Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Streak - 96

We descend an escalator on the other side. For a moment I wonder whether we got turned around up there, in that passageway, and are going back out from where we came.

“Where are we?” I ask Matt and Joe.

“You’re OK now,” one of them replies, oddly.

“Was I in danger?”

“This is the other casino,” the other says. Matt, I think.

“It looks just like the first.”

“It’s a perfect mirror image,” says Joe.

We walk across the turquoise carpet, past a bank of slots, under a shimmering Jaguar convertible perched on an oval platform that seems to hang midair. All around us it’s the usual parade of raw humanity. Sometimes I try to look into their eyes.

There’s a bar over in the distance that looks just like the bar I came from. Except no Kyle. Joe turns to me as he walks.

“Buy you a drink?”

“Can I say no?”

We settle at the bar, me in the middle, and order. Matt and Joe drink dirty martinis. I get the same old same old. The All-Star Game’s in extra innings now. Seven-seven still. Occasionally a news crawl intrudes upon the action, like a flash flood warning on the Movie of the Week:

UPDATE: EVAN BENJAMINSON STILL MISSING; BELIEVED ABDUCTED

“What if I’m recognized?” I ask.

“You’re not quite yourself. I wouldn’t worry,” Joe replies.

“I still have questions,” I say.

“We thought you’d never ask,” says Joe.

“Tell me about Moo.”

“There’s been some speculation that they’re a front,” Matt says.

“A front for what?”

“A terrorist organization.”

“Are they?”

“Are they what?” asks Joe.

“Are they a front?”

Joe winces. “The simplest answer is usually the correct one.”

“Meaning?”

“That the evidence we have before us points us in the right direction.”

“So they’re what they say they are?”

Joe nods gravely.

“Where are they?”

“Out there somewhere,” Joe replies. “In the rocky, barren regions of distant lands.”

“Hard to pinpoint,” adds Matt.

“But that just sounds like a story. That sounds like a fairy tale.”

For once neither one of them says anything. We sit awhile in silence, drinking. Watching the longest All-Star Game in the history of baseball.

After a few minutes it occurs to me I’m about to say something, but I don’t know what it is. My God, I’m going to speak. I can feel my heart thumping. When am I going to open my mouth? Now? Now? Now?

“So wait.”

“Uh-huh?” says Joe.

“You’re telling me that this Moo, these terrorists, they’re killing celebrities from each, uh, area of, uh, endeavor.” I’m sweating. I feel like a man running down a hill.

“That’s correct.”

“And they need one from sports—”

“Maybe many from sports,” Matt interjects. “It’s unclear whether they’re doing one sport, or one from each of the four major sports, or something deeper. More ambitious.”

“People from the other sports,” Joe adds. “The lesser sports. Also known as ‘world sports,’ or ‘miscellaneous.’”

“Soccer. NASCAR. Tennis,” says Matt.

“Cycling. Track. Horse racing,” says Joe.

Matt turns to his colleague. “They wouldn’t shoot horses, would they?”

“I wouldn’t put it past them,” Joe replies solemnly, shaking his head.

A noisy group of well-dressed, youngish men invade the little area beside the bar with the shiny table framed with couches.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” Joe says warily. “What do you figure the story is, here?”

I gaze at them for a few seconds. They look like rich men from the second world, wearing ostentatious watches and rings, fine Italian loafers, suit jackets over loosely buttoned shirts.

“Cricket players from Pakistan?”

“Mobile minute resellers?” says Matt.

“Maybe they’re terrorists.”

We all stare a little while, trying not to appear to be staring.

“Do you smell them?” Joe whispers to me.

“I can’t fucking smell shit.”

“They smell like Kyle Boyce.”

“They do?”

The four of them are laughing. Bantering vaguely about God-knows-what. Joe picks a moment to interrupt.

“Excuse me!”

No reaction for a moment. They don’t seem to know we’re there.

“Excuse me! Guys!”

They look toward us, their laughter dissipating gently. Their swollen, sweat-sheened faces indicate that they have been drinking for many hours.

“Yes man!” answers one.

“Are you terrorists?” Joe asks brightly.

Matt swivels on his stool, disgusted. Joe turns to him and makes a kind of What? expression.

The man’s face goes blank a moment, but just a moment. He smiles again.

“Yes. So am I but what are you?”

Joe’s mood shifts. What the fuck is going on?

“You’re what?”

“You said it, my friend. You know what you just said.”

“You’re terrorists.”

“Look at us,” he answers, indicating the length of his body with a sweep of his hand. “This is what we look like to you. This is what you looked like and you said: terrorists.”

At that he and his companions burst into laughter.

Joe turns to Matt and me. “Are they kidding? Tell me they’re kidding.”

“I don’t fucking know,” says Matt. Then he, too, bursts out laughing. Shaking his head.

“This may not be funny, Joe,” says Matt. The guy I thought was Joe is Matt. I have them mixed up. Joe is Matt and Matt is Joe.

“You look familiar,” says another one of the men to me.

“Don’t tell them who you are, E—” Matt warns.

“Don’t tell them who you are, sir,” interrupts Joe.

“So you’re important!”

“No, he’s not important. He’s unimportant,” says Joe.

“What are you, an actor? An actor of action?” asks the first man.

I shake my head.

“Action films? Boom-boom bang-bang?”

“No, I—”

“Don’t tell them, Ev—sir, sir. Mister B. Don’t tell them who you are.”

“Are you music performer? Rock and roll country?”

“No.”

“He may or may not be, fellas,” says Matt.

A third terrorist squints at me and points with a finger unclutched from his vodka rocks. “You are the celebrity chef Bobby Flay.”

“No!”

“Guys, Mr. E—Mr. B—is not the least bit noteworthy.”

“Not the littlest bit, no,” adds Joe.

The terrorist stirs his swizzle stick and squints. Am I busted? I try to change the subject.

“So what do you guys do? You kill famous people?”

“Kill? No. Not much. No,” says the first guy, shaking his head. “Mostly the time we wait for something to happen—”

“For something bad to happen—” another interjects.

“We wait for bad things to happen—”

“And bad things always do—”

“Bad things always do. And we take the credit. For example, did you know that we did not even bomb the plane?”

“What plane?”

“The Bronx plane!”

“No one thought you did.”

The terrorist seems crestfallen. “Didn’t you?”

“No. Fuck no. I don’t know. Maybe someone did. I’m not good at news.” I realize the alcohol has really started to get on top of me. “Someone prolly fucking did. I guess.”

Suddenly I feel like I’m being carried off my feet, as though by a tidal wave. My toes graze the turquoise tesselation as I rush out of the bar area, past roulette wheels and pai-gow poker, through the atrium and down another artery. My armpits hurt. Beside me Joe and Matt are running as fast as they can. Panting. Joe to my left, Matt to my right. No—Matt to my left, Joe to my right. The signs and symbols that adorn this place of shame are bumpy and choppy.

“Where we going?” I manage to say.

“Somewhere safe,” somebody says.

No comments: