Sunday, April 25, 2010

Nowhere Man

"Another pint of the black, please." he said, eyes half-lidded by a thumb and forefinger intent on drilling themselves into the sockets, like a fork going towards the inevitable electrical release.
"Hard day at the office?" asked the bartender.
"Office. Yes." He put his hand down on the bar, rolling his eyes over to the barkeep opposite. Two ring piercings on his lower lip, a porkpie hat, horned rim glasses- not the most well-placed pub employee. Harmless enough to say the least, probably still lives with his parents. Maybe he just worked the slow nights. Like tonight- nobody around. Christ, all he was doing was cutting up limes, God knows why. Kid like him, probably a college dropout, probably a bassist in whatever music's been dead long enough to attempt a revival of. Easy to read. "What do I look like I do?"
"Ah- office... work?" The reply was earnest, at least. Very easy to read.
"I'll be honest. I've only worked two months in an office my entire life, and there's been quite the entire-ness to follow."
"Where do you work, then?" he asked, pulling the pint.
"What I've noticed is that people tend to assume based on what I order. I buy a beer, people assume I'm an office worker. I buy a scotch, people think I'm a lawyer. I buy a martini, people assume I'm a stock broker. Creme de menthe, I'm suddenly an arts dealer. Wherever I go, whatever I drink, it's always been a tough day at the workplace, whatever that is."
"So- where do you work, then?" he repeated, catching the last few drips.
"I work," and there was a moment's hesitation before he shrugged again. "I worked-- in the kind of business where it works to have people make assumptions rather than know."
The bartender gave a chuckle, serving the glass of beer. "Regular James Bond stuff, huh?"
"You'd be surprised."
The bartender's smile faded. "You're a spy?"
"Not entirely, but you'd, well, you'd be surprised." He reached into the pocket of the duffel bag on the barstool next to him, pulling out a thick deck of leather booklets. Casino-style, these were spread across the bar. It was a small foliage of colours- navy blues, blacks, maroons, greens, a red-- each decorated with an embossed coat of arms and above, a country name. A platoon of passports.
"I am, that is to say, I have been a professional nobody."
"I haven't even heard of half of these countries. Jesus, look at them."
"What's your name?"
"Malcolm." stammered the bartender, eyes still glued to the Tarot deck of nationalities. "And you're-- Ian Welles." He picked up another passport, flipping it open- "James Staffordson?" Another. "Collin McCreight?" Another. "Jan Pieters? What the hell-"
"Tonight's the night where I get to stop looking at myself in the mirror and seeing only the memorized details from my travel documents. I can't do it anymore, I can't stand not having a reflection I recognize."
"This one's empty. Your picture isn't in it."
"There's about a dozen of those. They've got the hologram sheet ready to slip over any Polaroid I put in there. The passport numbers will all check out. Birthdates across the board."
"Are you serious? These are ready-made fakes?"
"Fakes?! Hah." He put down his pint, the glass empty save for the lingering froth left to dry. "They're the only real ID I have. Describe me to a T. They're the least fake of the lot, identification for one Anonymous. The money, at least, is plenty real."
The man motioned to his duffel. "3.4 million in six different currencies, all small bills in unsequenced bundles."
"Shit!" said Malcolm.
"Shit is right. There's just been too much of it, and after twenty-seven years, I'm finally swimming back up to the surface to breathe some actual air." he said, dragging his fingers down the already worn grooves of his face. "There's finally a way out."
A dull thud brought sudden warmth across his chest. He looked down, finding the bartender's hand closed in a fist pressing into his chest. The smell of limes. The knife-- in the fist. Crimson spread quickly across his shirt, and he had the distinct feeling of falling into water. The heart, probably. The bartender's eyes were wide as plates, and he was breathing fast.
Finally a way out. "Do you- do you play in a band?"
"What? No!" The bartender's answer was high-pitched, frightened. Still, not as easy to read as he'd thought. Just as well. He sank inwards, tumbling to the floor.
Malcolm was half-way to the door, flicking the lights out as he went, the duffell swung over his shoulder with the cash and ready passports in it. A breath, eyes open and shut to acknowledge the reality, murder. No. Not that he could be caught now anyway.
He hadn't even killed anyone. Anyone at all.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Dance Invitations

A perfumed lady died tonight, that's what they tell me. That's why I'm out here in the miserable cold, some 'perfumed lady'. Well, points for vagueness. None for assumption. I mean, I could try to dispute that she's died tonight, but everything still looks and smells fresh.
The smell, at least, is unsurprising for the way she was described.
"Jesus. Freakin' Givenchy, huh." says the Lieutenant, flapping his hand to drive away the buzzing insects of scent at his nostrils. "My wife wears that stuff." The Lieutenant, who will be imortally known as 'Lefty' for his notorious cripping of three suspects' ('suspects', who are we kidding?) dominant hands to disarm them, looks about as well as someone who's crawled out of a rendering vat. If you pinched the flaps on his neck, they'd stay that way. The veins crawling up his neck look equally easy as targets, more tempting if you wanted to keep your thumb and forefinger in working order. His eyes are enough out of their sockets that he's a liability to the estate of Rodney Dangerfield. No respect, I tells ya's. "Well, I think now she'll have to switch to Dior or something. No heavy loss."
"No heavy loss." I murmur. I'm more of a stick-deoderant girl myself.
There's already a tent up surrounding the body, keeping the lookie-loos out, but keeping the scent of distilled ambergris (or whatever) inside. The same thought passes to Lefty. "Don't they make some of that stuff out of, like, mongoose balls?"
"Civets, I think. Odor sacs. Like skunks." I can still see my breath, even as I can feel the creeping moisture in the tent. The hot lights keep me from shivering and out of the cold. Still, I'm going to need a shower.
"Yeah. Skunks is right. Jeez, I'll stick to my Old Spice." He crosses over, looking down at her. A white dress stained brown by gutter water, pearls that look too good to be real around a neck that flows like ivory from head to neck. Blonde hair, golden with a single proud shock of gray unhidden as a front bang. She has the shade of red lipstick that could stop a man in his tracks, make him break into a cold sweat. Her nails, coiffed and perfectly aligned. I pick them up daintily with a gloved hand, scraping underneath for skin, dirt, anything that can tell us what happened.
"Civets. Why do I think of coffee?"
"Special type of coffee." I say, not looking up from her nails.
"Naw, don't tell me. I remember. The civets eat the coffee berries, and crap out the seeds, and those are used to make the coffee?"
"Bingo." I say.
"What, you found something?"
"Nothing. Just right about the coffee."
"She's meticulously done-up for someone who got done-in." Says Lefty. He's reaching, so I give him a smile. But she is, not anything out of place, except maybe a pulse. EMS didn't even bother. Heels unbroken, pantyhose without a nick or tear, and a little white dress whose only flaws have been produced by the inevitable fluids. Not pretty, compared to the rest of her.
"No cuts, no bruises. Nothing on her palms or knees to suggest she fell? Maybe she was cradled down. Maybe the same person who took the purse."
Someone's been keeping up with their reading list, even if Lefty's mystery assailant left the pearls. "Something like that." Presumption sneaks in, calling up a small list of possibilities, each screaming that this person looks too good to have hit the glass ceiling of longevity, propelled by natural causes. Dammit, stick to the evidence, or lack thereof.
Not even a blemish on the white skin.
Except one-- A tiny little dot on the ivory neck. Small enough for a syringe, I wonder?
Assumption! Stop it!
Assumption, but something to work on. Something to keep me busy for the rest of the night. As usual. Something to check.
"Looks like something."
"Something good?" he asks, leaning in curiously.
"Something-something." I snap off my sweat-filled gloves, reading a new pair. "Do me a favour? Cup of coffee?"
"Cream, sugar?"
"Black." I say. He lifts the tentflap, letting in a breath of blessed fresh air. Shit, but it's cold. "Lefty!"
"No civets."
"Picky." A smile, and it's easier to share this time.
The tent flap swings back down, and I'm left with the warmth and the wreaths of perfume. The scent is still strong. Definitely a stick deoderant girl.
New gloves are snapped on, and I recognize the Ella Fitzgerald on my lips long after I start whistling it- "These foolish things... remind me of you..." I stop myself, having unconsciously skipped the previous verse.
"Oh, how the ghost of you clings..."

Sunday, April 18, 2010


White light, splashes of red: all he remembers in a sea of fluoride yellow lights overhead. A constant pure tone of sound muffles the intruder scrabbling into his consciousness.
"Fucking snap out of it!"
The blur of muted awareness slowly resolves the surrounding image: Stan, hands at ten-and-two, sitting with his teeth almost at twelve on the steering wheel. His feet and legs are pushed into invisibility, presumably because he's shoving on the accelerator with all possible force. A cigarette is clenched by the filter in a pair of teeth that seem on the edge of sawing through it.
His eyes dart to a black shape on the seat between them, back on Jason, back on the road. "Fucking nonce. Fucking little child. Hide like you always do. Plenty of room in that oversized skull of yours to pretend the world has forgotten about you." He snaps his upper body at the passenger seat for a moment, forcefully screaming and ejecting the cigarette from his mouth onto the floorboards as if it was propelled by sound alone, "WELL SURPRISE KIDDO BECAUSE IT FUCKING HASN'T SO SNAP OUT OF IT AND HELP ME."
"You shot him." manages Jason, at last.
"Thanks for joining the rest of us in reality, Professor Leary."
"No, no, no."
"No, obviously, no, but if you're going to go all soap opera on me, at least have the decency to coma-style rather than drama meltdown."
"No, I mean no fucking joking, you shot and killed a man."
"First time in twenty minutes you manage more than three words and you're restating the obvious. Thank-you."
"Genius science boy can't stand natural selection."
"Oh, God, I'm going to be sick."
"Yeah, religious now too. Amazing 180."
"I'm serious, I'm going to throw up."
"I ain't slowing down, and this car ain't getting any cleaner."
"...Cleaner, what are you talking about?"
"The gun, dumbass! Clean and disassemble the fucking gun! When I say 'help me', I'm not just asking you to join in on rhythm guitar! You're not even the fucking drummer, you're the Yoko Ono of my life, you useless prat."
A glance at the gun, that black object on the middle seat. Jason's stomach twirls again. "Oh, fuck."
"Glove compartment! Restaurant towelettes! Clean it!"
It's instinctive, unsurprising given the orders being barked at him. Jason's mind screams with every ethical muscle in it as the pistol is wiped to a lemon-fresh sheen.
"Jesus, I said disassemble it. You do that first otherwise you've got to clean it again."
"You. Murdered. Someone."
"So now I get to deal with it."
"Like, morally?"
"Oh, fuck!"
"Pretty much, or we're the ones who're fucked."
"Yeah! And now we're going to take him to a warehouse, put him in a tub, and cover his body with nasty shit we're going to buy from whatever hardware supply store is open at this hour, and we're going to make sure that which is actually discernable from the rest of the human-juice-with-extra-pulp carries so little identifiable material that even identifying him as a member of the human race is going to be a miracle of modern science."
Dry heave, the taste of bile. "No, not... Dammit... He's in the trunk, isn't he. I can't do this."
"Negative nancy here, Jesus." Stan says, transferring a new cigarette into his mouth. "Fucking-we-will because if we don't, then we get to look forward to spending however long 'life minus time off for good behaviour' is in a room with two black guys named Jacques who have six inches and two hundred pounds on you in addition to the two feet of black-in-brown whenever you drop the soap."
"You think you can live with yourself?"
"Uh, yeah? Getting a group-gratuity charged to my ass pretty much pales in comparison to turning a fucker like that guy into soup."
"--Even if I have to put up with your moaning about the human condition."
"You monster. You vile and horrid waste of a human being."
"Yeah, Mother Theresa you are."
"I'm not a murderer!"
"Y'know, I'm not asking you to go for the full colour set, but at least upgrade from black-and-white, and open your eyes. I'll make it easy on you and ignore for the fact that you've got a peddling setup, owned and operated."
"People don't die from pot overdose."
"No, but they die from everything involved in it. Just because we're taking advantage of the low-access high-payoff situation that came with the same brilliant logic as the Prohibition Era, doesn't mean everyone's going to be as business-oriented as us."
"Business-oriented?! You KILLED."
"My fucking reasons are better for keeping the body count low rather than just picking off every fucker with half an ounce, which is what those other animals are doing."
"It's still not business if you're making a body count in the first place. When was the last time Wall Street had a Last Man Standing match at their IPO?"
"Oh, right, capitalism is safe. Nobody's hurt when some Jew sells out the bottom line, moving millions of cash to the trading floor, thousands of jobs to china, and hundreds of domestic workers to the grave."
"You aren't even a communist, yet I hear the same bullshit. What about fucking racism, huh? Worried we didn't get enough Jews the first time around?"
Stan ignores this, "Capitalists kill human decency, Communists kill human rationality."
"Holy God, you're a maniac."
"Look. You wanted to be a doctor, right?"
"Then you of all people should understand what's being done."
"The point of medicine is to save people."
"Fucking dictators in a banana republic that fly to wherever there's white doctors enough to get an actual surgery, so he can go back to getting the job done with machete-based population birth control long after the second trimester? That's medicine."
"Rare cases! You think it's all Charlie Mansons rather than sweet old grannies?"
"Same question, back at you: you think we killed a sweet old grannie?"
"No, but--"
"There's not a 'no, but', there's just a no. The reason it's a 'no' is because the sweet old grannies are the rare cases. Same effect, different methods: making the world a better place."
"He wasn't anything close to a serial killer!"
"You saw how far from the grannie side of the spectrum that fuck was. You can't even see that the whole morality scale was tipping when he was putting more than just his hand on the balance. You saw the piece. You knew it was either him or us."
"Yeah, I thought so. Jesus, I have go through an entire Ethics textbook with you."
"Doctors aren't intending to make the world worse, and most of them aren't in the business just for themselves. You're delusional if you're placing them on the same level with the badguys.
"Listen to yourself. Itent is so irrelevant to the process. Look at the results. Hey- You want to think that all life is precious? Fine, go ahead, but you're just going to end up letting the wolves eat you rather than deny the mewling little bitches of a fresh supper. Sometimes you heal your good guys, but sometimes, you just have to kill the bad guys."
Jason's glaring at Stan has become softer, more tired from the unrelenting tirade. "If you really think you're the best guy to tell the difference, Stan..."
"Fucking-A, me and the Pearly Gates fucker. Now, let's go find some lye."

Squamous Woman

The limp-wristed son comes in, a rumpled cocktail napkin sketch of himself. His face is stained with dust, his hair clings as a greasy wreath on his scalp. The comb-over is immediately unconvincing to the point of atrocity: thin salt-and-pepper strips that stretch over an otherwise bare and unfertile scalp. But it's not his purpose to impress, only to serve. And this, he does well, with a sort of curiously capable invertebrate grace.
This grace clearly fails above the neck. With a flutter of his flat lips, a piteous fart comes awkwardly out, "She will see you now." Jason and Stanley follow, after exchanging a glance.
The room is deliberately ornate, but has seen better days. It's the Rome that has long forgotten it once had an emperor, an emperor who made the great and terrible armies of the world rise and fall with mere monosyllabic utterance. The Matriarch sits alone on an equivalently aged high-back chair. Its upholstry is torn in places, and its once-white has become a permenantly nicotine yellow. The air is thick with smoke of an almost incense quality.
She sneers at them, extending her curled talons to beckon the pair over.
"Who are these, Alfred?" She asks, sibilance cutting through the fumes.
"This is Shaver and his associate, ah..." The son looks over at Jason, a trifling detail. "...and his associate." Jason doesn't bother to correct him.
The Matriarch lets her eyes wander over their forms, and not kindly. Jason can make this out despite the haze of tobacco. The woman is a bitter immortal from a past that left little room for error, trust, or compassion. Cold-blooded, but seldom out long enough to let herself be warmed by the sun. She is a perpetual leer that only pauses in expression to take a drag from the pearl-handled cigarette holder.
"Opprobrious little shit." comes the hiss. "You waste my time with your presence."
"With respect," starts Stan--
"Respect? What do you know about respect? You earn respect. You show up on my doorstep, you'd better not be some little two-bit pusher trying to get my favour. You're a frotteurist, a jaywalker, a loiterer. Why, if they caught you tomorrow, which they would do easily, you'd be nothing more than an effortless misdemeanor."
"About as well as I'd hoped." mutters Stan. "'Opprobrious', my aching ass. Wonder which orifice of her word-a-day calendar she pulled that one out of."
"What was that?" She snaps. Jason twitches. Barely looking at him, "Your 'associate' of a delicate disposition, hmm Shaver? If you really are relying on the frangible types, I have to bother why you're in this line of business in the first place." Another twitch.
"Alfred, be a dear, show these little entrepreneurial miscarriages to the door."
"...Like glass." says Jason.
"Like what?"
"Frangible. You think we're fucking glass, don't you. A little cubic zirconia."
Raised eyebrows, or in her case, the reptile analogue. "You esoteric little junkie--"
"Glass, you said. Useless, fragile paperweights, and sure you can break it. But if you try, you don't realize how fucking dangerous it becomes-- a thousand little fragments, invisible little pieces of ugly glass waiting to find their way into your skin."
"You assume you've got glass, little knock-offs from the street-side vendors. Can you tell it from the real thing, though?"
"Experience doesn't lie, little man. I did more to pass the time than just get old."
"Compare it to your collection, and you realize you've got to dust off and polish the old rocks you left in the dust ages ago. The pieces that have grown old without getting value. You're an expert, maybe, but you're going to turn down a new piece without major investment, a shining young addition, without thinking that it could be worth more than you imagined?"
"Fucking idiot." Stan mutters- "You'll forgive me m'am. My associate--"
"Wasn't properly introduced." she purrs, the sound of which is matched by a spreading cut of what might be a smile. "Now that I've seen the stones, I think they might be worth holding on to."
"Mother, you're certain?"
"Don't mind my little Alfred. He's been simpering ever since the pre-emptive coat hanger missed him." No response from the son other than the minutest of pouts. She silences the unutterable complaint with a bat of her eyelashes. "Gentlemen... You were going to tell me about business, if I recall."
Jason shivered again, his body hitting the end of its codeine as hard as her lingering gaze at the-- prized stones. Start of a beautiful friendship, I'm sure.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


"This is a great pleasure, sir. I love your work-- it's inspirational."
"Most people love it." he replies, eyeing the elevator's digital readout with vague impatience. The concierge, a shiny and waddling coconut of a man, touches his beard-
"Just imagine! Me! Talking with the legendary writer. A Nobel laureate in literature! Three Academy Awards in as many nominations!"
"Two." Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five... He eyes the camera, wondering just how likely it is that he's being recorded for the benefit of future generations. He shuts his eyes and sighs inwardly. His hands are set on the luggage he refuses to have carried for him, preventing him from massaging his tired face and eyes.
"Ah, yes, but the third is a sure thing. I wager you'll not need to cross your fingers. The world is abuzz!"
"The premier isn't even for another three months."
"And in our own downstairs cinema, no less! Oh, these are such bright times, and not just for the hotel, not just us. You're starting a revolution in literature, sir- My son, in university, is taking a course based solely on your work!" The concierge shudders, a rupturing boiler of enthusiasm. Well, one can definitely feel the hot air.
...Thirty-three, thirty-four.... Ding. The microwave oven pops open onto the penthouse floor, home for the next three months.
"Allow me, please, sir!" Bubbles the concierge. Feet barely visible under him, he glides across the carpet to the ornate double door, whipping out a white access card and sliding it through the reader. The denial-red turns to a more peridot-green of acceptance, and the locks click open. "Your card is already inside, sir. There is one on the bedside table, and another on the bar counter. Your food has also been delivered---"
"---The, ah, manifest is on the refrigerator." The author maneuvers into the room, side-stepping the babbling hospitality employee. "So glad to have you with us, sir. May I help you with your bags? Get room service perhaps?"
"No." he says, sealing the man outside with a slam of the door.
Through the timber- "Ah. I look forward to assuring your enjoyment of your stay in the next few weeks, sir. A most productive day to you."

First order of business. He walks over to the fridge, ripping off the list. Twelve cases bottled water for rehydration, six cases instant ramen for starches, four bottles complete multivitamins for probable malnutrition, six bottles orange juice for colds, six of vegetable-clam cocktail juice for taste, twelve boxes generic soda crackers, four two-litre jars crunchy peanut butter, six cases graham crackers (no marshmallows or chocolate though), one case frozen fruit punch concentrate, six cases energy drink, twelve pounds unground coffee in a sealed container, two-litre container each hummus and baba ghanouj, twelve packages of pita bread, six loaves of whole-wheat bread (six more in freezer), twenty rising-crust frozen pizzas (ten deluxe, five three-cheese, five pepperoni), six jars green stuffed olives, six jars pickles, four pounds cured salami, seven pounds each havarti and pepperjack cheese...
Second order. He reaches into his knapsack, producing a cordless drill and a small box of screws. Forty-five minutes of work later, and the double-doors now have periodically spaced screws driven in at forty-five degree angles. The door barely jiggles when he pulls the handle. The drill is set aside. Mental note to dig out the charger at some point in the next few days.
Third order. The freezer's ice tray is dumped into the bathtub, which is then filled up with cold water, to be used as needed; the requested case of detergent soap is next to the requested washboard. He only has the one set of clothes anyway, of which only the jacket has been hung up in the closet, to be re-adorned in three months' time. His shaving kit is also emptied into the bathroom: straight-razor, strop, barber scissors, aftershave too noxious to imbibe, and a brush for soapy water. A small case of aerosol freshener has been provided, pine-scented, but he suspects he'll grow oblivious to scent after the first week. Still, he is appreciative of the earlier mental note to have added toothpaste, toothbrush, and moisturizing shampoo to this session's shopping list.
Forth order. His knapsack is opened, producing a small stack of his agent's cards in the event of interruption. An impressively sized bottle is also fished out, white child-proof cap on top of a dull crowd of round orange pills; amphetamines by prescription (somebody's prescription, anyway), to be used in event of loss of clarity, gain of lethargy, melancholia, etcetera. Writing utensils: one heavy Webster's Concise English, a hand-held Wikipedia device, and a Roget's Thesaurus, followed by a small pile of yellow highlighters, red/black pens, seven cases of Silk Cut cigarettes, a bottle of lighter fluid, and a pound's worth of sticky notepaper. The foldable whiteboard is pulled out onto its stand along with its dry-erase offspring those non-permenance has been triple-checked to avoid a repeat of last time. Mental note to go back to chalk, and simply bring a respirator mask.
Good-- no, the phone rings.
"Yes. What?"
"I'm very sorry to--"
"--have to call me, because I left specific instructions not to unless it was my lawyer, my agent, my wife, or the improbable apocalypse."
"Yes, sir, very sorry. But guests were complaining about what sounded like drilling sir, and we aren't renov--"
The phone is slammed down and unplugged. Mental note to slip lawyer's card under the door. As per the memo to his lawyer, agent, and wife, the phone would be available from 8-9 pm and on a first-call-first-serve basis (primarily because the wife tended to get home at 8:30 at the earliest). A fax machine is available in the closet, to be plugged in if absolutely necessary.
He returns to the bag. One copy Through the Looking-Glass (Illustrated), three hundred-fifty doses of (approximately), soaked in LSD beforehand. This he puts in a resealable bag in the freezer, in addition to a rusted electrical shaver, an unread aluminum-foil-covered copy of Dianetics to which a veiny Barbie-plastic dildo has been superglued, and a small signed photograph of Elvis. Thusly, less emphasis is placed on a suspiciously chilled copy of Lewis Carroll's book in the face of a more probable eccentricity/raving insanity. This is on suggestion of his previous mental note to only bring the clothes he wears. It makes things more easily defensible should it come to that. Hmmm, he sniffs. Mental note to include Old Spice in next session.
Good. Great.
Three months to write and nothing else of the outside world, which would be induced to frothing with the teasing churns and whisks of his publicists. The artists, the coffeehouse intellectuals, the bead-wearing psychologists, the greasy programmers, the desperate schoolteachers, the impressionable teens, the armchair readers, the paranoid bloggers and limp-wristed philosophes: all hip-twitching in anticipation of the next climactic product.
Well, to it, then.
The last item in the bag is removed, an oiled and ready electrical typewriter. Ink ribbon enough for a thousand pages, with two litres of black as a standbye refill with a fountain pen. Two thousand sheets of bleached letter-sized, and six yellow pads of lined tear-off paper stand ready for the drawn-out prodding of the abusable/disposable pens.
He sits on the leather sofa, unintimidated, and cracks his knuckles with vague anticipation. Words run to the tip of his tongue, where they dangle pregnantly over the waiting script. Outstretched fingers find their way instinctively to the home row on the keyboard, waiting for the mental gunshot to set them on their way. An entire skyline beams at him through the suite's window, where the sun leans with tired redness on the end of the day. Opalescent light streams through, and his mind is filled with the fire of it.
Only- there are sounds of fire--
He glances up, startled by the sudden klaxon.
"Oh, shitshitshitshit."
At the window, he cranes his neck around, finally spotting a black outrush of smoke from below, maybe ten storeys?
"Fuck! Fuck!"
A rush-charge of the door, shoulder-first, sends him rebounded and flying back. He screams out in pain, a dull shriek of a thing. One arm tears off his shirt, sending buttons flying, and revealing the swollen redness where once there had been an s-curve of left-side clavicle. Even twitching of his off-hand elicits a ripple of pain. Jumping to his feet almost knocks him down again with the dangling of his arm. He stabilizes it by ramming his left hand into his pantline, pulling the arm's slack tolerably taut. Options, options, options, there has to be something--
The drill! "Ah, no, nonono, fuck!"; There are too many screws to attend to. Ah- the hinges, definitely detachable, definitely doable. Biting down on his collar to distract from the disabling shoulder pain, he flips over the drill-bit to the flat-head, and depresses the trigger.
Mental note to dig out the charger. The drill bit sluggishly and impotently whirs a half-radian before coming to a dead stop. Oh.
No. Of course not. Goddammit.
The drill slips from his hand. Smoke begins to creep, in childish grasping tendrils, underneath the door. Only faint sounds of sirens from the streets. It's too late.
Jacket from the closet and sleeved on the good side, he pulls the Lewis Carroll from the refridgerator and tears off a pulpy mass of the porous paper, barely chewing before he swallows. He chases with a bottle of distilled water.
The bathtub's ice water is almost invitingly cold through the shivers. Pitch blackness is all that can be seen in the closed little bathroom. Freezing water burns and saps at his body, leaving only the shoulder even slightly comfortable. Burning pizza, mixed with refrigerator coolant sneaks into his olfaction, and he submerges everything but his lips. Hypothermia, hyperthermia, falling masonry: the end is imaginable. Breathing slows against the efforts of his cold-collapsing lungs as his neurochemical fail-safes start up the end-of-life experience spiked with hallucinogen and sensory deprivation.
Mental note to...
But there is nothing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bawdy afternoon

Another lovely day on the famously named avenue, you could almost make out the sun from the thick London Fog. Two Ladies of Ill-Repute stood at the corner, on Cobblepot, announcing their wares to all the passerbyes.
"Another luvly day in the East end, eh." remarked Janie, straightening her frock.
"Innit." said Ann, less enthused.
"Care for a dance, luv?" called Janie, pursing her lips at a university boy, who blushed and walked on. "Bloody pasty-faced gits." She turned to her friend "Whot's in you, then luv? Y'got a bit of the frown-- Fancy a bit of the lovely stuff, guv? Pah!"
"S'the problem, nothin's in me, no-one's in me. Nobody's buyin'."
Janie looked over at her. "Everybody buys, luv. London was built on love, but it did well in that they made a business of it. This-- s'a patriotic duty, innit."
"Naw. S'a country because we got all them darkie countries overseas. Funny types, they are."
"Ooooh, eh. Should 'ave seen this one chap the other day. Skin black as the ace of spades. Took Marie for a poke down by Carriageside, said 'ee 'ad a pant-stick the size of an arm. Bloody sailors are bad enough in their appetites, doesn't 'elp that they've got a walkingstick tackle."
Ann shivered. "Hell. I'll take the tinies from Whitechapel any day over that. No need for a week's funny-walkin' for a few pence."
"Bawdy and bob-tail for the young gentleman?" called Janie, again with no success.
"Slow day, ladies?"
The pair turned, finding themselves in the company of the wag Keating.
"Bloody 'ell."
"Oh come now. S'lovely an afternoon." said Keating.
"'Lovely' don't make a penny-dripper of an afternoon. All these university dandies, none of them fancy a fine quim like ours?" asked Ann ."Even a Corinthian fellow like yourself don't feel the itch for it."
"Aye, bloody right. Bloody book-types fawning over the latest monkey bits that they forget the fairer sex. Must be all busy tossing off over an ape-thing."
Keating grinned. "Oh come off it. Not only is old Egypt back in 'er Majesty's hands, but lovely Mr. Darwin, rest 'is soul, has given us the truth of our nature. Surely everyone from the House of Lords to the laced muffins of Gropecunt Lane can see the value of it."
"Well, you tell that Mr. D that perhaps 'ee was a monkey's son, but I'll stick by Old Adam."
"You'll see, you'll see. Took a while for the Italian fellow to tell the Earth from the Sun, poor sod." He doffed his hat to the two. "Give my best to the grinders, ladies, and have yourselves a lovely 'after."
"Cheeky sort." muttered Ann.
"Limp, morelike. Thought it was a buy for sure." said Janie.
"Should've said your grand grandfer was a lemur. Would've got his bones up."
"That'll be the day!" laughed Janie. "That'd be the day."

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Ides of March

He boards the bus, fumbling out the change and marking himself as being less than the professional drunken flyer, strictly an amateur.
"Thanks," he manages, hoping that it comes out as cohesively as that. It's about as well received as if it had come out with chunks. The driver catches his eye, then looks up at the sign above the dash window: Do Not Talk to Driver. The next line, in simple printed script: Move behind the white line, go to the back of the bus, and find a seat; Thank-you.
"Conversation's already taken care of for me. How kind." he mutters, pulling the impotently small bag behind him, jerkingly for the slush that has compounded into hard snow around the wheels.
Out of the airport terminal he can only think of how Toronto was as cold as he remembered, the skies as filled and thick as he remembered. Unfortunately, the bus was not as cheap as he remembered, and now his anorexic wallet can be effortlessly slid into a pocket without even a memory as to how it might have had to have been jammed in. Still, the bus is thankfully empty, or at least close enough to empty that one could be thankful for it. He takes a seat, moving the single luggage bag to his lap in what almost approached a co-ordinated convulsion of his extremities. Something inside sounds as though it's leaking. Shit. His head drifts to rest on the window without protestation from his neck, and the bus shudders to a start.
"Toronto." he whispers into the glass, misting it. Missing it? No, not Toronto. Toronto was what it was, but it was easy to admit that it was familiar enough to be a sight for sore eyes. He doesn't admit it, and sinks instead to more pleasant thoughts- of which the only recent one was the unusually sociable customs young woman at the customs desk.
"Shaver. Heh." a wan smile breaks out. "Stanley Shaver."
The coincidence, being minor, is lost in view of other things, perhaps not so well lost. Memory plays back, with young Donnelly and young Shaver sitting side by side in the row of desks--

Scene I, A schoolroom, DONNELLY and SHAVER sit at the back of the class, ignored by the TEACHER, who concentrates on getting her papers marked. DONNELLY has THE BOOK, a Shakespeare play, in one hand. He looks at it with modest interest whereas SHAVER taps boredly on his desk:

DONNELLY: [wistfully] "The evil that men do--"
SHAVER: "Fuckin' awesome Iron Maiden song, that."
[DONNELLY mimes throwing THE BOOK at SHAVER, who ducks]
D: "Julius Caesar, you illiterate tit. Shakespeare!"
[D waves THE BOOK at S] "Didn't you do the readings?"
S: [playfully] "Why bother? Song was way better. Shorter, too."
[both smile]
D: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones."
S: "And he couldn't have written that in plain English? Guy is so overrated."
[D, with playful exasperation, swats again at S with his arm]
S: "Seriously! Could you honestly tell me who the fuck--"
[he pauses, looking over the sea of heads towards the equally pre-occupied TEACHER at the front of the room; S lowers his voice a touch] "--who the fuck besides that miserable old tyrant gives a damn about when the Ides of March is."
D: "It's history, man."
S: "That's not history, not by a long shot."
[He points to THE BOOK] That's not even 'history written by the winners', that's, like, history written for descendants of the winners."
D: "You're just saying that 'cuz you hated Macbeth."
S: "Fuckin' 'fair and foul a day' my ass. That shit never happens! It's all dramatized so that Billy Shakes-his-spear can get his belly rubs from royalty for touting the party line: 'Don't kill the king, that shit upsets nature.'"
[he jabs his finger skywards, with emphasis] "Also? The bad guy who killed the king was actually better at his job than his successor. Total- fucking- bullshit."
[smiling] "Yeah, yeah. It's fiction, I got it. Coming from the guy who watched Gladiator, like, 20 times--"
[smiles also] "Fuck you!"
[TEACHER looks up, S and D pretend to resume reading, snickering imperceptibly]
S: "So what'd Billy say, again?"
D: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones."
S: "...So everyone dies a badguy, huh."
D: "Well, they're only remembered for it, anyways. It's more like you don't die well, even if you had it all going in life."
S: "...Everybody dies a badguy."
D: "Not really."
S: "I like my version better."
D: "So you leave people around you to remember the good stuff."
S: "Nuh-uh. Like you said. Personal evil's, like, immortal."
[D shrugs]
S: "Must be why even the terrible people get remembered. People don't think of Richard the Lionheart, they think of Genghis Khan."
D: "Different wars."
S: "But the same thing! Do you remember that Purvis FBI agent guy, or John Dillinger?"
D: "Dillinger, but--"
S: "Churchill or Hitler?"
D: "Bad guys, sure, but you don't just disappear if you're a good guy."
[sarcastically] "Because 'Julius Caesar' is all about Octavian in the later acts, right?"
[S looks smug]
D: "I thought you said you didn't read the fucking play!"
S: "Nah, I just listened to the song."
[D and S laugh, which is cut short when TEACHER looks up again]
S: "Still- the point stands. The evil that men do is what makes them immortal."
[shaking his head, muttering] "Metaphors. Just metaphors."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dixie Fried

Midday sun high up in the sky, bringing down the hammer and pulling up the mercury like nobody's business. Sonny sat in the tolerable level of protection offered by the shady porch, his feet up on the bannister. Christ, the swamps had run dry enough to fill the air around him- he reckoned he could fill a glass with the stuff just by waiving it around. He had a fine and steady trickle of sweat working its way down either side of his body, a shower whose perfume appealed only to those receptive to its wiles.
"Ain't that the way it is," he said, to nobody in particular. Jeff looked up at him from the floorboards. Poor dog was so baked by the heat that he barely had the will to pant, his tongue hanging out limply in a vain attempt to look for cool relief. Sonny reached down to tussle the golden retriever's head, but all Jeff could do was look pleadingly up: a hose, please, a hose full of spring water, a sprinkler full of things to bite- anything.
"Sorry, bud, it ain't gonna happen. Just you and me out here sweatin' bullets. Mutt and Jeff, huh?"
Jeff lowered his eyes to the horizon, oblivious to the classics of comic literature. Sonny sighed in resignation. There just wasn't any pleasing some people, dogs especially. "Ah, well. That's a good boy, now." An obligatory pet was followed by canine murmurs of appreciation, the energy to do much else clearly evaporated. His tongue had retreated back into his jaw, probably to prevent the loss of his doggy fluids to the pool of air outside him.
The tall glass of iced tea, richly devoid of sweetness, sat next to him, sweating as much as the man himself. Sonny wiped his brow and helped himself to a gulp of the stuff, savouring the lemonade tinge. The stuff was heading to the point where it'd be warm as the baked earth, but he gagged it down. Looking over at Jeff's water dish, he couldn't help but think of how much like a hottub it would be like. Metal dishes in the heat- bad idea.
A hottub, shit, that's what he needed. Well, that and a better water line. You wanted a shower, you'd best not be doing the dishes at the same time. If you went and flushed, you might be waterin' the lawn for another couple of days-- not that there was much lawn to water. Baked dirt, baked and fried.
A cascade of lavender, lingonberries, and tons of other essences Sonny would've had to have gotten a Botany degree to appreciate tumbled out the screen door, and a full flow of chestnut hair followed it. At its peak, the high and dry Mayella, brown-eyed and blow-dried.
"Shower's free." she said. He raised his glass in recognition.
The screen door screeched open on its hinges at the slightest touch, but everyone was too used to it to wince. Mayella stepped out onto the porch, Lady Godiva-style. Sonny's eyebrows weren't the only things raised.
"Last I checked, we had neighbours, darlin'."
Her lips drew slowly to either side of her face, not a crease in sight, half-lidded eyes tip-toeing down his sleeveless undershirt to the noticeable outwards warp in his jeans, bringing to mind cringe(and moan?)-worthy jokes about water damage and the effects of a moist environment. She swung one leg over him bringing her to a sitting position on his lap. Wearing panties as she was, there was little else on her, though usually in this position, he would have been. She leaned in, oppressing with hot breath and lips that always looked like they'd been just-licked (at least, that would be the politest way to describe them).
"Last I checked, I just told you the shower was ready. You're going to have to take off them clothes, else I might have to do it for you."
Of course she would have to.
Of course she did, but at least she had the decency to wait for the bedroom.
He watched from the head of the bed, clenched in a cold sweat as she put herself at his feet, still clinging to the bedpost, gliding up and down it with teasing slowness. He watched helplessly as she arched, back to him, bringing her hips toward him, almost in grasping distance of his hungry touch. Pulling himself up from a lying position did too little for control. Ache refused to sweat itself from his body as he watched her, unable to taste.
What would always be an eternity before she turned to face him, hands running toyingly up and down her stomach, telling him what wasn't his. She grabbed his legs, inching her way upwards, telling him what was hers.
Not that she wasn't right, of course.
"I think-" she said, her hand moving back to thumb down the black linen. "I'd like to do bad things to you." The full-body equivalent of a knee-jerk hit him. "You ain't going to get cleaner by any measure." He finally reached for her, her smooth and dry coolness turning to spreading warmth. She pulled him in, and he pulled back. Shared canine-bearing grins, hers supported by a firm grip on his ass. She knocked her head back, and flexed her hips.
"Mmmhh. Nothin' better for a hot day."She said, breath imperceptibly quickening. She planted her hand on his chest, as much to support her as push him down into the mattress, push her into him.
"'Cept, maybe a shower. Jesus." he gasped, not unkindly.
"So I lied. Shower ain't free." She turned down to him, brushing his cheeks with hers. "Not that the price is too dear, of course."
Ain't that the way it is, he thought.