Sunday, March 7, 2010

Last Call, Last Stand - Part 8

At first I had trouble figuring out what was wrong with Phebe. When you don't sleep much, you sometimes don't recognise exhaustion in other people very easily. So when she ushered me through her door, I had the damndest time understanding her as she mumbled something and then shut the door behind me, fumbling to lock the deadbolt. Her eyes were half lidded; in some ways a blessing, as I didn't get distracted by them.

"Are you okay?" I said stupidly, just as I realized how long she had been awake.

She took a deep breath, rubbing at her eyes with her free hand while still fumbling with the lock. "Yeah, just tired. It has been a" She sighed, and I moved around her and handled the lock myself. For a few seconds I just stood there awkwardly behind her, trying to figure out what to say. I already regretted not grabbing a couple more addies.

"They changed your locks too, huh?" I said, also stupidly. I was kicking myself; the white was making my mouth run about ten miles ahead of my fogged brain.

"Yeah, right after they did yours. They got the power back on too." It had never been out in my apartment, though I hadn't thought of it at the time. I reached over her to twist the deadbolt into place, and she pulled herself away from me conciously; my mind conjured an image of an Indian woman recoiling from a poisonous snake under a pile of firewood, an image that stuck in my brain from my Jim Morrison esque experience on an Indian reservation trying to score some peyote a few years back. The fundamental look of disgust and controlled fear was the same. The thought bummed me out a little.

"Sorry," she said, flashing me her teeth. "Just a little inside my boundaries right now."

"Yeah, yeah, sure," I replied, smiling as well, though I didn't feel it. I took a deliberate step back from her. "Sorry." The lemon-yellow foreshocks of my comedown were looming; I started to think that maybe coming over was a bad idea.

The lights were on, but not the tv. There were still boxes and shit everywhere; grey rubbermaid tubs stacked up, each with a sheet of paper taped to it neatly. It made me alarmingly conscious of my own nearly empty fridge and cupboard. With a jolt, I realized that if the stores stopped functioning, the possibility of starvation became shockingly real. Starvation. Here, in Midwest USA-not some third world hellhole, but in a place with toilet paper and pay per view porn. That thought in itself was it's own jolt, a frigid icepick of fear shanking me like a Mara Sulvachtra in prison. I might seriously starve to death.

The human mind builds bulwarks against the obvious, sort of like poles propping up the big patchwork circus tent of lies we use to shelter ourselves from unpleasant realities. I had spent most of the past day and a half wrapped up in my own weird personal drama. Up until that moment the little social problem problem-the disaster!-was a distant and occasionally interesting thing that was happening on TV. But the poles holding me away from the truth-a drug pole and a self absorbed prick pole primarily-just snapped at that moment, when I looked at her big tubs of food, and and I realized that I faced the real possibility of starving. My buzz was gone then, and my stomach was rumbling. I fumbled for a cigarette while my big tent started falling around me, just another stupid gawker looking for the emergency exit in the dark.

"...a little safer now," Phebe was saying, sunken deep into the overstuffed pillows of her loveseat. I chose the chair I had slept in previously, trying to pretend like I knew what the conversation was about.

"So, uh," I said-Jon Mackey stumbling over his words, a rarity in any season-"how long do you think this will last?"

She cocked her head quizzically to the side, ponytail swishing across the back of the couch. "Just for like 8 hours or so, maybe ten. I just need to get some sleep, but I don't want to sleep without someone keeping an eye out...I mean, its okay if you can't do it."

"Oh, no, babe," I said, perhaps too quickly as she widened her eyes in surprise. That threw me for a moment; goddamned if a valium didn't sound good about then, and not just because of her shocked stare. "I don't mind helping you out. I meant, this, this whole situation..." I just sort of waved my arms as if to indicate the broader disaster, though I didn't really know if she was grokking me or not.

She looked puzzled for a moment; it made her eyes shine like sapphires. Delicious 25mg sapphires, ground up neatly between two spoons. Fuck it was going to be a long night. "Oh," she said after a moment. "Sorry, I'm just...losing it, Jon; I'm so tired." She paused, gave my question some thought while I studied the carpet. "I really don't know; the forecast for this week is rain, and I guess that's why people are freaking out-the riots, y'know, food and stuff."

I puffed my cigarette for a moment on that one, biting my lower lip. "Fuck," I breathed softly. "So it could get worse."

She sighed, resolutely, and touched the glock still under her stained left armpit. "It always does. So is it cool if I go to bed? Do you need anything?"

I chewed my lower lip, weighed my options. "Let me go back to my place and get a few things," I replied, dragging myself to my feet. My cellphone went off again; fucking Cesare. Didn't he know there was a fucking apocalypse on? Then again, I realized with a start, I hadn't known until a few minutes ago.

"Sure, just hurry," Phebe said. Her voice was a rich contralto. I avoided looking at her, though I told her to chill when she got up to help me with the door. I adjusted my gun in the back of my pants while I was walking out; I wasn't sure if she knew that I had it or not.

The rain did me good; walking through it sharpened my senses a bit. It was then I could hear the sirens, close by and loud. Every smart professional criminal knows the difference between the local sirens, from fire to ambulance to city police cruiser to sheriff's deputy. These were city cops, the worst of a bad lot from a scumbag's perspective-numerous, well funded and not very corrupt. I slowed down my walk deliberately, a reflex habit-I took up my unconcerned stroll by rote, even putting my hands in my pocket while I moseyed down the sidewalk in the pouring rain. Thunder shook the firmament behind me, an unhappy Zeus with a raging hardon breathing down my fucking neck the whole way there. Between thunderbolts I also heard at least one gunshot. That made me pick up my feet again and hurry.

I had left the lights on in my apartment before; I turned them off now. I grabbed a couple of spare clips for my pistol as well, and dumped them in my pockets. Then I dug into my stash, in that small wooden hope chest in my closet-four or five addies to keep me sharp, a xanny and a joint or two for the crash, a couple grams of yay for quick energy. I may have had no food in my fridge, but my stash was ready for a long siege at least. Sometimes I think my priorities might be off.

Goodies aquired, I made my way back to Phebe's place. She was already asleep on the couch when I came in quietly, snoring softly. I looked at her for a long time like that, standing awkwardly in her doorway while the storm thundered hot on my heels, dripping water on her welcome mat. In my strange, tent collapsing haze, she looked like a weird alien being to me, contentedly sleeping with her mouth slightly open and a fat black glock under her arm, in a small circle of yellow lamplight. She was beautiful, and strange, and so utterly different from every other woman I had tasted that her whitebread wholesomeness had an almost erotic quality to it.

I shook off the rain and shut the door behind me, taking care to bolt it and set the chain as well. I took my seat by the window again, popping an addie into my mouth and dry swallowing it while I stared out into the storm. My reflection in the dark glass stared back at me in profile. Somewhere in the distance, past the thin ring of scrub elm trees that surrounded our apartment complex, were those cherries n' berries every lowlife dreads; police cruisers, and moving fast. I gulped, my throat suddenly bone dry, and put off my next cigarette while I got up and walked past her into her neatly organized kitchen to get some water.

Ice clinked in my glass as I walked by the loveseat again, listening to Phebe snore, deceptively peaceful. I debated moving her to her bedroom, but decided I had no idea how to really go about being chivalrous and elected to wait, flopping back into her chair and continuing to stare out towards the now actively menacing storm. The rain came down in great snarling gobbets while thunder mixed with more frequent gunshots in the distance. Fear rose up like the taste of sour vomit at the back of my neck while the throbbing body buzz from the adderol began to exorcise the exhaustion demons from my body. My hands were shaking while I lit my next cigarette.

There was a family across the street rapidly moving boxes of stuff into their cars, even at midnight in the pouring rain. The mom, a slender black girl, was moving two sleepy kids into their carseats while the dad, an overweight white guy with a thick brown beard, shoveled things in the trunk. From where I was, it looked like a random assortment of junk-blankets, boxes of pasta, grocery bags, what looked like a heavy dufflebag. After a few minutes they stopped to argue with each other, their voices appearing intermittently like ghosts in the storm. Then suddenly I noticed two other people coming out of the apartment next door, a young professional couple that bought a dime bag of herb off me on occasion, beginning to load up their car as well.

Not knowing was intolerable; I flicked on the tv after some fumbling and turned the volume all the way to zero. The news was worse; I watched two pants-suited pundits silently go back and forth deciding who to blame while they replayed the Broadripple street riot footage, while watching the ticker carefully. A curfew was in effect for the whole county. Apparently, looters would be shot on sight. With my newfound awareness of the shitstorm I had suddenly found myself in, I found the hot sour fear taste was growing worse, my stomach actually gurgling while I worshipped at the flickering altar of our dying culture.

I decided to watch Phebe instead; she may have been an alien to me, but at least she didn't make my bowels quiver. Heavily aware of the .45 in the back of my pants, I leaned back in the chair and smoked a joint, hoping to grind the edge off my unease. I spent about two hours in an uncomfortable reverie. I was almost out of cigarettes again.

A shot rang out in the parking lot, alarmingly close. "Fuck!" I snapped before realizing it. I turned around in the chair and poked my head up to the window again. The rain made it hard to see, but I could definitely make out car headlights, a veritable train of them, all jammed up at the single exit to our parking lot. There was suddenly a lot of honking, all of it frantic, and a car alarm started wailing as well. Another shot rang out; I saw the muzzle flash in the treeline. It was then I noticed the mob.

Later I would discover the mob was essentially a mixed race pack of yahoos, only twenty or so. But as more shots started up and the shouts got closer, I swear I could see a hundred of them, a thousand; they multiplied like rabbits in my drug addled brain, and in the rain and the lightning they were all bleached a pale grey. "Phebe," I said once, to no response. "Phebe!" I hissed, louder and more forcefully.

She came awake at once, quietly. "What is it?" she said, but then she heard-the honking, the car alarms the gunshots. "Oh, Jesus," she breathed softly, and took a place beside me at the window, leaning over to stare into the darkness. Even in the chaos, I was uncomfortably aware of her body heat radiating into me again, warm sunshine on the ragged edges of my bleak grey conciousness.

"Yeah," I said. "Now would be a great time for him to show up." My gun was in my hand; I don't remember pulling it out. Hers was out as well, though she handled it much more professionally than I did.

Outside I heard the first scream. They were dragging a man from his car while he kicked his chubby legs in terror. Even through all the other noise, the distinctive crunch of his skull when someone put a shotgun butt between his eyes rang in my ears. My stomach lurched again, and I felt like I had three months worth of diarrhea backed up in my colon. I tried to keep the quaver out of my voice when I spoke, "We should get away from the window."

Phebe swallowed hard, with an impressive poker face. "Watch the door. I'll call 911."

I was glad to oblige, though at this point I was clenching my guts so hard my knees shook. I shuffled over in front of the door and racked my gun, the loud snick-snack drawing her eyes for a moment while she fumbled with her cell phone. I could hear the busy signal from where I was standing. "Oh no, no damnit," she hissed, and dialed again.

My life took on a strange stacatto rythym as I stood there watching the door, stoned out of my gourd and waging a never ending skirmish with my suddenly watery bowels. The harmony was the never ending wail of the car alarm. The melody was Phebe dialing, getting a loud busy signal, and cursing. And the solo was the screaming, puncutated with more gunshots, as the mob filtered through the pile of deadlocked cars.

At 3:04 AM the first shot shattered the window, and both storms entered our fortress at the same time.


  1. Awesome story. Can't wait for the next chapter. The tone and voice are spectacular as usual!

  2. I really cannot wait to read the next installment! Hanging on the edge of my seat wondering what is going to happen next. Really great writing, picturesque. Keep it coming.

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