lost ironies

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Tag: story

The Retired Private Eye

It’s our devotion to hindsight that separates us from lesser things. It’s what all writers know, what they must know, and why I knew he’d tell me his side of the story.

Ethan Packard was the sort of mess a man can become at ninety—contentedly unkempt, tattoos collapsing, yellowing round the edges. He sat with me at a cafe table, as he took the first bite of his second piece of amaretto cheesecake. Ethan was an earnest eater, and I resisted the temptation to reach across with a napkin and wipe away a cheesy smudge at the corner of his mouth.

“That’s some deadly shit,” I told him, instead, “the cheesecake, I mean. I understand that the doctors are saying your heart’s about to blow?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s what they’re saying,” he said, his wet mouth half-full, his eyes burning moistly. “But this morning I woke up seeing the same big brown stain on my ceiling, hearin’ the same bitch down the hall screamin’ at her cuck husband, and smellin’ the same diesel exhaust comin’ up from the back alley where the drivers idle their garbage trucks while they get a bit of head from the local working girls, and I knew, as I always do, in that moment, that I was still alive—just in that moment, buster, a moment same as this one. And like yer average Buddhist’ll tell you, it’s the moment that counts. Everything else is a distraction.”

“You’re not a Buddhist, Ethan.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Yes I do. There’s nothing my research that mentions it.”

“Well, maybe I’m just pointing out somethin’,” he said, shifting in his chair, his hand going unconsciously to his hip and touching something there under his jacket, comforted by its ever-presence.

It was the gun on his belt, a .38, a chunky lump of iron full of lead. An artefact, nearly a fossil. Everyone knew it was there. A gun that had only been fired once.

“Besides,” he said. “I’m already too damn old. Too many fuckin’ doctors. I’m getting real homesick for the time back when they left a man alone to die in his own shoes. And, say whatever you like about these old arteries of mine, but it was awful delicious clogging  ‘em up.”

“Swell.” I stirred my Americano. “But look, two pieces of cheesecake in a joint like this don’t come cheap. It reciprocation time. Time to answer some questions.”

“Fine, ask away.” He slurped his coffee. “Waddaya wanna know? Everything’s for sale. Nothing too lurid or confidential. It’s liquidation time.”

I was quiet for a moment, suspicious of that, until he looked at me over his glasses, and said, “What!” Not a shout, just a bark. But some of the cafe patrons looked startled.

“Thelma,” I said.

He waited a second, then quietly repeated the woman’s name, “Thelma.” Then putting his fork down, he said, “Is that why we’re here, why you tracked me down, why we’re here in this crummy joint, for that?”

“Yes.”

“You could’ve at least brought me to the bar, if it’s that.”

“But, you’re a drunk.”

“Only my friends call me that, mister.”

“The fact remains,” I said, “I didn’t want this to turn into some maudlin, drunken rehashing of the sixties. I want clear recollections of what happened.”

He wanted a drink now, it was obvious, more than just the puddle of amaretto his cheesecake was swimming in, and a cigarette. I could see it in his face, the way his shoulders had gone slack, the way his eyes had lost their burn and were just red.

Suddenly, he was longing for a once long black American automobile he used to step out of with style, straightening his tie, a segment of the world watching and taking note. He was romancing his own select version of the past. If he could only gather it up, without all of the loss and common brokenheartedness, he might make it his moment forever. It was the moment that counted, but this moment was the distraction.

I started taking notes.

“Why do you want to know about that?” Ethan said. “What’s there to know that isn’t already long and justly forgotten?”

“I’m writing a story,” I said. “I’m missing details, ones only you’ll have to offer. It was a long time ago. Nearly everyone has passed away.”

“It’s not that long ago.” Ethan wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Thelma,” I said again.

“Thelma.” He sighed deeply, but it seemed he was ready now. Sooner than I’d hoped, knowing what little I did. “What the hell kinda name is Thelma, anyway?” More distraction. “What kinda mother names her kid Thelma?”

I shrugged.

“She was gorgeous, though, even on the slab. She still looked like Anita Ekberg, even though she’d spent some time in the drink.”

“And, so to clear this up for me, you were together? Lovers?”

“Fuck no.”

This was disappointing. “Then how’d you know her?”

“Her body washed up on the beach,” he said. “Like I said, she’d been in the drink a while.”

“What?”

“Yeah. I thought that was accepted. It was in the papers. It’s 2017, isn’t it? I thought there was the internet.”

“But I mean before she washed up on the beach. Did you know her then?”

“Nah, but she was beautiful all the same. I’d’ve really gone for her when she was alive. It was some kinda painful meeting her for the first time slid out of a morgue drawer.”

“So, it’s true. You got to see her in the morgue?”

“Sure. That was simple. I had an in with the cops.” He gave an easy wave of a hand. “I was a Private Investigator, get it? I had a good reputation.”

“Okay so, if I’ve got the story straight, you fell in love with a dead woman named Thelma?”

Ethan changed the subject again: “Coroner said the killer used a razor, which was obvious just looking at her.”

“But, in the end, the killer got shot.”

“Sure, that’s justice ain’t it?”

“A sort of unconventional justice, don’t you agree? He never went before a judge.”

“No he didn’t.”

“And he, the murderer himself,” I said, “he wasn’t what you’d call a conventional killer, either.”

“Nah, he was some poet.” Ethan began to eat cheesecake again, with mild gusto. “Some fuckin’ poet with a razor,” he said, with his mouth full. “Someone she’d hooked onto ’cause he had the dreamy eyes. I guess everything he said was like a Happy Valentine’s Day card. Can you believe it? Dames really go for that shit. Some hippie poet with a razor.” He shook his head.

“It all ended with the hippies,” said Ethan. “That was the sixties for you. It was all gone after that. The dark beauty and the menace of the city, I mean. Even the beatniks didn’t have a chance. Suddenly, it was all race riots and political assassinations. Irony took a header, replaced by counterfeit enthusiasm. Irony finally died with a needle in its arm in a back alley somewhere. The movies tried to maintain, but even Noir Hollywood had died. What sixties movie star wanted to compete with shadow for centre stage?

“The sixties were all about the Beatles—peace, love and understanding, and half-baked revolution.

“The age of the real Private Eye was over. I hung on, though. Chased down a lot of cheatin’ husbands and wives. Found a lot of missing persons. Served a lot of summonses. Then I hung it all up in the late eighties.  Whew, the eighties, what a toilet.”

The cheesecake was gone now, and he began using his coffee spoon, attempting to salvage the amaretto on his plate. Finally, he picked the plate up and licked it clean. Patrons around us looked, and then looked away.

“I ain’t proud,” he said.

“But the poet,” I said, “he got shot. They said it was done execution style. Some suspected you.”

“Sure,” said Ethan. “I was a suspect. The cops thought so at first, then the papers. Some smart ass reporter did a thing on it, but it never took off. It never went anyway, neither. You suspect me, right now. I can see it in the way you’re looking at me. You made up your mind about me before we ever sat down here. That’s what this is all about, ain’t it? This little cheesecake interview? ”

It was. I hadn’t realised it until that moment, but it was. The legend of the gun under his cheap, shabby Harris Tweed. The gun fired only once. But there was more than that.

“If it’s true, if you really did kill him, then you killed a man for a woman you never met while she was alive, who you only met post-mortem. It’s such an odd thing to do, you’d have to agree.”

Now without concurring, Ethan remembered Thelma’s pale eyes, her red hair awry, her dimming lips, his sense of the injustice, the rumors of a suspect. The morgue attendant had walked away, out of a strangely felt sense of respect, as Ethan beheld her. Did Thelma, he’d wondered so many times since, represent to him every murdered woman he’d encountered in his work, every woman beaten or scarred by a man?

“I caught up with him,” he said, “in a cold room over a storefront on East Hastings. I still remember the bugs in the sink. Turns out he was a weakling, a coward. He just blubbered when he realised what was about happen.

“I told him to get down on his knees, and he did without a word, just his blub blubbing. I’d expected more of fight, but there wasn’t none.”

“Then?” I said.

“Then I wrapped a pillow round the gun, and shot him once in the back of the neck. The gunshot was loud, though, pillow or no. Too loud, and I expected a knock on the door. But it never came. So, I walked out into the hall and down the stairs, and out the door onto the street, leaving the body of another dead poet behind, bleeding on the floor of his upper room. And I got off free. No one ever proved a thing, and you know what?”

“What?” I said.

“You may be a writer, but you’re not writing no story. You’ve even stopped taking notes. You got something up yer sleeve. So, what’s this really about?”

I tried to imagine the look in my eyes, and looked down at my blue veined, sixty year old hands that had turned so many pages looking for answers, and realised that there was only the truth to convey.

“She was my mother,” I said, “Thelma Brogan. I’m Frederick, of course.”

We sat there a moment looking at each other across the table. Then, “Isn’t that somethin’. You’re her orphan,” Ethan said. “I’m real sorry for that.”

“No need. You did her a kind of justice. I never knew her, but I’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

“And here I am, lickin’ my plate clean.”

“I guess I should thank you.”

“Ain’t no need for that nether,” he said. “I guess killing that poet was a strange thing to do, after all. Maybe the strangest in a lifetime of strange things. His name was Francis Kool, by the way. But I guess you know that. Wasn’t so cool layin’ there, though.”

A waitress appeared out of the fog surrounding our table, laid down our bill, and vanished again.

“Well here’s hopin’ I never see you again, Frederick,” Ethan Packard said. “I’m supposin’ you’re feelin’ the same way about me.”

“Yeah,” I said, nearly sad. “I suppose I do.”

It’s our devotion to hindsight that separates us from lesser things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noah Bones Chapter 4: Rabble Town

Late evening, darkness falling

It wasn’t really a town, only a bleaker neighbourhood in a bleak city. And across its busy Centre Street, lined with shabby carts, a threadbare sex trade, dead storefronts and hawkers, was strung a multitude of crackle screens, like paper lanterns hanging over a once brighter Chinatown, each screen with the face of the Chief Victor, leader of the Federated States, speaking, all day every day, assuring the People of the brightest and winningest of futures, interrupted only by advertisements.

Noah Bones leaned against a brick wall at a corner, sipping cheap street cart tea from a paper cup, watching an advert for a sugar confection called Pokyfun, a thin brightly wrapped bar of cheap genetically modified carob gown in rooved-over reclaimed asbestos mines in the irradiated Western Wastes, and tempered with hydrogenated pork fat, paraffin and microcrystalline wax.

The ad consisted of a bald mustachioed man in an orange pinstriped suit and purple tap-shoes capering madly across a stage to frenzied music with a Pokyfun bar in each hand as a line of scantily clad dancing girls in gold lame kicked and smiled deliriously behind him.

“Pokyfun,” the mustachioed one finally shouted, as confetti fell, bright coloured lights flashed and strafing jet fighters flew across the length of the stage on green screen, dropping napalm on fleeing victims, “it‘s the Chief Victor’s favourite bar!”

Then after a snowy pause, the Chief Victor himself appeared on screen to deliver a brief pre-recorded message, one viewed and heard by millions ad nauseam.

“I smell dog on the air,” he said, his creased pastel expression hardening, his small hands gripping the podium top. “Underground influences, enabled by Koslov himself, have delivered sham tidings. Koslov, the enemy. He’s the heaviness you feel. The promise of thunder, rumours of disaster. He’s what estranges us and isolates you, and why long ago I intervened on your behalf, placing all art and expression under my gracious care. Fake dispatch is a disease that weakens the Greater Plan, and undermines the righteous authority of your Great Leader—sad.”

“He’s stopped ad libbing,” said a man coming to stand next to Noah, and lighting a cigarette, the smoke mingling with the stagnant odour of Rabble Town.

“That’s old news, Markus,” Noah said, sipping his tea. “I’m not even sure it’s him anymore. Suddenly he’s downright eloquent. He must be being handled by some spook in the background. On the other hand, maybe he’s retired to some tropical island, laughing his head off. Or maybe he’s already dead.” Noah pointed at the image on the screen. “Maybe this is an automaton or data generated.”

“Then what’s the point of this meeting?”

“The point is that we’re here,” Noah said, “like we promised we’d be. The point is that Dr Vlad promised he’d be here too, sometime close to dark.”

Marcus sneered, “I don’t trust that little queer.”

“It’s too late for that. We needed an insider disenchanted with the Plan, and Vlad’s definitely that. He’ll be our push against their shove. Besides, Sylvia M says he’s on the square. That’s good enough for me.”

“I don’t trust her neither,” Markus said. “Vlad’s her little slave. There’s something kinky going on there. Plus he’s a puny little zealot, and I bet he’ll be cashing in big if we pull this off. While we’re sent packing with just a pay cheque.”

The video on the screens hanging above and down the length of Centre Street distorted for a second, the sound crackling noisily as the Chief Victor’s image disappeared, replaced by a manic ad for hand soap, featuring battle tanks and missile silos.

“And don’t forget,” said Noah Bones, “we’re just the hired guns. We aren’t the thinkers. That means that we—you—can leave anytime.”

“No,” Markus said. “We can’t. We’re in too deep now, know too much. If any of us left now, he or she’d be dead in a day.”

“Then why not just enjoy the ride?” came a voice from behind them, as small well-dressed man stepped out of a shadow cast by a street light. “We’re plotting history here. You’ll be heroes soon.”

“Or in a corpse pile,” said Markus, “awaiting trial, post-mortem.”

“Heroically dead, then,” said Dr vlad. “What’s not to love?”

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Noah Bones is a story written in short chapters, not quite flash fiction. This due to the fact that I now have a real job, and less time for writing.

Chapter 3
Chapter 2
Chapter 1

 

 

 

 

the producer

The producer drove east with all the windows down on Interstate 40 through the moon glow Mojave Desert. He checked his watch. It was 1:01 a.m., and he thought about all the chumps out there to the invisible horizon who’d dug their own graves.

He was ready to drive Pacific to Atlantic, to avoid the same fate. Hollywood was a history lesson. Now he hoped to end up in a small town. Maine, he imagined. That sounded good. Nice and anonymous. Maybe he’d write. Publish under a pseudonym. Use a woman’s name and remain underground as long as he could. Perhaps forever. Forever sounded real good.

The Ford was new but basic. It would get him where he wanted to go in simple proletariat splendor. He’d wait until New Mexico before he insured it. He laid his hand on the brown paper bag, content in his belief that the money could last a year or two if he was careful. Buy a house with cash like he did the car, and sit on the porch in the evening and make like it was all a Norman Rockwell print.

He got Barstow on the radio, the late night news. The LA crime Family had been up to no good. The body of a character named Rosy Cola, a mob up-and-comer, and two unnamed associates had been found in an alley with their throats cut. A professional hit the cops said. The wages of crime said the pious announcer. The producer wondered if it would be madness to write about it one day. Then threw his father’s razor out into the desert, leaving it behind doing sixty.

Hollywood California, in his office on the phone, a few days before, sort of in the late 1950s

“Thank you for calling Central Casting,” a cheerful switchboard operator said. “Call volume is extremely high, so I’m putting you on hold. One of our agents will be with you shortly. Thank you for calling Central Casting.”

“Son of a bitch,” Oscar Child muttered. “Goddamn bastard son of a bitch.” He picked up a sharpened pencil and twisted its tip into a note pad. “Fuck!”

In the near silence came the thoughts of a desperate man, who’d been placed indefinitely on hold: We all pray in the end, if not to God then to the End itself. (Oscar Child decided he preferred the latter, and composed his prayer.)—Dear End, you dirty son-of-a-bitch, let it be dignified when you finally knock on my door. You prick. Just a bullet or a quick toss out the window. Maybe a little something in a drive-by shooting. Please, no drawn out trip to the waterfront in the trunk of a car. No shit kicking preamble. No switchblades or icepicks.

Then there came a click.

The operator repeated herself, “Central Casting, The switchboard’s busy due to a high volume of calls. I’ll put you on hold and get right back to you.”

“No, wait. I don’t want to be on hold. I’ve already been on hold for ten minutes. Wait, no!”

Dead air all over again. Clicks and hiss and an overlapping ghost call, very faint and far away, a man’s voice, barely audible, shouting and crying, “Never in Burbank. I’ll cut my wrists first!”

Then the sound of a receiver being lifted out of its cradle and a woman coughing.

“Hello?” Child said, remembering to be cautious. These people were barracudas; they could smell fear. “Look,” he said, “we need a one legged woman. The right leg preferably, but a missing left’ll do if that’s all you’ve got. We can change camera angles if we have to.”

“What for?” said the woman on at the other end. Her chewing gum voice might have been familiar. Or maybe all dames sounded the same.

“A movie,” he said. “What else? This is Oscar Child speaking, the producer.”

“Who?”

“I don’t usually do the casting work, ‘cept in a pinch. But this ain’t no pinch. It’s just a rush call, so don’t go thinking I’m panicking or anything. Everything’s copacetic at my end.”

The line went quiet, except for the sound of other agents talking in the background.

Then the woman said, “Oscar Wild, you say? I’m checking.” Pause. “You’re not on my Rolodex, mister. Let me check the file cabinet. Wild, Oscar, right? Like that fag writer from a hundred years ago? I hope this ain’t no joke, fella. I don’t have time for joking around.”

“No it’s Oscar Child, Child. Willya just listen? We can talk about how much I hate my mother later. This broad we need’s gotta be an opera singer, too. It’s a Three Stooges feature, get it? It’s gonna be their big comeback. But that’s hush-hush, understand?”

“A one legged opera singer, eh? That’s kinky. Oh yeah, here you are, Oscar Child. You’re on the Rolodex, after all. A to C. But we ain’t got no dames with one leg that sings opera. I think we got a tap dancer, but I might’ve been drinking.”

“This is Central Casting, isn’t it?” Child said. “Aren’t you supposed to have a variety of experienced performers for bit parts? Who am I talking to?”

“It’s Rebecca Malinowski, Mr Child. We’ve worked together before, you and me. Remember, that circus comedy thriller with June Russell, before her bust went bust, with the riot scene in the second act with all the dwarves tryin’ to unionize but the circus owner’s a real fascist bastard and brings out the elephants and fire hoses, but the day’s saved by a strapping young and handsome but tragic quasi-socialist war hero whose probably a homo with a hula girl tattoo and a heart of gold? What was it called again?”

Birth of a Socialist Nation.”

“That was quite the call,” said Rebecca Malinowski, “200 dwarves, I’ll say.”

“Yeah well you came up short and we had to fill in an awful lot of empty space with non-dwarves. Wound up shanghaiing winos off the street, and had ‘em running around on their knees. Had to pay them extra hooch, thanks to you, for all the scrapes.”

“And what a flop, huh?”

“It was meant to be a statement not a block buster.” He wondered why it sounded like he was apologising. “It was for, and of the people.” He was tired of apologising for Birth of a Socialist Nation.

“I heard it was financed with mob money, too. What a mistake, I’ll say.”

“Look, just say you got what I need.”

“Well this is a rare bird you’re asking me for,” Malinowski said. “I guess we could run an ad.”

“No we need her like yesterday. The whole damn plot hinges on it. But don’t get me wrong, everything’s just swell on our end. I’m not worried, really. How about just some gal with the one leg, no opera singing necessary. We can do a voice-over, even if it ain’t in the budget.”

“I don’t know. I’ll check the files and get back to you. You may be in a pickle, though. I’m thinking we may have to charge a little extra.”

“No!” Child barked. “I mean I’m a good customer. You said so yourself. I’m spending other people’s money here. You’re taking advantage of the situation. It’s un-American.”

“Hey, I was in the USO, fella. I spent the whole Second World War in Honolulu slappin’ sailors. Don’t tell me I’m un-American.”

“You’re killin’ me here,” said Child, “you know that? And just before they blow my head off, my last request will be for them to drop my body off on your desk so you can live with the result of your jacking me around like the fucking useless bimbo you are when you could have done your goddam job. Hopefully I’ll crap my pants when my brains splatter so I really stink up your office and make you wish you were more accommodating businesswise when you had a chance. Put that in your pig shit crapping mother fucking Rolodex and smoke it, you US Navy slut.”

Click.

“Hello?” Oscar Child shouted. “Fuck.”

After throwing the phone across the room, he went into his bathroom and opened the cabinet, and stood looking in. Reaching the end of one’s rope, he noticed, came with a spookily calming sense of deliverance.

He knew what he had to do, but had only a vague idea of how. The alley behind the automat, greasy and dim. How ever it turned out, he knew it would be his greatest achievement.

Sitting the lowest shelf in the cabinet was his father’s old straight razor. He’d never used it before. It scared the hell out of him. He stuffed it into his pocket and put on his jacket.

a month and a half earlier—the meeting that led to this whole mess

“So zip it and listen,” Rosy Cola said to Oscar Child, who hadn’t yet spoken. They sat together in the busy Finster’s Automat on South Main.

Rosy was a smallish man with a boyish face and soft hands, and tried to make up for it with a cigarette behind his ear, a book of matches in his hat band and a balisong knife in his sock. Finster’s was Rosy’s favourite joint, and he was a late night regular for dinner and off-the-radar meetings.

Two of Cola’s larger associates sat a few stools down, slurping back their Spaghetti Bolognese.

“Washing the cash,” said Rosy Cola, “goes like this. And remember, I’m tellin’ you this because you’re a tenderfoot, not because I like you. I don’t want no case for you ruining an excellent opportunity out of ignorance.

“With the washing of the moolah,” Cola continued, “I give you the dough that stinks because it’s ill-gotten, see? Then you transform it into semi-legit assets by putting it into your bank account and using it to make a movie, and then paying me back my investment plus the profits, real square kinda. That’s the washing part, simple. ‘Cept it ain’t really washing unless I get the clean dough back after it’s got washed. That’s where the pay-back part comes in. You with me so far, daddyo? Then after you pay me back my investment and profits, you pay me what you already owe me from before with the interest. Isn’t that great?”

“Of course, terrific, wonderful.” Child took a bite of his lemon meringue pie, and chewed stoically.

“Now I gotta tell ya though,” Cola said. “I gotta a niece, see? A real brainiac this girl is, and she says a situation like this is called a paradox. And if I understand her right, a paradox ain’t a sure bet. You see, you’re gonna do this for the Family because you’re a bum who owes the Family big time, but you’re also a bum because your films are flops and that’s why you owe the Family big time. That’s the paradox. But I don’t want no flop this time. I want a masterpiece, a cinematic achievement that’ll have the squares and the suckers linin’ up. I want it to rake in the wampum, capisce?”

“Of course, sure, real capisce.” Child gulped his coffee and burned his tongue. “But it’s really a distribution problem.”

Cola said, “I get it. You was black-listed. No one wants to touch you or your sick degenerate commy merchandise. But that don’t mean you don’t still owe my Family and me twenty-three grand.”

“That much?” Child said.

“That much.”

“You sure?”

“That’s this week’s total,” said Cola. “But maybe I can get some other degenerate mooks I got on the hook to handle the distribution part.”

Oscar Child chased a crumb round his plate with his fork and said, “With all due respect, Mr Cola, I’m an artist, not just a business man. I’m not a machine. Besides, no one’s sending me scripts anymore.”

Rosy Cola stared back, quiet for a moment, unused to backtalk, visibly disappointed in Child’s negativity and straining to keep the murder out of his eyes. Then he grinned and looked down at his untouched tuna fish sandwich and glass of milk.

“There I can help,” he said. “I gotta nephew. He’s got a corker of a script for you, a real masterpiece all ready to go. The squares are gonna love it. It’ll star the Three Stooges, see? Larry, Curly and Moe. Their manager says they’re ready for a comeback, and my nephew’s script is golden. It’s a romantic historical drama with a message, understand? The Stooges wanna go straight and do some dramatic work. The script’s spicy hot and ready to blast-off, baby. You just have to raise the cash and put it all together.”

“But I thought you were making the investment,” Oscar Child said, “with the ill-gotten dough.”

“I already have. I bought my nephew’s script. Cost me ten grand. The kid knows how to bargain. I’ll give him that.”

“Ten grand for a script?”

“Now you see why success is an absolute necessity,” said Cola.

“Look, Mr Cola I’m broke. The standard Hollywood money’s out of the question. The studios and the legitimate lenders won’t come near me.”

“Then I guess you’ll need another loan. I’m ready to write the cheque.”

“A cheque?”

“In a manner of speakin’.”

“I’m not a good risk, Mr Cola. I think you know that.”

“But there ain’t no one in town who recognises my nephew’s script writing genius, but you will because what the hell else you gonna do? You’re the guy, see? You gotta read it. It almost sings. Sal, bring over the script.”

A couple of stools down, one of the big men put down his fork, rummaged through a satchel and then held up a stained, dog-eared and unbound type-written stack of pages. Then he reverently placed it in Cola’s small soft hand.

“Just listen to this,” Rosy said. “This is the opening where he’s setting the scene. It goes like this: The pong of richly orchestrated bosa nova is on the air. Poolside, there are cabana boys and a marimba band plays the Mexican Hat Dance. Happy hotel customers sip rum and pineapple cocktails, as dancing chiquita girls greet our three stars.

“Waddaya say?” said Rosy Cola, beaming like an imbecile. “Pretty damn classy, huh?”

Oscar Child said, “But how can the pong of richly orchestrated bosa nova be on the air if the marimba band’s playing the Mexican Hat Dance? And what’s a chiquita girl?”

Rosy Cola’s imbecilic beam faded.

“You listen to me,” he said, gulping back his milk and slamming the glass down on the counter. Then lighting the cigarette from behind his ear, he drew so hard that half of it disappeared first drag, and he inhaled like it was his terminal breath. “I don’t gotta do this. You’re just some pinko fucking castrato that owes me money, just like all them other deadbeats whose graves I had them dig themselves out in the desert. I could mail your intestines to yer fucking Aunt Tilly in a plain brown parcel, and there’re people in the Family who’d like that.”

“But not just anyone can write a script,” Child pleaded. “There has to be a basic talent. It’s not only an art, but a science. There’s serious technique involved. Technique that has to be learned. Some scripts take years to research and develop, to write and workshop, and then be rewriten again and again. How many scripts has your nephew written?”

“Just this,” Cola said, lovingly stroking the pile of smeared pages. “He’s only twenty years old, just breakin’ into the business.”

“Then he’s still a youngster. Let him go to school. UCLA has a great program. I know people on the faculty. I can get him in, even with a third grade education.”

“Don’t be a smartass. He’s got grade five.”

“Whatever.”

“I want a business plan by Monday?”

“Monday? Which Monday?”

“The Monday after Sunday.”

“This Sunday?”

Rosy Cola nodded.

“That’s only four days away. It’s impossible.”

“Your own hole in the desert,” Cola said. “Think about it.”

“Shit.”

“And I want production in full swing within the month. Actin’ and directin’, the works.”

Child said, “You don’t understand the business, Mr Cola.”

“Franky,” Rosy Cola said, and one of the big men got up, pulling the napkin out of his collar.

“Okay,” said Oscar Child. “Sure sure, alright.”

“Here’s some green to get you started.” Rosy slid a paper bag over to Oscar. “Get receipts and keep ‘em.”

Cola and his boys got up and went to leave by the backdoor, through the kitchen. But before they went behind the counter, Rosy said, “Hey Franky, waddaya call a fella sitting alone in an automat with a bag full of mob money and no choices?”

“I don’t know boss,” Franky said. “What do you call a fella sitting in an automat with a bag full of mob money and no choices?”

“HA! A Hollywood producer! You get it?”

Franky laughed and slapped Rosy Cola on the back. “Sure I get it! That’s a good one, boss!”

Cola said, “I already told ya, Franky. No back slapping.”

“Sure boss.”

*   *   *

Now on the highway chasing the moon across the Mojave toward freedom, Oscar Child remembered and hoped he’d have a chance, himself, to tell that joke one day.

 

 

 

 

 

fez

The guy upstairs has a swollen prostrate. I know because it takes him ten minutes to piss. He starts out okay, a steady stream, then it becomes short bursts. Bang, long pause, bang, long pause, bang…. The sound comes through my ceiling, in a dim sort of high fidelity. The sticky darkness adhering to it, giving it weight. It’s the curse of whiskey and the gift of insomnia. I hear everything in the dark, and I’m blessed with empty hours to interpret.

The guy upstairs also wears a fez, red with a black silk tassel. He reads E.E. Cummings and Aleister Crowley all night, and drinks Absinthe. He listens to opera on his Victrola, too. Then, round 5:00 a.m., I hear him fall into his mattress. Like a meteor hitting a desert mesa, obliterating everything.

I’m guessing at some of this, of course. But some of it I know to be fact. I broke into his place a few weeks after he moved in, while he was out doing whatever a guy like that does. There were the Cummings and Crowley books stacked on a side table next to an overstuffed chair, the fez and the Absinthe. That and several decks of Fatima Turkish Cigarettes. The ashtray was full. I found $83.76 in his sock drawer. I ate okay that week.

The other night he had a fight with some broad up there. It was 2:00 a.m. when it started. I was awake, working on a second quart of Seagram’s, smoking Export plains, playing solitaire on the floor.

“You bitch!” he yelled. That’s how it started out. “You have no talent.” He had a German sort of accent.

“But you promised me that I did,” said the broad. I placed a red nine onto a black ten.

“You must understand that the voice is not a percussion instrument. You are no soprano, after all. You wouldn’t survive on stage. They’d eat you alive.”

“You’re cruel,” she said. I kind of had to agree. Black jack onto red queen.

“We must end the partnership,” he hollered, and then there was a loud thump on the floor above. I guess he stamped his foot for emphasis. I’m drinking from the bottle now. Drinking from a glass at this point would have been insincere. Red five onto black six.

“I won’t go,” she shouted. “I have nowhere to go.”

“Then sleep in an alley, you artless whore.”

Jesus, that was some kind of painful shit. I placed an ace of diamonds up top.

Something glass shattered, a face was slapped. Then the broad started to cry. Or maybe she wept. I never knew the difference. Red seven onto a black eight.

“I’m sorry I disappointed you,” she said, weeping. “You showed such enthusiasm, once. Maybe you lied. Men always lie.”

“And women always pursue the lie, like it was gold, and they believe it when they hear it. No matter how incredible or what form it takes. Even though they know better. And you always blame another for your self-inflicted grief. That is woman’s greatest flaw. Is that my fault?”

Now he was the one kind of making sense. A real can of worms, though. I wouldn’t have even suggested it. But then, I didn’t wear a fez. Red three onto black four. Ace of spades goes up top. Two, three, four of spades onto that.

“Leave me in peace,” he shouted. Another slap, hard this time. And the sound of a body stumbling to the floor.

“I’ll kill you.”

“Ha!” Red ten onto black jack. I’m starting to run out of plays. This might not be a winning hand.

Then kapow! It’s a gun. Something small, like a .22, .32 tops. Something a gal would carry in her purse. Another body hits the floor.

It’s the woman’s voice now. Not so loud this time. “You should have seen that coming. Not so tough now, are you? Did you think I would take your abuse forever?”

I need another ace. But its hidden somewhere under a queen or a nine. The game’s over.

Footsteps across the floor, small feet, high heels. The door upstairs slams shut.

I reassemble the deck and shuffle.

In an hour there was a dark reddish stain forming in the middle of my ceiling. I guessed the fez guy was bleeding out on his snazzy Persian rug. His swollen prostrate wouldn’t be such a big deal no more. I went up and checked his door. The dame hadn’t locked it. I went in and there he was, cold. On his back, looking up at the light fixtures. A single small bullet hole in his forehead. She was a crack shot.

I took the Absinthe, the Fatimas and the fez. I’m wearing it now. 3:00 a.m. and the steam pipes are banging something awful. Red three onto black four.

copyright (from 2012)

The type font name is Spinoza Acclaim®, a pathodigital rogue sans serif first used during the advent of Confined IR®, or CIR®. It is compatible with fibre optic and microwave communications as a binary code enhancer/de-enhancer, replicating organic thought patterns at speeds of up to 10,000 times. It was designed as a cipher-boost font by Johan Mac of Holland in answer to a lack of virtual military Molten Metal© field cryptography, and for the ease with which it is set and broadcast under rigorous urban military situations and Fear® ops. Spinoza Acclaim® is recognised for its design based on engraved Delta Garamond, Cripto-Sabon roman and Italic Faux-font® Decoy-logic® algorithms developed during the last century by Jobs®–Wozniak® Granjon and Wozniak Strategics Corp©®™. It remains a durable contemporary standard for use by covert inner city military and extrajudicial extermination squads.

seizures

Inexplicably, I have Oscar and Hammerstein music playing in my head. It’s a signal. I shiver. I’m expecting the onset of seizures soon. I’m standing at an intersection in the city, aware of the surveillance camera at the top of the lamppost next to me. Its servos need cleaning and graphite. They grind audibly as the camera manoeuvres onto its target, me, standing beneath it. Somewhere, there are military personnel watching screens.

I feel the seizures coming, and I run out into the intersection in front of oncoming traffic. I don’t care. I don’t want to be recorded thrashing on the concrete. They’d send a recovery crew to sweep me up like a piece of litter. I’d rather take a hit by an approaching vehicle. It won’t matter much. I still have the Medcap® next to my jugular vein. It contains drugs for low to moderate trauma, pain and infection, along with an ever ready remotely activated two gram dose of Gelmight®, an explosive C5®/algae Sporaphil® derivative specially prepared so that the military underachiever charged with pushing my button won’t have to think too much about it.

I reach the other side of the intersection. Car drivers honk their horns. The frequency of the sound exacerbates the brain shivers. My inner ear fails. I fall and get up, fall and get up. An elderly woman nearby looks on but doesn’t help. I don’t blame her. I look like shit. I’m emaciated, my face is heavily scarred and pitted, my left eye is missing and my right arm is rotting in a dumpster somewhere. To her, I’m the enemy. But what TV fails to mention to its audience of little old ladies is that no enemy actually exists. No nation has the energy or resources to be another nation’s enemy – there are only Blackfact® and Fear®. I’m hungry enough to eat her little dog. It sits so well behaved. I begin to twitch on my feet. I don’t deserve her consideration. I know this. It’s getting dark. It’s nearly 1 pm. My head begins jerking uncontrollably, from side to side. Seizures.

the big what the hell

No one expected the failure of world economies to hit as severely as it did, or to create the horror. With what seemed minimal incitement at the time, people panicked. It started with them looking inward and losing the human capacity to share. Then came the looting in the cities and private citizens arming themselves. Eventually people left their urban precincts thinking rural areas safer. Only the poor, those who lacked mobility and the military remained. Even the police split town. The army started to use the poor and housebound as target practice, and that began the Urban Wars. The wars, along with the myriad conspiracy theories about who was responsible for it all eventually lead to Blackfact® and Fear®, the two conspiracy theories of all conspiracy theories. They were so seamless and functionally placating that the media, and then what was left of the government, began to use them as mainstays. And conspiracy evolved into actuality. 

earlier, Stanley Park, Vancouver

The mist on the snow is the result of an inversion. I know it will pass soon, and I’ll have a clear shot. This is overgrown and derelict Stanley Park. Once the pride of the city, now a toxic waste dump, pet cemetery, dumping ground for human body parts and camp ground for those too far gone to ever return.

But the adventurous can still find a semi-safe trail to hike.

The .50 calibre Remington® Biomatic® I’ve been assigned is attached to my right wrist by a locked coupling unit near where my hand, fingers and thumb come into contact with the trigger and safety. It only disengages after my handlers have witnessed the successful completion of my assigned op, or things have so turned to shit that my stealthy escape is required for reasons of debriefing and/or Discomfiture-Avoidance™ — a.k.a. blameful secrecy.

Hypodermic needles in the coupling unit pierce the skin on my wrist at varying depths depending on the nerve they’re meant to encounter and have influence over. This is also true of the micro-fibre optic matrix that envelopes my entire body. These injection regions are always mildly to moderately infected, and cause my dry, diabetic skin to itch like mad, but the coupling’s housing denies me access for the purpose of scratching. I’ve never missed a target because of this, but it’s come close.

This isn’t cutting edge technology; no one knows what that is anymore. There is talk, however, of a mythical, parallel world existing somewhere on the planet, where black operatives work with highly accurate, non-penetrating personal laser operated weapon systems that kill with tremendously accurate low frequency sound waves that smash a target’s internal organs to a pulp. Such is myth. I often dream of the possibilities and wake biting my tongue, believing that I’m on fire.

My hip pack is full of ammo, small explosives, rudimentary first aid supplies and candy bars. I have type 1 diabetes, but who cares. Only the rich have access to human recombinant insulin now. The rest of us use cheap, toxic, poorly refined porcine insulin that kills most of the people who use it within a year. My days are numbered. That’s why they chose me for this shit op.

The thing I hate the most about having no insulin is the endless and intense thirst and having to piss every three minutes, along with the obvious bodily atrophy I see in the mirror whenever I bother to look. I’m wasting away. There was an idea once that I might be paid in vials of human insulin, but that would have put my income way over what Fear® Op Specs are paid. Besides, it was said, I would probably have sold it on the grey meds market, anyway.

My blood glucose runs high, which means I’m hungry all the time. I open what currently passes for a Snickers Bar™ and dig in. The peanuts are soy analogues and that’s what they taste like. The synthetic chocolate is made from GMO carob seed grown in low Earth orbit, but tastes like shit. The sugar, however, is real, and even though it’s killing me and my body can’t use it for energy, it’s sweet and comforting.

target(s)

I’m told the target is a government official – a bureaucrat, but one with too much popularity and power.  According to briefing, he stayed in the city while the exodus to the countryside took place, like he was making a statement, which he was, and which has since paid off far too well for him. He may win most of the popular vote in the next farce that passes for an election in these parts. Such are the subtleties I’m not supposed to be able to understand, as a flunky assassin.

I unzip and piss, and risk being given away by the sight of steam rising from my position. The near panicked voice of a handler comes over my Earport® informing me that I’m functioning outside of procedure. ‘Fuck your procedure,’ I say, and a powerful electric shock is sent through the hypos into my body. I convulse and kick on my back in the snow, as a result, which is just as likely to reveal my position as the piss steam. This kind of conditioning is counter-productive. It numbs my hand and trigger finger, and rattles my brain making for a potentially less accurate shot, but my handlers aren’t the brightest pennies in the jar.  Anyway, the target is still five minutes away according to the best recon, which is actually for shit.

There’s the usual crackle over my Earport®. It’s all in undeciphered SA® — Spinoza Acclaim®. It sounds like a fast hiss with the occasional contrasting pop and short, medium or long silences. The silences, they say, and their duration, mean more than the hiss and pops.

SA® can be used by handlers looking out from, or listening in through, my inverse Eyeport® and Earport® to take over my weapon actions when/if required. It works on CIR®, closed circuit as well as microwave. Its codes are top secret and updated randomly at periods as short as every few nanoseconds to as long as every thirty-seven and a half minutes using a Wozniak Strategics Corp®™ algorithm that we’re told has never come close to being cracked.

Across the bottom third of my Eyeport®, SA® text travels quickly in a SingleLine®, from right to left. At some time in the distant past, before the world went into unremitting meltdown, I learned to read. I was a child then, of course, and diligent teachers worked hard to fill my mind with essential facts and beautiful if benign magic. They’re probably all dead now. Intellectuals, however defined, don’t live long in worlds where conspiracy theories are copyright.

As the air cools, the inversion subsides and the mist begins to disappear. I make a small mound of snow on which to mount the Biomatic®. No handler has ever taken over my weapon action. They’ve never had to. I’m a fucking rock, and they hate me for it.

I watch the line where the woods end and become an open field. I’m 300 meters back looking through the Biomatic’s® Vidscope®. This is where the target is known to carelessly appear like clockwork every day at this time. It’s his daily exercise. I blink and there he, or should I say she is, preceded by a rare and expensive Golden Labrador Retriever.

“Confirm target, please,” I say to my mystic handler, sitting somewhere in relative comfort.

“Confirmed.”

I draw a bead, but behind her comes a child, a little boy maybe five years old. My thumb hesitates over the safety, and then flicks it over, back into safe mode. The trigger remains locked. Another handler’s voice comes over my Earport®,

“Shooter, disengage your weapon’s safety.”

“I’m thinking,” I say.

“You’re paid to shoot, not think.”

“Unintended mark with target,” I say. “Request permission to abort.”

“Negative, unintended mark is also target.”

“He’s a fucking kid.”

“Both parties,” the handler says. “Or surrender weapon action.”

So, it’s a matter of pride. A competent shooter does not lose weapon action. I now have approximately 45 of the 60 seconds given by Spinoza Acclaim® to undecided shooters to make up their minds, or overcome whatever snafu they face. The little boy is exerting his independence by following several paces behind the target. I move the Vidscope® back and forth between them. If I fire over their heads, they’ll have warning to drop or run. But SA® will take control of the Biomatic® in a flash, and its caseless ammo will tear down the old growth forest and obliterate every living thing in view.

I’m a slave, but I don’t kill children.

I take a Snickers Bar™ from my hip pack; I tear it from its wrapper and push it into the muzzle of the Biomatic®. Physics, etched into cosmic stone, dictates that a bullet fired now will lead to a violent and unavoidable reaction. Heavy, high velocity ammunition passes through the blocked barrel of a rifled weapon too fast for pressures to dissipate before said pressures blow the muzzle area of the weapon’s barrel wide open, resulting in physical catastrophe. In other words, the normally soft and gooey Snickers Bar™ is a brick wall that a solid, ultrasonic projectile cannot penetrate. Spinoza Acclaim® has no solution for this snafu. It’s a bug I encountered by mistake two years ago while on ops in Calgary. Shooters aren’t supposed to put their own health and safety at risk in this way, so no contingency exists.

Sixty seconds has passed and SA® takes weapon action away from me. I feel, for the first time ever, my Biomatic® move with seeming independence across a 180 degree plane, taking in all possible targets, and then falling on one.

Somewhere in an Ultra-secure™ climate controlled operations viewing room, Ops Handler Management is weighing the pros and cons of initiating my explosive Gelmight® sequence, or leaving me alone until after debriefing. Pre-recorded muzzle obstruction warnings are crackling over my Earport® and flashing red across my Eyeport®. A handler breaks in and demands I take action to remove the muzzle obstruction or abort immediately.

“I’ve lost weapon action,” I say, stating the obvious. “Muzzle obstruction is an SA® quandary now.”

Another handler demands I describe the makeup of the muzzle obstruction: “SA® cannot determine nature of obstruction, is unable to decide correct course of action.”

“Obstruction,” I reply, “appears to be a sugary combination of elements including paraffin based imitation chocolate, heavily hydrogenated soy oil based caramel and soy peanut analogues.” Then I say, “Available almost everywhere you shop.”

The safety automatically disengages, and the Biomatic® accepts a .50 calibre bullet into its breech. Electrical pulses move through almost all the muscles on my right side, and some on my left. There’s a tensing emphasis on my right wrist, upper hand, and thumb and trigger finger. I hold the small and light, yet massively lethal Remington Biomatic® out in front of me with a straight captive arm. The Vidscope® shows the little boy will be first. Bewildering. It’s the law of the jungle, but an unpleasant discovery, that an undetected bug in Spinoza Acclaim® indicates that, when left to its own devices, it will go after the smallest and weakest target first.

SA® follows the little boy for a few of his small steps, confirming its calculations, and then fires. The barrel of the Biomatic® explodes, and I’m showered with molten material, and at least one sizable piece of super-heated carbon fibre has been shot into my brain from the blast. The blast’s resulting kick takes off my arm at the midpoint of my upper tibia, and I am, for the moment at least, blinded.

much later, snickers bar morbidity

There’s a worm in my brain. Words from the Oscar and Hammerstein musical South Pacific are cycling through my head. Why the line “there is nothing like a dame” of all things? I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I had her.

I’m sitting on a bench at a transit stop. The seizures have begun, and a little girl with a grape Popsicle™ stands at the curb five feet away, impassively watching me twitch and convulse with increasing ferocity. It’ll be grand maul, across the scale soon. The chunk of carbon fibre that landed in my brain all those months ago was never removed, after I was canned as a Fear® Op Spec. A recovery crew is probably already on its way, and I’m becoming convinced that there really is nothing like a dame, after all.©

closing time at the Jiminy Cricket Cocktail Lounge

A hand and forearm flopped lazily out of the large, sloppily bundled package as it was lifted over the bumper and into the trunk. There were three men presiding. Fat Phil O’Malley stood lookout as a man in a tee shirt and jeans folded the forearm back at the elbow, and considered taking the Rolex off of the pale blue-veined wrist as he did. He changed his mind, and closed the hood.

“You sure this is his car, Phil?” said the third man, named Jack.

“I checked the hotel register when the night guy went to the can.”

“All righty, then. It’s July, and it’s hot. By dinnertime tomorrow, the smell will be enough to attract attention. Someone will call the cops, and they’ll clean it up.”

“He was one lippy son of a bitch,” said the man in the tee shirt.

“Not anymore,” said fat Phil O’Malley, lighting a cigarette.

* * * * *

The Jiminy Cricket Cocktail Lounge was just off the highway near the airport, next to the YVR Astor Airport Inn.

It was the small hours of Wednesday morning and Larry Glick sat at the bar, listening to Antonio Martini at the electric piano and looking at his own reflection in the mirrored wall behind the rows of bottles. It was getting on toward closing time and big fat Phil O’Malley was behind the bar, pouring last drinks.

“Last call, fella,” O’Malley said to Glick. “What’ll you have?”

“Same,” Larry Glick said. “Better make it two.”

Big fat O’Malley cracked two beer and put them on the bar. Glick slid some cash across to him.

The Lounge was still mostly full, despite the hour. Glick imagined it was the usual swarm. But he’d noticed they were all the type of guys you’d expect to see in a bar or tavern, not an airport lounge. They were wearing work boots, grubby jeans and tee shirts.

“Rough crowd,” Glick said to O’Malley.

“They work for a living,” the fat man said. “No shame in that.”

“Truth,” said Glick, and gulped back some beer.

“Where you from, mister?” said O’Malley to Larry Glick, loading glasses into the washing machine.

“Chicago.”

“Ah, American.”

“No shame in that, either” said Larry Glick.

Phil O’Malley shrugged and continued loading the washer.

“I knew a Chicago fella once,” said a man, slurring his words, a few barstools down. “He packed heat, a .45. I told him Canada wasn’t the place for that, but he wouldn’t listen. Ended up killing a broad downtown because she wouldn’t return his affections. He’s doing federal time up the valley now. Last I heard, he was in isolation ‘cause he don’t get along with the rest of the population. I guess people from Chicago are just assholes.”

“Ease up, Jack,” Phil O’Malley said.

“I ain’t seen a gun in twenty years,” said Glick. “Not since the Marines. Not all Americans are the same.”

“Bunch of bastards….”

“C’mon, Jack,” said fat O’Malley. “Let’s end tonight without trouble.”

“I gotta clean up the mess when one of yous goes postal,” said Jack.

“You a janitor?” said Glick.

“No,” said Jack. “RCMP. They call me Policeman Jack. You can call me sir.”

Glick smiled and sipped his beer. Antonio Martini was singing Volare à la Dean Martin.

“There was another American I had dealings with…,” Policeman Jack said, sipping his rye and Coke, “from Cincinnati. He was running hot handguns and meth into the country along a dirt road that cut over the border at an uncontrolled crossing. But I settled his hash. We shot it out on that very same road when no one else was around. I tapped him thrice, and I left him there for the coyotes.”

“That’s real nice,” said Larry Glick, reading labels on the bottles across from him.

“Please, Jack,” said Phil O’Malley. “We close in a half hour. Let’s not have trouble. I don’t want to be talking to on-duty cops until 6:00 a.m.”

“Is that what you’re doing up here?” said Policeman Jack to Larry Glick. “You up here running guns and selling meth to schoolchildren?”

“I sell semiconductors.”

“My ex-wife’s brother sold semiconductors outta Silicone Valley. He was a coke-fiend. You a coke-fiend? You in possession? How about I frisk you and find out?”

O’Malley said: “You’re shit-faced, Jack. And you got no probable cause.”

“He’s an American semiconductor salesman. That’s all the probable cause I need.”

“You’re drunk, Policeman Jack,” Larry Glick said. “You ain’t touching me. You think you got cause, call in some of your sober pals. You carrying your weapon right now, by the way, all blotto?”

“I carry it in my sleep, fella.”

“Well that’s real interesting. But now, since you’ve been so forthcoming with stories of Americans you’ve known, I want to tell you about a Canadian I once knew.”

“Where you taking this?” said fat Phil O’Malley, under his breath.

“To its logical conclusion,” Larry Glick said, and then, “It happened a long time ago. This guy I knew, a Canadian, we’ll call him Skyler from Regina. He fell in love with a beautiful young woman in Milwaukee, but the woman, let’s call her Venus, didn’t want to have anything to do with him.  She thought he was dull. He sold pet food to grocery store chains for a living, drove a base model Honda and dressed out of the Sears Catalogue. She rejected him, so he secretly followed her round for months, studying her, finding out what she liked, where she went, what she ate and drank. A lot of people would have called it stalking. And I guess he was a little obsessed with her; he just couldn’t help it.

“One evening, he’s following her in a rental car. It’s in Toronto, where she’s gone on a brief vacation. Anyway, he trails her to this club in a refurbished warehouse. He decides to go in, and gives his car to the valet. Once he’s in the club, he’s shocked at what he sees. There’s Milwaukee Venus in a black corset, holding a ping pong paddle in her hand, slapping the ass of this old guy tied to the wall. Turns out it’s an S&M club for rich old dudes that like to get spanked, and Venus is a real spanker.

“Now, in a strange way, Skyler sees his in. He figures he can take a paddling from Venus if it means they can be together. So, he shoulders his way up to the bar and asks the bartender, ’Hey, how do I get spanked by that blonde over there?’ And the bartender says, ’Take a number, chump.’ So, Skyler takes a number and orders a ginger ale. He’s number 27, and Venus is currently spanking number 10. He’s got a bit of a wait ahead of him before he gets paddled, so he starts to look around the joint, and notices that he’s one of the youngest guys there. Which is saying something, because he’s 49. He’s in a huge room filled with granddads and a few young women with paddles and riding crops. It’s very weird, and he starts to wonder if he shouldn’t just forget the whole thing. That’s when this oldster comes up to him and introduces himself.

“’Hey there, young fella,’ says the half naked old guy. ’I haven’t seen you round here before. You must be new to our little club.’

“’Yeah,’ says Skyler. ’I just thought I’d drop in for a spanking.’

“’Well, my name’s Archie,’ says the old guy, and Skyler shakes the man’s well manicured hand. ‘You like a good spanking, do you?’

“’A hard spanking’s good to find,’ Skyler declares, not knowing what else to say.

“’A decent spanking needs to be earned, however,’ says Grandpa Archie. ’You figure you’ve earned a good spanking? Have you been wicked? Can you provide examples?’

“Skyler wonders why all the questions, but decides to play along.

“’I haven’t really thought about it much,’ he says.

“’Well,’ says Grandpa Archie, ‘I redirected 75 tons of UN Humanitarian Aid meant for Ethiopian refugees last month. Waddaya think of that?’ Skyler’s quietly appalled. If this guy’s someone’s granddad, then he’s a lousy granddad.

“Lousy Granddad continues: ’I made $108,000 off that deal, and I spent it on coke, booze and prostitutes. It’s not the first time, either. Meanwhile, I keep my wife in a cut-rate seniors’ home. She’s got dementia. She doesn’t even know my name, anymore. I haven’t visited her in 8 months, and then it was to have her sign over Power of Attorney so I could cash in her investments and sell her possessions. You see, I’ve really been a bad boy.’

“Skyler ponders that. He recalls dropping eggs onto cars from a highway overpass when he was 10 years old, and wonders if that might count.

“Then Grandpa Archie points to the wall where an obese man is in chains and being spanked by a redhead in a purple ballet tutu. ’You see that porky bastard cuffed to the wall,’ he says. ‘The one in the blue and red striped boxers? That’s the CEO of the Bank of Canada. That son of a bitch embezzles, gropes women in public and is generally running the economy into the toilet. You got anything that compares to that?’

“’No,’ admits Skyler from Regina. ’I guess I don’t.’

“’And yet,’ says Grandpa Archie, ’you figure you deserve a spanking? C’mon, give it some thought. There must be some seeds of meanness inside of you. Ever cheat or steal or ignore an injustice? Do you have any admissions of failure? Any pleas for forgiveness? How about a simple desire for understanding?’

“’No,’ Skyler says. ’I sell pet food to grocery stores for a living; I donate 15% of my gross income to charities; I attend church: I volunteer at a homeless shelter; I return my library books on time; I vote; I….’

“’Phaw!’ says Grandpa Archie. ‘Typical Canadian. You see the men in this place? They aren’t your typical Canadians. This isn’t any place for a typical Canadian. You want to be in a Tim Horton’s choking on a cruller and a double-double. I don’t know why they let self-righteous little pricks like you into this place.’

“Skyler wondered, too. Though he couldn’t recall behaving self-righteous at any time that evening. He’d paid the cover to get into this debauched place where he was surrounded by depraved old men, sure. He even believed for a short time that he might participate in the debauchery. But he understood in that moment that he lacked the kink and immoral edge necessary to have a woman like Milwaukee Venus spanking only him with her ping pong paddle. Then he wondered, for a single mad moment, if he could be wicked retroactively – get his spanking tonight and then perhaps misdirect a truckload of kitty-chow tomorrow. But he knew he couldn’t. He gulped back his ginger ale and let his number 27 fall to the floor.”

“And then…?” said Policeman Jack.

The energy in the room had changed.

Phil O’Malley stood still behind the bar, engrossed, having hung on every word of Larry Glick’s story. And he wasn’t alone. Everyone in the bar was captivated, all of the rough-lookers in their jeans and tees. Even Antonio Martini had stopped singing like Dean Martin to catch every word. For his part, Policeman Jack had ditched his arrogance, and was waiting for more.

Larry Glick had half a beer left and chugged it back. It was always like this whenever he told this story, in cocktail lounges across the continent. But this group seemed even more sucked in than the others.

“Well,” Glick said, “Regina Skyler decided then and there that he was only good at one thing, and that was being good. He looked around him at the S&M nightclub clientele, hoping he would learn from the depravity of his experience. Then he looked over at Milwaukee Venus as she perspired, exerting herself in her black satin corset, slapping some anonymous senior executive on his ass for some perverted narrative of iniquity. He noticed then that there was a dim magenta spotlight casting an array of erotic shadows across the pale geography of her shimmering back and shoulders. It made him think he might weaken. But he didn’t. He put his empty glass on a table and walked out.”

“That’s it?” said Antonio Martini, who sounded more like Jerry Lewis now than Dean Martin.

“Of course not,” said Larry Glick. “Skyler went home to Regina and continued to sell pet food to grocery stores. A week later, he landed a $12 million deal with a nation-wide chain – who knew dog food was worth so much? He continued to donate 15% of his gross income to charities, and continued to volunteer at the homeless shelter. Once he thought he might live dangerously and return a library book late, but he just couldn’t pull it off. He did, however, stop clothes shopping out of the Sears catalogue and started ordering from Land’s End.

“Then about a year later, he met a woman named Edna at a church picnic. Three months after that, they eloped, impulsively like two nutty kids, in Las Vegas during a pet food convention.”

“And they lived happily ever after?’ said O’Malley, with a warm chubby smile.

“For the duration of the pet food convention they did,” said Glick. “Skyler blew a wad on Edna. They stayed at a ritzy hotel; they ate at the best restaurants; he bought her a wardrobe of designer clothes. They even gambled, which wasn’t normally Skyler’s style. But good clean living paid off and he won 50 grand at blackjack. And that’s how it went until they got home.”

“Then what happened,’ said one of the rough looking crowd, at a table near the exit.

“Then they went home, and Edna got news that her mother had died, which sort of rained on the new couple’s parade, but waddaya gonna do? The news of her mother’s death, however, woke Edna up to the realisation that no one lasts forever. So, she figured it was time for Skyler to meet her father, who hadn’t been at their wedding since they eloped. He was some bigwig with the World Bank, and Skyler was real impressed with that. For him, that made meeting the old man seem like a big event.

“They planned their little family shindig for a Sunday, after church. It was gonna be a barbecue, pork chops with extra fat and some nice thick steaks. Edna even made her favourite Jell-O mold salad, the one with the canned fruit cocktail. And who doesn’t like that recipe?

“Anyway, the big day arrives, and Edna goes out to the airport to pick up her father and is surprised at Arrivals to find that daddy’s gotten married also, to a woman much younger than him and, in Edna’s opinion, a little bit on the brassy side. But that’s how men are, she decides. And in her mind, she quietly blesses the union.

“On the way home, daddy’s bride seems amused by the blandness of Regina, which Edna finds mildly offensive. And she can’t help looking at the young brassy thing in the backseat, through the rear view mirror, thinking that there is something terribly wrong with the whole situation.

“At the house, Skyler’s in backyard barbecue heaven, marinating meat, tossing salad and making an alcohol-free Sangria recipe he’d found in Healthy Pentecostal Magazine. And he’s in the backyard with a spatula in his hand, checking the coals in the pit, when he hears the Honda pull into the driveway. Skyler’s been waiting all week for this moment, and runs out front to greet his father-in-law. And when he does, when he runs up to the passenger side door to open it, he’s stunned to be met by a man he already knows, a well-kept man in his 60s wearing an expensive Hawaiian shirt and a Tilley hat. It’s Grandpa Archie from the Toronto S&M bar. And getting out of the backseat is Skyler’s old obsession, Milwaukee Venus.

“Skyler drops his spatula as Archie holds out his well manicured hand to shake.

“’Well, well,’ Archie says. ‘Aren’t you the last person I expected to meet today.’

“Venus just smiles sheepishly and gives her suitcase to Edna, who’s picking up on some very weird energy, and wondering what it all could be about. After a moment, Edna pipes up and says, ‘What’s going on here?’

“But no one speaks, until Archie timidly says to Skyler, ‘Waddaya think of the little woman?’ Which was really the wrong thing to say.

“’It was kind of all of a sudden,’ Venus says. ‘It was just a couple of weeks ago. He asked me to be with him at the piercing parlour when he got his Prince Albert. I was holding his hand during the procedure, and that was when he popped the question. It was just so damn romantic. What’s a girl supposed to do?’

“’And he’s stinking rich,’ says Skyler.

“’A girl’s gotta think ahead.’

“That’s when Skyler bends down and picks up his spatula,” Larry Glick said. “Then he walks into the house.”

Now the Jiminy Cricket Lounge was silent. Larry Glick threw a 10 spot onto the bar, telling big fat Phil O’Malley to keep it. Then he began to shimmy off of his bar stool.

“Well what happened then?” said O’Malley, scooping up the sawbuck.

“You ain’t going nowhere,” said Policeman Jack, putting his hand at his side where the room assumed he kept his service weapon. “Not until you finish the story.”

“No need for gunplay,” Glick said, belching politely into his hand. “Justice was done.”

“How?” hollered one of the rough-lookers by the exit. “You’re starting to piss us off. What the hell happened?”

“You may not like it.”

“Try us,” said Policeman Jack, his hand having disappeared now into his sports jacket.

“Okay,” said Larry Glick. “Archie and Venus just stand there, waiting for Edna to say something. But Edna’s mute. She’s never seen that quiet fatal look in her husband’s eyes, and couldn’t imagine why it was there in the first place. In about a minute, Skyler returns with a 30.06 hunting rifle, loaded with cartridges he’d proudly made himself in his basement, according to instructions out of Christian Survivalist Ammo Magazine. He’d used them more than once to take down deer in season. Now he puts the rifle’s butt to his shoulder and takes aim, moving the sights back and forth between Grandpa Archie and Milwaukee Venus. Who’s gonna go first? Everyone stands still, all wide-eyed, as Skyler chambers a bullet, and then settles his aim of Grandpa Archie.

“’Skyler don’t,’ Edna screams. ‘Whatever it is, we can work it out.’

“’No we can’t, Edna,’ Skyler says. ‘And suddenly I know that that’s okay. I never thought I could hate until this moment. And I never knew that it could feel this way. I’ve always denied myself hate. They said it was wrong. It was sin. That a man would always regret it. Can you imagine how a man struggles to keep himself from hating in this world, Edna?  Of course you can’t; you’re a woman. They said hate could kill a man. But it’s not like that, at all. I know it now. It’s deliverance, Edna. I wish I’d known sooner. Now I know why Hitler did what he did. I feel like I could fly. It’s ecstasy. It’s a drug, Edna. And I want more. And I know how to get it.’

“That’s when Skyler finally squinted and drew a bead. He had Lousy Grandpa Archie’s high forehead in his sights. ‘Say bye, bye, old man,’ Skyler said, and squeezed the trigger.

“Click!”

“What, click?” said Policeman Jack. “Failure to fire?”

“Failure to fire,” said Larry Glick. “The warning in Christian Survivalist Ammo Magazine stated clearly that The Publisher takes no responsibility for ammunition’s failure to fire, or otherwise misfire.

“You call that justice?” said O’Malley?

“In its own savage way,” said Glick. “Because now Milwaukee Venus sees her chance to defend her man, Archie, and yanks a .32 S&W revolver outta her purse and fires six rounds into Regina Skyler, who drops like a rock onto his front lawn.”

“This is a very disappointing story,” said Policeman Jack.

“Maybe,” said Larry Glick. “But it makes one point very clear.”

“And what is that?” said O’Malley.

“Canadians can be just as hateful and prone to homicide as Americans,” said Glick. “But when it really counts, you’re too weak and useless to pull it off. Even when you’re holding all of the cards, you’ll find a way to fuck it up.”

“That’s it?” said one of the rough-lookers near the exit.

“That’s it,” Larry Glick said, checking his gold Rolex. “And with that, I’m going back to my room to get some shuteye.”

“Maybe not,” said Policeman Jack.