PART ONE

I am apose to wait here. Q says so. Q and me is buddies.
"Wait for me in the greenroom, Bo."
"Are you sure he said that, Bobo?"
"I'm sure. He'll come."
 Don't no one think that, though. I can tell by the way they all scrooch up their faces. That's what people's faces always do when they don't believe a thing; scrooch up. They don't mean nothin' by it; they's just worried.

 

Oh, Jeekie, is it real?

'Course not; don't be gog.

But it looks so, you know,
authentic.

All war paint, 'Donna. Washes
off in the shower. Well?

Well what?

Is he here?

The guards won't say.

I spent my whole allowance
 on this ticket.

I sold pooky.

I didn't hear that.

Made extra to gaff us these.

SweetSense?

Better.

Gunk! Ooooo, gimme gimme.
Pretty please gimme?

Not till we're inside.

Fine, sure. Whenever. Will
you look at this line!

Infinite.

Yeah, ETERNAL.

Hours later, Jeekie and Madonna
are finally inside the auditorium.

 

This is my comics. The pi'tures show these two girls what are standin' outside where Q is gonna have a concert. One girl gots a tattoo un'er her left eye, just like Q's, 'cept hers washes off.

Jeekie! I mean, you know,
like it's IMMENSE!

It's just a Dome. The one in Amsterdam, I'm told, is TEN times this.

Enter those recliners. Must be thousands.

Data entered.

Wouldn't it be Bliss to...

Snip your tubes; no way. That's megatrib.

Still... some day.

Slim chance. Anyway, we're closer.

If he shows.

Lights out. The concert dome goes black.

Q says I shouldn't oughta read my comics so much. He says they's just made-up stuff, like not for-true, like mostly lies.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Ultra Dome of Phoenix.

ENORMOUS CHEER!

He gets mad at me, on account o' my comics, 'cause sometimes I forget—like when I say things that they learned me what really ain't so.

It is our privilege to present to you the most neutronic personality of contemporary times:
the one
the one and only
the incomparable
Q!

SHRILL PANDEMONIUM!

Not always, though. Like this one what I'm readin'. It turns out the way that everyone is ascared tonight will turn out, on account o' Q is late. I know, 'cause I read it six times already.

May we please draw your attention to the sixteen vacu-chambers in which Q, through vivid hologram, will appear.

UNIVERSAL MOAN!

You see? I told you so. The pi'tures show how everyone's disappointed.

Oh, Jeekie, Jeekie.

Data entered.

Not again; we're bum-spunked.

Q's not here!

 

THE END

Who does he think he is that he can pull  /   Wardrobe's on alert  /  of shit  / Did he specify  /  Cue sequences thirty-nine through  /  Unit sixteen to eighteen East  /   It's 7:47  / Just everyone stay calm  /  You her friend  /   in thirteen minutes  /  Where the fuck is he  /  Reverb  /   Set that one-on-one  /  He wants override  /  Vermilion Licks opening  /  on the second  /  Eighteen East copy  /  What did she take  /  We got terrible  /  I'm gonna sue the son-of-a-bitch I swear to  /  Chain-link first set  /  If he makes it  /   Gate-crashers entrance seventeen require assistance  /  Intravenous or what  /  Houston Buenos Aires Bonn  /  Rest of it's by feel  /   Where's the retard  /  Check her arms  /  Her what  /   and Montreal that's four out of six  /  No problem there  /   he's missed  /  it's make-up  /  Eighteen East responding   /  LET'S MAKE SOME ROOM PLEASE  /  Quim-kick  /  STRETCHER   /  just fucking holograms  /  Personal appearance  /  It says that  /  Raw  /  He'll have to  /  Greenroom  /   Bobo swears Q gave a go  /  Unit twenty copy  /  Name  /   no fool you know  /  Address  /  I've got a contract signed   /  We can image-fix  /  Scratch thinks so too  /  but the coloring always makes him look cadaverous  /  Unit twenty must hold position   /  Call her parents  /  Eleven minutes  /  No sweat then   /  Unit thirty-two responding copy  /  Temple Hospital ICU  /   Where's that fucking Master Tech  /  Tell them hurry...

They's all runnin' 'round out there like chickens without no heads. That's a private joke'bout chickenswhat's just between Q and me. Not apose to tell.
"Don't ever mention Tijuana, Bo."
"No, I won't."
That's where we met; Q and me. I got this job through Mr. Fletcher
I was stayin' at the Y, on account o' there was no place else in all o' San Diego what would take meand Mr. Fletcher, he was nice, and he said come with him downtown 'cause he could find me work, if I promised to try real hard. Mr. Barrington, then, he hired me, on account o' I can clean. Ain't no one never-ever liked to clean things more than me. "Cleanliness is next to Godliness," my grandma used to say. I made all the toilets and sinks and everything shine. And I got paid. On ev'ry Friday, reg'lar. Then one time it was payday and the fellas what I worked with said how wouldn't it be fun to go to Mexico. So we did; all o' us.
"Say U.S.A. at the border, Bobo."
I said U.S.A. They let us in and we went drinkin' in the bars and I got drunk. I shouldn't oughta had, I know, but it was hot and I got thirsty and they told me never-ever drink the water.

... roof or underground  /  Relax relax he's coming  /  Check those monitors will you  /  Where's that retard   /  Bobo  /  BOBO  /  CLOSE THAT DOOR...

Then I had to go, and so I did, and when I come back from the restroom they was gone; I mean the fellas. I looked everywhere, but the car what we parked just around the corner wasn't there no more; it wasn't where we put it. Then I got lost.

... about our sponsors damn you  /  Millions ride on  /  We can hold  /  The networks  /  or use emulators   /  not some half-assed prima  /  Graphics  /  time  /   WILL YOU SHUT THAT DOOR.

I was too ascared to go back home without the fellas 'cause they told me "U.S.A" don't always work. That's how come I know all o' the streets in Tijuana what I walked for days and days and days. I got plenty hungry, I'll say. Thirsty lots o' times, too, 'cept that I finally tried the water and it was good. I knowed a place what I could wash in, too, so I wouldn't be so dirty. And the Mexicans, they kind o' got to know me and they was nice, 'cept for the ones what tried to make me bite that chicken. See? I bet you thought I wasn't gonna get back to the chicken, but I am: there was this chicken in a alley with these men and they was kickin' at it. And all the time the chicken it was squawkin'. It got away. 'Cept they yelled, Co-galo, Gringo, catch it, catch it! So I got down and catched it. Then the men all moved around me in a circle. They was talkin' Spanish—what I don't un'erstand too good—and they was laughin'. But I knowed, from how they was actin', what they wanted me to do. The chicken musta been just as ascared as me, I'll say; it's little heart was thumpin'. That's when Q come. He didn't look at all the way he looks now, like he was odder then, or meaner even, and he told 'em let me go. There was six o' them and only Q and me. I dropped the chicken. It run off but no one chased it; they just stared. Then Q reached out his hand so's I could grab it, which I done, and we walked out o' there together. No one stopped us.
And ever since that day Q and me's been buddies.

The canopy of laser light congeals to form a visage.
Q!
The face, at first concave, becomes convex and three dimensional.
Q!
The tattooed cheek looms tangibly. Lips, spit-wetted, part; Q speaks:
"W     E     L      C     O     M      E"
Silence from a million rapt fanatics grips the air. The face dissolves, pours like sand inside an hourglass toward the throng; the stage-shell splits as from the force of the white-light's beam.
Q, perched on a rising pedestal, surrounded by his keyboards bared like teeth, protrudes in a crimson tongue of charismatic fire:
"WEL     EL      EL     EL     EL      CUM!"
With a lusty thrust of his hips the spectacle begins...

Q, the cartoon, made manifest,
the comic book turned real:

Q is 193 centimeters tall, weighs a lean 86 kilograms. In his late teens? Early twenties? Or is Q over thirty? He has a sinewy, sensual lankiness, with full lascivious lipsfrom which one half-expects a c-cylinder to be dangling. Gray eyeschameleon-like in that they take on the predominant color of their surroundings. Large hands, long fingersQ wears no rings [They'll saw your fingers off to get your rings]remarkably strong and dexterous. His clothes adhere irrespective their fabric or design. He walk-moves with a reckless breed of grace [Become your shadow; you are weightless, faceless, silent, and invisible; stalk like death]. His hair is pitch black, an entanglement of wild, rebellious curls, severely sculpted at the crowna charred oasis in his desert of denuded temples and completely bald eyebrows (due to electrolysis). A handsome face, or a wicked face, strikingly reconfigured, made all-the-more macabre by the inimitable tattoo. Atop his left cheekbone. His trademark. His non deplume. His open wound. His scar. It is ugly and grotesque and weirdly beautiful. It is the letter "Q" [Mortify the flesh]. It is his brand.
One chord reverberates, turns visceral as it throbs. Its volume threatens like a glass about to shatter from a shrilly pitched shriek. Anticipation leans to the point of losing its balance.

They say BUY..... BUY..... BUY..... BUY WHAT?
Everything we sell
They say BUY..... BUY..... BUY..... BUY WHAT?
Everything we sell

The voice is harshly melodic, crude and intense. It has the intimacy of a whisper, the antipathy of power. It vibrates through the headrests of the rich, in their recliners. It wraps itself  a  r  o  u  n  d   the hordes who stand.

'Cause you NEED IT
You WANT IT
It's THERE for the TA-KING
No MATTER the PRICE
Or the COUN-TRIES you're RA-PING
Just BUY..... BUY..... BUY..... BUY WHAT?
Everything we sell

Overhead the dome walls blink with rapid-fire videos of products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products, products.

'Cause the POWERS are GREED-Y
Their CI-TI-ZENS NEED-Y
Their AP-PE-TITES GNAW
If they DON'T have it ALL
Go and BUY..... BUY..... BUY..... BUY WHAT?
Everything we sell
Children BUY..... BUY..... ♫

"BUY! BUY!"
The crowd's heart pulsates with the mesmerizing chant, their senses reeling. They are pinioned by spikes of laser light, overwhelmed by wall-to-wall commercials, stunned by sound—the tune surrendering to a cacophony of all-too-familiar jingles.
"BUY! BUY!"
Q stands above them, legs spread wide, fingers prompting assorted special effects. He smiles sardonically, satanically, as the light source shifts from overheads to floods embedded in the floor. He calls for silence—makes no gesture, utters no sound, and yet his will is unanimously understood; his fans grow hushed. The dome walls darken. There trembles softly—as if filtered through time—a clarion of choirboy voices. Fragile. Tuned by pre-pubescence. Terrifyingly innocent.

K   y  r  i  e    e  l  —  i  s   o  n

The crowd responds with flick-ignited butane lighters held aloft; the dome, transformed, becomes a candlelit cathedral.


[
First communion: I wore white. White is for purity, she said. The priest wore white. The Host was white; I couldn't swallow it. It stuck to the roof of my mouth—and I couldn't use my teeth; it's a sin to chew. I nearly choked. It tasted odd—like dough, I thought, though they insisted it was a body. His. How sick. I learned a word for what eating it made me. Told her. Cannibal. Mom slapped me. She slapped hard. I had a welt that didn't go away for days—the mark of Cain. She was a born-again—which made people laugh. Behind her back, of course. She had "a pair,"  they said—the kids said that—meaning oversize tits.]

D   o  m  i  n  u  s    V  o  b   i  s  c  u  m

Q's voice rings out with the authority of righteousness. A parody.

E   t    c  u  m    S  p  i  r   i  t  u    t  u  o

He mocks. Or is he serious?


[
Mom stripped for a living. Post-feminist syndrome. Paid for college. Paid her rent. Then she got "saved." Found Jesus in a vacant lot by a Shreveport Louisiana mobile-home park. Tent revival. Found Dad first, so she adjusted—though he never shared her faith. She chose the Catholics. Dad was sorry; claimed they never got his jokes.]

Do you care
That I wear
These disguises of in-dif-fer-ence
They travel well
They're comfy
They're a copy of your own
We shrug our shoul-ders
Pass the buck
It's THEM! It's THEM!
We shift the blame
But in our heart of hearts we know that
We and Them are just the same

The angelic choir has given way to Q's possessed harangue, and yet his antics call attention to himself, not to his lyrics. 'Look at me,' his body orders. 'My, me, mine,' his ego shouts—megalomania eclipsing all he sings.

"Well, what do you think?"
"What's his classification now?"
"Potential 5, Apolitical, Non-aggressive."
"Seems about right to me. Maintain surveillance, Level D."
"D? But that's low priority. With due respect, sir, I believe you're making a serious miscalculation, especially if you consider public opinion and the Thirty Second Delay."
"I don't see what the big deal is."
"You must not have kids. Sorry, sir."
"No, your point is well taken. Fill me in, Lieutenant. If this man has a broad-base juvenile following..."
"Q's music has topped the world charts for fifteen consecutive months. No one—and I mean no one—has ever done that."
"Flash in the pan."
"Sir, I don't think so. It's not only juves. He crosses boundaries like you wouldn't believe; don't let all this teen-idol-worship nonsense fool you. There are
adults every bit as devoted to him. Look at this crowd."
"Mean age sixteen, tops."
"Mean age twenty-four—Bureau of Statistics."
"I find that difficult to believe."
"And that's his concert-going audience. The average age of a Q consumer—AV, CD, DVD, HG, VR, et al is twenty-six."
"These lyrics typical?"
"Nothing's typical. He's un-fixed, un-pigeon-hole-able. And his Bio reads like..."
"Yes, I've seen his Bio. Inexcusable. Birthplace, parents, education... Christ, even his age prints out 'unknown.' What's on his passport? He
is a U.S. citizen, I presume."
"Unverifiable. Legally he's covered—his personal manager has seen to that. But the stuff she's given out is Lapse-Years Data."
"Coincidence?"
"Maybe, maybe not."
"Well, I must admit we don't much like this anonymity business—publicity stunt or no. And we certainly don't want the media back on our case to revoke the T.S.D. I'll authorize Probe-Security, but his Pote. 5 status stands."

L   e  a  d    us
G   u  i  d  e    us
Teach us all the rules
Show us what is wrong and right
Standardize the schools
SPEAK
And we will listen
COMMAND
We will obey
Where truth is power
It is to our au-thor-i-ties we pray
D   o  m  i  n  u  s    V  o  b   i  s  c  u  m
E   t    c  u  m    S  p  i  r   i  t  u    t  u  o

The simulated candles are extinguished. The dome's interior is once more nondescript. Q holsters his persona, while the software in his keyboard deck reloads.

 

I get contractions.

Huh?

Like quivers. You know,
down here?

Oh, me, too. Look.

DoBREEna, cover up!
You'll get us spunked.

I'll have a lick.

You boys go on. She's
crooked, that's all.

Just a taste?

I told you, PEEL. Dobreena,
shame on you! You're
cuni-dusting?

No! Well, a little, maybe.
Not much; just a pinky-dip.

You KNOW it makes you sterile.

Makes you come, too.

So do dildos.

Not for hours.

Eat your ice cream.

Q was cosmic, truly
extra-universal.
Didn't you think?
I want a portrait of
him airbrushed on my
twinky.

Eat your ice cream.

 

THE END

 

Bo's hideout behind the amplifier cases is discovered.

"There you are."

He stuffs the comic books under his T-shirt as he scrambles to his feet.

"You missed Q's opening, Bobo."

Bo's eyes widen.

"That's right; show's already started."

"B-b-but Q, he t-t-told me wait right here. Q w-w-wouldn't start without me."

"No? I suppose that's just his ghost out there performing. Bend an ear."

Bo cocks his head and listens with all his might, as Luther switches on the greenroom's monitor.

Crowd-noise... nothing more...

Then, the sound of a pile driver suddenly explodes.

KaCHUNK!       KaCHUNK!

Bo's cheeks grow flushed. His eyes show panic; he has never missed an opening. He frisks his pockets for his pass and flees the room.

 

KaCHUNK!     KaCHUNK!       KaCHUNK!      KaCHUNK!

The shock     from each      report     is like     a quake     inside     the brain      that pounds     and pounds      and won't     let up      it pounds     it thunders.

I  I  I  I  I  I  I  I don't     I don't      I don't      I don't
don't want      to go      don't make       me go    
don't make     don't make     don't make      don't make
don't want     to go     no no      no no

Graphics juxtapose the sundry flags of West-block nations alongside ruins—the dome walls run with scenes of patriotic gore.

No no     don't want     don't make      don't want
don't make     oh please     you fuckers      please you
mother-fuckers please     I don't     I can't      I won't

["A very basic operation. Simple war game. A maneuver. Only difference is your ammo will be live."]

I won't     I won't

"What's going on! This should be censored. Where's this number in the program? Lieutenant, who the hell gave clearance for this left-wing hogwash? Who's in charge?"

Don't go     don't go

["We have intelligence the rebels are entrenched inside the village. A percentage of civilian casualties is inevitable. One wave of Phos-fire, to be followed by immediate ground attack. Do not hesitate. Waste anything that moves."]

KaCHUNK!     KaCHUNK!

The detonations of the pile-driver reassert themselves, doubling in volume; even hardcore concert-goers shield their ears. The beat persists, as do the images of slaughter: meat-packing houses, amputations, torture chambers, famine and plague victims, then a barrage of military actions past and present.

"Holy shit!"

"What? Where?"

"There!"

"Where?"

"East/West. West wall. There!"

"I'm sorry. I missed it, sir."

"He's got I.F.A.T. footage. That's classified. I want all those videos seized!"

"Unless it's recent, sir, we can't..."

"I want them seized!"

"Yes, sir."

"Immediately."

"But the concert, sir..."

"Lieutenant, that's an order."

The audience, above NOISE that is acute, picks up Q's refrain:

"Don't go!     Won't go!"

Their mouths contort in eerie unison.

Typical behavior; Q has seen such demonstrations many times.

["You gotta make 'em laugh, son, proof of the pudding. It doesn't matter what you're thinkin', folks don't give a damn about your personal convictions, entertain them. They got politics for issues. They got schools for education. All they want from us—that's us comedians—is a damn good laugh." My Dad's philosophy in a nutshell. He would let me play accordion, of all things. Dressed me up in a suit and tie, drew lines around my jaw, set me on his knee, on stage, to see how long he could pass me off as a ventriloquist's dummy. When the crowd caught on, he'd take out this accordion with leaky bellows and have me play a few bars of whatever they'd request. Small time. Rarely played to more than fifty people. If he could see this house, he'd somersault in his grave—then do a pratfall. Anything for a laugh. "Gotta make 'em laugh, son." Yeah, Dad, I do. See? They're all in hysterics.]

Q looks tired, I'll say. He's been doin' lots and lots o' concerts. He got rich and famous quick, got heaps o' money, so much that he don't know how to spend it all. He bought a island what we're goin' to real soon; Q says real soon. Soon as maybe Saturday; that's tomorrow. I like the island on account o' no one bothers us and it's pretty. It gots flowers growin' wild all over it and it gots toucans—them's birds with noses as big as Jimmy Durante's. He's Q's favorite.
"Listen to this song, Bo."
"I'm listenin'." And Q puts on "September Song" from a long long time ago. Q says it's simple and it's honest and it's good and he wishes he could be like that but he can't. Sometimes that's how Q is, sad like, like he lost somethin' real important and can't find it nowheres.

He's gonna play for a while all by hisself without no computers. He pushes this button, what says "manual," and that lets 'im. He just done that, pushed it; I can see from here real good. Q likes to do this part the best on account o' it's all made-up this minute. "Like outer space," Q says, when he pushes that button.

Wind like wailing. Wind like in Huancabamba. Plaintive drawls. Q's fingers arch, depress the keys, invoke the wind.

[Once, when I was wandering blind in the Andes of Peru, when I was lost to time, to men, when I was dying, a wind befriended me. I had no strength. It braced me like an arm around the shoulders, bolstered me, let me lean my back against its chest. I walked like breathing. It blew steadily for hours, this brother wind. It blew for days. It was my crutch, my cradle, my mentor, my faithful guide.]

The wind sounds ceaSeñor fade, becoming capricious, as they dance in spirals, lilt as zephyrs, float like dove-calls on the breeze, then sigh melodically. Q plays.

[Technique is a liar. I can wow 'em with technique. Big fucking deal. She made me practice the piano. Didn't need to. When you've got Bach figured out at five and you've mastered Liszt at six you really don't need scales—or Montovani—to keep you sharp.]

One note emerges—in a sympathetic key—followed by another, and another, each distinctive yet predestined to contribute to the whole—a string of individual tones expecting harmony. Simplistic, child-like, an otherworldly lullaby is created. It nurses at the nerve-ends of his listeners. It soothes. It is an eye of calm, a womb of comfort, a refuge all too fleeting.

Q scans the crowd.

[Him—picking his way with a staggering gingerliness, limbs in disjointed postures, attempting to achieve outward balance while inwardly at sea. Her—girl-child in a whore's make-up, glad-eyeing adult men whose shamefaced hunger creeps—look at it—crawls from peripheral leers. Them—incense from a plethora of armpits, hits on heady joints of anachronistic hemp—die-hards loathe to make transitions into snorting hybrid substances, wineskins hung like bloated bladders, avoiding the metal detectors, drugs in parti-colored satchels like balloons—uppers, downers, fast-tracks. Listen. Don't listen. "Q is controversial," that's enough. Vicarious rebels. "We buy your chips, don't we? Don't we memorize your lyrics? Don't we worship the ground you walk on, spit on, shit on?" The confessional booth: sins of heart, mind, word, deed. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned and have come to relieve my conscience. It was frosted—the glass between us. I could see his silhouette. Whose, God's? No, the priest's. I remember wondering if the glass was clear on his side. God sees everything. God, but maybe not His priestly representative. I made a sign at him once—shot him the finger—as an experiment just to see. He never saw; I got absolved. I once invented some transgressions. They were believed; I was forgiven. And once I even went to a different booth with the very same confession. "Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys." The first priest merely assigned me an Act of Contrition. I concluded from these tests that God was unreliable—as is everything human beings create in their own image.]

A tremolo. In the base line. There; again the rhythm alters, causing the melody to throb. To bend. The composition, subtly, is changing, is warping. Tranquility grows self-conscious. Wary. As if on guard. An element of anxiety usurping the former peace—like a child's inanimate doll suddenly come to life. Menacingly. The audience, in conjunction, starts to squirm, feeling 'set up' for something. They have not guessed for what. There are indications, though—hints— that it is apt to be unpleasant.

[Dark hair, dark eyes; her frame was small. She wore a woolen hand-embroidered dress which smoldered slightly—Child—and stood alone; that is, stood among others, but none breathed; not mother, father, or baby brother—Child—as if her soul's persistence asked the simple question 'Why?']

A chord is struck—the crowd's gasp overwhelmed by Q's primal SHRIEK, like that of a man, of a woman who somewhere, some time early in human history, comprehended Death. In its utter finality. Q plays rhapsodically, his prowess awesome; his hands attack the keys, his virtuosity inhuman, its effect supernatural.

Q sure plays good—'cept that I wished he wouldn't do like that, make them screams. They hurt his voice sometimes on account o' they's unnatural. Makes 'em jump, Q says. They jumped, I'll say. Q likes to make 'em pay attention. Q says no one what don't perform in front o' millions can un'erstand how it feels to make 'em pay attention.

The music breeds its own complexity like subdividing cells, until its themes and variations prove too intricate to follow, yet Q plays on, as if in defiance of physical limitations, of technical boundaries. He is on to something, breaking through; he is reaching for rarified air.

The stage goes suddenly and absolutely silent. For a measure or more—unaware they are ineffectual—Q's fingers continue to play. But the stage is a vacuum, a black hole of soundlessness. Power. No power. The electricity has been cut.

Q moves from behind his keyboards and takes a step forward, peering into the darkness, searching for Scratch, who is up in the control booth.

Q activates the mike inside his headphones.

"Scratch? Scratch, where the hell are you?"

"Here, boy. I'm here. Got us some Bugs."

"The mainframe?"

"The law."

"Fuck the law; I need power."

"I hear ya."

"Well nobody else can."

"I know. HEY!..."

"This is Lieutenant Ireland, U.S.H.S. We are canceling this concert and impounding your equipment. You can consider yourself and your entourage under arrest."

Q struts off the stage.

 

 

Press Conference

"Is it true Q's been / What exactly are / Will the concert be re / Why / How did Q react / the government / rioting / taken / the tour / Does anyone..."

"Gentlemen, ladies, if you will allow me? I have a statement our staff has prepared."

Samantha Prada: Q's personal manager. Cheekbones by D'Roque—former model. Height: 179cm. Weight: 64kg. Age: 33. Entrepreneur. Dilettante turned promoter. So beautiful is Ms. Prada—arousing envy among women, lust among men—that her ability to manipulate knows few bounds. She is stunning. Her body, once kept angular and severe by rigors of the catwalk, has taken on a layering of finely textured fleshthe "strikingly svelte" still toned but reconfigured "sensuous." Auburn hairluxuriant. A provocative hint of freckleswinking under the surface of Pear's Soup skin. Full lips. Enormous sea-green eyesmade emerald by her spectrum-heightening implants. Perfect teeth.

"Q, first and foremost, extends an apology to his fans [Screw my fucking fans; they're vampires, all of them.] Ticket chits from the Dallas-Fort Worth concert will be honored internationally; that is, free admission to any future Q performance throughout the world, a consideration good for one whole year [Though void where prohibited; which you can bet your genitalia will be the case just about everywhere.] As for the charges brought erroneously by the federal government, they..."

Beneficiary of the finest education, money no object, Ms. Prada is commensurately refinedwhich is not to say sheltered; far from it.
     FATHER: CEO at AquaTech Inc.
                     ("Samantha, we will tolerate no casting our pearls before swine.")
Never pampered.
     MOTHER: Oxford graduate, now publisher of a chic Parisian e-zine
                       ("Cash is never a substitute for well-bred good taste.")
Perceptions high-fidelity, if archly cynical.
     SISTER: SweetSense junkie in Aix-en-Provence
                    ("Ecstasy is life's only worthwhile endeavor.")
Making money bores Samantha. Causes bore her, too. Cultivating experiences: skiing the Himalayas, snorkeling offshore Bali, or orbiting the planet in "that antiquated Shuttle," have grown blasé. Samantha hungers, primarily, for what she terms "PHENOMENA."

"... have been dropped."

"PHENOMENA" soon synonymous with the letter Q. An unknown talent when she 'discovered' him, at a recording studio, in LA.—his agent, then, a part-time AMWAY salesman (and a bad one): "Ain't he somethin'? Calls himself 'Q.' That's it; don't you love it? Mysterious, eh? Talented, with a capital T, and what a stage presence! Raw; admittedly he's raw, needs lots o' polish. But a more accomplished musician you'd be hard-pressed to find. Here, give a listen."

A headset is made available, which Ms. Prada declines.

"Why is he so angry?"

"Huh?... Oh. How the hell should I know? He's not angry. Touchy, is all. He's a committed artist. Plays with his guts. His own tunes. Everything's original. And, believe you me, this stuff is U.S.D.A. Prime. You really oughta listen."

Again the headset is offered, again refused.

"I'll hear him later. What's that bruise below his eye?"

"That's his tattoo. I know; bizarre. But it has fabulous potential. You could patent it, like a trademark. Besides, he's adamant, will not have the goddamn thing removed."

Rarelyneverhad Samantha encountered anything quite like Q. Hers had been an instantaneous, almost frightening infatuation, Q impressing her as might a totally unfamiliar species, while she watched him from beyond the sound-proof glass, watched him writhe and grimace, rake his keyboards with fingers like un-retractable clawsor talonsin either case, lethal. She could sense it. His aura was that of a predator poised to pounce. Spring-loaded. Hair-triggered. And oh, so very SEXY, mating spontaneously come to Samantha's feline mind. Not a relationship. Nothing civilized. Teeth at the nape of her neck. A thrill of pain. Then utter penetration. Brief and brutal and bent on survivali.e. on impregnation.

"But we were informed that Q was found to be in violation..."

"Suspected to be, not found. There still is jurisprudence in this country, I'm happy to affirm."

"Okay, suspected. But what did the government confiscate? Why did they storm the stage?"

"As I said, they made a mistake. They took exception to some material Q included in this performance..."

"The Special Forces stuff? The I.F.A.T footage? Where did Q get a hold of it?"

"That is precisely what the authorities wanted to know. It isn't theirs, you see. They thought it was, which, understandably, is why they seized it. But Q received that video from an independent source."

"So the government has returned it?"

"As a matter of fact, the government has asked Q to relinquish itan issue of Homeland Security, so of course we've complied."
 [
Why the fuck should we? They're doing all that shit we showed and worse. Homeland Security my ass. Special Forces? Special Interests, is more like it. Where this country ever got the idea that calling an atrocity "covert" made it any less an atrocity
or the culprits any less guiltySatan only knows.]

And then she met him. His indifference to her beauty, charm, wit, wealth, savoir-faire appalled/enthralled, offended/intrigued, repulsed/engrossed her. He seemed amoral, for starters. Samantha liked that. His philosophy seemed to be "fuck it." He was case-hardened, cruelly selfish, ultra-talented, therefore ideal makings for a mega-media STAR. Perhaps a SUPERSTAR. Perhaps "the most neutronic personality of contemporary times." She agreed to back him, fully confident Q would realize her goalsno matter how exalted or extreme.

"What's Q's real / tour is over / When will / Where does he intend to / Will Q sue for false arrest?"

"No. The government acted rashly, but we do not believe maliciously. And though Q, of late, has been a trifle outspoken in his lyrics, I can assure you all he is, at heart, a stars and stripes patriot [Bullshit!]."

No matter how unpleasant the process would be initially.

"Aren't you?"

"Aren't I what?"

"Aren't you an American?"

"I plead the fifth."

Samantha takes a long, contemplative drag on her c-cylinder.

"Let's cut the crap. If you want backingand I have the bucks, the brains, and the wherewithal to back you all the wayI'm going to need your cooperation. That means answers. Shall we begin again? Your name is?"

"Q."

She sighs.

"Address?"

"Here."

"Born?"

"There."

"Listen, you arrogant bastard, this is not a game of word association; this is..."

"You listen, Cunt. My name is Q. I'm the best goddamn musician you've ever heard. I'm destined to be rich. I'm destined to be famous. Initially I'll need help, but I don't give a rat ass's fart if I get that help from you."

He meant it. Samantha knew that it was she who would depend upon him; she was too impressed by his self-assuredness, too excited by Q's hostile sexuality. She found him fascinating—utterly—his hidden origins as tempting as all things taboo. Forbidden fruit, was Q. Keep out. No trespassing. A play, a novel, a movie slated to be banned. She nonetheless determined never to be superfluous.

"All right. Your past remains a mystery; I can sell that. Just be consistent. We'll start from now on. Agreed? From this very moment, we'll talk exclusively about the future—yours and mine."

 

 

 

Where do you hail from, Q?

Yeah, where's home?

Is it true you're an orphan?

An editor at PIERCED
claims you're a stem-cell
baby spawned at some
bio-engineering lab in
Northern California.
Any comment?

Will you people please make way? Q has a flight to catch.

Why did you cancel
Buenos Aires?

What's your reaction to
the SweetSense epidemic?

Do you use it?

Why the secrecy, Q?
Don't you feel your
fans have a right
to know?

He's coming! Are you
guys ready?

This is suicide, Diane.

Yeah, who's gonna
catch you?

Q will.

His guards will, you
mean.

You'll be lucky if
you don't get darted.

I don't care. I've GOT
to show him. When he
sees, believe you me,
he'll understand.

Then what?

Nothing matters after
that. Ready?

It's you cremation.

What the...

WATCH OUT, Q! DUCK!

Dart her.

UMPH!

She's crooked.

Help her up.

KEEP BACK! SHE MIGHT
BE WIRED!

Wired where? She's
almost naked.

Q, be careful.

Thanks, I... Q! Oh, my
God, it's... Q, you
touched me!

You okay?

I... Yes, oh, yes. I'm
sorry. I just... I
thought... I mean,
I HAD to tell you
what it's like to
be in love...
I mean,
Q, I LOVE YOU!

She'll be fine. Some
star-struck, amped-up
kid. We gotta hurry, Q.
CLEAR THE WAY, FOLKS!

What was that mark?

PEOPLE MOVE!
What mark?

She had a mark.

Kid stuff. A pasty.
EVERYBODY MOVE!

You sure?

What else?

The skin; I thought it
looked burned or something.

I LOVE YOU, Q!

THE END

 

The pi'tures show how this young girl what's in love with Q tries to tell 'im by gettin' her friends to kind o' throw her over this whole big crowd o' people. They's maybe cheerleaders or somethin' on account o' they throws her real high and she falls down right in front o' Q and all o' his bodyguards. They's worried, the bodyguards is. That part's so. Q only gots one main bodyguard, but at the concerts they's lots, and they's always worried 'cause Q gets threats 'n stuff, like bomb scares and I don't know what all, on account o' he's so popular. But this girl in the pi'tures only wants to show Q what she done. She's real embarrassed to do ityou can tell from the way her cheeks is colored redbut she does anyhow. She pulls her sweater off o' her shoulder to bare her little breast. It gots a Q right near the nipple what's been burned in like a brandwhat musta hurt awful, which is prob'bly why she done it. When you love somebody a whole lot but you are too ascared to tell 'em, you gotta do somethin' what will say the way you feel. Even if it's dumb.

Bo spreads the comic book over his lap as if he were handling a precious butterfly. He thinks to close his mouth, and does, but it soon reopens with his reverie.

I done somethin' dumb once on account o' I loved so much this person. It was in school, back where I went in Arizona. This person was in the reg'lar classes, not the "special" classes; not like me. I won't say this person's name on account o' I promised I wouldn't.
"Swear, Bo, you'll never tell another living soul."
"I swear."
And so they took me to where she was, at her house, and no one else was home. Not her parents or her brothers or even her grandma what lived there, too. And they said, "Go ahead, she's waitin' for you upstairs where that light's on." She was there, I'll say. I saw 'er through the curtains back and forth; she was walkin' back and forth just like they said, like she was waitin'. So I went in; the door was open
I wasn't apose to knock.
"Don't make a solitary sound, Bobo."
"No, I won't." I was ascared, though. Shoulda knocked or ringed the doorbell, what woulda been polite, but they said no, she knowed I's comin' so just go on up.

A silver drop of saliva falls from Bo's mouth like a parachuting spider, linking his lips to the comic book's open page.

The stairs was dark 'cause it was nighttime and all o' the lights in the house was off'cept for that one what I could see at the end o' the hallway. I went tippy-toe, kind o', but it didn't matter 'cause it felt like even breathin' made too much noise. I touched the doorknob, but I couldn't. I just had to knockwhat made the light go dimI could hardly see my own sneakers. Then I heard a tiny voice say come in.

Bo's eyes stare blankly, fixedly, their outward sight replaced by the memory-embedded scene.

She was stark naked, kind o'. Almost. She was layin' on the bed, all pink an beautiful and smilin' till she seen that it was me. I never-ever seen a girl what looked so pretty turn so mean. She screamed.
"Bobo! Bobo Fitzgibbons! What do YOU want? What're YOU doin' here?"
I just stood there like a deer does if you shine your headlights on it. And then I knew for sure she didn't love me back.

Bo finally wipes his spittle. He pulls his shirtfront from his trousers and dabs the wet spot on the page.

I guess I knowed all along.

He blows a stream of air to dry the dampened spot.

But I was dumb, like I said. When I runned home that night, I cried and cried.

"Bo?"

"Yeah, Q?"

"We're out o' here. Got you bags packed?"

"Got 'em, Q."

The plush lounge chair  e x h a l e s  , as Bo escapes its leather, leather like Eskimo women make itchewed to a pampering pliability. The suite, at large, is a-sprawl with the skin of sundry animals, most extinct, the rest endangered, all indigenous now to first-world decor.

"We gonna d-d-drive, Q?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"Security." Luther enters. "Can't you knock?"

"Yo. Sorry, Q. No limo."

"What?"

"No limo. Crabs."

Q takes a breath as if to let loose his exasperation, checks it, expels it in retreat, slamming the bedroom door behind him.

"You m-m-made Q angry."

"Don't blame me. It's not my fuckin' fault they've come."

"Who's c-c-come?"

"His fans."

"But you said 'c-c-crabs.'"

"Not my term; his. You know what crabs are, don't you, Bobo?"

"'Course I d-d-do. They's the little creatures what runs up the beach at night on the island."

"Not those kind. This kind." Luther claws at his crotch. Bo fails to comprehend. "Crabs. You know, those bloodsucker bugs that eat your testicles alive? Crabs? As in louses? Never had 'em? Lucky you. Itch like mad."

Bo smoothes the cover of his comic book, attempting to restore its mint condition, then slips it into a pocket of his carry-on luggage.

Luther idles somewhat anxiously (no reason; nerves is all) needing a fix; he feeds his habit through the veins between his toes (so the tracks don't show) nervous (Q would sack me) about the lesions (hates syringes) about his cold (must be an allergy) that he cannot shake. (Hell, life's too short as is to worry aboutwhat?life bein' too short). He is twenty-three. (All the great ones get IT, spread IT, drop like frazzled fliesexcept for Qjust lucky?) Careful. (Won't shoot up) Smart. (Won't fuck or suck or whack off ANYONE) Aloof. (besides himself. No thanks; that's prison.)

Luther sinks into the twin of Bo's easy chair and rubs his wiry wrists against its arms, burnishing the leather (can't sit, can't sit) only to stand back up and resume his restless pacing.

Luther: T-shirtedsleeveless, ragged, sweat-stained, pungent.
             Blond tails of straggly hair suspended down his scrawny back.
             Tall.
             Wiry.
             Shoulder blades protruding like snapped-off wings
Luther/Lucifer.
             Seldom eats.
             When he does, he mostly gorges on chocolate-chip cookies.

"Stop that gawking!"

Bo averts his face, self-conscious, blinking as if blinded by a flash cube's sudden flash. Luther gestures vulgarly. Q, reentering, gives him a look.

"You've got the soul of a mosquito, Luther."

"What I do?"

"Bo, you seen Scratch?"

"Not since this mornin', at b-b-breakfast; I seen 'im then. Do you want that I should fetch 'im?"

Luther snickers ('fetch 'im.').

Q turns slowly, menacingly. His dark glassessilvered and impenetrableissue a silent threat. Luther cringes. Satisfied, Q turns back to Bo.

"Would you, please?"

Bo leaves obligingly.

Luther searches for the courage to rebel (like a goddamn poodle. Keeps that retard like a pet. More like an albatross, or a dodo, is that half-witted, goony-bird. Bobo Dodo.)

"Why do you keep that dumb cluck around. I mean, he's USELESS."

"So are you, and you get a three-figure salary."

"I resent that."

"Fine. From now on you can work for minimum wage."

"Right. You're kiddin', of course. Q? You are kiddin', aren't ya? I mean, I do for you, don't I? Steady? Aren't I the best goddamn gofer in the business? You said so yourself, remember?"

"Lay off Bo."

"You got it. Sure, man. Yo. Anything you say. Wanna drink or somethin'? Lunch? How's about I call down and order us lunch. How'd that be? Let's..."

"Luther?"

"Yeah?"

"Stop groveling."

"Right."

"Your wages won't be cut, but lay off Bo."

Q steps toward the windowed doors of his penthouse perch and parts them, feels the air suck, lets it pull him onto the balcony, out to its guard rail, where he looks down at the city. [Call us "the locust people," Peruvians do, for gobbling up land. Call us "the sick ones," knowing that it's US who spread "the disease." The dis-ease. They've heard about IT, even in the most remote towns and villages. Know IT's fatal. Know IT's worldwide. They perceive IT as a purge. I'm sure they're right.]
He dredges phlegm from his throat and leans to spit / stops on noticing a crowd formed far below...
[
"Thou shalt not have strange gods before me." Graven images. Sing Hosanna. Q, the Golden Calf.]
... then spits irrespective.
[
"If you hate the people so much, why perform?" I hate them. "Why sing, or play, or record, or do anything at all?" I truly hate them. "Don't want...don't make...don't want...don't make...I won't...I won't...I won't...Don't go." Go where? They forced me. Mandatory Registration. Then the Draft. Then my conscription. "Take your pick, boy
four years regular army or two years special forces." Should've told them to shove it up their jingoistic ass. Too young. They get you young. Like the Catholics. Confirmationage twelve—slap in the puss; confirmed. Eighteenpledge of allegiancezugswang; aim, shoot, and fire.]
The breeze feels coated, leaves a film on the skin like varnish, like gum Arabic, high humidity monoxides
plug in any prefix.
[
Sweat would form on the inside surface of each body bag. Ours were semi-opaque, but you could still see the corpse. Break that seal and the stench would knock down a mule. Stank to high heaven. Break that seal and the zip-locked screams tore loose. Echoed all the way to Hell's ground floor.]
An aircraft, lifting its deflectors, shatters the silence with a denture-rattling ROAR.
[
Mine among them. Tagged, bagged, zipped, forgotten; the dead can be damned clever. There were wounded. Not among them; we slaughtered them without resistance. Wounded among US, from the crossfire. And from those morons lobbing incendiaries like sparklers on Fourth of July. Couldn't tell, once barbequed, enlisted from the unlucky bystanders. Except for bits of metal: ID, boot buckles, belt buckles, insignia.]
There is sun, and though it is obscured by the coagulated atmosphere, its ultra-violet heat bears down oppressively.
[
'Daymares' turned into nightmares. The days themselves reverted to beauty beyond belief: alpine passes, azure skies, raindrop mists so pure a walk within them baptized the undeserving. Nights, however, resurrected only charbroiled horrors.]

"Q? He's here. I fetched 'im back."

Q separates past from present and turns to acknowledge Bo.

"You my pal, Bo?"

"You bet, Q. We's buddies always. That's for-true."

Q nods, turns back, looks out, looks down, takes a fortifying breath, then steps back in.

"Howdy there, Q-tip. Y'all lookin' kind o' peaked. O-verloaded, seems like. Lighten up. Shed those blinkers, why don't ya?"

Scratch is liquid"life, she flow"a TALL drink of aqua, eye to eye with Q at 193cm. Burnt-umber coloring. Broad nose. Almond eyes. Lips like purplish inner tubes, ultra-kissable. Wisps of kinky-curly beard sprout erratically from his Afro-Asian chin. His voice pours, taking its own sweet time to drawl out syllables a la chilled molasses. Wears vinyl, vinyl everything, from his see-through shoes to his solar-celled beretcolors more in tune with the colorblind. Fond, FOND of women"gimme Titian's"likes them ample, likes them huge of bust, enormous of bubble-butted bum. Likes Gunk, enjoys the buzz of SweetSense, but his drug of choice is work. And, despite his zest for the vernacular, is a genius in all things technical, his state-of-the-art approach the perfect compliment to Q's creative drive.

"Once had me a pet rat took on the look y'all gettin'. Me an' my half-bro Zook used to make 'em run these a-mazin' mazes. No foolin', made that rodent run 'em the livelong day. Kept buildin' new ones, bigger by the hour. She-it, we'd be addin' on while the rat was still inside. Then one fine day ol' Murphywe called 'im Murphyjus' up an' stopped. He's about two-thirds through this masterpiece—covered the entire basement floor—when somethin' must've snapped in ol' Murph's bean; jus' went blank. All glassy-eyed, lookin' kind o' loony, 's if 'is brain was on the blink. Tried to bring 'm 'round, but nope; that rat was gone. Never did break his stupor. Stared himself to death, he did. Cryin' shame." Scratch reaches and delicately lifts Q's sunglasses to peek at his eyes. "Jus' like I suspected; Murphy Syndrome. Boy, you best be gettin' yourself a g-o-o-d-l-o-n-g  rest!"

He repositions the mask-like shades; Q does not budge.

"You through?"

"CHARISMA! Did y'all hear that note of authority? Yassah, Boss. I's comin' 's fas' 's my daddy-long-legs 'low me. Massah call my name, I's there lickety-split."

Bo looks on, bowled over by Scratch's impromptu Step 'n Fetchit,(incongruous as it seems, given the Black man's equally Asian features) while Luther tries (and fails) to suffocate a guffaw. Q, deadpan dissolved, ventures a caustic smile.

"I'm 'gone,' alright. At least I'd like to be. My adoring fans, alas, have clogged all the exits."

"Solved. The roof. We call us a 'copter."

Bo, surprising everyone, blurts out an objection to Luther's idea. "NO! You know Q d-d-don't like helicopters."

Q gives Bo a significant, if overly critical, scowl.

[Quiet, Bo. I know you mean well, but never mention things I've told you not to mention. Whirlybirds, they were once called. Toys for toddlers. Hell-icopters, now, destination fixed. Toys for 'torturing' toddlers was the way they were used.]

Suffering Q's displeasure, Bo seems to shrink.

"Does anyone have any money?"                                                       

Scratch frisks his pockets.

"Some. Couple o' megs. Why, you short?"

"Luther?"

"Negative. Chicken-shit change, is all. A few euros, a few yen, a few dollars."

I gots forty dollars, if Q would ask me. Gots it right here in my bag, what I would give him, if Q would ask.

"Bo?"

"GOTS FORTY DOLLARS!"

"So, that makes what; two-sixty, two-seventy?"

"And they call us billionaires? She-it, I use to make more trib shooting craps back in high school."

"Ante up." Bills flutter leaf-like onto the coffee table, forming a paltry pile. "This won't do. Need a volunteer to go buy singles."

"Yo. Back in five."

Luther snags the cash and is out the door at knee-jerk speed (gofer, gofer, gofer, gotta go, gotta get it, gotta go, left, left again; where's the fucking lift? Gotta go, gotta get it, gotta go, right. There! Come and 'fetch' me. Yo, it's open. Cash and carry. Pushin' "Lobby." Ever noticedgoin' downthat elevators play muzak? Pipe it in to cover up the creepy-crawly hush, the I-don't-know-you, you-don't-know me awkwardness of those gone mute? Worried about eavesdroppers, as if the whole fucking elevator world is full of spies and secret agents. Mum. I'm mum. Look; he's lookin'. Hey, I'm mum, man. Won't catch me talkin', no-sir-ree, not in this cooped up box of ups and downs. WHOOPS! My guts just sank to my goddamn feet; this thing drops like a bungee-cord jump. "L." Lobby! Reprieve. Nice meetin' you lovely folks, sure did enjoy our covert conversation. See you all LATER. Luther's gotta go, gotta get it, gotta go. Gotta live up to his rep, gotta prove he's the best, bar none, goddamn gofer in the business.

"You c-c-comin' with us to the island, Scratch? It's nice there. You should c-c-come."

"I may, by and by. Thanks for the in-vite."

"Island's fun. Q b-b-boughts a snorkel for me this time with a mask for lookin' un'erwater. When I learn to swim, that is. Hey, I gots it here; you w-w-wanna see?"

Bo kneels beside his luggage.

Q has disappeared.

Scratch is sitting with his elbows on his knees, forearms danglingoutwardly attending to Bo, inwardly ruminating about his stressed-out employer:
Seen 'im like this before. Like a hand grenade with the pin pulled. Bad Juju. Dangerous to be around. Makes folks jumpy for even tryin' to be his friend. Un-healthy. Un-natural, leastwise, all the time him threatenin' to self-de-struct. Can't talk to him. When he does court conversation, only talks music. Wild the way Q talks, sometimes, about music. "The Holy Ghost,"  he calls it—some kind o' Catholic she-it. Odd, since Q's anti-religious—except when he performs and it's "cross his heart, hope to die." Bo holds up his mask and snorkel. It is professional grade, not a kid's toy. Scratch gives Bo a nod. "Put it on. Let's see how it looks." Bo complies with excitement. This concert-skippin' non-sense gotta stop. Bad sign. Only missed the one—those tabloids lie—but showed up late for at least another three. Never used to do like that. Always loved to play, make the crowds hoot 'n' holler. Last few gigs... Q's dark. Stopped havin' fun. Plays like he doesn't give a two-bit hooker's pension who all's listenin'.

There is a loud, impatient banging at the penthouse door. Bo goes to answer it.

"Aliens, yo!"

Luther flops down prostrate in the hall and rat-a-tat-tats a make-believe burp gun at the mystified Bostill wearing his diving unit. Only momentarily confused, Bo pulls off the snorkel and mask.

"It's me, Luther. Bo."

"Whew! Thought the Plutonians had landed." Luther feigns relief, as he gets to his feet, slap-dusting his pants. He pushes in past Bo, and with a flourish fantails the cash. "Where's the main man?" Scratch tilts his head toward the bedroom. Luther heads in that direction, halts, lifts his nose like a bird dog, then makes for the couch instead, whereon he drops the fistful of bills, climbs up on an arm, goes comically rigid, and calling out "TIM-BERRRRRRRRRR" falls like a redwood onto the cushionsmisjudging their dimensions, the "WHOOSH" they gasp accompanied by an ill-starred "THUD." "Fuckin' thing 's too short."

"Y'all okay, Luth?"

"Nothin' serious, short of a broken neck. So, what's with the singles; Q say?"

As the bathroom door swings closed, the bedroom door reopens; Bo leaves / Q enters.

"The trib's a diversion."

"A who?"

"Buzz the limo. Say we're on our way."

"But Q, we're surrounded, man."

"Not for long. Make that call, then step out here with me."

Q scoops up the money and walks out onto the balcony again, followed by Scratch, whose expression is skeptical, then Luther (limo standing by).

The crowd far below is still milling, swelling, aiming various ocular aids at the hotel's uppermost floor, all necks craned in a dumb show of steadfast devotionjust a glimpse of their idol would satisfy most.

Q moves to the guard rail.

[Had a little wooden hammer, when I was a kid. Striped. Just a lathe-turned cylinder fixed to the end of a dowel. Made a dull "CLACK" sound when it struck, when it killed. I exterminated bugs. Ants, mostly. "CLACK," you're pulverized. "CLACK," you're smooched. "CLACK, CLACK, CLACK," you're dead, gone, extinguished. My Indian-file executions left the sidewalk littered with carcasses.]

"Look at 'em all. She-it, where'd they come from so fast? I's  w a y  d o w n  yonder an hour ago—nary a single fan. Strange they seem to de-vine whenever Q is about to make an appearance. Like telepathy, or somethin'."

"Like shit-eating flies."

"Mm, hm. I can see that, see how a famous fella like yourself might liken his fans to a swarm of pesky flies—way they're all the time hoverin.' 'Specially if that famous fella is always lookin' from on high, eh Q-tip? The su-perior position? The ex-alted point of view?"

Q appears oblivious to Scratch's sarcasm.

"Ever have a friend, Scratch, who'd do anything for you? Anything and everything, you asked?"

"You mean like Bo?"

"No. Not like Bo. Bo's a different case."

"Okay, 'not' like Bo. Guess not, then. Though I did have me a woman, once, come pretty close."

"Did she tell you she'd do anything?"

"Like 'my country right or wrong'? I s'pose she did."

"And did you despise her for it?"

"'De-spise'? 'De-SPISE'? For overdoin' it, now 'n' then? Folks lose their heads about lots of stuff; it's human nature. No, I didn't despise her. Fact is, I loved 'er. Y'all go 'round deSPISin' people for overdoin,' it's bound to get you down."

"Right. Well, let's see if 'human nature' gets us out of this terrarium. Luther?"

"Yo. Motor's runnin'. Ground floor. Service entrance. Down and out the back."

"Watch 'em murder one another for a goddamn buck."

Q flings the bills. They scatter, fluttering in the wind like parti-colored leaves, somersaulting earthward, gifts from the gods, wealth wept, acid rain.

*

Steam rises clinginglythe bathroom fan is off, the fixtures sweat, the mirror frames a fog-enshrouded figure.

From outer space, I'll say. From a whole other planet!

ETthe extraterrestrialgazes spellbound, in reflection, at the wheezing apparition, its labored breath sounding guttural through a length of rubberized tubing, windpipe worn on the outside, happily grotesque.

*

"Where's Bo?"

*

A hand, decidedly human, wipes a window in the glass...

*

"YO, BOBO!"

*

...retreats...

*

Luther jiggles the doorknob.

*

...and hastily vanishes.

Bo, clothes damp from the mists of imaginationtaps turned on full-tilt to produce the ethereal steamexits, sans disguise, and looks for his missing luggage.

"I've got your bags, Bo. Get a move on."

Q exits.

"W-W-WAIT!"

Retrieving his mask and snorkel, Bo brings up the rear.

 

 

 

Alexia got one, I'm
telling you. Hand signed!
Said "Q" right on it.
I saw it with my very own
eyes: "You are cordially
invited."

Did she go?

'Course not! You frenetic?
She's still pink, Her F&M
would freak.

I would've.

Sure.

I honest-to-God would've.

You don't know what
you're saying; those
scenes are RADICAL.

Yeah, like how?

Like first you get this
invitation, tells you
where and when.

Yeah.

Then, the minute you
show, you're strip-searched
only worse. Latex gloves
with K-Y, the whole
nine meters.

What?

To check you out.

For what? STDs?

Them, too, but mostly
for IT.

So? I mean, isn't
that, you know,
considerate?
Hygienic, I mean.
You wouldn't want
your first to be your
last. Even for a date
with Q.
She should've gone.

It's not like she was the
only one got invited; let
me finish.
If you're clean, they pass
you on to this queue outside
Q's trailer, pardon the pun,
a line made up of BOYS as
well as girls.

That's no big secret.

It's still RADICAL. They
say there's a two-way glass,
one side a mirror, the other
side a window; Q looks through
to make his picks for the night.
Lucky ones go in, the rejects
serve as seconds.

Meaning what?

Doled out to his techies.

Yuk! That's bent.

Exactly.

Still, for the chance
pf a lifetime...
Me, I'd go.

 

THE END

 

[Always those ridiculous, slanderous comics. Just like Davy. "Remember little Davy? Remember little Davy?" The anesthetist kept asking, as she put me under. Tonsils. Davy went first and was miserable for days afterward. I, on the other hand, was eating ice cream an hour after post-op, King of the Heap. "Remember little Davy? Remember little Davy?" How could I forget him, the village idiot of our upstate, backwater town, the retard of LaSalle Street, bane of myhis younger brother'sshamefaced existence?]

The private aircraft is populated sparsely, pilot, co-pilot, crew, and Q's inner circle:


  • personal manager:
    Samantha Prada
    gofer and sometimes-photographer:
    Luther Ashe
    bodyguard:
    Tomes (other name unspecified)
    inimitable sidekick:
    Bo Fitzgibbons
    and chief technician:
    Scratch Ellington Wong (
    not on the flight, in fact, having made other plans).

[Hard to recall, exactly, when it was Davy changedor when I changed; Davy was always Davywhen he shifted from big-brother status to pain-in-the-ass. I was five years younger, yet it was I who had to lead Davy around by the hand: to school, to church, to baseball practicethe team would let him 'practice,' but they never let him play; not once. True, he couldn't catch. Or hit. And, when he did make contact with the ball, he was as likely to run to third base as to first. Why? Who knows? Because he was left-handed, maybe.]

Bo, for the umpteenth time, leafs back through his comic book's pages. He has run the flight attendants ragged, asking them to help with the harder words: "cordially" "frenetic" "radical" "hygienic" "radical" a second time; Sorry, I forgot.

[I'd watch them smile that cramped, uncomfortable smile, like their underpants had just crept up between their buttocks, hiding their ridicule, waiting to catch one another's eye with a knowing wink, a scornful grimace, a shrug of mockeryDavy oblivious to it all. More so than Bo, even. Davy would drool, from time to time, wet himself, pick his nose and eat the boogers, suck his thumb at night, cry like a baby. When people hurt him. People like me. When I was so sick of being humiliated by the dumb-ass shit he'd do, so angry at him for interrupting my music, I'd lash out, pinch his malformed ear just to make the poor bastard yelp, make him suffer for being defective, for being dumb, for being Davy. My elder brother.]

Bo is frowning. He has reached the stage of comparing what he is reading to what he is actually experiencing.

Q gots no trailer. I'da seen it, if he did. These pi'tures show 'im at a window what looks into a kind o' shower, 'cept they's no place for the water to come out, just naked people waitin'. They's all teenagers, too, what don't seem for-true on account o' Q hates teenagers. Q says folks don't act human so long as they's got tails. Teenagers all got tails, Q says, till they drop off once they's grown-ups. 'Course Q's just joshin'; human bein's don't got no tails at all.

[Davy died. He was with our mother when the car crashed. She died, too. I was only nine. Resilient, like kids are. Still, I took it pretty hard. His death more than hers, for some reason. Because I hated him. Because I loved him. He was handicapped, I was gifted, total opposites—yet hardly any difference.]

Bo's agitation is increasing as layers of meaning, onion-skin fashion, are exposed, hisbrows furrowing, lower lip protruding, then turning inside out, eyes unfixed in a sightless-seeming gaze.

This part talks 'bout "IT," the disease, what's got everyone so ascared. You can catch it by doin' nasty things with 'fectious people what aren't too nice. 'Cept you can catch it by doin' good things, too. That's how's come, no matter what, you gotta take them tests. Then be extra-special careful, in between, like Q is.

[Bo is getting up the gumption to ask me his standard questions, so I can set him straight. I used to let him read those rags and believe whatever. But just like Davy, Bo thinks everything in print is the gospel truth. I could tell Davy "the sky is green today" and he'd figure out I was joshin' 'im. But if I wrote it down "the sky is green today" and showed him the paper, he'd be up on the roof in a flash to check it out.]

Bo looks back and forth between his comic book and Q. Q nods. Excitedly, Bo attempts to stand, but his seatbelt restrains him. Fumbling with its buckle, he unfastens it and ambles across the aisle.

"What's up, Bo?"

"God and all o' His Angels." He sits beside his pal and fondly grins. "Did you see them nice ladies explainin' these words, Q? They's real nice, and knowed my comics is all 'bout you on account o' you bein' f-f-famous. I give 'em a look, 'cept not at this pi'ture here. It's naughty. See? It shows..."

"I can see what it shows, Bo."

"Well. I 's wonderin', you know, why? I mean, how's come nobody gots on any clothes?"

"Don't you mean, why am I inspecting them?" Bo traps his lower lip between his teeth and nods. "Have you ever seen me doing anything like that, Bo?"

Bo shakes his head 'no.' Q commandeers the comic book and scans its racy text.

[This takes "Mister Cherry Picker" a bit too literally. Bubblegum tune:

She's got her lolli, Pop
cum suck 'er
fruity flavor
uninfected
You can lick and chew and swallow
without worrying
look
no pit
A pit-less cherry, Mister Cherry Picker
stick 'er
split 'er
fuck 'er
part 'er dimpled knees
and pick 'er puckered pocket


They tried to ban that song in twelve states and sixteen countries as "lewd and unsuitable," missing
like this drivelthe lyrics' point. Sold like Sure-Shield Condoms. Prada made a fortune.]

Q moves to hand back the comic book, but pauses.

"I've asked you not to buy these spin-off rip-offs, haven't I?  How much does this trash cost?" He flips the comic over. "Fifteen Euros!?"

"And cheap at that." This comment, from Samantha is offered en route to the toilet. "Rest assured you're getting a percentage. Ta." She disappears.

Bo, meanwhile, is rifling through the pages...

ads
 illustrations
ads
trivia questions
ads
adolescent fantasies
ads
ads
ads

... searching for and finding...

"Q?"

[Once she taps a vein, you can kiss your dregs goodbye.]

"Q?"

[Struck some deal with Beelzebub, and used my blood to sign.]

"Q?"

"Yeah, Bo."

"Look. Not all o' my comics is only comics; they's this charity part, too."

"'Charity'? What, where?"

Bo refers to a photograph, at which Q blankly stares—until recognition dawns with a maelstrom's poignancy.

"Q? What's a m-m-matter?"

[Lunar, in its roundness, features solemn, sweet, otherworldly innocence—Child—afraid.]

"It's for ad-d-doption, this part is, Q. They's a child in ev'ry issue what needs a mom and dad. All you gots to do is fill this form out, then m-m-mail it in, then I guess you gots to wait till your new child comes. They's b-b-boys 'n girls, whichever, from all 'round the world."

 

ADOPT-A-CHILD
INTERNATIONAL

Meet Maya Tapia from Peru. Maya is twelve years old, has deep-brown eyes, black hair, is  one-hundred and fifty centimeters tall and weighs thirty six kilograms. She comes from a tiny village in the Andes mountains where, tragically, her mother, father, and little brother perished. Here is her story.

"My people were very happy until the Sendero Luminosa attacked our village. They wanted food and clothing, which we would have given to them willingly had they asked. Instead, they forced themselves upon us with awful brutality. All my family members were shot and killed. Had it not been for the International Forces of Anti-Terror, I, too, would be resting alongside my ancestors. I was rescued, thankfully, and though I am all alone I am grateful to be alive. Would you please help?"

Maya is one of thousands of orphaned children worldwide. We at Adopt-A-Child have chosen her to represent them all. As this month's Spokes-orphan, Maya will answer, with a personal thank-you note, each and every contribution made in her name.

You may write to her c/o Adopt-A-Child International, P.O. Box 1393, Van Nuys, California, 91426, USA

or email her @ www.adoptachildinternational.org

 

 

Samantha returns.

"Aren't we being a trifle egocentric, reading Q Comics? I should think you'd be a bit bored as the menu's solitary entrée. Q?"

"Q's upset. He s-s-seen..."

"I'm fine, Bo. May I?" Bo again surrenders his cherished comic. Q checks the inside cover. "'Prada Press'?"

"Why not? A little side-line. You can spare me the withering look; it's perfectly legitimate. And as I said before, you get your cut."

"And this?"

Q flips to the Adopt-A-Child solicitation.

"Public service. They get that free."

"Are they for real?"

"How should I know? Yes, of course. Have you heard otherwise?"

"Skip it."

Q gives the comic book back to Bo. Samantha lingers, expectantly seductive, her lavender silk blouse exposing a voluptuous V of Surg-e-Perfect breasts—capturing Bo's attention; Q's eyes glaze over, as he reclines his seat, lowering his dark glasses like a knight-errant's visor.

[No more than a hut. Earthen floor. Kid wasn't barefoot; she wore moccasins. Hand-woven. Reminded me of the slipper socks my brother and I once wore, sewn-in leather soles that allowed our feet to feel whatever we stepped on. Hers were laced and higher, almost to her knees. Smudged. Charred. Unnatural look on her moon-like face, hovering over her tiny, trembling torso. Terrified, no doubt, but eerily calmin those wall-to-wall flamesvictim-turned-to-witness, silence a blameful shriek, bodies sizzling in the embers, blistering beyond recognition. Beyond a stranger's recognition, that is, the one wearing boots with armored toes and steel-reinforced heels that blocked the feet from feeling whatever they stepped on. He who laid his weapon like an offering at the youngster's feet. She never moved. Just watched. As the man took off his emblems and exchanged them for another's, similarly dressed, ablaze and crackling in a corner, casualty of an asinine crossfire, incendiary still aglow in his cremated nooks and crannies, ribcage like a jack-o-lantern sneering at those left alive.]

"Am I dismissed?" Samantha, grown disgruntled at Q's remote disinterest, awaits his response—getting none. Bo steals another peek at the heartthrob V. "Guess so." Chin uplifted, she pointedly takes her leave, settles into her seat, unsheathes her compact p-pilot, and enters the following:

They jingle change inside their pockets
coins plus keys
they shave their faces
proposition us with tones of lower register
send us flowers
Love this symbol
(flowers expire, you see, once picked)
perchance to woo us
(flourish briefly)
to possess us
(wilt thereafter)
then discard
(our petals, once abused, having lost their fascination).

She reads her poem, tongue glued to the gloss of her pale-pink upper lip, satisfied and exasperated, wanting to seduce him and hating herself for another failed attempt, for years of failed attempts, wasted on a man who, in all that time, had taken nary a lover. Unless one considered Bo. Though few suspect their friendship is anything but platonic. Samantha included. Q's reputed bisexuality, notwithstanding—always having struck her as being straight. Stabbed her as being straight. Sunk his hetero-spike into her psyche whenever he strayed into her vicinity, giving off a scent as addictive as the opium poppy's sweat.

Miss Prada's so gosh-darn pretty I can sometimes hardly stand it. Tall, too. She's a giant nexta me. Not nexta Q, though; he's tall, also. But funny thing is, Q doesn't pay no attention when she comes and talks 'n' stuff. Q says Ms. Samantha sees life through 'er own mirrorwhat I don't un'erstand; but that's what Q says. I don't think he likes her. Q can be real unfriendly. He don't mean to be; it's only on account o' he's so lonesome. You wouldn't think someone what's got millions 'n' millions o' fans could ever be lonesome.

"Watch the birdie, Bobo." Luther freeze-frames Bo, mid-drivel, with a flash. The camera's instant-imager lights up a display. Luther designates "save;" the picture is stored. Dressed in pocket-peppered coveralls and luminescent Q-TEAM T-shirt, Luther assumes his alternate role as staff photographeraka 'stealer of souls.' "Gotcha, Bobo. See? Pilfered another piece." He turns the imager sideways, allowing Bo to look.

"Another p-p-piece o' what?"

"Your soul. Don't you know what primitives believe about taking their picture?"

"No. T-t-tell me."

Luther settles into the aisle seat nearest Bo and leans across, equipment dangling from his neck like technotronic wind chimes.

"Once upon a time..." Bo's face lights up. "...when there were 'human beings'that's what indigenous people called themselves; white-folks were the 'savages'there lived an infamous brave named 'Eat-Me-Later.'"

"That's a f-f-funny n..."

"Don't interrupt."

"I won't."

"...who was..."

"W-w-wish you'd tell me, though."

"Tell you what?"

"How 'Eat-Me-L-L-Later' got his name."

"I'm going to; relax. It was this grizzly bear's fault. There was this big ol' snaggle-toothed bear up and raided the Human Beings' camp one night when Squatting-By-The-Riverdon't askwas giving birth."

"W-w-wasn't gonna."

"Good. The bear, bein' old, was on the lookout for an easy meal, so it sneaked on up to the teepee where mom and newborn were sound asleep. Luckily, just inside the entrance flap, were two huge sacks of cornfreshly shuckedso the bear started eating there first. Ate himself into a stupor. After which, being belly-bust bloated, the big bear belched."

Luther swallows air and belches extra-loudlyto Bo's delight.

"What p-p-prob'bly woke up the mom."

"Correct. Woke 'er with a 'GASP.'"

"Oh, oh."

"Which attracted the bear, of course, who followed its nose to mom and baby. Stuck his big schnozzola under their blanket and started to sniff." Luther sniffs. "Then to snarl." Luther snarls. "And that, in turn, woke up baby."

Bo's eyes are wide as Frisbees.

"Then w-w-what?"

"The baby let loose a scream'EEEEEAT MEEEEE LAAAAATER!'that sent the ol' bear packin'; he tumbled over backwards, crawled past the flap, and ran for the hills."

Bo claps an ovation.

"I like that s-s-story, Luther."

"Good; I'm glad."

"'Cept that's not it."

"Not what?"

"What you was gonna t-t-tell me. You know, 'bout the s-s-soul? Don't you 'member?"

"I do, yes. I'm a little surprised you do. Maybe you're not as retarded as people think."

Bo's elation, like a shadow crossing the sun, abandons his face.

I am NOT retarded. My mom said so. "Slow," is all. I's always been slow, but I can learn things same as everybody else. They's just faster. But that don't mean they's smarter. Or maybe it does, but it still don't make me stupid. All my life people told me I's retarded, but it's not for-true.

"What are you blubbering about? What I say, Bobo?"

"My name's Bo, not 'Bobo.'"

"Sure, man. 'Bo.' Sorry. Was that what hurt your feelings; me calling you..."

"R-r-retarded. You said I's not as r-r-retarded as people think."

"And you're not. You missed my point. I meant you're not retarded. Besides, retarded means slow; it doesn't mean stupid. It's a musical term, a direction. In a score, it means slow down. Ask Q; he'll tell ya. It doesn't mean 'play this section stupidly.' Can you imagine Q playing keyboard and suddenly having to make the notes sound dumb?" Bo smiles. "Ask him when he wakes up, Bo. Retard means slow. You ask him. Okay?"

Luther reaches across and gives Bo's shoulder a reassuring pat, then snaps another photographthis with an antique Polaroidhands the print-out to Bo, then gathers his gear and leaves.

Bo, clamping the snapshot between his thumb and index finger, watches its slow development... yellows transforming into browns... then purples... then bluish-greens... his watercolor-ish portrait coming  g...r...a...d...u...a...l...l...y  into focus... sans spittle... cowlick sticking up, but otherwise perfectly 'normal' looking.

Just a reg'lar fella.

He jostles Q's arm.

Q fails to awaken, immersed as he is, mid-performance, in an off-color dream...

[Sitting on stage, in a tuxedo, spot-litbillows of cigarette smoke caught in its beam, a doll, a ventriloquist's dummywith black hair, huge brown eyes, and drawbridge mouthstraddling his knee, its petticoats hiding the hand that manipulates levers inside.
"She walks, she talks, she wisecracks, even poops and pees."
"Only when I'm nervous."
"Are you nervous now?"
Q lifts her bottom to check.
The dummy Vs her brow to express condemnation.
Q resettles her petticoats, maneuvering the controls.
"WOO!" The dummy reacts. "Always goosing me!"
"Quiet."
"Cannot keep his pinky from poking my schoolgirl's tuck."
"Behave."
"Not that I'm a virgin."
She wiggles.
"One more lewd remark..."
"Look, he's blushing! Wasn't him, though
sorry, Darling. Another dummy: very famous, very naughty. Sat on his face, I did, and made him tell me a pack of lies."
Sight unseen, the audience unanimously snickers...
]

...dissipating hollowly, as Q, with a slight flinch, stirs.

"You aw-w-wake, Q"

"I am now."

"Gots me a pi'ture Luther took. Wanna see?" Q dislodges his sunshades, shifting them to his forehead. Bo holds up the photograph, comparing respective features. "Looks just like me, d-d-don't it?"

['Spittin' image,' I could say, just to be sharp. Why not? Bo wouldn't get it.]

"Sure does."

[Immediately, that is. But later, when he was quiet within himself and replayed what his pal had said, wouldn't he understand he'd been insulted?]

"Do me a favor, will you , Bo?"

"Anything, Q."

"Please tell Tomes I'd like to see him pronto." Bo, remembering this time to unfasten his seat belt, scrambles to his feet. "Bo?"

"Huh?"

"Would you leave your comic book here?" With a genuine twinge of reluctance, Bo complies. "One more thing before you go, Bo."

"Yeah?"

"Make sure we have some privacy."

 

Tomes, in a room with three walls, could constitute the fourth. Tomes and inanimate objects share a common trait; hours can pass and the man will scarcely move a muscle—Buckingham Guards, by comparison, seeming like spastics. Even Tomes' respiration is indiscernible—save for the subtle dilation of his wing-nut nostrils. For all intents and purposes, the bodyguard is mute. Or monosyllabic whenever speech is required. Professional, in every aspect of demeanor, Tomes is solid, totally reliable, and understatedly lethal. His presence alone serves as a warning; venture too close to his charge, exit disabled.

"Q w-w-wants you should go and see him in p-p-private."

Tomes gots muscles on his muscles, I'll say. Once I seen 'im in his un'ershirtwhat was unusual on account o' he always wears a coat 'n' tie, even on the island, what's hot and muggy mostlyand his biceps is gigantic, with scary tattoos.

Samantha adds her own thoughts, entered in her p-pilot's designated "journal."

Men who gouge their phantasies
with ink-spent ballpoint pens
on lavatory stalls
crude inscriptions
documenting impotence

 

Meanwhile, Q reviews the man he has summoned:

[You want somethinggood, bad; it doesn't matter; people want things. How you go about getting what you want determines what you've learned. About doing things yourself, or doing things by proxy. Tomes is a good example. I needed a bodyguard. Someone topnotch. He came recommended. I was to give him a tryout, then decide. Last year, in Munich, Tomes disarmed—almost literally—some fanatic who jumped onstage with a hand grenade in his fist. Never got the pin pulled; that's how fast Tomes reacted. He's a pro. He's also, maybe, a tool for getting what I want.]

Tomes, without a word, assumes the seat beside his employer.

[Doesn't ask questions. Like in the military, Tomes follows orders. I haven't tested it, but I think, if I gave the word, he'd kill on my behalf. Weird feeling, wielding such authority; 'do it because I say so.'  'Yes, sir.' Job gets done.]

Tomes waits impassively, his bulging coat sleeves, sphinx-like, planted on either chair arm.

[Anything I want. Much like a whore. Been with a whore once. Twice. Twenty times, I forget. In Tijuana.
"Come with me, my name is Arabian..."
...with whom I might have spent a thousand and one nights. Anything I wanted. I wanted plenty. I wanted out. Or was it in? I wanted no restrictions.
"Careful, Gringo. Gently, por favor. You make it feel like nino's head when he come out. Muy painful. Por qué? Por qué? Why fuck so hard, so long, so esfuerzo? A man must rest. Siesta, Gringo. Too much fucking me estas volviendo loco
crazy in the head. Sleep, now. Sleep. Arabian stay. She spend the night. Suck my tit; is good. A little of my nino's milk is left. Drink; it help you sleep. Drink deep, then rest."

"I thought I told you 'don't call me Chiquita.' I may peel, but you're the one with the stiff banana."
Q crosses his legs, which shifts the doll-like dummy to the fore, eclipsing him as it grows, becomes adult-size, womanly in proportions. Hands, wearing kidskin gloves up to the elbows, smooth a ruffled skirt. Discovering her advantage, the dummy is quick to press it, primping, preening before an audience wickedly aware of this child-woman's charms: her shapely legs
lace stockinged, her dainty feethigh-heeled, her full-moon breastshalf-housed in a bra that makes them bulge.
"I am only twelve years old."
... her youth
a lecher's wet-dream...
"This is 'Daddy.'"
... her smile—obscenely innocent, provocatively piquant.
"I call him 'Sugar Daddy' 'cause he buys me lots of gifts."
Her lips of lacquered wood frame a tongue bizarrely real.
"Bought me this."
She hikes her petticoats to reveal a rivet & rhinestone garter, denting tender skin
plastic turned to pulchritude, doll transformed to strumpet. Slipping from Q's lap...
"Music, Maestro."
... liberation now complete, the dummy cum burlesque queen bumps and grinds.
]
 

Tomes is still waiting patiently, Q's steady, heavy breathing signifying sleep.

["Let...me...tell...you...all..." Tugging at her right-hand glove, she loosens all five digits...
"... a little story."
...and proceeds, with a slow-mo coaxing, to pulls the right glove off.
"I haven't always been a dummy."
She gives her buoyant bust a shameless squeeze.
"How else could I wrap his-nibs around my little finger? This one."
The crowd erupts with snickers at the finger she has raised.
"Ooooo, such naughty minds!"
She carries it to her mouth, inserts it indiscreetly, and slides it in and out, in and out, while uttering grunts and groans. She stops.
"I was once a child. 'Daddy's Little Girl.'"
She curtsies, removing the other glove, without ceremony.
"I had my lolli popped, however..."
She turns a sinister look toward Q, then pivots back, innocence restored—if seeming somewhat incongruous given the brassy accompaniment, sax and snare drum playing a dissolute score, her own dichotomous voice like a whiskey-throated child's—paraphrasing:
"'Which I would have given willingly, had he asked. Instead, he forced himself upon me with awful brutality. I was rescued, thankfully, and though I am all alone I am grateful to be alive. Would you please help?'"
She spreads her naked arms in an imploring gesture, then thrusts her hips
involuntarilyat the drum's insistent roll, humping, with abandon, to its arbitrary beat.
"Rehearsed, we did..."
She narrates in between spasms.
"... in the bathroom
uhwith soapsudsahthick latherootill Sugar Daddyow, that hurtsturned the bubble-bath red."
The spotlight shifts from cobalt blue to crimson.
"Please, I begged him. Stop!"
A pair of panties drops to the floor, surrounding the child-whore's feet, out of which she steps as from a pool of clotted menses.
"'No,' was Daddy's answer."
The saxophone exhorts her to discard what clothes remain: clasps unclasp, zippers unzip, buttonholes lose their buttons. Her costume clings for an instant...
... then falls in a heap...
... unveiling nothing more provocative than a lifeless marionette...
... whose disembodied voice is the dummy's last hurrah.
"So Sugar Daddy fucked his little girl from that sad day to this."
]

FASTEN SEAT BELTS

Turbulence awakens Q with a jostling start, chasing away his dream, obscuring its fleeting details, his bodyguard's close proximity invoking the present tense.

"Ah, Tomes." Q opens Bo's comic book to the Adopt-A-Child ad and passes it to the bodyguard. "I want this checked. First, I want to know if the agency's legit. Who funds it? Government, religious organization, private sector? Be discreet. Second, find out the procedure, if it turns out that she's really up for adoption. Or abduction. Legally, if you can, but bring this girl to the island by any and all means necessary."

Tomes nods, takes a double-edged knife from his pocket, and neatly scores along the centerfold, detaching the page, handing the book back to Qwho turns to face a porthole.

The aircraft climbs, its wing like a switchblade slicing through gray flannel clouds [Child], fog gray clouds [alive], mist gray clouds [alone], powder gray clouds turned to pale now brilliant blue as the turbulence subsides [Maya Tapia, her name], the sky like that of the Andes near Paratía [birthplace of remorse...] in the Western Cordillera [...and of the wind itself].

*

It is called by my people the tutukas wayra. So strong; do not face it. To speak is to have this wind fracture your jaw. It plays thief with the voice. It collapses the chest. You go deaf from its roarwhich can kill you.

The room is a simple one, plain stucco walls, wooden floor, bunk bedstwo pairsone wash stand, one chair, which the child has set facing the window. Her dress is white muslin. Her skin, juxtaposed, appears dark, as if stained by coca. It is a lustrous nut-brown, like the floor, like the chair, like a hardwooddense-grained, oiled, and polished. She sits primly, somewhat stiffly, conforming to the straight-backed support, her posture unnatural, yet her hands lie comfortably limp in her lap as she gazes at the sunset-painted mountains.

And the phuka, it too is a treacherous wind. Khakaykuy, it surrounds you. K'upakuy, hits hard! Breathes snow from its lungs, which can freeze your eyes blind. If you jump in the phuka you may never come down.

Her expression is placid, despite thoughts that long for a homeland whose peaks befriend the stars.

Chinkaripuchinku, many were buried. Some turned to ashes, but all disappeared. None left instructions; there were no last wishes. Bad luck, it was—khuya—to have been spared.

The light changes character, grows warmer in color, but the air contradicts its effect, becoming chillier. The child, feeling it, shivers, stands, crosses the bare floor on bare feet, and retrieves her shawlher llijllafrom its hook beside her bunk. Singed at the edges, one corner scorched, it is damaged but whole, nonetheless. A gift from her grandmotherfor chujcharutuchi, the hair-cutting ritualit is all she has left, save memories that linger like scars. Draping it over her shoulders, she returns to the chair.

Burnt orange streaked with pink now illumines the landscape, her young face observing, absorbing each hue. She is infant-like / aged / opaque / now translucent / both masculine / feminine / beautiful / plain, as the four walls flush deeper, as the girl-child escapes them, as the boy-child takes wing, arms outstretched, circles, soars, leaves This WorldKay Pachafor the Inner WorldUkhu Pacha, harkens to those who have gone long before—then, catching an updraft, ascendsHanan Pacha, to the Upper World past Man's concerns.

 *

Q's lenses, with the same sun's set, darken, reflecting upside down the blush-bled clouds.

"Q?"

"Yeah, Bo."

"Can I c-c-come back?"

"You are back."

"I mean, c-c-can I sit?"

"Sure."

Bo sits, looking anxious. He fidgets, flicks the Net-Portal tabsclick, click, clickset in the seatback in front of him. The monitor flasheson, off, onsubsequently, finally going blank.

"Q?"

"Uh huh."

"Q, in music? You know, like in m-m-music?"

"In music."

"Yeah, in music. What does r-r-retarded mean?"

"To slow down."

"For-true? You mean it? Is that all it m-m-means, really?"

"For-true."

Bo rests easily, his relief apparent. He grins. He massages himself like a cat, rubbing his shoulders against the upholstery.

"Q?"

"Hm?"

"I love music."

Q turns, takes off his glasses, and peersnot at, but intothe eyes of his faithful friend.

"Me, too, Bo."

 

 

END OF PART ONE