A bit more for you tonight. Rougher than the previous, but I like this old guy and he'll show up at least once more, mebbe a couple of times. Right. Read on. Try not to laugh too loud. It's rude.


The old guy started talking, but it wasn’t like he was talking to me. He was doing the crazy homeless thing, just suddenly talking to nobody, having an elaborate conversation with the dead air a foot in front of him.

“So, yeah, like, you want to get to, y’know, there, you need some, like, some substances, see?”

I lit a cigarette and leaned up against the back wall of the MobilMart and felt the sun beating down on my head. It was going an easy hundred out here and I was sweating bullets, but the old guy was all cool and easy in the kind of shiny tan leather jacket you’d see in Starsky&Hutch. Not a drop of sweat rolling down his scarred old face, no puddle forming in the hollow of his throat between the stringy chicken skin tendons that flexed every time he turned his head. Just this crazy little bird looking as dry as the dunes around us.

“So, yeah, you get your substances,” a quick side to side, like he was worried that a cop might walk by and think he was getting ready to make a deal, “and once you’ve got ‘em, you take a ride out into the desert.”

I tapped ash and cleared my throat. The old guy looked away from me, his thin shoulders drawing back under the shiny tan leather. He peered in every direction but mine, trying to pin down his observer. I puffed my smoke and stared at the steel wool hair on the back of his neck. He relaxed in stages, his shoulders slumping back down, that misdirected, piercing gaze settling back into an unfocused thousand yard stare aimed, apparently, at the boarded up antique store across the street.

“See, the trick is that you don’t be thinking of anything when you take your ride. Just get down your,” the quick side-to-side again, “substances and then just let your eyes close and let everything come together in your belly.”

I tapped ash and wiped sweat out of my eyes. I could feel the skin on my forehead starting to blister. And it was fucking October. What was this place like in high summer?

“Yeah, let everything come together like in a blender. Like your belly’s a blender.”

“Okay.” It came out as a croak and I realized just how dust-dry my mouth was. And there were hundreds of bottles of cold water in the MobilMart I was currently leaning against.

The old guy went into his staring-at-nothing routine again and I sighed and smoked my smoke. Still hunched inside his jacket, he went on.

“So after everything comes together, you just close your eyes and think about nothing, right? Like you just think about black, about black and some light, just a little light in the black.”

“Gotcha.” I dropped my smoke and crushed it out. I could feel sweat popping out on my forearms, my chest, could feel little rivers dripping off the end of my chin.

He puffed out his chest, balled his hands into fists, still staring straight ahead. The sun kept climbing higher, shot rays into my eyes. The sky was clear and blue and as big as the world, the sun tracking straight up the center. My feet were burning inside the black vinyl of my oxfords.

“And then when you stop thinking about anything, when you’re not even thinking about black and light and all that, then you open your eyes.”

“And then what?”

He spun sideways and jammed his face into mine. I scuttled back up against the wall. Fast old bastard. He bared his teeth and stared at me with eyes the color of deep ocean. His balled fists hung at his sides, trembling. I felt my stomach flop over. He glared. I cleared my throat again and croaked. “And then what?”

He pressed closer, his nose a hair’s breadth from my chin. “And then you stop fucking asking me stupid Goddamned questions, Goddammit.”

I put my hand on chest and gently pressed. He held himself against it for a moment, feeling like nothing but rock-hard muscle, and then stepped back.

“Gotcha.” I wiped the sweat off my forehead and shook another cigarette from the pack, offered it to him. He snatched it away fast as lightning. I pulled out my lighter for him, but it was already lit, held tight between his thin lips, streams of smoke drifting from his nostrils.

“So, as I was Goddamned saying,” he shot me a little glare, “when you open your eyes again, if you haven’t fucked it up by asking Goddamned questions every two seconds, you’re there.”

“Where?” I couldn’t help myself.

“Guy, Jesus, c’mon.” He plucked the cigarette from his lips with famine-thin fingers. “I just told you not to ask any Goddamned stupid questions.”

“All right, okay. Sorry.” I pulled out a cigarette for myself and lit up. The old guy leaned back against the wall and took a long, slow drag off his smoke. I puffed at mine and we just stood there, the sun hammering down on us.

“Right, anyway, once you’re there you’ll need something for cab fare. You could walk but, Christ, you’d be dead way ‘fore you got anywhere. Not so much that the place is big, though it is, just that it’s easier to get lost than it is to find the right path. You understand what I’m saying?”

Why not? “Sure, I gotcha.”

He nodded and something like a smile pulled up the corners of his mouth. “Yeah, so something for the cab fare.” He gave me a sideways glance, a lingering up-and-down that made me kind of wish I was wearing a heavy coat. “You ain’t that good-looking, you know that?”

“Yeah, I figured that out a while back.”

“So, yeah, that kinda leaves out fucking I guess.”

“Cabbie’s a chick?”

He furrowed his brows at me. “Nope, big fat guy. Why you ask?”

Good question. “Never mind. Okay, so I can’t fuck my way down the road. What else? Or is that a stupid question?”

He flapped his hand. “Halfway stupid.”

“Okay. So, what, then?”

“Eh. Uh.” He snapped his fingers. “Beer.”


“Yeah, beer and cigarettes. Or candy bars. Big fat fucker like him, candy bars’d probably work. And fuck, everybody wants beer and cigarettes.”

“Look, I’ve got cash. Cash work?”

He pitched his smoke out into the street. A passing pickup truck that I hadn’t heard coming rolled by and squashed it. “See, now you’re being stupid again.”

“Right, sorry.”

He shrugged. “No need to apologize. Some fuckers, they’re just stupid.” He turned and grinned at me. “Luckily they’re usually too stupid to notice.”

Uh-huh. “Okay, fine, give him a sixpack and a carton of Marlboros…”

“Nah, don’t waste your money. Get something cheap. Those generics. Good enough for a big fat bastard like him. Yeah, and a sixpack of Bud. He’ll be okay with that. And some Hershey bars.” He grinned again. “Yeah, so when he shits himself it’ll be actual, y’know, Hershey squirts.” He laughed with an old man’s cracked pipes.

“Guy’s got bladder control problems?”

The laugh cut off mid-crack. “Jesus, more with the stupid questions.” He shot me a glare. “You think if he could get outta the fucking car he’d do the fucking job?”

“Right, sure. Hadn’t thought of that.”

“’Course not.”

“Right. The stupid thing again.”


“And luckily I’m too stupid to notice.”

He squinted up at me. “You giving me shit, man? I got other fucking things I could be doing, y’know.”

I ducked my head in apology. “No, sorry, not giving you any shit. Just a bit confused, s’all.”

He clucked his tongue. “Sure you are. Poor little stupid bastard man. Dunno why I’m telling you all this. No way you’re gonna be able to do all this.”

“Why not?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Jesus, man, how easy do you think this is? Christ almighty, this is jumping across worlds, sliding through the dimensional barriers…fuck, man. It’s not like you’re driving to the mall and heading into Sears.”

I took a dollar out of my pocket and stuffed it under the flap of the jacket’s breast pocket. “Thanks, man. You’ve been a great help. I highly suggest you get the hell out of the sun.”

I tossed my smoke out into the street and headed back to the hotel to find a phone to call the base, and then maybe smack the shit out of that fucking concierge.


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