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Seat Cushion Doubles as a Flotation Device Nate Shortt was flying from AZ back to Logo City, It was one of those redeye flights that departs late in the afternoon, flies through two or three time zones, and then dumps you off at your final destination real early in the morning, leaving you so confused and disoriented, that you seem to be home two days before you left, Nate had been on the West coast, filming a bit part for a friend's movie, and then promoting his writing on a small driving tour through the desert. He had made stops in Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Tuscan, on his way from LA. to the airport where he had planned his flight home almost three months earlier. He read poems and short stories in coffee houses and once at an open rnic night on the University of Arizona, He had signed autographs, and gotten drunk with the locals, sleeping on couches and thin rugs for the better part of a week, There was a cute, blond, dread in Flagstaffwho had taken him to her apartment and given him a blowjob while he smoked a joint and read aloud from Bukowski He boarded his plane in Pheonix feeling good, feeling that he had connected with his audience again, something he hadn't felt for almost a decade. Nate was a fixture on the arts scene around Logo City, but after years of wowing them in his home town, he was becoming jaded. He mostly wrote freelance, so there were no scheduled reading tours or book signings. He didn't even have a lawyer or an agent Nate relied on open mics and independent bookstores to help promote his latest poems or small press books of short stories. As a result, he often found himself reading to the same old crowds. He was starting to doubt he was more talented than he was familiar. When Cohen had called from Hollywood to offer Nate a bit part in a horror film, he fouod he was more than willing to get himself, and his writing off the East coast for a few months, Trying a new arts scene, while dabbling in a new medium seemed just the refresher Nate needed, It was a bad week for flying. There had already been two crashes, one of them in Logo City. Father Air Travel's Karma was all out of whack. Nate sat by a window in the rear of the plane. He preferred a seat in Coach because he had once read that you're more likely to survive an accident there. Nate could afford First Class, but avoided the front of airplanes out of fear. In the back of his rational mind, however, Nate knew his dutiful paranoia couldn't help him. When a huge, metal object filled with a mixed-blend fuel and four hundred people falls from thirty-thousand feet, that fuel ignites, those people die. No matter where they were sitting when said object was aloft. There was a restroom behind him and to the left. Nate got a good look at almost everyone on the flight. Almost everyone has to use the at one time or another on a five hour trip. Some of the girls looked good to him. Nate thought if the plane started to go down, he would grab one of those girls and force himself on her. There had been too much regret in his life. He didn't want any associated with his death. He thought it was funny, his friends all believed he still flew coach out of some lack of pretension. The ground was dark. Sometimes the lights of a big city would force their way into Nate's eyes like a campfire, seen from a distance, pushing its way through all the darkness on top of it. At one point, the plane passed over a huge metropolis, stretching off across the horizon. The glow of the lights arching against the night reminded Nate of a sunrise beginning, A red light, fixed at the end of the wing in front of him, blinked rhythmically, a stoned strobe, trying to be helpful. Nate was sitting next to an old, Mexican woman with bad acne and a horrible,

bruise colored mole on her bottom lip. She smelled like the expensive perfumes they advertise in Cosmopolitan. "What do you see out there?" she asked. Nate turned his body, his shoulder blocking the window from her even more. "Nothing, dig? Nothing," he said. Cohen Parker was an old friend to Nate Shortt. When Cohen was studying at the state University in Logo City, Nate had helped him write a number of screenplays for short film assignments, as well as several English papers. One Spring break, Cohen had gotten himself in trouble with the Miami P.D. and a bag of Coke. Nate came to the rescue. Now Cohen was in Hollywood. He had been directing a television program for the past two years and was finally making the jump to feature films. He called Nate the day he got the go ahead from the studio "The movie's called Three A.M.," he said over the crack-snapple ofa bad connection "It's a serial killer movie with psychics and maybe a zombie, I'm not exactly sure just yet. All I know is, I've got a budget and one half each of a crew and a script." Nate said: "So are you going to finish the crew and the script before you start filming?" Cohen said: "Well, buddy, that's kinda why I'm calling you. I was hoping you could help me out on both counts. Within two weeks, Nate was on his way to California.

The plane landed twenty minutes early. Nate made for the restroom with his carry-on and his jacket. He could never use the toilet on a bus or an airplane. Something about the slight motion made his bowels freeze up. Nate wasn't sure why. He had been to a Psychiatrist once and thought about bringing it up. Instead, he had gotten pissed at the Doctor who repeatedly asked about his masturbation schedule. "It's not good to keep things bottled up inside," the Doctor had said. "Freud prescribed daily release." Nate threw his coat over the locked door and sat down on the toilet, his backpack between his feet. A dark hand creeped over the top of the stall and grabbed the jacket. Nate yelled: "Hey!" and started to get up, but then realized that he didn't care. The filming had been disasterous .. Cohen had been unable to hold a crew or a set together and his actors found it difficult to be coaxed by someone so obviously on the edge of breakdown. Nate stayed with Cohen and his wife, helping to sculpt the script and discussing vital scenes in depth with the director. In the end, however, Cohen was too close to the edge to even hear anybody else. Good ideas went unheeded while unsolicited suggestions suddenly became the basis for the following days shoot. One night Nate overheard Cohen after they had all gone to bed. He was sobbing and yelling at his wife. "They all know I'm a cornered fake," he screamed. Over the next two days they had filmed Nate's scene. The second night, after the shooting, Cohen told Nate ius name was going to be cut from the screenwriting credits. "I'm sorry, man, but you're not part of a union out here. I can't get mixed up in these politics with my first movie. Nobody here knows me. I'm trying to make friends." Nate left that night. He had been renting a car with plans to keep it until he got to Phoenix. Nate packed the trunk with his suitcase and the few souveniers he had bought.

He drove away without saying good-bye .. Nate went down to the baggage claim. His suitcase was circling listlessly, alone He plucked it from the conveyor and tossed it onto a near-by bench. He opened it and took out everything that was important to him. There wasn't much.













March 9, 1994 it was ten a.m. and raining, but those things didn't matter because Bukowski was dead. Shawn came out of his bedroom and saw me drinking a beer. "it's raining," he said and i nodded. he asked me why i was drinking a beer at ten a.m. "Bukowski's dead," j said and he leaned over, without a word, and kissed me lightly on the cheek. i felt the cush.ion of his beard, rough like a eat's tongue as his lips wet my face, and then he was upright again and i loved him for caring and for understanding. he said: "there's still Ginsberg," and i said: "Ginsberg is a hack," and we both laughed. Spearing came over. he said he was sorry that Bukowski was dead and gave me a picture he had drawn. i tried to pretend i didn't like it because Spearing has an ego, but i loved it, and he knew it. the picture was charcoal on paper, sometimes hard, sometimes soft, just like Bukowski himself. the picture was of me, and Bukowski, a couch, and i bird whom i did not know. i thanked Spearing for the picture and then got up to get another beer. Then Shawn got a beer, not for sadness, but because Shawn drinks Like a blade of seaweed, constantly emersing himself in one liquid or another and never regretting it later. the phone rang. i answered it and it was Sarah. she just called to say how sorry she was that Bukowski had died and to ask me if i wanted a blowjob.

i told her thanks for the condolences and no thanks to the blowjob. i hung up the phone as Spearing carne into the kitchen to get a beer. so i went to my bedroom and got my copy of Tales of Ordinary Madness and then i went back into the livingroom where the four of us got drunk, and went to jail, and dodged the draft, and went to the horse races, and smoked cheap cigars, and made love to fifty-seven-year-old women with nineteen-year-old bodies.





CONNIE MASON Ployboy', ""0';1. Ploymat • •;,1 THOMAS WOOD JEFFREY ALLEN


Roman Television Choking on Pine Sol dust of quiet suburbs. Remembering stained-glass Sundays, slumbering in pews. Reminded faintly of no homework, Twinkie afternoons. Metal grinds on metal, the rich, full sounds oflove, lonliness, despair. Young king sits alone amongst too white furniture, shivering like leper in madman's delusion. Love's labour lost to a man whose name he does not know. The carcass moon casts whale shadows across the face of the room, waking him by sliding thin key into new lock. Somnambulant on cactus feet and nude. Blanket caresses hardwood, flesh on flesh, the slight, crisp sounds of love, ionliness, and despair. Confrontation explodes forth like jack-in-the-box hits final note. Rises to defend kingdom against lone intruder who would covet his treasure. There are questions, but no answers from widow treasure coveted, now his. She slept in cold forest, scent of Pine Sol balding her warm and wet like pocket change in Summer. Who is the man? The question again and again, but no answers for the noble king. Defeat weighs heavy like Atlas must hold the Earth aloft on tired shoulders and the king slumps back into the shadows of himself asking. The queen ascends, a shower of flowers. The morning paper arrives on time.


It Moves Through Many Keys I.
Nate Shortt bought himself a jacket at the Salvation Army thrift store on Main

street. In the future, whenever Nate looked back on Ralph Valentine, Mike May, and their trip to New Hampshire, he would remember that jacket. It was dark green and canvas with a collar. It cost ten dollars It cut at the waist and zipped from the bottom as most jackets do. As much as Nate could remember about the jacket and the days that followed its purchase, he could never seem to recall whether the events had taken place in the Spring or: in the Fall. He always had a hard time telling the two seasons apart II. Nate was sleeping off a twelve pack when Ralph Valentine showed up. He pusbed his way into the apartment spastically and then closed and locked the door behind him. It was three o'clock P.M. Ralph was out of breath and quickly made himselfat home He was sweating, and the longer he sat on the couch across from Nate, t_hemore Nate noticed it. "Where's your sketchbook?" He asked. Ralph was an artist of some repute in Logo City. He had even been offered a chance to exhibit at Visitors, a downtown gallery that catered to a marginalized niche of an collectors not interested in landscapes and still lifes He was rarely seen without a drawing tablet. "I left it at home today," Ralph said. He said: "Can I get a beer?" Sirens raced by, all echo and Dopler effect. Nate's head was aching .. He said: "Go for it." His body was aching. There was something burning in his eyes. Ralph said: "I need to make a phonecall." "I haven't seen the phone in two days" The coffee table was covered in every imaginable sin. The telephone was there. The rest of the livingroom was cluttered and foul, the corners taking on the bulk of the mess to create a nest effect between the couch and the two chairs across from it More sirens washed the streets in sound. Nate said: "I wonder what's going on out there?" Ralph said: "The telephone is here." Nate nodded. "Can I use it?" Nate nodded. Ralph dialed a number He let it ring one hundred and seven times There was no answer. He hung up. "He wasn't there?" Nate asked. He said: "How about that beer." "Okay." Ralph went into the kitchen. It was filthy .. Nate Shortt had no pride. Ralph brought back two beers. He drank one of them and then took his boots off before he drank the other. Ralph said: "This is pretty good beer. I've never heard of Skag before." Nate said: "I got it at Lucky's, that little store around the corner, on Center street." Ralph said: "Where's your television?" Nate said. "I threw it out the window."

Ralph looked at the window. "I need to make a phonecall," he said. Nate nodded. "The phone's on the coffee table." Ralph picked up the receiver and dialed. It was answered on the first ring. He spoke carefully, sometimes whispering, other times yelling. He talked for about ten minutes and then hung up without saying goodbye. "He's coming over?" Nate asked. "He'll be here in five minutes. His words." "You'll need my car?" Nate asked. Ralph nodded. Nate was a fairly well known poet on the Logo City literary circuit. At times he had also acted as editor-in-chiefto some of the lesser known, small press, art magazines in town. He mostly wrote freelance though, preferring not to deal with agents or lawyers so paydays were inconsistent. Among his friends, a motley crew of artists and writers, alcoholics and addicts, however, he was considered wealthy Every junkie from the suburbs of Salfield to downtown Logo City knew that Nate Shortt had a car. "We're going to Cow Island, Ralph said. Nate Shortt said: "I'll go." He got up and went into the bathroom to take a shower and shave. Ralph helped himself to another beer and then called his girlfriend. "It's done," he said. "I'm going to New Hampshire. n She might have cried. Nate Shortt put on all clean clothes, including boxer shorts. There was a knock at the door. Ralph crossed the room and squinted into the spy hole in the door's center before snapping the lock and letting Mike May enter. Mike was another local artist He had written a novel that sold poorly and a book of short stories that was doing alright. He was rumored to be a pornography addict, but no one who'd been to his filthy, flophouse, room on Walnut street could attest to having seen an above average collection of X-rated media. There were stories about piss-filled, alcohol bottles though, and it was oft pondered whether these were a result of Mike's laziness, or the prequel to one of his famously cruel, practical jokes. No one who knew him, could deny he was something of a slob. Mike had come as soon as he got Ralph's call. His words. Nate got his jacket out of the hall closet. "Nice jacket," Mike frowned. "How much you pay for that?" Ralph asked. "Ten Dollars. Salvation Army thrift store. Main street." "Good deal." Ralph said. "Warm?" Mike asked. Nate nodded. "Zips from the bottom." Ralph put on his boots. They left.

The highway was in need of repair. The state didn't have the money. Most of the previous year's transportation budget had been stolen by a crooked Congressman named Earle who then disappeared amidst alegations that he had filmed himself having sex with a pair of underage twins. Adding to the overall peculiarity of the situation was a rumor that the twins were conjoined at the hip and thigh, virtually sharing a leg. The radio was on ajazz station for a while, then Ralph Valentine tuned in to 99.3, WBACH Beethoven's Ninth swirled through the car like steam rising from a cup of tea.

Mike May was in the back. He asked: "How long 'til we get to New Hampshire?" Nate Shortt said: "It's a three hour drive to the state, and about another hour and fifteen from there to Cow Island." Ralph was back at the radio again. He turned the big knob to the left of the dial plate until he heard the signature guitar riff that announced the start of his favorite, late-night, call-in, program. From the backseat, Mike said: "Why is 'Dead of Night' on so early?" Ralph said: "It's syndicated now. They play it a bunch of times a day, all all kinds of radio stations." Mike said: "How can all kinds of radio stations have the rights to the same show?" Nate was driving. He said: "Christ, man, seventy-five percent of the radio stations in the country are owned by two corporations .." "That would explain why I have to hear 'Stairway to Heaven' a thousand, fucking times a day," Mike said. Nate said: "You think that's bad, wait until those same two corporations own every T. V and radio station in the country. Then, tell me, where are you going to find an impartial news source?" He counted five, then added: "Fucking bullshit." The announcer for Dead of Night introduced the show's host, Barry Am erika. While Barry gave his lead-in, a voice over mentioned the show's original air date. Barry said: "Let's go to the phones." "My name is Laura. I'm from New Jersey. I'm a first-time caller, but a long-time listener. u "What's your question, Laura?" It started to rain. The drops were as fat as marshmallows. Laura said: "Well, Barry, 1 recently started dating this guy who has a kind of strange sexual turn on." Nate said: "Oooh, this oughta be good." Mike said: "No shit," with a crooked smile on the side of his face. Ralph smiled for the first time since he had shown up at the apartment. He was missing a front tooth from an accident involving a beer bottle and an Irishman. Nobody ever mentioned it out loud, but everybody knew the story. In some circles back in Logo City, it had become legend. Laura said: "I met this guy, I'll call him 'Steve,' at a Hooters near my house. I don't go there for the boobs or anything, I just love the buffalo wings. Anyway, Steve was there with a friend and he bought me a drink, Steve, 110t his friend. We ended up leaving toget.her and now, six weeks later, we're a steady couple. I like him a lot, except for his haircut and this one pair of jeans that he has. The sex has been good, but last week, he asked me to put a bag over his head while we were, you know .. '" An eighteen wheeler passed going at least eighty M's per H and threw up a torrent of water. The wipers were already thumping at the edge of their arcs with the furious intensity of a mambo group, and the sudden tsunami made it appear as though the windshield was covered in dish soap. Ralph said: "I've heard about this kind of stuff, people who like to be suffocated while they have sex." From the backseat, Mike said: "I thought it was while you were masturbating. Isn't that how the guy from Ares Mayhem died? They cat! it auto-erotic asphixiation." "1 think you can get off on it whether you're jerking off or getting laid. If something turns you on, it turns you on," Nate commented.

Mike said: "Yeah, but what if you're too embarrassed to telI the girl what you want her to do?" Ralph looked over his shoulder. He said: "Then maybe you're too immature to have sex." "Immature or insecure?' Nate asked. Ralph laughed a little laugh. Despite the rain and the coming of night, the air was hot A sheen of foggy film coated the inside of the windshield and the windows. Nate rolled his down and turned on the defroster to combat the obstruction caused by the steam, and the fog, and the rain. A square, blue sign over the next rise advised drivers to turn on their headlights and proceed slowly in inclement weather. Nate Shortt took the advice. Barry asked: "So he wants you to suffocate him while the two of you have sex?" Laura answered. "Oh no, no, Barry, it's nothing like that. He likes me to put paper bags over his head and I just hate that smell. I mean, I don't even like to use paper napkins at a restaurant" Mike said: "Paper napkins don't have a smell." Nate Shortt said: "They most certainly do," and then added: "I hate that smell, too." Barry Amerika said: "We'll be right back" Mike May sat forward and slapped Nate and RaJph on the shoulders respectivly. He said: "Hey, let's stop at the first liquor store we see for some of that famous, tax-free, booze." The news came on the radio There was a story about a Logo Ciy high school junior found raped and beaten in a ditch in Salfield, A hitchiker travelling outside of Bleak, Texas had found a severed, human finger on the roadside. The State Police were still investigating. The unidentified body of a young woman was found floating in the Hawk's Blood river by three teenagers looking for a place to drink, and a convenience store clerk was shot dead in Logo City sometime earlier in the day. The killer was still at large Three hundred dollars had been stolen. Mike said: "Imagine, throwing your whole life away for three hundred bucks. They stopped at the first liquor store they came to for some of that famous, tax-free booze. The place was all cinder blocks and a neon sign that flashed Manny's World of Liquor. A plastic banner hanging beneith the storefront windows advertised Smokes brand cigarettes at $19.99 a carton. Mike said: "I should start smoking" Then he said: "I've got to use the head," and pushed off towards the rear of the store while Nate and Ralph went inside. The man behind the counter was a large Hispanic with a permanent sneer. He looked up from a magazine long enough to acknowledge that customers had entered the building, and then went back to his reading. Nate and Ralph went back to the shelves marked "Whiskey' and picked out a bottle of Harley's. "Southern," Nate said. Ralph just shrugged. They paid for the bottle and went out to the car. Mike was in the backseat, masturbating furiously. Ralph said: "You want to crack that now?" Nate nodded and they did, passing it back and forth, hitting from the bottle, until Mike had finished and they were able to get back on the road. Afew miles and a few belts later, Mike said: "The restroom was unisex." They were in New Hampshire.

IV. "You're going to the house?" Nate asked. The house on Cow Island was a known haven for criminals on the run. It was well isolated. There were rumors it had housed draft dodgers during Vietnam. Ralph was too drunk to reply. Mike answered for him. They crossed a causeway and drove towards the house. The water was dark and so were the trees. Nate said: "Where's the Old Man?" The Old Man was a legend on both the Logo City literary and crime circuits. He was known as a poet, a thief, a womanizer, and a hero, among other things. He had fled the city under allegations of murder and was still suspected by some to be the Whistling Killer, a serial murderer who had terrorized Logo City and the SalfieJd suburbs for close to an entire year before disappearing. His name was Doyle. Mike said: "He's dead." Ralph groaned Nate said: "Is the house still safe?" Mike shrugged. Ralph nodded. They rolled into an half-moon turn out and Nate shut the car off. The rain had stopped, but the air still held the smell of wet cement and heat. They got out. The driveway was covered with gravel and their feet went crunch-munch, crunch-munch as they crossed to the house. The front door was broken in half, barely hanging on a single hinge. Nate pulled it aside and they all stepped in. A wall of stink slapped at them. It was a smell like shit, rot, and decay. It caught in the back of their throats like an olive pit and gagged. Nate Shortt felt sick and had to step back outside. The yard was filled with every kind of garbage. There were fast food wrappers, rotten pieces of fruit, and an old refrigerator. There were used needles and articles of mud caked clothing. Mike and Ralph had gone inside. Nate Shortt took a deep breath and followed. The house was dark. The electric company had tumed off the power after the Old Man died .. Nate called out to Mike and Ralph. "Back here," was their harmonious reply. Nate walked blindly towards the sound, stepping on dog shit and garbage every inch of the way. He found them in the farthest room at the end of the hall, dimly lit with moonlight. There was a bare mattress on the floor. Bloodstains splattered three of the walls. "You'll stay here?" Nate asked. Ralph nodded. "We'll bring you food and blankets," Nate said. "And candles," Mike added. Ralph nodded again Mike and Nate left him. They drove into town and went to a grocery store. They bought wheat bread, peanut butter, beer, jelly, and a box of Twinkles. It was enough food for a week. They went to a shelter and a nun gave them three blankets. It was all she could spare Her words. The blankets looked warm. They stopped at a bar.

"Ralph had blood on his shoes," Mike said. Nate Shortt nodded. Mike took a drink. Nate thought back to Ralph's hyper-tinged entry, the sirens that had raced by shortly after, and the news item about the dead, store clerk. He said: "He killed someone this time?" Mike nodded. Nate Shortt took a drink. Mike said: "An accident." No question.

"The gun was loaded?" Nate asked. "Maybe he didn't know" Nobody knew why Ralph Valentine had turned down the showing at Visitors. Everybody knew he was an alcoholic junky who held up stores to feed his habits. Nate ordered another drink, "What are we gonna do?" he said. The bar was close to empty. Mike shrugged. He said: "Why did we help him?" meaning, why did you help him? There was a dark table in the far corner, bathed in a furry, red light Nate said: "He's our friend." There was a woman, alone at the table, a ring of empty beer bottles before her like a rainbow describing the arc of the surface. Nate wondered if she had requested the empties be left there, some oblique invitation from a drunk, lonely woman to a desperately lonely man, or ifher server was just lazy. Mike asked: "You ever been arrested for anything?" Nate nodded. "Disorderly conduct," he said .. Then he said: "Fucking bullshit charge. I mean, what the fuck does that mean? It's just some fascist, bullshit way to control the populace. It's what they get you for when you're not necessarily doing something that's against the law, but the cops want to teach you a lesson. If everyone else in Logo City is wearing a blue shirt and I'm wearing red, I guess that's disorderly, right? They could arrest me for that?" He shook his head and took a drink of his beer. He said: "You know, after World War Two, we brought a bunch of high ranking Nazis over here, to America. We promised them immunity if they helped us out. Half of the laws written in this country from D-day on were written by Jew murdering Krauts. They taught American politicians ways to manipulate existing laws and sidestep touchy, Constitutional issues. That's what we fought for over there? No wonder we got saddled with Hollywood blacklists and sons of bitches like McCarthy." Mike nodded, said: "God bless America." They drank: for a while in silence The woman at the hazy, red table watched them over the rim of her glass. Nate thought she was drinking a Cape Cod, but with those lights on her, she could have been drinking straight Vodka. After a while, Nate asked: "How about you?" "How about me what?" Mike replied. "You ever been arrested?" Mike let the question dangle. He said: "Who were those graphitti kids that Ralph used to run with? I can't remember any of their real names, but they all had nick names, street names." Nate Shortt though about it for a minute and then offered a list. "There was Quizrn, Lofi, Shift, Goat 23 . Those are all the ones I can remember off the top of my head. What made you think of that?" Mike said: "No, no, there was another one. Who was the guy we grew up with, he released an album with that band Comrnonground Crew?" Nate nodded and snapped his fingers a few times "Yeah, I said that one. He called himself'Lofi." Mike shook his head. He said: "No, his friend. I think there were four of them in that band." Nate shrugged. The bartender came over and they ordered another round. The woman in the corner crossed the room and stared into the jukebox. Nate saw her do it and wondered absently what the selection was like They were in a rural New Hampshire town, and he imagined Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash along side David Lee Roth and Cher. Mike said: "You remember about four years ago, I had that thing for one of the

waitresses at the sushi restaurant at Third and Union?" Nate remembered well. The girl had been slight and boyish with short hair, but not at all unattractive. Mike had fallen for her hard. He ate so much sushi in the months after she started waiting tables, his sweat began to smell like fish. He had also written poems about her. Lengthy declarations of love which he'd read at every writer's conference and open rnic night on the East coast that summer. Nate nodded that he remembered. Mike took a drink and continued. "Her name was Ingrid. Ugly name, but a beautiful girl. I was taken, but too shy to do anything. I'm ashamed to say, I started following her. I'd wait outside the restaurant at night and trail her cab across town. I'd wait outside her apartment building, watching every person that went in, wondering if she had a boyfriend. Once, I even followed her to a bar down by the docks and watched her with another short-haired girl, drinking and laughing. After that, I was worried she might be a lesbian. "I was having fantasies, Nate. Lots of them. I envisioned myself in every possible sexual scenario with this girl. 1 was hungry for her, you know? Then, just like that, she stopped going to work and instead, started spending her days at the big hospital down on State street I didn't know what was going on, so I went to the restaurant and played all casual with like 'Does Ingrid still work here,' and shit like that. One of the other waitresses told me her Mother had fallen ill." Mike took a drink. Nate followed suit. The woman from the corner had picked a song by Elvis and returned to her seat. The waitress checked in with her and a minute later, brought her another beer. Mike said: "1 started waiting for her outside the hospital. I'd follow her there in the morning, and sit in the parking lot all day. It wasn't just so 1 could see her though. By that time I had found a new turn on I liked watching her cry, Nate." Mike exhaled deeply. "I know it sounds sick. Jesus, it is sick, but I just loved seeing her in tears. It made her look so weak and vulnerable, It made her look like she needed somebody. I guess I was able to incorporate that need into my fantasies about her. Maybe she needed me as much as I needed her. After her mother died, I even watched the funeral, through binoculars from across the cemetary, just to see her in that state. Then, I made the move that landed me in jail. I contacted her. I got her full name off of her mailbox, looked her number up in the phcnebook, and started calling her. Once she realized who I was, she was freaked out, and rightfully so. She asked me to stop calling, but I just couldn't. To me, it was like we had been dating for months, she just didn't know it yet. She got a restraining order against me, but I kept following her around The cops grabbed me after I followed her to a mall one day. She must have spotted me and called on her cell phone or something, I don't know." Mike hung his head as though the sheer effort of telling his story had left rum physically exhausted. Nate took a drink, put his hand on Mike's shoulder. "Do you think that old house is safe?" he asked. Mike shrugged into Nate's palm. He looked up and finished his drink. "Does it matter what I think?" he said "Either the house is safe, or it isn't. My opinion, one way or the other, isn't going to change that." He stood up, "Let me have your car keys," Mike said. Nate gave them to him, "I'm going to take the food and blankets out to Ralph. Here's fifty bucks. Use it to help pay for the drinks and tben why don't you get us a room in that motel across the street?" Mike's meaty hand clapped Nate's shoulder and he was gone. Nate ordered another drink. The woman from the corner took Mike's spot at the bar. Up close, she was luscious.

"Nice jacket," she said. "Thanks," Nate said. She ordered a drink from the bartender. He flashed a quick look at her former table, either confirming that she was, indeed, the same woman, or observing her empties. "Where'd you get it?" She asked. Nate said: "Salvation Army thrift store, Main street, Logo City." "Logo City, huh?" she said. Then she added: "Long way from home." They drank in silence for a while. "Is it warm?" she asked finally. Nate nodded "Zips from the bottom." "How much?" she asked. "Ten dollars," he said. "You wanna fuck me?" she said. Nate answered: "Yep" They ordered another round. When their drinks were gone, Nate paid both tabs using Mike's fifty, and then they crossed the street together and checked into a room at the Sleepy People Motel. The beds were firm and small. Nate took off his jacket and laid on the one furthest from the window, closest to the bathroom. The woman sat down near his feet. "You wanna do some coke?" she asked.

Nate Shortt woke up. The motel room was dark and cold. Thin, pale light seeped in at the edges of the curtain, signaling morning. He sat up and let his eyes adjust to darkness and hangover. The woman from the fuzzy, red comer of the bar was gone. He got up and went into the bathroom. He pissed, felt like puking. Mike May hadn't come back. Nate was worried, but didn't want to admit it. He thought Mike might have stayed with Ralph. The events of the past couple of days had thrown all their lives into turmoil and it wasn't unlikely Ralph was scared, nor unlike Miketo want to be a good friend. Nate sat naked in one of the two chairs buffering a round table in the corner of the room. His head was fined with cotton, but he fought through it, trying to put things into perspective. There he was, Nate Shortt himself, poet laureate of Logo City, with his best friends, Mike May and Ralph Valentine, one a respected writer, the other a known painter, on the lam. Their careers and Ralph's crime hung, buzzing in the air like early Spring black flies, and Nate wasn't sure what to make of it all. It was a poem of his, one of Mike's stories, or Ralph's paintings. None of it seemed real, none of it seemed right. The three of them had the entire East coast by the artistic balls, but then there was Ralph, unable to let go of some romantic dillusion of a life lived on the run, a life of crime. Nate and Mike had often speculated that Ralph's heroin abuse and his horrible taste in women was the result of some unresolved "Sid and Nancy" fantasy. Nate got up and began to dress. His clothes smelled like beer, and cigars, and sex. There was a knock at the door He crossed the floor quietly and pressed his ear to the wood, hoping to be able to sense who was on the other side. There were only a few possibilities. It was Ralph Valentine, Mike May, or his woman from the bar "Nathaniel Shortt, this is the Dempsy police. Come out with your bands up."

Nate moved to the window and opened the curtains slowly. There were eight police cruisers in a half circle in front of the motel. He went out with his hands up.

There were lots of questions, but Nate Shortt didn't have many answers. The police confirmed what he and Mike already suspected. There had been a robbery at Lucky's, a convenience store in Logo City. Three hundred dollars had been stolen. The clerk, Fred Makredis, had been shot to death. The police had been following clues for the past couple of days and, just like the junkies back home, they knew that Nate Shortt had a car. The interrogation room smelled like sweat and bacon. Nate sat between a Fat cop wearing a horrible tie, and a skinny, black cop with pink, acne scars tracing his cheek bones. "Now," the black cop said, "we know you didn't have anything to do with the robbery or the murder, but you did help Ralph Valentine avoid capture." The fat cop said: "Crossed state lines and everything' The black cop flashed a look that suggested he would be more comfortable with a monologue. "How long have you known Valentine?" "My whole life," Nate said. "We grew up together." "How many stores you helped him rob?" the fat cop snarled. The black cop made with the look again "Do you own a gun?" he asked. Nate said: "Yes I do. A .380, semi-automatic." Then added. "It was a gift." The fat cop said: "We can check on that, you know. Assuming you have a JegaJ registration. " Nate shrugged. "I didn't shoot anybody and if Ralph did, he wasn't using my gun." "Where might your gun be now?" the skinny cop asked. "Logo City." "You're a long way from home," the fat cop said. "Do you know a graphitti writer, goes by the name of Jughead?" the skinny cop asked. There seemed to be an audible snap in Nate's head, the equivalent, he imagined, to the proverbial opening of the flood gates. Jughead. Here was the name Mike had been trying to remember at the bar the night before. Nate nodded slowly. "Why do you ask?" "We think he might be our trigger man. Maybe you know where we can find him?" the skinny cop said. Nate had no idea and he said so. "I haven't seen the guy in years. We don't really run in the same circles." The fat cop said: "But you both hang around with Valentine?" Nate shrugged. "YOLIcould really help your friend out here. Just give us Jughead and Valentine walks out of here with you and your buddy Mike, the three of you are back in Logo City in time to get a drink at the HelLfire Club." The riverfront bar the skinny cop mentioned was a known homosexual hangout. Nate Shortt smirked at the obvious jab. It was hot in the room. "Can I get a beer?" Nate asked. The fat cop pulled his little hands into little fists. There were more questions. Nate had fewer answers. They wanted to know why he had helped Ralph. Nate thought the answer was self-evident.

"You really didn't know the score?" the skinny, black cop asked. Nate shook his head. "Valentine just told you he had to get out of town? You didn't ask why?" the fat cop chimed in. Nate thought it was unfortunate that the pigs couldn't understand his friendship with Ralph. It made him feel superior to them in a way. A member of an elite group or club. He guessed if they had the depth of character, or the soul to really dig his situation, that they wouldn't have chosen to be cops. He tried to picture the two men recast in fresh roles. The skinny, black cop he could see as a god-like, Olympian Cassanova with a huge cock and balls the size of apples. The fat cop, however, seemed to fit his role too perfectly for Nate to even imagine him doing anything else. They let him go. They had no more questions and were content that Nate, for the being, had no more answers .. "Don't leave town," the fat cop snarled as Nate exited the interrogation room.

Nate Shortt went back to the Sleepy People Motel. The room was a wreck. The cops had tossed the place and taken most of his things. They had even taken his jacket. IX. Nate went back to the pub across the street from the motel. Mike May was there. Nate took the spot next to him at the dark elbow of the bar. The bartender came over and Nate ordered a beer. "The cops followed me," Mike said. Nate nodded. Mike said: "They impounded your car. Sorry." Nate said: "Fuck the car." "They got Ralph," Mike said. Nate took a drink He said. "I know. I've been at the police station all morning." Mike ordered a shot of whiskey. "Harley's please," he said. The bartender took the bottle down from a low shelf and poured a belt. Mike sucked it down, puckering his cheeks like he'd taken a bite from a lemon. "He'll be okay," Nate hoped. "Ralph is only guilty of robbery. It's Jughead they want for the murder. " Mike smiled. He said: "I know. I'm the one that put the cops onto him." Nate said. "You what?" He exhaled slowly, then said: "So Jughead didn't have anything to do with this?" Mike shrugged .. "He might have, he might not have All I know is he ripped my brother off in a drug deal gone bad about seven years ago. Stole a bunch of money and a bunch of coke. I just evened the score." Nate called the bartender down and ordered a shot of his own. "Make it a double, to he said. The bartender took the bottle of Harley's down again and poured. Nate took his slug. The whiskey did little to aid his spinning head. He felt more confusion than he had since their adventure began. He was relieved that Ralph was off the hook, but he wasn't sure a crime for a crime was proper justification for what Mike had done. Mike said: "Let's get a bus. n

X They walked to the nearest Greyhound station, stopping at a liquor store along the way to buy a bottle for the ride. At the depot, they bought their tickets. There was a bar next door and they killed some time in there until the bus left. The place was a biker joint and Mike almost got into a fight with some roughnecked, Southern accent. Nate broke things up and bought the guy a drink. "Our friend just got pinched," Nate explained. Southern accent seemed to understand. He tipped his beer towards Mike. "Gee fellas, I'm real sorry to hear that," the guy said. "One of my friends just recently got touched himself." Nate and Mike boarded their bus well after final call. The driver started out from the depot, but had to stop for someone who had missed their ride. It was the woman from the night before, the furry, red comer of the bar. She sat down between Mike and Nate. Nate would have introduced them, but he had no idea what her name was. The three of them passed the bottle until it was gone and then Mike fell asleep. The woman said: "What happened to that great jacket of yours?" "I gave it to a homeless guy back in Dempsy," Nate lied. "Really?" she said. "That's too bad. I could have falJenin love with you for that jacket alone." At the next stop, she got off.

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Partly Cloudy, Chance of Sun The sounds of the city are the cacophonous sounds of Mozart sucking wind through a crackpipe kazoo; The sound of schoolgirls laughing their way into P.T. Barnum's three-ring circus of prostitution; The sound of man-made thunder clapping against young skulls, killing night's stillness like a cough in a library, a cough in a coffin.




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