take the child

that now there is a thirsty line
take the child
under stars
oh yes the moon
into your confoundedness
truth laughing at its teller
and let lies listen hard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook

a Trumpish fantasy from 2016

 

Day #16

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #1Once you have arrived at your assigned location, hunker down and wait for ancillary instructions from your Assignment Coach.

4 a.m.

A lamppost lit view from the window—crows quarrel over a dead rat in the gutter.

CNN, I haven’t turned it off for two weeks. Images of desert proxy-wars percolate through the cable; ISIS driving US Iraq-abandoned Humvees and armoured vehicles; teenage recruits firing AK-47s into the Mosul sky. Domestically, unarmed American black men shot dead while reaching for their ID; the unqualified buzzkill of the Republican National Convention.

The assignment is to instigate a shakeup, by diverting the ginger haired sociopath’s motorcade down the street below my window. I have his picture taped to the wall, a smug man in orbit round himself. He’s got Secret Service protection, naturally. That will complicate things. There’ll be revolution if I accomplish my assignment. A master class in failed democracy, for all those who care to attend, and everyone must.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #4Continue to take prescribed performance enhancing drugs until instructed to discontinue.

There’s food for a few more days, and I keep my iPhone charged. They may have forgotten me, or abandoned my mission without bothering to call. This happens from time to time. I continued to inject the methamphetamine they supplied me with in ever increasing dosages, against protocol, and my supply ran out two days ago. The situation has become dire.

The room’s haunted, or I’m hallucinating. The ghosts walk through one wall, across the room, and disappear into the other.

Out of boredom, I disassemble and clean the rifle twice a day, being careful with the scope. Its zero’s set. The octanitrocubane satchel charges are in an Eddie Bauer backpack on the nightstand. An RPG launcher, with rocket mounted, stands in the corner by the door, like an umbrella waiting for rain. I’ve spent days wondering if these are the right tools for the job, but they’ll have to be.

My room is well situated over the busy skid row street below, Central Avenue. The hotel is old, though. It disgusts me. It’s a slum, on the edge of a vast precinct of slums and housing projects. There are rats in the walls, junkies in the halls. Roaches fuck in the empty soup cans I’ve thrown onto the floor. The deranged and the addicted come here to die. A woman’s body was retrieved from the stuck elevator, yesterday. She died waiting for rescue that never came. Her screams and weeping went on for days, getting quieter over time, until only the hush of ordinary cruelty remained. She must have died slowly in the dark, jonesing all the way. Her body had been in there for a week, before a repairman found it. The rising smell alerted no one.

7 a.m.

The iPhone rings. For some reason the ringtone is Elvis singing Jailhouse Rock. I make sure that the triple encryption is on, and answer.

“Hello?”

“There’s been a delay,” someone says. “The target’s gone off the radar, so to speak.”

It’s a voice I know. A woman I must have met at indoctrination, or during training. Nameless, monotone. A survivor of enough assassination assignments, I assume, to have earned a telephone on a desk in a cubicle, surrounded by a hundred other Assignment Coaches, each managing multiple operatives in various stages of waiting, execution or flight.

“Yes?” I say. “What do you mean by delay?”

“I mean that you have to hold on,” she says.

“For how long?”

“We’ll be in touch.”

“Wait! Don’t hang up.”

“What?”

“I need things,” I say.

“We gave you expense money.”

“I can’t leave, though—in case….”

“Don’t worry about that,” says the woman. “The target’s stationary, for the moment. It’s his day off. He’s at the Marriott downtown, probably sweating all over some twelve year old they scooped at the mall. He won’t go mobile for another eighteen hours. Besides, yours is only one of several possible routes to the airport. The itinerary is open to change. Go out and get what you need. Get receipts.”

“I need more shit. I don’t think dealers give receipts.”

“Shit? What do mean?”

“Crank,” I say. “Meth.”

“Discontinue use. You don’t need it at the moment. Things have stalled. We’ll let you know when it’s necessary to start taking it again. Stand down, rest up.”

“You can’t be serious. Fuck, I need it. I can’t go without it now.”

“Symptoms of withdrawal are to be expected,” says the woman. “You’re sleep deprived. Take a nap, and endure.”

“You must be joking. I’m crashing like a Malaysian 777. I was told to take it, to keep myself ready. Now I really need it. You’re right, I haven’t slept for days. There’re ghosts….”

There’s a click, and a fresh silence on the line.

“Hello?”

Nothing.

I’ve been watching the dealers on the street from my window since I arrived. They’re mostly pink-cheeked, clean-jeaned juveniles who drive in from out of the neighbourhood. Their bosses use them because they aren’t hooked, yet. It’s thought that they won’t swallow, snort or inject the inventory. But when they finally do, which is inevitable, they’re damned where they stand.

10:30 a.m.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #10When told to stand-down by your Assignment Coach, rest, restock and study analysis.

For the first time in days, I leave my room to go outside, and pass through the lobby on my way. The lobby’s post-apocalyptic. It’s an impact crater. More ghosts. There are three frail old men, sitting in a shabby row. Threadbare clothes on a threadbare couch. Hoary hands on canes. I can see right through them. A woman in a corner confers with her own personal invisible, beneath a dark and dusty framed picture of a nineteenth century aristocrat on a stallion in the countryside. The clerk sitting behind the wire-mesh glass looks up from his internet porn; someone naked, in handcuffs on the screen.

Outside, the sidewalk’s a perpetual motion machine. Dead storefronts, faded graffiti, prison tattoos. Scammers, hookers, junkies and dealers. Bodies nudged over to the curb. Vehicle traffic hardly moves. There’s a slow procession round the block, men driving family cars, looking for bargain basement sex. Lunatics cross the street blindly. The cops cruise through occasionally, but never stop. It’s a bottleneck. Only a major emergency detour would force the target’s motorcade down such an impassable street. That must be the plan.

I haven’t changed my clothes or taken a shower for more than two weeks. I blend in. There’s a dealer I recognise from looking out of my hotel room window a few feet away, talking to a drag queen. The dealer’s white, dressed like a department store rapper, trying too hard. I approach, and stand next to him with my fists in my pockets, tight and trembling. He takes one look and walks away. Shit.

The drag queen looks me over.

“You’re some kinda fucked up, boy,” she says. “You gonna follow him, or just stand there and melt?”

I shiver and smile. Now I get it. I’m supposed to follow the dealer to a more practical spot. I go and find him in the crowd.

The deal takes place mid-block, away from the corner, beneath a broken surveillance camera. We’re surrounded, hidden in the chaos. Our eye contact is brief. He’s impatient.

“What you want?” he says, trying to sound bad, missing the mark.

“Meth,” I say.

“You stink, man.”

“I know.”

“You shit your pants?”

“I might have,” I say. “I don’t remember.”

“How much you want?”

“Fifty.”

“Fifty what?”

“Fifty dollars,” I say. “What will that get me?”

“What kinda junkie are you, don’t know what fifty’ll get you?”

“I’m new.”

“You’re a cop.”

“Hell no. Do I smell like a cop?”

“No,” he says. “You smell like a pig.”

“C’mon, I got the money here in my hand. See?”

What follows is a relaxed current of motion, a clandestine double jointed hand-off. The ease of it surprises me. I’ve never done this before, but something occult inside of me has assumed control. Drugs and money exchange simultaneously, in what looks like a failed handshake, after which the dealer looks away. It’s over, fast. I got more for my money than I’d guessed.

For the dealer, though, I no longer exist. If I was on fire, he’d just step away. He hates junkies. I should go and shoot-up, but I resent his attitude. I stare, and hate him back.

“You have nightmares,” I say, but don’t know why. Maybe it’s the same death wish that got me here in the first place.

“What? Fuck you. Fuck off.”

“It’s the junkies,” I say. “People like me, your clientele.”

“Don’t push it, freak. Disappear.”

“We occupy your sleep, like insurgents.”

“I’m warning you,” says the dealer, drawing a switchblade, making a show of it. It snaps open.

I can’t stop, though. Violent isolation and vivid cravings have transformed me, have somehow made me telepathic. I see deeply inside of him. He’s a piss-puddle of dread. The knife in his hand is meaningless.

“Junkies surround you in your worst dreams,” I continue. “Don’t we? Clawing at you, grasping and pulling you down onto the pavement. Legions of us. Tearing your skin right down to the bone, ripping out your eyes with our filthy fingernails, stabbing you with dirty syringes, each one of us looking for a fix. Ten thousand fixes, a hundred thousand. We want what you can’t possibly deliver. You struggle. You call out for your mamma. You seek Jesus. You’re desperate to escape.  You’re in agony, but we won’t back off. We’re mutilating you. Smothering you in our stench. But you can’t stop us. You wake up screaming; you’ve wet yourself. The fear feels like a bullet in your gut. You fumble like a fool, reaching for a weapon. But who are you gonna kill, nightmare tweekers or yourself? And when the nightmare’s all over, and you’ve put the panic back into its tiny cupboard somewhere in your sick little brain, you still know that you have to return here, this sidewalk, with your pockets full of junk, the terror phosphorescent on your skin. Just look at you, you pathetic sack of shit.”

His eyes are wide, chin back, shoulders up. I’ve tapped into something. How or why’s a mystery. Maybe clairvoyance is a gift of sleeplessness, appearing without restraint.

Without warning, he thrusts his blade into my side, through the ribs. The force of the blow, his fist on the handle of the knife, throws me off balance. I stagger and fall. He walks away. The fluid crowd fills his vacated space. No one looks down at me, as I scramble to stand.

Then I hear Jailhouse Rock, and answer the phone.

“Hello,” I say. The knife has pierced a lung. I’m coughing blood. I try to focus. I’m drooling dark red spittle.

“He’s moving,” I hear my Assignment Coach say. “We didn’t expect it. Protests are springing up across the city, and the protesters are way more organised than we thought they’d be. They’ve blocked nearly every possible escape route. His motorcade may be coming your way. Where are you?”

“On the street.” I touch my side where the knife went in. Lung blood, everywhere.

“Get back up to your room,” says the Coach. “You’ll know if the motorcade is coming your way when you hear three explosions a couple of blocks away. Car-bombs. The blasts will box them in on three sides, we hope. Turning left down Central will be their only option. The bombs will detonate simultaneously. Wait for them before you make a move. The cops will try to clear the street. The SUVs may even take to the sidewalk, but even if they do the convoy will be moving slow enough for you to get off your shots.”

Get off my shots.

“I’ve been thinking,” I say. “The rifle you gave me, and the SUV’s bulletproof glass, they don’t add up.”

“You have what you need. Take the initiative. Do what you have to.”

“Yes, but a little direction from your end would…. Hello?”

A familiar silence.

I run into the hotel and up the stairs. The lock on the door to my room is sticky—the key won’t turn. Several tries, and after dropping the keys multiple times, it finally opens. The rifle is disassembled and lies on an oil cloth on the bed. I’ll have to reassemble it. Where did I put the shells? Panic.

Rigs and other paraphernalia are on the dilapidated dresser. I throw down two small baggies of crank, and then look into the cracked mirror above the dresser. In just two weeks, I’ve become a zombie. What happened? Who cares? I begin the mix, using water from the swamp toilet down the hall. Two points—no, three points—to 12 units of water, then I load the syringe. There are still good veins in my arm, in spite of the bruising and spreading infections. Finally, it’s time to inject. The sting of the needle piercing the skin sets off a conditioned flow of endorphins in my brain, not the buzz I’m looking for, but at last a sign of hope. I’m moments away—

And in a second long precursor to catastrophe, time dies, and is then ferociously resurrected.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Appendix 6, Sec. 9.7—Explosives in an Urban Setting—Lateral DamageA blast wave is pressure expanding supersonically from an explosive core, preceded by a shock of compressed gases. The detonation of explosives in a city setting differs from that in an open area, like a battle field. In a city, the blast wave will be forced to funnel along the street grid, and be constrained by structures along its path, making the potential for significant lateral damage very high.

The sound of the blasts is deafening. The building quakes, and I look up from my arm in time to see the window shatter, and feel a fast moving wave of glass missiles, large, small and microscopic, wash over me as I’m pushed off of my feet and onto the floor.

My face and other exposed bits of me have been torn to shreds. My clothes have been ripped to pieces. I’m oozing blood and macrophage from the neck up, and I’m nearly deaf. The syringe remains full, but its needle is bent in my vein. Blood runs into my now lidless right eye, from above where the flesh of my forehead once was. I blink, and try pushing the plunger down. It won’t budge.

From somewhere nearby, I hear a faint rendition of Jailhouse Rock. I answer the phone: “What the fuck. Are you using nukes?” I lisp and slur my words. Large portions of my lips and cheeks are gone.

“It was a bit too much, I admit,” says my Coach. I can barely hear her, but it’s obvious that she’s rattled.

“Speak up,” I shout.

“We’re sorry,” she hollers. “We used ISIS defectors to build and plant the car bombs. We flew them in from Iraq last week. They’ll provide us with a plausible deniability mechanism, but they clearly lack the subtlety necessary for a more civilized milieu. That’s beside the point, though. Are you still viable?”

Viable? I’m on the floor with much of my facial epidermis ripped away, I have what I must assume is an ultimately fatal stab wound to my lung, and I still need a fix.

Standing up, I jam the iPhone between my shoulder and what’s left of my ear. It nearly slithers away in a smear of blood.

I try to remove the syringe from my arm. It breaks, but the needle remains steadfastly hooked into my vein. What’s left of the meth and remaining syringes have been blown off the top of the dresser, to who knows where. I begin to hack up blood again, more with each cough.

“I’m viable,” I say—cough, cough, cough. Spit.

“Good,” says the Assignment Coach. “Maybe we overdid it, but the plan worked. The motorcade was forced to turn left. We’re following it now, via satellite. They’ve stopped for the moment, but they’re headed in your direction, very slowly. There’re bodies everywhere, but there’s also a mob forming on the road. Mass-hysteria caused by the blasts, who knows? Radio chatter indicates that the police, wherever the hell they are, are preparing to use tear gas. Your neighbourhood’s gone berserk. Looting’s already begun. Looks like we’ve provoked a riot. Unintentional, but perhaps to our advantage. Get to work.”

I disconnect, and do a quick inventory. It’s time. The sniper rifle, the Armalite AR-50, even with the armor piercing incendiary shells, probably won’t do the job unless I’m closer. I’m going through serious withdrawal now, my hands too shaky to reassemble it properly, or get off an accurate shot.

I grab a Glock and extra clips from the nightstand, and the backpack of satchel charges. Then the RPG launcher, with the rocket attached.

Then I take a moment to tug at the needle hooked into my forearm. It’s good and stuck. Looking into the mirror again, I see the zombie only without a face, just gore and flesh fragments, exposed bone, teeth and lidless left eye. The zombie’s carrying a polymer-framed automatic handgun, rocket launcher and enough explosives to take down the hotel and every adjacent building for a block and a half. I open my hotel room door and run, through the haunted lobby and out onto the street.

Bedlam.

In a very short time, the desperate people of a desperate neighbourhood have risen up. Whore hunting family men are being pulled from their cars, robbed and beaten, their vehicles set ablaze. Pawnshops and convenience stores are being raided, the proprietors shooting back. Three motorcycle cops try to navigate and take control of the throng. They blow their whistles, sound their sirens and rev their engines, and are quickly taken down. A pickup truck drives by with thugs in the back, wielding AR-15s.  Suddenly, it looks like Baghdad, only with Hip Hop music and gangbanger wheel hubs.

Standing on a bus stop bench, I scan the stormy scene. Then I see them. A half a block away, approaching through the swarm, three SUVs. All of them with men wearing flack vests over their starched white shirts and striped ties, standing on the running boards, firing indiscriminately into the crowd with fully automatic assault rifles.

It’s my target; my long awaited love.

I jump off the bench, moving mechanically, getting closer, looking for the best vantage. I’m walking quickly, as implanted data begins to flow in my head, like an organic code. Then I hear, with my nearly deaf ears, what might be the screech of tires behind me. I turn round, and there’s the pickup, with seven heavily armed locals in the back.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #28Recruit local inhabitants to your ends, wherever and whenever possible.

The passenger side door opens, and a well-dressed man of the hood steps out, with a .45 auto in his hand. This is no department store rapper. From his stance and cold approach, I can tell that he’s something else, altogether. He’s a warrior, and this is the beginning of his war.

“Where’s yo face at?” he says, making me aware once more, that I’m a virtually faceless man, bleeding profusely from my side. I hack up more blood.

“Most of it’s back in my room,” I say, lisping and slurring.

He folds his arms and strokes his chin.

“And what’s that for, Frankenstein?” He points at the rocket launcher.

“I’m on an assignment,” I say. “You see those SUVs stuck up the street?” I thumb over my shoulder. “That’s the apricot dick-weed nominee you’ve been watching for the past year, saying he’s gonna build a wall and make America safe for white people again. Someone on high thinks he might win the election, so I’m here to frost his cake.”

“For real?” says the Warrior. “You a shooter?”

“Absolutely.”

“And that be him, Mr Whitey Man Tan?”

“Yup.”

“I hate that mother fucker.”

“He hates you more,” I say.

“He ain’t got no right comin’ down here after the shit he’s been sayin’.”

“Hey,” a teenager shouts from the truck, “his guards are killing everyone.”

“Shit,” says the Warrior. “How much you want for that rocket gun, you got there?”

“Waddaya you give me?” I say, my allegiance to the cause rapidly dissolving.

“Hundred,” he says.

“Two,” I counter.

“Deal.”

He pulls out a wad, and peels off the bills. I offer over the weapon.

“Glock for sale, too?” he says.

“No way. This chunk might help me get out alive.”

“Ain’t no one gettin’ outta this alive,” says the Warrior, and taking the rocket launcher form my hand, he aims it at me. I wink back, reach forward, and release the safety.

“Now you’re ready, my friend,” I say. “But don’t waste it on me.”

“Ain’t gonna,” he says. “Just seein’ what you’d do. You cool, for such a gruesome mother fucker.”

“Thanks,” I say, and pulling a small brown booklet out of my back pocket, I recite—

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #11When attempting to disable a lightly armoured civilian vehicle with a rocket propelled grenade, fire first on the front wheels to disenable steering, forward mobility and braking capacity, thus rendering the vehicle immobile. Then attack the body of the vehicle with remaining rockets and or whatever weapons remain.

“Righteous,” says the Warrior.

Then I take a satchel charge out of the backpack, and recite again, The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #17Nothing is bombproof, provided the bomb is large enough, and well enough placed.

“I’ll throw these in,” I say, pointing out the triggering mechanism. “You only got ten seconds to get the hell outta Dodge once that’s set. Then take cover, baby. Works best when placed directly under the vehicle, so you or one of your homies has got to get in close.”

“Fuck yeah!” he says, grabs the pack, and gets back into the truck. He smiles and waves as he and his crew drive away, up the street toward the stationary trio of SUVs.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #35: After successfully completing an assignment, wait for the Assignment Coach to contact you. Be patient, as this may take a while. Do not seek medical aid if injured, no matter your condition, as doing so may draw attention to, and compromise, your mission.

I think about Rule #35 as I lay in a morphine haze, watching a TV screen, from a gurney in a hospital emergency ward gone mad. I arrived here in an ambulance filled with six other seriously injured street people, and have been triaged to near the front of a very long line.

Fox News footage shot from a helicopter is repeated over and over as the world marvels at the unanticipated and improbable end of a wanna-be politician. Some mourn and some cheer as images of his body, in a lake of blood on the pavement fades into a television commercial for Walmart.

 

 

 

 

 

the revised diary of a Walmart greeter

Where do I begin?

How about this: Hi, I’m Larry and this is my last blog entry. It’s me telling the world that I really tried to go straight. That I really wanted to be a good guy, just like the suckers out there. And it’s me confessing to a crime, that by now, everyone knows I’m guilty of.

For years now, this blog has been my diary. And who knows? Maybe it’ll hold some meaning for the internet archeologist who discovers it in the drizzle of some abandoned cloud, five hundred years from now. Or maybe I’ve only written it because bloggers come in two flavours: manic egoists and the desperately lonely. Each obsessively seeking the approval of others.

Try to guess which flavour I am, by the way. Hint: I haven’t cleaned up my apartment in over 6 months, and my last girlfriend started an Instagram account exclusively to smut-shame me after dumping me when she found my stash of  ‘70s vintage pornography. Her Instagram account features dozens of adult entertainers displaying a diversity of sexual eccentricities. Each pic attributed to me, with my photo, email and Twitter handle attached, cycling over and over for all the world to see.

I don’t know what flavours Instagrammers come in.

Tomorrow is supposed to be my third day working at what was meant to be my new and redeeming job as a Walmart Greeter. And the third time I was to be forced to do the “motivational” pre-shift Bumble Bee Dance. But it didn’t quite get through my shift, for reasons I’m about to explain.

I got the job through a seniors’ employment program at the YMCA, where my Employment Counsellor was an intern named Debbie. Debbie liked Disneyland, energy drinks and Beyoncé, and was surprised to discover that I’m only sixty-nine. She could have sworn, she said, that I was much older, in a sort of sweet grandfatherly way. Nice. And it was there, sitting together in her tiny three walled cubicle with a Beyoncé calendar pinned to the portable fabric wall above her desk, that I tried to explain my unduly aged appearance.

“It was my second marriage,” I said. “The first wife was okay. Her name was Valentina. We did some really weird shit together.” I shrugged and sighed. “They found her dead in her Ford Pinto one day. Bullet in the head. Didn’t change a thing, though; she was still gorgeous when I identified her in the morgue, head wound or no. Maybe it was the loan sharks that got to her, like the cops said. Who knows. We ran with some mighty rough hombres, back then. I still miss her sometimes. She was good in a knife fight.

“But it was the second wife, Amelie. She was a Scientologist. Aged me something awful. Guess that’s why I look the way I do.

“And then there’s my last girlfriend. Dumped me a little over a year ago. I’m reminded of her every day. By little things. Wanna see her Instagram account?”

Debbie said she didn’t, but asked me straight out: why was I looking for employment, instead of enjoying retirement.

I told her it was complicated, but that it had to do with the ins-‘n’-outs of the endless asymmetrical underground war between the Mexican Government and assorted drug cartels, and how easy it was to lose one’s life savings getting caught in the middle, with a shipping container full of brickweed destined for the US college market, while holding a forged Maersk Line bill of lading with the Mexican Mafia on my tail.

There came a dim moment of silence.

“See?” I said. “Complicated.”

Bewildered, Debbie handed me a slip of paper with a  job lead scratched on it.

“This company has a reputation for hiring seniors,” she said.

And that was it.

The meeting ended with us looking into each other’s eyes. She wasn’t bad looking, but I wondered if I would still respect her once she’d aged, once the damage of time and circumstance were engraved on her face.

“You better go,” she said.

Yeah, women say that a lot.

As it turned out, the company with the reputation was Walmart. The big box supermarket/department store combo, stocking inventories of down-market consumer goods, targeting lower income costumers with lower life expectations. 200,000 different brands of merchandise spread across 15,000 square metres.

Most of the Walmart employees doomed to do the Bumble Bee Dance were weary looking high school dropouts with nervous ticks and facial scabs. Bubba Henry was the shift lead, dressed in poorly fitting clothes, counterfeit Pakistani Levis jeans and a polyester shirt—pink flamingos against a black background. He smelled a little like smoked oysters, and was a gesticulating fiend. And possessing a dexterity rare in non-evangelicals, he danced the Bumble Bee shouting louder and wiggling his hips harder than any of us. He had more heart than any anyone in the room, in the way that the truly idiotic often do.

Bubba had hired me after a very brief interview. It took me only 45 seconds to come to hate him.

My first day was a four hour orientation shift, where I and other new employees were introduced to the deep occult meaning of Walmart policy, and the importance of absolute unquestioning obedience to management. And above all, we were warned to avoid ever being Coached.

Coached, it turned out, was the word Walmart used for disciplining low end staff who were in the shit. It was an extreme form of corporate bullying, and a brutal and unequivocal reminder that though we could go home at night, we were slaves of a self-perpetuating recessionary cycle. Our situation was hopeless. Slackers, complainers and people with ideas were just nails to be hammered down into the vinyl flooring. Union organisers, on the other hand, it was whispered, were ritualistically executed on the loading dock, and disappeared into the massive laneway trash compactor. Afterwards, their homes were incinerated in the dark of night with all occupants locked inside.

Walmart hates unions.

Orientation left me feeling like I’d leaned out of a car at 80 mile an hour, and licked the pavement.

On my second day, after the Bumble Bee Dance and Cheer, I took my position near the main entrance, facing an already large milling rabble on the other side of the locked glass doors, waiting to take advantage of a special Door Crasher bargain price on a limited supply of Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken with Giblets. Limit: two cans per customer, no rain checks, double the Air Miles.

Some in the crowd stared at me through the glass with blank expressions and buggish eyes, like fish in an aquarium, making blub-blubbing movements with their mouths.

I wanted to run; I should have run. When the doors opened, I’d be an obstacle in the way of these bargain crazed demons. To them, I was the Chicken Keeper—the only thing standing between them and canned chicken bliss. I was stampede bait. They were going to rip me to pieces. Could this be what it meant to be a Walmart Greeter?

9 a.m.! I heard Bubba say, as he came up behind me. It was time to open up and let our valued customers in, but he must have seen something my eyes, something that disgusted him, because he put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it hard.

“You stink of fear, old man,” he said. Scorn in his squinty starling eyes. “Remember, a true Walmart Greeter knows no fear, only the joy of greeting and directing customers to Walmart’s excellent selection of quality value-priced merchandise, and deflecting all criticism away from management and the Corporation, onto yourself. Do you understand?” he asked. “Do you need Coaching?”

I thought about the overdue rent and my empty refrigerator. Running wasn’t an option.

“No,” I said. “I don’t need Coaching.”

“Sir,” Bubba said. “You address me as Sir. No, I don’t need Coaching, Sir!”

The heat of his indignation was close to igniting the excess Old Spice he wore to mask the aroma of smoky oysters.

“No, sir,” I said. “I don’t need coaching, Sir.”

“That’s better,” he said. “Now smile and look accommodating. And don’t worry. We’ve got enough chicken and giblets back there to feed the entire continent of Africa. Limit: 2 cans per customer.”

Then, “Fuck, I hate Greeters,” he said, as he went to open the doors.

And he was the master of opening. Confident, making no eye contact with the blub-blubbing throng as he inserted the key. Cool, even as the mob heaved forward at the sound of lock tumblers engaging, causing the glass to flex and bulge. He’d studied his vocation at the Walmart Labs in Bentonville, Arkansas. He’d been top in his class. When he removed the key, he deftly stepped out of the way, like a 250 pound ballerina.

Then it began.

The onslaught of single-minded dead-eyed humanity was terrifying. It was the chicken-zombie-shopper apocalypse, and Bubba had disappeared through some hidden door in the wall. I was paralysed by a repulsive fear, but I somehow stood my ground. As the grim and unruly horde shouldered past me, I was nearly knocked to the floor several times. But I smiled, nonetheless, and greeted—Hello Ma’am, Good Morning Sir.

Then out of nowhere, she appeared. A mammalian thing I’d no idea existed. Defying all established limits of cryptozoological possibilities—

It was the Shrieking Woman.

“My God,” she shrieked, grabbing me by my new blue vest, pushing me into a stacked display of Chuck Norris Fruity Uzis breakfast cereal. “Where’s the chicken?—the goddam chicken, man! Stop stuttering, spit it out.”

When I couldn’t answer fast enough, she picked me up and pinned me against a pillar. Her grip was like a vice.

It’s true, I was stuttering. I who had faced down the Mexican Federales, as I drove a truckload of bargain basement hashish, disguised as a shipment of hand painted sugar skulls, through a checkpoint in Michoacán. And I realised then, as she held me hard against the concert load bearing member, next to the sign directing customers to the nearest washroom, that escaping this fire-sale running of the bulls would be impossible. I’d been setup as a chump. But suddenly, as the Shrieking Woman kicked me in the shin, I was inspired by the smirking image of Chuck Norris on the cereal boxes on the floor, and karate chopped her hands off of my vest, and hollered, “Fuck off, you psycho bitch!”

It was an exclamation heard throughout the store. And the marauding mass halted, turning to look at me in awe.

“Did that Greeter just say fuck off you psycho bitch to a customer?” said one of the giblet zombies.

“Yeah,” said the Shrieking Woman with the vice-like grip. Her eyes were flaring, her hair was a brittle peroxide-blonde fire hazard. “He told me to fuck off, and called me a bitch.”

“Disgraceful!” a voice called out. There were growing murmurs of agreement and rage.

“Then he struck me,” she said. Weeping, as she transformed from deranged to tragic. She’d become a black hole, sucking every scrap of sympathy out of the cold collective.

“He hit you?” a woman shouted, grabbing her husband. Making the two of them an American Gothic on crack.

“I have a disabled child at home,” said the Shrieking Woman. “Little Amy. Only six years old. She’s got the Tourette syndrome.” There were gasps. “I’m homeschooling her, because they won’t let her go to public school and play with the other children. And we’re so poor that I have to drive a ‘79 Honda Civic, with a cracked windshield and no cigarette lighter. I only asked him where the chicken was. Little Amy loves her canned whole chicken with giblets.”

“But he’s just a Greeter,” someone near the back shouted. “He can’t do that. Only management can do that.”

“But he did,” yelled another person, shaking his fist.

Then began the inevitable. A kind of benighted inquiry only possible in the age of the Putin, Trump, Hannity, Motel 6 ménage à troi.

“Don’t they bring the Greeters in illegally, from Venezuela? I saw it on Reddit. Someone has to call the Immigration Service.”

“He looks Venezuelan, to me,” said a man in a hardhat. “My brother in-law was Venezuelan. A gun nut. He made his own bullets in his basement. Blew his head off when the bullet press exploded. They didn’t find his body for a week, because my sister was in detox. That’s when they discovered he was a crossdresser, lying there dead and smellin’ up the joint in a flower print dress and fluffy pink slippers. It broke my sister’s heart. He had good taste, though. Sis was pretty happy to inherit his hidden wardrobe.”

“What’s wrong with being Venezuelan?” asked a timid man with a foreign accent. The crowd quickly encircled him.

“They’re shifty and unclean!” said a woman smelling of nicotine and eucalyptus.

“We are not,” the timid man said.

“What the hell’s going on here?” It was Bubba, appearing loudly out of nowhere. “Let’s clear this area. Yer blocking the exits.”

“The Greeter assaulted a customer,” said a young woman in a Guns

N’ Roses tee. “He used kung fu. Mother Fucker used the F word, too.”

“What’s this all about, Larry?” Bubba said.

I told him the crowd was out of control. “That woman,” I pointed, “she was ready to kill me over a can of chicken. I had to defend myself.” Panic was peeking round a corner in my guts.

“She’s got a daughter with Tourette syndrome,” someone cried. “I’m not sure what that is, but I hope they don’t have a vaccine for it. Vaccines cause the bubonic plague, you know. My brother got it and had to have his tonsils out, the little mite.”

“Is this true?” Bubba said to me. He looked horrified.

“No,” I said. “Vaccines are perfectly safe.”

“Don’t mess with me, you old geezer. Did you assault a customer?”

“Well technically, yes,” I said, “though a judge wound probably throw it outta court.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bubba said, turning his attention to the crowd and smiling like an eel, “please try to forget this tragic incident, and know that I will handle it appropriately. Now please proceed to aisle 5 to take advantage of Walmart’s sensationally low price on Sweet Sue Canned Whole Chicken with Giblets in the 50oz Can. Limit: two cans per customer, no rain checks, double the Air Miles. And please remember to speak enthusiastically to friends and family about your outstanding Walmart shopping experience.”

“I want free chicken,” said my supposed victim, “five of ’em. And triple the Air Miles. I’m taking Little Amy to Jesusland USA. She’s got Tourette syndrome, you know.”

“Fuck,” Bubba muttered at me. “I’ve got red hot pokers in the back with your name on them.”

“I want free chicken, too,” said someone else. “I found this whole experience traumatising.”

“Me too!” others in the crowd began shouting.

“Alright, alright.” Bubba had his hands in the air, trying to calm things down. “Remain where you are, and I’ll have someone come out.” He took a walkie-talkie form his belt, and spoke to a crackly voice at the other end. Then putting the two-way back on his belt, he said, “A manager will be right out.”

“It’s the trash compacter for you, grandpa,” he whispered to me, like a steam pipe. Then grabbing me by the collar, he pulled me down an aisle into a backroom.

“Sit down,” he said, as he slammed the door.

I sat.

“I’ve never met a Greeter that’s worth a damn.” He stuck his finger in his ear and began digging, viciously. “No one else is stupid enough to do the job, so they hire rejects and old sons-a-bitches like you. I hate old sons-a-bitches like you. Always calling in sick. Always falling down and can’t get up. Always making stupid jokes, or bitching about your aches and pains, or carrying on about how things were different once, a long time ago when everything was actually just shit compared to now and they didn’t even have the Netflix. Always talking about how great your grandkids are, who really think yer fucking wanker and laugh behind yer back at how yer jeans sag in the ass.”

He took his finger out of his ear, to see what he’d found.

“That’s kinda ageist,” I said.

“You know what I did to the last Greeter who fucked up? I really Coached her. And let me tell you, she didn’t fuck up nearly as bad as you. I put her into the trunk of my car, and I drove her fifty miles outta town and left her on the highway. She had borderline dementia. I bet she never made it back. I bet she’s sitting at a gas station lunch counter right now, talking to herself and depending upon the kindness of strangers.”

I almost choked on the Old Spice tsunami, when he bent over me and leaned in close. Now we were nose to nose.

“You know what I think?” he said.

“I’m not sure,” I replied, “but I can guess and you can tell me if I’m close. You think that chem-trails contain mind controlling substances that pacify the masses and make us all stooges of a Deep State Shadow Government?”

He looked a little stunned, as though I’d read his mind.

“No,” he said, licking his lips and digging his finger back into his ear. “I think you need to fall down a long flight of stairs. I’ve found that senior citizens break like China cups on the stairs.”

Things had changed. It didn’t sound like just talk, anymore.

He was giving me no choice; I had to take him seriously. I’d already had a near death experience out on the floor. Anything was possible. Instinctively, I’d cased the room when I entered. There was a small fire extinguisher in a case on the wall, next to where I sat. And Bubba wasn’t considering all of the possibilities. Like that maybe I’d gotten myself out of far worse situations. A long time ago before Netflix. To him, I was just old. His mistake.

“Then when you’re all busted up,” he continued, “I’ll throw you into my car trunk and drive you to an alley I know on the bad side of town, and dump you there. The crack heads’ll use you for a toilet.”

Swell, so he’d seen too many Joe Pesci movies.

Among other criminal-past advantages I held over Bubba, was knowing that one should never stand too close to the person one is trying to intimidate unless that person is tied down. And never under estimate an old fart. He’s probably angrier and meaner than you.

So, I lifted my knee into his junk, extra hard. Then clobbered him across the nose with an arthritic left. When he staggered backward, I elbowed the glass plate of the fire extinguisher case, and retrieved the contents. I’ve always loved small handheld fire extinguishers. They’re hard as a rock, and just the right size and weight to cave-in a skull.

By now, Bubba had fallen backward over a chair and was struggling to get up. I walked over and hammered him over the head with the butt end of the little red steel cylinder. It felt so good that I did it again. A black pool of blood bled out round his head, where he’d fallen onto the floor.

“Greet that, asshole,” I said.

After about 5 minutes of heavy lifting, I was able to heave him onto a flat dolly. Then I put a tarp over him and rolled him out through the busy store. A few of the Associates on the sales-floor asked what I was doing. I told them I was rolling Bubba’s dead body out to my car. There was laughter, and everyone said GREAT!

So now Bubba’s slouched over on my couch, sort of in a sitting position. Mouth open like he’s still breathing, but he isn’t. I brought him home when I left the store, thinking I might bury him at night in a nearby park. It’s nice there. Better than he deserves. But I changed my mind. He ain’t worth it. He can stay on the couch. I’ll turn on the TV for him before I leave. There are rats in the wall.

I write this confession out of what might be a mistaken sense of duty to ageing Walmart Greeters everywhere. It may provide some hope. My message is this: Submit to no one and remember that it’s our age that makes us beautiful, man.

I plan to leave tomorrow morning, and should be in Mexico in a couple of days. By then, even Bubba’s over dose of Old Spice won’t be enough to cover up his post-mortem funk. He’ll be found, unlike the old gal he drove outta town.

Like I said at the start, I tried to go straight but it didn’t work. I thought it mightn’t. The world of squares isn’t for me, never was. I’ve got some cash, hidden in an abandoned mine in the Sierra Madre. And some under the floorboards of a ghetto hovel in Mexico City. Enough to live out on the desert.

Don’t bother looking for me. I’m old; I’m invisible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSM 6 Preview of Trumpopathic Personality Disorder

Characterised by internalised penis envy, resulting in the erection of phallic edifices named for the individual in lieu of actual personal erectile function, Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder is a DSM-6 diagnosis. Common traits include sadistic tendencies and body dysmorphic disorder strongly associated with the hands, and an overall bodily orange tinge.

Individuals with Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder routinely infringe upon the rights of others without regret, in the pursuit of self-aggrandisement, and the sale of items such as steaks and placements in fake universities. A characteristic lack of personal insight can even lead to the failure of such failure-proof businesses as casinos.

Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder is strongly linked to unethical behaviours, criminality and the instigation of vexatious and groundless civil actions in order to manipulate and cause personal damage to others. And can also include the eviction of little old ladies from long occupied, rent-controlled apartments.

Though it is still unclear whether Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder is genetically based, some evidence exists that it can be instigated by the granting, by family, of a “small” one million dollar loan at the onset of adulthood.

The term, Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder may cause confusion for some, as the more common definitions, outside of clinical usage, are asshole, dick, dick-head, sphincter-face, jerk-off, shit head, that fucker with the dime store toupee and a “C”- word which fails to meet the high standards of clinical nomenclature, but that might be spelled, phonetically, as “c-u-next-Tuesday”.

If untreated, individuals with Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder will possess Messiahological qualities, and are experts at obtaining sympathy from others, by feigning victimisation or prejudice.

A profile of those prone to falling prey to individuals exhibiting this behaviour will appear in the next full edition of the DSM (see Delusional Minionism).

Beneath the superficial charm of people with Clinical Trumpopathic Disorder, lies a pathological need to witness the fullest possible suffering in others. And hairspray, baby – lots of hairspray!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook

a Trumpish fantasy

 

Day #16

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #1: Once you have arrived at your assigned location, hunker down and wait for ancillary instructions from your Assignment Coach.

4 a.m.

A lamppost lit view from the window—crows quarrel over a dead rat in the gutter.

CNN, I haven’t turned it off for two weeks. Images of desert proxy-wars percolate through the cable; ISIS driving US Iraq-abandoned Humvees and armoured vehicles; teenage recruits firing AK-47s into the Mosul sky. Domestically, unarmed American black men shot dead while reaching for their ID; the unqualified buzzkill of the Republican National Convention.

The assignment is to instigate a shakeup, by diverting the ginger haired sociopath’s motorcade down the street below my window. I have his picture taped to the wall, a smug man in orbit round himself. He’s got Secret Service protection, naturally. That will complicate things. There’ll be revolution if I accomplish my assignment. A master class in failed democracy, for all those who care to attend, and everyone must.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #4: Continue to take prescribed performance enhancing drugs until instructed to discontinue.

There’s food for a few more days, and I keep my iPhone charged. They may have forgotten me, or abandoned my mission without bothering to call. This happens from time to time. I continued to inject the methamphetamine they supplied me with in ever increasing dosages, against protocol, and my supply ran out two days ago. The situation has become dire.

The room’s haunted, or I’m hallucinating. The ghosts walk through one wall, across the room, and disappear into the other.

Out of boredom, I disassemble and clean the rifle twice a day, being careful with the scope. Its zero’s set. The octanitrocubane satchel charges are in an Eddie Bauer backpack on the nightstand. An RPG launcher, with rocket mounted, stands in the corner by the door, like an umbrella waiting for rain. I’ve spent days wondering if these are the right tools for the job, but they’ll have to be.

My room is well situated over the busy skid row street below, Central Avenue. The hotel is old, though. It disgusts me. It’s a slum, on the edge of a vast precinct of slums and housing projects. There are rats in the walls, junkies in the halls. Roaches fuck in the empty soup cans I’ve thrown onto the floor. The deranged and the addicted come here to die. A woman’s body was retrieved from the stuck elevator, yesterday. She died waiting for rescue that never came. Her screams and weeping went on for days, getting quieter over time, until only the hush of ordinary cruelty remained. She must have died slowly in the dark, jonesing all the way. Her body had been in there for a week, before a repairman found it. The rising smell alerted no one.

7 a.m.

The iPhone rings. For some reason the ringtone is Elvis singing Jailhouse Rock. I make sure that the triple encryption is on, and answer.

“Hello?”

“There’s been a delay,” someone says. “The target’s gone off the radar, so to speak.”

It’s a voice I know. A woman I must have met at indoctrination, or during training. Nameless, monotone. A survivor of enough assassination assignments, I assume, to have earned a telephone on a desk in a cubicle, surrounded by a hundred other Assignment Coaches, each managing multiple operatives in various stages of waiting, execution or flight.

“Yes?” I say. “What do you mean by delay?”

“I mean that you have to hold on,” she says.

“For how long?”

“We’ll be in touch.”

“Wait! Don’t hang up.”

“What?”

“I need things,” I say.

“We gave you expense money.”

“I can’t leave, though—in case….”

“Don’t worry about that,” says the woman. “The target’s stationary, for the moment. It’s his day off. He’s at the Marriott downtown, probably sweating all over some twelve year old they scooped at the mall. He won’t go mobile for another eighteen hours. Besides, yours is only one of several possible routes to the airport. The itinerary is open to change. Go out and get what you need. Get receipts.”

“I need more shit. I don’t think dealers give receipts.”

“Shit? What do mean?”

“Crank,” I say. “Meth.”

“Discontinue use. You don’t need it at the moment. Things have stalled. We’ll let you know when it’s necessary to start taking it again. Stand down, rest up.”

“You can’t be serious. Fuck, I need it. I can’t go without it now.”

“Symptoms of withdrawal are to be expected,” says the woman. “You’re sleep deprived. Take a nap, and endure.”

“You must be joking. I’m crashing like a Malaysian 777. I was told to take it, to keep myself ready. Now I really need it. You’re right, I haven’t slept for days. There’re ghosts….”

There’s a click, and a fresh silence on the line.

“Hello?”

Nothing.

I’ve been watching the dealers on the street from my window since I arrived. They’re mostly pink-cheeked, clean-jeaned juveniles who drive in from out of the neighbourhood. Their bosses use them because they aren’t hooked, yet. It’s thought that they won’t swallow, snort or inject the inventory. But when they finally do, which is inevitable, they’re damned where they stand.

10:30 a.m.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #10: When told to stand-down by your Assignment Coach, rest, restock and study analysis.

For the first time in days, I leave my room to go outside, and pass through the lobby on my way. The lobby’s post-apocalyptic. It’s an impact crater. More ghosts. There are three frail old men, sitting in a shabby row. Threadbare clothes on a threadbare couch. Hoary hands on canes. I can see right through them. A woman in a corner confers with her own personal invisible, beneath a dark and dusty framed picture of a nineteenth century aristocrat on a stallion in the countryside. The clerk sitting behind the wire-mesh glass looks up from his internet porn; someone naked, in handcuffs on the screen.

Outside, the sidewalk’s a perpetual motion machine. Dead storefronts, faded graffiti, prison tattoos. Scammers, hookers, junkies and dealers. Bodies nudged over to the curb. Vehicle traffic hardly moves. There’s a slow procession round the block, men driving family cars, looking for bargain basement sex. Lunatics cross the street blindly. The cops cruise through occasionally, but never stop. It’s a bottleneck. Only a major emergency detour would force the target’s motorcade down such an impassable street. That must be the plan.

I haven’t changed my clothes or taken a shower for more than two weeks. I blend in. There’s a dealer I recognise from looking out of my hotel room window a few feet away, talking to a drag queen. The dealer’s white, dressed like a department store rapper, trying too hard. I approach, and stand next to him with my fists in my pockets, tight and trembling. He takes one look and walks away. Shit.

The drag queen looks me over.

“You’re some kinda fucked up, boy,” she says. “You gonna follow him, or just stand there and melt?”

I shiver and smile. Now I get it. I’m supposed to follow the dealer to a more practical spot. I go and find him in the crowd.

The deal takes place mid-block, away from the corner, beneath a broken surveillance camera. We’re surrounded, hidden in the chaos. Our eye contact is brief. He’s impatient.

“What you want?” he says, trying to sound bad, missing the mark.

“Meth,” I say.

“You stink, man.”

“I know.”

“You shit your pants?”

“I might have,” I say. “I don’t remember.”

“How much you want?”

“Fifty.”

“Fifty what?”

“Fifty dollars,” I say. “What will that get me?”

“What kinda junkie are you, don’t know what fifty’ll get you?”

“I’m new.”

“You’re a cop.”

“Hell no. Do I smell like a cop?”

“No,” he says. “You smell like a pig.”

“C’mon, I got the money here in my hand. See?”

What follows is a relaxed current of motion, a clandestine double jointed hand-off. The ease of it surprises me. I’ve never done this before, but something occult inside of me has assumed control. Drugs and money exchange simultaneously, in what looks like a failed handshake, after which the dealer looks away. It’s over, fast. I got more for my money than I’d guessed.

For the dealer, though, I no longer exist. If I was on fire, he’d just step away. He hates junkies. I should go and shoot-up, but I resent his attitude. I stare, and hate him back.

“You have nightmares,” I say, but don’t know why. Maybe it’s the same death wish that got me here in the first place.

“What? Fuck you. Fuck off.”

“It’s the junkies,” I say. “People like me, your clientele.”

“Don’t push it, freak. Disappear.”

“We occupy your sleep, like insurgents.”

“I’m warning you,” says the dealer, drawing a switchblade, making a show of it. It snaps open.

I can’t stop, though. Violent isolation and vivid cravings have transformed me, have somehow made me telepathic. I see deeply inside of him. He’s a piss-puddle of dread. The knife in his hand is meaningless.

“Junkies surround you in your worst dreams,” I continue. “Don’t we? Clawing at you, grasping and pulling you down onto the pavement. Legions of us. Tearing your skin right down to the bone, ripping out your eyes with our filthy fingernails, stabbing you with dirty syringes, each one of us looking for a fix. Ten thousand fixes, a hundred thousand. We want what you can’t possibly deliver. You struggle. You call out for your mamma. You seek Jesus. You’re desperate to escape.  You’re in agony, but we won’t back off. We’re mutilating you. Smothering you in our stench. But you can’t stop us. You wake up screaming; you’ve wet yourself. The fear feels like a bullet in your gut. You fumble like a fool, reaching for a weapon. But who are you gonna kill, nightmare tweekers or yourself? And when the nightmare’s all over, and you’ve put the panic back into its tiny cupboard somewhere in your sick little brain, you still know that you have to return here, this sidewalk, with your pockets full of junk, the terror phosphorescent on your skin. Just look at you, you pathetic sack of shit.”

His eyes are wide, chin back, shoulders up. I’ve tapped into something. How or why’s a mystery. Maybe clairvoyance is a gift of sleeplessness, appearing without restraint.

Without warning, he thrusts his blade into my side, through the ribs. The force of the blow, his fist on the handle of the knife, throws me off balance. I stagger and fall. He walks away. The fluid crowd fills his vacated space. No one looks down at me, as I scramble to stand.

Then I hear Jailhouse Rock, and answer the phone.

“Hello,” I say. The knife has pierced a lung. I’m coughing blood. I try to focus. I’m drooling dark red spittle.

“He’s moving,” I hear my Assignment Coach say. “We didn’t expect it. Protests are springing up across the city, and the protesters are way more organised than we thought they’d be. They’ve blocked nearly every possible escape route. His motorcade may be coming your way. Where are you?”

“On the street.” I touch my side where the knife went in. Lung blood, everywhere.

“Get back up to your room,” says the Coach. “You’ll know if the motorcade is coming your way when you hear three explosions a couple of blocks away. Car-bombs. The blasts will box them in on three sides, we hope. Turning left down Central will be their only option. The bombs will detonate simultaneously. Wait for them before you make a move. The cops will try to clear the street. The SUVs may even take to the sidewalk, but even if they do the convoy will be moving slow enough for you to get off your shots.”

Get off my shots.

“I’ve been thinking,” I say. “The rifle you gave me, and the SUV’s bulletproof glass, they don’t add up.”

“You have what you need. Take the initiative. Do what you have to.”

“Yes, but a little direction from your end would…. Hello?”

A familiar silence.

I run into the hotel and up the stairs. The lock on the door to my room is sticky—the key won’t turn. Several tries, and after dropping the keys multiple times, it finally opens. The rifle is disassembled and lies on an oil cloth on the bed. I’ll have to reassemble it. Where did I put the shells? Panic.

Rigs and other paraphernalia are on the dilapidated dresser. I throw down two small baggies of crank, and then look into the cracked mirror above the dresser. In just two weeks, I’ve become a zombie. What happened? Who cares? I begin the mix, using water from the swamp toilet down the hall. Two points—no, three points—to 12 units of water, then I load the syringe. There are still good veins in my arm, in spite of the bruising and spreading infections. Finally, it’s time to inject. The sting of the needle piercing the skin sets off a conditioned flow of endorphins in my brain, not the buzz I’m looking for, but at last a sign of hope. I’m moments away—

And in a second long precursor to catastrophe, time dies, and is then ferociously resurrected.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Appendix 6, Sec. 9.7—Explosives in an Urban Setting—Lateral Damage: A blast wave is pressure expanding supersonically from an explosive core, preceded by a shock of compressed gases. The detonation of explosives in a city setting differs from that in an open area, like a battle field. In a city, the blast wave will be forced to funnel along the street grid, and be constrained by structures along its path, making the potential for significant lateral damage very high.

The sound of the blasts is deafening. The building quakes, and I look up from my arm in time to see the window shatter, and feel a fast moving wave of glass missiles, large, small and microscopic, wash over me as I’m pushed off of my feet and onto the floor.

My face and other exposed bits of me have been torn to shreds. My clothes have been ripped to pieces. I’m oozing blood and macrophage from the neck up, and I’m nearly deaf. The syringe remains full, but its needle is bent in my vein. Blood runs into my now lidless right eye, from above where the flesh of my forehead once was. I blink, and try pushing the plunger down. It won’t budge.

From somewhere nearby, I hear a faint rendition of Jailhouse Rock. I answer the phone: “What the fuck. Are you using nukes?” I lisp and slur my words. Large portions of my lips and cheeks are gone.

“It was a bit too much, I admit,” says my Coach. I can barely hear her, but it’s obvious that she’s rattled.

“Speak up,” I shout.

“We’re sorry,” she hollers. “We used ISIS defectors to build and plant the car bombs. We flew them in from Iraq last week. They’ll provide us with a plausible deniability mechanism, but they clearly lack the subtlety necessary for a more civilized milieu. That’s beside the point, though. Are you still viable?”

Viable? I’m on the floor with much of my facial epidermis ripped away, I have what I must assume is an ultimately fatal stab wound to my lung, and I still need a fix.

Standing up, I jam the iPhone between my shoulder and what’s left of my ear. It nearly slithers away in a smear of blood.

I try to remove the syringe from my arm. It breaks, but the needle remains steadfastly hooked into my vein. What’s left of the meth and remaining syringes have been blown off the top of the dresser, to who knows where. I begin to hack up blood again, more with each cough.

“I’m viable,” I say—cough, cough, cough. Spit.

“Good,” says the Assignment Coach. “Maybe we overdid it, but the plan worked. The motorcade was forced to turn left. We’re following it now, via satellite. They’ve stopped for the moment, but they’re headed in your direction, very slowly. There’re bodies everywhere, but there’s also a mob forming on the road. Mass-hysteria caused by the blasts, who knows? Radio chatter indicates that the police, wherever the hell they are, are preparing to use tear gas. Your neighbourhood’s gone berserk. Looting’s already begun. Looks like we’ve provoked a riot. Unintentional, but perhaps to our advantage. Get to work.”

I disconnect, and do a quick inventory. It’s time. The sniper rifle, the Armalite AR-50, even with the armor piercing incendiary shells, probably won’t do the job unless I’m closer. I’m going through serious withdrawal now, my hands too shaky to reassemble it properly, or get off an accurate shot.

I grab a Glock and extra clips from the nightstand, and the backpack of satchel charges. Then the RPG launcher, with the rocket attached.

Then I take a moment to tug at the needle hooked into my forearm. It’s good and stuck. Looking into the mirror again, I see the zombie only without a face, just gore and flesh fragments, exposed bone, teeth and lidless left eye. The zombie’s carrying a polymer-framed automatic handgun, rocket launcher and enough explosives to take down the hotel and every adjacent building for a block and a half. I open my hotel room door and run, through the haunted lobby and out onto the street.

Bedlam.

In a very short time, the desperate people of a desperate neighbourhood have risen up. Whore hunting family men are being pulled from their cars, robbed and beaten, their vehicles set ablaze. Pawnshops and convenience stores are being raided, the proprietors shooting back. Three motorcycle cops try to navigate and take control of the throng. They blow their whistles, sound their sirens and rev their engines, and are quickly taken down. A pickup truck drives by with thugs in the back, wielding AR-15s.  Suddenly, it looks like Baghdad, only with Hip Hop music and gangbanger wheel hubs.

Standing on a bus stop bench, I scan the stormy scene. Then I see them. A half a block away, approaching through the swarm, three SUVs. All of them with men wearing flack vests over their starched white shirts and striped ties, standing on the running boards, firing indiscriminately into the crowd with fully automatic assault rifles.

It’s my target; my long awaited love.

I jump off the bench, moving mechanically, getting closer, looking for the best vantage. I’m walking quickly, as implanted data begins to flow in my head, like an organic code. Then I hear, with my nearly deaf ears, what might be the screech of tires behind me. I turn round, and there’s the pickup, with seven heavily armed locals in the back.

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #28: Recruit local inhabitants to your ends, wherever and whenever possible.

The passenger side door opens, and a well-dressed man of the hood steps out, with a .45 auto in his hand. This is no department store rapper. From his stance and cold approach, I can tell that he’s something else, altogether. He’s a warrior, and this is the beginning of his war.

“Where’s yo face at?” he says, making me aware once more, that I’m a virtually faceless man, bleeding profusely from my side. I hack up more blood.

“Most of it’s back in my room,” I say, lisping and slurring.

He folds his arms and strokes his chin.

“And what’s that for, Frankenstein?” He points at the rocket launcher.

“I’m on an assignment,” I say. “You see those SUVs stuck up the street?” I thumb over my shoulder. “That’s the apricot dick-weed nominee you’ve been watching for the past year, saying he’s gonna build a wall and make America safe for white people again. Someone on high thinks he might win the election, so I’m here to frost his cake.”

“For real?” says the Warrior. “You a shooter?”

“Absolutely.”

“And that be him, Mr Whitey Man Tan?”

“Yup.”

“I hate that mother fucker.”

“He hates you more,” I say.

“He ain’t got no right comin’ down here after the shit he’s been sayin’.”

“Hey,” a teenager shouts from the truck, “his guards are killing everyone.”

“Shit,” says the Warrior. “How much you want for that rocket gun, you got there?”

“Waddaya you give me?” I say, my allegiance to the cause rapidly dissolving.

“Hundred,” he says.

“Two,” I counter.

“Deal.”

He pulls out a wad, and peels off the bills. I offer over the weapon.

“Glock for sale, too?” he says.

“No way. This chunk might help me get out alive.”

“Ain’t no one gettin’ outta this alive,” says the Warrior, and taking the rocket launcher form my hand, he aims it at me. I wink back, reach forward, and release the safety.

“Now you’re ready, my friend,” I say. “But don’t waste it on me.”

“Ain’t gonna,” he says. “Just seein’ what you’d do. You cool, for such a gruesome mother fucker.”

“Thanks,” I say, and pulling a small brown booklet out of my back pocket, I recite—

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #11: When attempting to disable a lightly armoured civilian vehicle with a rocket propelled grenade, fire first on the front wheels to disenable steering, forward mobility and braking capacity, thus rendering the vehicle immobile. Then attack the body of the vehicle with remaining rockets and or whatever weapons remain.

“Righteous,” says the Warrior.

Then I take a satchel charge out of the backpack, and recite again, The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #17: Nothing is bombproof, provided the bomb is large enough, and well enough placed.

“I’ll throw these in,” I say, pointing out the triggering mechanism. “You only got ten seconds to get the hell outta Dodge once that’s set. Then take cover, baby. Works best when placed directly under the vehicle, so you or one of your homies has got to get in close.”

“Fuck yeah!” he says, grabs the pack, and gets back into the truck. He smiles and waves as he and his crew drive away, up the street toward the stationary trio of SUVs.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

The Little Rules of Engagement Handbook—Rule #35: After successfully completing an assignment, wait for the Assignment Coach to contact you. Be patient, as this may take a while. Do not seek medical aid if injured, no matter your condition, as doing so may draw attention to, and compromise, your mission.

I think about Rule #35 as I lay in a morphine haze, watching a TV screen, from a gurney in a hospital emergency ward gone mad. I arrived here in an ambulance filled with six other seriously injured street people, and have been triaged to near the front of a very long line.

Fox News footage shot from a helicopter is repeated over and over as the world marvels at the unanticipated and improbable end of a wanna-be politician. Some mourn and some cheer as images of his body, in a lake of blood on the pavement fades into a television commercial for Walmart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

the August

the August sat on the side of the locust road
and drew with a stick shorter days in the air, drew
nights cooler on the land you couldn’t keep
a shed the trees the hollows a house
all unshaven and evangelical and the August
drew in the grit your hard to utter rage—

anything less than hatred was deception

—so you loaded your weapon with vows
and the August was proud ’til September