Saturday, September 27, 2014

#FridayFlash - Laws of Nature

With a face like an emu and hair as white as a palomino, Adrien Dupre stepped through a half-circle of men gathered in a warehouse that smelled of fish and brackish water. He walked over to a refrigerator, opened it, and grabbed a beer. Stepping back toward the men, he approached a metal desk, where he sat on the corner and popped open the can with a snick! He swallowed several loud gulps, and then wiped his mouth with the back of a hand.

Before him, the half-circle of men (all of whom had been with him these last ten years and had helped him build the cannery business, among other things) surrounded two other men. One of them lay on the floor, his hands zip-tied behind his back, his throat slit open in a blackened maw of flesh and blood. The man had initially introduced himself as Bill Landrieux; other sources, however had finally identified the pudgy slob with wiry hair and a scrub brush of a beard as Special Agent Edward Chandler. Adrien sniffed at the sight, not at all happy with the way things played out thus far. Not only had Chandler infiltrated their group, but it had taken them more than six months to discover the truth. Someone would have to answer for that. And that someone would probably also have the chore of cleaning up the mess on the floor. Most likely, the concrete would need to be washed with bath of muriatic acid.

But that would wait. At the moment, Adrien was more concerned with the other man, the one still on his knees.

"You know why we have laws?" he said.

The young man glared back with slate grey eyes. His lips formed a hard slash, and Adrien could see the anger seething through every part of him. Along with his partner, this one had fed them a lie for six months, told them his name was Donnie Racine when they now knew him as Special Agent Richie Miller. He was lighter than Chandler, probably weighed in at one-eighty, maybe one-eighty-five, and definitely better looking, even with one eye swelled shut.

After a long enough pause, one of Adrien's men nudged Miller in the back with the butt of a .380 rifle.

"The man asked you a question."

Miller looked over his shoulder for a moment, and then finally turned his attention back to Adrien.

"I imagine you're gonna tell me."

Adrien nodded. "Because in any society we need laws. We need to know where the boundaries are. We need to see the lines, and the problems they present, so we can make choices. Life is nothing but choices." He pointed the beer can toward an opened bay door. Outside, the river slowly worked its way toward the Gulf. "A man goes out there, sooner or later he's gonna run across a ten foot croc, maybe bigger. And when he does, he has to make a decision. Is he gonna respect the croc's position, or is he gonna take a risk, cross the line and see who has the better skill? Of course, if he has enough fire power, there's no battle to be had. All he has to do is just aim and pull the trigger. Still, the man is in the wrong place, you know? Just because he's wearing a pair of crocodile boots, it don't mean he's a crocodile."

Miller blinked his good eye, once, twice. "Is there a point to this?"

Adrien picked up the beer and finished it. The can barked as Adrien crumpled it up. He tossed it on the floor where it landed near the body of Chandler. Whoever cleaned up the mess could pick up the empty as well.

"The point is you don't belong. You never did. And while we didn't know that at first, there's no way it could have slipped your mind, no way you could have just forgot."

"I never did," Miller said.

Adrien nodded. "Uh-huh. So you can imagine why I'm a little pissed off right now. I mean, here I am, a respectable businessman—"

Miller scoffed at that. "You're a gun runner and a drug dealer."

"A respectable businessman, who knows the difference between the good guys and the bad ones. And who also knows they shouldn't mix. There's this unwritten, God ordained law that says so. It's like oil and water, you know what I'm saying?"

Miller smiled. "So that's it—Adrianna—that's what this is about."

Adrien shook his head. "Not all of it. I would like to know, though, why you wouldn't just stick to the role of playing cops and robbers and not soil that which belonged to me."

Miller waited a beat before he spoke again. "Because we love each other."

Adrien snorted. "Is that right? You... in love with my daughter?" He shook his head. "Nah, I don't think so."

He looked at the half-circle of men who stared back, waiting on his lead. In the words of his father, this was a teachable moment. If he didn't hold the line, then it wouldn't be long before one of them decided the rules didn't apply either.

He looked around the warehouse.

"You want to know what's remarkable about running a business like this?"

Miller didn't say anything.

"It's like the Indians, you know? They never wasted anything. And neither do we. We filet the fish, and then we use the rest. Pulverize it, and let it break down. Sell the by-product off as fertilizer. Good stuff, too." Adrien smiled and nodded at one of the men standing. "I'll figure out what to tell my daughter about you. You can bet it won't be flattering."

The man stood forward, and pointed a gun at the back of Miller's head.

After it was over, Adrien looked at his men.

"Okay then... Which one of you made the mess with Chandler?"

Friday, September 12, 2014

#FridayFlash - The Evolution of Man

There's a way of looking at a man, really looking at him, and seeing him for what, not who, he truly is. This was one of the things Nick's father often told him, especially in those moments when Nick had done something wrong, failed in some known or even unknown way, and his father made it a point to place the moral spotlight on the transgression. In his father's eyes, it was as if the failure, left unchecked, could take on a life of its own and metastasize into a cancerous worm that would bore itself through Nick's core, hollow him out piece by piece, and replace his insides with more and more cells until one day there would be no more Nick. There would only be a shell of what once was—a facial doorplate hung out for everyone to see, the optics there to suggest that all remained the same, but the room would now be occupied by a different tenant, cold and lifeless. The key, then, was to avoid the misgivings at all costs.

"Guard your soul," his father often said. "Treat it as if it were more priceless than diamonds. ‘Cause you know… Jesus is coming."

Standing at the water's edge, watching the morning sky bleed through the blackened curtain of night, hearing the waves hiss and claw at the shoreline in a desperate fight against the tidal pull of the sea, Nick gave the memory a dull smile. With all that had happened last night, this was the kind of memory that rooted through his mind like an unwanted weed?

He closed his eyes and shook his head. His father had certainly meant well. The old man only dished out what he himself had faithfully received without question. The thing for Nick to do—what was expected, actually—was to accept and believe. And at first he did. While his friends tucked their heads under school desks, fearing that Brezhnev would someday lose his mind and send the Big One, Nick had cowered down beside his bed, offering prayers and lamentations, worrying more about being left behind than being vaporized by a cloud of radioactive matter. After all, what were a few isotopes to the power of God?

That was then.

Somewhere along the way, through a combination of classes and readings and personal introspections, along with a few years of living on his own, Nick no longer heard the voice of his father. It was one thing to have a proper respect for the Almighty, quite another to live in fear. He didn't weep. He didn't pray. He didn't worry about what the future held.

Until now.

Nick's cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and looked at the screen. It was his wife this time. She had probably heard the news by now. He didn't answer, but instead sent her to voice mail. As much as he wanted to talk with her, to hear her voice, he couldn't bring himself to do it. What would he say? Something witty, no doubt. Hey, honey, you'll never believe what happened at the office yesterday. You know all those times I used to joke about going postal? Well, guess what—it's not a punchline anymore. Thinking through it, though, hearing himself say the words, Nick knew it would never work. You just couldn't joke about something like this.

The phone buzzed again, and Nick turned it off.

He knew what some would say. Why not just leave? If he didn't like his job, why didn't he find a new one? It would be easy for them to say. They didn't have the mortgage he did. They didn't have the family with high expectations. No, people who spit out easy solutions probably never had the strings that employers used, cherished even, to keep their employees submissive. Come to think of it, Nick believed his father was on to something about the cancerous worm changing a man. All those days and years at the office had certainly changed him. He had long ago given up his ideas of advancement ("You're doing great, Nick, and we certainly appreciate you, but right now...") or acknowledgement ("That's a great idea, Nick. We'll give it some thought and get back to you."). And for all of the abuse he took ("Nick, really?" "What kind of short-sighted thinking was that?" "Idiot.") there seemed to be no level of self-regulation to deal with the stress, no meditation to help him through the journey. It wasn't like he could redeploy, either, not at his age, not with his lifestyle. He was no longer a child, but once again he had been expected to accept and believe. The company, and the fraternity that it embraced, was all that mattered. The familiar line from Pink Floyd flitted through his brain: What did you dream? It's all right we told you what to dream.

Taking a deep breath, Nick looked out across the water and noticed how the waves sparkled with the colors of red and blue and white. At first, it struck him as odd. Then, he glanced over his shoulder and saw the reasons why. Police cars flanked his own.

It didn't take much to understand how they knew. All the cell phones these days came with a "Find Me" app. In fact, his wife had probably assisted them. So, why the phone call? What had she wanted to say? That he should turn himself in? That he should toss the gun and raise his hands until they told him to lay face down on the pavement?

Two officers approached him now. Both had their guns raised as they shouted out orders. Nick ignored them and looked out at the sea, hearing his father again.

Guard your soul...

He was out of bullets, so there was nothing he could do to hurt anyone else.

Of course... they didn't know that.