A summons from Charles can only be ignored under very specific circumstances. Circumstance A): your body refuses to obey messages from your brain. Circumstance B): your brain has moved on to a better life, and consequently no longer cares for worldly things. There are no other circumstances. Should one receive such a summons, it’s best to join Charles in his lair as quickly as possible. In fact, a summons from Charles should be treated as equivalent to a summons from the Godhead. Orson Jimson understood this better than any man alive. When Charles called, Orson answered without question. Except for that one time when he hadn’t, but he preferred not to think about that. A failure to meet circumstances A and B resulted in unpleasant consequences.
Orson had received just such a call, which is why he was now standing in a dimly lit room staring at the back of an armchair. Although he couldn’t see him, he knew that Charles was in that chair – looking out the window onto the city that sprawled tumor-like below the mountain. The reason he knew that the chair was occupied, was because Charles radiated presence in the same way that a burning building radiates heat. Orson Jimson cleared his throat to announce his arrival. This was an unnecessary courtesy, but woe be the tide for the rich man who failed to make it.
“Yes Orson,” the chair said, “you have a report?”
“It’s all proceeding as you said it would.”
“Not quite as I’d said; I notice that Mr. Smote has been taken earlier than I expected. Still, this presents us with no significant difficulty, and only indicates how right I was to insist you hire him.”
“Yes,” agreed Orson, although he’d not been happy about that particular hire. He found Joe Smote quite disagreeable.
Charles had sensed Orson’s dissent, and he chuckled quietly from the chair’s plushly upholstered depths. “Now, now, there’s no need to get sulky. If it’s any consolation, he doesn’t like you either. But the fact remains that he has more than adequately met my expectations.”
Orson did not feel consoled, but he knew that Charles wouldn’t care. Anyway, this was not why he’d been called. “As you said, Mr. Smote has been taken, although we don’t yet know where. We are sure that he has been taken by the people connected to the spy, though.”
“Good, good, that’s as it should be. Speaking of spies, what of Miss Gridlock?”
“As you directed, I have kept her in the dark. But, she is becoming very suspicious about the whole thing.”
“Well, she’s very clever, I’d be surprised if she weren’t, but that is also good. I take it, you are still having her watched?”
“Yes. But no indications yet about who she’s working for.”
“That’s okay, her affiliations are only our secondary objective. But keep up the surveillance. What of Dr. Inklestatz, have you taken care of him now that he’s fulfilled his role?”
“He is now safely out of the way. Nobody should be able to find him. He wasn’t happy about it; it seems he’d finally managed to get a girlfriend.”
“Really? Well, you can’t help bad luck I suppose. Still, I’m sure he’ll be fine in the end.”
Orson was less sure how fine Inklestatz would be in the end, but this was no longer his concern. No, what concerned him at present, was how any of this was going to bring the resolution Charles had been hoping for.
“I have the distinct impression that you still have some doubts Orson. No doubt I have received this impression from the way that your respectful silence is punctuated by less than respectful sighs of exasperation. Please feel free to voice your concerns; only, if you could just hold back on the breathy petulence I’d be grateful.”
“It’s just that I can’t see how any of this is going to help us find what we’re looking for. Perhaps, if we’d just let Mr. Smote operate as normal, he’d have found them under his own steam. I looked into him, despite the fact that he’s a sarcastic asshole, he’s a pretty good investigator.”
“Language Orson! I raised you better than that!”
“I’m sorry, it’s true that you did teach me better. I apologize for my loss of self control.” Orson’s mouth still remembered the soapy taste that had accompanied those specific lessons. There were certain brands of detergent he could no longer look in the eye without residual feelings of shame bubbling to the surface. He pushed the memories aside and continued:
“It’s just that… well, he has been taken. I know that this was part of your plan, but what if he doesn’t get out? What if he’s already dead? What we do know of those people is enough to give me pause. I mean, they are worse than we are. At the very least, they’ll have done some really unpleasant things to him by now. What if he’s too traumatized to play out his part in the whole affair? We’d have to start again.”
“In the event we have to start again, then we’ll start again. You need not concern yourself with this. I also looked into Mr. Smote, and am convinced he’ll make it out. Unfortunately, I have to agree that they have probably been doing very unpleasant things to him, but that is part of the cost of this whole business. It’ll cost others more by the time it’s finished.”
∗ ∗ ∗
If he’d been able to hear the conversation Charles and Orson Jimson had been engaged in, Joe would have found their description of his situation more than just a little lacking. Had he heard it, he might have called it an understatement that bordered on euphemism. Of course, there was much that had happened to him that could be described as unpleasant, and deeply so. Much of it was what civilized people would call torture, and those less civilized might call ‘playing tennis’. There had been various kinds of electric shocks, miscellaneous use of chainsaws, and threats of ‘discount vasectomy’.
Strangely, the chainsaws had almost been the worst. They were never actually turned on. Instead, he’d just sort of been beaten with the flat bit around which the chain was supposed to spin. But there was always the possibility that the saw’s cord would be pulled, and ‘flat bit’ would become a ‘chain-blade’ that screeched limb-rending purpose. This is what made it worse than the electric shocks, which were also pretty bad. With a shock, however, the worst is happening already. With a dormant chainsaw, there is the promise of worse yet to come. He was less worried about the vasectomy threats, he was pretty sure his ex-wife had already taken his testicles in the divorce. And anyway, that threat was never carried out, and so quickly lost any sense of terror. Yes, the chainsaws had almost been the worst part.
The very worst part, was that much of the unpleasantness had been delivered by someone that Joe knew; not well, but well enough to really hate him. When he’d walked through the doorway to Joe’s cell, Joe had almost cursed himself that he hadn’t put it together before. He’d recognized the voice when it had made an appearance through a speaker that had accidentally be turned on. Joe had called it ‘second voice’ at the time, but when the voice’s body had finally walked through the door with a set of power-tools, Joe knew that the voice’s name was Greg. Greg: dolphin trainer, stealer of Joe’s wife, and bastard. Probably, Greg now possessed the testicles that had once belonged to Joe.
It had been a clever move sending Greg in to do the questioning. On seeing him, the firm center of Joe’s world had turned sludge-textured. Any resolve to say nothing became peripheral to a new concern. This new concern had a constellation of questions attached to it. Questions like: who are these people? How long have I been caught up in this? Why me? He’d been so busy trying to figure out the answers to these questions that – in between painful chainsaw slaps – he’d answered every question Greg had asked him. Which was annoying, because he really disliked Greg, and Greg had not been prepared to reciprocate with answers to any of Joe’s questions. Not only that, Greg insisted that Joe had not told him anything they didn’t already know. This, in Greg’s opinion, could mean only one thing: Joe was holding back. Unfortunately for Joe, he hadn’t held back anything.
Finally, after many expressions of disappointment, Greg had given up asking anymore questions. The last time he’d seen him, Greg had explained – very carefully – that things would have gone a lot better for Joe if he’d just surrendered his knowledge of the smoking monkey. Specifically, where the monkey was located. As it stood now, Joe would be subjected to a new round of questions by Greg’s immediate superior. Moreover, this superior was a lot nastier Greg.
“You’ll be sorry,” Greg had said as he packed up his interrogation tools. “My superior is not as good natured as I am. Things are going to get a lot worse for you now.”
For some reason, Joe had found this funny. He wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was chainsaw fatigue? Whatever the cause, all he’d been able to think when Greg had said this was: “Not as sorry as you’re going to be after a couple more years living with my ex-wife.”
Greg had been right, though. When the superior walked through the door, Joe got a premonition of just how much sorrier he was going to become.
“Hello, Joe. I must say, I am very pleased that I’ve been afforded this opportunity to take over your interrogation.”
“Hello Lily. I must say, I’m not feeling quite so much pleasure about it as you are.”
There she was: Jimson’s fortress fat, cattle-prod wielding security guard. She looked hungry. The kind of hungry that can only be sated with a plate of tasty Joe Smote sandwiches. I already missed the chainsaws.
“Don’t be like that Joe. This will be fun. Now, if you’ll just tell me where the smoking monkey is, maybe we can have some of those sandwiches you mentioned. It is very close to lunchtime, after all.”
Joe was not going to be able to enjoy a sandwich again for a long time.
END OF CHAPTER 7