Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Best Side: Part 4

It was my turn to pause. “No,” I finally said. “I honestly never thought about it.”

“And back to stupid,” the Dame said, letting go of my arm. “I have information. You have a strange, almost Buster Keaton-ish ability to survive. If you can protect me until the war ends, I’ll tell you why the ninjas have been after you all these years.

I eased back down into the chair, keeping my left leg out straight to the side. “Give me a hint.”

She nodded and after a quick glance around, leaned forward. “Fresno,” she said quietly, barely above a whisper.

“Fresno,” I said, in one long breath. The world slowed and faded. A petite girl in black was looking over her shoulder at me. There was a hat made of paper. I staggered away from a field, my vision blurring as I looked down at my red stained hands. A grape was squashed in slow motion. In the distance, a cow farted.

A sudden shock of cold brought me back to Iggy’s. The Dame had an empty water glass and I was soaking wet, ice-cubes in my lap.

“I really, really hate flashbacks,” she said.

“Well,” I said, as I flicked ice-cubes off my trousers, “at least you didn’t shoot me this time.”

“I didn’t want to cripple your other leg.”

“Oh, my leg’s fine.”

“Then why are you walking like a geriatric peanut salesman?”

“It’s a secret,” I said. “And I completely don’t get the analogy.”

She shrugged. “Lots of shells. So, do we have a deal?”

“I don’t know. Fre- that place has a lot of ghosts. And raisins,” I added. “Besides, despite my ability to survive, we may not last the next ten minutes.”

“Why is that?”

“The ninjas are finished and the mimes are pretending to sharpen knives. Once everyone goes potty, it’s going to get dangerous.”

The Dame glanced around. The lone waitress was nowhere to be seen, though a small bucket of dead flies had been left behind. The doves started to fly back out of the kitchen, then realized that they were early and flew back in.

“There’s only seven of them,” she said. “Hell, we could just let them fight it out and then shoot the winners.”

“Not a bad plan,” I replied. “Except that there’s about 30 ninjas outside hiding in the shrubbery and about the same number of mimes in a tour bus out front.”

“And how do you know this?”

I tapped my head. “Sometimes clever, remember? My dad told me to never go into a buffet without a good recon.”

The Dame took a deep breath. “So we’re boned,” she said. “Guess I could’ve kept smoking after all.”

“Not necessarily.”

She frowned at me and I tapped my left leg. There was a metallic ‘ping.’

“I’ve got a secret.”

Next: Part 5

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Best Side: Part 3

The Dame tapped her fingers on the faux plastic tabletop. “Like I said, either very clever or really stupid.”

“So, what do you want?” I asked.

At the buffet, the two men paused at the pizza counter, both reaching for the last slice of Hawaiian. The taller of the two grabbed at the slice, but the shorter man deftly snaked it from him. However, before he could get it onto his plate, the other man knocked the slice into the air, intent on catching it with his other hand. Yet the shorter man ricocheted it away with a slice of vegetarian.

This strange ballet continued for several minutes, as the two men whirled and spun around the pizza bar, neither able to grab the slice for themselves as the other always countered. Neither made a sound, though their actions were scored by a light jazz ensemble that just happened by.

Unfortunately, I missed all of this, as I was intent on the Dame. She sighed. “I need your help.”

“Why? You’ve got connections with the clowns.”

“That’s just it,” she said, looking me straight in the eye. “They’re losing.”

“You’re kidding.”

She shook her head. “Normally, they wouldn’t have a problem with the mimes and ninjas, but there was an attempted coup. The Mountebank turned on the Harlequin and a surprising number of clowns followed him.”

“Whoa,” I said, raising a hand. “Who’s the Mountebank?”

The pizza ballet ended then, as another Hawaiian pie was added to the pizza bar. The two men, both panting, stared first at it and then at each other. Then, the shorter of the two, with a slight bow, indicated that the other should go first. The taller man slid two pieces onto a plate, then offered it to the other, who accepted with another bow. They parted, each flipping a few dollars into the jazz ensemble’s open guitar case.

“Traditionally, he’s the clown’s enforcer, but he decided he wanted the mask himself and took a shot at the top. The clowns are in chaos. They don’t know which way the pie’s pointing and as a result, the mimes and ninjas are having a field day.”

“Ah, that would explain it.”

“Explain what?”

I nodded towards the far corner. “Those are mimes and the guys on the other side are ninjas.”

The Dame froze and the barely audible click of a gun cocking was heard under the table. This was followed by a duck’s quack from the kitchen. It is unlikely the two are related. “How do you know?”

“Well, the mimes have been eating invisible food the whole time and one of the ninjas is using chopsticks on his mashed potatoes.”

“I guess you are very clever,” she finally said.

“And you led them to me,” I pointed out. “I was just beginning to unwind,” I continued. “I haven’t found a cobra in my bed in ages and the only mail bombs I get are the ones I send myself.”

“Why would you send yourself a mail bomb?”

“For the same reason I floss between my toes.”

The Dame stared at me. “I’m not going to bother asking.”

“Good.” I stood up stiffly. “So thanks for nothing. I’ll be on my way now.”

“Wait!” The Dame reached across the table and grabbed my arm.

“Do you know what happened to the last woman who touched me?”


“Me neither. We were supposed to meet in the food court at 7, but she never showed. I’ve always wondered about that.”

The Dame rolled her eyes. “Let’s leave your hygiene out of this. I’ve got information. If you can help me, I’ll tell you everything.”

“Like what? And if it’s where my remote is, don’t worry about it.”

She shook her head. “Would you like to know why the ninjas are after you?”

Next: Part 4

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Best Side: Part 2

The Dame glanced around. “I’m not familiar with John Woo movies.”

“Have you ever leapt sideways in slow-motion while firing two pistols?”

“No. Would it help if I had?”

“Actually, yes.” I took a deep breath, which was a mistake as the air tasted like bad pizza. “John Woo movies are usually about two men on opposite sides of a struggle who earn each other’s respect and friendship. Oh, and they just happen to be absolute baddasses.” I nodded towards the kitchen, where the sound of doves pooping could be heard. “Slow motion doves are one of his trademarks.”

“I see.” The Dame fished around in her pocket and took out three screwdrivers, a socket wrench and a baggie of cubed ice, before finding a crushed pack of cigarettes.

“I thought you were quitting,” I asked, as she pulled one out.

“I am.” The cigarette trembled slightly as she raised it to her lips. She sighed. “Do you have a light?”

I pulled a rather nice desk lamp from my coat and set it on the table.


“Not terribly,” I said, as I reached over and plucked the cigarette away. “Now,” I began, as I tossed the cigarette over my shoulder, not noticing that it stuck in the wall. “Why don’t you tell me what’s really going on.”

She looked away. “What do you mean?”

“You’re not your usual self. And,” I said, pausing for dramatic effect, “there’s this.” I slapped the note onto the table, inadvertently flipping a spoon across the room. I didn’t notice the looks the other patrons gave me, as the spoon clattered and rattled on the tile floor.

She leaned forward and looked at the note. “A parking lot receipt from 1989?”

“Turn it around.”

“Now it looks like a pirate knitting.”

I looked down and turned the note towards me. It did look like a pirate knitting. “Wrong note,” I said, this time checking before I slammed down a pink post-it note.

“That’s the note that was on your computer monitor.”

“And what’s wrong with it?”

The Dame shrugged. One of the men from behind us got up and walked past towards the buffet. He made no noise. Simultaneously, one of the men from the other group also rose and headed towards the buffet. He also made no sound.

“There’s no harlequin picture,” I said, leaning back with a smile. “This isn’t official clown business.”

Next: Part 3

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Best Side: Part 1

It began with a note.

Iggy’s Buffet was strangely empty for 1:24 in the afternoon. A couple ceiling fans spun slowly as a strangely upbeat accordion version of Chopin’s Funeral March played throughout the dining room. There were a dozen booths and twice that many tables, with three buffet bars opposite the entrance. A lone waitress leaned against the wall by the salad bar, idly killing flies with a cricket bat.

“Nice place,” I said, as I slid stiffly into the chair opposite the Dame. “Orange and pink wouldn’t be my first choice for a color scheme, but I think it works.”

“What happened to your leg?” she asked. She was dressed in a dark blue business suit with big shoulder pads, her dark haired pulled back in a bun. I was wearing a full suit with a tie because it was laundry day.

“You shot me, remember?” She shrugged. “Where’s the cigarette?”

The Dame leaned back, staring down her nose at me. “There’s no smoking in here.”

“As if that would stop you.”

She looked away. “Trying to quit.”

“That doesn’t really work with the whole film noir theme we have.”

“I could shoot you again, if you like.”

“No thanks.”

We sat in silence for a moment. There were only two other groups there. A trio of men eating in the far corner and four others eating in the opposite corner. We were smack dab in the middle of an orange and pink themed game of Tic-Tac-Toe. The Funeral March ended, only to be replaced by the Macarena done in Hebrew. It wasn’t bad.

“So,” she finally said, after taking a sip of water. “What took you so long?”

“What do you mean? The note said ‘Iggy’s at 1:20.’”

“The note was put there two days ago.”


“Yes, really.” The Dame leaned forward and poked my arm with a finger. “How the hell did you miss it?”

“Well,” I began, shifting slightly. “It’s wasn’t a very big note.”

“It was in the middle of your computer monitor!”

“Which explained why I was sucking so hard at Minesweeper.”

“I can’t decide,” she finally said. “If you’re very, very clever or just really, really stupid.”

“Can I be both?”

She glared at me and then relaxed. “You did do an amazing job of disappearing. It took almost a year to find you.”

“You didn’t notice the U-Haul truck? The one that I put all my stuff in and then drove away?”

“We thought that was a distraction.”

A small group of doves fly silently by in slow motion as the waitress dropped a glass. The plastic mug bounced twice, a drop of water spraying from the lip. The doves, stark white against the orange and pink, flew into the kitchen.

“Crap,” I said.

“What? I haven’t shot you yet.”

“No, it’s just that I think we’re in a John Woo movie.”

Next: Part 2