I am apose to wait here. Q says
so. Q and me is buddies.
This is my comics. The pi'tures show these two girls what are standin' outside where Q is gonna have a concert. One girl gots a tattoo un'er her left eye, just like Q's, 'cept hers washes off.
Q says I shouldn't oughta read my comics so much. He says they's just made-up stuff, like not for-true, like mostly lies.
He gets mad at me, on account o' my comics, 'cause sometimes I forget—like when I say things that they learned me what really ain't so.
Not always, though. Like this one what I'm readin'. It turns out the way that everyone is ascared tonight will turn out, on account o' Q is late. I know, 'cause I read it six times already.
You see? I told you so. The pi'tures show how everyone's disappointed.
Who does he think he is that he can pull / Wardrobe's on alert / of shit / Did he specify / Cue sequences thirty-nine through / Unit sixteen to eighteen East / It's 7:47 / Just everyone stay calm / You her friend / in thirteen minutes / Where the fuck is he / Reverb / Set that one-on-one / He wants override / Vermilion Licks opening / on the second / Eighteen East copy / What did she take / We got terrible / I'm gonna sue the son-of-a-bitch I swear to / Chain-link first set / If he makes it / Gate-crashers entrance seventeen require assistance / Intravenous or what / Houston Buenos Aires Bonn / Rest of it's by feel / Where's the retard / Check her arms / Her what / and Montreal that's four out of six / No problem there / he's missed / it's make-up / Eighteen East responding / LET'S MAKE SOME ROOM PLEASE / Quim-kick / STRETCHER / just fucking holograms / Personal appearance / It says that / Raw / He'll have to / Greenroom / Bobo swears Q gave a go / Unit twenty copy / Name / no fool you know / Address / I've got a contract signed / We can image-fix / Scratch thinks so too / but the coloring always makes him look cadaverous / Unit twenty must hold position / Call her parents / Eleven minutes / No sweat then / Unit thirty-two responding copy / Temple Hospital ICU / Where's that fucking Master Tech / Tell them hurry...
They's all runnin' 'round out there
like chickens without no heads. That's a private joke—'bout
chickens—what's just between Q and me. Not apose to tell.
... roof or underground / Relax relax he's coming / Check those monitors will you / Where's that retard / Bobo / BOBO / CLOSE THAT DOOR...
Then I had to go, and so I did, and when I come back from the restroom they was gone; I mean the fellas. I looked everywhere, but the car what we parked just around the corner wasn't there no more; it wasn't where we put it. Then I got lost.
... about our sponsors damn you / Millions ride on / We can hold / The networks / or use emulators / not some half-assed prima / Graphics / time / WILL YOU SHUT THAT DOOR.
I was too ascared to go back home
without the fellas 'cause they told me "U.S.A" don't always work. That's how
come I know all o' the streets in Tijuana what I walked for days and days and
days. I got plenty hungry, I'll say. Thirsty lots o' times, too, 'cept that I
finally tried the water and it was good. I knowed a place what I could wash
in, too, so I wouldn't be so dirty. And the Mexicans, they kind o' got to know
me and they was nice, 'cept for the ones what tried to make me bite that
chicken. See? I bet you thought I wasn't gonna get back to the chicken, but
I am: there was this chicken in a alley with these men and they was kickin'
at it. And all the time the chicken it was squawkin'. It got away. 'Cept
they yelled, Co-galo, Gringo, catch it, catch it! So I got down and catched
it. Then the men all moved around me in a circle. They was talkin'
Spanish—what I don't un'erstand too good—and they was laughin'. But I
knowed, from how they was actin', what they wanted me to do. The chicken musta
been just as ascared as me, I'll say; it's little heart was thumpin'. That's
when Q come. He didn't look at all the way he looks now, like he was odder
then, or meaner even, and he told 'em let me go. There was six o' them and
only Q and me. I dropped the chicken. It run off but no one chased it; they
just stared. Then Q reached out his hand so's I could grab it, which I done,
and we walked out o' there together. No one stopped us.
The canopy of laser light congeals to form a
Q, the cartoon, made manifest,
Q is 193 centimeters tall, weighs a lean
kilograms. In his late teens? Early
twenties? Or is Q over thirty? He has a sinewy, sensual lankiness, with full lascivious
which one half-expects a c-cylinder to be dangling. Gray eyes—chameleon-like in that they take on
the predominant color of their surroundings. Large hands, long fingers—Q
wears no rings [They'll saw your fingers off to get your rings]—remarkably
strong and dexterous. His clothes adhere irrespective their fabric or design. He walk-moves with a
reckless breed of grace [Become your shadow; you are weightless, faceless,
silent, and invisible; stalk like death]. His hair is pitch black, an
entanglement of wild, rebellious curls, severely sculpted at the crown—a
charred oasis in his desert of denuded temples and completely bald eyebrows
(due to electrolysis). A handsome face, or a wicked face,
strikingly reconfigured, made all-the-more macabre by the inimitable
tattoo. Atop his left cheekbone. His trademark. His non deplume. His open
wound. His scar. It is ugly and grotesque and weirdly beautiful. It is the
letter "Q" [Mortify
the flesh]. It is his brand.
♫ They say BUY..... BUY..... BUY..... BUY
The voice is harshly melodic, crude and intense. It has the intimacy of a whisper, the antipathy of power. It vibrates through the headrests of the rich, in their recliners. It wraps itself a r o u n d the hordes who stand.
'Cause you NEED IT
Overhead the dome walls blink with rapid-fire videos of products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products.
♫ 'Cause the
POWERS are GREED-Y
♫ K y r i e e l — i s o n ♫
The crowd responds with flick-ignited butane lighters held aloft; the dome, transformed, becomes a candlelit cathedral.
♫ D o m i n u s V o b i s c u m ♫
Q's voice rings out with the authority of righteousness. A parody.
♫ E t c u m S p i r i t u t u o ♫
He mocks. Or is he serious?
Do you care
The angelic choir has given way to Q's possessed harangue, and yet his antics call attention to himself, not to his lyrics. 'Look at me,' his body orders. 'My, me, mine,' his ego shouts—megalomania eclipsing all he sings.
"Well, what do you think?"
L e a d us
The simulated candles are extinguished. The dome's interior is once more nondescript. Q holsters his persona, while the software in his keyboard deck reloads.
Bo's hideout behind the amplifier cases is discovered.
"There you are."
He stuffs the comic books under his T-shirt as he scrambles to his feet.
"You missed Q's opening, Bobo."
Bo's eyes widen.
"That's right; show's already started."
"B-b-but Q, he t-t-told me wait right here. Q w-w-wouldn't start without me."
"No? I suppose that's just his ghost out there performing. Bend an ear."
Bo cocks his head and listens with all his might, as Luther switches on the greenroom's monitor.
Crowd-noise... nothing more...
Then, the sound of a pile driver suddenly explodes.
Bo's cheeks grow flushed. His eyes show panic; he has never missed an opening. He frisks his pockets for his pass and flees the room.
KaCHUNK! KaCHUNK! KaCHUNK! KaCHUNK!
The shock from each report is like a quake inside the brain that pounds and pounds and won't let up it pounds it thunders.
♫ I I I I
I I I I don't I don't
I don't I don't
Graphics juxtapose the sundry flags of West-block nations alongside ruins—the dome walls run with scenes of patriotic gore.
♫ No no don't
want don't make don't
["A very basic operation. Simple war game. A maneuver. Only difference is your ammo will be live."]
♫ I won't I won't ♫
"What's going on! This should be censored. Where's this number in the program? Lieutenant, who the hell gave clearance for this left-wing hogwash? Who's in charge?"
♫ Don't go don't go ♫
["We have intelligence the rebels are entrenched inside the village. A percentage of civilian casualties is inevitable. One wave of Phos-fire, to be followed by immediate ground attack. Do not hesitate. Waste anything that moves."]
The detonations of the pile-driver reassert themselves, doubling in volume; even hardcore concert-goers shield their ears. The beat persists, as do the images of slaughter: meat-packing houses, amputations, torture chambers, famine and plague victims, then a barrage of military actions past and present.
"East/West. West wall. There!"
"I'm sorry. I missed it, sir."
"He's got I.F.A.T. footage. That's classified. I want all those videos seized!"
"Unless it's recent, sir, we can't..."
"I want them seized!"
"But the concert, sir..."
"Lieutenant, that's an order."
The audience, above NOISE that is acute, picks up Q's refrain:
"Don't go! Won't go!"
Their mouths contort in eerie unison.
Typical behavior; Q has seen such demonstrations many times.
["You gotta make 'em laugh, son, proof of the pudding. It doesn't matter what you're thinkin', folks don't give a damn about your personal convictions, entertain them. They got politics for issues. They got schools for education. All they want from us—that's us comedians—is a damn good laugh." My Dad's philosophy in a nutshell. He would let me play accordion, of all things. Dressed me up in a suit and tie, drew lines around my jaw, set me on his knee, on stage, to see how long he could pass me off as a ventriloquist's dummy. When the crowd caught on, he'd take out this accordion with leaky bellows and have me play a few bars of whatever they'd request. Small time. Rarely played to more than fifty people. If he could see this house, he'd somersault in his grave—then do a pratfall. Anything for a laugh. "Gotta make 'em laugh, son." Yeah, Dad, I do. See? They're all in hysterics.]
Q looks tired, I'll say. He's been
doin' lots and lots o' concerts. He got rich and famous quick, got heaps o'
money, so much that he don't know how to spend it all. He bought a island
what we're goin' to real soon; Q says real soon. Soon as maybe
Saturday; that's tomorrow. I like the island on account o' no one bothers us
and it's pretty. It gots flowers growin' wild all over it and it gots
toucans—them's birds with noses as big as Jimmy Durante's. He's Q's
He's gonna play for a while all by hisself without no computers. He pushes this button, what says "manual," and that lets 'im. He just done that, pushed it; I can see from here real good. Q likes to do this part the best on account o' it's all made-up this minute. "Like outer space," Q says, when he pushes that button.
Wind like wailing. Wind like in Huancabamba. Plaintive drawls. Q's fingers arch, depress the keys, invoke the wind.
[Once, when I was wandering blind in the Andes of Peru, when I was lost to time, to men, when I was dying, a wind befriended me. I had no strength. It braced me like an arm around the shoulders, bolstered me, let me lean my back against its chest. I walked like breathing. It blew steadily for hours, this brother wind. It blew for days. It was my crutch, my cradle, my mentor, my faithful guide.]
The wind sounds ceaSeñor fade, becoming capricious, as they dance in spirals, lilt as zephyrs, float like dove-calls on the breeze, then sigh melodically. Q plays.
[Technique is a liar. I can wow 'em with technique. Big fucking deal. She made me practice the piano. Didn't need to. When you've got Bach figured out at five and you've mastered Liszt at six you really don't need scales—or Montovani—to keep you sharp.]
One note emerges—in a sympathetic key—followed by another, and another, each distinctive yet predestined to contribute to the whole—a string of individual tones expecting harmony. Simplistic, child-like, an otherworldly lullaby is created. It nurses at the nerve-ends of his listeners. It soothes. It is an eye of calm, a womb of comfort, a refuge all too fleeting.
Q scans the crowd.
[Him—picking his way with a staggering gingerliness, limbs in disjointed postures, attempting to achieve outward balance while inwardly at sea. Her—girl-child in a whore's make-up, glad-eyeing adult men whose shamefaced hunger creeps—look at it—crawls from peripheral leers. Them—incense from a plethora of armpits, hits on heady joints of anachronistic hemp—die-hards loathe to make transitions into snorting hybrid substances, wineskins hung like bloated bladders, avoiding the metal detectors, drugs in parti-colored satchels like balloons—uppers, downers, fast-tracks. Listen. Don't listen. "Q is controversial," that's enough. Vicarious rebels. "We buy your chips, don't we? Don't we memorize your lyrics? Don't we worship the ground you walk on, spit on, shit on?" The confessional booth: sins of heart, mind, word, deed. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned and have come to relieve my conscience. It was frosted—the glass between us. I could see his silhouette. Whose, God's? No, the priest's. I remember wondering if the glass was clear on his side. God sees everything. God, but maybe not His priestly representative. I made a sign at him once—shot him the finger—as an experiment just to see. He never saw; I got absolved. I once invented some transgressions. They were believed; I was forgiven. And once I even went to a different booth with the very same confession. "Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys." The first priest merely assigned me an Act of Contrition. I concluded from these tests that God was unreliable—as is everything human beings create in their own image.]
A tremolo. In the base line. There; again the rhythm alters, causing the melody to throb. To bend. The composition, subtly, is changing, is warping. Tranquility grows self-conscious. Wary. As if on guard. An element of anxiety usurping the former peace—like a child's inanimate doll suddenly come to life. Menacingly. The audience, in conjunction, starts to squirm, feeling 'set up' for something. They have not guessed for what. There are indications, though—hints— that it is apt to be unpleasant.
[Dark hair, dark eyes; her frame was small. She wore a woolen hand-embroidered dress which smoldered slightly—Child—and stood alone; that is, stood among others, but none breathed; not mother, father, or baby brother—Child—as if her soul's persistence asked the simple question 'Why?']
A chord is struck—the crowd's gasp overwhelmed by Q's primal SHRIEK, like that of a man, of a woman who somewhere, some time early in human history, comprehended Death. In its utter finality. Q plays rhapsodically, his prowess awesome; his hands attack the keys, his virtuosity inhuman, its effect supernatural.
Q sure plays good—'cept that I wished he wouldn't do like that, make them screams. They hurt his voice sometimes on account o' they's unnatural. Makes 'em jump, Q says. They jumped, I'll say. Q likes to make 'em pay attention. Q says no one what don't perform in front o' millions can un'erstand how it feels to make 'em pay attention.
The music breeds its own complexity like subdividing cells, until its themes and variations prove too intricate to follow, yet Q plays on, as if in defiance of physical limitations, of technical boundaries. He is on to something, breaking through; he is reaching for rarified air.
The stage goes suddenly and absolutely silent. For a measure or more—unaware they are ineffectual—Q's fingers continue to play. But the stage is a vacuum, a black hole of soundlessness. Power. No power. The electricity has been cut.
Q moves from behind his keyboards and takes a step forward, peering into the darkness, searching for Scratch, who is up in the control booth.
Q activates the mike inside his headphones.
"Scratch? Scratch, where the hell are you?"
"Here, boy. I'm here. Got us some Bugs."
"Fuck the law; I need power."
"I hear ya."
"Well nobody else can."
"I know. HEY!..."
"This is Lieutenant Ireland, U.S.H.S. We are canceling this concert and impounding your equipment. You can consider yourself and your entourage under arrest."
Q struts off the stage.
"Is it true Q's been / What exactly are / Will the concert be re / Why / How did Q react / the government / rioting / taken / the tour / Does anyone..."
"Gentlemen, ladies, if you will allow me? I have a statement our staff has prepared."
"Q, first and foremost, extends an apology to his fans [Screw my fucking fans; they're vampires, all of them.] Ticket chits from the Dallas-Fort Worth concert will be honoredinternationally; that is, free admission to any future Q performance throughout the world, a consideration good for one whole year [Though void where prohibited; which you can bet your genitalia will be the case just about everywhere.] As for the charges brought erroneously by the federal government, they..."
"... have been dropped."
"But we were informed that Q was found to be in violation..."
"Suspected to be, not found. There still is jurisprudence in this country, I'm happy to affirm."
"Okay, suspected. But what did the government confiscate? Why did they storm the stage?"
"As I said, they made a mistake. They took exception to some material Q included in this performance..."
"The Special Forces stuff? The I.F.A.T footage? Where did Q get a hold of it?"
"That is precisely what the authorities wanted to know. It isn't theirs, you see. They thought it was, which, understandably, is why they seized it. But Q received that video from an independent source."
"So the government has returned it?"
"As a matter of fact, the
government has asked Q to relinquish it—an issue of Homeland Security, so
of course we've complied."
"What's Q's real / tour is over / When will / Where does he intend to / Will Q sue for false arrest?"
"No. The government acted rashly, but we do not believe maliciously. And though Q, of late,has been a trifle outspoken in his lyrics, I can assure you all he is, at heart, a stars and stripes patriot [Bullshit!]."
The pi'tures show how this young girl what's in love with Q tries to tell 'im by gettin' her friends to kind o' throw her over this whole big crowd o' people. They's maybe cheerleaders or somethin' on account o' they throws her real high and she falls down right in front o' Q and all o' his bodyguards. They's worried, the bodyguards is. That part's so. Q only gots one main bodyguard, but at the concerts they's lots, and they's always worried 'cause Q gets threats 'n stuff, like bomb scares and I don't know what all, on account o' he's so popular. But this girl in the pi'tures only wants to show Q what she done. She's real embarrassed to do it—you can tell from the way her cheeks is colored red—but she does anyhow. She pulls her sweater off o' her shoulder to bare her little breast. It gots a Q right near the nipple what's been burned in like a brand—what musta hurt awful, which is prob'bly why she done it. When you love somebody a whole lot but you are too ascared to tell 'em, you gotta do somethin' what will say the way you feel. Even if it's dumb.
Bo spreads the comic book over his lap as if he were handling a precious butterfly. He thinks to close his mouth, and does, but it soon reopens with his reverie.
I done somethin'
dumb once on account o' I loved so much this person. It was in school, back
where I went in Arizona. This person was in the reg'lar classes, not the
"special" classes; not like me. I won't say this person's name on
account o' I
promised I wouldn't.
A silver drop of saliva falls from Bo's mouth like a parachuting spider, linking his lips to the comic book's open page.
The stairs was dark 'cause it was nighttime and all o' the lights in the house was off—'cept for that one what I could see at the end o' the hallway. I went tippy-toe, kind o', but it didn't matter 'cause it felt like even breathin' made too much noise. I touched the doorknob, but I couldn't. I just had to knock—what made the light go dim—I could hardly see my own sneakers. Then I heard a tiny voice say come in.
Bo's eyes stare blankly, fixedly, their outward sight replaced by the memory-embedded scene.
She was stark
naked, kind o'. Almost. She was layin' on the bed, all pink an beautiful and
smilin' till she seen that it was me. I never-ever seen a girl what looked
so pretty turn so mean. She screamed.
Bo finally wipes his spittle. He pulls his shirtfront from his trousers and dabs the wet spot on the page.
I guess I knowed all along.
He blows a stream of air to dry the dampened spot.
But I was dumb, like I said. When I runned home that night, I cried and cried.
"We're out o' here. Got you bags packed?"
"Got 'em, Q."
The plush lounge chair e x h a l e s , as Bo escapes its leather, leather like Eskimo women make it—chewed to a pampering pliability. The suite, at large, is a-sprawl with the skin of sundry animals, most extinct, the rest endangered, all indigenous now to first-world decor.
"We gonna d-d-drive, Q?"
"Security." Luther enters. "Can't you knock?"
"Yo. Sorry, Q. No limo."
"No limo. Crabs."
Q takes a breath as if to let loose his exasperation, checks it, expels it in retreat, slamming the bedroom door behind him.
"You m-m-made Q angry."
"Don't blame me. It's notmy fuckin' fault they've come."
"But you said 'c-c-crabs.'"
"Not my term; his. You know what crabs are, don't you, Bobo?"
"'Course I d-d-do. They's the little creatures what runs up the beach at night on the island."
"Not those kind. This kind." Luther claws at his crotch. Bo fails to comprehend. "Crabs. You know, those bloodsucker bugs that eat your testicles alive? Crabs? As in louses? Never had 'em? Lucky you. Itch like mad."
Bo smoothes the cover of his comic book, attempting to restore its mint condition, then slips it into a pocket of his carry-on luggage.
Luther idles somewhat anxiously (no reason; nerves is all) needing a fix; he feeds his habit through the veins between his toes (so the tracks don't show) nervous (Q would sack me) about the lesions (hates syringes)about his cold (must be an allergy) that he cannot shake. (Hell, life's too short as is to worry about—what?—life bein' too short). He is twenty-three. (All the great ones get IT, spread IT, drop like frazzled flies—except for Q—just lucky?) Careful. (Won't shoot up) Smart. (Won't fuck or suck or whack off ANYONE) Aloof. (besides himself. No thanks; that's prison.)
Luther sinks into the twin of Bo's easy chair and rubs his wiry wrists against its arms, burnishing the leather (can't sit, can't sit) only to stand back up and resume his restless pacing.
"Stop that gawking!"
Bo averts his face, self-conscious, blinking as if blinded by a flash cube's sudden flash. Luther gestures vulgarly. Q, reentering, gives him a look.
"You've got the soul of a mosquito, Luther."
"What I do?"
"Bo, you seen Scratch?"
"Not since this mornin', at b-b-breakfast; I seen 'im then. Do you want that I should fetch 'im?"
Luther snickers ('fetch 'im.').
Q turns slowly, menacingly. His dark glasses—silvered and impenetrable—issue a silent threat. Luther cringes. Satisfied, Q turns back to Bo.
"Would you, please?"
Bo leaves obligingly.
Luther searches for the courage to rebel (like a goddamn poodle. Keeps that retard like a pet. More like an albatross, or a dodo, is that half-witted, goony-bird. Bobo Dodo.)
"Why do you keep that dumb cluck around. I mean, he's USELESS."
"So are you, and you get a three-figure salary."
"I resent that."
"Fine. From now on you can work for minimum wage."
"Right. You're kiddin', of course. Q? Youare kiddin', aren't ya? I mean, I do for you, don't I? Steady? Aren't I the best goddamn gofer in the business? You said so yourself, remember?"
"Lay off Bo."
"You got it. Sure, man. Yo. Anything you say. Wanna drink or somethin'? Lunch? How's about I call down and order us lunch. How'd that be? Let's..."
"Your wages won't be cut, butlay off Bo."
Q steps toward the windowed
doors of his penthouse perch and parts them, feels the air suck, lets it
pull him onto the balcony, out to its guard rail, where he looks down at the
city. [Call us "the locust people," Peruvians do, for gobbling up land.
Call us "the sick ones," knowing that it's US who spread "the disease." The dis-ease. They've heard about
IT, even in the most remote towns and
villages. Know IT's fatal. Know IT's worldwide. They perceive IT as a purge.
I'm sure they're right.]
"Q? He's here. I fetched 'im back."
Q separates past from present and turns to acknowledge Bo.
"You my pal, Bo?"
"You bet, Q. We's buddies always. That's for-true."
Q nods, turns back, looks out, looks down, takes a fortifying breath, then steps back in.
"Howdy there, Q-tip. Y'all lookin' kind o' peaked. O-verloaded, seems like. Lighten up. Shed those blinkers, why don't ya?"
"Once had me a pet rat took on the look y'all gettin'. Me an' my half-bro Zook used to make 'em run these a-mazin' mazes. No foolin', made that rodent run 'em the livelong day. Kept buildin' new ones, bigger by the hour. She-it, we'd be addin' on while the rat was still inside. Then one fine day ol' Murphy—we called 'im Murphy—jus' up an' stopped. He's about two-thirds through this masterpiece—covered the entire basement floor—when somethin' must've snapped in ol' Murph's bean; jus' went blank. All glassy-eyed, lookin' kind o' loony, 's if 'is brain was on the blink. Tried to bring 'm 'round, but nope; that rat wasgone. Never did break his stupor. Stared himself to death, he did. Cryin' shame." Scratch reaches and delicately lifts Q's sunglasses to peek at his eyes. "Jus' like I suspected; Murphy Syndrome. Boy, you best be gettin' yourself a g-o-o-d-l-o-n-g rest!"
He repositions the mask-like shades; Q does not budge.
"CHARISMA! Did y'all hear that note of authority? Yassah, Boss. I's comin' 's fas' 's my daddy-long-legs 'low me. Massah call my name, I's there lickety-split."
Bo looks on, bowled over by Scratch's impromptu Step 'n Fetchit,(incongruous as it seems, given the Black man's equally Asian features) while Luther tries (and fails) to suffocate a guffaw. Q, deadpan dissolved, ventures a caustic smile.
"I'm 'gone,' alright. At least I'd like to be. My adoring fans, alas, have clogged all the exits."
"Solved. The roof. We call us a 'copter."
Bo, surprising everyone, blurts out an objection to Luther's idea. "NO! You know Q d-d-don't like helicopters."
Q gives Bo a significant, if overly critical, scowl.
[Quiet, Bo. I know you mean well, but never mention things I've told you not to mention. Whirlybirds, they were once called. Toys for toddlers. Hell-icopters, now, destination fixed. Toys for 'torturing' toddlers was the way they were used.]
Suffering Q's displeasure, Bo seems to shrink.
"Does anyone have any money?"
Scratch frisks his pockets.
"Some. Couple o' megs. Why, you short?"
"Negative. Chicken-shit change, is all. A few euros, a few yen, a few dollars."
I gots forty dollars, if Q would ask me. Gots it right here in my bag, what I would give him, if Q would ask.
"GOTS FORTY DOLLARS!"
"So, that makes what; two-sixty, two-seventy?"
"And they call us billionaires? She-it, I use to make more trib shooting craps back in high school."
"Ante up." Bills flutter leaf-like onto the coffee table, forming a paltry pile. "This won't do. Need a volunteer to go buy singles."
"Yo. Back in five."
Luther snags the cash and is out the door at knee-jerk speed (gofer, gofer, gofer, gotta go, gotta get it, gotta go, left, left again; where's the fucking lift? Gotta go, gotta get it, gotta go, right. There! Come and 'fetch' me. Yo, it's open. Cash and carry. Pushin' "Lobby." Ever noticed—goin' down—that elevators play muzak? Pipe it in to cover up the creepy-crawly hush, the I-don't-know-you, you-don't-know me awkwardness of those gone mute? Worried about eavesdroppers, as if the whole fucking elevator world is full of spies and secret agents. Mum. I'm mum. Look; he's lookin'. Hey, I'm mum, man. Won't catch me talkin', no-sir-ree, not in this cooped up box of ups and downs. WHOOPS! My guts just sank to my goddamn feet; this thing drops like a bungee-cord jump. "L." Lobby! Reprieve. Nice meetin' you lovely folks, sure did enjoy our covert conversation. See you all LATER. Luther's gotta go, gotta get it, gotta go. Gotta live up to his rep, gotta prove he's the best, bar none, goddamn gofer in the business.
"You c-c-comin' with us to the island, Scratch? It's nice there. You should c-c-come."
"I may, by and by. Thanks for the in-vite."
"Island's fun. Q b-b-boughts a snorkel for me this time with a mask for lookin' un'erwater. When I learn to swim, that is. Hey, I gots it here; you w-w-wanna see?"
Bo kneels beside his luggage.
Q has disappeared.
Scratch is sitting with his elbows on his knees, forearms
dangling—outwardly attending to Bo, inwardly ruminating about his
There is a loud, impatient banging at the penthouse door. Bo goes to answer it.
Luther flops down prostrate in the hall and rat-a-tat-tats a make-believe burp gun at the mystified Bo—still wearing his diving unit. Only momentarily confused, Bo pulls off the snorkel and mask.
"It'sme, Luther. Bo."
"Whew! Thought the Plutonians had landed." Luther feigns relief, as he gets to his feet, slap-dusting his pants. He pushes in past Bo, and with a flourish fantails the cash. "Where's the main man?" Scratch tilts his head toward the bedroom. Luther heads in that direction, halts, lifts his nose like a bird dog, then makes for the couch instead, whereon he drops the fistful of bills, climbs up on an arm, goes comically rigid, and calling out "TIM-BERRRRRRRRRR" falls like a redwood onto the cushions—misjudging their dimensions, the "WHOOSH" they gasp accompanied by an ill-starred "THUD." "Fuckin' thing 's too short."
"Y'all okay, Luth?"
"Nothin' serious, short of a broken neck. So, what's with the singles; Q say?"
As the bathroom door swings closed, the bedroom door reopens; Bo leaves / Q enters.
"The trib's a diversion."
"Buzz the limo. Say we're on our way."
"But Q, we're surrounded, man."
"Not for long. Make that call, then step out here with me."
Q scoops up the money and walks out onto the balcony again, followed by Scratch, whose expression is skeptical, then Luther (limo standing by).
The crowd far below is still milling, swelling, aiming various ocular aids at the hotel's uppermost floor, all necks craned in a dumb show of steadfast devotion—just a glimpse of their idol would satisfy most.
Q moves to the guard rail.
[Had a little wooden hammer, when I was a kid. Striped. Just a lathe-turned cylinder fixed to the end of a dowel. Made a dull "CLACK" sound when it struck, when it killed. I exterminated bugs. Ants, mostly. "CLACK," you're pulverized. "CLACK," you're smooched. "CLACK, CLACK, CLACK," you're dead, gone, extinguished. My Indian-file executions left the sidewalk littered with carcasses.]
"Look at 'em all. She-it, where'd they come from so fast? I's w a y d o w n yonder an hour ago—nary a single fan. Strange they seem to de-vine whenever Q is about to make an appearance. Like telepathy, or somethin'."
"Like shit-eating flies."
"Mm, hm. I can see that, see how a famous fella like yourself might liken his fans to a swarm of pesky flies—way they're all the time hoverin.' 'Specially if that famous fella is always lookin' fromon high, eh Q-tip? The su-perior position? The ex-alted point of view?"
Q appears oblivious to Scratch's sarcasm.
"Ever have a friend, Scratch, who'd do anything for you? Anything and everything, you asked?"
"You mean like Bo?"
"No.Not like Bo. Bo's a different case."
"Okay,'not' like Bo. Guess not, then. Though I did have me a woman, once, come pretty close."
"Did she tell you she'd do anything?"
"Like 'my country right or wrong'? I s'pose she did."
"And did you despise her for it?"
"'De-spise'? 'De-SPISE'? For overdoin' it, now 'n' then? Folks lose their heads about lots of stuff; it's human nature. No, I didn't despise her. Fact is, I loved 'er. Y'all go 'round deSPISin' people for overdoin,' it'sbound to get you down."
"Right. Well, let's see if 'human nature' gets us out of this terrarium. Luther?"
"Yo. Motor's runnin'. Ground floor. Service entrance. Down and out the back."
"Watch 'em murder one another for a goddamn buck."
Q flings the bills. They scatter, fluttering in the wind like parti-colored leaves, somersaulting earthward, gifts from the gods, wealth wept, acid rain.
Steam rises clingingly—the bathroom fan is off, the fixtures sweat, the mirror frames a fog-enshrouded figure.
From outer space, I'll say. From a whole other planet!
ET—the extraterrestrial—gazes spellbound, in reflection, at the wheezing apparition, its labored breath sounding guttural through a length of rubberized tubing, windpipe worn on the outside, happily grotesque.
A hand, decidedly human, wipes a window in the glass...
Luther jiggles the doorknob.
...and hastily vanishes.
Bo, clothes damp from the mists of imagination—taps turned on full-tilt to produce the ethereal steam—exits, sans disguise, and looks for his missing luggage.
"I've got your bags, Bo. Get a move on."
Retrieving his mask and snorkel, Bo brings up the rear.
[Always those ridiculous, slanderous comics. Just like Davy. "Remember little Davy? Remember little Davy?" The anesthetist kept asking, as she put me under. Tonsils. Davy went first and was miserable for days afterward. I, on the other hand, was eating ice cream an hour after post-op, King of the Heap. "Remember little Davy? Remember little Davy?" How could I forget him, the village idiot of our upstate, backwater town, the retard of LaSalle Street, bane of my—his younger brother's—shamefaced existence?]
The private aircraft is populated sparsely, pilot, co-pilot, crew, and Q's inner circle:
[Hard to recall, exactly, when it was Davy changed—or when I changed; Davy was always Davy—when he shifted from big-brother status to pain-in-the-ass. I was five years younger, yet it was I who had to lead Davy around by the hand: to school, to church, to baseball practice—the team would let him 'practice,' but they never let him play; not once. True, he couldn't catch. Or hit. And, when he did make contact with the ball, he was as likely to run to third base as to first. Why? Who knows? Because he was left-handed, maybe.]
Bo, for the umpteenth time, leafs back through his comic book's pages. He has run the flight attendants ragged, asking them to help with the harder words: "cordially" "frenetic" "radical" "hygienic" "radical" a second time; Sorry, I forgot.
[I'd watch them smile that cramped, uncomfortable smile, like their underpants had just crept up between their buttocks, hiding their ridicule, waiting to catch one another's eye with a knowing wink, a scornful grimace, a shrug of mockery—Davy oblivious to it all. More so than Bo, even. Davy would drool, from time to time, wet himself, pick his nose and eat the boogers, suck his thumb at night, cry like a baby. When people hurt him. People like me. When I was so sick of being humiliated by the dumb-ass shit he'd do, so angry at him for interrupting my music, I'd lash out, pinch his malformed ear just to make the poor bastard yelp, make him suffer for being defective, for being dumb, for being Davy. My elder brother.]
Bo is frowning. He has reached the stage of comparing what he is reading to what he is actually experiencing.
Q gots no trailer. I'da seen it, if he did. These pi'tures show 'im at a window what looks into a kind o' shower, 'cept they's no place for the water to come out, just naked people waitin'. They's all teenagers, too, what don't seem for-true on account o' Q hates teenagers. Q says folks don't act human so long as they's got tails. Teenagers all got tails, Q says, till they drop off once they's grown-ups. 'Course Q's just joshin'; human bein's don't got no tails at all.
[Davy died. He was with our mother when the car crashed. She died, too. I was only nine. Resilient, like kids are. Still, I took it pretty hard. His death more than hers, for some reason. Because I hated him. Because I loved him. He was handicapped, I was gifted, total opposites—yet hardly any difference.]
Bo's agitation is increasing as layers of meaning, onion-skin fashion, are exposed, hisbrows furrowing, lower lip protruding, then turning inside out, eyes unfixed in a sightless-seeming gaze.
This part talks 'bout "IT," the disease, what's got everyone so ascared. You can catch it by doin' nasty things with 'fectious people what aren't too nice. 'Cept you can catch it by doin' good things, too. That's how's come, no matter what, you gotta take them tests. Then be extra-special careful, in between, like Q is.
[Bo is getting up the gumption to ask me his standard questions, so I can set him straight. I used to let him read those rags and believe whatever. But just like Davy, Bo thinks everything in print is the gospel truth. I could tell Davy "the sky is green today" and he'd figure out I was joshin' 'im. But if I wrote it down "the sky is green today" and showed him the paper, he'd be up on the roof in a flash to check it out.]
Bo looks back and forth between his comic book and Q. Q nods. Excitedly, Bo attempts to stand, but his seatbelt restrains him. Fumbling with its buckle, he unfastens it and ambles across the aisle.
"What's up, Bo?"
"God and all o' His Angels." He sits beside his pal and fondly grins. "Did you see them nice ladies explainin' these words, Q? They's real nice, and knowed my comics is all 'bout you on account o' you bein' f-f-famous. I give 'em a look, 'cept not at this pi'ture here. It's naughty. See? It shows..."
"I can see what it shows, Bo."
"Well. I 's wonderin', you know, why? I mean, how's come nobody gots on any clothes?"
"Don't you mean, why am I inspecting them?" Bo traps his lower lip between his teeth and nods. "Have you ever seen me doing anything like that, Bo?"
Bo shakes his head 'no.' Q commandeers the comic book and scans its racy text.
[This takes "Mister Cherry Picker" a bit too literally. Bubblegum tune:
She's got her lolli, Pop
Q moves to hand back the comic book, but pauses.
"I've asked you not to buy these spin-off rip-offs, haven't I? How much does this trash cost?" He flips the comic over. "Fifteen Euros!?"
"And cheap at that." This comment, from Samantha is offered en route to the toilet. "Rest assured you're getting a percentage. Ta." She disappears.
Bo, meanwhile, is rifling through the pages...
... searching for and finding...
[Once she taps a vein, you can kiss your dregs goodbye.]
[Struck some deal with Beelzebub, and used my blood to sign.]
"Look. Not all o' my comics is only comics; they's this charity part, too."
"'Charity'? What, where?"
Bo refers to a photograph, at which Q blankly stares—until recognition dawns with a maelstrom's poignancy.
"Q? What's a m-m-matter?"
[Lunar, in its roundness, features solemn, sweet, otherworldly innocence—Child—afraid.]
"It's for ad-d-doption, this part is, Q. They's a child in ev'ry issue what needs a mom and dad. All you gots to do is fill this form out, then m-m-mail it in, then I guess you gots to wait till your new child comes. They's b-b-boys 'n girls, whichever, from all 'round the world."
"Aren't we being a trifle egocentric, reading Q Comics? I should think you'd be a bit bored as the menu's solitary entrée. Q?"
"Q's upset. He s-s-seen..."
"I'm fine, Bo. May I?" Bo again surrenders his cherished comic. Q checks the inside cover. "'Prada Press'?"
"Why not? A little side-line. You can spare me the withering look; it's perfectly legitimate. And as I said before, you get your cut."
Q flips to the Adopt-A-Child solicitation.
"Public service. They get that free."
"Are they for real?"
"How should I know? Yes, of course. Have you heard otherwise?"
Q gives the comic book back to Bo. Samantha lingers, expectantly seductive, her lavender silk blouse exposing a voluptuous V of Surg-e-Perfect breasts—capturing Bo's attention; Q's eyes glaze over, as he reclines his seat, lowering his dark glasses like a knight-errant's visor.
[No more than a hut. Earthen floor. Kid wasn't barefoot; she wore moccasins. Hand-woven. Reminded me of the slipper socks my brother and I once wore, sewn-in leather soles that allowed our feet to feel whatever we stepped on. Hers were laced and higher, almost to her knees. Smudged. Charred. Unnatural look on her moon-like face, hovering over her tiny, trembling torso. Terrified, no doubt, but eerily calm—in those wall-to-wall flames—victim-turned-to-witness, silence a blameful shriek, bodies sizzling in the embers, blistering beyond recognition. Beyond a stranger's recognition, that is, the one wearing boots with armored toes and steel-reinforced heels that blocked the feet from feeling whatever they stepped on. He who laid his weapon like an offering at the youngster's feet. She never moved. Just watched. As the man took off his emblems and exchanged them for another's, similarly dressed, ablaze and crackling in a corner, casualty of an asinine crossfire, incendiary still aglow in his cremated nooks and crannies, ribcage like a jack-o-lantern sneering at those left alive.]
"Am I dismissed?" Samantha, grown disgruntled at Q's remote disinterest, awaits his response—getting none. Bo steals another peek at the heartthrob V. "Guess so." Chin uplifted, she pointedly takes her leave, settles into her seat, unsheathes her compact p-pilot, and enters the following:
jingle change inside their pockets
She reads her poem, tongue glued to the gloss of her pale-pink upper lip, satisfied and exasperated, wanting to seduce him and hating herself for another failed attempt, for years of failed attempts, wasted on a man who, in all that time, had taken nary a lover. Unless one considered Bo. Though few suspect their friendship is anything but platonic. Samantha included. Q's reputed bisexuality, notwithstanding—always having struck her as being straight. Stabbed her as being straight. Sunk his hetero-spike into her psyche whenever he strayed into her vicinity, giving off a scent as addictive as the opium poppy's sweat.
Miss Prada's so gosh-darn pretty I can sometimes hardly stand it. Tall, too. She's a giant nexta me. Not nexta Q, though; he's tall, also. But funny thing is, Q doesn't pay no attention when she comes and talks 'n' stuff. Q says Ms. Samantha sees life through 'er own mirror—what I don't un'erstand; but that's what Q says. I don't think he likes her. Q can be real unfriendly. He don't mean to be; it's only on account o' he's so lonesome. You wouldn't think someone what's got millions 'n' millions o' fans could ever be lonesome.
"Watch the birdie, Bobo." Luther freeze-frames Bo, mid-drivel, with a flash. The camera's instant-imager lights up a display. Luther designates "save;" the picture is stored. Dressed in pocket-peppered coveralls and luminescent Q-TEAM T-shirt, Luther assumes his alternate role as staff photographer—aka 'stealer of souls.' "Gotcha, Bobo. See? Pilfered another piece." He turns the imager sideways, allowing Bo to look.
"Another p-p-piece o' what?"
"Your soul. Don't you know what primitives believe about taking their picture?"
"No. T-t-tell me."
Luther settles into the aisle seat nearest Bo and leans across, equipment dangling from his neck like technotronic wind chimes.
"Once upon a time..." Bo's face lights up. "...when there were 'human beings'—that's what indigenous people called themselves; white-folks were the 'savages'—there lived an infamous brave named 'Eat-Me-Later.'"
"That's a f-f-funny n..."
"W-w-wish you'd tell me, though."
"Tell you what?"
"How 'Eat-Me-L-L-Later' got his name."
"I'm going to; relax. It was this grizzly bear's fault. There was this big ol' snaggle-toothed bear up and raided the Human Beings' camp one night when Squatting-By-The-River—don't ask—was giving birth."
"Good. The bear, bein' old, was on the lookout for an easy meal, so it sneaked on up to the teepee where mom and newborn were sound asleep. Luckily, just inside the entrance flap, were two huge sacks of corn—freshly shucked—so the bear started eating there first. Ate himself into a stupor. After which, being belly-bust bloated, the big bear belched."
Luther swallows air and belches extra-loudly—to Bo's delight.
"What p-p-prob'bly woke up the mom."
"Correct. Woke 'er with a 'GASP.'"
"Which attracted the bear, of course, who followed its nose to mom and baby. Stuck his big schnozzola under their blanket and started to sniff." Luther sniffs. "Then to snarl." Luther snarls. "And that, in turn, woke up baby."
Bo's eyes are wide as Frisbees.
"The baby let loose a scream—'EEEEEAT MEEEEE LAAAAATER!'—that sent the ol' bear packin'; he tumbled over backwards, crawled past the flap, and ran for the hills."
Bo claps an ovation.
"I like that s-s-story, Luther."
"Good; I'm glad."
"'Cept that's not it."
"What you was gonna t-t-tell me. You know, 'bout the s-s-soul? Don't you 'member?"
"I do, yes. I'm a little surprised you do. Maybe you're not as retarded as people think."
Bo's elation, like a shadow crossing the sun, abandons his face.
I am NOT retarded. My mom said so. "Slow," is all. I's always been slow, but I can learn things same as everybody else. They's just faster. But that don't mean they's smarter. Or maybe it does, but it still don't make me stupid. All my life people told me I's retarded, but it's not for-true.
"What are you blubbering about? What I say, Bobo?"
"My name's Bo, not 'Bobo.'"
"Sure, man. 'Bo.' Sorry. Was that what hurt your feelings; me calling you..."
"R-r-retarded. You said I's not as r-r-retarded as people think."
"And you're not. You missed my point. I meant you'renot retarded. Besides, retarded means slow; it doesn't mean stupid. It's a musical term, a direction. In a score, it means slow down. Ask Q; he'll tell ya. It doesn't mean 'play this section stupidly.' Can you imagine Q playing keyboard and suddenly having to make the notes sound dumb?" Bo smiles. "Ask him when he wakes up, Bo. Retard means slow. You ask him. Okay?"
Luther reaches across and gives Bo's shoulder a reassuring pat, then snaps another photograph—this with an antique Polaroid—hands the print-out to Bo, then gathers his gear and leaves.
Bo, clamping the snapshot between his thumb and index finger, watches its slow development... yellows transforming into browns... then purples... then bluish-greens... his watercolor-ish portrait coming g...r...a...d...u...a...l...l...y into focus... sans spittle... cowlick sticking up, but otherwise perfectly 'normal' looking.
Just a reg'lar fella.
He jostles Q's arm.
Q fails to awaken, immersed as he is, mid-performance, in an off-color dream...
[Sitting on stage, in a tuxedo, spot-lit—billows of cigarette smoke caught in its beam, a doll, a ventriloquist's dummy—with black hair, huge brown eyes, and drawbridge mouth—straddling his knee, its petticoats hiding the hand that manipulates levers inside.
"She walks, she talks, she wisecracks, even poops and pees."
"Only when I'm nervous."
"Are you nervous now?"
Q lifts her bottom to check.
The dummy Vs her brow to express condemnation.
Q resettles her petticoats, maneuvering the controls.
"WOO!" The dummy reacts. "Always goosing me!"
"Cannot keep his pinky from poking my schoolgirl's tuck."
"Not that I'm a virgin."
"One more lewd remark..."
"Look, he's blushing! Wasn't him, though—sorry, Darling. Another dummy: very famous, very naughty. Sat on his face, I did, and made him tell me a pack of lies."
Sight unseen, the audience unanimously snickers...]
...dissipating hollowly, as Q, with a slight flinch, stirs.
"You aw-w-wake, Q"
"I am now."
"Gots me a pi'ture Luther took. Wanna see?" Q dislodges his sunshades, shifting them to his forehead. Bo holds up the photograph, comparing respective features. "Looks just like me, d-d-don't it?"
['Spittin' image,' I could say, just to be sharp. Why not? Bo wouldn't get it.]
[Immediately, that is. But later, when he was quiet within himself and replayed what his pal had said, wouldn't he understand he'd been insulted?]
"Do me a favor, will you , Bo?"
"Please tell Tomes I'd like to see him pronto." Bo, remembering this time to unfasten his seat belt, scrambles to his feet. "Bo?"
"Would you leave your comic book here?" With a genuine twinge of reluctance, Bo complies. "One more thing before you go, Bo."
"Make sure we have some privacy."
"Q w-w-wants you should go and see him in p-p-private."
Tomes gots muscles on his muscles, I'll say. Once I seen 'im in his un'ershirt—what was unusual on account o' he always wears a coat 'n' tie, even on the island, what's hot and muggy mostly—and his biceps is gigantic, with scary tattoos.
Samantha adds her own thoughts, entered in her p-pilot's designated "journal."
Men who gouge their phantasies
Meanwhile, Q reviews the man he has summoned:
[You want something—good, bad; it doesn't matter; people want things. How you go about getting what you want determines what you've learned. About doing things yourself, or doing things by proxy. Tomes is a good example. I needed a bodyguard. Someone topnotch. He came recommended. I was to give him a tryout, then decide. Last year, in Munich, Tomes disarmed—almost literally—some fanatic who jumped onstage with a hand grenade in his fist. Never got the pin pulled; that's how fast Tomes reacted. He's a pro. He's also, maybe, a tool for getting what I want.]
Tomes, without a word, assumes the seat beside his employer.
[Doesn't ask questions. Like in the military, Tomes follows orders. I haven't tested it, but I think, if I gave the word, he'd kill on my behalf. Weird feeling, wielding such authority; 'do it because I say so.' 'Yes, sir.' Job gets done.]
Tomes waits impassively, his bulging coat sleeves, sphinx-like, planted on either chair arm.
[Anything I want.
Much like a whore. Been with a
whore once. Twice. Twenty times, I forget. In Tijuana.
"I thought I told you 'don't call me Chiquita.' I may
peel, but you're the one with the stiff banana."
Tomes is still waiting patiently, Q's steady, heavy breathing signifying sleep.
["Let...me...tell...you...all..." Tugging at her right-hand glove, she loosens all five digits...
"... a little story."
...and proceeds, with a slow-mo coaxing, to pulls the right glove off.
"I haven't always been a dummy."
She gives her buoyant bust a shameless squeeze.
"How else could I wrap his-nibs around my little finger? This one."
The crowd erupts with snickers at the finger she has raised.
"Ooooo, such naughty minds!"
She carries it to her mouth, inserts it indiscreetly, and slides it in and out, in and out, while uttering grunts and groans. She stops.
"I was once a child. 'Daddy's Little Girl.'"
She curtsies, removing the other glove, without ceremony.
"I had my lolli popped, however..."
She turns a sinister look toward Q, then pivots back, innocence restored—if seeming somewhat incongruous given the brassy accompaniment, sax and snare drum playing a dissolute score, her own dichotomous voice like a whiskey-throated child's—paraphrasing:
"'Which I would have given willingly, had he asked. Instead, he forced himself upon me with awful brutality. I was rescued, thankfully, and though I am all alone I am grateful to be alive. Would you please help?'"
She spreads her naked arms in an imploring gesture, then thrusts her hips—involuntarily—at the drum's insistent roll, humping, with abandon, to its arbitrary beat.
"Rehearsed, we did..."
She narrates in between spasms.
"... in the bathroom—uh—with soapsuds—ah—thick lather—oo—till Sugar Daddy—ow, that hurts—turned the bubble-bath red."
The spotlight shifts from cobalt blue to crimson.
"Please, I begged him. Stop!"
A pair of panties drops to the floor, surrounding the child-whore's feet, out of which she steps as from a pool of clotted menses.
"'No,' was Daddy's answer."
The saxophone exhorts her to discard what clothes remain: clasps unclasp, zippers unzip, buttonholes lose their buttons. Her costume clings for an instant...
... then falls in a heap...
... unveiling nothing more provocative than a lifeless marionette...
... whose disembodied voice is the dummy's last hurrah.
"So Sugar Daddy fucked his little girl from that sad day to this."]
FASTEN SEAT BELTS
Turbulence awakens Q with a jostling start, chasing away his dream, obscuring its fleeting details, his bodyguard's close proximity invoking the present tense.
"Ah, Tomes." Q opens Bo's comic book to the Adopt-A-Child ad and passes it to the bodyguard. "I want this checked. First, I want to know if the agency's legit. Who funds it? Government, religious organization, private sector? Be discreet. Second, find out the procedure, if it turns out that she's really up for adoption. Or abduction. Legally, if you can, but bring this girl to the island by any and all means necessary."
Tomes nods, takes a double-edged knife from his pocket, and neatly scores along the centerfold, detaching the page, handing the book back to Q—who turns to face a porthole.
The aircraft climbs, its wing like a switchblade slicing through gray flannel clouds [Child], fog gray clouds [alive], mist gray clouds [alone], powder gray clouds turned to pale now brilliant blue as the turbulence subsides [Maya Tapia, her name], the sky like that of the Andes near Paratía [birthplace of remorse...] in the Western Cordillera [...and of the wind itself].
It is called by my people the tutukas wayra. So strong; do not face it. To speak is to have this wind fracture your jaw. It plays thief with the voice. It collapses the chest. You go deaf from its roar—which can kill you.
The room is a simple one, plain stucco walls, wooden floor, bunk beds—two pairs—one wash stand, one chair, which the child has set facing the window. Her dress is white muslin. Her skin, juxtaposed, appears dark, as if stained by coca. It is a lustrous nut-brown, like the floor, like the chair, like a hardwood—dense-grained, oiled, and polished. She sits primly, somewhat stiffly, conforming to the straight-backed support, her posture unnatural, yet her hands lie comfortably limp in her lap as she gazes at the sunset-painted mountains.
And the phuka, it too is a treacherous wind. Khakaykuy, it surrounds you. K'upakuy, hits hard! Breathes snow from its lungs, which can freeze your eyes blind. If you jump in the phuka you may never come down.
Her expression is placid, despite thoughts that long for a homeland whose peaks befriend the stars.
The light changes character, grows warmer in color, but the air contradicts its effect, becoming chillier. The child, feeling it, shivers, stands, crosses the bare floor on bare feet, and retrieves her shawl—her llijlla—from its hook beside her bunk. Singed at the edges, one corner scorched, it is damaged but whole, nonetheless. A gift from her grandmother—for chujcharutuchi, the hair-cutting ritual—it is all she has left, save memories that linger like scars. Draping it over her shoulders, she returns to the chair.
Burnt orange streaked with pink now illumines the landscape, her young face observing, absorbing each hue. She is infant-like / aged / opaque / now translucent / both masculine / feminine / beautiful / plain, as the four walls flush deeper, as the girl-child escapes them, as the boy-child takes wing, arms outstretched, circles, soars, leaves This World—Kay Pacha—for the Inner World—Ukhu Pacha, harkens to those who have gone long before—then, catching an updraft, ascends—Hanan Pacha, to the Upper World past Man's concerns.
Q's lenses, with the same sun's set, darken, reflecting upside down the blush-bled clouds.
"Can I c-c-come back?"
"You are back."
"I mean, c-c-can I sit?"
Bo sits, looking anxious. He fidgets, flicks the Net-Portal tabs—click, click, click—set in the seatback in front of him. The monitor flashes—on, off, on—subsequently, finally going blank.
"Q, in music? You know, like in m-m-music?"
"Yeah, in music. What does r-r-retarded mean?"
"To slow down."
"For-true? You mean it? Is that all it m-m-means, really?"
Bo rests easily, his relief apparent. He grins. He massages himself like a cat, rubbing his shoulders against the upholstery.
"I love music."
Q turns, takes off his glasses, and peers—not at, but into—the eyes of his faithful friend.
"Me, too, Bo."
END OF PART ONE