A Few Rings of Hell’s Bell Ago
The little god of unfounded happiness at an unlikely place seemed to be smiling on me. I was up 500,000 bit-pesos at the online Uruguayan poker site, and someone had finally restocked the Snax Machine in the lobby with chili-cheese Fritos. Yes, the good guys were winning, and no one was supervising my activities. I fondly recall whistling “Dance Ten; Looks Three” from A Chorus Line, prior to carb-loading for that long elevator ride back to my office, deep in the bowels of the Smiling Face of Darkness.
Warning: the little god of unfounded happiness at an unlikely place isn’t your friend. He’s a pint-sized douche-nozzle who gets a girl whistling “Tits and ass…orchestra and balcony…” before he waylays her with the old sucker punch. Which was what happened to me when I entered my office and discovered that some son or daughter of a rat bastard had Glooned me during my absence.
It had been a sophisticated and well planned Glooning. I’d most likely been under surveillance for days. I felt shame for not varying my routine or the time for my daily run to the Snax Machine. To make things worse I had stupidly attached a BACK IN TEN MINUTES sign to my unlocked office door. Whoever had watched me must have known that I’d be gone at least an hour. The sign should have said GLOON ME.
There it was: the legendary Gloonman File. As unwanted as a rubber machine in Vatican City, it lay heaped on the office cart with the broken wheel (I made a note of that; probably took two buff interns to haul it down). The stuff on the cart, however, was nothing but steaming pile of interoffice memo-chits, which noted the dates of the files comings and goings over the years, yet not once contained a name or a specific location (no one has ever been stupid enough to sign her or his name to the Gloonman File). The main tumor itself, the one that had begun going around in 1986 (five freaking years before my birth), lay on my desk. It was, of course, still sealed. In all that time no lazy son or daughter of a rat bastard had ever dared peek into its evil heart of madness.
Naturally, I got pissed off at the situation. Then a little voice in my mind said ‘Hey, boss, why get pissed off? I mean, really, this does look like something you’d do, if given a chance–Right?” Gleaning the Zen from passive-aggressive little mind voices isn’t my strength. I told the little voice where it could go and into which orifice it may relocate its observation when it got there. Alone at last, I began to nurture my freshly hatched desire for revenge.
It then occurred to me that even if I had taken precautions, I would have gotten Glooned by and by; feces rolls to the lowest available point, and my office is so far down in the sub-basement that if hell were to spring a leak I’d be the first to know. Still, I wasn’t about to take this sort of thing demurely. For the last few weeks I had been reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. Like Don Quixote, Trav often mounted his steed (in his case, an odd Rolls Royce “pick-up truck”) and charged forward to avenge the misbegotten (for a fee, of course. “After all, we’re not communists,” according to Don Barzini, the one true hero in The Godfather). I decided right then and there to do the same. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that the misbegotten I sought to avenge was myself–But remember this, wiseass: there is an I in altruism–you can’t spell the word right without it.).
For one dark moment of the soul, however, I wondered why I should go on hooking and jabbing away at the face of an unbeatable foe. Maybe I should just kick it in the cojones then slink off to Florida and live in a houseboat. Then I remembered why. I still owed a hundred-eighty-thousand smackaroos (about ten-trillion bit-pesos) on a quarter-million-dollar student loan debt. People who owe that kind of loot to the government cannot slink off to Florida to live in a houseboat.
The way I saw it, the identity of my Glooner wasn’t a mystery. The caper had Gwen “Walking Boss” Cooper’s (WBC) creepy pink paw prints all over it. She was one of the only two persons who knew my exact location, and only she had minions strong enough to lug the Gloonman mess around. I knew that the thickly armored WBC couldn’t have gotten Glooned herself; more likely she had delivered the hit on the behalf of someone else (for a fee, of course; WBC is most definitely not a communist). Although I half-assedly entertained the notion of Glooning WBC right back, the Rules of Engagement forbid re-Glooning and give the Glooned immunity. My suspicion was confirmed when I went to a dark “special page” located in the squirmy underbelly of the company website. The page is simply a two columned list. On the left there stood the 1,943 names of the once damned (of which only about a tenth still work here), and sure enough Gwen Cooper (as if) was the last name on it. The other side held my name only, in tall red letters, a lone magus in need of a patsy.
Intrepid Travis McGee had trustworthy Meyer to turn to for help and advice, whereas all I had was my duplicitous best friend and coworker Renfield. Even though I believed it better than even money that she had conspired with WBC in my Glooning, I decided to sound her out anyway.
Nowadays Renfield cyber-commutes four days a week, and usually calls out with a lame excuse on the other. About a month back she hit the jackpot. A kitten named Professor Moriarty joined Renfield’s household. He’s black, beyond hyperactive, and is at the age at which all black kittens look like bats. Renfield couldn’t bear (or dare) leave the little fiend at home alone, so she took the vest off a miniature Teddy Ruxpin and put it on “Pro-Mo,” brought him in to work and claimed that he was a service cat in training as to thwart the heebie-jeebies. Not only did everybody buy her gibberish, everybody oohed and ahhed and how cuted the little devil until someone very small took a dump in the community Kleenex box. The scheme allowed Renfield to work from home. How I wish I had thought of it first. Alas, even here at the ever-credulous Smiling Face of Darkness there’s only so much gibberish that the Powers That Be will listen to.
I got Renfield on Skype and slyly steered our conversation the topic of Glooning. She was still in her p.j.s (after all it wasn’t yet noon). In the background I saw the Original Evil Genius swing from a living-room drape and land on an end table from which a vase fell and smithereened upon hitting the floor. Then he got into her purse, which lay on a chair, and came out with a tampon and began to dash in and out of view with it in his mouth. Neither Renfleld nor I made mention of these and similar activities. Like Trav McGee, I decided to play it cool; I didn’t tell her that I had been Glooned, I just wanted to, you know, learn about Glooning, that’s all. But it turned out not to be my finest playing it cool moment.
“Oh, Jesus, Leila, you got Glooned,” she laughed, about six seconds into our conference. “I leave your clueless fanny alone for a month and you go get yourself Glooned, could you be more wet behind the ears.”
“Let’s leave personalities out of this, old pal,” I said. “Let’s just suppose someone we both know, love–and yet only one of us respects–might have gotten Glooned, and that this otherwise brilliant someone wants to know the history of the thing, as to make an informed decision as how to plan her counter-attack. You would be the person that this hypothetical Gloonee would turn to because you are the authority on the subject.”
I didn’t approach the fact that this great “authority” had gotten Glooned herself about ten minutes into her first day on the job–and not even five after she had been warned of it; nor did I say anything in regard to it taking almost six years into my stretch for it to happen to ever wet-behind-the-ears Yours Truly. You see, a moderate serving of unvarnished butt-kissing goes a long way with Renfield, and I wanted her ego in tip-top shape; for it’s from the height of superiority where she inadvertently tells the truth.
“It all began with Sonja Gloonman, circa 1979,” Renfield said. “Back then everything was on paper and a desk came with this terrible thing called an in-box. They also came with an out-box; but since those saw less action than an Irish Planned Parenthood office, we need not discuss them.”
[Here, I had better jump in and save Renfield from Celtic doom. She’s a wonderful girl, but for whatever reason she’s always ready to let fly on both the Irish and all children. Which seems strange, because she’s half Irish and all child. Still, gotta agree with her W.C. Fieldsian take on kids: You can’t trust the little rat bastards. They smell like gassy lollipops and are stupid enough to believe that they will grow up to make a difference.]
“Sonja Gloonman was probably the laziest person on earth, until you got born, that is,” Renfield continued. “And she was a bit of a sociopath as well. Not once during her thirty year career in middle management did she ever do an honest minute of work. She was the company’s version of Leona Helmsley, but instead of taxes, ‘Only the little people do work.’ Her M.O. was pretty crude at the start. She’d just wait until a desk was foolishly left unguarded then lay a dump in that person’s inbox–”
“Sort of like pinching one off in the community Kleenex, right?” I said. I’d noticed that Professor Moriarty had once more gone into Renfield’s purse, and this time he came out with what looked like a fifty-dollar bill, which he proceeded to shred into confetti.
“I thought we were leaving personalities out of this,” Renfield sniffed. “But, yes, I guess that is a fair comparison. Like all management weasel-shamrocks, Sonja was big on ‘delegation,’ to the degree that such included tasks specifically assigned to and to be done only by her. Hence Glooning was born. Over the years she got pretty arrogant about it. She’d come on up to a person’s desk while he or she was there and say hihowareya and Gloon away.”
“How did she get away with it? I would have put a size seven up her outhouse.”
“Not a who, a what. Sonja wore extravagant amounts of Charlie perfume. It’s said that she traveled in a Neptunian cloud of the stuff, which paralyzed her victims and allowed her to do the deed. Toward the end, about ten years or so ago, she’d stick drive people’s interfaces right in front of them as they gasped for air. Glooning had gone digital.”
“So, she was a useless old beaver who routinely pulled the ol’ ditch and dash until her retirement,” I said. Hardly makes her a special case round here, I thought. But I couldn’t deny that her legacy continued to cling to the Smiling Face of Darkness like a beer fart to a tanning booth. I then rolled myself back in my office chair to the mountain of paper stacked on the broken cart, hooked a thumb at it and asked, “What makes this kettle of the runs so frightening? It’s been oozing around here for over thirty years, and nobody has even tried to open the main file. And what purpose does the Big Cheese serve? Why is it still around after her retirement? Hell, why does it exist at all? According to the timeline this dark child of hers had been at her side for most of her career.”
“Fool! Fool! Fool! You fail to grasp the majesty and awe and scope of Sonja’s greatest Gloon. Her Mona Lisa, her Special Relativity, her episode six, season two, Gilligan’s Island. The file now in your possession was her version of Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick. She devised it and then got it across to her victims that it was a “Forever File,” and that that as long as the Gloonee meekly accepted her fate and did whatever miserable little job Sonja had Glooned off on said Gloonee, that person would not get the Forever File dropped off on her desk. Can’t say why it’s still going around nearly a decade after Sonja’s retirement. Sentimental reasons I ‘spose. Or maybe it’s just so intimidating that nobody dares do anything bout it–Um, you did notice its girth, right, Leila? It weighs about as much as a nasty six-year-old boy.”
“An Irish boy, Renfield?”
“Are there other kinds of nasty boys?”
I ignored that bizarre reply and put forth an obvious question: “Then why should there be anything in it other than blank paper? Nobody has ever cracked the seal. It could be just a prop.”
Renfield said nothing, she rolled her eyes like a thirteen-year-old girl asked to stop texting for a moment, so she can help put out her mother, who had thoughtlessly burst into flames. This would have provoked my rage, but I got over it because that was when I saw the prof position himself for a squirt on “Mama’s” smartphone.
Then in that dripping sarcastic tone that she has yet to vary since I first heard her use it in middle school, Renfield said, “What if there’s something in it? Fool! Fool! …”
I assumed that she said ‘Fool!’ a third time, but since I had unplugged her, I cannot be a hundred-percent sure.
I spend a lot of time alone, down here, where no one can hear me scream. And in my solitude I have learned something about myself: I never learn anything about myself. It’s the sort of muddled thinking that makes the Smiling Face of Darkness an obscenely profitable business, even though nobody here or anywhere knows exactly what it is we do.
With a skilled push of my feet I drove my chair away from the broken cart and back to my desk. The office used to be a storage room, and when Renfield and I took it over (actually, we were exiled here by Walking Boss Cooper), we found all kinds of old fashioned office supplies which had long since fallen into obsolescence. I rummaged around in the bottom drawer seeking one such item that I had found lying on the floor, one which I thought might make a useful shank (if it ever comes to that). Eureka! There is was, my letter opener.
At the last second another mind voice spoke up. “What the hell are you doing? You know the procedure–Forever File–it’s all yours if you open it.”
I looked around me to make certain that I was alone, because it was a sense making mind voice, quite rational, unlike anything I had heard before. And I believed that the advice it gave me was sound. I continued to believe that even as I stuck the blade into the ancient, super-sized manilla envelope.
A Few Rings of Hell’s Bell Later
“You’re both probably wondering why I had you come here,” I said. Actually, neither of “both” were physically present in my office; I again had Skyped Renfield into my desk interface, and Walking Boss Cooper’s wholesome yet evil visage filled an old laptop I had found lying amongst the techno-discards in my office. Despite challenges (laziness, ennui), I had been able to cobble together a three-way conference call.
Renfield, this time clad in Star Wars pajamas, raised her hand all sarcastic like and said, “Oh, oh, oh, I know! I know!” Neither WBC nor I alerted Renfield to the fact that darling little Pro-Mo was trotting around behind her with what appeared to be an IUD in his darling little mouth.
“Do share, Miss Renfield,” I said. ” But I’m warning you, if you sling more smart-assed shade on our noble Irish ancestors, this will go up on the wall behind your desk faster than you can say ‘where’s me lucky charms?’” I added with a sinister grin as I slowly unrolled a life-sized signed poster of smiling, shirtless, sweaty and-oh-so-sexy Michael Flatley.
“Why is it that most cute Irish guys are only three feet tall?” WBC (who’s six-one) said with a sigh.
“Do you know, Miss Renfield?” I said. “Maybe it’s due to all that stunted leprechaun semen swimming in Loch Ness.”
“That’s in Scotland, Leila,” WBC said.
Renfield got pouty. “What I was going to say, before you got ugly about things, had to do with you blaming me and Gwen for your Glooning.”
“Still supporting the little fantasy in which I believe everything you tell me, I see,” I said. “Try to imagine how little I care about that, now–now, that I and only I had the brass to open the Gloonman File and reap its reward.”
It’s extremely rare when WBC, Renfield and I are silent at all, much less at the same time.
It took all the way to a count of three before (as expected) Renfield and WBC laughed at the same time. “You were right, Renny,” WBC said, “she’ll push the doomsday button, if you give her half a chance.”
“Right?” Renfield said and then chortled smugly. “She can’t resist doing the dumbest thing possible. That’s how it goes with them snake whackers …”
“How’s that Miss Renfield?” I said, holding an open hand to my ear. “Oh, No problem. I’ve got a heavy-duty frame, made from the finest shillelagh wood in all the emerald isle. I’m gonna have maintenance bolt the o’fucker above your desk, ASAP.”
More silence. “Wait for it, wait for it,” I thought.
“Um, Leila, what was in it?” I cannot attribute this remark to either Renfiled or WBC because they both had spoke a variation of it at the same time.
“Could have been something good, or something bad or nothing at all,” I teased. “It really depends on how you look at things.” I put my feet up on my desk and leaned back in my chair.
“All right, Leila, [WBC, I think] spill.”
I smiled and the three of us shared long, soulful glances like those passed around between desperados in a spaghetti western. I deftly slid my chair back to where the Gloonman File lay. (After I had uncorked the little septic tank I had tossed it on the cart with the other crap.) I extracted the only document that had lain in the file (along with a ream of blank paper).
“The scroll is very old,” I said, as I slid my chair desk-ward, “and it was writ on Word Star, a program which dates back to days of King Lotus III.”
“That’s very interesting,” WBC said with a fake little yawn. “I’m guessing it provides the details of the yearly mastodon hunt.”
“Dude’s not even Irish…,” Renfield muttered. “…born in the USA…Mr. Spock’s got greener blood than that guy…”
“Focus, Miss Renfield, focus,” I said. Then right on cue I saw a very large, flatbed delivery truck grow increasingly larger outside Renfield’s living room window. The little god of unfounded happiness at an unlikely place had nothing to do with this uplifting, even spiritual, moment for Yours Truly. It was something that I had torn from the world with my own hands and brain.
Renfield heard the approach of the vehicle and turned her head to face it. This was just prior to Professor Moriarty suddenly filling the screen as he completed a leap onto Renfield’s keyboard, thus hitting something that severed our connection.
I took the opportunity to strengthen my already solid position. “Gwen,” I said, “I’ll treat you to Sonic for the rest of the week if you go with what I say when Renfield comes back up.”
Although WBC makes at least twice my student loan debt per year, she can’t resist free lunches. Especially Sonic. I could see the cheese melting on the burger in her eyes. “Deal,” she said. “But how do you know she’ll even bother to come back up.”
“Oh, she will,” I said with an evil cackle. Which was precisely what happened, about thirty seconds later. Renfield was standing, and Pro-Mo was sitting atop her should like a vampire bat.
“You can’t Gloon me,” she said with great indignation, and holding in her hand an invoice one of the delivery men must have brought to the door during the blackout. An invoice on which I had insisted had TO THE O’GLOONED writ across the top. “I’ve got immunity,” she continued to spout. “You can’t Gloon the Glooned.” Behind her I could see six burly workmen unhook an unspeakably ugly chartreuse vehicle from the truck.
“She’s got a point, Leila,” WBC said reluctantly, perhaps sadly watching her shake slowly melt away into the land of lost dreams.
“I didn’t Gloon you,” I said. “Please read the fine print, madam.” And as she did so, I spoke to Gwen. “I agree, re-Glooning is bad form [even though I had considered such earlier]. I believe that my explanation will prove that I haven’t broken a single rule of engagement. Of course, you being a wise manager will have the final word,” I added, all obsequious like, for a dollop of unvarnished butt kissing goes a long way with WBC as well.
“You can’t Gloon a cat!” Renfield yipped as she wadded the invoice and threw it at the screen.
“Gwen,” I said, “aren’t employee service animals technically considered company employees?”
My entire scheme hinged on her answer. To help things along, I grabbed my car keys off my desk and shook them. We could be at Sonic in ten minutes, spoke my eyes.
“Sorry, Renny,” WBC said with a victorious smile, “she’s got you there.”
“Besides,” I said to Renfield, whose curiosity in regard to what was going on with the delivery men outside her window was greater than her ire, “your little angel bat is now a proud owner of a material good, not work to do. Behold,” I added majestically after the workmen finally stepped away from the hunk of junk they had finished unloading in Renfield’s driveway, “behold the awesome Chartreuse Yugo.”
There it was, sitting on three flat tires, with a cracked windshield, slathered heavily in bird poop, Sonja Gloonman’s 1986 Chartreuse Yugo.
The instant Renfield and WBC both trained dumbfounded gazes on me, I explained to them (just as I had rehearsed it in the ladies’ room mirror) what had happened:
“Back yonder, before we were born, in the primitive year of 1986, some bozo got it into his head that the American public yearned for an affordable car that was within the reach of the emptiest wallet. The makers of the Yugo–surprize! The company was founded in what used to be Yugoslavia–jumped in with a vehicle that a person could own outright for about thirty-six-hundred dollars.
“Unfortunately, the cars weren’t worth thirty-six cents. Ugly even by ancient standards, important stuff, like transmissions and axles, routinely fell off them pretty much as soon as they pulled off the lot. Late night TV hosts got weeks of material from the heavily advertised campaign. It was a debacle. Naturally, our company had been one of the Yugo’s biggest investors.” I smiled and leaned back in my chair and hooked my hands behind my head and delivered the big finish.
“The Supreme Shithead [our founder, still CEO and a perennial publicity-seeking a-hole] bought ten of the christless things for “extravagant” Christmas presents–in the form of certificates– for his most devout toadies, of whom Ms. Gloonman most certainly a lead croaker. After seven of the ten had failed their state inspection within the first month, the toadies couldn’t even give the fuckers away. Ever intelligent Sonja had never redeemed her Yugo certificate. She held onto it pretty much the same way the thing in Basket Case was kept around.
“After I opened the file and found the certificate of ownership, still valid after all these years, mind you, valued at $3,620.42, I Skyped Sonja at her retreat in Belize. Told her that I had a 500,000 bit peso marker at an Uruguayan poker site and that it was all hers if she gave me the Yugo. She said something in French to one of her well oiled pool boys, and they laughed. Something I think not too flattering about Yours Truly, but I took the hit because I had kept my eyes on the prize.
“After we made the transaction, Sonja informed me that I could redeem the certificate for cash value, and that she would have done the same but since she had that kind of change lying around between the sofa cushions, she never saw a reason. Besides, she admired my grit, if not my intelligence. Anyhoo, I got the cash from accounting and kept half for my fee, of which I threw fifteen-hundred at my student loan and kept a little that I soon will be investing in a well known local restaurant,” I said, making eye contact with WBC, who pointed at her watch; for it was getting close to lunchtime.
“I used the other half of the loot to find the Yugo–which, for some reason was the only chartreuse Yugo ever made–and had it sent to Professor Moriarty. All this time the thing had been kept in a company warehouse on the other side of town until it got in the way around 1992. Since then the piece of shit has slowly decayed beneath a maple tree out in the warehouse yard. I was going to offer them a couple of hundred for it, until I realized that the foreman would gladly pay me to take it off his hands. We settled on a dollar–from me to him–after all, there was no reason he shouldn’t make a profit as well. Consider it the luck of the Irish smiling on you and that drape-swinging, tampon toting, IUD wielding, box-crapping, phone-pissing, money shredding little vampire bat of yours, Renfield.”
A sweet smile took shape in Renfield’s pretty face. “I’m gonna fix that thing out there up and sell it on ebay for big dough,” she said, and I didn’t doubt her because restoring vehicles is her hobby. Pro-Mo, still clinging to her shoulder, seemed to smile in agreement. “This isn’t over, Leila–” she began to say. “Oh, yes it is,” I retorted as I severed the connection and powered down the screen.
On our way back from Sonic, I asked WBC on whose behalf she had Glooned me; for I had made it clear to her that her little ruse hadn’t fooled me for a minute. She smiled and told me that the information would cost me my fries. I dropped the inquiry because that price was too high for useless information, and would only beg for a return of the little god of unfounded happiness at an unlikely place.
Banner Image: By Charlie from United Kingdom (70s Fiat 128 1300 long abandoned) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons -A similar car was also marketed as the Zastava Yugo