THE DOSSIER OF TIMOTHY COTTON Pt. I
By Jesse Coy Nelson
“I’m telling you, that’s Timothy Cotton,” said Scott, leaning in closer toward Mike and Reggie to emphasize his point. “I know it for a fact.”
“And just what fact would that be?” Mike challenged him.
“Who’s Timothy Cotton?” asked Reggie.
“Cider Lane put out three music videos for their Fermentation Process album. Most folks know the first video, some know the second video, but only a few know the third video, because the label never gave Nuclear Chikita much of a push. You’d think they would, wouldn’t you, but they didn’t.”
“Who’s Timothy Cotton?” repeated Reggie, hating to be excluded from any sort of intrigue, but her male counterparts seemed to be paying her no mind.
“Yeah, yeah, I know the story,” sighed Mike, in mock exasperation, though in reality egging his friend on.
This was the sort of routine that they had done many times over, understood to be, as only best friends could understand such things to be, simply a routine. The truth was, Mike wanted to know more, even if he did not believe Scott.
“Timothy Cotton had a huge falling out with the album producer, Sweet Wally, who was no slouch even back then in the day. It was apparently very nasty, and Sweet Willy used all his pull to bury Timothy and his Cider Land band, relegating them to one-hit wonder status. The label dropped Cider Lane, and even though there were demos, as of 1993, Cider Lane becomes ancient history. So you’re trying to tell me, seventeen years later, the genius behind the ill-fated, short-lived Cider Lane is slumming it in South Korea? Furthermore, you have indisputable proof that it’s him?”
“Oh, brother,” sigh Reggie, only her sigh was real. “Scott, dear… you need to get a position at our school. Working out here in the sticks is scrambling your brains. We’ve got three teachers leaving next month.”
It was said in a somewhat light tone, but also with an earnest undercurrent beneath the words. Reggie was dating Scott, and though the one-hour bus ride from Busan to Jinhae, where Scott lived, was not too oppressive, it still meant that they could usually only see each other on weekends. It would be so much better if he lived closer. If he worked at the same school as her, it would be ideal. Yet changing jobs in Korea was not the easiest thing to do. It was very difficult until your contract was through.
Scott ignored Reggie entirely.
“If you happened to see that music video for “Nuclear Chikita,” which I don’t think you ever did, you’ll notice something as clear as day during one of the clips in the video. It’s something that was rumored, Timothy was sensitive about, and which you could also see in the “Lurch” video, their second single… Timothy is missing half of his pinky finger and his left hand and so…” here, Scott leaned in even closer, hiss-whispering the end of his mini-lecture, while pointing across the room of the half coffeehouse, half bar that was called Galax, “… is he.”
“You two are such music geeks,” Reggie broke in.
Mike had the good grace not to exclude Reggie from their discourse.
“We’re sort of guilty there,” he agreed. “But let me put it to you, as an impartial judge. I can’t quite see if that fellow over there is missing half his finger like Scott says…”
“Of course you can’t,” objected Scott. “All reports indicate he’s pretty embarrassed about it and always hides it. As a matter of fact, that footage in the third music video was put in place on orders of Sweet Willy, as an extra insult on top of burying the band.”
“Like I said,” resumed Mike, speaking solely to Reggie, “I can’t see it from here. Even so, supposing that fellow is missing half his pinkie finger. What’s more likely… there’s someone else out there in the big, wide world missing half a pinky finger… or someone who, even though their one-hit wonder band was buried, still made millions on that one hit, is now slumming in South Korea, teaching English to Korean munchkins?”
“Seventeen years can be a long time,” Reggie conceded judiciously. “But I don’t even know who Timothy Cotton is. What song did his band do?”
“He did the song, “Fluorescent,” the most popular by those guys,” Mike said to her. “Remember that one?”
“Fluorescent,” she repeated. “Fluorescent?”
“It starts with ‘seeing you under a different light,’ and the video has the band turning into monsters when the fluorescent light is turned on,” explained Scott. “You had to have seen it. It was a great video. Won some awards, too.”
“Oh, yeah,” nodded Reggie. “Isn’t the chorus, like… ‘The light that hides you makes you ugly Saturday.’”
“‘Any day,’ not ‘Saturday,’“ Mike corrected her, “but yep, that’s the one. So you get junior music geek points for remembering it.”
“That video was kind of creepy, if I remember it right. The faces of the band members looked all lunar, pockmarks and stuff, until the artwork fades in over their faces.”
“Well, I say it’s not him,” reasserted Mike. “I actually heard that Timothy Cotton is doing a cover version of Syd Barrett’s ‘staying in a mental ward, convinced he’s an apple.’”
“Syd thought he was an orange,” Scott corrected his friend.
“Exactly,” concurred Mike. “I said Timothy was doing a cover version, so naturally it wouldn’t be the same fruit.”
Reggie had been drinking her black Russian, looking back and forth between Scott and Mike during this exchange. She finally set her glass down to deliver her judgment as to the nature of this debate.
“You two are ridiculous. If you think it’s him,” she proposed, “or that it’s not him, or whatever… just get up, go over there, and ask him.”
“You can’t do it that way,” Scott admonished his girlfriend.
“Despite disagreeing with his suggestion that that’s Timothy Cotton over there,” chimed in Mike, “I have to agree with my man on this one.”
“Good lord, why?”
“Because…” began Mike, and then Scott joined in with him, as though they had rehearsed this one together before, “… what fun would that be?”
“Besides,” went on Scott, removing his glasses, and then squeezing the bridge of his nose, as though forcefully coaxing thought loose, “if he’s in hiding, would he really admit to who he really is?”
“Who says he’s in hiding?” asked Mike.
“I just did,” said Scott. “So what do you want to wager?”
“Now you’re talking,” grinned Mike. “Put your money where your mouth is.”
“So what is it?” Scott repeated. “What of mine do you want, and what of your do you have to offer?”
“FNM’s debut is rarer, but I’m sure I’m right. I’ll be happy to relieve you of the first Pantera album with Phil, where he’s doing his Rob Halford, Geoff Tate best.”
“Good. Then it’s a bet.”
“Without asking him,” asked Reggie, “just how are you going to prove that that fellow is really a musician named Timothy Cotton?”
“Easy,” said Scott, consulting his watch. He immediately began a countdown, and upon reaching one, across from them on the other side of Galax, the figure stood up. “He’s going to pay now, as he gets one more cup of chai, of which he’ll only finish half, and then he’ll go across the street to his haegwon, Lott’a Tots English. This is the fourth Tuesday that I’ve seen him do exactly the same thing.”
“And that’ll prove what?” countered Reggie.
“Oh, I’ll come back with the proof. Before the night’s up, I’ll have Mike here conceding that that’s Timothy Cotton. But it can’t be done so simple and direct. It’s got to be clever and tasty.”
“Just what are you fixing to do?” asked Mike.
“Surveillance,” declared Scott, who consulted his watch again. “In three more minutes, he’ll leave. He’s left at 7:45 on the dot the past three weeks. He’ll do the same now. Maybe his class starts at 8.”
“A haegwon named Lott’a Tots English, teaching little kids at 8pm?” questioned Reggie, skeptical. “Middle school students, I can see. But young kids?”
“You know how fanatical they can get about learning English here,” Scott pointed out. “I’m sure there are parents out there willing to have their kids get a further jump on learning English by staying up late to learn, especially if their teacher was formerly a famous vocalist. Besides, as you pointed out, we’re out here in the sticks, so they probably do things a bit differently here.”
Jinhae was not really the sticks. Situated along the southern coastline, it was wedged between ocean on one side and mountains on the other side. Although a small city by itself, it was home of the Korean navy, and the naval academy. Like much of Korea, portions of the city of Jinhae bore testimony to new construction. How large the city might grow was anyone’s guess, yet it was not a new city.
“You’ll follow him, and then what?” asked Mike.
“Who knows. Maybe I’ll interview a staff member in there, or maybe a student. Maybe I’ll be a fly on the wall,” he said, “and see what develops. Just give me two hours. I won’t make either of you late for the bus back to Busan. I just need a little time to build my… my dossier on Timothy Cotton.”
As he said this, the man to whom he referred stood up from his table at the other end of the cafe. He had already paid, finishing only half of his second cup of chai that he had ordered, just as Scott said he would do.
“I shall return,” he vowed, trailing after the would-be rock star in disguise a moment after that man left the Galax. Scott looked over his shoulder once, grinning at Reggie and Mike, before going into full pursuit and surveillance mode.
Being slight of built and swift of step, to say nothing for his overall cleverness, Scott fancied himself adept at such a task, compared to his friend, Mike, who was taller and bulkier, and who begged, if not personally, rather through some inherent physical characteristic, to be noticed. In comparison, Scott could creep without looking suspicious. He did just this, keeping the sort of safe distance behind Timothy Cotton that both movies and common sense dictated.
While he was primarily a music geek, he might likewise categorize himself as a movie buff. So he had seen this sort of scene played out many times before, therefore he knew very well exactly what he should do.
The buildings across the street from the Galax Cafe, a second floor bar and coffeehouse, were like many throughout Korea, encompassing multiple uses. For example, while the second floor contained Lotta’ Tots English, the third floor was a tae kwon do center, and the base floor contained a pharmacy.
Scott had been trailing a bit too closely, he estimated. So he waited several beats before entering the building behind Timothy Cotton. Once inside, he took to the stairwell, climbing the steps close to the wall and making as little noise as possible. In some ways, this was rather foolish, for as he neared the last few steps, he heard the same sort of clamorous noise that one might associate with either a zoo or a haegwon in South Korea.
“Teacher, teacher…!” he could hear one child’s voice calling out for attention.
Ah, caught in the act, Timothy Cotton, thought Scott. He pushed the door of Lotta’ Tots English open, expecting to see something similar to his own hagwon, such as a main desk manned by one or two Korean receptionists, who simultaneously worked child management, as well as the actual munchkins themselves, racing to and fro, climbing the reception desk, scaling the walls, and piling in and out of the bathrooms.
Scott had to restrain the urge to call out “ah-ha” as he burst through the doors, and while his original plan had been to interview the hagwon’s employees on the sly before confronting Timothy Cotton directly, he decided upon a new strategy on the spur of the moment. Better to catch Timothy entirely off guard, resulting in the likely slip of the truth, his cover blown. It would be a sweet victory.
Only, when he noiselessly pushed open the swinging doors, he was confronted with an empty room. It was quite disconcerting, for the sound of life and a world familiar to Scott still rang forth, only like ghosts, none of the participants were visible. As the surroundings implanted themselves in his mind’s eye, Scott noted that the room was not entirely empty. There was some sort of thin, yet tall speaker, with soft pink parts that blended into the wall. This was attached to a solid hexagon shape, gold in color, which presumably had a recording of this haegwon ambient noise.
Out of the corner of his eye, Scott saw movement toward the end of one of the three corridors attached to this room, as well as hearing the sound of a door closing. So he hurried forward, without much thought, down that same corridor through which the figure had gone only moments earlier.
At the end of the corridor, he went through a door.
Blue light flooded this new room. Upon the walls were detailed maps not only of South Korea, but also of its reclusive neighbor, North Korea. These maps were intersected, interlaced, and dissected by a multitude of graph charts and alien diagrams.
All of this was strange enough on its own, but what pushed Scott over the edge into a panic was the impression that he had, a feeling deep within his bones, that he was not alone. When he turned away from the maps, it was not Timothy Cotton who he faced in the far corner, but rather a parody and perversion of just what this place was supposed to be, the facade of a hagwon. In the corner, there were five young boys, each identical, save the last one. These boys had perfectly oval faces, glasses, and flat bowl haircuts. The identical smile that they each wore was slightly crooked, and their eyes, while wide, seemed not to be the eyes of live children, but rather eyes that belonged to a mannequin. Yet they all faced Scott, and one or two of them blinked in intervals. They seemed to be seeing, but not seeing.
This was not the worst. The worst was the fifth boy, who had no face at all. Behind where his face should have been were the cogs, gears, coils, and machine plates that one would see as within perhaps the inner workings of an advanced clock.
Scott stepped backwards, panic mounting, as he murmured, “What the fuck…”
His backwards step caused him to collide with a person. He pivoted on his foot with barely enough time to catch a glimpse of the man he assumed to be Timothy Cotton, who he could hear saying…
“I think we have a little problem here.”
Had Scott had the time to regard it, he may have admired the blackjack wielded by this man, which came straight out of the hands of a thug from the 1930’s, when strikebreakers in the U.S. were set upon labor agitators and protesters, blackjack whacking away indiscriminately. It was a fine example of a blackjack, which Scott simply could not admire, as it was currently in use, crashing down upon the back of his own head.
TO BE CONTINUED-
by Jesse Coy Nelson