Pillowface Jones performed the world’s saddest, shittiest sort of “dance” Emily Twiggs had ever seen; not that Emily had seen many “exotic dancers,” as the strippers called themselves, plying their trade, but it sure seemed that this slow, half-hearted swaying, with its lurching anti-rhythms, arms alternating between hanging loosely at the girl’s hips and out to the sides slightly when she’d snap her fingers to no apparent end, her pillow face and head bowed forward and eyes down toward the floor, watching her black-and-white patent leather shoes shuffle lazily and tap sporadically, was just about the most depressing thing she’d ever seen. And that was without the exhortations of the yucky drunks and the big swollen louts in the crowd shouting things—awful things!—like, “Hey freak, lemme fuck your pillow face!” and, after tossing a handful of coins on stage, “Here, Pillowhead, get’ch’erself a new face!”
Unable to stand it anymore and her head pounding from the deafening, seemingly endless “club mix” of the 1990s artifact “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex blasting at such volume as to engulf every fiber of her being, Emily staggered woozily over to and through the back door and out into the sickly yellow light of the alley behind B-Stings.
“So ‘Gold Car Man’ isn’t a hero?” Danny Cater asked, having grasped very little of the lengthy history/“mythology download” he’d just been given.
Captain Hi-Score’s sizable Adam’s apple hitched visibly in his long, scrawny neck, and his beady eyes glowed briefly with annoyance but finally he just sighed quietly, leaned forward and said gently, “Danny, mate, it’s very important that you listen about all…”
“And who is ‘Bee Man,’ again? The Gold Car’s Brother?”
Captain Hi-Score’s BIPOC friend, Samanda James, got up quickly, her face betraying her irritation. She shoved her chair aside and stormed away.
“Samanda! Wait!” Hi-Score called after her. He turned to Danny. “I have to go and get my BIPOC friend. Please, Danny, try and focus, and,” he laid a Moleskine journal on the little hospital bed food tray in front of Danny’s flabby person, “Read through this while I’m gone. It’s very important that you familiarize yourself with this stuff.”
“I know, people are dying arr-enn, I just… it’s so boring,” Danny whined, drawing a look of mild reproach from Hi-Score, the video essayist’s hairline seeming to recede further in real-time from the stress. “But I’ll try.”
“‘S’all I ask, mate,” Hi-Score said. “Back in a jiff, ‘ay?”
Danny opened the Moleskine journal and immediately upon seeing its first page covered in very small, very densely packed print, beneath the underlined heading, “The Man with the Gold Car: His Origins and His Purpose,” let go a long low anguished moan.
A split-second later, Mrs. Cater came running in, breathless and with a sheen of sweat glistening on her face. Haltingly, on account of still trying to catch her breath, but prioritizing as ever the well-being of her best good sweet boy, Mrs. Cater all but gasped, “Are you okay, Danny Dear?”
Danny sighed exasperatedly, dropping the journal after. “I’m trying to study this material, Mother,” he hissed, the word “Mother” dripping with venom. He picked up one of the several napkins that lay in ragged tatters upon the bed tray and started gnawing it. “But that’s,” he spoke through feverish, rodent-like nibbles of the gnarled paper, “kind of difficult with your incessant nagging.”
“Sorry, honey, I just thought I heard you in, in, in pain and,” she touched a hand to his waxy, paper-white forehead, “I was worried.”
Danny withdrew his large, oddly-shaped skull, pausing his napkin-noshing to sneer. “I’m fine, Mother. Just busy.” Resuming biting the paper—“a thing people do,” he’d described the act on a number of the occasions when his mother and others had expressed concern regarding or distaste for the odd habit—he remarked, “If you really want to be a help, how about getting me something to eat. I’m practically starving here!”
Mrs. Cater’s eyes were alight with excitement, now that she finally had a purpose. “What do you want? Anything! Just tell me,” she said eagerly, on her knees on the hard hospital room floor, clutching his tiny, clammy hand close to her face like a string of rosary beads, her words having the quality of a zealot praying for a sign from the Almighty. “Tell me!”
“I’m not telling you anything! Nothing!” The Reformed Genius shouted, the sweat pouring from his bald head like noxious rainwater.
The Chief and Chaser eyed each other angrily. “Guess the lights ain’t hot enough for this mug, Chaser,” the former said, and then put his beefy, furry hand on the flexible stem of the white-hot lamp that was already mere inches from the Genius.
Chaser nodded, lit another Black Death with the butt of the one he was just finishing. “Give the man what he wants then, Chief.”
The Chief grinned wolfishly and very nearly branded The Reformed Genius’s brow with the glowing, humming bulb.
“Here ya go, convict,” The Chief said with mocking good cheer.
The Reformed Genius, tied tightly as he was by his torso and each arm to the stiff wooden chair, had little freedom of movement in addition to ostensibly having little in the way of Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights, but did what he could to move his head away from the burning, blazing light.
“What are you up to, Evil Genius!” Chaser barked, banging the hairy knuckles of both his fists on the table. “Tell us where the Miracle Murder Machine is!”
The Reformed Genius, body contorted awkwardly and uncomfortably and lending his voice a sort of constricted quality, protested, “I don’t build Miracle Murder Machines anymore! Or Magical Murder Machines!”
The Chief looked at Chaser, Chaser looked at The Chief, and the two grizzled hard men of the law harmonized in a knowing chuckle.
“‘Ja catch that, Chief?” Chaser asked, smirking.
“Yeah, I caught it alright,” Chief said with a smug smile as he inserted a cigarette into his ear with a little “squish” sound.
“An innocent man—a ‘Reformed Genius’—woulda said he don’t build any kinda Murder Machine anymore,” Chaser said with no small amount of satisfaction. Then he added tersely, gravely, “You got a great big ‘guilty’ sign hangin’ ‘round yer neck.”
“What’s that hangin’ around’ jer neck?”
Emily looked up, startled by the voice behind her, having thought she was alone. She turned to face a vaguely ethnic looking man with dark, slicked-back hair and bloodshot eyes, his gaudy silk shirt worn partly open to reveal a forest of coarse black chest hair. She fingered the heart locket she wore anxiously.
“It was a… a gift… from my Gramma Emma,” she said nervously.
“Take it off!” the man demanded, sniffing several times in short succession as he came closer. Before she could react he traced her collar bone with a forefinger and let the pendant rest atop its fingertip, brought his face close and, causing her to shudder, inhaled deeply through his nose. “I don’t let my girls wear crap like this.”
He backed her against the wall. “I don’t let my girls do anything without I sez so!” His lips stretched into a thin, reptilian sort of smile while his bleary eyes darted wildly, observing—almost devouring—several parts of Emily’s person in short order. “‘S’yer name, titsybabes?”
She tried to duck under one and then the other of the outstretched arms that trapped her against the cold, scratchy brick wall, eliciting a laugh from him. Sniffing several times, he brought his face closer, his breath hot on her bare neck and reeking of gin. Then she could hear a faint but insistent buzz, growing louder as he put one of his hands on her thigh, squeezed it firmly, his hand cold, and making her tremble.
“Mmm, you got nice legs,” he moaned against her neck.
“Bavasi!” a rich male voice with a transatlantic accent shouted suddenly.
The man—Bavasi, apparently—jumped, stood bolt upright, arms at once straight at his sides, his posture rigid and nervy. “I… I didn’t know y-you were c-coming i-in tonight, s-sir,” he stammered.
The buzzing grew loud, and much clearer, now identifiable as several distinct buzzes, each on its own faint but together forming a giant orchestra of buzzes, angry in its aspect. Their source, a somewhat portly, dignified looking man in a nice suit, stepped out of the shadows, glowering, glaring at Bavasi. “Get the hell back inside, Gus. I’ll deal with you later.”
“Yes, sir,” Bavasi said meekly, prying open the heavy iron door and scurrying hastily through it, the throbbing pulse of “Cotton Eye Joe” escaping during the brief interval between its opening and thudding shut behind him.
Emily quivered, near tears, not noticing until a gentle but insistent buzz led her to look up the hand that held out toward her a fine embroidered cloth pocket square.
“Here you are, my dear,” the man said warmly in his dignified voice, above the soft, demulcent sound of the buzzing that it was now clear emanated from a mass of bees that were crawling around his mouth, on his cheeks, jaws and neck, a couple hovering just off his skin’s surface.
Emily took it and said shakily, trying not to stare, “Thank… thank you.”
“Of course,” he said. Then, with a slightly more harsh tone: “Regrettably, one must at times, in business, associate with a class of individual that one should prefer to avoid in other aspects of life.” He looked at Emily, his eyes brilliant even in the wan yellow light of the back alley, “Mr. Bavasi, with whom I’m afraid you’ve just endured a most unpleasant introduction, is one such character. I do beg your pardon.”
Emily gave her nose another blow and vigorous rub. Still a bit off-kilter from what had transpired, she was uncharacteristically bold in asking, “Who are you?”
“I’m the owner of this establishment, my dear,” he said with a smile, fixing his striking blue eyes upon her. “I’m The Man with the Beard Made of Bees.”
Chaser clicked the clamps of the jumper cables together, producing sparks that made The Chief giddy to the point of letting out a goofy, dumb-sounding “hee-hee-hee” and smiling like a doofus.
“Open up, Evil,” Chaser said coarsely in his flinty cold killer’s voice as he loomed ever closer.
“Yeah, ya chowderhead, you need a bad operation, see,” said The Chief, attempting to pry open The Reformed Genius’s jaws.
As TRG struggled desperately, the door to the interrogation swung open following immediately after a couple of quick knocks. A wide-eyed rookie stuck his head in reluctantly.
“Uh, s-sirs?” the rookie offered timidly.
“What! What the hell is it!” Chaser snarled.
“Uh, I’m sorry, Detective, but his, his lawyer is, uh, is here…” the rookie said.
Chaser didn’t care. “I don’t care!” he shouted redundantly.
The Chief, meanwhile, took on the demeanor of a masturbating teen whose mother has just entered the room unannounced to tell him his wash is done and folded. He backed away and, indeed, covered his groin with a folded copy of The Anytown Gazette. Now, whether the man was seeking to hide an actual erection in the present or he, perhaps experiencing time in the manner of a four-dimensional being, wished to conceal his pud-pulling from Ma Chief, or whether something else entirely was at play, I couldn’t say and, to be honest (as I have attempted to be throughout the telling of this tale, just to be clear), wouldn’t say even if I could. At any rate, The Chief smiled sheepishly.
“Then I’ll see you in court. Again,” Johnita Luxton said confidently as she strode in like she owned the place, which she very nearly had after a previous lawsuit against these barbarians had borne fruit, so to speak, but ultimately the city had opted for another arrangement than transferring title to its police precinct to her firm.
“Luxton,” Chaser hissed through his tar-stained teeth as she removed the jumper cable clamps from the terminal of the battery and let them fall limply to the floor. Deflated, he dropped his clamps as well. “You’re representing this scumbag?”
“That’s right,” she said, folding her arms across her chest and fixing her emerald eyes on him.
Chaser tossed a Black Death toward his mouth and caught it between his teeth, then lit it with his Zippo. Grinning like the tomcat whose feline mistress ate the canary, he said, “Then I know he’s back to his old tricks.”
She came close. “Aw, Chaser,” glancing at The Chief, who was making a futile effort to suck in his immense gut, she quipped, “I knew your addle-brained partner couldn’t read,” she pressed a fingertip against his stubbly cleft chin, “But I thought you could.”
The Chief frowned. Chaser scowled and removed her hand as she laughed mockingly. He blew a bit of smoke in her face, causing her to hack and cough as she tried to waft the pungent cloud from around her. The Chief’s frown disappeared and he cackled and cheesed delightedly.
“Yeah, I can read, Luxton,” Chaser said. “Read you like a book.”
Johnita, her composure returned, followed through with the bon mot for which this whole labored bit had been established to lay the trap, “Then you know his ID says, ‘The Reformed Genius.’ Reformed, Chaser. No more Evil. No more hijinks. He’s a citizen. He’s got rights.”
Clinching his left fist at his side, Chaser smiled. Preened, really. “The only rights you got is lef—”
“Save it, Chaser,” the counselor interjected, catching him off guard, such that he stopped himself in mid-swing, very awkwardly, opened his rough hand and rubbed the back of his neck and clean-shaven head with it. “Your lines are as stale as your breath. Either charge my client or for once in your blighted existence do the smart thing and untie him.”
Chaser’s jaw tensed and the nostrils of his crooked nose flared as he tried to come up with a clever response. Any response, actually, but he found his wits withering under Luxton’s arch gaze. He hated smart dames. More than that, he hated smart dames who knew they were smart. This did nothing to bring his reeling mind back under control.
“Nice try, Chaser,” Johnita said, giving his cheek a light, patronizing couple of slaps, letting the tips of her fingers drag softly along it as she withdrew the hand. “Untie him, Cletus,” she said dismissively to The Chief.
The Chief looked to Chaser, who nodded reluctantly. The Chief sighed and began cutting the ropes.
“Captain Hi-Score, I’ve gotta be honest,” Cater droned in his strange, effete Southern drawl. He hated little more than being described as in any way Southern, but Dixie was on him like stink on shit. “This ‘Gold Man’ stuff has my brain tied in so many knots you’re gonna need the Jaws of Life to cut me apart.”
Cater smiled expectantly, waiting for a response befitting this wonderful bit of dialogue he’d spent much of the past few hours—hours he was supposed to have used to familiarize himself with the facts that were known about The Man with the Gold Car—dreaming up, knowing that even for he who had an oft-boasted-of “real arm for dialogue,” this was a rare gem. Hi-Score, and his BIPOC friend Samanda James lest we forget, stared blankly in response. Samanda (BIPOC) in fact appeared to have caught wind of something foul. Cater frowned.
“Yes, well, mate, you’re gonna have to dig deep and grab this thing by the horns… do the work,” Hi-Score said with gentle insistence.
Cater moaned painedly. He hated the work, and doing it was the worst of all.