1. The tiny people in the distance dropped like flies. The Evil Genius smiled as he molested his Van dyke beard. “It’s a beautiful day,” he remarked as distant screams inundated his ears.
Emily Twiggs made a notation on her yellow legal tablet. “Can I quote you on that, mister?”
“What exactly are you investigating?” the Evil Genius asked once the noises had subsided a bit.
Emily approached and traced some of the esoteric blueprints on the Evil Genius’s desk with the tip of her forefinger. “A device called the Miracle Murder Machine,” she answered.
The Evil Genius smiled. “And what have you learned?”
Emily bit her lip. “Well, not a heck of a lot. You see — ”
“I figured as much,” the Evil Genius chuckled.
2. Back at Moustache Publishing, the Chief looked over Georgiy’s latest content and nodded his approval. “This is good stuff, Georgiy. Nice hot fresh content.”
Georgiy was beaming. “Beam it up, Tolstoy,” he responded nonsensically.
3. Jack Chaser watched the happy young couple. His jaw tightened and tensed and so on. He squeezed the steering wheel as if it were the mob’s collective neck. The young man and the young woman were kissing and, when they weren’t doing that, were groping and making kissy faces at one another.
“Flower woulda been twelve,” Chaser said softly and perhaps even somberly. “Flower woulda been twelve.”
4. “Good seeing you, McNeill,” Oscar Berkman said as he and Hubert “the Heel” McNeill finished with their friendly embrace. “It really was a treat.”
“You know it,” McNeill said with a winning smile.
“I hope nothing bad happens to you,” Berkman said with all the sincerity of the world’s most sincere man, as played by prime-period Andy Griffith.
“Oh, nothing ever does,” McNeill said, still smiling winningly.
They parted ways. McNeill climbed in his car and turned the ignition and then turned on the stereo. He always did love his music. He’d had so many great discussions about music with literally thousands of people over the years. He’d enhanced all their lives, to be sure. “Good song,” he said aloud as he “upped” the volume to better enjoy whatever Weezer song he happened to be listening to at the time. Since they all sound alike, who cares which one it was. Also: Why do you keep pestering me about these details? It’s not like I’m the second coming of Tolstoy. Anyway, there came a knocking at the window. Still smiling like the happy-go-lucky saint of a god of a great guy that he was, McNeill rolled down the window.
BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM
“W-w… why?” McNeill asked weakly as he went limp and fell out the driver’s side door and onto the pavement, blood pouring out of six bullet holes that passed clean through his guts. “W-w…”
“Never mind that,” his assailant barked. “Time to die!”
“N… n…” was all McNeill could manage before his assailant put the dying man’s car in neutral, causing its tire to roll over his head, smashing it like an especially brittle snail shell.
5. “How would you describe the defendant, miss?” the corrupt district attorney asked with no shortage of gravitas. In fact, he had so much gravitas that he had to be taken to the hospital for a risky — but necessary — gravitas-removal operation.
“Oh, he was a real psycho,” the witness answered readily.
“A psycho?” the DA repeated, glancing at the jury afterward.
“You bet,” the witness confirmed. “Very moody.”
“What do you mean… ‘moody?'”
The witness paused to sip her water. Clearly it wasn’t easy coming up with lies on the spot like this. “Well, sometimes he’d be extremely friendly, but other times he’d…”
“He’d what?” the DA asked with as much or more gravitas than when he’d begun his line of questioning a moment earlier. Thank god he got help when he did. “What would he do?”
The witness shook her head. It was unbearable.
“Please,” the DA pleaded, “Please tell us.”
“He wouldn’t say anything to anyone. He’d walk around looking like he’d just sucked a lemon.”
The jury gasped.
“Your Honor, I fail to see how — ” John Luxton started to interject, but realized he’d just gotten five lines on Tetris, thanks to a well-timed straight-line piece. He was happier than a hog in slop.
“Yes, Mr. Luxton?” the judge asked.
Luxton started mashing his Gameboy’s buttons like a madman. “C’mon… grfff… frgg… urff…”
“Mr. Luxton?” the judge asked again.
“What?” Luxton snapped. “What is it?”
6. J.P. Crackerjack, like most big-league ballplayers who manage to have respectable but by no means stellar careers, refused to “hang ’em up” when everyone said he should. So he putzed around in the minors for his last few years, officially bottoming out when he landed in the dying Greenville Doorknobs farm system. Crackerjack, former Cleveland Spartans first sacker, was reduced to backing up some young thing on the Richmond Braves ballclub.
“Hit a homer for me, J.P.!” a young Braves fan shouted.
“Fuck off,” Crackerjack said tersely.
“Why, I never!” the young Braves fan’s mother gasped.
“That’s what I’d tell myself if that thing,” Crackerjack pointed a thumb in the young Braves fan’s direction, “Fell outta my ass, too.”
7. The 1950s Prose Poet sat in the field and removed his shirt. After splashing a bit of beer on his bared bronze chest, he lit a cigarette and started jotting down some new content. Before he’d gotten too far into it, though, a pair of giggly girls in revealing beachwear approached. He looked up and smiled a gruff smile. “Help you with something, girls?” he asked with the sort of rough-hewn charisma that had made him his name.
“We were just… aren’t you… ?” was all the girls could manage, so overcome were they with lust and longing.
The 1950s Prose Poet laughed a hearty laugh. “Probably,” he answered.
8. “Yep,” the Chief began with a wistful sigh. Some sort of flashback was to follow… or was it? “I remember the Kid Pop/Miyamoto fight.”
“Chief?” asked the fresh-faced rookie, a confused look on his babyface.
“Oh, this was before your time, kid,” the Chief explained. “See, I used to follow the sweet science a lot in the old days.”
“The sweet science?”
“Boxing, kid,” the Chief said with a wave of one of his big, beefy paws. He shook his head and smiled, then ate a couple packs of cigarettes before continuing, “Middleweights… those were my favorites. And Kid Pop and Miyamoto were two of the best. Maybe even the two best. Definitely two of the best, though. Yep.”
“Never heard of ’em,” the “rook” confessed.
“Nah, ya wouldn’t’ve,” the Chief said, inexplicably picking up a bit of an accent. “That fight was the end of an era, though, lemme tell ya.”
“What era was that, Chief?”
The Chief ate another pack of cigarettes and took on the qualities of a man who’s seen and heard it all. “The Kid Pop era.”
9. John Luxton was hot to trot as he prepared to respond to the judge’s query. “Yes, Your Honor, I do have a witness.”
“Go on,” the judge said.
Luxton smiled and rapped upon the bench with his knuckles a few times. “The defense calls the man in the white jacket with a smile for every occasion to the stand,” he said, his smile by now even bigger.
The man in the white jacket with a smile for every occasion appeared before the court in a white jacket with a self-assured but nonetheless respectful smile on his face. He winked at Luxton. Luxton winked back. Since it was obvious that he was a man who not only dabbled but more or less immersed himself completely in the practice of truth-telling, the man in the white jacket with a smile for every occasion didn’t need to be sworn in.
“For starters,” Luxton began, “How was your flight?”
“It was fine. Just fine,” replied the man in the white jacket with a smile for every occasion. “I can’t seem to get enough of those friendly skies!”
Luxton was pleased. “Let the record show that the witness flew from Decatur to be here.”
“Mr. Luxton,” the judge began with equal parts confusion and vexation, “The court would like to — ”
Luxton ignored the judge. “Tell us, sir, what you know about the late Hubert McN — ”
“Mr. Luxton!” the judge shouted.
Luxton and the man in the white jacket with a smile for every occasion turned toward the judge. “Yes, Your Honor?” Luxton asked innocently.
The judge was fuming. “First of all, I’d like to remind you that there is no smoking in my courtroom,” he said, gesturing at the lit clove cigarette in Luxton’s hand. “Secondly, I’d like to know who exactly you’re talking to.”
Luxton puffed his clove fag and laughed nervously. “The witness, Your Honor. I’m, umm… what’s the technical term for when the lawyer is asking the witness questions?” he wondered. After another puff of his clove cigarette, a lightbulb came on over his head. “The examination? Yes, that’s it. I’m examining the witness, Your Honor.”
10. “Did you hear what he did to ‘Slate’ Flanagan?” the thirtysomething cop asked his younger partner as both sipped from bottles of Tough Guy Ale.
“Flanagan? Why does that name sound familiar?” asked the younger cop as he produced a crumpled pack of cigarettes from his pants pocket. He offered a cigarette to his partner.
The thirtysomething cop shook his head. “No thanks,” he said as he finished off his beer. “Trying to quit.”
The younger cop shrugged, lit his cigarette and continued looking at his partner, waiting for a response to his Flanagan query.
“’Slate’ was a big name in the mafia game up until about five or six years ago,” the older cop explained.
“Ah,” said the younger cop. “Then what happened?”
The older cop signaled for the bartender to bring two more Tough Guy Ales before answering with a knowing smile, “Then that fat Mick met Jack Chaser.”
“What’d Chaser do to him?” the younger cop asked eagerly like a young child whose maw can only be satiated by shared knowledge and details and information.
The older cop took another sip of beer before answering, “He set him on fire.”
The older cop nodded. “Set him on fire while he was chained to a bedpost and beat him to death with a shovel.”
11. “Don’t you want to know what I learned, Jack?” Emily Twiggs asked in a teasing sort of way.
Jack Chaser had apparently had some sort of unpleasant premonition, because he was uncharacteristically downtrodden. “Nope,” he answered after a long silence.
Emily was, of course, moderately annoyed by Chaser’s answer. Not that she wanted to share what little information she’d gained from her exchanged with the Evil Genius; in fact, all she wanted to do was taunt Jack with myriad red herrings and ambiguities like he always did with her. He wasn’t biting, though. He wouldn’t budge. “Why not?” she asked, her anger veiled quite thinly as if by a sheet of wax paper. “I learned a lot in there. I know all about the Miracle Murder Machine,” she promised, now sounding a bit desperate.
Chaser swallowed, licked his lips and pulled his ten gallon hat down over his eyes.
Emily clenched her fists and shut the car door. After a moment, she turned to Chaser and began rubbing his shoulder and breathing on his neck. “Don’t you want to know, baby?” she asked breathlessly.
Chaser cleared his throat. “I already know.”
“You already … ?” was all Emily got out. She narrowed her eyes, gritted her teeth and then fastened her seatbelt and put both hands on the wheel. She felt like screaming.
Chaser folded his hands across his belly and smiled a little smile.
12. I felt like smoking a cigarette, so I excused myself to the section marked “Neighbors,” which was opposite the section marked “For Our Neighbors.” Both sections were empty. I took a seat in one of the plastic lawn chairs and lit a cigarette. Before long I heard footsteps approaching and looked up. Two impossibly droopy, saggy old women — both of whom appeared to almost be melting right before my eyes — were standing across the table from me.
“Have you ever smoked before?” asked one of them.
“You’ve never smoked before, have you?” asked the other.
I ashed my cigarette nervously and cleared my throat. Before I could offer a response they were both laughing. “I’ll bet your boyfriend doesn’t like that, young lady.”
By now I was so uncomfortable that I had to stand up and leave. Their smell was the worst thing about them but is very hard to describe accurately in words. One might describe it as the smell of a particularly offensive color if one had to, though.
“Where are you going?” one of them demanded to know.
“Let me touch you with my pizza slice hands,” said the other, though she didn’t wait for me to grant my permission before doing just that. She wrapped her wrinkly old hands around my arms and started cackling. Black goo bubbled and squirted from her mouth.
What happened next is not so clear now as it was then. I seem to remember a petite oriental girl climbing onto my back. “She’s here to distract you,” the leader of the motorcycle gang then informed me. I nodded, dropped her over the side of the overpass and then pried loose the old woman’s bony hands from my arms and shoved her against a screen door. A barbed wire noose slipped and then tightened around her neck, at which point her head popped off and sailed across the room like a balloon losing its air.
Then, as I reached into the refrigerator I wondered: Who saw my murder? Had anyone seen my murder?
13. “Why does it have to be so violent?” asked a student after Professor Ruggleteapot had finished reading a selection from Brian Powell’s famous novel The Brian Powell Story.
“Oh, we live in a violent world, young miss,” Ruggleteapot explained as he thumbed his suspenders. “Surely you’ve noticed as much if only from screening the evening newsies.”
“Yeah,” the student said in response, “But I mean, they don’t show corpses being raped on the news.”
Ruggleteapot nodded. “Indeed they don’t,” he agreed, but then raised a finger, “But have you any doubt that they would if they could?”