Mean Man, were you ever lonely? Were you ever scared?
It is night. Logan sits at table in the Doggie Diner, reading a book and drinking coffee after a meal. He wears a red plaid shirt with the cuffs rolled up. Outside, it’s pouring and several city pedestrians – a punk rocker, a bag lady and a kid in a Nike hat – are caught in the storm.
Me, I’m scared all the time. Lonely all the time. Or maybe just alone.
From behind the counter, Lucy Braddock, a young, blond-haired waitress, watches Logan intently, holding a pot of hot coffee. In front of her, at the counter, sits a middle-aged man in a gray business suit. The man asks if he can get a refill, trying to get Lucy’s attention. Decaf, right? Lucy asks. The man answers affirmatively, as Lucy pours him a fresh cup. As she pours with her right hand, she rests her left on the counter. Before she can take it away, the man puts his hand over hers. He’s wearing a wedding band. So . . . when does she get off work? he wonders aloud.
It makes you desperate.
Some time later, Lucy sits curled up on a bed, resting her arms on her knees. The room, presumably her apartment, is sparsely furnished and decorated plainly. A small lamp sheds light from a table in front of window near the bed. Putting his coat on as he walks toward the door, the middle-aged man from the diner tells Lucy that he wishes he could say it’s been a pleasure . . . but, she’s not even worth the lie. As he nears the door, he tosses two twenty-dollar bills over his shoulder, advising her not to spend it all in one place.
You know why I love the rain, Mean Man? It’s like in that movie, they talk about it, how it makes everything clean. That’s why I love the rain. Can’t remember the last time I felt clean.
Rushing after him, wearing only an undershirt and panties, Lucy scoops up the two bills in one fist and, reaching the hallway, throws them in the man’s direction. Hey, she yells, him and his money can both got to @$#&! The man continues down the stairs without responding to her outburst.
It’s not just me. It’s the whole world that’s been used and trashed and beaten down. It’s a mean world, Mean Man, and that’s the truth. Full of mean people with mean hearts who do mean things.
Lucy snatches the bills out of the air with the same fist with which she’d thrown them. She notices that the door across the hall has been opened a crack and a naked foot is visible there in the opening. The body it belongs to is shrouded in the darkness of the room beyond. This prompts another outburst from Lucy: What? Huh? Does her neighbor have something to say? Is that it? Are they hoping for an eyeful, too? That it? In response, the door closes. With a sad expression on her face, Lucy returns to her apartment.
A mean, mean world. So maybe you have to be mean just to survive. And that’s the name of the game isn’t it?
Back at the Doggie Diner, it is now day. As before, Logan sits reading over a finished meal. Lucy sets his bill on the table as she refills his coffee. She tells him to pay it when he’s ready. Logan turns a page and continues reading without acknowledging her presence. Put off by his rudeness, Lucy mutters whatever as she walks away. Moments later, Logan puts on his jacket and walks out. Lucy watches him go.
You never asked my story, Mean Man. I thought it was because you didn’t care. But that’s not right, is it? It’s not because you didn’t care . . . it’s because you thought you already knew it. Hell, maybe you did know it, maybe all this is, it’s just . . . maybe it’s just a waste of time. Maybe I’m, like, totally wrong, and you are what you seemed at first.
As Logan passes in front of the windows lining the front of the diner, Lucy clears the table he had just been sitting at. Lifting up the bill, she finds that Logan has left her a twenty-dollar bill to pay for a meal costing eight and some change. She looks off in his direction in surprise.
But I don’t think so, Mean Man. See, I think I figured you out. Maybe it’s only the meanest of them all who afford to give a damn.
It is night again. Lucy sits at the table next to her bed, writing by the light of the small lamp. She’s wearing a white T-shirt with the phrase “The Geek Group” on it. She hears something in the hallway, gets up and crosses over to the door. She first listens through the door by pressing her ear to it, then unlocks the dead bolt and opens it with the chain attached.
I don’t know when they’re coming. I don’t know what they’ll do when they get here. I just know that they will, and that when it happens, it’ll be bad for me. Maybe they’ll just come and take me back, say that it’s time to come home. Like that place ever was my home. If that’s what they want, I won’t go. I won’t go back there. They’ll have to kill me first. Is that something else you know about? Killing?
Across the hallway, Logan is unlocking the door to his apartment with his right hand. His left is gripping the hilt of a large knife stuck in his leg above the knee. Blood stains his jeans around the wound. Having unlocked and pushed the door open, Logan, hunched over, turns to Lucy, and, with a grimace, asks her if she’s got something to say? His face is dripping sweat. There’s a blood handprint on the wall nearby and more blood on the carpet below him. Or maybe she’s just – nhh! – hoping for an eyeful? he asks, echoing Lucy’s earlier question of him. As he speaks, he pulls the knife out of his leg, prompting Lucy to raise a hand to her mouth in shock. They exchange a look, then Logan goes into his apartment, telling Lucy to go to sleep, calling her “kid.” He shuts the door, leaving a bloody mess on the floor outside. Lucy does likewise, leaning against the closed door with a dismayed look upon her face.
It is raining again outside the Doggie Diner. The sky is dark; it is early morning. Again, Logan sits reading – this time Thoreau’s Walden – over a finished meal. Lucy watches him from afar, as another waitress fills his cup.
Now I’ve seen tough and I’ve seen pain. And I know I’m not tough, because I’ve been in pain. I also know what I saw that night, and when I saw you the next morning, Mean Man, you didn’t have a scratch on you. Not a scratch. That’s how I knew you were my guy.
Walking out, Logan passes Lucy standing behind the cash register ringing up a customer’s bill. She watches him pass, but he does not acknowledge her. He carries a book, but it is not Walden. This one is titled Cats Cradle. Lucy watches Logan exit. A moment later, the other waitress – a middle-aged black woman – appears holding Logan’s copy of Walden. Idiot left behind his book, she tells Lucy, who volunteers to take it. The woman offers no protest: long as Lucy doesn’t take her tips, she could care less.
Maybe you knew it, too. In a mean world, you’ve got to portion out caring, right? You have to pick your battles. Decide who’s worth the effort. The measure can be arbitrary, it doesn’t matter . . . as long as the measure is yours, right? Why do we need to make up some excuse just to say hello? Are we so scared we can’t even just be, you know, people? We have to justify it, lie about it? Is that all you were doing? Giving me the excuse? Letting me make the first move?
Standing in the doorway of her apartment, Logan’s book in hand, Lucy watches her mysterious neighbor come down the hallway, a newspaper tucked under his arm. He notices her standing there, but ignores her. Lucy takes a few steps out into the hallway, but Logan enters his apartment without saying a word to her, shutting the door behind him.
Did you know how terrifying it was for me to even try? And you weren’t going to make it easy, were you?
Inside his apartment, Logan turns his head, hearing a knock upon the door behind him. When he opens it, Lucy is standing there with his book. Logan acknowledges her curtly, turns and walks into his apartment, leaving the door open. Taken back, Lucy mutters that she brought his . . . he forgot his . . . she’s got his book. Can she . . . may she come in? Logan says he won’t stop her.
Closing the door behind her, Lucy stops to take in Logan’s apartment. The design is the same as hers, but the room is almost bare, save for a sheet and pillow on the floor, surrounded by books. The only light comes from a desk lamp set upon the floor next to the blanket. Logan’s been working on a six-pack. Indicating a fresh bottle in his hand, Logan explains that he’d offer Lucy one, but something tells him she’s a minor. He has sat down on the blanket, leaning against the wall. Walking forward, Lucy declines anyhow, even though a real offer was never made. She’s wearing a green T-shirt with a three-eyed smiley face on it. As she hands him the copy of Walden, Logan asks her what her name is, calling her “kid.” Lucy protests: she’s not a kid.
Logan pauses, taking a swig of his beer. Finally, he asks again, this time calling her neighbor. Lucy tells him her name, then tells him she already knows his. Yeah? Logan asks. Well, kinda. She gave him a name. Is she gonna share it? Logan wonders aloud. Mean Man, Lucy tells him. Seems kinda judgmental, Logan observes. Guess it does, kinda, Lucy agrees. Not that he’s mean, though maybe he is, she doesn’t know.
Nice place, she says, looking around. It’s enough, Logan responds. Lucy indicates the books scattered about, asking if Logan’s read all of them. He’s working through them. Lucy guesses that he likes to read. Logan observes that she’s made a safe guess. Lucy points out that he has a different book everyday when she sees him at the diner. Logan tells her that he reads fast. Having picked it up off the floor, Lucy is holding a book of Edgar Allan Poe stories when she asks Logan if that’s all he does? Just read? She means, all day, he just reads? With narrow eyes, Logan tells her that does other things. Like get stabbed? Lucy asks. Sometimes, Logan tells her.
Lucy moves the Poe book behind her back, holding it with both hands. She wants to know who stabbed him. Does it matter? Logan asks. It does, yeah, it really does, Lucy responds. Crouching down to meet him at eye level, Lucy explains: if he gets stabbed doing a mean thing to a not-mean guy, that kinda blows. But, if he’s doing a mean thing to a mean guy, that’s cooler. Wolverine grabs another beer and takes the cap off with his teeth. He wants to know what makes her think a Mean Man would care about the difference? Holding the Poe book and picking up another, Lucy explains that Mean Man reads a lot. That’s got to count for something, right? Smiling slightly, Logan asks Lucy if she likes to read. She used to. Now she just writes. Writing’s good, Logan affirms. No writing, nothing for him to read. Lucy tells him that she’d let him read her thing, if he could find it. She keeps it hidden.
Standing up, Lucy asks if she can borrow the books she’s holding. Sure, Logan replies, taking a swig of beer. Lucy tells him that he can have them back when she’s done. She then heads for the door: she’s gotta go. Logan follows, asking her if she’s got another date? That wasn’t a date, she assures him. Logan knows it wasn’t. Stopping and looking him in the eyes, Lucy asks him if he’s gonna look out for her? Can she count on him? Sure, Logan tells her. Lucy responds by kissing him on the cheek, then crosses the hallway to her apartment. Entering, she thanks him and tells him to enjoy his books. Smiling, Logan says good night.
Back in her apartment, Lucy sits down at the table by the window. She opens the Poe collection to the middle and proceeds to cut into the pages with an Exacto knife, creating a compartment within the book. Into this space, she places her journal. That finished, she picks up both of Logan’s books and walks them over to her small bookshelf where she places them amongst her own.
I believe you, Mean Man, and you have no idea what that means to me, do you? It’s like I can sleep tonight, you know? Really sleep, really rest, and not worry anymore. You’re across the hall from me, and now you know me, and they can stab you in the leg, hell, that won’t stop you. It makes me feel safe.
Did you get it, Mean Man? Was I clear enough? When they’ve come for me, will you do what I need? See, I can’t give you everything, because I can’t be sure you’ll be the one to get it. A lot of it, you’re just gonna have to figure out on your own, and if I could, I would make it easier. But I can’t. Thing of it is, I’m sure you won’t need much.
Passing the window, Lucy looks out to see two dark figures approaching the apartment building in the rain. The two dark figures enter the apartment building. They are Caucasian men in their twenties, dressed in heavy jackets and wool caps. One has a goatee. They head for the staircase, passing walls strewn with graffiti and an old man passed out on the floor with a bottle in his hand. Climbing the stairs, they reach into their jackets with their right hands. They pause outside the door to Lucy’s apartment, holding machineguns.
Remember that, Mean Man. Because there will be others who come along, say they want to help, say they want the same thing. When they tell you that, they’re telling you a lie, but not because they want to. It’s because they don’t know. See, there are others, Mean Man. I’m just the one that got away.
The man with the goatee turns and stands watch, while the other opens fire on the door’s lock. He kicks the door open firing. Coming behind! the other warns, as Logan’s door opens. Do him! Lucy’s killer commands, the cruel smile on his face indicating that he has completed his own task. The one with goatee laughs, yelling get some, get some, as he fires excessively at Logan. Thinking him dead, the two men rush away, one of them yelling go, go, go! Bullet casings, bullet holes, and blood litter the hallway.
But you never really get away, do you? So when my brothers come to get me, I’m counting on you to make it right. And I’m sorry, I should just say that now. I’m sorry to put this on you. You didn’t ask for my burdens.
Rising up from the floor, Logan stumbles across the hallway wearing only a pair of bloody pants. He leaves a trail of blood behind him as he crosses over to Lucy’s apartment, the door of which still hangs open. Her bloody hand, dangling over the side of the bed reveals her fate. Logan looks for a moment, and then stumbles back across to his own apartment, just moments before two police offices arrive.
Hell, you’ve already got burdens of you own. You don’t need mine. But what else was I supposed to do, huh? Nobody ever believed me when I told them the truth. What else was I supposed to do? I tried and tried. They didn’t listen. They didn’t care. Everyone always wants proof. When it comes to it, though, the only proof they’ll take is my body in a bag. And then it’s too late, isn’t it?
The next morning, a police van sits outside of the apartment building. Inside, a two suited officials depart, Logan crosses the hallway and breaks through the POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape blocking the door to Lucy’s apartment. He’s wearing the same bloody blue jeans, but the bullet wounds dotting his arms and torso have already begun to heal. Using his enhanced senses, he finds the collection of Poe stories on Lucy’s book shelf.
That’s the way it goes. Just another runaway murdered, that’s all they’ll see. They’ll blame it on drugs, or sex, or both, or maybe neither. They’ll make what happened to me mundane, Mean Man. They’ll make it forgettable. That’s what scares me the most. Even if you do nothing more, please, do this for me.
At the Doggie Diner, Logan sits with several books. The one in front of him is the collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories. He takes out Lucy’s journal and begins to read it, a grim look upon his face.
My name is Lucy Braddock. Don’t forget me.