk about our future.”

“Sounds intriguing.”

“I’ll see you in a few days.”

So, Ophelia was shaken and needed a little time with her family. Understandable. I would give her some space. Couples need to trust each other. That’s what I’ve always heard.

On Thursday I walked to Esplanade and rang the buzzer for her apartment. Through the rippled oval glass in the door I saw a gray-haired woman in horn rims approach.

“Mr. O’Malley?” she asked as she opened the door.

“Uh, no.”

“You’re not here to see the apartment?”

“I’m here to see Ophelia in 2B. She’s a friend.”

“Apparently not a close friend.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“She moved out a few days ago. Something about an illness in the family. She broke her lease but she paid through next month and signed off on the deposit, so I can’t be too upset with her.”

“I see.”

The police never connected Frank to her, to me, or to the apartment on Esplanade. Ophelia could have stayed and carried on as before, but with me instead of Frank. I guess she wanted to take no chances.

Where is she now? I don’t know. Surely not visiting her sister, if she has one.

No one ever will replace Ophelia. Other women don’t even see me.

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