Sûrah LXVIII
THE PEN
"By the pen and that which they write therewith, for thy Lord's favour unto thee, a madman."

68
AUTHOR, AUTHOR

Meanwhile:

Of all the lamebrain acts I've let my sex-crazed self commit, this one wins the prize for boner-bred stupidity; amen. DUNCE! I mean a manikin? I mistook a goddamn dummy for the real McCoy? And it has landed me in this Limbo of soundproofed isolation. Walls are thick. That door is airtight. Nothing to work with. Hoodwinked. Trapped. All the more pathetic in that I'M HERE BY MISTAKE!

The captive rails. A practical joke—his first impression—this detention cell is not; no pointing fingers, stifled laughter, or gotcha-style guffaws, as he expected, broke the comprehensive silence post incarceration. Duped, entombed,  Franchone has been left to mull the import of his 'misappropriation'—as it dawns on him that the 'booby' to be trapped is still at large, whereas whoever hoped to catch him remains unaware.

I should have sensed it, should have noticed, at the very least, this decoy—with its tape-recorded message, no less—never so much as flinched, or gasped, or moved a single muscle when the rush of air behind me made it clear that I'd been bushwhacked, lured like a lovesick, sucker-punched swain, and left to grouse about my fate with this paraplegic puppet...

FRANCHONE

No offense.

...that even from the back...

FRANCHONE

Now that I'm looking with my eyes and not my balls...

...wouldn't fool a moron...

FRANCHONE

My name's mud. And yours?

The mouth remains immobile, eyes unblinking, nose inert; ears, likewise, stay deaf below under a nylon wig and kerchief that accentuate the effigy's utter impassivity.

FRANCHONE

Z Once Removed?

Removed to where, I wonder? Stalked still by that nutcase 'Almond'...

FRANCHONE

Joy? Your name is Joy? Well, pleased to meet you. We'll be cellmates. Chums. For LIFE.

He paces back and forth; the dummy sits oblivious, stiff, defunct, inured to Franchone's fits of self-recrimination.

FRANCHONE

Dumb, dumber, dumbest! I was smitten by your look-alike, Joy, and fancied her the heroine of a book I've scarcely inched beyond an odd false start or two—by way of pretext for my typically libidinous agenda. True; too, true. I tend to denigrate women, big time—call it my Black-Man's-Bitch Modality whereby females serve as footstools, furnishing males some unearned height, from which we make so bold as to piss on mortals deemed inferior. Wow; sage shit.

He frisks his pockets for a pen.

FRANCHONE

Can you take notes? I mean, record?

He fidgets with the tape deck, pressing buttons; Zahra's voice intones:

"Put the groceries on the counter, will you?"

 "Click"; the tape rewinds; a light turns briefly red then reverts to green.

FRANCHONE

Guess not. Ah, well.

He spots the luggage Zahra stashed in one of the studio's dim lit corners.

FRANCHONE

Running away from home, Joy? Tsk-a-tsk.

He leaves his seat, and proceeds to rummage through the bags without a qualm.

FRANCHONE

Thomas Cook travelers' cheques... Immunization card... Change purse... Jackpot; passport!
So Z is Zahra, Zahra Rahnavard, age twenty-eight, nationality Turkey. Whoa, with stamps from countries on America's state-sponsored terror list. This is great! I mean, your original, Joy, is maybe more 'fictitious' than I reckoned. Maybe Almond is an assassin. Maybe Z's a bona fide spy, a double agent who got 'outed' hence 'marked for termination.'

A paperback book comes tumbling out from the folds of a lamb's wool sweater—an envelope lodged between pages 408 and 409.

FRANCHONE

What have we here? "Fan mail from some flounder?"

Franchone opens Homa's letter.

FRANCHONE

Gibberish. Written in code. Unless... I think this might be Arabic.