SUNDAY the NINTH - 10:41 PM

          "You didn't get a shot of the body?" Nelson scratched his un-combed-over scalp in the Eleven studio, glancing quickly at the network monitor airing the network’s latest loser: “Masters of Sex”.

          "Told you!" Billy said, "fuckin' place was rotten with spooks! Locals, Turks, Guard... lucky some private militia boy playing cop didn't trash our gear. They totaled Five Alive's cameras..."

          "Because they got the shots of that copter you were too late arriving at?"                   









          "Because I'm out there on my own, and action was still goin’ down near Masty Hall. Five has three crews doing my job... well, they're gonna be down to two awhile..."

          Nelson burped. Old battle, old stalemate.

          "So they won't have anything with that copter crash to show us up with either?"

          "What Bruce said! He was all beat-up... first they took the tape out of his equipment, then they trashed it.  Then they trashed him.  Men in black!  Black suits and ties like those Turkish goons – not the U.N.’s Turks in their berets; the ones from that country?  Said he had killer footage of local kids beating the crap out of some of the U.N. Turks so, of course, nobody'll ever see anything on that tape..."

          "The body?" Nelson ventured. "The killer?"

          "Gone!  Prob'ly chillin' out in some Iranian meatlocker by now, like Bashir Asshole, or chopped up for Khasheeshkabobs, like in Turkey.  Or on its way to Area 51 already," Billy crossed his lying heart.

          Nelson stroked his chin, took out his cigar, looking at it as if it were a long, wet leafy bullet. "I suppose it would be too much to assume you didn't go over to the Five Van, let 'em make a copy of your own footage, so Bruce can cover his ass with Dornan, maybe return the favor next time when you fuck up!  Working dude to working dude?  Right?"  Billy merely assumed an offended sneer. "Helen!" the news editor finally shouted, planting the stogie back into his mouth...

          "Uhhh..." Billy started to interrupt.

          "I can get a Chinaman with one of those goddam cellphone cameras and a satellite uplink to take your place for fifty cents a day. Don't you forget it! Helen!"








          Andy put his smokes back into his pocket, took a slug of the sour, overproof ABM he'd bought and started walking... not really following Rael, exactly, just walking his anger off. He'd crossed three blocks and finished half the malt liquor when a voice oozed out from the alley where the natural foods people kept their dumpsters.

          "Spare change, man?"

          "Fuck off!" Andy spat into the dark.

          A scarecrow-tall wraith staggered out from between the dumpsters, blocking his path; some kid Andy thought he remembered from here or there, or nowhere. Most likely the Sanctuary, on one of the city's colder nights when eighty-proof oblivion failed and the shivering germs crawled out of their germ-holes. "Spare a quarter? A dime, nickel... spare a fuckin' penny man? Got to have a penny on you.  How 'bout a hit off that beer?"

          No gun.  No knife.  It was late and Andy was very, very pissed. "Why should I let you wrap your diseased lips around anything ever likely to touch mine?"

          It seemed that everybody was waiting on the coronavirus round… what was it… eight? with baited breaths…

          "Dunno... something to do?" the kid ventured, hopefully. Slummer... probably one of many dropouts from the U. who'd drank, injected or smoked up his tuition during the gap semester; kept hanging round like the ivy growing up the buildings there. "Nice shirt, really... like corporate, man!" sneered the mooch. "Bet you're real fuckin' proud of that shirt..."

          "Sure," Andy smiled, "have a taste." He extended the can.

          "Really?" Fucked up, stupid and greedy as he was, the kid must have intuited something wrong. But he couldn't help himself; nobody could, these days. He stumbled forward, reaching...

          Andy turned the ABM round so that pop-top hole was facing him, with a finger over it for security, then drove the can upwards into the bum’s scum-encrusted teeth.

          The kid reeled back against a dumpster, nearly slipping on a desiccated sweet potato. Andy carefully set the can down against the brick of the natural foodstore... there was blood dripping down the phallic, aluminum logo, but just a little foam across the top... and hit the mooch three times. Right to the gut, another into a kidney as he turned sideways, left across the mouth that bounced off his teeth too quickly. The pain and the sight of their now-mingled blood made Andy look down at his hand briefly before starting to kick the panhandler down to the ground in segments... kneeling, crawling, finally groveling around in dirt and blood and broken glass like a lawnmower-mangled snake... as he obsessively wiped the bum's germs away on his pants. Andy was still wearing the out-to-dinner shoes he'd picked up for a dollar and a half at a garage sale... a little slanty in the heel, but hard in the toe... kicked the son of a bitch twice in the jaw and saw something white drop out amidst gouts of blood, a tooth... maybe two… or a maggot.  He kicked the kid again in the groin but nothing seemed to happen... didn't seem to be anything down there, so he pivoted until he was behind his victim and started kicking him fiercely, but in the fleshy part of his ass where it would be hard to break anything.  Just making his point…

          The kid kept crawling, crying, scabbering to his knees, to his feet... Andy realized he was headed for the sidewalk, where there might be people around.

          He didn't want to touch the panhandler, but finally grabbed him by the belt, turned him round and shook him and a wallet fell from the motherfucker's pocket. His mouth started moving around as if to form words but Andy wheeled him back into the darkened alley, hit him in the throat, just under the chin... hard... he gagged and more white foam, like that on the can of ABM, bubbled out atop the drooling blood.

          He drove another right fist into the kid's gut. "Kill!"

          A left, also downstairs. Andy's knuckles were scraped, couldn't tell whose blood it was in the dim light cast by one low-watt bulb at the rear of the store. Lots of AIDS still in the City, hep C, leftover Fifth Wave plague, that new shit from Bangladesh... "You..."

          Another right. "Mother..."

          There was this rag on the ground, next to one of the dumpsters that Andy picked up, along with seven or eight pieces of broken glass... he wrapped half the rag around his right fist, lay the two largest pieces flat, the rest on top so that the shards would poke through the rest of the rag that he finished wrapping around his hand, tying it tightly. Then he began pummeling the kid's face, three times, four, five... until he dropped to a knee again, left cheek and eye looking like raw hamburger left out to rot under a Vice-Presidential moon. There was a dark stain spreading down the moocher’s trousers and a bad smell, but whether from the front or back Andy couldn't tell, it was too damn dark.

          He kicked the kid in the gut again and the panhandler's mouth creaked open like the door to an abandoned house in a windstorm on the Kansas or Nebraska prairie... thick, cream-colored vomit gushing out to the pavement.   Dumb bastard had probably chowed down at Malik’s tonight…

          Someone walked past the alley; elderly, a Puerto Rican or Mexican from the look of him. Sniffed, glanced, then kept walking... but Andy stepped out of the alley once they'd passed, looking down the street one way, then the other.

          The lid of the dumpster was already open so he hoisted up the kid, limp and wheezing now, held him back to back, then thrust him upwards... he hung over the dumpster's lip a moment, then tumbled in. Instead of a thump or clatter, there was only a the rattling of something metal in his pockets... spare change!... then a soft, squishing sound, which meant the dumpster was already a quarter-full of rotten cabbages and eggplant, tomatoes... maybe an exotic papaya or avocado that nobody who lived around here could ever afford to buy. Andy knew these dumpsters very  very well. He pushed this one away from the fence, grasped its lid and shoved it up, let it fall down and leaned against the side of the conveyance, out of breath.

          The sound of the change in the derelict's pockets reminded Andy of the wallet, which he picked up, riffling past the State ID, probation office card and expired dormitory meal ticket from two years ago and counting out... ten, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen dollars; a bus pass, too, and he spat at the dumpster... "fucker!"  He pocketed his take, picked up the ABM, which had survived its encounter apparently unbloodied and undamaged, wiped it on his shirt... just in case... and toasted his slumming student adversary; master plan being to go back to the store and buy another can driving all piss and memory out of his mind, save one final, cheery eulogy…

          "Enjoy your breakfast!"








          Magic, Anne thought, sitting in their suite in the Ivona with bourbon on the rocks and her feet up on the bed, under a plastic bag of ice, as Glenn stormed in...

          "Motherfuckers! Mother fuckers!"

          "Keep it down!" she winced. "I've got a headache! And a footache."

          "Sold us out, those rat-eating Pennsylvania and Ohio delegates!" Glenn swore. "Voted for almost all the unions' platform! Dirty Uncle Joesies! Don't they understand that Jack's just auditioning to be a comedian, slinging all that shit about pyramids and vocational schools? Just because most of 'em are still slicing the Democratic Party fruitcake, waiting for Osama’s leftovers to explode – or implode, whatever happens in the bellies of dead things – doesn’t mean that we have to repeat all their mistakes!" He paused, waiting for a reply. "Or do you care? You were with Rinker all night... I’ve had people checking on you...” he wagged a finger in her face, “…he's got to be laughing in his Ralph Laurence briefs at the idiots we are. Or is his a boxers' rebellion? You reek of deception," he added, belligerently.

          "Are you trying to infer something untoward? I happen to have endured a perfectly good evening, wallowing in Nazi-lite fantasies that never are going to come true, fortunately... Paul's going to have as much to do with history as Andy's little circus which, and thank you for the information, sir, is broke down on some back road short of town with all the elephants set free by activists and all of the monkeys escaped and taking over the country…"

          "None of those delegates should ever be allowed to pass Tillerman again without having to give the sig heil!" Glenn fumed. "Motherfuckers! Is that ice?" he pointed at what clearly was a bag of limp, melting ice across her bare feet. "I told you not to abuse our minibar privileges... that little bag's probably five bucks! Do you want Rayna up your ass?"

          "It isn't ice, Nick..."

          "Shut up! Just shut up!"

          He slammed the door to the bathroom behind him, and Anne heard the shower coming on. Not ice anymore, she muttered to herself, just cold water. Rayna could well afford five bucks, especially after what Anne had accomplished today... and she sipped her bourbon, staring at the drapes - expensive looking, probably not made in China but somewhere exotic, by other dark little hands.  Pakistani, or maybe Afghani... part of what the President called his Strategic Renewal Initiative! Child labor, in other words, in tumbledown factories at nine cents the hour… the President had made a speech about drawing re-occupied Iraq into something noble sounding, a Greater Central Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, something like that – de-ordering his Executive Order and allowing the Turks (the real ones, from Turkey), the Saudis, Iranians and Russians to resume carving it up, carving up the Kurds and Syrian Christians in the process while the enemy factions, old 45 and the tinfoil brigade on one side, his former Veepunhanged and now in charge of the loyal opposition… and the rest of his Margaret Atwood evangelicals stood around like bobblehead dolls.. They were white, of course... the drapes, not the children... but there were little patterns in this... different. White, but woven in. White on white. She closed her eyes. Something wasn't there, lost... her contacts...

          Her shoulder twitched.

          "Fuck you, too, Henry!" she whispered.







          The unhip Babu Two who was the middle brother of his generation was waiting to give Andy hell when he finally buzzed for admission into his bum hotel. Andy had decided not even to contest the inevitable accusations... he was tired, and had to remember to keep his bloody left hand in his pocket. Thank God or Marx, or Ganesha… his shirt was clean; they stood on opposite sides of the pay phone, each shouting at the top of his voice.

          "Look, I was outta cigarettes, I'm sorry!" Andy screamed, laying the second ABM on the floor and hopefully out of the sightline across the Babu’s dirty window, right hand waving the cheap smokes like an incenser in an Orthodox church as the patriarch of the clan, who had been shouted something foreign and unpleasant at the relatives in the television room, joined the fray. "I'm an addict!"  Some other Turban Tommy stumbled from the family apartment… a cousin, in-law, somebody…

          “We see you!  You and…” the chief Babu moved his hand to simulate a female figure with enhanced mammaries.

"No use door!" brayed the brother. "Fire! For fire!"

          "Sorry!" Andy shouted back, snatching up his beer and storming upstairs.

          "You no pay rent!" the manager got in a low blow. "Bum! Buy cigarettes, no rent? I get you rent Tuesday, when marshals come for three oh six, or put you crap out on the street too!"

          "Whatever!" Andy spat over his shoulder. "And I ain't no bum. I work!"

          "Where you money?" the Babu got in the last word as Andy added, “…just don’t get paid anymore…” under his breath. Ridiculing him, as if Andy were no better than the skell in the alley, goading him into setting the can down on the stairstep and stepping back down… one step, two steps, three… yanking the paper bag of cash from his pocket, reaching for a fistful of bills and scattering them through the security window like flowers before a statue of some divine elephant or monkey, back in the old country…

          "Here!  Here you money!"









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