I woke up on the back seat of the Volks’ like a crumpled piece of paper. Everything hurt. The euphoria from the night before had mostly faded. What little lingering residue remained was an understanding. There was something I’d been missing all along. A clue, perhaps. Insight. It’s something that brings everything together. A connection. I realized we are all connected in some way. Just how I wasn’t sure. It’s as if everything came from the same source. The same essence of being. Whatever that meant . . . I figured this is why Bertram split with Snyder.
That was the first thought that came to mind as I laid there working up the strength to move. The second was how badly I wanted hang Bixby by his balls. I owed him that much. Connectivity aside. The bastard had it coming.
After some time I managed to sit up. I took out my flask. Hit it. Lit a smoke. Breathed. Looked around. Reorientated myself. Focused. Realized where I was, what happened. Mary-Lou was gone, again. This time they had her. That was for certain. It was only a matter of what to do next. Where to go from here.
Red light began to climb up over the rim of the earth. A new day was breaking free from the night. I looked in the mirror. My face was covered in dry blood.
What the hell.
I noticed a piece of paper under one of the windshield wipers. I got out. Grabbed the thing. Read it:
Bring Bertram. Today. You know the place.
Bertram Welles was no where to be found. He was still lost in the crowd as far as I was concerned. And only he could change that. It was up to me to do something while he was out of the equation. I was going to get Mary-Lou back. There was still the matter of her bill.
I got back in the Volks’. Turned the key. She was ready.
We are living in a strange and unusual time. Every generation probably thinks this. But it’s true. The polyphonics of the world plays out like something by Moondog . . . The rhyhm . . . The tonality of it all . . . It may seem like chaos at times, but there is a counterpoint that keeps the madness in tact. Otherwise it would just be considered noise. Noise and nothing else. But this life isn’t just noise and faces. There are emotions and memories and instances of insurmountable beauty that drives away any hint of misanthropy if you get a good glimpse at it . . . People are products of their conditions. Not everyone has the privilege to climb up and out of some dark pit that consumes any opportunity to find the light of a new path. It just isn’t the reality for some. And that’s real . . . I was beginning to see what Bertram saw. Faint flashings of love through the aperture of animosity. Maybe it was the capsule I took. Maybe it rewired my perception and opened my eyes to be more understanding, to zoom out from my own hard-shelled ways . . . Hell, maybe I was going soft.
I shook the thought. Gunned it.
I stared down the barrel of the city. All its buildings narrowed in. I had tunnel vision and only one thing on my mind. My hands wrung the steering wheel like it was Snyder’s neck. My jaw tight. Every inch of my body roared like the engine of the Volks’. I was on a furious death ride. The morning redness in the east shining in all its glory. Bright. Burning with rage. I was going to finish what Bertram started. I didn’t know how. Or what I’d do when it was all said and done. But once I exposed Snyder and Bixby the real work could begin. They played me for a fool. Well, the fault was in their own folly. I wasn’t going to let the Exos take over. I wasn’t going to let the world burn. No. There wasn’t going to be some elitist diabolus ex machina. Not as long as I had blood coursing through my veins. And that’s all that mattered.
I turned on the radio. Rolled the dice. They hit. Heavy licks ripped through the speakers and all at once the Volks’ and I shared a single purpose. A hunk of metal and man riding high and burning rubber. I laughed like a madman. It was glorious. I leaned into it. Put my foot to the floor. She wailed like a hell cat. We were unstoppable. I laid down the horn. Forced my way. The whole world whirling by.
As I moved through the city a great black cloud of smoke rose up into the sky. I saw the flames furling from one of the buildings and licking the dawn air. Three helicopters circled around it, dumping water to put the thing out. The black cloud smeared out over the landscape like some haunting dream. It occurred to me I’d seen this scene before. Like some phantom reality playing parallel to the one I’d been living. An occasional bleeding through of a superimposed existence. The objects becoming clearer and clearer the more you tune your attention it.
I drove on gritting my teeth.
Then suddenly, at the pinnacle of this symbiosis, this perfect union of man and machine, the Volks’ bucked. She grumbled. Coughed. Wheezed. I lost power in the acceleration.
Black smoke rose from the engine and trailed behind me.
“Come on, baby!”
The Volks’ was a dying at the height of our campaign. I pulled off the road. Got out. Spit. There was no time to waste. But I couldn’t leave the Volks’ to the vultures. Not a chance. There was a coffee shop across the street. I ran over. A baby-faced kid hidden behind a neatly trimmed beard stood at the register. His shirt read WOKE across the chest in big block letters. Shit. What did he know.
“Hello sir, would you like to try our new double mint white macadamia mocha Frappuccino today?”
“How about I knock you in your flappuccino.”
“Uhh . . . uh . . . What?”
“I need your phone. Now.”
“Sorry sir, it’s for customers only.”
I grabbed him by the collar. Pulled him close.
“It’s an EMERGENCY!”
As the words came out of my mouth I remembered my revelation. My relationship to this kid. But it was too late. Another awakened one came out of nowhere. Fresh pot in hand. He splashed the steaming black liquid in my face.
It was like a flame swiftly washing over my face. I burned like hell.
“There’s a payphone around the corner, about two blocks up and sixty years ago,” I heard one of them say. They both started laughing.
I got the hell out of there. Wiped my face on my sleeve. Regained focus. Looked around. Next door was a laundry mat. I went in. The guy running the place barely spoke english. We talked with our hands. He got the idea. Thirty minutes later a tow truck was there with the Volks’ chained up. I climbed in the cab. The driver smelt like pickled farts and was missing some important teeth.
“Whoa, buddy! Looks like yuh been kicked by a horse and pissed on by a mule.”
“When it rains.”
He looked out the window and up into a graying blue sky.
“Hmmph. Funny. It don’ look like it’s rainin’. But there is fire afoot.”
I pulled out a smoke. Lit it.
“Well anyhow, don’ you worry ‘bout a thang. I’ll take good care’uh you and your’n. We’ll git yuh fixed up here no probl’m.”
All my momentum had gone out the window and was replaced by an okie whistling Dixie. I’d lost the rhythm and felt like hell. I needed a break.
“Yea, I’ve had all kinds of women. Tall. Short. Fat. Old. Y’could say Imma kinda con-o-sewer. I even run’uh gauntlet a time’r two. Y’ever run’uh gauntlet, mister?”
I didn’t care. But not even a holocaust could shut this guy up.
“Sounds like terrorism.”
“Ho ho ho . . . It sure can be. But some like et . . . Yuh see, a gauntlet is when yuh fill all three holes in one go ’round . . . Ho ho ho . . . I ‘member this one time I filled this one up like a jelly donut until it was comin’ out her eyeballs . . . Ho ho ho . . . I tell yuh, I’ve had all kinds.”
Here was one we could probably do without. Would Bertram agree? I shrugged. I felt like doing the world a favor, anyway, by taking this guy out to pasture. See if he floated away on a breeze or just hit the ground like the lump he was.
The Okie made a turn on a red and almost hit a kid rolling by on a piece of wood. The kid gave him the finger and rolled on. The Okie went crazy like a dog behind a chainlink fence.
“Yuh little bastard! Cohm back here! Imma make road kill outta yuh!”
“Bite me you fat tub of shit!” The kid yelled back.
The Okie lost it. He threw the truck in park right there in the middle of the road and ran off chasing the kid. Rage will do that to a man. Make him see red while everything else dissolves away. It doesn’t make sense but it happens all the time.
The truck was still running. Keys in the ignition. I slid over and put the thing in drive. I had unfinished business.
“So it goes.”
Then I was there. The Snyder and Welles building.