Sunday, November 28, 2010

POP14: “A Digression”


(Can be skipped. Not in the regular flow of the plot.)

Fake Face remained standing at the head of the purple or orange room—the color shifting with sunlight entering through the broad bay windows overlooking Killtown. His followers, black-and-white coated Jake Pol among them, wondered where in his hidden mind Fake Face was going. His voice continued in a low murmur, almost a whisper, before subtly rising. Fake Face was speaking about rodents cohabiting the building with them.

“Do you ever wonder?” Fake Face pondered. “Those gray creatures. They’re our underclass, remaining within the walls or under the floors of this too-old Civil War-era place while we gleam like rulers, like sungods in daylight. They won’t come out. That they so studiously avoid us is a mark of their intelligence. They know us well!”

On coffee tables arrayed about the brightly lit orange-or-purple room sat thick glossy fashion magazines with Face’s plastic visage smiling from their covers. Several of the photos were in black-and-white, others in color.

“They’re our Other, these skulking bottom-feeder friends of ours. The other side of our coin. Everything has its underside. Everything is its opposite. Our society presents the good. The look of the good. The polished presentation. But what life is really about is pure malice. Mendacity. Stabbing crushing disposing of all who oppose you, but especially those who don’t oppose you, who just are. When I present the good to my fans and followers they know—they know—I’m the opposite. That’s the subliminal appeal. Maybe not even subliminal. In the open. Don’t give me silly notions of the authentic. What we’re about is co-opting the authentic, replacing it, killing it, neighborhood by neighborhood territory by territory.

“That’s my philosophy it’s a godless philosophy yes but only when you embrace your godlessness can you become a god yourself as I’ve become one.”

Fake Face smiled at this. But he was always smiling. They sensed somehow that this time behind the fearsome mask he was smiling for real.

His ambitious paramour Rhonda Ruthlessness dressed in red sitting diagonally across from him openly beamed.

As they reflected on this a colleague of theirs, Mike Mild, stood next to Fake Face. From where had he come? Likely stepped into the room between sunbeams from the arched hallway beyond.

Mike Mild was a representative gang member: handsome, clean, and square-jawed.

“Take young Mike,” the Face said. “Our good friend. He’s been representing our organization with the press. Witness if you will Mike’s stunted personality, his inability to read people. Mike’s senses have never been challenged by questions of survival. He’s never feared anyone, not even his parents—least of all his parents—and so never was forced to consider, to analyze, the nature of the human beast. Given our enemies, our need to analyze them, to know them better than they know themselves, Mike Mild is no longer a relevant model.”

Before the room could react Fake Face slipped a slim .38 automatic pistol from his pocket and put a bullet through Mike’s head. They heard a distinct “pop” as Mike fell to the floor. They felt no emotion about the event, instead wondered that the image of the killing came to their senses a microinstant before the sound.

Mike lay across thick shag with tongue hanging out of his mouth and eyes wide open, staring blankly upward. Another young man stood now in his place, equally square-jawed but with darker hair and vaguely Asian features.

“Meet Mike’s replacement, Dao Loon,” Fake Face said to his people. “I think he’ll be from New Orleans, but I’m not sure. We’re still writing his bio.”

The words smirked. The plastic smile in front of the roiling gang members became more intense. Several of them sweat. Jake Pol sweat most of all.

“Poor Mike!” Fake Face eulogized. “Sad Mike! There he lies. A fallen idol. We knew him well, but then again, we hardly knew him. Now he’s forever gone. The problem, you see, isn’t the sudden disappearance of Mike Mild. He himself our precious and perfect Mike in the larger scheme of things which means in our scheme of things meant nothing. The important thing the only thing is that Mike’s red blood has stained our imported rug.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

POP13: “The Green Club”


“Where are they?” Big Boy asked.

Business at the Green Club came at a trickle.

“They afraid of Fake Face,” one of his hulking friends said.

“What you need, Big Boy,” another put in, “is some experience to run this operation. A man like Jake Pol.”

Jake Pol! Of course. Fake Face’s former Number Two, said to be responsible for the Fake One’s success. Now relegated to lowly club floor manager.

“Bring him here,” Big Boy ordered.

Late one night Jake Pol stepped from the burgundy glass tower within which hid Fake Face’s popular Downtown Club. Jake wore his usual black-and-white suit. From the shadows two large black men appeared, one on each side of him. They were dressed in green. Jake reached for a silver pistol inside his checkered coat. A large hand stopped him.

“You’re coming with us,” a rumbling voice said.

Jake Pol stood inside an office deep within the Green Club, facing an enormous man plopped behind a tiny desk: Big Boy. The walls of the cube-like office were painted bright orange, as was the desk. The room glowed.

The man in green sat so high he must be propped on phone books, or have an enormous ass. Now that he was out from under Fake Face’s dominance Jake’s innate sarcasm spread over his features. His bottom lip curled with contempt.

“So, you’re for real,” Jake said. “I thought you were made up.”

He looked around himself. This guy’s a stooge, Jake thought.

“I’m real,” Big Boy said, adopting a tough guy pose picked up from television mob shows.

Big Boy held an apple in his hand. While staring at Jake he crushed the apple into pulp, then wiped his hand with a green handkerchief. “That’s what I’ll do to Fake Face,” he said.

“What do you want from me?” Jake said.

“I want you to manage the Green Club. I’ll pay double what the Face pays.”

“Sure you will,” Jake laughed. “No thanks. Nobody crosses Fake Face and gets away with it.”

Big Boy had no response to this. He looked perplexed. There was no backup plan.

After a few minutes of puzzlement, he pressed a buzzer. The two men who’d brought Jake entered.

“We’ll have to kill him,” Big Boy said.

“Now hold it a minute!” Jake said.

He’d overestimated Big Boy’s intelligence. Stupidity can be dangerous.

“I’m more valuable to you alive than dead,” Jake insisted.

“How so?” Big Boy asked.

“Look. I’m not going to anger the Face by joining you guys. That’s a given. For me that’d be suicide. It’d be worse than suicide. But I can help you out while still working for him.”

Big Boy was confused. He wondered if this smug shark was trying to trick him. His face reddened and his body swelled within his too-small green suit. He imagined crushing Jake’s head. Jake raised his hand.

“Settle down! What I mean is, I can pass on to you information about Face’s rackets, about his whereabouts. I have no sympathy for the man, only for myself. Every man for himself. I’ll give you all you need to compete with him. The rest depends on how well you make use of it. Take down his activities, if you can. If you’re bold enough. Hurt him, Big Boy. Trap him. Kill him!”

Big Boy grinned like a child.

For the next hour they worked out a simple code to communicate by text message. Morning rose outside. Big Boy’s men drove Jake back to the heart of town.

Things happened quickly. Fake Face’s network of streetcorner drug dealers were chased out of their neighborhoods. Several were arrested. Three afterhours bars which featured hot guns and prostitutes were padlocked. Action seemed to be coming from the D.A.’s office.

“It’s indirect,” Fake Face said to his gang at their Veronica Street headquarters. “The police wouldn’t act on their own. Someone’s prodding them.”

The main members of his gang sat around him. His sourfaced gun moll girlfriend known for her ambition. Several obedient toughs. In black-and-white clothes, the cynic, Jake Pol. The rust-red arched room around them looked archaic; baroque.

“Would the D.A. be that crazy?” Jake Pol wondered out loud.

“No one’s that crazy crazy like a madman like a sneak, but people can be greedy greedy,” Face said. “Temptation gets them every time. Many many stupid people have horribly horribly died that way.”

The eyes within the bizarre plastic face studied his employees. Unease shot through each one of them. A few were guilty of thoughts, if not the reality, of betrayal.

Jake was thinking that his move against Fake Face must be buried in layers upon layers. It could never trace back to himself. He put a blank expression on his face so Fake Face couldn’t read him. The caustic eyes settled on him for a moment, as if they tried to.

A stubble-faced thug named Sal spoke up. “Boss, it’s this Big Boy dude,” he said. “He’s behind everything. He’s throwing around all kinds of money, yo. He’s paying the D.A. and the cops more than you are.”

Fake Face’s eyes looked frantically alive.

“So what? So what are you saying? So what do we do with him? What do we do, what do we plan, who is he, what do we know about him he’s so secure in his ‘Green Club’ this interloper this copycat this idiotic fat upstart, how do we get to him how do we take him down what are you suggesting, what do we DO, WHAT DO WE DO??”

“Boss, we need to set for him a trap.”

Alone among them, Jake Pol faintly smiled. Opportunity had dropped into his lap, in the person of Sal. Jake saw his opening.

(To be continued.)