Maddy was asleep, a smile on her face. Cliff slid out of bed and padded, naked, to the hall. Curiosity always got the better of him in a new place, and most girls didn’t seem to mind. He had already seen every room of Maddy’s small apartment except the spare room. Maddy was … perplexing. Tall, dark, her face oddly proportioned, as if she had been made by someone who had had women described to him but who had never seen one. Different in bed too. Earlier he had felt like his entire body were about to explode. Afterwards he had patted himself down, just to make sure he was all there. Her décor…. Her books had never been opened, the TV was dusty. Only the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen had seen any use at all. He eased open the door of the spare bedroom and slipped inside. The only light came from the hall.

He took a few steps in, waiting for his eyes to adjust. There was not a sound except his own breathing, but he felt as if the room were crowded. This might have been a bad idea. The door closed with a snick and the light came on. Maddy pressed herself against him from behind, pinning his arms with hers. He was staring at a stone idol that almost brushed the ceiling. It sat with legs crossed and arms curved forward as if to catch whoever stood in front of it. Its teeth were large and sharp. Eight eyes, or, rather, empty sockets where they should be, seemed to stare right at him. Masks, censers, diverse weapons, and other paraphernalia lined the room, but he could spare no attention for it. The idol seemed to be flexing its muscles. Maddy was flexing hers too. She whispered in his ear.

“It’s me or the god,” she said. “Join me, worship him, or join him a different way.” She turned him around and stared into his eyes. “Choose.”

“You’re freaking me out.” He pulled back and she let him go.

“Goodbye Cliff,” she said sadly.

“Wait.” He licked his lips. Rough hands seized his shoulders. The nails were sharp and long.


It was a big glass thing on Richie’s barber table what give me the idear. It was full a blue stuff like blueberry Kool-Aid an combs an stuff. I say, “Richie, what’s that bar-bi-cide” an Richie says “That’s a kinda special soap for my combs so they don’t get the lice.”
I says “Somebody comes in for a eight dollar haircut they shoulden get some other fella’s lice,” an Richie says “Nope, the lice cost extra!”
I like Richie. He cuts my hair ever second Thursday a the month. One time it was Easter an he dint but mostly he always does.
“You know,” says Richie “There’s regicide, that’s killin a king, an there’s genocide, that’s killin a bunch a people with the same religion–”
An I says “There’s homocide that’s killin a homo” cause I knowed that.
An Richie says, he says, “So I figure barbicide must be killin a barber!” an then laughs. Richie’s real ugly, his face is like you crumpled it an left something greasy on it but his hair is cut real good. His wife cuts it. He cuts everybody’s hair but his wife cuts his hair. Anyways he laughs real good.
He dint know I know about murder. One time this guy told me about murder an I remembered it hard as I could. He says you need the motive, that’s why you kill him, an method, that’s the way you do it, an opportunity, that’s when you get your chances.
Richie hands me the scissors an he turns an gets the razor like he always does an I had those means an that opportunity cause he always does that every second Thursday when he cuts my hair. I just needed a motive so I thunk an thunk but I couldn’t think a one.
I tried to think a one fore that next second Thursday but I couldn’t so when I was gettin my next haircut I says to Richie I says real joking about the opportunity an those means an I says I just need a motive an Richie says that’s easy an I said I couldn’t think a one an he says that’s easy an I said what.
He turns to give me the scissors like he always does but then he give em the wrong way, he sticks em right in me an Richie says, he says

Sandra texted me just as I left the Time Warner Building. “Doz eggs, cig lightr. Dont frget oracl.”

I had forgotten. Mazy Maxie under 96th Street Station was the most convenient, so I got off there and turned down the stairwell everyone pretends not to know about. Down and down, into the dark that smelled of old subways and new biodiesel trains and recent piss. It got cold then warm. When I couldn’t see my way any more I heard her voice.

“What’d ya bring, supplicant?”

“A carton of cigarettes and a bottle of crème de menthe.”

“Oh, it’s you, Dave. Finally somebody who knows what I like.  It’s been rare unguents all day, fachrisayks. Hand ‘em over.”

I held them out in the dark and felt them lifted out of my hands. She flicked on an old clerk’s lamp and eyeballed me. She isn’t blind, though her milky eyes look like a blind person’s; just sees further than most.

“Question?” she growled.

“Oh yeah. Sandra wants to know if we should try to look for a new apartment.”

She glared into our future for a minute, then lit a cigarette and took a long drag.

“Beware of men wearing camels,” she snapped. “Have a good evening.”

Some newbies might ask, “What the hell does that mean?” but I know better: first, you get what you pay for in this town, and second, usually you find out what she means sooner than you want.

“Thanks, Maxie,” I said. “Have a good evening yourself.”

“Whatever,” she shrugged, and turned out the light.

Sandra got home ahead of me. I told her about the oracle while I cracked eggs for an omelet.

“I’m thinking next time you should try the one in Astor Place,” she said.

We didn’t find out what Maxie meant until my brother-in-law came over for dinner. Luke’s OK for someone so annoyingly hip, and his weird DJ projects make more money than we ever will. When we asked if he knew a good realtor, I couldn’t read his face, which was new. When he got up to go to the bathroom, Sandra grabbed my arm. Unlikely as it was for a guy so into his appearance—and after all, our apartment isn’t that dirty—he had an empty Camels package stuck to the seat of his pants.

FYI, the guy he recommended got arrested a week later.

Since they closed down the interstate, eighteen wheelers have rumbled by our trailer, making the shades shake and the dishes clatter. Every damn one headed to New York.
Each time another whooshed by, my teeth rattled with the windows. Unless Pa had duct-taped them a coupla winters ago. He hadn’t but the front. We cuss him out cause he’s not here no more. He whored on Ma, hooked up with an eighteen-wheeler, and high-tailed it to Californication. We hated that state then. Now we’re glad to see it passing.
When we was little runts, Ma bought Jeb and me slingshots with Pa’s rare child supports. We graduated to BB guns last year. That’s when we started hitting the broad side of the barn. One morning in nothing but our longjohns, we crawled into the ditch. A trucker whooshed down the hill with his window down and head stuck out, serenading the cows with Shania Twain’s “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” He couldn’t sing worth two hoots, so we popped the sucker. His brakes squealed like hogs in a slaughterhouse. He swerved a little cause our road is twisty. He hopped out, cussing and waving his shotgun. Jeb and I took off for the cornfield, but the cows had mowed it down. We was sitting ducks. I still got lead in my hide.
So we got four cheap .22s–cheap cause everbody’s heading for the highlands, unloading what they can.
Last night Jeb and I guarded both sides of the highway, behind tall cornstalks–rifles lined up and loaded. A driver can’t be in two places at once, we figured. We sited a punk-rocking trucker and pop-pop-pop! We only hit a couple or five tires, but the trucker must have been wet behind the ears cause he over-corrected, jack-knifed and dumped his cargo.
Jeb and I looked at each other. Since half of California was to fall into the Pacific anyways, rich dudes from New York bought up truckloads of California rocks to build a barrier against from the rising Atlantic. Jeb and I–for the price of our .22s–were as rich as New Yorkers, building our own barrier outside town.
That’s why we slicked the road with used motor oil and so many jack-knifed trucks lie along the roadside. Jeb ain’t sure whether we’ll get enough to make a difference. I say it’s worth a shot. Another truck’s coming over the hill, Jeb. No, Sheriff, we don’t know the time, except how late it is. We’re hoping Pa drops in.

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