April 28, 2014
I find myself on a city street, pushing through a crush of pedestrians. Adult men, mostly. The few women are bundled, hiding their shape beneath bulky wraps. Our clothes vary in shade from smoke to jet, but we all look the same. Sullen faces, annoyed at the proximity, minds walled.
The city is colossal and sprawling. Enormous skyscrapers pierce featureless gray sky, creating North/South canyons of steel, concrete, and glass. I don’t recall arriving, but I’ve been here for some time now. Never found the limits.
Looking up. Every window is unlit and shut. Impossible to tell if anyone occupies the buildings. Not a leaf of green to be seen, no planters, trees, or grass. No birds roost in the eaves. Nature has been banished to the sewers and chained there like a mutant child.
A gap in traffic ahead that both cars and people avoid. When I reach it, I see a figure laid out in the street, smartly dressed, expensive shoes and handbag. Rich jewelry around pale wrist, neck, and fingers. No one steals. No one glances at the hole in the forehead, or at the fan of red on the pavement beneath. And as I stop and take in the scene, it seems planned, contrived, arranged. This is a sign. A sacrifice to the monolithic city I plod through.
A large hand grips my nape, and I’m herded through the door of a ground-level diner. The place is rammed–standing room only and barely any, at that. Dark counters, stools, and menus combine with tinted windows to create perpetual shade, hiding motives and identities.
I’m steered through the crowd to a man seated at the counter. Coat of shiny black leather, black silk vest and red shirt beneath. Wavy hair slicked straight back into a greasy pony tail. Olive skin. Immaculately trimmed beard. I know why I’m here.
The stool beside this man clears and I am put onto it. With a grimace, I peel the thug’s hand from my shoulder like it was a sour bandage.
“Are you ready?” the red-shirted man asks. “Because we are tired of waiting.”
Thug grabs my shoulder again and says right into my ear, “No one buys unless we say so.”
I knock his hand away hard and shrug the guy back.
“There’s no need for this,” I say. “A partnership makes sense. But you’re not thinking it all the way through. You pay me fair, then I do more for you. Interviews, tours, talk shows. Promotion. I can do that and build twice the interest. Plus, you don’t have an ending. Keep me happy, you’ll get a big finish. Fuck me over, you get nothing.”
The red-shirted man looks forward at a waitress on the other side of the counter. She is paralyzed, trembling, with a carafe of coffee in one clenched hand. It’s as clear to her as it is to me that he’s thinking of having me killed, but I don’t care about that. Love of life was buried with the corpses of my friends and family. And there’s a more practical calculus going on behind the man’s arched eyebrows: without an ending this project has no payoff. For anyone.
The thug takes his hand away and backs up a step. I take a breath, then dust off my shoulders. As I glance around, the people in the diner are all looking at me. I’ve entered into an arrangement with this man willingly, and it scares the piss out of them.
At once, the hair on my arms stands. Overwhelming familiarity… This city, this place, these people, and, most poignantly, this man. I’m in Hell.
And I should know. I’ve been here before.