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Detainee 717

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Chapter 19

In the car K13 calls Lamborghini for a status report. Her manner of answering the phone always intrigues him, the way her voice splashes gothic-black grafitti onto the milky curtain of the caller’s consciousness. The splash a military bugle signaling the commencement of voice-to-voice combat. The graffiti a raw and cynical spray-painted commentary arising from the depths of her inner world and sardonically encompassing her attitude toward the larger immediate environment, then rippling out to darken city, state, world, and all that stretches beyond the world in the indifferent envelopment of perpetual darkness, the spatial drift between stars. Although the comments vary and flaunt imaginative scope, the underlying bruising ambiguity and free-floating insolence are always, comfortingly, the same.

“Greetings,” she begins. “Does what you have to say really matter? Yes? Then you’ll want to hang up and call someone who hasn’t gladly relinquished the capacity to care. Or … maybe you’ve reached this number in error, in which case you should be feeling the little sting of humiliation that goes along with ineptitude, and you should hang up. Either slash or. The ball is totally in your court.”

Asking himself whether this is Lamborghini in a playful or disgruntled mood is a question impossible to answer.

When first moving into the house he shares with Lamborghini he had learned her birth name: Flora Teixeira. He did not know precisely what the first name evoked for him, but it was not fitting. It crumbled when spoken aloud, an anthropological artifact rashly unearthed and exposed to the crush of air, the shoveled toilings of lip, teeth and tongue implements far too blunt to preserve the fragility of that name. Flora, with its suggestion of brittleness and antiquity. The surname was another matter. As with the first name, he did not know what it evoked, but it was fitting, it was piercingly appropriate. To say that Flora Teixeira was her real name, however, would be a gross simplification. More than anything her identity assembles itself upon the lush chassis of the word Lamborghini. He’s content to be intrigued by her aggressive lack of telephone etiquette even though he remains undecided as to whether he finds the quality appealing or not. “It’s a good thing I know that the way you answer the phone is just the way you answer the phone.”

“It’s not caller-specific if that’s what you mean. I don’t use caller ID, so I don’t know who the hell’s on the other end. That just makes it all the more exciting! The comments I make, they’re made in the heat of the moment. Off the cuff. You could say it’s something like inspiration.”

“This is something you’ve given some thought to, I’m seeing.”

She declaims as though from the steps of the ancient Roman Forum, “’It’s a good thing I know the way you answer the phone is just the way you answer the phone,’ Hmmm. Now what could that mean. Otherwise you’d be offended?”

“I would no longer feel special.”

“There’s that humor of yours I’ve come to appreciate. You’ve taken dryness and made it your own. You’ve made it your brand. Really it’s what you might call arid. If it were any drier it’d shrivel up and blow away, wouldn’t it? But that’s the genius of it, it holds the seeds of its own destruction. I appreciate it all the more because I know it could just shrivel up and disappear in the next second. This is me theorizing. But here’s my rebuttal to that: I sense that making you feel special, 13, might be something of a challenge.”

He generates a small silence that isolates and amplifies her breathing and allows him to detect in an exhalation unexpected harmonic overtones that fray into the airy frequencies of a sigh. The sigh conveys – and he admits he’s probably reaching, reading into it – the sense of an insistent appetite yet to be subdued and conquered even by the more lurid forms of satiety.

“Hold on a minute, now. I get the feeling you’re listening to me breathe. Are you listening to me breathe, 13?” She has to mimick surprise, amusement, because she has not been genuinely surprised or amused, he suspects, since the age of six. “Wait wait wait. Don’t answer that. Lamborghini flattered is a terrible sight to behold.”

He will allude to her comment and provide a full response in the near future, when the comment will be least expected. “Status report. How is the detainee?”

“Status report?” she exclaims, this time mimicking the more complex blending of scorn and wry appreciation. “WTF?”

“Second time today someone has WTF-ed me. I’m seeing some kind of obscure synchonicity at work, here.”

“I bet you are. Status report, huh?” She sends a microscopically audible puff of disbelief or mockery through her nose, a stumble of air that stops just short of the fall into laughter. “You sound like you’ve been hanging out with the Dip.”

“Does the Diplomat actually hang out now becomes the question.”

“The Diplomat hanging out is not a pretty image. Your question, though: my dance, if that’s what you’d care to call it, threw your boy 717 for a bit of a loop. I would even say he had some sort of preliminary minor nervous breakdown. Fruit of the Looms all pulled together in an ass-crack bunch. Gee whiz, all it took was the sight of my breasts. Good thing my self-esteem is sturdy, like one of those big trees, what are they called – Sequoias. What, Mrs. Bhatti would castrate you if she found out you’d been forced to lay eyes on another woman’s tits? is what I wanted to ask him. But I didn’t, I didn’t. No. I went easy on him, I think because I’m a sucker for beautiful names: Salah. You say it and your heart opens, you go all gentle and mellow. I’m talking sound now, the mysticism of certain sounds and frequencies, chakras, each chakra has a tone corresponds with a note, vibrations and energy layers in the aura, the astral layer and the etheric layer, all that. I did tell him, though, that if he closed his eyes or looked away even once during my sizzling little number, I would have to force him to … do things … that would involve his having contact with the dead body on the floor. Which by the way I got rid of it before it really started to reek. You were through banging on it, right? The spillage and such is your clean up. Might want to remember a little plastic drop cloth goes a long way on an expensive hardwood floor. But then again by the look of your downstairs areas your standards of upkeep are more relaxed than mine. You might be able to bribe Audi into doing it if you pay him handsomely. He’s saving up his allowance – sorry, his salary – to buy a helicopter.”

“He feels a helicopter would enhance his life. Usher in new experiences. He’s ready for something new.”

“A small two-seater.”

“Be careful. The small two-seaters tend to be underpowered. Two-stroke engines. Does he know what he wants?”

“I suggested an Ultrasport NZ,” she says. “One-hundred sixty horsepower turbine engine.”

“Is he capable of getting a microlight license?”

“No. I’ll teach him to fly it. I’ll have the Diplomat get the license. Listen. This is not something I usually admit, but I work off intuition a lot. Your 717, he’s no kind of player. I really don’t think it’ll take much on your part to find out whatever foolishness your employer thinks he needs to know. Until he decides it’s a wild goose chase and changes his mind. He has been known to just haul off and change his mind on occasion. He can be whimsical.” She pauses as though taking a moment to consider the gaudiest float passing by in the parade of her thoughts. “Why don’t I ever get any easy ones? The easy detainees? Should I take the fact that I never get any easy ones personally? Should I be worried? Should I be asking myself, is that bastard K13 on the receiving end of undeserved preferential treatment?”

For the first time in five days he feels a stirring in his throat, the prelude to laughter, a bird-flutter rising from its deep-dwelling nest in the diagphragm with the promise of vigorous flight, the prospect of ascension and release. But when it emerges the laughter is a sleepwalker stumbling stiffly along the dark corridor that terminates behind his teeth. The choice between disappointment and disappointment’s opposite offers itself. He decides the sound is broadly indicative of laughter. “Have I garnered favor based not on merit but on my race – the receipient of the shadow version of affirmative action?”

“You make my head just bob with delight sometimes. Like one of those bobble head dolls on the dashboard.”

“By the way. I didn’t think you took anything personally.”

“Because, after all, what’s personal anymore?” she says fretfully, voice in tremulous swoon, so that he imagines the back of her hand pressed against her forehead. “Is anything?” Her normal tone resumes, the Portugese accent tenuously detectable now and again, the tip of a shark’s fin winking in and out of view as it slices through the seesaw of the waves, the wind riding it up and down. “But beautiful name or not I pressed on, being the consummate professional that I am. I asked the poor guy if he was hungry. I got no reply, unless you count a look of soulful terror as a reply.”

“Any soulful look, even of terror, deserves to be counted as a reply.”

He believes that her work with the detainee has put Lamborghini in something like a grand panoramic mood that derives, not at all obviously, from a sense of forward arc and motion. She javelins herself through the air today, soaring but restrained, allowing herself for once to be pleased and stimulated by the challenge she apparently set for herself at the onset of the the detainee’s interrogation, perhaps entirely unconsciously, to pursue objectives light-handedly, using less exacting tactics shaped with uncharacteristic range and subtlety.

“So I had Audi bring me in a table and chair and put it in front of 717. I pulled up a seat and ate my halwa-poori, real slow-like as they say in the old Westerns, I ate it reeeaaaal slow-like, with the smell of the potato and chickpea curry wafting right under his nose. Sweetmeat prepared with semolina and covered with pistachios and sliced almonds. Ayyyy! The spiciness, the tastiness. Soft crispy flatbread blown up like a mini beach ball. The onion pickles and mango pickles and the fresh yogart. I’m guessing the scent dug deep into memory and longing with a pickax, you know? Hell, you know. We all know: the longing for home. ”

“I won’t ask how you managed to produce this meal.”

“You know I’m not a gal who likes to spend time in the kitchen. All delivery charges paid for courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer.”

“Semolina, you said. The definition is right there on the tip of my tongue.”

“Of course you don’t know the definition,” she brags, truimphant and delighted. “Duram wheat made from endosperm particles.”

“Endosperm.”

“Endosperm particles.”

K13 inserts a slice of silence in the deck of the conversation and patiently waits for Lamborghini to deal her trump card.

“Nutritive matter in the ovules of seed plants, formed inside the sac of the embryo by the division of the endosperm nucleus.”

Although this recitation seems to be the specific trigger for her ensuing hilarity, K13 believes that it’s driven by a broader imperative. A fierce embracing of absurdity resides in the rich rise of her laughter. Hers is a laughter tied to no compelling reason and is all the more robust because of it, links of laughter severed from the chain of cause and effect but somehow integrally connected to the marrow-deep knowledge that nothing, including cause and effect, is permanent, nothing lasts. It’s an instrument of empowerment, enabling her to succeed at the work she does for the Diplotmat and his confederates as she curates the abditory of inestimable secrets in the house on the bluff; a laughter jaggedly musical, a fiddle played gleefully while her world, modeled loosely after Nero’s imploding Rome, roars in discordant flames. For the second time in five days K13 laughs, joining her, but even in this joint venture, this braiding of their voices in an amputated version of humor, he’s careful to preserve his separateness from her, his often afflictive but necessary sense of angling through the days in a way that minimizes interdependencies. Laughter in general is so unusual for him that with a strange stab of morbid curiosity he now helplessly witnesses himself participating in the act as it unfolds. Marking the second hand on his watch he discovers, with a shudder of realization, that after 15 seconds his laughter collides with an unseen wall, slams to a dispassionate halt. He continues to mark the second hand. When 11 more seconds pass, the stalactites of Lamborghini’s laughter fall in hard clusters and then her abrupt silence assembles itself from the shattered heap. To camoflague her escape into naked catharsis – he knows her episode of laughter was exactly that – she hurries to clothe it in words. “Take care of your family crisis?” She may, or may not, be actually interested in the answer. She wraps her tonelessness in a sling, treating her casual concern as an injury, the festering of an unacceptable softness that, if left unsupported, would impair fluidity of movement.

“For now.”

“For now is right. Because there’s always another shrieking emotional flash point being held in reserve by family members. You can count on that. It’s waiting for you, it’s always just around the corner.”

“I’m on my way back. One more stop to make, very brief. You have my gratitude.”

“Why is it I see the value of gratitude only when I’m on the receiving end of it? Well. More proof that how I’m put together, the pieces just don’t seem to fit the way they should. Something about me is way wrong. But what’s funny is, and maybe you can relate to this, I have no desire to fix whatever’s broken.”

“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. If it is, immediately cultivate the lack of desire to fix it.”

“Ok, so now I have your gratitude. No need to hurry back,” she says expansively. “Because this is just the change in routine I needed. A little experience in applying a softer touch. Know what this is? My little golden opportunity to better myself.”

Next Chapter

Chapter 20


Article By: dglenn


Arts | Fiction | Novels


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