Pen & Pedagogy

“Very Dadaesque.” Elliot Moss cried, gesturing with his half-empty wineglass at the thin, nondescript mechanical pen laying upon the floor at the northeasternmost corner of the rectangular, low-ceilinged art gallery.

“Indeed,” Sabrina Vesora agreed, adjusting her scarf, studying the artifact as a crowd of journalists and local social climbers moved by. It was situated such that its nib faced the northern wall, a black sole-scuff-mark moving out in a slender arc from the nib to the right of the device, trailing off to nothingness.

“Highly abstract, yet, even still, the message is deftly inscribed.”

Moss nodded hesitantly, vaguely, uncomprehending, “Yeah,” He set his glass upon a nearby table and knelt, removing his phone and snapping a few shots of the pen, “Its great how imaginative the students have become with their art—shaking off all that stodgy hyperformalism.”

“I know! And look what they’ve come up with when they’re unconstrained—all that they’ve been able to say without speaking a word.”

“I’m not sure I get it,” a old man to Vesora’s immediate right remarked flatly, stroking his beard with his champagne-less left hand.

She cast the man a withering look and gestured to the pen.

“Its pointed towards the wall—to declare that most of our communications are superfluous, doomed to fail, fated to run into obstruction, into a wall. Yet, the scuff mark, moving away from the tip, out towards the center of the room, which compels us to turn our attention away from our own ‘writing’—from ‘the wall’—back to the lives of others, then, true communication is possible, but only if our instruments, and our empathy, move counter to our instincts.”

The old man furrowed his brows and tilted his head to stare at the pen from a different angle.

“Yeah,” piped up Moss, removing himself from the floor, phone photo-filled, “Its a metaphor. Social commentary—but subtle. Doesn’t beat you over the head with the message.”

The old man turned, addressing a finely dressed man with a custom-tailored black coat, tipped at the collar with white fur, “Oh. Hello, Mr. Partridge.”

“Salutations, Mr. Cramm. I was just speaking with Mr. Wakely, he tells me you’re planning something at the docks; but more on that latter—how’ve you been enjoying the gala?”

“Marvelously. As per usual. But I could use your expertise on this piece… not really sure what the artist was going for,” he replied, gesturing with perplexity to the pen by the wall.

Lynder Partridge’s keen eyes moved to the pen and lit up with recognition.

He then strode between the trio, knelt and gingerly plucked the pen up off the floor and examined it in his leather gloved hands.

“You’re ruining the installment,” Vesora exclaimed befuddled, “What are you doing?”

Lynder smiled opaquely, “Returning Mr. Wakely’s pen. He lost it around an hour ago.”

The Photographer’s Dilemma (V)

When she arrived at Jamie’s apartment she was surprised, it was far less expansive and glitzy than she had expected, given he was a friend of Calvin’s. She knocked and Jamie quickly answered, smiling.

“Hey, you alright.”

“No, not really, not at all.”

She went inside and was given a cup of coffee and sat down as the television rang out in the background.

“This report just in… we warn you, however, the details of the case are graphic. The victim of the suspected homicide which occurred last night at 500 Rose Place has been identified as a one Jamal Greely. Sources tell us that Greely had spent time in a correctional facility in his youth for molesting his sister and, more recently, had been involved in a child trafficking ring which the police believe to have ties to the Serbian Underground, though this remains a matter of speculative correlation at this point in time. Greely was found in his home after a anonymous tip was sent to Detective Sebastian Blanca of the VPD. Alongside Greely Detective Blanca discovered copious amounts of drugs, principally heroin as well as numerous dog cages, some of which were filled with defecation and discarded diapers.” The reporter took a moment to exhale and inhale deeply, unable to continue any further, he blinked and cleared his throat and then continued reading his report, “Uh, no… children were found at the scene though it is believed he was keeping at least two, possibly three, children in his compound. The… caller has yet to be identified. No suspects have yet surfaced.”

“What an ugly mug,” Jamie sneered in between mouthfuls of yogurt he spooned into his maw as he watched. Ariadne looked up from him, to the screen for the first time since the report had came on and gasped. The face upon the screen tagged “Jamal Greely” was familiar to her.

“I know that man.”

Jamie spun upon her.

“You what now? How?”

“I met him last night.”

“He was murdered last night. Shit… that means…”

She nodded solemnly, “I must have left just in time. He must have been killed very shortly after I walked away from his stoop.” She shook her head, biting her lower lip, “I saw him, Jamie. The man who,” she gestured to the television, “Killed that piece of trash. I saw him.”

Jamie placed his hand upon her shoulder and she slumped against him, into an embrace. His warmth was comforting and very soon, Ariadne forgot about the photo of the eye and the man with the white jacket and the kidnapper on the stoop and Partridge and the galas and the art world and her dreams. In that moment there was nothing but her and Jamie and the synchronous beating of their hearts.

 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (IIII)

Campbell returned home elated. Finally, after all her struggles, she would be having her first major gallery showing, at one of the premiere lounges in the city and on a weekend no less where the maximal number of people would be likely to show up. It wasn’t just good, it was perfect. She moved sprightly to the kitchen, throwing her coat upon the kitchen counter and removing a bottle of wine from the fridge. She paused when she turned around to set it on the long faux-obsidian island. She had forgotten to open her mail, which sat in a thick cluster upon the table. Aridane set the wine bottle down and began shuffling through the papers, bills, bank statements, credit card offers and, at the last, a note that was wholly unlike the rest, all yellowish creme, with a tasteful silver ensign upon the upper left corner. It did not say who it was from but was addressed to her. She wondered if someone had delivered it by hand as she fished out a butter knife and slit the top of the tiny package. Inside was a small square, covered over in expensive parchment. When she folded it away a photograph of a human eye greeted her, sepia toned and eerie; it was beautifully bound in a simple black frame without ornamentation. With rising brows the woman set the photograph down beside the bottle and unfurled the parchment. It read: Do you see?

What the hell is this? Who would send this to…

She studied the eye on the table, it seemed familiar. It was certainly from a female subject. After a few more moments of deliberation she stood bolt up right and cursed underneath her breath.

Its MY eye. That means… Lynder… he’s the only person who has taken a photo of me recently. He took my picture at his last gala. It must have been him. It must have.

She picked up her phone and dialed the doorman.

“Eeeello, what may I do for you?”

“Grigs, this is Ariadne-”

“Oh hello Ms. Campbell, something the matter?”

“No, not really. I was just curious if anyone has come in the past couple of weeks, anyone you don’t recognize?”

“Uh, I don’t think so… oh wait, yeah, come to think of it there was a fellow came in early yesterday. Definitely didn’t live here, said he was visiting some friends. Had a white jacket, with a red design on the back.”

“What kind of design?”

“Looked like a chrysanthemum.”

“Shit.”

“What is it? You know him Ms. Campbell, cause if he’s giving you any trouble I’ll-”

“No. No its fine, Grigs. Something just occurred to me. Thanks.”

Her hand trembled as she set the phone down. Her mind reeling back to the alleyway and the man with the white jacket and the chrysanthemum ensign. Who was he? Why was he here? Was he the one who had left the letter with the photograph of her eye? How did he get it? Did he know Partridge? What the fuck was going on?

Suddenly it occurred to her – the copies. She ran to her dark room and gasped.

Her copies of the man with the white jacket were missing. All of them.

The phone rang out from the kitchen. Aridane nearly jumped out of her skin and then shook her head and swore under her breath and ran to the source of the noise.

“Y-yes?”

“Ariadne, its me, Jamie. I just wanted to make sure you were ok.”

“What?”

“I know we didn’t exactly hit it off, we were drunk and all, its just… there was a murder. Right outside of Calvin’s place, near the alley you take to get home.”

“How the fuck do you know what way I take to get home.”

“Calvin told me. Or, Svetlana told me and Calvin told her. I just wanted to make sure you were ok, Calvin would have called but he was in a meeting, he’s starting to get big offers and, er, it doesn’t matter.”

“What happened, who was killed?”

“Dunno. Police haven’t released any names or photos, they just got a anonymous tip that something was going down in The Tombs. They show up and some guy is lying on the ground in his house missing half his head. Skull was crushed.”

“Any suspects?”

“None. Lot of people live around there, even though walking at night you might not think it.”

“Well… thanks for calling me, Jamie. Listen… uh-”

“Is something wrong? You sound upset.”

“Yeah, actually, yeah something is really fucking wrong, someone broke into my place and stole my photos.”

“What… Why?”

“I don’t know. But I’m freaking out, does Calvin mind if I come over?”

“Like I said he’s in a meeting, he’ll be tied up for a while. You can come over to my place, I don’t live very far away from him. Ok?”

“Ok. Thanks Jamie.”

“No problem. I’m at 556 Essen Street. You know it?”

“I know it.”

“Ok.”

“Ok, I’ll talk to you soon.”

She hung up and grabbed her coat, silently cursing herself for not scanning her pictures and saving them online.

If I’d just scanned them whoever the bastard who had broken in would be shit out of luck. Dammit.

She starred a moment at the photograph of her eye and then pocketed it and headed for the door, locking it behind her. As she headed for the subway a man with a crisp white jacket watched from the shadows of a local parking garage. Eyes like lanterns in the night.

 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (III)

The wicked droning of the club-speaker’s drowned out all conversation, interaction was relegated to drunken glances and sensual movements. A communication of primal rhythm. Ariadne Campbell sat in the corner, starring sullenly at her half-empty glass. She could see them out of the corner of her eye. Dancing, kissing, rubbing, whispering about fucking. Her lip quivered. Head dizzy with drink. Knuckles white. The sound of the place was starting to become overwhelming, the sonic shredding roiling throughout the ambit of her mind like an ocean in a shell. She’d no idea why she’d accepted Calvin’s invitation.

I should have turned him down. I can’t dance. Don’t have a date. Probably look like a fucking loser. Sitting in the corner alone, sipping tequila. I don’t even know why I bought it. I can’t stand tequila… at least they didn’t drop a worm in it…

Some moments later a voice greeted her. Unfamiliar and husky.

“What are you doing sulking in the corner, beautiful?”

Her words came slow and messy, the alcohol haze masking the texts from the library shelves of her memory palace, “I’m not sulking. Who are you?”

“Rivers. Jamie Randall Rivers. You don’t remember me?”

“Oh, wait, we met at Calvin’s party, last Friday, right?”

“Right. What’s your poison?”

“Tequila.”

He raised his brows. That’s a whole lot of tequila for a little girl like you.”

“Hey, I’m not that little.”

“Little to me.”

“Is that a challenge? I bet I could drink you under the table.”

She had no idea where this sudden bravado was coming from and knew that she couldn’t out-drink the man if only because she felt extremely drunk already, yet even still, the words continued to gush from her mouth as if of their own accord.

“Well? Wadda ya say?”

He smiled like a wolf. “Sure.”

An hour and a half later, Ariadne and Randall were rolling with laughter, exchanging stories of their youth, business mishaps, their dreams, failed and achieved, all whilst knocking back shots like fish filtering water. Shortly thereafter, Calvin and his girlfriend finally left the dancefloor and made their way across the club to stand before the cackling duo, “Randall, I didn’t see you pop in, I’m glad you could make it.”

“Your parties are always great, man. Thanks for the invite, was only late because my kid was sick, poor girl couldn’t sleep.”

Ariadne sat bolt upright. Kid? He hadn’t mentioned a kid. Is he married? Does he have a wife? Why would he come over and call me beautiful if he did? I thought he…

“Why aren’t you two dancing?” Calvin’s girl inquired with a raise of a over-shaved brow. Aridane couldn’t remember her name. Was something strange. Foreign. Eastern European. Stoya or Stoylarov or Story or something like that. Calvin always had been possessed of a inexplicable appreciation for the exotic.

Randall raised his empty shot glass and shook the ice cubes therein which clattered like hollow bones, smiling. Calvin nodded and pointed to Ariadne, “How about you, you up for a dance… if you don’t mind, Svety?”

Svetlana, that was her name. Sounds like a low-shelf sugar brand.

Svetlana rolled her eyes, “I hate it when you call me that, sounds too much like ‘sweaty.'”

Ariadne and Randall burst into laughter as an embarrassed look ghosted across Calvin’s squarish, handsome face. “Sorry.” He mouthed sheepishly. She smiled and fixed him with her gaze.

“Actually, yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, I do mind. Now come on, this is one of my favorite songs.”

Without another word Svetlana dragged her hapless lover back into the crowded dancefloor as a saccharin pop piece thundered from the loudspeakers, “I just wanna taste you baby, I just wanna little piece of the pie, I just wanna feel you honey, I just never wanna see you cry-“

“I think I know this song, not really my cup of tea but-”

“You didn’t tell me you had a kid.”

He paused, confused, brows furrowed like a tractor-rent field.

“You didn’t ask. Is that a problem?”

“No. Its just… are you married?”

His right brow arched a little higher. Momentarily, he raised his left hand and wriggled his unadorned and evenly tanned fingers.

“Fraid not. You planning on proposing?”

“No, I was just curious.”

“Did you think I was hitting on you?”

Ariadne’s heart sunk. She didn’t know how to reply, every avenue, verbal and not, seemed equally likely to lead to social embarrassment.

“Uh, that isn’t what I said.”

“Because I wasn’t. I mean, not that I wouldn’t, I just-”

“Its fine.” She wanted desperately to say “forget it” but feared for sounding too forceful.

He cleared his throat and starred intently at his glass. Lynder’s words rang through Ariadne’s head as she observed the man, who looked so genuinely uncomfortable in that moment, “Art is documentation of one’s own creation, not of anothers.” This is MY creation, this moment of unease and emotional ambiguity, this voided mental space externalized.

She removed her Leica M4-P from her bag and, swiftly as possible, snapped a shot of Randall staring at his glass. He looked up in inebriated confusion and she snapped again.

“What are you doing?”

“I hope you don’t mind. I just felt… compelled.”

“Uh, well, I’m going to go and… get another drink. Be right back.”

“Ok.”

He never returned. After around ten minutes had elapsed she induced that he had like as not left or maybe had moved into one of the other chambers of Calvin’s strange, multi-stratified compound, a gift from his oft doting and well-heeled family. Perhaps looking for another girl. Perhaps not. It didn’t matter. He didn’t matter, not to her, not in that moment, all that mattered where her photos. Her art. She rose with such suddenness that she knocked over her glass, spilling the congealing contents of her cup across the table and made for the exit, she wanted to her, fearful that someone would catch her leaving and raise the litany of typical queries which the unimaginative always did in such situations. “Why are you taking off so soon?” “How come you’re leaving already?” and so forth. She had no time or patience or energy for such conversations. Her goal compelled her to swift action and that crystallization of purpose steeled her being and drove her through the foggy haze of alcohol and wavering, sultry bodies and noise and street-bound biomass into the winding labyrinth of the cities slums which had come to be known as The Tombs. As she rounded the corner of the first alley which let out from the Calvin’s northern block she bumped into a tall man with a white jacket.

“Fuck, I’m sorry.”

The man looked down upon her without sound, or at least assumed he did, for his face was masked in shadow, swallowed whole by the pall cast by a dark red ballcap.

The man continued to regard her a moment without moving and then spoke, his voice low and flat and strange.

“These streets are unsafe, especially at such an hour. It is unadvisable to walk them alone.”

“You seem to be doing just fine by your lonesome.”

“I am never alone.”

She was too stunned by this sudden theatrical turn to properly respond. What did he mean? Was he on drugs? He didn’t seem like a tweaker. It was only when the man had half vanished from sight that Ariadne regained the powers of speech. She noticed, as she watched him go, a curious ensign upon the back of his jacket. A red chrysanthemum. When the man had gone she continued on her way back to her apartment which lay at the south eastern corner of the Tombs. She raised her Leica and took his picture.

She passed by a old black man sitting upon the stoop of a decaying tenement who was dressed in a broad brimmed hat and ragged flannel. He looked up hungrily, speaking softly but excitedly.

“Hey honey, you looking for a little… something something.”

She wasn’t sure whether he meant drugs or sex or some combination thereof; the one thing she was certain of was that he was implying at least one of the three.

“Nope.”

“You sure bout that?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Cool, cool, cool. Suit yaself.” He lit up a cigarette and looked off into the dark vacantly, puffing and rubbing his chin as the wind picked up and tore through the massive concrete structures with the dessicated rattling of a hundred thousand cicadas. Once he’d looked off she snapped a photo of him as well. He suddenly looked back towards here.

“What the fuck you doing?”

“Just taking pictures.”

“Take them somewhere else.”

“Sheesh, don’t get your panties in a knot,” she sneered taking another picture of the man. A dark look came then over his face and he rose up from the stoop, his posture threatening.

“The fuck you say, bitch? Get the fuck out of here.”

She snapped mid-rise and at full height, as his mouth hung open, spittle flying, anger radiating from his eyes and vaporizing up with the cool blue of the moon.

“Alright, calm down.” She implored the man, turning, her heart racing a little faster than usual.

“Be calm when you ain’t taking no more pictures, I don’t do that tabloid shit.”

She pocked the camera and waved at the man whose wrathful glare continued to follow her down the length of the street until she vanished in the void.

Once home she grabbed up her mail, threw it on the kitchen island and shut herself up in the darkroom, developing her photos of Jamie Rivers.

*

“These are pretty good,” the old man stated flatly, as he examined the photographs, his brows slightly raise, his glasses perched upon the end of his nose, “I don’t tend to see a lot of slice-of-life work anymore from serious photographers. Documentation is out, digital manipulation is in. Fantasy portraits are currently the favored flavor of the month. Lots of demon-ladies and badly photoshopped levitation scenes, etcetera. Tedious. Very tedious. But this, this has some grit to it, unearths the petty squalor of the inner city, the emulsification of crushed dreams and the vain striving to move beyond that vitiation.”

“Is ‘pretty good’ good enough for your gallery, Mr. Thompson?”

“Well, you just get right down to business don’t you. Brass tacks then. Yes.”

Ariadne heard his words, registered them, but even still she could not believe in their veracity. For years she had been struggling to break into the gallery scene, into the upper crust of the art world. Now, at long last the delicious nectar of victory dangled tempting just above her tongue. To taste it…

“What?”

“Yes. I would love to put these up for display. However, before I do, I’d like to know why you’ve taken them. What’s your motivation, Ms. Campbell?”

“Um…” Her tongue caught in her throat. It was not a question she was accustomed to being asked, “To be… more than just a vessel. To show through my pictures of the city, how much one person can change it, even if only so slightly. We forget how much impact we have on those around us, especially when we chance into them but once and never met them again.”

The old man paused, strike buy the peculiarity of her answer.

“Most people just list off what they want to get with the attention that is brought by their art. Listen, Ms. Campbell, as I’d said before, I would very much like to put these up; I’m hosting a show in a week, Saturday; you can leave these here and my people will set them up along with the other displays.”

“That’s fine, I’ve copies.”

“Good good, but I assure you, we take the utmost care in the maintenance of our pieces.” The old man paused and looked out the window whereupon a enormously fat woman was slurping from a fast-food cup, “It is rare enough we take care of our bodies and thus our minds, to say nothing of their products. For this reason I like to look at art like a body, a extension of it, a fusion of the body with the world. Thoughts are bodies. Thoughts and dreams.”

“Art is the crystallization of a dream.”

The old man smiled even as he tilted his head in perplexity.

“You sound just like Lynder Partridge.”

 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (II)

“That fucking bastard.”

Ariadne Campbell mouthed the words under mint and marijuana tainted breath as she beheld the large five foot by five foot drawing which hung upon the pure white wall of the gallery pulling all present eyes towards it with is grim and imposing majesty, even as it repelled with its stark audacity. The picture was of a middle aged man, muscular and nude, holding the sun in one hand and the moon in the other, standing astride a continental rendering of the globe, a crown upon his head and upon his face, a peculiar mask that bore some similarity to those of the Venetians. Despite the ornate, facial covering, she recognized the man, the model. The peculiar almond eyes and distinctive hardness of his jawline was unmistakable.

Derrick J. Graham. D.J. for short.

As she stood with clenched fists, her face twisting into a wreakful grimace, the click and flash of a camera followed swiftly by a sonorous, demure voice.

“I thought you might come. Its been a while, Ms. Campbell.”

She spun instantly to behold Lynder Partridge standing before her, camera raised to his face. He smiled and slowly lowered the machine and then gestured to the illustration which hung upon the wall, back-lit by pure, white light.

“What do you think?”

“I think you stole my model.”

“Stole?”

“He used to work for me.”

“Precisely, he used to. Or did you forget that you’d fired him after a temper tantrum? Forgive me if it should displease you, but you really shouldn’t have blamed the man for your work, he was just a prop, you were the director. He cannot be held accountable for the failings of your work, anymore than I could blame my graphite for botching one of my drawings.”

“I didn’t come here to be lectured.”

“Then why did you come?”

She shook her head and gazed off towards a crowd in the distance. Lynder swiftly followed her gaze and lit upon a tall, muscular blond man with a ridiculous multi-colored plaid shirt, rolled up to his elbows.

“Ah,” Lynder nodded to himself, “You’re here for him. Calvin, right?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I understand what that gaze means. I can see why you like him. He’s very handsome.”

Ariadne screwed up her face in a mixture of amusement, confusion and disgust.

“What are you, gay?”

“Must I be to have a proper appreciation of masculine beauty? You like him, don’t you?”

“More than you.”

The ghost of smile traced a faint line across Lynder’s smooth, pale face which sharpened the contours of his cheekbones under the sterile white gala lights, whereupon his luminous blue eyes flickered with a strange intensity. He nodded slightly, but not to the woman.

“Do you know why you don’t like me?”

“Because you think you’re so much better than me.”

“I am better than you, Ms. Ariadne, that is precisely why you don’t like me.”

“Fuck you.”

Lynder continued on, heedless of her rising temper, his face expressionless save for his eyes which projected an intense and dreamlike yearning.

“The inability to acknowledge one’s betters, in the arts, as in anything, is the surest sign of an overflow of passion and it is precisely your undirected passion which blinds you, which keeps you from admitting the obvious – that my work is superior to your own, that your own is merely ancillary to yourself, that you are but a medium, a vessel, unable to craft a vision to mold the world – which keeps you from accepting any criticism whatsoever. Mind well that the inability to accept criticism is an implicit expression of the belief in one’s utter perfection. One can scarcely expect to make strides when one believes that technique has reached its apex.”

She hated him, hated him more than anyone she had ever met, yet still she stayed and listened, intently. Despite her inner protestations, his words filled her with fascination. Momentarily, the trim, dapper man checked his form-fitting silver wristwatch and raised his brows slightly.

“I must take my leave; I promised Mr. Derby an interview for his paper on my recent works. Do take care.”

With that he left out of the gala as the crowd swirled around him like a tidal wave of flesh, the ceaseless increase of their murmuring swiftly drowning out his elegant footsteps and obscuring him from sight entire. She’d been so absorbed by his words and presence that she’d wholly forgotten that the man had taken a photograph of her. The woman’s mind raced, she feared what of her that portrait would reveal. She cursed him under her breath and turned to leave but paused when she spotted Calvin once more, he was speaking with Graham some distance away on the far side of the gallery, beside two large statues that seemed to have been welded together from heavy scrap, each of a titanic knight, one with a shield, the other, a sword. Momentarily, a woman, young and curvy, with skimpy, form-fitting clothing, sided up to Calvin and whispered something in his ear, he pulled a face and the next instance she kissed him with a mischievous twinkle in her eye and he took her by the chin and kissed her back passionately. Then the trio laughed, oh, how they laughed. Ariadne felt they were laughing at her, sneering, conspiring.

This gala, just like the last should have been mine! Just as Calvin should be mine, not that disgusting slag’s. I know her, I’ve seen her around, nothing but a drugged-up whore. What does she have that I do not? Is it her money? All those greenbacks from e-begging and lascivious strip-shows? Is it because she has a spot in the gallery and I do not? Is it because she knows and probably fucks the old pricks who run the artmag scene? How did my sweet Calvin ever get so mixed up with people like her? Its not fair. Its not right. Its not how it should be… none of it.

Ariadne’s heart pounded like a misfiring engine, eyes going large with dreadful rage, like an owl in the moonlight, her fists balled, knuckles white. She hated to admit it, but Lynder was right about one thing: she wasn’t taking putting herself into her works. She was acting merely as a medium, afraid to ply her hand, afraid to reach unto the world and mold it, to fit it to her design.

No longer.

 

The Photographer’s Dilemma (I)

Ariadne Campbell scoffed.

“It’s… really quite dreadful. He’s talented, clearly, but it’s just so… grotesque.”

The woman’s companion, a bulky man with golden hair, dressed in a blazer that was far less expensive than it looked, folded his arms took a step away from the painting. He scanned the composition for a few moments and then returned his gaze to Campbell.

“I have to disagree with you. I think it’s lovely. No, that isn’t the right word. Striking.”

“You’re far too accommodating, Calvin; you never like to say a negative word. No spine beneath all those muscles.”

“It’s not that I am afraid to critique, it’s just in this I find nothing to critique at all. It’s magnificent, really.”

“It’s shock-drivel. I mean, rape… really?”

“Are you sure all that faulty ire isn’t just a result of Lynder Partridge getting top-slot and you getting… well, nothing.”

Some art reviewers from the local papers walked by, sizing up the massive canvas and it’s disconcerting contents. They stroked their stubbly chins and scratched out some notes and chattered amongst themselves about the latest cinematic releases and celebrity scandals.

“You seen the latest Captain Omega film?” A pudgy, balding man with a windbreaker inquired to a young, starry eyed Asain woman who stood beside him. She shook her head mane, “No. Haven’t seen them, superhero movies are rather… I don’t know I just don’t find them interesting. They’re all… it’s like the same film over and over again. There is no dramatic tension because you know the good guy will always win. You know one thing I was thinking about was how morality is handled in these films, superhero films, action films generally,” the fat man nodded blankly, he wasn’t really listening, didn’t really care, his eyes scanned the room, seeking out the all-stars from the world of the arts; there was always a scoop, if one was keen enough to but find it. The woman droned on, “So like, they’re always just like good and noble and whatever which is fine and all except that, ya know, they’re actually vigilantes. I mean, think about it, that’s what superheroes are, really. If someone dressed up in a mask and a cape and went around beating up criminals we’d all think they were crazy.”

The fat man turned to his companion with a knowing glint in his eye, “Lady, we pay good money to watch the mistresses of inner-city thugs throw tampons at each other; I think we’re all crazy.”

The woman gasped and turned to her friends to relay the horror she had just witnessed as the fat man cracked a grin and moved up stand between Campbell and Calvin, examining the elaborate drawing in between darting glances to the aloof duo.

“You’re the famous Ms. Campbell, aren’t you? The photographer, right?”

Campbell was surprised and flattered to be recognized; she tried in vain not to let it show through.

“Yes. Do we know each other?”

“Nope. But I know you know. I’m Ashton Derby,” he flashed a well-filled notepad in front of her face, “Been following your work. Pretty stuff, very pretty stuff, you’ve got a keen eye.”

“Apparently you do as well,” she smiled smugly, luxuriating in her burgeoning fame, “Are you an artist yourself?”

“No, not me. Ha, can barely draw a stick figure. I just like writing about it. I fancy that’s what the shrinks would call ‘cathartic release.’ Or voyeurism… or something like that.”

“What do you make of Partridge’s work; his drawings?”

“They’re… different. They’re kinda… I dunno… disturbing.”

Campbell turned to Calvin with triumph shinning in her eyes, “See, I told you he wasn’t all that.”

“Oh no, it isn’t that I think they’re bad, I mean, it’s like a car crash, it’s horrible but I can’t look away, that’s kind of a testament to the artist, don’t you think? Whole reason I came to this gala event was to snag an interview with the elusive Lynder Partridge, guy never answers my emails, phone calls, nothing. He’s a hermit. Ya know, I tried looking him up… weirdest thing, there are no photographs of the guy anywhere, online, in papers. Must be camera shy.”

Campbell’s heart shrunk. She was so sick and tired of hearing that name. So sick and tired of everyone praising such a rank amateur. This should have been her event. HER gala. If only… if only…

Now it was Calvin who looked victorious, he arched a brow in his friend’s direction as if to say, “Still so haughty?” Campbell crossed her arms about her breasts and bite her lip and then scoffed at the fat man.

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe our collective tastes have reached such lows. Decades ago this city used to be the art capital of the world and now… THIS? This is what passes as art? This ghastly aberration?! Lynder Partridge is nothing more than an over-hyped elitist.”

Darby was taken aback and for a moment he stood in stunned silence; he’d not expected such a sudden deluge of passion. Calvin only sighed, it was not the first time he’d witnessed such an outburst. Before either of the men could respond, a new voice fluttered over the air, low and scratchy and strangely sonorous.

“I’ve been called many things, Ms. Campbell, but never ‘over-hyped’.”

All heads turned to behold a man of middling height and pale flesh standing before them. The intruder wore an off-white suit, expertly tailored, a red tie and a jet black overcoat, tipped at the collar with expensive furs and leather loafers that clattered musically upon the gala’s marbled floor as the cane that followed with them. His features were sharp and angular and his opaque blue eyes reflected the light in prismatic sparks that were diluted from the thick and serpentine whorls of smoke that roiled up from a daintily clutched cigarette – half smoked – which he held in his left and leather gloved hand.

Darby’s face lit up as he saw the man, his long-sought quarry as Campbell’s own fell in dismay. She’d not actually expected to meet the man when she’d accepted invitation as Partridge was notoriously aloof. Some who knew him reported that he was partial to month long vanishing acts; where he went was anyone’s guess.

“M-Mr. Partridge! Hello, I’m-”

“Ashton Darby. Newspaper man. Culture reporter for The New Daily Standard. I read your column,” the fat man waited in vain for the artist to comment on the quality of his writing; when he did not, the light faded from his eyes and he twirled the notepad with agitation, “And you are Ariadne Campbell, and this must be your friend,” Lynder turned to Calvin with the faintest trace of a smile and extended one of his thin, leather-gloved hands.

“Calvin Mercer, pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Partridge.”

“Likewise.”

“Do forgive my friend here, she sometimes gets a little carried away, I’m sure she didn’t mean-”

“I meant absolutely everything I said,” Ariadne snapped hotly, her gaze narrowing and her mouth going taunt. It occurred to her suddenly that this chance encounter opened up a whole world of new possibilities for her career. Perhaps, she thought, Darby would even write her up in one of his columns! If there were to be a public spat, surely someone would pick it up. One of the tabloids. One of the screamsheets. Tantalized, she steeled her resolve.

“Your art is dreadful.”

Darby nearly gasped while Calvin simply shook his head in resigned vexation; why, he thought, could she never behave herself? There always had to be a show…

Lynder’s face registered nothing. His facade as placid and impenetrable as a Venetian mask.

“You’re a photographer, are you not, Ms. Campbell?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“What I should fancy is truly cause for dread is the photographers’ dilemma; the photographer is a documentarian through and through. He does not create, he captures creation.”

“All art is documentation.”

“This is true. Art is documentation of one’s own creation, not of anothers. The photographer who does not arrange his or her own scenes, why,” Lynder finally turned towards her, it was the first time he had looked directly at Campbell since he’d entered the scene; his head level, piercing blue eyes unblinking, “She wouldn’t really even be an artist at all, but merely a voyeur, a vessel for the real actors to communicate. A medium.”

Campbell froze having noticed the gender switch – he to she – she’d heard the words but they did not instantly register in her mind. When they had sunk in she groped for a retort but there was nothing other than the rattling of the crowd like a great and baying pack of hounds echoing all throughout the hall surrounding and her own rapid cluttering thoughts which slithered up from the viscous recesses of her frantic mind. She had never considered such a position before; she knew he was wrong, of course, indeed, had to be, but she could not articulate why and in due course began to question her own conviction. I’m not… I’m not just some documentarian. I’m an artist. Just like you. Only better. Far better. You think you can talk down to me because you’re on the rise? Because you’ve got a little bit of local fame? Because you got the gala slot and not me?! I’ll show you, you arrogant bastard. I’ll show you!

Campbell made a showing of carelessness, sighing and turning from Lynder as if he bored her, though, in truth, it was to escape his gaze. Most people looked off at regular intervals when they were talking with someone but Lynder’s eyes never wavered, he was focused wholly upon her, expectant, she assumed, of a reply. She didn’t like it. Didn’t like him or his weird eyes or his fancy coat or his preened dress clothes beneath it. Didn’t like the gala and the insect clattering of the crowd.

She wanted to get out. Needed to get out.

“This conversation bores me, I’m leaving,” she thought that might do it, that that would stir some hint of passion from him, rouse some semblance of anger. But there was nothing. His cold, blue eyes and his sharp pale face remained wholly immobile, unfazed.

Momentarily, Lynder inclined his head respectfully, sincerely, “Good’day, Ms. Campbell.”

It took considerable willpower for Campbell to keep herself from running from the gala. The bastard had won, she thought to herself, and what was more infuriating was that she was fairly certain the battle was entirely constrained within the confines of her own mind. He had won today, but she vowed she’d never allow him the upper hand again.

*

 

She scanned Darby’s column as soon as it was released. There was no mention of “Ariadne Campbell.” Ariadne cursed herself; I should have made a better impression on Darby and a worser impression on HIM. I should have… I should have…

“Something on your mind, Ms. Campbell? You look worried.”

She turned to her model where he stood in the albescent loft, naked and holding a fig. Putting down the paper upon her worktable she looked up at the man and shook her head.

“It’s nothing. Hold the fig a little higher.”

“Like this?”

“Yes, good. Good.”

Only it wasn’t good. It was a stiff and cliche sub-par Renaissance-era facsimileism. It was deplorable. She looked at the digital camera reel, picture after picture of the lithe, muscular young man in various poses of heroic splendor as hackneyed and messageless as the splicing on-to of Roman columns upon a Brutalist facade. She had attempted Homeric Joe McNally and ended up as just another amateur floundering at the fathomless edges of the new. She sighed and leaned back, setting the camera down with a dull clack upon the worktable and sipped some lukewarm bourbon from a small, squat wineglass. She hadn’t been able to find any of the damned shot glasses, she wondered idly if Calvin had thieved one for his upcoming flat-party. He’d better not have…

“Ms. Campbell, I could really use a stretch, like I said before, I don’t mind posing a little over-time, and we’re,” he looked towards his mobile phone’s clock, “ten minutes over, “But I’ve been doing this pose for almost twenty minutes straight, neck is killin’ me.”

“Yeah. Sure. Fine.”

She was only half listening. Frustration’s savage increase consumed the whole of her mind. She couldn’t find her shot glasses. She couldn’t get a gala slot. She couldn’t get featured in any of the big name art columns even if she was being recognized by their writers. She still couldn’t think of rebuttal to Lynder’s rebuke and as a consequence had decided to forego her typical photographic methodology of streetcrawling for real-life scenes in favor of a elaborate and meticulously crafted designer-fantasy shot. What bothered her most was that the draftsman had not spoken out of anger, but out of concern and curiosity. His low and sonorous voice echoed still.

Art is documentation of one’s own creation, not of anothers. The photographer who does not arrange his or her own scenes, why, she wouldn’t really even be an artist at all, but merely a voyeur, a vessel for the real actor’s to communicate. A medium.

A medium… is that all I really am? A vessel? She wondered with horror, her hands closing tensely upon her sunless knees, her lips and brows trembling with emotion. The week had begun so promisingly and now everything felt wrong. Fate was taking the piss.

“What’s the matter?”

“I don’t pay you to psychoanalyze.”

The model threw up his hands in entreaty, his mouth going taunt, eye mired in confusion and a mild but growing sense of irritation.

“Yeesh. Sorry. Don’t know why you’re in such a foul mood today. I was just worried about you-”

“I don’t pay you to worry. I pay you to do good poses for my work. A task at which you have miserably failed. Look at this. It’s cartoonish,” she held up the camera reel screen for him to observe, “See. Look at this.”

“Those were poses you asked me to do.”

“Well, you didn’t do them very well, did you?” The question was rhetorical. She knew they were bad and she knew he knew they were bad. She just wanted him to suffer for it. He wasn’t an artist but he’d been around enough artists to know what was aesthetically pleasing and what was schlock. It was his fault, she thought, anger rising with her body from the couch. HIS, not mine!

“I don’t know what else you want from me.”

“I want you to leave. You’re fired.”

His eyes went wide, “What? Why?”

“Just get out.”

“An explanation for my CV would be appreciated.”

“I said get out.”

He turned to leave, hurriedly dressing and snatching his phone up from off the counter of the exposed kitchen island. He paused at the door and turned to look at his former boss with equal measures of disappointment and disdain.

“You ever wonder if you can’t get into the big galas because you aren’t talented or if its just because you’re a unbearable bitch? Food for thought. Have fun with the rest of your life.”

She was expecting an infuriated slam but he closed the door gently behind him. As his feet clattered down the old tenement hallway Ariadne moved to where he’d stood before the counter, as if to envelope his afterimage. Some indeterminable amount of time clocked away into nothing before she inhaled deeply and poured herself another shot of brew, sipping the golden drops in quick, nervous gulps, cursing her former employee in her mind. You never really cared about my work. You probably only cared about me because of money. Maybe you wanted to fuck me. Well, now I’ve fucked you. Bastard. 

Outside the cars tore at the concrete and a flock of birds she’d never seen before squealed by, as if in protest of gravity’s suzerainty. The city screamed and she screamed with it.

 

 

The Iron Garden: Part.12

Campaign

Angela Vikander stood anxiously upon the balcony of her expansive highrise, overlooking the main thoroughfares of the city. She wanted a cigarette badly but had decided to quit, a move to improve her image; it had been Erlen’s idea. Vikander cursed her campaign manager under her breath. Damn him. Why the hell do I need to quit smoking? No potential voters is going to know or much care what the fuck I do in private. No one cares what people do in the privacy of their own homes. Look at those genderqueer freaks… no one bats an eye any more about them and their bizarro protests, their period fetishes… any sane person would gag seeing those loons. Yet you see the news hen-pecking them, Erlen? Fuck no. No one gives a shit.

These were inappropriate thoughts, she well knew, thoughts which, if given voice, would sink her campaign almost as quickly as the CAF albatross which had been thrown about her neck. Everything was coming apart at the seams. She inhaled deeply and leaned against the cool steel of the balcony as a voice echoed from behind.

“You look a little stressed. Did I come in at a bad time?”

She turned to address Erlen Straik. He was a short, thin man, with immaculately styled hair, designer glasses and a swooning way of moving that Vikander had always found infuriatingly effete and affected.

“No. What is it?”

“You need to see this.”

He moved to the table in the middle of her make-shift conference room and laid out a news article. The headline read: CAF Attacks Art Gallery. What Part Did Vikander Play?

Angela sighed, “That from The Trumpet. They’ve been pro-Layne since he announced his campaign.”

As Straik pulled his phone out of his pocket and swiped the screen, illuminating his face with dim, blue light.

“That isn’t all, it gets worse.”

He showed her a online article from his news-feed, the title read: Prominent Democrat Backer, Damien Holt Declares End of Support For Vikander Campaign.

“That bastard… He didn’t even call me!”

“It’s pretty bad. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but… what were you thinking? Arguing with Layne in the middle of a public gala?”

“He made a snide remark. When he saw me he smirked like the smug fuck he is and said, ‘Surprised to see you here, figured the Epstein Institute would be more your speed.’”

“I don’t get it. The what-now?”

“The Epstein Institute. Geez, you’re supposed to be my campaign manager how do you not know this?”

“I’ve been busying doing damage control all morning. So sooorry.”

“Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“That bitchy little lisp thing.”

Straik shook his head and then looked to the would-be mayor once again.

“So why’d this make you angry again?”

“The Epstein Institute is some weird art center, all contemporary abstract stuff, you know, paintings of white squares and statues of police men beating immigrants, all either on-the-nose or political propaganda or some kind of “deep” art that is beyond everyone but the artists who make them.”

“So he was saying you were a pretentious snob?”

“God you’re slow… yes, Erlen, he was implying I was a pretentious snob. So I made some quip back at him, I can’t even remember what I said, it was all a blur – the doctor put me on these shitty pain meds, been messing with my short term memory –  anyways, we were there arguing one moment and then those CAF freaks broke in and-”

“Those CAF ‘freaks’ are some of your biggest supporters.”

“Unfortunately.”

“Their vote is as good as any. Besides, we can turn this to our advantage. We already know how this is going to play out.”

“Do we? I was never much of a student of history but the one thing that I learned from reading it is that assumptions concerning the future almost never pan out accurately.”

“Almost. Pretty big almost.”

“Ever heard of Nostradamus?”

“Who?”

“Nevermind. So what’s rattling about that devious brain of yours?”

“Well, like I was saying, we know how this is going to play out because we know Layne and his base. Nativist populism almost always manifests itself in the exact same way. They’ll say that CAF are terrorists, that they’re threatening the public’s safety – especially after the recent cold-cocks which Layne’s taken – and they’ll try to directly tie you to CAF so that you take responsibility. So we can then say that if you are to be blamed for the unurged actions of your supporters, then Layne must be blamed for the actions and words of the actual Neo-Nazis and fascists which support Layne. We just have to be sure that we pound the table the loudest.”

Vikander nodded in silent affirmation before responding.

“Put out a memo.”

“You should also probably drop this thing with Partridge.”

“The fuck I will.”

“You can’t beat him in the press.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Why are you so dead-set on getting to him anyways? Because he supports Layne? I mean, ok, but I just don’t get it.”

“Lynder Partridge is one of the most influential people in this city, he’s the one who put Layne up on the pedestal he now precariously occupies. If Partridge goes down in flames, so does Layne.”

“I don’t know that that is necessarily true. I mean, Layne has kinda become his own thing. His supporters – I mean his die-hard supporters – at this point would follow him for him not because of his big backers or even for the change they think he can bring.”

“Yes, all those slavering “patriots” consider him their dear, little leader… But he’s not really in control. He’s just a puppet.”

Erlen gave a sudden wry chuckle.

“Aren’t we all?”

The Iron Garden: Part.11

The knock came late at night, sharp and sudden as the deluge that followed it. Skies loosed their astral tears upon the tumble-down motel as Afua stirred and wrapped her aged bones in a tattered shawl.

“Who is it?” Kojo rasped from the bed adjacent her own.

“I don’t know.”

“Well go and see, woman.”

She nodded dutifully and rose from her bed in the left corner of the motor inn and rubbed the sand from her eyes as thunder roared in the distance with Apophitic fury. Pulling back the curtain no forms revealed themselves to her. Nothing and no one stood beyond in the frigid downpour that coated the gray gravel drive beyond the abode’s confines in a sheen grayer still. She looked through the view-hole of the door and beheld a tall man standing in the rain, he wore a dark navy ball cap low over his face and a albescent jacket of white with red geometric patterning upon the shoulders and elbows. Afua straightened and raised her voice, taking care to abate the fear that rose within her soul.

“Who is it?”

The door caught her in the face from the man’s kick with such ferocity that it took the frail old woman off her feet, the whole of the world spinning to a singular blur; nothing but motion, sound and endless fright. Kojo leapt up from his bed and lunged for the lamp which stood upon the nightstand adjacent the bed. With a grunt of exertion he swung the artifact at the intruder’s head but connected only with the powerful right hand of the intruder who ripped it from Kojo’s own and dashed it back against the wielder. Kojo staggered which gave the trespasser all the time he need to swing a haymaker into the dark man’s gut. Kojo dropped to his knees, recovered and with a howl of rage charged the entrant. The tackle drove the intruder up against the wall, from some hidden belt-sheath the intruder produced a black-glistening combat knife and drove it into Kojo’s shoulder, retracted it and then kicked the African in the gut where the punch had previously landed. Kojo fell to one side, gasping for air and bleeding out upon the carpet, groaning in pain.

“What do you want!” Kojo sputtered, straining against the searing sensation in his clavicle.

The man with the combat knife did not answer. His ghastly xanthous eyes shining through the dark, his body ferine in the flashing emergence of the tempest. Lynx-like in its limber austerity.

“We have n-nothing! We’re poor. There is nothing to take here. We have nothing!”

At last the man responded.

“You have your lives.”

Kojo, eyes wide and breath erratic, sprang for the door as the xanthous eyed man made to piece his spine with the deadly blade. Before he could reach his quarry the old woman latched on to his leg, crying hysterically. The blade whisked through the air, slicing nothing but shadows.

“He’s all I have! He’s all I have!”

The woman distracted the xanthous-eyed man just long enough for Kojo to make his escape and vanish into the gravel drive, now fogged by skyfall. Spiraling black arms and expanded brown eyes and the sound of rain and footfalls of the harried and then Kojo was gone.

The man turned and watched Kojo flee; Afua could see a strange sigil upon the back of jacket as he crooked. A red and mathematically perfect chrysanthemum. Then the man with the chrysanthemum jacket returned his attention to the old woman and removed a small drawing from his back pocket. It was the artwork of a child, drawn in crayon, it depicting a scene of three adults and a little brown boy. One of the figures born a considerable resemblance to Afua herself. The drawing was signed: Adam. Afua began to cry again, shaking her head, eyes shuttered, grasping the man’s leg in vain entreaty.

“He was a cursed child!” She looked up pleasingly into remorseless yellow eyes, “We h-had no c-choice… no choice…”

“There’s always a choice.”

Then he plunged the knife through the top of her skull.

*

Kojo pulled over at the curb of the highway which let back into the city, cursing under his breath and attempting to calm the frenzied buzzing of his mind. He looked to his bleeding shoulder and rummaged in the glove box, pulling out the bottle of rubbing alcohol he’d kept there for Adam who had sometimes cut himself playing around town in the rubble of The Tombs or the ramshackle odds-and-ends of the Old Wharf. A momentary grief seized him and the whole of his consciousness began to shatter as a building rent by the roaring earth. Tears filled his eyes as poured the liquid upon the wound, half from the searing pain, half from memories and dreams remembered. He closed his eyes and leaned heavily against the leather upholstery of the car-seat and thought of Afua and Adam and their times together and of his homeland, the harsh and overbearing light of the suns upon the Safari and the chattering of his fellows where they had gathered around a late-night campfire and told stories up unto the moon and of the warnings of the wise oracles and of the witch doctor from Uganda who he had once conferred with and of the Evil Forest where he had buried three children at the behest of the concoction men of his village in Bongo. He had resisted – at first – but the elders had convinced him that administration of the poison was all that could dissuade the evil spirits. He knew they were right. Knew way back then that what he had done, no matter how trying, was necessary to secure the welfare of his family lest they starve in the coming of hard times. He was less sure now of the validity of the elder’s wisdom. At length he collected his wits and dug his cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a number, the call was answered in a matter of moments.

“Yes?”

“It’s me. Someone is after me.”

“I fail to grasp how that concern us.”

“Karol owes me. He owes me after everything I’ve done for him. I need help.”

“Whoever doesn’t?”

The line clicked off to silence. Kojo looked to his phone in disbelief and then gave a howl of despair and slammed the steering wheel with his rough and battered hands and then fell silent as the downpour redoubled beyond the stuttering, little machine.

At length he stilled the raging flux of inner mind and pulled off the curb, vanishing into the pall of the rain-cloaked waste. Back to the city.

The Iron Garden: Part.10

*

Kojo sipped whiskey out of a mason jar and then stubbed out his cigarette in a small, tin peach can as the fan whirred about his head, fanning the air and a mechanical waspish whirring out into the cloister of the old, decaying motel. The inn straddled the intersection of The Tombs and the docks, near to Vandemburgh’s principal thoroughfare and the great bridge which let out of the city altogether. Afua was crying again. Head in her hands. Such behavior came and went in sudden spasms, like the ebb and flow of the lunar-tide. She sat now, bleary-eyed and muscle-tense, a bag of bones and sorrow, in the far left corner of the sparsely decorated living room. Kojo lit up another cigarette, ignoring the woman’s plight. He’d quite enough of it. Was tired of it.

“Adam… my little Adam.”

“Adam is gone. Your tears won’t reach him.”

“How can you be so cruel?”

“He was a cursed child.”

The woman shook her head. Though she agreed, she was loathe to admit it.

*

The television flicked as the news anchor read from the teleprompter, “Good evening, I’m Ted Braston with News Tonight. First, our special report, and I must warn you this report contains graphic images which you may find disturbing. A mysterious fire has engulfed the Johnson Tenements of Lowtown, sometimes known half mockingly as The Tombs, in the eastern district of the city of Vandemburgh. Two bodies were recovered from the smoldering remnants. One has been identified as Edward Joseph Brine, a member of the Counsel of Human Rights. The second, Catherine Reilly, a student of the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts. What was most bizarre was that both individuals were confirmed to have died before the fire. Reports from the scene state that Ms. Reilly died of burns from a propane operated steel-cutting device of high industrial grade. Brine’s cause of death was also due to this same device which was found at the scene. Both were found chained and bound, we will spare you the… truly horrifying details. The Vandemburgh police department have stated that the fire was caused by leaking gas from the stove which was turned on by a person or persons unknown. Upon the wall was carved the words: Fire finds the filth. Only one bystander, Liet Harkness, a independent journalist working out of Midtown, was there immediately after the explosion and saw a man walking away from the tenement, they exchanged words and then the man walked away. It is believed that this man was the one who caused the fire. A police sketch is currently being compiled and we will keep you updated as the story develops-”

The phone rang like a gunshot, drawing the man with the chrysanthemum jacket’s attention away from the TV screen. He reached over to pick up the phone on the table adjacent the bed upon which the watcher sat. Placing device to ear. A mechanically distorted voice issued forth.

“Reckless behavior. They’ll have your face, sooner or later. You know what this means. Go subtlety in future endeavors.”

Then a hissing; the line went dead.

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket nodded in affirmation of the order and then gingerly hung up the phone. After a moment of contemplation he shifted upon the bed, sitting bolt-straight, legs firmly braced to the floor and returned his attention back to the television screen where the news still played. The anchor had moved on to the next story.

“Well, there was a bit of a dust-up today at a art gallery of all places. For the past ten years, the Partridge art gallery has held an annual gala featuring the work of a hand-selected group of talented, up-and-coming artists from all around the city. The most recent gala debuted the work of three students from the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts but it wasn’t them or their work which caused the uproar. As many watchers will known, its election season and the two principal candidates for mayor are Angela Vikander, a democrat known for her environmentalism and pro-migration, open borders advocacy and Aiken Layne, a member of the republican party who some would call a paleoconservative, others a reactionary and others still, a out-and-out fascist. Both are controversial figures in their own right and both have personal scores to settle, as they’ve a long history of public disagreement. When both appeared at Lynder Partridge’s gallery a argument quickly erupted between the two prospective politicians. Some members of a grassroots political movement called, Citizens Against Fascism, otherwise known as CAF, then entered the building and a brawl quickly broke out. Reports from the scene stated that they had targeted the gala because they believed it housed what they called, ‘Fascist art.’ Our reporter from the event, Andrea Azikiwe, has more on the story.”

The screen split and a middle aged and dark skinned woman with dreadlocks and massive gold earrings appeared upon the screen adjacent the prim reporter. “Thanks for that Ted. I’m here at the Partridge Museum of the Arts with Brandon Chase, the son of steel magnate, Edmund Chase and one of the artists whose work was being exhibited during the brawl. So, Mr. Chase, can you explain what exactly happened here?” A tall, muscular blond man with a winning smile and bright, twinkling eyes and the clothes of a trust-funder sauntered into screen, the whole of his form forcibly amiable and open.

“Yeah. Well, I was just standing in before my exhibit, talking with some of the fine folks here at the gala, speaking about my work, my inspirations, art history, business and so on and so forth when Mr. Layne walked in, that is, Aiken Layne-”

“Your father, Edmund Chase, is friends with him as I understand.”

“Uh, sort of, honestly I’m not really sure. My father doesn’t really share a whole lot of his work with me, they’re familiar though, yeah. Did some business together and, because of that, I went over to say hello, before I could even reach him Angela Vikander came over and started arguing with Mr. Layne. Very nasty. And then, out of nowhere, a bunch of people, well I should just call them what they were, thugs, busted into the gala, all in black, red bandannas around their mouths, like half-masks. Some of them wore sunglasses too, I imagine to protect their identity. And they just started shouting and stomping around. I kinda thought they were drunk at first. Aiken called for security – they had apparently waited until the doorman went to use the restroom before entering – and so security came up and someone threw a punch. Honestly happened so fast I don’t know who struck first, the protesters or the guards, but a bit of a fight broke out and it kinda spilled over into the gallery patrons who you can see are still behind me over here and there. Absolutely crazy stuff. I mean, I understand that everyone is a little heated right now over this political race and some of the crime that has occurred and, ya know, other stuff, all that stuff, but everyone just needs to take a deep breath and calm down.”

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket looked on, unblinking, unmoved by the words and images upon the screen. He heard the words, processed them and began to wonder of the lives of the art patrons and the artists and the politicians and the protesters and the security guards who had repelled them. The grand wheel of their lives and the delicate weave that bound them all together seemed superbly laid out before him, in the endless sprawl of his mind’s eye. Floating. High above the city, far beyond his body where it sat upon the bed, so small and weak and susceptible to the vicissitudes of time. He imagined the soothing caress of the wind, the buffeting moisture of the wastrel clouds and the thunderclaps in the distance, clattering away like the war drums of some olden god, nameless and terrible. Down below the endless sky, the city prominent, glistening with muted radiance and seeping up out of the ground like some aberrant and mechanical mycelium. Rooftops vanished and the lives of nine million squirming souls were laid bare before him, as a ant-hill cleaved in twain. There they were, naked and clothed, lazing and productive, scheming and bequeathing, hurting and helping, lying and fucking. Killing. Killing. Killing. Nine million swelled to ten and from ten to twelve, twelve to twenty and on and on the city swelled until the limbs wild twisted up against glass panes and fences, forced by other bodies, eventually spilling out unto the street and ghettoizing. Money war, religious war, class war, ethnic war, race war, war for fun and for living space within what they were told what was already their own living space. More rarely, a war against lies. Even deeper than the surface strata was a hundred billion, billion different tunnels leading to a billion, billion worlds, all ever-shifting, turning, inverting, vanishing and re-emerging. Phonelines and wirelines and wireless trajectories of ascent and spread and interwebs within cybernetic systems that were as much a part of the hyper organism as the flesh and blood which had built them. The man thought that some foreign interstellar intelligence, if ever they had or would chance upon humankind, like as not, would view cities as a biologist might regard a coral reef, seeing only the surface structure and failing to grasp, upon first glance, those intricate and tiny begins which wormed within, sustaining it.

At length he broke from his reverie and stalked to the middle of the apartment floor and bent his body out in a straight-line, allowing himself to topple, face-fist, towards the floor, halting his fall with powerful arms before he struck the carpet. Two hundred push-ups later he showered in silence and contemplated the stillness of infinite space.

The Iron Garden: Part.9

Hunter

The tenement was tumble down and filthy, located in the decaying heart of the slums which its denizens had unceremoniously dubbed, The Tombs, and was covered over with discarded papers and the remnants of the rain. The man who stood before the door was thankful for the rain; it washed away the filth and smell. The filth of stale soda and beer and tampons and shriveled up used condoms and the smell of piss, defecation and dead animals now was but faint background, no distraction to the task at hand. He paused at the door as an old drunk stumbled across the trash strewn ambit some fifty paces off, groaning and coughing like a man beplagued. Some kids appeared about the corner of the alley and accosted the doddery rednose, laughing and prodding. They wore chic and spoke with affected slang. None had known hardship. When they noticed the light glinting off the chrysanthemum jacket they paused. The man held their gaze until they turned and left out of the passage, shaken by a placeless fear. Red nosed swiveled to behold what manner of beast had secured his salvation and raised a half empty bottle of vodka in thanks. Footsteps clattered in the din, one set departing the alley, another entering in from the door to the crumbling tenement. When the door opened, the man with the chrysanthemum jacket, looked up into the thin, squinting eyes of a huge man of indeterminable ethnic extraction, some forty years of age.

“Yeah?”

No response. Fist to gut and the big man went dropping to his knees as a knee met his skull. When the big man awoke he was in a damp room that he recognized as his basement. Ropes secured arms and feet to a steel chair bolted to the floor. Beside him was the dismembered torso of a young twenty something. Her blood spread out across the floor; now hard and dry and stucco’d like coral in the foam of the sea. Behind the foam, eyes of topaz glinting in dark.

“The fuck is this?”

The xanthous-eyed man did not reply but rather titled his head upwards all the better to study his subject, fixing the slightly ruffled sleeves and cuffs of his immaculate, white jacket, smoothing them out. Heavy breathing came and went from the chair, small eyes twitching back and forth, side to side, seeking escape in nervous tandem with the arms that strained their bonds. All movements in vain.

There was no escape.

At length the prisoner spoke once more. His desperation increasing with every passing moment.

“Who the fuck are you? What do you want? Did Karol send you? Fuck. Fuck. He did, didn’t he? Its fine. All cool. Tell him its cool. Ok? Tell him. I’ve got the money,” a nervous chuckle, “Eddy Brine has always got the money. Its in the safe. Ok? Ok? You just untie me and I can get it and we can bring it to him together.”

The xanthous-eyed man gazed silently to the bloody, dismembered corpse which hung in suspension from the rafters of the low, musty ceiling, flesh seared from face, breasts melted into stomach and a retching odor filing up out from that horror. The man’s movement was neither a question nor a indictment, but merely a shuffling of consciousness, the renewal of immediacy, the return of the real. Brine squirmed. When the xanthous-eyed man picked up the propane burner Brine gasped. When the flame began vaporizing his hands he screamed. None to hear. None but two.

When the man with the chrysanthemum jacket had extracted all required information and carved his message he turned to the dead woman. She was wearing a bracelet. The small silver ring dangled limply against the small mass of her upper arm out. Xanthous eyes studied it through the gloam and left off out the basement as a stream of vain blubbering echoed from the pit.

“Where are you going? Hey. Hey! Heeeeeey! You can’t fucking leave me like this, you can’t fucking leave me like this! Help! Somebody heeeelllllppp mmmmeeeeee!”

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket moved up to the kitchen. The sink was filled with blood. His eyes widened with boundless intensity and his hand moved to the stove dials. Turned them on, all of them. Gas flooded the room.

*

Liet Harkness spit up his coffee outside the laundromat as the blast rocked the street. A great ball of flame gushed up into the phantasmal horizon and beyond it, resonating a furious howl. Fire glistened above stocky tenements and birds scattered from catastrophe, squawking as if in warning.

“What the-”

He jogged down the shattered sidewalk, to the south, to the heart of The Tombs, past the old industrial factory, now defunct, past the cast-off shop, past the curio where a strange old man watched him from the window and then took a hard left to behold a great c-section housing block consumed in flames. Blackened detritus lined the streets and twisted, exoskeletal re-bar dull-shimmered in the midday light. A figure stood before the building. A man. Of indeterminable age, quite tall and well built and wearing a jacket of white, xanthous eyes half-hidden by a plain navy ball cap, low-pulled over the face.

Harkness took a sip from his paper coffee cup, took a deep breath and walked forth along the thin alley way which let out to the blasted tenement. When the man with the ball cap heard Harkness approached he paused.

“What happened?”

The stranger regarded Harkness keenly a moment before responding and when he did the voice was like mist.

“A star wandered too close to a black hole.”

“The hell does that mean?”

The man with the dark ball cap ignored him and passed by and vanished out the alleyway. When the fog had cleared from Harkness pounding brain he ditched his cup in a nearby trashcan before the alley and ran after the mysterious stranger. Upon emerging out into the street before the tenement only the old man from the curio shop could be seen, starring with vacant eyes.

“Fire hazard. I warned um.”

The Iron Garden: Part.8

Museum

The Partridge Museum was a massive building, a construct more akin to some kind of techno-futurist military compound than the staid and neoclassical constructs of the other buildings surrounding. Clair Andretti stood before the plain, unadorned facade of the massive, brutalist monolith and inhaled deeply. Excited, emboldened and hopelessly nervous. She hated being nervous. Then she passed within the huge, electronically released double glass paneled sliding doors and moved down the wide, onyx tiled foyer, her reflection following like a inter-dimensional shade.

Past the foyer was a gargantuan gallery, of stark white concrete, the floor, like the lobby, all of black stone. The sound of gritty electronica rattled over the massive bio-flow, a modulated moog-wave synth leading the aural assault in undulating filtered crescendos.

Andretti was surprised, she had expected Debussy or Rachmanioff, not EDM. She paused in the middle of the wide, semi-circular gallery and surveyed the jostling crowds. There was Jonas Beach and Brandon Chase, chatting with Hiroko Akane, a second year journalism student from the nearby University. The threesome stood in the center of the vast vestibule, Brandon dashing and randy as ever, Akane, giggling stupidly at his bawdy, purposefully bad jokes and Beach looking to all the world as if someone had placed a squid upon his head despite manifold protestations. In the far right corner, observing a series of speculative architectural drawings was Cole Hathers with a young, curvy woman who Andretti had never seen before. Something about the woman’s ceaselessly dour and drained expression and lifeless, unexcited movements caught Clair’s eye. The fragile little creature drifted past the portraits lining the alabaster walls with the listless moroseness of a funeral mourner, as if every work of art were a soul departed. A lonely sort of passion in which there was some peculiar beauty. Andretti normally detested any woman with a better figure than her own but some nagging fragment of inborn, instinctual sympathy prevented the formation of any such scorn, yet it did make her self-conscious. She looked down at the dress mingling with the body below, ankle-high leather boots, black jeans, tight, black T over which was a thin gray hoodie; wonders on matters of decorum filled the ambit of the thin and frigid creature’s cerebral ambit. At length she determined that it didn’t really matter; all that mattered was that Lynder noticed her and that the crowd noticed her work. An artist was nothing without her public.

Suddenly a figure appeared at the top of the upper landing, peering down at the insignificant host collected in idle study below. Lynder Partridge was of middling height with tar-pitched hair, cut short on the sides and wide at the top, dressed in a black overcoat, tipped at the collar with white fur. His face was pale and sharp, lips, blood-red and his eyes catching the light with the pale glinting of topaz. His posture was slack, yet ferine, as if at any moment he might pounce with sudden and terrible excitation. All about the man, a retinue of wealthy social climbers stood, taking in the crowd below a moment and then raising champagne glasses to lips and moving out their line against the balcony, waiting for their boniface to speak. Suddenly, the music ceased and Lynder raised his smooth, sonorous voice, which echoed throughout the entirety of the hall with regal splendor.

“Greetings and salutations, ladies and gentlemen, I am so pleased to see you gathered here before me for this momentous occasion. Now, to some, the unveiling of a series of drawings and paintings means little enough. They’re just pictures after all. Same as any other. But we understand the truth of it, that these are no ordinary pictures, because such pictures were not crafted by ordinary hands. Nor were they conceived of by ordinary minds. They were conceived and forged by visionaries and dreamers, by those bold enough to ask the question: Of what use is the art which does not ceaselessly seek to force life to imitate it? And to respond: None. To no one! So, without further adieu, it is my great joy and pleasure to introduce you to our three newest additions to the gallery, Jonas Beach, Brandon Chase and Clair Andretti!”

He gestured one by one to the three young artists as he spoke their names and upon finishing, the crowd erupted into applause. After the applause had died away, Partridge continued, raising a glass of sparkling moscato and smiling cheerily.

“To our new friends health and the flourishing of all!”

Those below who had glass in hand raised their goblets and toasted likewise with a practiced ritualism, as if this were some lauded tradition. Clair was surprised at how reverent the response was, how sacral and mirthful the unfolding of the scene was. After Partridge had finished his toast he moved to the leftmost stair and, along with his cortege, descended to the gala floor as the museum goers moved about from alcove to alcove, gazing with wonderment at the elaborate sketches and illustrations, of charcoal and graphite and paintings of multifarious palettes and sculptures of brass and marble, alabaster and quartz. As the crowd dispersed out across the great U shaped ambit of the gallery Lynder coolly traversed the clacking marbled floor with a broad smile, crystal goblet held up beside his breast like a royal scepter.

He paused a respectable distance before the young woman, inclining his head, low, but not too low, as if greeting some lesser nobility.

“I’m so pleased you could make it, Ms. Andretti.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for all the world,” she cursed herself for such a bubbly and ill controlled response. The excitement was palpable all throughout the school-girlishness of the culled response. The legs close together, arms clasped together before nubile, lolling breasts, mouth slightly parted in a innocent and attemptedly beguiling smile, teeth white enough yet slightly yellowed by a penchant for coffee and sweets, eyes twinkling with longing and admiration. All of it ostentatiously performative. Clair cursed herself doubly at the visuality of the scene which anteceded the mental formations. I look like I’m trying to show off my bust. Like I’m trying to fuck the teacher. What disturbed her further was the uncertainty concerning whether or not that was necessarily false. Lynder was unaffected and wholly unconcerned with the impression he’d made upon the young artist as well as the impression which she attempted to make upon him. His bright eyes and sharp features impassive, unsettlingly opaque. The industrialist raised his free hand and gestured to one of his footmen who stood dutifully behind his master with a tray of silver upon which several glasses of champagne, half filled, rested.

“Would you care for a drink? Celebration without libation is such a sorry thing.”

Clair nodded thoughtlessly accepted one of the small, dainty glasses from the footman. She would have preferred some whiskey or Cognac in a fine little snifter but felt it rude to refuse. At any rate, she was thirsty.

“Walk with us, Ms. Andretti, I shall introduce you to my friends as we do so and you can tell us of your current and future projects as we admire the fruits of endeavors past.”

She wordlessly obeyed, fascinated, not just by the tumbling and spinning surroundings but also by Lynder’s catlike and slinking gait, an easy cavorting, a languidity rare amongst the tense and squeaming populace. Introductions were made; first Clair was acquainted with Jill Habermass, a nebbishy and elderly curator for the Institute of Urban Design, next Danny Price, a fiery, youthful mestizo and the owner of Price Construction, the second largest construction company in the city, then Domnal Eins, a middle-aged man of indiscernible ethnic extraction who did something with marketing analytics and crypto-currencies that eluded Andretti’s ken and, lastly, Mariana Ester, the chief officer of the Vandemburgh Consortium of History and Heritage. They all asked a plethora of questions about Clair’s life, half-disinterested but obliged, the rest genuine; they asked of her upbringing and whether or not she was seeing someone and what got her into art and what she wants out of life and what she thought of the heated political campaigns of the ongoing mayoral race. Clair answered all of the questions in vaguest and most passing and from-the-hip of fashions, trying to give as little away about what she actually believed on any given topic as possible; largely succeeding.

“Deplorably perfunctory!”

Lynder erupted suddenly, waving a hand in the air as if dispelling some arcane conjuration. All present fell silent as he spun upon them, expression showing mild disappointment and motioned to Clair’s panel alcove which occupied the leftmost portion of the great U of the gala. “It is of her work itself that you have come, for that is what is on display, not the woman herself. Tell me, Mr. Eins, what do you make of that one,” Partridge gestured to an enormous, hyperrealistic drawing of a futuristic cityscape with multiple layers, each of which was suspended above the other and each serving a distinctive function; the bottom layer for agriculture and food production and waste disposal, the second layer for transportation and distribution, the third for housing and socialization and the fourth for governmental administration and aerial defense.

“I’m not sure I understand it.”

Lynder’s face phased back into utter opaqueness.

“Then it wasn’t for your understanding. I find it most wondrous. Past patterns for future eventualities. The present is nothing without its visionaries.”

Clair was struck by the intensity of his tone, despite his ostensible lack of expression. He looked to the elaborate drawing as if it were some sacred image, a totemic idol of direst consequence. The young woman’s technical skill had been impressive from an early age and her choice of subject had long been lauded, but no one, not even her most admiring professors, had ever spoken of her work with such sacral appreciation. It caused her heart to flutter and a smile of self-satisfaction to ever so briefly flicker across her smooth, colorless face.

“Clair, Mr. Partridge, other, uh, people-to-whom-I-haven’t-yet-been-introduced, hello,” Brandon Chase sided up behind the gathering, Jonas and Hiroko Akane trailing, nervously, uncertain of whether or not they should speak.

“Ahhh, Mr. Beach, Ms. Akane and the dashing Mr. Chase,” Lynder enjoined warmly, “So good of you to finally join us. From the looks of the crowds surrounding your respective works, I’d say that your public has properly found you. Most wonderful!”

“Yes, yes, well, I’m all for an admiring public but goodness these people are chatting my ears off.”

“The graphic artist is not nearly so lauded as the film star but both, upon finding sufficient celebrity, will quickly come to be the subject of desire for all their envious admirers; it must be realized that the reason for such admiration is not to be found in the actual works, or at least solely within the works of the artists themselves, but rather in the fact that they have achieved such social laddering-up by the creation of such works. Art ever seems easy to those who’ve never had a hand in its creation and thus the public at-large erroneously tend to believe that such a life is one to be envied and so they become envious themselves, failing to realize that were such a life their own they’d despise it with every fiber of their being.”

Eins gave a little chuckle, “That may well be the case but there aren’t a whole lot of artists who make the kind of cash I do on a regular basis, good art requires willful ignorance of the market, otherwise you’ll always be beholden to your audience’s whims, which means that to be a good artist, or at least one with integrity, you’ve gotta take hits to the wallet like a kevlar vest takes bullets, that is, with grit-teeth and frequently.”

Clair felt a welling distaste for the currency trader, she knew his type, trust-fund kid, smart, but not too-smart, educated but not well read and aware of it, always attempting to insert himself into a conversation if there was the possibility of pumping the ego and convincing all the rest of the conversant his intellect leveled up to his bank account.

Lynder didn’t directly respond, instead removing a small, gilded pack of 100s from his inner jacket pocket of his overcoat, lighting up the fag with languor and returning his attention to the artwork of the long, white stand-up panel, expectant of future innervation.

Jill Habermass was the first to pick up where Eins had left off and the two quickly fell into a good natured argument about the relationship of the artist to the market and various metrics of success. It was all rather staid and boring to Clair, who sided up to Lynder where he stood still admiring her work, seemingly unconcerned with the argument spreading out behind him.

“Um, Mr. Partridge.”

“Yes, Ms. Andretti?”

“I just wanted to thank you, personally, for all that you’ve done for me. It really means a good deal to me. So thank you.”

He turned to her and smiled ever so slightly, but his eyes didn’t laugh.

“Unnecessary. Go and met your public. Mingle. Network. Have some fun.”

Without another word Lynder returned briefly to her work and then departed to greet a group of well dressed philosophers from the nearby art school.

Clair turned to behold the crowd behind her which had grown doubly in size since she had moved to stand at the leftmost corner of her selfsame project. Half of the crowd glanced on in wonderment at the intricate series of buildings, her ideal sky-cities and mechanical sprawls, whilst another half had fallen into debate concerning the content of the drawings themselves. Even in art school Clair had very rarely ever seen such boundless vigor for creation nor such interest in its manifold applications. The scene filled her with wonder and mirth even as she moved away from it, wary that her presence and the questioning thereof and of the extrapolation of her creation would someone diminish the exhibit. The feeling pulled the woman back from all crowds and all the artifice of the museum the better to observe the objects and their relations. It was only then she realized the worth of her own work. Drawing, illustration, painting, all had been a venture undergone for the pleasure it generated, for the thing-in-and-of-itself, there, a quandary, for the essence of a thing could never be gotten at. Could not be unearthed by digging. There was no shovel for it. What she sought could not be found by looking. It arrived of its own accord. As if by some alien intelligence.

Lost to time a clacking of soles ruptured her reverie. She turned to behold a familiar face. Aiken’s face. A thick bluish bruise marred his otherwise handsome, blocky face. His eyes were foggy, faraway; a hidden sadness leaking through with jellied light.

“What the hell happened to your face?”

“CAF fanatics. They blind-sided me on my way to the campaign office.”

“Did you file a report?”

“Nah. I probably should. Too busy. Seems like your work is getting the attention it deserves,” he gestured to the crowd still huddled in gentile argumentation around Clair’s exhibit, “I’m glad. Clearly you are as well.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You look happy.”

“Is that so unusual?”

“You want me to answer that honestly?”

She smiled wryly and punched him lightly in the arm. Gaze to gaze, face to face. She wanted badly to kiss him but knew better than to do so in public. Together they walked back to the seething crowds whereupon they crossed paths with Cole Hathers and a dire-eyed young woman with long, dark hair and pure, Italian features.

Cole stopped short, shocked to see his foe standing so comfortably beside someone so well known as Layne.

“You’re Aiken Layne.”

“That’s me. You a friend of Ms. Andretti’s?”

Hathers shot Clair a embarrassed look and ran his tongue quickly across his lower lip as he always did when he was nervous. Clair was pleased.

“I know her from school. From the college. I’m Cole Hathers. Graphic Designer. Uh, this is-”

The young woman cut him off and moved forward with a forced facade of amiability and conviviality.

“Anna Campana. Nice to meet you two.”

One by one in turn, Layne and Andretti took the woman’s hand and shook it warmly. The four shared stagnate conversation, walking in a tandem with the curvature of the great U shape of the gala, from left to right, surveying Clair’s exhibit, then Jonas’, then Chase’s. Upon passing Clair’s work Hathers clenched his fists, lip twitching, upon passing Jonas’ he shrugged, upon passing Chase’s he nodded approvingly as Eins turned greeted a short, garishly dressed blonde.

“Well, well, I didn’t expect to see you here, Ms. Vikander.”

*

Jonas Beach stood before his exhibit. It was a tall white assemblage of three matte panels upon each of which hung his varied works. From somewhere nearby he heard a young woman cackle, “What the heck is this stuff? I thought this place only put out the ‘finest’ up-and-coming artists. Fantasy art… I mean, really? That’s so a decade ago.” Beach could feel his blood pressure rising, his brow furrowing; a serpent of endless rage uncoiling from his reptile brain. The woman was young, pretty and exceedingly banal. She was thin and wore a fake tan. Spray on tan. Cheezy smile. Over-sized and superfluous scarf wound about the neck like a great desiccated python. Eyes blitzed out from marijuana consumption, donned in pop-fashion chic with a fake alligator bag slung about her bare, left shoulder. Cell phone blue-glowing in her free right hand. She was perfectly normal by the standards of the city.

Jonas Beach wanted to bash her face in.

*

Lynder Partridge swilled the last of his champagne with relish from the heights of the second-floor landing overlooking the gala floor. His eyes swept over the teeming multitudes below, stopping upon the unfurling forms of Angela Vikander and Aiken Layne. They were arguing. A throng gathered, some laughing, others enjoining, still others dourly observing in silence. Clair was aghast. Chase looked amused. Jonas was nowhere to be found.

“Well… that was quick,” The footman intoned with mild surprise, “I knew they didn’t like each other but I didn’t expect things escalate like this…”

Lynder handed off the empty glass to his loyal attendant without removing his eyes from the scene of chaos playing out beneath him. Almost instantly a guard walked up to Lynder as the footman departed.

“Mr. Partridge, you’ll want to see this.”

The guard handed off a small digital tablet displaying the security cameras which thronged the outer facade of the museum. Upon the camera-output screens were numerous black-clad CAF members assembling; the motley assortment carried flags and picket signs, a couple had rough-hewn sticks as makeshift weapons. There was no sound but they were clearly chanting in something approaching unison.

Lynder turned to the guard without expression.

“Call security.”

The Iron Garden: Part.7

Anna gazed out the window and watched the people below, so tiny and distance-blurred. It was passe, she recalled, when viewing people from great heights, to say they looked like ants, but they looked like nothing of the kind. They were smaller than that, less vibrant, yet more noisy. How was it they could carry on in so blasé a manner after what had gone before? In a city plagued with religious and political hysteria, crime and murder aplenty, they chugged on as if nothing whatsoever had changed. Perhaps, she pondered, it had not, perhaps she herself was the one who had changed. The thought terrified much as it motivated. She spent the entire morning in her cramped and cheap-paneled apartment loft studying stories of crime all throughout the city, looking up newspaper archives and political blogs and city statistics and federal surveys and think-tanks, combing through every niche and cornice of every relevant information vault for ritual murders and cases of dismemberment and abduction, especially those cases which involved children. She was shocked to discovered that what happened to Adam was far from irregular. It took some digging. Much digging. There had been seven such instances in the past five years. She had heard of none of them. She was further horrified to discover that, despite a profligate number of suspects, absolutely zero arrests had been made in any of the cases. Every single one involved a child, later found dismembered, in three of the seven cases the blood had been drained like as to Adam’s own. When she broadened the search to include adults and teens as well as children the number of murders increased by four to eleven dating back ten years. Ten years. She muttered the words “ten years” to herself, over and over as thoughts crystallized across the mine field of internal cognitive weave, synapses firing like the jarring pistons of a great clockwork machine.

How? How was this even possible? How could so many people just up and vanish? Children no less? Was no one looking after them? Was no one curious what happened? How few must have been aware for this to have gone on so long unchallenged…Did no one care?

Vain thoughts. The asking thereof alone would yield nothing which well she knew, yet still she was compelled. She had to know. For if this had occurred before then the ones who were responsible might well have been responsible for Adam’s death. If she could find a thread and seize upon it then the truth might be made clear.

Suddenly, a ringing. High, shrill and somewhere nearby. Phone. She answered with a harried, “What?”

“You okay, Annie? Haven’t been to work for a couple of days. I called up Mike. He said you were feeling ill. Come down with a bug or something?”

“No. I mean, yes. Yes. Just not feeling very great. I have to go. I’ve got things to do…”

“What? What’s the matter? Come on, you can talk to me.”

“I’ve really got to go.”

“I’m coming over. You’ve got me worried.”

“No. Really its fine. I’m fine.”

“Uh huh. I’m still coming over. I’ll be there in under an hour.”

The phone clicked off into silence. She cursed under her breath. Cole Hathers arrived half an hour later. Anna rose upon his rapping and cries of, “Annie? Its me, Cole. You’ll never believe the traffic. Sea of cars. Everything all backed up.” The door of the loft open under the force of the woman, before he stood a short man, skinny, freckled and red headed. 27 and well dressed for someone so obviously poor, a certain disdainful smugness perpetually playing across his rounded baby-face.

“You doing okay?”

“No. Cole. Frankly I’m not. You know how I sometimes take the cast offs from the Community Center to The Tombs, to the Ghanians there, the migrants.”

“Yeah.”

“One of them was recently murdered,” she watched as his plucky face fell and then moved to her laptop where it lay upon her work table. Turning the screen, Anna gestured to a recent news article from The Vandemburgh Daily which prominently featured a picture of Adam Delle.

“You knew this kid?”

“The boy I told you about. The one who wanted to become an artists… this was him.”

“Fuck. That’s awful. What happened?”

“No one knows. He… h-he was cut up into pieces. Drained completely of blood.”

Cole screwed up his face in visceral disgust, shaking his mane of curly rust colored hair.

“The hell would someone do something like that?”

“The police think… they think it was organ traffickers. Likely from Africa. They’re not sure. There are rumors that Ghanaian migrants from The Tombs are responsible but there’s no proof of anything yet. No one is talking.”

Cole pulled up a chair and sat down beside his friend, eyes affixed to the screen, to the thin black face of the dead boy. He looked quite happy in the photo, a wide, blissful smile breaking out and ruffling the smooth youthful skin, revealing two rows of teeth, crooked, immature and still falling out and growing back in. Anna studied Cole’s face, he wasn’t sad, not really, she could tell by the listlessness about the eyes and the nervous, impatient tapping of his left foot. This wasn’t a issue upon which interaction was desired. He wanted to flee now. Flee back to comforting her. Anger began to boil in her blood, rising up and threatening to tear out of her throat with a harsh vocality. At the last the woman stilled the clangorous ringing of her soul, inhaled and exhaled meditatively; she had to focus, it wasn’t his fault, she told herself, it wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his fault. The one to blame was somewhere out there, out beyond her shabby loft, out beyond the soaring apartment complex that sat near the border zone of The Tombs. In that moment, as she looked again to the picture on the screen, observing Cole’s lack of concern and morbid curiosity, she vowed she would find the killer. She would find the one’s responsible and make them pay. Dearly.

At length Cole turned in the creaking, leather-bound swivel chair, his spindly, yet well muscled hands twining together with queasy excitement. He wanted to speak. To comfort his friend. Words failed him. Finally he mustered the courage to vocalize, “You know today is the big unveiling of the new gallery at Partridge Museum. I… I’ve been thinking of going. Would you like to come with me?”

“Yeah, I’d like that. I could use something to take my mind off of,” she gestured at the screen, “All of this.”