Tuesday, November 30, 2010

One Last Thing, Part II

*a continuation of One Last Thing, Part I

Seven Uzbek mobsters aim their handguns - a variety of weapons ranging from American M1911s to Czech CZ75s - at Cray and Drew. Cray's HK G36 and Drew's HK416 return the favor. The two Americans know that they might die here, in this dusty excuse for a warehouse in Denau, but it's gonna be a fun time if they do.

Cray tries very hard not to laugh. The situation has all the setup of a bad joke, though Mexican standoffs in Uzbekistan aren't as unusual as one might expect. Organized crime is widespread here and the double cross is no surprise to either Cray or Drew. What is a surprise is that Dame Helen Laurie, one-time MI6 agent and fling of Cray's, is pointing a Walther P99 at the back of Cray's head.

"Hey, lady," Cray says, smiling. He knows she can't see his lustful memory-inspired grin, but he's sure she can hear it. "Still mad about Eisenach?"

"Please," she almost purrs, "I wasn't even in the room when you jumped out the window."

Alisher Beruniy, the Uzbek henchman in charge of apprehending Cray and Drew, looks perplexed. "You know these men, Elizabeth?"

Beruniy's English is serviceable, but his attempt at an American accent is almost hilarious. This, however, is not why Cray finally starts laughing.

"Elizabeth? Really? Come on, love."

Drew, only having met Helen once before, is quite aware of her reputation. "Cray. Now might not be a good time."

"Oh, shut up, Drew," Cray mock-commands, stifling another chuckle as the seven Uzbeks - including Beruniy - replace aggressive expressions with bewildered ones. Cray very much wants to turn around and get a good look at Helen. She's just under twelve years younger than him and he's interested to see if her body has held up since he's last seen her. He licks his lips in honor of her favorite after-party favor, a gesture mistaken for arrogance by one of the Uzbek gunmen.

"Ah, shit," Drew mutters, as the gunman reacquires his aim and pulls the trigger.

Cray ducks out of the way and rolls to the left. Out of reflex, Helen adjusts her fire and shoots the Uzbek directly in his forehead. Drew's 416 spits randomly in the direction of the other gunmen as he rushes for cover to the right.

Gunfire explodes and chaos ensues as Helen follows Cray to his hiding spot behind a metal filing cabinet. She squeezes in close and Cray inhales deeply, enjoying the scent of her hair and her perfume. That there are hints of gunpowder doesn't really bother him. "I thought you were retired."

"I thought that of you," she replies humorlessly as she takes out another Uzbek. "I'm supposed to be working for these men, Cray."

"Undercover?"

She shoots him a scolding glance and lays some covering fire so Drew - already across the warehouse - can shift firing positions a bit more easily. "Are you going to help?"

God, Cray loves her accent. So proud, so proper, and so sexy. He halfheartedly fires the G36 around the cabinet, not really paying attention to where Drew is.

"God dammit!" Drew sounds pissed. "Whose fucking side are you on?"

"Don't kill Beruniy," Helen pleads. "We need intel from him."

"Who's we?" Cray asks as he places a hand on her ass while she drops to a knee and fires down a corridor. She slaps it away without looking and, to Cray's delight, without stopping her fire suppression. "Oh, shit, woman. You're still active."

The reports of rapid and random gunfire slow down and are replaced by Drew's well-aimed shots, which are soon replaced by silence. "Clear," Drew calls out.

"Clear," Helen responds.

Reaching around her waist, Cray slides a hand between her legs and feels her crotch. "Oh, all clear," he mumbles with a snicker. She turns and pistol whips him - ever so gently, of course - across the temple.

***

When Cray comes to, he and Drew are in some field away from any settlements. Helen is nowhere to be seen.

"How's your head?" Drew asks, not really caring.

Cray laughs - today's been rather funny. "About the same as the last time she clocked me."

Drew hands Cray a manila envelope. There's a dossier and some satellite imagery inside. "She gave us this."

"Well, shit. She still loves me."

"Not from what I could tell, she doesn't." Drew grabs Cray's arm and lifts him to his feet. "We gotta clear out of here." Drew starts walking toward a highway in the distance. "Thanks for the help in the warehouse, by the way. You get injured or something? Or did the sight of a piece of ass put you in a trance?"

"I think I pulled a muscle."

"Yeah, your brain."

"Drew, you dumbass. The brain's not a muscle."

"Not yours, anyway."

*to be continued...

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Manning-Chargers Curse

Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts just lost on NBC Sunday Night Football. Their opponent? The San Diego Chargers. Why do I care? Well, because I'm a Chargers fan and I've long surmised that Peyton and his brother Eli suffer from a Chargers curse.

What's that?

Yep. A Chargers curse. Started by Eli and his overrated dad, Archie Manning.

You see, in 2004, Eli and his overrated dad, Archie Manning, went on record as saying that they didn't want Eli to play for the San Diego Chargers. The reason? Apparently, the San Diego Chargers weren't a team that was committed to winning.

Never mind the logical fallacy involved in a team whose purpose is to make money and that, to make money, winning is a necessity. And never mind the fantastical fallacy involving the existence of curses. I'm ranting. Deal with it.

So... ignoring the fact that Peyton Manning defeated the Chargers the first two times he played them (in 1998 and 1999, long before Eli snubbed the team), his record against San Diego since is 2 wins and 5 losses. Peyton's worst record against any team in the NFL. In fact, Peyton only has losing records against two other teams, and both of those are 0-1.

And, yep, it's his brother and overrated father's fault. Before I continue, some stats:
  • Eli's record versus the Chargers is 0-2.
  • Their overrated father's record as a starter is 0-3, and Archie's never even been on the roster of a team that's defeated the Chargers in a game.
  • Speaking of not being "committed to winning," the Chargers' overall record since the snub is 73-34 (and 3-6 in the playoffs), with no losing seasons. The New York Giants' (Eli's team) record since the snub is 62-45 (4-3 in the playoffs) with one losing season. (If this sounds familiar, I've ranted along these lines before: Ode to Eli Manning.)
Which brings us to Peyton, who is part of the curse via blood relations with the snubber and his overrated father. Sure, he beat the Chargers in 2004, the year of the snub, but he lost to them in 2005 and twice in 2007 (once in the playoffs). Sure, he beat the Chargers in 2008 in the regular season, but the Chargers knocked him out of the playoffs (again) that same year. And, oh, yeah, Peyton and the Colts lost last night... 36-14. And Peyton threw 4 interceptions.

Of course, the curse isn't all all bad... the Manning brothers have each won a Super Bowl. Then again, Peyton lost his second Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints. The Saints quarterback that game? Drew Brees. Who, oh, yeah, was the Chargers QB when the curse began.

Kinda makes me wish the Chargers would play one of the Mannings every game.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Table of Contents: The Holiday Club

This one isn't a story that was intended to go together, at least not when the first two parts were written. My buddy Tom asked if I were writing an ensemble piece when he read You're Beautiful, and while my answer was no, it dawned on me me that... I could be.

So, I decided to write the third part deliberately to see how it all fit together. You be the judge.

*The title, The Holiday Club, comes from a story I started and pitched years ago. It concerned a group of friends who all seem to experience life-changing tragedies on holidays or while on vacation. Nothing ever happened with the story, but the sentiment seems apt for this one. Perhaps I'll revisit it.

"His Final Lover"
He could never understand what it was about strange, new places that reminded him of home. Or, rather, of her. He had no home, per se, but he often thought of her. No matter how far he ran away, there was a memory chasing her down. Someone had told him that it was simple... Read More

"You're Beautiful"
"You're beautiful," her mother said the first time she held Elise in her arms. Elise didn't remember that instance, but one of her first memories was of her father holding her in his arms and telling her the same thing. She didn't realize that the fall she remembered happening... Read More

"Driven"
Headlights go dark upon impact with the barrier. Wrenching metal twists and snaps, scraping an expensive paint job, one designed to stand out in traffic. But there are no witnesses here. There might have been a squeal of tires and the reverberating hum of anti-lock brakes... Read More

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gods Playing Poker: Post Mortem

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: A Bold Bluff

"The other side? Of what? Indiana?"

Silver laughs. Not because he finds his partner funny, but because he feels sorry for him. Silver stands in close to East, reaching up to put a hand on East's shoulder. "The other side, dude. There's another world out there. I know it, buddy. I've seen it... felt it."

East won't look into his face. "You were assaulted, Gary. You felt an attack." He can't bring himself to use the word. It seems totally inconsistent.

Suddenly, Silver angers, pushing East to the floor. "No, you asshole. I felt awesome. Then you came in and fucked it all up."

Brushing himself down, East stands back up. He needs to change the subject again. "They in the bedroom?"

The anger gone, Silver returns to the re-reflector. "Nobody's in the bedroom."

East keeps his eyes on Silver, who gradually feels the gaze.

"Seriously," Silver points to the room with a spanwrench. "Go look."

"Put the wrench down." East doesn't move.

"Oh, for fuck's sake. I've got a gun, Steve. Go look."

Mentally shrugging - crazy as he is, Silver has a point - East enters the bedroom and turns on the light. Pristine. Nothing touched, nothing moved. Bed hasn't even been sat on. The door to the bathroom is wide open. Nobody inside.

"SWAT dogs say they saw two people."

"I'm putting up mirrors. They saw me. And me."

East has no response. He simply watches Silver work and listens to the whirl-whine of the velocicopters passing by outside. East doesn't know what to do. There's no protocol for this. No field manual depicting a similar situation. He's got to figure out a way to get Silver off-balance.

"You're crazy," East starts, hoping not to arouse more anger. "All this existential religious hocus-focus is junk."

No anger, but another pitying laugh. "Oh, it's not junk. It's real."

"You're crazy."

Silver pulls out his short-round. Less to threaten East and more to remove the discomfort. One of the reasons Silver - well, sane Silver - never wears one in his trousers. That and everyone's heard an "accidental discharge" story. Even with the new body heat and hand print safeties, those things can be ridiculous.

East lets out a hidden sigh of relief when Silver places the weapon on an improvised work table, which is just a stack of instruction manuals that came with the tools, lenses, and mirrors Silver acquired to build his doohicky with. Still, East starts sliding slowly toward it. A few centimeters at a time. Subtle, smooth. Nothing too fast to garner Silver's attention.

"You'll see, my friend. You'll see."

"What is this?" East is exasperated. Exacerbated, even.  "You find God or something?"

Silver laughs yet again. But this laugh is unlike any East has ever heard from his partner. "Or something."

East suddenly wishes he'd kept his own sidearm. Or, at least, accepted the surveillance radio.

"What happened here? Before." If progress can't be made, back up and reevaluate.

Silver shifts locations, temporarily placing himself between East and the weapon. "I had a moment of purity."

"A what?"

"I saw everything. I felt everything. I understand it now. So will you."

"Understand what?"

Silver gestures his arms around the room. "What this is all about, man. Emily wasn't raped. She was elevated. I would have been, too, if you hadn't have interrupted."

East can't help it. His tone crescendos in abject surprise. "What?"

"Think about it, East. A virgin? By all rights, so was her cousin."

"You're not a virgin. And we don't know squat about her cousin."

Silver nods. "I do."

"You're still not a virgin."

A smirk. "Technicality."

Sensing defeat and sorrow at the realization of what's going to happen to his friend, East waves his hand at Silver. "I'm gonna go. You're crazy."

Silver frowns, steps to the firearm and reaches for it. East notices the expression just as he starts to turn for the door, then changes direction and rushes his partner, knocking Silver to the ground. Silver, always the one in better fighting shape, uses East's momentum against him and throws East to the wall. The vibration knocks a few mirrors loose. Silver stands, firearm in hand, and glares at the shattered glass. East has never seen his partner so angry.

Silver has the short-round in his right hand, jammed into East's kidney.

East elbows his partner and knocks him off center, and they struggle with the gun, finally coming to a standstill against the wall. In the corner where it all began. They are close enough to give the wrong impression, but the gun tells the truth.

"It's real, Steve. I'll show you."

"Don't..."

"Moments of purity fuel the universe, my friend." A small but distinguished pop ends the sentence, and Steven East shrugs to the floor, his life sloughing away in a drab room, with wide, wild eyes.

***


***

A louder discharge permeates the room, this one accompanied by a blast and a flying door. The door and reverb concussion shatters what's left of the re-reflector, sending Silver into a frenzy. Screaming in horror, he starts shooting at the invading SWAT dogs. He hits a few, but their EmflectionTM armor is more than enough to protect them from the small caliber ammunition. Silver never did acquire the larger gun.

Marquitez is in the room; drops to a knee and fires more than a dozen ballistic shockers into Silver's torso. Silver seizures and convulses violently before flopping to the ground in a sizzling slump.

The team Tac-Nurse rushes to East and checks his pulse. "He's gone."

Marquitez' head turns. "No," quietly escapes his lips.

The alpha SWAT dog shakes his head. East was a good cop. Then again, so was Silver. "Get Scene Control in here." He motions to Silver's body. "Put this asshole in a lock-jacket."

***

Detective-Captain Amanda Normandy arrives on-site just in time to see an unconscious Silver tossed into a Vault Wagon. He's been lock-jacketed and cuffed. The SWAT dogs don't even waste time strapping Silver into a mobile bed. They just sling him into the back of the truck and lock the door.

"Belay that truck," she screams as she rushes to the command and control vehicle. "What the Hell happened?" she asks Jimmy-Jim.

He doesn't have time for this. It's been a fucked up enough day already. "Your dick killed your other dick."

She holds back the urge to break down. Forces another pertinent question. "And the hostages?"

"There was nobody else up there. Just that gadget Silver was building. Your man Marquitez is cataloging it now."

***

Silver fades in and out of consciousness in the penitentiary's loony barn. He's lost in a dream world that might not be a dream. He expects a visitor. And a journey.

Finally, she comes to him. She's smiling.

"Hi, Emily." He thinks the words, at least. No one is sure he actually spoke them.

Her smile never leaves her face, but her tone is upset. "Hello, Gary."

"You here to take me? I'm ready to go."

She shakes her head. "No, you're not coming. You're headed elsewhere."

The meaning is clear. Even though nothing is explained.

"What did I do wrong?" asks Silver.

"You figured it out."

The meaning is unclear. And everything is explained. In a rush, sanity returns to Silver's mind.

"I... I'm a detective. I'm supposed to figure it out."

"Not this. This was none of your concern."

FADE TO BLACK


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gods Playing Poker: A Bold Bluff

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: Sitting Up With a Sick Friend

East guides his GMM Camvette II around the corner, through a brushed chrome traffic director signaling in vain for him to stop - it line-faxes his driving demerit directly to MCEE HQ. He's doing well over 200 kilometers per hour in a 40 zone. He doesn't know where he's driving, just that he needs to drive.

He looks up and sees Sirius twinkling red and blue in the night sky. Oh.

"Call Normandy," he screams into his mo-comm.

"Normandy," the Captain answers, obviously before she checked her comm ID. "East?"

"I know where Silver's gone to. Where he was taken. Send everyone you've got to the hotel." East doesn't really know where his partner's gone, but he's got a pretty good idea.

"We're on it, East. Half of Scene Control is already there. We've been calling you for 15 minutes."

"What? Why?" Apparently, everyone's got a pretty good idea.

"Silver shot up the lobby. He's in the room. SWAT says he has hostages."

East hangs up. "Fuck."

***


***

The Camvette II pulls up to the hotel. It's completely surrounded. Scene Control already has the street in front of the building and access way in back locked down. Sentries and fire guards man positions carefully selected to block both freedom of movement and enable as complete a visual picture as possible. The SWAT van is parked at the corner of West Southern Avenue and Fortune Circle East. Velocicopters circle in tight formations with at least two directly overhead at any given time.

All that and the Feds, too. They're subdued - as Feds sometimes like to pretend to be - but East catches a glimpse Colm Baker's visage. Even for Silver's obvious mental state, this overwhelming police reaction seems like overkill. Then again, he was going to suggest such a reaction before Normandy informed him that the response was already underway. What can he do? Silver's not just East's partner, but his best friend.

East parks his Camvette II and runs to the command and control van, waving his PDP and badge in plain sight. He bolts into the open door.

"What is going on?" East's tone is more incredulity than surprise.

"Gotta department dick in a tenth floor room. At least two hostages." Commander Jameson "Jimmy-Jimmy" James doesn't look up.

"Yeah, that's my partner. Gary Silver."

Two-Jims looks up now. "You Steve East?"

"Yeah. Two hostages?"

"Sniper identified one as a missing department employee, Emily Hyra." James doesn't notice East's jaw hitting the floor. "The Feds think they've IDed the other. Some European rapist. Dario something." He doesn't notice the popping eyes, either.

"Ganganelli." East exhales the name.

"Yeah, that guy."

"You got Silver's jacket already?" East glances around. Doesn't see his partner's personnel file anywhere.

"No, not yet."

"Then how do you know who I am?"

"Silver's been asking for you." James-Jimmy hands East a phone-set.

East stares at it for a moment, a confused expression hiding a thought that's anything but confused. Maybe a little angry. East grabs the set and keys the receiver.

Silver's voice crackles to life. "Steve-o?"

"Yeah, Gary. It's me."

"Come on up here. Got something you need to see." It's an invitation. Open, welcome. Perhaps a tiny bit sinister.

East shoots a questioning glance at the commander.

"It's your call," the James' responds.

East hands the commander his sidearm, who snaps his fingers, signaling a techie to bring over a surveillance radio, but East declines.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Jim-James says.

"What difference would it make?" East mumbles.

***

The magnet lifts all deactivated, East winds his way up the stairwell, passing dozens of SWAT dogs and Hostage Rescue cats. East recognizes a few of the higher-ups - some were patrol officers with East back in the day. He's surprised to find Marquitez outside the door, but then realizes Marquitez is the only other officer here who's actually been in the room.

"Switch to non-lethal, boys," East commands, doing his best impersonation of confidence. "Might need to come rescue me and I'd rather not be perforated."

A few quiet laughs. Everyone knows this might go down poorly. Silver's one of the best. He knows the MCEE and its tactics well.

"You sure about this, East?" Marquitez looks worried, which should worry East. But the fact that Marquitez is even present makes East feel a little better.

East nods and pauses at the door. Knocks.

"Come on in, Steve. It's unlocked." Even though the voice is muffled, it sounds cheery.

East pushes the door open and steps in, taking care to let the alpha SWAT dog see into the room for as long as possible. The door snaps shut. East checks the perimeter. Empty, save for Silver's pet project. There's no one else in the room. Silver and East. Alone on a mission. Just like old times.

Silver's been busy rebuilding his gadget, which someone called a re-reflector. Where Silver picked up the engineering and design knowledge to do such a thing is beyond East. Then again, that might explain the Tinker Toys, Erector sets, and Build-O-Break-OsTM East found in Silver's trunk one day.

"What are you doing, Gary?"

Silver, leaning over one of his creation's support stands, tilts his head up and smiles. Broad. Beaming. "Fixing the door."

East, out of reflex, turns to check the door behind him. The way Silver spoke made East think of a booby trap. It takes a few seconds, but East gradually realizes what Silver actually meant.

East needs to bring Silver back to reality, and tries to change the subject. "Surveillance says there were two people in here with you."

Silver doesn't look up from his work on the re-reflector. "Maybe."

"Maybe?"

"They're here when they want to be." He turns his spanwrench another quarter-turn, satisfied at the support's stability, and heads into the kitchenette.

East continues to check out his surroundings. The door to the bedroom is cracked open, but the lights inside are off and East can't hear any movement. He sees Silver's short-round protruding from the belt-line in his trousers. Silver's definitely gone crazy. He'd never put a firearm in his pants.

"You going to tell me what's going on? What's that a door to?"

Silver laughs, then runs to the window and checks a couple of mirror mounts. He tools a lens, spinning its modifier until it changes from convex to concave, then spanwrenches another blocknut. East almost thinks Silver's oblivious to the company surrounding the building, but then Silver stops and peers out the window.

"Wow, dude. They send everybody?" He almost sounds like old Silver.

"Almost everybody." East almost sounds like new Silver. He's getting impatient. Worried.

"Tell them to go home." Silver sounds like new Silver again. He hopscotches across the floor into the kitchenette.

"What's that a door to, Gary?"

Pirating a gyro from a wall-maid, Silver sticks his head up. Another wicked grin. "Isn't it obvious, Steve? The other side."

***

*Continued in Gods Playing Poker: Post Mortem


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Gods Playing Poker: Sitting Up With a Sick Friend

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: Stranger in Camp

Silver lies unconscious in the recovery-recuperator. He's not comatose, but he's not opened his eyes or said anything intelligible since East found him. East watches, loyal partner that he is, from the other side of the plexiform viewscreen. Captain Normandy is beside him.

"You don't know what he was doing there?" Normandy is pissed. Silver's often gone off the reservation, so to speak, but never into a dangerous situation before. He's foolish; not stupid.

"No clue, Captain." East sips his coffee. He answers Normandy's questions on auto-pilot.

"How did you know he was there?"

"He didn't answer my calls. Ran his ping."

It's a curious matter. PDP locator apps are typically turned off if an officer thinks he needs to be subtle. Normandy smiles inwardly at the realization. At the very least, Silver hadn't been expecting trouble. Maybe he wasn't being foolish, after all. She doesn't like thinking her best are idiots. Especially when she personally tags them for a case.

Switching off her concern, she toggles on her professionalism. "Any other leads?"

"Just an obscure connection with another rapist."

"That in the report?" Normandy is almost embarrassed she hadn't read their last v-mail yet.

East nods. An ad for prescription micro-endoscopy flashes on the plex in front of him, but before he can step around the obstruction it fades.

"You want me to bump Phillips and Naifeh?" She already knows the answer, but Normandy's long-believed in professional courtesy. Even with her dictatorial tendencies.

East shakes his head.

"You'll stay on?"

East nods. He hates answering questions twice.

"All right. Just don't play bedside manner for too long."

"I'm on it." He also hates being patronized.

Normandy stares at East for a few moments - he doesn't return her gaze, instead takes another sip. She's a tough one, but not heartless. Accepting her detective's detached mood, she leaves.

***


***

The wind is not wind, but it whips as violently as a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic. Or a tornado in the American Midwest. There are hundreds of shapes, all vaguely human. It is a dream world that may not be a dream. Time and speed mean nothing here. Only patience.

A blur of a fedora dons what should be the head of one man. One thing. One it. No clue is revealed as to what it is. But it speaks.

"Why was this man attempted?" It does not seem pleased.

Another blur beside him, slightly behind. Or in front. Space and velocity mean nothing here. Only existence.

"He found us. It seemed appropriate." A mistake is realized, but it changes nothing.

"You've risked it all."

"No." The defiance is an unusual tone, for defiance is a rarity here.

The shapes stare at nothing in particular, and everything in particular. Their wards have long been a nuisance and most secretly wish the time was not yet near.

Still, a curiosity remains. "Why did you give him the prism?"

"We had to break the other out."

It nods. Understanding. They don't like not understanding, the concept being more rare than defiance. "Did you?"

There is another nod in return, though it doesn't answer the question asked. Instead, it answers a question implied. "Transcendence will occur soon."

***

East sleeps in a chair outside of Silver's room, his shirt wet and an empty coffee cup on the floor beside him. East stirs, something's amiss. He opens his eyes to a shadow in the viewscreen. It's Silver. Screaming.

East bursts up and activates the vovomitter.

"Let me out of here!" Silver's voice is deafening as the vovomitter automatically adjusts its line level. "I need to go!"

"What the Hell, Gary? Get back in bed." East doesn't notice the spilled coffee.

Silver glares at his partner. It is a murderous look. Just this side of hatred. "You ruined it. You. Fucking. Ruined it."

Without taking his eyes off of his friend, East calls for a nurse. The nutrichemo feed line taut in Silver's arm, East sees the pumps activate. Silver's eyes go blank and he collapses to the floor.

A nurse, clearly startled from a nap, runs up behind East. "What happened?"

East shakes his head. "He's lost his mind." He isn't speaking to her.

The nurse types her access code in the lock and she and two attendants enter the room. They pick Silver up and place him back in the bed. A few checks. Vitals are good. The attendants and the nurse exit; she locks the door behind her.

"He'll be fine. It was just a reaction to..."

"To what?" East immediately feels bad for his terse response. He knows she's just trying to make him feel better.

She takes the offense, but years of hardening in an oft-thankless job maintain their collective professionalism. "To whatever it is he's reacting to."

East grimaces, then smirks. "Sorry. Long night." He catches her name-pin. "Clare."

The nurse nods and smiles. She catches his coffee stain. "I'll get you a towel."

He nods, but doesn't know what she's talking about. When she returns, she hands a towel to him, but he doesn't take it, still confused.

"Definitely a long night," Clare says, patting down the coffee stain for him.

Dumbfounded and embarrassed, he taps her shoulder and takes the towel. "Thank you."

East needs to sleep. In his own bed.

***

Silver dreams. The nitrate soporafol does its job well, coursing through his circulatory system like flushed trash on its way to a sewage recycle-return purification unit. He's lost in the dream world that may not be a dream. So lost, he might even be awake. Which should be impossible given how much nitrate soporafol they're pumping into him.

His feed lines disconnect and the patient alarms shut off. He's given clothes and dons them quickly. Nobody seems to notice the well-dressed sleep-walking man leave via the Emergency Ward exit.

***

The convoy commander has done this dozens of times. Load the prisoner into the Vault Wagon, file in behind the lead vehicle, file in front of the trail vehicle, slow down before intersections while the autobikes run interference. It's run of the mill, and no one at the FBI/E thinks this prisoner - one Dario Ganganelli - is any different.

But that was before not one, not two, but three drunk drivers plowed into the convoy, taking out the lead and trail vehicles and tipping the Vault Wagon onto its left side. All three drunk drivers were killed instantly - each identified as local criminals. One pedophile, one murderer, and one bank robber. None of the FBI/E operators or agents were injured in the crashes, save for a cut of glass along the convoy commander's cheek. The incident seems to be both boon and bane.

Boon because three of Marion County's most-wanted are dead. Bane because Ganganelli is nowhere to be found.

***

It's almost 3 AM. East's vo-comm starts ringing incessantly, startling him awake. He considers ripping it out of the wall panel and chucking it through his window - a difficult task with a window made of ImpervaglassTM - but stops just short when he sees the ID flash.

It's Marquitez. "Silver's gone."

East bolts into a sitting position. "What do you mean he's gone?"

"Relax, East," Marquitez knows his SIS colleagues well. "Dunno. Feed shows him walking out of the emergency room."

"What?" East toes on his wurby slippers, disconnects the handset from the hang-up, and rushes to his closet.

"Oh, it gets better. The rapist in Fed custody?"

"Ganganelli?"

"Disappeared in transit."

***

*Continued in Gods Playing Poker: A Bold Bluff


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gods Playing Poker: Stranger in Camp

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: Pinched With Four Aces

East pulls the CruTector over to a vacant curb, blocked off by two very retro orange cones, and activates a rooftop flash n' park light. A couple of sanitation goons busy looking busy give him some lip.

Silver nods and waves. "Give us five minutes, boys." He and East cross over to a wiener vendor.

"Two with everything, eh?" Silver leans against an embankment while drawing his small-round. A sani-plant snakes out a tendril, brushes Silver's treated paper slacks for lint and withdraws into the bushes.

"Put that shoot-6 back in your pants, Johnny Holmes."

"That's a shoot-foot-and-a-half to you, limpy. Just checking settings. Might want to trade up for this gig." Silver holsters the small-round in his shoulder snap and collects his loaded dogs from East.

"You buy the next lunch," says East through a mouthful of green seaweed chips.

"Shit, no, you always want steak and beer. Go fuck yourself." A dribble of ketchup oozes out of the wrapper and hangs there for a split-second before landing on Silver's undulating tie. "Oh, asshole." The pattern adjusts immediately, but can't conform to the glob of organics before the shift-nanites power down. "Great. Now it's just beige. With condiments."

"Told you that programmable wear is a waste of money. And it's first generation? Should always wait for gen two, man. You always gotta have the latest."

Silver pulls off the ruined tie and chucks it in the bushes where there's a rustling scramble of vines to claim it. "Yeah, yeah. There's a MetroSquire across the plaza. I'm gonna go get another."

"I ain't waiting for a tie. Catch the Public. There's a stop on the other side of the mall." East jams half a hot dog into his maw and chews slowly. It's a good dog.

Silver grunts and runs the Public Magrail through his head. The Red Line runs the length of Meridian Avenue and connects to the precinct at a nearby hub. And he can get home via the Fuschia Mag. No biggie.

"If that's the way it's gotta be." Silver wads up lunch's microwax wrapper and tosses it in the midst of some newpigeons that tear into it in a flurry of feathers.

"You want me to take that prism to evidence?"

"Nah, I'm gonna pawn it for magfare."

East smirks and drives off, leaving Silver to cross the windswept pressed-brick patio on his way to the clothing store. Leaky piles of slush trickle into the cracks. Inside, a middle-aged woman directs him to a gyro-rack where he stands for awhile, admiring the selection of neckties. They're under lock and key, being the newest gadgetry from South Texas: The new Taiwan. That's when he sees it.

A mirror on the rack. Behind him, another mirror on a nude-room door, slightly askew. Across the lobby by the checkout counter is a sunglasses display; a sun-glint sheen refracting light like a rainbow. Silver reaches out and stops the tie rack; looks into the mirrors. One mirror reflecting another, round and round in an infinite, multicolored pattern. Depending on the angle of the rack, the colored rays shoot off in every direction until he can't begin to follow them, or seem to converge on a single white spot. He thumbs the crucifix prism in his pocket, then pulls it out and adds it to the light show.

"Shit." The proverbial hee-lee bulb.

He pulls out his PDP, logic process outracing his voice. "Hardware store." He waits for the directions to screen up, but doesn't call East. Not yet. Silver wants to make sure of something before East decides that his partner is gonzo.

***



***

It's not the first time Silver's dug into his own pocket for cab fare, but he really wants to keep this line of investigation under wraps for the moment, and moving any amount of merchandise around on the magrails is always a pain in the ass. He gets to the building, flashes his badge, and the desk clerk buzzes him into the 10th-floor room with his cart full of junk. Once inside, Silver stashes the junk - mirrors, lenses, brackets - in the vexoleum-tiled kitchenette and starts... doing stuff.

He operates on impulse, the crazy residual vibe from the trance of mirrors. Silver soon finds himself hemmed in, sweaty. Unable to control his breath, he unloads his pockets onto a counter - his PDP, a flavor helix, the crystal prism. He removes his coat and collared shirt; kicks off his shoes. He's burning up, even though it's mid-March and the damp Midwestern winter seems slow to let spring do its magic.

Sitting on a stool at the end of the kitchenette, Silver nudges the crystal lying on the counter top. He toys with it. Spinning it, fondling it, picking it up, dropping it. The vibe subsiding, his thoughts begin to roam.

The day's been a dreary one, but the room's not too bad. It's got an outside window and, for a moment, the sky clears and some sunlight streams through dirty panes. A beam hits the crystal. Silver feels the sensation of movement, just enough, and he's up working with a purpose; doesn't dare to stop to think about what he's doing, because...he hasn't the first idea.

His pulls up Emily Hyra's assault on his PDP and props the device on a hard surface, projecting the scene onto a dark wall. From a bag he retrieves several small mirrors and some BeylarTM mounting brackets. He walks around the room for minutes, finally setting the equipment down in failure. He moves into the corner where Hyra was brutally raped and essentially murdered, trying to gather a lucrative thought.

Nothing.

He can nearly hear East mumbling "Jury's hung." Stymied, he slides down a wall. What the Hell would East be thinking right now, seeing his partner barefoot and bare-chested, slouched in a corner at a crime scene. "Yeah, Steve-o. I'm crazy, alright."

Without realizing it, Silver finds himself standing with the crystal prism in his outstretched palm. Diffused light plays off its facets, and something reveals itself. Shapes on the edge of existence, voices looking in, blurs that expand and coalesce. There's a push, a blow, and Silver falls out of the corner.

"What the fuck?" The contact leaves a searing pain down his left side, but his senses peal with elation, deep into his... soul? Silver is an atheist; that doesn't mean much to him. Whatever just happened, it motivates.

For the next hour Silver careens through his task, positioning mirrors, reviewing footage, trying to reflect scant bouncing light into a single beam. He can't do it. Something in the mechanics just isn't right, or his thinking is fuzzy. He constantly makes adjustments that he's already made. Starting over, maybe. He's close. It's in the light.

***

Sunrise creeps through the window. Silver's yet to sleep. He's waiting for the beams to hit just the right spot, confident that he's finally mimicked the pattern from the image feed. An empty smile across his face, he waits. The light creeps closer to the prism mounted on a gobo stand, positioned at just the height of Hyra's breasts.

And it hits. His empty smile is about to fill...

Something hits him. Doubles him over. He's thrown onto his knees and lurches forward. He scrambles at the corner, but an invisible weight tosses him like candy wrappers, plural, and he's screaming and tearing at the floorboards while being pummeled by nothing at all. There's a tear across his back, bloody. He hears his trousers rip. There's a scream - he's not sure it's his own. Penetration. He's pushed down onto the floor, his buttocks rapidly and eagerly percussed.

But there's no pain. There's no fear. A rapturous sensation invades fully into his being, and though he visualizes his body brutally ravaged by a shadowy figure, there's no sensation of assault. Only... pleasure. Pure pleasure.

The door slides open. The bliss dissipates, immediately replaced by abject pain. East storms in, gun drawn and leveled, screaming chaotically at an invisible assailant.

***

*Continued in Gods Playing Poker: Sitting Up With a Sick Friend


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Gods Playing Poker: Pinched With Four Aces

*Continued from Gods Playing Poker: A Friend in Need

"Boyfriend's a no-go." Silver jumps in the driver's seat, smirking at his partner who's wolfing down some chocolate.

"You sure?" East isn't surprised, except by the joke written on the inside of the goo-bar wrapper. He just asks out of habit.

"Yeah, jack in."

East whips his PDP out from his jacket pocket and touches it to Silver's. Transmit lights turn green and East starts reading the boyfriend's statement. Silver puts his thumb on the unmarked cruiser's ignition and the Generalized Mobile Machines CruTectorTM hums to life. He thinks of his father's car for a moment, remembering how loud those petroleum-eating vehicles were, then hits the reverse button on the go-panel.

"A virgin?" Now East is surprised. In this day and age? Surely not. Even priests and imams are handing out short-singe contraceptives now.

Silver bites his lower lip and pauses a moment. It wouldn't surprise anyone that he had an eye on Hyra himself. He's not shown it yet, and it's obvious that everyone in the SIS is taking it hard, but East knows Silver's particularly upset. It's partially a sexist reaction, but it's genuine sorrow. "That's what he said."

"There another boyfriend?"

"That's what I'm thinking." The cruiser accelerates through a traffic director blinking mad orange.

"You want me to check her phone logs again?"

"Yep." Silver pulls the cruiser to a curb and swings the door open, the brisk chill air rushes into the car. East pops open the glove compartment, and, of course, pulls out some gloves. Other passing vehicles have their drivers scream expletives at Silver, whose car door forces them to merge into the center lane.

East looks out the window. Silver's parked in front of the Marion County Main Public Library and Words Depository. It's a technologically advanced faux-gothic building, looking strangely ominous in the lightly falling late-winter snow. "What are we doing here?"

"Checking some angles."

"New data girl's working, right?"

Silver retrieves a personal groomer from his coat pocket and smooths out a crease, slightly irritated at the wet-spots forming from melting flakes. "Who? What?" He doesn't close the door.

***


***

East slides into the driver's seat of the CruTector and pulls the door shut. Even though Silver's ultimate goal is undoubtedly a phone number, East knows his partner will come back with some useful piece of information. East isn't always sure how Silver comes across stuff... he just does.

Not wanting to sit and twiddle his thumbs, East calls Marquitez. "What's going on, man?"

"Oh, shit, dude. Nothing." Marquitez clearly sounds depressed. "All those tech-perps are dead-ends. Except for maybe one. Mark April? You know him?"

"Yeah, one of Silver's old CIs, why?" East grabs another goo-bar from the scatter-boom mount, currently devoid of a scatter-boom in lieu of a tube of goo-bars.

"Ah, that explains it. He's acting like he knows something, but not like he knows something."

East looks up. Silver's approaching. East signals to go around and Silver gets in the passenger side. "Got her number." Silver smirks as he checks it against the PDP. It's an apparels-editor on the south side of town. "Ah, shit. She gave me a fake one."

East laughs. "Thanks, Juan," he says to Marquitez and hangs up. "I got something."

Silver hands East a tear of Flixon pad. "So do I."

"What is this?"

"Two things, actually. Baker called me. But that," Silver pauses a brief moment, tapping the Flixon note, " is Emily's ex-boyfriend. Another no-go. Might bring him in anyway."

East knows it'll be a waste of time, but shrugs it off. Silver doesn't like to be disagreed with so soon after being shot down. "You remember Mark April?"

Silver nods, brushing yesterday's bullsteak bun crumbs off the passenger seat. "Marquitez finger him?"

"Sort of."

Silver flicks the siren on with a fist. "Good enough."

***

East and Silver take turns beating the shit out of April. It is an old-school tactic in a department that doesn't even remember what old-school is. Neither East nor Silver like it very much, but April wants to play hard to get, so East and Silver take their time getting hard. That April sits comfortably in a plush Zwan-K fleather recliner and not a metal chair almost makes East laugh. Almost.

April bleeds from both nostrils and both lips. His left eye is definitely going black.

"This is getting old, Mark," Silver says, slightly more matter-of-fact than one would imagine. He doesn't let on that his fist is starting to hurt.

Mark gestures with his chin at East. "Let me see." East holds a mirror to April's face. April smiles. "Okay, okay. That looks good enough."

"You informants and your rites of passage," East forces a frown while stifling another almost-laugh. He slips April a self-applied swoosh-tube of sutures.

"That ain't no shift-suit, boys. It ain't no shift-suit, no light-suit, no bend-suit, no shape-suit. Nothing like. No kind of active camouflage. That idiot Marquitez don't know what the fuck he's doing. There's no digital distortion at all. Not a single fucking pixel."

"You saying that blur was natural?" Silver's question sounds just as stupid in Silver's head as it does vocalized.

April winces from a suture swoosh. "Not a single fucking pixel."

***

Colm Baker is an FBI/E agent and a good friend of Silver's. Baker used to work out of the Chicago office, but transferred to Indianapolis about seven years ago, just after Marion County decided to usurp executive control from city government.

Silver and East scoff at the lavish furniture and unnecessary decorations found in Federal offices. Who needs a replica pinball machine, anyway? Nobody carries coins anymore.

But the glory of envy is not why they're here.

A man in FBI/E custody, one Dario Ganganelli, is wanted for extradition in the disappearance of a woman named Anne Hyra in Rome two years ago.

"The kicker?" Baker lets the pause sink in. "Anne Hyra is Emily's cousin. Same age, even. A few months apart."

"But he's not our guy." East isn't surprised. Again.

"No, no. We've had him in custody for weeks. Waiting on the extradition."

"Then why are we here?" Silver knew this was too good to be true. Too convenient, anyway. There's no way anyone already in custody could be their unsub.

"He spent a few months in New York City and Westchester County. Looking for somebody."

"So?"

"Jesus, man," Baker shakes his head. Maybe these locs aren't as good as their reps after all. "Emily Hyra grew up in Westchester County. She came to Indiana to attend Marian University... some Roman Catholic exchange program-scholarship deal. Switched to Purdue after her first semester."

"This dude rapes her cousin, then comes to the U.S. to rape her?"

Baker nods. "We picked him up after he was flagged boarding a train for Indianapolis at Penn Station."

Silver's eyes widen and East hangs his head. "There's two of these pricks?" Silver and East sometimes say things at the same time. Like just then.

***

Both partners are tired and East lets the auto-drive take them home. Their mouths stay silent even though their brains are running at full speed. The CruTector stops at Silver's apartment first.

Silver's even more confused, to the point of having to remember what floor he lives on. Plenty of dead ends today, and way too many living ends. None of which make any sense. He reaches his floor, exits the elevator, and heads to his apartment. There's something taped to the door. Too small for an explosive, maybe. Partially from exhaustion, partially from apathy, and partially from arrogance, he grabs the paper-wrapped object without further pre-inspection and tears it open.

It's a prism. Intricate. Hundreds, maybe thousands of angles. In the shape of a crucifix.

There's no note, but he knows it has everything to do with the case.

***

*Continued in Gods Playing Poker: Stranger in Camp


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gods Playing Poker: A Friend in Need

"What the Hell are we watching?" Gary Silver has seen it all. He thought. Because he's clearly never seen anything like this before.

"I dunno, man. I just work here." Marquitez seemed the natural one to ask, since he recovered the image feed. A surveillance set - a print of C.M. Coolidge's Waterloo with optical recorders facing every possible direction in the target area - accidentally left in place after a supercaine bust.

Marquitez is another who thought he's seen it all. Most officers in Marion County Executive Enforcement serve their entire careers without ever getting into a shoot-out. Marquitez has only been a cop for nine years - the last three as an undercover in Narcotics - and he's already been shot at on four separate occasions. He's killed five in the line of duty. That's more than anyone else in MCEE, save for two long-time SWAT officers. And he's clearly never seen anything like what the card-playing canines have witnessed.

Fact is, none of the more than two-dozen detectives in the room have.

***



***

Emily Hyra was only 21 years old, fresh from Purdue University where she graduated with a double major in Pop Culture Law and WaveHysteria. She applied to the MCEE the day after she received her degree and, though the position she wanted wasn't available, she impressed her interviewer enough that she was offered a position as a tech-pup. Promised first opportunity at lateral transfer, she accepted.

Not especially beautiful, she was nevertheless fit - she passed the minimum MCEE physical fitness standards with ease - and had a smile that could disarm even the most miserly people. But it's not her smile the detectives are watching now. It's her screams of abject terror, tears from her assault, and self-defense techniques that seem to do nothing to her attacker.

Most of the detectives are secretly glad Hyra had already disconnected the eEarsTM and vovocorders, even though they know whatever she was yelling might provide clues to the identity of the perp.

It's a man, they assume, though the shape is blurred. As it enters the image and passes by a vari-portrait that was changing from a profile of Abraham Lincoln to a landscape of Patagonia, one detective theorizes that the unsub wore a shape-suit or some other type of active camouflage. Another, an Army veteran, discounts the possibility. No one else offers an idea. They simply do not know. One of their department's own is being raped right in front of their eyes. The shape moves quickly, so quickly Hyra didn't even realize it was there. Silent movement from Mute-sole shoes? Another theory. Or perhaps Hyra was simply concentrating on removing the sound equipment. Doesn't matter now, or as East would say, "That shit is, yeah... history."

Marquitez recues and they watch it again. And again. A shadow grabs her by the back of the neck and pushes her face against the wall in the southwest corner of the room. The vari-print breaks from the wall and there's a pixelated rainbow of debris. Her trousers are torn; fall to the floor. They can't hear her scream, but they can all hear the scream. The act is violent - her head appears to bounce twice, maybe three times, against the false mortar of the hotel room - and none can tell if Hyra is even conscious by the end of the assault.

It horrifies the men and women of the MCEE's elite Supervisory Investigations Section as they watch. Some even close their eyes or turn their heads. But, at the end of the day, it is a typical sexual assault. Almost textbook.

It's what occurs at its conclusion that confuses Silver. Confuses his partner, Steven East. Confuses Juan Marquitez. Confuses Detective-Captain Amanda Normandy. Confuses everyone.

With no jump in timecode, there's an energy burst, centered on Emily Hyra. The shape/shadow seems to dematerialize, and Hyra - obscured by static fuzzbuzz over the visuals - disappears into hundreds, thousands of minuscule beams of light.

Then it's over. The feed records another 212 minutes of the corner of the room - an auroRose shifts with the sunset, closing its petals with the darkness - until Marquitez enters the frame, reaches for the Coolidge print and its array of electronic eyes, and the feed blinks out.

***

"Jesus." Steven East speaks with a dead-pan tone, as if naming the suspect. "What the juju-bee was that?"

"I dunno, man. I just work here." Marquitez stops the playback and excuses himself.

Detective-Captain Amanda Normandy snaps her fingers, ignoring her detective's departure. "All right, people. Phillips, Naifeh? You're skipped. East and Silver have lead. Keep doing what you're doing, but consider yourselves at their disposal."

The announcement isn't much of a surprise. East and Silver, unconventional and controversial as they are, are widely-regarded as the MCEE's best. The Feds often request them by name whenever the FBI/E has to work in Marion County or nearby. Nobody complains.

***

Steven East holds a flaccid doughnut; his face emits a like demeanor. In his other hand, a coffee cup dips to the point of imminent disaster. He's vertical only due to the digipost wallboard holding him up. Some jackass transmitted the Baby-Spider Murderer's likeness over a greasy slice of Suicide Meat onto the board.

"Mmm," mumbles East, "guess you had to be there." He watches the disc progress bar as the digipost loads the Hyra case.

Silver enters their office and slaps East's gut with a rolled-up Flixon-edition Post-Gazette. For a second, a nano-print headline sticks to East's shirt then fades into obscurity.

"You eat too much."

"It's how I cope with you."

"You two," Normandy screams across the floor from her corner office, "in the proof room. Now." There's no question as to whom the command is directed.

"Suck it down, Steve," Silver starts, just moving out of the way of East's coffee finally imitating Niagara on a slow day, "We're in the ape-shit." Silver's seen monkeys throw shit before - a vacation in northern Colombia that wasn't much of a vacation - so he imagines that ape-shit is worse. Then again, what happened to Emily Hyra probably constitutes a higher form of primate excrement.

Silver half-jogs out the door, leaving his long-time partner to mull over a one-sided retort until he slugs back the remainder of his coffee - barely a sip survived the capsize - and stuffs the uneaten half of doughnut into a Rubbermaid nano-compactor.

***

Silver paces the floor, tapping the edge of a viewdesk. "The fuck. Didn't she just walk in here a week ago?"

"Two months. Give or take." Normandy settles into a chair and leans into the desk's edge. She taps the screen and pulls up a STaRT blotter. Silver holds out his Personal Data Pad and the translucent image hovers from the viewdesk's projector and dissolves into the PDP's receiver. "You guys know the drill. Hit this hard. Need bodies? Start with Marquitez. He's taking this badly. Postpone or hand-off your other cases."

"The Hemmersmith murder and Fields bust? Come on, Captain." Silver isn't one to let cases go so easily. And he's cocky enough to believe he and East can handle all of them. Good enough to, in fact.

"The DA knows what's going on. They can wait while you're flipping flips and turning tricks."

East, against the door, stares through a photo of Vice Mayor Lancer leaning on a golden shovel. He's paying attention, but a bad feeling borne of childhood institutionalizing creeps into his thoughts like a banana roach into a trap-zap.

Normandy notices his blank expression. "East?"

"Yeah?" He shakes his head. Reflex. More coffee would be awesome.

"Something on your mind?"

East shrugs. "It's go time."

Normandy offers her hand, not wanting to be too overbearing. "Then give me your PDP and get ready to go."

***

*Continued in Gods Playing Poker: Pinched With Four Aces


The Complete Gods Playing Poker

DreamScape V: Geopolitics

Okay, this one's a doozy. And it's the last DreamScape (at least under its current format). I haven't been happy with them and since they're primarily an excuse to sneak creative writing into my rant and rave days, I figured I'd buck up and stop cheating. Ah, useless discipline... how useless thou art. Uselessly useless. Useless, I say!

As always, the actual dream portions are in italics.

***

I'm at a friend's house in Australia, and it's a little disconcerting that its layout is almost identical to my sister's old rental home back in the United States. Then again, perhaps human imagination has completely run out and everybody's just knocking out the same old shit from habit. I have no idea. All I know is that I can find all the silverware and dishes in the kitchen.

My friend's son and I are getting hammered. It seems to be thing to do here. He likes beer, I like wine, but I'm downing beers like they're going out of style. And then he ditches me. His sister's around, but she's ignoring me. You know, being an arrogant American and all. She's stunningly gorgeous, which usually makes me a little nervous, but I guess since it's my dream I'm a walking bastion of confidence.

There's a guitar there. Not sure where it came from. And it shouldn't matter, since I can't play very well. But I can tune the shit out of one. So I pick it up and start tuning it. I guess my friend's daughter is into on-key tones, since she suddenly decides to start talking to me. I'm not sure where the conversation leads as far as talking points, but she's kissing me now, so I don't really care. Yeah, she's stunningly gorgeous. I'm not gonna tell you what happens next.

***

I tend to have rather odd occupations in my dreams. This one is no different. I'm not certain what it is exactly that I do, but there's a news report on television of a plane crash that destroyed the southern tip of a Canadian Island. Within moments I get a phone call. I'm to get to this island as soon as possible. But not, it seems, to rescue the crash survivors. Instead, I'm to rescue some endangered species of moth that lived on the island.

I'm not entirely apathetic, I suppose, and I feel sorry for the survivors we sail right by while we're collecting moth specimens.

***

We're wrapping up the rescue and somebody is filming a documentary on it. I can't tell who the host is, but it's a fairly stocky fellow. Either Russell Crowe or Napoleon D'umo from So You Think You Can Dance. Whoever it is, he wants to interview me, but somewhere else. I start following him. That's when I notice George Bush, Sr., walking down the street. By himself. He's smoking a cigarette. Out of curiosity, I ditch the documentary crew and head over to him.

I ask him for a smoke. He complies. He starts talking about nothing in particular. Apparently, I'm a klutz, because I drop the cigarette. Bush doesn't notice and he accidentally steps on it. I wait patiently for him to move his foot. He never does. I ask for another smoke. He complies. I drop that one, too.

George Bush and I chat for a while, until he drops to the ground. Heart attack. Out of nowhere come a shitload of Secret Service agents. One of them seems cool enough and gives approval when I ask if I can come along. I used to be an EMT. I might be Bush's only hope.

Except... they have other ideas.

We wind up at some Arab shaman's place. In front of it, naked Western children are being sold off at auction. I point this out, but none of the SS guys seem to care. They're only purpose is to save the former President's life. They don't let me in the shaman's store. One tells me that I'd be too disturbed.

I'm disturbed enough by the children being sold off.
No one has any clue what's going on. Or any care. But I'm getting pissed. I know that, to help the kids, I have to see what's behind that door. Guns are drawn. Shit's about to go down. I'm totally fucked.

***

And then I wake up.

I have to admit, for sheer curiosity reasons, I wish I wouldn't have. I still want to know what the Hell was behind that door.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Irrewind, 20101120: On Writing

So you've noticed I rant and rave about writing and aspiring writers quite a bit. Yeah, well, it's what I do. And I'm often paid for it, believe it or not. No, really, I've been PAID to tell people their work sucks (or is good, whatever). Crazy, right? I'll admit it, sure... it's crazy. But somebody's gotta do it. Rather large industry out there and all.

"Advice for Artists"
I've often said that there are three things to every thing: an art, a craft, and a science. From tying your shoes to having sex, from driving to cooking dinner, there is an artistic way, a practiced way, and a scientific way. Artists do something through talent and intuition... Read More

"They're Only Words Passing Time"
There's an old joke about the girl at the party suddenly turning away from the guy who says, "I'm a writer." As with all jokes, there's some truth to it, and there's a bit of lying going on. Anyone knows that the younger and more naive the target, the more likely she (or he) is going... Read More

"On Writing: An Opinion"
Every situation (from sex to violence to drugs to crime) and every perspective (from left to right to theist to atheist), no matter how heinous, nefarious, inspirational, or wonderful, can lend itself to a good story. And good stories deserve to be written, regardless of whether an... Read More

"On Writing: A Philosophy"
Anyway, long story short: writers need output. Writers write, after all. Those who talk about writing (or worse, talk about "ideas") and never write are most certainly not writers. It's no different than someone wanting to be a baseball player but never playing baseball. Intent is... Read More

"Jayne's No. 5"
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."... Read More

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Resignation

It is during Deborah's going away party that she realizes the young office attendant knows. She thought her 45 years of life gave her the advantage in effectively hiding her lascivious thoughts from him - Nathan being barely 23 - but it is clear that they did not. She's suddenly worried that the glass of champagne in her hand is one too many. Then again, he's the one who brought it to her.

Nathan's been Deborah's receptionist and assistant for the past 18 months, fresh from college and eager to start a corporate career. Her last assistant, Samantha, left to take a middle-management position at a competing firm. She had Samantha for nearly six years and, admittedly, was afraid to even look for new assistant. Hell, her retirement from the company was only a year-and-a-half away, and consideration was given to finishing out her time without an assistant at all. Her boss, Wayne, an over-eager divorcee who flirts a little too heavily with her, would hear none of it. In fact, Wayne's the one who hired Nathan as some weird gesture of eye candy that Wayne was hoping would result in some office sex.

He was wrong about the office sex. Deborah couldn't imagine sleeping with Wayne were he the last man on Earth. But he was right about the eye candy. Nathan was gorgeous, and not just in that youthful way. Everything from his cheekbones to his skin tone, his hair style to his lean musculature. Everything was just the way she likes it. The way she's liked it since she was a teenager.

And now he's sitting on an office table decorated with "Congrats, Debbie!" Handing her champagne. Leaning into her.  Whispering rumors of other employees. Casting surreptitious glances down her cleavage. He's a little drunk, she knows - Hell, so is she - but seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. She should be grateful for the attention, but it's scaring her. Why can't he go mingle with the young admin girls?

She must have asked aloud.

"Because, Deborah," he states, his voice not absent a slur, "it's your fucking party."

He notices her champagne glass, not-quite-but-almost empty, and runs off to fetch another. Out of reflex she stares at his ass walking away. She's going to miss that ass. He's smiling as he returns with two full bottles. She's going to miss that smile.

"Your eyes give you away, you know." He moves in a little too close when he refills her glass.

"Pardon?" She holds still as he pours.

"They're very wanting." His free hand brushes her between her thighs, thumb to mons pubis and fingers between cheek. She spills champagne. But that's not what he felt was wet.

She gets up, pushing him aside. "Nathan..." She rushes to the restroom

"Shit, I'm sorry. Kinda clumsy." It's as rehearsed a statement as there's ever been.

***

Deborah was always one to get to know her co-workers. She once worked at a firm where no one spent any time together outside of the office - or even seemed to want to - and it drove her crazy. She could certainly understand any reluctance to go out on weekends or enjoy private dinners - they all had lives to live, after all - but none even bothered to share lunch. It was an alien concept to her and one she actively avoided when she acquired her job here. She wasn't sure anyone at her previous employer even knew she previously married - or even had three daughters - but everyone at her current employer certainly did. She could barely remember the last time she had lunch without at least one co-worker present.

Their relationship started innocuously enough.

"Nathan, would you like to join us for lunch?" Deborah was already on her way out, two ladies from the marketing department standing behind her. She was, admittedly, hoping that he would decline.

"No, thanks. I'm just gonna grab something from the kitchen."

She's not sure why, since she was happy with the response, but something about him - probably the smile - elicited a push. "I'm buying. And I'll probably never offer that again." She can't quite remember, but she has the feeling that she winked at him.

"In that case. Sold."

The two chatted at work and quite often. But in the open air of an alfresco cafe, he was in a different element. Not only did he charm her two marketing friends, she found herself completely taken in by the stories he regaled. He wasn't even 22 years old and she felt envious of his life. A traveler by whim and whimsy, finishing his degree primarily via exchange programs and semesters-at-sea, even a two-year stint in the Coast Guard that began four days after his 17th birthday and ended only due to a sudden onset of asthma that mysteriously disappeared upon his discharge. An awareness that the world was his in that subjective, liberating way that the world could be anybody's. Though she took little, if any, credit for it, she had seen that attitude blossom in one of her daughters. It instilled in her an overwhelming sense of pride. Here, it instilled in her an overwhelming sense of something else.

Within weeks she found herself inviting only Nathan out to lunch. She was remarkably diplomatic and conniving, and none of her previous lunch mates paid too much heed to their exclusion. Occasional gossip quickly dispelled by an incredulous expression or a purposefully-designed joke. She loved hearing about his trials and tribulations on the social front. He took everything to heart but nothing too seriously and this demeanor elicited her openness in return. Within months she was convinced he knew more about her than anyone else. Even her children.

One day, while watching him file paperwork and flirt with an admin girl, he caught her staring at him and smiled at her. She barely noticed, lost in daydream as she was. It wasn't until he started waving slowly that she snapped out of it.

***

She's splashed her face with water. Peed. Splashed her face with more water. Washed her hands. Twice. Three times. Peed again. It's only a matter of time before someone starts wondering where she's gone to. Or what she's doing in the bathroom. There's a temptation to do something else, but she's a lady and will not consider it. Still...

She's terrified of leaving this room.

It's a fear that keeps her there until long after her party is over. And long after everyone's gone home.

***

Almost everyone.

***

She opens the door slowly, unsure of when the custodians show up. Satisfied that she's alone in the building, she makes her way in the relative darkness to her office. It's unlocked, thankfully, since her keys are in her purse, which is in its usual place in her desk. Her cellphone has nearly three dozen missed calls and over a dozen new voicemails, a dozen text messages. She finds it sweet that everyone was looking for her. Or pretending to, at least.

The light knocking startles her.

"Where were you hiding?" Nathan's smiling his usual smile. He seems to have sobered up, but his collared shirt is half-way unbuttoned, his hair's a mess, and he seems to have misplaced his shoes.

"Oh, you know. Parties bore me a little, especially when they're mine." Deborah tries very hard to force a natural smile. A friendly gesture that she hopes will very quickly lead to a gratuitous goodbye.

He approaches her slowly and she suddenly regrets making eye contact. He'd mentioned her eyes earlier. Were they really that obvious? He doesn't even ask a question and she finds herself confessing.

"Okay, Nathan, okay. I admit I've ogled you a bit. Fantasized about you some. I'm a single woman who hasn't had sex in 20 years. It's what I do. I'm sorry."

"Don't say you're sorry. I'm not stupid. I've noticed," he says, removing his shirt. "You're fabulous. I want to do this."

Ordinarily, such a statement would render her speechless, but it has the opposite effect. Particularly as he finishes removing the rest of his clothing. "You don't. You're going to regret it. I have daughters your age, for fuck's sake. Let's go home. Oh... you don't want to do this."

"Shut up." His tone is commandingly stern, yet, somehow, pleadingly gentle. "Take your pants off."

She's shaking uncontrollably, but manages to obey. In the dark he hears her belt jingle to the floor and he fumbles for her. He slips himself into her and her inhibitions disappear.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Frank Miller's Sin City

Way back in 1991, comic book legend Frank Miller introduced us to the world of Sin City. First appearing Dark Horse Presents, the last adventure of the honorable sociopath Marv blew its way into the consciousness of the comic book industry. Between 1991 and 2000, comic and neo-noir aficionados jumped into this strange imaginary world and were further rewarded with an almost perfect transcription to film in 2005.

Since this first story (or "yarn," as Dark Horse labels them), Frank Miller returned to Sin City several times, taking his readers through the wonderfully vicious underbelly of the ambiguously amalgamated Basin City. Mainly a fictionalized Los Angeles (as evidenced by its layout and landmarks), partially a gangster-era Las Vegas (its "industries" and criminal organizations), and somewhat of a 1970s New York City or Chicago (its politics and skyline), Miller builds a living, breathing city unmatched anywhere else in comicdom. Even comic universe stalwarts Metropolis and Gotham City, with their longevity in pop culture consciousness, struggle to feel as real as the streets and alleys of Basin City.

Each yarn, be it a mini-series or a one-shot, is populated by repulsive (yet somehow loveable) characters. The aforementioned Marv, a sociopathic killer whose desire to help the defenseless (particularly defenseless women) leaves you rooting for him, while secretly acknowledging the need to remove him from society. Dwight McCarthy, a gun for hire whose past results in the need for a surgically altered appearance, is a more level-headed protagonist and a more traditional anti-hero, but still resides on the wrong side of the law. Which is fine in the world of Sin City, since the law is often on the wrong side of the law.

Simply put, Sin City is neo-noir, hard-boiled pulp-fiction at its best. That it is one of the few comics out there that can lay an honest claim to being a work of art (both visually and narratively) makes it that much more relevant. And, for a decade, comic readers got to enjoy semi-regular forays into the city that everyone loves to read about, but no one wants to live.

1991 gave us Sin City. 1993 gave us A Dame to Kill For. 1994: The Big Fat Kill. 1996: That Yellow Bastard. 1997: Family Values. 1999: Hell and Back. We were even treated to Booze, Broads & Bullets, which compiled all of the Sin City shorts and one-shots (published from 1994 to 1997) in one book. Hell and Back finished its run in April of 2000, and fans eagerly awaited more.

And waited.

And waited. At one point, Frank Miller hinted at a new book called The Long, Hard Goodbye. Which never materialized.

So they waited.

And waited. In 2005, the film version of Sin City (comprised of the stories for the original Sin City, The Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard, all almost verbatim adaptations), directed by Robert Rodriguez, hit the screens, temporarily sating fans. After the film, they got The Hard Goodbye. Unfortunately, in what many call a despicable marketing ploy, The Hard Goodbye was simply a re-issue of the original Sin City tale with but a new title. With no word of what happened to The Long, Hard Goodbye.

Frank Miller, it seemed, had abandoned his comic following in pursuit of a film directing career (which, so far, has culminated in the absolutely horrible The Spirit) and more Sin City movies.

So they wait.

Sin City 2 and Sin City 3 are apparently on the Hollywood horizon, and to keep things fresh, Frank Miller has promised that new stories will appear in those films. And that, yes, they will also appear as comics.

But we're still waiting.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Absence of Proof

"Who decides, huh? Who? This is bullshit."

"I don't know, man. Calm the fuck down."

"Fuck you."

No one's really sure what he's talking about, but everyone knows what he's talking about. Life, death. Maybe a woman. It doesn't really matter what the words are applied to. His mind is moving at the speed of light and every risk he's ever taken is being reevaluated whether he knows it or not. The creation of logic falls to the destruction of hope and back again. A never ending cycle of cognitive thought mixed with the fallacy that the heart can feel.

***

"What's he on about?"

"I dunno. I think someone died."

"Who?"

Some might think it sad that emotional reaction is based on the answer to that question. But he thinks it's natural. He neither cares if someone he's never met dies, nor if somewhere he's never been suffers from a natural disaster. Most of his friends call him apathetic, but a few know he carries a weight they could never bear. The weight of nothing.

***

"You know, if you keep trying to climb higher, it's just gonna hurt more."

"I once read that there's only one thing worse than being alone."

"What was that?"

"Settling."

The song claims that it's small world, after all. But it isn't. Even with dreams of sailing among the stars, no man will ever leave footprints across the entirety of Earth. No woman will ever walk the whole of her home. No one will ever even see it all. It is not knowledge held that destroys the myth that ignorance is bliss. It is the knowledge that there is always something to learn. Fear is not an evil. Fear is what makes something worth doing. "I am not afraid" is the motto of the complacent.

***

"It's a girl. Definitely a girl."

"Figures. Hopeless-ass-romantic."

"Nah. Too hopeful, I think."

"Semantics."

"A word makes all the difference in the world, brother."

Everything is interpreted the way the interpreter wants it. Propaganda is the only true force in human evolution; human civilization. It may or not be an abject lie, but it's a subjective truth and an objective motivation. Laws chip away at pieces of theories left by the wayside, leaving not evidence of fact, but raw impressions of an existence that needs no definition. His life is meant for service. Not because of fate; only because that's what he wants. An absence of self-concern, oft-mistaken for an irresponsible and irreverent attitude, is actually proof that he simply wants to take care of another. And be taken care of.

***

"Don't be an asshole. Be realistic."

"I'm a dick, not an asshole."

"What's the fucking difference?"

"The smell."

Someone once said that if you stand still long enough, the world will come to you. If this is true, the only hope for travelers searching for companions is if they're traveling in opposite directions. It is a chase that never ends and never should. If this is a lie, then a whole lot of people are wasting their time smelling the roses. Yet time is a commodity only valuable as long as it can be remembered. As such, it's worthless, for we will all forget eventually. Memory is the only reason you have something to lose. Imagination is the only reason you have something to gain.

***

"She's out there."

"You're fooling yourself."

"Nah."

"You're setting a standard that no one's ever gonna meet."

"I don't set the standards. People I meet do."

The heart can't feel. The mind does it all. The weight of nothing is overwhelming, lightened only when an emotion can be carried. Fear can lead to love, for a true love will intimidate, if only to test resiliency. He wants her. And he wants her to smile. It is an imagined memory that, one day, he hopes, will come true.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Affleck: The New Eastwood

A few years ago, upon watching the slightly-underrated Hollywoodland, I came to a seemingly random and unlikely conclusion. The film, based on the real life suicide of George Reeves (TV's original Superman), stars Adrien Brody as a private investigator who gets caught up in the investigation via a series of seemingly unrelated twists and turns. It is not, admittedly, the best-made movie (or even particularly well-made, though there is certainly talent behind it), but it does showcase a rebounding Ben Affleck as George Reeves. A small role, to be sure, but one lucky enough to be the centerpiece of the film's plot.

I don't know why (no, really, I have no clue), but as I finished watching Hollywoodland I thought to myself, "Ben Affleck would make a good director." At the time there was absolutely nothing to base this conclusion on. One might be able to point to the screenplay for Good Will Hunting (which he co-wrote with Matt Damon), but given the controversies surrounding who actually wrote (or helped mentor, at the very least) that script, it's not wise to for the sake of an argument. Affleck had yet to direct anything that I'm aware of. And, let's face it, his acting resume had turned into a bit of a laughing stock (Gigli, anyone?).

The year after Hollywoodland, however, Gone Baby Gone (2007, by the way) was released. It blew me away. The director? Ben Affleck.

Sure, it was only one film, but I suddenly felt vindicated for having that seemingly random and unlikely conclusion.

Fast-forward three years to 2010. The Town gets a release. It doesn't blow me away like Gone Baby Gone did, but I'm thoroughly entertained and deeply admire its director for actually filming a car chase in which we're not getting dizzy trying to follow the action (in fact, I claim that it's the best-directed Hollywood car chase since Frankeheimer's Ronin way back in 1998). The Town, simply put, is an expertly-made film. The director? Ben Affleck (who, like Eastwood in Gran Torino, fit himself into a leading role perfectly).

A few months ago I wrote about who I felt were the greatest living American film directors. To me, Clint Eastwood currently sits on that throne. But, given the advanced age of the directors on that list, I openly admitted to eagerly awaiting the next batch of great American directors.

I realize I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm putting Ben Affleck on that list. And I'm calling him the heir apparent to Eastwood (for several reasons, some of which are painfully obvious).

No, I'm not joking. I have a feeling his next film will prove me right. If it doesn't, then, well, his film after that one will.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Hidden Conversation: In Concrete


*Images courtesy of Jayne Harnett-Hargrove


"I think it's stupid, you know?" Energy's always got an opinion. It's usually wrong, fully dependent on superficial information provided by a source she wants to believe because it purports to cater to her.

"You know, you know, you know." Calm doesn't mean the repetition as an insult. It's not his style. Low-key is how he lives his life. He's just tired of useless words. He feels useless enough as it is.

"C'mon, you two." Tired's not the eldest of the three, but he both looks and feels it. Playing peacemaker is exhausting. He's too subdued to know that arguing is even more so. It's this demeanor that makes him welcome company, though he has few steadfast friends.

"I'm not arguing. But you have to admit that it's stupid. Who do these people think they are?"

"Yeah, whatever. You talk about this all the time and never do anything about it. You give a shit as much as the rest of us. Give it up."

You know what would be good right about now? Pretzels. Definitely pretzels. And maybe a beer.

***

Energy is overeducated and underachieved. It's her curse, her ability to understand and grasp a concept with a minimum of input. It's all so very simple, the way the world should work. Fix it from the ground up. Every time. Top down leads to abject failure. Every time. What? Go back to school and start all over? Fuck that, I know enough to make judgement from here.

Calm knows she's stewing. She's full of shit. She doesn't get people. She doesn't get life. So caught up in what it means to be academic that she never learned how to actually do anything. Or understand anyone.

Tired wonders why Calm holds it all in. And finds the irony. How Boheme of her.

***

Calm hasn't seen it all, but he knows he hasn't. He knows when he sees it, he'll have to deal with it. He might not be able to deal with, but he'll try, at least. It's only what directly affects him that has an effect on him. No one really cares who's starving in Rwanda. But, damn... that suicide bomber in Israel was beautiful. What a waste. Why can't I find a woman that beautiful?

Energy is incredulous. Why do I even talk to this idiot?

Tired can read her face. She's an easy face to read. Because he pretends to listen. You need an audience. Even if they're bored to tears.

***

Tired is, well, tired. He's lived a good life, done no one any serious wrong. Nothing he'd admit, anyway. Bygones be bygones and water under the bridge. Everyone can get along, even in the face of politics and religion. Still, they should all subscribe to the Good Book. All of that other crap out there is nothing but bullshit. Do unto others... and judge not, lest...

Energy blames a lot on the powers of history. Especially imaginary ones. God isn't real. He's just an excuse to alleviate personal responsibility.

Calm knows there's a good and bad to everything. Why whine about it? Why do you care, exactly?

***

If Energy could do it all over again, she'd change everything. The abusive boyfriend (never mind that she wouldn't have met the wonderful boyfriend afterward).

(Potential was the best thing to happen to her)

(Yeah, but Kinetic almost killed her)

Her career (she's creative, not corporate).

(No, she isn't)

(Oh, cut her some slack)

She even wonders what would've happened had she turned left at the gas station back in '96 instead of right. Something would've come out for the better, she's sure of it.

Calm wouldn't change a goddamned thing. The ex he chased away (he probably shouldn't have said what he said, though).

(That girl was an idiot)

(So what? He loved her)

His career (he did what he had to do when he had to do it).

(And you still haven't made any money)

(Money's not made you any happier)

Even the argument he had with his best friend the day before he died. It's grounded him. Made him appreciative. And it's part of the journey.

Tired has plenty of regrets. And plenty of hopes. All in all, though, he's content. A man once asked him out on a date (he was confused and thought about it for years afterward... the decision is still pending).

(Just come out of the closet already)

(Why should he? So you can scold him for it? Tell him you told him so?)

His career (he's never been enjoyed any of his jobs, but he's never really hated any, either).

(Do what you love. That's everybody's goal.)

(Speak for yourself).

He likes where he's sitting, right here, right now. Listening to two polar opposites whom he calls friends argue about everything and nothing at all.

***

"It's getting late. I should call it a night." Energy's not tired, she just wants to surf the web, research something on Wikipedia so she can later pretend she's known it her whole life.

"Yeah, it's time get home." Calm's not tired, either. But there's a book that's been sitting on his nightstand for too long and a song he wants to listen to alone in the dark.

"You two should just get married. You already argue like it, anyway." Tired smirks. He's tired. His two friends look at him, teetering between nervous laughter and faux anger. "Just trying to be helpful."

The joke subsides even if the punchline doesn't.

"Good night."

*To be reinterpreted in The Hidden Conversation: In Abstract

Irreview, Book Review: The Nutshell Technique

I have, to date, read well over two dozen books on screenwriting and its related mediums (theatre, specifically).  While most - if not all -...