Cesspool

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)
(Act III: Covet thy Neighbor)

***

previously…

The door to the holding cell opened, and the officer on the other side told me, “You’re free to go, Max.”

With a yawn, I asked him. “Hey, Jason. What’s going on?”

“You know, the usual.”

“Really? Because the last time I was in, they told me you and the family went to Florida for the week.”

Rolling his eyes, he said, “Not much of a vacation when you got to stay with your in-laws, if you know what I mean.”

“Not personally, but I’ve heard things.”

“Lucky.” He shook his head. “You know the way out. Stay out of trouble.”

We smirked at each other.

When I got to the check-out desk, I said to the uniform sitting behind it. “Hey, Roger.”

“Hey, Max,” he replied. “Says here you were trespassing backstage at the Staplebitch concert.”

I shrugged.

“My daughter loves that band.”

“Your daughter has lousy taste in music.”

“That’s what I keep telling her,” he said, “but you know kids.”

“Not personally, but I’ve heard things.”

He handed me my belongings, I signed for them, and he told me, “See you next time, buddy.”

Upon exiting the building, I was greeted by my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, leaning on a lamppost, playing with her fingernails. Her voluptuous hair was tied up into a stringy ponytail, her pin-up-girl figure was hidden under too-large jeans and a T-shirt, her bright eyes were bloodshot and framed by the ugliest pair of glasses I’d ever seen, her lips were pale, and her smile was absent. I’d recognized her only by the sound of her gum-chewing.

“Gretchen,” I told her, “you look like shit.”

“You look like the shit that shit shits,” she replied.

I took a moment to comprehend what she had just said. Failing that, I closed my eyes and exhaled.

“We done?” she asked.

I nodded.

She strode off, and I turned on my phone to see what the world had been up to in my absence. “You have one new message,” the ethereal voice inside informed me.

“And I bet you a dollar I’m going to hate it,” I mumbled in reply.

“Max,” the first message growled, “this is Myron. You know, your editor? The one who keeps having to bail you out of jail? That Myron? I expect to see you in my office within a half-hour of you getting you out, and I expect you to have an interview for me with the notoriously difficult-to-interview it-band of the moment with the stupid name. If not, I will murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap.”

Seeing as I’d failed to get said interview, I figured I should try to make a run for it.

“If you failed to get said interview, and you try to make a run for it,” the message continued, “I will hunt you down, then murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap.”

Scratch that.

My phone went off while I was a dead man walking to the train, and I went ahead and answered it, given that I was too numb to give a fuck anymore.

“Am I talking to Max Fuentes?” it asked.

“Who wants to know?” I replied.

“I need you to confirm or deny the veracity of a recent news-related rumor.”

“And what rumor would that be?”

“That an exclusive, all-access, behind-the-scenes story about Staplebitch is not running in your paper this weekend.”

I’d never heard the voice before, but the cockiness of my arch-nemesis could not be mistaken. For starters, it rivaled mine. “Allen Dean,” I moaned.

“I also need you to confirm that I scooped you. Again.”

It didn’t even occur to me to ask how he got my number, because I was too busy informing him, “Dean, I am going to fucking kill you.”

He laughed and hung up.

I sighed, “Myron is going to fucking kill me.”

Forty-five minutes later, however, my editor sentenced me to a fate worse than death. I blinked. “You want me to do what?”

“Not you,” said my editor as he pointed a finger at my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, who had somehow gone home, showered, washed and blew out her hair, dressed, and applied most of her makeup, since I last saw her not all that long ago; “both of you.”

“I’m clear on who’s involved, Chief, but it’s what you want us to do that I don’t quite understand.”

“Go to a purity ball,” he repeated. “And you should probably stop calling me Chief. You’re already skating on thin shit.”

Gretchen snorted. “Max isn’t exactly pure, you know.”

“Well,” Myron continued, “it’s not your purity in question, but you’re still attending.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m not going to do that.”

“Since when did this become a democracy?”

“Since 1788,” I replied, “when the Constitution was ratified. Mind you, it excluded blacks, women, and poor people, but we’ve since made improvements.”

During the course of this back and forth, Gretchen produced a vial of mascara from God knows where.

“Max,” Myron said as he absently produced a mirror and held it up for her, “if you don’t shut up and do as you’re told, I’m going to physically kick your ass.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“I’d pay money to see that,” Gretchen muttered.

“You’re young,” he told me, “but I could take you.”

“You’re probably right,” I admitted. “So, I totally forgot with all the banter, what was our assignment?”

to be continued…

Advertisements

Straight & Narrow

Another Exciting Adventure in … THE GRIND
(Act I: All Wounds)
(Act II: The Status Quo)

***

previously…

“One plastic cigarette lighter; one three-by-five-inch spiral-bound notebook, blue cover; one leather wallet, no cash …”

“Hey!” I snapped. “There was cash when I got here!”

“That’s not what the logbook says.”

“Son of a bitch!”

“Continuing on:” said the police officer as he tallied the items piled on the desk in front of him; “one cell phone, turned on; one breath-mint tin full of business cards; one watch, cheap-looking …”

“No editorializing, please.”

” … one eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch flyer, folded; three condom wrappers, empty–want me to throw those away?”

“I think I’ll hold onto those for now,” I replied with a grin. “Mementos.”

You are a smug bastard, Fuentes.”

“It’s true.”

“And finally: two disposable pens.”

“Thanks, Roger,” I said as I swept the items into my pockets.

While I signed the necessary forms, Roger read from his clipboard. “Says here you were brought in for possession.”

“Accessory,” I said. “Came in with the band.” My definition of accessory was scoring some mescaline in exchange for an interview, but that was between me and my work-appointed attorney.

“Anybody I ever heard of?”

“Doubt it,” I replied.

“Try me.”

“The Jane Plains.”

“Never heard of them,” he admitted. “What’s their genre?”

“Hip-hop-slash-tribal-Native-American fusion.”

Roger winced. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“I know,” I told him, “but they actually sounded pretty good.”

“Wonders never cease.”

I shrugged and headed for the door. “Until next time, Roger.”

“See you later, Max.”

In the men’s room of a nearby coffee bar, I checked the date on my phone while brushing my teeth. It was the twenty-fifth, so I still had about a week to find a new apartment That comforted me just a little, until I remembered it was February.

I rinsed, spit, and muttered, “I should probably do something about that.”

Even though the night before had come and gone without any real substance abuse on my part, it still took a few minutes for my brain to rev up properly and remind me of the flyer in my pocket. I held my breath and called the number.

“Hello?” muttered the man’s voice on the other side of the phone.

“Is this Cameron?” I asked.

“Cammy!” the voice yelled. “Phone!”

From somewhere in the distance, Cameron yelled back, “Jesus! Stop shouting so loud!”

“Can I ask what this is about?” whispered the first voice.

“I met Cameron at the Jane Plains show last night, and he said he was looking for someone to help out with the rent.”

“We are!” the voice said. “Do you want to schedule an appointment to swing by and take a look at the place?”

Cameron yelled, “Jesus! Stop talking so loud!”

I read the flyer. “Your address in Inwood, which is a little over two hundred blocks from here.” I read my cheap-looking watch. “Also, it’s eight thirty, and I’m expected to be in the office by nine. I can come over right now if you like.”

“I don’t know. Cammy drank a little too much at the concert. It might not be the right time.”

“On the contrary,” I told him, “it’s the perfect time. Hell, I just spent the night in a holding cell …” Shit. I probably should have kept that to myself. I pushed on, though, just in case. “If we can get along in this condition, then maybe we’re made for each other.”

After a long pause, he said, “I like the way you think.”

“Doesn’t everybody?”

A little over two hundred blocks later, I knocked on a door on the fourth floor of a five-story walkup in the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. It was not Cameron who answered. Where Cameron’s shape was tall and slightly rounded, this guy’s was short and sharp. Where Cameron’s skin was the shade of cappuccino, this guy’s was more like hot cocoa. Where Cameron’s forehead was expansive and crowned by a tight, salt-and-pepper fade, this guy’s was hidden by a threadbare golf cap. And where Cameron wore cargo pants, this guy opted for snug cotton briefs.

I could have stood there in silence, averting my eyes for all eternity, but Cameron rescued me by yelling from somewhere within, “Jesus! Stop opening the door so loud!”

I’m Mitchell,” said the guy. “Come on in. I’ll get some pants.”

“Thank you for that.”

I froze immediately upon entering. When Mitchell returned, I asked with great awe, “What is this, nine hundred square feet?” After consulting the flyer, I asked with even more awe, “Two bedrooms? In Manhattan? At this price? Is this for real?”

“I know, right?”

In shock, I sank into a nearby easy chair, impossible flyer in hand.

Cameron yelled from the kitchen, “Jesus! Stop sitting so loud!”

“Long story short,” Mitchell said, “Cammy got laid off in December, and there’s not a lot of prospects out there.”

I shrugged with genuine sympathy.

“It’s a big place, and the other bedroom is empty anyway, so we figured could really use the help.”

“What a coincidence,” I replied. “I could really use the bedroom.”

After we traded names and occupations, the important questions began. “What do you think about living with a couple?”

“I think domesticity is comforting.” Truth be told, I was worried about relationship drama.

“Most people are worried about relationship drama.” Imagine that. “You’re not a party animal, are you?”

“Not at all.” Not at home, anyway.

“Do you smoke?”

“Not for months.” I was referring, of course, to cigarettes.

“Do you cook?”

Finally, something I could be completely honest about. “I love to, actually.”

“I bet you make a mean enchilada.”

“Excuse me?” I couldn’t remember the last time someone had drawn attention to my ethnicity with that kind of recklessness, and I had no idea how I was supposed to react.

From the kitchen, Cameron yelled, “Jesus! Stop being tactless so loud!”

“What?” Mitchell was confused for second, and then he caught on. “Oh.”

Had there been even the slightest bit of malice in his words, I would have walked away right then and there. We chose instead to ignore it.

He moved onto the next topic. “Have you ever seen a UFO?”

I laughed.

A wide-eyed Cameron appeared suddenly behind Mitchell, making quiet slashing motions across his throat–which is the universally recognized signal for “Stop what you’re doing! Oh, for the love of God, stop!”

I recovered in the time it took me to blink. “I laugh because I was born and raised in New Mexico, and the UFOs practically live there.”

“Wow,” sighed Mitchell.

Cameron flashed me a grin and a thumbs-up before retreating back into the kitchen.

Mitchell cleared his throat. “And last, but not least, do you have a boyfriend?”

“I’m between relationships right now,” my mouth said before the rest of me had a chance to comprehend what my ears had just heard. And it was a good thing too, because my eyes now discovered a detail on the flyer I’d missed before: “F or GM only.”

And so the question before me wasn’t whether or not I was willing to lie about my sexuality in order to win their approval; I had no problem with that. The question was, how long did I really think I could get away with it?

Oh, what the hell. Nothing ventured, et cetera et cetera. “I just haven’t met the right guy yet.”

to be continued…

Walking on Eggshells

previously…
(…or start here)

The coolest thing about police interrogation rooms anywhere in the country is that they all look exactly like they do in the movies or on TV. There’s variety, of course–some have shackles, while others don’t, and their sizes differ, but that’s really it; they’re all decorated with a metal table and plastic aluminum chairs, and they’re all lit by unflattering fluorescents. Through the two-way mirror–also a prerequisite–I watched a uniformed policeman enter, legal pad in hand. Tradition dictates that he should have had a file folder as well, but this was the twenty-first century, and paper costs money and trees.

“So your friend in the other room told us the whole story,” he said.

“Are we really going to do this?” I asked him.

“Do what?”

“Well, there’s no Good Cop with you, and you don’t strike me as a Bad Cop, so I guess that makes you Mildly Irritated Cop.”

“Shouldn’t you be taking this a little more seriously?” he asked.

“Look, Officer…” I squinted at his name-tag. “… Reynolds. Do you know how many times I’ve done this?”

A hundred and two.”

“Seriously?”

His expression told me nothing.

“That’s really cool.” I reached into the pocket of my trademark brown leather pea coat and pulled out my notebook and pen, which, for some reason, they hadn’t confiscated. “Can I write that down?”

“Be my guest.” He clicked his own pen so he could record the upcoming conversation. “Do you know why you’re here?”

“Because some guy in a trucker hat got punched in the face.”

“And the girl…”

“Don’t call her a girl to her face,” I interrupted. “She hates that.”

“… woman with you, a Lisa Green, states that you were punched in the stomach.”

“True.”

“Did you happen to see who did it?”

“I did not,” I replied. “I’m assuming it was the same guy.” It wasn’t.

“That seems unlikely.”

“The bar was kind of crowded, and my attention was already occupied.”

“By what?”

I smirked. “By the ladies. The attention-getting ladies, if you catch my drift.”

If he had, he didn’t let on. Definitely Irritated Cop. “Why did you volunteer to come in to sign an affidavit then?”

“I didn’t,” I replied. “My friend did.”

“She gave us a description of a white male, age eighteen to thirty-five, dressed in blue jeans and a denim jacket.”

“That could be anybody.”

He rolled his eyes. “The victim said he didn’t know who assaulted him either, so he’s not pressing charges.” That was probably because he didn’t want to admit that a diminutive woman knocked him out with one punch. “That said, between you and me, were you the one who did it?”

I snorted. “If I had, my knuckles would be broken, and he wouldn’t have suffered a concussion. I’m a wimp, Officer.”

“I see.” He jotted that down. “So you think it was your companion?”

“She hits like a girl.” Well, a cave girl. Especially when somebody knocks the wind out of me.

“I thought you said she didn’t like to be called a girl.”

“There’s no reason that statement has to leave the room, is there?”

He shook his head.

“Then she hits like a girl.”

“Is that a no?”

“That is a ‘I can’t tell you for certain.'”

He stood and said, “Mr. Fuentes, we don’t want to take up anymore of your time.” What he meant was that he didn’t want me to take up anymore of his time, but calling him on that was a good way to get pepper-spray in my face. “You can go ahead and check out and go your own way.”

“Do I need to sign anything?”

“Only whatever Roger gives you when you check out.”

Roger?” I both grinned and frowned. “Is he ever not at that desk?”

“Not as far as I know.” Heading for the door, he recommended, “Stay out of trouble, Mr. Fuentes.”

That wasn’t likely. “Have a nice evening, Officer!”

He grunted.

After I’d been processed, I exited the building, only to be greeted by Lisa, who was leaning against a lamppost, lighting a joint.

“You’ve got balls of solid steel,” I told her, “going into a police station with an eighth of weed in your sock.”

“Being here with you after all these years,” she replied, “inspired me to act out.”

I chuckled. “Why don’t we head back to the Village and find ourselves bar without fisticuffs on tap.”

She held out her arm, and I wrapped mine around it. “Let’s.”

A quick train ride later, we wandered the narrow, vibrant streets of my favorite neighborhood in which to drink a lot. While contemplating a well-worn pub, a douchebag in a gray, three-piece suit, a black shirt, a white tie, and a camel-hair overcoat rounded the corner, thus lowering the tone. Something about the way he studied us with his expensive, horn-rimmed glasses and looked away as if we weren’t there made me want to break my knuckles on his nose. It didn’t help that he was informing his cell phone, “Our business partnership goes into full effect at the start of the next quarter. I suggest that, between then and now, you grant Mr. Franklin sole contact with my company, inasmuch as you can’t be trusted to …”

All of the color drained from Lisa’s face. “Wait a fucking minute! I know that asshole’s voice!” She then squeaked, “Sean?”

The douchebag turned back around, this time with his eyes wider than I’d ever seen anybody’s get. “Fuck me in the ear!” he replied before dropping his phone and running like hell.

“What the fuck was that?” I asked, intending the question for anyone who might be listening.

“Take me home,” Lisa replied.

“What… ?” I repeated.

“Take me home now.”

Since she was my best friend in the history of the entire world, I obeyed, but not before picking up the discarded cell and pocketing it. I loved myself a good mystery.

to be continued…
(… a look back, for perspective)