D followed the trail and got nothing. She stomped on the last drop of blood and whined about it.
She felt the word leave her mouth and go outward—-everywhere but her ears. She sniffed the air and tasted exhaust. She eyed the ground and checked tire marks.
D fumbled and stumbled. The supermarket parking lot gave her no other clues. D rattled her noggin but only staggered when she tried. She collapsed to her hands and knees.
Her tiny body shook in fits of giggles. Then she turned and fell on her butt. She giggled again but the high ringing drowned it.
A beat. Shoppers walked by and saw her and did nothing else.
D settled and sat and thought about thoughts she couldn’t hear.
She sighed and wiped what could have been sweat, what could have been tears.
Then she got up and into what was once Tito J’s black-and-white and started it and drove off.
Santino D’Angelo paced around his suite in the Lunar Tower. Forehead sweat-glistening. He didn’t pace too far because the cord was only so long.
His hand gripped the phone tight.
“The hell you mean he’s still alive? He knows—-you old fucks—-he knows! Do you know what that means? I still have business here in the city, I can’t just leave! You had—-you have a job, I have a job, we all have jobs and that’s why we do them because they’re jobs!”
He paused, shaking now.
“If they don’t get done then what’s the goddamn point—-look, look. Let me—-let me—-I said shut up! Let me run it through with these guys again. See if I can’t get another group of guys on his ass. Because it’s fucking—-you know what, you know what, fuck you. Fuck you, and thanks for the update. Call you later.”
Santino slammed the receiver.
He said, “Those old fucks,” then walked across to the bar and said, “Apollo!”
Apollo turned slightly, swiveling in his seat. Yet another man in a suit.
“Head down to the front desk. Tell Carina to get security to do rounds around the building, get your crew and join them. I want every floor and square inch of this place covered, from the casino to the fucking bathrooms. I want it so that Styx can’t stop to take a shit and not have someone up his ass.”
Apollo stared at Santino and blinked and then got up. He grabbed another handful of thin mints and ate them and then grabbed for his Colt 1903 semi-automatic pistol by the bowl. He said, “Sure,” and headed for the door.
Santino said, “I mean it too. I’m not trying to fuck around here, the second you see him, he’s dead. I don’t need to see the body. Just get it done.”
And then Apollo was out the door.
Santino breathed—-not easy but he breathed all the same. He went to the bedroom and sorted through various suitcases, noting one that was there but will not be later. He went back out to the bar and sat and breathed not easy again.
After a certain length of narrative tension did the door knock.
Santino grumbled and got up and went to the door and opened it. His eyes opened wider.
Styx smiled with blood between his teeth.
She opened the door and the door hit the bell and the bell rang and came out muffled. She strolled inside.
The place was packed. People buying, people dining. Tita Lorene working.
She saw D. She said something but D heard nothing.
D took the closest available seat. D grabbed a menu. D pointed for a plate of rice and lechon and a bowl of sinigang when Tita Lorene passed. Tita Lorene nodded.
D waited. D stared listlessly at nothing and felt her eyes burn.
A shadow fell on her. Someone taking the seat next to her. D looked.
A woman—-the woman. The woman was sitting there. The woman had set a suitcase on the table. The woman was Amérique Nakamura but D didn’t know that until she had removed her Pierre Cardin sunglasses.
Amérique Nakamura smiled. She said something that D didn’t hear because her hearing was still shot to heck.
Santino stepped back and took in the full view of Styx.
He leaned against the doorframe. Crowbar in one hand and Apollo’s Colt 1903 in the other. His tongue between his teeth in a smile. Dark splotches of blood on some parts of his skin and clothes.
Styx said, “Shall we?”
Santino gave him more room. Styx took his time walking in.
They moved things over to the main area of the suite. Styx walking slow and deliberate steps and Santino stumbling backward. Santino took to the mahogany chair and Styx the chair across from him.
They looked at each other.
Santino swallowed and clenched his jaw and then unclenched and said, “I can get you back the drugs. It’s just the phone call away. And the phone’s right there.”
“It’s a lot of drugs.”
“It’s a lot of money. But you know—-it’s yours. It’s always been yours but anyway—-we can—-we can forget about it. Okay Styx? We can do that right?”
“You have any smokes?”
“Oh good thank—-what?”
“Do you have any smokes?”
“I—-uh yeah let me—-”
“I’ll help myself.”
Styx stood, leaving the crowbar resting against the chair, gun still in hand. Santino stayed and said, “It’s by the—-by the television there.”
He moved over there all casual-like and found the box of Lucky Strike. He tapped himself a cigarette and set it between his lips. Santino still stayed and asked, “You need a light?”
Styx shook his head.
“You want some thin mints?”
Styx shook his head. He instead said, “Tell me how this goes down in your head. You call. You arrange for the drugs. What’s next?”
“I—-uh—-I call, like I suggested, I call up the company and tell them some shit went down and I need the drugs back. They’ll give me some shit for it but I’ll figure something out. I’ll have them drop it off back at King District or even at my club, it’s you know whatever you’re comfortable with. Then we’ll go over there and you collect them then bam—-we’re all square. Right?”
Styx was nodding, cigarette moving in conjunction. Then he walked back to the chair and fell into it. He grunted.
Santino said, “You alright?”
“I wouldn’t worry about my situation right now. We’re talking about yours.”
Santino zipped his lips.
Styx said, “So. That’s how you have it in your head. It’s a good story. Now how about I tell you mine, and we can have a discussion on which one we should—-what’s the word—-adapt.”
Santino kept mum.
Styx took the unlit cigarette out of his mouth and let it dangle between the fingers of his free hand. He said, “You can keep the drugs. You can keep the money. Could give a fuck about any of that this moment. Instead—-I ask you some questions, you give me some answers, and once all’s said and done I’ll have my smoke and I’ll be on my way.”
“And—-and that’s it?”
“And you want us to do what now?”
“From how I see things there’s about two ways this could go. Your way or mine. Your way would mean a lot of work on your part. Calling people up, going back on whatever deal it is you made, arranging or rearranging things, having to haul ass to wherever—-and so on. Mine would mean you would never have to get up from your seat. So which is it? You could say I’m trying to make it easier for you. I know you just came back from a long day of work, and you plan to have a few more this weekend. So. Which is it?”
“Well. In any case—-if that’s all you’re getting at—-then it’s fine by me. We’ll do it your way.”
Styx nodded slow and took that into consideration. And then he kept nodding.
Amérique Nakamura had on a trenchcoat buttoned to the top. Her hair tied, her legs crossed. She wore a smile on her face with the natural expressiveness of a fox.
She said something to D again. D shrugged and pointed to her ears. She made an expression and tried again—-in American Sign Language.
“I hope you can bear communicating like this for the time being. I am a bit rusty.”
D beamed and signed back, “I’m rusty too!”
Amérique grinned and signed, “How are you doing D?”
“Rather die Ate Ami!”
Ate Ami frowned and signed, “Maybe this might cheer you up.”
She tapped the suitcase. D pulled it over and set it in front of her. She looked at Ate Ami and she nodded back.
D then looked to spot Tita Lorene from across the space and waved her over.
Tita Lorene joined them. She mouthed something that D didn’t catch—-and you get the gist. Instead D popped the suitcase open and turned it over for Tita Lorene to see.
A warm glow emanated from the thing. Illuminated Tita Lorene’s eyes. A glint off her teeth in her expression of either awe or terror—-we will never know for sure.
Then she blinked and slammed the suitcase shut and checked her left and right and back. No one else noticed.
Tita Lorene gave D a thumbs up and took the suitcase with her and retreated to the back.
To Ate Ami—-D signed, “It didn’t. But how’d you know—-”
“How do I know what I know? Knowing that would fill a hole in the plot, but if you’re asking that question, then you’re not asking the right questions, and you know that, don’t you D?”
“I’m here on other business. Business that pertains to the business you’ve been caught up in this past weekend.”
D looked downward.
Ate Ami waved her hand in front of D’s face. D looked at her again.
“I’ll start off by apologizing. I was supposed to be of help to you, to Styx, but I didn’t do what I was asked to do in time, and Styx just went on without me so—-I’m sorry.”
“Don’t—-don’t worry about it.”
“Good, because I wasn’t planning to. But just because I couldn’t help Styx in time doesn’t mean I can’t—-”
“What was that?”
“I said—-signed no. I don’t want to hear or see or whatever his name anymore.”
“I don’t want to talk—-sign—-whatever. You know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean, but I can’t just let that be.”
“Well you’ll have to. And I’m not sorry about that.”
It didn’t take much longer for D’s food to arrive. The plate was set in front of her, then the bowl, then she grabbed for a fork and spoon and got to eating.
A spoon in her mouth—-Ate Ami waved again. D rolled her eyes and landed them back at the woman.
D set down her spoon and swallowed her sinigang and signed, “What now?”
“I have something else for you.”
“If I let that stop me then I wouldn’t be doing a very good job by Styx. Or by you for that matter.”
Ate Ami unbuttoned the first few buttons off her trenchcoat. She reached in and pulled out something.
A small wooden box. D only looked at it. Ate Ami tapped it with a finger.
D moved slow when she opened it. In her periphery she saw Ate Ami signing again.
“You’re a comrade, and a comrade is as precious as a rice seedling. Also—-I’m a writer. And what Styx wanted me to write for him was a message. A message I think he’d want you to see.”
D saw what was inside the box. A band with a pin sticking out, a device unblinking.
“—-a company. Real hush-hush shit so there’s no name, it’s just The Company, capital T and C. And the guy I’ve been in touch with, he’s just a company man. I don’t know shit else about him. Like personally. All I know about him and the rest is that they’re exmilitary or veterans or some shit, or homeless folk with nowhere else to go.”
“Taking who no one wants to take.”
“Exactly. I can’t tell you much else about these guys except where I come in. They got in touch about a month ago—-they wanted to open up some markets in the city. New types of drugs and some—-some other stuff.”
“They didn’t come to me directly.”
“Because you’re fucking you, Styx. You brought us all together when we were about to tear each other’s throat out in the art we call war. Brought changes and reforms that kept us stable for a minute. If anyone wanted to do business—-if they wanted to make a business deal—-they’d have to go to you, and you’d bring it to a vote with the rest of us. The second The Company hears about that they’ll stop whistling what they were whistling, and it was a fucking pretty tune let me tell you.”
“So they contacted you. The others. Everyone except me.”
“I hate to be the bearer of shit news Styx, but you got to bear with me. Your whole democracy project—-I mean it’s a noble thing and all that—-we aren’t banking nearly as hard as we did back in the day, ever during the war. And I’m sure you heard the old fucks say it themselves—-the only color that matters is green. With shit conditions like these, how long did you think it would last?”
Styx sat there and thought about this particular contradiction and contradictions as a whole. His unlit cigarette loose between his fingers.
Then Styx said, “You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. Or I know I was idealist in my thinking, and I know in the final analysis—-that was fucking stupid.”
Santino shrugged and said, “I wouldn’t go that far, but it is what it is.”
Styx said, “What it is,” and breathed and then he said, “What it is—-let me ask you something.”
“Been letting you this whole time.”
“If it brought you here, in front of me today, was it worth it?”
“I—-what? The fuck are you saying?”
“Take your whole life into stock, see if this was worth the investment.”
“Out of respect Styx—-you are a fucking psychopath.”
“Foucault would have something to say about that—-anyway, no point getting to any of that. You’re a simple man Santino, I’ll give you simple questions.”
“Fuck you but okay.”
“Where is D?”
D blinked. The device in the box did not blink.
She opened her mouth. Her fingers were floating over the thing. Nothing was communicated.
Then the box closed and Ate Ami returned it into her trenchcoat. D’s eyes followed. Ate Ami’s hands went to the coat buttons and D signed, “Styx said that?”
Ate Ami signed, “In order to resolve old contradictions and produce new things, a new condition is needed. Sometimes it comes in the form of open conflict. Or in our case—-ignition. Of course, how Styx went about it, I can only refer to Lacan and what he calls the passage a l’acte.”
D thought about what else to sign but couldn’t and only shook her little hands and ran them through her hair and then took a spoon and ate some rice and lechon.
Ate Ami moved her hands to her coat again and D dropped the utensils again and signed, “Why?”
Ate Ami signed, “Why in what regard?”
“Like why are you here?”
“Because I owed it to Styx—-”
“Like why you?”
Ate Ami paused. And then signed, “Because D—-you are one crazy coolie, and I mean that in the kindest way possible. You need someone checking in on you. A girl who slips banana peels under cops and takes photos of them tumbling and distributes them is a girl worth checking in on.”
D scoffed and signed, “Now you’re just making fun of me.”
“I’m just saying you should invite me next time.”
D smiled a little bit but only by a little bit. Then she frowned and signed, “Like there’s going to be a next time.”
“There is going to be a next time. You know why? Every authentic movement redeems all past failed movements. Styx isn’t here—-but you are. And so am I. Now. Shall we talk analysis?”
“A political novel must analyse what it has discovered, just as Manchette analysed crime fiction, discovered by Hammett, and Marx analysed the theory of value, discovered by Ricardo.”
“I’m not really—-and I really mean not really—-in the mood for any of that right now.”
Ate Ami gave it a second. And then gave it some more. After that she said, “Okay. Sure. We can do that. I’m not here to tell you what to do or what to feel. I’m just here—-because Styx can’t be. And because Styx can’t be here, I’ll just have to be the next best thing. Or the thing next to the best thing.”
Ate Ami smiled. D didn’t.
They sat there for a moment.
Then Ate Ami broke to peep the menu. Her hands floating back up to the buttons.
D hugged Ate Ami.
They sat there for a moment. D felt a pat on her head. Soft. There were several.
Tita Lorene came back.
Ate Ami consulted Tita Lorene about the menu. D let go and patted and fixed her jacket and pockets.
Then D took another bite of rice and lechon and sinigang before excusing herself and getting up. She left the table before Tita Lorene could even pay her for her trouble.
D noticed her hearing coming back. This was because she heard the bell as she left the shop this time and heard Ate Ami calling for her—-D feeling the weight of the bomb in her hand.
Santino touched his face and his forehead. He wiped sweat off his brow.
He said, “You know that supermarket off James Street? Of course you do but—-there. You sort of fucked up my usual storage space so I couldn’t go and use that. Had to improvise and move cargo around.”
“Yeah. I’m telling you—-it’ll be a bitch to get through. Guy like you, second you step in there they’ll be on your ass faster than I can say the rest of what I have to say.”
“Uh. Yeah. There a problem?”
“You see her—-you see people as cargo?”
“I mean—-what do you even want me to say to that?”
“I just want you to admit it to yourself. Give yourself this moment of clarity. While the opportunity is still afforded to you.”
“Fuck man—-I guess? I see cargo as cargo. I did what I had to do, and that’s all there is to it.”
“All there is—-is that your justification or just how things—-”
Styx winced. He glanced at his side. His wound more open than before.
Santino said, “So you are hurt.”
Styx only glared.
Santino said, “How about I ask you something?”
“That’s not where you’re at right now.”
“What I want to know—-I get everything else, I guess that was the particular risk in this particular investment, but I’m just curious why you give a shit about this girl so much in the first place? Why her? I just—-like I fucking hate her, let’s not have any illusions about that. But you? I never got it.”
Styx clicked the gun. Santino raised his hands slowly.
“Alright alright. I own a lot of businesses but that one ain’t mine to own. But I’m just saying—-lot of people saying shit because they don’t know the details.”
“Then let them be incorrect in their thinking.”
“That is such piss. Fuck you. Don’t give me that. You and I both know that shit cannot and will not fly.”
Styx breathed and felt the stitches stretch against the wound. He said, “Okay. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you, and I’ll get to going.”
Santino breathed and felt back into his seat.
Styx sat straight and looked right at Santino and told Santino and only Santino.
Santino blinked and blinked again. He said, “Are you fucking serious?”
Styx said and gestured nothing to that.
Santino shook his head and said, “Whatever man—-are we done here? Again Styx I apologize again for letting things go the way they went but at least we’ve come to an understanding right? I—-we promise from now on we’ll do it your way.”
Styx pulled the gun and shot Santino in the face. The philosophy of Santino D’Angelo’s thought met the wall and spilled behind him. His hair began to singe and started to burn and smell.
Styx stood and stopped trying to hide his limp. He moved to Santino. He brought his cigarette to a piece of sizzling meat and kept it there.
Then he brought it to his lips and smoked. He exhaled and tasted the flavor. Then he left.