Chapter 9: Waterboarding Kittens, And Other After-School Activities
To God, a thousand years is a day and a day is a thousand years: to Our Hero, it was two months. Two weeks prior to this, he’d finished his monstrosity and sent out simultaneous submissions to several publishers. Our Hero took a few days before becoming more sociable again, but finally decided to show up at Cafe Nostrum, where he greeted Carrie thus:
“I am Lazarus, come to tell you all, come to tell you all…that it is finished, and I’m waiting for rejection.”
“Congratulations, my friend!” Carrie punched him in the arm. “Gah, I can’t wait to read this pile of shit!”
“Thanks, but this is only the first stage. I’ve sent it to about 20 different publishers. Fuck procedure and ‘no simultaneous submissions,’ someone will buy it.” Our Hero said. “It’s so bad, it’s impossible for anyone not to publish it.”
Carrie sighed. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Let’s celebrate.” She stepped back into The Boss’s office, where Our Hero overheard the exchange:
“Boss, please, he’s finished his book. Can’t I go? Pretty please?”
“Ugh, Carrie. I didn’t fight in ‘Nam to let you go gallivanting off every time nothing comes up.”
Our Hero waited. He heard the faintest hints of Carrie’s voice. The Boss stepped out in front of her, she came after and started gathering her things, giggling. “Mr. Darwin, as much as I’d like to let you take Carrie out on the town or whatever it is you kids do these days, I’m afraid I can’t let you take her like that.” He paused. “I’m going to force her to go with you for the weekend because she’s being so goddamn annoying. She’s your problem ‘til 5:30–no–that’s too early for me to deal with her shit–make it 10:00 AM Monday.” The Boss never once broke deadpan, but he almost smirked. It was beautiful.
Our Hero bowed. “I shall execute these duties faithfully to the glory of Cafe Nostrum.”
The Boss waved Our Hero off with a halfassed salute and lumbered back into his office–he shut the door behind.
“Where we going?” Carrie asked.
“I don’t know. Let’s go for a drive. I haven’t been out of the city or the burbs in like, two years. Well, except Christmas, but that doesn’t count.”
“We could go up to Wisconsin. You’ve always said you wanted to go to that one eccentric’s museum from that weird book you were obsessed with back when I first met you,” she said.
“I’ve never been to Wisconsin. Lived here so many years and never been. But I think I’m in an Indiana kind of mind,” his sarcasm was not lost on her as he stretched. Being hunched over a typewriter and a laptop for two months was murder on a back.
Carrie laughed as she led Our Hero out of the cafe, and then around back. She stopped at the stairs to her new loft. Her little ricer was parked beside the dumpster. “No way are we going to Indiana–it’s like the Mississippi of the Midwest.”
Our Hero laughed, too. “Let’s go to the Dells. Or maybe Milwaukee.”
“What’s in Milwaukee?” she asked.
“Good point.” he said.
“Well, I’m not going to invite you up yet, my friend. You know how I am about letting tall, handsome men into my apartment when I’m all alone.” She winked. “You figure out where the hell we’re going. I’m gonna go get packed. Let’s go up to the Dells!”
Our Hero laughed. “It is August. Mild for August, but yeah, we could go get wet.”
Carrie winked. “Oh, I have been since you told me the news.”
“You’re going to hell,” Our Hero said.
“I’m taking you with me!” she said as she ran up the stairs. “See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya! Well, I’ll be back in ten. Wait for me.”
“I’ll go get more coffee.” Our Hero went back around into the cafe, where The Boss was manning the counter. There was a tall, slender hipster Our Hero hadn’t seen before standing across the counter.
“So, then Achmed says to him, ‘that wasn’t hummus.’” the Boss finished his likely off-color joke, and the hipster responded with an annoying snort of a laugh. “Oh believe me, you spend the kind of time in the Service that I did, you’ll get a million of those.”
“Daddy never would let me sign up, but I did some work for the Service” the girl said in a monotone–Our Hero couldn’t tell if it was intentional, drug-induced, or her natural mode of speech. She was very pretty–definitely some Native American floating around somewhere in those veins–that black hair never lies. Unless she’d dyed it. But at the same time there was something off-putting about her. Probably that she reeked of “trust-fund bitch.”
“This guy didn’t sign up either,” The Boss pointed to Our Hero. “What’re you doing back here?”
“Carrie’s upstairs doing her packing. Venezuelan Heavy Crude, please sir.”
“So Darwin, when are you going to pay your tab? I was doing the books and man, it’s to the point where you don’t have a problem, but I sure do. You default on your coffee-debt and we’re belly up!” Our Hero couldn’t tell if The Boss was joking or not. He smiled as he turned back with a mug of brew the consistency of neutron degenerate matter. “I’m teasing. I like you. I don’t even get my own son, Raymond. Lazy prick. But you? Good people. Carrie told me about the book, but I’ll save my congratulations if anyone pays you for it. And I’ll be calling to collect.” He chuckled. The hipster-chick looked Our Hero up and down, and said nothing.
“I’ll pay you off real soon, Boss-man, but thanks.”
“I know you will. Hey, I know you ain’t gonna get anywhere with Carrie, but if I was your age I’d be hitting on this one.”
“Looked to me like you already were,” Our Hero rejoined as he took a sip.
The Boss and the hipster-chick both laughed. “I was telling her the camel joke.”
“Oh god,” Our Hero said, horrified.
“He’s very witty,” the hipster-chick said in her monotone. “Natalia Gantz,” she extended her hand to Our Hero.
He accepted. “John Darwin. Everyone calls me Darwin. No idea why.”
She shrugged. “Too many Johns, maybe? I’ll see you around, John,” she said, then turned back, “Bye bye, sweety!” She winked at The Boss, stood up–jesus she was fine–and went on her way out the door, her beverage in hand.
“What I’d give to be your age again, son.”
“I dunno, I don’t think you’d have to be with her.”
“They always hit on vets like me, but they’re just a bunch of cockteases,” The Boss laughed. He laughed like Robert Bliss. Deep, deep timbre. “Carrie’s the worst. You think she’s really… you know?”
Our Hero nodded vehemently. “I’ve known her a long time. Yeah. 100%.”
“Damn. You like her, don’t you?”
Our Hero shook his head. “She’s my pal, I don’t think about it, except when I’m blackout drunk. Then that’s a problem.”
“Damn it boy–as the weeaboos say–that’s an epic, epic fail.”
Hearing that from the short, bald Vietnam Vet made Our Hero snort. “I don’t think about impossibilities.”
“We’re still talking about this? I guess so. Yeah, you’ll find yourself a new broad. Your ex was in here the other day and I told her she was persona non gratis or whatever it is they say.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“Had nothing to do with you, you prick. She was piss drunk!” The Boss laughed.
“She’s horrible when she drinks,” Our Hero noted.
At that moment, Carrie’s little ricer spun its tires in front of the cafe. She blasted the horn. Our Hero pulled a five from his wallet and set it on the counter. “It’s your lucky day!” Our Hero said to The Boss.
“Thanks pal. You kids have fun. And so you know, uhh–my secret was always just a dab of gun-oil mixed with automotive grease behind each ear. Gets ‘em every time.” The Boss laughed again, shaking the cafe.
“Thanks,” said Our Hero.
Our Hero walked out to Carrie’s car and got in. “That was remarkably quick.”
“Bitch, I pack light. Your place?” Carrie asked.
“Yeah. So you wanna do the Dells?”
“WISCONSIN DELLS, BITCHES!” she shouted, irrationally exuberant, at the top of her lungs.
Our Hero cringed a little. “Jesus, Carrie. I think the Dells heard you from here. Let’s go!”
Carrie gunned her little ricer and they were swiftly carried away to Our Hero’s apartment. Mrs. Lafferty was just walking in with her customary two bags of groceries, and Our Hero was just in time to get the door for her. She thanked Our Hero, and told him to come by sometime and she’d bake him chocolate chip cookies because he was always such a nice young man.
As they walked out of earshot of the elderly neighbor, Carrie said “Score. She digs you. Does she have money?”
Our Hero laughed. “She lives here, right?”
“Point taken. Get packed, I’m gonna pee.”
“Thanks for sharing.” Our Hero said, and did go to get pack. There was a problem with his plan, however–Liz had taken his luggage. It was very nice luggage. He was upset now that he realized it. He cursed her name under his breath and then walked to the kitchen and found a small garbage bag and a grocery bag. He threw his swimtrunks, sandals, and goggles into the grocery bag, then two changes of clothes into the garbage bag, and, by force of habit, an extra pair of socks and underwear (he wore boxer-briefs, for comfort and simplicity.) Flush. Wash. Wash.
Carrie walked out of the bathroom holding a sandwich bag with his toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, a razor, and a travel-sized can of shaving cream. And two condoms.
“Thanks.” Our Hero said, a little annoyed. He was always a little squeamish about anyone touching his toothbrush–even Carrie. But then he said “Carrie, condoms, really?” He asked.
She laughed. “It’s the Dells, we’ll score a bag of grass, I’ll play wingwoman, you’ll have a good time with some Wis-cahn-sahn-ite broad. While you’re having a good time, I’ll find myself a really good time. Win-win. You know, I’ve started commenting on this blog online. It’s called Le Palais. It’s really good, better than that shit Douchebag reads. It’s fun to read, it’s mostly intellectual, but some good Game posts. Anyway, yeah–you need better Game, I can only pimp you so much, this is probably gonna be the last time.”
“Send me the URL.” Our Hero said, dryly. He wasn’t insulted, but he was a little annoyed. “You know, Carrie, you have an unhealthy interest in my sex life.”
“It’s just that you’re so goddamn annoying when you aren’t getting any, I can’t stand it. So, what’s with the garbage bag?”
“Bitch took my luggage.” Our Hero said.
“Ahh,” Carrie said. “Doesn’t surprise me. Are you ready?”
The pair walked downstairs and bumped into Mrs. Lafferty again just as she was stepping out of her apartment. She was holding a large sealed plastic food container. It looked heavy. “Oh my heavens, such luck!” she said with a massive smile. “I know I promised you cookies, but oh my stars, I just could not help but start my way up to give these to you, they’re much better than chocolate chip cookies. Are you both going somewhere?”
“We’re going to the Wisconsin Dells for the weekend.” Carrie said. She was a little weirded out by Mrs. Lafferty.
“Oh what fun!” Mrs. Lafferty said and patted Carrie on the shoulder very gently. “I’m sure you’ll both have a wonderful time.”
“So, Mrs. Lafferty, is there anything you need before we go?” Our Hero asked.
“Oh no, you do so much for me, those little kindnesses are the world to me, John. But I’d baked…brownies…two days ago and I was thinking when I got inside, why not just give him some of my brownies as a token of my appreciation?” She handed Our Hero the container. It was rather heavy.
“Thank you. This is a lot.”
“Oh no, I bake plenty. Now, since you are about to drive, save them for later. These are some of my special brownies. They help me with my arthritis pains. But I know young people your age like them, too, though.”
“Mrs. Lafferty?” Our Hero asked. “Do these have–are they–?”
She beamed, her wrinkled face glowing from the fluorescent overheads. “It’s a secret ingredient.” She winked. “I’m 76 years old and they keep me spry.” She did always have an eerily pleasant outlook and attitude.
“Wow,” Carrie said, dumbstruck. “Just to be sure, we’re not talking laxatives, are we?”
Mrs. Lafferty doubled over laughing. “Oh no dearie. Do I have to spell it out for you? H-a-s-h. And it’s good, none of that poop that Giancarlo sells. They’ll send you bang-zoom-to the moon!”
Carrie gave Mrs. Lafferty a hug. A huge hug. She almost had tears in her eyes. “I… I love you. Be my grandmother?”
“Oh Carrie, you’re such a sweet girl. You and John would make such a cute couple. Much better than him and that awful girl from before. I’m so glad she’s gone. She’d never even say hello! She was such a bitch, if you’ll pardon my French. Are you still…batting for the other team, Carrie?” Mrs. Lafferty asked so casually it was uncomfortable, then she paused, but then continued. “I don’t mean to intrude–it’s none of my business, and I am completely fine with young people living their lives. I only know because, I suppose it was about two years ago, I saw your car outside and there was a girl with you. I was going to tap on your window to say hello but then I realized it–well, it was best not to interrupt. I was in a sorority when I went to school, I went through…a phase, you know, so I do understand.”
Our Hero laughed. Carrie did, too. It was weird on so many levels. “Yes Mrs. Lafferty, and I don’t think it’s a phase.”
“Well. That’s fine, too. But I’m going to go back inside now and start on the rest of my Christmas presents for my grandchildren. Can never be too early! I have fifteen. I’m giving them each scarves with that silly Space Combat Supersoldier 2206 logo on them. Have you seen it? They all look at that show all the time. I think it’s silly: Captain Faraday needs to hurry up and tell Commander MacIntyre she loves him and start having babies–it’s so obvious her clock is ticking.”
“Mrs. Lafferty, will you adopt us?” Our Hero asked. “I never realized you’re the coolest granny ever.”
Mrs. Lafferty laughed. “Oh my. Such a sweet young man. Give us some sugar,” she stuck out her cheek and closed her eyes. Our Hero did. She pinched his cheek, and he didn’t mind. “Now you two be good, but don’t eat any of those until you get to your motel! If you do, I will tan your hides!”
“We promise we won’t, Mrs. Lafferty.” Both of them said, in perfect unison. And they meant it.
“Good. You be safe now and have a wonderful time.” Mrs. Lafferty walked back into her apartment, waved with her fingers, and closed and locked the door. Five locks.
“Oh. My. God. Darwin,” Carrie said. “Did that just happen? Am I dreaming?”
“If you are, this is some weird ESP stuff going on and I’d have to call it into The Dark of Night with Fred Fredericks on the AM dial.”
“She’s amazing. Forget the Dells, let’s hang out with her all weekend.” Carrie said.
“How’s about next weekend? I’d like to get out of Chi-town.”
“Deal. Let’s hit the road.”
The two did just that, their contraband safely hidden. Carrie was sorely tempted to partake, but Our Hero reminded her that a little old lady like Mrs. Lafferty wasn’t kidding around when she spoke of tanned hides. Our Hero called in a reservation to a motel. A single room had just come open, otherwise they’d have been out of luck on this grand adventure.
It took forever to get to the Dells–wreck on the 90-39 just outside of Janesville. But it was still four o’clock in the afternoon when they did arrive. They checked in, the nice girl from Delhi pointed them to their room, and they settled in.
“First order of business, brownie me.” Carrie said.
“Second order, order Chinese.” Our Hero said.
“Third order, order escorts.” Carrie said.
“You’ve given an impossible order. I’ve got just enough cash to get us back to Chi-town.”
“I’ve got a couple c-notes. And we have brownies. Brownies that could be converted to money, by an astute person with a certain level of business acumen.” Carrie said.
“Nah, that’d be wrong. We’ll give ‘em to deserving souls–freely gotten, freely given. Good god, there must be two pounds of them. You smell that?” Our Hero was exaggerating. There weren’t that many. Not nearly. But they stank so good.
“Yeah. Jesus. Wow.”
They both partook. They lounged on the bed. The next day they’d hit the parks. After half an hour, Our Hero ordered Chinese. It’d be there in an hour. Mr. Chen said they were “very busy.”
Our Hero figured this would time out alright. They turned on the TV. Cartoons. It was anime. Carrie insisted that he be exposed to the bane of her existence.
“So, think anyone will buy your book?” she asked during a commercial break.
“Maybe. I’m betting it’ll be the shittiest publishing house in New York. I’m hoping Ed Grant at Harraway gets a hold of it though, I’d make some real cash then.”
“Well, you know I hope for the best for you,” Carrie said. “After dinner, let’s go wander the scene.”
“Does the Dells have a scene?” Our Hero asked.
“Maybe. There are a bunch of tourists, and I saw some hotties.”
“Carrie, let’s see what happens tomorrow, I’ll be useless once that brownie kicks in.” Our Hero said.
She chuckled. “I’ve been waiting for you to say that. You’re so you, makes me laugh.”
Our Hero stared at the ceiling for what seemed like an eternity.
“Darwin, I have a question. Be honest.” Carrie said.
“Oh god, this can’t be good.” Our Hero
“Should I finish school? I’m going down the same road you were. Well, maybe forty-five degrees off, but still.”
Our Hero shrugged. He was beginning to feel the effects. “I don’t know. It’s a choose your own adventure story. Now that I’m removed from the situation–I don’t think I’d be cynical enough to write the story if it hadn’t been for all these experiences. I mean, the Dusseldorf School? Professor Aldridge? Zeus Pulled Out? Yeah.”
“I’m not a writer. Or an artist. Or anything like that.”
Our Hero shrugged. “I’m not either. Right now I’m living hand to mouth off what’s left of my savings. If nobody buys my book, I’ll cash out my 401k and live it up for a minute until I figure out my next move. You know.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
With that, the Chinese food arrived.
It was going to be a long, fun-filled evening of really bad TV. They did catch the Ron Warden show, which elicited a strong emotional response from Our Hero. “I want more than anything in the world to be on that show, Carrie. I don’t care about fame or fortune, I just want to shake his hand and say something moronic on the air in a fake British accent.”
Dead Tree Version, 2nd Ed. Copyright ©2018 Ian McLeod
Reprinted with permission.