A bike messenger, Lazlo, becomes entangled with a drug lord who also operates a "thrill kill" operation. To save his girlfriend, and himself, Lazlo attempts to bring the killers to justice.
Somehow the rocking, the swaying is gentle and comforting. It’s like being a small, bright plastic boat in a bathtub. No matter how rough and tumble the waves, no matter how violent, I realize I can only sink so far. Therefore there’s a certain joy, a certain thrill, an acceptance in the nauseating and turbulent ride.
The milky, wavering darkness in front of my one good eye that isn’t swollen shut undulates from pitch black to deep gray to twilight to pitch black. It’s almost more nauseating than being a small, bright plastic boat in a bathtub or—to put it more succinctly—a limp body in a dark trunk.
Behind the sickening, swaying light lurks something else, the dangling body of fetid air. The air is filled with the thick stench of gasoline, oil, rubber and the sickly-sweet musk of blood. Mine.
And there, behind the nauseating light and fetid body of air, is the specific pain of waking to stiff, numb fingers and feet bound tight. Slowly I wake to the dull throb-throb-throb echoing and reverberating around and around my head. (That would be due to that fat fucker Mr. Douglas smacking me across the base of my skull with his 9mm Glock.) When the throb-throb drums are lowered my ears are filled entirely with the hiss of tires on wet pavement. They’re filled with the rasping of my breath through a damp rag clogging my mouth, the gasp and wheeze through the congealed blood filling my nose.
In the background, the gritty guitar and smoky voice of Tom Waitts plays on the car stereo. There are the muted voices of men. I would assume, because they’re the assholes who abducted me, that it’s Mr. Douglas and his missing-link henchman. For all I know they’re discussing the merits of sage as an appropriate herb for salmon, the possibility that Batman and Robin’s relationship was “unnatural,” Sartre versus Camus, or who gets to pull the trigger and who gets to dig my grave.
I contemplate struggling, attempting to break my bonds, shatter the trunk’s lock with something and leap out—finally free. However, while attempting to picture exactly how this may occur, a quick question fills my mind—why? Why exactly should I struggle to get the zip ties off my wrists and ankles, wedge the tire iron in the lock and yank it open, tumble free, if they can simply slam the brakes on, step out and pump me full of hot lead? Why go through all the trouble, the interminable struggle and hope for freedom when ultimately, whether that’s now or then, a minute or an hour, it’s the same in the end?
Particularly since the initial mistake, that delivered me into this darkness, this deadly predicament, happened days—if not months and years—ago which, if you ask me, is an interesting exercise in causality as I attempt to spit the wet rag out of my mouth.
Because, realistically, what was the first mistake, the first step, the first word, gesture, that led like a long row of dominoes to this dark trunk, this inevitable fate?
Was it choosing to leave Betty behind? Or sitting down with Brad for a caustic mocha? Perhaps going to the cast party, the body shot, the drugs? Maybe it’d been decided from the instant the doctor slapped my little red ass and I, accordingly, cried in baritone?
Ultimately it’s difficult to decide if it was fate or circumstance. And, curiously, is there really any difference? Isn’t that the most eloquent semantic argument—fate or circumstance? And how can one choose or decide which is which?
Honestly, I don’t know which is which.
And I always preferred Camus over Sartre, if for no other reason than Sartre looked like a sissy with those glasses, those watery eyes, his sad, pained pout.
I do know one thing though. If Eve, my girlfriend, hadn’t had that client on Monday we could’ve stayed up on Mt.Hood. (Odd to think my life may come down to some West Hills soccer mom’s hair.) If not for those highlights Eve and I could’ve done as we did the two days before—fucked and frolicked in the snow, the hot tub, all over, literally, the hotel room. We wouldn’t have driven back intoPortland. I wouldn’t have kissed her good-bye in front of my scarred brick apartment complex.
“See you in a couple hours?” she idly asked, attempting to select the appropriate drive off into the sunset CD from her large pirated collection she kept between the two front seats like a cowboy with his rifle slung over his saddle.
“Navarre? Seven-ish?” I confirmed throwing my messenger bag over my shoulder and closing Tick’s passenger door. Tick was a grumpy, black, ’67 VW bug that had seen better days. Now he was holding on through willpower, duct tape, super glue, love and the occasional personally administered tune-up. “That’s right? Right?” I’ve a bad habit of getting sidetracked and forgetting not just the time, but where and who I’m suppose to meet. I reconfirmed, “Navarre. Seven-ish. Right?”
“Seven, yes. No ‘ish.’ You give me ‘ish’ and you’ll owe me.” Eve’s dark eyes glinted with what seemed like playful severity.
“But, little lady, you know I’m broke. Besides I may prefer the punishment.” I attempted a wolfish, Machiavellian smile.
“Not likely,” she replied a bit too seriously for my taste, throwing an unacceptable CD into the passenger seat, “besides you’re already on thin ice.”
“Thin ice, am I? It’s that cold, is it?” She considered two more CDs and threw each onto the passenger seat before I added, “I suppose though, thin ice could also imply a warm front… yes?”
She looked up quickly into my ineffectual, smarmy, smart-ass smile without a hint of humor. “No,” she said and went back to digging for musical gold.
I stood up and looked around the neighborhood. Okay, what, lately was this chick’s fucking problem? She, for maybe the past month, was a fucking metronome of emotion.
Hadn’t we had a fantastic weekend? Hadn’t we laughed and giggled on the drive back? And now? Now I get some stiff lipped answer like “No.” I mean, honestly, what the hell is up with her?!
I said over Tick’s roof, a few fragmented clumps of snow still lingering there, to the world and my sallow apartment complex, as much to Eve, “You realize of course I’ve never learned to skate?”
Not looking up, discarding another CD, another, and another, she also threw out at me, “I’d worry more about swimming, and the cold.”
“Oh, would you?” My breath ballooned into the cold air. Somehow we’d quickly gone from witty banter to a strange and intense word parry and thrust.
“Actually, I think I would.” Tick sounded as if he were running a little rich. Perhaps it was the thin mountain air? Or maybe our discussion? Either way I’ll plan on taking a look sometime this week. Of course, as per usual, in exchange for a little haircut, a “slight trim,” as they say in the business.
I looked at Eve. She was serious.
“You’re serious? Aren’t you?”
“Something you,” she had two discs in her hands, was comparing and contrasting, “Mystery Man, might want to be every so often.”
“Now what the fuck do you mean by that?” I knew damn well what she meant by “mystery”—the proclivity I have for keeping certain aspects of my past a secret. A secret for “safe keeping” as I like to think, as I’ve proclaimed a few times skirting a couple of issues here and there. But the implication that I’m never serious was a hot crock of thick crap.
Maybe Tick would simply suffer a little too much oxygen and gas and… No, I couldn’t do that to him. He was so friggin’ fabulous up on the mountain this weekend he deserved a little TLC, regardless what his harebrained owner thought of me, of us, of our stupid fucking future together.
Eve chose and shoved one disc into the player, and threw the other on those already scattered across the passenger seat. Liz Phair immediately filled Tick and poured out into the cold, damp February air that ebbed and flowed around me.
“Think about it,” she yelled above the din. “I’ll see you tonight.” And suddenly the flair in her cheeks, the sharp spark in her eyes receded to a soft, Angelic glow.
“Think about it? I don’t need to. Serious is my middle name. Serious is what I eat for breakfast. Serious is what my underwear are made of. Serious is….”
Eve cut me off. “Think about it. We’ll talk tonight. Bye.” I could barely hear Eve above the din and crash of Mz. Phair.
That, however, didn’t stop me from replying, “No, ‘bye.’ We’re in the middle of a serious discussion here. You can’t seriously just expect to….”
Eve drove off while I hunted for some swift, sweet comeback to hurl at her, a comeback that was still caught in the invisible ether of my mind as she and Tick turned the corner and disappeared for at least the next few hours.
“Yeah, well ‘arigato gozaimashta’ to you too,” I muttered to nothing, no one, specifically but only as some kind of futile epithet.
For a moment I stood, in the middle of the road, quickly becoming aware of the “wet cold,” while realizing something I didn’t want to. Realizing something I quickly needed to cover up and bury before it climbed from the deep grave I’d dug for it. Before it ransacked my little picturesque village I’d managed to pioneer out of the dry desert of the past two years. It, the three-headed word monster —I love her—was gradually pulling itself free. Slowly leaving the granite rock of my intention, able to move of its own volition like a golem from a basalt basilisk. It was seemingly about to make a mess of everything, even the past, which I’d hoped, was impossible. Impossible until something clicked, and then clacked in my mind, my ear, my mind’s ear.
‘You love me?’ her voice in my head asked, dubiously.
‘Uh, yes,’ my voice in my head replied unconvincingly.
‘You don’t sound particularly convincing.’
‘It’s not that.’
‘No. Is it fair to tell you “I love you” if you don’t really know me?’
‘I don’t?’ the voice sounded surprised and a little taken aback.
‘No. I mean, how can you? You don’t even know my real name.’
There was a long silence. Finally, her voice, which sounded like something I’d said a hundred, a million times before to her in person, stated, ‘I don’t think this is the time, or the place for this.’
‘It’s not? Because?’
‘You’re standing in the middle of the street.’
‘True, but it’s a side street.’
‘It’s cold and damp out.’
‘Also true, but I’ve a sweater and a scarf on.’
‘AND… AND you should discuss this with her not her voice in your head.’
‘True. That’s very true.’
I left the battling voices of my head in the middle of the cold street below and collected the scant mail from the rusted mailbox in the foyer. Then, reluctantly, I trudged up the rickety stares to my third floor apartment.
Opening the door to my beloved hovel I was immediately assaulted by the stench of mildew like an overly friendly dog. The mildew, cultivated in the gray shag carpet, the recesses of the closets and the deep fissures of the building itself, could not hide the extra hint and tang of something sour and pungent. Something exactly like curried chicken left in its to-go container and marinating since Thursday night on the coffee table.
If it weren’t for the comforting stench of the mildew and curry chicken, I’d swear I’d stepped into a stranger’s home. Nothing seemed to belong to me. Nothing. Not the cement blocks and two-by-sixes for bookshelves. Not the lonesome mattress. Not the mismatched dishes and silverware. Not the stained and crooked furniture. Everything seemed as if it were chosen to present and portray someone I thought I’d become—a bad-ass bike messenger—but wasn’t me. Sure I was bad-ass, but when did I think stapling a tie-dyed sheet across the ceiling was a good idea?
I threw my soiled, orange and green Timbuk 2 messenger bag into the corner with a sense of disgust. Not at anything specific per se, simply in general. A general disgusted sense of disgust with how I’d led myself into a garden of mold and lies, slime and subterfuge.
A single step inside the doorway, I surveyed my apartment in repugnance as the thick fumes of mildew and curry fled past and filled the hallway. The front room, the “living room” was nothing more than an oversized closet. I’d been somehow able to squeeze in a large lounge chair, a love seat and a trunk, which doubled, tripled as a coffee table, dining room table and an entertainment console. Beyond that was a short hallway. To the right, the bathroom. To the left, the bedroom. At the end of the hallway was the kitchen. Beyond the greasy stove (I think and hope was once white), the epileptic Frigidair, was a doorway that led to a dank, dark back stairwell that ultimately ended three stories below in the garbage and recycling “alcove.” The “alcove” had the exact stench of day old dog shit, fused with the effervescence of coffee grounds, mildewed asparagus, broccoli, yogurt and urine—the sweet, sweet sour smell of home.
Expecting to get to the mail later than sooner, I tossed towards my bag. Most of it made it. One envelope, however, looked like it slipped under the chair, while another lodged behind the radiator. Whatever. Later than sooner. A lot like telling Eve about my “mysterious” past.
Not caring if the envelope caught fire from the radiator I realized and knew I was tired. Tired of “this life,” of “living like this,” but I’d not recognized to what degree until now. I didn’t mind the days on the bike shuffling thin documents of supposed import from one place to the next. I didn’t mind the hours, the cold, the wet, or congested, angry traffic. Sure that sucked on occasion, but that was part of the job, the allure of the challenge. Of having an excuse at the end of the day to indulge, to order that extra shot, stay up that extra hour, climb the fire escape and dance naked under the full moon. (Eve and I did that once. Three weeks after we met. In the morning, disentangling ourselves, we blamed the other for the tar and cuts on the feet, the blood shot eyes, the idea we’d done something irrevocable.)
But, what suddenly struck me while surveying my hovel was… this wasn’t me. This was a parody of who I thought I’d become. Of whom I thought I needed to portray and project to keep my “real” identity and incriminating past hidden. My apartment and all the stupid, simple objects that cluttered it were simply a façade. Though a façade for whose benefit? Mine? Eve’s? Who was I trying to fool? Myself? Eve? The World and Universe?
Honestly, I was confused.
‘You don’t know who you are?’ Christ, it was Eve’s voice again.
And, seemingly without volition, mine replied, ‘I do. Though it’s….’
She finished my sentence for me, ‘…complicated, right?’
‘Your throwing answers I’ve used on you is becoming annoying.’ She said nothing. I transferred my frustration from her, which ultimately was on myself to my decrepit apartment.
I hated that damn stagnant-gray carpet. I hated that wet, sallow sag in the ceiling. The sag that leaks and stains the carpet in the shape of a dead body whenever it rains.
Initially, as I grudgingly opened the door, I’d worried about being overrun and consumed by the fumes of the apartment. But now, bolstered by introspection and incentive, I waded in waste deep and threw open every window.
The cold, damp February air swept through exactly like a cold, damp wind across a hot, humid mildew entrenched third floor apartment—perfectly, absolutely refreshing.
Once a certain amount of toxicity had leveled out I attacked the curry chicken, the few dozen beer and wine bottles cluttering the kitchen counter tops, the garbage, the coffee maker with it’s white, green-gray sheen of mold floating on the dark surface, the ziggurat of laundry, the toilet and shower. I was nearly prepared to vacuum when I noticed beneath an oil soaked yellow-orange burrito wrapper the dull blinking of my answering machine.
I had four messages?!? That’s nearly a record to five when I was late one evening meeting Eve for a movie at the Aladdin Theater due to a flat. She bombarded me every few minutes with a long list of threats and consequences if I stood her up. I made it, though completely covered in road grime from changing the tire. Thankfully, which is so much like her, she pulled the “I understand” card out and flaunted it appropriately the rest of the night, the rest of the week. Only requiring payment, the subsequent Saturday afternoon, in the form of helping her wash Tick and clean the gathered miscellany out of his surprisingly copious interior.
With my manic energy continuing to provide a sense of inertia I balled the wrapper up and threw it down the hall towards the kitchen and the empty trash. The wrinkled ball hit solidly with the rim of the can and bounced forlornly out of sight.
For a split second I hesitated before I pressed the machine’s button. What exactly, who exactly, what consequences exactly was I inviting into my quiet, little world by pressing this innocuous button?
The long, loud beep preceded an odd, and interesting message.
“D,Willow. Need ya this moon day in the A. Barring a head-on expect you. Silence is a go. Ciao.” Ah, sweet, sadWillowand her Call Central jargon and proclivity for funky, hippy psuedo-spy code.
Sweet, sad me, because I understood exactly what she meant. “Moon day” was today, Monday. And “A” was a.m. and this was distinctively past A and nearly into P. Oh, well. C’est la vie. I could’ve used the cash. Maybe next time?
Besides, I know I wouldn’t have traded the morning and it’s lengthy session of love and lust with Eve for the few bucks acquired from hustling my legs and lungs along P-town’s slick city streets, particularly on a claustrophobic Monday. It’s dangerous enough being a bike messenger, but most drivers have their heads farther up their ass on Monday than normal. That’s why the majority of heartaches occur on a Monday—stress related, specifically the return to work, not to mention lack of oxygen, lack of blood flow.
As the mildew stench began to die, or I became accustomed to it, it dawned on me—the long and luxurious weekend was over.
Reluctantly I bowed beneath the sad acknowledgement that I was back inPortland. Back to everyday life, everyday living and all the requirements and obligations it entailed. Regardless how much I may despise and hate them, I was back to them. Me, like everyone else—a sad, little addict.
The next two messages were what sounded like highway traffic. I deleted both. The fourth was some muscle mouth saying like, “We know you’re there. Best give it up before someone gets….” I deleted it too. There were times when LumberBoy’s little pranks were just down right stupid. And I was going to tell him so the next time I saw him.
Then I realized… My cell phone I found in its usual spot, a little holster pocket in my bag. Yes, I’d taken it with Eve and me. However, it’d been turned off throughout. And, as a matter of fact and course I’d not once checked for messages, as it seemed the Pavlovian conditioning would’ve indicated. Guess I was “distracted.”
Turning it on I sensed, as I looked at the cheap, squalid apartment nearly clean, nearly organized, nearly as I’d found it seven months ago when I moved in, something was about to happen, was about to change everything.
Oddly enough there was only one message—a paraphrasing fromWillowof her previous message.
I stared around the forlorn apartment. The prospect of spending the rest of the afternoon ignoring the idea of cleaning, regardless how surprised and amazed Eve would be, did me no good.
So, it seemed as a default I’d swing down to Call Central. Hang around playing Virtua Fighter 3, and Trivial Pursuit. I mean, realistically, what else was there to do? Clean the bathroom? Do laundry? Wash dishes? Not likely. Not today.