Friday, April 30, 2010

The Streak - 78

I step out of the plane and it's like setting foot on some inhospitable planet that's too close to its sun. But this is not Las Vegas.

I walk across the glinting tarmac to the terminal. In the distance a black pyramid shimmers in the haze. An obelisk, a sphinx. Beyond them the desert floor warps into foothills and a mountain of dry, brown dirt. But this is not Las Vegas.

When the automatic door parts a blast of frigid air envelops me. I feel the sting of chlorine in my eyes. Dead center before me sit rows and rows of nickel slots, a greeting party of leering, three-eyed monsters. A fat lady sits at one but faces the other way, out the window, as her husband feeds money to the neighboring machine.

This is Las Vegas.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Streak - 77

I get up on my feet, a little stiffly. Pick up my duffel bag and wander up the hall. I fall into a men's room. I fill my hand with soap and let the water run hot. And then I wash the spit of my double off my face.

I take a good look in the mirror. There's blood streaming out of my nose and down my chin, quickened and diluted by the water. I'm gonna have a shiner that's for sure.

I grab a few of the rolled-up fancy little towels. I hold one to my face. Put the others in my pocket.

I get back to the lobby and there's a man fitting Joe's description. He's sitting in an armchair by the lobby window, reading the business section of the Post-Dispatch.

I stand before him. He puts down his paper and gets up.

"Meester Benjameenson?"

I sigh. "Yes."

"Are you all right, sir?"

"Thanks. I'll be all right. Thanks."

"Very well, sir. My name is Jesus."

"Nice to meet you, Jesus." We shake hands.

"Come with me, I take you to the airport. Yes?"

"Yes."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Streak - 76

I get in the elevator and there's a man inside. I sense an undue reaction to my appearance, his body stiffening from shock. He can't be starstruck. When people are they can't stand still, their nervousness expressed in superfluous motions. Arms crossing and uncrossing. Restless steps. This is different. The man stands prone and hides under his cap.

I examine what I can see of his face. His chin has an unnerving familiarity. He's trying to look away but I keep staring until he gives me a furtive, frightened glance.

I know who he is.

"Hey!" I shout.

He turns to me and frowns, trying to seem offended. "What?"

I can't think of what. "Who are you?" I say finally.

He gives no answer but looks up at the lighted numbers, jaw clenched, waiting for the ride to end.

"Are you fucking pretending to be me?"

After a moment we arrive and the doors open. He strides out quickly and cuts through the lobby to the right. I follow him into a hallway.

"Hey! Come here!"

He quickens his pace – he's running by the time he turns the corner. I run too, and catch him at the cul-de-sac as he's about to open the door to the stairwell.

"Stay there!" I command.

Then something very strange happens. Something I did not expect. He lunges at me and takes a powerful swing at my face, landing a punch that knocks me on my ass. His fake World Series ring gouges my lip. I think my nose is broken.

He's standing over me now. "You wanna know who the fuck I am?" he rages. "I'm fucking Evan Benjaminson, you cocksucker!"

In my outrage and injury I strain to stand up and answer his assertion. He kicks me in the chest with the heel of his shoe.

"Did you hear me? I'm Evan Benjaminson!"

"What the fuck? Fuck you! I'm Evan Benjaminson!" I shout. But my words sound hollow even to me. The dubious protest of a desperate, defeated man.

"You're not fucking Evan Benjaminson," he continues in a tone of righteous venom. "You can't fucking hit. You can't fucking field. You can't fucking win."

"But..."

"You're not a husband to your wife. You're not a father to your son."

"Fuck you!"

"Fuck that, fuck you. I'm you now, motherfucker." With that he spits on my face, steps over me and walks serenely back from where we came.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Streak - 75

I shake her by the ankle.

"Mmmh?" she says.

"Hey. I gotta go. I gotta get out of here. That means you too."

In a fluid motion she escapes the tangled sheet and suddenly she's up and drifting toward the bathroom. At the threshold she lurches into the jamb. Catches herself and straightens out. Turns on the light.

"I'm still drunk. Jesus," she says.

I pack my bag. Look around the room for everything. A mosquito lands on my arm and I kill it quick.

Thelxie emerges and paces around the room with her head down. Every now and then she finds an item of clothing and places it on her body.

"Where do you need to go in such a hurry?"

"Las Vegas."

"What about the All-Star Game?"

"Got canceled for me. Undisclosed personal reasons, they said."

She tilts her head and gives me a worried look. "You can't disclose them to me?"

"They've not yet been disclosed to me."

"Does it have to do with what I told you?"

"Maybe. Probably."

"Can I come with you?"

I had not expected this. Her question at once bold and pleading. It occurs to me that I do in fact want her to come with me.

"No," I say.

She shrugs. "Will you call me?" She says "call me" like there's quotation marks around it. But she smiles as she's buckling her belt.

"Yeah," I say. Almost defiantly. "Yeah. I will call you."

She rolls her eyes. Comes over and holds my face. Gives me a kiss. Puts her bag on her shoulder and opens up the door.

One of those guys is standing there. Matt, Joe. I think it's Joe. She gasps with fright.

"Ms. Anathematis?" he says.

"Yes?"

"You rememember me from the bar last night. Name's Matt. Matt Gillis. From the New York Yankees organization." He extends his hand and she shakes it, mouth agape.

"My partner and I would like to debrief you on some of the items you brought to Evan's attention last night. Only take a minute. We reserved a highly isolated hotel meeting room for the occasion. Floor seven."

Thelxie looks over at me with an expression of bewildered entreaty. I grimace and strike an I dunno pose. Shoulders shrugged. Hands turned up.

"After you," Matt tells Thelxie, showing her down the hall with a sweep of his arm. She hesitates. She gives me one last look. I nod. She goes.

"Good luck in Vegas, Ev!" Matt tells me, giving me a thumbs up. Then he lets the door close by itself.


Friday, April 16, 2010

The Streak - 74

I peer around the hotel room. Nothing you wouldn't expect. The curtains and the flat screen. A tasteful abstract painting. I assume it's tasteful. I don't know. Everything in beige or stone or sand. Indicating a certain type uh fanciness.

I look back at Thelxie, sleeping on her belly. Her long, dark Medusa hair splayed over her face and her pillow.

I look at the clock. It says 10:14. I know I'm expected somewhere, sometime, to do some damn thing or other. Can't remember what. Maybe someone will tell me.

There's a half-crumpled napkin on the nightstand, atop my watch and wallet. I don't know why, but I think I should look at it. Now I remember why. I open it to find a message scrawled in blue felt tip. It says:

Evan: You may fuck her. That's OK. But DO NOT leave her alone. We'll call you in the AM with further instruc

And that's where it ends. Suddenly the phone rings. I pick it up.

"Evan! It's Joe. Joe Maines."

"Hey Joe."

"She there?"

"Uh-huh."

"You fuck her?

"I think so. Yes. Yes, I did."

"Good, good, good. She suck your cock?"

"God, I dunno. Maybe. Yeah."

"Nothing untoward about that episode? In particular?"

"Such as?"

"I'm basing my query on the intel from last night."

"About blowjobs."

"She seemed to indicate that these were a matter of importance to her handlers."

"I'm in one piece," I tell him. Annoyed.

"Good, good, good, good, good. Listen: Evan."

"Yes?"

"We gotta get you outta town."

"Now?"

"Now at the latest. The shadowy duo. Whomever they may be. They're almost certainly lurking in this fine city."

"I suppose that's true," I mumble.

"And there's another wrench in the works."

"What?"

"Your double's here. We got a report he was raising cain at the Penthouse Club."

"Pretending to be me?"

"More than pretending. We're going to take steps to defuse the situation. But we don't think this town's big enough for two of you."

"But I'm me."

"Arguably. But... trust us, Ev. This is a matter of some delicacy. We've arranged a private jet to Vegas. Go keep Boyce out of trouble. You know his predilection for pseudoprostitutes."

"If there's one thing I know."

"Good. Now show Thelxiepeia the door and pack your toothbrush. There's a man downstairs right now in an ill-fitting suit and a Pinochet mustache. He'll drive you to the airport."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Streak - 73

Who was he? He was aware of a vaporous yet manifest entity called him that occupied a pocket of the universe. I am aware, he thought. I am a where.

Does this thing even have a name? Evan.

I am aware therefore I am a where.


Where fuck am I?

Some bed. A bed that's not my own. Toronto? No. Baltimore? No. Tampa? No. Arlington, Anaheim, Seattle? No. Keep guessing. Not Boston, Kansas City, nor Detroit. Maybe Chicago?

Not Chicago. No, this is an unfamiliar place. A pure National League city. A city where pitchers come up to bat, stand like they're raking the lawn and swing meekly at their counterparts' heat. Is this the World Series?

No. It's the All-Star Game. I'm in St. Louis. Now it's all falling into place. Last night, Thelxie at the bar. Matt and Joe. Did I fuck her? Is this thing beside me her?

It's her.



Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Streak - 72

Evan sat beside Thelxie at a low, round table that was as deep in the shadows as possible. Joe and Matt were seated at the bar with wires, plainly visible, extending from earpieces in their ears. They stared fixedly at the mirror, twin tall glasses of Sprite before them. Evan shifted and felt his shirt brush against the copper wire taped to his back.

"Who are those two guys?" Thelxie asked.

Evan sighed. "Who knows? Lotsa security all over town I guess."

"That's kinda what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Yeah?"

"Promise you won't get mad?"

Evan, abstracted, was gazing at the soup of ice and whiskey at the bottom of his glass.

"What?"

"I don't want you to get mad when I tell you this."

"You can tell me."

"Some guys paid me to blow you." She paused and made a hangdog face.

"Some guys?!"

"Don't get mad," she implored. "I'm telling you because I like you, Evan. I really do."

"Why did they want you to blow me?"

"I was supposed to text them right before the act."

"Then what was supposed to happen?"

"They were gonna land their helicopter on the roof."

"Land their what?!"

"They were circulating in the night sky. Waiting."

"What happens after they land?"

"I propped the roof door open for them. They were gonna come down and surprise us. It was important that at the very moment they burst in, your cock be in my mouth. This was specified in my instructions."

Evan felt dizzy. He tried to pay attention.

"Oh, and also they gave me something to put in your drink." She ducked into a sheepish crouch, eyes peering pleadingly at Evan, and sucked her Stoli Vanilla and Diet Coke through the swizzle stick.

"Poison?"

"Something to put you to sleep."

"Then what were they gonna do?"

"Subdue you? Let you thrash till you collapsed. Catch your cock on video? Then wrap you in a blanket, maybe. Take you away, I guess. I'm only guessing."

"In the helicopter?"

Thelxie nodded.

"What for?"

"They told me they were working on a celebrity kidnapping reality TV show."

"Really."

"But I dunno now."

"Did they pay you?"

"Ten thousand dollars," she replied guiltily. Suddenly her eyes widened with a thought. "I'll split it with you if you want!"

"No, no..." Evan was shaking his head. Thinking.

"Anyway, now that I think about it I'm not too sure. I saw that man on TV. Who wants to take away our most beloved stars?"

"Yeah, yeah. Moo."

"Maybe these guys, they're working for that guy."

"How did they look? Terroristic?"

"I never saw them."

"What did they sound like?"

"I only ever texted with them."

"How did they pay you?"

"Your phone does that now."

"How did they give you the pill?"

"It appeared one evening in an envelope under my door."

The waitress came around and Evan ordered another scotch.

"You want another whatever?" he asked Thelxie.

"I'm alright."

Evan sat back on the banquette and clasped his hands atop his head. He closed his eyes. He wondered whether Thelxie would still be there when he opened them. She was.

"Do you have their names? Numbers?"

"There were two. Or maybe one who kept switching names."

"What were their names? What were his names?"

"Don and Walt."

"Numbers?"

"The numbers kept on changing. I have them in my phone."

"Is there anything else you can say about them?"

Thelxie thought about it for a minute.

"Yeah, they texted kind of funny."

"Funny how?"

"Like, they texted with an accent."

"What kind of accent?"

"Foreign."

They sat in silence again. Evan felt a pressure in his head. A thousand thoughts and apprehensions, ballooning for want of sharp examination. So it seemed.

He managed to catch Joe's eye over at the bar. Joe gave Evan a furtive yet affirming nod. Then he gripped his glass and tilted it back and forth on the coaster, letting the ice slosh around the soda. Was that some type of sign?

Evan had a sudden inclination to act.

"C'mon, get up. I'm going to introduce you to someone," he said.

Thelxie was startled. "Who?"

"You'll see. C'mon."

He led her across the room and to the bar. Standing beside Joe, he indicated Thelxie with his hand.

"Hey guys. I think it's about time you met this young lady," he began.

Joe and Matt stared straight ahead. Impassive.

"Come on, guys. I played my part. You wanna talk to her, don't you?"

No response from the two men. Matt took a sip of Sprite and swallowed hard.

"I'm standing here, guys. I'm talking to you. I'm addressing you."

Joe shifted almost imperceptibly on his stool. Thelxie burst into mirthless laughter.

"Forget it, guys. Drop it. Look, Thelxie–" Evan turned his back to her and lifted his shirt, revealing the wire extending up out of his pants. "See that? These guys were listening to us through those things in their ears."

Evan stood there, shirt untucked, as Thelxie scrutinized the men with some awe. Still they did not react. Very discreetly, under a cupped hand, Joe seemed to be writing something on a cocktail napkin.

Evan tapped Joe on the shoulder. "Matt! It's me. It's your pal. Evan."

Joe did not turn his head but his lips plainly mouthed a word. Evan could see it. The word was "Joe."

"Joe! Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe, Joe. It's Evan. Evan Benjaminson. Of the New York Yankees."

Something trembled in the men's demeanor. As though it were about to break.

"Joe, Matt," Evan continued. "Evan. Thelxie. Here we are."

Suddenly Matt turned to them with a radiant smile.

"Evan Benjaminson! Why! Joe, will ya have a look at that? It's Evan Benjaminson. Who plays third base."

Joe turned and gave a look of delighted surprise.

"Evan! We've heard so much about your exploits on the field!"

"The field of play!" added Matt.

The two men scrambled off their stools.

"Too bad we have to go, though. Don't we, Matt?"

"We sure do, Joe. Gotta go."

"Evan!" said Joe. "Great to see you! Great to meet you!"

Joe shook Evan's hand and pressed the balled-up napkin into his palm.

"And you! Whoever you are!" Joe said to Thelxie.

"Have fun tonight!" Matt exclaimed as he backed away.

Evan and Thelxie watched as Joe and Matt scurried out of the bar and across the lobby to the elevators.

"Well I'll be goddamned," said Evan. "Want another drink?"

"Sure."