Monday, January 27, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 30


Had conditions been different, the three of us would have crept with all due stealth down the side of the hill, however, the magic of Disney doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to covert operations.  To be more specific, three men creeping down the side of a hill that was painted to look like the sky has a tendency to really make those three men stand out, and in a really weird way. 

So we just ran down and screamed our asses off. 

“Zodar!  Shape Shifter!  We’re coming for you!” 

“Give it up G!  I ain’t holding the down!” 

“I’m Goose!  I’m Goose!” 

The sight of three crazed men armed with hedge clippers and safety scissors storming the gate effectively reminded the night crew that they all worked for minimum wage and that, with no other allegiance to the park of any significance, they were not honor bound to stand and protect their ground.  It should be noted that whether or not these thoughts consciously went through any of their minds as they scattered like roaches is still a topic of much debate in many academic circles. 

Things were going quite well until we came to the fence.  In the classic theme park tradition of disguising things to look like something other than what they actually are, the fence was cleverly designed to bear a striking resemblance to the type of fence that might be found at someplace other than a theme park.  By the look of it, we assumed that it fell into the category of fences that “aren’t too strong and will fall if hit with any reasonable amount of force.” 

In this we miscalculated to some degree. 

I found out much later that a crew of maintenance workers who witnessed the event from one of the towers of Cinderella’s Castle gave us a combined score of 9.4 for what they termed our “Triple-Thud”.  The total would have been higher, however, a low score given by the lone French janitor pulled it down, thus arousing much suspicion in the process since one of Simon’s twice removed cousins is Canadian. 

After a moment of stunned bird watching & stargazing, I shook off the pain and launched myself over the top of the fence, which achieved the objective of getting me to the other side much better than my first attempt.  Jimmy, no stranger to pain himself and a regular frequent flyer when it came to colliding with wooden objects (like fishing pier foundations), followed a moment later and appeared relatively unfazed.  Or, to be more precise, appeared no more fazed than usual. 

The appearance of Simon, however, was less sudden than I would have preferred. 

“Simon!”  I yelled.  “Come on!” 

His continued lack of attendance on the business side of the fence was enjoying an apparently prolonged relationship with a rather annoying silence.  Not being one to jump to conclusions, I resisted the urge to make any knee jerk assumptions, such as labeling Simon a coward of the type who would use this fence incident as an excuse to bail out on the team just when we needed him the most.  Instead – and keeping my emotions in check just as I had been taught in my 12-Step anger management program – I quickly but calmly explored a few of the other possible scenarios for Simon’s absence:

a) he was dead

b) he thought he was dead and didn’t want to confuse things by speaking

c) he had booked an ill-timed vacation to Central America and was now being held at gunpoint by Panamanian rebels in a small warehouse near the Columbian border (there’s Columbia again;  go figure)

d) he had found Portia and was trying to score

e) he had fallen into a den of boa constrictors and was fighting for his life with one that had wrapped itself around his neck

f) he had –
 
“Dick,”  came the pitiful wail from the far side of the fence, “I’m hurt.” 

“Simon!”  I yelled, “Get over here!  We’re right in the middle of an assault.  This is no time to be goofing around.” 

“But my leg hurts, Dick.  My shin.  I hurt it bad.  I can’t make it.  You guys go on without me.” 

Coward it was.  Always stick with your gut. 

“Your shin hurts?”  I said. 

“Yeah, it hurts bad.  Like I said, I don’t think I’m going to make it.  You guys go on without – ” 

“Is it bleeding?” 

Pause.  “What?” 

“I said, is it bleeding?” 

“Um  .  .  .  well, no, but – ” 

“Is it broken?” 

“Broken?” 

“Yeah, broken.  Is it broken?” 

“Um .  .  .  wait a minute,”  he said.  Then, a few moments later, “Well, I don’t think it’s broken per se, but I think there’s a good possibility that it might be slightly dislocated.” 

“Really.  You’re telling me you dislocated your shin.” 

“Yeah, or sprained it or something.  Hey, I’m not a doctor, but it’s a mess alright, that’s for sure.  Listen, I don’t want slow you guys down.  Just go, leave me here.  I’ll make it back on my own.  Somehow.” 

“Simon?”  I said. 

“Yeah, Dick?” 

“You got five seconds to get over that fence, and three of ‘em are already gone.” 

In less time than it takes to say “Trix are for kids”, Simon landed smartly on his feet next to me. 

“Dislocated, huh?”  I said. 

“Yeah, well,”  he said sheepishly, “Prompt first aid, you know?  And I’m a pretty quick healer anyway.” 

“Good thing, because when we’re done with all of this I’m gonna beat the shit out of you.  It’ll hurt me to do that, of course, but I’ll take comfort in knowing that you bounce back quickly.” 

“Yeah, um, .  .  .  hey, oh man, does my head hurt!  I must’ve really knocked myself senseless there.  What just happened?  I remember hitting the fence, and now I’m standing next to you.  How did I get here?  What happened in between?  I must’ve had a concussion or something.  I usually start talking nonsense when that happens.  Was I talking nonsense?  Boy, I must’ve really been out of it just now.  What could I possibly have said?  I have no idea.  Dick, did you happen to hear anything – ” 

“Simon, shut up and just follow me, okay?” 

“Gotcha, Iceman.” 

“And wake up Jimmy, will you?” 

“Will do.” 

Back to full strength and luckily having lost only a few moments to the entire fence incident, we resumed our charge, intent on a kill. 

Jimmy had found a bucket of water somewhere and, screaming “Freeze, assmoose!”, promptly threw the entire contents on the topiary, drenching it’s delicate, painstakingly sculpted branches.  An instant later, Simon and I hit it at full steam, our hedge clippers ripping into the dripping foliage with reckless abandon.  Leaves and branches flew in all directions, and in a matter of seconds, nothing remained but a ragged stump amid a sea of horticultural carnage. 

No way was Zodar shape shifting out of this mess.  And if he did, it would have to be as a bunch of tiny little Zodars, and we would have just stomped the hell out of them. 

Panting, dripping wet, and looking like we had survived a spinach explosion, Simon and I threw our clippers to the ground.  Not breathing heavily, completely dry, and looking otherwise none the worse for wear, Jimmy threw down the bucket.  His unused safety scissors remained stuck in his belt. 

“Say, Jimmy,”  I said, hands on my knees. 

“Yeah?”  he replied. 

“What,”  I said, still trying to catch my breath, “what was the deal .  .  .  with the bucket?” 

“The bucket?”  he said.  “It was full of water.” 

“I know it was full of water.  But why did you throw it at Zodar?” 

“Well, I found it and got an idea.  I figured I’d just get him soaking wet, and then the water would freeze, and then he’d be trapped.  Frozen solid.” 

Simon and I looked at each other a moment.  He either had no clue what Jimmy was talking about either or was telling the truth about his head injury. 

“Jimmy,”  I said, “how was he going to freeze?  It’s 87 degrees.” 

“Did you just mean to make a rhyme, Dick?”  Simon asked.  “Because you just did.” 

SHUT UP Simon!”  I yelled. 

“Okay.” 

I turned back to Jimmy, letting my original question hang in the air.  He was obviously thinking about it. 

“Oh,”  he said finally.  “water won’t freeze if it’s hot, will it?” 

“No, Jimmy.  It won’t,”  I said. 

“Whoa.  That would explain a lot.  I was wondering why he just kept dripping.”  The hurt look on his face inspired me to take pity. 

“It’s okay, Jimmy.  It’s okay.  We got him.  And if nothing else, I’m sure the bucket of water confused the hell out of him.” 

“You think?”  he said, brightening up. 

“I think.” 

The finality of any dangerous, difficult mission brings about a relieved euphoria, and we were all feeling it.  Boyish grins and a shared giddiness at our own survival soon turned into chuckles and laughter, even as we stood among the chaos and devastation of the vegetation. 

Simon almost made another rhyming comment just then, but saw the look in my eye and thought better of it.  No need to ruin the moment. 

“Alright men,”  I said.  “Looks like we’re going to have to clean up this mess ourselves.  Wouldn’t want any small children to have to see this in the morning.” 

Simon and Jimmy exchanged knowing looks and nodded. 

“Jimmy,”  I continued, “get that broom over there and start sweeping this up into a pile.  Simon, why don’t you bring that trashcan over here and we’ll start scooping this stuff into it.” 

“Uh, Dick?”  Simon asked. 

“What now?”  I replied. 

“What trashcan?” 

“The trashcan right over th – ” 

I stopped.  The trashcan was gone. 

An uneasy feeling suddenly crept up my spine.  There had been a trashcan, I was sure of it.  I looked back a couple of pages to Chapter 29 just to make sure I remembered correctly.  Yup, there it was alright, a trashcan with towel racks hanging off the sides.  But where was it now?  Where had it gone? 

And then it hit me like a pillowcase full of canned corn. 

“Those weren’t towel racks!  Those were antlers!”  I yelled.  “He’s the trashcan!  Zodar’s disguised as the trashcan!” 

“You know,”  said Simon, “I was going to ask you about that.  I mean, who puts towel racks on a trashcan anyway?  Seemed kind of strange to me.  In hindsight, I probably should have mentioned it.” 

“Dude, you mean he’s still alive?”  Jimmy said. 

“Come on, quick,”  I said, “look for the trashcan!  Where did it go?” 

We spread out, looking frantically in all directions.  Seconds passed, and I feared we had lost him completely, when Jimmy suddenly yelled out. 

“Dudes!  There he is!”  he said, pointing.  “Check him out!  That trashcan is cruisin’.” 

“After him!”  I yelled. 

We broke out in a full sprint after our clever quarry, chasing him toward Tomorrowland. 

Somewhere in the distance, a clock struck midnight. 
 

 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 29


Theme parks are scary at night.  They’re pretty creepy in the daytime too if you ask me, but at night they’re invaded by shadows and an eerie quiet that makes the d├ęcor, so perpetually cheerful in the light of day, seem especially bizarre and threatening.  If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, take a drive out into the country sometime, spend the night alone in abandoned farmhouse in an isolated part of the woods, and read Stephen King’s “IT  by candlelight in one of the empty rooms on the second floor. 

The feeling’s close to that. 

The tourists were gone for the day and the maintenance workers were the only ones in sight, sprucing and cleaning for tomorrow.  That was pretty creepy too; kind of like in West World when they came out at night and cleaned up all of the dead robot cowboys?  Except it wasn’t quite the same since everyone on the maintenance crew here had headphones strapped to their heads and music cranked up so loud we could hear it.  Somehow, knowing that they were all listening to Snoop Dogg or Justin Timberlake took the edge off a little and made them all seem not nearly so sinister as the West World guys. 

I know that many people are quite frightened of tall black rappers and boy-band graduates, but luckily, we are not.  (Tall white rappers however, are a completely different matter; a chance encounter with Vanilla Ice outside a KFC several years ago made Jimmy shit his pants on the spot and gave Simon & I anxiety attacks for weeks afterward). 

We were overlooking the Magic Kingdom from a wooded hill on the Eastern side.  Those of you who’ve been to the Magic Kingdom may be thinking something stupid right now, like “there is no wooded hill next to Disney on the Eastern side”.  It always amazes me how tourists can come down for a couple days and suddenly think they know everything.  So if you’re one of those people, just let me say this:  There is most definitely a wooded hill next to the Magic Kingdom, it’s just very cleverly disguised as the sky, so you don’t notice it unless you know it’s there.  You don’t.  I do.  So shut up and hop on I-4, smart guy. 

We were just finishing the final touches on our camouflage face paint.  I glanced at my partners and made a mental note to hold training on proper camouflage techniques with both of them at some future date.  Jimmy had accidentally applied Sex Wax instead of camo, so although his face had a nice healthy glow and would provide good, non-skid footing should that be needed, it really didn’t do much to hide him.  Simon had actually done the face painting fairly well, and looked quite satisfied with himself, but the bright pink polo shirt he was wearing didn’t exactly make him Mr. Invisible either. 

As I picked up the binoculars and made another sweep of the park, Jimmy and Simon decided this would be a good time to argue about call signs. 

“You were Red Leader One last time,”  said Jimmy. 

“That’s because I’m always Red Leader One,”  Simon replied.  “You’re Goldilocks.” 

“I don’t want to be Goldilocks,”  Jimmy whined.  “Goldilocks is a girl call sign.” 

“It is not,”  Simon assured. 

“Oh yeah?  Then you be Goldilocks.” 

“I would if I could, Jimmy,”  Simon said, “  but I can’t.” 

“Why?” 

“Because I’m Red Leader One.” 

“That’s not fair.”  Jimmy looked in my direction and decided it was time to appeal to a higher authority.  “Dick, Simon says I can’t be Red Leader – ”

“Hey, hey, hey, with the call signs already,”  I said, holding up my hand.  I decide who’s who.” 

“Well, okay,”  Jimmy said.  “But he was Red Leader One last time.” 

“I’m always Red –” 

“You,”  I said to Simon, “will be Maverick this time.”  I pointed to Jimmy.  “And you will be Goose.  You know, like Top Gun?” 

Simon looked like he’d taken a slight demotion until I reminded him that Tom Cruise had been a “Maverick”  too.  He brightened up then.  Jimmy didn’t appear to be ecstatic about ‘Goose’ either, but hey, it was better than Goldilocks, so he didn’t say anything.  Even so, I decided to sweeten the deal for him a little. 

“Hey, Jimmy,”  I said. 

“Yeah?” 

“You know who Goose’s wife was, don’t you?’

“No, who?” 

“Meg Ryan.” 

“Yeah?”  he said, suddenly perking up.  “Really?” 

“Yeah.  Really.” 

“So Dick, are you going to be Red Leader One?”  Simon asked. 

“No,”  I said.  “I’m Iceman.” 

“Whooooa, that’s cool,”  Jimmy said.  “Iceman.  Sweet.” 

“Can I be Iceman next time?”  Simon asked.  “I call dibs.” 

“You can’t call dibs yet,”  Jimmy shot back.  “You can’t call dibs until we’re done with this mission.  That’s against the rules.  In fact – new rule – if you call dibs before the end of a mission it actually counts as an anti-dib.  So I don’t even have to call dibs now because I’m already ahead of you.” 

“Oh yeah?”  Simon said.  “Well I’m going to do a pre-new rule retraction of my dib, so – ”

“Shut up you two,”  I said.  “I see him.” 

Zodar was moving in the shadows, building to building, staying out of sight as only a moose could.  There was no sign of Portia; I imagined her gagged and tied up somewhere, frightened eyes darting left and right, struggling against her bonds, hoping against hope that she would live to see another day and not be partially submersed in an acid bath and then fed to sharks, or be shredded to bits by the Thunder Mountain Railroad and then have her remains dehydrated into commercial grade beef jerky to be sold for profit by certain less than reputable small town grocers, or possibly even .  .  .  um .  .  .  well, probably just those two things. 

And she was probably somewhere high. 

I kept my eye on Zodar, trying to gauge his moves, figure out his game.  Up to this point he had just been skulking, staying out of sight from the random employees crisscrossing the park.  And then suddenly, as he was moving from his hiding place behind a lovely topiary shaped like a duck towards the old abandoned 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride, he disappeared completely. 

I pulled the binoculars from my eyes, blinked, and then re-set them firmly against my face and looked again.  He was gone.  Vanished. 

I swept the area back and forth, looking for a logical explanation, a clue, or maybe even some homeless guy that might have seen where he went and would cop him out for a dollar.  Sometimes I get lucky that way, but not today.  The only things around the spot I last saw him were some big fake rocks, a couple of benches, a trash can with towel racks hanging off the side, a face painting kiosk, and another one of those topiaries, this one not quite so lovely and shaped somewhat like a moose. 

I turned to Jimmy and Simon, hoping that maybe they had caught something that I hadn’t.  Luckily, they had both been diverting all of their focus into not paying any attention at all, and were actually having a quiet conversation that they had decided to take off-line:

“You know that Goose dies, right?”  said Simon in a hushed voice. 

“Dude, that is so wrong,”  whispered Jimmy.  “Why do you have to be like that?” 

“Like what?”  Simon replied, feigning innocence.  “I’m just telling you the way it is.  I thought you should know.” 

My partners.  I almost wished bullets would start flying just so I could see if my theory that having them along statistically reduced my chances of being shot was actually correct. 

Wait a minute. 

I jerked the binoculars back up to my face. 

The topiary!  That wasn’t a real tree, it was Zodar! 

“Jimmy!  Simon!  Come on, were moving in!” 

Normally, one would assume that giving orders in an excited yet clandestine manner would impart the feeling of urgency to those at which the communication was directed, especially in circumstances where your very survival demanded total concentration, nerves of steel, and split second timing.  Simon and Jimmy obviously felt that the current situation was clearly not normal at all, was in fact devoid of any danger whatsoever, and thus felt no need to get overly worked up about it.  However, I will give credit where credit is due; they did at least stop their conversation for a moment. 

“Who us?”  they chimed in unison, looking at me with blank faces. 

“Yes!  He’s right there!  We can take him, but we’ve got to move now!” 

Simon finally got it.  “Roger that Iceman,”  he said, “Red Lead – I mean, Maverick – online and standing by.” 

“Oh, okay,”  Jimmy said, “Goose is ready.  I’m Goose.” 

“Roger Goose,”  said Simon, “reading you five by five.” 

“What?”  Jimmy said,

“I said, I’m reading you – ” 

Will you guys knock it off!  I yelled. 

A silence descended so complete that for a moment I thought I’d killed them both.  Jimmy & Simon stared at me with eyes wide and mouths shut. 

“Do we have hedge clippers?”  I asked Simon finally. 

“Yes,”  he said.  “Well, you and I do anyway.  I brought safety scissors for Jimmy.” 

“Good thinking.  Let’s break ‘em out then.  Lock and load,”  I said.  I took to my feet and stood tall, staring down the hillside with a defiant gaze. 

“It’s time to do some landscaping.” 
 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 28


As a general rule, strippers have a tendency to complicate things, and the abduction of a stripper, especially when done by a four legged mammal with no political ties, has a tendency to really screw shit up.  Anyone who’s seen Pretty Woman will know exactly what I mean. 

You see, now it wasn’t just Dick, Simon & Jimmy against Zodar the Spy Moose; it was Dick, Simon & Jimmy against Zodar the Spy Moose and Portia.  And I know that may seem obvious to you in hindsight, but believe me, there’s always an idiot or two out there (Simon and Jimmy would easily cover the spread on that just by themselves) who need it spelled out for them. 

Note here too that while Portia isn’t technically against us, she’s still with Zodar – whether willingly or not – and if she catches a bullet or two by being there then maybe she should have thought about that ahead of time and gotten a job at Burdines or something rather than at a strip joint where you’re just asking to be kidnapped by rogue animals from the former Soviet Union.  I mean, talk about Self Preservation 101. 

Duh. 

Although Portia and I had a history together, I couldn’t let that stand in the way of justice.  Sure, I couldn’t help but remember that morning I woke up to find her nestled softly in my arms, and the way that I frantically tried to gnaw my arm off so that I could escape without waking her, and the way she woke up anyway and .  .  . 

.  .  .  wait .  .  .  wait a minute.  That wasn’t her.  That wasn’t her at all.  Sorry, sorry, I’ve got her completely mixed up with somebody else.  But I think that in itself is enough to clearly illustrate how strippers complicate things. 

We were on Interstate 4, heading West.  At least, we were trying to head West.  What we were actually doing was sitting pretty still in the westbound lanes, the Impala doing a reasonable if not thoroughly convincing job of impersonating a parked car.  But if & when we finally did start moving, I was 90% certain that it would be in a westerly direction.  Because there was only one place that Zodar would go with a hooker. 

“I thought she was a stripper,”  Jimmy asked. 

“What?”  I said. 

“I thought Portia was a stripper,”  Jimmy replied. 

“Yeah, so?” 

“You just said she was a hooker.” 

“No I didn’t,”  I said. 

“Sure you did.  I just heard you.” 

“No you didn’t.” 

“Did too.” 

“Did not.” 

“Did too.” 

“No, you didn’t,”  I said.  “You’re listening in to my thoughts again is what you’re doing.  And I already told you to knock that off or I’d pop you one.” 

“Dick,”  Simon interjected, “don’t get defensive.  After all, you were thinking rather loudly.  I heard you too.  And whether or not that’s right or wrong, you did call her a hooker.” 

“Okay, okay,”  I said, throwing up my hands in exasperation.  “Jimmy & Simon, Attorneys at Law.  I throw myself on the mercy of the court for crying out loud.  Excuse me for making a mistake.” 

“Well, we probably wouldn’t even have mentioned it, but you’ve made a couple of them lately,”  Simon said. 

“Yup,”  said Jimmy, nodding. 

“What the hell are you two talking about?”  I asked. 

“Just that you’re making some mistakes is all,”  Simon said.  “Some mental mistakes.” 

“Brain farts,”  Jimmy added. 

“Oh yeah?”  I asked.  “Like what?” 

“Like Pretty Woman,”  Simon answered. 

“Okay.  What about it?” 

“Well, for one thing, nobody in that movie got abducted by a four-legged mammal.  At least, I don’t think anybody did,”  Simon said. 

“Nope, nope, nobody,”  said Jimmy shaking his head instead of nodding for a change. 

“And Julia Roberts played a hooker, not a stripper, so even if a four-legged mammal had kidnapped someone, it’s still a moot point.” 

“Moot,”  said Jimmy, nodding once again and probably wondering what the hell ‘moot’ meant, “Definitely moot.” 

“Wait a minute,”  I said, “you bozos just jumped all over me because I said she was a hooker and you insisted she was a stripper.  Now you saying it’s the other way around.” 

“No, no, no,”  Simon countered, “Portia is the stripper, Julia Roberts is the hooker.” 

“She is?  No shit?” 

“No, in the movie, Dick.” 

“Movie?  You mean The Goodbye Girl?  She wasn’t in that.”  I took a deep breath, pressed my hands to my temples, and sighed loudly.  “You guys are messing me up.  I can’t keep all this straight.” 

“That’s what we’re trying to tell you,”  Simon said, “You’re making mental errors.  It’s just very obvious to us because we’ve never seen you do that before.” 

“What about that time at the donut shop?”  Jimmy asked Simon. 

“Well, yes, there was that,”  Simon replied to Jimmy, “But usually we don’t see him making those kinds of errors.  At least not all the time.  That’s the point I was trying to make.” 

“Oh.  Okay,”  said Jimmy. 

“You guys are whacked,”  I said, getting annoyed.  My thinking is just fine.  As long as I don’t listen to either of you, I know exactly what I’m doing.” 

“Really?”  asked Simon.  “Then what are we doing here?” 

“We’re going to Disney.  That’s where Zodar will be.” 

“I see,”  said Simon.  “Then why are we on I-4?” 

“I just told you.  Because .  .  .” 

My God, he had me.  I was making mental errors.  Why was I on I-4?  Certainly not because I had any intention of going anywhere.  Only tourists make that mistake.  What was I doing? 

What was I thinking?  What the hell

yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy was going on? 

“For that matter,”  said Simon, “what the hell is with all the ‘Y’s’?” 

“Oh,”  I said, looking, “I think the cat stepped on the keyboard.” 

“Pompous animals,”  Simon said. 

“Yeah,”  I said.  “You guys are right though.  I’m not thinking clearly.  Not at all.  Oh, hang on a second, I think the traffic’s moving.” 

I pulled up three feet and then put it back in park. 

“Something must have happened back there,”  I said. 

“In the strip joint?”  Simon asked.  “Or three feet behind us?” 

“Strip joint.  Zodar .  .  .  Zodar must have done something.  Messed with my head somehow.  Got me thinking all weird.” 

“Duuuuuuude, I know exactly what you mean,”  Jimmy said.  “I got some bad mescaline this one time?  Oh man, you just don’t know.  Been there, done that. 

“I don’t think he slipped me any acid Jimmy,”  I said. 

“Whoa dude, you never know.  They’re pretty small.” 

“Be that as it may, I don’t think Zodar relies on pharmaceuticals.  No, he has a power, a presence, that we weren’t made aware of.  If he could affect my thinking that easily and that quickly, we’re going to have to be very careful when we’re around him next time.” 

“Hey,”  Jimmy said, “maybe we can make some brain shields out of aluminum foil.” 

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about Jimmy,”  Simon said. 

“Yeah, he’ll be fine.  But you and me Simon, we’ll have to be very careful indeed.” 

I gripped the wheel firmly with both hands and stared ahead with a renewed and somewhat clearer resolve.  Head games.  Huh.  I should have suspected.  No Russian animal worth his salt relies on brute force alone.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, .  .  .  er .  .  .  shame on you again, I guess.  That’s what my Mom used to tell me.  That or something like it.  Anyway, the point is, there’d be no fooling Dick Lassiter again.  And if there was, it would be the moose’s fault. 

“Um, Dick?”  Simon asked. 

“Yeah?” 

“We’re still just kind of sitting here.  Are we going to actually do something?  In the next day or two I mean.” 

“Yeah,”  I said.  “We are.” 

I shifted the Impala into drive, turned the wheel hard right, and gunned it.  Some people may laugh at my choice in transportation, but I’ll tell ya, here’s where having a big old piece of full size Detroit iron really comes in handy.  Just ask the owners of the half dozen Hondas’ and Lexus’ that I pushed out of my way and left dented, dripping, and smoking as I made it to the break down lane.  My car suffered a scuff on the front bumper that I had to buff out later.  I call that a win. 

We blew down the shoulder faster than grandma running to the bathroom when her Ex-Lax kicks in. 
 
We had a moose to catch. 

Next Week:  Chapter 29

Monday, January 6, 2014

Clash of the Figments - Chapter 27


We made it down to the Trail to begin our search, but not before we were subjected to some amount of mental trauma. 
 
As we were pulling out of my driveway we saw Bob and Janey Mitchell standing in their front yard, looking in shock at what was left of their home.  What a way to return from a vacation.  One minute you’re simultaneously relieved and excited that you’re just around the corner from home, and the next you’re weeping in agony with painful spasms wracking your body as you realize that everything you’ve ever worked for is now a heap of ashes and charred wood.  Tragedy has no timing. 

My heart went out to them, and I wanted to stop and offer what comfort I could, but then I remembered we had to go strip club hopping so I floored it and we blew past them down the street. 

Luck was with us on our first stop.  It was a dive called “My Fair Lady”.  Fair to poor would’ve been less misleading, but I doubted the management was open to suggestions, so I kept that to myself.  After paying our cover we walked in and acclimated ourselves to the strip club funk; that effervescent mix of stale smoke, flat beer, and the universally recognized cheap perfume worn by strippers everywhere.  We stood for a few minutes as our eyes adjusted to the dark and the funk permeated our clothes. 

“I don’t see a moose anywhere,”  Simon said. 

“That’s because we aren’t looking for a moose,”  I replied. 

“Dude, you’re confusing me again,”  Jimmy complained. 

“Just watch the strippers, Jimmy,”  I said, “I’ll let you know if I find what I’m looking for.” 

A few seconds later, I let him know. 

“Over there,”  I said with a nod of my head, “sitting up front by the stage.” 

“The guy with the antlers sticking out of his head?”  asked Simon. 

“The same.” 

“Honestly Dick, I don’t know how you do it.  I never would’ve noticed.” 

“It takes a keen eye,”  I replied.  “Look you two, I don’t know what’s going to happen here.  I’d rather you stay back.”  I dug into my wallet and handed Simon a dollar.  “Why don’t you guys take a seat at the bar.” 

Simon looked at the bill in his hand.  “Gee, with this plus twenty bucks of our own money, we might have enough for a couple of drinks.” 

“Don’t mention it.” 

I started across the room slowly.  Checked out the exits.  Possible escape routes.  Weapons of convenience.  All the while keeping Zodar in my sights.  Other than the headgear, you wouldn’t know him from any other average Joe.  Sipping his drink.  Smoking a cigarette.  Checking out the girls. 

He was smooth, I’ll give him that. 

The seat to his right was empty.  I took it, sat down, and leaned back.  Slow and cool.  We sat like that for a while.  Just watching the strippers.  Taking an occasional draw on a cigarette. 

It’s always amazed me how much strip joints play into our lives.  Movies and books – as honest in their reflection of society as could be possible – constantly make the point.  Every time you turn around there’s a scene that, for no other reason than the fact that there could be no other way, had to take place in a titty bar.  You think I’m kidding?  Try finding a movie or a book that doesn’t have a strip joint in it.  Easier said than done. 

Even The Goodbye Girl has a scene that takes place in a strip club.  Now there’s a movie that certainly didn’t need one; I mean it’s all about love and stuff and even has a little girl in it.  She’s not the actual ‘Goodbye Girl’, she’s her daughter.  The little girl, I mean.  But still. 

It sure doesn’t seem like there’s that many strip joints around, but after watching a few flicks, reading a few books, you discover just how much of our nation’s history has played out within their windowless walls.  And here was yet another crisis of global importance about to play out in those same confines. 

The girl on stage in front of me wasn’t in any way remarkable, other than the fact that she didn’t have any clothes on and seemed to be somewhat infatuated with a vertical pole running from stage to ceiling.  And how many times aren’t we subjected to that in everyday life that it has now become commonplace? 

I didn’t know her name, obviously – she had no name tag and where would she put it if she did? – but I figured it was probably Portia.  There’s always a Portia.  Always.  I’m not kidding.  Next time you’re in a strip club, just tell somebody that you’re there to see Portia.  You won’t go away disappointed.  Well, if it turns out she’s a real schnauzer you might.  Unless you’re into that kind of thing, not that it’s any of my business.  Point is, there’ll be a Portia. 

In the end, it was Zodar who broke the tension.  And people say there isn’t a God. 

“I’ve been waiting for you,”  he said. 

Good opening line.  Wish I’d have thought of it.  But oh no, I’m explaining stripper names to you when I could’ve been thinking of something to say. 

“That makes two of us,”  I replied, instantly regretting it since it sounded cool but didn’t make a damn bit of sense. 

“Wait a minute,”  I said quickly, “I take that back.  Just forget I said it.  Try this instead.” 

I took a moment to light another cigarette and let the tension build up again.  Then I exhaled towards Portia, hoping it would make her back off and go begging for dollars from somebody else. 

“Been looking for ya,”  I said finally. 

He nodded thoughtfully, no doubt realizing that I was a serious player. 

“I’d like to thank you for taking care of that situation with those two soldiers,”  he said. 

“Who?  Oh, you mean Rok and Stinky.” 

“Yes, I believe that was what they called themselves.” 

“No problem.  Just a couple of dirtbags.  Mind you, I got no beef with someone maybe bending the rules a little in the name of making a buck – legal or otherwise – but you start messing with the price of a working man’s drink, I’m gonna take exception.” 

“You’re a man of uncommon moral fiber.  That’s rare these days.” 

“I’ll have to agree on both counts”  I said, glancing around the room.  “Hey, check out the hooters on that chick over there, will ya?  Holy cow, those babies’ll remind you you’re a man, huh?” 

A moment of uncomfortable silence suddenly fell between us. 

“Er .  .  .  sorry.  No offense,”  I said. 

“None taken.” 

“Say, uh, can I ask you a question?” 

“Certainly.” 

“You sure you’re not Austrian?  I only ask because you sound an awful lot like that Schwarzenegger guy.  You know, the body builder?  Did some movies?” 

The Terminator.” 

“Yeah, that’s one of ‘em.  Cool flick.  Funny you should mention that one; I used to have some sunglasses just like the ones he wore in that.  Supposed to stop a .22 caliber round somebody told me.  Like, a lot of good that’ll do you, right?  I mean, if somebody’s shooting at you, what’re the odds that they’re using a .22, and even if they were, I think I’d want a little more body armor than a pair of sunglasses, you know?  And are we talking .22 short, or .22 long – it makes a difference – although I’d have to guess .22 short since  – ” 

“I am definitely Russian,”  Zodar said. 

“Oh,”  I said.  “Yeah, well, like I was saying, you sound just like Schwarzenegger, and he’s Austrian so I thought maybe you were too.” 

“I am most definitely not.  And, by the way, what makes you so sure that he is?” 

“Well,”  I said, “because .  .  .  .Oh, GET OUT!  He’s Russian?  He can’t be.  He’s the President of California for crying out loud.” 

“Governor.” 

“Well, yeah, for now maybe, but what then?” 

My mind was reeling from what Zodar had just said.  Could it be true?  Or could it be True Lies?  New pain shot through my skull and I tried to shake off that horribly cheap pun, not believing that I had just thought it.  I did my best to re-center myself, remembering that I was in dangerously close quarters with a moose that was specifically created for intellectual warfare.  I realized that I was saying ‘I’ a lot and wondered if this was but more cerebral fallout caused by an adversary that I had sorely underestimated. 

The stress of this battle of wits was tearing me apart, eating away at my sanity, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could handle it.  In an attempt to pull myself out of my downward spiral, I tried to envision my potter’s wheel and a few pounds of wet clay to ease the tension.  It took everything I had to concentrate on the image of that spinning, shimmering clay, and that laser focus, plus my physical exhaustion from driving all day, relaxed me so much that I flat dozed off for a few minutes. 

I awoke to Simon’s urgent shaking. 

“Dick, Dick,”  he said.  “What happened?  Are you okay?” 

Still dazed, with half open eyes, I looked to my left.  The seat was empty.  Zodar was gone. 

“Must’ve given me the slip,”  I said, re-taking in my surroundings.  Initially, everything appeared as it was before.  But then I noticed that there was a new stripper on stage. 

Portia was gone too.