Friday, April 14, 2017 4:13 PM
Pork Tartare
He came into my field of vision like a 5 story building materializing three feet away. Being downwind, I was of the impression he had the habit of showering co-incidentally with the taking of the census, and this was a year that ended in a 9. I pushed my fist into one of the many thick folds that impersonated his neck. It stuck. Tiny insects scurried there about my knuckles. Near where his right sleeve ended, I saw what seemed to be a large smoked ham hurtle towards me in a trajectory of doom. Aw, hell, it was way past my bedtime anyway.
I was blind. Staring at 22 closed circuit TVs, 14 hours a day for 5 weeks will do that. The curator got a tip the Marble Cat was targeting the museum’s “Blood Diamond Exhibit.” Crating up for the move to Buenos Aires on Monday, we exhaled. Too soon. Cursing the auto flush, the bathroom doors shielded me from the gas. Crawling under the toxic fog, I glimpsed a gas masked shadow creeping down the stairs to the lobby adorned with The 49 Mirrors of Peter the Great’s Winter Palace. A tad fuzzy, my shots flew wide. A ricochet off a bust of Proust hit his satchel. It flipped open, showering 100s of stones over the rail. In the pin spots they bounced off the marble floor like sparks of the sun. He scrambled down. It took 3 full clips to shatter all the mirrors. Hypnotized by the glittering debris, I heard guards alert the gendarmes. For the insurance company it was a classic case of good news/ bad news.
* * *
The gnarled piece of shrunken birch in the wheelchair had once been a mighty redwood. He told me there were seven coins. But his loyal secretary of 39 years, in love all that time and let go a month ago, knew of another. “I hope he chokes on it”. Between shots of Bushmill, under a canopy of blue grey smoke from a continuous parade of Camel straights, she let it slip that all but one were counterfeit. Two days later, I dropped the leather bag with the drawstring made of human hair on the blanket covering his lap. Long bony manicured digits counted the discs. He opened his mouth and made a sound like a ten-penny nail being clawhammered out of a rotting two by four. It was laughter. I fingered the single remaining 1745 Brasher Dubloon in my pocket. The only one that could stand on its edge. It was going to buy someone a whole lot of Irish whiskey and unfiltered smokes.
It was quiet. Too quiet. Something was horribly wrong. The lighting was bad, but that wasn’t it. My head felt like a rehearsal hall for many tiny men with ball peen hammers practicing the 1812 Overture at 78 RPM. I looked around in soft focus. So, that was it. All the furniture in my office had been removed and replaced by sand. But how? And why? And by whom? And why hadn’t I been able to complete any subordinate clauses? Something very strange was going on here and I’d better get to the bottom of it. So I picked up a shovel and started in on what had once been my desk.
* * *
The CIA thought the IRA was working with the PLO. The FBI agreed. The IRS didn’t. I smelled KGB. That's where MJ came in. Through that door. Over there. She was a PhD who had done LSD with LBJ in a 240 Z in 68. She’d landed at SFO on a TWA 747 from JFK via DFW. Her seatmate was a CPA from IBM, who was jobbing with SGI.
Right. NPR claimed the SOB was DOA. Then I saw the UPS from the USSR. “So, the PCP comes COD through the A&P’s, hey Red?” She pulled a Walther PPK .380 ASAP, but I KO’d her with a AT&T slimline. WT at the DC SEC office said on the QT that everything was A-OK. I 86’d the gun and finished up the J&B. That’s all I knew, initially.
* * *
The knees in my pants were shredded by the rivets holding the airshaft sections together. Conveniently, I crashed through the ventilation grate right onto Mason’s head. The very man I came to see. Inconveniently, he had been practicing the clarinet at the time. Eight inches of shiny wet ebony protruded from the back of his neck. I let myself out the way I had entered, using as footholds, both his head and the wobbly red reed.
* * *
His features started dissolving at a furious pace now. Eyebrows wafted lazily on the desk. His nose landed on the brass eagle atop the pole of the upright American flag. With a practiced snatch, his aide tucked the wayward proboscis into a felt lined cedar box. “This is all so highly irregular”, he intoned unconvincingly. Flesh curdled into a grey beige ooze that coagulated into the open pencil drawer. The massive green lizard head reared back and a red forked tongue arced lazily to brush my cheek while a scaly talon wrestled the briefcase from my grasp. I turned. “Good luck in the primary Senator.” In the hall, I gave myself a tetanus shot out of a flask.
* * *
I crouched behind the stainless steel gurney waiting for Weasel Boy's shadow to cross the bottom of the stairwell. It came and four quick pops later, he crashed into a rolling tray and landed in a pool of formaldehyde. His breathing was like Lady Gaga. Hard and shallow. Learning the hard way that the NRA was right. Guns don’t kill people. It’s those damn bullets that make the little holes that all the blood leaks out of way too quick that are mainly responsible. I knelt on a soft dry spot and leaned close to hear him utter with his last gasp... “You’re on my hand.”
* * *
* * *
Dr. Chan cackled like an expectant hen on helium as he pulled the teeth from my butt one at a time. “So, leading with your brains again, eh gumshoe?” He then jabbered in Mandarin to Tang, his assistant and their combined high pitched giggle set off car alarms over a four square block area. I never liked being in rooms where everybody else was speaking in a foreign language. It always sounded too much like “Saute the Big Guy slowly” to me. I liked it even less when Chan applied a salve that smelled suspiciously like soy sauce. “Mu shu Gumshu.” He laughed so hard he choked.
She played with her cigarette while I filled my glass with bad Albanian Scotch. She had one of those, “I'm so bored it’s an effort to keep my right eye open” looks. She froze me like a sound does a deer. I dropped my drink on the turtle shaped ottoman. Microdots spewed out its gaping mouth. “So, sell me to the bleeding Russkies, will you China-Doll?” BANG! BANG! BANG!
* * *