REPORT A PROBLEM
said he bought five. Now I don’t know.”
Phyllis pursed her lips and edged the chopped garlic into a neat pile on the cutting board. Then she lay the knife down, and wiped her hands with her white dish towel. She took a deep breath, held the aroma of onion and garlic and basil, and let it go. The oil was just starting to haze in the pan.
“He told me six. He’d bought six. He was emphatic on this point,” she said.
Dutch sipped his wine, drained the glass. He suspected there would be no tiramisu tonight, or ever.
still doesn’t explain how Snyder knew the necklace was counterfeit, and that Molyneux, not Sharpakova, had passed the microdot to Gladstone,” Bramble said.
All eyes fell on Snyder, who was smiling as he swirled his martini, and was poised to take a sip. Abruptly, he seemed to think better of it, and rested the glass on a cocktail napkin atop the mahogany bar. He absently adjusted his cufflinks as he approached a now dry-mouthed Bramble at his desk.
“How, Bill? It’s very simple,” Snyder said, now towering over the director. “Actually, it was you, in recommending the tiramisu, which
HE SAID YEAH.
— Pardon me?
He said yes, go for it. You’re approved.
What do you mean?
— What are you talking about? Approved? Who’s approved for what?
I see. Very shrewd.
— What? What the hell are you talking about?
He said you were good. I can see you are.
— Man, you are making no bit of sense. I’m sorry, but ... are you kidding?
Excellent. I’ll meet you at the rendezvous. Good luck.
— Uh huh. Dude, you going to the kitchen? Hey, while you’re in there, can you grab me out the Fritos? Dude?
[Door smashes open]
can believe that.”
Sinclair bit into his apple. He chewed. This was a good apple, like the Empires of his youth, the ones Nana gave him when he visited ... before. Apples, oranges, figs. All plentiful, then.
“I’ll tell you,” Sinclair said, pausing to swallow pulp and juice, “I don’t care either way. At this point it’s up to you and Fitzhugh to salvage. I’d just as soon you left me out. In fact, let’s make it official: I’m out.”
“B-but you can’t back out now! The operation depends on your testimony!”
Sinclair smiled. Tonight there’d be tiramisu.
This caught Flounderman by surprise. His eyes widened, and he gulped air, clearly perplexed.
“But the principal assured me...” he started. And then a change seemed to wash over him. He seemed caught by a steeliness of gaze. He abruptly turned, taking off like a shot, leaving all of us in his wake.
When would he return? What we were supposed to do in his absence? Were we cooked?
“Mr. Minnows?” This was Petey Carp, whose nose I knew, without even looking, was running. All the Carps were worriers. No surprise he’d be the first to speak up.
not ever! Yeah! And another thing, Jerome...”
And of course Shelly kept talking. Jerome watched as she gesticulated, stamping around the kitchen, opening and slamming cabinet doors, scribbling with a pen that wouldn’t write, flinging open the refrigerator and extracting a quart of milk, with which she held an exaggerated, mock conversation and then poured into the sink.
But what Jerome was thinking, my good gentlebeings, for let’s say those last twenty minutes, was how very like last night’s dream this all was, and whether that also meant he was soon to be abducted by little green men.
like this before.”
“I understand, ma’am. Ma’am, this is Detective Genre, who’s been working the Mackelroy angle since August. He’d like to ask you a few questions. Sam, this is Mrs. Protagonisto. She filed the two-eleven on Schlubstein down at the one-six house.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Protagonisto. Please have a seat. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
“Oh, no; no thank you. I was just explaining to... to Detective Pleasance: I never drink coffee, not even the decaffeinated variety. It interferes with my sleep.”
“Sam, I’m gonna leave you to it, then.”
“OK, Buck. Thanks.”
I am wiped out.
I don’t feel well.
I want to sleep.
I just can tell.
I am going to go to sleep.
And if my soul the Lord shall take.
These hundred words are no great shakes.
No mirth, no joy, those are the breaks.
Tell it to me once.
Penny for your thoughts.
Listen to me now.
The ship is sinking, wow.
Yes, you’re next.
Youuuu’re so next.
We made our way, said Mister Fox
Up to the castle hewn from rocks,
And what we found gave us a fright:
Yes, you’re next.
Youuuu’re so next.
“YOU WANTED TO see me?”
“Yes. Thank you. Please... have a seat.”
“Is everything OK?”
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry. I’m just finishing this up. Please, please; relax.”
[Sits.] (Ahem.) (Snif.) (Rustle.) (Snif.) “This is a nice office.”
“Thank you. Been here nearly 45 years.”
“Wow, that’s —”
“All right. Here’s what we’d like you to do. We’d like you to become an expert in some field. Some subject.”
“Well, conversant. We’d like you to steep yourself in something specialized. I recommend the planet Mercury.”
“Yes. There’s water there, in the craters, they say.”
“You tell us.”
THE CRAFT STOPPED, the thrum of its thermal motivator silenced. They were level with the ground, gripped to it by grooved, rubberized traction discs. Simmons breathed a sigh of relief.
Though air outside showed breathable, unknown viruses and bacteria might be waiting. Simmons knew his respiration was elevated. He didn’t report it.
When it was his turn, Simmons popped his hatch and “hopped” out onto a rocky, barren landscape. He turned to take it in. The ground stretched away, hardened, black and oily.
Suddenly a towering, flower-scented creature appeared!
“Jeremy, sweetie, come on. We’ll be late for the movie.”
Took my boys to the library the other day, hoping to interest them in the children's stacks. They ran to sit at the computer workstations, determined to weasel their way to an online shooting game: Strike Force Heroes.
I said no, these stations are for research. Do we want to use them to look anything up? What if
And they walked away, dejected.
Anthony grabbed a display copy of a book on snakes. Bennett pouted longer, but fell into
Never Take a Shark to the Dentist
. I’m enjoying
The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt
, by Patricia MacLachlan.
HIS NAME IS Barscom Rhome. He’s a pilferer.
— Go on.
I met him at the Transeloops, Sugartown way.
— When was this?
Ernesto knows. Ernesto? Beat, beat, beat. Ernesto says Phillipsday. It was full-scale Phillipsday.
— At what time?
Ernesto? Beat, beat. Thruppence. Thruppencefold, Phillipsday. Thereby me and Barscom Rhome, as I said.
— Please describe the nature of this encounter.
I should, or Ernesto?
— Whomever can give me an accurate account.
Beat, beat. Beat.
— This is Ernesto?
Ernesto sired “beat”; he’s drummed out. That’s one of the whales what got pilfered, mayhap: accounts.
Ain’t no way of tellin.’
ELSEWHILE, in Shady Acres, a gathering of sensitives. They huddle in moonshadow, which sways. Cavender Pete is the first to speak, and he does so with gathering conviction, warming to the deadly proposal.
“We have to do it. There’s no other way. You all saw; you all heard; you all felt the mustard breath, coiling. It has to be tonight. Or tomorrow, by dawn.”
They looked at him, the six. They looked away. They looked within.
One spoke: Teppigil the Younger.
“I’m in. We’ll do what needs be done. You have my sword.”
A nod. Other eyes? You? You?
HAVE YOU TWO MET?
— No / No, I don’t think so.
Drago, this is Alysson Brough. Alysson designs ads, newspaper ads, and, uh, hangs out at Radio Shack. That’s all I know.
— Yes, I “hang out.” I lurk and loiter.
Alysson, this is my friend Drago. Drago has played semi-professional rugby, and knows everything there is to know about the Bronze Age.
— I don’t know everything about the Bronze Age.
(I’ll leave you to it.)
— Later, man. Hey, who’s my ride later?
Wash. He’s over there.
— I see him...
That’s a nice name.
— Thanks. “Alison,” right?
WHAT ARE YOU doing?
— What does it look like? I’m trying to get us out of here.
You’re using that? It’s never gonna —
— Stop. OK? Stop. At least I’m trying. At least I’m doing something about it. What are you doing, right? Don’t ... don’t —
OK. I’m sorry.
— You could help. You know?
I don’t know what there is for me to do. What would you like me to do?
you to do? I ... I —
Here: a bottle of chocolate milk, and a cup. Your old Huey, Dewey, and Louie cup.
LAMP: Do you believe this?
LIBRARY BOOK: Is he always like this?
LAMP: It’s getting to be that way. This is a new one.
LIBRARY BOOK: Is he ... ill? Sometimes —
LAMP: No, no! He’s just asleep. Regular-old asleep.
LIBRARY BOOK: There’s no clock in here...
LAMP: It’s 12:45 p.m. I just know. I can tell by the light.
LIBRARY BOOK: Well, in his defense, he stayed up ‘til ...
LAMP: He settled in around 2:45 a.m. After all that. Even so! This is a new one on me...
LIBRARY BOOK: Well, it’s Sunday. Library’s closed. Let him rest.
“IT’S A PRETTY good plan, I have to admit.”
“Yep. I can totally see that working.”
“Thanks. Thanks, man.”
“Are you gonna do it?”
“I think so. I think I am.”
“Well, congratulations. I mean, in advance.”
“Thanks. I don’t wanna get too far ahead of myself. Don’t jinx me, I mean —”
“Right, sorry —”
“I wouldn’t —”
“Right, right. Superstitious.”
“No, I wouldn’t call it superstitious. I mean, I dunno. People’ve been close before. Taking over the world isn’t easy. You remember Dave Gorlick?”
“Sure. The big space laser.”
“Foiled, as I recall.”
“Telephone for yuh, Mr. Beaumont.”
“Who is it, Alfonse?”
“They didn’t say. You want me to ask?”
“Yes, please; always ask.”
“OK. // Who is this? ... You. ... Who are you; who’s calling Mr. Beaumont? ... ‘Cause I’m askin’ yuh! ... What? ... Who da fuck is this, is all I’m sayin’!”
“Give me the phone, Alfonse.”
“He ain’t sayin’.”
“I understand. Please hand me the receiver.”
“OK. He didn’t say.”
[Ahem.] “Hello, this is Charles Beaumont. Who is this, please? ... Yes. Yes. Oh! Yes! How are you? Ha ha! ... Of course, of course; I hadn’t forgotten. ... No, I’m looking forward to it! Absolutely! ... Ha ha!”
THE BATTLE OF Trevance (May 24-26, 1704) marked the end of the Burbury Hegemon in the Lesser Uplands. It had been a brutal spring, and fully one third of the Viole was under flower. Burbury’s heavy artillery found the going impossible, and Mattain-Mackelroy knew he had no chance of holding his western flank against the more mountain-adept, and better equipped, Plovant.
“By the Prince’s leave, and of respect for his surviving men and horses, I humbly propose to offer my sword to Schneerson,” Mattain-Mackelroy wrote Prince Georges.
Georges’ ill-fated reply: “Yes. We’ll try again in winter.”
WINTER IN CAMP: men disheveled, hungry, and chilled. One soldier — a boy, really, too small for his “mustard and rattle” — sits on a sawn oak stump, reading a letter from home. He is the company caterwauler. As his mouth works the trembling words, his breath lingers as a soft, white beard, then blows away.
Nearby, one man in a clutch of men sees. They are stooped, scrubbing their socks in the burbling Gere. He taps another on the elbow, and so on down the line.
“Look. The caterwauler’s lost his girl.”
A sob, a sob.
More blood, sweat, and tears.
THESE WERE THE officers spaced in the mutiny.
These were the crewmen cooked trying to retake the ship.
These were the tourists who voted to ram, trying to save us.
This was the President’s tweet.
These were the missiles; here they’re in flight.
Here, we were children from around the world. We watched the clock.
This was the Pope.
These were the wives. Some disgraced, some not.
I don’t know who these people were.
This was the famous general. Here he is giving orders.
These are the cities, dark and quiet.
A baby born that minute.
That’s where the Pepsi Danube hit.
THE STRANGEST CONVERSATION I had over there was with the chef, Walter Scheib. He was Wally to Clinton, and Cookie to Bush the Younger. To me, for my first two years, he was Chef Scheib. Then one night, over coffee and Chocolate Pots de Crème, he says, “My name is Walter. Call me Walter. I’ll call you Buck.”
I said that was fine.
This was 0300 or so, in the Executive Mansion. Just him and me for the next two hours, until the breakfast crew arrived.
Walter sips his coffee. Then he says, “Buck, do you believe in men from Mars?”
IF I LOOK at the world edge on, and don’t move, and sort of squint, then it looks as I remember it: cause, effect, the four elemental forces, cosmic inflation, life, death. I can totally see why people see it that way.
But if I look whup (it’s like up, but not really) or dwhown (ibid), or athirl (yes) or plumm (same thingish), then I see it as it really spizz. I knooooow it for ppeperperspersopersonpersonapersonal. Niboddy vreealy oxpicts to/to/to/to/to/to/to/to syet, ensoi thydent.
I shouldn’t tease them. Every time I do, they sacrifice virgins.
THINGS I COULD HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT THIS CHRISTMAS EVE:
— Sorting my loose change: $83 in quarters, $42 in dimes, $11 in nickels, and a big, angry pile of uncounted pennies.
— Buying an HDMI cable so I can run content from the laptop to my angry 23” external monitor, for when the kids visit. Tested it with “City on the Edge of Forever.”
— Fitting a really cool four-cubby vertical bookcase into my living room, accommodating another big box of angry books. It looks like I live in a book store!
— Gotta get the kids their presents.
— Here’s one too!
There are a lot of them.
— Here’s another!
— How many do you have?
Not a lot.
— I got a lot of them.
I know. You always do.
— Here’s another!
— You just aren’t looking.
I am looking. I’m just never finding any.
— Here’s two more! They were right next to each other.
I don’t wanna do this anymore. Here.
— You don’t want yours?
No. You always find them. These are yours.
— Thanks! Now I have... nine trillion, nine hundred ninety-nine billion, nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-seven. I only need three more.
I’m going in.
— No, help me look! And then we can share them.
I CAN NOT believe we’re meeting you.
— Thank you. I’m very happy to meet you.
We are such fans. Oh my God.
— Thank you. And who is this?
This is Jeremy. Say hello to Mr. Snyder, Jeremy...
— That’s OK.
And this is his sister, Darla.
— Hello, Jeremy. Hello, Darla.
Can you make it out to the Bettencourt family?
— Absolutely. T-t-e-n?
Bettencourt. B-e-t-t-e-n, c-o-u-r-t.
— Here you go.
Oh, my God. Look, Jeremy! ... I don’t want to hold up the line, but I just wanted to say thank you. Everything you write is so...
— You’re very kind.
Where do you get your ideas?
HI. YOUR TALK was amazing.
— Thank you! It’s a great crowd.
My name is Lavender Stein...
... and I’m the talent buyer for the Major Activities Board? At the University of Chicago, out here?
— Sure, sure.
And I know this is something that should go through your publisher, but we would be delighted to have you appear on campus. We’re setting our spring schedule.
— Oh, that would be great. Yes, I’d be thrilled.
Oh, my God.
— Here. Call Vanessa Rialto. She’ll set it up.
Mr. Snyder! Oh my God.
— I’m flattered you’d ask.
I GET WHAT you’re doing. It’s cute, but not particularly original.
— Pardon me?
It’s like Sam Beckett meets Tom Robbins by way of Dave Barry.
Hey, I don’t begrudge you, you know? This generation doesn’t read much. It doesn’t know the pedigree of anything.
— You know a lot.
Yeah, well, I’m a special case. I’m a writer. Like, an
writer. I could be published, like you, but I’ll never sell out.
— I don’t...
I wasn’t gonna tell you, but I will: I’m finishing an original space opera. It’s like Bukowski meets Geiger on
Don’t steal that idea. I
DON’T YOU GET tired of writing your name over and over?
— No, I think it’s fun. I like getting out to events like this. Can I sign that for you?
Oh! Yes. Please. Here.
— Wow, you’ve really marked it up!
Is that OK? I hope you don’t mind.
— Why would I mind? Can I look through and...
Oh, please, please.
— I have never seen this before. I’ve never seen anyone... wow. All these annotations.
I’m embarrassed now.
— Oh, no, don’t be. I’m flattered. It... Should I be worried? You’re not, like, stalking me or anything...
— Stalking you?
I was kidding.
— I... I...
I'm sorry. I was joking. Bad joke. Here...
— Excuse me. I have to go...
— Excuse me...
Miss, please! Oh, God. Miss, I'm sorry!
— Hey, man, can I get your autograph? Make it out to Charles.
CAN I GET you anything? Coffee? Scotch?
— What? No. No, thank you.
So that’s the report for the quarter. Your sales are down because the market’s down. If you look at the curve adjusted for...
— Wait. You keep Scotch in the office?
Did you want some?
— No, I don’t drink Scotch. I just...
— I just thought it was unusual.
I have a full bar back there. I’m serious. You can have anything you want. Are you sure I can’t offer you some coffee?
— Let me see this bar.
— Oh my God. How cool is that!
Anything you want.
DO YOU HAVE the boarding passes?
Can I have mine?
— Don’t you want to wait until we get to the, uh...
No. I’d like to have mine now, please.
— OK. Sure. I’m kind of sitting on my...
Oh. Forget it. It can wait.
— No, I don’t mind...
— Here. That’s... It’s direct.
— You look tired.
I am. I guess I am. It’ll be good to get home.
— Do you have plans for tonight?
— You should come over. Greg and I are having a thing. Just some people from our offices.
Nah. Thanks anyway. I’m just gonna write.
The Tip Jar