Music and text for this episode were composed by Joel Woolf and written by Anthony Jones, respectively. The audio was first published in Neon Bedrooms and the Light From Your Mother’s House, and is used here with permission from Jones & Woolf.
The Red Ghost
I’d just finished having sex with my ex-wife when I heard about the Red Ghost for the first time. We were talking about getting back together in those days and I was laying in her new flat outside Rome, playing with those dark, dark curls of hers and trying to forget about all the nastiness and ugliness that had spread between us.
Those were the days when I thought Cleo and I might still have a chance, even though her life had already skyrocketed so far past mine that all I could do was hold onto her for the night and hope I’d made love to her just right enough for her to forget about how badly I’d fucked everything else up.
“Haven’t you heard?” she said, brushing my hand away and picking up a tabloid she had lying on the floor.
“There’s a new hero in Italy.”
. . .
A year later I’d heard plenty more about the Red Ghost. He was in the tabloids all the time by then. I never read the stories but I’d see his name in the headlines, usually when I stopped at the old newsstand on Via Arno or the cafés near the courthouse, which always carried the low brow stuff. I didn’t think people were taking the rumors seriously but I’d have these strange moments—times when I’d be sitting with an espresso, staring into space long enough for another lone customer to see me and think I was longing for company just as badly as they were. They’d come up to me, these people who drank during the day and wandered into cafés alone, and within five minutes it was clear that all they really wanted to do was talk about the Ghost.
“Well, what do you think?” they’d inevitably say, gesturing toward the tabloids or showing me something on their phones they’d dredged up from the internet. “Can it really be true? A hero in Rome patrolling the city from rooftops, just like in the movies?”
I normally shrugged them off or gave them a blank stare. Sometimes I even invoked my heaviest brogue—or at least, what I remembered brogue sounding like from my childhood—and told them, “Sorry friend, I’m just visiting from Dublin. I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”
That normally did the trick, although some of them would keep at it, as if I wasn’t there at all, going on and on about the possibility even after it was abundantly clear there was no person on Earth I’d rather be talking to less.
Still, no matter how intrigued these people were about the Ghost, I always figured it was just curiosity about the supernatural or boredom with their own lives that fueled their interest. It wasn’t until Sofía showed up at my door that I finally met someone who had one hundred percent belief in his existence. And nothing I could ever say to her would change her mind. She was a disciple of his, you might say. How else could you describe it? The types of risks she was willing to take to make contact with him were really quite shocking.
. . .
She came to my apartment for the first time a week after Easter and the only reason I remember that was because it was exactly seven months after Cleo left me and just over a year since Ana Gonzalez had disappeared for good.
My apartment was in the south of the city, in an old building on the outskirts of the Nomentano District—a few stories above some small apartment units and a Chinese restaurant on the ground floor.
I guess I should mention that my apartment was actually a small, run-down office. A Russian accountant had been renting the unit before me and according to the owner, he’d had a little book-keeping business there for years until one day—poof—the Russian disappeared. He’d even left his desk there, which was the largest piece of furniture in the place, and I’d gotten in the habit of keeping most of my clothes and other personal items inside its massive drawers.
Even though I’d been there for almost three months, I kept telling myself it was temporary—that I was just sleeping there until I got some work and cut down on the prescription drugs enough to get back on my feet.
For the time being though I had one of those sofa couches you could pull out and turn into an even more uncomfortable bed. Most nights I didn’t even use it. I just laid on the hardwood floor with a sheet and a pillow and dreamed the same dreams I’d been having since I punched a Carabinieri Lieutenant in the face and lost my job in homicide.
But all that is neither here nor there.
What I’m really trying to tell you about is the first time I met Sofía and how I came to be involved with a fifteen year old girl the way I did.
. . .
Of course, the first time I saw her I didn’t know she was fifteen.
I had no idea how old she was.
She was wearing one of those light blue blouses that were common in the Catholic schools of Rome at the time but she’d cut the sleeves off and the fabric was fraying around her shoulders. She had on a black skirt that hugged her hips and black tights beneath that. Her eyes were dark as well with heavy mascara and her hair had been dyed a shockingly bright shade of red. She was carrying a backpack and she didn’t even knock. She just walked right in.
“Are you Detective Drake?” she said.
I looked up at her and blinked slowly. It was past nine o’clock and I’d just run through a fresh vial. I hadn’t been expecting anyone. I was in my undershirt, leaning back in my chair and watching the sun go down on Rome through my window, slowly getting very high on a percocet and oxycontin blend that I’d crushed and snorted and washed down with a bottle of beer.
“I used to be,” I said finally.
Anthony Jones studied Creative Writing at UCLA under Mona Simpson and David Wong Louie where he was awarded with the Ruth Brill Scholarship for excellence in fiction. His work has been published in several literary journals, including PANK Magazine and Chicago Literati, and he has forthcoming work in F(r)iction. Together with Sydney-based composer, Joel Woolf, he founded the group Jones & Woolf, a music + lit duo specializing in audio fiction. Their first album, Neon Bedrooms and the Light from your Mother’s House came out in December, 2018.
Image: Flickr / Leanne Poon