lost ironies

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Month: March, 2015

the physicist

There is no heartbeat like this one, of seventy in a minute, hung like a Rembrandt on a wall inside of me. In a 4am diner telephone booth. My rattling hands, unable to slot the nickel or dial the running number – ALpine-5690. But finally, and with mercy, it’s done.

“Hello?” Her voice. “Hello?”

It is the role of the fugitive, in narrative and in life, to hesitate at this moment. To avoid giving anyone a hold on the confusion. I’m living parallel to this rule. I quietly focus on the payphone coin slots, without knowing why.

“Is this you, David?” Felicity says. There is caution and upset in her voice.

Another rule is that people are always waiting for the fugitive to call, a premise so indisputable as to be accepted as true without controversy.

“Yes,” I say.

“Where are you?”

“The city.”

“Where, though?”

“That’s not why I called.”

“Why then? Everybody is so worried.”

I pause. Where am I? I mustn’t say. Maybe somewhere downtown cops huddle round a speaker on a metal table in a dim room, listening. At the telephone company, men in shop coats and graveyard shift operators examine switches and look for lights on wall sized circuit boards, attempting to trace my call.

“So, do you know what has happened?” I ask.

Now Felicity pauses. There are clicking sounds on the line. Distant nearly invisible voices overlapping our call. Men talking about deliveries, about morning. One laughs. Do they hear us?

“Have they gotten to you yet?” I say.

“Yes.”

“What did you tell them?”

“What could I tell them?” she says. “I don’t know what anybody’s talking about.”

“The papers.”

“Papers?”

Pause.

“Yes,” I say. “The goddamn papers I took from the Company lab. My papers. I’ve been working on them for a year. I had to smuggle them out. The information will change things — look, I need money.”

“I have none. You know it.”

“Your mother, then.”

“No.”

“Then what am I supposed to do?”

“Go to them. Apologise. You’re valuable, what you know. They’ll forgive you.”

“I can’t. They’ll burn everything. They probably already have. Except what I have with me now.”

“Then live rough. There’s no in-between.”

“What?”

There’s a blunt Bakelite rumble in the cradle of the telephone, and then a click. Felicity has rung off.

I sit down at the lunch counter. The coffee is night coffee. It keeps the nocturnal planet alive. Thick, black and acid. It burns like a torch going down, and rages in my empty belly. Through the broad window, I can see the early light begin to spill onto the street. Like a tide. The papers.

I light a cigarette. Coffee’s a nickel. Smokes, twenty cents. I take the change from my pocket, spill it onto the countertop and count. The waitress watches out of the corner of her eye.

The theorems and algorithms. No one on the outside believes in their importance, or they all have a gun to their heads.

Two dollars and seventy-eight cents.  Live rough. That’s all there is.

“You got enough for some breakfast there, mister,” the waitress says. “You look hungry. Why not have some ham and eggs?”

She looks hungry, too. Her pink uniform’s shabby, worn on too many late shifts. Her hair, slightly undone.

“Sure,” I say. “Why not.”

She writes my order down fast, like it’s the lunch rush, and hands it to the cook through a square hole in the wall. The cook studies it and walks away. She hasn’t asked how I want my eggs.

“You know what I figure?” she says, coming back to the counter.

“What?” I say.

“I figure a fella deserves a break, now and then.”

“Do you?”

“Sure,” she says. “It’s not like you’re a bad guy. The numbers just aren’t on your side.”

“Numbers? What are you talking about?”

“We get plenty of bad guys in this joint,” she says. “Mob thugs. Government people with guns under their jackets. Even some geniuses like you, with slide rules and a half dozen different pencils in their shirt pockets. ‘Cept them geniuses aren’t on the square, like you. They all work on the same side, and cash in. Then they expect a nobody like me to finger decent people for ‘em, you know?”

“No,” I say, pushing my empty coffee cup forward. “Fill me up.”

“Sure,” she pours.

“Take the cook for example,” she says. “Right now he’s callin’ some of them bad boys. The ones from the government with the guns. They’ll be here in a minute, and they’ll slide into that booth over there and order coffee and toast. Like they was just moseying on by, and decided on some breakfast in this here glamorous all night establishment. But they’ll be here for you. I don’t get how fellas like you always end up here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Smart fellas, I mean,” she says. “Who discover the secret of the universe, or somethin’. Or maybe little green men on Jupiter. Then they gotta run ‘cause they ain’t supposed to know it. And the bad guys come after ‘em, and find ‘em here. Every time, sittin’ where you are now. Different faces, but in that exact same stool. With exactly two dollars and seventy-eight cents in their pocket, worrying ’bout the price of a deck of smokes. You don’t know it yet, but that’s what’s happenin’. Even that telephone call you made was just like every other telephone call.”

Now the door opens and two men in trench coats walk in and take a booth.

“See?”

“What the hell’s going on?” I say.

“You oughta know. You’re the physicist, monkeying round with space and time. You oughta know how a guy can get trapped in a twister and end up in the wrong place every time.”

She’s right, I do. It’s just theory, though. A game of equations.

“How do you know I’m a physicist?”

She places the ham and eggs in front of me.

“Eat ‘em up,” she says. “It’s on the house, always is. It ain’t much of a last meal. But then this ain’t much of a diner, neither. We got bugs, and the cook don’t wash his hands.”

From behind me, I hear one of the men in the booth say, “Two coffee and toast, Millie.”

Millie writes down the order, passes it to the cook and pours the coffee.

My eggs are scrambled. Just the way I like them.

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the neon purple SOS

The hotel’s ancient neon sign still shines through my window every night, even with the venetian blinds closed. During the day it’s like any other sign, but after dark it blinks out an SOS dispatch in purple Morse code. · · · – – – · · ·, · · · – – – · · · , · · · – – – · · · . All night, every night. But no one responds to the plea. If this old hotel were a ship at sea, it would sink with all aboard. Without a trace. Without ever being remembered.

I told Vladislav about this once, before everything happened, mostly to fill up some of our hour together. He increased my Thorazine. I always left the pills in their bottles at the Altar of Our Lady, in the cathedral down the street. She accepted them as an offering. They were never there the next day.

A new tenant moved into the hotel, just before the shit hit the fan. He sang a cappella at night. Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer. Until about 4am every morning. With all the right breaks in all the right places. He had amazing timing. Kind of like Sinatra, after he divorced Ava Gardner. I could hear him through the air vent over my bed. It was like having a Vegas floorshow piped in — with the old neon sign going SOS SOS SOS, ad infinitum. So, who the fuck had time to sleep?

At one of my last appointments with Vladislav, he suggested that perhaps the new tenant wasn’t real, and asked if I’d been taking my meds. He used to get a little thrill out of suggesting the things I enjoyed in life weren’t real. Like all of the beautiful red and orange leaves in autumn, that blanketed the floor of my room, and crunched under my feet when I got up in the night to go to the can.

I smiled and lied about the medication, of course. And purposely failed to mention that the Virgin Mary was taking the pills now, instead of me. And that her beatific smile seemed to imply that they were working better for her than they had for me.

He shifted belligerently in his chair, and took iniquitous notes. But we weren’t friends, or anything.

In fact, by then, Vlad had become a problem. He only wanted to see me biweekly, and said I could email him if I had an issue. Except he never returned my emails. Even when I emailed him that I was surrounded by the Greys, and they were eating out of my refrigerator. The little alien fuckers would scare the hell out of me. Standing round my bed, staring at me with their big orbicular eyes, eating my KFC leftovers, throwing the bones onto the floor. Would they do that on their own planet? I don’t think so.

Anyway, I’d been planning something special for ol’ Vladislav. Something based on an idea hatched out of one of those crushing, self-obliterating darknesses I enjoy so much. The ones that permeate my inner-metaphysical assemblages at the deepest possible level, and suck every molecular spec of me down the kitchen drain. Then spit me back up in a seweratic bloom, renewed and radiant like the still-glowing hands of a long dead thrift store alarm clock.

It always surprised me and boosted my mood, the creativity that bled out of my blackest despondencies. It was like getting my bonus Air Miles in the mail on a gloomy day.

My depression inspired idea was a mind control transmitter. It turned out all I needed was a PC, an internet connection and a proper set of headphones. Not earbuds, mind you. But a full-on headset, like the hippies used to use. Skullcandy’s okay, but Bose is better.

This was the trick:

  1. Plug the headset jack into audio-in, instead of audio-out.
  2. When this is done place the headset on your head, over your ears.
  3. Twist the headset ninety degrees to the right, so that the left earpiece is on your forehead.
  4. Now you had a direct line, through the left earpiece, from your prefrontal cortex into the CPU. And you could stream your thought controlling messages into Gmail.

It took up a lot of bandwidth. But when I pressed send, my thought control messages would go out over the driftnet they called the worldwide web, and they were delivered to the addressee. When the recipient opened the email, his or her brain would lock onto the message, and they would do whatever I demanded.

I used Google Drive’s 10GB attachment size limit to avoid Gmail’s meager 25MB limit. A thought control message could be pretty huge. There was a lot of code involved. Maybe that would have changed once it caught on. Mothers could have used it to sneakily coax their children to call, and governments to convince the people that critical thought was terrorism.

The first thought control message I sent was to the Mayor, and it took him less than a week to fix the sidewalk out front. It had been cracked and bumpy before, and old people had been tripping and falling all over the place. By lunchtime, most days, it looked like a geriatric killing field, all of the oldsters fallen and unable to get up. But after my mind control message made it to the Mayor, and the sidewalk was repaired, they just floated by with their walkers, like wheeled robots blissified in their new found movability.

My point is that this was a proven technology, baby. I didn’t hold any patents or copyright on it, though. It was like shareware. You could have tried it at home. I didn’t care.

After the Mayor, it was Vlad’s turn. I didn’t have any demands like fix my sidewalk for him. He probably couldn’t even use a screwdriver. I just wanted to fuck him up a bit, introduce the cardigan-wearing comb-over mother fucker to an existent reality, separate from the DSM 5 and Land’s End deck shoes.

And so, by now you’ve probably figured out that Vlad was a psychiatrist. He wanted me to call him Vladislav, instead of Dr Pulin, because he thought being on a first name basis gave him some perversely deserved form of street cred. But it just made him seem like Sally Field in The Flying Nun. And like I’ve said, he liked to tie most of my lived experiences to my presumed psychosis. He even refused to acknowledge the presence of the Greys, with their big buggy eyes and Domino’s Pizza, whenever they’d come along with me to an appointment.

His office was on the twelfth floor of an old downtown art deco number, with a stone balcony above the busy street. The balcony was festooned with flowering potted plants, vines and shrubs. And he had a small Ethiopian man named Bruck come in once a week to take care of them. Vladislav didn’t really like Bruck though, and Bruck thought Vlad was an asshole.

Sometimes Bruck offered insights into what he overheard from patients on the balcony. Insights that seemed far more informed than Vladislav’s. Vlad really resented this. I watched it happen in the waiting room a few times, as Vlad leaned forward, breathing heavily over the receptionist, pretending to read a file on the counter. Bruck would say something clinically astute, and Vlad would sneer and send him back out onto the balcony with his pruning shears.

“That little African bastard’s really pushing my buttons,” he’d whisper into the receptionist’s ear, with his garlicky lunchtime escargot breath. “Can we do anything to revoke his citizenship?”

The receptionist would shrug and wheel away on her desk chair.

In the summer, I’d sit out on the balcony for sessions with Vlad. This would have been almost enjoyable if he wasn’t such a dick, smoking his pipe, nodding needlessly, raising his eyebrows and squinting critically, displaying mock empathy at what might have been the right moment, but never was. It was like a well-rehearsed alienist pantomime, probably perfected in his intern years, surrounded by slobbering imbecilic psych ward inmates in a hospital just off of skid row. And it had the adrenaline stink of his own internalised horror. But I never said anything; sometimes the patient must accommodate the physician.

Sometimes he’d say shit like, “Let me help you take joy in choosing life.” Like he wasn’t the single most suicidal ideation inducing factor in my life.

I would have split and run if the visits weren’t court ordered. Hell, if the visits weren’t court ordered, I’d have been drinking beer and snorting amyl nitrite under a bridge somewhere.

But getting back to mind control via the doubtable Windows operating system.

I’d bought a pair of Bose SoundTrue on-ear headphones the day before it all went to hell. I believed they’d work better than the vintage Sears model I’d been using, with its adapter plug and fraying cord. Besides, I probably looked like a total loser with a pair of headphones from the eighties, turned ninety degrees on my head. The eighties wasn’t a bad decade, but they had different ideas about what was compact and streamlined back then. As soon as I tried on the Bose set in the store, gave them a quick turn so the left earpiece was on my forehead, and asked to see myself in a mirror, I knew that I was making the right choice.

That night I came home, sat in the blinking neon purple SOS light and listened to the Vegas floorshow guy singing through the air vent. And I composed my mind control message to Dr Vladislav Pulin, as I did.

I’d brought home a couple of six packs and started to guzzle. This was going to be great.

I really wanted to set the shithead up for some grief, and I’d spoken to Bruck earlier in the week to tell him what to watch for, that there would be a chance to peg Vlad with a harassment complaint that might really pay off.

“Do you believe you can control world events, Tommy?” Bruck asked me.

“No,” I said. Okay, I sort of lied.

“Well that’s fine, then.”

After I explained my plan to him, he put his hand on mine and told me that he understood that realities could differ greatly, but that that didn’t deny the importance of one’s personal perception. Then he said that I should proceed with my plan, as long as no one got hurt.

It was absolutely the right thing to say, in so many ways. And it came out of the mouth of an Ethiopian grader. Ain’t that something?

The as long as no one got hurt part really didn’t sink in, though. That might have been the beginning of how it all went so wrong. And in hindsight, I might have worded things differently. Too late now.

The message sort of went like this:

Hi Vlad, (regular email salutation protocols apply to thought control messaging) Why don’t you get back at the little bastard, Bruck, and push his button? Find it and push it, Vlad. Push the button that will ruin, even eliminate, your greatest enemy. Go ahead, Vlad, push the button that will change the world and put you in charge. You know you want to.

By then I’d gotten through the first six beer. I was a little bit tipsy, I’ll admit. I forgot all about the Google ezAutoCorrect extension that lived on my computer, in an alternative reality all its own. It ended up drastically changing the spelling of key words in my message. In the address field, Vladislav.Pulin@gmail.com became Vladmir.Putin@gmail.com. And in the text field, Bruck was changed to Barack.

I take no solace in knowing that I’m not the first drunken fool to press send, when he should have held off until the morning after.

And who the hell knew Vladimir Putin had a Gmail account?

The mind control email message arrived on Putin’s PC in the afternoon, and The Button was pushed shortly after.

So, now the neon purple SOS has a new kind of importance. Worldwide electrical grids are failing, along with mass communications. A massive electromagnetic pulse wiped every hard drive and flash drive on the planet clean in a nuclear second. The Vegas floorshow guy still sings, but his songs seem a little more melancholy, and he’s developed a persistent cough that messes up his timing. The good news is that the Greys haven’t returned. I guess it’s because KFC and Domino’s don’t deliver anymore.

a modern opera

hey Puccini
in the parking lot
in the Smart Car with your metronome
write me an opera for Wayne Newton
post-Romantic and verismo

put Danke Schoen in the aria
and make the tenor weep
blue as mouldy cold cuts
in a two-bit Vegas buffet

because an idol should shed a tear
as he walks onto the stage
smoothing his Icarus lapels
before the spotlights of Crete

Hollywood

Fiduciary’s a word Producers like to throw around as much as lawyers. But for Producers, it’s all about the way it sounds coming out of an actor’s mouth. In a scene, the lawyer takes the private dick aside and says something like, You must remember the fiduciary nature of your relationship with the client. That’s when the private dick goes kind of slack jawed and stares at the coatrack, and the director shouts, Cut—Print it!

My point, I guess, is that it’s a cliché. But just like the private dick, it’s a cliché we tolerate because it makes the movie going public comfortable. There’s a lot of noise at writing school about avoiding clichés, but the racket quiets down once a writer starts working for dough. Because that’s when a guy comes to realise that thematic arcs and subliminal mysticism don’t pay the light bill. It’s the cringe-worthy little chestnuts that do.

I put the Producer’s memo endorsing the word fiduciary on the spike, and looked out the window. It was the first day of spring, all chickadees and daffodils. Another goddam cliché. A guy couldn’t turn round without stepping on one.

The script I was finishing was a dog. Just what they’d asked for. It would run right after the newsreel on double feature night, and be forgotten by intermission. I could probably deliver it by Tuesday, ahead of schedule. Then I could binge drink for a week and have the keys on my typewriter oiled and rotated.

There was just one more small but necessary element to the screenplay that was missing. The Noble Prostitute, Gladys, she needed her soliloquy. Something she could say before they took her away, for shooting the crumb who murdered the bum she wanted to marry. It would come in the third act, and need a lot of street level profundity. Because working girls never get a break. That’s what sells popcorn, baby. That’s screenwriting 101.

I put fresh paper into the Olivetti, and started to type. I was going to nail it. It got this way sometimes, when things were wrapping up. It was when I did my worst work. And the Studio boys loved every word of it—

FADE IN:
A ROOMFUL OF COPS. THERE’S A DEAD MAN ON THE FLOOR. A woman stands in the centre of it, hands cuffed behind her back. It’s 8 a.m. and she’s wearing a cheap evening dress with a wilting corsage. She’s got on her bravest face. She knows it’s over for her. And maybe she likes it that way. She talks to a detective.

GLADYS

(Mock pride and courage in her voice.) Sure, I loved him. And it wasn’t just infatuation, neither. Nah, it was real love. The kind that sticks to a girl like bug splat on a windshield. The kind of love that gets into her shoe on a rainy day and rubs up against her toe, and causes open sores that get all full of pus that makes squishy sounds when she walks around. 

That’s the kinda love I’m talking about. The kind a dame should be able to take to the bank, but she can’t because they don’t take love at the bank. You take love to the bank and the guard’ll wrestle you to the ground and kick you in the ribs. Not because he’s bad. But because he can’t get another job. Because his parents could only afford to send his older sister to barber college. And that’s the way the world is. A girl gets all covered in bug guts, her shoes make squishy noises and her ribs get kicked in by a bank guard named Chico. 

And sure, love’s for chumps. But so’s brushing your teeth with a screwdriver. And most people don’t do that. Not unless they’re screwy, or somethin’. But they all fall in love. Like Cupid’s holdin’ a gun to their heads. Like they can’t just say no, love ain’t for me. I’d rather eat a kitten on toast. 

Golly, do these handcuffs have to be so tight? It’s not like I’m gettin’ paid for this.

Yeah, I loved him. But he didn’t understand our fiduciary relationship. I guess that’s why he got all sloppy over me. And that was wrong from the start. Because a girl like me’s trouble with a capital “T”. Yeah, I know it. I see it in my face when I look in the mirror at night, when I’ve got one of them blind zits that kinda hurt, but you can’t pop ‘em, but you try, and they get all swollen and red, and it ends up looking like you gotta apple stapled to your forehead. 

So now I’m gonna get the chair. Sure, I know it. It’s been comin’ a long time. What chance has a dame like me got, anyway? Me with my squishy shoes and busted ribs. And the way guys forget to be fiduciary round me. Hell, I was born to fry in the chair. Yeah, put that on my tombstone, BORN TO FRY. That’ll give ‘em something to think about, you bet. 

Well, I guess we gotta go now. It’s prison chow and a cellmate named Butch for me from now on. I won’t squawk. I’ll go willingly. Because I’m little people. And little people can take it on the chin, and laugh about it. HA! Sure, I shot the nincompoop. And I’d do it again. Because learning from your mistakes is for squares. And my mother never raised no squares. 

THE END

And my mother never raised no squares. Pure gold. Money in the bank.

sidewalks

sidewalks are wordless people
cigarettes and Lucifer
how is it that you grew from there?
out of the footprints of dogs and the
twig written graffiti
of hunkered down boys

your fingers came first
wrists and elbows
then the muscle and gut
with your knuckles busted
in the gutter with the weeds
where the whitewall roamed
and the hubcap reined
and the shoes of shotgun women
stepped forth from automobiles

where a nickel cup of coffee
once was king
and pockets were for the dollar
a poet never has

because sidewalks are wordless people
composing their lines
that are witnessed by no one
that are girders and beams

body night

a little spin on the Spoon River Anthology -- apologies to Edgar Lee Masters

Chase Henry

IN life I was the town drunkard;
When I died the priest denied me burial
In holy ground.
The which redounded to my good fortune.
For the Protestants bought this lot,
And buried my body here,
Close to the grave of the banker Nicholas,
And of his wife Priscilla.
Take note, ye prudent and pious souls,
Of the cross–currents in life
Which bring honor to the dead, who lived in shame

Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology

*   *   *   *   *

1948

I slid a ten dollar bill sideways across the bar, under my index finger, and let it stop next to Wexler’s sweating glass of beer.

“What’s that for?” he said.

“Chase Henry. I thought you might know something.”

“For a saw buck? I don’t know fuck all about Chase Henry.”

“The ten just demonstrates my willingness to pay,” I said. “There’s more where it came from, if you have anything to say that’s worth a damn.”

“He’s dead,” Wexler said, and took the cash.

“I know.”

I knew I was looking for a stiff. But I was doing a favour for a desperate customer. Who wasn’t really a customer, because she didn’t have a dime. It was the sort of thing that suckers do. I placed another ten on the bar.

Spitz the bartender watched. It was starting to look like a crooked exchange. Stolen goods maybe. He knew me better, but he still didn’t want it in his bar.

“Street says he’s been dead for twenty-four hours,” I said. “His girlfriend wants the body. What do you have on that?”

“Check the morgue.”

Wexler was fat, slow and half shit face. I withdrew the bill this time, before his salami fingers could take it.

“All right,” I said, and put the ten under my empty glass. I made sure Spitz saw it, so he knew it belonged to him. Then I got off the stool.

“Chase is dead because he messed with Morley and Nicholas,” Wexler said. “That’s why even if I knew something, I wouldn’t say. He’s probably in the trunk of some junker under a bridge by now.”

“Is he?”

“I’m just speculating.”

“What bridge would you speculate?”

“Fuck off.”

It was June, 1 a.m. and warm. I took to the sidewalk. I didn’t mind walking the strip. There was a lot to learn there. And the neon made it kind of like Christmas.

Wexler was right. Chase Henry always messed with the wrong people. He was an able-bodied drunk, and he spent his sober hours looking for the cash to get bombed again. He could have got a job, shoplifted or boosted cars. But he thought he was too good for any of that. So, he played the brink, with some grisly characters. He cheated at horses and bet heavy on numbers. And he made like he was friends with Jake Morley – The Pope of Ghetto Road.

If I had a handle like Pope of Ghetto Road, I’d join the circus. But Jake Morley stayed close to home, and dealt heroin and cocaine. He had his hand-to-hands haunting the bus station and the YMCA with entry level bags of shit, getting the kids and the yokels just in from Donkeytown hot, hooked and ready to go.

Chase Henry had recently borrowed heavily from a shark name Victor Nicholas, and bought a quantity of junk from The Pope. He thought it’d be a sensible way to sustain his drinking habit for a while. Maybe he’d even go citywide if it grew lucrative. But what Chase Henry never considered was that The Pope of Ghetto Road would sell anyone a ton of shit. But he’d ice them if they ever tried selling it in his city.

It was a conundrum in answer to a question, like so many things street side. Where there were just bad guys and everybody else, and a switchblade snapped faster than a guy could panic.

Chase’s girlfriend was a skirt named Freda Taps. She lived on the street Jake Morley was named after. 10 Ghetto Road, at the Luxton Hotel. She’d always been a dope for Chase Henry. But then she was a borderline lush, herself. She tricked on the strip for a pimp named Oswald. The two of them were there tonight, talking when I showed up.

“You’re getting too fat for this,” Oswald told Freda. “Stick to the booze and lay off the Mulligan stew.”

He wasn’t what you’d expect for a pimp. Just a crewcut, tee-shirt and a pair of faded dungarees. But he liked to slap a dame around, and his girls were either money makers or dead.

“Some fellas like a girl who’s a little plump,” Freda said.

“Then where’s the dough?”

“It’s been slow.”

“It’s a dry night in June,” Oswald sneered, putting up a fist and pushing her against the wall. “Payday was yesterday. The Navy’s in town. Don’t give me slow.”

Freda dug around in her purse and pulled out a pitiful wad of bills. She handed it over.

“I’ll do better,” she said.

“I’ve heard that from every dizzy under achiever I ever managed. Don’t disappoint me.”

“Managed?” I said, coming up from behind. “You couldn’t manage to fall down the stairs.”

Oswald turned round, fast. I saw his hand go for his back pocket, where he kept his balisong knife. Then he realised it was me, and relented.

“What do you want, Clyde?” he said.

“Oh Billy,” Freda said. “How nice of you to happen by.” She was mighty glad to see me.

“People say you’re looking for Chase Henry,” Oswald said. “I hear there ain’t nothin’ left to find.”

“We know,” Freda said, looking down at her scuffed pumps. “But a fella deserves a decent send off.” She was fixing to cry, and said, “He paid the price for being a fool. He don’t deserve to end up in a shallow grave. A girl sure gets sick of being pushed around in this burg.”

“Yeah,” said Oswald. “And I hear it was you who put this dick on the trail. Maybe that’s why you ain’t got no dough tonight. ‘Cause you’re paying this bastard to find a dead body.”

“I’m working gratis,” I said. “And since I’m here, what do you know about it?”

“Nothing,” Oswald said. But he suddenly had the look of a pigeon. He knew something.

“I don’t wanna push a guy around, Oswald,” I said. “Especially on his own turf, but….”

“The Pope knows you’re nosin’ round,” he said. “There ain’t nothing you can do to me that he can’t, and in spades.”

“What about Nicholas,” I said. “Was he a player in this?”

Oswald went dumb. I could have slapped him, pushed him through a plate glass window. But why draw attention?

“You and me are gonna meet exclusively one night, Oswald,” I said. “It’s been coming for a while. But for tonight you can go home and fondle whatever little boy you got locked up in your closet.”

He remained mute. A good move on his part, in a lot of ways.

I’d been legging it most of the night, and realised that sources on the sidewalk and in the rummy joints weren’t going to cough. What Freda wanted really wouldn’t be such a burden to anyone actually involved. So, I caught a cab.

“25 Ghetto Road,” I told the driver.

“This time of night, mister?”

“You wanna live forever?”

“Nah, just to the end of my shift.”

He was looking at me in the rear view mirror. I pulled my coat open a bit so he could see the .45 in my holster.

“I’ll make sure you get out alive,” I said.

“Sure you will,” he said, pulling the arm down on the meter. He didn’t sound convinced.

There was nothing to set Ghetto Road apart from any other derelict part of the city, at 3am. To the eye, that is. It was more the feeling of menace, and potentiality. There were faces in the shadows here and there. And sometime the sound of a body being dragged down an alley, a stiffs heels bouncing off the cobblestones. And The Pope had his gorillas on lookout, of course.

But I was a familiar face. And no one in the neighbourhood wanted me dead, for the moment.

The driver pulled up to 25. It was an abandoned storefront. The Pope’s apartment was on the second floor. I tipped big and got out. He sped away.

At the door there was a big goon name Willard Brass. He was reading True Detective.

“Willard,” I said, greeting him.

“Billy Clyde,” he said, sort of bored, without looking up from his magazine. “I figured you’d show up here tonight. So did the boss. He’s upstairs.”

“Swell.” I went for the door.

“Hang on, Clyde,” Willard said. “Gimme the gat.” He held out his hand.

“But Willy,” I said. “It’s like a part of me.”

“Don’t call me Willy.”

This was the routine. Willard asked for my heat. I hesitated, and called him what his mother called him. He got indignant, and then I handed it over.

“Oil it and check the slide,” I said, putting my .45 in his big sweaty paw.

“Hang it out to dry, shamus.”

And that was it. I was now in one of the most undesirable addresses in town. I walked up the stairs, and was frisked by another goon named Buster Milk at the top. Then I went into The Pope’s apartment.

It was like any other apartment in town. Not where you’d expect a crime boss to live. There were even doilies on the furniture. The Pope’s girl took care of that. She was a skinny cokehead with a nervous itch, named Delilah.

The Pope was sitting in the kitchen, counting money at the breakfast table. He greeted me warmly. The wintry Victor Nicholas was sitting across from him.

“Billy, my boy,” The Pope said. Have a seat. Help me count todays take.

I sat.

“I hear you’re looking for what’s left of that low life, Chase Henry,” The Pope said. “I guess it’s body night.”

“Yeah.”

“And you figure I’m the bum that waxed him?

“Yeah.”

“Ha!” The Pope put down a stack of tens and slapped his knee. “Yeah yeah.  See, Victor. This is why I like this guy. Why he’s the only private dick in town I’d let up here. He never messes around with words. Straight shooter all the way. Aren’t you, Billy Boy.”

“I guess.”

“Ha! There he goes again.”

“What makes you think we know about Chase Henry?” Victor Nicholas said. Then he bent over a marble slab on the table, and snorted a long line of white powder.

“Because he owed you. He didn’t pay his debt.”

“It wasn’t absolutely like that,” said The Pope. “We wanted the dope back, too.” He had another good laugh. Victor Nicholas smiled weakly, but his pencil mustache didn’t budge. “You see, it’s all business, Billy. Our man Victor, here, he’s the banker. He supplies the loan. Then I supply the inventory.”

“And then you don’t let a guy sell it to pay you back,” I said.

“This city, and all its junkies, belong to me,” said The Pope.

“Murder can’t be proved without a body,” said Nicholas. “Why should we hand it over?”

“I’m no rat, you know it. Neither’s Freda. She just wants to give him a proper burial.”

“Uh-uh,” said The Pope, holding forth his index finger. “He was a deadbeat and a rotten drunk. Now he’s a dead deadbeat.” He slapped his knee again. “Dead deadbeat, get it? Ha ha! And deadbeats don’t get no proper burial. He stays where he is. Wanna beer, a little coke maybe?”

“No.”

“Then we got nothin’ else to say to one another,” said Victor Nicholas.

“Looks that way,” I said, and got up to leave.

Then there was the sound of commotion at the bottom of the stairs, and we heard the shouts of Freda Taps.

“Let me up, Willard, you dumb mug.”

“No way, honey. The Pope don’t wanna see you.”

“Let me up there, you son of a bitch.”

The Pope went to the door and yelled down, “Let her up.”

“Should I frisk her?” Willard said. “I ain’t never frisked a broad before.”

“Just let her up,” said The Pope. “She ain’t gonna hurt no one.”

The Pope grabbed a bottle of whiskey and a glass from a cupboard, and sat back down. He was grinning when Freda walked into the kitchen.

“Have a seat, toots,” he said to her, pouring. “I got some whiskey here, for you.”

Freda hesitated and licked her lips.

“No,” she said, and pulled a revolver from her purse.

“Ha!” The Pope laughed once more. “We should’ve frisked her, after all.”

“At least checked her bag,” I said. “Now you’ve got to ice her, too. The bodies are stacking up.”

Freda looked at me nervously when I said this.

“I gotta gun,” she said, nervously backing into a corner. “I’m not the one getting iced tonight.”

Willard and Buster came into the kitchen. “Wadda we do, boss?”

“Nothin’,” said Nicholas. “For the moment.”

“C’mon, Freda,” The Pope said. “Sit down. We’ll talk. Ever had a hit of this?” He spooned out a teaspoon sized mound of brownish powder onto the table.

“No,” she said.

“It’ll make all your troubles disappear. I’ll fix you up right here.”

“No.” She was sounding frantic now, her eyes darting back and forth.

“Let Willard take care of her,” said Victor Nicholas. He was getting impatient.

“You stay put, Willard,” said The Pope. “We can work this out.”

“The hell you say,” said Victor Nicholas. “I’m not gonna be held hostage by a boozy whore.”

Nicholas got up from his seat, believing all the way that he could control the situation. He held out his hand.

“You’re not going to shoot no one, Freda honey,” he said. “Gimme the gun, sugar.”

“No!”

“C’mon. Word is that that junk The Pope just spooned out for you is some mighty good shit. We’ll help you with it. You can stay over on the couch.”

Freda seemed to be thinking about it. She’d never taken heroin, but she’d been through a lot so far. Maybe a short vacation from it all made sense.

Nicholas recognised the look in her eye, the confusion and the ache. He stepped closer to take the revolver. And she fired.

The bullet hit him in the gut, and he went down. Willard and Buster charged and she got off two shots. Willard went down, but Buster was still standing. There was blood coming from his arm. He pulled his automatic and took a bead on Freda. And I picked up the whiskey bottle and threw it hard. Buster Milk got it in the head and fell to the ground.

The Pope got to his feet, pulling a gun from his shoulder holster. I cracked him one, across the nose and took his weapon.

“You were never good on the attack,” I said to him.

“Jesus, Billy,” he said. “You busted my nose.”

“Just tell us where he is,” I said. “Before the cops get here.”

“The cops get paid not to come here,” The Pope said.

“Good thing,” Freda said, and fired again.

The Pope looked stupid for a moment, standing there with a bleeding nose and a bullet hole in his forehead. Then he fell onto the table and scattered money and dope everywhere.

Freda walked over and shot Buster Milk in the head.

“Just makin’ sure,” she said, suddenly cold. Then she looked at me and pointed the gun. “Sometimes I wonder if you’re on the square, Billy Clyde.”

“Now’s your chance to put an end to your wondering. Pull the trigger.”

“Nah,” she said, and lowered the gun. “You’re square enough for my money.”

*   *   *   *   *   *

They found Chase Henry’s body in the sewer line that runs under Ghetto Road. When the time came, Freda Taps had all the cash she needed to plant him decently. The Pope, in his current condition, wouldn’t miss it. There were flowers, a granite headstone and a hearse. And there was room for everyone in the large, rented chapel. But what made it all seem to work, in the end, was them burying Chase a few plots over from the loan shark Victor Nicholas.

gangster

she is a gangster in an alley, a
public enemy
with her lovers dead around her
and her hot .45
melting a Smith & Wesson hole
into the dark
hear it drip like a glacier
onto the cobble and pool
and when she looks
watch it drink her in
with all of the Gurus and UFOs
the nights that have tapped at her window
Grecian pillars and the subways of man
children on doorsteps
in their eager pose
the power grids of cities and the
Taj Mahal

there are footsteps in the Noir
and rage in the stairwells

dark

this dark of yours
is a fossil in the strata
touch it and taste your fingers, your
tongue will measure its temper
and you will have conducted an experiment
a weak lightless wind on your white lips
the taste of internment, of
embarkation, of
children in the wire, this
dark was a species

the helicopters over Tacoma

Her name was Thelma, which wasn’t her fault — her parents were Scientologists. We’d met on Cougarpit.com, a web-based dating service for women of a certain age playing the field, the ones too young to be called geriatric, but too old for the hot sweaty hyena sex they’d once enjoyed in their youth.

And when they say opposites attract, I guess they’re right. She was American and a Republican. I was Canadian, and believed politics of any kind was just a Falangist confidence trick played on the willfully stupid. But there was still something about her that attracted me. I was a dope.

She lived in an American Beauty doublewide trailer, on a lot just outside of Tacoma – a bedroom community of stormy boudoir secrets and pitiless drivers. To her the doublewide wasn’t just a trailer, though. To her it was a tastefully appointed manufactured home. Never mind the molded plastic textures and the Gestetner Cyclographed wood grains.

She lived there with her dog, George W Bush. Thelma thought her pet’s namesake had been the greatest president in American history. George W Bush, the dog, however, was a clinically depressed Chihuahua, with massive, spherical brown eyes, far too large for his face. They made him look like a deep sea submersible, something Jacques Cousteau would take down to the bottom of the mid oceanic ridge. And though I’m not a fan of the breed, I at first had empathy for the mutt.

He’d been bought during a six month period a few years previously when Chihuahuas were considered chic. When women went shopping with them poking out of their Louis Vuitton bags. It was never cute or glamorous, however. It was an obvious form of animal cruelty. PETA should have been mobilised. And who knew what small surprises the little critters were leaving behind in their mistress’s designer bags.

Now George W Bush was out of fashion and ripe to be euthanized. He spent his days despondently sniffing at his food and biting his toe nails.

It wasn’t long after we exchanged email addresses that Thelma and I began making border crossings to further our liaison. I’m still not sure what I saw in her. She had a great ass, sure, and these crazy little Cyndi Lauper breasts. But a forensic psychiatrist once described me as lugubriously self-destructive. Maybe that’s what it came down to. And really, wasn’t that what every woman was looking for in a man?

In time, the relationship arrived at that special place where all romantic relationships end up. There I was, a 47 year old widely published award winning writer, doing her monkey work – carrying her multiple Saturday afternoon shopping mall purchases, repairing broken pieces of her shoddily finished manufactured home and taking her Lexus in for extended warranty mandated servicing.

This should have been a warning for me to stay home in Canada, to obliterate all history of my presence on the internet and hide deep in some abandoned basement. But I didn’t. I just grotesquely tripped along like some sucker for love.

In 2014, the Texas Republican State Convention was held in Fort Worth from June 5-7. Thelma had a perverse appetite for travelling to different Republican state conventions every year, and Texas was her choice for 2014. The real W was going to be there. This made her a little too excited to contain.

At first, when she informed me of this, I had nightmarish visions of a southern American city filled with right-wing nut bars. I witnessed, in my mind’s eye, the demented but good natured hijinks of Republican conventioneers, the violent imposition of temporary open-carry laws and the instigation of a three day long race war within the precincts of Fort Worth. Then I thought of all of the working girls and rent boys they’d have to fly in, all of the erotic rosé enemas. And then I decided I didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Then one evening, I received a text –

I need you to take care of George W Bush, Thelma’s message read.

W? I thumbed. Why?

Don’t call him W. I hate that.

Okay, but what’s up?

I arranged the final details of my trip to Fort Worth today, Thelma texted. I leave the day after tomorrow. Finding someone to take care of George W Bush is the last detail.

Okay, I typed back. Send him up, UPS prepaid. I have a Studebaker up on blocks in the backyard. He can stay in there. I’ll let him out occasionally to question the foundations of his K-9 existence.

LOL, Thelma texted back. No, you’ll have to come down here.

(I hate LOL. She obviously doubted my sincerity.)

Really? I wrote. That’s awkward. I’m just in the middle of writing an opinion piece for Guns & Ammo, and I’m getting into the crux of it now – how the gun lobby resembles too many evil clowns in too small of a car, each of them farting with the windows up. I may be at it for another week. I can’t just stop to look after a suicidal Chihuahua.

You’re not writing anything for Guns & Ammo. (She was right.) And don’t call George W Bush a suicidal Chihuahua. You just don’t understand him.

She was right again, in so many ways.

So I crossed the border once more, headed for Tacoma. The US Customs and Border Protection boys and girls were getting to know me by now. They no longer saw my dilapidated ‘69 VW Bus as an excuse to search my body cavities. That saved a lot of time.

Later, it was just me and George W Bush in Thelma’s Lexus, after driving her to the airport. He sat shotgun most of the way home, staring at the radio’s glowing LCD, and occasionally sighing very deeply. I stroked his head once, and he escaped into the backseat. There were some gagging noises back there, and at a red light I turned round to make sure he was still alive. He was, lying next to a lumpy wad of dog puke. He seemed to smile.

“That’s just wrong, W,” I said.

He looked away with an elegant distain which for any other dog would have been impossible, especially lying next to a heap of regurgitated Alpo.

I took him inside when we arrived back at the American Beauty, and he disappeared. That was fine by me. He was starting to have microwave oven written all over him.

I took off my boots, the way Thelma had always insisted, and then I texted her –

George W Bush just puked in your Lexus.

On the leather? she replied.

And all over the distinctive synthetic Berber.

Don’t make fun, she texted. He suffers from separation anxiety.

I’m not cleaning up Bush’s mess, I texted back.

Someone has to.

I’ll hire a professional. There must be someone out there who’ll mop up after dirty little ex-presidents.

I ended it there.

Shortly after, I noticed a light flashing through the kitchen window. I looked out and saw a dark SUV stop, and the pull away. It was odd. But America was the land of the strange. So, I thought nothing more about it.

In the den Thelma had a seizure inducing 102 inch 4K screen, hooked up to a satellite box. It was an Orwellian monstrosity that made Geraldo Rivera look like a mustachioed Nicolae Ceaușescu denouncing the intelligentsia. Thelma called it a TV.

After surfing a while, I was able to find a channel showing a panel discussion with Noam Chomsky discussing Stephen Harper’s abhorrent attraction to kittens. It was the sort of lefty chatter that sucked the life out of the viewer, and made any socialistic alternative to the proto-fascist Government of Canada seem hideously unappealing.

I changed the channel to an all Mexican professional wrestling station, and for a while, watched muscular masked men simulate consensual anal sex.

At 7pm, I called a Tacoma dealer I knew named Dicky. Dicky’s shit was always better than the commercially available stuff, and he made house calls for a nominal fee. He split after he’d sold me a bag and we’d smoked a fatty. Then I poked around for some booze. Thelma was a Jack Daniels fan. Maybe that’s what I liked about her. But all I found was a massive jug of Baileys Irish Cream, the stuff that hangovers are made of. It was in the broom closet behind a large blue bottle of something called Febreze Pet Odor Eliminator. It smelled like an offshoot of counter-Iraqi chemical weapons research. I replaced it gingerly back on the shelf after I snagged the booze.

The Baileys would work just fine, in lieu of anything else. Besides, Dicky had fronted me some microdot on a trial basis. I hoped it might take the edge off of the gummy effect of the petroleum based liqueur.

I sat down in front of the large screen in the den and began to watch topless women’s roller derby. It was the Puyallup Pugilists against the Wenatchee Steamroller. I had mocked and done without television for a couple of decades. Maybe I was wrong.

About 9:00pm, the acid began to kick in, and I was beginning to have a new appreciation of the 4K screen. The 2160p resolution was reaching out to me like the guiding hand of a personal saviour. The colours were pure spectral mysticism and the moving images, God-like.

The topless roller derby was over and the Women’s World Championship Finals of Mud Wrestling had begun. I poured a ceramic Venti Starbucks cup full of Baileys, lit a joint and began to realise just what a paradise American suburban life, with all of its crappy, mind numbing accoutrements, could be.

About 9:45pm, I noticed the lights flashing in through the windows in the den. I looked out and saw another couple of dark SUVs. They paused for a moment and then drove away. I figured it was schools kids.

Around 10:15pm, I remembered George W Bush. By now he must have needed to get out for a whiz. When I found the little varmint, he was in Thelma’s bedroom, chewing on my boots. My classic $400 Dayton Black Beauty boots, made in east Vancouver, a few blocks away from where I’d grown up. Not only that, but he had shit on the Gucci bedspread Thelma had bought in the Tijuana duty-free.

Again, he seemed to smile.

I pick the little shit up and tossed him out the front door.

“Don’t get eaten by coyotes,” I said, and shut him out.

Then I texted Thelma again –

I’m going to kill George W Bush.

It took her a minute to get back to me.

Why, she replied. What’s wrong?

He’s a depraved abomination, I thumbed. The drugs and booze were enhancing my already profuse eloquence. He’s a curse on the world. A hound of hellDeath I say. Death to George W Bush!!!

Just calm down, honey, Thelma texted back.

I won’t. I’m on a mission. He will not survive the night!

I threw my iPhone into the sink. The challenge now would be finding my inner Chihuahua-slayer. I began to experience self-doubt. The animal needed to die, that much was certain. But maybe I wasn’t the one to do it.

I picked up a butcher knife from out of the sink, and stared at it. Maybe there was a vet in town, a Chihuahua Dr Kevorkian running a clinic of no return for little Gucci crapping, Dayton chewing curs. I’d wait until tomorrow to find out. It was probably as easy as taking a number and waiting with W on my lap, while we listened to dreadful Mariah Carey tunes over a speaker in the ceiling.

Then there were more lights flashing through the windows and the sound of many helicopters. I looked out a window and was immediately blinded. Then there was a megaphone announcement —

“To the occupants of the trailer. Come out with your hands up. This is the FBI.”

The FBI? Surely the FBI would know it was a manufactured home, not a trailer.

I heard my iPhone ring in the sink, and I answered.

“Hello?”

“Mr Meeks?”

Meeks. That was me. “Yes?”

“This is Special Agent Wilma Flint.”

“Wilma Flint? Is this for real?”

“I know, I know,” said Special Agent Wilma Flint. “Just try to stay with me on this. I have someone on the line who’d like to talk to you.”

“Hello?” It was Thelma. “Reggie, is that you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“They think you’re going to kill George W Bush, Reggie. They’ve been monitoring everyone’s phone calls and texts at the convention. I tried to explain, but they won’t understand.”

“No!” I said. “I’m not going to kill him, after all. I’ve discovered I don’t have have the stomach for it.”

“Well that’s good,” Thelma said. “Just tell them.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve decided to have a vet snuff the fucker.”

“A veteran?” Wilma Flint cut in.

“No, a veterinarian. Someone in Tacoma.”

“You’re going to have a veterinarian assassinate President Bush?”

Just then the door came crashing in, and I was wrestled to the ground by a herd of muscular masked men who I’d hoped, in my stoned sate, knew that any simulated anal sex would not be consensual.

The rest was a blur of knees, fists and handcuffs.

When I awoke the next day in the detention camp on foreign soil, I was informed that I wouldn’t have my day in court and that I would probably die there of old age. But the pleasant accommodation and lack of Mariah Carey tunes eventually made up for the inconvenience, and the discomfort of the enhanced interrogation techniques. And there were sing-a-longs in the cafeteria of Friday nights.

I understood Thelma had been placed on the women’s side. But George W Bush, the dog, had been placed with some happy family by a rescue agency. I hoped he didn’t choke on a milk-bone.

wireless

I had this to consider as I fell: that to be pushed from the eleventh floor of a slum hotel, in the end, is no different than being pushed from the eleventh floor of the Ritz-Carlton. The outcomes will differ very little.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was 2:27 a.m. on Wednesday.

I woke the way I sometimes do, like someone just pulled my trigger. Bang! Eyes open wide in the middle of the night, remembering something I forgot to do, like set a mousetrap or put my compost into the freezer.

But this time, I had a weird feeling that someone was standing on the threshold. I sat up and looked across the room at the sliver of light that comes in under the door from the main corridor. Shadows were moving there. Feet on the other side. Big square cop shoes. Shuffling back and forth. There was monosyllabic whispering, cavemanish mumblings.

I remained quiet.

Then there was a polite knock.

“Mr Plonk?” a voice said.

“Yes?” I replied.

That’s when the door came crashing down, and three men in dark suits invited themselves in. They stood inside the doorway and were just silhouettes at first. But as my eyes adjusted, I recognised one of them. We’d met the day before, in the express-line. He was a goon, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

“So, Mr Plonk,” said the smallest of the three. “This is your humble abode.”

I thought that was an odd thing to say, under the circumstances, and I said so –

“That’s an odd thing to say. Under the circumstances.”

“Maybe,” said the little guy, stepping further into the room. “But you are the sole resident of this room, no?”

“There’re some mice,” I said.

“Shut it,” said the guy I’d met before.

“That’s fine, Jerome,” said the little guy. “We want Mr Plonk to speak freely. This is his home, after all.”

Ha! His name was Jerome, the guy I’d met the day before. With a name like that his wife probably spanked him, and made him serve her all-woman bridge club petit fours while wearing high heels and a lace apron. He was probably raised in a third rate trailer park by a pair of illiterate born again Christian Walmart shoppin’ gun nuts who’d kept him sealed in a cardboard box for the first ten years of his life.

Yeah, I was harbouring some animosity toward Jerome. And just so you know it, I’m not normally the animosity harbouring kind. But this son of a syphilitic shrew was a real prick. And here’s how I know.

I was standing in front of him in the express-line at Whole Foods, where I normally don’t shop due to the haughty mania of their food supplement-crazed clientele. But they had organic apples on sale.

The Whole Foods buyers had probably ground some luckless local grower so far into the gravel on the price that now he had to reach up to scrape the mud off his boots. But who was I to judge? They were a steal at $1.75 a pound.

I was holding ten of them in my arms at the till, because I didn’t want to use a plastic bag, which I was afraid would end up swirling around forever in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. So when I put them down onto the cashier’s counter, Jerome, who was behind me, taps me on my shoulder. I look round and he points up at the sign that says eight items or less. Then he points at the apples and says –

“You got ten items there, chief.”

“No,” I say. “It’s one item. They’re all the same thing.”

“Uh-uh-uh,” he said, wagging a finger.

(That’s right, he gave me three “uhs” and wagged his finger – what an asshole.)

“They’d be one item if they were in a bag,” he continued. “They’re not, however, so each of them is an individual item. But my point is that there are ten of them. And this is a check-out for people with eight items of less.”

I looked at the carrot juice and organic gummy bears in his hand and figured I knew all I wanted to know about the guy. Then I asked –

“Would you like to go ahead of me?”

“Look,” he said. “This isn’t a purely self-centred reflection on my part. There are other people in line, besides me.” (Actually, there weren’t.) “And each one of them has observed a crucial social covenant that says that they will not try to slink by with ten items in a line designated for customers with eight items or less. Am I making myself clear?”

And as he said this, he elbowed the left side of his sports jacket back to reveal a handgun in a shoulder holster.

I raised my eyebrows. Shit, I mean, I almost pissed myself. I’d never really seen a gun up close before. I grew up in Canada before Stephen Harper. It looked like something forged by trolls in the cesspit of a third rate trailer park.

“You the express-line police?” I said.

He smirked at that, and said, “Just remember this moment, apple boy.”

Apple boy. I’d been called worse. But never by a gun-toting wiener in a Whole Foods store. And since I figured John Mackey would probably like this creep, I paid for my apples and split. It’s a noble Darwinian impulse to recognise defeat, when it calls.

Later that day I sat at my desk, finishing my first soon to be unpublished novel. It was about Johnny Rialto, a loan shark with a glass eye, torn between the allure of his glamorous street existence and his desire to play the accordion on the Ed Sullivan Show. His girl was a dame named Wendy, who worked at the White Lunch and had a tattoo on her back that contained a curling esoteric text that, if deciphered, could change the world. But mostly, in her free time, she rolled her own cigarettes and played the harmonica on her fire escape over the alley.

I knew it would need editing. From its over sixteen hundred pages to a more manageable fourteen or fifteen hundred. But I was brave. I could face down any editor, and yet be generous in my defense of my masterwork. Besides, I’d written in a lot of kinky accordion sex for them to cut out without destroying the soul of the story.

As I typed the final epic chapter, a mysterious thing happened. Without cause, the printer next to my desk awoke from its deep binary sleep, and it began making the confused back and forth conveyor belt noises a printer makes just before it begins to spit out copy. But I hadn’t sent it anything to print. In fact, the machine was so new that I hadn’t even figured out how to use it.

Maybe it was the weed or maybe the codeine laced cough syrup I had imported from Mexico, but I’d inadvertently set it to wireless mode and couldn’t undo it. And since my vintage Radio Shack 486 PC needed a multi-pin serial bus cable to print, I’d just walked away.

The printer had printed a single page. Then it stopped, and looked impervious.

Was this how the technology worked, I asked myself. Was my wireless printer a slut for any signal that stroked its antenna?

It was a moot question, now. What it had printed went like this:

Government of Canada
CSIS Memorandum – Top Secret 

From: Vancouver (137)
Subject: Morton Teapole 

SYNOPSIS

It has been confirmed that Morton Teapole is a Caucasian male of Christian-European descent, who has recently converted to Islam.

He resides at #516-159 East Hastings Vancouver, BC, and drives a 2005 blue Ford Focus with BC plate X11-112.

Morton Teapole has no known employment, and spends most of his time at the public library, viewing video on the internet, as documented through observation.

Further investigation has confirmed, through the tracking of his library card number, that Morton Teapole primarily views videos produced by terrorist organisations, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, and the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad, or Boko Haram.

He also has a Facebook page where he regularly posts terrorist messages and videos.

He attends mosque daily.

Though obviously radicalised, there is no evidence of illegal activity at this time. Indeed, the subject does not appear to possess the necessary intelligence to independently initiate terrorist activities dangerous to Canadian interests.

 It is believed by the author of this report, however, that the subject is open to coercion and may be easily persuaded by a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent or operative to act as a puppet, partaking in false terrorist activities and the dissemination of false information essential to Canadian interests, and should, therefore, be recruited by CSIS to that end. 

– Report to follow –

I read the document five times. Sometimes the words moved round and looked like animals in the desert, but they always meant the same thing. My dauntless wireless printer had picked up a sinister transmission from a computer operated by the secret police.

I stood very still and listened. All around me the wood was rotting, dust motes were colliding. But I could otherwise hear nothing. They were out there, though, the bastards. Sending unwelcome communiqués through my walls, penetrating my brain. My God! It was mind control. The NSA, the Stasi and the KGB were already lurking, and now CSIS. I took a gulp of cough syrup, then sat in a corner on the floor. At some point I’d have to get to the telephone on my desk. And order pizza.

That was several hours before the door came crashing in, and Jerome and his pals entered my life in a big way.

*  *  *  *  *

Now I was sitting up in my bed as the smallest of them, let’s call him Gomez, sat down next to me and put his hand on my knee.

“So, Mr Plonk,” he said. “We have traced a fugitive wireless transmission to your room.”

He looked over at my desk, and said, “Is that your printer?”

“I’m thinking of getting a refund.”

“That’s very amusing, Mr Plonk,” Gomez said, rubbing my knee like a dirty old uncle. “But the transmission was sensitive and confidential. We’d like to have the copy your printer made.”

“Maybe it never made a copy.”

“Now, now, Mr Plonk….”

“I say we just waste the little freak now,” Jerome said.

“You’re just stoned on carrot juice and gummy bears,” I told him.

“Give me a reason to trust you, Mr Plonk,” Gomez said. “Give me the printed document, and maybe this will all turn out in your favour.”

By now the third of the three gorillas, who’ll remain nameless for obvious dramatic effect, had shimmied over to my desk and opened the top drawer. He pulled out a nitrous oxide inhaler and a sixty gram chunk of Himalayan yak hash. He sniffed it, and put it into his pocket.

“Fuck,” I said.

Then he pulled the document out, gave it a quick eye and handed it over to Gomez.

I was busted. I should have burned it. But some sick sense of duty to my fellow humanoids had prevented me.

“Any other copies?” Gomez said.

“A million of them,” I said. “Under my bed. I was planning to drop them from a plane. I was gonna go on the Oprah Channel, and do the cooking show circuit.”

“We’ll search the room after we’re finished here,” said Gomez. He sounded disappointed. “My work is difficult, you know.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yes. Now, thanks to your intransigence, there’s only one thing for us to do.”

The nameless agent opened the window over my desk and Jerome stepped forward, grabbing me by the collar of my Björk t-shirt.

“I’m really going to enjoy this,” he said.

In a moment, Jerome had me by the arms and the nameless agent by the feet. They were swinging me back and forth, trying achieve a critical momentum.

“You could have cooperated,” Gomez said over the vacillating commotion. “There’s always a place for the unconventional in our line of work. But you have to be able to play along, Mr Plonk.”

Then Jerome said, “On three.”

One two three, and wham! I missed the window and hit the desk and rolled onto the floor.

“Please concentrate on what you’re doing,” Gomez said to his men.

Jerome tore my t-shirt as he pulled me up off the floor. It had cost me the equivalent of $75 Canadian in Reykjavik. I wore it to bed every night. It was like sleeping with an Icelandic goddess with a recording contract.

The nameless agent cleared my desktop with a single sweep of his arm, and I was place there. I looked down, out of the open window, and gulped. The late night air was cool, but I could smell spring in it. It was April, after all. I thought of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds dancing up a storm down there. The whole crack-addled neighbourhood recovering from its stupor just long enough to join in. I thought of how nice it would be to have a toke. The Himalayan yak the nameless one had swiped was 30% THC. That’d do me and Gene Kelly just fine right now.

Then with one swift kick, Jerome launched me out of the window.

It’s a wonderful thing, falling through space. You should try it, if you really must die. I thought of Morton Teapole all of the way down, wondering from whence he came and all of that. And as I looked into the windows of the many rooms I fell past, I witnessed the people enjoying the freedom of their intellectual squalor and knew they’d be safe from Gomez and Jerome. That, at least, was something.