Cesspool

Jun. 10th, 2012 12:45 pm
i_17bingo: (Default)

previously...


The door to the holding cell opened, and the officer on the other side told me, "You're free to go, Max."

With a yawn, I asked him. "Hey, Jason. What's going on?"

"You know, the usual."

"Really? Because the last time I was in, they told me you and the family went to Florida for the week."

Rolling his eyes, he said, "Not much of a vacation when you got to stay with your in-laws, if you know what I mean."

"Not personally, but I've heard things."

"Lucky." He shook his head. "You know the way out. Stay out of trouble."

We smirked at each other.

When I got to the check-out desk, I said to the uniform sitting behind it. "Hey, Roger."

"Hey, Max," he replied. "Says here you were trespassing backstage at the Staplebitch concert."

I shrugged.

"My daughter loves that band."

"Your daughter has lousy taste in music."

"That's what I keep telling her," he said, "but you know kids."

"Not personally, but I've heard things."

He handed me my belongings, I signed for them, and he told me, "See you next time, buddy."

Upon exiting the building, I was greeted by my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, leaning on a lamppost, playing with her fingernails. Her voluptuous hair was tied up into a stringy ponytail, her pin-up-girl figure was hidden under too-large jeans and a T-shirt, her bright eyes were bloodshot and framed by the ugliest pair of glasses I'd ever seen, her lips were pale, and her smile was absent. I'd recognized her only by the sound of her gum-chewing.

"Gretchen," I told her, "you look like shit."

"You look like the shit that shit shits," she replied.

I took a moment to comprehend what she had just said. Failing that, I closed my eyes and exhaled.

"We done?" she asked.

I nodded.

She strode off, and I turned on my phone to see what the world had been up to in my absence. "You have one new message," the ethereal voice inside informed me.

"And I bet you a dollar I'm going to hate it," I mumbled in reply.

"Max," the message growled, "this is Myron. You know, your editor? The one who keeps having to bail you out of jail? That Myron? I expect to see you in my office within a half-hour of you getting you out, and I expect you to have an interview for me with the notoriously difficult-to-interview it-band of the moment with the stupid name. If not, I will murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap."

Seeing as I'd failed to get said interview, I figured I should try to make a run for it.

"If you failed to get said interview, and you try to make a run for it," the message continued, "I will hunt you down then murder you, chop up your body, and throw it in a compost heap."

Scratch that.

My phone went off while I was a dead man walking to the train, and I went ahead and answered it, given that I was too numb to give a fuck anymore.

"Am I talking to Max Fuentes?" it asked.

"Who wants to know?" I replied.

"I need you to confirm or deny the veracity of a recent news-related rumor."

"And what rumor would that be?"

"That an exclusive, all-access, behind-the-scenes story about Staplebitch is not running in your paper this weekend."

I'd never heard the voice before, but the cockiness of my arch-nemesis could not be mistaken. For starters, it rivaled mine. "Allen Dean," I moaned.

"I also need you to confirm that I scooped you. Again."

It didn't even occur to me to ask how he got my number, because I was too busy informing him, "Dean, I am going to fucking kill you."

He laughed and hung up.

I sighed, "Myron is going to fucking kill me."

Forty-five minutes later, however, my editor sentenced me to a fate worse than death. I blinked. "You want me to do what?"

"Not you," said my editor as he pointed a finger at my colleague and photographer, Gretchen, who had somehow gone home, showered, washed and blew out her hair, dressed, and applied most of her makeup, since I last saw her not all that long ago; "both of you."

"I'm clear on who's involved, Chief, but it's what you want us to do that I don't quite understand."

"Go to a purity ball," he repeated. "And you should probably stop calling me Chief. You're already skating on thin shit."

Gretchen snorted. "Max isn't exactly pure, you know."

"Well," Myron continued, "it's not your purity in question, but you're still attending."

"Yeah," I said, "I'm not going to do that."

"Since when did this become a democracy?"

"Since 1788," I replied, "when the Constitution was ratified. Mind you, it excluded blacks, women, and poor people, but we've since made improvements."

During the course of this back and forth, Gretchen produced a vial of mascara from God knows where.

"Max," Myron said as he absently produced a mirror and held it up for her, "if you don't shut up and do as you're told, I'm going to physically kick your ass."

"I'd like to see you try."

"I'd pay money to see that," Gretchen muttered.

"You're young," he told me, "but I could take you."

"You're probably right," I admitted. "So, I totally forgot with all the banter, what was our assignment?"



to be continued...

i_17bingo: (Default)

Something I couldn't quite put my finger on told me that the editor of the newspaper I wanted to employ me wasn't yet convinced I was the person he was looking for.

So that editor put his finger on it. "I'm still not convinced you're the person I'm looking for."

"Tell me, Myron," I started.

"You just met me," he replied. "You're not allowed to call me by my first name."

"Can I call you chief?"

"No."

"Name one celebrity who won't talk to your paper," I told him, "and I can have an exclusive piece in your inbox by deadline tomorrow evening."

"Okay, Mister..." He peered skeptically at my resume. "... Max Fuentes. If you can blow my mind with a story about Gerald Davies, you're hired."

"You won't regret it, chief."

I know that I regretted it, because there was no way a twenty-four-year-old, wannabe journalist could get access to a mega-super-blockbuster-action star like Gerald Davies. Still, my favorite things to do were things I couldn't do, so I spent the night and the rest of the next day looking for inspiration in a bottle of cheap scotch and a plastic bag full of weed.

It wasn't there.

Oh well, there was always blackmail. I opened my laptop, consulted a few search engines, and picked up my cell.

"This is Cheryl," said the voice on the other end of the phone.

"Hi, Cheryl," I replied with an exaggerated twang, "this is Maxwell Fox from the Internal Revenue Service; I was hoping to ask you a favor." Yes, I was aware that impersonating a federal agent is a serious crime.

"You want a favor from me?" Cheryl asked with hesitation.

"Yep!" I whispered conspiratorially, "I wouldn't ask, but I am in such deep doo-doo." I laughed, "Sorry about that. I've got two little boys, and I think I've forgotten how to swear."

"Tell me about it. My girls have kids of their own, and I still say fudge when I'm really mad. How old are they?"

"Two and four." I plucked from my memory the names of my nephew and his best friend: "Luke and Cody."

Cheryl cooed.

"Can you tell me something?" I asked. "When do they stop putting everything in their mouths? There's always slobber on everything!"

She laughed. "Slobber's the least of your problems. Wait until they start driving."

"They grow up too fast."

"Yes, they do." She sighed. "What can I do for you today, Mr. Fox?"

"Please," I insisted, "call me Maxwell."

"Sure, Maxwell."

"As I said earlier, I'm in a bit of a pickle. It says here your firm handles the account of a Mr. Gerald Davies? The big movie star?"

"That's right."

"Well," I told her, "we're looking over some returns--routine government brick-a-brack; you know government."

"Tell me about it …"

"Well, I was supposed to draw up a little report, and I had all of my information on my little laptop, and it busted. You know computers."

"Tell me about it."

"Well, they told me over and over. They said, 'Maxwell, you better back that file up!' And I said I would, but I plum forgot! And if I go to my meeting this afternoon and I don't have that data, well, I don't have to tell you how much trouble I'd be in."

"What can I do to help?" she asked, genuine concern in her voice.

"The information I need is in Mr. Davies's expense accounts for the last fiscal year."

"Oh, I don't know."

"Cheryl," I pleaded, "they're going to boil my potatoes. I wouldn't ask if I wasn't in such a jam!"

She sighed, "Only if you don't tell anyone about this."

"Oh, God bless you!" I gave her a private e-mail account I'd set up for such an occasion, and she promised she'd send the information right away.

"Anytime, sweetheart!" Just before she hung up, she added, "You just be sure to give little Cody and little Luke a hug for me!"

"Sure thing!" I settled back in my desk, gulping down a mouthful of cold coffee to wash out the taste of Midwestern colloquialisms. A few minutes later, Cheryl came through, and I had in my hands every cent that passed through Gerald Davies's hands last year.

More importantly, I had in my hands my new job.

I made a couple of similarly dishonest phone calls and found the number of his publicist.

"Mark Ryan," the publicist answered.

"My name is Max Fuentes," I told him. "I'm an unemployed journalist, and I'm trying to exploit your client, Gerald Davies, to get a job. If you don't mind, I'd like to ask him a few questions."

I could almost hear him blink in surprise from the other end of the line. "What?"

"Hold on," I said, "I'm nervous. That came out totally wrong. What I meant to say, Mark, was, what can you tell me about the Loving Spoonful, located on 103rd Street and Amsterdam?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he replied after a long pause that indicating that he knew exactly what I was talking about.

"Not ringing any bells?" I insisted. "How about the one on Franklin? Or the one on Avenue C? How about Forty-ninth and Ninth?"

"What do you want?"

"What I want is to understand why a multi-millionaire would spend 35 percent of his net income to open up a chain of soup kitchens and then cover his tracks so thoroughly."

He sighed. "His pastor told him that charity doesn't count if he brags about it. It's that simple."

"How does this sound?" I asked. "Banner headline: 'Action star fights homelessness!' Subhead: 'Davies defeats …' Oh, hell, what's another word for poverty that starts with D?"

"I don't know," he replied.

"Never mind," I told him. "The copyeditors write the headlines anyway. They're really good at that alliteration bullshit."

"Your point, Mr. Fuentes?"

"Let me break this down for you, Mark," I said. "I am going to write an expose of your boss's extracurricular activities, and there's nothing you can do to stop me. In fact, you guys come across better if you give my staff a 'no comment.' Hell, I'll save you the trouble and take that down right now."

"Then why the song and dance?"

"Simple," I replied. "In exchange for all this free character-building publicity I'm about to rain down on Mr. Davies, all I ask is that you reconsider your relationship with me and the paper that's about to hire me."

After a moment of silence, he grunted, "Fine."

I grinned. "Pleasure working with you, Mark."

Forty-five minutes later, my phone went off. Before I could even speak into it, Myron Fogle's voice barked at me. "This e-mail you sent me; is this for real?"

"Have I ever lied to you?"

"I just met you."

"Give it time, then."

"I want to see you in my office tomorrow," he said. "Bring a passport or two forms of ID."

"Thanks, chief!"

Just before I hung up, he added, "And don't call me chief ever again," he said.

i_17bingo: (Default)

previously...


The ringtone I'd assigned to Sean McCoy was "Shower in the Dark" by Binary Mystery. The band was chosen because binary must have been his native tongue in the android factory in which I assumed he was assembled; the word mystery referred to the fact that I had no idea what the fuck he was about. The symbolism of the song itself was that it was free for download, and I didn't want to put too much work into a goddamned ringtone.

"Why didn't you shut that shit off, Max," asked my editor, Myron Fogle.

"Because nobody ever calls me."

"I call you."

"Nobody who doesn't ask me to do things that aren't my job calls me."

He frowned as he rifled through negatives in that sentence until he uncovered my point. "Your job is to do whatever I tell you to do."

"If you told me to eat the Chrysler Building?" I asked. "Would that be my job?"

"Yes."

"Checkmate," I admitted.

He sighed, "I don't like this either, Max, but word came from on high."

"Mr. Lloyd?"

Myron flinched, because he was Jewish, and his people were not in the habit of speaking the names of those at the top. And while Mr. Lloyd wasn't God, he was pretty close. "Not quite that high."

"So nobody gets struck by lightning if I pass?"

My editor took a deep breath and removed the reading glasses I was certain he only owned because he needed something to remove to show he was serious. "I really hate to tell you this, because you're a cocky son of a bitch, and the last thing you need is validation."

"It's true."

"You're the only one who can get in there." He explained, "When it comes to journalism, nobody's security is tighter than Hollywood's, yet you get through every time we ask you to."

"I don't do it because you ask," I replied. "I do it because they because they don't want me to do it."

"These guys really don't want you to."

"I'm listening."

"Total media blackout for three square blocks surrounding the entire Brook- Gareth Hotel complex. "Nobody gets in without an invitation, and those involve security checks."

"Catering? Cleaning staff?" I asked. "Being Hispanic does give me an unfair advantage."

He shook his head. "In-house."

I ground my teeth.

"You have thirty-six hours. No interviews--just the names of the people there, the gist of the keynote speech and the identity of the one giving it, and some color. All you'll need to do is get in, get out, and call Bill immediately so he can type it up." He sat down at his desk, returned his glasses to their former position, glanced at his computer, glanced back, and said, "You're still here?"

I called Sean back immediately.

He asked, "I'm curious as to your--"

"Busy," I replied. "I've got to get into this super-secret-media-non-grata-political-fundraising-bullshit and so some stealth reporting and I don't even know how I can get into the building without an invite..."

"I can acquire an invitation."

"Excuse me?"

"You are alluding to the governor's ball at the Brooke-Gareth Hotel tomorrow evening, are you not?"

"You're invited?" I stammered.

"Not presently," he replied. "Typically, I choose to avoid such events inasmuch as they tend toward the stuffy and pretentious." Yes, I was aware of the irony, but I don't think he was. "However, it will be a simple matter of a telephone call to amend my schedule."

And so, the next evening, a tuxedo-clad Sean McCoy strolled up to where I leaned on the outside wall of the Brooke-Gareth hotel and asked, "This is the attire you have chosen for such a prohibitively high-security, high-class gathering?"

"I tucked my shirt in!" I said.

"You may wish to remain by my side for the duration of the evening, lest your goal be ascertained by those who do not want their greased palms exposed."

I watched limo after limo pull up to the front door to be met by enormous, humorless security guards. "You're probably right," I told him.

Naturally I wandered off at the first sign of an hourglass figure in a backless evening gown.

"Hi," I said to the woman who possessed both the figure and the gown, "I'm Max."

"Sara," she replied before she even saw me. When she did, she looked me up and down and smirked. "You're wearing cowboy boots?"

"Yes, I am."

"At a formal, fundraiser?"

"Yes."

"You may be the ballsiest man in this building."

"I wouldn't go that far," I replied. "Senator Bruno Sanchez is standing over there, and he's running in the primary as a fiscal conservative."

She laughed. "Ouch."

"He's not the ballsiest man in the building," I continued. "That would be Councilman Marvin Hechtmann over there, who insists he's the go-to guy for family values. Now, if you want to expand the field to both genders, then the ballsiest person in the room is Senator Vicky Southern, who voted against the last federal jobs bill and has actively been campaigning to repeal it. And when the money from it started rolling in, she signed the checks and went to all the photo ops, and--this is my favorite part--claims that the money came from a different spending package."

With a grin, she shook her head.

I concluded, "On the other hand, I am wearing cowboy boots to a formal fundraiser."

"You know the press isn't invited here tonight."

"What makes you think I'm the press?"

She flashed me a dirty but amused look.

I gave her a card. "You win."

She took a look at it. "I was wrong," she said. "You're not a real journalist if you work at this paper."

"I like you."

"The feeling's mutual."

"Want to get out of here?"

"I can't," she replied. "It's my party."

"You're the governor?"

She laughed. "I'm the social director. I'm the one who brought all this together."

"Oh." I asked her, "You want to find an empty room nearby and fool around?"

"You really are the ballsiest person in the building."

"You didn't answer my question."

"There's an old smoking lounge on the other side of the bar," she replied. "No one knows it's there."

I don't know how long we'd been in there, but I do know that I had my hand up her skirt when Sean turned on the lights.

"Max," he announced, "you need to be aware that..."

Sara jumped off of my lap and began smoothing out her dress while I tucked my shirt back into my pants.

He groaned in frustration. "Is there any point in your life, Max, when you are not..."

Sara said, "Hello, Sean."

His back stiffened. "Sara."

"Are you his plus-one?" she asked me.

I shrugged.

She snorted and walked to his side. "You, of all people, should remember that the media is not, nor has it ever been, invited to gatherings such as this."

"He is merely my companion," he replied. "What he chooses to do with that status is his business."

"Your companion? I was wondering how long it would take for you to realize that about yourself."

"Aspersions about my sexuality? Mature."

After she stormed away, I asked, "What the hell was that about?"

He rolled his eyes. "She's my ex-wife."

"Say no more."

"I had no such intentions." He pointed a thumb at the door. "Regardless, I have come to bring to your attention that the keynote speaker has nearly ascended to the podium. It might interest you to know that she is Andrea Gareth, heiress to this both the Gareth and the Brooke family holdings."

"I need a minute before I can go out there."

"Erection?"

I nodded. Nothing Sean said surprised me anymore. Nothing.

Ninety minutes later, I whipped out my cell phone the moment I stepped out of the media-blackout zone. "Bill, I hope you're ready to type. We might be able to catch the first edition--"

"No rush," Bill replied. "We've been scooped."

I handed Sean the phone. "Take this," I said. "I need to find a quiet place to throw up."

"Evidently you have given Max news of an unpleasant nature," Sean said to Bill. "Please clarify while he vomits."

After several hours' worth of hors d'oeuvres fled my stomach, he handed me back my cell. "A journalist for your rival paper, The New York Caller by the name of Allen Dean had secured, by means which remain unclear, interviews both with the governor and Andrea Gareth, as well as an advanced copy of the speech she eventually delivered."

"Allen who?"

Sean replied, "Unbeknownst to either of us, you appear to have acquired yourself an arch-nemesis."

to be continued...

Sobriquet

Jun. 20th, 2011 07:08 pm
i_17bingo: (Default)

previously...


"Maxwell?"

"No."

"Maximus?"

"Do I look like a gladiator?"

"I've never seen you in a toga."

I liked her. "Keep playing your cards right."

"I give up," she said with a coy smile.

"Maximiliano."

"Really?"

I nodded.

"Why would you ever want to shorten a name like that?"

"Because it's impossible to say in the middle of an orgasm."

After she blinked them, her eyes went wide.

"Have you ever tried?" I asked.

"Max Fuentes!" shouted someone else entirely from outside the dressing room we occupied.

"What is it, Fraulein Kommandant?"

When Gretchen entered, her angel's face was scrunched up in confusion; but she let that pass before replying, "You're supposed to be interviewing the star, not the makeup girl."

"Makeup woman," I told her.

"Well?" Gretchen tapped her feet to further illustrate her point.

As I stood, the makeup woman said to me, "When you're done in there, let's get back to talking about your name."

"Looking forward to it, Jen."

"Lynn," she replied coldly.

I winced. Gretchen snorted.

I let Gretchen go ahead of me, because my dislike of her did not extend to the way her ass swayed when she walked. "I don't see why I have to be here for this," I muttered.

"Because you're the reporter." She didn't end the sentence with the word idiot, but it was implied.

Sarcasm was a concept that didn't exist in her world, so I skipped ahead in the conversation. "I'm a goddamned stenographer. Let me save everyone the time: 'I'm Curtis McKean, and I'm really excited to be working with Stanley Marshall again. He's an actor's director, and he has this vision I believe in that really connects with the audience. Know what I'm sayin'? It's a dream come true to be working on a movie about the character of Mastermind, because I've been a fan of the comics since I was a little kid ...'"

She tossed her perfect waves of blond hair and growled, "What the hell is your problem?"

"My problem is that I have to walk through that door and say the words, 'Rumor has it that you and costar Alysin Perez sizzled off-screen as much as you sizzled on-screen. Any truth to that?'" I held my thumb and forefinger millimeters apart. "I am this close to clawing out my own goddamned tongue." I muttered, "Not like I'm going to get to use it on Gwen anyway."

Gretchen looked over her shoulder to the dressing room with a frown. "I thought her name was Lynn."

"Fuck this," I told her as I burst into the green room. "Time to be a quote-unquote journalist."

"Pull yourself together, Max Fuentes!" she scolded.

And the worst part? She was absolutely right. I loved my job. When was the last time I let it get to me like this? When was the last time I forgot a woman's name like this--especially one I was wooing so successfully? And so, as much as I didn't want to admit that she was right, I had to. "Okay," I sighed. "Why don't you give me a second while you go take some pictures or whatever it is you do."

"Because I took them already."

"Even the one where he gazes soulfully out a window?"

"Yes."

"How about the faux-candid shot where he lets down his guard and laughs shyly into his hand?"

"I forgot that one."

"Well get to it, then!" I demanded.

"You don't get to tell me how to do my job!"

From the overstuffed couch nearby, Curtis McKean chuckled, "You two need to get a room."

I was aghast because, while my body would gladly explore a weekend's worth of sins with her body, my personality found hers intolerably irritating. She was aghast because she'd found out by accident exactly what my personality thought of hers.

"Curtis," I said. "Can I call you Curtis?"

"Sure!" he replied.

I took a careful, cleansing breath before I said something I might regret. See, I know that I can be a cranky person. Some of this could be attributed to the fact that my job consisted of enabling overpaid narcissism, often on an irregular schedule, and usually at the cost of my sleep and health. Some of this could be attributed to my biggest hobbies, which consisted of sex, drugs, and the acquisition of such. Some--if not most--of this, could be attributed to the fact that I was a New Yorker. Hell, I'm sure that a lot of the blame could go to growing up in a trailer park with a bipolar tomboy as my closest friend.

But today was special. Today marked the eighth time in the two weeks since I met my new neighbor that she called me dude. That's not what was breaking me. No, what really pissed me off was how much that was getting under my skin.

Curtis McKean didn't deserve me taking this out on him, but that wasn't going to stop me from doing so.

"Curtis," I told him, "if you ever insinuate any kind of romantic chemistry between me and my photographer again ..."

"The newspaper's photographer," she clarified.

"...this photographer again, I will drop-kick your skull across the Triboro Bridge."

"What he said," Gretchen agreed.

Curtis McKean's perfectly sculpted nostrils flared with a furious veracity that he could never quite bring with him to the big screen. "You can't talk to me like that!"

The fact that I did was all I needed for me to return to character. I laughed, "Just kidding, Curtis! Can I call you Curtis?"

Curtis McKean's membership in Mensa was one of those little publicity factoids bandied about as a means of distinguishing him from the rest of the stars dotting screens big and small, but even all that intelligence couldn't help him comprehend what had just happened. He turned to Gretchen for slack-jawed clarification, but she just giggled, rolled her eyes, and shrugged.

"Before I ask you what it's like to work with director Stanley Marshall," I began, "how about letting me in on some of that behind-the-scenes chemistry between you and costar Alyson Perez?"

Hours later, I shuffled up the stairs to my apartment, dreading the inevitable run-in with my neighbor, who always seemed to be waiting to ambush me with that most cruel of cudgels: the word dude. Yet somehow--and I don't know how--I made it home unscathed.

As I deadbolted and chained the door, my fellow apartment-dwellers waved from the loveseat in front of the television.

Fellow dweller number one, Cameron, said, "Roomie."

"Roomie," I said back.

"Just getting in?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Cool."

"Yes, it is."

Fellow dweller number two, Mitchell, chimed in, "Shorty."

"Chico," I chimed back.

"How was work?"

"Crap," I replied. "Yours?"

"Crap."

"Glad we had this talk," I told them.

"Same again tomorrow?"

"Probably," I muttered before stumbling into my bedroom, kicking off my boots, and tossing myself onto my mattress just in time for my cell phone to buzz. I didn't have to look to know that it was my editor, Myron, who was the only person who ever called me.

"Chief," I said.

"I hate it when you call me that," he replied.

"Probably as much as I hate it when you call me on my phone."

"I don't really care what you hate," he said. "Reese Kensington just got arrested again for drunken disorderly."

"I'm not surprised," I replied. "Guy can't hold his liquor."

"I need you to meet Gretchen downtown and get a statement as soon as he makes bail."

I whined, "I just got home!"

"Well," he said, "since you live all the way up in Inwood, it's going to take you forever to get there, so I suggest you leave now."

I cried out, "Fuck!" so that the fu part lasted all the way through my ending the call, getting to my feet, slipping on my boots, splashing my face with cold water, and storming through the living room. The ck only occurred when I stepped out of the door, only to see my neighbor in the process of stepping into hers.

"Dude," she said before disappearing into her apartment.

Great. Now I was going to have to lash out at Reese Kensington, which sucked because I actually liked him...



to be continued...

i_17bingo: (Default)

previously...


Behind the open bar of my media-mogul boss's epic birthday extravaganza, the man froze. I plucked two glasses of scotch from his hands and gulped down one of them. The other I would savor, because it was not likely this bartender was going anywhere--not while the plump lips and dexterous tongue of my vain, vacuous, and voluptuous coworker inadvertently simulated fellatio on one very, very lucky buffalo wing. After an eternity, Gretchen let out a tiny groan and pulled a naked bone from her mouth.

If you're curious, that exact turn of phrase did not pop into my brain at random.

Suddenly, her head jerked around, as if it had been smacked by a thought that had been hurled across the room by a slingshot. "Oh! Did Myron tell you?"

Myron was my editor, and I hated it when he told me anything. "Possibly," I replied, "but I tend to tune him out."

She punched me in the shoulder before stuffing a wad of bubblegum into her mouth. "Max Fuentes," she said between chomps, "you crack me up!" And she laughed.

That laugh.

"I'm your new photographer!"

What? "That's," I said. "That's," I said again. "That's eventful."

"I know, right?"

The tiny devil sitting on my left shoulder whispered into my ear, Who do we kill first: Myron, Gretchen, or us?

On my right shoulder, the angel whispered, Man, I wish I were that chicken wing. Or that barstool. Or that black, satin bra. Or...

"What do I pay you for?" I asked them.

"To take pictures," Gretchen replied.

"I need to take a walk," I told her.

"Do you want me to tag along, Max Fuentes?"

"No."

"Okay!"

I plunged into the crowd. The last thing my sex drive needed was more revving. That would be like dropping a three-stage Saturn V rocket into an already souped-up muscle car. I steered myself out of doors, where my inevitable explosion would kill the least number of people.

But then something yanked on my emergency brake, and the last thing I said before all the breath left my body was, "Oh my."

From her regal bearing, to her shimmering, green cocktail dress, to the way her almost black hair swept over her face, to the eyes that were such a deep blue they were almost violet, everything about this woman in front of me was sultry.

I blinked. "Hi," I said to her, "I'm Max."

"My name's September," she replied.

I'll take it from here, the devil on my shoulder told me.

Take it away, the angel told both of us.

I told her, "Between the alcohol and all the music, I could have sworn you just told me your name was September."

She took a coy sip of her martini and let out a chuckle.

"No nickname, then?" I asked. "Like Seppy? Or Tember?"

She shook her head.

"Um." There was no way I could tackle this entire conversation by myself. Desperately, I tried, "what's your connection to Mr. Lloyd?"

"My date did some graphic-design work on one of his Web sites."

My spirits fell. "So which one's your date?"

She pointed. "He's over there, dancing with his boyfriend."

My spirits rose.

"And what brings you here, Max?"

"I came here, specifically to this tiny little space where I'm standing," I said, "to inform you that there are about a thousand puns I could say about your name, and that I will not use any of them, and that restraint is a great sacrifice on my part, so you should take it as a gift, like I brought you flowers or something."

"Really."

With a well-oiled snap of my wrist, a business card was in my hand. "Give me a call if you ever feel like thanking me." Without another word, I resumed my trek to the front door, because my knees were only moments from failing.

Since I just didn't give a fuck, I lit up a fat joint the moment my feet hit pavement sucked the whole thing down during a brisk walk around the block. Mellow, I returned to the entrance, only to find my editor sharing a cigarette with my desk-mate and fact-checker, Bill Cunningham.

"Is this a great party or what?" Bill yelled at me. "It's a fucking blast!"

Oh, the devil on my shoulder moaned, not Bill.

Come now, said the angel, he's a confused young man in need of friendship and guidance.

He's an asshole, replied the devil.

Well, there's that.

Bill pointed to his companion. "Have you seen the tie on Myron's head?"

"I like to cut loose at these things," Myron admitted.

"Well," Bill said, "It's really fucking funny. Because it's on your head, instead of on your neck."

"Hilarious," I replied.

"You look like you've been taking bong hits," Bill said to me.

"Is this a great party or what?" I replied.

"This party sucks!" Bill declared. "I can't believe I'm forced to attend a vanity ball for the fucking rich media fuck who built a statue of himself in his hometown. How self-absorbed can one man be?"

At this point, what little color existed in Myron's face vanished as he observed something behind the still-ranting Bill. I followed his stare and sobered up at the sight of Mr. Lloyd, the rich media fuck in question, strolling toward us, right out of a bad comedy.

Mr. Lloyd measured six feet, five inches. Bill, on the other hand, stood only five feet, six inches; so when Bill realized we no longer watching him, he turned to face what we were watching and received an eyeful of Mr. Lloyd's chest.

Bill said, "Well here's the king amongst his peasants."

"I'm going inside," I told everyone.

After a few minutes, Bill came back in and headed for the bar, but I grabbed him before he made it.

"Look," I growled, breathing deeply to avoid saying something I might regret, "I know I'm not your boss, but you're a vital part of my team, and now, more than ever, I need you to stay sharp. Lord knows I'm going to have my hands full with that overprivileged, underqualified, unwelcome airhead, Gretchen. So do me a favor, Bill: next time you're going to go off on someone, look behind you to make sure they're not standing there." To illustrate that last phrase, I turned around, only to see Gretchen.

She didn't shout, cry, or storm off in fury. She just stated in a clear voice, "I begged Myron to let me your photographer because I thought you were cool and a good role model." And with that, she disappeared into the crowd. I wish she'd shouted, cried, or stormed off.

"The good news," I said with a shrug, "is I don't have to pretend to like her anymore."

I turned back to Bill, but he'd been replaced by a wide-eyed September. "You have no soul," she snapped before stomping away.

It's true, said the angel on my shoulder.

Yeah, said the devil, it kinda is.



to be continued...

Nimbus

Feb. 25th, 2011 02:57 pm
i_17bingo: (Default)

previously...


"Man, what is that freaky thing?" the hip-hop superstar asked me.

I held up the freaky thing. "It's my notebook."

"It's the twenty-first century, y'all. Why you ain't got no tape recorder or some shit?"

"Notebooks are cool," I replied.

"Rev," he said, "you think notebooks are cool?"

The Rev, who sat next to him in the stretch SUV that sped across the Triborough Bridge, was less a man than he was a looming piece of landscape. Without a word, he tilted his head slightly. It could have been a nod or a shrug or any number of gestures.

The hip-hop superstar snatched the notebook from my hand. "Lemme see that."

"All yours." The main qualification for my job as a sleazy reporter for an even sleazier New York tabloid was a high narcissism tolerance, so it was going to take more than this display of dominance to faze me.

"Is this some kind of motherfuckin' code?

"It's shorthand."

He snorted. "It that your gangsta name?"

"It depends," I told him, "on whether or not I can use a dollar sign for the S."

He turned to the Rev. "Can you believe this guy?"

The Rev tilted his head.

The hip-hop superstar said, "Max Fuentes, you all right." He tossed back the notebook, but because his aim was kind of pathetic, it ended up beneath my seat.

This is not how I'd planned on spending my day when I arrived in the office this morning.

* * *

When I'd arrived in the office this morning, I'd planned on spending my day praying for the sweet release of death. I hadn't actually made it home since last night, out on assignment, trading tequila shots with a former child star looking to tarnish her image and make a comeback. What I got out of it was a scandalous interview, a clumsy visit to second base, and a five-alarm hangover.

None of that mattered to my editor, however, because it was clear from the tone of his voice as I passed by his office that he wasn't going to be thanking me. "Max, get your ass in here!"

I stood in front of his desk and grunted.

With both hands, he removed his reading glasses and studied me with what could have been concern. "What? No snide remark?"

"I prefer to think of my remarks as cheeky."

Satisfied that all was normal, he returned his glasses to their rightful place on his nose and began barking at me. For some reason, my damaged brain took that moment to worry about his future. When this newspaper folded under the weight of the Internet, where would he go? His skills were universal, there was no doubt about that, but his persona was as obsolete as shorthand in a notebook. Would any blog have any place for a gruff-but-loveable editor who wore suspenders and shouted a lot? My rumination ground to a halt as soon as his monologue did. "Any questions?"

"Yeah," I replied. "Which one do you want me to interview?"

"I don't have time for your shit today, Max."

"This isn't shit," I told him. "I know it sounds like shit, but I assure you there is no shit here."

"Really."

"Not at this particular moment, anyway."

He sighed. "Explain to me this absence of shit you're talking about then."

"There is a pretentious indie band with that name. And a rap sensation. And a three-man off-Broadway performance-art troupe, though I can safely assume we're not talking about them." I took a second to wonder if I missed one. "Oh, yeah; it's also the stage-surname of an up-and-coming porn star. How come I never get to interview porn stars?"

"Jesus," Myron muttered and picked up his phone. Several pushed buttons and one moment later, he said to it, "That piece you wanted my guy to write? Who's it on?" He waited for a response. "I heard that part. There's like three of them and some mimes." He grabbed a pen and a piece of scratch paper. "Spell it for me." He carefully repeated what he heard, "N, Y, M, hyphen, B, dollar sign, dollar sign." Without another word, he hung up and read what was in his hand. "This is like a goddamned license plate."

"Rap sensation, then?"

* * *

Fishing my notebook from under the patent-leather seat of the speeding SUV, I said, "You never answered my question."

"Hey!" he snapped. "I answered five of y'all's questions!"

"You answered seven of my questions," I replied, "but not the one I keep asking."

"You wanna know why I call myself Nym-B$$?"

"That would be the question in question."

He looked at the Rev, who tilted his head. "Wheels!" the hip-hop superstar yelled to the driver. "Let's show this dude why I call myself Nym-B$$!" He asked me, "You know what a nimbus is, $horthand?"

"It's a cloud," I replied.

He frowned. "Is that right, Rev?"

The Rev tilted his head.

"Well, that ain't why I picked it. And I'm gonna show you why." He yelled, "Wheels! Are we ready to show him why?"

"Twenty," Wheels replied, "maybe twenty-five minutes."

"I'm gonna show you why in twenty, twenty-five minutes."

After ten minutes of uncomfortable silence, Nym-B$$ asked, "Catch the game the other night?"

"Brutal," I said.

The Rev tilted his head.

Thirty more uncomfortable minutes followed, until the SUV squealed to a halt. Blinking in the painful afternoon light, I poured myself onto the sidewalk and followed Wheels, the Rev, and Nym-B$$ into a battered, but solid, Methodist church.

The hip-hop superstar gestured toward the Rev. "This is Reverend Alvin Jefferson." He gestured to a statue of Jesus Christ. "This is my lord and motherfuckin' savior." He then very specifically pointed to the halo around Jesus's head. "And that is a motherfuckin' nimbus." He wrapped it all up by returning his attention to me. "You got all that?"

"Yeah," I replied, "I got all that."



to be continued...

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Jeremiah

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