Judy was proud of herself. She’d spent the morning actually cleaning and organizing. She’d seen something on television about hoarders, and it scared her. People could live like that, in that kind of mess? How, she didn’t know. Looking around at her own personal mess, she couldn’t see how it was as bad. Okay, there were things everywhere, she couldn’t see the floor in some rooms, and if there were even a mild earthquake, she’d be buried by falling piles of magazines or books and they’d never find her. It wasn’t as pathological as what she’d seen, but it was getting bothersome to navigate the channels. And a few of the piles were getting a little mildewed. So she decided to do something about it.
Trouble is, it made more of a mess to clean up than it did just to continue stacking them. She had to break down her piles of stuff and make new piles in order to get anywhere. A highly paid, detestably knowitall “mess consultant” would call for a dumpster and tell her to close her eyes as she tossed stuff into it, but Judy wasn’t going that route, and wasn’t going to have to listen to people judging her, even if they did it behind their eyes.
Frank came up from downstairs and wandered for awhile before noticing her sitting on the floor with papers in her lap. She was reading over something she’d scribbled on the back of an envelope who knows how many years ago. Her eyes were wet.
“What’s the matter, dear?” he asked, concerned. Judy never cried.
She wiped her eyes and stuffed the piece of paper into the pile on her lap. “Oh, nothing. It’s just that I used to have so many creative thoughts, and now I wonder what happened to them, is all.” She looked around hopelessly. “Now I’ve got all this stuff and I can’t remember anything, and can’t find anything, and I’m just tired of it.”
Frank always saw things differently. Judy’s messiness was a reflection of her messy mind, and he loved her anyway. Even tho it caused a little trouble with forgotten bills and errands, it was more of an amusement than an issue for Frank. If she was content to wander around in a fog, he was content to let her.
She looked up at him with pleading eyes. “I want to throw stuff away, I really do, but I’m afraid. I can’t.” She trailed off. She was in the middle of a dozen little tiny piles that she had only decided to go thru again before deciding anything.
He wasn’t comfortable when she used her little quirks against herself. “You’re probably afraid you might throw out something that you’ll need later.” That was it: she tensed right up. “Remember how your mother used to come thru your bedroom and throw out things you’d been saving? And how upset you still get about it?” He looked around. “Well, I expect that all those issues will come to the surface once you get rid of the outer symbols. There are probably a lot of underlying reasons why you feel paralyzed right now. But look at it this way. You can control things by keeping everything forever, or by making the choices involved in throwing stuff out yourself.”
Judy was only half listening. She was brewing up resentment about when Mom threw away her favorite doll because she’d cut her hair. Frank interrupted her brooding. “I know, here’s a way of dealing with it I think you’ll like. Anything valuable that you’ve written down, copy it onto a notepad, and then you’ll have one list of important things and you can toss all the little scraps of paper.”
Judy loved that idea. She got up and scrounged around, but couldn’t find a big pad of paper. But she found a block of stickies, and started transferring her accumulated notes to them. A pocketful of posies. She went singing into the kitchen for a drink and came back to tackle an even bigger pile.
* * *
Sam and Dave were sitting in the room in the late afternoon. Too soon for macs and cheese, too soon to go surveil the strip club, too late for a nap. Sam was watching a black and white movie, Dave was trying to concentrate on his report but kept following the dialog.
They were arguing about their cover. Pretending to be Sicilian Mafioso seemed like a bad idea. Those guys were everywhere: how did they know the club wasn’t run by some family from Brooklyn? Sam was liking the Russian Mafia disguise. It lent an international flare he thought did justice to the rumors about the case. He thought his accent was pretty good, and secretly thought he looked like a bodybuilder in his suit – his impression of all Russian gang members.
Dave was set on being as piratelike as possible. He felt it was important to their mission to have the right attitude. They’d been given the Crown’s permission to board and loot anybody in territorial waters. Since they were going a little beyond their brief – into uncharted waters – it was appropriate to be their own masterminds, to make their plans with swashbuckling daring and boldness, to strike without warning and show no mercy. Nobody would have time to do anything; they’d all stand there with their pants down around their ankles, offering their swords and pistols handle first, begging to be spared.
This difference between them was mainly expressed in bickering about clothes. Sam thought trenchcoats and sunglasses and cheap suits and shiny shoes (a lot like his office clothes), Dave wanted biker leathers, helmets, eye patches, gang colors.
“Anyway, I don’t like how you beat that drug dealer up,” Dave was saying. “Violence really isn’t necessary at this stage, is it?”
Sam disagreed. Violence was what it would take to convince people they were mobsters. “These guys, you got to understand,” he said, the voice of experience, drawing mostly from TV dramas. “They beat each other up for fun. Even their wives are violent. You should have seen the catfights my girlfriend used to get into with her mother. They left scars.”
Dave was thinking. “Okay,” he said, pulling up Photoshop on his Blackberry. “We’ll redo the business card.” He looked at Sam, who raised his eyebrows and continued watching the movie. “We’ll need something to hand out around the club. You just wait, we’re going to catch bigger fish than by just sitting there observing.” Sam was absorbed in the movie. Dave opened the file. “How about Kalishnikov Security? How does that sound?” Sam grunted his approval. “Kalishnikov Lafitte Security. Kalishnikov Privateer Solutions. AK Private Security.” He furiously adjusted the layout. “I’ll have to reduce the font. It won’t be as impressive. I know, we’ll kill the tag line.” He opened a browser window. “We could balance it out with some clipart. How would you like a lawbook? How about a spyglass? Or a machine gun? Oh, here’s a pirate flag.”
* * *
Bill showed up at the club for an evening out, just back from a weekend with the mistress in a colleague’s vacation cabin. He’d told Cindy some tale about going fishing with the boys, but his fish never left the bedroom. And he’d forgotten his story when he got back, prompting a real snit fit from his loving wife. So here he was, where the women were always in a better mood.
Laurie was only a shade less bitchy than Cindy, but he overlooked it because she was almost naked. He insisted, and she did a lap dance for him. He tried to gaze into her eyes a she performed air-grinds, but she had her eyes closed, or stared out into space. Overwhelmed by her feelings. He knew that she looked on him as a protector rather than just another customer: an older brother. They were developing something special – mutual support – so he listened and sympathized with all her troubles, and she reluctantly let him help her solve a few of them. Always within the bounds of propriety. He could take her home and introduce her to Cindy, it was that straight between them. Of course, he’d like to be more than just a horny big brother, but he would take what he could get. Just seeing her smile was worth everything. He felt like he was 17 again. He sighed, happy and sad at the same time. Roxy.
* * *
No sooner had the bouncer freed up Bill’s table (Laurie signaled that he’d run out of money), then Rick walked in and sat in the same seat. It was still warm, and Bill had been farting in it, but Rick never noticed. Roxy seemed surprised to see him sitting there, but was persuaded to sit on his lap, gracing his cheek with her cool lips. She really liked him.
They talked for some time. The room dimmed and the noise muted, and he found himself explaining the intricacies of his stock options to her – and she understood. Then he explained the mysteries of his blockbuster software program, and she understood that. Ever hopeful, he explained his tax situation as a slumlord, and she asked intelligent questions and made cogent suggestions. He was awed. And so attracted to her. A woman who could look him square in the eye, who could match him strength for strength. Who could be the soft receptive female to his hard probing male. She shifted her weight, felt his hardon poking her leg, and got up with a distant smile.
“Wait,” he called. She turned and glided slowly back to him, taking his hand as he held it out to her. Like Cinderella at the ball. He was entranced: she responded to his every touch like, like that toy sailboat he had when he was a boy. The one Mom took away and threw in the garbage. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “I want to see you,” he breathed, drawing her close. She pulled back, like a dance. He followed. “I want to see you alone.” She tilted her head enquiringly. “I have to see you,” he emphasized. “Not here.” His hand gripped hers. She drew herself up, offended. He felt like a cad. “Not to cheapen it,” he offered, “but I would be glad to gift you with,” the moon, he wanted to say, “certain tokens,” passed-on freebies from clients, “expenses, your time…” he flailed. She was too well bred not to see his gallantry as insult, in a place like this. How could one make a sincere gesture in this den of filth?
Gordon watched as they arranged to meet for extras and parted with soulful looks. Laurie made faces at him as she hugged his smitten brother goodbye.
* * *
“Aw, fuck, man, I’m hurting.” This was Allen complaining to Gordon. “Those bastards robbed me. This is the second time this week, man. I’m falling behind with my guy, you know?”
“Do you know it’s the same person?” Gordon asked. “Or persons unknown?” That was clever. Gordon admired his way with words. He should have been a standup comedian. Or at least a karaoke star. Maybe he could talk the DJ into doing some karaoke now and then. Say, amateur night.
“I’ve got my suspicions about the burglary. But I was in jail at the time and everybody knew it. But this time, I tell you, I thought they was going to kill me. See this?” He whipped off his cap and peeled his hair apart to show Gordon the knotted mess. “These two mob guys bust in and pistol whipped me.”
“How do you know they’re the mob?”
“Duh.” He wagged his head. “Because they said so? Plus they left their card.” He felt around in his pockets but came up empty of anything useful. “Hmm. A rubber. What’s that doing there?” He gingerly deposited a dayglo lozenge in the ashtray.
“You don’t have their card. That’s okay.” Gordon was losing interest.
“Well, and they told me I was going to be paying them regular protection money when they took my stash. That’s mob.”
Gordon agreed. He looked over at the cops at their usual table. He felt proprietary toward them, like they were his proteges.
They were coming right along. No more vodka tonic followed by soda on ice. No more Zappo cough syrup energy swill. It was shots at their table. Gordon was proud. The girls were warming to them as well. The bouncers no longer circled warily. They were starting to fit in. Gordon thought of how best to use them.
Allen was telling him about his meeting with the guy who wanted someone run over. “I said no way man, I’ve got to have half up front.”
Gordon brought his attention back to his drink, which was empty. He was out of smokes, he wanted to slip off to the john without Allen in tow.
“So I told him I wasn’t going to do it otherwise, and he calls up this chick who comes down and gives me my deposit.” Gordon was surprised. “See, I’m not as stupid as I look. At first she wrote me a check…”
Gordon put his drink down. “She didn’t. Boy, that’s trouble.”
Allen laughed. “Hah. Got you there. No way I’d take no check. We went to the ATM and she gave me cash money right there.”
“That’s better. All twelve and a half thousand? Let’s see it, boy.”
“I got four hundred,” he mumbled.
“What? You were supposed to get half of 25 grand. Did you call off the deal?”
“No. The machine would only give her four hundred. She’s meeting me later with some more.”
“I don’t know. That’s kind of amateurish, if you ask me.” Gordon handed Allen ten bucks and told him to go get him some cigarettes. Then he ducked into the bathroom and pretended to be someone else when Allen came by to cop. He never saw his change.
The cops were the center of attention for awhile after that. They threw money around, told the girls they were in town to make porn movie screen tests; told them they were opening a porn-star strip club, the hottest thing; asked if they wanted to audition.
“Bitches and Hos,” Dave suggested.
“Porn Star Cafe,” Sam countered.
“Hey, Gordo,” Dave called as Gordon returned from a trip to the bathroom. “What would you call a strip club? If you had a strip club.” Dave didn’t hold his liquor very well.
Gordon considered it. Laurie’s Lair. Loving Larceny. “Oh, I don’t know. “Reluctant Virgins, maybe. 800 Fantasy Lane. Skins.” They murmured approvingly about Skins. Gordon continued riffing. “Cheaters, spelled like the cat, of course. Double meaning. Or Mouse Trap, like pussy.” He mused to himself. “Black Holes of Calcutta. Delta of Venus. Love Juice. Clap Trap. Wet Spot. Smega Thigh Sorority. Stiletto of Love.” Dave appreciated the imagery. Sam turned pale and excused himself.
Gordon offered him a few select pills when he came back, to help settle his stomach. He seemed grateful for them, and downed him with another shot. Dave was starting to stumble over his words. Gordon decided to ask probing questions before it was too late.
Not salesman? No. Mysterious business associates back east somewhere had their eye on this area. They were scouts. Agents. There was money to be made. Money, power, control, wildest excessive greed.
Gordon asked more questions. Associates? Foreign potentates. Cartels. Important multinational industrial captains of industry. And armaments. Diplomats. Gordon could apparently take his pick.
Ultimate plans? (He might as well ask.) Rape and Pillage. Looting and burning. Hang them from the yardarm. Davy Jones’ Locker. Swimming with the fishes.
Gordon thought about them for a long while once the club quieted down toward closing. They’d said a lot. If he’d gotten their confidence and they were telling him the truth, and not just trying to impress him, then he was looking at the ground floor of an opportunity that could result in him founding an empire of his own. If they weren’t who they said they were, then he was going to use them just the same.
He was willing to be patient and figure these guys out. They’d said a lot in a few minutes. The last time they were here they looked like salesmen. This time they were more like Teamsters at a bowling alley.
* * *
Sam and Dave’s mark Gordo had kindly arranged for a taxi. They laughed all the way home. We said agents. Hee hee hee.
* * *