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Such A Rough Beast

“And what does this mean? What is it exactly that I’m expected to do?”

He was referencing the stack of paper on the coffee table. An agreement of some kind. Lots of pages, several signatures and initials required, all marked with red stickies so he could find them easily.

He was speaking to the man across from him who had brought the stack of paper. So what if NSA was listening? They were always listening. What would they do? Nothing, of course.

But what had surprised the man with the stack of paper was how the host, even though the home wasn’t at all in his name, the person expected to sign off on the agreement, was ignoring the other person in the room entirely. Should have been the exact opposite. He was told to expect the man would sign anything once they were together. For some reason, it wasn’t so.

“The very first lesson you people taught me was not to trust you. The second was to not trust anyone else. So all I’m asking–right now–is what this is requiring of me so I can be certain I know what that is, and can evaluate whether or not I can do it. Fair isn’t really what I’m expecting. So the answer, please…”

“Delete all social networking accounts. Delete the McCoyote and Wicked Game blog…you can keep the other two. Though we argued a lot about the one with Brown’s name in it.

“You can live a normal life. That’s what you want, isn’t it? With someone you love,” the paper man indicated the other he had brought with him.

The would-be signer didn’t move his eyes off of the paper man.

“Really? I mean I don’t care for Facebook generally. I certainly try not to read the news on it. But it does connect me with old friends and family. Connects me with my senior class in High School. And anything on there just sounds like the ravings of a madman anyway. Is that a national security threat? Really?”

The paper man smiled,” We thought that might be an issue. Fine. That’s negotiable. But delete any references to those two blogs.

“And the twitter account…the one. That has to go. You can keep the other one.”

“And a pension or a job?”

“Sorry, no.”

“So how am I supposed to support us both?”

“You’ll think of something.”

“Will I? With you continuing to harass us both the whole while. I’m what? Twenty-four years from social security? That’s a long time.”

“I suppose it is. I don’t actually know what they intend on that part. Suppose you’ll just have to have…faith.”

“Well. Otherwise sounds reasonable enough. There is one slight problem, however.”

“And that is?”

“The oath I took.”

Paper man laughed, “You never took an oath. That was your point, wasn’t it? You never volunteered.”

“Gave one to myself. Early 2010, I think. Minneapolis.”

“And you were under…”

Paper man paused, choosing his words carefully.

“You were not feeling yourself, were you?”

“I suppose not. I mean…”

“So we have a deal?”

There was a tense pause.

“Yes. We have a deal. Here’s your paper. Nice meeting you.”

Paper man stared blankly. There was no way this could happen. They assured him on that one point. He must be bluffing.

“Very well. I won’t be back. Let’s go.”

The younger man stood up.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the man who refused to sign asked, acknowledging the younger man’s presence for the first time.

“You…”

“Don’t you see what they were doing? They were really testing to see if love trumps duty, or if duty trumps love.”

“Yes.”

“Yes,” impatiently Paper Man echoed.

“Well…they’re the same. We can have both. They aren’t mutually exclusive because they are one.”

“So sign it!” Paper Man put the paper down in front of the refuser again.

“No. How do I know doing that is what my duty is? How do I know refusing isn’t my duty? Because you guys say so? You taught me not to trust you. First thing. This is a trick.

“So take the paper…leave the cannoli. We’re done,” he said to the Paper Man.

“While you and I,” he said to the younger one, “Well, we’re just getting started. Absolute beginners, my dear. So get your suitcase and let me show you the spare bedroom.

“You’re very welcome, sir. Glad I could clarify the situation for you and your superiors. They’re one and the same. Difficult to separate. Certainly I am capable of editing myself, despite what they may think. Certainly I can ignore certain things, impulses. I mean, I can’t possibly know everything…how could I?

“And when I’m distracted…well, that’s when I think I’m really at my best. A really good distraction could really slow me down.

“Because you know, there’s global duty…and then there’s local duty. I prefer the local when I can. You can touch the local, feel it. I know it’s not as effective as discussing big ideas…but when a man’s in love…well, he can be downright stupid sometimes.

“So take the paper back to the car and make a phone call and see what they say.”

Paper man did as requested. The other two sat silently, only eyes “talking,” waiting for the answer.

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Forget The Title

“I loaded sixteen tons, and what did I get…?”

“Get. The. F***. Out. Now. Please, eh?”

The Great Cacti War Of 2018

He was a man. He was a tough man. He worked for the Man. He carried out his duties like a man.

Today, for example. Next to the buildings, a large one and a small one, over which the Man had placed his trust in the man to oversee the security, safety–and to protect from shrinkage–was a railroad track.

Like those men who came before him, he would brook no bums; railroad or otherwise.

Because he was a man.

When he found their hobo camp, he knew just what to do. He went to the tool shed–nestled inside the large building over which The Man has placed his faith in the man to oversee the welfare of.

He found what he needed. A pitchfork.

He took, really borrowed, The Man’s pitchfork and dug up one of The Man’s cactuses. He carried on the end of The Man’s pitchfork. Carefully. Cautiously. But not daintily. Because he was a man.

He took it to The Man’s golf cart. The golf cart being what The Man allowed the man to drive around the property over which he was permitted to oversee the oversight of, as long as oversight meant safety, security, and not allowing scumbags to walk off with The Man’s property.

He drove to the railroad tracks where he dumped the cactus on the couch the ne’er-do-wells had set up on railroad property adjacent The Man’s property. He smashed it with a loud, “Ahhhh!” But not in a gay way, because he was a man.

He made certain that the spines were well embedded in the unapproved relaxing and sleeping apparatus. He grabbed a few broken pieces and in turn dumped and smashed them into the pair of chairs that sat across from the couch, none of which had been approved by The Man nor, so far as the man knew, The State.

Smiling and laughing to himself, not in some pansy way, he looked upon his work and nodded as he got into the golf cart.

He stopped and let out a cry. Even as he had wrought The Man’s, or The State’s, wrath upon the homeless, so the Homeless had grabbed a stick and done likewise to The Man’s, and the man’s, golf cart.

The man cried like a little girl.

Forgot the Title

“I’d like to thank everyone who came out tonight. I can see you out there!

“Well! I can hear you. The light’s up here, so I can’t really see you, you wonderful audience you! But I know you’re there, because…”

Shenanigan!

“You slinked into the deli, like you were trying to not get caught,

“Your oxford shirt was light blue and your sweater maybe was gray, kitty litter is what you got!

“You had one hand on the bottle. And the other one on a cup,

“All the girls dreamed they’d be your partner… they’d be your partner…now!

“We’re so vain…we prob’ly think these songs are about us…

“We’re so vain! We prob’ly think these songs are about us…don’t we? Don’t we?”

“You know…someone once said I was telling dragons riddles. To amuse them. I mean, how many dragons you think there really are?

“But what they meant was, I was distracting them while someone else was building armies and alliances to kick its ass.

“Is that what I’m doing? I don’t think so. I think I’ve already told one dragon who ‘Lake-town’ is: All of the dragon’s friends…well…heh…’trusted associates.’ Most of them.

“But they think I’m just running some game. A game to make them distrust their most trusted associates.

“But they never trusted their most trusted associates…so…”

“You saw me several years ago, when you were still quite naive,

“Well you returned my ‘happy new year,’ but then all you did was leave,

“But you gave away all the things that you loved, and one of them was me,

“I saw some weird clouds wide awake, Were there clouds in your coffee? Are there shark clouds in your coffee? Cuz…

“We’re so vain…we prob’ly think these songs are about us…

“We’re so vain! We prob’ly think these songs are about us…don’t we? Don’t we?”

“I mean take ‘Bad Company.’ Pretty much anyone thinks it refers to…y’know?

“What about Ode to Joy? B’s Ninth? ‘All humanity is related under the sway of Joy’s wing’. Now is that vain? To assume one is human?

“Cuz I don’t know…maybe it is. Maybe that’s just too assumptive.

“Or maybe we all need to stop telling each other what is and what ain’t. Just for a bit. We’re on social media and mass media and alternative media overload. Maybe we need to stop for a bit and try to find some answers for ourselves.

“Because the dragons…they don’t want that. They want you only holding the answers that benefit them. Failing that, the ones that don’t upset their plans.

“So really what I’m saying is…”

“Heard you went up to T—“

“Dude!!!”

“Yeah? I’m in the middle here. Can this wait?”

“This is karaoke.”

“I know. That’s why I was singing.”

“But you were singing the wrong words. And you talked way, way past the instrumental. The song was over like three minutes ago.

“Look. Please. Just leave. It’s not standup comedy karaoke or improv karaoke. You’ve scared off most the customers—”

“What? What about him?” He pointed.

“He works here.”

“And her?”

“She works here also.”

“And all of those hurs? Or shims? Don’t mean to assume… but I don’t hear them complaining.”

There was some overlap as they sort of said variations on ‘we’re complaining,’ not quite in unison.

He didn’t seem to notice.

“Please, just leave. We don’t want an incident. We don’t want to have to call the police. We don’t want to have to get a restraining order.”

“Hey. I can leave. No problem. Why didn’t you just say so? Not that difficult.”

He walked toward the door. Then turned.

“I’m leaving…on a jet plane…”

“Dial 1-1-2,” was all the manager said to the assistant manager.

10,000 Light Beers

“So, being distraught, I…had a one-night stand. She was African-American…which wasn’t really important to the story.

“She was really smart, though. And I think that probably was. Never saw her again after that night. But I did hear that she came into a friend’s place of work, a bank of all places, looking haunted or very distraught.

“No matter what route she chose, the real crime here is mine. It’s not that there may have been an abortion that bothers me. It’s that I didn’t give enough of a f*** to go check on her after I heard that. And that because my so-called friends thought she was unattractive. She was–I imagine is!–smarter than the whole lot of ’em put together. Smarter than me. And I was making As and Bs without studying.

“Told you I was a lazy bastard. That’s why I can’t write like you, ****. Saturn to my Mercury. Not by choice. By biology maybe.

“And so, I’m not asking. No matter how many times I say this, I’m not. It’s none of my f***ing business. I know that. And if you were to think about it and answer, well that’s just one less thing of 10,000 on my brain. Down to 9,999 possibilities, how much comfort is that? So don’t answer me, as the song goes. I don’t really know his age, I made assumptions based on what I saw. Could be older and just spry. Don’t know. So let’s just forget it. Let’s sing some Karaoke. Ok? Don’t say anything, don’t worry. It’s just one little fact, hypothesis, theory, doesn’t mean that much to me. Ok? What are the odds something similar happened to you, that some woman lied or just walked away and never told you? Astronomical!

“Anyway. Let’s sing and forget the whole thing. Probably ghosts pulling a prank on us both and I am very sorry for that. You know, like ***** implied in that old email, I just cant help it. Let’s sing.

10,000 bottles of beer on the wall,

10,000 bottles of beer!

Take one down…

Sans Title

Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, USA

“C’mon, Senator. This is ridiculous.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Knall. FBI confirms it.”

“Please don’t tempt me to insult them again. By now they surely realize why I did that in the first place.”

“And why was that?”

“Same reason as most–most!–of the others.”

“And that was…?”

“To get their attention.”

“Now you have it. What are you going to do with it?”

“What else can I do? Tell the truth. Truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know who. I can guess–but that’s all I can do–on the why.”

“So you’re saying that you’re taking it on faith. At least two, maybe more, intelligence agencies are saying that this person…this person you want to find…is dead. You’re saying you don’t believe them. Even though they have both shown us in private session evidence stating that it is true.”

“First, of course I’m saying I don’t believe them. They lie and lie and lie and then get confused and blame the Russians when we don’t believe them…when we catch them in the lies. It’s astounding. It’s like they have no idea what they are doing.

“And, yes, I see the joke there.”

“What joke?”

“Forgive them, for they know not what they do. But before you chastise me for using his name in vain, let me remind you of two things. First, I am under oath. I am. And I take that very, very seriously. Second, ‘I don’t even know the name.’ Yes, Leonard Cohen said it first. And it’s ironic. But it’s also true. I don’t know his name. I don’t know who he works–or worked–for.

“But I don’t have to rely on faith. I know what I saw. Yes, eyesight isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But this was plain as day.

“Maybe there are two of him. Maybe there are three or even four. How can I know? Secrecy. Deceit. We’re drowning in it.

“But I don’t have to rely on ‘faith’ today. Because he’s sitting right over–”

He pointed. There was an empty chair.

“Ok. He was there. He…must have slipped out. You know, ‘Like a thief in the night.’

“And that will on its face make you angry, too. You think it doesn’t me as well? I’m not a believer, sir. Not really. Not in the way you and lots of other people are. I really, really am not.

“But I’m telling you I’m not. I’m being honest. This is the work of someone else. Not me. I’m just the random moron they chose to use, a patsy. Did I ask for that? Maybe. Certainly didn’t sign up for slavery. Not to the US of A. Not to the CIA. Not to someone whose name I don’t even know.

“But when it comes to the latter, I can fight it all I want…but I’ll lose. I’ve lost that battle so many times. Because that battle was with myself. How can I ever win a battle against me?”

There was some whispering and messages being sent. Some pages scurrying.

“You can check the video. I don’t need to know what you’ll find. I already know. Nothing at all. The video will have malfunctioned, somehow. ‘Miraculously.'”

—-

Fifteen minutes later, the J. Edgar Hoover building, Washington, DC, USA

“Good God. Don’t you people ever stop with the paranoia?”

“I want to understand. So help me to understand.”

“I don’t know. For the ten thousandth time. I have no idea. Deprive me of sleep. Waterboard me. Pull out my goddam fingernails. I’ll just tell you whatever lies it is you want to hear in order to make the pain stop. That’s all you’ll get because that’s all I can possibly tell you.”

“So who do you think it is?”

“Everyone.”

“‘Everyone’?”

“Everyone of note.”

“How’s that?”

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the world population.”

“How so?”

“Everyone CIA ever pissed off. Who’s that? No. Stop. Think. Who is that? The Russians. The Chinese. The EU. Israel. The Middle East. Eastern Europe. The Republicans. The Democrats. Hollywood. Wall Street. England. Ireland. Probably Scotland, too, though I don’t know why unless it’s because climate change is destroying their history. And, why not?, Australia.

“The poor. The rich. The middle class. Everyone, sir.

“You want me to guess who has motive then? Everyone has motive. I only had a few thousand names to go through when I had part–yeah, couldn’t download beyond last names beginning with letters after L or M or something—to go through. You’ve got over seven billion.

“And that’s not my doing. Whoever is behind this is very, very clever. They constantly leave whatever happens open to interpretation. They’ve got plausible deniability out the wazoo.

“So who can that be? Maybe CIA has had enough of CIA. I don’t know. I’m on the outside as I’ve always been. I’m the last person you should be asking, but I always wind up being the first. Why is that?

“Mind control or brain hacking or whatever term you prefer, is a game changer. I don’t even know for sure when I’m in charge and they are. It works that way. You think you’re being you but you’re just on another misguided ‘mission.’ You think I don’t want off this goddam merry-go-round?

“Because I want off really, really badly. I want a normal life. I’ve had enough adventure–which is another word for pain and running through gauntlets–and cloak and dagger.

“But the only solution you–I’m sorry but deep down you know it’s true–and they, and everyone else offers is suicide or going out in a blaze of glory because it’s all so unbearable.

“Well, f*** that. I don’t care if I’m 95 and still waiting for whatshisname to show up. I’ll do that. Fate, God, the Universe, Chance, and everything willing.

“So get you waterboard ready, genius. Let’s make some more lies before we see the truth. Why not? It’s like this goddam thing,” he tapped the microphone, “isn’t on.”

—-

Lost and Found Detective Agency

“Okay. I need some cash. What have we got?”

The shorter one, the wisecracker, the guy who sometimes went by ‘Brian,’ even though his name was actually Ryan, was sitting across from his business partner on the other side of his desk.

The partner was leaning back in his chair, looking at the ceiling.

“What did he look like?” he replied.

“What did who look like? I’m just asking for an advance. Stop pretending you don’t know what I mean. You’re the money guy…” Ryan shot back.

“Any idea who would want that to happen?”

“Me. Me! I would like an advance. Some time this century, thanks.”

“Uh-huh.”

“‘Uh-huh,’ how about opening the safe and getting me some money? Get off your ass and give me what’s coming to me. Now, please.”

The partner didn’t move. He continued starting at the ceiling.

“We’ll see what we can do.”

“How about just doing it? I mean…you know what? F*** you. I’ll go scrounge somewhere. Gotta be someone needs someone found. Thanks for nothing, asshole!”

Ryan stormed out. The partner still didn’t move.

“Ok. Thanks. We’ll get the paperwork started and be in touch.”

The partner leaned the chair forward at last and sat up straight. He pulled the Blue-Tooth earbud out and set it on the desk.

He marveled for a moment, recalling Lieutenant Uhura and how, while we may not quite have those screens all over the house like they had on The Enterprise, we at least got the earbuds.

He snapped out of it and spoke towards the empty open door to his office.

“You need something?!?”

There was silence.