by William M. Brandon III
Jenny the Cat Bleacher was surprised. It felt good to tell her I was leaving. She asked about my new job because she thought she should, but I told her not to worry about it. I planned on paying for the rest of the month in a couple of days.
She smiled, “Oh, well thank you. It’ll be weird for the attic to be empty again.”
I started to climb the spiral staircase and didn’t respond.
I moved my box and a half of belongings into suite 1204 early the following Sunday morning. The doorman let me into the suite, and as soon I had set my box down, my phone buzzed.
“Declan, it’s Greg.”
“I figured. I’m getting myself moved in.”
“So I see. Don’t worry, your room is devoid of monitoring devices but the rest of the building is…well, no one will be stealing our doughnuts, eh?”
“Shouldn’t you be at church Greg?”
“I’m dropping by the office for a moment before I go.”
Greg stepped from the elevator in his Sunday best.
“Wow boss, looking sharp.”
“Thank you Declan. So, are you settled in?”
“Excellent. Stephen Patrick was a meticulous record keeper, and he canonized all procedures and processes prior to leaving. In his words you should be able to pick right up and run.
“Here are the physical keys to the shop and your passcard. Both the key and the passcard are necessary to lock the doors. If you lose these items, contact me immediately and maintain visual surveillance over the office.”
“No problem Greg. Are you turning me loose?”
“Yes, your confidence is contagious. I booked a flight for shortly after this morning’s service at Bel Air Presbyterian. There is a very special young lady I want a chance to speak to before I return to Texas.”
“Greg, you sly dog, you.”
Greg smiled, “Well, we’ll see won’t we?”
I ended up in Pathos, but I waited until 5pm in case Greg was still watching. As I opened the door, bright daylight penetrated the tomb-like bar. The unwelcome sunshine served as a reminder that the world carried on just beyond the afternoon stupor.
I ordered a stout, and the bartender snapped his fingers, remembering something important. “Watch out for the guys on the corner. They’re not real cops; they’re worse. Anyway, my shift is over.” I handed him a five dollar bill. “Thanks, be careful out there.”
I shared the bar with one other patron. He had his head bowed toward a half-empty yellow beer. His gaunt cheeks, bony hands, and disheveled hair, painted a portrait of dedicated self-destruction.
I heard the voice whisper over my shoulder again.
Goddamn church is getting obnoxious, Declan.
“How do you know my name?”
I don’t know your name, Declan.
My barmate never lifted his head.
“Great, a ventriloquist and an asshole.”
The bartender was talking about the men on the corner. They belong to the Civility Guard.
I ignored him. The new bartender said hello, but seemed not to notice the corpse whispering to me.
Being ‘mad with drink’ is a punishable offense.
“Look pal, as far as I can tell we’re strangers. Let’s keep it that way.”
You hate pushy people. I am not a pushy person by nature, but you are being more stubborn than I had anticipated.
“I don’t know what any of that means, but I’m here to celebrate being employed.” I motioned to the new bartender, “A stout for myself, and another of whatever this gentleman likes.” I turned back to the stranger. “Now, I’ve offered a gesture of goodwill. Please leave me be.”
The new bartender sighed wearily. “It’s just you and me cowboy, and I’m in the Program. You want that second drink now, or later?”
The strange man was still hunched over his yellow beer. How did the bartender not see him? I felt nauseated.
Don’t throw up. This is the only place I can speak freely with you.
“I didn’t ask for this. Whatever is happening is not okay with me…”
The man raised his forlorn eyes and nodded. I blinked, and he was gone.
I downed the stout and waved to the bartender, “Make the second a whiskey neat. Whatever you have that doesn’t come from a plastic bottle.”
Monday morning hurt. I drank long into the night trying to conjure the man, but he never returned. I felt like a bundle of mistakes, and the dehydration only gave my regret a physical dimension.
Not the best way to start a job, but I’ve failed harder without trying. I had hot coffee on my desk and all systems running through process logging in twenty minutes.
Greg texted—Back in God’s country, amen. Thank you for being punctual. I trust you have everything you need, if not let me know. May God bless us all.
I replied—Glad you are home safe, and will do.
—Did you see that speech in Iowa last night? Man, I’ve never been this excited about a President. He really is of the People.
—Didn’t see it.
—Good thing, our President has the power of persuasion.
If you’re a brain dead moron, sure…
I had a lot of reading to do.
After a few paychecks, I could finally afford to have lunch in the neighborhood, something other than tacos or a cheap sandwich—3/4 bread 1/4 meatcheesewhatever. I grabbed a short booth in the last hipster diner on Ivar Street. All of the businesses that came to the neighborhood via gentrification, were long gone. When it became clear that the impoverished and criminal were not leaving Hollywood without a fight, investors got spooked and sent their development money Downtown, where it’s 3 cops to each citizen.
Every television was tuned to the President’s favorite news outlet. It’s hard to block it out, but you have to try. There aren’t many true believers in Hollywood, which is why I stuck around, but local businesses kept the sainted news channel on twenty-four hours per day, like a great shrieking mouth.
Greg texted—Happy month-a-versary!
—Thanks! All is well.
—I know. How is your spiritual struggle?
The only waitress in the diner stood behind the bar with the only bartender and the host. They were staring blankly at the President, whose twisted face consumed the HD monitor hung above the horseshoe-shaped bar. Someone turned the volume up.
Folks…folks, look, a problem, yes. We have many of them, things that aren’t right. So true…but now, people are speaking, with tongues, and lips, and voices. A wonderful thing to see, to taste, and hear. Because of this I cannot stand by, yes I have tears here folks, believe me. I cannot allow good god-fearing people to be abused. Across our waving nation of greatness…Yes, sea to ocean, to desert, patriots communing with groups of like-minded Americans, patriots like our own George Washington for instance. Fighting, and fighting what is right, always. So, of course, we are federally funding these groups. What are they?” *offcamera whispering* “Yes, City Guard Posts. Guards, folks, Civility Guards I’m told. They’re here to make you live a better life. Are they cops? Maybe, who cares? They care. About crime. And terrorists. About people determined to destroy the undestroyable love of Christ Jesus. Can’t be destroyed folks. Even Allah knows. These guards, crusaders really, will clean up our streets, keep an eye on those who bring harm, and mess with our way of life. Can’t tread on us Liberals. No means no. Am I right? Folks… In the end, through me, mostly through me, God’s will is being done.
The bartender, “Does anyone know what that idiot is rambling about?”
The waitress, “He’s drunk. He has to be.”
The host, “He’s talking about church police. Like, walking around calling people out for cussing and short skirts.”
The waitress, “You have to be kidding.”
The host, “They’ve been around for a long time. They used to protest at funerals for famous homosexuals and atheists. They think they are doing god’s work. Most people ignore them, obviously they are whacked. But now, I mean look who our President is…”
The bartender, “Yeah, well, watch yourself. Saying shit like that will get you fired.”
The host, “Fuck ‘em. Silence is guilt.”
The waitress, “Complicity. Silence is complicity.”
The host, “Oh, guys, there’s someone here.”
The waitress walked toward me craning her neck to see the screen.
“Hello.” I smiled but for naught. “Bacon and eggs, lots of coffee, and a double whiskey neat. Irish whiskey if you have it.”
“Cool. Did you come here for the Emergency Text Party? It got cancelled, you know.”
“No. Just here for lunch. What’s the Emergency Text party?”
The waitress pointed to a poster in the doorway. “Protest of some sort. Against the President’s emergency warning thing-a-ma-bob. Rumor has it someone squealed and the whole party had to go underground.”
“I guess I’m a little behind on the times.”
She walked toward the kitchen watching the screen intently.
Jenny the Cat Bleacher was waiting at the entrance to the Taft building when I returned.
“Finally.” Her hand was franticly tapping out a cigarette. “You forgot to leave your new number and address. I remembered you said something about working here, so, yeah. I have mail for you.” She reached into her handbag and produced several envelopes.
“Thanks, I appreciate that. I have the same number, I can’t imagine why I didn’t see your calls…” I opened the lobby door.
“Aren’t you going to show me your new office?”
I smiled and closed the door behind me.
Mom’s penmanship was improving, but more and more, she was speaking in someone else’s voice. My son, I know you don’t get involved in politics, but there are dangerous people flooding into this country, taking good jobs from Americans like Robert, and trying to destroy our way of life. Our President is taking care of them. He is restoring our pride. The fear of foreign invasion came from her news stories, perhaps my stepfather. Sometimes you just have to go back to your heritage. You have to stand up for what the country means. I am sad about what is happening, but the President gives me hope. Mom continued to hint at the big surprise I had in store; I couldn’t decide if she was building tension or forgetting she had mentioned it. What was clear: she was gleefully preparing for war, and for someone in her condition, that was an unhealthy focus.
I walked to a nearby liquor store, and took home a bottle of Irish brown—breaking my cardinal rule: never drink at home, especially alone. The possibility of a conversation with the whispering man was good enough to keep me away from Pathos, and everywhere else had that abominable news station blaring.
As the elevator crept to a stop on the twelfth floor, my phone buzzed.
THIS IS A TEST of the President’s Communication Network. All is well, this is only a test. God bless our United State.
Everyone was looking at their phone. Some were bewildered—I could relate—some smirked, and some shook their heads in resignation. I pulled up my own news stories and was disappointed to find our President had sent every last American a text message, whether they liked it or not. They did not provide an opportunity to opt-out.
It was an absurd violation: soft but penetrating. Privacy is only a marketing term; it was simple to look the other way and blame our vulnerability on our need to connect. The reality was much darker, much harder to swallow.
—Did you get it? Another text, Mom this time.
—Yeah. Pretty creepy.
—*look of confusion emoticon*
—The Presidential text message, it’s creepy
—No. My letter
—Yes. I’ll write back tonight
—You are a good son
William began his lifelong roadtrip in the deprecated sands of Las Vegas, Nevada. As a result of a military patriarch, and unabated restlessness, has changed addresses fifty-six times in forty-two years. He is a father, a husband, and his work has been published by The Rumpus, in a special anthology supporting Mines Advisory Group, in the not-for-profit fiction anthology The Cost of Paper, and novella SILENCE was published by Black Hill Press.