Plugs

Boss,

Business has been good.  We shook down three owners yesterday for five grand apiece, and that was a slow day.  We raised last week’s earnings to almost a hundred thou, which doesn’t even include the human-vs.-alien boxing match where I had my fellow alien throw the match for an even mil.  Before I met you, your henchmen had all but abandoned you and left you out to dry.  Now you’re the biggest Mafioso don in the City.  Word’s out that all the bosses are looking for their own “ratters” as they call us aliens.  Isn’t it time to pay me what I’m worth as it’d be awful to bump into Guido again who said he will?

No human can match me in the henchman department.  Each paw–four–comes equipped with five blades.  Do you remember our battle with Guido’s East-siders where I’d single-handedly taken out 74% of his henchmen before your human boys would even step out of their cowardice and cover to take aim?  How about the time at Starbucks where Guido sent a courier to deliver a bomb, which my keen hearing and smelling picked up and my tail sent hurtling out the door in the nick of time?

Not only am I superior in ability, but I get paid in cheese–far less than my colleagues of similar rank (although they are often more rank than I–where did you find these guys? dumpster diving?).  Moreover, all you ever serve is a wheel of sharp cheddar.  Imagine eating only and always hamburgers at every meal.  Where’s the Gouda, the Swiss, the Limburger, and Blue?  And why only one wheel of cheese per meal?  Yeah, I’ll grow, but I’m often famished after a hard day of torturing shop owners, and adding to my size should only add to your stature as the Mafioso to be reckoned with.

Finally, you haven’t a henchman whom you can trust more than me.  All the henchmen you have now once abandoned you for Guido and returned with their tails between their legs when you covered more territory than he.  Besides, I have no intention of taking over your business, at this time.  At least, I’d wait until you were dead before taking over.

So how about that raise?  Hold on a sec.  Guido’s on call waiting.

It is said that when Captain Widal recovered from his mysterious disease, he would not talk to anyone about what had happened. But he was a kinder man. … He never married, though he was seen once or twice with a beautiful young woman whose name was never known. … Neither did he ever wear short sleeves in public.
- Widal: A History

§

I put spices on your tongue for two years, night after night. I folded my fingers into yours and I pulled the sheets over us.
And you did not blink.
You did not notice — even when I pulled up your shirt, just a little, to the elbows.
Captain, Captain, I am writing on your body.
You did not notice, night after night.
We met in a café in the narrowest street, but you do not remember me. You sat at the table and ordered hot water with a lemon squeezed into it, and I poured it for you with hands that you took into yours, saying, “My mother’s looked better when we exhumed her. Girl, do you eat?”
“Sometimes,” I replied.
“Take this,” you said, “and eat more often.”

I brought flowers to your window, day after day. I sat with my harp in my lap and I played for you.
When you collapsed in front of a small group of townsfolk, none carried you away. None remained in the street to check your pulse, but me.
You fell asleep, my mother later said.
An enchantment, my father said, and good riddance.

I brushed your hair. I polished your buttons. I gave my parents all the money I made with your coin and I bought what I needed to care for you.
I took your coin to the races and I brought back handfuls of gold.
And you did not blink for two years.

I grew up in a tenement that looked out on the back of the minotaur’s head. The minotaur statue is older than the city and taller than any building in it. Our tenement is nearly as tall, not nearly as old, and in far worse repair.

The statue gazes out across the plain of salt, which the scholars say was a sea that dried up years ago, and my siblings and I gaze with it into the hazy horizon.

The scholars don’t know who built the statue, or why, but everyone else says it’s a marker to guide travelers over the salt plain. However, everyone, including the scholars, agrees the plain is impossible to cross–too vast, too empty of landmarks. With all the wind-stirred dust, you can’t navigate by stars; by day, you could barely guess where the sun is.

My brothers and sisters and I do go out onto the plain at daybreak and dusk, when the twilight seeps into everything, and we might be walking on a flat of sky. It’s the one advantage we’ve got in the salt quarter. The old city has history; the river districts have trade and communication with distant lands; and the elite quarter has the evening cool of the mountains. A half hour at either end of the day to explore an empty blue world doesn’t seem like much in comparison.

We find our way back by the broken silhouettes of the mountains, and the prongs of the minotaur’s horns above them. One night, we found a man collapsed at the base of the minotaur statue, covered in salt dust. Under the white coating, we saw his glasses and boots were the blue of twilight on the plain.

We went for a healer and returned to find the man gone. The scholars and city guard told us he was a lunatic who’d wandered out onto the plain. We didn’t believe them; we knew the impossible when we saw it.

They built his pyre on our rooftop–our building was closest, and they didn’t want to move him far, which made us even more suspicious. We knew secret ways, so we crept up and stole his boots and glasses.

We argued all night and drew lots. In the predawn twilight, the glasses show me trails on the plain. I set my foot on one to see where the boots will take me…

“Red tape! Red goddamn tape!” And with that, ribbons of red silk burst from Gorman’s fingers and wrap me up tighter than a pair of earrings on Christmas Eve.

See, the thing about battling occult threats to Britain’s shores is that, despite the getting-to-fight-tentacle-monsters-with-a-flaming-sword bits, and the using-knuckle-dusters-that-punch-holes-into-alternate-dimensions bits, it’s still just a job. There are still timesheets, emails about missing staplers, annoying co-workers. Gorman was always an annoying co-worker. And there is the red goddamn tape.

Honestly, half the time something’s eaten most of Essex before I’m even able to get all the signatures I need to get my hands on the flaming sword in the first place.

Must have been worse for Gorman being in accounting. And apparently he really wanted to touch the flaming sword. Got himself fired over it. Submitted everything right but they rejected him anyway. Course they did. He was an accountant. Still, Gorman looked at the form with the big, “rejected” stamp and a gear slipped. Tried to grab the sword out of the safe. Didn’t get far. Course he didn’t. He was an accountant. And they fired him.

Apparently Gorman’s made use of the spare time. Who knows where he found the grimoire. The cape is a little more obviously Halloween gear, but it’s hard to poke fun when a chap breaks into the office and takes you out in under ten seconds.

The air fills with red ribbons. More people are bundled up. I lose sight of him in the blizzard of it. We lie there. I hear crackling in the distance, can smell something burning.

And then I see him. He’s holding the sword in both hands, hacking a path through the jungle of red tape he himself has created. Tape curls back as the flame licks through them. And he smiles like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. The cape suddenly looks a little bit awesome.

Gorman gets to the door. Looks back at his, at the now limp strands of red tape, and the grin stretches wider. He buries the sword in the floor. And he walks away.

Eventually someone finds us, works us free. Someone, some civil servant, looks at me as I stand up and says, “Well, aren’t you going to go after him?” But, honestly, after that example, there’s no way I can be bothered to do the paperwork.

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