Sunday, March 29, 2015



                       It was eight o'clock. Pooro had been introduced to Natalia, a call girl at the frat boys’ swinging pad. They found out about her through Jordan's uncle. “On the house,” Royal told him, offering her up like a free pizza delivered. A free pizza in a mini-dress. “She's all yours for the night, champ.”
           “I was gonna say you can keep your mask on,” she said, “but I see now you've got it painted on.”
           Pregnant pause.
           “You're a quiet one. I can see I'm going to have to take matters in hand.”
           They were on the patio. Pooro had been enjoying the weather. Inside, everybody was watching the fight on a giant flat screen. Royal went back inside. Phil could see them all through a window, watching and reacting, looking like actors in a silent film.
           “Have you ever seen ‘Spartacus?’” he said.
           Natalia shook her head. “That's a movie?”
           “Isn't that one of your fights they’re watching in there? Why aren’t you in there watching yourself?”
           Pooro scanned the writhing canopy of clouds.
           “Well, whatever they're paying you, it's not enough. When I was walking through in there I saw you punching some guy out. Let me see your hands.” She took his left hand and both of hers and ran her fingertips lightly over the skin in a concerned caress. From a purse she produced a moistened wipe to clear away a small amount of crusted knuckle blood, and in so doing the wind grabbed a loose twenty dollar bill and whipped it up fluttering in her face, which Pooro swiftly snagged before it could sail away and handed back to her.
           “Oh my god, that was so amazing!” she said. “Can you believe the way it just leapt up and stayed there? That was so weird! Oh yeah, I've got so much money, it's all flyin’ right out of my purse! Here, I'll show you something. See the owl on the corner of this dollar bill? You need a magnifying glass to really see it, but there’s a tiny little owl right...there.” Here she pointed to the upper right corner. Pooro leaned over and looked at the dollar closely. “It's an owl all right,” she said. “As for why they have to make it so small, that's because they know if people knew what they really did, like right up there in the tower, they wouldn't get to do it anymore.” Natalia was looking up, now. The low-lying clouds hid most of the tower from view. “I've been up there. At the very top. Goddam, that place is so scary. I'm never going back there again. Here, I'll show you something else. You take a twenty printed after 2001, like this; you hold it front-facing and upside-down, and fold the bottom half up evenly with the top, so the top half of the backside appears; and the left side midway at a 45° angle, and then the right side as well, so that you get this sort of fat, downward-pointing arrow.”
           She handed him the result.
           “A hooker friend of mine showed me that. She told me Nixfeld himself showed her. If you think about it, people don't enshrine bad things that happened to them. Especially not secretly. They enshrine things that they like. They enshrine things that they did.” She tossed the twenty back into her purse. “But you know, people like that, they live in a whole other world. I mean, they've got computers in cameras in the satellites floating around in space, and—oh!—I saw this one guy come in to talk to Nixfeld one time, and he was showing him this new thing they have. It's like you're seeing everything from outer space, and then it looks like you fall, really fast, right down on to anywhere you want on the planet! Just Earth, of course. But it’s like you're really doing it. And I mean they've got interactive war games that haven't even hit the street yet. But old Nixfeld sees all these things long before your average schmo ever gets a chance, that's for sure. So hey, are we going to bed together, or what?”
           By now the crowd inside looked ready to carry the flat screen away on their shoulders.
           Natalia had Pooro’s hand close to her face, in order to inspect as she gently cleaned it with the moistened wipe. This seemed a moment when she might sort of kiss it to make it better. Gently Pooro retracted his rough, scarred mitt.
           “That thumb gouged out a guy’s eye today,” he said.
           Just then the boisterous boys fell from the house with the men from the street in tow at the edges, who knew to slosh beer, tug shirts and slur at the very least when the spotlight fell on them, which frequently it did.
Five from the crowd clumped around the barbecue trying to figure out what to do to make it work, and remonstrating each other with the theater voices and theatrical conduct characteristic so far of their lives, while pretending with body language obliviousness to Pooro and Natalia nearby.
           There was messing with construction stuff, lifting bags of concrete mix, the red-cheeked draining of a cold can of beer followed by attempts to hold the most bags resulting in the subsequent spill—“You fuckin’ dumbass, we need every one of those bags for the pour!”
           Feigned nonchalance: “Shit man, don't sweat it, you got more than enough here for your pour. Shit man, you want the fuckin’ thing poured, I'll pour it for you, right now.”

           Sharp retort: “Goddam it, no fuckin’ way! Don't you even think about it. Think I'm lettin’ a rookie like you? You don’t even go near it.”
           “Fuck, man. Shit. What's the fuckin’ hold up on the barbecue?”
           Re-bar sword fights got out of hand as feigned fighting knowledge fluttered in the wind like loose cash.
           “Bruce Lee would kick Pooro’s ass.”
           “Fuck man, anybody with any kind of mixed martial arts training would kick his ass so fast. Anybody off the street, most places.”
           “No question about it, he definitely gets more than his fair share of luck. Has so far. I mean, but when you come right down to it, who has he really faced, you know?”
           Natalia sat on Pooro’s lap. “They’re only boys,” she said.
           To Pooro the fourteen fratties’ frantic theatrics dizzied. Staring straight ahead like the Lord of the Underworld seated at the center of the universe, he tracked each desperate act of petty insecurity and hostile hypocrisy displayed, tracked each to its infancy. Natalia had a nice mid-riff. “Stay Tuned Till You Drop,” one frattie called out to another heading back inside to catch some of a game. To this quoting of the prevalent slogan Natalia raised a triumphant finger in the air and proclaimed, “That one's mine, I came up with Stay Tuned Till You Drop in the middle of J. Ronald Nixfeld’s hot tub, in this bitchin’ little Viking ship! He was on speakerphone when I said it, and he obviously kept it, so now it's all over the place just because I came up with it that one time. I remember I got really high that night.”
           This invited derision.
           “You did not,” one of them sneered with a twisted little shit-eating grin. His name was Jeremy. He had been playing swords with the re-bar. But in approaching Natalia with disrespect and scorn he entered the Pooro vector. And the result was swift. One moment, he was pointing the length of re-bar at Natalia and using it to punctuate his assertion assuming the bearing of an archduke with a riding crop. The next moment, the metal was in Pooro’s hand, and he was no longer seated beneath Natalia, but standing over Jeremy, who crumpled backward with the re-bar wrested from his grip.
           “I'm sorry! I'm sorry!” he cried.
           “Right on!” Natalia exulted. “See there? You better watch what you say to me!”
           Pooro tossed the re-bar clanging toward the pile and helped Jeremy to his feet.
           Amid the mild uproar of Jeremy returning to the land of the living, Jordan took a call on his cell phone with a hand over an ear, and when the call was over, and he had conferred with Royal, Jordan told Pooro that he just got off the phone with his uncle, who sounded in bad shape.
           “He’s on the strip,” said Jordan, “but he can't find his car. He wants us to go pick him up. So, you think we could get some backup from you? Just in case?”
           “Your uncle?” one of the fratties wondered. “Isn't he a cop?”
           “Yes, he is.”


                      Whoever he was, he had been behind them in the cave all along. And because the sloping hillside concavity was hardly bigger than the space beneath the end of a bridge, he must have been crouching on the other side of one of the boulders back there in hiding, Phil realized, even with his hands in the air facing a gun being waved at him.
           All his years in Humbaba and never anything of the sort.
           “Just let us go. You don't want murder on your hands over a grow-op.”
           “Well, that's not really your call. You were talking before about power. Ironic. By the way, voters’ opinions absolutely get purchased in the same way that demand for unnecessary products gets artificially created by TV images. No doubt about it. Talk about your scary fuckin’ shit. Well, anyway”—the guy with the gun never had left the ladder, and the wind was beginning to blow sand in—“I’m gonna have to lock you in while I go make a call.”
           “You mean like, get a consensus from a partner or partners on what to do?”
           “Something like that, and if you give me any trouble I guess that’ll answer the question right there.”
           Phil didn't argue. The gun guy headed back up. After the hatch dropped came the hellish grinding sound of large rocks being rolled over the cover on top. Through the closed hatch came the muffled yelling from the guy that the rocks were only a precaution.
           All the plants were immature. Phil, reminded of the line from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink,” consoled himself comforting Consuelo.
           “I don't think he's going to do anything. If he was going to shoot us, he already would have. I won't let him hurt you. Don't worry.”
           It didn't make much sense to say such a thing. But then, it had all been so surreal. So surreal it was unreal. This had to account for Phil not feeling anywhere near as fearful as he should have. He couldn't quite tell if Consuelo was quietly calm or quietly in shock.
           “I see he's got an exhaust pipe here that must lead up through the rock outside. Should be nothing visible coming out. Nobody the wiser. I bet he has some sort of grating over the end of the pipe to keep mice out and whatever else.”
           “How do you know so much?”
           The point-blank directness of the question almost rankled Phil—a fact he found endearing. So she really was a human being, and not a dream after all.
           “In Humbaba, you find out through osmosis. When you grew up there, you realize, a lot of people gravitated there in the 60s and 70s looking to leave the bad ways of the old worlds they left behind. They were the builders of a new land. You might even say they stole the land from the establishment and sent the establishment of a trail of tears. But for me it's all normal, the iconoclastic, the inclusive, the far out and right on. I love mind-bending mood rings and giant forests lost in fog. Perhaps I romanticize it. But doesn't that also say something about the power of the place? As far as pot goes, and it goes far, it isn't for everyone, but it's not for no one, either. It’s sacrament to people all over the world, and has been for thousands of years. I’m not going to let this situation now affect my view of all of that. For those who think globally and act locally, what the establishment harms, the counterculture heals.
           “Humbaba is a land of forests, mountains and Civil Rights. There is magic in the rivers, and the spirit of equality flows through the air. The land is steeped in rock n’ roll. I know. I’ve felt it. It's tattooed and tie-dyed with generations of Hippies, the Bohemian, the rural, the unconventional. Humbaba is the Shire. And the land is steeped in ESP, steeped in UFOs, just jam-packed with groovy funky black light festival scenes, all things counterculture, all green and growing and fresh and new and I can't wait to go back, if it means seeing it with you.”
           He hadn't meant to say that last. Consuelo took a moment to consider her words. It was a good idea. They were two hostages holding hands in a grow room.
           “You have a strong sense of place,” she said. “I don't. I do have a strong sense of family. I don't know if it's fair to say that for you your place is your family, but I know that my family is my place.”
           “And hey, I absolutely respect that. But maybe you could stay with me for a few days. I could drive you there and back.”
           “That does sound like fun.”
           “Granted, it's out of the comfort zone. If I hadn't gotten out of my own—”
           “You wouldn't be trapped at gunpoint?”
           He had wanted to take her gently in his arms and hold her. She did have a point there.
           “Just so you know, if it looks like he's gone seriously mental and thinks shooting us is the smart thing to do, make sure you stay behind me.”
           “But then if he shoots, wouldn't I get a hit, too?”
           “Okay then, as soon as the hatch starts to open, you go to the corner and get down under a table. I'll do the same over there. He won't shoot his plants. He'll have to climb down. Then I'll shove a table up at him from underneath, overpower him, and get the gun away.”
           “But not if it seems like he's going to let us go.”

                      “Well, of course. I guess we'll have to play it by ear,” Phil conceded, “but if he seems suspicious, like he's trying to lull us into close proximity so he can pop us off more easily, we go under the tables, you at the far corner, me here, and I forced him to the floor and rush him. He'll be paralyzed long enough for me to get the jump on him when he sees his plants go flying.”
           “I think you're right. I feel better.”
           “Good. Besides, he doesn't want to hurt us. He’s only a guy trying to get by. I think the fact that he's gone to such elaborate measures way out here shows he really doesn't want any trouble. I've never once grown pot in my life or sold any to anyone ever, but for so many people I know, and don't know, with the economic incentive to be able to pay bills and buy food, when it's so easy to do, just let the natural plant grow, it would practically be criminal to not grow, really. It’s not like prescription drugs. Which have people taking eighty-five a day till the legally prescribed drugs kill. But that’s the thing. It’s about money. The system wants slaves drinking booze and popping pills because the system makes money off those things. So they say lies about a natural plant which helps and heals, because they’re afraid of what they see as a slave-base majority funneling them less coin, picking them less cotton. Maybe even splitting the whole program, you know?”
           “What time is it?”
           “Good question. Nine o'clock. Dang and dammit.”
           “Why, what?”
           “I'm supposed to be at some place not far from the hotel right now. It's why I'm down here—Vegas-ish, I mean, not down here in the hole.”
           “Oh, that's right. I'm sorry.”
           “Thanks. Well, I'll have to show up late. Emergencies happen. This one sure did. And in a good way,” he added, holding her close.
           “What's that over there?” Consuelo said.
           Phil took a look. “Hey, it's a Walkman.” It lay with a pair of headphones on a corner at the end of a table, largely concealed behind the plants. He looked inside and found The Velvet Underground, which they listened to sitting on the floor, cuddled close, backs to the wall, with the headphones between them and the volume all the way up. During the song “Beginning to See the Light,” Phil noticed that the lines “Some people work very hard / But still they never see the light” ended twenty-one seconds into the sixth song, putting at the moment which he happened to glance down at the digital counter what looked for the second that he happened to see it like a strange display of the day’s date.


                      Roman guards chased him past a pyramid. On the other side of the street, a giant genie glowed.  
                      Officer Leslie Lash stumbled in sandals and tunic, the tiny tunic and simple sandals of a serving boy of ancient Rome, for these were the clothes with which he was provided when friends of J. Ronald Nixfeld escorted him down the tower outside, and on the street, with no ID, no money, and heavily hallucinating. He stumbled past changing lights coloring synchronized water fountain displays, meridian palm trees under-lit, giant objectified forms of women hanging for all to see. Cranked-up competing electronic sounds and piped-in music aided crowd control.
                      He ripped a burp that raped the air, a funny monkey explosion, and as infinitesimal intestinal particles beyond number spun, the red, riotous disorder of pulp in his mind glimmered with a fetid sheen like as though some malformed Hippie somewhere hocked a loog near a loping priest that leered, a gibbering hideousness that meandered cascading venomous curses with homicidal eyes blazing and shooting murderous looks, careening, disquieting as rangy degenerates, those slack-jawed, simian burlesques of human form in whose cold and clammy clumps seeping vaporous bewilderment of blasphemous assemblages might half-suppress scheming glee nourished in moonbeams with all the spidery mummery of archaic erudition in brazen tumult. He burped again, and as cars honked, vomited.
           Endless lines of taillights drifted to the techno beat in spinning electronic candy synthesizer shine. Distracting buildings, distracting billboards—signs with numbers, signs with women, signs with arrows flashed.
           Giant TVs pulled cars in, flashing cars speeding and competing for position—electronic liquid cash spattered in the night—lights fountaining, lights flowering, the omnipresent pulsating thrum of fresh flowing money pumping away in the night.
           It was nine o'clock now. He had managed to call his nephew, only barely. A young black woman very kindly helped him make the call at all, and that after she finally managed to discern the last name of the nephew, which did turn out to be listed. She had initiated contact asking if everything was all right when she saw him staggering around in a parking garage just off the strip. What began as a curious and bemused attempt on her part to help him nonetheless markedly deteriorated as trying to help him time dragged on; and it was only with a momentary flash of consciousness on his part and sundry imprecations and promises to pay her for the use of her cell phone that the call finally got through. The call itself had at least been quick. At the frat boy's behest, Lash managed to relay from the woman the cross streets of the corner the garage was on. But five minutes of hanging around waiting for the ride to show up and dish out some theoretical twenty bucks proved plenty for, and she went on about her business leaving a trail of dismissive remarks as she cleaned her cell phone on her sleeve. Not long after that, Lash forgot he even made the call. He wandered back down and out of the garage wide-eyed watching various parts of the walls roll up and down like party favors.
           Everywhere he looked, people were transformed. Transformed into monsters. Monsters all over. What happened was you became infected. Some hostile outside agent changed you. When you become a monster, you suffer. Leslie Lash didn't want to suffer. He wanted the monsters to suffer, not him.
           And he had suffered.
           In the tower, Lash had wandered into the forbidden room of J. Ronald Nixfeld, filled with a nightmarish heap of old bags and plates and cobwebs, and spills and stacks of junk and crap and crud, and this place was not a product of Lash’s hallucinations—although he was definitely hallucinating at that point—that was how he found the room. No special lock, it was right down the hall, and everybody ordinarily knew to leave it alone. No hallucination, this was the place where J. Ronald Nixfeld actually slept. When he slept at all—if he didn't pass out somewhere else. Someone must have seen Lash go back there. Still on all fours. Someone must have told. Because J. Ronald Nixfeld himself found Lash with a coat hanger, a shoe, and a torn magazine in hand looking guiltier than the dirtiest sinner. And J. Ronald Nixfeld cast the cop out, but not before having one of his undead lackeys remove his own little tunic-and-sandals party outfit and put it on Leslie Lash.
                      It may have been that two casino employees dressed as Roman guards had tried to keep the off-duty officer, evidently worse for wear, from stumbling in the street. At this point Lash was trying to remember where he had parked his car, and what kind of car it was, and what a car was, and that he had one, and what his name was, and somewhat by chance and somewhat through dim flashes of recollection came round again to the parking garage, loaded with cars, at the corner of which he made the call about which he forgot.
           What's On Your TV? Your Life Is Our Business. Your Thinking Is A Waste of Our Time.
           There were street people in the garage kicking around old computer parts, a host of machinery rooted from a dumpster.
           Life Ends, Not Us. Do What You Want On Your Own Time Next Life.
           One busted machinery chunk had a bunch of wires sticking out like sprouts on an old potato, and the street people played soccer with it, and took turns at bat with a busted 2 x 4.
           It's Out Of Your Hands. Just How Special Do You Think You Are? We Print Money, Meat.
           The five of them turned and saw the one of him.
           First from a distance: “Hey, look, miniskirts are back.”
           Then up close: “Nice fuckin’ dress.”
           “I'm bare-assed,” Lash said.
           “You're embarrassed? You should be, boy. Holy shit motherfucker, look at you.”
           “I think he said he's bare-assed.”
           “I’m bare-assed.”
                      “Right there! Did you hear that? Bare-assed.”          
           “Fuck yeah I heard that. Well why the hell don't you get you on some underwear, boy? Motherfucker walkin’ ‘round bare-assed in a miniskirt.”
           “Yo. Yo yo yo, I know who that is. Oh yeah. I know you. You're that cop.”
           “What the fuck you say?”
           “Yo, he's a cop.”
           “Straight up?”
           “How do you know he's a cop?”
           “Yo, you a cop? Shit, my boy’s out of it. Look at this motherfucker. You a cop? Er, excuse me sir, are you an officer of the law?”
           “As a matter of fact, he is.”
           Looking behind them, the street people recognized Pooro. Standing well behind him were the frat boys.
           The street people had all seen him do some pretty nasty shit. Like the time he had a guy in a bear hug from behind with his arms pinioned, and whipped him up and down on the ground bodily like a big sack of flour that needed splitting open. When they realized—and they realized immediately—that Pooro wanted them not to fuck with the cop, and wanted them instead to fuck off, all five kindly obliged.
           “Yo bro, you win.” Backing off, they all returned to computer parts soccer. “We cool? Don't kill me." Bowing to Pooro's majesty and might with requests for mercy.
           “Please don't kill me?”


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