PART TWO

  • snapshot:
    waves suspended mid-lap. Aquamarine blue. White sand, hourglass-fine. Palm-treed paradise, pristine, virtually uninhabited
    everyman's fantasy.

  • snapshot:
    same scene, only cubed. Trick photography.

  • snapshot:
    same cube, now reduced to a half-inch square
    thumb and forefinger framing.

  • snapshot:
    close-up. Mouth agape. Cube dissolving like sugar on an outstretched tongue.

I take photographs; that's my main job; gofer-ing's just a hobby. I'm a fly on an elephant's ass; may annoy him, may cause his tail to swish, but I'm seldom swatted.
"Hold it / Got it."

  • snapshot:
    Samantha, in a two-piece bathing suit, exiting her cabana—caught recoiling from the camera like a virgin bride.

Eat, woman, eatruns through my brain every time I see that catwalk body. Got a pelvis shaped like Mickey-Mouse ears. Bird-cage-skinny ribs. White, where the tan leaves off, like a snowshoe hare with anemia. No wonder we Caucasians insist on the role of uebermenschconsolation for complexions like belly-up fish.

What's this, what's this?

Luther shifts his viewfinder.

An event? A metamorphosis? An imprint of evolution as it races in reverse?

  • snapshot:
    impressions on the beach, a pair of footprints, humanoid, running.

  • snapshot:
    hopping—left foot, left foot, left foot, right
    turned into a flipper—right foot, right foot, rightturned into a flipper, too.

"HEY, YOU! SAY CHEESE."

  • snapshot:
    Bo mid-turn, masked and snorkeled, mouthpiece half disgorged in an effort to obey Luther's directive.

  • snapshot:
    close-up: Bo elated, dripping wet. Likely caption: "It works; I b-b-breathed un'erwater!"

Nice fella, Bobo. Isn't nearly half as dumb as he looks. Knows how to listen. Rare gift, listening. Tried it once or twice myself, but had to give it up. Too boring. Shooting folks is better. In black and white. Do my all my 'serious' work in vintage b & w. Never lies. Has something to do with the soul—which God, don't ask me why, created colorless.

  • snapshot / snapshot:
    Q in color / Q in black and white, identical headshots, side by side.

See? The color makes him prettier. Q's not pretty. Disturbed, maybedeep-dark-secret, tortures-of-the-damned disturbed. Check out those eyes. Seen a lot of gross-you-out nastiness, they seem to say. Last time I shot similar goggles was on a commando in post-bedlam Uruguay.

  • snapshot / snapshot:
    Samantha in color / Samantha in black and white, head shots, full faced.

Interesting, aren't they? Not much difference, in her case. Grown too used to being admired. Camera LOVES her. Absolutely drop-dead-beautiful veneer, on top of veneer, on top of veneer—veneers ad nauseam. What you see is what you get, and what you get, I guarantee, won't cook your dinner. Reminds me of those butterflies sealed up in polyurethane blocks. Lovely paperweights, but not the kind o' babe you'd want in the sack. Unless she offered; right, Luther? Sour grapes.

  • snapshot / snapshot:
    Luther in color / Luther in black and white, arrested, in reflection, camera pressed to cheek.

Self-portrait. Kiss of death, if ever I've seen it. Six months max. Odd Q hasn't noticedhim being so paranoid about health. Got the dis-ease, I do, the celebrity plague, the ubiquitous ITlike some vintage horror flick made ions ago. "IT from Outer Space"—though the letters stand for Immuno Terminalis, which is Latin for "up shit's creek." Same difference. Great device for turning the tide of twenty-first century promiscuity, a la first generation AIDS. Q blames the Catholics, says the Pope cooked the whole thing up in a Vatican City lab. But, seriously folks, poking your pecker into pussy—or any other orifice that suits your fancy—these days, JUST AIN'T SAFE. Which makes for a whole lot of horny human beings runnin' 'round on this sad earth, SweetSense notwithstanding. "Normal" people yearn for the real McCoy.

*

CORPORATE HEADQUARTERS

Twelve at the conference table, apostles in pinstripe suits, cinched by ties like silk esophagi dangling groin-ward. Theirs is a meeting wherein strategies are plotted, groundwork laid. A young executive stands, campaigning for her "concept."
"Guest spot. Back-lit. In-performance impression
profiles and sweat, lots of energy, LOTS of energy. Close-ups of the audience superimposed. Then medium range, all the fans in skintight Endorphina T-shirts. Subtle, though. The focus is the energygreat time, big fun. 'Thirsty, thirsty, thirsty' inter-cut subliminally."
"Sex?"
"No sex.
He's the sex. Sync the bass guitar with muffled heartbeats. Faster. Fas..."
"The Code is about to ban all use of subliminals."
"Let me finish.
Intense score, gradually recognizable as 'our' jingle. Big chords. Huge finish. Crowd chants 'DORPH, DORPH, DORPH' with bottles and cans upraised, then, on the final note, they all shout 'Q!' He appears in silhouette
the real Q, not some hologrambleeding into focus. Zoom in tight. Isolate on his mouth as he lip-syncs 'EN-DOR-PHE-NA.' Well? Is it brilliant, or is it brilliant?"
"It's brilliant, Hilary. Just one snag."
"What; the subliminals? We don't really..."
"Not the subliminals."
"What then?"
"Q. He'll never sign. Won't do endorsements."
"Nonsense."
"It's been tried."
"We're offering a fortune."
"To a man who can buy an island with his pocket change?"
"We'll give him an award."
"Never accepts awards. Not in person, anyway."
"Humanitarian angle."
"For Endorphina? It numbs your brain."
"For The Endorphina Planetary Peace Initiative."
"We haven't got one."
"But we will have, gentlemen, we will, as soon as Q signs."

*

 

 

Scratch's Afro-Asian features are aglow with an iridescent green—his movements crisp, precise, automaton-ish via techno-repetition, expressionless, overcome as by rigor-video-mortis, a visage common to all whose waking hours are devoted to display screens and panels, a poker face, a grandmaster chess player's facade, beneath which genius flirts with ret-burn imbecility. Image emulation, 3-D graphics, systems integration, acoustics, and virtual reality are specialties brought to bear in Q's most recent project, wherein hologrammatic audio-visuals (a Q innovation) are soon to be endowed with attributes yet untried.

"What if the notes themselves create, not merely trigger, visualizations?"

"Bo-ring. Yo'all talkin'about two in-dependent processes. Sight 'n' sound operate 'in the wild,' so to speak, usin' different vocabularies. From a strictly technical viewpoint, they're mutually ex-clusive. What yo'all imaginin', if I'm hearin' you correctly, is tones whose various frequencies double as light im-pulses. Now that's achievable, in an ab-stract sort o' way, by assignin' colors to notes and their intervals, or even by transposin' 'em into geometric shapes. But that won't be-gin to produce those pictures-in-sound yo'all envisionin'. Think of it ass-backwards. Does the notation system for music con-vey, in and of itself, the actual experience of hearin' it? Granted, a musician can read a score, hear the notes in his head, but, to an un-trained person, scores amount to nothin' more melodic than parakeet droppin's on ruled paper."

"So what's the solution?"

"I suggest we re-define the problem. What do you want?"

"I want the music and the visuals to interact in a way that blitzes the audience."

"Sieg Heil, mein Führer, ve can do it!"

Scratch lifts and stiffens his arm in a Nazi salute.

"I don't mean it to sound so dictatorial."

"Well it does. Art without choice, in my humble o-pinion, is nothin' but propaganda."

"I don't do commercials."

Q glowers at Scratch, peeved at his resistance yet respectful of his skilltops in his field. Q admires that, never feels the least bit threatened by excellence alongside his own. Nor is Q ever stingy about crediting those who lend him their abilities. Scratch, Samantha, even Luther, plus the throng of fellow musicians that Q routinely consults, share the fame and fortune of their celebrated benefactor. A musician's musician is Q's reputation among his peers. He commissions the best; they work with him eagerly, confident their contributions will be remunerated generously and generously acknowledged.

"She-it, I know that. Just sounds a mite manipulative."

"As opposed to what; indulging in 'pure' self-expression? Lip service; I'm sick of it. Fans are Sunday Christians, hypocrites all."

"You mean they won't sing praise to the Great God Q all seven days? Un-forgivable!"

"Smart-ass."

Scratch turns off his monitor. The lights, and his bilious complexion, return to normal. Caricaturizing his Chinese side, he kowtows.

"So sorry, Venerable Sir."

"Okay, knock it off. I'm not talking about idolatry; I'm talking about having an effect."

Q slams his palm on a speaker for emphasis, startling himself. Scratch sits unfazed.

"'E-ffect?' Yo'all number one. Top the charts in every single category in every nook 'n' cranny of the whole wide world. Got the music market locked up tighter than a vestal virgin's diary. What more you want?"

"A year ago I would have said 'tops is fine.' Lately, though, success... I don't know, seems like a sham. I'm a dissident churning his guts out, vomiting distaste, and the world adores me for it, spends billions to be abused. I'm like penance for all their sins. They buy my tunes like indulgences, consuming them, and me, without a belch of inner qualm. Senseless, sick, perverted, and oh, so paradoxical, when I think of what I originally set out to achieve."

"Which was what?"

The question, albeit logical, catches Q off guard. He knows the answer, has always known it on a level left unstated, skulking in silence, craving articulation.

"Revenge."

"'Re-venge'? What for?" Q has said enough—too much; the black and blue tattoo below his eye becomes an understated reprimand. Scratch is quick to recognize the conversation is over. "Lets work this out tomorrow. Yo'all look exhausted. I got your storyboard and lead sheets—enough to get me started. I'll come up with somethin'; don' yo'all worry. Shock 'em from their shorts, I guar-antee."

Rewinding a score of cartridges, Scratch checks his log, his dials, resets his control board, then tactfully takes his leave.

Q remains behind, lost in contemplation, middle finger toying with an instrument-panel lever, overhead lights of the booth alternating dim / bright / bright / dim, soundproof walls sustaining a tomblike serenity, a womblike calm, shielding him from pressures rampant in the outside world, while enclosing him with memories—one in particular:

[Must have been in preschool. Plaster-of-Paris hand. Mine. Lasting impression. "How long will it keep, teacher?" "Forever and a day"  Shortly after which my palm-print cast got smashed. "Mom broke it." "How, son?" "On purpose." "No, she wouldn't do that." But, she did. Because I came home unexpectedly. To surprise her. To show her what I'd made that morning in class. Painted blue. Boys are blue, girls are pink. She was pink, without a doubt, upstairs, her music on, practicing. Didn't see me watching as she jounced her '48s.' Mammoth were her boobs. You'd think I would've remembered how they must have cushioned, tasted, smelled. Couldn't though, as she put them through their paces. First the right one, pointing at the nippleits cue to shake. Then the left one. I giggled. Thought it was funny. She whirled around and screamed, "You filthy little peeping-Tom!" Grabbed my arm and sent my work-of-art flying. THWACK, it hit the wall. Shattered to smithereens. Gone forever and a daymy prototype for future broken promises. She hugged me, then, all apologetic. Smothered me with those monumental showgirl tits.
Years later, when she lay in her coffin
born again before dying, decked out in a scapularI thought about her breasts
, protected, front to back, from
a filthy little Peeping-Tom with his palm-print cast in plaster.]

Bright / dim / dim / bright, Q controlling the lever, finally dims the room to blackness, activates HOLOGRAM (inadvertently), and regards:

himself in the flesh

with

himself in facsimile    

Q in the sound booth

and

Q out on stage

Q latter

confronting

Q former

face forward—pan—profile—pan—back view—pan—profile—pan—face again forward
(full circle complete)

close-ups:

eyebrows removed

versus

eyebrows abundant

temples denuded

versus

hairline in tact

features eccentric

versus

looks rather common

lips cruelly crooked

versus

smile slightly bent

nose like a hawk's beak

versus

aquiline nostrils

cheeks midnight bluish

versus

clean-shaven chin

hair styled in ringlets

versus

no-nonsense crew cut    

Caucasoid

versus

distinctly white-bread

tattooed

versus

face left unblemished

when disguise becomes permanent
nature confounded
artifice factual
false-front sincere,
who is to separate
truth from deception
charge the impostor
with peddling veneer?

Q "A" clicks    

ANIMATION 

   Q "B" responds

     

virtues

vices

intelligent

gullible

talented

vain

humane

misanthropic

kindly

sarcastic

Who hollered 'human rights"?

We did

I ran

We lopped off their right limbs and ears

The Gung-Hos did

Obeying our orders like good little grunts

We were there to fight terrorists

There to be terrorists

         Soldiers defending the weak from...

Ourselves; we wanted their aquifers

Who?

Corporations

Name one

Endorphina

Unlikely

Confirmed

Our mission was classified

Scratch hacked some footage

Of Condor?

Its fallout

The hounds?

Have our scent

We're screwed then?

A fate well-deserved

     

Q-Present presses  

PAUSE

Q-Past freezes

"Was he a normal child?"
"Yes, of course. Well, not exactly; he could play."
"All children play."
"I mean, he could play music. On any instrument he touched. It truly was remarkable."
"But otherwise he was normal?"
"Well, ten fingers, ten toes. But he played, you see. The piano, initially. Relentlessly. For hours at a time, days, weeks, months, years. So he suffered, somewhat?"
"Suffered?"
"Socially."
"Ah."
"Not that he was shy. In fact, he was atypically bold, quite adult for his age. Even more advanced when it came to music. Prodigies, I guess, mature... Prematurely?"

ANECDOTE

[I was giving a Mozart recital for a group of my parents' most intimate friends. All had heard me play before, save one, implying I'd be spared the usual adulation. I hated compliments. Nobody really listened; they heard with their eyes, ogling The Freak. Except for this newcomer, a pre-born-again pal of my mom's, who sat in front, leaning forward, 'on the edge of her seat,' practically. She was a beautiful woman, dressed modestly, which made her all the more attractive. To an eleven year oldimagining elaborate underwearwho had just discovered the joys of masturbation. Gave me an erection, her sitting there so attentively. Made me so self-conscious it was hard to performwhich is to say, hard to perform hard. She saw. The bulge between my legs must have been conspicuous. And because she noticed my excitement, it grew more intense. Wet-dream fashion, I climaxed with the culminating chords. Then was too embarrassed, of course, to stand and take a bow, convinced my indiscretion was plain for all to see. She must have sensed my mortification, stepped right up, took off her shawl, and draped it over my shouldersand laplike a cape, pronouncing me "King of the Keys"my shame duly shrouded.]

"Unusual, not abnormal. Puberty is full of sexual fantasies."
"To the point of ejaculation?"
"Perhaps it was urine."

Q is laughingthe real Q. His double still sits frozenexpression unchanged. Or did it shift? Q's mirth halts. The hologram, independently, turns and smiles. Rises. Crosses to the exit. Twists the door handle. Finds it stuck or locked. Steps back to the glass that partitions sound booth from stage. And squashes a menacing grimace in front of its alter ego. Pounding with its fist, the likeness then attacks.

Q unable to stop it—the controls fail to work—flinches as his double slams against the pane, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, repeatedly, fracturing bone and cartilage, spewing spittle and blood from its furious face.

THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, in reality, prefaces Bo's urgent entry; Q's hologram is dispatched by the influx of light, while Q himself breaths heavily, leaning on the control panel, buttons, switches, and levers denting his cheek, asleep or passed out.

"Q?. Hey, Q, you snoozin'? The d-d-door got stuck again, Q. You awake?" Groggy, semi-aware, Q opens his eyes, lifts his headhis face a raw intaglio of the master control board, the glass in front of him clearno slobber, no bloodstainsthe vengeful apparition mercifully fled. "S-s-sorry. The w-w-warning light was off so's I figured you was done, and Luther told me 'fetch Q quick,' which is why I runned so fast."

For a weary moment, Q holds his face in his hands. Drugs no longer work to curb these hallucinations. Neither do they block his troublesome dreams—nightmares, more accurately, for seldom do they offer much relief. Q's on-tour physical exhaustion therefore is chronic, and growing worse in proportion to his lucrative fame: wealth affording luxury, luxury exclusivity, exclusivity isolation, isolation solitude, Q, his own worst enemy, alone within himself, an island onto an island, stranded and sequestered.

"Bo, my soul's been downloaded far too many times."

"How do you m-m-mean, Q?"

"I mean I-Me-Mine reproduced till the prototype's less than worthless."

"Luther w-w-wants you."

Q considers Bo with a sympathetic look.

"Your life's so simple. The sun comes up, it sets, day turns to night, night turns to day, you're born, you live, you die; no complications."

Bo is silent, struggling with Q's sentiment, knowing it makes sense, but failing to understand.

"Q?"

"Yeah, Bo."

"You's lonesome, huh?"

Q, again, regards his simpleminded friend... "You hit the nail right on the head, Bo."... then laughs—or cries; the soft staccato issuing from Q's throat could signify either. Reaching for Bo's shoulders, he uses them for support, hauls himself to his feet, gives his pal a heartfelt hug, prolonging it for a deep, despondent breath, then wrenching free. "So, what does Luther want?"

"They's police."

"Police? What, here? You mean, in the house!?"

"No, at the d-d-dock. Luther's got 'em covered."

"Covered! Luther? Christ, what next?"

Q barges out past Bo—who follows close behind.

Got the drop on 'em. You can bet your goddamn testicles, I do. These goons are COVERED. Don't move a muscle. Don't even squeeze your sphincters. Luther's aimin'. See this sight? See the bead ol' Luther's drawn? One small step; go ahead. Take one fuckin' step for Mankind, I'll blow your tandem balls off.
Luther's arms are shaking...
Tomes is gone.
... legs outspread...
On an errand; no a mission.
... the weapon in his hands like a water-witcher's rod...
So it's up to me.
... shaking so erratically a flinch could make him fire...
Agents, man, they're EVERYWHERE, fuckin' plainclothes agents.
... sweat escaping pores in steeped profusion...
SPIES.
... nerves a tangled knot.

One of the two intruders opens the collar of his sweat-saturated shirt.

"I SAID DON'T MOVE!"

Luther's finger quivers.

"We sure hope, for your sake, Bub, that thing's not loaded."

Luther pulls the trigger, diverting the gun barrel skyward. A tracer sears the air with a sound like ripping cloth, the recoil nearly jolting loose Luther's grip. Wild-eyed, he regains control—to discover a pair of guns now trained on him.

"FOR GOD'S SAKE DON'T SHOOT HIM! LUTHER, DROP THAT WEAPON." Q, on reaching the landing, hollers commands. "NOW."

Luther, in a panic...
What if they're assassins?
... reassumes his pose: elbows locked, taking aim...
Haven't seen a motherfuckin' badge, or InterPol card, or nothin.'

"Luther! Please, for the last time, put that down."

Q appeals to the unidentified men. The taller one deliberately, ever-so-slowly, un-pockets his credentials.

"U.S.A.B.P."

"It's fake! It's a forgery!" Luther's bead intensifies. Q walks down the ramp. "I'm tellin' you, Q, they're goons, they're hit men, they've come to..."

"No, they aren't. Look at their boat. The isignia." Q places his hands over Luther's, reassuringly, to steady them, then slides his thumb to the weapon's safety catch, engages it, pries it away. "You okay? You with, Luth?"

He pats Luther's cheek—as much to jar his wits as to say 'good job.'

"Yo."

Shivering, despite the heat, Luther at last calms down. Q turns toward the interlopers.

"Beyond your jurisdiction, aren't you fellas? Social visit?"

"Official business."

"Either way, this is private property."

"Makin' you apes TRESPASSERS."

Luther's verve, with an overwhelming itchiness, is suddenly reinstated. He scratches uncontrollably. The intruders stow their guns.

"A few quick questions, then. Routine, is all. Red tape. You know how bureaucracies are. Though it is a shame your not inviting us ashore."

The taller man waits, as if expecting Q to reconsider.

"Ask."

"Huh?"

"Your questions."

Q is neither intimidated nor all that curious, and suspects Luther is right; the Border Patrol credentials are likely a ruse.

"Fine, we'll play this formal. Seems one of your people has been making inquiries at a Peruvian adoption agency." He pauses for a reaction; Q betrays none. "For war refugees?" His eyes interrogate; Q's maintain a deadpan stare. "Nothing irregular. Well, a sizeable sum of money did change hands. Understandable, given South Americans' penchant for keeping palms greased. Certain peculiarities, however, have come to our attention." Still no response. "About your application and the information asked?"

"Such as?"

"Place of Birth, for openers. Whomever did the paperwork left that blank. In fact, whomever did the paperwork, left nearly all the spaces blank. George?" At the taller man's request, his partner produces a Photostat. "See for yourself." He leans across the prow and hands the document to Q. "An oversight, perhaps? That is your signature?"

Q peruses the form, notes the date, the disposition:

APPLICACION PARA UN ADOPTO LEGAL

ACCEPTADO, SEIS JUNIO

"So what's the problem? I believe it says 'accepted.'"

"In Peru, yes. They're a bit lax. We in the U.S.A. take pride in being thorough. And we don't like gaps." He produces another Photostat. "We'd like to help you out, but, well, we've suffered some erasures."

The Lapse Years Fiasco (or boon, for those on whom—namely everyone—intelligence had been systematically gathered). Officially blamed on a massive computer glitch (unofficially attributed to a saboteur worm—one designed to mutate faster than it could be purged) the loss of personal files, on the entire US population, was a three-year-long disaster, compounded when the Public's Right to Privacy Act won ratification—citizens finally rebelling against their government's alleged 'need to know.'

"Of course, your compliance is voluntary." He smiles. "But we, in Immigration, are sticklers for facts—not to mention obliged to those who conform. This the girl?"

He passes a 3D Pictoprint to Q, whose steadfast calm is ruffled by a twinge of concern; the child resembles not a child, but a budding adolescent.

The officer resumes.

"Cute kid. Be a shame if she had to languish in that broken down orphanage for lack of a few measly details."

The disparity between this recent image and the one portrayed in Q Comic's further widens the gap between present and past. Q's memory, albeit vivid, is hard-pressed to make the adjustment, and yet he has no doubt that the three are one and the same.

"Ain't she p-p-pretty, Q? I'll say."

Bo, who has shadowed Q to the pier, peeks past his shoulder. Q returns the Pict'.

"Interview over."

"Sorry you feel that way, Q, real sorry. Your prerogative. Had hoped you'd cooperate. More's the pity." He returns the materials to an envelope, tucks it aft, and steps behind the wheel. "George?" The shorter man fidgets with the bowline as the motor sputters. "Thanks again for your 'gracious hospitality.' Cast off, George."

"In a sec." Pen and notebook in hand, the shorter man extends them in Q's direction. "For my kids?"

"I said CAST OFF."

The launch drifts clear of the pilings, taxies into a turn, and departs with a ROAR.

Bo, despite Q's seriousness, cannot squelch a laugh—at Luther, who has turned his back, unfastened his belt, bent over, and dropped his pants, mooning the leave-taking craft with a fart of farewell. Q, likewise amused, is nonetheless worried. Tomes has not reported since emailing: "Girl found. Send 50K. Home soon."—which arrived a week ago, Sunday. Q looks out to sea. The receding launch clears the harbor, veers hard right, and quickly disappears.

"They weren't bluffing."

"Huh, Q?"

"Just thinking aloud, Bo. Luther!"

"Yo, boss."

"Come on. Let's grab some lunch."

 

 

  • snapshot:
    looking down at a jewel-like cove, pristine, secluded, stretch of baked-beige sand, patch of red-striped fabric, knees-thighs-breasts laid bare, basking, chastely blushing in the midday sun.

  • snapshot:
    fronds in foreground, flesh in background—feminine, languid, fair, an auburn mane tied back in a ponytail, one strand dangling (conduit for a bead of suspended perspiration).

  • snapshot:
    sunscreen tube dispensing slender worms on midriff, belly. Fingers poised to spread the lotion over sternum, navel, and groin.

  • snapshot:
    telescopic lens arrests an opalescent hand at a red-orange juncture—curls, half-sister to the denser hair above, glisten as with dew from an unseen source.

Samantha, altogether nude, ensconced in a canvas sling recliner, built-in roof affording shade that stops abruptly at her neck, applies a surfeit of superlative UV protection, rather dreamily, unaware of being spied upon (let alone photographed) from afar, convinced her relative seclusion guarantees privacy, only eye beholding her that of the fiery sun—ardent yet anonymous, in its infiltrating scrutiny, virile shy of viral, though its rays can likewise kill, melanomas no less fatal than ubiquitous STDs—the latter number one portal for IT and IT's symptoms. Hence SweetSense, Gunk, et. al. and rampant cults of autoeroticism. Hence untold souls like Samantha lubricating pubes, lavishing silk-soft unguent into intimate folds and flaps, conjuring up a figment, a non-contagious partner.

Old enough to be prudent, young enough to resent it, Samantha commonly opts for self-gratification—so-called "self-abuse" prior to masturbation gaining broad-base acceptance as far more socially acceptable than behaviors deemed unsafe—the exchange of bodily fluids a guest pass to necropolis. Yet, suicidal or not, intercourse still appeals, inspires risk-taking, mad extremes employed to avoid contamination, anti-retroviral coatings on latex dams, caps, and condoms seemingly easing the problem, while actually making IT worse, adept as the virus is at designing drug-resistant strains.

Fantasy, however, persists free of penalty, mind's eye visions of Q enhancing Samantha's current ministrations, one palm cupping a breast, the other glued to her long-neglected privates, fingering their dilation, fondling their aperture, triggering fibrillations at their hypertrophic hub, all the while composing a pre-orgasmic ode:

when I
with frail touch plumb
the eye of Me
my Self dissolves
becomes a We
with Thee
whose He-ness
is mine too
when I caress

when I am thirsty
We are nectar
when I hunger
We are bread
when I am overcome by longing
We seduce
fulfill
beget

commit your loving to none other,
Q,
I ask, I pray,
implore thee
others should not
could not
shall not render onto thee
the whole
that is my womanhood
your manhood
intertwined

Waves, outspread like cat paws clawing a carpet, rake the shoreline, add an ebb and flow accompaniment to Samantha's rhythmic knead. A sea breeze breathing, panting lover-like in its closeness, huffs humidity, fans the fervor in her lap about to crest, about to seep, about to climax with a gush. Her throat constricts. Her veins, protruding, signal tension on the verge of reaching sweet release, relief. A stifled outcry...

  • snapshot:
    arching like a bow to loose its arrow, buttocks lifted, knees akimbo, lower lip entrapped by teeth, the naked figure strikes a pose of solitary rapture.

What a horrible waste of thoroughbred pussy.

Luther, who ranks lower than unspeakable with Samantha, stows his supra-digital spy-cam and retreats.

 

 

 

Who on earth lives there!

You must be kidding.
Q, of course.

I had no idea. I knew
he owned an island
somewhere.

Well, that's it. Looks
more like a space station
than a...

Let's drop in for brunch.

Margo, you can't
"drop in" on Q. Are
you out of your brainpan?

I don't see why not.
we're the right kind
of people.

Turn this boat around.
You'll get us sunk.

Don't be ridiculous.

Margo, please! The
harbor may be mined!

YOU HAVE ENTERED PRIVATE WATERS. YOUR CRAFT IS IN JEOPARDY. PLEASE, TURN BACK.

The nerve!

I warned you. Are
you satisfied?

Where on earth did that
voice come from?

Margo, turn this thing
around or I'm jumping
overboard.

KLUNK

What was that!

The turbo quit.

Terrific!

Calm down, Prue.

I'm gonna be seasick...
Oh, God, look!

What?

Go, go, go, go, go!
They're after us!

Who's after us?

Them Look toward
the pier.
COME ON, LET'S GO!

We're not going anywhere,
unless you'd care to row.

 

Bo can hardly wait to turn the pages of his brand new comic. The mail boat brought it, Bo having fought off curiosity just long enough to reach his "jungle hideout" wherein he presently reclines on a nest of musty palm fronds, sun-visor cap flipped up like the hood of a pea-green Chevy, mesh of oversize bathing trunks exposing a bulge of scrotum, flip-flops tossed aside in favor of wiggling his toes in the shady plot of sand.

ALTA ESTO A LA PROA.

What are they saying?

Watch out!
They want us to tie
this rope to our boat.

Well, why didn't they
say so?
What are they doing?

They're going to
tow us.

In?

Away.

Away? Of all the nerve!

 

THE END

Bo giggles to himself.
This is a good one. It's all 'bout the island, the first time ever. 'Cept they drawed it wrong. It don't really look the way it looks here in the pi'tures, but it's Q's island, I'll say. And these two ladies what are named Margo—she's the bossy one—and Prue—she's the fraidy cat—is tryin' to come ashore in a fancy boat but the guards won't let 'em.
Bo rests the book on his chest and purses his lips, deep in thought.
They's no guards.
He refers to the images.
Nope. They's here, but not here.
He reviews the sequence of illustrations, checking for other errors.
Q's house don't look like this neither, not at all. This one's like bubbles. Q gots skylights lots o' places in the roof, but the walls is made o' rock. And you can't really see it from the ocean on account o' it blends in. Can't hardly see it from right on the beach.
Bo flips the pages, reviewing...

puzzles
ads
a connect-the-dots
more ads
another puzzle
a new Adopt-A-Child photo (this one of an Asian boy)

... at which Bo bluntly stares.
When I asked Q how's come he cut out a page from one of my comics he said Tomes done it. I asked why, but Q wouldn't say.
Bo pulls his feet from where he planted them, shifts to lie on his bare stomach, rubbing sand from his heels cricket-fashion as he ponders the implications.
Tomes is gone, what don't seem right, not leavin' Luther to be Q's bodyguard. Luther wants to, I'll say, and even gots a gun, what Q had to take away on account o' Luther almost shot these two police. That happened yesterday. Then this morning Q gots a email sayin' Tomes is comin' back soon—I know, on account o' I seen it—and he was bringin' back "a surprise." I been thinkin' real hard 'bout that surprise, 'bout what it is, and I think Tomes is bringin' that little girl—the one from my comics.
Bo rests his cheek on his arms, folded in front of him, and catches sight of a ladybug scaling a nearby leaf, its folded wings encased in a reddish-orange carapace.
"Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. Your house is on fire and your children will burn."

 

 

Maya

Hers is a uniform: pleated gray-wool skirt knee-length, ankle socks chalk white, saddle shoes conspicuous for their anachronistic luster, cotton blouse primly buttoned to its quaintly scalloped collar—barely visible under her shawl (a keepsake from her grandmother with which she will not part, and worn despite the airwaves writhing like parboiled snakes. Her skin, what little is exposed (hands, calves, face) is the color of coffee, albeit lightened by a dollop of stirred-in cream. Hair is black as pitch, appearing almost midnight bluish, bangs and bushy brows resplendent in their raven-like sheen, eyes large and brown, impressively calm, their understated questioning notwithstanding, on alert yet un-astonished by their tropical environs—fern, palm, and creeper drastically different from the habitat left behind, aloft, her aerie in the Andes oh so very distant. Paratía

Maya stands on the dock with a solitary suitcase (more like a carpetbag) staring straight ahead at a man, a living legend (even in Paratía, her far-flung province of Peru). Godlike / demon-like equally, he seems Upper World / Inner World combined, at ease / at odds, disconcerting in his handsome / ugly countenance.
Where it is normal to have hair, above the eyes and forehead, his is absent. Tall, is he, above the timberline. Kuntur nose. His shoulders slope like the steep-peaked home of our vicu—as. How he hurries; what is chasing him, that his steps stretch out so far?

Q approaches from the quay, his outfit casual—white silk shirt, French-sleeved, with matching drawstring trousers—gaze fixed steadily on his... Houseguest? Acquisition? Adopted daughter? Before her actual appearance, Maya was hypothetical, more of shadow than of substance, true to memory, false to hope. Now, resembling only vaguely the waif who once stood before him (surrounded by a brace of burning walls and choking smoke, the stench of human hair, skin, and bone so noxious it cauterized ones nose, the sight of carnage so intense a single glimpse made eyeballs stick, like flesh to dry ice, sensations stunned by nausea, conscience racked by guilt), her presence both relieves and renews Q's longing for absolution.

Halting at the crown of Maya's sun-cast silhouette—its shape distinctive on the pier's long procession of wooden planks—Q falters, fails to speak, prolongs, instead, an awkward moment of indecision...

... she, at whom he stares, responding in kind.
Spirits sometimes speak through paqarina. Do not listen; they are dead and therefore envious. This man listens. They tell lies.

A tad self-conscious Q turns aside to acknowledge Tomes.

"Well done."

Tomes nods. Dressed in his own appointed uniform, the bodyguard is awash in perspiration, his conventional suit and tie as out of place as Maya's Catholic-schoolgirl woolens. Both endure discomfort without complaint.

"Does she..."

Q interrupts his query, distracted by the girl's unwavering stare; she has not blinked, it seems, nor let her focus stray from his foreign yet familiar(?) features.

Alone, I am, in This World, as is he.

"Forgive me. I'm Q. I guess you're Maya. You speak English?"

"Pisititu. But I study much at school."

Her silence broken, Maya's youth is reaffirmed.

"You're how old?"

"I am thirteen, soon to be fourteen.—

Her statement, intended to underscore her maturity, accomplishes the opposite; she blushes, with the realization. Q is charmed.

"You must be... what's the word? Comida?" She looks at him, confused. "Comprende Espaniol?

"She speaks Quechua." Tomes interjects. "Seems as if her Spanish is worse than her English."

Accepting Tomes— assessment, Q carries on.

"Are you hungry?"

"Oh. No, thank you. I eat many on the plane."

Again enchanted by the youngster, Q betrays a smile—confident he to her is less recognizable than she to him.

"Siesta?"

"Si, Señor. I am much in need of sleep."

She curtsies—a politeness taught, no doubt, by the orphanage's nuns.

"By your leave?"

Q offers his arm. Maya looks nonplussed, but reaches up to take it. Together, the mismatched couple promenades "home."

 

 

  • snapshot:
    Q, an alien giant, alongside his 147cm tall ward, hand-in-arm...

*

  • viewfinder:
    crisscrossed—high-power lens—audio-video, tracking-recording—static but crystalline imagery.

"Sound is rough but this zoom is fantastic, sir. Pores; I see pockmarks! The resolution really is superb."

  • viewfinder:
    Q and Maya, obscured by a broad back stopped, now turning. Tomes, shading his eyes, scans from left-to-right, holds still, appears to zero in, squints, scowls, then gestures.

"That fuck head."
"What, Ensign?"
"Beg pardon, sir. Tomes."
"The body guard?"
"Spotted us, sir. Look."

The gesture is repeated (as played on ship's monitor), left hand grasping right wrist, right hand lifted in a fist, message "up yours."

"Edit it."
"'Edit it,' sir?"
"Cut those frames out."
"But orders are to 'docu..."
"
I give the orders aboard this vessel, Ensign."
"Aye, aye, sir."

Rewinding—stop—highlighting—segment deleted—fast-forwarding—time, date amended—replay—the footage is purged

  • viewfinder:
    Q and Maya, mid-stride—freeze-frame—fade to blackout.

*

  • snapshot / snapshot:
    close-ups—color next to black-and-white—Maya adult-like, self-confident  / Maya child-like, insecure.

Luther, enshrined in his studio, examines his most recent work.

Now here's a puzzler. Out of the blue, this orphan from Nowhere-land arrives. Tomes brought her. Thirteen going on a hundred; look at those eyes. Ancient, aren't they? Equal parts perceptive, and which way's up? Third-world refugee for sure, that's clear from her duds. But how about that gaze? Virgin? Vixen? Gape of a wanna-be nun, or glint of a future fem fatale? Q's "daughter," no less—seems he's adopted her. I've known 'im to do some weird shit, but fatherhood? Gimme a break. Q not only OWNS an island, Q IS an island. Doles out brotherly love as often as Satan passes out pardons. Daddy-dom for a Rock Star? Not on your life. Though what Q's REALLY up to, I'd rather not guess.

 

 

Brushing lithely, lightly—as do fingertips reading Braille—Maya's touch takes stock of her designated quarters, done up for her especially, which is to say "done over" per Q's instructions (a decorator having discreetly come and gone), representing a montage of curious preconceptions, anticipating what a Peruvian Indian orphan might enjoy—remarkably vibrant colors foremost of the room's peculiarities.

[They complain their colors "leave." It's because they fix their dyes with lemon juice and it isn't strong enough to weather the elements—which are severe. Solution to this problem? Wear clothing outside in.]
Remembering bits and pieces from his months, or years(?) of wandering, Q surprises himself with details he retains. [
From a time without increment, when fate was cast deliberately and literally to the Andean wind, a sort of whirlwind, retrospectively, wherein places, people, circumstances vaguely merged. Then grew detached. Free from either timeline or calendar accountability.]

First edition titles comprise the youngster's private library, from Horton Hatches an Egg to Lord of the Flies.
English, all are in English. I must try to learn more quickly. Books teach useful lessons. Few, at home, were taught to read—more often boys. Does this island house a school, I wonder?
Maya drifts from bookshelf to a giant toy chest, on top of which is perched an antique doll—limbs of porcelain, eyes of glass—one of several specimens sharing the odd interior.
Very pretty.
An amber butterfly flutters through the breeze-blown curtains.
Oh, frailita!
It alights on the doll's fair hair like a winged barrette—to which Maya speaks aloud.
"No matter where I am, frailta always find me..."
She looks at her fellow residents: a ballerina on the bureau near an orchid, an acrobat suspended by his ceiling-hung trapeze, a Little Black Sambo, a chorus line of Kewpies with frozen-custard coifs, a jack-in-the-box, a harlequin, numerous stuffed animals: pelican, hippo, aardvark, and life-size chimpanzee.
Maya, crossing her arms, gives herself a hug.
"...reminding me of home—what little there remains."
On reaching for the butterfly, she prompts its sudden flight. It rises toward a skylight, mistaking the glass for air, colliding once, twice, thrice before descending to find another escape route. The curtains once more billow, panels prized apart—through which the swallowtail exits—while Maya recommences her tactile inventory, noting the plants, tendrils everywhere, humidity adding lushness to the greenhouse-like effect.
T'ika.
Cupping a mammoth cymbidium, she gives it a sniff.
No fragrance? Sankayo blossoms also are stingy with their scent. Sad for things so beautiful to make such empty promises.
Stamens pollinate the finger she inserts, withdraws, inspects. She moseys on, nothing she encounters going un-caressed, her attention drawn to a vanity, gloss-white, with a triptych of gilt-edged mirrors—drawers below like tacit invitations to investigate their contents:

lipsticks (hues by the dozen),
rouges,
blushes,
a contact lens collection,
hair extensions,
artificial nails and lashes,
temporary tattoos, stick-on jewels, and pierce-dependent gems,
as well as earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and chokers,
photo-chrome accoutrements,
a Kiss-Glo kit,
and untold vials of essence oils replete with mix-and-match apparatus.

On a stand beside these treasures is a row of disembodied heads—dresser-dummy models—each sporting a trendy wig.

Maya sits before herself / herself / herself, each pondering / each considering / each imagining how her looks might change.
Often I have wondered how a woman handcrafts beauty. Only Paqos make such magic at home.
Beside her forearm is a stack of fashion magazines. She opens the topmost cover, traps her lower lip between off-white teeth, and gapes intently.
I have seen one such as this, right here, upon the island. She is taller than a man, if not so tall as Señor Q. She is sister to the Sirens of the River, whose song lures lovesick herders to their death, no matter they can swim.

She turns more pages, does not flip them, rather lifts and lowers each, as might a monk while reading sacred text.
This room, I am told, and all within its walls, is mine. I am to live here. Were this not to be so, I surely would not touch things.

["Anything you dislike, you can change. Just say the word. Understand? Express yourself, Maya.  Do anything you want. Wealth is not worth having, if it can't buy self-indulgence." Did I really tell her that? Slipped out. What I should have said was "wealth is not worth having period"—an argument largely wasted on those "without a pot to piss in," as dear-ol'-Dad used to phrase it.  Poverty sucks to those who endure it involuntarily.]

When I was told Señor Q had arranged to become my father, I could not believe my ears. Q the famous one, I asked? The one whose voice is heard the wide world round? Whose picture can be seen on T-shirts numbering past all counting? That Q?
The Fathers and the Sisters at the mission said, "Yes. Are you willing?"
What, in all Kay Pacha, could have made me answer "no"?

Maya finally decides it is time to shed her llijlla, the one in which she has lived since leaving Peru / since arriving at the quay, declining to take it off (even to bathe), offending mostly herself with its gamy aroma. Smoothing it out on the bed, she gingerly rolls it, carries it to the bureau and stows it inside—dislodging, in the process, an array of lingerie:

panties,
camisoles,
chemises in pastel shades of pure silk opulence,
plus training bras for her newly developed breasts.

Selecting a dainty ensemble, she proceeds to undress.

The curtains billow, part, afford a fleeting glimpse.

Oops!

Bo, outside, covers his eyes.

Again the curtains billow. The onlooker turns, feigning an avid interest in his sand-caked feet.
I shouldn't oughta. Q'd murder me, he found out what I's doin'. Not apose to track no sand inside the house, neither.
He stoops to clean his toes, sawing between each with his index finger.
Q give strict orders that Maya—that's 'er name—is not to be disturbed. Come just like I said, though. Come to live, full time, with Q and me.
 

Bo, losing balance, falls over backwards, utters a reckless grunt, then instantly freezes—horrified lest his presence be discovered by the buck naked "guest"—who has, indeed, noticed.

Stepping to the curtains (that double as a robe), Maya spies Bo crab-like, rigid, sprawled out in the garden, onto which her windows jointly look.

Craning his neck, Bo blushes a deep, red-handed pink, attempts to stammer an apology but is gagged by embarrassment, scrambles to his feet, pivots, and runs.

This one is Bo, who flies like a para pesqo. He is young inside his body. A little awkward in it, too. But I think his heart is pure as when snow first falls. Watching me undress? Eyes that take by stealth, by blindness are avenged.

Playfully Maya lets the curtains pass through palms and torso, backpedaling from the windows to regard herself—times-three—her figure somewhat boyish in topography, like a contour map compressed. Yet the bulges in her butt and breasts show promise. Bracketing her waist, she tries to make her shape more womanly. Up on tiptoe, round and round she turns—replications multiplying her discontent.

I must grow more centimeters. Much too short am I, although I have this season gained in height. By next, I must be ready. Palabranmantan, we call it when our parents find us spouses. Señor Q must make this match for me, instead. Are suitors here?

Thoughts about her likely future usher in fatigue. The flight (the excitement of it), the delay at Customs (questions, paperwork, tests, exhaustive med-exams to determine if she harbored IT, the scourge), then vaccinations, DNA chips, various probes and swabs and samples, Health Certificate finally issued (a demeaning, rude ordeal), compounded further by the boat ride and a man who took her picture while another asked (in English) what she knew of many things, until prevented, possibly spooked by Mr. Tomes (a scary creature who spoke seldom, but severely when he did), made worse by fear, or apprehension, rather, meeting 'him,' her mentor, a celebrity whose appearance at the landing shocked her numb (despite her knowing what Q looked like),  plus the unfamiliar habitat (birds, bugs, plants, unusual sounds, atypical smells, oppressive heat), and now this pipe-dream of a bedroom with its fixtures, frills, and oddities, overwhelming to a normal person, all the more to her, a poor alpaca herder's daughter from the Peruvian Andes.

Like a wind-up toy wound down, her spurt of energy spent, depleted, Maya yields to her exhaustion, mounts the vast, four-poster bed, allows its underlying gel to mold support for her anatomy, feels a comforting pulsation from its pressure-triggered coils, observes the skylight overhead admitting day's last tint of splendor as a setting sun is doused in waves unseen but not unheard, the ocean's rhythmic shush and drawl a soothing lullaby.

{Light eyes, nearly blue, a Misti awa—white alpaca—ears adorned with multi-colored thread, comes vaguely into view, against the snow, the fog, the clouds, a small wallkita round its neck as its protection from ill-health, bad luck, or danger. Phorga—she has extra toes; good omen. She is suri—a producer of the purest, finest wool. She stands apart, her hooves set firmly on a frost-encrusted outcrop, breath turned silver, on escaping widened nostrils, on confronting gusts that howl. The wind is famous—wayna q'ajcha wayra—ranting, roaring, bellowing, then transforming, recomposed as the creature—s raspy discourse:

{"Maaaaaaaaaaya"
"Is this Wind who speaks, or is it you, Alpaca?"
"Weeeeeeeeee-are-one"
The voice subsides (as gray-blue eyes engender peace), then recommences, with an air of dark foreboding.
"Bewaaaaaaaaaare, harm lurks to steal once more your joy. Evade its talons. Be not fooled by Man nor Woman. Trust your womb; it is your heart. For through your center, deep within it, truth will come as Spring to Winter. Ice inflicts no fatal wound once it has thawed."
A flurry blurs the beast of burden. Snowflakes veil its form. Its speech, inseparable from the wind, reverts to bluster.}

White on white the satin pillows merge with satin sheets, their shimmer muted in the twilight, mother-o-pearl-like, tranquil, sleek, upon which Maya, brown as a berry, deeply slumbers.

 

 

"I can't believe it! I mean, honestly, a child? An adolescent, no less? And she's legal; you've actually weighed us down with this doe-eyed dependent? What WERE you thinking? What'll we do with her? Who's going to raise her, educate her when we're on tour? Of all the reckless, irresponsible, asinine pranks you've ever pulled..."

"Are you through?"

"I certainly am not! I'm managing a business here, not some foster home for Columbian juvenile delinquents."

"She's Peruvian."

"I don't care if she's from Mars, she's a drug-zone pre-adult, and that spells Major Hassle."

"What's all this 'we' rhetoric. It's my private life."

"You haven't got one!"

Samantha folds her arms and flops into an easy chair, seething exasperation.

Q, having indulged her outburst longer than usual, will endure no more. He may have failed to consider all the details, calculate all the consequences—calculation being Samantha's stock and trade—but he is nonetheless committed. In fact, from the moment of Maya's arrival, his resolve has grown apace—reality turned to memory turned to myth having come full circle. For the first time since Paratía (and his sight-unseen desertion) Q can feel. Though 'what' he feels,' exactly, hovers undefined: a premonition, something subliminal, yet inexplicably comforting.

"Anyway, it's done. A tutor is due here Friday."

Samantha lifts a brow; surprised by this foresightfulness.

"I still don't like it. She's a  teen."

"She's only thirteen."

"Thirteen's old enough to be a jumble of hot-'n-horny hormones. She'll be cunni-dusting, shooting, maybe even screwing, before the year is out: addicted, infected, impregnated. Odds are all three."

"Since when are you an expert on childhood development?"

"Since I've had to deal with Bridgett, the past eleven months. Know what my SweetSense-junkie, sixteen-year-old kid-sister is doing? Dying at an IT hospice in the South of France."

"I didn't know."

"Save the sympathy; we aren't close—aside from her proximity to her big-sister's charge card. I simply bring it up to illustrate my point: girls at puberty, in this day and age, are preordained ass-cramps."

Despite Sam's tough exterior, inwardly she weeps. Several times, to date, she has tried to reform her sibling—last attempt the most poignant, when Bridgett's body confirmed what Bridgett's mind knew from the start, from the instant SweetSense kissed her inquisitive clitoris, crept into her bloodstream, and set off nonstop orgasms—sans alarms.
("Think of the best fuck you ever experienced, Sis. You do remember fucking, don't you? When men and women 'did' it, instead of 'contracted' IT? When the only worry was botching an abortion, popping a pill too late, or skipping a dose prescribed for some pesky STD? Those were the days, eh, when we put our faith in Clean Cards—regardless the counterfeiting—and pretended sex done safely would leave us virus-free? Well, here's the answer. A little dab 'ill do ya. Dust this powder on your pinky, transfer pinky to your twat, and slam-bam-thank-you-m'am farewell Dicks, Toms, even Harrys. Blessed Virgin Mary, we're disciples one and all.")

Unbeknownst to his manager, Q takes his leave,

Her shrill harangue abates:

"I know I sound like the heavy, but I'm thinking of all concerned. In less than a month, remember, this world tour recommences. You have to stay focused. Rest and relaxation? Fine. Plunging into parenthood with a ready-made adolescent, from a culture so archaic the Net means a tool for catching fish? Uh uh. If you won't consider us, or yourself, at least give a care for her. You can't just rip a child from her roots and plop her down on foreign soil and expect she'll grow and blossom unattended. She'll need care, constant care. From whom? Are you prepared..."

She halts—dialogue turned to monologue—aware that no one hears.

 

 

Q's contemplative path, although circuitous, leads round to Maya. At her bedroom door he pauses, listens, waits, decides to knock—if scarcely loud enough to wake her—hesitates, enters, crosses to her bedside, hovers, stoops, regards her face.

[Watched sleep, a favorite theme of Picasso, comes to mind—my guilt, her innocence, like the painter's monstrous Minotaurs 'safeguarding' purity.]

Q drags his fingers from forehead to chin, as if to rearrange his celebrated features.

[Look at that—her cheek, high-altitude ruddy, like she's blushing, senses someone stealing an illicit peek and feels ashamed. Whereas I'm the culprit here, the crass voyeur. She's blameless—is and was; I'm the mortal sinner—was and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.]

Again Q rakes his face, its twilit complexion ghostly, the guilt engraved thereon impossible to erase.

[Noncombatants all; we cut them to gory shreds...]

One more time he tugs intractable flesh. Lips, distorted momentarily, resume their brazen smirk. Altered attributes bounce back, fixed, forever fraudulent, eternally unforgivable.

[...then incinerated them. Except for what we left to desecrate the ground. Our anti-terror pretext an out and out scam. Water rights, were the issue—I found out long afterward. When has power ever told the truth to its victims or its minions?]

Beads of sweat dot Q's denuded brows and temples, rivulets following veins popped out with stress to cheekbones.

[Why this heat?]

He casts a look around—windows agape, curtains lifeless—spots the thermostat, moves to check it, halting of a sudden, as Maya subtly stirs.

[I thought she understood about the climate control.]

He decides to leave off the air conditioning, resuming his post.

[Unless she likes it hot as a goddamn greenhouse, which I doubt. She finally shed that shawl. Truth is, I know 'squat' when it comes to what she likes. Might hate it here. Might resent my having adopted her sight unseen. I'm no father figure. Sam's right; this whole damn scheme's a fiasco, an idiotic flop.]

Maya's breathing changes, speeds up, grows shallower. She begins to grind her teeth, eyelids slightly aquiver.

[Bad dream? Nightmare?]

Q looks on empathetically, tempted to awaken her.
She winces.
He winces.
She shudders, as from a chill.
His shoulders lift, in sync.
Maya suddenly gasps, sitting bolt upright!

"Hallpa hapinapak!" Eyes wide open she gapes at Q—though appears to look clear through him. Then, blinking him into focus, she is shocked; he sits too near. Aware, with a scorching flush, that she is naked, the thought occurs to hide, to cover herself, but she is loathe to take an action that is liable to cause offense. Instead, she tries to act naturally, pretending her lack of clothes is of trifling concern. "Do I snore? I am told that my sleeping is very much loud. Rosarita calls Maya 'zampoa."

Q, also inclined to make little of Maya's nudity, affects an equally bogus nonchalance—which eventually puts them both at a precedent-setting ease.

"Who's Rosarita?"

"My best friend at the orphanage."

"And 'zampoa'? Maya pantomimes holding an instrument of some sort, blowing back and forth across its top. Q guesses."Panpipes?"

"Si. I mean, yes, I believe so. Pan-pipes, pan-pipes." Amused by the multiple 'p' sound, she repeats the term, committing it to memory. "I have brought one. I will show it to you kunitan." Springing from the bed, she crosses to her luggage, rummages, fetches an ira (a six-piped zampoa), prances back, resettles, and with a genteel touch of formality presents it to Q. "A gift to the Maker of Music from the heart of my homeland."

Enchanted, Q accepts with a chivalrous bow.

"Will you give me a lesson?"

He hands back the instrument. Maya, grinning self-consciously, licks her lips and plays—haltingly, at first—then capably enough for Q to recognize the melody. She finishes.

"'K'anahushan' this song is named: 'when the alpaca lifts its tail.'"

"Bravo."

Q applauds. Maya giggles happily, then insists he take his turn.

"Now you."

Q arranges himself on the floor, crossing his long legs—Maya parked in front of him, their heads on a level. Effortlessly, the tune just played is transformed, becoming magical, mystical—the selfsame notes unembellished yet intoned with stunning expertise.

Ayarachi do not play so well as this. Is he an apu? Only tato paqo own such skill, and rarely share their secrets. Makin aysarin is barred from all outsiders.

Q modifies tempo, staying faithful to the theme but adding variationsreminded of times when circular breathing accompanied wits disposed to wander, paths inclined to deviate, treks prone to stray, his sojourn through the Andes impromptu and uncharted, his purpose, with his bearings, ceaselessly adrift. He finishes.

"How'd I do?"

Maya beams her approval, then copies his applause.

"You say 'Bravo'?"

"When a performer has done really well."

"Bravo, Señor Q!"

"Well, I'm rusty."

[Whoops. Watch that.]

"What means 'rusty.'?"

[Sharp kid.]

"I meant I need more practice."

"Oh, no. You play very much good, Señor Q."

"Watched you, is all. You're a very much good teacher."

Maya laughs.

"You make the joke. Soon I will talk gooder. I must study."

"Speaking of which, I've hired you a tutor."

"A 'tu-tor'?"

"A teacher. Should be here tomorrow."

Maya purses her lips, as if the information somehow troubles her.

Learning, I know, is important, but painful. Mestizos can make it so—nuns the worst.

"Will there be other pupils, Señor Q?"

"Afraid not."

"I alone?"

"That bothers you?"

"Will I be beaten, if I miss class or come to one late?"

"Of course not. You've been beaten?"

"Not so much as Rosarita, but I, too, have hurts." Twisting sideways, she lifts her naked bottom from the bed and points. "Mostly here."

Q, disarmed by her ingenuousness, censors an errant urge.

[Can't kids be sexy? Naked as a jay; I can't respond? No, I guess I can't. Or shouldn't. I suppose, were she my 'natural' daughter, "sexy" wouldn't apply.]

"Don't worry about beatings. No one's going to hurt you ever again. That much I can promise." Maya looks relieved. "Hungry?" She nods. "Why don't you get dressed. We'll track down dinner."

"You will stay?"

Filled with self-reproach for the swelling down his pant leg, Q resorts to mind over post-pubescent matter, though delays his departure, as requested, watching while his ward:
makes up the bed,
tucks in each corner of its counterpane military-style,
fluffs the pair of pillows and props them into place,
then waltzes to her wardrobe,
wearing not a stitch—
as nightfall overtakes the sky-light-lit interior.

"These are candles?"

Maya has discovered two, of a dozen, glass-blown oil lamps scattered around the premises, wicks protruding enticingly, white and as yet unused, the remainder occupying vanity, dresser, bureau, desk, and home entertainment console, respectively.

"Those sticks are matches."

Q refers to a bamboo flask at Maya's elbow. She extracts a chopstick-length match, strikes / ignites it, then proceeds from lamp to lamp, lighting each in turnto Q's ad-libbed accompaniment (lyrics sotto voce).

Maya Firefly
spreading flames
so bright
they do not burn
instead
illuminate the night's
ulterior
shadows

Someone knocks.

"Q? You in there? Is that you p-p-playin'? Can I c-c-come in? It's Bo."

Q gets up, strides to the door, checks its sight-lines to Maya (still au naturel), cracks it open a smidgeon and looks askance.

"You hammered?"

"S-s-sorry, Q. Chef says d-d-dinner's ready. Says I gots to fetch ya afore the food gets cold. You m-m-mad it me, Q?"

Juxtaposed to Bo's basic decency, Q feels depraved.

[Mad at myself, is more like it.]

"Tell him to hold ten minutes." He looks back at Mayain the lamplight she could be a he, so underdeveloped is her nubile form. "Dinner's waiting. Can you be ready some time soon? Say ten minutes?"

No, I must take many, many more!

She contradicts her thought and nods assent.

"Good. I'll go with Bo. We'll meet you on the terrace."

But Señor Q, I cannot come...

He slips out, shutting the door behind him.

...alone.

Maya looks with distress in her threefold mirror.

They will stare. They will turn their faces all, as they did that day at school, when Sister said, "This is Maya," to the class and everyone turned to look, everyone dressed alike except for me, "an Indian from the uplands," making my lowly status as a newcomer even worse. Now the same will happen, for I cannot dress like them, like her—the gorgeous one...

Maya flips through the fashion magazine again.

...who is next of kin to a goddess...

She tries on a chemise.

...beauty past imaging...

 Relenting, she takes it off.

... beyond all compare.

 Resigned, she once more dons her gamy uniform.

 

 

Dinner is served, a casual-formal affair, casual in that the residents arrive in varying states of dress and undress, formal in that they arrive at eight p.m. sharp—a rare example of conformity in the lifestyle of Q and his entourage, taxing, complained about often, yet strictly observed. Appreciated, too, insofar as the cuisine is exquisitely prepared by one Emerson Blakely Esquire III.

"He agreed. He said, 'come to my island and cook; I'll pay you a fortune.' I said, 'poo on your fortune.' He said, 'come to my island and play, make whatever you please, order food and delicacies from anywhere on earth.' I said, 'humph.' He said, 'one meal a day, hire your own help, place-settings fewer than ten.' I said, 'maybe.' Then he said, 'choose any dinner hour I wanted, and—guaranteed—not a soul would be late.' I said, 'deal.' Not to eight-o-three, eight-o-eight, eight-o-anything-else but precisely eight-o-clock. So where is he? Where are they—that riffraff with which he consorts? IS ANYBODY LISTENING OUT THERE? IS ANYBODY SEATED?"

Emerson's high-pitched voice alternates LOUD-soft, LOUD-soft, with the swinging kitchen doors, flapping open and closed like agitated wings.

  • surveillance
    Tomes alone, seated at a grandly set table, napkins like a gaggle of origami swans. Stoneware plates. Polished silver. Long-stemmed champagne glasses. Centerpiece: maidenhair fern with birds-of-paradise protruding. Hand-crafted bees-wax tapers, wicks aglow—droppings caught by doilies, protecting the raw silk tablecloth.

"RRRRRUDE, CRRRRRUDE, AND SOCIALLY UNACCEPTABLE, IS THIS TARDINESS."

Emerson's abject tirade echoes throughout the house.

Samantha  g l i d e s  onto the terrace, stopping abruptly.

"What's with him? I'm early."

  • surveillance
    Evening gown cut to her navel. One ear adorned with a gold cascade of chains, the other fully engulfed in curlicue auburn tresses. Wrists in cuffs, fingers ringed, nails neon polished, make-up retro-graphic (heavy and severe), eyes enlarged by add-ons (effectually feline).

Tomes is on his feet, having rushed to seat Ms. Prada, gulping almost audibly at her front / now backside V, a plunge of unclad skin exposed on either side, bosom / buttocks billowing in bifurcated splendor.

  • surveillance
    Tomes examining Tomes on his wristwatch-mounted monitor. Coat sleeves like sausage casings. Necktie noosing a neck the same circumference as his semi-bald skull. Face as pink and nondescript as an eraser.

Samantha notes the hair on her suntanned arms—standing straight up. Hurricane season. She checks the sky—cluster upon cluster of reassuring stars. Still, something is amiss, the atmosphere supercharged with static electricity, making her the first, but not the last, to feel ill-at-ease.

"EIGHT-TWELVE! THAT DOES IT. CHEF'S QUITTING. DOES ANYBODY HEAR ME? Jeffrey! Where on earth's... Oh, there you are. Check with that Bo person, will your? Ask him to tell HIM chef's quitting in two minutes flat."

The kitchen's double doors swing open—usher out Jeffrey—swing closed—who looks harried albeit immaculate in his smartly tailored whites—open and closed—young, blond, cherub-cheeked, effeminate, devoted to Emerson (if infatuated with Q)—open and closed—newly recruited as a waiter, though, officially, Q's dresser and make-up man.

  • surveillance
    Jeffrey—overhead view—en route from dining room to terrace.

  • surveillance
    silhouette—unidentified—outside dining room window.

Tomes, at shutter speed, vanishes. Jeffrey arrives.

"What's up?"

Samantha, edginess redoubled, hazards a measured guess.

"Intruder."

"Oh, my! Where's Q?"

Glamour girl turned sentinel, Samantha mans her post, peering from the torch-lit balustrade into an eerie darkness.

Stepping onto the terrace, matter-of-factly, Q pulls a frown.

"What's all the fuss?"

Jeffrey leaves to report. Samantha strives to conceal her mother-hen concern.

"Prowler on the premises—or so I gather from Tomes' untimely exit. Sneaked a peek at his watch-cam and lickety-split he went. That-a-way."

She points her thumb toward the night-enshrouded grounds, saunters to her seat, and parks her prepossessing buns, without assistance, from whence they sprang.

Jeffrey, intercepting Bo, delivers him to Emerson.

"What does he mean, 'hold.'? I've held fifteen flavor-squandering minutes already. Doesn't anybody realize that essences are lost during such delays? It's criminal. It's sinful. Inform my former employer, please, his former employee accepts no blame for the taste, or absence there of, from this, his last supper. I TRUST WHOMEVER HAS ASSEMBLED WILL ACKNOWLEDGE THE CHEF'S DISCLAIMER?"

Bo, manifestly shaken by his tête à tête with Emerson, makes his way to the terrace and sits to the left of Q—who looks amused.

"He's pissed?"

Bo nods with utter seriousness.

"Chef r-r-really let me have it, I'll say."

"Don't take it to heart, Bo. Remember, Emerson's bark is what?"

"Ww-worse than his bite."

"Right."

Samantha, feigning nonchalance, attempts to ward off trouble.

"May I suggest that we dine indoors tonight? If someone really is out there... Need I mention Munich?"

Bo, unaware of the crisis, sounds a fresh alarm.

"Who's out w-w-where?"

Concern is suddenly rampant; even Q relives The Incident:

catching sight, as he had, that night, of an overzealous fan
front and center
naked to the waist—hence seemingly unarmed
a pair of wadded-up socks the likely cause for his crotch's gross distension
[Wrong.]
chartreuse leather chaps
engraved with insignia
skull and cross-bones everywhere
doodled, embroidered, emblazoned
dreadlocks, dipped in ink, from which obsolete bottle caps dangled
["Tomes."]
breaking through the perimeter
["Tomes!"]
clambering up on stage
["TOMES!"]
reaching into his pants to extract a live grenade.

Or so its was assessed, after the fact, when the man was in custody (with two dislocated arms and a bruise for a face), Tomes having come to the rescue, Q left unscathed.

A nose breaks the plane of the terrace's gaping entryway—Jeffrey's (counting appetites: Q, Bo, Samantha, three missing—then retreats.

"Jeffrey, wait."

He reappears.

"Yes, Ms. Prada?"

"We're shifting operations; dinner in the dining room."

Jeffrey pitches forward, shoved aside by an indignant Luther—hair mussed, clothes disheveled, muttering oaths.

"Thug damned near killed me!"

Tomes enters in Luther's wake and resumes his chair without a word, secure in having dispatched his duty—Luther's hyped up version of the episode pending.

  • surveillance
    Luther—ex-"intruder"—shoulders back, head high, chest inflated—spoiling to avenge his injured pride.

"I was simply checking in. You know, seein' if soup was on—or if our resident wuss was having a snit-fit 'bout me bein' late. Got lost. Look, I even fell." Luther holds up a scraped elbow for corroboration.  "Fuckin' jungle we live in. This island is uncivilized, man. Where are the goddamn sidewalks? Anyway, there I was, all wounded and bleedin'—which wouldn't have happened period if I hadn't been rushing in the first place. And why was I rushing? Because Q has hired SOME NELLY MENU-MANIAC WHO WON'T SLING HASH PAST EIGHT, that's why." Luther ensures his voice will carry into the kitchen. "Made worse by having to grope my way in the dark—no fuckin' streetlights, either. So, finally I get back, skulking around like a snot-nosed cub scout scared o' bein' grounded, when BAM some behemoth jumps me and damn near rips my head off. Him." Luther points an accusatory finger at the bodyguard. "No warning. No questions asked. No, 'Hey, Luther, is that you?' Just grab-ass, twist, wrestle, and pull as if he's prying the cap off ketchup." He displays the marks on his neck. "See? See what he did? See what you did to me, you muscle-bound moron?" Directing his rage toward Tomes, Luther premeditates righteous retribution. "You knew it was me. It was dark, yeah, but not that dark. Lookin' for an excuse, that's all, to rough me up. Admit it."

Tomes maintains a stolid, dignified calm.

"Bears me a grudge. Don't you, Tomes? Ever since Detroit."

Tomes betrays a flinch.

"Detroit, man. Remember? The contraption?"

Luther circles the table, primed for the kill.

Samantha, like the others, is enjoying this welcome diversion—mostly from relief that a prowler does not exist, but partly because Tomes is notorious for being unflappable, and something, evidently, has rattled his nerves.

"Q got this call real late. Had to go out. Said, 'Get Tomes.' Hell, I thought it was an emergency or somethin', so I hopped to it. Didn't bother to knock. Just barged right in."

Tomes, either resigned to, or braced for disaster, holds tight his reins.

"Didn't I. Stormed the bodyguard's barracks, and what do you think I see? Tomes here, naked as sin, except for the straps and brace danglin' from his dingdong. Got the wee thing stretched, from yeah to yeah, like saltwater taffy."

First in stifled titters, then in loud guffaws, Luther's audience erupts—which serves to egg him on. He grabs his groin, taking hold of an imaginary member, yanking at it avidly, hand over fist, tying it into a slipknot, forming a lasso, then a twirling lariat, in and out of which he madly skips—all recorded / displayed on Tomes' clandestine wrist-cam.

  • surveillance
    Tomes, looking at himself, expression livid.

  • surveillance
    Emerson Blakely Esquire III, fit-to-be-tied.

"Clowns! Cretans!"

Levity, for the moment, quells with a grudge, as throats issue bogus coughs to choke off their hysterics. Luther, back to the chef, anticipates his harangue, lip-syncing: 'I have slaved away ALL DAY in that HOTHOUSE of a kitchen...' while Emerson, unaware, recites his standard tirade.

"Here I've slaved away—all day—in that hellish, hothouse of a kitchen, and the only thanks..."

The rest is drowned in a wave of reinstated laughter.

Recognizing the instigator, Emerson gives Luther's head a reprimanding cuff from behind, which sends the prankster sprawling in a pratfall disproportionate to the force—tears now streaming down cheeks, sides in stitches with unrestrained belly laughs. Emerson rolls his eyes in disgust; Luther can do no wrong.

The injured party, rising to his feet, alleges whiplash—"I'll sue!"—manifest by his sluggish, much-affected speech, chin appearing fused to the center of his collarbone. "I have witnesses. Grave bodily harm. Assault and battery, man." He shuffles, spine gone rigid, in a painstaking little arc, until face-to-face with the irate, taciturn chef. "Brute."

More outrageous mirth—only Tomes' expression is dour—greets this last assault on the apoplectic chef.

"YOU'RE ALL MAD!"

Emerson, patience at an end, beats a quick retreat.

"Come back." Luther starts to shuffle after him. "Hit and run." Then suddenly, none-too-gracefully, he topples in a heap.

Q is first to notice the collapse is not an act.

"Luth!"

  • surveillance
    On his knees, Q supports a limp, unconscious Luther, russet-color spittle leaking from his mouth.

  • surveillance
    Luther comes around, his eyes like a drunken bullfrog's.

"Whoa, feels like my bones turned to putty, man. Hoist me."

Q helps Luther to his feet, shocked by his nominal weight and rickety ribcage.

"You hurt?"

"Naw. Just woozy. Need me a Hershey's. Got one?"

"No. You're bleeding."

"Any o' you gawkers got a chocolate bar?" Luther wipes the blood with the back of a shaky hand—glances at it. "Must've bit my lip. I'm okay now." He scans the gallery of expressions surrounding him, touched and embarrassed both by their genuine concern. "Jesus Christ, what's the deal? You'd think I was Lazarus. Ever stop to think how he must've smelled?" Smiles reappear. Luther rallies. "All I need's some fuckin' dessert. WHERE'S THAT FAGGOT? HEY, EMERSON. ANY MOUSSE ON THE MENU?" He wrestles free, sways slightly, then totters to the terrace entrance, just as Maya makes her shy debut. "Guest of honor." Luther bows from the waist—somehow keeps his balance—straighten himself and offers his elbow to the new arrival. She hesitates.

This one looks not well. His limbs are like sticks.

Q gives a nod of reassurance.

Mayturapun.

Maya lets herself be led.

The earlier tension—dispelled by Luther's antics—returns with a vengeance, with a strained silence, filled with the drone of cicadas (a summer constant), as other insects skirt the torch-lit perimeter, drawn to the open flames—flirting with cremation should they yield to their bedazzlement.

Maya, wrapped in her shawl, looks intently at Samantha.

Jeffrey, poised at the threshold, once more counts heads.

"All gathered?"

Luther, smacking his lips, dons his napkin like a bib.

"Rations! Bring 'em on! Serve the slop!"

He grabs his knife and fork, business ends up, and pounds with his fists.

Q casts a silent scolding. Luther behaves.

"Yo. Sorry, man."

Emerson reappears to begin, at last, the nightly ritual.

"If I may?" He defers to Q, who, according to custom, signals consent. "Mikhuna, for our appetizer." Maya turns toward the chef. "A light broth, with papalisas, chuo, and aji." Her eyes grow wide. "Which I trust you'll find savory."

"English, man, will ya? If I'm gonna be poisoned, I want the ingredients in English."

For Luther's benefit, Emerson deigns to decode.

"Pō-tā-tōe soup."

"Thanks."

Q, again, casts Luther a look of admonition.

"Yo. Mum's the word."

Emerson continues.

"Toktochi precedes the main course of black pudding—pronounced yawal longani?" He defers this time to Maya, who, more and more amazed, responds with an awestruck nod. "Then kankachu—roast lamb—the alpaca was too stringy, with a side dish of phuti, most delicately seasoned. And to drink, an anise brandy—with which the leg of lamb was basted, a liberty I have taken to enhance its overall flavor. Comments?"

"Dessert, man. Anything edible for dessert?"

Emerson once more condescends to answer the 'uncouth clown.'

"Chocolate ice cream."

"Hallelujah, now you're talkin'. Let's eat!" Luther motions to Maya as to a co-conspirator. "Hear that, kid? We're saved."

Emerson ignores the boorish outburst—his narration at its end—collects a nod from Q, then, inclines his head toward Maya and redirects her gratitude (unspoken but evident) to his employer.

You are kind to have done this, Señor Q. My heart is very much thankful.

Q avoids her eyes, content with himself for having considered someone's welfare outside his own.

Jeffrey, circling the table, ladles out soup.

"It seems we're getting a taste of the Andes this evening. How thoughtful of you, Q. How very much unlike you."

Samantha smiles her fashion-model smile, not so much sardonic as blithely disingenuous. She sniffs at the served mikhuna, but does not hazard a taste.

"Not half bad." Luther, by comparison, grins an approving grin. "Odd tatters, though."

He fishes one out with his spoon.

"Must he do that?"

Tired of Luther's clowning, Sam appeals to Q, as the spoon becomes a catapult, loaded and aimed at her. Q accedes with an ultimatum scowl directed at Luther. The morsel goes "kerplunk," returned to Luther's bowl—in lieu of being launched at its aggravated target. Bo erupts with a giggle, then immediately regrets it.

Wished I's dead. They's all starin'. I didn't mean to laugh out loud, but Luther's funny. Wished they'd look some'eres else. Q told Chef to cook somethin' special for supper—I seen 'im do it—on account o' this is Maya's first night here. Chef done it, which is how's come the soup tastes oddgood, I mean, but different. I guess this type o' food is what Maya's used to.

"So tell us, dear. You're from Argentina?"

Whew; they's finally stopped. Now they's lookin' at Maya 'cause Miss Prada asked 'er where she's from.

 Q corrects her for the second time.

"Peru."

"I assume our guest speaks English, n'est-ce pas? Certainly she can speak for herself. You're Peruvian, then?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"'Ma'am'? How charming. Isn't she charming? And what is that you're wearing; a traditional costume?"

She's bashful, Maya is. Miss Prada's bein' nice, by askin' 'er questions, but I can tell she's nervous and don't really wanna answer.

"Looks like a uniform, to me, from the last century."

Luther, talking with his mouth full, gestures at Tomes to pass the salt. Samantha does her best to ignore his existence.

Q's watchin' real quiet. He does like that mostly—lets other people talk—on account o' he says talkin' wastes your breath.
"Don't waste your breath, Bo."
"No, I won't."
Q saves his for singin', what he only does at concerts.

Maya smiles at Luther and hazards a response.

"Is true. At school, the pupils all wear these."

Samantha's lacquered lips form a cruel contusion.

"Didn't 'Dad' cram clothes galore inside your closets?"

Maya, having only found the lingerie, looks at Q, confused.

"I did not open doors inside my room. Are clothes behind them?"

"A few."

Samantha snorts.

"'A few'! You could open a boutique, from what I saw." Defying Q's mute censure—'so she snooped; what off it(?)'—Samantha persists. "Of course women dress for women, not for men. Comprende? And, if Q—forgive me, darling—chose my wardrobe, well... I sympathize. Prep-school haute couture might do for me, as well."

Seems like Maya don't exactly un'erstand Miss Prada, but she's gettin' real upset, I'll say. She's lookin' up at Q.

"Have I done wrong to wear the old and not the new clothes you have given me?"

Q, consoling Maya physically with a hand placed over hers, glowers at Samantha—at her perfect teeth, superlative lips, high cheekbones, sculpted eyebrows, trendy make-up, stylish hairdo, flawless skin, and buoyant boobs, impeccably clad in a gown so chic it reeks of beau-monde swagger—and sums up his contempt with a single-thrust riposte.

"Traditionally, Indian people wear their beauty outside in."

 

 

What a put-down! Prada's dressed in this scorcher of an outfit, last night. Wait, I'm doing touch-ups; I can illustrate.

Luther operates controls, his gaunt features—under-lit by the monitor—comically diabolical, like Mephistopheles undernourished. Bitmaps open and fill the screen, left to right:

  • Bo in the garden, up on tip-toe

  • Un-parted curtains

  • Parted curtains, Maya visible, nude to the waist

  • Bo in retreat

  • Tomes parked at table on the terrace

  • Samantha's pin-up girl entrance

selected / centered / enlarged

  • d—colletage from collarbone down to navel

Was I lyin'? Check out that cleavage. Implants or no, those boobs are magnificent. I mean, I'd die, go straight to Hell, for one night's double-dribble. Tomesthe Mongoloid musclemanwas coming in his pants. And Bo, poor slug-head that he is, left mucous tracks with his slack-jaw ogling, making it 'almost' unanimous among us men—excluding the two 'poofters,' of course—that Eve herself could not have been created more desirably. So how come Q, Mister Sex Hound Superstar, acts as if this dish is off the menu? I mean, there's no doubt Prada wants it. From the minute I hired on—three years ago and counting—she's wagged her tail in his face like a bitch in heat. The longer Q ignores her, the hornier she behavesalmost like she WANTS to be rejected; saves her from performing the doggy deed. And refuses to put out for anybody elseguaranteeing 'chastity'—if a woman built like 'that' has any business being chaste (IT notwithstanding).

Luther clicks 'reduce.' The photograph retreats—realigned with others—positioned in the order each was taken.

  • Self-portrait

Shot this back in the studio post melodramatic 'swoon.' I'm documenting death masks. This one's pretty droll. Seems I spat up blood, as an appetizer, just prior to 'din-din.'  Swore I'd bitten my lip—a big fat lie—but the truth stayed put. Q would have me airborne-bye-bye in a tick—paranoid as he is, as everyone is, about contracting you-know-what—if he knew about my 'condition.'

  • Self-portrait

Here's a 'before' shot—before I knew for sure. IT whacks different people differently; that's the way it spreads. No MO apes another 'cause the virus constantly changes. Mutates. Every case is uniquenot a one un-fatal. Enough of that.

Luther closes his file of self-portraits and returns to the sequence.

  • Q with Maya as she averts her face

  • Maya with her back turned, Q leaning toward her

  • Q outstretching his hand to obscure the camera's viewfinder

Luther isolates the last shot, centers it, clicks "enlarge."

Great exposé, don't you think? Boy, was Q pissed. Made me promise to delete the entire chip. It wasn't the pics of him that got his goat; it was the ones of her. The kid, it seems, has a bug-a-boo when it comes to having her mug shot. Steals the soul, or some such nonsense—the usual Indian superstition. Hey, what do I know? Judging from his-nibs, the kid might be right. Ever see a more soulless creature than Q? I mean, check out that expression. If looks could kill, yours truly, would be dead already. Feel the rage? The charisma? Perfect for a disc cover. Or an e-zine interview—if he'd do one, which he won't. Won't accept awards, either. Never seen anyone so public be so private, so gun-shy when it comes to meeting the Press. Ask a personal question, Q spits in your face. Figuratively speaking.

Luther opens his Maya file, highlights all (save one)—looks at Q—clicks delete...

Satisfied?

... then selects the exception (a portrait) and positions it next to Q's.

Snagged this shot when the kid caught Bo playing Sneak-a-Peek Pete. Nice zoom close-up, eh? Isn't she Doctor Jekyll to Q's Mister Hyde? Hey, maybe that's the connection; Maya is Q, Q is Maya. Or, more likely, Q is Maya's bright-side present, Maya is Q's dark-secret past. Wonder what he looked like?

Luther uses his wireless pen to alter Q's appearance, filling in barren temples, outlining eyebrows, then, designating 'flesh-tone' to cover the Q tattoo.

*

  • computer graphic
    mug shot (of Q similarly altered)

"Artist's conception, sir. We've managed to match it with three likely candidates: one from Australia, two from back in the States."

  • computer graphic
    dissolves, replaced by a less exact visage

"That's the Aussie."

  • computer graphic
    alternating visage / mug shot / visage

  • computer graphic
    both side by side

"They're close."
"Yes, sir."
"Bio?"

  • computer graphic
    Adjacent to visage A, vital statistics appear

"What about Q's?"
"Well, as I explained, sir, we only have approximations."

  • computer graphic
    Q's stats appear

"Conflicts?"
"Eye color, for one. And we're fairly certain Q is ambidextrous."
"Anything else?"
"Negative."
"Let's see the others."

  • computer graphic
    A second look-alike Q appears on screen

  • computer graphic
    alternating, look-alike / mug shot / look-alike

  • computer graphic
    both side by side

"Twins?"
"Not identical, sir."

  • computer graphic
    Stats appear

"Q is taller?"
"By
5 full centimeters—and we're sure about these heights."
"People grow."
"That they do, sir. And this one looked promising."
"Until?"
"Check the relevant dates. This guy's dead. Killed in action."
"Where? How? Under whose command? This shows no details. If the man is an American who died serving his country, why, the goddamn fuck, don't we have facts?"
"I.F.A.T., sir."
"So?"
"Classified."
"Self-important assholes."
"If Q were tagged a
terrorist, they might reconsider."
"Skip it. Cue up Q three."
"Hey, that's funny, sir."
"Just do it."

  • computer graphic
    The third facsimile appears

  • computer graphic
    alternates with the mug shot

  • computer graphic
    shifts side-by-side

"That man's Black, for Christ's sake."
"Mulatto, sir. Just watch."

  • computer graphic
    Both turn left and halt

  • computer graphic
    profiles overlapmerging perfectly

  • computer graphic
    stats appear

"Weight, height, build, even their shoe size is identical. Plus, the file from InterPol specifies 'ambidextrous.'"
"Ah, well, that clinches it."
"Yes, sir."
"IDIOT! I'm surrounded by CRETINS! Concentrate, for now, on the Australian."
"Yes, sir."
"Who's on this?"
"Fitzpatrick, sir."
"Who else?"
"I think Walsh."
"You don't know?"
"Walsh, sir. Walsh and Fitzpatrick."
"Send me Walsh."
"Yes, sir."
"Then upgrade Q from Threat Code Orange to Terrorist Code Red."
"On what grounds, sir?"
"Grounds? Say he's arming his fucking island with weapons of mass destruction. Say anything you like, but get me I.F.A.T.'s file."
"Aye, aye, Captain."

*

  • computer graphic
    The overlapped profiles separate, pivot face-front, dissolve cum transform:

Q—left—exchanges brows,
and hair at the temples,
for Luther's drawn-in scribbles
Q—right—converts from
masculine to feminine and
ever-so-subtly shrinks,
morphing into Maya

Luther swivels scrutiny—right-left, left-right.

Sweet kid, wouldn't you say? Decent. A little precocious. On the cusp, maturation-wise—meaning on the childhood side of full-bloom adolescence. Bright, if eyes are any indication; hers shine like opals.
His, on the other hand, glow like coals in a hungry fire. Demonic, by comparison. Liable to eat 'er up. Q and sex are synonymous, which is weird, since he seldom gets-it-on. Never, in fact—which tends to put a hangnail to Prada's squandered clitoris. Jealous, she is, for sure
trouble's already started. Not that Q's a pedophile. Though one small hint that he is and the Press will chew it uplove to mix their lies with a dash of slimy slander. Adds the proper taint to Q's exalted rep.

Luther specifies "save," then purges the flanking portraits. Clicking open a file entitled "Tight-Ass," he displays another sequence:

  • A woman, in her sixties, standing at pier's end, bracketed by two suitcases and a sizeable trunk

  • Same woman—telescopic lens affording minute detail

  • Maude Croft's face, in pixels...

... changes to Maude Croft in the flesh:

not to be addressed as Maudie. "Those who feel compelled to add 'ie' or 'y' to names, either to express endearment or familiarity, show lack of proper breeding." Had Mrs. Maude Croft wished anyone to call her Maudie she would refrain from spelling her name, upon introduction, with an emphatic "M, a, u, d, silent e." Mrs. Croft is rather tall in appearance, due to her 177 centimeters of head-held-high, spine-erect, flat-chest-uplifted, and military-posture height. Her competency is unquestionable; bearing alone affirms that she knows her job. She has tutored the cr—me de la cr—me, from sons of royalty to daughters of blue-blooded heiresses, teaching at embassies, private estates, and on billionaire's yachts. Not a nursemaid, nor a babysitter, nor a nanny, is Mrs. Croft. Nor is she a scholar or a professor. "A scholar is one who pursues education, a professor is one who professes,"  whereas she is simply a teacher—in the term's purest sense, setting tasks for inquisitive minds that each may reach full potential. Neither nurturing nor maternal, Mrs. Maude Croft stands apart, her independence an example for each successive pupil. "The mind is a self-contained entity that fends for itself. Do not let the mind lean. Do not let the mind lounge. Do not let the mind grovel, whimper, or snooze. If minds were intended to laze about, the slumbering mind would have no need for dreaming dreams—therefore all minds, great and small, asleep or awake, are healthiest when engaged."

Mrs. Maude Croft is waiting for someone to transport her trunk. She can manage the luggage herself. No one has met her boat (the ferry being early), and Luther, assigned to the task, is typically late—though is on his way, as the ferry lumbers backward in retreat, engines reversed, its only disembarked passenger shading her eyes against the savage-sultry sun.

"EXCUSE ME. EXCUSE ME, YOUNG MAN. YES, YOU WITH THE CAMERA. WOULD YOU PLEASE INFORM MISTER Q, MRS. CROFT HAS ARRIVED?"

Having paused to shoot another photograph, Luther aims, zooms, and fires.

  • snapshot
    Mrs. Maude Croft: outlook wry, smile sarcastic, demeanor most-refined.

Tough bird. Got a ruler—no, a yardstick—up her straitlaced butt. How else could a dowager stand up so straight? Hawk-like vision. Spotted me a mile off. Here's a sequence I shot, labeled "Uptight Invasion."

  • snapshot
    Maya's schoolmarm saying, "Carry my portmanteau." My response, "Don't make me laugh."

  • snapshot
    Her reaction, like 'Young man, stand in the corner.' She didn't say that, but check out her expression.

  • snapshot
    Tomes, pushing a hand-truck, to deal with the trunk. I guess she mistook him, in that suit of his, for the porter. When we got to the house the old bag tried to tip him.

  • snapshot
    Samantha, in her bathrobe, hair up in curlers—in case you didn't recognize those curves from the behind. When she turned and saw me zoom in on her tits she about-faced and scrammed.

  • snapshot
    Croft again, asking, "Who was that?"
    "Q's grandma," I replied
    a quip she must've missed; never cracked a smile.

  • snapshot
    Ah, my favorite; Croft meets you-know-who. Will you look at that attempt to masquerade scorn! "WE, are not impressed," the caption ought to read. That's the Royal We, looking down her aristocratic nose at Q and his ward—thick as thieves.

"How do you do. I'm Mrs. Croft."

"Q."

Tutor and employer extend and shake hands.

"And this young lady?"

"Is Maya. Your student."

Maya politely curtsies.

"And do you, Maya, speak English?"

Q answers for her.

"She does."

Mrs. Croft makes a point of addressing the girl directly.

"Do you, Maya?"

"Yes, Ma'am. I little."

"Would you like to learn more?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Good. Mastery of language is the root of civilization, and of self-discovery. If you want to learn who you are, and then to assert yourself, words must be your tools. The broader your vocabulary, the deeper your experience. Which is not to say that eloquence alone is the litmus test for worth. Best say nothing at all, if all one knows is twaddle."

Directing a glance at Q, Mrs. Croft implies a barb.

Samantha, still wearing her terrycloth robe and ermine slippers—head tied up in a turban—lords it over the company from her perch on the staircase landing. She has composed herself—informally presentable—noted the tutor's tone, and paused mid-entrance to retaliate, in defense of her designated property.

"I wonder if our guest is fond of music."

Mrs. Croft stiffens.

"And who might you be?" Not 'Q's grandmother,' she trusts, as he, with the camera, plainly misinformed.

"I'm Samantha Prada, Q's personal manager."

"I see. Yes, I am fond of music, Miss Prada, real music."

Samantha corrects her.

"Ms. Prada."

"'Ms,' of course. I'm Mrs. M, a, u, d, silent e Croft."

Samantha veritably pours down the remaining stairs, glides to living room center, and halts a half-step too close for Mrs. Croft's standoffish comfort. Perfunctorily, she extends a halfhearted hand.

"Not a fan, I take it?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Of your host."

Their handshake is slack.

"Hardly."

"A critic, then?"

"Let us simply say a disinterested party. I have come in my capacity as a professional teacher. What Q does, ably or ignobly, is..."

"None of your concern."

"Quite right."

"My mistake. I thought I heard disdain, or, at the very least, disapproval. You're absolutely right, though, such is not your place."

Q intercedes.

"Oh, I think Mrs. Croft is entitled to her opinion. What is 'real' music—assuming mine is disqualified?"

"I researched you quite extensively prior to accepting this position."

"And?"

The tutor takes a breath to marshal her wits, as if prepared to deliver a well-rehearsed harangue, to tell this self-styled "genius," this arrogant idol, precisely what she thinks of him.

"Never have I encountered a musical talent, of such sheer brilliance, put to such an ignominious use!"

Q, with his best bad-boy smirk, offers a reply.

"I'm flattered."

  • snapshot
    Q, in profile, grinning his crooked grin.

Floored 'er! Knocked 'er down and out with a two word punch. It was like he'd said, 'You and yours, with your anal-wringing values, can kiss my outlaw ass.' Like 'If YOU think my music sucks, it must be great.' Talk about swagger. That's what Q's all about, if you ask me; pure defiance. Rock, Punk, Reggae, Rap, Hiphop, Sleaze, Byte, Virtual, Spazz, you name the form, same effect. You wanna be IN with the kids, shtup the Establishment. You wanna STAY IN with the kids, never stop shtupping.

With a "click", the monitor blinks; Q's grin goes blank.

 

 

Q sure is spendin' lots o' his spare time with Maya, I'll say. Seems like they's together always, like they's good buddies. What's makin' Q real happy; it sure is. He's happier 'an ever. I should know, 'cause him and me's BEST buddies. I mean, him and me 'are.' 'Are' is more better English, what Mrs. Croft is learnin' me. Mrs. Croft is Maya's teacher what Q brung here just for her. 'Cept when I's watchin' once, Maya come over to where I's hidin' and took my hand and made me go back in where she and her teacher was studyin'. They made me take the English lesson, too. And boy, oh, boy, that Maya is really smart! I know 'some' words she don't know, but she's learnin' 'em awful fast. I like it when she asks me what a word means—if I get it right—'cause Maya's fun. If you learn her somethin' new, it makes 'er laugh. Before, I didn't want no more lessons, no way. But studyin' stuff with Maya feels like fun. 'Cept Mrs. Croft don't like it much; me an' Maya laughin'.
"You two stop it."
"Yes, ma'am."
I try hard, only Maya gets me goin'. When one person thinks a thing is funny and that person starts to giggle, and she's sittin' right next to another person, that person giggles, too. You just can't help it.
We take lessons in the morning and the afternoon and even at night sometimes, on account o' Maya skips school to be with Q, what causes trouble. Q says Mrs. Croft don't know everything and he can give Maya lessons just as good. He takes 'er into the music studio, or maybe out for a walk, or for a boat ride, and they's gone for hours and hours, 'til it makes me worry they's 'never' comin' back .
Q gots a tan. He never had no tan afore this, on account o' he mostly kept inside—even here on the island—but now he does. Him and Maya's just about the same dark color. All over. I should know, I'll say, I seen 'em in the all-together.

 

At the shoreline, in the lap of a lagoon, a cove of intimacy, the humid late-morning atmosphere approaches 37—C, rendering bodies incapable of discriminating out from in, the damp of armpits, elbow-crooks, knee-hollows indistinguishable from the soup of tropical air in which they steep / stoop / sprawl in drowsy attitudes immune from grown-up cares, content to loll in the limbo of a dreamy post-pubescence—one feigned / one genuine:

one wearing carefree-ness like a cloak of bittersweet nostalgia, unconcerned, for now, with other-people's thoughts / words / deeds, divorced from critics, fans, promoters, sycophants, and hordes of prying eyes, removed from public life, its bravos / its stigmata—if prone to recollecting  things best left forgotten...

one wearing nothing whatsoever, apart from her innocence—or such is Q's perception of his frolicsome foster child, unaware of Maya's inaugural menses, clueless she has issued a woman's sigh, alone, enraptured by caresses self-administered, in her room, in her bath, on the beach when she slipped away one night to share her concupiscence with the confidential moon.

It frightened me. I worried that I had hurt myself because my muscles made a powerful trembling, and afterwards I was wet. It was not blood; I looked to see. I even tasted it, to be sure, because my time of month was near, but it was not blood. Which made me glad. I thought to ask my teacher, Mrs. Croft, why this thing happens, but I sensed that she would tell me it is wrong. And worse than that, I feared she would make me stop. For when I touch myself, great pleasure blossoms.

[I look at her and wish Spring were the only season. What purity! Don't remember purity, even as a boy. Seems I've been corrupt my whole self-serving life. Look at her. Makes me want to gobble her up like chocolate pudding. No spoon, just fingers. Eat her alive. Then she'd be gone. Consumed, ironically. That's the trouble with innocence; touch it, it no longer is. Which is why I won't let anyone, much less myself, lay a hand on that sweet body. I may not pass for a father but I'm no child molester, either—excluding one-night-stands with minors-in-masquerade; the things I've done! Like getting away with murder. Committed that, too.]

Sometimes pleasure visits without my fingers' invitation. I will have a thought, like how it feels when floating on the sea, my swimming teacher's arms around me; then the pleasure comes. Or how it feels at bedtime when he tucks me in with a kiss. Prickly is his chin, but his lips are very much soft. I cheat, pretending my forehead is my mouth—which makes the wetness come all by itself.

[Gets this curious look on her face, I've noticed, cocks her head at an angle and sizes me up. Usually after I've done something foolish—bellowed underwater or waddled down the beach like a Charlie Chaplin duck. Kid 's so easily amused, I can't help clowning. But the look she sometimes gets is really weird, as if our roles have interchanged; she's the jaded pop star, I'm the unspoiled kid.]

The sand is hot, intolerably hot, too hot to stand / walk / run on, as it blazes underfoot, under feet (two tandem pairs) that race from shade to sea, to plunk / plunge / douse their saut—ed soles in the aquamarine coolness, relief from torment reached with a bounding, blissful SPLASH / glide / waist-deep wade /  riptide churning up bubbles, chasing silver minnows, stirring tiny whirlpools into agitated wakes / all to the fond accompaniment of analgesic sighs—part treble / part base—sung in unison, as the couple, in the shallows, matches stride.

So tall, is he, peculiar, yet very much handsome. Except he wears a shadow across his face. His eyes, at times, will stare, while seeing nothing. A well that has no bottom, is the sadness of his moods; pebbles dropped inside disappear without an echo.

The waves are merely swellings, thick enough to curl, break, crawl leeward, less like surf / more like curdled milk, whose spill leaves a frothy moustache lining the slanted shore / licked off / now replaced / with another / and another / shells, in the undertow's trawl, doing back-flips as the ocean beats retreat / drawn to the unseen bosom of Sun's nocturnal partner.

[Eventually, I'll have to tell her why she's here. How she came to be an orphan. How a man, a teenager playing soldier, made her home a hell-on-earth. How he volunteered for mayhem to discharge his military service 'sooner'—camouflaging the fact that he was eager to 'see a little action.' Action like training films and war games turned into corpses. Like video rock-'em-sock 'em turned into butchered human beings—Maya's life incinerated, burned to a godforsaken crisp, in an operation juveniles carried out under orders from their avaricious elders. Under the usual false pretenses: patriotism, freedom, love of God and Country, all ploys to get the gullible to stand, aim, and fire—which is no excuse for us dupes who pulled the actual triggers.]

"Are you hearing me, Señor Q?"

Maya tugs his arm. Q's reverie fades.

"Hm?"

"Do you want to?"

"Do I want to what?"

"You see? Maya always knows when Señor Q is not listening. His head becomes a nest without an egg."

"Absent-minded, you mean?"

"What means 'absent-minded'?"

Q raps his forehead with his knuckles.

"Knock, knock; anybody home? Nope; gone fishing."

Maya laughs.

"You are silly. And when your ears are deaf your face looks very much dumb."

"Oh? 'Dumb,' is it?"

Q makes a playful grab for Maya's torso...

"NO! STOP!"

... lifting her under the arms...

"NO, PLEASE!"

... suspending  her over the water and starting a stutter-step turn—round and round and round—the squirmy girl's feet gaining weight with momentum / dizziness causing ocean and sky to merge / balance to waver. Orbiting body and fulcrum fall with a splash.

Maya's senses dance / alongside Q's / in a carousel of giddiness / their bottoms grounded on a sandbar / hers in front / his behind.

"That was fun."

She leans against him limply, the shallows making buoys of her outstretched legs, an errant curl of seaweed clinging to her inner thigh.

I hold my breath, like so, and feel his heavy breathing, his heartbeats, Señor Q's very much strong. Or is that thump, thump, thumping really mine? A wave has come to lift the arms wrapped around me, protecting me like a pearl in an outsized shell.

"OW!"

Maya breaks free, scrambling upright.

"What's wrong?"

"I fish! I think one bit me!"

"Where?"

She twists and searches for evidence, pawing her naked hip. Finding nothing, she pouts, then inspects the other side.

Q—and the "fish" in his lap—stays seated, tactfully submerged.

Maya inches back on tiptoe to present her upturned bottom.

"Is there a mark? You see something?"

Q dislodges the seaweed glued to her puckered groin.

"Aside from this... " He holds it up to show her, then flicks it out to sea. "... you're unscathed."

She turns to face him.

"What means 'unscathed'?"

"Unharmed, unhurt, intact, no damage done."

"Good. So, can we do it now?"

"Do what?"

"Make the castle of sand. I asked you before, but Señor Q had 'gone fishing.'"

He laughs.

"You go on ahead. Pick a spot. I'll come in a minute."

"You must pass water?"

"What?"

"Pass water. It means..."

"I know what 'pass water' means. No. Yes. So, beat it. Scram. Skedaddle."

He spanks a splash / she dodges it, flashes him an impish smile, that wades her way ashore, churning up surf with a long, mock-regal gait.

 

 

They's down on the beach when I seen 'em buildin' a sandcastle—Q and Maya was—a big one, with towers and tunnels and bridges and stairways and ev'rything. Made me wish I's down there, too, I'll say. 'Course I never asked, on account o' them bein' naked—they both was—so that's why I never. Sure looked like fun, though. I love buildin' sandcastles. Q and me once built a giant one. Bigger than theirs. Bigger an' better. But that was afore Maya come here from Peru. Things is different since she come—since she 'came,'  I mean.

 

Bo stares at sand that escapes his fist in an slender trickle, forming a pile below. It is hot out, not quite blistering, since clouds occlude the sun. There is blue in the sky, but also purple, also black—the horizon so eclipsed it appears to brood. The air, customarily humid, of a sudden feels parched, sucked dry by some unseen vacuum. Bo coughs, to relieve a pressure in his lungs, and in his ears, tries yawning, tries suctioning with his palm, but the stopped-up sense persists. From his hideout, in the ferns, he cannot see the approaching storm—though the beak of his cap, like a weathervane, points in its direction. Supporting himself on one leg, he jiggles the other, thumping at his temple. The technique, like others employed, falls short of success. Finally, he stands still—as does everything else: fronds, leaves, grass, birds, bugs, all seemingly held like an apprehensive gasp.

The edge of an onrushing thunderhead reveals itself, moving at a pace that belies the pervasive calm, advancing surreally. Gun-metal grey and Juggernaut-formidable, it rolls as on steel wool wheels, overshadowing Bo—still motionless—then exploding with a FLASH! CLAP! nose-bleed-rousing furor! Wind hits! Tree trunks arch, in an instant, bent like plastic straws—Bo's cap snatched, sent tumbling, shirt tails snap-flapping in the gale-force exhalation. FLASH! CLAP! ON-THE-SPOT DOWNPOUR! Rain slants sideways with an inundating sweep. Bo breaks into a run, overtakes his cap, halts to retrieve it, then puts on speed—FLASH! CLAP!—racing down the beach—FLASH! CLAP!—encumbered, until the dunes give way to shore, surf-packed sand affording better traction for his panic-stricken sprint, elbows pumped like pistons, mouth agape for air, the concentrated deluge—FLASH! CLAP!—causing him to squint as he dashes toward the pier, angling for the footpath—FLASH! CLAP!—mustering one last urgent spurt of velocity that delivers him home, sweet home.

*

Samantha takes a deep sniff from her inhaler—both nostrils—holds it... allows the chemical-combo to induce its full effect, then resumes her conversation—sobriquet diatribe—with her phone call's recipient (intermittent static caused by the mounting storm ).

"It's ridiculous, utterly ludicrous, the way he's behaving. Totally out of character, all kissy-face and huggy-bear."

"With his reputation? You must be joking. Q and aloof are synonymous. His image thrives on it. This lapse into bourgeois sentimentality could be the end of his career."

"That's just it, he hasn't. Not a solitary note. Nor has he worked on the new release since that brat arrived. And the tour to end all tours?"

"I've got him booked in seven cities, in seven different countries, starting this Fall. That's October first. This is what; August already? Nothing is happening—other than snakes-and-ladders with his coffee-bean tart."

"What? What? You'll have to speak up; there's a... 'Harsh'?"

Samantha chokes on the word, coughs spasmodically, interrupts her pacing to recline in a sling-backed chair—windows all around assaulted by the wind's redoubled onslaught.

"Look, this isn't about taking sides. Q's not Q, is the point I'm making. Something about this... girl, and the hold she has on him, is dulling Q's keen edge."

"No, he's acting normal."

"I said NORMAL. Which is abnormal, for him. Normally Q's abusive. You know how he is, how he loathes his fans, treats them all like shit—which only serves to magnify their devotion. Humble yourself to his Highness, he stomps on your throat."

"Don't psychoanalyze me, goddamnit! He's the one with a chip on his shoulder the size of a sequoia. It's the source of his rebel angst; just listen to his lyrics. It's the sine qua non of his reputation. Cure his hatred of authority, you reduce Q to the level of any other reasonably talented, self-indulgent, oversexed pop star."

"No, I'm not 'projecting.' Will you cut the crap!"

"What? Oh, no. No, no, no, no, NO, he's more than that. 'Sing a few songs, make a few enemies, a heap more worshippers'? Uh, uh. Q—and I have the stats to prove it—is bigger as we speak than any single personality on this entire earth. We're talking phenomenon—in the most exalted sense of that admittedly overused term. What this man does next, when he steps out on that stage—the world stage, bear in mind—will have an historical impact second to none."

Samantha takes another sniff, eases back, drops her jaw to form an 0 with her surgically sculpted lips, crosses breasts with her arms and holds this pose for a full fifteen self-gratifying seconds—during which time the hurricane gathers strength.

"Yes, I'm still here."

"High or not, if Q will answer to me, we'll be a SENSATION! "

The drugs have replaced Samantha's usual acuteness with a mellow-minded daze. She lowers her arms, letting them hang, dropping the inhaler—which somersaults onto the carpet, and rolls to a lazy stop. Whomever she has called—on her earpiece cell phone—will simply have to wait, while Bliss wends its way, like nimble-fingered nymphs, through a myriad of neurons, kneading, now massaging, her brain's mock zones of pleasure, palpable, if illusory, as the flesh-and-blood she craves / conjures / summons from her stash of make-believe scenarios / those where she plays hostess to possess both him and his / sucks his impudent pucker with erogenous, agile lips / glues her breasts to a chest no burlier than a boy's / grabs a tush so taught she barely dents it with her bayonet nails / and pleads with him to "cream my every orifice."

Irrespective the void, Samantha's loins contract, seize the phantom phallus and proceed to squeeze / gulp / squeeze / and milk the false erection to its last orgasmic drop / then linger in the throes of a (sham) post-coital rapture.

SweetSense (mixed with Cope and a dash of Gunk—sobriquet Bliss) has done its appointed job, soothed the urge, scratched the itch, satisfied, through narcotics, that which is deemed unsafe. Antigen-free, un-contagious, non-transmissible, solo sex is best—if a tad incomplete.

Dimly, Sam perceives the hurricane's fierce avowal.

*

Maya sits at an instrument panel, wide-eyed with amazement, Q on the stool beside her / Q on the soundstage out in front—his hologram no less convincing than his actual physicality, original and facsimile virtual twins.

This one is as sun-browned as is this one. Oh; both breathe!

Q manipulates dials, depresses buttons, fine-tunes the counterfeit, endowing it with attributes kin to his own, a keen hostility mimicking the performer's on-stage persona.

"Listen to this."

Q clicks 'SOUND,' selects 'AMPLIFY,' programs two syllables. Magically the clone proceeds to speak, pronouncing Maya's name in a sinister monotone.

"M-m-m-m-may-a-a-a-a-a."

"NO! Make it stop, Señor Q, please! Is bad luck—khuya. Awicho!"

Q presses 'PAUSE.' The hologram freezes.

"'A-which-a-who?"

This face I have seen. It dwells with the dead. Its voice is of theirs—naupa runa.

"I am frightened."

"I can see that." Q reaches for her shoulder / she grabs his hand en route, pinning it to the pit of her panting diaphragm. "It's just light. Look." With his other hand, he switches off the power. Instantly the image disappears. "See?" Though Maya's does not alter her terrified expression, as if, for her, the specter is somehow sustained. "Here. You do it." Q pries one hand from his, guides it to the switch, and makes her flick the hologram on / off / on / off —to no avail; Maya has averted, and steadfastly shut, her panic-stricken eyes.

{"Maaaaaaaaaaya"
"Is this Wind who speaks, or is it you, Alpaca?"
"Weeeeeeeeee-are-one"
Blue of iris, lashes laden with snowflakes, thick fur frosted, pierced ears dangling lengths of multi-colored thread, the alpaca stands on its outcrop, white against white, a blizzard forming the backdrop for its second visitation.
"You must open your eyes, for the heart is blind. Blindness locks in sorrow. Truth alone, my child, can set you free."
"No, please."
"You must." Maya turns. "Observe." Forces herself  to look.
Again Q's hologram looms but is dressed, this time, in khaki...

"No!"
... and combat boots...
"NO!"
... with helmet, upraised weapon, and camouflage-style fatigues, moving...
(despite her frantic efforts to turn the apparition off)
... as if to reconvene the gruesome scene...
(flicking the lever madly)
... sights, sounds, tastes, stenches, feelings resurrected...
(Q, with a sense of foreboding, helpless to intervene)
... carnage once committed, poised to be reenacted:

Hair burning, and clothes, and the bodies underneath them. All because of him, the scared one, and those with whom he came. Do not kill me! Breaking down our door, our house in ruins—roof and walls and floor aflame and glowing with angry embers—the scared one taking aim—Please!—but somehow failing to shoot. Instead, he counts with his eyes the scattered corpses. Three from my family, one from his, all on fire, flesh sizzling, awful screams gone mute in the holes that were once their mouths. My voice gone, as well; I scream and scream, but the sound will not come out.}

"There's nothing there, Maya. Snap out of it."

Q disconnects the panel and power source, yet Maya's horror-struck vision remains unfazed.

{"The scared one..."
"It is heeeee."
"... with tears run down his cheeks, like tracks through soot, is stooping, kneeling, holding out his weapon, laying it lengthwise at my feet, and looking more and more and more..."
"It is heeeee."
"... familiar."}

Maya breaks her trance and turns toward her 'protector.'

"The scared one. It was you?"

Guilt, like a gallows' trapdoor, opens under Q, and leaves his conscience hanging in the light of Maya's recognition.

Horrified she stands, backs away, reaches for the door, finds it stuck, yanks fiercely till it opens, and leaving it ajar rushes from the room... a shaft of daylight entering, falling on Q like a doomed Nosferatu.

*

As wind at gale force leans its sodden weight on the undefended island,
as a gull falls from the sky with dislocated wings,
as palm trees do trunk-wrenching toe touches,
as pampas grass is leveled, sage uprooted, and fern fronds frayed,
as airborne sand, like ground glass, cuts, rubs raw, erodes, scours, burnishes,
as froth from waves blown helter-skelter lathers the vacant beach,
as dunes appear to migrate, heaped like washed-ashore sea lions,
as surf, stirred into a frenzy, gnashes its rabid teeth,
as hair, bedraggled and rain-soaked, wrings its tangled locks,
as shirttails torn into tatters flap flags of warning,
as scrawny arms, legs, locked in a fierce embrace, refuse to surrender
as a cheek endures the imprint of its slender savior's bark,

Luther, eyes berserk, clings to a slender sapling.

Hang on, man. Gotta hang on. Gotta—shit. Oh, SHIT!
"HELP!"
Luther's hapless howl is drowned-out, extinguished, his muscles near exhaustion, his panic due to peak. The storm, as it did to Bo, caught him unawares. But unlike Bo, Luther had fixed—as in mainline injected—and therefore was unfit to notice the danger, much less run from it. In fact, he narrowly escaped the gust-collapsed cabana—his sanctuary, shooting gallery, and hideout from disease, from its worst effects, that is, while under a certain influence.
Not like this, man. Still have time—I mean, to ENJOY things. Drugs, my job—best goddamn gofer in the business.
"STOP BLOWING, MOTHERFUCKER!"
Goddamn wind thinks I'm litter.
"PISS OFF!"
Luther's wretched cries scarcely carry past the width of his anchor—the sapling bowed like a fishing rod struggling with a snag, its tender fronds pulled inside out by the tempest's mighty vacuum.
"HELP!"
A bloodhound baying with severed vocal chords could hardly appear more pathetic. Wind out-shouts itself, as it blusters, bullies, and prevails, its roar so overpowering all else falls silent.

*

"L-L-LET ME IN!"

Bo pounds desperately. The house is secure; Tomes has seen to it. Tomes, standing guard in the foyer, throws a bolt; the door unlocks.

Against an incredible out rush of air, Bo lunges in. Tomes immediately closes—thus, re-pressurizes—the compromised entrance.

"W-w-where's Q?"

Drenched, peppered with grit, and shivering head to foot—less from chill, more from fright—Bo blurts out the obvious.

"They's a hurricane! I seen it. Knocked me d—d-down. Hard. Blowed so strong I couldn't get up, at first; it wouldn't let me. Where's Q?"

Tomes points vaguely toward the studio. Bo starts then stops, self-conscious of his clothes and their waterlogged state. A puddle, forming at his feet, spreads out and joins his sand-clogged tracks. Prey to the bodyguard's scrutiny, Bo stands in place, strips down to his briefs, using his T-shirt  to swipe at his gritty knees.

"I'll clean more better l-l-later. Gots to find Q!"

Anxious to warn his buddy, Bo takes off running.

"Halt!"

He stops short, looks warily behind him, but Tomes is facing away, addressing someone else. Bo proceeds.

Maya, mid-stride, aborts her own urgent flight—hand dislodged from the airlock by the overbearing bodyguard.

"No one leaves. Big wind—mucho viento. Comprende?"

Resenting Tomes' interference, Maya yanks her fist from his meaty grasp.

"Of course."

"Vamanos."

His impolite dismissal, annoys her all the more. She turns to leave, to obey—but walks at a defiant, measure pace.

I do not like this one, nor do I very much trust him. Nobody, do I like or trust, from this day on.

She strolls from foyer to parlor, attempting not to hurry, then races, once out of sight, to the sanctum of her room.

They are wicked!

She enters, barricades the door with her bed—on which she flops, then shifts to a chair, then to the floor, where she sits in the dark, facing the shuttered windows, weeping without a sound. Day for night, the clouds—as seen through the skylights—cast black and blue shadows, bruising the interior with a supernatural dusk. Trembling, Maya buries her hands in her lap, hunches her shoulders, and rocks, at a woebegone tempo, to and fro—wind, like a locked-out predator, prowling the grounds outside, bumping into barriers to test their tensile strength, intermittent howls augmenting its omnipresent cry, oh, so reminiscent of its Andean brethren.

Wayna q'ajcha wayra speaks. I will not listen!

Up on her feet again—impatient, restless, furious—Maya opts to escape, but the terrace has been sealed off, remotely, the entire house secured by the conscientious bodyguard. Trapped, her pent-up rage grows more severe. Searching for an outlet, she targets a nearby doll:
rips off its clothes
twists off its head
tears it limb from limb
tosses it into a corner
repeats the bloodless mayhem
once
twice
continuously
corpses piling up
her rampage un-assuaged.
Pulling off her own clothes, Maya stands nude before her triptych of mirrors, then crosses to her vanity, jerks open a drawer, and applies the first few strokes of an emblematic make-up.

*

"Q? It's me; Bo. You okay?"

Q stares blankly, his face obscured by the shadow Bo casts from the wide open doorway. Bo approaches with caution.

He sure don't look okay.

Bo seats himself on the stool, from which Maya fled.

"Guess what, Q."

No response.

Something really bad musta happened, I'll say.

"W-w-where 's Maya?"

On mention of her name, Q visibly shrinks; Maya's loss, he fears, is irretrievable.

*

"Maya? Maya, are you in there? It is time for your lessons, dear. Maya?"

Mrs. Maude Croft puts her hand to the knob, twists, tries to enter, but the doorjamb clunks against an impediment she can see through the narrow crack.

"For goodness sake, Maya. Miss Tapia, would you kindly explain why your bed is obstructing this door? Come and move it at once, please... Young lady, did you hear what I said?"

"Go a-way."

"I most certainly shall not. Open this door."

Mrs. Croft waits impatiently; Maya ignores her, returning instead to her twofold ruminations.

Once I took a kanti from my grandmother's loom for a play-toy—I was little then—and broke it. Voices were raised. I was very much ashamed, but the spindle was un-mend-able. What could I do—the deed was done—except to ask forgiveness?

Mrs. Croft changes tone, transmits real concern.

"Is something the matter?"

This was nothing compared to the scared one and his brutal countrymen. What is breaking a tool compared to breaking lives? Except that neither one can be undone...

"Maya? Please, answer."

.. even if the scared one asked to be forgiven...

"What happened?"

... by bringing me to his home...

"Have you been to see Q? Has he done something? Has he harmed you?"

... after laying waste to mine...

Mrs. Croft becomes convinced that what she has long most feared finally has transpired.

... offering me an island, a prison, in exchange for all I knew, all I needed, all I ever loved.

*

Q, with Bo at his heels, stops short in the hallway, intercepted, his passage to the living room steadfastly blocked.

"What, pray tell, have you done to that innocent girl?" Mrs. Croft, seething with righteousness indignation, challenges like Jehovah about to pass final judgment. "Well?"

"Well what?"

"I demand an explanation for her cowering, all alone, in a barricaded room."

Mrs.Croft sure is upset, I'll say. Q'd better be careful.

"Piss off, Maudie."

Oh, oh. He's in for it now. Mrs. Croft just hates it when somebody calls her "Maudie."

Q shoves past the tutor and proceeds into the parlor, where Samantha is carelessly sprawled—napping off her high. At Q's unexpected entry she sluggishly stirs, appearing a bit flustered, as if she has been caught in some unnamed impropriety.

"You will not, sir, address me in that tone of voice."

Mrs. Croft likewise has enters, in hot pursuit of Q.

"What's happening?" Samantha, adjusting her disheveled clothing, takes a groggy peek at the two antagonists. "Who's bitching?" One eye opens and squints with irritation at the interloping teacher. "Mrs. Croft, have you no respect for a woman's boudoir?"

Mrs. Croft, at a glance, assesses Samantha's shameless state.

"Were you coherent, Ms. Prada, you would recognize this is the parlor."

Samantha, skeptical, looks around to check.

"Oh, so it is."

Q has crossed to the windows.

[Now she knows. Life can go back to 'normal,' meaning Me versus Them, lugging around my ego like so much dead weight—dead giveaway—loneliness fed by self-centeredness; no one else matters, Maya once more illusory, her welfare out of bounds, beyond what I, an exposed contract killer, could ever hope to foster, atrocity irrevocable much less forgivable, action-hero violence torching her life to soot, turning hearth and home into a god-awful crematorium. How could I presume to rectify that? With wealth? Fame? Charisma? What was I thinking? Not about her; obviously. Adopting a child out of pity is maybe commendable. Adopting a child out of self-pity warrants contempt.]

As the storm-shutters rattle, Mrs. Croft presses her suit. She will neither be avoided nor intimidated by 'Maya's attacker.'

"You will listen. Until now, I have not interfered—though I suspected, from the start, where this fatherhood ruse would lead. You have preyed upon this young girl like a wanton fiend, and, in so doing, violated a parent's most sacred trust."

Samantha, coming to her senses, seconds the tutor's charge.

"Robbed the cradle, has he? Tsk-a-..."

"YOU, keep still."

Oh, oh, now Mrs. Croft is hopping mad at Miss Prada. Both gots angry faces, though Mrs. Croft's is worse. Q's not mad at all; he's just unhappy—I think, on account o' Maya.

Tomes, responding to the hubbub, circles the room's periphery—alert, discreetly watchful, understatedly daunting.

Samantha, wits collected, challenges Mrs. Croft.

"Spell it out, Teach. What, pray tell, are you saying our dear Q has done?"

With the gathering audience (Jeffrey and Emerson have just popped in for an update about the weather), Mrs. Croft grows reticent. Her accusation is unfounded, based solely on a hunch. Her instincts, though, suggest that Q is to blame, has indeed committed a despicable act. She levels her indictment.

"He has raped her!"

All muttering, movement, extraneous activity stops. There is absolute silence—save for the wind, which continues its rampage—the household, from without, and now from within, under siege.

Q, his stare like a razor blade, severs the lie—no blood, no pain, just the sickening knowledge that something vital has being slit.

Mrs. Croft gasps, feeling the vehemence of Q's unspoken denial, recoiling, in body and mind, as if from a death threat.

"Q w-w-wouldn't." Bo's defense is spontaneous. "Not n-n-never."

Q casts Bo a heartfelt glance of appreciation—rage on hold for an instant—then confronts his accuser.

"Innocent as charged."

Mrs. Croft is tempted to believe him, so sincere is Q's disavowal, and yet she is convinced he is somehow implicated.

"Then perhaps you will explain why she is cowering in her room?"

"She's upset."

"Upset about what, is the issue."

Q lapses into silence—all those in attendance awaiting his reply, sensing, with the tutor, that something is amiss; Q's dark mood and the child's alleged anxiety, seemingly interconnected.

Above, on the landing,

dressed in her school uniform (never will I wear the scared one's bribes),
carpetbag-belongings clutched in hand (
I am leaving),
facial features altered by a make-up
trés bizarre—a second pair of eyes drawn in on her forehead (even in my sleep, I shall be vigilant),
background colors dense and arranged in clear-cut bands:
red from scalp to brows (
the blood he shed that stains my homeland),
white from brows to nostrils (
for the pure of heart he slayed),
blue from nose to chin (
the sky turned upside-down).

Maya stands determined to answer for herself.

"True, I am upset. The cause is him."

*

"Private First Class Jeremy Van Schoonhoven, Special Forces. Killed in action, sir. I.F.A.T. Parata, Peru."
"Where?"
"Peru, sir. Tagged, bagged, boxed, and shipped back home. To New York, sir. Ward of the court. Corpse unclaimed."
"No next of kin?"
"Negative, sir."
"Friends?"
"Just reads, 'corpse unclaimed.'"
"But you checked? You did check?"
"Well, he's dead, sir. Why bother?"
"'Why bother?'! You were ordered to bother, is first. Second, I'm convinced that soldier's our man."
"But..."
"Exhume it."
"Beg pardon, sir?"
"Order that body exhumed, Ensign, dug up. Get an autopsy, then a dental-work check, and sample the DNA. I guarantee it won't be Private Van Schoonhoven. It may be another soldier—in which case, we can nail him for desertion and murder."
"Beg pardon, sir, but I don't quite follow."
"Never mind. Just do it."
"Aye, aye. It could take some time, however. Our equipment is down, sir. The storm. We'll be lucky to make port."
"We have time, lots of time. Time is on
our side. Time is only running short for Buck Private Q."

*

Q, and company listen to Maya in mesmerized silence.

"I keep a memory. It is very much sad. It is about my people, my family. All of them are gone—they were slain—by a group of foreign soldiers."

[Odd word choice—"slain." There were two battalions.]

"They killed with weapons that turned the flesh to flame."

[Incendiaries. Laser-guided. Designed to kill and demoralize. Expert at both.]

Q meets Maya's gaze—wonders if she can read his thoughts / wonders if he will take responsibility.

"It was a fuck-up. Faulty intelligence. Maya's village, reportedly, was an insurrectionist's stronghold. Hit it, we were ordered. Hit it, we did."

"We never knew why."

"Bystanders never do. Collateral damage. Though ours were the only weapons anyone discharged. No resistance whatsoever. Sacrificial lambs."

"I was spared. I cannot tell you how."

"She was standing untouched when I burst in on her."

"The scared one."

"Oh, yes, I was scared. Not for fear of my own life; no one fought back. What terrified me was how easily we dispatched the entire population." At last Q looks around at the dumbstruck faces. "Not fire-power wise; our equipment, being I.F.A.T., was top-of-the-line. The ease was psychological; we killed without shame. Even when we recognized our mistake."

"But the scared one did not shoot."

Q again looks at Maya.

"The scared one didn't shoot you; true enough. But the scared one shot."

Q stands self-convicted, mortified yet defiant, guilt-racked yet contemptuous—true, he followed orders / true, he disobeyed / contributed to the massacre / balked due to conscience—blame, with his identity, left behind to burn.

I ask myself to forgive, but for him there is no pardon. However, he confessed. Therefore, I will stay—but the eyes above my eyes will watch, forever open.

*

  • snapshot
    Q

Will you look at that mug! I mean, check out Q's kisser. Looks like Adam must've looked when God said "scram." Filched it out of "surveillance"—Tomes' home-security files—as covert compensation for missin' the show. A real shocker, evidently. Seems the kid spilled the beans about Q's illustrious past. I was right on, by the way, about that deep-dark-secret, tortures-of-the-damned M.O. Think I may have even guessed that Q had seen some combat. Well, he saw some, alright. Makes sense, now; all the anger. Fucks people up, war does—even if it's 'voluntary.' Apparently, Q took part in some heavy-duty shit, then deserted, roamed around delirious for months, maybe years. Gathered that from the audio, once questions started to fly, most of 'em from Samantha. Q let 'er grill 'im. But it was clear he didn't much like it. Nobody did—everyone disappointed that Q is a 'real person', a 'genuine mortal,' a 'normal human being.' You'd think, getting a daily dose of  a "legend" would make you immune from all of the hype. Not true. Fact is we—me included—resented the notion that Q was no different from us. Eventually he clammed up, but the bag had lost its cat.

Luther snaps his fingers.

Just like "that."

*

With the gofer conspicuously missing, the scene reconvenes.

"W-w-where's Luther?"

  • surveillance
    everyone present and accounted for—Jeffrey, Emerson, Tomes, Samantha, Mrs. Maude Croft, Q, Bo, Maya—the only one unaccounted for being...

Yours truly. Nobody even cared, besides Bo—who cares about everyone, so he doesn't count. And Q, which surprised me. In retrospect, it may have been a dodge to avoid more 'true confessions.' Nonetheless it 'was' noticed, at a certain point, that I was MIA.

  • surveillance
    the group grows agitated

"Tomes, check Luther's room."

"Not there."

"You're sure?"

Tomes need not reiterate; Q has a hunch.

"Fuck that fool of a junkie. If he's alive, I swear I'll kill him."

  • surveillance
    stop action: eyebrows, all around, raised

Another surprise. Samantha knew about my needle-mania. Tomes maybe did, too. In fact most of the inner circle—excluding Q, I thought—probably had a notion. But 'fearless leader' is paranoiac when it comes to the disease. High-risk behaviors, namely mine, are on his shit list with those who 'transgress.' Why else fix off site in that worthlessly, flimsy cabana? No surveillance cameras, that's why. Out of sight, out of mind; best not flaunt my Typhoid Mary status.

Q scans those present.

"Come on, someone must have seen him."

"I s-s-seen 'im, Q. But it w-w-wasn't since breakfast."

Emerson guffaws.

"Luther at breakfast?"

"He ate a c-c-cookie."

"Never mind what he ate. Did he say anything peculiar?"

"'Bout w-w-what?"

"About dying!" Q softens his tone. "Luther's sick, Bo."

  • surveillance
    stop action: Q's hand on Bo's shoulder.

More revelations—seems he's known all along—a double-whammy shocker! Especially when you consider Q's megalomaniacal norm. A superstar's life, if anything, is hopelessly self-concerned. This sudden show of compassion had everyone floored.

Q gives Bo a comforting pat, then turns to grill the others.

"No one knew?" He peruses each face. Only Mrs. Croft's appears entirely clueless. Q, at last, relents; affixing the blame will serve little purpose. "Forget it. Let's find him."

*

Action resumed, Luther narrates events, in the order they transpire:

  • surveillance
    The search party

So off they all went, even Mrs. Croft, the old schoolmarm—who I gather put her foot in it, claimed Q fucked the kid. Wish I'd been on hand for that bit of slander. Q denied it. And he must've been convincing, 'cause the old bag tagged along—out into the 'slightly' eased-up hurricane, daisy-chain fashion, Q in the lead, everyone holding hands to keep the lightweights from flying off like kites, everyone hollering "LUTHER,  LUTHER, LUTHER" like a band o' banshees, someone finally spotting me slumped at the base of this puny shrub.

  • surveillance
    stop action: limp, and seemingly lifeless, Luther resembles a horseshoe thrown as a ringer

Action recommences.

"Luther!"

Q reaches him first. Luther stirs blearily, lifts his head, blinks with op-art eyes, sways unsteadily, then speaks as if punch-drunk.

"That you, Q?"

"Yeah, Luth. It's me."

Focusing, Luther manages a halfhearted smile.

"What kept ya?"

Survived! Do you believe it? Bore that blowhard's brunt with no more protection than a glorified twig's. 'Course I wasn't what you'd call shipshape; I took quite a beating—once that cabana collapsed and I managed to drag my geeze-zonked ass to the base of what I mistook was a decent-size tree. Here, have another look.

  • snapshot
    surveillance video—captured then transformed into digital still—as viewed in Luther's room cum studio cum convalescent ward

Skinnier than the skinflint whose sorry ass it saved—two, three days ago. The storm's long past. I'm still "recuperating." Got 'em goferin' for the gofer, which is a cushy change o' pace.

Luther scans the photos that chronicle his account.

Tomes would have my hide, if word should slip I breached security. Helped to fill in the gaps, and to pass a bit o' time. So, now what? The next tour, I reckon. Q's been working like a maniac, day, night, and day, shut up in that soundstage for going on seventy-two hours. Not unprecedented; he can knock out a disc in a week when he concentrates. He's concentrating, alright. Wants NO interruptions. With one exception—the titling—but she stays remote. Bo, I'm told, can come and go at will—but only if he's bearing news about the kid. Prada's strictly barred. No problem for her; she's back in 'er element, wheelin', dealin', and yabberin' to any and all who'll listen to some grandiose idea she has about a "Worldwide Event." Hell, I wouldn't doubt it. When its comes to staged spectaculars, that woman's tops.

Luther roots around for another memory chip, finds one, reloads his camera.

And Scratch has been summoned—a sure sign things are happening—due back this week.

He aims the lens at himself, depresses the shutter button, out-stares the flash.

  • snapshot
    self-portrait

Yikes, I look like death-warmed-over, like micro-waved puke. Got me a new assignment, by the way. Guess who wants to jeopardize her soul by having me take 'er picture? You got it; Q's ill-tempered titling—due for a make-over. Wants to preserve her former self, or so I suspect.

 

 

Chujcharutuchi—The Haircutting Ceremony

Draped in a pink satin sheet—arranged with meticulous care so that the hair, as it falls, will be caught in a cuff girding her shoulders—Maya watches Jeffrey, in reflection, as he studies "the disaster" of her crown-and-thorn cranium. Since her arrival, Maya's appearance has scarcely changed: the cosmetics in her vanity left unused (save for "the scared one" episode), the jewelry idle in its boxes, the wigs, falls untried (or, if donned out of curiosity, rejected out of practicality), Maya opting for casual sun-and-sea, i.e. skimpy wash-and-wear. Swimming daily, sunning, idling, collecting shells along the beach—interspersed with lessons, of course (for which even Mrs. Croft dressed semi-informally)—Maya habitually wears little, often nothing at all (perhaps an over-reaction to life at the orphanage, its prudish dress code, among other restrictions, never to Maya's liking). Clothes (barring one brief relapse) have become incidental, feminine primping and preening a "stupid waste of time." Until now, that is, the tour about to commence, its "trendy-ness" described: major cities, constant partying, press, press, press a la paparazzi, barrages of media, reporters, crowds of fans, and the omnipresent public, exciting and intimidating, daunting and a thrill—depending on who was attempting to discourage or to encourage her—yet nonetheless overwhelming to an alpaca herder's child. Correction: young woman.

"You can still change your mind, sweetie, though I do think you'll like it." Jeffrey's hands await Maya's final consent—granted by default; she prefers not to answer. "You'll love it, I promise. I'm so excited! And honored it is I you have asked to make you over." Deftly, Jeffrey combs the waterlogged mane. "Q recommended me?"

"No. I asked Señor Luther about the island's cutter of hair. He said you were the only barber."

"'Barber'! Did he really say barber, not stylist, at least? Pinhead. 'Señor ' Luther notwithstanding, I am an artiste."

In contrast to his pique, Jeffrey's touch is expertly fond, sending pleasant quivers the length of Maya's spine, the sensation so relaxing it helps quell her misgivings.

To take a new appearance is very much dangerous. Evil may invade, lay claim to the old. Therefore I have asked of him who steals souls, to steal mine, then return it. I will keep it here, in my ch'uspa, with the hairs that soon will fall.

"Have we decided, sweetie? Violet or mauve?"

From underneath the sheet, Maya's hands produce a magazine.

"Is this not purple?"

Jeffrey looks at the model.

"That's purple, no denying it. Purple it shall be. But we shan't overdo. Mustn't do your debut-do TOO purple-ly."

Maya smiles.

"You are silly, Señor Jeffrey."

"I beg your pardon? I most certainly am not. Entertaining, charming, witty, but assuredly not silly. Take it back or I refuse to tint a single elflock."

This one is very much young in his ways. Tuwi, we would call him, back in Parata.

Jeffrey rescinds his pout.

"Never mind. I forgive you. Now, if I might be so bold." He pries the magazine from Maya's fervid grip. "Forget about this rag-hag." He lets it fly. "You are you, and she is she, and you are heaps more attractive. And, once we've made you over—magnifique! So tuck those pretty little arms of yours back underneath this drop cloth and let me do my abracadabra thing."

 

 

 

Absolutely not.

But why?

I did not spend all
this hard-earned...

Change that disc,
Dad, Will you?

...so you could cram
the game room with
all your chums.

All? Just a few.

How many?

Only Wendy, Snifter,
Chip, Sincere, Blast,
and Self-Denial.

Self-De...?

Shelly Denny to you,
Dad.

That's too many.

Sell tickets, if trib's
the issue.

Privacy is the issue.
Did it ever occur to
you that we adults
enjoy Q's music, too?

For all the wrong
reasons.

What we don't enjoy
is a swarm of swooning
adolescents assaulting
the hologram; warps
reception, thereby
ruining the illusion.

We'll behave.
Promise.

You'll scream and howl
like a clique of
tortured cats.

That's obsolete.

No more than hormones
and pimples.

You're not nice.

Two.

Two? Two what?

Two friends. That's it;
your limit.

But Dad, I invited
all of them.

You should have asked
for our permission first.

 

Slurping just in time, Bo rescues his brand new comic from a dollop of saliva. He wipes his mouth with his forearm and turns another page.

Data base jammed.

You're full?

Sold out.

Oh, no! But Jude,
you promised.

The Man pressed
override.

Revolt!

Sabotage!

What good would
that do?

Make him wish he
wasn't such an asshole.

Hey, that's my
father!

Sorry.

Two of you can come.

Fuck that. We'll
boycott.

Blast votes to boycott
so he's out. That leaves
five. Better odds.

Yeah, how's Jude
gonna choose?

Services rendered?

Old debts come due?

Some of us know secrets.

We could always
draw straws.

Oh, quaint; just
blame chance?
Fuck straws.

Yeah, let's travel.
I've got a tap kit.
If we can't watch,
at least we can listen.

Chip and Wendy, then.
The rest of you can
hate me.

Right.

Sure.

Yeah, thanks.
Thanks a lot, Jude.

Whatever.

 

Bo's lips, moving silently as he reads, pause as he turns to the final page and its epilogue.

They don't, you know.

Don't what?

Don't hate you.
You were arbitrary.
That's severe.

Yeah, but it really
wasn't fair.

Fair? Fair is antique.
You think Q got where
he is by being fair?

 

THE END

Boy, "The End." This one's hard. It gots words what I don't un'erstand. Scratch just gimme it. The latest edition. He brung it from Singapore; that's where he's been to. Come back early, he did, without no one expecting 'im.
"Howdy, Bo"
"Hi, Scratch."
He walked in so natural, I almost forgot he wasn't here. Sure glad to see 'im, I'll say. Q's glad, also. They's gone into the studio to work. Q's been workin' for days. He won't quit. He won't even come out for dinner, what's got Chef all upset. 'Course he shouldn't be, 'cause Q's done that afore. 'Cept it's different this time; don't ask me how. Lots o' things is different. Like Q being awful tired from no sleep but still actin' nice. Not cross or nothin'. Usually, when Q works hard, he yells. What else?
Maya's actin' funny. Her and Q told us a story 'bout people gettin' killed and all burned up and terrible stuff like that. Q was there, I guess, but I didn't follow so good. I think the story explained how Maya got to be a orphan. Everyone looked su'prised—'cept Luther, 'cause he wasn't there. He got caught outside in this GIGANTIC storm. Almost died, he did, but didn't. Anyway, Q never ever talked that way afore.
"Don't ever mention my past, Bo."

"No, I won't."
So that's what done it—made 'em all su'prised. What else?
Oh, Mrs. Croft. She had to apologize for what she said Q done, what he didn't and wouldn't never—and she shoulda knowed that, too, but I guess she goofed. She's been a lot less crabby ever since. I think Q liked it that she went out with everyone else to look for Luther. Luther's dyin'. He don't look like he is, not now, on account o' he's gettin' so much attention.
"Isn't healthy to recover too quick, Bo. How's about another Hershey's?"
"Sure, I'll fetch ya one."
No one's apose to mention him havin' the disease. Just wash things what he's touched, 'cause Q says he's prob'bly 'fectious.'

Bo looks again at his comic book—the glow from an overhead skylight tinting its pages red-orange, his bedroom walls likewise altered by rays from the setting sun.

Have to ask Mrs. Croft what 'antique' means.

Bo closes the cover, smoothes it on his pillow, ironing crimps and creases from Q's cartoon face, its features radically stylized, its attitude contemptuous. Bo cocks his head at a thoughtful angle, as if to compare Q COMICS to the Q he knows and loves.

My best buddy. 'Cept this don't look like Q does much. Not any more.

The book shifts, slides, falls, and flips, landing face down on the bedroom floor. Bo lets it lie.

 

Using one of Samantha's attention-getting ploys, Jeffrey has delayed Maya's arrival at table. Q, rest assuredly, will be there, in honor of Scratch—is, in fact, already seated. Jeffrey, anxious to show off 'his creation,' doubles as stand-in waiter and impending M.C.

Scratch takes a head count—the usual suspects are assembled. Plus one.

"What's the hold up?"

Q states the self-evident.

"Maya's missing."

"Who?"

"Oh, that's right. You two haven't met."

Samantha, dressed to the nines, offers Scratch an explanation.

"Q has conceived. He's a daddy."

"No she-it." Scratch plays along. "Who's mamma? No, don't tell me." He zeros in on the only other female in attendance.

"Manners. Manners." Mrs. Maude Croft, upon whom Scratch has cast a rakish suspicion, hastens to forswear. "I'm Mrs. Maude Croft, Maya's tutor."

Scratch stands and bows respectfully.

"Scratch Ellington Wong, Q's master tech. Pleased to meet ya. Q-Tip's often re-miss when it comes to in-troductions."

"I believe you mean 'when it comes to common courtesy,' Mr. Wong."

"Guess y'all been a-round for quite some time."

They trade looks, as Scratch resumes his seat, Samantha her theme.

"Difficult birth, Scratch. Long labor. What, three, four, five years? Q's been sketchy about the details but I think we finally got the picture. Yes, the picture has begun to develop rather fully."

That's my cue.

Luther, reaching under the table, produces a portfolio with a blow-up of Exhibit A—which Scratch examines with interest, Q with alarm. "Kid commissioned it, Q. Honest Injun. Ask Jeffrey. HEY, WAITER." Jeffrey pops in. Luther holds up the image. "By request, yes? Of the model?"

"Gotta rush. Yes, she did. Excuse me."

Jeffrey exits in a hurry, ostensibly to serve.

Scratch looks quizzically from 'daughter' to 'father,' trying to guess the basis of their relationship.

"Sweet face."

Q anticipates his question.

"Adopted."

"Sounds more plausible." Scratch turns to Samantha. "No offense."

"I was speaking metaphorically."

"So I de-duced."

"She's n-n-nice, Scratch. You'll like 'er; we all do."

Scratch begins to assemble a likely scenario.

"She's Venezuelan, or something."

"Peruvian."

Luther's brisk correction is met with a hostile stare.

"Whatever. Q helped wean her, so to speak, from her natural parents."

At this, Q levels a hostile stare of his own—which Samantha ignores, forging ahead with her mordant interpretation.

"Enough dissembling. It appears our commander-in-chief, once upon a time, was a low-ranking soldier, who helped wipe out an entire village of innocent hillbillies, and then proceeded to—What's the term; Ditch?—only instead of leaving behind his plane, or jeep, or hovercraft, Q left behind his identity. And Lord forbid the Press—or worse yet the military—from ever finding out. How he pulled it off exactly, remains rather vague, but I do believe desertion is punishable, still, by firing squad—making our hero subject to arrest, prosecution, and death."

"So that's it."

"Hm?

What has dawned on Scratch, other than the convoluted reason for Maya being among them, is why, at the onshore airport, he was 'officially detained.'

{"A few questions is all, if you would, Mister Wong. You won't miss your flight. Step this way, please."}

Samantha elaborates.

"Because it isn't simply a matter of going AWOL; our idol took his powder in the heat of battle."

{"It's about your employer. You realize, of course, that the government has a duty to protect its citizens. In fact, we're constitutionally bound to preserve civil rights: freedom of speech, of the press, even freedom of artistic expression."}

"I bring all this up not to condemn dear Q. What he did, or failed to do, in uniform, is his business. My business, on the other hand, is promotions, as in public relations, and the public, to be perfectly frank, looks askance at yellow-bellied traitors."

{"But rights need defending from those who would deny them, and the government, to accomplish this, requires each citizen's help. Which is a big job, Mister Wong. A huge responsibility. We can't do it alone."}

"The issue is, if Q, indeed, took part in some so-called 'annihilation,' and if he has, until now, covered his tracks, the only link between him and this illustrious episode..."

{"And it is healthier for the nation if its citizens—its patriots—pitch in. Especially those in positions as influential as Q's."]

"... is that child—whose photo you're holding."

{"And those like you, Mister Wong, who can influence him. Correct us, if we're mistaken, but aren't you Q's right hand man? As such, we are asking you to impress upon Private Van SchoonHoven, how vital we consider his full cooperation."}

Samantha, like a matador, drives home her point.

"In other words, if you've killed the goose and gander, don't filch the egg."

Expecting Q to topple, she is dismayed to see him stand.

All eyes turn toward the dining room threshold, where shyly, apprehensively, a transformed Maya enters.

 

 

END OF PART TWO