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!

(J01E08) Red Letter Day – V

“What the fuck was that all about?” asks the girl sitting beside me on the auto speeding slow then fast then way too fucking fast across campus and then suddenly my tired jittery coked-up noggin spits her name out one tired jittery coked-up syllable at a time.

I know her.

“You cut your hair,” I say, more to myself than her, and there is a brief flicker of understanding in her eye before she puts one electric finger on the side of my nose and then looks at the white dust on the tip of her nail.

“Is that coke? Did you seriously just find coke in a fucking restroom?” The moment snapped way the hell up by the wind streaming way too fucking fast through her hair.

When I last knew her there were brown-black waves reaching halfway down her back.

She swore roughly the same amount, though.

Dhoondhne pe bhagwan bhi milte hain,” I proclaim. Look hard enough and you will find God.

The sodium streetlamps outside are a flickering orange chain. I wonder if God is hiding somewhere in this blurry light. I wonder if the auto has broken the land speed record yet.

“This is the limit, man.” She sounds pissed so I decide not to tell her about the half-empty salt shaker burning a hole in my back pocket.

We go over a bunch of those little speedbumps they put in for the sole purpose of pulling your back out of alignment and the auto has never been in the same sentence as shock absorbers let alone the same room.

“F-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-ck,” I remember saying.

I also remember going cross-eyed at the last bump, her fingers on my right forearm, the sodium streetlightchain billowing like the arc of a skipping rope.

Then I came to with my head on her lap, watery-eyed and stuck in the past tense again.

The streetlights were no longer moving at all.

The wave had broken.

“You can keep the shades, Jimmy.”

“Thanks, Anvesha.”

*

Anvesha, Anvesha, Anvesha!

She had been a spinal cracker, glorious, crazy.

I met her in second year at a creative writing event held in one of the south campus colleges.

We hit it off despite my badmouthing said college, which eventually turned out to be her college.

“Fellow litcritter, huh?” I drawled as I lit her smoke later that afternoon. “Vocab of a science major on top. So have books always been your thing or are you acting out your personal rebellion?”

“Neither,” she said, raising a single eyebrow at my ridiculous private-eye impression. “Journo major. First year. Looking to change the world rather than tarting it up in flowery metaphors.”

We crossed the road.

“I wish they give our stories back,” I said. “Those six pages are all I’ve written this year.”

“Oh loosen the fuck up, skinnyman.” She’d kept mispronouncing my name and I’d bet her a Mild she couldn’t come up with a more annoying form of address. “Put words on paper and surrender them to the universe. Roll your eyes in the midst of a rainstorm. Get your heart broken and write shitty poetry. Then take a deep breath and let it all go.”

“Easy for you to say,” I grumbled. “Accustomed observer and everything. My world melts under direct light.”

“I feel guilty about taking this cigarette now,” she said. “Your existential crisis is way more annoying than any nickname. Come sup with me, Skinnyman. Grumble about the food instead.”

The next evening I took her advice and went to this party, where I stayed up all night talking to a girl named Manavi.

Anvesha returned my story the day of the prize distribution. It would be the only other time we met.

I didn’t mention the shitty-poem-generator in my life, but I didn’t really have to. Ditto the new nickname that stuck to me like a wad of week-old chewing gum on an overpass.

“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy,” she said in parting. “Go knee the world in the nuts.”

I placed third. She took home the big trophy.

*

Now, on this excruciating bloody Thursday, she enters right behind Mandy, who picks up his recorder from the bedside table, shoots me a brief look, and leaves.

-You should grow your hair out. Did I tell you that?

-About a thousand times. Ever thought of moving permanently into a fucking hospital bed?

-Why, you know any veterinarians in the area?

-I am starting to wonder if your sorry hide is worth all this trouble.

-Really?

-Well, only a little.

She manages a brief but troubled smile. I feel more horrid than usual about getting her involved.

-Anyone still running that marathon?

-Save the drawl for when they pull the tubes out. Three of your friends racked up hospital visits of their own. Another made it to Wednesday morning before ramming a stationary truck with a stolen bicycle. He’s currently in remand.

-Right.

-Yet another ingested roughly fifty g’s of pure black Afghan and went dancin’ with monkeys.

-Fifty fucking g’s?

-Yeah. Still in a plastic baggie and everything. Everybody got together and pumped his stomach last night. Everybody been having nice chai ever since. Did I get around to mentioning my disbelief at the way you campus folk live?

-About a thousand times. Did you try the chai?

-Yesterday. One cup with some friends of friends. Someone played a Crow ballad and I thought of you.

-Blue Murder EP?

-Last track. Coulda died, Jimmy. Can’t you just let the dust settle?

Today I’m the one with the plot points but don’t know where to begin. She stares out at the concrete overpass.

Bit by bit we have drifted into different stories.

I notice the heavily taped-up notebook in her hand. It is one of mine.

-Did you go back to the flat again?

-Nah. Picked it up the first day. But this was a finished notebook, Daddy-O. The last entry was a month ago and spoke vaguely of visitors. Ditto the one before. And there was no point looking for anything more recent, was there?

-What do you mean?

-That flat. Your so-called home. You go there when you have to meet people. They think it’s where you live. But you really put up someplace else, don’t you, Jimmy?

-Lot to infer from a purloined journal, Anvesha. Investigative chops shaping up nicely.

-Hysterical, skinnyman. You groovy but can’t disprove me. 

Cold furrows settle on her brow.

I make up my mind to tell her, but I guess I’m more medicated than I thought, because I blink and open my mouth and she’s already at the door.

The journal on my bedside table has a thin paperback on top.

-Got you some hardboiled to kill time. And get a new pen, that one’s gnawed through.

The moment drops like a melting icicle and shatters on the floor.

-Goodbye, Jimmy.

Click.

(J01E06) Red Letter Day – III

“I think we might be misreading the situation,” I said to the girl a bit later. “What if those dudes simply ran out of roaches?”

We were sitting in an auto, heading to a broken-down amphitheater on the old campus.

“Don’t you wanna know why they cut you a new one?”

“Not if it involves waking up in hospital again.” I leaned into the gap between us and rolled a fresh one from the dust in the cigar box.

Dude. Just stay sober for fifteen minutes.”

“I’m in the midst of a marathon,” I patted down the sticky bit. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“You know, I remember campus being mellower,” she said after a bit. “No gratuitous violence or multi-day parties. It’s like you people don’t want to live anymore!”

“Well, it’s a pretty popular marathon,” I coughed. The stuff was better than anything I had smoked in years. “Are you sure you’re from these parts?”

“Nice try, mister. No hints.”

“I was just asking!”

“Save it for your fellow brain surgeons, Jimmy,” she took the stub from me and flicked it out into the open air. “We’re here.”

*

Your mileage may vary on most of the people I describe here.

Babli is a legend among cops, the Crow a dreadful myth fluttering down the rafters of campus; but outside their circles they’re both relatively unknown (as they’d no doubt like to be).

The meeting we were crashing, however, was the Red-and-Black Sermon, and the sliver of card belonged to the Reverend Ma’am himself.

We were in over our heads, like two Charmanders left overnight on a waterslide

I mean, I’d spent enough time around other people’s televisions to catch my share of Godmen, and enough effort in the pursuit of literature to absorb some radical feminist thought; but never had I seen anyone walk a tightrope between the two as confidently as the androgynous man in black currently pacing the stage before his flock.

This was probably how cults got started – and the scary bit was how much sense he made up there.

*

-Let me just stop you right there.

I let him. The fact that he managed to saunter in and sneak a peek is most promising: the throb in my leg is gone, my ribs less xylophone than kid-poking-a-stick-at-someone-else’s-chest.

God bless pain medication.

-Sure, Mandy. Sup?

-This is the Reverend Ma’am you’re talking about. 

-How many people do you know by those two honorifics?

-Okay, first of all, we can’t touch her.

-I’m not asking you to.

-Good, because I don’t have the authority. And second: we can’t touch her.

-Easily fixated, aren’t we?

-I mean the Reverend Ma’am is a woman, Jimmy. Female of the species and all that.

-Really?

-What did you think the Ma’am stands for?

-Macadam? Malayalam?

-Goddammit, should I cut off your meds again?

-You’re no fun, Mandy. Ever wonder why I call you that?

-Because you’re an asshole with a reckless disregard for authority?

-That, and it gets a rise out of you.

-What does that.. wait, you were purposefully planning to antagonize her?

-People reveal a lot more of themselves when angry.

-And by people you mean the Reverend Ma’am.

-You must really enjoy saying her name out loud.

-You must really enjoy eating through straws.

*

We caught roughly the last twenty minutes of the sermon but it was the conclusion that really stuck with me.

“They need us for reproduction, so they commodify our bodies. And we let them. They need to control the value of their commodity, so they put a high premium on ‘virginity’. And we let them. They need our complicity to uphold their precious power structure, so they continually reinforce how gentle the woman in the cage is, how tender. And. We. Let them.

“We let them chain us to the kitchen sink. We let them control our articulation. And then we tell them, sure, go ahead and think.

“For us!” The entire gathering called as it scrambled to its collective feet. A lot of them were women but I caught more than a few beards among the disembodied heads floating over the red-and-black sea of fabric.

“For whom these stone walls, this glass ceiling?”

“For us!”

“And for whom do we fight?”

“For us!”

“And for whom is the night?!”

“For us!!”

A rousing crescendo in a hundred voices drowned out the tall lackey having a seizure over his keyboard.

The Reverend glowered into the middle distance, walked back to the podium, blew on the big mic.

The resultant shriek of interference shut everyone up.

“The language is their friend. The terms of engagement are defined by them. And that is fine. It simply makes us the guerrilla monkeys to their demon horde, the Rebel Alliance to their Sith Empire. We will subvert the discourse. We will hit them right where it hurts, and again, and again. And we will not stop until we regain control.”

*

There was no mention of kicking strangers in the groin, no militant choir ending the sermon with an angry rendition of some popular tune (the tall lackey on keyboard appeared stoned or dead or both).

These words I attribute to Ma’am were transcribed from a faulty memory that renders everything into so much pseudo-erudite bluster. But right there, in the ruins of some past generation’s heated debates, the tiny person in the Undertaker getup radiated more conviction than any orator I’d met outside YouTube.

For a moment I almost let pot-fueled geniality shout down the misgivings in my gut.

“That was heavy,” the girl standing beside me breathed.

“I think that dude might be onto something,” I agreed.

(J01E05) Red Letter Day – II

Violence is never a good idea.

I learnt that right after my first dust-up in school, while sitting outside the Principal’s office (the other guy was three years older so they didn’t call my parents after all. Police intimidation tactics are imported directly from our educational system, I believe).

The reason violence is never a good idea – which I learnt as I held my knuckles under ice after the next dust-up – is because it is a damn sight easier than neeti or diplomacy or negotiation. As a last resort it fits the bill perfect-o, but use it any earlier and you risk forming the most expensive habit on the face of the Earth.

I’m pretty sure the two guys shredding books in my apartment knew that as well as I (the third happened to be taking a leak as I burst in); so, in retrospect, the subsequent dust-up was none of our faults.

I thrashed both dudes senseless, and enjoyed it more than they did, but we were sorely aware that leading with lunges instead of lines was ill-advised.

If we happen to meet again in prison I will tell them I forgive the assault upon my person. I will also ask them to forgive the broken teeth and kicks to the liver.

The third bastard, however, came at me with a knife from behind.

I don’t regret breaking his arm in the slightest.

*

I walked out of my flat bruised and cross.

The dude with knife had had a couple of joint joints in a fancy cigar case in his jacket pocket, but not one of ’em yielded a single match. There was probably a lighter lying about someplace but I didn’t have the heart to sift through my meager library one torn page at a time.

I would walk to the corner panwadi, get matches, and come back and kick one of the dudes repeatedly until they woke up and talked. It would probably be the one with the knife.

I ran into a girl on the bottom flight.

It will eventually turn out that I already knew her, but right then she was just a pretty chick on the landing who happened to be smoking.

“Lady, could I trouble you for a light?”

“Um, yeah. Sure. Are you okay?”

“Jonesing for some nicotine, but otherwise cool.” Who was this person drawling out of the corner of my mouth? I obviously had enough bruising on my face/neck to look like shit. Probably should’ve been seeking medical aid instead of playing Third World Tough Guy on the landing.

Then again, she offered me her own coffin nail, so I must’ve been doing something right.

“Thank you,” I exhaled. “Now I’m golden.”

“You sure? No dizziness or loss of co-ordination?”

“What do you mean?” I saw that she’d pulled out her phone instead of a matchbox.

She pointed behind me. There was a thin trail of blood leading down the stairs, culminating in a hole right above the back of my knee.

“Oh, man,” I groaned. “My last jean pair of cleans!”

“Jimmy,” she was holding the phone steady against her ear, which was swaying quite alarmingly. “Stay with me. Please.”

“How d’you know my name?” I wondered aloud, and then fell against her like a bowling pin on a landmine.

*

I came to a couple hours later.

The room around me seemed less like a hospital than a small, rudimentary dispensary – two beds separated by a makeshift wall of curtains, girl sitting on oddly-shaped chair next to the bed.

Pretty sure I heard the squawking of birds somewhere in the background.

“Please tell me this isn’t a veterinary institute.”

“Please tell me that gash is from a household accident.”

I sat up and gingerly inspected the field dressing. It seemed solid.

“Sorry for getting you involved in this, miss.” I avoided her eye.

“You still don’t remember me, do you?” She, on the other hand, was hellbent on staring. “Don’t worry. It will come back. The people who did this, on the other hand-”

“You went back to my flat?!”

“The trail of blood was rather helpful. Nobody home, though.”

I swung my legs off the bed and for a moment my vision was clouded by a thousand black wings.

“You need to rest.”

“Ain’t much else to do,” The drawl was back. “The trail’s gone cold.”

“Unless you’re forgetting something,” The bright fluorescent tube glinted off a fancy cigar-case in her hand.

“Are you sure we can smoke up in here?”

“Observe,” she said, opening the box. One of the joints was still intact; the contents of the other dusted the casing like green-and-brown flecks of paint.

“That was a perfectly serviceable blunt!”

“Get your head in the game, Jimmy.” The way she said it brought back some vague memories of… food?

There was a small, bent piece of cardboard at the bottom of the case; she picked it up and began smoothing it out.

“Is that the roach?”

She nodded. “I’d heard of these but never actually seen one before.”

“Hey, it’s all right. Public perception paints marijuana as-”

“Oh, hush.” There were words on the cardboard. “I mean this was less a J than a calling card.”

“And what does it say?” She held it to the light. “Well, fuck.”

*

-You certainly seem to wake up in hospitals a lot.

-I thought you weren’t reading the notebook.

The painkillers are nearly gone. I can count my ribs without looking down. My least favorite numbers in the world are 6, 7 and 8.

-I got bored. Also-seriously? Amnesia to avoid naming a girl? What sort of writer are you supposed to be?

-Like you found the guys that trashed my place.

-The descriptions you gave belong in a badly-made 80’s action flick. Besides, our regular channels of information are.. rattled.

-They’re scared. Nobody wants to fuck with the Crow’s masters.

-This just gets messier and messier. And yet you dragged that poor girl into it.

-Didn’t ask for her help even once. And she’s way tougher than either of us, Mandy. You’ll see.

-Can we stop with the testimonials and get to the important bits already?

-Right after you get me some painkillers. Or saw off some of dese ribs.

-Again with the avoidance of pain. You might have a problem, you know?

You don’t know the half of it.