Victoria Atomblast. Damon goddam Ross. Fuckin Anthrax fuckin Ripple. The Bogart bitch. Not to mention, the Feds®, the Mob®, Disney®, and every easily offended religious group in the flippin’ freakin’ fuckin’ world. He had nowhere left to go, no country could, would, hide his sorry ass, not even if he offered to pay off their national debt, and there were not a few hot spots his fortunes couldn’t aid considerably.
So here he was, halfway to heat stroke in Sedona, Arizona, waiting for a MONOlimo to haul his ass to Reno, when he really wanted Canaveral, one shot, off-world, hitch a ride with the boys from Global Armed Service, lay low on the moon until things cooled off, or catch a McD® shuttle, assume a whole new ident and buy into a franchise outlet on the Galleria Cluster.
Absurd, what it was. Irving Pentler, wanted for no greater crime than entertainment, a felony count of giving the people what they want. Consumercide. The devil out of context, convenient fall-guy for overzealous neo-Victorians and the self-righteous ultra-Right. But even the Farther Left refused to embrace or endorse him as the last bastion of free speech, and so he remained its bastard. Lonely token of absolute truth in marketing; one man’s sin was another man’s religion. He dealt straight dope to the masses.
Sedona was supposed to be some kind of “power spot,” this according to one of the girls who worked his psychic sex line, 1-900-MINDFUK, something about a High Magnetic Resonance, which she’d probably read in one of those TIME/LIFE® books, Mystic Drivel, or somesuch. Meant nothing to him, Irving being a fast and firm pragmatist, believer in the here and now, that which could be seen and touched, bought and sold. Commodity dogma, the only $piritual rhetoric he understood. Televangelist of the flesh. The guru of bodily fluids. Metaphysician of earthly prurience. The High Priest of Porn, one journalist had called him, and he liked that.
He’d been waiting three hours in a window booth at Ronnie’s Super Pumper just off 89A, still no sign of his scheduled pick-up, the thought of which gnawed at the greasy edges of his still-digesting Western Omelette, butterfly anxiety sloshing about forlornly in a pot and a half of truck-stop coffee; the fellas at MONOLITH were notorious sticklers for punctuality. Couldn’t help wondering if he’d somehow slid from their favor, if they were just fucking with his head or maybe they were out to whack him, too.
6am, almost, no one else in the place but the short-order, the hash slinger, a couple of road-bleary long-haulers trembling on the verge of amphetamine psychosis, apple pie a la mode for breakfast and they just sat there watching the ice cream melt.
A Meat City wagon pulled off the highway and rumbled across the lot, belching smoke and pissing radiator fluid, obviously fresh from a Safety Belt run, punctured from grill to mudflaps with bulletholes and crossbolts, armored side panels scorched and rent by various explosive projectiles. Shuddered to a stop in the space right out front of Irving’s booth, blocking his view of the road.
“Bastard,” he muttered, rising from his table to go confront the thoughtless trucker. Stopped short when he saw the Caddo Indian lower his burly frame from the cab, bare-chested except for a denim vest emblazoned on the back with the famous tongue-and-lips logo of the Rolling Stones. Sputtering expletives, Irving fumbled for his wallet, cursing further when he noted the lack of cash within; he didn’t want to use plastic, too traceable.
The Indian eyed him darkly, and Irving shivered involuntarily; the trucker passed the wait station, indicating his desire for coffee with the slightest flip of his twin ponytails, came straight for Irving’s table, motioning for him to sit back down, which Irving did, much to the chagrin of his own whim.
“Mr. Pentler,” the Indian said, no question of doubt in his rumbling voice. Seated himself without invitation.
“Can I help you?” Irving asked, a taste of venom in his tone, tapping his MONOVisa debit card against the linoleum tabletop.
“My name is Benedict Red Eagle,” the Indian replied, sliding one of Irving’s First Strike’s from the pack on the table. “Gotta light?”
Snarling inwardly, Irving flipped his Zippo open and thumbed the spark wheel, butane reek tingling his inflamed nostrils as he proffered the flame. “So, whattaya want? Free meal? A job? I ain’t a freakin’ flippin’ fuckin’ charity, red.”
Ben Red Eagle laughed, hearty, borderline maniacal, took a long drag and lapsed into a deep, phlegmy fit of coughing. “I got a job, Mr. Pentler.”
“Yeah, uh-huh, lemme guess, delivering meat, right?” Irving snorted derisively, jerking a thumb at the battered wagon just outside the window.
Red Eagle smiled, smoked. “You could say that.”
“Look, Geronimo, it’s a little early in my mornin’ for Native American crypticisms, aright?”
“Sure, sure,” Red Eagle replied, watching his smoke ring spread, then exhaling a series of smaller ones, each passing neatly through the center of its predecessor. “You’re, uh, waiting for someone, right? A ride, I think.”
“I dunno, yeah, maybe. Who the fuck are you, know so much?”
“You’re who? Goddam Crazy Horse?”
Irving wanted nothing more than to wipe the insipid grin off this redskin’s hatchet face, feared losing his fingers to a sudden tomahawk. “This some numbfuck’s idea a funny?”
Ben Red Eagle shook his head, a shadow of solemnity passing over his features. “I don’t think so.”
Irving eyed the truck, turned back to the driver. “Uh-uh. I don’t know what those MONOLITH sonsabitches is tryna pull, but I ain’t goin nowhere in that rollin’ target.”
“You don’t really have much of a choice.”
“I suppose yer gonna tell me it’s for my own safety.”
“Safety?” Red Eagle smirked. “Sure, sure, it’s all about Safety.”
Irving rubbed his itching eyes, his pounding temples, his burning nostrils, contemplating his options, which amounted to little more than nervous breakdown, psychotic episode, toxic personal apocalypse. “So, yer, like, takin me to Reno, is that it?”
“Somewhere,” Ben Coyote answered, shoveling a mouthful of home fries from the plate the waitress had just wordlessly set in front of him.
Irving blinked, confused and jonesing. “Reno.”
“Whatever,” Coyote said, ketchup staining his heavy lips, grease dribbling down his hairless chin. “You da boss,” the red man doing an absurd and awkward Stepin Fetchit parody.
“I’m dead,” Irving muttered.
“Not yet, chemo-sabe.”
“Can we get outta here?”
“Fuckit, I’m usin’ the toilet, an when I’m done, we go. Kapeach?”
No stall door in the john—”fuckin christ”—but Irving drew out his stash anyhow, used his Beamer key to scoop up a hefty clump of white powder and raised it to his nose, hand suddenly possessed by a violent paroxysm, watching in frustration and horror as the coke tumbled into the backed-up toilet bowl like soft snow falling on wet mud. Attempted again and again to administer his quarterly dosage, each time losing it just as the fine flakes tickled his nose hair. Emptied the bag that way, finally licking his finger in desperation and sticking it in the crystalline residue, but another convulsion shook him and the baggie followed its contents into the vat of fecal stew. He knelt on the sticky floor, wanting to scream, to sob, to mourn this worst of all possible losses. Furious, stricken, he scanned the toilet seat for a hint of the dust, but whatever might have landed there was now dissipated in droplets of urine. He slammed out of the bathroom, sweaty and fuming, stormed over to the table and gestured wildly at the masticating Indian.
“Okay, Sitting Bull, let’s go.”
“No luck, huh?”
“What the fuck’re you talkin’ about?”
Red Eagle pointed at the men’s room. “You were in there a long time,” he explained, mopping at his mouth with a napkin. “And you still look like you need to take a shit.”