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"he saw too many people to care about any undue influence even in this graveyard."
frankie was desperate for a cigarette. he had been listening to uncle bradley's ramblings and mutterings and wise sayings since the sun had gone down and the neon sign on the hotel outside the window of uncle bradley's office had started flashing. the sign flashed on and off all night. frankie had pleaded with uncle bradley to get an office outside a bar or theatrical establishment - whose light might go off after closing time - but, in this as in most things, uncle bradley ignored his advice.
"what was that again?"
"i said," uncle bradley repeated "that he - "
"he is al zeto - who runs this town and a few others, as you may have noticed."
"no i hadn't noticed. i thought the gummint was running the whole world, including this town."
do you have a cigarette?'
"of course i don't have a cigarette. what ever gave you such an idea? and if i had one, i wouldn't give you one. a cigarette! where would i get a cigarette? where were we?"
"we were speculating on whether al zeto or the gummint ran this town."
"what town?" uncle bradley picked up his razor sharp letter opener and spun it on his right forefinger.
"this town we're sitting in." the sight of the spinning letter opener was starting to accomplish what a night of listening to uncle bradley had not - make frankie sleepy.
'we're not sitting in the town, we're sitting in my office."
"right." frankie took his eyes away from the spinning letter opener, and uncle bradley put it down.
"speaking of this office - of this office -"
"yes?" uncle bradley lifted his bushy right eyebrow.
"business isn't too good, is it?"
"you could say that."
frankie hesitated. "maybe i should look darker up."
"that loser? he's got to be worse off than us. he was more dependent on cash than we were."
"i'm not so sure about that. he could pick up all sorts of stuff. you have to get paid by somebody."
"yes, but he has to pay more people off. maybe it's a wash." uncle bradley stopped spinning the letter opener and put it down on the desk. "besides, i thought you didn't like him."
"i don't. he's a filthy disgusting animal - " uncle bradley's eyebrows went up slightly at frankie's choice of words - "but you - we - have to do something."
uncle bradley shrugged. "talk to him if you want, if you can find him. just don't commit me to anything without talking to me first."
"oh, i would never do that."
uncle bradley picked the letter opener up again and ran his thumb along it.
"i need some fresh air," frankie told him.
"then get some. who's stopping you?"
"nobody, i guess." frankie stood up. he lost his balance for a second, got it back.
"i'll be back."
"i'll be here."
"i guess you will." frankie went out the door after moving his chair out from in front of it.
uncle bradley hadn't had a customer in a long time. he had advertised himself as a detective, an assassin, a torturer, a poisoner, a finder of missing persons, a kidnapper, a slave trader, a white slaver, a spy, a procurer, "the man who will do anything" ... it didn't make any difference, there wasn't any business. he just sat in his chair and waited. frankie supported him for old times sake, and because maybe... maybe... maybe what?
frankie found himself down in the street. he took a deep breath of the "fresh" air and wanted a cigarette worse than ever. at least he was waking up. he noticed a black car parked halfway down the street, in the shadow of the hotel with the flashing light. as soon as he noticed it the drivers door and the right side passenger door opened and two detectives stepped out.
duffy and messalina, the two meanest and crookedest detectives in captivity.
good cop bad cop was not in their repertoire - they were both bad. frankie took an instinctive step back toward the shadows but duffy's voice stopped him.
"going somewhere, jiao?"
frankie stopped and waited for them. duffy was wearing a three piece suit and a fedora. frankie thought she looked ridiculous. messalina looked a little more stylish in a baseball cap and sports jacket.
"i just stepped out for some fresh air, detective."
duffy stepped right up to him. "you think i look ridiculous, don't you?"
"i can see you are making a statement."
"got any i d?'" messalina asked frankie.
"we don't need any i d," said duffy. "i know exactly who this is. and what he is. isn't that right, jasper wofgang mordecai ali ramon jiao?'
"my friends call me frankie."
"you picked up some friends?" duffy turned to messalina. "i guess we haven't been keeping this guy as close as we thought."
'i think he means us. we're his friends."
"what do you want?" frankie asked. "why are you out here watching uncle bradley? he hasn't done anything but sit in his office since - since - for a long time."
"how long is a long time?," messalina asked.
"these new time measurements confuse me," frankie answered.
"me too," messalina told him. "i'm an old-fashioned girl, these new ways confuse me no end."
"be that as it may," said duffy, "we are not interested in bradley, we are interested in darker."
frankie looked up at the flashing light of the hotel. "they say the universe is running down," he said ,"but you would never know it from this sign."
"that was a pretty weak change of subject," messalina told him.
"look at us when you speak to us," duffy added. "don't be impolite, it's not polite."
"so when was the last time you heard from darker?" messalina asked.
"i never hear from darker."
"that's not what we hear. we heard you were pretty tight."
"you heard wrong." frankie looked up at the hotel sign again, it was blinking on and off "hotel end whistle".
messalina looked up at it too. "didn't it use to have another name?"
"but," duffy continued, 'you wish you were tight with darker, don't you? "
"that's right." messalina took her eyes off the sign. "maybe we'll arrest both of you, put you in a cell together. even though he's a disgusting animal, he might get bored."
"you'd like that, right?" duffy asked.
frankie didn't answer.
"don't be rude, answer my question."
"i admit when i first saw him i found him attractive. anybody would. but - "
duffy poked him in the chest "but nothing. "
"tell me, frankie," messalina asked, "how long since you've been ravished with burning love by a real man?"
"a while. but what do you care?"
"we're your friends. we care about you."
"we got to go,' said duffy. "we'll be in touch. remember, friends don't keep secrets from each other."
messalina gave him a final smile and they both turned to go.
"hey!" frankie called after them.
messalina turned back to him.
"since you're my friends - "
"you got a cigarette."
"sure," messalina dug into the pocket of her jacket. it took a while but she finally extracted a single slightly bent cigarette and handed it to frankie.
"i don't need a light, i got my own."
"good. i see you are prepared for any eventuality. we like that."
when frankie got back upstairs the first thing uncle bernard said to him was, "he saw too many people to care about any undue influence even in this graveyard."
but this time, frankie thought, i have a cigarette. maybe it will turn out differently.
"then he can be ignored, treated like zero."
"ok" kobo picked a remote up off mr zeto's desk and pressed it.
mr zeto turned and looked at the screen behind the desk. a couple of cowboys were crossing the desert.
"all these towns look the same," said the first cowboy.
"they don't look the same, they are the same."
the sun was at its zenith. they had left the last town hours ago.
"the sun is at its zenith,"said the first cowboy,who was quantrill, or maybe he was teddy roosevelt or amadis of gaul or ivan the terrible.
"zenith. that's a pretty big word for an ignorant mumblypegger like you.."
"don't these cowboys have names?" mr zeto asked. he picked up his cup of espresso and sipped it.
kobo stared straight ahead at the screen. "sure they have names - you have to watch the bottom the screen - the subtitles.'
"a man as busy as me shouldn't have to watch subtitles."
"just look - the guy on the left - with the brown hat - he's quantrill, or maybe he is teddy roosevelt or amadis of gaul or ivan the terrible. the other guy - in the yellow hat - he is frank james or maybe he is gavrilo princip or charlemagne or the red baron."
"i haven' t got time for this nonsense - they should be jake and buck."
"sure." kobo pressed the remote and the cowboys became jake and buck.
jake and buck continued across the desert. the sun began to set. a coyote began to howl.
" listen to that coyote howl," said jake.
"he don't sound too hungry to me," said buck. "must be a camp or a town around here for him to get some pickins."
sure enough there was a town over the next ridge. jake and buck rode into it.
there were a few people in the street. they all wore brown hats - no black, white, yellow or gray.
"looks like a brown hat town," said buck.
"it does that."
"you fellows looking to do some honest work?" said a voice behind them.
they turned to see a well fed man in a brown hat looking up at them.
"we don't do no other kind," jake answered.
"that we don't," added buck. "would this here be a mining town, a cattle town or what?" he looked around. it looked like just a town.
"it was a mining town," the man answered. "i'm the mayor of the town by the way, name's frank jenkins," he held his hand out to jake, then buck, shaking hands with both. "but we ran into a little trouble a while ago. seems some of the miners broke through the earth's crust to the fires of hades, and since then we've had a plague of demons." he squinted up at jake and buck. "you fellows got any experience fighting demons?"
"can't say i do," said jake. "some with vampires and zombies, but not with demons. name's dan quigley, by the way."
"and i'm sandy palgrave," said buck. "demons? nah. ghouls and rustlers, but no demons so far. i didn't realize these was demon-haunted parts."
"well, they ain't exactly haunting us." said frank jenkins, "we just got to get them back into the ground. four dollars a month, plus grub. how about it?"
"make it a dollar a week, instead of four a month."
'i see you are hard bargaining men. all right, you got yourselves a deal. come on, i 'll show to the bunkhouse and you can meet the other boys."
as dave and sandy were talking to jenkins, a hand pulled aside a curtain on a second story window across the street. mrs dandelion dupre, who owned the town, watched the trio as they rode back down the dusty street and out toward the mines.
"looks like that fool jenkins has hied some more human flotsam to try to fight the demons."
her daughter, dulcimer dupre, sat in a rocking chair in a shady corner deftly knitting a shawl. "i suppose it can't hurt for him to try. these fellows he hired, what did they look like? was they young, handsome? did they might be dukes or princes in disguise?"
"never you mind, missy, asking fool questions like that. how you think dukes and such going to be riding into town?"
"it's town, ain't it? if i could sit and look out the window myself i could see for myself couldn't i? wouldn't have to be asking you no questions."
"you just stay right in that corner and do your knitting. it's cool there ain't it? just be thankful you're not outside - in hell."
joe jones was an adventurer.
joe smith had a hot dog stand on the boardwalk on the beach outside gotham city.
he sold joe's special hot dogs. he also had joe's special mustard to put on the hot dogs.
it was a nice sunny afternoon. business was pretty good. joe was cleaning the grill and he looked up and saw a big guy in a camels hair coat staring at him. the coat looked too heavy for the nice sunny afternoon.
"special hot dogs, huh?"
"yes", joe replied politely, "i think you'll find them pretty special."
"do you want mustard on it? or anything else, onions, whatever?"
"are the onions special?"
"no, they are just onions," joe answered .
"no thanks, i just want special. i'm a special type guy."
"that will be five dollars please."
the man in the camels hair coat reached into his pants pocket and slowly peeled off five one dollar bills and handed them to joe.
joe put some mustard on a hot dog and handed it to the man in the camels hair coat.
the man bit off half the dog and began chewing slowly, staring intently at joe.
"i'm sorry, but there is nothing special about this dog. it's ok, but special? i don't think so." he put the other half of the dog into his mouth and slowly masticated it.
"nothing special about it at all," he said when he finished.
"i'm sorry." said joe. "if you liked it, i would given you a special deal, if your family and friends wanted to try them. maybe the people you work with, too."
"i work for myself thank you. and you know what?" the man put his face in joe's. "i think you should give me my money back."
"sure, no problem." joe handed the man back his five bills
"and i suppose you think that makes it ok?" the man in the camels hair coat looked at some citizens passing by.
"hey, hey! listen up good people!" he shouted at them. "this guy is a fraud! he is defrauding the public! he's selling hot dogs as special and there is nothing special about them! what do you think about that?"
the people - a woman in a gray pants suit with a little dog, two men with briefcases, three teenage girls in designer jeans and a man pushing a shopping cart with a broom sticking up out of it - ignored him.
"a tough crowd," said joe.
"that's right, joe. they are a tough crowd. and do you know why? because they are just like you - happy to go through life as worthless pieces of detritus, lying and cheating their way through their endless procession of meaningless days!"
"isn't that a little harsh? excuse me, i have a customer."
a young woman had stepped up to the hotdog stand. she wore pink wraparound shades and a long green t-shirt with a picture on it of virginia woolf eating a carrot. she had a small orangutan on a leash. the orang was wearing a cubs cap with an arrow through it and had a harmonica on a strap around his neck.
"good morning, joe'' said the young woman. "one for me and two for octave, please." she handed him a twenty dollar bill.
"morning, duchess. only two for octave today?"
"he's on a diet. he shouldn't be having any, but you know, they are so special."
joe gave the orang two dogs with mustard pickles and onions and the duchess one dog with mustard and five dollars change.
the man in the camels hair coat had been waiting politely. now he spoke.
"still a big tipper, hey?"
the duchess pushed her shades down on her nose and looked at him, "joe jones. i did see you, joe, but i was trying to be polite by ignoring you." she shook her head. 'you look like trash, like really shameful detritus. you should find a better dumpster to sleep in."
she looked at joe smith. "don't take any debris from this clown. if he bothers you, come see me." she walked off down the boardwalk with the orangutan. when they were halfway down, the orang looked back and blew the opening notes of the battle hymn of the republic on his harmonica.
"you have powerful friends," said joe jones. 'but i knew that. it doesn't change anything. you are still a lying worthless piece of inert ectoplasm."
joe smith began cleaning his grill again.
the young woman took her hand out of the bag with a tiny atomizer in it, pressed it between hank/ali/ike/sergei's eyes and pressed it down.
he turned into a pink dove and flew up into the station roof.
before reese/mehmed/mike/sir guy reacted - he kept his hands on his knees - she turned and waved a blue embroidered handkerchief in his face.
he turned into a purple and gold lizard and scampered off in the direction of the ticket counter.
the station clock read 9:59.
where were the two other bad guys? there was nobody else in the station.
a dust storm had come up somewhere on the planet and the early morning sun was struggling to get through the settling motes.
two bad guys were waiting for the train. their names were hank and reese, or maybe they were ali and mehmed, or ike and mike. or sergei and sir guy.
they had brand new six-shooters, a little too big for them, holstered on their right hips.
two other bad guys were supposed to join them. they hadn't shown up yet
they waited. hank, or maybe he was ali or ike or sergei, was whittling a stick with a knife so small it was almost invisible in his hand. his buddy just sat with his hands on his knees.
"i hope you fellows aren't up to any no good, with those six-shooters. my husband and little boy are going to be arriving on the train and i don't want any ruckus."
ali looked up. a respectable looking young woman was sitting on a bench in the shadow of the station clock, she was small. with a big purse on her lap. her face was hidden by a large blue bonnet.
ike looked over at mike before replying. "well, ma'am, we're waiting on a feller. we hope there won't be any unpleasantness but there may well be a touch of unpleasantness,"
"you should say fellow, not feller. learn to pronounce your words correctly."
"yes, ma'am. i thought i was scoring some points saying things like 'a touch of unpleasantness' and 'there may well be' but i stand corrected. thank you."
sir guy interjected. "you know, ma'am, the usage 'ma'am' itself is not entirely correct. strictly speaking, it should be 'madam'. would you like us to address you as 'madam'? also, 'ruckus' is not the most elegant usage."
sergei chuckled pleasantly, "don't mind him, ma'am, he hasn't had his breakfast yet. he gets a little out of sorts and persnickity sometimes."
the young woman got up and approached the two villains. 'perhaps, while you are waiting, you improve yourselves by reading the words of the prophet."
"thank you," hank answered. "we would appreciate that very much."
she opened the handbag and reached into it. "or would you prefer the words of comrade lenin, or mr gurdjieff"
"it's all the same, ma'am, as long as its good wisdom"
the young woman took her hand out of the bag with a tiny pistol in it, pressed it between hank/ali/ike/sergei's eyes and pulled the trigger.
before reese/mehmed/mike/sir guy reacted - he kept his hands on his knees - she turned and shot him through his right eye.
the station clock read 9:59.
where were the two other bad guys? there was nobody else in the station.
hatfield put the tube of toothpaste back on the shelf. the girl behind the counter was watching him. she was answering an elderly customer's questions about drugs for varicose veins but she was was watching him. he could also feel darker and the gang waiting for him outside the store
the girl behind the counter was named delilah davis. she lived with her mother and grandfather in a trailer park beyond the stately symmetry of the city.
the customers name was japhet johnson. he was descended from hiram johnson, the founder of the city.
they watched hatfield as he stepped out into the sunlight. the shadow of the guard tower fell on him.