Chapter 7


On the way back to the office I stopped at a liquor store. Before I could put the Volks’ in park there was a tap on my window. It was another one of Bertram’s charity cases. It was wearing long fish-net stalkings and stilettos. The damn thing didn’t even bother shaving. There was more hair on its upper lip than a Scottish Terrier . . . The genuine article.

I opened the door and got out.

“Heyyy baaabyy, you wan’ some shuguhh?”

“Save it for the coffee.”

“I’m clean, baaabyyy. I ain’t got nothin’.”

“You got a doctor’s note?”

“Hehe. You fuunny, baaabyyy . . . I ain’t got no doctuh’s note eithuh, but I’ll suck yuh till yuh go cross-eyed.”

I brushed the thing aside and went in.

I bought a bottle of scotch and a pack of smokes. The clerk behind the counter seemed like an intelligent man. Somewhere in his fifties. Wisdom in his eyes. He knew something. What it was I hadn’t a clue.

“You really let them run wild out there?” I said to him. “Seems like they’re trying to steal business.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

Yea, wise I tell you. I paid the man then left. When I came out the bearded lady was gone. Someone bought a ticket and took the ride.

  I turned the key. The Volks’ growled. I peeled away from the curb, cut into the current and headed down the road with the rest of them.

What’s the difference between an Exo and an ape in a purple dress? . . . Not a damn thing. But some people like to play make-believe. They live in a pink cloud of disillusionment because it makes the living more bearable. And if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then what of it . . . If a man believes a mule’s bray is the sound of a beautiful song bird, who has the right to say otherwise so long as it makes him happy. Even though it remains a foolish beast to the rest of humanity. The man, not the mule . . . It’s only when the belief becomes too real, too devastating by evil deeds done in the same vein, do we need to cut the head clean off. Yea, seems to me there’s been too much of this nonsense going around. Too many people claiming truth and making it so for others . . . Well let me tell you, there’s no right way to tie your shoes so long as you get them on your feet, walk down the road and kick a bastard in the teeth when it calls for it. There has to be some kind of order, just keep your absolutions in your pants . . . As for me, I find trouble no matter how I tie my shoes. That’s the way it is for some, whether you believe it or not.

At the office I poured a tall one. Outside the rain came down in sheets of sound. Large drops of water wailed against the asphalt to a syncopated rhythm.

Funny, I didn’t see a cloud in the sky.

I took a couple hits from the glass in my hand, then lit a cigarette. Blew plumes of smoke in no particular direction. Put my feet up on the desk . . . Movement for movements sake.

I was getting no where fast with this case and I needed money. Rent and alimony were due any day. Mrs. Kelter would be blowing steam up my ass, and Nancy would find a way to take everything she didn’t already have. There’s something goin’ on that’s for certain. Otherwise Coyote Face wouldn’t be coming around. Was Snyder backing him? Was he the muscle?

I shrugged.

I opened the newspaper. Whistled something by Bacharach.

The same old shit was going on in the world and I wondered when everyone would wake up. Their eyes too glued to the screen, too lost in the fog of false light. Distracted. If Bertram could give the world anything to help humanity, it better be a way out. Something to make people less dependent on handouts. Less lazy. Or else we give it freely to the Exos . . . I wondered when everyone would understand the way things are only favors those in high positions to concentrate wealth and power for the few. Wealth buying power. Power funding legislation. Keeping the rich extremely rich through sanctioned robbery. Round and round, on and on ad infinitum. It’s a new game with the same rules . . . That’s all anyone really wants now, anyway. Enough cabbage to live in a pink cloud forever. But they’ve forgot the most valuable thing in this life. Time. And once you can afford enough of it, only then are you absolutely free.

Ah, what the hell do I know. I guess all that matters is how bright one lives, how beautifully one burns out . . . Rich bastards are flies too. Sooner or later they too get swatted out of the game.

The phone rang. I picked it up.

“House of Seneca.”

“Sorry, I think I have the wrong number.”

It was a woman’s voice. She made to cut loose. I threw out some bait to reel her in.

“Not so fast, doll. Maybe I can point you in the right direction. Who’s the jerk you’re looking for?”

“Frank Berringer.”


“Oh, um, Frank?”

“Yea sugar, what can I do you for?”

“Frank, this is Mary-Lou”

“Hey, baby. I met some friends of yours. Clowns dressed as cowboys. Ring a bell?”

“That’s why I’m calling. Can you meet me at the Continental Op at 8 for a drink?”

“Sure, baby. I’d meet you at the Purple Onion at 3 for a laugh.”

“Uh ok. Great.”

“Au revoir.”

She hung up.

I twirled the cigarette in my hand. The smoke streamed from the cherry in one continuous spiral up towards the ceiling fan. When the smoke got high enough the fan washed it away towards the corners of the room until it dissipated. The whole scene seemed a bit cliché.

I looked at the clock. The hands pointed to 5:01PM.

Everyone was on their way home. Back to their lives. Their children. Their televisions sets. Their problems. Set on some schedule . . . I bet the wealthiest person in the world has never experienced rush hour traffic. Seen the sea of red lights backed up for miles. Gone mad behind a steering wheel.

I took another drag, twirled the cigarette and waited for the clock’s hands to carry me to Mary-Lou.