Turd in the Punchbowl

I went back and forth with Galby68 about the music genome and how the stupidest songs show up in the wrong places – This is also the opening of Land Run, which I can’t seem to finish, other bits are strung out in here under Say Hey, Neighbor

Brad Davidson shuffled through the half dozen cell phones on his desk, picked one, flipped through a couple of screens, tapped once and waited “Harli? Hon, got a minute?” The door of his office banged open and an obviously peeved early twenties female stepped inside

“Daddy, what?” She held up her phone, pointed it at him. “I’m next door. Text me if you can’t get up, or use the phone system intercom. You don’t need to fucking call me.” She made a production of hanging up on him by mashing her finger on the glass face of her phone before sticking it in the back pocket of her sprayed-on torn knee jeans.

He’d given up on the fat fingers and auto correct excuses. It was easier to push “College $ Pit” in his recent list and talk. “Lookit this, Harli.” He handed her a dog eared, recycled manila folder stuffed with what he’d been reading about his upcoming guests. “Tell me what you think.”

She stood in front of his desk and studied the paper hand off for several minutes until she pulled the chair up with her foot and sat. She grouped the papers between her fingers while very low volume Kenny G on the Pandora channel that was pumped throughout Bumpers Erotic Resort drifted in the open window. She set the stack down on a pile of other reports on his desk, screwed up her mouth for a second, let it go.

“M’kay. The investment guru might be good for stock tips. Maybe some lightweight ‘favors’ in the form of low or no interest financing from the international banker with his daughter-in-law’s sister when he’s supposed to be in Bali on business. The tobacco farm heir and his lingerie model bride, the New Orleans cop and her boyfriend, and the chubby early retirees with a lottery annuity from Tennessee are all your standard kink experimenters. But this one? Randall Everitt Coleridge the Third, 37 and his wife Lora Lee Worthington-Coleridge, 35? All kinds of wrong, all kinds of ways.”

“That’s the one.”

“Randall the lawyer’s dumping his wife and running off with the real estate agent who also happens to be his partner’s wife. Looks like Randy pushed the envelope too hard one too many times and their business took it in the butt. Now he’s found a way to sell his and his partner’s houses out from under his wife and the partner, he liquefied his savings and retirement and borrowed one point five mill against what’s left of their business assets. Company cars, some big diesel pickups and a small, two-story glass box office building. If his partner’s wife doesn’t fuck him the hard way and run with the money at closing? They end up with over six million in cash and a grass hut in Samoa.”

“Repercussions?”

“Taxes are pulled on the front end of the cash-outs, and screwing your partner and his wife isn’t illegal because the bank has a scapegoat. Not likely to aggravate the government enough to make them worth any recovery effort. If no one dies, it’s honeymoon time.” She cocked her head slightly, listened. “Toto? Tell me how Toto gets into the hot tub channel?”

“Pandora has the same problem finding good help that the rest of us have.”

“I doubt Pandora has an ‘all females except your daughter work naked’ requirement.”

“Maybe they’d get people who knew Toto wasn’t Jacuzzi Jazz if they did. And panties or bikini bottoms required on the non vinyl doesn’t equate to naked. It would cost me a fortune to keep the upholstery clean if everyone just sat around naked. What about the borderline indigent California videos of houses fool?”

“He’s the turd in the punchbowl. He’s working for both wives on the real estate front and he worked for the dipshit lawyer once before, and maybe now. The beard makes him look like a fur-lined salad plate and his eyes say gay, not skirt hound, but I think he’s just a California weed basted pansy. He wants to do exactly what you want to do. Stand under the window and catch the briefcase full of money and exert as little effort as possible doing it, maybe get laid in the process.”

“So?”

“So wait. See where the loyalties lie. If video boy is all about himself, you can manage a short skirt distraction with one of your employees for a grab and go. If his heart beats for the soon to be lonely housewife or he can’t get the money away from the lawyer’s squeeze he’ll definitely be here for the money, maybe the lonely wife if he can pull it off. If this is where the dump takes place.”

“The lawyer needs to wait for the money somewhere. He’s staying here with the wife and has another room booked at Sandals for the partner’s wife. ‘Here’ is the dump and jump point so the money has to show before they can blow. Any issues with the partner and the dumped wife?”

“The partner is a brick in workboots and a gimme cap. He’ll take the hit, go bankrupt, start over and never look back expect to spit. He’s the least of your problems. The wife…Artsy fartsy. She’s got something up her sleeve with the video loser because they talk too often and aren’t having sex. From your reports she’s talented and popular and squeaky clean, but not a real Town and Country on the coffee table Stepford wife. Like a Little Debbie’s spice cake with a big smile, in sensible heels who can paint and take or leave the high life. From the reports video boy sent back to her husband from San Francisco last year, it’s obvious he fell for her, hard. We’ll have to wait and see if he’s a love or money person. You didn’t see all that?”

“I sent you to college to figure out things like this for your dear old dad.”

“When I go back in the fall and finish my Masters, dear old dad can retire or see if one of his whores can use a calculator. Or pay a fucking accountant because I’m gone. To where people have normal, monogamous sex that doesn’t require a Teflon covered altar or Kahlua or honey or walnut pieces or whipped cream or an audience of overweight kinksters.”

“You forgot fresh fruit. And you sound just like your mother sometimes, you know that? There’s nothing wrong with a little –”

“Shut up dad, this place is like the capital of planet disgusting. When I saw mom at spring break she said to make sure I told you to go fuck yourself.”

“If it were possible to stream Baywatch re-runs all day long and do what your mother suggests I would sell this place tomorrow. Go up there, put eyes on the punchbowl turd and the real estate agent with new boobs, watch the closings. Keep me in the loop. Take one of the ladies with you in case they split up.”

“Dad, I’m not taking one of your ridiculous, scalpel sculpted, can’t wear clothes man candy mannequin whores to where? Okla-fucking-homa? To keep me company? She’ll stick out like a, a…”

“Like a whore in Oklahoma? Take Maddie, she does the upscale housewife fantasy better than anyone. Put her in something country club tweedy, pull her hair back and she’ll look just like the rest of them.”

“The rest of the whores or the rest of the locals?”

“If you can figure out the difference in the neighborhood you’ll be in, write a book.”

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Certificate of Authenticity

Annabelle parked the rented maroon Grand Cherokee on the crunchy crushed shell parking area between a faded used-to-be-red Dodge Ram pickup and a new, black Mercedes SUV. Across the maybe fifty-foot arched bridge paved with asphalt shingles was Umbridge Enterprises home office. An unpainted, faded cedar shake façade manufactured home surrounded by a covered veranda that sported a random collection of patio and beach furniture, a pair of propane grills and assorted fishing nets for decoration. The whole mess on pilings over the Everglades. Tied to a floating dock behind it was her missing white Swamp Vue Cabrio. She put her right hand in the square red leather designer shoulder bag, took the safety off her Glock, stepped out of the Jeep.

***

Preston Umbridge clicked the remote, brought up the four-panel screen of security cameras on the wall mounted TV. “Either of you two pig fuckers order up a jigaboo hooker?”

“What the fuck, Boss? Fella was about to nail him a big ass gator an – whoa shit,” the dirty wife beater and camo cargos clad Pillsbury dough boy on the couch sat up. “Who the hell is that?”

“No shit ‘whoa shit’ Wally. Fuckin’ dumb ass. That’s the nigger woman we done stole the boat from, that’s who.”

Umbridge dropped the remote on his desk. “You’re telling me you two fuckwads was so obvious stealin’ that boat a woman could find it? Shit.” He ran his hands over his hair and beard, wiped his lips with his thumb and forefinger. “Don’t just stand there, Steep, let her in ‘fore she breaks the goddam door down.”

Annabelle, black leggings and long tailed black silk blouse, matching red heels, earrings and purse stepped into the man cave of Umbridge Enterprises. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. Annabelle Monette. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

Umbridge stood behind his desk, undisguised snicker in his voice. “Preston Umbridge, may-am.” He bowed. “To my right is Mr. Walrus. My associate Mr. Steeple let you in. Without an appointment.”

“I make my own appointments. Walrus I understand. Too much mustache, belly and ugly. Steeple makes no sense to me.” She studied the man walking back toward his boss. “Beanpole, maybe. Knew a String Bean one time.”

“Now, now. Legend says Steep’s sainted Momma christened him with it just before she died, lookin’ out the hospital window at the First Methodist Church.”

“I had an Ontie named Iris. She told the same story about flowers in her momma’s garden. We could go on about the Indian named Two Dogs Fucking in the Mud but let’s not waste each other’s time, gentlemen. I have come for my boat.”

“I’m sure we don’t have ‘your’ boat.” Umbridge tugged his longish manicured beard, puffed up. “And if we did, I doubt we’d return it. Things that end up here are like gifts. Or tithe offerings. Ain’t that right boys?”

“It’s the white Swamp Vue Cabrio tied off next to two patent and intellectual property theft counterfeits. Both to be destroyed as contraband. The Swamp Vue is not now, nor was it ever, a gift.”

“The white one?” Umbridge put a point of ‘white.’ “That’s different. Cabrio, Cabrio…I recall having a Bill of Sale for that somewhere.” He made a show of opening and closing drawers.

“Never you mind looking for it. I have a certificate of authenticity for the lock of our Lord and Saviour’s hair my other Ontie Delores keeps in a Café Du Monde coffee tin and prays to five times a day.”

“Ain’t nothin’ any of us can do about our families, is there?” He slammed  the drawer he had open. “I also seem to recall Larson makes theirselves a Cabrio. Whattaya think it’s worth to them to find out about yours?”

“I’ve spoken to them and all the lawyers are satisfied that as I do not manufacture mid cabin drug running speed boats there is no conflict. That’s how it is when people cooperate. Had you come to me with a franchise manufacturing offer we might have bypassed all this unpleasantness. I am not a fool, Mr. Umbridge. After I talked to your local people, showed them the manufacturing paperwork, patent applications, all more than most around here could read in a lifetime I concluded that I needed to look elsewhere for assistance. And to come see for myself what kind of corrupt, low life thief and liar a genuine Floor-ida bad man looked like.”

Walrus flicked open a three-inch lock back pocket knife, cleaned his index fingernail with it. “We don’t cotton to name callin’, now. Smokes and O-yays particular doin’ that shit ain’t seen much of after.”

“Where I came up my momma’s paperboy was more dangerous, and considerably smarter than all three of you put together. I’m not here to get in a pissing contest with some Little Dick-ey Mafia fiefdom, I’m here for my boat and to bring you the gospel according to Annabelle Monette.”

Umbridge held out an arm to stop Walrus. “Which would be?”

“Not everyone is scared of you Mr. Umbridge. Least of all me. Come hell or high water, with or without your blessing, I will sell boats in central Florida.”

Walrus took a step. Without looking Annabelle pointed her non-purse hand at the television. “While we’ve been having our little chat, those gentlemen arrived to pick up my boat and destroy your copies.”

“What the hell?” Umbridge pulled a revolver from his desk drawer. “You two, what the fuck do I pay you for? Go stop those mother –”

“I wouldn’t. Those are federal Marshalls from Miami looking for you to give them a reason to level this place once I am safely out the door.”

“She’s fuckin’ lyin’.” Walrus took another step Anabelle’s way and one of the two counterfeit Swamp Vues went ka-whoooom, the explosion sent a geyser of water and debris up past the sliding patio doors at the back of the office, rained down on the roof.

Steeple slid the patio door open, leaned out over the veranda rail far enough to see the brown water gun boat, look down the barrels of its 50-caliber machine guns. “She ain’t lyin’, Wally.” He glanced down, counted at least eight red laser-sight dots on his chest, and froze. “No fuckin’ shit she ain’t lyin’.”

“And wired, too. Goddammit.” Umbridge grabbed Steep by the back of his fishing vest. “Git back in here before you piss yoursef.” He turned a red raged face at Annabelle. “We’ll continue this discussion, Annabelle Mo-nay. Soon.”

“My door is always open, gentlemen. If you come, put on shirts with sleeves. I only need to see three cheap, dirty white men in cheap, dirty wife beaters one time to know it’s not an experience I choose to repeat.”

Octopus!

Madam K’s ballet studio, West Hollywood, California / November, 1981

Jackson’s legs hurt. No, screamed. Not even a week in and ballet class made his old high school football practices look like two-a-days for pussies Today would be a good day to —

“It’s like totally not right, Kenny! It’s so-o totally, completely, mega fucking wrong!

A pink ripstop Capezio ballet bag zipped in front of him, exploded against the old oak sign-in table to his right, knocked over the fan that sat on top. Several rolls of sport tape, a flimsy black ballet skirt, toe shoes and pink floor shoes, a couple of tampons, Capezio logo t-shirts, an illegal in Madam K’s class leopard print leotard, hair brush and maybe a thousand bobby pins scattered out, one of the rolls of tape wobbling away like an old tire.

He looked to his left and a dancer who’d introduced herself as Logan somebody in the round robin of intros his first night side-armed another roll of tape that he fielded left handed. The other pre-class usually warming up dancers were against the far wall, a huddle of pink tights, black leotards and hair buns. A couple of the older ones, the mom age never-give-up-ballet-class types formed an outer circle, an attempt to protect the younger ones from Logan who was screaming, flouncing herself around, crying and babbling about never dancing again and fuck this and fuck you and fuck doctors and fuck everybody. Especially fuck Kennedy Costigan the reincarnationist space case hired gun ballerina who was right in front of Logan and taking the brunt of the abuse. Jackson figured this was down to Kennedy and Logan being the only pros in the room, both of them on rehab hiatus from some big deal dance company in New York.

“Ten years, and like adios, Logan, you’re done, motor. Godammit it’s so-like totally unfair to the max!”

“Logan, you’re letting your positive energy get way from you and wasting it on –”

“Shut up, Kenny. Bag it, ’kay? Just shut up! You, you get to dance now and it’s so not, not,”  she spun around as if no one could see her full-blown end-of-the-world-and-my-life-as-I-know-it-face in the mirrored wall. Saw it herself and turned back.

“Logan, I had surgery. I’m telling you that you need to use this emotion, this energy, to get past whatever is holding you back.” Kenny put her hands in front of her chest, swept them slowly out and down then up in a wide arc. “Breathe, Logan. This is how we grow.”

“Get real, Kenny. I am like full grown and like breathing or I’d be dead, duh, a’right? What’s holding me back is like this mega stupid tape. Look at it!” She held her left leg straight out, flat footed and perfectly balanced on the right. “And like the gag me with a chainsaw totally dweeb hosers ‘it takes time’ doctors, and, and like you and your ‘listen to your bod, Logan.’ As if! What’s it going to say, Kenny? Huh? Gee whiz, Logan, you’re like a so totally lame poser dancer person now and you can’t dance anymore and you like barf me out when you even like try?” She looked past Kenny at the dancer huddle. “And like for real I’m so sure you’re all psyched. ‘Logan can’t dance, did you see her spazz her jeté? Now she’s a totally wiggin’ loser’…” She made a defiant face, brought her leg down after what seemed like an eternity to Jackson, dropped in the wooden chair nehind her and folded over, shoulders to knees like a dying ballet rag doll.

Madam Konstanova breezed through the door, ever present clipboard and cassette in hand, immediately registered the entire room, devil eyed the debris field. “Miss Bevan-Burns, are you quite through? This is a dance class, not personal anger therapy. You will pick up your things…Mr. Jackson, that is Miss –”

“Her mess, I know.” He stuffed the wad of clothes and tape in the pink bag. “Give me a minute?”

“Mr. Jackson, I do not think you –” Kenny put a hand on her arm.

“Jackson is an old soul.”

“Of course he is, Miss Costigan.” Madam K rolled her eyes, set her clipboard down. “Aren’t we all?” She righted the fan and stood with folded arms.

Jackson knelt, thighs screaming, in front of the dead ballerina doll’s color of a perfectly baked biscuit ballet bun.

“Hey.”

“Hey what?” The bun didn’t move. Knees slightly apart, feet together, one flexible ankle folded over on the floor, the other flat footed, a cast of athletic tape around the back half of her foot. He reached for bulk of taped ankle, she pulled it away under the chair.

“NO!” She raised her head, not her body, tears still smearing her cheeks. “Leave it a-lone! It’s screwed and I’m, I am so-o totally toast and you can’t like fix it, you’re like, like a street guy, not even a dancer. Nobody can fix it.” He pulled her foot back out.

“Tape’s gotta go, Logan.” He looked over his shoulder. “Scissors?”

Madam K opened a drawer in the sign-in desk, brought him a pair of long, thin, knife like barber’s scissors.

“NO! Don’t! I can’t watch. NO-OH!” Logan wailed in full drama queen, twisted her entire upper body a hundred and eighty degrees to her hips.

“What’s your mom call you when she’s mad?”

“Huh? Like seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Oh.” She lost the glum for a second. “Um, Godammit Logan?”

“No,” he slipped the blade of the scissors behind her ankle bone, “your whole pissed off mom name.”

“Godammit Logan Nicole?”

“That’s it?”

“She like always never said all of them, Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns.” Logan snuffle snort laughed. “She’d like have totally forgotten what she was mad about if she yelled all of them.” She quit fighting his hand on her foot. “I like thought my first name was Godammit, you know, until, well, I went off to mega bitchy skinny old men and witches ballet teacher Nazis school, who like totally forgot all our names and yelled godammit at all of us for-ever.”

“Yeah? What’d they yell about?”

Everything. Eat this, don’t eat that, drink more water, stretch more, get over your hips, where’s your extension and like we neh-ver got to bounce from dance class. Neh-ver. Dance. Get yelled at, dance, dance, dance.”

“Madam K’s not that bad, is she?”

“That was at Sob, not here.”

“Sob?”

“Oh, like duh. School of American Ballet? When I was 12 I like got a scholarship. Named after a car.”

“The Buick fund for future ballerinas?”

“Are you like totally dance blank? Ford.” She paused. “I think.”

He could see her watching the red SUSHIRAMA sign from across the street flash in the mirror, hoped it would hypnotize her while he made small eighth-inch progress snips in the tape.

“Are you like into sushi, Jackson?”

“No. I –”

“It’s like raw fish, right?”

“Yeah. I tried it once, wasn’t sold. Like oysters. Both were lost on me.”

Oy-sters?” She sob laughed again. “Oy, oy! Like why not Oy-oy-sters. Grody?”

“Maximum grode factor. A guy I was in a band with, he took me to a seafood place when I was 16, and everyone was shooting oysters.”

Shooting them? The little rock things in the cold place at the back of Safeway? Like with guns? That’s like, like so wrong.” She saw herself in the mirror. “Like me.”

“Nothing’s wrong with you but some bad advice. And the shooting wasn’t with guns. Where we were the oysters came on a big plate, already open, and the people covered them in hot sauce and slurped them down. They called it shooting.” He felt her leg relax more, kept snipping.

“Like in one bite? Guh-ronk?” She gulped for effect, trying invisible oysters. “How big are they?”

“Well,” he was getting close to having the tape off. “The only way I can describe them is like the way this guy who took me did. I asked him, you know, what were Oy-oy-sters like and he said ‘Jailbait, no way we gonna eat that shit. People can’t put enough hot sauce on them damn things to make ‘em right.”

“No?”

“No. He said only really sick puppies would eat something that looked like it fell out of a cow’s nose.”

She snapped back around, eyes wide. He wished he had it back. Was it the sick puppies she’d go off on or…Her eyes got wider and she grabbed the tops of his shoulders.

“Ohmahgawd. Oy oys. They’re like…hugh-go SNOTS? Like when you’re not totally sick anymore, but kinda, and you cough and like this com-pletely gross mess jumps into your mouth from the back? And it’s like get rid of it now, don’t like swallow it or it’s technicolor yawn time?”

“Yeah.” The tape popped off. “Like exactly, totally like that.”

“Ohmahgawd, Jackson! Octopus!”

“Octopus? Wha –”

“I know. Yuk-oh, right? Betcha can’t eat it.”

“Yeah?”

“For real. Some old tuxedo and flowers man? He like took us all to dinner and told us it was like some delicacy, right, and I like chewed a bite like a biggo gum wad till I thought I was about to turn into a cheerleader or something. And like it was still there. So I, um, well, like kinda coughed it into my hand and dropped it under the table…And Squid! Like how can anyone like eat something called…” Her whole face relaxed, her lips pulled in to a small pucker. She looked down. “My foot. It’s…free. You like…what?”

“Who taped this?”

“Uh…A doctor? Or a guy like a doctor, only isn’t but works there? And like wears doctor clothes and waaaaaay too much cologne and like con-stantly smiles like a Halloween pumpkin thing? I go every other day or, well, it like gets totally sweated out and,” She wrinkled her face again. “But they say I can’t like dance without it, so…” The tears started to come back.

“Can’t like dance with it, either. Lighten up Ms. Godammit Logan Nicole Bevan-Burns. You’re close to right as we speak.” He picked up the roll of tape he’d caught, tore a strip. “Tie your shoe.”

She wrapped the pointe shoe ribbon around her ankle, tied it off. Wiggled her foot, winced.

“Ohmahgawd. Over my pointe shoe?”

“Yeah. Watch this, you’ll need it.” Jackson had no idea how anyone could bend that far over from seated but she did, and watched, engrossed, while he wrapped the piece of tape under her heel, around her Achilles, across her ankle, pulled it tight before he smacked it open handed to set it.

“Ow!” Her eyes came up from his hands, found his. “Is that like, re-quired?”

“Yeah. Sets the tape.”

“‘Kay.” She dropped her head, watched as he tore another strip and came at her heel, Achilles and ankle from the other side, smacked it. He stood, took her hand, pulled her out of the chair. She hit pointe, wobbled a little, found it.

“Oh…mah…GAWD. What? How? That is so…” she pirouetted, stopped dead still, raised her right leg, dropped it on his shoulder, her arms wide, added a hand flourish that sent her fingertips skyward. She bent forward, all huge eyes in his face. “How?”

“I knew, lived with a girl who was an exercise junkie. She went on vacation with her parents, got her stupid on and crashed a parasail into the Atlantic Ocean, feet first. She was taped up like you, only both feet. She did the Frankenstein walk for about a week until her brother the All American sent her to the sports doc where we were in school. The doc hooked her up the way you are now. He said some Japanese guy had figured out flexibility with support for athletes who needed to move and that she’d never get any strength back with her feet locked up in tape. I got her tape duty until she stopped needing it. You good?”

“Bonus! Yeah!” She spun away, three, four, five tight turns, caught her usual place on the the first barre and curtsied, her face as red as a cherry. “Sorrr-eee, everybody.”

Madam K clapped twice, icicles hung from “Ladies…and Mr. Jackson.” The huddle against the wall broke, classical piano music seeped out of the battered jam box, the volume undulating in a slow tremolo with the movement of the oscillating fan. Jackson found his place at the far end of the third barre and thought about Logan and snot and octopus chewing cheerleaders. It helped him make it through another class. For the first time without any involuntary groans accompanied by fuck me.

***

Madam K, clipboard clutched in one arm, stopped him by blocking the door after his post class duties as the male balancing stump for dancers needing to work with a prop.

“Mr. Jackson I do not believe Miss Burns will be able to tape herself.”

“You watch.” He worked himself into his sweatshirt. “As bad as she wants to dance? She’ll tape.”

“You have a great deal of confidence in someone, who, were she unable to dance as she does, would surely have been killed by now.”

“What I’m sayin’. Nobody who dances like Logan could be as big a bimbo as she puts up. She just needs to talk to somebody besides dancers once in a while.”

“Perhaps.” Madam K tapped her lips with the eraser end of a pencil. “In the event she has difficulty?”

“Send her to USC sports med and they’ll make her better than she was. Sending her’s not a bad idea whether she can tape herself or not.”

“I didn’t want to like you, Mr. Jackson. My usual attitude toward musicians, particularly the young, modern set, is one of tolerant contempt. With you I may have to adjust my position. You do realize that you will never be a dancer?”

“You’re the second person to tell me that since Monday. And you know what?”

“Yes, I do. But please, don’t say it.” She stood aside to let him out. “Miss Burns’ episode was quite enough profanity for one evening.”

Grab My Purse

The first writing assignment for my scene class was to show someone trapped or imprisoned in some way, physical or mental. Show them happy to escape or bummed they can’t. Supposedly no one was to use anything they had in the can and blow a word vomit draft up there. So I did. Eww. It’s against my creative religion to let half baked crap out. I used the opportunity to get off the pot with the second half of the first Bobby B book. Crazy the second one is in the can. The assignment was supposed to be 3 paragraphs. I don’t write paragraphs very often, I write dialogue based on the show, don’t tell rule. Half the class put WIP, half threw down with me. Not many fell inside the 3 paragraphs limit. It was nice to have Bobby and Annabelle back, though, trapped in a warehouse fire by a ruthless Dixie Mafia type who doesn’t want Swamp Vue to sell enclosed swamp cruisers in the Everglades. If you read this from book two you’ll know what happens. Without further ado, the edited version –

The sixty-foot-long string of fire along back wall of SwampVue’s old galvanized odds and ends warehouse didn’t go up with the special effects wooomph Bobby thought it should have. It wasn’t all that big yet, either, just a trickle of fire across the bottom.

“That son of a bitch wasn’t lyin’,” Annabelle pulled a Glock 26 from her purse, set it on one of the overturned buckets they’d been using for chairs.  She stepped into a black fire-retardant mechanics jumpsuit she’d found a box full of in the warehouse, zipped it, pocketed the Glock.

“You figure they knew we were in here?” Bobby zipped into his own jumpsuit.

“This was supposed to be a warning, Bobby. You and me being here is gravy.”

“Maybe we don’t need to sell boats in Florida. Maybe we should talk –”

“Selling boats in Florida is a distant second to ‘maybe’ we should think about how to get out of here before we go well done. That fireline sayin’ to you ‘c’mon out y’all, let’s all have us a lemonade and a chat?’” She scanned the warehouse. Buckets of Bobby’s wrong kind of paint, pallets of Bobby’s pre-Annabelle reclamation material runs from the Katrina salvage yard. Senior Eldridge’s Swamp Vue customized tractor. Big, rusty industrial tools and conveyor runners stripped from the old machine shop that was now Swamp Vue Building A. She looked up at the sprinkler heads doing nothing, knew the Matchstick Men had shut off the water. “Mr. Preston fucking Umbridge and crew have gone from being pains in our asses to dangerous. Where’s my idea boy?”

Bobby had  been walking the warehouse while they talked, came back and yanked the canvas sailcloth off his dead in the water project car that had been rolled into this warehouse with all his other unfinished projects.

“What the hell is that?”

“Half a plan? It was a Ford GT, before Katrina. When I got it most of the aluminum was gone. I’d thought about turning it into a marketing car, like the beer companies have? Half GT on the front and over the engine in back I wanted a small, high gloss wooden pickup bed. Unless we could do the front end like a baby ’57 Fleetside maybe. You know –”

“Bobby, goddammit, brevity. Does it run?” She waited, eyed the fire climbing the back wall, sweat glistening on her forehead.

“Hell yeah it runs.”

“And the half a plan?”

“We could drive it out, or, or…”

“Bobby, it’s a NASCAR grade go kart. Walk, or drive out in that thing, front or back, they’ll pick us off.” She thought for a minute. “Start it. Point it at the front, tie the wheel down.” She could feel Bobby hesitate. “Bobby? Listen up, baby. If this works? I’ll put a four-man team on the damn thing until it’s right. Set it up, start it.” She hit him with the scare a voodoo priest eyes, walked to a pallet of acetone cans and picked up two in each hand, took them to the back wall. When she heard the GT go-kart roar to life she stacked the cans in the flames, backed away in hurry. She pulled the pistol, held it two handed, looked over her shoulder at Bobby and raised her chin.

Bobby jammed a piece of re-bar between the accelerator pedal and the seat on the GT, flipped the transmission paddle to D, Annabelle shot the bottom can of acetone. The GT screamed through the front wall at the same time the acetone cans blew a hole in the back. She grabbed Bobby, pulled him down behind a pallet of junk aluminum while front and back the pop…pop pop and brrrrappp of gun fire punched holes in the galvanized tin that turned the moonlit warehouse into a redneck planetarium.

The shooting stopped, a couple of long minutes passed, Bobby and Annabelle drenched with sweat, each watching the black holes in the warehouse. Someone out back hollered “Anybody in there alive won’t be fer long.”

***

Leading with an AR-16 the one they called Walrus stepped through the acetone hole, Bobby hit him in the face with a shovel. Annabel grabbed the gun before he hit the ground, frisked the prone Walrus and came up with two more clips.

“Jesus.” Bobby looked down at Walrus and back to Annabelle and the rifle. “You know how to use that, too, huh?”

“Afghanistan. By way of Detroit. Help me.” They hog tied Walrus in an upward arch, ankles and wrists together, stuffed a rag in his mouth when he came around enough to make noise. Annabelle handed Bobby the Glock. “You know how to use one of these?”

“Since I was six. We’d go trollin’, Daddy’d get drunk and put me on gator –”

“Bobby? Count to thirty, empty that through the front. Then drag his sorry ass up there and wait for me.”

“What if they see you?”

“You have to be kidding me.” Annabelle held out her arms, assault rifle in hand. Black woman, black overalls, night.

“Right.”

Bobby counted, wiped his sweaty hands on his jumpsuit, emptied the clip through the hole his GT had made. There was a round of pop pop…pop pop pop that punched a few more holes in the front of the warehouse, a man’s voice called out for Walrus. There was another pop, louder, closer.

“Get on outta there, Bobby,” Annabelle, her voice raised. “Grab my purse on your way to the water valve.”

***

Bobby stopped his two-wheel dolly next to Annabelle’s tumped sideways wheel barrow, stood it up and Walrus, screaming behind the rag in his mouth fell on the Swamp Vue dock next to his partner.

“You put gas in the tow skiff?”

“Yep.” Bobby nodded to the far side of the dock. “That red Bandit four-seater set up for water test is a lot faster.”

“I’m not looking for speed. I think a nice, slow moonlight ride under the Spanish Moss might give these gentlemen a chance to reflect on the errors of their ways.” She looked at the two Matchstick Men, trussed up like Houdinis in a mixture of chain, rope and wire. “Besides, they’re bleeding and the skinny one vomited himself over the hole I put in his shoulder.” The burning warehouse reflected in her eyes. “And I’ll be godammed if these boys’ll ruin any more Swamp Vue inventory.”

Bobby helped her roll Walrus and Steeple unceremoniously from the dock into the green, slimy bottom of the tow skiff, both men wild eyed and squirming, still trying to holler through their gags. Bobby untied the skiff, watched Annabelle kick the Merc outboard up and disappear into the swamp.

***

Sheriff Wylie pulled up by the dock, joined the flashing light show of Terrebonne Parish emergency vehicles surrounding Swamp Vue’s back warehouse. He climbed out of his cruiser, met with a fireman who talked for a minute before he went back to his truck.

“I declare, Bobby B,” Wylie pulled his Smokey the Bear hat, wiped his forehead. “Seems ain’t no kinda shit can be got up to foreign to anywhere you’re at, boy.” He reset the hat, tweaked it. “Where’s Ms. Annabelle Mo-nay?”

“She, uh,” Bobby felt the weight of the canvas bag in his hand, heard Annabelle asking him if gators’d eat anything, how she’d heard a story about somebody cutting a gator open and finding a pocketwatch. “She took the tow skiff out. To clear her head. All the chemicals…”

“That right? Big city lady knows her way around the bayou now, does she?”

“GPS.”

“Mmm.” Wylie walked to the warehouse, frowned at the puddles under his shiny boots, wrinkled his nose at the smell of smoldering paint, burnt rubber. They both watched the firefighters rolling hose for a few. “Late start on the sprinklers, huh?”

“Valve stuck.”

“You don’t say. Head honcho Fire fella told me this mighta been arson.” He poked a stubby finger through one of the bullet holes. “Y’all got any problems I need to know about?”

“No sir.”

“The bag?”

“This? Oh, uh, just some, uh, lost and found.”

“Sure ‘nuff?” Wylie shined his high-power penlight into the bag. “Lessee now. Coupla phones. Coupla belts with big fancy buckles like them two slicks outta Florida was wearin’, the ones been hangin’ to the 76 truck stop talkin’ up the waitresses and hookers how they’re big shot Matchstick Men. Two wallets. A watch, an en-graved pocket knife,” he turned it over under the penlight, “to Walrus from LuLu. Makes you wonder about people, don’t it? A three-inch wood handled lock-back gizzard splitter. A baby Colt semi, looks like a 380. Car keys on a key ring fulla those grocery store cards. And you got nothin’ to tell me?” He shined the light on a cluster of bullet holes and moved it to Bobby’s face. “No problems? You sure?”

“Yes sir, I’m sure.” Bobby pointed to his GT, a 427 engine on a bent aluminum frame embedded in a giant old cypress. “We’re gonna fix that GT up right, put the logo on it, haul it to boat shows. And Ms. Monet thinks after tonight Swamp Vue’ll start selling more boats in Florida.”

“No doubt.” Wylie dropped the wallet he’d opened and gone through back in the bag. “Fact is I’d bet on it.” He walked back to his cruiser, tossed his hat on the passenger seat, leaned on his open door. “You be sure to give Ms. Mo-nay my regards.” He put a foot in the cruiser, stopped his descent. “Y’know, Bobby, she might give me a holler sometime, she’s of a mind. Tell her lunch is on me.”

Dusk in Douala – Rev 3

Dusk in an abandoned-by-Eminent-Domain Douala, Cameroon Ghetto / August 1998

A pair of mud caked motorcycle taxis pulled up in front of the overgrown, abandoned, dirty white cinder block house in the sweltering Douala ghetto. Two Anglos in wilted white tuxedos backed off the seats, the younger of the two, athletic, thirtyish with longer hair said something quietly in French to the drivers, paid them, watched them disappear around a corner. He looked up, scanned the 12 x 12 two-story structure encased in tropical greenery. Hung above the missing door a once colorful sign featured a smiling African woman, her head surrounded by vegetables. The abandoned structure, minus the sign, repeated all around them. An eminent domain ghost town.

“This is what economic development looks like in Cameroon, eh?” The older Anglo, slender, maybe 40, clean cut and early gray nodded toward the gleaming forest green Ford Expedition pulling up. “Nun in a knocking shop.”

“Part of his act.”

“Shit, Cas. It’s the only thing big enough to drag his fat ass across Douala.”

They both watched a fat man in overdone military garb, complete with double gold rope wrapping his armpits from both epaulets, exit from the Expedition’s back seat. A smallish, bald, black as midnight man in a bright yellow shirt covered in printed orange pineapples, an aluminum briefcase handcuffed to his wrist stepped from the front passenger side. The fat man’s “military escort,” a tall, thin blond man in a black uniform somewhere between Roaring Twenties chauffeur and Nazi goose-stepper swung from the driver’s seat, a Chinese Glock nine knock-off in his right hand that he used to direct the Anglos to the door. Inside, with its boarded windows, missing second floor and roof, the place was an oven.

Monsieur Caswell?” Saying it Kays-Weel, the fat man’s voice wet, full of spit and bullshit. “And Kar-kleen.” He held his eyes on the older Anglo, enthusiasm diminished, before turning to Caswell. “You know, how I have said of heem, and yet…” he shrugged.

“What you say, Colonel, has no bearing on how or with whom I conduct business.” He shrugged in return, mocking the self-imposed rank of the Coalition of some bogus Liberation Front’s front man. “You have my money?”

“I have your money, Kays-weel, but these man of yours, Kar-kleen? To me? He reeks of betrayal. Shoot heem, for the cause, for all of us.” His smile beamed in the dusk’s semi-darkness. “Do so, the money is yours.”

“I’m a businessman, Colonel, not a gangster. I’m not armed.”

“No? A businessman you say? Or a spy? Perhaps a clever American?”

“I could be a Martian for all it matters. You’ve seen the weapons, have guards posted on the container. I want my money.”

“You exude the aroma of an anarchist, but retain the soul of a capitalist. I’m afraid we –”

“If I’d wanted a sermon from a hypocrite, Mon Colonel, I’d have found a church. We do the money, now, or this gets uglier than your Momma’s dog.”

The fat man’s laugh went off in the stifling heat like a small bomb full of ego, gold teeth, curry, cigars and spit spray. “You – You keel me. These is why I liked you, Kays-weel. In the face of a most unprofitable death you make jokes. As you are,” he gestured to his Glock clone wielding driver with a minor wave of his hand, “how should you propose to make it, as you say, uglier –”

Caswell grabbed chauffer Nazi’s sweaty wrist with both hands, jammed the Glock clone up under its owner’s chin with enough force the chauffeur pulled his own trigger. The sound of the muffled shot went straight up with the bullet and brain spray into the palm branches overhead. The chauffeur gurgled, fell away, relinquishing the gun to Caswell who waited in the sticky thickness of cordite and blood mist while the Colonel fumbled with the flap of a shiny, black military holster. From it, in slow motion, he pulled an equally shiny black pistol. It cleared the holster, Caswell’s nine popped, the Colonel screamed, blood staining the sleeve of his uniform and dropped his pistol.

Kirklin knelt, collected the gun from years of packed down squat debris and rat shit, racked the slide, jammed it above the bridge of the Colonel’s nose. “Not so bloody funny now, eh, your Momma’s ugly dog.”

“You…Never.” He grimaced, blew air out of his nose. “You weel never leave Douala alive. You two, not so clever of you to bring your own whores, leave them alone. Not know who you are dealing with!” He looked at the blood oozing between his fingers, half laughed, half screamed. “You have to let me go. I need…I’ll be…missed. And I have your women. They –” The shiny gun went off, a cannon in the close confines of the concrete room. The Colonel backed up, the cross-eyed surprise on his face a cartoon trying to look at the hole in his forehead. He sat down, hard, fell over on his dead military escort.

Caswell collared the sweat soaked pineapple print shirt, pulled the small black man up from wretching, stuck the nine in his ear. “Open the briefcase.” The little man bent again, vomited air and noise. “Jesus.” Cas stuck his free hand in the man’s pockets, fished, pulled out a pearl handled .25 Saturday Night Special and a key ring.

“Just cut his fucking hand off, Cas.” Kirklin said, fanning the powder smoke.

“Newwww…Puh-leeze.” The black man snatched the key ring away, freed himself from the briefcase and handcuffs. “I am, I, le courrier, pour le financier.” He thumped his chest. “Seulement! There is, family, I –”

“Shut up,” Cas jammed the nine back in Black Baldy’s ear, kicked the briefcase Kirklin’s way. “Open it. See if the little man was running his own game.” Kirklin squatted, went through the keys, flipped the lid on the case.

“Money.”

Cas dragged pineapple shirt to the empty doorway, put his foot in the small of the man’s back and pushed. “Kiss your family for us.” They listened to him dry heave down the empty street. Kirklin lit a black cigarette, blew a smoke ring.

“Shoulda killed him, too.”

“I have locals following whoever walked out of here alive. We need to know where he goes.”

“Mmm. You worried?”

“About?”

“Elise. Oriana?”

“No. You?”

“No.” Kirklin blew another smoke ring. “I’m sure they neutralized whatever these refugees from acting school sent before they became an issue. No doubt with a good deal more finesse than we put up here.”

“Not much of a trick.” Cas jiggled the little finger he had in his ear. “What the hell is that?”

“Beretta.” Kirklin held up the Colonel’s pistol. “M9. Forty-five. A right argument stopper. I might keep it.”

“It’s too fucking loud.”

Kirklin moved his lips, mouthed soundless nothing. Caswell slapped him in the chest with the back of his hand. “I was just asking what about these two?” Kirklin pointed the Beretta at the two dead men.

“We’re gone five minutes,” Cas nudged the Colonel’s glossy boots with his foot, “they’re picked clean, teeth pulled and carcasses set on fire. You ready?” Kirklin nodded, Caswell stepped through the door, saw the kid on the corner vanish, heard the put-put of the motorcycle taxis fire up a street over.

“You cheap out, Cas,” Kirklin flicked his cigarette into the dusk, focused on the corner, “not tip them enough?”

“Too much, and they didn’t thank me. Showtime.” The motorcycle taxis rounded the corner, drivers with guns drawn. A pop from the Glock clone, a BOOM from the Beretta and the motorcycles were put-putting on their sides in the street.

“Goddammit that thing’s loud.”

“A bit too heavy as well. The Ford?”

“No one, even after dark in Douala, jacks a pair of thirty-year old Honda Sixty-fives.”

“Right. Lottery night in the squats, then.” Kirklin squeezed the handlebar clutch on the closest bike, lifted it. Caswell pulled up the other, let it skitter around him till he knocked it out of gear with his foot.

“What were the locals supposed to do if we hadn’t walked out of here?”

“A note at the hotel, a cold phone coded to the Oxford drop for Dunning.”

“One of these days,” Kirklin straddled the duct taped seat, briefcase between his legs, “someone will need to kill Richard Dunning.”

“Don’t try it from a motorcycle,” Caswell shot Kirklin a clipped smile, dropped on his own duct taped seat. “Be a shame if the bastard heard you coming.”

Dusk in Douala

Douala, Cameroon / Summer 1998

The overgrown, abandoned dirty white two-story cinder block house sat on a deserted street of more houses just like it in the southern Douala ghetto. It’s footprint no more than twelve by twelve. Inside it was hot as hell. Sticky. Close. The floor for the second floor and roof were both missing. Chain-link fence wire and plywood covered the windows, the faded blue plank door off its hinges leaned to the right side of the doorway. A weathered sign featuring a smiling African woman with a gap in her front teeth, her head surrounded by vegetables said someone once ran a market here. Now two Englishmen in wilted white evening clothes, one thirtyish, longish hair, the other maybe forty, clean cut with laser eyes, both running on vanishing patience stood in the sweltering Douala dusk with a large fat man in brown and green military dress, a small, bald, black as midnight accountant type in a bright yellow shirt covered in orange pineapples and a tall, thin vacant eyed blonde man in a black uniform straight out of a Nazi war poster.

“We came unarmed. Colonel,” the younger Anglo said, the fat man’s rank escaping with uncloaked derision. Colonel. General. Why did all the supercilious pissant liberation leadership adopt a military veneer? “You’ve inspected your merchandise. We need our money.”

“As I said, I do not trust him. Nor particularly do I care for your lack of respect, Monsieur Caswell. I ask again. Shoot him for me. To make me happy, and for your insolence. Do so and the money is yours.” The grin full of gold teeth and ego.

“And I say, again, we are not armed. We’re businessmen, Mon Colonel, not gangsters.”

From the older Anglo, “Give him a gun, somebody. Get this farce over with.”

“What then?” Caswell tilted his head to the contingent of three. “I kill you, the one in the monkey suit kills me, they walk with the money and the merchandise?”

“The fat one is a stooge. The other two are decoration. I say Colonel fatass leaves with the money,” he motioned with his hand to Short Baldy and Vacant Eyes. “Has someone waiting to kill these two. Maybe somebody he doesn’t see coming kills him. What they’re sweating now is fatass’s Bogart routine that’s failed. We were supposed to show up cowboy, they talk us into killing each other over the money. Cheap. This has been a cheap sideshow operation since day one.”

Caswell turned to the three. Vacant Eyes now held a Chinese Glock knock-off in his left hand, his forearm rigid at a right angle to his shoulder. Sweat beaded on his upper lip, his forehead, dripped from the tip of his nose. Colonel Clown remained crisp, impervious to the heat, hat fat-arm-clamped to his side. Below the hat he had a revolver in a big, shiny black military holster with a flap secured by a snap. Little Baldy was sweating profusely, staining the leather briefcase he clutched to his chest with both hands.

“He’s right. Somebody give me a gun.” He glanced at his friend. No one moved. He judged his distance to Vacant Eye’s. Half an arm’s length, if that. “Gestapo boy. Gun. NOW, if your boss wants this done. Or you do it. Somebody do something, do it now.

Vacant eyes responded by lifting his gun hand. Caswell grabbed Vacant’s wrist with both hands, jammed the Glock clone up and under Vacant’s chin, pulled the trigger. Vacant Eyes gurgled, sputtered, Cas pushed him away, turned the gun on Colonel Clown fumbling to unflap his holster. He allowed the pistol as shiny and black as the holster to clear before he shot the Colonel in the elbow. He screamed, the pistol hit the ground. The older wilted Anglo snatched it up, leveled it between the Colonel’s eyes.

“I have your women. If, if we’re not at the container in —” The shiny black revolver boomed once, the Colonel backed up, a look of complete, cross-eyed surprise on his face as if trying to focus on the .45 caliber hole above the bridge of his nose. He sat down hard, fell over on top of Vacant Eyes.

“What, Cas? Eh? I was bloody sick of his Casablanca bullshit. ‘Prove to us your loyalty. Shoot heem. I do not trust heem.’ Somebody in this circus act wants us dead. More than they want the merchandise or their money back. Or these clowns were a front and there’re parties involved we haven’t seen.”

“Maybe,” Caswell wiped his forehead with the left sleeve of his white tux. “First though,” he stuck the Glock clone in the short bald man’s ear when he came up from vomiting. “The women?” Baldy nodded rapidly in the affirmative. “Where?” Baldy turned his head, bent, vomited nothing. The Glock followed him, locked to his ear, Caswell upped the pressure, kept the man bent over.

“Please…I have family. The hotel. Your hotel. He sent two men there. Like him.” Baldy pushed dead Vacant Eyes with his foot. Cas backed off.

“Open the briefcase.”

Caswell waited while Baldy fumbled in his pants pocket for a key, got impatient, ripped Baldy’s hand out, stuck his own hand in, came out with a tiny pearl handled .25 automatic and a key ring. The older one lit a black cigarette, exhaled sideways.

“You could just cut his hand off, Cas. He might’ve shot you with the flea gun.”

“Shut up, you’ll scare him. Goddammit what’s that smell…See? You made the little fucker shit himself.”

“That’s fatass or the Aryan wonder boy or both lightening up before they cross the great divide. Baldy’s still alive and unloading topside, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Comedy relief for Africa?”

“I was thinking a signature tune for Visit Cameroon. Forget your cares, leave your brains and empty your bowels in Douala.”

“An instant classic. Teach the world to sing while you’re at it.” Caswell uncuffed the briefcase, tossed it to his partner, mashed the gun back in Baldy’s ear. “Money, or was this little man running his own game?”

“Money.”

“Kiss your family for us.” Caswell spun Baldy, put his foot in the small of his back and shoved him through the opening where the door should have been. They could hear him dry heave his way down the dusty street.

“One of us should have killed him on principle, Cas.”

“We need to know where he goes. I put a couple of locals on whoever left this dump alive.”

“Ah. Altruism with return postage.” He pointed with the Colonel’s shiny revolver. “These two?”

“Fuck them.” Cas peered through the deepening dusk at the bodies, kicked the sole of the Colonel’s gleaming boots. “The locals will pick them clean, pull their teeth, burn the bodies. Elise and Ori?”

“Customary for them I say there’s two more dead liberation fighters. Most likely in a commercial laundry hamper in the hotel basement.” He crushed his cigarette out on a wall. “Discharged, I’m sure, with a good deal more finesse than we put up. Who were the locals supposed to report to if we didn’t walk out of here?”

“A note at the hotel, a scrambled cold phone to the Oxford drop for Dunning.”

“One of these days somebody’s going to have to kill Richard Dunning.”

“Don’t tell anyone you’re on the way or he’ll hear about it somehow.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THG 3 – CH 21 – Black Lipstick Pt 4

Mid-July, 1979 / Train Between Nottingham and Cambrdge, UK

Deanna fingered interlocking circles on the fogged train window, let a half smile break through. She could hear Jax saying from the driver’s seat of his stupid, precious car, “D, why do you do that to my windows?” For some attention, maybe, or just to piss you off, Mister Clean. If he was for real in the seat next to her he would lean over, squeeze her knee where it tickled and pretend to look out her window, wet kiss her nose or ear to piss her off, wipe off the circles and say, “Trains, Collings. What a concept.” Yeah, Mister half dead and lost, they are. And they go everywhere. She tried to hear what he’d say to that. “Everywhere? I don’t care about everywhere, but do they have lots of tunnels? Trains and tunnels, you know, because –” he’d do that thing poking his finger through a hole made with his thumb and forefinger. She’d have smacked his arm at the grin and ‘you know.’ She tried to hear what he’d say to Ms. Pollyanna Perfect Deanna Collings losing however many days…

She elbowed the Army jacket next to her, where Jackson should have been. “Alvy, what day is it?”

“Huh?” The olive drab jacket roused, more from boredom than sleep.

Day, Alvy. What day is it?”

“Christ, D’anna. Monday.”

“God…” She kept her gaze out the window, counted silently on her fingers. Friday night, Saturday…Sunday. Where’d that one go? Now it was Monday. Afternoon sometime. Cloudy, cool. Well, pushing 70. Hot by English standards.

“Who called you?”

“Morton.” Alvy yawned, rounded himself into a stretch in the seat.

“The beanpole with the moles? His name’s Morton? I thought it was Fish or something.”

“Fizz. Fizzy Piss. They call him that because he can pee on anything, pavement even, and it still bubbles like soapy water or –”

“Just what I needed to hear. He’s an architect. Was an architect, right? Quit to get rich screaming bullshit at skinheads? And none of them are really named Quiqley? Now that you say it, Fizzy, I heard it I think, at the party thing…”

“I wasn’t there.”

“No, you weren’t.” Did he have to wrap everything he said in mope? “What happened?”

“After the fight at the club or before?”

“Fight?”

“Go on, D’anna.”

Okay, be that way. Someone would tell her. “What was in those pills?”

Tablets. Different ones, different things.”

“The blue one?” Dumbass.

“Special blend. Some Ketamine, Ritalin, pheno.”

“Can you tell me what that means without a chemistry lesson?”

“Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic. Ritalin to keep you awake. The pheno and Ketamine react to –”

“I said no –”

“It’s a speedball with psychedelic properties, okay?”

The woman in front of them, the one who’d moved when Deanna sat by her to avoid Alvy, turned to look at them.

“Excuse him. He talks too loud. To impress people.” The woman gave them a church lady look, turned back around.

The speedball psychedelic explained Friday. The endless car ride with five girls stuffed like sardines in a small car some friend of Feeb’s was driving. They laughed for hours. Driving sideroads too trashed to be on the A1, headed for someplace outside Nottingham. They went through Peterborough, all of them making burrowed Peter jokes. They got lost in Blid something Bottoms, all got out to pee, obsessed with the thought of bottoms. Deanna discovered tripping and personal plumbing and bathroom business was hilarious and impossible. They made it to a house in Nottinghamshire somewhere. A big house. Ancient looking outside, completely modern inside. An old man, tall, creamy hair, ascot…ponytail. A butler. No, an actor who looked like a butler, but he owned the place. “Welcome,” followed by some kind of arts and enlightenment, creative and enlightened people junk. She’d laughed. He remained an overdressed mannequin, offered her a tall glass.

“A drink? Champagne?” Okay. One won’t kill me.

“What’s upstairs?” What did he say?

“The stairs, yes, by all means.” Toasted her with some sexist garbage, clinked her glass with “Stairway to Heaven vintage.” He’d smiled with one side of his mouth, the other side frozen, like the eye above it. The music was so loud, the fireplace huge, everything too much. She took the stairs two at a time, stood on the second-floor landing. It was quieter.  Through a door off the hall some people offered her a seat with them on a satin pillow the size of a living room rug. There were guitars and weird shakers and bongos scattered around. No one was playing them. The forest of incense sticks put out so many smells it was a perfume counter on fire. The satin pillow people chanted nonsense and passed a fat candle around. A strange candle that left a neon trail in its wake, the smoke curling along with the incense into morphing faces on their way to a disappearing ceiling. Neon tracer candle passing and murmuring, and they all wanted to touch her forehead.

No.

Back to the stairs. No! The fucking wooden staircase had turned into a river of chocolate, the bannister, when she grabbed it at first a feathery boa, next the real thing. Did she go all the way down the liquid fudge slide on her butt? She wasn’t covered in chocolate, but she was downstairs, the snake had turned into another glass of champagne. People were laughing, the lyrics to the too loud music running out their ears. God. Talking with your ears. Not fucking funny, people! Outside. Outside. Feeb! Thank God, Feeb! Feeb’s eyes. She was dead. Oh, shit. Dead. Outside somewhere, on a cement bench by a naked white guy built like a jock. He had curly hair, a tiny little dick surrounded by the same, and he was peeing in a jar. Get a life, dude. Really. Feeb! You’re dead! Did he do this? Blood, running from Feeb’s eyes. That was it.

She’d told that story, what had happened to Feeb, when Skinny Moles pulled her from a pile of intertwined bodies wrapped in canvas and straw. He’d said, “All the wiser we are for damage done to young Apollo pissing.” Told her not to worry, the rest would come back in a couple of days. The pile she’d come from. More dead people? The stench of the bodies. Overpowering. She’d complained, he’d snarled, said it was as much her as the rest. She shed the oversized denim jacket of unknown origin. It hadn’t helped much with reducing the smell, and it was cold, so she kept it. Wrapped herself back in a potpourri of stale cigarette smoke, incense, alcohol, urine, vomit, sex. She felt like a frat party’s worth of dirty underwear with feet. None of the stink really hers, she hoped. And woodsmoke.

Woodsmoke! Saturday had been the philosophical bonfire where everyone wanted to shag – what a fucking word, shag – they all wanted to fuck. Not make love, fuck. Nasty, careless fucking. With anyone and everyone else, regardless of gender boundaries or how dysfunctional their bodies were from drugs. She’d gone on a rampage about women protecting themselves, like a wild woman version of her mother with the condom and cucumber. The “Fiery cunt from Cambridge  preaching the sanctity of the vagina,” Fishy Piss had told her. She’d gone around unplugging, mid coitus, the ones who could figure it out until someone dragged her off to the house. She had more of the old butler man’s champagne and Sunday vanished.

On the drive to Nottingham station Morton or Fish or Fizz or whoever had called her a stagnant bit of Cambridge good girl who needed to find something to believe in besides her twat. If she had to know what happened, fine. He lit a smelly Russian cigarette, told her she’d been out, of her own and everyone else’s misery, somewhere in the woods for twenty-four hours before she was found and tossed on the pile in the barn with the rest of the passed-out party casualties. His last words to her before slowing down and opening the van door were “You go on about being a good girl with broken girl looks, pretending, with your golden twat and a pole up your arse. See what it gets you.” She was out on the sidewalk, the old van rounding a corner before she could respond.

“Alvy? Who called you?”

“Morton. I said, didn’t I? Rang me at half gone noon. Said you were a right solid pain in his arse, dumped on him as you were by me, and I had to come make you disappear from his life. I said you were none of mine, he said bollocks. Said I’d have to take the train. He said be quick about it. The train’s three bloody hours I said.He blew a sigh out his nose. “That was pissing petrol on his fire.”

“Great. He must have waited to wake me up. Twenty minutes from the barn to the sidewalk and there you were. Who bought my ticket?”

“D’anna, it’s not, it doesn’t…What is, and does, is we’ve missed Monday. My supers, the study committee, the advisors – we’ll say we caught something, ate something. I’ll think of –”

“Something? You do that.” She curled into the train wall, pulled the stinky jacket tighter. “And then explain away what the fuck you were doing with that bag of crazy pills while you’re at it.”

“That’s…It’s not that easy.”

“Sure it is. ‘Here Danna, you might like this one.’ And it’s three fucking days later and I’ve seen all kinds of crazy shit happen and, and, ohhh no!” She reached, grabbed his jacket. “Feeb’s dead. And that old man’s hair ate his head…”

The old woman turned again, scowled deep and long. They waited for her to have enough.

“Feeb’s at work. Saw her yesterday.” He stretched again. “She’s how you got out of the club alive. She’s the one left you in Nottingham wood.” He hrumphed further down in the seat. “She should be on this bloody train, not me.”

“Really? She’s not…Dead? Or anything?”

“She’s something, but not dead.”

In the window she saw Feeb’s eyes again. They ran down her face in a black river of moonlight blood, her mouth open, her teeth stained black with it. How was she alive?

“What about the old butler?”

“Fizz says Krysanthe is still with us and all, as nothing ate his head. He was well done with Fizz and Feeb and the whole lot of them for having you out to one of his expansionist happenings. Says you ought to be caged.”

“His face. That thing on his face was mocking me when we were talking. He’d say something, and I’d say something back. Then it would ‘Nyah Nyah’ me, repeat what I said. I slapped it and it went crazy. I saw it. His hair got all mad about it and ate his head. Really, I mean it. I saw it, Alvy.”

He let that sit for a long ten seconds, didn’t bother to look at her. “Some people shouldn’t do drugs.”

“If that was about me, I know a guy who said the same thing. He said I was wound too tight and a good hit of windowpane would probably cure me if it didn’t kill me, but he didn’t want to be around to co-pilot.” Jax kept all that, that part of himWhere did he keep it? She’d never seen him really out of it except a couple of times. His thing was pot, mostly. But he knew about all of it, said it was everywhere. “More bad shit around where music happens than you can imagine, D.” Her brother had said the same thing about college and pro football. Maybe that was why he and Jax got along, the two un-likelies. They’d both said, “Keep your head down, do your thing, stay out of it.” She finally hadn’t kept her head down, and they were right. Wow. How could that be? Jax and Doug. They were, were…Guys. And they got it?

She gave a couple of the window circles eyes and angry eyebrows, thinking about the concert. More like hours of horrid noise in public. Did Jax know about Punk? He’d never said. He did do that stupid egg beater thing on the piano for that stupid whore dance major. He knew about Classical, that was pretty weird, because he’d talk about it, when he talked, with the same sort of vocabulary she used for lit, but he was in music school. He knew all about Oldies and Radio Rock, made her listen to ‘Prog’ sometimes which was just too much. Poetry could be outside, but songs were supposed to be songs. Songs you could dance to. Weren’t they? And the Blues. She liked the old ones by black guys best. Jax said they were “honest,” not written for white kids and Billboard. His favorite stuff, he told her early on and she wasn’t supposed to tell, was Standards and ‘Torch Songs’. He’d hooked her with those. The dreamy sounds…

He could sit in Amanda’s office with Amanda and Alix and Amber the Lady Godiva California hippie turned lawyer and they’d talk about all kinds of music. He’d make fun of Amanda’s folky stuff, but he and Amber would play folk songs for her until they’d make a joke out of one and Amanda would say “Enough” in that way she had. There was something he’d play on the piano for Amanda, the same as he did “Summertime” for her mom. And they both got that same way about him and “their” songs that made her jealous. They’d get all wispy over them, and he’d have to say something to make them laugh. Amber said it was because he could make the colored bubbles come. Like that was some sort of magic. But Amber said it so off hand, like everybody saw the bubbles and understood. Colored bubbles was nutso, and Deanna’d said as much. What was Jax, anyway? Some kind of, of,

“What did you call that stuff? Ketta whatsit?”

“Ketamine? A dissociative anesthetic.” He saw her face, wanting to ask but not wanting to look stupid. “The pharmacologic point is you get so doodled by it you don’t know you hurt.”

She leaned back into the window, her hair obliterating most of her window art. She drew a smile on the lone remaining crooked circle. “So maybe some people, or love even, could be like that, huh? That Ketamine stuff?”