Saturday, October 30, 2010

Table of Contents: The Scheherazadi

To the (surprising) chagrin of a few, The Scheherazadi has joined Gateway as a story that will no longer be continued in a public forum. This one I'm quite fond of, as it started out as one of those infamous "write anyway" exercises, but soon found a life of its own. Of course, using 1001 Arabian Nights (along with some Jewish lore) as its basis didn't hurt its prospects at all. I mean, who wouldn't want to play around in a gold mine of stories like that?

"The Scheherazadi, Part I"
Forgive me. You probably have no idea what's going on. Earth is a desert wasteland in my time and there aren't very many people left. A few dozen-million, if that. Yeah, the polar icecaps melted - well, one of them - but not for reasons you're thinking. Some assholes started a nuclear shootout. With all the interceptor defense... Read More

"The Scheherazadi, Part II"
"Why do you say that, Rashid?" a woman asks him. So, yep, his name is Rashid. These people are ridiculously tall. I clock in at 73 inches, but everyone else in the room - the women included - have me beat by at least four more. They're also rather dark... every hue of skin from heavy bronze to deep brown. No... Read More

"The Scheherazadi, Part III"
Most of them stay away from me, save for Morgiana and two other women, Zumarra and Parizade. Although Parizade's kept her distance ever since we almost sealed the deal, if you know what I mean. The only male I have any contact with is Rashid, and he's the prick who walked in on Parizade and me. Everyone else I've interacted with... Read More

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One Last Thing, Part I

Cray stares at Drew, studying his partner's face. They've been together for years, not really out of any sort of friendship, merely the acknowledgment of the other's competence. Cray is slightly older, just on the other side of 60. Drew has a couple of years left before he enters that particular decade.

"You talk too much," Cray prods, taking a sip of his beer. It's horrible what they call beer in this facade of a country, but he always imbibes in local product. It keeps him from smelling different out in the field. The best killers, he's well aware, can smell their prey.

"I'll tone down my loquaciousness." It is a joke, of course. Drew speaks only when necessary or, as is the current case, when Cray's ribbing provides an easy response. Drew knows that his friend needs two-way conversation once in a while. Ever since the blunder in the Ukraine, Drew has no desire to see Cray have an hour-long conversation with himself ever again.

"Nah, it's all good. Just tone up your alcoholism."

"You talk too much."

Cray holds up his beer in an empty cheers gesture. Drew quit drinking a decade ago. Not that it's helped his disposition any.

***

"You know, Cray," Drew whispered through his drunk haze, startling his friend. "I think I'm gonna give up the drink."

"I need to write this down."

"That I'm quitting drinking?"

"Fuck, no. That you spoke without being spoken to."

***

"Why aren't you practicing your Urdu?" Cray's speech is slurring, which annoys Drew more than the question.

"My Urdu is worse than your Russian."

"That's why you practice," Cray starts in Urdu. He pauses, thinks about something, then - realizing he doesn't know a specific translation - finishes in English, "dipshit."

Drew pretends to ignore Cray. It is a convincing gesture that only prompts Cray to ramble on.

"What happened to blending in, Drew?" Cray's not sure if he said that in English or not.

"Two old white guys sitting in a cafe in Karachi. What difference does it make if we speak Urdu?" Drew's eyes never settle on any one identifiable thing, but Cray knows that his friend's attention is on the entrance. "How late is this guy?"

Cray starts laughing loudly and Drew noticeably cringes. Drew hates having attention drawn to him, but he's almost learned to live with it over the past 30-odd years.

Cray starts counting his empty bottles. He manages to get to three before a waiter brings a fresh drink and takes the bottles off the table. "However many beers ago Yousaf just took away."

"You'd think you'd learn to use a watch by now."

"There's no time like Miller time."

Drew allows a small laugh. Except, he thinks, when it's crunch time.

***

"God, I love Rio," Cray exclaimed as three women who temporarily made him forget his infatuation with Helen Mirren strolled by the park bench he and Drew were sitting on.

"Keep your mind in the game," Drew scolded, eyeing two approaching strangers in business suits. "She's late."

The strangers stopped a few feet away from the two Americans and made their intention clear. "La mujer está muerta." The woman is dead.

Drew turned and scanned the rest of the park. These strangers had at least three more friends scattered throughout the area. Stupid, Drew. Stupid fucking mistake.

"Well, shit," Cray muttered. "Crunch time."

Drew's temporary anger with himself faded with Cray's smile. As annoying as Cray is, there's little as amazing to Drew as watching Cray ply his trade.

By the time it was over, Drew had killed two and Cray, five - Cray had spotted two that Drew had missed. Cray hadn't rubbed it in like he usually did, though. Drew needed to be in the best of moods to bribe the corrupt Rio police about seven minutes later.

***

But that was years ago, and Drew doubts they can pull anything even remotely that insane off anymore. Luck is a game for the young to play, and even though Cray is certainly still among the best in his field, age and alcohol are not things to bring to the table. That their reputations - when dealing with the increasingly fewer numbers of those who've actually heard of them - allow them to hide behind an occasional bluff has been what's saved their asses over the last few years.

At least, that's what Drew thinks. Cray has a different theory. "It ever occur to you we're just that damned good, Drew?" Cray would say. But Cray's a dreamer, a romantic. Drew knows better. That they've lived this long is nothing short of a miracle. The quantity of dead friends - a number both lost count of long ago - is more than proof of that. And, in light of Drew's lung cancer, it is a quantity he knows he is sure to join soon.

Secretly, it is a matter that upsets Drew with Cray. Cray still smokes like a chimney, whereas Drew quit smoking when he quit drinking. How fair is that? But he can't stay mad at Cray for long. Never could and probably never will be able to. After all, Drew didn't have to ask Cray twice to come with him when news of the disappearance of Drew's grandson and granddaughter arrived. Didn't have to ask at all, actually. Cray had finished packing before Drew even hung up the phone.

Drew's never met his grandchildren in person; his daughter wouldn't allow it. He would feign anger whenever Cray sent him covertly-acquired video footage or taped phone calls of Amy and Brandon, but they are the best gifts anyone has ever given him.

He shakes the thought, reminding himself that there are details that need attention. They're effectively in the open here and a whole lot of people are looking for them, the US State Department included. "We need to go," Drew says, tapping his drunk-asleep friend until Cray's eyes open.

"Last call?"

"Closing time. He's not coming." Drew helps Cray to his feet then guides him towards the entrance. They just exit when a voice calls out.

"Where the Hell are you old bastards going?"

*To be continued...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In My Humble Opinion...

I'm not in any sort of bad mood, I promise. In fact, I just feel like being a bit irreverent... towards blogging. This is one part procrastination (as of this writing, anyway... hopefully by the time anyone reads this, the contract will be fulfilled), one part an extension of Irrelevant Etiquette, one part "I just feel like it," and one part (sadly) "I have nothing else to do."

Well, if you've noticed the obvious contradiction above, I do have something else to do... I just don't feel like doing it. I feel like doing this, instead, but I've stated that already.

So, here we go... the illustriously irreverent "Things That Irritate Me On Blogs!"

1. Automatic music players. Seriously... this is a big one. In fact, there are a couple of blogs I'd visit more often if I knew I didn't have to scramble to shut the music off. I'm typically already listening to music when I'm gallivanting around the Internet and, trust me, our tastes in music probably don't go together well. That's not to state that I don't like your taste in music... that's just stating your song playing at the same time as my song probably sounds like two cats trying to stick genitals in the wrong parts of their bodies.

2. Black backgrounds with white fonts. Since most of the Internet is the opposite, my eyes and brain go all wobbly for a few moments when I come to blogs with this color scheme. They've even been known to give me a headache from time to time. This isn't as bad as the music thing, but it does force me to close my eyes before I click on their links... eyes needing prep time to adjust 'n all.

3. Word captchas combined with comment approvals. Really? Why? Let's not forget that Blogger, at least, has implemented a pretty good spam filter recently. Not sure about your blog(s), but mine haven't had an "Asian spammer" problem in a while. I get why some people have comment approval turned on (particularly the more controversial bloggers), but both? Is that really necessary? Let me answer that for you: No.

4. Recipes combined with photographs. Okay, not really... they just have a knack for making me hungry. Even when I've already eaten. And they remind me that my diet is crap and that I should eat better. I already have a nagging mother, thank you (two if you count a certain Aussie friend of mine).

*To be honest, I'm tempted to try a lot of these recipes, so ignore that one.

5. Blog-rolls that are ridiculously long. Actually, I don't really care about this... I'm just here to tell you that most people (if not everyone) will NOT be sifting through those things. And, go ahead and admit it: you don't either.

6. Comment approvals. I've changed my mind. I don't like comment approvals at all (hiding votes on competition sites excluded, of course... suck it!). It reminds me of censorship. I hate censorship. So go [CENSORED] yourselves.

7. Hidden email addresses. C'mon! You're posting publicly, why can't we contact you? I hate getting comments and finding out that I can't respond directly because it's a "noreply@blogger" address. We're blogging! We're supposed to be communitizing (new word... deal with it).

8. And this brings me to responses to other comments in comment sections. Yeah, it's not a big deal on smaller blogs... but, really? You want us to sift through THAT just to see how you responded to us? Here's an idea... email us back via our unblocked email address that is nice enough to show up in your comment notification.

9. People whining about me because they take me far too seriously. Which, any regular reader here will tell you, is not advised.

Kiss my ass and have a nice day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mirror

In a far off place, on the other side of my mind, there's another side of my mind in a far off place. Through the mirror of sleep I can see it. Paradise. And Hell. Shattered imagery that will not stick to memory, instead bonding to strange laughter or beads of sweat noticed when eyes suddenly open. It is no threat in the daylight. Under the blanket of solar shadow, however, it is as terrifying and inviting as anything in waking life. Fear and love worth never waking from. False memories worth waking for. In a far off place. On the other side of the mirror.

Words spoken, unspoken, and understood. Language is not the barrier. Only impression. Adjective describes nothing, yet everything's in the detail. Adverb paces nothing, yet everything's in the movement. A revolution of revelation, whispered and warred in strange worlds that exist only in the chemical reactions of one. The serpent is terrifying, but it does not understand why. Though it may bite me, it is also the rope with which I pull myself from the cliff. An adversary with clawed gloves provides an outstretched hand. The blood here isn't real. But I won't learn that until I wake. When I'm on the other side of the mirror.

The closet is full of secret and skeleton. In a closeted world, there is no shame. The mirror is full of false light. It's no wonder that the suns here are not real. Water cannot be navigated except by flight. The mirror shatters when the fingers of the sea drop me. It is an abject failure that I've not yet learned to defeat Icarus. Or learned from his mistake. There is no need to, for this world is mine. Sanity defined by which side of the mirror I learned this from.

She's here somewhere. Always, hidden in the desires of shadows, constantly shifting with the comfort of a pillow I can't actually feel. I've heard her sing. Heard her whisper. Smelled her a thousand times. Touched her. Made love to her. I try to remind myself I've never seen her. But she's real. Radiated or reflected. She's real. The reason for the sweat on the sheets, for the blanket on the floor, for the loneliness when pupil adjusts to encroaching light. On the other side of a mirror whose waves reflect nothing but the setting sun. I need to figure out how to watch the sunrise of a far off place.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Collaborations

I'm a collaborative worker. Sure, I have a reputation for "going solo" and just doing my own thing, and that's certainly been the case for the past few years, but many in various fields also know me as a good collaborator. Not that I'm any great addition to group-thought projects, but I do enjoy them and I do enjoy working with other people. There are even a few instances in which I mandate the collaborative process (some might remember this particular rant: Film is Collaboration).

But, it's this propensity for doing my own thing that has me a bit surprised at quite a few recent collaborations. About a month or so ago I was asked to write a short script for an actor/producer who wanted something to showcase his talents. He gave me the framework: two people fall in love over the course of a complete lunar cycle, but they realize that they can't be together. That was it. That's all he gave me. And since he's a friend of mine, I said I'd do it. Given my current habits, I decided to write the story in prose before scripting it. The result?


Not exactly a collaboration, but it started the steamroll. Adding to it was the long-awaited production of a comic strip I had pitched about a year ago called Touché, Cliché. The original artist, a Hollywood graphic designer, had to drop out fairly early on, so I pitched it to another artist whose work had me intrigued: Tom at Half-Moose with a Twist. And he said he'd do it. Sure, we've only got one finished so far, but there are definitely more on the way.


Also on the way is a painting by Kelly Green of Fly Visions, who's agreed to create an image to go with my story, "Star Fall." If you check out her catalog of work, you'll see why I asked her. And I find it fitting that a story whose genesis involved inspiration from a novel, a feature film (based on a different novel), an animated short, a metaphor piece I'd written ("Stardust"), and a song will come to a creative close with a painting.

In a strange twist, another artist and painter approached me to write vignettes based on some of her work, and I must say I'm rather excited about that. Some of you visit her blog already, but many of you don't. I've recommended her site many times before and I'm going to do so again: Harnett-Hargrove. I'm not entirely sure why she asked me to write something for her, but there was no way I was gonna turn her down. That work isn't quite ready yet, but you'll know when it's up. It'll be unmistakable.

Finally (so far, anyway), there's the collaboration that I'm probably the most excited about: my first bona fide co-writing attempt in many, many years. It's with a budding writer who only recently began her foray into creative writing, and I asked her to write something with me because her style does everything that my own styles do not. Seems like a no-brainer to me. That she's also one of my best friends ever is beside the point. Our product will appear in chapters on both her blog (Creative Infanticide) and mine in the near future. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I'm enjoying working on it.

Going solo is what I do. But collaborating sure has its charm.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Requiem for a Satellite of Zeus

"You gonna kill her? What the Hell for?"

"Nah, there's no need. She'll die on her own."

"You have a strange way of falling out of love."

"Don't I, though?"

The wink seems flippant, but it's hiding a sadness even he can't fully comprehend.

***

Aoede's voice is silent. Unable to sing, she instead writes her concerns on a tablet. It is a depressing lyric, one that springs her mother into action.

How dare this fool try to forget her daughter. Especially after having used her so. A Muse scorned might be something mortals can survive. Her mother is another matter entirely. She is Mnemosyne. This will be too easy.

***

"What are you writing?"

"A story about a falling star."

"Can I see it?"

"Sure."

His friend reads the genesis of the tale, surprised at the description of the woman.

"I thought you were letting her go."

"What? What do you mean?" He grabs his story from his friend and scans the words quickly, coming to the character of the woman. It is her. Described to her finest points. In spite of his intent.

***

Aoede goes about her business, unaware of her own influence in the world of men. Her mother smiles at her, wondering how such a beautiful creature can think she walks about unnoticed. There's a touch of melancholy to the thought, but also an enormous sense of pride. Aoede is not one to settle, even for a fickle poet who once wrote volumes of his lust for her. And, Mnemosyne almost giggles, will again. And forever.

***

"What's wrong?"

"I need to get over her. But I can't. Why the fuck can't I?"

"Muses are rather tricky like that. Should've kept your intentions private."

"How could I? She's beautiful."

"Shouldn't have told her mother, at least."

He needs to write, but is afraid to. Memories, ideas, and impressions of her will threaten to permeate every single letter he puts to paper. Regardless, he writes.

***

Aoede asks her mother what Mnemosyne is laughing at. With a twinkle in her eye, Mnemosyne convinces her daughter that it's unimportant, though both know that's a lie.

Every word written by this fool gives Mnemosyne another perspective with which to interpret her daughter. Another color. Another shadow. It is quite wonderful to know there are those out there who might love Aoede as much as her mother does. Even if they are scarred by that love.

***

He can't forget her. She's everywhere. In heroes, villains, lovers, nobles, peasants, soldiers, slaves. Try as he might, the Muse never fails to find herself in his pages.

His friend was right. He should not have told her mother. For she is Mnemosyne. The Titaness. The mother of the Muses. Memory personified. Any who scorn her shall always remember. And always regret.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

With the Fade of the Tide, Part III

*Continued from With the Fade of the Tide, Part II

"How long have you been using?" It's a futile question. Benoit's already prepared to disbelieve her answer.

"Since I was 21. I dated a footballer after university."

She's a good liar. The footballer detail might be true, but he knows she doesn't use drugs. There is guilt here. That he also knows she's no fool adds doubt. Why would the drugs be here?

"Mother and I used to get high together." Melanie's surprised at her own voice. The admission is akin to a flinch; an attempt to deflect. Not only her own guilty conscious, but Benoit's unmistakable direction of thought. And it's another clear lie.

"Do not speak of your mother this way, Melanie." It is an uncharacteristically mature statement. And hypocritical. He himself had bad-mouthed his father since coming to Le Havre. But, then, his father was not dead.

She's caught, and she knows it. Still, she's certain that Benoit isn't sure of what she's been caught doing. Or refuses to be sure. She stares out the window to avoid his discerning glare. The moon is rising early, its third quarter just visible over the eastern cityscape. There's some solace in that she's managed to make him love her for this long. She's waited a long time. Ever since her mother pushed away her step-father with her unpleasantness and irrational demands. But she's also certain that Benoit is no fool, either. And their ending is nigh.

***

Hervé motions for Benoit to sit. "It could not be Melanie."

"Why not?"

"She was in Lebanon at the time. Travel records and passport verify this. As does the French consul in Beirut."

Benoit frowns. "Why did she go to the French consul?"

"They will not say."

"Seems rather convenient, don't you think?"

Resigning himself to the possibility, Hervé shrugs and nods. Possibility, of course, but likelihood? Hervé makes it known that he doesn't believe so.

"It was not her, Benoit. As much as I would like to be, it could not be Melanie."

A sigh. A regret. Many regrets. "So I owe her an apology."

"Yes."

***

It is an easy apology, yet a strange one. Melanie immediately breaks into tears. Benoit can't tell if they are false or not. Her sobbing respiration forces him to give her the benefit of the doubt. She apologizes profusely in return, perhaps once too often, but it persuades him not to ask about the drugs.

She's unsure of what to do. She's in love with Benoit. Always has been and always will be. She tells him so. His lips surprise her. There's something hidden in the kiss, though she imagines the whole of it to be heartfelt. Upon the break of the embrace, pragmatism takes over. Benoit will figure her out. This cannot last.

***

They sit at the cafe. Benoit notices the waning crescent appears as if it's about to strangle Melanie. The image disturbs him, so he shifts his chair. And again, once he notices the tip of the moon gives her the appearance of having a devil's horn.

"Did you see my father?" The question is abrupt. As if radioactive. Why it chose now to be asked is beyond Benoit.

Melanie turns her head sharply to stare at Benoit. "What? No. I was not here."

"I'm leaving soon. Returning to America." The statement is jilted, stunted. This conversation will have no flow. Facts attempting to escape their hiding places reveal themselves at random.

"You're not staying for the trial?"

"No. Father will be found guilty. There's nothing I can do for him."

"You believe that now?"

"It doesn't matter. Do you believe it?"

"No."

I wonder why that is. He does not share his thought, for it has no conclusion. He's not certain he wants it to.

They make love for the final time that night. She's all too aware of the conclusion between them. She doesn't want it to end, but knows it must.

***

"New moon," Melanie says. There is no one around, save a lover in memory. She looks out to the horizon, invisible between the sky and the sea, and throws the gun into the English Channel.

In her hand, an unopened farewell letter from Benoit. He's finally written her back.

Friday, October 22, 2010

With the Fade of the Tide, Part II

*Continued from With the Fade of the Tide, Part I

"Why did you ignore my letters?" she asks, sure that he's awake. He was completely drunk when she found him, falling over and starting fights with anyone he thought might have shot him a concerned glance. The police in Le Havre recognized him from the newspapers - the murder was rather high-profile - and they immediately called Melanie. She brought Benoit back to the hotel, tucked him in bed, then fell asleep herself next to him, on top of the blankets. The gibbous moon shines through an open window.

"What?" he replies, voice still inebriated.

"I sent letters. You never responded."

He stares at the alarm clock on the nightstand, uninterested in answering the question. His head hurts and he's sure the pain isn't entirely from alcohol. Someone hit him. Probably a police officer. He can't remember.

Benoit does remember the letters. He won't admit it, but he still has them. A shoebox in his closet in New York. It's only contents are four letters from a step-sister. He was both shocked and amazed at how forward she was in them. The third letter, in particular. A 14-year-old explicitly expressing her love for him. Though a four-year age difference is nothing to him now, it was all-too-discouraging for one who was 18. Part of him was disgusted. Part of him was intrigued. He'd known she would grow into a beautiful woman, but the situation was just too odd for an immature young man to handle. Better to let her fade into memory.

"Why did you ignore me?" she asks again.

Her perfume makes it difficult to ignore her now.

***

Hervé grins widely, partially because of the new evidence he's about to share, but mainly because Benoit finally showed up to a meeting without Melanie in tow. "There was someone else there."

"And?" The revelation excites Benoit. Still, he takes care not get ahead of his emotions. Something he's been failing at lately.

"Could be the real killer."

"Provided my father is innocent."

Hervé's jaw drops open. He's not sure he heard what he just heard. "Pardon?"

Benoit mentally curses himself. He's always been one open to all possibilities in any situation, but he knows such skepticism in this case is better left unspoken. "Sorry. That was inappropriate."

"Heartless."

"I'm sorry. There was someone else in the room?"

Hervé hesitates, now unsure if he should even tell Benoit. Melanie's certainly to blame for Benoit's shift in demeanor. Melanie. Legally an adversary in the upcoming murder trial. Theoretically family. And, though Hervé is unaware of the development, technically a lover. "Yes. Our investigators turned up further evidence. No fingerprints or DNA, but shoe impressions on the carpet."

"Why didn't the police identify them?"

"They did, but attributed them to hotel staff. We have officially eliminated that option."

"So father will be let go?"

The lawyer coughs. It's an instinctual reaction, for he has no cold and his throat is not dry. "No. The blood and the drugs remain large hurdles to overcome, but..."

Benoit finishes the sentence. "It's progress."

***

Making love to a former step-sister had never crossed Benoit's mind. Much less making love while waist-deep in the ocean under a full moon. Even with the mixture of salt, he could taste the flavor of her skin as he kissed her neck. He'd never had sex in open water before and, for but a fleeting moment, wonders at how smoothly her vagina feels submerged in the salinated tides of Le Havre.

***

It feels good to be out of the hotel. Benoit often appreciates living out of a suitcase, but his room had become stifling. The whole situation had been stifling, but Melanie's presence has been slowly returning his ability to breathe. He laughs at the thought as he prepares to brush his teeth in her bathroom. A woman he'd feared not two weeks ago is now the sole calming factor in his life. He wonders how she isn't more dour as the case begins to unfold - it is her mother who is buried - but he's glad she isn't.

He lets loose a burst of pent-up energy and the cap to the tube of toothpaste falls to the floor, rolling behind the commode. Making a mental note to grab it later, he finishes with his teeth and grabs his shaving cream and razor. He's not seen his own smile in a few months and admires it for a moment.

Melanie is at work and he can't wait to see her when she comes home for lunch. Benoit has nothing scheduled for the day and he intends on surprising her with a prepared meal. His face smooth, he pokes his head into her bedroom and looks at the wall clock. Only 30 minutes before she gets back. He must have slept in a bit too long.

Chuckling, he walks to the phone on her nightstand and bribes a host at an expensive local restaurant to bring a meal worthy of his mood over. He's forced to agree to an extra 30 euros when he requests "as quickly as possible."

"Learn to wake up on time, Benoit," he says to himself as he hangs up the phone. He pulls his suitcase from under Melanie's bed and gets dressed. He's just finishing buttoning his shirt as he hears a car pull up. Then another. He chuckles again, abandoning any thought of trying to convince Melanie that he had actually prepared the meal. Staring out the window, he grins widely as he spies Melanie paying for the food.

Suddenly, randomly, there's a trigger in memory. He runs into the bathroom and kneels beside the toilet, feeling behind it for the errant tube cap. His hand brushes something plastic... a baggie. He pulls it out, curious. Squinting at the half-empty dime bag of marijuana, he almost giggles. He had no idea Melanie smoked. He's about to put it back when he sees Melanie at the bathroom door, her face in a state of horror.

"Sorry, I found your stash."

Her expression does not relax at his attempt at humor. It is then he notices the white powder lightly dusted on the bag.

*Continued in With the Fade of the Tide, Part III

Thursday, October 21, 2010

With the Fade of the Tide, Part I

"New moon," he says. He's not really sure why; it was just something he'd noticed. Trying to break the ice, likely. He's not seen her in fifteen years. His former step-sister. Their parents were married for just two years. He was 17 at the time of the divorce. She was 13.

Melanie nods in response, preferring not to speak, keeping her eyes on the gently lapping waves and the smooth sand of the beach caressing her toes. Once upon a time she had a crush on Benoit. It quickly dissipated after the four letters she'd written to him following the divorce went unanswered. From then, she shut him out of her conscious mind, walling him behind justifications of interest due to the mere convenience of having lived together.

She'd picked him up at Charles de Gaulle four hours earlier. And, like Jericho, those walls came tumbling down. The drive to Le Havre was filled with awkward silences and what little conversation there was remained safely in the realm of small talk. She feels 13 again and hates herself for it. Melanie regrets not listening to her attorney. She should have avoided Benoit altogether. Or at least until after the trial. Or, perhaps, when there was a moon in the sky.

"I've missed you." He's repeating the lie. Benoit spoke it earlier as he tossed his luggage into the trunk of her Peugeot 207, but only after he caught her too-wide smile shift into a thoughtful scowl. The expressions were instantaneous transitions, dependent on whether or not he was looking directly at her. Benoit knows why, too. He should have written back.

The false smile returns, though less forceful this time. Both are glad for the dim light, lest the deception be more evident.

Benoit fakes a chill. "I should get to the hotel."

She takes his hand, not for affection, but to lead him quickly to the car. She knows his hotel isn't far from her home and there is unspoken regret for not having remained in Paris. A sudden thought that Le Havre is too small.

***

"Should she be here?" Benoit's family lawyer speaks perfect English, almost without accent. Hervé Gauloise is, in fact, the reason Benoit and his father moved to the United States. Hervé himself had spent over a decade there. He would always talk about the women. But an American woman is not the subject of his current question.

Benoit nods. "She's fine."

Melanie sits to Benoit's right and slightly behind. She smirks at Benoit's defense and glares at Hervé. She's never liked him. Even before he convinced Philippe to take Benoit to America.

Hervé notices her expression and ignores it, preferring to get right to business. He grabs a file from the top left drawer of his ornate solid oak desk and sets it down. "The evidence against your father is overwhelming." Hervé planned to pause - to let it sink in properly - but Benoit responds quickly, almost disinterestedly.

"So I've heard. I didn't even know he came back to see Émilie."

Hervé does not ignore Melanie's subtle wince at her mother's name. Years away from field police work mutes an old instinct to pursue questioning. Instead, Hervé's compassionate side chalks it up to reactive mourning.

"Neither did I. Philippe didn't even phone to let me know he was in France."

"And they found him with the gun?"

"No. He was at the beach, covered in her blood. Many drugs in his system. Hers, too."

Benoit fumes quietly. His father had been sober for over seven years. He'd even given up cigarettes. No alcohol, no marijuana, no cocaine. None of this made much sense to Benoit, but he's been around the world enough times to know that nonsense isn't unusual. Still, he should know his father well, if anybody.

He turns to Melanie. "What has your lawyer said?"

Melanie glances at Benoit; makes brief eye-contact. Had Benoit been paying more attention to her instead of the case, he'd have noticed the flutter. "You know I cannot tell you that."

***

It's a stirring memory. Hiding under the bed, staring at Benoit exiting his shower. She'd seen other penises before, innocently enough, but the sight of her step-brother's - and his quick, absent-minded stroking of it - is an image that has never left her mind. She still remembers the color of the towel he wrapped himself with. A shade of maroon. Almost the color of blood.

***

The moon waxes crescent as Benoit and Melanie sip coffee at a sidewalk cafe. The angle of the moon makes it appear that the crescent is stabbing Benoit in the neck. Melanie smiles, though without malice. It's simply a beautiful image.

"You did not know your father came to see my mother?"

Benoit shakes his head. He's not in a talkative mood. Since he read the brief, his mind has been a whirlwind of emotion and information. Unleashed and aimless. Just... spinning. He hadn't even realized that Melanie kissed him on the neck when she dropped him off after the meeting with the lawyer.

Her smile disappears. She doesn't want it to, but neither does she want to appear callous. Benoit's father is facing life in prison, after all. As she watches Benoit half-heartedly finish his coffee, she takes note of the irony. She'd been sure that he would have the emotional edge in their reunion. His departure from her life had hurt her deeply and she was afraid that his return would scar her further. But he's a wreck. And she's in control. As she'd learned a few weeks ago, control can be exhilarating.

"Perhaps we should walk along the beach."

Melanie stands and offers her hand, affectionately this time. He takes it, though his thoughts are elsewhere. His blank stare at nothing in general makes this obvious. She'll have to rectify that.

*Continued in With the Fade of the Tide, Part II

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Know When You're Caught

There's a little-known saying among those who, well, engage in less than honorable activities: "Know when you're caught." You might not hear those exact words, but you'll find the sentiment damn near everywhere. Hollywood loves to play on the "calm criminal who takes a nap in jail" theme, and that's pretty much what the saying means. You've been caught. Guilty. Irrefutable evidence. So, learn to take a lesson from professional liars, thieves, wretch hives of scum and villainy, and know when you're caught.

Ironic, I know. All you ever needed to know you learned in Kindergarten... and from criminals.

For whatever reason (and certainly not by any uncommon means of prescience), I've long subscribed to this philosophy. I, like pretty much everyone else, am not a perfect creature. As such, I'm not a perfectly honest creature and sometimes do stupid shit. Certainly not as often as I used to, but it still happens. Despite what you've just read, I have earned (and maintain) an honest reputation. And in another case of irony, I didn't earn it by being completely honest (although I am for the most part... of course, you'll no longer believe that claim), but by fessing up when I've been caught at something.

Irony is definitely theme here.

Seriously, though. If I were caught, be it in a lie or whatever, and I knew or strongly suspected that I was caught, I'd fess up. There would be no argument, no attempt to backtrack or cover up... nothing. I'd just come clean. Let's face it, despite the imperfect nature of human deduction and induction, accusations usually start flying once reasonable doubt has been surpassed (outside of the topics of love and war, of course). I learned this lesson many, many years ago. And I learned to know when I'm caught.

Why am I ranting about this? Well, I'll tell you. A short while ago, someone was caught doing something wrong (not by me, but I quickly jumped in on the investigation). It was determined very quickly that this person knowingly did something wrong. Irrefutable evidence. And, so, we called him out on it.

He "defended" himself with a lie.

So, we called him out on that. Even pointed out how we knew he was lying.

So he "defended" himself with another lie. Then he even tried to alter the evidence (never mind that we had already taken our own sample of it, safely tucked away for our own reference).

By that point we were done with the matter, having already doled out the punishment (as benign as it was), but still used the incident as fodder for jokes.

But this guy... well, he just doesn't know when he's caught. So he went outside of even our sphere of influence to try to convince uninterested parties that he wasn't lying.

Which made for more jokes. But, as I said, by that point we were done with the matter.

And then he "defended" himself again. And repeated a previous lie.

We're still done with the matter and forever will be, but I just felt the need to share this little moral. Know when you're caught.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Lovely Discourse

"How does one fall in love?" It's a genuine question from a naive mind. He can't help that he's so superficial. Both of his parents were models. They married after discovering his mother was pregnant and divorced before he was even born. There was an attempt at an annulment, but they wound up with a judge who had no sympathy for stupidity. Why they even thought they could get away with an annulment when a child was involved is beyond the comprehension of most sane people.

"What kind of question is that?" It's a genuine response from a skeptical mind. She believes that there are definitely such things as stupid questions and, to her, that one is a doozy. Her father was an engineer and her mother was a physicist. They always encouraged her to look within and beneath things... to find out how everything works. They were killed in a car accident. Some drunk driver decided the world had too many engineers and scientists.

"There has to be a process, right? It doesn't just happen." The contradiction begins.

"Sure it does. Haven't you ever heard of love at first sight?"

"Well, yeah, but that's just sort of a myth."

"Only if you don't want to believe in it." And it finishes.

He wonders about beliefs for a few moments, then decides it's not yet worth the effort in thought. "You eat dinner yet?"

She tries to remember her appetite of the last few hours, then decides her thoughts are best utilized elsewhere. "Did you just ask me out?"

***

"So, this love at first sight, how are you supposed to know? And how come love doesn't last forever?" These are questions the superficial are supposed to know the answers to. But he's too busy being superficial to ask her anything more relevant.

"Well, you'll feel it. Nerve impulses will fire, certain parts of your body will flush. And nothing in the universe is permanent." These are not the answers to the questions. But she's too busy looking behind the curtain to notice the drama unfolding in front of it.

"Yeah, but isn't love eternal?" The revelation begins.

"What happens when we die?"

"I don't know. Heaven. Hell. Something."

"Or nothing at all." And it finishes.

He finally decides to give beliefs dedicated thought, then quickly decides that he's attracted to this analytical woman sitting across from him. "You want to head back to my place?"

She tries to remember the last time she's had sex, then shuts it out once she remembers how turned off she was. "You're not just going to sweat on top of me and grunt, are you?"

***

"Are we in love?" It is a risky question from one who almost never looks beneath the surface. But he's still naive and only asks because he wants it to be true.

"What is love, anyway?" A calculated riposte from one who may not even believe in love. She finds it odd that despite the whole of human art, the concept's never been plainly defined.

"It's, you know, when two people need to be with each other." The definition begins.

"Do we need to be with each other?"

"Well, I want to."

"Wanting is not needing." And it finishes.

His thoughts are frustrated. She's confused him from the get-go, unaware that she's been playing Devil's Advocate in order to prevent another broken heart. "I want to do this again."

Her thoughts are spinning. She's certainly not in love, but she loves the feel of his body and his endless patience, as based in naivete as it may be. He's not intimidated by her. The confession begins. "So do I." And it finishes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Jayne's No. 5

A while back I read a list of revelations over at one of my favorite blogs (Harnett-Hargrove). The list concerns itself with life in general, but is very much about the creative mindset. It's twelve points, all of which (in my opinion) are valid, but it's point number five that I love so much (those curious can read the whole post here).

"5. Muse: Learn to work this. Most successful freelancers can't afford to wait for inspiration. People in other professions work everyday whether they feel like it or not."

What can I say to this but: yes, yes, yes, exactly right, yes, I-love-you-will-you-marry-me, yes (okay, the proposal is a joke, but it's an apt sentiment).

Regular readers of mine will know I don't buy into writer's block. Seriously, it's bullshit. As I've stated before, unless your fingers and hands are broken or cut off, there is no such thing as writer's block. Other excuses I can't stand with so-called "aspiring writers" are "I'm too busy," "I'm not inspired," and "I'm not motivated."

What can I say to those but: no, no, no, bullshit, no, go-fuck-yourself-and-find-another-career-aspiration, no (okay, the insult is not a joke, and is totally an apt sentiment).

Of course, who am I to be doling out such advice? But... I'm not the one who said it this time. So, nyer.

Write anyway!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Irrewind, 20101016: Tenth Daughters of Memory

Yes, I'm aware that I pimp out the writing challenge that I helped found at least twice a year (via index posts), but it deserves an extra pimp. It's grown a bit this year (slowly, but surely) and remains my favorite writing group (sounds subjective, coming from me, but I'd honestly claim this anyway).

Anyway, as of this writing I've won the 10thDoM challenge five times (not counting the River of Mnemosyne butt-kicker), so I'm gonna put them up again. Nyer.

(Actually, I won a sixth time, but due an issue regarding a "corrected vote," I handed off the victory to a worthy competitor... who that was shall never be revealed... they deserved it, anyway)

(Then again, the second time I won was because the actual winner forgot to vote... so I guess I'm even)

"Gateway"
The smell of cedar is out of place. Israel is not to the south and there are no trees. He doesn't know what death smells like - perhaps it does smell like wood - but he is resolutely certain that fear should smell like something else. The nitrocellulose in the air does little to staunch the... Read More

"Uriah and Uriel: A Dialogue"
At first the rain was useless to Uriah, because it didn't wash the blood off of his hands. But as the flooding started, he was able to cake himself with mud, hiding the crime. No evidence remained but a buried body unlikely to be found and a broken heart unlikely to be revealed... Read More

"The Storms of Dust, Part I" and "The Storms of Dust, Part II"
Long separated from his brother, Afvaldr, and regretting the decision to not switch his horse out for a local dromedary, Áfastr sits nearly defeated on a small slope comprised of sand. He feels the loose earth beneath him shifting, but he doesn't care. With his back to the wind and... Read More

"Gravity"
He realizes as he stares up at her that there is no word for her. Gorgeous comes close, but is too superficial. Beautiful, though accurate, misses something. He realizes as he stares down at her that a word is not necessary. Her landscape is perfect with its imperfections. He... Read More

"A Rapture in Silence"
It is quiet up here, the sensation of falling numbing all other sensations. Those already on the ground deafened by the very thing that inadvertently provides solace for those still in the air. Even heat - solar, geothermal, mechanical... it matters not - fails to register in a mind... Read More

*Update - I just won another Muse.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Craophine Boatchel

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"I have no idea."

"Well, someone needs to fucking find out."

The thought goes through Stephanie's mind that Kevin would be more attractive if he didn't say "fuck" so often.

***

Armin looks up from his latest cryptography project just in time to see Harrison stick a pink post-it note to Armin's computer monitor. "What is that?"

Harrison jumps - though full of delusions of being the resident ninja, he startles easily - and twirls in a full 360. "Sorry, didn't want to interrupt."

Armin returns his attention to a page of what anyone would else think is simple binary code. "You still have loud footsteps," he says, face buried into his work. He hears Harrison pull the post-it back off the screen. "What is that?" he asks again.

Harrison slams the note on top of the code. "Don't know. The DDI said he found it in a memo. Nobody has a clue. He wants the team to check it out."

Armin leans back in his chair, grabbing the note. "Craophine Boatchel? That some sort of chemical?"

Harrison shakes his head, an inexplicably large smile across his face. "Nope."

"Operation?"

"Nope."

"You're not going to be much help, are you?"

"Nope."

***

Martin's been undercover way too long. His beard is scruffy - just like everyone else's - his skin itches from the dry sand found at elevations that should be too high for sand, and his mind is going. It'd be gone already were Sher Ali not with him. Two American spies slowly going crazy, forced to experience fadings of identity because, they theorize, somebody forgot they were out here.

The sun sets and Martin and Sher Ali conduct their nightly ritual, an in-joke with a meaning long forgotten.

"Craophine," Martin mumbles, pulling a shoddy blanket over himself.

"Boatchel," Sher Ali whispers back, already half-asleep.

***

Purcell fires a round into the already-dead man's skull. He'd have preferred to save the bullet, but he and his team have no facility to care for prisoners. When he was a conventional soldier he would often question such a blatant circumvention of the Geneva Convention, but that was years ago. Here, he's really only worried about his neck. Even his teammate's lives are secondary to his own goals.

After the team finishes capping the remaining bodies, they go to work searching for anything of intelligence value. Purcell turns a younger man over - probably mid-20s - and checks his jacket pockets. Cigarettes, both American and Afghan; matches; photograph of a brother or a friend; a AA battery; nail clippers. Moving to the man's trouser pockets, he pulls out a green notepad - like those commonly issued to soldiers - and flips through it. Something catches his eye. In big print, written by a Sharpie or some other type of marker: "craophine boatchel." Purcell doesn't know why, but it rings a bell.

"Chief?" he calls out, gaining the attention of the current ranking man. The Chief walks over to Purcell and Purcell shows him the note.

"What is this?" Chief Robinson isn't a stupid man, but he's often easily confused. His initial reaction is that Purcell is playing a joke on him and he tries to figure out what complicated insult "craophine boatchel" is an acronym for.

"Fuck if I know, but I think I've seen it before."

"Back in your Intel days?" Robinson says in a demeaning tone. Purcell, though, finds it far from demeaning. There's a reason he's always asked to attend briefings, after all.

Purcell shrugs. "Maybe. Figured you might know something."

Robinson frowns, perceiving an insult that isn't there. "Send it up to G-2 when the whirly picks us up. Let them figure it out. We're moving in five."

It's Purcell's turn to frown. They're missing something. And he has the feeling that they're in the right place to find it. Too bad they're leaving.

*Continued in Corporate Banter: I

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

So Cruel; C'est la Vie

*Read while listening... it's kinda cool.


We crossed the line
Who pushed who over?


"Take my hand."

"No."

"You'll fall."

"I will if I take your hand."

It was then he learned that broken trust shall not be mended.

It doesn't matter to you
It matters to me


"On the right! Engage right!"

The squad shifts, trying to save what's left from the ambush. He's certain he issued the wrong orders.

It was then he learned that any action is better than none at all.

We're cut adrift
We're still floating


"I should've been there, you know?"

"You can't save the world, man."

"I don't want to save the world. I want my friends back."

"You can't save the world, man."

I'm only hanging on
To watch you go down
My love


"Do you even love me?"

"No."

"Did you ever?"

"Does it matter?"

I disappeared in you
You disappeared from me


"I can't see."

"Calm down, bro. Just some blood in your eyes."

"I can't see."

"Calm down. I'm right here."

It was then he learned the true value of a shoulder to lean on.

I gave you everything you ever wanted
It wasn't what you wanted


"Don't you just, you know, want to be happy?"

"Sure. Who doesn't?"

"Then why don't you smile?"

"I haven't earned it yet."

The men who love you, you hate the most
They pass right through you like a ghost


"Shit, dude. She's fucking beautiful."

"I know."

"Then what's the problem?"

"That's what bothers me."

It was then he learned when to walk away.

They look for you, but your spirit is in the air
Baby, you're nowhere


"I'm not saying you should. But I'm not saying you shouldn't."

"I don't play vague, yo."

"Neither do I."

"That's specific, then?"

You say in love there are no rules
Sweet heart, you're so cruel


"Stay on my six. Follow me out."

"I'm scared, Sergeant."

"It's cool. I've already shit my pants. On three, okay?"

"Yes, Sergeant."

Desperation is a tender trap
It gets you every time


"You've never seen a woman that just took your breath away?"

"Sure, I guess. That scares you?"

"Yeah, that scares me."

"Life ain't worth living if you're not afraid."

It was then he learned the value of a cliché.

You put your lips to her lips
To stop the lie


"I think you're a coward."

"Never said I wasn't."

"You're a walking contradiction."

"Never said I wasn't."

Her skin is pale like God's only dove
Screams like an angel for your love


"I'm not sure I'm cut out for this."

"None of us are. We just pretend to like it."

"Do you like it?"

"Fuck no, it's terrifying. But what a fucking rush."

It was then he learned he was meant to be a paratrooper.

Then she makes you watch her from above
And you need her like a drug


"If I leave, I'm not coming back."

"I'm counting on it."

"You never loved me, did you?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

You say in love there are no rules
Sweet heart, you're so cruel


"You're obsessed."

"I know, I know. I'll get over it."

"When?"

"When the time is right."

It was then he decided to shoot for the stars.

She wears my love like a see-through dress
Her lips say one thing
Her movements something else


"I was a dick to him the last time I saw him."

"He forgives you, man. Don't let it get to you."

"I know, but... fuck, dude."

"We've all been there."

Oh love, like a screaming flower
Love, dying every hour


"Why didn't you answer the phone?"

"Kinda tired of your shit."

"I needed you."

"No, you didn't."

You don't know if it's fear or desire
Danger the drug that takes you higher
Head in heaven, fingers in the mire


"You've fallen in love with an impression."

"That impression has been better for me than reality."

"You say that now, but you're gonna be disappointed."

"I'm already disappointed. Might as well enjoy the view."

Her heart is racing, you can't keep up
The night is bleeding like a cut


"What are you running from? Nobody's pushing you."

"I'm not running from anything."

"Bullshit. Bull-fucking-shit."

"I'm gonna go now."

It was then he realized he was running.

Between the horses of love and lust
We are trampled underfoot


"Help me. Please."

"I've got you. Hang on."

"I can't feel my legs."

"Hang on."

You say in love there are no rules
Sweet heart, you're so cruel


"I don't know what to do. I don't even care."

"Yeah, well, you'll never change."

"Scary, isn't it?"

"Not really. Just remember, it's all so fucking hilarious."

To stay with you I'd be a fool
Sweet heart, you're so cruel


"Wherever you go, there you are."

"That's my line."

"I'm stealing it. Don't be a stranger."

"I won't. I'll be back."

It was then he found his smile.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When the Clock Strikes Now, It is Then

*a continuation of The Window Blinks When the Mirror Sees and Water Stolen from the Desert Does Not Belong to You

Two BII agents lie dead at the scene, along with dozens of bystanders. There were two bombs. One to cause a spectacle and a second to kill everyone stupid enough to want a better look at it. It's a common trick among terrorists, though this wasn't perpetuated by any normal terrorist. The first bomb, the spectacle, killed the BII agents. In fact, it's quickly dawned on Ervin and Lim that the BII agents were intended to be the spectacle.

Lim's a vet of several combat engagements, having served six years in the Marine Corps, so the sounds of the bullets and their ricochets don't bother him as much as they do Ervin, who's extremely close to freaking out.

"Who's shooting at us? Who the fuck is shooting at us?"

"Probably the bad guys," Lim replies, doing his best to scan the area without exposing himself. The corner coffee shop and most of the rest of the building it was in is pretty much obliterated. People scream and cry from all around and Lim gives up trying to listen for the shooter's location.

Ervin whips out his cell phone and dials 911. Lim hears the tones between the increasingly sporadic gunfire and starts laughing.

"Something funny?"

"Ironic, is all." Lim isn't even sure Brawley has a police department.

***

Jimenez hates being a fifth-wheel - hates it even more when he's stuck with Baldwin, the lazy bastard - but the fact that the Kern County Sheriff's Office is allowing them to observe the interrogation is enough for Jimenez to keep his mouth shut. He knows almost immediately that Joey Gould isn't their guy and, in retrospect, shouldn't even be a suspect. But it is his film set that the two Aston Martins came from, it is his crew that the three dead people were a part of, and it is his bank account that received a huge infusion of cash.

"I'm filming a fucking movie, you idiots," Gould yells at the Kern County detective. "Money comes and goes very quickly."

"Through personal accounts?"

Gould glances at his lawyer, some slick asshole from San Francisco. Maybe a cousin or something. The lawyer nods.

"My personal account? Which bank?"

"CB&T money market."

"I don't have a CB&T money market. I don't even know what the fuck CB&T is."

The taller of the Kern County interrogators shoots Gould a questioning look.

"Okay, that's not true," confesses Gould, "but I don't have an account there."

Jimenez turns to Baldwin to say something sarcastic, but his unfortunate partner is sleeping.

***

She may be a puppet in all of this. Or she may be the marionette that learned to pull its own strings. Or maybe everyone involved is a puppet. And can pull their own strings. Maybe it doesn't matter what anyone thinks. So long as they're afraid.

Her wicked green eyes are terrified.

***

"Brawley PD's on their way," Ervin calls out. Even with Ervin's face buried in the floor, Lim can hear the relief in his partner's voice.

"Guess that answers my question," Lim says to himself aloud.

"What?"

"Nothing." Lim continues to scan, propping up and glancing in a certain direction, then ducking and repeating the process in another direction. Gradually, his scans become longer. "It's quiet. Shooter's probably gone."

"It's too quiet," Ervin pleads, well aware of the cliché. "Shooter wants you to think that."

In the distance, sirens from what sounds like an entire platoon of Brawley PD cruisers crescendo.

"I doubt it. Shooter probably wants to avoid prison."

***

Behind a set of binoculars, there's a grin and a chuckle. Shooter can read lips. The cops will find the rifle and remnants of the explosives. Pieces of a puzzle that, the shooter knows, will build the wrong picture.

This is a game the Devil would love to play. An old-fashioned pocket watch is checked and there's another grin. The Feds will be getting involved today. It's almost time to set up the board.

*To be continued...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Chase the Day

Ah, shit yeah... Or "shichya," as it's more phonetically spelled. It's a saying I picked up from an Australian friend of mine and, truth be told, people around my neck of the woods often wonder why the Hell I'm saying it. I don't really know the technical reasons behind why I say it, but I use it for the same reason I use anything: it works.

My closest friends know what a fucking roller coaster I've been on since early 2006. Really, long before that, when I went from having more money than I needed to having almost none at all. Lots of factors played into that - some external, others self-inflicted - but, damn... you learn who your friends are when you're that close to rock-bottom. And I've got the best of the best. It took everyone I know to help sift through four years of utter confusion. Everyone I know and then some, for I'd be remiss in not mentioning the kindness of many strangers. Through it all, I've found that my enemies are insignificant and easily ignored. In fact, I wish them all the very best in life. As long as they don't cross my path again, of course.

I don't know if the Sufi or the Jews coined the term, but "This, too, shall pass," is about as certain as death and taxes. Oh, I've touted it, but I know it now. Some things take a little longer; need a little more patience; require a little more effort, but they'll pass. Tomorrow's coming whether you want it to or not. How fucking wonderful is that?

I've not yet returned to the physical shape I was in back in 2007 - arguably the best shape of my life - but I'm almost there. There's even an added bonus this time. In 2007, my left foot wasn't being properly rehabilitated. It is now... and I can almost taste the mountain air and the deep ocean water I'll be able to expose myself to again. It's been far too long. Someone I admire once said that if you stop moving, you might as well be dead. Yeah... totally. Never mind that moving too fast can kill you, as well. Been there, done that... I'm still here. At least speed is exhilarating.

It's been an eight-year journey to get to where I'm at. Eight insane years. Outside of maybe 1989 - a year that's value in my life has only recently become truly realized - and 2000 - a year I wasn't yet mature enough to deal with - 2002 through 2010 marked the biggest changes in my outlook, my perspectives, my beliefs. Everything I thought I knew up to that point was effectively proven wrong amid a rapid-fire succession of change. Locations, loves, schools, careers, you name it. No stability whatsoever. Just a pretty convincing facade of it. No, that's not entirely true... I was stubbornly resisting change in some fucked up desire to win a conflict I had no business fighting.

Taking chances - something I'd long been accustomed to - suddenly seemed foolish. Instead of rolling with the punches, I tried to hold on to some ill-conceived plan of world domination. It almost fucking killed me - figuratively and literally. But, after 2006, that all slowly started to reverse itself. Four years down, as it were, and four years up.

That's not to say this resurgence was of my own making. Not entirely and, I'll probably have to admit at one point or another, not even primarily. There were plenty of well-placed slaps and kicks in the ass that got me back to where I needed to be... where I should've been the whole time. Slaps and kicks from both friend and foe at the most unexpected - and opportune - of times. Face it, people... those around you know you better than you know yourself. And when strangers figure you out before you yourself do... it's just all the more profound.

So I started taking chances again, albeit in the wrong direction. But, hey, I'm not perfect. And, besides, that first wrong-way chance got my career kick-started. I knew something was wrong, though. I knew I was in the wrong place and for all the wrong reasons. At least I knew, though... which is more than I can say about all of the previous fuck-ups.

And then came 2009. The year I let the career go down the drain. Not sure what I was thinking, but I'm betting it had something to do with my physical location. I was, literally, in a place I did not want to be. But that summer was pretty awesome. Again, the right people - friend and stranger - at the right time. And I got off my ass and took a leap.

Then another. And another.

Now, I'm almost running again. It feels great. The wind is blowing the bullshit out of my hair. That can't happen sitting around. 2011's looking good. I'm sure that everything I think I know will effectively be proven wrong amid a rapid-fire succession of change. But this time, that's the point.

Next April I'm reengaging my quest to visit every country in the world, beginning with a month in Australia. I've always been a creature of momentum, ever since I left the roost at 17. That I got stuck is beside the point. I ain't stuck now. There are some things I want that are elsewhere in the world, and I'm going to go see if I can have them. Carpe diem? Nah...

It's a saying I've used a lot, but its is a false premise; a false promise and a false hope. We are incapable of seizing any day, never mind any other moment in time. But we can, however, chase it. And, as another saying goes, the chase is where all the fun is. C'est la vie.

I'm coming. Shichya.

***

* It's all about the moment, the here and now, and perhaps a little about what comes next. * Go out on a limb once in a while... somebody's there for you, you know. * Having no direction isn't necessarily being lost, though being lost is a prerequisite for finding your way. * The world is moving faster than you ever will, and will move longer than you can possibly be remembered. * a stubborn refusal to accept an overwhelming sense of embarrassment or shame prevents any acknowledgment of such defining moments of life. * The more beautiful it is, the better to kill you with. * The days when a mirror was just another toy are long gone. Reflections no longer reflective, the face staring back just another enemy, allied with the onslaught of time. * A lie is a weight the wind will not carry. * It's remembered how it wants to be. The chase, the trap, an act of foolish bravery or cautious abandon to feel what couldn't be said. * Tomorrow, sunrise will begin the chase again. * Are you going to do something, or are you going to watch it burn? * No worries. The sunrise will greet you in the morning. Whether or not it lights the way home is another matter entirely. * You'll know when the clock is right, for motion and thought will blur into one. And when it does, don't hesitate. * There's a scream of triumph as youthful lust streaks through cloud, finally knowing what it means to fly. * Why you’re smiling as the world starts tumbling finally makes sense. It’s too late to stop, and you didn’t want to, anyway. * If it's going to happen, there's no need to worry about it. * Life's picking up speed, and people you don't want to leave behind are going to be left behind. * The world is a large place until you've seen it all. And when that happens, you can just make up another. * Maybe that's why so many people choose to live in the desert... the grass isn't greener on the other side, because there's only tumbleweed. * Whoever made the mistake of attributing Red to love never understood what it meant to be angry. * Mirages are a good thing to follow, however, when you think about it. They do have a tendency to keep you moving. * Precipitation on the precipice, flowing down the path of least resistance while wondering what it would be like to be a flake of snow. * This is not a summit's peak, but a cliff's edge, and the difference is unimportant. Get up. If you're going to fall, do it here, do it now. There's still air beneath you. *

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Killing Softly, Part III

*Continued from Killing Softly, Part II

Sliding glass door shatters and a puff of down and cotton springs from a puncture through the bottom corner of the mattress. The lovers react instinctively without breaking their intercourse, though labia stretch uncomfortably for an instant. His right hand reaches for his pistol on the left night stand. She reaches for her pistol on the right.

***

They've been partners for three years now and have even spoken of marriage. Such a thing is unlikely, however, since their line of work would make the arrangement more dangerous for the both of them. But Jonathan Ferrari and Gemma Bianci are very much in love. As much now as they were three years ago.

Donnie had been right. The cliché fit. Violently lonely souls found peace in the violent hearts of each other. As she sleeps, silhouette reflecting blue-white glow from a filtered moon, he traces a finger from her nude thigh to her neck. She moans softly, dreamlike, and turns over onto her stomach. He gently kisses her between shoulder blades, then shifts her hair to the side and kisses again on the back of her neck.

He can't sleep and very much wants to make love, but she is exhausted from a harder-than-expected assignment and he takes care not to wake her. Instead, he places his head just below his pillow - his nose mere millimeters from her left shoulder - and inhales the scent of fading perfume interrupted by a hint of sweat.

There was a time in life in which he would not even allow himself to imagine such moments. He still doesn't really believe he's living this one.

***

Shards of glass begin their musical percussion on hardwood floor as ballistic zips permeate the room from two sides. Wet tongues maintain their taste of each other as silenced flashes from the ends of pistols return fire. With simultaneous quiver there is an acknowledgment - cognitive and carnal - that they are already dead.

***

Work had been difficult lately. A young enforcer began a power-play for Donnie's position and the body count kept getting larger. So tight was security that Donnie felt the need to bring in his assassins as body guards. He held off calling in Jonathan and Gemma - they were his best, after all - until he decided he had no other option. Their reputations, internationally renown among organized crime and law enforcement circles, helped to stem some of the attempts on Donnie's life, but not all of them.

Reactive defense quickly became aggressive offense and, though their protests remained silent, Jonathan and Gemma soon found themselves soldiers in a war happening in the shadows of New York and New Jersey. For a time, Jonathan and Gemma would continue to operate together - often accompanied by several others - but constant betrayals and shifting of loyalties forced Donnie to send them on different assignments at the same time. Neither minded to the point of refusal, having been solo operators before, but circumstance led to a drastic drop in the amount of time Jonathan and Gemma could spend in each other's company.

Donnie was aware of this, for it eventually reflected quite evidently in the moods of each, but there was nothing he could yet do about it, save cut them loose from their responsibilities. He wasn't willing to take that chance.

***

A 5.56 mm round tears through the flesh of breast and passes near the heart of the other. Crimson from exit wound sprays lover. The assailants move loudly and .45 caliber bullets blaze atmospheric paths towards any sound created by boot and foot. The legs of man and woman straddle each other, continuing to foster oscillating motions as adrenaline adds to lust and regret of dying reminds of love.

***

She massages his shoulders, careful to avoid the black and purple of the fist-sized bruise near the top-right of his ribcage. He loves her hands and their professional technique. And, in his case, their loving technique. The movements of her fingers and thumbs threatens both to induce sleep and elevate libido. As he adjusts his hips to make room for the encroaching discomfort, she gently rolls him over. His eyes are closed but he's smiling. Fingertips glide from chest to stomach; from stomach to inner thighs, then slightly higher. She removes her shirt in a smooth, almost choreographed transition, and she grabs him, drawing him into her in a seamless glide.

His eyes open and palms extend, just barely allowing erect nipples to brush them while her body begins its slow bounce. Watching her for a few moments - this, one of his favorite views - he slides his hands to her hips, palpating her buttocks and finding her ticklish spot on the rear-right of her pelvis. She squeezes him in playful response and he lets go, finding the urge to gasp overpowering.

***

Another bullet cracks scapula, pushing bodies downward for an instant, posture righting itself with an orgasm of life that will end in seconds. The kiss fades, replaced by embrace, neck to neck. Blood rushes from eyes in an attempt to keep bodies and lust alive. With their fading sight, attacking silhouettes are effectively engaged, ensuring that Orpheus and Eurydice will have plenty of fresh company in Hell.

***

Donnie enters the bedroom, unsure of how he'll react. The Handler was right. A massacre was expected and a massacre is what was delivered. Outside of the room are four dead. Inside are six more. Four enemy. Jonathan. Gemma. Were this anyone else, Donnie would take heart in the 8-2 score, but here the thought doesn't dare cross his mind. Even he's failed to realize how much he loved Jonathan and Gemma. They had saved him as much as he'd saved them.

Donnie runs out into the hallway, trying to catch his breath and fight back tears he didn't think existed. He slumps into a chair and pulls out a cigar and his cellphone. His fingers fumble the lighter and it falls to the floor. He's shaking too badly and knows he won't be able to retrieve it.

The cigar thrown across the room, Donnie finds that neither can he dial the number. Holding down voice-dial, he commands, "Call Handler."

A few rings.

"Send in the boys. I can't do it." Donnie hangs up.

He closes his eyes, a numbing sadness forcing a sense of sleep he's not had since he was too young to remember. In his mind, he snaps a photograph of Jonathan and Gemma posed in their final moment of life.

Lovers until the end. Covered in blood. Eyes open, pistols in hand, bodies locked in coital embrace.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Killing Softly, Part II

*Continued from Killing Softly, Part I

"You need a woman," Donnie said, with that half-smile that made it hard to tell if he were joking. Donnie wanted to tell Gemma that she needed a man, but knew Gemma would react more than poorly to the suggestion. So Donnie figured to tell the man he had in mind for her instead.

Donnie knew people. And he knew that Jonathan and Gemma, despite having not yet met, were lost souls who could find themselves in each other. Donnie couldn't help it; the thought made him laugh. Still, there was no doubt in his mind that the cliché fit.

"I don't have time for a woman, Donnie." Jonathan's answer was blunt; emotionless. The sentiment behind the response was clear, even if the words were somewhat of a lie. When he wasn't working, Jonathan did little save read books and watch movies. In essence, he had all the time in the world. That it was painfully obvious Jonathan was depressingly lonely was what sprung Donnie into doing something about it.

Donnie knew people. And the subtle and devious machinations of his demented crime-boss of a mind would, Donnie was sure, eventually come to fruition. He thought briefly of some law of attraction or magnetism he once read about when he was a kid in high school. He didn't understand it then - doesn't understand it to this day - but he figured the principle had to work.

"You need a woman."

***

Gemma Bianci is intrigued. Jonathan's laughter means he's either sick and twisted like damn near every other man she's  met, or that he gets it. It's against her nature, but she's leaning towards the latter. She thought she recognized something different when they met. Something in his posture, in his eyes. Part of her even knows that he thought the same of her.

"So, what about you?" she asks, uncharacteristically wanting to keep the silence broken, though she still does not look directly at him.

"How'd I get into killing?" Jonathan asks in return, flicking what's left of his cigarette out the car window.

"Yeah." She almost smiles. Almost.

He studies her for a moment. He knows he's older than she is, but she looks like she might be the older one. Rough lines from a rough life. He briefly wonders what gene determines how a person's appearance is aged by stress.

"It's kind of a boring story, compared to yours."

"Not sure there's such a thing as a boring how-I-got-into-killing story." Gemma senses Jonathan readying to recount his tale and she pulls another cigarette out of his pack. He stares at it, surprised at her intuition, and licks his bottom lip in burgeoning curiosity - he finds himself wanting to really know her. Noticing his hesitation, she places the cigarette in her mouth and lights it. Taking a drag - a false one, Jonathan guesses - she hands it to him. He can taste her lipstick.

***

The first time Jonathan ever killed somebody, he was only 16. It was a clear-cut case of self-defense... some gang-banging hoodies tried to rip off Jonathan's skateboard and when Jonathan put up a fight, one of the thugs whipped out a knife. In what Jonathan himself calls the quickest reaction of his life, he swung the skateboard into the knife, deflecting the weapon into the assailant's own ribcage. The knife pierced the heart. In shock, Jonathan couldn't do anything but stand there and watch him die.

When the cops showed up, they quickly realized what happened - plenty of witnesses confirmed Jonathan's story - and went easy on him. Though Jonathan was still taken into custody, the arresting officer put on the cuffs as loose as they could get without falling off. Jonathan spent less than two hours in the holding cell.

He, too, wound up with an abusive partner. Amanda Pratt. She had a scolding scream that still causes him nightmares.

Ostensibly abused herself by a high-school boyfriend, she became a self-professed defender of the abused. Amanda was overweight for most of her life and after leaving the abusive boyfriend she resolved to get into shape. Starting with Tae Bo, she engaged in a variety of physical exercise. Rock climbing, Kempo, scuba. There was no activity she wasn't willing to try. She never quite lost all of her weight - though much of it was replaced by muscle - but that didn't stop most men from finding her attractive, particularly Jonathan. Less for her appearance and more for her confidence, he was enamored.

A few months into their relationship, he was slowly exposed to her dogmatic view that men were essentially scum that needed to be cleansed and controlled. He also learned the details that constituted the abuse she endured. Speaking to her sister, he discovered that her "abuse" consisted of a boyfriend slapping her once - by all accounts, the only time this boyfriend ever struck Amanda - at a high school dance. Without excusing the slap, Jonathan realized that Amanda's outspoken defiance was misguided and due more to a public embarrassment, rather than any true sense of abuse.

Finding Jonathan mysteriously against her - so she perceived - she began a quick spiral into abusing him. At first the abuse was emotional, no physical contact at all. But one day she went too far and, in the heat of an argument, grabbed him by the throat. He broke. Feral instinct took over. An elbow to the neck and a violent yank of a pony tail - accompanied literally by a bone-chilling snap - resulted in Amanda's death.

Frightened - both by his own action and of its potential punishment - he fled overseas. He eventually joined the French Foreign Legion - at the time they still fostered changes of identity - and soon became a decorated soldier. Then a mercenary operating out of South Africa. Then a hit-man out of Austria. It was there he first worked for Donnie.

***

"So your name's not really Jonathan Pino Ferrari?" She takes notice that he's let the now-extinguished cigarette dry to his lower lip. It still has her lipstick on it.

"Nope." He spits the cigarette butt out. Point of fact is that he's not even Italian.

"Pino?"

"I love horses."

"And fast cars, I'm guessing." She, too, loves horses, often finding long rides her only form of solace.

He laughs. "Yeah, but I prefer Jaguars."

She understand it's a joke, but doesn't quite find it funny. She's not a car person. Nevertheless, she accepts that he definitely intrigues her. It doesn't hurt that she finds him attractive.

"Huh," she says, finally looking at him. "That was kinda boring."

This time, she joins him in his laughter.

*Continued in Killing Softly, Part III

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Killing Softly, Part I

The Handler eyes his boss carefully. Initially, he thought that the request might have been some sort of twisted joke - the boss certainly has a reputation for those - but the sadness so clearly painted on Donnie Adduci's face dispelled the notion.

"You sure you want to do this yourself?" the Handler asks. "We have people already on their way."

Donnie sighs. He does not like to be second-guessed. Under normal circumstances, he'd probably put out his Dominican cigar on the Handler's arm. These are not normal circumstances.

"Yes, I'm sure. I should do it."

"You haven't cleaned up in a while." The Handler adds more respect to his tone, noticing too-late Donnie's subtle ire with the previous question.

Donnie probably should let the others take care of the mess, but this is far more personal than any other mess Donnie can recall at the moment. Far more personal than any of his people could possibly realize.

"Doesn't matter. They were mine. It's my fault."

"What do you mean?" There's alarm in the Handler's tone now. Something's definitely off. Whatever it is, Donnie's not singing.

"Just get me a car, will you?"

***

Jonathan Pino Ferrari eyes the woman sitting next to him. He feels insulted that Donnie gave him a partner - outside of his first three assignments, Jonathan's always worked alone - and even more so that the partner is female. There was a moment that he thought it was a joke. When that proved not to be the case, he surmised that he was expected to train her. The woman - Gemma Bianci - is, however, already a reputable killer. Jonathan couldn't fathom why they were put together. As he sits next to her in a brand new black Chevrolet Impala, he still can't.

He also can't shake the fact that she's... strangely magnetic. Ever the gentleman, he quickly resigns himself to the situation and, finally seeing opportunity, tries to break the ice.

"How'd you get into killing?" It seems a natural thing to ask, though its awkwardness makes even Jonathan cringe as he hears his voice speak it.

There's a moment of silence, barely broken by the almost inaudible separation of wet lips. "That's kind of a personal question, isn't it?" She doesn't turn to look at him.

"It was meant to be." Jonathan pulls out a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket - both killers are dressed in Armani - and tears the plastic wrap, placing it in the cup holder in the driver's door. Before he can tap a cigarette out for himself, she fingernails one out and hands it to him. It is not a gesture of friendship, merely the result of being trained to seduce marks. Jonathan recognizes the professionalism behind it and allows a smirk.

"You want the long version or the short version?" she asks.

"I want the however-much-time-we-have version," he replies, lighting the smoke.

***

Gemma was once the girlfriend of Gabriel Adduci, the son of deceased mob boss Alfonso Adduci, Donnie's brother. She was 19, just starting her junior year at Seton Hall. Gabriel was 22, a fresh baccalaureate, though there were questions as to whether or not he truly earned his degree in economics. She didn't care. Gabriel had the look of a movie star and the money, to boot. He bought her expensive things and all of her friends were jealous. Things were great.

Until she graduated and Gabriel asked her to move in with him.

She'd heard the stories of mob kids. Spoiled brats, usually, and not fans of not getting their way. She wanted to apply to graduate school. Gabriel objected. The arguments came to a head and, finally, she threatened to leave him. But instead of having asserted her independence, she provoked Gabriel's wrath and he struck her.

"You leave me when I say you leave me," Gabriel informed her.

For the next two years she dealt with the abuse, afraid that Gabriel would follow-through with his myriad of threats.

One day, he'd come home drunk and wanted to fuck. At first she was going to allow him to masturbate with her body - as she referred to it, for the love was long gone - but it was clear that Gabriel had recently fucked another woman... maybe more than one, and Gemma refused. Not more than a second passed from her screaming, "Not a chance in Hell," to the butt of his Colt Super .38 connecting with her jaw. The blow drew blood and spun her around onto the bed. He spread her legs apart and pulled her towards him, intent on ripping her sweats and panties off. But he made one mistake. He placed the .38 on the corner of the bed.

Not thinking - indeed, not even sure how to fire a pistol - she grabbed it, turned over kicking, shoved it into his belly and pulled the trigger. Gabriel, mainly from shock, backhanded her across the face. While trying to cover her head from further blows, she instinctively pulled the trigger again, blowing out her left ear drum. She couldn't hear a thing.

But then, there was nothing to hear. The second bullet entered Gabriel's nose, traveled into his brain, deflected off the top of his skull, and exited his head from just above the left ear. The sight froze her. She couldn't even bring herself to resist when some enforcers showed up to apprehend her.

It was then she finally met Donnie Adduci. Everyone around the situation thought Donnie would kill her right then and there, but Donnie instead got her medical attention. He told her she was going to be all right.

Donnie, in fact, hated Gabriel. Hated the thought of Gabriel advancing through the ranks. Gabriel was an out of control punk in his eyes. In everyone's, really, but he was Alfonso's kid and, as such, had to be looked after. But Donnie didn't care. Both Gabriel and his brother, Michael, would eventually cause trouble for the Family. Donnie was convinced of this.

So he made Gemma a deal. Kill Michael, too, and all would be forgotten. She didn't think she could at first, but Michael resembled Gabriel in appearance - quite closely - and that made it easier. That was the day after her 24th birthday. Eight years ago. She's been killing ever since. And, outside of her assignments, hasn't allowed a man to so much as hold her hand.

***

"Damn," is all Jonathan can bring himself to say.

"Yeah, Lifetime movie stuff, isn't it?"

Jonathan laughs. She turns her head further away from him and he sees her purse her lips, then frown, in her vague reflection in the car window. He can tell there's still a lot of femininity inside of Gemma, and he's glad for it. Nobody should have to shut off their identity completely. Psychological survival or not. He should know.

*Continued in Killing Softly, Part II

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcoming Predictions

Things I'm likely to be called within the next few days: dick, chook, sugar, dick, darling, honey, dick, funny boy, impudent pup, dick.

Things I'm predicting will be said in conversation within the next few days:
  • "You're whingeing." "No, you're whingeing." 
  • "How do you keep falling out of your chair?" "Fuck if I know." 
  • "Shit. I'm out of Chardy." "Sucks for you. I've got plenty of Merlot. Nyer."
  • "Your Pandora is too loud." "You're just jealous." 
  • "Why are you being a deek?" "You know how they say there's no such thing as a stupid question?  It's not true."
  • "Your cat just opened your cabinet again." "Yeah, it's kind of his thing."
  • "I'm not that drunk. Why?" "Your face is smashed up against the camera."
  • "No, didn't get slapped. All I saw were lazy gypsies." "You were probably being polite. Be yourself next time."
  • "I am not racist." "Make some fucking beads!"
  • "How ya going?" "G'day, g'day, g'day."
  • "Your accent sucks." "Make some fucking beads!"
  • "I did tell you she farts like a trooper, right?" "Just adds to the charm."
  • "It's just a big rock." "So's your whole country."
  • "Don't corrupt my boy." "His mother beat me to it."
  • "No, I didn't get you anything. You owe me money, deek." "No beads for you, then." 
  • "Yes, I'm sore, and I don't want to hear about how I had a year to prepare." "You had a year to prepare."
  • "You're whingeing." "Yeah? So?"
Welcome home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mercury Costs More Than Cyanide

*Part 4 of Merlot & Coffee. Read the first three parts here:
  1. No Meat; No Creamer
  2. Your Machete, My Cleaver
  3. Matches? Check. Charcoal? Check.

"Truth serum? Come on, Merlot. How amateur is that?" Grayson, tied down to a hospital bed, remains confidently defiant. Though he is a bit confused. Merlot's one of the best in this part of the world - not the best, mind you, for eliminating your best operative is never the wisest thing for a handler to do - and the fact that she's resorting to injecting Grayson with sodium thiopental makes her look like someone who's seen too many movies.

Merlot smiles her luscious smile. Coffee stands in the corner chewing his nails, a habit acquired since he met Merlot.

"You plan on extracting information? How lame are you?" Grayson would laugh, but he's reserving judgment concerning his predicament until he can figure out what's going on.

She leans into Grayson's face, her nose almost touching his, and Grayson can smell her perfume. Damn, she smells good. "No, Grayson. I plan on inducing a coma, then overdosing you."

"Ah, shit," Coffee mutters, not quite inaudibly. "I knew this was coming."

Merlot sticks the needle into the dose and the pulls the syringe back, watching intently as the chemical fills the tube. She wraps her right hand around the top of Grayson's bicep and waits for his vein to distend. Winking at him, she injects the chemical into Grayson's bloodstream.

"By the way, this is generic stuff. Not sure how well it works."

"What a bitch," both Grayson and Coffee say simultaneously, though Coffee's tone has much more humor to it.

***

"Sodium pentathol?" The Fence looked incredulous. This crazy American broad always liked to make things difficult. "The explosives were hard enough. Pharmaceuticals aren't exactly our specialty here." That was a lie, of course. Everything was the Fence's specialty. He was just trying to drive up the price. "What do you need it for? Interrogation?"

Merlot shook her head. "No, just want someone to think they're going to get interrogated. Right before I kill them."

The Fence laughed heartily. "Too bad you're not Muslim. You would make a good wife."

"Yeah, until you pissed her off," Coffee interrupted, feeling a bit defensive of the Fence's attraction to Merlot.

"Oh," replied the Fence, "I'd never let her prepare my food. Or sleep in the same building."

Merlot and Coffee chuckled, both remembering Grayson's car.

"On second thought..." The Fence got the joke.

"We're wasting time," Merlot said, giving the Fence a rather murderous look.

"I'll see what I can do."

***

The Silhouette wrapped his wound - a gunshot in his left forearm... his shooting arm - and yelled into the cell phone. "I don't know where she is. And I don't care. This was supposed to take a week. You want me to stay on this? Pay up. My time is expensive."

The person on the other end of the line clearly said something to Silhouette's liking, causing a smile to intrude on a wince of pain as he finished tying up his pressure dressing.

"Double the rate," Silhouette said as he flipped his phone closed. This Merlot proved to be quite the adversary and that she got the drop on him worried him a bit. How she knew she was being followed was either due to the fact that she was extremely lucky, extremely good, or extremely paranoid. Or maybe all three. Then again, Silhouette had found two wigs in the aftermath and he had to wonder if Coffee had been dressed in drag. That thief, too, was not somebody Silhouette would underestimate again. Merlot was competent enough when it came to disappearing in a crowd, but Coffee could become downright invisible.

No, Silhouette shook his worry from his mind and reanalyzed the situation. He had not, up to that point, known that Coffee was no killer and spent too much effort trying to keep the thief in front of him. That was when Merlot shot him in the arm. It was not a mistake that would happen again.

***

Grayson feels his head starting to spin but maintains his calm. Or the sodium thiopental is maintaining his calm. Either way, he's calm. Good thing, too, because he needs his wits to talk his way out of this one.

"You think I'm at the top of this little pyramid of mystery? Use your head, woman," he says, slurring just a little bit.

"Oh, we already know you're not. Another reason we don't need you." Merlot prepares another dose.

Well, fuck. That didn't work. Grayson starts laughing, which bothers Coffee. Merlot slides up to her partner and gently taps his cheek.

"No worries, you. This is normal."

Coffee stares into Merlot's eyes, entranced by their confidence... and her smell. "Nothing about you is normal."

Merlot whispers into Coffee's ear and places a hand on his thigh - a little too close to home plate. "Oh, I assure you. Quite a lot of me is normal."

All thoughts of murdering a CIA agent flee from Coffee's mind, replaced by images much more enjoyable. Coffee is the marionette to Merlot's Geppetto.

***

"Are we good?" The Fence absentmindedly licked his lips as Merlot checked the merchandise.

Merlot nodded and ignored the Fence's inadvertent forwardness. Something else was on her mind.

"Excellent. You know, you're officially now my best American customer."

"Who says I'm American?" she said as she walked over to a window.

The Fence shrugged. He realized she's distracted and let the attempt at a flirt die. "Anything else I can acquire for you?"

She stared at something in the plaza below intently. "Yes. Do you have any wigs? Something my color."

The Fence wrinkled his face, conducting a quick mental inventory. "There is a wig in Asalah's office. It's brown. I suppose we can dye it."

"I need it," Merlot demanded. "And any women's clothing in his size." She nodded towards Coffee.

Coffee snapped out of his daydream. "What?"

***

The Fence finished dying and the Silhouette wiped his knife clean. He felt better now that he killed somebody pertinent, but the lack of useful information bothered him. Why had Merlot purchased sodium thiopental? Silhouette dialed Grayson. Getting no answer, he gathered materials in preparation to set the Fence's building aflame.

There's nothing like watching something burn to the ground.

***

Sleep is taking over and Grayson knows it's just about over for him. The fat lady sings, but she's a lot skinnier than he figured. And she's a redhead. Although it's clear that the wig is actually brown.

"What are you gonna do now?" Grayson murmurs, unsure if he actually said anything. "You gonna rape me?"

Coffee's expression makes Merlot giggle. Coffee loves her giggle. So much so that he tries to immediately recreate the expression, but she's already turned her attention back to Grayson.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" she teases Grayson.

"Oh, yes, please."

"Sorry, babe," she says, rubbing Grayson's forehead, "but I'm going to save that for your little hit man."

Grayson mumbles something and fades into unconsciousness. Realizing that Grayson is finally dead, Coffee returns himself to reality. "Why couldn't you kill him quickly? This was fucked up."

"I know, I know. But it had to be done." She grabs Grayson's cell phone from its hiding spot between Grayson's shoulder blades. It's on an active call. She puts it up to her ear. "You hear that? When I find out who you are, where you are, and what you're up to, it's your turn." Not waiting for a response, she hangs up. She notices a missed call and shows it to Coffee.

"Look."

Coffee sees the call notification and shrugs. "Whose number is that?"

"Ten to one says it's our hit man."

"So we're going to kill him, too?"

Merlot smiles and kisses Coffee on the cheek - an action she's been doing liberally as of late, it seems. "Oh, silly boy. Don't ask stupid questions."

"Will you marry me?" Coffee has no idea how that escaped his mouth.

Merlot simply winks and leaves the room.

Irreview, Book Review: The Story of English in 100 Words

Along with geoscience, another academic interest that has taken hold in me as of late is anthropology and, more specifically, linguistics.  ...