Glass Jaw, Steel Heart.

I could barely make out a crackhead curled up in a refrigerator box, freebasing off what looked like the shiny side of a Chipotlé burrito wrapper in an Alphabet City alleyway. He looked like a brand new baby boy in a cradle from where I was, looking down from eight stories up, soaring across the gap between the two buildings with my legs at full splits, the bottom of my trench coat surfing the wind behind me like a cape. The world spun as I hit the roof of the next building like a pair of dice tumbling across the felt on a craps table.

I sat up seeing spots. I heard the humming first. Then the twang of the bow. Then the wisp of the arrow as it sailed past my right ear, turning my head to the left. At of the farthest corner of the same eye I caught the faintest glimpse of that pale little bastard’s curly golden locks.

“Y’runnin outta buildings, kid,” I heard the gruff voice bellow as I threw my weight forward to get myself back on my feet and into a gallop. I hurled my body over another alleyway, this time landing on my feet. Still in stride, I saw that the little shit was right. I slowed myself down. I arrived at the far side of the roof slowly, gingerly placing my fingertips on the ledge, and exhaled a visible breath. I looked out at the current of the East River.

“Rats.”

I heard the hum of the wings again, faster than a coked-up dragon fly in heat. I turned around and faced the ugly little bundle of joy hovering there in midair. Wrinkly bulbous potbelly, white linen diaper, red sash securing a red quiver of red arrows, four chubby digits clutching a curly wooden bow, strung with shiny golden thread.

“Diaper’s hangin low, Cupid. No wonder it took you so long to catch me this time. You’re sailin’ with your anchor dropped. That thing must be weighin y’ down somethin awful. Come on over here, let’s get baby changed.”

“You know you’re pretty funny for a guy who’s about to be singin showtunes at the moon.”

“Dude, I do that anyway. Don’t have to hit me with the heart-seeker if a few bars of Phantom is all you want.”

He plunged the hand that wasn’t holding the bow into the crotch of his diaper.

“Aw, Jesus dude. Can you not…” The hand emerged with a half-empty pack of Marlboros.

“Reds,” I said with a snicker. “Figures.” He pinched his rosy lips around one of the filters, pulling the pack away and began patting his bare skin in the general areas where there might be pockets on a clothed human. I grabbed my lucky Zippo out of my shirt pocket and tossed it to him.

“Thanks,” he said flatly. He held the pack out towards me. I shook my head. He shrugged, lit the Red and tossed it back.

“Don’t mention it.”

“Why ya lookin at me like that. Should be used to this routine by now.”

“Look man. I really don’t have time for this. I gotta lotta shit going on right now. Work’s piling up at the agency, my college a capella group wants me to design a new logo for them, I’m trying to redecorate my apartment, I moonlight as a P.I.J., and I’m way behind on my blog posts.”

“Come on, you know nobody reads your blog. And what the is a P.I.J.?”

“Private Investigative Journalist.”

“What does that mean?”

“Do you care?”

He thought about it for a second, pursed his lips and shook his head.

“Come on man, cut me a break this time.”

“No can do kid. It’s nothing personal. I’m just a professional doing a job.”

“At least tell me who’s name is on the contract.”

“What difference does it make? You’ll know as soon as the arrow hits you.”

“Ah, forget it.” I thought for a second. “You know what? I think I will take one of those Reds.”

He tossed me the pack. I took one out, tossed it back.

“You know, I’ve come across a lot of strange creatures in my time. A mind-control turkey, a Greek goddess workin at the DMV. I’ve even seen a Kraken tear the stinger off a Babylonian scorpion demon. But seriously, you are the most disgusting turd of a supernatural being I’ve ever met, you know that?” He groaned, drawing an arrow. “Look at you. You look like Gary Shandling’s head wearing a Shirley Temple wig stuck on a fleshy snow globe with wings. You suck, man.”

He drew the arrow into his bow, and began speaking in a completely tired and rehearsed manner.

“By mandate of the Articles of Saint Valentinus set forth in the year of our Lord 259 Anno Domini, I hereby pierce your heart with the arrow of love. Does the intended inamorato have any last words before falling madly and inescapably in love with the other contracted party of this arrow?”

“Any requests?” I said lighting up the Red.

Phantom sounds good.”

I felt the arrow hit my chest before I heard the twang of the bowstring. I staggered back, nearly falling over the ledge of the building.

“Easy kid. Just take it easy. Come on, now. Don’t be so dramatic, we’ve done this plenty of times before.”

“I… I’m overcome with emotion. I… I…” I looked up at the moon, and assumed a power stance and began crooning a power ballad from Phantom of the Opera.

Let me be your shelter,
Let me be your guide.
Your safe, no one will find you,
your tears are far behind you.

All I want is freedom,
A world with no more KYAAAAA!

I flicked the lit cigarette in his eye. He clamored forward screaming “FUUUUUUUUUUUUU-” I shut him up with a crack of my knuckles across his butt chin. He went down hard, feathers flying up with a poof from his wings hitting the ground.

“But, I hit you! With the arrow! Right in the heart!”

“Heart? That old broken down piece of junk? Thing was busted beyond repair. No doubt because of so many run-ins with you over the years. Had it swapped out right before I moved to New York. Got me a Detroit-manufactured internal combustion ticker with steal-head ventricles.” I pointed towards the spot on my chest that the arrow was sticking out of. “High octane. Runs on premium.”

“So why run?”

“It would seem that we’re both professionals doing a job. Somebody’s got a contract out on you too. And as you can see, I’m uniquely qualified to complete the task at hand. And I can guarantee that once I hand you off, you’re gunna have your work cut out for ya. Now. Why don’t you tell me who’s name is on my contract.”

“Use your imagination, Casanova! I’m sure you’re more than capable of making up a plenty uh cute little romantic comedy scenarios inside that diluted pompadour.”

“I certainly am. Although I’m more of a sci-fi man myself though. Or rather sci-fantasy. Like a sci-fantasy noir-mantic comedy, that’s what it would be.”

“Wha’ever, loser. I’ll be back for you. You know I will, nerd. ”

“Arright that’s enough out of you.”

I hog tied the little bastard, hopped on an uptown-bound F train, and dropped him off at Silvio Berlusconi’s penthouse suite at the Plaza.

I got back off at 2nd and Houston, and started strolling the few blocks back to my Alphabet City abode. A mushy looking couple broke their intense gaze at each other to gawk at my chest in horror. I realized that Cupid’s arrow was still stuck in me. I stopped at a corner and yanked it out, and took a good hard looked at it.

“Nice try.”

I was about to toss it in a the green wire-grate trash bin next to me, but hesitated. I held the arrowhead up to my eye. A tiny dab of motor oil dripped off the tip as a dull reflection from a street light bounced off the rusted bronze on the broadside. I ran an index finger slowly across one of the tail feathers, the same way I stroke my left eyebrow when I’m up to something. I chuckled, then groaned as I stuck the arrow in the pocket of my trench.

“Yeah. Nice try.”

So long, Valentine. Maybe next year.

One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, Pantone.

I needed a drink.

Golden-hued, wrapping it’s legs around a couple of ice cubes to calm the storm inside the glass. I needed a warm fire. A blanket to hunker under. A tufted leather chair to sink into. A jazz record to calm my nerves and someone to freshen the drink when the jazz wasn’t doing the trick. I needed a nap. A greasy breakfast when I woke up, and an entire day to piss away watching 80’s movies on AMC.

What I had was a six foot Frenchman blocking my exit, a five foot master of ceremonies pointing a Napoleon complex and a .45, a sopping wet tuxedo, and a sandwich bag that held a few inches of water and a betta fish named Pantone.

“Fish. Now.” The little fella stretched out his other hand, the one that wasn’t holding the heater.

It was the fish that had gotten me into this pickle. The fish was gonna get me out.

***

It all started a few days earlier when I was pissing the day away watching 80’s movies on AMC.
I heard a hard knock at the door of my apartment, just as Adventures in Babysitting was getting particularly adventurous. At first I thought it might be the cops. I’d been illegally jaywalking all over the city, somebody somewhere had to have taken notice. Plus only a week before I was wrapped up in a conspiracy that involved a plot to assassinate the turkey that had received the Presidential pardon on Thanksgiving. So there was that too.

“Bailey? Are you in there?” It was a woman’s voice.

“In a hot second!” I muted Elizabeth Shue and hopped off the futon, spilling the tub of arugula that was resting on my chest all over the cold wood floor. I like to recline in a luxurious fashion and shovel copious amounts of the peppery roughage into my gaping maw by the fistful. I kicked off my slippers like a Rockette, Charlestoned out of my mesh shorts emblazoned with the Michigan State University logo, twisted out of the hooded sweatshirt, river-danced out of my drawers, showered, shaved, threw on a three-piece suit then removed the jacket and rolled up the shirt sleeves to look more casual before opening the door.

“Oh, ‘Stine, it’s just you.” It was just Kristine. She’s my pal. She’s not like, a femme fatale or anything.

“What the hell, Bailey?! I’ve been standing out here for like a half hour!”

“I had to primp! Just in case you were the usual femme fatale who needs my help with some sort of mystery that I totally solve and then blog about. How was I supposed to know it was you?”

“Wow. Where do I begin. I texted you last night around six to tell you I was dropping by this morning. I called you as I was leaving my apartment to walk over here. I buzzed your apartment number on the call box. You said ‘Who is it?’ I said very clearly ‘It’s Kristine.’ And then you buzzed me in, and made me wait a half hour outside your door after walking up the six flights of stairs in your elevator-less ass-building. And here we are.”

“You’re a sharp dame, ‘Stine. Come on in.”

“Oh, there’s arugula all over the floor. That’s a surprise.”

“Please keep in mind that I have an honorary PhD in the science of deduction from the University of Don’t Take That Sarcastic Tone With Me Young Lady State. It’s part of the Liberal Arts program.”

“I hate tomatoes.”

“What can I do for you ‘Stine?”

She brushed a few leafy greens off the futon and plopped her self down, sticking her hands, red from the cold, back in her coat pockets.

“Mr. Pantone.” She said looking down, all melancholy. “He’s missing.”

Mr. Pantone is Kristine’s fish. She loves that fish more than anything. More than German soccer. More than boat shoes. More than the Weather Channel. More than hating tomatoes.

“Gone? Gone, as in resting with the… never mind.”

“No. Gone, as in missing. But I appreciate you resisting the pun.”

“Jesus. I’m sorry, kid. Really, I am. You did the right thing coming to me though.”

“Well, yeah. It’s your fault he’s missing.”

It felt like someone had yanked a cellist’s arm, dragging the bow haphazardly across the strings.

“Wha? Me?! How is this my fault?”

“Wow. Where do I begin. I asked you to feed him when I went home for Thanksgiving. You guaranteed me that you would forget to do it unless I reminded you constantly. You said to my face that it’d be easier to just feed him to a cat. So now, I’m back, and he’s gone.”

“You know I was just joking about that cat thing.” I said, pouring us both a glass of bourbon. “Why would I provide a cat with a tasty treat like Pantone? I’m against cats. I don’t approve of them at all.” I handed her the glass of bourbon.

“Well, all evidence points to you. I’m not drinking that. It’s 10am.”

“You’ve hooked the wrong fish here, ‘Stine.” I said, downing my glass.” I’m a red herring I tell ya.”

“Okay, I thought we weren’t doing puns here.”

“You can’t deny that there’s something fishy going on here.” I finished the glass I had handed to her. “It stinks like a fish market on a balmy summer afternoon. And I’m gonna swim upstream until I’ve found the sharktopuss that’s finned this fishnapping on me. Trout.”

“Whatever. Just get my fish back.” She lifted herself off the futon and started moving back towards the door.

“See what I did there? The word ‘finned.’ I changed ‘pinned’ to ‘finned.’ Somebody finned it in on me. Yeah. You get it.”

“I just sit in my room, staring at that empty bowl, watching as the bubble nest he always makes in the corner get gradually smaller. Eventually it’ll be gone. Just like him. I’m lost without him.”

She handed me a picture of Pantone.

“He was so happy when I took that.”

“I’m gonna get your fish back ‘Stine. I promise.” Then she just sort of stood there by the door, staring at a memory. I didn’t want to shoo her out the door while she was having such an emotionally compromising moment. Instead, I decided to Shue her out. I un-muted Adventures in Babysitting and started eating arugula off the floor.

***

The next day I took a six hour lunch to poke around Kristine’s apartment while she was at work. I let myself in with the set of keys she had given me to get in to feed Pantone while she was  home for Thanksgiving.

“Ennnnhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” The door whined open with the sound of a disappointed nerd after his favorite B-list character was left out of a comic book film adaptation.

I opened the fridge and grabbed the gallon of Tuscan Milk. I didn’t know where she kept her glasses, so I took a few sips straight from the jug. I made my way into her bedroom. I took a good hard look at Pantone’s bowl while I took a good hard drag of Tuscan Milk. It was exactly the way I had left it after feeding him last, except, no Pantone. The multi-colored rocks were still distributed evenly at the bottom of the bowl, and his lounging leaf was still suctioned in the same spot on the bowl wall. No sign of a struggle.

Then I noticed the bubble nest. It had gotten smaller. But not too much smaller. I took out a pad and paper to do some simple arithmetic to determine when Pantone had dissapeared, based on the radioactive half-life of a betta fish’s bubble nest, the barometric pressure in the room, the room’s average temperature, and the change in square milimeters between the time I last fed him and now, represented by the Greek letter Delta in the equation which I thence calculated.

Based on my calculations, Pantone had dissapeared the previous night around nine o’clock. Kristine said she’d texted me at six.

She wasn’t telling me the whole truth.

I grabbed the little tube thingy full of Pantone food. It was definitely lighter than when I had handled it last, by half a miligram, at least. When I turned it over, I found a label on the bottom with a bar code. Stinky’s Fish Pond.

I’d said it right from the beginning. This thing stinked.

***

Seriously, it like, really stinked.

Using the internet, I tracked down Stinky’s Fish Pond. It was a stinky hole of an aquatic pet store in a stinky little part of town just south of the Meat Packing District, called the Fish Packing District, which was just north of the smaller Vegetable Packing District, and just west of the even smaller Tofu and Various Soy Products Packing District. It was the same part of town where the Sticky Bandits arrived on a truck full of fish on ice after they flew the coop in Home Alone 2.

It took me like three hours to get there. I had to transfer a few times from numbered trains to lettered trains, to a train I swear had Prince’s symbol on the locomotive. At a certain point I wound up in Queens, which just… sucked.

Finally I made my way to the Fish Packing District. I walked up the stairs from the subway station and drew a big breath of ice cold air in through my crusty nostrils. That smell in the air wasn’t freedom. It was fish.

I spotted the wooden sign for Stinky’s Fish Pond down a damp alley, hanging by a couple chains from a fire escape. I stepped lightly around some puddles gathered in cracks between the uneven cobble stones. I half expected an alligator to jump out of one of them at any given moment. I stepped in front of the foggy glass door that was the entrance to Stinky’s, and a fat drip of water from the fire escape hit the top of my head, sending a cold, shitty chill down my my spine. I yanked at the door handle a few times before noticing the giant sign next to it instructing me to PUSH. The door opened with a jingle.

Stinky’s was not an inviting place. It was a narrow space to begin with, divided into narrower columns by long, rickety shelves that looked like they’d been assembled out of rusty erector set pieces. The shelves were so close together I had to walk sideways between them. Stacked on the shelves were hundreds of mason jars, filled with barely enough murky water to hold God knows how many different kinds of ugly tropical fish.

At the very back of the store was a funny looking guy sitting behind a warped wood counter. He looked like Steve Buscemi, just picture him. A cigarette dangled out of the corner of his mouth. A tube of ash that was half the size of the cigarette dangled from the glowing tip. He was peering through the thick lenses of his glasses at a paperback with browned pages, the odd side folded around so the back touched the cover. He ignored me as I approached. I hovered my hand over the courtesy bell on the counter, then moved my hand over to the nearly-full plastic ashtray directly next to the bell. I picked the thing up and held it under the cigarette, tapping the ash loose with the plastic edge. He finally looked up when I set it back down on the counter.

“You Stinky?”

His eyes rolled downward, and he sniffed.

“Well, I bathe regularly, but whaddya want pal, I sit in a gyaddam room full a fish all day.”

“What? No. I meant is your name Stinky. Is this your place.”

“Stinky’s dead. I’m ‘is brudder, Sump.”

“Sump. Like the pump?”

“Nah, like sumpin else. What kin I do for ya.”

“I’m looking for a fish.”

“Them we got in spades.”

“I can see that. But I’m looking for one that’s gone missing. Recognize this little fella?” I slid the picture of Pantone across the counter.

“Never seen him before,” he said, barely glancing at the photo.

“Why don’t you take another look.”

“Look pal, I never seen the fish before. Why you hastlin me anyways?”

I set the cylinder of fish food down on the counter next to the snapshot of Mr. P.

“You can find that brand in any pet store in Manhattan.”

I flipped the cylinder over, revealing the Stinky’s bar code.

“That don’t mean nothin.” I picked it back up to put it back in my coat pocket, and a few pieces of the food fell out from the still-open holes in the top.

“What the hell?” He said looking at the pieces. “Hold it. Gimme that back.” He popped open the top and sprinkled a few pieces into his hand and held them up to the lens of his spectacles.

“Slap a dolphin,” he said, slowly looking back up at me.

“What?”

“This ain’t fish food.”

“Well what is it?”

“They’re crustacean steroids.”

“Crust-what-what-whaaaaat?!”

“Yeah. We sell this crap to fancy seafood restaurants so they can bulk up their lobsters before chuckin um in the pot.”

My hand shot towards his lapels like a striking Cobra Commander and I jerked his body over the counter and got in real close to his face so he felt like really uncomfortable.

“Why the shit would you put crustacean steroids into a bottle meant for a sweet and innocent little betta fish named Pantone?!”

“Easy buddy! It wasn’t me that switched the food. Look, that stuff ain’t legal, if the FDA found out I was hawking Croids out of my shop they’d sink me for good.”

“Croids? What is that, a portmanteau of crustacean and steroids?”

“The hells a- whad you say?”

“Portmanteau. It’s two words mashed together.”

“I guess?” I let go of his collar.

“Well if it wasn’t you that switched the grub than who the hell was it?”

“Ah, shhhhhhhit,” said Sump, slumping back down onto the stool behind the counter. “Spilk.”

“Spilk?”

“He’s just a kid. He works for me. He delivers the Croids to the restaurants for me on his Razor scooter.”

“I hate Razor scooters. Where can I find young Spilk so I can ask him a few questions?”

Just then I heard the bell above the door jingle.

“Yeah, I know I’m late. What about it?” said Spilk, turning his body to the side to make his way through the narrow columns of fish jars.

“Shut up, Spilk. This young man here wants to ask you a few questions about some fish food you sold, the answers of which I am admittedly a bit curious about myself.”

“What, he dudn’t like how it tastes?” He snickered to himself. What a little shit this kid was. He looked like the long lost fourth Jonas brother, the ugly one they locked in the attic, but with a Justin Bieber haircut. He made his way to the counter, dumping his backpack on top of it as he looked back at me. He pointed at the tube of fish food that stood on the counter right next to where I was resting my hand.

“You know pal, the label says ‘Fish Food’ not ‘Douche Food.’”

I extended my index finger, knocking over the tube. A few pieces of the Croids spilled out onto the counter. He looked down at them, then back at me, then he made a dash for the door. He didn’t turn to the side, just tried to run straight through. His shoulders started knocking jars off the shelves.

He was right in the middle of the column of shelves. I was about to go in after him, but decided to just give the shelf to his right a good yank. It tumbled over, knocking into the others like dominoes, fish jars raining down.

“Are you fuckin’ serious?!” I heard Sump scream behind me, girlishly. “You’re gonna pay for all that!”

“No I’m not.”

“I’m callin the cops.”

“Sure, call um. Before you know it this place’ll be crawling with FDA agents who’ll be quite interested in your little Croid operation, don’t you think?”

That shut him up. I walked over to the angled-over shelves. They didn’t fall all the way over, the place was too narrow, but Spilk was pinned tight between two of them. I walked slowly and menacingly towards him. He was trapped real good, looking up at me through the shelves like prison bars.

“Not so Raven now, are ya Kid Bopz? Now, what was that you were saying about ‘Douche Food?’”

“The hell are you, a cop or something?”

“I’m a private investigative journalist.”

“The fuck does that mean?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m lookin for a fish. Name’s Mr. Pantone.” I held up the picture of Pantone.

“Never heard of him.”

I saw a particularly ugly piranha flapping in a puddle next to my foot. I grabbed it and held it up to his neck.

“Hey, easy with that thing man,” said Sump. “Those little bastards are vicious.”

“Hear that, Spilk?,” I growled in my best Christian Bale as Batman voice. “Vicious.”

“You don’t have the guts!”

“No?” I held the fish to his eye. It snapped its little jaws, catching hold of a couple of Spilk’s eyelashes.

“Awrightawright I’ll talk!”

“Spill it, Bieber. And don’t leave anything out!”

“Okay. Some big fella wit a thick French accent come in a few weeks ago and paid me to swap the blond chick’s fish grub with the Croids.”

“You’re telling me he paid you to specifically spike my friends fish food?”

“I ain’t sayin nuttin else.”

“What’s that flesh eating river demon?” I said holding the snapping piranha up to my ear. “You say Jonas Bieber’s nose looks particularly succulent?” Then I pointed it back at his flared nostrils.

“Awright! He told me he had plans for the betta. Big plans. And then he said if I was ever interested in making a little extra cash off some fish-on-fish action, to go to a certain address. He gave me a password for the door.”

“Fish-on-Fish action? Why, you sick little armpit!”

“What? No, not like, fish… doing it. Ew. I’m talkin bout high-stakes underground fish fighting. You ain’t got no idea how deep this thing goes, man.”

“Yeah, that always seems to be the case. Now gimme an address.”

“Lick my ass!”

I let the piranha nip at his earlobe.

“Awrightawrightawright! Three blocks south, two east. End of the alley behind La Coquille, the seafood restaurant.”

“Password.”

“I’m not sayin another word to you.”

“Dude, do you just keep forgetting that I’ve got a deadly river fish pointed right at your haircut? Now give me that password, or I let this scaly little hell spawn eat your Nickelodeon-music-video-watchin eyes right out of your baby-baby-baby face.”

The puddle of water from the broken fish jars turned even yellower.

***

“Password?” said a pair of mean-looking eyes through a rectangular peep hole set into a rusted steal door.

“Bruce sent me.”

The eyes went away as a piece of metal slid back into place over the peep hole. I heard a rough couple of clangs before the huge door began to slide open.

“Bienvenue, monsieur.” Biggest Frenchman I’ve ever seen. “Zis way pleez.”

He led me down a long brick corridor. We rounded a corner and I stepped onto the landing at the top of a metal grate stairway. I looked down into a huge room. About 30 or so white cloth table tops orbited like electrons around the gigantic fish-tank nucleus in the center of the room, with extremely well-dressed patrons orbiting each table, a cocktail in each of their hands, sort of like orbiting their mouths, in a way, I guess. In the back of the room opposite me was a stage holding up a six-piece jazz band, and dammit, they were all wearing nearly the exact same tux as me, with white double-breasted dinner jackets. My bow tie had a paisley print, but still, dammit. I thought about going home and changing, but then I caught the eye of the exquisite chanteuse in the sparkly white dress, elbow-length gloves and impossible curls. She gripped the back of the microphone like she was about to try and make out with it, and closed her eyes as she began singing Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine.

Classy place. My kind of place. Too bad I had to tear it to smithereens.

I walked down the stairs slowly, stylishly, with the fingers of my left hand tucked lightly into the pocket of my dinner jacket, firing an eyebrow at any of the patrons who happened to look my way. Along with the waiters, there were plenty of big fellas with lumps under there shoulders patrolling the floor. The maitre d’ showed me to a small table against the wall. I sat down and looked around. Two tables ahead of me sat Elliot Spitzer, six hookers, and Kathleen Parker. Over my shoulder I distinctly heard the voice of Alec Baldwin singing happy birthday to his daughter, who when I looked back was blowing out the candles on a honey glazed ham. At the table next to me was A-Rod and Madonna. They both ordered double-steroid cocktails from the waitress, who then made her way over to me. She handed me a menu which I handed right back.

“Old Fashioned. Bulleit Bourbon. ‘F ya got it.”

“Aren’t you a little young for an old fashioned?” she said writing it down.

“Well, I’m a little old for a Shirley Temple,” I lied. She giggled though, so it worked.

“Seriously though, I’m going to need to see your ID.”

“You take bets on illegal fish-fighting, but you wont serve underage.”

“Want your drink or not?”

I removed my awesome Star Trek wallet from the inside pocket of my dinner jacket and presented my ID. She winked when she handed it back, and waltzed like a pro on four inch stilettos over to the bar. I snapped back to reality after watching her walk away. I needed to come up with a plan of action, even though I had no idea where Pantone was or how I’d get my hands on him or how I could sneak him out of here. I really hadn’t thought any of this through at all. I just got really excited about the prospect of wearing my tux and spent like five hours in front of my disguise station making my self look like Indiana Jones in the first scene of Temple of Doom. That was fun.

The waitress returned with my cocktail, and put it directly into my hand.

“Any dinner specials tonight?” I asked her after downing half my drink.

“That depends.”

“Do it again,” I said setting the empty glass back on her tray. “Depends on what.”

“On who loses. Eyes on the water, flounder.” I was about to try and start a conversation about how great a movie The Little Mermaid is, but she walked back to the bar with my empty glass. The singer of the band stopped singing and began to speak.

“Ladies and gentleman, your master of ceremonies, Le Pousse!”

Two big fellas attached a plank to the giant water tank, and lifted up a tiny man wearing a coat tail tux with a dark red cummerbund. His face was painted white, with red circles on his cheeks. Atop his head was a sparkly fez. He looked like a portrait of Jonbenet Ramsey whithering away in an attic. He wore an expression of tortured enthusiasm.

“Ladeez and jentlemen, madames et monsieurs, damen und heren. Welcome… to Poisson de Guerre!”

A cacophony of golf claps, buttery laughter, haughty hoots and murmurs of “Here here” ensued.

“Such an extravagant bit of entertainment we have in store for you tonight. Tonight, we welcome back to our waters a very old friend, but we also welcome a newcomer. A bit of fresh blood in the water, so to speak, eh?”

Shit, was he talking about me?

“In the red bowl.”

Oh right, the fish. He gestured at a waiter, who was pushing a cart that held something large, hidden under a red velvet shroud. “Mekking his 23rd consecutive appearance at Poisson de Guerre, the undefeated fanged fan favorite, the Savage of the Sargasso, the Luda’ ‘Cuda himself, Benoit!”

The waiter removed the red velvet shroud. Luckily people started clapping and wooting, so they weren’t able to hear me yelp when I looked at this fish. It’s teeth looked like shards of a broken mirror. One of it’s eyes looked like a spiral, which I could have sworn was spinning, and there was a crab’s claw sticking out of the other eye socket, and the claw was actually snapping! This fish had a fucking tattoo.

“And in the blue bowl.” Another waiter rolled over with another cart. Even under the shroud I could tell this bowl was a lot smaller than the one that held Benoit. “Mekking his debut zis evening.” He lowered his voice and slowed his cadence. “Be not fooled by his modest stature or mild demeanor. For beneath zis velvety blue shroud swims salty death incarnate. Ladies and jentlemen. I give you. Panzerfisch!”

The waiter removed the blue shroud. Inside the bowl was a tiny little fish. It was a betta. I was like holy shit that looks a lot like Pantone. And then I was like holy shit that is Pantone! I yelped again, but once again it was muffled by all the laughing and pointing directed at poor little Mr. P.

“Place your bets, ladies and jentlemen, place your bets, for the battle is about to begin! And depending on the outcome of the fight, tonight’s entrees will be fire-grilled rosemary Barracuda, or a Bouille-Betta-Baisse.”

The cocktail waitresses started going around to all tables. Taking bets. I started to panic. I threw a glass of water in my face. Then I got cotton mouth, but I didn’t have anything to drink because I had just thrown my water in my face. The waiters on either side of the water tank picked up the fishbowls to put them into the water tank. I had to think fast. But the only thing I could think about was that I had to think fast. It was like someone says to you, hey, tell me a joke, but then you can’t think of any jokes, even though you know tons of hilarious jokes. So then I started trying to think of jokes, but I couldn’t think of any jokes or any plans to save Pantone. Then before I knew it-

“Allez-y!”

Le Pousse pointed dramatically at the water tank, and the waiters dumped the two fish into it.

I can’t describe what happened next. Partly because it’s too traumatizing to relive. Partly because I don’t want to scare away the few readers I have by going into the savage, horrifying details of what I witnessed. Suffice to say that what I saw in that water tank will haunt me for the rest of my life. I’ll conclude this lament with a simple, euphemistic understatement.

Pantone won.

The room was silent. The water was red. A-Rod vomited on Madonna. Le Pousse wiped the look of terror off his face and nodded at the piano player on stage, who began playing a somber rendition of Night and Day. The waiter’s hand shook as he scooped up Pantone with one of those little nets before placing him back in the round little fish bowl. He picked it up, his arms stretched as far away from him as possible, and carried it into the kitchen. The MC turned towards the patrons, still with a look of shock and confusion.

“Tonight’s entree… will be barracuda.” He bowed, then turned and headed back into the kitchen. Everyone just sort of looked down at their drinks, stirring their cocktail straws nervously.

I stood up and made a B-line for the kitchen. I pushed open the swinging door. The kitchen staff was freakin’ out. Pots, pans, ingredients flying every which way, here and there and to and fro. I nearly knocked over a waiter who was bringing out some sort of appetizer.

“Watch it, buddy!”

A sous chef holding a cleaver caught site of me.

“Hey, who the hell are you? Why are you all wet?”

“Who me? I’m in the band. One of the cocktail waitresses threw a glass of water in my face when I called her a floozy.” He nodded, as if he understood my pain.

“Was it Linda?”

“No.”

“Was it Shelly?”

“No.”

“Was it Cassandra.”

“Just, stop.”

“Was it… Gertrude?”

“Sure.” He lifted his cleaver to my throat with a crazed look in his eye. “You know what? It was totally Shelly come to think of it.”

“Laundry room’s around the corner, you can towel off back there.” He gave me a dubious look before turning away and shouting “Hey anyone seen Gertrude?!”

I went around the corner into a long hallway. I could see a room full of linens at one end, and an open wooden door at the other end. I went in. It was a huge office, dark. The brick walls were covered in taxidermed fish, except for a giant wooden coat cabinet against one of the wall next to the desk. Sitting right in the middle of the huge oak desk was Pantone’s bowl, with him in it. I started looking through the drawers to find something to put him in. Just as I found a ziplock bag, I heard voices coming towards the door. I jumped inside of the coat cabinet which was conveniently me sized, leaving the door open just a crack, so I could still see the chair behind the desk.

“Look I don’t give a shit if they’ve already started makin the gyadam bouillabaisse.” said a Brooklyn accented voice coming into the room.“Tell them to take dem barracudas off the ice and start thawin um.”

“They’ve been frozen for almost a month, they’re like bricks.”

“So microwave um if ya have to. Just get those plates on the floor as fast as you can.”

“I’m sorry, boss. We just… We didn’t think Benoit was ever gonna lose.”

“You and everybody else out there. I doubt any uh the guests can afford to pay for their meals now. Cept two people. Guillaume. And some random dame. Made a killing.” Through the cracked open door, I saw the owner of the voice sit down in the chair behind the desk. It was Le Pousse. He was wiping the makeup off his face which began to look strangely familiar. “Gyadammit. Doin that French accent night after night’s giving me a click in my jaw. Oughtta get a tetnus shot or sumpin.”

Then I realized why this guy looked familiar. He reminded me of someone. My old friend Sump. Wait a minute. Le Pousse. Stinky. Back from the depths of Davey Jones Locker apparently.

“Send somebody to replace Guillaume at the front entrance, and tell him to git his ass in here right quick. I wanna know where exactly he got this fish, because he sure as hell didn’t giddit from Sump.”

“You got it boss.”

“Speakin uh Sump, he told me some private investigative journalist, whatever the hell that means, came pokin round the shop askin bout a betta fish. Said he made the kid spill the milk on our location, so tell the boys to keep their eyes open for anyone suspicious lookin.”

“Maybe Guilluame knows somethin bout that too.”

“I intend tuh ask him. Hard.”

Just then I heard the door swing open.

“Boss you better get out here,” said a voice that sounded out of breath. “That cocktail waitress Gertrude just threw hot bouillabaisse in some sous chef’s face.”

“Christ. Alright take me too it.” He got up from the chair. “You. Find Guillaume. Meet me back here with him in ten minutes.” Finally I heard the door shut behind me. I hopped out of the coat cabinet. I hunched over the desk and looked into the bowl. Pantone seemed to be okay. Just hanging out.

“Hey there pal. Sit tight, I’ma gitchoo outta here.”

A tiny little bubble emerged from his mouth and he flapped his fins. Message recieved. I dipped the ziplock in the bowl sideways, allowing it to fill with a bit of water. He swam right in. Good boy.

“Alright dude,” I said holding the bag up to my face. “I hate to do this to, but I’m gonna have to put you in my pocket, just until we’re clear of this place.” He made another bubble. I slipped the bag in my coat pocket. I walked out of the office and quietly shut the door behind me. I weaved my way back through the kitchen. Stinky was hunched over the sous chef I had spoken to earlier, who’s face now looked like a casserole. Gertrude was shouting obscenities at him as a couple bus boys held her back. Just as I was about to push through the door and make it back into the dining room, I heard a gargled shout.

“There’s that fella!” said the sous chef. “It was him who’s been callin the gals floozies.”

“Who the hell are you?” asked Stinky looking up at me.

“I’m in the band.”

“No you’re not.”

“Well… I came to audition. I’m a crooner.”

“Crooner, huh?” He stood up. “Why don’t ya come back to my office and we’ll make you sing in there.”

I got the feeling that he wasn’t talking about an actual audition. By “sing,” I think he really meant “talk.” You know, like they say in cop shows and stuff. I pushed through the door and started making my way to the staircase that led to the entrance. Guillaume, the big Frenchman, and the fella who Stinky was talking to in his office were coming down the stairs. Stinky came out of the kitchen. Guillaume caught his eye, and started coming down the stairs after me. The crowd suddenly broke into a mild applause as the band finished playing another extremely somber jazz number. I looked up at the stage and noticed an exit sign above a pair of double doors behind the band. I realized I was going to have to croon my way out of this pickle. I rushed between the tables and jumped up onto the stage.

“Who’er you, then?” asked the Chanteuse.

“I’m the new crooner. Stinky just hired me. We gotta kick this sober tone and make this joint swing again. Take a breather doll, I got this one.”

“Thank God. I feel like euthanasia, and my voice is the syringe.”

“Wow. Okay. You there, Sam.” I pointed at the piano player. “You know the whole Cole Porter song book?”

“You know not everyone named Sam is a piano player. And yes.”

“Good. Anything Goes. Double time it. Let’s burn this place down.”

He led us in with some light tip-toeing at the high end of the keyboard. Then with a nod at the drummer, the band detonated. These cats could wail. Probly just releasing the pent-up tension of a really weird night. Looking out into the crowd I saw Stinky looking around at his goons with just the most flabbergasted look on his face. People were getting out of their chairs. Kathleen Parker and one of the hookers started swing dancing on their table. A giant musical number is really lost in the medium of print, but believe me, the band was really cooking as we came to the crescendo at the end of the song. I dipped the microphone and blasted a long note until the high hat on the drum set told me that was all.

Applause.

Still dipping the mic, I looked out into the crowd and saw every goon pull a heater out from under his arm. I stood up, gripping the mic stand tight.

“Thank you very much folks, I’ll be here all week, be sure to tip your douchebag. Whoa, check out Le Pousse with his makeup off!”

I pointed at Stinky. As everyone looked over in confusion, I yanked the mic out of the clip, hoisted the stand like a javelin and launched it at the water tank. It slammed into the glass, dead on. The crack began to spread like a spider-web, until it burst. Thousands of gallons of water spilled out all over the room. A title wave smashed against the stage dousing the whole band.

I took the opportunity to slip out of the double doors and ran down a corridor and up a flight of stairs. But just before I reached the doors that led outside, they opened. It was Guillaume, the big Frenchman from the front entrance. I stepped back as he came in, shutting the door behind him. When I turned around I looked down and saw Stinky there holding a .45.

“Really?” I said. “You went with the .45? Bit cumbersome for a man of your stature. I would have thought you’d go with a Walther PPK or a Deranger.”

“Short people jokes. Wow, dats… dats good. Very clever from a guy who sings a five minute song giving the people he’s trying to run away from plenty of time to cut off all his exits. Now where’s my fish.”

“‘S not your fish. Belongs to a friend of mine. I intend to bring him home.”

“Jest shoot eem, Steenky. Wot are you wetting for?”

“Where’d the big fella tell you he got this fish, huh Stinky?” I said, taking the bag that held Pantone out of my pocket.” Flappin ‘is little fins in a puddle somewhere? Tell you he’d just be an easy pushover that that freak barracuda could take apart, no problem? How much did you lose on bets tonight because of this fish, huh Stinky?”

“Fish. Now.”

“Go on, Stinky. Ask’im. Where’d he get the fish?”

“Shoot eem.”

“Ask him!”

“Shoot eeeeem!”

The muzzle flashed. I yelped again. Really girlishly this time. I heard Guillaume slump to the floor behind me, dead. I opened my left eye a smidgen. Stinky looked at me and shrugged.

“I ask hard.”

“Holy shit, dude!” I said looking back at Guillaume. “You just shot your own dude!”

“Eh. Whatever. He’s been skimming off the top for months. And now this. Plus I don’t like my goons to be too tall.”

“Because of your Napoleon Complex?”

“No. Because my business is underground and all of the doorways down here are small.”

“Right.”

“So, Mr. crooning private investigative journalist, whatever the hell that means, I’m going to make you an offer. I’ll hire you to be the lead singer in our house band, cut you a slice of what the house makes off the bets, and you can have all the seafood you can eat. All you have to do, is hand over that fish. I’ll even get you another betta to give back to your friend.”

“What if I say no.”

“I shoot you.”

“Thought you’d say that. Why make the offer then?”

“Y’got moxie, kid. Hard to come by these days.”

“Thanks. And it is a sweet offer, but my answer is still no.”

“Shame. I hate shootin moxie.”

“I’m warning you man, I’m a master of the Weirding Way.”

“Wussat?”

“It’s a fictional martial art from the sci-fi novel Dune by Frank Hebert.”

“Never read it. But I did see the David Lynch movie.” He pointed the gun at my face. “And it sucked.”

All of a sudden, something came to me.

“Hey, wanna hear a joke?”

“What? Why?”

“Well, it’s just that, like, before? I was trying to think of a joke, and I couldn’t because I was trying to think of one, and just now a good one popped into my head. Wanna hear it?”

He rolled his eyes. “Sure.”

“Okay. So, two fish are in a tank. One of um looks at the other and says…”

Stinky stared blankly. He twisted his wrist, rolling the barrel of the gun in a “get on with it” sort of way.

“Do you know how to drive this thing?”

After a second, he closed his eyes. A snort came through his nose. He leaned over into a silent belly laugh. Then came the audible ones. His eyes started tearing up. I half expected steam to come out his ears. He started gasping for air. Then I yelled “Weirding Way!” and kicked the gun out of his hand. He was still laughing when he tackled me. For a little guy, he really knew how to fight. He held me down, pummeling me for a minute or two with his cute little fists, then picked up the gun. He put a knee on my chest and loomed over me, the gun to my head. I looked to my left on the ground and came face to face with Pantone. During the scuffle his ziplock must have burst. He was just sitting there in a little puddle, his gills expanding, gasping for air.

“That’s it kid,” said Stinky. “You’re fish food now.”

“Nuh-uh,’ I said grabbing Pantone. “You are.”

***

“Then I shoved Pantone right in his ear. I’ll spare you the gory details, but basically, Pantone proceeded to eat Stinky’s brain from the inside out. It was really messed up. Then I walked out the door and came straight here.”

“That’s quite a story, Bailey,” said Kristine as she flipped through the latest copy of Jersey Shore Weekly. “Quite a… long, long, really long story. But, you know what? I’m just glad you brought him back. So thank you.”

“You don’t believe me.”

“Not in the least. But seriously. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Tell me though, why the hell are you going to a place like Stinky’s to get your fish food?”

“Guys at corporate pet stores are a-holes. They’re always giving you condescending litte ‘tips’ on how you can better care for your ‘animal.’ At Stinky’s I just go in, get what I need and that’s it.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

“Alright, I’ll take it.” I shrugged jovially and started moving towards the door. “Well, I’m going to go home and take off my sopping wet tuxedo and nurse the wounds I got in my totally made-up fictional story.” I said it like really sarcastically.

“You know that it’s full of holes, right? Like why Stinky was for some reason pretending to be dead, or why Sump didn’t just tell him exactly what happened in the store after witnessing everything.”

“Yeah well… I can’t explain that.”

“Or why the big French guy decided to kidnap my fish specifically, or why you know the lyrics to Anything Goes in Mandarin Chinese.”

I stopped, halfway out the door and turned back. “It’s because I’ve seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom well over 100 times. But I never told you that I sang the song in Mandarin.”

She looked up from her magazine.

“Stinky said that someone else had made a killing off of betting on Pantone. Some dame, he said.” She stared at me, the grimace on her face and the cold look in her eye confirming my suspicion. “It was you. All along. You paid that big Frenchman to get Jonas Bieber to swap your fish food with the Croids, without Sump or Stinky finding out about it.”

She threw the magazine aside. Underneath it, she was holding a Luger.

“Oh sweet, you have a Luger? That makes sense actually.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped.

“Nothing, never mind, forget about it.”

“Yes Bailey. It was me. All along. I put my pet fish on crustacean steroids. Trained him to be a vicious beast. Entered him into an illegal fish fighting ring. Bet on him. Won many dollars. And then sent you in after him on the false pretense that he had been kidnapped. I guess the only thing left for you to do, is ask yourself, do you really care?”

I thought back on everything that had happened. Trashing the pet shop. Seeing the horrors of Pantone do his thing, both to that other fish, and Stinky. Seeing A-Rod and Madonna kiss each other. Getting beaten up by a half-midget. Solving the mystery and living to blog about it. Not a half-bad way to spend a weekend.

“Nah, I don’t really give a shit.”

“I didn’t think you would. So, are we cool?”

“Yeah for sure. Hey are you hungry? I’ve been craving sea food ever since this whole thing started.”

“I know a place that has really good lobster club sandwiches. Wanna just order in? On me?”

“Now you’re talkin.”

We hi-fived and plopped down on the couch as Kristine dialed the number to the delivery place. My old pal ‘Stine. Turned out to be a femme fatale after all.

I sat back with my feet up on the TV stand and flipped on AMC. Rocky IV was on. Nice. ‘Stine grabbed my a blanket. I was about to ask her to pour me a drink and put on some jazz and light something on fire, but I figured I better not push my luck. I figured it would just be nice to take a break from mystery, intrigue and danger. Little did I know that only a few weeks later I’d get myself into an even more mysterious, intriguing and dangerous adventure, that would test my mettle in ways I could never have prepared myself for.

Did I say little did I know? I meant totally did I know.

Pardon me, Turk.

“Like turkey?”

I felt a puff of smoke hit my ear before the words did. They had both come out of a pair of red lips that framed a soft mouth on a softer face attached to a head topped with hair the color of gold in old paintings. I swiveled around on the bar stool, aligning my body with my gaze that was locked squarely on the eyes that were in the face that was attached to the head that sat on a slim neck that led down to slender curves wrapped in a red cocktail dress to match the lips.

On any other night it would have been a strange question. But it was Thanksgiving. Turkey was headed down every hatch in America tonight. Except mine. I never eat turkey. Tryptophan. Makes me tired. I’d rather get tired by drinking my Thanksgiving dinner. I answered her in tone as smoky and dry as the scotch that used to be in the empty tumbler that sat on the coaster on top of the bar in the joint I’d been wallowing in for what seemed like days.

“I prefer the more robust flavor of pheasant.”

“Smaller bird.”

“Sure, but I like a bird that flies.”

“You like to hunt?”

“I like to chase.”

“I like to get caught.”

As much as I enjoy witty banter with strange beautiful women, I really had no idea where this was going.

“I also like quail?”

“Might as well just eat a pigeon.”

“I’ve had pigeon,” I said, a bit to quickly.

Dead end.

We exchanged eyebrow gestures for a minute or so, which can make even the most dexterous pair of eyebrows break a glisten.

I nodded at the stool next to me. She sat down, taking another drag of her cigarette, keeping her eyes trained on my eyebrows. I looked over my shoulder and caught the bartender’s eye, nodding in the general direction of my tumbler, which seemed to have a hole in the bottom of it, because on this night it just couldn’t stay full for very long.

“So what kind of fowl is your kind of fowl?” I asked. She stared at me blankly. Her eyebrows went limp.

“I don’t like foul. I like fresh.”

“What? No. Fowl. Game bird.”

“Shuttlecock?”

“Let’s cut to the chase.”

“I need you to kill a turkey.”

Wild horns roared. My heart raced. Someone had put Dizzy Gillespie on the jukebox, something with a real kooky time signature. I calmed down when the scat came in. I like scat.

“Mm, I like scat.” I said before emptying the tumbler of scotch into my mouth. “You need me to kill your turkey, huh? Don’t have the guts to do it yourself? Thought you could just come down to the local watering hole and find some pathetic schmuck with nothin’ better to do. Is it just running amok in your apartment right now, gobbling its ass off, getting feathers all over the davenport and carpet and throw pillows and lamp shades, avoiding the oven and/or deep fryer and/or bathtub at all costs, just gobbling its ass off?”

“The turkey in question is not in my possession.”

“Somebody else’s turkey. What’s this bird done to you then?”

“It’s nothing personal. But I need it dead. Scuttlebutt on the avenues is that you’re someone who could handle this kind of job.”

“Scuttlebutt. Really.” The kind of butts that are scuttling these days.

“I understand you are not fond of animals.”

“What? Who told you that? Was it Sara? I really don’t know where she gets these ideas.”

“Never mind where I got the information.”

“Because I love animals. Really. I fully support animals in… society. I think animals are just fine. I’m impartial. They’re okay. I suppose. I could take ‘em or leave ‘em. Anyway you need a turkey dead. Yeah, I’ll kill a turkey.”

“I’ll pay you half now and the other half once the job is done.”

“You’re going to pay me to kill this turkey?!” I shouted, startling the other patrons who were quietly enjoying drinks and scat.

“Why, of course you’re going to pay me,” I said loudly, answering my own question, looking around at the patrons trying to reverse their accusatory looks. “It’s not like I was going to kill a turkey, like, for recreation, or something, right? Yeah, we’re on the same page here.”

She pulled a manila envelope out of her purse and smacked it a little too hard on my lap. I pulled back the flap on the envelope, slowly, like Charlie Bucket opening a Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar, and set my eyes on a fat stack of fresh greenbacks. This was Beverly Hills Sweet-16 cash. Bar Mitzvah cash. World of Warcraft subscription cash. I felt goose bumps ripple across my neck.

“Holy moly!” I screamed. “You know how many scarves I can by with this kinda bread?! Omigod omigod omigod, sooooooooooo many scarves!” I was really shrieking now.

“There’s one more thing,” she said, all serious. “We need you to make it look like an accident.”

I stopped doing the Macarena and got real serious too, my eyebrows reengaged.

“Just who the hell is this turkey you want me to put on ice?”

She didn’t have to answer. It was Thanksgiving. And there’s was only one turkey left standing in the whole damn country that night. And the only thing that can spare a turkey from the mouths of hungry patriots is a thumbs-up from the man in the oval office.

“No…”

“Yes.”

“But he was pardoned.”

“And we need you to revoke that pardon.”

“Why? And who’s ‘we?’”

“I said ‘no questions asked.’”

“Nuh-uh. No you didn’t. You totally did not.”

“I didn’t say that before? Well I’m saying it now. Do what we’re asking, or walk away and we’ll find someone else to do it.”

She stuck out her hand, ready to take the envelope back. Her other hand lit the next cigarette that she pinned between her ruby red lips. She blew the inaugural puff at me. I made a face, and started blowing it back in her direction, and it got all in her eyes and stuff, which she didn’t like at all.

Times were hard. I’d been living in Manhattan for almost a month. My day job at the advertising agency wasn’t nearly enough to finance my scarf addiction, and I hadn’t yet found a single private investigative journalism case. I had heard the city could change a man, but is this what it had come to, and so quickly? Was I really so desperate, for scarves, that I would kill an innocent turkey that I wasn’t even planning on eating? It was getting colder outside every day. Soon it’d be winter, and I would really need those scarves.

After rationalizing it for however long it took her to smoke six cigarettes through puckered lips and scowling eyes, I decided to kill the turkey. I tried to slip the envelope in the inside pocket of my coat, but it wouldn’t exactly fit, so I fidgeted with it for a while, trying to jam it in there for however long it took her to smoke another cigarette. Finally I just stuffed it into my slacks. I looked up at her and nodded with a grin.

“The turkey is staying at the W Hotel in Washington DC. The name of your contact is in the envelope.”

“I have a contact. Nice.”

“We need this done before tomorrow morning, before they move him.”

“Tonight? You’re not giving me much time here. It’s gotta be what, almost midnight by now?”

“It’s one in the afternoon.”

“Really. ‘S dark in here.”

I looked around. It was a basement bar. I could have sworn I had been there for at least twelve hours. But as I thought about it, this dame had walked up to me pretty much right after I had my first drink. In fact I think she was there before I was. She started getting up to leave.

“Remember. Make it look like an accident.”

I looked over my shoulder as she began walking out past me towards the stairs.

“Who are you?” I called after her.

I heard her stop and say without turning, “Just a girl looking for a turkey on Thanksgiving. So long, pilgrim.”

***

I took a cab all the way to DC. I just kept telling the driver things like, “Yeah, I guess it wasn’t that one, it must be the next exit” and “I’m pretty sure I recognize that Wendy’s, I bet we’re probably getting closer.” I gave him a good chunk of cash from the envelope. Plenty left to get a least a shitload of scarves.

I stepped out of the cab and into the gray afternoon. Some eerie form of precipitation came down from the sky, I couldn’t tell if it was thin snow or slow rain. But it was moist, like a turkey. A cold, dead turkey, marinated and ready to get heated up and eated up. A chill ran me over me as a cold breeze wrapped around my neck where a scarf should have been. I already have like, a ton of scarves, I really don’t know why I didn’t just wear one of those. Motivation, I guess, to get some new ones. Yeah.

I pushed through the revolving doors of the W Hotel and strutted into the Lobby. I was wearing my full suit of brown Irish tweed with an ascot, matching pocket square and knee-high leather boots. My handsomest hunting gear. I stood there for a second to let everybody drink in my image. In my right hand I carried my portable disguise kit, which itself was disguised as an accordion case with the words “THIS IS AN ACCORDION” printed on it.

A short, squirelly-looking bellboy approached me with a luggage cart.

“May I take your accordion, sir?”

“Accordion? What are you talking about, I don’t- Right! Yes. My accordion. This is an accordion. This is not a disguise kit disguised as an accordion. No, you may not take my accordion. Run along now.”

“Sir,” he whispered, “I’m Cedric. Your contact.”

“My what? Right! My contact. And you’re name is Cedric.” I had taken a piece of paper out of the envelope with the contact’s name, various instructions and an emergency phone number or something on it, intending to read them, but ended up just turning it over and drawing doodles of myself wearing different kinds of scarves.

“Is it bad that I was picturing you as a beautiful woman?” I asked him with an obvious air of disappointment.

“You’re asking me if it’s bad that you pictured a guy named Cedric as a beautiful woman?”

“That was before you said, I mean, I read, that your name was Cedric. Anyway. So, like, do your contact duty.”

“Go to the concierge desk. Ask if he has any board games.”

“Board games. Check. Where can I change into my disguise?”

“Disguise?”

“What the hell do you think is in this case?”

“It’s not an accordion?”

“Why the hell would it be a- Right. No, it’s not an accordion.”

“You don’t need a disguise. Besides, if you were going to wear a disguise, shouldn’t you have been wearing it already when you came into the hotel?”

I really hated that kid.

“Fine, take it. Guard it with your life. DO NOT open it. Alright I gotta go kill a turkey.”

I glided over towards the concierge, who, to my chagrin, was also not a beautiful woman, but a man who looked like a younger, larger Al Roker.

“I’m feeling playful. Got any good board games?”

“Why, yes. As a matter of fact I do,” he said, accompanied by a not-so-subtle wink. “Enjoy the game… in room 2187, sir.” He reached under his desk and handed me Clue. It was heavy. There was obviously something in there other than a board game. I nodded back and headed over to the elevators. I saw the doors on one of them beginning to slide closed. “Hold please!” I yelled. I saw a chubby arm protrude to block the doors. I slipped into the elevator to find that the arm was one quarter of four arms that belonged to a chubby mid-western couple, wearing matching hats that looked like the Capital Building and matching happy-go-lucky expressions. The door began to slide closed again. I stopped it.

“This is going to sound really dicky of me,” I said with a faux-guilty look on my face, “But I kinda need this elevator to myself. Would you mind taking the next one? Terrific.” I began shooing them out the doors before they could say anything, then started frantically hitting the [><] button. I remembered reading somewhere that most door-close buttons in elevators are just placebo buttons. The mid-western couple stood there staring at me, mortified, for what seemed like minutes until the doors started to close on their own accord.

“Enjoy our Nation’s capital!” I said moving my head to the left as the doors closed. I hit [21] and felt the elevator begin it’s climb with a lurch. I set the Clue boardgame box down on the floor and removed the top. Inside was an actual pepperbox revolver, an actual lead pipe, an actual wrench, an actual dagger and and an actual rope tied in a noose. No candlestick though. Eh, one of the pieces always ends up getting lost. Whatever, nobody likes the candlestick. At the bottom of the box there was an envelope with a key card.

The elevator hit the twenty first floor and I put the box top back on before the doors slid open. I made my way over to room 2187. No guards or anything. It all seemed too easy. I slipped the key card into the slot and pushed through the heavy door.

“Hiya, Turk.”

It was just standing in the middle of the stylish paisley duvet cover on the bed closest to the window, watching Law & Order SVU on the flat screen TV set into a dark cherry wood hutch. He turned his head and looked at me for a brief moment and then resumed watching the show. I set the Clue box down on the empty extra bed. I looked at all the weapons inside. Just how the hell was I supposed to make this look like an accident? Too bad a bottle of Valium wasn’t included in the Clue arsenal. I looked in the bathroom. Maybe I could make it look like he slipped while stepping out of the shower, wearing a redundant towel around his waist like Donal Duck. Perhaps I could run him a hot bath and toss the hairdryer in there. I pulled the hair dryer off that socket holster thing on the wall, it was one of those ones with a phone cord on it. Wouldn’t reach all the way over to the tub.

“How the hell am I supposed to make this look like an accident?!” I yelled, marching out of the bathroom. The turkey looked at me with little interest, and for a second there, I thought I saw him shrug. I decided to make it look like a suicide. I picked up the rope and slipped the noose around his neck. But there was nothing on the ceiling to hang him from.

“SHIT!”

Screw it. I decided to just put two caps in his crown and call it a day. I pulled the pepperbox out of my belt and cocked the hammer.

“Sorry, Turk. It’s just business. Nothing personal. I guess this just isn’t your turkey Day.”

When I pointed the revolver at his head, he looked up at me. Slowly this time. Looked right into my eyes. I can’t say for certain what he saw in there. Maybe it was the Norman Rockwell painting I grew up in, the chubby kid stuffing his face with pumpkin pie with mashed potatoes instead of whipped cream on top, gettin’ patted on the head by his grandma as she pours more gravy on his next bite. Or maybe he saw the Edward Hopper I live in now, a hard-drinking-out-of-work-down-on-his-luck private investigative journalist who’ll do just about anything to pay for his next scarf. Whichever one of me he saw, neither was about to pull the trigger.

The door burst open. It was two men wearing hotel security blazers. I could tell these guys weren’t security though. Their pants were too nice. They were really nice pants. I wondered where they got those pants. Great pants.

“Mother of God!” said the one on the right. “It’s infamous and notorious animal-hater David Bailey! He’s come to kill Apple, because he hates animals. And he’s… totally not trying to make it look like an accident.”

I pointed the pepperbox away from the turkey.

“What, this? ‘S not mine. Who’s ‘Apple’ anyhow?”

They both drew guns. But they didn’t point them at me. They pointed them straight at the turkey.

It was a set up.

I grabbed the lead pipe from out of my right butt pocket and chucked it. It ricocheted off the first guy’s gun and hit the other guy’s gun, knocking both guns out of both hands and rendering them both defenseless.

“Aw man, that was so awesome,” I said with a fist pump. “Admit it!” The two goons looked at each other and nodded in agreement.

I grabbed the wrench from out of my left butt pocket and smashed the window behind me and then lassoed the noose around one of the bed posts.

“You just messed with the wrong hard-drinking-out-of-work-down-on-his-luck private investigative journalist.”

“Private investigative journalist?” Asked the other guy who hadn’t spoken yet. “What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know.” I stared off into space for a second. “But whoever set me up is headed into a cornucopia of pain.” I scooped up the turkey under my arm and jumped out the window, swinging down and crashing though the window of the room directly below us. We rushed out the door and looked down the hallway. They had already blocked off the entrance to the elevators and started shooting at us. We barely made cover in the door frame. The turkey gobbled at me.

“Look I didn’t really plan this out, okay? Ten minutes ago I was planning to bump your ass off!”

He jumped out of my arms and ran across the hall.

“What the hell are you doing?!”

He started flapping his wings, which was pretty hilarious, so I started laughing. He could barely make it off the ground. But then I realized he was flapping towards a laundry shoot built into the wall.

“Ah, I see what your getting at. Even though I was gonna kill you, I’m beginning to like you.”

I thought how amazing it was that the situation I had gotten us into was so similar to the cell block scene in Star Wars. Then I ran across the hall, scooped him back up and jumped down the garbage, I mean laundry shoot.

We landed on a big fluffy pile of feather down comforters in the hotel’s basement laundry room. Turkey gobbled when he saw feathers everywhere, thinking we had landed in some mountain of poultry corpses.

“Chill, dude. We’re not out of this yet.” For a second I looked around thinking that the walls might start closing in, but then I was like, no way, that’s completely implausible. So we hopped off the pile of comforters and started navigating our way through the different rooms in the basement. We came to a men’s locker room, full of various hotel uniforms. I thought about putting one of them on to blend in, when I saw an accordion case sitting on a shelf over a desk.

“Well that’s kind of random, who the hell these days plays a- Right.” I grabbed the case and opened it up.

“Get over here, Turk. Time for a makeover.”

***

The two of us walked out of the Hotel, right out the front revolving doors. We were flawlessly disguised as the chubby mid-western couple wearing the Capital Building hats.

“Ah, going somewhere Mr. and Mrs. Grosst? Let me hail you a cab.” It was Cedric the bellboy. No doubt he was in on this frame-up. “Enjoying your time in our Nation’s capital?”

“Why, yes,” I said as chubby sounding as I could.

“And you, Mrs. Grosst?” Luckily, the turkey kept his mouth shut. Smart kid.

“She’s feeling a bit uhhhhhhhh… shitty, right now.”

“Okay then. Say, you two wouldn’t happened to have seen a young man in a ridiculous tweed suit and ascot running around with a turkey under his arm, would you?”

“Indeed not. But if we had, I’m sure that both my wife and I would have found the young man extremely handsome and smartly dressed.”

He looked back at me suspiciously and raised his hand to flag down an incoming cab. He opened the back door and out came the actual chubby mid-western couple. Cedric drew a gun.

“Which one of you is real?!”

“Well, I mean were all technically real.” My snarky comment must have given us away, because he turned the gun on me. Just when it couldn’t get any worse, the two not-security guards came rushing out of the revolving doors and surrounded us.

“Hand over the turkey,” said Cedric. “Or, uh, the chubby mid-western couple gets it.”

Normally I wouldn’t have given a shit, but I felt kind of bad about kicking them off the elevator. Suddenly the turkey hopped out from under my arm. He gobbled loudly, and his eyes began to glow red, and a second later, Cedric, the two not-security guards and the chubby mid-western couple were all on the ground unconscious. The turkey gobbled towards the cab. I decided to just go with it.

“Where you headed?” asked the cabbie.

“North! Just go north. It must be like, only a few blocks away. Maybe more. I think it’s by a Wendy’s or something…”

***

I checked myself and the turkey into a skeezy motel in the Lower East Side. It was the kind of place where sin is born out of the shrill screams of passion and rage. The kind of place where love dies quietly in the resulting sleep. I sat on the windowsill with my back against the glass, my eyes following the lines of cracked plaster that ran across the walls like veins no longer visible on the arms of the junkies staying in the rooms around us. The turkey stood on the stained sheets of the bed farthest from the window watching a marathon of Monk.

“At least this place has cable, huh pal?” His eyes stayed fixed on the TV. I looked over my shoulder out the window. Somebody had made a patsy out of me. There’s nothing I hate more than being made a patsy of. Somebody wanted this turkey dead, real bad. They needed a fall guy for it too. And I was gonna find out why. And I was also gonna find out why me.

“So what’d you do?” I asked him. “Kill another turkey? Take another turkey’s place who was supposed to be pardoned instead of you? Try and run off with another man’s turkey?” This time he took his eyes off Tony Shaloub and looked over at me for the briefest moment.

“Figures,” I said, laughing to myself. “Was she worth it? Nah, don’t answer that. Dames. It was a dame got me into this mess too. It’s always a dame.”

He let out a few quick gobbles, turning his head quizzically.

“Maybe. Once. Never really panned out. For one reason or another. The planets didn’t align, I suppose.

He gobbled poignantly.

“Yeah, I see what you mean. It isn’t dames though. It’s me that I don’t trust.”

Gobble.

“No, he isn’t Italian. I think he’s Lebanese. He just played an Italian guy on that show ‘Wings’ for so long that everybody thinks he is.”

Gobble.

“Pastrami.”

My phone buzzed. It was my friend Chris.

“Dude!” he said. “Turn on CNN, were all on TV!”

“What? Oh shit, don’t tell me…”

“Dude, you kidnapped a turkey? I told you you should have just spent Thanksgiving in New Jersey with my family. Jersey rules.”

“Call you back pal.”

I grapped the remote from the turkey. He gobbled in protest.

“Relax, I’ll turn it back.”

I flipped to CNN and saw my own handsome face.

“Authorities are currently on the hunt for infamous and notorious animal-hater David Bailey, who in a bold move earlier this evening, kidnapped Apple, the turkey pardoned by President Obama.

“You’re name’s Apple? That’s a stupid name. I’m gonna keep calling you Turk.”

“Sources close to the kidnapper say that he has a long history of hating animals of nearly every species.” Then they cut to a reporter on the street, interviewing my good friends Kristine, Cameron and Chris.

“I asked him to feed my fish while I was out of town,” said Kristine into the microphone. “And he said he was going to feed my fish to a cat. And then kill the cat.”

The turkey looked up at me accusingly. “That’s… not exactly what happened.” I said to him shaking my head.

“If you’ve ever seen him eat Barbecue, you know he really has a deep seeded hatred for animal life,” said Cameron. “There’s a certain fire in his eyes when he consumes animal flesh, hotter than any hot sauce I’ve ever had.”

“Well, that’s all true” I said to the Turkey. “Barbecue is so good. But Cam’s not exactly a vegetarian either.”

“Jersey rules!” said Chris to the reporter.

I’d seen enough. I changed the channel back to USA. I was really up shit creek, with a turd for a paddle. But for some reason, all I could think about was how hungry I was. All that talk of barbecue, I suppose. It was still Thanksgiving. I looked at the turkey, his eye’s glued to Tony Shaloub’s OCD detective shenanigans. No. Turkey would just make me tired. Tryptophan.

Tryptophan…

I stuffed my hand down my trousers and grabbed the envelope of cash and started sifting through the bills. I found the sheet of paper with Cedric’s name, the instructions and a phone number on it.

“Sit quiet, Turk. Just keep watching Monk.”

I ran down to the street and got some change at the bodega next to the hotel, then stopped at the first payphone I found and dialed the number. A soft, smokey voice answered the phone.

“Well, if it isn’t the infamous and notorious animal-hater David Bailey.”

“Wha- Dammit! I don’t hate animals. Seriously, who told you that? Was it Greg? I bet it was Greg. Or Landen. I also bet it was Landen.”

“Never mind that, where’s Apple?”

“Who the hell is Apple?”

“The turkey, you idiot, the turkey that we hired you to kill.”

“Right. That’s a stupid name. I’ve been calling him Turk. Which is pretty badass. Anyway, I’ve got him. And I know that he’s no ordinary turkey. So if you want him, meet me at Thomson Square Park at midnight. And my original fee? You can multiply that by five.”

“Five? Are you crazy?”

“Well guess what? Now it’s ten.”

“I’ll triple it, final offer.”

“K, bye.”

I stuck a few more quarters in the payphone.

“Hello, operator? Get me the government.”

***

“You know if you weren’t a beautiful woman I would kill you where you stand.” I said, leaning against a tree in the park. The turkey was standing next to me, eyes glued to a bum talking to himself on a bench. “But since you are, I kinda wanna buy you a cocktail.”

“You could afford to by me the whole bar, with the payoff you’re about to receive,” she said as she walked out of the darkness. She was till wearing the slim red cocktail dress, now with a red coat over it.

“What I want to know is who’s signing the check.”

“Check? It’s in cash,” she said holding up a suitcase.

“Well, yeah but… Who you work for. That’s what I want to know.”

“Why, Butterball of course.”

“Figures.”

“How’s that?”

“Only company with the capabilities to genetically engineer a turkey with tryptophan levels as high as this little guy’s. Tryptophan levels so potent, that he’s able to concentrate it, and channel it. Through his mind.”

“That thing is an abomination. What we were trying to do was mutate turkey DNA to eliminate tryptophan, so people could enjoy as much turkey as they want without ever getting tired. But the process had the inverse effect. We ended up creating a monster. Why do you think the President pardoned him? They want to turn him into a weapon. He has to die. Now, hand him over.”

“First you tell me why I’m the one you picked to pin this on.”

“You hate animals.”

“That’s totally not entirely true!”

“Last night I was in that same bar where I found you this morning. You were raving drunk. Screaming to everyone about how you we wanted to ‘Kill the bird,’ and that ‘The bird was dead to you.’”

“Yeah, because I tried to play a Charlie Parker song on the jukebox and it ate my quarters!”

“Who’s Charlie Parker?”

“Bird! Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. Saxophone? Jazz? Music?”

“Never heard of him. After we did a background check on you, we found out there was an incident where you acquired a goat with the intention of sacrificing it.”

“Okay, well that’s because there was an ancient Greek monster buried under this intersection in Atlanta. And we didn’t even end up sacrificing the goat. He choked on a pretzel dog.”

“Which you fed to him.”

“So it was Greg who told you then.”

“Never mind that. Yes, it was Greg. That’s not the only reason we picked you though. Apple’s tryptopathic powers only work if he can form a connection with the latent tryptophan inside of someone. You never eat turkey. Rendering you immune to his powers. Now. Hand him over.”

“Sorry, toots. Can’t do that.”

“Then I’ll have to take him.”

“What makes you think he won’t do his trytopathic thingy on you?”

She smiled fiendishly. “I don’t eat turkey either,” she said as she reached into the suitcase with the money. Her hand emerged with the candlestick missing from the Clue box. I pulled the pepperbox revolver out of my pocket.

“Drop it or I’ll plug ya.”

“You couldn’t shoot a turkey. You’re not going to kill me.”

“So this is how it ends then. Mrs. Scarlett in the park with the candlestick.”

“Congratulations. You win.” She started running towards us, her arm cocked back to swing the candlestick at the turkey, when she suddenly collapsed on the ground unconscious. I walked over and kicked the candlestick out of her hand. A dart was sticking out of her neck.

“That’s right. I win.” I turned around and shouted “You can come out now boys!”

Ten G-men came out from behind different trees in the park, one of them holding a blow gun in his hand. He walked over to me.

“So, you heard everything the crazy broad said. Am I in the clear?”

“As long as you hand over that turkey,” he said back in a cold tone.

“So you can take him back to your government labs, do a bunch of government experiments on him, take him apart bit by bit to find out what makes him tick so you can create more of him, because you’re the government?”

He didn’t answer.

“Well,” I nodded my head towards the turkey. “It’s all yours.” One of the G-men walked over to the turkey holding a large cage and knelt down.

“Wait a minute!” said the cage man. “This isn’t a turkey, this is an accordion case disguised as a turkey!”

“Big mistake,” said the G-man standing next to me. But before he had raised his blow gun all the way back up to his mouth, all of them were on the ground unconscious.

“Well, wouldn’t you know it, Turk,” I said as the turkey walked out from behind another tree. “Looks like all these fellas had big and hearty Thanksgiving dinners.” I picked up the suitcase full of money. “Here. You take it. Get as far away from here as you can. Someplace where they don’t eat turkey. Find that lady turkey of yours. Marry her. Grow old. Have little turklettes. Be happy together. That is unless she’s already somebody’s leftovers, right?”

He did not gobble at this.

“Too soon. Got it.”

He stuck his beak into the suitcase and pulled out a stack of cash. Just enough to buy a few new scarves. We exchanged a nod, and he turned and started walking away with the handle of the briefcase in his beak.

“So long, Apple.” I picked up my disguise case disguised as an accordion case disguised as a turkey, and went off in the other direction. I chuckled to myself, realizing just then that I hadn’t used the dagger from the clue game at all. I had completely forgotten about it. Oh well.

I started walking down Avenue A, keeping my eyes open for a late night spot where an up-on-his-luck-yet-still-hard-drinking private investigative journalist could find a glass of scotch, a hearty plate of pheasant, and a handsome new scarf. This was New York City after all. You can find just about anything if you know how to look.

Sharp, in tweed.

Taste: A Criticism

A deep fried chicken breast with pepperjack cheese, fried onion strips, some sort of mayonnaise based special sauce, and the now mandatory two slices of bacon. Two Belgian waffles held the thing together.

They call it The Hammer.

I got this thing at a Baseball game. Close your eyes, and take a moment to imagine the kitchen in which this creature came to life. Inhale. Let the hot-oil-infused air fill your lungs. Exhale reflexively, as your lungs reject it. Feel the warmth of the heat lamps curl the hairs on your forearms. Take in the scent of the steam, rising from the vat of boiling hot dog water. Listen to the hiss of the grease-lacquered griddle. Smell the hot dog water again. This is womb from which The Hammer emerged.

It was good. Crazy good. Like, I’m about to spend eleven more dollars so I can has another. It was a stupidly delicious sandwich and I hated it for making me fall madly in love with it. I was in love with this sandwich.

And then it broke my heart.

I did not feel so good after eating that sandwich. So why didn’t my brain tell me to stop?

It’s because somewhere during the evolutionary process, our sensory receptors weren’t paying attention or something and got flavor interpretation backwards.

When you touch something hot, your skin tells your brain to recoil. When you smell something toxic, your nose tells your brain to plug it. When you look into a light that’s too bright, your eyes tell your brain to shut the curtains. When you hear Nickelback, your ears tell your brain to stop listening, because it hurts. Jokes, lol.

Now, for some reason when you eat a bunch of ribs, your mouth does not tell your brain, “Hey man, stop eating these, they are not good for you. Have some steamed broccoli.” Instead, your mouth says, “Hot damn, these bitches are smoky! Pass the spicy BBQ sauce, Nancy.”

The fact is that everything that is delicious is bad for you. And everything that is good for you is not delicious. I don’t know which one is getting it wrong, the brain or the taste buds. I’m not a scientist. All I know is that at some point, somewhere, some wires got crossed. And every human being in the history of eating food has suffered from this genetic snafu.

Imagine a world where tofu and sprouts taste like a steak and lobster surf and turf, where whole wheat bread tastes like a greasy garlic loaf, where some lame mixed green salad tastes like gooey mac and cheese, where a ball of yeast tastes like a hot doughnut, where boiled tastes broiled, where dried tastes fried, and everything is dripping with grease and butter and sauce and death. Delicious, savory death. But in this world, it tastes like life.

Unfortunately this is not the world we live in.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Hey, I like the taste of healthy foods like bean curd and soy patty and some weird annoying Japanese vegetable and Kale.”

No you don’t.

You don’t.

You don’t even know what Kale is. No one does.

We can lie to each other, but we can’t lie to ourselves. And this is what is keeping us alive. We have evolved over the years to get used to our sensory discrepancy, or perhaps it’s just classical conditioning. Whatever it is, we’ve come to understand that when we put something delicious in our mouths that we should beware.

Of course, we should all maintain a balanced diet and get plenty of exercise. I don’t really know where I’m going with this. It’s been almost twelve hours since my last pastrami and I’m going to start hyperventilating if I don’t get some greasy meat soon. Fried meat. With cheese. And sauce that’s special. Bacon is mandatory these days. I bet I could find a place that would make me The Hammer if I was very specific and asked nicely. It would be a strange request, but something tells me that I’d get less of a weird look ordering that big delicious freaky bastard than I would if I ordered myself big plate of Kale.

Chesire Bridge and LaVista: Nexus of the Universe

There is a place.

It is a crossroads. A giant “X” slashed through the flesh of the Earth that marks the very spot where the universe will meet its end.

Cheshire Bridge and LaVista, the most evil intersection of all time.

And I have to pass through it on the way to my favorite coffee shop. Daddy needs his lattes!

Ever since I moved to Atlanta, I have been fascinated with this intersection. At first glance, there is nothing out of the ordinary about it. Four lanes on the north, west and south ends, three lanes on the east end. Lights that rotate not perfectly in sync, but hey, this is Atlanta. None of the lights make any sense. There’s something different about this intersection though. Traffic seems to converge at this point in a way that will create tremendous traffic jams in every direction, backing up cars for almost miles. It’s as if cars are magnetically drawn towards its center, and then pushed away with an opposite charge.

Through my experiences as a private investigative journalist, I have become an expert in both quantum physics and the occult. This intersection, from the very first time I passed through it after waiting an hour behind a stupid Ford Probe, exuded a dark energy that shook me down to my immortal soul and the indestructible atomic matter of which I am composed. That is too say, I was stirred, both spiritually, and scientifically.

Eff this, I thought. I needs me some cups of joe.

I immediately began an investigation of the intersection, right after I drank six cups of coffee and peed as many times.

I began by storming dramatically into the DMV.

I arrived at some big ass building downtown, where Google told me I’d be able to find the DMV. I began kicking down doors in the building willy nilly and screaming “Dee Em Veeeeeeee!”

The first sixteen doors I kicked down were indeed not the DMV. It was a rather large building. Finally I came to a door that actually had those letters on the door, and man, I mustered every ounce of leg I had for that kick. The business end of my foot took it right off its four-barrel hinges. I surfed in on the door as it slid across the room, scattering patrons. The people in there were all like, “Huh?” I stood up really slowly, as if in slow motion. I thought about how sweet the whole thing would have looked in slow-motion, because everything looks sweeter in slow motion. I should know. I prefer pretty much any movie scene without dialogue to be in slow motion.

“Who the hell is in charge here?!” I was jacked up on caffeine. Like, crazy, batshit blood-shot eyes, veins streaking across my neck and forehead like highways on an atlas. But still very handsome. Really, very.

“Sir, you’ll have to wait in the line,” some bald bespectacled wiener behind a counter said as he motioned at a series of waist-high pylons connected by retractable nylon, um, line thingies. I looked from the line thingies back to him, and growled in my favorite growling tone.

“I don’t wait in lines, poindexter. I cross them.”

I looked around at everybody else there, to see how they reacting to that cold-blooded zinger I had dropped on this nerd. Most of them just pretended to ignore me. I thought maybe they hadn’t heard me.

“I cross them,” I repeated a little bit louder. “Lines. I cross lines.”

“If there’s a problem with your license or your vehicle’s registration, be courteous and wait in the line like everyone else.”

I raised my hand at slow-motion speed and pointed at him.

“Look, Phil,” I sneered, reading the plastic triangular name plate that sat in front of him on the counter. “I need information about a certain intersection. Now you’re going to answer my questions, or I will Phil you… with pain.”

Phil flipped the sign over, so instead of saying “Phil” it said “Closed.”

“I’m on break, Julia,” he said to his colleague. He walked into the back room, loosening his tie along the way.

“Pff, Department of Motor Vehicles,” I said loudly, looking around at everyone else in the room once again. “More like Department of… Moron…Vuh.. Vee.. Vulture…Vill… Variables.”

Julia giggled. Ah. I thought perhaps I should be approaching this with a different approach. I lowered my angry left eyebrow and elevated my charming right eyebrow, and sashayed over to her counter top. She was cute, in a pre-transformation-Rachel-Lee-Cook-from-She’s-All-That kind of way. She avoided my gaze as I arrived with a pirouette. She tried to stay focused on a Bobblehead on the counter, an owl wearing a graduation cap. I gave the owl’s head a little tap and it started nodding. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Eventually she peered away from the Bobblehead and up above the rims of her glasses, like my eyes were tractor beams, tractor beams the color of stormy weather on the high seas.

“Lookin’ for a driver?” I said in a smoldering baritone.

She giggled again.

“Listen doll,” I flicked the bobblehead again, a shit-eating grin on my face. “I’m looking for some information. I’m a private investigative journalist.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t really know.” I stared off into space for a few moments. “What can you tell me about the intersection at Cheshire Bridge and LaVista?”

The expression on her face went from enamored to terrified as I spoke those four words. Cheshire Bridge and LaVista. She turned her plastic sign from “Julia” to “Closed.”

“I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t be talking to you.”

“Sure you can,” I said soothingly. “Look, why don’t you and I mosey on over to Gladys and Ron’s for some chicken and waffles?”

“That sounds wonderful, I’m just… I’m sorry, I can’t talk about that intersection.”

She walked into the back room where Phil had gone and shut the door. I leaned over the counter and peered through the glass window of the door, and saw Phil scolding poor Julia. He caught my gaze and pulled a blind over the window. I turned around and saw the 13 people who had been waiting their glowering at me. I felt sheepish.

“How about you guys? Down for some chicken and waffles?”

***

I got back to my apartment after having treated my 13 new friends to chicken and waffles. I patted my stomach with satisfaction. Damn, Gladys.

I sat down behind my desk and propped my feet up on the tabletop. My phone rang.

“Bailey here.”

“Keep driving,” a woman’s voice said. “You’re on the right road.”

I tried to trace the call. Which basically involved looking around me to see if the person calling me was in the room with me. She wasn’t. I lost the trace.

“And which road would that be?”

“The road that will lead you to the secret behind Cheshire Bridge and LaVista.”

I wasn’t sure if she was speaking figuratively or literally.

“But they’re perpendicular. How could one road lead to both of them?”

“Every road in Atlanta intersects at some point. Like parts of a conspiracy. It’s all connected. One big mess. Like a bunch of crossed wires. Untangle the wires, and you’ll figure it out. Just don’t get shocked in the process.”

“Who are you? You’re mixing a lot of metaphors.”

She hung up. The next day I got an envelope in the mail. In it was a note, and a seven-figure check from some shadowy organization called the Olympus Foundation.

The note said:

Here’s a little scratch to fund your research. Keep following the trail of breadcrumbs down the concrete river of wires to the source of the crossroads of the lines on the…

I stopped reading.

I thought about just cashing that bitch and running off to somewhere sunny and sandy and seafoody. But I was compelled. I had an itch, and it needed to be scratched. So I scratched the hairy part of my stomach just below my navel and decided to continue my investigation.

Using the money from the Olympus Foundation, I set up a state-of-the-art surveillance system to keep tabs on the intersection, with lots of different science machines that took readings and diagnostics. Along with all the scientific equipment, I set up another kind of state-of-the-art system. A state-of-the-dark-arts system. A gigantic parchment map of the surrounding area of Cheshire Bridge and LaVista, inked in human blood, with an obelisk of pure obsidian set dead in the center of the intersection, for the purpose of focusing and channeling any spiritual turbulence. I got a goat too, just in case I felt like making a sacrifice or cheese. I hired my friend Greg who lives in my apartment complex to monitor all of the equipment 24 hours a day while I sort of hung out and ate chips. He never sleeps anyway.

“Any unusual readings?” I asked Greg though bites of chips. Greg looked at all the monitors and gauges and the needles that go side-to-side on the rolling paper thing.

“Nope.”

“Any spiritual turbulence?” He looked at the obelisk and the goat.

“Nope.”

The goat bleated. It knows something, I thought.

“How long have we been taking readings now?”

“Like, three months now, or something.” He looked tired. His eyes were barely open.

“My, so much more time has passed than I would have expected. Want the chip dust at the bottom of this bag?”

“Yeah, man. Yeah.”

“What’s going on at the intersection right now?”

“They’re doing some construction at the southeast corner. Looks like they’re covering a pothole with one of those steal sheets. Traffic is backed up approximately 130 cars in every direction.”

“Bah! Typical. Construction, huh?” I slapped my hands together to get the chip dust off of them. “I think it’s high time that I go undercover.”

“Wow, man. That sounds awesome.”

“Yes,” I agreed as I handed him the empty bag of chips. “Yes it does.”

I ran down to my apartment from Greg’s, because all of our equipment was set up at his place. I opened a bottle of wine and parked myself in front of my disguise station. Over the next four hours I transformed myself into a into a grizzled and yet extremely handsome construction worker. I draped myself in denim and secured it with a perfectly accessorized tool belt, which included actual tools and also a few scientific instruments. I smeared dirt all over my sinewy biceps, and put on a sweet combo of hardhat, aviator sunglasses and magic talisman. And Greg gave me his actual mustache.

I basically looked like this.

Greg called our friend Landen to come pick me up and then drop me at the intersection, because he had left some beers at Greg’s place, and he lives right at Cheshire and LaVista, so it was totally on his way back. While we sat and drank the beers and smoked our pipes, Greg fixed up Landen and me with wrist communicators and earpieces so we could all stay in contact. They agreed that my disguise was totally rad-ass.

I got in the back of Landen’s Suburban and we began to make our way towards the intersection. It was only about a mile away but it took about a half hour to get there. Eventually, about ten cars ahead of us we saw the light go green.

“Okay, you’re approaching the drop point,” Greg’s voice came in over our earpieces.

“Approaching drop point,” Landen repeated. The back hatch of the Suburban opened up.

“Jump in 5, 4, 3, 2…” He pulled some sort of lever, and the dome lights changed from red to green. “One! Later dude!”

“Thanks for the ride, bro!” I said as I jumped out of the back of the truck.

I rolled across the pavement pretty, actually really, hard. I got to my feet and saw all of the construction workers in orange vests looking at me, they’re expressions a mixture of mild surprise and indifference.

“Who’s in charge here?” I barked, straightening Greg’s mustache under my nose.

“I am,” said the foreman. “Who are you? Where’s your vest?”

“Why, in the garment bag with the rest of my tuxedo of course! We’re not exactly going to see a live performance of the award winning Broadway musical Les Miserables by Alain Boublil and Claude Michel-Shönberg, are we? We’re working construction here! Save the waistcoats for more formal occasions, right?“

The foreman just stared at me blankly for a few moments, so I tasered him.

“This man needs an ambulance! He’s having a heart attack!”

The other construction workers gathered round to help the foreman. While they were distracted, I went over and looked into the pothole. But it wasn’t a pothole at all. It was a manhole, disguised as a pothole.

“Greg,” I spoke into my wrist communicator. “Can you bring up the scematics for Atlanta’s underground tunnel system?”

“Sure, dude. Yeah. Absolutely.”

“I love your enthusiasm. Okay, I’m goin’ in.”

I hooked a carabiner that was attached to a length of steel cable onto the passed out foreman’s belt while none of the other guys were looking. He had a good hundred pounds on me, and he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so he could easily support my weight while I repelled down the open shaft. I really tasered the shit out of him.

I must have descended over a hundred feet before I hit the bottom. The ground wasn’t metal. It was stone. Cobble stone.

“Alright Greg, I’m in.”

“Cool man. There should be an opening maybe like a few meters in front of you.”

“You know I don’t know how to use the metric system.”

“Not far at all. Just look around.”

I found the opening. I walked through a doorway into a huge dome-shaped chamber, like a giant stone igloo with beautiful murals painted all over the curvature of the walls. I began circling around the room. In the center, there was a massive crack in the cobblestone ground. There were workers surrounding the crack, decked out in yellow jumpsuits and wearing goggles over their eyes. They were milling around the crack, which was emitting what I can only describe as dark light. All around the crack there were things that looked sort of like solar panels set up, I can only assume to absorb the dark light. I quickly ducked behind some crates so I wouldn’t bee spotted.

Dark light?” Asked Greg. “I don’t think I have to tell you that that doesn’t really make sense, man.”

“Yeah, it sounds pretty awesome though.”

“Landen?” Greg and I both said at the same time.

“Oh yeah, hey guys. I never took out my earpiece. I hope that’s cool.”

“Totally,” I said, “It’s like color commentary. Right on.”

“Are you guys hungry? We should get some food later.”

“I am very hungry,” said Greg. The chip dust was most likely insufficient to satiate him.

“We should go to the food court at the mall and get some pretzel dogs,” I said. “But first I’m gonna crack this case. Standby, Greg. I’m gonna take some readings.”

I pulled a scientific instrument that took various scientific readings out of one of the holsters on my tool belt. I took the magic talisman from around my neck and tied it to the antennae of the instrument.

“Whoa, hey man,” said Greg, a tremor of fear in his voice, “These readings are like, way off the charts. That place is crazy concentrated with chronometric tachyon particles.”

Tachyons. Of course.

“There’s uh, something else,” said Greg. “There are storm clouds swirling around the obelisk, and tiny little bolts of lightning coming out of them. It’s crazy.”

Miniature Lightning. Of course.

“What’s the goat doing?” I asked.

“I think it’s scared, but it’s looking at a tiny storm surrounding an obsidian obelisk, so I’m just going to take that as normal goat behavior. Should I sacrifice it?”

“Hold off on that. But keep a knife handy just in case.”

“Who are you?! How did you get down here?!” It was one of the workers in yellow jump suit and goggles.

“Oh, hey,” I said. “Yeah, uh, I work for MARTA. We’re thinking about building a new line that runs Northeast/Southwest.” Hot damn, I’m quick on my feet with bullshit.

“Lord knows Atlanta could use a MARTA at Cheshire and LaVista. Traffic up there is a biiiiiiiiiiiiitch.” I drew out the word “bitch” really long and said it in a really funny high voice. He was not with me.

“This looks like the perfect spot for an underground station. These murals on the walls are lovely. What are those, Greek?”

While he was looking at the walls I tasered him. But by then all the other guys had noticed and began converging on me.

“Dude, what are you gonna do?” said Greg.

“Bailey is in a really tight spot here,” chimed in Landen with the color commentary. “He’s outnumbered, six to one, bad guys are coming at him from both sides, and the only way out is through a tachyon field.”

Then I got a dumb idea. I ran straight for the tachyon field. I entered the fountain of dark light, and suddenly felt every atom in the surrounding space slow down. Inside the tachyon field, time elapsed at what I calculated to be approximately a quarter of the speed of regular time. It was like moving through peanut butter.

My plan had worked. The guys in yellow jumpsuits stupidly followed me into the tachyon field. And now we were fighting on my terms- in slow-motion. I’d seen enough slow-motion fight scenes in movies to know exactly what to do. Extremely slowly but surely and dramatically I beat the shit out of every single one of them. It was particularly awesome with the last guy because when I roundhouse kicked him, he floated in slow-motion towards the edge of the tachyon field, and when he came out of it he flew at regular speed and hit the wall. Amazing. I walked out of field in slow motion with a grimace on my face, so I imagine it looked really badass.

“What just happened?” Asked Landen.

“Yeah, we lost contact with you there for a second.”

“Aw man. You guys. You guys should have seen that. Aw man, it was… so rad. Really could have used some color commentary–.”

I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head, and everything went black.

***

A douse of icy water shocked me awake. I was tied to a chair in a dark room. Judging by the smell of the air I was still underground. I shook the water off of my head and blinked a few times to get my eyes back into focus. I saw a stout figure in front of me. Slowly as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I began to make out glasses and a stupid bald head.

“You.”

“Me,” said Phil.

“What the hell’s a DMV stooge doing underground? Don’t you belong on the surface, behind a counter, projecting your self-loathing towards the meek and the innocent?

“I don’t actually work for the DMV. I’m only undercover. Now, Mr. Bailey, you are going to answer some of my questions.”

“But you didn’t answer any of mine before. You went on break. As it happens, I’m on my break right now. Is there a vending machine nearby? I want some chips.”

“How did you know that MARTA was planning to expand?”

This was an interesting turn.

“I didn’t. I do now though. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh snap.” I drew out the word “Oh” and said it in that really funny high voice. This clearly got right under Phil’s skin.

“Hey, hey, hey, don’t beat yourself up about it man, I’m just giving you a hard time. You must feel like a complete dumbass, sure. But that stuff I said about MARTA before, really I just pulled that out of my thin air, but how were you supposed to know that? it was only natural for you to assume that I actually knew something. So look, why don’t you just tell me the whole sinister plan. I mean, look at me. I’m tied up. There’s probably armed guards outside the door. I’m clearly not going anywhere. So, just tell me exactly what’s going on and then you can kill me.”

He pondered this proposal for a second.

“Very well,” he said.

“Alright! Okay, sinister plan. Go.”

“A few months ago while excavating a new tunnel, we came across the chamber you were in before. When we began digging up the floor, a huge pocket of energy was released. Our MARTA scientists identified it as a fountain of tachyon particles. Highly unstable, but containable.”

“Come on, MARTA doesn’t have scientists.”

“Yes we… just… shut up! Stop interrupting. We began to harness the chronometric energy. It opened up technological possibilities that we never would have dreamed of before! We began developing trains driven by tachyon accelerators. Imagine. Trains, powered by time. Late would be a thing of the past.”

I had to admit to myself that it sounded pretty kick ass. One time on my way to the airport the train stopped at College Park station for like a half hour for pretty much no reason. But still.

“You’re meddling with powers that you cannot possibly comprehend. You’re not containing the tachyon field. Everyday you keep that crack open that field is getting bigger. That’s what’s causing all the traffic jams at Cheshire Bridge and LaVista. Cars are driving through a time warp.”

“Don’t you get it? That’s the point. The more traffic there is, the more people will want to ride MARTA trains, which will always be on time. Meanwhile, I’m in control of the DMV, which can make even the sanest person want to give up driving forever.”

“Shit. That makes sense.”

“That crack in that chamber spewing tachyons is solving both our problems at once. God, I love that crack.”

I thought about making a joke about butt cracks. Meh.

“You have no idea what the source of that power is. There’s something evil down there. And when it gets loose, you’re going to be sorry.”

“The only evil thing down here that you have to worry about… is me.”

He pulled out a gun.

“Whoa cool, is that a Luger?” There was blood caked on the butt of the gun. “Aw man, you pistol whipped me with a Luger, didn’t you?!”

“Shh! So, it seems I am the one that is going to Phil you with pain. And lead.”

“Hey, watch closely as I flagrantly roll my eyes.” I put my whole head and neck into it, removing any inkling of subtlety as I rolled both eyes a full 360 degrees over a period of about five seconds. I punctuated it by adding, “You suck.”

He cocked the gun dramatically, and then his attention moved to somewhere behind me.

“You!” He said in terror at whatever was behind me. And then everything went black. Again.

***

I woke up on the top deck of the parking structure at my apartment complex. I picked myself up off the concrete, and turned to see a girl leaning over the edge, looking out at the Midtown skyline.

“Hello, Mr. Bailey,” she said without turning.

“Hello, Julia.” She still didn’t turn around. “Or shall I call you by your real name? Pallas Athena, Goddess of wisdom, war and strategy.”

Yeah. That’s right. Didn’t see that coming, did you? This time she turned. She was much more beautiful this time, in a post-transformation-Rachel-Lee-Cook-from-She’s-All-That kind of way. I bowed.

“How did you figure it out?”

“It was simple, really. As soon as I descended into that pit and entered that chamber, I could sense the evil coming out of that crack. I knew whatever they had stumbled upon was no Earthly energy. Then I noticed the Greek murals on the walls. It was easy from there. The murals depicted the story of the Olympians defeating the Titans and imprisoning them in Tartarus. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that chamber is the gateway to Tartarus, directly above the prison of Kronos, Lord of Time.”

Yeah. That’s right. Kronos. Lord of Time.

“Very clever indeed.”

“Once I realized that it was Kronos’ power that was the source of the tachyon field, I thought back to the name on the check, the Olympus Foundation. And it all made sense.”

“And me? How did you know I was Athena.”

“Why, the Owl Bobblehead on your desk at the DMV of course. The owl is your symbol.”

“Yeah. I know. Seriously though? Just the Bobblehead? That’s pretty thin.”

“Well that, and cute girls don’t work at the DMV. So what were you doing there anyway?”

“I was in disguise. Waiting for you. To guide you.”

“Cryptic. So, I figure you guys can seal off that crack to Kronos’ cage right?”

“The crack cannot be sealed. It is only the beginning. It has been forseen. Cheshire Bridge and LaVista is the nexus point of the entire universe. At a certain point in time, the planets and the galaxies will align, and Kronos will be released from his prison. This is inevitable.”

“Whoa. When’s that?”

“Exactly 873 years from this day.”

I stared at her blankly for a few seconds.

“Eight hundred years.”

“And 73 days.”

“Okay. So, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it, and the only way it’s going to effect me is that traffic going to get steadily worse. Do I have that right?”

“Yup.”

“So then… why do I care?”

“We needed you to expose what MARTA was doing.”

“Why?”

“Because.” She said it somewhat sheepishly, for a Goddess. “It’s not cool. You must tell the world this story.”

“You know that practically nobody reads my blog. And the ones that do rarely get past the first paragraph. If I tell this story, I can pretty much guarantee that hardly anyone will make it to the end.”

“Perhaps. But those that do will believe you.”

“That’s debatable.” She glared at me. “Alright fine, I’ll ‘tell the world this story.’”

She smiled.

“Okay, bye.” Then she turned into an owl and flew away.

***

“So the reason that traffic is so bad there is because buried beneath the intersection is an ancient monster that controls time?” Landen said as he dipped his pretzel dog in some mustard.

“Yup. Pretty unbelievable, huh?”

“Yes. Very. Completely absurd and unbelievable. Wow.”

“I can’t believe you guessed that the girl at the DMV was Athena just based off of an owl Bobblehead,” said Greg, feeding a pretzel dog to the goat. “That’s pretty thin.” The goat bleated in agreement.

“I know,” I said. I didn’t really have anything else to say.

“And saying you worked for MARTA, and it turned out that they were behind the whole thing,” opined Greg, still not having taken a bite of his pretzel dog.

“Yeah,” said Landen, “That’s like, astronomical chances. Crazy.”

“Yes. I agree,” I said getting a little annoyed. “How about these pretzel dogs? I mean, yum.”

“There’s just one thing I don’t get,” said Greg.

“I know what you’re going to say!” I snapped. “Why would Tartarus be located under Atlanta and not beneath Greece. I know it doesn’t make any sense, okay?! None of it makes sense!”

“Actually I was just going to ask how they get the hot dog inside the pretzel.”

Greg, Landen, the goat and I looked at each other for a tense moment, then at our pretzel dogs, and burst into laughter. We ordered another round. Figured we might as well stick around the food court until rush hour was over.

The Lone Assassin and the Left Field Coup de Gras

Now then.

You’ve defeated a hoard of henchmen. Yeah? Well whatever. Those guys were dumb. They’re nothing compared to what’s in store for you next. If you thought it was over, then you are in for a response that’s been heard many thousands of times by many a protagonist with many variations. I will list several of those variations.

Over? We’ve only just begun.

Over? This is merely the beginning.

Over? I’m only getting started.

Over? It’s not over until I say it’s over.

Over? A storm is coming.

Over? Pff. Nah it ain’t.

This is not an exhaustive list.

You’ve won the battle, but the war has only begun. Now that you’ve defeated a bunch of idiot henchmen, whoever it is that’s trying to kill you is now going to send their very best guy after you. You might think to yourself, “Why didn’t they just do that in the first place? Such a useless waste of henchmen’s lives.” I really can’t answer that. The best I can come up with is that henchmen’s lives are useless to begin with. As Magneto once said, “In chess, the pawns go first.” Much like seafood cookouts, where the prawns go first.

Moving on.

Before you can understand the secret to defeating the lone assassin, you must understand the lone assassin, and the many flavors in which they come.

The Foreigner

Here you’ll find your Exes: Ex-KGB, Ex-Mossad, Ex-IRA or Ex-MI6. Here you’ll also find your Ninjas, Arabian Knights, Brazilian dance-fighters, and Canadians. However, this flavor of lone assassin is not necessarily ethnic. Sure, many of them have thick accents and come from the Eastern Block, but the thing that ties all of these foreigners together is that whoever is calling out this hit on you is calling for help from out of town. They probably heard from their nefarious associates around the globe that “This guy is the best” but also that he “Doesn’t come cheap” which actually makes it even sweeter when you kill this man, because whoever it is that’s trying to kill you has to shake their head in disappointment knowing that they made a poor investment.

The Freakshow

Here you’ll find your monsters, mutants, gargantuan grotesques, and those who have replaced their limbs with a bunch of metal bullshit they mean to kill you with; mace fist, knife fingers, ax head, sword feet, et al. These guys are typically quite strong, so expect to be picked up and thrown across a lot of rooms, into and onto things that are in those rooms. Seriously, it’s like they have to use your body to destroy the entire room before they’re allowed to kill you. They’ll have you lifted up right above their heads and instead of just breaking your back over their knee, they’ll throw you at the bathroom sink. These guys are also very slow, both in their blasé attitude towards getting down to the killing, and also in movement. So use your superior speed to maneuver around them to get them all tired out. They’ll be halfway their from throwing you around so much. One thing is off limits. You can’t make fun of their deformity. Because, hey. Not cool.

The Sadist

This guy loves kiling people. Like, annoyingly so. It’s like, if you love killing people so much, then why don’t you marry killing people? Right? Say that to him. This is the guy that whoever it is that’s trying to kill you really didn’t want to resort to. Because he gives them the willies. This guy has almost certainly spent some time in an asylum. When you’re fighting him, he’s going to say some really cryptic and unsettling things that are going to confuse the shit out of you. Stuff like “The baker, the baker, the baker is baking bread. But the miller, the miller, he has no shoes to wear. Timmy is a Tommy and a red red rocket ship. Trains. Trains. ” The best thing to do is play along, and be as patronizing as possible. Give an answer like “No, silly. The baker is baking a cake. I heard the miller just got a brand new pair of Keds. Timmy isn’t a Tommy, he’s a Jimmy and a blue blue sailboat. Planes. Planes. Hey! Look at me… Planes.” Needless to say, he is not going to be happy when he hears this new information. Prepare to be doused with buckets of crazy.

The Gimmick Killer

This guy’s got a thing. And his thing is his thing and it’s his only thing. He specializes in using some incredibly specific weapon, like the piano wire, bull whip, brass knuckles, butcher knives, bolas, crossbows, sword-in-a-cane, rare botanical poisons, arm-mounted whirling lawnmower blades, or those things that Rafael the Ninja Turtle used. The bad thing is that this guy is effin’ sweet at using whatever his thing is. The good thing is that he will not venture outside of his thing. If his thing is throwing knives, there’s no way in hell he’s going to touch that gun that just accidentally slid into his hand across the deck of the boat you two are fighting on. So focus your attention on removing his thing from the equation, and he’ll be putty in your fists.

The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

You really have to keep your eye out for this one, because it could be just about anyone. It could be some nerd in glasses. It could be your grandmother. It could be a baby, or the nanny that’s pushing its carriage, or both. It could be me for all you know. Just be weary of anyone who is being particularly nice or sweet or polite to you, because no one is ever nice unless they want to kill you. Just to play it safe, assume that everyone around you is the assassin. Anytime anyone says anything, make sure to over analyze every bit of what they have said. For example, if a sweet little girl asks you “What time is it?” It’s almost a certainty that after you tell her the time she’ll say “Wrong. Time to die!” And then she’ll do a series of windmill kicks that will hit your face like a tornado made of lightning. This could have been avoided by telling her that it was time for her to die and then giving her a lightning tornado.

The Femme Fatale

There are two kinds of Femme Fatale, and strangely enough, which type they are depends on which type you are. You’re at a bar drinking PBR, and smacking the side of a Space Invaders arcade game in recompense for eating your quarter. A woman starts hitting on you. Is she out of your league? If yes, then she’s a Femme Fatale and she’s going to try and kill you. Because no girl who’s out of your league is going to initiate a conversation unless her intentions are murderous. You’re at a baccarat table in a white dinner jacket sipping scotch, and your coming out ahead of the house. A woman starts hitting on you. Is the banter you’ve engaged in extremely fast paced and witty? If yes, she’s a Femme Fatale and she’s going to try and kill you. All the good ones are actually bad. If you’re the guy in the first scenario, do not underestimate her powers of seduction and run for your life. In general it’s safe to run for your life from any woman who is out of your league. If you’re the man in the second scenario, you are in a position to turn her to your side. After you’ve defeated her in hand-to-hand combat, say something to the effect of “If you weren’t a beautiful woman I would kill you right now. But since you are I’d like to buy you a cocktail.” Then let the appletinis do the heavy lifting from there as she returns to the good side.

Now that you’ve learned who you’re going to be facing, you can learn how to face them. The key to defeating the lone assassin is a simple technique known as the Left Field Coup de Gras.

The technique is simple, but it is far from easy. You see, all of these people are very good at what they do. By all accounts, you are no match for them. But you are the hero, so by all accounts you should still prevail. So it’s going to get unpleasant before you can defeat them.

To put it simply, they are going to beat the living shit out of you. It’s going to hurt really bad. They’ll throw you, punch you, kick you, cut you, and karate you into shambles. You are going to be inches away from death. But right before you see the light at the end of the tunnel, something extraordinary is going to happen and you’ll have one last burst of strength.

In those last few moments, when the lone assassin thinks that they have already defeated you, they’re probably going to say a few words regarding your demise. This is a huge mistake on their part, because these words are going to provide you with the fortitude for one last effort. While they’re talking, look around you. There’s probably something within reach that they don’t notice, like a jagged piece of metal, a lead pipe, a 2×4 with a nail sticking out of it, or maybe even a the hand gun that was knocked out of someone’s hand earlier. Right before they are about to finish you off, grab this thing, whatever it may be, and kill them with it. If nothing is there to grab hold of and swing, you will find a sudden burst of strength welling up inside of you, with which you will be able to release an onslaught of punches and kicks and flips and yelling.

The lone assassin, shockingly, never sees this coming. It’s hubris. They’ve done such a good job putting on the hurt until then that they let their guard down in one obnoxious moment of self-importance. And in that moment, out of nowhere, they’re taken down more than just a peg or two, they’re taken down by every single peg they have. They have no pegs left. You will have left them utterly pegless.

So you’ve defeated the lone assassin. You’ve sent a message to whoever it is that’s trying to kill you, that their best dude was no match for your heroic protagonism.

So, take some time to heal and get yourself reorganized at a convent or a cave or graveyard or something. Because now it’s time to go after whoever it is that’s trying to kill you. To finish it. Once and for all.

Boo, Hiss.

I’m on the tram, heading to my gate, where there is a plane that will fly me to San Francisco. We arrive at Concourse D. As I shuffle towards the double doors, I glance for a moment at the mirror at the end of the car. It is a large mirror. I can’t see my reflection. I panick.

My mind races through several sinister theories.

Theory #1: I am a ghost.

Theory #2: I have become a Nosferatu.

Theory #3: The tram passed through a pocket of radiation that has caused every atom in my body to vibrate at astounding speeds, rendering me both invisible and intangible.

Theory #4: The mirror is actually a window.

Theory #5: I have finally mastered the ancient mystical art of astral projection.

Theory #6: This is all just a dream.

I get off the tram and immediately find a bathroom. I look in a mirror and see my reflection. And it is handsome.

That rules out theories 1,2,5, and 6.

I rather like the idea of being intangible.

This blog post was composed and posted on a telephone.

That most likely rules out the third theory.

Rats.