Scooter? Check? Greenery? Check. Blurry camerawork? Fuckin' A. That's a wrap, people. Man do we need a better artist.

(J02E03) Gwen and Mary, OR Off the Record

“You’ve put on weight,” the beardo driving the scooter said.

“That or your goddamn engine has made peace with this life,” the short man riding pillion responded. “Weren’t kidding about Mary Jane, were you? Smell like a fucking greenhouse.”

“I told you to ditch the lackeys.”

“Do you even read the news, man? Whole fucking city’s got lackeys right now.”

“Yeah, I know. With us, for us, always, that crap.”

“This is off the record, Jimmy, but there’s a crackdown coming. And it’s gonna be swift and severe. Should I worry for you?”

“Let’s save the grilling for drinks, yeah? Where to?”

“Dunno. The old place still standing?”

“Define ‘still standing’.”

*

“Well, fuck,” Mandy said, a little later. “The fuck happened here?”

“Told you,” Jimmy said.

The flea circus carpet store and plywood warehouse were gone, as were the dozing smackheads.

The three-storey den of garbage and bloodstains that used to be the opposite of a landmark now stood clean and renovated and painted a hideous orange.

The old, rusted __BILE_ HALL sign had been replaced by a brand new black-and-gold  JUBILEE THEATER billboard.

A parking lot to the left and glitzy eateries to the right completed the façade.

“All this renovation and they kept that fucking font,” Mandy said.

“Let’s save the indignation for drinks, yeah? Come on.”

“Back in my day we had to wade through three miles of shit just to reach the alley.”

“And yet: here we are.”

“…Well, fuck.”

*

“Look, Mandy! A monogrammed bar menu!”

“Fuck that, dude! They’re serving food! … is that a fucking pitcher?”

The young boy fetching their beer knew a cop when he saw one. He grinned nervously and fucked off into the shadows.

Jimmy and Mandy filled their mugs and started in without toasting anyone or anything.

Around them the newly-christened Jubilee Street went about its noisy business.

*

“Are we going the reevaluation and re-exam route again?”

“Not sure, man. Not yet, at least. This friend needs my help. You still chasing arsonists through political rallies?”

“No such luck, man. They subbed me back into Narcotics. Old powder trail just turned fresh again. Got any friends who enjoy nosebleeds?”

“Not since last year, I’d say. Plus they preferred horse tranquilizers anyway.”

“Ketamine mohabbat hai?” They stewed in the horrid pun as Jimmy refilled their mugs. “Don’t get caught with any hard shit right now, okay? The guys we’re tracking are professionals. Any failure will bring the heat down on clueless college kids.”

“God knows we got enough of those,” Jimmy said. Slash lit the fuse on a familiar riff. A gaggle of kids two tables over clapped and whooped. “Can’t believe I’m old enough to be doing this, but – Hey! Yes, you! Keep it down, man! The fuck is wrong with you kids?”

Their second mugs were downed in silence.

“Well,” Jimmy said after Axl had stopped wondering where to go now, “We could go outside and fire up a J.”

“Don’t tell me they sealed off the rotbox!”

“Um.” Jimmy couldn’t meet his eye. “There’s a proper basement now. No stag entry.”

“Alright, that’s it.” Mandy walked over to the bar. The kid who’d been whispering to the bartender scampered off again. “Hey, man, what’s with the fucking march of progress over here, huh? What’s this fucking LCD? Why are there eight speakers instead of one homecooked amp? And why the fuck do you look like you’ve had a bath this week?”

“It is you,” said the bartender.

“With the fucking clean tables and the- what did you say?”

“It is you,” repeated the bartender. “The guy who sold me the place said you’d be back, sooner or later.”

“Where is that old wanker?”

“Retired,” said the bartender. “Moved to Jaipur. Or Jodhpur. Somewhere in Rajasthan, anyway. Follow me.”

“The fuck?” inquired Mandy as the bartender switched places with the kid and led them in the direction of the washrooms.

“The fuck?” echoed Jimmy, bringing their final mugs. “Didn’t know there was a time limit on beer rentals.”

“The previous owner said change was necessary to surviving this city,” the bartender said, unlocking what looked like a broom closet with a stick figure in a wheelchair stenciled unto the door, “But he also said change didn’t have to be absolute.”

“Never saw him string together a complete sentence myself.”

“If we get mugged, Mandy, you should probably quit the force.”

The western-style lavatory jammed against the back wall looked like a cardboard prop. The bartender took a key from his pocket, felt around in a crack beneath the murky mirror, and then swung his wrist.

There was a click.

“Well,” he said, stepping aside so the two men could look into a long, poorly-lit room behind the recessed doorway,  “Here you go.”

“Oh, momma,Johnny Jimmy said. “What a lovely day!”

Mandy stood looking into the secret hallway. He saw a dingy makeshift table with cigarette holes and two overflowing ashtrays, an old man in the far corner cradling his bottle, man and bottle looking like they’d keel over at any moment.

There was a long stretch of silence.

The barman left after checking the old man’s pulse. Jimmy Page laid down the opening licks of Kashmir. His namesake wiped a solitary tear on the shoulder of his trenchcoat.

“I am home,” Mandy finally said.

*

“Anyway,” Jimmy said eight and a half minutes later, “Speaking of my friend. Is there any way to find out who framed him?”

“Depends on the charges,” Mandy said. “Small cases like mugging or petty larceny, it’s usually local dimwits who figure my turf just because they ain’t been caught yet. Violent charges are harder. Case needs to shut like a well-oiled mousetrap before anyone sees the clink. What they in for?”

“Was. Trumped-up drug charges.”

“Uh. Mary Jane?”

“No,” said Jimmy, blowing a thin plume out of his nose. “Coquina.”

“The Caribbean mollusk?”

“No, man, The white stuff Tony Montana was motorboating into Miami. And his face.”

“Hmm.” Mandy thought long and hard as the old man exhaled into his beard.

The grey smoke rising from his snowbank was too cool not to look at. They paused their conversation a while. “That looks fucking beautiful, Reuben.”

“…Aksai Chin…”

“His name is Reuben?”

“That was the only word I caught when we last met. Or maybe he said Rubaiyat. How much coke we talking?”

“Half a kilo. Taped to the inside of his gas-tank.”

Mandy turned so fast he knocked an ashtray over.

“This friend of yours. Would he happen to be a dim oversized nutter who pops pills to stay coherent and goes by Big Moose or Malay?”

“Uh, he don’t like either of those. We call ‘im Bharadwaj.”

“Jesus, Jimmy, I thought I told you how serious this was.”

“…Longewala…”

“Thank you, Reuben. What the fuck are you talking about, man?”

“This right here,” said Mandy. “This fucking case brought me back to Dilli, Jimmy. Big-ass haul of misplaced coke. Five bricks total. The package they recovered from your friend was half a brick. I brought in one. A task force at Hauz Khas got another half. You any good at math? Did Malay tell you anything?”

“Uh, Bharadwaj. And just that he was no fucking dealer, man.”

“And you believe him.”

“Fuck, what I can’t believe is how many times I’m having to go over this. Yes.

“With what proof, apart from your gut?”

“Come on. He is not dumb, man. Had too much to lose. Wouldn’t get involved in shady bullshit like this.”

Mandy smiled mirthlessly. “You know why we’re friends, Jimmy?”

“Because I don’t judge you for being a hypocrite?”

“…Redcliffe Line…”

“Touché, Reuben. We are friends, Jimmy, because you are usually a rational man. Even when the world you inhabit is a rabid cuckoo’s nest of batshit.”

“You think I am going soft because I claim my friend’s innocence.”

“No, Jimmy, I think you are ignoring what your brain is pointing out to you. Why is he out right now? Why do I bring up impending crackdowns? Why am I here, Jimmy?”

“I… Uh…” And the single bulb in the room was dirty, and Reuben’s beard was not literally luminous, but Jimmy finally saw light. “He is bait.”

“Bingo was his name-o.”

“You assholes are gonna get him killed. And pardon me for asking your help, man, I know it’s only a matter of time before those cogs of yours turn a bit further and you take me in as accessory.”

It was a stupid line, and he regretted saying it almost instantly.

Mandy’s eyes narrowed to slits. It wasn’t a healthy look. “Accessory to what, Jimmy?”

“Nothing, man.”

“I’m serious, man. What’s on your mind?”

“A puh-packed schedule, for one,” Jimmy said, and thankfully there was an honest-to-God anonymous message with an address in Kamla Nagar buzzing up his phone. “You should dial it back, Mandy.”

“Speaking of which… You seem awfully calm for a man who lost ten months of sobriety days ago,” Inspector Doshi said. “Too calm, almost. What are you not telling me?”

“I’m not telling you to trust me, Mandy, because they taught us to cut out needless clichés. Back me up here, Reuben.”

“…Youm-e-Takbir…”

“Hey no need to get defensive, dude, I’m just trying to.. Wait, are you leaving?”

“The only thing worse than a DUI is a DUI with a drunk ossifer behind me,” Jimmy said, making for the door. “Kids have smuh- smargh- cameraphones these days. Can’t be too careful.”

“You were my ride, asshole! What sort of fucking welcome is this?”

“Don’t take it personally dawg,” Jimmy said. “Don’t even trip. You just need change of puh-perspective. Life getting you down? Thuh-third person, baby! Shift to second if it gets worse! Derp-deepuh-depersonalalization helps cop! I mean cope!”

“Puns were my thing, man,” Mandy muttered, “and so was this bottle.” Reuben glared at him darkly. “Fucking leave then, Jimmy, you piece of shit. I don’t need you!”

“Love you too, Mandy.”

“Fucking don’t call me that!”

“…Barrackpore…”

“I am sharing, Reuben, I just wanted that asshole outta my face.”

*

And so at roughly 2PM on Monday you stumble out the alley, flip the bird to JUBILEE THEATER, and ride Gwen across the Yamuna for the last time.

(J02E02) Incognito Mode

There was a time when the hilly uneven bough known as the Ridge circled the city. Old-timers insist you could go clear around Delhi without stepping from the shade once.

All that remains now is scraggly patches where the land folded too sharply to build upon, jagged chunks melded into North and South Campus for curious students and shelterless lovers and disaffected slummers to congregate, fornicate, defecate.

College administrations and planning departments commission walls as and when they see fit; the Ridge simply lingers, like any forest in a fairytale.

Don’t believe me? Ask your other no-good city-dwelling friends.

They will all have at least one story beginning in college and ending on the Ridge with no discernible transition.

*

Somewhere along the Northern Ridge runs a road where you can watch the dense, beautiful, haphazard trees of the Ridge give way to the dense, beautiful, haphazard sprawl of old Delhi.

Somewhere along that road stood the black, unmarked RV whose plates and coordinates I had been texted earlier.

I parked Gwen next to the van, won an awkward staredown with the occupants of the nearby Police Control Booth, and popped into a bubble of cool air and fluorescent light.

“Nice of you to rendezvous beneath the comforting gaze of law enforcement.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Jimbo.” The Reverend was putting final touches on her idea of incognito mode – scuffed leather jacket, grey shirt and trousers, faded green running shoes. “There’s been a cop car trailing me 24/7 for months. I just… did them the courtesy of stopping at an outpost. Told ’em to get breakfast, maybe go home and change.”

“Awful nice of you.” I walked to the nearest window. Her assistant stood smoking outside, oversized headphones and clipboard replaced by bluetooth headset and styrofoam cup of chai. I kept an eye on him. He was probably returning the favor. “They trust you not to skedaddle?”

“Yeah.” She put on a peaked cap and oversized shades. “Especially since I volunteered our keys at the outpost.”

“You know, Rev… I don’t get you, man. Seem to have your shit together. It intimidates me, a little. Why don’t you tell me what the fuck happened to Vrinda so I don’t have to aggravate you any longer?”

Aggravate me? Couldn’t get a rise at a nympho convention, doofus.”

“Don’t go by that name anymore, Rev. Nice burn, though.”

“Let’s make it simpler. You’re lovin’ this hardboiled-private-eye bullshit, right? Gimme a snappy aside about decay or innocence lost. Ready? Go!”

You ever gone to a stand-up special, waited until a lull in the set, then yelled Now make a joke!’ ?

Yeah, me neither.

We stood in silence for fifteen billion years a few seconds. Her mousy assistant strolled away from the window, towards the outpost.

“You’re smarter than the average talking head on TV,” I finally said. “Obviously a good enough judge of the human condition to acquire a cult. But this character you picked? This prolonged fucking dead-man-walking tribute? Too hyperbolic, man. Too over-the-top, even for a talking head on TV. Nobody over thirty will take you seriously.”

“Full marks for effort, but you’re gonna talk over-the-top to me, manchild? With your fucking exclusionist male circlejerk? Your routine privileging of bros over the women who pay for knowing you by being branded ho’s? Maybe it’s more subtle to bond with strangers over a hot piece of ass. And ain’t nothing wrong with playing slut-finder general for an abusive pusher fresh outta Tihar, right?”

“Hey man, nobody called her a-”

“Wrong answer. Tell me why your jailbird so badly needs to know what became of his ‘wimmin’. Or try another fucking tautology! Men will be men, how’s that for taste? I shudder to think what passive-aggressive reptiles you lot will become by thirty.”

I opened my mouth to interrupt.

“-if you hit thirty, I know. Fucking idiot.”

You ever burst into tears in the midst of a failed interrogation?

Yeah, me neither.

“Vrinda wanted out, Jimmy. Don’t have to agree with her reasons, but trust me when I say: you can’t help her. And you sure as shit can’t help Bharadwaj. He has brought reckoning unto himself. You would make unfortunate collateral, manly tears notwithstanding.”

“You, uh, mind if I do a J in here?”

“Knock yourself out.” She pulled the fancy gilded case from her sleeve and offered it to me.

“These roaches look clean,” I said, picking one of the three blunts. “Wish I could say the same of the box.”

“Yeah. I was gonna gift it to a friend but-”

“Stolen goods don’t go as far as they used to?”

“Look who grew a tongue.” She pulled a long drag and filled the van with sweet smoke deja vu. “That shaker you filched yesterday was a five year sentence. How far will two J’s of sativa get you?”

“Uh. Does the city of Nagpur ring any bells?”

“Crack wise about oranges, Jimmy, go on. I don’t mind feeding you your walnuts.”

There was a sharp rap on the window. I jumped through the smoke like a fogbound periscope.

The mousy assistant gave a brief thumbs-up and vanished from sight again.

“We’re done here,” the Reverend said. “What the hell, Jimmy. Keep the case. Maybe you’ll be better off looking for the guy who gave it to you.”

“You heading out?”

“Well. Another minute and our cover detail will be late from breakfast. Jerry will then gun the throttle and get me the fuck out of dodge.”

“Is his name really Jerry?”

“Jeremy, actually, but you seen those ridiculous headphones?”

Seemed a harmless little fuck,” I quoted, eyes red and throat parched. The Reverend gave a brief snort that sounded halfway like mirth. “You hotwired your van?”

“No, Jimmy. Always good to carry spare keys. Now skedaddle.”

“Um.” I reached into my inner pocket. She stiffened. My hand emerged with the last bent J with letters on the roach. “The heart is a dumb pump, Rev. It doesn’t make the best calls. Maybe my friend’s arrest seemed critical to your friend’s well-being. But Bharadwaj would never hurt Vrinda. You can’t know him and believe otherwise. Here’s your card.”

She took the J from me. In the smoky fluorescent light she suddenly looked a hundred years older.

“… Safe passage, Jimmy.”

“Fare thee well, Ma’am.”

That was the last I saw of her.

*

I walked out into the reheated remains of the morning.

Jeremy approached from the PCR van beside the outpost, clutching a battered Dalda tin larger than his torso.

“You always miss the important bits, Jerry.”

“At least I don’t s-snort ‘em.”

“Look who grew a tongue!”

“Y-you know the difference between gasoline and water?”

“I’d say… four minutes, judging by your time.”

“Or f-five years, judging by yours.”

He gave a nasty smile. I raised a bleary grin.

Then I saw the cops from the outpost passed out on their bench, a single blanket spread over their knees like an elderly married couple, and legged it to Gwen doubletime.

(J02E01) “Johnny Mera Naam”

I have a confession to make, Mandy.

I don’t write too good.

I mean sure, the words been comin’ – just as the steady IV drip been comin’ – now ten drops of glucose, now a nice drippy anaesthetic haze, now another wave of phrases bearing whatever trash I manage to salvage.

Jagged pieces of shell. Burnt retinas. Used syringes.

Do you see why I hesitate?

On day one of writing class they grouped us according to genre and made us list the absolute worst clichés we needed to avoid like the plague. I almost got in a fistfight with the guy who wanted “It’s always about a girl” as item one.

I mean, it’s overused and melodramatic, sure, but can’t it also be true? Don’t things become clichéd for a reason?

Maybe I should’ve stayed till the end of the course. There went the merry band of misfits struggling to become better writers. And here lie we.

Stuck in a bloody hospital for all eternity.

I used to write to her, Mandy. This woman who called me hers. She was my constant reader, my audience of one, and with each passing day it gets a little harder to believe she’s still out there, somewhere, listening.

I mean writing to you is fun and everything, but I always have to contend with the possibility that the reader might not necessarily be just you.

And I still need to run out the clock on this bloody Thursday.

*

“Inspector Doshi here. May I know-“

“Mandy! How goes the routine extortion of chaatwallas?”

“Sure beats shaking down junkies, I tell you that. Whose number is this, Jimmy?”

“I’m fine, thanks for asking. Number’s a burner.”

“… Are you working a case?”

“Gotta beat off the everyday horror of existence somehow. Why’s that nice lady mispronouncing your name?”

“Last call for this flight I’m supposed to be on. Your result’s out today, right?”

“Got posted Saturday. No luck this time either. Where you flying?”

“Back to Dilli. Look, just hang on for a few hours, okay? We’ll talk over oat soda, get you straightened out.”

“I’ll do one better, old-timer. Call off your lackeys and I’ll come get you with Gwen and Mary.”

“Jesus. You still riding that deathtrap?”

“Don’t knock my bae, bey. He’ll outlive us all.”

“That would be my number one fear. It’s wheels down at noon. Don’t be late, okay?”

*

And just for the record, Mandy, I’m not fond of the crap you gave my scooter.

We were lugging around a basketball team worth of miscreants long before you got your first uniform. Or college degree, for that matter.

And sure, you could call him Gwen Stacy (my scooter was male, goddammit) and take odds on his time of demise, but the old boy easily outlived my soulmate, my academic ambitions, hell, my old life.

I hadn’t fancied my own odds (or yours, to be honest) but Monday’s loss still hits the hardest.

*

I went down to the corner panwadi near my other place, loaded up on Silk Cuts, folded my old worn trenchcoat into Gwen’s dickey, and yanked him from the dingy cul de sac where I’d hidden his dented ass.

Anvesha still refused to pick up her phone.

I dropped a text enquiring about her general well-being and the specific whereabouts of the Reverend Ma’am.

Then I drove four kilometres of crowded campus bylanes to Bharadwaj’s old place.

*

The pile of trash outside the gate had been fruitful and multiplied. I stepped over a frayed wicker basket that might once have contained kiwi or some unspecified variety of bird egg.

“Ah, Johnny boy! Welcome, welcome! I was wondering when you’d turn up!”

I thought of correcting him but he handed me a square glass with three pegs of whiskey and a purely cosmetic ice-cube and it was Johnny mera naam for the foreseeable future.

“Let’s get you caught up,” he said magnanimously.

I nodded quietly, the glass already half empty in my hand.

“This is damn fine hooch, sir.”

“Please, call me uncle. Or kaka. That’s what the kids go with. I’d offer you dry fruit but I left the basket uncovered overnight. The ants had a happy Diwali.”

The house didn’t look like it had seen a happy anything in years. I kept my mouth shut.

“What’s the deal with Vrinda’s room, kaka?” I finally asked. “I mean if she or that oaf are still there, I could get a different one.”

“Oh, you know Bharadwaj, then.”

His expression darkened. I drank a little faster.

“I kept asking Vrinda why she couldn’t find a nicer guy, you know? I mean kids will be kids, but who lives with a fucking gorilla?”

“Didn’t like him much myself,” I said, a little sheepishly. He refilled my glass and topped up his own. “Used to tell her his sorry ass would land them in jail.”

“Looked like a career criminal, too,” the landlord said, more to himself than me. “There were drug charges, you know. Got pulled over at Vidhan Sabha with white dust all over his jacket. Cops found half a kilo of cocaine taped inside his gastank.”

“Wait, he actually got arrested?”

“Oh yeah. Put him away for a long time, they did. Then two days later Vrinda just up and vanished. We got a postcard from Nagpur saying the girl’s family had found out about the whole shady business and taken her home.”

“But you thought something was off.”

“Well not me personally. But… Janaki thought the handwriting wasn’t a match. I remember thinking he got someone to get rid of her while he was inside.”

“You still have that postcard?”

“Probably. Haven’t tossed any,.. leftover belongings. That used to be-”

He didn’t complete his sentence.

I sat bobbing like a rat in a cage at the bottom of the Yamuna, sipping his fine whiskey from his fine glassware, wondering how long the transition from is to used to be his wife’s job had taken.

Eventually he got up to empty the bottle and didn’t sit down.

“I’ll fetch thap-postcard, Johnny,” he slurred, “and maywe becan masense offit togethr”

I nodded and nursed my drink while he stumbled deeper into the flat.

*

The weight of absence in that room was palpable.

I knew the weird taste on the air at last: it was just like the chunk of rocksalt that had been jamming up my throat for the better part of an year.

By the time the big hand on the clock had covered a third of its trip I was done snorting cobwebs and misery.

“You alright in there, kaka?”

There was no response. I stumbled into the footsteps of my host.

*

Kaka hadn’t responded because kaka was busy blurring the line between on and off the bed, his legs on his pillow, his torso buried under a landslide of photocopied affidavits and identity proofs on the floor.

The documents rose and fell softly as he snored.

The image would be comical if it weren’t for the impeccably-made spread and (clean) pillow marking his wife’s side of the bed.

I presumed it was her staring balefully from the portrait behind the headboard – a hawk-eyed old lady with the ghost of a smile dulling her sharp jawline.

They probably made a good team back when she was around, I thought stupidly.

Then I quit warming my thumb in my arse and began rummaging through the loose pages.

*

There wasn’t much to go on.

I found enough documentation on Bharadwaj to make Vrinda’s papers redundant: the same semi-fake permanent address he’d given the cops on our final bender after undergrad, the initials spelling out a four-letter word that set my inner five-year-old chuckling.

I was wondering whether to fling my useless haul back onto kaka when I saw it – the torn half of an A4 sheet wedged under his head.

It was a photocopy of the WiFi agreement for Bharadwaj and Vrinda’s room. The handwriting was a bit too legible to be Bharadwaj’s. There was nothing remarkable about her semi-childish curlicues or the semi-fake permanent address (69, Parag Industrial Street, Shyamnagar – if that helps your investigation) but there was a rusty staple in the top-left corner.

Attached to the back of the receipt was a passport-sized photograph.

I unhinged the staple and squinted at the flax-haired woman in the image.

She seemed… young. Younger than us bloodshot beardos by half a decade at least. The aquiline nose and brown eyes seemed vaguely familiar. The mouth looked like it belonged on a poster. The expression was somehow defiant but also… inviting?

A small voice in my head suggested I’d used up my quota of sleaziness. I stared down the photo one last time before pocketing it.

I had either seen her up close and in person or I didn’t know her at all.

Sounds infuriating, doesn’t it?

Especially after that bullshit in the last notebook about knowing yet not-knowing Anvesha?

I’m afraid this is as true as that was true.

*

That jackhole in writing class who objected to It’s-Always-About-A-Girl later stood up and loudly proclaimed that he was sick as cancer of Red Herrings, and the day writers stopped treating their readers like infants we would achieve world peace and find our rightful place among the stars.

I remember him being the primary reason I dropped that course two days later.

I still think about him, sometimes.

That jackhole might well have been the best friend I never had.

*

Monday morning in the landlord’s bedroom I decided the photo was lead enough.

There was no point snooping through two giant almirahs full of unsorted knick-knacks in search of Bharadwaj and Vrinda’s perfect little life.

The real question was – could I locate kaka’s stock of single-malt?

And, if yes, would he miss a bottle or two?

Anvesha buzzed with map coordinates and a license plate just as my conscience was trailing off into an embarrassed silence… and, just like that, the hunt was on again.

Stage Three

Out of all the things I have lost

I miss my mind the most.

 

Out of all the times I have havered

on the verge of plasticky profundity

and then swapped out

my quotidian bleed

for a banal quote

Tonight’s the night

I feel worst about wasting.

It’s your paintbrush I drip from.

It’s your halfsmile I am tasting.

 

Of all the times I let go too soon

because I could not stop being me

Today’s the first I honestly wish

I could stop being me

 

Even at the cost of some poor sod

Having to audition for my role

Having to consciously unlearn

everything they understand

about body language

and to miss a thousand social cues

and to drop a million plates that are

microwave-safe but not

tested for gravity.

 

I don’t even care if they throw up

in their mouth and basically

quit the whole life-

swapping business for good.

 

I would wear the face and

wear the life and I would

run to you. In a heartbeat

I would run to you.

 

I would not care

if my stubby otherperson legs

refused to carry

my swollen head

I would not care if you didn’t want me

in your public library

or your personal shed

 

It would be enough, it would be enough

To press my nose on your window,

see you pull froth

from the surface

of a watercolor sea

to see you toss your hair back

and lament the ruining

of yet another artwork

at stage three.

Eight-Storey Girl Scouts from the Paleozoic Era

…Then one time, I believe it was July-

August!

-August, there’s a knock on the door. I open it, and there’s this cute little girl scout.

And she was so adorable with the little pig tails and all.

And she says to me, “How would you like to buy some cookies?” And I said, “Well, what kind do you have?” She had thin mints, graham crunchy things-

Raisin oatmeal!

-Raisin oatmeal, and I said: “We’ll take a graham crunch. How much will that be?” And she looks at me and she says: “I need about treefiddy.”

Treefiddy.

Well it was about that time that I notice that girl scout was about eight stories tall and was a crustacean from the paleozoic era.

The Loch Ness monster!

I said: “dammit monster! Get off my lawn! I ain’t giving you no treefiddy!” It said: “How about just toofiddy then?” And I said: “Oh, now it’s only toofiddy?! What, is there a sale on Loch Ness munchies or something?!”

-South Park (Season 3), The Succubus

Uh.

This blog has had a temporary change in management.

Nothing serious. Or too serious, anyway.

Standby for further deets.

(J01E07) Red Letter Day – IV

The greens coursing through my system gave me pause and a gentle updraft, which I rode backstage next to the suddenly-chattering girl beside me.

She had important plot points to offer. I had a fresh knife-wound that had recently fallen silent.

Silence was good.

The Reverend stood deep in discussion with a spindly little manchild with big headphones and an even bigger clipboard.

The area was devoid of any sermon attendees apart from the four women currently struggling to cart off the dead keyboardist on a wheelbarrow. I watched them for a moment before going up to the dude with headphones and shaking his hand.

“I should scram,” he said, shooting a mildly nervous glance at the Reverend.

“Stay, man!” I continued to pump magnanimously. “Things oughta get interesting soon!”

“Scram,” said the Reverend, and then my hand was holding thin air. “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”

*

“So then. Why do you look familiar?”

“Might’ve caught my face on the news, dude. I helped crack a high profile-”

“Not you, doofus. I know you.” Except instead of ‘doofus’ the Reverend used my given name. “Never a good idea to put your face in the public domain, especially next to the people you’re putting behind bars. I was talking to her.”

“My dad was in the force during your reportage days, Ma’am. Used to speak very highly of your bylines. Also the time you torched a police bike and he made the arrest.”

“You’re Inspector So-and-So’s daughter?” except instead of So-and-So the Reverend used an incredibly offensive sobriquet. “How quickly you’ve grown, -”

I leaned in to finally hear my saviour’s name.  There were three syllables. There was a distant clatter that sounded like a wheelbarrow being upturned in a ditch.

I caught nothing.

“So then, doofus- oh, don’t give me that look. So then, Jimmy, something tells me you’re not here for an academic discussion. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“A few of your acquaintances dropped by this afternoon,” I said. “I was hospitable but they left in a hurry. One of them dropped something.”

“Ah, yes.” The Reverend fished out the remaining joint from the cigar case. “Is this about the unfortunate choice of roach materials?”

“You’re awfully astute for a Godman.”

“And you’re digging a hole you might not be able to vault out of, boy.” She handed me the J and slid the cigar-case up her sleeve in the same fluid motion. I sat gaping like an idiot. “I knew Vrinda and I know Bharadwaj. You’re an idiot if you think you’re helping either.”

“It’s funny how everybody keeps referring to her in the past tense.”

“Do you even know if she ever existed, Jimmy? Got any pictures to show people while your investigative montage is playing? And why do you think Bharadwaj roams free right now?”

“Because they couldn’t get the charges to stick,” I said, louder than I’d intended. “And he deserves to know, dammit. Is justice reserved only for the photogenic?”

“Nice word, photogenic.” The Reverend pulled a cigarette with the same gesture that claimed the cigar case. “Here’s another one I really like: furlough. And here’s one that goes wonderfully with doofus: homework. Maybe do yours next time?”

“What do you mean?” The girl asked. I was still too busy gaping.

“Ask your old friend. Or his new favourite bird. Or better yet, ask the man whose own landlord thinks he’s a killer.”

“Um, Jimmy?”

I’d stood up without realizing. I was suddenly sober, suddenly in possession of a bum leg, suddenly in the midst of an interrogation I was ill-prepared for.

“Leave him be,” said the Reverend. “The man with the cigar case might have been on my payroll, once upon a time, but he wasn’t supposed to have the damn thing on him. And I sure as shit didn’t order the scramble on doofus over here.”

“What, and we’re just supposed to accept your word?”

“No, Jimmy. You’re supposed to go get your facts straight. Your friend and I have some catching up to do.”

“Well, it has been forever,” admitted the girl. “Give me fifteen minutes?”

“Why the hell not?” I stood up, mock-bowed to the Reverend, and walked out into the cool evening air before she could realize her lighter was gone.

*

-Wow.

-Wow what?

-The Reverend tore you a new one.

Mandy places a small bouquet of yellow roses at my bedside, as if in commiseration. I briefly wonder if a near total loss of sync with my surroundings is worth the lack of pain.

Then I wonder if I am fixating on a drugged-out marathon that I should’ve left behind by now.

-Thanks for the flowers.

-You know, I’ve been wondering.

-Buy me dinner, too, just to be on the safe side.

Mandy doesn’t quite look at me. 

-Funny. This is Sunday evening at the old amphitheater we’re talking about, isn’t it? 

-More or less.

-We picked up three men from the adjacent building that evening. Coked out of their gourds, all former members of the Reverend’s organization.

-So?

-So one of them matched the description of one of your assailants. Minus the facial hair and more or less incoherent, but

-Probably just a coincidence.

-You are absolutely sure you met none of the intruders again after Sunday morning?

-Would I lie to you, Mandy?

-Because we never recovered any containers or coke apart from some residue on a counter. And one of them kept babbling about a marathon man and open windows.

-Common breed on campus, marathon men. Especially that Early in the race.

-They were in a restroom on the second floor with no access point. The only skylight was at least seven feet above the floor with no possible foothold in the vicinity.

-Sounds more like a vanishing man, then.

-I remember wondering how a telecom billboard between the amphitheater and the building could be torn so neatly down the middle.

-Maybe someone got sick of call dropping and opted for dropkicks instead.

-You crazy bastard.

We sit and smell the roses.

-I’m sure it was a smashed grab, I finally offer. Whoever went in there probably hadn’t seen snow before. Maybe they just did a couple of lines for the heck of it and acted on instinct when they heard the latch break.

-A deathwish is no instinct to follow, Jimmy.

-This conversation is veering too far from dinner for my liking.

-It’s not evening yet. Speaking of which – your companion that evening. The one whose name you couldn’t recall.

-What about her?

-Was she the one who testified regarding your whereabouts? After that thing with the Crow?

-Maybe. Why do you ask?

-Two reasons. First: her name is in the case files. Her dad was a legend on the force. It is safe to assume I know her, so you can stop with the horrible attempts at misdirection. 

-I’ll take that under consideration. And second?

-Second, she’s waiting in the lobby right now.

-She’s what?

-It’s okay, don’t bother getting up. I’ll just bring her upstairs.

-Oh, no you won’t!

But Mandy’s already gone.

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Sirs, madams, small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

You and I are about to be part of a grand experiment, which will determine the future course of our interaction (if not the future of this blog itself). The experiment is this:

Click on this link.

Thank you for your participation.

Now. You may or may not be aware of the tiny novella that has been growing chapter by chapter on this blog for the past few months.

I mean, even didn’t know it was a novella until literally ten seconds ago, when I realized the Short Story categorization would become mildly disingenuous after the next chapter took us past the 10,000 word mark (actual halfway mark still somewhere in the distance).

Bloody Thursday originally started out as the script for a (proposed) half-hour movie about a campus wastrel who has to juggle a murder mystery with his ongoing downward spiral, but I only got as far as three scenes and some expert criticism regarding my inability to stay grounded.

this-is-bullshit-you-cant-ground-spider-man

… except for excessive swearing or hella drugs

After a few months of jacking off to more-and-more ludicrous setpieces I realized the visuals in my head hadn’t been as intriguing as the central character, who seemed less-than-likely to be taken in by said glitzy high-def.

A bit more streetsmart. A lot more cynical.

For the plot to draw him in – for his fellow characters to elicit his involvement in potentially life-threatening situations – there would need to be some moral ambiguity, maybe a few more nods to his life before things got horrible; plus the sharp reparteé that is one trademark of a noir story.

It took a further month before the chapters outnumbered the scenes.

This is an extremely long intro to give a yarn that might have missed its mark already, but if you haven’t read any of the chapters so far and yet stuck this long with my idiot rant:

Jimmy wakes up in Hospital. He outlines the theme to his weeklong bender. He stares at an inebriated landlord. He meets Babli (and The Crow). He gets in a fight and is saved by a girl who knows him (but not vice versa). Said girl invokes a campus myth called The Reverend Ma’am.

Then Jimmy remembers who the girl is.

There. You are up-to-date, more or less.

The first chapter has just over eighty views at the time of this writing, but it plummets down to less than a dozen by the time The Reverend clocks her first appearance.

That brings me to the original reason for this post: the intermittent update pattern is not really suited to a story with any narrative tension. The half-dozen glowing reviews I got have long faded into cold static and dusty curtains.

Plus there is hardly any scope for playing around with linear chronology when the chapters are arriving piecemeal on some random schedule. 

Memory can be an unreliable customer, especially when a week’s worth of happenings have to be recalled from a cramped hospital bed; but the way things stand, one would have to go back and cross-check against months-old posts for potential holes in Jimmy’s story.

Even I don’t do that all the time. 

So now, instead of posting links to chapters as and when they pop up, I will come back next week with the result of this experiment.

In any case, sweeping declaration!

  1. This blog will now be updated more regularly with reviews and shorter pieces! (Fun fact: I recently discussed my favourite Al Pacino movie here without spoilers). Since Bloody Thursday is trying so hard to be a hardboiled yarn, most of the movies/books/thingies I discuss in the near future will be in a similar vein. Expect a lot of bodybags!
  2. I don’t know how the everlovin’ fricassee I will manage it, but said yarn will be over and done two Thursdays from now. Like, available online before you start rolling your eyes at pretentious new year’s resolutions like this one (and without a cheaty oh-he-died-of-an-embolism-I-guess-we’ll-never-know-now ending, either).
  3.  I know you are already sniggering (especially since it’s eight months since we began and I said earlier that I’m not halfway done yet) but at least I’m not blindsiding you with multiple new chapters in one post!
  4. Click on this link.

See you in 2016!