There’s Something Here From Somewhere Else (Part 2 of 5)
(first appeared at valterramagazines.com October 2013 issue)
Before I start describing what Ruth is up to I just want to point out that the events transpiring in Nap’s life are not happening at the exact same time. I know a lot of authors are able to pull that off but get that right out of your head. It might be happening at roughly the same time, give or take a day, but don’t hold me to it and certainly don’t be one of those readers that get all excited if they catch some small detail that doesn’t coincide with the other character’s timeline. I can’t be bothered to sync everything up. It’s no coincidence that I haven’t told you what year this is or even where this is taking place.
I haven’t decided yet and the last thing I need is to give you some arbitrary detail that you will later ram up my ass.
“How could it be that style of wristwatch in 1998 when they didn’t make them until 2003?”
If that’s what you enjoy doing than just put this down and go terrorize a Dan Brown novel already.
So … Ruth.
She put the two copies of The Plague right next to each other. Covers looked the same. She flipped them open and found they have all the same pertinents. She started to flip through them and compared random pages.
She wondered what she was missing. She reached between her slightly-heaving breasts and removed her reading glasses. After putting them on she noticed that the books were still identical. But different.
Different from when she read them without the glasses. Obviously with the glasses the words were less blurry; do you think I would have made them the focal point of an entire story if all they did was make words less blurry? They also changed the words on the pages. It wasn’t the books, it was the glasses.
She took them off and read a paragraph. She put them on and then read the same paragraph.
With the glasses on, the pages stated exactly what the author intended to say. Gone was all the subtext.
Ruth’s head swam. A pair of glasses that allowed her to understand exactly what was going on without the hidden meanings or metaphors.
After a few minutes of letting that sink in she ran to her bookshelves and located a few books. George Orwell. Oscar Wilde. Voltaire.
She had some reading to do.
Nap roared down the highway with the windows down and the sun roof of his ’78 Le Mans open and, at ninety miles an hour, the wind created such a deafening noise, the only way for him to hear the selection currently residing in the cassette deck was to turn the volume up to a level that would sterilize most humans. Miles away mothers could hear him coming and would gather their children close to them. Hedgerows developed a bustle as he drove past.
Baby, it’s no good. We’re just askin’ for trouble. I can touch you, but I don’t know how to love you. It ain’t no use! We’re headed for disaster. Our minds said, “No!” But our hearts were talkin’ faster, Leah! Ah! Leah! Here we go again! Ah! Leah! Here we go again! Ah! Leah! Leah, Leah, Leah! Ah! Leah! Here we go again!
It was if Donnie Iris was sitting shotgun instead of an actual shotgun. Nap was on vacation and already he could feel himself unwinding.
Now the obvious question is why I would go to the trouble of including a snippet of the song he was listening to, so I’ll go ahead and answer that right now. If this is ever made into a movie I don’t want them to have Nap roaring anywhere listening to any of the crappy stuff you hear on the radio these days. It wasn’t an accident that I said cassette as opposed to CD. The last thing I want is to have Nap associated with some limpdick Justin Timberlake song and I’ll never change my opinion on that unless the price is right.
Nap glanced down at the shotgun sitting shotgun and found it reminded him of work so he picked it up and tossed it out the sunroof. It felt somehow liberating. He was only dimly aware of the car behind him swerving to avoid hitting the hurled weapon and completely unaware of the fact that the car then slid into a half dozen other cars as it tried to regain control. If the sound of that ruckus thought it could somehow make its way into the ear of Nap Lapkin, it was sadly mistaken and the last time he’d checked his rear view mirror was about never. Checking the rear view mirror reminded him of work.
He was completely aware of a half dozen or so tracking devices planted in his car and he was also aware that there was probably an equal number he was unaware of but he breathed out a long sigh and felt that although satellites from a dozen countries were following his every move, it was nice to be off the grid.
There was a slight uptick in the number of people reading Ruth’s book review blog. Typically she had between three and five readers visit a day. After her last critique of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible she had nearly a hundred thousand. The literary world was abuzz over her insights into some of the most celebrated and difficult pieces of literature. Seemingly out of nowhere she was being asked to read books by the likes of The Atlantic and New Yorker. Academics from all over the world were flooding her with questions and invitations to speak at some of the most renowned universities began to trickle in.
Although she had never spoken in front of a crowd before she decided to accept one of the offers because the campus was only a short drive from her house. Although nervous, she found the idea exciting and what’s more they were paying her a nice sum so there didn’t seem to be any reason not to at least give public speaking a try.
She began to have second thoughts as she peered around the curtain at the standing-room-only crowd gathered to hear her. As soon as she began to speak she had third and fourth thoughts about the endeavor as the crowd began to pepper her with questions regarding her pedigree and credentials to be making such game-changing assessments of literary classics. Putting her hand over her eyes she was able to see that fully half of the seats were filled with men in tweed jackets and those without tweed jackets had a pair of spectacles resting nearly at the tip of their noses.
Her humorous quote from a recent Batman movie fell flat and a bead of perspiration made a dash from her forehead down to her cheek in such a manner that she suddenly felt like one of those egg and sausage breakfast sandwiches always sitting under a heat lamp at her local convenience store. Not only in how warm she felt but her ability to answer some of the questions. If she could she would have gestured over to an egg and sausage breakfast sandwich and said “Well, if you’ll let my esteemed colleague here take that one …”
But she couldn’t. There was no egg and sausage breakfast sandwich waiting in the wings to jump in and help out. She began to get flustered and if you’re familiar with librarians you’ll know that there is nothing more dangerous than one that is flustered.
She came clean.
She held up the reading glasses.
The audience fell silent. For a few minutes there was an uncomfortable lull in the lack of action but soon people began to get up and leave the auditorium. Ruth among them.
Almost unnoticed in this lull was the burst of action from a man sitting in the far left corner. Dressed in a grey trench coat, he was the type of man that when most people gave him a good inspection, ominous music began to play in their heads whether they wanted it to or not. Upon hearing Ruth’s confession about the glasses he discretely lifted a cell phone and began to punch in a number to another cell phone in Washington.
As he did this ominous music began to play in his head.
And speaking of egg and sausage breakfast sandwiches … it was the hankering for one that led Nap into the convenience store in the first place. It was way past breakfast time but due to the recent advancements in heat lamp technology, convenience stores were now able to offer such fare well into the early evening … of the following day. Typically Nap didn’t hanker but as he felt the tension slowly melting away he decided to go down the well-traveled path from simple desire and take a quick left into the rustic backwoods of hankering.
It was a bad time for someone to hold up the convenience store.
Nap saw the gun protruding from the assailant’s loose-fitting hoodie, an Abercrombie & Fitch number which just made the whole thing worse for everyone involved, and the sight of it made his hand begin to caress the egg and sausage breakfast sandwich in a thoughtful manner that could have been mistaken by a passerbyer as affection. His involvement in the upcoming events was a certainty; a gun could not endanger the whole world so it wouldn’t be like he was working, but as he looked around he felt a little disappointment as it appeared this individual was working alone.
Not much sport in that.
He waited for the gunman to begin the show and then interrupted him with two fingers applied forcefully to his larynx. He thought about a flashier subdual involving roundhouse kicks but realized that these usually lead to snack stands being destroyed and beverages being dropped and why make a mess that requires some poor bastard to clean up.
The man dropped to the floor clutching his throat.
Nap had acted so quickly he actually had to explain to the man behind the counter why he’d done what he’d done and that the man currently lying on the floor with his feet waving comically in the air was attempting to hold up the establishment. For a minute confusion reigned until Nap leaned down and produced the gun, which substantiated his version of events, and he left with a free egg and sausage breakfast sandwich.
He roared off in his ’78 Le Mans and I won’t bother to tell you what song he was listening to in order to keep things moving along but if you’re picturing a Justin Timberlake song you’ve clearly not been paying much attention. In fact, such willful ignorance is getting a little tedious. Just warning you.
I’ll turn this whole story around if I have to.
Somewhere in an unnecessarily shadowy office in Washington, a man sat behind an enormous desk and if you think the gentleman in attendance at Ruth’s ill-fated speech at the university elicited ominous music in the heads of those around him, you ain’t heard nothing yet. Assuming, of course, that you’re sitting on the other side of the desk looking at him.
That seat was currently occupied by a large chiseled man whose head was quite used to ominous music playing in it. Most of the people he associated with seemed to produce it and he often times, at the end of a busy day, would sigh and enjoy the quiet of a crowded subway platform. More often than not he would then step onto a train and go kill somebody.
The man behind the desk explained the problem which required the meeting. Typically these things were strictly need to know in nature, i.e. the man behind the desk would produce a photo and an address and the large chiseled man would hustle off and kill them, but in this case he shared a little more information than absolutely required so that anyone reading about this clandestine get-together wouldn’t walk away completely in the dark.
Before I continue I’d like to point out how powerful the human imagination is. In a few short paragraphs you have created every detail you need to picture the meeting. You can see every detail of the shadowy office and although I never mentioned it I bet you can see the smoke slowly curling up from the cigarette perched in the glass ashtray on the corner of the desk. Take a second to congratulate yourself for your choice of art on the walls.
I’ll never understand the need for some people to provide every damn detail when they are telling a story; as if they believe you would imagine two naked men sitting on folding chairs in an empty office should they not spend 500 words describing the furniture.
I write “unnecessarily shadowy office in Washington” and I can almost hear you saying “Ok, got it.
Unnecessarily shadowy office in Washington. Continue.”
The only time I think it’s appropriate to point something out is if it somehow does not fit in an unnecessarily shadowy office in Washington. Let’s say there was a giant disco ball hanging in the center of the room. That I would mention. Because this unnecessarily shadowy office in Washington lacks such bling I feel entirely comfortable moving on.
“Here’s the problem,” said the man behind the desk. He adjusted himself slightly in the chair. “There is a woman who has come into possession of something that could be potentially harmful to certain people.”
The large chiseled man leaned forward almost imperceptivity which, in the circles he ran in, was the equivalent of him saying very perceptively, “Oh goody!”
In his mind he quickly imagined nuclear codes or some terrible computer virus.
“The object I’m referring to is a pair of reading glasses.”
There was a slight flutter in the right eyelid of the large chiseled man which, in the circles he ran in, indicated that it was all he could do not burst out laughing.
“Reading glasses?” he inquired.
“Yes. But not just any reading glasses. Reading glasses that can never be allowed to view the new tax legislation.”
The man behind the desk allowed that to sink in. Not so much to the large chiseled man but to those of you reading this.
“Do I need to say any more?”
I’m guessing, flush with pride from your imagining the unnecessarily shadowy office in Washington, the last thing you want to do is admit you need any more on how these particular reading glasses could become a problem for those writing the new tax legislation. “Rather obvious,” you might be chuckling to yourself. The large chiseled man on the other hand had no idea what the man behind the desk meant but on the other, other hand he didn’t really care.
Photo. Address. Another day, another dollar.
“One last thing …” the man behind the desk offered.
“Don’t fuck this up.”