– for milli
we may want a control group.
someone to provide perspective.
i can.t recall ever having one.
every picture looked cheap on the high definition television. what does it matter? things found, things lost. making lists to remember what to do, what not to do. remember what happened, how we wish it had gone down. eventually, you stop having to prove yourself again every day – if you.re lucky.
time was – eating, sleeping, fucking, spending money. the days pass. a good story gets repeated.
watching a popular british actor fabricate his legend. listening to myths retold. what the fuck do we keep counting? entire lives organized around a ledger, or an image, ink, binary code & columns of figures. some people change the world.
he sat behind a counter, paper folded & unread – in a shop he didn.t own. let.s say he liked it, talking to people … eventually, selling things. every day, women came into the shop. people wanted things.
he thought about society. he organized the shop and spent his time considering the imaginary – injustice, love. he had never owned any property. never had more than a couple thousand dollars; and not for very long, even then. he was unoccupied, which is a form of power.
he had a name, but a man is more than a name. a face, not entirely different from anyone.s face. his clothing had been worn by others. it could have been a wednesday.
she came into the shop, casually, in a summer dress. the kind that turns translucent in the light. it wasn.t summer, but some cities don.t notice. her breasts were small, unprotected. the print faded on her sundress. the guy working the store pretended not to notice. it was one of those stores with a little of everything. nothing new, even the low priced items weren.t cheap.
she was used to making things happen.
the door opened easily, spilling light inside. a young girl stood, lithe and wan, gazing openly on a bored looking shop clerk. in the doorway, an older gentleman considered the scene. it was, perhaps, lovely. a delicate mating dance. he had no time for such foolishness.
the gentleman stepped back & the door slammed lightly shut. it was november, what some would call an indian summer. in truth, he hadn.t ever understood the phrase. indian summer. no doubt it was some kind of imperial idiom. language betrayed you, if you thought too hard. this was another matter. jeremiah plaid was not easily distracted, and his preoccupation at the moment was locating a gift for his wife.
jeremiah thought about his stepfather. mortimer salk had buried the dead in this town for forty-seven years. even in a family of morticians, that seemed too long to jeremiah. none of these stores held his interest. perhaps – there could have been an appropriate gift, somewhere within one of them. he was unsure. jeremiah preferred not to consider the dead, outside of work hours. his municipal salary required that he dwell on mortality & he chose not to do so for free. in his musing meander, he had crossed the street and turned down an alley. he was now at the park, passing through its gates and up the stairs. a dingy bag sat upon the stair, but he paid the bag no mind.
anyhow, the bag would not have held his interest. jeremiah did not gamble. he took no unnecessary chances. another man.s property holds only trouble. and so, the bag sat. jeremiah receded into the distance, cautiously stepping his way up the hill.
for several minutes, nobody came by. an earthworm burrowed through the corpse flesh of a nearby mouse. some few leaves fluttered down from overhead, so to speak. then, a ball came flying off the hill, and kept rolling. it bounced into the street.
assuming you weren.t there, what kind of ball was it ? most likely, not a hackysack. would it be a baseball, anymore? a tennis ball, really? a fucking basketball ? nope – it was a soccer ball. neon geometric design. regulation size, a little bit scuffed up. you wouldn.t call it a kid.s ball.
and they weren.t fucking kids, if you asked them.
who would ask them? their god damn principal, looking to prove himself like god or a judge or something. susie shepherd? she thinks i.m a kid, even though i.m almost as old as her brother & not even a virgin.
age ain.t nothing but a number, susie shepherd.
don.t you listen to music? jesus.
and sam shepherd.s gonna be pissed they lost his soccer ball in the road. even though it.s not my fault, he.s gonna blame me. see if he doesn.t. that motherfucker. just because he went to a movie with some girl out of town and came back making everyone smell his finger, he thought he was so grown up now. skipping class and talking back to ms. greenwood. he said she was younger anyway, that was kind of gross too. i.m more mature than he is and plus he.s only a little more than half a year bigger than me.
i like older women. not to brag, but i almost did it with this cougar lady one time – it was at my friend.s house. but, i.m not supposed to tell that story. anyway, who cares? cause it didn.t happen. but it could have, though.
and now i.ve got to climb down this hill and in the street after this ball or whatever and i hardly started playing – why doesn.t one of them get the ball ? i mean, they.re playing already and i just got here. but they always make me do stuff. it.s not like i.m lazy, or anything.
everyone says i think too much.
but, i wonder how i could get to suzy shepherd. get close to her, i mean. i know, i.m supposed to get her tickets to a concert, but how is that going to work ? you know, i just have to talk to her; sometime, when she.s not always busy. and, like – maybe i could practice more on other girls, first, so i know what to do. or, maybe, plan it out some.
he sat on the top step and debated with himself about speaking to susie aloud, as if she were there. he wasn.t sure if talking to yourself made you crazy, so he didn.t talk to himself out loud too much anymore. he knew his mom would like it better, or at least like better not knowing he was talking to himself. he wanted to ask how other people did it, but that kind of questioning frequently led to him being given tasks & everyone saying there was something weird about how much thought he put into things.
he decided to just ask her “in his head,” and see what she said.
it wasn.t until footsteps came over the hill that he saw the bag. saw that it was stuffed with money. at least, that.s what it looked like. and people get all excited about money. so, maybe, it shouldn.t be out in the open. he realized he had gotten lost in thought. and, maybe, he wanted more time to think about what was in the bag; and, who belonged to it. he figured he could think better on his own. the soccer ball kept rolling far down the street as he lifted the dirty duffel bag.
we might consider this bag. where it came from. the probability of finding such a bag. theoretically, the value of a bag like this. let us say that the boy did not find a bag, but only imagined finding one. naturally, he would be free to further imagine the bag.s contents.
perhaps, also; perversely, he would prefer to conceive of the contents as sinister or disturbing. in the nature of the fantastic. in fact, terrible & infinitely possible. he would continue to imagine the consequences of his finding. opportunities, obstacles, or problems that may arise. he has waited, as a child, to discover the world of men. and now, he has a man-like choice to make.
he turned the music up loud enough to wall everyone off, and locked the door. this was a fucked up day. he imagined the bag in his closet. how thick the stacks were. he didn.t dare count it out on the street. could he do it now? better not. he lay in bed and got lost in the music.
have you listened to otis redding in the late evening? antique melancholy. we say that music drowns out sorrow. well said. he floated on the music, forgetting school and the constant shuffle from one task to another. forgetting arguments with suited figures and an unending pile of assignments, listed vertically on horizontal sheets of paper & on his arm, online, on his phone, on and on.
shitty music is a minor crime, when profitable. some kid on the street, or an insane middle aged guitar panhandler – nobody.s harmed, seriously, most times. but, the airbrushed no talent model slash conmen and women who stole stage and airtime from true musicians … it made him so mad, sometimes. other times, he doubted his love of sound. his claim on all of it – the good music, over and above others. he had already given his life to sound, even if his life wasn.t worth much yet.
so he thought about the money in the closet, even as he doubted it was really in there. wondered what kind of instruments it could buy, how to hide a recording studio in his bedroom, and what steps a kid took to emancipate himself. even though, he wasn.t really a kid. he knew he would need a new name.
what kind of life would otis have had, if he.d lived to have one?
maybe, with this much money, he could find out.
a most terrible film might lay one moment in brilliant contrast. otis dreamt of an indefinite future that could abandon every living memory into b roll oblivion. each day came like a blooper reel and left him with these hyper chromatic dreams.
he stood on a balcony. sometimes he was shot, or he fell. he would address the crowd, but have nothing to say. or, monologue tirelessly as they stood in awe. at times, he left the balcony and flew across treetops and hillsides. he became an eagle or a hawk, nesting on an alcove in the mountains. he was a vampire, consigned to night and shadow. he was overtaken with fits & spells in phases around the moon. when he read a newspaper, he would fume and stir for hours; reading aloud, spitting & cursing. his days and nights were scored by the soulful voices of dead idols. only the music was alive to him.
otis opened the closet door.
thousands, he kept miscounting. maybe more. a lot of thousands, for certain. some of the bills stuck together, stained coffee brown. or was it just the color of new bills? he couldn.t tell. either way, it was a lot of money. he lay it out, put it away, stacked it up & laid it out again. some of the bills felt kind of wet, left a faint impression on the blanket and sheets. how long til mom was home?
he carried everything downstairs. his blanket wouldn.t fit in the washer with all the money; he curled it up and stuffed it between the machines. halfway through, he panicked. opened the top and pulled everything out wet, stuffed it all in the dryer. switched it on high. he paced, quit pacing; yanked out the blanket, shoved it down in the warm wash water. shut the thing.
he prayed his mother wouldn.t come home. couldn.t tell who we was praying to. or what.
to his father, wherever that was? in heaven, supposedly. or his grandfathers? he read somewhere about some eastern religion, how they all worshipped their ancestors. praying to whatever.s up in the clouds? fuck it, maybe to aliens out there – someone who knows more than we ever do.
he wondered what to do with the money. what he should do with it. you can.t just come up with money out of nowhere. right, you had to have … a reason, or explanation. a source of some kind.
would they let me start a bank account, like, by myself? is that kind of thing confidential? lawyers are confidential, i know they are. i think i need a lawyer.
what kind of a lawyer? what should i do with the money? i could just leave. i.d like to leave, go somewhere.
every where was taken.
the pilgrims took some of it, the puritans. ponce de leon claimed florida. magellan had his share. most any caribbean island was claimed by africans. the british had got australia. land ran out a while ago.
although, scientists found water; both, on mars & the moon – there wasn.t entirely enough to drink. and, so, otis resolved himself. home is where the heart is.
his mother came home.
he could tell she was surprised about the laundry, trying not to bring it up. what should he do with the money? it was a lot of money. he could do a lot with it.
he could take a few of the cleanest bills, and get a hotel.
or he could, he could find an apartment. should he leave town? susie shepherd would never come with him. he wondered if there was a way to hold on to the money and susie shepherd.
last quarter, when susie was more talkative … fucking susie.
in winter, she.d turn legal. she figured, stripper cash could buy her an old theater. a real one, like the black box on broad street. she had it all planned, kind of. taking her clothes off was no big deal. she said her aunt did it, and she could do it too. she.d tried it once at a party & she liked it at the time.
at the diner, when she told him, it was after one am. her french toast came with whipped cream; he kept wanting to lick the cream from her chin. he thought about her blouse, dropping on the floor of some other guy.s basement; which, had him dizzy and a little sick.
she had her yellow blouse on. a trace of syrup smudged above where he imagined her nipple. the left. they had a booth alone. sam and his date were making out in the car. susie had arranged to meet someone, an older man, she said. but, it was late & he hadn.t called.
she went on about exotic modeling, table dancing. the different types. some places were unsanitary. she would find a spot with class; where girls wore thongs, and kept them on.
she knew about it. little tricks, for example. sanitary napkins – you wiped down the pole after.
or the next girl did it before, so there was nothing to catch. a lot of clubs were dingy or had secret rooms in back. that.s not what she was looking for.
susie excused herself to the bathroom. down the hall, in her too short skirt.
he had nothing to give, would have given anything. he agonized – in the harsh florescence – over unnamed suitors, crowded faceless into fantasy. some guys at a party, the older man. overhead lights, humming as if alive.
she returned, moaning her lost night. mourning the death of her immediate plans.
fuck, i.m horny, she said. what a waste. he felt a portal had opened. desire held him frozen, ransacking human history for an enticing phrase.
susie held his cock, once, on a dare. it was a slumber party at the shepherd.s house. she.d met his eye, as he grew to fill her fist. the grip suddenly slick, sticking her palm. she grinned, slowly, raised the hand to clean it on her tongue. never backing down from his stare; even, as she released her grasp.
he.d turned shy. closed himself in the bathroom, eyeing a section of wall in the mirror. when he came out later, he couldn.t find her. the game had moved on. he knew he wasn.t supposed to mention it.
otis hid in his room. stashed the bag back in the closet, left the bedding downstairs. susie wouldn.t have to strip, now. his life and his mom.s, everything would get easier. he hoped it was as much as he thought, considered counting it again.
he figured, given enough time, susie could fall in love with him. right now – he had enough, more than enough, to start with a dance.
he found his phone; dialed back the music, dialed her number. tomorrow, he would find a lawyer.
what is my son doing in his room? i swear to god. who do you call about things like that? certainly, calling up the stairs had proven useless. calling her mother. earth to linda. your boy is growing up. he was her little man, but she never got to call him that anymore. the first to go, of many little habits – providing space for a teenaged version of a man to learn how to be himself.
whichever way some book had put it. there.s a book for everything; she.d probably get around to reading if she had the time.
past dinner. linda gnawed on the prospect of bribing her son for information. earlier, a week ago, she.d arrived home at the exact right moment to hear a boy named jacob declare – from her dining room – that fat girls were only good for fucking in the ass.
linda had been appalled at the conversation. then, moments later, bewildered and pleased; as her kid responded, “i.m sure my mother wouldn.t allow that kind of talk & i don.t want to hear that shit either.”
better than fifty percent probability that he.d heard her return home. even so, she was proud of him. proud of herself, for raising him. proud of dan.
she didn.t try not to think of dan. only, tried not to cry in front of herself, if she noticed. here she was again, standing in the living room, holding her mail. biting back tears.
was it appropriate to weep with joy, in the knowledge that her only child tolerated fat girls? how did the kids put it now? no fatties … what is this world coming to? she chuckled.
the world coming to.
her life had been struck, fiercely; an unseen blow, from a strange assailant. the many syllabled illness she.d struggled remembering – then, fought to forget.
she.d begun to conceal things from herself. her long absences from home, for work; melding into the vacancy of her boy from this place. and even, mostly – now – from conversation. always, he was in her thoughts.
she imagined his room as a tiny locked door in her head. this way, he wasn.t keeping her out. he was closed up inside her self, shutting out the world. his mind, always puzzling out detail, rarely gave itself to the outside.
linda sighed. she had another stop to make & came home, partly, in hopes of asking him a question. her intention was to prepare a meal. although, they rarely ate together any more.
she scrawled in black marker on a bill – Back With Pizza. Love.
linda stopped by a pizza place; paid for delivery, tipping in advance. her phone blinked. a text from cassius, at the hotel. he had offered her a job.
she wondered if she was simply tired, or tired of her work. linda excelled at book keeping, had enjoyed the freedom of freelance. lately, she considered placing money in the stock market.
cassius had asked her to manage the hotel; with him, and after him. linda moved people easily as she manipulated numbers. she moved between company offices, organizing finances.
finding ways to save money, keep better track of where it went.
she acquired help. no longer a roving accountant, she delegated & consulted. no, she couldn.t give up her freedom. attractive as the offer might have been. she worked too much already, making her own hours. she texted her little man: working late, munchkin. expect delivery.
what time was it? she could let cassius know, tonight. he deserved as much.
no need to keep him in suspense. the man could be so anxious, then abruptly carefree. which face would appear, if she surprised him at the hotel? the other time she.d appeared unannounced … well, you never knew. did you? til you tried.
cassius had stepped out. ten minutes, they said. she messaged him and waited in the hotel bar.
considered hitting up a sauna, or massage. a quick swim, five minutes in the whirlpool. some way to relax. she felt tense, wound up. a clock with an alarm, bursting to go off any minute.
she needed a kind of solitude, or solace. someone to take care of, or take care of her. the same things, she supposed, that anybody wanted.
she was prepared to stop making sacrifices, if she could. linda was looking for a reason to give.
probably, a drink would help her cope with any of these contradictions. oh god, therapy words like cognitive dissonance. she never trusted therapy. remembered some benny hill skit about the rapist.
dan had been one, that was her trouble. she worked too hard to make him cross the line. had no faith in it, before or since. confession only works if you can tolerate the penance. she.d paid too much for his attention. now, linda kept it professional. bending rules is fine, if you admit they.re there.
there, there. lord, she was doing it again. linda muttered half a prayer, wishing she believed in it.
she downed her drink. considered, another. checked the time.
one of her pleasures, in working the hotel, was night access. linda rinsed off, eased in the warm jet of the jacuzzi. flirted with scheduling a late night reiki session.
cassius said the wildest shit when he was fucking her. why was she thinking about that? the heat had her drowsy. she ought to get out. linda, linda: wake up.
she really meant to catch a yoga class, one of these days. oh, my. she had to do something about her schedule. ease back, more. take time for herself & family. she.d better return to land.
make sure everything was alright, at home.
linda emerged refreshed, famished. her son.s one word response confirmed any suspicion; she was not needed at home. cassius had replied, already on his way.
she claimed this night for her self; arranged an appointment for body work, tomorrow. self care had to be essential, for anyone. linda texted a love note to her boy. she.d see him in the morning.
if one night is called a stand, what.s two? three might become habit.
it must have been three a.m. in a random hotel room. she awoke, disoriented. outside the window rose this city she.d been in too long. no, it had been a good night. the wine, champagne & sex was good, a little rough. slightly mean.
not sweet enough to keep her thinking at work, tomorrow.
it was time to leave. maybe look into the day.s numbers, downstairs. save myself a trip tomorrow. spending her days, running in between other people.s offices. it was silly, wasn.t it? she knew how to work the hotel, wouldn.t mind doing this full time.
waking up alone in hotel rooms. still, it was better this way. she was a fighter; she knew the ropes.
linda showered, toweled off & dressed. no more than twenty minutes getting home, this late. she stopped a maid in the hall, asked him to clean the room. which room was it? 647.
the maid. almost like “the end”. every crime scene needs a clean up crew.
rich bitch adding more to my workload, must have something to hide. who is that chick, anyway? i see her around. wouldn.t mind dirtying up one of these rooms with her. could find a few ways.
he hated this fucking job. only one he could get, coming out of county. on probation. they gave him a pretty sweet deal, but he still had to serve time. now, doing this shit job.
still, it was better than nothing. a few perks. work the angles for another couple weeks; he.d have enough customers to quit – do his other job full time.
cassius spotted one of his maid.s in the hall. told the man to clean up in room 647. he.d had the front desk call up & it was empty, already. good.
the guy was creepy, to be honest. blasting music from headphones. cassius wanted to order him to turn the music down – but, what was the point? might have to look into getting the guy fired.
no good, to have the wrong element around.
what now? some request on the first floor. a big money businessman.s kid; the guy was due in, tomorrow. why did they call him for every single transaction in this million dollar hotel? what the fuck do you have to do to get competent staff?
linda should know he needed her. time to get the hell out of this podunk town.
“this is my cousin. she.s showing me around town.” a kid stood in the lobby; awkwardly, next to an older girl. cassius introduced himself. invited them to have a pleasant stay, whatever. texted linda: i will double your salary. anything, to get her on the team. altogether, too much shit to do; and it was getting boring.
susie had been having an odd night. the kid called up talking a lot of nonsense.
the only one of her brother.s friends she liked; felt protective of the kid, to be honest. he was an orphan, or what have you. plus, he was smart. said funny things. and he always looked at her with sparkles in his eyes.
still, when he showed up – she was kind of impressed. an edgy move, for the kid.
and he kept insisting on her calling him otis. all in all, it started out strange. the cab ride. the giant hoodie, shrouding his face in shadow. and, now, the hotel.
something was going on at the hotel. she.d listened as otis argued with employees behind the counter for ten or more minutes. about some room he insisted he.d booked. otis kept growing more apologetic toward her; and more hostile to the hotel staff, until she thought they.d have him thrown out.
to be honest, it was the most exciting night she.d had.
finally, otis seemed almost on the verge of tears. he.d slammed down a stack of cash. shouted “up front!” and, when the clerks stared at him – one impassively, another bewildered – he.d gathered up his money and loudly announced he was ready to bring his business elsewhere.
he.d added, “my father will not be pleased”.
she didn.t mention what she knew, that his father wasn.t anything any more. suddenly, a dapper man had appeared; apologized for the confusion – and handed them a key to room 647.
now, they stood in the room; watching a gorilla-like man, simultaneously blast a vacuum & motley crue. a strange night. susie remained curious about just what the hell was going on.
and what was in the gym bag?
the large maid stared them down, clicked off his music. he loomed, expectant, for an interminable instant. then, he turned and left.
the kid stared out from one corner. another wall was a window, overlooking darkened streets. she flicked off a light. “i like the city at night.” he dropped the bag.
he let his hood fall, the oversized sweatshirt sagging over him. “i booked the room for two days.”
the kid pulled off his sweatshirt, set it on the bed.
he reclined, slipping off his shoes. went off on some story.
“all right, listen” he said. “i.m gonna trust you.” she decided not to believe a word he said. and she didn.t. it was preposterous.
this kid kept telling her stories about nights and afternoons she didn.t remember. times he had, apparently, been in the vicinity. she vaguely recalled some of the events.
in all but two or three, she had no recollection of his presence at all. still, she liked the kid. he was entertaining. the longest conversation they.d held had been at her slumber party. susie.s aunt offered up her house while she was on vacation.
it was the wildest party she.d ever thrown & susie got unexpectedly caught up in conversation with this gangly, hilarious kid her brother had brought along. later on, she.d lost track of him after a few rounds of cuervo and truth or dare.
she wished she.d brought some alcohol.
the kid went into his bag, which seemed to be a bunch of socks & a toothbrush. he pulled out a small flask and shrugged. “you look bored.”
he knew what she liked. was she bored? the whiskey had a kick to it.
she was hungry, it was seven am & susie couldn.t figure out why he had brought so many pairs of white tube socks. she.d been tempted to look into it, chose to respect the kid.s privacy.
he made her laugh. she pointed out a denny.s across the way. neon marked out 24 hours. they.d been laughing for hours. he.d pulled out hundreds and convinced her to take her clothes off. a fun night, for both of them. the kid had hinted he knew where to get more. otis – otis, had.
she liked his new name. his confidence. she found herself hoping the date would last.
secretly, she.d brought one hundred and eighty dollars in cash. she had more in a checking account in her own name. tonight could be as good a night as any to go. the late train to the city couldn.t be more than five hundred dollars, even if that was all she had. well, now she had a little more.
susie thought about leaving every day. she was always pretty sure she wouldn.t do it.
a little less, every time. school had nothing to teach her. that much was clear. she.d enlightened her own professor, more than he ever did her. she didn.t get much but heartache.
fuck it, kiss the kid goodbye & strike out. what.s the difference? a pretty girl can make it any where.
what fun is money if you can.t spend it? might be time to hit the road. she could contact her mother, buy herself more time? or just stay out. the big city sounded better and better.
would it be easier to get a train ticket, or sneak past her parent.s bedroom? she really didn.t want to go to school.
he kept getting up, going to the bathroom; and, finally, she looked in the bag. susie shut off her phone.
“so – is that all you wanted, was a dance?” he blushed. she smiled. “i mean, why did you call me here?”
how often did this happen? never, for her. “what is there to do in this town, anyway?” she hesitated. “i.ve been thinking about the city. i have a guy there.”
she could tell he didn.t like the sound of that. “i.ve been looking for a way to make money, put something together up there.” how did that sound?
“what are you up to, today?”
susie said she needed a nap in the hotel room. would he mind? of course not. in the elevator, they held hands. he.d mentioned a movie. but, when they made it to a theater, nothing good was playing; and the earliest showing was in three or four hours.
she.d spoken of gregory – her college boy, in the city. she hadn.t liked him much, or talked to him in months. he.d said to look him up, if she came around. susie had implied she was about to graduate, hinted she was in with the university.
did she lie, so much? no matter. susie invented an elaborate story of some high class sexual deviants, who “role played” in elaborate games of sex work. it was apparently legal, she said, since the money only functioned as a prop.
“anyway,” she continued, “if you want to come with me, i.ll be your girlfriend”.
susie wanted everything. she wanted to get noticed. the kid was paying attention, alright. “yeah i.m pretty tired.” she yawned. “i usually sleep naked, do you mind?” he said it was no problem, then, he left.
she was going to have to be more clear. susie sat for a moment, then crossed the room & unzipped his bag. she pulled out a few stacks, unwrapped them. looked it over. she left it out and went back to the bed, lay down.
after a few minutes, the door opened. “hey darling,” she said, casually as possible.
when she looked up, the burly over-muscled maid hung halfway in the door; staring into her side of the room. she didn.t like his expression, mouth open. she sprang out of bed, walked slowly to the bag & zipped it shut. went to the table, dialed “0”.
“yes, would you bring me some fresh towels – now.”
the man breathed heavily from the doorway. “housekeeping.” he grunted, backing out the door. she exhaled. picked up the phone again, dialed.
“and a milk shake.”
she thought about this kid, otis. she barely could recall his other name. she wanted to be someone else, as well. where had he gone? so mysterious. grown up, really. wasn.t he? patient, kind.
was it wrong, how young he was? not his fault – can.t hold it against him. what did she want from this boy, anyway?
otis. she liked him, thought she did. too soon to tell. she wanted a chance to find out.
when otis returned, she was sucking down a chocolate milkshake. she winked, “i put it on the room. hope you don.t mind”. she didn.t tell him what happened, with the guy. or bring up the money.
los angeles. city of dreams, or angels. either way – a grand location. she would be eighteen soon. any day now, really. she was growing up.
she had a future to think about. much to consider. what was suzie going to tell her mother? the phone was off, she switched it on. chose her words, carefully.
“what.s in the bag?”
she mentioned her love of trains. he said something about a bus ticket, showed her. she hesitated, “would you come with me?”
he called her ‘zan. she hadn.t heard it before. she liked it. one more night in this town & they would go off, together. she called & told her mother an elaborate lie about looking at colleges. she didn.t know if he was too young. she felt younger than she ever had.
they were leaving; went shopping for clothing, lingerie. she helped him find a few things, took him aside. “i want to share everything with you.”
her dreams were changing. finding an agent, a manager. before, she thought of modeling; now, she realized she was an actor. film, not television – maybe, stage.
she wanted to sing, take lessons. no surgery. ‘zan believed in herself. suzie was a kid. that wasn.t her, anymore.
she suggested they change rooms; go on a proper date, tonight. otis made arrangements.
‘zan tried the sauna. she was getting used to this. a bellhop asked if she should be in school – she muttered about a half day & stormed off.
they ate thai, skipped the line in front. she ordered seven courses; then coffee, and more coffee. told him, she was on the pill.
did he really want to go with her? one city was good as any other. otis could be timid; she would teach him, later.
they ended up at a jazz club. couldn.t get in front; so, they snuck in back. three guys wailing, onstage. not many in the crowd, a few dancers. people got into it.
tomorrow, she would ask about the cash. where it came from. tonight, she had other plans.
trains would be the best way to travel. how to secure the bills, avoid attention. they might need IDs. zan had a lot on her mind. eventually, people would look for them.
there had to be something better than a gym bag. she watched otis lose him self in the music. zan admired this about him. passion.
she kept an eye out for the maid, just in case. no use taking chances. she wanted to give him the night of his life. weird, how things could turn out.
they paid a homeless guy to buy them booze. he was older, thanked them for their trouble. it sounded gentlemanly, in a way. she curtsied and laughed. what were the rules?
stay unobtrusive, out of sight. tell no one. zan had a lot of questions. they landed in the dark of a dubstep club, for a second. too many people. no stash spot. time for bed.
they walked awhile, til it got cold and she felt eyes on her. hailed a cab. zan leaned over, whispered a few words. climbed inside.
“i know someone.” she reflected on her scare from earlier. a bit of ruckus, the questions. how to escape attention.
they sent their cab a little up the road. found a side door, marked ‘exit only’. somebody went out, zan and otis entered.
she told him about the maid. said, they needed a plan.
suzanne believed in the moment; since, all else passed. she kept working through the moves in her head, how to get where they had to go.
cab to the hotel. from their room to the bus station, the big city. the past twenty four hours played out in her mind. zan felt she was in an epic. the story of her life.
they had a new suite, on the top floor; and sat together, now, with their curtains closed. zan confessed. she couldn.t be his whore, or a wife.
still, if he wanted; they could stick together a while. she had ideas.
anyone requires privacy, now and again. otis reserved two seats on a late bus. the couple stayed low & latched their door.
they went out on a fire escape.
suzanne found half a cigarette, passed it. he.d tossed the sweatshirt. traded, for a knit sweater & slacks. he looked sharp.
she traced faint images in rising smoke, glanced up. where he stood; she could make out the city.s edge, over his shoulder.
silhouetted, where lights met the water; zan lifted her knapsack. they each had one, and a prepaid telephone.
climbing down; they passed by a dumpster and found their cab.
the bus station air was stuffed with fumes & body heat. every gate had a shifting, listless line. the slow moving crowd coughed and shuffled; inhaling boredom, frustration and the damp, hot air.
was there any such thing as a peaceful life? he felt incapable of relief. his daughter, a hostage of child support.
til death, right? travelers huddled, shoulder to shoulder, in the stagnant hall. he.d tried working for a lawyer, couldn.t stomach it.
long hours, and no one happy at the ending. the same old. nothing had changed, despite his plan to put a few dollars away. weeks and months, passing through a drain.
ray considered his options.
the midnight bus, threadbare upholstery and automotive exhaust. physics had the window steamed. an infant called out. ray exhaled, sharply & closed his eyes.
her husband.s bright idea to bring their baby on a bus, at pitch dark. brilliant. moving, suburb to suburb. a new life, new hope. their voyage was consumed by shiftless vagabonds – sullen, unwashed.
they.d come a lot of miles from vancouver. a whiff of stench wafted overhead; rear seat, near the bathroom for extra space.
air travel was inelegant, she reminded herself. any distance, a hassle. she preferred home, albeit one unseen.
she hummed a lullaby to calm her baby. somehow her two children – three, counting her husband – were asleep. lamplight.s reflection distorted in a bus window. anne willed young renee to rest.
the bus pulled into a dimly lit parking lot. she stood, shook her family awake. at the foot of the steps, a dark suited man argued loudly on his phone.
anne lit a cigarette & dialed her inlaws.
“i.ll be on the next bus, into the city.”
martin loosened his tie, swore. he.d made false claims, borrowed money. options dwindled, the debt piled.
here he was; hiding out by the freeway, waiting on buses.
“should be no more than an hour. everything went smoothly. no problem.” martin shook his head, waved the driver away.
hesitated. “okay, i.ll see you there.” hung up.
“excuse me, driver. which bus, to indianapolis?” he.d spent four days in the suburbs, hiding in plain sight.
planning his return. he couldn.t go back with nothing to offer. if this job in indiana worked out, he.d square his debt.
no use looking further, at this point. in thirty five minutes, he.d be on his way.
gavin waited, leaning on a banister. they.d cleaned up the bus terminal. used to be junkies, everywhere. bodies in the dumpster.
the place had been classed right up. he.d have to write a letter to the mayor, or some fucking thing. gavin belched.
civic responsibility, a crash course.
if it wasn.t for a few anger problems, he.d still be in uniform. this was more fun anyway. urban guerilla warfare. tactical economics. the pleasures of anonymous travel. no need to dwell on the perks of his profession, he lived them.
his team was coming together. might be time to take it on the road. this town wasn.t big enough, et cetera.
the fuck did robertson think he was, anyway. gave his whole business over to some young kid. i fucking tell ya.
he didn.t like it. time to get out. motherfuckers take chances. if there were rules, that was one.
hands moved on the clock. a bus arrived.
on the job, waiting; he thought about his women. remembered them, not individually. at once, blurrily – a hailstorm of filthy instants.
he didn.t see marty in the crowd. didn.t expect to; another loser, blowing town. out of his hands, now.
she was a voice on the phone, with a lot of questions. broads can be that way. a raccoon lay torn open in the gutter. he kept asking where her husband was; she wanted to know the same.
then, she wouldn.t get off the phone. gavin hung up the line; tried his investigator. mccoy was the real thing. that motherfucker was crazy.
thank christ, he had a driver. fucking traffic. no time to go all across town. that dick, mccoy, would meet him at robertson.s.
place was nice, gavin had to give him that.
the boss had no stomach for violence. it made him weak. classy digs, though. not overdone. gavin had got tired of living over a youth hostel. he.d bought into it, a few years back. the place was his. odd hours, strange faces.
no one stuck around too long.
any questions met with silence, or a foreign language. and the young pussy, all well enough. it was time for a vacation. soon.
earl sat in front a disorganized heap of cash, at robertson.s table. cards fell, and were gathered up around the table; along with cigarettes, poker chips & smaller piles of money. earl never changed his money to chips, if he could help it. even got his way in vegas, a time or two. he was a fat prick. fucking disgusting, if you got right down to it. earl took pleasure in the darker elements.
years back, gavin mainly engaged in research.
he had worked toward the applied sciences of negotiation, as he put it, gradually – and with a willful suspension of his conscious mind. gavin learned how to perform one task, while imagining another. a phenomenally useful skill.
his first acquaintance with earl was unpleasant. gavin had been forced to realize the ramifications of his investigative research. no longer able to labor under the unproven illusion of innocence.
ideals may be most readily identified in their own absence. gavin watched earl bludgeon a young politician.s wife with garden implements.
their disagreement centered upon items of evidence, documenting her infidelity.
after some lengthy negotiation, counter offers & threats of police involvement; earl had resolved the dispute with a hand trowel. gavin silently accepted an envelope, and left.
the man in the doorway was a prissy cunt, by earl.s estimation. an elevated photographer – for fuck.s sake – ended up as ralph.s right hand man.
ralph robertson knew how to run a room.
how to stay out of sight, for that matter. out of mind. few would have guessed – how many times over he was a millionaire. and cold hearted. he.d fuck a man.s wife, to get to his daughter.
earl.s kind of guy.
though, earl didn.t go in too much for diversifying. what worked well enough, one time, went smooth the second – far as he could tell.
skinny, that.s what earl called him. he was, too, skinny.
no use dressing it all up. cowards and pansies tiptoed around everything, these days. pathetic. too many people around, in the cities, anyways. earl was ready to holler at his neck of the woods. a couple stops, lou.s job in jersey.
lou jersey. jersey lou.
this kind of work teaches you a lot about somebody. couldn.t trust anyone, but he knew what to expect from lou. good old lou. close as anybody had to a friend – fucking, lou.
what was the job, tonight? visit some guy.s little girly of a housewife. no – they outsourced all the fun, nowadays. these kids doing everything. earl liked it the old way.
ralph.s the boss – he wants to do everything with computers, now. contracts and signatures. electronic payments. no money where you can see it, touch it.
fuck.s the point of that? got to get out of here. what.s the job? not to put too fine a point on it, he was sick of listening to other people.s orders. you get to a certain age.
he wanted to get his hands around some young broad.s throat. squeeze, a little. lou had women. they were working on a shipment or something, that was it. fuckers talking in code – all the time, now. couldn.t say anything right out. it was a headache.
he downed his scotch, kissed the ice. let the last dregs of drink numb his tongue. sweaty cootch, in his face, that.s what he needed. used to be, he knew this town.
louis wasn.t in the mood to gamble.
more often, he liked a sure thing. but – ralph thought it was cute to “secure” his meetings, this way. far be it – and, so forth.
he was writing himself out of the picture. jimmy kneecaps, the bodyguard, had a play in mind. louis could second guess the whole thing, already, and it was ugly. nothing to tie him up, he was leaving.
near as he could tell; robertson would offer to unload his outfit – wholesale – on this new kid, gregor. the irish man – whose slight form motioned, quietly, in robertson.s direction – after voicing his objection, could disappear. fatty earl already had his fiefdom. tony would wait. kneecaps, itching for his moment.
the kid, gregor. with his lackey over there – riveted to a little computer. he probably had the right idea. what.s his name, elijah?
this shrimp-scampi sized boy wonder had figured out a way to reach almost every market they were running on the street, through fucking internet sites. he was a god damn genius. what did this gregor kid do, anyhow?
louis figured any one of his factory girls could lure boy genius, elijah wonder -out from under this flashy kid, grego. he was all talk, easily taken care of.
tony focused on the game. he was up, two hundred. not that anyone noticed. if anyone had learned from mr. robertson, it was tony; nobody paid any attention to tony.
earl was bluffing hard, from the corner. in his easy chair. trust earl to find a little comfort and sit there. it was typical.
tony.s chair – straight backed, unpadded. his suit, off the rack. not too new, or vintage. he.d celebrated his first million, the previous year, upgrading to a premium insurance package.
family was his only concern.
gavin, the bastard irishman, kept his back to the door.
unmoving. eerie, how still he could be. gave off an impression like he only moved when no one was looking. how the fuck could he do that?
kneecaps had always been too literal for a bagman. he lacked nuance. the job was – guard the boss. simple. he kept the boss alive, untouched. hurt people, if necessary.
negotiating was all about words, hints and shit. fuck all that. you could make people do anything. nothing so reliable as fear. the others ‘discussed’ who would take over.
jimmy ‘kneecaps’ lynn – knew. he would.
jimmy poured another whiskey, took it to the boss. he figured, any one of these schmucks was liable for a blitz. even in his home, the boss ought to have someone else handing him drinks.
he kept his mouth shut. that bastard orphan, gavin, still skulking in the door. the guy always looked suspicious.
jimmy hadn.t found too many good ways of skimming. did he look like a god damned accountant? his wife always talked a load of shit, before he burned her.
he still sent the kid something, time to time. all right, usual business. jimmy had a few men outside, nothing major. he.d been recruiting. james lynn, a veteran operative, rigorously maintained military contacts.
- robertson had, in fact, been referred by a government source.
the rest of the crew – settled in around a poker table, for hours. fatty, sprawled in his customary lounge chair. such meetings were necessary, two or three per month. tony, meticulous and calculating. calling and raising; rarely known to fold, or bluff. louis – saying one thing, believing another. a tense bunch, serious players.
gregory had no place at the table, in his opinion. his friend was anybody.s guess. gavin spoke slowly, from the door.
“mccoy.s en route.”
gregor had overstepped his boundary. he knew it. knew, he had to cover it.
one way, or another. easier to burn van buren. this guy was an embezzler; he seemed like a good mark – or, a partner. or, both.
gregor had helped martin van buren set up some false companies. it seemed about equally safe as credit card stuff, he.d done before.
martin had a way to shift the money, hidden in redundant expenditures. sounded boring enough to be true.
and it worked, til they.d gotten careless. he.d invested more heavily in van buren. the guy went off & failed to return.
gregor weighed out alternatives, folding hand after hand.
the phone beeped, a booty call. some high school chick, from months back. dante.s little cousin. he felt kind of bad, actually.
rare, for him, agreeing not to touch her. happened, anyway. greg excused himself, stepped out.
she agreed to meet at his apartment, lil suz. sweetheart. gorgeous slut practically sucked his balls inside out, over thanksgiving. between business, and chicks like her, greg hardly had the time for school.
suz said she was with a friend. hopefully, a mouthy redhead with big tits.
you could dream. any excuse, to get out of that room. some way to replace his end of the deficit. an explanation, or a fall guy. there was some kind of hold, on one of his accounts. the biggest one.
greg maneuvered the math, in his head.
he.d met suzy shepherd at a bonfire. she was too young; but, he couldn.t help himself. greg never had been prone to self control.
triple entendres were new to him. she made everything dirty, he had trouble keeping up. it seemed wrong & exciting. he wondered what she wanted.
mccoy trailed the mark to an apartment. incredibly tedious & lucrative, this piece of his job. following people with a camera.
a remarkable industry. got in on the ground floor, and climbed. often – the climb involved trees, balconies & fire escapes. rarely, was he forced into violence.
he made his way along the sidewalk, unhurried.
a clear night, without much commotion. pavement slick from early evening rain. two peroxide blondes held the corner, in knee highs and miniature plaid.
police cruisers lined the street, patrolmen conferred against a wall. some old timer in a doorway. stern faces, staring from shadow. lights flashed red and blue.
this kid, named gregory, stepped ahead into the night. mccoy only knew what he was paid to find out.
he.d been referred another case – close to a million dollars, disappearing. from another town, close by. the local help reported, it could have come in on a bus. bit of a long shot.
mccoy found things, time to time. he had the patience, located items others overlooked. clues, and people. subtle information. this skill, he valued. he never gave up information, free.
he was private, and a dick. dick, mccoy.
thought about it. damn coy, too. or, what have you. never wanted a boss. over time, he.d refused an absurd amount of dollars, in salary. louis could spot an asset, sure enough.
if he.d wanted a boss, louis could have had the job. dick worked for himself, just fine. liked representing himself. simpler.
he took jobs he wanted. and, he certainly didn.t have to kill anyone. information – less expensive than violence, paid better.
this gregory kid was meeting an even younger girl, looked to be a teenager. mccoy wouldn.t stick around, long. he had places to be & wasn.t in the business of child pornography. if something happened with the girl, he didn.t want proof.
a cab ride to the widow.s place.
cruel, thinking of her that way. when mccoy found her husband, that.s what she.d be. most likely. illusions were of no use, on the job.
it was time to meet with mrs. van buren.
he knocked, then debated. wait on the porch, or force a low window? friendly slash helpful, versus cloak & dagger. business, personal – both?
this guy van buren was a sleaze bag. no need to spread his troubles around. according to gavin irish, the lady was scared. cornered.
laughter echoed off a building, a bottle broke. scattered voices, three or four guys rummaged in some garbage. she was living in some kind of brownstone.
mccoy doubted if the guy would return. van buren, martin. he decided to give her an option. felicia van buren was petite & welcoming. uncommon. this, never happened.
he could halfway believe she hadn.t known of her husband.s debt. mccoy.s job consisted largely of strained introductions to unsuspecting, frightened people. data manipulation. collecting private information, bullying.
nothing to feel great about. felicia was either a decent person, or an incredible actress. please, be an actress.
mccoy considered contacting his brother, bayou. a joke that stuck.
he was starting to get an idea this case could use an unbiased party. the appearance of a motivated buyer.
he checked his notes.
felicia called her husband, frantic. she had to know where he was. she would call the police, if necessary. the location came easy; a hotel, in indiana.
mccoy boarded the plane. a few pictures, then home.
assuming, van buren didn.t know anything. that felicia hadn.t made a second phone call. assuming, she wanted the money he.d offered.
not a whole lot. only, some protection. a few dollars.
an uneventful flight. hotel, by the airport; he trailed martin van buren to a bar. gathered his thoughts in an alley. acrid, vomit and piss. vinegar, hops, something sweet. a hint of copper, blood.
he called louis. mccoy had done a lot of work for louis, over the years. perversely – louis had hired him to investigate a former partner, at his firm. gavin irish.
in truth, he was the firm. gavin, his only partner. but, the money was incredible; and, gavin had formerly arranged their clients.
so, gavin was the job. and, mccoy reported.
quite specifically. where, what & with whom. the work remained easy, gavin – unused to being surveilled.
mccoy gathered intel, stocked a storage facility full of data. never used. finally, found other work & begged off the job.
somehow, it had been too personal. van buren was the opposite. what did he care? another slime bag, corporate thief.
he met with louis in a back room of one of his dives. the place had heavy shutters. mccoy didn.t like coming to louis. but the guy was careful. he.d arrived, straight from the airport. hadn.t even stopped at home.
though, he missed his darkroom; digital made everything easier.
for a time, louis had requested surveillance on himself. somehow, the paranoia struck mccoy. kind of touching. and, fuck, it was money.
times he was tempted to love his job.
when he could see someone needed letting go, available resources crying for repossession & no one in the way. when a woman crossed his path who wanted something and he could give it. when somebody.d been taken advantage of, got put to rights.
other times, helping powerful people. learning photography & manipulation. finding ways to become invisible, memorable. forgotten, when necessary.
organizing how to defend himself. mccoy avoided habits. he lived through instinct & by working, constantly.
he wouldn.t know how to take a day off. once he found his work, nothing else interested him. no one could intervene.
this hunger consumed his attention, friendships, waking & sleeping hours. he fed everything to his beast of the obsession; acquiring tools and clothing, surroundings allowing himself to remain ignored.
mccoy, technically, did not exist at all.
in his work, he collected stories. afterwards, trying to forget, he traveled or drank. a path of blood and broken bones had led to opiates, questionable decisions. he preferred to keep his world ordered.
moderation functioned as a safeguard. expenses were covered. instead of saving, always, reinvest.
a meeting with robertson. not the first. robertson, ralph. aliases, known associates. not a lot to learn about ralph, inside the country.
he didn.t touch anything. wasn.t around. mccoy respected a man with well-hid secrets. if nothing else, they weren.t easy to get to.
wasn.t much of a long term business. you saw your shot, and moved; or, you died. those were the options, eventually, for anyone.
the business of acquiring value – directly, delicately & unseen.
he didn.t threaten van buren.s wife. coaxed, perhaps? invited. he offered her a few stories and she chose one. mccoy was fairly convincing, had to be.
these distinctions had become important to him. differentiated perspective, ascertaining fact from speculation.
drawing conclusions. weighing out clues & evidence, concealing information. destroying links & connections in the chain of public reasoning.
what he knew, only got him in the door. proof. printable, substantial – auditory. visual. people responded to proof, with great consistency.
robertson rarely appeared at the offices of his companies. every day was a working vacation, from one of several homes.
mccoy had found a working woman, who.d accompanied van buren to his motel. the doctored drink convinced van buren of an early night; after which, the woman accepted four hundred dollars & left.
another thousand, out of van buren.s wallet; eased the woman into leaving well enough alone. no need for questions. mccoy had photographed, not confiscated, the money. a few more snapshots of van buren.
booked van buren.s room another night. hung a do not disturb sign, crooked, on his door. the trip had been unexpectedly quick. the man was probably still asleep. could be, for several hours. a days work, more or less.
mccoy never padded expenses. told as few stories as possible, to clients. he preferred the eloquence of simple evidence. if he had one recommendation, beyond the obvious; toss that streetwalker a quick job in another burg. a rapid move, good pay. get her out of town, van buren may not even realize he.d been made.
robertson had a plate full. this guy mccoy was acting cagey. what.s he trying to pull? somebody went in and failed to get my money?
is that really what happened? he claimed his associates had only removed items from the person of martin van buren, not his suitcase. one thousand dollars, defraying the expense of blah blah blah.
this guy was an operator and a hot talker. he couldn.t be trusted. then, i guess i didn.t pay him. this is coming out of lou.s money. and, what the hell. it was good information. a few grand, for thirty thousand dollars he was owed. let the kid work it off, greg was good for it.
his new guy, elijah. might have to employ him, put him on a leash. the flying fuck was veronica, anyway? she hadn.t been around.
next meeting was one of irish.s guys – the driver. irish rarely went anywhere without the driver. and, irish was his own protection. if he trusted this guy, the driver must be serious.
carlos, the driver.
he said, no, to a drink. usually, robertson would push it. somehow, he respected the attitude. he was a driver. the guy had self respect.
the driver listened to his assignment.
watching that pretentious fuck, gregory, squirm.
would have been fun, once. the kid brought in good business. he was holding out, claimed he.d been robbed. what did he know?
robertson decided to wait him out, poured him a few. jimmy had the night off. irish stood, by the door. greg bit back his scotch with a determined glare.
his discomfort was apparent. ralph took a call in the other room. irish would lean on the kid, he.d forgotten tax time. robertson returned to the room.
irish murmured in greg.s ear, the kid was glassy eyed. irish handed back his phone.
dante lit a joint. the phone rang. fucking greg.
he knew something had happened between greg & suzanne. she.d called him, for a favor. he didn.t get along with his mom.s family.
suzanne was different, like a sister. she should be in school. suzie was on her way, a visit. looking at colleges, supposedly. he was going to have to lie for her, again.
greg kept calling. dante shut off the phone. he needed to get out, the apartment reeked of farts & fritos. noodles from a plastic cup.
he wanted steady work.
suzanne had him driving out of town, dumping his phone. he was to meet her on a train. a note in her voice kept him from arguing. she.d said she needed a ride.
dante felt he was destined to be a secret of the universe. he must have some worth, could never seem to prove it.
his mother traveled. she would have told him to take care of suzie. dante had done a few jobs, around town. nothing big.
he didn.t mind the midwest.
trafficking was too much work & sweat, dealing got repetitive. he.d run a few women. then, you had to date whores – or lie, about pimping.
he.d rather pay for it than lie about it, or try and relate to a chick who took in random dick all day. not much point in that. plus, they were shipping human beings around like cans of food.
it wasn.t right. dante sat on the hood of his car, holding in smoke from a dwindling pack.
he.d never had a score on his own, or taken lead. backup muscle, lookout & transport. no one looked at dante and thought, bodyguard.
predicting the market was simpler than handling people. he didn.t like to talk, or convince people of shit. who.d you have to murder, to get a job around here?
as a bank teller, he.d handled thousands upon thousands of dollars per day. invented dozens of schemes, for keeping them. not tried one.
he saw other tellers steal. claim error, get caught; occasionally, succeed. couldn.t bring himself to try. friends of his would get an idea, bring him in.
if the plan seemed solid, he might go for it.
greg had made insane decisions, often. dante declined his invitation to the big city, took a few referrals. minor jobs, out of town.
he.d spent some time in indianapolis, didn.t like it. homicide detectives well paid to stay away. gave him the creeps; he couldn.t let go, it entered his dreams.
dayton was stirring early, he beat the train. sat in his station wagon. bit of a mom car, he supposed. his cousin should be around, this afternoon.
he pumped gas into the tank, checked his wallet. stash, more or less, empty. rent unpaid. hope suzanne.s not just fucking around.
greg had enjoyed a game.
he.d call out ways it was possible to fuck over different people, whoever. easy jobs, large scores. ways to better serve somebody.s customer base.
hostile takeover shit. the man was predisposed toward a flexible sense of loyalty. he couldn.t vouch for greg, or leave much to chance.
dante had tried school. it seemed too false, and distant.
he liked the grounds; aging, home style dormitories. fireplaces, and all that. he.d considered trying to leave the country, on some kind of grant.
but, all the writing & reading. intentionally boring, why did they do it like that? coke was more fun. most of these girls would take their clothes off, for coke.
he got distracted. considered trade work, but the hours were long. he bought a movie ticket, settled in. a gun flick. he had plenty of time.
dante rarely worked in the city. he felt anonymous on backroads; gravel, and farm. he wanted to pilot a plane. that would be cool, wouldn.t it? go anywhere.
he thought about it. wouldn.t say he studied maps, he looked at them. dante sought a day.s rest, someone to look after. fucking stupid, if you thought about it. considered becoming a cop.
what a joke. paramedic, talk someone out with a knife in their eye. kind of job is that? he.d thought about teaching children. having kids. not that he.d ever been in love.
his life could use an element of style. where do they keep the lottery money? ever think of that? had to keep it, somewhere. probably, a bank.
lot of money in banks. if you were quick, in & out, you could do it. a few guns, fast car. how to stay anonymous. figure, he knew.
he woke up as the movie ended. the girl didn.t die after all, like you thought. not a great film. decent cinematography, might have heard of the guy. he thought about doing a bank, what it would take.
not a solo job – but, could it be? had to be possible. anyway, that.s not how to get started. too much time on his hands, and no money.
sometime, his grandma gave him savings bonds. what happened with that?
almost time to meet suzanne. it all seemed arbitrary. life & death. the law, rule of criminals. judges, themselves. couldn.t take any of it.
not, seriously. he was pretty sure he didn.t have any kids, that was something. some of the women had been incredible. what else was there?
suzanne arrived, all smiles. crazy amounts of talking; she had him drive, awhile. brought some kid, along. sam.s friend, apparently.
why the fuck he was here, dante had no idea. suzanne handed out money; for gas, a new phone. said she had hotel money, too. he didn.t get it.
she wanted to see some colleges, what was the problem? and, tell her mom she was alright. the kid, was called otis. had to go see his uncle.
he talked to his mom a lot, on one of those little burner telephones. otis was shifty, fidgety. for some reason, he was nervous. dante wouldn.t mention it.
suzanne said it was a big favor, she.d pay him back.
he always looked up to suzie, in a way. she did what the fuck she wanted. whip smart. took after his mom, like that. mom had the world beat, nearest he could tell.
getting him an inheritance, in her own words. the fuck was it all worth, any of it? every where he looked, people were cheating.
never put children at risk. that was one. had to look out for kids. possibly, he had too many morals. a particular sense of what he would, and couldn.t, do.
philosophy might be sexy at a stake out, but not a gunfight.
suzanne named colleges, seemingly at random. the boy claimed his uncle was “out west, somewhere”. not much more specific. dante got the idea they weren.t in a hurry.
the kids roomed together, against his better judgment. she treated dante, more or less, like an employee. covered his food.
it was fucking weird, his little cousin had him on salary. she paid him for a week of his time, upfront. plus, expenses.
and all, for not breaking the law.
nights were mostly his, dante drove them around. they.d name a destination, change their mind halfway through. the trio visited amusement parks. suzanne had turned eighteen, they celebrated. dante bought them alcohol, occasionally.
he.d started young enough, himself. suzanne asked after his mother. it was working out. he could live like this.
obviously, it couldn.t last. still, better than what he.d been up to. fuck it. good enough, until the next thing.
the kid, finally, contacted his uncle. they stopped at a few casinos, crossed the countryside. more time passed. he.d gotten used to the road. once – he had to put a man down with a large cobblestone; or, a stray brick.
they.d left town. he met someone: charlene.
a waitress – from this town they.d settled in, a minute. close by indian territory. she was familiar, somehow. traveling around with his baby cousin, he.d encountered a number of women.
this new girl, charlene, was the first he.d had some kind of subconscious connection with. she.d recognized him. come to think of it, she reminded him of katerina.
trouble keeping his girls straight, now. where did he know her from?
could of sworn, he.d seen her in another town. katerina had been a stripper, with a kid. one of those. her daughter needed braces, school supplies, college tuition.
he.d put his dollars in the g string fund; graduated to casual dating, got more serious. she didn.t approve of his work, such as it was.
said it wasn.t safe, for her little girl. he had to agree.
but, no stripper wants her man laying around with no job. kind of defeated the purpose. what could you do?
he.d happened across this waitress, charlene, on her way to an early shift.
orienting himself – his first day in town. all these small towns, starting to look the same. always had, more likely.
she looked good enough to eat, in her striped uniform. apron & everything. he asked where he could get a pack of cigarettes.
she told him, her name was charlene & she didn.t smoke. he didn.t lay a big line on her. charlene wrote down her phone number, touching his arm.
that about did it, for dante.
her last gig, she didn.t have to fuck the guy. if she didn.t do this one, technically, it was a promotion. charlene had gotten out of sex work.
more of an actress, now. judy, charlene – what.s the difference. she wasn.t hurting anyone, or fucking for money.
fair enough. well, no – not fair. easy targets, both of them. too bad. everything seemed to be going well, until that man brought the wire around her throat.
carlos didn.t want to strangle this prostitute. it would be unfortunate. hopefully, she wouldn.t lie & he could leave. the other portion of his job, driving, was more pleasant.
others lost patience in traffic. carlos turned up the radio, took it all in stride. this had been his only proviso, “i control the radio, if i.m gonna drive.”
not a bodyguard, or an assassin. he was a driver, extra work came in over & above salary. crude, to bring everything down to money. must be another element.
gavin loathed uncertainty. he wasn.t going to like this call. carlos reflected on his career. ex-cop was better than cop, far as he could tell.
the woman hadn.t known much. hooker turned con artist. somebody was paying her, couple weeks of work.
nothing useful. he dialed gavin.s number.
carlos met his wife at a cousin.s wedding. she wasn.t in the wedding party, or anything. actually, she.d wandered in for the free booze & he caught her at the bar.
she was a good time girl; liked having fun. he put a ring on her. flew her – far from his work, as possible. carlos saw her, often as he could.
he.d never chosen a number. an amount of money that would allow him to stop; he presumed, there.d be a big score & that was it.
every job seemed like his big score, first. thought he could quit. make an honest go, people did it. some weeks at home, he found a reason to come out again.
some next expenditure.
finally, gavin offered him a job; semi-permanent basis. work, when he wanted. low pressure, if that.s what he needed. a bit on the side.
he accepted – couldn.t stay in one place too long. gavin had a lot of information, leads & contacts. reasons to keep close, in communication. carlos enjoyed having space to move, on his own.
might have to go back & fuck the girl.
limo business, bodyguard assistance – it could work. or, a fucking restaurant. put wifey in the kitchen. he had a gazillion ideas. independent movie studio. how hard could it be?
hit a new town.
money moves. simple enough to trace its patterns. the fuck should he be under anybody.s orders? no question. time to make a fucking leap.
carlos watched the kids; they.d hardly left their motel. any chance they.d gotten away? car, still in the parking lot. no sign of that chauffer.
nobody could pin down the assignment.s value. he knew his own cut, nothing more. carlos liked information jobs; they were flexible. cleaner than a hit.
could be, they were fucking.
he pissed in a juice bottle. the car wasn.t on fire, then it was. smoke everywhere. carlos got out, needed air.
some distance from the vehicle, in case it blew. he saw the motel door open, shadows moving toward a parking lot.
no shot & without a car. his rental, smoking by the curb. carlos made a call. he collected his things, what he could salvage.
early light, he hopped a cab for the rental place & worked out another ride. he was in no hurry, today. nothing good to report. he doubted it had been the hooker girl.
what did gavin & robertson know about this job? no indication of a large mobile stash – nothing to grab.
if he could have gathered one piece of valuable intelligence . . . carlos spun the car.
the whore.s few items were strewn all over.
fingerprints everywhere, too fucking many. he surveyed the chaos. multicolored condoms tied up in the waste bin, drawers pulled out.
what could he salvage from the dust of his failure? he debated cleaning the fucking room. where did the kids come in? who torched his car?
the line up was preposterous; he couldn.t see any connection to van buren. except the whore.s place, doused in perfume – anonymous sex, in a motel room.
van buren had a similar scent on him, not as strong in the room. convoluted assignment, too fucked up for coincidence. had to be something there.
carlos hit redial on the motel phone, copied down the number. there was a cell on the bureau – prepaid, disposable. a few coins on the floor.
better get out, before more people got involved. he glanced around. something glittered, underneath the dresser. chips, from a casino – the dragon.s lair.
the dragon.s lair belonged to a series of themed gambling houses, spread across north america. there was a cave, as well & a palace. who knew what else – all belonging to the dragon.
possibly, just a cute name. carlos had heard various origin stories – chinese or russian connections, yakuza.
couldn.t put too much stock in it. criminals talked too much, in his opinion. still, might be time for backup.
he texted shannon.
she hated to interrupt a fuck, for business. gavin.s apartment was a shit hole, but she kind of liked it.
to his face, she called it the shit hotel. wouldn.t do to let the boss on top of you too hard, even if you were putting it to him.
shannon thought back to her last job. painfully simple. guy lost thirty, forty thousand, to a gunshot. one bullet & he just laid there.
no will to fight – she didn.t like that. bad for self respect. striking fear was alright; but, she liked her targets with some kind of energy.
she climbed off. work time – always necessary to differentiate. her phone went on with more information from carlos.
he did his brotherly thing, when gigs turned ugly. never shifted blame. carlos brought the heat on himself, worked overtime.
when he came up with something – he.d give it to her. good thug, bad thug. never wanted to confuse the issue of a new lead, what he said.
shannon suspected he was telling her, no hard feelings. her choosing the boss. screwing him over, for the guy who paid his bills.
well, fuck it. carlos was married. she could do what she wanted, later. now, was detail work; loose ends.
she lifted her panties off the floor, dressed. gavin didn.t pull the typical, “let me finish” type of guy shit. he seemed almost immune, to sex.
it creeped her out, turned her on. she.d dared herself to get on him, if she could. he.d never tried anything with her, before that.
still didn.t; he let her lead. she found it eerie. shannon couldn.t believe the boss hadn.t set them on gregory.
said it would be bad for business. the fuck was that? how is protecting your assets bad for business? gavin left, mumbled vaguely.
she scrolled through the texts she.d been getting. couldn.t make a connection. this shit was going to take all night.
carlos had gone chasing a long shot. what did he expect? she was supposed to give up her night, chasing leads into vapor?
how many times can you retrieve a bundle of money & not keep it? some old guy, deciding how she could spend her time.
gavin was fair, no problem with him. why should he report to anyone? you.re only good as your protection.
she probably should have gone with carlos; instead of letting him fuck things up, on his own. good to keep him close, when the blood spattered.
gavin was all business, clothes on or off. carlos took joy in his work. and, he obviously needed a hand on that last one.
officially, shannon had a private practice. she leased an office. truth was, she never had time for outside opportunities.
gavin kept her busy.
still, it helped keep the money clean & gave her confidentiality. when cops came around, she had legit business claims. taxes, and all that.
supposedly, carlos had gone after a couple kids. he was trailing them, now. she had numbers to trail; info to gather on a gambling giant – the dragon empire.
seemed like a waste, all this research turned repetitive. she might open a gentleman.s club; everybody wanted the same thing, anyway.
a text from gavin: new assignment. keep an eye on elijah, the internet kid. she looked him up & laughed.
the kid was in school.
painfully small, this kid elijah. cartoons & cereal. no glamour life, stalking children. quiet streets, well lit. she kept her distance.
elijah had made no promises; but, he could tell the ride was over. his skills, turned more dangerous than lucrative.
they acted like he was a hacker. he wasn.t, not really. internet business, all legal. economic insight, foundation of the country. he was legit.
time to get away from these criminals.
money and ruthlessness, forms of protection. he wasn.t ruthless, he knew that. connections helped. resources, access – power. elijah ducked into a restaurant, then out the back. shapes moved in his periphery. he was being followed.
elijah couldn.t see a grand purpose, in all this.
things cost money. with money, nobody pushed you around. that was the theory. everybody, grasping for control. toxins in everything, nowadays – so many ways to die. people kept saying that he looked so young.
he didn.t feel so young.
elijah slumped over his table, in a titty bar. drunken catcalls & loud, shitty pop music. too skinny girls, sequins and glittery fake smiles.
the table.s sticky surface. shifting haloes, dimly lit lamps.
decor, the stale elegance of yesteryear. young strippers, in an aging place. desperation, manic in the girl.s eyes onstage. elijah came here, sometimes.
high turnover – he didn.t recognize any of the girls. his phone lit up – a message, from dante.
dante worked protection for him, a few weeks, in indianapolis. they.d felt mutual disgust – at the high rising body count – and commiserated, on the prospect of a respectable fortune.
whatever that was. all talk, but they.d kept in touch. a little, not much.
the woman onstage, now, was more full figured. presumably, a working girl – she had cards out on the table, with her picture & a telephone number. unusual.
elijah, absentmindedly, pocketed her card.
fog rolled out over the stage. a girl, who looked to be fresh from high school, leaned toward him. asked, if he wanted a drink. the girl.s palm brushed his neck.
she offered to help him, any way she could. elijah tipped her, shook his head. why was he in here? what did dante want?
elijah wondered about whoever died in movies. some guys must have been killed dozens, hundreds of times.
did it prepare you for the real thing?
he reflected on gambling, how to win. and on christopher walken – possibly, the most inexplicable actor of his time. he thought about dying. in real life, or for pretend.
how writing could make you immortal, maybe. he even prayed.
elijah considered. this lack of trust was a betrayal. he didn.t know if these were his friends – but, they.d betrayed him.
then again, was there any betrayal – if not, from friends? was that too fine a point, on it? business associates, poised to plunge the knife.
there was a tail on him. why? his life was a bucket of water, spinning. any goal, hurled to the side by force of motion.
he waved down the girl in a string bikini, ordered one for each of them. which artist invented thongs? genius.
a girl.s black nipples, like india ink. twat on stage. one eye, winking flesh & color. elijah stumbled toward the plumbing.
he couldn.t find his favorite one, the girl. which corner had she fallen into? this new one was nice, coming out of the bathroom.
cotton print, not shined & sparkled. she led him in back, to a red room. curtained off. elijah never traveled with cash.
money, violence & grave robbing. cardinals sin, but the bishop wouldn.t approve of what he wanted this girl for. where was she taking him?
they went out back, to a ford. “your place or mine,” she said.
the girl.s name was shannon. she dressed, quickly, at the car. elijah sloshed into the passenger.s & puzzled to himself. sex, money & violence.
use sex to get money, violence to keep it. or, sex for money – then, both were violence, or forms of it. he could not remember if he had spoken to the girl.
who was she? which one, not the little drink chick. did they all have names? of course, they did – plenty of them.
cars and streetlamps streamed by, blurred blues & reds. faint glow in the sky, too light for stars. he saw gray at the edges of night, alleys receding to black.
shannon. shannon was driving, she was shannon. elijah willed himself not to pass out. how many drinks, three? pavement receded into black & white.
flickering, dream animation. walls of his universe, closing in. rip off imitations, of escher and them. still life with boiled brain. that disney trip.
elijah had walked out of boarding school, some years back. he was his own lincoln. his parents fought, separated & reconciled. dragged on, not in divorce; but a solidly insoluble dissolution.
love as delusion: illusionary, or merely elusive? solitude could be desolate, devastating.
one night, a burglar robbed their house & set it on fire. the school kept him, on a scholarship. he inherited some money. elijah wondered if shannon was a hooker.
powerful people – at least, dangerous ones; insulating him from outside consequence.
elijah had no desire for a guardian. protection, maybe. a lawyer had handled certain aspects of his legal emancipation.
he.d passed the requisite tests & organized various financial endeavors, online. acquiring objects of unapparent value, distributing them.
discreet inquiries & useful contacts, quietly referred. greg had turned flashy, ostentatious. he.d gotten loud. how close were they watching?
pretty close, judging by the driver.s seat.
elijah had become fairly skilled at swift trading. identifying new companies on the open market; buying in & getting out, quick.
he felt a bit more clearheaded. shannon eyed him, from behind the wheel. his seatbelt fastened, had he done that?
elijah cleared his throat. “why don.t you tell me, about yourself?”
she began with childhood, schoolyard stuff. her first boy. this woman didn.t dress like a stripper. a young face, somehow antiquated in her demeanor.
an elegant manor, like a mansion.
elijah found himself lost in her story, which seemed not to be about anything. losing & finding a bike, skinning her knee.
he realized he.d seen the lady before, leaving robertson.s house; dressed approximately the same, shades of deep blue and gray. nondescript.
elijah flirted with the memory of her underclothes, replacing their patterns in his mind. polka dotted, checkered & striped.
he imagined shannon in a plaid skirt. she couldn.t be much older, than him.
miles strained their way behind & she was halfway through a semi remembered tale of someone.s first handjob, behind the heavy curtain of a bat mitzvah; not, her own. with the state line approaching, he inquired about their destination.
shannon replied, she was open to persuasion.
this life damages your brain. could be a reasonable time to establish certain questions of identity. to examine one.s self. blood, the madness & terror of disease. the unknown. how all society crumbles in an instant. nicotine – its race of circulation – worn bar stools; a faint impression of flesh, straining against cloth. dust, an accumulation of miniature death. chemicals: inhaled, absorbed, swallowed or injected. a theoretical flow of money towards some infinitely imaginary destination: time. we are here & then, we are not. better make the most of it.