Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Town Called Disdain, Episode 95: sleuth

Our author Larry Winchester, that past master of the interweaving (dare we say mind-boggling) plotline, now turns the harsh truth of his camera’s eye on a character we haven’t seen in some little time (way back here, in fact)...

(Click here for our preceding chapter; go here to return to the beginning of our epic, winner of
the Wasilla Public Library Award for Unobjectionable Christian Literature.)

(This episode rated EP for Excessively Pulpy.)

The flashlight’s beam illuminated the dead body of a blond young woman in a chiffon dress and angora cardigan lying face-down on a dark-red saucer-shaped stain in the scrubby earth. She looked like a department store mannequin fallen from the back of a truck. A well-polished black shoe turned her over. The woman had been shot twice in the chest, and in her small right hand was a large semi-automatic pistol.

The light quickly traveled a few feet away from the dead woman and came to rest on the corpse of a blond young man in a plaid sportjacket and rep tie. He too had been shot twice in the chest, and gripped tightly in his right hand was a pistol identical to the one in the dead woman’s hand.

A kid-gloved hand reached down and began to pull the pistol out of the dead man’s hand, which seemed not to want to let go. Captain Alexis Pym (USN) gave the barrel a sharp twist, the pistol came free, and the dead man’s arm fell back to the earth.
Captain Pym examined the pistol with his flashlight. He was dressed for the cool desert night in a tan naval officer's topcoat and a peaked khaki cap.

Behind him, at the wheel of an open air force jeep, Lt. Perkins sat looking nervous and frightened in a new nylon flight jacket and a stiff combination cap.

Several feet to the right of Pym stood Colonel Masterson, wearing his worn old leather flight jacket and his dashingly broken-in “50-mission” cap.

An open 1968 Range Rover sat nearby on this desolate hilltop pocked with a smattering of forlorn dark cacti, some ocotillo and rabbit brush.

The brisk night air smelled of old pennies and blood.

“Captain Pym,” said Colonel Masterson, “don’t you think we ought to leave all this for the police to examine?”

“No,” said Pym, not looking at the man, “I don’t think so. These two people are naval officers.”

“Christ,” said Masterson. “You -- knew them?”

“Yes,” said Pym. Awkwardly holding his light and the pistol in one hand, he popped out the magazine. “They were in my section.”

“What --” said Masterson, “were they -- undercover?”

Pym didn’t answer the question. He shone his light briefly on the magazine, then carelessly dropped the clip, letting it fall onto the dead man’s chest. Putting the flashlight under his arm, he pulled back the pistol’s slide and popped out the chambered bullet. He put the barrel of the pistol to his nose, and then tossed the pistol to the ground.

“What about those other two?” said Masterson.

He referred to two dark forms lying in the dirt about thirty feet downhill toward the road.

“Oh,” said Pym. "Those.”

Taking his flashlight from under his arm he panned its beam down the slope to illuminate the remains of two young men in blood-blotched windbreakers and well-pressed chinos. These dead men also held semi-automatic pistols in their right hands.

“Well,” said Masterson, “do ya know who they are?”

Pym flicked off his flashlight and put it in his coat pocket. He took out a pipe and tobacco pouch and began to fill the pipe’s bowl.

“Well?” said Masterson. He normally talked in an willfully gravelly and deep baritone, but now his voice cracked.

Pym put his pouch away and took out a silver-plated butane lighter.

“Company men,” he said, putting the flame to the tobacco. “CIA.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Masterson. “So what is this? Navy spooks and CIA guys shooting it out in the fucking desert?”

Pym drew on his pipe with delicate little puffs.

“So it would seem,” he said.

“Well,” said Masterson, “we gotta get back to the base and report this.”

Pym looked at Masterson for the first time since this conversation had begun.

“It already is reported,” Pym said. “To me. I am in charge of this investigation.”

“Says who?” said Masterson.

Having made sure his pipe was well-lit, a comforting pulsing bead of crimson on this chilly dark hilltop, Pym clicked his lighter shut and put it back into his pocket.

“Radio back to the base,” he said. “Ask to be patched through to Admiral Hackington at the Pentagon. He will confirm my authority in this case. And let me add this.” Pym deigned to glance momentarily even at the ghost-faced Lt. Perkins. “If either of you breathe one word about this incident to anyone at all you will both be flying day-and-night sorties over North Vietnam before you can say Jack Robinson.”

Masterson took a step toward Pym.

“I’ve flown day-and-night sorties over North Vietnam, pal. I’ve flown two-hundred-and-eighty-three sorties over Vietnam and I never got a scratch.”

“You were lucky, Colonel,” said Pym. “Perhaps you won’t be so lucky next time.”

Masterson glared at Pym.

“Hey, C-colonel,” spoke up Perkins, “l-let him carry out his d-dumb investigation. Y-you, you, you don’t want to get mixed up in this sh-shit. Sir.”

“You mean, said Masterson, addressing Perkins but continuing to glare at Pym, “you don’t want to get mixed up in it.”

“W-well, you’re right, sir. I. I. I don’t. Don’t. Sir.”

“Not too keen to fly those day-and-night sorties, either, are ya?” said Masterson.

“No,” said Perkins, very quickly. And then, after a pause, “No. Sir.”

Masterson continued to glare at Pym, who gazed back at him as if he were looking not into a man’s eyes, but off into empty space.

“Okay,” said Masterson, finally. “You can have your filthy investigation, Captain Pym. But not because I’m afraid of your, your pissant threats. No, but because I really don’t want to, to sully my hands with this, this --”

“Thank you, Colonel,” said Pym.

“All right then,” said Masterson.

In the unpleasant silence that ensued, unpleasant for Masterson and Perkins anyway, Pym stood there quite still, smoking, staring at Masterson, but somehow not acknowledging his presence.

“Um, I know I’m just the amateur here,” said Masterson, “but aren’t you supposed to, you know, look around? For shell casings, spent slugs? Evidence?”

“What ever for?”

“You mean -- ‘cause it’s so obvious these people killed each other?’

“Oh no,” said Pym. “Of course that’s what we’re supposed to think.”

“Oh,” said Masterson.

Pym took out the flashlight, clicked it on, sent its beam down the hill to the road below, where a 1956 Buick Riviera was parked next to two Honda dirt bikes.

“The Buick belonged to, or was rented by, the man and woman here. The motorcycles go with the two dead CIA fellows.”

“Okay,” said Masterson, his brow furrowed in at least feigned concentration, “I’m with you so far.”

“That leaves us with this Range Rover.”

Pym flashed his light on it, then clicked the light off.

“Who’s that belong to?” asked Masterson.

“It belongs to Hertz, but it was rented by someone called Feldschmitt -- real name: Hans Grupler.”

“Uh-huh. So he did the killings?"
“Probably,” said Pym. “He happens to be a rather notorious international assassin, him and his slut girlfriend, a woman called Marlene.”

“And -- and -- these two are out here somewhere?”

“Relax, Colonel. If Grupler is out here and he wanted us dead I assure you we would be dead already.”
Pym turned and started walking towards the side of the hill away from the road.

“C-c-colonel,” said Perkins, “m-m-maybe we, we, we should --”

“Shut up, Perkins,” said Masterson.

“Y-yes, sir.”

Pym stopped and looked down the opposite slope. Below in the starlight lay a scattering of darkened Quonset huts, trailers, old cars and pick-up trucks.

Masterson, walking as if he were crossing a pool of deep mud, came over and joined Captain Pym.

“What’s that down there?” asked Pym.

“Indian reservation,” said Masterson.

Pym flicked on his flashlight again and ran it along the ground, picking up two sets of footprints leading down the hill.

Without a word Pym started down the slope, following the footprints.

Masterson went back to the jeep.

“F-fuck this Sherlock Holmes, shit, sir,” said Perkins. “It’s not our, not our, not our --”

Masterson climbed into the front passenger seat.

“Follow him down, Perkins.”
Masterson unsnapped his belt holster, took out his .45 and racked the slide.

“But, but, but --” said Perkins.

Masterson re-holstered his pistol.

“Shut up and drive, Perkins.”

Perkins started the jeep, put it in gear, and headed slowly in the direction of the slope down which Pym had disappeared.

On the opposite side of the hill a coyote who had been lying very still behind an ocotillo now sprang up and trotted silently over to the body of Mr. Philips, formerly of the Central Intelligence Agency.

(Continued here, and so on until we get to the bottom of this farrago.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 30: "without a tip"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and konrad kraus

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Epistemology; Olney Community College; editor of Love Songs of the Damned: Previously Uncollected Poems of Horace P. Sternwall (1935-1939); Olney Community College Press; “The Sternwall Project”.

for complete episode, click here

Monday, September 26, 2011

araminta and ferdirondo

translated from the carthaginian by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq

araminta, youngest daughter of the king of abyssinia, captivated all who encountered her as she made the grand tour of the continents. those few who were not enblinded by her celestial beauty, were astonished at the breadth of her learning, and the majesty of her wit. those gentlemen of fashion, who had dedicated their lives to the pursuit of love, declared her the new apogee of desirousness, and paragon of ethereality; and the more aged and learned were even more unanimous in their unmeasured praise of her preternatural sagacity.
withal, she shewed such excellent sense, and such exquisite modesty, that the most jaded gentlemen and jealous gentlewomen were irresistibly charmed, and no entertainment or bal masque, in the kingdoms and principalities through which she progressed, could hope of approbation, without the light of her presence.

it was on the night of the great bal masque of the king of adriatica, that her destiny was first entwined with that of ferdirondo, with whose name hers was to be linked forever in the annals of immortal love.
araminta had heard much of ferdirondo in the weeks preceding their first encounter. for as araminta, proceeding from the east, had left all behind her conquered by wit and beauty, so ferdirondo, from the west, had preserved civilization (for the nonce) by testing the edge of his good sword against the fiercest champions of the rebel and barbarian armies, cutting a most glorious swath which ended at the gates of the grateful capital of adriatica.

though ferdirondo himself was most eager to renew hostilities with the barbarians, his wise counselor, the venerable duke of w--------, felt that the army needed to regroup and rest for a night before retaking the field of battle, and ferdirondo most reluctantly agreed.
the king and citizens of adriatica had spared no expense in the festivities welcoming the hero, and ferdirondo, who had been bred to the court as well as the camp, evinced himself the epitome of graciousness, paying the most assiduous and gallant court to all those of his social equals who thronged to pay him homage.

araminta, in her brief time at the adriatic court, had found gathered around her the very cream of such beauty, gallantry , wit and sense as were to be found there. being of a naturally modest disposition, she had at first demurred at such attention, but realizing as she did that a too pronounced effort to deflect it would actually be the apotheosis of false pride, she had allowed herself to become the very cynosure of the court. such indeed had been her fate in each of the courts she had graced, and she took solace in the fact that she was only "passing through" and that the little sips of glory she was taking from the cup of fate, were in the words of the poet -

such jewels as the fairies found
gone before they touched the ground

but with the coming of ferdirondo, and the barbarians at the gates of adriatica, all was to change. the flutter of ribbons was to be exchanged for the storms of war, and the sighings of lovers for the thunder of cavalry and cannon.

the evening wore on. a few stars fell from the sky. gradually the brazen thundering of the barbarian camp imperceptibly died away. the stringings of the musicians grew softer. the balls of the jugglers reached a lower apogee with every toss. the dancers kept closer to walls, and many quitted the floor altogether. the good citizens who had surrounded the gracious ferdirondo, finding solace and courage for the coming day in his presence, returned to their barricaded mansions.

the circle of gallants and charmers surrounding araminta enveloped the circle of captains and lieutenants surrounding ferdirondo - and araminta and ferdirondo at last came face to face.

the sky was beginning to lighten. araminta laughed first, at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, and ferdirondo joined her immediately.

part 2

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Misery Loves Company

Zach backed into the cul-de-sac and changed his mind. He had nothing more to say to Beth—nothing. Shifting gears, he returned to the driveway. When he pulled his key from the ignition and looked up, Beth in her new PT Cruiser honked the horn, gave him the finger, and peeled out of there.

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

Meaning: he was free! He stormed upstairs and crammed his stuff into a suitcase, a garment bag, and two backpacks. Heading for the university, he bought a supersize meal at the first drive-through—wolfed the food and spilled Diet Coke while speeding and switching lanes in a fury.

His computer shed a nice light inside his stale, little office. Regulating his adrenaline, he emailed the local BSA Council, resigning as Scoutmaster. His next impulse? He made the mistake of phoning Vida, hanging up before the first ring fully sounded. No doubt the call registered at her end, but what were the odds that in her cumbersome state she caught the caller ID?

Before his own phone could ring in retaliation, he hurried to the gym, changed, and hopped on a treadmill. Vertigo threatened his stride, but Zach slowed his pace and hung on. Sweating profusely, he survived sixty minutes. In the locker room, he sat on a bench in oblivion. Was a colleague, in fact, laying his hand on Zach’s bare thigh? The pale, skinny man seemed to know Zach a lot better than Zach knew him. Delving for a name, he thought—Duncan, who said he missed them being neighbors but now that they were both going through a divorce they could be neighbors again. The noisy crowd faded away, and Duncan blathered about an optimistic spirit and then listed the pros, cons, and intricacies of his own divorce. Blinking as if Duncan’s uninvited confessions might dissolve like a daydream, Zach allowed his apparent friend’s hand to remain where it was.

“Guess we’re in the same boat,” Duncan said.

“What boat?” Awakening to fact that the interaction was all too real, Zach shoved Duncan away.

Heading for the shower, he walked slowly and cautiously in case his ex-neighbor and equal in the poli-sci department followed him. Luckily, he did not. Zach stood under the shower, alternating the blast from as hot as he could stand it to as cold. Yet his mind continued to match details that evidently had filtered through Beth’s chatter with Duncan’s surreal litany. Beth and Duncan’s wife, Wren, played tennis twice a week. That was how Duncan knew Zach’s marriage was limping miserably through its last lap. While Zach knew—none of this was a hallucination—Duncan had been living in graduate student housing for months. He and Wren had retained lawyers, who were partners, both benefiting from the shared billable hours. His children were small, which probably made everything easier. At least their questions were easier to answer.

In twilight, he headed back to his office. Throughout the walk, he vacillated between dismissing Duncan’s sticky camaraderie and admonishing himself: Why did he suppose his personal situation was uncommon?

In any case, he knew what to do and booked a room at the Hotel Belleclaire through the weekend. His children, Matt and Rosalind, were old enough to be absorbed in their own lives. They might protest or even take sides, but what choice was there? Zach would assume all the blame, because he could bear it, not because he deserved it. The compelling, intelligent, lifelong Eagle Scout, blond, strong, disciplined Zach, who had once practiced his gestures in a mirror to check his ambition—which had raced, and still raced, faster than he could metabolize it—required no justification. He owed nobody anything.

Certainly, he owed Beth nothing. Zach had managed to play his role in their marriage by not limiting his energies. She did not possess the sophistication to appreciate how Zach might figure in the world-at-large. He had reached the juncture where he could no longer live with such a simple-minded woman. When she looked at him now, with her round blue eyes, her plump cheeks burning with hope and desire, he understood all too well she would never comprehend a fraction of who he was. What could he possibly tell her? They were already divorced. That much was indisputable.  Done and done, Q.E.D.

He skimmed through random documents on his computer, looking for a way to salvage his career, which he had ignored for years. The accolades from V.I.P.s raining upon him while he stood beside Vida had blinded him. His connection to her, which had put him front and center among the serious, more original thinkers at the Institute, had suddenly hurled him, body and soul, into the undergrowth. For Vida had gotten what (in hindsight) she had wanted from him all along. Zach had to pull up his bootstraps and publish an important book, posthaste. Make it known he was available to serve as keynote speaker wherever and whenever. Above all, he must wage a take-no-prisoners campaign to impress Dorothy Zimmerman, with or without the Institute’s imprimatur.

Unfortunately for him, Professor Zimmerman, the university’s dean for the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), had never seen Zach in action. Their entire acquaintance consisted of faculty meetings and tenure reviews. He should have written a few serious papers that examined Developing World political strategies. Dorothy topped the list of authorities in that field. Of course, she valued the Institute’s efforts to rally the private sector. How else would Zach have come to be the Julian Wilson Professor of Policy and Economic Dialogue? Tenure or not, however, he would lose his stature unless he found another benefactor. Those carefree days of squiring the beautiful Vida in the company of deep-pocketed men and women; of directing and leading his sweet little family; of volunteering as Scoutmaster, and teaching a few graduate courses in Environmental Economics, had vanished.

If his telephone rang, he would have ignored it. But someone was knocking on his office door. Without looking up, he said, “Not now. I’m busy.”

“This cannot wait,” someone said.

When it dawned on him that whoever kept knocking was not going to quit, Zach swung open the door and grunted at Duncan. “What it is?”

(click here for the next episode)

je propre la nuit, part 40

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part forty of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

"nothing personal, clyde, but you might want to get that trench coat cleaned. hey, i know just the guy - bennie wilson, on 59th street. tell him i sent you!"

"oh, i'd offer you a ride, but this is car is city property - can't get it all muddy, you know?"

part 41

Friday, September 23, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 29: a certain discrimination

by manfred skyline and horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for complete episode, click here

Thursday, September 22, 2011

...And I Don't Feel Fine

On the 21st September 2011, REM announced that they would be going their separate ways. Coming so soon after the release of their 15th studio album, this announcement left me distraught and grieving.

As REM would say, perhaps we should begin the begin. At 33 years old, REM have been around since I took my first step and could say my first word. I first became aware of their presence when I was 12 years old and walked into the bedroom I shared with my brother on one idle Sunday afternoon to find him trying to tape a catchy song from the radio onto cassette tape (as was out way in the early 90s). Having never paid much attention to music up until this point in my life, I distinctly remember being moved and hooked on the epic catchy tune that was Losing my Religion.

Throughout the 90s my love affair with the Athens rock Gods grew. I listened to them on Dylan’s car stereo as he seduced Brenda in 90210, I watched their videos ad-nauseum on MTV, VH1 and the raft of new music TV stations that populated satellite TV in the mid-90s.

When I went to college in 97 I remember picking up New Adventures in Hi-Fi while on a class outing in Swansea. It was to be the first of many points where I can relate the big and memorable moments in my life with my beloved REM. When I went to America to work the following year, there was just one CD that I took with me and that was Out of Time. I played that CD a thousand times on the kids’ boom-box. Even though they were from Athens, Georgia, it was a little taste of home that I had brought with me.

In 1998 I finally got the chance to see REM live. Taking the train to London by myself and finding my way to the concert venue was one of those magical moments you have when you’re young. They were my favourite band and this was my first concert. The stars aligned perfectly to give me one of the best nights of my life. An epic three and an hour set resulted in my hurdling crowd protection barriers in order to catch the last tube to my connecting train to South Wales that was leaving in five minutes. A series of frantic running, ticket turnstile avoidance and the prospect of spending the night on a park bench in London resulted in me catching my train with 30 seconds to spare. I had fallen up some stairs, was covered in sweat and had cut my trousers, but as I collapsed on that train seat, almost passing out from dehydration, I could only smile like a grinning idiot as I remembered the amazing night of music and passion I had just experienced.

I remember so much from my time with REM. I remember the time I drove over to the shops with my cousin to pick up the new REM single Imitation of Life, playing it full blast on the way back home, windows down, singing along for all we were worth.

Whenever I listen to music in the car, 90% of the time it’s REM. I have had to purchase several copies of some of their albums as I tend to wear them out from repeated listening and less than stellar storage conditions in my glove box. I remember my brother dropping an entire large coke over my Fables of the Reconstruction album when we were in a McDonalds Drive Thru. I still have that CD and the crinkled coke sodden album sleeve reminds me a time now long gone.

Through thick and thin they were always my favourite band. While some people may change styles and affiliations as they get older, with me it was just the opposite. I became a bigger and bigger fan of the guys. Now working and with a disposable income I quickly purchased their entire back catalogue and began familiarising myself with their earlier IRS years’ work. The only time my faith was ever shaken was during the Once Around the Sun period. I had loved Up and Reveal, and considered them worthy companions to their more commercially and critically well received work. But with Around the Sun, even I, a massive fan and supporter could find very little to recommend or to like. Sure, Leaving New York was a great song, but the rest of the album is best left forgotten and removed from the almost perfect annuls of REM history.

Driving to and from work in the 00s I would have REMs later hit albums constantly on rotation in my car and would anticipate every new release like it was Christmas Morning. I even remember setting up Night Swimming on my car stereo when I quit my job and drove away for the last time, taking one last look in the mirror as I left my old life. It seemed fitting somehow. I also remember singing that song with a drunk Canadian woman in the back of a mini bus coming home from a night out on the town. One way or another, REM always seemed to be part of my life.

I got to see them live again in Cardiff twice; the most recent concert in 2008 was probably the greatest gig I have ever been to. REM were on top form and being right at the front of the stage, the sight of Michael Stipe looking right at me while singing Stand was electrical and for those brief few seconds he made me feel like I was the most important person in the room.

That is how I want to remember REM. Fun, fit and kicking ass. Somehow I always thought that they would just do a Stones and keep going. They have been around for as long as I have been alive and I assumed that they would always be with me. Making new music, coming to town touring and producing their particular brand of alt-rock awesomeness.

When I heard about the news from the official REM Facebook feed, at first I assumed that it was some kind of prank. As my eyes scanned the words… I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I clicked on the link and found further comments from the band members detailing their decision. I don’t mind admitting I was heartbroken. It honestly felt as though someone had died. I suppose in some ways I was having my 13 year old girl/Backstreet Boys breakup moment. There had to be some kind of mistake, REM can’t break up, they’re REM! They invented alt-rock. I quickly posted the news on my Facebook feed, but none of my friends cared. No one commented or “liked”. At that exact moment I felt so down. Why wasn’t there mass posts of their videos? Why were people not talking about this? The greatest band in the world were no more and none of my so called friends gave a damn. That was the hardest part. I just wanted someone to share my loss with, but no one was there and now even the people who I had relied upon to get me through the tough times were leaving. When someone asks me at what point did your youth die, I think this will be it.

You really don’t appreciate what you have till it’s gone, but the sudden and out of nowhere style of the announcement is what really hit me. They should be sorting a tour schedule right now, not going their separate ways. But they made great art and they made my life so much better.      

But REM were that kind of band. They made you feel like every song was written especially for you. No matter what mood I was in, there was an album and song to fit it perfectly. They were my band, they were the soundtrack to my life.

They were my friends.

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 94: rescue

Daphne, Dick and Harvey, attempting to escape from an enormous invisible space station, are surprised by the sudden appearance of Daphne’s father, the mysterious “Mac” MacNamara...

(Click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the beginning of
A Town Called Disdain™, third-place prize-winner of the 2011 Jackie Collins Award for Epic or Picaresque Romance.)

He was a big tall powerful-looking man of about fifty, in a trenchcoat and fedora. With one hand he lit a cigarette with a scuffed old Ronson lighter, and in his other hand he held a beat-up leather briefcase. To Harvey he looked like a combination of Robert Mitchum and William Holden, with maybe a little bit of Humphrey Bogart in the facial features.

“Papa,” said Daphne.

“Hiya, Bubbles,” said Mr. MacNamara, dropping his lighter into his coat pocket. “Come give Papa Bear a hug.”

Holding her pistol outward, Daphne walked slowly, wobbling slightly on her high heels, towards Mr. MacNamara.

Papa,” she said. “I thought your aeroplane went down. Over the Pacific.”

“Indian Ocean, actually. But that was just a cover story, sweetheart. I had some business to attend to back in the old world. I didn’t know how long it would take, so, it seemed best to -- well -- leave the stage for a time.”

Daphne rushed the last few steps to Mr. MacNamara and threw her arms around him. Leaning to one side, he put his briefcase on the floor, and then he wrapped his arms around Daphne and kissed the top of her head.

Harvey lowered his gun.

“This is fucked up,” he said to Dick.

Dick had let go of Frank’s tie, and now he stepped back away from him, but still keeping his pistol waist-high and pointed at Frank.

Frank straightened his toupée, and then his tie.

Brad stood off to the side, puffing on his cigar.

Harvey shoved his revolver into his waist band, took out his Tareytons and his Zippo, and, looking away while Daphne and Mr. MacNamara continued to hug, he lit up.

“Really fucking weird,” he said.

“I grant you that,” said Dick.

He squeezed Harvey’s upper arm, affectionately.

“Keep these jokers covered, will you, Harve? I’m going to have a word with my, uh, father-in-law.”

Harvey nodded, took out his pistol and waved it at Brad.

“Get on next to your buddy, there, Brad.”

“Easy, kid,” said Brad. “Just take it easy.”

Brad moved over next to Frank, who was now mopping the cut on his cheekbone with his monogrammed silk display handkerchief.

“You and your big mouth,” muttered Frank.

“My big mouth --” said Brad, “what about --”

Harvey cocked his revolver.

“No rappin’,” he said.

Frank and Brad shut up.

Dick had come up next to Daphne and Mr. MacNamara, who were still embracing. Daphne was crying, quietly. Dick gently patted her on the hip, and she turned her face and looked at him.

She stepped away from her father. He handed her his handkerchief, and with her free left hand, the one not holding the gun, she patted her eyes and cheeks.

“Hi, Mac,” said Dick.

“Hi, Dick.”

Dick switched his Browning from his right hand to his left, and the two men shook hands.

“So,” said Mac, “it seems like you kids have got yourselves in a bit of a pickle.”

“That’s an understatement,” said Dick.

“Well, that’s why I’m here, Dick. When I found out what was going on I got here as soon as I could.”

“Thanks,” said Dick.

Mac picked up his briefcase.

Daphne handed his sodden handkerchief back to him.

“Papa, I’m just so glad you’re not dead.”

“My pleasure, Bubbles.” He stuffed the handkerchief into a side pocket of his trench coat. “Well, we better get a move on.”

He started walking down the hall, toward Harvey and Frank and Brad; Dick and Daphne walked along with him, with Mr. MacNamara in the middle.

“I brought a replacement saucer, by the way,” he said.

Daphne put her arm in her father’s.

“Fabulous! I always said you were the best father in the whole wide world.”

“I have my moments,” said Mac. He turned to Dick and whispered, “By the way, Dick, you weren’t really going to shoot old Frank just then, were you?”

“No,” said Dick, in a low voice. “I did want to scare the bastard though.”

“Well, I think you succeeded in that,” said Mac.

In fact, the dull and worn blue carpet under and around Frank’s feet to a radius of eighteen inches was stained a wet and darker blue with Frank’s own urine.

(Continued here, and seemingly indefinitely.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The wastes of green

I'd like to tell you its name, the name of the sickly green that glowed through its windows, but I can't.

I was in the back of the house, a house I'd known since childhood. The house looked over a a ravine that would run with fresh rainfall, when there was rain, when I was a child who ran through it.

Now it was dry, and the sloping ground above it was covered with a waste of wood. It was this waste of wood that gave off the sickly green light I saw. It wasn't the green of living things. There were no leaves. There weren't even trunks to hold the branches that would have held such leaves. There were only piles of broken grey wood.

It might have been driftwood, these piles of cracked and stunted branches, had there been any water to drift them. There wasn't any water. They were covered with a green slime, a slime that spoke of the absence of life, or a life most alien to the one that had grown up around me.

No smell should have reached me through the glass of doors and windows pulled tight, but I could sense its smell. The green slime covering the piles of wood smelled of a special kind of wasting, a wasting with a name I didn't have, and I still can’t give to you.

The ravens came to give it to me, that name. They swarmed to the waste, swooping down from a pewter sky. They hopped up the hill through the piles of sickly grey wood covered with green slime, until they reached the sliding glass door where I looked out.

The glass was pulled shut, as was the curtain, but the curtain was made of a see-through, plastic fiber, and I could see their ghostly shapes through it as they came slowly up the hill.

Suddenly they took to the air again, and one raven, the largest, twice as big as I what I thought a raven could be, hovered just outside the pane of glass. I could see its shadowy form there, and when it turned its head I could see the outline of its parted beak. Its great parted beak floated there like another pair of wings, and its tongue vibrated within as it sounded the name it came to tell me.

I couldn’t hear the name through the glass. I couldn’t hear any sound through that thick, shut glass door. I could only see the shadowy form of its enormous beak parted to give me a name I might not even know how to pronounce.

I put my hands against the curtain to try to sense the shape of the name's sounding from its vibrations. The raven humored me and hovered there a little longer. It hovered and loudly hummed this name while I tried with both hands to touch it through the pane of glass. The name was too big for my two hands that tried in vain to grasp it.

All I could feel was the curtain and its plastic covered in web, the silky, sticky cobwebs of too many years gone by, the weightless grabbing of our neglect. Then I heard my grandmother’s voice, the voice of my grandmother Rose, dead now for twenty years. It came from behind me, not angry so much as annoyed, in that nasal way she had of nagging.

My dead grandmother’s voice came annoyed, not angry, and it told me to get away from the glass. I had to obey her, it was her house. As I stepped back, the raven lifted away from me and away from the sickly green light, and it took the name with it.

That’s why I can't tell you the name of the wasting green covering the wood behind my dead grandmother's house.

je propre la nuit, part 39

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part thirty-nine of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

"mad - he looks really mad"

" he gonna shoot us?"

part 40

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Separate Cars

Zach’s confidence and winning style, once so abundant, had vanished. He couldn’t think straight: Beth or Vida; Vida or Beth? All the years he’d imagined he had possessed them both, their different but limitless loves and loyalties, he had forgotten about the inevitable changes through time. What he couldn’t control, he thought he could ignore. But not anymore. Beth or Vida, Vida or Beth?  No doubt he had lost them both. A day, a night, another day and another night, and Zach stood alone.

(Click here for the first episode; here for the previous one.)

The third morning after he had sneaked out of his own house like a craven beast, he decided to return—and find out what was next. When he was certain the children would be at school, he drove home. Beth wasn’t there and he speeded across the railroad tracks to the pottery studio she rented at the edge of town, a shack really, set up with two others in a fifty-yard strip beside the Hudson River. He parked and his feet sank in the soggy grass. He knocked on the first door, no answer. On the next door, he knocked and although Beth didn’t answer, he entered. Beth, dressed in clay-caked, faded denim, jumped from her pottery wheel, dashed forward and slapped him so hard the impact caused her to fall sideways. Her hands sticky with slurry, she grabbed his shirt to hoist herself up.

Apparently, he didn’t understand her ethical foundation as well as he had imagined. Yes, forgiveness was her first principle—her dirty, furious face communicated this much. But blanket, automatic forgiveness? No. He had to ask for forgiveness. And promise: No more lies.

So he begged her and promised her in the tiny, muddy shelter, making his hard face go slack and keeping his mouth gentle.

“You think I’m stupid. I’ve always known that. But the question now, Zach, is how stupid?”

He froze. Any response here increased her accusation’s power, because they both knew he had believed her easygoing and naïve manner bordered on stupidity. Now his manner was under scrutiny. If he shook his head, meaning, you were never stupid, or came right out and said that, she might well use her new, rueful laugh; she might point out that his insensitivity made him stupid.  And he certainly couldn’t say what he was very close to barking: “Are you serious?”

Obviously, she was serious. If he wrote her off as silly that didn’t make her silly: he wasn’t God. And so, she wanted to know: Just how stupid did Zach imagine her to be?

Within her enraged perception, Zach became idiotic. The longer he stood there, allowing this—Zach the idiot—the angrier he grew. But today, Beth matched him there. A disturbance in the air prompted him to look up. He could see her thoughts writ large: How stupid he was not to have listened to her most heartfelt understanding; how stupid to dismiss emotional priorities; how stupid, in fact, to dismiss almost all emotion; to suppose that logic held a greater truth!

Admit it, her stance insisted: He was stupid! But he was not, no matter how insistent she might be. Soon, Beth’s staring at him with such earnest outrage brought him dangerously close to laughing in her face. But he stopped in time—he couldn’t afford that any more than he could tolerate her unbound fury. Unable to act supplicant another moment, he engulfed her. His body covered hers and to a degree he hadn’t known before, he swore he loved her.

More aroused than he could remember, he kissed her mud-smeared face and matted hair. He tugged at her oversized shirt so it unsnapped. While kissing her mud-caked palms, he yanked the shirt off and caressed her naked shoulders. He held up her wrists and bent to lick the inside of one long arm slowly but avidly, and then the next. His fingers had released her bra and moving his face from her arm, he sucked one breast and then the other. He held her breasts tightly and tipped her backwards to slide his tongue along her extended throat.

Egos at war; their bodies caught and submerged in currents of pleasure. Their physical selves lifted and fell in waves. With their life together immersed in darkness, anxiety, and loss, the sexual heat between them reached a heretofore undiscovered crest.

Afterwards, they each drove back to “their house.” But between her studio and their front door, Beth and Zach in their separate cars shared a boomerang resentment. How dare she! How dare he! How grotesque he was—she was!

Inside their house, occupying the same area provoked each to gasp in indignation. They stepped apart and started to turn away from each other only to be hurled into a baffling but fervid embrace. They rolled together, frantic in the living room, leaving the fine Indian rug smeared with muddy clay.

Beth showered first and Zach cleaned the rug with something from an aerosol can and the vacuum cleaner. Barefoot, his pants rolled up, so as not to muddy anything else, he paced back and forth while Beth fixed her hair and put on lipstick and whatever else she slathered on her face. He waited, noticing how full of light the room was, tree branches tapping the windows. The decor and layout, the contrived arrangement of furniture and ersatz art, including Beth’s amateur pottery, assaulted his intelligence. Why live like this? Why act out a middle-class life in a middle-class suburb surrounded by people the same age, with similar educations and families? Within nearly identical confines, they all worked, ate, fucked, and slept, trying to maintain an equally banal standard. If Beth expected him to pray for forgiveness and strive for demonstrations of—what? soul-searching? Zach needed to live elsewhere. His still muddy hands in his pockets curled into fists, which he deliberately flattened.

She pattered down the stairs in her L.L. Bean loafers, jeans, and turtleneck. But when he turned to face her, she paused on the landing. She modulated her voice and he winced at her caution. “Want some lunch?”

“No, thank you. Let me shower and change clothes first.”

That achieved, he found her waiting for him at the dining room table, which increased his already terrible annoyance. Rather than stay inside their fabricated domicile another second, he suggested they go out to lunch.

He said they needed to discuss some necessary things. Did she know a place where they were unlikely to encounter anyone who knew them?

“Oh, I see. Your approach confused me, Zach. But yes, if that’s what you want.”

“We need to discuss where things stand.”

“Are you sure you want to get into this while gobbling a meal someplace out of town?” They glanced at each other.

Getting a jacket, Beth rubbed the bridge of her nose. “You want to eat in public to keep the discussion civil. How could I fall for your same old tricks?”

“Let’s go to that Indian place. The one owned by the guy who wears a red turban.”

“He’s Sikh. And if you’re thinking of that restaurant in Connecticut, fine. We’ll take separate cars.”

“That much, Beth, I assumed went without saying.”

(click here for the next episode)

je propre la nuit, part 38

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part thirty-eight of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here


part 39

tales of the hotel st crispian, chapter 28: jake's not here

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, September 17, 2011

je propre la nuit, part 37

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part thirty-seven of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

"whooee! whooee! "

hogan howled as the roadside water cascaded over clyde's head and shoulders.

"got him good! perfect!"

"he looks pretty mad."

"let's go back and give him the business." hogan stopped the car, put it in reverse.

part 38

Friday, September 16, 2011

je propre la nuit, part 36

by jean-claude etranger

illustrated by roy dismas

part thirty-six of fifty-two

to begin at the beginning, click here

get ready, clyde, old buddy. get ready for a nice bath!

part 37