THIEVERY CORPORATION: We all know what I'm going to say here, but I have to say it again, because I get that delicious, soothing sensation of having my ass covered: All X:WP characters are copyright Renaissance Pictures/USA/whatever. No copyright infringement intended, no profit gained.
BARD SMART, BETAS SMARTER: Have you ever wondered why Lela cries into a bottle of vodka every weekend, or why the convent so tempts governal? We could blame society or their parents or the synthetic dye on their toothbrushes, but I think beta reading this may have been the proverbial straw. Nonetheless, I am very grateful to both of them.
HAVARTI IS NOT THE ONLY CHEESE: Homo sex, hetero sex, drugs, food, guilty pleasures. All wrapped up in the gaily colored packaging of endless obscenity. (To put it plainly, there are a lot of curse words too.)
The High Road to Low Expectations
Number 666 of the White Trash Series
You wonder why we're only half-ashamed
Because enough is too much
And look around
Can you blame us? Can you blame us?
Morrisey, "Interesting Drug"
1. The Mother of Peace
In 1967, just before she dropped out of the honors program at Berkeley in order to join Strawberry Alarm Clock on tour, Cyrene had participated in a student takeover of the presidents office on campus.
It was her finest moment: She was the Revolution incarnate. Wearing a beret, armed with a bullhorn, she lectured, cajoled, exhorted her fellow students to leave the past behind, to join with the Students Against Totalitarianism and Nostalgia (SATAN) in rebuilding the university for the future. The past was dead, she proclaimed. "Marx was wrong!" she spat into her bullhorn. "Religion isnt the opiate of the people, its nostalgia!"
She was quoted for weeks, photographed for all the local newspapers and her FBI file, and propositioned by the grooviest guys on campus.
Thirty-three years later, the present was now the past, but it still looked pretty damn good. Especially when one lived in a day and age when Ché Guervaras image was used to sell computers and a chain of stores selling bad coffee had taken over the planet. Now, Cyrene realized, she was beginning to understand nostalgia. She wanted to go back in a time capsule and apologize to nostalgia for all the mean things she said about it. Because now she was an old womanalbeit a relatively content old womanreduced to selling pot to ungrateful young people who would just use it while watching cartoons and not as a break from fighting for the proletariat, or world peace, or the environment, or for an endangered species.
And then there was Gabriellewho now stood before Cyrene, irritable and clad in her trusty old Carhart jacket. Once upon a time she thought her daughters main squeeze had enormous potential to do somethingprecisely what, the old hippie hadnt the faintest idea. But ever since the trés sensitive poet had secured an academic career (with stripping on the sidesome career choices were best left unexamined, thought the terminally unemployed Cyrene), she had become terribly dour and authoritarian. Gabrielle was now part of the problem, as they used to say.
"Got my dope, Cyrene?" A tad impatient, Gabrielle was shifting her weight from leg to leg.
The aging hippie sighed. "Of course, man." Cyrene pulled out her briefcase. While it was not a briefcase in the traditional leathery sense, she thought that the old Kung Fu lunchbox (which Zina had used for 3rd and 4th grade before advancing to the practice of bullying other children for food, money, and homework) served her purposes well.
"Here ya go, honey." She flipped a Ziploc bag of pot to Gabrielle, who examined it with the exaggerated self-importance of a nascent connoisseur.
Little golden eyebrows furrowed, like caterpillars plotting a coup. "Is this the Rhine Gold?"
"It doesn't look like the Rhine Gold."
"Since when are you an expert?"
"Since you became my dealerI've been smoking it for the past five years."
Cyrene squinted at the bag. And grew less convinced herself. She thought she had saved the last of the current crop for Gabrielle unless she accidentally gave it to Eli. Which would explain why he was so fuckin happy at the food co-op last night! "Well, I'm pretty sure it's the Rhine Gold."
"'Pretty sure' doesn't cut it."
"Do you use that snotty tone with your students, man?"
Actually, yes, I do, Gabrielle thought, wincing. "Sorry, Cyrene. It's just a stressful time of year. The semester is over, I have finals to grade, not to mention the term papers. It's"
"it's coming on Christmas, they're cuttin' down trees, they're puttin' up reindeer and singin' songs of joy and peace"
"Christmas is over."
The old hippie smiled in the glorious, reassuring fashion that made her a darling of the counterculture for 15 minutes, that is, with a freewheeling, easy, bullshit charm that totally suckered the always-guileless Gabrielle. Cyrene patted the young womans arm. "Just give it a try for me, honey, okay?"
* * *
Zina discarded a sooty jacket and a well-worn helmet in a pile beside the door. Another hellish shift. How many kitty cats could get stuck up in a tree in one frigging day? And then there was another case of blatant fireplace abuseit happened frequently during and after Christmas, the most festive and mindless time of the year. Somehow people failed to understand that the chestnuts should merely roast over an open fire, and not turn into splitting, hissing flameballs that freak you out and make you inexplicably throw toward the window so that the curtains light up as well.
She yawned, stretched, and ambled into the living room. Gabrielle was standing in the middle of the room, dressed in her standard lazy-ass Sunday gear: green flannel pajama bottoms and an Olympus County Community College t-shirt. "Hey bitch, where's my chicken pot pie?" the firefighter trotted out her standard greeting.
Instead of a playful giggle or a semi-sarcastic retort, the poet met this with stony silence and a baleful glare.
"Just kidding," the firefighter added lamely.
"Your mother dicked me over again."
Zina smirked suggestively. "Come again?"
"She gave me inferior weed, Zina. I'm not high. I'm not getting a good high." The poet blew out a frustrated breath. "This is not Rhine Gold."
"You sure?" The firefighter walked into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of Rolling Rock out of the fridge. "I though Mom woulda learned her lesson the last time she didn't give you Rhine." In response to the last time she did not get Rhine Gold as requested, the vengeful Gabrielleperhaps over-inspired by Titus Andronicuscooked a tofu casserole in chicken broth and fed it to the unsuspecting hippie. However, the only salient result of the incident was Gabrielle's overwhelming guilt and Cyrene's endless tirades on fucked-up karma.
"Obviously not. In fact, I'll prove it to you." The poet dropped her gaze. "Say it."
"I'm tired," Zina whined, as if four syllables would push her into physical collapse.
"Okay, okay." The firefighter took a breath, then wiggled her eyebrows for good measure. "Machu Picchu."
Half a minute lapsed into eternity. Gabrielle remained staring at her blankly. "Try again," the poet-pothead requested.
"Machu Picchu." This time Zina drawled it out a bit, sounding like a Pokeman on Quaaludes.
The silence continued. Zina frowned. Normallymeaning under the proper influence of Rhine Goldupon hearing the name of the ancient Inca city, Gabrielle would dissolve into giggles that eventually escalated into hysterics and threatened the stability of her bladder.
Zinas sooty brow furrowed with an almost genuine concern. This was indeed serious. She opened the refrigerator again to continue her reconnaissance mission for leftovers.
2. Somehow, Pacinos Career Survived
Within the confines of Dahak's, Chad waved at an unusual sight: Eli, clutching a small, old film camera, was leaning nervously against the bar. He was intrigued enough to go over and speak with Sarcastic Hippie Video Store Guy.
"Welcome to the dark side," Chad purred mischievously.
"Hey man, how ya doing? Look, I'm not here because I'm gay."
"Sure, youre not. I mean, where else can a straight guy indulge his love of 20 year old dance songs?"
"No, really." Eli held up the camera. "This is for my semester project in Film 404. We have to do a short piece that remakes a Hollywood film about minorities. I chose Cruising."
"I see." Chad's eyes narrowed.
"No, you don'tI'm going to do it better, trust me."
"Good luck," Chad muttered.
"What?" Eli shouted. The sound of Dee-Lite's "Groove is in the Heart" now pounded over them, rendering embarrassed mumbling impossible.
"Never mind!" Chad yelled back. "But you better be careful."
"Its contagious!" Chad laughed and pointed at a burly man on the dance floor, dressed in black Levis and a leather vest. "I mean, I never thought I'd see him here, but there he is! And I even got his number!" he crowed.
Eli watched as the magic man spun around. It was Artie.
"This is so going into the movie." He held up his super 8.
* * *
Zina had settled in on the couch to watch the latest offering from Fox: When Overeducated White Women Attack. The show was finally displaying some promise: After ten tedious minutes of observing a comparative literature professor balancing her checkbookresulting in tears and a torn registerZina now watched as a woman with a Ph.D. in art history from Yale contemplated sticking a butter knife into a still-plugged toaster.
"Do it, you dumb bitch!" the firefighter hissed at the TV, just as Gabrielle came in the house.
"Zina," the poet began breathlessly.
The butter knife hesitated about the toaster slot.
"Are you listening to me?"
The firefighter nibbled her lips with anticipation.
"Damn it, Zina!" Gabrielle latched onto a dark and broodingyet terribly sensitiveearlobe, giving it a violent twist.
"Ow!" the firefighter roared. It was the first part of Gabrielle's fabled one-two punch: First the earlobe, then cranial battering with the world's ugliest throw pillowa brightly colored, quasi-Pennsylvania Dutch mess of hexagons that resembled nothing so much as an Amish pap smear. Having the discordant colors so close to her face was worse than the actual physical pain.
Zina ducked a blow from the pillow and rolled off the couch to avoid further abuse. "What the hell is wrong with you?" she shouted. "Ever since you stopped smoking dope you've been out of your fucking gourd!"
"Bullshit!" snapped Gabrielle.
The firefighter rubbed her delicate, doughy earlobe. "Oh yeah? What about all those American Gladiators you were so hot to beat up, the other night when we went out for pizza?"
Gabrielle held up a menacing fingerand snarled. "I just didn't like they way they were lookin' at you."
Zina blinked. Shouldn't that be my line? Is this what it's like to live with me? Mommy, I'm confused.
"We got a problem, Zina. Artie beat up Eli, outside of Dahak's."
"What was Artie doin' hanging aroundoh."
"Uh-huh. And it's Gay Night too. This adds to my theory that he's a big fat fucking closet case."
"Or it could support my theory that he's just horny as hell." So very proud of actually having a theory on anything, Zina folded her arms with a minor sense of triumph.
Gabrielle was pacing now. "Fuck the theories. All I know is that I'm gonna kick his ass. Are you in or not?"
Zina now slumped, defeated. In reality, she wanted nothing more than to drink beer in front of the TV until she fell asleep. And maybe mess around a little with her girlfriend on the couch. Add some pretzels to that pleasure equation, and thus an evening was made, nay, would achieve an unrivaled, unparalleled perfection. She recycled the only line she could think of that might get her out of this potential mess. "Violence is not the way, grasshopper."
"Don't you dare quote Lao Ma to me!" barked Gabrielle. She stopped pacing. "I want vengeance!"
A sharp buzzing noise and canned laughter from the TV indicated that the Yalie had just fried herself.
The firefighter sighed. What else could she do? "Will we be home in time for Smackdown?"
"Count on it." Gabrielle sailed out the door, expecting her backup to follow.
* * *
Artie swaggered down a quiet, peaceful main street while fragments of "Stayin Alive" provided a rather dated personal soundtrack within his mind. He felt good. Fifteen minutes of sin in a bathroom, easily absolved by lots of prayer and repentant tears, made him feel like a new man. He sniffed at his arm, drinking in the powerful yet sublime scent of cologne that was not hisa heady (oh yeah, baby! he thought), Proustian remnant of his earlier toilet-side encounter.
A lone car passed. Then it executed an abrupt u-turn and came toward him. Immediately he recognized the battered, ugly economy vehicle as Gabrielles. When it pulled to a halt near the curb in front of him and both women emerged simultaneously from the Escorteven slamming their respective doors in unisonhe giggled. "Hey! Cagney and Lacey! Arrest me and molest me!"
In response Zina leaped over the hood of the car with magnificent, MacGyver-like grace. Somehow he couldnt picture Sharon Gless doing that. Nonetheless, as usual, her beauty broke his heart, almost literally in this instance as she head-butted him in the chest. He stumbled backward, and she slammed him into a wall. "Zina!" he cried. "What gives?"
"You know what gives, you little shit. You beat up Eli."
Fist curled, Zina leaned in closer to Artie. She sniffed at him. He flinched. Then he noticed that her eyes had that old, familiar look, that look he thought he would never see again, in his wildest, wettest dreams: Desire. "What's that you're wearing?" she growled sensually.
"Um, I think it's called Aroma Mist"
"You mean Aramis?" The height-challenged Gabrielle was trying to interject herself between them; if doing so physically wouldnt work, she would settle for verbally. Aramis was dangerous stuffthis she knew from Chad. The demon scent could arouse anyone, her worldly friend had told her. And while a conflation of appetites was an unfortunate aspect of the firefighters characterthe smell of fresh meatloaf could have Zina naked and ready to pounce within secondsGabrielle was quite certain that she did not want to know to what ends Aramis would compel her lover.
The firefighters nostrils flared again. Artie almost came on the spot.
"It's nice. Real nice," Zina murmured. Her pupils were obscenely dilated, as if giving birth to a new lust.
"Zina" Gabrielle ground out the "you-are-on-the-verge-of-infidelity" warning between her teeth.
"Thanks!" Artie gushed. He grinned. "Say, ah, my place ain't that far away. How about we have a little drink, get caught up on old times?"
Zina grunted thoughtfully, like a sensitive orangutan making her TV debut on Nova.
It was the last thing she remembered clearly. For the intoxicating scent carried her away, she flew on the wings of night, her heart swelled and thundered like a storm. To paraphrase John Denver, it filled up her senses.
And then, the scent of the fabled cologne fadedor rather, was taken hostage and pummeled to death by the joint, brute force of stale TV dinners and ancient laundry that happily coexisted in Arties trailer. Now, sitting on a couch more wretched and stinky than her own, Zina blinked in confusion, wondering how in the hell she had gotten there.
Artie was smiling at her in his smarmy way from the entrance of his eat-in kitchen. "Im makin ya a Long Island Iced Tea, baby," he crooned. Which meant that he was frantically throwing every kind of liquor he had into a blender.
That goddamn cologne. Geez, it's no wonder straight women fall in love with fags all the time! Gabrielle is gonna kill me.
"An you just sit back and enjoy that cee-gar," he was saying.
Zina looked at her hands. A cigar was cradled between the first two fingers of her left hand. Not just any cigar, she realized, but a good one, straight from the Ghurkhan plantation in Cuba! Now that brought back memories, she thought. She cut off the tip with her switchblade, then lit up, making sure that he could hear the soft, sensual sound of her lips going puh as she puffed away. Might as well torture him while Im here.
Artie cast a nervous look into the living room. Seeing her here once again, within his home, made him realize that he wanted her to be there, always. This AM radio sentiment prompted a decisive action. He wiped his sweaty palms on his black jeans, darted into the living room, and knelt in front of her. "Zina, I"
"Where's my drink?"
"I'll get to it in a minute. I" He made the mistake of looking into her cold, uncompromising eyes. Suppressing a sigh, he stood up and went back to the kitchen. After five minutes, some cursing, and a whirring blender, he was back with a frothy concoction that he hoped would lower whatever teeny inhibitionslike, say, incest or a certain blonde pussywhipperthat now prevented her from sleeping with him.
Gleefully she gulped down half the drink, her lip smacking and groans of pleasure a delightful torture to him.
"Zina, I got to talk to you about something. I've been doing a lot of thinking about you and me."
"I can't deny how I feel about you any longer. I reckon my feelings for you never changed in the first place. No matter how much I fought 'em. So I got to ask you this." He lowered his head, sent a quick prayer to the Lord, then looked once again into her eyes. "Would you marry me, Zina?"
"Ain't that illegal, marryin' your kin?"
His face turned red. "They can't prove that, and you know it!"
Zina paused thoughtfully and tortured him some more as she fellated the cigar. "I dunno, Artie. What's in it for me?"
"A devoted, loving husband."
"Not the answer I want, and you know it."
It had been The Issue in their relationship; Artie had prayed that she would not remember. But, alas and alack, she did. "What you ask of me is unnatural," he mumbled, which had been his Standard Retort in the matterand it was true, because the Bible never said a damn thing about It.
"My ass," she grunted. "I bet if I asked Gabrielle to eat me out every night, she'd do it." She neglected to add that this would most certainly be true only if chocolate and/or margaritas were involved in said oral activity.
His expression curdled. What you won't do, do for love. Then he scowled. Damn that song! "All right!" he spat. "You got it."
The firefighter blinked in surprise; she was impressed. "Okay. What about the housework?"
"Zina," he began patiently, "I am a working man. And the Lord dictates that the home is the woman's realm."
"I work too, asshole. So I would have to do all the cooking and the cleaning?"
His nostrils flared. He would not back down on this one. Never. Absolutely not. "We split it, fifty-fifty! And I'm not doing the laundry."
It was an admirable gamble, and a good offer, she thought. And she knew that Artie could never boss her around like Gabrielle didhe wouldnt force her to eat vegetables, especially with some lowdown, dirty trick like hiding mushrooms under slices of pepperoni on a pizza! Still, her mind was made up; it always had been. She grinned and drained her drink. "Shit, Artie, Gabrielle already does all that cleaning stuff anyway." She stretched, patted his cheek, and stood up. "Thanks for the drink and the smoke."
As Zina left Artie's trailer, all the while marveling at how easy it was to block out the sound of his sobbing (which possessed a quality similar to the primal wailing of rhinoceroses in mourning), she realized that she had made a mistake. Even though nothing had happened, she had left Gabrielle high and dry, no doubt thinking that something was going on with her and Artie. Well, it wasn't her fault, really, that Artie had smelled so good. Still, Zina knew that one thingand one thing onlymattered. Only one thing would rectify this mistake: One way or another, she would get Gabrielle the Rhine Gold.
3. Like a Bridge Over Troubled Kung Po
On his first day out of the hospital, Eli agreed to lunch with Gabrielle at the Green Dragon. This, in spite of the fact that he felt embarrassed about how he looked: His shaven head was completely bandaged, and he resembled a partially bearded blue-eyed egg. But despite his tender condition, Eli was more concerned about his friend; he had detected a serious mood change in Gabrielle since she no longer had access to Rhine Gold. She was moody, irritable, and prone to violence. And maybe just plain weird: She was now arranging the peanuts of her Kung Po Chicken into an impressive fortress around a particularly large floret of broccoli. She was about to send a lump of chicken careening into the peanuts when Eli announced his intention to speak by clearing his throat.
"So Zina's out of town?" He frowned as Gabrielle got the snow peas in on the action, creating a little drawbridge across the peanuts and into the broccoli.
"Yeah," the poet finally mumbled.
It was like trying to coax conversation out of an autistic child. "Where is she?"
Gabrielle sighed dramatically. Acting as deus ex machina in the culinary warfare, she stabbed the chicken battering ram with a chopstick. "Visiting an old boyfriend. Supposedly to get me some Rhine Gold." She devoured the meat.
Eli shuddered at this carnivorous act. "You don't trust her?"
"I dunno, Eli. I'm not sure anymorenot after the way she was sniffing around Artie."
"Well, geezthat was just Artie. This doesn't mean"
"Why would she have to go all the way to New York to get the stuff?" Gabrielle burst out with exasperation.
The hippie cinemaphile attempted an explanation. "Gab, this stuff is actually pretty rare. It's powerful shit, and you should just count yourself lucky that Cyrene had a crop going for as long as she did. I'm not surprised Zina would have to go to a big city to score some."
This appeared to assuage Gabrielle somewhat. "I guess, but still I don't know if I should trust this guy."
"Who is he?"
"His name is Marcus. I actually meant to tell you sooner, 'cause I knew you'd be interested in thisZina says he's in the movies, like he works for a studio or something."
Eli's jaw dropped. "Holy shit!"
The poet furrowed her brows. "What?"
"Zina knows Marcus Pebble? Oh my GOD."
"Who is he?"
Eli shook his head in disbelief. Of course, he wasn't really surprised that she didn't know who Marcus wasmost moviegoers today were so vastly ignorant of their cinematic heritage. He quoted directly from his own lonely, neglected unfinished dissertation: "In the early 1980s, Marcus almost revived the blaxploitation genre and almost returned it to its glory days in the 1970s with one amazing film: White Chocolate Comes to Harlem."
"'Almost?'" Gabrielle interjected skeptically.
"Okay, it bombed. But it's a great film, man. It provides a valuable and much-needed transition between classics like Shaft and Foxy Brown to the new genre of gangsta films which began with New Jack City."
"Is he still directing?"
Eli sighed sadly. "Unfortunately, no. He's leading a living death as a low-level Miramax exec."
Lao Ma stopped by the table to refill their water glasses. "You speak of Marcus Pebble," she announced.
"Ooooh, eavesdropping, how mystical!" Whereas Gabrielle was concerned, Lao never failed in stirring the sarcasm pot.
Nonetheless, Zina's ex ignored the temperamental poet and addressed her remarks to Eli. "I did feng shui for Marcus's townhouse."
Eli gazed at her, amazed, worshipful, and tempted to kiss her feet, even though her filthy New Balance sneakers were encrusted with old "Happy Royal Family of Prawns" sauce.
The proprietress of the Green Dragon merely shrugged. "It's a living."
4. The Face on the Cutting Room Floor
[A scene from White Chocolate Comes to Harlem. Zina, lying on a bed, is wearing a leopard-skin spaghetti string top and mauve hotpants. She has a typical Medusa-like early 80s perm, as perfected by the various members of the Bangles. She is pretending to be high or actually is; to this day no one is really sure. ]
[Marcus enters. His is a more restrained version of the classic pimp suitblack with a hot pink shirt and matching headband around his flying-saucer like hat.]
Marcus: Bitch, what did I tell you? Get your lazy ass on that street now! [He grabs Zina by the wrist and hauls her out of the bed. She stands before him, wavering slightly, glassy-eyed. Due to her three-inch stiletto heels, she towers over him.]
Marcus: You heard me! [He slaps Zinalightlyacross the face. This snaps her out of whatever stuporand pretense at characterizationshe inhabits. Her eyes narrow with rage, she snarls, and knocks Marcus across the set with a vicious backhand. Off camera, a thud and a shriek of pain is heard. The camera follows the sound and twirls toward Marcus, now sprawled on the floor, clutching a bloody nose.]
Zina (off camera): Aw, baby, I'm sorryI didn't mean to [She totters over to him, kneels down and tries to help him sit up. Bleeding profusely, he tries, feebly, to crawl away from her.]
Marcus: GodDAMN, Zina! Remember that little discussionACTING? GodDAMNit. [To camera.] Floyd, turn off the camera!
Floyd (off camera): Huh?
Marcus: Fuck, are you all idiots? TURN OFF THE CAMERA.
Floyd: Sorry, man, I thought it was part of the scene. [Camera remains on.]
Zina: I'm sorry, honey, I really am. [Marcus is still crawling away from her, leaving a trail of blood. She is now crawling as well, right behind him.] You know how I get, I'm, like, more of a Method actor I react, not act!
Marcus: I gave up a chance working with Pam Grier for this. [Still crawling, still bleeding. She watches helplessly, tries to approach him again. He is now off camera.] Do you hear me? PAM GRIER.
A Mercedes-Benz mired in traffic at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 76th, 6:42 PM EST.
Marcus drummed his fingers on the armrest, his cell phone glued to his head like the tumor it was probably already causing within his brain. "Right, Harvey. Right." He stared at the driver's thick pink neck and suppressed a sigh. "I'll take care of it as soon as I'm back in the office."
As Harvey droned on about the Gilligan's Island remake, Marcus gazed longingly toward Central Park, at the treetops that peeked over a long stone wall separating the green splendor from the sidewalk. His eyes widened when he saw a white hand appear at the top of the wall. A head, crowned with black flowing hair, followed this. A woman was pulling herself over the wall. Oh dear God. It can't be. Yet the pure grace of that bodys motion indicated it could only be one person, and one person only.
Marcus gasped; he couldn't find his voice. And even if he could have, the driver wouldn't have locked the doors in time anyway.
Gracefully, Zina zigzagged through the traffic, found the dark Mercedes, opened the door, and piled into the back seat. She grabbed Marcus's cell. "Hiya, Harvey. Yeah, I found him. Thanks a lot. Now promise me you'll think about that Billy Jack remake? 'Cause I tell ya, Harvey, that film is like my Bible, and I could be Billy Jack in my sleep, ya know?" A pause. "That Angelina Jolie weirdo as the hippie teacher, of course. Think about it. Okay, babe. Thanks again. Bye." Zina stared at the phone, couldn't figure out how to turn it off, and tossed it into Marcus's lap. "He'll never do it," she muttered to herself. "Damn shame." She sighed regretfully, but then, as she turned her attention on her ex-lover, the wattage on her smile increased exponentially. "Hiya, Marcus!"
Marcus, now plastered against the car door, wondered if he could possibly outrun her. Even if he could, the attention he might draw to himself would be questionable, at least to the easily confused members of New York's Finest. A black man running from a Mercedes? I don't think so. "Zina, what the hell are you doing here?" he barked.
She tried pouting. "Miss me, baby?"
"Like I would miss the plague."
"That ain't nice, Marcus."
"What do you want?"
"What makes you think I want somethin'?" Her eyesthose beautiful, beautiful eyeswent wide. "Couldn't I just stop by to say hi?"
Marcus held up a hand. "Girl, don't even. You always want somethin', Zina. There's always an angle. So just tell me what it is."
She attempted mixing in wounded, sullen pride with the poutingwhich sometimes worked with Gabrielle, but only if you were already on your kneesyet he continued glaring at her until she finally broke down. "Okay, baby, you got me. I want some Rhine Gold."
"Rhine Gold!" he exclaimed. "What makes you think I still dabble in shit like that?"
Zina frowned. "Yeah, I guess you're right. You're playing with power suits now. It's all coke."
"Zina!" Marcus shouted. "I do not do coke! Don't oppress me with your assumptions."
Remember that this is Zina, he told himself. "Don't be an asshole."
"Oh." Silence fell over them. He folded his arms and remained crushed against the car door, wondering just how the hell he was going to get rid of her. And how in hell was he going to talk Harvey out of a Billy Jack remake. For despite what Zina thought, when it all came down to it, Harvey was just a massive, balding spittoon for bad ideas involving recycled B movies.
"Marcus, you at least gotta know where I can get some," she remarked, disgruntled, for he was wasting her very valuable time.
"Well " He pursed his lips in thought. Granted, it was dangerous, but it would get her off his back, and far, far away. But can she handle it? he wondered. Marcus looked at her again, into eyes so blue theyd make Joanne Woodward dump Paul Newman in a nanosecond, and so crazy that Robert DeNiro would cry with envy. "I know where you can get some, but it is dangerous, and you gotta go south. Way south." His gaze flicked to his driver. "Ive give you the details when we hit my office."
"Oh yeah? Okay, I can deal with that." Now that this most difficult phase of her mission was complete complete, Zina stretched with both relief and an air of self-satisfaction. They rode for a while in contented silence. "Hey, Marcus?"
"Can I drive the car?"
5. Our Dyke in Havana
The retinue surrounding Castro was as thick as flies over a garbage can. The group of heavily armed men surrounding the leader of the small nation pushed through the crowd toward the baseball field.
Castro paused for a moment to shake hands with his peoplethe workers, the children, the huddled masses longing for decent TV stations. And also because he wanted a better look at the tall, pale senorita in the tight, sheath-like black dress and sunglasses, who grinned at him like a beacon.
With his guards watching warily, the mystery woman inched closer to Castro. Suddenly she flung her arms around the Cuban leader, crushing him in an affectionate hug. Several guards already had their hands on their weapons, but Castro was laughing and patting the woman's back.
Then, just as quickly, she disentangled herself from his embrace, still smiling. The pressure of the crowd urged Castro on, and reluctantly he moved away from her, with a final, longing glance backwards. Only a minute later he was patting his secret pocket for his stash and realized it was gone. He stopped and turned around. In the distance he could see her kicking off her heels, tearing her skirt for better mobility, and running. "Consigala!" he shouted.
Zina was tempted to take a moment to taunt them by shouting "Viva La Rhine Gold!" but as the adrenaline pumped through her and her legs kicked up increasing speed, she became more invested in keeping her sorry ass alive. Shit, I hope this swimming-to-Miami thing is as easy as Marcus says it is, she thought.
6. Husker Don't
Vendela Van Hoek nursed a damp, cold Heineken while a stripper's boobs shook in her face. Unimpressed, the Swedish musician simply leaned back, the gesture dismissing the dancer, whountalented yet nonetheless working hard for the money, so hard for it, honeytook her mammaries elsewhere.
She had left Sven and Benny at the garage, thoroughly disgusted with her cousins' inane arguments with the idiot mechanic who could not fix their Saab motorbus. Of course it would take a week for a new exhaust pipe to arrive in this American backwater, and all the screaming and Laplander obscenities in the world would not change that. She placed the blame squarely on the domineering Sven. If he hadn't insisted on touring more rural areas, they wouldn't be here, she thought angrily. Her thumbnail slashed into the soggy beer label.
"I knew I would find you here." Benny's voice floated from above.
Vendela glanced up. Her bandmate, a truly gifted guitarist, was cradling a Heineken himself. He sat down.
"Don't say anything, Benny."
He shrugged and said nothing. Yet Benny's flaccid lips were quivering as much as the dancer's hips. Vendela knew it was only a matter of seconds.
"He didn't mean anything by it," the guitarist blurted.
"Like hell he didn't," she snapped.
"Vendela, we are all under a great deal of stress right now."
"That is no excuse!"
"It was just because you were off beat" Benny winced at her icy glare.
"Oh, so now you are taking his side."
"Yes you are, you fat fuck! Go on, tell mesay it! You think I am a 'second-rate Geddy Lee' tooyou think that, just like Sven does!"
"I didn't say that!" he shouted. Mortified, he noticed that some of the people in strip club were staring at them. He lowered his voice. "You are Keith Moon, Vendela. Purely Moon."
"Keep your voice down! You're embarrassing me!"
"Fuck you and your embarrassment!"
Just when Benny thought it could get no worse, the opening strains of the Divinyls' "I Touch Myself," began over the sound system, hypnotic layers of guitar that, nonetheless, he detested and thought so clichéd, so ridiculous for a strip club. Could they ever think of anything new? Who, he thought, is this pathetic bimbo who dares to use such an old, gimmicky song?
However, his heart clenched inside his chest when confronted with precisely the kind of bimbo who would use such a song: a delicious, voluptuous woman of perfection, with short blonde hair and in a white fringe bikini, slithering seductively around the pole on stage. He could not tear his eyes away from her. She moved with such leonine self-possession and controlled grace that his imagination begged to see her unleashed in the throes of passion.
May the heavens forgive me for slighting you, o nameless American goddess!
The goddess was now in front of him, gyrating slowly, her eyes glowing with faint disdain as she stared down upon him, awaiting her tribute. By the time that he had the presence of mind to dig for money in his pocket, the impatient goddess had moved on to Vendela. And now, watching his cousin brush a bill along those perfectly sculpted abs, Benny saw that Vendela was just as enraptured.
* * *
Sid Moskowitz narrowed his eyes at the sight of the two out-of-towners loitering in front of the dressing room. He knew they had to be from out of town since they were wearing leather pants and were stupid enough to believe they had a chance in hell with Gabrielle. The fact that they were shouting at each other in Swedish was also a big tip-off.
"Can I help you?" he murmured suspiciously at them. His eyes traveled freely over the statuesque blonde woman, who did not seem pleased at his attentions.
The stocky fellow in the chain-mail shirt, who looked like a scruffy Jon Lovitz, decided to answer for her. Before he spoke, his chest puffed out dramatically, as if he were indeed Master Thespian. "We come to offer frottage to a fellow artist! It is a certainty that She is the most talented dancer in your valley, and it is common for all far and wide to pay tribute to the genius who is She with White Undergarments Resembling Spaghetti!"
Sid had to hand it to this one; usually the potential stalkers lacked any kind of chutzpah and freely admitted that they simply wanted another gander at Gabrielle's tits. Nonetheless, Sid's paternal, protective instincts outweighed his admiration of the creative freak. "Sorry, sweetcakes, but Gabrielle does not receive visitors after she performs, okay? Now run along and abuse the English language elsewhere."
"Who are you?" the blonde beauty growled at Sid.
"I own this place, dumpling."
"And why should we believe that?" she retorted loudly, placing her hands on her hips.
Sid was caught among arousal, indignation, and abject fearfor him, a common state of existence. "Because I do, honeylamb. Now listen, I was just beginning to like you and I was even gonna offer you a tryout"
Suddenly the dressing room's door flung open. Gabrielle's Olympus County Community College t-shirt and her cutoff jeans undermined her diva turn. "What the hell is all the racket about?" she snapped. However, the underachieving poet's erect nipples held them in thrall.
The proprietor of the Shimmy Shack, however, was accustomed to this glorious sight and he found his voice first. "These foreigners have come to stare at you, sugar pop." He sniffed disdainfully at Benny and Vendela. "What are you guys? French? You're fucking rude enough for it."
The tall blonde woman ignored him. She took Gabrielle's hand. "I am Vendela Van Hoek, drummer for Gravid Havarti. My cousin and I have come to praise you. You have given us three minutes and forty-five seconds of pleasure despite our hatred of the Divinyls. I, in particular, wish very much to prove my great admiration for you." Her full lips brushed the dancer's knuckles.
Gabrielle was only momentarily impressed at the smooth move. "I'm not giving back the twenty dollar bill. Sorry."
"Twenty?" Benny blurted.
Vendela silenced him with a hiss worthy of the most commanding cobra.
Benny fumed. His English was not as precise and mellifluous as his cousin's. Nonetheless, he knew one phrase, and one phrase only, that might get him into Gabrielle's good graces, or maybe even her tight jeans. His barrel chest puffed out once again. "And I have killer weed!" he proclaimed.
He smirked as Gabrielle's green eyes flitted to him. "Waitwait a minute." She pulled her hand away from Vendela. "Just what kind of weed is this?"
7. Love Songs, Nothing But Love Songs
Carrying a bucket of ice, Vendela tried creeping by Room 604 of the Red Roof Inn as quietly as possible. She, Benny, and Gabrielle had managed to elude Sven when they first came up to the room that she and Benny shared, but somehow the drummer knew she would not be so fortunate in avoiding the overbearing band leader a second time.
And she wasn't. The door of Sven's room swung open and the skinny lead singer, clad in his black silk silver-studded bathrobe and his hairnet, violently hissed her name. "Vendela! What do you think you're doing!"
Sven was the ultimate killjoy. Nothing sucked the life and desire out of her like the sight of his tight, disapproving face. It was like being caught masturbating by a maiden aunt. "Nothing!" she retorted defensively. "Leave us alone! We are adults, you know."
"You're horny idiots, both of you. I know who is in that room with you."
Vendela glared at him defiantly.
"Her name is Gabrielle and her girlfriend is a violent, sociopathic ex-convict." He smirked with triumph at the surprised look on her face. "Obviously, you weren't paying attention to the mechanic at the garage. He knows this Gabriellehe used to be in love with her. She's off limits, Vendela. Get rid of her before you get us all in trouble."
"Go to hell!" she growled. He slammed the door shut as she stomped over to Room 606. She fumbled with the card, then, exasperated, pounded on the door. "It's me, open up!"
Benny opened the door. Vendela was relieved to see that he was still dressed, as was Gabrielle, who was sprawled on one of the two beds in the room. The poet wore a simple outfit of jeans and a hooded green pullover sweatshirt. Such clothing is an affront to the perfections of that body! Vendela wanted to shout. Most of their vodka had served as a chaser to the big, fat, primo Rhine Gold joint that the stripper had polished off earlier. She was now thoroughly trashed.
And still muttering about Zina. Always with this Zina person, Vendela thought with disgust. As far as she could figure out, Zina was a whore of epic proportions who watched bad TV and made a pretense out of atoning for a half-assed criminal record. I would treat you far better, my queen! Even Benny would, for God's sake.
Her bandmate was now noodling around on his guitar, plucking a simple repetitive chord and singing softly: "Gab-ri-elle/My heart will swell...."
"Don't quit your day job," muttered the poet in a rarealbeit stonedmoment of insensitivity. "Oh, wait...this is your day job." She burst into giggles.
Vendela felt a pang of pity for her sensitive cousin. "Benny, perhaps you should turn on the radio," she suggested. The guitarist nodded, and fumbled at the knobs on the nightstand's dusty, fake wood-paneled clock radio. "Gabrielle," she continued, "I have brought you ice, as you requested."
Like a reanimated corpse in a horror film, Gabrielle sat up all herky-jerky. "Excellent. Gimme." The Swedish drummer handed her the bucket of ice. Over the course of the next few minutes the musicians watched as Gabrielleice bucket balanced precariously on her lapfumbled to remove her sports watch, a much-loved acquisition courtesy of 50 Capn Crunch box-tops. Finally she liberated it from her wrist and noisily buried it within the ice.
She handed the bucket back to Vendela, who exchanged a look with her cousin. Do you want to ask her? Vendela's look said. No. She's freaking me out now, Benny's retorted. The drummer took a breath. "Why," she slowly asked, "did you do that?"
Gabrielle's verdant, unfocused eyes locked with hers. "I'm trying to stop time."
She flopped back onto the bed and grabbed an empty bong near her head. She cradled it, humming, as if it were an infant.
Does she have any brain cells left? Vendela wondered. The drummer returned the ice bucket to the dresser. Emboldened by a tiny sliver of bare tummy visible from where Gabrielle's sweatshirt had ridden up, Vendela sat on the bed next to the poet. She was about to lie down next to that delectable body when, in sudden woozy distress, Gabrielle sat up. At the sound of sniffling, Vendela leaned forward and Benny knelt anxiously in front of his goddess. A large, glittering teardrop splashed against the bong that she held.
"Gabrielle, what is it? What's wrong?" Vendela cried.
More shiny, silvery tears fell from the poet's eyes. "This is our song."
Radiohead's "Creep" was on the station.
The Swedish musicians gaped at one another. This was inconceivable. A love song? A love song was "Chiquitita." A love song was "Babe." A love song was "My Heart Will Go On." A love song was "You Light Up My Life." It was not this.
But Gabrielle could only remember the magic of that night at the Horn, when Zinaafter seven Rolling Rocksfinally convinced Effie to let her sing the song while backed up by the Amazons, to Gabrielle and the tattered, late-night remnants of the crowd. Initially, the bar's patrons had actually grooved on the laid-back melody and Zina's soft, angelic alto. Then the drunken, menacing, six-foot tall lead singer snarled the beginning of the chorus at them: I wish I were special/You're so fucking special and Sally punctuated the mood's turn with that sinister, slashing guitar chord. By the end of the song, Gabrielle truly felt that Zina was only singing to her, only to her, and no one else. And she was: Everyone else had left, even Ray Bob, the bouncer.
The spirit of song, nonetheless, now infected the discourse at Room 606 of the Red Roof Inn:
"But she's a creep!" Vendela spat.
"She's a weirdo," added Benny.
Gabrielle jumped up. "What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here." The poet wavered. "I don't belong here," she repeated. The sudden lack of blood to the brainand the pot and the boozeconspired like the three witches in Macbeth to send her toppling back onto the bed, utterly unconscious.
The salacious Swedes gazed upon the obtuse object of their desire, now snoring softly.
"Now what?" grumbled Benny.
Reluctantly, Vendela opted to do the right thing. "We take her back home. Sven wanted us to get rid of her anyway," she sighed.
"In this condition?" the guitarist asked nervously.
Vendela groaned in exasperation. "What other choice do we have?" She lifted one of the poet's deadweight arms by its wrist. "Look at her!" She dropped the arm, which fell on Gabrielle's stomach and caused an inadvertent squeak from the unconscious woman that startled them both. "Time to eat the doughnuts," Gabrielle murmured in a soft, dreamy singsong.
Benny's eyes lit up. "Krispy Kreme!"
His bandmate smiled in approval. "Excellent idea." Once more she gave the stoner poet a longing, wistful glance. "Benny?"
"You don't supposeI mean, how wrong could it be?" The drummer's hand wavered above a tantalizing breast. "just to touch them? Once?"
The guitarist's jaw dropped. "Vendela!" he hissed, appalled.
Vendela was not fooled by his outrage. She raised an eyebrow as temptation and sneaky lust danced across his face, his moral compass now crushed under their weight.
8. This is Not My Beautiful House. This is Not My Beautiful Wife.
In half-sleep, Zina sighed and squirmed. The bed felt goodtoo good. And the sheets were so soft. Must be that new fabric softener Gabrielle is using, she thought. Because they feel like silk. Just like when I used to sleep at Julie's
Her eyes opened. The room was startlingly pristine, a crisp cream white. And it was not covered with faded blue wallpaper. And the dartboard was gone! And the sheets, which matched the walls, were truly spun from silk. Fuck. I am at Julie's! And I'm naked too! Gabrielle is gonna freak! She leaped out of the bed. Fuck! How did I get here? Fuck! I was just sitting at homeI didn't drink that much! Fuck!
The soft wall-to-wall carpet soothed her somewhat, and she took a deep breath. Don't panic. Find your clothes. Zina looked around the tidy room and its minimalist decor. Not a stitch of clothing was in sight. Not on the floor, or draped over the chair, orshe looked under the bed. Or under the bed. Frantically she opened one of the drawers of the teak dresser in the room. And found row upon row of neatly folded, clean t-shirts and jerseys. What the hell? Julie wouldn't be caught dead in stuff like this. She pulled out a large, Green Bay Packer jersey and slipped it on. Unless it's The firefighter opened a second drawer, and saw many variations upon the standard, faded Levi's 501s that she always wore. Mine. This is my stuff.
And suddenly, like Saul on the road to Damascus, like Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, like Connie Selleca in Lifetime's But My Adopted Chinese Baby Has AIDS, she got it. She was doing the Alternate Universe Thingy, as introduced in the original Star Trek and expounded upon brilliantly in South Park. And she had no idea what to expect, except that Artie would not have a goatee and would be really nice and that Gabrielle would have a goatee and would be really evil. Right? The thought of Evil Goatee Gabrielle, she confessed to herself, was strangely, thrillingly scintillating.
She was now eager to see her brave new world. Zina padded through Julie's luxurious houseour luxurious house! She walked past a state-of-the-art weight roomin the blinding light of the chrome, she gasped with joy. Mine! Mine! Mine! She chanted this capitalist mantra as she dashed down the spiral staircase, past the big screen TV, the Mitchell Gold leather sofa, and into the kitchen. A middle-aged Latina woman in a sleek maid's uniform was cooking an omelet and ignoring her with the practiced coolness of hired help. Zina opened the refrigerator, and gasped once again at the most beautiful, most wondrous sight of all: Fields of shining, vivid green! Rolling Rock as far as the eye could see!
"Oh," she burbled, helpless with joy. Tears clogged her eyes.
Julie's stormtrooper staccato preceded her into the kitchen. Even so, Zina was not prepared for the affectionate nip upon her neck from the Culinary Fascist. "Good morning, darling. Sleep well?"
Zina said nothing, but remained staring into the nirvana of the open fridge.
"Oh, I'm sorry, sweetheart. You seem to be running a bit low. I'll put a call in to Latrobe right away."
The firefighter tried to say "thanks," but could only manage a childlike squeak of happiness.
Julie turned her attention to the maid. "Macarena, you did remember to cook Zina's omelet directly in the bacon fat this time, did you not?"
"Si, Signora Caesar," the woman replied serenely, while quietly entertaining thoughts of murdering them all.
At the mention of "bacon fat" Zina slammed shut the refrigerator door and spun around. "Excellent!" she growled, following Julie into the dining room.
Julie sipped coffee as Zina sprawled in a chair, lazily awaiting her food. "Darling, I'm afraid I won't be able to breakfast with you this morning," she began, as Macarena entered and placed the steaming omelet in front of Zina, who tucked into it without hesitation. "But I'll leave the Porsche for you, since the Mustang is still being repaired."
Zina's baby blues bulged. Porsche? Mustang? Dear God in heaven, it's all perfect!
"Perhaps we could meet up later for lunch."
Zina, always a mere step away from turning into a happily mindless Sybarite anyway, nodded vigorously.
Julie leaned down for a quick kiss. "'Bye, darling. Oh, and one last thing "
Zina, gobbling furiously, looked up.
"The pool cleaner is here." Julie patted her puffed-out cheek. "Pay her with the money I left in the dresser, would you? And don't get too flirty, dear. I know you like blondes, but really!" Julie's forced laughter ricocheted off the chandelier and the crystal ware, then splattered quite appropriately against the original Julian Schnabel lithograph on the wall.
And then Zina's feeling of euphoria tucked itself into Julie's Coach handbag and left with her. Damn. The unease filled her. She tried to ignore it as she decimated the omelet, but it lingered, like Julie's Chanel No. 5. She got up, stalked through the kitchen and past Macarenawho deigned to raise a questioning eyebrowand slid open the door to the patio.
There, in front of the glistening pool, was pure pulchritude: A blonde womannay, the blonde woman to end all blonde womenin a tight sports bra and lycra shorts. She sprayed her sweaty face with a garden hose. Zina thought for a moment that Macarena had put hallucinogens in her omelet, for the pool girl flung her head back in a Flashdance-like slow mo and drops of water fell from her skin like rare, translucent, glowing pearls.
You would have to show up this soon and fuck up everything, wouldnt ya?
The pool girl smiled at Zina.
* * *
And one hour later, the pool girl was coming in Zina's face. Her orgasmic bellows for God, Jesus, and country were laced with tasty bits of profanity as she dug her chlorine'd fingertips into Zina's scalp.
When she finally relinquished her hold on the dark hair, Zina came up for air, pillowing her head on a firm, sweet thigh. Absently, she wiped her face with the back of her hand as the girl's breath caught up with her.
"Wow, that was incredible!" the pool girl cried.
"Why is it that, even in the parallel universe, I'm still dumb as a doornail?" Zina muttered aloud. Everything is perfect, I have money, sex, freedom, even a Porsche, and all the beer I can drink and I have to fuck it up somehow.
This time the girl's touch was gentle, as she raked her fingers through the black strands. "Sorry, did you say something?"
She was still breathing heavily. Then she giggled. "I didn't get a chance to tell you my namewell, you didn't give me much of a chance, actually. I'm Gabrielle."
"I know," Zina retorted glumly.
"Oh. I guess Miss Caesar told you." There was a pause, and Gabrielle drew a deep satisfied breath, and Zina knew well that postcoital rambling would follow. "Hey. Um "
"Zina? That's a pretty name." The comely pool girlgee, you really went far in this existence, Gabriellewas propped up on her elbows. "Zina, um, would you like to go out sometime? Like just for a drink, even? I mean, I know it's really weird...we hardly know each other. Except carnallyyou know, sexually. Um, I knowwell, I assume you've got something going on with Miss Caesar, but I kinda like you. It'swell, you just seem like a nice person. And even if you just wanted to be friends that would be cool. But really, I gotta tell you, that mouth of yours...." She shook her head in pure admiration.
Oh, hell. Go on and do it, look at her and say yes. You know you want to, you frigging wuss. And so Zina looked up at Gabrielle, whose eyes were not as clear and dazzling as a Rolling Rock bottle, but something thereperhaps her innate kindnessmade the firefighter feel weak. "Okay," she said softly.
Predictably, the door flung open. It was the Evil Parallel Universe Lieutenant Sulu and three red shirts. Actually, it was merely Julie and Macarena, the latter cradling an impressive-looking Glock handgun.
"Zina," Julie sighed. "I thought you would at least wait until you got to drive your new Harley."
A Harley? Zina's mind screamed. She glared at the naked, satiated Gabrielle. Who shrugged apologetically.
"I'm sure Crassus would like some company in his unmarked grave."
"Hey!" Gabrielle yelled. "How did you know"
Julie waved a dismissive hand. "Macarena, if you will "
Zina was leaping forward, covering Gabrielle's body with her own, when the shots rang out
and she woke with a violent, gasping shudder, her body spasming at the memory of each bullet. And with each twitch of her legs, the channels on the TV were changing. What the fuck? It was then that she realized the remote was lodged between her legs. She pressed her thighs together. WWF Smackdown flicked onto the screen. Hey. Cool.
The phone rang. She growled in frustration, jumped off the couch, and grabbed the receiver. "Yeah?"
"Hi! Uhhhh...is this Zina?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Well, um, I'm the manager of the Krispy Kreme"
"Hey, I paid off our account there." The account was her euphemism for the time when Gabrielleneeding sugar and short of cashran out of the shop without paying for a dozen.
"oh, I know. So you are Zina?"
Zina chose for once to ignore the paranoid little voices in her headsome of which sounded suspiciously like her motherthat told her this chirpy woman was a CIA agent. "Yeah."
"Well, um..." The woman trailed off and giggled self-consciously. "I'm your cousin. My name's Eve."
"Never heard of ya."
"Artie never mentioned me?" The young woman sounded hurt.
"Nope. But listen here, if he ever says he's sterile, or that he never had the clap, he's lyin', okay? Save yourself some trouble."
There was a long silence. "Oh."
"So why the hell are you callin' me, Evie?"
"Well, um, it's your girlfriend...she's passed out in the parking lot."
"What?" Zina shouted.
"Some weird foreigners left her here."
Zina's eyes bugged with anger. Earlier in the day, upon arriving home from her Rhine Gold expedition, she'd stopped at Sid's place, deciding to spread the wealth of her newly stolen stash. Sid had mentioned the members of the strange Scandinavian speed metal band who had taken a collective fancy to Gabrielle, and who had offered her some dope.
"She was sitting inside for a while. Then she walked out the exit and conked out, like, the minute she got outside. But, um, the people she was with put some pylons around her, so she should be okay." Eve's bright, chipper tone slashed through Zina's thoughts, both convincing herself and the brooding firefighter that nothing less than patently bizarre could be expected when a pothead slacker lesbian and a mediocre rock band collide.
* * *
And thus, Zina sailed to the rescue on her Harley.
She found Gabrielle just as Eve saidlying within a parking space surrounded by four bright orange pylons. It reminded her of when Lao Ma was going through her Yoko Ono phase and started doing weird art installment things at a gallery in New Mexico ("Lao at Taos," it was called). Lao had placed a half-eaten chocolate brownie on the gallery floor, in between two pylons. The viewer had to lie on the floor to read the message in 7-point type: Will the pylons of your soul protect you from your desires? (Zina, responsible for eating part of the brownie, was billed as a collaborator on the piece.)
Frowning with concern, Zina knelt beside Gabrielle. Her companion looked unharmed and was obviously just sleeping it off. Upon closer inspection the firefighter saw that Gabrielle's breasts appeared strangely rumpled. She tugged at the sweatshirt and quickly discerned that the poet's bra had been unhooked.
Zina felt a psychotic flash of red rage. I'm going to kill those fucking foreigners! She knew that her loverno matter how furious or hurt she had been with Zinawould never permit tacky strangers to feel her up. Or worse. If only because she knew that Gabrielle detested metal music and thought anyone in such a band was "grody." She shivered away the anger, shaking her head violently. Relax. Later. She bit her lip in worry. Then, as if to dispel all her fears, she leaned in and quickly kissed Gabrielle on the mouth.
Just like in the fairy tale, the poet's eyelids fluttered open and a series of expressions passed over her face: fear, confusion, bliss. "Zina."
Zina's face burst into a grin at hearing her name spoken so softly, so reverently. "Hey."
"Why do I smell motor oil?"
"You're in the Krispy Kreme parking lot. Your, uh, little friends dropped you off here, then you passed out. The manager called me to come get you."
Gabrielle's fuzzy brain had no choice but to accept this strange tale. "Oh." Slowly, she sat up.
"Let me help you up. You ready to stand?"
"I think so." The poet latched onto her girlfriend's strong arms, and stood up. She stretched, then took a few moments to get her bearings. Something felt oddsomething limp hung from her chest. "Hey, my bra!" She shot a look at Zina, who was trying to blink herself into an innocent state. "Oh, honey," Gabrielle cooed, "you just couldn't wait till we got home, could you?"
Could Zina bear to tell Gabrielle that horny Eurotrash had molested her? The firefighter smiled sheepishly. "Nope. I couldn't, baby."
"So we got our groove back, then?" The poet's expression was timidly hopeful.
"Yeah." Zina watched her own feet shuffle nervously. "Hell, I don't think we ever really lost it, ya know?"
Once again Zina's lawyer, parole officer, and the judge of her court case were proven wronga little white lie could be an enormously rewarding endeavor: The lovely poet jumped into the firefighter's embrace, wrapping her legs tightly around Zina's waist, and from there they proceeded to make out as if the world were ending.
And, in a strange way, it was. As Zina playfully tried to barricade Gabrielle's tongue from entering her mouth, she heard the distant, repetitive sound of a police siren. Despite the serious turn-on of publicly groping her girlfriend in a Krispy Kreme parking lot, the firefighter resolutely decided that she did not want to be anywhere near law enforcement officials of any kind. With the limpet-like Gabrielle firmly attached to her, Zina began to maneuver them in the general direction of the Harley. But instead of backing up against the worn leather and warm chrome of her hog, she literally delivered her ass into the welcoming grasp of Officer Minya.
Zina's lips did a cease-and-desist with her beloved's. A wary blue eyeball found Minya grinning slyly at them.
"Hey guys," the amiable trooper drawled.
"Minya?" Gabrielle was breathless. "What's up?" The poet disengaged herself from Zina, which gave Minya the opportunity to do what she was, nonetheless, very reluctant to do: She snared Zina's wristssomewhat surprised at the lack of resistanceand clapped a pair of handcuffs on the firefighter.
"What the fuck is going on?" Gabrielle demanded. She looked at her lover. "Zina?"
"Er, Miss Amphisyphilis is under arrest for arson"
Zina dipped her head, silently acknowledging the truth of the charge. She had known that someday this particular crime would catch up with her.
"Arson?" Gabrielle echoed. She threw up her hands in dismay. "What is it with you and fire?" she shouted.
"and one count sexual relations with a minor. Do I have to do the Miranda thing with you?" Minya asked Zina. "Seems to me you should have it memorized by now."
But the outraged firefighter was too distracted by the second charge. "Minor? Minor? That fucking bitch told me she was 21!"
Of courseanother ex-girlfriend, thought Gabrielle. Zina was being dragged with little effort from Minyathe cop was surprisingly strong. Yet she was placed into the back seat of the police car with care, Minya's hand on Zina's dark head gently shoving her in, like a midwife returning the baby to its well-deserved womb. The cop slammed the door shut and ambled over to the driver's side.
Desperately, Gabrielle lunged at the door and spoke to Zina through the open window. "Explain," she snarled.
"It happened 10 years ago."
"Why did everything happened 10 years ago?"
"Harmonic Convergence?" Zina hazarded a guess.
More like Unharmonic Psychosis, Gabrielle thought. "Never mind. Just tell me what happened."
"I was just showing Kimmy my little firebreathing trick "
"Kimmy?" Gabrielle couldn't help ither voice oozed with sarcastic cuteness. You never showed me the firebreathing trick!
"God, with a stupid name like that, I hope she was good."
"Nah." Zina shook her head. "Phony virgin," she mumbled. It was the truth, and they both knew it. For Zina could never keep her mouth shut about former lovers: Lao Ma made her multiorgasmic, Boris couldn't be tantric to save his life, Hank would sometimes yell "touchdown!" after coming, spanking with spatulas proved to be Julie's favorite foreplay...the list went on with excruciating detail. There were times when Gabrielle feared that she might be just another bit of minutiae in Zina's Sexual Trivial Pursuit, that someday the firefighter would be telling a new lover about her old flame Gabrielle, who used her firefighting helmet in a multitude of wanton ways, who had a toe fetish, who would sing "Now Im a Cowgirl" while riding Zina .
Gabrielle shuddered at the list of sexual depravities that Zina could use against her. This was one reason for keeping the ex-con around. That and the love thing. God, Im an idiot. "Dont tell mefor the firebreathing, you used "
" tequila." Zina confirmed sadly.
It was the most flammable of drinks. "Fuck, Zina."
9. When Obligatory Flashbacks Attack: Ten Years Ago in Yokohama, Japan
Boris returned from losing a match with the local chessmastera seven-year-old who had him in check within two minutesto find that his lover was not alone in their bedroom. He had every intention of being cool about ithe had learned his lesson with Lao Ma, or so he thoughtuntil he heard himself screaming and stomping out of the bedroom with a dramatic slam of the door.
He paced and seethed. A few minutes later, Zina stumbled out of the bedroom, dressed, yet with wild, seriously tangled bed hair.
"Shouldnt you comb your hair?" Boris suggested with his usual yet unique passive-aggressive flair.
"Go fuck yourself."
"I suppose I will have to, Zeeena. Since I noticed that someone else is in our bed."
She guzzled her morning beer. "Ohher. Boris, I know it looks bad."
"It smells bad, too. You could at least wash your face."
"Hey" She grabbed his shirt and pulled him closer. He winced as eau de muff diving slapped him in the face, and her voice dropped to a menacing whisper: "This is a big opportunity for us. The girl's father is Yodoshi Hirohito, one of the biggest 'Hello Kitty' distributors in North America!"
"Hel-lo Kit-tee?" he echoed.
* * *
"Hello Kitty?" Gabrielle interrupted the flashback in an accent considerably less charming than Boris's. "You mean like that stupid t-shirt Ming Tien is always wearing?"
Zina nodded. "It just got out of hand. The warehouse caught on fire." She paused, and her voice dropped to a cracked, anguished whisper. "Forty thousand 'Hello Kitty' purses, gone."
There was a moment of silence for the dearly departed merchandise.
"Well good fucking riddance!" Gabrielle yelled.
"That's my cue to peel out, right?" Minya asked hopefully, from behind the wheel.
"No!" cried the poet. Her vision swam with tears, yet Gabrielle's resolveher faithful, steadfast lovedid not waver. She clutched the car door, white knuckled. And while original words of inspiration and solace failed to come to her, something did float through to the forefront of her troubled mind, and thus she intoned the following: "I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you." No sooner were the sentences out of her mouth than she realized she was being Daniel Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans.
Zina, however, was ill informed of her role in the make-believe and winced with both irritation and confusion. "Gabrielle, I'm just goin' to jail."
Minya hit the gas and the police cruiser pulled out of the parking lot.
10. Girlfriend in a Stupor
There were times when I could have murdered her
But you know I would hate anything to happen to her
the Smiths, "Girlfriend in a Coma"
With a majesty possessed by those who are vastly ignorant of their own innate dignity, Gabrielle sat atop the Saab motorbus with a 7-11 Big Gulp. She felt bad about taking the Saab from Bob's Garage (Purdy, of course, had been quite compliant in allowing her to abscond with the now-functioning vehicle owned by the Swedes who had insulted him), but she comforted herselfrather, justified the theftby recalling Vendela's touching words of devotion: What I have is yours, my love. For fate would have it, the motorbus's registration was in the drummer's name.
So far being a fugitive from justice was fun: She was an accomplice to a known felon, in a stolen vehicle no less, and with a large stash of dope and several peyote tablets in the glove department. Well, she thought with sanctimonious irritation, it was all Minyas fault. If the sheriff hadnt been so innately, irresistibly corruptible, and thus hadnt succumbed to the temptation of a lap dance in exchange for Zinas freedom, Gabrielle would still be a law-abiding citizen. Although Zina would be still rotting in jail. She hoped that Minya would be successful in at least convincing the Hirohitos to drop the charges; perhaps Elis offer of unlimited anime rentals would help soften their hard hearts.
Putting aside these tumultuous thoughts, Gabrielle reclined on the bus, eyes closed, drinking in the sun. Cyrene was right, there was nothing quite like sunbathing on top of a motor vehicle. She could feel the light and the heat sink deep into her bones, dissolving them. She was liquid, expanding, flowing free from the constraints of her body and from time. She was seeing and experiencing alternate time lines, the past, the future, and a new present.
In this vision of the present, Zina was still in jail and about to be executed for her crimes. All of her crimes, even sleeping with the 16-year-old girl scout. She was strapped into an electric chair, with a really bad, fucked-up Siousxie-and-the-Banshees kind of short hairdo. The switch was thrown and a gazillion bolts of electricity fried her lover into a pile of ashes.
"Zina," she whimpered aloud.
The poet opened her eyes, attempting to blink away the effects of phosphene, even though multicolored dots and blobs and dashes remained floating in her sight. She was curled fetally, still on top of the motorbus, face to face with the Big Gulp. The voice came from the benevolent font of bubbling Sprite within the red container. "Zina?" she repeated.
"Gabrielle, what the fuck are you doing?" the Big Gulp demanded.
"Zina? Why are you there? Come back to me!" Lovingly she stroked the sweaty container.
The large red cup sighed. "Oh, for Christ's sake."
The world thundered, and the poet sat up with a gasp, knocking over the Big Gulp, spilling its sticky clear fluid all over the bonnet of the Saab.
Zina had jumped up onto the roof of the motorbus. Crouched like a panther, she grinned, pleased with herself. Then she shot a mock-scowl at the poet. "You ate a peyote tablet, didn't you?"
"I" Gabrielle's eyes shifted guiltily.
"Eli told you to wait until we got into the Mojave."
"Toto, we're still in fuckin Kansas."
"You probably got sunstroke now too."
The poet covered her eyes. "Do not."
Zina sighed and sat down next to her, yet as far away from the Sprite spill as possible. She pulled an old Oakland Raiders cap out of her back pocket and gently placed it on Gabrielle's head, shielding her eyes from the sun.
The poet basked in the musty, sweaty scent emanating from the cap. "Wow, you're letting me wear your Raiders cap. We must be in love or something."
"I reckon so." The firefighter sighed again, this time happily. They were quiet for a minute. "How long do you think before they drop the charges?"
"I dunno, baby. I figure it won't be too long. They'll soon get bored hanging around the county."
"Ya think? Hell, we never got bored hanging around the county."
"Were idiots. Theyre city types. They need neon lights and people driving badly."
Zina hummed skeptically. "So after we go to the desert, then what?"
"Oh, I don't know. We can go anywhere you want."
"We could go to Mexico!" Zina's blue eyes brightened.
"Don't you need a passport for that? I don't have one."
"I dunnobut we can get you one, easy. I know this fella in El Paso, he can put together a passport for you just like that." Zina snapped her fingers and pulled her own passport out of a back pocket. "He did one for me."
Gabrielle took the small document and opened its cover. The photo was Zina, sure enough, although the name read "Ellie Mae Ghurkhan." At the poet's look of puzzlement, Zina said, "Well, it always helps to have an alias, and Ghurkhan was my married name " In a hapless attempt to take back the words, she bit the inside of her mouth. Oh fuck.
"You were married?"
"Just for a teeny bit..."
"It don't matter now, he's dead."
"How did he die?"
"Can we not talk about this now?" Zina tried furiously to work up some crocodile tears. "Let's just say I was the happiest woman in Denmark." When he died, that is.
Zina patted the poets thigh. "Don't fret, baby, I just married him for his cigar plantation."
"Like that should make me feel better." Gabrielle put her arms behind her head. "So why do you want to go to Mexico?"
"I got an idea."
"That's what I was afraid of."
Zina ignored this and pulled out a picture of Harleytheir niece, not Zina's beloved hog. "What we do is this: We get to some little towna nice townan' show this picture to all the locals, see, an' they'll think I'm in league with the Chupacabra, an' they'll, like, start payin' me tribute to protect them from the beast!" She grinned with maniacal pleasure.
"And then maybe if things go real well, we could buy our own boat. And we could sail around everywhere do a little, ah, tradin' here and thereor maybe not," she added quickly, at Gabrielle's disapproving look. "But there's quite a business in white slavery, ya know." Zina's eyes darkened, recalling the time that Boris knocked her unconscious with a bottle of Jack Daniels and tried to sell her to Lao Ma's uncle. She shook the thought from her mind. "Or," she continued, "we could just open a casino on board..."
Gabrielle stared at her. Was she serious? Was she joking? Was she crazy? The poet burst out laughing. Because it didn't matter. "God, you are so fucked up."
"But you still love me, right?" Zina dipped her head expectantly. She hesitated a second, perhaps wonderingand fearingwhat Gabrielle's response would really be. Could you still love me, even though I put you through so much crap? Even though I ruined your original copy of On the Road, even though I dragged you across the lawn when your shoelace got caught in the weed-whacker, even though I knocked you unconscious while playing Frisbee with the lid of a crock pot? I still love you, but is that enough?
Gabrielle just smiled and lifted her head. Her answer was in the kiss.
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