(01-11) The Voice

What A-Bomb felt coming after him was Louis. While it might be true that Cowboy Jesus is beyond the reach of jealous rage, Louis the criminal midget was blind mad at the idea of Paris riding around on A-Bomb’s shoulders. For one thing, he considered A-Bomb his personal servant, and for another, he considered Paris his personal property. Admittedly she’d never signed off on the idea, but they shared a secret world of perfect reflection. Her eyes were his drowning pool, and vice versa.

He had no reason to be jealous and, he told himself, he was not in fact jealous. It was The Voice that was jealous. It was always The Voice that caused problems, and there was nothing he could do about it. The Voice was inherited, passed along generation to generation to the Short men.

Paris’ father — the non-fictional character — was five seven and movie star handsome. He was a gambler who won sometimes and lost sometimes, like most gamblers, and like most gamblers he discovered that money lost to the house and owed was always of greater volume than money won and spent, even though the quantitative amounts might be identical. When he won he was rich, and when he lost, he was in mortal peril.

At the top of the mark was the intoxicating atmosphere of spirit, where dice can be nudged by magic spells and cards marked by sprites hidden in cigar smoke. No matter how much he won, though, there was no satisfying the spirit. It wants to move beyond chance and into the certainty of matter, aka money. At the bottom of the mark there was a bed sloping toward the middle and traffic noise outside the hotel window. At the bottom of the mark there was just the mark, owed to somebody who knows how to collect it.

His twin brother was Louis’ father, who spent most of his time trying to save some of the family wealth from the always open arms of the casinos and card rooms. Because one brother took all the gambler energy, the other brother was forced into the material world of time clocks and income tax returns. His life was a slow and steady process of saving and investing, insuring and diversifying, and paying off gangsters who would otherwise break his brother’s legs or kill him and bury him in the desert.

In the end what he saved was only equal to what his brother lost, and around this they shared a mysticism understood only by them. In their old age they became inseparable companions, as they slowly began to shift, the prudent one taking more chances and wearing sporty clothes, while the gambler became increasingly fussy about his diet and habits.

They had always seemed to be two parts of one system, and they shared what the prison psychiatrist diagnosed in Louis as marginal schizophrenia. He was fascinated with the idea of a midget being a violent outlaw, and expended a lot of energy getting Louis to trust him enough to share personal information. “I don’t trust anybody any further than I can throw them,” Louis said, “and I’m a fucking midget, so that’s not far. But if you’ll help me get out of here quicker I’ll cooperate with your research.”

The psychiatrist agreed to be a cheerleader for his parole, whereupon Louis leaned confidentially toward him and said, “I never did anything except The Voice told me to do it. My uncle had it and his brother had it, but my uncle did what it told him to do and my daddy didn’t do anything it told him to do, and in the end they wound up in the same place. Shit fire, they were almost the same person by the time they died. So what I figure is, you go one direction you get predictable, and you go the other direction you get predictable. If you’re being hunted, that’s a fatal mistake, either way.”

“Are you, or were you, being hunted?” the doctor asked.

“I’m in a cage aren’t I?”

“Yes, you are. So you don’t think you got here by your own actions, but because you were hunted and captured by this voice? Tell me; how do you deal with this voice when it tells you to do something? What if it told you to kill me, for example? Would you do it?”

“No doc. If I killed everybody The Voice told me to the carnage would be awful. What I do is, I personalize it.”

“You personalize it. Can you help me understand what you mean by that?”

“I mean I think of it like it's another person. Sometimes I resist and sometimes I don’t. I never know ahead of time. It’s like there’s a battle going on most of the time between me and The Voice, and I never know how it’s gonna turn out.”

It was the battle going on that made Louis scald his pillow with his breathing, now, as he felt the killer rage rising up from his reptile brain, the head of the poisonous snake whose rattles were now fused into the coccyx, like a scorpion trapped in amber. Now he gave no warning before his strike. His rational mind knew that Paris wasn’t taking anything away from him, and that A-Bomb wasn’t a threat to their special arrangement. But knowing that the rage wasn’t rational didn’t bring it under control.

Some force beneath the level of consciousness made him get up and look out the window. It was the sound of Paris’ laughter. “Look at them,” The Voice said. “She looks so happy, riding your horse.” He stared out the window. A-Bomb seemed to glide along like a dancer, unaware of the hawk watching him from above. The voice said, “There’s no justice for the little man.”

When they were gone from view and he lay back down on his bed, he imagined the wounding he might inflict on A-Bomb by reminding him that he’d not wanted to be picked up to begin with because if he trusted anybody, he’d get double crossed. He imagined laying out his evidence, brick by brick, until he’d constructed a solid case for A-Bomb’s being a Judas.

“You’re Cowboy Jesus,” The Voice said, reminding him of his ace card in any dealings with the big Indian. Sometimes The Voice was ear candy. Whatever moved in the depths played his heartstrings like a harp, each string emotion of perfect pitch, purified and rarified for irresistibility. The voice was a tuning fork aligning him with the obvious. “He loves her at your command,” The Voice said.

This enraged Louis because it reminded him that A-Bomb was only doing what he had commanded him to do, so that his reaction was beyond the reach of truth and justice; it was based on a pure lust. “Pure lust,” he said aloud. The voice, suddenly shy in even a glimmer of light, withdrew back to the top of the spinal cord.

“Check mate,” Louis said. The rage had passed without precipitating violence.

Paris liked the feel of her sex against the back of A-Bomb’s neck, and for some reason she recalled a nature film of a female mantis biting off the head of the male during mating. When she was in a good mood Paris shared unthinkingly what bubbled up into consciousness, like offering water from a well. “Do you know what a preying mantis female does during sex?” she asked.

“She bites off the man’s head,” A-Bomb replied. He didn’t know how he knew that, but he was like Paris in offering the water from the well, so he went on, taking what was being given and sharing it. “At least that’s how we look at it. From his point of view he’s inviting her to dinner.”

“I thought guys took you to dinner and then tried to have sex with you,” Paris said. “He’s got it backward.”

“Fatal mistake,” A-Bomb said. “You enjoying the ride?”

“I am. I can see over everybody else. Usually people are like trees and I’m lost in the forest. She didn’t tell him that what she was enjoying most was The Voice inside her and Louis. It was a power line over which she was taking energy. Male rage was like raw material which, through a process of refining, helped power her enterprises. “Have you lost your horsey?” she asked at the threshold of hearing, so that A-Bomb was puzzled. “Did you say something?”

“No,” she said. But the message encoded in muscle pattern decoded in Louis’ brain and said, “Have you lost your horsey?” The voice wasn't personal. Each of the Shorts experienced it through the filter of personality and chemical composition. It connected them, both the ones inside time and the ones outside time. There was no guarantee that the voice would relay something from one to the other, but it could if it wanted to.

Louis felt the rage return with unexpected ferocity. Sometimes the voice was helpful and sometimes it seemed to be poking him with a stick. It had seemed that way to his uncle as well, but his own father had refused to judge it on the grounds that to do so would be to identify with it, and give it power over his decisions. Louis recalled his father not as a happy man, in the worldly sense, but as a holy man.

“Have you lost your horsey?” The Voice repeated, enjoying the surge of electricity though the system.

“My horsey is doing exactly what I told him to do,” he said aloud. “I have to trust him the same as a cowboy trusts his horse.”

“They’re falling in love you know.”

“I am not interested in you at this moment, because i have important things to do,” he said, and he pictured the entire pattern that was going to unfold, looking at each element to see if it could be refined. He pictured himself bringing the genetically enhanced computational power of the gods on a serving cart down a freight elevator and into the band bus. Nobody would be working once the music started in the plaza outside American Futures, because people can never resist a freak show. The Troll Daddies heavy metal band was the king of freak shows. They would figure it out, eventually, when they'd studied the security tapes long enough. But by that time the trail would be cold, and they would have had time to digest how much damage could be done if they didn't comply with Louis' demands.

The one element of the plan not materialized yet was what would be demanded. Louis dismissed this by reminding them that they could ask anything they wanted. He had watched the movement of legislation through Congress that would give American Futures the laws they wanted for genetic mutation of humans. It had passed both houses and was ready for signature. He planned to take the future for the little people. "Now gods," he said, "stand up for midgets."

Posted: Tue - April 15, 2008 at 04:27 PM