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Chapter 21 - Mr. 600

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Teddy-bear dude and Sheila look thick together. Cozy. Dude’s touching her tits and hair. Sheila talking shit to him about me. Both of them looking at me. Pointing fingers at me. Talking their shit.
Television dude keeps touching his own head, shedding hairs. The blood veins ballooning on his face, all branchy, red and shit. His eyeballs all pug-dogged, bulging and ready to roll down his cheeks. His eyes looking red with blood veins, blinking with water. Sweat washing his hairline, flat against his neck and forehead.

Teddy-bear dude’s not doing so well.
Symptoms not even his glazed, dark Palm Springs tan can cover.
Those tests that Sheila had dudes take, the clinic reports most dudes had to bring, none of that’s foolproof.
Rubbers break. Rumor is, even rubbers aren’t thick enough to block a virus.
Walking, I’m pacing same as those tigers at the zoo, weaving between dudes. Making big circles going around the room, I’m navigating through clouds of baby-oil stink and Stetson cologne, careful to keep from skidding on the oily footprints left by dudes trying to shine.
Teddy-bear dude’s not getting porked by a million diseased, sex-hound dudes, then passing his problems on to me. Sure, I may be anchor dude 600, but I’m not riding sloppy seconds after him. It’s okay he kills a babe who wants to die, but he’s not killing me. Not just so he’s got work for the next couple years.
Dudes tell a joke. They say, “How many queer fuck films end as snuff films?” The answer being, “You wait long enough—all of them!”
That joke . . . that’s not a joke.
Sheila and the teddy-bear dude still looking at me. Talking their shit.
A ways off, the kid 72 keeps looking in his hand, rolling around the wood pill.
On the TVs, Cassie is naked and sliding down some kind of tangled-up bras and shit, falling out a window, and landing on some grass, outside, at night. Wearing nothing but spike heels and dangle earrings, she takes off running with a bunch of those Doberman pointy-eared dogs chasing her and loud sirens wailing. Searchlights sweep over the grass and night and stuff.
Teddy-bear dude laughs. Sheila laughs. Both of them looking at me.
No, I ain’t as young as I’ve been, but I don’t have to take this amount of disrespect. My name’s attached some of the financing for this project. My hard years helped bankroll the taco chips and shit they’re chowing down. The rental on this place. Paid for that bed dudes are up there busting. All that seems to indicate I got some measure of respect coming to me.
Kid 72, the little dummy stands there looking at the pill in his hand, looking at Cassie running ahead of those barking dogs.
I stop next to the kid. I go, “Hey, you come here today planning to die?”
I go, “Of course you didn’t. Me, neither.”
I go, “Teddy-bear Dan Banyan dude’s going to snuff us both.”
I go how I got a plan, and for him to follow me. The two of us walk, innocentlike, over by where the dude and Sheila stand, them talking. Her holding her clipboard. Him holding that bear with Britney Spears’ name on it.
My bronzer, I tell Sheila how it’s started to cover up the number on my arm, and I ask can I borrow her pen, to do a quick touch-up on my “600.”
Sheila looks at me, her mouth jerking at one corner to show her teeth on that side. The holes of her nose dialed so big the air tunnels into her head look pink as seashells all the ways back to her brain. Sheila tugs the pen out from the top of her clipboard and holds it across to me.
I take it and go, “Thanks, honey.”
Sheila says nothing. Her and the teddy-bear dude not saying a word. Not laughing. Their eyes and trash talk waiting for me to walk off.
To fool them, I take a couple steps, the kid in tow. Both of us, we swing around behind Sheila. Casuallike. I pop the cap off the pen, write a new “600” on my arm, over the old number. Switch hands and write on my other arm.
The kid’s looking at his mom trying to climb a big tree, naked in high heels, the scene shot from a really low angle, with dogs barking around the tree and security guards catching up. Cassie’s thong tan-line, ghosted at the edges with a hint of Acapulco sun, a couple weeks of beige Monterey tanning bordered with the hard red leftover from some lost weekend in Tijuana.
With just one step, I’m against the back of the teddy-bear dude, looping my free hand under his arm from behind. That hand of mine snakes around to the back of his neck, cupping my fingers over the thin hair in back of his head. Pulling back, I hold him in a half nelson, his loose hand slapping. Dude’s feet slip on the smeared baby-oil floor, kicking without traction, as I reach the felt-tip pen into his face and write what I planned. Three big letters across his TV-star forehead. My muscles relax, and he slips out of the hold, spinning to face me.
The whole deal faster than the words to describe it.
My whole entire front, my chest and arms and abs, slimy with the dude’s sweat.
The teddy-bear dude, beet red, looking at the pen in my hand, he goes, “What did you write?”
Both his hands jump to his forehead, rubbing and looking for black on his fingertips. Scrubbing with both hands, he goes, “You wrote ‘FAG,’ didn’t you?” Looking at kid 72, he goes, “Did he write FAG’?”
The kid just shakes his head.
The teddy-bear dude looks at Sheila.
And Sheila goes, “Worse.”
Me tossing the pen back to Sheila, I go, “He wants publicity? That should get him some publicity.” Sheila lets the pen land on the concrete next to her shoes. Next to the pen, the dude’s dropped his teddy bear he’s always holding, the ink writing smudged and blurred, dissolved with the baby oil on the floor.
Teddy-bear dude’s spitting on his fingers, rubbing his forehead. “You,” he goes, “you raped this kid’s mother. You drugged her and ruined her life.”
Kid 72 goes, “How’s that?”
Sheila lifts one hand to look at her wristwatch, and she goes, “Gentlemen, may I have your attention ...”
No duh, every dude looks up. Dudes look to hear better. Arms reach up to kill the sound on some of the televisions. The barking dogs and sirens, gone.
The teddy-bear dude huffs off to the bathroom, elbowing dudes out of his way. His bare feet slapping the floor.
“I need the following performers,” Sheila goes, looking down at her list.
To me, kid 72 goes, “Who’d you drug?”
Yelling back at us, yelling big in all the quiet, the teddy-bear dude goes, “Wake up, you idiot. That bastard’s your father.”
“Number 569 . . . ,” Sheila calls out. “Number 337 . . .”
In the bathroom doorway, the teddy-bear dude shoulders his way past the dudes there, slippery with baby oil, froze as statues to hear better.
Sheila stoops to grab the pen at her feet. Standing, she goes, “And number 137 . . .”
To the kid, I go, “I’m not dying ‘cause of today.”
Kid 72 leans over to grab the teddy bear where it’s landed on the greasy floor.
And in the bathroom, looking in the mirror over the little sink, the teddy-bear dude starts to scream.

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