The Last Another Busy Day

December 20, 2012

He chanted this part and between the Latin syllables reflected on speckled marble and salt

Maybe it’ll all tumble down the sky and all maybe but then again maybe not and that’s for it to kind of know and for you to do something about

“If I don’t do this, it’s our last day on Earth,” Doug chanted. “I’ve got work to do.”

He stood in the middle of the living room, arms aloft. He was swaddled in an oversized wizard’s robe–whether it was a Halloween costume he’d dug out of the closet or what, he didn’t say. Somehow, it seemed to make sense.

The loose and flowing sleeves descended just about to his elbows as he began gesturing; fingers clawing, stretching, contracting as though he were casting some arcane spell. His bare feet partly submerged in the green shag carpet, and his head was downturned like some sort of pantomime version of a badass. The hood of the robe hung over his head and most of his shaggy blonde hair, so all you could see was his angular nose and chin as he continued talking. Sometimes Doug was like this when he’d had a lot to smoke, but he kept asserting that he was herb-free this time. “I want to see it all with clear eyes right now,” he said. “When I’ve saved us all, then I’ll celebrate. The Holy Fool will celebrate.”

Eric looked up from his philosophy book at the silly wizard in the living room, contemplating what was going on. It was 11:57pm and in three minutes the world would end, if a bunch of Mayans who’d been chipping away at a giant stone disc weren’t just blowing smoke or chewing cerebellum-painting mushrooms. He had a final in less than ten hours: The apocalypse couldn’t be counted on to postpone it, and Doug’s flights of batshit-weird were starting to wear a little thin.

Rain spattered intermittently against the apartment’s front window as Doug upturned his palms, segueing into a story about a girl he’d kissed earlier that week. He slowly raised and lowered his hands repeatedly. “She was a sea siren,” he said with the stable lucidity of a broker rattling off Stock Exchange numbers. “Tasted like salt and her hair was restless, and she told me about how it was gonna end. Old world getting gulped up by pulsing red ichor lava, new world coming in a big gust of amorphous snowstorms and continent-scraping glaciers and shit. But I got magicks. I think I can counter it.”

“Cool, Doug. Do it,” Eric deadpanned.

The rain spatters abruptly shifted to a squall, water smacking against the window as the thrum of the wind began rattling the pane. Doug went silent for several seconds, looking down at the carpet. The silence roused Eric into looking up again.

Doug’s head remained downturned, and the robe’s hood continued to conceal most of his features. He stood in profile in front of the window, silhouetted against the light nudging its way through the gaps in the curtains. Then the illumination grew in strength. Eric reckon

 

ed it was a car pulling into the complex’s driveway, but it kept getting brighter, like a sunrise at time-lapse speed. The window rattled louder, until a clap of what sounded like thunder punctuated the groaning of the glass.

“Do you think she could change your life?” Doug whispered. Suddenly his right hand shot out, palm turned towards the window. The light intensified outside, and he continued muttering in what sounded like tongues or a foreign language flecked with cryptic fragments of English. Eric started watching Doug and noticed that the window’s rattling muted when Doug pushed his open palm in the glass’s direction. When he eased his hand, the rattling regrouped.

DSC07015

“Put your hand back up, Doug,” Eric muttered–no longer annoyed, no longer amused, but definitely freaked out.

A louder blast of noise caused the window to rattle so loudly it sounded fit to shatter. Doug raised his palm again. He was a good ten feet away from the window, but as he thrust his palm towards the pane the shuddering calmed and the boom-echo eased. Doug’s whispering elevated to an audible, clear chant. Eric still couldn’t understand half of what his roommate was saying, but he was staring mesmerized now as Doug lowered one arm while keeping the other aloft.

The light beyond the beige curtains flared to an even greater intensity, and another sustained boom shook the place. The sound continued to reverberate, and soon the entire apartment felt like it was trembling in response. The rumble reverberated in Eric’s chest now, and he squinted at the near-blinding glare assaulting them. Doug continued chanting, lips moving beneath the hood with the regularity of a metronome clicking away. His arm stiffened midair, as though it was fighting with the shuddering of the windowpane, and he continued chanting–through clenched teeth, now. The vibrations of the apartment building made the black sleeves of Doug’s robe billow like seaweed caught in a current.

“Do you think she can change your life??!” Doug yelled. He thrust his raised right palm decisively in the direction of the window. One deafening clap erupted from outside, and the blazing illumination that had immersed the entire outside world extinguished with the abruptness of a light switch being flipped.

Just as suddenly, the rain winnowed down to a trickle. Eric stared, transfixed, at his roommate. Doug stood stock-still, right arm still raised and palm still upturned, but he’d grown silent. For a good minute, the only audible sounds were his ragged breath and the pinging roll of rainwater cascading through the apartment’s gutters.

Doug lowered his right arm and pulled the hood off of his head with his left. Perspiration had adhered his hair to his forehead and temples. Then he walked over to the dining room table, slumping with a loud gust of air into one of the wooden chairs.

“Sorry man, but you’re totally gonna have to take that exam tomorrow,” he sighed.

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Arturo watched as Corvio and Lorena danced.

“Damn the devil; it is sweltering,” Grandfather muttered. “How I hate days like this… How I hate this place.”

Arturo sat on the warm earth as his grandfather ranted. The boy had spent several minutes playing with a stout, long blade of wild grass, pressing the slender green leaf between his thumbs and puffing away at it until it buzzed and whistled.

The two lovers some 100 feet away swayed under the weight of the horizon-warping sun. Lorena’s black hair danced on the warm Brazilian breeze like tendrils of a richly-rooted plant. Corvio’s fingers ran through the licorice strands as a distant steel drum band pulsed away.

“If you hate this place so much, Grampa, why don’t we leave?” Arturo asked innocently.

A dry laugh escaped from the old man’s striated and bearded face. “When you are poor and old, boy,” he sighed, “your feet magically disappear.”

Arturo became restless and rose to his feet, walking towards the center of the intersection. He walked past the dancing couple, strangely distracted by Lorena’s flashing, unsolicited smile.

A wooden bucket sat just shy of the street corner, worn and faded-brown from sitting in the sun. Slick sheets of soap coated the surface of the still water within. Arturo pulled the strand of grass from his lips, stood up, and walked to the container. As his bare feet scraped against the dry grass kicking up tiny plumes of dusty earth, he curled the long green blade in his fingers into a loop, twisting the bottom until it formed a perfect ring. 

Then the boy dipped the grass ring into the soapy standing water and removed it with a jerk. A rainbow sheen of soap swirled prismatically at the ring’s center. With one puff from his lips, Arturo sent a flurry of bubbles into the waning glow of the dusky air.

Arturo soon followed the swirling mass of shiny globes towards a cactus at the center of the street’s intersection. The government had killed many plants on this patch of land, but spared this one native piece of vegetation. All who gazed on it knew why.

An uncharacteristically slender base stem supported a mass of seven cactus branches, each festooned with blossoms and spines. Reptiles and insects alike gravitated to the organic structure, exploring its vividly-colored blossoms and sharp white barbs. Several honeybees drifted around the scarlet blossoms decorating the cactus’s green framework. All Arturo knew was that the cactus–’seven of hearts,’ his neighbors called it–was a tiny fount of indescribable beauty.

Another film of soap clung to the interior of Arturo’s grass ring. The bees drifted lazily in the air above the alien-beautiful cactus, buzzing slowly but certainly towards the boy’s head. Arturo forcefully exhaled another puff of air through the grass ring, and another fleet of soap bubbles burst forth.

One of the honeybees accelerated forward into the sea of bubbles, until it pierced one of the globes. Instead of bursting to nothingness, the bubble continued to surround and encase the bee hovering wishfully above the cactus blossoms. A lizard, its compound eyes mesmerized by the floating soap globes, began snapping bubbles up with its tongue. Lacquered and armored beetles squirmed methodically along the cactus’s surface.

The bubble-imprisoned bee buzzed directly into Arturo’s surprised face, until its soap prison burst and scattered droplets of moisture about. The boy followed the insect’s progress around his head, watching wistfully as it ascended towards the hot yellow sun.

Storefront; but it's where your mind goes.

Local Storefront; but it’s where your mind goes.

He was a date, or a fig; all deep brown skin wrinkled yet shining like the skins of those divine fruits that’d been sitting seductively in the earthenware bowl at the center of the plain wooden table. I noticed movement outside the window. Randhi laughed: The teeth still residing in his head (the fronts and one canine were missing–I never thought to ask him where or when they’d left his mouth) shone in the fuzzy Bombay afternoon like freshly whitewashed fence planks. He walked over to the window, sat on the sill and looked up as I pinpointed the movement–it was a dried-out vine that slithered up the side of the temple like one of the cobras that the charmers in the marketplace below lulled to submission with movement and the whisperings of a Hindi flute.

 
“This serpent,” Randhi said, “will not bite. But you’re welcome to follow its brown scales to the top of this temple. You can see the whole of the Untouchables’ district from here. And from there, the view inside yourself is most pleasing.”
 
He stood up from the sill, and gestured at the window. It was an incongruous movement, florid and almost show-business-y coming from this turbaned and sari-clad Indian. But the leaves looked sturdy and ready to carry me to someplace wonderful if I just clambered out to them.Unabated, this climb to Unseen
 
I stepped through the window, my right hand hooking into the mass of leaf, stem, tendril, and root. And as I began climbing, I glanced back into the chamber.

Randhi’s resonant laughter filled the room, despite the fact that the shiny and wrinkled Medjoul Date of a man had disappeared.

IMGP4172The waves gently licked at the barnacle-caked stairs. They led downward. Heaven wasn’t supposed to go downward. A fat lot the Christians knew.
 
I’d spent day upon night upon week upon month strolling the boardwalk, north to south, carrying supplies back and forth from the hardware store to the shipyard. Even when The Point was packed with tourists, sailors, laborers, and vagrants it still sung with magic. On the loud, people-encrusted days I’d occasionally stop short of the cement stairs, dropping my stack of lumber or whatever thing I happened to be hauling over to the ‘yard to listen to the music of those waves. The din of humanity frequently forced me to descend the steps, to crouch with my ear near the submerged bottom step and bannister, just to hear. The tune always enchanted.
 
I was working late one night last week, schlepping three cans of paint over to Jan Buckley’s houseboat for some much-needed touching up, when I made my detour to the Heaven Downstairs. Not a soul walked along the boardwalk that night. A mustard-and-pumpkin-tinged harvest moon turned the salt water into pineapple-orange slush, and a lone fishing boat travelled the water’s length a good mile away on the horizon. On quiet evenings like this I could sit at the top of the stairs while the gentle sonics of the seawater seduced my eardrum. So that night, I perched against the uppermost step, tracing my finger against the sharp barnacles and the spongy/slimy emerald clumps of seaweed along the side of the walkway. Then I saw the water shift and churn.
 
A form popped up to the surface about twenty yards out. It moved with independent, graceful purpose; definitely not driftwood, definitely alive. It was a woman, and she swam slowly towards the bottom step. As she drew nearer her paddling became louder,  more frantic, as though she’d already been swimming awhile. I could see her features–fair and freckled–more clearly with each stroke.
 
I ran down the stairs and quickly descended into the water myself, swimming rapidly towards her. The water was chilly and I worried that she’d become hyperthermic if she lingered.  She smiled when I reached her. “Are you here to rescue me?” she asked playfully.
 
“Well, yes, actually,” I replied. She was relaxed now, and her amusement rubbed off on me. I found myself grinning ear-to-ear, gulping in and spitting out saltwater.
 
I wrapped my right arm around her, and we swam together to the steps. Her strokes were easy and comfortable. “Thanks,” she said. “The worst is over, but I appreciate you coming out to see me.”  Then she told me about how she’d nodded off at the wheel of her Honda Civic; rolled into the water, then rolled down her front window; allowed the car to flood; swam through the opening; and drifted upward some thirty feet to the surface.
 
“You’re lucky to be alive,” I told her. I squinted and gazed hard at the water, and thought I could kind of see the faint glow of the Honda’s high-beams streaking the seabed.
 
“It happened for a reason. I knew I’d be safe,” she said calmly as she walked up the barnacled steps, white blouse clinging to her frame and dripping furtively as she ascended.
 
God watches out for fools…and mermaids, I thought as my eyes followed her progress.

After the Pier

September 29, 2009

I reckon the scream of joy and relief and near-coital ecstacy came shortly after I put myself out there, into the water so glacially cold. Fell backwards into it, I did. Gleefully.

That periwinkle Seattle sky shifted its gaze at me between clouds. I’d been walking Westlake for awhile, the rippling sheet of the lake’s water refracting back all the buildings and bobbing/weaving boats as my footfalls echoed against the cement in the still autumn air. My suit was pressed and perfect, my face freshly-scraped and my hair lacquered to a faultless sheen; neat as a pin and ready to function productively, I was.

What possessed me? Hell, I don’t know. All I remember was the surge of uncontained joy I felt as I spun like an Olympic discus thrower, hurtled my briefcase into the lake, and watched the leather case smack into the water’s surface. It burst open, vomitting up reports, resumes, pens, and my cell phone.  Then the lake methodically swallowed the case with a few undistinguished gulps. I was a slave watching with joy as one arm’s shackles disintegrated and fell off.

Needed to purify myself, to feel the lake’s icy life’s blood wash away the antiseptic anonymity. The water–oil, pollution, and Godknowswhatelse-laden as it was–looked so very pure and sublime, like the holiest of Holy Waters, and its humble lapping at the barnacle-encased wood and asphalt along the dock made me swoon.

That was when I walked to the edge of the pier, staring into the lake mesmerised. Then I pivoted on one foot so that my back faced the lake. The water lapped away softly as the smell of the water filled my nostrils.

A track-suited middle-aged woman jogged by. Technicolor-red hair bounced on her shoulders as her green eyes locked with mine. She smiled politely at first, then her courteous mien segued to curiosity, and finally to shock. At least that’s what it looked like when I pushed my feet backwards and vaulted into Lake Union

The Smear of Blue that borders both sides of the gray was God not me

The Smear of Blue that borders both sides of the gray was God not me

.

My  body smacked into the water, and the jolt of cold woke every nerve ending. I screamed reflexively, a loud whoop that felt like impurities being coughed out of me. For a few seconds I was fully submerged beneath the dark green water. The jogging woman’s form moved along the edge of the pier. I could see her through the film of algae and water, vague and diffuse: She gestured frantically and pointed, but the utter silence ‘neath the surface rendered her and the other forms gathering near her purely abstract.

All of the people at the edge of the water looked unremarkable and smeary even after my body rose back to the surface. They scurried around like perturbed rodents, oblivious to the fact that I wanted to be there; that I’d made the choice to jump into the unknown and chuck everything they’d built to shore up their dissatisfaction. I backpedaled away from them, further to the center of the lake. And I could hear the jingling of the last set of shackles as it left my wrist and sank to the lake bottom.

The Nigerian towered over Kate, harsh black eyes scrutinizing her with the pragmatic coolness of any manager appraising a new employee.

The pale, strawberry blonde girl looked far younger than her 26 years. And as she drew her slender wrist across her forehead to clear away several beads of sweat, she looked just like the other thousand weary tourists that packed the sweltering corridors of Ndumbe Airport like so many bulls crammed in a butcher’s pen. No matter, the Nigerian reasoned as he cocked one jet-ebony brow her way. Appearances meant much less than actions.

The Nigerian had selected Kate’s mark for her the instant she’d walked through the arrival gate. The Victim had exited from the plane ahead of Kate a few minutes earlier and now parked himself at baggage claim, his eyes darting back and forth. A jowly and over-tanned white man, he looked well-heeled and cultured. He wore an expensive gray designer suit, and a crescent of neatly-cropped white hair encircled his bald skull.   

 “I’ll believe in your skills when I see what they bring from that man,” The Nigerian said to Kate in a thickly-accented bass voice. Then he pointed at the Victim. “He is–how would you put it– your pop quiz.”

Kate smiled, reached into her knitted handbag, and produced a sleek black eelskin wallet. “Do I pass?” she asked with a chuckle.

The Nigerian took the wallet and examined its contents–several receipts, a claim ticket for a locker, four credit cards, travellers’ checks, and 800 Euro. He looked at Kate, then back at the Victim. The man was rifling with increasing desperation through several of the pockets on his gray designer suit.

Kate’s new boss smiled back at her. “Not bad,” he said. “We’ll see how you do at the Museum against three guards and an alarm system next Tuesday.”

IMGP1221Sennyo–so lithe and graceful that his black-booted feet barely clicked against the cement–strode along Kawaramachi-dori placidly. The neon danced, chanted, and screamed against the pavement, and the honeycombs of windows refracted it all back; but no garish hue, no harsh light, no cumbersome display of emotion dared violate the boy’s elegant features. His pale and gently chiseled face generated its own light.

He owned this Asphalt-and-Illusion-choked stretch of Kyoto. The pachinko palaces vomited up dozens of almost-as-beautiful kids in eye-straining blues, pinks, and reds; and the eyes of locals and gaijin alike glowed from the artificial illumination. Every one of them either ran with Sennyo, or were potential prey for him and his Fineboys.

Sennyo developed an unspoken language, an uncommon rhythm with the sculpted and exquisite battalion of young men he led. With their unthreatening features they never looked capable of crime, which rendered committing such acts stunningly easy for them.

Oftentimes Sennyo would point a slender finger, and a shaggy-maned masterpiece of smooth angles and immaculate cheekbones would brush insouciantly against a lady tourist’s handbag, producing a fat stack of yen notes just seconds later. A healthy profit could be milked from the inattentive, or from the gaijin who crawled along Kawaramachi-dori like so many cockroaches.

We all worked well for our daily profits, but Phoenix was Sennyo’s star pupil and right-hand man. He always walked to the elfin ringleader’s left and possessed a wild swath of bushy tumbleweed hair that defiantly stayed put, even when the massive fans outside the videogame parlours shot out bursts of canned air forceful enough to knock about small children. I’d been eating out of garbage DSC02091cans just weeks before, but Sennyo took me under his wing. And when he paired me with Phoenix to learn the craft, I knew I’d been fully embraced.

My introduction to Phoenix’s gift came when he pilfered several wallets from a group of businessmen. They haunted the front of a game parlor, all drab greys and navy blues relieving the humdrum repetition of their office positions with the bells, buzzers, and clattering life of the pachinko machines. Sennyo assigned me to be the diversion; Phoenix would rob them blind.

In a past life on the beaches of Okinawa I’d learned an armada of card tricks, and they carried me in good stead that day. I challenged one of the muted army of workhorses to pick a card, any card. And when I shuffled, twirled, and fanned that glossy stack of numbers and suits my mark was hooked.

Soon, the rest gathered around me, admiring my dancing fingers and lighting up every time the smooth stutter of the shuffling cards punctured the evening air. Then Phoenix went to work.

He drifted slowly around the horseshoe of buttoned-up humanity that formed my audience.  All of the workshirts were crouched in front of me, so they were out of Phoenix’s arm’s length. Not that it mattered.

I’d balanced my con art well, nabbing 1500 yen from one portly grayshirt one minute, then deliberately yielding 700 yen when another ‘beat me’ at my own game. Of course, once there was a waft of potential income to my parlour tricks the button-downs focused on me even more intently.

Phoenix shrugged his shoulder, and out from underneath his hooded jacket slithered what looked like a vine–an appendage rife with spines and adorned with burrs that each looked like miniatures of Phoenix’s head. The tendril neatly pierced the shoulder of his garment and moved stealthily around the marks thrilling to my show.

The burrs swinging from the ends of the thorns opened their tiny mouths, and each set of tiny teeth clasped down on a different man’s wallet. In the space of three seconds Phoenix’s surrogates/familiars had lifted eight billfolds. His shoulder-vine retracted slowly with nary a rustle of fabric or a decibel of suspicious noise, pulling the haul inconspicuously beneath his sweatshirt. Then Phoenix backed up into the forest of flashing neon and spasmodic pachinko machines, and disappeared.

I manipulated the final card game to be a nail biter, with one workshirt actually accruing 1300 yen in the course of our game. And I’d placed myself above suspicion by being in front of them the whole time. None of the poor fools even realized they’d been had until well after I’d re-boxed my deck and sauntered away.

Twenty minutes later I’d arrived at the outdoor patio of a Tonkatsu restaurant–our agreed meeting place. The smell of frying pork–and the noises of sizzling meats, vegetables, and noodles–backed up the plumes of food-steam slithering from the kitchen window. Sennyo, Phoenix, and four other boys emerged from behind the kitchen door.

“Your share,” Phoenix said as his shoulder-vine squirmed out of his sleeve once more. Six of his burr-faces held a 10,000-yen note in each of their mouths. I reached over and plucked each bill from each mouth like Adam picking a half-dozen forbidden apples.

Sennyo looked at me, his gorgeous angled cheekbones giving way to the faintest of smiles. “Good,” he said in a voice that chimed like a plucked harp.

Clutter

August 5, 2009

IMGP2728They sang in harmony, those inanimate objects clustered and swanning in front of me, as I stocked the shelves. But I stopped after a few minutes and began swatting the useless objects off of the shelf and onto the tiled floor. Their placid inevitability filled me with complete contempt, and knocking them away was vomiting them out of my psyche. Naturally they rose and began trying to claw their way up my legs and onto the lacquered shelving. Fuck that, I thought as I grabbed a plastic squeegee and beat them away from my pants legs. 

 “You don’t get to stay,” I told them in the most authoritative tones I could claw from within my chest. 

The sugar bowl detached one half of its right handle and bent the frilly nub into something resembling a fist with an extended middle finger. “Fuck you, too,” I growled with my best Clint Eastwood snarl as I balanced the squeegee like a nine-iron and took a porcelain-shattering swing at the insulting party. It flew across the stockroom, shattering against the wall. The vermillion interior of the bowl made the fragments look like chunks of freshly-filleted meat. 

A set of tongs and a spatula hopped towards me, tethered to one another by a leather strap. Clutter IIThe tong set twirled and swung its flat-bottomed mate by the tether until the spatula’s end bit into my shin painfully. But damned if they’d get me. Or scale this structure that I’d vowed to keep clear of clutter and extraneous weight and pain. No more. I kicked them and they, too, soared through the air and into the nearby utility sink with a chorus of metallic clattering.

They kept coming; crawling, dragging, rolling, and slithering their way towards me when it occurred to me that the definitive way to escape their influence—my one route to sanity, clarity, and happiness—lay outside the stockroom door. Salvation loomed about twelve feet beyond, but between the egress and me several dozen things swarmed and scurried like metal, plastic, wood, and clay ants.

 My shin blood snaked its way down my trouser leg, and a can opener flipped its handle outward at the wound. The rubber-coated metal implement roused heavy pain at shin level. I ran as fast as my wounded and bruised legs would permit, turned the knob, and limped out into the main showroom.

Sergio’s glowed with toney orange hues, a well-heeled Californian’s idea of the perfect Italian bistro. It meant that Elizabeth’s co-workers HAD to go. And Elizabeth, dutiful prole she was, would join them.

All six of them–Elizabeth, her supervisor Frank, and her fellow programmers Pam, Julie, Mike, and Bonnie–surrounded the oak table. Everyone else’s conversations revolved forceably around work. They’d been working on the Web design to end ’em all for a clothing retailer, and instead of enjoying the (very good) wine and the view of the California coast from the restaurant’s picture windows, Liz’s partners in cubicle crime were talking code, deadlines, and capri pants.

She tuned them out readily, until their blather began to grow mutable and diffuse. Liz took one last swallow of the cab she’d ordered, quietly excused herself from the table, and walked towards the exit.

The large wooden doors opened with a deep oaken creak, and she stepped out into the evening air. The sun had just about completely descended, casting its final few fragments of orange/yellow light against the restive ocean water and filtering through the numerous trees that divided the restaurant and the beach below. It would be a great night to sleep among the stars.

A cool wind played with the curls in her hair as she walked further away from Sergio’s, along a winding forest path bracketed with tall conifers and numerous bushes. At one point, she decided to leave the trail entirely and forge her own direct route to the beach. The path she trod took her into a clearing surrounded on all sides by trees.One small gap shone through, an opening that presented the tidewater and the beach sand in all its dusky glory.

Narcosis began to overtake Liz, and she lay contentedly in the tall grass. Just above her, peering down upon her reclining form were thousands of stars. The balmy clime enveloped and comforted her. She felt her eyelids grow heavy, and she drifted off to slumber.

Spectral figures walked the beach diaphanously in her mind, restless and pale. In her dreams she took solace in their quiet vigil. Once, she heard them whisper to her, just loudly enough to rouse her from her slumber. At that point the rich indigo above her was smeared with clouds that obscured the pinpricks of starlight all ’round. As Liz’s eyes began to once more drift shut, the view through her heavy lids smeared the stars into diffuse figures, just like the ones that drifted along the beach.

When she woke the second time, it was already light.

Ike stood in the middle of the living room, cigar propped stolidly in his yellowed teeth. Off-white smoke climbed up until the ceiling fan chopped it to vaprous ribbons. He mopped his brow with his red hanky, filling it with white greasepaint and his perspiration, but Ike’s faded brown eyes–and his magnum–leveled themselves resolutely at John Petrie’s skull. Petrie had wanted entertainment, and Ike reckoned the sonovabitch would get it.

Petrie’d promised Ike a cool two grand for entertaining at John’s son’s fifth birthday. Crazy Eyed Ike the Clown would haul out the rubber club and smack himself upside the head, magically craft balloon animals for the kiddies, and head out the door smiling and squeezing his honking rubber nose to punctuate his departure. Easy.

 But the working clown hadn’t reckoned on what a hardass John Petrie could be if he didn’t like something.

The argument started small: Petrie’s son Tim turned on the waterworks when Ike made a balloon giraffe and handed it to a little blonde girl to the right, and Petrie demanded the clown withdraw the animal and give it to Tim. Screw that. Crazy-Eyed Ike gave his balloon animals to anyone he damn well pleased. Hell, he’d been planning to craft the finest animal in his balloon menagerie–a chimpanzee AND the coconut tree it swung in–for his client’s brat.

But that wasn’t good enough. Out of nowhere Petrie threw a vicious right hook at Ike, knocking his clown nose off and sending him hurtling to the floor like a sack of potatoes. Then the bastard strode out to Ike’s SUV and began bashing away at the windows with a golf club.

And it was Petrie’s turn to be surprised.

Crazy-Eyed Ike lived in the scrappiest corner of Brooklyn, and you didn’t walk around in purple, polka-dotted baggy pants without some major protection for your ass, or for your vehicle. Ike recovered, rose back to his feet, and looked at the sea of two-dozen stunned children’s faces. “I think you all better go now,” the clown intoned through gritted teeth. Then he pulled out his magnum.

In seconds the house was empty.

Ike pulled out his cigar, lit it quickly, and called out the door to Petrie. Petrie turned and ran back in, golf club raised, but he stopped short and lowered the nine-iron meekly when he saw the cannon propped in the clown’s right mitt.

“Now, please pay me, Mr. Petrie. Extra for damages. Or I will kill you. I’m serious.”

“I know you’re serious: That’s what worries me,” Petrie stammered out.