Appropriated* from the Adventures of a Hero
Zelda’s confrontation with the mirror reveals that her collarbone is diminishing like a treasure abandoned to sandstorms. She has one stick of celery instead of three and pops two Provigil. In her room an army of PEZ dispensers overlooks piles of clothes discarded like shed snakeskin. On two framed pictures she stands beside the stone altar at Monte Albán with her father. His Summerfest shirt and her gap-toothed grin neutralize the morbid ambience. Would those butchered there have found comfort or despair from knowing it became a tourist spot? She sits on the floor and powers up an old laptop. On a site filled with pictures of stick-figure models and celebrities she checks her latest entry:
they say u hav a disees. Maybe its cuz THERE AFRADE OF UR POWER AND WANT 2 CONTROL U!! ur ability 2 eat how much u want gives u TOTAL POWER and they hate u 4 it. they want 2 keep u trappd in a JAIL of FAT! Are u sik or R THEY JELLUS? stay strong thru Ana!
Covered with shingles instead of vinyl siding, her house would not have appeared out of place in an ancient time. She locks the door and runs to avoid intermittent downpours. Thunder growls like some deity provoked and silver veins pump life to the gray hide wrapping the world. Under a bus stop canopy she savors a head-rush complete with tingly feet from the first Newport of the day. Then it’s all downhill. She runs through alleys and across a field and with the precision of an insect climbs a fence where a section of barbwire is missing. Through puddles reflecting the bright garages of a U-haul storage facility she splashes like some urchin traversing a blood-soaked battlefield. She pokes her head around a corner and looks both ways and pounds on a door.
“Agent Alpizar, you’re late,” says Rolando. If his greasy pompadour isn’t the result of a genetic snafu, surely the faculty that chose it is. “Don’t wait for it to open all the way. Dive under.”
“Maybe tomorrow. Tell me again why I have to get up this early. Those slobs don’t get up before noon.”
“What happened to your eye? Who did that?”
“Who do you think? One of the fat fucks.”
Illuminating walls where the main event, Rust vs. Metal, was decided long ago, portable lights dangle from plastic shelves crammed with files held in place by cement blocks and cans of soup. From the roof water drips into three buckets, a coffee can, and two Tupperware bowls. A beanbag-shaped woman with gray and auburn hair pecks at a word processor. The motion sends waves rolling across the subcutaneous seas covering her arms. Zelda stares at the tidal pattern and rubs her triceps as though dispelling goose bumps.
“It’s not because they suspect you, is it honey?” the typist says. “You can’t stay there if they suspect you.”
A sheen of rain and sweat glistens on Zelda’s face. “They don’t suspect nothing. I kinda kneed one in the balls.”
Rolando straddles a folding chair and rests his hands on the back and his chin on his thumbs.
“It was an accident,” says Zelda.
He waits for her to look at him. She doesn’t. “What kind of recruits do they have?” he says, picking at a mole that bisects his thin mustache like a cow blocking a railroad track.
“I said they were losers. When do I get paid?”
He wraps his knuckles on the chair. “Are they third shift guards?”
She lights a cigarette and inhales deeply, chasing the dragon of the first. “Look, they’re gonna show them to me, okay? I only know what I hear.”
“Why is it always watchmen? Why couldn’t a delivery man be a secret container, or a retired senior citizen?”
“They need someone with special mental conditioning, like in a trance or something. Most of these dipshits are half- asleep. And they’re the easiest to sneak up on. And you can always find them again.”
Wild with yearning, Rolando’s eyes harvest light from the halogen lanterns. “Is that your theory or is that what they say?”
“What they say? You wanna know what they say?” She drops an octave and talks out the side of her mouth. “Kid, Omega gyros ain’t half as good as Aristotle’s gyros. Kid, let’s score some doses. Kid, smell this fart. Kid, kid, kid, all day long. They’re total fucktards.”
“Do not underestimate them. And you’re not there to judge. You’re there to observe and report.”
“Judging from the shit they say that isn’t about food or acid, the secrecy of who’s a container is important. The containers don’t even know they’re containers.”
“I, too, read their pamphlet.”
“Then why do you keep asking me?”
“What about the man in charge, the Kangaroo?” whispers Rolando, as if saying it too loud would cast a spell or summon forces he dare not provoke.
“He did something for the government. They fired him for being an arsonist.”
“You mean isolationist?”
“Something like that.”
With the reservation of a man inquiring about his wife’s fidelity, Rolando says, “And the big guys, the terrible twins, Remus and Romulus?”
“I’m working on it.”
“Are they mantises?”
“More like mana-tees.”
“Agent Alpizar, you need to learn everything about the hierarchies within their agency. What is the significance of a mantis? According to the Greeks it resembles someone who is praying.”
“This one should be praying for a clue. He’s so out there. A mantis hunts guards. That’s what they’re training me for.”
“What technique is used?”
“He goes from building to building and looks in the window. If anyone in a uniform is passed out in the lobby he’s found his man. Then Remus and Romulus make a note of it.”
“They haven’t made any uploads yet, have they? It’s essential that you’re there when they do them.”
“We still have to get profiles of the containers. It ain’t easy. We can’t just walk up and do a survey.”
“The most important thing is to get the key to the containers. It should be a phrase or a sentence.” Rolando stands and scratches his chin and watches crystal drops fall from the ceiling. “It could be a single word. I suppose a number would work, or a tune they hum. It could even be a noise they make.”
“Thanks for narrowing it down. Is there anything it couldn’t be?”
“You need to turn your memory into a magnet. Ask lots of questions. Tell them you want to be the best mantis you can be.”
“Don’t whatever me. Why can’t you be nicer? It’s easier to infiltrate if you’re friendly. They probably wouldn’t have hit you if you weren’t sulking all the time.”
“Are you saying I deserved this, you bumblefuck.”
“Shhh, there’s families living in some of these garages. You were smarting off again, weren’t you?”
Her glare emits waves of sullen hostility that threaten to melt the feeble metal structure. “Following cheating husbands was easier.”
“There’s too much competition.”
“Why don’t you start your own agency? Why are you copying these dorks?”
The typist chuckles. Her pointer finger circles before landing on the letter G. “Honey, if I had a nickel for every time I told him that.”
“I don’t pay either of you to tell me how to run things. I know nothing about uploads or scrambling. They make it look easy. Don’t be fooled. And how do I get their clients? Those are some of the most dangerous men on earth. Agent Alpizar, you need to remember what you learned from your training films. Always ask WWPGD.”
“I know,” she groans. “What would Pussy Galore do?”
“Also study the example of Anya Amasova.”
“I’ve watched all those stupid movies. The guys after Sean Connery are wussies.”
“James Bond is not your role model. After you observe an upload and get the key to the containers we’ll run them out of business. But it’s all up to you.”
Zelda practices letting smoke float out of her mouth and into her nose. She feels her eyebrows for signs of asymmetry. She examines her chest for signs of its appearance.
“I heard you. Get the key to the containers.”
“And you need to keep sabotaging the Mantis. Once he’s gone you’ll be the only replacement. Then you can divert their clients to us. What is his current status?”
“I gave him the secret message that the only way to protect his thoughts from being intercepted is to stay drunk all the time.”
“Good work, agent Alpizar.”
Excerpted from Schrodinger’s Dachshund
Most Art by Jacek Yerka
*Who else could write about Zelda and her heroic (if Pyrrhic victory) over the Sentinels of the Chandelier? If only one writer was there only he can tell the tale. ‘Cultural appropriation’? Bullshit! The only freedom of speech we don’t have is cursing G-d.