Walking Boss Cooper (from here, WBC) attempted to lure me and Renfield from the company bowels to her palatial office on Tuesday, for a “little chat.” She did so by email. As anyone with more than ten minutes’ life experience knows, an email come on is just that–an email come on. Like the confession of true love the magical soul of an email come on usually exists only in the heart of the sender, whereas the recipient may choose to reply or (as we had) blow the damn thing off until something better comes along.
Sadly, something worse came along on Thursday. WBC sent three of the Smiling Face of Darkness’s healthier unpaid pages to fetch us. Pages are venal, and their ephemeral loyalty can be purchased with junk food. It suddenly became apparent that WBC must have heavily invested in crap-cal on Wednesday, for there was a near lifelike quality about the page posse which suggested that they had had more for breakfast that day than a few begged for Skittles found rattling around the bottom of a purse. I keep a roll of quarters handy for such emergencies, but Renfield informed me that someone had disabled the Snax Machine on our floor. “Well played, Miss Rat Bastard,” I muttered as the orcs marched us up the tower.
A childlike glee shone in WBC’s baby blues when we arrived upstairs. I had bought off one of the thugs with promises of butterscotch Oreos and a two-litre Jolt, and Renfield had called in a favor to dissuade another. But the lone holdout had been enough. She was new and naive to the ways of corporate duplicity. WBC said, “Thank you, Miss Tonya, that’ll be all,” to the goon and paid her with an entire bag of Hershey Kisses.
Wildly over-caffeinated Renfield was greatly offended by this transaction. “Crimony, Miss Gwen,” she said to WBC, “haven’t you ever heard of inflation? Judas finked Jesus for less. Word’s gonna get around the Page Pit. Used to be that I could get one of them to do hard time for me on the strength of a Three Musketeers bar. Even darker deeds for Doritos.”
“That’s right, Miss Gwen,” I added. “It’s a chip-clip driven economy that you’ve upset. Kisses for kidnappers sends the wrong message.”
WBC shrugged and smiled and motioned at a pair of crusty looking folding chairs, which sat low and rickety in front of her immense desk.
“All right, Miss Gwen,” I said, “what’s the gag?”
“What does that mean, Miss Leila?” WBC said, positively glowing, “Are you having a gag reflex because you’ve got too much in your mouth? If so, please spit it out. You’re going to need that clever tongue of yours for a mission I have volunteered the two of you for.” She then turned one of the two sleek monitors she has on her desk to face us. “You cannot refuse, for you will plainly see that I have you girls boxed like pet store turtles.”
I didn’t like the way this was trending. Neither did Renfield, but since she had three special energy drinks that are illegal in 49 of the 50 states in her, I knew that she would most likely do something spectacularly strange at any moment and perhaps confuse WBC, thus give me a chance at escape. She did not disappoint me, but she did (technically) assault me. Amped-up Renfield leapt to her feet and put me in a modified headlock, which is known in the assassin trade as the “Havana Cigar Snuffer.” “Ha, ha, Miss Gwen,” she said, “can a boxed turtle be this dangerous?”
“Slinging monkey-butt gibberish isn’t going to get you out of the mission,” WBC said. “But I am happy to see that you are healthy, Miss Renfield. Good thing it’s not Monday, right?”
The Monday crack halted the Cigar Snuffer before I could lose consciousness and be shut of this little slice of hell. Renfield became uncharacteristically sheepish. “Why yes, Miss Gwen,” she said. “I have been a little unlucky Mondays.”
“I’ll say,” WBC said with a whistle. She began to read off her monitor what we could see on the one she had turned to face us. “Three Monday’s back, dangerous Miss Renfield texted out sick due to: ‘Fake News Ministry reports cholera-carrying tsetse fly swarm at the mouth of the company parking garage.’ The next Monday she texted out because of a ‘24-hour cholera’ acquired from a tsetse fly bite, even though there isn’t a wild tsetse fly within nine-thousand miles of here. This Monday, however, along with more tsetse flies, of course, brave Miss Renfield seemed to foreshadow her plans for next Monday–you see, the new bugs carried small pox–even though all strains of that dreaded disease, including, I’m certain, the 24-hour version, were eradicated long ago.”
I began to laugh. “Miss Jezuz H., Miss Renfield, didn’t you stop to think that someone might take the time to actually read your horseshit?”
“I’m so happy that you have brought along your sense of humor, Miss Leila,” WBC said. “Thank God it’s not Friday, right?”
The little woman inside my mind clutched her chest and keeled over dead.
Before I could stop her, WBC played my three most recent Friday call out voicemails. Each one began with a heavily accented male voice who said: “Greetings, my friend, this is…” Then, right here, a crackling recording of my voice spoke my name, which was followed by the return of the male voice who said, “I regret that I am too annoyed this day to attend the festival.”
“Goddam useless hookey app,” I grumbled. “That’s another fiver down the swirly.”
Renfield ripped into that like an owl into a crippled vole. “Miss Jezuz H., Miss Leila, didn’t you stop to think that someone might take the time to actually smell your horseshit?”
WBC cleared the screens and folded her hands as though in prayer. She smiled. She has a beautiful smile, really. Too bad she only shows it when she has people boxed like pet store turtles.
“Whenever I get low and the world’s sucking the life out of me, I read your insipid texts, Miss Renfield, and I listen to your sub-moronic voicemails, Miss Leila. They help me cope. Sometimes it’s just good knowing that my friends are even more fucked in the head than I am. Of course,” she added (and we both knew that a whopper of an of course was coming), “these little gems might not be an aid to either of you come PR time. Then again these–except the ones I will hold onto for the sake of my mental health, mind you–could be deleted from the company record if the two of you accept the mission.”
The little woman in my mind recovered from her heart attack. She became determined to hang herself, but she couldn’t find any rope.
Renfield and I exchanged glances. Both of us spied resignation in the eyes of the other.
“All right, Miss Rat Bastard,” I said, “let’s hear it.”
A little while back, the esteemed CEO of the Smiling Face of Darkness (which civilian types call “Whiling, Case and Harkness”) sent out a company-wide e-screed that went as follows (in which I have tidied up no less than seven typos): “Nobody who works for me is a Ms. From here on it’s Mr., Mrs. or Miss. You’ll see that it works out as good as a goddam voodoo doll.” It was WBC who latched onto the or. She saw it as multiple choice. And in a rare display of unity among us we now address one another as Miss. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female, single, married, an imaginary friend, or even one of the fish in the lobby aquarium–if you can be spoken to, you are a Miss.
Like Satan, our CEO has a legion of names, but nobody calls him the one he goes by in public. People forget quickly, in that case I will remind you that “His Himness” is an “alt-right” (whatever that means), extremely rich, publicity seeking, media clown who ran for the GOP nomination for president last election. The only thing more surprising than the vastness of his fatuous fan base is that he’d somehow got out-crazied by the eventual winner (whose name we never say, either).
Even though Viscount Venereal and the eventual winner of the presidency had accused each other of everything ranging from stingy tipping at S&M rent-boy clubs to necrophilian date rape during their contentious campaigns, all of a sudden, they are BFF’s. The President has even appointed the Duke of Dingleberry, Minister of Fake News. And there’s a “special agent” who now “keeps an eye on things” at the Smiling Face of Darkness. Special Agent Lennie, however, isn’t what you’d call fresh out of the academy. But Renfield has made friends with the old boy, who usually spends a considerable amount of his time down in our office, just sitting there and instructing Renfield on “Death Holds” (which, she practices on me) and various methods used to “liquidate” unfriendly despots. (Here, I must give the CIA credit: waiting for Castro to die at ninety was a subtle stroke of untraceable genius).
The aforementioned unwholesome facts (along with one other and our tendency to make every weekend a three-day weekend) are what led Renfield, Special Agent Lennie and I to a work on a Saturday. Fortunately, we didn’t have to go to the office; our task lay in the wilds of north Torqwamni County, where we were to represent the extremely uninvited Baron Bunghole at “Green-Medieval Con.”
We went in Renfield’s car. I’ll let her describe it for you:
“Love me my ‘67 Charger three-onna-tree-rag-top, right? Lucille’s gotta 383 (oh-three-oh) over mild cam, Edelbrock alum heads, 750 cee-effin’-EM four-barrel carb. Runs like heaven, goes like hell, right?”
Now I’ll have Walking Boss Gwen Cooper explain just why she peed in our Cheerios and sent us to this particular convention:
“It’s supposed to be a secret, but Sultan of Snarf has developed an insatiable appetite for throwing away millions on running for office. The governor’s mansion is up for grabs next year, and Emperor E.D. wants to reach out to the pot-heads and mend fences, as to gain an early lead in the stoner vote.
“As always, whenever the Pustulant Poobah gets a BIG IDEA in its pointy head the whim tends to swell up like a dead possum after an extended period of unseasonably warm and wet weather. A couple days back Herod the Hemorrhoid saw mention of Green-Medieval Con in the fake news. Scro-Tom, Dick and Harry elided the Medieval part (he seems to think that’s what lies equidistant between Large and Small evil) and saw this was a way to get the potheads aboard as ‘good as a goddam voodoo doll.’
“Marijuana is legal in our state, but it is still illegal in the eyes of the Fed. During Commander Commode’s failed presidential campaign, he vowed to buy out Wyoming, rename it ‘Shithole-stan,’ and then send all druggies (along with all winos, hobos, national anthem kneelers, immigrant taxi drivers, climate change believers, and his defiant thirteen-year-old daughter) there because he was certain that enough registered voters across the country felt the same way. Naturally, since Deacon Douchenozzle is now eyeballing the governorship, it makes sense that he’d flip-flop on the subject of weed; and there are juuust enough fools in this state to make such a hell possible.
“The situation seemed hopeless. Then between my third and fourth Thorougoods (one bourbon, one Scotch, one beer) at Quickly’s pub the other night, I had a revelation: attach Leila and Renfield to the campaign. I began to cackle to myself, “Yes yes yes…That will work as good as a goddam voodoo doll.”
Thank you, Miss Rat Bastard–
“But I haven’t told them about–”
You’ve said plenty.
Anyway, WBC thought it would be a nice touch to bring Special Agent Lennie along on the mission. He sat behind us in the middle of the backseat, his white hair blowing in the wind because it was a warm day and we had the top down. Lennie looks like Mark Twain placed inside a standard G-man black suit, wrap-around shades, an earbud most likely attached to nothing, and a bulge on the left side of his jacket, which I discovered wasn’t caused by a sidearm but by a flask of applejack.
“Lucille” does “ride like heaven and go like hell.” So much that we were stopped twice by Washington State troopers on our way to the convention. Renfield got out of both richly deserved tickets on the strength of her indigestibly cute personality and the fact that nearly all cops are fellow gearheads. They spoke in their secret language and the little witch didn’t get as much as a warning—even when she had been clocked doing 119. If I had been behind the wheel I would have been tased and hauled off to a Josef Stalin sort of prison on general principle.
A quarter mile away from the convention, which lay just over the next rise, we pulled over at a rest stop and spent maybe seventeen seconds preparing for what would turn out to be a memorable appearance on the behalf of Skipper Skidmark at the geek get-together, which, frankly, didn’t last much longer than our preparation for it. We raised two flags on a pair of temporary poles that handy Renfield had on the ready on either side of Lennie in the back seat. One showed Cheech and Chong (circa 1977) gratefully accepting a doobie the size of mackerel from His Himness, and bore the legend AN OUNCE IN EVERY POT, MAN. The other one was a little less bizarre, yet just as infinitely hypocritical. It showed His Himness smiling under a headful of dreadlocks and said A HiGH GOVERNOR FOR A HIGH STATE. I also fetched two megaphones and a pair of binoculars from the trunk. I then opened the file marked TOP SECRET on my Android and at last read WBC’s intel for the first time even though I had told everyone involved that I had already memorized it.
“Proceed to the rise and wait,” I said, jutting a firm jaw, putting steel in my eyes and a layer of hoarfrost on my nerve.
Renfield drove us to the top of the rise and we were immediately assaulted by the full force of a nasty reek that had been a rumor in the wind for the last ten miles or so.
“WTF?” Renfield said.
I jutted my jaw, and steeled my eyes like Hannibal and said, evenly, “Pig pee.”
“Says here,” I said as I consulted the file, “that the greenies have built an array composed of four-hundred fifty-five-gallon wooden barrels of swine winkie, from which they hope to produce an electric current. That must be it over there,” I added. Then I stood like Patton in a jeep and surveyed the array through the binoculars. Each barrel had a wire coming out of it, which in turn merged with the lines poking out of the other barrels and all met at one great cord which was plugged into a pole at whose top, a refrigerator light-sized bulb seemed to be flickering—then again that might have been a hallucination caused by overexposure to the fumes coming off the loin chop lemonade.
“Miss WBC said nothing about hazmat,” Renfield said.
“Oh, well,” I said. “It’s a hard knock life, Miss Tiny Tim,” I added for no reason save for the likelihood that the gaseous ham juice was eating away at my brain.
Then like Custer recklessly flinging himself and his small band of men into a lethal, densely packed maw composed of every available angry Indian warrior within a three-state radius, I yelled “Charger!” and Renfield revved Lucille dropped her into?? and flew us over the rise and down to our destiny.
There’s a great freedom in doing stupid things. And I thought I had heard Special Agent Lennie let loose a war whoop, but that may have been another hallucination caused by breathing vaporized shoat squirt.
Fortunately, the gate was open and there was nobody standing near the entrance. For about twenty yards before we got there Renfield executed a perfect 180, and we entered the fairgrounds butt first, as planned. Although our preparations were short, we didn’t have much to remember and we all knew our roles. Upon coming to a stop Renfield and I switched places with Lennie. She and he were perhaps the only two persons in the county who knew how to drive a “three-onna-tree,” and we had wisely kept the motor running. And I saw that, true to her plan, that WBC had planted a mole from the Fake News Ministry to stream our “performance” for the estimated 80% of the state population that gets their information no other way.
Everything happened very fast after we got in. Neither Renfield nor I had a script to follow, we just bellowed nonsense extolling the non-existent virtues of the Supreme Shithead into our megaphones, and that his first act of governor would be to build nuclear powered greenhouses for the production of ganga.
Up until the mention of Prince Peckerhead, the conventioneers had looked upon us with friendly bemusement. Things, however, got uber ugly when they realized we had come on behalf of the Grand Gonad. Uglier still when something that could have been a large cherry, or a small tomato struck Lucille’s back bumper.
Only Renfield is allowed to abuse Lucille. She went ballistic, tossed aside her megaphone, began to display what I recognized to be the Havana Cigar Snuffer and screamed: I’M GOING TO LIQUIDATE THE NEXT USELESS PUSSY WHO THROWS SOMETHING AT LUCILLE!!! Renfield is seldom profane to that degree, but I blame it on the bacon brine, which was pretty heady inside the convention.
Not anxious to stick around and see his protege liquidate or be liquidated by anybody on his watch, Special Agent Lennie engaged Lucille and ran her from first to third with such energy that I had thought that someone much more lifelike had gotten in behind the wheel; but before he did that he had hit the horn thus letting us know we had better hold on or we’d be stuck at Green Medieval Con without bail money. As he sped us back up the hill, Renfield did a CGI type of roll into the front seat and somehow exchanged places with Lennie without a hitch.
Say what you will about greenhouse gases and the Murican toxic love affair with fossil fuels, there ain’t a green device on earth that can keep pace with a 1967 Charger named Lucille. Oh, they tried for a while– A few cyclists and a teensy-weensy electric car that looked like the type clowns pile out of at the circus gave a perfunctory chase, but, well…really. I mean really.
Yet through the binoculars I spied one last potential danger. The Medieval element at the convention had rolled out a trebuchet. And I saw several burly, middle-aged, Middle Age men quickly shovel something awfully slushy looking into the payload from a huge pile that lay behind the pig pen. I put two and two together and correctly got number two.
“Pig shitbomb coming in at two-o’clock!” I bellowed. Even when enraged, Renfield is fast on the uptake. She immediately took evasive, albeit unnecessary action. Although the Wilbur wad had gained early loft, it lacked enough sticktoitiveness to remain intact. It fell apart about three-hundred yards behind and to the left of us.
“Mission accomplished,” I said as I turned around and felt my heartbeat for the first time in maybe ten minutes.
We drove on in satisfied silence for a while. Then making eye contact with me in the rearview mirror, Renfield batted her pretty eyes and asked if I saw any tsetse flies loitering near the boar bread.
I smiled. “Billions,” I said. “Billions.”
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